I think I've mentioned at least once on this blog that it was very unlikely that I'd ever do Oscar predictions, or any other such sort of thing, again, unless I got paid for it. This determination had at least a little to do with the fact that, in my clear-eyed estimation, I kind of stink at Oscar predictions. Despite my protestations on this front, my pals at MSN commissioned an Oscar-predictions piece from me anyway, with the main focus being nominees rather than winners. Given my track record, I tried to fill it with as much entertainment value as possible, but in terms of crystal gazing it may not turn out to be a total write-off after all. For instance, Katherine Bigelow's win at the DGA Awards for The Hurt Locker sets the stage for precisely the Best Director/Best Picture split I envision at the Academy bash. I may be onto something in other categories, too. Or I may be on something. The piece is here, and you can comment at MSN or directly below.
So yesterday I attended a movie junket for the first time in over 20 years. I'm not gonna tell you the movie I was covering, or the outlet I was covering it for, until this information is actually pertinent (although you can probably guess the former), but I thought you'd enjoy this little, um, personal tidbit.
I was scheduled to do two video interviews, so I hung out in the breakfast/lunch buffet room of the facility, hoping maybe to get a little makeup and/or finish the Times' crossword. In keeping with the facility itself, a midtown Manhattan hotel known for, among other things, a spectacular breakfast kitchen, the grub was as good as buffet style gets. The junketeers around me, mostly TV types, were pretty much as I remembered them, albeit prettier, and slicker. But still prone to pronouncing inanities in too-loud voices. As in, "Y'know, it's funny, I've been seeing a lot of art flicks lately," and "What Conan failed to understand is that 'The Tonight Show' is NBC's car; they were just letting him drive it." I ran into several senior publicists who evinced surprise at seeing me there, and I shrugged. Soon I was herded to the waiting area, outside the makeshift studios wherein I would have two minutes with Star #1 and three minutes with Star #2. Over by the bit room where the press conference was to be held, another online film writer spotted me. He, too, look surprised as he came over to greet me.
"So," he asked, "you got a one-on-one with [name of major American film director redacted]?"
"Not today," I shrugged...again. "Those were different times." I looked around at the harried assistants with headsets all rushing around.
"Guess so," my acquaintance chuckled.
I shrugged once more. "I feel kinda like Tyrone Power at the end of Nightmare Alley."
"I don't get that reference."
Lucky you, I thought. But I didn't say it. Instead, I said, "It's a good picture, you should check it out some time."
Over at The Auteurs', I put on my grumpy old man hat (which is getting to be a really good fit), and contemplate all that I'm missing by not being in Park City. It's a particularly flippant installment of Topics, etc., but it's very heartfelt in its flippancy, if you know what I'm saying.
I've just returned from a screening of Shutter Island. I think I'm not yet permitted to review it, and want some time to gather my thoughts in any case. (I think, also, that I can at least say I was very impressed with it.) But I do want to announce that I was extremely chuffed to hear a snippet of "Fragor," by Tim Hodgkinson, on the film's brilliantly assembled soundtrack. (Robbie Robertson was the music supervisor, and it's clear that he really worked his ass off on the project.) Hodgkinson's a former Henry Cow member and a very demanding and tough-minded contemporary classical composer (indeed, one of his Cow works required such dexterity that it frustrated the very dextrous guitarist Fred Frith, who would exclaim "Erk gah!" on dealing with its changes; for a while that became the title of the piece). His piece is used both aptly and sparingly, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear it in the context of a big-budget studio production. I haven't been this excited since a swatch of Sergio Cervetti's The Hay Wain made it into Natural Born Killers!
What piece of music near and dear to you, or previously believed to have been known only by you, have surprised you by turning up in a picture?
...and sincere ones, at that—as opposed to those offered by the cinematic anti-hero above. All sorts of busy and unwell going on to excuse the lack of blogging, but I assure you that a payoff or two as a result of at least the busy will be forthcoming, including an anecdote of a director who owns at least one of what he calls a "Kubrick shirt." Patience, please, and, again, sincere good cinematic wishes to you all.
Among the more interesting questions revived in the recent biography of Warren Beatty, the not-infrequently asked "Is Ishtar really that bad?" is, to my mind, the most pertinent. Which ought to give you some idea of what my idea of pertinence is. A European disc of the film can furnish us with a means of examination; thus, today's Foreign Region DVD Report, at The Auteurs', as ever.
In his review at DVD Beaver, Gary Tooze notes that the spine number of the Criterion box set containing three Roberto Rossellini masterpieces is 500, an appropriately auspicious number for such a beautifully conceived and produced set. It is "impossible to underestimate" the importance of these films, Dave Kehr rightly notes in his review of the set in the Arts & Leisure section of yesterday's Times. Dave's review is, as usual, exemplary in both its scholarship and critical acuity. And the supplemental materials included in the package itself, featuring documentaries, video essays, archival material featuring the director himself, and much, much more, are of such a uniformly perceptive and illuminating quality that one in my situation feels hard-pressed to come up with anything new to say. Still, one must endeavor to persevere, so here are some notes.
Watching the restored Rome, Open City, from 1945,I was struck by its two-part structure, and the way the first part recounts events taking place over a matter of days, while the second part's happenings are a matter of hours. It's true that this film presents what we've come to call neo-realism in an inchoate stage, but I found the tension between the film's florid melodramatic elements (most notably the "seduction" of Marina by the female Gestapo operative) and its jolts of no-nonsense frankness (the little boy on the chamber pot, the lambs to the slaughter) very telling.
The multi-episode Paisan is so inspired, and expansive, with such a generosity of perspective, that it seems a genuinely unprecedented piece of work. It's not for nothing that the writing credits cite eight people, one of them Klaus Mann, the son of novelist Thomas, who participated in the liberation of Italy as an American soldier. Among a lot of other things, the picture opens a window on the shifting attitudes of both liberator and liberated. To anyone who is inclined to boast, "We Americans really saved Europe's bacon in World War II," Paisan is a compelling "Yes, but." It is also almost unyielding in its despair. There's no savoring of victory; there's no victory even depicted. Struggles never end. The war is never over, not for the black G.I. who doesn't want to go home or for the little boy who steals that G.I.'s shoes. The final sequence, with American and British troops trying to help out partisans on the Po river as they go up against some dead-ender Nazis, is one of the most perfectly-realized war films ever made anywhere, a harrowingly concentrated work. All this and Harriet White, the unusual-featured American actress later to become an iconic Euro-horror figure thanks to Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava. It's quite unnerving to consider the fact that, up until this Criterion reconstruction, Paisan was for most intents and purposes a lost film.
And then there's Germany Year Zero, the shortest of the three films, and you want to talk about "harrowingly concentrated," well, yes, here you have it. A thoroughly fascinating document of a city in ruins and an incredibly potent parable on the ideological poisonthat lives on grotesquely in the face of the destruction it's created, it's so unremittingly strong that you wouldn't have blamed Rossellini in the least had he gone on to direct nothing but screwball comedies in its wake. But he didn't; instead he went about reinventing cinema again. I echo Dave's friendly call for Criterion to now set about presenting that work for us some time soon.
So, Mountain's classic of cowbell rock Mississippi Queen popped up on the iPod last night, as it will, and once again I was reminded that while I comprehend what the song is "about," I still can't make head or tail of most of it. These are the words that I hear:
If you know what I mean.
She taught me everything.
Way down around Pittsburgh
Around da weezy anna way
Lived a Cajun lady
Call the Mississippi queen.
You know she was a Cancer.
She moved better on wine.
While da rest of dem Jews was a-gettin’ their kids,
Burgher beg your pardon I was gettin’ mine.
If you know what I mean.
She taught me everything.
This lady, she’d hate me
If I would be a man!
You know dat I told her
I’d do what I can.
To keep her lookin’ pretty
By her gentry black shine
While da rest of dem Jews was a-makin’ their prayers
Burgher beg your pardon I was losin’ mine!
[Awesome guitar solo]
You know she was a gangster!
She moved better on vine.
Why da rest of dem dudes was a getting’ dair kicks