Saturday, April 21, 2012

Silver Lode (1954)

I have a history with this movie, though I've never seen it. Last year, at the Pop Culture Association conference in San Antonio, my dad and I went to a panel that was discussing one of his favorite films, "The Americanization of Emily." Another presenter was talking about this movie, specifically its parallels to and critique of McCarthyism. Which is all well and good, except the clip he showed WAS THE MOST ABSURD SCENE IN THE HISTORY OF CINEMA. It was a "posse," running ridiculously down the street, followed by two "gunslingers" firing at each other from a distance of about five feet, and missing badly. My dad and I TO THIS DAY make fun of this scene. And now, Nat and I are going to watch the whole damn thing. Of course, the presentation also included an interview with Martin Scorsese, who expressed unfettered admiration for the film. So I guess it could go either way.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Chat: Kind Hearts and Coronets

Natalie:  J's review: "Tim Burton should remake this."
Tracy:  HAH!
Yes. He might actually inject some much needed humor into the proceedings.
Natalie:  Yeah, I liked the idea of the film but I really wanted it to be more blatantly funny rather than me having to force humor on it.
Tracy:  And the situations were begging for humor! Shooting a hot-air-balloon-riding Alec Guinness in drag out of the sky with an arrow? How do you not sell that scene?
Natalie:  I know! I guess we could chalk it up to British understatement but I think even a tiny bit of more obvious humor would have gone a long way.
Tracy:  Yeah. And I think the voiceover narration really deflated the thing of any sort of narrative drive. I know it was an adaptation, but him telling us everything, sometimes as it was happening, was distracting and sort of tamped down any energy that might have built.
Natalie:  I didn't even think of that but I agree. Showing us more rather than telling would have helped. And I wasn't super impressed with the million roles played by Alec Guinness. They all looked exactly the same and some didn't speak so . . .  and his portrayal of a woman was really mannish.
Tracy:  I know! I thought it was going to take a lot more time to actually make his way through the Guinnesses (Guinnessi?), and they would each be more fully individuated characters. The plot of this was much better than the execution. Which brings us back to J's genius idea for a remake. Who should be Alec Guinness and play everyone? Depp?
Natalie:  YES! That's what I was thinking. Depp gets to be everyone and I think because of technology we can even have Depp play the protagonist. But, with any Burton film, who does Helena get to be?
Tracy:  Hmm. I guess she's going to be the tart-ish love interest? Who could have used a bit more crazy. Or maybe the mom? Who should play the refined wife? Depp would be a gorgeous lady Agatha, by the by.
Natalie:  Oh, right, I guess she can actually pull off tart. She's just been so frumpy lately that I forget that. Ha! He would be a gorgeous lady Agatha. He'd just go full out for that. And if we're doing that gag, Depp should be ALL of the D'Ascoyne's, not just the old ones. Mmmmm. The refined wife . . . .that's tough. I'm not sure.
Tracy:  I'm trying to think of other regular Burtonites, but drawing a blank. And yes--Depp in all the roles. He would love doing all the voices. When are we pitching this to Burton?
Natalie:  Me, too. Although I guess he swaps out pretty leading ladies fairly regularly so he can just find someone else--maybe whosit who was Alice. The blond would sell the stereotype even more. Right now. Tim Burton--do this.
Tracy:  So other than providing source material for an awesome Burton remake, do we think it belongs in the book? I would need some convincing.
Natalie:  Basically, the book wants us to have seen this because it’s “among the earliest of the Ealing comedies produced by Sir Michael Balcon’s West London hothouse of comedic creativity, and a prime example of their distinctively British humor” and “Hamer’s (the director) all-to-brief heyday peaked” with this film. I don't care about those things and I don't think the movie pulls off the premise well enough to require me to see it.
Tracy:  I agree. I was trying to think what (better) movie it might have influenced, but nothing. It's not really a comedy of manners, it's not a bawdy Brit sex farce, it's not a forerunner to Python. I say, heave-ho.
Natalie:  Agreed and agreed.
Up next: already predicted to be terrible western. yay.
Tracy:  Although we might be crying for it about fifteen minutes into Silver Lode.
Natalie:  I'm pretty sure I will be.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

Oh, this sounds promising: A British black comedy in which a betrayed and cast-out Duke vows to avenge himself upon the aristocratic family that wronged him and claim the title . . . by killing every damn one of them. And even better? Every damn one of the D'Ascoyne clan is played by Alec Guinness. So like The Nutty Professor or Austin Powers 3 except British, and therefore funnier and more dignified. Kind Hearts and Coronets made the Time Top 100, and the BFI Top British films list. Should be funnier than The Woman in the Dunes at the very least!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chat: Suna No Onna/Woman in the Dunes

Natalie:  How gritty dirty did this movie make you feel?
Tracy:  I kept thinking I was watching the Japanese version of the video for "Wicked Game"!
Natalie:  Me, too! Except "Wicked Game" is way hotter.
Tracy:  WAY hotter.
me:  I'm going to have to do a Youtube search
Tracy:  I did find this a lot more compelling and entertaining than most "avant garde" movies, though. It reminded me of "Wicker Man," except good.
Natalie:  Yes! I was surprised how engaging it was because it was so simple but long. It managed to sustain itself though. And, the question was honest--the movie made me feel sandy and closed-in. Netflix described it as a "provocatively erotic allegorical film" but I think I'd classify it as a psychological thriller.
Tracy:  I agree--it did a great job of making me feel claustrophobic and itchy, but not in a way that made me want to turn the movie off. I felt frustrated for the characters rather than at the movie, if that makes sense. I saw the "erotic allegory" thing as well, and couldn't for the life of me guess what the allegory would be. Watching him devolve from a middle-class "bug expert" to someone willing to rape a woman in order to look at the sea for 10 minutes to someone who won't run when given the opportunity was pretty chilling.
Natalie:  That makes complete sense. I could understand their frustration because I was frustrated, too. But I didn't think they were acting in a frustrating way given the situation. I don't know about the "erotic allegory" and neither does the book, since we're talking about that. The book says the film "“strikes an unusual balance between realism and metaphor” and then argues: “Part neofeminist exercise, part political treatise, part survival tale, Woman in the Dunes adds up to both more and less than its premise. Okada can’t escape the pit without inviting disaster, but why build a home in a sandpit in the first place? Kishida offers sexual rewards for Okada’s labor, but how much of this is just her method of staving off lonliness? Does Woman in the Dunes mock domesticity, praise it, or depict is as a Sisiphisian horror?” I'm not sure about any of that because I don't agree with the depiction of Kishida. I don't see the sex as a "reward;" she seems actually interested in him sexually separate from the work or her need for a male in the household. Also, do you see how it's neofeminist?
And, the book once again seems to miss part of the film in that the house was built in a sandpit in order to require work so they can sell the sand for half price. The village is exploiting its residents.
Tracy:  Oh, Lord. The book strikes again. First of all, if we accept the premise that Kishida is "rewarding" Okada with sex, then there is no way it can be neofeminist (and neo? wtf?). But, I agree with you--she's not prostituting herself, she's actually connecting with him--sure, it's a bit distorted because of their imprisoned situation, but she's not trying to bribe him with sex. And I think it's completely wrongheaded to equate it with a parable about domesticity. Again, like you point out, it's about exploitation. They entrap their workers, and make their survival contingent on their labor. If anything, it's a political allegory. And what makes it so scary, is how they both ultimately buy into the system. Kishida thinks the only way she (as a woman, but really as a worker) "matters" is by continuing to box up the sand (which is going to kill people through shoddy workmanship), and they get Okada, like the crow he is trying to trap, by distracting him with something shiny--a pump. I kept thinking of his bugs--formulated, sprawling on a pin. It's about power for me, not domesticity.
Natalie:  That makes more sense. I just couldn't wrap my head around how any of it was feminist. And I think he connects with her despite his protestations. He protects her (which is basically what leads to the sex, not his work), offers her his bug box to keep her beads, and seems genuinely worried when she falls ill. What derails that slightly is the odd scene in which she's taken away. He doesn't leave the house so I guess we can argue that he's waiting for her. But we don't see how dire or not her health is. And he doesn't seem to react to the fact that she's pregnant. But, I had to keep reminding myself that we're looking into a very different culture. I think it's a political allegory the way you describe and a commentary on class systems, Kishida can't imagine what she'd do in Tokyo and scoffs at Okada's "walk around" answer. Yay! Prufrock!
Tracy:  Yeah, I think the inherent messed-up-ness of the situation makes any of their connections pretty, well, messed up. Can you imagine raising a child in the pit? Which is what I guess she did with her first family. Speaking of different classes and privileges, what did you make of the bizarre-o mask/drum scene? That's what really reminded me of Wicker Man.
Natalie:  I can't imagine raising a child in a "real" house but, no, I can't imagine how you'd raise a child in a sand dune. There seem to be some serious risks what with sand being heavy in a pile but easily moved by the wind. I was constantly amazed that there was actually a house there. Oh! That IS Wicker Man-esque. It really intensified the scene. As did all of the music really. I wouldn't want the soundtrack but it worked to amp up whatever mood was needed for a scene. The drums were Taiko drums (I'm fairly certain) and most Taiko performances run on a particular structure: "beginning, middle, end/rapid, sudden, urgent, and emergency" (thank you, Wikipedia) which really fits the idea of the attempted rape scene in a spooky way. Those drums are really intense in person--the kind that make your heartbeat feel like it's changing--and they were used in war to motivate troops historically.
Tracy:  Hah! Me either. I would totally lose the child in the sand dune and not realize it. Like, for days. That is interesting about the drums--it really freaked me out. So are we both saying Aye to this being in the 1001?
Natalie:  HA! What? I thought YOU were watching Sally? It's a freaky scene. And, that reminds me, I liked the way the Japanese cultural elements were used but the film doesn't feel entirely foreign if that makes sense. Yes! I'm saying Aye!
Tracy:  Hee. Sally would be a goner. Yes--it felt like a story that both could have taken place anywhere, but also couldn't have worked as well without the cultural elements. The Ayes have it!
Natalie:  Hooray!
Up next, Alec Guinness being everyone in the movie!
Tracy:  Oh, right! that should be a thing.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Woman in the Dunes/Suna no onna (1964)

Another adaptation, but this time it's a 1962 novel by Japanese author Kobo Abe, who also wrote the screenplay. The film is described as "avant-garde," which is usually a phrase that roughly translates to "tracy ain't gonna like it." But it does have a promising plot--an entomologist looking for bugs that inhabit sand dunes is unexpectedly detained in a small village, he meets a woman who lives in said dunes. Judging from the poster, I'm guessing they really hit it off. Again, trying to avoid spoilers, but I have learned that the film won the Jury Prize at Cannes, and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. Here's hoping there are no clumsy and demeaning analogies drawn between women and insects!

Chat: The Postman Always Rings Twice

Natalie:  How would you kill your too old for you husband after an attractive drifter shows up?
Tracy:  Hah! Well, if the old "slips in the bathtub trick" doesn't work, I say go right for the "drunk driving off a cliff"! How could either one possibly go wrong?
Natalie:  HA!! Right. Those are exactly the first two murder plots that come to my mind.
Tracy:  I don't know what I expected from this film, but I was surprised at how sort of campy it was. Frank was sort of rapey at the beginning, you have Lana Turner wearing only black and white and you have the doofy incompetent cop ("dead as a doornail") and the slick attorneys. But on the other hand, it reminded me of that movie with Liz Taylor and the other dude who ended up on death row . . . blanking on the name.
Natalie:  That's exactly how I felt. I didn't expect the sort of melodramatic aspect like the dramatic embrace that tells the audience those two just must be in love--because there are no other indications really of their pretty immediate truly madly deeply love. It's the sort of thing that's made fun of now--hold on someone at door
Natalie:  IT WAS!
Tracy:  I don't have to ask how many times he/she rang!
Natalie:  Ha! Only once sadly
Tracy:  On a related note, while watching. I kept thinking "have I missed why this movie is titled what it is?"
But yeah, I think melodrama is the perfect word. Everything was just TOO MUCH. Not just that the marriage is bad, but that she's going to have to move to Northern Canada to care for her paralyzed sister-in-law, who's going to live FOREVER.
Natalie:  Exactly. And yet we don't actually see much of that. Yes, her husband is a drunk but we're not seeing him being mean to her. The only minor conflict we see is that she wants to work at the diner and he'd rather she not. Ok, fine, it may be a loveless marriage but, really?, murder by hair-brained plot is what comes to mind to get away from the entirely benign husband? And, back to before the postman actually rang but only once--it's A Place in the Sun (the Liz Taylor movie). I wasn't reminded of it while watching but there is a definite connection. At least with that one I SAW why he loved her and you can see the relationship build.
Tracy:  Yeah--it wanted to get to where A Place in the Sun got, but didn't earn it. And I couldn't decide if Lana Turner was meant to be a femme fatale or not. She seemed ambitious and manipulative and willing to marry the benign husband and play Frank in order to get what she wanted, but then she seemed genuinely in love with him too. And then of course she had to be pregnant, too. If I was supposed to feel sorry for either of them, I genuinely didn't. I just kept thinking, "these are the worst murderers ever.
Natalie:  YES! And I thought that BEFORE they even got to the murder part. When they're "running away" by walking through the California desert with luggage I actually said out loud that they're the dumbest people ever. I just didn't believe any of the supposed emotion. The book wants Lana Turner to be a femme fatale at least: "Director Tay Garnett’s tight framing emphasizes the imprisonment of the fatal lovers, and the film’s gloomy and forbidding mise-en-scene is the perfect setting for their grim story. With white costuming and glamorizing lighting, Turner becomes the visual center of the story . . . Cora is no ordinary femme fatale. Her feelings for Frank are genuine, not artful manipulation." Meanwhile, I was also reminded of a better movie while watching because of the beach scenes--From Here to Eternity.
Tracy:  Yeah, her genuine affection makes her less than an ordinary femme fatale. In that I'm not sure that doesn't disqualify her entirely. Never seen From Here to Eternity! But I have no doubt it's better. I've also never seen Double Indemnity, but I have no doubt it's better. I wonder if the novel is better?
Natalie:  I agree about the femme fatale status. I think other femme fatales wouldn't let her in the club. We'll be watching From Here to Eternity and Double Indemnity at some point--both are on the list! I've not seen Double Indemnity either. I don't know if the book is better but I just looked and it's a short 128 pages so I doubt there's much more character/relationship development. I wonder about the re-make with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. I meant to try to watch that one too but forgot.
Tracy:  I think the femme fatale club would pretend to let her in, and then frame her for all their crimes! I wonder about the re-make as well. It seems like it's a LOT sexier. I'm basing that on the cover of the movie.
Natalie:  HA! That's exactly what would happen! So apparently, this version is the third adaptation of the novel. There was a 1939 French version, Le dernier tournant, and then our The Leopard director friend Visconti did it as Ossessione in 1943. The Netflix description seems to back up your guess about the 1981 version: "This remake of John Garfield's classic film noir goes where 1940s Hollywood feared to tread: into the realm of explicit sex." Meanwhile, the book tries to argue, "The Postman Always Rings Twice reflects the Depression culture of the 1930s, with most of the scenes played in a barely respectable roadside diner, a potent image of rootlessness and limited opportunity. The flashback narrative suits the omnipresent pessimism of the noir series, of which this is one of the more justly celebrated examples." But, since the diner was the home base of sorts, I didn't get a feeling of rootlessness; it seemed they had very strong roots that kept them there and immobile and that they were trying to kill to keep that.
Tracy:  The book is such bullshit! What about the highway coming through, and how the diner becomes insanely profitable? It could have used some explicit sex. Might have distracted me from the stupidity of the main characters.
Natalie:  HAHAHA! I also didn't mean to ignore your comment about the title above--hopped up on cold meds--what did you think about that final speech where he finally gets in the postman reference?
Tracy:  I thought it was pretty, again, melodramatic and, though I wasn't on cold meds but had had a glass or two of wine by the time it was over, didn't make much sense. Is the Postman death? Love?
Kevin Costner?
Natalie:  I think the postman is Kevin Costner. I'm going with that. Because that makes more sense than the speech. So, did it need to be watched before we die?
Tracy:  Geez, I don't think so. For some reason I have heard of it, but I think that must be because of the Jack "explicit sex" Nicholson version.
Natalie:  I don't think so either. I think we've heard of it because for whatever reason people seem to think it's worthwhile (ahem, book) but I'm also guessing that they can't give a solid argument why this one is worth watching when there are a lot of movies that do what this one attempted much better. So it's just "but it's a CLASSIC." And, yeah, I bet the explicit sex version had some cultural hold :)
Tracy:  Agreed. Not hideous, but not 1001 worthy. It was interesting to see what Hume Cronyn looked like when he wasn't 1000 years old, though.
Natalie:  Oh, yes! Not the worst movie we've watched for this project by a long shot! Ha! That was fun. So, up next is a Japanese film! Woman in the Dunes.