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

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Echoes of Fitzgerald

Despite the picture, these are not selections from The Great Gatsby (which, upon recently re-reading, launched me on my present Fitzgerald kick) but from "My Lost City", an essay featured originally in The Crack-Up (1945), and which I read for the first time in the slim 1996 volume The Jazz Age. (I had originally planned to include the bittersweet valedictory "Echoes of the Jazz Age," which opens the collection and lent my post its name; but I realized all my favorite quotes were from the next piece in the book.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Sacrifice

The Sacrifice was Andrei Tarkovsky's last film, made just before he was diagnosed with cancer and released while he was dying. Having now seen a slim majority of the master's films (and all of the ones which are most often acclaimed - save Nostalghia) I wouldn't rank this as one of my favorite Tarkovskys, though it was - as always - an interesting and often rewarding viewing experience. It's somewhat different from his other films in mood and style. Though his serious, slow, at times lugubrious aesthetic was never what when one would normally describe as "youthful", there's a painfully taut romanticism and intensity to his earlier films, a kind of breathlessness of expression which make their auteur appear a brash, bold enfant terrible. But The Sacrifice is somehow more stately, more mournful, less throbbing with the expressionist anxiety of young genius. It's a film of maturity, of regret, of decline - the characters are all older than the usual Tarkovsky protagonists, the camera style is more removed (despite the usual dreamlike black-and-white Tarkovskian interludes which Lars von Trier sought to evoke in Antichrist), and the scenario - both the setting and the story - more spare, if at times apocalyptic.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Goodbye and Happy Birthday

One of my favorite directors - and certainly one of the greatest in cinema history - passed away today. Eric Rohmer had the astonishing skill of composing films which were basically wall-to-wall conversations and making them beautifully, transcendentally cinematic. True, he was helped by the able eye of Nestor Alemendros, but also by an innate understanding of film language and style. I'll confess I've only seen the Six Moral Tales, but on that basis alone he knew how to make talk not just sexy, but cinematic. A few years ago, when Bergman and Antonioni died I wrote that the auteurs' Olympus was suddenly much emptier. Now, with the undisputed master of screen dialogue gone, Olympus is a whole lot quieter too.

On a brighter note, Luise Rainer just celebrated her 100th birthday. Happy birthday, Luise - hopefully the Oscars, which have supposedly axed their honorary awards from the broadcast in a gesture of open contempt for their own history, have enough sense remaining to pay tribute to their oldest winner at this year's ceremony.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Blog 09

[Those who have not yet submitted their selection are still invited to do so; but from this point on, for sanity's sake, I have to keep it limited to those I originally contacted (i.e. the folks on my blogroll; if you're there but were not reached yet, consider yourself invited).]

I originally wrote a very long intro to this piece, but that's been discarded and I'll try to keep it succinct [not sure how well I succeeded now that all's said and done - ed]. This is a tribute to the past year of celebrating movies & a blow against the ephemeral nature of the exercise; in asking bloggers to select their own best work for the year (the full list follows after the jump) I'm hoping we can take another step beyond the purely chronological approach to blogging, in which our best work slips away once it slides down from its perch atop our site.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Images from Syndromes and a Century

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Syndromes and a Century. The enticing visuals, considered apart from the film's intriguing themes and structure (though of course they are all inextricably linked), are worth celebrating, so I present, unadorned, images from the movie:

Monday, January 4, 2010

Triumph of the Will

As I may have mentioned recently, I've been tracking down classics I haven't seen (and re-watching old favorites) in anticipation of a long-awaited, perpetually postponed canonical exercise. On Netflix, I set up a queue of about 50 films which it seemed especially pressing to watch. The list ranged from iconic hits without a great deal of critical acclaim (Saturday Night Fever, A Nightmare on Elm Street) to widely acknowledged classics I had seen only parts of (The Great Dictator, Orpheus) to unseen films by auteur directors (Made in USA, Simon of the Desert, Salo). I proceeded chronologically and finished just before the new year; but at task's end I realized there were still a few films I meant to see which had slipped through the cracks.

One of them was Leni Riefenstahl's notorious 1935 Triumph of the Will, probably the most famous, castigated, and cautiously celebrated propaganda film of all time. Documenting the National Socialist Party rally of '34, when Hitler had just ascended to power but had already taken complete control of the country, the film has been imitated even as it's been held at arms' length. Today, Hitler and the Nazis tend to be viewed primarily in conjunction with the Holocaust but to watch Triumph of the Will in 2010 is to be reminded not just how the Nazis saw themselves but how the world first came to see them. Before his name became synonymous with pure evil, the German dictator and his bizarre, unexpected, and wildly popular movement were regarded with a mixture of awe, dread, and comic incredulity - sometimes all three at once. Triumph of the Will was widely screened and, while scorning the political content, many filmmakers admired the craft and later imitated it for their own propaganda films (once Hitler's Germany had unqualifiably become the enemy). Indeed, seeing this film after the films which followed it, one can see all the sources of the Hitlerite myth, both the one he fostered and the one that sprung up when his toxic brand of fanatical monumentalism encountered foreign sensibilities.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

"Smoking hernia and taking odium, and getting very high (some were only four foot three high, but he had Indian hump, which he grew in his sleep)."

A radio interview (no pictures, folks) conducted with John Lennon on December 10, 1963. After playful but nonetheless quite straightforward discussions with the other Fab Three, the reporter turns his attention to Lennon, only to be skewered on the nonchalantly vicious lance of the laconic pop star. Hilarity ensues (if not for the hapless questioner), followed by a reading of one of Lennon's poems from which the above quotation was plucked.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Patriot Games

I'm so used to Patriot Games, having seen it numerous times, that I can hardly "see" it anymore. To put it on the VCR is like putting on mood music, where you may not hear every note but still catch the general ambience. The comparison is appropriate because Patriot Games is a movie marked by signifiers, yet without real depth - a straight-up action movie which relies more on connotations than insight for its effect. Still, I like the retrospectively more classical style of the '92 film, and find its details, however superficial, evoke an enjoyable mood. Take the ubiquitous Irish pubs, thick accents, and ethereal Celtic music (which, along with the draconian anti-IRA perspective of the film, so incensed Variety film critic Joseph McBride that he wrote a scathing review - and was apparently fired from the publication as a result!). They are little more than associative signposts, but they work - if the film has any soul, it's borrowed, but I prefer borrowed soul to no soul and miss the days when Hollywood films - however superficially - bartered in such.