Sunday, September 30, 2007


My family and I spent a lovely, long retreat in San Diego last weekend enjoying the beautiful weather (including some spectacular, short-lived cloudbursts), the beach, LegoLand, some excellent food and drink at my favorite restaurant, and even a couple of movies, one for me and the kids and one just for me. (Our hotel’s incredible in-room movie service was featuring, among about 20 or 30 other interesting titles, Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter, which I regretfully couldn’t watch while my daughters were in the room.) And while at the restaurant, relaxing over filet mignon and shots of 1921 Reserve Especial, my seven-year-old daughter, sketchbook and pencil in hand, asked me to make a funny face and pose for a portrait. The result was so hilarious and wonderful, and yes, so true to life that I told her I would commission many more in the future, for display here and in my own private gallery of awesome drawings she has created. I know I just sound like a proud dad, but I really think she’s got a great, twisted eye—my very own little Ralph Steadman—and I hope I can bear to look at the way she sees me through her pencil over the coming years.

Friday, September 28, 2007


Could this mean the return of the Movie Club?

Jim Emerson
let on about it a couple of weeks ago, but now it’s my turn to trumpet the return of David Edelstein to Internet-based film criticism with his New York magazine-anchored blog The Projectionist. Edelstein’s regular gig is available on-line, but this is his first real shot at the blogging format, and it sounds like he’s game:

“In my nine and a half years at the online magazine Slate, I got thousands of e-mails from readers. That last one I got here was two months ago. It’s not, I’m convinced, that I’m that much less read. It’s that the distance, literal and existential, between a glossy weekly print mag and cyberspace is vast. I send e-mails to bloggers and online writers often but can’t remember the last time I mailed someone at a glossy, even when I’ve read an article online. My fingers aren’t poised over the keyboard in the same way.

And who knows where this might lead? Movies connect with us on an unconscious level, and blogging is a pipeline to the id. I might even write open letters to filmmakers begging for nude pictures of actresses. As Larry Craig might say, I plan to take a wide stance.”

The film critic appears to be ready and willing, and if he is, his page could be great fun and a great read (two things that don’t always go hand in hand). I’ve been a big fan of Edelstein’s writing since his young punk days at the Village Voice and was thrilled to reconnect with him at Slate a few years ago. He tried “blogging” at Slate before he left for New York, but it wasn’t really blogging as you and I know it— instead, his posts were curiously static, made up only of occasional updates within existing articles, except, of course, when the end of the year came and the critical summit known as the Slate Movie Club got underway. (My favorite year was the one when Mr. E. invited Armond White, whom he diplomatically described as “pugnacious,” to participate, and White agreed.) It also offered no improvement over the only option for interactivity at Slate, the dreaded Fray, which often so quickly devolved into the typical monosyllabic name-calling of any other Neanderthal message board (at least when the topic was movies).

Edelstein’s site looks like a much more open attempt to engage in the spirit of film blogging as it has evolved over the last couple of years—so far the pieces have been informal, engaging and good enough to leave you wanting more. The Projectionist does not, as yet, allow for reader comments—and given some of the comments and e-mail Edelstein has received over the years, I wouldn’t blame him for being a little reticent to jump into that arena just yet. (He once told of a particularly incensed Fray poster who wished on him and his family a cruel death because Edelstein correctly observed that The Mummy Returns was a piece of shit.) I sincerely hope that one day he does open up The Projectionist for comments—he can always, as many do, hold them for posting until he can get a look and approve them for publication—and that if he does, he can engender the kind of tone and quality of response that has been a hallmark of Scanners and Matt Zoller Seitz’s The House Next Door (and, dare I say, this humble site).

And if you haven’t checked out The Projectionist yet, now is an excellent time to do so. Up yesterday are a tantalizing few paragraphs in which Edelstein expands the debate on Brian De Palma’s new Iraq-centered film Redacted, a debate which was begun in earnest in posts like Jim’s Toronto dispatch, which articulated reservations about the film while recognizing its power and importance. Edelstein may have reservations, but they are bracketed by the value he places on De Palma’s rage and urgency and his appreciation for the fine line he sees De Palma walking in order to articulate that rage in a time of what Edelstein terms “our moral lethargy” about the war in Iraq:

“If there’s any justice, the first public screening of Brian De Palma’s Redacted (October 10) at the New York Film Festival will be incendiary. I hope that it makes people livid, that it’s furiously debated. I’m still recovering from it, and I averted my eyes for the last minute, when De Palma shows actual footage of “collateral damage” — bloody corpses of Iraqi civilians, including children and babies. What preceded that epilogue was devastating enough: a dramatization of the events before, during, and after the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl — along with the killing of her family — by American soldiers.”

And here’s Edelstein on the oft repeated charges of De Palma’s misogyny:

“De Palma has always been attracted to material in which women are the victims of male sexual rage. But… his films grapple with the issue in ways that turn the criticism on its head. Simply put: Who better to explore sexual violence onscreen than someone who understands the Male Gaze — and its cinematic legacy — so intimately? Anyone who sees the suffering faces of the victims in Casualties of War and Redacted — or the haunted eyes of Mia Kirschner, already a ghost, in the film-within-a-film in The Black Dahlia — knows that De Palma not only despairs over what he’s showing us but implicates his own medium, his own Male Gaze.”

There’s much more in this new post on Redacted, and this isn’t even an official review yet. It’s a post that makes me hopeful about how David Edelstein will participate in what many of us have come to feel is an online community of bloggers, amateur and professional critics as well as everyday smart fans. The Projectionist is a good reminder of just how sharp Edelstein can be off the cuff, even on those occasions (and there have been plenty) when I’ve thought he was off the mark. And I hope he eventually takes the time to engage with his readers, and that his readers keep him honest with the kind of challenging, informed and interesting commentary that can make the difference between and good film blog and a great one. David Edelstein, welcome to the community!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

TARDY! Dennis Finally Turns In Mr. Shoop's Quiz...

Yeah I know. Mr. Shoop posted his summer quiz back in, well, summer, and here I am, as tardy as Jeff Spicoli on a good day, submitting my answers long after the quiz thread has dried up. No, I know you don’t accept extra credit, teacher, and I understand if you dock points for extreme lateness. But at least take a look at my paper so I don’t feel like it was all done in vain!


1) Favorite quote from a filmmaker

Well, Bunuel has definitely been on the brain lately, as you might have been able to tell by the link to Flickhead’s Bunuel Blog-a-Thon, or by the extensive quote from Bunuel’s autobiography My Last Sigh on my sidebar, or my picking Exterminating Angel and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie as numbers 7 and 8, respectively, on my Non-English Language Movies ballot. And he’s a very quote-friendly director, a cynical bon vivant raconteur poet, so when you come across one interesting quote from this fella, it’s likely attached to nine or 10 others. But the one I chose had a lot to do with the prevailing spirit, if you will, of Extermnating Angel-- it’s Bunuel exclaiming, in what context I’m not entirely sure, ”Thank God I’m an atheist!” If you find that quote even remotely funny, you should get yourself to Exterminating Angel right away.

But, naturally, a couple of others were floating around the hemisphere of my brain as well. For sheer P.T. Barnumesque braggadoccio, it’s hard to beat legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis touting, during the production of his multimillion-dollar remake of King Kong (best read in your silliest Italian accent): “Nobody cry when-a Jaws die. People gonna cry when my Konk die.”

And there was one I remember from an interview Walter Hill did in Film Comment around the time of The Long Riders. I’ve looked for the interview and come up empty, so I’ll have to paraphrase, but Hill’s line was in response, I believe, to a question regarding how he perceives character in his movies. His answer was something like, “Character, in my pictures, can be measured by how times a guy blinks with a gun stuck in his face.”

2) A good movie from a bad director

Well, as far as I can tell, by his choice of material (The Wedding Planner, Bringing Down the House, The Pacifier and Cheaper by the Dozen 2) and the hamfisted, graceless handling of said material, I would have to qualify Adam Shankman as, if not a bad director, then at least one who has never displayed much of a hint that he was in any way a good one. But his deft, sincere, energetic and keenly observed film of the Broadway adaptation of John Waters’ Hairpsray suggests that, while he may not now, nor may he ever be, the second coming of Preston Sturges, if he takes on more projects in which he seems to have some emotional investment and steers clear of the plasticine Touchstone family fare that has until now defined his directing career, he might just have other good movies inside him waiting to get out.

3) Favorite Laurence Olivier performance
I have fond memories of Larry in That Hamilton Woman, where the theatricality that always seemed a little too BIG for the movies was reined in ever so slightly (or was it just that the grand scale soap operatics of the romantic plot just seemed to fit him better?) But if I’m honest, he was just never my cup of tea as a film actor—his outra-a-a-a-ageous Frawnch aggzent as the doomed French-Canadian trapper in Powell and Pressburger’s otherwise marvelous 49th Parallel is surely what inspired John Cleese to start berating those silly knnnn-iggits, threatening to making castanets out of their testicles already. I liked Larry better when he got older and started taking the paychecks. Though I never have seen his waxworks Douglas MacArthur in the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Inchon, I am fond of his impish (sincere) and impish (perverse) turns in A Little Romance and The Betsy. But no other Laurence Olivier performance holds a place in my heart like his Oscar-nominated turn as Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman in the gloriously tasteless adaptation of Ira Levin’s The Boys from Brazil. As I wrote a few years ago upon considering this Sir Lew Grade classic of international intrigue and all-star casting (Gregory Peck! James Mason! Lilli Palmer! Bruno Ganz! Uta Hagen! Rosemary Harris! John Dehner! Denholm Elliot! Anne Meara… Uh, John Rubenstein… errr, Steve Guttenberg…), Olivier’s wild eyes and slightly sibilant Austrian accent “will live in glorious testimony to a great actor’s desire to push the inherent silliness of his calling right up to the edge of the abyss, and then blow raspberries to those already plummeting into the void.” Plus, there’s the absolutely astounding moment during his bloody fight scene with Peck at the end of the picture when Olivier tumbles over backward, cane over keister, and makes a guttural groan that sounds just like Chewbacca. You must see Laurence Olivier in The Boys from Brazil.

4) Describe a famous location from a movie that you have visited (Bodega Bay, California, where the action in The Birds took place, for example). Was it anything like the way it was in the film? Why or why not?

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, when I still dreamed that owning my own house in Southern California was a practical possibility, my wife and I were looking around neighborhoods nearby where friends of ours lived, and one friend suggested we look for available places in the Seven Hills area of Tujunga, nestled in the foothills of the mountains above the town. We came up over the crest of a hill, the highest point in this fairly recently developed suburban neighborhood, and I decided to turn around to get a look at the view of the city. When I did, by purest accident I duplicated the view from the hills as seen in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. I recognized it immediately, and later that afternoon my friend confirmed that yes, Spielberg shot his film there when that development was first being constructed. And yes, it felt exactly as it did in the film.

5) Carlo Ponti or Dino De Laurentiis (Producer)?
Carlo Ponti married actress Sophia Loren. Carlo Ponti produced La Strada, Le Doulos, Cleo from 5 to 7, Marriage Italian Style, Doctor Zhivago, Blow-Up, Roman Polanski’s What?, Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and, of course, The Cassandra Crossing. De Laurentiis produced La Strada (with Ponti), and also Nights of Cabiria, Goliath and the Vampires, John Huston’s The Bible… In the Beginning, Danger:Diabolik, Barbarella, Mandingo, Drum, Serpico, The Serpent’s Egg, Flash Gordon, The Dead Zone, Manhunter, Blue Velvet, Dune and, of course, Body of Evidence. De Laurentiis was married to actress Silvana Mangano. Advantage: Ponti.

6) Best movie about baseball

Ken Burns’ Baseball is a monumental achievement, a life-changing one for me. And Ron Shelton’s Bull Durham is wonderful, if slightly overwritten— the director’s Cobb, starring Tommy Lee Jones as the titular Georgia peach, is far better, a masterpiece, I think--it's as scabrous and brutal as its main character. But Cobb is less about baseball than about the nature of heroism. So, for sheer insight into the nature of American competition, the dynamics of team play, the fissures and cracks in the sport’s support system, and a sharp-eyed look into the subtleties of the game itself, plus just about everything else there is to speak of about children and adults and American life, there is no greater achievement about the sport of baseball than Michael Ritchie’s The Bad News Bears. And by the way, all the talk about how great Field of Dreams and The Natural are tells you just one thing—hard-nosed sports writers and stalwart American male types are just as susceptible to starry-eyed Hollywood bullshit as anyone else, and those two movies are grade-A corn-fed manure if it’s ever been mass-produced.

7) Favorite Barbara Stanwyck performance

My favorite Stanwyck performance is always the one I’ve seen most recently, and that would have to be her startlingly feral, empathetic work in the wild and untamed Baby Face. But I fall hopelessly in love with her everytime I see Ball of Fire.

8) Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Dazed and Confused?

Well, I’ve had lots of discussions about these two movies this summer, in the wake of this quiz, and in the wake of the release of Superbad, a movie I think deserves discussion right alongside these two, and American Graffiti, as portraits of youthful exuberance and restless anxiety. But for me, Linklater’s Dazed and Confused hits all the right notes as a perfect portrait of aimless youth taking joy in aimlessness, of a certain wheel-spinning small-town sensibility circa 1976. I don’t get the accusations tossed this movie’s way that it’s merely a compendium of fuck-you attitudes and you-had-to-be-there pop culture references. It seems obvious there’s a whole lot more going on in this movie, which is not to say that it’s not fueled at least in part by those attitudes and references; it is. That’s just not all that the movie is. And even with the last-minute substitution of Sweet Emotion for the Led Zeppelin track that gave the movie its name, and even though we’re way past the point of saturation vis-à-vis the classic rock radio format and all its permutations, the soundtrack remains definitive.

9) What was the last movie you saw, and why? (We’ve used this one before, but your answer is presumably always going to be different, so…)

In a theater: 3:10 to Yuma.

At work: John Ford’s sublime, Murnau-influenced early talkie Pilgrimage (1933), featuring a wondrous performance by stage actress Henrietta Crosman. For contrast, right now I’m knee-deep in Bronson’s swansong, Death Wish V: The Face of Death.

On DVD: the unrated, extended Death Proof (sans Grindhouse double feature format). Rob Humanick has an excellent piece on this longer version of the film at The Projection Booth, along with some very thought-provoking comments. I’m not ready to toss out the theatrical version (I’m still convinced the Weinsteins have that 5-disc Grindhouse theatrical version plus the longer cuts of Death Proof and Planet Terror just waiting in the wings), but I was surprised how well this extended version played for me. It’s not going to work for those who thought the 90-minute theatrical version was already too drawn-out in its introductions of the characters. But if you get on Tarantino’s wavelength and start digging just the spending time with these annoying, sexy, motormouthed, foulmouthed characters (and what does Tarantino does as a director while you’re spinning your wheels with them—it gets pretty Godardian in there, dude), the unexpurgated Death Proof has plenty to offer, and to me it (mostly) didn’t play like filler, but instead like, well, an extended riff and expansion of visual themes. Rob’s discussion of it has better details, and maybe I’ll write something on it soon. For now, Death Proof is a good rental, and a better buy, to go alongside that Grindhouse package I just know is coming soon.

10) Whether or not you have actually procreated or not, is there a movie you can think of that seriously affected the way you think about having kids of your own?

Ron Howard’s Parenthood-- hey, there’s another good movie by a generally bad director—played a direct role in helping my wife and I along in our decision to start a family. I haven’t seen it since those heady days about 11 years ago, and that has more to do with a sadness that surrounds it that has nothing to do with the movie itself, and also with the fact that, after a long weekend of playing with and corraling and hauling around my own two daughters, I’m in the mood for a movie that has just about anything in it besides more of the same!

11) Favorite Katharine Hepburn performance
I’m less enamored of Hepburn than of just about any of the other great actresses of the screwball comedy era—I’d rather see Carole Lombard or Jean Arthur or, of course, Barbara Stanwyck. That said, there’s just about no better time to be had than watching Hepburn drive Cary Grant “all gay!” in Bringing Up Baby.

12) A bad movie from a good director

Well, I’m going to resist the temptation to shovel more dirt on Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia. Instead, I’ll go to the director De Palma is most often accused of defiling. Alfred Hitchcock made many, many great movies, as you are undoubtedly aware. But one of them was definitely not good. I’ve yet to read a credible defense of Topaz. Hitchcock is so disengaged from this musty espionage claptrap, it’s as if he called in the shots by phone from St. Tropez.

13) Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom-- yes or no?

Maybe the most grueling two hours I’ve ever spent in a theater (again, my sincere thank you, Sherman Torgan). I would be very careful to whom I recommended this genuinely horrifying, political work of art. But at the same time, as a frank illustration of the extremes of fascist brutality, I have a feeling it would speak to willing viewers 32 years past its original release, if it were only more available. And that lack of availability may speak volumes about this current political climate as well.

14) Ben Hecht or Billy Wilder (Screenwriter)?
I love Billy Wilder. Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole, One Two Three, Ninotchka, Midnight-- what churl would ever complain? But Ben Hecht wrote Underworld, Scarface, Hallelujah, I’m a Bum, Topaze, Twentieth Century, Nothing Sacred, Gunga Din, His Girl Friday, Notorious, Spellbound, Kiss of Death and Howard Hawks’ Monkey Business. So what, you say? Now go back and check out the credits where his name is listed as simply ”uncredited.” On the strength of those “undredited” contributions alone, advantage: Hecht.

15) Name the film festival you’d most want to attend, or your favorite festival that you actually have attended

I been to London (one screening). I been to Lone Pine. But what I really want is to go to Toronto.

16) Head or 200 Motels?
Frank Zappa is one of my musical idols. The Monkees are not, exactly, but they meant a lot to me when I was a goofy seven year old singing “I-I-I-I-I’m not your steppin’ stone” incessantly. Yet Zappa’s movies have always been dicey prospects for me. Head, on the other hand, is a singular beast, a trippy collage response to A Hard Day’s Night that is about as surreal and perverse a movie as was ever released by a major studio in the 1960s. Advantage: Mickey, Davy, Mike and Peter (and Bob and Jack… and that Zappa cameo too!)

17) Favorite cameo appearance
I’ve always been partial to Julie Christie’s nonplussed appearance in Nashville, especially as introduced by the unctuous, name-dropping Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson (“I was talkin’ about the Christy Minstrels just this mornin’, and now we have Miss Julie Christie here!”), sized-up and dressed-down by the catty Connie White (“She can’t even comb her hair!”), and debated on the edges of the frame by Del Reese (Ned Beatty) and John Triplette (Michael Murphy) (“Doctor Zhivago—she was the one that got off the train!”). Then, Haven Hamilton, ever the Nashville goodwill ambassador sends her off with this one: “I hope you’ll remember what film facilities we have here in Nashville!” See frizzy-haired star beat a quick retreat back to her hotel, and safety.

18) Favorite Rosalind Russell performance

Now, I like The Trouble with Angels as much as the next guy, but for me there is no other answer than RR’s Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday.

19) What movie, either currently available on DVD or not, has never received the splashy collector’s edition treatment you think it deserves? What would such an edition include?
I don’t think there’s ever been a decent edition of The Brood on home video. Even the version currently available on MGM DVD barely looks better than the murky VHS and laserdisc versions (the source material may not be in great shape), and it's bare-bones too. What a terrific DVD could be assembled for this movie with a Cronenberg commentary, alongside Art Hindle, Samantha Eggar and, say, Robert Silverman, bundled with some making-of stuff, and perhaps an essay from Robin Wood.

20) Name a performance that everyone needs to be reminded of, for whatever reason
Robert Ryan in Andre de Toth’s Day of the Outlaw. It’s important to be reminded just how good this guy was, every time out.

21) Louis B. Mayer or Harry Cohn (Studio Head)?
In the old days of the studio system, what Columbia Pictures released depended on Harry Cohn's determination of what Columbia Pictures should release. Said Cohn, "When I'm alone in a projection room, I have a foolproof device for judging whether a picture is good or bad. If my fanny squirms, it's bad. If my fanny doesn't squirm, it's good. It's as simple as that." To which Herman Mankiewicz famously retorted, "Imagine, the whole world wired to Harry Cohn's ass!" For this line alone, and because I recently got to walk the walls of the old Columbia Pictures building on the Sony lot where Cohn actually wiggled that ass, advantage: Cohn.

22) Favorite John Wayne performance

John T. Chance, Rio Bravo.

23) Naked Lunch or Barton Fink?

I’ve always been of a mind that Barton Fink only half worked— sometimes it seems like a theme in search of a movie. But those performances—particularly Turturro, Judy Davis, John Mahoney, Michael lerner and Tony Shaloub—are riveting. However, when talking about movies about writer’s block, and the act of writing itself, none has exernalized its processes with such a fascinating, fractured access to its hallucinatory, solipsistic fantasies as has Cronenberg’s movie of Burrough’s unfilmable book. The book remains unfilmed, but what Cronenberg extracted from it is, incredibly, true to Burroughs and his own thematic trajectory as a director.

24) Your Ray Harryhausen movie of choice

No question: It Came from Beneath the Sea. And, of course, Jason and the Argonauts. And here’s a picture of me and Ray Harryhausen!

25) Is there a movie you can think of that you feel like the world would be better off without, one that should have never been made?
Well, as I rule I don’t like the idea of rubbing out someone’s creation just because I think the world would be better off not having seen it. But then I ssee something like Date Movie or Epic Movie and my highfalutin liberal standards go right out the window. Burn every print!

26) Favorite Dub Taylor performance
A few days ago I might have said Bonnie and Clyde or The Wild Bunch. But I just saw the great film noir Crime Wave, directed by Andre de Toth, which begins with Taylor as a slightly fey gas station attendant mooning over Doris Day on the radio just before he gets shot by robbers (including Charles Buchinski, nee Bronson). Rent it and see what I mean.

27) If you had the choice of seeing three final movies, to go with your three last meals, before shuffling off this mortal coil, what would they be?

Breakfast: It’s my last day, so I’ll order an extravagant Japanese breakfast from A Thousand Cranes restaurant in Little Tokyo to dawdle over while I watch one I’ve never seen-- Sansho Dayu (Sansho the Bailiff).

Lunch: A Colossal Double Cheeseburger and Walla Walla sweet onion rings from Burgerville USA and some Cave Creek chili beers while watching The Godfather (Parts I & II).

Dinner: Filet Mignon and giant tiger prawns from El Agave in San Diego, accompanied by lots and lots of 1921 Reserve Especial tequila, while soaking up Nashville for the last time.

28) And what movie theater would you choose to see them in?
I think I’d pick the Vista in East Hollywood.


My pick for Jim Emerson’s Atheist Film Festival: I’m not sure it exactly fits Jim’s criteria, but it seems to me Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel would be a juicy choice.

What advice on day-to-day living have you learned from the movies? Here’s the answer to this question I left on Scanners:

“As far as the ones I can think of off the top of my head, I… thought of the actor William Bogert playing Matthew Broderick's dad in WarGames and the way he buttered his corn with a piece of already-slathered bread. (I think Pauline Kael even referred to the moment in her review.)

Richard Castellano as Clemenza is the natural go-to man for spaghetti sauce, but when I tried it I honestly didn't like it much-- it wasn't nearly so distinct as the scene itself. So I was thrilled to discover the moments in Martin Scorsese's ItalianAmerican when his mother not only shows us how she makes spaghetti sauce, but when the recipe itself shows up in the end credits. (It can also be found here.) It's way better than Clemenza's, and though it can be augmented with various ingredients, such messing around is not necessary to reach the particularly Italian kind of saucy nirvana this recipe promises. I dare say it's even better than the sauces my Italian grandmas used to make-- they routinely used (shudder) canned mushrooms.

But truthfully... for me there really has never been a moment that has edged its way into my everyday life the way Johnny Caspar's shaving tip has.

Here’s Jim:

“Every single time I shave I think of Johnny Caspar. I can't help it. And it's not just because I love the obnoxious little character. And the actor who plays him, Jon Polito. Or that I think Miller's Crossing may be the greatest motion picture of the last 20 years. It's because this one thing Johnny Caspar says near the end of the picture makes sense. I've tried it, and I don't notice any difference, but it seems like it oughta work. It's also the last thing -- a relatively trivial piece of practical advice -- that he utters in the movie, making his exit rather poignant, even for such a repulsive character.

Here's the way Joel and Ethan Coen describe it in their script (though it's not exactly this way in the movie):

... the car pulls into frame to stop at the curb [in front of the Barton Arms apartments] with the camera framed on the driver's window. The driver has a small bandage on his left cheek. We hear Caspar's voice as we hear him getting out the back:

Ya put the razor in cold water, not hot--'cause
metal does what in cold?

I dunno, Johnny.

We hear the back door slam and Caspar appears in the front passenger window.

. . . 'Ats what I'm tellin' ya. It contracts.
'At way you get a first class shave.

Okay, Johnny.

As Caspar walks off, the driver slouches back, pulls his fedora over his eyes and folds his arms across his chest."

How nice to be able to reminded of a movie I love during such a routine chore, and it happens every time I reach for my can of Edge gel. However, thank God I didn't take Johnny's parenting advice to heart!


Monday, September 24, 2007


Back from a brief vacation…

“In any society, the artist has a responsibility. His effectiveness is certainly limited and a painter or writer cannot change the world. But they can keep an essential margin of non-conformity alive. Thanks to them the powerful can never affirm that everyone agrees with their acts. That small difference is important.” – Luis Bunuel.

Flickhead has officially launched the week-long Luis Bunuel Blog-a-Thon!

In addition to links from all of the contributors who have participated (including himself), Flickhead has a Bunuel poster gallery, links to worthy books and DVDs regarding the master director, and several terrific photos available on his site. (Dig, if you will, these two.)

Bunuel has lately been a fascination of mine, one I’ve come to late in the game, so I look forward to digging through all the links Flickhead will undoubtedly accrue over the next few days. I hope to contribute myself in some small way, but if I can’t, then at least I will have been one of the many fingers pointing the way toward this celebration of one of cinema’s most enduring and wickedly funny legacies.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Satyajit Ray's The World of Apu: Better Luck Next Time!

A couple of months ago, in the wake of another list-making exercise, film blogger par excellence Edward Copeland wondered aloud to the virtual room if anyone would be interested in participating in a vote in an attempt to compile a list of all-time great foreign films. Everyone who elected to participate (and it was quite a nominating committee) submitted a list of 100 films—each film to receive at least three votes would be put on a master list, from which each voter would then picks 25 for submission to make the top100 choices.

And now those choices have been revealed on
Edward’s site
—it’s a list he cheekily refers to as The Satyajit Ray Memorial Anything-But-Definitive List of Non-English Language Films, his way of remarking on the fact that Ray, the great director of The Apu Trilogy and Distant Thunder among many others, went entirely unrepresented on the final of 122 titles.

Not only does Edward provide a handy introduction to the list, he also devotes a very nice page to the 22 films that didn’t quite make the rarified cut of the more round-sounding 100, which leads up to the big show: the list itself, which Edward has formatted with beautiful stills and a nice series of quotes from all the participants (including Yours Truly) to accompany each title.

About a month or so ago I made a somewhat masochistic list (based on the first collection of nearly 500 titles) of all the foreign-language films I haven’t seen, a humbling exercise, to be sure, but also one to inspire a whole new Netflix queue. And looking at the final product of Edward’s labor of love, I find myself inspired in much the same way. I’m going to print out the entire list of 100 and leave it conspicuously near my DVD player, checking off every title, even the ones I’ve already seen, until I’ve familiarized myself anew with old favorites and made up for all the lost time in my cinematic journey by acquainting myself with those I have yet to see. (Jim, Sansho dayu is on its way to my mailbox as we speak.) This was definitely a list worth compiling, one that’s going to be fun to read and contemplate for a long time. And no embarrassing aftertaste!

Many thanks to Mr. Copeland, and to everyone who participated, for words well written, films well evoked and a job well done.

For what it’s worth, here’s a list of my final 25 picks. I have left them in the order in which I ranked them, but I admit to a certain top loading of my favorites into the first 10 choices in a bald-faced attempt to bolster their standing on the final list. In some cases, the movies (Rules of the Game, for instance) didn’t need my help. In most cases, (Amarcord, for one) it didn’t really make much difference. This is just my semi-rational way of saying that the rankings here are about as arbitrary as they could possibly be, that a #1 for Amarcord doesn’t mean that I think it’s a better film than Rules of the Game or Seven Samurai or Madame de…. They are really ranked for purposes of the game only. All 25 are firmly anchored in my heart.

1) Amarcord-- Surely not the "best" of the movies on this list, and maybe not even Fellini's "best"--- but there's something about this film that transcends Fellini's nostalgic view of his own boyhood and becomes, for me, something more about what it was to have been Italian, in those days, and what it means sometimes in these.

2) Pierrot le fou-- The kind of movie that, if you see it at the right time in your life, might have to power to change the way you look at movies forever. Belmondo and Karina (likable/unlikable/charming/maddening) spin through Godard's fractured cinematic landscape with sensual abandon and absurd wonder; the film is a masterpiece that marked the first turn toward the more didactic, essay-driven obsessiveness that has driven Godard's career ever since.

3) Rules of the Game-- Renoir's prescient pre-war drama of societal collapse sneaks up on you and works on you from the inside out with a kind of unbearable lightness of feeling. Everyone should quit complaining that it routinely shows up in the top two of all these All-Time Best lists, just accept its greatness and bask in it.

4) Tokyo Story-- A beautiful, peerlessly perceptive poem of the separation of two generations in a Japanese family. Ozu's genius is in unobstrusive observation and the unexpected, often painful insight that rises up from it.

5) Nights of Cabiria-- Fellini's tale of an outsider's outsider moving through a series of whimsical and haunting adventures and disappointments in post-war Italy is his most nakedly emotional film, as well as a bitterwsweet farewell to the neorealist tradition in which he began his career. The movie is anchored by a great perfromance from Guiletta Masina.

6) M-- Were there ever darker shadows than the ones in Fritz Lang's grim expressionist noir? Or a performance as skin-crawlingly sympathetic as the work Lorre does here?

7) Exterminating Angel-- I just saw it for the first time last week, and it instantly became my favorite Bunuel movie. Lots of nasty, sacreligious fun to be had watching a slice of upper-crust society panic and crumble when their support systems, as well as every belief they hold dear, inexplicably disappear. One of the best, bitterly ironic endings ever.

8) The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie-- Bunuel had mellowed in temperament by the time of this companion piece to Angel, but his brutal wit is still much in evidence, and he's still got plenty to say about class entitlement and power and getting a good bite to eat.

9) The Seven Samurai-- Kurosawa's supremely entertaining, durable and expansive action epic has probably gotten better with age, standing proudly near the top of the heap watching filmmaker after filmmaker try, and usually fail, to approach its timeless mixture of personal drama, broad comedy and surging, emotional adventure.

10) Woman in the Dunes-- Teshigahara's adaptation of Kobe Abe's novel was one of the first movies to open my eyes to the expressively designed visual possibilities of film. An agonized, desperate echo of despair, obsession and madness ringing out for no one, and everyone, to hear, rendered in aridly beautiful, claustrophobic imagery.

11) Aguirre the Wrath of God-- Everything that is great about Herzog's recent spate of documentaries-- his obsession with those who must peer into the abyss, and his willingness to join with them-- was there all along in his superb 1972 adventure tale. Paced like no other film, and certain acted like no other, this is a movie carried along on rippling heat waves of hallucinatory images and sounds into a very personal heart of darkness.

12) Beauty and the Beast-- Hallucinatory images again (a recurring motif on this list, perhaps) crossed with dark romanticism power Cocteau's ambitious and lovely fairy tale, a rich evocation of place and spirit, a superb achievement of the imagination.

13) Open City-- I first saw Rossellini's clear-eyed neorealist masterpiece when I was in college trying to sort of the aftermath of Vietnam in my head and facing down a future of possible wars. The way in which this movie taps into the primal brutality of fascist occupation during WWII still has the power to enter my dreams and turn them into nightmares.

14) Belle de Jour-- Bunuel powers the story of a bourgeois housewife who inexplicably takes up prostitution with an erotic dream logic that takes full advantage of Catherine Deneuve's sleepily sensual screen presence.

15) The Seventh Seal- Bergman's consideration of the existence of God. The movie's images are iconic and so often parodied as to now be beyond parody, and the device of a chess game with death frames a story that is existentially chilling and at the same time ironically light on its feet.

16) Ugetsu monogatari-- An essential Japanese ghost story by Kenji Mizoguchi that swirls around the inevitability of greed and the betrayal of love. The unsettling mood of this movie is one of the most subtle and insinuating of any movie like it ever made. It was J-horror when J-horror wasn't cool.

17) Ikiru-- This powerful story of a dying man's hope to leave a piece of himself in the world should be required midlife crisis viewing. Kurosawa directs Takashi Shimura to one of the great performances in screen history.

18) The Blue Angel-- A film school classic that is about as unmusty and exciting as an early talkie can be. In this film Von Sternberg unleashes Dietrich as we will always know her, and by the end the audience is as devastated as poor obsessed Emil Jannings. Because whatever Lola wants...

19) Au hasard Balthazar-- Bresson’s vision of the poetry of submission to the everyday, of the sacrifice of saintliness, a religious allegory centered around the titular donkey, witness to life, made all the more powerful by how the director's style amplifies, without self-consciousness, a clear-eyed vision of utterly ordinary events touched by the sacred.

20) Madame de...-- This story of the passing along of a pair of disregarded earrings is so lush and nimble in its imagistic poetry, so buoyant in its dark comedy of manners that it could truly be termed a visual symphony. That's certainly only but one of many things that Max Ophuls' lovely, probing, heartbreaking drama so vibrantly is.

21) In the Mood for Love-- The most erotic paean to sustained, unfulfilled desire I've ever seen. Wong Kar-wai manages to convince us, through the palpably lovely cinematography and his own will to gaze into their souls, that Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung are perhaps the most beautiful people to have ever lived, rendering their isolation even more tragic.

22) Sonatine-- Takeshi Kitano's inexplicably funny, terrifying and elliptical gangster movie is all about the decptive lulls, the digressions, diversions, and the stoic faces of a group of gangsters that sit quietly, all between sudden acts of savage violence. Kitano's movie has a peculiar rhythm all its own-- volumes are spoken in the few extra seconds he lets a take run after a shock, or a laugh, or a shot to the head.

23) The Umbrellas of Cherbourg-- An everyday romance given the pulse and expansiveness of an extended pop aria, Jacques Demy's bittersweet tale of two lovers whose desire is thwarted by circumstance is rendered entirely in Michel Legrand's songs, or rather his rendering of Demy's deliberately mundane dialogue in soaring, lilting, transcendent melody. Catherine Deneuve may have never been lovelier on screen, and that's saying something.

24) Spirited Away-- Hayao Miyazaki's supreme achievement, an act of glorious, unrestrained imagination that may well be unplumbable. The long, sorrowful nighttime train ride Chihiro takes across what seems to be an endless ocean, accompanied by a silent masked spirit, must be one of the great sequences in any animated film.

25) Day for Night-- The joy of making cinema, and the agony, and the comedy, and the futility, and the nonsense. Truffaut knows of what he speaks. One of his most unabashedly delightful movies.