Posted by gregferrara on November 27, 2013
With the holidays soon approaching, here’s the perfect gift for any movie lover looking to have a good time watching movies that never fails: lowered expectations. I noticed on TCM’s schedule for the early morning hours of Tuesday that a short on the making of The Blue Lagoon was on. I’ve never seen that movie and have no intention of ever seeing it but if I happened upon it on cable one day and saw a few scenes, I wouldn’t be disappointed. I know that because I have absolutely no expectations that The Blue Lagoon is good in any conceivable way. If, in the couple of scenes I watched, they managed to not drop the camera or accidentally insert footage from another movie, I’d feel I’d gotten my time’s worth. Oh hell, let’s be honest, if they dropped the camera it probably wouldn’t make any difference. That’s the joy of lowered expectations. You, quite obviously, don’t expect anything, or at least, you don’t expect anything good. When it goes in the other direction, you’ve got trouble.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on November 26, 2013
This tongue-in-cheek quote from director Christian Petzold identifies the severe economy of style associated with the “Berlin School” of filmmakers, now receiving a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Petzold, Thomas Arslan and Angela Schanelec each attended the Deutsche Film und Fernsehakademie Berlin (dffb) in the early 1990s under the tutelage of Harun Farocki and Hartmut Bitomsky. The three directors made recalcitrant, intensely observational genre films as a reaction to the 1990s “cinema of consensus” in Germany, as described by Eric Rentschler. The end of East Germany became the fodder for comedies like Go Trabi, Go (1991), along with the sober historical dramas that continue to this day (Downfall, The Lives of Others). This first generation of “Berlin School” directors instead wished to focus on the dislocations of the present, whether of the influx of Turkish immigrants, or internal displacement wrought by the shift from socialism to capitalism. Other directors with similar interests, who did not attend the dffb (including the editors of Revolver Magazine, Benjamin Heisenberg and Christoph Hochhausler), were later grouped with Petzold, Arslan and Schanelec as the “Berlin School” of filmmaking, which would produce the most critically-acclaimed German films since the “German New Wave” of Fassbinder, Herzog and Schroeter. It is a critic’s construct, first coined by German reviewer Merten Worthmann, and perhaps has led to the films being ignored in the United States. While “New Wave” suggests the vibrancy of youth, “Berlin School” elicits visions of pedantic schoolmasters chastising viewers with ruler thwacks to the wrist.
Posted by Susan Doll on November 25, 2013
In recognition of the holiday, I want talk about my favorite turkeys—box office turkeys, that is. This slang word for box-office failure goes back to about 1927 and was first applied to Broadway productions, but it was soon adopted for movies that failed to draw sufficient audiences. You don’t hear the word much these days, but I thought it was fitting to resurrect it this week.
I rarely agree with movie reviewers, and truth be told, I have stopped reading a lot of reviews, especially from online sources. While reviewers like to call themselves “critics,” true film criticism does not revolve around personal taste. I loathe reviewers who jump on a flawed film that may still be worthwhile viewing and dub it “the worst film ever made,” which sometimes affects the box office for that title. Reviewers seem to lie in wait for an imperfect film, so they can exaggerate its poor points, giving them an excuse to poke fun in that snarky style I loathe. Ugh! Don’t get me started.
Posted by gregferrara on November 24, 2013
My last post dealt with William K. Everson’s 1972 book, The Detective in Film, and it got me to thinking about my movie book collection. Specifically, I wondered, as I looked through my library of movie books, what was the most personally influential/rewarding movie book I had in my library. The answer came pretty easy. Back in 1985, I got the book Movies of the Forties as a present. At that point in my life, I was the easiest person in the world to buy for because I only ever wanted one thing: Movie books. I still have shelves and shelves and shelves of them and still pick up “new” ones from time to time (by “new” I mean old, as in books from the seventies on back I find at my local second hand bookstore). And of all of them, I’ve never cracked open one more often than Movies of the Forties. Why? Simple: It has everything.
A few years ago I made a poorly-thought-out attempt to pay tribute to Chabrol here in this blog, by (what was I thinking?) focusing on his worst film. OK, so that didn’t work. But I’m coming back to Chabrol, this week and for the next few as well, to try to give the man his due. Tomorrow night, TCM is screening Chabrol’s first two features—and while both are terrific, they’re as different as chalk and cheese.
As far as I’m concerned, Claude Chabrol launched the French New Wave with Le Beau Serge—and then he went and ran off in a different direction away from the very movement he helped found. For aficionados of the New Wave, here is a seminal work—for aficionados of Chabrol’s own unique brand of cinema, here is a frustratingly unfamiliar work.
Posted by Richard Harland Smith on November 22, 2013
In July of 1963, acclaimed Irish playwright/poet/novelist/weirdo Samuel Beckett traveled to New York City to oversee the filming of his first and only screenplay, a silent two-reeler starring Buster Keaton. Would you like to know how that all came about? Me, too. So let’s get our checkbooks out…
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on November 21, 2013
Tomorrow (November 22nd) is the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and TCM is commemorating this tragic event by airing a series of films tonight (November 21st) that document his presidency. Four of the five films were directed by Robert Drew, a LIFE magazine photographer and editor who pioneered the cinéma vérité movement in the 1960s that attempted to “capture truth on film by observing, recording, and presenting reality without exercising directorial control” (The Film Encyclopedia, Seventh Edition, 2012).
Posted by gregferrara on November 20, 2013
In 1972, the legendary film historian and archivist William K. Everson released his seminal book, The Detective in Film, of which I proudly have a first edition copy with its slip cover still in good condition. When The Maltese Falcon aired on TCM last night, I thought of it again. Everson is the kind of film historian that simply cannot exist anymore. His type of film historian cannot exist because with the modern day availability of movies, stills and back story, the kind of hunting, exploring, collecting and curating that Everson did is no longer as in demand as it once was, though still clearly needed. For instance, I have a book on the silent period, Classics of the Silent Screen, written in 1959 by Joe Franklin. In the acknowledgements, it lists Everson as the person who acquired the stills for the book and the prints for Joe to watch. Back in his day, Everson was a walking, talking movie database, a man who could find a lost film and lend it to you to view or copy, even if it meant flying halfway around the world to get it to you. It was all about the details, saving and preserving all the pieces of film history that might otherwise get lost. And when he wrote about movies, he preferred a specific approach over a general one. He wrote about W.C. Fields, bad guys, and the history of the western, so it should come as no surprise that in the early seventies he felt it necessary to explore the themes surrounding the private detective, at a time when neo-noir was finding its way to cinema screens and the anti-hero was making a comeback.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on November 19, 2013
The violence in Assault on Precinct 13 is a result of simple geometry. Director and writer John Carpenter sets up four narrative lines that collide at a soon-to-be-shut-down police station. Taking advantage of the wide Panavision frame, Carpenter emphasizes horizontals, from long shotgun barrels to threatening gang members strung out across a darkened road like holes in a belt. This nearly wordless group of thugs has the station surrounded, its cowering occupants an uninspiring group of rookie cops, wounded secretaries and wiseass convicts. Enclosed and in the dark, these panicked heroes learn how to turn the space to their advantage, choking off the gang’s freedom of horizontal movement and funneling them into a narrow chamber that evens the odds. Reducing the action film to its basic elements, Assault on Precinct 13 still packs the force of a blunt object to the cranium. The textured transfer on the new Blu-Ray, out today from Shout! Factory, is the ideal way to re-acquaint yourself with its concussive impact.
Posted by Susan Doll on November 18, 2013
Last week, I was reminded of Louise Brooks when someone on Facebook noted that it was her birthday. As a film historian, I should have immediately recalled her best films—Pandora’s Box, A Girl in Every Port, Diary of a Lost Girl. Instead, my first thought was: “Great hair.”
A good haircut can be more than mere fashion or part of a glamorous appearance. It can also connote something about a character’s persona, and in some cases, tap into a larger social significance. While some male film stars have sported distinctive-looking styles (Elvis’s ducktail, Yul Brynner’s bald pate, Johnny Depp’s dreadlocks), hair is more obviously part of the identities of female characters and stars. For example, I have seen films in which a female character’s hair is shorn, shaved, or chopped off in order to extinguish or obliterate her individuality or sense of self. When I was a little girl, I watched the WWII drama 5 Branded Women, directed by Martin Ritt. The story follows five women who are accused of sleeping with the Nazis. As part of their punishment, a group of partisan men chop off their hair, obliterating their sense of femaleness and scarring them as outcasts. The film scared me, because I found the act so brutal—like destroying someone’s personal identity as a way to control or punish them.
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