The irrepressible Ms. Lafont, seen here sizing up (and finding wanting) wannabe seducer Serge Marquand, is one of the main attractions of Moshe Mizrahi's 1971 Les Stances a Sophie. Another selling point—the reason, in fact, that the new disc of the film came out on a music label rather than a film label—is its great soundtrack by the Art Ensemble of Chicago. All is revealed in today's Foreign Region DVD Report, over at The Auteurs'.
I was thinking of posting some thoughts concerning the recent blogospheric pile-on of that schmuck Ben Lyons, encouraged by Chris "Taste the Blood of Dracula" Lee's L.A. Times piece asking the burning question "Is... Lyons the most hated film critic in America?" First off, the question itself contains a category error. Secondly, is everybody who complains about Lyons really that shocked at the notion that the road to television fame does not involve a meritocracy of any kind? Jeebus, if the execs who conceptualized the new improved version of At The Movies could've lured Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag away from Viacom and had them do their picks of the week whilst hot-oil wrestling, don't you think they would have? I'm not saying Lyons doesn't suck—he does—but there is something kind of touching about his third-generation close-but-no-cigar hackdom. His grandfather Leonard spent his entire career jostling with Ed fucking Sullivan just for the privilege of being second fiddle to Walter Winchell, his dad Jeffrey (as rude and arrogant a mediocrity as I've ever met in the business—okay, maybe he's second to Regis Philbin) didn't even have the first clue as to how to fill Ebert's sweater on Sneak Previews, and now lil' Ben looks as if he's not gonna back down until he proves to the entire world that he's got better teeth than Roeper. I think it's kinda cute, in a there's-no-business-like-show kinda way. And in any case, as dopily effusive as Lyons can be—I've not watched At The Movies, but what I saw of him on E! certainly made my own less-than-telegenic teeth ache—it isn't as if the class that so loudly disdains him is entirely without sin. In the past week alone, for example, I've read some putatively substantive cinema appraisers positing that Burn Without Reading is meant as a condemnation of everybody who took No Country For Old Men seriously, that critics would be drooling over the risible Seven Pounds if it was in a language other than English, and that the upcoming revival of Made in USA is going to save cinephilia from videogame enthusiasts. Lyons may be a cretin, but he's not quite a lunatic.
Anyhow, like I said, I was thinking of blogging about this, but to hell with that. I'm on vacation.
...not to mention Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen Westmeier Rohe.
Curtiz and Berlin's 1954 White Christmas (Berlin's songs so define the picture that he fully earns co-auteur status—and indeed, the picture is often referred to as Irving Berlin's White Christmas) is too fluffy for many to consider a classic, but, you know, as fluffy goes it's really a formidable accomplishment. And its wholesome, cockeyed optimism is entirely infectious, and especially welcome right about now. It also represents a certain apex of Jew/Gentile artistic collaboration, which is totally awesome. So check it out, maybe.
My Lovely Wife and I wish you all a great holiday week. Posting will be lightish through New Year's and a couple of days beyond; some stuff might pop up over on The Auteurs' Notebook in the meantime. Look for a big DVDs-of-'08 Best-Of around these parts after the first week of '09. And thanks, as always, for hanging out here.
Before the Duplass Brothers' Baghead, before Alan Ball's loathesome Towelhead, there was...Linen Towel Head, the obscure...okay, not really. Find out who this is in what film over at The Auteurs', where this week's Foreign Region DVD Report goes a bit more Psychotronic than usual.
Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) from the courtroom balcony, To Kill A Mockingbird, shot by Russell Harlan, 1962
Sylvia Barrett (Sandy Dennis) and an empty classroom, Up the Down Staircase, shot by Joseph F. Coffey, 1967
A warning shadow, The Stalking Moon, shot by Charles Lang, 1968
Aunt Ida (Uta Hagen) and gasoline can, The Other, shot by Robert Surtees, 1972
If the career of Robert Mulligan, who died yesterday at age 83, could be summed up in a motto,that motto might be "Integrity Through Mise-en-scene." The director worked in just about every genre except the epic—what links all his films together is a kind of intimacy, achieved largely via a camera that seeks to establish a strong link between the viewer and a particular character. As Dave Kehr notes, "Mulligan had a deep understanding of the rarely used subjective viewpoint in cinema." No one who loves Mockingbird need be told why that view from the courtroom balcony plays so strongly. And while the shot of Sandy Dennis made puny by the desks and the looming darkness in Staircase is not from her character's point of view, it conveys her character's point of view perfectly. The shot from The Stalking Moon is from the perspective you are meant to root for; the shot from The Other from a somewhat more problematic perspective.
Mulligan was a frequently wonderful director whose humanist instincts were uniformly strong, but whose work never devolved into the sentimental. Virtually no one today has been doing what he did for quite some time, so in a way it's inaccurate to say that he will be missed; the director, who made his final film, The Man In The Moon, in 1991, has been missed.
UPDATE: Joseph Failla has some thoughts, and a particular emphasis on The Other:
I don't know why Robert Mulligan's name is not better known since his films are so well liked by many moviegoers. One look at a listing of his work and you'll see a number of popular favorites (Love With The Proper Stranger, Up The Down Staircase, Summer of '42), some well-thought-of sleepers (Baby, The Rain Must Fall, Inside Daisy Clover) and at least one classic (To Kill A Mockingbird). But I guess it's hard to be recognized for a certain style when your particular gift is one of welcomed restraint and understatement.
There's no better example of downplaying what could have been a very gratuitous experience than Mulligan's 1972 shocker, The Other. Seemingly shot with the same vision of small town, '30s rural life he created for Mockingbird, it's a supremely American Gothic horror tale that will remind you of Val Lewton crossed with Earl Hamner Jr., rather than the then current visceral trends of the genre. The film's success at being so downright scary has everything to do with avoiding the obvious; even its most gruesome moments come off as more suggestive than unflinching. But the general darkness that surrounds the characters can be found in many of Mulligan's films starting with Anthony Perkins troubled turn in Fear Strikes Out, the sadness that affects Natalie Wood in Proper Stranger or Daisy Clover, and the foreboding danger of The Stalking Moon.
As soon as the film begins, you can sense the menace lurking just behind the nostalgic, rustic landscape from the unusual relationship depicted between the young twin brothers. When you speak of Mulligan's "viewpoint" it's never been more apparent than here, since the brothers are always distanced from one another within each shot. A technique that's maintained throughout the course of the film and is in fact the key to it's storytelling. Even if one can deduce what's coming, the film gains from further viewings, not losing any of it's all important, initial impact. The dark cinematography by Robert Surtees is quite beautiful and when married to another fine Jerry Goldsmith score, you have one of the most sensorial of horror films that has managed to go by, sadly underappreciated.
Though in a way, the film's long unavailabilty (it's only come to DVD in the last couple of years), may have worked to it's benefit in that there could be a whole new audience waiting to rediscover it with no prior misconceptions. I was lucky enough to have seen this on a great double feature with The Legend of Hell House, another fine horror film which dodged sensationalism in favor of atmospheric tension and provided me with one of the most unsettling afternoons at the movies I can remember.
I think I was at that double feature myself—among other things, the beginning of a long imaginary adolescent love affair with Hell House's Pamela Franklin. But that's another story...
"I talked to Jeremy on the phone, and he told me that he discovered that he had a very high level of mercury. So my understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer."
So sayeth the bard, apropos Mr. Piven's dropping out of a Broadway revival of Speed The Plow.
A sharp tongue with zero respect for propriety seems to be a signal feature in the Mamet family. Many of you may recall Mamet's sister's reflections on pastrami, in the essay "On True Stories of Bitches," collected in Mamet's book Some Freaks Writing in Restaurants. If you don't, by all means check out the piece posthaste.
Of course, one's amusement at the above quip will likely be tempered by whether or not one believes Mr. Piven is being entirely straight up about the matter. I suspect that Mamet's not buying it. I also suspect that even if he was buying it, he simply would not be able to resist the line.
I've never met the putatively stricken actor, but boy, have I heard stories. Few are repeatable. My repeatable favorite—stop me if you've heard it before—concerns some fallout over my rather negative review of Very Bad Things in 1998. He met a Premiere colleague at a party in Chicago, and asked her first, how old I was, and second, whether I was British or not. As if some combination of these factors would account for what in his mind was my incomprehensible incomprehension of the film. It so happens that I am a mere six years and one month older than the actor.
(VBT's director Peter Berg had a somewhat more incurious reaction to my notice. "That review was fucking uncool!" he snapped to a different colleague from a red carpet. That's right, "uncool," as in what Angelina did. But not just "uncool." "Fucking uncool." Darn.)
Giving Piven the benefit of the doubt, I wish him a speedy recovery. Lay off the tekka-don, fella; that'll help. As for Mamet, thank you for making us laugh again.
It's nice to feel wanted. Quite a few organazizations have requested that I participate in their year-end polls, post best-of-year lists on their websites, and so on. It's kind of hard to keep up. It was all so simple when I was at Premiere—I'd publish my official list, with comments, in the magazine and/or on the website, and other outlets would get lists only. Now, The Auteurs' Notebook wants both my list and my thoughts on the year in movies, and other places want, say, my "movie moment" of the year...and, as I say, it's nice to be wanted. But what about me? What about my blog? You guys wanna talk about the movies of the year, doncha?
Well, then. Here's the deal. Below you will find, in what I will call vague order of preference, my top 21 (why not?) movies of 2008, with no comments. I'll flag you when the top-ten-with-comments list appears at The Auteurs'. In the meantime, consider the below a conversation starter, even if the conversation is going to include "What the hell is that?" (I know for sure it's going to include at least a few "What the hell are you on?"s.) Because, while all these pictures did screen theatrically for more than a day in the U.S., more than a couple of them didn't make it far out of New York. Consider this a starting point, and feel free to leave your top picks in comments too.
1) Ne Touchez pas La Hache (a.k.a. The Duchess of Langeaise) (Jacques Rivette)
2) Une Vielle Maitresse (a.k.a. The Last Mistress) (Catherine Breillat)
3) Razzle Dazzle/The Lost World (Ken Jacobs)
4) The Romance of Astree and Celadon (Eric Rohmer)
5)Synechdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman)
6) A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin)
7) Flight of fhe Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
8) Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood)
9) The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky)
10) Che (Steven Soderbergh)
11) Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant)
12) Boarding Gate (Olivier Assayas)
13) Burn After Reading (Joel and Ethan Coen)
14) Diary of the Dead (George A. Romero)
15) Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols)
16 )Wall-E (Andrew Stanton)
17) Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme)
18) Mad Detective (Johnny To and Ka Fa Wai)
19) Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog)
20) Shine A Light (Martin Scorsese)
21) J'Entends plus la guitare (Philippe Garrel, made 1991, got first theatrical U.S. release 2008)
Now's the time that I'd normally be steering you all over to The Auteurs' Notebook for the Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report, but a frankly worrying communications glitch has in fact prevented me from posting said report, and I really need to put something up here, so...what the fuck is up, people?
Above is a still from the film to be discussed in the once and future Tuesday Morning etc. etc. I won't reveal the title just yet. Suffice it to say that, as problematic as the film often is, its sheer bluntness is a welcome counter to the scrupulously tasteful moral convolutions of The Reader.
Some best-of-the-year stuff is on its way—theatrical films first. DVDs after the first of the year. Had an interesting weekend, beginning on Friday night when I moderated a near-midnight-hour Q&A with Steven Soderbergh on the opening night of Che. You can watch some video of the event here. If the shot had been wider, you would have been able to see me to Soderbergh's left, eagerly scouring the joint for the nearest exit as the screams of "Murderer!" ring out. I'm sure it looked like something out of early Bob Hope.
UPDATE: Just learned that my estimable Auteurs' editor has been trapped in aviation hell for many hours. He is now facilitating my creation of a post. It will be a "Tuesday Morning" report in name only, except for those on the West Coast. Look for it soon, though!
FURTHER UPDATE: And now my piece, indeed on Sam Fuller's Verboten!, is up. Here.
FYI, that Popular Mechanicspiece on High-Def DVD that I alluded to a few times over the summer is finally in print, and on the web. The web manifestation contains an expanded version of the "must-own" list I compiled for the package as well. The emphasis here was on Hollywood fare getting the high-def treatment, so there's nothing, say, about that 8K disc of Baraka...although I did get Chungking Express into the feature. The piece contains a lot of interesting information about how your Blu-ray sausage is made, if I may say so myself, and also delves into the differing philosophies involved. I've been preparing an end-of-the-year High-Def Consumer Guide to correspond with the publication of the piece, but as the PM piece doesn't provide a link to my blog (it's okay—they don't link to Instapundit when he publishes in there either, so I can't complain), to do so won't necessarily enhance my scheme to monetize this site, which I only started hatching as I was typing the previous sentence. Nevertheless, I hope to post that later in the week.