Lost in the Movies: September 2011

"32 Days of Movies" begins tomorrow

"32 Days of Movies" is a chronological journey through 350 films.
Every morning, starting tomorrow, a 4-8 minute chapter, with 30-45 second clips, will be unveiled.

In the early hours of October, I will launch the most ambitious, and probably the most ambiguous, enterprise this blog has so far seen. Ambitious because it took me far longer to assemble than anything else I’ve ever done – longer than the Astaire-Rogers dance compilation, or the 525-picture tribute to Allan Fish, or the Brian de Palma video tribute (still my favorite piece, to sound like a broken record), or the long essays I toiled over or wrote all at once during a mad flash of motivation.

Ambiguous because, well, I’m not sure what people will make of it. It is, I guess you could say, a clip show – a series of clips from DVDs I own, a kind of audiovisual sample survey of cinematic moments. This approach is essential for me: if viewing a whole film is an act of consummation, then the foreplay is also part of the pleasure – in this sense, reading about a movie is first base, viewing stills or screen-caps is a double, and when watching a clip, you've made it all the way to third.

Yet I realize that for others a clip is a clip, somewhat less than a part of its sum – a meager breadcrumb when one is hoping for a full meal (in this sense, reading about the film is more like reading a menu, an exciting buildup superior to a teasing snack). For these folks the question will be, "Where's the beef?" To this I can only respond like Louis Armstrong: if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.

Even for those cottoning to such an approach, however, a number of excuses, explanations, and disclaimers remain in order. First, a few things this series is not.

The Big Picture: The Movies and Me

A memoir, a confession, a manifesto, a declaration of principles...

"The real crux, I think, is this. The cinephile loves the idea of film.

That means loving not only its accomplishments but its potential, its promise and prospects. It's as if individual films, delectable and overpowering as they can be, are but glimpses of something far grander. That distant horizon, impossible to describe fully, is cinema and it is this art form, or medium, that is the ultimate object of devotion." - David Bordwell

I had known movies for a while, but I discovered the cinema sometime between the first day of school and Christmas Eve in 1990. I was seven years old, and the discovery took several forms at once, all of which have stayed with me ever since.

Just because you are a character, still doesn't mean you have character...

This is a sequel to the "40 Characters" list I made a quarter-decade ago. This time the number's up to 60 (including individuals in pairs and ensembles) and the categories have expanded. Enjoy. 

Musical Countdown - The Gay Divorcee

This is an entry in the Wonders in the Dark musical countdown - an epic enterprise; make sure you check out the whole thing!

If writing about movies is like dancing about architecture, then writing about musicals is like trying to draw a blueprint for a tap dance. Here I try to make both ends meet.

The words below the fold are from Arlene Croce’s seminal “Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Book.”

The images (some fragments, some fully framed) are from a single number, “Night and Day,” the only sequence in the film where Fred & Ginger dance by themselves, three minutes out of nearly two hours but the very essence of the picture and their partnership.

Finally, there is a video clip of the number in its entirety. Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, choreography by Fred Astaire, dancing by you-know-who.

The hope is that, senses sharpened by the indirect evocations of Croce’s prose, and the lingering snapshots of motion, you will view the piece with renewed appreciation, much as one might press one’s nose up against a pointillist painting, viewing all those little dots as isolated phenomena before stepping back to take in the big picture, all without losing sight of the magical details which give it its essence.

As Arlene Croce writes, opening her study of the sequence, “This incomparable dance of seduction is a movie in itself.” Enjoy.


Spoilers are discussed. Extensively.

The waves beating violently against the foot of a cliff - the smoldering ruins clouded in a heavy mist - the pristine, untouched room in the west wing, mausoleum for a woman so perfect she seems never to have existed... Rebecca is loaded with Romantic imagery, and as with so much Romanticism a dark secret lies at the heart of all the eerie beauty.

Yet what is significant about this secret is how it shatters the Romantic nightmare and places something coarser, more real, in its place - a reality just as dark but far more tangible than all the doom-laden myths evoked by the aforementioned locales. The mysterious gothic world will come crashing down when exposed to the open air of uncomfortable truths and petty people, to the point where the torching of Manderlay seems almost an afterthought.

Opening the Archives – A Birthday Present for Wonders in the Dark

Click here to visit The Complete Archive for Wonders in the Dark. The rest of this piece is a long, and perhaps long-winded, revisiting of that site's history - humor me, if you will. Or don't - but either way, check out the archive, as well as the more searchable Cinema/TV archive. Enjoy - these are my birthday presents to the readership and staff of Wonders in the Dark. The rest is just the greeting card, and we all know what you do with those...
Today, September 7, 2008, a new blog is born. The main thrust of this cultural endeavor will be the publication of reviews, which will examine films, theatre, concerts and opera. Several writers will be on board to bring the steaming excitement of Manhattan culture to the internet world. In the area of film, there will also be ongoing attention to classic and contemporary cinema by some terrific writers and a tracking of new DVD releases of art house product. As the site matures, it is also anticipated that pictures and photos will be utilized. This is a most exciting project and I am thrilled with the prospect of rewarding discourse by way of posts and comments. -Sam Juliano
So it began. With a modest, one-paragraph opening statement and a small band of supporters, Sam Juliano dipped his toe into the blogosphere. A dozen or so writers, two million views, and 2,000 posts later (we won't even get into the amount of comments) we must conclude that it was a mighty big toe, so great was the ripple effect it created.

The 10th anniversary of September 11

I had planned to write something for the occasion of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, but did not go through with it. However, I did not want the event to go unremarked upon here. Here are four pieces I've written related to that day and its aftermath. If you are seeking some sort of commentary or meditation on the day, hopefully these provide some degree of what you are looking for.

My review of 9/11, the documentary by the Naudet brothers, focuses on the event itself.
Waiting for the 25th Hour, a review of 25th Hour, deals with the emotional and psychological aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
The Way We Weren't is a response to a Newsweek article about art in the Bush era; it is my take on the cultural and political fallout from 9/11.
Man on Wire was a documentary about Phillip Petit, the man who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in the early 70s. Though not directly related to 9/11, the film provides an interesting counterpoint to the sorrow of that day.

On Dangerous Ground

This is an entry in the Cinema Viewfinder Nicholas Ray blogathon - it contains spoilers

Sometimes a man must go to Siberia to find his soul. In 1849 Fyodor Dostoevsky, a young man already accomplished and acclaimed as a writer, was sentenced to death. He and his co-conspirators prepared to die, to become martyrs for the cause of liberalism, crushed in the reactionary repression following the failed revolutions of the previous year. It was to be a brutal end, but a noble one. However, the czar had something else in mind.

Almost the entire year passed before Fyodor and his co-conspirators were marched out on a raw, brutally freezing December morning. A cutting wind howled through the site of the execution, obscuring the officer's orders and perhaps making it seem as if God himself was cutting down these youthful rebels. The orders were given. The masks dropped over the prisoners' faces, the guns lowered. And then, nothing. The entire execution had been a cosmic joke - and the prisoners were to be sent east to toil in hard labor for several years.

Some praised their deliverance, others resented their chains, a few went mad. Dostoevsky, already a talented artist, became a genius and a deeply spiritual man. In a sense, he had died and was born again, discovering the bedrock of his self in the wilderness, like Jesus emerging from the desert after 40 days.

Nick Ray on Cinema Viewfinder

Now that my blog is reactived, I'll put up a new post every Monday, usually in the morning although today I'm a little late. I'll also post during other days of the week, so stay tuned. This brings me to today's entry: the kickoff of Tony Dayoub's "Nicholas Ray Blogathon" on Cinema Viewfinder, which I will be contributing to at some point over the next few days.

This will be the third of Tony's filmmaker blogathons I've participated in, following last year's analysis of the two versions of The Fly, and 2009's video piece on Brian De Palma (which is still my personal favorite online work).

For now I'm keeping the subject of the forthcoming Ray entry up my sleeve (very far up my sleeve, but that's another story). In the mean time, you can check out the submissions appearing on Tony's blog, as well as links he'll provide to Ray pieces across the blogosphere (including, I believe, two of my own, linked here as well: In a Lonely Place and Bigger Than Life, both from 2008).

Additionally I've included some brief reflections on the filmmaker below:

Autumn Forecast for The Dancing Image

Well, here I am again - a surprise for those of you who read my departure notice in May, but hopefully a pleasant surprise. Having committed myself to several upcoming pieces for other sites, it only seems right that I reactivate The Dancing Image and link to these when they arise. However, I'll also take the opportunity to put up some new pieces here as well.

Around November, I will probably make the "Top Posts" the main page once again, allowing this blog to serve primarily as an archive - for how long is uncertain. (By the way, thanks to those who visited during what should have been the site's quiet months - in fact some of these were among the very busiest - mostly first-time visits, via Google image searches I think, but hopefully some of you stuck around and are reading this.)

Until I close down again, things will be fairly busy, at least one post a week. Here's what in store, though it's possible some of these pieces will not go up while others, unmentioned, will: an entry in Tony Dayoub's Nicholas Ray blogathon around September 8; an essay on Hiroshima Mon Amour around September 10; three pieces for the jam-packed musical countdown on Wonders in the Dark (not saying which, of course - it's a surprise), planned for September 19, October 25, and October 27; and possibly, two interviews in October or November.

I have some other ideas as well. I would like to do a post featuring my favorite painters; around the time I closed shop this spring, I got heavily into art for a little while, discovering much about my own taste and the history of the medium. There may also be casual posts on music, books, and other non-movie topics. I am working on archiving Wonders in the Dark, which with its multitude of writers, subjects, and posts (pushing 2,000 in just 3 years' time) demands a more easily navigable system - and I will certainly make an announcement when that project is finished. I may even take a stab at some of those formal analyses I mentioned in the past, picture/video/prose collages investigating how a movie ticks.

Meanwhile, I've been working on a project for a friend which includes clips from all the DVDs I own, sort of a sampling so as one can get ideas for what to rent/borrow/download on their own. As this exercise has expanded, I think I may end up unveiling it here as well, over a few weeks in easier-to-digest 10 minute chapters (though my collection is small, and each clip just 30 seconds, the whole thing would still last 3 hours and be too much to take in one sitting). It will be a chronological journey through my personal collection, and probably the best way I can think of to express the excitement movies still generate for me.

So, that's what awaits as the leaves fall and the air chills. Keep an eye on your blogroll and spread the word...The Dancing Image is back in action for the autumn.

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