Monday, June 25, 2012

Spade & Marlowe, Private Eyes (The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, on page and screen)



Who is Sam Spade? Who is Philip Marlowe?

Well, for many film buffs, Bogie will always be Bogie. Granted, there's plenty of wiggle room within the Humphrey Bogart persona: the paranoia of Fred C. Dobbs, Dixon Steele, or Captain Queeg; the ruthlessness of those many gangster roles; the lovable grunginess of his turn in The African Queen. But when he dons his detective's fedora and lights his cigarette, there's an iconic continuity to the look, the mannerisms, the speech. One could justifiably assume that Bogart's iconic screen presence eclipses any individual character tics, whether he's supposed to be playing San Francisco sleuth Sam Spade (in John Huston's 1941 The Maltese Falcon) or L.A. dick Philip Marlowe (in Howard Hawks' 1946 The Big Sleep). Yet at root, Spade and Marlowe are very different people - one might even say fundamentally so, despite the superficial similarities and notable overlap. Within the hardboiled detective persona, they represent different motivations and actions - at least as originally conceived.



Saturday, June 16, 2012

Fragments of Cinephilia, Pt. II



Short thoughts on: The deaths of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni • The Wild OneThe Virgin SpringThe Departed and Infernal AffairsBus 174 Pan's Labyrinth and The Spirit of the Beehive • John Cassevetes and Noah Baumbach • The Stranger • Benito Mussolini's weenie

A year and a half ago, I transferred ten of my old comments from the Internet Movie Database to The Dancing Image, in a post called "Fragments of Cinephilia". This here is the follow-up: ten further memoirs of my pre-blogging days, in this case recycled from the summer of 2007 and including some great quotations from others. The topics range from heady to trivial: we start on a silent Olympus and end with a castrated dictator. Feel free to leave your own musings below - one of the pleasures of my old hunting ground (the IMDb) was the give-and-take, and I'd love to see it continue here. Enjoy.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

This is Not a Film & Venom and Eternity



A few months ago, I saw This is Not a Film for the first time. I had just arrived in Los Angeles and it seemed somehow appropriate to view Jafar Panahi's documentary about his own house arrest (and his desire to make a film despite the Iranian regime's ban on that activity for him, following his support of a protest movement) - on the outskirts of Hollywood. After all, This is Not a Film (smuggled into the 2011 Cannes Film Festival in a cake) represents a challenge and a question, or several questions, to conventional assumptions about cinema. Is the film(?)'s title true? Is it a film - or to raise the stakes even higher, a movie? What is a movie? Is it simply pointing a camera - film, video, whatever - and shooting something?

That question seems a perfect set-up for an authoritative "no" followed by a discourse on how the simple act of photography-in-motion is not sufficient, and filmmakers need one or more of the following to create a real movie: actors, a story, multiple shots, editing, creative use of the frame, etc etc. Even Jafar Panahi himself seems to hold to this theory at times, bemoaning that his discussion of what he would shoot, if he could, can't hold a candle to the actual result itself. "If the script was the movie," he sighs, "then I wouldn't need to shoot the movie." But, in fact, my answer to the question is "yes" - whether the end result is a sloppy home movie, an experimental art film, a big-budget blockbuster, or test footage for technical purposes the end result is, in an essential sense, a movie.