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by Richard Thompson

Movietone News contributor

Video: Framing Pictures – August 2016

Film critics Bruce Reid, Richard T. Jameson, and Robert Horton discuss the careers and legacies of actor Warren Oates and director Hector Babenco, praise Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Our Little Sister (2016), and engage with Oscar Micheaux’s landmark race film Within Our Gates (1920) in the August 2016 edition of Framing Pictures, now available to stream via The Seattle Channel.

These discussions are held in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on the second Friday of every month and are free to attend. The video appears a few weeks later on the Seattle Channel.

The September edition will take place on Friday, September 9 at 7pm at the Scarecrow Video Screening Room. More information at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

Love Among the Ruins: 1975 in Review

[Originally published in Movietone News 47, January 1976]

“We might pass this way again”—the line from the song recurs throughout Stations, Roger Hagan’s exquisite documentary that stood out at this year’s Motion Picture Seminar of the Northwest and later graced a Seattle Film Society showing of Antonioni’s Cronaca di un amore. I seem to be passing this way again whenever a yearly assessment of the Seattle film experience falls due in January. 1975, like other recent years we’ve lived and watched through, didn’t feel in the present the way a lot of years look in the past, like a (to compound as many metaphors as possible in this silly season) cornucopia of good movies clamoring to light our way to eternity. Which is not to say that getting up a Ten Best List has been especially difficult for me, or that 1975 has failed to generate many more movies than ten that I want to pay my addresses to.

The little films, for instance, those small-scale endeavors that make no pretensions for themselves and seem ready in advance to kid any pretensions we might make for them; not award-winners or even likely nominees, not Ten Best types as long as “Best” implies more than a conviction that one will fondly remember them. But film years, and film consciousness, don’t get fleshed out without the likes of Rafferty and the Gold-Dust Twins (Dick Richards, Alan Arkin, Sally Kellerman, Mackenzie Phillips), Rancho Deluxe (Tom McGuane, Frank Perry, William A. Fraker, Jeff Bridges, Sam Waterston, Slim Pickens, Elizabeth Ashley, Clifton James, Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Bright), W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (Burt Reynolds, Art Carney, Thomas Rickman, John G. Avildsen), and A Boy and His Dog (L.Q. Jones, Harlan Ellison, Don Johnson, Tim McIntire, Blood). In some private last analysis I prize such movies above the more generally noticeable and certainly commendable likes of Jaws, The Return of the Pink Panther, and Farewell My Lovely because it requires no last analysis to make me uneasy about, respectively, empty manipulation, however proficient, or betting a sure thing, however accomplished that sure thing may be, or gilding a generic lily even when the gilding is as affectionate and surprisingly unpretentious as Richards’ (director of Farewell as well as Rafferty).

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Moments Out of Time 2014

[Originally published in Keyframe, January 14, 2015]

We perpetrated the first “Moments Out of Time” in ecstasy over the cinematic splendors of 1971—The Conformist, The Last Picture Show, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Straw Dogs, Dirty Harry, et al. It ran in our Seattle Film Society journal Movietone News (“The trees creaking in the wind: the murder in The Conformist…“), where it became a much-anticipated annual feature ’til the journal wrapped in 1981. We’ve missed memorializing a few years since, but have enjoyed at various times the hospitality of Film Comment, American Film, Steadycam, Movies/MSN, and Cinephiled. A comprehensive “Moments” library is maintained at Parallax-View.com.

‘Cold in July’
  • Under the Skin: disembodied face lies in a lap, gazing upward, its eyes blinking…
  • SQÜRL’s banshee screech, “Funnel of Love,” over the first ravishing images—including turntable as flat circle of time—of Only Lovers Left Alive
  • “I was once considered a great beauty,” confides Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), concierge extraordinaire, The Grand Budapest Hotel….
  • A dollhouse town and the relentless cheer of a minister’s wife (Meryl Streep), on the edge of the crazy-making emptiness of the American frontier, The Homesman
  • What to say, politely, to an Iraqi woman after your team has burst into her Fallujah home? “Hello….” Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, American Sniper
  • Birdman: After Mike (Edward Norton) blows up the performance, Riggan (Michael Keaton) storms offstage snarling, “Get him out of here!” Annie the P.A. (Merritt Wever) softly asks, “How do you want me to do that?”….
  • Threesome rocking out to “Gloria” on car radio: a rare communal moment of joy in Two Days, One Night
  • The Better Angels: Abraham Lincoln’s second mother (Diane Kruger) balances on one foot, wavering over a fallen tree trunk, the sun blazing a bright halo around her head….
  • In Exodus: Gods and Kings, a tiny white stallion, rearing beneath a heavens-high curve of tsunami….
FOXCATCHER
‘Foxcatcher’
  • Foxcatcher: To celebrate her dying, John du Pont (Steve Carell) drives his mother’s stable of prized horses out into the cold….
  • Roads in mist, Blue Ruin
  • As Force majeure’s vacationers trek down an alpine highway, their long walk imperceptibly morphs out of the everyday into a Bergmanesque pilgrims’ progress….
  • Mocking fellow painter John Constable’s fussing over a tiny brushstroke of red in a packed canvas,Mr. Turner (Timothy Spall) casually rubs a smear of scarlet into the merest suggestion of a buoy in one of his impressionistic seascapes….
  • On some other planet, what looks like a towering cliff becomes a frame-filling wall of water bearing down on Interstellar’s astronauts….
  • J.K. Simmons’s hotwired muscularity in Whiplash
  • The abiding, ever-so-slightly pixilated serenity of Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), Jersey Boys
  • Under the Skin: the first time the shiny black floor turns liquid, and the guy’s calm descent…
  • “America for Me,” Alex Ebert’s perfect bluesy coda to A Most Violent Year
  • Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) soft-voiced crooning of “The Hanging Tree”—the closestMockingjay, Part I gets to something like genuine feeling, even if the performance is “propaganda”…
  • Longtime lovers and newlyweds John Lithgow and Alfred Molina serenade each other—“You’ve Got What It Takes”—in Love Is Strange….
  • Only Lovers Left Alive: Giving Eve (Tilda Swinton) a tour of Detroit, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) points out Jack White’s home. She: “Little Jack White … nice.”…
  • Hilarious chest-baring, acrobatic hoofing all over a picturesque waterfall, by a pair of princely twits (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen) warbling about the “Agony” of love, Into the Woods
SKELETON TWINS
‘The Skeleton Twins’
  • The Skeleton Twins: the decisive moment when Maggie’s—and by all means Kristen Wiig‘s—lips begin to twitch, and she gives herself up to “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” as joyously lipsynched and boogied to by brother Milo (Bill Hader)…
  • In Inherent Vice, Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) watching “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) work a Fudgecicle…
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel: Zero (Tony Revolori) penciling on his lounge lizard mustache….
  • At the grand party in Magic in the Moonlight, Sophie (Emma Stone) “makes a rather surprising entrance” in Twenties headband….
  • “She just quit by accident.” Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) accounting for Dena’s (Dakota Fanning) exit fromNight Moves
  • Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) contemplating a curl of cream in a cup of coffee, The Theory of Everything
  • Guy Pearce bringing it as The Rover: Is he gonna shoot that old woman in the face? … No, he wouldn’t … wouldn’t shoot that old woman in the face … Oh good, he’s putting the gun away … Oh. Just changing hands…
THE ROVER
‘The Rover’
  • Conferring elbow to elbow with Monsieur Jean; Jude Law and Jason Schwartzman early in The Grand Budapest Hotel…
  • An old seadog (Michael Parks) spins a wicked-strange story about an intimate encounter with a walrus, in Tusk….
  • The visceral horror of Maleficent’s (Angelina Jolie) rape-castration: stumps where wings once grew…
  • Headboard as gravemarker for eleven-year-old girlchild, tilting over in the middle of nowhere, The Homesman
  • Under the Skin: in a backcountry Scottish town, a girl (Scarlett Johansson) in maroon shirt walking down grey road made perpendicular by perspective…
  • Into the Woods: “I’m in the wrong story!” protests baker’s wife Emily Blunt, finding herself hotly wooed by Cinderella’s Prince Charming…
  • Penny Dreadful: Sudden sundering of Dr. Frankenstein’s gentlest creature (Alex Price as Proteus)
  • In Get On Up, James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) and his backup singers costumed in red-and-white Christmas sweaters, with snowflakes: “I’m in honkie hell now!”…
  • Winking Groot-sprout, happy survivor of Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Eminem in The Interview: “I pretty much just been leaving a breadcrumb trail of gayness.”…
  • “I can hear your pants growing.” Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon) over the phone to Doc, Inherent Vice….
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
‘Only Lovers Left Alive’
  • After the last slippery coming and going of “Dr. Faust” (Tom Hiddleston’s Adam) at the hospital blood bank, Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright) opines, “Cat gotta be from Cleveland.”—Only Lovers Left Alive
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: Galadriel’s (Cate Blanchett) chilling transformation, in closeup, from ethereal elf into berserker-demon…
  • Leviathan: Outside the window that has landmarked so much of the film, beyond a kitchen table still cluttered with homely dishware, the bucket of a steam shovel rises into view, swings with the languor of a grazing cow, and demolishes a home, the last vestige of shattered family, and any relic of what passed for social order….
  • Heartstopping materialization of a giant arachnid in Enemy‘s toxic-yellow world…
  • The Homesman: Mary Bee Cuddy (Hillary Swank), bending to slip naked into George Briggs’s sleeping bag: “Don’t make me lose any more of my dignity.”…
  • Coitus interruptus, in Under the Skin, when a not-entirely-human (Scarlett Johansson) leaps to aim a flashlight between her legs, shocked to discover a way something might get inside her…
  • The startling apparition of an avenging angel (Sam Shepard), filling the driver’s-side car window, inCold in July
  • A couple of war-weary soldiers (Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman) breakfast with two German women, the moment of fragile community soon shattered by a tribe of savages, in Fury….
  • Two Days, One Night: Despairing, Sandra (Marianne Cotillard) leans way too far out her car window, until the buzz of a seatbelt alarm pulls her back….
  • A woman falls out of a window, into the common grave that is Ida….
  • Midway through Birdman, the rapport of two fallen angels (Emma Stone, Edward Norton), perched on a roof-edge above Broadway and lit from below by marquee light, quietly trading hard truths about themselves…
  • A Most Wanted Man: Annabel (Rachel McAdams) has given up smoking. “Good luck with that”—Philip Seymour Hoffman….
A MOST WANTED MAN
‘A Most Wanted Man’
  • Hercules: soothsayer Ian McShane’s insouciant shrug when it’s clear his death, which he’s predicted at every turn, just isn’t happening…
  • Mr. Turner: Without looking, the seated J.M.W. (Timothy Spall) places his hand flat on his hovering housekeeper’s (Dorothy Atkinson) breast, as though settling a horse….
  • 3 Days to Kill: Needing to get into nightclub, Dad (Kevin Costner) reaches behind him and shoots bouncer in foot….
  • After an old-school hitman (Willem Dafoe) engineers his own bloody demise to avoid prolonged torture, his erstwhile tormentor (Michael Nyqvist) applauds, “Well played, old friend”—John Wick….
  • Nightcrawler: Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) enters the murder house minutes after the crime, and finds himself right at home….
  • Study in beige: Scarf drawn across lower half of her face, Eve (Tilda Swinton) walks down a Tangier street, owning the night—Only Lovers Left Alive…
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel: A prison guard looking for concealed contraband cannot bring himself to ruin an exquisite Mendl confection….
  • Selling sunshine (The Homesman), mining the dark (Into the Woods)—Meryl Streep casts her spells….
  • Eva Green in excelsis, as Vanessa Ives in mortal combat with Lucifer, Penny Dreadful
  • Empty Fifties roads under robin’s-egg-blue sky, Big Eyes
  • Cold in July: blood spatter on the beyond-bland painting that hangs over Michael C. Hall’s couch…
  • Amid snowfall reducing the known world to white-on-white, Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) achieves perfect chaos—Fargo….
  • The bullet across the curve, Snowpiercer
  • Night Moves: From their rowboat on the lake, the would-be dambusters watch as headlights enter the parking lot where their car sits alone….
  • Aural climate throughout Under the Skin; what bone-deep Otherness sounds like…
  • Pacing paving stones slicked by rain, Ramses (Joel Edgerton) worries he won’t have time to get his tomb built. Behind him, curtains billow in a wet breeze, portending worse weather to come inExodus: Gods and Kings….
  • “The sun is God.” Amen, Mr. Turner….
  • In American Sniper, sudden red flag as Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) breaks bread with a friendly Iraqi family: the host’s scraped-raw elbow, marking him as a fellow sniper…
  • Out on the American frontier, a little girl walks in the woods, a book on her head—The Better Angels….
  • That precocious little Lorelei Linklater vamping and singing “Oops, I did it again!” at her disgusted younger brother (Ellar Coltrane), in Boyhood
  • The power of doggie love, fueling The Rover, John Wick, The Drop
JOHN WICK
‘John Wick’
  • Mockingjay, Part I: During the mutual jamming of video signals, Peta’s and Katniss’s signals crackle over each other and the separated lovers both call out, as if each felt the other passing….
  • Swapping funiculars, The Grand Budapest Hotel…
  • “Exterminate! Exterminate!”: Hawkings goes Dalek, The Theory of Everything….
  • The start of Fury: lone German officer riding a white horse through gray, cratered wasteland…
  • Mad hornet motorcyclist buzzing tinily over the Highlands, Under the Skin…
  • Something corpsey-white sliding under thinnish ice, soon to be the death of Thorin Oakenshield inThe Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies…
  • The Guest’s (Dan Stevens) amused appreciation of the impact his super-buff torso is having on the teenaged daughter of the unsuspecting family he’s moved in on…
  • Enemy: the shadow of the doppelgänger under the hotel room door…
  • Jax (Charlie Hunnam) fires a bullet into the back of his mother’s head, as Gemma (Katey Sagal) lingers in a rose garden. The last act in a long-running Jacobean tragedy called Sons of Anarchy
  • Rape and fiery death in a Palestinian prison, terrorist theater in which everyone is playing a role except The Honourable Woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal, magnificent throughout)…
  • Boyhood: A guy who once worked on her septic line pops up in a restaurant to thank Mason’s mom (Patricia Arquette) for her life-changing advice years ago….
  • Sliding through Detroit’s deserted yellow-gold streets, Only Lovers Left Alive; Henry Ford’s factory that became the palatial Michigan Theater that became a car-park…
  • The doctor’s (Aidan Gillen) awful parable of the human condition, flaying a priest (Brendan Gleeson) who’s just fallen off the wagon, in Calvary
  • Tom Hardy as Locke: “You don’t trust God when it comes to concrete.”
  • “L’aire de panache,” Gustave H.’s shield against mortality and bad manners—The Grand Budapest Hotel…
  • Late in Edge of Tomorrow (now commercially retitled Live Die Repeat), the general (Brendan Gleeson) and the audience more or less simultaneously catch on that Cage (Tom Cruise) and Rita (Emily Blunt) have been here before….
  • Birdman: Starting to play mad scene after finding his wife in bed with a guy, Riggan notices Mike has a raging hard-on. Theater audience notices, too….
  • Unbroken: after the strafing, underwater view of life rafts against the sky, light showing through bullet holes…
  • What happens on that beach, Under the Skin, and the kinds of sense it doesn’t make…
  • Blue Ruin: color horizontals of a carnival at night…
  • Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), spread out on his recliner, reminiscing about the days when he was somebody—The Drop
THE DROP
‘The Drop’
  • The long fall of Smaug, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  • Scritchy plastic couch contributing to the year’s most distinctive and unsettling sex scene, inInherent Vice
  • Love Is Strange: Aging lovers, too long apart, spoon in the bottom deck of a bunkbed….
  • Boyhood’s gutsy mom (Patricia Arquette) abruptly overwhelmed at life passing her by: “I thought there would be more.”…
  • George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) and other assorted dregs jigging to fiddle music on a river-raft, slowly swallowed up in darkness, The Homesman
  • In Only Lovers Left Alive, Adam and Eve lean in the doorway of a Tangier dive, drinking in Yasmine Hamdan’s unforgettable performance of Moroccan blues….
  • Monsieur Gustave, The Grand Budapest Hotel: “There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.”…
  • Under the Skin: small quick blaze in snowy woods…

Kathleen Murphy has written about movies for most of her life (Movietone News, Film Comment, Steadycam, MSN/movies.com, et al.), curated film festivals (Women and Cinema, Irish Cinema) and taught film at University of Washington. 

Veteran film critic Richard T. Jameson served as editor of the journals Movietone News (1971-1981) and Film Comment (1990-2000). 

Hey, Mom, Where’s My Suicide Note Collection?

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

Sam Fuller: “You can always tell about a leaper by the distance his toes are from the edge of either the window or the ledge of the roof he’s threatening to jump from. If you’re covering it, watch those toes. If they stick out, he’s not a fraud, he’s going, and he’s going fast. They usually make a silly speech.

“See that still of a girl in the picture of me at the typewriter? The suicide? I had collected a lot of suicide notes. When you cover a story, you ask the coroner, ‘Can I have the note?’ Ironically, 90 percent of the notes end with: ‘God forgive me.’ No matter what the hell they are, they always say that: that’s really right before they’re going to die. It’s a fear complex. They have no one to turn to, so they turn to the only commodity sold to them and forced down their goddam young throats—’God.’ It’s silly.

“So I decided I’d write a book called God Forgive Me—God Forgive Me, and write about all these characters, and also reprint their notes in the book. I left the notes with my mother and went to Frisco. By God, she lost them. She was very panicky about it, it was just a terrible thing. It was my fault, I kept them all in a paper bag. The best note I had was this girl who killed herself. She wrote it with an eyebrow pencil on a small paper bag. ‘This is my Independence Day. Here is the way I am celebrating it. God forgive me.’

“My mother said, ‘How can you even hold on to these?’ It depressed her. Every one of those little pieces of paper. One of them: three old maids, sisters, between 70 and 85 years old; they were panhandlers, beggars, they worked the subway entrances for money. Then they decided they had nothing to live for. They had eight or ten cents when the cop found them. They pooled their money and bought nightgowns and stuffed all the goddam cracks and gassed themselves to death. And that’s when my mother said, ‘I don’t want to see any more of these notes, they’re horrible, they’re horrible. In your story you said you found out from the landlord that they had nothing to live for. Well, a lot of people have nothing to live for. Why did they kill themselves?’

“And I said, ‘You oughtta be on the night desk instead of my editor, because he never asked me that.’ She said, ‘I don’t understand this. We know a lot of people who said, “Oh, it’s terrible going on, this existence,” so why didn’t they kill themselves? You didn’t get the story.’ And she was right. And I said, ‘How the hell am I going to get it from three old, OLD maids’—that was my lead, by the way: ‘Three old, old maids joined the young in heaven yesterday.’ My night editor liked that very much.”

Q: What strikes me is not so much that they killed themselves but that they were so organized as to do it together.

SF: “And also in new nightgowns. I wrote that up beautifully: ‘They came in clean and they wanted a clean exit.’ I really went to town on it. The only thing I didn’t like was my mother’s comment.”

Q: There’s nothing worse than a critic who’s right.

SF: “And especially when in my heart the landlord’s statement, that they had nothing to live for, was ridiculous. If they were panhandlers, certainly they had nothing to live for. And my mother brought that home very, very strongly.”

Q: So for you the question was, What did they have to die for?

SF: “They had one thing to die for: Escape. Relief.”

Q: Why did they wait so long?

SF: “I don’t know. They were virgins according to the coroner. That’s pretty unusual for that age. So that means they were three nutty old maids.”

Fuller was 12 when his father died and he moved with his mother and brothers to New York City from Worcester, Mass. There he continued his vocation: newsboy. “My mother did nothing-she was a mother.” His brothers—one an excellent cartoonist—are now dead.

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