Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): 2010

Friday, December 31, 2010

Remembering the Movies, Dec. 31 - Jan. 6

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.
Visit Remembering the Movies to further peruse the past

With the aftermath of Christmas, New Year's Day, vacations, and the slow return to the yearly grind, this week tends to be one of the weakest/slowest in any film year. So this Friday we've got an (almost) straight-to-video, several shorts, and (luckily) some interesting obscurities in the lineup (as well as a few more well-known but still relatively unheralded films, like a Walter Huston crime pic and an award-winning Hindi musical drama). Looking over the options, I almost wound up with a porno and a Christian inspirational flick - which would have been an interesting double feature to kick off the new year! At any rate, we've got a Three Stooges program, which is apropos on this day: but it's not even a Curly, sadly. Ah well, see you next week...

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Year of the Blog: The Dancing Image in 2010

Year-end highlights and reflections

Permit me a bout of navel-gazing (this post is not the round-up of other bloggers' best work; that will appear here in a week or two). In past years, I have offered resolutions which were rarely fulfilled; this year, I'd like to focus on the past rather than the future. Apologies for the self-serious tone and inordinate length. I got tired of revising it: blame the blizzard...

Anyway, I am very happy with 2010, though it's hard for me to believe a mere twelve months passed - it was a year of ups and downs, twists and turns, but with a definite narrative and a true progression. This is true for my "offscreen" life as well but, as concerns us here, it's certainly true of my blog. The path of my blogging through 2010 had a few central themes: 1) consolidation, as I centralized my diffuse activities, initially scattered over several websites, back onto The Dancing Image; 2) visual presentation, as I started using more screen-caps, presenting "visual tributes," and making over the blog so that it was more appealing and navigable; 3) self-expression, as I moved away from trying to fulfill certain criteria and moved towards simply saying or showing what I wanted to say or show.

On November 1, 2009, I was reviewing independent films for the Examiner website, and writing occasional pieces for The Dancing Image. But I wanted to reserve the latter site for more ambitious undertakings and ongoing projects, while still putting up regular, random postings and linking up my Examiner articles. So I decided to start a new blog, The Sun's Not Yellow, which would be both a conventional outlet for my musings and a locus-point for my increasingly scattered output. I was visiting friends in New York, and it was my twenty-sixth birthday. I made a resolution to myself to focus on writing about movies for the next year, and to temporarily put aside other goals (save for meeting my financial obligations month to month). It would be the Year of the Blog. What follows is the story of that year...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Sunday Matinee: Cleo From 5 to 7


Cleo From 5 to 7, France, 1962, dir. Agnes Varda, starring Corinne Marchand

Story: After a bad visit to a psychic, pop star Cleo Victoire (real name Florence) fears that her recent medical tests will offer a sentence of death. As she wanders the streets of Paris, flitting from rehearsals to sickbeds to restaurants to strolls through the park, the artifice of her persona and appearance is slowly stripped away, until only Florence is left to find out what fate has in store.

The visual touchstone of French New Wave cinema is a character wandering down the real-life streets of Paris, trailed by a handheld camera or preceded by a makeshift dolly: think Jean Seberg shouting "New York Herald-Tribune!", Jean-Pierre Leaud playing truant, Bernadette Lafont pretending to ignore flirtatious overtures from a passing car, or Betty Schneider ducking into a cafe to discuss a mysterious disappearance with Jean-Luc Godard. This visual tradition traveled through time when Jules and Jim brought the New Wave spirit to prewar bohemia, parading down the period avenues and alleys. Truffaut's big hit seemed to capture the restless motion of a whole generation at the dawn of a new, exciting era in art and life alike (although in its ending it contained foreshadowings of the frustrations, disappointments, and uncertainties to come).

Then "the walk" crossed the Channel in 1963 with Julie Christie's daffy, free-spirited stroll through a Yorkshire town in Billy Liar, and it crossed the Atlantic when Liar's director John Schlesinger set Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman loose in a downbeat, grimy New York - by then, the sixties had taken a darker turn. (In 1974, Louis Malle would turn the French "city-walking film" on its head: rather than follow one character with a moving camera, he fixed the camera in place, allowing it to glimpse into the lives of all the passerby who crossed its path.) But no film more perfectly captures or fully explores the potential of this method than Cleo From 5 to 7, Agnes Varda's second feature and her first fictional film since 1955's Le Pointe-Courte, a documentary-narrative hybrid, which preceded the New Wave.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Remembering the Movies, Dec. 24 - 30

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.
Visit Remembering the Movies to further peruse the past

Despite the holiday season, there is not much Yuletide spirit on display this week - only drug lords, gangsters, and mad scientists, as well as a dumb blonde and brunette Ginger. As with last week, we must reach back 100 years ago to find something Christmas-themed (also as with last week, there's no capsule by me; I'm hoping to be able to resume the full-fledged approach in the new year). If you're looking for something in the spirit of the season, check out yesterday's visual tribute to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Otherwise, follow the Ghost of Christmas Past through the jump...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Good Grief and Merry Christmas


A Visual Tribute to A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Part 3 of 3 visual tributes - Merry Christmas!

Snow White Gets the St. James Infirmary Blues


A Visual Tribute to Snow White (1933)
This is my #2 (maybe #1) animated film of all time (see here for my other #1).

Part 2 of 3 visual tributes - Merry Christmas!

Man vs. Machine


A Visual Tribute to Duel (1971)
(An entry in the Spielberg blogathon - spoilers included!) 
 
Part 1 of 3 visual tributes - Merry Christmas!

Visual Tributes (What's in a Day?)


Several months ago, I designated each day of the week with a particular purpose. Monday would be the "wild card," available for any random post, Tuesday was for The Wind in the Willows series, and so on. Now that I'm not posting daily, I still retain this formula. Why? I'm not sure - I like the orderliness, I suppose.

Since September, Thursdays have been reserved for visual tributes. This week I had a conundrum: three different ideas for visual tributes, all of which would only be relevant this week (one was part of a blogathon ending this weekend, another is a final response to the animation countdown that ended yesterday, and the last is in anticipation of Christmas Eve tomorrow). Instead of being logical and spreading them out over the week, I'm sticking with the "themed day" idea and unloading them all today. Here they are:

Monday, December 20, 2010

My #1 animated film: Street of Crocodiles


Six weeks ago, as the Wonders in the Dark "Horror Countdown" reached its conclusion, I responded by writing about my own pick for "favorite horror film" - The Shining. In three days, the same website's "Animation Countdown" will end so I'm repeating my previous tribute and selecting my own #1 animated film. The countdown, conducted by Stephen Russell-Gebbett, has been a real treat: marching to the beat of his own drummer, but with a deep knowledge and appreciation of the history and tradition of the form. Stop-motion, sand animation, hand-drawn cartooning, and CGI are all included, as are selections from the United States, Canada, Japan, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and a slew of other nations. Features, shorts, even television shows were considered, ranging from straightforward narratives to pure abstraction. And only three Disney films made the cut - two fairly offbeat selections and one so canonical that, given the idiosyncracy of the rest of the countdown, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs managed to be the major surprise of the series! Moreover, Stephen was able to include clips or even entire films at the end of many entries, so you can watch the films he discusses. His style is concise, erudite, and deeply personal - very engaging and highly recommended. By the way, the genre countdowns are still in their infancy - a noir countdown is scheduled for January, so stay tuned! Without further ado, my own pick for #1 animated film...

Street of Crocodiles (1986) opens not with animation, but with black-and-white live action. An older man walks into a room and sets up some sort of machine, perhaps the "mechanical esophagus" the onscreen chapter heading indicates. Only when he peeks into the contraption do we see in color, and only when he gently spits into the mechanism do the gears start turning. A puppet comes to "life" and the man guides a pair of scissors in through a slit in the box and cuts the puppet's strings - from there we only see the puppet and the strange world he explores, a world filled with cavernous baby doll heads, mounds of meat, and robot creatures with blinking light bulbs for heads. Screws dance as if magnetically controlled, the puppet-man crouches and crawls like a spider and the camera capturing all of this moves with a fluidity rarely seen in live-action films, let alone stop-motion animation.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Sunday Matinee: Les Bonnes Femmes


Les Bonnes Femmes, France, 1960, dir. Claude Chabrol, starring Bernadette Lafont, Clotilde Joano, Stéphane Audran, Lucile Saint-Simon

Story: Four shopgirls while away the daytime hours in tedium, then spend their nights prowling Paris, looking for fun, excitement, and perhaps true love - only to find predatory jerks, cowardly boyfriends, lascivious bosses, and a mysterious motorcyclist who stands in the shadows, watching all like a wise demigod - or a prowling tiger.

When, all at once, a new group of young filmmakers arrives on a national scene, there may share some common wellspring. In the U.S., it was often an apprenticeship under Roger Corman (Coppola, Scorsese, Bogdanovich, and Hopper all made early B movies with the prolific independent producer). In Czechoslovakia and other Eastern European countries, the new generation came through the state-run film schools; in the UK, the "kitchen sink" realists were usually documentarians before they made narrative features. In France, the situation was more incestuous than most. If you were to pick the ten or so major French filmmakers to emerge in the French New Wave, at least half of them came from Cahiers du Cinema, the fiery, controversial, and influential start-up film publication. In the late fifties, right around the time Cahiers editor and New Wave mentor Andre Bazin died, Claude Chabrol, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, and Eric Rohmer all began work on their first features. It was Chabrol who hit screens first, with Le Beau Serge (about a young urbanite visiting the provinces) but Truffaut and Godard were the ones who brought attention to the movement, with The 400 Blows and Breathless. In some ways, Chabrol was the odd man out of the five.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Remembering the Movies, Dec. 17 - 23

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.
Visit Remembering the Movies to further peruse the past

We've got quite a few classics this week (camp or otherwise). As we get within a few days of the big holiday, surprisingly there is only one Christmas selection - and it's the oldest of the bunch. Again, as with last week, I'm unable to offer a capsule review but I do have some recollections surrounding the 10- and 20-year-old films, both of which I saw in theaters.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lady and the Tramp: A Dog's World


Lady and the Tramp, though not nearly as dark as some of Disney's earlier films, is one of the studio's most "adult" stories. It appeals to children, to be sure, with its talking animals and adventurous storyline. Yet much of that very appeal may be rooted in the way the film offers peeks into the adult world - using the dogs as both surrogate children (allowing young viewers to identify with their emotional tangled relationship to the owners/parents) and as more approachable versions of adults themselves (their animal appeal taking the edge off potentially "grown-up" concerns like romance, leaving home, and social awareness). Disney's next project, Sleeping Beauty, would be more adventurous as animation, although Lady and the Tramp is expansively framed, nice to look at, and able to effectively employ close-ups and "camera" movements in widescreen compositions (something live-action contemporaries had difficulty achieving). Yet Lady and the Tramp accomplishes more through story than visual presentation; the film represents a number of "firsts" for a Disney feature, most having to do with that aforementioned maturity.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Sunday Matinee: Miraculous Virgin


Miraculous Virgin, Czechoslovakia, 1967, dir. Stefan Uher, starring Jolanta Umecka, Ladislav Mrkvicka, Otakar Janda

Story: As bombs fall from the sky, a beautiful young woman wanders into the lives of several young artists and a melancholy middle-aged sculptor. They treat her as their muse. Yet before long, she is overwhelmed by their aggressive attention, and they are frustrated by her aloof resistance to their overtures.

An interesting element of the various European New Waves is their relationship with the recent past - namely World War II. I've often felt that the sixties were imbued with the displaced spirit of the forties, and that the cultural explosion and political upheaval of the era may have been impossible without the misery, death, and displacement of two decades before. This is not to say that the war played a huge role in cultural artifacts of the time; in some ways, the influence was indirect, in others displaced. In certain countries, for example the United States or Britain, the war was considered property of the older squares, and youthful revelers, rebels, or activists either satirized or ignored the earlier era's sensibility. Elsewhere, the war haunted the cinema without necessarily being foregrounded: in France, it popped up in the films of Alain Resnais (about ten years older than most of the other New Wavers); in Italy and Japan, a sense of collective guilt fed into the bitterness with which young filmmakers scorned the societies of the past. Whatever the country, New Wavers tended to be born around the same time period, from the late twenties to the mid-thirties (some a bit younger in Italy, some a bit older in Britain), making them teenagers at the time of the war. This meant that most did not serve as soldiers, and would only have experienced the turmoil of the time to the extent that war came to them.

Czechoslovakia, in some ways, was spared the most brutal aspects of the war. Unlike Britain, Poland, Germany, or Japan it was not subjected to substantial aerial bombardment, one reason that Prague still remains the glistening city of the past, architectural jewels from earlier centuries still dominating its skyline. Yet this was precisely because the Germans didn't need to bomb the Czechs - the country had already been handed over to Hitler by allies eager to appease, and Czechoslovakia was given the dubious honor of enduring Nazi occupation from months before World War II even began. Following the war, unlike the French, Italian, or British, the nation was not able to stumble towards a new sense of independence or democracy; it was occupied by the Soviets, democratic officials were killed, and a Stalinist dictatorship was installed within several years of the "victory." In some ways, for Czechoslovakia, the war never ended. No wonder then, that World War II features so prominently in the Czechoslovakian New Wave (and here it makes sense to use the country's full name, as Miraculous Virgin was directed by a Slovakian, not a Czech). Some of its most famous films - including the Oscar-winning Closely Watched Trains and The Shop on Main Street - take place during the war. The best of these (and the least well-known) is the phenomenal Miraculous Virgin - while the setting is ambiguous, the film is tormented by a sense of occupation, persecution, death, and collaboration. Its themes are universal, but the historical experience of this beleaguered nation is the context out of which Miraculous Virgin was born.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Remembering the Movies, Dec. 10 - 16

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.
Visit Remembering the Movies to further peruse the past

As the man above taught us, simplicity is a virtue. With this excuse in mind, there's no personal review this week, even though that's a feature I intend to continue down the line (truthfully, I was unexpectedly busy, and I did not have as much time as usual to prepare the post). As always, plenty of pictures, several videos, some quotes, and a wide variety of choices: everything from a saintly pacifist to a squadron of bloodthirsty teenagers - with room for a spinach-guzzling muscleman, an Israeli freedom fighter, and Cher. As for the biggest hit of this week's history - contra the man from Assisi, who probably would have said love meant humility and a recognition of simple virtues and submergence in the divine glow of God, Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw tell us what love really means. (Cue the hankies and/or barf bags, though I'll diplomatically forswear both, never having seen Love Story...)

Monday, December 6, 2010

I Vant to Link Your Blog


If you can forgive the awful pun, the sentiment is sincere. At the end of every year, I have offered up a buffet of blog highlights. In 2008, I chose them myself; in 2009 I invited you to pick your own best work and today I echo that call. What one post are you proudest of? What do you feel might have been overlooked? Or, conversely, what was your most popular piece, that you'd like to share with a wider audience? The exercise began as a way of paying tribute to my "fellow travelers" in the blogosphere, but it's also developed into a healthy corrective for tendencies which are still strong on the internet (particularly for yours truly): falling out of touch with certain bloggers, focusing your attention on a narrow range of sites, catching up only with someone's more recent work. A number of factors - from better archiving to sidebar links to tabs on the homepage - have helped make blogging (both on my site and on others) seem less ephemeral, which I think is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, this can contribute to that trend.

So I invite you, either through a comment (which, being moderated, I will delete after collecting the necessary information) or by e-mail (movieman0283@gmail.com), to contact me with the post you'd most like to share and your e-mail address (if you don't hear back from me, contact me again; I probably didn't receive your submission). It could be an essay you feel really addressed an important or overlooked topic. Or it could be what began as an ostensibly minor review or aside, during which you hit your stride and turned out work you're really proud of. It could eschew words altogether and be a picture or, even better, video post - foresaking the dance about architecture in order to jump right into the heart of the matter, the visuals that draw us in, in the first place. It could be a clever comical piece or a serious polemic or a diaristic personal piece you're proud of. If you can't pick one, pick several - I will browse them and choose the one that I think is your best work and/or best fills out the overall program. As I don't want things to get too crowded (leading to some blogs getting lost in the shuffle) I will only be linking one post per person (not necessarily per blog; if there are multiple authors, multiple posts will be eligible). But as with last year, the extra material will be linked collectively at the end of the round-up.

The bulk of the post, after a short introduction, will consist of all the links, preceded by quotes and images from the piece in question (this will be a lively, colorful directory). Last year, I got a lot of submissions, which was great, but it also tetered on the edge of being too much. To keep things reasonable this time, I ask that you not mention or link to this particular post (meaning the one you're reading right now) on your own blog until after all the links have been collected (Christmas Day, appropriately enough, will be the last day for submissions). To the extent possible, I'd like to keep this to readers of my blog, so that those who have been loyal readers/contributors (particularly since the beginning) don't get completely overwhelmed in any onrush. Of course I have no way of knowing who's been lurking (or who has just discovered the blog, but will be revisiting) so any submission will be accepted with good faith! But by keeping it on the downlow for the time being, I think it will make for an eclectic but still manageable collection of great reading.

In the mean time, if you want to revisit past years (and why not? that's the whole point of this exercise - no time limits) check out the previous entries in this ongoing exercise. "Blog 10" is scheduled to make its debut on either January 3 or January 10. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Sunday Matinee: Daisies


Daisies, Czechoslovakia, 1966, dir. Vera Chytilová, starring Ivana Karbanová, Jitka Cerhová

Story: Bored with their lives, two young girls (Marie and Marie) go on an anarchic and increasingly destructive spree of eating, drinking, partying, ridiculing conventions, while burning, cutting, or stealing every object in sight.

...Though I'm not sure I'd call it a "story."


Daisies opens and closes with images of war. The opening credits intercut the grinding mechanisms of wheels and cogs with shaky aerial footage of bombardments. The film ends suddenly with one last image of a (Vietnamese?) countryside being strafed, along with the slow-boiling, deadpan tribute of the filmmaker to her would-be censors: "This film is dedicated to those whose sole source of indignation is a messed-up trifle." The visual carnage is appropriate, for seemingly contradictory reasons. On the one hand, it gives a real-world analogue to the devilish destruction unfolding throughout the movie, and perhaps suggests that the aggressive but not physically violent behavior of its heroines could eventually lead in this deadlier direction - or at least that it's part of the same continuum, selfish decadence leading to bloody chaos. On the other hand, there's an apocalyptic tenor to the war footage, which contrasts sharply with the free-spirited bonhomie of our leading ladies - the suggestion is that this ugly world is what they're rebelling against. Seen this way they are the embodiment of the contemporary countercultural ethos, thumbing noses at conservative social forces be they masked as American imperialists or Stalinist bureaucrats.

And on yet another hand (anatomically incorrect perhaps, but in the spirit of a film which shatters all rules of propriety and perspective) the documentary authenticity of those fleeting shots casts a gloom over the completely and flagrantly fabricated playfulness of the protagonists, giving it an unreal and desperate air. So perhaps there is no direct relationship (either positive or negative) between the world's war and the girls' anarchy, but rather a tension unresolvable in their favor - this grim reality lends a certain fragility to their antics, justifying their aggression and threatening their larks with an air of impending doom. All of these interpretations are, of course, valid but ultimately interpretations are - if not beside the point - at least after the fact. This is a film to be experienced more than "understood" - a wild ride through colors, cuts, iconic images, jagged suggestions, lavish set pieces, roundabout dialogue, and alarmingly incessant and aggressive noises (the sound collage "score," mixing speedily-played classical compositions, random sound effects, and avant-garde atonal exercises, is as much a part of the experience as anything onscreen). It's a tale told by an imp, full of sound and fury, signifying everything.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Remembering the Movies, Dec. 3 - 9

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.
Visit Remembering the Movies to further peruse the past

This week, "Remembering the Movies" takes a walk on the wild side - surrealism, fantasy, and passionate affairs are all in the offing, as are deserted islands and dilapidated attics, exotic adventures and anthropomorphic westerns, the birth pangs of the "Felliniesque," the adolescent angst of Tim Burton, and the death rattle of the sixties counterculture. There are two personal recollections for films I saw in their initial run, two collections of screen-caps for short cartoons, and a fresh review of Flash Gordon, which I watched for the first time tonight. I have also excerpted a contentious contemporary argument between my favorite critic and my favorite documentary filmmakers (Point: filmmakers) about the hypnotic, hallucinatory and disturbing Gimme Shelter. See The Documentary Blog for the full back-and-forth. As always the black words are my own, the red, quotations.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Snow White and Sleeping Beauty


For whatever reason, I’ve been re-watching a lot of Disney lately. It didn’t hurt that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was playing on TV this Thanksgiving; yet even well before the holiday I was immersed in several books about Walt Disney (throughout this piece I'll be referring to Disney as "they" not "he," i.e. the collective studio not the individual man). And I've been renting or borrowing all the old standbys, some of which I hadn’t seen since childhood. Two films I found myself watching several times – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty; I’m not sure why, though the two films do have striking similarities (and, as is always the case, the similarities serve to highlight major differences as well). Both appear to represent different phases and new directions in the studio’s enterprise, a timely topic given that Disney’s latest attempt to reboot its brand is hitting theaters right about now. I must confess I’m not particularly enticed by Tangled, between the slick CGI (well-servicing a story about robots, but princesses?) and the shampoo ads. And what’s with the dopey name-change – were they afraid “Rapunzel” would be too much of a mouthful? If the studio debuted Pinocchio today, it'd be retitled No Strings Attached with a tie-in to Minwax.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Sunday Matinee: Loves of a Blonde



Loves of a Blonde, Czechoslovakia,1965, dir. Milos Forman, starring Hana Brejchová, Vladimír Pucholt

Story: A young woman sleeps with a charming young pianist; when she pursues him to Prague, she discovers that he did not take their romance as seriously as she did.

The title, like so much else in Milos Forman’s second feature, is gently ironic. With its plural “Loves,” it suggests a worldly figure, a free-spirited sixties girl who rounds up loves, and lovers, with a sense of carefree fun. At the same time, “a Blonde” implies a symbolic woman more than an actual one, probably a silly girl who falls in love and breaks hearts without knowing her own power and/or foolishness. Well, the blonde in Loves of a Blonde, Andula (Hana Brejchová), is rather foolish. And in the course of the movie, she does upset and befuddle at least one boyfriend, by recoiling from him without telling him why. Yet at film’s end, she has had only one real lover, and it was her heart that was broken, not his. Most importantly, Andula is not Julie Christie sent to Prague – not a swinger, but a dreamer, a naïve young woman who is not responding to a new freedom but reacting to a lack thereof. Just as the Prague Spring would flourish for a brief period, before Soviet tanks re-imposed a totalitarian regime for another two decades, so Andula’s season of hope is short. When we last see her, she is back in the factory toiling away, sad and quite alone. Though Loves of a Blonde is a comedy, and a very funny one, at its core is a tragic (albeit still romantic) sense of life.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Remembering the Movies, Nov. 26 - Dec. 2

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.
Visit Remembering the Movies to further peruse the past

Given its popularity last week, I'll be sticking to the multimedia format from now on. I've also made some changes to the blog layout, as you can probably see, so feel free to explore. I've added an eye-catching sidebar feature which takes you straight to my picture gallery; beneath it is a lineup of features to help you explore the blog (topped by a "Top Posts" link which has just been extensively updated to include my strongest work from the past few months). My blogroll now features post titles, in the hope that it will draw more people to the sites in question - I find it's already working wonders for me personally, getting me caught up with my fellow travelers on a more regular basis. Finally, at the bottom of the sidebar is a somewhat pointless but nonetheless nifty tool which keeps track of the most popular posts of the past 7 days. Several "Remembering the Movies" entries are usually on there at any given time, so thanks to all of you for frequenting the feature.

This week we can be thankful for a dancing Astaire, a bumbling Fields, and a swashbuckling Fairbanks (my capsule review this week will be for The Mark of Zorro), so settle in, relax, and enjoy the show. Just look out for Kathy Bates...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Sunday Matinee: This Sporting Life and Billy Liar



The Sunday Matinee is a series exploring various national cinemas of the 60s – Italian, British, Czech, and French. Usually, the approach is film by film but this week is an exception. This admittedly rather long essay takes a wide view, not just of the two films in question, but of the British New Wave as a whole, and how these particular movies relate to it. Both reviews contain spoilers.

This Sporting Life, UK, 1963, dir. Lindsay Anderson, starring Richard Harris, Rachel Roberts

Story: Frank Machin, a working-class bloke made local hero in a rugby league, tries to establish a relationship with his widowed landlady, but neither of them can escape their past – she because of her suicidal first husband, he because the patriarchs owning his team never let him forget to whom he owes his success.
• • •
Billy Liar, UK, 1963, dir. John Schlesinger, starring Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie

Story: Billy Fisher uses imagination to get him through a life filled with boring dead-end jobs, multiple fiancées, and crushed hopes, but his active fantasy life is challenged by Liz, a free spirit who pushes him to live out his dreams in the real world, rather than in his mind.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Remembering the Movies, Nov. 19 - 25

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.

Today marks the debut of a new format for Remembering the Movies. As promised, the focus is on the visuals - bigger pictures and posters, and more of them. There will also be some embedded videos instead of links, while extensive quotations, highlighted in red, are replacing my usual write-ups (usually the quotes will be from contemporaneous reviews or published histories; this week, for whatever reason, they are mostly from film blogs). There's one exception to the outside references: each week I will provide a capsule review of one of the films discussed. This week it's the novelty release Just Imagine (1930), which perfectly suits our theme of traveling through time in ten-year increments. Just Imagine is a sci-fi projection of what the world will look like in the remote, distant future (i.e. the year 1980). Meanwhile, the image above comes from Heaven's Gate, the much-maligned and lately championed epic from the actual year 1980. An early Fenimore Cooper adaptation, a buddy/kid comedy, a Bette Davis classic, and an Irish silent join Cimino's folly below. If you want to learn more about any of these movies, click on the hyperlinked title after the entry; it will take you to IMDb for further explorations.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Sunday Matinee: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning



Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, 1960, dir. Karel Reisz, starring Albert Finney, Rachel Roberts, Shirley Anne Field

Story: Arthur Seaton spends the week working in a factory, and the weekend winning drinking contests, sleeping with a co-worker's wife, and generally pissing off everyone in sight.

When the British New Wave hit cinemas in the early 60s, with its unprettified portraits of working-class life, it was seen as part of an overall cultural trend, already predominant in literary and theatrical works (from which many of these films, this one included, were adapted): the rise of the "Angry Young Man." In Look Back in Anger, he's a snarling young Richard Burton, lashing out at his lover yet displaying a wounded pride when she lashes back. Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner spots him at a borstal, where Tom Courteney runs from authorities until the authorities actually want him to run, at which point he stops. This Sporting Life tackles Richard Harris on the rugby field, A Kind of Loving traps an upwardly mobile Alan Bates in an unwanted marriage, and A Room at the Top locates Laurence Harvey's insecurity and exploits it through a frustrating relationship with an older, wealthier woman. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning may be the purest take at this iconic figure, unfettered as it is by the apparatus of an athletic narrative or the demands of an equal female protagonist (Roberts and Field, both excellent, are definitely supporting characters here). Yet Albert Finney, as Arthur Seaton, does not initially seem as bitter, desperate, or frustrated as any of those other furious youths - as his opening narration informs us, "I'm out for a good time - the rest is propaganda!" And indeed, in the picture above we see him grinning after falling down a flight of stairs, drunk as a skunk but flush with victory after out-drinking a sailor. Sprawled out on the floor, he couldn't seem happier but make no mistake: he's angry as fuck.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Silent Light (Best of the 21st Century?)


#100 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade.

Rounding out the top 100, this entry on Silent Light concludes the "Best of the 21st Century?" series begun in February, with The Hurt Locker. If the previous post, on Let the Right One In, was the climax of the series, this is the epilogue. Not a written post but images from the film's quiet, entrancing opening, in which the camera tracks in while the sun rises. Paradoxically, a good sequence to close with. Thanks for following the series, and I hope you enjoyed it. The pictures begin after the jump.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Remembering the Movies, Nov. 12 - 18

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.

First off, a note of mourning. Since this series began I have been linking up every 1990 release to a "Siskel & Ebert" review. Watching those old programs had been one of the highlights of "Remembering the Movies" for me - well, lo and behold, this week when I look up Rescuers Down Under the link is broken. Turns out (irony of ironies, given the movie in question) that the D****y Corporation decided to take down the archives for no apparent reason. Which of course breaks all the links on my previous entries as well (luckily I included quotes from those shows in my text). So R.I.P. "At the Movies," and cross your fingers for the archives to go back up when a new edition of the show begins in January. A discussion of the circumstances of the deletion can be found here, along with pointers to where 80s episodes can be found. Almost makes you wish Stokowski was giving the Mouse the finger instead of shaking his goddamned hand.

Another important subject, on which I hope to hear some feedback...

Starting next week, I would like to simplify "Remembering the Movies" so that it consists of the titles of the releases, multiple pictures for each movie, embedded video clips, and maybe some quotes from critics or historians (in other words, the information I'm already presenting, just unfiltered and un-paraphrased, and without my own opinion or prior knowledge mixed in - and also less frequent, as some entries would be pictures/videos only). The paragraphs and story summaries would be axed; the result would be less exploratory than expository (but also more colorful and quicker to take in). I think this would still deliver what readers get from the series - i.e. a walk through movie history - while making the posts easier for me to prepare (the current approach is frankly too time-consuming to continue). In order to still write something, I might pick one film a week and write up a capsule review. Otherwise, it will be a mostly visual approach.

Share your thoughts on this new plan below - lurkers, that means you too! As I cut down on blogging in the coming weeks and months, your response will help determine if "Remembering the Movies," in one form or another, is something I preserve.

This week's films - with the customary paragraphs, information, quotations, and links - follow the jump.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Let Them All In... Let the Right One In book/movie/remake


Let the Right One In (2008) is #95 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade. Along with this film, I will also be discussing the recent American remake, Let Me In (2010) and the book Låt den rätte komma in (2004) by John Ajvide Lindqvist, upon which both are based. There will be spoilers.

On a silent, snowy evening, a taxi pulls up to a deserted courtyard. The cold, lonely apartment blocks loom overhead, watching implacably, either unwilling to share their secrets, or without any secrets to share. But one frosted window at least has a human face in it – a little blonde boy, bare-chested, uneasily gripping a knife in one hand, the other pressed up against the glass, leaving a faint imprint, a marker to shout out impotently, “I was here!” Out of the taxi steps an older man and a young girl; though together, they still seem fundamentally alone - even that lonely boy upstairs has a warm, well-lit room behind him. On reaching their own room, the mysterious couple begin covering up their own frosted window with advertising placards, flashy but vapid come-ons ironically placed to block out the world. Down in the snow bank below, a haggard man pisses in the snow, glancing up at his peculiar neighbors and wondering, perhaps, who they think they are, closing themselves off like that. Don’t they know the world will already take care of that for them? Why seek isolation?

Because, as it turns out, there are some things worse than being alone. Such as joining together in brief, violent, frenetic couplings in which one person leeches the life out of another; or even worse, befriending and assisting this very leech, quenching your own isolation only at the expense of another’s life and happiness. These islands of humanity, floating in the impersonal sea of Blackeburg, both fear and desire human contact; they need it, but they know – or will discover – at what price this need can be fulfilled. Each of these individuals is as human as the next, but at least one is something else besides: a creature of the night, a blood-craving immortal, a murderous eunuch, a vampire. And this vampire, seemingly the most innocent of the four characters, that little girl who climbed out of the taxi, can only infiltrate your defenses if you let her enter your home – without permission, she will bleed from every orifice, so that even passivity breeds violence. Yet you must be careful before granting permission. It’s not enough to let just anyone in…


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Wind in the Willows - Conclusions


This is a directory for the microseries devoted to Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows and its film and television adaptations.
"After this climax, the four animals continued to lead their lives, so rudely broken in upon by civil war, in great joy and contentment, undisturbed by further risings or invasions." 
-from The Return of Ulysses
And so the Willows series comes to a close. I've already summarized and synthesized my observations, so I'll let this entry serve primarily as a directory. For easy navigation between the different chapters in my series, here are links to all the posts, with an explanation of each piece's purpose.

Brief history of the book's creation and reception, an explanation of the series, and capsule reviews of the different film adaptations - plus links to other Willows posts
Celebration of the story's central location, focusing on the tension between the river's comforts and excitements, with a digression on the Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Meditation on Willows' "heart of darkness" and its psychological implications
Examination of the Wayfarer's "call of the South" - what the world "beyond" represents in the tale, and why its siren song must be resisted
Drive down Toad's highway to hell, using his motormania to discuss Edwardian society and what it represents in the book
Exploration of Toad's ancestral manor, its seizure by the weasel rabble, and its social and political resonance - from conservative aristocracy to liberal preservationism
Digression on the subject of Grahame's wacky yet clever anthropomorphism
Reflection upon the importance of home in Wind in the Willows, including a short biography of Kenneth Grahame and a synthesis of all the previous entries in the series

Monday, November 8, 2010

Psycho: Long Night at the Bates Motel


Contains spoilers - if such a warning is necessary.

Last week, I almost wrote about Psycho as my #1 horror film. I went with The Shining instead - partly because it may actually be my favorite, partly because it's more exclusively a horror film than Psycho (which contains strong elements of mystery/suspense and psychological drama, with the horror elements consuming surprisingly little screen-time). Besides, the film had already been discussed in the last entry for the horror countdown I was paying tribute to (in a great picture post - check it out). On the other hand, the time was ripe to write about Psycho, as I had just managed to see on the big screen, proceeded by a playful introduction from critic David Thomson, who described his overwhelming desire to grab someone and hold on for dear life after the "big scene" - he even claimed that his 19-year-old self loudly proclaimed to no one in particular (except perhaps the auteur hiding behind the screen as if it was a shower curtain), "Oh please, don't do that to me again!"

Fascinating to me because, well, I've always known that the shower scene was coming. And I've always known that Mrs. Bates was Norman. Indeed, the film has never held many surprises for me, and as I watch it for the umpteenth time I find myself humoring some vaguely contrarian thoughts which perhaps have little bearing on the film itself, but a great deal on my own involvement with it. Psycho has probably been written about more times than any other film save Citizen Kane - although perhaps Norman's knife surpasses Charles' sled in inspiring critical prose. There's a great deal out there already both in print and the blogosphere (for a great example of the latter, check out the Film Doctor's in-depth analysis of the very first scene, tartly titled "Turn Momma's Picture to the Wall".) So what I have to offer here is just my own personal take on the film (which certainly may overlap with others' observations), some scattered reflections and observations, as sliced and diced as Marion's corpse after that fatal cleansing.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Sunday Matinee: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner


The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, UK, 1962, dir. Tony Richardson, starring Tom Courtenay, Michael Redgrave

Story: Colin has been sent up for robbing a bakery, but to his surprise he finds himself being handed advantages and privileges at the reform school. As it turns out, he’s a talented runner and the school director hopes he will help defeat a prestigious public school in an upcoming race.

First things first, the timing of this entry is no accident. This morning the New York Marathon kicks off – so good luck to all the runners, particularly my friends Patrick and Morgan. Secondly, tributes aside, it should be noted that this is in many respects an anti-sports film, both in the sense that it thumbs its nose at “sports film” conventions, and because it views competitive athleticism itself with severe antipathy. But more on that by the by. When we are introduced to Colin, he’s pulling double duty, running and narrating just like Fabrizio at the start of last week’s entry, Before the Revolution. There the similarities more or less end. Whereas Fabrizio was politicized in theory but distanced from any sense of class struggle, Colin – without necessarily articulating it in explicitly political terms (save for a few somewhat clumsy “consciousness-raising” lines of dialogue) – views his entire life as one long struggle against authorities and class constrictions. “Running’s always been a big thing in our family,” he tells us in the opening narration (during which, unlike Fabrizio, he runs away from the camera rather than towards it). “Especially running away from the police. It’s hard to understand. All I know is that you’ve got to run. Run without knowing why, through fields and woods, and the winning post’s no end even though barmy crowds might be cheering themselves daft. That’s what the loneliness of the long distance runner feels like.”

Friday, November 5, 2010

Remembering the Movies, Nov. 5 - 11

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.

Halloween's over (with one exception), time for...Christmas? Shopping malls aren't the only ones to receive their holiday spirit a little early; this week Remembering the Movies features two Yuletide films right up front, plus a film set in wintry Alaska, just to get you yearning for those chestnuts round an open fire. Several great directors make an appearance below - Luis Bunuel, Tex Avery, David Lean, the ever ubiquitous D.W. Griffith, among others. Yet amongst the classic contenders I chose to highlight Home Alone above. And why not? Though I can't say it "holds up" (based on the reputation established when I was 7) it still fuels my nostalgia for a time when I was just starting to juice my now-defunct moviegoing jones. For more on that era, visit "They Once Were Coming Attractions...", my tribute to childhood cinematic excursions. For the rest, pack up your sleigh, and push it over the precipice (jump) below...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

In Praise of Love (Best of the 21st Century?)



#95 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade.

Let me take a moment to clear up some misunderstandings about the “Best of the 21st Century?” title. The question mark is there for a reason; this is not my canon for the decade, but rather the collective critical canon as compiled by the website They Shoot Pictures Don’t They?. A talented critic named Kevin B. Lee started an exercise years ago in which he moved through the website’s all-time canon, watching and discussing the films he had not yet seen. His imaginative approach is to create video commentaries for each film – while my own work here is nowhere near as ambitious, I’m taking a similar approach, writing about each film on the 21st Century list that I haven’t seen. Key point: that I haven’t seen, so I have no way of knowing, going into a viewing right before a review, if I’ll like the movie in question. I’ve seen a few responses in the past saying something to the effect of “Can’t wait to see your other favorites” or “Do you really think this is one of the best of the whole decade?” Hopefully this introduction clarifies my approach.

I bring this up because otherwise some of you might be confused by what follows. So far in this series, I’ve been generally positive about the films discussed even if dissenting from the acclaim in some regards (which was already too much for some). This time I have to dissent from the apparent consensus altogether; by and large, I didn’t care for In Praise of Love, so for me that response to the question mark of my series title would have to be a “No.” It’s ironic that this film would be the one to warrant that response, since Jean-Luc Godard is one of my favorite directors of all time. Yet even in his prime, I think he could be hit-and-miss, often within the same film. We take the lows of Godard because the highs are so exhilarating; unfortunately in Praise, the latter are scarce and the former all too abundant. Though some have seen it in exact opposite fashion, I find the movie gets much better as it goes along, leading finally to a rapturous conclusion, but it’s too little too late to save the movie as a whole. The meta-questions on Godard’s old work vs. his new are most creatively addressed by Bob Clark in his “the-best-way-to-criticize-a-film-is-to-make-another-film a-video-gameresponse to Film Socialisme last week. As for In Praise of Love, I come not to praise but to bury. So proceed below the fold…

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Wind in the Willows - Dulce Domum


Part 8 of a microseries devoted to Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows and its film and television adaptations.
"Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way! Why, it must be quite close by him at that moment, his old home that he had hurriedly forsaken and never sought again, that day when he first found the river! And now it was sending out its scouts and its messengers to capture him and bring him in. Since his escape on that bright morning he had hardly given it a thought, so absorbed had he been in his new life, in all its pleasures, its surprises, its fresh and captivating experiences. Now, with a rush of old memories, how clearly it stood up before him, in the darkness! Shabby indeed, and small and poorly furnished, and yet his, the home he had made for himself, the home he had been so happy to get back to after his day's work. And the home had been happy with him, too, evidently, and was missing him, and wanted him back, and was telling him so, through his nose, sorrowfully, reproachfully, but with no bitterness or anger; only with plaintive reminder that it was there, and wanted him." 
-from Dulce Domum
Mole and Rat are trekking back from a winter excursion. It is late in the evening - "the shades of the short winter day were closing in on them, and they had still some distance to go." For one reason or another, they find their path winding through a village and there they stand on the outside looking in, observing scenes of domesticity idealized all the more for being somewhat hidden. Briefly comforted by these visions of half-dreamt coziness (like the boy given visions of Christmas in Lois Lowry's The Giver) their minds quickly return to their bodies, cold and tired in the snowy dusk. Their own home calls - Ratty's cottage by the river with its fireplace and furniture and view of the icy bank out its windows. Yet in truth, this is not their own home, however welcome Mole has been made to feel within its walls. Rat hurries on but Mole freezes when this revelation hits him, with the force of a physical blow, but one tenderly applied, and all the more aching for it.

"[Mole] stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither in its efforts to recapture the fine filament, the telegraphic current, that had so strongly moved him. A moment, and he had caught it again; and with it this time came recollection in fullest flood." Rat insensitively impels his friend on and when they stop to rest further down the trail, Mole begins to weep; with a little prodding he reveals how homesick he has become, how suddenly and painfully he has been overpowered by the desire for his simple little hole in the ground. A sympathetic Rat tracks down Mole End - in this the animals, returned to their natural instincts, are guided by scent. Together Rat and Mole restore the shabby little apartment to a tidy and appealing state, then invite a group of carolling field mice inside, and lay out a Christmas feast on the table, with singing, and merriment, and camaraderie filling the air. Finally they turn in for the night, and as Mole drifts off to sleep, he pleasantly contemplates the rich fulfillment he can find in his own home:
"He saw clearly how plain and simple--how narrow, even--it all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one's existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to; this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome."


Monday, November 1, 2010

My #1 horror film: The Shining


Just in time for Halloween (wait, it's over?), this is a response to the Wonders in the Dark Horror Countdown, which just wrapped up yesterday (The Shining also appeared on their list at #15, generating some comments almost as long as their post). A few films could have taken this spot for me - Rosemary's Baby and Pyscho were other close contenders, but ultimately this was the one I wanted to re-watch and explore in this short and informal piece. Check out the countdown, by the way, if you haven't already. And the genres keep coming - an animation countdown will launch Tuesday on the website; once it's over, I'll offer my #1 pick for that as well. For now, the Overlook Hotel...

How do you pick a #1 horror film? Well, of course, there are two parts to that question - why #1, and what's a horror film? Let's take the second part first. One great aspect of the recently concluded countdown was that it opened my eyes to viewing a whole slew of movies through this genre's framework - films with cross-genres, plots, and styles wildly divergent. Considered in the process were the sci-fi Alien, the adventure-suspense Jaws, the "realistic" serial killer movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, the surrealistic, noiresque, perhaps just purely Lynchian Blue Velvet, even the Italian "rebellious youth" 60s classic Fists in the Pocket (which unfortunately did not make the top 100, but was mentioned in the offing). These were included alongside black-and-white monster movies, ubiquitous slashers, grotesque giallos, and other usual suspects. The approach broadened my own horizons, made me see both the genre and the films in question in a new light, and made for a fun list because you never knew what would show up! Still, when going for #1, all-time, top horror, it feels right to return to the roots of the genre, its core values.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Sunday Matinee: Before the Revolution



Before the Revolution, Italy, 1964, dir. Bernardo Bertolucci, starring Adriana Asti, Francesco Barilli

Story: In Parma, a young Communist feels torn between his romantic hunger for life, the security of his bourgeois background, and his ideological duty to the cause. Meanwhile, he carries on an affair with his emotionally unstable aunt.

The opening scene of Before the Revolution, or Prima della rivoluzione as it’s more poetically known in Italy, stands among the most elating passages in cinema. You can’t quite pinpoint how this works; trying to relate the alchemy of these moments in typed prose, my fingers tie themselves in knots. Bertolucci, only twenty-two when he shot the movie, would go on to direct more lush, illustrious sequences especially once he began to use color. But somehow here we feel we are getting closest to the pulsating consciousness powering his vision - a sensitivity and sensibility swooning with the pregnant possibilities and numinous actualities of the moment. What exactly do we see? Close-ups of Fabrizio (Frencesco Barilli), our hero, which loom like wall-sized portraits, even on a small screen; soaring overhead shots of Parma as if Bertolucci began to run through his hometown and in his enthusiasm sprouted wings and began to fly. What do we hear? Fabirizo’s neurotic narration, a mixture of lush language and furious, uneasy denunciation, underpinned by Ennio Morricone’s lush, heart-bursting score – fully invested in its sense of operatic intensity, and as unashamed of it as Fabrizio is wary. This film then is a sensuous experience, maybe even first and foremost, but it is also a film of ideas, and a dialectic exists between Fabrizio’s notions and his feelings (as well as amongst the various feelings themselves).


Friday, October 29, 2010

Remembering the Movies, Oct. 29 - Nov. 4

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.

Welcome to Halloween weekend, when masked men, manmade monsters, and ghosts (friendly or very much otherwise) wander those darkened streets - and darkened movie theaters. Most of the films here could be tied at least loosely to the holiday, even though only the silent horror picture is an outright creature feature. Yet we also have a traumatized visionary haunted by supernatural hallucinations, a junk yard filled with the despairing outcasts of civilization, and a memorable thriller villainess who terrorizes the family she works for. With a little stretching, even the Jimmy Stewart comedy could fall into the "trick or treat" category (his winning lottery ticket begins as a treat, and turns into a trick). By the way, if you're thirsty after pigging out on M&Ms and tootsie rolls, why not wash that candy down with an Italian soft drink (and then just try to get that jingle out of your head!). Enter if you dare...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Atanarjuat (Best of the 21st Century?)



#93 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade.

While he is an infant, Atanarjuat's family goes hungry. The boy's father, an outcast and laughing-stock, can’t hunt to save his life – literally; the other men tease him, asking if his wife will hunt while he stays behind, sewing and cooking. That's humiliation in this community of hardy hunters; still, the hunger must be worse than humiliation. Atanarjuat is too young to comprehend the situation, but his elder brother Amaqjuaq soaks it all in grimly – particularly the mother’s advice: “You must never forget to take care of Atanarjuat.” Somberly, the little boy reaches up to his baby brother, holding out a scrap of walrus heart (which a friend of the family, pitying their destitution, smuggled in to the starving brood). Tellingly, the half-asleep infant does not respond – it’s as if even at this early age he is confident in his own ability to survive, and perhaps complacent in the sense that his family will take care of him.

When we meet Atanarjuat and Amaqjuaq as adults (played by Natar Ungalaaq and Pakak Innuksuk), the big brother is still looking out for the little one. Atanarjuat is a skilled runner and hunter, weak and dreamy in other respects, but holding onto his lifelong faith in survival and confidence in family security. In the course of this striking and stirring epic, that second feeling will diminish drastically, as Atanarjuat is forced to look out for himself. But that first feeling – the confidence in survival – will only grow, and be based on a firmer foundation, because indeed Atanarjuat (the “fast runner” of the English title) will endure what kills other men, and the experience will only make him stronger.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Wind in the Willows - The Animal Kingdom


Part 7 of a microseries devoted to Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows and its film and television adaptations.
"'Of course he will,' chuckled the Otter. 'Did I ever tell you that good story about Toad and the lockkeeper? It happened this way. Toad...'

An errant Mayfly swerved unsteadily athwart the current in the intoxicated fashion affected by young bloods of Mayflies seeing life. A swirl of water and a 'cloop!' and the Mayfly was visible no more.

Neither was the Otter. ...

The Rat hummed a tune, and the Mole recollected that animal etiquette forbade any sort of comment on the sudden disappearance of one's friends at any moment, for any reason or no reason whatever."

-from The River Bank

Who exactly are the animals in The Wind in the Willows? Are they animals at all? Even if the creatures of the wood and the river could speak, would they really converse about "Toad and the lockkeeper"? (And anyway how could a toad engage a lockkeeper in the first place, assuming the lockkeeper is decidedly non-amphibian?) Perhaps, then, "Otter" is just a droll Edwardian gentleman, physically no different from you or me. After all, many theatrical and one or two cinematic interpretations of the famous story don't even bother to disguise the actors as animals - a couple whiskers for Rat, a bit of green face-paint for Toad, a tail for Badger if the production is feeling adventurous. At times this seems in keeping with Grahame's strategies. So then, these animals are clearly just people with animal names. Case closed. And yet, in a flash, that complacent conclusion is shattered, when Otter becomes an otter once again, leaping into the river after his insect meal. And what of that Mayfly?! One moment he's a "young blood" following a "fashion" (might as well be a dandy parading down Carnaby Street) and then, unexpectedly, he's Otter's lunch. If these animals are merely people in disguise, then we've just witnessed an act of cannibalism! Perhaps it's best if we follow Mole's lead, ask no questions, and, accepting the strange rules of The Wind in the Willows for what they are, go along for the ride through this topsy-turvy animal kingdom.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Fragments of Cinephilia


Short thoughts on: The River • Stranger Than ParadiseL'Avventura  Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer • Howard Hawks • AFI lists • Wilford Brimley's physique

These fragments were originally comments on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) left by yours truly in his pre-blogging days. The jump into blogging was a good move, all things considered, but sometimes I miss the spontaneity and clarity offered by commenting. Since I don't really do capsules or random observations these days, I'd like to revive some of these comments here; they are generally quick and to the point, no padding. These selections (dating from September 2007 to June 2008) are the first 10 I found worth reprinting. Some are general musings, some are focused on a particular film or moment, some are just amusing observations (amusing to me anyway). If you enjoy this sort of thing, let me know and I'll continue from time to time; there's plenty more where these came from. I've already noted that I'd occasionally like to reproduce older writing on this blog - to give myself a break once in a while, if nothing else. Before blogging, IMDb was my movie home, so here's a walk down memory lane. Comments begin after the jump.