Thursday, January 31, 2008

What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body? UPDATED




Up for sale at Christies on June 30th, 2005 was memorabilia from the Marlon Brando estate. Included were these items from his unsuccessful film, The Ugly American. While the book focused on several different characters and made the bold statement that American Foreign Policy was useless in Southeast Asia as long as Americans didn't understand the culture or the appeal of Communism to those governments in that culture, the film was a muddled mess not really making one statement or the other. It looks better with time and the 20/20 historical vision of Vietnam but had it gone with the book and taken a stand today it might look much better.

Okay, now for a little guessing game - The letter in the top photo reads, "Dear Marlon - Saw The Ugly American this afternoon. I think it is first rate - better than that, important. Congratulations." Who wrote the letter? Sure you can see the last name but that doesn't tell you who it is, if you know what I mean? Anyone know (Peter, I'm looking in your direction)? The winner will be officially dubbed "Totally Awesome Super Cool" in the comments section.


****UPDATE****


No one got it and that's okay - you're all winners to me. Good golly gosh you're the bestest! Everyone gets a big shiny "I'm Special" button to take home and show off to the neighbors. Now about that letter... First things first, you all got the gender wrong. It's a woman. She was at the Actor's Studio with Brando in the fifties and by the sixties she was a teacher alongside Stella Adler herself. She's still with the Studio and goes by the name... Elizabeth Parrish. Nickname: Betsy. To my own and everyone else's confusion is that odd upside down "U" looking thingy after the "B". Not sure what that's all about but I'm not here to analyze handwriting, just supply the answer. This ain't Zodiac you know.

Oh yeah, and since no one got it I can now tell you that the real prize was one million dollars in cold, hard cash, tax-free. I didn't want to say beforehand because I didn't want to cause a frenzy.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Unseen Images: Kes


***This review contains mild spoilers (the ending is strongly hinted at)***

Whether big budgeted or operating on a shoe string I ask only one thing of a drama: Give me characters I can believe. I don't have to like them (Ethan Edwards The Searchers, Christopher Cross Scarlet Street, Travis Bickle Taxi Driver) but I do have to believe they are real breathing people, not phantasms created by a clever screenwriter. Kes gives me characters I can believe and then exceeds expectations. In fact, I have a hard time convincing myself there were actors involved at all. I've looked it up on IMDB and sure enough, there are actors playing the parts (David Bradley, Brian Glover), a writer (Barry Hines) and a director (Ken Loach). But I think it's all a ruse. You can't convince me that someone didn't take a camera into Barnsley, England in 1969 and simply film students, teachers and surrounding locals then edit it into a movie. That's how Kes feels.

I could give Kes a plot summary review but there wouldn't be much to say. It follows Billy Casper, local Yorkshire youth, as he wanders through school and life, finds a kestrel chick, trains it and improves his bleak outlook. But this film is wonderful for two things in particular: 1- It is meticulously observed on a personal level that gives it a feeling of absolute authenticity, and 2 - It is among the most unpretentious and unsentimental movies I have ever seen. Watching Kes made me feel (whether true or not) that films have forgotten how to observe a story instead of telling it. By that I mean rather than forcing us to feel or react in a certain way due to musical cues or camera set-ups the movie simply places the camera midground, excises the music and observes the action. I have nothing against telling the story, but I have seen enough stories like Kes ruined by a director intent on telling us what to feel rather than trusting that the story will take us there.*

Here is the tagline for the film: They beat him. They deprived him. They ridiculed him. They broke his heart. But they couldn't break his spirit. Whoever came up with that tagline didn't understand the film at all. It's not that it's not true, it's that it's true in the wrong way. Sure they couldn't break his spirit, but that's because he had none. He was resigned to a life of misery and despair, eventually relegated to working in a coal mine. His brother Jud works there and takes out his frustrations (physically) on Billy. Both of their lives seem pointless and hopeless and they have a mother who couldn't seem to care less.

Throughout the film Loach gives the viewer an insightful look into the failed social systems in Billy's life. His public school and career counselors all fail Billy spectacularly. Loach maintains a cinematic distance from all of this, employing mainly long and medium shots, only closing in on Billy and Kes as their relationship develops. And the washed out look of the film makes no shot pretty but not falsely deglamorized either. There is a greyness all around that befits the environment and story, if not the mood of the film.

And then there is the ending which on first viewing, and second and third, is jolting. This may sound like I'm trying to drive you away from the film rather than towards it, but this has to be one of the bleakest endings on record. And yet, there is a robust strength to the ending that resonates with the viewer long after the film is over. The ending is not bleak because of what happens but in how it is presented. What happens at the end has happened a dozen times in other movies with animals and if you haven't seen it you can probably guess what it is. What you can't guess is how it is presented or how it comes about. It is presented in such an offhand matter of fact manner with such a complete lack of goopy strings, of lingering close-ups or of a protracted conclusion that one walks away from the film feeling that one has just viewed the most horrible moment in an isolated child's life callously recorded for someone's home movie. It is unsentimental in the extreme.

I had not seen Kes when I did my original Oscar picks for the late sixties. Had I seen it before then I may well have chosen it as the Best Picture of 1969. In a recent British Motion Picture poll of the greatest British films ever made, Kes made it into the top ten, at number seven. The six films ahead of it were Kind Hearts and Coronets, Great Expectations, The 39 Steps, Lawrence of Arabia, Brief Encounter and The Third Man. I saw that list before seeing the movie and wondered what all the fuss was about. Why was a simple kitchen sink drama (a genre I admittedly love) ranked so highly along side these titans of British cinema? Now I understand. Completely. Hell - I'd rank it higher. See Kes if you haven't already. Then you'll understand too.


____________________________


*(ahem, cough, Steven Spielberg, cough, cough).

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ye Olde Book Tagge


I was recently reading the great blog The Sheila Variations and discovered that Sheila (aka Special Ops aka Red) had tagged me for a set of questions for which she herself had been tagged. The questions are all about reading and if you want to get great perspectives on literature, history and film as well there really is no other blog quite like Sheila's (that's a compliment). As the lone film blogger tagged by Sheila it is my responsibility to make sure people don't think film geeks are also a bunch of illiterate yahoos. I'll give it my best shot:


Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?


Pretty much any new fiction. Wow that's a bad answer but it's the truth. When it comes to new books I'm an obsessive for non-fiction but when it comes to fiction I prefer older, more tried and true tomes. I'm not a "book of the month club" type person. I look at lists of the greatest books ever written and think, "There are so many that I want to read, I just don't have time for the latest climbers on the NYT Bestsellers List." But my answer here is already a cop-out as I'm not naming a title so let's name one.

Like most people reading this, I have friends and family who tell me I "have to read" a certain book. Fine. It's easy enough to respond, "Sure yeah I'll have to check that out. Oh my god what's that!" and then you turn and run and it never gets brought up again. But every now and then someone GIVES you a book - and you didn't even ask to borrow it. Now you feel obliged, even pressured. Well, about seven years ago by my best reckoning, a friend and co-worker brought in his copy of Infinite Jest, gave it to me and told me I had to read it. It's a highly praised book. It is also 173,894 pages long. Okay it's not that long but it could easily give the Random House Standard Library Dictionary a run for its money as far as weight goes. And in a pinch, it would not be a stretch to imagine it as a blunt murder weapon.

So anyway, how long ago did I say this was? Oh yeah, seven years. Still haven't read it. Don't plan to. Give me a book that's bigger than the Bible that I didn't even ask for and tell me I have to read it? Buddy, all you're doing is giving yourself a workout walking it over to me.


If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?


This isn't easy for me. Many of the most fascinating characters in literature history are also miserable people. I mean, does anyone really want to hang out with Holden Caufield? Okay, maybe early on he'd be some fun but then you'd start getting all the shit about the sister and the goddamn brass ring and blah, blah, blah until you call the loony patrol yourself. Great character but you take him out okay?

Number one for me would be Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse Five. I love Billy Pilgrim. If he can come unstuck in time then dammit he can come to life and have bourbon and steak with me. And this is going to make me seem extremely limited, but I'd also love to bring Kilgore Trout to life and hang out with both of them together. So for fairness, I'll make this four since those two both come from the mind of Vonnegut.

Next would be Mr. Emerson from A Room with a View. Why? He understands life and love and isn't afraid to say what is important. As he explains to Lucy, "Take an old man's word; there's nothing worse than a muddle in all the world. It is easy to face Death and Fate, and the things that sound so dreadful. It is on my muddles that I look back with horror - on the things that I might have avoided. " Then he tells her she loves George and to not let this part of her life go unresolved and if she does it will be a moment of muddle she will later regret: "Though you fly to Greece, and never see him again, or forget his very name, George will work in your thoughts till you die. It isn't possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal."

Finally I just have to meet that passing stranger, the one unjustly offended by the good citizens of Hadleyburg in Mark Twain's wonderful short story, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg. He see self righteous piety and wants to expose it for the moral sham it is. He spends six months working out a plan. "He contrived many plans, and all of them were good, but none of them was quite sweeping enough; the poorest of them would hurt a great many individuals, but what he wanted was a plan which would comprehend the entire town, and not let so much as one person escape unhurt." Wow, what a bastard! I don't think I'd like him very much, but I've got to know what makes him tick.

And finally, an honorable mention goes to Humbert H. Humbert. I want to ask him about his middle name.


You are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?


The World Set Free by H.G. Wells. I started to read this a few years ago after reading up on Leo Szilard, the great physicist who first envisioned the necessary mechanics for constructing an atomic bomb. The book was written in 1914 and uses atomic bombs as a plot device, though nothing like the actual bombs that would later be constructed. Wells didn't understand the fissionable process that Szilard grasped. Anyway, my reading was not completed. Dreadful prose. I've had more enjoyment reading printer manuals. So I'll complete this book when I finally want to be bored to death.


Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?


The Grapes of Wrath. I took AP English courses in high school and we studied and analyzed this one early on. I read some plot outlines and Cliff Notes and faked my way through class discussions. Later I found myself talking about it when it would come up as if I had read it, even though I never had.


As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?


I can't think of any. I've read excerpts from books and later convinced myself half-heartedly that I read them but I know I haven't. I read much of the New Yorker serialized version of Bonfire of the Vanities so I perceive that I have read it but I know I never did.


You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP)


I'll say my VIP is a man who's into sports and action movies. I find it easier to believe some buffalo wing loving sports guy would not be a big reader and find books "boring." So I'd give him Heart of Darkness and tell him they made Apocalypse Now from it. It's an easy read and it would be fun for him to draw the parallels and differences between the two. Once done I'd ask him if Martin Sheen should have gone back and met Kurtz's wife and slowly make him aware that sometimes books can explore characters in fuller ways than a movie and that reading one and seeing the other can offer great insight into both. I'd keep him on books that had been made into movies for a while then gradually nudge him towards books that compare to nothing but themselves.


A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?


I have no idea but I keep thinking French. I'd like to read Voltaire uninterpreted, untranslated and unfiltered.

A mischievous fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread one a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?


I shall go with the easy choice here and then give a back up. Since I have to read it every year I do not want it to be cumbersome and arcane. I also don't want it to be an all-time favorite as I would fear that eventually a book I loved so dearly would become a chore. So I shall say A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I am not a Christmas lover and that story always makes me feel good about the holiday.

A back up would be The Crying of Lot 49. I read it piecemeal and (I hope I don't offend anyone greatly here) found it underwhelming. Perhaps I had heard too much about it before reading it. Regardless, it's short (around 150 pages) so for one afternoon each year I could read it and maybe over time appreciate it more and perhaps even grow to love it.


I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?


As stated in the introduction to this tag, I am not a book blogger but I have learned from reading the likes of Sheila and having the occasional book comment by someone like Bill that books are in no danger of going away. We fool ourselves sometimes into thinking we live in a Howard Bealesque nightmare of illiteracy and disrespect for the printed word but the Internet and all of its bloggers and commenters have reassured me that appreciation for the finer things in art (great film, great literature, great music, great painting) will never die... or even fade away.


That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.


My dream library exists in many different forms. I would not want it to be stodgy and stuffy but I would like it to be separate. I once watched in interview with David McCullough and he was talking about how he writes. He has a shed, not a cabin or large extension to his house, but a shed. It has a window on the side and his small table and typewriter face away from it. He goes to it and isolates himself and writes. That sounds perfect for me. I travel to Vermont twice a year and would love to eventually live there. I would have a nice, small cabin on a hill and behind it a small library. It would need to be larger than a shed but the point is it would be separate. It would require a physical effort to get up and go to it. Once there, the door is shut and all is quiet. And you can read.


********


Thanks to Sheila for picking me for this. I truly enjoyed it. As with all things like this I suppose I should now tag someone else but I am not a book blogger and so will simply say to anyone reading this if you want to do this on your blog as well please do. I know Larry Aydlette has discussed books from time to time on his page and I would be interested in his responses but won't do an official tag, just a "if you want to do this Larry I'd love to see what you write." Also, I know that Bill, a frequent commenter here is very well read (I gather at least from many past comments) and if he would like to do it as well I'll be happy to put it up, although I'd probably put it over at SynchFish and then direct people there to read it as I have many film posts to be published here and SynchFish has a more unfocused, free-for-all environment that might enjoy an uplift from some guest blogging.

And again, anyone who wants to do this - consider yourself tagged. As books are fond of saying - The End.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Last of Its Kind


Winner of the Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects of 1976 (shared with King Kong) Logan's Run marked the last of its kind in many ways. The very next year was the year of Star Wars. But up until then sci-fi had been many things for many people, from cerebral to campy to sexy. For a long time after Star Wars it became action adventure only. And of course the special effects changed forever. Here are the five winners just prior to Logan's Run:


1970 Tora! Tora! Tora!
1971 Bedknobs and Broomsticks
1972 The Poseidon Adventure
1973 No award given
1974 Earthquake
1975 The Hindenburg


And here are the five after:


1977 Star Wars
1978 Superman: The Movie
1979 Alien
1980 Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark


As some nauseating animated character in some forgettable Disney crapfest might sing, it's a whole new world. I miss the old one. As much as I love many of those post-Logan classics I also love pop-sociology, pointless nudity, cheesy effects, cool looking miniatures and Dallas Shopping Mall locations in my sci-fi. Fortunately I have Logan's Run on DVD. Whew. Now that's what I call Sanctuary.


*******

Click on Poster for large printable size. Is it not overwhelming? You know you want to print it out.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

And in the End...


***Warning: Big stinking spoilers throughout. Read at your own risk.***


Roger Ebert wrote this recently in his positive review of There Will Be Blood concerning the ending: "Those who hate the ending, and there may be many, might be asked to dictate a different one. Something bittersweet, perhaps? Grandly tragic? Only madness can supply a termination for this story."

The ending of There Will Be Blood is indeed insane. I laughed throughout. I don't know if that offends Paul Thomas Anderson or if he intended people to laugh at the ending but I was not laughing in a mocking, condescending way. It was more of a "giddy with delight" kind of laughter. If you haven't seen the film and don't want it spoiled for you then stop reading now. If you don't care about spoilers, read on. To sum it up quickly and cleanly, the movie follows the life of Daniel Plainview and his selfish, megalomaniacal descent into madness. He is a cold businessman who hates people and takes offense where none was intended. He has dealings with Eli Sunday, an evangelist who uses Plainview's success to build his church. All of this is told in a sweeping manner among the dust strewn wastelands of the oil fields. Then suddenly, after two and a half hours of slow burn, we are jettisoned sixteen years forward, Eli comes to see Daniel in his mansion, Daniel humiliates Eli, chases him around his bowling alley and clubs him to death with a bowling pin. Daniel's butler walks in, presumably to collect Daniel's breakfast tray, and Daniel says, referring to the breakfast tray and his meeting with Eli, "I'm finished." The End.

Okay, let's be frank: That's crazy. And to many viewers it is a disconcerting and bizarre way to end the movie. But I enjoyed it (obviously - I've since watched the closing scene on YouTube several times and just laugh and laugh when I see it - Paul Thomas Anderson hates me right now). It's even funnier than Dirk Diggler wagging his rubber dick in front of the mirror. The truth is I usually like understated films. If you look at what I've reviewed on Unseen Images (Luck of Ginger Coffey, So Big, Walkabout) you can get a good idea of what I prefer in a movie, and it's usually not something like There Will Be Blood. But occasionally I like something big and sloppy and messy and this movie is as equally full of flaws as it is ambition. But the real point is the ending.

Ebert suggests those who don't like it write another ending for it. This is unnecessary as there already is another ending for it, written some thirty four years ago by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo. The ending I'm referring to is the ending of The Godfather, Part II.

I have a hunch that many people who don't like the ending of There Will Be Blood were subconsciously hoping for the ending of The Godfather Part II Redux. Daniel Plainview slowly but surely isolates himself from everyone around him and finally rejects his own family (his adopted son). At this point it would be perfectly understandable and fitting if a filmmaker decided the best way to end the story was to have Plainview's son walk out and the camera fades to a day or a week later. The camera then slowly zooms in on a lonely and empty Daniel Plainview staring coldly ahead, his whole life reduced to this, to nothing, to meaninglessness. Slow fade to black and silence as the credits slowly crawl up the screen. After all, there really is little reason or motivation to even bring Eli Sunday back into the story. He's been absent for quite some time at this point and practically forgotten. He never made much of an impact as far as the story arc is concerned in the first place except for providing some juicy embarrassment at the baptism of Daniel. So why not give the movie a tragic dignified ending?

I don't have the answer to that question but I'm glad Anderson didn't. This may sound insulting, but I am vaguely reminded of Kevin Bacon pitching his stark winters tale to the studio executive in The Big Picture until it is finally reduced to Beach Nuts! I have this fantasy where Anderson is pitching the movie and describing Plainview's bitter loneliness in the snow as the camera fades to black. The studio executive stares at him blankly.

Anderson quickly realigns himself and says, "But then Plainview realizes his tragedy and reunites with his son."

Nothing from the studio exec.

"Uh, um, okay maybe Plainview joins forces with Sunday and decides to become a new man."

Still nothing.

"Okay, I got it, Sunday comes by, Plainview goes batshit insane, chases him around the bowling alley hurling bowling balls at him while screaming, 'I am the Third Revelation' then beats Sunday to death with a bowling pin!"

BINGO!

"We'll call it Oil Nuts!"

I think there could have been straighter played, more dignified, more overtly tragic endings to this movie but I don't think there could have been a better one. I have seen many a stoic character study that ends in understated silence. I believe many are excellent (such as The Godfather Part II, although I am not its biggest fan) but every now and then it makes me feel good to know that there is a filmmaker as reckless as Paul Thomas Anderson (rubber dicks, frog downpours, bowling pin clubbings). I have a feeling as he makes more movies he will become more sedate and subdued and learned in the wise ways of constructing a stoic character study in which Burt Reynolds, Marky Mark and the music of E.L.O. have no place. There will be no room for hyper-acted scenes where characters scream phrases like "Drainage Eli!" and "I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!" or biblical plagues in the middle of Los Angeles. There will be more Godfather, Part II and less Apocalypse Now. And certainly no room for One From the Heart.

Perhaps it's because I like understated smaller films that when I see a big drama I want it to just barely graze this side of a train wreck. If I'm going to spend three hours on a character study when I believe most good ones can be done in two, I want some goddamn spectacle. I want some madness. I want the filmmaker to do the equivalent of ordering a bunch of Peruvian natives to haul a 320 ton steamer over a mountain. And dammit, I want Michael Corleone to get off that damn bench, run inside the boathouse, call Tom Hagen a "basket bastard" and then club Al Neri to death with the row boat anchor. I'd drink that milkshake! I'd drink it up.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oscar Noms are Out...

... but will there be a show? Due to the writer's strike there may not and despite supporting the strike by not crossing the lines, people in the biz still want to collect their Oscars, so if they miss the opportunity to do so because of a strike... well let's just say, there will be bad blood.

The Major Noms (for a complete listing go here):

Best motion picture of the year
Atonement
Juno
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood


Best Director:
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Julian Schnabel
Juno - Jason Reitman
Michael Clayton - Tony Gilroy
No Country for Old Men -Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
There Will Be Blood - Paul Thomas Anderson


Performance by an actor in a leading role:
George Clooney in “Michael Clayton”
Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood”
Johnny Depp in “Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
Tommy Lee Jones
in “In the Valley of Elah”
Viggo Mortensen
in “Eastern Promises”

Performance by an actress in a leading role:
Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”
Julie Christie in “Away from Her”
Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose”
Laura Linney in “The Savages”
Ellen Page in “Juno”

Performance by an actor in a supporting role:
Casey Affleck in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”
Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men”
Philip Seymour Hoffman
in “Charlie Wilson’s War”
Hal Holbrook
in “Into the Wild”
Tom Wilkinson
in “Michael Clayton”

Performance by an actress in a supporting role:
Cate Blanchett in “I’m Not There”
Ruby Dee
in “American Gangster”
Saoirse Ronan
in “Atonement”
Amy Ryan
in “Gone Baby Gone”
Tilda Swinton in “Michael Clayton”

Oscar Watch Update


I've seen more films now that will be vying for the Oscar and it still comes down to two I think. Those two are No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Granted, there are still many to see from 2007 that I have not seen yet but for now, these two seem like the top Oscar hopefuls.

In my first Oscar conjecture I figured Sweeney Todd would make a bigger splash and while I didn't particularly dislike it or particularly like it, none of it has stayed with me and I can't imagine it has any legs going into the nomination process.

I believe NCFOM and TWBB have the best shot at Best Picture. I've just seen TWBB and the objections of some over the music left me shrugging my shoulders. I see no problem with the music being used in an operatic way to propel the story towards its inevitable conclusion. Every note implies that doom is just over the horizon. The title implies it as well. And so there is. And over-acting? No. Bad actors over-act, great actors skillfully play it big. Daniel Day-Lewis plays it big and his Daniel Plainview character is big - and it is mesmerizing to watch.

Others have tried to look at it as an allegory but I don't see it. If so it is the most unfocused allegory I have ever seen and I'm not even sure what it would be (Capitalism destroys Religion? Competing dogmas destroy each other? You got me.) But to understand further I have to talk about the ending and so if you haven't seen it I will begin spoiling NOW.

Eli Sunday (played terrifically by Paul Dano) comes to see Daniel Plainview (the aforementioned scenery engulfing Daniel Day-Lewis). Eli needs help, financial help, and Daniel has the money and power to clear everything up. Daniel makes Eli reveal himself as a fraud and renounce his belief. Earlier in the film, Daniel has to go through a baptism in order to get what he needs from one of Eli's followers. When Daniel is admitting to abandoning his son there are moments of real emotion in his voice as he says before others what he doesn't want to say to himself. Despite his cruel behavior later with his son, I believe that he loved him at one time and losing him later in life drove the final nail in Daniel's coffin of sanity. If not, why bother having the scene of complete and final abandonment of his son in his home take place at all, much less right before the final scene with Eli.

Back to Eli and his humiliation at the hands of Daniel. This is where there is argument amongst viewers as to whether Eli ever believed to begin with. If not, the renouncing of his beliefs is just as empty as Daniel's renouncing of sin at the baptism (with the single exception of the statements relating to his son). So was Eli a fraud all along? I think that depends on the viewer. I think Eli believed and does believe at the moment Daniel begins humiliating him but is desperate enough to renounce anything to get what he needs. Just as Daniel did not want to say he had abandoned his son but said it anyway - he needed that pipeline and nothing was going to stand in his way, certainly not his heart or soul. Both characters are willing to sacrifice integrity and honesty with themselves to get what they need. Beliefs are tossed aside to make way for necessity. If he never believed, there is no point to this humiliation. And if he did believe then we can see just how far he is willing to go to get what he needs.

After the humiliation is successful Daniel tells Eli he won't give him any money for what Eli offers because he, Daniel, has already taken it. In fact, he drank it up. At this point Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano go into hyper-acting overdrive and I must admit (and I hope I don't offend any viewers who found the ending deadly serious) I was giggling like a schoolgirl. I couldn't stop laughing. Not guffawing, just uncontrolled giddy chuckling as I watched these two actors perform a final scene so insane that a viewer probably would have had as much luck guessing this ending as they would have had guessing a movie about lonely people in Los Angeles would end with a frog shower. But my laughter had a joyous quality to it. I was happy that there's someone making movies who doesn't take themselves so goddamned seriously that they can't occasionally say, "Hey, why not end it with Plainview, Sunday, bowling pins, blood and a butler?" Why not indeed? Plainview's crazy, bitter and broken. That's clear in the final scene with his son. So where to take his character from there? To the end of course. The logical end. And then? He's finished. Finished with his tasks, finished with "wrapping up personal business," finished with his son, finished with revenge and finished - as in 'ruined' - because there's a corpse with a bowling pin imprint on the back of his skull laying in the middle of his home bowling alley. He's finished. I wonder what his last line should be?

Spoilers Ended

So there's a quick reaction. I think No Country for Old Men carries more weight to it but There Will Be Blood has the "bigness" that Oscar notices. For now, I'll stick with No Country for my own personal pick and put my money on There Will Be Blood as the Oscar pick.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Smoke 'em if you got 'em...


... take a break. Game's on today.

Scarlett enjoys some unfiltered tar, nicotine and other delightful chemicals rolled into one small convenient package on the set of Gone With the Wind. It's hard to imagine someone with such a sweet face playing such a calculating and self determined character as Scarlett O'Hara so well but Vivien Leigh excelled in the role. I still don't like the movie much. Sorry.

Friday, January 18, 2008

And the Oscar Goes to ...


... something you did in another year. Cinema Styles presents Great moments in Oscar Compensation History.

Leading up to the Oscars I'll continue to highlight snubs and other odd behavior. This new feature focuses on the best (or worst) of the "mercy" Oscars, as they're known. These are Oscars given as compensation for a flub in a previous year. We'll start it off with an actress, an actor and a director.

BEST ACTRESS: Bette Davis Dangerous 1935 - for her un-nominated performance in Of Human Bondage 1934. This is considered by many to be the first true Oscar compensation award. It was only the eighth year of the awards and already they were screwing up royally. In 1934 Bette Davis received praise for her blazing performance in Of Human Bondage. Whether the accent was perfect or not, who cares? She was easily the most memorable thing on the screen for the entire year and it made her a star. But the Academy didn't nominate her and movie fans around the country cried foul. So the Academy allowed for a write-in-vote among members for the first time so that Davis could still win, possibly. She didn't. The award went to Claudette Colbert (a personal favorite of mine) in It Happened One Night and you can't really complain about that. In 1935 Davis made Dangerous, giving a listless performance in a mediocre film. Nobody cared. They gave her the Oscar for it, but everyone knew why she had really won it.

BEST ACTOR: James Stewart The Philadelphia Story (1940) - for his performance in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). His performance in The Philadelphia Story is terrific but here's the story from days gone by: In 1938 Robert Donat lost to Spencer Tracy who won his second consecutive Oscar, this time for Boys Town. According to Oscar lore there were some feelings that the Academy was all about rewarding American movies (which it is) and no others. Other Brits had won (Charles Laughton The Private Lives of Henry VII 1933) but many felt Donat's performance in The Citadel was better than Tracy's in Boys Town. So in 1939, Donat received the award for his performance in Goodbye Mr. Chips. That meant Clark Gable had to lose for Gone With the Wind but that was okay because he already had an Oscar for It Happened One Night (1934). That left Jimmy Stewart, of whom many felt gave the best performance of the year in Mr. Smith. Which takes us to 1940 and The Philadelphia Story. Did you get all that?

BEST DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese The Departed (2006) - for a career of previous achievement (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, King of Comedy, After Hours, Raging Bull, goodfellas). This is too recent to have any significant lore attached to it but if most filmgoers check their gut instincts there's no denying he didn't deserve it for this movie. The film moves fast and weaves a complicated tale but (for me at least) when it's over, it's gone. It leaves the head and doesn't come back. It was yet another film from last year (like Little Miss Sunshine) that received kudos and attention far outweighing it's status as a somewhat sterile empty crime thriller. But the kudos and awards inflated the expectations and inevitably those expectations were not met. This was not the best film of the year and certainly not Scorsese's best work, but it feels like a Scorsese film (unlike say, The Aviator) and they had to FINALLY give it to him for something.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cinema Still Life: Shorpy and the Movies


If you love high quality historical photographs beautifully transferred online and you haven't yet checked out Shorpy, the Hundred Year Old Photo Blog, do so now. All of these fantastic photographs came from Shorpy where you will find them unadorned and with larger original sizes.



The Casino Cinema in Amite City, LA, 1935.


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Crossville, Tennessee, 1937.


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Chicago, Il, 1941


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Projection Booth in unknown Washington, DC theater, 1957.


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The Roxy at 153 West 50th St., New York NY, 1932.


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UPDATE: I have just discovered that the Library of Congress recently released thousands of photos on Flickr here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/

Many of the same photos on Shorpy can also be found here plus many more as well.

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A newly discovered favorite from the Library of Congress collection - San Juan, Puerto Rico, December 1941



As always, click to enlarge.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Documenting Doomsday: The Day After Trinity


Alamogordo Test Range,Jornada del Muerto desert 5:29:45 A.M., July 16 1945.

Trinity Site.

At that moment, at that location, exploded the first man-made nuclear device ever created. Leo Szilard had the premonition in 1933 that inexorably led to this moment in history. The device, by modern nuclear standards, was small but effective, and powerful. Even a small nuclear device like the Trinity device, nicknamed The Gadget, with an estimated yield of 20-22 kilotons was a terrifying weapon. Once the conventional explosives triggered the implosion of fissionable plutonium at it's core (only the Little Boy bomb used on Hiroshima employed Uranium) the ensuing fireball grew to several hundred meters across within 109 milliseconds. The twenty meter high steel tower it sat atop vaporized into the ether and the nuclear age was born. It was the first nuclear test. There would be many more.

There have been many documentaries on cable that have dealt with the nuclear age in general and the Manhattan Project in particular but precious few theatrically released ones. The Day After Trinity (1980) which documents the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the first atomic bomb was made in 1980 by director Jon Else and writer/editor David Webb Peoples and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary. It would be the last time many of the physicists who worked at Los Alamos would be interviewed for a documentary and for that alone it has the weight of being an important historical document.

Having covered the details of the Manhattan Project in my previous post on Day One there is no need to go into the details again. The Day After Trinity has the physicists who worked at Los Alamos telling the familiar stories, New Mexico locals telling odd stories about the events of 1945 and the usual recap of history. What sets The Day After Trinity apart from most if not all documentaries on the nuclear age is the attitudes, the mannerisms and the odd behavior on display by all the participants, recording history by eyewitnesses before they die, setting itself up as a vital record to be studied not just cinematically but sociologically for the years ahead.

There's the farmer describing, with amusement, the black cat that became white after the Trinity test due to fallout. The cat was later sold to a tourist. He also describes the cattle and how they had white patches as well. None of it seems to bother him. No recognition seems present on his part that something potentially deadly and genetically altering has covered his land.

There's the New Mexico woman describing driving down the highway at 5:30 in the morning with her sister when the bomb went off. After the intense white flash, her sister asked, "What was that?" The director Jon Else asks why is it notable that her sister asked that? The woman responds, "Because she's blind."

There's Robert Serber, Los Alamos physicist and Robert Oppenheimer protege, acting as strangely as a man can act before the camera. He rocks backwards and forwards in his chair, he speaks with a bizarre cadence, emphasizing articles and participles rather than nouns and verbs. He recounts going to Hiroshima and Nagasaki within 10 days of the blasts to investigate the damage. He brought back an artifact from Hiroshima. It was used to determine from the angle of the burned on shadows that the bomb went off at the proper elevation, 1,850 feet. He could have chosen any item of the thousands of building pieces with burned on shadows from the outskirts of Hiroshima to prove this but he chose this one, and he pulls it out to show us. It is a section of wall from a schoolhouse. He seems to have no recognition of the oddness of using something from a battlefield identified with children. He seems eager to point out the burned on shadows to prove his point. By the time he's done you half expect him to pull out a baby carriage to further support his case.

There's Frank Oppenheimer, Robert's brother who also worked on the project, grabbing his forehead and covering his eyes at least one quarter of the time he is on camera. Almost as if he doesn't want to be seen telling this story.

There's Robert Wilson, Los Alamos physicist, and his wife, Jane Wilson, recounting how euphoric he was after Germany surrendered and then Jane talking of how depressed and physically ill he was after Hiroshima was bombed.

And above all, there's Freeman Dyson. World renowned British physicist Dyson did not work on the Manhattan Project but did later come to know many of the physicists who did. It is this distance that allows Dyson to have the clearest analysis and most eloquently stated thoughts on the matter. If you have never read any books or articles by Dyson I highly recommend doing so. He is as much philosopher as he is physicist. He speaks of how the machinery was in place to drop the bomb the moment the project was authorized. Billions of dollars and tens of thousands of paid workers meant the decision to drop the bomb had already been made. It was made the moment they began work on it.

And through archival footage, there's Robert Oppenheimer. He stayed on with the Atomic Energy Commission after the war and fought against the construction of the Hydrogen Bomb. As a result his security clearance was revoked and he was shown the door. In one interview from the sixties he is clearly consumed with guilt, crying as he expresses his thoughts on that July 16th day in 1945. In another interview from 1965 the interviewer asks him what he thinks of President Johnson's proposal for nuclear disarmament. Oppenheimer replies, "It's twenty years too late. The time for that would have been the day after Trinity."


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As The Day After Trinity is a documentary made in 1980 there is no trailer for it so I took it upon myself to create one. I hope you will watch it and I hope it gives some sense of the documentary itself. It is just under three minutes long. It is a simple trailer, opening as the film does with Haakon Chevalier, a friend of Oppenheimer, reading a letter he had written to Oppy after Hiroshima and Nagasaki had finally revealed the Manhattan Project to the world.

Next you will see images of Frank, Robert's brother, as I described him above.

It concludes with the images of Hiroshima from the documentary with a voice over I extracted from an interview in the documentary by the great Freeman Dyson, explaining more eloquently than I ever could why the bomb was dropped and why so many non-violent physicists worked on it.

Please watch it and check out the documentary if you can. The music used is the music from the documentary itself.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Oscar's Odd Behavior


Let's face it, half the time Oscar doesn't know what the hell he's doing. Great films go un-nominated (Modern Times, Rear Window, Touch of Evil), films of questionable quality win big (Cimarron, The Greatest Show on Earth) and performers with a lifetime of great achievement go unnoticed (Toshiro Mifune, Myrna Loy, Joseph Cotten). But this has come to be expected of Oscar. He's a little flaky and his judgment leaves much to be desired. Sometimes, however, Oscar really goes loopy.

Oscar often seems to make up the rules as he goes. That's because he does. Usually it takes a bizarre event to bring a problem in the process to Oscar's notice. One of the oddest acting situations that forced Oscar to do some rule changing occurred for the year 1944. The great actor Barry Fitzgerald was nominated for a Supporting and a Lead Oscar. No problem there. We've seen it happen many times since, most recently in 2002 with Julianne Moore, nominated for Best Actress for Far From Heaven and Best Supporting Actress for The Hours. But here's the thing with Barry: Both of his nominations came for the same performance. That's right. For his role of Father Fitzgibbon in Going My Way Fitzgerald was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor. He won the supporting award.

The problem was this: Before introducing the Best Supporting award, it was understood that Best Actor or Actress meant whoever gives the best performance no matter the size of the part. By 1936 it was clear that smaller roles were being shut out so the supporting categories were born. But the original intent of the Best Actor or Actress Oscar was still in the minds of many of the voters. So when marking their nomination ballot they felt that Fitzgerald had given the Best Supporting performance of the year and that that supporting performance was also the best performance of the year period. So they marked him twice. Uh oh. Oscar scratched his head and decided from now on whichever category the actor in question gets the most votes for is the category he will be nominated for. If the exact same amount of members vote for him to be nominated in both categories then screen time will be used to break the tie. How much screen time? Well, no one's really sure. That's why Oscar decided a long time ago to make it clear to the studios that they have to decide in advance and push said actor to be nominated in one category or the other.

Oh that Oscar, always passing the buck.

Which puts me in mind of Harry Truman. You know Harry had a sign on his desk that said the buck stops here. Later he was portrayed on stage by James Whitmore in a one-man show, Give 'Em Hell Harry. In 1975 one of these performances in Seattle, Washington was videotaped by directors Steve Binder and Peter H. Hunt. The videotaped performance was shown on Los Angeles legendary Z cable station. It also showed on cable in New York. The Academy members saw it on Z around the clock. The station was new having just started in 1974 and Give 'Em Hell Harry was played over and over. The result? Academy members nominated James Whitmore for Best Actor. Not for giving a performance in a one-man film, like Philip Baker Hall in Secret Honor. No, no. He was doing his usual stage performance before an audience and it was videotaped. So in a way, you could say that this is the only time an actor was nominated for a performance that didn't really occur in a movie.

But the above two examples are nothing compared to the double rule change whammy that occurred after the 1972 awards.

The Academy has always relied on release date in North America (specifically Los Angeles and New York) for eligibility, essentially stating the movie doesn't exist, no matter how many times it has been seen abroad or in how many places, until it plays here. Thus films like Brief Encounter, Bicycle Thieves and The Third Man all received nominations a year after they had taken in awards abroad because it was full year later when they finally premiered in the States. This nebulous policy, as well as a rule for musical scores, led to a bizarre incident for the 1972 awards

Everyone was sure that Nina Rota would win the Oscar for Best Musical Score for his beautiful score to The Godfather. Then it was discovered that elements of the score had been drawn from previous work he had composed and since it had to be completely original to the film being scored, Rota's nomination was withdrawn. Since the sure bet was now withdrawn the Academy voters were free to be creative, if you will. The Oscar for Best Original Score for 1972 went to ...


Limelight. Scored by Charlie Chaplin. In 1952!


Because of the inability to get distribution deals with the United States distributors since Chaplin was officially Persona non Grata due to suspected communist sympathies, it was not released in the States until 1972. And that's when, according to Oscar, the film now officially existed. People were happy to see Chaplin get an award but there was enough jaw-dropping to embarrass Oscar into swiftly dropping the release date rules and going with a new more vague rule of thumb that any film over two years removed from its original release date (wherever that may be - no longer just America) could not be considered. Oscar also decided that composers could employ previous compositions into a new work and still be considered for the Original Score Oscar. How nice of him. This worked out well for Carmine Coppola two years later when he employed a large chunk of Nina Rota's original Godfather score for Part II and then won the Oscar himself. I have no evidence of this, but I'm guessing Nina Rota despised Carmine Coppola after that. Although Oscar was nice and gave an Oscar to Rota too for that same film. Even though he hadn't worked on it. Because, you know... 1972 had happened.

Oscar sure is funny. One artist is nominated for the same work twice (Fitzgerald) and another is withdrawn from nomination because he use the same work twice (Rota). A third wins based on the second's work (Coppola) and a Hollywood legend walks away with an Oscar for a musical score he'd probably forgotten he ever did. This would all fall under the category - "You Can't Make This Stuff Up."

Will there be more bizarre behavior by Oscar this year? Let's hope so because let's be honest: Oscar's getting old and when he's not screwing up the rules six ways to Sunday, he's pretty boring.



UPDATE


Oscar did it again! Johnny Greenwood's score for There Will Be Blood was disqualified for nomination due to other music (Brahms) being used for the film. In case you're wondering here are the relevant guidelines:


1. The work must be specifically created for the eligible feature-length motion picture.


4. The work must be recorded for use in the film prior to any other usage including public performance or exploitation through any of the media whatsoever.


5. Only the principal composer(s) or song writer(s) responsible for the conception and execution of the work as a whole shall be eligible for an award. This expressly excludes from eligibility all of the following:


(a) supervisors


(b) partial contributors (e.g., any writer not responsible for the over-all design of the work)


(c) contributors working on speculation


(d) scores diluted by the use of themes tracked or other pre-existing music


(e) scores diminished in impact by the predominant use of songs


(f) scores assembled from the music of more than one composer.


Take a look at the guidelines again. Okay with number 1 I can understand that Brahms' work was not created for the picture. But this has always been given a pass in the past. Let's take 1999 for an example. Two films up for Best Original Score that year were American Beauty and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Both used music on their soundtracks from other sources not written for their respective pictures (music from South Pacific in American Beauty and multiple jazz selections, specifically Charlie Parker in The Talented Mr. Ripley)and yet neither was ruled ineligible.

Now look at number 4. The music must be recorded for the film before being used anywhere else in any media. As The Godfather Part II used music from the first it is in clear violation of this rule and yet, again, no one seemed to care. The Godfather Part II also violates rule 5f which states any score compiled from the music of more than one composer is ineligible. So somehow Carmine Coppola and Nina Rota were the same person? Was it like Ray Milland and Rosey Grier? Did they have one body and two heads? No. Oscar was still embarrassed over 1972 and by god they were going to make sure Rota and The Godfather won for that music one way or another. So they ignored the rules they had so foolishly applied just two years earlier.

Now it's 2008 and Oscar has suddenly noticed his rule book again. I may be wrong in this (I probably am) but I have a feeling older, more conservative composers in the Academy were hemming and hawing about this Radiohead boy and his dissonant music everyone is talking about and jumped on the fact that Brahms is used to put him out of the running. Just a hunch.

There used to be a category for Best Adapted Score so that studio composers could be honored for their arrangements of other people's music but this fell by the wayside as adapting a score was simply conducting someone else's music. In another category there still is an adapted version: Screenplay. Now with screenplays, adapting a book to the screen is indeed a true adaptation and the screenwriter deserves credit for making it work. But in some cases it's outright ludicrous. This year Johnny Greenwood was disqualified for using Brahms in his almost completely original score but in 1996 Kenneth Branagh received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for Hamlet, which is notable for being the first time the entire play was actually done word for word up on the screen, instead of in truncated form like Olivier's 1948 version. Greenwood uses some Brahms and he's out but Branagh inks not a single word of a screenplay and he's in. Clearly the Academy has an another guideline that overrides all other guidelines. That would be the one that states, "We must always follow our guidelines except in those cases in which it is deemed by the over/undersigned authorities of the Academy, it's board and all paid servants herein, including pets and bit players, that when we don't want to we don't have to - HA!"

And so the Academy plays fast and loose with the rules again. I'd write more about it but I'm working on this screenplay adaptation of King Lear and it's pretty time consuming. I have to add the word "screen" in front of the word "play" before we begin shooting. Hold on... okay done. I think I smell a nomination coming my way. Keep your fingers crossed.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Popcorn Time!


Another big weekend at the movies coming up for me as I take in more Oscar hopefuls and year-end releases. Which puts me in the mind of popcorn. According to Popcorn.org the average American eats about 54 quarts of popcorn a year. That's gotta be wrong. Nobody eats that little. I take in a good 100 gallons a year at least. And so do the stars!



Joseph Cotten and Loretta Young enjoy some popcorn during a break on Lux Radio Theater where they perform the radio version of The Farmer's Daughter.


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But it's not just for the movies anymore. Junior and Sissy can enjoy it at home with their friends Bud, Donna and Frankie (Frankie's kind of a fifth wheel)!


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Popcorn gives the Bud the confidence he needs to flirt with Sissy.


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Nowadays, no star would be seen eating popcorn out of a generic bag like Joseph and Loretta of Yesteryear. You haven't made it until you have your own film festival emblazoned popcorn tubs.


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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cinema Still Life: Monica Vitti




I'm guessing what happened was Monica had some stitches in her side and they didn't want her biting at it.


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As always, click to enlarge

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again

Have you ever passed by something and thought of a movie? I have. In fact it happens everyday I return from work (I'm a secret agent for a super-secret international organization of really cool spies). Anyway, I work in Washington D.C. so I'm not talking about thinking of Independence Day every time you see the White House or living in San Francisco and thinking of Invasion of the Body Snatchers every time you see the TransAmerica building or living in New York and thinking of every apocalyptic science fiction film ever made when you see the Statue of Liberty. No, no I mean something that has nothing whatsoever to do with a movie and yet you can't help but think of a specific film every time you see it.

For me it's the Swiss Embassy. I walk past it each night. The other night when getting off work I snapped some photos of it. The photos suck but there's a reason for that. The subject in question is a good hundred yards from the gate so I had to stick the camera through the gate, zoom in and jack the light filter up since it was dusk. Fortunately I was not besieged by Swiss guards wielding army knives.

Here's the photo:



And what do I think of? Lord of the Rings: Return of the King of course. Every time. It's that damn white tree. I can't get close enough to inspect it but it's metal or plastic or something and it must mean something to the Swiss but I don't know what. I guess I could just look it up but I rather it remain a mystery. The mystery of the bizarre white tree sculpture. Anyone else have any movie moments in their everyday life?

Oh yeah I almost forgot, the Swiss may make precise time pieces but their embassy employees suck at picking up their papers.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

Defending the Indefensible


Have you ever defended a movie you didn't like that much? I have. In fact, I've done it on more than one occasion. Let me explain.

Let's say someone whose opinion in film I respect tells me they don't like a certain movie. Not just any movie but a well established movie, perhaps even a classic in film history. Let's say, for the sake of argument, it's The General, directed by Buster Keaton. My friend delivers points A and B in her defense and I generally agree. I love Keaton but feel Sherlock, Jr is more definitive and confess I'm not a big fan of The General myself.*1* But we both understand its greatness nevertheless.

Now I'm talking with someone who has seen all of four movies made before 1990. Their favorite movie of all time is The Core. They think Forrest Gump is the height of modern movie making. While The Core's their favorite Gump they say is the best. Now this person tells me they saw The General on PBS the other night and thought it was boring. At this point, whether it is a favorite Keaton of mine or not, I begin defending it vigorously. Why? Because while neither of us is enamored of it, this troglodyte is not enamored of it for all the wrong reasons.

Which leads me into where I'm going with this. Among the general movie going public, admitting to not liking a classic film is no big deal. But admitting it to a bunch of cinephiles (like anyone surfing a movie blog is most likely to be) is a different story altogether.

So I have a question: Is there a movie out there, well praised and entrenched in the pantheon, that you just don't get? Now I don't mean you understand its greatness but just don't like it (like in The General example above), I mean you're not quite sure why other cinephiles think it's so great.

And conversely, is there a movie that is roundly considered a stinker that you think is good or maybe even great? Now again, I don't mean a guilty pleasure. I don't mean, "Yeah I know Smokey and the Bandit sucks but I like it anyway." I mean, "Everyone thinks Smokey and the Bandit sucks but I think it should have won Best Picture."

For myself I have two that fit into these categories and I will reveal them now in the hopes that my regular commenters, and perhaps even regular readers who do not comment, will be inclined to list two of their own in the comment section below.

First the bad because the bad is easier. I don't know why, but it seems less embarrassing for a cinephile to admire a movie not liked by others than to admit to not admiring a film loved by all. As for the bad I submit (and please be kind - this is a little embarrassing. I'm putting myself out there for the sake of the blogosphere): Star Trek: Insurrection. Whew, there I said it. It's considered one of the worst Star Trek movies but I like it. And as I said, not just as in it's a guilty pleasure, but as in I think it's a very good Star Trek movie. I really do. But I'm not going to defend it here, just put it out there to let you know my choice for the bad.

Now the good. Or should I say the great because it's ranked high, I mean really high, among lists of the greatest films ever made. And yet my reaction to it is, "Ehh." That film is ... I'm a little nervous here... L'Atalante (1934). Yes, that L'Atalante, the one directed by Jean Vigo. I just don't like it very much. I think it's well made and interesting. I don't think it's bad at all. I can see it as an excellent film. I just don't understand why it stands so high above others, including Zéro de conduite (Zero for Conduct) by the same director. Now I never said the criteria was considering the film bad because I certainly don't, just not quite getting why it's so great. And that's the case here.

It's a subject I avoid in polite company because I don't want to put myself on the spot but I'm doing it here (although I consider all of you polite company). I certainly hope others have had the same experiences and I'm not alone, left here hanging, defending the indefensible. But if I am so be it. I shall be an insurrection of one.

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*1* I actually like The General very much. This was just a hypothetical.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Cinema Still Life: Among the Ruins




In 1960 the movie palace The Roxy in Manhattan came down. It had opened in 1927 showing a Gloria Swanson movie, The Love of Sunya. Here's Gloria, snatching a final photo op among its ruins.


P.S. - Things have been a little busy around my work and home this week and will continue into next week but I hope to get up my next book/film comparison soon as well as my review of the atomic bomb documentaries. And I'll have a few intermingling posts as well as Oscar snubs every other day or so.


As always, click to enlarge