Written by John Hartl in 2011, reposted in conjunction with 2023 SIFF showing of the film in tribute to the legacy of Hartl.
The Incredible Shrinking Man screens at the Egyptian at 1:30 pm on Sunday, May 14.
It’s always gratifying when a favorite film is discovered—or rediscovered in a way that creates a fresh perspective .
Such is the case with 1957’s The Incredible Shrinking Man, which was enthusiastically received in its time but continues to grow in stature. Last year, it joined the National Film Registry of significant American films. In late August, it will be released by Universal as a single-disc DVD.
The latest reappraisal may have begun in 2005, when Time magazine’s Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel listed it as a top guilty pleasure and proposed that “it is long past time for a cult to form around its director, the late Jack Arnold, an efficient maker of B-pictures.” While similar 1950s films dealt with insects turning into monsters because of nuclear misadventures, Time pointed out that “this radical variation on that theme was (especially if you are a kid, eager to grow up, not down) scarier and more profound than the competitors.” Around the same time, Steven Spielberg, in a Turner Classic Movies special called Watch the Skies, singled out the film’s “message about not outer space but inner space, and about the soul and where does the soul go, and what is infinity? Is infinity out there or is infinity in here?”
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide had always given three out of four stars to The Incredible Shrinking Man. But recently Maltin added half a star and included a mostly new write-up: “Intelligent, serious approach, exceptional special effects for the period, and a vigorous leading performance (by Grant Williams) result in a genuine sci-fi classic, unsurpassed by later attempts.”
For years, the movie had been carried on DVD by only one chain (Best Buy), which included it in a couple of DVD collections of 1950s sci-fi movies, some of them directed by Arnold. Even the new disc will apparently be a bare bones release. Surely a Criterion release is in order.
A belated welcome to 2023 with one last look back at the best releases of 2022.
As most of us are no longer full-time critics, and many other are understandably wary about seeing movies in theaters at the moment, we haven’t had the same access to films as most film critics. Thus these are snapshots of what we have been able to see, and what impressed us over the last year.
Also, among those we lost in 2022 were friends and fellow film critics John Hartl, whose love of cinema defined the Seattle Times film coverage for his 38 year-tenure as the paper’s head film critic, and Sheila Benson, who was (among other achievements) the chief film critic for the Los Angeles Times from 1981 to 1991 before moving north and making Seattle her home.
Contributors listed in reverse alphabetical orders. Films listed in preferential orders (unless otherwise noted).
EO (Poland, Jerzy Skolimowski)
Women Talking (Sarah Polley)
No Bears (Iran, Jafar Panahi)
Everything Everywhere All at Once (Daniels, aka Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)
Tár (Todd Field)
The Quiet Girl (Ireland, Colm Bairéad)
Broker (South Korea, Hirokazu Koreeda)
The Fabelmans (Steven Spielberg)
Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg)
Athena (France, Romain Gavras)
Honorable mentions: All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras), The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh), Decision to Leave (South Korea, Park Chan-wook), Kimi (Steven Soderbergh), Marcel the Shell With Shoes On (Dean Fleischer-Camp), The Menu (Mark Mylod), The Outfit (Graham Moore), RRR (India, S.S. Rajamouli), She Said (Maria Schrader), Saint Omer (France, Alice Diop)
And these films made my year in viewing more fun: Barbarian (Zach Cregger), Catherine Called Birdy (Lena Dunham), Dead for a Dollar (Walter Hill), Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Rian Johnson), The Northman (Robert Eggers), Vengeance (B.J. Novak), X (Ti West)
David Coursen (Washington, D.C.)
Adjusted for inflation and in alphabetical order:
Top Tier: Both Sides of the Blade (Claire Denis) Holy Spider (Ali Abbasi)
Rest of the Best: Ahed’s Knee (Nadav Lapid) Ballad of a White Cow (Behtash Sanaeeha and Maryam Moqadam) Benediction (Terrence Davies) Boy from Heaven (Tarik Saleh) Hero (Asghar Farhadi) Hive (Blerta Basholli) Hit the Road (Panah Panahi) In Front of Your Face (Hong Sang-soo) Master (Mariama Diallo) Memoria (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) R.M.N. (Cristian Mungiu)
Honorable Mention: Armageddon Time (James Gray) Happening (Audrey Diwan) Nope (Jordan Peele) Till (Chinone Chukwu)
No “Top Ten” or “Best” lists for me again this year. As always I prefer to just note my favorites (and acknowledge my limitations):
FAVORITE FILMS OF 2022 Vengeance Tár The Outfit Crimes of the Future Dead for a Dollar
PROPS TO: The Banshees of Inisherin Everything Everywhere All At Once X Barbarian The Menu
APOLOGIES TO THESE THAT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST BUT I HAVEN’T SEEN THEM YET: Blonde The Fabelmans Marcel the Shell with Shoes On Elvis Decision to Leave Something in the Dirt
EO (Jerzy Skolimowski)
Decision to Leave (Park Chan-wook)
Benediction (Terence Davies)
Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg)
Lost Illusions (Xavier Giannoli)
Happening (Audrey Diwal)
Aftersun (Charlotte Wells)
X (Ti West)
Great Freedom (Sebastian Meise)
Compartment Number 6 (Juho Kuosmanen)
Top tier: Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg). Happening (Audrey Diwan). The Eternal Daughter (Joanna Hogg). Tár (Todd Field).
Second tier: The Quiet Girl (Colm Bairéad). The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh). Hit the Road (Panah Panahi). In Front of Your Face (Hong Sang-soo). EO (Jerzy Skolimowski). Watcher (Chloe Okuno).
Third tier: Utama (Alejandro Loayza Grisi). The Fabelmans (Steven Spielberg). Aftersun (Charlotte Wells). Close (Lukas Dhont). Three Minutes: A Lengthening (Bianca Stigter). Murina (Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic). Benediction (Terence Davies).
The 2022 movie I regarded as the best for most of the year was Watcher, the debut feature of Chloe Okuno — a film of Hitchcockian intelligence with no need to strew Hitchcock hommages.
The movie that now claims top line of my list is Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO, the kind of film with the power to adjust the world.
The 2022 movies I love most are The Banshees of Inisherin, by Martin McDonagh, and Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans.
In alphabetical order, the remainder of my Ten Best are: Broker (Hirokazu Kore-eda) Dead for a Dollar (Walter Hill) Decision to Leave (Park Chan-wook) Happening (Audrey Diwan) No Bears (Jafar Panahi) Tár(Todd Field).
I also want to highlight the extraordinary beauty and power of Taylor Sheridan’s ten-part streaming series 1883.
Moira Macdonald (Seattle Times)
(in alphabetical order) The Banshees of Inisherin Everything Everywhere All at Once Tár Turning Red
[Originally published on Straight Shooting at Queen Anne News, September 30, 2012]
Ed. note: republished to mark its availability streaming on Criterion Channel this month.
Just a quick recommend, before it’s too late. One of my very favorite movies is making a rare TV appearance Monday, Oct. 1, at 5 p.m. West Coast time on Turner Classic Movies. To “very favorite” let me add an endorsement from an erstwhile colleague and friend, the late Donald Lyons. When, in the early 1990s, a New York City–area PBS station was about to show Me and My Gal as part of a package of rare Fox Films productions from the 1930s, I urged Donald to catch it. A few minutes after the telecast ended, he phoned to say, “You told me to be sure and watch Me and My Gal. You didn’t tell me it was one of the best movies ever made.”
[Originally published in The Weekly, March 11, 1981]
A conversation early in the new film by Jean-Luc Godard: “Is it a novel, this project you’re working on?” “No, but maybe it could be.” “Maybe it should be a new type of serial—how things really are.” “It wouldn’t work around here.”
The thing about Godard movies is, he’s always talking to us. Talking to us about himself, talking to us about us, talking to us about talking to us. We don’t think about this all the time because movies are seductive, even movies that work to be analytical and disjunctive and Brechtian, and we get drawn along by the beauty of the images and the movement of things via 24 still pictures per second. But every once in a while we snap into recognition that we’re on the other end of a cinematic conversation.
Like that moment in BandofOutsiders (1964), a wacky, funny-sad romantic comedy about three young Parisians who like gangster movies and musicals, and decide they’re going to rob an isolated mansion where one of them, the girl, works. Except of course the movie dithers around a lot while they take English lessons and do a solemn softshoe in a juke bar and break the world’s speed record for touring the Louvre — and suddenly they’re on this train. The girl starts to sing a love song that turns into a ballad of loneliness. The screen fills with luminous nocturnal images of the city, streets, windows, pedestrians, the long glowworm of the train sliding toward the suburbs. Then the girl is onscreen again and she looks right into the camera and sings the last line of the song, something like “My heart goes out to all of you,” and suddenly you feel as big as the night sky and as vulnerable as a newborn child. Part of it is that the whole movie has been building on this theme without getting explicit about it. Part of it is that the girl is beautiful and fragile and brave, and also Anna Karina, the director’s wife, who’s essentially looking at him the same time she’s looking at us. And part of it is that Karina is speaking for Godard, who could never make this declaration of love and caring in person, but makes it and means it, through her and through his glorious film.
[Originally published for the UW Continuing Education Office of Cinema Studies, January 23, 1983]
By a strange process of free association I hope eventually to justify, watching a couple of Lily Tomlin’s character sketches on Saturday Night Live this past weekend reminded me of Godard’s rectangular portrait of Anna Karina/Nana Klein in Vivresa vie. One sketch featured Edith, a wizened-wise little girl who pontificates from a huge rockingchair, dreaming up all manner of bizarre mischief and fantastic scenarios in which she must always be the star. This particular skit ended with Edith’s sudden fear of heavenly retribution for all her egocentric naughtiness. She confides that God has a television set and that he watches us on it: “When I think he’s watching me, I always try to do a commercial for myself … to show him how good I am.” In an earlier sketch, Tomlin had verified the trustworthiness of a “public service announcement” and her own spokesperson sincerity by stating: “I am not a professional actress, but a real person just like you.” Tomlin’s satirical jibes at the power of media/mediated realities to confer or deny authenticity, even the odor of sanctity, began to work for me as a comedic version of the complex collisions of art and reality in Vivresavie (1962). Godard’s fourth feature film is nothing if not a commercial for the “goodness” (a term I use in the Godardian, cinematic sense) of Anna Karina/Nana Klein—whether for the edification of a God who watches us all in the movies or the Platonic ideal of film critics, I would not venture to say. Vivresavie exemplifies the aesthetic paradoxes implicit in Godard’s critical premises about cinema, paradoxes which, more superficially, are at play in actress-comedienne Lily Tomlin’s assumption of a “real person” persona in a comic skit designed to create the illusion of pseudodocumentary.
Godard was after nothing less than Truth in the making of movies. His aesthetic politique was radicalized, if not politicized, from the beginning. As an intellectual, more given to the raptures of analysis than emotion, he could see that the genteel fraud of cinematic Art-with-a-capital-A could seduce audiences by means of artifice, creating a comfortable schism between cinema and ordinary experience. One could go into the dark and dream in a willing suspension of disbelief, but the light of day chemically redefined that suspension: dispersion of the components of the dream in liquid reality. Godard, like many of his compatriots in literature, painting, and even sculpture, consciously decided to sabotage the seductive forms and manifestations of art and artifice. The images in his movies would have the dream-stopping immediacy of newsreels or machine-gun fire in the theater aisles. He attacked the beguiling concept of plot, that aesthetic form we so cherish for its orderly shaping of experience into a beginning, middle, and end, a coherent, directed narrative itinerary which satisfies us as messy reality never—or rarely—does. His attack failed, of course, or rather turned into something else, something that allowed for the creation of his best films. For the moment Godard turned the camera on person or scene, he “framed” it, and thereby began the process of making fiction. His eye was too drawn to richly significant images and events, and too able to provocatively juxtapose them, to avoid narrative altogether. Every directorial decision he made toward the end of de-dramatizing his work metamorphosed that work into something new in the world of cinema.
[Originally published on TCM.com on November 19, 2007]
Jean-Luc Godard, arguably the most important film director of the 1960s, began the decade with his feature debut Breathless, a scrappy, free-spirited, cinematically audacious take on the B-movie crime genre. By the end of the sixties, he had all but rejected commercial cinema for politically pointed commentaries and film essays like Sympathy For the Devil and Le Gai Savoir.
Smack in the middle of the genre goofing and cinematic game-playing of Godard’s earlier sixties film and the consumer satire and cultural deconstructions of his late sixties films lies Pierrot le Fou (1965). Not that there was some sudden turn in direction; Godard embraced both sides throughout and they blur in so many films of this era. But Pierrot feels like a perfect midpoint (whether or not you could even objectively measure such a thing) in the way that it bounces between the flippant play of moviemaking fun and the social commentary on the modern world.
Pierrot le Fou is a road movie, a crime fantasy, a cultural satire, a tale of consumerist alienation and bourgeois apathy, and a femme fatale noir in Technicolor and CinemaScope, shot in the bright sunlit canvas of broad daylight. Jean-Paul Belmondo, star of Breathless, plays Ferdinand, a former teacher pushed into an advertising career by a wealthy wife with high-society values: “You’ll do as your told,” she demands as they get ready for a party where she hopes he will be offered a job, and he bristles at the empty life he inhabits, escaping only through his books. Anna Karina, Godard’s one-time muse and wife (their divorce became final before the shoot was over), is Marianne Renoir, niece of Ferdinand’s brother-in-law and the family babysitter.
[Originally published for the University of Washington Continuing Education Film Series, February 15, 1983]
It used to be complained of Jean-Luc Godard that his movies were all over the map. Masculin-Féminin (1966) suggests, better than any other single movie he’s made, that such complaints had it turned around. What Godard was really up to was mapping all over.
At a glance, Masculin-Féminin seems fragmented and arbitrary beyond any hope of yielding a coherent viewing experience, let alone a conventionally passive entertainment about some youthful Parisians during the mid-Sixties. Its subtitle proposes that the film will consist of “15 precise facts” (or “acts” — already precision begins to generate ambiguity), but determining the dividing lines among the 15 is problematical. Occasionally the director vouchsafes a chapter number, à la Vivre sa vie, but just when we might begin to feel cozy about this, “fait” number 4 gives way to 4A. Shortly thereafter, a numerical 7 is followed by the single, screen-filling word MAIS, which is followed in turn by a numeral 8: fait 7, it would appear, is one large “but”. Okay, sure, why not! And if the question still persists why, surely the answer is that this is Godard’s way of proposing that chapters, categories, the notion of precise and discrete facts/acts, are unreliable epistemological baggage we should do well to jettison. But in so proposing, he also knows that none of us, least of all Jean-Luc Godard, can forswear trying to make organized sense of the teeming phenomena around us.
Masculin-Féminin teems thrillingly. No other filmmaker has ever looked at streets, passersby, traffic, graffiti, the exultantly grungy multifariousness of modern urban life, with such a sharp and hungry eye as Godard’s. Of course, all the French New Wavers played that game to some degree. A lot of the excitement and challenge of the nouvelle vague films had to do with their demonstration that anywhere could become a movie set and any life a movie. You live in these rooms, you work in that office, you go out at night to those cinemas and cafés? Then that is where your movie should happen. One of my favorite scenes in Masculin-Féminin is the one wherein Paul (Jean-Pierre Léaud) meets Madeleine (Chantal Goya) in a café for the purpose of proposing marriage. Godard shoots this whole desperate, can’t-get-started encounter in a single take that peregrinates up and down the length of the place, around and among tables and chairs, the camera and the couple ever seizing at new angles of approach. I’m sure Godard and cameraman Willy Kurant didn’t move a stick of furniture, but rather made the inefficient randomness of the environment part of the dynamics of the scene; the broken-field trajectories dictated by the ambient décor are as important to, and determinative of, the tenderly comic desperation of the action as the oddball characters Godard plants around the café to frustrate Paul’s design.
Early in the career of Jean-Luc Godard career, when he still the firebrand film critic aspiring to make features, Godard contemplated the “Mystery and fascination of this American cinema” and found himself bedeviled by an unshakable realization: “How can I hate John Wayne upholding Goldwater and yet love him tenderly when abruptly he takes Natalie Wood into his arms in the last reel of The Searchers?”
Forty years later, he’s still pondering the question in Histoire(s) du cinema (1989), his epic rumination on cinema as industry and art. In eight episodes and four-and-a-half hours, Godard struggles between his conflicting perspectives on cinema: on the one hand an industrialized business that cranks out products designed to sell images, consumer goods and an entire ideology, and on the other, a history of images, stories and experiences that haunt the soul and stand with the great works of art.
Histoire(s) du cinema is not, strictly speaking, a history of cinema, at least not in a traditional documentary sense. The title provides the first hint. In French, “histoire” means both “history” and “story” and the (s) suggests the multiple histories and stories involved in any understanding of cinema, not the least of which is Godard’s complicated personal connection to film history. From passionate young critic staking out his position in the fifties to maverick director who shook up the staid French industry with provocative films to political commentator and social critic exploring the frontiers of expression and representation, he has been nothing if not provocative. The personal and political are constantly in flux in this collection of eight video essays, begun in 1988 and concluded in 1998, where the Nouvelle Vague legend considers the history of the movies with a typically idiosyncratic style and non-linear train of thought.
A Married Woman (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD), subtitled “Fragments of a film shot in 1964,” is Jean-Luc Godard’s modern portrait of love and sex in the media-saturated sixties with Macha Méril in a role that was clearly meant for Godard’s wife and longtime muse Anna Karina (they were separated at the time) and it channels Godard’s feelings at the time. Like Karina, Méril’s Charlotte is beautiful young woman who is married to an older man and having an affair with an actor. The film opens on a montage where Charlotte is reduced to parts—legs, arms, back, lips, midrift, isolated glimpses of the naked female suggesting those erogenous zones that could not be photographed in a mainstream feature film—caressed by her unidentified lover. It’s shot in creamy cool black-and-white by longtime cinematographer Raoul Coutard and the strikingly handsome formality is both erotic and removed, suggesting a physical intimacy and an emotional disconnection even in even the most intimate scenes of lovemaking and pillow talk.
Charlotte has no close friends (at least that we see), lives in a sleek modern apartment devoid of lived-in warmth, and shrinks from the touch of her pilot husband Pierre (Philippe Leroy). He’s an intellectual with a condescending attitude and she’s more comfortable living in the moment than grappling with history and memory, which becomes all too apparent in their uncomfortable post-dinner dialogue. In between the lovemaking and the conversations, Charlotte discovers she is pregnant. She doesn’t know which man is the father
[Originally published in The Weekly, September 15-21, 1982]
Bill Richert and Tony Perkins were standing on top of the world when somebody cut the power. From this eyrie, banked by vast computers and embraced by a luminous diorama of the solar system, John Cerruti (Perkins) could monitor every salient fact on the face of the globe, catalogue it, and consider its implications for the financial and political future of the Keegan dynasty—the Kennedyesque family and megaconglomerate whose ins and outs define the texture of modern reality in Richard Condon’s dazzling novel Winter Kills. Richert had whipped this kaleidoscopic narrative into a fluid screenplay and was halfway through the process of realizing the film itself. But in the giddy orbits of other, less reliably monitored galaxies, the source money twinkled away. Now, on the soundstage floor far below, studio representatives with no sense of irony were killing the lights, shutting his picture down. It stayed shut down for a year and a half.
It’s been like that throughout the history of this brilliant film. The $6.5-million project was announced in 1976: a major production to be shot on locations round the globe, and literally all-star at every level. Jeff Bridges and John Huston headed a cast that also included Perkins, Richard Boone, Toshiro Mifune, Sterling Hayden, Eli Wallach, Dorothy Malone, Tomas Milian, Ralph Meeker, and an unbilled Elizabeth Taylor. The production designer was Hitchcock mainstay Robert Boyle; the cameraman, Vilmos Zsigmond. Maurice Jarre would compose the score. And the story! Just as Richard Condon had anticipated the assassination era with his ManchurianCandidate, so in WinterKills had he supplied the perfect metaphor for life after Watergate—a surrealistic study of Power from an incestuous inside view, with lashings of assassination conspiracy arcana and roman à clef titillation. A more unlikely candidate for shelving would be hard to imagine.