R.I.P. George Stoney
Films that Only We Seem to Love
Chris Marker, An owl is an owl is an owl, 1990, from Petit Bestiaire [via]
Here, hold this.
Gah, ages ago now, the cinetrix heard some sort of rumor that NYT film critic Manohla Dargis was enrolled in a graduate program. UCLA or something, hardly matters. The reason I bring it up is the certain academic/bookish slant I keep noticing in her reviews of late. Not all the time, mind, but enough. To whit:
The overall impression is a vision of Europe as a mosaic, as an artful amalgam of perfectly framed, seemingly disconnected moments during a long shared night, give or take a time zone change or two. It is a vision that recalls Benedict Anderson’s influential 1983 book, “Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism,” in which he defines a nation as “an imagined political community — and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.” Mr. Anderson argues that nations are socially constructed (“imagined”), because, while most of their members never meet face to face, they can imagine one another in communion, as when they read the same newspaper. (It’s an old book!) It is this sense of fraternity that leads people to die on behalf of their countries.
This is the third time that Mr. Winterbottom has tackled Hardy for the big screen, following “Jude,” a period adaptation of “Jude the Obscure,” and “The Claim,” which loosely transposed “The Mayor of Casterbridge” to 1860s California. Mr. Winterbottom has said he first read “Jude the Obscure” when he was a teenager and reread it several more times. He grew up to become a mercurial filmmaker who changes his visual style as often as he does subjects and whose films, even the nonliterary ones, share a pessimism that may be traceable to reading too much Hardy at a tender age. Even “The Trip,” Mr. Winterbottom’s funny gastronomic excursion through the Lake District of England with the comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, is touched by gloominess unrelated to the weather.
Life is suffering, as the Buddha said (including in Hardy’s emotionally grinding novels), but it’s more complex and contradictory than the ginned-up realism Mr. Winterbottom delivers here. Given this, it’s curious that he called his heroine Trishna, which is the second of the four noble truths, the foundation of Buddhist thought. Life is suffering is the first noble truth; the second is that suffering is caused by thirst (Trishna) — craving, desire, attachment. Craving causes suffering, but ideally also leads to enlightenment. This paradox brings to mind that even brutal art has its moment of transcendence. However bleak, a novel like “Tess” is its own slice of nirvana because of the magnificence of its ideas, the glory of its writing and its glimmers of hope, which have no equal in “Trishna
From Magic Mike:
In “Magic Mike,” men exist to be looked at, and women do the looking, a reverse of the old cinematic divide between the sexes that finds so-called passive women who are looked at by so-called active men. In one school of thought Hollywood movies are always organized for the visual pleasure of the male spectator, which pretty much leaves the female spectator sidelined. There’s no leaving her out any longer — or the gay or confident heterosexual male spectator, either. From the way Mr. Soderbergh shoots the raunchy, often hilarious vamping dance scenes (Village People Plus), his camera lingering on the undulating bodies — the other strippers are played by Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez and Kevin Nash — it’s clear the director is out to maximize everyone’s pleasure.
From Farewell, My Queen:
It seems possible that Mr. Jacquot also dipped into Ms. Thomas’s “Wicked Queen: The Origins of the Myth of Marie-Antoinette,” a cultural history that explores the mythifying of the queen largely through the pamphlets written about her. Widely disseminated before the revolution and even after heads began rolling, the pamphlets started off as fairly benign, more Us Weekly than Foreign Affairs — Marie Antoinette’s imperial bouffant was mocked along with her manners — but later become more pointed and politically expedient.
By 1789 the tone of the pamphlets had turned, in Ms. Thomas’s words, “from laughter to reprobation.” Marie Antoinette was attacked from nose tip to toe, her body becoming a symbolic site of battle. Specifically it was a foreign (she was Austrian), increasingly sexualized body that, as the antiroyalist rhetoric heated up, became perversity incarnate. She was accused of participating in orgies and carrying on with other women. (At her trial in 1793 she was also accused of incest with her son.) The author of one pamphlet feverishly wrote that her mirrors multiplied “all the finer points of her venereal gymnastics.” The propagandistic usefulness of the tracts was as naked as the queen’s lust was said to be, as in the 1789 screed “The Austrian Woman on the Rampage, or the Royal Orgy.”
So, yeah, that. Nothing profound, just something leaping out at me recently. Of course, Ms. Manohla continues to be a critic whose work actually engages with the plastics of the art under discussion, too. Which is always nice:
This heightened sense of self-awareness is underscored by the exhilarating camera movements that sweep across the house from right to left, left to right, and up and down, and take you on a time and space tour through the house, past Suzy’s father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, both touching).
As he does with the Bishop home, Mr. Anderson shoots the camp with a moving camera, one that follows Ward, in profile, during his morning inspection. Although you can see well into the distance, to the rolling, treed hills that serve as the camp’s backdrop, Mr. Anderson has shot the scene so that the depth of the image has been flattened. This visual compression makes the campsite look something like a page out of a book, and is even more obvious elsewhere, as in a long shot of a lighthouse, a car and a small building.
23 Terrific Movie Studio Bumpers [The best part: the stilted, intermittent beeps are Morse code for “Attention, attention: an RKO Radio Picture.”]
For Daney, postwar cinema, which is to say modern cinema, would thus be inexorably linked to childhood—both his own and, more generally, to the childhood experience—which is why he would return time and again to two very different kinds of “kids’ movies”—Fritz Lang’s Moonfleet and Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter—as examples of how films, like fathers, can guide us into the world:
I know of few expressions more beautiful than Jean-Louis Schefer’s in L'homme ordinaire du cinéma when he speaks of “the films that have watched our childhood.” It’s one thing to learn to watch movies “professionally”—only to verify that movies watch us less and less—but it is another to live with those movies that watched us grow up and saw us—prematurely hostage to our coming biographies—already entangled in the snare of our history.
The word “smuggle” is a vital one, as Daney often referred to himself as a passeur19 in his final years:
A passeur is perhaps someone who remembers true communication, the kind that left a mark on their lives, not the kind imposed upon them (by school, catechism, advertising—all that which is “enriching”) but the kind carried out almost furtively, transversally and anonymously. The more one gets to know their public, the more they become of service to them. And then one no longer “passes” anything—one becomes a sifter, which is another job (which, incidentally, “pays” much better).
We've spent a lot of time in the kitchen.
At first, she was like his protégé. He coached her on acting and hooked her up with his agent, who got her a very lucrative contract at Paramount. They spent their evenings at home now, having dinner with each other or with friends, like actor Richard Bathelmess and his wife. But they were also like ships sailing in opposite directions. He was coasting on his great success, while she was working like mad, making picture after picture.
While some of the dialogue might, in real life, be reversed—she being the protégé—it echoes their own relationship, their marriage, and their continued friendship. And even later, when Irene tells Godfrey, “You love me and you know it. There’s no sense in struggling against a thing when it’s got you. That’s all there is to it,” I get the sense Powell and Lombard knew it too.
I cain't. I just cain't. [via]
This trick also appears in my favorite number in the film, and one of the two original songs (along with “Make ‘Em Laugh”, “Moses Supposes”.The pleasure of the sequence comes out of the seeming sponteneity of their actions, from twirling a tie to using curtains as veils. But of course this sequence was meticulously planned out. It’s hard to make something look this easy. Violently anarchic, this elocution lesson ends up, as in the “Alter Ego” number, with up-ended trash cans and a feeling of ecstatic release. This is pitched in a comic rather than dramatic mode, with Kelly and Donald O’Connor parodying the nasal stuffiness of the teacher by inventing a nonsense rhyme and tap-dancing the room into submission.This introduces another favored Hollywood trope, that of upsetting the apple cart of “high art” with the more spontaneous, communal pleasures of the low arts; in Singin’ in the Rain, it’s vaudeville. This theme is brought to its apex in Vincente Minnelli’s The Band Wagon, but it’s present here too, most famously in the opening montage, in which Kelly’s gaseous voice-over about “Dignity, always dignity”, is replaced with the reality of his hoofing it as a vaudevillian and stunt man.
Any plans for a Fishing sequel?
Yes, I hope to do a thirteen-episode version with Tad Friend and David Remnick of the New Yorker magazine as guests. I think the three of us alone in a boat somewhere will be scintillating. I have a lot of questions I would like to ask them, and apparently they must be cornered in order to answer.
Have you visited Sean Burns' blog SPLICED PERSONALITY, yet?
The first stop finds Anders with an old party buddy (Hans Olav Brenner) who has uncomfortably drifted into suburban fatherhood. The way this guy guzzles beer at lunchtime suggests he’s not quite as settled down as he’d like to pretend, and askance glares from the missus drag down the cordial conversation, linking the exchange to a past we’re left only to imagine.
That’s the trouble with Anders. Everybody gave up on him years ago, assuming he’d turn up dead sooner or later. His parents have to sell the family house to cover his frightening debts, and his own sister can’t even bear to have a meal with him. She instead fakes some work nonsense and sends her brusque girlfriend to make excuses. Anders has been counted out for so long that his sudden reappearance becomes more of an inconvenience than a welcome reunion. Nobody wants to make much of an effort because he’s probably just going to let them all down again.
So why even bother? That’s the awful, existential question posed by Oslo, August 31st. Anders moves through the picture like a ghost, and Danielsen Lie’s performance grows increasingly closed off and enigmatic. As a smart guy from a good family who just can’t help destroying himself, Anders deliberately tanks the job interview and starts putting himself into dangerous situations, perhaps more out of habit than anything else. Trier keeps the camera in front of Anders with a tight telephoto lens, allowing him to drift in and out of focus.
In The Transparent City (2008) Wolf had taken telephotod images of high-rise buildings in Chicago, a project that was itself an extrapolation from his earlier survey of the architecture of density that had fascinated him in Hong Kong. The results were flattened patterns of light and line with occasional Hopperesque views of humans stranded in the immensity of urban geometry. Imagine Wolf’s delight when he saw that in one of these apartments a large TV was actually showing Rear Window! Yes, there was James Stewart staring into someone else’s apartment with his telephoto lens, photographed by Wolf with his. (Was this just old-fashioned photographer’s luck? Did the occupant of the apartment have this on permanent freeze-frame as a generous gift and ironic reprimand to anyone who happened to be spying? Or was there an element of Doisneau-esque contrivance involved?) Later, as Wolf was looking at some of the other images through a magnifier, he saw something that had escaped him when making the picture: a resident in one of the windows of one of the apartments in a distant building had spotted what he was up to—and was giving him the finger.
Peary does concede, however, that “on the other hand, Allen’s film may also be a tribute to the cinema for having the power to help one escape” — and this is certainly the overriding feeling one leaves with by the (admittedly depressing) ending.... Allen goes even further than Keaton in his envisioning of how such a fantastical scenario might play out, with the remaining characters on-screen — decidedly put-out by having their familiar narrative interrupted (by a “minor character”, no less) — ultimately simply sitting around impatiently waiting for “Baxter” to return. Meanwhile, the actor playing Baxter (Daniels) worries simply about how “Baxter”‘s actions might affect his nascent career, and studio heads fear legal recriminations.
“Moonrise Kingdom” inspired several bouts of nervous laughter in the theatre when I saw it, mostly during the scenes of Suzy and Sam dancing in their underwear. But the most audible squirming was occasioned by Snoopy’s death; the shot showing the dog impaled and inert elicited a shocked, yelping exhale from many people in the audience. That shock then turned to tittering at the children’s frank appraisal, and, then, taking in the scene as a whole, a kind of unsettled admiration—from me at least. Anderson had broken one of Hollywood’s biggest taboos: he offed the dog.
One of MOONRISE KINGDOM’s minor pleasures is the way it uses the Bruce Willisness of Bruce Willis while at the same time diminishing him to human status, a small town cop trapped in an unhappy adulterous relationship, dismissed as dumb and sad even by children. Yet by the climax he’s doing DIE HARD stuff with ropes and dangling and high places and exploding buildings, and it’s delightful.
Social Services (Tilda Swinton) wears dark blue, a matching trouser suit, cape and bonnet, traditionally denoting wisdom and authority. Yet her authority is misguided; instead police officer Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) ultimately comes to Sam’s rescue – the uniformed protector in white. Nonetheless these are mere observations; there are no absolutes or strictly held ideals in a Wes Anderson film, apart from perhaps the pursuit of happiness. You get out of his pictures what you are willing to put in. The more you look, the more you see.
In addition to learning their lines, many of the kids had to pick up more obscure skills. Charlie Kilgore, who plays Lazy Eye, underwent four weeks of intensive bugle training; he calls the instrument "unforgiving". Lucas Hedges, who plays Redford, took motorcycle-riding lessons, which were made all the more difficult because the film's vintage model required "20 things to be turned on at once to make it go." Jared had to learn how to handle a canoe, cook over an open fire, and shoot an air rifle. The hardest task, though? "Flipping a fish in a pan as I was cooking it."
There’s another layer of sound that’s unique to many of Anderson’s films: the drumming, always provided by composer and former Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh. "Drumming is a way to kind of have music without having music, sort of just give it a beat and give it some atmosphere," says Anderson. "Scouting has a kind of military feeling and I think it was really just as simple as trying to find a sound to capture that."
Given its own tendency to inventory things like what Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jara Gilman) bring along with them during their escape into the woods, Moonrise Kingdom constantly invites analysis even though Anderson himself (understandably) tends to be vague about his creative process in his interviews. He claims that the genesis of the movie came from a period when he fell in love at approximately age 11. He scarcely spoke to the object of his affection (who remains nameless), so Moonrise Kingdom constitutes what he wished had happened, in other words, a "memory of a fantasy." He augments that fantastic element by having Suzy carry imaginary books in her suitcase, and by setting the story in 1965 on an imaginary island which one could only reach by ferry from the mainland. Anderson blends together the real (a Westinghouse refrigerator) with the imaginary (the Khaki Scouts) throughout the movie, and the effect could become coy and twee very easily, but Anderson's clear-headed emphasis on the detail keeps the movie grounded. Moonlight Kingdom is often dreamy but never vague, and the complexity of each shot keeps teasing the viewer with hints of deeper layers of interpretation.
But sometimes you stick with a director because, despite his blind spots and fetishes, you believe in him. Something about what he once did lingers in this perfect, permanent way. You’re tattooed. So movie after movie you wait. He’s come so close so often that it’s only a matter of time until he figures out how to do it, how to be the director he promised to become. “Moonrise Kingdom” is Anderson’s seventh movie, and it’s the first since “Rushmore” that works from the opening shot to the final image.
Anderson’s partisans think he’s already figured it out, that he was getting stronger. It’s not true. When, oh when, would he combine his aesthetic obsessions (the francophilia, the Americana, the prep-schoolery), with his natural wit and the heart you assume he had? I love the meticulous diorama framing and the hoisting, pivoting, dumbwaitered, nearly hydraulic camerawork. I would even tolerate the dollhouse framing. I just didn’t want the dolls. I wanted Anderson to show me a soul. “Moonrise Kingdom” does that.
The achievement here is the marriage of that resonant pathos with Anderson’s peerless sense of graphic design. You see all his influences – the French movies and Norman Rockwell, to start with – and you know he’s seen those films and paintings and wanted desperately to climb inside them. Anderson inspires the same gluttonous spectatorship. You want to eat his movies. You want to wear them. That used to be all he had – this meticulous style and clubby approach to ensemble work that managed only to keep you out. We could spectate, but we couldn’t feel much. The movies were all influence – wallpaper without any walls. Now, when Bob Balaban narrates “Moonrise Kingdom” while striking poses in duck-boots and a wool coat the color of marinara sauce, you want to flip to that page in the catalog. It’s an affectation, but with a little regional magic.
At one point they actually take an inventory in front of us so you can see all the ingredients. Yeah. You know, in fact, I remember that we were, we, Roman and I were working and we sort of said I think she's got a suitcase. Let's figure out what's in it. And we decided what is in it is - the thing we thought about her character is that she is a big reader and we were seeing a certain kind of 12-year-old girl we felt we had known. And so we decided to fill it with library books, which end up being stolen, you know, she's stolen library books. But that's a sort of, we then made the books. You know, I sort of wrote a little paragraph of text that from each book because she reads them and then we had different artists draw the covers and we sort of invented this little series of books and she's caring around. And over the course of that I sort of started thinking that the movie ought to feel like it could be in that suitcase and could be one of these young adult fantasy books.
Criticwire's latest poses the question I ask of my students on the first day of class every semester: I want to remove the idea of shame early on. One year, a young woman who was trying to add the class e-mailed me and said she deserved a spot more than another female student who had answered, Titanic. I replied that such a comment was beneath her, and she was duly chastened [although I secretly agreed].
What's your answer? I usually say a tie between The Blues Brothers and The Big Lebowski, which I suspect puts the young men at ease. Now I just wish I recognized more than half of the respondents' names.
The cinetrix is opposed to the naked play for page views that is the slideshow, but I have to say EW.com's "50 Best Movies You've Never Seen" is pretty fucking worth it. Probably because it reminded me of a cherished National Society of Film Critics collection, long out of print, that explains a lot about the cinetrix who stands before you today: Produced and Abandoned: The National Society of Film Critcs Write on the Best Films You've Never Seen.
So click through if you must, load up your queue, or list in the comments how many of these you've seen. For me, this list is a snapshot of moving away from art house heaven, being broke, experiencing Netflix guilt, or suffering shelving fatigue [wherein one has reshelved these films at the video store so many times--frequently, as fellow employees' picks--the thought of fucking watching them ever becomes too much of a chore].
*Currently streaming on Netflix, FWIW.
Good morning! Now that I have your attention, some talking heads:
Truly, one of the most eye-bathingly alien and dread-filled films I've ever seen. At the end I was as limp as a wrung-out rag and dying to watch it again immediately.
Man, I really need to master the video essay form this summer.
In moving forward with its film education goal, Facets has decided to expand its courses, classes, and lecture series. For the past month, I have been researching the noncredit courses, lecture series, and informal classes offered by museums, arts organizations, and other institutions to help develop and design additional film programs for Facets. My first question for my readers and colleagues outside the Chicago area is: Do you know of any organizations that host arts or film classes? If so, please send me the links so that I can compare and contrast with what I already have.
Bright red unstructured coat, mid-length, three quarter sleeves and large plastic matching button closure; red suit with pencil skirt finishing just below the knee; tall leopardskin cloche hat with flat crown and lightly upturned brim; leopardskin handwarmer; tan high heel shoes.
Fleeting yet easily remembered, this outfit reflects just how ‘on fire’ Jan is after rumbling Brad’s scheme. She is back in a hat, one of her most distinctive in fact; a cloche variant worn far back on the head. Of course, typical for Day and how this style was generally worn in the fifties. One point to note: Jan wears both leather gloves and a handwarmer here, which even for autumn/winter New York seems a tad excessive.
What Epstein loved about the camera’s capacity to enlarge (“The close-up is the soul of cinema”), for instance, he shared with Louis Aragon, who, like Schrader, used to think that selected objects or parts of the décor in a shot or scene could become “remotivated,” and focused on the way film could isolate and magnify objects through framing especially in close-ups, or with Walter Benjamin, who compared the cameraman to a surgeon, “penetrating deeply into the reality web,” “zooming in to pry an object from its shell.” But more important even than the camera’s analytic properties to the conception of photogénie, was that the image contain or be in motion. Movement is the essence of cinema, Epstein decides contra Barthes, the constantly changing quality of photogénie is of the essence (“Until now, I have never seen an entire minute of purephotogénie”), perhaps captured best by the image of a smile slowly appearing on a face seen in close-up, nay the anticipation of that smile.
Film Comment used to include in its poll of the best films of the year a kind of alternative (counter) canon composed entirely of contingent moments. “Moments out of time,” this Adair-like collection of fondly remembered bits and pieces was called. Going through these moments now is bringing the films back to mind a process of what both Barthes and Benjamin call “anamnesis,” evoking narrative less than atmosphere, “aura:” “a tumbleweed in L.A.” bringing back The Big Lebowski; “The squeaking of the plastic chairs under the investigators as they interview the suspect,” reanimating Fincher’s Zodiac – what they meant, mean now, could have meant and could still mean. These moments, although they need little explanation for the cinephile in the know, are idiosyncratic, in that they rely upon the critic’s personal recollection of non-canonical moments in a movie (from Renoir’s La Nuit du Carrefour, Godard remembered especially the “purr of a Bugatti”). But sometimes the love of a particular moments is shared, love is somehow “in the air,” which does not always produce a joyful feeling in the cinephile who wants to keep this cherished treasure to himself.
While this is a short list of ten films, one or several of these films is on the list of the favorite films of virtually every woman director or film critic I know. (This list, in fact, may be a separate, secret canon of the films that women love, as opposed to the “gender neutral” canon of greatest films which is actually comprised primarily of films chosen mostly by men.)
These films are the favorites of so many women because they describe the complexities and conflicts of female friendship accurately, the unique joys and also darker aspects that often remain hidden or at least unacknowledged in real-life friendships.
"There's definitely a boy's club in film journalism and film criticism," she said. "I felt like I had to fight to be included in editorial decisions. I did the math on one outlet I wrote for, and less than 10% of their reviews were written by women. Last year Sight and Sound had an essay contest for women writers, and the winner would maybe be published on the blog! It's so condescending! I wanted to show that women were perfectly capable of writing intelligently and in-depth about movies, they just needed the opportunity."
"It takes so much effort for women to get to the starting line, to get onto an editor's radar. I also wonder if sometimes the things that women are interested in -- the way they respond to certain movies -- may not be of interest to many male editors, but would be to many female readers. I've found that's true. In cinephile circles you see mostly men, but women cinephiles are out there. They're often just isolated from those nerd-herd scenes."
For as long as I can remember, I've been pretty much bisexual at the movies. I swing both ways. I drink from both taps. Last year I was, like everyone else, gaga for Gosling after that elevator kiss with Carey Mulligan in Drive. The year before that, The Kids Are Alright brought my 10-year-old Mark Ruffalo crush out of hibernation. A year previous it was James Franco, the generous Adonis of Milk, tenderly smooching with Sean Penn in long-shot from an first-storey window. Bliss.
The screen is an equal opportunity seducer – polymorphically perverse. If you are a man (or a woman) and you watch the famous scene in Notorious where Cary Grant nibbles Ingrid Bergman's ear while she is answering the phone, you don't feel two different things depending on which half of the screen you look at. I don't look at Bergman and go "yummy" and then look at Grant and go "shame about him." Such is the heat of the movie screen that every grain and pixel is suffused with longing. The fact is: I have spent as much time in the dark of the movie theatre watching men kiss and be kissed, and getting a kick out of it, as I have women.
But before we start designing flags of Susan B. Anthony spanking Matt Bomer in assless chaps, it's worth looking beyond the gyrations and oiled-up bodies to the plot of Magic Mike. And if you do, you'll see that beefcake aside, at the heart of the film is the same story that romances have been telling for years: Women just want a guy whom they can fix.