Monday, August 31, 2009

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #5

by Ryland Walker Knight

can't cant enuf
—Can't cant enough

Viewing Log #9: Shoe Thief [8/25/09 - 8/30/09]

by Ryland Walker Knight

kristen stewart thinks well, hard
pittsburgh is yellow
—Pale, blue

  • Husbands [John Cassavetes, 1970] # Carousing and breaking, laughing through the take: seems the most documentary of his movies, of course, yet somehow it's crisp. Maybe not as "good" as other Cassavetes pictures, but mostly a treat to watch the roundelay of macho jaunting. I want to fly to London and run in rain. I want to laugh at everything. No homo, no phony. Dig blurs at The Art of Memory. Also, I'm reminded by Simington of the Cavett interview, which I put up a couple years ago, which is kind of better than the movie and the best piece of criticism on the movie you could ever expect or hope or dream of.
  • Only Angels Have Wings [Howard Hawks, 1939] # Maybe a perfect movie, or the perfect Hawks movie? In any case, it's always a pleasure. Recently, Dan Sallitt wrote this bit of lovely.

  • The Lady From Shanghai [Orson Welles, 1947] # Loopy and obvious, and hampered no doubt by that awful "brogue" from Welles, this thing is saved by the unreal sexiness of Rita Hayworth. She's top shelf "material" here. And that's the point.

  • Metropolitan [Whit Stillman, 1990] Smart, yes, but hard for me, at this moment, to get worked up about its world and its concerns. That said, I do like Chris Eigeman and the black outs. Seems to be a theme of the week.
  • Isle of the Dead [Mark Robson, 1945] Awfully similar to The Ghost Ship in some ways, though not as good; Karloff's face is amazing.

  • Adventureland [Greg Mottola, 2009] Had me at The Replacements. One of the best soundtracks in a while. Not exactly an earth-shattering movie, but it hits the right notes to charm a sucker like me.
  • Tropical Malady [Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004] # Now here's a movie that understands the significance, and the fun, of black outs. Joe knows a lot about punctuation, and trees. For all the myths and spirits, his cinema is decidedly grounded: we're always looking up at the world.
  • Smiley Face [Greg Araki, 2007] Anna Faris makes faces and falls over things for about 90 minutes and it's a good time, vaguely intelligent, often amusing, but slight. I'm sure if I partook in its inspiration a little more (ever?) I'd feel differently about the thing.

  • Blitz Wolf [Tex Avery, 1942] Thanks to Phelps. You can watch it, too, by clicking here. DP says, "at least the Avery's a critique of war." I say, yes, it is, and smarter than the QT, but, still, that's largely avoiding what Basterds is after.
  • Inglourious Basterds [Quentin Tarantino, 2009] # Different reasons, different focal points. Still a kick in the pants. Left a ramble in the comments back here post screening.

I'll steal your shoes

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Stabbing at jokes, at some current comedy.

by Ryland Walker Knight

sell it

[My friend Miriam Bale asked me to write something about comedy for her Comedy Versus Criticism week a while ago. I just gabbed up some notes about some things not quite near and dear to me, but intriguing nonetheless. This is more like a long jotting, a prompt almost, perhaps a prelude to more like everything on this blog. Maybe you can holler at me in the comments, tell me I'm wrong or tell me I'm right or tell me something new I've forgotten. I should also say that I don't simply dislike Apatow, but I'm kind of puzzled by him. In any case, thanks for reading, and sharing any thoughts. Maybe some jokes? Yes, please! Also, I'll probably go back and add in some links as the week goes on. Just wanted to get the text out there tonight.]

vom it

Writing about comedy is tough. Though some, like Phelps, can theorize and sound really smart and convincing (helps to be super smart), more often it's tough to make an argument about jokes while making jokes and still come off sounding intelligent, not flip. That play between serious and nonserious is a real see-saw. That's why somebody like Nietzsche is so important (to me, for sure): he's got that incisive wit that doesn't pitch low, but isn't so pretentious that it deflates itself. Another part of the problem is how varied our senses of humor can be, and how comedy, maybe more than drama, requires a really peculiar navigation of one's taste. You have to argue from your taste always, but the arrogance of that seems so much more on display when saying, say, that Funny People isn't funny enough, or serious enough, to really work.

Funny People is a weird movie: despite a lot of "plot" and a lot of "jokes" not much happens and not many of the one-liners linger. A bigger problem for me, though, is that it's not all that cinematic. Yes, there's a self-referentiality, a nod to the indexical—and no stronger than in this new one (it's all about its makers)—but everything in an Apatow picture lives to serve the punchline: he covers every scene endlessly, he saps up scenes with music, and hardly anything feels crucial. The camera rarely does anything besides observe, but this isn't some Hou Hsiao-hsien patience; it's television's pragmatism. The picture's got the same body as Sandler, pushing out and sloppy, satisfied. And I couldn't shake this since I wasn't laughing much. Now, some of this may be where I'm at and how I saw the movie (alone, mostly), but, even with a crowd of friendlies I'm doubting how much I would dig the self-congratulatory pats on the back and casual antagonism. However, the funniest bits to me were the ones with Jonah Hill taking up the asshole role and plain running with it—saying "fuck you" to everything—but, even with all the dark jokes about nearing death that Sandler's George Simmons cracks during his faux "farewell tour," Apatow can't commit to the vulgar. This definitely helped develop sympathy for The 40 Year Old Virgin, but here it gets treacly. Nobody's especially "good" here, and if that's part of the point, then, well, I'm way off base and the idea that we don't grow but just amass problems is downright tragic. Yet it's literally a sunny movie! The revelation of Simmons' remission is filmed with all kinds of lens flare emanating from behind (and around) that arbitrarily German doctor's head. It's a fantasy first and foremost but without any modesty.

More vulgar and more chaste at the same time, and maybe less overtly funny, and maybe not even all that funny except in a chuckling way, is I Love You, Man. Talk about a modest movie. The romance is set—sure there's a hiccup, but there's a point made about its triviality—and the real conflict is whether a friendship can survive, let alone blossom. It's easier than Funny People, no doubt. As Danny Kasman mused to me, it's more akin to something out of the studio heyday when you'd see a set of actors appear in about four films a year and every once in a while the film would congeal into something lovely. It may not be quite lovely, but it's easily endearing, and more than competently put together. Mostly, I dig the spirit, say the moral center, of I Love You, Man. Again, this may be due to my current needs and desires from art, but, at bottom, it's a tighter picture with more honest goals than Funny People—and it meets those goals. Also, way fewer montages. Though, of course, there is a bonding montage. Again, it's mostly a pragmatic visual style in service of capturing jokes with everything lit for clarity's sake, but it gets the rhythms of talk thanks to its casual geniality. If anything, it is brisk. But its true cinematic worth is measured in performance, in revealing a person to himself. Paul Rudd has never been more charming—more cute, really—and despite his lumpy wannabe tough act, Jason Segal is largely winning. Segal may instigate some self-awareness, but it's a classic new dawn kind of picture where Rudd's man finds layers within, about how to don the mask that smiles. After all, it's a film about honesty.

Which isn't to say Funny People is dishonest, or only portrays dishonesty—though it's kind of half-assed about its "argument" (is there one?) for living with the web of responsibilities that life presents us with—but its best jokes come from that crass cut-throat dynamic between the roommate-rivals played by Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman. As evidenced by the opening credits, Apatow knows all about living with comedians (he and Sandler were roommates) and, as any aspiring young dude does, he knows that close quarters bring out boys' competitive nature all the worse. There's a great movie in there somewhere, a really dark one about these idiots back stabbing one another to get a leg up in the rat-fame racket. That is, if Apatow made the anti-I Love You, Man. (Except, that's already been done, for the most part, with Peep Show, a BBC sitcom for the ages about two "best friends" who constantly undercut one another but can't quit the friendship out of a shared misanthropic combination of fear and apathy. It's really great stuff, full of terrible choices and worse behavior. One dude does crack, just a bit of crack, because he can; his name is Super Hans.) What makes the Rudd-Segal dynamic so ingratiating is the pure generosity of their budding friendship: they really want to see each other happy, and they like to jam. It's rare. It's also rare that this works. It's tough to talk about without sounding a sap. (It also flies in the face of loving something like Peep Show.) As with Role Models, it's not good cinema, but it's got good values. There's something about Paul Rudd, something in that self-deprication that carries over. He's no Cary Grant (I know, duh), but he's still a comedic force that stamps every picture he's in and that's got to count for something. Comedy, or this kind of comedy we're experiencing now, is so much about payoffs (as opposed to something like hysteria and absurdity) that all kinds of things set up jokes, including personae. This is, in essence, the premise for Funny People: we can't shuck ourselves.

who'd you eat?


hey now, hey now

The best movie of all these recent comedy hits, for my money, is Superbad. It straddles that line between dick jokes and sensitivity really well—and it looks good, too. Framing makes jokes, and spacing makes sense. Greg Mottola followed that up this year with a pet project, of sorts: his everybody's-got-one bildungsroman, Adventureland. It's not as outright funny as Superbad, and it's kind of a same-old-same-old young love story, but, again, it's got some cinematic gusto to go along with its poignancy and its ball-punching. For instance, Mottola punctuates a number of scenes with black outs, effectively working like chapter breaks, and he'll hold on a scene/shot for longer than expected to allow his actors extra beats of performance. He's got a rhythm that Apatow can't match. Further, he's a better storyteller: these two films are so tight they get myopic. They're as miniature as a short story, built on bits of nuance. Adventureland, more than Superbad, relies on its leads signifying with subtlety—the play of postures.

As befits adolescence, the soundtrack (often doubled on t-shirts) matters. The Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes" plays twice in Adventureland, in different contexts, and it reminds you of just how great a great pop song is—how it can apply to so many emotions, and how we often access many at once. (It helps that the song is about that, too.) Every detail in these Mottola movies adds to the feeling of the endeavor and remind us, focused as these two films are, that we hinge so many hopes on details in our youth. The focused energy only helps this kind of comedy. If Funny People had the balls to really meander into absurdity, its formless route back to the start—things don't quite progress so much as accumulate—might yield better jokes.

The closest to that in this modern pack of comedians comes from those Will Farrell movies, specifically Anchorman, which is just one gag after another, a supreme product of whimsy on set and in the editing. There's really no rules in that movie. It's tiring, but often hilarious; the irreverent won't (can't!) quit. That's the brilliance of Tex Avery: the pile-on. That's the brilliance of Tim and Eric, too: the absurd amplifying absurdity to an absurd pitch of cacophony, or the stymied inadequacy of a blank idiot stare and gaping mouth. Basically, though, all these forms point to a punchline of disbelief. Or exasperation. You have to laugh to keep going. That's probably my baseline taste, too: something that forces me to release because it's so much. It's just that I Love You, Man flips that disbelief on the project of honesty, taking up that stand-up "it's so true" impetus that kills a lot of the Funny People comedy for me, where I'm laughing at a mirror, a parody of my desires. The laughs I liked best in Funny People are parodies of my fears, I suppose. And it seems that this revelation of the hidden is exactly what film offers comedy. The inappropriate is given a voice, and a face. Too bad giving that voice a new voice in criticism is such a self-defeating project; classification is hardly hilarious. Dewey Decimal just sounds funny.

not ready
—For Your Health!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Convergence for the waning pool time (8/29/09)

by Ryland Walker Knight


—let it dry

Friday, August 28, 2009

We Live OK: 5 Selections, 08.09

by Ryland Walker Knight

under a tent
—big top

—who's left?

stand tall, wrap
fall away
—wrapping route

—hours unto hours

Monday, August 24, 2009

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #4

by Ryland Walker Knight

—The image blushes

Veiled in movie-blood red.

by Ryland Walker Knight

My new wife, Mélanie Laurent

Despite a plethora of scintillating and smart pre-release reviews from a number of friends, I wrote a little something about Inglourious Basterds for Danny over at The Auteurs Notebook after I saw it Friday night. Today, you can click here to read it. It's a pretty damned insane movie, ballsy and self-immolating and, it seems to me, very personal. I didn't touch on this in the review, but somehow this stretched canvass feels even more personal than Kill Bill, though it springs from similar source: QT loves his women. More specifically, he gives Mélanie Laurent one of the most romantic moments of his career, kissing her black lover (Jacky Ido) goodbye; likewise, Ido's cigarette flick farewell is surprisingly tender. Also worth noting here is that I'm as tired as anybody of the "everything is cinema" refrain, but, if you start there (not end there), you can see that there's a bigger argument at play. It just helps that cinema is a perfect venue to talk about the things Tarantino is obsessed with: women, identity, action, the illusion of agency, the cost violence can rack up on a soul (or not), feet, performance, language and color. I really wanted to see the picture again before writing about it (I may go tomorrow), but it was fun to jam on it and bust out some quick reactions. I hope you like it, too.

change clothes, and go

Some reviews I dig: After Hoberman's mini gauntlet in the Voice, Karina Longworth's reappraisal at Spout, Koresky's enthused Reverse Shot piece, Eileen Jones' halfway there golf clap at Exiled Online, Manohla Dargis' three-quarter counter case in The Times, Walter Chaw's rapture at Film Freak Central, and a couple by Glenn: first and second. Also, in case you loved that Bowie interlude, too, give it a listen over here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Viewing Log #8: Eyes so green [8/17/09 - 8/23/09]

by Ryland Walker Knight

—I can stare for a thousand years.

  • Gaslight [George Cukor, 1944] # So much more painful this time, though I can't imagine it not being painful. I really need to re-read Contesting Tears.

  • A Little Death [Gina Telaroli, 2009] Gina tells me this is a work in progress but it certainly looked cohesive and complete to my eyes.
  • Johnny Guitar [Nicholas Ray, 1954] # Color like you wouldn't believe, and all kinds of ideas of hierarchies. The stunt falls in the finale set piece really look like they hurt.

  • Inglourious Basterds [Quentin Tarantino, 2009] A blast, no doubt, despite prattle calls of ideological failure. More in The Notebook tomorrow (plus some extra notes at home). Gonna try to go again this week.

  • Design for Living [Ernst Lubitsch, 1933] Despite the class stuff, this could be made now. (Class is a no-no, it seems, in modern American comedy.) In fact, it's got a much more progressive idea of love and friendship than something like, say, Funny People. A real treat. And scandalous, too.
  • Trouble in Paradise [Ernst Lubitsch, 1932] # You can't change! Society is rigged! Hilarious!

  • The Thick Of It [Armando Iannucci, 2005/2007] Watched the whole show, including specials, all too quickly because I couldn't quit laughing at all that bile. Man, I am happy I don't know any Malcolm Tuckers.

  • In The Loop [Armando Iannucci, 2009] Yup: hilarious, biting, wonderful casting. I, too, take points off for the "aesthetic" but that's small potatoes in the bigger, faster, nastier, funnier scheme of things. Coogan cameo is brilliant.

  • Portrait of Jennie [William Dieterle, 1948] Kind of devastating idea of inspiration: that what haunts us propels us—and we're lucky if we ever find an error in time to grasp that feeling in our hands. Jennifer Jones' aloof attitude is perfect; Joseph Cotton has the worst hat in cinema.
  • Night of the Demon [Jacques Tourneur, 1957] The power of writing to change the world, more often for ill, makes this windy tale spin. Lots to unpack. Was fun to revisit Kevin's work with Chris Fujiwara, maybe my favorite of the Shooting Down Pictures video essays.

down low

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A dope with dreams.

by Ryland Walker Knight

rear window

You may remember that I wrote a piece about James Gray for Cargo that got published around the end of May and early June. Well, now that the film is readily available for everybody to see, both here in Region-1 and there in Region-2, the essay now appears in the original English, with minor editorial changes that include some images, at The Auteurs' Notebook.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #3

by Ryland Walker Knight

jpb looks scared
—Pearls are cool school

Reverse Shot 25: Claire Denis

by Ryland Walker Knight

dance, greg, dance!

Readers of this blog by now know my affinity for Claire Denis. I've written a few love letters before, such as that piece on 35 Rhums, but I've always found it difficult. Her grammar eludes the linguistic. Yet I keep trying to find the right words because her films keep seducing me. In any event, she has a lot of fans—including many of the Reverse Shot crew, of which I'm something like a "featured player," making symposium cameos every now and again. So it was a real pleasure to take part in this new one, which Koresky and Reichart have titled The Art of Seduction. My essay, about her hour-long reminiscence of teenage hurt—and celebration of dancing—U.S. Go Home, can be found right here. To look at the others, which I'm hoping to do throughout the week, you can see a table of contents, of sorts, by clicking here. Also worth looking at is my buddy Kevin Lee's video essay about L'intrus, which I helped him brainstorm back in May.

Viewing Log #7: Our pig's world [8/10/09 - 8/16/09]

by Ryland Walker Knight

la seine

  • The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp [Powell & Pressburger, 1943] # Despite the propaganda, there is a critical eye towards tradition. Love the conceit about Kerr playing three ladies, and Wolbrook's tenderness is perfect; Livesey's got stuffy down pat to the point where I don't know how much he's acting.
  • The Flight of the Red Balloon [Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2007] # A year later, at home by myself (with myself a little more), and I love it even more. About as lovely as can be. One of those movies you don't need to say anything about; just watch it. Cheers. Chin-chin.

  • Terrace of Unintelligibility [Phill Niblock, 1985] Damned lovely. More back here.
  • The Dirty Dozen [Robert Aldrich, 1967] Somehow, I'd never seen this beast. It was worth the wait. As ever, Cass is my hero: so hip, so cool, so fearless (so to speak). Also, he's a ham. (Love Bronson, too, for what it's worth.)

  • The Big Heat [Fritz Lang, 1953] So brutal, full of real pain. All those doublings and violent reversals make you dizzy, almost. Fitting the opening credits show over a fuzzy spiral background. I should watch it again; I want to.
  • Macao [Josef von Sternberg, 1952] Gloria Grahame is sexier than Jane Russell (I've never been into her) and Robert Mitchum acts tough real well. Obvious. The real crazy ideas here are about documentary. A real treat, if all over.
  • Sylvia Scarlett [George Cukor, 1935] The first Kate and Cary pairing, and the first time I've really heard him use his Cockney heritage. Though it's a little sweet, the film is a fun look at her, chiefly, and gender as a costume. Too bad our now-famous pair (Cary was still starting to pick up steam in the machine) weren't allowed more chemistry, but, you know, it's a fun first step towards the rest, like Holiday.

  • The GoodTimesKid [Azazel Jacobs, 2007] Andrew Grant sent me a copy of this and I enjoyed its limber go-nowhere antics. Love that the ship stays moored—a terrible haven, however impenetrable, from the kicks and screams of love outside.

  • The Ghost Ship [Mark Robson, 1943] Questions of dominion and grace, and communication, plague these men. There's a fear of tyranny apt to the time, but it's also cool to think about the power of the director over against the power of the producer, especially in these Lewton pictures, as part of and partial to the cinema's constitutional power over the viewer, and our desire to escape that relationship.

—Finding a tune

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Convergence for that sinking we seek (8/16/09)

by Ryland Walker Knight


Friday, August 14, 2009

Buddhist bubblegum, where the islands go.

by Ryland Walker Knight

Arthur Russell and Phill Niblock's "Terrace of Unintelligibility" is split in two on YouTube, thus this playlist I made. I first heard about the music-art-video when I read this Mark Richardson column a while back. As Richardson notes, the arbitrary start and stop make this document especially curious and lovely: how long could you listen to this? Forever? What strikes me now is the mask of darkness, the will to obscurity that can often result from perfectionism—or simply more "adventurous" art. All the darkness makes me think of Costa, and curious as ever to see what Ne Change Rien looks like on a big screen. Light leaks around the form, as the words Russell spills coalesce in the corners of his mouth, which is, of course, our first focal point. It's also an image of proximity where the ghost pushes present (however in shadow), transformed at least thrice over. But, again, this battered image endears the piece to me and my eyes so hungry for textures of light—even degraded pixel squares cobbled mosaic-like. In any event, Russell's not all minimal warbling and cello tapping and ethereal drones. He made disco, too, and gave Paradise Garage one of its hallmarks: "Is It All Over My Face." I made another playlist for its A and B sides below; the B side remix is by Larry Levan, who was also a superstar, and deserves his own post.

—Thanks, @cambomb, for reminding me of this earlier tonight.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #2

by Ryland Walker Knight

perfect posture
—Freckles and lace

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Viewing Log #6: After midnight, searching [8/3/09 - 8/9/09]

by Ryland Walker Knight

for me
for you
—Whatever this world can give to me

  • Notorious [Alfred Hitchcock, 1946] # Yearning to hear those words, to find a way back from poison, how to restore faith. He says it early: Actions speak louder.
  • The Leopard Man [Jacques Tourneur, 1943] Fine vignettes of terror to instigate a lot of early "gaze" theory, but it doesn't hang together all that well. Still, each "hunt" is gripping and frightful.
  • Who Killed Who? [Tex Avery, 1943] Sunday morning cartoons discovered on youtube after reading a Rosenbaum entry way too early. I made note of these over on the tumblr microsite. Watching these in kind of rapid succession kind of gave me a headache but I was laughing a lot, too.
  • The Shooting of Dan McGoo [Tex Avery, 1945] click
  • Red Hot Riding Hood [Tex Avery, 1943] click
  • Little Rural Red Riding Hood [Tex Avery, 1949] click

  • Duplicity [Tony Gilroy, 2009] Not as knotty as some would have you believe, but easily sexy and fun and a little smart and, most surprising, none of it's done with condescension. Gilroy's not hiding any so-called "twist," either, with that credit sequence finger pointing or the emerging ("fractal") structure.

  • I Love You Man [John Hamburg, 2009] About as apt a double bill as can be imagined. This movie makes me feel good and I'm not ashamed one iota. I don't care if it's a simple thing; it works. Maybe more words will come of this.
  • Shaun of the Dead [Edgar Wright, 2004] # "Alright, gay..." There's a real picture of friendship couched inside this zom-rom-com, which makes it easy for me to get nostalgic for a few worlds I've lived in (not just the most recently departed). But, beyond that, it was nice to see again how smart the movie really is at all events. —So many long takes!

  • The Body Snatcher [Robert Wise, 1944] Just the beginning bit. Karloff is great, but I was tired and the Tourneur is real hard to follow. (In fact, I looked back at the zombies instead.)
  • I Walked with a Zombie [Jacques Tourneur, 1943] # Hadn't seen since seeing those Costa pictures. What a tight, humble movie. What night, what walking, what tall grass and what big eyes. In what darkness do we see?

  • A Man Escaped [Robert Bresson, 1956] # As hopeful as anything. Like comfort food, only healthier.

  • The Curse of the Cat People [Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise, 1944] Kind of silly, though occasionally pretty. No real consequences here.
  • Cat People [Jacques Tourneur, 1942] # A standby for all time. The dimensions of desire are deep and wide and violent. More said with pictures.


Saturday, August 08, 2009

Convergence for your gardens (8/8/09)

by Ryland Walker Knight

post no bills

cactus soul
—stretches leaves traces

Thursday, August 06, 2009

More Vimeo switching for your visual sweet tooth.

by Ryland Walker Knight (for Steven Boone)

After I learned that my imeem videos were gone, I alerted my boy Steve about it and he said, "Sure, sure, I'll switch when I have the time." Well, time has come. By popular demand, his inaugural Low Budget Eye Candy video on George Lucas' debut feature THX-1138 is now available above and on vimeo proper, where, Steve assures me, more are in the pipeline. And they sound amazing. Hopefully I'll be joining him soon with some moving image essays (as noted here, as hosted here). For now, though, eat your heart out, Lamar Odom.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Holiday in His Eye [UPDATED]

by Ryland Walker Knight

the holiday in his eye

To get as Mobius strip as possible, here's a quick pointer to a links post I did at The Auteurs today about all the Cary Grant in the world of blogs and rep houses.

UPDATED: For those not in Brooklyn, nor with patience for Netflix/the internet, there's a full day of Cary Grant on TCM this Sunday, the 9th.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Dimensions of desire. Cat People.

by Ryland Walker Knight

leading away
—Going nowhere

For fear of clogging the load time of this main page, I've hosted this image essay over at VINYL IS IMAGES. Please do click through.

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #1

by Ryland Walker Knight

biting but not biting
—Biting but not biting.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Viewing Log #5: Frankly curious, hungry [7/27/09 - 8/2/09]

by Ryland Walker Knight

dark side of the moon
sun flare
—Past gold, into dust like scythes of light

  • Heaven Can Wait [Warren Beatty & Buck Henry, 1978] # Co-written by Elaine May, if you remember. And co-starring Julie Christie, as I'm sure you can't forget. She sells everything, and not solely because she's a gorgeous creature. (Annie wasn't feelin' it, btw; her loss.)
  • The Grapes of Wrath [John Ford, 1940] # How's this for a come down? I said a few things in the comments at this post, but, now, looking at the dates in this list, it's amazing that this picture is "contemporary" with that Fleming ark of the antebellum.
  • Funny People [Judd Apatow, 2009] Said plenty at fN!, but I want to say here that it's such a fine line between the camera loving its subject and the director congratulating himself. I wanted more from that trio of competitive bile.
  • RocknRolla [Guy Ritchie, 2008] Wasn't up for anything I'd have to think about, so this puffer was easy to down despite its blatant bullshit because, well, it's macho and it's entertaining and Thandie Newton is a dime. Mark Strong is classy, typically perfect, but this one ain't no Revolver—by a mile.
  • Wedding Crashers [David Dobkin, 2005] # Only about 45 minutes, and on cable, which butchers the dirty fun.
  • Gone With The Wind [Victor Fleming, 1939] A bizarre meld of expressions, and big as a plantation to be sure (broad as hell, too), but Gable kept me going. More and more I think him a fine actor, with real valiance and wit. A true He-Man type, but the wounds show up nevertheless.
  • Noroit [Jacques Rivette, 1976] I don't know. Perhaps as "purely negative" as that Lang picture he loves. Halting and arrested, this is about as uninviting a picture as you'll see. Rivette braids revenge and self-destruction in a complete nowhere world that has lost its treasure, and sense of order, until the cataclysmic finale, which is basically a zero sum game. Will have to watch again. Lafont's pants are hilarious; she's kind of terrifying. That, too, it seems, is the movie.

Qualen is the man

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Quick Plug: Fonda's mulish withdrawal

by Ryland Walker Knight

long day

Fonda's defensiveness (he seems to be vouchsafing his emotion and talent to the audience in tiny blips) comes from having a supremely convex body and being too modest to exploit it. Fonda's entry into a scene is that of a man walking backward, slanting himself away from the public eye. Once in a scene, the heavy jaw freezes, becomes like a concrete abutment, and he affects a clothes-hanger stance, no motion in either arm.
      — Manny Farber ["Rain in the face, dry gulch, and squalling mouth" (1966)]

TCM will be showing Henry Fonda movies all day. It's damned tempting. In the past year or so, he's become one of my favorite actors, though for a very different reason than my attraction to Cary Grant, or Mathieu Amalric; in fact, it's an opposite pull. Fonda's always working against a movie, somehow, and the fun is seeing him winding gears inside his head, plotting his pattern through a picture, and then watching that plan realized. Other times, I like seeing his surprise. Further: it's wonderful to see how much he changed over the course of his career, how age lined his performances with more violence. This is why we miss people like Guillaume Depardieu, or James Dean, too.