Saturday, April 28, 2012

Spring Quiz, and Nun Too Soon!

Dennis Cozzalio has posted A New Quiz, praise the Lord!



1) Favorite movie featuring nuns
A: How about Rivette's The Nun?

2) Second favorite John Frankenheimer movie
A: Seconds, right?

3) William Bendix or Scott Brady?
A: I think I'd say William Bendix

4) What movie, real or imagined, would you stand in line six hours to see? Have you ever done so in real life?
A: I have not done this. There are undoubtedly films I would, though - Out 1? if you're gonna spend 13 hours watching it, what's another 6 waiting for it?
5) Favorite Mitchell Leisen movie
A: Easy Living seems the obvious answer.

6) Ann Savage or Peggy Cummins?
A: I think it's Peggy Cummins

7) First movie you remember seeing as a child
A: The first actual movie I saw was 1776, as a class trip. I saw things on TV, but can't really say what I remember seeing first. My Fair Lady maybe? on TV of course... Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

8) What moment in a movie that is not a horror movie made you want to bolt from the theater screaming?
A: I can never figure out how to answer these questions. I mean - this stuff happens - and it comes to me, but never when I am thinking about it directly like this.... I recently got to see Satantango again - the kid and the cat have to be on the short list for this sort of thing.

9) Richard Widmark or Robert Mitchum?
A: A very painful choice. Mitchum it is, but Widmark is wonderful.

10) Best movie Jesus
A: Enrique Irozoqui, in Gospel According to Matthew. Though I'm tempted to say Justin Theroux in The Ten - the best Jesus joke anyway.

11) Silliest straight horror film that you’re still fond of
A: In Dreams, maybe? is that a straight horror film? It's certainly silly. But gorgeous and compelling enough... "Fond" might be a strong word for it, but I'm also reminded of Daybreakers, a pretty awful vampire movie featuring Ethan Hawke and Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe which was oddly appealing...

12) Emily Blunt or Sally Gray?
A: Emily Blunt, I'll say, since I just saw The Five Year Engagement.

13) Favorite cinematic Biblical spectacular
A: Intolerance sounds likely.

14) Favorite cinematic moment of unintentional humor
A: Another one of these... this probably makes me a bad person - but I always thought the people falling off the Titanic were especially ridiculous looking - like a pinball machine. Something about the FX just failed utterly to suspend disbelief. I remember finding it difficult not to laugh...

15) Michael Fassbender or David Farrar?
A: Fassbender is the answer to any question that involves him, I think.

16) Most effective faith-affirming movie
A: O Brother Where Art Thou?

17) Movie that makes the best case for agnosticism
A: The Passion of the Christ?... seriously - shoot - A Serious Man? Especially since it is about the question, more than any kinds of answers.

18) Favorite song and/or dance sequence from a musical
A: Night and Day, in the Gay Divorcee.

19) Third favorite Howard Hawks movie
A: Bringing up Baby, I guess. Which leaves it ahead of Twentieth Century, To Have and Have NOt, Rio Bravo, Scarface - lord...

20) Clara Bow or Jean Harlow?
A: Jean Harlow, who is wonderful, in every way

21) Movie most recently seen in the theater? On DVD/Blu-ray/Streaming?
A: Theater - was Damsels in Distress when I started this, but now it's The Five-Year Engagement; DVD = Letters From Iwo Jima; been a while since I've streamed anything, for a variety of reasons...

22) Most unlikely good movie about religion
A: Would Life of Brian count? though it's not unlikely that it's a good movie - it is unlikely, perhaps, that it is such a good film about religion, as well as a good joke...

23) Phil Silvers or Red Skelton?
A: Man, when I was a kid, a really small kid, I looked forward to 2 television shows - horse racing, and Red Skelton. I don't remember it, other than it was full of pantomime and clowns and what not, and Clem Kadiddlehopper, but I loved it. Phil Silvers can't compete with that.

24) “Favorite” Hollywood scandal
A: good lord, who knows. Ingrid Bergman running off with Roberto Rosselini?

25) Best religious movie (non-Christian)
A: The Burmese Harp, I think, is very hard to beat.

26) The King of Cinema: King Vidor, King Hu or Henry King? (Thanks, Peter)
A: King Hu!

27) Name something modern movies need to relearn how to do that American or foreign classics had down pat
A: Another question I think about often enough, but now, trying to answer it, I can't come up with anything. It pops into my head, that's the problem - I see something and I think, they did this right back in the day - but without the initial inspiration, it doesn't pop into my head. However - usually romantic comedies are fine inspiration for What Is Wrong With Hollywood Today - maybe the problem is that Five Year Engagement was pretty good - maybe that it stayed fairly interesting to the end. That might be the answer - 2 things: 1) classic films knew how to maintain a good start and stay as good at the end as they were in the middle. Contemporary films fall down after the first half hour all the time. 2) Classic filmmakers knew how to tell a story in 90 minutes - 80! 70! How man modern films would, in fact, be quite effective if they stopped at 80 minutes? Knowing how to make movies that are as long as the running time might be the real answer.

28) Least favorite Federico Fellini movie
A: I was quite underwhelmed by Juliet of the Spirits...

29) The Three Stooges (2012)—yes or no?
A: Not going to bother, no.

30) Mary Wickes or Patsy Kelly?
A: I think this is Mary Wickes.

31) Best movie-related conspiracy theory
A: It would be tempting to say something like, Orson Welles directed the Third Man! But that's kind of nonsense, and there are people who act like they really believe it, so, I don't know...

32) Your candidate for most misunderstood or misinterpreted movie
A: Well - I got a lot  of mileage out of explaining Inland Empire a few years ago, as part of a misunderstood movies blogathon... not to mention Batman & Robin. But neither of those films, or posts, are exactly about how movies are misunderstood - so - this is another one that I can answer when something reminds me of one of my pet theories - but I can never remember when I am not reminded. Alas. Thinking recently a lot about World War II, though, gets me thinking, in turn, about Japanese films - The Human Condition, say - a superb film (films) - but that, in turn, makes me think about Kobayashi - and his films, I think, are misunderstood a bit. In the sense that politically, he tends to make anti war films - Hara-Kiri, Samurai Rebellion, and The three Human Condition films are all anti-war, anti-militarist films - except they illustrate, all too well, how hard it is to make an anti-war war film. With their superman heroes, their excitement and thrills - they make the spectacle too appealing - they make war too beautiful. So - you could say that - Kobayashi is not alone in making films that seem to advance one message in their stories, but undermine it with their style - but he might be the best...

33) Movie that made you question your own belief system (religious or otherwise)
A: The Hiding Place? I mean - what other possible argument could there be for god but that he makes people do good? and stories like that do make that case at least, at least for a god that's exactly the size of his believers.

[UPDATE - I've had to repost this a couple times - I think I have gotten the new blogger working at last, but it's been a struggle. This post was displaying badly for a while - I think I have it cleaned up enough now, but who knows. I should have known better than to attempt a long post like this before I'd worked out the kinks with this editor...]

Friday, April 27, 2012

Musical Friday - back to plain randomness, I think...

[It's going to take me an hour to post this fucking thing, since Blogger changed their editor, for the worse. I know, it's all too traditional to whine every time someone changes the layout on their site, or some of the controls - but really - if you are going to change something, should you not change it in such a way as to make it more usable not less? Blogger's editor has, through the years, remained simple and straightforward, and relatively WYSIWYG even in HTML mode - and now? you can choose between an ugly Compose mode and a plain html mode, with none of the basic stuff - like putting returns in when you do - the old one had. Wonderful.]

1. Young Marble Giants - Constantly Changing
2. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Baltimore
3. Modest Mouse - Heart Cooks Brain [I do like this song - "in this place that I call home, by brain's the cliff and my heart's the bitter buffalo..."]
4. Mark Stewart - Mr. You're a Better Man than I
5. John Coltrane - Africa
6. Smashing Pumpkins - Mayonaise
7. Fairport Convention - Flatback Caper
8. Sigur Rus - Vio Spilum Endalaust (live)
9. Billie Holiday & Lester Young - This Year's Kisses
10. Tom Waits - Down, Down, Down

And video? not the easiest find today - but here's a nice piece of animation for the Modest Mouse song...

Maybe another 90s indie icon - Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, live, in guitar hero mode:

[Third time a charm?]

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Das Boot

This week's World War II film is Das Boot - Wolfgang Petersen's epic submarine movie... It is, I think, basically a Howard Hawks movie, men in a tight and dangerous corner - like Only Angels Have Wings or Rio Bravo - surrounded and outnumbered with nothing but your courage and stubbornness and your Captain (or sheriff) to carry you along. And, I might as well say, a damned fine Howard Hawks film at that.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Chuck Colson

I'm loathe to admit this, but Chuck Colson spoke at my college graduation. Every spring, I remember it, and squirm a little, because it's not something you should be able to admit to in polite company. I suppose if he had gone all Andy Cramed up there, spent an hour groveling - "I apologize... I apologize..." - I might have been inclined to forgive him, and maybe forgive the school for trotting out an old Nixon crony on my last day under their banner. But he didn't - I don't have a fucking clue what he did talk about, Jesus I imagine, but I wasn't really listening - I was too chickenshit to do anything about it (tomatoes or old eggs would have been appropriate), but I was none too happy. And they did - a dirty trick indeed.

So now he is dead. And so, sympathy to his family and all, for all of us are, after all, human beings, and deserve some dignity and respect in our hour of extremity (well - maybe not Liddy) - but - I can't exactly mourn. And since my alma mater did foist him on me - I'm not about to let it pass in silence either. I will even give him credit, a bit, for trying to change, and do good instead of evil - but it's not particularly clear that what he thinks was good is not evil. And plenty of what he's done through the years, since he traded Tricky Dick for The Lord, has been evil plain enough. So - what can you do. I wouldn't wish him dead, but I sure wish he'd have shut the fuck up, a long long time ago. And I really wish my old school had found someone less disgusting to send me on my way in the world.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Levon Helm and the Band

I guess today's Friday music post should be devoted to the passing of Levon Helm. I can't say that The Band have ever been a group I couldn't live without, but they were, how to put it - a band that you always seem to live with. They were always there, always in the corners, always sounding right. The ultimate termite band, if that makes any sense. It's as true of their music itself as of their place in the musical culture - songs, and musicians, who seem to slowly surround you. Familiar and unobtrusive, but fundamental - their songs feel like something you have heard all your life - like the Feelies, everything they do sounds like a song you heard somewhere and half forgot. Which was probably literally true for the Band - those songs were on the radio when I was a kid and not paying much attention, and when I heard them later, they probably were as much revived memories as something new. But still.

Now Levon Helm has died, giving the world a chance to put The Band front and center for a while, and marvel is how great they were. And him - it is his voice I think of when I think of them - his songs, however democratic a band they may have been.

Cripple Creek:

The Night they drove old Dixie down, from the Last Waltz:

The Weight, live in Toronto:

And finally, a bit different - starting with The Weight, but continuing, through a set with Dylan at the Isle of Wight:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday 13th Music

Celebrating the date, let's say - may your luck hold...

1. Johnny Cash - Thirteen
2. Big Star - Thirteen
3. 13th Floor Elevators - You're Gonna Miss Me
4. John Lennon - Luck of the Irish
5. Madonna - Lucky Star
6. Modest Mouse - Shit Luck
7. Richard & Linda Thompson - Hard Luck Stories
8. Sunburst - Lucky You
9. Strokes - Trying your Luck
10. James Blood Ullmer - I Ain't Superstitious

Well? Can't find video of James Blood Ulmer doing it - lots of video of Jeff Beck and other lesser musicians at it, but hard to sort through them for anything close to the original... So - here's the audio of Willie Dixon, from 1970, I think...

I'm going to update this sucker again - finally found the original Howlin' Wolf recording. That's worth having. What a pain, rooting around through 5000 cover versions - Megadeth? who the fuck wants to hear Megadeth doing Howlin' Wolf? Who wants to hear Megadeth do anything, I suppose, but really... clutter clutter clutter!

And 13th Floor Elevators miming...

And Big Star is always welcome...

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Christian Imagery in WWII

It is fascinating how much films about war, one of the more convincing disproofs of the existence of God, rely on religious imagery. I suppose it's irresistible - to find meaning in all the suffering and sacrifice through the obvious imagery. And - it's not as if the imagery isn't earned. War is full of sacrifice and suffering that does, or can, contribute to a higher cause - people dying for others... And when you look at the life of someone like Corrie Ten Boom, or the people I mentioned a couple weeks ago, Leopold Socha or Si Kaddour Benghribit, it's hard to deny they make as good an argument for God as you are likely to find. It's a notion of god that is equal to the best men do - and god's as good a name for it as anything...

And so for this Easter - sacrifice:

And resurrection:

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Lick 'em tomorrow, though

Today is the 150th anniversary of the second day of the Battle of Shiloh - the first really big battle of the Civil War. (Bull Run resulted in some 5,000 casualties - Shiloh in 23,000 plus.) The war had been on for almost a year by then, but people on both sides still seemed to think it could be ended fairly quickly, and without the kind of cataclysm that did, in fact occur. But Shiloh rather demonstrated the contrary. It was a shockingly big battle for the time - and, looking back on it, it's also clear that it demonstrated a couple things that bode very ill for the coming years. It demonstrated the lethality of the war, the ability of modern armies (in 1860s terms) to deal out damage - and the resilience of armies, the difficulty of actually destroying an opposing force. The Confederates caught the Union by surprise - drove them well back - but both sides shot the hell out of each other, and the next day, the Union received reinforcements, and drove the Confederates back in turn, again, both sides shooting the hell out of one another. After it was done, the Southern army was a wreck, but the North wasn't much better off - a result that came up over and over in the war. Winning left armies almost as incapacitated as losing.

In any case... from here one, the battles got bigger and bigger - even in the spring of 1863, McClellan had 100,000 odd soldiers sitting on the Peninsular in Virginia - by the time he got around to using them, the Confederates were able to muster nearly as many, leading to fights that would start to dwarf Shiloh. And as the war went on, and arms got better (there were still a fair number of soldiers, especially in the South, armed with very old guns, smoothbores, shotguns and such, at Shiloh), and tactics and command structures got better, and the troops got better - the battles became increasingly deadly. A very bad time was in store for all.

Still. Things could have been worse. The Union could have lost, and if they had, odds are Grant, and Sherman to boot, would have gone the way of John Pope. Shiloh wasn't Grant's first major battle - he had already won the battle of Forts Henry and Donelson, in February - but it was one that, in a lot of ways, defined him. Nor for the good, at first - even after winning, he was blamed for the surprise, accused of drunkenness and so on - he spent the next several months in command limbo, a fact that probably contributed to the stagnation that developed in the west after Shiloh. EVen now, historians tend to see one of his more dangerous qualities at work here - he tended to make plans and execute them without really thinking about what the enemy might do. He seems to have expected them to sit there and take it - when they did, as at Henry and Donelson, at Vicksburg (especially in the spring and summer of 1863), even at Shiloh, on the second day - he gave them a shellacking. When they didn't sit there and take it - as at Shiloh, or in Virginia in 1964 - he ran into trouble. But what came next is probably what really defines Grant, and certainly distinguishes him from many of the other Union generals of the war. At Shiloh, and at the Wilderness, the enemy didn't do what he expected, and things went badly - but in both cases, he remade his plans on the fly. He was reinforced at Shiloh, and went on the attack on the second day, winning the field. And at the Wilderness, when it was clear he wasn't going to get through the wilderness by force - he switched directions, and went around. He did not, in either case, go away. The title of this post sums him up, in a lot of ways -"Well, Grant, we've had the devil's own day, haven't we?" said Sherman. "Yes. Lick 'em tomorrow, though." said Grant.

(Finally - expect a lot of these posts. I was not born in time for the 100th anniversary of the Civil War, and doubt I'll be around for the 200th anniversary - so I am going to seize on 150. It is a big deal - really, the biggest deal in American History. We must remember.)

Friday, April 06, 2012

A Musical Interlude

150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh today. I may have to come back to that - it lasts 2 days, so I have time! For now? a bit of music, shall we?

1. Madvillain - Do Not Fire!
2. Edgar Broughton Band - Apache Drop Out [thank you Mojo, again - Captain Beefheart plus the Shadows - I am glad to have found this...]
3. Descendents - Sour Grapes
4. Arcade Fire - Rebellion (lies)
5. Richard & Linda Thompson - A Man In Need
6. Bob Dylan - Restless Farewell
7. Brian Jonestown Massacre - (You Better Love Me) Before I am Gone
8. Michio Kurihara - A Boat of Courage
9. Black Sabbath - Sweet Leaf
10. Billy Bragg & Wilco - One by One

Videos? I can't not post this - though they've sort of dropped the "Apache" but for some Guru Guru style wailing, the Beefheart is still there.... and look at that hair!

That would seem to indicate an appearance from the Sabs, but as I can't find any vintage live Sweet Leaf, I may have recourse to a slight typo - here are the Surfers with Sweat Loaf:

And finally - can't quite find the song that came up, but I feel a need to post some BJM - here's a live rendition of Anemone from 2008 or 9 or so:

Sunday, April 01, 2012

WWII In the Philippines

This is where the class I am taking has gotten to - the Philippines, maybe the center of the American war in the Pacific. It's where the first extended fighting took place (for Americans) - scene of the biggest American disaster, at Bataan - and the key to driving the Japanese back, when the war turned our way. So it's gotten an extended treatment - a couple weeks, a couple films - it's a big deal.

The problem is, the films in class have been American films, and alas, pretty mediocre one at that. So Proudly We Hail is a 1943 film about nurses on Bataan - it has the merits of the times - it's a solid studio production, with a fine cast, and Mark Sandrich directing, and it even takes some effort to stay true to the nurses' story (which is pretty astonishing, when you get down to it.) Unfortunately, it couples this with a few bits of shameless melodrama, grafted on love stories, and a very dubious bit where Veronica Lake blows herself up to prevent capture by invisible Japanese. And - Sandrich doesn't seem to have the chops for it. He's a fine director when he has Fred Astaire to photograph - here, he seems pedestrian, and the film, though honorable enough, I suppose, feels awfully flat... The other film isn't much better - The Great Raid. This is the story of a raid by a Ranger company to rescue the last 500 or so prisoners at Cabanatuan POW camp - the last of the survivors of the Bataan Death March still in the Philippines, I think. It's a pretty astonishing tale - but the film manages to bloat it up and slow it down and sap most of the energy from it. Problem there is, it splits its attention between the rescuing Rangers, the POWs, and the civilians in Manila smuggling food into the camps. Particularly one Margaret Utinsky - a woman who definitely deserves her own movie, and a better one than this. The film works well enough when it sticks with the Rangers - but the camp scenes are sappy and predictable, and marred by an unjustifiable imaginary love affair - with the poor Miss U, whose 3 years of smuggling is compressed into the 3 days of the raid for no good reason. And that love story - sweet lord - what a cheap plot device!

It is a shame, I suppose, that no Americans have managed a great film about the war in the Philippines - it just so happens, though, that from the other side comes what is probably the single best film about any part of World War II - Kon Ichikawa's masterpiece, Fires on the Plain. This is set near the end of the war - on the island of Leyte, where the Americans landed before landing on Luzon (the main island of the Philippines, where Manila, Bataan, Cabanatuan are.) The film starts after the Japanese have been beaten on Leyte - the remnants are still there, some looking for a way out, some waiting to die. It follows one soldier, banished from his unit because he has TB, but banished from the hospital because he can still walk, as he wanders...

It's a death march to nowhere for Tamura and the others. It is strange how much the Japanese ended up reproducing the conditions they imposed on others. At the beginning of the war, they forced the American and Filipino prisoners from Bataan to march across Luzon, nearly starving to death - the Bataan Death March. At the end of the war, the Japanese soldiers were doing the same thing, on their own. That's what this film is - a death march - soldiers walk back and forth, a kind of quest with no purpose, waiting to die. Or more often - kill one another, to eat or be eaten.

It's important, though, that they do it to themselves - as much as they did it to their enemies. Behind it all is bad planning and bad tactics, and through it all, they are all at one another's throats. Ichikawa lays it on thick - these soldiers are constantly fighting themselves. From the very beginning - Tamura being slapped -

To the end (almost the end) - three soldiers killing each other -

The Japanese soldiers devour one another - figuratively as well as literally... I think this film is sometimes criticized for not taking sides - for not acknowledging the Japanese culpability in all this horror. But that doesn't seem fair. It's a film about soldiers, from the bottom up - politics would be out of place. I also think it reflects the divisions in Japan - it does seem that a lot of Japanese films about the war, at least the ones that come to the US, were made by liberals and humanists - the anti-war voices in Japan got to express themselves after the war. But while Fires on the Plain lacks the sometimes explicit criticism of Japanese militarism and its aftermath that can be seen in other filmmakers (Oshima and Kobayashi come to mind), it's hard to miss the way, even on its own terms, almost everything that happens to the Japanese soldiers is caused by Japanese actions. They all turn on everyone else, and Ichikawa, one of the great underrated craftsmen of film, shows it, all along:

They do run into the Americans, eventually - with disastrous results. And the guerillas - the fires on the plain... The Americans are dangerous - the Filipinos ruthless - but even here, Ichikawa leads us back to Japanese behavior. Maybe not directly, but indirectly, symbolically. Note that a total of 2 women appear in the film: one the Filipino civilian that Tamura shoots; one a Filipino guerilla who shoots a man trying to surrender. The latter may seem cruel - but the former reminds us who started that kind of thing.

And so - it is a great film. Brutal - harsh and sharp, devoid of sentimentality - strangely comic, but one of the most complete visions of human evil as there is. But not just evil. And all of it stunningly beautiful.