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Hey!

If you somehow found your way here and want to read more movie stuff from me–click this link!

I’m currently going through King Vidor’s entire oeuvre, in search of the meaning of America. Or, at the very least, of melodrama.

Hope you’ll join me at Anagramsci!

thanks

Dave

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All Apologies

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Greetings!

I am a notoriously inconsistent blogger–and now I’ve got dead air at a new site to prove it!

All I can say is–the muse of fiction has recalled me to the sacred task of writing a time travel novel. and I must heed its call!

I’ll be back sometime soon, I’m sure! There are some tough chapters ahead!

good afternoon friends!

Dave

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So (like many of you, I’m sure) I saw Watchmen over the weekend.

I was, on the whole, pleasantly surprised by the adaptation!

The film was decidedly less sophisticated in its psychological engagement with the characters who actually aren’t purely allegorical (i.e. Dan and Laurie). For me, those two characters are the heart of Moore’s book–and Snyder doesn’t handle their story very well. By omitting the coffee serving scene (praised at length in this piece), the film sacrifices the wonderful multivalence of the pair’s sexual reawakening on the owl ship, leaving only the costume-fetish aspect of the supersexual critique intact (whereas the book makes it impossible to disentangle the creepiness of the “power fantasy” from the wide-eyed wonder of altruism as aphrodisiac).

On the other hand–the film’s politics are SO MUCH SMARTER THAN THE BOOK’S! I can’t overstate how pleased I am with Hayter/Tse’s (and Snyder’s?) new ending. Yes, the exploding squid was fun–but it’s a catastrophic failure as a plot device. By converting the now-absent Dr. Manhattan from superhero to Super Ego, Veidt’s plan actually stands a chance of imposing perpetual peace upon the world–and kills America’s sense of a special relationship with “God” with the same stone (whereas the GN’s alien is, at best, a shock treatment that will inevitably wear off). Moreover, the film’s Veidt is leagues beyond Moore and Gibbons’ ranting madman, who, by the end of the book, is absolutely indistinguishable from any other melodrama villain. As played by Goode, Veidt actually seems to feel the cost of his actions, allowing the film to lay bare the calculus of political foundation with a candor that the book (unlike its much-maligned contemporary text, Squadron Supreme) never approaches.

Other good stuff in the film–very quickly: the Dr. Manhattan origin story, the opening montage and Matt Frewer’s Moloch.

It’s definitely worth your time–whether you’ve read the book or not!

good afternoon friends!

Dave

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The blogging opportunities haven’t really been presenting themselves this week, sadly.

On the bright side–I do have a line on one of the pre-“Jennifer Jones” Isley performances, so perhaps the delay in launching my star persona analysis project can be construed as fortuitous.

But I thought I would take this opportunity to direct your attention to this stuff that I wrote on Watchmen (the comic), a while back. I’d say that I stand by about 70% of it (especially the idea of altruism-as-aphrodisiac in the coffee-serving scene–my personal favourite–will it make it onto the screen?)

I have pretty low expectations for the movie , but will, of course, be going to see it as soon as it hits Montreal. Luckily, Frank Miler’s The Spirit has already secured a lock on “worst comic book adaptation ever filmed,” so Snyder has averted that danger by default.

good afternoon friends!

Dave

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very busy lately, unfortunately–but will check in soon with a post on Warner Brothers’ amazing companion piece to They Won’t Forget in the 1937 anti-lynching sweepstakes– Michael Curtiz’s Mountain Justice (starring the very very unjustly neglected Josephine Hutchinson), which I saw over the weekend.

For now–just wanted to mention that I actually watched the entire Oscar ceremony last night, for the first time in my life (I attended a party devoted to the event). I had absolutely no rooting interest, but was glad to see Kate Winslet win (even though I haven’t seen The Reader; she should have won a long time ago–for Jude) and liked Penn’s speech (although I haven’t seen Milk yet)… but oh that Sophia Loren appearance was painful… I don’t usually make snarky comments about plastic surgery, but that job pushed me to brink of apoplexy. At the very least–I’ll be Oscarred for life… Why the hell did she do that to us?

good afternoon friends!

Dave

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dark-picaresque

They can’t all be winners.

Michael Powell’s (screenwriter Emeric Pressburger is not co-billed in triplicate on this one) 49th Parallel certainly has its moments–unfortunately, some of them aren’t GOOD moments.

In conception, this thing is truly ingenious: a dark picaresque tale that moves the (Nazi) highwaymen to center stage, beset by all manner of complacent Canadians (most of whom come to Rick Blaine-style epiphanies through their encounters with Fascism in the flesh–a development that the filmmakers hoped to inspire in the minds of American audiences… the film was made and released prior to the events at Pearl Harbor in December 1941).

It’s beautifully shot–and definitely treats the Canadian landscape well (although, as many have complained, it doesn’t exactly convey the most nuanced portrait of the country).

fields1

Don’t get me wrong–sure I’ve lived in Montreal, Quebec, Canada almost my entire life, but I have absolutely no investment in Canadian (or any other) national identity, and I don’t judge films set in my country on their mimetic fidelity (if I did, I’d be no better than Leslie Halliwell–whose whining about Hollywood’s Britain never ceases to annoy me)

Besides, how can you stay mad at a film that begins with this earnest message?

dominionYou just can’t.

But you can’t ignore its follies either!

To me, one of the most interesting things about the film, in general, is the way it thwarts expectations by stocking its renegade U-Boat crew with recognizably British actors, none of whom affect an accent. This is a stroke of genius that reveals the German nationalist project (and ALL ethnic nationalism) for the vicious delusion that it is. You really don’t understand how insane the Nazi dream was until you hear Eric Portman haranguing an audience of Hutterites with the same voice (albeit in a higher decibel) that he will later use to describe the wonders of the Kentish countryside in A Canterbury Tale.

That’s the kind of propaganda (which makes war on the very idea of ethnic distinctions) that I can get behind.

Unfortunately, the whole enterprise (as I’ve described it) is jeopardized by ONE wacko performance:

Do I look French (Canadian) in this outfit?

Do I look French (Canadian) in this outfit?

Pourquoi, Larry?

Pourquoi?

Again–this performance (spectacle) might have been fine (well no, let’s face it, it could never have been fine–but at least it might have been a little less out of place), in a movie in which the Germans are all played by Sig Rumann (or even by Joseph Tura in his Teutonic mode). But Olivier’s courreur-de-bois just doesn’t make sense in the grand unaccented scheme that I’ve attributed to the director.

This might be your cue to remind me that Powell probably didn’t even think about this stuff in 1941 (or maybe he did–I think I’m gonna have to read his autobiography soon!)

Anyway, I suppose you can’t really blame Olivier (and you know–I actually love his equally wacko take on a Russian engineer in The Demi-Paradise, because it actually suits that film’s fish-out-of-water narrative)–someone obviously gave him a thumbs up on this “acting choice”–but I do wish they had considered this feeble masquerade’s effect upon the delicate cultural critique proffered by the rest of 49th Parallel. (in some ways, Raymond Massey’s ultra-colloquial–and actually Canadian sounding–turn at the end of the film also dilutes the critique, but not nearly to the same extent)

Still, there’s a lot to like here. The city scenes, in which the German trio (fresh from executing their wayward comrade Vogel) sell their field glasses for diner fare, are very fresh and involving. And all of the Hutterite stuff plays beautifully, I think.

Anton Walbrook contributes a dry run for his extraordinary monologue from The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp:

anti-fascismus

Glynis Johns is lovable (as always) in a very early part:

glynis

And Niall MacGinnis walks off with the film’s top acting honours by somehow putting flesh on the liberal democrat’s wet dream–the fascist who listens to reason. (And who–in the most jarring moment of the drama–is later executed for baking bread)

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On the other hand, while I’m a big fan of both Leslie Howard and Raymond Massey, and can appreciate the gusto with which they munch their scenes, I can’t exactly claim that I was moved by anything in their respective sectors of the journey.

are-you-a-mann-or-a-mousemassey-for-the-masses

Does anyone else see Howard’s transformation as a dry-run for Vincent Price’s extraordinary antics in His Kind of Woman? As he marched boldly into danger, I kept saying to myself–“Mark Cardigan.”

good afternoon friends!

Dave

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I’ve really been Powell and Pressburging my luck lately–revisiting some old favourites and filling in the gaps. Absolutely no disappointments so far. Quite the reverse, actually. I’m more fascinated by these guys than ever before!

Case in point–The Small Back Room (1949).

How’d I ever miss this one?

(I know how–it just wasn’t available in North America until Criterion released a beautiful DVD last year)

I just watched the film yesterday, and I already can’t imagine life without it–which is not to say that I’ve figured out where it fits in the P & P canon.

Just some impressionistic rambling then…

Byron and Farrar–astonishingly good (and about as far from their Black Narcissus characterizations as you can get):

a-woman-maybe

Apparently, the film repulsed British cinemagoers in 1949, prompting director Powell to suspect that he had done TOO GOOD a job of exposing (in extreme close up) the guts of a less-than-perfect-but-intense relationship between a man and a woman… Speaking as a once(and probably future) co-dependent individual, I have to admit that the couple’s scenes were hard to watch, but also magnificently compelling and true. And the fact that the narrative’s “happy ending” presents the triumph of the antithesis of what the self-help books would call “healthy love” can’t have helped!

have-a-drink-sammy

Oh yes–love is neurosis and shared delusions.

And when one person pulls out of the tale-spin (say, by removing her picture from the frame), the other one is often doomed to self-scrutiny…

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Which usually isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

Thank goodness the bombs are still ticking! (they help to drown out the clocks…)

One of the most amazing things about the movie (which I certainly consider a film noir, even if many wouldn’t) is the way it brings the essentially pre-adult aspects of Hawksian “professionalism” into sharp focus (yes, we’re venturing into Leslie Fiedler territory here).

The contrast between the beautifully noir compositions of the scenes from Sammy and Susan’s private life (in their flat, at the local pub, at the Hickory Club, inside Sammy’s brain), and the brilliantly even lighting of the (physically) dangerous scenes on location is hard to miss. Only the thrill of doing his job keeps Sammy off the sulk (and the ever-present threat of the bottle). People (especially Susan) are forever speculating about this guy’s psychological age (with the numbers ranging from six to ten)–but is it really “grown up” to run off and play in the sunshine (even if the game involves the possibility of dying)? I’m not saying that it isn’t important to do a thing well–especially when what you do can help to save lives–but I don’t think it’s MORE important (as in Hawks) than figuring out where you stand with the people who are closest to you (as Byron/Susan asks: “Why am I the only person you can get tough [I think she means petulant] with?” … that’s not a question that would come up in a Hawks film–Susan’s job in the HH universe would be to learn to appreciate the superior importance of his calling)

From the little I’ve read about the film, people seem to be quite annoyed with the expressionistic presentation of Sammy’s struggle with the bottle and the clocks.

teutonic

It seems “heavy-handed”? Of course it does–it’s the phantasmagoria of a self-pitying brat. I find it extraordinarily appropriate. The next time I watch Only Angels Have Wings, I’ll keep this waking nightmare sequence in mind. It might help me to understand the behaviour of the characters in that movie–although not, of course, in the way the director would like us to.

And then again–some of Sammy’s “childishness” really bears interesting fruit. Most notably his comment, when refusing to get up and participate in the main social activity promoted by the Hickory Club, that: “Men and women are all the same when they dance.” On the one hand, it’s a Ramones-style “I don’t want to grow up” moment–but it’s also a remarkably pithy summary of the fear that neuro-biology is painting us into a corner (of life’s dance-floor)… Perhaps there’s no difference between the sides of the coin that I’m attempting to mint here–but my own (almost certainly neurotic) sense of Sammy’s meaning here is that he’s grasping for a romantic relationship that is absolutely shorn of all cultural prescriptions.

Of course–in that end–they fail miserably.

However, at least they get to live with this awesome cat.

snowball1

Oh–before I hit “publish”–I feel compelled to mention one of the greatest soliloquy set-pieces in P & P’s oeuvre… In the tradition of Anton Walbrook’s narrative of his journey from Nazi Germany to his beloved (and now deceased) wife’s homeland, Renee Asherson tore my heart out with her short-hand notes from an experiment gone awry.

renee-didnt-walk-away

I love that woman (although I must admit, when she first appeared on the screen, I thought she was Glynis Johns–whom I also love…)

Good afternoon friends!

Dave

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Fifty…okay, fifty-two

I like the way Wendymoon presented her interesting top 50 at Movie Viewing Girl (divided up into idiosyncratic categories), and I’m going to steal her format here! It’s a wonderful way to declare your judgments and your biases (and man have I got biases!) at the same time!

Disclaimer: if questioned on this matter tomorrow, I might very well come up with a completely different set of films. I’m etching these babies in cyberspace, not in stone.

But now–to the 50 (that’s 52 in Canadian)

Frank Capra:

The Bitter Tea of General Yen

The Miracle Woman

It’s A Wonderful Life


David Lynch:

Mulholland Dr.

Inland Empire

Lost Highway


William Dieterle:

Portrait of Jennie

Love Letters

The Devil and Daniel Webster


Frank Borzage:

Little Man, What Now?

Moonrise

Strange Cargo


Powell & Pressburger:

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

The Red Shoes

Black Narcissus


Douglas Sirk:

All That Heaven Allows

Imitation of Life

Written on the Wind


Early Hepburn:

Alice Adams

Stage Door

Holiday


Preston Sturges:

Christmas in July

Sullivan’s Travels


Martin Scorsese:

After Hours

New York, New York


Val Lewton Productions:

The Seventh Victim

The Curse of the Cat People


Alfred Hitchcock:

Vertigo

Shadow of a Doubt


Nicholas Ray:

They Live By Night

Party Girl


Noir All-sorts

Murder, My Sweet

Out of the Past


Vincente Minnelli:

Meet Me in St. Louis

Some Came Running


Warner Brothers:

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang

Three on a Match


King Vidor:

The Wedding Night

Ruby Gentry


Luis Buñuel:

Abismos de Pasion


Fritz Lang:

Scarlet Street


Marcel Carne:

Le jour se leve


Jean Arthur:

Easy Living


Carl Theodore Dreyer:

Gertrud


Ingmar Bergman:

Persona


Leos Carax:

Pola X


Relatively Recent Releases:

Joe Vs the Volcano

Groundhog Day

Punch-Drunk Love

Lost in Translation

Bamboozled

Starship Troopers






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This Alternative Film Guide piece on Mark Vieira’s new book on Hollywood’s first “Boy Wonder” (Hollywood Dreams Made Real: Irving Thalberg and the Rise of MGM) intrigues me, but not for the reasons you might think.

I’m sure it’s a fine book, and I have no doubt that I’ll be checking it out–but, at the moment, I’m more interested in the metacritical issues that its publication raises.

To put it succinctly–enough with the Thalberg already!

Please don’t take that the wrong way. I’m not objecting to the lionization of the Lion on (Pauline) Kaelian grounds. I love MGM’s early sound catalogue (and it does seem to me that Thalberg’s rep depends upon the films he oversaw during the 1930s, doesn’t it? That’s what the hagiographers focus on. And I want to stress that point because, paradoxically, the studio’s really innovative period came during the late 1920s–with Sjöström and Vidor). I am eager to concede that they made some fantastic films–and (again, unlike Kael) I love Norma Shearer.

However, I must confess that I am baffled by the widespread fixation upon Thalberg. I just don’t see any warrant for it.

Is it F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fault? I mean, The Last Tycoon IS awesome. But if you make up a list of the great Hollywood films made between 1929 and 1937, how many Thalberg films would be there? Tastes vary of course, but what MGM films provide an experience to match All Quiet on the Western Front, Waterloo Bridge, Dracula, Frankenstein, Back Street, The Old Dark House, Counsellor At Law, Imitation of Life, Little Man What Now?, The Black Cat, The Bride of Frankenstein, My Man Godfrey, Remember Last Night?, Show Boat (Universal); The Miracle Woman, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Man’s Castle, It Happened One Night, Twentieth Century, Sternberg’s Crime and Punishment (Columbia); The Smiling Lieutenant, Animal Crackers, Morocco, Blonde Venus, Trouble in Paradise, Love Me Tonight, Duck Soup, The Scarlet Empress, The Devil is a Woman, Peter Ibbetson, Desire (Paramount); The Last Flight, Blonde Crazy, Jewel Robbery, One Way Passage, Five Star Final, I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang, Baby Face, Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Petrified Forest, Stranded, Living on Velvet, They Won’t Forget (Warner Brothers); Little Women, Dangerous Corner, Alice Adams, Swing Time, Stage Door (RKO); Bad Girl, Six Hours to Live (Fox); Cynara, Dodsworth, These Three (Goldwyn); Our Daily Bread (Vidor) etc ad infinitum?

Again, I’m sure there’s lots of room for disagreement here… and I do think that MGM releases like Daybreak (a Jacques Feyder film from 1931 that everyone ought to see!), Possessed (1931), Freaks, Red Dust, Queen Christina, Mad Love, A Night at The Opera, Libeled Lady and Fury belong on a list with the above items (along with movies produced by Thalberg’s in-house rival David O. Selznick–who somehow always comes in for a beating in Thalberg-love-ins, and the article that prompted this post is no exception!–like Dinner At Eight, David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities)… but there’s no way anyone can convince me that MGM’s films were appreciably BETTER than what the other studios were putting out.

The only difference is that they made money, during the “depths of the Depression.”

Is that any reason for us to get excited about the guy?

Apparently, yes.

And perhaps that’s valid–much of this scholarship, after all, is grappling with the question of Hollywood’s steadying influence upon the country during an insane period in its history. And MGM certainly can take the lion’s share of the credit for that.

But if you wanna talk aesthetics and politics–film for film, MGM lags FAR behind Universal during the early-to-mid-1930s. No?

So wherefore Thalberg?

I get that this was a guy whom intellectuals (i.e. writers) could (and can) take seriously–even though he was primarily responsible for the system that obliterated the screenwriter’s autonomy in Hollywood. And I get that his life story appeals (in a creepy way) to people of all political persuasions who cherish the idea that integrity and success can (or, at least, at one time, could) go hand in hand in America. And Fitzgerald’s investigation of the damage that really living the Horatio Alger dream can do to a potentially sensitive mind is truly unparalleled.

But wouldn’t it be even more fruitful to study the career of a mogul who leaped into the key role at his studio (the same one that gave Thalberg his start–and by virtue of the same nepotistic good fortune) at the dawn of the sound era, determined to present America with prestigious films that proceeded from an almost uniformly, and, ultimately, suicidally counter-hegemonic position (on the economic, cultural and psychological levels)?

Wouldn’t it be great to see some books about Carl Laemmle Jr.?

All I know about this guy is what I read from the movies.

Oh sure, there’s some stuff about him in Thomas Schatz’s The Genius of the System–a bizarre mixture of insight and maddening conventionalism that is at its weakest when it tries (and it wisely doesn’t try very often) to analyze the films (as texts) themselves.

And I guess I should read this book–although it looks like more of the same, in terms of its misplaced emphasis upon Junior’s faemmle ties, rather than what he did with his six years as a production head.

There’s a lot of stuff out there on Universal’s horror unit too–but, in my experience, none of these works (including Kevin Brownlow’s documentary–which is good as far as it goes, but, like the filmmaker himself, has DECIDED limitations) ever takes the, to me, logical step of connecting these films up with the amazing things that Milestone, Borzage, Stahl, Wyler and even non-horror James Whale were doing at the studio during the same period.

Come on–let’s have a book on the Lost Tycoon!

bon weekend les amis!

Dave

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Lewtonian Leanings?

I figured out how to add a poll!

It’s down there at the bottom of the sidebar.

Building off of yesterday’s post, I was just curious to know how people see Lewton’s RKO series, now that 9 of the 11 are readily available (the two non-horror entries are still AWOL–although I am expecting to view ’em both very soon in avi form).

I’ve already declared my love for The Seventh Victim, which is tops in my book–but here’s the way I’d rank the nine films included in the wonderful 2005 boxed set from Warner Home Video:

1. The Seventh Victim

2. The Curse of the Cat People

3. I Walked With a Zombie

4. Cat People

5. Isle of the Dead

6. The Leopard Man

7. The Ghost Ship

8. The Body Snatcher

9. Bedlam

I’m sure I’ll wind up blogging about most of these eventually. I guess it’s pretty clear that I prefer the earlier, completely under-the-radar films–although even the last two Karloffs (which, as Scorsese points out, move toward a more traditional emphasis upon plotting–and away from the pure atmospherics and intuitive narrative development of projects like Seventh Victim and Curse of the Cat People–both of which are members of my all-time film pantheon, with Zombie, Cat People and Isle of the Dead not far off the pace) are to be cherished.

I’d love to see your Top Nine lists too!

Good afternoon friends!

Dave

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