Saturday, April 30, 2011

Future Music

I love rare albums. I particularly like albums you can hear before they are released. But what about albums that won't be released for 14 years! Note the release date on this screen grab.

Something happened here but I'm not saying anything. I like future music.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Romantic Netflix

Netflix has recommendations. But half the time they are odd. For instance, I don't think they [or their algorithms] know what is or what is not a romantic film.

Besides this screen grab here are a few titles they recommend as romantic films based on my taste:

That Obscure Object of Desire
Secret Things
Talk to Her
Emmanuel 7
La Jetee
The Piano Teacher

Friday, April 22, 2011

Notes on 7 films

Win Win
A lawyer / wrestling coach commits a criminally liable act but finds a way to redeem himself by helping a struggling teen and his recovering drug-addicted mother, which he would never have had the chance to do had he not done the crime. Every scene intricately ties into every subsequent scene until it builds to a satisfying whole. Its win, win for all involved including the audience.

Meek’s Cutoff
A family of homesteaders in Oregon are lost thanks to an incompetent mountain man named Meek whose cutoff has led them to a dry dusty plain. Slow, methodical, often very hushed this is a film that lingers like a summer afternoon. Shot in 1.33:1 aspect ratio with a good number of shots that just observe the action rather than propel it forward. The film is not as engaging as it could be and perhaps a tad bit revisionist [or liberal] in its view of history but also more accurate than most westerns. Director Kelly Reichardt has built a respectable track record.

Bill Cunningham’s New York
An enjoyable documentary about an unpretentious man in a pretentious industry. Bill Cunningham is a 80-something down-to-earth fashion photographer who completely belies everything about the fashion world by photographing people on the New York City streets wearing the fashions of the day. He bicycles all around New York; he lives in an apartment with nothing but filing cabinets and a bed. He’s the real article and people love him for it - on his own terms. The documentary doesn’t dig deep into its subject but why should it?

The Princess of Montpensier
Four men vie for one woman in 16th century France while religious wars ensue, court intrigue and royal power plays manipulate everyone, sword fighting disrupts the order and beautiful castles dot the distant landscape. What’s not to love? This is Bertrand Tavernier at his best getting quality out of every performance, every line of dialogue and every foot of film. Save for the high production value this is a film Hollywood could not make. And I don't mean 'costume drama' because everyone does those - but instead that certain je ne sais quoi that only the French do so well. See it and you'll know what I mean.

Source Code
A movie that somehow has critics [and some scientists] embracing as darn near probably. Huh? How? Well, who cares? The movie is ‘Groundhogs Day’ [or maybe a Hindu tale] done as a sci-fi fantasy. It is enjoyable but when it attempts to display an emotional human core it stalls the narrative just long enough to make us think about what we are seeing - and that’s not what you want in this kind of film.

The Adjustment Bureau
A Matter of Life and Death by way of Wings of Desire, It’s A Wonderful Life, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Jump along with shades of Total Recall, Minority Report, Twilight Zone and the X-Files. It is about as original as a snack of milk and cookies but it is pleasant enough if you don’t stop to think about it much.

In A Better World
This Danish / Swedish drama is like watching a long row of domino's with spikes fall in slow motion along someone’s back; Predictable and painful. It is very well acted, directed, shot and edited but the story plods along imprisoning all the characters in a relentless world of fate. The parts of the film that take place in Africa are by far the best and could make a separate and better film than the other heavy-handed section about two boys wrecking their lives. There is no denying the talent behind and in front of the lens but director Susanne Bier has done better.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Renoir on Nixon

I found this humorous anecdote in an article that Peter Bogdanovich wrote for The New York Observer a few years ago on a visit he had with Jean Renoir [and is wife Dido] one afternoon in Los Angeles.

One time, I brought my mother over to meet Jean and Dido. She was a great admirer of his work—as my artist father also had been. It was a lovely afternoon, sitting in the living room, sipping some white wine from antique sterling silver cups. At one point, while we were discussing dubbing of voices in movies, Jean said, “In a really civilized time, like the 12th century, a man who dubbed voices would be burned at the stake as a heretic for presuming that two souls can exist in one body!” Later, we got onto world politics and Nixon, who was still president then, and my mother remarked that Nixon’s gestures never seemed to fit with what he was saying. Everyone agreed. Suddenly, Jean called out to her: “Madame! I have it! Nixon is dubbed!” Renoir was as delighted with his conclusion as my mother was.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Sidney Lumet [1924 - 2011] made movies for six decades. He carved out a respectable status as a high quality director churning out many different kinds of films.

He made movies amid many different eras and had one released almost every year from 1957 to 1990. Some years there were two. He started in the golden age of television in 1951 and made a first feature film - '12 Angry Men' - in 1957, which was made at the tale end of old Hollywood.

He went through the conformist 50's, the turbulent 60's, the gritty 70's, the corporate 80's and into the blockbuster 90's and the new century. He had a pretty strong run from 1972 to 1977 a period in which he made: 'The Offence', 'Serpico', 'Murder on the Orient Express', 'Dog Day Afternoon', 'Network' and 'Equus' - all films that helped cement his reputation.

His last film 'Before The Devil Knows Your Dead' was made in 2007. What is most remarkable is that the year his first film - '12 Angry Men' - came out there were also films by such old time film making legends as Raoul Walsh, Delmer Daves, Rene Clair, King Vidor and Leo McCarey. Each had started making films in the silent era.

Lumet was in many ways a bridge between eras. Other than other currently working directors such as Manoel de Oliveira, Andrzej Wajda and Arthur Hiller he was one of the last of his kind to make films over such a long period of time.

Few filmmakers, either, have ever had as long a run.

Article about his career on Salon

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Lost Island of VHS...XI

Mädchen in Uniform - Leontine Sagan, Carl Froelich - 1931

This German film was one of the first big foreign language 'art' films to play in the United States. It tells the tale of a 14-year-old girl named Manuela (Hertha Thiele) who is enrolled in a very strict boarding school by her aunt after the death of her mother.

While there she makes some new friends. But she also grows attached in both a romantic and a mother/daughter sense with one of a sympathetic teacher - Fraülein von Bernburg - whom all the girls have a crush on. This forbidden relationship leads to trouble for both her and the teacher.

If this film were made today the 'sensitive girl falls in love with a female Nazi teacher' angle would be played up as an exploitative steamy lesbian tale. No doubt in 1931 it was controversial as well. But seen today it is rather tame on the ‘lesbian’ angle and instead more of a solid story about a young vulnerable woman trying to make sense of the strict boarding school in the emerging militarized world of the Weimar Republic. Indeed, the lead actress years later was quoted as saying: "I really don't want to make a great deal ...or account for a film about lesbianism here. That's far from my mind, because the whole thing of course is also a revolt against the cruel Prussian education system."

I personally did not feel the film was any more a lesbian film than it was a 'heterosexual' film. It is pretty evident that the girls are rather harshly treated by all the teachers and most particularly by the school's Principle - who is as unsympathetic as you would expect a 'Nazi' character to be. And so the girls take a liking to Fraülein von Bernburg because she is so much fairer with them. In one scene one of the girls shows elation and relief when she realized that von Bernburg will be doling out punishment to her. It is not that von Bernburg will grant her some tenderness but rather the penalty will simply be less severe.

Fraülein von Bernburg becomes the equivalent of a mother, a sister and someone who relates to them. And they love her for that. It is also worth noting that there are no boys around. So any tenderness the girls show toward the teacher and she toward them need not necessarily be lesbian in nature. And, despite the one affectionate bedtime kissing scene, that is my reading of the film.

The film was remade in 1958 with Romy Schneider as the school girl.

A good long article here. And a review from After Ellen here. The original 1931 NY Times review is here.