Friday, August 3, 2012

The Cringing Game

Hey Brandon. Thanks for the response post. I've somehow found the inspiration to write at night. Here are some thoughts back at cha:

Well said about L’ATALANTE. I wouldn’t have been able to put it better myself. Your comment about a director knowing exactly where and when to shoot reminds me of a great quote by Emeric Pressburger which goes, “I think that a film should have a good story, a clear story, and it should have, if possible, something which is probably the most difficult thing - it should have a little bit of magic...Magic being untouchable and very difficult to cast, you can't deal with it at all. You can only try to prepare some nests, hoping that a little bit of magic will slide into them.” Directors like Vigo were just the best at preparing those nests.

Good call on the humor and risqué qualities of THE SCARLET EMPRESS. In addition to being a very rich film to look at (ridiculously gaudy and beautiful images), it’s also a very entertaining one to get caught up in. I think it has my favorite Marlene Dietrich performance too. The way she plays shy, coy, sultry, and commanding all in one role is really something to see. Here’s hoping I can see this one again sometime soon.

When I said that you aren’t as big an Ozu guy as I am, I didn’t mean it in a rude or supercilious way. I just meant that I seem to unconditionally love everything he made while you are a bit more grounded in your appreciation for him. I wasn’t suggesting that you didn’t like him. I’m aware that you are a fan. I’ve seen your ’49 list my man :)

For me, the humanism of A STORY OF FLOATING WEEDS is the same sort of humanism in all Ozu films–and it is all in the way it is shot. Ozu shoots his characters with love, even if they are pitiful, as in this film. The moments he captures of them are usually mundane, but to me they seem thoughtful and reflective on human behavior. You must notice that Ozu loves shooting at an extreme low angle. This way the characters within the frame appear massive, emphasizing their importance. He also loves to situate his characters very distinctly within a given space and surround them with everyday objects (always meticulously arranged within the frame). Ozu cross cuts between the outside world, transient objects, and his characters because he is thinking deeply about everything he sees. Notice too how he loves to shoot conversation by breaking the 180 degree rule. He adheres to his own 360 degree rule where the characters are filmed from every view possible, and when they speak they look directly into the camera. Ozu loves to place his characters in space (establishing shots) and then get in between them so that we experience all aspects of them. It’s very personal and humanistic filming, while also considering things that are outside human relation.

I’ve never taking a class on Ozu. I just discovered that I loved everything about his directorial style when I watched LATE SPRING and EARLY SUMMER back in December. I started reading more about him and watching most of his films. I think it was Ebert who said that to see one Ozu film is to catch a glimpse of them all. I’ve probably seen 15 of his films by now so I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on his style and what it means to me. If you ever want to, we can sit down and watch an Ozu film together sometime and I can provide running commentary for you. It’s hard for me to express what is great about his compositions without showing you the images themselves. I will just say for now that I love how Ozu meticulously sets up every shot and everything in it to convey meaning/his thoughts. He creates tableaux and his unmoving camera lets you discover the image for yourself. There’s a richness and plethora of meaning to each of his shots if you sit and contemplate them for a while. I may just be excessively nerdy over this sort of thing, but it’s important to understand that I’m also a lover of Kubrickian symmetry. Nothing in cinema quite does it for me as a still frame carefully composed and generously detailed. Ozu and Kubrick are such favorites of mine because, with an image, they do not record; they paint.

Anyway, I’m glad you liked A STORY OF FLOATING WEEDS and I honestly don’t mind if it’s not on your list. I slightly mind this though (in good humor, of course): “I think there is perhaps a wall built around the man that many are afraid to chip away at.” Perhaps, but I think there are so many directors that you could say the exact same thing about–why single out Ozu? The cult of auteurism has made many idols. Besides, this is the age of the Internet my friend; everything has been chipped away at.

I would proudly be as unhip as humanly possible in loving the entire THIN MAN series with you, even THE THIN MAN GOES HOME. Also, there’s certainly nothing wrong with liking AFTER THE THIN MAN more. It’s just as great as the first.

I’d like to see THE BLACK CAT again as well.

The early Lubitsch musicals (like the Berkeley ones) are great bits of fun and fresh air alongside the other films that came out at the same time. They really stand out in the crowd. But, I’d obviously agree that his later films are more than preferable. Nothing beats NINOTCHKA, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, TO BE OR NOT TO BE, and HEAVEN CAN WAIT.

“The film itself is pure Ford and I think you are wrong about this one.” That’s fine. I admitted to John my own personal failing over A FAREWELL TO ARMS and have no problem admitting it here. I’ve been able to look past much stereotyping and marginalization of black folks in a host of other films from the era, but I guess I wasn’t in the right mood to do the same for JUDGE PRIEST. As soon as Jeff Poindexter started talking right in the opening of the film, I was reminded of Malcolm X’s autobiography where he discussed feeling profoundly embarrassed and ashamed of Butterly McQueen in GONE WITH THE WIND. I just couldn’t shake how awfully racist the portray of Poindexter was (he’s the epitome of the indigent and ignorant black jester). The film just must have caught me at a bad time. I didn’t have the patience for it. I’ll be sure to give it another chance sometime. I don’t doubt my own inconsistency/unfairness here over it.

The KILLING THEM SOFTLY trailer looks real good. I think the only film I’d actually go see in theaters before THE MASTER is LAWLESS. Maybe that will be our next one to discuss.

Good chatting with ya.

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