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by Kathleen Murphy

Contributor

Moments out of Time 1991

[Originally published in Film Comment Volume 28 Number 1, January/February 1992, reprinted by permission]

• Best shot of the year: A motorcycle tops a rise on a lonely road in sagebrush country, followed (though not, strictly, pursued) a beat later by a police car. The timing of the vehicles’ apparition; the casual left-to-right pan that observes them till the cyclist realizes he should pull over; the way the shot-movement incidentally sums up the roll of the land, its distances and layers and colors … My Own Private Idaho

"La belle noiseuse"
‘La belle noiseuse’

• Most triumphant moment: in the doctor’s office in Rambling Rose, Daddy (Robert Duvall) admitting “I was wrong”; his tears of love and fervent pride for the wife (Diane Ladd) who has set him right…

• World and time shrink down to the limits of a sketch pad, while an artist’s hand consumes sheet after sheet with inked images of an unseen nude; the relentless scratch of his pen like death’s feather on the nerve—La Belle Noiseuse

• Véronique (Irène Jacob), lying on her back on a bed in a hotel room she has just rented impetuously, watches an offscreen something sail down past the window, its shadow brushing her face—The Double Life of Véronique….

Barton Fink: The bellhop—CHET! (Steve Buscemi)—rising through a trap-door behind the Hotel Earle reception desk to ask Fink (John Turturro) whether he’s to be “trans or res”…

• That last, endless shot of The Silence of the Lambs: an emptying street, dimming at the onset of evening, down which Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) has long since disappeared on the scent of “an old friend”…

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Moments out of Time 1973

[Originally published in Movietone News 29, January/February 1974]

• The death of Slim Pickens in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid: “Knock knock knockin’ on Heaven’s door”…

• The cut from Calvero the performer staring out at an empty theatre to Calvero the man sitting on his bed in the night, staring into the camera with haunted eyes—Charles Chaplin in Limelight

two english girls
Two English Girls

Two English Girls: Anne (Kika Markham) paying Claude (Jean-Pierre Léaud) the forfeit, a kiss through a chair-back: in the spectacles of the onlooking Muriel (Stacey Tendeter), the firelight burns a demonic red; she turns her gaze away and the light goes out; Truffaut fades before the kiss….

Charley Varrick: A wordless contract made between Varrick (Walter Matthau) and his dying wife (Jacqueline Scott), while Harman (Andy Robinson)—and perhaps the audience—remains unaware, thinking her dead already…

• Enrico Mattei (Gian Maria Volontè) striding about the Libyan desert at night in the science-fiction glare of a blazing gas font—The Mattei Affair

• A desperate run from the outhouse by Maggie Smith, Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing, which ends with her encircled by toilet paper…

• The first time in Such a Gorgeous Kid like Me when the night club singer (Guy Marchand) beds down with the gorgeous kid (Bernadette Lafont): we cut outside his dressingroom and the soundtrack roars with his record of the Indianapolis Speedway (the second time Truffaut uses it, it falls rather flat)….

• Robert Blake sitting in the middle of the road, his blood in his hands and his head sunk in eternal reverie, as Conrad Hall’s camera … recedes—Electra Glide in Blue

• The duel between the god-men (Peter O’Toole and the late Nigel Green)—The Ruling Class

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Moments out of Time 1993

[Originally published in Film Comment Volume 30 Number 1, January/February 1994, reprinted by permission]

age-of-innocence-1993-poster
The Age of Innocence

• Willing his warmest fantasy—Ellen Olenska’s embrace—into motion behind him, Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) gazes out at a window-framed winter’s cape along the Hudson: the aesthetics of desire in The Age of Innocence

• The one that got away in Short Cuts: a woman’s body in the water, neither lady of the lake nor rainbow trout, just dead meat for Kodak consumption…

• Anyone of Johnny’s (David Thewlis) psychiatrically Socratic inquiries of a night’s worth of Naked pilgrims: to an affectless Elvira-punk in obligatory black lace, leather, and chains—”Would you describe yourself as a happy little person?”; to the thick Scottish lout whose head jerks in massive tics as he periodically bellows a lost girlfriend’s name into empty London streets—”What’s it like being you?”…

• Opening of Fearless: A blank-faced man (Jeff Bridges) clutching a child leads a gaggle of grimy refugees through rows of green cornstalks; disaster’s raw shock unanchored from time or place…

• The wired quiet and summer evening dark that presses up around a prairie farmhouse, death heavy in the air; the opening of Flesh and Bone

• Loveliest main-title sequence: The streets of Philadelphia, according to Bruce Springsteen and Jonathan Demme; promise of an epic of contemporary America—unfulfilled…

• Lizard climbing out of vase, The Scent of Green Papaya

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Moments out of Time 1972

[Originally published in Movietone News 20, January 1973]

Le Boucher: a flock of chickens pecking among the leaves in foreground; beyond, frenzied activity at the police station, and we know another grisly murder has come to punctuate, but curiously not to disturb, life in this small French village…

Albert Finney in Gumshoe
Albert Finney in Gumshoe

• Albert Finney’s exquisite gumshoe patter with the unseen Fat Man at the Plaza Hotel, down to and including a perfectly Bogartian “Sure!”—Gumshoe

• A long, single-take stroll down the main street of S1. Joseph, Mo., 1863: ”It is a sunny day”—Bad Company

• A duel of banjos, Deliverance

• Measuring penis lengths in Murmur of the Heart, and Benoît Ferreux’s breathless appreciation of his older brother’s endowment: “Splendide!”…

• Rusk’s visit to Brenda Blaney’s marriage and friendship bureau, Frenzy: from the moment she greets him as Mr. Robinson, we know; only after a tangled rape, as he sighs and with sublime weariness removes the stick-pin from his tie, does she know…

• Henry’s first joint, in Travels with My Aunt: in a perfectly played single take of several moments’ duration, Alec McCowen turns on completely unawares (“1 say, I’ve never smoked an American cigarette!”) and syllable by syllable sloughs several decades of British bank-clerkhood as he giggles on the Orient Express with an American abroad…

• Moving a cemetery, Deliverance

Le Boucher: a casual walk through town, with a Franco-Prussian War memorial passing between the camera and our protagonists, as Stéphane Audran’s schoolchildren swing on the chains round the monument and a local drives by with a load of freshly pruned boughs on his cart: death as the political and the natural order of things…

• Billie Whitelaw coming home in a raincoat, silhouetted in the dim hall as a late-night piano ruminates over “These Foolish Things Remind Me of You”, Gumshoe: she sizes up Finney poised over the keyboard in a well-placed cloud of cigarette smoke and then shuts off the phonograph….

• AI Lettieri, quintessential crude, bedridden, a black kitten on his bare chest, fondling blond bimbo Sally Struthers while her veterinarian-husband, bound and gagged, looks on The Getaway

Hannie Caulder: the thorough ineptitude of three bandit brothers played by Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin, and Jack Elam…

• The extraordinary delicacy of Peter Finch, Sunday Bloody Sunday

• The handsome emptiness of Joe Dallesandro’s face as he sexually uses and is used, Heatthe reality of the “nothingness” which Play It As It Lays skirts with such blasé gentility…

• The raid on the Dutchman’s farm; his hysterical gratitude to God for deliverance; the bloody aftermath—Ulzana’s Raid

• In The Last Picture Show, Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) watching Elizabeth Taylor on the Royal screen, in Father of the Bride, and thinking of her while kissing Charlene Duggs…

• Brando’s grotesque bumbling with ursine clumsiness and growling as he plays with his grandson in the garden, The Godfather: his sudden death agony appears to the child as just another variation of the game…

• The rough-and-tumble of an embryonic baseball game—Sennett-like yet convincingly inadvertent—climaxed by Cole Younger’s (Cliff Robertson) shooting the hide off the ball: The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid

• John Wayne and Slim Pickens sagging over a bar, The Cowboys

• The last three shots of The Other—frustrating as hell if one had been watching the wrong movie, but brilliantly right for the one Mulligan made…

• Jean Yanne peering through the window of the classroom as Stéphane Audran reads to her class about someone who emits “an air of grandeur … and profound feeling, such as to impress the coarsest of minds”: she unknowingly describes herself and her attraction for Popaul (Yanne), so like one of the children, to whom she must remain “Mademoiselle Hélène”—Le Boucher

• Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) at the tank, The Last Picture Show: “You wouldn’t believe how this country’s changed”…

• Junior and Ace at the railway station—Junior Bonner

• The reconstitution of Casablanca at the end of Play It Again, Sam, especially Bogart’s appreciative “Here’s looking at you, kid!” for ace-nebbish Woody Allen…

• The perfect honesty and discretion with which Ed (Jon Voight) acknowledges, “I have some…” after Lewis (Burt Reynolds) has been mocking the idea of buying insurance—Deliverance

• All of Glenda Jackson’s unbilled cameo as The Star in The Boy Friend, especially her gully-washing tear flow as she simultaneously watches Twiggy displace her from her role and, trouper good and true, indulges in the professional sentimentality that enjoys seeing the kid get a break…

• Adam Wainwright’s (E. Kerrigan Prescott) hilarious striptease in the empty burlesque theatre, Roseland, the bumps and grinds saved from homosexual parody by the “new Adam’s” infectious delight and spontaneity…

• “Say, how’d that Jane Eyre turn out?” “Fine. Just fine.” Bad Company

• Rod Steiger’s fingers dancing an inverted fandango as his Mexican bandit searches for the word “destiny”—Duck, You Sucker

• In Play It Again, Sam, the manic depressiveness of Allen Felix (Woody Allen), who doesn’t bother to cook his TV dinners, just sucks them while they’re still frozen: “Did my wife never have an orgasm during our whole marriage, or was she faking that night?”…

• The moment when Le Boucher, inadvertently opening the schoolteacher’s cupboard and finding the lighter he left at the site of one of his murders, looks at us with fatal resignation…

• The beautifully detailed responses of Ed and Bobby (Jon Voight, Ned Beatty) to the taunting, unsatisfiable mountain men who just materialize out of the wilderness along the Cahulawassee—Deliverance

• A combined country-western dance and saloon brawl in Junior Bonner, in which everyone makes new friends: Sam Peckinpah’s version of the Life Force?…

• The superb ending of Heat: the movie star rushes in Swanson-like frenzy to trap her callous lover by the swimming pool, pulls her Sunset Blvd. rod—and it refuses to fire….

• The gradual disclosure of Nazi identity in “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” in Cabaret: a setup, but a valid one…

• The epilogue to Macbeth: the forgotten brother, Donalbain, comes back and, sheltering along the witches’ wall, is attracted by their smoke; as he disappears into the hovel, a jug swinging from a branch in mid-screen caps a whole motif set in motion by Duncan’s crown rolling wildly on the floor during the murder: a stylistic prophecy beyond film’s end, a circle never to be closed as long as there are junior executives who dream of being Number One…

Le Boucher: being questioned by a police inspector called in from the city, Mlle. Hélène can’t help being distracted by the verbally unremarked blaze of silver in the man’s otherwise black head of hair: an ineffably weird index to the idiosyncrasies of Claude Chabrol’s film-world…

• A giddy gunfight among autumn-stripped trees, between two frightened teenagers and a bandit gang whom their leader has tried to protect from their intended victims (“If it was a blind woman in a wheelchair I’d give her the odds”): in a state of shock, the boys gradually realize they’re winning!—Bad Company

• The exultant sense of the high shot that zooms up and away from Eddie Ginley (Finney) as, having stalled the most intimate and crippling problems of his life in one automobile, he turns away from them, his own man—Gumshoe

• One of many devastating moral rebukes to the audience in Frenzy: after the innocent Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) has brought an auto jack down on the blond head under the bedclothes, with us thinking simultaneously “Don’t do it! You’ve been cleared of the other crimes!” and “Go ahead, give him what he has coming!”, he and we discover that the now-dented skull belongs not to the murderer Rusk but to yet another, already-strangled victim—and again the mind boggles, torn between relief and horror…

-In The King of Marvin Gardens, Ellen Burstyn burying her makeup and lotions in the cold sand of Atlantic City, symbolically celebrating her party’s anticipated departure for a tropic Pacific isle where health and wealth abound: her companions leave her, her giddy gaiety turns to shock and fear, and, retrieving a pair of scissors from the beach, she begins to mutilate her hair, flicking the tufts toward the fire before her—and not noticing they are carried away by the wind as soon as they leave her fingers…

The Last Picture Show: Sam the Lion looking into the boys more deeply than they know before watching them head out for Mexico…

• Huey and Dewey beating the overconfident Bruce Dern at poker with deadpan computer canniness—Silent Running

• Scatman Crothers jiving Diana Ross about what a superstud trick he’s going to be while shucking down to faded pink longjohns—as Ross quietly departs: Lady Sings the Blues

• When mother and son love each other so naturally that one involuntarily accepts this as the finest kind of sexual initiation for a boy coming into manhood, Murmur of the Heart; the beauty of the act momentarily returning one to prelapsarian innocence of any taboo…

• Sonny sitting on the curb watching Anarene’s one traffic light change, after learning of the death of Sam the Lion–The Last Picture Show

• A runaway cart hits a rock, four naked people soar through the air in a sitting position, and the top blows off a mountain: Duck, You Sucker

Bad Company: Big Joe (David Huddleston) shows the posse the gun trick he taught Curly Bill Brocius: “Boys—I’m the oldest whore on the block!”…

• The death of John Wayne, The Cowboys

Junior Bonner: a crazy song about rodeo-riding and getting thrown, with no lyrics, just Sam Peckinpah’s brawny sense of slapstick imagery and infallibly timed cutting, and a buzzer that goes BRRRRRRT!!…

• Attacked while escorting a woman and her son through Indian territory, a veteran Army trooper (Dean Swift) immediately rides away, but turns back at the woman’s frantic screams to shoot her between the eyes as she sighs a prayer of thanks for what she mistakes for rescue; a moment later, his horse shot from under him, he puts the same pistol in his own mouth and fires–death on Robert Aldrich’s frontier, Ulzana’s Raid

• The horses descending the brothel staircase in Romance of a Horsethief: the whores, led by Lainie Kazan, frantically attempt to distract drunken Cossack Yul Brynner’s attention from Eli Wallach’s latest refinement in horse-stealing…

Gumshoe: Finney’s third-person tough-guy recitation of imitation Hammett at Billie Whitelaw as he waits for his train to pull away, he still not fully aware that his favorite fictional fantasies are becoming reality, that the lady herself is suffering the sea-change his imaginative bid for sanity and survival is imposing on his world: “The pitch was, would the lady stick around?” and as the train pulls out, she recedes from him in a palpably Romantic movement…

• A promontory overlooking the river and farmlands of the Trémolat-Périgord region; schoolchildren on an outing; Stéphane Audran’s blonde head in the sun: and on one little girl’s biscuit, a splash of bright red blood appears as from the cloudless sky—Le Boucher

• The final scene in Sunday Bloody Sunday: Dr. David Hirsch (Peter Finch) in unexpected consultation with the audience in a shot that begins very un-subjectively and ends: “I only came about my cough”…

• Two of the Younger gang, naked to the waist to show their bullet-riddled torsos, stood on end in their coffins while townspeople gawk and take photographs—The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid

• Frames within frames within frames: The Boy Friend: onstage the understudy (Twiggy) who loves the leading man (Christopher Gable) sees him flirting offstage with another girl in the cast; shortly thereafter she breaks down in mid-scene and flees crying, leaving the pros to make repair—Children of Paradise it may not be, but it’ll do very nicely, thanks…

• The old capo‘s fine sense of dignity as he inquires whether Duvall can intervene in his execution, and his quiet acceptance of the inevitably negative reply—The Godfather

• Tuesday Weld cradling Tony Perkins, crooning her mother’s lullaby—”Baby, just remember … you belong to me”—while he suicides with seconal: one of the few scenes to sit still long enough to develop any viewer intensity, in Play It As It Lays

• Sophie Brzeska standing beside a great unsculpted block of stone, Savage Messiah, mute testament to the dead artist Gaudier-Brzeska whom we last see caught in photographed stasis holding a carved rifle butt…

• Woody Allen casually gestures with a hand holding a phonograph album and slings the record across the room—the climax of a veritable crescendo of gaucherie and awkwardness upon meeting his blind date (Jennifer Salt), Play It Again, Sam

• Ali MacGraw and Steve McQueen trapped in an inexorably filling garbage truck; moments later, re-pledging what is left of their troth in the skeleton of a car in the dump: a concentration of Peckinpah’s vision of America and its outlaws, The Getaway

• The dancing duel between Tommy Tune and the black-haired girl in The Boy Friend

• Oliver Tobias’ and Eli Wallach’s literal horseplay as Wallach begs his friend to tell what he did in the fields with that countess—Romance of a Horsethief

• Peter Vaughan’s comic museum guard—a welcome respite from the preciosity of Ken Russell’s Savage Messiah

The Honkers: late-night confidences over a kitchen table: the neglected wife (Lois Nettleton) and the wayward husband’s friend and partner, a tired old rodeo clown who will die tomorrow (Slim Pickens)—a nice scene from a nice directorial debut by the late Steve Ihnat…

• The destruction-by-shotgun of a police car, The Getaway

• Robert Redford’s perfect shit-eating grin as, buttonholed in a rest room by an abusive taxpayer, he has to take it: there’s a political campaign underway in The Candidate

• Skinning a rabbit, Bad Company

• A cowhand (Matt Clark), apparently doomed to draw on a man he knows can kill him and will (Geoffrey Lewis), simply turns his back and says “Shiiiiit… ” with tears in his voice—one of several shrewd variations on convention that take us into the peculiar reality of The Culpepper Cattle Company

• The joy of battle for Alan Breck Stuart in Kidnapped: one more vividly dangerous performance out of Michael Caine…

• Afternoon in a bar, and the light that flared coldly in whenever the door opened: Fat City

• The rape in Frenzy: Brenda’s prayer filled with sexual imagery that subsequently turns up all over London (“I shall not fear the arrow by night…”); this in rhythmic counterpoint to Rusk’s groaning repetition of “Lovely … Lovely … Lovely”…

• In Le Boucher, the butcher appearing in costume as Louis XIV, cigarette in his mouth, to rehearse with the schoolchildren for the village pageant: we are focused on the back of Mlle. Hélène’s neck, and she suddenly turns, aware that Popaul has been worshipping that very part of her with his eyes: one of the tenderest, most intimate moments in the cinema…

• Big Joe’s philosophical tolerance of Jake Rumsey (Jeff Bridges) for pointing a gun at him: while he fills his pipe, he passes Jake some friendly advice on why you shouldn’t hesitate to shoot in circumstances like that, then draws his own piece and shoots Jake’s away—Bad Company

• George C. Scott’s hilarious–and beautifully built and delivered—”Power to the impotent!” speech in Hospital

• The decency of Edgar Derby (Eugene Roche) in SlaughterhouseFive

• Robert Duvall’s unflappable business cool in The Godfather: he receives with equanimity the verbal abuse of a Hollywood producer but momentarily crumbles as he must report the death of Sonny to Don Corleone…

• Some smoky Scandinavian brick standing in for turn-of-the-century New York, and the American prairie as itself—Joe Hill

Bad Company: the sudden death of Boog, whom Jake once warned not to be so quick in reaching for pies…

• Every encounter between the slimly determined self-protectiveness of Stéphane Audran and the beefy vulnerability of Jean Yanne in Le Boucher—but especially when he turns his knife against himself in an exact visual summing-up of the complex dangers and metamorphoses of love in that exquisitely calm and tortured film…

• The lesbian roommate at Andrea Feldman looking on incuriously as the blond manchild from the other apartment surveys her body with doglike appreciation and intently masturbates—Heat

• The moment when Dr. Gene Wilder stops indulging the Armenian shepherd’s tale of his love for Daisy the sheep and begins to share his fascination—Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask

• The guerrilla assault on a Paris supermarket, Tout va bien

• For a half moment, all the sounds in an all-night cafe and bowling alley stop: the shape of things to come for breaking-down pug Stacy Keach, Fat City

• The old girlfriend visits Eddie’s apartment at midnight as he prepares for bed: she mounts a fine attack on his habit of calling her every time he needs help, during which he brushes his teeth, then gargles and spits in the bowl—the character’s helpless amusement despite her best intentions of staying mad seems inseparable from Billie Whitelaw’s delight in how Finney has stolen her thunder: yet another moment of multileveled beauty from Gumshoe

• The last picture show in The Last Picture Show: Duane (Jeff Bridges) opining that the movie, Red River, was a pretty good show, and Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) offhandedly replying, “I seen it here before”…

• Jack Elam’s emergence from the barbershop, hair glued to one of the ugliest skulls in cinematic history, his one good eye a-gleam with delight in his grotesque sartorial splendor—Hannie Caulder

• The hour of the wolf. The preternatural blackness of a distant shoreline marked by trees. The lake surface sheening away from our eyes. A dead man’s hand rises from it like a primordial·memory: the great penultimate shot of Deliverance, so full of the spirit lacking in the rest of this adaptation of James Dickey’s novel…

• Diana Ross’ simultaneously jittery and sleepy-eyed rendering of Billie Holiday’s blues in Lady Sings the Blues

• Woody Allen as the court jester frantically trying to get into the royal box: he tells the impassioned but chastity-locked queen, “We have to hurry because soon it’ll be the Renaissance and we’ll all be painting!”—Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex

Gumshoe: Eddie Ginley takes his cup of tea and cigarette, puts a Fifties-style disc on the record player, and starts learning to live without the family….

RTJ & KAM

© 1973 Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy

Moments out of Time 1990

[Originally published in Film Comment Volume 27 Number 1, January/February 1991, reprinted by permission]

• The hat in the forest, Miller’s Crossing

GoodFellas: The sheer, abstract, utterly genuine terror of the warehouse at the end of the block, where Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) wants Karen (Lorraine Bracco) to stop in and pick out a dress…

Landscape in the Mist: A snowfall magicks a whole town, every inhabitant transfixed, eyes turned skyward….

• Fourth of July fireworks in a puddle: the auspicious opening of Avalon

• Shorn by the German plane shot down by the Memphis Belle, the front half of the bomber full of new kids just breaks off and falls….

• More horrifying than the brute violence that precedes it, the victim-executioner bonhomie between Lilly (Anjelica Huston) and her mobster boss (Pat Hingle) in The Grifters: “That suit makes you look taller, Bobo.”…

• Stella Wynkowski (Elizabeth Perkins) slapping Harry Dobbs (Tom Berenger) in Love at Large, then turning face-front toward the bar: Harry rubs his cheek and registers dryly, “That’s the first time we’ve touched”…

• “Let go. Let go. LET GO. Let go.” Longtime Companion

• Was it we-hit-the-Italians-if-Frankie-doesn’t-call, or if-he-does? A crisis of professionalism for Gary Oldman and fellow Westies, in State of Grace

• Altman’s camera, in Vincent & Theo, careening deliriously about a vast field of sunflowers—an artist’s eye trying to find a way to catch and compose the sprawling largesse of reality…

• Gremlin become gargoyle—Gremlins 2

Postcards from the Edge: As Dennis Quaid concludes his romantic pitch to Meryl Streep, the “little white house with rose-covered trellis” that has subliminally backed his wooing is trucked away to another part of the studio lot….

• Christopher Walken registering the presence of the camera as he stands in the shower, King of New York

The Krays: Billie Whitelaw serving biscuits and tea to her monstrous sons and their bully boys-just another batch of male children to put up with and coddle…

• New cop Jamie Lee Curtis hitching up her trousers before sitting down—Blue Steel

• Dan Hedaya finding 37 ways to read the line “I’m not arguing that with you!”—Joe vs. the Volcano

• David Watkin’s masterly lighting of the Ghost (Paul Scofield) in Hamlet, so that the figure seems to wrap the world in the grayness of the grave, without recourse to SPFX…

Reversal of Fortune: The practiced way Claus von Bülow (Jeremy Irons) maneuvers Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver) out of his Upper East Side apartment once his conviction has been overturned: when the spotlight of von Bülow’s focused charm switches off, Dershowitz ceases to exist….

Presumed Innocent: Greta Scacchi kisses off Harrison Ford in mid-conversation when he can’t measure up to her ruthless expectations; like a man who remains standing moments after he’s been shot, he doesn’t even know he’s dead .. ”

• The bemused gallantry of Hector Elizondo’s hotel manager in Pretty Woman

• What you might see if someone shoved you up through a manhole cover on a busy street: Darkman

Mo’ Better Blues: the band ragging Giancarlo Esposito about his Frenchwoman…

• Projector beam from terra-cotta lion’s mouth, Cinema Paradiso

• Anaïs (Maria de Medeiros) discovers Henry (Fred Ward) in a movie theater watching Ecstasy, and touches his shoulder. He turns, his face wet with tears, blank with passion—Henry & June….

• Waiting for John Wilson (Clint Eastwood) to call “Action!”—White Hunter, Black Heart

Dances with Wolves: John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) wakes out of a sound sleep to find everything in his sod house shaking, as a great buffalo herd moves through the night like thunder, like ghosts…

Awakenings: De Niro ambushed by waves of uncontrollable tics and twitches as he tries to talk with the girl he has a crush on; a 40-year-old man caught in an adolescent’s worst nightmare…

• The father (Hugues Quester), making seduction chat with his daughter’s friend (Anne Teyssèdre), finds he can’t snap the piece of kindling as casually as he’d like, and stuffs it into the fireplace—A Tale of Springtime….

• A permanently suspended ellipsis, I Love You to Death: Keanu Reeves’s “You know, having sex with a kangaroo… ”

• Middle-of-the-night supper with Mom (Catherine Scorsese) as, in the driveway outside, someone/-thing thumps in the car trunk—GoodFellas

• The sound from the bathtub as Henry (Michael Rooker) renders Otis (Tom Towles) for disposal—Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

• Having put a bullet into his quarry at point-blank range, Nick Nolte climbs up the steps from the cellar entrance of the social club and, swinging his back to the low-slung camera, lifts his police badge to quell the floodtide of revelers pouring forth from every door—Q&A….

• The way Alec Baldwin lets Junior’s mouth fall open, during moments of repose, in Miami Blues—like that of an animal panting in the shade, or Marilyn Monroe thinking…

• The way Samantha Mathis smiles at Christian Slater in the library, Pump Up the Volume: she can’t believe the delicious inappropriateness of this nerd as the rebel voice of her nighttime dreams….

• The momentary reflection of light in a predator’s eye, as Myra (Annette Bening) waits in the dark outside Lilly’s motel—The Grifters

• The roadside accident, Wild at Heart

Miller’s Crossing: The Dane (J.E. Freeman), advancing across the room to menace Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), leans sideways to avoid bumping an overhead light….

• Harvey Keitel’s last moments in The Two Jakes

• Debra Winger, her flesh glowing beneath her half-opened blue robe, queries her husband cryptically: “Isn’t it time for you to rub my tummy?”—The Sheltering Sky

• Magician-pickpocket transmutes purloined wallet into white dove—Henry & June

• The zoned-out glamour of Anne Archer in Love at Large

• The white, shocked face of Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) as The Dane drives him deeper into the woods; a cold wind creaking the trees—the precise sound of death to an Irishman: Miller’s Crossing

• The cat licking the salt of the dead mother’s tears, May Fools

• Frankie (Ed Harris), in mid-conference with the capo, shamefacedly brushing away the crumbs from his roll—State of Grace

• The teen daughter watching as, in the shattered mirror, her mother and father lock in terminal conjugal combat—C’est la vie

Alice (Mia Farrow), under the influence of a mystic-East potion, flirting with the attractive father (Joe Mantegna) in the hall of her kids’ school…

• Family portrait through a window, Blue Steel: father’s arm around wife as they regard their daughter and her new beau. What’s really framed are permutations of power and impotence, threat and appeasement, men and women merging and at war….

Monsieur Hire (Michel Blanc) freeing his white mice along the railroad tracks…

Mountains of the Moon—Fiona Lewis and lain Glen meeting for the first time outside the chambers where the man they both love is being discredited as an explorer: the robustly beautiful New Woman takes in and dismisses her rival, a dying breed of brave, tainted British manhood….

• A new William Buckley for the talkshow circuit, Gremlins 2

• Steve Martin and Rick Moranis’s dance in My Blue Heaven

Vincent & Theo: Van Gogh (Tim Roth) has been mechanically sketching the Dutch prostitute; his interest quickens only when she takes a break from posing, and absentmindedly squats atop a chamber pot to pee….

• A little girl growing old in a painting, The Witches

• The grave, delicate sensuousness of Kate Capshaw as a rancher’s wife, Love at Large

• The tunnel through the hill, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams

The Grifters: Lilly’s animal, half-sexual grief as she howls and humps over the corpse she loved…

The Sheltering Sky: Debra Winger’s terrible, toneless cry after she and John Malkovich have fruitlessly tried to anchor in each other on “the sharp edge of the world”…

• The documentary footage in Awakenings: patient (Robert De Niro) pulling doctor (Robin Williams) into the frame with him, to shake his hand and press human connection upon him…

• Henry Miller, a voyeur on a snowy Brooklyn fire escape, gets a window slammed on his necktie by his wife’s lesbian lover—Henry & June (no wonder he later loves Un Chien andalou!)…

Landscape in the Mist: A girl and a boy in futile embrace in the middle of an empty highway that spans a sea of darkness…

• “Excuse me, you think I’m funny?” Joe Pesci as Tommy De Vito in GoodFellas

Miller’s Crossing: the camera traveling along the throat of the gramophone, pulling back to frame the golden bell of the speaker as the eloquence of Frank Patterson’s “Danny Boy” and the Coen brothers’ cinematic ecstasy simultaneously crest…

RTJ/KAM

[reprinted by permission of Film Comment]

Moments out of Time 1971

[Originally published in Movietone News 10, January 1972]

Recalled by Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy

The Conformist

• Every moment Dominique Sanda’s feline beauty appears in The Conformist or, more specifically: Dominique Sanda’s Sternbergian entrance under a bare, harsh, deifying light bulb; Dominique Sanda’s hands-in-pockets slouch down the hallway, a cigarette dangling from her lips; Dominique Sanda stripping down the top of her sweat suit and advancing on Trintignant…

• Dustin Hoffman and Susan George chewing gum at each other in Straw Dogs

• McCabe’s drunken monologue of his love for Mrs. Miller: “She won’t be sweet without money… ”

• Jane Fonda taking over a bar, infiltrating the space of one male after another, during a single lengthy telephoto take in Klute

• The frumpy wife’s aphrodisiac dance in Taking Off, followed in time by Lynn Carlin’s reenactment in the hotel room, with a load on…

• Jack Nicholson, in Carnal Knowledge, asked by Ann-Margret whether it wouldn’t be all right for her to shack up with him, thinking the matter over with desperate self-possession, even though he’s perched nude on the edge of a leather chair, interrupted on his course to the shower…

• The last shot of The Devils, the end of the world…

Medea: Callas’ strangely aware eyes, wide open as Jason makes love to her, as though she foresees his desertion even then; she closes them quite consciously as if to shut out that vision for the moment….

• Susan George’s child-woman sexiness in Straw Dogs, so consummately good it takes a second look to realize what a superb performance hers is (the same applies to the film)…

• Forty or fifty people reading international newspapers, modeling clothes, and having a last elegant holiday in the hotel lobby, Death in Venice

Dirty Harry: that high-overhead shot of Callahan grinding his foot into Scorpio’s wounded leg in the middle of a football stadium (makes you wonder if those critics busy calling this film “Fascist” think football is too)…

• Jack Palance’s memory of a golden summer when he was one of The Horsemen

• The instant when Buck Henry, singing drunk and nude, standing in the center of the poker table, meets ,the eyes of his runaway daughter—Taking Off

• Ryan O’Neal sitting against the wall of a cantina, his own blood filling his hands, the certain knowledge that his and William Holden’s spree has come irreparably to grief in his eyes, muttering “God damn. God damn!”—The Wild Rovers

• The trees creaking in the wind: the murder in The Conformist

• That quiet little slip in The Go-Between which unobtrusively indexes the boy’s personal irrelevance to Julie Christie and foreshadows his-whole future: Christie’s tenderly bandaged his knee—cut by her lover’s axe—and after he’s recounted every item of information about the lover, she turns and says, “Now, let’s see to that knee.”….

• Dustin Hoffman’s oddly breaking voice as he screams “Bas-tuurds! Bas-tuurds!” over and over after the shooting of the Major—the turning-point from sanity to madness, passivity to resolution, tentativeness to wholeness in Straw Dogs

• The irises-in on moments of potentiality in The Wild Child, infinitely tender and as awesomely large as the whole art and history of motion pictures…

• Old Lodge Skins’ indifference to the fact that he has not died at the end of Little Big Man. Arthur Penn’s variation on the ending of the novel, and his film’s sole excuse for existence…

• “Ode to a Screw” in Taking Off

• A chicken trying to hatch a Volkswagen throughout Intimate Lighting

• A termite mound in The Hellstrom Chronicle looking eerily like the monolith in 2001: one of those most effective moments in the film when the director cunningly used a science-fiction echo to render his pseudo-documentary more chillingly familiar to viewers…

McCabe and Mrs. Miller: McCabe’s first sight of Butler, the company killer, recounting a story to the boys at Sheehan’s place; Butler gives McCabe a cursory glance, says “I’ll be with you in a minute,” and goes on with his story…

• Buck Henry performing his anti-smoking exercise in the park and attracting a Black Power salute from a passing brother—Taking Off; the best-timed gag of the year…

• A rainy morning, a little before dawn, in a small Texas town—Two-Lane Blacktop

• Another long telephoto take, this one of Donald Sutherland and his friends running along the beach in Alex in Wonderland confessing their most recent masturbation; in the course of their giggling, klutzy jog, they regress about twenty years in age…

• Howard Cosell bringing you the Presidential assassination in San Marco, before the credits of Woody Allen’s Bananas

• The moment when Jean-Louis Trintignant lifts his hat from the hotel bed and reveals Stefania Sandrelli’s tush under it—The Conformist

• The shelter in the rain, Claire’s Knee

• Mike Snell cracking up in Derby when the national anthem unexpectedly fails to play properly: one of the most complex and illuminating moments of truth upon truth upon truth in that singular film… –

• The lovers’ departure in Chikamatzu Monogatari: they have been framed by a static shot, the dark masses of buildings around them as they make their final deliberations; they set off down the street, the camera advances after them, and a whole stable black shape at the lefthand and top of the frame suddenly winks away: a fantastic realization of cosmic shift , by a master of mise-en-scène…

• Also, the literally breathtaking crane of the camera out over the brink of the hillside as the lovers pursue one another down its side; the movement is carried through in the next shot as the camera ducks down and in under the lean-to where the pursued lover attempts to hide….

• The cinema’s second-most-astonishing use of Also sprach Zarathustra: the apparition of the world’s most grossly wrinkled bum outside the flophouse at the beginning of Dynamite Chicken

• In the midst of John Ford’s Monument Valley, Joe Don Baker shielding the eyes of the last of The Wild Rovers from the sun by holding his hat over the man’s face: a direct homage on Blake Edwards’ part to Ford’s 3 Godfathers, when John Wayne did the same for Harry Carey Jr….

• William Holden reminiscing out loud about his friendship with Ryan O’Neal, The Wild Rovers, apparently conducting a normal conversation by a campfire until he says, “Man-just-don’t-know-shit!” and covers his dead friend’s face…

• Woody Allen attempting to be unobtrusive about buying a sex magazine—Bananas

• The opening shot of The Horsemen: the camera plane circles over Afghanistan, taking in hundreds of miles as it pivots on a single trumpeter poised on the mountainside…

The Beguiled: the little girl’s smile as she helps bury Clint Eastwood whom she has killed with poisoned mushrooms: she’s been initiated into sisterhood…

• Jane Fonda’s cosmopolitan performance for the old businessman in Klute

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death: the white plump flesh of the redheaded vampire-girl as she rises dripping out of the lake…

The Night of the Living Dead: the little girl’s hunger-driven face as she approaches her mother to hack her to death…

• Hermie buying the rubbers—and also an unwanted strawberry cone with sprinkles—in Summer of ’42

• Popeye Doyle screaming straight into New York City traffic, knowing he has to get that frog on the elevated above him, and to hell with the rest of the world: Gene Hackman’s furious, exasperated, why-won’t-you-people-learn pounding on the steering wheel nails down the whole chase in The French Connection and maybe the entire film—which is one ferocious chase all the way to the last enigmatic gunshot….

• The last moments of This Man Must Die, in which our revenge killer suddenly and absolutely convincingly metamorphoses into a doomed hero of tragic myth…

• An après-chase lull in Taking Off when Buck Henry and the mother of the runaway girl he spotted wordlessly consider having an affair; he gets a phone call and it’s all over…

• The dancehall sequence in The Conformist that feels like one serpentine camera movement but isn’t really: especially the first disclosure of Manganiello’s presence at the table diagonally opposite, and Trintignant’s getting simultaneously embraced and bound by the conga line…

• That incredible opening shot in Dirty Harry when the camera zooms back from a yellow-suited girl in a glittering blue rooftop swimming pool, to show her and all of San Francisco under Scorpio’s gun; also the whole city seeming to turn on Clint Eastwood’s shoulders as he climbs up there a couple screen moments later…

• Robert Mitchum watching his son make out in Going Home: a whole class of American male is indexed in that throwaway moment effortlessly, unpretentiously, and succinctly….

• McCabe discovered at the beginning of McCabe and Mrs. Miller by a lazy panning movement that picks him out of the rainy grey-green blur of Northwest fir trees and establishes him as the man to realize this one place and this one moment in time…

• Gene Hackman and Fernando Rey’s I-don’t-know-whether-1’ll-take-this-subway-or-not act in The French Connection

• The look on Buck Henry’s face-sheer naked childish disillusionment-when he hears that his daughter’s hirsute boyfriend made $290,000 last year: in Taking Off

• John Moulder Brown frantically trying to know what’s going on in there after Jane Asher and Karl Michael Vogler disappear into the bath chamber in Deep End

• The gamut of expressions on Rip Torn’s face, in the middle of the night and of Coming Apart as Sally Kirkland does something to his posterior…

RTJ & KAM

© 1972 Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy

Oh, the Humanity! Post-Apocalyptic Drear in “Terminator Salvation”

If movies indeed tap into the zeitgeist, Terminator Salvation, director McG’s grim reboot of the 25-year-old man vs. machine franchise, speaks to a demographic in awfully low spirits. Will this relentless, episodic slog through post-apocalyptic drear, punched up by paroxysms of extreme violence, deliver at the box office and resurrect the Terminator series (sequels are already in the works)?

Christian Bale vs. machine
Christian Bale vs. machine

Set in 2018, after nuclear Judgment Day, Salvation‘s ruined world has been leached of all color and signs of life. The days are steeped in sickly beige-brown, the noirish nights drenched in rain. Hunted down by machines of assorted shapes and sizes, the few remaining humans, always starkly lighted, resemble gaunted concentration-camp survivors stripped of any expression but a reflexive hunger to stay alive. (“We’re in the cattle car now,” despairs a fellow picked by an über-machina transporter.)

Lock-jawed Christian Bale plays grizzled resistance messiah John Connor as if programmed to project nothing but single-minded rage laced with unstoppable courage. Happily, Connor’s unlikely brother-in-arms (Aussie newcomer Sam Worthington, soon to star in James Cameron’s Avatar), a convicted killer reformatted by Cyberdyne, occasionally permits himself a welcome break from the stoic mode. On screen more and longer than Bale, permitted to act human once in a while, Worthington, like homeboy Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, steals the film away from Bale. Call it minimalist charisma.

So here’s the rub: if you’re making a film about a cosmic struggle between men and machines for dominion of the earth, the question of what makes human beings valuable, special, worth saving, is crucial. In Salvation, there’s no punch–no flesh and blood–to that question. Clichés like “We bury our dead” are trotted out, but Salvation never jacks us into the psyches of the non-machines we should be rooting for. The film’s emotional oxygen is so thin that the protagonists don’t seem wholly there; they’re “types” cloned from the headier worlds of Cameron’s two Terminators, Mad Max, the Aliens franchise, Battlestar Galactica, and even TV’s The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

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Water World – Beyond Rangoon

[originally published in Film Comment Vol. 31 No. 4, July/August 1995]

The world is full of women who hunger for movies that unreel not Gawain’s but Guinevere’s gutsy quest to repair her own—and thus others’—broken souls and psyches. The Round Table of peerless travelin’ ladies includes Bringing Up Baby‘s Katharine Hepburn, a vessel of dangerous anarchy into which her juiceless lover (Cary Grant) must dive to save them both from deathly extremes. And Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, scenting out the dark, devouring angel who will perversely father her into wholeness. Seat too the sadly underrated Closet Land‘s Madeleine Stowe, who braves a lacerating descent into the “ultimate closet” of her own violated self, another brutal Janus-faced male her guide and confessor. And Sigourney Weaver’s tough mother, crucified for humankind at the end of the Alien trilogy in a fortunate fall into fire.

Beyond Rangoon
Beyond Rangoon

Such mythic passages for distaff knights are rare as hen’s teeth. Thank goddess for John Boorman’s Beyond Rangoon, a pell-mell adventure featuring a Lancelot who happens to be woman, doctor, and tragically bereaved mother and wife. The derailed tourists in this new film and David Lean’s adaptation of E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India are sisters under the skin. But the real-as-headlines, yet timeless, journey Boorman’s Laura Bowman (Patricia Arquette) makes through alternately fecund and fatal Burma is “known” in her (and our) blood and nerve-endings.

In contrast, the “passage to more than India” that transforms bony, brainy Adele Quested (Judy Davis) is fueled by a drier, more metaphysical outrage. Immersed in an Otherness of her own making, Davis confronts the dark, heated disorder that reduces character and experience to a cosmic sound effect signifying nothing. By the time of A Passage to India‘s homecoming, Quested has matriculated into an older soul, worthy daughter of the cozily mystical Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft) who, gazing into the moonspangled Ganges where corpses sometimes float, exclaims, “What a terrible river!” then, “What a wonderful river!” (Mrs. Moore’s cosmic opposites flow through every film by Boorman, an artist who acknowledges that his most abundant visions iris–out into darkness.)

Boorman’s quester beyond Rangoon sets out as a member of the walking dead, a fragged spirit barely tethered to her flesh, for whom the wheel of time, of life, has stalled. (The image of that wheel on monastery walls and as shadow on the ground at her very feet greenlights Laura’s eventual takeoff into “more than Burma.”) Early on, sightseeing a monumentally reclining, dreaming Buddha, Laura listens indifferently as their tour guide (Spalding Gray) puns on the Buddhists’ lack of belief in the soul by gesturing at the bottoms of the statue’s great feet, adorned by stories shaped in curving pictograms. Behind him, parents caution their son to come down from Buddha’s back. Boorman creates a visual schism between foreground religious studies and background actuality. The effect suggests the kind of Hitchcockian back–projection that often signaled psychic deracination for traumatized heroines such as Marnie or Kim Novak X2 in Vertigo.

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Playing Fair with Mel Gibson’s “Passion”

passioncrownofthorns
Christ's suffering: "a down-and-dirty, medieval vision of flesh ruined and violated beyond enduring"

[Originally written for Queen Anne News, 2004]

In the week since I attended a press screening of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, I’ve talked and argued about religion, with believers and unbelievers alike, more than I have in decades. Every film reviewer, pundit and talkshow host in the country has fervently weighed in for or against this controversial, ultra-gory reenactment of the final 12 hours of Jesus’ life. So much, frequently hysterical, verbiage has heaped up that the movie itself — the way it looks, moves, its way of shaping a primal story into art — gets buried. Indeed, many have just skipped the film entirely, so that their opinions won’t be hampered by actually experiencing the gospel according to Gibson.

As almost everyone knows by now, Mel Gibson invested his own money in this 126-minute visualization of Christ’s Passion — not the euphemized, abbreviated, cleaned-up version that contemporary Christians have mostly espoused, but a down-and-dirty, medieval vision of flesh ruined and violated beyond enduring. (One Catholic novelist objected “to the way Gibson’s film disturbs [emphasis mine] our sense of peace and acceptance of the cross.”)

Distasteful and even embarrassing to many latterday Christians, this horrific chapter of Christ’s life on earth obviously possesses some special, visceral appeal for Gibson, a traditionalist Catholic whom some accused of anti-Semitism even before the film was released. (For the record, I didn’t register any anti-Semitic subtext in The Passion, and I didn’t come away filled with hatred for anyone. For me, the operative emotion was pity: for benighted humankind and Gibson’s religious hero.)

Take a look at the final 15 minutes of Gibson’s 1995 Oscar-winner Braveheart; it’s startling to see how literally Gibson rehearses — sometimes shot for shot — for The Passion, with himself as the suffering Christ. Praying for the strength to die well; spread-eagled on a cross; tempted by a satanic figure; empowered by the eyes of those who witness his awful torture; inspiring his followers with the sustaining legacy of Braveheart‘s last image, a sword-cross planted in the earth — the bloody end of Gibson’s Scots hero presages the formal, stylized contemplation of his god-man’s lengthier, equally barbaric Passion.

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The last list of Lists for 2008 – The Year in Cinema

The reading of the Oscar nominations marks the unofficial (and long overdue) end to the season of Top Ten lists and year-in-review pieces and various awards bestowed by every group who wants to add their stamp to the passports of Oscar hopefuls. So as a postscript, I gather a few lists and remarks from Parallax View contributors and friends, along with those published by Seattle top critics, as a snapshot of the way see 2008.

Sean Axmaker

A Christmas Tale
A Christmas Tale

1. A Christmas Tale (France) (dir: Arnaud Desplechin)
2. The Edge Of Heaven (Germany) (dir: Fatih Akin)
3. WALL•E (dir: Andrew Stanton)
4. Let The Right One In (Sweden) (dir: Tomas Alfredson)
5. Wendy And Lucy (dir: Kelly Reichardt)
6. The Fall (dir: Tarsem Singh)
7. The Dark Knight (dir: Christopher Nolan)
8. The Class (France) (dir: Laurent Cantet)
9. The Secret Of The Grain (France) dir: Abdellatif Kechiche
10. My Blueberry Nights (dir: Wong Kar Wai)

I also saw six films at various film festivals that could easily have made the list, were they eligible under most Top Ten guidelines (i.e.: a theatrical release). Some of them have been set for a 2009 release, a couple still await distribution.

Four Nights With Anna (Poland/France) dir: Jerzy Skowlimowski
The Hurt Locker dir: Kathryn Bigelow
L’heure d’ete (Summer Hours) (France) dir/scr: Olivier Assayas
Of Time And The City dir/scr: Terence Davies
Still Walking (Japan) dir/scr: Hirozaku Kore-Eda
Ain’t Scared (France) dir/scr: Audrey Estrougo

Robert Cumbow

(in lieu of a list, Mr. Cumbow put together his Observations, Reflections, and Ruminations from 2008 for Parallax View here)

Jim Emerson

(Ten Best Favorite Movies, from his Scanners blog) Click on the link for the video experience.

1. In Bruges (comedy, gangster; on DVD)
2. The Edge of Heaven (multi-narrative drama; on DVD)
3. A Christmas Tale (comedy, family)
4. Pineapple Express (comedy, stoner/bromantic, crime, action, Ninja; on DVD/Blu-ray)
5. Wendy and Lucy (heartbreaker)
6. Let the Right One In (comedy, tweener love story, horror)
7. Still Life (comedy, romantic/industrial; on DVD)
8. Chop Shop (docudrama; on DVD)
9. Shotgun Stories (Southern Gothic; on DVD)
10. The Fall (comedy, Western/Eastern fantasy adventure; on DVD/Blu-ray)
11. Che (instructional documentary, with re-enactments)

John Hartl

The Edge of Heaven
The Edge of Heaven

(more or less in order)

The Edge of Heaven
Man on Wire
WALL•E
Waltz With Bashir
The Pool
Milk
Taxi to the Dark Side
Boy A
Frozen River
and the most interesting SIFF film I saw that hasn’t been released: Tony Barbieri’s Em

Robert Horton

(from his blog)

1. The Edge of Heaven
2. The Duchess of Langeais
3. The Romance of Astrea and Celadon
4. The Dark Knight
5. Wendy and Lucy
6. Married Life
7. Priceless
8. In Bruges
9. Forever
10. Let the Right One In

Richard T. Jameson

2008 was one weird film year for a variety of reasons, and trying to throw a Ten Best list around it has seemed a fool’s-errand. This fool’s latest version of one, for the editor of Germany’s brave Steadycam magazine to post online, should be the last I hazard … though it, like its predecessors, ignores some half-dozen first-rate films seen at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and unreleased as yet Stateside.

In Bruges
In Bruges

1) The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin)
2) A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin)
3) The Secret of the Grain (Abdellatif Kechiche)
4) I’ve Loved You So Long (Philippe Claudel)
5) Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt)
6) Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson)
7) In Bruges (Martin McDonagh) … hands-down favorite!
8 ) WALL•E (Andrew Stanton)
9) A Girl Cut in Two (Claude Chabrol)
10) Tell No One (Guillaume Canet)

Kathleen Murphy

1.  The Edge of Heaven
2.  In Bruges
3.  A Christmas Tale
4.  I’ve Loved You So Long
5.  Wendy and Lucy
6.  Let the Right One In
7.  WALL•E
8.  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
9.  Vicky Christina Barcelona
10. Man on Wire

Andrew Wright

Let the Right One In
Let the Right One In

1. The Dark Knight
2. The Edge of Heaven
3. Let the Right One In
4. Burn After Reading
5. OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
6. WALL•E
7. Redbelt
8. Encounters at the End of the World
9. Fear(s) of the Dark
10. JCVD

Select Seattle-area Critics

William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

(in no particular order)

U2 3D
Milk, W., Frost/Nixon
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
The Reader
The Visitor
Cassandra’s Dream/Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Iron Man, The Dark Knight
Valkyrie
Slumdog Millionaire
WALL•E

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times

(in alphabetical order)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Frozen River
Man on Wire
Milk
Priceless
Revolutionary Road
Shine a Light
Tell No One
WALL•E

Tom Tangney, KIRO

1. The Edge of Heaven
2. Synecdoche, N.Y.
3. Boy A
4. I’ve Loved You So Long
5. Man on Wire
6. Funny Games
7. Towelhead
8. Wall•E
9. Rachel Getting Married
10. (tie) Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight.

Wendy and Lucy
Wendy and Lucy

Pilgrims’ Progress: On the Road with Frank Borzage’s Earth Angels

[This essay was originally published in an issue of Steadycam magazine devoted to the cinema of Frank Borzage.]

Quentin Tarantino once warned a movie palace full of his fans not to “sophisticate yourselves out of feeling.” It’s a good credo to bear in mind while watching movies by Frank Borzage. When I recently plunged into 16 of this American Romantic’s redemptive melodramas–scarcely one-fifth of his total career output–I wondered if I’d land in comfy cushions of outdated sentimentality, pillowed by the kind of emotional certitude we postmoderns have long since seen through. Instead, the cumulative effect of these cinematic trips was comparable to getting high on revelatory “speed.”

What’s seen and experienced in Borzage’s numinous universe is often so ratcheted up in intensity, so pregnant with his stylized ideas of sin or salvation and stations in between, that your nerve-endings may start to sizzle.

Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell in "Lucky Star"
Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell in "Lucky Star"

There’s no standing outside Borzagean passion plays like Street Angel (1928), Strange Cargo (1940) and Moonrise (1948); if you cannot give yourself up to the prevailing metaphysics, then you will be blind to the overarching power and beauty of these cinematic autos-da-fe, in which space and time and death are no match for souls on fire with love.

Borzage’s films are Dantean voyages in which flesh-and-blood Beatrices–Janet Gaynor (Seventh Heaven, 1927; Street Angel; Lucky Star, 1929), Loretta Young (Man’s Castle, 1933), Margaret Sullavan (Little Man, What Now?, 1934; Three Comrades, 1938; The Shining Hour, 1938; The Mortal Storm, 1940); Jean Arthur (History Is Made At Night, 1937); Gail Russell (Moonrise); and, yes, even Joan Crawford (Mannequin, 1938; The Shining Hour, and especially Strange Cargo)–act as spiritual lighthouses for their lovers and thereby, themselves.

In From Reverence to Rape, Molly Haskell’s on the right track when she characterizes Janet Gaynor as a “peasant madonna,” a big-eyed waif turned goddess by Borzage’s sanctifying gaze. But applying traditional religious terminology to Borzage’s cinema too often encourages critical freeze-frames, snapshots of the start-and finish-lines of a complex journey, as opposed to motion pictures of an Everywoman in resplendent transition.

And Borzage can’t be pinned down to any madonna/whore iconography based on light-and dark-haired women: Gaynor and Crawford, Arthur and Russell incandesce equally in his beatifying mise-en-scène.

It’s true that Borzagean goddesses are so wonderfully down-to-earth, they might all be named after The Mortal Storm‘s Freya (Margaret Sullavan). Mostly capable, often courageously independent, they are replete with common sense even as they are carriers of transforming magic. It’s mostly a given that, in the world according to Borzage, lovers enjoy each other sexually. Unless blocked or twisted, the carnal isn’t dramatically foregrounded, but flows naturally from ecstatic spiritual attachment.

Borzage’s no Victorian when it comes to mad love, unwholesome libido. In The River (1928), Mary Duncan’s Rosalie lounges on a riverbank, flanked by a funereal raven Marsden, her brute lover, left behind on his way to prison for murder. Sullen, affectless, she projects an aura of spiritual–even physical–decomposition. At her very feet, naked, open-faced Allen John (Charles Farrell) rises up out of a whirlpool he likes to ride. At first sight of louche siren and her familiar, this natural man lowers himself in the water so that only his eyes are visible. From the start, she mocks his manhood, his ability to keep her as “warm” as Marsden did.

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Together again for the first time: “Exorcist” prequel shows the franchise past its expiration date

[Originally written for Queen Anne News, 2004]

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved horror movies. Growing up in a family and a small town that buried all the bad stuff under silence, politeness and euphemism, I took guilty pleasure in stories about monsters getting loose in the dark, scaring all the pillars of community to death. Scared me, too, but deep down, I confess I was primally tickled when vampires, blobs, giant bugs, werewolves and aliens broke all the rules. What delight when some long-faced mayor/military officer/scientist/minister, confronted by nightmare, had to eat his platitudes!

The Beginning"?
Father Merinn facing his demons in "Exorcist: The Beginning"?

But even if her Peter Pan’s one of the beautiful and damned Lost Boys (1987), Wendy must grow up. And growing up means learning how few movie-monsters wear anything like the real face of evil. That’s because the most toxic spillage of evil, as Hannah Arendt tellingly observed, is often everyday, slow, banal, gray — so humdrum it’s the rule, not the exception. How can a movie express such an unremarked blight?

Exorcist: The Beginning reminds one, with a vengeance, that most mainstream films don’t tackle Arendt’s brand of evil — and the kind they do take on is generally silly, phantasms born of infantile imaginations. By their very nature, movies aim to make moral-ethical states visible, shaping the inner journey into palpable adventure. That’s especially true of American films, designed primarily for entertainment rather than epiphany.

Horrorshows like this prequel to 1973’s genuinely scary The Exorcist have become ever more literal and physical, dominated by a Grand Guignol fascination with the myriad ways the human body can be mutilated.

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“The Descent”: In the destructive element immerse…

[originally published in Queen Anne News, August 2006]

I was telling my friend about The Descent, one of the most authentically terrifying horror movies I’ve seen in years, when she called a halt to my rhapsodizing about its scare tactics. She wasn’t kidding. Movie stuff that comes oozing up from the darkness behind the brain seriously freaks her out. So how come I’ve loved hair-raisers since forever? What’s in it for me?

Maybe it’s connected with going about as far as you can go into really bad places (we’re not talking dreck flicks here, but genre classics) … and coming back alive. A film like this breathtaking British stunner works like a nightmare trip, the darkside equivalent of a vision quest. Vicariously surviving The Descent into hell confirms your power over death. The best horror movies teach us that, rephrasing Dylan Thomas, we do not have to go gentle into that bad night.

"The Descent" - into the caves
"The Descent" - into the caves

The Descent opens with instant kinesis: a trio of women, high on risk and adrenaline, fighting their way down extreme rapids, while a man and a little girl watch from a nearby bluff. Director Neil Marshall clues you in from the film’s exhilarating get-go that his tough, resourceful heroines are larger than wives and mothers. Forget the sidelines: these women game hard, testing their physical skill and courage to the limit.

Scant time, after leaving the river, to chill out before what feels like a scene of riskless calm is horrendously shattered. You’ve hardly settled down from mastering those wild rapids before getting body-slammed by a terrible tragedy out of the blue. The movie nails down — in your nerve-endings — the difference between courting danger in extreme sports and the way everyday killing violence comes unbidden, without warning.

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Carousels, Circuses And Cathedrals: The Film Art of Max Ophuls

[Originally written in November, 2002 for the “Luminous Psyche” film series “The Films of Max Ophuls”]

“But where would people like us get to if we couldn’t get carried away?” –Max Ophuls

When Max Ophuls died in 1957, his friend and collaborator Peter Ustinov (Le Plaisir‘s narrator, Lola Montès‘s Ringmaster) described the director as “a watchmaker intent on making the smallest watch in the world and then, with a sudden flash of perversity, putting it up on a cathedral.” One takes issue with Ustinov’s somewhat condescending adjective–“smallest”–but the metaphorical connection of watch and cathedral is wonderfully resonant as a key to Ophuls’s movie metaphysics. As a film artist, Ophuls can be compared to God as watchmaker, designer of exquisite cinematic mechanisms–set in motion in fin-de-siècle Vienna or contemporary La-La-land or timeless Paree. That irresistible motion makes Ophuls’s world go round, carries his actors–and his audience–away, traps or transforms all those who dance to his Mozartian music.

"Lola Montes" Falling from social grace to center ring
"Lola Montes" - Falling from social grace to the center ring

Circles that count time, watches suggest the little round of human life, the turning of the earth, the unreeling of a film. Timepieces are significant plot devices in Ophuls’s films, which often revolve around star-crossed lovers–and repeated variations on the question “What time is it?” signal ever-pressing mortality, as well as the worldly duties that so regularly interrupt or end transcendent affairs and assignations. A friend once described Ophuls’s elegant cinematic excursions as “tracking eternity”; it is the director’s famously long, complex, beautiful tracking shots—and the power of his lovers’ emotions—that carry them (and the willing viewer) out of time. In The Earrings of Madame de…, Ophuls’s masterpiece, that inexorable, voluptuous camera movement constitutes the film, a life, the transformation of a beautiful woman from ornament to essence. Madame de…’s pilgrimage ends in an empty cathedral, architecture which rises up to eternity.

Liebelei (1932), La Signora di tutti (1934), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), Caught (1949), The Earrings of Madame de… (1953), and Lola Montes (1955) all contain Ophulsian heroines who are ensnared and sustained by seductive images of earthly pleasures, or fall from the glittering merry-go-round of the world…into eternity. Falling in love, plunging from social grace, flinging themselves out windows, jumping from the heights of circus tents—these courageous or despairing acts are leaps of faith, leaps into the void. By an act of pure will, Ophulsian women often seek to transmogrify the unsatisfying stuff of ordinary life into art. Their obsession–or talent–drives them to sanctify or aestheticize their experiences, mining metaphysical significance from the mundane. But sometimes the machine breaks down, and beauty is ground up in perpetual motion—like Gaby Doriot’s movie-star portrait endlessly reproduced on the drum of Il Signora di tutti’s printing press.

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