Posts Tagged ‘film snob’

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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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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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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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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.