Day of Anger (Arrow / MVD, Blu-ray, DVD) is another reminder of why Lee Van Cleef became a major spaghetti western star. He doesn’t just dominate Day of Anger (1967), he owns the film as a Frank Talby, a smiling gunman who rides into the thoroughly corrupt town of Clifton, Arizona (which, of course, is actually Almería, Spain) to collect a debt and ends up adopting the Scott (Giuliano Gemma), turning the town bastard and whipping boy into a formidable gunman in five hard lessons (all helpfully numbered). Van Cleef is smooth and cool, at once ruthless and oddly likable, and Talby’s tough-love affection for Scott is beyond the call of manipulation. Next to the utterly corrupt folks who don’t even bother to hide their arrogance and bigotry, Talby is almost honest about his criminality. He wants his money, he wants to run the town, and he wants vengeance against the hypocrites who double-crossed him.
“‘We’re going to shoot it without a script,’ he said, his face lighting up with excitement. ‘I know the whole story…. But what I’m going to do is get the actors in every situation, tell them what has happened up to this moment … and I believe they will find what is true and inevitable.’ ‘Have you done that kind of thing before with other films?’ one man asked. ‘Nobody’s ever done it,’ Welles replied.” Josh Karp pieces together excerpts from his forthcoming book on the making of The Other Side of the Wind to give a snapshot of three years from one of cinema’s most protracted film shoots—and frustrating behind-the-scenes dramas.
An oft-used comparison that deserves trotting out once more: Welles’s searching, improvisatory method bears comparison to Chaplin’s, minus the guaranteed financial rewards that allowed the office men to excuse the indulgence. With the Tramp just turned 100, Dan Callahan does typically lovely justice to Chaplin’s evolving understanding of the comic miracle he’d created. (“There are mistakes in the Keystone films, like when Chaplin kicks a harmless old guy for no reason in The Property Man or kicks a little boy in The Fatal Mallet, but these misjudgments were swiftly rectified. Chaplin understood as he went along that there needed to be a reason to kick someone….”)
The Guardian offers unintentional counterpoint with a pair of articles about film movements aimed at black audiences created under very different circumstances. Ashley Clark talks to Julie Dash about the LA Rebellion, that remarkable explosion of independent voices in the 1970s and 80s that included her and Charles Burnett. (“We weren’t making films to be paid, or to satisfy someone else’s needs. We were making films because they were an expression of ourselves: what we were challenged by, what we wanted to change or redefine, or just dive into and explore.”) Near simultaneously in South Africa, Tonie van der Merwe, the owner of a construction firm, was exploiting government subsidies to finance a series of violent crowd-pleasers that sound as charmingly raffish but glibly apolitical as their maker, as Gavin Haynes recounts.
“Odd Man Out, Carol Reed’s first masterpiece, introduced the theme that would shape all of his best films: a stranger’s groping quest through the labyrinth of a great city… lost in a deceptive, tilting world. In Odd Man Out (1947), the dying Irish rebel is not in a foreign land, he is an outsider in his own hometown. He wanders among housewives and bartenders, soldiers and urchins, priests and drunken painters, but his progress through a single winter night has mythic resonance—an odyssey through the borderland between life and death.” Imogen Sara Smith does the honors for Criterion introducing Odd Man Out.
David Cairns’s account of John Brahm’s London-set, German-inflected remake of Broken Blossoms is bookended with the delightful tale of the two screenwriters—Rodney Ackland and Emlyn Williams—who were vying for both the writing job and the lead role. (“Clearly, nobody expected an actual Chinese actor to take the part….”)
“Do you believe that stuff the old man was saying the other night at the Oso Negro about gold changin’ a man’s soul so’s he ain’t the same sort of man as he was before findin’ it?” Tasha Robinson celebrates The Treasure of the Sierra Madre for Huston’s subversive tweaking of conventional expectations of both genre and masculinity.
“But… flight 808, the watchful cops, that woman and her wittle poodle who hasn’t seen daddy in such a wong, wong time. Checking in the luggage. Oh God, checking in the luggage and trusting it to baggage handlers and the driver and that obnoxious yapping poodle as nightmarish as the parrot squawking next to Elijah Cook, Jr.’s dead, bloodied face. When the cheap suitcase falls off the luggage truck on the tarmac, Hayden watches, money swirling like some sick green smoke. It’s almost beautiful.” Kim Morgan’s as fun a tour guide as you’d expect, walking us through The Killing from the opening narration “so dead serious it’s actually a bit perverse” to all the fatalist traps snapping shut (and that suitcase popping open) by the end.
“You could call what we witness in Edvard Munch a record—or a product—of a different sort of seduction from the kind to which Munch claimed to have fallen victim with Mille Thaulow. The movie is visibly intoxicated by the persona Munch gave himself, often to the exclusion of recognizing that persona as the construction of, in Munch’s words, ‘the distraught [painter’s] friend the poet.’” Max Nelson charts the limits of Peter Watkins’s identification with his subject in Edvard Munch even while acknowledging the director brings the past to life in a way most biopics can’t begin to approach.
Brian Keith might have ended his career with a string of lovably gruff television roles, but Jim Knipfel would rather remember “that brief stretch between 1954 and 1961 [when] his true greatness became apparent, his subtlety and range, as he played equal number complex heroes and villains, lawyers and thugs and nutjobs, fishermen and cowboys and cops.”
Falling on the heels of a recent article on casting director Allison Jones, we now have a subgenre emerging of profiles of offscreen talents that contribute invaluably to the Apatow-Feig comedy axis, as Jonah Weiner explains the working methods—some of which he had to pioneer to keep up with the slew of improvised one-liners—of editor Brent White.
“Making these films depends on a lot of things that are not the usual spices of filmmaking. Of course it’s money, machines, camera, energy, desire. But then it’s also a lot of different things that I wouldn’t like to tell you about, because it seems very abstract and sentimental. You don’t have to know about that.” Pedro Costa is always remarkably lucid—here, in a post-screening Q&A with Stoffel Debuysere—about the motives and methods of his uniquely cloistered, collaborative filmmaking. Via David Hudson.
The death of Phyllis R. Klotman, film archivist and founder of Indiana University’s Black Film Center/Archive, occasions one of the more artless but compelling galleries I’ve posted, her colleagues’ collection of photographs with the ever-smiling Klotman in such company as Marlon Riggs, Julie Dash, and Ousmane Sembene.
Director Richard Bare made his big screen debut with the comic short So You Want to Give Up Smoking (1942), which launched a long-running series of short subjects starring George O’Hanlon as Joe McDoakes, all of them directed and produced by Bare. He also directed the feature films Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend (1957) with Randolph Scott, Girl on the Run (1958), which launched the TV series 77 Sunset Strip, I Sailed to Tahiti with an All Girl Crew (1968), and the split-screen horror spoof Wicked, Wicked (1973), but he was much more prolific on the small screen. For television, he directed episodes of The Twilight Zone (including the classic “To Serve Man”), Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, The Virginian, Broken Arrow, Cheyenne, and almost every episode of the long-running sitcom Green Acres. He retired in the mid-seventies, after writing the influential book “The Film Director.” He passed away on March 28 at the age of 101. Daniel E. Slotnik at The New York Times.
Günther Grass, one of the most controversial of the literary lions of post-war Germany, never wrote for the cinema but his novel “The Tin Drum” was adapted into a 1979 film by Volker Schlöndorff, which won the Palm d’Or at Cannes and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Richard Lea in The Guardian.
The opening night film for 41st Seattle International Film Festival, which opens on Thursday, May 14, was announced this week. It’s Paul Feig’s comedy Spy with Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, and Jason Statham, which premiered at SXSW earlier this year. Director Feig is slated to attend the McCaw Hall gala event. Opening Night tickets are now on sale, along with festival passes and ticket packages. Visit the SIFF box office online for more information. The full line-up will be announced on April 30.
SIFF’s Cinema Dissection returns this weekend with Warren Etheredge taking the audience through Tootsie. The six-hour event begins at 11am on Saturday, April 18. Details and tickets here.
The newly-restored The Sound of Music is following its TCM Film Festival screening with two special Fathom Events screenings in theaters across the country on Sunday, April 19 and Wednesday, April 22.
The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.
Back in 2009, Argentine filmmaker Lisandro Alonso came to Seattle for a retrospective of his still-young career, including his new film Liverpool, which NWFF subsequently distributed in the U.S. Jauja is his first feature since that critical breakout, and his most commercial to date—though still with plenty of space for Alonso-ian mysteries.
The title, pronounced “How-ha,” refers to a legendary city of riches and happiness, but this is no treasure hunt. Set in the late 19th century, Jauja is a period piece that ostensibly takes on the genocide of Argentina’s colonial past, when soldiers were sent to exterminate the primitive “coconut heads.” Yet Alonso’s films are as much about men moving through the landscape, leaving behind the rules of civilization to become lost in the wilderness.
See, this is why I don’t go camping.
In its opening half-hour (the film saves its explicit violence, including quite a bit of gore, for its final 30 minutes), Backcountry conjures a series of terrors about being in the middle of nowhere—in this case, a Canadian forest. Is the aggressive stranger with the survivalist knife following you? Are those sounds at night really acorns falling from trees? Has that deer carcass been slaughtered by an animal with large claws? And what exactly lurks outside the circle of light afforded by your campfire at night? These wilderness anxieties are enhanced by the transparently empty bravado of Alex (Jeff Roop), who is dragging girlfriend Jenn (Missy Peregrym) in the direction of a remote lake, a place fondly (but not too exactly) remembered from his childhood.
Even if you have an allergic reaction to dramatic re-enactments in documentary films—and I confess I get itchy during them—1971 provides an exciting, non-hokey account of a remarkable true story. The March ’71 break-in at an FBI office in Media, Penn., has not enjoyed the lingering prominence of the Pentagon Papers or other high-profile leaks. Maybe that’s because the culprits were never found. Most of the participants were recently outed in onetime Washington Post reporter Betty Medsger’s book about the case, The Burglary. Medsger is an interviewee in the documentary, as are the former burglars willing to go on camera.
[Originally published in Movietone News 45, November 1975]
While The Roaring Twenties is hardly a definitive history of an era, its chronicle of the intersecting careers of Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney) and two buddies from the Great War has a sharp bite socially and more than a touch of tragic vision. Here as elsewhere, the Cagney character is the focal point of a deadly disparity between society and the man who lives by his instincts, and the elegiac tone which the film builds around him is a way of paying respects not to a bygone era, but to a naïvely vigorous man on whom time and change have tromped. Here the “Roaring Twenties” are more or less what happens in between an era that sets a man up (World War I) and an era that tears him down (the Depression), and the ultimate effect is one of waste, of quintessential vitality (Bartlett’s) squandered in a age too confused to find a place for it. In one sense the film spells out the limitations of Cagney’s film persona; but the downward spiral of Eddie Bartlett’s career and the upward spiral of his lawyer pal’s (from bootleg bookkeeper to assistant D.A.) also suggest that society’s values move in brutally indiscriminate character’s inability to find a suitable companion in life ultimately constitutes an important, though tacit, social problem as well.
[Originally published in Movietone News 31, April 1974]
The American Film Institute tribute to James Cagney (CBS-TV, March 18) was enjoyable almost in spite of itself. Through a barrage of film clips and above all through the poise and presence of Cagney himself, the event somehow managed to keep the man’s best qualities in the air, even as that air was thickened with a fog of Hollywooden self-congratulatory egotism. Showbiz extravaganzas like this one have a way of becoming exercises in self-publicity, and the various contributions of George C. Scott, Doris Day, George Segal, Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra (most of all) and others tended to make much of the affair into a showcase for the payers of tributes, with the tributee more or less left to be part of the audience.
The Babadook (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD), one of the best and most original horror films in years, raises goosebumps with old-fashioned scares, relatable characters, and a provocative psychological foundation. Amelia (Essie Kent) is a single mother who is still in mourning for her dead husband—she barely seems to be able to rouse herself to face the world—and is unable to cope with her overactive son Sam (Noah Wiseman), who is both terribly sweet and terrifyingly unpredictable. Clearly the loss has left them both scarred. Amelia has cocooned herself in an emotional shroud while Sam arms himself—quite literally, with improvised weapons that could easily maim a fellow schoolkid—to fight the imaginary monsters that may in fact be real. While the stress shows in Amelia’s increasingly haggard face and exhausted movements, Sam gets more wide-eyed and manic, a devil child who really just wants to be an angel and protect his mommy.
The title is an anagram for “a bad book,” which here is a pop-up children’s storybook that suddenly appears on Sam’s bookshelf and releases a smudgy nightmare creature that apparently jumps out of the pages and into the shadows. The book and the Babadook (Dook! Dook! Dook!)—which lurks in shadows, creeps in the corner of their eyes, and roams at night like a ghost in a haunted house (which their creepily still home has become)—both refuse to be evicted. It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to wonder how much of the Babadook is external demon invading a fraught home and how much is the guilt and resentment and darkest emotional fears let loose in the hallucinations of a troubled, sleepless mother.
[Originally published in Movietone News 45, November 1975]
The Cock-eyed World is a plodding, heavyhanded and rather entertaining sequel, with sound, to What Price Glory?. The Flagg-Quirt stuff is less than thrilling, partly because of Edmund Lowe’s mismatched assets and liabilities, partly because the repartee keeps reverting to the “Aw—sez you” tack. But there’s a good deal to savor at an agreeably crude level. An early bit of in-joke dialogue has Quirt lamenting the newfangled notions about how a soldier should talk—seems that it’s not right for a soldier to swear anymore. Quirt and Flagg quickly exchange insults about how the lack of swearing will reduce the other’s working vocabulary to practically nil. This sidelong reference to talking-picture taboos out of the way, Walsh, McLaglen, Lowe and friends go about the business of making a rowdy picture without benefit of its predecessor’s “silent” profanity.
Flagg keeps his pet monkey in a chamber pot; Quirt gets thumped by a jealous Russian strongman who seems to be named Sanavitch and who looses a truly Herculean spray of saliva at Quirt’s face from a range of about two feet; Quirt calls Flagg a horse’s neck and “You great big horse’s ancestor”; Flagg greets a ladyfriend with “How’s my Fanny?” and the comic stooge (El Brendel) introduces a map-bearing Latin girl as “the lay of the land” (“The what?” asks Flagg with a straight face and great interest); and yet another female strikes the stooge, a Swede, as “yoos my tripe.”
Ride the Pink Horse (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) – It wouldn’t be fair to call this film unknown—ask any die-hard film noir fan—but outside of classic movie buffs and noir aficionados, Ride the Pink Horse (1947) simply isn’t a familiar title. The film’s debut on DVD and Blu-ray should help change things, and the Criterion imprint certainly doesn’t hurt.
Based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, whose work also inspired In A Lonely Place, and directed by Robert Montgomery, this is rural noir, set in a fictional New Mexico border town created almost entirely on studio sets (with a few location shots in Santa Fe). Montgomery also stars as “Lucky” Gagin, a big-city thug who tracks a crime boss (Fred Clark) to San Pablo for a shakedown on the eve of its fiesta season. The shift from the city at night to a dusty southwestern town, where Spanish fills the streets and cantinas outside of the tourist hotel, gives this film a striking atmosphere and texture, but the themes come right out of the post-war dramas and crime movies. Montgomery is a working class thug who came home from the war disillusioned and angry and Clark, his blackmail target, is a war profiteer who hides behind the façade of big business and looks more like a middle-management functionary than a criminal tough guy. One of the oddest touches in film involves his hearing aid, which turns familiar phone call scenes upside down. (You might recalls Clark as the producer who dismisses William Holden’s baseball script in Sunset Blvd and as dyspeptic comic relief in scores of films and TV shows.) Ride the Pink Horse anticipates the connection between organized crime and corporate America that became even more prevalent in the 1950.
“But few, then or now, seem to have noticed that the plot of Hell’s Angels is essentially Wings viewed in a fun-house mirror. Where Wings presents the Great War through the lens of bravery, gallantry, romance, and tragedy, Hell’s Angels unfalteringly inverts those themes: romance morphs into lust, cowardice into realism, and idealism into nihilism. Wings’ Great War is glory tempered by tragedy; Hell’s Angels’ Great War simply wastes the lives of people whom few in the audience feel compelled to mourn.” Adam Simms finds in Hughes’s Hell’s Angels a darker tale than audiences primed by Hollywood war pictures are prepared to accept.
As a filmmaker, Robert Greene has particular understanding of the true villain in Powell’s Peeping Tom: “I urge all who watch, write about or, especially, make movies to try to understand Powell’s dark message: The cinema wants to hurt you.” Via Rachel Handler.
“I had never acted in a film before. Hal just called me and said, ‘I have a part for you in my next movie.’ I remember thinking, ‘I hope I have lines or something.’ Then he sent me this thing. It was like getting a grenade in the mail.” Hal Hartley and his actors recall the making of Henry Fool—and how even then the director was hinting at a larger, longer canvas—to Eric Kohn.
This movie never leaves the courtroom or its antechamber, but that’s not the only reason things are unbearably claustrophobic. The limited range of movement perfectly sums up the situation of an unhappy wife, whose suit for divorce against her estranged husband takes years to untangle. Why would it take years? Because the courtroom in Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is not a civil one, but a religious one. The scenario feels like it was dreamed up by Franz Kafka on a grouchy day, but it’s one that is unfortunately still possible in Israel.
It arrives with something less than the heated expectations of, say, the Avengers sequel, but Ned Rifle is nevertheless the climax of a movie trilogy. You have to be a follower of the career of longtime indie hero Hal Hartley to really appreciate this closure, but apparently there are enough fans out there to have crowd-funded the budget for this typically modest finale. Hartley got on the map with The Unbelievable Truth and Trust, tiny-scaled films with dialogue written as 1930s screwball patter but underplayed by a hip, pokerfaced ensemble. The writer/director’s visibility waned after an epic-scaled character study, Henry Fool (1997), the movie that inspired the scattered sequel Fay Grim (2006) and now Ned Rifle.
Icelandic humor. Could it become a thing? It seems possible in the wake of Of Horses of Men, a supremely droll movie that weaves together a collection of equine-related anecdotes. Like the human population of that northerly island, the horses of Iceland come out of a limited gene pool. They don’t look quite like other horses, with their short legs and jumpy gallop—a visual joke that director Benedikt Erlingsson uses for repeated effect. The opening section lets us know the kind of mortifying black humor we’re in for: A prideful trainer (Ingvar E. Sigurdsson), out for a public ride, must sit on the back of his immaculate mare while the animal is unexpectedly mounted by a randy local stallion. The latter has unexpectedly broken loose from its pen, much to the embarrassment of his owner (Charlotte Bøving)—though her reaction may be colored by the fact that she harbors some lusty feelings for the proud rider herself. In fact, she may be inspired to try something similar herself, a little later in the movie.
[Originally published in Movietone News 45, November 1975]
What Price Glory?, like the successful play from which it is drawn, works with some of the era’s anger is directed less toward war itself than toward some of the era’s topical themes—in particular, as the title implies, the disillusionment that had befallen many of the youthful participants in World War I. But especially as directed by Raoul Walsh, the film version thrives on comedy that is sometimes satirical and often ribald. And that comedy only occasionally intersects with the anti-war feeling implied in the title.
Eileen Bowser has written that the film is “the archetypal celebration of war as a game played by roistering comrades.” Certainly, the central Flagg-Quirt relationship, with combative friendship and devotion to duty as its key elements, seems to work in that direction. But while the film never approaches the radical disgust that Dos Passos, Hemingway, Céline and others expressed toward the war, it does evoke a more complex and less romanticized attitude than Bowser indicates. The warriors—some of them, anyway—are romanticized, but the war isn’t, one of the results of which is an interesting tension between personal flamboyance and public destruction.