Lost in the Movies: January 2016

Jacques Rivette, 1928 - 2016

Although I haven't written any obituaries in a while, as soon as I looked at my blogroll and saw, via Catherine Grant, that Jacques Rivette had passed away, I knew I had to say something...not about his death, but about his life and work. If nothing else, a belated "Thank you" was in order. The director's rich body of work has provided me with as much material for contemplation, enjoyment, and engagement as that of any other artist in the past twelve months, save perhaps Hideaki Anno or David Lynch (with whom he was deeply tied for me in 2015). I created several videos honoring his work (including my first-ever collaboration), watched eight of his films on the big screen at Lincoln Center, and covered these and more in a dozen reviews or essays (at least one of which has yet to be published). Just a few days ago I even stumbled across an unexpected American blu-ray edition of his masterpiece Out 1 (including his Spectre cut, unseen by me) which I'm sure I will begin exploring tonight.

The Favorites - The Seventh Seal (#70)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The Seventh Seal (1957/Sweden/dir. Ingmar Bergman) appeared at #70 on my original list.

What it is • Like a greatest (or grisliest) hits album of medieval Europe, The Seventh Seal crosses dewy meadows, dirty village squares, isolated churches, overgrown woodlands, and dank castle walls to touch upon the Crusades, the bubonic plague, traveling minstrel shows, self-flagellating penitents, religious visions of the Virgin, witches burned at the stake and a personified figure of Death who seems to have stepped down off an allegorical church painting. At the same time, the film is very modern, gazing out at the postwar world with its existential crises of faith, Cold War tensions, and specter of atomic destruction, and recognizing a correspondence with the distress of the Middle Ages. Cutting a particularly contemporary figure is Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand), squire to the pained Antonious Block (Max von Sydow, sixty years shy of Star Wars, yet already weathered and weary). Jons speaks with an atheistic frankness and worldly cynicism that at times makes him feel like the film's conscience. But Ingmar Bergman - crafting what may remain his most iconic feature after a lengthy, prolific career - is careful not to allow any character to simply become his mouthpiece. Not only is each intellectual, spiritual or (mostly) emotional perspective allowed expression and contradiction, there is also a sense of fluid uncertainty guiding the movie's course. Perhaps that's the most remarkable thing about this movie, that such a finely- and carefully-crafted piece of work can allow itself the freedom to test various points of view, to try on many different forms of human experience, high and low, pleasant and painful, and refuse to settle on one didactic argument about the vastness of life. Then again, perhaps the most remarkable thing about this movie is that it takes the vastness of life as its subject in the first place, and is able to do it justice by focusing on a small medieval microcosm.

Why I like it

The Prisoner - "The General"

Welcome to my viewing diary for The Prisoner. Every Wednesday I will review another episode. This is my first watch-through of the 1967 British cult TV show so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes. But I will be watching the series in this order so if you are watching along with me, keep that in mind.

I'm trying to avoid too many conversations about The Prisoner until I complete the series (at which point I'm planning to devote about a month to weekly chats with the show's fans). However, I did mention "The General" recently with Bob Clark, who will be one of the conversants. He said that this was one of his favorite episodes and then made an interesting observation: "I really like the ones that aren't really about him trying to escape, but him essentially righting a wrong in the Village. Makes a great use of the setting, turning it into a place where any kind of crazy spy thing can happen." This is, I think, a useful distinction. Of course every episode I've seen so far incorporates Number Six's desire to flee the Village alongside some effort to understand and/or subvert the Village's rules. Nevertheless, there are strong variations in the emphasis. "The Chimes of Big Ben," for example was very thoroughly escape-driven, taking an extended close look at the mechanics of Six's elaborate plan (and the even more elaborate plan to deceive him). "Free for All" on the other hand was far more concerned with how the Village functions than how Six could get away from it - although both "Free for All" and "The Schizoid Man" put Six in a mostly reactive rather than proactive position. "The General" may be the most active Six has been in an episode not devoted to his escape attempt.

Side by Side video: The Asphalt Jungle & The Killing

update 2/21: It's finally up!

I announced this video nearly a month ago but got distracted from it repeatedly. Then this weekend I finally dove in - and almost lost everything when my nearly-completed project wouldn't open Friday night. Thanks to the generous help of Nuno Baltazar, I was able to get it up and running again and so here today - finally - is my video comparison of these two classic films. The Vimeo upload and original intro (including a link to the essay that inspired the video) follows the jump. My previous entries in the Side by Side series were Twin Peaks & Neon Genesis Evangelion and Dial M For Murder & Rear Window. I've also made a YouTube playlist featuring all three videos.

The Favorites - Jaws (#71)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Jaws (1975/USA/dir. Steven Spielberg) appeared at #71 on my original list.

What it is • The body of a young woman washes up on the beach; a little boy is butchered on a sunny day; a man is devoured in what should be a safe inlet while everyone else is distracted by a hoax down the beach. A new cop discovers that the tourist trade is more important than public safety; a knowledgeable oceanographer clashes with the ingrained ignorance of a small town; a physically and psychologically scarred veteran of war and seafaring is consumed by his obsession with bagging the fish of the century. Is this movie about a giant killer shark or is it about a group of men clashing with one another and challenging themselves? For much of its runtime, Jaws plays like a well-executed slice of seventies New Hollywood cinema. The dialogue overlaps and overflows while the camera captures the action with a documentary sense of realism (which doesn't mean handheld shakey-cam but rather patient, fascinated observation of domestic routine). When action and suspense arrive, they are handled with Hitchcockian suggestion rather than roller-coaster revelation, and the screenplay ensures that our focus is on the very adult relationships among the townspeople, colored by economic need, political maneuver, class jealousy, and personal history (you can't beat Quint's Indianapolis speech, penned by John Milius - unless you have the alternate take in which Robert Shaw was actually drunk, which Spielberg himself owns and occasionally shows to lucky visitors). Yet as the film draws toward its conclusion, we see more and more of the shark itself. Bloody death, final showdown, and the film's only explosion ensure a crowd-pleasing conclusion to the picture. We can witness the birth of the modern blockbuster onscreen as the film journeys from Altmanesque social drama to action-packed showdown with a fantastical creature.

Why I like it •

Entering Twin Peaks: comment collection #1 (summer 2014)

Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

This has been a busy week, with more posts than usual. I might as well use the opportunity to post every weekday - so today I'm sharing another Twin Peaks post. It takes a format I've used for film in general but not yet Twin Peaks itself: digging through my old comments on various forums and threads, where I first attempted to work my way through many different ideas.

Last summer, I actually began archiving comments and discussions that seemed worthwhile in one way or another (a good idea as some of these sites, including IMDb, delete old threads when they become inactive). Looking back I can see that much of the "grunt work," so to speak, for my Journey Through Twin Peaks series was conducted via this format (although there are also a lot of concepts or tangents never pursued in those videos). In May 2014, I had mostly completed the work for my upcoming David Lynch Month series of posts. I knew the blu-ray was coming out soon, including The Missing Pieces (ninety minutes of deleted scenes from Fire Walk With Me), and expected that would attract some of my attention but figured this event would be the conclusion of my recently-renewed Twin Peaks obsession, not the initiation of an even deeper phase. But by the time Lynch and Mark Frost announced the series' return on October 2, 2014 (an event that will be included in the next comments round-up, or even the one after that), I was deeper into the world than I'd ever been.

These mostly unedited comments are from different forums (or under different articles, which are linked), and occasionally may overlap although I tried to remove blatant redundancies. They are mostly concerned with the relationship of the series and the film - I began this period by seeing them as essentially different entities, with the film very much a pure subversion of the show, but ended it by realizing their essential links, thanks to The Missing Pieces. This collection concludes shortly after I'd seen the deleted scenes, as I grappled with how they fit into the larger saga. It's worth noting that I was trying out different ideas, exploring different options, and as such I would not necessarily stand by all the conclusions or speculations drawn below. In particular, I had no idea that the series would be returning and so my primary goal was determining the legacy of Twin Peaks as a complete entity.

Needless to say, there are major spoilers.

The Prisoner - "The Schizoid Man"

Welcome to my viewing diary for The Prisoner. Every Wednesday I will review another episode. This is my first watch-through of the 1967 British cult TV show so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes. But I will be watching the series in this order so if you are watching along with me, keep that in mind.

Number Six really is Number Six, but they want him to think he is Number Twelve, supposedly in order to trick Number Six (who is actually Number Twelve, and who has been assigned to trick the real Number Six) but actually in order to confuse and break Number Six, the real Number Six that is. Got that? Actually the concept plays much smoother than it sounds: we're always pretty clear on which Number Six is really Number Six, with just the right dash of is-he-or-isn't-he thrown into the mix. This is partly achieved by the obvious method of giving real Number Six (fake Number Twelve) a black jacket, and real Number Twelve (fake Number Six) a white one. But it is also accomplished more subtly through McGoohan's performance, which is rather a masterstroke given how many levels it plays at once. Number Twelve (the fake Number...well, hopefully by this point you've got the hang of it) is almost too confident, brash, and authoritative. This makes him less sympathetic, for one thing, and clearly distinguishes him from the real Number Six, whose very human perplexity serves as a suitable audience surrogate. Such a gesture could seem a tad obvious unless we recall just how arrogant Six can be at times (for which he paid a price in "Checkmate" - one reason this episode order has worked well for me so far). In a way, this plays almost like Number Six being forced to confront his own dark side: the same overconfidence that can sometimes be his undoing is now turned on himself.

The Language of Birds: Jacques Rivette's OUT 1 (my video essay collaboration w/ Covadonga G. Lahera)

Six months ago, I undertook a video essay collaboration on Jacques Rivette's 13-hour magnum opus Out 1: noli me tangere with Covadonga G. Lahera (whose other work can be found on Vimeo). This was the fifth entry in the Out 1 Video Essay Project created by Chris Luscri for the Melbourne International Film Festival. Earlier participants included Kevin B. Lee, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin, Cristina Álvarez López, David Heslin, and Chris himself. Right off the bat, Covi and I decided to take a slightly different approach. We noticed that both of us enjoyed creating non-narrated videos, establishing links between various moments via montage, superimposition, and manipulation of the image. We also frequently liked to let clips play out, so that the viewer could experience a small section of a film out of context.

We decided to design a "video letter" exchange (divided into 8 parts, just like the film itself), taking advantage of our geographical distance to establish a back-and-forth dynamic. It would begin by featuring long, unedited clips and conclude by heavily "interfering," sonically and visually, with the material from the film (and even incorporating footage from outside the film). Not only would this be a fun game, it would echo the actual film's structure since Rivette and his co-director Suzanne Schiffman slowly built improvisations and standalone ideas into a narrative of conspiracy and interconnection, escalating the pace of the cutting and experimentation as both the production and the presentation of the film advanced. I'm not sure I've had as much fun working on a video before as I did with this project and - after logistical delays throughout the fall - I'm thrilled to see it up and out there. Thanks so much to Covi, Chris, and to Danny Kasman from MUBI for making this possible.

Here is (the beginning of) what Covi and I had to say about our collaboration on MUBI (you should definitely follow this link to get a full scope of the project, both our contribution and others'):
COVI: "Our mission, as we chose to accept it, consisted of a game of exchange between strangers. Each was to give the other a video lettre which would then be returned in sequence, the final structure of the work a literal replication of this back-and-forth dialectic. In order to facilitate a wider dialogue, each letter was to be about a minute long, and constructed mostly through images and sounds from Rivette’s Out 1: noli me tangere. ..."

When Covi and I first exchanged emails, we toyed with different video essay formats. We decided pretty quickly that we did not want to use narration, but then we went even further—deciding that, at least initially, we would avoid dialogue altogether, though words would inevitably sneak their way into our “Language of Birds" within a few chapters. ..."
To continue reading our introductions, visit MUBI's presentation of the video.

If you enjoy this strange brew, please share it with others!

And if you like seeing clips from Rivette, check out my recent montage pairing Duelle and Out 1 with Brian Eno's "Golden Hours."

Did David Lynch fight Showtime out of loyalty to Twin Peaks actresses?

Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

When David Lynch left Twin Peaks for six weeks in April 2015, declaring that Showtime would not provide the resources to adequately produce the show, speculation swirled. Was Lynch being greedy about profits? Was Showtime reneging on its promise of creative control and financial support for Lynch's avant-garde vision? Were actors not being offered enough money? When Lynch returned to the production the following month, he and the network announced that their differences had been resolved and that in fact the series would be even longer than expected. Last fall, Lynch began shooting the new Twin Peaks and has been working in near-secrecy ever since. There was never a clear answer why all the drama had unfolded.

Now, however, a strong rumor is emerging from an unnamed source, who told Twin Peaks podcaster Cameron Cloutier that Lynch's unprecedented and high-profile departure was triggered by the attitude taken by some Showtime employees and/or representatives toward members of the cast: specifically the actresses who starred as twentysomethings in the original 1990-91 cast and are now in their forties and fifties. Cameron's source claims that one of the Showtime representatives specifically said, "No one wants to see an old Audrey Horne." While there were likely other factors in the disagreement between Lynch and Showtime, there is apparently a good chance that this was - temporarily, at least - the dealbreaker.

Here is Cameron's video (if you're already aware of how events unfold publicly last spring, jump to 5:04 for the discussion of what his source has to say):

I am not a journalist and, as far as I know, neither is Cameron - I am not making a claim here, but rather relaying information that I consider highly plausible. I have participated in several of his podcasts, frequently spoken to and corresponded with him, and occasionally contributed to his Twin Peaks Worldwide Facebook page as an "admin." I also know that Cameron has interviewed many Twin Peaks actors as well as people in Lynch's circle like Jennifer Lynch. I believe his source is reliable, and while it's certainly possible that they are misinformed about this incident I believe it's likely to be true. Without revealing the source's identity he was able to tell me a few things, some on the record and some off. The source is not Sherilyn Fenn, who has already publicly complained about the film industry's sexism and ageism in implicit relation to Twin Peaks - meaning that at least two people close to the production have this perception. The source seems to be someone in a position to know what they are talking about and, at the very least, they are conveying information that others in the production also believe.

I think this information is important to share for several reasons:

1) I am hoping that someone who is a journalist, with greater resources or training than I have, can look further into this story and discover more. If true, it is certainly newsworthy as further evidence of the film industry's ingrained sexism (and particularly its gender-oriented ageism), even on supposedly prestige projects in which individual artists are given creative control.

2) This isn't just about the industry, but about Twin Peaks and the fact is that, for many people in the media and the industry, the series has frequently been celebrated and condescended to as light entertainment, quirky and sexy and cute but without anything substantial to say. The fact that, despite its humor and sense of fun, its central themes involve abuse, rape, and sexual trauma is something conveniently overlooked in popular perception. If this story is true, it is further evidence that Twin Peaks is too often limited to its "sexiness quotient" rather than appreciated for the deeper ways it grapples with complex social, psychological, and spiritual phenomena (many specifically dealing with obstacles faced by women of all ages).

3) Sherilyn Fenn posted a lot of accusatory and sometimes cryptic social media posts last fall (many involving statements about the patriarchy and sexism and ageism in the industry), in relation to her own questionable involvement with the new series. These were often dismissed as being too dramatic or self-serving. If this story is true, it certainly places those tweets and posts in a new context (though it also opens the question of why the contention emerged in the fall rather than the spring, when the age of the actresses was supposedly more of an issue).

4) Maybe this is a long shot, but if this story is true and it does go public I would like to think that it can have some small but necessary impact on people's attitudes within the industry; that maybe - when combined with other stories - it will become slightly less acceptable to actively push for the marginalization of middle-aged women in Hollywood. Because I haven't seen this story discussed elsewhere, because Cameron asked me to share it, and because it involves a subject I have devoted a substantial amount of time and effort to covering and dissecting, I want to do what I can to get the story out there.

Please share this information with others if you find it relevant or believable (keeping in mind that for the moment it remains in the category of plausible rumor and has not been confirmed by multiple sources). Cameron has also suggested that we tweet David Lynch to show our support for his gesture. If this story is true, it certainly speaks well of his loyalty and commitment, and makes it unsurprising that so many of these actors rallied to his defense.

The Favorites - Scarface (#72)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Scarface (1932/USA/dir. Howard Hawks) appeared at #72 on my original list.

What it is • Shot in black-and-white that glistens, and scored with a barrage of crackling machine-gun fire, Scarface is a talkie that exhibits all of the charm of Hollywood's early sound period and few of the drawbacks. Director Howard Hawks employs dozens of clever audiovisual ideas to illustrate the rise of Chicago hoodlum Tony Camonte (Paul Muni) during Prohibition. Many of these inventive techniques put a cinematic gloss on brutal murder: an opening long take that uses suggestive sound and shadow to "depict" the first of many killings; the repetition of Expressionistic "X"'s (created by crossbeams, doorways, and other props) atop dead gangsters; and the whip-pan execution of Camonte's final rival (a clipped, glowering Boris Karloff) as he bowls a perfect strike (which, of course, is marked on the score sheet as an "X"!). Collaborating with writer Ben Hecht (whose "Out of my way, Johnny, I'm gonna spit!" is pure pulp poetry), Hawks borrows from the Borgias to lend Camonte an unnatural feeling for his little sister (Ann Dvorak). Meanwhile, he pursues the moll (Karen Morley) of his boss (Osgood Perkins) whom Camonte will depose in bed, boardroom, and body. Producer Howard Hughes fought his way to big box office earnings through a minefield of censorship and opposition, filming two different endings, adding the subtitle "Shame of a Nation" and most absurdly, shoehorning in an extended sequence in which "upstanding citizen" types speak moralistically into the camera (my favorite character is the out-of-nowhere Italian-American who pops up in a cutaway to intone in a ridiculously exaggerated accent, "He is a disgrace-a to my people!"). Hawks disclaims any responsibility for this passage which stops the film cold not just narratively but aesthetically, shot as it is in a clumsy static wide shot, with poor lighting. But its unintentional hilarity actually complements the surrounding film with its sharp contrast. Scarface is beautiful as hell, but it doesn't make a damn thing look pretty: not the stupidity of its protagonist, not the rather shocking level of violence, not the lust for power of Tony's relentless rise and fall.

Why I like it •

The Prisoner - "The Chimes of Big Ben"

Welcome to my viewing diary for The Prisoner. Every Wednesday I will review another episode. This is my first watch-through of the 1967 British cult TV show so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes. But I will be watching the series in this order so if you are watching along with me, keep that in mind.

Here we have a very, very unusual episode. Let me count the ways... Number Two (Leo McKern) seems less confident than usual; he even loses his temper and grows flustered at times. His blustering threats against Number Six seem vaguely out of character, even for a character who's actually a different character each time. While every episode begins with the new Number Two's vague demand for "information," "The Chimes of Big Ben" gets very specific about what information the authorities are looking for: they want to know why Number Six resigned. Number Two goes so far as to say that is all they want to know. This is a rather startling alteration, because it makes Six's situation seem less like a mindfuck limbo and more like a straightforward moral challenge. Something else is more straightforward too: the political stakes of the Village, perhaps even its location, are explicitly - if somewhat confusingly - laid out by the characters onscreen. Number Six is told by Natasha (Nadia Gray), the new Number Eight (have we met the old Number Eight?) that the Village is in Lithuania and together they are even able to chart an escape back to London. It seems very much to be a Cold War situation, with the Soviets trying to extract information from a British agent. Or is this a red herring?

The 3 1/2 Minute Review: Revenge of the Sith (video)

Update 1/12: The video is up.

With all the Star Wars hype, I was inspired to revisit the prequel films, which I haven't seen in five years. I watched Revenge of the Sith in anticipation of this video review. It's up a day late due to difficulty (ten years after it became a massive box office hit, the movie is surprisingly hard to acquire on DVD). I actually ended up watching the film twice before I made this. What do you think of Revenge of the Sith? Is it the best of the prequels by default? Is it underrated by its many detractors? How does George Lucas' visual sense compare to J.J. Abrams' The Force Awakens?

The Favorites - Ivan the Terrible, Pt. II (#73)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Ivan the Terrible, Pt. II (1946/USSR/dir. Sergei Eisenstein) appeared at #73 on my original list.

What it is • The Ivan the Terrible films are among the most unconventional biopics of all time: more about gesture and expression than action. Eisenstein stylizes his live actors and physical sets into grotesque cartoons (J. Hoberman notes that the film "approach[es] animation...Nikolai Cherkasov’s stooped, skinny Ivan might equally have been modeled on a Disney vulture"). Even so, Ivan the Terrible Pt. I (1944) comes much closer than Pt. II to conventional biopic format. Its story documents a series of notable events in Ivan's life, from his coronation and victory in battle to the loss of his wife and triumphant return to Moscow after a temporary abdication. The first film also depicts a notable physical transformation, with Ivan slowly morphing from dashing, fresh-cheeked young man to bearded, wizened old(-looking) man. The second film, on the other hand, zeroes in on one specific story, narrowing its scope in both time and space (other than the dazzling checkerboard-court sequence in Poland that opens the movie). The aristocratic boyars who plotted against Ivan throughout Pt. I are now closing in on him in Moscow and only through his diabolical cleverness and dedication is he able to outwit their attempts to humiliate and eventually assassinate him. Although Ivan's wit and charm, contrasted with the devious sobriety of his opponents, secures him as a sympathetic protagonist, he also seems quite grotesque - calling him a "good guy" would certainly be stretching it. This was ostensibly why Joseph Stalin, who had endorsed the first movie, suppressed the second, chiding Eisenstein and Cherkasov for obscuring the motivations for Ivan's "terrible" actions (something Stalin knew a bit about, and must have taken personally). However, Stalin and the censors in his employ also seemed perturbed by the film's avant-garde nature, which takes the experimentation of the first film to new levels. Pt. II mixes garish, hellish colors with stark black-and-white, playing with light and shadow across Ivan's face so that he looks more like an axe murderer than a noble head of state, and distorting its human forms until they exist more as tactile shapes in their own right than easily-understood signifiers. In short, Ivan the Terrible Pt. II is as concerned with form as content, conceiving form as content in a way that simply didn't compute with Soviet preferences for social realism.

Why I like it •

The Prisoner - "Checkmate"

Welcome to my viewing diary for The Prisoner. Every Wednesday I will review another episode. This is my first watch-through of the 1967 British cult TV show so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes. But I will be watching the series in this order so if you are watching along with me, keep that in mind.

As I watch The Prisoner for the first time in 2016, I am struck by how unflappable and strong-willed Number Six is. Today's media landscape tend to prefer ambiguous antiheroes or more sensitive self-questioning protagonists but Six is very much an assertive, unapologetic Cold War-era British alpha male. His suave but still relatively square demeanor and arch sense of humor reminds me of Sean Connery's James Bond (although Six doesn't quite seem to be having as much fun as 007 - maybe that extra digit makes all the difference). This marks him out not only from later trends in pop culture, but also his environment on the show itself - where most of the other Villagers appear meek or voiceless, either placidly accepting their condition or actively working to perpetuate it. Reflecting on this quality in "Checkmate," I was pleasantly surprised to see that the episode itself actually incorporates this discrepancy into the plot: Six's take-control, unintimidated nature sabotages his escape attempt when it convinces his collaborators he is actually a mole. Six's greatest virtues are his intelligence and his stubborn will but this time at least they work at cross-purposes. In an episode that centers - none to subtly - around the metaphor of chess, his claim that "good old-fashioned brute force can be very effective" seems to be disproved by the outcome.

Fragments of Cinephilia, Pt. V

If you're looking for further details on the Maya Deren video I just posted on YouTube, here is the blog post mentioned at the end.

Short thoughts on: Fists in the Pocket • Michael Medved • Goodbye, Mr. Chips • Russian Ark • My Night at Maud's • Claire's Knee • Paris Belongs to Us • 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her • Jean-Luc Godard • Europa '51

I've become a broken record on this subject, but I swear that within a few weeks I will have a huge backlog of Monday posts, more than I know what to do with - including a video that relates to the above picture. January is going to be very busy (although the work is mostly done, I'm waiting for other sites to cross-post). Unfortunately at this moment an interview, a guest post, at least four videos, and a podcast appearance are all waiting in the wings rather than in the bag. (That said, I did finally upload the "Cinepoem" video I blogged about back in November.) So I'm turning to one of my old standbys today, the archival of my old IMDb comments, where my online film commentary began. I've done this four times before, each time moving a bit further into the past. Some of these comments are actually almost a decade old, so be advised that they may no longer reflect my opinions (hell, I even left in some of the typos!). In many cases they represent my first engagement with the work in question, as a 23-year-old hungry for as many cinematic experiences as he could devour.

In fact 2006-07 was in many ways a peak viewing period for me; I was falling back into cinephilia after many years of caring more about music than movies. Most of the topics below relate to mid-century European films, particularly French filmmakers like Rohmer, Rivette, and Godard. Some of these films I loved, some I did not, but all of them seemed to me worthy of discussion - and still do. I would like to hear your thoughts as well, if you've seen these films (and if you haven't, I hope this serves as encouragement). Did Fists in the Pocket surprise you? Is Europa '51 too didactic? Does Goodbye Mr. Chips need a stronger narrative throughline? Is Rohmer subtly encouraging us to criticize the protagonist of Claire's Knee? Is Godard an incredibly consistent genius, an emperor with no clothes, or a hit-and-miss experimenter? Let me know what you think, and I'll let you know where I do and don't agree with the old me.

(I originally used a different image, culled from a Wonders in the Dark post several years earlier, but I replaced it with this one in 2017 when I cross-posted that Wonders piece on this site.)

The Favorites - Gone With the Wind (#74)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Gone With the Wind (1939/USA/dir. Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Sam Wood) appeared at #74 on my original list.

What it is • Gone with the Wind doesn't need much introduction (but I'll provide one anyway). Seventy-seven years after its release, with virtually the entire cast, crew, and even most of the original audience long "gone with the wind" themselves (except for the game Olivia De Havilland, who will turn 100 this year), the film remains an infamous example of classic Hollywood romanticism. Ironically, despite its status as the archetypal product of the Golden Age, this isn't exactly a product of the studio system assembly line, owing its existence to David O. Selznick, an independent producer with a vision. Based on Margaret Mitchell's bestseller, the film mixes an epic historical scope with intimate melodrama, albeit not entirely evenly (the former dominates the first half, the latter the second). Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) begins the story as a bratty teenage belle, living in splendor and luxury that she takes entirely for granted. When the tale closes four hours later, she is a thrice-married woman of the world who has experienced war, hunger, and poverty, who has worked a field and run a business, while watching many of her friends and family die off. She is not particularly admirable, wooing two lovers whom she doesn't love away from other women (including her own sister), trying to steal her loyal friend's husband, ruthlessly exploiting and manipulating strangers and friends alike to earn a living, and generally refusing to feel shame for her improprieties. She's also the best thing about the movie, rivaled only by the roguish Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) for similar reasons: both of them cut through the intoxicating but disingenuous air of Hollywood pomposity and Old South sentimentality. The film has many big setpieces but I think the cornerstone of its greatness is lain by this dynamic human element.

Why I like it •