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Answering Clayton Dillard’s 100 Top Movies of All Time

May 2, 2011

Clayton Dillard is a smart 23-year old grad student in film at San Francisco State.  I first met him at a screening of some retardation at the local Midnight Movies, and found him to be real quiet.  Then I got to know the REAL Clayton.  The one who’s seen as many movies as my Claude.  The one who has more Criterion Collections than Claude. (He secretly hates you for that, CD.)  And the one who now won Criterion’s cool contest AND was mentioned as one of the three favorites from a field of 60 winners (Claude and I were both unfairly shut out and might protest.).

But I digress.  Clayton is 23.  Claude and I, we are much older, much more seasoned, lived through the 70’s, understand things, etc.  Clayton put out his Greatest 100 Movies of All Time, and I just shook my head, cried, laughed, then cried again.  Then laughed again.  Then wrote down a bunch of movies I need to watch.

THIS RIGHT HERE IS NUMBER ONE, CLAYTON.

1.  2001:  A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1969)

2.  The Third Man (Reed, 1949) (I love you for that one.  I’m sure Sir Carol appreciates being Number Two.)

After those two, in no particular order come my favorites, the films I could not look away from, the ones that left me feeling like I was punched in the gut, or the movies I could watch repeatedly without getting tired of them.  I’m leaving off the ones on Clayton’s list that I would put on here, like his #1 and #15, and Citizen Kane, and Viridiana, and Apocalypse Now and The Seventh Seal and Bigger than Life, and Piranha 3-D .

Clayton has  given me a good list of stuff to watch.  And fortunately, Claude owns almost all of it.

Please remember, these are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER.  Listing is fine; ranking is nearly impossible.

3.  Clayton, are you including documentaries on your list? “Stevie” (James, 2002)

4.  The White Ribbon, or Das weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte  (Haneke, 2009) – I know you love me for that one, Clayton.  Mwwwah.

5.  While we’re on Haneke, how about Cachet (2005)?

6.  Fiddler on the Roof (Jewison (who was not Jewish), 1971) for personal reasons

7.  Funny Girl (Wyler, 1968) – I know you and Claude just wince at these two.  That’s ok.  I’m older than both of you.  Put together.  Squared.

8.  Barton Fink (Coens, 1991)

9.  Simon of the Desert (Buñuel, 1965)

10.  Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Kubrick, 1964 [a very good year – Rankin-Bass’ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer also made its debut, as did the Beatles in America, and yours truly])

11.  The Player (Altman, 1992)

12.  The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Huston, 1948)

14.  The Lady from Shanghai (Welles, 1947)

15.  Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958)

16.  Crimes and Misdemeanors (Allen, 1989)

17.   The Phantom of Liberty (Bunuel, 1974)

18.  Little Murders (Arkin, 1971)

19.  Carnal Knowledge (Nichols, 1971)

20.  Taking Off  (Forman, 1971)

21.  The Exterminating Angel (Bunuel, 1962)

22.  This is Spinal Tap (Reiner, 1984)

23.  Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (Mazursky, 1969)

24.  All That Jazz (Fosse, 1979)

25.  Deconstructing Harry (Allen, 1997)

26.  I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (Averback, 1968)

27.  The Odd Couple (Saks, 1968)

While we’re on Matthau, how about

28.  A New Leaf (May, 1971)

29.  The Bad News Bears (Ritchie, 1976)

and

30. Bigger than Life (Ray, 1956 – oh yeah, that was on your list)

31.  In the Loop (Iannucci, 2009)

32.  The French Connection (Friedken, 1971)

33.  Duel (I really don’t want to type his name, 1971 – that seemed to be an exceptionally good year for movies)

35.  The Bridge (documentary, Steel, 2006)

36.  Cruising (Friedken, 1980)

37.  Lost Highway (Lynch, 1997)

38.  Sleeper (Allen, 1973)

39. Salesman (Maysels, Zwerin, 1968) – my Essential Criterion pick

40.  Gimme Shelter (Mayslels, Zwern, 1970)

41.  Midnight Cowboy (Schlesinger, 1969)

42.  The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)

43. The Godfather Part II (Coppola, 1974)

It’s hard to do this list without leaving off some of yours, like Citizen Kane.  I may only get to 50, simply because I  haven’t seen nearly as many films at all as you have.

44. Crumb (Zwigoff, 1994)

45.  Seconds (Frankenheimer, 1966)

46.  Night of the Demon (Tourneur, 1957)

47.  Rosemary’s Baby (Polanski, 1968)

48.  Paths of Glory (Kubrick, 1957)

49.  The Killing (Kubrick, 1956)

50.  Rope (Hitchcock, 1948)

51.  Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock, 1943)

52.  Lolita (Kubrick, 1962) – I really believe this is James Mason’s finest performance besides “Bigger than Life”

53. Defending Your Life (Brooks, 1991) – a personal favorite, even though the ending is so much of an upper, it’s really a downer.

54.  Donnie Darko (Kelly, 2001)

55.  Manhattan (Allen, 1979)

56.  The Freshman (Newmeyer and Taylor, 1925)

57. Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922)

58.  American Beauty (Mendes, 1999) (Yes, Claude, I know.)

59.  Best in Show (Guest, 2000) – one of the deleted scenes involving Guest is actually the best scene in the film, and fully improvised.

60.  A Christmas Story (Clark, 1983)

61.  Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in The Hood (Barclay, 1996)

62.  Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960)

63.  Sweet Smell of Success (Mackendrick, 1957)

64.  Bullitt (Yates, 1968)

65.  A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 1971)

66.  Take the Money and Run (Allen, 1969)

67.  A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (Allen, 1982) – the cinematography, lighting and set design are worth this alone

68.  Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (Aldrich, 1964)

70. Them (Moreau, Palud, 2006)

71.  The Up Series (Apted, 1964-present)

72.  Jackie Brown (Tarantino, 1997)

73.  Repulsion (Polanski, 1965)

74.  The Shout (Skolimowski, 1978)

75.  Five Easy Pieces (Raefelson, 1970)

76.  Husbands and Wives (Allen, 1992)

77.  Beyond the Sea (Spacey, 2004) – no matter what anyone says, Kevin Spacey completely transforms into Bobby Darin.

78.  Burn After Reading (Coens, 2008)

79. The Front (Ritt, 1976)

80.  The Picture of Dorian Gray (Lewin, 1945)

81.  Key Largo (Huston, 1948)

82.  Black Orpheus (Camus, 1959)

83.  The Blair Witch Project (Myrick, Sanchez, 1999)

84.  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1920)

85.  The New Age (Tolken, 1994)

86.  Rocaterrania (Ingram, 2009?)

87.  God’s Country (Malle, 1985)

88.  Happiness (Solondz, 1998)

89.  Life During Wartime (Solondz. 2009)

90.  Dog Day Afternoon (Lumet, 1975)

91.  The Endless Summer (Brown, 1966)

92.  Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005)

93.  Ghost World (Zwigoff, 2001)

94.  The Shining (Kubrick, 1980)

95.  Glengarry Glen Ross (Mamet, 1992)

96.  Encounters at the End of the World (Herzog, 2007)

98.  Heavy Metal (Potterton, 1981)

99. The Out-0f-Towners (Kellerman, 1970)

100.  Cabaret (Fosse, 1972)

101.  And because I named one of yours, Clayton, I’m gonna have to go with Clambake (Nadel, 1967) for the opening credits and font alone.

I can’t possibly rationalize and say these are the best films ever made.  I’m surprised I could even name 100 that I’ve seen, and a good 70% were introduced to me by Claude.  So I’ll just stick with, these would be the 100 films I would recommend.  Clayton, I hope you are proud of me for one thing:  the only chick flick that shows up is Funny Girl.  Congratulations on your Criterion win, dude.

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Documentaries – The Film Snob Wife’s Genre Choice – Part 1: Pageant

June 7, 2010

I spent the weekend watching documentaries, and a couple of fiction films I’ll review in another post.  It started with several episodes of TLC’s new series, “Disappeared”, which is quite interesting.  Then Claude and I saw where Sundance on Demand had 2 documentaries:  Pageant (available now on Sundance on Demand) was sheer entertainment.  Highlighting the Miss Gay America pageant (at the time in its 34th year…34th!), it follows about 5 gay men as they prepare for the pageant, including one from Raleigh, NC.  This hometown man (at 42 years old) did an impression of Reba McEntire that left me speechless and had hair standing up on my arms.  He was so good that Reba McEntire hired him to play Reba in Reba’s own show.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  The men had to interview as men, in suits, which all of them are, simply gay men who can impersonate women, but don’t live their lives as women or want to be women.  The absence of the typical gay-subject matter movie catfighting was refreshing, as was the profile of these men, their real lives, and what drives them to be interested in the artistry that is involved in female impersonation.  Pageant was about the artistry – not the gayness or sexual relationships or transvestite or transgender issues.  It was really incredible entertainment, and showcased how these men put more work into their costuming, (none can have hormone shots or implants of any kind), the quality of their talent performances, (although most lip-sync) and their personalities and intelligence, much of which is absent from the actual Miss America pageant.  Pageant shows the artistic abilities of these people, and this really is art – body art and performance art.  I was fascinated and completely entertained.  I also feel this movie is viewable by most any person 12 and up, so I’d probably rate it a PG-13.  There is minor mention of sex and sexual relationships in the movie, and the introduction of the families and friends of these contestants and  the love and support they show is very family- and love-affirming.

Part 2 will be about Prodigal Sons.

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Star Wars: The Death of Cinema

May 4, 2010

Ok, so, during the course of our budding relationship, Claude, who I must admit is a few years shy of a decade younger than me, tells me that Star Wars was, in effect, the “death of cinema.”  Claude:  “It theoretically and ephemerally signaled the death knell for the great cinematic experiences we had all (meaning him and his 2 friends) come to know and cherish up until that very moment.”

“Wait,” I protested as I spit out my glass of wine.  “Star Wars?”  I remember so clearly being 12 when that movie came out, the first summer I was really interested in boys, and could go to the mall and hang out for hours with friends unsupervised by scrutinizing eyes of parents.  “Star Wars was the first movie I ever attended where I held hands with a boy!” I decried.  “Well, I loved it too, THEN, and I held hands TOO…”  (and then he mumbled…) “.but I was five and it was with my mother.”  (volume increase) “ Then I got older, and saw it for what it was REALLY worth – a huge masturbatory opportunity for one George Lucas who is still in love with himself – hell, I bet he’s in the closet with R. Kelly right now.”

“Wait,” I protested again, and made some argument about how if George Lucas were in love with HIMSELF, he probably wouldn’t be in the closet with R. Kelly.

Claude:  “Just think about it for a minute.  All the great movies with their non-computerized special effects, GREAT films…”

Me:  “Like Mouchette?”  She’s in the damn river, boy…”

Claude glared at me.  I took another sip of wine and batted my eyelashes.  “NOOO,” he protested.  “Like the whole 70’s oeuvre, you know, Bonnie and Clyde, all the Altman stuff, Shampoo, Don’t Look Now, the Peckinpah neo-westerns…”

I agreed that a lot of those were, in fact, good movies, but Star Wars was an EVENT for my generations, which I have recently learned is NOT the tail-end of the Baby Boomers, but rather “Generation Jones”, because we wanted to keep up with the Joneses.  Well, my maiden name is Jones, so I guess people were keeping up with us.  I’m not sure why.  We had ugly green shag carpet and brown appliances and my mother found some crazy seamstress to make all our clothes and we often looked mildly retarded.

Star Wars was, for Generation Jones, what the arrival of the Beatles was for the Baby Boomers.  It signaled something.  It was likely your first date movie.  The visuals were stunning, and fast-paced.  There was a love triangle.  And a big furry thing, who, if you were lucky, you could imitate to the delight of your friends.  Everyone I knew had the soundtrack on vinyl (the cover was black, it had a gatefold, I’ll never forget it).  And, crazily enough, I believe the movie holds up well even today.  It’s not 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I know is a stretch for many, many people to watch,.  But 2001 was truly groundbreaking in its use of special effects (hence the Oscar)  but very hard to understand in the plot department.

Ok, back to Star Wars.  I digress.  Especially about 2001, which I reviewed in another post.  How could this film be the “death of cinema”, as Claude suggested?  What about all the other movies that came out after it that were good and not sci-fi and not directed by George Lucas (or Stephen Spielberg who is also on his shit list)?  What about  All That Jazz or A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy or Valley Girl or Apocalypse Now or The Shining or ICE CASTLES???…I mean, I just couldn’t imagine that Star Wars had made it so that we should have shuttered the theatres and burned all the celluloid a la Fahrenheit 451.

Finally, Claude, after several more glasses of merlot, came around and admitted that there were other good movies after Star Wars, but, by God, that didn’t mean that Lucas didn’t deserve the same punishment as Jim Caveziel in The Passion of the Christ for his misdeeds.  And for the same 2 hour time-span.

Postscript:  The above was written about two years ago.  Over the weekend, I was going through some stuff and found a vintage 1977 official Star Wars C3P0 necklace.  It wasn’t mine.  Proof, as Claude said, that he loved Star Wars as a kid too.  But  he was five when the film came out, so it’s understandable.  And after learning more about Lucas through an unnamed source, I’m going to have to break down and agree with Claude’s sentence of punishment for Lucas.   What a wookie.

Postscript Postscript:  Claude says, “George Lucas is a turd.  So there.”  ‘Nuff said.

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Norwand or North Face

April 18, 2010

I saw this film yesterday.  I was going to write a review of it, but then I found this review which sums up everything I would say about the film.  I will say this about the audience – there was a woman sitting behind me who clearly was more the rom-com type who remarked “See how they treated women THEN?” when the lead female character (a junior journalist, something of a secretary) is introduced, and then proceeds to make coffee.  “SHE has to make the coffee,” exclaimed my fellow movie-goer, who also could not grasp that there was snow in the Swiss Alps in July.  Oookay.  And the guy behind me who had to say “Whoosh” every time there was a shot of the mountain, and there were a lot.   Kudos to this blogger for writing a top-notch review.  Hope you will read it.

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Fitfully Amusing, Says Claude about “The Men Who Stare At Goats”

April 17, 2010

Claude and I watched The Men Who Stare At Goats last night.  Just learned from Claude that the source material for this film was written by the guy who did the BBC series “Secret Rulers of the World” which included such topics as the Bilderberg Group, Bohemian Grove and David Icke.  That was a fascinating series, and I had no idea of this fact until Claude just, from his vast photographic memory, pulled that little tidbit out of his a–  brain.

The Men Who Stare At Goats, directed by freshman director Grant Heslov (Oscar nominated for writing and producing Good Night and Good Luck), is a very entertaining film.  This movie seemed to be critically panned by a lot of movie critics, save Onion A.V. Club, who said it was underrated.  I could  not agree more.  Very strong performances by George Clooney (who looks his absolute hottest when they have him made up as a 19- or 20-year old fresh in the Army), Jeff Bridges, who nearly reprises his Big Lebowski “Dude” role, and my favorite, Kevin Spacey, who plays the smarmy guy so well.  Kevin Spacey has incredible range in my opinion – really wish I could get people to watch Beyond the Sea and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and this film to see his incredible range. And who can forget Ewan MacGregor, who has completely conquered his heavy Scottish accent in this and The Ghost Writer – he has magnificent range (see Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, Brassed Off and playing a Jedi master in the Star Wars prequels, which is a BIG component of the plot of The Men Who Stare at Goats) and is going to win an Oscar at some point, I’m sure of it.

Readers know I’m all about cinematography and shot selection, and this definitely has it.  The film is largely set on the base of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a place I know a little something about since I grew up in Fayetteville, NC and worked on the base.  I could tell immediately that these shots, supposedly images from the early 70’s, were not filmed on the base, but they worked anyway.  The Men Who Stare At Goats was filmed in New Mexico, Puerto Rico and California.  The desert scenes are stunning, and the shots and angles make this a very visually interesting film.

The humor in The Men Who Stare At Goats is intelligent, very unexpected at moments, and really does make you laugh out loud.  If Claude’s laughing out loud, it’s funny, and he did.  I thought it was extremely funny with smart humor that didn’t dumb itself down for laughs.

The premise of the film is this: During the Vietnam era, the military became interested in psychic warfare because the Soviets were supposedly interested in psychic warfare (there’s a great scene of two officers going back and forth – “they know, we know, they know we know, we  know they know we know, they know we know they know we known they know…”) and allowed a group to develop to study this, led by Jeff Bridges’ character.  Clooney’s character becomes his top protege and Spacey comes in and wants to compete with Clooney.  Hilarity really ensues as we see these characters go further into the fringes of “new age” thought into what really saves some lives in the end.  The story is largely told in flashback, as we open with current times and Ewan MacGregor as a reporter who wants to “embed” himself in Iraq to win the respect of his wife, who is leaving him.  MacGregor meets up with someone who tips him off to Clooney, and then begs to write the story of this psychic warfare development from its beginnings to the present day.  I don’t want to give away too much, so hopefully I’ve piqued your curiosity enough.

I’m sorry The Men Who Stare At Goats didn’t fare well at the box office.  I encourage readers to rent it – it’s definitely entertaining, thought-provoking and enjoyable.  I especially encourage my readers who grew up with me in the Ft. Bragg area and went into the military to watch it.  You’ll get a real kick out of it.

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The Ghost Writer by Roman Polanski

April 2, 2010

I am an unashamed Roman Polanski fan.  The films directed by him that I’ve seen are among the finest films I’ve ever seen.  Polanski knows how to make smart, intriguing thrillers, and he can act as well (see The Tenant.)  So when we learned that our local theatre would be showing his new film, The Ghost Writer, we were there on opening night, and pleased to see a moderately-packed house.

The Ghost Writer has an interesting cast:  Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, and Eli Wallach.  The plot involves a ghost writer (McGregor) replacing a dead ghost writer who was working on the memoirs of the retired British Prime Minister (Brosnan).  As McGregor’s character gets deeper and deeper into the project, he begins to discover unsettling facts about the PM, including CIA involvement and secret authorization of torture on airplanes.  Naturally, this disturbs McGregor’s character, and he tries to get out of this project.

The standout scene for me was the scene on the ferry.  I’m not giving any details away because the movie is still in theatres, and I hope those who like taut thrillers will go and see it.  Polanski plays up to his audience, never dumbing down anything, and delivers great cinematography and impressive performances from his cast.  I was particularly impressed by Kim Cattrall’s very controlled performance as Brosnan’s assistant and mistress – a real change from her Sex and the City character – I didn’t even know the character was Kim Cattrall for a good part of the movie.  The always beautiful Olivia Williams also gives a great performance as Brosnan’s bitter, acerbic wife.

I want to see this movie again in the theatre.  Whatever your feelings about Polanski and his personal life and problems, he remains one of the greatest directors of modern times.  See it.

PS – we’re seeing it again tonight so I may have more to say after a second showing.  I do encourage lovers of good, intelligent thrillers to see it.

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In The Loop by Armando Iannucci

March 29, 2010

I can’t believe I forgot to review this film.  Claude and I were lucky enough to see it at the local theatre that shows artier films and we loved it, but I had trouble understanding the thick Scottish and English accents and slang.  Watching it again with the subtitles on was the trick, and this is one of the funniest movies I have seen in a very long time.

Peter Capaldi plays the acerbic (to put it VERY mildly) PR person for the Prime Minister of England who has to deal with a minor cabinet department who has started to run amok and talk about war, when their job is to oversee agriculture or some such banal governmental business.  Little do they know that the British and American governments are doing their darndest to start a war in the middle east.  Capaldi is joined by a fantastic supporting cast including James Gandolfini, my darling Steve Coogan, Anna Chlumsky, Mimi Kennedy and David Rasche.

This movie is not for the squeamish where language is concerned, and this movie really requires multiple viewings.  Shot in mockumentary style with jerky camera movements and unclear cuts, this is not a cinematography feast, as other movies I’ve reviewed lately are.  This is a great character study, especially of Capaldi’s character (and Gandolfini), and one with some of the most biting black comedy I’ve ever seen –  my favorite kind.  The great peek into the ins and outs of Washington and London governmental life (and nightlife) is dizzying, harrowing and extremely funny.  This is a movie where you really need to pay attention to the dialogue and get all the characters in place – hence recommended multiple viewings  It’s recent (2009) and it’s a must-see in my book.  I laughed so hard my stomach hurt

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The Man Who Wasn’t There by Joel & Ethan Coen

March 29, 2010

If you’re like Claude and me and have a love for black and white film, then you will probably enjoy The Man Who Wasn’t There, a 2001 film by the Coen Brothers. The Coen Brothers have quite a filmography, many of which are favorites of mine, and this one ranks pretty high on the list. The Man Who Wasn’t There is a throwback to film noir and femme fatales and movies where the lead character narrates throughout the film. Billy Bob Thornton is haunting on many fronts: his highly-made up appearance, his stone-cold face which never smiles throughout the film, and his slow, deliberate pacing. Thornton plays a barber who finds himself, quite by happenstance, caught up in a scheme with a man (Jon Polito) who wants to bring dry cleaning to the world. He learns that his wife, (played brilliantly by Frances McDormand, a Coen favorite and probably her best role for them) has been having an affair with his sister’s husband (James Gandolfini). So to obtain the money to invest in the dry cleaning business, he sets about blackmailing his wife’s lover, to dastardly ends for all involved.

The Coens have a real knack for shot selection, lighting, and strong character development. I usually go either way (this movie is great for cinematography, that movie is great for acting) but The Man Who Wasn’t There has it all – not unlike another great Coen movie, The Hudsucker Proxy. I believe both these films are lesser known than their blockbusters such as No Country for Old Men and O Brother Where Art Thou?, but nonetheless, well worth a screening. I saw a lot of Barton Fink in this film too, which is my personal favorite Coen Brothers movie. One thing I did not notice – in many Coen Brothers movies, there seems to be a running thread about shoes or feet. This didn’t appear that I could see in The Man Who Wasn’t There – it seems the obsession was about hair and shaving, since, after all, Thornton’s character is a barber. That’s one of the interesting things about Coen Brothers movies – there are these little touches that reappear throughout each film, and make you wonder what they mean. The Coens themselves have gone on record that there is no underlying meaning in any of what we might perceive as symbolism in any of their films, but I think they are being a bit evasive about that.

For black-and-white film lovers, The Man Who Wasn’t There has one of the best ending shots I’ve ever seen in black and white. Coen films are rich with set pieces, set design, lighting tricks and unusual shots, which make for incredibly interesting viewing. They also have marvelous use of contrast of the black and white hues through such clever means as costuming, furniture, lamps, everyday objects. This one, like others mentioned, also has the advantage of stand-out performances by some of the Coen’s oft-used actors – particularly McDormand and Polito (lead in Miller’s Crossing) and brings more talent to the film with the use of Thornton, and the actress who plays Gandolfini’s wife, one of the most stark and haunting faces I’ve ever seen. This is not unusual for Coen films – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad performance in one of their films, and they rank among my favorites. I’m glad Claude asked me to watch this one, as I had not seen it before, and it gave me a chance to make comparisons to other Coen films.

My favorites stand in this order: Barton Fink; The Big Lebowski; Burn After Reading; The Hudsucker Proxy now tied with The Man Who Wasn’t There;; Raising Arizona; O Brother Where Art Thou? I have not seen the entire catalogue of their films…yet….but I’m sure I will. What are your favorites?

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Why 2001: A Space Odyssey Remains My All-Time Favorite

March 28, 2010

When I was in college many MANY moons ago, I majored in broadcasting and wanted to go into cinematography.  The visual image was (and to a large extent remains) much more important to me than the character study brought about by the actors.  Shot selection, set design, lighting, all those technical details were what caught my attention in film.

I don’t remember the first time I saw Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I remember my sister and grandmother telling of seeing it in the theatre and putting on sunglasses and laughing at it.

I have seen 2001 many, many times.  The most memorable was on our tv in HD.  So many people I’ve talked to about this movie are unaffected by it because they don’t “get it.”  It’s not a  movie to be understood at the plot level.  It’s a movie to be savored for the sheer majesty of its visuals.  The makeup in the “Dawn of Man” sequence is by far the best human-to-animal makeup ever committed to celluloid.  Why they could not reproduce this later in Planet of the Apes is beyond me.  As I first viewed this film in adolescence, I was not sure that these were not real, trained animals.

There’s been many an article written about the technological and astronomical (space) elements of 2001 that have since come true, which is another fascinating element of this film.  The shots in space, although not technically completely correct, are very close to what we are accustomed to seeing from actual camera shots in space today.  This is a film that, visually and technically, holds up very well today, with the exception of some of the costuming, particularly in the scene where the “stewardess” walks the 180 degrees to come put Dr. Heywood Floyd’s pen back in his pocket.

Then, with several re-watchings, one begins to get the sense that the plotline involving the HAL 9000 computer (over-parodied in my opinion) is actually a horror story in its most sterile and austere sense.  One of my favorite shots in the film is the sequence where Dave is unplugging the memory from HAL, as HAL begs him not to, and sings “Daisy” in an increasingly lowering voice.

The ending doesn’t make much sense to me, but just look at the set and the set design in the room with Dave as an old man.  Again, stunning, a feast for the eyes.  Not to mention the beautiful Strauss in the soundtrack.

I have yet to find someone I personally know who agrees, but 2001: A Space Odyssey remains my favorite movie of all time.

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Bigger Than Life by Nicholas Ray and James Mason

March 26, 2010

Ever since I met Claude, I’ve been hearing about Bigger than Life, directed by Nicholas Ray, the same man who directed Rebel Without a Cause.   Strangely enough, Claude, and his friend Steve, always describe this movie as very comedic, when it was intended clearly to be a serious film about a serious matter.  Well, finally, after nearly four years, the good folks at Criterion Collection decided to put Bigger than Life out on DVD with tons of extras.  Claude nearly eja…fainted when he heard the news, and to come off what he terms “double secret probation”, I ordered it and had it delivered on the same day as it was released.  Again, Claude nearly eja…fainted.  So we watched it.  Like the Zapruder film.  And ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that this is an incredible film.  It has its black comedy in spades, no doubt, but this is clearly a horror movie as well.  Having been around people that turned into Mr. Hyde and I could not reach them, this movie gave me the dual effect of laughter and shivers and sick feelings in my stomach at the same time.  Nicholas Ray is brilliant in his shot selection – we stopped the DVD several times to look, zoom in, and it’s visually gorgeous in its use of lighting and high shots over the staircase.  James Mason, always brilliant, has never been better.  And Mason’s wife in the film, played by Barbara Rush, who was not well-known to me, gave a compelling performance as well.  And get this – (don’t tell Claude I told you) – it has a happy ending.  Which is rare for movies that we watch.

Briefly, the story is of a schoolteacher (Mason) who develops a serious cardiovascular problem and is put on cortisone.  He soon descends from kind schoolteacher, husband and father into strict, maniacal nutjob.  Our favorite scene involves him reading from the Bible to his wife, specifically the story of Abraham and Issac.  This occurs after he is angered by his son for some extremely minor infraction.  Mason also carries some sort of dagger – I wasn’t sure if it was a knife or a letter opener – as he reads.  He stops the story when Abraham puts Issac on the altar and raises the knife.  His wife pleads with him, knowing that he’s contemplating harming his son, that God intervened and Issac was spared.  Mason roars to her, “GOD WAS WRONG!”  Claude is on the floor laughing.  (atheist, you know)  It is a masterful scene and Mason’s face and Rush’s horror are so compelling that you can’t possibly look away.  We had to rewind it (as you can imagine) several hundred times.

It lives up to all the hype that Claude and Steve gave it.  I’d watch it again and again.  Hopefully it will be on Netflix or some rentable source soon, because if you have seen Rebel and liked it, this is a must-see by the same director, and easily one of the great James Mason’s finest performances as both actor and producer.  Most highly recommended, six out of five stars.  Actually, this one goes to eleven.

Oh, yeah, and I love you, Claude.

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Criterion Paranormal Intervention

March 19, 2010

Claude and I have noticed that there is a plethora of paranormal shows on (formerly) respected channels such as A&E, Discovery, History, etc.  Paranormal State, Paranormal Cops, Ancient Paranormal, Paranormal Intervention. That’s my favorite one because the title suggests that it would combine paranormal with another favorite of ours, A&E’s Intervention.  But it doesn’t.  I digress again. (I do that a lot.)  Intervention is, of course, about addiction and the intervention process.  They have three interventioners that they round-robin, and they all have the same pat phrases.  Our favorite is “There’s just a heck of a lot of love in this room,” which is the opening line for one particular interventioner.

Well, I’ve been thinking lately about calling Intervention.  Claude has a little bit of a “problem”.  He is addicted to Criterion Collection DVDs.  For those that don’t know, Criterion is a company dedicated to taking the finest in film and DVD extras and putting out extraordinary DVDs of the finest movies ever made.  Unfortunately, they are also now trying to skew to a younger crowd and have started putting out titles such as “The Aquatic Life of Steve Zizzou” and “Dazed and Confused” and “The Rock” and “Armageddon.”  Yeah.  Thanks, Criterion.  Anyway, Claude’s goal is to own every Criterion ever released.  The current count in the catalog is well over 500, and we have about 100.

Every weekend, we have to make a trek to the local used book/movie store to “hunt down Criterions” like some wildebeest.  I usually sit in the car, sometimes for an hour or more, while the hunter seeks the hunted.  Claude has this unusual behavioral change when he is around books or DVDs in a store – he becomes very excitable, sometimes his forehead shows beads of sweat, and he runs from aisle to aisle like a silver ball in a pinball machine.  I often worry.

So how does one break this Criterion addiction, especially since Claude, who is a graduate student, is secretly competing with a very bright young undergrad who has about 350 Criterions.  He’s even taken to buying these off his friend, like a dime bag, surreptitiously, after class, and sneaking the Criterions into the house in his bookbag.  Funny, his eyes are usually red, too, when he does that.

I can see the scene playing out in my mind from Claude’s Criterion intervention:  We’ve all gathered at some non-descript hotel – myself, Claude’s parents who have never watched a movie more high-brow than what you find on the Sci-Fi (or Sy-Fy) channel; his smug undergrad friend who, of course, doesn’t want to be bested, and our favorite local band, just for support and possibly a tune or two.  His parents are crying.  “Claude, why can’t you just be content to watch Mansquito? Or even Black Hole?  You know Judd Nelson plays an ASTROPHYSICIST (now there’s a bit of casting) and he SAVES Minneapolis!” wails his mother, clutching a handkerchief and her rosary beads.  “Yeah, don’t you remember 2012?  All those EXPLOSIONS!  It was so GREAT! And all you want to watch is this black-and-white crap that no one can understand!” booms his father.

Interventionist:  “There’s a heck of a lot of Criterions in this room….”

Letter reading begins.

Dear Claude,

Your Criterion addiction has affected me negatively in the following ways.  First of all, I never have any money anymore.  You watch every Criterion you get like the Zapruder film, and all the extras and all the commentary tracks, which leaves like zero time for me, personal hygiene, help with a chore or two, or reading my Facebook posts, and most importantly of all, it keeps you from looking at my ICanHazCheezburger cat pictures which I hold so dear.  You need to know if you do not accept this gift of help today, there will be consequences.  I will stick objects such as silverware and half-chewed gum in the DVD player.  I will erase all the stuff you’ve had taped for 2 years on the DVR.  I will no longer accept your emails that say things like “Watched Empire of Passion, an Oshima film that forms an informal diptych w/ In the Realm of the Senses, which you bought for me here awhile back. Very different in execution but equally fascinating.”  Mainly because I can’t understand what you’re saying, so I’m just sayin’.  What is a diptych anyway?  (Claude’s mother wails in agony).

At this juncture, Claude runs out of the hotel room and away from the intervention in angry protest.  He has to smoke a cigarette (he doesn’t smoke).  He’s not getting on that plane to whatever rehab center Intervention has in mind.  90 days, no Criterion, no way.  Claude runs outside the hotel and begins rolling around in the grassy area, wailing.  I try desperately to console him by pulling out a copy of Criterion’s Lola Montes and rubbing it on his face, soothingly.  It doesn’t work.  “It HAS to be a BUNUEL!” he shouts at me, angrily.  I stop to think what films of Bunuel’s might be on Criterion…honestly, I don’t know.  I would think Discreet Charm would be on Criterion…just not sure.  I struggle with how to placate Claude sans Bunuel.  People are stopping in the parking lot to stare at this spectacle.  “Will Bergman do?” I ask in my sweetest, meekest voice.  “BERGMAN??? NO!!!  Wait…YES!!”  His choking sobs start to subside as I give him Smiles of a Summer Night. The interventionist approaches.  “I think you’re on the wrong A&E show,” he says.  We look at him, puzzled.  “Have you ever heard of a little show called ‘Hoarders’?  It comes on right after I do, on Monday nights.  Ten o’clock.”

We nod our heads as if we’ve just received the key to Enlightenment by the Buddha himself, just to get the interventionist off our backs and keep us off A&E, which used to be “arts” and “entertainment”.  We won’t be watching Hoarders.  We’ll be watching Criterion.

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Reviewing Rocaterrania

March 19, 2010

Our geographic area is chock-full of filmmakers – some extraordinarily talented, some who are up-and-coming.  Claude and I were lucky to see a film by one of the filmmakers in the first class last evening.  The film was called Rocaterrania, by Brett Ingram.  I had read briefly about it in our local arts magazine, but didn’t know much about the subject matter.  It profiles Renaldo Kuhler, the former science illustrator for the North Carolina Museum of Natural History.  Brett filmed Mr. Kuhler over a period of ten years to make this film.  To say that Mr. Kuhler is wildly eccentric is quite the understatement, but to say that he is artistically gifted is even more of an understatement.

Kuhler’s father, Otto Kuhler, was a famous train designer during the time when trains were competing against airlines for customers, and train companies wanted a more streamlined, modern look.  In the elder Kuhler’s design, a great deal of Art Deco influence shows through.  Renaldo Kuhler revealed that his father was away from home for long periods of time, and when he was at home, had great disdain for his son.  He never mentions that his father sat down with him and taught him his artistic techniques, so I deduced that clearly genetics were at play.

To escape what Kuhler perceived as a very negative young life (his mother was mean, kids teased him incessantly), he invented an entirely new country, in his mind, called Rocaterrania.  Everything I will tell you about Rocaterrania exists solely in Kuhler’s own mind and in his staggering body of artwork.  Rocaterrania is said to be located on the New York/Canadian border, a separate country from the United States, and Rocaterrania bears strong similarities to Russia at the time of the Russian Revolution.  Kuhler has drawn citizen after citizen of this country; developed a language, an alphabet and a font, (which was used in the title sequence of Stan Brakhage’s Dog Star Man); developed a history, a governmental structure, and has developed and depicted all of this through his artwork.  His art ranges from landscapes to incredibly ornate architecture to his most prolific subject, people and costuming.  Even though the film clocks in at just under 80 minutes, the sheer volume of art, letters, alphabet, history, all written, drawn and painted by Kuhler is mind-boggling.  I felt as though he must have a form of graphomania, a condition I have never seen except in Crumb, where underground comic artist Robert Crumb’s brother Charles displays this in a tragic downward spiral.

The film opens with Kuhler showing the viewer a tiny female shrew’s skull, which he must draw for the Museum.  He looks through a microscope and draws, with exact precision.  Kuhler relates that the NC Museum of Natural History hired him without an interview based solely on his artwork.

Rocaterrania is available through Brett Ingram’s website, www.brettingram.org, and is truly a feast for the senses.  Anyone who thinks themselves an artist should definitely procure a copy post haste.  You will not believe your eyes.  I would say Rocaterrania is one of the most interesting documentaries I’ve ever seen.  Absolutely recommended and will become an oft-watched fixture on our DVD shelf.

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Endings and The White Ribbon

March 18, 2010

Claude, my film snob husband, taught me to dislike happy endings.  He taught me to enjoy ambiguous endings and downer endings.  Prior to Claude, I didn’t fully understand how satisfying a hazy or horrifying or unexpected ending to a film could be.  Several movies I’ve seen recently have some pretty interesting and bewildering endings.  Barton Fink by the Coen Brothers; The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke and The Long Goodbye by Robert Altman.  The first and last mentioned have highly comedic, laugh-out-loud moments throughout the majority of the film, only to kind of sucker-punch you in the end.  The White Ribbon’s ending is very murky, leaving you wanting more, but more would ruin it.  I think many great filmmakers know when enough is enough, and what they do with films like these is make you think about them long afterward.  With a happy, neatly tied up ending, with “closure” to a film like those mentioned above, I think one tends to forget about it later – it doesn’t haunt you.  A movie is only effective to me if it haunts me in some way; if I revisit it again and again either in my mind or by watching it.  Like the ghost of Cathy on the moors in Wuthering Heights, it comes back beckoning for you time and again, and like Heathcliff, I want to run after the spectre of these films.

I want to write about The White Ribbon for several reasons:  a) it’s Haneke, who is getting a bad rap these days for his endings; b) it’s currently in theatres; c) it was nominated for best foreign film by the Academy Awards, and picked up the Golden Globe for best foreign film.  This is a stunningly gorgeous movie, and it is creepy at the same time.  Set in a village in pre-World War I Germany, shot in dazzling black-and-white, The White Ribbon tells the tale of strange and unexplainable occurrences that happen to a number of villagers.  Several families and familial units intertwine:  the excessively stern pastor with his brood of children, whom he berates and beats viciously; the village doctor, his small son and pre-teen daughter and his mistress who looks after the children (the doctor’s wife has died); the poor working family who seems to receive a good deal of blame for these “incidents”.  I must say that the performances garnered from the children of this film are what struck me so, and the children are the main centerpiece of the film.  A particular scene where the doctor’s young son (who cannot be more than five years old) is talking with his older sister about death and dying simply froze me, for I wondered if the child was not only acting, but also understanding the concepts of death and dying for the first time in his young life.  His eyes are so wide and innocent in this scene, and he is so angelic.  Yet he is asking questions quietly and with a visible mixture of terror and sadness on his cherub face about who dies, why and when and how – it’s an incredibly powerful moment that will haunt me for a long time.

Michael Haneke, director, writer and producer of The White Ribbon, has received a lot of negative criticism for “disliking his characters”.  In the two of his films that I have seen, and in discussing this with Claude, who, of course, has seen them all, I can’t see that.  I think his characters are fleshed out very well, and especially in the case of The White Ribbon, Haneke extorts pathos, fear, grief, joy, and disdain – an entire range of emotions.  Coupled with eye-popping cinematography in high-contrast black and white, I’m not sure you can get much better in my very uneducated opinion.  I hope more people will see it and be moved and haunted as I was by The White Ribbon.  Highly recommended.

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2009: The Year in Film for the Wife of a Film Snob

March 17, 2010

Well, it’s been over a year since I posted here, and we’ve seen some great movies.  I will attempt to list, but I will have to have Claude’s photographic memory to help me, so more later.  2 highlights – getting 2001: A Space Odyssey on Blu-Ray, although we haven’t watched it yet, and seeing The Big Lebowski at Verona and Wyatt’s house for the best un-Super Bowl party ever. Fortunately, or unfortunately for the sardonic tone I hoped this blog to take, Claude has upped the ante and shown me some really quality cinema in 2009 and 2010.  So I gotta find the humor in other ways – his rapturous viewing of scenes over and over like the Zapruder film (look it up if you don’t know it), his constant need for a Criterion fix weekly (which is fine with me), his incessant film dialogue where every possible thing relates to a film:  We’re stopped by a red light…”Did you know that in blah blah blah’s film blah blah blah, there’s this great scene with a red light…”  I love him, that Claude.

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Proof

February 25, 2009

Proof

So on our way home from lunch today, Claude, obviously caffeine-fueled, starts a diatribe about French New Wave film, and I learned the following:

-French new wave filmmakers started out mainly as film critics

-French new wave film was decidedly un-Hollywood with its use of strange shot selection, whereas Hollywood was all about the invisible cuts

-The French were the first to take Alfred Hitchcock seriously
So, I drop Claude off and head back to work at my office job, and Claude sends me this, from the Onion A.V. Club (a personal favorite of Claude’s of course), just posted today (well, now yesterday).  There are no coincidences.

So now I have my proof.  Claude is a film snob.  And a geek.  This is why I love him.  Oh, yeah, and he’s real smart.  Also, I think he’ll have some choice things to say about the French New Wave himself, which I may ask him to post as a follow-up “guest” column, where he can call the well-respected Onion A.V. Club on their omission of Chabral from their “French New Wave” article found here.

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Little Known Little Murders

February 23, 2009

little-murders-posterAnother film Claude and I watched this weekend is one he’s had on DVR for a while now, and I’m so glad because it’s currently unavailable commercially – only from collectors.  A movie version of Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders, directed by Alan Arkin and starring Elliot Gould in his salad days – when he was married to Barbra Streisand and put out such great films as this one and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, one of my all-time favorites that I actually got to intro to Claude. (That doesn’t happen very often).

From the description, I thought this was one of those interesting, but sort of bleak NY drama, like that Dustin Hoffman.Mia Farrow flick, 1969’s John and Mary.  Not so.  Little Murders, from start to finish, is very, very funny, very dark, and very unexpected.  And it holds up remarkably well.  The humor is so relevant that Little Murders was finally released on DVD during the past presidential administration only to immediately go off the market.

Elliot Gould plays a successful, but completely apathetic to life photographer.  Marcia Rodd, who has a career in television spanning nearly four decades, so she will be a familiar face, is Gould’s “rescuer” from being beaten up to immediate love interest and bride with changing Gould in mind.  The best scene in the movie, and one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen by the great Donald Sutherland, comes when Gould and Rodd’s characters finally marry.  Sutherland gives a lengthy and hilarious wedding ceremony that shows his true acting chops – it looks to me as if the scene was taken in one take – pan shots, but no cuts that I can remember, giving Sutherland a good 10 minutes to give a hilarious (yet in his own deadpan way) speech.  I was laughing so hard my sides hurt.  I laughed every bit as  hard as I do at The Soup, my favorite TV show.  Kisses, Joel!!

It’s too bad that something happened to getting Little Murders available on DVD.  Elliot Gould, Marcia Rodd, Vincent Gardenia in what should have been an Oscar-nominated performance, and Doris Roberts of “Everybody Loves Raymond” playing an older hippie wanna-be, Gould’s mother.

This is truly a movie that if you have the great fortune to catch (we caught it on Fox Movie Channel), you should DVR or see it.  I’m so glad Claude DVR’d it because until it’s available again a decent price on DVD, we’re not erasing it.  4 stars plus.  If you like your comedy as dark as we do, this is a perfect film, worth buying, in fact.

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Alfie and Shotgun Stories: Atmosphere and shot selection

February 23, 2009

Alfie and Shotgun Stores:  Atmosphere and Shot Selection

We had a film snob lovers’ weekend this weekend, Claude and I.  The great upside of being married to a film snob is the vast variety of films one will be exposed to, no pun intended, over the course of the relationship.  Some really good, some really bad, but none uninteresting, and never without stimulating a good conversation with Claude.

This weekend, we watched two movies that struck me in their use of atmospheric shots.  I digress for a moment:  I remember dating a man, briefly, before Claude, who was an art teacher.  We went to the local art gallery a couple of times, and he kept asking me how different pieces of artwork made me feel.  I have to admit, I haven’t had the experience of feeling emotions too terribly often when looking at static artwork, but film affects me much differently, sometimes even the most banal of scenes.

Alfie is a well-known film from (1966) starring a dashing and young Michael Caine.  What seems to start out as a light-hearted romp quickly turns dark, and Caine is brilliant in his performance.  But what stuck with me most about this film are the shot selection and the scenery.  In one scene, Alfie and a woman are on their way home from visiting the woman’s husband in a sanatorium.  Along the way they stop and take a leisurely canoe ride.  The shot selection from the woman’s point of view of the sky and the trees as they go past above her and the sun streaming through the branches is really breathtaking, and elicited strong feelings from me.  Feelings of what temporary peace and bliss feel like – you know it’s fleeting, so you want to drink it all in, and its sheer beauty is both bitter in its temporariness and sweet in its ability to sear itself eternally in your brain.  Of course, scenes of London in the 1960’s are also quite interesting, and Sonny Rollins’ post-bop musical score really added to this movie for me.  As I said, having never seen it and only knowing a little about it, I was surprised that it took the dark plot turn that it did, but for that reason, and for the shot selection, I was quite satisfied and would recommend this movie highly.  Our good friend from Turner Classic Movies Robert Osbourne was less than complimentary about the remake with Jude Law, so I would probably stay away from that one.

The other film we saw this weekend was one from 2007 entitled “Shotgun Stories” staring Michael Shannon as a dead-ringer for a young David Letterman.  This film was dark from start-to-almost-finish.  Filmed in the small town of England, Arkansas, the long, lingering shots of rural landscapes where you hear nothing but birds or crickets really brought back what living in the country was like.  A couple of shots in particular were exceptionally stunning – one simple shot of sycamore tree leaves on the ground – I know it sounds boring, but the composition and the color of that one shot is one that will remain with me for a long time.  Those particular shots – the rural, quiet ones, elicit the same bittersweet feeling that I described having when watching the canoe scene from Alfie.  The feeling is almost like being homesick – longing for something you know you can never have, or once had and can never have again, or dreaming of some unattainable future event or place or mood.   Michael Shannon is a remarkable actor, and this movie was very thought-provoking, until its end when it just tied up too neatly for Claude and me.  Claude has conditioned me not to like happy endings anymore, and really, when I look back on the films I liked before I met Claude, the ones I found to be more satisfying are the ones that don’t have a neatly-tied ending.  Even the musicals that I hold most dear are the ones with downer endings – Fiddler on the Roof and Funny Girl and All That Jazz come to mind.  I would definitely recommend Shotgun Stories especially if you have memories of rural life in America in the past 45 years.  It is a dark tale, and has some pretty strong implied violence.  It’s clearly an interesting film both visually and thematically.  I’d give it 3 stars on a 1-4 rating.  I think I’d give Alfie the same rating.

Now for the film snob part – as we’re watching the end credits of Shotgun Stories, Claude says, “A-ha!  I thought I’d see that name pop up.”  Claude has a photographic memory for film details (and book details and pretty much any details except taking food out of the freezer to thaw for tonight’s dinner), and he remarked that one of the executive producers of Shotgun Stories, David Gordon Green, is a filmmaker who directed “Pineapple Express.”  There’s where I just simply will never be able to keep up with the “big boys”, Claude and his friends.  I don’t have a memory for details such as that, and can’t put all the pieces together or get all the references.  I guess that’s why I’m lucky to be the wife of a film snob.

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Mouchette – You In The Damn River, Girl!

February 21, 2009

Mouchette by Robert Bresson…or You In the Damn River, Girl!

My husband, Claude, can be quite the dichotomous film snob.  On the one hand, he adores foreign, nearly impossible to understand films.  On the other hand, he adores people who imitate rednecks or backwoods people.  Like John Bean, who created the character Leroy Mercer and made a bunch of prank phone calls.  And some other character named Jessico White, whose wife says of him, “Now, Jessico, he got a bit of the dai-vel in him”.  I’ve heard an audio clip of some something with Jessico where he and some other guy get their car stuck in a river.  The other passenger, who was confused, says something like “Where are we?” to which Jessico replies, “You in the damn river, boy, where you THANK you ayut?”  To which Claude just prostrates himself in hilarious laughter, complete with hacking cough and slobber.

I digress.

Mouchette by Robert Bresson, with the possible exception of “Last House on the Left” or “200 Motels“, is truly the worst movie I’ve ever seen.  I agreed to watch this “masterpiece” with Claude, who gazed intently at the 42” television to catch every flicker of every frame, as if to turn away would make the film turn into a “Mr. Ed” rerun.  Actually, for me, that would have been a vast improvement.  All during the movie, I can see and hear his reaction – sighs of rapture, squinting of his kino-eye, him gesturing as if to say, “did you see THAT??”; the clickety-clack of his brain thinking “wow, this is some kinda movie, I sure am glad I’m a-watchin it.”

This film, if one can call it that, is about the horrible life of a little girl and all the terrible things she must put up with – an alcoholic father, a bed-ridden mother, poachers, rapists, people trying to pick her up on bumper cars, and, gosh, I don’t want to give away the climactic ending, but let’s just say, you in the damn river, girl.  Mouchette, get out of that river!

When I was interrogated (practically using the Gitmo method) by Claude after having wasted two hours of my life watching this waste of celluloid as to my impressions of the “film”, we nearly came to fisticuffs over my saying, “I hated that.”  I had to hear all kinds of rebuttals:  “You just don’t UNDERSTAND Bresson!”  “How can you say such a thing about one of the greatest films of ALL TIME?”  “Didn’t you see all the REFERENCES in it?”  My father would have said, “I wouldn’t hit a hog in the ass with the Criterion Collector’s Edition of this film.”  Claude also got one of his film snob buddies to tell me that Bresson is an “acquired taste”.  So is being a dog food taster.  I’d go with the latter, myself, if the choice were presented between watching Mouchette and being a dog food taster.

Bresson, in all his “wisdom”, didn’t even use actors for the movie – he just got ordinary people off the street …(”and what PEFORMANCES he got out of them!” proclaims Claude).  To say this movie is a downer is the understatement of the past several centuries.  It makes the Spanish Inquisition look like It’s A Small World after being Disneyfied.  Now, I’m not against films that are downers, per se.  But here you have a story of a little girl whose life is just pure hell, and then, well, she’s in the damn river, and….the end. Or, as Bresson would say, “Fin.”   I just can’t see where cinematic history was made, but apparently it was.  Yeah.  Luckily for me, a favorite director/actor of mine, Orson Welles hated Bresson too, but Claude holds that against Welles to this day.  Decades after Welles’ death.  He reminds me of that fact to make me “feel better” that I’m in “good company” with fellow Bresson-haters.  I really tried to like this.  I kept telling myself, “It’s arty.  Claude likes it.  There must be SOME redeeming quality to it.”  There is none.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.   I even agreed to re-watch it to see if I could discover any redeeming qualities.  After Claude sent me the film synopsis today so I could write this review, I have reconsidered this agreement.

Being the wife of a film snob gives you all kinds of opportunties to impress your friends and neighbors by saying, “Oh, have you seen blah-blah-blah?” and being able to tell them how wonderful it is and how they should discover it, and their lives will be all the richer for it.  Mouchette is not one of those films.  This is one of those arty films that I would tell viewers to run far, far away from…as far as planes, trains or automobiles can carry you.  Your life will not be enriched by Mouchette.  You won’t be smarter or artier or anything that you can boast or brag about to your friends.  You’ll just be depressed.  And then, you might be in the damn river, boy.  Don’t take that chance.

I’m replacing the word “sucks” with the word “mouchettes” in my vocab.  So, Mouchette mouchettes.  I heard a great mouchetting sound.  Less than one star.  If I could give negative stars, I would.

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How I became the wife of a film snob

February 21, 2009

I really have to blame Yahoo Messenger for this one.
Ok, ok, I was on the Internet. Which, that night, amounted to closing pop-up windows from names I couldn’t pronounce saying “Hey, wanna see my pics?” and a link.
Then Claude appeared with a simple “Hello.” Very Dave-like, if you know what I mean. “Hello, Claude,” I’m sure I replied. A minute or two passed. Claude was parsing words. “How are you tonight?” “I’m fine, Claude, and you?”

“I see you like Welles.”

And there’s where it started.

Yes, I like Welles, I like what I have seen of Welles very much, and was proud of the fact that my profile listed such an obscure film as “The Third Man” (which wasn’t even directed by Welles, as Claude has pointed out numerous times) as one of my favorites, along with a couple of Kubrick films.

Apparently, that’s what deemed me worthy of eventually ending up at Claude’s apartment with a bottle of rum. The first night, well, we didn’t watch any movies, but after a few visits to Claude’s “lair”, I began to notice the shelves and shelves and shelves of videos, many unmarked, and DVD’s. Soon our conversations became an endless series of “Have you seen (fill in the blank)” and “but have you seen_____???”

I learned that my self-image of someone who was educated about film, hip to film, knowledgeable about film, and maybe even knew a little something about film was completely wrong. Having 2001: A Space Odyssey as your favorite movie does not put you in the Claude crowd.

Soon, conversations were going like this: Claude: “Oh, sure, you LOVE Kubrick – you’ve only seen four of his films! FOUR! And not even his best ones! And what about Bresson? And Kurosawa and Truffaut and BERGMAN, for crissakes, BERGMAN???”

So I agreed to be a pupil in Claude’s version of Film School 101. Whiteboards appeared, and I had to listen to long, wine-fueled (which I was providing the fuel, like an idiot) diatribes about the transcendental yet ethereal oeuvre Bresson and his use of non-actors as actors.

Yeah.

I tied the knot with Claude, for better or for worse, which in the case of film, in the beginning, I often thought meant for worse, but it has actually turned out better.  However, now Claude has taken to “sic-ing” his friends on me about film – particularly Steve, who teaches film on the west coast.  Steve comes for a visit in 2 weeks, and he has suggested a steady diet of Bresson for me, which I’m hoping, for my sake, he’s kidding about.  I’ve procured one of Steve’s all-time favorites (on Criterion, of course) in hopes of steering him away from that tsunami of depression and suicidal endings.

So, Claude, I may make fun of your Bresson and Ikiru, but I love so many other films and directors you’ve intro’d me to.  And I’ll stay in 101 until probably the day I die.