Lost in the Movies: June 2009

Michael Jackson 1958 - 2009

With Jackson's face (or several faces) all over the news, one would expect that we'd be hearing a little more of the music and (especially) seeing a little more of the dancing. Sadly, this is not really the case. We get clips but rarely get to enjoy a whole piece - I understand MTV suspended regular programming for several hours after his death in order to play his old videos, but now they're back to reality shows. So I have embedded a You Tube clip, probably his most famous moment, below (it follows the rest of my thoughts).

The Wild Bunch

The Wild Bunch, 1969, directed by Sam Peckinpah

Story: After being set up in a bank heist, the dwindling and aging Wild Bunch (a band of outlaws operating in the American frontier of the early 20th century) crosses into Mexico. Pursued by bounty hunters led by one of their former members, the Bunch agree to steal a cache of weapons for a corrupt Mexican warlord – but eventually, they must decide what’s worth more: his gold or their vaguely maintained code of honor.

The Wild Bunch is notorious as a subversive take on the Western genre, with the opening lines of Pike (William Holden) – “If they move, kill ‘em!” – supposedly a declaration of independence from the old-fashioned sanctities of the form. And the ensuing massacre would seem to confirm that we’re a long way from the moralistic shades of High Noon (1952) and Shane (1953), what with old ladies of the Temperance Union being killed in the crossfire by careless deputies, cowering bank tellers being taken hostage and used as live bait by the titular antiheroes, and the innocent babes of the town wandering through a town square littered with the corpses of their elders as they imitate the outlaws’ gunfire. Meanwhile, other children light a bonfire over battling scorpions and red ants, piling violence upon violence in a microcosm of the film’s pathology: lethal but somehow poignant old cretins – the bunch – pitted against the ruthless, small-minded hordes – the bounty hunters and Mexican soldiers and railroad men who are just as violent as the outlaws, but somehow more petty.

Waiting for the 25th Hour

[This review first appeared at Ibetolis' Film for the Soul as part of his great "Counting Down the Zeroes" series, which you should definitely check out. The review is quite long - including a lengthy quote from the movie as an introduction - and discusses crucial plot points, so beware. It begins after the jump.]

Three by Truffaut

In my introduction to "Reading the Movies," I noted the titles I was reading at the moment. Among the Kael, Sarris, and sundry I declined to mention The Films of My Life by Fran├žois Truffaut, which I've been reading off and on since April. I already transcribed the marvellous introduction; as for the rest of the book, I'm cool on some of Truffaut's criticism. At times he becomes too absorbed by plot descriptions (which, possibly due to translation, become cumbersome and hard to follow), at others his epigrams seem too obscure (I know, I know, I'm one to talk...). But unlike Truffaut's films, which I can only enjoy from a distance like Moses viewing the promised land, there are passages in his writing which leap from the page and hit me where it hurts - in a good way. Following are three wonderful essays which I've reproduced here for your enjoyment. So making their online debut (to my knowledge):

"Citizen Kane: The Fragile Giant" - Fantastic tribute to one of the greatest movies of all time, not from a perspective of technical admiration but of zealous, totally enraptured enthusiasm (and with a focus on the characters and story, which is also how I first knew and loved Kane - and in some ways, still do).

"Muriel" - Slightly bewildered appreciation of the Resnais film, with a great Hitchcock anecdote. Hitch's punchline, Truffaut's closing paragraph, and the film in question are all somewhat mystifying though I like the first two more than the third.

"Roberto Rossellini Prefers Real Life" - Tip of the hat to a very unique filmmaker, a man Truffaut worked for (much of the essay is devoted to personal reminisces). Years later, he still seems to be astonished by Rossellini's distractible intensity; Truffaut's tone is simultaneously admiring and disbelieving.

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