Friday, September 14, 2012

Autumn of the Patriarch

Thought it would be good to write a response to John's recent post, and also catch up on some of the film's I've watched lately.


THE LADY KILLERS and YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER probably deserve four stars at least. I certainly don't get any pleasure out of this more ruthless rating system when it comes to old movies. I want to give them all four or five stars. So, you can take solace in that if need be. Those are both fine films.

I remember you saying at Brandon's that you had bought an X-FILES season. I think I used that as the impetus to finally start watching the show because I'd been flirting with the idea for a while. "Solid, just not great" is a perfect description for what I've seen from it so far. It's mostly enjoyable. Maybe after we both finish the first season we can interact on it a little more.

Despite it not being as funny as some of the seasons that would follow, I still really like season 1 of THE SIMPSONS. Would gladly watch it any day over every season post 9.

I started THE BIG COMBO, as well. Really impressed so far myself.


I found John Ford's 3 GODFATHERS (1948) to be just the tonic I needed after V/H/S. I couldn't tell you how much I appreciated the patience and simple beauty of its camerawork after sitting through two hours of found footage shaky cam. Some have called the film overly sentimental, but I found it endearing. There's an innocence to it that you just find so rarely in films nowadays.

I also watched Ford's THE HURRICANE (1937) recently. Exciting film with a tremendous final set piece that bears a striking resemblance to MOONRISE KINGDOM. John, I think you'd really like this one.

Call me a sap if you want, but I was very moved by Elia Kazan's A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (1945). The direction is exquisite, as well as the performances. And there are some intimate and emotive scenes between the family in it that are very affecting. It's a warm and compassionate film.

Fritz Lang's HOUSE BY THE RIVER (1950) is a really solid gothic crime drama. In addition to having some striking visuals and a macabre tone, it evocatively uses its setting as a metaphor and mirror for moral degradation and its consequences. Pure filmmaking.

Thanks to John, I've finally been able to see Robert Bresson's THE DEVIL, PROBABLY (1977). It's definitely a great, great film, but a smoldering one that I'm sure would turn off many people. In this article, the legendary Richard Hell calls it "the most punk film of all time." Hell is a much better authority on punk than I am, but it's still easy to see why he takes this stance. It's a disillusioned and angry film, with a palpable disgust for institutions, mores, and industrialization. It also ruminates very heavily on nihilism. It's a brutal and oftentimes meandering film shot in Bresson's typically austere style. Decidedly, it's not for everyone, but it only further solidified Bresson's genius to me. Looking forward to A GENTLE WOMAN next, and hopefully FOUR NIGHTS OF A DREAMER soon.

In addition to my usual film watching, I'm also making a concerted effort to experience more female directors, so I've started with the films of Agnes Varda. CLÉO FROM 5 TO 7 (1962) is a smart and devastating film about confronting death, with frequent reminders about the anxiety of one's own body image to increase its sense of self-examination. It's a highly probing work. Glad to join its fan club with Brandon, John, and Chris. LE BONHEUR (1965) looks completely gorgeous, and on the surface, it seems oddly detached from its subject matter, but it is really quite condemnatory and wryly satirical the more you reflect on it. The main character lives a halcyon life with his loving wife and two adorable kids but selfishly pursues a mistress to double his sense of happiness. An unexpected event happens towards the end of the film that leads to the films deliberately apathetic denoument. I won't say what it is, but the fact that we don't see it speaks volumes about the film's underlying censure. The whole film is about the main character's (male/patriarch) perspective. It's about how he tries to double his sense of happiness and pleasure without considering how it would affect the happiness of his wife or anyone else he is near. The lack of perspective from the wife serves as a silent, off-screen critique of male chauvinism and solipsism. The final image, as Amy Taubin points out in her great criterion essay, is a very subtle further dig at these ideas. Brandon's right, Malick has to be a huge fan of this one. It's one of the few films I've seen before his to contemplate nature in relation to humans so deeply.

I really can't get enough Rohmer. I've been enthralled by every one of his films that I've seen so far. LA COLLECTIONNEUSE completes the Moral Tales for me, and it's a great way to go out. I look forward to watching it and the rest of the tales over and over again through the years so that I can bask in their richness and absorb something new each time. They are a brilliant film cycle. I thank John for introducing me to them, and to Rohmer. He's easily one of the most underrated filmmakers of all time, even amongst cinephiles. He's already my favorite French New Waver. Ben will be pleased to hear that I watched PAULINE AT THE BEACH in addition to LC recently. It's a typically great film from Rohmer. Also, typical of a Rohmer film, it's very difficult to write about because too much is said in the film to just limit it to a few sentences or a paragraph. I will say that it reminded me most of CLAIRE'S KNEE (still my favorite of his) just for the mix of adult folly with youthful precociousness. Still, a bountiful film in its own right.
John, do you own any other Rohmer films you could share with me? At this point, I'd gladly see 'em all.

I finally got to watch IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT again. I forgot how sharp it is (could easily be a Sturges film) and just how damn funny the hitch-hiking scene is. I laughed out loud. What a great film.

I guess that just about does it for now. In one week – THE MASTER. A three year wait becomes a reality. Have I mentioned I'm excited for it?

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