Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Zero Dark Thirty

In case you hadn't heard, the controversial movie of the season is Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty.

Lot's of opinions are being tossed around. Great coverage of many of the different views can be found here.

Here is my take on the controversy about the use of torture in the movie.

Zero Dark Thirty does not propose that torture directly resulted in the capture of bin Laden. However, torture is alluded to having happened in such a way to terror suspects that it remains enough of a threat that the suspects decide it is best to give info so they won't be tortured again. Therefore, the message is that torture can work. That's a bad message in my view. Especially if it did not work in real life.

Here's the thing. We pretty much know torture was used at black sites by the CIA. What we are told by the CIA, though, is that torture was not used in getting info leading to the capture of bin Laden. But the movie plays it many ways trying to cover all [narrative and historical] bases with regards to what may have happened. This, to my mind, is a mistake.

However, despite these issues, I find some of the criticisms launched at Bigelow to be beneath contempt. Some have tossed around the name Leni Reifenstahl - as if Bigelow is somehow a government filmmakers churning out fascistic propaganda. Come on, people.

Zero Dark Thirty is in no way 'pro torture'. The early scenes that show torture are not pleasant at all. We are not made to feel they are a good thing or that they work. The movie is also not a rah rah pro-military movie either. The raid on the compound is very well done but it is presented much more realistic than it is Rambo-style. And when mission is accomplished it does not consist of high-fives and celebrations. So chalk one up for objective, documentary style filmmaking.

But I will say that while Bigelow is very smart about movies [and movie making] she is maybe not so smart about the affect the message of her movie may have on people who watch it. The message the movie conveys is most likely historically incorrect. The movie takes itself seriously and therefore I do think the filmmakers owe it to the audience to try and get it right. Or to, at least, tell us at the beginning that the movie - while based on real events - also fictionalizes some of them for dramatic effect. Perhaps as the movie rolls out across the country in 2013 they will add that to the movie's opening.

A couple other links not in the link above are:
David Thomson's review. He hated it.
Glenn Kenny takes on Glenn Greenwald's assertions.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Some Links

Ten American Indie films in need of restoration.

Profile on Michael Haneke.

Glenn Greenwald writes about 'Zero Dark Thirty' and Bigelow and Riefenstahl - without having seen the film.

Noir of the week is a cool site I just stumbled upon.

J Hoberman on 'Lincoln' - the ultimate mensch.

TCM's Movie Morlocks on John Ford's rarely seen and unavailable comedy 'The Whole Town's Talking'.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Salt for Svanetia

Every now and then I see a film that renews my faith in the aesthetic power of cinema. Salt of Svanetia is such a film. No English translation in the embedded film from YouTube below but you don't need them to get the message. It is directed by Mikhail Kalatozov who is best known for the classics The Cranes are Flying and I Am Cuba. [A subtitled version is available here]

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Clouzot in chains

La Prisonnière (Woman in Chains) - 1968

Henri-Georges Clouzot is best known for his thrillers The Wages of Fear and Diabolique. His lesser known works include Quai des Orfèvres and Le Corbeau. Each of these films is available on the Criterion collection label. But his least known films are close to impossible to find. One such films is La Prisonnière.

If you happened to have seen the documentary L'enfer d'Henri-Georges Clouzot you'll recall the amazing visuals that Clouzot used for the film L'enfer, which he never finished due to a heart attack and a loss of funds. What that documentary didn't tell viewers is that a few years later Clouzot directed La Prisonnière, which tells a somewhat similar story and extensively uses the cool experimental visual elements that made L'enfer seem so enticing.

The film deals with a young woman named Josée (Elisabeth Wiener) caught between Gilbert - her artist husband - and Stan - a gallery owner / photographer who she takes an interest in.
Gilbert produces intriguing optical illusion art, which are showing in Stan's gallery. Stan also takes S&M photos, which Josée [the suppressed housewife] finds herself drawn to both out of curiosity and an attraction to some odd element of humiliation. But too she has fallen in love with Stan. Only he is a rather creepy guy who takes more pleasure in voyeurism than he does in real human contact or emotions. This, of course, causes a problem in their relationship because she wants a warm loving man.

Gibert finds out about the relationship and goes to confront Stan. The story continues....

The strength of the film is the visual design, shot selection [shot by Andréas Winding] and editing [edited by Noëlle Balenci]. Clouzot plays up a mod avant-garde optical illusion aesthetic to the point that you could actually just start watching the film at any one scene and find it fascinating to look at. [Antonioni's Blow-Up comes to mind as a film that may have been influenced by this one].

Three scenes in particular stand out; one is an early scene in which Gilbert and Josée take a train and notice converging train tracks, high wires crisscrossing and various other visuals one can see from a movie train. The second scene is a gallery opening where every shot is designed to show off optical illusions on display and the third scene is a three-and-a-half minute montage toward the end of the film that encompasses visions, thoughts and experiences Josée has had up to that point as she lays in a hospital bed most likely spaced out on morphine.

Below is a link to that scene.
La prisonnière

In short, if you feel that a real opportunity was missed because L'enfer was never finished then rejoice because La Prisonnière more than makes up for it. The only problem is finding a copy. I managed to find a DVD at a local video store in Los Angeles [yes, they still have those.]

Friday, November 09, 2012

Election Night TV

I don't normally talk politics here but watching the returns on each of the major networks on election night made for pretty good TV.

The most compelling, however, was when the networks called Ohio for Obama because then we knew Obama's win was assured.

What I found interesting, at that moment, was the way in which FOX News and CNN handled the call. From my perspective CNN was much better, more sophisticated and succinct. But FOX had better drama even though with regards to technology they still seem like they are locked in the 1980's.

What does CNN have? A beautiful interactive map, which John King would use to bring us informative visuals. He could zoom in on a state and drill down to each county and show the number of votes and percentages reported. This was the exact method King used to show us why CNN called Ohio when only about 65% of the vote had been counted. To the point, all the Republican counties were counted at close to 100% and the only areas on the map left fully uncounted were Democratic areas.

FOX News, on the other hand, did not have an interactive map. They had talking heads and graphics that only showed states and overall numbers. When Ohio was called they had no way of showing us why it was called. So that lead to a good bit of off-the-cuff live television that began with the now famous meltdown, rant by skeptical Karl Rove. So what did FOX do? In order to get answers they sent co-anchor Megyn Kelly into the basement [!] to get facts. Here it is.

Yes, rather than have the decision desk be right there in the studio they have it located downstairs nowhere near any cameras. The fact that FOX News has such an antiquated system is a bit unbelievable considering that they are hardly some small time network. They are usual #1 in ratings and owned by one of the wealthiest men in the world. 

I should note that an article in New York Magazine claims that an insider at FOX said the call to send Kelly walking downstairs was a good one because it gave them an opportunity to show the audience her legs. Yes, they sent a woman to do the work so audiences could look at her legs. What can I say? Good television and bad television in part because it is so old fashioned and out-of-date. But then again their core audience is predominately older, conservative and white.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Lost Island of VHS...XII

Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man - Bernardo Bertolucci - 1981

This is far from Bertolucci's best film and since it came out after his streak of better films including The Conformist (1970), Last Tango in Paris (1972) and 1900 (1976) it can't help but fall short. However, seeing it this many years later - well away from the expectations that moviegoers had for a new Bertolucci film -- it is fairly good.

A wealthy cheese factory owner named Primo (Ugo Tognazzi) witnesses his son being kidnapped by terrorists. A while later they demand a ransom that will cost him a fortune - not to mention his business, which is already going bankrupt. His wife (Anouk Aimée) has no hesitation in wanting to pay the ransom. But he does. Especially when he begins to get the feeling that he is being set up and maybe there has been no kidnapping at all. He comes up with a plan - along with two young leftists who work in his factory - to get the ransom money and reinvest it into his factory.

The film was made in an era when radical youth groups were still a topic of discussion and that plays a central role in the film. Much like The Spider's Stratagem [in which a son looks for a father] this one deals with a subject Bertolucci had done before. But it also emphasizes characters having to make choices they are not comfortable with making.

It is not top drawer Bertolucci but it was shot by Carlo Di Palma whose style lends itself well to Bertolucci's sometimes operatic scenes. And the story is a good one - if not slightly cynical in nature. The acting overall is above average - Tognazzi is agreeable as the lead actor while Aimée seems to walk through her role.

So why is this self made factory owner a ridiculous man and what is the tragedy? In part, the two concepts go together. On the one hand, he cares more about his material possessions than his son, but on the other he has fallen into a trap that he should have known better than to get caught in. He too seems unaware of his responsibility as a father, a husband and an employer of many people who rely on his weekly wages. The tragedy is that he may lose everything but he decides to use the event as a way to save his business. His love for success means more than the safety of his son. However it may all be a ruse anyway and he seems to sense it.

This film is only available on VHS and [surprisingly] can still be found brand new on Amazon.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Herzog's Glass

I've never been a fan of Werner Herzog's Heart of Glass but I did know that he had hypnotized the cast during the filming, which made the film - at the very least - of note. I'd filed the film away in my mind as a film that was fun to talk about but one I'd probably never see again. But then I happened upon the book Every Night the Trees Disappear, which is about the making of the film, so I thought it was time to revisit the film so I could read the book and be able to relate better to whatever it was the author was writing about.
I still feel it is not a great film - rather vacuous and not well enough developed characters or plot to make it as strong as his best movies. The book though, by Alan Greenberg, is often quite good. Greenberg was on the set during the filming. Much like Les Blanks's documentary Burden of Dreams the book gives insights into Herzog's peculiar and oft-times inspired mind.

One issue I have with the book is that every other chapter is simply a part of the film's script, which sort of gets tedious and makes watching the movie redundant. But the other chapters that comprise what seem to be notes and memories that Greenberg had on set are quite entertaining. Here are some excerpts:

*"My goal is always to find out more about man himself, and film is my means. According to its nature, film doesn't have so much to do with reality as it does with our collective dreams - film chronicles our state of mind.... My task involves a kind of alchemy, to get to the very real life, to keep open to signs or signals of life. And what I chronicle is often the conformity that deforms the soul."

*She begged Herzog for a position on his production team. He was taken by the intensity of her plea.
"Walk from Vienna to Munich," he said, somewhat seriously. "That will tell me how much you want the job."
Regina went home. Shortly thereafter, wearing painfully new boots, she trekked across the wintry, mountainous terrain. Eleven days and twelve Band-Aids later, she arrived at Herzog's house.

*"The rhythm of a film is never established in the editing room. Directors who rely on editing are cowards. Rhythm is made in the shooting - that is filmmaking."

*"If this scene succeeds." he declared, hoarsely, "I will dive into the river and swim across it and back beneath the ice."
Work resumed, and after Hias and Ludmilla had done their task well an hour later, Herzog staggered to the riverside and, without hesitation, began to disrobe....he dove into the water and swam beneath the ice as he vowed to do earlier.... [Read book to get more info....]

*"My characters have no shadows," Herzog had remarked prior to shooting on location.... "Each of them is a character without a past, or whose past does not matter. They come out of the darkness, and people who come out of the darkness cast no shadow...."

*"I never use close-ups," Herzog replied firmly. "Mostly, as close as I allow myself to come in from the breastbone up. Close-ups are a personal violation of the actor. They destroy his privacy, and at the same time they intrude upon the viewer's solitude. I have more respect for those who view my films than to ruin their solitude." 

There's plenty more. Read it.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Enigmatic movies

There is a recent LA Times article by Stephen Farber titled: 'The Master' is too muddled to be a masterpiece.

I have no problem with Farber not liking the movie. I myself didn't much care for it. And I also don't have a problem with the headline in general. But I do have a problem with one particular part of the article, which to my mind, is completely wrong headed and naïve. He writes - in all seriousness:
"The Master" epitomizes the rise of a new school of enigmatic movies, which parallels similar post-modern developments in literature and music. Recent movies embracing inscrutability hark back to landmark European films of the 1960s that shattered traditional narrative conventions. Films like Ingmar Bergman's "Persona," Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blowup" and Luis Buñuel's "Belle de Jour" incorporated surreal dream sequences and built toward mysterious, sometimes impenetrable endings that delighted art house audiences of the era.
This cryptic style of filmmaking has resurfaced in recent movies by Terrence Malick — "The Tree of Life" as well as his newest effort, "To the Wonder" — and even Christopher Nolan, who made the mind-bending thriller "Inception" that tantalized many audiences (and left others befuddled). And this same oblique approach to storytelling has characterized a new generation of European filmmakers such as Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke. "The Master" aims to join this company, but its release only proves to me that the cult of incoherence is beginning to pall. Too many movies, novels and even TV series dispense with all sense of logic; they revel in unintelligibility and dare audiences to enter their tangled web.
How does one begin to tackle this absurd view? With a straight face he is criticizing a slew of movies for essentially being non-formulaic and hard to follow. He actually has the audacity to say that movies that 'dare audiences to enter their tangled web' are a bad thing! How can we take Farber seriously as a critic if he favors a Hollywood mainstream mentality over movies that challenge him, expand his horizons or make him think?

He has to know that most all children's movies, action films, comedies, romantic movies and feel good dramas are depressingly formulaic. This, no doubt, has been the case since movies were silent. We can forgive many of these movies [especially the older ones] because part of the evolution of the art form was one of mass entertainment. This has been the case for 100 years and continues today. But one thing a smattering of movies in each decade and particularly movies in the 1960's and early 70's did was to accept the fact that the audience was made up of adults who wanted to be challenged just a little bit. Rather than lay out the plot in an obvious [boring] manner some of these movies allowed the audience to partake in or contemplate the movie's precarious or, at times, intellectual narrative; Movies such as The 400 Blows, Persona, Red Desert, Weekend, 2001 A Space Odyssey come to mind. They allowed moviegoers to exit the theatre and have a conversation about the movie rather than just have them nodding in agreement and then forgetting what they saw.

I don't know how Farber can call himself a critic if he is not open-minded enough to understand that the art form simply cannot move forward if these kinds of 'enigmatic' movies are not made. What's more, he seems to be holding a 40 year grudge against movies that 'shattered traditional narrative conventions.' That debate should be long over at this point.

To call The Master enigmatic or a film that defies understanding is to be incorrect [it's not that hard to understand]. But then to up the ante on the critique and embrace an idea that tells the world you don't enjoy following a non-formulaic narrative and that [just maybe] you are turned off by movies that make you think is odd. I don't believe that is a message any critic in any field wants to leave his readers. But until further clarification by Mr Farber I have to conclude that is what he wants us to believe.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Anatomy in Cement

I found this in a historical info flier [pdf] for Anatomy of a Murder from the Marquette County History Museum. [Lee Remick gets a hand from Otto Preminger while a couple of guys look on].

During the period when the cast was in Marquette County, it was decided that the community should have a permanent reminder of the filming of Anatomy of a Murder. Members of the community arranged to have large slabs of concrete poured into molds in front of the Marquette County Courthouse. One by one, the stars and director of the film placed their feet, hands and signed their signatures into the cement. The plan was for these slabs to be placed in front of the new Marquette Chamber of Commerce when the filmed was released. However, local officials felt the film was too controversial and should not receive formal recognition. In danger of being destroyed, they were saved by a local farmer who kept them for many years. In 1984, they were installed in the sidewalk in front of the Nordic Theatre, with bricks that stated the name of each person. Over time, the slabs deteriorated due to the road salt being poured to melt snow on Washington Street. They were removed and now are stored by the City of Marquette. Unfortunately, they are completely illegible. Somewhere, however, there is rumored to be molds of the original slabs. If you have in-formation about the whereabouts of these molds, please tell the staff here at the Beaumier Center.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Master

The Master is a film about a man who needs to get laid.

I wish I was being sarcastic. But just go see the film for yourself and see if, indeed, the main character needs [or at least thinks he needs] anything other than a good woman to save him.

The time is postwar America. Young men have come back from the stress of war hoping to achieve the American dream by starting businesses, having families and, in essence, moving America forward. But some of the men who came back have suffered in one way or another and are trying to find a way to fit back in to society. Enter Freddie [Joaquin Phoenix] a completely fucked up, lonely, unstable, drunk who - despite an ability to make a killer drink [paint thinner and all] - can't hold a job or find a friend. Escaping into the dusk after having been accused of trying to kill a fellow worker he jumps aboard a small vessel right into the clutches of a cult leader name Lancaster Dodd [Philip Seymour Hoffman] who has a growing legion of devoted fans and is looking to make an impact to further his religious / self help cause.

This being a Paul Thomas Anderson film the themes are have the semblance of being big and the emotions run high. But it's also a film, unfortunately, in which some of Freud's creaky ideas [psycho sexual, the male id and all] play a big role. So much so that it borders on irony - although I don't think it is. [Despite Phoenix's claim that he felt the movie was a comedy].

Freddie is mentally probed and broken down by Dodd who feels obligated to cure him of his base, animal self. But Freddie's [actually Phoenix's] squinting, snarling scowl, oft times impatient anger, explosive fits of rage and frustratedly pacing through scenes tells you this is not going to happen. And, frankly, the guy needs medication - not spiritual help.

Phoenix does not so much act as pull a big stunt here. So much so that - other than a few moments of genuine emotion - the performance is rather distracting. He's like a reality show character who's dropped in on a movie. How will he top himself next? Hoffman, on the other hand, is quite good as the charismatic, quack cult leader and shows some character growth. The two form a bond that feels right and honest much of the time. The film's script by Anderson is best when they are together and it seems, to me, that the film was written around these key scenes. Other than that the film does not hold well enough together to be as powerful as it could be. Instead, we get a series of good scenes strung together amounting to little except an idea of something bigger and better. All the other acting in the film passes muster but doesn't deliver. Amy Adams, for instance, is given a side role as the wife of the cult leader who has her own draconian way of demanding fealty from Freddy.

**Spoiler of sorts**

In the final scene Freddie is shown having sex with a young women he has just met in a pub. Mission accomplished. What took so long? Whether or not he will remain happy - given his highly volatile nature - seems unlikely. But since he is no longer involved with the cult leader [father] or his judgmental wife [mother] or the skeptical family members [brothers and sisters] he can move on with his life into the void of his own disturbed and lonely psyche.

Kent Jones at Film Comment has an insightful review.
Richard Brody at The New Yorker [blog] also has a good review.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Malick's Wonder

The LA Times writes:

"To the Wonder" represents what is arguably Malick's most experimental film yet, but [Rachel] McAdams expressed surprise at some of the audience reaction. After all, it shouldn't come as a shock that Malick would craft a lyrical tone poem, given that his narratives have long been infused with evocative imagery and abstraction.

"It's funny, all we say we want in life is freedom — of speech, of religion, of thought," McAdams said. "And here's Terry definitively not telling us what to think, and some people don't like it."

LA Times

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Greatest Movies of all Time?

I haven't said much about the Sight and Sound poll because how can I take a poll of the top 100 films seriously that does not include a film by Luis Buñuel? [The top 100 are at the top of this page.]

I've been aware of the list for years as most critics have and all the films are so familiar at this point that I am not sure they are the greatest so much as a bunch of titles carved in stone. What we call the canon. If anything this list just reaffirms the prevailing critical view. 

I like many of the films on the list but I'd like to know what they mean by greatest. Historically important? Ultimately it's just a game to which most critics choose to play along with by nodding in agreement. I'll be more interested to see the individual critc's lists. [As well as the director's lists. Some are here].

Plenty of people will have an issue with Vertigo being #1. But is there any film that could be in the #1 spot and not cause some criticism? I understand why some of the films make the top ten list but am puzzled by others.

Vertigo, Citizen Kane,Tokyo Story, La Règle du jeu, Sunrise, Man with a Movie Camera - yes

 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Passion of Joan of Arc, 8 1/2 - maybe

The Searchers - no. I've tried to like it three times. It doesn't do it for me and other than a few directors who like it I don't see how it influences anyone. Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance are much better in my view.

With regards to the top 50

After that the next 42 films get interesting. There is no way to make the list politically correct or fair but how does Godard get 4 films and Buñuel gets none? Tarkovsky has 3 films thus out-pacing Bergman in the eyes of the critics. Also there are only three films from the 1930's and three from the 1940's and yet also three from the 1990's.

There are 15 films from the 1960's. We're the 1960's the best decade in cinema? No way. A provocative era that, no doubt, has struck the fancy of many critics who were growing up then.

The list is a starting point for those who have yet to delve into the history of cinema. With that in mind it is acceptable. But I really hope no one takes it literally. I'd be more interesting in seeing a top ten personal list of favorite films.

[Here is the Fandor link where there are links to all kinds of discussions]

Monday, July 09, 2012

Beasts Wild

There are so many other cultures on the planet, but even when Hollywood films are shooting in another place or in another culture, the system of making the film still emerges from a very particular personality that comes from New York or Los Angeles. The way in which we’re doing things is very much of the culture of Louisiana. We try to bring the way people relate to one another in Louisiana to our set and do things in a way that expresses that culture. Director Benh Zeitlin
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a story told by a 6-year-old girl named Hushpuppie. But it is not a kid's story or a kid's movie. It's more like dirt under the fingernails magic realism Bayou style.

It might be like nothing you have ever seen and because of that it might be tough to take. Not just because it is a knotty story of survival in post hurricane Louisiana but because it does what few films in the history of American cinema have ever done; present us with poor people separated - most definitely - from the sensibilities of the middle or upper class world of Hollywood.

The narrative rarely plays it safe, it never slides off into a world most cinema-goers feel comfortable with. And yet there is nothing subversive about it because there is nothing to subvert. These people are as real as those in a documentary about the place. They are poor, they are uncouth, they drink and curse in front of kids, they live in abject filth and, as they are presented to us, they are not easy to relate to in the way characters in movies usually are. What's more only briefly do we get the Hollywood-like middle or upper class characters who come in to counter balance the reality we see and present us with some kind of safe narrative haven.

And yet the film is not making a value judgement about these outcasts. Far from it. These are real people who live in a real place. But it's not a place the American film world often inhabits. The film has the sensibilities of a third world film and yet it is distinctly an American story.

Part of what is remarkable too is that the story is told from the viewpoint of a 6 year-old-girl. The big harry beasts she imagines are as real as her drunken, sick, fierce father. In this way it is a fable of sorts but without the simplistic smooth finish of a Disney film.

The film deals with chaos and the narrative too gets sloppy on occasion, which is either because of the low budget or because we are being told the story by a kid. [I'm guessing the former]. But it all fits together without too much confusion because the plot is linear.

Beasts starts before a big hurricane hits in a section of the coast of Louisiana called 'The Bathtub". When the hurricane hits some of the locals stay put and float around and above their world refusing to leave. Times get tougher, food gets scarce, the girl's father gets sicker and even though they find a way to drain the water from their land they are forced into a camp. At this point, the safe, clean world of doctors and teachers and bureaucrats provides them some kind of safety. But they want none of it. They choose to head back to the untamed nature and wild beasts of their home.

The film does eventually bring itself back into a Hollywood-like fold. And once you get its coordinates it is a film that anyone can relate to. It's about life and death and survival. It just tells us a story in a unique way. I wish there were more films like it.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Unproduced films

There's a terrific list of unproduced and unfinished film projects over at Film Comment's site.
Here's a few below that would have been tantalazing.

The Autumn of the Patriarch (Emir Kusturica) Kusturica discussed an adaptation of this novel with author Gabriel García Márquez. Marlon Brando was to star, with Sean Penn producing.

The Demon (Sergei Parajanov) Based on the long 17th-century poem “Demon” by Mikhail Lermontov. The once-banned poem praises the eternal spirit of atheism.

Genesis (Robert Bresson, 1963) A lavish adaptation of the Book of Genesis. Dino De Laurentiis had agreed to finance, but Bresson abandoned the project only to take it up again and then abandon it a second time. He once said that one of the frustrations with the production was that he couldn’t make his animal performers do as they were told.

Kaleidoscope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964-67) After watching Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Hitchcock felt he was a century behind the Italians in technique. He asked the novelist Howard Fast to sketch a treatment about a gay, deformed serial killer. Pleased with the results, Hitchcock composed a shot list with over 450 camera positions and shot an hour’s worth of experimental color tests. MCA/Universal were disgusted by the script and immediately canceled the project, reducing Hitchcock to tears.

The Monster Maker (Alain Resnais, 1970s) In collaboration with Stan Lee, Resnais planned a pop-art parody about a frustrated movie producer who seeks creative and spiritual redemption by making a film about pollution. Lee and Resnais sold the script in 1971 but it was never made. [Read that again!]

The Streets of Laredo (Peter Bogdanovich) Co-written with Larry McMurtry, this was to star James Stewart, John Wayne, and Henry Fonda. A decade later, McMurtry turned the screenplay into a Pulitzer Prize–winning novel. John Ford talked Wayne out of doing the project.

Suffer or Die (Michelangelo Antonioni) Scripted by Tonino Guerra and Anthony Burgess, it was to star Debra Winger alongside Mick Jagger or Richard Gere or Giancarlo Giannini as an architect. Amy Irving was cast at one point as a Catholic novice.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Criticism of critics is in the air again. It's the usual old arguments rehashed for a new year; What good are critics? etc. Below  is my main issue with the argument that critics are just failed screenwriters / filmmakers / artists. Along with some other thoughts.

1) Critics are artists. They are writers. Writers are artists.
2) The argument that critics are failed screenwriters [etc] ends up making the false assumption that screenwriters are not themselves critical of movies, which is absurd.
3) Everyone is a critic. So even if we somehow got rid of critics many more would pop up. So eliminating them is essentially eliminating people.
4) The more critics that get eliminated [or marginalized] the bigger, stronger or more authoritative the movie marketing machine gets. Do we really want that?
5) Critics love movies. They are drawn to criticism because they find that they have a particular gift for imparting their love of movies to others.
6) The idea that critics are only reviewing to let people know whether they should plop down $12.00 for a movie and therefore if they are critical it is because they want to ruin the experience of the common man is really absurd.
7) There is a difference between critics and reviewers. If you've been around long enough you know the difference.
8) People hate critics when they don't agree with them. People love critics when they agree with them.
9) If someone criticizes the way a bridge is built would it be fair for someone else to say the criticism is invalid unless you are a bridge engineer or an architect?
10) Anyone with a brain will realize that ultimately it all comes down to opinion. Why should opinions really bother us? [I guess some opinions bother me too so voilà].

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Movie Procrastination

I came across this in an article in The New Yorker about procrastination:

...people were asked to pick one movie to watch that night and one to watch at a later date. Not surprisingly, for the movie they wanted to watch immediately, people tended to pick lowbrow comedies and blockbusters, but when asked what movie they wanted to watch later they were more likely to pick serious, important films. The problem, of course, is that when the time comes to watch the serious movie, another frothy one will often seem more appealing. This is why Netflix queues are filled with movies that never get watched: our responsible selves put “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Seventh Seal” in our queue, but when the time comes we end up in front of a rerun of “The Hangover.

I have to admit this is sort of true for me as well - although I wouldn't choose The Hangover or a movie I had seen recently. I think the issue with Netflix is that there are too many choices at your fingertips and so rather than procrastination it is a frustration in having to choose from so many more serious films. It becomes easier to just give in and watch something that isn't filling in a serious art-house movie gap. Or more accurately it is instead filling in a lighter movie gap. So rather than watch a serious drama I might prefer a 1970's comedy that I missed along the way.

But I have seen enough movies to know that it doesn't necessarily take more effort to watch a Bergman or a Godard film than it does to watch a blockbuster comedy. The brain doesn't turn off when a movie is on.

Still interesting....

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Zion National Park Paintings

I've just been to Zion National Park and it's a beautiful place. Rather than provide a journal or photos I will present some paintings that others have done of Zion. It's an inspirational place and has plenty of scenery to offer painters. [I have placed the link underneath the artist name. For some reason blogger is not letting me change the color of the link].

Franz Birschoff 

 Connie Tom 

 Shaddy Safadi 

Audra Ziegel

Nina Hagen 

WPA Poster

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

They Might Be Giants

I think if God is dead he laughed himself to death because, you see, we live in Eden. Genesis has got it all wrong; We never left the garden. Look about you... this is Paradise. It's hard to find I grant you but it is here under our feet. Beneath the surface all around us is everything we want. The Earth is shining under the soot. We're all fools. Moriarity has made fools of all of us. But together you and I, tonight, will bring him... down.
Scene from They Might Be Giants

If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, or Don Quixote dreamers or mental patient movies or romantic comedies or early 70's cinema this is the movie for you. See it. It's good fun. It's tough to find on DVD for under $100.00 but it is available streaming on Netflix.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fathers and Sons

Just coincidentally three recent new movies I saw deal with fathers and sons.

Footnote - This Israeli film, by Joseph Cedar, is about a father and son who both are professors of Talmudic research. The film opens with a long close-up shot of the father smoldering with what appears resentment or jealousy while he sits listening to his son give a speech after having won an award. But, alas, the father gets his turn in the spotlight when he is told he will be awarded 'the Israeli Prize'. Finally, after all the hard work in an obscure corner of an obscure field - which has yielded him no more than a footnote in someone else's work - he is getting recognized. Or is he? It's fun to watch the father try and undermine the son while the son tries to bolster his father's reputation. The film use of mordant humor rather than slapstick helps give the film a realistic tone. Because of that it also stops short of being the crowd pleasing film some may want it to be. I'm fine with that. Good film.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi - This documentary by David Gelb is more about 85 year-old sushi master Jiro Ono than about his son. But given that his son is in line to replace his father some day it becomes a film in some ways about obligation and tradition. The film has very little tension or conflict. Instead it comes to praise and to make us hungry. It's mainly about $300 a night sushi served in a inauspicious small restaurant under an office building in Tokyo. What keeps the film interesting is the daily process we see as they try to get the best fish and then prepare and serve the best sushi in the world. Jiro Ono smiles a lot, gives sage advice and creates sushi with a skill that only a master could.

The Kid with a Bike - The father's absence is actually the key to this film. A lowlife dad leaves his 11 year-old son to the orphanage because he claims he can't take care of him. The boy is drawn to a woman who becomes a mother to him on the weekends. Like most of the Dardenne Brother's films this one has a central character that is driven by a focused primal instinct that keeps him alive but makes him dangerous to himself. The film, if anything, presents us with the Dardenne's absolute mastery of the medium. At times subtle and often brutal and realistic the film achieves the kind of grace that very few filmmakers have.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Turin Horse poem

Turin Horse

The wind won't stop blowing.
That noise goes right through you!

Dressing dad once more.
Wish he would stop leering at me.

Take a shot of plum brandy
to ease the boredom.

Sit by the window and watch
the leaves and dust blow in the storm.

Time to get some water from the well.
Hard to walk in this wind with two full pales.

We’re eating potatoes again,
No need for a fork though.
Hhhhhott! Hot! Hot!

These days are long and slow
Think I'll clean the horse barn... again.

Too bad the horse won’t eat,
He’s stubborn after dad beat him.

Here comes the nutty neighbor
with all his conspiracy theories.
Wish he would just take the brandy and leave.

Later, some gypsies come and unsettle us.
Crazy gypsies want to take me away.
They steal our water and give me a religious book.

More wind, more potatoes, more brandy,
but no more water!
We need to leave this place. Right now.

Time to go. Pack our trunks.
I pull the carriage, and the horse!

Wait... there is nothing for us over the hill.
Dumb idea. Let’s return to our stone hut

The wind won’t stop,
the horse won’t eat,
we have no water,
the fire won’t start.
It’s dark....

Sunday, February 12, 2012



Thursday, January 26, 2012

Frampton Criterion

Criterion has announced that they will release a two disc Blu-ray and DVD of some of the works of Hollis Frampton. Very cool. Some of his work can be seen over at Ubu-Web.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Promise

The Promise

This Channel 4 mini-series, directed by Peter Kosminsky, is a compelling work but with regards to the creation of Israel and the present day situations it is a tad one-sided. Or at least questionable in the sense that it is probably a bit too Pro-British and pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli [though not anti-Semitic] without giving us an even-handed treatment of the history or the issues.

I'll admit I know very little about the history of the birth of Israel and the settlement of the Jews after World War II by the British in Israel. I too know little about the 1948 Palestinian exodus. And only until recently did I learn about the King David Hotel bombing or the Irgun or the Haganah. So I can't speak for the film's historical accuracy or the politics of the era.

However, I know movies and character development and I know when a movie works to present one side of the story at the expense of the other. The Promise does that and, therefore,  is nowhere near as powerful as it could be.

The mini-series deals with a young British woman named Erin (Claire Foy) who goes to Israel in the present day to see off her Jewish friend who has joined the military. While there she stays with her friend's family [who live in a wealthy area of Tel Aviv] and each day reads her grandfather's diary, which he wrote while he was a British Sergeant in the the post-war phase [1948] of the British Mandate of Palestine. Each day we see, as the film effortlessly flashes back in time, that he was right in the thick of things as the British soldiers attempted to aid the Jewish settlment and create Israel.

As Erin continues to read the diary she becomes more and more emotionally involved in her grandfather's history, which becomes fraught with daily dangers. Then she finds a key that her grandfather has stashed in the diary. Once she realizes the key belongs to a Palestinian family she becomes determined to find the family and return the key. But doing so is close to impossible and most certainly unwise when it becomes evident she will need to travel into places tourists don't travel; including Hebron and Gaza.

The story of her grandfather, named Leonard or Len (Christian Cooke), parallels her own adventure albeit with more bloodshed and intrigue with regards to the battles [both militarily and emotionally] that he fights with the Zionist groups that want the British and the Palestinians out of Israel. Both sections of the film deal with betrayals, violence and death.

I became interested in the series after I heard an interview on a Chicago radio station in which Tom Luddy said this series would never get play in the United States. So, curious as to why the heck not, I ordered it from Amazon UK. He's right. The reason is because most of the Jewish characters are presented as racist, suspect and superficial. Even the one Jewish character we are supposed to associate with seems a bit off; at one point he picks up a gun and shoots back at some Palestinians much to the chagrin of the main character. On the other hand, the Palestianian characters are all presented as a friendly people who are victims of the Zionist machinations. No doubt, many were victims - no one deserves to be run out of their homes. But at a point the Arab's own military push back should have been acknowledged.

There are two scenes in particular that really stand out and may not be credible. One is a scene in which Len's buddies get shot point blank by Zionist nationalists while a bunch of other Jews sit around a cafe completely ignoring the violence and sipping their coffee. Really?  Another scene in present day Hebron presents us with young Jewish children throwing rocks at Palestinian girls while soldiers stand around impartial to the whole thing. Both these scenes feel heavy-handed.

The mini-series is undoubtedly effective at eliciting emotion. It is well acted and directed and at almost 6 hours it accumulates its dramatic effect and becomes a very engaging experience. But - besides the character portrayals - the other  film's weaknesses include push-button conflicts that are telegraphed and obvious. Only rarely does the film achieve the kind of balance needed to make for a more heartfelt [and real] experience.

The Promise is recommended and anyone with an open mind should be able to look past the narrative actions and portrayals to see the larger picture - which is mainly about a young woman trying to fulfill 'the promise' of her grandfather toward a family he felt close to. But, if anything, the series is primarily an entry point to a larger conversation about Israeli's history, the role of the British in 1948 and the present day Israeli / Palestinian conflict.