Tuesday, December 30, 2008
1) What was the last movie you saw theatrically? On DVD or Blu-ray?
This is a moving target, since I take so long to answer these quizzes: but I'll say -
Theater - The Wrestler
DVD - Meet Me In St. Louis
2) Holiday movies— Do you like them naughty or nice?
Mostly nice, though naughty is nice too.
3) Ida Lupino or Mercedes McCambridge?
4) Favorite actor/character from Twin Peaks
I can't answer this. I haven't watched it since it first came on, and only watched part of the first season then. I have been waiting for all of it to be on DVD, though not paying close enough attention. Maybe next year I'll be able to answer.
5) It’s been said that, rather than remaking beloved, respected films, Hollywood should concentrate more on righting the wrongs of the past and tinker more with films that didn’t work so well the first time. Pretending for a moment that movies are made in an economic vacuum, name a good candidate for a remake based on this criterion.
This is a very interesting question, and one I am sure I have opinions on, though I fear they aren't coming now. I have always thought that Eyes Wide Shut should have been made by David Lynch, though - that might count.
6) Favorite Spike Lee joint.
Do The Right Thing
7) Lawrence Tierney or Scott Brady?
Lawrence, I think.
8) Are most movies too long?
The good ones aren't - being too long is one of the main causes of films failing, though. Way too many comedies just keep going... a lot of films aren't so much too long as they run out of ideas around the hour mark - or cut over to the PLOT, which is trite and dull. They aren't so much too long as they have nowhere to go after the first 2/3 or so.
9) Favorite performance by an actor portraying a real-life politician.
If Malcolm X counts, than Denzel Washington's performance has to rate highly here. A dark horse would be Baek Yun-shik as the assassin in the Korean film about Park Chung-hee's assasination, The President's Last Bang. Song Jae-ho as the president is quite good also.
10) Create the main event card for the ultimate giant movie monster smackdown.
The Abominable Snowman vs. Burgermeister Meisterburger! Dr. Hill (Reanimator) vs. Dr. Pretorius (Fron Beyond)! And in the finale - Asia the Invincible vs. the Bride of Frankenstein!
11) Jean Peters or Sheree North?
12) Why would you ever want or need to see a movie more than once?
To memorize it.
13) Favorite road movie.
Pierrot le Fou, I'd say.
14) Favorite Budd Boetticher picture.
Seven Men From Now... Lee Marvin. Pow. Though it's hard to chose this over the Tall T.
15) Who is the one person, living or dead, famous or unknown, who most informed or encouraged your appreciation of movies?
This is a hard one to answer. Maybe Robert Altman, as his films probably did the most to make a cinephile of me. An Altman retrospctive marked a clear change inthe way I saw, thought about, etc. films...
16) Favorite opening credit sequence. (Please include YouTube link if possible.)
I should be able to come up with something off the top of my head, but I never can. It's not impossible that it's Imamura's The Pornographers - the fake porn, the fish... it's also not impossible it's Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail - Swedish llama jokes never get old.
17) Kenneth Tobey or John Agar?
I might skip this one.
18) Jean-Luc Godard once suggested that the more popular the movie, the less likely it was that it was a good movie. Is he right or just cranky? Cite the best evidence one way or the other.
There seems to be a relationship. The relationship is certainly not inverse, though. I don't know what he means by "popular" - does a box office failure that becomes widely adored (It's a Wonderful Life, say) count? The best movies tend to be modest successes, and often become immensely popular over time. So - he's being clever, and getting at a legitimate point, but it doesn't hold up to scrutiny...
19) Favorite Jonathan Demme movie.
20) Tatum O’Neal or Linda Blair?
Tatum O'Neal, I think.
21) Favorite use of irony in a movie. (This could be an idea, moment, scene, or an entire film.)
Another good question. I'll pick a film I've seen recently - Oshima's Pleasures of the Flesh. Oshima lays it on very thick here: there's a student in love with a schoolgirl he tutors; he finds out she was raped as a child - her parents hire him to kill the rapist and he does. However, a crooked official saw him do the deed - and shows up with 30 million Yen (of the 00 million he stole), telling the student to hide it until he gets out of prison - if the money disappears, he will rat out the kid's murder. The student hides it - until the girl marries another man: nothing to live for! He will spend it all and kill himself! he does, spending it all on whores and bad living, though without much success. As we come to the end of the year before the crook gets out of jail, the student ends up with a mute whore and befriends her pimp boyfriend - who tells him about a guy he knew in jail who hid 30 million dollars with a student, but died before he could be released....
22) Favorite Claude Chabrol film.
Haven't seen enough - but Les Cousins, probably, among the ones I have seen.
23) The best movie of the year to which very little attention seems to have been paid.
I think Momma's Man sort of faded into obscurity rather quickly. And Ballast, though it gets a fair amount of attention, sometimes seems to be treated as if it were just another indie film.
24) Dennis Christopher or Robby Benson?
I can't say that I care right now.
25) Favorite movie about journalism.
His Girl Friday.
26) What’s the DVD commentary you’d most like to hear? Who would be on the audio track?
Others have mentioned Sam Fuller - absolutely. I can't think of anyone who could have done better commentaries. For anyone's films! He'd be better than Werner Herzog, and that is going a long way. I wish David Lynch did commentaries - he's another endlessly interesting talker...
27) Favorite movie directed by Clint Eastwood.
A good question - High Plains Drifter? or Bird? I think if you treated Flags of our Fathers and Sands of Iwo Jima as one film, that might do it.
28) Paul Dooley or Kurtwood Smith?
29) Your clairvoyant moment: Make a prediction about the Oscar season.
I won't watch it?
30) Your hope for the movies in 2009.
I just hope a bunch of good foreign films get released - starting with The Headless Woman, Tokyo Sonata, and Secret Sunshine.
31) What’s your top 10 of 2008? (If you have a blog and have your list posted, please feel free to leave a link to the post.)
I'll answer this separately. I haven't done this quite yet...
BONUS QUESTION (to be answered after December 25):
32) What was your favorite movie-related Christmas gift that you received this year?
Nothing specific - though I got a neat monkey grip for a camera. That should come in handy.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Meanwhile, before I go - a few links to tide you over....
James Urbaniak on Peter Schiff's prescience. This is as close as I have seen to what it would look like if a time traveler came back in time and went on Fox news. It looks like a fake - Schiff basically describes the summer and fall of 2008 in 2006, and a bunch of nitwits laugh at him. Oops! Oddly, the same morons are still on TV - hasn't Ben Stein been banished yet?
David Cairns on Brazil.
What the hell? The Bush family Christmas video card - starring a dog, though not a shoe, at least not in the minute or so I lasted...
Ed Howard cites Alison Bechdel's rule for movies - 2 women in the film, who talk to one another, about something other than a man. Oshima doesn't come off too well, though he sometimes seems to critique the social patterns that cause this kind of problem, isolation of women from one another etc. Night and Fog in Japan makes an interesting point, a bit accidentally - there are two major women characters, who don't speak to each other and only speak to the crowd about their relationships to the men (to Nozawa, the communist turned journalist who is marrying one of them.) There's also another woman, an older woman, who stands with the girl getting married in the film - she never says a word - she just drifts through the shots - though at the end, during the Stalinist's harangue, she gets a lot of the camera time - it's as if Oshima is making a note of her, of her silence and marginality here... Though he never really makes films about women, the way Ozu or Imamura, let alone Naruse and Mizoguchi did. All fo them have their issues, but they hit this standard a few times....
And finally - the Film of the Month Club is back inaction, with Absolute Beginners as this month's film. A neat choice for a host of reasons,bot least, the consideration of the 80s' place in film history. It's ging to be a while before I get to see the film - but it's a good discussion going on....
Thursday, December 11, 2008
These two films go together rather well - in both, a black sheep character turns up at a family gathering and raises hell - reopening old wounds and restarting old fights, by acting like a jerk, etc. Some resolutions are reached, though that isn't quite the point (Rachel ties everything up much neater than the Desplechin film - the dead child is her fault, the characters sort of work through things to something like peace, etc. - none of which happens, exactly, in A Christmas Tale)... The biggest differences are in the style - Demme adopts a cinema verite style, handheld camera, prowling about, the loose scripting and acting, and so on; and in the near total focus on the main character. Desplechin adopts more or less every style known to film, theater television and arts undiscovered, and hops around all over the place. That's where the main difference lies, though - in who the film follows.
Rachel Getting Married sticks pretty close to Anne Hathaway's Kym. The film follows her through the weekend, and gives what she sees. (This is one reason the criticism of the film for presenting a racial paradise are a bit off - everything we see, we see through Kym, and her personality - her solipsism, her own capacity for stirring up drama wherever she goes, tends to blot out other issues and contentions. Whatever racial tensions there might be at this wedding, we aren't going to see, because all we see is centered on Kym. Now this focus is, I think, both a strength and a weakness. One thing I like about it is that it runs counter to films like Synecdoche NY (with its self-pitying, self-destructive male lead character) - it's centered on a disruptive, not all sympathetic woman - a female anti-hero. This is rare - I am not sure how rare, but it is rare enough that it feels far less predictable (even when things are running pretty much to form) than the Kaufman film. Obnoxious guys are a dime a dozen; obnoxious (but charismatic) women are a bit of a novelty. It's enough, buy itself, to make a middle of the pack story seem a bit more important. The politics matters. The structural style - attaching the narrative point of view very closely to a character, like this, tends to run with that kind of character - whether the film filters the world through the character's eyes (as in most Kaufman films), or structures what it shows around the character, as in Rachel, it depends on the limited POV and the attitude of the character....
Which helps show what makes Arnaud Desplechin such a marvellous filmmaker. A Christmas Tale also features a disruptive character - like Synecdoche, a middle aged man, an artist - but unlike either of the American films, Desplechins does not stay there. The style, of course, is all over the place - there are handheld scenes, with plenty of camera prowling, but also plenty of more carefully composed shots, plenty of interruptions - Desplechin never lets things get too documentary like. You get direct addresses - sometimes to the camera, sometimes to a kind of implied audience, you get inserted speeches, you get puppet plays, you get diegetically inserted plays - you get the danmed works.
But it's the story telling that makes this such a delight. Desplechin does structure the story around Henri (Matthieu Amalric's madman) - his coming and going is where the film starts and stops. (It starts, in cold fact,with his birth, which coincides with the fatal illness of the missing brother; the action of the film proper is set up by his mother's illness, but really starts with his arrival at the house - everything else had been preparing for that, and of course he is linked as explicitly as such figures get, to her disease.) But Desplechin never gives the film completely to Henri - it constantly spins away from him, and not just toreturn. but it spends a great deal of time elsewhere. Most of the other characters get moments alone, with nothing to do with Henri; Elizabeth, Paul, Faunia all take over the narrative for stretches of time - and then, probably oddest of all, the last third is dominated by the story of Sylvia and Simon, a story line that has next to nothing to do with the main plot line (Junon's illness, Henri's place in the family) - it has nothing to do with Henri or Junon at all. Deplechins in always an adventurous story teller: he sometimes follows a single character, sometimes concentrates on one character over others, but sometimes, of course, heads off in all directions. Kings and Queen, say, among its many virtues, has this - a narrative divided between a man and woman who are no longer a couple, and not going to become a couple ever again. That is very strange: it is not about a breakup, it is not about forming a couple - it is about 2 people who were a couple, who have ties even now - but who are now living their separate lives, and are going to continue to live them. But the film follows both of them, as if both of them matter - how strange!
Anyway - A Christmas Tale is a marvel indeed. And Rachel Getting Married is no slouch. They are both far more satisfying that Synecdoche NY - just as ambitious and smart, and really a good deal less conventional. Rachel probably benefits as much from who it follows as from the material itself (and from the performances and Demme's direction, yes...); A Christmas Tale earns it on the merits. They've been bit of bright spot in what feels like a fairly dul year, so far... Though there havebeen other good films - if I were more ambitious I might poke into a couple of the other films I've liked this fall - Ballast was pretty inspiring as well. It's another film that seems to follow a fairly conventional pattern, but glides in different directions than you expect. Characters seem to be one thing and aren't - Lawrence particularly; scenes seem to be heading in one direction, but swerve... and - true to Lance Hammer's debt to the Dardennes brothers - the kind of film where heading off to work is made to seem heroic... as for the best (new) film I've seen this year - The Headless Woman - that I have to see it again to say anything coherent about it....
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Friday, December 05, 2008
Links? Start with Slacktivis - Fred Clark's weekly Left Behind posts have turned to the movie- a godawful wreck, that manages to improve on the books (though how could it not) - and to catch, every now and then, a moment of near competence - the end of this week's installment is, in fact, The Rapture itself - which is handled with quite surprising grace. We see Captain Rayford Steele about the kiss Mrs. Kirk Cameron - we cut to an old woman, waking up - she turns, doesn't see her husband - chats with Cameron "Buck" Williams, Ace Reporter, and tell him her husband has "gone off naked" - in sum, a quiet, creepy, disorienting little scene, nothing new, but pretty much how you slip into something like that.... The rest of the clip is more the kind of hackwork you expect... Anyway - always a good read...
Elsewhere - a new Girish post, rounding up good online reading.
And at Screengrab, Leonard Pierce promises a 12 Days of Christmas series of Christmas movie posts, starting with the excellent A Nightmare Before Christmas.
And The Bioscope offers a neat post about George Bernard Shaw and the movies.
Roger Ebert let's us know what he thinks of Expelled.
David Bordwell on Douglas Fairbanks.
And Tom the Dancing Bug explains a comic, in great detail.
And I run iTunes:
1. The Beatles - Here Comes the Sun
2. The Melvins - Lizzy
3. Sleater Kinney - Ironclad [not a big fan of this record - still got a great sound, did they, but sounds to me like they were running out of things to say. The last 2 records sort of continued the slow fade...]
4. Erase Errata - C. Rex
5. Keiji Haino/Tatsuya Yoshida - Gheuebhessip [just got this, haven't really listened to it, though a couple songs have come up on the iPod: it sounds like it's pretty good stuff - they're first rate performers, in their very strange way... this one has a flute in it!]
6. Leo Kottke - Embryonic Journey [I keep forgetting I have some Leo Kottke on the machine - I should try tolisten to this more...]
7. Fugazi - Facet Squared [I can't say I love Fugazi, but they are absolutely reliable - anything they do is worth listening to...]
8. The Magnetic Fields - In an Operetta [I haven't warmed to them, as I have to some of the bands they are compared to.... but they are pretty good.]
9. Neil Young - Old Man [well, obviously a great song.]
10. Tragically Hip - At the Hundredth Meridian [I like this song - I like this record,but it's the only Tragically Hip record I ever bothered to buy, not sure why.... get Ry Cooder to say my eulogy...]
And YouTube says: Richard Thompson - the live version of Shoot Out the Lights, from his Austin City Limits record a couple years ago came up on the iPod tonight - ah: I can't get it out of my head. (And really, the whole post is here because I wanted to post a video of it.) I couldn't find any video of it, but this is a decent substitute. There are a few good versions of the song on YouTube - this one has some of the jaggedy guitar playing he really expands on the Austin record...
Monday, December 01, 2008
But it's not just quality of the films - it's the appearance of films that I want to write about. Films that do something interesting - even if I'm not convinced by it. Like Synecdoche, New York - pretty much the definition of a film that's more interesting to write about than watch. I don't mean I didn't enjoy it - it was amusing, sometimes moving, sometimes clever, and sometimes its cleverness clicked - especially the beginning, those slippery time frames... And it resonated - it happened that the poetry class I mentioned was reading The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock the week I saw the film: it's almost a blueprint. Kaufman has always packed in his literary allusions, almost as tight as Eliot and company. That might make a subject for a post... But not this one. No: because while I enjoyed the film enough, I didn't find it to be anything special - clever, a bit obvious, a bit of a gimmick. The odd thing is, the more praise I read for the film, the less I liked it. And I saw a lot more praise than abuse, from all over the place - Ebert, Walter Chaw - and most of all, Filmbrain - twice! Maybe that will change - the film will go into wider release and start pissing people off more visibly - I suspect when that happens I will change sides and start defending it. It's that kind of film.
But we're not there yet. It's hard to say what I don't like about it - how it fails. Or no - that's not it, that's not what I mean. It is, in fact very easy to say where it lost me: the question is whether it's a fair criticism. I mean - I suspect I may be condemning it for not being another movie. A very great offense. But what can you do?
I can single out what loses me: Catherine Keener. It has the same problem Hamlet 2 had - the film gives us a mopey middle aged guy main character, who, mopy or not, may be worth following - then we meet his wife: it's Catherine Keener! Who is (actress and character) funnier, cooler, sexier and more interesting than the main character - but the film keeps following the schlub! And then Keener runs off with the boarder! And we’re stuck with the schlub!
Now - Steve Coogan and Philip Seymour Hoffman are fantastic actors, and can carry this sort of thing as far as it is possible to go with it. But why on earth do we have to see another film about middle aged male self-pity? Or - why on earth should we treat another film about this very well covered field as though it were going to tell us anything new? or do anything unexpected or revealing or anything else? And especially why do we have to see this film, again, when we could be watching a film about Catherine Keener? Why can't we follow her instead? or even better - why can't we follow both? Is this an American thing? might be - though the best Americans managed to get out of it (Lynch; Altman; the young Americans are in danger of getting into it - Anderson and Anderson, though they haven't hit middle age yet - they also haven't quite succumbed to the utter identification with the self-pity of these characters... But that too is another post.)
I know it is a sin to complain that a film is not a different film, but it can't be helped. There are films that do this right - A Christmas Tale came out this month, and it is a fine example: it too is centered on a middle aged male loser, but it does not stay with him - it heads out in every direction away from him. [And deserves its own post: which will come (soon, I hope) after this one. Along with comments on another film, Rachel Getting Married - which basically does reverse the SNY pattern and follows a crazy woman instead of a crazy man. which by itself more than justifies its existence.] Actually, of Desplechin's films, Kings and Queen is a better comparison - same depressed, middle aged guy, a loser, though (like Hoffman and Coogan), talented and imaginative, in his weird way. But it gives us Emmanuelle Devos as well. That alone is enough to make it a better film - any film that puts her, or Catherine Keener, on screen for half its running time is going to be more than watchable by that fact alone. But the divided story creates something far more interesting - it breaks the self-pity of the men, opens the story up. Amalric and Devos both have their troubles - but they compliment each other, and complicate each other - the alternation keeps either his or her self-pity from taking over the film. We keep seeing them from a different angle. It cuts off their tendency to drown in their own vanities. That’s how Desplechin generally works: most of his films follow multiple characters, even if one is more important than the rest - there are always strong counterlines going on.
I admit, my prejudices are showing: subjectivity is not that interesting. The inside of someone's head is not that interesting. What goes on between people is interesting: intersubjectivity is interesting. Desplechin is hard to beat - but that's not the only way to get out of your character's heads: stick to Charlie Kaufman - take Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This is a far more satisfying film - probably the only Kaufman film I think completely works. Why? I think the reason is clear enough: though the film is set in Jim Carrey’s head, what we see in Jim Carrey’s head is his relationship with Kate Winslet. So though it is solipsism incarnate, it is also not solipsistic - in story terms, this is because it is all about the intractability of relationships, of our connections to other people, in this case, about his connection to Winslet’s character. And in cinematic terms, it is because this structure keeps Kate Winslet on screen, and usually makes her resist the ways the film and story (and the SF device) reduce her to a function of his imagination. We shouldn't underestimate that - films giving us things to look at, things to listen to, things happening - and the value of contrast: Carrey and Winslet, Amalric and Devos, etc.
But it also does a better job, I think, of getting at the basic fact that human beings are not subjects, we are intersubjects. We exist through relationships to the world. And I admit: if and when I change my mind about Synecdoche NY it will be because I will be convinced by the ways Kaufman represents Cotard's subjective mind in objective terms: the signs and artifacts of his mind. Texts are made of other texts; minds are made of other minds - of words, memories of things, stories, images, sensations. And - that's here too. In the eruption of Cotard's body into his consciousness; in the way personality and consciousness, in this film, are brought into actuality - as theater, as sets and actors and roles, etc. The problem is - I see it now as being a film about the mind splitting off its signs: eliminating them, rather than - relating to them. It feels like a retreat from lived life toward felt life. I don't know if that makes sense quite. Maybe this: it seems that, for all the proliferation of characters and actors and signs and voices, they are all, in the end, inside Cotard's head.
It didn't have to be. It could have split the narrative - followed more than one character. Or split worlds, a la Inland Empire. Or just made the phantoms inside of Cotard's head seem more alive, independent. I don't know. Partly because I'm writing a thousand words explaining why I think a good film isn't a great film (the way Kings and Queen or Inland Empire are great films, and Eternal Sunshine and A Christmas Tale are almost great films.)
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Home again - back from the usual extravaganza of turkey, pie and other kinds of pie. I do think Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, these days - there's food, and family, and games to play, all with a fairly minimal amount of preparation - just the food shopping, really. It's only marred by the "Black Friday" nonsense the day after, but that's more of a Christmas thing than Thanksgiving, so it doesn't do any harm. There aren't many holidays left that allow you to just enjoy them at face value - no matter what you think of Christmas, it requires a month of shopping, or hearing about shopping - and these days, it's burdened with the Weight of the Continued Economic Survival of the Republic... not to mention Bill O'Reilly. Halloween has always been a rather dull holiday, more or less redeemed by watching Frankenstein or the Evil Dead films - but those days are gone, at least online. With every film blog on earth given over to a month of horror film posts, Halloween jumped the shark, married the costar, had a kid, brought in Ted McGinley and offered a Very Special Episode all at once. I may never watch another horror film as long as I live. It's bad enough devoting December and half of November to Christmas crap - at least Christmas has good music.
Leaving us with Thanksgiving, thank you very much. I don't have much more to offer, so I will leave you with 2 other things I am thankful for: trains, and my iPod - and the playlist of my trainride home, a kind of Random Ten on Steroids. Or bloated with apple pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate pie, banana cream pie...
Jonathan Richman & Modern Lovers - She Cracked
Stooges - Ann
MIA - Hombre
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Elmo Delmo
Deerhoof - Sound the Alarm
MIA - Paper Planes [yes, the iPod was on shuffle... a reminder - Slumdog Millionaire makes the song its own...]
Butthole Surfers - Rocky["All of my friends, baby, they're going insane..."]
Big Star - Big Black Car
Radiohead - Hunting Bears
Melt Banana - One Drop, One Life
Nick Cave - Deanna (live)
George Harrison - Plug Me In [rockin' out!]
Isley Brothers - Fight the Power [time is truly wasting...]
Derek Bailey - This time [Bailey with Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Calvin Weston, rhythms section for Ornette Coleman, James Carter, James Blood Ullmer, etc. This record works amazingly well - I love this stuff. The rhythm section plays straight, straight free-funk - Bailey gets in the spirit of things - working the sounds, tones, pitch possibilities, the machinery of his electric guitar - placing it in context of the rest - they give him a tight groove and he lays sounds over it, without clashing - he accepts it as a fact and works around it, off it; he doesn’t ever settle into their groove, either time or their chords, but he keeps it in view - it all works beautifully.]
Big Star - Give me Another Chance [another repeated act.. this is a lovely song in full fake Beatles mode]
Charlie Parker - Don’t Blame Me
Velvet Underground - Black Angels Death Song [from the Quine tapes]
Van Halen - Jamie’s Crying [that first record doesn’t actually suck, oddly enough. Though already their sound is impossibly processed. They invented that sound, and no one else did it well, not really.]
REM - Supernatural superserious [the new record; not terrible but completely anonymous. Dull guitar lines, recycled harmonies from their old records etc.]
Rolling Stones - Coming Down Again [prefiguring Nick Cave’s latter day career - piano ballad with twists; Keef singing? Thoroughly gorgeous though.]
Black Mountain - No satisfaction
Echo and the Bunnymen - The Cutter
The Undertones - She’s a runaround [they really were a neat band]
That will do: something appropriate to finish it off - not quite M.I.A. but bearing some resemblance...:
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Jacqueline Lynch and the Self-Styled Siren have started something that should be a meme: Ten Things They Love About Old Movies. It is a rich vein: rather too rich - I did not set out to post 38 pictures, but how can you choose just one of the hats in 42nd Street? how can you have too many pictures of Warren William, anywhere? Once you get started, you know... Here, then, are 10 things I love about old movies - illustrated to a fault...
2. Credit sequences using footage of the actors.
3. Warren William!
4. Rear projection, painted backdrops, and models.
6. Trains - and movies named after trains.
8. Hard bitten reporters
9. Hotels, hotel rooms, hotel dicks, room service...
10. Ocean Liners and freighters...
Though still - I have been inclined to call Poe's Law on everything about the McCain campaign, and especially Sarah Palin's part, and things like this certainly make it a tougher call. That shot, with the guy carefully positioned in the back of the frame, killing the bird and looking back at the camera - looks as carefully staged as a sitcom. It's not even a blooper - it's like a sitcom staging a blooper.... I don't see what it has to do with Sarah Palin (except to prove she doesn't consider food preparation unusual), but there might have been some intent on the part of the cameraman: that's a pretty well composed shot, and composed for maximum comic value.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
I suppose I could get around that by blogging about the class - or about ideas the class inspires. I could write about poems that work "cinematically" - often hundreds of years before the invention of cinema. I suppose that's an old game - spotting things in novels or poems or Shakespeare or such that anticipate techniques we think of as cinematic. It's probably a silly game - the point is probably that things happen in the world, and have always happened in much the same way - in space and time, and we experience them and remember them, and try to put them into other forms - words or pictures or stories - and the forms we put them in will resemble one another. (I think I am quoting someone here: is it Manny Farber? or Jean Mitry? someone I have read in the last few months, who wrote about "cinematic" techniques that predate cinema.... Mitry I think...) Anyway - it's not too useful, probably - but it's fun - and might be useful. "Cinematic" techniques are techniques that use space and time as their basic building blocks. Poets and novelists and obviously painters always used space and time as building blocks - so analogies are inevitable.
Take Shelley's Ozymandias: there's a poem that's almost a camera ready script. Scenes and shots are all laid out: the poet meets a traveler from an ancient land, who starts to tell of what he's seen. As he does, the poem almost cross fades (across an ellipse) to shots of the ruined statue of Ozymandias in the desert. We are give a series of shots - as analytically edited as a Russian: "legs of stone... shattered visage... lip and sneer..." - described like a series of shots, edited together - though you could do it as a track past the pieces, though still fairly close... with maybe superimposed ghosts of the old days, the artist's hands carving the scowling face.... then in - cut or track in, to the inscription:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
And then - what I would call a shock cut, to a long, long shot of the site: "Nothing beside remains." says the poem - and describes the scene in its full context - the desert sands, "boundless and bare" - with what amounts to a zoom out or pan away from the statue to the empty sands - "The lone and level sands stretch far away."
It's a thing of beauty. I suppose treating it like a film doesn't really add much - that might be the point, though. Poets, novelists, playwrights, painters manipulate space, time, combine images, vary their position relative to their imagery, to create their effects - you have to pay attention to how they treat space, when they do manipulate it. It's more or less a given with film - the way manipulation of words is a given in poetry, manipulation of stories and characters are in novels or plays - but novels and films manipulate words, poems manipulate characters - cross media techniques are a valuable device for any and all....
Anyway - it's all very interesting. One thing this class has done is emphasize the value of close reading - I notice that the techniques of close reading are pretty consistent across all art forms. The specifics vary, as one looks at different elements that go into making a poem or a panting or a film - but the general principals remains. Repetition - patterns of repetition and variation, parallels, series, related pieces: all the sound effects of poetry (rhyme, alliteration and assonance, meter), semantic patterns, patterns of imagery... in films: manipulation of space is primary; repetition of patterns of things on the screen, editing, how images connect... I might get ambitious and pursue some of this - it occurs to me that all films are in fact more poetry than prose: there is a reliance of the detail of the shots and sequences of shots in film that seems more like the pressure poems put on words and lines and sentences, than like the way prose uses those things. But if I start down that road I may never get to stop.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Eric Bogle's song does justice to the horrors and pointlessness of it all. Here are the Pogues, since that's the version I have lived with for 20+ years, and because someone has put together a nice video for the song.
Friday, November 07, 2008
Aguirre Wrath of God
City of Sadness
His Girl Friday
It’s a Wonderful Life
Jour de Fete - this might have turned out the be the hardest letter to fill...
Killer of Sheep - or Killing of a Chinese Bookie? oh, the dilemmas we face!
Late Spring - uh oh - foreign language cheat!
M - what? you couldn't think of a title starting with am M?
Osaka Elegy - this should be N, of course
Pierrot le Fou
Que Viva Mexico
Rules of the Game - foreign language, non-cheat!
Seven Samurai - and another!
Touch of Evil
Woman Under the Influence
Xiao Wu - Jia Jiang-ke comes through in the pinch!
Zero for Conduct
I should do numbers as well. Cheating a bit here...
1 Armed Swordsman
36th Chamber of Shaolin
47 Ronin (Mizoguchi)
5000 Fingers of Dr. T
6 Fingered Lord of the Lute - ah, now this - a wu xia I saw with no subtitles or synopsis, though the notes for the show said they would do no good - very true. Delirious nonsense of the very best sort!
0 Kelvin - to avoid repeating from the first list. And because this is the first time I have thought about this film since the day I saw it, whenever that was. (It's Norwegian - Stellan Skarsgaard as the nemesis of a writer who decides to spend a year in Greenland, hunting... three men locked in a cabin... vague hints of it come to mind, like a half remembered dream.)
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Meanwhile - to transition back to movies - check out the Jason Bellamy's Poltics and Movies blogathon, already in progress.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
It's thrilling. This is what America should be. This country is a mongrel country - we are many races many backgrounds many languages, many everything. It is thrilling beyond words to see how this has come about - the across the board support for Obama - taking back states won by the GOP recently, winning support from all kinds of demographic groups - it's wonderful.
And so? I am going to watch a bit more of this celebration, wait for Obama to speak... we're past McCain, conceding at the earliest possible moment - and doing so in an utterly gracious way. Now it's John Lewis expressing his astonishment at the changes he's seen in his life. It's something.
the line that these were the longest waits of the day though turnout
had been brisk since the polls open. As always an inspiring moment,
voting. At that hour a lot of parents with kids in line, a cop handing
out paper and crayons to the rugrats. All of them behaving (except
maybe the one who made a dash for an open elevator door). All good.
Now we just wait. I took the day off for reasons unrelated to the
election, and am going to spend the afternoon with the devine Max:
Lola Montes is in theaters and I shall go to see.
So I hope I send this to the right blog. Typing on the iphone from a
bench in Coolidge corner next to a playground. Some kid behind me got
stuck on the jungle gym, yelling for help. Looks like one of the
teachers or maybe his mom got him down. A happy ending! Let's hope
the country gets a happy ending too!
Monday, November 03, 2008
No: one more day. Undoubtedly an anxious one, though things are looking good right now. Keep an eye on the polls, and vote!
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Anything else? I suppose there are some momentous events on the horizon - things look good for the republic, with Obama well in the lead - but until the votes are counted and the results are in, you can never rest easy. But probably not much point in panicking. It has been a strange capaign, geting stranger - look at this rant, quoted by Belle Waring - what on earth is that guy talking about?
I mention this because I firmly believe Barack Obama absolutely loathes my kind. This man will not be content to win the presidency. He will spend his waking hours thereafter not pursuing the legitimate goals of state, but punishing those who would dare to oppose him. The man is devoid of humility, or any sense of humor. He cannot humbly accept his incredibly lucky break in the crapshoot of American politics. The absolute lack of any pushback or intercessions on the part of the journalist class has rendered him peckish and intolerant of any dissention, if indeed he was not born that way.
What is that? that makes no sense - which Barack Obama is that? not the one running for president - unless he's running some very different ads out in the "red" states. How did the campaign against him become such a complete fantasy world? Socialism and terrorism and anti-semitism and - witchcraft? sweet jesus... It's a strange thing. Maybe I see too much of it, reading blogs - there's not so much nuttiness in the papers; I don't watch TV, though there seem to be a fair number of imbeciles playing dumb on TV. I don't know. The voters, over all, seem to be a bit more sensible.
Okay: this is a Summing Up post, This Week on the Blogs, not just politics. So, whadda we got?
David Bordwell writing about - oh noes! - politics - political "Narratives". A very rich vein....
Meanwhile, one of our other great critics atones for his sins - Roger Ebert follows up that already infamous 8 minute review with a group of ethical ground rules. They do not, even after the kerfuffle, include "watch the whole movie" - they do, however, provide the Rog with opportunity for vengeance - taking shots at Ben Lyons, his television "replacement" - though without naming names. Ah yes....
I have to say: Ebert's original crime - watching 8 odd minutes of something called Tru Loved then giving up and publishing (more or less) his notes from those 8 minutes - isn't terribly shocking. It's probably more honest and accurate a review than the full review linked to above: it's almost certainly more than the film deserved. It even gives the movie whatever traces of notoriety it will get. Ebert says he let his cleverness get in the way of his duty as a critic - well- I'd say his first duty as a critic is to be interesting, and he was. The first review is a gem. Though so are the rules. In fact most of his posts are gems. It is interesting - I find Ebert a much better blogger than reviewer. I suppose that's an extension of the fact that I used to find him a better essayist than reviewer - his occasional pieces were almost always better than his reviews. He's an odd writer - I dismissed him when he was on TV; discovered him on the internet (when I could read a fair sampling of his work) - and became something of a fan; but liked the longer pieces - the later pieces, the "Movies of Distinction" reviews,better than the regular reviews. And now find his blog a perfect delight to read. So - I forgive him for falling in love with his own prose. It's what he's best at.
That's enough. Tomorrow, I shall celebrate halloween with 2 more Minnellis - I hope I get around to posting a roundup. After that? Claire Denis... (though I expect to fit the Flaming Lips movie in there somewhere...) though it's all building to December, when the HFA is taken over with a full retrospective of Nagisa Oshima. That will be a big deal...
Monday, October 27, 2008
I have not been in mourning this last week. I have been occupied, mostly here - Harvard is running a series of Minnelli's melodramas. It is confession time: before this series started, I had never seen a single film by Vincente Minnelli. I don't know how I managed it - even granting that I am not a huge fan of MGM musicals, it is hard to believe I have seen none of his. But those days are over, 6 films later, with more to come. It's interesting - it took seeing a couple to get in their rhythm - it's always interesting how films, and filmmakers, will teach you how to watch their films. It may also be that the films have gotten better as the series went on - certainly, a couple of them - Some Came Running and Home from the Hill, especially - are a cut above the rest, indisputable masterpieces. I'll have to come back, put up some thoughts when they're better formed. Though I doubt my filmgoing schedule will get much lighter next week - Harvard has Claire Denis' films - and Denis herself - starting this weekend...
Monday, October 20, 2008
As for the Series? I'm the type of homer that if my team can't win, I'll change my loyalty to their closest rivals - so go Tampa! Though it's not a hard thing to do - they're a great story and the kind of team I like to watch - pitching, defense, around a core of stars - they're the Twins model, only able to actually win in the post-season....I think they have the same advantages against Philly they had against Boston: deeper pitching (without giving up much at the top); enough offense; sharp defense (though that went a bit off in the last series - which does look a bit like nerves); their weird and wacky park. They have the same disadvantages as well - the Phillies have some pretty good pitching as well (Hamels and Lidge particularly), do all the right things (catch the ball, etc.), have a deep and varied offense - and might have more game-breakers, who can do it themselves, the famed One Swing of a Bat - mobs of line drive hitters are a fine thing, but sometimes you want the bomber in the middle of the lineup, and Ryan Howard is the class of the game as a power hitter.... And not the only one in the lineup..... So - there's a good chance we'll see a competitive world series this year - first one since 2003 (sort of) or 2002. That alone is a good thing.
* And finally, a pet peeve. I hate it when teams get rewarded for doing silly things. Like the Patriots dropping Pat the Patriot for the flying elvis (to cite one of Gregg Easterbrook's genuine clever lines) and promptly winning the superbowl. The Rays drop the Devil and immediately turn into world beaters - what the heck? Devil Rays was much cooler. Hrumph!
Sunday, October 19, 2008
And - this time he's right, and he said it directly and unambiguously: the Republicans are running a sordid, embarrassing campaign, and if they don't change, then you (if you are, like Powell, a moderate conservative, and a decent person) have to change. And let's face it - the story at the end may be predictable and manipulative, but by god it's also the truth: American Moslems serve and love their country as much as everyone else. The idea that merely accusing someone of being Islamic is an insult is disgusting, and if anything is unamerican, that's it, right there.
Friday, October 17, 2008
I see that once again I was premature. This is a reason I don't watch every minute of every post-season game - I can't go a month without sleep. And I wouldn't have been sleeping if I'd watched that.... So what now? 2 more games to go... sooner or later someone is going to be able to beat the Red Sox in a season ending game - Tampa's got as good chance as anyone. But really... this is just ridiculous.
Anyway: I am glad to see the series extended. Even if Tampa wins, it means they will be better prepared for the Phillies. Young teams can't afford time off before the world series - that is my theory. And though I won't mind a Philly win, I hope the AL winner takes it, even if it isn't the Red Sox. And it's good, in general, to see some competition - the last couple years have been terribly one-sided. One of these years, someone should try a 7 game world series again...
Though the truth is - I can't say I'm exactly surprised the Sox staged an 8 run comeback last night. Until someone eliminates them, I guess they have to stay the favorites. They certainly keep playing until the champagne corks pop.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Good Morning is a bit of an oddity in Ozu's career. Burr called it his only full comedy, which might be a bit of a stretch (especially counting the pre-war films), but it probably is the most sustained comedy. It tends to avoid the melancholic twists most of his films have - it doesn't linger on the loss or failure or disappointment that crops up in his work. But one way it does this is by making the comedy itself darker. Good Morning contains some pretty harsh material - unemployment and thieves, nasty gossips and spying neighbors, a woman telling her mother she should go to Narayama to die, and mom giving it back... Compensates for its more consistent comic tone by making the comedy darker - the jokes are crueler, more at people's expense.
But that's not the only thing that's different. Start with the music - the score is by Toshiro Mayuzumi - who scored Imamura's early films, as well as a few others for big directors - Ichikawa, a Naruse or so... That's a departure - both in his style, which is a kind of breezy jazz, with streaks of experimentation (especially in the Imamura's) and the occasional comic sound effect - and in the fact that the music actually seems integrated into the film. Ozu's soundtracks usually play fairly neutral - other than an occasional music theme, there's not much sense of the music working together with the image and story. Mayazumi, though, works the music in more conventionally - partly, I think, by slipping it closer to diegetic music - radios and TVs and the singing cabaret couple next door. Partly because things like Ozu's fart sound effects are so readily integrated into Mayazumi's style. It works very nicely here.
Mayuzumi's score also helps give the film a definite Tati feel - noted by Ty Bur and members of the audience. It's a good comparison - and another departure for Ozu. Good Morning is full of long, layered, Tati-esque shots - people moving around in the far distance of the shots, action staged in multiple planes, - creating lots of little silent comedy off in the corner or the back of the screen. And this film makes a lot of its space, as space - the houses and neighborhood as social spaces - much like Tati. Ozu usually develops his key spaces - exploring them - but usually analytically, fragmented. This film has a lot more depth shots than usual. And it's all given social significance - these crappy little prefab houses, all alike, all crammed next to each other. Ozu plays it for all its worth - the interchangeable houses, the way they're piled on top on one another. His customary low angle, combined with some fairly long lenses, flatten out the space completely - so people talking across the street, each in their own house, seem to be standing next to one another. He is known for flattening out space- stripping away the depth markers - but here, it's given a fairly direct social meaning. It exaggerates their proximity. So does the fact that - if I am not mistaken - often the people you can see moving around in the back of the shot are, in fact, across the street.
He emphasizes this: he shoots the various houses alike, from the same angles, with the same compositions - reinforcing the impression of all these people living in these identical, prefab houses, and never able to get away from anyone around them. (Though it could be worse - they could live in the godawful concrete slab the english teacher lives in.) In the beginning, especially, he cuts between different houses, in disorienting ways - it takes a while to figure out where you are. And of course - he uses this to build to one of his great gags: a drunken man comes home, starts taking off his shoes - in the wrong house. When the housewife comes to greet him, he even asks her why she's in his house... when he does get to his house, he's still not sure until his wife comes out to nag him... At the same time, though, Ozu does teach you which place is which - you just have to look for which pots and bowls are where...
Ah, pots and bowls - and hula hoops - and circles - and Red: it's not entirely uncharacteristic Ozu. In fact you can watch the whole film just following the movement around the screen of the red things -bowls and cups and stripes of cloth and socks and coats and rugs and lettering on boxes and the trim on the mailboxes and the hula hoops.... there's always that....
Though what there isn't: nature? This came up in the conversation after the film - the lack of nature in this film. Somewhat downplayed by Burr and others - but it's notable. Ozu doesn't spend much time in nature proper - but most of his films include quite a bit of nature in them. He's particularly fond of the sea, which figures in many films, with quite a few scenes set by the sea - but even when the characters don't interact with nature, he usually includes quite a few "pillow shots" of nature - the sky, sea, trees, hills, birds (at least), and so on. There's not much of that here. The "pillow shots" are of lamps and lampposts, electrical towers, hula hoops.... Not much natural.
Though there is an even more shocking omission in this film: where are the trains? No trains? Thankfully, they are evoked - the scene at the end at the station... and train whistles, once or twice during the film... But - no trains! how did he stand it?
Anyway - that's enough. It's a fascinating film - it's also a pretty unambiguous masterpiece, for all its oddness in Ozu's career, and all its seeming lightness. As always he is a perfect master of story telling - elliptical and subtle as always. The way he shows us that the 2 salesmen are in cahoots; the way he wraps it up - the old man coming home drunk, to the wrong house, then his house,saying he's happy - why is he happy later - we see him at his new job as a salesman - he visits the family, they talk about his wares, though we never see a sale being made. Instead - Ozu switches to the boys' story - taking food, running away - and the parents' and friends' concern... and only at the end, when they come back and see, almost as an afterthought, what they see.... does he let you wrap it up. And - the gags (including the original "that's not a knife - this is a knife!" gag), the politics - the ubiquity of money, and fears about money, the consumerism, selling, etc. - the social changes registered - the concentration of language, different registers of language... a grand and glorious film. And funny as heck to boot!
Thursday, October 09, 2008
1. Norwegian Wood
2. Working Class Hero
3. Tomorrow Never Knows
4. In My Life
5. She Said She Said
And A Day in the Life, though that's only half John.... Anyway - I was always a Lennon fan: and even now, if I put together a Beatles top 10, top 20, it's be mostly John's songs. Maybe a bit skewed by what I actually have on the iPod - I don't think I have a copy of Hey Jude - or Strawberry Fields Forever - or If I Needed Someone - or Yesterday, for that matter. So who knows.
I don't have much of John's post-Beatles work either - or the others' either. Ram, All Things Must Pass and the Plastic Ono Band - which I think fairly accurately reflects my opinion if their collective post-Beatles' career - the essential records, and a bunch of other stuff... John probably managed the best body of work, a couple fairly classic records (I suppose I do need to get Imagine, don't I?), reasonable work elsewhere. McCartney made some good singles over the years, but very little I can't live without... Harrison - I'm not sure I quite agree with the idea that All Things Must Pass is the best post-Beatles record, but it's in the top 3. (I'm cheating a bit - counting a wild card: Yoko's Plastic Ono Band album - which is half Beatles - and some of the best rocking any of them did...) Anyway: YouTube requites we post video here - what can I find?
Well - here's a couple more songs that could make my top 5 - Come Together, Live:
And a Revolution promo:
And one of y favorite Lennons: Cold Turkey, live footage, studio sound...