Lost in the Movies: A dirty dozen

A dirty dozen

My 12 films: Some Came Running, God's Country, Paris Belongs to Us, Rosemary's Baby, Pandora's Box, Daisies, Scarface, Baby Face, Air Force, Yellow Submarine, Last of the Mohicans, Easy Rider

Do memes last more than a week? It's been eight days since Piper at Lazy Eye Theatre challenged bloggers to program 12 films at the New Beverly Cinema. Eight days in the blogosphere seems like an eternity but I'll go ahead and bite (not that anyone asked me to). The idea is to create a rep program of twelve films, in themed couplets (for example, Piper sticks High Fidelity with Punch Drunk Love as romantic comedies, and Song of the South with Coonskin as half-animated, racially controversial adaptations of Uncle Remus' tales). Some have chosen to give the entire program an overarching theme; hats off to them, but I found it hard enough deciding what to include and what to leave out.

My pairs are themed, but the overall program is not, save that they are all among my favorite films, ones I would love to share with an audience. I tried for diversity, and there are some classics, some more recent films (nothing from the past 15 years, though), all in different styles and genres. There are silents and talkies, black-and-white and color, animated and live-action, even documentary. Admittedly, all but three or four are American. And one persistent consistency proved impossible to overcome: fully half the films are from the 60s, my favorite cinematic decade. It's a testament to that era's richness that the list still feels diverse. Anyway, on to the explanations...

1. Their Town: Some Came Running (1958) & God's Country (1986) Movies can fully immerse us in communities, imaginary and real, which is one of the greatest, if underused, qualities of the medium. Quite often our guide is, like us, an outsider. Both of these films bring worldly figures to provincial towns and set them loose, though they part ways after that initial scenario. In Vincente Minnelli's widescreen opus, the visitor (an ex-GI and novelist played by Frank Sinatra) returns to his old hometown, where he's not exactly welcome. Sticking around, he uncovers formerly hidden aspects of community life, but he also disturbs the town's tightly-wound equilibrium, eventually towing violence in his wake. In the documentary God's Country, director Louis Malle is himself the visitor and his warm-hearted curiosity finds a microcosm of the wider world in the comfortable little farm town. Though there are revelations of loneliness, limited possibilities, and even occasional bigotry, Malle's film is ultimately a celebration of the town's people and way of life. When he returns, seven years after most of the footage was shot, the farms are in crisis and his work has already become an elegy for the community.

2. Secret Societies: Paris Belongs to Us (1960) & Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Following a tragic suicide, a young woman has an uneasy feeling that something strange is going on, and soon she suspects her neighbors of colluding in a vast, hidden conspiracy that threatens the whole world. So go the stories of Jacques Rivette's seldom-seen New Wave debut and Roman Polanski's horror classic. Both stoke paranoia, but Paris Belongs to Us is a marvellously open (if messy) work, seeming to unfold spontaneously, while Rosemary's Baby is masterfully closed, limiting us with immense craft to Rosemary's increasingly threatened point of view. Though both evoke the whispering worlds of secret societies, they keep us on the outside, even to the point of questioning if these societies really exist.

3. She Did It Her Way: Pandora's Box (1929) & Daisies (1966)
Here are two films that take free-spirited females as their heroines. Do they celebrate their transgressions or condemn them? The answers are surprising. In G.W. Pabst's methodical but luminous silent picture, Louise Brooks effortlessly burns a hole in the screen as Lulu. She's completely irresistible, cavalierly seducing and toying with endless men (and even the occasional woman), driving all her prospective lovers mad with jealousy and desire. Though the plot punishes her mercilessly, Pabst remains aloof and some have even concluded that her grisly death is in fact a happy ending: the destructive orgasm she'd been pursuing all along. By contrast, Vera Chytilova's Daisies is a breathless anarchic Czech slice of the avant-garde, following its pixieish party girls as they cavort through time and space, snipping phallic fruits, teasing elderly sugar daddies, trespassing and destroying banquet halls as they gobble up every dish before smashing the plates against the wall. Save for a seemingly ironic penance at the end of the film, they get away with everything, and moreover the film is directed by a woman. Yet, director Chytilova has stated that her film is a condemnation of the girl's pointless and destructive play-acting. So is Pandora's Box more feminist than Daisies? See them back to back and decide; I can't really say and I enjoy them both too immensely to really care.

4. Rising to the Top: Scarface (1932) & Baby Face (1933)
Getting ahead and rising to the top through your wits and chutzpah...that's the American dream, isn't it? But when Thomas Jefferson penned, "and the pursuit of happiness" he may not have had these social climbers in mind. Determined to get out of their respective ghettos and taste the success they believe they're destined for, Tony Camonte and Lily Powers use their talents (violence and sex, respectively) to get what they want. Ultimately they are both undone, but this is due mostly to the social mores of the time and - secretly or not - we often find ourselves rooting for them in their ruthless pursuit of that blinking message in the sky: "The world is yours." Powers is much smarter than Camonte and as her success depends on bruised egos rather than butchered bodies, she's inherently more sympathetic than Tony. But both are outsiders with good old-fashioned grit and gumption, both are used and abused as certainly as they do the same, and both are inhabited by charismatic stars: Paul Muni (his charisma more animal-like, but potent nonetheless) and Barbara Stanwyck (who wouldn't want to be a rung in her ladder to the top?). Also, both films end with the word "face" in the title. A no-brainer double feature.

5. By Airplane or Submarine: Air Force (1943) & Yellow Submarine (1968)
The winding journey, and the trusty craft that carries you along: such are the staples of a certain type of adventure film (The African Queen being perhaps the foremost example). Both Air Force and Yellow Submarine chronicle the journeys of a group of men through increasingly dangerous surroundings, as they head in a certain direction, making stops along the way. A hostile invasion has occurred and it's up to these adventurers, placed together in close quarters, to ride to the rescue. In one case, the enemies are Japanese pilots, in the other Blue Meanies, but otherwise these films are practically identical, right? OK, Air Force is a quintessential Howard Hawks picture, its geographical odyssey corresponding with the crew members' growth as men of war. It's black-and-white, violent, and full of old-fashioned values. Yellow Submarine is a fantasy drenched in psychedelic Pop Art animation and hilarious visual non sequiturs. It stars the Beatles as avatars of peace and love -- it's Saturday morning cartoons on acid. But Jeremy Hilary Boob, Ph.D (the Nowhere Man) is the archetypal Hawks weakling who, like John Garfield in Air Force, screws things up for the surrounding pros until, finally, he stands tall and does his duty, becoming a real man. Not bad for a prissy little furball.

6. Movement, Music and Montage: The Last of the Mohicans (1992) & Easy Rider (1969)
So far, the movies have been organized by theme and story: murky conspiracies, rebellious chicks... well, finally, let the series conclude with two films whose formal qualities make them unlikely blood brothers. The opening of Easy Rider and the finale of Mohicans utilize movement of character and camera, perfectly rhythmic and even poetic cutting, and exquisitely selected sound and music to do what movies do so well: sweep you up into a visceral, aesthetic fever dream. Full posts will be devoted to these, two of my favorite films of all time, on another occasion. For now just watch these clips and revel in cinematic Valhalla: The Last of the Mohicans and Easy Rider. Enjoy.

[We're supposed to tag some other blogs, like a chain letter or something. I'm discovering new blogs every day, so forgive me if my choices seem a little obvious. Nonetheless, I haven't seen these blogs participate yet, so what the hell. And anyway, though I'm still something of a Luddite, I believe these links could bring me some increased traffic, which I could obviously use:
Glen Kenny, Some Came Running

Erich Kuersten, Acidemic Film
Filmbrain, Like Anna Karina's Sweater
Ken Lowery, Ken Lowery (I think he just does reviews, but whatever)
Self-Styled Siren

That's about all I can muster right now.]

This is a Top Post. To see other highlights of The Dancing Image, visit the other Top Posts.


Anonymous said...

Great, now I have more films to add to my NetFlix queue. :)

I'm interested in your review of Last of the Mohicans. I personally didn't care for it that much, but I would love to be proven wrong. I think a rewatch is in order.

The main thing that irked me was the music. It works well by itself, but not as a score IMO. For example, the music at the beginning of the clip you linked to just doesn't seem to fit the emotionality of the scene at all.

But to each his own. :)

Joel Bocko said...

Yes, it's a matter of taste. I'd suggest (in my own self-interest, perhaps) that there's some wiggle-room. I happen to adore bombast if it's used correctly, and here I think it is.

The use of the dramatic score at the beginning of the scene works for me because it's so jarring -- up till then (and here's where watching the scene in the context of the whole film comes in handy) it's been relatively quiet, if tense. The music simultaneously provides a release and ups the tension as the British officer is taken away...it becomes clear that the film has entered into a new realm as the climax begins to unfold, almost a realm of myth. (The officer has just sacrificed his life so that the woman he loves, who does not love him, can live.) And of course, the editing of the sequence provides a perfect rhythmic unity with the music. But I'm getting ahead of myself -- I've already promised to devote a whole post to this film and this sequence in the future.

Incidentally, congratulations on taking the plunge -- you are officially the first commentator on The Dancing Image. Stick around - there should be some interesting posts coming soon (if my latest Netflix ever arrive).

Marilyn said...

I'm Number 2. We try harder.

You've got a great line-up of films there, and I like the pairings. I also like Last of the Mohicans, though the violence sometimes goes over the top for me. It's a breathtakingly beautiful film and, perhaps, Madeleine Stowe's last good film.

And I just saw and reviewed Daisies on my site!

FYI - You typed Louise Breaks instead of Louise Brooks.

Joel Bocko said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel Bocko said...

Thanks for the typo notice - I keep checking the post and finding new mistakes. It's the gift that keeps on giving (there was even a typo in the initial incarnation of this comment). Although there's something oddly catchy about Louise Breaks, isn't there?

And good timing on Daisies. I'm hesitant to log my next entry, simply because I like that picture at the top of the blog.

James Hansen said...

Really interesting pairings...I like it (even though "Daisies" drove me CRAZY when I saw it.) "Scarface" paird with "Baby Face" would be quite excellent in some sort of strange way...

Thanks for the link!

Anonymous said...

You should join the Large Association of Movie Blogs (LAMB) You'd fit in nicely.


Joel Bocko said...

I should be on LAMB pretty soon - I sent them an "application" (or whatever you call it) pretty recently.

Keith said...

Great list! I was terrified when I first skimmed it that you were going to pair De Palma's Scarface with Baby Face rather than the original, but luckily that crisis was averted!

I think my favorite would have to be the secret societies night... that would be one helluva double feature.

Joel Bocko said...

Ha ha...I won't say I didn't consider it, Keith, but ultimately I chose the more elegant pairing. And anyway, those two stills were too perfect together.

whitney said...

This is a great list. Everything that I haven't seen on here is something I now want to see. Thanks!


I consider myself pretty well versed in cinema, but I've only seen 2 of these!

I can't believe it.

Looks like I'm going to have to take a good look at the Netflix queue.

Ric Burke said...

Now that's a list.

Some quite excellent pairings here (Paris Belongs to Us and Rosemary's Baby and Scarface and Baby Face); I don't think there would be a night I'd miss.

Nice to hear that you've applied for LAMB status, as a fellow member, to a soon to be member, I hereby welcome you to the fold.

Joel Bocko said...

Unfortunately, Paris Belongs to Us isn't on Netflix, but if you live in New York you can get a (really crappy) copy at Kim's. They did a Rivette retro a few years ago, all around the country (and in the UK too I think). It was really well-received but so far I haven't heard anything about Region 1 releases. Frustrating.

Anyway, I definitely need to check out some of your Italian films too - I should be getting Mafioso some time in the next month or two so look for a review of that in the near future.

Unknown said...

As others have pointed out, nice call on the THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS/EASY RIDE double bill. I would have never thought of paring those two up. MOHICANS is an odd film in Michael Mann's filmography. An overly romantic period piece that did so well at the box office he was able to parlay it into making HEAT.

I love EASY RIDER too. Such a great film with a killer soundtrack and a scene-stealing performance by Jack Nicholson.

STinG said...

Forgive me for pulling this again, but from your well-selected pairings, I had made my own double feature ideas...


I need to start making up my own post topics one of these days...
Definitely love the unusual but fitting marriage of Easy Rider and The Last of the Mohicans.

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