Lost in the Movies: January 2009

Farewell, Updike

Isn't it strange how we feel that some people, some artists and some works of art, belong to us? And how arbitrary it is who falls in to that category? Olivier doesn't belong to me but Brando does - never more so than in On the Waterfront. Godard belongs to me; Truffaut does not. Dreyer, but not Bresson. Fitzgerald is mine, Hemingway is a stranger I admire and am courteous towards, but he does not really hold a place in my heart. The Beatles are so much mine than I can get tired of them the way one grows tired of a sibling; and so forth.

What's the Connection?

(E-mail me your answers. If you'd like hints, request them in the comments section, and they'll be provided there as well. Research allowed, but kudos if you can get it without - though obviously I have no way of knowing...)

The possibilities of You Tube take one down many different avenues, but sometimes all roads lead to Rome. For a while, I've been wanting to comb the riches of You Tube for weekly or biweekly Dancing Image posts. This will be my first stab at the idea - so here are several random clips, yet all with an unusual common bond which resonates with me. I was watching The Miracle of Morgan's Creek when the idea for this post occurred to me. Following the jump are five videos. I ask you: what's the connection? Whatever it is is not all that well-known, but I grew up with it and perhaps you'll recognize it too. I originally planned to use clips from films, but the TV clips (except for the last one, of course) turned out to be perfect...particularly since I first encountered the "common bond" on television. That's all for now. (The videos follow after the jump.)

Le Petit Soldat

Le Petit Soldat sits uncomfortably in Jean-Luc Godard's oeuvre. Supposedly, anyway. Godard is supposed to be many things, few of which actually relate to why I love the director and consider him among my favorite filmmakers. (I think he and Spielberg may be my co-#1's. They hate each other; or at least Godard hates Spielberg, but the American is just as misunderstood in his own way as the Frenchman. Peter Greenaway once said that they both make home movies. I'm not sure Spielberg still does, yet there's hardly a better way to describe E.T. and Close Encounters. But that's another post - on another director who, like Godard, I have remarkably not yet discussed on this blog). Back to Godard: Le Petit Soldat is supposed to sit uncomfortably because it's "political" and serious-minded, dealing with the Algerian war and such (it was banned as a result, another reason it can't really find its place in the Godard canon: by the time it was released, it was already a relic of Godard's ever-shifting aesthetic past). But it's also romantic, playful, and remarkably uncertain - not usually a trait one associates with Godard, although perhaps one should.

Obama: Premonitions of a new epoch

I arrived in New York around midnight. This was already the third leg of a long, overnight trip to Washington, D.C. but it was only here that I began to see evidence of the gathering storm. There had been hints when I boarded in Boston - my 7:30 bus was cancelled and they were boarding people whenever they had the chance. But in New York they were boarding in relays, one bus after another after another, and a line stretched through the entire area and around the corner. I would say the majority of the crowd was African-American, and about half was young - with some, but not an overwhelming, overlap between the two.

Earlier that morning, I'd attended an annual NAACP breakfast in honor of Dr. King, who would have turned 80 this year. On everyone's lips, but especially those of the black attendees, there was an emotional, almost overwhelmed tone, a sense of still pent-up disbelief slowly releasing itself, coalescing into an unbearable excitement. There are so many aspects to Obama's newness - his youth, his name, his style, his savvy, his intelligence, his politics - but the most potent and poignant is his color. And the genuine (and genuinely non-exclusive) pride that the black population, young and old, male and female, liberal and conservative, seems to feel at his accomplishment has been palpable. As I've noted, most of those flocking to D.C. (at least who I saw: considering the numbers, this is extremely anecdotal evidence, folks) were young whites and somewhat older African-Americans, probably majority in their thirties and forties, sometimes bringing kids along, sometimes bringing along their folks - meaning those old enough to remember when a black person couldn't even sit at the front of the bus, let alone take one to see a black president getting sworn in.

The line moved swiftly, leaving just enough time for the buzzing crowd to get acquainted, and giving people working at the Port Authority a chance to shout their support and share their enthusiasm. The buses left 42nd Street in one big contingent, zooming down the highway while passengers tried to get some rest - which was only possible intermittently. After about an hour, we pulled over to the side of the highway and the driver shut off the engine, restarted it, shut it off, restarted it, stepped outside to check the problem, returned, shut it off, restarted it, shut it off...a monotonous description? Believe me, it was even worse experiencing it.

This went on for about twenty minutes until he finally admitted that something was wrong with the "air brake" (I don't really know what this is), and the bus was stuck. Meanwhile trucks and other buses zoomed by on our left every few seconds, rattling and shaking our coach as they passed. Occasionally, as we waited for rescue, a bus would pull over in front of us and let people on in groups of ten. After about an hour, I escaped, tramping through the snowy banks on the edge of a Jersey highway, flopping down in my new seat and trying to get what little sleep I could manage over the next 24 hours. This would not be the last setback, the last experience of the tedium of waiting, en masse, for something to happen. But for the meantime, I drifted off in my cramped quarters, leg dangling over the aisle, as we barrelled south, destined for our Mecca, the capital of our Union, south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Number nine, number nine...

Not especially wanting to write a full-length post at the moment, but feeling that two posts was a bit scant for the work-week, I was rescued by Piper of Lazy Eye Theatre, who tagged me with a New Years meme, nine resolutions for 2009. You can trace this back to its root at DVD Panache (courtesy of Adam) and also visit there for the full rules. If you're tagged, I suggest you do so. I've already lain out my plans for the new year, so I'll try not to be redundant. My new nine reside after the jump:

The Terminator

The Terminator is well-served by its eighties setting - and not only because the very elements which dated it within a few years give it a fresh charm now that '84 is a quarter-century into the past. Its cold, metallic feel - the electronic music, the shadows-pierced-by-blue-light cinematography, the constant use of machinery - underscores its mood of dread, a fear that the unthinking, malignant machines really might take over, which is very 1984 - in both senses of the year. Indeed, looking back on the era in which I was born, it sometimes seems like the 80s were more futuristic than contemporary times. Technology has, in some ways, been domesticated and made friendly; popular music has gone through more "authentic" phases since perfecting the synthesized dance beat; and despite the focus on artificial intelligence, part of The Terminator's machine dread is a lingering aftereffect of the already-dying industrial age - whose ominous, imposing aesthetic still seems more "futuristic" than its sleek, downplayed information age successors.

A Charlie Brown Christmas & It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown!

Admittedly, it isn't exactly "Christmastime again." Not even if you count all twelve days (I think they start after, not before, the 25th, right?). I had originally hoped to get this post in under the Yuletide gun but eventually let the festive dancing of Fred and Ginger (that's a Christmas-sounding name, isn't it?) suffice as my last official post of the year. But as I like to review new additions to my home DVD collection, I only put my thoughts on the Charlie Brown twofer (which I bought on the eve of Christmas Eve) on the backburner, instead of in the trash. Now that The Dancing Image is sputtering back to life after a long holiday-inspired break, the time has come to put pen to paper, so to speak. If Charlie Brown's original Christmas is your thing (and it is for all of us) check out these three good write-ups on the 1965 TV special: Screen Savour's historical, Filmicability's personal, and Bright Lights After Dark's religio-cultural. As for myself, what fascinated me most about my new DVD was the contrast between the classic '65 special and the rather paltry "sequel", which was aired in 1992.

The differences between the two films are not only aesthetic and thematic but cultural-historical, personal (as far as Charles Schulz is concerned), and even musical. First, the music. Vince Guaraldi is credited with the score for both holiday specials, but the '92 music was recorded and arranged by David Benoit, whose taste seems to run more in the smooth jazz direction. Whereas Guaraldi's original soundtrack (which may be both the best original soundtrack and best Christmas album of all time) was spare, melancholy, lightly joyful, and quietly warm, Benoit ladles on the sax styling and keyboard backdrop and the result is more akin to a jaunt through the shopping mall, muzak playing on the sound system, than it is to hovering around the stage in a beat-up little jazz club in a small, sleeping city on the eve of Christmas (the effect of the original). 

The New Year

And as the sun rises over a new year (forget for a moment that I'm writing this at night), we look forward: what does the future hold for The Dancing Image? Well, first things first, let me play a bit of catch-up. Like many of you, I've been partaking of my own "Dancing Image in 2008" megapost (and if you haven't checked it out yet, please either scroll down or click on this, which ever is easier). I've spotted a few mistakes in the process - follow the jump to discover my mea culpas...

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