Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Decade's End

Ah December - must be the season of the list... and in a year ending with 9, that means, the season of the end of the Decade list.... It is too early, of course, to say definitively what really were the best films of the 00s - but... lists are fun. And favorite lists (however defined) are also fun, and useful. Why not chart your taste/interests/values? and why not take the chance to chart other people's?

So here goes - for some reason, a lot of lists I've seen have gone to 50 - so I think that's where I will stop now. These are "in order", though after the first dozen or so, that's usually a completely arbitrary designation, so I will probably not maintain the pretense the whole way down...

1. Inland Empire - 2006 - David Lynch - USA (I notice that my post "explaining" Inland Empire still seems to be the one that gets the most hits... I wish searchers luck - I don't know if I'd call it explicable... just mesmerizing.)

2. Yi Yi - 2000 - Edward Yang - Taiwan
3. In Vanda's Room - 2000 - Pedro Costa - Portugal
4. Kings and Queen - 2004 - Arnaud Desplechin - France... (found a Catherine Deneuve box set with this in it for $10 yesterday. Not bad.)
5. Colossal Youth - 2006 - Pedro Costa - Portugal
6. 2046 - 2004 - Wong Kar wei - Hong Kong/China
7. Death of Mr. Lazarescu - 2005 - Christi Puiu - Romania
8 L'Intrus - 2004 - Claire Denis - France
9. O Brother Where Art Thou - 2000 - Coen Brothers - USA
10. Los Angeles Plays Itself - 2003 - Thom Anderson - USA
11. Mulholland Drive - 2001 - David Lynch - USA
12. Secret Sunshine - 2007 - Lee Chang-dong - South Korea
13. Goodbye, Dragon Inn - 2003 - Tsai Ming-liang - Taiwan
14. The Son - 2002 - Luc & Jean Pierre Dardenne - Belgium
15. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance - 2002 - Park Chanwook - South Korea
16. Syndromes and a Century - 2006 - Apichatpong Weerasethakul - Thailand
17. There Will Be Blood - 2007 - Paul Thomas Anderson - USA
18. Memories of Murder - 2003 - Bong Joon-ho - South Korea
19. Platform - 2000 - Jia Zhang Ke - China
20. House of Flying Daggers - 2004 - Zhang Yimou - China
21. Ichi the Killer - 2001 - Takashi Miike - Japan
22. En Construccion (Work in Progress) - 2001 - Jose Luis Guerin - Spain
23. Che - 2008 - Steven Soderburgh - USA
24. Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors - 2000 - Hong Sang-soo - South Korea
25. Doppleganger - 2003 -Kiyoshi Kurosawa - Japan
26. Royal Tenenbaums - 2001 - Wes Anderson - USA
27. Tokyo Sonata - 2008 - Kiyoshi Kurosawa - Japan
28. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days - 2007 - Christian Mungiu - Romania
29. The Headless Woman - 2008 - Lucrecia Martel - Argentina
30. Woman on the Beach - 2006 - Hong Sang-soo - South Korea
31. Songs from the Second Floor - 2000 - Roy Andersson - Sweden
32. Zodiac - 2007 - David Fincher - USA
33. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - 2004 - Michel Gondry - USA
34. Va Savoir - 2001 - Jacques Rivette - France
35. Donnie Darko - 2001 - Richard Kelly - USA
36. The Flight of the Red Balloon - 2007 - Hou Hsiao Hsien - Taiwan/France
37.Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary - 2003 - Guy Maddin - Canada
38.Regular Lovers - 2005 - Philippe Garrel - France
39. Retribution - 2006 - Kiyoshi Kurosawa - Japan
40. Blissfully Yours - 2002 - Apichatpong Weerasethakul - Thailand
41. Thirst - 2009 - Park Chanwook - South Korea
42. California Dreamin (Endless) - 2007 - Christian Remescu - Romania
43. Distance - 2001 - Hirokazu Kore-Eda - Japan
44. La Cienaga - 2001 - Lucrecia Martel- Argentina
45. Los Muertos - 2004 - Lisandro Alonso - Argentina
46. No Country for Old Men - 2007 - Coen Brothers - USA
47. Squid and the Whale - 2005 - Noah Baumbach - USA
48. RR - 2007 - James Bening - USA
49. Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - 2004
50. Liverpool - 2008 - Lisandro Alonso - Argentina

This has changed noticeable since I started the list yesterday, and will probably change half a dozen titles on or off before the year ends. But there you go.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Something Siegfried Kracauer Said

About girls...

and men and machines...

that applies to politics...

...though more than politics...

though sometimes, more politics...

made me think about how images and politics work together... do evil...

And how evil...

...might be countered:

by being reconfigured


...gave me something to write anyway.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saturday Placeholder

Oy, another week without any posts... at least the last two were big ones. I am, as it happens, in the middle of writing a paper for class - more Nazis and their films... though I might get this one in there as well:

Anyway - once this class is done - well, it'll be Christmas, shopping season at any rate - so the odds are probably against getting any decent blogging material through the end of the year. The end of the decade, in cold fact! There have to be lists coming, right? Of course! Not yet though - for now, I'll offer a tease, with the Cinematheque Ontario poll that's been out a few weeks and gotten much comment already. Film lists are fun - and I will certainly take the opportunity to put one together... the more challenging task will be constructing a musical list - Joseph B. did, a couple weeks ago - that's going to be a troublesome project. I listened to and bought a lot of new music this decade - up through the end of 2007, for some reason. The last couple years, not so much. Strange phenomenon - mix of habits (more walking, less trains, so less listening to the iPod) and spending priorities (I've been spending money on DVDs instead) and - um - redecorating the apartment (which included boxing up CDs to create more space for bookcases....) - who knows. So - I look forward to thinking about the music of the 00s, since I care, but have let it slide for a couple years....

Anyway.. lately I've taken the Friday Random Ten to facebook, where it seems a bit more at home... but maybe a video is in order? count down some of my favorite music of the decade that way? I don't know. Maybe now, one of this year's most intriguing records (and an artist likely to figure large in my end of the decade lists) - "Small Metal Gods" from David Sylvain's Manofan:

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Winter Quiz

Whew! Finished! Dennis Cozzalio's Thanksgiving/Christmas quiz - a pleasure to fill in, but by god it's almost as much work as real classes! Anyway - here it is...

1) Second-favorite Coen Brothers movie.
A: Fargo (#1 - O Brother Where Art Thou)

2) Movie seen only on home format that you would pay to see on the biggest movie screen possible? (Question submitted by Peter Nellhaus)
A: I think I will say Tokyo Drifter - wide screen colors, the compositions and action - I think this is it.

3) Japan or France? (Question submitted by Bob Westal)
A: Japan. (France, of course, is the clear #2, or 3 if you will.)

4) Favorite moment/line from a western.
A: There are so many - always tempting to use Altman, but I think I'll say instead, the final Indian charge in Fort Apache - the devastating finality of it always gets me... as for lines - "When you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk" is hard to beat...

5) Of all the arts the movies draw upon to become what they are, which is the most important, or the one you value most?
A: I think films are too eclectic to say one is more important; I can say that novels are the most satisfying art form, and their satisfactions are the closest to those of films. Eclecticism again is important.

6) Most misunderstood movie of the 2000s (The Naughties?).
A: I'm tempted to say, Donnie Darko, primarily by the maker - the best thing about the film is its ambiguity, its ability to tread the line between scifi and It's All In His Head - when Kelly makes things clear, the film diminishes... But instead I think I will say Juno - it seems to me that no one notices that the main character in the film is the Jason Bateman character - he has a story arc, he makes decisions, he changes - he is the only person who, in the end, behaves responsibly, intelligently, and honestly. Juno the character is a conceit and the baby a MacGuffin; the wife is a nightmare... he is demonized by the film, but that's wrong - he is the protagonist, and he behaves properly. I don't know if anyone involved in the film realized this, though.

7) Name a filmmaker/actor/actress/film you once unashamedly loved who has fallen furthest in your esteem.
A: At one time, the answer was definitely Stanley Kubrick - he was one of the first directors I worshipped, but then I discovered other styles - through Altman, Hawks, classics in general, Cassavetes and Capra - and wrote Kubrick off, quite a bit. I don’t know if I can keep that up now though; I always end up enjoying his films when I see them. But I guess it’s still a good answer.

8) Herbert Lom or Patrick Magee?
A: Lom, I'd have to say.

9) Which is your least favorite David Lynch film (Submitted by Tony Dayoub)
A: Dune; I suppose I could say, Fire Walk With Me is my least favorite real Lynch film, though Dune is more Lynch than I would have thought.

10) Gordon Willis or Conrad Hall? (Submitted by Peet Gelderblom)
A: I would probably have to say Willis; maybe because I saw the Godfather movies within the last year. Though I saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the last year too, so...

11) Second favorite Don Siegel movie.
A. Siegel's work is a substantial gap in what I've seen. The answer has to be Dirty Harry, because I have seen it, somewhere long ago. #1 of course is Charley Verrick, which ain't gonna change...

12) Last movie you saw on DVD/Blu-ray? In theaters?
A: As of today, the answers are: Cabin in the Sky on DVD & Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans in theaters. For what it's worth, the last movie I saw Online is more interesting than either - Romance in a Minor Key - a magnificent 1943 German melodrama that seems completely out of its time and place.

13) Which DVD in your private collection screams hardest to be replaced by a Blu-ray? (Submitted by Peet Gelderblom)
A: A Touch of Zen would probably be the winner... or Blue Velvet.

14) Eddie Deezen or Christopher Mintz-Plasse?
A: I'll say Eddie Deezen, at least for now - and because just looking at a picture of him brings back a flood of memories...

15) Actor/actress who you feel automatically elevates whatever project they are in, or whom you would watch in virtually anything.
A: There are quite a few, favorite actors, actors with unerring instincts for good films, whatever... But having just taken a class on Nazi cinema, I am going to name the most memorable performer of the era - Ferdinand Marian. As far as he is remembered, it is probably for playing the title character in Jud Suss - which itself is a strange film - utterly vicious, except Marian steals the picture completely, making the character seem human... he was in a number of other films as well - Munchhausen, Romance in a Minor Key, La Habenera, and steals them all - he's like a German Basil Rathbone, usually playing sleek villains, but always making them way more interesting than the heroes. (Though that's one of the odder features of Nazi era films - the heroes are a decidedly bland crew. No one can give Marian a run for his money - in the American films of the time, those great Warner Brothers adventure films with Rathbone vs. Errol Flynn or Tyrone Powers, both sides get their due - Flynn and Powers hold their own against the bad guys. The Nazis only seem to be able to make interesting villains.) Anyway - he's really astonishing - and seems to be coming back to attention. There's a film about him supposed to be coming out next year - and closer to hand - I think you can make a pretty good case that Tarantino and Christoph Waltz modeled Hans Landa on Marian's Joseph Seuss Oppenheimer.

16) Fight Club -- yes or no?
A: No way - dumb and fake.

17) Teresa Wright or Olivia De Havilland?
A: De Havilland, I think

18) Favorite moment/line from a film noir.
A: This is tough to come up with one, so I will go a bit off the main track - it's a cut, at the end of The Asphalt Jungle - we see the police commissioner giving a speech about the crooks, saying Sterling Hayden's character is a hardened killer - Huston cuts to Hayden, dying, driving through Kentucky, wishing he had his life back... cue music, cue daylight...

19) Best (or worst) death scene involving an obvious dummy substituting for a human or any other unsuccessful special effect(s)—see the wonderful blog Destructible Man for inspiration.
A: When in doubt, I think I will look for the most recent notable instance - in this case - Big Man Japan - the whole last 15-20 minutes is a surreal, Power rangers style fight, with plenty of dummy abuse along the way - it's - quite amazing, really...

20) What's the least you've spent on a film and still regretted it? (Submitted by Lucas McNelly)
A: I will say Failure to Launch, though in a sense I did spend 20 bucks on it, since it played on a bus ride, but I guess that makes it just an incidental expense. Just glancing at it, it was utterly fucking atrocious - the worst looking film I can remember seeing. The editing was so bad it hurts - shot/counter shot sequences don't match, don't come close to matching, there are way too many cuts, in the course of every freaking conversation, fast, random... Come to think of it I think I had to see it twice, both directions on the bus, and it offended me...

21) Van Johnson or Van Heflin?
A: Heflin, I think

22) Favorite Alan Rudolph film.
A: The Moderns.

23) Name a documentary that you believe more people should see.
A: I suppose there are a ton of these, but - let's say Clouzot's Mystery of Picasso.

24) In deference to this quiz’s professor, name a favorite film which revolves around someone becoming stranded.
A: There must be a lot of good examples - since I've just seen the newest Herzog, though, I'm reminded of Wings of Hope - a documentary he made about a woman named Juliene Koepke, who survived a plane crash in the Amazon in 1971 - about the time he was shooting Aguirre there... she was stranded, but walked her way out of the jungle - Herzog takes her back and they retrace her steps... Aguirre, of course, is about being stranded in the jungle - most Herzog is about being stranded somewhere, a stranger in a strange land...

25) Is there a moment when your knowledge of film, or lack thereof, caused you an unusual degree of embarrassment and/or humiliation? If so, please share.
A: I can't answer this; nothing's coming to mind... not that it hasn't happened, but it's not coming to mind...

26) Ann Sheridan or Geraldine Fitzgerald? (Submitted by Larry Aydlette)
A: Not that familiar with them, but Sheridan has had a couple moments I remember...

27) Do you or any of your family members physically resemble movie actors or other notable figures in the film world? If so, who?
A: Robin Williams?

28) Is there a movie you have purposely avoided seeing? If so, why?
A: I avoided The Dark Knight for some reason - I'm not sure why; maybe I'm tired of "serious" superhero films.

29) Movie with the most palpable or otherwise effective wintry atmosphere or ambience.
A: Literally or figuratively? Oshima's Boy?

30) Gerrit Graham or Jeffrey Jones?
A: Jones

31) The best cinematic antidote to a cultural stereotype (sexual, political, regional, whatever).
A: Another one I am having trouble answering, though I think there must be a lot of good answers... they'll come to me... so I'll go with an example from this year - Adventureland does a nice job of stopping the "nice guy abandons slutty girl because he's uptight" plot line cold in its tracks. As well as a variety of stereotypes about Nice Guys and slutty girls...

32) Second favorite John Wayne movie.
A: Fort Apache (after the Searchers)

33) Favorite movie car chase.
A: This meme went around a couple years ago... Nobody does chases better than Harold Lloyd - Girl Shy has the chase for the ages, including cars... though for just cars - I am very fond of the original Gone in 60 Seconds, partly because it's put together like a silent film - a series of obstacles, situations, settings, each set up and paid off for the cars, with pieces circling back around to each other, and the added fun of the radio reporter's interviews on the street ("he hit a boat?")...

34) In the spirit of His Girl Friday, propose a gender-switched remake of a classic or not-so-classic film. (Submitted by Patrick Robbins)
A: How about Psycho? I thought at the time, that's what Gus Van Sant should have done...

35) Barbara Rhoades or Barbara Feldon?
A: What? 99!!! not to mention Smile...

36) Favorite Andre De Toth movie.
A: This has to be Crime Wave, in the end

37) If you could take one filmmaker's entire body of work and erase it from all time and memory, as if it had never happened, whose oeuvre would it be? (Submitted by Tom Sutpen)
A: Another tough one - at least since it ought to be someone I've seen enough of to build up an antipathy. Chris Columbus comes to mind, though, wait a second, that included Gremlins, doesn't it? As a director, call it...

38) Name a film you actively hated when you first encountered it, only to see it again later in life and fall in love with it.
A: Variations on this get asked all the time; they should be easier to answer... I have, though, just thought the classic example - well, "love" is a strong word... but... I hesitated to type these words... but... Batman and Robin - the first time I saw it, I was primarily offended by the thought of stealing a Marlene Dietrich routine for a crappy Batman outing. Worse yet, wasting Uma Thurman playing Marlene Ditrich... But then I saw it again and was quite smitten - mostly by Uma, who camps it up for all it's worth, like she's in the TV show - but the rest of it has a strange, rather enjoyable B movie energy, never remotely takes a minute of this nonsense seriously - I suppose it's more Rose Hobart in East of Borneo than Dietrich in - anything - but that's better than the "serious" versions of Batman people keep foisting on us....

39) Max Ophuls or Marcel Ophuls? (Submitted by Tom Sutpen)
A: Max

40) In which club would you most want an active membership, the Delta Tau Chi fraternity, the Cutters or the Warriors? And which member would you most resemble, either physically or in personality?
A: I can't say this one moves me all that much.

41) Your favorite movie cliché.
A:This is the last question to answer - I'm going with one from the last movie I saw - Bad Lieutenant in New Orleans - the way cops always get a conviction from that One Magic Piece of Evidence - planted, found, whatever. Herzog and company mock the living shit out of it - the way the whole story winds itself up in one scene there, almost at the end - it's almost as funny as the Iguanas.

42) Vincente Minnelli or Stanley Donen? (Submitted by Bob Westal)
A: Very easy - Minelli, who has leapt into the forefront of my favorite directors, and gets more interesting with every film I see of his.

43) Favorite Christmas-themed horror movie or sequence.
A: I imagine something from Gremlins, though it's been too long since I've seen it to say what...

44) Favorite moment of self- or selfless sacrifice in a movie.
A: The sister walks into the water in Sansho the Bailiff

45) If you were the cinematic Spanish Inquisition, which movie cult (or cult movie) would you decimate? (Submitted by Bob Westal)
A: I should have a better answer for this - I'm going to say, all the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fans - that has always annoyed me to no end. If you're going to watch Chinese martial arts films, watch the real ones. Get Touch of Zen or Come Drink with Me or Once Upon a Time in China or something, leave the imitations alone. Or at least watch the Zhang Yimou's imitations - which are a lot closer to the real thing, thanks to Ching Siu tung...

46) Caroline Munro or Veronica Carlson?
A: No idea.

47) Favorite eye-patch wearing director. (Submitted by Patty Cozzalio)
A: Were there any that didn’t? Fritz Lang?

48) Favorite ambiguous movie ending. (Original somewhat ambiguous submission---“Something about ambiguous movie endings!”-- by Jim Emerson, who may have some inspiration of his own to offer you.)
A: Another one I could probably come up with a better answer for, but in the interests of hitting Post, will take a recent example - Andrew Bujalski's endings are generally neatly unresolved, but somehow precise - Beeswax is no exception.

49) In giving thanks for the movies this year, what are you most thankful for?
A: The release of 35 Rhums, the James Whale, Alexander MacKendrick & Kiju Yoshida retrospectives at the Harvard Film Archive, as well as appearances by James Bening and Lisandro Alonso, and Criterion's Imamura box set.

50) George Kennedy or Alan North? (Submitted by Peet Gelderblom)
A: Kennedy.

The end! Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Beyond the Canon Poll and Results

Iain Stott has been running a poll this year - it started with a 50 Greatest Ever poll - which yielded the standard list, and seems to have caused some soul searching. So he organized another poll - this time to try to find films that don't all make the usual lists... So he solicited more lists, but this time, prohibiting some of the usual suspects - a list of 300 established classics.

The results are in. It's an interesting idea, though the top films in this poll aren't as overlooked as they might be. The list, starting with Kubrick, Lynch, Hitchcock and Wong - is still pretty standard - though the high placing Gondry film is a neat touch... Iain addressed the problem with another list - a Further Beyond the Canon list - which weights films votes by their number of IMDB votes... But it's true, when you start playing with lists, you soon notice that 300 films is almost nothing. Even lists like the 1000 greatest at They Shoot Pictures Don't They? don't really exhaust the great films - though it might give you a better place to start.... I find myself trapped by the auteur problem - Iain's 300 films only included 2 Ozu films - what do I do with that? Me, I'd have 9 or 10 in the top 300 - does this mean Ozu is overlooked? I have no idea what to do about that. It's hard to think of Ozu (or Hawks, or name your example) as overlooked - on the other hand - you can't really afford to overlook them yourself in a poll like this can you?

But this is not about angst, for this is not an angsty project - it's a freaking delight, really. Playing with lists and numbers and all those films - there's real pleasure to be taken in just looking through a list of film titles you love - there is for me, anyway. So I'm not going to complain, and indeed, had to resist the urge to make about 6 lists.... In the end, I did, in fact, make 2 lists. One is my official ballot - that is by year, which seemed a way to balance the need to get those missing Ozu films on record with the desire to get some real variety on the list. Going year by year brings in some arbitrariness, which has to help.... But I also finished a straight list - the best films, in order, not included in the official, poll canon. And that - might as well post here. You'll note 1963 put 2 films in the top 5 - creating an odd auteur problem - there's plenty of Kurosawa on the official canon, no Imamura - I went out of my way to correct that, sticking 3 of em on the official ballot and 6 (I think) on here.... but if you can't use polls to champion your own favorites, well...

Anyway - there's plenty more to chew on at the Beyond the Canon site - I still haven't really looked through the lists all that closely... I look forward to it. And now - this is my straight list, if I'd just put out the 100 best films not on the canon, in order...

Early Summer - 1951 - Ozu Yasujiro
The Pornographers - 1966 - Imamura, Shohei
City of Sadness - 1989 - Hou HsiaoHsien
High and Low - 1963 - Kurosawa, Akira
The Insect Woman - 1963 - Imamura Shohei
Inland Empire - 2006 - Lynch, David
Rushmore - 1998 - Anderson, Wes
A Woman Under the Influence - 1974 - Cassavetes., John
Mystery of Kaspar Hauser - 1975 - Herzog, Warner
A Brighter Summer Day - 1991 - Yang, Edward
I Was Born But... - 1932 - Ozu Yasujiro
Intentions of Murder - 1963 - Imamura Shohei
Late Chrysanthemums - 1954 - Naruse Mikio
Ceremony - 1971 - Oshima Nagisa
Pigs and Battleships - 1961 - Imamura, Shohei
Yi Yi - 2000 - Yang, Edward
Fort Apache - 1948 - Ford, John
Killer of Sheep - 1977 - Burnett, Charles
Killing of a Chinese Bookie - 1976 - Cassavetes, John
Frankenstein - 1931 - Whale, James
Love Me Tonight - 1932 - Mamoulian, Rouben
The Long Goodbye - 1973 - Altman, Robert
Osaka Elegy - 1936 - Mizoguchi, Kenji
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs - 1960 - Naruse Mikio
The Sun's Burial - 1960 - Oshima Nagisa
A Night at the Opera - 1935 - Wood, Sam
Alphaville - 1965 - Godard, Jean - Luc
Camera Buff - 1979 - Kieslowski, Krystof
Fitzcarraldo - 1982 - Herzog, werner
Fires on the Plain - 1959 - Ichikawa Kon
Fallen Angels - 1995 - Wong Kar wei
Vanda's Room - 2000 - Costa, Pedro
Mabuse the Gambler - 1922 - Lang, Fritz
Colossal Youth - 2006 - Costa, Pedro
Breaking the Waves - 1996 - von Trier, Lars
Kings and Queen - 2004 - Desplechin, Arnaud
Wife! Be like a rose! - 1935 - Naruse Mikio
Crimes of M Lange - 1935 - Renoir, Jean
Goodbye South, Goodbye - 1996 - Hou Hsiao Hsien
Make Way for Tomorrow - 1937 - McCarey, Leo
Stray Dog - 1949 - Kurosawa Akira
A Touch of Zen - 1969 - King Hu
A Man Vanishes - 1967 - Imamura, Shohei
Hard Days Night - 1965 - Lester, Richard
Saint Jack - 1979 - Bogdanovich, Peter
Written on the Wind - 1956 - Sirk, Douglas
Peking Opera Blues - 1986 - Tsui Hark
Life of Brian - 1979 - Jones, Terry
Our Hospitality - 1923 - Keaton, Buster
Platinum Blonde - 1931 - Capra, Frank
Broken Blossoms - 1919 - Griffith, DW
Cleo from 5 to 7 - 1961 - Varda, Agnes
Eraserhead - 1977 - Lynch, David
Happy Together - 1997 - Wong Kar Wei
Boy - 1969 - Oshima Nagisa
An Inn in Tokyo - 1935 - Ozu Yasujiro
Passing Fancy - 1933 - Ozu Yasujiro
L'Amour Fou - 1969 - Rivette, Jacques
Some Came Running - 1958 - Minnelli, Vincente
Testament of Dr. Mabuse - 1933 - Lang, Fritz
Once Upon a Time in China - 1991 - Tsui Hark
Mother - 1952 - Naruse, Michio
The Only Son - 1936 - Ozu Yasujiro
Death of Mr. Lazarescu - 2005 - Puiu, Christi
2046 - 2004 - Wong Kar wei
Sisters of the Gion - 1936 - Mizoguchi Kenji
The Asphalt Jungle - 1950 - Huston, John
Vengeance is Mine - 1979 - Imamura, Shohei
Beijing Bastards - 1993 - Zhang Yuan
Through the Olive Trees - 1994 - Kiarostami, Abbas
Thirty Two Short Films About Glen Gould - 1993 - Girard, Francois
Trash - 1970 - Morrissey, Paul
Chelsea Girls - 1966 - Warhol, Andy
Dead of the Night - 1945 - Multiple
Two or Three Things I know About Her - 1966 - Godard, Jean - Luc
Flowers of Shanghai - 1998 - Hou Hsiao Hsien
Jour de Fete - 1949 - Tati, Jacques
October - 1927 - Eisenstein, Sergei
The Marriage of Maria Braun - 1979 - Fassbinder, Rainer Werner
Blind Chance - 1981 - Kieslowski, Krystof
Doomed Love - 1979 - Oliveira, Manoel de
The Big Red One - 1982 - Fuller, Sam
Death By Hanging - 1968 - Oshima Nagisa
O Brother Where Art Thou - 2000 - Coen, Joel
The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On - 1987 - Hara Kazuo
Home From The Hill - 1960 - Minnelli, Vincente
One Fine Day - 1968 - Olmi, Ermanno
Terroriser - 1986 - Yang, Edward
L'Intrus - 2004 - Denis, Claire
Blessed Event - 1932 - Del Ruth, Roy
Shoot the Piano Player - 1960 - Truffaut, Francois
Charlie Verrick - 1973 - Siegel, Don
All Quiet on the Western Front - 1930 - Milestone, Lewis
The River - 1997 - Tsai Ming-liang
You're Telling Me - 1934 - Kenton, Erle C
The Sweet Hereafter- 1997 - Egoyan, Atom
Badlands - 1973 - Malick, Terrence
A Moment of Innocence - 1995 - Makhmalbaf, Mohsen
Swordsman II - 1991 - Ching siu tung
Grin Without a Cat - 1977- Marker, Chris

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Post Holiday Catchup

Well, Thanksgiving is beyond us, the "Holiday Season" has descended, the work week beckons, and I am home and - um - have a whole mess of homework for class... But I have to put something here... at least a few links, if nothing else.

First - I have been remiss in not linking to Frankensteinia's Boris Karloff Blogathon - I've been worse than that - I haven't even been reading it. He should have had the decency not to be born the week of Thanksgiving - how could he? But blogathons may end, but the internet never ends, and there is plenty there and at all the links to read...

And - a new quiz from Dennis Cozzalio - I promise to respond sometime this week.

The end of the decade lists are starting to appear - I will let Girish's post on the Cinematheque Ontario list stand for them all for now.

And? Long time internet acquaintance Evan Waters has a short radio play airing here - it should be archived for 2 weeks...

Finally? In honor of last week's concert - how about a blurry picture of the Feelies, tuning up?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Did someone say the turkey was ready?

Don't eat too much... yeah, right... don't forget to share with the kitties...

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Forces at Work

Sorry for missing Friday's random 10 - I've been playing that game on facebook lately, which has advantages, being more interactive... it's purposes here are to force me to post something - to give me a framework for fairly arbitrary links posts - and to say something about music. But today - in compensation for not posting anything all week, I am going for something more substantial....

Tomorrow night, the Feelies are coming to town - I will be there. They're opening for Sonic Youth, but, much as I like Sonic Youth (and despite the fact that I have never seen Sonic Youth - one of the significant underground bands of the 80s I didn't see at the time), they are an afterthought. The Feelies are back, playing live, and the world is a better place for it.

I don't follow the music world very closely these days - I might never have known about this show if I hadn't found their web site a month or so ago. I was looking for them on the web because I was feeling nostalgic. I was feeling nostalgic because I went to see a concert a month or so ago - my niece was in town visiting colleges, and wanted to see The Airborne Toxic Event - I tagged along with her and her mother out of curiosity, and just generally enjoying live music, even though I don't see it much anymore.... There were three bands on the bill, the other two called Red Cortez and the Henry Clay People - bunch of LA bands on tour together, I guess it is... I went in innocent - I had never heard of any of these bands, and the only exposure I'd had was to look a couple of them up on YouTube, though I never finished any of the videos. I went in innocent, and came out - I guess disappointed isn't the word, but - they weren't awful - just drab, by the numbers, indie rock. They all felt like cover bands - though I admit that may be a function of me being 1000 years old, and of pretty much every rock band in the last 30 years sounding like a cover band. I don't hold that against them. They just weren't, any of them, very good cover bands. A really great cover band can make the originals sound like the copy.

You could say I'm building to something here, though it's another paragraph away.... Back to that show - none of the three were good enough to get me past guessing who they were channeling. Red Cortez? Franz Ferdinand trying to recreate Rattle and Hum era U2 - I include fashion sense and the singer's fondness for slinging his guitar across his back.... Henry Clay People? Mott the Hoople by way of Kings of Leon? They were the most interesting, by the way - Mott the Hoople? They didn't cover All the Way to Memphis, but they didn't have to - all their originals sounded like All the Way to Memphis. I think we could do with more bands trying to sound like Mott the Hoople.... And the headliners? I hate to cite Pitchfork, but - you know... Seriously? they usually sounded like New Order fronted by Chris Martin - the first half of that will keep your toes tapping at least. They too betrayed a fondness for Rattle and Hum, quoting it, and the lyrics I could catch certainly seemed up to the standards of mid-80s U2 - which is to say, godawful. And - I don't know if this is the most damning thing or not - they looked like they came straight from central casting. Lots of onstage speeches about not being from the glammy side of LA, but they still look like a Disney band. Acted it often enough too....

Okay. Enough bitchery. I was not, after all, the intended demographic (the niece is - at the bottom of the demographic, maybe, but 17-22 seems about right.) And complaints aside, it was a reasonably pleasant evening. Derivative, bland, but likeable enough. Not every band is going to knock you on your ass the first time you see or hear them. Ah - but - you gotta hope.... It does happen. Not often - but I have seen bands I'd never heard before that won me over on the spot. The Butthole Surfers, say - though I'd read about them, and I admit, that was the show, the surgery films, the stripper, the bullhorn (I missed the fire and the riot, as my ride was bored... still...) And when you get that feeling a couple times, you want more of it - and when a band you have never heard takes the stage, there's that moment or two when they still can do it - they can do absolutely anything - they can surprise you - they can blow you away - they can be perfect.... Which I suppose brings me back to the beginning.

I saw REM in 1986 - at that time, they were my favorite band, by a long shot. I went to the concert (and they were in fine form) and came out humming - the opening act's music. (Mixed in with Little America, for some reason...) "Slipping (Into Something)" to be precise.... The Feelies, of course. I had heard of the Feelies - I knew Peter Buck produced their record - that's all I knew. They opened and completely stole the show. I saw them a few months later - they opened for Husker Du - they stole the show; they were faster, more intense - it wasn't close. And after that, I saw them every time they came to town - usually playing once or twice a year at the Paradise. They never disappointed, it never got old. I see video of their recent performances, back together after all those years - they still seem sharp and tight and as thrilling as ever. So there you go.

They are (and were) also the band that - more than anyone - signaled - something different about rock music. That crack about everyone in the last 30 years sounding like a cover band - I'm not kidding. And the Feelies were probably the first band that drove that idea home to me. Granted - this is the 1986 (and on) Feelies - Crazy Rhythms doesn't fit the theory so well... but the rest of their career feels almost like the Borges of rock. Not just for the actual covers (which very often do make the originals sound like Feelies covers) - for their way their originals sound like covers of songs someone should have written. Everything sounds like that lost forgotten unreleased Velvet Underground record, or maybe something by Iggy Pop or the Beatles you’ve never heard before. There are records that exist in dreams that seem as though they should be real, just as there are books you dream about that should exist. The Feelies are like the caretakers of these dreams, just as Borges is the caretaker of the libraries of dream books. Their songs sound familiar, half-remembered - though better than the originals must have been...

But these days, this is the rule, not the exception. Rock music is an odd genre - once upon a time it was a generational marker, a big old break with the past.... When I was growing up, no one I knew had parents who liked rock - that extends to most of the people I know within 5-10 years of me. But now - my peers are all getting old, and have kids of our own, and those kids listen to the same stuff we did. And the new music they listen to is the same as the stuff I listened to 20, 30 years ago. My niece is coming down to see this Feelies/Sonic Youth show - bands 12-15 years older than she is. Bands obviously a lot more adventurous than Airborne Toxic Event and their ilk. Though in fact - both of them feel like very "late" bands - or like - how to put this? like bands that have accepted that there isn't much more new to do in rock, so you stop worrying about that and start exploring the sounds you can make.... a new translation of Thomas Browne's Urn Burial - a new tuning, a new trick you can play with a screwdriver...

Because as far as I can tell, rock has stopped. There has been nothing new since - well - there's Rap, which is a new movement somewhere next to rock (though it's pretty much in the same boat, only since 1990 or so, not 1980)... Seriously? I'd say the Minutemen were the last band that didn't sound like what came before them. Since the Minutemen, there have been no bands that would not have fit easily into the music scene before they existed. If this sounds like criticism, it is not - I think this is true of some of my favorite bands ever - The Feelies, REM, the Meat Puppets - I like an awful lot of music from the last 20 years, from Pavement to Sleater Kinney to Mercury Rev to Six Organs of Admittance to TV on the Radio to the Liars to the White Stripes, and on and on... But they could have existed 10 years before they did. Could Pere Ubu or the Minutemen have existed in 1968? (They at least needed the Stooges and Captain Beefheart to inspire them, right?)

I have a theory about why this is, actually: I think somewhere in the 1950s and 60s, we became a completely media saturated world (or, big chunks of the world did.) Media saturation meant, among other things, that nothing ever went away. Everyone my age and younger has heard all of the history of rock and roll all their lives - we have the records, we live in and with pop music in ways my parents absolutely did not, and most of my friends' parents never did. Music, pop music, rock, rap, etc. is a completely pervasive presence in our lives: it's a given in our lives. I think, for all the insistence on the ephemeral nature of pop music, that its pervasiveness has made it almost eternal. Nothing ever goes away - at least the good stuff never goes away. I think it makes rock, and other pop forms, more like folk music - old songs passed along, new songs built on the structure of old... A nice idea, actually. I like having 12 year olds marvel that I don't have enough Elvis on the iPod, or 9 year olds play me Johnny Cash as the greatest thing they've ever heard. I mean, it is!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday the Thirteenth, is It?

Another Friday - I've had a more productive week than usual, thanks to internet goofballs and some significant anniversaries... I have another paper to write and am procrastinating on that, so I might get a few more posts up here in the next few days... Still - habits are useful, so let's maintain this one.

Links? there have been a ton in the past week or so - I should have plenty... the high point for film writing is probably David Cairn's Vertigo post from last week - actually the culmination of a series of posts on Vertigo, itself the high point of his ongoing Hitchcock series. He's already on to North by Northwest... I would hope everyone is already following along...

Dennis Cozzalo is the latest to take issue with Richard Schickel's attack on Robert Altman. I've commented on a couple of the earlier remarks - at Scanners, and at The Moviezzz Blog - I don't have anything profound to add to the other comments (especially not to Cozzalio's outstanding essay), just that anyone who thinks that Altman made careless, shoddy works needs to pay more attention. Dennis mentions someone who was turned off by Altman's excessive control - I don't quite buy that, but at least I understand the argument. A professional critic writing of Altman "How did a man with no interest in the fundamentals of film get taken seriously for as long as he did?" - is guilty of professional malpractice.... (And whoever paid him for a book review should demand their money back - Schickel barely mentions the book.)

And - one more - another marvel from Roger Ebert. Whatever he was as a film critic, as a blogger and columnist, he is on a very short list of the best there are.

And end it with some "too-easy blog fodder" (cause god knows I need all the help I can get), a random ten:

1. Danielson - Five Stars and Two Thumbs Up - I think this is the last thing they released as a band - kind of too bad, they're good...
2. Daniel Lenoir - Agave
3. Outkast - Humble Mumble
4. Asian Dub Foundation - Naxalite
5. fIREHOUSE - Down with the Bass
6. The Mars Volta - Cygnus... Vismund Cygnus - today's shameless guitar wanking, though Omar Rodriguez can wank with the best of them...
7. NIel Diamond - I Got the Feeling (oh no, no)
8. Beastie Boys - Shadrach - always good to hear from the beastie boys, especially this, one of the great record...
9. Velvet Underground - Black Angel's Death Song
10. Bob Dylan - On the Road Again

And video, since - video is good: look! fIREHOSE!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Great War Remembered

I think Veteran's Day might be my favorite holiday - or, not favorite, not exactly that - but the one I find most - moving? It's certainly the one "serious" holiday I seem to post about every year. It may be that it has retained much more of its "true meaning" than any others - Memorial Day or Labor Day are markers of the seasons, excuses to have a cookout - they're underlying meanings are, not forgotten, but moved back in the mix. Veteran's Day - barely celebrated anymore (though I think one of the reasons it holds onto some of its power is that when it is celebrated, it's celebrated on the Day Itself - the Monday holidays tend to lose their specificity over time) - means almost nothing except what it means.

Though I suppose what it means is open to dispute. I agree with Jim Henley - that what it means to me is mostly Armistice Day. I much prefer to treat Memorial Day as a day to remember the dead; Armistice Day should be precise. It should be about 11/11/1918, the end of the Great War - WWI needs to be remembered, in itself. That war seems to have a special place in the disasters of this world - it represents a sharp and clear rift in the human experience, and unlike most such events, there is nothing whatsoever one can find in it to take comfort from. It isn't hope dashed or desires thwarted, it's stupidity, callousness, arrogance and mass murder. It was not set off by any great causes - it represented no special evil that had to be stopped (neither side can claim to have been fighting for the good) - nothing good came out of it. The opposite....

It is odd: I studied history in college, and understood the importance of the war, its place in political history,,, but it's only been later that I've felt the full impact of it. I've kept on taking classes, but, since college, mostly film, lit, art classes, or intellectual history... And this just constantly underlines the ways WWI was a break from what came before. Studying German film - how can you miss it? it's everywhere in their films; it shaped their whole culture, obviously. But it shaped everyone - spawned new movements, shaped the art of the 1920s and beyond - and defines how that postwar art is a complete break from before.

The world changed, in almost unprocessable ways, between about 1870 and 1925. (A point I've noted before.) It's a different world after WWI - the maps are different, the idea of what human beings are was different - how we represented ourselves was different. And the end of the war - euphoric as it may have been on November 11, 1918 - didn't resolve anything. The peace turned out as bad as the war - given the fact that the peace led directly to WWII, and even larger even more horrible event - the peace may have been worse than the war. So maybe today is best seen as a chance to mourn for a lost chance - the Armistice should have ended the war, should have found a way to make something good of the horror, to find a way not to do it again. But they botched it....

So it seems good to remember it, the war, the people who served in it. To remember the possibility of peace that came with the end of the war - as well as the failure to achieve peace. Remembering World War One, specifically, is an almost necessarily anti-war act. I have noticed this in films: it's an old adage that it is impossible to make an anti-war war film - war is too cinematic, too exciting. And that's more true than not - but I've noticed that most of the best really anti-war war films are WWI films - Paths of Glory; Johnny Got His Gun; All Quiet on the Western Front; Gallipoli, to name a few. It's a war that is very very difficult to romanticize, to find any redemption in. Even heroism is almost impossible in the trenches - all you can do is die or wait to die. WWII - has villains; wars like Vietnam - it's too hard not to take sides, anti-war films there become anti-Vietnam war films. The closest I can think of to the tone of WWI films might be some post-WWII Japanese films - like Fires on the Plain or the Human Condition, or even, at times, Letters from Iwo Jima. Those films probably get their effects by showing the common soldier's suffering and sense of betrayal alongside the knowledge that they are not fighting for anything worthwhile. The postwar Japanese films that reject Japan's cause in the war while retaining sympathy for the soldiers in the war gets closer to the deep pessimism of World War One films...

I'm rambling a bit. I'll leave with one more note - the last three surviving veterans of the war: Claude Stanley, John Babcock and Frank Buckles. Good work, gentlemen...

Monday, November 09, 2009

German History, Good and Bad

It was 20 years ago today that the Berlin Wall came down. It had been coming for some time - the eastern Bloc was coming apart in the summer of 89, with demonstrations at the wall for some time (Wikipedia's account.) And then, Günter Schabowski, a Politburo member, announced that travel restrictions would be lifted, immediately. A mistake - travel restrictions were being lifted, but there was not supposed to be an official timetable - Schabowski didn't actually know anything about the plans, and gave the timing on his own. But the news was broadcast, and people went to the wall - and another man, a border guard named Harald Jäger, after not being able to get an official answer on what to do - opened his gate and let people through. And it all ended well.

Alas, not all anniversaries from German history are so happy. November 9 is also the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht - the pogrom organized against Jews after the death of a diplomat, Erst Vom Rath, assassinated by a Jewish boy in Paris, Herschel Grynszpan. Joseph Goebbels set the riots moving - the state jumped on the "spontaneous" violence to disarm the Jews, seize property, and so on. It marked an escalation in the Nazis campaign against the Jews - even though the general public did not seem to approve. They didn't resist either. As the Nazis continued to persecute the Jews, they did it with less fanfare - they professionalized the process, left it to the SS and kept the public out of it. And this ended very badly.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

On the Making of Films

Someone was filming in Harvard Square tonight. I passed through, stopped for a burger, went on to the Harvard Film Archive to see Lisandro Alonso's Liverpool, with Alonso in attendance. This proves a rather jarring juxtaposition. Alonso spoke of shooting Liverpool with a crew of 10, or 12 people, plus actors - who are mostly locals recruited to appear, playing something close to themselves. There were that many trucks parked around the side streets outside.

I know that's how most movies are made, with armies of technicians surrounding the performance and photography of the story - and I know when it works, it works. But it still feels somehow insane. I don't know what they were shooting tonight - I don't really care. I know it won't be as interesting as Alonso's film; I suspect it won't be as interesting as an imaginary film made, say, following me, in my peregrinations. Why not? That's not far from what Alonso's Fantasma is - 2 men (mainly - 3 other actors appear as well) wandering around a building, waiting for a film to start and play) - it's as good a story as any. I can imagine this film - it would follow me, though wouldn't pay much attention to me. Might linger, instead, on the people setting up the lights and reflectors for the filming in the square, or the crowds watching the kids putting on some kind of show in the pit; might spend a moment with the crew at the burger joint, then with the three guys from the film crew who came in to eat; might follow me to Newbury Comics and listen to the kids talking about comic books behind me; down the street to Starbucks, maybe watching your humble blogger for a minute, checking his phone for messages, or reading about Munchhausen, though more likely watching the big family in the corner, eating coffee cakes, the kids wandering around; or going outside with the barrista for a smoke. Finally when I leave the camera comes too, to the Archive, buy a ticket, go in sit, let the camera drift off across the crowd - and finally the house lights go down and the screen lights up and the movie plays...

I know it matters who makes a film: if I made this, it would probably be terrible - if Alonso made it, it would be intriguing, amusing, and better than anything they could be shooting outside. Though if Wes Anderson or the Coen brothers had been shooting outside - well, all that material would be put to a good use. But still. All things being equal, I would rather see more films like Alonso's - or films in the same vein - Pedro Costa, Jose Luis Guerin, there are others... Like the others, Alonso makes films about places - he goes to the places - he stays in the places, he finds people there, and works with the people, and creates films close to their lives, maybe adding a kind of plot (homecomings, often enough) to organize the material. It makes movie making into a community project - he said, last night and tonight, that the people in his films aren't sure what to make of them - but they all loved the process of making them. I like that.

I Am Legion?

I find that I have achieved the dream of film lovers everywhere - I have been cast as a Supervillain! The honor comes courtesy of Dan Schneider, a critic of sorts I've poked at a few times, here and abroad - out of the thin stuff of 3-4 arguments, a couple links, a comment or two, he has made of me a veritable Mabuse. I am, I gather, everyone who makes fun of him in comments at No Ripcord; I am most of the participants in this thread at Empire Online. I have even apparently persecuted the poor man at Wikipedia.

Unfortunately, I don't think I can accept the role. If you read the book, you will find, Duke Beeson is the supervillain, master of disguises - Weeping Sam is just his number one henchman. (Though he does have the ability to appear at will when his name is spoken, just like the devil, or anyone with access to Google.) And I, as Dan rightly points out, am but an "apathetic old man"* - how true, how true. I can barely muster the energy to post here once a week - I could never meet the responsibilities of a Man of a Thousand Screennames, All of Them Evil... I have no idea, really, how Dan got the idea I was all those people in the first place - maybe I'm just the only person to actually try to take him seriously long enough for an actual conversation, unedifying as such things may be in the end. I don't know.

I do know it's probably wrong to encourage such behavior - I'm sure Mr. Schneider will get a shiver of joy when he learns I'm writing about him, and take it as confirmation of his claims - if I weren't cyberstalking, how would I know he's written about me, hmmm?** But I don't care. Hell yeah, I keep an eye on Dan's blog and posts - people like that are good for a cheap laugh. And sometimes, like that Dekalog post, wrong in interesting enough ways to give me something to write about. (Though he's a shamefully easy target.) And - though I hate to admit it right at the moment, he puts up a fair amount of interesting stuff at that blog. He's almost human when he writes about trash cinema. (And some of the other contributors aren't entirely bores - particularly Wassim Diab, who actually seems to go to the movies once in a while.) But mostly - all right - it's the comedy. It's the magnificence of someone defending himself from being called a terrible poet with a line like "Note the assertion of my terribility as a poet without any back up." What more backup could you want than a poet using a word like "terribility"? And yes - he's a barn door of a target if you want to start sniping at the bad prose - but... what can I say?

In the end - the big reason to respond is that he's going out of his way to cut himself off from response. No comments allowed at his blog; articles like this posted at his web site, with no means of public debate - that's crap. And granting that he doesn't matter, exactly, but he pulls this shit on actual professionals, like Edward Hoagland - and bleats like a baby when called on it. He isolates himself from direct contact with his critics - then issues long, stupid screeds about them, where he gets to claim to win the arguments he didn't actually have.

* You have to scroll up a bit from the link to find that - it's just "pathetic" old man at the link; I thought the other might be a typo, but Dan also notes in this document that he doesn't make types, or he corrects them, and since this one has been there a week or so, surely, he would have changed apathetic to a pathetic if he meant to. Anyway - "apathetic old man" is much better - it's even a decent paraphrase of the Beefheart quote on the masthead.

** Because someone posted a link in the comments, you dopey fuck.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Weekend Roundup

I am going to keep trying to maintain at least a basic schedule, Friday(ish) music and links post, if nothing else. I have to do it tonight, though, for reasons which might as well be the first link: Lisandro Alonso will be at the Harvard Film Archive this weekend - I want to catch as much of that as I can, starting tomorrow.

I suppose I should say something about the elections this week - Maine's rejection of gay marriage is disappointing; Washington's acceptance of domestic partnerships (just not calling it marriage) is more encouraging, and instructive: it's hard not to think that it comes down to the word, "marriage", motivating the bigots enough to come out and vote... The substance continues to move toward marriage equality - the language is likely to follow soon enough. Though as an aside (though an important point) - I do not like the idea of putting civil rights to a vote. There's a reason the Bill of Rights was made a condition to the passage of the constitution: equality, protection under the law, etc. should not be dependent on the will fo the majority. We all know it is, in fact - but it shouldn't be.

The rest of the voting is more routine than it got credit for - I think there is a lot of interest in politics these days - momentous decisions needing to be made and so on. These issues keep interest in politics high - people are paying serious attention to otherwise routine elections, reading all kinds of things into them. The one you probably can read something into was the NY-23 race - a disgraceful episode, best dealt with by Roy Edroso, with some postmortem from Lance Mannion as well.... That one is interesting. The loony right (the very silly party) seems determined to wreck their own party, and apparently the country - Mannion has a good take on it. Ego mixed with posturing, without much in the way of any policies. (Colbert sums it up - "I have no clue about that" - "the GOP's vision of the future".) I suppose we can count on foreign adventurism, authoritarianism, and as much race baiting and any other bigotry they can cram in will be there... I doubt that race will be the end of the very silly party - they are likely to become more and more radical, and less and less electorally relevant, and may take the rest of the GOP with them.... though they can still do a world of harm, especially if the Democrats cannot deliver. The Democrats need to pass some good legislation - they need to do something that moves the health care system - even if it isn't all that big to start with; they really should do something to rein in banks and the crookeder parts of wall street - they need to do things that have palpable effects on people's lives, as well as demonstrating willingness and ability to act. They are much worse off if they don't pass health care laws than if they pass half-measures. If they govern well, the Republicans could self-destruct, in the short term anyway.

Anyway, meanwhile - in the sporting world, alas, Evil has once again triumphed. Though they did it, the bastards, by using their money intelligently - after a decade of dumb signings, lots of bloated salaries on the downward slope, they brought in the 2 best players available, 2 prime of their career stars - they developed their own players and got performances out of them - they acquired useful parts like Nick Swisher... And there's something to be said for a team that has what - Pettitte, Rivera, Posada, Jeter - 4 guys with 5 rings, on the same team? Anyway.... last week, I saw Damn Yankees - very nice film, but a reminder that there's nothing new about the Yankees' domination. Hell, I've had it good - I've lived through their 2 worst droughts, the late 60s/early 70s, and the 80s - and this mini-drought, in the 00s... they've only won 7 championships in my life, compared to 20 in the previous 40 years. 7 is still more than anyone else, but...

There's a neat article about the aesthetics of baseball coverage at TCM's blog. I can't say I obsess over the world series when the Sox are not in it, but I watched some - with the sound turned very low... and have to say, they were very well put together...

That's enough... Music, now - random 10! here goes....

1. Arcade Fire - Black Mirror
2. Pylon - Go - one of the great, mostly forgotten bands...
3. The Red Krayola - Chemistry - another one...
4. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles - Mickey's Monkey
5. Brian Jonestown Massacre - (Baby) Love of My Life - just a scrap of a song...
6. Tom Verlaine - New - instrumental...
7. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible - you gotta love this, 12,500 songs and 2 come up from the same record...
8. Fleetwood Mac - Go to Move - Jeremy Spencer workout, from the Boston teaparty...
9. The Distillers - Beat Your Heart Out - not altogether sure why I own this, to tell the truth...
10. Husker Du - Ice Cold Ice - live... better than the record; I loved Husker Du in the 80s, but thought Warehouse, Songs and Stories was dull and drab through and through - partly because of songs like this, with lyrics that sounded almost as cliched as mid-80s U2... "ice cold ice"? - but they could ratchet that stuff up enough live to make it work, almost...

Video? A very cool video of the Arcade Fire playing "Neon Bible" in an elevator...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Music and Miscellany

Another Friday - and to try to keep a hand in, here's another random ten, plus a couple links....

Wildgrounds lists his ten favorite scenes in Japanese cinema....

Via Pullquote, reminder that the Stuart Street Playhouse is a movie theater again.

And Glenn Kenny and David Cairns both plug a new Mabuse edition (region 2? that link anyway...), whilst quoting song lyrics...

And finally? Music, this Halloween weekend:

1. Big Star - Way Out West - those first two big star records are just so beautiful...
2. Sigur Rus - Samskyti
3. The Decembrists - Red Right Ankle
4. Led Zeppelin - Black Dog - hey! there's a fine Halloween song... ghosts and devils and drums, oh my!
5. Fire Theft - Summertime
6. Hoodoo Gurus - Bittersweet - oh, my yes.... I couldn't be that strong, that used to be my favorite song... sometimes bands, more or less decent, get everything exactly right and produce a song that vaults into the stratosphere... that's just perfect. This is one.... I hold you like a sword and you won't cut me, cut me like you did before....
7. Flaming Lips - Suddenly Everything Has Changed
8. Billy Bragg & Wilco - I guess I planted
9. OOIOO - Ah Yeah! - nifty piece of Japanese avant-pop, I guess you'd call it...
10. Jonathan Richman - The Origin of Love (reprise) - from Wig in a Box, a Hedwig and the Angry Inch cover album... nice...

Video? Maybe I should do something Halloweeny, but I dunno, why bother? Let's take something simpler - Dave Faulkner looks like he's got indigestion in this oh so 80s video - but shit, if this ain't a great song:

Though then again - courtesy of a neat essay at Bright Lights After Dark - here's the Headless Horseman song, from Disney's Legend of Sleepy Hollow...

Monday, October 26, 2009


It's hard to know exactly what to say about Lars von Trier - people seem to have been writing him off lately. I've been writing him off lately - his 00's films have been generally disappointing - he seems to have been wandering in a wilderness this decade, making films that sound terrible clever, and play like pure cleverness. Antichrist has all the makings of a "provocation" - and delivers, as provocation, I admit it. But also, delivers - something - as a film. It looks fantastic - as all his films do - and it has a decided power.... It has the power to make you want to argue about it, try to come to grips with it - make me argue about it anyway. So here goes...

In some ways, it's a programmatic horror film, though one with the subtexts laid out on the surface. Fear of sex - of birth, of children - death - time, nature - fear of women, of men, the cruelty of men (and women), the ravages of implacable nature, etc. The horror film elements are themselves almost all surface - the cabin in the woods, where the educated folks from the city are assaulted by monsters - the explicit externalization of a theme of the conscious, rational world (self, civilization) under attack by fears, anxieties, the id, all given concrete form. Here, the monster is nature itself - which launches an immediate attack on the characters and never relents. Acorns dropping on the roof like bombs, rain, the grass swallowing them up, animals, dying and rotting, threatening, invading... Of course, the monsters outside soon prove to be inside. The inside/outside dichotomy (which is played out in both the plot itself, in the cabin and out of it, and symbolically) is broken - barriers are permeable - the Other becomes a Double, turns into us. (No one has to sell their soul - it’s already in them, most assuredly.) Of course that - the breaking of barriers between what we are and what we fear, the invasion of our selves, our bodies, minds, everything, by outside forces - and the discovery that what we fear outside is, in fact, already in us - that is another of the horror movie's great themes.... You can add to this great dollops of Tarkovsky’s nature - the elements, water, air, fire, earth - plants and animals, the sky, you name it.... I don’t find the dedication unjustified - the film's absolute reliance on natural imagery, combined with its dedication to the use of nature as a sign of inner states of mind - seems right.

But what really makes the film fascinating is something else. The story itself is, after all, silly - way too obvious, too overdetermined... But it’s Lars von Trier - and he is always thinking about more than the story - not just the inside, but the outside, the form, the way it’s told - and the mechanics of telling - and he makes these things integral to the thematics of the piece. Take the shots of the actors looking directly at the camera - and how often these are linked to reverse shots of those totemic animals. We, the audience - and LVT and crew, the camera, the filmmakers - are in the story - we are like the animals: silent observers, who seem passive but end up driving the story. The characters look out of the screen at us - we are cut back in to the shots, as the animals - who, like us and like Von Trier, are outside the story, outside the world - but somehow drive it.

So - the story is nonsense - though I think that’s quite intentional too. The obviousness of the story, as well as its incoherence, the self-conscious appropriation of every standard horror movie trope, is integral to how it works. None of the story (“real” or even symbolic) really grabs you - but that’s not what von Trier is after. Horror films proper do depend on identification - you are pulled in, to sympathize with someone - though they then manipulate it, the best ones. Indeed, the fluidity of sympathy in horror films is usually central to the best horror films - that permeability of inside and outside, Others and Doubles, that makes the best ones great. Here, that stuff is laid out with the emotional investment of a blog post - the film is completely critical, identification is beside the point.

What it does, though, is invest rather intense energy in its form, as form. What grabs you isn’t the characters or their situations, or even exactly their symbolic significance, their pain, the themes - what grabs you are the images, what you see - the specific details of the actors, their bodies, faces, their voices, the way they move... what you hear... and maybe most of all, how all this is seen, how the film sees it, shows it. The camera work, the angles, the effects - the editing, which as always in von Trier's films is strange, surprising, utterly intriguing.... It’s in the moving camera, say, how von Trier makes sense of it. The wobbly, hand-held style, the look, clearly means to show us a wobbly, indistinct, unstable world - and not exactly in a “metaphorical” way - it gives you the impression that this is what the world looks like. It’s heightened by the effects used - the distorted images, the color manipulation and so on. It creates a world, the world of this film, that is unstable, distorted, unformed, chaotic. It is like a subjective POV (and you can call it that), but it’s separated from the characters - it is invested in the camera, not the characters. It's Von Trier's world - or our world - not the character's world: they are part of the world, they move in it - but they don't generate it, the way characters seem to generate the world in most subjective films...

Another thing I like about Von Trier's use of the moving camera is how he makes you feel the presence of the camera itself - of the camera operator as a person, carrying this thing, moving with it, pointing it at things, taking up space. It makes the physical presence of the camera, the camera crew, etc. part of the content of the film. This is true in almost all his films - even when the camera is put in odd, impersonal places (as in Boss of It All). It is hard to forget about the physical presence of the machines, and the people who operate them, or put them there...

In the end - that interest in the act of telling stories, even in their mechanics, is one of the things that makes von Trier such a compelling figure. He still is, really - not just for the shock value, either. His films are, I suppose, more like critical essays about themselves, than real films - I don't know if that's really a good thing. At his best - Breaking the Waves, the Kingdom - he makes the surface, the story, characters and so on, as interesting and engaging as the critical ideas behind the films (and those films are also very critical.) But everything he does explores the process of making films, telling stories, making sense of the world.... Antichrist, I think, might be his best film in a decade...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Random Return of Random Music Feature

Since I continue to fail to provide any new content here, it's time to drag out some tried and true filler. Though if I ever do get some more content up here, it might well be music related - a bunch of interesting records coming out recently... I've been way down on my CD buying, but - things like new Pere Ubu and Flaming Lips and Yo La Tengo and David Sylvain have changed that... maybe to the point of a post or two....

But now? A place holding random 10 and video, of course.

1. Pixies - I Bleed
2. Ryan Adams - Gonna Make You Love Me - catchy as hell this song...
3. Audioslave - Be Yourself - from their second record, which doesn't have much going for it except that Tom Morrello lets his inner shredder out once in a while...
4. Black Sabbath - Bit of FInger/Sleeping Village/Warning - the sabs don't need much introduction or defense...
5. Big Star - Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' on
6. Rolling Stones - Silver Train
7. Tom Waits - Gun Street Girl - bunch of stuff coming up that hasn't come up in a heck of a long time on this machine. Very nice...
8. Patti Smith - Break it Up
9. Richard and Linda Thompson - Hokey Pokey - feels so good when you put it in your mouth, sends a shiver on down your spine...
10. Joy Division - I Remember Nothing - cheerful way to end...

And video, of course - let's go a double shot of Pixies, live in studio, BBC, 1989:

And - in honor of the new release by America's greatest rock band: a couple Pere Ubu videos animated by the Brothers Quay:

Friday, October 16, 2009

More Baseball

Well? With the Sox out, I'm not so energetic about updating about the baseball playoffs... BUt might as well throw something out here. What? Predictions? I went 50/50 in the first round, I wouldn't mind doing that again, as long as I get the right one wrong... But - I see no reason to pick against the Yankees, who look like they have the real deal again. You have to hand it to them - I do anyway - Texeira and Sabathia are the real deal - no surprise really... I still suspect Burnett will be a burden over the long haul, but it's not unreasonable to get a championship out of him... I hope not though - but I think they are pretty strong favorites, over the Angels (who are certain capable of winning, just not too likely), and then the NL.

And the Phillies have already managed to blow a game, along with winning one - but I think they will find their way to the series again. Where I doubt they'll beat the Yankees, but I I sure hope so.

My rooting interests, such as they are, should be fairly apparent - I like the Phils... I also like the Angels, more than I sometimes let on (since they always seem to play the Red Sox in the first round) - I like a bunch of their players; I've been wearing an Angels hat to my softball games for years (it's reached Manny Ramirez levels of grime these days)... I'd love to see a Phils/Angels series... Yankees Dodgers would do something horrible, force me into an unbearable situation - I might have to root for.... evil incarnate... cause the dodgers annoy me.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Comparative Propagandists, Genius Division

I'm still posting at a gruesomely slow pace - at least I have reasons: a class - I got some posts out of the class I took in the spring, hopefully we'll get some material from this one. Like this post! Which - if I'd had a bit more time this week, I might have posted as part of the double billathon - of course I could have posted the paper I was writing for the double billathon too...) Still.... the Nazi Cinema Class has had me watching, well - Nazi cinema - Leni Riefenstahl, in the early going. And this week, the HFA showed Sergei Eisenstein's October - offering a nice chance to do some comparing. The class has made quite a bit of "fascist aesthetics" - what it is, whether it's a valid and useful term... I suppose thinking about that guided what I noticed watching the Eisenstein this time around.

I don't know how much you can generalize from Eisenstein and Riefenstahl about Nazi and Soviet propaganda and cinema - they're both exceptional, both relatively unique... But I think there are some patterns there - things he does that she didn't that other Russians did and other German's didn't.... I suppose I can say something about them. Let's see:

1) Faces - after watching a Nazi films, especially Riefenstahl's, Russian films are quite a shock. Everyone in Triumph of the Will is beautiful (except the party leaders - a distinctly unimpressive bunch...), young and healthy - October is full of all kinds of faces. Young, old, handsome, not handsome - scraggly beards, snaggly (missing) teeth, lined skin, awkward, plainspun clothes, all kinds of ethnicities.... but they're all shot with the same heroic lighting, framing, all treated as though they were beautiful - the film celebrates their diversity, their individuality, though also their ability to be representative, of Russia, or Siberia, or Woman, or whatever they are... I think this is logic to it: the Russians act as though the cause confers beauty - being on the right side makes you beautiful; the Germans - Riefenstahl in particular, but this seems pretty common in Nazi propaganda and art - act as though beauty proves the rightness of the cause. All those faces in October are made beautiful or ugly depending on their righteousness - the bourgeoisie, the government, the cadets and women in the Winter Palace, the Mensheviks, are shot to look distinctly unattractive - but overall, they don't really look much different from the Bolsheviks and workers. They're just shot differently- and the ones who switch sides, immediately start getting better lighting... Triumph of the Will doesn't do anything like that - everyone is beautiful, everyone gets a cool uniform.... not because they're right and the enemy is wrong - rather, beauty is a guarantee of the rightness of the cause - if they weren't beautiful, they wouldn't be Nazis. (Though the bets are off when it comes to Himmler of Hess's unibrow...)

2) Jokes - there is no comedy in Triumph of the Will. There are some smiles and laughing - there are German men playing rough games, but there are no jokes. October on the other hand is, basically, a comedy - it's more like one of those comic book histories of the world than serious history or propaganda. It is packed from end to end with jokes - mostly visual puns (Kerensky and the peacock, the empty coats of the provisional government), but plenty else, including some neat verbal/visual jokes, like Kerensky's introduction - the repeated shots of him and a pair of cronies going up the same set of stairs, with the intertitles listing his many government offices... Of course, since the actual October revolution was fairly bloodless, it makes sense to shoot it as a comedy. The government was done for - the soviets took over without much effort - Kerensky (at least according to Eisenstein) bravely ran away. (And Eisenstein treats it in just about those terms - though most of the Eisenstein quotes in The Holy Grail are from Alexander Nevsky.) And it is, in fact, funny....

3) Voices - Triumph of the Will is a completely controlled production - nothing we see, nothing we hear comes from anyone but an authorized source. The only voices we hear are Nazis, speaking as Nazis - we don't even hear Nazis "off duty" as it were - everything is official, everything has a controlled source.... October is just as controlled (though Eisenstein's control is certainly at least a counterweight to that of the communists proper) - but it has a very different approach to words. Everyone speaks - there are words everywhere - the narration in the titles, dialogue (some in the titles, quite a bit just shown - but you barely get that (seeing, not hearing, people talking) in Riefsenstahl's film) - banners - pamphlets.... People act, as crowds, as individuals making up crowds - there's a much stronger sense of the individuality of all those people - coming together to form whatever they form... And this is quite obvious in the proliferation of words (actual or implied) in October...

4) Style - those relationships between the mass and the individual in Nazi and Soviet propaganda films remain pretty consistent. Riefsenstahl, particularly, is completely controlled - the mass is a mass, individuality is stripped away - indiivduals become blocks in the mass.... But in Eisenstein's film - for all the mass movements, the types, the choreography, the heroic angles - there remains a significant amount of chaos. Chaos, individuality, are harnessed by the communists - in theory at least. (Obviously, this is all how they are presenting themselves - what the commies were really up to is another matter.) But it's still striking - the choreography of Eisenstein's crowds is far more chaotic, kinetic - they don't form patterns and masses, they flow - they have the turbulance, unpredictability, and sheer power of rivers and oceans - they never form into the blocks you see in Triumph of the Will. Again - the end results may have been terror and control, state violence and repression, in both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia - but the two movements present themselves, their ideal image of themselves, very differently. The Germans are all arranged in blocks - mass ornaments (in Siegfried Kracauer's term) - individuals function as blocks in these masses. Their films are full of lines, lines of people - static blocks, that retain their shapes as they move - parades, lines of men, salutes en mass, all in unison, all together.... The Russians though - Eisenstein, at least - also deal in masses, but masses that are not blocks, but - to pick up the metaphor above - flows. They move - they don't form rigid lines, or they lose them quickly when they do - when crowds act as masses, they do so in turbulent pulses. A crowd voting in October, everyone holding up a kind of ballot - does not do so in uniform, but rather, a roomful of men waving their cards in the air and shouting. Everyone moves on their own, to create a massive pulse of energy.

Now, obviously, some of this does come down to the filmmaker - Eisenstein is a shockingly kinetic filmmaker. Even now - October is an overwhelming onslaught - as fast a film as I have ever seen. (Though Eisenstein also modulates - he builds tension, uses longer shots, still shots, quieter shots - that explode when the action comes...) Riefenstahl - though a dynamic editor, with a superb eye for imagery, has none of his protean powers, none of his energy. She is too in love with the compositions, the patterns, the aesthetics - Eisenstein is more in love with the movements, flow, energy, making images clash and bang off one another - Riefsenstahl prefers editing that builds to a grander pattern - editing that reinforces its underlying imagery. She hammers away at her ideas sometimes - she seems to be aiming at a kind of monumentalism, awe... I find it, I'm afraid, much less appealing than what Eisenstein does - it seems simple minded and pretentious, very quickly. Eisenstein might have his pretentious moments, but they're gone in a flash, the second or two it takes him to cut to something else.... There have been comments from people in this class about how good Riefenstahl is, how important - I can almost see it in Olympia, but not Triumph of the Will. Its wickedness aside, it's a chore to watch. Good or evil, Eisenstein's films are all revelatory, and thrilling, every time I see them.