Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Cinematheque Reviews: Martin Scorsese's Hugo

Best.  3D.  Movie.  Ever.  Is this pure fanboy hyperbole or the real thing?  Obviously I am going to say the latter, though the former does exist inside me at all times, ever ready to pounce.  Seriously though, Martin Scorsese's Hugo is a damn fine motion picture.  In some ways very un-Scorsese (PG rated feel-good family film) but in others (a paean to film preservation) the film is pure Marty indeed.  Just to see Georges Méliès' A Trip to the Moon in 3D (or at least parts of it) is worth the price of admission - even if it is an inflated 3D price.  So yes, Scorsese (and film history) fanboy or not, this is the best 3D movie ever made.  Granted, I am not a big fan of 3D in the first place, so becoming my choice for best 3D is pretty easy really, but still, it is - so there.  I would also boldly proclaim it one of the finest films of 2011.  Whatever the case, you know the drill by now, as my review of said best 3D movie ever is currently up and running over at the review wing of this conglomerate, The Cinematheque.  Go on over and check it out, as all the kids are saying.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Anomalous Material Weekly Feature: 10 Best Classic Hollywood Tough Guys

Here we are again true believers, with what is my eighteenth weekly 10 best feature for the fine folks over at Anomalous Material.  For those of you not in the know, those same said fine folks have given me a (possibly foolish on their behalf) regular weekly gig as feature writer.  It is a series of top ten lists on various cinematic subjects (and anyone who knows me can attest to how perfectly suited I am to such an endeavor - yes I am a  list nerd).  This week's feature takes us back to those halcyon days of classic Hollywood.  A time when men were men and women wanted them.  It was a time of tough guys and fast talkin' dames.  With this list, we are going to focus on those tough guys.  The fast talkin' dames will come in a future list - though there may be one of those fast talkin' dames sneaking their way onto this list.  Check it out, as they say.

Read my feature article, "10 Best Classic Hollywood Tough Guys" at Anomalous Material.

Here is one of the most infamous shots of one of those aforementioned classic Hollywood tough guys.  One story tells of how Mae Clark's ex-husband would go to show after show of The Public Enemy, and laugh hysterically every time Cagney shoves the grapefruit in Clark's kisser.  The story may be somewhat apocryphal, but it is still a fun story anyway.

Criterion Critiques w/ Alex DeLarge

What follows is part of a regular series of reviews on the always wonderful, and quite indispensable Criterion Collection, written by our special guest reviewer Alex DeLarge of the Korova Theatre.

12 ANGRY MEN (Sidney Lumet, 1957)
Released on Criterion Blu-ray 11/22/2011; Spine #591

Sidney Lumet makes a stunning directorial debut with this gritty, sweaty, emotionally charged drama about 12 jurors deciding the fate of an eighteen year old defendant charged with 1st degree murder. They carry the legal burden of deciding guilt or innocence but also understand a conviction would surely lead to the death sentence.

An exceptional cast of now legendary actors fall into character (we never even know their names, only juror number) and don’t miss a beat of dialogue or a camera cue…this film is nearly perfect in its direction. Most of the film takes place in the cramped juror’s quarters, 12 men held prisoner by their own passions and corrupt moralities. Lumet is able to focus his camera into these tight spaces to create immediacy and intimacy, to feel their intellectual and emotional turmoil as they debate the facts and presentation of the trial. This important duty is influenced by their deep-rooted prejudices and convictions, while Henry Fonda advocates for Justice and Reason and for all to consider not only evidence presented at trial…but their own set of facts!

I work in the local District Attorney’s Office and have experience in many trials including homicide cases so consider this: a jury is only supposed to consider evidence (both circumstantial and direct) and veracity of testimony presented at trial, not their own research and sympathies. Essentially, this group of disparate and desperate men voted for a jury nullification. Did they violate the Rule of Law and let a guilty man walk? Think about it.

Final Grade: (A+)


About Alex: "To state things plainly is the function of journalism; Alex writes fugitive reviews, allusive, symbolic, full of imagery and allegory, and by leaving things out, he allows the reader the privilege of creating along with him." Alex can be found hidden deep within the dark confines of his home theatre watching films, organizing his blu-ray and dvd collection and updating his blogs. Please visit the Korova Theatre and Hammer & Thongs to see what’s on his mind.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Woody & Me: Through the Years

The following is my contribution to The LAMBs in the Director's Chair #22: Woody Allen.

The first Woody Allen film I remember seeing was 1973's Sleeper.  It would have been around 1978 or 79 that I saw it on TV.  I would have been just eleven or twelve at the time, so needless to say I did not get many of the sexual or political jokes.  The Orgasmatron went right over my head (kids were more naive in those days) but I do remember liking the giant chicken.  I have of course gone back and rewatched the film, on several occasions, and now consider it to be one of Woody's best and funniest films.  

My real attraction to the films of Allen Stewart Konigsberg (the name with which he was born back in 1935 Brooklyn) came around 1984 with the purchase of my very first VCR. (remember those?)  I was seventeen and this VCR was the first major purchase I ever made with my own hard-earned money.  I also got myself a membership at a local video store called Movie Merchants and began renting movies as if I were a young man with a great obsession.  Of course this was very true, as this was the time I began to evolve into the obsessive cinephile I am today.  This was to be the birth of my lifelong desire for everything cinema.  The beginning of my obsession.  But I digress.

Among the multitudes of titles (on video cassette long before the advent of DVD and Bluray!) that I rented those first few months of membership, were several Woody Allen films.   The first among these, which should come as no surprise, was Annie Hall.  Considered the director's finest work (it makes my top twenty favourite films of all-time), and a departure from his earlier slapstick comedies, Annie Hall is what a romantic comedy should be.  Both edgy and wry, the film stars Woody as Alvy Singer, a typically neurotic writer, and Diane Keaton as his love interest, the titled gal herself, Annie Hall.  The couple had been a couple offscreen as well (they had split up several years before Annie Hall was made, and remain friends to this day) and the character is actually named after Keaton, who had been born Diane "Annie" Hall.

The greatness behind the film, other than the adorable-as-hell performance from Ms. Keaton, is the direction of Mr. Allen himself.  Influenced by Ingmar Bergman as much as Groucho Marx and Charlie Chaplin, Allen made his film as both comedy and drama.  Tossing in multiple styles, including inner monologue subtitles, breaking the fourth wall, introducing insane asides, flashbacks, split-screens and even an animated segment, Allen's Annie Hall, winner of the Best Picture Oscar in 1977 (and Best Director, Screenplay and Actress for Keaton), is what one could and should call a true masterpiece of cinema.  This was also the time period where I first saw Love and Death (influenced by Russian literature), A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (Shakesperean comedy as Bergman remake), Zelig (an early mockumentary), Broadway Danny Rose (showing Allen's comedic upbringing) and Bananas (an early Chaplinesque slapstick).

The three Woody Allen films I saw in this initial flurry of filmwatching that most thrilled me though (aside from the aforementioned Annie Hall) were his ode to Bergman, the serious-minded drama Interiors, his take on Fellini's 8 1/2, Stardust Memories (a film that often gets forgotten when talking of Allen's quite prolific oeuvre) and the Woodman's homage to the city he loves so much, Manhattan.  Using the music of Gershwin (how can you not love a Woody Allen soundtrack!?) and the most stunning of black and white cinematography by Gordon Willis, Allen's Manhattan makes the city itself the main character of his movie.  A city that would play the most important part in many a Woody Allen motion picture, becomes the most important aspect of Manhattan.  The following year I would rent and watch 1985's Purple Rose of Cairo.  One of Allen's most enjoyable films, and one that has grown on me more and more with each successive viewing. 

It was 1986 that Woody and I took our cinematic relationship to a whole other level.  Up until then, I had only seen Woody on the small screen, but that year, my first year out of high school, we went big.  Big screen that is.  Hannah and Her Sisters (my third favourite Woody) would be my first Allen film seen in an actual cinema.  Seen with my mom, aunt and uncle, at an AMC theater in town, the film was a blast, as they say.  The rest of the fam wasn't all that thrilled by it (they never have been big fans of the Woodman), but I quite enjoyed my first theatrical Woody Allen experience.  My cherry popping if you want to keep going with the cine-sexual relationship angle.

The following year would bring my second theatrical rendezvous with the Woodman (how's that for innuendo?).  It would be Radio Days, and unlike the majority of Allen's films, the director would not appear on camera in this one, instead acting as narrator.   Probably the most nostalgic of Allen's films, Radio Days is an ode to that romantic era of the director's childhood.   A pair of dramatic works, September in 1987 and Another Woman in 1988, would follow Radio Days.  These too would be sans Woody the actor.  These would also be two films I would not see till much later (September in the late 1990's and Another Woman for the first time just earlier this year).  Cut now to early 1989.  It has been three years since Woody starred in one of his films.  But this would soon end - in spades. 

First would come the omnibus film New York Stories.  A three part venture directed by Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Allen.  Scorsese's section, starring Nick Nolte as a crazed artist, is my favourite part of the film, and Coppola's part is a sentimental look at childhood in the limelight (obviously based on his daughter Sofia), but Woody's is of course the funniest.  An absurdist look at the Oedipal complex, sprightly called Oedipus Wrecks, it is the story of a man with an overbearing mother.  One day, during a magic act (Woody does love his magic), the mother vanishes, and Woody's smothered son feels free at last.  Alas, the mother comes back as a giant floating head who continues to lovingly torment her son.  Great Woody, but still just a short film.  Later that same year would bring his real (semi)comeback.

Crimes and Misdemeanors is an intriguing blend of the dramatic and the comedic.  Loosely based  on  Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, Allen takes the idea of morality in murder and puts it into a very Allenesque realm.  The director would come back to these themes fifteen years later in Match Point.  After making the mostly forgotten Alice in 1990 (one of the few Allen films I have not seen), playing actor only opposite Bette Midler in Paul Mazursky's Scenes From a Mall, and directing the German Expressionist homage, Shadows and Fog (a film I would not catch on video until a few years later), the shit sort of hit the fan.  Not to play into the whole tabloid aspect of the Woody/Mia/Soon Yi relationship, it was in 1992 that the story hit the newsstands, and would taint Allen's career to this day.  I personally do not think Allen did anything illegal (immoral is a different story, but since Woody and Soon-Yi are still together today, nineteen years later...) but whether he did or not, the scandal still hangs heavy, though to a lesser degree now than then.

The film that came out in the midst of all this he said/she said nonsense was Husbands and Wives.  It would be Mia Farrow's final film with her long time lover.  It would also be Woody Allen's last truly great film for nearly two decades.  After Husbands and Wives Allen would make Manhattan Murder Mystery.  The film would star his former paramour Diane Keaton.   After this would come a succession of enjoyable but not great films.  Bullets Over Broadway in 1994, Mighty Aphrodite in 1995, Everyone Says I Love You (a musical!) in 1996, Deconstructing Harry in 1997, Celebrity in 1998 and Sweet and Lowdown in 1999.  Granted, these may not be Allen's golden age films, but they are still all quite good.  At the turn of the millennium, this would no longer be true.

In 2000 came Small Time Crooks.  A somewhat fun comedy but definitely lesser Woody Allen.  But still, the worst was yet to come.  The following year would bring the world The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.  This is possibly the director's creative low point.  Though, with followups such as Hollywood Ending, Anything Else and Melinda and Melinda, perhaps it is not.  Still though, this five year period is not an era that will be remembered fondly in future studies of the filmmaker's career.  I personally would place Anything Else at the bottom of any Woody Allen list.   But this lull would not last forever.  In 2005, Woody would change in his usual New York skyline for one of Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus.  Setting his new film in London, Match Point played as not only a departure for the Manhattan-loving auteur, but also a comeback of sorts.  Critically acclaimed for the first time this millennium, Allen's new film was a welcome return to form for the director - even if it was a strange new form.  It was also the film that garnered Woody his sixteenth Screenplay Oscar nomination, untying him with Billy Wilder and giving him the record for the most nominations in the category.

Sadly though, this comeback would hit a glitch the following year when the rather horrendous Scoop was released.  Giving Anything Else a run for its money as the worst Woody Allen, Scoop was Allen's second film with his young new muse, Scarlett Johansson.  At least now the 71 year old old would be  playing the father figure instead of the romantic lead.  But luckily this glitch was as short-lived as the comeback before it, for, after the almost completely forgotten Cassandra's Dream (the other Woody I have never seen), 2008 would bring Allen's best film in over a decade, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  Again starring the vapid Ms. Johansson, VCM would now take the traveling Allen from France to Spain.  The film would win Penelope Cruz a Best Supporting Actress Oscar - a thing that has happened to several of Allen's ladies-in-waiting.  

Next would bring another departure for Allen.  Filming a screenplay that he had written back in 1976, and originally slated to star Zero Mostel, Whatever Works, now starring Larry David, was perhaps a failure in many people's eyes, but I am one of those select few who rather enjoyed this toss-off throwback to Woody's earlier days.   Next came You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, but it is rather a mediocre work and I really have nothing much to say about it, for better or for worse.  But Woody's next film would not be so mediocre.  2011 has brought us the director's finest work since the 1990's - Midnight in Paris.  Back to the City of Lights, this is easily one of the best films of the year - it could even give Woody his second Best Director Oscar.  2012 will bring us a new film, tentatively titled Nero Fiddled, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Penelope Cruz, Ellen Page, Alec Baldwin, Greta Gerwig, Roberto Begnini and Allen himself.  But that is another story for another day.

So here ends the story of my life and love affair with Woody Allen.  Well, at least here it ends until the aforementioned Nero Fiddled hits theaters next year.  I hope you had a good time reminiscing about my torrid cinematic affair with the Woodman.    

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My 100 Favourite Films (Today)

The fine folks over at Anomalous Material, a place where I have a regular gig coming up with various 10 Best lists, have asked their stable of film writers to come up with their choices for the best and/or their favourite films.  The results, including a master list as well as everyone's individual lists, will be out sometime in early 2012.  We were told that it could be  top 10, a top 25, a top 50, a top 100 or whatever.  I of course, went with the top 100 - choosing to name my favourites, as opposed to what are supposed to be the best (the latter being an unwinnable argument maker, the former being more personal and therefore less arguable).  I am not sure how set this list is (except for the top 14 or so), and therefore it could change tomorrow or the next day or the day after that (I am not easily satisfied).  I also plan on making another top 100 after I finish My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films, which again will probably bring some as-of-yet-unseen films into the fold and knock some of these out, but right here and right now, these are my picks for the top 100.  So, without further ado, here are my 100 Favourite Films.

1. The Red Shoes (Powell/Pressburger, 48)
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 68)
3. The Good the Bad and the Ugly (Leone, 66)
4. Psycho (Hitchcock, 60)
5. Citizen Kane (Welles, 41)
6. Sunrise (Murnau, 27)
7. The Night of the Hunter (Laughton, 55)
8. Singin' in the Rain (Kelly/Donan, 52)
9. Bonnie and Clyde (Penn, 67)
10. Breathless (Godard, 60)
11. Touch of Evil (Welles, 58)
12. The Rules of the Game (Renoir, 39)
13. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 48)
14. The Searchers (Ford, 56)
15. Casablanca (Curtiz, 42)
16. City Lights (Chaplin, 31)
17. Annie Hall (Allen, 77)
18. Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 76)
19. Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 54)
20. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 58)
21. The Wizard of Oz (Fleming, 39)
22. King Kong (Cooper/Schoedsack, 33)
23. Star Wars (Lucas, 77)
24. Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 94)
25. M. Hulot's Holiday (Tati, 53)
26. The Seventh Seal (Bergman, 57)
27. Goodfellas (Scorsese, 90)
28. Johnny Guitar (Ray, 54)
29. Chinatown (Polanski, 74)
30. High Noon (Zinnemann, 52)
31. The General (Keaton/Bruckman, 26)
32. Brazil (Gilliam, 85)
33. Freaks (Browning, 32)
34. The Third Man (Reed, 49)
35. Meet Me in St. Louis (Minnelli, 44)
36. Blade Runner (Scott, 82)
37. Some Like It Hot (Wilder, 59)
38. The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp (Powell/Pressburger, 43)
39. Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich, 55)
40. 400 Blows (Truffaut, 59)
41. Rio Bravo (Hawks, 59)
42. House (Obayashi, 77)
43. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 20)
44. His Girl Friday (Hawks, 40)
45. The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 25)
46. Double Indemnity (Wilder, 44)
47. The Blue Angel (Von Sternberg, 30)
48. A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 71)
49. Make Way For Tomorrow (McCarey, 37)
50. Sunset Blvd. (Wilder, 50)
51. Rear Window (Hitchcock, 54)
52. Throne of Blood (Kurosawa, 57)
53. The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pasolini, 64)
54. The Last Laugh (Murnau, 24)
55. The Godfather Pts I & II (Coppola, 72/74)
56. The Kid (Chaplin, 21)
57. The Wild Bunch (Peckinpah, 69)
58. A Canterbury Tale (Powell/Pressburger, 44)
59. La Dolce Vita (Fellini, 60)
60. Viridiana (Bunuel, 61)
61. Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 09)
62. Written on the Wind (Sirk, 56)
63. Cairo Station (Chahine, 58)
64. L'Avventura (Antonioni, 60)
65. On The Waterfront (Kazan, 54)
66. Mulholland Dr. (Lynch, 01)
67. Pather Panchali (Ray, 55)
68. Pickup on South Street (Fuller, 53)
69. Rififi (Dassin, 55)
70. Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 68)
71. Rebel Without A Cause (Ray, 55)
72. The Big Sleep (Hawks, 46)
73. Voyage in Italy (Rossellini, 54)
74. Black Narcissus (Powell/Pressburger, 47)
75. Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 57)
76. The River Fuefuki (Kinoshita, 60)
77. Au hasard Balthazar (Bresson, 66)
78. Manhattan (Allen, 79)
79. Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau, 46)
80. Raging Bull (Scorsese, 80)
81. Sweet Smell of Success (Mackendrick, 57)
82. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Demy, 64)
83. Duck Soup (McCarey, 33)
84. The Wages of Fear (Clouzot, 53)
85. M (Lang, 31)
86. 8 1/2 (Fellini, 63)
87. In the Mood For Love (Wong, 00)
88. La Strada (Fellini, 54)
89. Nashville (Altman, 75)
90. Grand Illusion (Renoir, 37)
91. Week-End (Godard, 67)
92. Pickpocket (Bresson, 59)
93. Celine and Julie Go Boating (Rivette, 74)
94. Dazed and Confused (Linklater, 93)
95. Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, 25)
96. Senso (Visconti, 54)
97. Metropolis (Lang, 27)
98. The Phantom Carriage (Sjostrom, 21)
99. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Fassbinder, 72)
100. Vanishing Point (Sarafian, 71)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My 500th Post.....and a Happy Thanksgiving to You All

It is Thanksgiving today and here I am online, babbling about how this is my 500th post on The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World, instead of doing what I am supposed to be doing - eating enough food to put me into a coma.  Not to worry though, for anyone who knows me, knows full well that I will most certainly eat myself into a food coma at some point today.

But more on post number five hundred.  This site came to life on September 14, 2009.  Which means it took just over two years to get to this so-called posting milestone.  Granted, this is much less a big deal and much more a lame excuse to babble on and pat myself on the back.  So what I say, so what!  I have written both high and low here.  From (somewhat) insightful reviews of both new releases and classic cinema to Oscar talk (I am an Oscar nerd!) to blitherings and blatherings about whatever cinematic doodaddle comes to mind.

I am not sure how many people are out there reading this post, or the cinematic ramblings which occur regularly here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World (the statistics Blogger offers are never an accurate assessment), but I am going to ramble on anyway.  I was born in the backseat of a Greyhound bus going down highway 41 afterall (those who have knowledge of The Allman Brothers should get that last joke).  But I suppose it is about time to go and eat myself into that aforementioned food coma now, for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is about to end (yes, I may be a parade nerd too, but just this one parade each year), so I will sign off on this quite unnecessary post.  Happy Thanksgiving to whomever may be out there listening.  Post number 501 will most likely be of a bit more significance.  Maybe.

In celebration of the holiday (and my 500th post I suppose), here is a shot from the end of a rather fun Thanksgiving(ish) motion picture.  A film that starts out hilariously and keeps the hilarity up in full swing, before a sudden shift to great tragedy near the end - finally finishing on a sentimental but not saccharine ending.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Cinematheque Reviews: A Dangerous Method

Chewy Cronenbergian goodness.  I actually use that term in my review of David Cronenberg's latest film, A Dangerous Method.  I am quite proud of the term actually - even if I am not quite sure what it means.  Whatever it means, it is how the film made me feel.  The film is the story of the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, and the woman who came between them.  This description seems a bit more salacious than it probably needs to be, but then what appears to be a proper period piece at first, is given a serious Cronenbergian overhaul - a chewy Cronenbergian overhaul of goodness.  But enough of that.  My review of the film (originally seen at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival) is currently up and running over at The Cinematheque.  

There's A New Poll in Town: Name Your Favourite Lars von Trier

It has been a few months since The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World has done a poll.  Well the dry spell is over.  In light of the recent release of Lars von Trier's eleventh feature film, Melancholia, you are asked to name your favourite film by the audacious Danish director.  Be it Breaking the Waves or Dogville, Dancer in the Dark or Antichrist, The Idiots or Europa, The Element of Crime or Epidemic, Manderlay or The Boss of It All, or his latest, the aforementioned Melancholia, go on over to the sidebar of this very site (relatively near the top of said sidebar) and click in your vote.  And remember, you must vote in the poll on the sidebar - votes left in the comments section will not be counted (though feel free to comment away).  And for all you von Trier haters out there (and I know there are a lot of you), there is no choice for "none of the above" so take your hatred elsewhere (though I do encourage even the haters to make comments below).  The poll will go on until shortly after the New Year, where upon the results will be announced.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Cinematheque Reviews: Take Shelter

When you want crazy, you can't go wrong with Michael Shannon.  Take Shelter is yet more proof of this fact.  I would love to see a (somewhat) surprise Best Actor Oscar nomination come his way in January.  My review of this kinda batshitcrazy movie is now up and running over at The Cinematheque.  I really have nothing more to say about this right now (yeah, I am not going to ramble) so why not check out my review.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Certain Kind of Cinema: Those Tough Guys & Fast Talkin' Dames and How Gender-Biased Attitudes Try To Tell Us What to Watch

The lovely ladies over at The Scarlett Olive are looking for a few good men.  Um, let me rephrase that.   Katie and Hilary (the aforementioned lovely ladies) are hosting an event titled, "For the Boys Blogathon".  Apparently there is a bit too much estrogen over at The Scarlett Olive (not my words!) so the film critic and blogging community have been cordially invited to participate in a manly kind of affair.  In their words: "Write a blog (or podcast) regarding the masculine gender in film, genres that appeal to men, films in these genres, or a combination of any of the above. If you are male or female and disagree with this completely … write about that!"  The following is my humble contribution to said blogathon.

Now I know plenty of women who go big for the dark environs of Film Noir and the bang bang bravado of the Gangster genre.  Ladies who go gaga over Bogart and Mitchum and Robert Ryan - and for more than just their upper body strength and individual je ne sais quoi.   In fact, three of the best and most well-known of the film writing community (male or female), the nimble and quick-witted Kim Morgan of Sunset Gun fame, the sharp and saucy Stacia over at She Blogged By Night and the bold and perceptive, and always willing to tell it as it should be Self-Styled Siren, with her encyclopedic knowledge of classic cinema, are all big fans of these very same, supposedly male-oriented genres, while at the same time managing to keep theier womanhood quite intact.  They can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan.   Now I am going to stop myself there, because this line of thought could go quite awry and get me into a heap of hot water.  Let's just say, that these talented and brilliant ladies are capable of enjoying, not just those cinematic things supposedly made for women (you know, Joan Crawford films and Musicals, to toss out the most obvious cliches) but also those things that others say are made for a man - even if they can still see, and call out, the inherent misogyny within them.  Imagine that.

But yes, I suppose if one were to get down to brass tacks as it were, movies such as Scarface, White Heat, Dawn Patrol, Little Caesar, Captain Blood, The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Rififi, Kiss Me Deadly, Pickup on South Street, Shoot the Piano Player, A Fistful of Dollars, The Great Escape and Seven Samurai (to name just a very few), are made with a male audience in mind.  Or at least society's gender-biased idea of what a male is.   I, for example, enjoy all of the films just mentioned, while at the same time thoroughly enjoying such female-centric films as Meet Me in St. Louis, Mildred Pierce, All That Heaven Allows, Singin' in the Rain, The Heiress, Stella Dallas, Make Way For Tomorrow and The Red Shoes.  That last one I even put at the top of my All-Time Favourites list - above more manly films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Psycho.  Does this make me, as a red-blooded American male, a sissy?  Okay, perhaps my dancing around while watching The Young Girls of Rochefort is a bit questionable, but overall, I do not think this gender bias should keep me from watching these so-called less-than-manly films.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that there may be movies made for men and there may be movies made for women, but this does not mean each is exclusive of one another.  My wife can love the male-centric Taxi Driver and the female-centric An American in Paris, while equally disliking the male-centric Rififi and the female-centric Breakfast at Tiffany's.  My wife and I can also love a film like Godard's Breathless (her second favourite film of all-time, my tenth) - a film that seems to fit into both categories, with Belmondo's Bogie-loving tough guy and Seberg's able-bodied modern woman.  So, yes, it is quite silly to think only beer-swiggin', football-watchin' macho men can enjoy a gritty gangster film or a rootin'-tootin' western, and only a finger-sandwich-eating, Project Runway-watching proper lady can enjoy the sudsy melodramatic environs of Douglas Sirk or a pastel-painted Hollywood musical.  In fact pretty much everything about that last sentence is quite silly.  But then again, there is no denying that my wife and I may be in the minority when it comes to playing the sex-based genre crossover game.  I won't bother getting into the whole Venus/Mars debate, but rightfully or wrongfully (and I don't think it is necessarily either) women go for one thing while men go for another. 

But getting back to those tough guys and fast talkin' dames of the title, there is a certain kind of cinema that is more oft than not, the typical domain of the guy.  Movies for guys.  A man's cinema indeed.  From the quick-witted pre-coders of the first years of sound cinema, throughout the gangster/noir riddled golden age of the thirties and forties, where men were men and women were put in their place (except in the screwball comedy where it was usually the other way around), to the  bloody war films of the so-called greatest generation, tough guys and their equally tough  (many times even tougher) ladies were making a splash in what one, through gender-biased societal niceties, would call movies for men.  These movies, populated by tough guys such as Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson, Bogart and Garfield and George Raft, Mitchum and Robert Ryan (can never leave those last two out), and those fast talkin' dames like Stanwyck and Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, Una Merkel and Veronica Lake, Rosalind Russell and Carole Lombard, are definitely a group of films, a gang of films if you will, that make many a red-blooded American guy get all hot and bothered.  And no, I do not mean that in any hidden-meaning homoerotic way - though there is that too, but that is a whole other story for whole other day.

But even in this certain kind of cinema, there is only a superficiality of male-centric stereotype.  Noirs such as The Big Sleep, Gun Crazy, Detour, Out of the Past, The Killers and Double Indemnity have female characters that are as strong, if not stronger than any of the men around them.  Yea, yea, I know, these are not the most upstanding women, but in the case of Stanwyck and MacMurray in Double Indemnity, wicked or not, it does have a certain feminism to it.  Seriously though, the whole idea of these movies are for men and these are for women (the so-called weaker sex if you will - but that is just going to get me in trouble again - how about the fairer sex), is just a bunch of bunk.  But then, marketing is marketing after all, and the majority vote rules.  As an example (one that ties in marketing with the motion pictures), in the most recent issue of TCM's Now Playing magazine, there is an ad in the back that suggests gifts for the holidays.  The "For Her" side has a Wizard of Oz snowglobe, a Grace Kelly/To Catch a Thief Barbie and an Audrey Hepburn/Breakfast at Tiffany's poster.  The "For Him" side has a John Wayne wooden keepsake box set, a 2001 t-shirt and a James Bond/On Her Majesty's Secret Service poster.  Personally I want the Oz snowglobe over the Duke boxset, but then we have already established my possible sissydom earlier.

So, in sum, I suppose even in those genres, those certain kinds of cinema, where the testosterone is flying - Paul Muni's monstrous Scarface ready to either strangle or screw his sister Ann Dvorak, Ralph Meeker's Mike Hammer shutting up his dames with the back of his hand, The Duke's arrogant posture against all of femininity in pretty much any of his films - there are women who love them; just as there are men (and not just the stereotypical gay archetype either) who are thrilled when Vicky Page pirouettes in her doomed Red Shoes, or Stanwyck's Stella Dallas nobly gives up her daughter, or Rock Hudson takes Jane Wyman in his autumnal arms and demands she does the so-called unthinkable.  Gender roles be damned!!   Now I think I'm going to go watch a double feature of The Dirty Dozen and Written on the Wind.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest: #660 Thru #669

Here is a look at the latest ten films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  These ten films were seen between Oct. 8 and Oct. 18.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

#660 - Horror of Dracula (1958)
(#992 on TSPDT) Gaudy, garish and grandiose.  This typically Grand Guignol Hammer Horror work from Terence Fisher was the first pairing of life-long friends Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as Dracula and Van Helsing respectively.  Hammer was a low budget British studio well known for their rather cheesy works of horror and crime throughout the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's, and this, one of the better ones I have seen (though I am far from an expert on either the genre or the studio), is delightfully cheesy.  It is also cinematically stunning.  From Fisher's camera, to the succulent set design, to the costumes, music and splattering blood (the quite iconic shot of Lee, his mouth dripping with blood, is priceless), Horror of Dracula, or just Dracula as it was called on its initial release, is one of the better horror films (a genre I tend to not see much of) on the list.

#661 - Land Without Bread (1932)
(#627 on TSPDT)  A tiny little doc from Luis Bunuel about a small tribe of Spanish natives and their struggle for everyday survival.  There are definitely fascinating parts to the film, and Bunuel's documentary style here is quite refreshing, and I actually liked it a good deal.  A bit surprising to see this film on the list while others are not, but overall an intriguing story that deserves more than a bit of recognition.  I guess that means I do not begrudge its insertion into the list all that much after all.

#662 - The Red Balloon (1956)
(#421 on TSPDT)  A classic childhood favourite of many, this charming little French film about a boy and his balloon was a surprising uplift after the downer that was Bunuel's Land Without Bread (watch immediately prior to this).  I actually did not expect to like the film all that much.  I expected a more cloying, oversentimental doo-dad, but instead I got the perfect blend of nostalgia, sentiment and cinematic bravura.  This film was the inspiration for Hou Hsiao-hsien's first foray into French film, Flight of the Red Balloon, and I can surely see its inspirational side.

#663 - The Terminator (1984)
(#264 on TSPDT) I still don't know how I came of age in the early 1980's without ever seeing this rather silly but wholly entertaining sci-fi action flick - for better or for worse, a seminal movie of those aforementioned 1980's.  Oddly enough, I have seen the sequels, and the more recent prequel, so I suppose at some point I had to go back and search out the original.  Iconic in many ways, this film by James Cameron, in the days before he became a megalomaniacial destroyer of cinema, was a blast to watch.  Watching it for the first time in 2011, there was the added bonus of seeing how intensely eighties this film was.  In fact it was so eighties that even though Michael Biehn's character came from the future, his hair was perfect eighties style.

#664 - Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
(#898 on TSPDT)  I wasn't sure what I was in for here, but lo and behold, it is something quite extraordinary.  Done almost as Cinéma vérité, this fascinating little film is the story of, as one may very well ascertain from the title, a serial killer named Henry.  The film opens with a series of quite disturbing (if one is disturbed by such) shots of bloody, slaughtered women in various arrays of carefully positioned death scenes.  This quite creepy opening leads into a very matter-of-fact story of Henry as he temporarily settles down with a rather unhinged old prison buddy and his sister, who Henry dangerously becomes involved with.  Michael Rooker's chilling performance takes an already tense film and shoots it into the stratosphere.  Not for what one would call the faint-of-heart though.

#665 - Yeelen (1987)
(#830 on TSPDT) Egads, I was bored by this film.  I am usually a fan of West African Cinema - Sembene and Mambety especially - but this film by Malian director Souleymane Cissé, is just a bore.  Sadly though, just as much as this is not a great film, it is not a terrible film either, and therefore I really have nothing much to say about it.  I can tell you that Yeelen is Fula for Brightness.  I can tell you that this seemed like a poorly structured neo-Robert Flaherty experiment.  I can tell you that I nearly fell asleep watching it - just waiting for something, anything to happen.  Yes, nothing really happens in films like L'Avventura or Jeanne Dielmann, but still those films a fascinating to endure.  This thing just is not.  There are moments of visual beauty, but overall even these moments cannot save this film.

#666 - Rosemary's Baby (1968)
(#208 on TSPDT) When I had decided to watch this Polanski classic after hours on the big screen at the cinema, I desperately needed others to watch it with me.  It is already creepy enough  sitting alone late at night in the cinema, but when you add Satan and all his accouterments to the mix.....well, let's just say I wanted people around me.  In the end though, the film was not nearly as creepy as I expected it to be.  It certainly has that typical Polanski flair, which in and of itself is creepy, but never did I leap from my seat or even feel uncomfortable in said seat.  This is not to say I did not thoroughly enjoy Rosemary's Baby - because I most certainly did.  Polanski gives us a delectably fun ride into insanity and the underworld, and one would need to be crazy themselves not to enjoy every batshitcrazy minute of it.  And yes, the number this makes on my list was completely on purpose.

#667 - The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
(#649 on TSPDT) I remember (barely) seeing some old episodes of the TV show when I was but a wee thing, and now I finally get to see the original film version.  Starring the beautiful Ms. Gene Tierney as the widowed Mrs. Muir and the ruggedly dashing Rex Harrison as the titular ghost, this film is a supernatural romantic drama.  Better than I expected it to be, Tierney, whom I always enjoy, is a determined yet somewhat unrealistic incurable romantic while Harrison is a gruff yet likable old sea captain-turned haunting spirit.  The film tells the story - at times humourous, at times tragic - of how Mrs. Muir buys the dead old captain's house and the captain's attempts at scaring her out of said house.  We also see the romance that breeds inside this relationship and the ultimate sacrifice one must give for eternal love.  A very sad movie at times, but ultimately as incurably romantic as Mrs. Muir herself.

#668 - Night of the Demon (1957)
(#736 on TSPDT) I am usually a Jacques Tournier fan.  Whether it be one of his ultra-stylized B-Horror like Cat People or I Walked With a Zombie, or a film noir such as Out of the Past, Tournier has always pleased.  Unfortunately I cannot say the same for this 1957 snoozefest.   Lacking the tension of his earlier films, Night of the Demon ends up being nothing more than the typical schlock horror that was prevalent at the time - but without even the campy silliness of those films.  In other words, a bland, pedestrian fare from a director who has done much much much better.  This is another film that has no business being on anyone's list of the 1000 greatest films.

#669 - Beyond A Reasonable Doubt (1950)
(#794 on TSPDT)  Granted, the ending of this film is easily seen the proverbial mile away, but that just makes it more fun to watch.  Enjoying thinking about how stupid Dana Andrews' novelist is allowing the circumstances of the film to unravel, knowing full well that the slightest miscalculation could send him to life behind bars or even the chair.  I won't go into detail about said twisty plot, for it is fun to watch everything come together and tear apart as the film progresses - a thing director Fritz Lang enjoyed doing in his many American noir pictures of the 1940's and 1950's.  Andrews will probably never be called a great actor, but in the roles he played throughout his earlier career (his later schlock B-pictures are, for the most part quite unremarkable), one cannot deny his everyman kind of persona shining through.  Fun movie indeed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Anomalous Material Weekly Feature: 10 Best Lars von Trier Films

Here we are again true believers, with what is my seventeenth weekly 10 best feature for the fine folks over at Anomalous Material.  For those of you not in the know, those same said fine folks have given me a (possibly foolish on their behalf) regular weekly gig as feature writer.  It is a series of top ten lists on various cinematic subjects (and anyone who knows me can attest to how perfectly suited I am to such an endeavor - yes I am a list nerd).  This week's feature coincides with the US release of Lars von Trier's Melancholia.  I take a look back and rank my favourite Lars von Trier films.  Some would say that a task such as this - one of the most divisive directors around - is quite an ugly task, but what the hell do they know!?  

Read my feature article, "10 Best Lars von Trier Films" at Anomalous Material.

Here is an added bonus for all you true believers out there: A young LvT making the sign for what many of his detractors have called him over the years. I personally think of him as more of an imp.

The Cinematheque Reviews: J. Edgar + An Eastwood Top 10

Clint Eastwood has always been a hit or miss kind of director for me.  Some of his films I love (Unforgiven, Mystic River, Gran Torino), some I like (Million Dollar Baby, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Play Misty For Me), some I dislike (Invictus, Bridges of Madison County) and some I think are just terrible (Honkytonk Man, The Rookie).  There are even those that I find hilariously bad (Bronco Billy, The Gauntlet).  His films usually look good - a visual austerity that can rival early Coppola at times - but they are not always good.  J. Edgar, the Oscar baity biopic of everyone's favourite cross-dressing FBI director, is one of those that look good but are not good.  It's not bad though, just a sad kind of mediocre.  My review of said mediocrity is now up and running over at The Cinematheque.

I figured that this was a good time as any to compile a quickly put-together list of my favourite Clint Eastwood-directed movies.  I do need to preface this list with the sad fact that I have never seen High Plains Drifter (yet!), so if that is one of your favourites and you are pissed it is not on my list, chill out.  So without further ado.....My Ten Favourite Clint Eastwood- Directed Films.

1. Mystic River
2. Unforgiven
3. Flags of Our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima
4. Gran Torino
5. Play Misty For Me
6. The Outlaw Josey Wales
7. Pale Rider
8. Million Dollar Baby
9. Changeling
10. The Gauntlet - so bad, it's good!!

If I were to name my favourite Eastwood-acted film, that would have to be The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - hands down.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Goal (For Now) Is 100.....

Just a few hours ago, I received my 90th follower here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.  A milestone perhaps, but a minor one at best.  As anyone who has ever constructed a best or favourites film list (I have, why haven't you!?) knows, is that the magic number is 100.  So, with that in mind, my newest goal here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World, is to get that followers list up to that aforementioned century mark.  And how does one do this you ask?  Well that is where you, the fine readers, come into the picture.

Now many of you are already loyal and faithful readers, and dedicated followers too, but I am sure there are those out there yet to take the so-called plunge.  For those of you who fall into this last category, all you need do is go on over to the sidebar of this site and click on that "JOIN THIS SITE" button.  It may be one of the easiest things you will ever be asked to do.  And if you know of any friends who might also like the cinematic ramblings that go on regularly here abouts, well, go ahead and send them this way.  They too can help us reach that 100 Followers goal.

I would love to reach this goal by the end of the year.  Love, love, love!  This means that, counting today, we have 47 days to gain 10 new followers.  That seems pretty doable if you ask me.  But again, that is all up to you out there.  So start a-clickin'.  After we accomplish this goal, then we can think about 200 and 300 and 500 and even 1000+.  The sky is the limit as they say.  And just think, after you become a regular follower of me and The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World, then you too can read my reviews of new release movies as well as looks at classic films and all kinds of strange and unusual behaviour.  All for the price of a mouse click.

So let's get to it people - the future awaits you.   And you definitely want to do it before the Marx Brothers get you.  How's that for some inspiration!?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Seberg - A Poem On Her Birthday

An angel of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées

A killer, a maid, a reluctant gun moll
Her hair shorn for God and King and Jean-Luc

A delicate finger, gliding across once quivering lips
A creature of ravishing innocence, fair complextion

Gravitas in soulful, mourning eyes
Alive with the thrill of concluded death

This blessed child of Hollywood, Preminger's paramour
Turned toward the ancient eyes of Gaul

Blue jeans, milk shakes, thick red steaks
An American girl, gone to the wonders

A panther in a jaguar's body, a little girl lost
Lithe, she would purr with beatific ambiguity

Her look spoke with poetry, not prose
Her eyes open with the state of longing

Her cheeks, her breasts beneath hidden yellow
Heaving to the time of change, a rebirth

Lost in time, she spoke of voices
In the shadows of the bedrooms of kings

Hello sadness, her youth lost in a car
Heavenly tresses bound her to Earth

Mad men would condemn her
She could no longer live with her nerves

This angel of La plus belle avenue du monde
The chestnut trees wrap their arms about her

As saintly as her armoured maid of childhood
As born unto a star of despair, broken dreams

The flesh of her body, tender, hot to the touch
The flames of eternal lips, she stares at us

A messenger of the creation, she breathes
her tongue embroiled in the lies of truth

Desire has no meaning, no quarter
Faith in the vessel of behaviour

She would hold light to a candle
Dangle her eyes in frenzied apprehension

Her eyes, her touch, her chin, her toes
A striped dress of betrayal, sacrifice

A dalliance with a star, her director
Her legs rushing down her avenue

New York Herald Tribune
New York Herald Tribune

The voice of God, a sweet sad sigh
She stares into the camera, eyes wet

A look of immeasurable sadness
Gone is the toothy smirk of youth

Even in her own youth, faded dreams
She stares into the camera, lips drawn

A lost angel of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées

Saturday, November 12, 2011

In Defense of Citizen Kane

The following is my brief contribution to True Classics' The Great Citizen Kane Debate.

In 1952 Sight & Sound polled the world’s leading film critics to compile a list of the best films of all time. The magazine has repeated this poll every ten years, to show which films stand the test of time in the face of shifting critical opinion.  Orson Welles' debut masterpiece did not appear on the initial 1952 list, but Citizen Kane did claim the top spot in 1962, and has held its position every decade ever since.   And of course, this seemingly universal adoration for the film does not stop there.   Topping poll after poll after poll over the past sixty years or so, the formidable Kane (a film as brazen as its director and its subject) is today considered by many to be a film without peers - the greatest film ever made.  A bold statement indeed.  Now the question we must ask ourselves here and now is, "Is Citizen Kane truly the greatest film ever made?"  

I still remember when I first saw the great Kane.   I was a seventeen year old high school senior and I had decided to sign up for a new elective our school was offering.  It was a film class and among the films I got to see for the first time here (Psycho, Bonnie and Clyde, Lifeboat, Wait Until Dark) was Citizen Kane.  The class was a full semester, and half of that time was spent on this one film alone.  I remember when we first watched it - before any discussion on it - and how blown away I was by it.  I was still just a novice, budding cinephile at the time, and had no real idea of film theory or the art of cinematography, so I was no expert, but damn did I love that movie.  Once we began discussing the film, breaking it down scene by scene, going over the films that influenced it and those films influenced by it, it grew even greater in my esteem.

Now many critics and cinephiles over the years have placed Kane at the top of their list out of mere rote.  Everyone says it is the greatest, so it must be.  I have a good friend who says "Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made - no other answer is allowed."  Of course this is all a bit ridiculous.  First of all, to name the greatest film(s) is just an impossible thing to do.  Everyone has different opinions of greatness.  But at the same time, if you turn it around and name your favourite films, which is more personal and less canonical than naming the greatest, there are still those who would disagree with you.  If we all had the same tastes this would be an awfully boring place to live.  There are also those who, though they make sure to claim respect for the film itself, cannot claim to enjoying Kane at all.  If a favourite film is one that you can watch over and over again, then yes, Citizen Kane is one of this critic's favourite films, even without taking into account its myriad of cinematic flourishes that could very well make the film then greatest ever made.

As far as its greatness goes, perhaps the idea of it being listed pretty much everywhere as the greatest film ever is a bit of an overkill, but there is really no denying its greatness - even for those who claim not to like it.  Yes, the idea of it making groundbreaking strides in cinematography and art direction, his work in deep focus, is a bit of a misnomer.  Welles, along with his DP Gregg Toland, were greatly influenced by the German Expressionism filmmaking going on throughout the 1920's and early 1930's.  In fact Toland had worked on several of these films himself.  But even if Welles was only doing what was already being done in European cinema and early American sound cinema, he was changing it and making it work in his own unique way.  Creating his own Wellesian cinema that would in turn influence so many after him, like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Joel and Ethan Coen, Paul Thomas Anderson to name just a few.  Welles would go on to make other great films, from The Magnificent Ambersons to The Lady From Shanghai, to Othello and Macbeth, Touch of Evil, The Trial and Chimes at Midnight - all of which also have that Wellesian style that was gleaned from past film history and transformed into his own bravura style.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that Citizen Kane is a great film.  Personally I do not list it as the greatest, instead placing it in the number five spot of my all-time favourite list (behind just The Red Shoes, 2001, The Good the Bad and the Ugly and Psycho).  But considering that among the thousands of different films I have seen, from the nearly 120 year history of cinema, to place at number five is a pretty big deal.  And my love is not just a nostalgic look at the film - seen at the start of my obsession with the art of cinema - but just because it is a great film overall - no other answer is allowed.  It was the first film I ever bought (on VHS - remember those!? and eventually on DVD and now the gorgeous new Bluray boxset) and will always be one that I can and will watch over and over and over again.  For those who do not like the film, one can only blame a lack of taste.  I am half kidding with that last line, for everyone has different tastes (as I state above), but in the case of Citizen Kane, perhaps those different tastes should be reevaluated.  So that is my case.  It is more of a love letter to Kane than an actual appraisal of the technical and artistic brilliance of the film (a gushing school girl love letter, not the critique of the knowledgeable film historian I usually try to portray), but it is my case. and I am sticking to it.  It is my defense of Citizen Kane.  End of story.  Rosebud.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Cinematheque Reviews: Anonymous

When I went to see Roland Emmerich's Anonymous, it was at a local multiplex.  Approximately two-thirds of the way through this somewhat insufferable, albeit with periodic glances of great fun, motion picture experience, I began to hear snoring coming from behind me.  Lo and behold, about three rows back was a gentleman, head cocked back as if by spinal cord injury, and mouth agape, sawing enough wood to rebuild the Globe Theater after it was burned down (see how I tie everything in nicely with the subject at hand).  Now normally this would bother me a great deal, but considering this obnoxious noise was no worse than what was going on up on the big screen, I just went about my business of watching the damn movie.  

Okay, perhaps I am being a bit too harsh here.  Emmerich, as silly and as ridiculous and as arrogant as he wants to be (only witless conspiracy theorists still hold to the story that Shakespeare was not really Shakespeare), has made yet another overblown spectacle of cinema, but it is not really as insufferable as I claim it to be.  Rhys Ifans and Dame Redgrave do make it more than tolerable, and even some of Emmerich's normal pretensions work in the film's favour at times.  And remember, this opinion is coming from a guy who actually enjoyed The Day After Tomorrow a surprisingly goodly amount.  Anyway, by damning by faint praise appraisal of Anonymous is currently up and running over at The Cinematheque.  Peruse if you so wish.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Cinematheque Reviews: Lars von Trier's Melancholia

Back in May, so much focus had been put on the stupid things that LvT said at Cannes - the seemingly anti-Semitic guffaws that the director meant as a silly joke that went way way awry, and got the Great Dane banned for life - that his new film, which incidentally took home the Best Actress award for Kirsten Dunst, had been lost in the mire of tabloid bullshit.  Well, now here it is nearly a half a year later, and the director's eleventh feature, Melancholia, is finally getting its long-anticipated US release.  As a member of the "misunderstood cinematic genius" camp that holds one side of the hill in the great divisive debate over the audacious auteur (the other side being held down by the "pretentious misogynistic asshole" camp), I am thrilled this quite stunning work of art is finally making its way to American soil (a place LvT has never stepped foot btw).  When I saw it at this year's New York Festival, I was, as they say, blown away.  It comes this close (picture of me holding my thumb and forefinger ever so close together) to being my choice for the best film of 2011 (sorry Lars, Mr. Malick edges you out) and will surely make many a top ten list come year's end - as well as I am sure, several worst lists.  Anyway, I have already written pieces on my anticipation of the film, as well as my initial thoughts after the aforementioned NYFF screening, but now my actual review of said film is up and running over at The Cinematheque.  Read it AND see the film, which will open this Friday in NY and LA, and subsequently widen its cinematic distribution swath over the next few months.

Not so coincidentally, my piece entitled "10 Best Lars von Trier Films" will be published soon over at Anomalous Material.  Keep your eye out for it.  And if you are still not convinced, just check out the three shots below.  That Danish bastard sure can make a movie.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Great Citizen Kane Debate, Coming Soon to a Blog Near You.

Citizen Kane.  Greatest film ever made or the most overrated?  One can find rabid advocates on both sides of this debate.   Now the fine folks over at True Classics have decided to help bring those rabid advocates out of the cyber-woodwork they have been hiding in (not that any cinephile needs a reason to talk incessantly about film).  How will they do this, you ask?  Well, with The Great Citizen Kane Debate, that's how.  The object is simple as can be.  Somewhere, or somewhen between now and November 13, simply post a piece, either defending the classic film or decrying it, at whichever website/blog you happen to be associated with.  Send a link to said piece/post to those aforementioned fine folks over at True Classics before November 13.  And you can even win a prize!  Each entry will be judged on their individual merits and a winner will be announced at the end of the month.  All the details and various sundry items can be found over at True Classics (in the links above).  Hopefully this event will get some heated debating going on.  As a grand defender of the greatness of this Wellesian Masterpiece (and yes, that did need to be capitalized!) I too plan to toss my hat in the ole ring.  Hope to see you there.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Tragedy of War Meets the Tragedy of Love in Douglas Sirk's Melodramatic War Film, A Time to Love and A Time to Die

In the annals of film history, the name Douglas Sirk will go down as the man who raised the melodrama to new artistic heights in 1950's Hollywood.  This of course is a perfectly reasonable epitaph to give the great auteur, for he did just that in films such as All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind and Magnificent Obsession, but it still sells the quite versatile director way too short.

Born Hans Detlef Sierck in Hamburg, Germany, the director would make a name for himself in 1930's German cinema before leaving in 1937 due to his political leanings and Jewish wife, and ending up in Hollywood USA with a brand new name and career.  His first film in his adopted land was the decidedly anti-Nazi propaganda film Hitler's Madman, made for PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation) but released by MGM in 1943.  This work may not have the cinematic flair and melodramatic style that would come to identify a Douglas Sirk production in later years, but in its emotional bravura and use of conspicuous archetypes, it does have touches of the Sirkian method throughout.  But it is a film Sirk would make in the following decade, in the midst of his Melodrama career highpoint, that would give the most realistic, yet with a stridently melodramatic style of course, look at the horrors that had happened to his homeland in the terrible years of World War II.  This film would be A Time to Love and a Time to Die.

Based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, A Time to Love and a Time to Die tells the story of Ernst Graeber, a German private on the Russian front, who is given a three week furlough only to come home and find most of his hometown destroyed by war and his parents missing.  Played by John Gavin (best known as Sam Loomis, Marion Crane's lover in Psycho), Ernst is trapped inside a world gone mad.  From old schoolmates who have become callous Nazis to endless military redtape in his attempts to find his parents to constant air raids and bombings, Ernst finds that life at home is not much better than the insanity he has seen in the heat of the frontlines.  It is all mad as hell and as Ernst goes on and on he is driven further and further into a mindset that not only hates war but also his nation and its leaders for bringing this all upon themselves.  And this is all shown through the bloody gauze of Sirkian melodrama, as the opening credits beautifully dance by as if in a romantic drama, leading almost immediately into a scene where the soldiers find a dead, black hand frozen and reaching out from its snowy grave.

What is most remarkable about this film is how the German people are portrayed not as the monstrosities they are in other films about World War II, but as just simply people.  Sure, we get the psychopaths and party line creatures, as well we should (a young Klaus Kinski has a small part as a particularly sinister Gestapo brute), but we also get the average German citizen, both soldier and civilian, who want nothing more than their lives and the peace and their loved ones back.   We get to see the horrors of war through the eyes of the German people, and these people are shown in the same light as Americans would be shown in contemporary war films - just trying to survive a world gone mad.  To take this particular stance in Hollywood in 1958 (a time when anyone over the age of twenty could still remember the war) was a brave move on Sirk's and Universal International's behalves.  

Similar in its political anti-war message to Kubrick's Paths of Glory, released the year prior, Sirk's film may not have the cinematic intensity of that film (what film does?) nor its bracing, dead-eyed stare that Kubrick does better than anyone else out there, but what he does show, and the way he shows it, gives the film a rabid emotionality that builds, crescendo like, to its inevitable tragic finale.  A finale that you know is sure to come, as tragedies hit this film in nearly every conceivable way and in nearly every scene, but a tragedy that is no less powerful when it finally does come.   Ernst does find love in the midst of this chaos, in the form of fellow refugee Elizabeth (played by German actress Liselotte Pulver, best known in the US as James Cagney's hot-to-trot secretary in the Billy Wilder comedy One, Two, Three), but it is merely a temporary respite from the ravages of war - a war that will eventually destroy nearly everything in its path.

Filmed in CinemaScope, A Time to Love and a Time to Die breathes with much the same audacious palette as Sirk's melodramas do, and its tragic spin is even greater than that of those films.   Godard said of the film, "This, anyhow, is what enchants me about Sirk: this delirious mixture of medieval and modern, sentimentality and subtlety, tame compositions and frenzied CinemaScope."   Though it does have its detractors, Sirk's cinema is indeed a thing that can enchant a person (I came to the director rather late in life - my first taste of Sirk, by way of Magnificent Obsession, came just this past year - and I grow more and more in love with his cinema with each subsequent work I view).  And it enchants not just in its succulent cinematography, the director's sly use of symbolism and censor-baiting innuendo, and his delirious mixture of what M. Godard calls the medieval and the modern, but in the aspect of taking the real and the tragic and making it larger-than-life.  Blowing it up figuratively when he could not do it literally.

A Time to Love and a Time to Die would end up being Sirk's penultimate feature film, as he would drop out of Hollywood after Imitation of Life in 1959, at the very peak of his career, and retire to Switzerland, making just a brief return stint to his native Germany in the mid seventies (just two quite obscure shorts would be the whole of this return).  Sirk would die in Switzerland in 1987.  Now thought of as a true auteur and an influence on many modern filmmakers including Todd Haynes, Quentin Tarantino, Pedro Almodovar, Lars von Trier and Wong Kar-wai, Sirk's cinema, once critically maligned, is a cinematic thing to behold.  A Time to Love and a Time to Die may not be his greatest work (I still prefer the true melodramas) but as far as anti-war films go, it is one of the finest, and bravest, ever made.  It is, as the title of this piece plainly states, where the Sirkian tragedy of war meets the Sirkian tragedy of love.