Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Seventh Seal (1957)

The only thing I knew about this movie going in was the infamous scene where Max von Sydow plays chess with Death. Full disclosure: I knew of the scene in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey where the eponymous duo play, among other things, Twister with Death. Been awhile since you watched that 90s classic? Take a look at the clip. It's worth the full four minutes.

I guess the existence of this reference alone makes The Seventh Seal book-worthy, but there's also the many best-of lists on which it appears. And the whole Bergman thing.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Chat: The Earrings of Madame de . . .

Tracy:  So. The Earrings of Madam Whoever.

Natalie:  Yeah. We could have at least gotten a good shot of the damned earrings at the center of all of the trouble.

Tracy:  I know! And they didn't even look that cute from what I could see. I never got a good hold on what this movie was about? A tragic melodrama? A punish the lying woman movie? Are we supposed to like Madam?

Natalie:  I know! I didn't either. It's obviously supposed to be about a certain level of anonymity but, um, everyone knows who she is. I don't know if we're supposed to like her or not. I didn't care one way or the other about her. I wanted her to stop it with the earrings already.

Tracy:  Yeah. She was such a bad and unnecessary liar. And I didn't really feel bad for her not being able to be with the military dude because I didn't know if we were supposed to be rooting for that.

Natalie:  And we never really know why she needed the money in the first place. I don't care about her problem that causes her to sell the earrings in the first place if I don't know what that problem is. And, yeah, I don't care who she's with or isn't with because she seems to actually be with everyone in her strange open but not marriage.

Tracy:  Yeah. For a while it seemed like a comedy or a sex farce or something with the jeweler selling the earrings back over and over. But then there was the big drama at the end.

Natalie:  I thought it would be SO MUCH better as a rom com or a sex farce. But, no, we have to pretend this is serious business. And what ever happened to the chick in the casino? Was she the husband's mistress? Were we supposed to think she's pregnant? Why else is he sending her away?

Tracy:  Yeah, I assumed that she was the husband's mistress, but I didn't consider pregnant. I guess I thought he just got sick of her? Either way, ew, and then we're supposed to feel bad that he got cuckolded? You know, when I was watching it I thought it was pleasant enough if not genius, but the more we talk about it, the more I'm thinking it was a failure.

Natalie:  I got pregnant because he mentioned another guy who sent away a girl (or got sent away himself) because of a similar "situation" or something. And I probably wanted a better explanation than he just got sick of her. But, the movie relies on those sorts of explanations. I just didn't like it very much. I didn't care about the characters or the earrings or the supposed themes whatever those are. And the 1950s is a touch late for fainting women films. Anyway, so the duel. What sort of duel involves the "offended" just getting to shoot first?! Especially since dudes who fought duels would be gentlemen which means they hunt (or are freaking military generals or whatever) and will just kill the other dude. I know guns were unreliable but not THAT unreliable.
The phrase "I got pregnant" in that sentence is strange. Maybe, "I got to her being pregnant" would be better.

Tracy:  I know! You just stand there and let someone take target practice at you? How is that a duel and not just murder? And Hah! That would be a strange way to get pregnant!

Natalie:  I don't know how it's not just murder! That's what a firing squad is--just minus the extra dudes--and as the "offender, you're just supposed to show up and say "shoot"?! That would be a very strange way to get pregnant   AND, he wasn't even really cuckolded. Nothing that can cause pregnancy actually happened and it seemed they were both MASSIVE flirts anyway--he said he didn't want to have dinner with "her suitors" after the opera. That's a slippery slope to your wife having an affair, dude; no fair putting on the breaks when it actually starts to happen especially when we assume HE had an affair.
Where on earth did I get "dudes" in my head?

Tracy:  You're right--I forgot about those little boytoys who were always following her around. Everyone seemed fine with the arrangement and then he decided to get all self-righteous and trigger-happy about it. And we've got to do something to make this easier to relate to. It's like a bad Russian novel.

Natalie:  Right! So she can't fool around because she sold some earrings and lied about it? Why not try to find out why she sold the earrings? It is like a bad Russian novel. And, like a bad undergrad, the book declares: “Few films establish so much, on so many levels, with such stunning economy. . . . Louise is  . . . anonymous, typical of her privileged class. . . .Ophuls [director] will never let us overlook the underpinnings of this wealthy world: the flows of money and debt, the ubiquitous servants on call, the etiquette of preparation before public appearances. Even the journey from bedroom to front door becomes an elegant sociological exposé. After home and the pawnshop, there is the church (site of bourgeois hypocrisy) and the opera, where all is show . . . Madame de . . . is, by turns, brittle, brutal, compassionate, and moving. Ophuls delineates this world with Brechtian precision, yet he never discounts the strength or significance of stifled, individual yearnings. Even as the characters writhe in their metaphoric prisons or shut these traps on each other, their passions touch us; supremely when Andre closes the windows on Louise like a jailer as he declares, half whispering in secret: ‘I love you.’”

Tracy:  Um, first of all, anonymous typical of her privileged class? Money buys you power and an identity. And the book seems to be making an awfully big deal out of people getting dressed and walking around the house. I think that could have been a place where a critique could have been made, but the movie didn't seem interested in doing so. And no one stifled their yearnings! Their yearnings were all over the place! What movie did the book watch?

Natalie:  Yes! The title of the movie makes her anonymous as does the one contrived shot blocking out her last name on the place card but, otherwise, she IS named. Her first name counts. If they only called her "Madame" the whole film, that might make her anonymous. Meanwhile, everyone knows her, she has people clamoring after her, it's her reputation that allows her to sell the earrings, etc. And we have no comparison; you don't get to make these declarations without showing us the opposite. When the movie centers upon her and identifies her at every turn, she can't be anonymous. And, if you're going to have a critique, you have to make an argument. Having servants doesn't mean you're bad. Being selfish in church/prayer doesn't mean you're rich--or really hypocritical since she is just asking for what she wants and isn't cursing the church or anything. And the opera IS a show! It could have been all of those commentaries but it wasn't at all. I'm pretty sure the book watched a better movie.

Tracy:  Exactly. They are importing A LOT of meaning into scenes that I think were pretty tangential to the story the movie wanted to tell--about this weak sauce love triangle. Just wanting those scenes to mean something isn't enough--you have to show me where that argument is being made. And it wasn't. Just wasn't.

Natalie:  AND, Andre OPENS the window when she's being all distraught and HE says she should go out but she's cancelled all of her engagements. Jailer my ass. Nope. No argument was made. I say ditch it.

Tracy:  Hah! You're right! He's not the jailer! I think he just probably wanted her to be more, like, good at having an affair so he wouldn't have to straight-up shoot a guy. Toss it overboard!

Natalie:  HA! Totally. Gone and gone. So, next . . . Gallipoli. Pre-[publicly]-crazy Mel Gibson!

Tracy:  Oh, but we can't forget chess-playing Death in The Seventh Seal!

Natalie:  Shit! Why can't I keep these movies straight? We JUST talked about me watching that movie!
I left my brain in a prostitution arrests chart at work methinks.

Tracy:  Hah! That's the best excuse I've ever heard. And in an ideal world, we would skip over The Seventh Seal.

Natalie:  It's a pretty good one if I do say so. You've already watched it so I won't skip it. And THEN we'll watch Mel.

Tracy:  Yep! Lucky us!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Earrings of Madame de. . . (1953)

No, I didn't run out of space on that title. The surname of the heroine of this film is concealed. Scandalous! Do you know her? Probably not. The movie is considered a masterpiece of 50s French cinema by acclaimed director Max Ophuls, despite mixed reviews when it first came out. The plot revolves around, you guessed it, a pesky pair of earrings that are meant to expose the foibles and infidelities of the French upper class. Also obvious from the title should be the film's concern with material culture, a preoccupation that was recognized when the film was nominated for best costume design.

Chat: 42nd Street

Tracy:  So . . . this was my first Busby Berkeley musical, and I was surprised how racy it was!

Natalie:  Hmmmm . . . .I don't know if I've seen one either . . .

Tracy:  I always enjoy musicals about putting on musicals--it makes the breaking out in song element a lot easier to take.

Natalie:  Ha! That's true. No one wonders why you're breaking out into song or dance when you're practicing an act. But I do wish there were more song and dance numbers and that I could have
discerned what the final fictional production was supposed to be about.

Tracy:  Oh my god! Pretty Lady? It was the most bizarre play ever. Like, wasn't Gandhi in it or something?

Natalie:  What? What part?

Tracy:  During the play? I took a note that reads, "Gandhi? What is this play about?" Maybe it was a random Indian man? I also have a note that it was a wee bit racially problematic.

Natalie:  I totally missed Ghandi. Huh. There was the racially problematic train dance number at the end.

Tracy:  Yes. The play was just strange. And the plot itself was pretty predictable. Young ingenue, etc. But parts of it did make me laugh. I thought the way the Depression figured in was also interesting.

Natalie:  The plot was pretty predictable--but has spawned every song&dance, film, broadway show . . . etc. movie since. There are echoes of it in The Artist even. A lot of it made me laugh. I loved Ginger Rogers as "Anytime Annie" and a lot of the costuming was fun--I liked the regular stuff better than the play-in-the-play outfits. And, yeah, they brought in a lot of pertinent social issues of the time. And they were butting right up against movie code and all of that drama so the raciness was even more cheeky.

Tracy:  Yeah--I was audibly surprised at Anytime Annie. But the whole thing was really frank about women's sexuality and how they choose to use it and not at all judgmental. The director's despair was funny and  poignant and totally tied to when the "play" was taking place. His franticness trying to prepare the new lead was one of my favorite parts.

Natalie:  I did like that about the film--Anytime Annie was just doing her thing and that was ok; and it wasn't a scandal that Dorothy had a man on the side to fund the production, or that she was only with him for the money. It really gave women the upper hand and made the men look foolish rather than scorning women for their sexuality.

Tracy:  Yeah! She didn't care that people were calling her that--it wasn't an insult. And I liked the moment between Dorothy and the ingenue before the performance (I'm blanking on her name now). It was also nice to be able to put "Shuffle off to Buffalo" in context!

Natalie:  Peggy--I liked that moment too because it was honest and let women talk to each other frankly without being catty and only shallow. Part of it was shallow but it let Dorothy acknowledge that and then explain and be an actual person about the situation. Staying on women for a second--the film also used their bodies in some pretty explicit ways with all of the shots between the legs and whatnot in the dance numbers. But it didn't seem to cheapen the women. And, of course, it's always interesting to see the body type that was preferred in the 30s.

Tracy:  That's really true re: the body stuff. And I also liked how they made that focus on the female body part of putting on the play. Everyone knows what the audience (of the play and the movie) were interested in seeing. But you're right--the women are so in control of the way their image and bodies are presented that it doesn't feel exploitative.

Natalie:  Yeah, way to go, 42nd Street. I just looked and, random tidbit, when this opened on Broadway it starred Jerry Orbach.

Tracy:  HAH! The Law and Order guy?

Natalie:  Yep.

Tracy:  It would be fun to see it on stage, I bet.
Who should be Anytime Annie if we were casting it now?

Natalie:  I bet. I didn't know he did stage stuff. Oooooooh. Emma Stone.

Tracy:  YES. Genius. I was thinking Katy Perry (for some reason), but I like Emma Stone better. And I want Oliver Platt as Daddy Warbucks.

Natalie:  HA! Oliver Platt would be genius as Daddy Warbucks. Let's see who gets to be Dorothy?

Tracy:  Hmmm. Someone sassy and wise.
I think Drew Barrymore is too sweet in the face.

Natalie:  Anne Hathaway? She can sing and dance. Meanwhile, Katy Perry? That's completely random for you.
Oh, right. Dorothy should be a touch older

Tracy:  I just read about her fling with John Mayer so she was on the brain.

Natalie:  HA! Who hasn't had a fling with John Mayer.

Tracy:  No kidding! Let's pray they never duet.

Natalie:  Ick.
Marion Cottiard?
That's missing a letter or two I think

Tracy:  Oh, she'd be great. She even looks like she's from the era. So Peggy the Ingenue? Zoe Kazan (who is on my brain from Ruby Sparks)?

Natalie:  Super! So, now we just need Tom Hardy and Ryan Gosling and Joseph Gordon Levitt to fill in some boys

Tracy:  And I will see this play every night.

Natalie:  Me, too.

Tracy:  And RDJ as the depressed director.

Natalie:  OOOOOOOH! I knew I forgot someone! YES! Brilliant. Done and done. Who do we call?

Tracy:  I know! We really need to be in charge of this. And a lot of other things as well. What did the book have to say?

Natalie:  Well, yes, we should just be in charge in general. The book is flaky and basically says it's the best musical about a musical with all the cliches. But it doesn't say anything quotable or disagreeable or smart about it. Sigh.
Our Hindu Floaty Thing is not especially smart.

Tracy:  Hehehehe. That's the problem with the Hindu Floaty Thing. So I'm thinking we're both on board for this staying on the list?

Natalie:  Sure, I'll keep it! It's fun and good for girls--hooray

Tracy:  And next . . . another movie that is about well, a woman.

Natalie:  Oooh, you're being mysterious about one you've already watched and I have not. Tricksy hobbitses.

Tracy:  Oh, have you not seen it yet? Then I shall say no more!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

42nd Street (1933)

I've heard a lot about Busby Berkeley musicals, but have never actually seen one. This film is also one of my favorite genres--the backstage play. We're in the Depression, and two producers are putting on a musical called Pretty Lady (terrible title). They hire a drunken and depressed director desperate for one last hit, and the leading lady is stringing along the show's main benefactor while seeing another dude on the side. Oh, there's also a young and idealistic ingenue in the chorus. Wonder what's going to happen to her? The film was nominated for Best Picture, and includes the classic numbers "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me," "Shuffle off to Buffalo," and, of course, "Forty-Second Street." And just revel in that rad poster, why don't you?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Chat: Amelie and Black Swan

We're back! And we've got a (hopefully) workable plan to keep posting more regular.

--Tracy:  All right! Two movies that I don't seem to like as much as everyone else in the world does. Though one MUCH less than the other.
--Natalie:  Ditto. So, the lesser of the evils first?
--Tracy:  Okay. Amelie. It struck me as Wes Anderson-esque in its twee-ness. Which is a good thing--but it struck me as a little too long.
--Natalie:  I thought it was a little long this watch too. I don't know if it's because I'd seen it before and some of the magic was gone but it did seem long. I guess it's a little Wes Anderson-esque but I probably would like it better if it were a little more self-consciously intellectual a la Anderson. I'm ok with twee but I wanted something a little more from it.
--Tracy:  I only really care about the love story. Like the dude with the box she found? Didn't really care. And yeah--it's not intellectual at all. Something that did strike me this time around was Amelie's introversion. Having just read the Quiet book, did you think this movie was successful in depicting shyness?
--Natalie:  Oh, it's absolutely about introversion. Quiet talks a bit, if I remember right, about introverts devising intricate plans just to talk to someone--whether it's as simple as writing out notecards or as complicated as Amelie's plan. So I did like that aspect--how a severely introverted person manages the world and finds love for herself. But I wanted more of that and less of everything else. And just more something. Like it seemed to not quite commit to anything. Just a little of this and a touch of that and a strange effect here but we're not going full blown surreal.
--Tracy:  Yes! When she gets the dude to the cafe and is literally feet from him and can't look at him--oh I've so been there. But yeah--I like the little surreal touches, but I don't understand why they're there. Is it the friends/fantasies Amelie constructed for herself because she was so shy? Or are we in some magical version of Paris? There's a lot about the movie that I really love, but there's too much that just distracts from that for it to be a full-blown favorite for me.
--Natalie:  I've been there, too, so, yeah, that felt real to me. And, I agree, the surrealist parts detracted because they didn't DO anything. I'm on the same page about this one. I want to like it more because I do like Audrey Tatou but I also think she's better in some other roles and this one gets her typecast a bit.
--Tracy:  It SO does. She's an adorable pixie! So, on to the cover girl of our latest version of 1001?
--Natalie:  Well, first, the book says about Amelie a whole lotta nothing and plot summary and this tidbit of psuedo commentary: “Using a remarkable array of playful (and often playfully literal) effects, Jeunet transforms contemporary France into a beautiful and surreal reflection of reality, in which the wide-eyed and idealistic titular character spreads love and happiness to the frowning faces all around her. . . As fantastical as the world may be in Amelie, you never get the impression the film is about anything other than the way two hearts beating on opposite sides of a vast metropolis can somehow find a way to interlink and beat as one.”
--Tracy:  Oh right--the book. Well, yeah, the movie is about that, I guess. And that is a sweet sentiment which I totally am for. But the "fantastical world" detracts from the good story. It's like when Lucas put all that crap into the new versions of Star Wars.
--Natalie:  HA! Exactly. Ok, so now the other movie. Sigh.
--Tracy:  I have made my feelings on Black Swan known on our Occupy 1001 post, but just to reiterate--yeah, it's interesting but I ultimately HATE everything it has to say about how femininity, ambition, and art intersect. And the more people loved it, the more I started to hate it.
--Natalie:  And, me, too. Black Swan has the opposite problem as Amelie in one way. Whereas Amelie needed more, Black Swan needed MUCH less. The lesbian scene for example. That does not a damned thing for the movie but get it press. BUT, on the other hand, it has the same problem as Amelie in that it needed a healthy kick in the ass of intellectualism. I needed something smart and interior from that movie and all I got was shiny surface followed by bloody cracked glass. It parades around as a psychological thriller but psychology relies upon a brain and Black Swan didn't have one.
--Tracy:  Yes! How dare they call it a psychological thriller? The movie couldn't be less interested in the main character's interiority. It's very interested in her body and how the male director manipulates it. The male director, who though odious, the analysis of which the film endorses in every way. I liked the scene where she transforms into the Swan, but I hated what they ended up doing with it. Do you think Portman deserved the Oscar?
--Natalie:  Yes--and so DO something with that examination of her body. Make a point about that. But, alas, it really didn't. I liked the ballet parts--mainly because I wanted this to be more Center Stage than a lobotomized Mommy Dearest--but I don't think Portman deserved the Oscar. She didn't DO anything. Yeah, dancing is hard but Oscars are for acting. Except when they're given out for the most talked about movie that's "risky." And that's why she won. Who else was nominated that year?
--Tracy:  Annette Bening (The Kids are All Right)
Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone)
Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)
Let's see--I would have gone with Williams.
Because you're right--she just looked uncomfortable for the entire movie. That's not acting.
That's face-making.
They didn't give an Oscar to Elijah Wood for looking wide-eyed and scared for 12 hours.
--Natalie:  I've not seen Blue Valentine but I think that would be my pick. And, actually, that's the year Christian Bale won for The Fighter. That's a one-to-one comparison in a lot of ways. Physical transformation required. Sport/art. Portrayal of pain. And Bale stomps her in every category. HE acted. And she--hilarious by the way--only made faces, you're right.
--Tracy:  Yes! And it was a better movie! It looked at the relationship between his ravaged body and his damaged mind. That performance was amazing. The Wrestler was a better movie. I think Aranofsky has a problem with women. Not like he's a misogynist, but he doesn't capture them in his (admittedly, sick and twisted) worlds as poignantly as he does men. Same thing with what's-her-face in Requiem for a Dream. And he had to make Weisz a dying angel in The Fountain.
--Natalie:  Oh, good God, Requiem for a Dream. I always forget he did that because I try my hardest to forget it exists. But, yes, Aronofsky has problems creating women that have interior lives. So, You bring up The Wrestler and the book does too. The book, actually, is just a big 'ol name dropper in this entry: “Aronofsky’s unique vision implies that there can be no true greatness without touching the darkest parts of existence, and he makes this all too clear through highly subjective storytelling reminiscent of . . . Rosemary’s Baby (1968). . . While lacking the honest inner dialogue of its predecessor and companion piece, The Wrestler (2008), Black Swan’s mix of psychological torments and classic horror elements will be sure to haunt you long after the curtains close.”
But, the book agrees with us re: lack of interior life which, to me, would mean I excluded it from the list. But the book loves to include an Oscar winner.
--Tracy:  How dare they compare it to Rosemary's Baby! For shame. RB is intimately concerned with a woman's experience of her own body, and how (evil) patriarchy seeks to interrupt and distort that relationship. And yeah--they're admitting it's shlock horror in pretentious clothing. But you're right--they totally pander to the Oscars. I definitely think Amelie, with all its shortcomings, deserves inclusion more than Black Swan.
--Natalie:  Agreed and agreed. And I'd rather a list include a movie that is just liked even if they can't quite come up with a reason than include one that they have to apologize for and only include because a shiny gold dude told them to.
--Tracy:  Hah! Yes! The tone is totally apologetic. So next, another movie about performance--but with a slightly different tone.
--Natalie:  Right, which is . . . . Sigh. I watched it but totally forgot
--Tracy:  42nd Street!
--Natalie:  RIGHT! I definitely watched that!