Search Results

peckinpah

Review: The Long Goodbye

[Originally published in Movietone News 25, September 1973]

The Long Goodbye has been touted as a farewell to a whole genre, or at least to the Raymond Chandler subgenre, of the detective thriller and film noir. But this version of Chandler’s only unfilmed (till now) Philip Marlowe novel is best seen as neither farewell nor spoof, but as another Robert Altman film and as an extension of McCabe and Mrs. Miller in particular. The two films are almost companion pieces: each an exercise in a familiar but still evolving genre, each concerned most of all with a more or less solitary boy/man/entrepreneur who mumbles his way through a world of questionable worth, each converting the lost innocence of a film genre into a kind of reluctant elegy for Hollywood, the U.S. of A., and “America.” Altman’s Marlowe and McCabe are both lone gamblers who are seen grousing to themselves a good deal, and each ends up being a deliberately shaky version of the American movie hero—the lone gun as sucker, the klutz as (mostly unnoticed) man of principle.

Keep Reading

Best Blu-ray & DVD releases of 2016

We’ve been hearing people pronounce the death of DVD and Blu-ray for years now. You’d never know it from the astonishing wealth of Blu-ray debuts, restored movies, and lovingly-produced special editions in 2016. The sales numbers are way down from a decade ago, of course, thanks in large part to the demise of the video store, which drove sales of new movies to fill the new release rental racks. The studios still handle their own new releases on disc but many of them have licensed out their back catalog to smaller labels—some new, some longtime players—who have continued to nurture the market for classics, cult films, collectibles, and other films from our recent and distant past. Criterion, Kino Lorber, Shout! Factory / Scream Factory, Twilight Time, Arrow, Olive, Blue Underground, Flicker Alley, Raro, MVD, Cinelicious, and others have continued to reach those of us who value quality and deliver releases that, if anything, continue to improve. We prefer to own rather than rely on compromised quality of streaming video and the vagaries of licensing and contracts when it comes to movies.

2016 has been as good a year as any I’ve covered in my years as a home video columnist and paring my list of top releases down to 10 was no easy task. In fact, I supplemented it with over two dozen bonus picks and honorable mentions. My approach is a mix of historical importance, aesthetic judgment, quality of presentation, and difficulty of effort. It is an unquantifiable formula influenced by my own subjective values but you’ll see some themes emerge. I favor films that have never been available in the U.S. before, significant restorations, discoveries, and rarities. But I also value a beautiful transfer, well-produced supplements, insightful interviews and essays, and intelligently-curated archival extras. You’ll see all these in the picks below.

Out1Box1 – Out 1 (Kino Lorber / Carlotta, Blu-ray+DVD) – This was my cinematic Holy Grail for years, Jacques Rivette’s legendary 12-hour-plus epic of rival theater companies, an obsessive panhandler, a mercenary street thief, an obscure conspiracy, the post-1968 culture of Paris, puzzles, mysteries, creative improvisation, and the theater of life. The history is too complicated to go into here (check out my review at Parallax View) but apart from periodic special screenings it was impossible to see until a digital restoration in 2015 followed by a limited American release in theaters, streaming access, and finally an amazing Blu-ray+DVD box set featuring both the complete version (Noli me tangere, 1971 / 1989) and the shorter Out 1: Spectre (1974), designed for a theatrical release after French TV balked at his original vision. It was shot on 16mm on the streets with a minimal crew and in a collaborative spirit, incorporating improvisations and accidents and morphing along the way. The disc release embraces the texture of its making and also includes the new documentary “The Mysteries of Paris: Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 Revisited” and an accompanying 120 page bilingual booklet. There were more lavish sets and more beautiful restorations on 2016 home video, but nothing as unique and committed as this cinematic event, which made its American home video debut over 40 years after its first showing. Full review here.

Keep Reading

Blu-ray: Giallo! Restored Italian horrors on Arrow, Synapse and more

bloodblackBlood and Black Lace (Arrow/MVD, Blu-ray+DVD)
What Have You Done to Solange? (Arrow/MVD, Blu-ray+DVD)
Death Walks Twice: Two Films by Luciano Ercoli (Arrow/MVD, Blu-ray+DVD)
Killer Dames: Two Gothic Chillers by Emilio P. Miraglia (Arrow/MVD, Blu-ray+DVD)
Edgar Allan Poe’s Black Cats: Two Adaptations by Sergio Martino & Lucio Fulci (Arrow/MVD, Blu-ray+DVD)
The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Tenebrae (Synapse, Blu-ray, DVD)
Manhattan Baby (Blue Underground, Blu-ray)

A mysterious stranger stalks a beautiful woman as the camera creeps in like a voyeuristic partner in crime. Black gloved hands reach for the lovely neck of a young maiden. The faceless killer strangles, stabs, slashes, or otherwise horribly murders her in front of our eyes, the camera recording every perverse detail. This description of the giallo could fit the hundreds of slasher films but the true giallo—a distinctive Italian brand of horror film that was born in the 1960s and flourished in the 1970s and 1980s—combines a poetic, haunting beauty with Grand Guignol gore and a bent of sexual perversity. You could call it “spaghetti horror,” though it hardly captures what makes the genre so unique and, at its best, so delicious.

Italian horror did not begin and end with giallo, which is the Italian word for “yellow” and refers to a series of cheap paperback mysteries and thrillers that sported yellow covers, but it certainly put the genre on the map and influenced the direction of Italian horror (as well as, among others, Spanish and French horror) for decades. The cinematic roots include Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (with its elaborately choreographed murder scenes), Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and the krimi, a distinctly German genre of murder mystery based on the British thrillers of Edgar Wallace and his son, Bryan Wallace. These films generally featured a mysterious, usually masked killer, an eccentric investigator, and a roll call of suspects that usually ended up systematically murdered in creatively gruesome ways.

Death Walks at Midnight - image courtesy of DVD Beaver

Death Walks at Midnight – image courtesy of DVD Beaver

Mario Bava and Dario Argento are the king and crown prince (respectively) of the genre that was born in the sixties, bloomed in the seventies, and celebrated a resurgence in the late nineties as scores of gialli rolled out on videotape and DVD in restored and uncut versions. I devoured these releases but, like so many other fans, I also discovered that the pool of Italian horror was, just as with the spaghetti westerns in the 1960s, huge and filled with copycats and knock-offs cashing in on the current trends. The excitement waned as the pool of classics was quickly drained and I worked my way through lesser and lesser horrors just waiting for moments of inspiration. That’s not to say anyone gave up on the genre, only that for a few years the hits were fewer and farther between.

Labels like Blue Underground, Kino Lorber, Synapse, and Mondo Macabro kept the genre alive during these fallow years. Now Arrow, a British label that recently launched an American line of Blu-ray and DVD releases (through distributor MVD), has injected new blood into the genre with some of the best editions of classic, notorious, and outrageous giallo titles in the past couple of years. Most (if not all) of these films have previously been released on DVD, some of them satisfactory, others not so much. They make their respective Blu-ray debuts in impressive deluxe editions. Here are a few stand-out releases from the past 12 months or so, as well as a few choice releases from other labels. And where better to start than…

Blood and Black Lace (Arrow/MVD, Blu-ray+DVD), Mario Bava’s 1964 giallo landmark. Many experts of the genre have cited The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) as the birth of the giallo, but I say this elegant slasher picture and its mix of poetic, haunting beauty with Grand Guignol gore and a bent of sexual perversity is where it really began. If Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch turns violence into a ballet, then Blood and Black Lace is murder as ballroom dance. Bava sets the atmosphere with a beautiful yet eerie credits sequence that gives each star his or her own moving fashion still and then jumps into a stormy night, where the winds lash and snap the chains of the hanging sign and twist the streams of the elegant fountain until it resembles the spray of a disaster. Order becomes chaos.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

Video: Framing Pictures – May 2016

Film critics Bruce Reid, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy, and Robert Horton debate and discuss the recent restorations of film noir orphans Too Late for Tears and Woman on the Run, the legacy of Sam Peckinpah, Ben Wheatley’s new film High-Rise, and (non)critical opinions of Captain America: Civil War in the May 2016 edition of Framing Pictures from Scarecrow Video.

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 June edition will take place on Friday, June 10 at 7pm at the Scarecrow Video Screening Room. More information at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

Review: Dillinger

[Originally published in Movietone News 24, July-August 1973]

That our final glimpse of John Dillinger should be out of focus is appropriate. Dillinger promised to be an exciting directorial debut for John Milius—promised especially hard in the first quarter of an hour—and the role of Dillinger himself presented Warren Oates with the perfect opportunity to etch one of the great characterizations of the American screen, as well as to win widespread recognition at long last. That Oates has failed to achieve either scarcely seems his fault since, whenever he is given screen time, he hovers on the verge of discovering a dangerous and original persona—and, it must be added, he looks historically perfect, unsettlingly so. But Dillinger and anyone else resembling a character are essentially lost sight of, except as gunmen and targets, from about the midpoint of the film onward—that is, starting with the Mason City, Iowa, massacre. The mayhem is powerfully filmed and individual shots are often vividly visualized, but Milius fails completely to give sequences or whole sections of the film any cohesion or sense of purpose beyond slam slam slam.

Keep Reading

Review: Son of Dracula

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

Kris Kristofferson seems to be about the only recent folk rock star to have come to films with any degree of dramatic acumen and at least some feel for what is involved in establishing a credible screen presence. Others—Dylan, for example, in Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid—seem always to be somehow looking at themselves in a mirror of selfconsciousness. While this may have something to do with writing good songs, it is disastrous in front of a camera. James Taylor, in Two Lane Blacktop, comes to mind as another screen casualty; he had to be given short, heavy “message” lines because he apparently couldn’t handle normal dialogue. But at least Taylor didn’t come on with selections from his greatest hits at every lull, which is more than can be said for Harry Nilsson in Son of Dracula.

Keep Reading

’69: A Good Year (for movies…)

Rummaging in cartons on the top floor of our house—a process that has gone and will go on for years—I recently found two crumbling pieces of newsprint that mark, among other things, the beginning of what became “Moments out of Time.” The “Moments” stuff comes at the end, the entries for any given film clumped together. Only a few anticipate the way such things would be composed in later years. Still, I’d like to enter them into the Parallax View record.

While I’m at it, please indulge the year-end remarks which precede them. (The venue was the counterculture weekly Helix, which expired not long afterward.) Seattle film year 1969 was a remarkably rich time, not least for the fact that it included some local and/or personal premieres from the preceding five decades of cinema. And happily coincident with a landmark restoration this current film year is my top choice for 1969, the year it first played in the greater Seattle area. —RTJ

[Originally published in Helix, January 15, 1970]

’69: A GOOD YEAR (for movies…)
by Dick Jameson

It’s a few minutes past Ten Best time again, and while I’m usually champing at the bit preparing tentative lists as early as November, this year I held off. Not that movies were less interesting in Seattle in 1969. Movies were too interesting. Trying to cull ten titles out of the wealth of fine films making their first appearance in Seattle last year is a hellish prospect, and maybe a leetle bit impossible.

So I sympathize with Johns Hartl and Voorhees of the Times, who made it easier on themselves by limiting eligibility only to released-in-1969 pictures. That does make things a lot easier; I can manage that standing on one hand:

1. TRUE GRIT (Henry Hathaway)
2. THE WILD BUNCH (Sam Peckinpah)
3. STOLEN KISSES (François Truffaut)
4. IF… (Lindsay Anderson)
5. BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE (Paul Mazursky)
6. MIDNIGHT COWBOY (John Schlesinger)
7. CASTLE KEEP (Sydney Pollack)
8. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (Sergio Leone)
9. A WALK WITH LOVE AND DEATH (John Huston)
10. I AM CURIOUS—YELLOW (Vilgot Sjoman)

Keep Reading

In Black & White: The Women (Pt 3)

[Originally published in Movietone News 34, August 1974]

WOMEN AND THEIR SEXUALITY IN THE NEW FILM. By Joan Mellen. Horizon Press. 255 pages. $4.95 (in paperback).

Much of Joan Mellen’s Women and Their Sexuality in the New Film has been previously printed in magazines ranging from Ms. to Film Quarterly. Although “substantially revised or enlarged upon and integrated within the thesis and concerns” of the current work, these articles-turned-chapters remain pretty much discrete essays, thematically united only by Mellen’s underlying (more accurately, overbearing) political persuasions. Catholic in her blanket denunciations of bourgeois anti-feminism in the cinema, she indicts Cuban and Chinese cinema, foreign and independent filmmakers, as well as that stock villain Hollywood, for “retrograde” contributions to contemporary film. Whether capitalist or socialist in impulse, current filmmakers, consciously or not, are out to portray women as subservient or sexually and spiritually alienated objects of male brutalization. But it’s the capitalists who are lambasted most by Mellen’s humorless forays into political aesthetics: “a capitalism in moral decline” prevents America from producing movies about self-sufficient liberated women while, in general, bourgeois society can only condition its women (and its filmmakers) deeper and deeper into social and sexual decadence—and any meaningful rapprochement between the sexes is doomed in “a capitalist era incapable of human relations.” Mellen’s manifesto lacks even the bite of fanaticism; it reads like some dry-as-dust tract a newly politicized, deadly serious Radcliffe senior might have written 40 years ago when most intellectuals worthy of the name were hailing Marx as messiah and communism as a universal panacea.

Mellen can’t see movies for her bourgeois-baiting: over and over she attempts to sterilize and desiccate richly conceived and executed films so as to fit them into her bell jar of bourgeois sins and excesses. If Hitchcock in his characteristically comic perversity has Jon Finch’s estranged wife in Frenzy (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) run a marriage counseling bureau with Good Housekeeping competence, and counterpoints her incantatory prayers against the rapist’s (Barry Foster’s) rhythmic “LovelyLovely …,” Mellen’s party line demands that complexity become simpleminded male chauvinist piggery: “In Frenzy the independent woman who runs her own business is raped and strangled so savagely that her eyes pop.” Not only does Mellen overindulge in these pithy little reductions toward (and beyond) absurdity—her humorlessness and critical didacticism deprive her of the ability to differentiate between better and lesser films. She criticizes all on one (political) plane, without taking note that one film is aesthetically superior to another. Thus, she lumps Tina Balser (Diary of a Mad Housewife) with Buñuel’s Séverine (Belle de jour) “as one version of the sexually typical modern woman.” In a tract, maybe, but not up there on the silver screen. No participant in Buñuel’s densely surreal mise-en-scène could possibly have anything in common with the pathetic caricature that is Frank Perry’s notion of an oppressed and frustrated modern woman. Just because each of these women is sexually incompatible with her mate is small cause to speak of a Frank Perry in the same breath with Luis Buñuel. But as long as Mellen can lockstep along spouting slogans, what possible relevance can the dynamics of real moving pictures have to her critical perspective? Read her exegesis of Up the Sandbox and you’ll be hard pressed for some time to uncover the minor fact that the film is a comedy (or means to be), so relentlessly does Mellen ignore jokes and satirical sendups in favor of dead-serious explication of the film’s antifeminist message—without at any time “placing” the film aesthetically.

Keep Reading

Issues 20-29

MTN20cover150Movietone News No. 20, January 1973

No Time for Playtime
Being about as sordid an account as one could ask for of the royal screwing of one comedic genius and various well-meaning exhibitors
By James N. Selvidge

Jour de Fete
Memories of a lost classic
By James N. Selvidge

On the Rise
Griffith, Capra, Cukor, and various Frenchmen coming our way
By R C Dale

Play It Again, Sam the Lion
Film, 1972: how it looked from Seattle – one man’s view
By Richard T. Jameson

Ten (more or less) Best (more or less) Lists from various SFS members and friends

Moments out of Time (published on Parallax View here)
Treasured scenes, memorable lines, fondest inklings from new films of the past year, good or bad
By Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy

You Only Live Once
Keeping tabs on the Edgemont, Movie House, Exit, CineMond, Granada

MTN21cover150Movietone News No. 21, February 1973

All This, and Heaven Too
On the international brotherhood of film freaks with especial reference to profession freakdom in Paris
By David Willingham

Performance
Movements in mysterious ways, and wonders performed
By R C Dale

Meet Frank Capra
A fortnight of activities
By Richard T. Jameson
Biographical notes
By Bill McDaniel

You Only Live Once

Tracking Shot

Letters

MTN 1-20: An Index
Everything to wanted to know about MTN and now you needn’t bother to ask, compiled
By Joanne Euster

Quickies
Travels With My Aunt, Play it as it Lays, Young Winston, Pete ‘n’ Tillie, The Poseidon Adventure, Glen and Randa, Innocent Bystanders, They Only Kill Their Masters
(reviews by Alix Christofides, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy)

MTN22cover150Movietone News No. 22, April 1973

Au hasard, Bresson
An intensive stylistic analysis of the latest film by a European master, with references to others of his films
By David Willingham

A Capra Scrapbook

Letters

The Haunted Screen
A true story of demonic possession, with the forces of light and right triumphant; plus advice on keeping the peace
By R C Dale

You Only Live Once
French films in series at the UW, Warners in excelsis, The Sorrow and the Pity in Redmond

Quickies
Sounder, The Train Robbers, Cries and Whispers, Meatball, The Heartbreak Kid, Steelyard Blues, The Ruling Class, Jeremiah Johnson, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, Save the Tiger
(reviews by Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy, L.R. Pierre, William E. Smith)

MTN23cover150Movietone News No. 23, May-June 1973

The Long Goodbye
Looking backward, and the view’s just fine
By R C Dale

” … Tough ole hide … ” (published on Parallax View here)
Goin’ down the road with Sam Peckinpah
By David Willingham

In Black & White
Writing about writing about American movies
By Peter Hogue

Letters and Exchanges

Tracking Shot

You Only Live Once

Quickies
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Sleuth, Roma, The Day of the Jackal, The Thief Who Came to Dinner, Scorpio, Two People, Cahill – United States Marshal, Cesar and Rosalie
(reviews by Claudia Gorbman, Richard T. Jameson)

MTN24cover150Movietone News No. 24, July-August 1973

Hard Times are A-comin’
Beating around the mulberry bush again: the Burger Court achieves its masterpiece
By James N. Selvidge

Meanwhile, Deeper into (Sex) Movies
Art in the ascendant: the implications of Deep Throat, The Devil in Miss Jones, et. Al. for porn and the cinema
By James N. Selvidge

Zsigmond at CineMond
A great cameraman takes Cinderella liberty and spends an evening with the SFS

Tracking Shot

In Black & White
Graham Greene on Film and Eisner’s Murnau

Letter and Exchanges

You Only Live Once

Quickies
The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Scarecrow, Slither, Paper Moon, O Lucky Man!, Il Decamerone, The Hireling, La Bete Humaine, This is Cinerama, Wedding in White, Dillinger, A Touch of Class, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, Oklahoma Crude, High Plains Drifter, Live and Let Die
(reviews by Scott Mugford, Peter Hogue, Richard T. Jameson, Lindsay Michimoto, Kathleen Murphy, L.R. Pierre, Kenneth C. Robinson)

MTN25cover150Movietone News No. 25, September 1973

Five Sleazy Pieces
Would you like to have Herbert Ross’s job? Ted Post’s” Bruce Geller’s? You’ve got it, baby!
By Kathleen Murphy

Of Staircases and Potato Trucks: Fear and Fatness and Alfred Hitchcock
A vertiginous descent into the director’s world
By Robert C. Cumbow

Tracking Shot

In Black & White
More books on American cinema reviewed
By Peter Hogue
The Only Good Indian reviewed
By Richard T. Jameson

Production Unit
Notes on the areas first filmmaking school
By David Willingham

Letters and Exchanges

You Only Live Once
Japanese cinema at the UW, Mon Oncle Antoine in Edmonds, Sacco and Vanzetti in Redmond, Bergman on da toob

Quickies
The Long Goodbye, The Spider’s Stratagem and The Last Tango in Paris, Godspell, Paper Moon, Soylent Green, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Private Parts, White Lightning
(reviews by Robert C. Cumbow, Ken Eisler, David Harrell, Peter Hogue, Richard T. Jameson, Scott Mugford, Judith Rieben)

MTN26cover150Movietone News No. 26, October 1973

Money and Pain
A short history of the idea of the movie producer, plus an interview with Alan J. Pakula—the first in a series of articles about the patterns of power in the making of a movie
By R C Dale

Production Unit
Notes on Seattle filmmaker Låszlo Pål
By David Willingham

Tracking Shot

You Only Live Once
Ozu’s Tokyo Story at the CineMond, Ford and Hawks at the Edgemont, classic comedy at the Exit, and Le Cinema des Femmes at the SAM

John Ford (1895-1973)
A special center section

Quickies
Man Oncle Antoine, The Last American Hero, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Enter the Dragon, Blume in Love, The Boy Who Cried Werewolf, Savages, The Last of Sheila, Sacco and Vanzetti, The Maltese Falcon, Kid Blue, Raw Meat, Lady Ice, Paper Moon, Child’s Play
(reviews by Robert C. Cumbow, David Harrell, Jon Hennes, Peter Hogue, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy)

MTN27cover150Movietone News No. 27, November 1973

Meep-Meep
The cinema of Chuck Jones: a continuous Technicolor ribbon of meep meeps, woowoos, explosions, and whats up Docs
By Richard Thompson

Bellevue, Coming and Going
A short history of the film festival across the water
By Kenneth C. Robinson

Tracking Shot

In Black & White
Peter Bogdanovich‘s Pieces of Time, reviewed
By Gregory Dean Way
The Great Movies, reviewed
By Richard T. Jameson

Liv Ullmann in Seattle

Production Unit
Cartoons in a taxidermy shop: Coffin and Company, Inc.
By David Willingbam

Letters

You Only Live Once
Featuring a new department: telly!
By Scott Mugford

Quickies
The Stone Killer, American Graffiti, Happy Mother’s Day-Love, George, Payday, Electra Glide in Blue, The Mackintosh Man, Charley Varrick, Pink Flamingos, Walking Tall, Bang the Drum Slowly, I Could Never Have Sex with Any Man Who Has So Little Regard for My Husband, The Public Eye, Scalawag, Mystery of the Wax Museum
(reviews by Robert C. Cumbow, R C Dale, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy, L.R. Pierre, Jon Purdy)

MTN28cover150Movietone News No. 28, December 1973

Two Weeks in Another Town
Down in the labyrinth ways with a film freak in search of cinema exotica in Mexico City
By Ken Eisler

The Red Baron Meets the Aztec Mummy
Meanwhile, in the outlying areas
By Joanne Euster

Days and Nights in the Frisco Light Trap: 1973
Our Man at the San Francisco Film Festival—and elsewhere
By Peter Hogue

Tracking Shot

In Black & White
Edward G. Robinson’s autobiography, reviewed
By Richard T. Jameson
Val Lewton, reviewed
By Kathleen Murphy

Written on the Wind
Part two of Footlight Parade, a series on the collaborative elements of cinema; this issue: the screenwriter
By R C Dale

Letters

You Only Live Once

Quickies
The Outside Man, The New Land. The Mattei Affair, The Paper Chase, Westworld, The Way We Were, Cops and Robbers, A Doll’s House, Executive Action, Santee
(reviews by Robert C. Cumbow, Joanne Euster, Stephen George, David Harrell, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy, Jon Purdy)

MTN29cover150Movietone News No. 29, January-February 1974

Blues for Mr. Chandler
In the dark night of the film noir soul, a disenchanted look at The Long Goodbye
By Kathleen Murphy

Limelight
Seattle film year 1973 cut and dried, with a certain amount of judicious sidestepping
By Richard T. Jameson

Moments out of Time (published on Parallax View here)
Scenes, lines, stances, echoes: a montage of 1973
By Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy

Erasable Bond
You only live twice—or is Roger Moore thrice?
By Robert C. Cumbow

Tracking Shot

Yes, We Have No Bananas
Do you dream in Technicolor? Impressions of Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here
By R C Dale

Production Unit
Hollywood on the Sound: down and dirty at the Office of Economic Development
By David Willingham

You Only Live Once

Quickies
The Homecoming, American Graffiti, Aguirre—The Wrath of God, Sleeper, Papillon, Robin Hood, Magnum Force, Macunaima, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, The Way We Were, Ash Wednesday, Dead Pigeon on Beethovenstrasse
(reviews by R C Dale, Ken Eisler, Stephen George, David Harrell, Richard T. Jameson, Jon Purdy, Ken Robinson)

In Black & White: The Women (Pt 1)

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

FROM REVERENCE TO RAPE: The Treatment of Women in the Movies. By Molly Haskell. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc. 416 pages. $10.

Too often, one of the nicest things about having a Cause is that it provides cookie-cutter categorizations for almost every occasion. Human beings can be swiftly shuffled into suits of fascism, racism, male or female chauvinism, or whatever other convenient –ism lies at hand. Given the proper brand of cookie cutter, one can avoid confronting practically anything on its own terms—or in terms which stubbornly transcend or evade easy compartmentalization. The world becomes a neater place, less cluttered with complexities and nagging ambiguities when the brandished talisman of a single point of view sends all of disorderly reality scurrying into a series of carefully labeled cubbyholes.

Critics of the arts find cookie cutters particularly helpful in their craft. Art, you know, has that nasty habit of bursting the seams of the most rigorously contrived critical straitjackets—so much so that it’s still a sneaking suspicion of mine that the best response to a work of art is an eloquent silence. Film critics are not immune to the cookie-cutter syndrome—quite the contrary. The German film historian and theoretician Siegfried Kracauer was already drawing on a time-honored set of assumptions when he laced his tome on the cinema, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, with variations on a monolithic theme, that being the motion picture camera’s absolute lust for reality and concomitant abhorrence of the fantastic or surreal, anything but the bare, unvarnished Truth. (So much for Méliès and his successors!) It didn’t require much of a critical leap to arrive at the notion that the masses, the salt of the earth, had cornered the market on reality and truth. Social consciousness, documentary verity, became the sine qua non of the great film for many commentators.

Whatever the theory, the best kind of critic approaches a film with an open mind, a willingness to allow its reality to resist the framework of his critical parameters. The bad critic loves his cookie cutter more than that which it seeks to contain and will ruthlessly shape and name the work under discussion to fit the Procrustean bed of his theory. Example: Several years ago, in The New Yorker, Pauline Kael attacked four films—Dirty Harry, The Cowboys, Straw Dogs, Clockwork Orangefor their unwarranted and immoral use of violence. Once Kael started wielding that cookie cutter of hers, whole arms and legs of cinematic reality were amputated, discarded as irrelevant; plot and character were distorted, reshaped so as to support her point of view.* On the other side of the fence, auteurists are not always exempt from such solipsism: nondirectorial contributions to a film may be lopped off and ignored so that the lineaments of a distinct and all-encompassing directorial personality may emerge in highest relief. God knows it’s an ongoing battle to approach anything or anyone in that state of vulnerability and receptiveness that permits, even invites, the Other to operate autonomously, to surprise us with its own unique reality. So much safer to go armed with a quiver full of preconceptions with which the most recalcitrant of realities may be “fixed with a formulated phrase.”

Keep Reading

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of October 30

‘The Golem’ (1920)

“The Berlin of the 1920s, Paris and New York—these were cities of poverty and excess. Night clubs, cabaret, drugs, sex and alcohol jostled dangerously against poverty and radical politics. These were cities with one foot in the future and another in the medieval, Grimm forests of these country’s recent past; as a barbarous, magical life which slumbered in the recesses, ready to burst forth.” Which cocktail set the stage for expressionist film sets, Owen Vince argues, The Golem, Caligari, and Metropolis all serving up fractured reflections of the “real” world that found their fulfillment in the same Nazis that would eradicate their decadent designs. Via David Hudson.

“‘The biggest crime here was not stealing the dough, because Mickey could’ve made the dough back. The biggest crime was they turned Mickey into a dog-and-pony show, and nobody wanted to have anything to do with him.’” For Mickey Rooney fans, which title I happily claim, his whirligig indomitability is a large part of the appeal, the sense that when Hurricane Mickey roared into a room everyone had to shut up and listen. All the more tragic then, as Gary Baum and Scott Feinberg report, that he spent his final years under the abusive thumb of his wife and stepson. Via Movie City News.

Keep Reading

A Note on Style

[Originally published in Movietone News 30, March 1974]

Although he has gone on to make such films as Charley Varrick, Dirty Harry, Madigan, Coogan’s Bluff, Two Mules for Sister Sara, Baby Face Nelson, The Lineup, Hell Is for Heroes, The Killers, and The Beguiled, there are many who still regard The Invasion of the Body Snatchers as Don Siegel’s best movie. If I continue to prefer several of the others, it’s because Siegel himself seems to come through more directly. Many of the virtues of Invasion inhere in the writing of Daniel Mainwaring, an author of no mean importance whose scripts for Out of the Past (based on his own novel) and The Phenix City Story likewise postulate and effectively sustain film-worlds wherein the characters seem to breathe doom out of the very air; in Out of the Past the mutual corruptibility and mortality of Mitchum, Greer, and Douglas proceeds inevitably from the bemused sadomasochism that constitutes their behavioral style; Phenix City Story, filmed the year before Invasion, recounts the terror of a syndicate-controlled Southern town in which not only the back rooms, alleys, and dark streets but also the homes and the very minds of the citizenry prove insidiously, almost ineffably, pregnable. Then too, there’s the question of the belated and perhaps invalidating framing episodes of Dr. Bennell trying to convince Drs. Hill and Bassett about what’s happening in Santa Mira. Bob Cumbow has sorted out the interpretive problems which that gives rise to. But, in addition, I wonder how the main body of the film has been affected by the revision. In the original, did the events of the film simply unreel without benefit of voiceover commentary? Maybe, maybe not—in Out of the Past Robert Mitchum describes that past to Virginia Huston, which accounts for about half the movie, and the fact as well as the tone of the narration contributes to that film’s sense of eerie masochistic reverie. There are moments in Invasion of the Body Snatchers when Siegel’s camera just gives us Miles Bennell’s car moving through the streets of the town, fast and slow, by night and by day. Now we vvusually hear Kevin McCarthy’s voice describing the intensification of his concern, the specific doubts that specific details of the changed life of Santa Mira are stirring in his mind. But what if we didn’t hear that commentary? What would be the effect of those calculatedly mundane images and movements? I ask it with some regret because one of the grabbiest moments in the movie is the sight of the town square about 7:45 one Saturday morning; Miles peers down at it from the window of his office, and even before the pod-laden trucks arrive, that natural-sunlight scene has something unshakably awful about it.

Keep Reading

Telluride: the gold nugget of film festivals (1982)

[Originally published in The Weekly, October 13, 1982]

The distance from Denver had been grievously underestimated by the travel agency, so we made the last part of the long day’s journey to Telluride in moonlight. Around and above the blind valley in which the Old West ghost town nestles, the Colorado Rockies bulked darkly, only their horizon clearly traceable. In the morning we would wake to find them slashed by strata of Technicolor-red rock and bisected, a mile beyond the end of Main Street, by a thread of waterfall called Bridal Veil. For now, ahead of us where the town must be, there appeared a mountain several thousand feet higher than the Rockies’ local average altitude of 13,000 feet—a Lovecraftian mass glowing with a light of its own, and no less well-defined and solid-seeming for being a cloud. Any cinephile could have read the sign: Werner Herzog and Fitzcarraldo had to be waiting under that celestial special-effect. And as it turned out, this vision was also our first testimony that the experience of the Telluride Film Festival is much bigger than the sum of films available on its four separate screens.

By design and thoroughly persuasive execution, the Telluride Film Festival is like no other. For the past nine years, from Friday evening of Labor Day weekend through the following Monday, movie buffs from all over the globe have made their way to this isolated resort area in the southwest corner of Colorado. Here they catch the most provocative films of the coming season, make belated acquaintance with recently unearthed treasures of the past, and press the cinematic flesh of distinguished directors and stars. (The reconstructed Napoléon was first projected in the festival’s Open Air Cinema in 1980, with the 90-year-old Abel Gance in attendance. Last year, My Dinner with Andre, Wally, and Andre were all on hand.)

Keep Reading

Film Review: ‘Listen to Me Marlon’ (1)

‘Listen to Me Marlon’

One summer evening, while visiting the shooting set of Sam Peckinpah’s The Osterman Weekend, I found myself chatting with John Hurt, never a knockout in looks but always a terrific actor. The easy banter, the charming way he leaned to light my cigarette, the suggestive slide of his eyes—suddenly there was a spotlit place where an ordinary encounter had been heightened into the possibility of dramatic story and character. Then he was summoned by his director, to disappear from view behind a poolhouse door. As he emerged, pointing a gun, it was as though that door frame had been a camera wipe. Hurt was Other, lethal and hard, a slight man moving with the weight of his own history and the terror of the moment. Not sure how to convey how astonishing this alchemy was; Hurt had transubstantiated, shaping how he would be seen by the camera.

Acting is authentic mystery. Sure, you can say it’s just putting on a face and pretending to be somebody, something you’re not. A matter of craft, in the word’s positive and negative meanings. But beyond consummate liars and confidence men, there are those capable of unforgettable transformation. Such protean players look like magicians, able to access other selves, body and soul. Are they vampires—like Liv Ullmann’s hollowed-out actress in Persona? Do they dredge truth out of the dark well of their past, tap into collected memory, to illuminate characters that look and feel like us? And what’s the cost to the chameleon? Does it sear like flaying, or is there ecstasy in becoming wholly Other?

Keep Reading

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of June 5

Robert Ryan

“Watching all this, Hersh would note how savvy Ryan was politically; [Paul] Newman was always seeking advice on how to handle certain questions, but not Ryan. ‘He didn’t have to be educated about what the best thing to say about the draft was. And there was never blowback on anything he said. Newman would sometimes be maladroit a little bit, but not really. He was smart enough to know what he didn’t know. Ryan didn’t have to be.’” In an excerpt from his new biography of the actor, J. R. Jones tracks Robert Ryan’s political activism before, during, and after the filming of The Wild Bunch—and, intentionally or not, convincingly demonstrates how much Peckinpah’s madness was of a piece with his times. Via Movie City News.

The latest issue of (not intimidatingly so) academic film journal The Cine-Files focuses on sound in film. In larger pieces Matt Van Vogt unearths the efforts to reduce theater noise during the early years of sound cinema, while Laura L. Beading shows how the Coens use sound, voiceover, and music to mark the sharp difference between the exhausted masculinity of No Country for Old Men and the implacable, feminine vitality at the heart of their True Grit. The journal’s “dossier” section, edited by Jacob Smith, is as wide-ranging as ever, with (among many others) Michel Chion exploring a phone conversation in The Player; Mack Hagood on the audio cue he calls the “tinnitus trope” (and for which I would never have guessed we have Arthur Hiller to thank); Jean Ma on a song from an early Chinese sound film whose soundtrack has been lost, and has thus reverted to silence; and Keir Keightley on some deliberately disastrous, “schizophrenic” lipsynching in Lewis’s The Patsy. Via David Hudson.

Hudson also gathers together writing on what sounds a terrific program, MoMA’s A Road Three Hundred Years Long: Cinema and the Great Migration, a journey through Black American cinema from 1920 to 2009, with a commissioned documentary by Thom Andersen. A series so vast different critics have no problem picking their own entryways and highlights: Micheaux’s The Symbol of the Unconquered, the first work of “reflexive autofiction” for Richard Brody; for Nick Pinkerton, an entrepreneurial documentary series, Movies of Local People, that for a fee recorded lives Hollywood cameras passed right over; and J. Hoberman is blown away by Spencer Williams’s The Blood of Jesus, a “raw and visceral morality play that represents the life of the soul with startling literalism.”

“There was a lot of dialogue about race when Girls started. I’d been thinking so much about representing weirdo, chubby girls and strange half-Jews that I had forgotten that there was an entire world of women being underserved.” The Hollywood Reporter gathers a collection of funny women—including Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Kate McKinnon—to talk about sex scenes, typecasting, and the sense of humor needed to stay positive in an industry sexist enough that power players like these still get cold shoulder treatments. Worth it for the camaraderie, but also the class with which Ross sidesteps all the white ladies when they start talking over Gina Rodriguez.

Keep Reading