Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Arthur Penn 1922 - 2010

Penn was a very good filmmaker who sort of remained in the shadows due to making so few films over the past twenty years. While Bonnie and Clyde was never forgotten [and won't be] many of his other films were. In some cases films like The Left-Handed Gun and The Miracle Worker and The Chase lost to time and critical apathy. While Little Big Man, Night Moves and The Missouri Breaks remembered mainly by film lovers but defended strongly by those who especially like them.

True, he made three westerns but I would argue that he was one of those filmmakers who made a wide variety of films that are tough to label as 'a Penn film' in the same way we could label a Kazan or a Kramer or a Frankenheimer picture. You could watch The Left-Handed Gun [a Paul Newman western with a 50's psychological edge] and then turn and watch Mickey One [an intriguing independent 60's drama] then Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore [a late 60's 'hippie' dramedy] and finally Night Moves [a 70's private detective drama] and you would be hard pressed to know they were all directed by the same director if you didn't know better. In my book that is the quality of not only a talented director but one willing to stretch beyond his stylistic comfort zone.  True, they have a common theme regarding the outsider failing to fit in, the violence of America and the corrupt myths of America. But cinematically along with the tone of their drama they were all different.

We would call such filmmakers journeyman directors. But he was a cut above. I've liked everything of his that I have seen.
[photo from Todd McCarthy's indiewire column]

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cookware giver

Perusing through an April 1966 Life Magazine it didn't take long to find a politically incorrect ad.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lost Island of VHS...VIII

The Comfort of Strangers - Paul Schrader - 1990

One of the more intriguing films of the 1990's and certainly one of Paul Schrader's finest films is The Comfort of Strangers. Based on an Ian McEwan novel and adapted for the screen by Harold Pinter it is about a young couple played by Miranda Richarson and Rupert Everett vacationing in Venice Italy who get caught in a very odd web of dark desires with an older Venitian couple played by Christopher Walken and Hellen Mirren.

At times the film recalls Luchino Visconti's  Death in Venice crossed with something by David Lynch. Especially with it's mysterious atmosphere, underlying black humor and use of sexuality. At the heart of the film is Walken's role, which is certainly one of his finest, as a character who has a particularly old [masculine] world view that borders on charming and dangerous. He regales the couple with stories of his father, a man who seems to have been the embodiment of imperialism and fascism.

As the story unwinds it becomes evident that the couple are working through a rough patch in their relationship. But, after their first couple of encounters with Venetian couple, they begin to grow closer together. Yet as they get sucked into the deviant web it seems that the survival of their relationship is the least of their worries.

The cinematography by Dante Spinotti really deserves a special notice. The film showcases beautiful lighting along with lengthy, smooth, slow tracking shots that - coupled with the Badalamenti's score -  add to the creepy milieu as the film moves along to an ending that is both inevitable and shocking.

So how does a film this good with such names as McEwan, Pinter, Walken, Mirren, Badalamenti, Spinotti, et al. stay relatively unknown 20 years after it was made? I have no idea. It could be because MGM owns the rights and they have no desire to release it on DVD. Or it could be because it is an unconventional and too dark. But I will say some day when there is a retrospective of Paul Schrader's work this is the film that - I think - will make people reevaluate Schrader's work as they wonder why they had never heard of it. It is not available on DVD in Region 1 but you can buy it for under $10.00 from Amazon UK.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Claude Chabrol, 1930 - 2010
Another great filmmaker has left us.
Chabrol was the most prolific of the primary filmmakers in the French New Wave making close to 70 features in 52 years.

I've managed to only see a handful of his films. Most are suspense films hence he was considered the French Hitchcock. But too his films have an eye on class. Many of his characters are working or middle class who come into conflict with the upper class. And there is always a murder in there somewhere. His direction was always controlled but not so tightely controlled that he railroaded the narrative from start to finish. Instead he often develops characters within a particular setting and then spins the tale from there all the while leaving a bit of suspense and a little surprise to jolt us out of our complacency.

Of his many films the ones I highly recommend that I have seen are:

Le beau serge
Les bonnes femmes
This Man Must Die
Le boucher
La rupture
La cérémonie

But there are so many more to catch up with. Mubi has some great links.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Bertolucci Plaisir

I came across a 'Guilt Pleasure' article by Bernardo Bertolucci from the July / August 1996 issue of Film Comment. In it he writes about the films he likes. One of the films was Le Plaisir by Max Ophuls. As you will see his response is a peculiar form of pleasure.

My wife took me to see it nine years ago in Paris, and after the first episode, "The Masque," I was so excited that I got a fever and couldn't stay for the other two episodes. Two or three years later, in a little cinema in Rome called Film Studio... I went again and saw the first part and then the second, "Le Maison Tellier," in which the brothel closes so that all the hookers can go to he Holy Communion of the daughter of one of them. And it was so beautiful I couldn't stand it - it was too moving. And again, I had a fever and had to leave the theatre. A few years later I could see the third episode, "La Modele," which is devastating.
Le Plaisir is one of the least known of late Ophuls works but just as beautiful as La Ronde or The Earnings of Madame de.... Most will have seen it by now if they have seen the other two. But if not make sure to see it. And, just to be safe, have some aspirin on hand so you can enjoy it in one sitting.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Telluride 1990

Twenty years ago today [and to the hour of this post] the above photo was taken [by my dad] at the Telluride Film Festival. On the left is Annette Insdorf who hosts the seminars and on the right is film critic Roger Ebert. This particular panel [called 'noon seminars'] was about film critics. The highlight of the discussion was Ebert taking on Richard Corliss who had written a critical article in Film Comment about the thumbs up and thumbs down culture of film criticism. Also on the panel were Manny Farber and Paul Schrader. Manny Farber, known for his cantankerous nature, was in fine form taking on everyone including people who asked simplistic questions as well as Premiere Magazine, which was hosting the event. It was really rather enjoyable to sit in the park, feel the high altitude sun, look up at the high peaks surrounding the town and listen to the discussions echo through the speakers.

The four day festival was special for me in part because it was the first festival I had ever attended. But too because I was there with family and friends. The previous spring I had graduated from college and with a friend had gone to the East coast for the summer. There we met a young French couple who we became friends with and by summer's end had convinced to drive back to Colorado with us. They came along and loved the trip. As their vacation was coming to an end my dad and I told them we were going to attend the film festival in Telluride and they decided to come along. We drove up in my dad's green VW. Upon arriving we got a camp spot just outside of town and prepared for the nights first films. The French couple were particulary excited because they had learned that Gerard Depardieu was there; something they could not really believe since they were in this small Colorado mountain town.

Before the festival started I managed to sneak into the student program intro, which was being held in an old school house. The host that day was Bertrand Tavernier, who was the festivals' guest director that year. I had no idea who he was but was amazed at his knowledge of old Hollywood. Thereafter he became a frequent Telluride attendee.

That evening the festival began with the opening night party [they call it the 'feed']. Back then the feed was not held on the main street but was held in a courtyard that was part of the New Sheridon hotel. We looked on as the passholders mingled with the festival guests. All of a sudden my dad and I saw the French couple among the crowd. They had simply gone into the Sheridan lobby and snuck in through a side door. We decided to do the same.

Telluride is a very small town. And back in 1990 some of the streets were still unpaved. At that time the festival too was still generally small and the lines for each movie were relatively short. There were five film venues all within short walking distance of each other. The biggest venue was in a quonset hut [called The Community Center] located next to an old school building, one was in an old opera house, one was in the Mason's hall, one was outdoors, and one was an actual movie theater. The quonset hut has since been torn down and replaced by an auditorium but the other venues are all still used today.

Highlights that year were tributes to Clint Eastwood [White Hunter Black Heart], Gerard Depardieu [Cyrano de Bergerac] and director John Berry [He Ran All The Way].

Other films of note shown were:
Archangel - Surreal and funny early film by Guy Madden.
The Civil War - Ken Burns' most celebrated documentary.
The Comfort of Strangers - Paul Schrader film set in creepy but beautiful Venice.
Reversal of Fortune - Barbet Schroeder fillm about Claus von Bülow.
King of New York - An early Abel Ferrara movie with Christopher Walken.
L'Atalante - A definitive restored version of the Jean Vigo masterpeice.
The Nasty Girl - Inventive, thought provoking German film by Micheel Verhoeven.
Freeze - Die - Come to Life - A stark film by Pavel Nazarov about two kids in Siberia.
Ju Dou - Zhang Zimou's first real international hit.
All The Vermeers of New York - Jon Jost's beguiling film about art and love.