Friday, September 30, 2011

The Help--Indian Edition

Having re-watched A Passage to India less than a week after The Help, I couldn't help (heh) but notice connections between the two. Both purport to be films about a marginalized social group (colonized Indians and African American women respectively), and both end up being more about whether or not whitey chooses to be an ass. Which is fine, but unavoidably places said marginalized social group into a supporting/reactive position. And it doesn't help to cast Alec freaking Guinness as the spokesman for Indian self-actualization, David Lean. Jesus.

It's really difficult for me to separate this film from what I know of Forster and where he was in his life when he was writing the novel on which this movie is based. Passage was the last book he wrote (though Maurice, way too gay to publish when he was alive, was released later, posthumously), and tries to express his homosexuality without ever at all saying that he was homosexual. So gayness and desire and freedom all get conflated with Indianness in a way that I don't think means to be racist, but ends up being problematic for the Indian characters none the less. In the film, the scene that most embodies this tendency is when Adela (who I believe is Forster's stand-in, though would never argue that in a paper because it's a minefield of fallacies) stumbles across a temple depicting erotic art, and then gets chased away by monkeys. Previously she had decided not to marry Ronny (which I think we can all agree is a good move, as he is an ass), but afterwards she is so frightened and excited and confused by the possibility of the very (sexual) liberation for which she has "quested" that she runs back to him, and has a major league freak-out at the Caves. It's not a good thing to make an entire subcontinent representative of anything, even if it is something positive like freedom, and this is the hook on which both the film and the novel get hung for me.

Along these lines, I don't like the way Victor Banerjee portrays Aziz. In the novel he is in love with Englishness, but is not as step and fetch as he appears in the film. What the movie does get right is the sexual tension between Aziz and Fielding. For Forster, I believe, in a better world they would be together. There's a lot more subtlety and ambiguity in both Mrs. Moore and the incident in the Marabar Caves in the novel, but the message ends up being the same: don't try to integrate. I think this is a pretty sensitive (if somewhat cynical) argument--rather than pretend that all people are the same, Forster, and the film, seem to suggest that there are some bridges that can't be crossed. To his credit, I think the distance isn't ontological but social: That years of prejudice prevent meaningful Anglo-Indian connection, and the breach will take years to be repaired. Aziz's retreat to the mountains and reclamation of Indian dress reminded me of the first act of Gandhi, but we never get to see what happens to Aziz after he rejects a British identity.

And I've managed to say very little about the film itself! In true Lean fashion, it's gorgeous--clean and epic and beautiful. It is my least favorite Forster novel and my least favorite adaptation, and the two are probably related. I'm curious to hear if the book recommends it for any other reason than Lean's name. What did you think, Nat? Did you find it at all racially problematic?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ugly Stepsister

Well. I don't hate it. But I don't need to see it again either.

I was as surprised as Tracy that this isn't a Merchant Ivory (though it smacks of the style and plot and costuming and pacing and quality of actor and E.M. Forster source material and and and). Not at all relevant, in checking the Merchant Ivory connection (before Tracy posted--I wasn't doubting her), I learned that Ishiguro wrote the screenplay for The White Countess (one of the few MI films I've seen) which makes me incredibly curious as to why exactly he allowed Alex Garland anywhere near Never Let Me Go because, as much as I appreciate 28 Days Later, Never Let Me Go was a d.i.s.a.s.t.e.r. But, back to this film: I've also never seen a full David Lean film (I saw most-ish of Doctor Zhivago). Anyway, also surprisingly, I've not read any Forster. None.

So, I came to the film without any source material and I think I'd rather have read the book. I can't compare it to the book but I have the feeling that the book is more complete and less frustrating in what is left out (why Adela cracks in the cave)--although I have no doubt a complete explanation is also lacking in the book, I think the book must provide a more cohesive narrative beyond the "we're going to leave this part out" approach of the film. I *think.* Perhaps I'm wrong--Tracy have you read this one?

The film was gorgeous--especially on BluRay--and well acted but problematic in its representation of race and culture. There are nods to the fact that the Brits are being racist idiots in their interactions with the Indians (the Indian women saying they understand the English woman when she asks for a translation) but as these interactions aren't explored further the Indians are left as a sideshow like a circus elephant, gorgeously bedecked, performing a trick; we clap and move on as if it were an anomaly and not the product of actual intelligence or hard work on the elephant's part (perhaps, though acknowledging the [white] trainer). And, yes, I used the elephant on purpose because of the pretty creature used to carry the ladies to the caves. But, in a film that is supposedly ALL ABOUT the Brits being complete twits in their subjugation of the Indians, the subjugation of the Indians by the film is incredibly problematic. The film does what the film says not to do--the film, in a way, is being Adela while saying it's Mrs. Moore.

The book's opinion is equally problematic. First it praises Lean's past films: "David Lean's final film finds him just as obsessed with working with the widescreen tableau that defined Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Doctor Zhivago, but A Passage to India (admittedly not shot in 'Scope) is clearly more a movie of ideas than a movie of spectacle." So . . . .  Lean's other movies were good, this one seems similar (but not done in the same way) but it's different. That tells me I should watch one of those other films rather than this one. And then the book does EXACTLY what I told my freshman composition students NOT to do not fifteen minutes before typing this (no joke): "the film by necessity loses some of the internalized thrust of the multi-perspective novel, and therefore misses some of the nuance of its characters' various motivations. Additionally, A Passage to India sometimes comes across as a story of mystery and vague sexual hysteria rather than a biting adieu to British colonialism." So . . . . we have to apologize for the movie before we can talk about why we should watch it? Not a good sign. And then we have more praise for Lean and the book says Lean's work can overcome the film's shortcomings. Um, NO! The film's shortcomings ARE Lean's work. And then we have some plot summary and ANOTHER APOLOGY about the "not as forceful or thought provoking a conclusion as it could (or should) have been."

It seems we should watch this film because David Lean directed some films the book thinks genius and this is the last one he directed before he died. Seriously, there isn't one bit of absolute praise of this film. Passage is like the homely sister of his earlier films; the one who has to be invited to the party too so mom will let the better looking siblings go out. By the way, the supposedly more comely siblings included by book are: Brief Encounter, Great Expectations, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago, which puts exactly half of his eligible work as a director in this book.

Tracy, I know you've seen this one before--did it hold up?

A Passage to India (1984)

Well color me surprised. I could have sworn up and down that this adaptation of E.M. Forster's 1924 novel was by the same director/producer team that brought us other Forster adaptations like Howards End, Maurice, and A Room with a View. But I would have been wrong. This Oscar-bait flick was NOT a Merchant Ivory production. Actually, it was written and directed by David Lean, who I'm willing to wager is going to make at least three more appearances on this blog. The novel itself is sort of pre-post-Colonial, following two British women Adela Quested (yeah, subtle last name) and her soon-to-be mother-in-law, Mrs. Moore. Both Judy Davis and Peggy Ashcroft were nominated for their respected performances, and Ashcroft won, making her the oldest woman to win best supporting actress. David Lean looked at the relationship between Brits and their colonies to great acclaim in Lawrence of Arabia, and I'm a huge fan of Forster, though his sense of geopolitics is a little constrained by the novel of manners mode which is his forte. Let's take a trip to the Marabar Caves!

Links to Review of this Film:
Tracy's "The Help--Indian Edition"
Natalie's "The Ugly Stepsister"

Friday, September 23, 2011

This is a comedy?

So Bill Jr. comes back from college, with his own sense of style, a passion for music and a girlfriend, and his father, who he hasn't seen since he was a baby (!!??), beats it all out of him. Hysterical.

There's a whole class/masculinity thing going on here that coincides nicely with Michael Kimmel's theory about the history of manhood in America. Steamboat Sr. clearly has some anxiety about money and status, and projects that onto his son, who is unacceptable because he's smart and dresses differently and is nice to babies and doesn't beat people up. I'm reading the beret as a nod towards a degraded, European-style masculinity (interestingly, the same tactic was used against John Kerry, who also is associated with Boston). When Junior does punch the sheriff, it's more depressing than anything else.

Oh, and the film is also racist. Not a big surprise, but it bears mentioning. However, I wasn't engaged enough to be outraged while watching the movie. Mostly I was sort of bored. I don't think silent films are going to be a new passion of mine. I appreciate that some of these stunts were probably quite expensive and innovative for the time, but that doesn't mean I found them riveting.

There were some things I found funny--everyone wearing a white carnation (though some nice racism in that scene as well--hiLARious that Steamboat Sr. would have a black or Jewish son), and how Junior tries to mime to his father that there's a saw in the bread. Having not a lot of experience with silent films, I was also surprised at how few dialogue cards there were. Keaton, along with all the actors, has to do a lot with the body, and it's interesting to see where Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell, et. al. came from. The female lead was also a lot prettier than the Betty Boop-esque poster makes her out to be.

So what's the book's verdict? And what the hell kind of storm was that? You'd think the paper might have mentioned that a friggin' monsoon was coming through River Junction.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Little to No Steam

Steamboat Bill, Jr. doesn't, um, float my boat (I know, sorry!) but it's through no fault of it's own. I can't fault a film for being silent when that was the only option. I'm just not into silent films.

I appreciate Buster Keaton as a physical performer (and, now that I've read Wikipedia's entry, I'd like to read a biography on him--his life, especially his stint as a child performer and various marriages, sound fascinating) and he's at least partially inspired basically every single tiny bit of physical comedy on film since. And, well, I love physical comedy more than just about anything else (me dying with laughter equals watching this show).

But, what doesn't quite work for me is the plot that is really extraneous to the physical comedy and actually takes away from the comedy. As evidenced by the WipeOut links above, I'll take pratfalls, falling buildings, banana peels, whatever you have to throw at a person (quite literally) without a plot. The plot here is thin and much much much too insignificant to carry the whole film. But, again, that may be due to silent film's limitations.

And the book says . . . . basically that Keaton was a fab director and actor and masterful physical comedian. It cites the "typhoon" scene as magnificent; agreed but, psssst, hey book, typhoons don't happen anywhere near Mississippi much less on a river, just FYI. Also cited is the hat scene in which the camera is played to as if a mirror. And, of course, the playful way in which the film upends ideas of masculinity and the way Keaton offers a "'modern' and playful awareness of his comic persona" are, according to the book, "Magic."

It seems we have another Keaton coming up soon so we'll have a point of comparison whether we like it or not.

Tracy, you do a lot of masculinity stuff--how does this one stack up?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)

Contrary to what both Nat and I thought when Steamboat Bill Jr.'s number came up, this film is NOT a cartoon. Instead, it's our first silent feature-length movie-movie (Nanook being a doc). And it's a comedy, starring legendary Buster Keaton, who I know only from the Johnny Depp homage in Benny and Joon. Apparently, we're going to be treated to one of the most-famous and oft-quoted stunts in movie history, where a house falls over Keaton, with the attic window providing the narrowest of escapes for the actor's body. He performed the stunt himself, and could have been killed if he were standing slightly off his mark. I have a sneaking suspicion that might be the only dramatic moment. I'm not yet sold that silent films can be truly laugh-out-loud funny, but I'd really like to be proven wrong!

Links to Review Posts of this Film:
Tracy's "This is a comedy?"
Natalie's "Little to No Steam"

Friday, September 16, 2011

Like it but just don't love it

Even the second time around, I am not entranced by H&M, though there's a lot about it I really like. For example: the plot. When I describe this movie to myself, it sounds like a movie I would absolutely adore. Another example: the soundtrack. Cat Stevens at his make-me-cry best. One more: Bud Cort's performance. I think he's pretty genius, but I have a soft spot for very depressed boys with very good breeding (cf., Holden Caulfield). And it does make me laugh--the "dates," the transformation of the jaguar into a hearse, the witty opening sequence, etc.

But . . . parts of it just feel draggy to me, and other parts cartoonish. I'm glad they don't oversell Maude as a Holocaust survivor to explain her--in fact, the movie seems to have a pretty rabid distaste for psychoanalysis--so maybe it's sort of a fable? I just can't get a handle on the way the story is told, which makes me feel disconnected from the film in a way that I think is fatal to really psychotically loving it the way some people do.

I think it is worth seeing, since it's such a cult classic. Is that what the book says? And also fun to see Tom Skerritt in a bit role as the thwarted motorcycle cop.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Trying too hard to be subversive

I don't dislike this one. But I don't particularly like it either. It's just . . . eh. And I can't quite pinpoint what's keeping me from making an actual statement of preference so here are a lot of thoughts.

What I liked:
1. I can see how this is a precursor for the super dark comedies I so dearly love and for the witty, quirky movies I mostly love (Wes Anderson, I'm looking at you--like, seriously, you stole your wardrobe from Harold).
2. I like the idea of someone being obsessed with death learning to love life from a crazy granny.
3. The saluting sleeve of Uncle whomever. Cracked. Me. Up.
4. The mother. She was the best thing about the film. And, was it just me or was she not so terrible? We don't see anything she's done to deserve such a whack job of a kid. I needed to see more of her being truly horrible to make me sympathetic to Harold's suicide stunts. Otherwise, I'm TOTALLY sympathetic to her plight (see: Life lessons that were reinforced 1 and 3 below).
5. Tom Skerritt as incorrectly credited motorcycle cop.

What I found creepy:
1. Harold. Everything he did.
2. This particular May January-December relationship. I'm BEYOND thrilled that the director didn't get that sex scene he wanted.
3. Harold.
4. Harold.
5. Seriously. Harold. He looked like he was going to kill someone. Actually, him killing someone would have made him less creepy because then at least the look would be explained.

What I found extraordinarily extraneous:
1. The concentration camp tattoo. Either you do something with it or you don't. You can't just flash that ink and leave it be. Pay it heed or leave it out. Simply flashing it and a look from Harold actually lessens the impact and the significance; Maude's experience is reduced to the tattoo she's been forced to bear. In a movie that's ultimately about expanding horizons and exploring, that's terribly reductive.

Life lessons that were reinforced:
1. I should never have children.
2. I want main characters to kill themselves entirely too often.
3. I should never have children.

Edited to add: I've had a lot of time to stew on this one. I watched it much earlier than Tracy and then waited a bit to add what the book said and still had a bit of time (which is fine--we seem to go back and forth about who takes longer to watch these films). Anyway, I don't like it. What doesn't work for me most glaringly is the romantic relationship. And, not just because it's creepy or I'm not "liberated" enough (see below in the book summary). I don't like it because it's not given the narrative heft it requires to function properly within the plot or to be credible as an actual romantic relationship to be taken seriously rather than another one of Harold's morbid games. While, yes, I believe the platonic, basically familial relationship, I do not for one second see the sexual or even slightly romantic attraction build and, given Harold's penchant for trying to blow his mother's mind (especially considering his spectacular shunning of the "computer dates") and his predilection for the macabre, the romantic/sexual relationship seems just another stunt, another notch in his how-creepy-can-I-be belt as his suicide "attempts" become less and less impactful. The movie falls apart with the sex act because it undermines all of the progress Harold made toward becoming a functioning member of society (yes, even as he actively rebels against such norms--hello there, Foucault!). And, the film itself enacts that same problem because the sex act seems included in order to shock the audience whether it actually fits in the film or not.

The book says this is a "genuine" cult film (scoffing at the usual use of the term as a "marketing stunt") in which the "peculiar chemistry" of the two lead actors "made them an engaging, unforgettable romantic couple, challenging the taboos of youth, aging, sex, death, and happiness." Ok--I can buy that but I'm not agreeing that any of it is a good thing. I think I'd rather forget, frankly. But, what I can get on board with is this: "this challenge not only is a run-of-the-mill counterculture pose against traditional patriarchal society, but its even more aggressively directed against the contemporary youth-quake" which is "primarily made by reversing the 1960s concept of youth as the vital, mold-breaking counterforce to the inevitable physical and spiritual deadness affecting everybody over age 30."

The book continues this line of thought by stating that Harold is the "corpse because of his inability to break free from an oedipal fixation with his cold mother." I didn't catch any Oedipal undertones, mainly because I felt like he had her attention, just not in whatever way he desired. Tracy? Is that just my lack of concentration in the psychological in academic terms?

Further baffling me, the book states, "it is their sexual liaison that is the key to this film, revolting as it seems to several of the characters and possibly to many in the audience--even those who think of themselves as 'liberated'." Um. No. I don't particularly mind a relationship between a woman "60 years older" than the man (or vice versa for that matter). That's not what bothers me. What bothers me is the relationship between THESE two people, regardless of age. Even if they were both 16, I'd find the relationship creepy.

Finally, "Harold and Maude rids us of all such cultural preconceptions" by giving us the "insight that death is ultimately what gives life meaning." So, why then do we see Harold playing the banjo and dancing at the end. It seems the time spent in Maude's life is what gave him life and gave his life meaning. Without her life impacting his, her death would mean nothing other than another random funeral to attend.

And (edited to add), Harold's spiritual awakening comes moments too late (if he has one). Harold actively and completely selfishly robs Maude of the dignified, post-birthday party death she's planned for who knows how long (but definitely longer than she'd known Harold) by rushing her to the hospital to attempt to save her life. Maude doesn't get the death she's planned or she deserves; instead, she dies in a hospital no doubt being poked and prodded by doctors while hooked to machines which is vastly different than simply going to sleep after a dinner highlighted by organic champagne in her marvelous gypsy wagon of a home.

More or less, I'm not buying what this film or the book is selling. It seems to me that this film has reached "cult" status because it's different, slightly shocking, and incredibly difficult to like. Tracy, did you get it?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Harold and Maude (1971)

This was one of my grandfather's favorite movies. And I've seen it before, and loved my grandfather my whole life, and I still don't get it. I'm not only baffled that Grampy dug it so much (he was always more of a Charles Bronson type), but when I watched it several years ago, it didn't resonate with me the way it does for so many people I love and respect. And there's a lot to recommend this film--it's an unconventional love story between a suicidal teen and a bon vivant geriatric, and its comedy is pitch black. There would be no "Heathers" without "Harold and Maude." I think it might be one of those you either worship it or you don't feel it flicks. But it's a serious cult favorite, and the AFI has showered it with all sorts of love, so I'm really hoping to like it better the second time around. I feel like being meh on Harold and Maude seriously damages any hipster/cinephile cred I might hope to someday wield.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Nants ingonyama bagithi baba

In case you don't recognize that:

That first line is really all I can think about when I hear "The Lion King." Well, that and the baby lion being thrust toward the sky.

We're not re-watching because the DVDs have been yanked for the super special 3D theater release in a week or so, Tracy's tiny town doesn't actually really get movies :) and I refuse to watch movies in 3D. I actually think it's probably one of the prettier Disney's and probably laid important groundwork for all of Disney's subsequent eco-films but the cheese factor of this one is kind of overwhelming for me. But, for an animated film it's classic Disney quality so that means it's pretty good if racially and gender-role problematic; but what fairy tales aren't?

So, our slave-master says, it's the Disney film that followed first animated film to earn a Best Picture Oscar nod and mixed traditional and computer animation. Seriously. The first (long) sentence of the entry praises Beauty and the Beast which came out three years earlier. The books seems to miss that Aladdin came out in 1992. Ooops. The book ranks this one "alongside other tearjerkers like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and, of course, Bambi" Ooooh. Well, I can't watch Snow White for her voice. And I haven't seen Bambi since I was wee. Anyway, we continue with "This animated adventure works so well because it has all the elements of a terrific movie and plenty of action and adventure" and "the lion cub scenes appeal the small children and the impressive animation causes even adult jaws to drop." Classic story, Elton John catchy tunes, tear-jerker moments, vocal comedy from a cast of stars, and a demand for tissues with the "video or DVD of the film" (oh my, we've dated ourselves haven't we, book?) round out the praise for the film.

I don't have any qualms with any of that (other than the fact that no one sells videos anymore). Lion King just isn't my favorite. This one is

But we get to watch that one later :)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are a meerkat and a warthog

At least I think that's the way the loose Hamlet retelling works in The Lion King. Since the 3-D theatrical re-release is preventing us from watching it again (not that my heart is breaking), I'll have to go on what I remember from when I saw this in the theatres the first time around.

I probably would have re-watched this one if possible, though it's not a favorite, even in the Disney blockbuster category, just to get the taste of "The Butcher" out of my mouth. But I do have trouble getting with 100% animal stories. Like, it's weird for me to see Simba and Nala (was that the lioness's name?) flirt and whatnot. In other words, I am not feeling the love tonight. I can anthropomorphize with the best of them, but it's sort of like my problem with the Cars franchise. And I don't get why some animal species are inherently evil. I mean, what makes hyenas the bad guys? And as I recall, all the hyenas are played by voices of color? Like Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin? Am I remembering right? If so = problematic.

I do remember really liking the Simba is a lion cub parts of the movie. The animators got the body and face of a cat exactly right. When the monkey prime minister or priest or whatever he is holds the baby Simba up for the jungle hordes to bow to ("the CIRcle of LIIIIIFE"), he goes all limp and boneless just like Quincy does when I carry him in from outside. I also thought the Hamlet elements were cool, and I dug Jeremy Irons's Scar. The music was fun as well. In fact, thanks to writing this post, I now have "Hakuna Matata" stuck in my head.

So, I'm guessing the book wanted us to watch this because it was really popular? Did it make any strides in animation technique? And as I wrote in the blurb, I will always be grateful to this movie because it, in a roundabout way, led to Julie Taymor getting steady work.

"The Lion King" (1994)

Can you feel the love tonight? This installment of Docs on Films' love comes just in time for our first animated feature's (totally unnecessary) re-release in 3D. That's right, it's the "The Lion King"! The theme song might just as well have read, can you spot the Hamlet references? We've got a (lion) king (voiced by James Earl Jones, of course) meeting a suspicious end; we've got a young princeling, Simba, (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas [remember him! a proto-Bieber!] and Matthew Broderick), unwilling to embrace his powers; and we've got a nefarious and scheming uncle (Jeremy Irons, slumming). Thank god this Disney blockbuster decided to stick with the tried-and-true formula of wacky sidekicks (hi Nathan Lane!) rather than playing out its plot's full Oedipal implications. A welcome break from "Taxi Driver" and "The Butcher," but not nearly my favorite Disney. I wish we could have engineered a field trip to watch the Broadway musical instead!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Four funerals and a wedding

I'm beginning to suspect I don't like French New Wave films. Or Italian neo-realist films. But my burgeoning cinematic xenophobia is grist for another post. As for "The Butcher," I was disappointed. It was such a great premise! A serial killer invades a small town in France, and the prime suspect is the new butcher in town. But see, I wasn't really expecting the killer to be the butcher. I thought that was too easy. Apparently, it was just easy enough.

I just didn't get this movie. Is it supposed to be about woman's attraction to primitive man? That pisses me off, on behalf of women and men. An anti-pastoral? Wasn't well realized enough. An et in Arcadia ego devil in the white city indictment of small towns? I'd rather watch "Blue Velvet." And that's saying something.

It did get legitimately creepy around minute 70 . . .  and stopped being so around minute 80. I'm not sure if the crappy and incomplete subtitles left me cold, or I can't even get with the "accessible" French New Wave. I just need more characterization and drama. Are we supposed to judge Helene for swearing off of love? Is that what brought Paul into her life? How do I make myself care about anything other than the the clothes in this movie?

So, two questions. The first: What sayeth the book? The second: Did she take her students to The Cave of Forgotten Dreams on a field trip?

So I Almost Kind of Sort-of Dated an Axe, er, Switchblade Murderer

*Sigh* French film and I just do not agree with each other. Most. Boring. Films. Ever. Seriously. Have you read the summary for The Butcher? Sounds interesting, right?! Nope. French directors seem to have the uncanny talent of making everything more boring than anything I've ever encountered. And, remember, I read student papers for a "living" so I read damned boring stuff all the time. I always think we've watched a MILLION French films for this project but, no, we've only watched a handful; they're just so boring they count for like twelve each.

I don't even want to talk about this one. But I will say that the strange cat sounds right around the "let me in to explain why I'm a killer" scene REALLY upset Mo.

So, the book says that we should watch this film because it's a sudden departure from Chabrol's (the director's) earlier films in which he "was . . . the cruel portraitist of the French bourgeoisie, drawing with dark ink and a ferocious sense of humor the complexities lying beyond the moral common law . . . " blah blah blah. But with this one "when Chabrol seemed to be quite obviously in the grip of History, he took an incredible step back, to get . . . a broader comprehension of the world as a whole, beyond good and evil" by "merging two genres that seem to exclude one another, the murder story and the romance."

Um . . . so Chabrol never saw any film noir? Or Hitchcock?

And, we get to watch a second Chabrol film at some point in this little game.

Now, Tracy, the only interesting thing I could manage from watching this film:

Death is not an option. Which French film from this project would you rather live in?
A. Last Year in Marienbad
B. La Captive
C. Wages of Fear
D. The Butcher

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Le Boucher (1970)

So we're following up "Taxi Driver" with a film that seems just as dark, but Frencher. I haven't seen this one so I'm trying to avoid summaries with spoilers, but it seems that a young, naive schoolteacher befriends the local butcher, and then a series of women in the town start dying. Draw your own conclusions. I have done a bit more digging on the director, Claude Chabrol. He is considered part of the French "New Wave" (con), but is thought of as "the mainstream one" (pro). Seems promising, as he's also known for his thrillers. As we discovered with "Last Year at Marienbad," it's damn difficult to make a suspenseful movie if your aesthetic devalues conventional narrative and characterization. Here's hoping that "The Butcher" is creepy and unpredictable, and doesn't involve too much animal torture!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

This ain't Woody Allen's Manhattan

So I'm really, really glad I re-watched "Taxi Driver." The first time I saw it I a) didn't know enough about noir; and b) clearly wasn't paying attention. So in the first place, I missed all the dark wit of making Travis Bickle *seem like/pretend to be/feel he is* Sam Spade (his profession allows him to move between the highs and lows of the city with the freedom of a PI; has the whole knight-in-shining-armor complex that threatens to undo Spade) and have him *act like* a cross between Rorschach from "Watchmen" and Marky Mark from "Fear." And because I had TOTALLY FORGOTTEN THE ENDING, for most of the movie I thought the film was going to be about the impossibility of enacting a hardboiled heroic masculinity in a degraded modern (small-m) world, which would make it a Modern (capital-m) text. But no, the coda makes all the difference. By having Travis be read as precisely the type of hero he thinks he is but really isn't, it's actually postmodern! (I think--Nat is the pomo expert of our shared brain).

I was a little perplexed by the toxic and pervasive undertone of racism of the movie. Is it supposed to be another marker of how deeply tense and fraught the city is? Does it produce/encourage Travis's descent into madness? It seemed a little throwaway to be doing this kind of work.

So now, two questions: What sayeth the book? and Who buys popcorn at a porno? Oh, and LOVED Marty's cameo as the creeper husband who extols the bloody virtues of a .44.

Not Talkin' to Me

I'd not seen this one before--much to the chagrin of many a person--and I've actually seen very little classic Scorsese. For me, Scorsese is The Last Waltz turned up loud. The others I've seen are Casino, Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, and Shine a Light). But, now that I list the films of his I've seen, I can tell you pacing and character are a problem for me with Scorsese films--save the music docs which are different beasts altogether. I did like Casino and The Aviator; thought Gangs was pretty; despised Departed.

I came to the film with very few expectations. I knew the classic "talkin' to me" line because I don't live in a cave and knew people were up in arms over Jodie Foster's child prostitute. I kind of gathered that the film would be gritty. Other than that, I had no clue what the film was about.

Now that I've seen it, I'm not sure what the film is about. I get that Bickle is a disturbed man; that's clear from the moment you see his face on screen. I get that the film depicts his perceived ascent to heroism and his plot to clean up New York. But I don't get who Bickle is and I don't think his particular brand of crazy is explored enough. I get the noir leanings and the ode to the gritty underbelly of NY (versus the intellectual love story that is the oft portrayed NY) and even the grindhouse nod of the shoot-out scene. What I don't get is why I'm supposed to care about this film. I don't get what it does that is supposed to make me want a poster on my wall (note: we do not have movie posters on our walls; we need the space for vintage circus posters) and declare my undying love of Marty. Overall, I felt robbed of information because the movie had enough time to give me this information (rather than, say, a shot of an empty hallway while Bickle is on the phone) and, given the voice-over diary entries and letters, ample opportunity. Bickle's psycho diary has to be the least interesting in the history of psycho diaries, by the way.

I can't say I disliked it really. But I certainly wouldn't recommend it and probably won't watch it again. I will say that this one is probably one to see before I died just because sooooooooo many people want to talk about it as a landmark in cinema.

And the book says: "We love Marty" with 7 films from the director (Mean Streets, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed in addition to Taxi Driver). Other than that, strangely, what I said above but with a good spin. Apparently, the book thinks it great that the film "proceeds like a film noir told from the perspective of an anonymous stranger standing at the corner of a murder scene, peering over the police tape at the shrouded body splayed on the street." I appreciate that aspect of noir quite a bit actually but this film asks more of the viewer than noir. I feel with noir the audience generally has enough information. Maybe it's just me? The book continues, "it's hard to say if Bickle's inadvertent triumph is actually a tragedy. Because the film has done such a successful job wobbling the moral compass, we're left desperately grappling for impossible answers." I wouldn't say the film wobbles any moral compass. Yes, Bickle saves a young girl from a troubling life and dire future but one good act does not make him a good man. He's still severely unstable, a murderer (of what, 4 men?), a stalker, an attempted assassin, and a general creep. That's a whole hell of a lot of the "not good" side of the morality scale with only "saved Iris" on the good side. That scale is not moving much less wobbling.

Tracy? You'd seen this one before and, I think, generally more tolerant of movies like this--can you tell me why I should care?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Taxi Driver (1976)

You talkin' to me? YOU TALKIN' TO ME? I think this film should be included in the 1001 for the sole reason of putting the previous famous quote in context. Martin Scorcese's portrait of Travis Bickle's descent into madness also boasts an Academy-Award nominated performance by thirteen-year-old Jodie Foster, doing things that made people question the ethics if not the legality of Scorcese casting someone so young. The cast also features Harvey Keitel (of course) and wtf appearances by Albert Brooks and Cybil Shepherd. Taxi Driver is Marty at his late '70s best, and was absolutely *drenched* in nominations and awards. We knew Scorcese was coming. And this won't be the last we see of him, I reckon.