Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Always fill up BEFORE the movie...

An otherwise great evening at the Owen homestead was marred by late night car troubles, a shortage of gas, and freezing temperatures. Needless to say, a night that began with soup and Buster Keaton concluded with three men hunched around a oil tank with a flash light, lawnmower gas, and a funnel. Film club doesn't get much more raw than that. Sorry for keeping you up, John, but thanks for all of your help.

Anyway, despite this final setback, the rest of the night was the tops. Delicious vegetarian soup, tasty winter gazpacho, good flicks, cold beer, great company. It was real swell. Thanks again to the Owen family for having us (no word on whether we're welcome back yet haha).

I hope Jason and Adrienne had a great time at the Dryden Theater. We're sorry to have missed ya, Ben.

It shouldn't be too surprising that I loved both THE TRIAL OF JOAN OF ARC and THE NARROW MARGIN (oh, and Keaton's THE PALEFACE, of course). They are right up my alley.

I was telling John and Chris after JOAN that one of the reasons I respond to Bresson's minimalistic, terse style of filmmaking so much is because I feel like I would be tempted to do the same if given the chance to make a film. If I could make a film, I would probably make it as simple and unembellished as possible like Bresson or Ozu because that's where I'm at personally right now. Bresson's austere, less-is-more personality perforates every one of his films, and I feel as though I understand him and can relate to him completely. I feel like we connect, which is strange because five years ago I couldn't even get into the guy's work at all. How time ravishes us.

I was captivated by JOAN because it has every trademark of a Bresson film: minimal camera movements, repetition of the same shots and angles, symbolic close-ups, careful attention to what is in the frame and what is being said, no histrionics, no traces of "acting," no overbearing emotional revelations, and no lollygagging. Bresson gives the Joan of Arc trial his subdued wash-over, paring it down to its essential crisis and removing any overt emotionalism. But to me there is beauty to this film and there is emotion that is brought to it even if it's not so prominent within the frames. I've said it before, but I think that the feeling we bring to a Bresson film is a test of our own capacity for empathy. What does it take for us to empathize with a human face? I personally don't need much to elicit empathy for people, especially when they are reduced to their most animalistic forms, as in a Bresson film. I felt something for Joan just as I've felt something for all of Bresson's characters. There is power in simplicity.

I wish I could post a short video of the cross being engulfed in smoke during Joan's burning at the end of the film. That is a simple, strong, and evocative image in a film that I believe is filled with many others.

Anyway, I love Bresson.

I also really loved THE NARROW MARGIN. I, too, am fascinated by train stories, John. A train is just a great, old-fashioned romantic setting for a film, but it particularly works well for suspense films because of confining it is. THE NARROW MARGIN (as the name partly implies) is all about exploring the limited and unique space of the train setting, and like THE LADY VANISHES, it does it extremely well. One thing I love about trains is that they resemble small cities almost. You've got your central population, your diners, your apartments, your streets, your compactness. A lot of noir lives and breathes within a city or urban setting. THE NARROW MARGIN as a noir still feels really urban despite being on a train because of how well it depicts the space of the train and all of its urban resemblances. I'm not really getting at anything profound here. Just saying that I really loved the feel of THE NARROW MARGIN and the way it makes its setting prominent to its narrative. It's a flawless effect. What a great, tough, surprising film with bundles of style this is.

All in all, another fun night in the world of CF5FC. Thanks again John!

Monday, March 26, 2012

"He made juice for the mob?!"

BROADWAY DANNY ROSE is one of Woody Allen's best films. It represents a culmination of his entire career up until that point, a sort of pastiche of every avenue he took as an artist. It's arty-looking, broadly comedic yet sweet and romantic, and it lovingly pays tribute to comedians and show business. Right there, it captures the entire arc of his career from stand-up comedian to broad comedy filmmaker to Oscar winner and arthouse lover. If you are a fan of anything Woody Allen then you're likely to love it as it combines so many of his best elements as a artist. If you don't like his work, then this probably won't change your mind.

Personally, I think the two major things that make DANNY ROSE so great as a film period (not just as a Woody Allen film) are: 1). It's hilarity and 2). It's romanticism and bittersweetness about the underdogs of show business.

DANNY ROSE is hysterical. The film feels like a classic comedy to me in a lot of ways (not just because it's black-and-white), which helps make it so funny. Most of the plot contrivances are used merely to set up hilarious gags and wisecracks ("What is this, a Turkish whorehouse? I live here!"). I think all the jokes and gags land really well, and all of that credit goes to Woody Allen's talent as a comedian. His timing and delivery are impeccable. Watching more Bob Hope movies, you can really see how much of an influence he had on Woody. DANNY ROSE is a comedy in the tradition of the Bob Hope movies from the 40s, and for that I appreciate it now more than I ever did.

But unlike a Bob Hope movie and more like a Charlie Chaplin movie, DANNY ROSE also has a genuine endearing fondness for those who are perennially two-bit, down-on-their-luck, or just plain counted-out. The film is like a very funny love letter to all the pariahs of show business. I love that final thanksgiving gathering of all Danny Rose's losers. He's the champion and savior among them. When Tina comes to his door (perhaps rejected herself), his pride wants to send her away, but his compassion for her and all things unwanted wins out in the end and he can't let her go. It's a lovely final image.

Though DANNY ROSE deals with the sadness of abandonment and the failure of not "making it", it's also a work that redefines what it means to "make it." There's a special place saved in Woody Allen's heart for those who will never "make it" in showbiz and it's in the warm recollections of old-timey comedians shooting the shit around a deli. The film's final evocation is that to be a local legend and remembered fondly among your peers in the business is to have really "made it." Having your own sandwich in a deli named after you ain't half bad neither.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Breaking the Black Silence

I’ve been meaning to a mini round-up post for days now, but have been too pissed about the Trayvon Martin case to do anything but sit in quiet fury. I’ve cooled off a bit now since things have been picking up with the case, so I figured I could do a little movie posting:

BLAST OF SILENCE is awesome. I love its grimy, pulpy feel. I love how quintessential a noir it is. I love the nasty, croaky second-person narration to Baron’s mostly blank, unassuming visage; It’s like this fatalistic voice nagging at the back of your brain. My only trouble with the film is that I wish I had watched it around Christmas time. Woulda been perfect.

I watched both Wyler’s DEAD END and Hitch’s YOUNG AND INNOCENT for my 1937 list. They both made it on with ease. Honestly, I find the “Dead End Boys” in DEAD END (same kids found in ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES) to be annoying, but the compelling presences of Bogart and Mcrea completely make up for that. The interplay between the two and the polarizing moral forces they represent within this impoverished community really propels the film. Sylvia Sidney’s in it too, and she’s all right. She’s mostly there to look beautiful and she at least succeeds at that (Anyone else think Anna Karina is a dead ringer for Sidney?). Anyway, DEAD END isn’t as good as ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, but it’s still a very good socially-conscious gangster film.

I love YOUNG AND INNOCENT. It’s one of Hitch’s best “wrong man” films. It’s a highly entertaining adventure story with great, offbeat sense of humor. Among his very best of the 30s.

I wish I had gotten to see THIS GUN FOR HIRE before posting my ’42 list. I don’t think it would have cracked the list, but I could have at least discussed it then. As I said before, ’42 is a very good year, so even though TGFH is an honorable mention, I still really like it. It’s a mean little noir with a Batman-esque poison gas plot. It’s also Alan Ladd’s breakout film, and the first of several he did with my current object cathexsis Veronica Lake. Ladd is charismatic as a kitten-loving, but coldblooded hit man. It’s easy to see why he became a star. But, to me, the real star of the picture (surprise, surprise) is Veronica Lake’s face. Worth seeing just for that alone.

I’m a huge fan of the two Busby Berkeley films I’ve seen from 1933–FOOTLIGHT PARADE and 42ND STREET–and now I can add more more to that list in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933. FOOTLIGHT PARADE is still my favorite by a mile (Cagney seals the deal), but GOLD DIGGERS is a hell of a lot of fun (I highly recommend seeing all of them). Obviously, it’s got incredible dance numbers. Berkeley’s visual genius ensures the film is a larger-than-life spectacle. But what really makes the film great is the hilarious wisecracks of Aline MacMahon, Ginger Rogers, and the beautiful Joan Blondell. Their wit and chemistry together is a sheer delight.

John is right; ROAD TO ZANZIBAR is worth seeing if only just to watch Bob Hope in a cage-match with a giant ape. It’s awesome and hilarious. However, the film’s also got some hilarious wisecrackin’ exchanges between Hope and Crosby, and is more akin to the self-aware zaniness of the subsequent ROAD pictures than the more mild ROAD TO SINGAPORE. Not as blissful as MORROCO and UTOPIA, but still pretty enjoyable.

I’ve seen several others recently, but I guess I’ll save them for another roundup soon. I'll probably do a BROADWAY DANNY ROSE post sometime this weekend.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

They Passed This Way

I loved FOUR FACES WEST. It's a really good-natured western with a big, honest heart. There are no gun shots fired; there is no violence; there are no real bad guys. It's about a good man doing something desperate when times are rough and the people he encounters and proves his goodness to. Joel McCrea's endless affability makes empathy for Ross McEwen an easy sell. We understand why he does what he does. It's a questionable thing to do, but it isn't malicious. Ross does everything he can to make up for his actions; not because he feels guilty but because that's just who he is.

What's great about the film (and highly refreshing) is that it's not fatalistic in any way, and it's not even remotely cynical. Ross's actions determine his fate, and like I said, there are no bad guys, as everyone in the film is either decent or just doing his job. I kept waiting for something cynical or mean to happen and twist the film in the opposite direction, but it never came. Marquez, a character seemingly set-up to be the baddie, proves to be a great ally and friend to Ross. The film seems to have fun subverting our expectations for Marquez (e.g. the pistol moment). Hell, it seems to have fun subverting a lot of our expectations. But it always remains true to its kind nature, and this kindness wins out in the end.

This is a film that is deeply rooted in the traditions of the western, but it has just enough unique, atypical elements to make it stand out in the genre. It's entertaining, pleasant, and absolutely worth seeing. Also, it's great to see real-life husband and wife Joel McCrea and Frances Dee team up together. No acting needed to make that chemistry work.

As to the film's director, I don't know much about Alfred E. Green. Though interestingly, I at least knew who he was before FOUR FACES WEST because he directed SMART MONEY (1931), a Robinson/Cagney gambling picture that I really like. So, that makes two films of his that I'm a big fan of. Maybe he's got some other gems just waitin' to be discovered. Perhaps it's worth finding out.

Thanks for the heads up about this one, John! I'm real glad I decided to watch it.

Now, since the sheriff in the film is none other than Pat Garrett, I thought I'd share a little ditty off of Bob Dylan's PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID soundtrack. It's one of my all time favorite Dylan songs:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Simpsons Season 9

I'm mostly with Chris on Season 9 of The Simpsons, though I might have an even less favorable opinion of it than he does. I think it has a handful of good-to-great episodes, but as a whole it's decidedly weak. Thus began the great decline.

"The Joy of Sect," where Homer and most of the Springfieldians join The Movementarians cult is far and away the best and funniest episode of the season, in my opinion. The rest of the top 8 are pretty solid, as well. I could do without the rest frankly.

I disagree with Chris on one point. I'd much rather watch a clip show of Simpson's songs than "The Principal and the Pauper." I'd rather watch BEAUTICIAN AND THE BEAST than that abomination of an episode. Same goes for "Girly Edition." Just garbage.


  1. The Joy of Sect
  2. Simpson Tide
  3. Treehouse of Horror VIII
  4. Miracle on Evergreen Terrace
  5. The Cartridge Family
  6. Bart Star
  7. Das Bus
  8. Lisa the Skeptic
  9. Lisa the Simpson
  10. The Trouble with Trillions
  11. Realty Bites
  12. The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson
  13. King of the Hill
  14. Natural Born Kissers
  15. Trash of the Titans
  16. Lost Our Lisa
  17. This Little Wiggy
  18. Bart Carny
  19. Lisa’s Sax
  20. The Last Temptation of Krust
  21. Dumbbell Indemnity
  22. All Singing, All Dancing
  23. The Two Mrs. Nahas...
  24. Girly Edition
  25. The Principal and the Pauper


I've got to get back into posting these since I have nothing else to write about.

1942 is another strong year for movies. I pretty much love all ten I have so far and really like or love all the honorable mentions. I’m still hoping to watch Carné’s LES VISITEURS DU SOIR on Hulu at some point, and I will be watching RIO RITA on TCM at the end of the month. They may alter the top ten I have, so as always, this list is still a work in progress.

One thing I should mention is that I’ve gone back and forth several times over which film I would put at number one for the year. The top three could almost be interchangeable as I could easily place any of them at number one and feel confident about it. Number four is no slouch either. And the rest of the films in the list are pretty great in their own ways. Here’s the order for now:


1. The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles)
2. To Be or Not to Be (Lubitsch)
3. There Was a Father (Ozu)
4. Cat People (Tourneur)
5. I Married a Witch (Clair)
6. Casablanca (Curtiz)
7. The Palm Beach Story (Sturges)
8. Saboteur (Hitchcock)
9. Bambi (lots of people)
10. Random Harvest (LeRoy)

HM: The Talk of the Town (Stevens), Road to Morocco (Butler), Yankee Doodle Dandy (Curtiz), Holiday Inn (Sandrich), Now, Voyager (Rapper)

I’m going with THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS at number one because, well, I think it’s a brilliant and lovely piece of filmmaking. Some critics feel that it surpasses its more famous older brother (some movie called “CITIZEN KANE”) in terms of quality; while I don’t know if I’d go that far, I do feel that AMBERSONS more than holds its own along side the majesty of KANE. Had AMBERSONS not been massacred while Welles was away in South America (those 40–50 minutes or so represent one of the great loses in film history, and perhaps the holy grail for all cinephile time travelers), it might have surpassed KANE both in terms of greatness and acclaim. Alas, we will never know. All I can say is that AMBERSONS is still a masterpiece even in its abridged form. It beautifully encapsulates an idyllic age of aristocracy when domestic pet-like idleness was the norm and the sweeping industrial transformation of this age. The scene with the “horseless carriage” in the snow is one of the most gorgeous in film history, to me; the camerawork and lighting are as great and visionary as they are in KANE; and Joseph Cotten’s presence (one of my favorite actors) just anchors the whole film. An essential one.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE, as I said above, could easily be number one this year. Brandon’s got it at number one and he’s probably right. It’s among the very funniest movies ever made. A genius work of satire and boldness, and the last film the beautiful and hilarious Carole Lombard got to make. Jack Benny's facial reactions in this film can get me in hysterics.

THERE WAS A FATHER is so incredibly touching that I was also tempted to stick it at number one. It’s one of the most tender and kind-hearted films I’ve ever had the privilege to see. Watch it if you ever feel the need for a huge dose of Ozu-ian serentiy.

CAT PEOPLE, we know, ushered in a new era of low-budget but sublimely artistic and creative horror cinema. It’s a landmark piece of filmmaking. It has two infamous scenes that are far scarier than anything I’ve seen from the present day. No exaggeration.

I’ve already raved about I MARRIED A WITCH sufficiently. Did I mention how deeply in love with Veronica Lake I am?

CASABLANCA was one of my favorite movies when I had only seen a limited amount of classic films. It’s down-and-out romanticism and sultry vibes are great bridge into the world of classic film when you’re trying to get into it. I know I appreciate it and still love it to death for getting me interested in black-and-white. However, as much as I love CASABLANCA, it’s so great to see other films that aren’t nearly as acclaimed and fall deeply in love with them too (and even more so). CASABLANCA pretty much speaks for itself though.

THE PALM BEACH STORY is probably the fastest gun in the west. It’s dizzingly quick and clever. Sturges obviously had a way with words and a brilliant mind for comedy. He was also a great innoventor, as evidenced by the film’s unique structure and ingenious opening. Love Joel McCrea too.

By the time SABOTEUR came out, Hitchcock was already a master of the “wrong man” thriller (done flawlessly in THE 39 STEPS and YOUNG AND INNOCENT). SABOTEUR feels like his attempt to go bigger and grander. It’s very fast-paced, oftentimes confusing, but always incredibly entertaining.

BAMBI is the cause of my life-long hatred of recreational hunting.

RANDOM HARVEST is a great tragic romance with real heart and tenderness. It could teach a serious lesson to all these awful Nicholas Sparks shitfests of today.

As for the honorable mentions, THE TALK OF THE TOWN is very enjoyable; ROAD TO MOROCCO is hilarious; YANKEE DOODLE DANDY is worth it for Cagney alone, even if its patriotism grows wearisome; HOLIDAY INN is ideal Christmas-time fare; NOW VOYAGER is overlong but very lovely at parts. All in all, not too shabby a year.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


I will gladly join the chorus of praise for THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY. It's absolutely gorgeous. Easily one of the best films of 2010 (I saw the Japanese version so I can't even pretend like it's a 2012 film). And to take it even further, it is, along with WALL-E and RATATOUILLE, one of the best animated films of the past 10 years or more. It's just THAT uplifting, serene, and lovable. I can't think of a single bad thing about it. From the beautiful score (yes it's the same as the American version as all the songs are in English except for the final one) and stunning visuals to the wonderful heart at its core– it's thoroughly blissful.

Like Brandon, I too dreamed of being Arrietty's size as a kid. I might have read THE BORROWERS at some point during my childhood (I remember when the awful live action version came out in '97), but I know I was definitely into reading a series of BORROWER rip-off children's books called THE LITTLES as a lad. I can remember reading those religiously in second grade. To me there was nothing more exciting than the idea of being impossible small and having everything humdrum suddenly seem gargantuan and strange. I used to often dream about riding in a little raft down a stream with my toys like Arrietty's family in the kettle at the end of the movie. I still kinda wish I were Arrietty's size (never have to worry about food, every TV suddenly becomes an IMAX theater, etc.). I guess I'll have just have to wait until Rick Moranis adopts me....

Anyway, I only mention that to indicate how much ARRIETTY made me feel like a kid again and seemed to effortlessly tap into the depths of my imagination. Usually, only films from my childhood have the power to do that, but ARRIETTY felt akin to the animated movies I grew up on. "Instant classic" may be a lame buzz-phrase, but ARRIETTY sure feels like one.

Troy a Little Tenderness

Sounds like you're having a swell time, John. I'm seriously jealous of some of the pictures you got to see. I'm sure we're all missing out.

As much as I'd like to be there with ya, I don't mind saving my money, staying home, and having my own lame Cinefest.

I'm definitely seen a few good ones lately:

John Ford's 1935 comedy THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING is an underrated gem. Completely unlike any Ford film I've ever seen (seems like more of a Sturges or Hawks picture then one of Pappy's), it's a consistently amusing and charming take on the whole "wrong man" conceit. Edward G. Robinson (a whole ten years before THE WOMEN IN THE WINDOW and SCARLET STREET mind you) really gets to flex his range by playing both an overly timid accountant and the snarling gangster who looks exactly like him. It's a great duel performance from him that carries much of the film's affability. Jean Arthur is also great as Robinson's saucy co-worker and love interest. It's a real brisk and lively picture that's sure to cheer you up. It deserves more attention.

Cukor's THE WOMEN (1939) is also a brisk and lively one. The writing is superlative and often just so damn clever. It's surely got some of the best wisecracking insults in film history this side of STAGE DOOR. I mostly loved it, but (like Brandon) have a few reservations about the ending. I understand the Code wants to advertise marital adherence as sine qua non, but Mary returning to her husband at the end just seemed like a cop-out and struck me as even being cynical. She's better off without the schmuck. I don't know...that ending bummed me out. But the rest is absolutely scintillating. Another great one in an already overcrowded year.

RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (1962), as expected, is incredible. One of the best of 1962 (good luck with that list, Brandon). I love the teaming of Randolph Scott (terrific in a generally more comedic role) and Joel McCrea (always great) as honorable old hands proving they still have what it takes and fighting against a wild and uncouth batch of brothers. The film has nothing but reverence for these aging heroes, as they ride taller in the saddle than anyone else and carry the moral weight of the film. Things really get interesting (and emotional) when a betrayal happens near the climax of the film. The ending is lovely, profound, and tragic (there's a two-shot of Scott and McCrea marching towards the final showdown that is sublime). Beautiful scenery and a host of raucous fistfights only add to what is a truly GREAT film about change and old age, honor and fraternity, violence and heroism. The film's wikipedia page claims that certain critics feel that Gary Cooper and John Wayne would have been ideally suited for the two leads. As much as I respect and revere Cooper and Wayne, I'd take Scott and McCrea any day over them. It's just too good to see them together.

I watched CHILDREN OF PARADISE again. I'm convinced it'd easily be in my top five favorite films of all time. It's pure magic, plain and simple. I cherish it like other people cherish their loved ones.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

You're absolutely right, John

You made a great point in your first post about how there is a potential discrepancy between the moral Jerome learns, and the moral we learn. I was going to respond to this point anyway, but then you beat me to it with your great second response.

I definitely maintain that to Jerome the knee is a test for him to pass. He thinks that if he touches the knee and goes no further then he is "maturing" or becoming a new man. But you nailed it when you said: "Jerome only passes the "test" because he's set the limits of the test. That's easy enough for any of us. A real "pass" would have been denying himself the knee." No question. This is an important distinction to make, and I'm glad you made it. For Jerome to refuse the knee and to abandon his rogue-ishness in the process would be a real test and one he never foresaw. Jerome is, after all, trying to play a game with Claire, like Aurora is with him. He's trying to be the author here, but he wrote his own lesson. He hasn't learned anything. The fascinating thing to me is that he thinks he has. It's just so incredibly...human. He thinks he is in control and knows everything, but there is something else working unconsciously in him and externally to him that he's completely unaware of. The film is genius in this way.

When I said that we pass the test if we see Claire the child (or the human) instead of Claire the object of desire then I was trying to refer to a potential discrepancy between Jerome's test and our test. So, I'm glad you called me out on that because it's a crucial and intriguing point to make. This is a really great film to ask questions about and raise new points, and like you wrote, it lets us draw our own conclusions. It rules.

Sorry I couldn't challenge you more to keep this going, but you're right on this point, and I gotta give credit when credit is due.

Claire's Knee

(This is a somewhat rambling post, as I was just trying to get down thoughts as quickly as possible in a Jack Kerouac style upchuck. The dashes indicate new thoughts in lieu of any continuity between paragraphs).

CLAIRE'S KNEE came at the perfect time for me. I was just in the middle of reading D.H. Lawrence’s WOMEN IN LOVE when I decided to give it a chance. Lawrence, to me, is excellent at exploring the psychology of his characters and giving them rich, interesting personalities. His prose is lyrical, beautiful, and dense; his thoughts and symbols are profound and plenteous. CLAIRE’S KNEE felt like a wonderful companion piece to Lawrence. It’s characters, symbols, lyricism–they all felt like the rich pieces of great literature.

This probably comes as no great revelation to anyone who’s seen a Rohmer film. Rohmer’s work is often called “literary,” sometimes favorably, other times pejoratively. I don’t know how he could ever be criticized for being “literary,” it is basically like criticizing him for being too intelligent. Intelligence and insight are clearly his forte. He’s brilliant at characterization, dialogue, motivation, psychology. He understands that people don’t just tick absently, but that they function according to a wealth of laws, criteria, ideas, emotions, etc. His characters are complex, and the situations they find themselves in are multifarious; there is no black-and-white in a Rohmer film (at least from what I’ve seen), only ever deepening shades of gray.

CLAIRE’S KNEE, like all of the moral tales, is about the flux of desire–desire and subsequent repudiation. In all of the moral tales, a man is tempted by one woman and chooses another (Rohmer rule of thumb: always choose the blonde). Rohmer, thankfully, isn’t interested in why we would say “yes” to desire (the answer is obvious), but why we would say no to it (the answer is much less obvious). This exploration of the “no” is what makes his tales so effective and what makes CLAIRE’S KNEE so genuinely beautiful.

-The film is flawless work of characterization. It lives and breathes like rarely any other. The characters are all incredibly alive; they talk too much, they do mean things, they act foolishly, they act mysteriously, they act strangely. The strangeness of the characters is exactly what makes them so human, and what allows us to reflect upon them.

-Jerome’s strangeness and somewhat inscrutability is really the center of the film. He’s an aging Don Juan of sorts who’s finally about to settle down and reform his ways. He meets an old flame, Aurora, and is ostensibly tempted and tested by the two teenagers (Laura and Claire) who live with her. But really Jerome is being tested by Aurora. His flirtation with Laura and his desire to caress Claire’s knee are merely parts of a deeper desire to return to his youthful days with Aurora. To caress Claire’s knee would be in essence to caress youth itself; a life never lived or a life now vanished.

-Do Aurora and Jerome deserve blame for manipulating the two teenagers in their little flirtatious game together? Yes. Their literary playfulness is irresponsible and perhaps reprehensible. But their desire to play off the two teens speaks volumes about their own desires for each other.

-Claire’s knee is a barrier, a test for Jerome. If he can touch the knee and go no further then he has overcome his youthful desire and is ready for his new adult life with his fiancee.

-We never see the fiancee because we have entered a fantasy world of youthful desire from the moment the film begins. The first shot of the film shows Jerome driving his boat underneath a small bridge with Aurora placed directly above him. This passage under the bridge is a movement towards a fantastical and impossible realm of pure desire and youthful eroticism.

-The realm the film inhabits tests Jerome’s desires and the film tests our own desires with him. When Jerome becomes too friendly with Laura on a hike and kisses her we feel slightly repulsed. There is something dangerous about this seduction. For one, we know how young Laura is, and for another, we know how much of a game it is to Jerome. Laura is basically a good kid–smart, precocious, thoughtful, quick. We desire to protect or befriend her, not to seduce her. His actions with her are all wrong.

-Claire, of course, is beautiful and an object of pure desire. She’s remarkably less interesting than Laura, but physically alluring. In some ways, we desire Jerome to touch her knee. Just to see what would happen. Just to see if it would be a catalyst or a revelation for him. When he finally gets her alone, he cruelly mistreats her, exposing her immaturity and childlike brokenness in the process. We no longer desire him to touch her knee. When he finally does, it seems like a molestation– a selfish act. His and our desire is put to a test. Jerome seems to have passed the test because he has touched the knee and gone no further. He has felt a life of youthful abandon but repudiated its flesh. Have we passed the test as well? If we can recognize Claire as the child she truly is then I think we have.

-The best thing about Rohmer is that his tests, his objects of desire, are never denied their humanity. Aurora, Laura, and even Claire are all given their moments of pure subjectivity. Aurora, throughout the film in her role as provocateur and author; Laura, in all her moments of self-revelation; and Claire, in her final vulnerable break-down. In this way, the film isn’t just a test of desire, but a test at spotting humanity, at realizing that people are more than objects in a game we play. They live and they breathe, just like CLAIRE'S KNEE.

Bringing it all back home again

Damn, we need to get these blogs going again. If April is the cruelest month then March surely is the dullest.

I've seen a few films lately, and I'll try to write a little something about each of them. No word yet on whether or not I'll ever write about CLAIRE'S KNEE or HEART OF GLASS. Sure, they are great films, but who really cares about the 70s anyway?

Let's get on with the Golden Age talk.

George Stevens made a seriously delightful political comedy in 1942 with THE TALK OF THE TOWN, but he completely outdid himself only a year later with 1943's THE MORE THE MERRIER. Both films have Jean Arthur and her adorable mousy voice but only THE MORE THE MERRIER has Joel McCrea, so it wins. He just commands everyman likability. But the film itself also a great situational comedy and an endearing romance to boot. It sets itself up nicely for situational gags by having Charles Coburn play the ultimate meddler. In an over-populated, under-housed Washington D.C. during WWII, his character moves in to Jean Arthurs' apartment and starts disrupting her excessively regimented life. When he decides to sublet half of his half of Arthur's apartment to Joel McCrea's character, the film becomes a comedic and romantic visual feast. It's probably Steven's best work, and it benefits from having a terrific cast.

Another great comedy from 1940s is Preston Struges' second film released in 1944 (after HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO)–THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK. It might be the wackiest and most blistering film he ever made, which is saying something. It certainly seems to be the most risqué. It's about a woman who comes to one morning (after a night of partying with a host of soldiers) and finds that she is both married and pregnant, but has memory of who the father/husband is. You wonder how the Code ever let this see the light of day but thankfully they did. It's another hilarious circumstantial comedy from Sturges, a man who could dream up inventive comedic conceits like no other. He was a comedic genius, no doubt. It's got a lot of his usual repertoire of actors, and is the second film he did with the underrated and underused Eddie Braken. Braken is neurotic brilliance here just like in HERO. I don't know if anyone plays flabbergasted better than he does. Fans of Sturges will also be happy to see an appearance by The Great McGinity himself, Brian Donlevy, who makes a very memorable cameo. Anyway, like most of Sturges's films, it's a blast.

Ford's THE HORSE SOLDIERS (1959), which Brandon recently recommend to me, is a great civil war film (though I watched it on Encore Westerns, it's gotta be technically "a southern," right?). It could basically be great just for its beautiful sylvan landscapes and Ford's technical mastery. I responded to that the most, but the story and action are also involving and Wayne and Holden make a dynamic pair of rivals.

Ozu's A STORY OF FLOATING WEEDS (1934) is pure silent poetry. It's the same thing as the 1959 remake, but has a different kind of visual beauty and tenderness to it. Both equally as great though.

THE LITTLE MINISTER, I think we all can agree, was pretty tedious. It wasn't that particularly well directed or edited either. It needed someone like George Cukor or William Dieterle to class it up a bit. However, it did have one great scene that we got to see over and over with all sorts of David Lynch distorting effects layered onto it. So, at least there was that. Regardless, it was a fun time at the movies with a great group of fellas.

I'm going to watch BLAST OF SILENCE and BEND OF THE RIVER soon. Also, going to watch VERA CRUZ online and RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (finally) on TCM this thursday. Got Cukor's THE WOMEN coming in the mail too. I'll try to keep the posts coming. Three so far this month just doesn't cut it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

the idleness of march

It's been a slow start to the month. I haven't been blogging as much as I'd like to be. I've been distracted by HBO Go whenever I'm not watching a movie or doing something else. Been re-watching GAME OF THRONES in anticipation of the second season. Been also taking advantage of the access to old shows I never got to see like THE WIRE and DEADWOOD. I'm eight episodes into THE WIRE and waiting to finish THRONES before I start DEADWOOD. It's great to have access to all these shows, but it's definitely made me lethargic when it comes to posting. I'll try to fix that.

I've watched two episodes of THE STORY OF FILM (thank you Ben via John). I'd definitely second everything you guys have said about it. It's enjoyable to watch if you love hearing someone talk about film. I can imagine all of us here do, so it's definitely worth watching. I'm looking forward to the rest. It's also probably helpful to anyone who wants to learn more about film theory/technique, as a lot of it so far is about breaking down composition. Thanks again for sharing that Ben and John.


In movie news, I've still been watching as many as I can. I'm seriously due for a huge roundup post or several roundup posts soon. We'll see. Here's a few quick comments for now:

Finally got to see THE TALL T (1957) and am happy to report that I loved it. It's a great western in every way, shape, and form. All of the relationships between the characters are compelling and it is often incredibly moving. Can't think of a single thing about it that I didn't like.

Watched two Hammer horror films in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958). Both really fun and gorgeous to look at.

Re-watched PSYCHO because it was on TV the other day. Every time I see it, I'm still astonished at how well the film builds suspense and tension. It's genius work. Even little things like having it downpour as Janet Leigh spots the Bates Motel for the first time just adds an unbelievable amount of atmosphere and doom. It gets under the skin and tears at ya. Love that one.

Henry Hathaway's KISS OF DEATH (1947) is a pretty awesome and emotionally engaging noir. Richard Widmark steals every scene he's in as the cackling villian. He basically plays it over-the-top, but his recklessness catches the eye and livens things up so well. He's got one infamous scene involving a woman in a wheelchair. It lives up to the hype. Victor Mature and Brian Donlevy are really solid in it as well.

NOW, VOYAGER (1942) is very good at parts, but overall kind of exhausting. It didn't help that I watched most of it late at night. I liked it well enough but didn't really love it. I would never fault the commitment of Bette Davis though. Still, I would vastly prefer the tragedy and romance of RANDOM HARVEST from the year.

CABIN IN THE SKY (1943) was Vincente Minnelli's first feature film as a director and according to TCM, "the first all-black musical in nearly fourteen years and only the fourth all-black film by a major studio since the coming of sound." It's definitely not without its stereotypes in depicting black folks, but it is still refreshing to see a film from 1943 without a single white face. Lena Horne's beauty is on full display in the film, but it's Ethel Waters that steals the show. She's got some great numbers and gives a really fine anchoring performance. Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington are in it too!

Also, If anyone missed it there at the end of the last post, I just want to reaffirm that Preminger's ANGEL FACE (1952) is fantastic and that its ending is unrivaled. Great film noir.


John's Bergman posts from long ago are the tops. Someday I should re-watch the trilogy and write my own thoughts up on it. Perhaps even a SEVENTH SEAL and WILD STRAWBERRIES essentials post is due at some point too. None of this will likely happen, but you never know. What I wish of myself and what I'm actually willing to do is a painful discrepancy indeed.

I loved John and Chris' LONELY ARE THE BRAVE thoughts. I'm really glad you guys wrote nice, long, insightful posts for us instead of just sentences of agreement. And to repay your hard work, I just want to say quickly, in a sentence, that I agree with you both. :)


I'd like to still do longer posts for CLAIRE'S KNEE and HEART OF GLASS soon. I just gotta find the ambition. I'll try to do both by the end of the week. I gotta get out of this funk.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I'm so lonesome every day

Jason, I'm glad you wrote that response because it clarified your first post really well. I was probably misunderstanding your intent with the first one, but that's usually they way it goes around here. Still, misunderstandings aren't bad; honestly, what else is there to argue about?

I can like happy endings and I can like bleak endings. It depends on the movie and the idea that is being conveyed. I did like WAR HORSE but not for its verisimiltude about war. WAR HORSE is more a fantasy film than a document of the horror of war, in my opinion. But that's why I liked it–because it was fantasy. But, I do get what you are trying to say here. Still, I maintain that the bleak ending to LONELY ARE THE BRAVE is essential and true to its story, just like WAR HORSE's sappy ending is true to its sappy story.

I get the HIGH NOON comment now. At first, I thought you were criticizing LONELY ARE THE BRAVE for being a copy of HIGH NOON, and I just didn't see it.

I guess I can't blame you for being bummed about the horse dying. I probably would have been bummed more had I not known that it was coming. This isn't to say that the ending was obvious, but that I had actually been spoiled and knew how the film ended thanks to a novel I read a while back where it is mentioned. I forget what the title of it was. Damn book.

As much as I love Brandon and would stick up for an old movie any day, I almost regretted defending him as soon as I read his "dummies" comment. haha. No, I kid; I do think he's right about the death of the individual man and wanted to mention that in tandem with my death of the western talk but couldn't fit it in. Kirk Douglas' character wants to exist as a nondescript wanderer, a free spirit without indentification or boundaries. He's a man who belongs in a time like the old west, but he's caught within a modernity where he is constantly being hemmed in. Because he recalls a western anti-hero figure I still think there is a lot about the passing of the western in this, even if Brandon doesn't agree. God forbid Trumbo write a script that could be interpreted in a way other than he intended haha. Of course there is a lot to the film about feeling individually persecuted, but also a lot about dealing with change. It's 1962; big changes were happening all over, even in the film industry. I think there is awareness for changes within the western genre and its changing appeal in the film. But, maybe I'm wrong. Also, I think Brandon meant that we were reading the film too symbolically not literally. It seems to symbolically deal with the passing of the western, but it literally deals with the passing of the individual man.


John, I need to watch ROMAN HOLIDAY again. I loved it the first time I saw it, but that was a long time ago. I'm sure it's better than I even remember.

About PORT OF SHADOWS: " Both protagonists make unselfish choices that end in personal loss. But, in the process of acting out these choices, they love and live brighter and louder and more truly than ever before. It is precisely in the moment of self-abegnation that these two are most fulfilled in their own selves." Yes! You nailed it. I don't think Carné could have said it better as to what he was trying to accomplish. I think that's why drew me to the film so strongly; the idea of characters in the murk and haze who learn to give meaning to their lives. Even if that meaning is a form of self-repudiation, it's still an expression of total immersion within life. It's like a form of doomed redemption. Anyway, great thoughts. Glad you liked it. It's one of the best around.


I watched Preminger's ANGEL FACE (1952) last night. It has to have the most shockingly brutal ending to classic film I've ever seen. No doubt about it. The Hays Code must have caught the Brandon Musa cut of this thing because I can't fathom how they let this one slip by. It's a great ending too, by the way. Really great.