Okay, I know it probably does not behoove me to tweak other, more ostensibly powerful bloggers, and while some may not buy this, I generally don't like to bring politics into this blog's discourse unless it's directly related to, you know, le cinema—and the times that I have done that, I've rather regretted it—but hell, this is just too rich.
Our story begins a few days back, Monday, July 28th to be exact, when the exceptionally, erm, unusual newspaper The Washington Times published a rather, shall we say, querulous op-ed by actor Jon Voight, in which he opined that if Barack Obama were elected president, Obama would turn the United States socialist. (The weaselly but possibly legally necessary words "it seems to me" preceded Voight's ominous predicition.) Voight also used the word "barbarianism" where "barbarity" would have sufficed, but that's just me. It was pretty out there, and seemed a trifle factually unsupported by my sights, but hell, it's apparently the guy's opinion, and I take it about as seriously as I take most movie actors' political opinions.
But the piece certainly got up the nose of our old pal Jeffrey Wells (pictured). Followers of his Hollywood Elsewhere site know him as, among other things, a thoroughly unreconstructed Obama supporter...and a guy whose lack of, or maybe willful casting aside of, certain filters makes him an unfailingly entertaining read. Weighing in on the Voight piece on the 29th, he wrote, "My honest deep-down reaction is that I now have a reason to feel negatively about the guy. I'm not saying Voight is on the HE shit list...and I certainly don't think a symbolic condemnation along these lines would matter much to anyone. Nonetheless, it's going to be hard henceforth not to think of Voight as some kind of diseased wingnut."
This post yielded a more-than-usually-spirited bout in the comments section, where I myself weighed in. I should have stuck with my original thought, which was, "You've seen both The Champ AND Table For Five, and it's only now you have a reason to feel negatively about Voight," but instead I opted for a not-so-funny observation on The Washington Times and a comparison of Voight's piece with the old Monty Python "there's a communist peeping out of my wife's blouse" bit. The thread, incidentally, also contains the thoughts of quite a few who agree with Voight.
Over at National Review Online, the ever-droll Kathryn Jean Lopez took note of the, erm, kerfuffle, writing, "Jon Voight...incites a cyber-comment riot. It's tough to be conservative in Hollywood. But Breitbart's got your back."
Who is this Breitbart of which she speaks? Why, it's none other than Andrew Breitbart, once and perhaps future writing partner of my old charge Mark Ebner, proprieter of his own website, and newly minted columnist for the aforementioned Washington Times. His column, inasmuch as I can tell from its first three installments, is all about how conservatives can't get a break in Hollywood, and hell, if he can milk that theme for the next 30 weeks or so, he'll have earned my resepct. But given that about 40% of his latest column, also offered up by the Washington Times on the 28th, consists of him bitching about some shit George Clooney said three years ago, my hopes aren't particularly high. The other 60% of the column consists of the musings of Breitbart's father-in-law, Orson Bean, comparing the blacklist of the HUAC and/or McCarthy era to the dirty looks Hollywood conservatives get from their liberal colleagues today.
Here's a verse from Pere Ubu's "Ice Cream Truck" (found on Cloudland):
There's too much music in the land.
You hear it everywhere.
Everybody's in a band - can't get enough of it.
Mom and Dad on bass and drums -
someone here's just gotta quit.
The words occurred to me reading the story in this morning's Times about the director of Bottle Shock opting for self distribution, particularly this bit: "...indie filmmakers find themselves caught in a glutted marketplace with too few theaters to handle all the movies..."
Are there just too many movies in the land? Is everybody an auteur? Can we get enough of it?
When Martin Scorsese's Shine a Light hit theaters in April, it gave movie critics, myself included, a chance to play at being rock critics, without the cut in pay. Everybody had to weigh in on just what they thought of the group. (I was amused to learn that The New Yorker's Anthony Lane not only had a "lifelong indifference" to the band, but he had never thought much of Talking Heads until seeing Stop Making Sense. I'd bet real money that Lane was gaga for Orange Juice back in the day, though.) It sure was fun, kinda, but rather missed a point, which is that having an opinion on The Stones these days is like having an opinion about Mount Rushmore. No one really gives a shit.
With that in mind, I conducted a little thought experiment in approaching the just-released DVD of Shine A Light. I would try to forget that I knew who or what The Rolling Stones were, and take the picture in only as visual and aural information. Let the cultural baggage loose.
It's an impossible stance or attitude to maintain, I know, but it's worth trying on. I think Light works very well as a concert film, but the yield of imagery that's simply striking in and of itself is pretty staggering, especially for a putative documentary. Those waving hands that seem to threaten to pull Richards into an unnamed inferno. This strangely noble profile:
There's quite a bit more throughout. That The Stones pull off the performances captured here is a testament to the band's preternatural stamina; the imaginativeness within the film's frames is a testament to Scorsese's continued creative vitality.
In a move that I find kind of staggering, the e-zine Slate has posted a film-related article that's not only entertaining and provocative, but erudite and spot-on. The astute and hard-working Dennis Lim introduces, and walks the reader through, a series of ten clips illustrating the evolution of the cinematic fight scene—from wide shot, bare-knuckled brawl to shaky-cam frenzy and, in a clever twist, back again, commending the reader to the excellent analyses of David Bordwell along the way. My only quibble is that its "history" begins in 1958—surely the silent-screen fight warrants some coverage? Despite that, it's good stuff, and an excellent use of the video slide-show medium.
UPDATE: I'm digging the citations in comments—more, please! Here's my friend Joseph Failla with thoughts on a striking scene:
Of the many film fight scenes that usually get discussed (Shane, From Here To Eternity, On The Waterfront, Bad Day At Black Rock, From Russia With Love), one that is often overlooked but has stuck with me just the same is the climatic, three way, life and death, bloody struggle from Jonathan Demme's Something Wild. Watching lovers Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels fight for their lives against psychotic ex-husband Ray Liotta was tough to take. What made it more disturbing was that it came towards the end of what I thought was a hip screwball comedy. It was as if, Bringing Up Baby had switched gears and became Straw Dogs with little warning.
During this realistic and painful scene, Daniels takes a very cruel beating, his arms are nearly pulled from their sockets (is Daniels double jointed?), before he's able to get a hold of a weapon. I asked myself why Demme would put his characters (and the audience) through such a grueling experience?
I knew Demme was a devotee of Hitchcock; as he stages most of the fight within the confines of a bright and spotless bathroom, echoes of Psycho are already present, but it wasn't till I heard him speak of his admiration for Torn Curtain that it all became clear. He actually manages to reference that film's center piece, the slow, brutal murder of an enemy agent at the hands of two characters with far less experience in violence, and use it to his advantage. By switching tones so suddenly, he successfully pulls the rug out from under his audience, and sets it truly off balance, which these days is not as easy as it sounds.
I never doubted Demme could return to his exploitation roots, I just didn't know he'd do it when I least expected it.
I hear ya, Joe. I got a little queasy just pulling up this screen grab.
I didn't go to ComicCon—and to be perfectly realistic about it, I rather doubt I ever will—but the bright young things at Spout blog did, and their coverage has been exhaustive, to say the least. Kevin Buist's report on the panel on Terminator Salvation is drolly illuminating. First, Buist notes the negative fan reaction over the choice of bright shiny hack McG to direct the picture. (And while I call McG a bright shiny hack here, I've gotta admit I've always enjoyed his video for The Offspring's "Pretty Fly For A White Guy." His rise into feature directing represents a particularly virulent Hollywood variant on the Peter Principle.) And then serves up a few quotes from McG designed to assuage fears and bolster his legitimacy. The fellow enthuses over Children of Men—"hats off to that picture, I think it's fantastic," but adds that "by the same token," Terminator Salvation "isn’t designed to be an art picture" because it's for an international audience. He then explains how he could not possibly have gone forward with the film had James Cameron said to him "Fuck you, what are you doing." Buist notes: "[McG] can really work a crowd, and [...] he’s very tuned in to the concerns of the fan."
Well sure; at least he gives the appearance of being so tuned in. I think one thing that makes a guy like McG valuable in the Hollywood food chain is his ability to string out a good line, albeit one that you've heard a million times before. He nails all the expected talking points with seamless facility: FIRST, reference a film that's garnered some actual cred, and profess your own admiration for it; THEN, back down and insist, "Although of course we're not doing an art film;" FOLLOW by swearing up and down that you wouldn't be doing this unless you had the complete approval of the original creator, who you also completely admire and whose vision you would never think of betraying. Rinse and repeat over and over, until you finally foist your pile of crap on the world.
One indoor pool, four skintight swimsuits, and five male swimming students—these, aside from the titular instructor, are the simple ingredients that make up this potent 2007 erotic epic spotlighting the scrumptious Yuma Asami...
Umm, just kidding. Come now. I mean, everybody knows that Japanese AV discs are Region 0, NTSC for the most part, and can thus be played on any North-American-bought machine.
And also, no, I'm not going to start reviewing this kind of material. I am, as W.C. Fields would put it, only fooling and pretending.
But since I got your attention (I presume), I'd like to announce that the "Monday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report," which deals with more conventionally edifying fare, is moving over the The Auteur's Notebook, because, well, they asked, for one thing. You might be able to guess another thing. It will be up tomorrow morning, over there—I'm not sure exactly what time yet. I won't tell you what the film is, only that it stars Rock Hudson. Enjoy, and leave comments there, or here. Thanks.
I see my buddy Keith Uhlich at The House Next Doorhas noted the passing of jazz great Johnny Griffin with both a link and a clip. But one is not enough. Here he is, jamming out with trumpeter Woody Shaw on the bop anthem "A Night In Tunisia."
Griffin and Shaw weren't pioneers or groundbreakers—just dynamite players who gave their all every time out. Always a profound pleasure to hear. (Also, much appreciation to Pedro Mendes, whose jazz clip postings on YouTube are about the greatest things there.)
Maria Montez in Arabian Nights, John Rawlins, 1942
She was the bane of critics—that person whose effect cannot be known by words, described in words, flaunts words (her image spoke). Film critics are writers and they are hostile and uneasy in the presence of a visual phenomenon...A spectacular, flaming image—since it threatens their critichood need to be able to write—is bad and they attack it throwing in moral extensions and hinting at idiocy in whoever is capable of visually appreciating a visual medium.
—Jack Smith, "The Perfect Filmic Appositeness of Maria Montez," Film Culture #27, 1962-63
* Rock Hudson, a deer, and Jane Wyman, All That Heaven Allows, Douglas Sirk, 1955
As for everything being up there on the screen with Sirk (and my "nice try") -- what are you on? If "everything" had been up there on the screen (a condition that never exists, except in the minds of the lazy), generations of Sirk aficionados (Fassbinder included) wouldn't have had to rescue Sirk from his purgatory in the land of "just soppy melodramas." Is Rock Hudson's sexuality "up there on the screen"? Was Lana Turner and her daughter's personal turmoil "up there on the screen" in IMITATION OF LIFE [sic]? Those are just a couple of subtextual avenues one might travel when considering Sirk, and that’s barely scratching the surface.
My former interlocuter and good friend Aaron Aradillas has started a blog-radio show called "Back By Midnight," and I am honored to be one of his first guests. He invited me and stalwart DVD maven Douglas Pratt to discuss the evolution of home video as it relates specifically to cinephiles. It was a lengthy, lively discussion with a lot of (hopefully) amusing anecdotes and some points of contention. You can listen to it here.