Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mary Pickford (Used to Eat Roses)

I must admit to never having heard of Katie Melua before, but after stumbling across her video on YouTube, while searching for some of Mary Pickford's early short works (not the best place to see them but when they are unavailable elsewhere...), I have become somewhat obsessed with her - or at least her one song, Mary Pickford (Used to Eat Roses) - watching it several dozen times over the past few days.  One must wonder why someone would write a pop song about the formation of United Artists, but hey, my love of film history, and my current passion about America's Sweetheart (and the fact that it is a surprisingly catchy ditty) makes me somewhat gaga over it (not to mention Melua isn't bad to look at either).

Watch the video HERE.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Cinematheque Reviews:
Nowhere Boy

I still remember the reaction of this thirteen year old boy as he heard the tragic news (Oh boy) back in December of 1980 (sadly, the thirtieth anniversary just around the corner).  With that, I give you my thoughts on Nowhere Boy.

Le Voyage dans la lune

The following is my contribution to the great ongoing blog-a-thon over at Film Squish.

Considered the grandaddy of all science fiction films, Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon, for all those non-Francophiles amongst you), released in 1902 by French magician-turned-director Georges Méliès, was in many ways a truly groundbreaking work of early cinema, yet it is also a film mired down in the primitive understanding of narrative film technique that was the norm in the infancy of the medium.  

Film historian Ken Dancyger says of Méliès' most famous work, "[The film is] no more than a series of amusing shots, each a scene unto itself. The shots tell a story, but not in the manner to which we are accustomed. It was not until the work of American Edwin S. Porter that editing became more purposeful."  And while this may very well be true, with Méliès' static camera (never moving, much like just filming a stage show in many ways) and his over-reliance on optical tricks over actual storytelling, it does not for one second, diminish the magical, somewhat surreal (in at least a basic surrealism 101 kind of way) quality of the early director's work.  

Perhaps it isn't up to the standard that Porter would establish just a year after this landmark film (with his own landmark film, The Great Train Robbery), and later such silent narrative artists as D.W. Griffith, Ernst Lubitsch, F.W. Murnau or Charlie Chaplin, but the novice could weave a magic spell of sorts over an audience with his flash and flair and sometimes shocking images (at least for the primitive audiences of the time).  He was the first style-over-substance filmmaker, but he was damned good at it and he would hit his pinnacle, or reach for the moon one might say if one were so inclined, with Le Voyage dans la lune.  Narratively structured or merely primitive tricks to befuddle a paying crowd, Méliès could astonish many with his films - including this critic.

Loosely based on two popular books of the time (by two writers many consider the grandaddies of sci-fi themselves), "From the Earth to the Moon" by Jules Verne and "The First Men in the Moon" by H.G. Wells, Méliès tells the tale of a group of French astronomers who decide to travel to the moon and go about building a rocket (shaped more like a bullet than the modern real world rockets of our own atomic - and post-atomic - age) and launching it from a cannon (with the help of a rather perplexing  bevy of beautiful women dressed as sailors of some sort).

The next shot (the most famous of the movie and still an iconic shot a hundred plus years later) shows the rocketship landing in the eye of the "Man in the Moon".  Following are images of celestial bodies personified, a moonscape snowfall, giant mushrooms, strange effervescent moon creatures and an improbable fall back to Earth, with an astronaut and an alien in tow via a rope.  All of these images are stunning in their own right (Méliès has made unique images before this as well) but put together, they form a most fascinating motion picture experience - even at a mere sixteen minutes.

I remember, when one of those new Star Wars travesties were being released (I can't believe it matters which one in particular!) a local movie theater was showing Le Voyage dans la lune as an opening short with the blockbuster Lucas thingamajig.  Asking to be able to go in to see just the Méliès film and not the so-called main attraction elicited quite a few looks that would make one assume one had a monkey growing out of one's neck.  Anyway, to see this film on as large of a screen as this added even more magic to the already quite magical little motion picture.

Unfortunately for Méliès, the advent of a more sophisticated filmmaking style (the aforementioned Porter, Griffith et al) came into vogue and left the sleight-of-hand director out in the proverbial cold.  Eventually, Méliès went bankrupt (forced to sell his company in 1913 to Pathé Frères) and was reduced to making and selling toys in the Montparnasse train station in Paris.  The filmmaker, after many years of toiling in obscurity, would be "found" once again and his place of honour in film history would be reestablished (a retrospective of the magic man's work would be shown publicly shortly before his death).  Unfortunately, the vast majority of his 500+ films are now lost to the world.

But still, the apex of his life's work, Le Voyage dans la lune, lives on (today amongst many Top 100 Movie Lists - my own included!) and is a fascinating look at the so-called primitive style of filmmaking from the turn-of-the-century.  Yes, perhaps primitive indeed, but awe-inspiring at the very same time.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Cinematheque Reviews: Stone

You know, it's more than just a movie about Ed Norton in cornrows.  Well, sort of.  Seriously though, for all of its shortcomings (as well as its blatant faults) Stone is quite an enjoyable film when it comes to watching these actors (and I include Miss Jovovich in there too) go up against each other for whatever prize, or prizes, they may be reaching for (though its general lack of critical backing has pretty much made sure the Oscar is not among them - do they have a best hairstyle category?).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My 10 Favourite Things About Peter Bogdanovich's Targets

**Spoilers ahead for those who worry about such things**

1) This film helped to make Boris Karloff, playing a not-so-thinly veiled version of himself named Byron Orlok, even cooler than he already was, which was a major feat since he was already one of the coolest people in show business.  I mean c'mon, this is Boris Fucking Karloff.

2) The police vehicle rushing in at the end of the spectacular freeway shooting sequence was an actual police vehicle coming to investigate the illegal film crew shooting a movie where no one is allowed to shoot movies.  Bogdanovich had Laszlo Kovacs shoot the oncoming police vehicle before the director, his D.P. and the rest of the crew headed for the hills so as not to get arrested.

3) Peter Bogdanovich, also playing a not-so-thinly veiled version of himself, shushing Karloff as they watch a scene from Howard Hawks' The Criminal Code, featuring Karloff himself in what the actor (both in the movie as Orlok and in real life as Karloff) calls his first important role.

4) Sam Fuller did a major rewrite of Bogdanovich's script - in one night, while Bogdanovich watched - but refused to take screen credit or a paycheck for it because that would take away from the young filmmaker, who was just starting out.  Bogdanovich states in the commentary, that this is just the kind of guy Sam Fuller was, and then went on to give tribute to his friend and mentor by naming his character Sammy Michaels after Samuel Michael Fuller.

5) The dazzling montage sequence when Tim O'Kelly's Bobby Thompson shoots and kills his wife (the Hitchcockian ubiquitous blonde in her blue bathrobe) and then offs his mother and the "wrong place, wrong time" delivery boy - and the follow-up long shot/tracking shot of the Bobby's post-spree clean-up that turns into a directorial P.O.V. shot that eventually ends on Bobby's death note, in red (Sam Fuller's idea we are told).

6) Boris Karloff, as creepy as creepy can be, telling a scary story for the camera that really has no bearing on anything else in the movie - a scene that was added because Bogdanovich loved Karloff's narration in the then recently released How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

7) Bogdanovich's casting of the actual projectionist (incidentally named Byron) at the drive-in where they shot the finale to play the projectionist at the drive-in where they shot the finale (it seems as if everybody is playing essentially themselves in this movie), and his showing of the inner workings of the projection room from the threading of the film to the now outdated, but still quite quaint little bell that precipitates the change-over.  Of course our intrepid projectionist gets shot and killed by the sniper, but you can't have everything.

8) Mike Farrell (B.J. Hunnicut of M*A*S*H) fatefully crawling toward the nearest car and futilely grasping for the door handle after being shot in the drive-in phone booth.

9) Bogdanovich proudly boasting on the commentary track that, as far as he can recall (and this is a guy with an encyclopedic mind when it comes to film history) he is the only man to ever share a bed on film, albeit platonically, with Boris Karloff.

10) Karloff putting the smack down on Bobby after his drive-in killing spree and reducing the sniper to a whimpering child-like creature cowering in the corner and the way Karloff is coming at him from one side while the Karloff on the drive-in screen is coming at him from the other.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An Anthony Mann Double Feature:
The Man From Laramie (1955)
& Man of the West (1958)

Man of the West is #571 and The Man From Laramie is #572 in  

Screened 07/03/10 on 35mm at Film Forum in NYC 
as part of Film Forum's Anthony Mann Retrospective

Man of the West is Ranked #612 on TSPDT
The Man From Laramie is Ranked #730 on TSPDT 

*this is part of a series of catch-up reviews in my aforementioned quest (which should explain the rather old screening date above). 

So it was my 43rd birthday and I decided to give myself the gift of an Anthony Mann double feature in that city that never sleeps - so up to NYC we went.  Amy (that would be the little missus for those who are new to this whole thing) was to meet a few friends while I took in the aforementioned double feature that was just one tiny part of Film Forum's expansive Anthony Mann Retrospective.  

Now I must confess to a rather glaring gap in my film knowledge at this point in our story.  That enormous hole rearing its all-too-ugly head being that before this trip to Film Forum I had only seen one (yeah, I said one) Anthony Mann film (that film being The Furies, starring the spectacular Stanwyck).  Well, it was about time to (at least in a small part) remedy such an ugly admission, so into Film Forum I went and I took my seat, second row center, and waited for the lights to go down and the celluloid to begin to flicker.  First up (in non-chronological order) was Mann's 1958 film, Man of the West.
Considered Mann's masterpiece by many (out of the five Mann films on TSPDT's 1000 Greatest List, it is ranked the highest) and one of star Gary Cooper's best performances, Man of the West is both typical of the psychologically dark kind of western the director is known and remembered for, and, in being the auteur's final film in the genre, a sort of be-all-end-all culmination of that very same Freudian oeuvre - much in the same way Eastwood's supremely dark Unforgiven was the capper to his own sordid western past. 

Man of the West is the story of a former outlaw, now trying to do good in the world, who gets ensnared back with his old bloodthirsty gang and the psychotic leader who was at one time a father figure to this now reformed aging outlaw.  Much like Eastwood's film later on (and there is no doubt Eastwood was deeply influenced by this film) Mann's final western is a somber affair, full of anger and bitterness and false hope (though, in the end, a real hope does exist).
Claustrophobic in many ways when compared to other films of the genre, Man of the West shows the cold hard facts of life in a cold hard way - including allusions to the brutality of man through the obvious, yet unspoken (the Hays Code was still hanging on in 1958) rape of its leading lady.  Yet, as claustrophobic as Mann's Man may seem, more figuratively than literally, we still get the wide-open spaces so associated with the genre.  Mann once said, "When you're filming a western, people don't want to see the inside of a cabin." and he is certainly right about that.  Dark or light,

Second (again, not chronologically), came Mann's 1955 film, The Man From Laramie, the last of five westerns Mann did with actor James Stewart.  These were a series of films that helped to take the genre into a whole other direction - a psychologically dark and winding direction that even John Ford would succumb to (and make some of his best films within) and would eventually lead to the revisionist westerns of the sixties and seventies.  
Stewart plays a tortured soul (as was his forte in the Mann films) in search of the man who was responsible for killing his brother and nobody does tortured better than Jimmy Stewart - just ask Hitchcock.  An archetype story (a subplot in the 1936 Cecil B. DeMille film The Plainsman, has Gary Cooper obsessing about much the same thing Stewart's character is obsessed about here) The Man From Laramie may not be as dark as Man of the West, but it's psychologically obsessive narrative is just as powerful a treatise on that old chestnut of man's inhumanity to man that Robbie Burns first spoke of lo those many years ago.

Much of what Mann was doing at this time was pretty much ignored in the US (his films w/ Stewart were hits, but non critically well-received for the most part) but thanks to the good folks across the pond at Cahiers du Cinema (you know, Godard, Truffaut, Bazin, Rivette et al) and their brilliant Auteur Theory (I myself am I diehard Auteurist - sorry Pauline, I still love your prose) Mann has become the rousing success he was always meant to be. 
So I would say my birthday went rather well.  After my Anthony Mann double bill at Film Forum I walked uptown to meet my lovely wife and our friends to have dinner at an Indian restaurant somewhere around Herald Sq. (don't remember the name of the place, sorry).  Now I suppose it is time to delve deeper into the Anthony Mann woods - and not just his westerns, but his early noir works too (ed. note: I have since had the opportunity to see The Great Flamarion, Mann's 1945 film featuring Erich von Stroheim and have several others queued up to watch).

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Cinematheque Reviews: Howl

The evening prior to Howl's one week run at Midtown Cinema, in a manner of promoting the film, I stepped up to the lectern at the cinema's weekly poetry reading and read Ginsberg's heady, revelatory poem to a crowd of (somewhat) unexpecting wouldbe poets (and I do use the term poet with the most amount of trepidation as one can).  Now this was far from my first time in front of a poetry-hungry crowd (with over a hundred published poems to my credit, as well as being a past publisher of a local poetry mag called Experimental Forest and organizer of a slew of poetry readings and festivals, I could call myself a pro at such things) but I do believe it was the first time many of these (so-called) poetry fans have heard the poem. 

Anyway, to get to my point, the film Howl was doomed to obscurity by its subject alone.  Good or bad, Howl was destined to be a forgotten film, just because no one reads or listens to poetry anymore and therefore have no idea who the fuck Allen Ginsberg even is.  Due to this sad fact, an inevitable one week run at Midtown Cinema was all this film was to get before bowing out.  Oh well, enough complaining about the dumbing down of society (I betchya all these alluded-to neophytes know who has won every single Dancing With The Stars episode!) let's just move on to my goddamn review.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Cinematheque Reviews:
Morning Glory

"What's the story, morning glory?"  I hate that saying.  As far as quippy little sayings go, that one is on par with such stalwart ditties as "see ya later, alligator" and "peachy keen, jellybean".  But I suppose cutesy and cloying is what they were going for in the annoyingly named Morning Glory.  Well, guess what - that is exactly what they got.  Even Han Fucking Solo himself could not save this one - though it's a wonder he even wanted to try.  I am guessing, much like his character in the film, the bull-headed, no-nonsense Mike Pomeroy, Harrison Ford did it for the money.  Anyway, go on over to The Cinematheque and check out my review of said film (and Ford's part in the whole thing - it's saving grace if the film were to have a saving grace).  See ya later, alli...ah forget it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Film Poll #6: The Results

As expected, this two-way race was a nail-biter to the very end.  When it was all finally over, it was the genius pathos of Chaplin over the stoic genius of Keaton that was called the winner.....but barely. 

Charles Chaplin - 18 (51%)
Buster Keaton - 17 (48%)

What exactly happened to that other 1% I wonder.  Perhaps it went to Harold Lloyd, the Ralph Nader of our little poll.  Who knows?

A new poll will be popping up shortly, so keep your eyes peeled.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Cinematheque Reviews: Lebanon

I first saw Samuel Maoz's tensely claustrophobic Lebanon waaay back in September of '09, at the NYFF and am just now finally getting to post my review of said film, since it is finally getting a proper release here in the states.

Film Poll #6: Chaplin vs. Keaton

It is an age old question that has been dividing cinephiles for decades and decades (and decades and decades) - who is greater, Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.  Bertolucci went so far as to add this perennial debate to his 2003 movie The Dreamers (between American Michael Pitt and Frenchman Louis Garrel).  I know where my loyalties lie, what about you?  Go on over to the lefthanded sidebar and let your voice be heard by clicking on either Chaplin or Keaton.  Forget all about that election last week - this is the big one.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Cinematheque Reviews:
Never Let Me Go

There isn't much I can add here that my review of the film has not already covered (unless I get into the whole spoiler area of criticism).  In fact I don't know if my review even managed to cover it all.  Never Let Me Go is a deeply resonating film (that emotional roller coaster the posters always like raving about in their rather unimaginative way of doing things) and nothing I will be able to add can intellectually explain what pure emotion can do so much better.  That being said, I give you my review anyway.  You be the judge.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Cinematheque Reviews: You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (+ A Bonus Best Of Woody List)

Over at The Cinematheque I have posted my review(?) of Woody Allen's 41st directorial effort, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.  The reason for the parenthetical question mark is that it really isn't much of a review of said 41st film.  550 words in and I had yet to even name the film I was supposedly reviewing - instead opting to go through a multi-paragraph essay concerning the four stages of Allen's rather long oeuvre.  After all, Stranger isn't all that memorable of a movie - neither good nor bad - so what can really be said?  Anyway, one can read said "review" (or whatever one wants to call it) over at the main site.

And, as an added bonus, since my review of sorts is more about his career as a whole than any individual film (and the fact that I am a list-oholic!), here is a list of my 20 favourite Woodys.

1. Annie Hall
2. Manhattan
3. Hannah & Her Sisters
4. Stardust Memories
5. Crimes & Misdemeanors
6. Interiors
7. Radio Days
8. Sleeper
9. The Purple Rose of Cairo
10. Husbands & Wives
11. Broadway Danny Rose
12. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
13. Bullets Over Broadway
14. Deconstructing Harry
15. Zelig
16. New York Stories ["Oedipus Wrecks" segment] 
17. Celebrity
18. Another Woman
19. Sweet & Lowdown
20. Match Point

Friday, November 5, 2010

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest:
Pink Flamingos (1972)

Pink Flamingos is #570 in  

Screened 05/30/10 on 35mm at Midtown Cinema
in conjunction w/ The Artsfest Film Festival

Ranked #846 on TSPDT

*this is the first in a series of catch-up reviews in my aforementioned quest (which should explain the rather old screening date above).

I have never been much of a John Waters fan - if even a fan at all.  Sure, I liked Hairspray (the original one!) and Cry Baby, and quite enjoyed Serial Mom (the filmmaker's best?) and even found moments to like in some of his earlier, trashier films (though these were more along the lines of their campy chutzpah than any actual cinematic prowess), but overall, I have never gone out of my way to find the guy.   I have never seen a trailer for his latest and squealed out in gleeful antici.......pation (which, btw, I have done with other filmmakers).

But lo and behold, there I was in my cinema (Midtown Cinema, Harrisburg PA, a 3-screen arthouse cinema run by my lovely wife and I - for those of you not in the know) watching Waters' 1972 film Pink Flamingos, and actually enjoying it - well, for what it was.   Starring Waters' mondo trasho heavyweight drag queen muse Divine, the film is a rugged little piece of crude pop trash, but moreso than ever before, I could see what Waters has been trying to do in his work.  Granted, it is a rather low brow thing, but a thing nonetheless.  Granted (again) this so-called thing never reaches the giddy heights of someone like Russ Meyer - or even Andy Warhol in something such as Chelsea Girls, but for Waters, I suppose it works for what it's worth.

Poorly written, poorly directed and (most of all) poorly acted by Waters' usual old troupe of non-thespians like Mink Stole and others, Pink Flamingos is nonetheless a fun film to watch in all its filthy, disgusting glory.  A film that takes whatever imaginary line that one crosses over in times of exceptional bad taste, and completely eradicates it from cinematic existence.  Even once the credits role and Divine proves her/his manhood/womanhood by eating dog shit on camera (unsimulated!?), I had to laugh out loud at its absurdity - and at its filthiness (which is a rather important part of the story - whatever story there may be).  

Being the story of two women (or one and a half?) who are fighting it out in the seedy suburbs of Waters' beloved Baltimore to be considered the filthiest person alive (a sort of twisted queer cinema rendition of a classic western!?), Pink Flamingos will surely never be mistaken for a great film - or even a good one.  What Pink Flamingos can be construed as being is a purposeful piece of filth that can ride along such other works as Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures or the films of Kenneth Anger (perhaps Waters' artistic alter ego) into a whole other cinema-free zone together.

Does this mean I am a John Waters fan now?  Probably not, but in my surprise at my enjoyment of  Pink Flamingos, I do have more respect for the director than I did before.  Oh okay, perhaps a bit of a fan - but don't tell anyone.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

City Cinema: November 2010

Here is the link to my November 2010 City Cinema column for the Harrisburg PA alt-monthly The Burg.  This month I blather on about the French romantic comedy Heartbreaker and David Fincher's The Social Network, as well as Honest Man, a locally-centered doc about Budd Dwyer (former PA State Treaurer who killed himself on live TV back in 1987), so I am sure you will want to read it.  Who wouldn't want to?

The above link is to the column as it appears on my website, The Cinematheque, but the actual column can be read in the hard copy edition itself (yeah, they still make those) for all those local fans, or at The Burg's website (in PDF form) for those far far away.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Cinematheque Reviews: Catfish

Yet again there is controversy over whether a film is true or not.  Much like the flapdoodle over I'm Still Here a few months back, the movie Catfish, billed as a documentary thriller, is getting some mixed press.  Many questioning it's reality, others riled up because it does not play out quite the way they perceived it would upon first seeing the trailer.  Screw those people!  The whole idea of cinema is based upon fantasy, so what does it matter if it is 100% true or not - it still fascinated this critic.  Anyway, I go into this a bit deeper in my review (including the use of flapdoodle again!), so stop wasting your time here, and go there instead.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Quick Visit to The Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield NC

So, there my lovely wife and I were, traveling from home sweet home to Myrtle Beach SC for a four day week-end, when we pass a sign on the highway telling us that we are near the Ava Gardner Museum.  Apparently Ms. Gardner was born right near there, in Smithfield NC (the town ain't all about the hams ya know!).  Actually she was born in a place called Grabtown, which I think may have become Smithfield at some later date.  Well anyway, check-in time loomed ahead of us and we still had miles to go til we hit the beach, so zooming past the exit we went.  Now if this had been the Joan Crawford or Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Blondell museums (none of which exist btw - I checked when we returned home) or perhaps the Bogart or Cagney museums (these too, do not exist) or perhaps the Ann Dvorak museum (this of course does not exist either!) then the brakes would have been a-squealin' and off I-95 we would have shot.  But alas, it was not, so on we went - deciding to let it up to fate whether we would stop there on the return trip come Sunday Sunday Sunday (did not know if they were even open on Sundays).

Well, after a week-end of frolicking in the rather chilly Atlantic, enjoying some good-ole forties-style beachside boardwalky counter restaurant food (catfish sandwich for me, cheese fries for my Honey), the buying of PEZ (see the post just before this one) and some Jungle Lagoon mini-golf (ask my lovely wife how bad she thumped me!!) we were off on our trip home and our posible destiny with Ms. Ava Gardner (I checked btw, and found out the museum was open 2-5 on Sundays).  After a side-trip to the cheesy capital of the south, South-of-the-Border (and a slew of really cheesy souvenirs and pix of the two of us on various giant animal statues) we went roaring up I-95 N and lo and behold, destiny was on our side as we pulled up to the Ava Gardner Museum in plenty of time to peruse the place.

It is a rather nice little museum.  First we were shown a seventeen minute film about Ava and then we took a tour around the place, seeing costumes and gifts and lots of old movie posters and memorabilia - all the while (of course) Sinatra played on the sound system.  There were some great pieces in the museum's collection, including a tiny watch given to Ava by John Ford (her wrist must have been extremely thin) and pictures of her beloved corgis (the last one, Morgan, was left to close friend Gregory Peck when Ava died in 1990).  We left with some Ava booty (a shot glass to add to my collection as well as some postcards, magnets, a great tee for the missus and a fan of Ava's lovely face - for those hot evenings one needs to cool themselves off from) and went on our way.  Of course this all coincides with TCM naming Ava Gardner Star of the Month for November, so it is a bit like kismet if you ask me.  

The only real problem is I have only ever seen one Ava Gardner film in my lifetime.  Yeah, I said ONE!  The Killers w/ Burt Lancaster (his film debut!) is that one film.  No Mogambo.  No Barefoot Contessa.  No Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.  No 55 Days at Peking.  No Night of the Iguana.  Not even ShowboatYeah, I know, rather shameful for the Film Historian I claim to be, but Ava is just one of those gaps that are in desperate need of filling.  Much like Joan Blondell or Ann Dvorak prior to this past year.  Well, as I stated above, TCM will readily fix all that nonsense.  But, even with that, the museum was great fun - and I have the fan to prove it.