My old friend Joseph Failla emails:
My old friend Joseph Failla emails:
At the Vulture website for New York magazine this morning, there's an item linking to a post on The Overlook Hotel, a website devoted to "[e]phemera related to Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece of modern horror, 'The Shining'," concerning the deleted epilogue of the film. The post has stirred up a very slight flurry in my circle of Twitter, with one commentator expressing not entirely inapt amusement at a title card proposed in the epilogue in a draft of the screenplay, the relevant pages of which are reproduced in the post. "The Overlook would survive this tragedy, as it had so many others. It is still open every year from May 20th to September 20th. It is closed for the winter." The post at the site assures the reader, thought, that said title card probably didn't make it past the draft reproduced: "Clearly, the final text about the Overlook's history was an idea omitted in the writing process." Silly tone of the prose aside, it was probably obvious almost from the point that typewriter key hit paper that it would not do to go all Barry Lyndon in the context of a contemporary story.
"Even the many people who saw the epilogue when The Shining was first released have varying recollections of the exact details," the post observes. Indeed. I was one of those people. Well I recall the excitement building up to the May 23 1980 opening. My Close Personal Friend Ron Goldberg™, relatively fresh out of NYU Film School, had somehow or other acquired a one-sheet for the movie several months prior, and while we were not crazy about the pinscreen inspired Saul Bass graphic, it grew on us eventually. We knew we had to be there on opening day, and we Jerseyites were in luck, because one of the theaters in which it was opening was the Cinema One on Route 46 in Totowa, a pretty swank first-run then-single-screen theater constructed atop a short cliff of the side of the highway. We would be there for the first screening, one p.m. A bunch of us had been living in this dump in Orange from which we would soon be evicted for blasting Roxy Music records on Ron's Bose 901s at all hours (the landlord, who lived downstairs, was married to a nurse who worked odd hours and needed plenty of rest because "lives depend[ed] on her") but relations had recently been strained on account of Ron's girlfriend having been my girlfriend scant weeks earlier. While our shared cinephilia tended to transcend such relatively petty personal concerns, the rift meant that we'd all be coming in from different points in north Jersey, I from some form of an ancestral home. I had talked my 16-year-old younger brother Michael into playing hooky from school (it didn't take much); he had read Stephen King's novel a while before and was keen to see whether Kubrick was gonna be able to pull off all the hedge maze stuff. Ron turned up with his-current/my-former girlfriend Debra and this stout, gruff, not-quite hippie chick named Tonka, who was the lover of one of the in-and-out Orange roommates. She was the first lesbian my little brother had ever met, and I was so proud.
Anyway. The Overlook post quotes Diane Johnson as saying that "Kubrick felt felt that we should see them in the hospital so we would know that they were all right. He had a soft spot for Wendy and Danny and thought that, at the end of a horror film, the audience should be reassured that everything was back to normal." The epilogue as I remember it did nothing, or at least very little, of the sort. As the Overlook says, people's recollections vary. I don't recollect any interaction between Ullman and a reception nurse, or Ullman with Danny. (The above picture is a continuity Polaroid from the set, so obviously such an exchange was shot.) I can almost swear that the exchange in which Ullman tosses a ball to Danny was not in the sequence. I mainly remember the exchange between Ullman and a still-shaken Wendy in which he recounts to her, in terms more officious than comforting, that there was no physical evidence that any of the phenomena she claims to have witnessed at the Overlook, e.g., gallons of blood gushing from the elevators, ever actually occured. Barry Nelson's portrayal struck me more as manager trying to steer an ex-employee away from a lawsuit than a caring former boss. Of course that could just have been my anti-authoritarian streak, a common trait in twenty-year-olds.
This was not really a "return to normal" kind of scene, in other words. It left more of a "what the hell happened" feeling in this viewer. We knew that Danny and Wendy had survived; Danny getting pulled into the Sno-Cat and that vehicle driving away had a very satisfying modern fairy-tale feel to it. The hospital scene threw us into a state of doubt again.
I also recall the placement of the scene differently than how it's described on the Overlook site. The post says it's "located between the shot of Jack frozen in the snow and the long dolly shot through the lobby that ends on the July 4, 1921 framed photo." Oddly enough, my own recollection is that the scene occurs after the shot of the Sno-Cat taking off. There was then a blackout, then the hospital scene, and then the shot of Jack frozen in the maze, then the lobby shot. Of course this makes no sense. Obviously if the Overlook people had been able to check out the hotel and insure that the elevators had not been flooded with blood and so on, they would also have discovered and disposed of Jack Torrance's mortal remains while on the job, and hence he would not be sitting frozen in the maze after Ullman had debriefed Wendy. On the other hand, the placement makes sense in terms of delivering a final shock to viewers, and also linking the mad dead Torrance to the droll champagne-glass-holder of 1921. We'll never know who's right, or who's "right," but again, that's how I remember it. (Roger Ebert's musings on the epilogue, cited in the Wikipedia entry on the movie, have Ullman saying that Jack's body was not found during the investigation, which would make the placement of Jack in the maze after that scene make a sort of sense/nonsense; my recollection of the scene does not have that dialogue and neither do the script pages reproduced in the Overlook post.)
The reason I had/have such a strong impression of the missing ending is because I ended up seeing The Shining again, with at least one of the same party, pretty shortly after seeing it the first time, and being flummoxed by the absence of the hospital scene. Ron did some investigating, and according to the story he told me, on the evening of the first day of screening, Warner Brothers had dispatched a batallion of in-house editors, armed with razor blades and Scotch tape and a memo from Kubrick himself, to every theater that had a print of the film, and sliced out the scene and taped the reel back together, and that was that.
As I've said elsewhere, The Shining kind of became our social activity that summer. It was like a remake of Marty, only we were idiots: "Whaddya wanna do tonight?" "I dunno, whaddya wanna do tonight?" "Wanna go to The Shining?" "Sure." Think we saw it nine times before September. Ace picture!
UPDATE: I was so caught up in describing the more comic/picaresque aspects of my first Shining outing that I forgot to include one crucial member of our party, Joseph Failla, who as of 1980 had been my stalwart movie-going mate for over a decade. He too was there, and he e-mailed his thoughts last night:
"It's funny how we can remember the same event so differently particularly since I was sitting right next to you at the time. As I recall, the deleted SHINING footage does indeed begin just after the shot of Jack Nicholson frozen in the snow and finishes on that long track down the hotel hallway into the black and white photo. It should be mentioned that the footage ends as a dissolve and not the quick cut that we see in the film today. The transitional shot originally started on a close up of Shelley Duvall and then slowly fades, revealing more of the corridor further back, so you could not yet tell where we were headed as the pictures on the wall were too small to make out.
Looks like we have a potential Shining Rashomon here. Maybe I'll ask MCPFRG™ and my brother how they remember the ending. I don't know about Debra though. As for Tonka, she's MIA.
As I've mentioned before, I'm not a big fan of Hitchcock, the kind-of quasi biopic concerning the late film director of the same name, starring Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins, written by John J. McLaughlin, and directed by Sacha Gervasi. I understand that in the dramatizing of real events that factual liberties are taken all the time, and have been since (I know, I know) the days of Shakespeare and before. So I understand then too that to complain about factual liberties taken here is to court accusations of,among other things, humorless literal-mindedness. But as I said in my review of the movie for MSN Movies, had the liberties taken with the facts resulted in a motion picture that was either illuminating or entertaining, or both (a lot to ask, I know) that would have gone a long way to forgiving those liberties. I got up early this morning to watch my friend Matt Singer of Criticwire talk Hitchcock, and Hitchcock, on the CBS This Morning program. The clip they showed from the new film features Hopkins and Mirren, as Hitchcock and his wife Alma Reville, going over footage of Psycho's shower scene in the editing room. Looking carefully at a single frame, Mirren's Reville coos "Ooh, you imp! You've got nudity in there!" to which Hopkins' Hitchcock replies with an exaggerated air of sang froid, "Well her breasts were rather large, it'd be a challenge not to show them." Most of the dialogue in the film is determined by the same juvenile notion of what constitutes breezy adult banter as that example. So, you know.
Sometimes you will read a review of a motion picture and wonder if the person writing actually saw the same film you did. In the case of my friend Richard Brody, I have no doubt that we saw the same Hitchcock, as we sat next to each other at the press screening. But he came to some vastly different conclusions than I did, which he lays out in a typically detailed, incisive, provocative, and, for me, exasperating post at his New Yorker blog. He covers a lot of ground in this post, and seems most particularly pleased with the way Hitchcock demonstrates "the personal significance of the story of Psycho." Now, as I understand it, Brody's baseline idea isn't hugely different from Andrew Sarris' definition of Pantheon Directors, that is, those who "have transcended their technical problems with a personal vision of the world." Brody sees an innovation in this biopic, born of his perception that "Gervasi rightly suggests that Hitchcock is no mere puppet master who seeks to provoke effects in his viewers." In discussing the technical aspects of his own films, Hitchcock took not-unjustifiable pride in the fact that with his effects he could, yes, traumatically "play" the audience, and there's nothing wrong with that. However, Hitchcock himself DID acknowledge, and publicly at that, that within that component of his art there was a strong element of self-expression, so it's not really as if Gervasi has stumbled on to anything particularly new. (Then, of course, there are the reams—more like libraries—of detailed critical studies of Hitchcock's work.) Brody continues: "[Hitchcock is] converting the world as he sees it, in its practical details and obsessively ugly corners, into his art, and he’s doing so precisely because those are the aspects of life that haunt his imagination." This is all unobjectionable. Where I think Richard goes a little off is in his praise for what he considers the "shaky but bold artistic limb" Gervasi goes out on by introducing the midwestern murderer Ed Gein into Hitchcock's consciousness, making him the stuff of daymares and imagined psychiatric consultations and even forays into marital jealousy that find Alfred crawling about the floor of his bathroom collecting grains of sand with which to confront Alma, who hasn't told him that her writing sessions of late have been taking place at a collaborator's beach house.
"I have no idea whether Hitchcock gave much thought to Gein, but it doesn't matter," Brody writes. "[I]f it wasn't Gein that obsessed him, it was surely much that was Gein-like." Leaving aside that perhaps overly-confident "surely," I would argue that whether Hitchcock gave much thought to Gein certainly does matter, or at least it matters within the context of this film, because the portrayal of Gein therein is almost by necessity a kind of burlesque. At the time that Robert Bloch wrote the novel upon which Psycho was based, Gein was not the kind of household world that he has since become. As awful and appalling as his crimes were, the singularity of his atrocities underwent a certain diminishment as he was transposed over the years into a kind of pop-culture "brand." The wild-eyed, Midwestern, possibly cannibalistic serial killer, after roosting as a kind of Chiller Theatre Expo hipster icon since some time well before G.G. Allin shuffled off this mortal coil, has since become a sort of post-modern kitsch object. The only way for such a figure to inspire anything resembling real terror in a cinematic context anymore is to stretch him beyond, and then further beyond, reason, as Lynch did with "BOB" in Twin Peaks: Fire Walks With Me and certain episodes of the Twin Peaks television series. In any event, in Hitchcock, the way Gein, almost inescapably, comes off, Michael Wincott or no Michael Wincott, is as serial killer vaudeville.
In a comment to a prior blog post, the great critic and biographer Joseph McBride, before recounting his own late '50s Gein-tourism experience, chides me a bit: "How can anyone not like a movie in which Alfred Hitchcock hangs out with Ed Gein?" I understand what he's getting at, and had Hitchcock been conceived and executed thoughout as a kind of burlesque, in the style of what McBride's old pals Allan Arkush and Joe Dante often had a go at in the Corman days and beyond, Hitchcock could have been good disreputable/affectionate fun. But that's not what Hitchcock is up to. Brody states that Gervasi recognizes Psycho as a great artistic acheivement, but he doesn't, or rather the movie doesn't, not really; art never enters into this movie's argument, or algebra. Rather, Hitchcock recasts the making of Psycho through a tired Hollywood template: the story of a dreamer with a vision that everybody around him thinks he is—you'll excuse the term—crazy for entertaining, and how that dreamer proves the naysayers wrong...here, not by making a great work of art, but by concocting a motion picture commodity that slays them at the box office. And in the process of grinding out this particular narratvie sausage, Hitchcock also manages to be astonishingly patronizing to its principal characters. In her own clearly ticked-off New York Times review of the movie, another friend, Manohla Dargis, writes, "Hitchcock, you are meant to believe, was himself a little psycho and could only work from a place of madness." She continues: "The real Hitchcock's great flaw, apparently, was that he was at once a genius and a private man, a combination that has allowed some filmmakers to have their insultingly imaginative way with him." She goes on to dismiss "dim fantasies" that to her smack of "spiteful jealousy." I'd say that's pretty spot on. Except I don't even think that Sacha Gervasi understands enough about Hitchcock to know that he maybe should be jealous of him. (There are several interviews with the director that bear this notion out, I'll leave it to readers curious enough to seek them out to do just that.)
As for Hitchcock himself...like DeMille, whom he admired, he was something of a self-made showman, and pronouncements such as "some films are slices of life, my films were slices of cake" were a part of his presentation. As Dargis said, he was a private person, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he worked exclusively and consciously in a vacuum of his own unexamined fancies. As much of a front as he put up, one often doesn't need to read too far between certain lines to understand his own understanding of where his themes came from. In other words: he knew that cinema was the stuff of obsession. There's a droll and poignant passage in Luis Buñuel's autobiography in which the Spanish director recounts a Hollywood lunch in his honor, at which Hitchcock rhapsodized, practically in a swoon, over a particularly salient detail in Buñuel's Tristana: " 'Ah, that leg...that leg,' he sighed, more than once." In the final revised edition of Hitchcock/Truffaut, Truffaut, recalls watching Vertigo and seeing Jimmy Stewart's Scotty trying to remake Kim Novak's Judy Barton into "Madeline;" he writes of experiencing a certain sad frisson knowing that it was Vera Miles, not Novak, that Hitchcock had wanted for that crucial role, and Truffaut sees Hitchcock in Stewart with a kind of sad clarity. In other words, you don't need a bad cartoon—which, finally, I'm convinced Hitchcock is—in order to get it.
A few citations. Here's a pretty salient passage from the above-mentioned Truffaut study of Hitchcock:
FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT. Mr. Hitchcock, this morning you mentioned that you had had a bad night and indicated that you were probably disturbed by all of the memories that our talks have been stirring up these past several days. In the course of our conversations we've gone into the dreamlike qualities of many of your films, among them Notorious, Vertigo, and Psycho. I'd like to ask whether you dream a lot.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK. Not to much...sometimes...and my dreams are very reasonable.
In one of my dreams I was standing on Sunset Boulevard, where the trees are, and I was waiting for a Yellow Cab to take me to lunch. But no Yellow Cab came by; all the automobiles that drove by me were of a 1916 vintage. And I said to myself, "It's no good standing here waiting for a Yellow Cab because this is a 1916 dream!" So I walked to lunch instead.
F.T. Did you really dream this, or is it a joke?
A.H. No, it's not a gag; I really had a dream like that!
F.T. It's almost a period dream! But would you say that dreams have a bearing on your work?
A.H. Daydreams, probably.
F.T. It may be the expression of the unconscious, and that takes us back once more to fairy tales. By depicting the isolated man who's surrounded by all sorts of hostile elements, and perhaps without even meaning to, you enter the realm of the dream world, which is also a world of solitude and danger.
A.H. That's probably me, within myself.
F.T. It must bem because the logic of your puctures, which is sometimes decried by the critics, is rather like the logic of dreams. Strangers on a Train and North by Northwest, for instance, are made up of a series of strange forms that follow the pattern of a nightmare.
A.H. This may be due to the fact that I'm never satisfied with the ordinary. I'm ill at ease with it.
F.T. That's very evident. A Hitchcock picture that doesn't involve death or the abnormal is practically inconceivable. I believe you film emotions you feel very deeply—fear, for instance.
A.H. Absolutely. I'm full of fears and I do my best to avoid difficulties and any kind of complications. I like everything around me to be clear as crystal and completely calm. I don't want clouds overhead. I get a feeling of peace from a well-organized desk. When I take a bath, I put everything neatly back in place. You wouldn't even know I'd been in the bathroom. My passion for orderliness goes hand in hand with a strong revulsion toward complications.
F.T. That accounts for the way you protect yourself. Any eventual problem of direction is resolved beforehand by your minute predesigned sketches that lessen the risks and prevent trouble later on. Jacques Becker used to say, "Alfred Hitchcock is undoubtedly the director who gets the least surprises when he looks at rushes."
And here is Hitchcock describing his childhood to Truffaut: "I was what is known as a well-behaved child. At family gatherings I would sit quietly in a corner, saying nothing. I looked and I observed a good deal. I've always been that way and still am. I was anything but expansive. I was a loner—can't remember ever having had a playmate. I played by myself, inventing my own games [...] I was put into school very young. At St. Ignatius College, a Jesuit school in London. Ours was a Catholic family and in England, you see, this in itself is an eccentricity. It was probably during this period with the Jesuits that a strong sense of fear developed—moral fear—the fear of being involved in anything evil. I always tried to avoid it. Why? Perhaps out of physical fear. I was terrified of physical punishment. In those days they used a cane made of very hard rubber. I believe the Jesuits still use it. It wasn't done casually, you know; it was rather like the execution of a sentence. They would tell you to step in to see the father when classes were over. He would then solemnly inscribe your name in the register, together with the indication of the punishment to be inflicted, and you spent the whole day waiting for the sentence to be carried out."
And perhaps we should give the last word, for now, to Robin Wood, and this passage from 1989's Hitchcock's Films Revisited. The film to which Wood refers is, of course, Psycho (which I think I might watch this afternoon): "No film conveys—to those not afraid to expose themselves fully to it—a greater sense of desolation, yet it does so from an exceptionally mature and secure emotional viewpoint. And an essential part of this viewpoint is the detached sardonic humor. It enables the film to contemplate the ultimate horrors without hysteria, with a poised, almost serene detachment. This is probably not what Hitchcock meant when he said that one cannot appreciate Psycho without a sense of humor, but it is what he should have meant. He himself—if his interviews are to be trusted—has not really faced up to what he was doing when he made the film. This, needless to say, must not affect one's estimate of the film itself. For the maker of Psycho to regard it as a 'fun' picture can be taken as a means of preserving his sanity; for the critic to do so—and to give it his approval on these grounds—is quite unpardonable. Hitchcock (again, if his interviews are to be trusted) is a much greater artist than he knows."
F.T. Would you say that Psycho is an experimental film?
A.H. Possibly. My main satisfaction is that the film had an effect on the audiences, and I consider that very important. I don't care about the subject matter; I don't care about the acting; but I do care about the piece of film and the photography and the sound track and all of the technical ingredients that made the audience scream. I feel it's tremendously satisfying for us to be able to use the cinematic are to acheive something of a mass emotion. And with Psycho we most definitely acheived this. it wasn't a message that stirred the audiences, nor was it a great performance or their enjoyment of the novel. They were aroused by pure film.
F.T. Yes, that's true.
A.H. That's why I take pride in the fact that Psycho, more than any of my other pictures, is a film that belongs to film-makers, to you and me. I can't get a real appreciation of the picture in the terms we're using now. People will say, "It's a terrible film to make. The subject was horrible, the people were small, there were no characters in it. " I know all of this, but I also know that the construction of the story and the way in which it was told caused audiences all over the world to react and become emotional.
—Hitchcock/Truffaut, by François Truffaut, 1966.
In England, the Beatles make their debut television appearance, on the Sid-Bernstein-founded Granada TV, a northwest-servicing commercial television franchise. They perform the songs "Some Other Guy" and "Love Me Do."
In Osaka, Japan, American modernist composer John Cage gives a concert at Mido-Kaikan, for which he is joined by artist Yoko Ono for the piece 26'55.988" for 2 Pianists & a String Player. Ono served as Cage's interpreter for much of the artist's 1962 tour of Japan, and participated in several other performances, including the one pictured above, featuring Cage, David Tudor and Toshiro Mayuzumi.
If you're of the opinion that they don't make 'em like they used to, you are absolutely correct. If you're peeved that it's more and more difficult to see the ones they used to make on a big screen, that's absolutely correct too. So I would suggest you carve out some time and put your money where your complaints are this coming Thursday, October 4, when David Lean's still-remarkable, relentlessly thrilling 1962 picture Lawrence of Arabia plays in a 4K digital restoration for one showing only (at 7 p.m.) in theaters across the country, including one near you, I would expect. You can find out more at the Fathom Events website here. I can't imagine it'll be anything less than thrilling. I saw a prior restoration of the movie at the Ziegfeld some years back and it was one of my favorite moviegoing experiences ever. So don't wait for the upcoming Blu-ray; see it big, if you can. The presentation will also feature some nice extras, including introductions from Omar Sharif and Martin Scorsese.
In 2007 I had the great privilege of doing a telephone interview with Alain Resnais. It was a very genial conversation that alighted ona variety of topics, one of which, no surprise, was his still-contentious 1961 collaboration with the late writer/filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet, Last Year At Marienbad. The movie still tends to be viewed by some through critic Pauline Kael's rather stubbornly dense reading of it—the gist of it being that it's one of the pictures that inspired her mot about "come dressed as the sick soul of Europe" costume parties—so I discussed it with Resnais with an emphasis on its more formally playful aspects, which include the appearance of a cardboard cutout of Alfred HItchcock and a pastiche of the Hollywood classic Gilda. He was not unreceptive to my perspective, but also gently cautioned against the notion of characterizing the whole thing as some kind of meta romp. As his interpreter put it, "Yes, there are some very funny jokes in Marienbad. But [...Resnais] hopes it doesn't take away from the tragedy."
And so. Resnais' latest picture, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, opens with some good jokes, beginning with its title, which heralds back to a different technological turning point in the history of film. The design of the title sequence, which does not but might as well incorporate the image of a flying unicorn, evokes a particular faux-grandiose Euro-cheesiness that's also quite amusing. Then there's the conceit of the movie itself. A flatbed-truck-load of great French actors, from Amalric to Wilson and with Arditi, Azema, Consigny, Girardot, and Piccoli and many others in between, are seen being summoned by phone to the chateau of a dear friend, a playwright named Antoine d'Anthac. Antoine's gone and died, and he wanted these friends to attend the reading of his will and testament. And so this amazing cast hies to an ornate CGI-rendered mountain retreat, where they are greeted by an unusually cheery Antoine via posthumous video. Turns out he wants to go over old times, particularly his play Eurydice, which various members of this cast, we learn, portrayed in various productions over the years. There's another theater company working up a version, Antoine tells the renowned thespians, and he wants their feedback on their version of the play. Which then begins on the big-screen display in Antoine's home theater. And the cast assembled for the reading of Antoine's will begins to interact with what's on screen, creating a mashup, if you will, wherein most of the entirety of Eurydice, a 20th-century gloss on the Orpheus myth, plays out for the viewer—that's you, and/or me.
If you're somewhat familiar with 20th-century European drama, and/or have paid attention to the movie's opening credits, you'll comprehend that this Eurydice is a real thing—it's a play by Jean Anouilh that predated Jean Cocteau's cinematic gloss on the Orpheus myth by several years. The two have little in common, as it happens, aside from the ancient-to-modern transposition. The actors-called-to-a-playwright's-will-reading conceit is ALSO adopted from an Anouilh play: a later, and altogether more obscure work entitled Dear Antoine, or, Failed Love. So there's another set of mashup parentheses bracketing the opposition of the Resnais rep company and the lesser-known actors in the fictional theatrical company that they're running competing versions of Eurydice with.
All this sounds rather remarkably impenetrably knotty and maybe impossibly French, and there's a sense in which cultural specificity seems kind of crucial to "getting" what's going on here. (Because I'm a horrible person, I was highly amused to read a writeup by a VERY know-somethingish whippersnapper in which he cited Antoine D'Anthac as a real playwright, and Jean Anouilh as a fictional one. It's like you've never seen Waltz of the Toreadors or Becket or something!) However. Once the conceit is successfully realized and the Eurydice action moves forward while toggling in different modes, the movie's exploration of the art of acting and the fungible nature of what we call "tragedy" takes on a remarkable immediacy that's rendered more than slightly phantasmagorical by the 90-year-old Resnais' delight in the play of digital space. Most, if not all, of the setting inhabited by the actors transporting themselves (and the audience) in D'Anthac's lair are digital simulations, from great halls that look like video-game foyers to ratty pension bedrooms wherein various iterations of Orpheus and Eurydice enact their passion and domestic disputes.
And while the viewer is taking in all of the various filters through which what is finally a very old and simple-as-Death story is being processed—and just to think, we ain't seen nothin' yet!—that story, its elemental themes of passion and mortality, comes through in a very direct way, via the performances and the way Resnais' camera views them. The formal innovations and sense of play aren't distractions from the emotion, rather, Resnais suggests, it is only through the rigorous exercise of the imagination that art is able to communicate anything even suggesting the Real. There'll be more to say when the picture gets a proper release and the rest of you are able to see it; I'm happy to report that Kino Lorber was not at all intimidated by its French-ness and will be releasing the film early next year.
Ugestu Monogatari, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953.
There has been an awful lot of...stuff written pertaining to the "Greatest Films Poll" sponsored by the British Film Institute and Sight & Sound magazine (which I was fortunate enough to have been invited to vote in); I am not inclined to contribute to any of the polemecizing per se but would like to note that the top picks in both the final poll result itself and the individual ballots is giving me an incentive to revisit some pictures I haven't seen in some time or perhaps maybe not at all. Mizoguchi's haunting ghost story, which I myself threw under the bus in favor of Sansho Dayu, and then threw Sansho Dayu under the bus and PUT NO JAPANESE FILMS AT ALL ON MY BALLOT (like many have said, in more polite ways, doing these ballots is completely fucking impossible), is now available, like Sansho, in a wonderful high-def edition from Eureka!/Masters of Cinema if you are fortunate enough to own an all-region Blu-ray player. On my coffee table right now: Arrow Cinema's U.K. Blu-ray of Wajda's Ashes And Diamonds (Martin Scorsese's ballot; also Francis Ford Coppola's ballot; it would be lovely to think they maybe hashed it out in a phone conversation but probably not, and in a sense it's sweeter to think of this affinity as having long gone un-reiterated); Tartan DVD's U.K. standard-def edition of Ingmar Bergman's 1949 Prison (Abel Ferrara's ballot; a reading of the synopsis for the film suggests an inspiration for Ferrara's own very underrated Snake Eyes/Dangerous Game); and Kino Video's Avant Garde: Experimental Cinema Of The 1920s And '30s, which features Joris Ivens' 1929 Regen, which is on Apichatpong Weerasethukal's ballot.
I was quite honored, this spring, to receive an invitation to participate in the British Film Institute/Sight & Sound "Greatest Films Of All Time" poll. Now that the results of that poll are being unveiled online, I figure it would not be improper for me to put up my own ballot, along with the note I attached to it.
1) Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
2) Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960)
3) Anatomy of a Murder (Preminger, 1959)
4) Céline et Julie vent en bateau (Rivette, 1974)
5) Stalker (Tarkovsky, 1979)
6) Belle de jour (Buñuel, 1967)
7) Boudu sauvé des eaux (Renoir, 1932)
8) Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (Lang, 1922)
9) Singin' in the Rain (Donen & Kelly, 1952)
10)The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
Thanks so much for the invitation to participate in the poll. It's true; the task is not an easy one at all. I arrived at this particular list, one out of perhaps dozens of other entirely different ones, by splitting he difference between honoring convention and saying to hell with it. As it happens, the four films on the list which might conceivably be seen as "consensus" picks—Kane, Psycho, Singin' in the Rain, Searchers—are also ones close to "my heart" or at least the formation of my sensibility. The other six films came to me after a lot of debate with myself over whether I was being different for the sake of being different, or whether these were not in fact truly GREAT films that, when the time came for surveys along the lines of this one, did not get the proper recognition for being the imaginatively prodigious, paradigm-shifting, galvanic works that I believe they in fact are. OF COURSE I regret that my list cannot be longer, because surely Sansho Dayu, The General (not to mention Sherlock Jr.), The Last Temptation of Christ, and a lot more ought to have a place, and the more I think about the films and filmmakers I am leaving off (Yang! Naruse!...and, yep, Godard; what am I thinking?) the more I can twist a long knife inside both my guts and brain. And for all that this is a list that in its way satisfies me. If anybody asks me "What IS cinema," yeah, I can show them any one of these pictures and say "This is."