Lost in the Movies: July 2009

(500) Days of Summer

Punningly, the title is a winking reference to Tom Hansen’s (Joseph Gordon Levitt) girlfriend, the rather ludicrously named Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). Appropriately then - and look elsewhere if you don't want the ending spoiled - the film’s own seasonal mood is rather autumnal, focusing as it does on the decline and expiration of a “quirky” romance. The movie also anticipates and tacitly acknowledges the death of the very hip/quirky/indie aesthetic that its own contemporary success would seem to vindicate. Just as “indie” trendiness hits saturation point in the media, the movie whispers to anyone who’s listening that the show is over and the queen is dead – the movie is an allegory for its own demise (and that of its audience) and even more surprisingly, an apologia for such.

Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia, 1962, directed by David Lean

The Story: T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), a minor British officer stationed in Cairo during World War I, is sent into the Arabian desert to “assess” the state of the Arabs’ revolt against the Turks. The revolt is a mess, but instead of reporting back, Lawrence himself leads a band of Arabs through the harshest sectors of the desert into victory against the Turks. Astonished and delighted, his superiors give him free reign and so T.E. becomes “Lawrence of Arabia,” an enigmatic, brilliant, and narcissistic guerrilla leader whose genius and bravado is matched only by his eccentricity and insecurity.

Mark Rudd and the Weather Underground

Microphone in hand, impatiently trailing the wire behind him as he paced at the front of the old theater with about forty people gathered before him, Mark Rudd emphatically, if a tad regretfully, declared that he was not a "revolutionary." At least not any more. On Saturday, July 18th, the Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH held a seminar as part of the Maine Film Festival entitled "A New Century - A New Activism." The talk began before the screening of The Weather Underground (a 2002 documentary about the radical left-wing group Rudd belonged to in the 1960s and 1970s) but spilled over into a post-film discussion as well.

16 Days into July (One Year and Counting)

Links to all of my online work, on an ongoing basis

On the first anniversary of this blog, I compiled a complete directory. It has now been moved here in its entirety.

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968, directed by Stanley Kubrick

The Story: Monkeys kill each other. Millions of years later, a murderous computer is dismantled while singing a vaudeville tune. An astronaut travels through a wormhole, ages rapidly, and is reborn as a gigantic fetus floating amongst the stars. Sleek, black monoliths appear intermittently. Lots of ships and satellites and stations float through outer space.

The plot both is and isn’t the point of 2001: A Space Odyssey. On the one hand, its rather sketchy (and on paper, ridiculous, as the above indicates) plot is easily overwhelmed by the cosmic light shows, the long demonstrations of space travel technique and ritual, the passages featuring the apes who can’t talk and the bloodless bureaucrats who can but probably shouldn’t, and of course the lavish visual effects (which hold up so much better than CGI from two years ago – or for that matter, from this year). On the other hand, if the overarching plot seems haphazard and thin, the narrative arc – spanning millions of years as the human race progresses from a mindless ape to a cosmic star child – is all-important. Composing the arc are several generally separate stories, four in all: the prehistoric men, the trip to the moon sponsored by Howard Johnsons, the showdown with HAL, the mystical and mystifying finale.

The Lost Son of Havana

Thirty years after the chants of "Lou-eee, Lou-eee!" have faded from Fenway, six miles from the spot of a very important and long-awaited 1975 reunion, the National Amusements Showcase Cinemas in Revere screened The Lost Son of Havana in Theater 1 at 7:35 pm; one of four daily screenings for at least the remainder of the week (if it is not held over any longer). The name of the movie was left out of the "Now Playing" flyers adorning the lobby, and there weren't any placards emblazoned with large quotes from Entertainment Weekly or video installments running trailers in loops. When asked for a ticket to the film, one of the theater's employees warned, "You do know it's a documentary, right?" Apparently, this disclaimer was necessary: some customers have been complaining. No one complained on this particular night, though - the four other people in the near-empty theater seemed perfectly content with their choice of entertainment.

Apocalypse Now Redux

Apocalypse Now Redux, 1979 (revised in 2000), directed by Francis Ford Coppola

The Story: Capt. Willard, an increasingly strung-out Special Forces commando, is assigned a top-secret mission in late 60s Vietnam: travel up the Da Nang river to assassinate the renegade Col. Kurtz, a mysterious military genius who has set up a private empire in the wilderness. Along the way, Willard and his shipmates encounter increasingly bizarre characters and situations, and by the time they arrive in Kurtz’s unholy domain, it has become clear that the colonel is only as mad as the war around him.

When the troubled production of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was mired for years in the Philippines, Hollywood wags dubbed the film “Apocalypse Later.” The implication, of course, being that such a crazy idea – an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, transposed to Vietnam, and shot in conditions which were themselves often warlike (literally, the crew had to negotiate with both sides of a civil war which was raging around them) – could only exist on paper or perhaps in Coppola’s crazed, grandiose mind. When the film arrived at Cannes finally, at the tail end of the 70s, it could have merely been a footnote to the legendary turmoil of its making, something like the later big-budget flop Heaven’s Gate, labeled a “folly” and quickly cast aside.

The Movie Bookshelf

A gathering of all the movie books that influenced, enlightened, and excited me, you, and everyone else - a diverse and highly personalized canon.

Six weeks ago I launched a new "meme" (another word I don't particularly enjoy, but which fits), calling it Reading the Movies and inviting you all to respond. There was a great response, and here are the results: a canonical list of, by my count, 364 titles which impacted these particular bloggers. A list of the 37 blogs that participated appears at the end of the post. I hope you will visit these blogs, because this list is only a starting point - many bloggers described their choices in loving detail, some devoting entire posts to a single book. And the discussion continues in the commentary, where many blog-readers have let their own choices be known. If I've missed anyone, please let me know and I'll add your selections as soon as possible. I've also included book covers wherever provided by the blogger.

Finally, if you've yet to participate - if this has been on the back burner for a while, or you've only just discovered the exercise - keep in mind that this is just the beginning. Jump right in, and comment below to let me know that you've joined. That's the nice thing about a virtual bookshelf - no size limits.

*(And, please, when you've read a book on this list for the first time, return to the thread below and let us know what you thought. No time frames on bookshelves either...)

Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind, 1939, directed by Victor Fleming (with uncredited assistance from George Cukor and Sam Wood)

Story: In an age of “cotton and cavaliers,” spoiled Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is the belle of the plantation barbecue. But then war – the Civil War – comes to her chivalric South, and her way of life is swept away, or gone with the wind, as author Margaret Mitchell put it in her bestselling novel. Soon this young beauty (who was once fanned by slaves during afternoon naps) is vowing to the angry sky, “As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” Even as she pursues the married and genteel Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), and is alternately seduced and bedeviled by the charming anti-gentleman Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), Scarlett does her best to keep good to this promise.

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