Dear tree dwellers,
This will be my final word on the “average viewer” thing, at least in this forum: I wouldn’t call the woman sitting next to me at Trainspotting an “average viewer”. I would call her a “moron”. So yes, Jim, I would not care to read a review written by someone who is so contemptuous of art on a really base level, but I keep going back to that guy sitting next to me at The King’s Speech, and I do not want him to be dismissed. Or to have his reactions to films pooh-poohed because he doesn’t understand the difference between a long shot and a medium. I don’t think anyone here is doing that, but the term “average viewer” rubs me the wrong way. People come to the movies every day, with their entire lives in tow. They want to be engaged. Or maybe they just want to lose themselves a bit, and laugh, and forget their problems. Or maybe they ache for some kind of catharsis. Maybe they don’t even know what they want. But they GO. They go to the damn movies. Their responses are varied and many. I never want to lose sight of that, as analytical and insular in my viewing as I can get. I would love to talk to that guy sitting next to me at The King’s Speech about the movie. I would love to ask him what he found so moving about it. I’m sure it would be very interesting. Like the “lumpen proletariat” or the “liberal elite” the term “average viewer” is too reductive for me, too general. It doesn’t mean anything down on the ground when you actually talk to people. And, on a personal note, there are times when I want to talk about camera angles and the use of closeup. I know where to go to get my fix. And then there are times when I want to say, “Man, that was just freakin’ GREAT!” and I know where to go to do that as well. It’s all a part of the same venture, this wonderful and mysterious and ultimately fun thing that is The Movies.
There is so much I did not mention. I did not even talk about the Red Riding Trilogy, which was a thrilling experience. Andrew Garfield has had one hell of a year, but everyone is good in it: Sean Bean, Mark Addy, Rebecca Hall. I enjoyed Black Swan as a psychological panic-about-womanhood thriller along the lines of Carrie. (Like Jim, I kept thinking about Carrie during Black Swan, as well as Polanski's Repulsion, and also a little bit of Cassavetes' Opening Night in its depiction of a woman taken over by the role she is portraying onstage while resisting the implications of said role as hard as she can.) I thought Natalie Portman’s phone call to her mother from the bathroom stall to tell her mother she got the part is the best work she has ever done.
I went into True Grit with more detail at my review here, although, to sum up, I guess I would say, as a summary, "I thought it was freakin' great!" The film's straightforwardness was what impressed me the most, and the penultimate scene, with Cogburn carrying Mattie across the prairie, made me cry. I will grant that it doesn’t take a lot to make me cry (Bring It On made me cry, mkay?), but that nighttime sequence was a masterpiece on every cinematic level. Hats off.
In terms of great performances by actresses, I think I have covered my feelings about Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right, but I haven’t even mentioned Tilda Swinton’s Italian-speaking-with-a-Russian-accent hostess/wife turn in the lushly-filmed and hypnotic I Am Love. One of the things I loved about that movie (and I have seen it criticized for the same reasons, c’est la vie) is that the event that ruptures her life is, indeed, so small and conventional. Rich married lady frolics in the springtime grass with a scruffy down-to-earth guy who also happens to be a gourmet chef Mm-hmm. But as I said in my review of Kwik Stop that Jim mentioned over at his place: “Kwik Stop does not re-invent the wheel, but it is more important how you tell a story than what story you want to tell.”
I Am Love is a total-immersion experience. The opening credits roll over haunting shots of snow-covered Milan: grey magnificent buildings, snow blanketing the deserted streets. The camera remains stationary for most of the opening credits sequence and when it starts to move, it moves QUICKLY, racing along a sidewalk, the windows blurring by, the pace more jarring because of the stillness that came before. When we first see people onscreen, we have already been set up by the opening credits to know that nothing is what it seems, that there is fire beneath that falling snow, and that something tremendous is about to happen. And what happens, when you get right down to it, is that a rich woman has an affair with someone beneath her station. Her assumptions about herself shatter. We’ve all seen THAT before. But it’s not the story that matters. It’s the HOW of telling that story. I would also suggest that it is the performances, which can "fill up" that which might be thin "on the page". Swinton manages to suggest, without any dialogue to really support it, that this Russian émigré has always been an outsider in her own family. She is not Italian. She acts more like a hired hostess and meal-planner. She is a devoted mother, but when she needs to break the ties, she finds those ties are as flimsy as the threads in the clothing manufacturing factory that has made her husband’s fortune. One of my favorite performances (and movies) of the year.
One final note, because I feel it is important: Farran Smith Nehme (otherwise known as The Glorious Self-Styled Siren) wrote her year-end round up at Nomad Editions: Wide Screen and she started off by saying:
“When Glenn [Kenny] asked me to contribute to this year-end symposium, I wrote him a private e-mail inquiring what my angle was going to be: “Saw some good Joan Fontaine this year”?
This is a sentiment I relate to. I also told Dennis, when he first asked me to join the boys up in the tree house, that it is “rare that I see a movie past 1960”, and he was fine with that. So while I have loved talking about current releases, and I see as much as I can, I feel I need to mention some of the films I have seen over the past year that have knocked my socks off: the disturbing amoral Red-Headed Woman (1932), with a ferociously sociopathic performance by Jean Harlow; Josef von Sternberg’s The Shanghai Gesture (1941), a deeply bizarre and have-to-see-it-to-believe-it movie about the Shanghai underworld (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Victor Mature in a white robe and a fez, reciting The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in a lascivious tone); John Huston’s We Were Strangers (1949), starring a hot, sweaty, and toe-curlingly sexy John Garfield as an American man committed to Cuban liberation; and as much Joan Blondell as I could get my hands on (my current obsession).
There were many wonderful performances by actresses in 2010 (and looks like I need to see Easy A as soon as I possibly can, Dennis!), and I certainly don't think that Then is necessarily better than Now, although my personal preference is Then. However, Joan Blondell flinging both of her arms up in the air at the very end of the “Remember My Forgotten Man” number in Gold Diggers of 1933 is the most exhilarating moment I have seen all year; exhilarating as in: I have goose bumps merely typing this sentence.
Peter Bogdanovich interviewed John Wayne and asked him, “Your gestures in pictures are often daring — large — and show the kind of freedom and lack of inhibition you have. Did you get that from Ford, or did you always have that?” Wayne replied: “No, I think that’s the first lesson you learn in a high school play — that if you’re going to make a gesture, make it.” Blondell is, at that moment in Gold Diggers, being obedient to Busby Berkeley's choreography, and she MAKES the gesture. I will remind you that it is in long shot, not a close-up, but that is what is so extraordinary about it in today's world when so many actors hold back on any "heavy-lifting" until they are in close-up: she fills the screen in long shot with the desolation and hope present in the entire film, present in the entire country at that time, and present, especially, in returning WWI veterans who fell on such hard times. Busby Berkeley said:
“It was a spectacle type of number and a good one to use in those dark days of the Depression when many people had forgotten about the guys who had gone to war for our country. I did something extraordinary in that number, too, when I had Joan Blondell sing the song because Joan Blondell can’t sing. But I knew she could act it. I knew she could ‘talk it’ and put over the drama for me.”
And boy, does she.
Dennis, Jim, Jason, I leave the tree house with much regret. It has been a great week, and I thank you all.
THE SLIFR TREE HOUSE #1: INTRODUCTIONS
THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #2: IS THERE ANYTHING GOOD PLAYING THIS WEEKEND?
THE SLIFR TREE HOUSE #3: A BLUE VALENTINE TO THE PERSONAL
THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #4: THE BELLAMY AWARDS AND DIFFERENT WAYS OF LOOKING AT MOVIES
THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #5: SO MUCH TO SEE, SO LITTLE TIME
THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #6: HUMAN SEXUALITY AND ANNETTE'S EYEWEAR
THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #7: MOMENTS TO REMEMBER
THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #8: ACTOR-NERD SOUNDS OFF (ELOQUENTLY!)
THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #9: WON'T YOU PLEASE GIVE IT UP FOR EMMA STONE AND THE ACTRESSES OF 2010!
THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #10: THOSE SUBLIME SHEEP AND THAT SILLY SWAN