Lost in the Movies: Blog 11

Blog 11

I will keep the introduction short, and let the pieces speak for themselves. A month ago, I invited bloggers to submit their strongest work of the year. Here is what I received - images, videos, highlights from the text, and a link so that you can explore the piece in question yourself. Enjoy!

"In the muddy 90s this section of the film always seemed to be popping up late at night when I was reeling from the effects of some mind-bending substance (I think it came on after 'Psych-Out' on my VHS), and Fanucci's face looked on my blurry VHS like a grotesque theater clown; his last gasps a mix of profound awareness, surprise and seeming attempts to react in a macho, heroic manner are all undone by his rapid loss of blood and bodily functioning. He tries to snarl and chokes on it. Like this encounter with death, brilliantly conveyed by Moschin, the LSD state is one wherein one is suddenly confronted with mortality's terrifying limits, thrust outside the reach of the linear space-time guardrails; unable to give full expression to the intense sensory input one is experiencing in the dark auburn Gordon Willis lighting of the hallway that is the late night of our lives. We all have our Fanucci moment, whether the death of a loved on, a brutal break-up, a car accident, or taking a whole when you should have taken a half. The question is, what do we do with it? Do we cower, or do we stand up and dissolve into the ether like a man, a blood-soaked, pain-wracked but still standing man/woman?" - "LSD Godfather: Don Fanucci in the Vestibule", Erich Kuersten, Acidemic-Film

"In a four-part series for the next two weeks, we’re going to discuss Calamity Jane, and how movies of the mid-20th century saw her. She’s a figure in American history that has been so hyped and exploited, and so little understood that the real person, whoever she really was, was jettisoned long ago -- partly by journalists and dime novel authors and partly by herself -- that what remains is the residue of legend, myth, outright lies, and that purest alloy of American fame -- marketing. All this happened long before the movies, so by the time the “character” of Calamity Jane hit the big screen, she was already open to interpretation. As we will see in the four films we’re going to cover, the interpretation runs the gamut between tough-talking tomboy frontier scout, to shrewd businesswoman, to something between an innocent, goofy kid sister and a raucous rodeo clown." - "Calamity Jane (Part 1) - (Part 2) - (Part 3) - (Part 4)", Jacqueline Lynch, Another Old Movie Blog

"Standing in an aquarium with his arms outstretched, the Creature from the Black Lagoon makes a cameo appearance in Robert Altman’s 3 Women, but his presence is anything but gratuitous. Like everything else in this poetically unified film, he is there to echo, reflect, or comment upon some other aspect of the movie. 3 Women is a movie filled with doubles and reflections. (The 3 women of the title double and reflect each other.) The half-human, half-reptile Creature is another version of the archetypal reptoid semi-humans that we see throughout the movie painted by artist Willie (Janice Rule) on walls and on the bottom of swimming pools. The enclosed tank in which the Creature stands is like the world of the film in microcosm, 3 clams or oysters (undoubtedly female) threatened by a predatory male — just as the 3 women of the title are threatened by “Edgar,” Willie’s hypermasculine, philandering husband. The tank is shot slightly from above to emphasize the tension between the water’s rippling surface on top and the murky world underneath, a visual motif repeated throughout the film, much of which is shot through rippling liquid. The colors in the frame – pale pinks and purples, yellow, and aquamarine – are the same colors that dominate the film as a whole. The fishtank anchors our viewpoint inside the apartment at the Purple Sage Motel that is shared by Millie (Shelley Duvall) and Pinky (Sissy Spacek), the film’s two main protagonists." - "Notes on a Slow Zoom: Robert Altman's 3 WOMEN", C. Jerry Kutner, Bright Lights After Dark

"...Cooke draws on his deepest roots as a gifted gospel singer, his stock in trade for years before he turned to popular music (in the process outraging a good many of his most devoted fans; the circumstances of his death didn't help any with that either). In many ways this song expresses a gravitas that Cooke himself missed, though his popular career nevertheless features some of the best and most influential black pop music to be found in its era or any other. Dressed up with a lush orchestration that makes it as big as Carnegie Hall and then some, the images of Cooke's words bristle with a kind of 19th-century cum ancient veracity that only serves to ground the song further."
- "100 Hit Songs", JPK, Can't Explain (or read all the reviews in one place at this PDF)

"The three films in question are, in different ways, about the commodification of people. They are about the image becoming untethered from its origin – the real. They are about a chosen profession (striptease vaudeville), a particular field (animated pornography) and a certain trend (video games becoming more ‘realistic’ and immersive) in which people give themselves to, or are lost within, an amoral web. We find that people are no less disposable or controllable than icons and avatars; exploiting, being exploited and allowing oneself to be exploited. 

There is a sliding scale of agency for the human protagonists that moves from control to complicity, acquiescence and, finally, enslavement. Backstage politics and back-stabbing in Showgirls; power over pornography rights and over others in Demonlover; a struggle to keep one’s body and soul from the puppet hands of a grand game player/designer in Gamer. These are the battles that allow a climb or a fall." - "Humanity Through Excess", Stephen Gebbett-Russell, Checking on My Sausages

"The film comprises of a slew of unforgettable moments, right from the opening where Charu is whiling her time with her opera-glasses, and the one with Charu riding on her swing in complete abandon (perhaps an homage to Kurosawa’s Ikiru), to the terrific freeze-framed finale (reminiscent of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows). The scene where Amal slowly looks towards Charu, who’s standing at a distance, while Bhupati is mournfully speaking on trust, oblivious to Charu’s growing feelings for Amal – well, that was devastating! And Kishore Kumar’s rendition of the classic Tagore song Ami Chini Go Chini was cinema at its purest. The film boasts of great set designs, marvelous usage of light and shadows, and a lovely score (the latter by Ray himself). 

p.s. This is my 500th movie review at Cinemascope, and what better way to reach this milestone than via a movie by my favourite filmmaker. So here's a hop, skip and jump from me!" - "Charulata (The Lonely Wife) [1964]", Shubhajit, Cinemascope

"Jack Nicholson had resigned himself to the knowledge that he would never achieve financial security as an actor, much less become a star. His friendship with Bob Rafelson had given him the opportunity to continue in the film business from behind the scenes. So after Torn dropped out of Easy Rider over a dispute with Hopper, Nicholson's enlistment into the cast probably struck him as an afterthought. But the way he imbues Hanson — a character who, on paper, serves as more of a narrative device in his capacity as the film's conscience — with a distinct, comic personality, coupled with the exposure the popular movie afforded him, propelled Nicholson to stardom and his first Academy Award nomination. BBS had launched its first star, and things would never be the same again." - "American Movie(s)", Tony Dayoub, Cinema Viewfinder

"One of the funniest parts of the whole thing is when Nigel’s friend thinks that the stitch is coming to an end, after all those incredible and quite disgusting sounds, we see some hope in the face of both, a glimpse, that is finally shadowed under the face of circumstances, it really doesn’t end, and we cut to a close-up of Nigel’s face, one of the most haunting and at the same time hilarious expressions anyone has ever drawn. Do you see what I see here? This is pain at its best, it’s pure and pristine, and it was originated by a situation of love, in this case, homosexual (or a representation of it). Nigel and his friend are suffering because their contact and new relation is difficult to endure in a society like ours today: blood comes out and nasty things happen, they can’t express freely their feelings, and because of that they suffer. Do you also realize we are watching a representation of a sexual act?" - "'This is a pain of unreasonable proportions' - Don Hertzfeldt's 'Wisdom Teeth'", Jaime Grijalba, Exodus 8:2 & Wonders in the Dark

"5) As long as we don't consider the criminality of his getaway driving too closely, the Driver is a kind of knight, a lone figure of integrity in a landscape of morally compromised Los Angeles scum in the tradition of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe in detective novels such as The Big Sleep (1939). At the beginning of The Big Sleep, Marlowe comes across "a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. While Marlowe's heroic sacrifices can appear ludicrous in such a scummy context, he persists anyway, semi-bemused by the absurdity of his position. In Drive, we can see the family resemblance to Marlowe when Driver risks everything to help Irene (Carey Mulligan). As the garage-owning boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) says to Driver, "I know a lot of guys who mess around with married women, but you're the only one I know who robs a place to pay back the husband.""Red noir: 8 notes on Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive starring Ryan Gosling", FilmDr., The Film Doctor

"Thus, Refn and Gosling have put the emotion back into neo-noir. I'm calling this emo-noir. One can sense the heart behind Gosling's eyes. He's not a nihilistic, vengeful man. He's a man with deep-set pain beneath the surface, with the super-cool veneer only covering up his yearnings for love and redemption. Yes, Gosling maintains a heightened look of the iconic "man with no name", oozing style. But unlike McQueen, Eastwood, and Delon, he is asked to be a far more sensitive actor. Simmering just beneath the surface is a man with a soft spot for his apartment neighbor and her son. He's quicker to smile than those other "cool" guys too. He's emotive not because of what he says, but for what he does, displaying a caring attitude and gentleness toward this woman and her boy. He's a literal knight in shining armor with his shiny, silver jacket and scorpion symbol on his back, like some courageous superhero." - "Drive (2011) - Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn", Jon Warner, Films Worth Watching

"EH: Anyway, I do agree that My Blueberry Nights is minor Wong, though as you suggest it's hard to pinpoint why, since so many of the typical elements of his films are there: the episodic narrative with loosely linked characters, the colorful aesthetic, the quirkiness, the thematic emphasis on heartbreak and redemption, what might be called an obsession with obsession. So what's missing? For me, at least, what's missing is largely intangible, and it's the sense of deeper emotional complexity that undergirds all of Wong's best films. Coming after the dense, evocative 2046—a film that can be read and felt in many ways and at many levels—My Blueberry Nights almost feels like Wong needed a break from that film's emotional overload, its convoluted web of allusions and ideas. My Blueberry Nights is a small film, often charming and even moving in places, but its scope isn't as sweeping, its ambition isn't as apparent, as in Wong's peak work. 

JB: For me, the primary weakness of My Blueberry Nights is that it trades the ethereal for the literal. Thus, while it might look like a Wong picture, it doesn't feel like one. Compared to the other films we've discussed, My Blueberry Nights is a small picture, both in ambition and in impact, and yet it's weighed down by big, melodramatic gestures that more often than not feel empty and excessive. One of the things that makes Wong's other films so consistently compelling is that his characters are so difficult to figure out, even when they seemingly come right out and tell us what's on their minds or in their hearts. In those other Wong films, a character's emotions are usually best expressed through music cues, camera angles and the mise en scène. Facial gestures and emotional outbursts are to be distrusted: smiles mask pain and embarrassment; tears suggest sadness but without quite explaining why. In this film, it's different. Characters are more extroverted, sometimes to the extreme."

- "The Conversations: Wong Kar Wai", Ed Howard & Jason Bellamy, The House Next Door

"If I were to argue the Freudian line, I’d read Chernobog as a man who can see women, but cannot have them. They’re always changing and slipping away from him. So he is consumed in an agony of desire. Or perhaps a man who can have women at will, but receives no lasting pleasure or satisfaction, as in Shakespeare’s great Sonnet 129: 

Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had
Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream. 

Yes, the frenzy in those last two lines fits the frenzy in Chernobog’s fiery pit. THAT’s what’s going on. So, after having invoked Milton, I’m now invoking Shakespeare, all in commentary on a Walt Disney cartoon. I do so because the quality of Tytla’s animation requires it. No more, no less." - "Disney Agonistes: Night on Bald Mountain", Bill Benzon, New Savanna

"There's Los Angeles as a city of cops, and Andersen's deconstruction of Dragnet as a fascist version of the precise, minimalist aesthetics of Ozu and Bresson is especially potent. And also very funny. Andersen has a sharp, biting sense of humor, and he mingles seemingly genuine admiration for Dragnet's robotic technical precision with contempt for its exaltation of an 'ideal' cop who tramples all over the pathetic, kooky, corrupt people he encounters in the course of his job. It's similarly hilarious when Andersen uses a shot of Charles Bronson literally exploding a bad guy as the punchline to a sequence in which Andersen laments the movie convention of staging chase scenes that leap from locale to locale with little regard for physical reality: 'silly geography makes silly movies,' the voiceover says, and with Bronson as evidence it's hard to argue." - "Los Angeles Plays Itself", Ed Howard, Only the Cinema

"Ben Russell’s Trypps #7 (Badlands) is all about deception. Drawing on an array of influences and continuing his own engagement with the experiential, trance-like capabilities of moving-image media, Trypps #7 initially appears to be some sort of update on an Andy Warhol Screen Test. A loud bell chimes and a young woman, tripping on LSD, stares out at the camera and the spectator. Shot in Badlands National Park in South Dakota, she stands in front of a barren canyon. She closes her eyes and opens them again. The camera lightly bobs, as if caught in the rustling breeze heard on the soundtrack. The woman’s hair swirls. Another bell chimes, birds chirp, and the wind intensifies. The woman’s eyes seem glossy and her face slides into a smile.

But, suddenly, the film stops and a white light shines out. Another bell. The woman is there again, but the the vivid, blue sky is the only thing behind her. And then, shockingly, the camera swings downward and Trypps #7 spins into the dizzying territory of Michael Snow’s La Region Centrale." - "On View: Ben Russell's 'Trypps #7 (Badlands)", James Hansen, Out 1 Film Journal

"Insomnia and cinema consumption go hand in hand; the peanut butter and chocolate of passivity. 

I can sense you scratching your head in disbelief. Why would I make such a statement? 

I believe that falling asleep during a movie is a perfectly fine, productive thing to do. 

If a movie is truly great, you’ll find a way to stay awake for it no matter how tired you are. Toothpicks under the eye lids, boatloads of caffeine, a human sacrifice to the gods of cinema...you’ll do what you have to do. Your attention will be snared...you’ll be riveted...sleep is not an option. Caffeine, No-Dose, self inflicted pinches to the knee...you’ll do what you need to do." - "The Playground Gets Ponderous: Falling to Sleep and the Flickering Image", Dusty McGowan, Playground of Doom

"This ad, from the 17-March-1915 Washington Times, promotes Universal's movies, particularly Billie Ritchie's comedies. 'Kick a cripple and get a laugh' is such a wonderful opening line. Note how they spelled 'subtle.'"

"An ad for Harold Lloyd's second talkie, Feet First, from the Perth, Western Australia Sunday Times, 08-March-1931. Feet First concluded with Harold climbing a tall building, as he had in Safety Last. I think the climb worked better in Safety Last because Harold's cries and the other noises made the scene in the talkie too realistic." - "Slapstick #5-16", Joe Thompson, The Pneumatic Rolling-Sphere Carrier Delusion

"Granted, the numbers diverge aesthetically: 'Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?' has a rigid pink/black color scheme and is mostly in medium shot to show off Jane Russell’s dancing, while 'I Can Make You a Man' is much more stylistically haphazard, freely mixing colors and angles. But there’s one utterly damning similarity that sealed the connection for me, and that’s the strut. Both Russell and Curry strut and swagger in exactly the same manic, show-offy, ultra-confident way. They invite the viewer and other characters straight to their genitalia." - "Gentlemen Prefer Rocky", Andreas, Pussy Goes Grrr

"According to Lindsay Lohan’s Cady in Mean Girls, Halloween works like this: 

'In girl world, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.' 

This is not true, of course. There is a false sense of security surrounding Halloween, a fallacy that for one day we ladies can FINALLY wear whatever we want and not be policed and punished for it! But we all know this isn’t actually true. I still heard—over and over—the outrage at the cleavage, the short skirts, the high heels, the “lack of creativity.” It almost turns into a competition: how many women can you call out on wearing a slutty costume! If you reach a certain number, you achieve moral superiority over them! I’m here to say that this is a bullshit mentality. And it does nothing but fuel the flames of this slut-shaming, victim-blaming misogynistic culture. There are a lot of “reasons” people give for decrying these kinds of costumes and I’m here to dismantle each one." - "Halloween and 'Slutty' Costumes", Ashley, Pussy Goes Grrr

"Outside of Ishtar (1987) or maybe Gigli (2003), you’d be hard-pressed to find another more critically savaged film than The January Man (1989). And what an ass-kicking it took at the box office, pulling in just under five million dollars in the United States. Why so much vitriol directed at one film? Coming off the success of his Academy Award - winning screenplay for Moonstruck (1987), John Patrick Shanley assumed he could do no wrong and for his next film assembled an impressive roster of talent with Pat O’Connor (A Month in the Country) directing, Marvin Hamlisch (The Sting) composing the score, and a cast that featured the likes of Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon, Alan Rickman, Harvey Keitel, and Rod Steiger. For good measure, Shanley’s Moonstruck director Norman Jewison produced the film.

With this insane amount of talent in front of and behind the camera, how could The January Man fail? Critics and audiences were not ready for the end result: a thriller with sudden tonal shifts, veering from comedy to romance to mystery, often within the same scene. Some of the cast delivered low-key performances while others chewed up the scenery. The film was deemed a mess, a disappointing misfire from brilliant artists that should have known better. Yet, the messiness of this film is what I like about it as it reflects the messiness of the protagonist’s life. The January Man is an underrated critique of the thriller genre and deserves to be rediscovered and re-assessed now that enough time has passed." - "The January Man", J.D., Radiator Heaven

"When I reminisce about my childhood, I don’t tend to remember specific scenes. No, what my mind conjures up are images, fragments, sounds, sensations, and emotions. Out of this noise arise scenes, moments, narratives informed by the stories and anecdotes that I remember and that I’ve been told that contextualize almost all. The genius of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is how it builds a story of a family out of such a collage of impressions, fragments of time, space, and sound. It leaves contextualizing to the audience, to gather clues from concrete details and allow them to slowly, inexorably, build up into a larger picture. The film carried me into its rhythms, its patterns, its moods, its swirling classical score and flowing montage, creating within me a deep sense of calm, a hushed reverence for the immensity and complexity of life. This is not merely cinema; this is a reverie, a trance, a meditation, a prayer." - "Life, the Universe, and Everything: THE TREE OF LIFE", The Voracious Filmgoer, The Voracious Filmgoer

"Image and music become linked in near perfect montage as we are introduced the mysterious Rei Ayanami. Like so many classic characters in movies and television, her presence is felt before she makes her entrance onscreen—the others speak of how long it took her to learn how to pilot an Eva, and then hear her weakened voice before she’s literally wheeled out onto the stage, bandaged and bloody in a hospital bed, with alien blue-hair and albino-pale skin, her entrance announced by soft notes limping across piano keys. Perhaps we recognize that striking eye from before, when Shinji briefly glimpsed the girl from afar right before the Angel first struck, a disappearing-act cameo as conspicuously inconspicuous as the subliminal cameos Brad Pitt makes in Fight Club before Tylder Durden officially makes his entrance. 

At any rate, the eye is as red as the blood that stains the boy’s hand after he rushes to her side after an explosion from above rocks her off her gantry, alerting all to the fact that the monster is closing in on their location. It’s as naked an attempt to tug at the heartstrings as the sight of Brigitte Helm surrounded by all those bare-footed orphans in the opulent surroundings of Lang’s futuristic garden-paradise, but it works just as well. It’s certainly enough to guilt Shinji into climbing into the cockpit, and spare the fragile little matchstick girl from having to risk her life in the battle above, and enough for us to buy the moment even as it strains outright sentimentality." - "Decisive Battles: Notes on 'Operation Yashima'", Bob Clark, Wonders in the Dark

"320 people crowded into the two story building's second floor auditorium on a cool Saturday evening to attend the community event, and some had to squeeze into hallway entrances.  A smoke machine was utilized, an intricate sound system allowed the show's music to blare, and colored lighting helped set the proper mood.  It was an event wrought with intense enthusiasm and devotion, and even included a contentious episode with the Borough's Board Secretary, who attempted to cancel the show on the very day it was scheduled, because of the size of the crowd, and some concern over safety because of the school's age (80 years) and a failed state report that concluded with pointed orders to the district to make immediate repairs or face a shut down.  But after I dispatched Mr. Caufield with an angry eviction notice on the staircase, and advised him to leave or I would "physically" remove him, I was publicly supported by the Board of Education's then president, Mr. Frank Pizzichillo, who attended the production with bells on.  It was a huge success, and one that is fondly remembered by two now-married young men, Eddie Slodiska and Jason Romano, who played Charlie and Willy Wonka, respectively.  Perhaps most importantly, however, it was the fuel that ignited a romance that led to a July, 1995 wedding and a big family.  And all the credit goes to Roald Dahl.  Or does it?" - "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (No. 58)", Sam Juliano, Wonders in the Dark


Jeff Pike said...

Thanks, Joel, an honor to be included. Stay in touch, wherever your travels take you -- hope you manage to write for your blog again when you are more settled as I always enjoy reading what you have to say.

Joel Bocko said...

Thanks, JPK. I have vague ideas of stuff I'd like to do in the future, but I want to keep it vague so it doesn't distract me from more important matters. As for December, I'll still be putting a few posts up and there's a possible chance that, after a week's break, The Big Ones will conclude next week. That depends on what/if I write in the few days because I definitely don't want to find myself racing to complete and juggle stuff at the last minute, as I was.

Jon said...

Tremendous collection here Joel and I'm going to be exploring these. I realize I've come late to the party to your site, but I've really enjoyed your posts over the last few months and look forward to more engaging dialogue with you along the way. Thanks for including me.

Joel Bocko said...

No such thing as "late" around here, Jon (maybe no such thing as "party" either but I'll hang on to that one).

There's a lot of great stuff here to enjoy, and I'm glad I got to catch Drive (speaking of "late") right before putting up your post.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the inclusion, Joel. Your habit of doing these end of year best of blogs has inspired me to do likewise at my own blog the last couple of years. It's a great reminder of all the wonderful hard work and great writing out there. You've got lots of links to some amazing article I can't wait to check out.

Joel Bocko said...

Thanks J.D., and thanks for your submission! One thing I enjoy about putting these together every year is the diversity, of subject matter and of approach.

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