has a passionate dual interest in people and art. was educated and has been employed accordingly. enjoys museums, movies, talking about any of the above, the workings of nonprofits, many great coastal cities, traveling, learning.... [more]
has a passionate dual interest in people and art. was educated and has been employed accordingly. enjoys museums, movies, talking about any of the above, the workings of nonprofits, many great coastal cities, traveling, learning. [show less]
The May 25, 2009 issue of the New Yorker included a nicely engaging exploration – by David Denby – of Victor Fleming, mostly through his work on The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. How did the director of two enormous classics fade from cinema history? Well, for one thing, he doesn't fit well at all, stylistically, into the principles of auteur theory (despite considerable personal presence). Denby takes an entertaining look at Fleming's forceful and dramatic life and methods, but it's a perspicacious examination of character in film as well:
"As Sragow points out, Fleming had learned something essential from his capering association with Douglas Fairbanks—how to position a performer within the frame and time his performance in such a way that the camera brought out his temperament and his strength. This would seem an essential skill for any filmmaker, yet a surprising number of directors, obsessed with visual expressiveness, are inattentive to it. Fleming didn’t give detailed instructions to his actors; rather, he talked about the character, and located and enlarged a set of defining traits—a strain of feeling or humor—in whomever he was working with. Then the actors, working intimately for the camera, performed what in effect were idealized versions of themselves, creating a persona that connected with a widespread public fantasy. Fleming, along with such directors as Ford and William Wyler, had the star-making skill that Hollywood has now lost."
In old news I completely missed, Wes Anderson went out of his way to screen Rushmore for an ailing Pauline Kael. The director's transcript of the meeting, originally printed in F&F, as well as responses to this, can be found reprinted at This Recording. (click 'recording' for link to the whole thing)
She sounded skeptical. ''How are we going to do that?''
''I'll get the studio to set it up.''
''That could be expensive,'' she said.
''Well. Let's stick it to them,'' I said.
She liked the sound of this. ''O.K., let's stick it to them,'' she said. She told me she didn't drive, and that someone would have to pick her up and take her to the theater.
I love some of Wes Anderson's movies very much. Rushmore is actually not my favorite; that would be The RoyalTenenbaums, which I saw 7 times in theaters, spending more money than I care to remember, when it came out. It's true, though, that he isn't afraid to be caustic. He isn't afraid to cut into his characters a bit, and in fact, sharply defining them is sort of a hallmark, though their flaws and foibles translate into fondness in the viewer (though clearly, not all viewers). But when this is applied pretty directly to a living person, total veracity of the transcript aside, it cuts both ways. It hurts a bit, viewer and, apparently, subject. Maybe it's just because I have a hard time objectively evaluating someone who's ill - especially with a mental impairment - but it was a strange experience. I mean, again, I love his movies. The scene at the end of The Life Aquatic where Bill Murray's friends surround him as he leaves the theater, running up and happily greeting each other: touching, subtle, funny (and a direct homage to Buckaroo Banzai, probably a discussion for another time). I hate the condescension of "She liked the sound of this."
Nobody's perfect. But it was an interesting angle.
(click on the video names for images, and to watch)
A Museum Video Installation
I'm not usually crazy about animation, but I am crazy about William Kentridge's works, and especially the 2003 Tide Table. In fall 2004, I was walking up some stairs in the Met and I came upon this piece in a stairwell. It felt like I had entered another secret side of the museum (though interestingly, Kentridge's work was also on view that fall in the stairwell of P.S. 1). I watched it, alone, for several minutes, and then people started swarming up and suddenly I realized that this was not some kind of quiet pleasure; instead, it grabbed pretty much anybody who walked by. Tide Table is done in the typical and perhaps sole Kentridge style, all erasures and charcoal gray, and it's a terrific form for the subject. The film manages to look as though it's been washed up on a piece of driftwood, come to life and began relating a story. Furthermore, though, the story come through in unmistakably clear, but distinctive, symbolic language. It fascinates me so much; it's as if Kentridge studied the surrealist manner of visually triggering and exploring the subconscious, and then went out and developed his own symbolic language that gives the viewer, somehow without artifice, a direct line into emotional empathy towards a specific place and state of mine. You might not know much South African backstory, but you come to know something about history and experience nonetheless.
A Short Film
For a few years, I very regularly went to the Oscar Shorts when they played, pre-awards. A particular year, 2000, was a memorable one for animated shorts (see also the ghoulish The Periwig-Maker), but one stood out and in fact won the Oscar. It’s called Father and Daughter and was made by Michael Dudok de Wit, coming in at about 8 minutes long.
Oh boy, it’s a tearjerker (or it was for me and my best friend upon first viewing and also just now when I looked at it for the first time in 8 years). As compared to Tide Table, this is a very linear little story, about a young girl who loses her father, more or less. There’s no dialogue, just an instrumental score interspersed with bird twitters and bicycle bells. What’s so nice about this little winner is the directness itself; we don’t have to strain to follow a single emotion or turn of the story. Mostly, the story doesn’t turn; it’s a life marked by repetition. But the illustration-style, sepia and black watercolor-looking images just work so well with the immediacy and succinctness of the story. I love, too, that it looks like a children’s book you might have paged through before, but the music, fluidity of the bicycles, seasonal images movement emphasize how well-suited to film it, in fact, is.
There’s even a charming moment, a bit silly, where the girl is riding her bike against the wind and then turns into it and FLIES away.
• Sadly, I realized that the critical bellweather Roger Ebert was not infallible when he lauded Piper Perabo’s performance in Coyote Ugly, and by extension gave the movie a passing grade. Lo and behold, famous critics can be won over by not-entirely-deserving, beautiful heroines. Happily, I soon discovered that he is famous for a reason. It’s not like nobody has read Ebert, but I think his lists of ‘best movies’ (see link below for ‘first 100 best films’) are respectable and truly well-written. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?category=greatmovies_first100
Here is a quick sample of his to-the-point writing on 8 1/2.:
“The critic Alan Stone, writing in the Boston Review, deplores Fellini's "stylistic tendency to emphasize images over ideas." I celebrate it. A filmmaker who prefers ideas to images will never advance above the second rank because he is fighting the nature of his art. The printed word is ideal for ideas; film is made for images, and images are best when they are free to evoke many associations and are not linked to narrowly defined purposes. Here is Stone on the complexity of "8 1/2": "Almost no one knew for sure what they had seen after one viewing." True enough. But true of all great films, while you know for sure what you've seen after one viewing of a shallow one.”
Sometimes, the “old critics” can be the best starting place. Ebert, I think, is a great primer on classics and gives you a palatable way to enjoy reading about filmmaking techniques.
• Other times, one likes to read the Self-Styled Siren's insightful words and her wonderful sidebar links. (click the self-styled siren to go to there.) With devotion to the craft, the skill, the mise-en-scene, the research, it’s good...all good.
The Siren on Sydney Greenstreet, June 3 2009:
“Greenstreet always played a man who enjoys every minute spent acquiring his heft and finds it an advantage, not a hindrance. In theatrical parlance, he takes the stage. Watch Greenstreet in The Verdict, gliding to stand near his rival (George Colouris) when first informed of his horrible mistake, letting his bigness speak for the character's imposing career and experience. He is the furthest thing from an apologetic or buffoonish fat man imaginable.”
• The Film Doctor, too, comprehensive words on recently released films: http://filmdr.blogspot.com/
• Girish, with thoughtful writing and collected online resources http://www.girishshambu.com/blog/
• The Passionate Moviegoer: Obscura! http://thepassionatemoviegoer.blogspot.com/ Joe Baltake’s take on The Real Housewives’ origins, May 13, 2009 (and it makes me pretty happy to relate to both Bravo’s terriflyingly addictive hit and TCM):
“For reasons which, initially, I could barely explain, I've become a devotee of the "Real Housewives" shows on Bravo, particuarly the latest one, "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," which is easily the entertainment version of fast food - great-tasting, unhealthy and guilt-producing.
But then, one day, when I was able to tear myself away from Bravo and return to my beloved Turner Classic Movies, I realized something. Turner was promoting its May 14th screening of George Cukor's "The Women" of 1939 and it suddenly dawned on me that, 60 years later, Bravo's collective series on catty, acquisitive, self-absorbed, untrustworthy women of privilege is clearly the heir to Cukor's classic.”
• The Back Row Manifesto http://blogs.indiewire.com/twhalliii Surveying the best that’s out there and about to be out there.
• The Daily, by David Hudson http://www.ifc.com/blogs/thedaily/