Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hopsie & Jean

Oh darling, hold me tight! Oh, you don't know what you've done to me.

I'm terribly sorry.

Oh, that's all right.I wouldn't have frightened you for anything in the world. I mean if there's anyone in the world I wouldn't have wanted to - it's you.

You're very sweet. Don't let me go.

Snakes are my life, in a way.

What a life!

I suppose it does sound sorta silly. I mean, I suppose I shoulda married and settled down. I imagine my father always wanted me to. As a matter of fact, he's told me so rather plainly. I just never cared for the brewing business.

Oh, you say that's why you've never married?

Oh no. It's just I've never met her. I suppose she's around somewhere in the world.

It would be too bad if you never bumped into each other.

Well...I-
I suppose you know what she looks like and everything.

-I think so.
I'll bet she looks like Marguerite in Faust.

Oh no, she isn't, I mean, she hasn't, she's not as bulky as an opera singer.

Oh. How are her teeth?

Hunh?

Well, you should always pick one out with good teeth. It saves expense later.

Oh, now you're kidding me.

Not badly. You have a right to have an ideal.

Oh, I guess we all have one.What does yours look like?

He's a little short guy with lots of money.

Why short?

What does it matter if he's rich? It's so he'll look up to me. So I'll be his ideal.

That's a funny kind of reason.

Well, look who's reasoning. And when he takes me out to dinner, he'll never add up the check and he won't smoke greasy cigars or use grease on his hair. And, oh yes, he, he won't do card tricks.

Oh.

Oh, it's not that I mind your doing card tricks, Hopsie. It's just that you naturally wouldn't want your ideal to do card tricks.

I shouldn't think that kind of ideal was so difficult to find.

Oh he isn't. That's why he's my ideal. What's the sense of having one if you can't ever find him? Mine is a practical ideal you can find two or three of in every barber shop - getting the works.

Why don't you marry one of them?

Why should I marry anybody that looked like that? When I marry, it's gonna be somebody I've never seen before. I mean I won't know what he looks like or where he'll come from of what he'll be. I want him to sort of - take me by surprise.

Like a burglar.

That's right. And the night will be heavy with perfume. And I'll hear a step behind me and somebody breathing heavily, and then.….. You'd better go to bed, Hopsie. I think I can sleep peacefully now.

I wish I could say the same.

You know how you’ll hear snooty film types lament about how nobody writes great dialogue anymore? Well, it happens to be the truth. The example above could be exhibit A. It’s taken from Preston Sturges’ great 1941 comedy The Lady Eve, and it illustrates what I mean quite nicely. Barbara Stanwyk as Jean and Henry Fonda as Charles (“Hopsie”) are two people who find themselves in love when neither expected to be, and we see it blossom right before our eyes. In only a few minutes of screen time we see nervousness, intelligence, charming silliness…and finally, lust.

It’s fun to watch the great screenplays of the Hays Code era, and watch how writers slyly dealt with sex. Sturges was a master at it, whether it’s Betty Hutton’s one-night-stand in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, the two horny spinsters in Sullivan’s Travels, or Barbara Stanwyck playing with Henry Fonda’s hair while making snake talk. Because , you see, they don’t write stuff like that anymore.

Henry Fonda, Preston Sturges, and Barbara Stanwyck on the set of The Lady Eve

Monday, September 17, 2007

I Hate filmscreed

Yeah, I kinda do. Let me ‘splain why.

This blog got started way back when because I was getting an itch to do a bit of writing. I had been poking around Usenet in the film groups and had tried my hand at some short commentaries, and this had whetted my appetite for more of the same.

It was about at this time that the concept of the weblog started to really gather steam. A Usenet acquaintance named Tom Sutpen had started his own blog, and as I read it, I began to think why not? This was the perfect forum for what I wanted to do – To write about something I was passionate about. Thus, filmscreed was born in the fall of 2005, featuring an essay on Kon Ichikawa’s Fires on the Plain. My intent was always to do commentaries on off-the-beaten-track stuff, just like my blog description says.

I was trying to sit down, do the toil, and perhaps create something worthwhile. In looking back at those first entries, I see that they were far from perfect, but they were at least created with enthusiasm. After a while, however, I started to be bothered by the small number of responses I got, and I began to think that doing an entry every two or three weeks wasn’t enough, that people needed a more steady diet or they’d get bored.

That’s when I decided to start supplementing the blog with photos and film posters, thus keeping a more steady flow of material out there. This was interesting, and it was kind of fun to hunt up stuff to put online.

The change was gradual, and it was abetted by some changes in my life. A new job cut drastically into my free time, making watching movies a lot more difficult, and writing about them nearly impossible. The result was that the blog became saturated with “quick & easy” stuff – Photos, movie posters, magazine covers, and writing took a backseat. When I did write, I had to cram it into the rare bits of free time I had. The quality suffered for it, culminating in the piece I did on Underworld Beauty a few weeks back. It was sloppy, I wasn’t happy with it, but I posted it anyway.

So, now I have made a decision. I briefly thought about just shutting down the site, but decided that that wasn’t an option, so I am just going to dedicate myself to re-inventing filmscreed the way I originally envisioned it – An "insufferable film snob" writing about movies. The posts will be more infrequent, and the film posters and other images aren’t going away completely (I’ve got waaaay too many of them on my hard drive, and I’m not going to have done all that for nothing, dammit!) but the focus will be put back on me sitting at a keyboard and hammering out my thoughts on movies.

If you are one who reads this blog with any regularity, I hope you continue to. I've got a lot of stuff that I want to talk about, and a lot of work ahead of me. Please, just be patient with this time-challenged amateur scribbler.

Thanks

Jeff

On this Date

A Happy 62nd to Mr. Bruce Spence, a.k.a. The Gyro Captain.

The Marquee

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Marquee (Hopper redux division)

Likely the worst film I ever saw, man.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Semper Fi

There’s a moment in John Dahl’s Red Rock West that some might look at and wonder why it’s there. It’s the first meeting between Nicholas Cage’s Michael and the hired killer known as Lyle from Dallas (Dennis Hopper)

Hopper gives Cage a ride, and they discover that they have something in common – They were both Marines. Cages’ Michael is, in fact, is a survivor of the horrific 1983 Beirut truck bombing that claimed the lives of over 200 Marines. Lyle exclaims, “You’re one lucky Son-of-a-bitch!” and Michael replies with a bit of irritation “I KNOW I was. 241 guys weren’t.”…And Lyle nods softly in agreement.

The Marine connection surfaces again at the films climax, in the form of a little tongue-in-cheek visual joke, but what makes this moment so memorable for me is that this is one of the rare times where a film takes a few moments to prise open a bad guy and shine a little light in. Lyle is a cold killer, a Hopper loony to rank alongside his best, but in this small, seemingly insignificant moment, we get to see him for a tiny bit more.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Underworld Beauty

For a film lover, there’s not much that can top the pleasure of seeing something that you know nothing about, and having it just blow your doors off. Such was the case with Underworld Beauty, my first dabble in the work of the Japanese master Seijun Suzuki. This film has got a lot of things I love – Cool, tough men, sexy tough women, and a bit of depravity thrown in for good measure. Simply put, this is a great film.

We first meet Miyamoto as he walks down a deserted sewer, dislodges a brick from the wall and removes something from the other side – A gun and a small bag of diamonds. This opening sequence nicely introduces the hard-as-nails underground world of UB, and does so without a single word of dialogue. We can guess that Miyamoto is a guy who has just gotten out of prison and is recovering his hidden loot, but an early meeting with a crime boss puts an unexpected spin on things. It turns out that Miyamoto wants to sell the diamonds in order to help out his old partner Mihara, who lost a leg in the job that sent Miyamoto to prison.

The rooftop meeting to sell the jewels goes bad when several masked men interrupt it. Rather than give up the diamonds that he paid such a price to obtain, Mihara swallows them and leaps off the building to his death. The bad guys all have a dilemma now: Their diamonds are in the stomach of a dead man, and the body is in the hands of the law.

This, folks, is where the story takes a twist towards the macabre. We have already briefly met the dead man’s younger sister Oyane, and her artist boyfriend Arita. These two know where the diamonds are, and during a last viewing of Mihara’s body, Arita distracts his girlfriend long enough to recover the stones from inside the dead body.

One thing that strikes you as you watch this film is the America-fied air that it gives off. The story, its B&W, wide-screen presentation, and jazzy score could have been lifted wholesale from some of the great American noirs, like Pick-up on South Street or Kiss Me Deadly. The “hero” Miyamoto with his leather jacket and black fedora looks much more like a North American construct than any traditional kind of yakuza. This film walks in the tough-guy footprints laid down by people like Sam Fuller.

I put hero in quotes above because, although Miyamoto is the hero in the strictest sense of the word, he is far from a virtuous knight errant. There’s no suggestion that he didn’t deserve to be in prison, and throughout the film he carries himself with the air of someone who is not to be messed with. There’s a scene early on where he walks into a raucous nightclub, and everything comes to an abrupt halt. His quest to recover the jewels and his efforts to protect Oyane after her brother’s death are tied to what he likely sees as a duty to his former partner, and nothing more.

Arita now seems to have everything wrapped up, because no one else knows that he has the diamonds, everyone believing that they were cremated along with Mihara. It all goes up in smoke, however, when Miyamoto visits and intercepts a damning telephone call. Miyamoto thus recovers the diamonds and sets UB’s marvelous endgame into motion. On one side Miyamoto with the diamonds, and on the other side the crime syndicate who are holding Oyane hostage.

Underworld Beauty is a marvelous-looking Noir, and never more so than in its finale, when Miyamoto goes to the mansion of the head bad guy to settle things up. The final showdown is lengthy and makes good use of the house with its shadowy hallways and Western-style look. Miyamoto and Oyane are pinned in a corner of a dark, steamy basement, and work together frantically to burrow their way out through a coal chute. It’s a terrific set piece, shot through with soot, sweat, and gunpowder. Rescuing a girl never looked like such hard work before.

A final note – My profuse thanks to Tom Sutpen (The David Ortiz of film bloggage) for providing me with a copy of this little jewel.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

On Location

Fritz Lang (front of car) sets up a shot for the great Metropolis (1927)

The Marquee

Wall Street, 1987

Friday, August 17, 2007

On this Date

A happy 87th to Maureen O'Hara, born on this date in 1920

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Soundtrack

The film is "Performance", and the song is the great "Memo From Turner", by Mick Jagger. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Marquee

a.k.a. The Battle of the Rails, 1946

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Kurosawa Blog-a-thon

Throne of Blood

Swing on over to The Film Vituperatem and sign up for his Kurosawa Blog-a-thon, taking place Nov. 15th to the 22nd.

Moments of Distiction

The finale of "Vanishing Point" - Forever seared into the mind of this one-time adolescent.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"That man never killed anybody"

Butler is a guy who just oozes intimidation. Played by the Brit Hugh Millais, the main heavy in Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller is scary even when he’s being nice. Butler is sent by a mining company to get rid of Warren Beatty’s McCabe after he refuses to make a deal with them. McCabe realizes that he may have made a grave error, and goes to meet with this strange big man. Taken literally, their conversation seems almost innocent, but as played by Millais, with his beard and gigantic fur coat, it’s a masterpiece of menacing undercurrent.

Butler begins by amicably asking McCabe about the terms of the deal he was looking for, and McCabe admits the frivolous bantering on price. When pressed by Butler, McCabe instantly collapses and admits to what his real price was.

You weren’t so far apart, were you?

NO! That’s what I’m trying to tell you! We can still make a deal!

I don’t make deals.

Aren’t you here working for the mining company?

No, I’m here hunting bear!

I thought you worked for the mining company.

I do sometimes – When they can’t make a deal.

But I can make a deal!

Not with me.

That’s not the exact dialogue, but you get the idea. Butler has been nothing but friendly during this exchange, but his message gets through loud and clear. You should have made your deal when you had your chance, because now it’s too late.

The quote at the title if this post is Butler’s reply after the meeting when told of McCabe’s reputation of having killed another man in a card game. In my estimation, Butler, who most certainly HAS killed someone, is able to see through McCabe’s bombast. When it comes to murder, he is the real deal.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Newsstand

Myrna Loy on the February,1935 cover of Photoplay

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Saturday, July 28, 2007

On Location

Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint on the great Mount Rushmore set for North By Northwest.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Marquee

Battleship Potemkin, 1925

Monday, July 23, 2007

On This Date

The great Peter Sellers - Born Sept. 8, 1925 - Died July 24, 1980

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Man Escaped

Film scholars have always accorded Robert Bresson a spot in the upper echelon of directors, but it took me a while to understand why. My first experiences with Bresson were his two best-known films, Pickpocket and Au Hasard Balthazar, and both left me flat. I was turned off by the emotionless protagonist of Pickpocket, and just plain depressed by the treatment endured by the “donkey Christ” of Balthazar. Something clicked, however, when I watched Bresson’s final film, L’Argent. It’s a simple tale of a man whose stubborn pride causes his whole life to unravel, and in viewing it, I finally felt that I was starting to understand Bresson’s uncompromising take on Christian mores. Which brings me to 1956’s A Man Escaped. On the surface, it’s a prison break movie, but in Bresson’s hands, it’s also a meditation on faith and community.

Set in France in 1944, it is the tale of Fontaine, a French resistance fighter who has been captured and imprisoned by the Nazis. Fontaine has no illusions about how his incarceration will turn out – He will eventually be shot, and so his entire being is focused on his escape. He sets to work on the long process of chiseling away his heavy oak cell door with a tool fashioned from a spoon, and the film lingers on the work. Fontaine knows that his freedom will be hard earned and slow in coming, but he is relentless in working towards it.

We start to meet a few of the other inmates during their regimented life. There is a priest, whose faith is rekindled because of his support for Fontaine’s quest. There is Fonatine’s neighbor Orsini, who plots his own escape, and gives his life to supply some helpful information on getting out. Finally, there is Blanchet, an old man who occupies the cell next to Fontaine. Fontaine tries in vain to communicate with this man for a great part of the film. He taps on the wall, and gets no response. He tries to talk across their two outside windows, and gets no answer.

One day the old man falls when emptying his bathroom bucket, and Fontaine helps him to his feet. A tentative relationship begins to emerge between the two men, and they start to talk a bit between their cells. Fontaine reveals his plan to escape, and Blanchet, worn down by years of imprisonment, tells him that his plan is nonsense. Bresson shoots these passages from outside the prison walls to accentuate the separation of the two men, and one is left with the feel of a confessional.

Fontaine periodically hears the sounds of someone being shot, just to remind him that death isn’t far away. The film never shows us an execution, however. Somehow it’s fitting that in the case of a friend that you know from tapping coded messages, his death is only experienced by sound. Such is the world of solitude that AME portrays.

The people in Bresson’s films never showed much emotion, and that was by design. Bresson wanted you to arrive at your own conclusions, instead of being led by an actor. As Fontaine, Fran├žois Leterrier is another in that tradition. He’s an enigma in this film. We never learn a single thing about his life outside prison, apart from the fact that he’s a freedom fighter. There is never any indication that he has a wife or family on the outside. He seems to want to escape only to continue his work.

Fontaine’s quest takes an unexpected turn one day when he comes back to his cell and finds a new roommate – a young French Nazi army deserter named Jost. This, or course puts his work in a whole new light. He actually spells it out for us in his narration. He has two choices – Jost can escape with him, or be killed.

The exchanges between these two are where the heart of the film resides. Jost speaks of his family, and what he has lost, and this amplifies the fact that Fontaine hasn’t spoken of his. Perhaps he doesn’t even have anybody on he outside. In any case, he reveals the plan to escape to the young man, and it is now clear that in addition to his own escape, Fontaine sees delivering Jost back to his family as a spiritual crusade.

Do the two men make good on their escape? The film’s title would seem to pretty much give that plot point away, but AME is about much more than steel and concrete. It’s about how this man rekindles hope in men who though that they were beyond it. After scoffing at Fontaines plan, Blanchet ends up providing help, as does the priest. A Man Escaped is about the power that people have when they band together. And that’s easy to understand.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Marquee

Howard the Duck, 1986

I have simply got to get around to watching this.....

Monday, July 16, 2007

On Location

John Ford (L, with bullhorn) at work on 1962's How The West Was Won

The Newsstand

TIME - April 18, 1994 - Harold Lloyd guest stars.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Marquee

a.k.a. Come Dance With Me

Friday, July 06, 2007

On This Date / Dialogue I Love

A happy 70th birthday to Mr. Ned Beatty. In his honour, I present his great monologue from Network.

You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won't have it, is that clear?! You think you have merely stopped a business deal -- that is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity, it is ecological balance! You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations! There are no peoples! There are no Russians. There are no Arabs! There are no third worlds! There is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars! petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars!, Reichmarks, rubles, rin, pounds and shekels! It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet! That is the natural order of things today! That is the atomic, subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and you will atone! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen, and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state -- Karl Marx? They pull out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories and minimax solutions and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments just like we do.We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably deter- mined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale! It has been since man crawled out of the slime, and our children, Mr.Beale, will live to see that perfect world in which there is no war and famine, oppression and brutality --one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you to preach this evangel, Mr. Beale.

Why me?

Because you're on television, dummy. Sixty million people watch you every night of the week, Monday through Friday.

Screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky

The Marquee

The Golden Coach, dir. Jean Renoir, 1953

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Reverend

In my ongoing quest to not become bored silly whilst doing this blog, I have decided to do a periodic feature on my favorite film villains. As such, there’s only one place to start. The Reverend Harry Powell from Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter.

As personified by Robert Mitchum, Powell is a righteous avenging angel doin’ the Good Lord’s duty. Powell doesn’t see any problem with robbing and murdering widows to finance his work: It’s God who delivers them to him.

If NOTH were made today, the Reverends’ sexual hang-ups would be a bit more front and center. As is, they are still there, but you have to read between the lines a bit. Take an early scene where Powell watches a stripper perform. His fists clenched and his teeth gritted, Powell watches in a silent, indignant rage. The payoff is when his switchblade fires through the fabric of his coat – a priceless Hays Code-era phallic metaphor. For all his anger, it never occurs to Powell to get up and leave, and the knife tips us off to why that is.

Then there’s the classic wedding night sequence with Shelly Winters. Winter’s Willa Harper gets the surprise of her life when she learns that Harry is not interested in having sex with her….EVER. This sexual revulsion that Powell has twisted around and turned into a murderous crusade makes him a truly frightening original.

"Leaning...."

The Marquee (Kurosawa twice over)

Kagemusha

Dursu Uzala

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Moments of Distinction

The Film – Barry Lyndon, dir. Stanley Kubrick

The Set-Up - Barry Lyndon (Ryan O’Neal) has been challenged to a duel by his step-son Lord Bullington (Leon Vitali).

Our first look is a close-up of one of the pistols being loaded.

The rules of the duel are explained.

The coin flip to determine who gets first shot. Lord Bullington wins it.

The two men take their positions. What a great location!

Trembling, Lord Bullington fires his pistol by accident. He asks for a replacement…

…And is told that Lyndon gets to take his shot first.

Bullington takes his position.

Overcome by fear, he vomits.

He retakes his place, and Lyndon fires into the ground. It is now Bullington’s turn again.

This time he gets the shot off (on the count of two, not three), and wounds Lyndon.

This sequence is memorable for the way Kubrick pulls the rug out from under us. Lyndon has spent the film climbing to the top, seducing Bullington’s mother, and squandering their fortune. We want to see him get what’s coming to him.

The duel puts a twist on things, however. Bullington is portrayed as a sniveling coward, and Lyndon as the calm, brave one. When Lyndon gets the chance to kill Bullington, he elects to waste his shot, probably hoping that by doing so the matter will now be over. No such luck – Bullington still takes his shot and ends up permanently crippling Lyndon. Bullington has failed to kill his enemy, and has been humiliated because of his fear. He comes out of the duel a lesser man, while Lyndon, in a perverse way, is vindicated.

This scene also begs for recognition for Kubrick, cinematographer John Alcott, and production designer Ken Adam. Kubrick doesn’t rush to the payoff in this scene. The duel is a decidedly formal affair, and is treated as such. The building itself is marvelous. It’s barren and cold, but not without it’s own elegance. It’s like a stately meat locker.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Newsstand

Greta Garbo, Nov 8, 1937

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Marquee

10 Days Wonder, dir. Claude Chabrol