Wednesday, April 25, 2007

DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION: Dennis Bench-presses Professor Irwin Corey's Spring Break Quiz

Well, it’s been just over a month since Professor Irwin Corey submitted his Foremostly Authoritative Spring Break Quiz for your amusement (or, perhaps, for your frustration), and as is becoming some kind of tradition/pattern/growing body of evidence as to my laziness, I have finally now gotten around to posting my own answers to the professor’s queries. Many have mentioned in the comments column how this batch seemed a little more difficult than usual, and as usual I really didn’t think so—until I sat down to try to answer them myself. Often, as I read the questions for the first time, I have some kind of idea floating in the back of my head as to what my answer of at least some of them might be. But this time around, I have to agree with those who claim that the professor is more demanding than other staff members of the past have been. My No. 2 lead pencil is but a nub now, and my brain feels similarly abused. But that’s not to say it hasn’t been fun. This batch of answers submitted by the professor’s diligent and intelligent student body have really risen to the occasion too, and I look forward, sometime between now and the upcoming summer quiz, to gathering up Professor Corey’s teacher’s pets and highlighting them in the same way I did those of Professor Dave Jennings. But for now, behold the results of turning Prof. Corey’s inquisition in on myself. The results are often not pretty, but if you’ve read this site for any length of time I’m sure you’ve come to expect that. So, with that in mind, let’s open up my Blue Book and see what’s inside…

1) What movie did you have to see multiple times before deciding whether you liked or disliked it?

Back in my college days, when I could and would see just about everything that came out (what other reason could there possibly be for seeing agonizing artifacts Chapter Two or Same Time, Next Year on the big screen or at all?) it was not unusual for me to see movies more than once, even ones I didn’t like—for when the urge to NOT study was dominating all other more responsible impulses, the movies were always the first option for my friends and I. Sometimes all that was available was romantic bilge water like the two movies cited above, or perhaps a 1970 Raquel Welch movie (Restless) released to unsuspecting viewers in 1978 as if it were brand-spanking-new. But there were other movies that actually latched onto my consciousness, movies that I didn’t like and in some cases still don’t like, that I saw with my friends more than once. For me, going back to see a movie like Apocalypse Now or Altered States more than once was to acknowledge that there were elements at play that were often far more interesting than in more conventional films that I could say with more certainty that I “liked.” And, strangely enough, the jury is still out for me on those two movies. Just about the time I thought I’d settled on a pretty positive view of Apocalypse Now, after about 12 times around and a very checkered history with it, along came Apocalypse Now Redux to muddy up the waters for me all over again. Blaaagh and I threw in the DVD of Altered States last summer—a movie he’s always liked more than I have—and I had to admit that revisiting it was captivating and went beyond nostalgia for the spring of 1980. Though I still found the overcooked academia of the dialogue stilted and forbidding, I also got tugged in by the story and by Ken Russell’s hallucinatory amalgam of Revelation-based religious imagery, Castaneda-esque folderol and the way he (and Paddy Chayefsky) fuse it to a Jekyll-and-Hyde horror template. We didn’t finish watching it last summer, but I long to, just to see if 20 years or so have changed my ultimately negative response.

But the movie I can say I flat-out hated when I saw it twice on the big screen during its Christmas 1979 run was Steven Spielberg’s 1941. Critics and magazine reporters eager to watch the wunderkind responsible for Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind belly-flop on a grand scale set the tone for the shaky reception of 1941 early on—before any of us knew the term “buzz,” the movie had a ton of negative word-of-mouth working against it right up to the day of its release. Critical response was typified by the New York TimesVincent Canby (whose review I read in the university library before I saw the movie):


“The huge, profligate scale on which Mr. Spielberg… has constructed 1941 works against the intended hilarity. There are too many characters who aren't immediately comic. There are too many simultaneous actions that necessitate a lot of cross-cutting, and cross-cutting between unrelated anecdotes can kill a laugh faster than a yawn.”

Going in, everyone seemed to know that 1941 was best viewed as Spielberg’s comeuppance, though for what I’m not sure—perhaps for making three terrific movies in a row? (I’m including the box-office dud The Sugarland Express in this delightful trio.) And when I saw it I thought Canby was right. Again, my friend Blaaagh seemed to like it more than the average bear, and when we went back to see it again together I told myself it was kind of an expedition to take further note of what Spielberg did wrong. And note the wrong-headedness of 1941 I dutifully did.


Cut to a late night about two years later. I encountered 1941 on HBO, and somehow, scaled down to a 19-inch TV screen, stripped of the deafening soundtrack and rumble of artillery and exploding bombs coming at me from every which way, I discovered myself laughing. A couple more viewings and I became convinced I was completely wrong about this movie from the start. How could I have missed the brilliance of the USO dance set-piece? Or the maniacal wonder of Warren Oates’s sputtering Colonel “Madman” Maddox? Or the subversive glee in which Spielberg, and just as importantly scenarists Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, dismantle a nation’s paranoia and jingoistic fury in the context of this nation’s last great, justifiable war? Or the way the movie comedically embraces and simultaneously dismantles prevalent racist stereotypes of the era? Or the way John Williams’ score (his best and most joyous, in my opinion) dances about and accentuates the big moments as well as the small? (I collapsed in delight upon noticing the flourishes of flutes that sonically decorate puffs of smoke erupting from the cigar of psychotic pilot Wild Bill Kelso, played by John Belushi as Bluto Squared, and furious.)


I’ve seen 1941 at least 20 times in various formats since its 1979 release—I even got to create the closed-captions for the re-release on video and laserdisc of the uncut version that Universal unveiled in the mid ‘90s. And though the conventional critical wisdom is still largely negative, it was absolutely wonderful to discover some years later than Pauline Kael, who never wrote a full review of the movie, was a fan of 1941. In her review of Used Cars (which she also loved, God bless her), she wrote of Spielberg’s movie:

1941 had a choppy beginning; it seemed to start with the story already under way, and Spielberg overdid some of the broad, cartoon aspects—some of the performers seemed to be carrying placards telling you what was wacko about them. But the U.S.O. jitterbug number is one of the greatest pieces of film choreography I’ve ever seen, and the film overall is an amazing, orgiastic comedy, with the pop culture of an era compacted into a day and a night. Its commercial failure in this country didn’t make much sense to me. It was accused of gigantism, and it did seem huge, though part of what was so disarmingly fresh about it was the miniature recreation of Hollywood Boulevard at night in 1941, with little floodlights illuminating the toy cars tootling around the corners and toy planes flying so low they were buzzing through the streets.”


And I was delighted to find out online friend and film critic Paul Matwychuk is quoted on RottenTomatoes.com as proclaiming 1941 as “"the most underrated film of Steven Spielberg's entire career." (Unfortunately, there’s no link to a review. How can I get your review, Paul?!)

But for all of my experience with 1941 since its original release, the irony is, I’ll probably never again get the opportunity to see it the way it was meant to be seen-- on the big screen. I’d love another chance to experience 1941 the way I should have back in 1979, with my newfound appreciation, and the movie’s gigantism, intact. And in this time of war, I wonder if Spielberg and Zemeckis and Gale’s none-too-flattering picture of American patriotic fervor and fear of The Other turned in on itself might find a more sympathetic audience.

(Speaking of gigantism, I’ll try not to be so logorrheic from here on out!)



Press play for a look at the teaser trailer for 1941 featuring Belushi as the atavistic fighter pilot known here as Wild Wayne Kelso (by the time the movie came out, the name was changed to Wild Bill). This trailer was apparently in theaters the Christmas before the movie was actually released.

2) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Overrated
How about Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up? Around Thanksgiving of 2005 I wrote briefly about my thoughts on this movie, and nothing has much changed: “Alienation Cinema’s equivalent to a Cecil B. DeMille biblical epic—let’s dance around and frug and fret with the denizens of swinging 1960s-era London and secretly dig all the
happenings that we’ll constantly insist, through our visual grammar and sound design, are symptoms of the sick soul of society. (The zombified supermodels David Hemmings makes a living taking pictures of didn’t look like they were having that bad of a time.) Antonioni is so distanced—coolly, deliberately—from his subjects and their world that the movie comes off as being one of those muted, nebulous templates for whatever concerns and/or meanings the viewer wishes to project upon it. And to top it off, the movie begins and ends with mimes running madly about London and engaging in a tennis game with no net, no rackets and, of course, no balls. I’ve nothing against ennui, but please, let it feel more felt (or would that be authentically numbed), less trendy and manufactured than what Antonioni concocts for Blow-up.”

3) Favorite sly or not-so-sly reference to another film or bit of pop culture within another film.
I’m trying very hard just to think of something off the top of my head, and like a Rorschach ink blot test, where first impressions are most important, here’s what came bubbling up to the surface: the commercials for Goo-Goo Clusters sung on stage at the Grand Ole Opry before Haven Hamilton takes the Opry stage in Nashville-- “Go get a Goo-Goo… it’s good!” (Here’s a link to a story about how the Opry and Goo-Goo Clusters recently parted ways.) Come to think of it, Nashville’s opening credits also serve as a hilarious parody of those old mile-a-minute K-Tel record album commercials, and that’s pretty damn spiffy too!

4) Favorite Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger movie
It’s got to be the magical realism of A Canterbury Tale, one of the most disarming and transporting movies I’ve ever seen.




5) Your favorite Oscar moment
Several have already mentioned William Holden’s impromptu tribute to Barbara Stanwyck, to whose generosity, professional dignity, and friendship he attributed the success of his career. (When Stanwyck finally did get an honorary Oscar, the same year Holden passed away, she dedicated her award to her good friend.) But here are the two I know I’ll always remember, one profoundly moving, one profoundly silly and delightful. The first is, of course, the wonderful tribute given by Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep to Robert Altman
(in which they tweaked both the canned, badly written lines usually read by uncomfortable actors in introducing awards, as well as Altman’s own singular style of overlapping dialogue), followed, of course, by Altman’s appearance immediately afterwards, during which he revealed his 10-year-old heart transplant and his desire to keep on making movies. The second came somewhere in the mid ‘70s. John Huston is onstage ready to introduce a young singer who was at that time just beginning to make strides into the world of acting on the strength of a couple of successful runs at the TV variety show format. Imagine the gruff, portentous, and slightly impish tones of Huston wrapping themselves around this intro: “Ladies and gentlemen… the incomparable…Cher-r-r-r-r-r-r-r!” It ain’t no streaker, but it makes me smile. (Though if this ever happens on the Oscars, it’ll automatically make my top five!)



UPDATE 4/26/07: Reader Bob Turnbull has graciously pointed that the William Holden-Barbara Stanwyck Oscar moment could be found on (where else?) YouTube. Press play and enjoy. Thanks, Bob.


6) Hugo Weaving or Guy Pearce?
As much as I love Weaving’s voice in Happy Feet and Babe, and his performances in the first Matrix movie and V for Vendetta, I have to give the edge to Guy Pearce on the strength of The Proposition, Memento. L.A. Confidential and, most importantly, Ravenous.

7) Movie that you feel gave you the greatest insight into a world/culture/person/place/event that you had no understanding of before seeing it
Barbara Kopple's Harlan County U.S.A.

8) Favorite Samuel Fuller movie
Right now it’s a three-way tie between Pickup on South Street, The Naked Kiss and the unexpectedly splendid Run of the Arrow. I just saw The Steel Helmet for the first time, however, and it was pretty impressive.





9) Monica Bellucci or Maria Grazia Cucinotta?

Maria Grazia Cucinotta is spectacularly lovely, and her brief appearance as a doomed villainess was the best thing about the otherwise forgettable James Bond entry The World Is Not Enough. But Monica Bellucci wins by virtue of the poster for Malena alone (I still haven’t seen the movie) and the way director Christopher Gans, in perhaps the greatest instance of graphic continuity in the history of cinema (maybe!), lap dissolves from a rolling mountain range to Bellucci in a reclining position, the splendid, undulating curves of her body matching the mountains peak for peak.

10) What movie can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
There are a lot of movies I can think of that work on me like a tonic-- His Girl Friday, Rio Bravo, Only Angels Have Wings, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes-- some of them are even directed by someone other than Howard Hawks (Singin’ in the Rain, The Long Goodbye, Amarcord, The Big Lebowski, Dressed to Kill). But again, going with the first title that bubbles to the surface seems to be working here, because there can be no denying that a visit to the bustling campus of Huxley College, in the company of Pinky, Baravelli and Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff, is always good for what ails me. I speak, of course, of the Marx Brothers and Horse Feathers.

11) Conversely, what movie can destroy a day’s worth of good humor just by catching a glimpse of it while channel surfing?

Just about any movie by Alan Parker will do the trick, but most egregiously Midnight Express and Mississippi Burning, for the particular way they aestheticize and misrepresent the factual basis of their stories in favor of Parker’s favorite M.O., the picturesque and utterly senseless sucker punch to the gut.

12) Favorite John Boorman movie


Boorman’s best movies, in my estimation, are probably also his most celebrated-- Deliverance and Hope and Glory. But I also hold a soft spot for one of his most ignored pictures, the disarmingly personal family comedy Where the Heart Is, starring Uma Thurman, Dabney Coleman and Crispin Glover. And though I find it hard to defend on any basis other than visual, Exorcist II: The Heretic, by any standard a hoary and miscalculated folly from start to finish, is a movie I’ve always wanted to see again. I remain in awe of just how defiantly Boorman flew in the face of audience expectations in pursuit of something that must have felt awfully real to him. Boorman's a Jungian naturalist whose florid imaginings of man’s fall from grace, visual and thematic motifs apparent in almost all his features, never found more perverse expression than they did here.

13) Warren Oates or Bruce Dern?

Don’t get me wrong. I love Bruce Dern. He’ll always have Marnie, The Wild Angels, The Trip, Hang ‘Em High, Bloody Mama, The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, Silent Running, Smile, Black Sunday, Coming Home, The Driver and The ‘burbs.


But can those really compete with Ride the High Country, Major Dundee, The Shooting, In the Heat of the Night, The Wild Bunch, There Was a Crooked Man…, The Hired Hand, Dillinger, Badlands, The White Dawn, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Cockfighter, Rancho Deluxe, Race with the Devil, 1941 and Stripes? Oh, and I just finished watching Two-Lane Blacktop again, which I’m now convinced is one of the great American movies, of the ‘70s or anytime. Dern it, it can only be Warren Oates.

14) Your favorite aspect ratio


Cinemascope 2.35.1. I’m also partial to Panavision and Super Panavision 70. But I like the answer someone else gave earlier: whatever one the director chose.

15) Before he died in 1984, Francois Truffaut once said: “The film of tomorrow will resemble the person who made it.” Is there any evidence that Truffaut was right? Is it Truffaut’s tomorrow yet?
I think Truffaut’s own movies prove clearly enough that his tomorrow was already here when he was making movies himself. From all we know of him, who else could have made The 400 Blows or The Wild Child or Small Change? And as much as the blow-‘em-up-real-good aesthetic of Michael Bay reigns so supreme in Hollywood today (even though Bay’s name is no longer synonymous with unbridled B.O. success), I would venture to guess that bloated, brainless pictures like Bad Boys II and The Island probably resemble Michael Bay to an uncomfortable degree too. Quentin Tarantino. Paul Verhoeven. The Coen Brothers. Jonathan Caouette. Walter Hill. Brian De Palma. Uwe Boll. There was no need for Truffaut to be speaking in the future tense.

16) Favorite Werner Herzog movie


I had a thorny relationship with Aguirre, the Wrath of God when I was coming of age cinema-wise in college—it was a huge film for cineastes in the mid to late ‘70s, but I was insufficiently unwrapped from my cocoon of familiar American fare to deal with it when I saw it. As much as I suspect I’d love it now, I must leave it off my list-- The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser too—and believe me, Netflix has been informed that I need to see both of these movies, and several other Herzog films, again. Honestly speaking, right now I’d choose either Grizzly Man or the ethereal lunacy of The Wild Blue Yonder (all the while cheering mightily for The White Diamond and Little Dieter Needs to Fly). And since they wouldn’t exist without him, I would also include two brilliant documents from filmmaker Les Blank-- Burden of Dreams and Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. And I can’t wait to see Incident at Loch Ness!

17) Favorite movie featuring a rampaging, oversized or otherwise mutated beast, or beasts


Six months ago I would have said Godzilla vs. Mothra, or perhaps Tarantula, or Them! But in April of 2007 there is only one answer for me—no, Filmbrain, it is not too soon to choose The Host.



(You may have already seen this trailer—it’s the Korean version—or the one attached to the U.S. release, and hopefully you’ve seen the movie. But if you haven’t and you’ve any inclination to see a superior example of just how supple and adaptable the horror genre can be when it is approached with imagination, seriousness and a unique comic vision—all of which this trailer hints at without giving away the entire game—then you really must see The Host.)

18) Sandra Bernhard or Sarah Silverman?

I think I’d probably rather spend time with Sarah Silverman, and Jesus Is Magic is, well, magic. But Sandra Bernhard has The King of Comedy and Without You I’m Nothing and those wonderful, awful, aggressively uncomfortable appearances on the old Late Night with David Letterman show in her column. Advantage: Bernhard.


19) Your favorite, or most despised, movie cliché
The apparently dead main character who is copiously wept over and treated to a monumental swelling of the orchestral score, and then somehow manages to pop back up, wide-eyed and wondrous, just before all the test screening audiences storm out of the theater in a huff over being bummed out because somebody died at the end of a movie. E.T. did this effectively, and every other time I’ve seen it since then it has pissed me off. No, I don’t want every main character to die at the end of every movie. Just when it’s right for the movie, that’s all. One movie discussed in this post flirts with this phenomenon, then pulls back at the last second, gets it right, and miraculously allows us to feel something besides relief at being let off the hook. I’ll let you figure out which movie that is.

Also, I can’t stand it when someone says “I’m too old for this shit” before embarking on some boneheaded misadventure designed to blow up things real good in Cinemascope and/or Panavision. And especially when Danny Glover says it, I definitely am.

20) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-- yes or no?


I’m willing to give it another try, especially since I did such a 180 on 1941. And Temple of Doom does have that spectacular “Anything Goes” opening number and subsequent slapstick scramble for a giant diamond that is so reminiscent of the U.S.O. number in 1941. But, God, did this movie give m a headache in 1984. I actually liked the movie’s grisly tendencies, but the incessant chattering and squawking and screaming of sidekicks Kate Capshaw (no Karen Allen she) and Ke Huy Quan, and the movie’s visual hyperactivity, wore me out. That said, I think it’s high time I give it one more go around.

21) Favorite Nicholas Ray movie

In a walk, In a Lonely Place, with Johnny Guitar a very close second.








22) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Underrated

Ron Shelton’s uncompromising, brutal and profound Cobb, ignored by most and misunderstood by many who did see it when it was briefly released in 1994, it is perhaps the most bitter and truthful examination of the concept of hero in sport legend ever made.


23) Your favorite movie dealing with the subject of television


For cheerful nostalgia: My Favorite Year
For belly laughs: The Groove Tube
For the frightening possibilities and hope for the New Flesh: Videodrome








24) Bruno Ganz or Patrick Bauchau?


Patrick Bauchau for The State of Things, though if what I’ve heard holds true, when I finally see Downfall I may want to go back and change this answer.

25) Your favorite documentary, or non-fiction, film


I know I’m spineless, but I couldn’t do anything here but a three-way tie: Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County U.S.A., which had a more profound impact on me when I saw it on PBS at age 17 that I could have ever anticipated;


Ken Burns’ Baseball, which in 1994 introduced me to a whole new world that I couldn’t live without today;


and Kristian Fraga’s Anytown U.S.A., as devastating a portrait of American politics as I have ever seen.

26) According to Orson Welles, the director’s job is to “preside over accidents.” Name a favorite moment from a movie that seems like an accident, or a unintended, privileged moment. How did it enhance or distract from the total experience of the movie?

There is a moment in The Stunt Man when possibly Satanic director Eli Cross (Peter O’Toole) first speaks to the fugitive Cameron (Steve Railsback)—the man on the run has just jumped in the ocean to save someone he thinks is an old lady who has fallen off a rock into the sea. He is shocked to discover the old lady is a very famous, very young actress, Nina Franklin (Barbara Hershey), and as he pulls himself up onto the shore, he is met by Cross, who recognizes him as the man he saw running from the police who may have caused a deadly accident during the shooting of a stunt. Cross decides to blackmail Cameron into replacing the stunt man who died in the accident, thus providing a hiding place for the man and supplying himself a pawn for his delusions of grandeur on the set. As Cross circles the exhausted Cameron, who sits slumped on the beach, and taunts him with thinly veiled threats as well as promises of a peek into the glamorous world of movies, the camera supplies a circular panning motion to match Cross’s movements. In the background, as Cross continues to speak, a wave crests and appears to ride along the top of the breaker wall behind Cross, and it breaks at exactly the pace and speed of the camera movement, as if being led by the camera, or as if being dictated as a visual flourish by Cross and/or the actual director of The Stunt Man, Richard Rush. The impossible timing of that breaking wave can only be explained by good fortune, yet its appearance is so lovely, so perfect, that it lends subtle visual credence to the movie’s underlying theme of obsessive movie directors as possibly Satanic deities who truly can bend nature to their will for the sake of their films, who may be out only to use people like Cameron for their films and then destroy them. It’s a breathtaking moment, a beautiful accident, yet you could miss it if you’re not watching carefully-- quite fitting for the whole of The Stunt Man, a movie that it pays to watch very carefully.

27) Favorite Wim Wenders movie

It has to be The State of Things, followed very, very closely by Kings of the Road.

28) Elizabeth Pena or Penelope Cruz?


In Volver Penelope Cruz was captivating beyond my every expectation, erasing the horror, if only for two hours, of her appearances in movies like Blow and Gothika. (And I must admit a prurient interest in seeing Bandidas.) But this isn’t even a real contest. From the first time I saw Elizabeth Pena, as a maid, sultry and smoking while sitting in an upstairs window sill awaiting the arrival of her lover (and employer) Richard Dreyfuss in Down and Out in Beverly Hills, I knew I’d discovered a talented screen beauty I’d follow anywhere. Not surprisingly, she’s never had as many great parts as she deserves, and she’s been in a lot of forgettable stuff-- Jacob’s Ladder, Batteries Not Included, Vibes. But she was funny in La Bamba, riveting in Lone Star, indescribably sexy and sharp in Shannon’s Deal (both for John Sayles) and flat-out great in Joe Dante’s The Second Civil War, and it was a genuine thrill to hear her sultry voice coming out of the mouth of Mirage, the villainous sidekick from The Incredibles. I even liked her in the sitcom dud I Married Dora! My wife and I were eating in a modest little sushi restaurant at the corner of Fountain and Sunset in Hollywood about 10 years ago when Pena and a man I assumed to be her husband walked in and sat down near us. I was so star-struck at that moment I never did manage to gather enough reserve to interrupt her dinner and say something. I regret that, and at the same time I’m glad I didn’t too. For me, just seeing Pena on screen is plenty wonderful enough, and I look forward to those rare moments when the movies give her something to do that is worthy of her exciting talent and exceptional screen presence.

29) Your favorite movie tag line (Thanks, Jim!)

Sorry. I’m weak. It’s a tie:


"Sister, sister, oh so fair, why is there blood all over your hair?"-- What Ever happened to Baby Jane? (1962; Robert Aldrich)

and... "Due to the horrifying nature of this film, no one will be admitted to the theatre"-- Schlock (1971; John Landis)

30) As a reader, filmgoer, or film critic, what do you want from a film critic, or from film criticism? And where do you see film criticism in general headed?

I love to read reviewers and critics who use the language to inform and to entertain and throw light on the subject that they are passionate about, and not as a cudgel to browbeat readers (or other critics) or attempt to make themselves out to be the only word that matters. I want to read a writer who isn’t concerned with regurgitating plot, who isn’t worried about seeming foolish for going out on a limb, who doesn’t rub my nose in his/her eclectic taste or contrarianism for contrariness’s sake, who can tell me what he or she thinks about a movie without saying “I liked it!” or “I hated it!” Because a critic’s opinion isn’t even half the story—it’s how he or she can show me the movie as they saw it through their own eyes that matters to me. If they can do that, that opinion doesn’t have to be so baldly stated—it’ll be there in the passion of the language and the commitment to the experience. As for the future of the art form that is film criticism, we’re seeing a shift in the way people see it and experience it right now, and it’s got a lot to do with the way criticism itself is being rethought and made interactive on sites like Jim Emerson’s Scanners, David Hudson’s Green Cine Daily, Matt Zoller Seitz’s The House Next Door, Slant magazine and a lot of the smart, serious, and fun blogs (maybe even this one) that exist as creative satellites in that same universe. It’s exciting to be even a peripheral part of rethinking how criticism is produced and consumed, and even though I don’t have a clue what it’s going to mean for the future, the right here and now has been made plenty exciting by these new developments. We’re all the beneficiaries of a lot of free-floating wisdom and passion and respect for history and probing critical acumen on these sites, and that’s something to be both excited about and very grateful for.

EXTRA CREDIT: Do movies still matter?

Movie classics and films from the classical era of movies always will matter, as historical pieces and as works that can speak to us from across the temporal divide. It may not seem that new movies matter as much if your only source for what’s happening now is the entertainment pages of your local newspaper, where two-page ads for A Night at the Museum make despair seem like the only sane response. But a little digging, and a little clicking along the sidebar on the right side of this page, will reveal treasures of cinema that will restore your faith. They often come from far-flung places all around the globe, and as difficult as it is to see many of these films on big screens in America in the 21st century, something as simple and inexpensive as a Netflix membership can literally open up a whole new world. So the short answer is, yes.

15 comments:

Peter Nellhaus said...

I only saw 1941 once, on a huge screen when first released. I was impressed by the jitterbug scene as well, and think that Speilberg's exacting craftsmanship was not recognized.

When you get around to seeing Malena, you will want the uncut European version.

Steve said...

I've never understood why people were so down on the excellent Cobb. Sure it was uncomfortable and unpleasant, but necessarily so -- after all, it was about a guy who once launched himself into the stands to beat up a man who had no arms because he took offense to being heckled. Ty Cobb was both an extraordinary ballplayer and an extraordinary bastard, and Shelton's film captured that damn well. (The difficulty of hero worship in the face of real, complicated humanity? Gotcha covered.) There's also the small matter of Tommy Lee Jones's awesome performance, one of his few post-Oscar performances where he's not coasting on memories of The Fugitive. Glad to see I'm not the film's only fan.

Bob Turnbull said...

Great pick of Harlan County U.S.A. for opening up the lens on an unfamiliar culture. There are many great moments in the film, but Barbara Kopple standing up to the gun toting jackass in the pickup was exceptional.

Don't agree on "Blow-Up", but I fully understand your reasons.

Oh and thanks for your previous post containing the video montage of Gloria Grahame. Man, could she work those eyebrows...

M. Peachbush said...

I've loved 1941 since day one, and could never see why everyone doesn't. OK, maybe it cost too much to make, but the ticket price is still the same. And sooner or later, everything blows up!

The jitterbug brawl was great and big. The dishwashing scene, where our heros juggle dishes to a jitterbug beat, is the same to me, but on a much smaller scale.

Bob Turnbull said...

Oh by the way, both Holden's tribute to Stanwyck and her dedication back to him of her honourary Oscar can be found here:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=5icoWAi2hJ0

Derek said...

Whoops.... The great Les Blank, not Errol Morris, directed Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Derek! You're absolutely right. This is what I get for staying up late at night. The Les Blank film about Herzog eating his shoe came about because of a bet Herzog had with Errol Morris about whether Morris could finish what became Gates of Heaven, but Morris definitely did not direct Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. I've fixed the article to read properly!

And thanks, Bob, for that YouTube link. I will embed that into the article tonight!

Brian said...

Dennis, the wait was worth it. Great to see your own answers to the prof's quiz. I've known that I wanted to see a Canterbury Tale, Harlan County, U.S.A. and the State of Things for a while now, but you've made me all the more impatient for the opportunity (I guess two of the three are available through Criterion, so I may rent them as soon as things get less hectic around here). I didn't realize I ought to add Cobb to the to-see list, though. I shall.

I'll be too busy with the film festival and other things to take advantage of the opportunity to revisit my 11th birthday party movie on the big screen, but all three Indiana Jones films are playing the Castro Theatre as a triple feature on May 6th.

Campaspe said...

Dennis - I answered this poll, and had a great time doing it, and then ...

I forgot to post it.

I hope you don't mind - if you do, just delete it - but I am going to post my original answers, done before I saw yours. Because I worked hard, darn it. :)

1) What movie did you have to see multiple times before deciding whether you liked or disliked it? Brazil, which, after reading Dennis's re-appraisal a while back, I may have to see yet again.

2) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Overrated Oh dear. Considering the name of the gentleman's blog, I will not repeat myself. Another highly overrated movie: Se7en.

3) Favorite sly or not-so-sly reference to another film or bit of pop culture within another film. Kirk Douglas screening "The Bad and the Beautiful" in Two Weeks in Another Town. Close second is Jean-Paul Belmondo, in Contempt, explaining why he is wearing his hat in the bathtub: he's being "Deeeen Marrrtahn, een Some Came Runeeeng."

4) Favorite Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger movie. God, I love them all. But I will go with my first impulse, I Know Where I'm Going!. No, Thief of Baghdad. No, The Red Shoes. No, Black Narcissus ... I can't do this.

5) Your favorite Oscar moment. Any time Elizabeth Taylor gets up to present.

6) Hugo Weaving or Guy Pearce? Guy.

7) Movie that you feel gave you the greatest insight into a world/culture/person/place/event that you had no understanding of before seeing it. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. The movie's window on that world was so clear and sharp that even rather opaque aspects of Japanese social interaction were plain as day.

8) Favorite Samuel Fuller movie. Pickup on South Street. Ah, Thelma!

9) Monica Bellucci or Maria Grazia Cucinotta? I don't think I am qualified for this question, as a moviegoer or as a Virgin Mary-watcher.

10) What movie can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? Ninotchka.

11) Conversely, what movie can destroy a day’s worth of good humor just by catching a glimpse of it while channel surfing? I don't even have to glimpse it. Just knowing that there are copies of Jackass out there circulating in the world is enough to make me retire to a quiet room, draw the shades and lie down with a cold cloth on my forehead.

12) Favorite John Boorman movie. Hope and Glory

13) Warren Oates or Bruce Dern? Warren Oates.

14) Your favorite aspect ratio. 1:37:1

15) Before he died in 1984, Francois Truffaut once said: “The film of tomorrow will resemble the person who made it.” Is there any evidence that Truffaut was right? Is it Truffaut’s tomorrow yet? I admire Truffaut's movies a lot, but here I have no idea what in the blue blazes he was talking about. Don't all films resemble their creators? does he mean literally, the way old couples look like each other or people start to resemble their pets?

16) Favorite Werner Herzog movie. Aguirre: The Wrath of God

17) Favorite movie featuring a rampaging, oversized or otherwise mutated beast, or beasts. The original Cat People.

18) Sandra Bernhard or Sarah Silverman? Sarah Bernhardt. Less smug than either one of them and far more interesting.

19) Your favorite, or most despised, movie cliché. Favorite: Everyone always finds a parking space right away. Most despised: "Try to get some sleep now."

20) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-- yes or no? Yes to the opening, no to the rest.

21) Favorite Nicholas Ray movie. Johnny Guitar

22) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Underrated. Two Weeks in Another Town.

23) Your favorite movie dealing with the subject of television. I know I should say Network, or A Face in the Crowd, but it's really The Front.

24) Bruno Ganz or Patrick Bauchau? Bruno.

25) Your favorite documentary, or non-fiction, film. Nuit et Brouillard probably had the most shattering effect on me.

26) According to Orson Welles, the director’s job is to “preside over accidents.” Name a favorite moment from a movie that seems like an accident, or a unintended, privileged moment. How did it enhance or distract from the total experience of the movie? I am not sure Welles meant that we should be able to see what is intentional and what is an accident, just that a director should be ready to capture anything good that happens on a set. Generally I think the better a film is, the less we can tell whether a moment came about because somebody went up on their lines, or an animal walked into the shot, or because they did 82 takes. I do rather like the moment in Raiders of the Lost Ark where a snake falls on Karen Allen. Spielberg had dropped it on her from a platform to get a good scream out of her (she had been too terrified to do more than squeak). You can see her shoot a look of implacable hatred up at her unseen director. I imagine directors get that look a lot from leading ladies.

27) Favorite Wim Wenders movie. Paris, Texas


28) Elizabeth Pena or Penelope Cruz? Penelope!

29) Your favorite movie tag line (Thanks, Jim!) Don't tell anyone what Mildred Pierce did!

30) As a reader, filmgoer, or film critic, what do you want from a film critic, or from film criticism? And where do you see film criticism in general headed? I want a critic who writes with passion and originality about what s/he likes. I want one who doesn't see every movie as an opportunity to polish a stand-up act. There was only one Dorothy Parker, and she wrote rave reviews as well as dismissals.

EXTRA CREDIT: Do movies still matter? Yes. And old movies matter even more than that. :)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Brian: I can imagine the Castro looking like Memorial Day Weekend 1981 when they play all three of those movies together! God, what a feast. Even though the Indiana Jones isn't a personal favorite, I think I might just be tempted by a triple bill like that! Let me know what you think of A Canterbury Tale. That movie completely swamped me with emotion and surprise.

Campaspe: What a cad I'd be if I just deleted those great comments. What I will do, though, is repost them under the Professor's post so I don't misplace them when it comes time to highlight my favorite answers from the quiz, because I know already several of yours will be making the cut!

I want to take this opportunity to apologize for not commenting more fully on your contrarian take on Once Upon a Time in the West. Like I said before, it's a real treat to consider a view that so opposes one's own, especially when it concerns a dearly held movie and it's written by such an obviously intelligent and passionate writer. Would you be interested in a brief on-site point/counterpoint debate sometime?

Also, I can't wait another month to respond to a couple of your answers. The way you write 11) made me laugh out loud in my very quite office this morning. (I won't remind you what my #15 pick for 2006 was!)

And I repeated that loud, snorting offense when I read #15: "Does he mean literally, the way old couples look like each other or people start to resemble their pets?"

The most brilliant?: 18) I never saw that one coming!

And I would have chosen the parking spot moment (so hilariously commented on in Annie Hall) as my favorite cliche too, but it actually happened to me a few days ago. I had been misdirected to the wrong school for a substitute teaching job, where the closest parking spot was three blocks away, and consequently had about five minutes to run back to my car, hurtle across town and make it on time to greet a classroom full of third-graders at another school (leaving no time for niceities like lesson plan prep or anything like that, of course). And as I drove up and spotted the building, I also spotted what had to be a mirage, but thankfully wasn't-- an unmetered parking spot on the street directly across the street from the front entrance to the school!!! Though I'll still mentally roll my eyes, I'll never make fun of that cliche again!

cinephile said...

A Cantebury Tale is a beautiful, beautiful film, although I prefer The Small Back Room and I Know Where I'm Going! (and I'm still a sucker for the Red Shoes). Any idea where that wonderful quote from Welles about "presiding over accidents" comes from? I have a friend doing a project on cinematic "accidents", and I'd love to pass on the citation.

Cinebeats said...

I enjoyed reading your answers Dennis. And even though we don't agree on a few things (Blow-up is one of my favorite Antonioni films for example and I really like Midnight Express), the world would be a very boring place if we all liked the same things.

p.s. You've inspired me to seek out Harlan County U.S.A. since I've never seen it.

Paul C. said...

Uh-oh. I'm posting a When Great Directors Go Bad piece on ScreenGrab this week on... 1941. It's not a full-on pan like my similar piece on READY TO WEAR was, but it's not positive either. I made sure to give shout-outs to the stuff that worked, but watching it again this weekend, I couldn't help but notice how little I actually laughed. Oh well...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

First, Ready to Wear, and now this?!!!! Next you’ll be telling me there’s something wrong with The Boys from Brazil…

No, believe me, Paul, I definitely understand how one could not like the movie. That’s the place I came from. I don’t know exactly what switch went off in my head that made me start loving it, but I’m sure it has something to do with that 24-hour beer bong weekend I attended back in 1982… er, was in ’84…’85! No…

I will gladly link to your article, though. I’m keeping an eye out for it!

Erin O'Brien said...

The Big Lebowski: it's not just for breakfast anymore.