Monday, June 27, 2011

Farewell Columbo

I will miss Peter Falk - one of the most consistently enjoyable actors of the past 50 years. He made everything he touched better - he was always a joy to watch. He was part of some of the best films of his era, specifically his collaborations with Cassavetes - and that after working with America's greatest filmmaker, even getting an Oscar nod out fo it.... And if he is best known for Columbo - that's just about as good - for my money, Columbo might be the second best television show of all time. Looking at why it was so good - you can start with the character, with Falk's performances, as well as his look - you can look at the writing, the care taken in building those mysteries, the care taken in working the formula. It was a very formulaic show - quite unapologetically - start with the crime, then bring in Columbo, almost as an afterthought, and have him find something... then work off the guest stars of the week. And that, I think, is really what made the show so great. All the pieces are there - the stories, the dialogue, the actors, the guest stars, Falk - but they are all worked together with such skill, and especially, the interactions between Falk and the guest stars. That's the core of the show - those direct confrontations between someone who thinks they've committed the perfect crime and Lieutenant Columbo - it's where the show worked all the variations it needed to stay fresh through all those mysteries. It's notable - the concept of the show derives pretty explicitly from Crime and Punishment - and don't forget that Raskalnikov is the main character of Crime and Punishment. I don't know if Falk got more screen time then the crooks or not - it had to be close a few times - but the show's ability to get close to the killers and stay there gave it it's poignancy. It may have been mostly from Columbo's POV, but you always got the crook's perspective too - the sense of something closing in, even if they couldn't be sure what... Yes. And it matters that a good number of the killers come off - well - some of them are positively sympathetic. Even some nasty sons of bitches come out - well, almost regrettable. They build rapport with Columbo - he seems almost disappointed when he catches them, disappointed in them, I suppose - and we share in it.

It depends on the guest stars - but they depend on Falk. Who shows, in those Cassavetes films, how well he works with other actors, how much he integrates into the ensemble. He does it here - he plays off the guest stars, they play off him - the best of them - Cassavetes himself, the Patrick McGoohan episodes, or the Johnny Cash episode (maybe the best of the series) - just sing, as the stars maneuver around each other. The formula allows for infinite variety - there are shows with sympathetic villains, others with monsters, who draw out a kind of shivery delight in Falk when he catches them - everything in between. It was an exquisite show - even when the stories weren't the best, the interplay between Falk and his victims could carry the show. I am eternally grateful to him for it...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rainy Friday Songs

It's Raining Today - and that makes a good starting point - set Genius off from Scott Walker:

1. Scott Walker - It's Raining today
2. John Cale - Fear is a Man's Best Friend
3. Robert Wyatt - Sea Song
4. Young Marble Giants - Eating Noddemix
5. Roxy Music - 2 H. B.
6. The Modern Lovers - Girlfriend
7. Wire - Marooned
8. Richard & Linda Thompson - I Want to See the Brights Lights Tonight
9. PJ Harvey - The Words that Maketh Murder
10. Captain Beefheart - Ella Guru

And video? In memory of Clarence Clemons:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Spring Film Roundup

I have fallen back out of the habit of posting occasional roundups of recent films - not even monthly anymore. The last one I can find is from January... youch. I can take some comfort in the fact that I've managed to actually write about a few movies in that time, but I think the shorter pieces have their place... So here goes, again, a month or so worth of new films...

Bridesmaids - 10/15 - Very funny film with Kristin Wiig as Annie, whose best friend gets married and asks her to be the maid of honor. But - KW is broke (put all her money into a bakery and lost it), has a crappy job, crazy roommates, a lousy lover (a rich guy who throws her out every night) - she has no money for the gig, but everyone else in the party has money to spare.... hilarity ensues. It's quite single minded in being about money - everything that happens happens because Annie is broke and the rest of the party is not. Everything - the Brazilian barbecue, the dress fitting, all that happens because ANnie is saving money; the trip to Vegas goes like it does because Annie is stuck in coach; the shower? Annie offers a person gift and Helen tops it by flying the bride to Paris - an idea she stole from Annie. I mean, everything is about money - even the romance - a busted taillight that Annie can't afford to fix? It's rather unusual for that direct attention to money as such, sometimes interesting with bits of class as well - especially the way everyone tries to pretend that they are all equal, even while cash considerations create obvious problems. It's a pretty sharp look at people with similar backgrounds - and here, creative, smart people at that - who have significantly divergent fortunes. A phenomenon I've seen in my day... and here, played out with lots of variation around the edges - the people who have money and those who don't, the old money and new money, etc... Not bad...

Princess of Montpensier - 10/15 - set in the 16th century religious wars in France, a girl marries a prince instead of the duc she loves (the duc of Guise, head of the catholic league in future) - she is tutored by a mercenary turned pacifist who also loves her - and eventually runs into the duc of Anjou (brother of the king), a fop (a rather brilliant fop) who also loves her and makes trouble for everyone else. A very handsome film, and also very sharp in its delineations of the politics, obligations, social positions of these people, and the complications of their loves and wars.

The Trip - 10/15 - Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon tour the north of England, eating at gourmet restaurants and visiting historical sites. The story is formulaic, the actors playing caricatures of themselves - Coogan the restless movie star worried about his career, compulsively womanizing, etc. - Bryden joking his way through the trip, doing impressions and underplaying his real jealousy, with a wife and kid waiting at home... But it is a handsome film to watch, and they are hilarious when they get going...

Nostalgia for the Light - 12/15 - Gorgeous documentary about Chile's Altacama desert, where the clear skies and perfectly dry climate create perfect conditions for looking at the stars, and preserving the dead. ALternating between astronomers and their telescopes, scanning the skies, looking for the story of where the universe came from - and the story of political prisoners, kept here in camps, murdered by the thousands, buried, then exhumed and reburied to hide the crimes.... And the women, searching for the dead. And a third perspective (alongside the astronomers and political victims) - archeologists studying the remnants of the millennia of inhabitants of the desert - their sites and bodies preserved in the dry earth...) Beautiful, very moving film.

Blank City - 9/15 - Documentary about the film movement in NY in the late 70s early 80s, where Jim Jarmusch, Ann Magnuson, Steve Buscemi etc. got their start. It's an interesting story, but the film is rather bland. There are a fair number of clips from the films of the day - but they seem very bland. Hard to tell if this is because the films aren't very good or because they are badly chosen and integrated, or maybe because the aesthetic depends too much on patience and duration so the editing drains them, or something else. Where it does work (both the films in the film and the film itself, as a documentary) is as a documentation of NY in the late 70s. It's a fascinating time and place, and the film does a decent job of showing it to us.

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen - 6/15 - Donnie Yen as Chen Zhen, the character from Fists of Fury - here, he's survived, and comes back from WWI (where he wiped out a platoon of Germans with a pair of bayonets) with a new identity - he gets a job working for a gangster - he's surrounded by intrigue - Japanese, Chinese warlords, cops, assassins, bargirls, etc. - he's part of a secret organization fighting the Japanese... and - lots of death and posturing and traces of romance, lots of flashy camera movement and hinted musical numbers (that don't come off), plenty of anachronism (from the name of the nightclub to the 40s style cars) - in the end - the girls are all spies, his allies mostly get killed, and he wipes out the Japanese, in a less interesting fight than you would hope. All this was made worse by being digital projected from a DVD, which killed off the opulance of the sets and cinematography (which is a big part of what appeal the film has). Nothing terrible, but nothing very impressive either.

13 Assassins - 11/15 - conventional seeming assassin story, set in 1844, the usual thing - the shogun's nasty half brother is getting too close to power - the shogun's advisers decide to kill him and recruit Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yokusho) to do it. He recruits a band of samurai, 12 total (then they pick up a peasant to make 13), and ambushes the lord... mayhem ensues. It's firmly in the tradition - the recruiting, the retainers and retainers of retainers, there is the inevitable sword expert, a spear expert who does it for the money, a dissolute nephew, etc. - and the peasant, who they cut down from a cage in the woods, who leads them out amd joins them and has a blast... On the other side - the mad lord, his faithful retainer who is, of course, Shinzaemon's old pal - etc. It's relatively restrained, though given the kinds of things you saw in old chambara, that's a relative term indeed - you do get a couple Miike specialties - a woman with her arms and legs and tongue cut off.... a bunch of wild boars with fire strapped to their back... the immortal peasant... and a steady string of details - the village, samurai swinging hopelessly away in their death throes, a fight shot upside down from the POV of a dieing man, etc. And a very cool villain, who'd be right at home in Ichi the Killer - deliberately walking into the ambush - "the foolish road is more fun" - and carrying on during the fight in perfect delight - dying in the mud, in agony, thanking his killer for the best day of his life... In this - his love of war and the others' mixed feelings - you see Miike, a bit - the fight starts exciting but becomes drudgery, people slogging around swinging at eash other... though then it ends for the inevitable duel, though this is undercut by the lord commenting on it - that happens a lot - there's plenty of monologuing, but a lot of it is metacomment - commenting on the duel, etc... He doesn't undercut it as he is sometimes wont to do, but he doesn't seem quite willing to let anything stand as a straightforward representation of some kind of grand serious politically motivated bloodbath.... Great stuff anyway.

Meek's Cutoff - 11/15 - I think Kelly Reichardt is well on the way to becoming one of the great American filmmakers of the age. May or may not be fair to say she is there (the level of the Coens, Lynch, Anderson and Anderson, etc.) - but she's well on her way to becoming one of them. This story is set in the old west - a small wagon train, 3 wagons, 3 families - are following a mountain man on a new route to Oregon. They begin the film by crossing a river, but tat is the last water they see for a while. Things go badly - they scheme against Meek, the guide - then they spot and Indian, then catch the Indian, and compel/convince him to lead them to water. Which he may or may not do. The film is slow and patient, a hard story about hard people in a hard land, and Reichardt conveys the sense of a bunch of farmers looking for a better life, with everything at stake.... It is interesting, though, to think of how it compares to the history - the real story it is based on involved hundreds of wagons - though I suppose plenty of people crossed the west in groups of 3 or 4 wagons... Sometimes, though, I think the real story competes with the story on screen - the small party gives it more of an abstract feeling, a kind of dream state, that maybe contradicts the matter of factness of the real story. Certainly the scale of the real story, the scale of the whole westward migration in the 1840s and 50s. Either way though - this is a fine movie...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day Ozu Style

Of course he's no sentimentalist - father's can be monsters as easily as heroes.

...sometimes no better than kids themselves -

Families are trouble -

- but

Things do work out sometimes, whether you like it or not.

Happy father's day!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Summer Quiz

Time for the latest quiz from Dennis Cozzalio - Professor Ed Avery's Cortizone-Fueled, Bigger than Life, Super Gulp-sized Summer Movie Quiz. ALways fun, and always a challenge - these things are harder than most class work I've had! This one has taken me an awful long time, thanks to my inherent sloth, the Bruins, the fact that it's summer and, you know - summer and stuff... But it's done, more or less... Here goes:

1) Depending on your mood, your favorite or least-loved movie cliché

I'm not sure - though in general - montage sequences, set to some pop song - are getting old, and are almost self-parody when they start... though when they work - they switch to one of the best. If they substitute for the plot...

2) Regardless of whether or not you eventually caught up with it, which film classic have you lied about seeing in the past?

I am sure I have done this, though I don't remember any specific instances. I think I did claim to see Paths of Glory for a while, when all I had seen was a kind of filmstrip version of the film... of course it was worse than that, since the history teacher that showed us the film strip claimed that it was All Quiet on the Western Front. I knew better, having already read the book...

3) Roland Young or Edward Everett Horton?

Horton, easily.

4) Second favorite Frank Tashlin movie

The Girl Can't Help It

5) Clockwork Orange-- yes or no?

I used to love it - now - I guess it’s still a pretty good piece of work. I have been coming back around toward Kubrick, after a long stretch of tending to look down on him. Though I can't really deny the entertainment value. I prefer the book, though, for whatever that is worth.

6) Best/favorite use of gender dysphoria in a horror film (Ariel Schudson)

I looked it up, of course - unease with ones gender. Well - this comes to mind:

But in a horror film? blimey... back to the drawing board. Where I feel guilty about just using the obvious - Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, that sort of thing. I could say Antichrist, I suppose...

7) Melanie Laurent or Blake Lively?

Hard to say I have an opinion, though I liked what I've seen of Melanie Laurent.

8) Best movie of 2011 (so far…)

Genuine new movies - Meek’s Cutoff; last year’s movies, released in 2011 - Uncle Boonmee, followed (not too far off) by Certified Copy and Le Quattro Volte

9) Favorite screen performer with a noticeable facial deformity (Peg Aloi)

interesting question, sort of. Does Peter Falk's glass eye count? though I only notice it when I am thinking about it. Let's see - Owen Wilson's nose? W. C. Fields' nose? Belmondo's nose? or maybe Denis Lavant's acne?

10) Lars von Trier: shithead or misunderstood comic savant? (Dean Treadway)

Are the two incompatible in some way? I didn't find his remarks at Cannes all that offensive, or even unusual. I suppose bad taste to joke about nazis, and probably a bad idea in general to use Hitler as a metaphor for something else (Hitler and Nazis as a matahphor for depression, right?) - but still... he does this all the time, of course - most of his public pronouncements seem calculated to confuse and annoy, and part f a more or less elaborate private joke. And usually in some strange way - funny, clever, worth considering.

11) Timothy Carey or Henry Silva?

They are both wonderful, but Carey is something else again.

12) Low-profile writer who deserves more attention from critics and /or audiences

I should be able to come up with an answer for this, but I can't.

13) Movie most recently viewed theatrically, and on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming

Theater = Nostalgia for the Light; DVD = You Can't Take it With You; Streaming = The Knack and How to Get It

14) Favorite film noir villain

There are too many choices... I think I'll go neo-noir, and, since I'm thinking about the Bruins and the Stanley Cup - go with Peter Boyle in The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

15) Best thing about streaming movies?

I don’t really like them, but they do let you make a decision on the spot, which can be nice.

16) Fay Spain or France Nuyen? (Peter Nellhaus)

I don't think I can answer this one. How about Marie-France Pisier instead?

17) Favorite Kirk Douglas that isn’t called Spartacus (Peter Nellhaus)

Ace in the Hole? though this could be the answer to 14 above too. (Out of the Past)

18) Favorite movie about cars

Two Lane Blacktop, probably.

19) Audrey Totter or Marie Windsor?

No idea

20) Existing Stephen King movie adaptation that could use an remake/reboot/overhaul

I don't think I care all that much. The ones I've liked, I've liked, and the ones I haven't I don't care about.

21) Low-profile director who deserves more attention from critics and/or audiences

I could probably come up with a lot of people, though this sort of thing usually comes to me after the fact.... But right now, I think I would say, Ira Sachs.

22) What actor that you previously enjoyed has become distracting or a self-parody? (Adam Ross)

I should be able to come up with a good answer for this. I don't know though - there seem to be a few actors I am tired of, but then they make a good film, or a film with someone who understands their talents, and all is forgiving. I don't know. I suppose there are obvious cases - Woody Allen, say... but that's boring, he barely acts anymore. Maybe Ellen Page? who does not seem to be going anywhere. Or even more depressing - Zooey Deschanel? I do not mind them, but they do not seem to progess much. I doubt either of those young women are to blame, though.

23) Best place in the world to see a movie

I don’t know. Anywhere that’s showing Ozu, I guess.

24) Charles McGraw or Sterling Hayden?

I always like Hayden

25) Second favorite Yasujiro Ozu film

Late Spring

26) Most memorable horror movie father figure

Has to be Dr. Pretorious in Bride of Frankenstein.

27) Name a non-action-oriented movie that would be fun to see in Sensurround

Another one I might think of over time.... How about Duck Soup?

28) Chris Evans or Ryan Reynolds?

Not sure, though Reynolds is usually watchable.

29) Favorite relatively unknown supporting player, from either or both the classic and the modern era

Modern - Garret Dillahunt usually makes me take notice... classic: there's nothing unknown about Dwight Frye, but boy, he was good...

30) Real-life movie location you most recently visited or saw

I walked by the Thirsty Scholar today, same as almost every day. Why would a Harvard kid and a BU kid go drinking in Somerville? no one has answered that question yet...

31) Second favorite Budd Boetticher movie

The Tall T

32) Mara Corday or Julie Adams?

I don't know...

33) Favorite Universal-International western

Winchester 73.

34) What's the biggest "gimmick" that's drawn you out to see a movie? (Sal Gomez)

If it counts, probably live music for silent films, including some odd mixes. (A DJ for shows of old Martial arts films - Red Knight Errant and Swordswoman of Huang jiang - which worked better than you might think...)

35) Favorite actress of the silent era

This is difficult - partly because I don't have quite the systematic experience with silent films I should. Lillian Gish has to rank high; or maybe Kinuyo Tanaka, who is in some fine early films, as well as having a big career in sound films.

36) Best Eugene Pallette performance (Larry Aydlette)

I'm going to say My Man Godfrey, though there are few more welcome presences in films...

37) Best/worst remake of the 21st century so far? (Dan Aloi)

The best, I suppose, is True Grit - the worst - I can't say I've sought out a lot of remakes... Planet of the Apes seemed particularly pointless, and I did see it, though not in a very conscious state...

38) What could multiplex owners do right now to improve the theatrical viewing experience for moviegoers? What could moviegoers do?

I am not sure. I think - keep projecting film is a big one. Similarly Moviegoers - show up on time? Though I have become more and more guilty of showing up in the middle of the trailers, so I shouldn't complain.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Icy Friday Music

In honor of the local triumph:

1. Meat Puppets - Ice
2. Joy Division - Ice Age
3. Husker Du - Ice Cold Ice
4. Van Halen - Ice Cream Man
5. Pere Ubu - Ice Cream Truck
6. Ugly Casanova - Ice on the Streets
7. Wiley - Treddin on Thin Ice
8. Yoko Ono - Walking on Thin Ice
9. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - In this Home on Ice
10. Cibo Matto - WHite Pepper Ice Cream

Video? Husker Du is always indicated:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

June 16

Hoopsa boyaboy hoopsa! Hoopsa boyaboy hoopsa! Hoopsa boyaboy hoopsa!

Happy Bloomsday!

UPDATE: for one single post to read on Ulysses and the joys of Joyce, I would recommend Sheila O'Malley...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Bruins win the Stanley cup!

That takes me back - I was a hockey fan, back in the day, the Don Cherry years, the Middleton/Pederson/early Bourque years especially - then sort of drifted away. it's nice to see.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday Screen Shots - Space

Posted without comment, today - mostly. A quiet weekend....

...and back to work in the morning:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mid June Music

There could be a theme here:

1. Little Feat - Old Folk's Boogie
2. Captain Beefheart - Old Fart at Play
3. The Pogues - Old Man Drag
4. Richard and Linda Thompson - Old Man inside a Young Man
5. Neil Young - Old Man
6. The Pretty Things - Old Man Going
7. REM - Old Man Kensey
8. Modern Lovers - Old World
9. Scott Walker - the Old Man's Back Again (Dedicated to the Neo-Stalinist regime)
10. Volcano Suns - Old Paint

Any excuse to post the Pogues will do:

And I should really post this too - the Pretty Things, with Dave Gilmour:

Thursday, June 09, 2011

First in from Cannes

The first two films from this year's Cannes festival have made it to Boston, Midnight in Paris and Tree of Life. They may not seem to have much more than playing at Cannes in common, but to me, they are linked - films by auteurs I don't much like. I've written about my troubles with Woody Allen - I could say more. That I was once a fan; that I still love the early, funny ones; that I truly admire his work ethic - making a film a year is an achievement... I wish more of his films were better - though one of the advantages of knocking them out all the time is that you increase your chances of making something good. And so it happened, that breaking my one-every-seven-year pattern, I saw it, and was almost shocked to be rewarded with a perfectly enjoyable film. You've got Owen Wilson in Paris, with Rachel McAdams as his fiance, and her insufferable rich parents, and Michael Sheen in the person of an appalling pedant, and... so poor Gil (that's Wilson) starts wandering the streets alone and night and before long is pulled off into the 1920s to hobnob with his idols and romance imaginary art groupies. Lessons are learned and such (partly through the expedient of going even further back in time), decisions are made, work might be done... The lessons (You Can't Live in the Past, or some such) aren't particularly convincing - the Allen films I've seen lately all seem to be about some kind of renunciation of some kind of pleasure, and getting on with the life you have - but this time, the whole affair is light and off-hand enough to go down without any sourness... It is funny - the caricatures are great - Hemingway talking in Hemingway sentences about Love, and Death, and Honor, and Boxing; Bunuel looking confused and Dali acting the fool.... The modern parts are almost as good, at least when Paul (the pedant) is on screen - the character is very funny and Michael Sheen nails him... And Wilson is his usual enjoyable presence. It's not a great film, in any sense, but it's perfectly fine - funny, handsome looking, sharply performed across the board, a loose, clever, entertainment... I liked it without reservations.

That's not quite the case for Tree of Life. If Woody Allen is a problem (an established auteur with a certain ongoing reputation in some corners of the cinephilic world, who I find almost unwatchable at times), Malick - is a bigger problem. Allen is a bit past his prime - all those films, so many of them mediocre - a lot of people have given up on him. But Malick, knocking out a film every half decade or so (after taking almost 2 decades off), still seems to be the critics' darling. People I like and respect consider his films among the best of the decade! how does that happen?

I do not share that opinion, you may have guessed. And this film - I have been dreading for a long time. I dread it because of his last couple films, neither of which I find particularly good; but I know what he is capable of - and have no intention of risking missing another Badlands (or Days of Heaven, for that matter) - so I would see it, no matter what. And I dread it because it will inspire gushing reports all around the internet, and I was all too sure they would get under my skin - and maybe poison me against the film, more than it deserves. All that came before the film did - now that the film is out - well - no surprises anywhere. The reception, at least among the blogs and writers I tend to follow, is (mostly) rapturous - there are nay-sayers, though more than one of them seem to be aiming at targets beyond Mr. Malick... And the film itself? kind of a bore, really, though the middle part is quite good....

What I guess nags at me the most is the idea that this is some kind of masterpiece, some kind of experimental film - that's the gist of a lot of the praise and complaints. (It's worth noting just how many of the reviewers and commentators mention that Malick once lectured on philosophy (see? I did it too!), as if proving his intellectual bona fides.) But I don't see it - there's nothing experimental about the film, unless making a feature length movie that looks sounds and feels like a mashup of Levis, Louis Vuitton and Latter Day Saints ads is experimental. (And the sad fact is - the Levi's ad had freaking Walt Whitman himself doing the voiceovers! instead of Malick's banalities... it's an ad that couldn't exist without Terence Malick, and at this point, is - except for the quality of the poetry - almost indistinguishable from him.) That complaint, I will say, applies mostly to the frame story - the opening 20 minutes, the end, etc. - the Creation of the Universe stuff isn't quite so bad (it has its own problems, though, especially the nonsense with the dinosaurs) - and the middle part is quite good. It's nicely set up - after another montage of babies being born and growing up (an insurance ad?), Malick lands us at the dinner table one evening, and the plot kicks in and suddenly, you have something worth watching. Better than that, maybe.

It's still montage heavy, still occasionally marred by voiceover (and always stupid voiceover) - but this part is much more engaged - the people resemble human beings, the dialogue, though on the nose, feels closer to true - it feels like memory. The sequence plays as a kind of memory/dream, and is very effective at it. Does some interesting things - the Pitt character is something of a tyrant - or rather, the kids see him as a tyrant - he is strict, he occasionally gets mean (and he plays Bach on a pipe organ like a monster movie villain) - but it’s still odd; he never quite does anything wrong - he seems more sad than cruel. You wonder if Malick is deliberately undercutting the emotional core of the film - this is Jack’s movie - we see his reactions to his father the monster - but don’t see father quite as a monster. Even if it’s not meant quite to undercut the narrator (the implied POV), it certainly seems aimed at giving us a complicated view of the father. The grown son remembering, doubting himself, his memories, his emotions as a kid, and so on. The father emerges as the richest and most interesting character - I suspect that is intentional. (The flip side of this is that the mother never emerges as anything - she is a wet dream, there’s nothing else. She wafts around with no personality or self, just being ethereal and interacting with nature and such. She is more imaginary than the rest of the family.) Anyway - things happen - fights at home, playing with the brothers and other kids, kids die, kids get hurt... There are some key moments - the father going away and freeing the rest of the family for a day or so... Jack's sexual awakening (breaking into a lady's house to - well - masturbate onto her nightgown, right? Malick makes this look as ethereal as the rest - the kid looking to hide the nightgown, then throwing it into the river - but it shouldn't take too much imagination to figure out why he had to hide it....) Not surprisingly, Jack immediately transfers this business onto his mom... (About the only real complaint I have with this section is that it's basically acting out the monologue from "The End" - which Jim Morrison got through in a minute and a half, and it takes Malick an hour...) And then - Dad loses his job and the family has to move - and somewhere in the future, one of the boys dies, and the others suffer.... And Malick cuts away from this memoir to Sean Penn wandering around in deserts and beaches and salt flats to no good end.

So - I'm left with a very split opinion of the film. I wish it were all like the middle part; I found the opening and closing sections inane and dull. The creation stuff - nothing NatGeo doesn't go better... But the middle - isn't stylistically that different from the rest. It's elliptical, it's impressionistic, it's as aestheticized as the beginning and end - but hooking into the story, and into the subjectivity of its originating intelligence, and exploring the washes of memory and impression as it does - is fascinating, engaging, the seeds of a good film.

Monday, June 06, 2011


This week's Sunday Screen Shots come a day late, to honor the history - D-Day, in one of the best war movies of them all. It's a marvel of low-budget filmmaking, and a marvel of efficiency - capturing the chaos, violence, then the blood-curdling heroism of battle, the matter of fact horror of counting off who gets to risk their life next...

Friday, June 03, 2011

Music Friday

Another simple random ten, this Friday. I have some new records I have to listen to, and maybe get around to writing about - but that is still to come... Right now - Friday 10:

1. You La Tengo - Lost in Bessemer
2. Richard Thompson - Burning Man
3. Pere Ubu - Synth Farm
4. John Hartford - I Am A Man of COnstant Sorrow (Instrumental)
5. Pere Ubu - Heart of Darkness [specifically, a demo from one of their collections, a rehearsal session, working out the pulse... Neu would be proud]
6. Richard & Linda Thompson - Hokey Pokey (live)
7. Rites of Spring - Drink Deep
8. Merle Haggard - Silver WIngs
9. Yoko Ono - Why Not
10. The Doors - Back Door Man

That was interesting. Here then - video? Rites of Spring thrashing in the dark might be a good place to start....

And while the video is just an odd piece of animation - one never goes wrong with Pere Ubu:

Thursday, June 02, 2011

John Doe Footnote

(A follow up to the previous post - expanding a bit on some of the remarks about Meet John Doe. This comes from the paper that belongs with the images in this post.)

To quote the last post: "I think Capra tries to take a look at how fascism works. I think this is quite explicit at times - the big John Doe rally in the rain strikes me as a fairly deliberate parody of Triumph of the Will - or at least, of Nazi iconography" - here is what I mean:

The rally has all the trimmings of a big Nazi rally - huge crowds, radio mics and reporters, cameras and lights and hoopla - but all this imagery is undercut. The rally occurs in a torrential downpour - neither the bright daylight of the daytime scenes at Nuremburg, or the dramatic torchlight of the night scenes. John Doe arrives, passing like Hitler through the masses waiting for him, but unlike Hitler, with almost no fanfare. No one recognizes him as he passes through the crowd; Capra shoots his progress from a long distance in one shot, emphasizing his anonymity. Only when he reaches the stage does anyone recognize him. He then stands in front of the crowd, in front of a microphone, expected to speak; Capra frames him alone on the podium, in shots that do recall Riefenstahl’s shots of Hitler, but to opposite effect. Doe is alone, isolated (like Hitler in that, too), but with the opposite of Hitler’s commanding gaze and presence. He looks down, his face is desperate, and of course, he is sopping wet - a dripping, downcast man who doesn’t know what to say. The crowds are not arranged in ornaments, at least not in the lighting Capra provides - they are a sodden mass of people, obscured by umbrellas and hats and newspapers held over their heads, the whole thing swallowed up in mist and rain and darkness. The whole rally is a farce - the whole story a very complex mass of fraud and delusion, cynicism mixed with misapplied idealism, and this its point of collapse. Capra makes superb use of the imagery of Nazi propaganda, and of mass ornaments, undermining them, to expose the sordidness of the rally, not to mention the Nazis.