Monday, August 30, 2010
Let me state clearly for the record: I HATE Fonda's politics (and I figure, she'd hate mine). She, to her credit, has kept a consistency in her thinking: from Hanoi Jane to Baghdad Barbarella. However, I will be the first to say that as an actress, few have come better. Over her career she has remarkable performances: Klute, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, On Golden Pond, The China Syndrome, Coming Home, Monster-In-Law (OK, maybe that wasn't her finest hour). Still, in spite of her views, she's still remained a star and a consummate actress.
How can it be that Harrison Ford has been nominated for an Oscar ONLY ONCE? Think of the films he WASN'T nominated for: the Star Wars trilogy, the Indiana Jones trilogy, The Fugitive, Blade Runner, Air Force One, American Grafitti, The Mosquito Coast. His only nod came for Witness, and the fact that he didn't win isn't shocking--it's the fact that he's been consistently overlooked. Throught it all, he's always been professional, a hallmark of a great actor as opposed to a great star (even if he is both).
12 Angry Men. Long Day's Journey Into Night. The Pawnbroker. Fail-Safe. Murder on the Orient Express. Dog Day Afternoon. Network. The Verdict. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Directed by: Sidney Lumet. Enough said.
On this one, I'm going by reputation more than anything else. She is a Broadway legend. Her career has been made on the stage as one of the premiere divas of the Great White Way, and her résumé includes a galaxy of legendary shows: Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods, A Little Night Music. Now I confess, I don't know that much about stage musicals, but I do know that the name Bernadette Peters is held in high regard by critics and Broadway audiences. Therefore, I think this is a safe choice.
This choice has nothing to do with the fact that You're So Vain. It's just that Nobody Does It Better. She holds her audiences in Anticipation and no matter how far one would Let The River Run her voice and songwriting are both inspiring new generations and remarkably current.
Cantankerous contrarian Canadian, isn't he? Whether mourning "four dead in Ohio", telling us of how The Needle & The Damage Done, or calling on us to "Let's Roll" after September 11th (especially given most artists still shy from addressing that particular event), he certainly hasn't been anything but brilliant in his songwriting. I have no idea if he has found one with a Heart of Gold under that Harvest Moon, but so long as he has anything to say (and he has plenty to say), we'll all keep on Rockin' In the Free World.
I don't know if we'll see any of these people get the Kennedy Center Honors they deserve this year, next year, or ever. I just think it's nice that we not forget that when it comes to the arts, we haven't done all that bad.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
It would be fair to call Roger Ebert and the late Gene Siskel the deans of televised film critics. All of us who review films for art or profit (I'm in the former) own them a great debt. Whatever we may have thought of their views on individual films, their passion and love for films was total and sincere. Siskel & Ebert was inspirational to those of us who love film because we could hear intelligent conversation about what made a good film good or a bad film bad without it being grandiose and esoteric. It was no longer, "I liked it because I liked it", but because of such things as acting, story, mood. As is true of life, the viewers (or at least this one) did not always agree with their views. They sometimes didn't agree with each other. However, what they DID share with each other (and us) was a true love of film: film as Art, film as Escapism, film as Entertainment, film as a positive in our lives.
as in Lyons and Mankiewicz. This team should have worked; at least on paper it did. Lyons is the son of film critic Jeffrey Lyons, Mankiewicz the grandson of Herman Mankiewicz (co-writer of Citizen Kane) and grand-nephew of Joseph L. Mankiewicz (writer/director of All About Eve). Both worked around the film industry: Lyons on E! Entertainment and Mankiewicz on Turner Classic Movies. Both should know what makes a good film and a bad film. Yet...yet...to say they weren't liked is putting it mildly. The union of Lyons & Mankiewicz will be one "that will live in infamy".
Monday, August 23, 2010
Pity I had no time to visit the Musee D'Orsay while I was in Paris. And to think, we looked for Van Goghs at the Louvre only to discover they were only a few miles away. Alas...
Next Story: The Lodger
Sunday, August 22, 2010
It's enough to make me want to scream.
Monday, August 16, 2010
Sunday, August 15, 2010
And thus we conclude another year of the Plaza Classic Film Festival, which we were reminded, is the Biggest Classic Film Festival in The World (take THAT, TCM). It has to be...it's in TEXAS.
Be that as it may, I failed in my original goal. Out of the 14 scheduled, I saw only 10. It certainly wasn't for lack of interest, merely lack of energy. It should be remembered I have a full-time job and am quite happy at it. I derived no pleasure from having to drive clear across town at night and then drive all the way back home after midnight. It should also be remembered that on my days off, I spent most of the day at The Plaza. Unlike those running the show, my presence isn't required.
Now, it isn't to say that I WON'T watch a few that I missed. By happy coincidence, TCM featured a day of Gene Tierney films, so Leave Her To Heaven is on my DVR. I got Easy Rider from the library, and I'm on the waiting list for Howl's Moving Castle. As for The Best of the Dallas Video Fest, well, I wish the individual filmmakers well, but I was just so worn out I had to sleep. I simply was too exhausted to go. This happens every year: I push myself so hard that I end up collapsing at the end of it.
Next year, I have decided I will watch SIX films and SIX films only: three Must-Sees that I have seen but would love to see on the big screen, and three New Discoveries which I've only heard of. Of the ten I did see, I made a few pleasant discoveries and had a great deal of fun with some old standards.
A highlight was Debbie Reynolds' appearance before Singin' In the Rain. She's a pistol of a interview subject, a woman with no censor. Nick Clooney asked her if her first husband Eddie Fisher liked Singin' In the Rain. "He liked Elizabeth Taylor", was her witty response to applause and laughter from the audience. It was so well done I wonder if it wasn't staged. She sang a bit of Good Morning and Tammy, and she still has a pleasant singing voice. One thing she mentioned only briefly was her continued hope to build a Film Museum with her extensive collection of Hollywood props/memorabilia. I thought she had already built it, and it would be worth investigating how far she's gotten and what we can do to help. I think of Reynolds as a brassy broad, a woman with a sharp wit who even at 78 I think still has the capacity to shock with what she says. As I told my friend, she's less a raconteur and more a "rack on tour". He was shocked, I was amused. I get the odd sense that if Debbie Reynolds heard that, she might be howling with laughter and be in full agreement.
Another great moment was listening to the Alloy Orchestra play their score to Metropolis (which will be included in the DVD release). One became so thrilled with the score and images combined one forgot that it was a 'silent' film. Though it wasn't a sell-out, the fact that people in El Paso and surrounding areas yearn for films like these is, to my mind, a giant step forward. Admittedly, we don't have the cache that TCM has. It be doubtful we could get Louise Rainer or Jean-Paul Belmondo to appear here (though we did get Peter Bogdanovich, so we're moving up in the world). Still, it warms my heart to no end to see so many people from this area and as I understand it from other parts of the country and even the world coming here to enjoy films on the big screen. "Classic" films are nothing to be afraid of. They are things to enjoy.
It is the traditional saying at Passover, "Next year in Jerusalem". I say something similar: next year at The Plaza...
Reviews of Saturday Night Fever, Singin' In the Rain, Citizen Kane, Metropolis, Wild Strawberries, The Godfather, Eyes Without A Face, The Rules of The Game, Breathless, and The General will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. I hope to also include reviews for at least two that I had scheduled but was able to see the first time: Leave Her to Heaven and Easy Rider.
Monday, August 2, 2010
I share with you, my readers, a childhood memory: the Plaza Theater in my hometown of El Paso, Texas, USA. I was not fortunate enough to see it in its heyday. When I went there, it was to accompany my mother and grandmother to watch Mexican movies (this may be why I hate it when the host insists on saying that movies stopped playing at the Plaza in the mid-1970s. It's more correct to say ENGLISH-language movies stopped playing there, but I suspect they aren't all interested in non-Spanish foreign language films that did play there, but I digress).
Even then, when the Plaza was not as posh as it is now (which is why I get a private kick seeing how people dress up to events at a place which I remember as a child as a bit low-rent), it still had a certain magic, an aura, of something spectacular. If I ever got tired of watching Vicente Fernandez or Mario Almada (who were my ideas of what 'movie stars' were), I could always look around the theater itself. I was fascinated by the lights above me, which sparkled like the stars they were suppose to be. I marvelled at the stage and the bushes in the upper levels which I was never sure were real or not (I was about 5-7 at the time, so cut me some slack). Now, I don't remember this, but my mother tells me that I loved to run up to the balcony and hide in the curtains, which caused her endless frustration...and me endless delight I suppose.
Still, in spite of its weakened state I think going to the Plaza (and sometimes the Colón Theater down the street) gave me that appreciation of film that I have now. Almost all my friends have the disadvantage of knowing nothing but multiplexes. To them, if a movie theater has only seven screens it's in their mind quite small. Imagine if they fully realized people usually would see ONE film on ONE screen. The Horror, The Horror. I got only a slight taste of what a movie palace was like (and, oddly enough, I also got to experience something few nowadays have: a drive-in theater. Yes, they also were Mexican movies, but on the whole a wonderful experience. Pity people now like to hide away in a maze of screens, but again I digress). There was a great beauty and art to the architecture within and without the Plaza and their breed, an elegance that signaled that you were going to be taken into fantastic new worlds. It was opulent and inviting all at the same time.
Now, we in humble little El Paso (2nd safest city in the nation, I might add, as well as larger in population than Seattle, Denver, Atlanta, Kansas City, Miami, Cleveland, Oakland, St. Louis, New Orleans, Tampa, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo, all of whom have National Football League teams--just a passing thought), have an unfortunate reputation of having no culture, no intelligentsia. This is odd since we have both the oldest symphony and oldest library system in all of Texas. We have an inferiority complex compared with Austin or San Antonio. They, we foolishly believe, have better culture and intellectual life. To be fair, we sometimes help in this erroneous perception (how do you brag about being called the 2nd LEAST patriotic city or one of the least read and most overweight cities in America). However, the Plaza Classic Film Festival shows what I have long argued: if people are given a chance and if they give a chance to good movies, real good movies, those classics they all seem afraid of, they will find they had nothing to fear.
I have been an enthusiastic supporter/booster for the PCFF since Day One (at least morally and vocally. Let's face it: I'm poor). Now we go into its third year, and yes, I will be there once again. The first year, I flocked to all my favorite films and those I'd seen before without even thinking about what I was NOT watching. The second year, I realized too late, that I was missing out on one of my Core Beliefs: Giving Something New A Try. I did see at least one film I'd never seen before (It Happened One Night) and found it an extremely rewarding experience. For Year Three, I will expand to concentrate more on those films I have yet to see. However, I will be watching some old favorites, but I will actually skip some in favor of newer fare.
Here is my compiled list of films I plan to see (new films in bold):
- Saturday Night Fever
- Singin' In the Rain
- Easy Rider
- Citizen Kane
- Leave Her to Heaven
- Howl's Moving Castle
- Wild Strawberries
- The Godfather
- Eyes Without A Face
- The Rules of The Game
- The Best of Dallas Video Fest (an anthology of short films)
- The General
That's a pretty impressive count: 8 out of 14, more than half of the films will be new. In fact, this new policy means that I will not go see Psycho, since it's playing at the same time as The Rules of The Game. I note that four of the eight (that's half) of the new films will be foreign-language (Howl's Moving Castle, although from Japan, will I suspect be dubbed). I LOVE foreign-language films (side note: for being a town where Spanish is more prevalent than English, El Pasoans have a complete phobia to foreign languages...I suppose that's because here, English sometimes IS the foreign language), so this will be no problem for me. Even better, I enter them with no preconceptions and barely the vaguest notions of what they are about. I know, for example, that Wild Strawberries is Ingmar Bergman, and Breathless, The Rules of the Game, and Eyes Without a Face are French, but other than that, my notebook is blank. Therefore, I go in like with any other movie: expecting to be entertained and overwhelmed with the power of the story/acting/directing.
In the case of the Dallas Film Fest, there, I do worry. Younger film-makers today seem more intent and interested in making "A STATEMENT", of being "AVANT-GARDE" and self-consciously "ARTISTIC", rather than letting the story tell itself or trusting their audience to get what they're trying to say. I remember one particularly grotesque moment from the UTEP Film Festival a few years back. One of these (in my view) pretentious 'artistes' decided to mix the imagery of the title number of Singin' In the Rain with the audio from A Clockwork Orange that had the same song. I bet she thought she was being clever, being intellectual, being edgy and creative. Now, normally I have no objection to trying something new...in fact, I support such efforts. In this case, however, the results were disastrous. She failed to realize one small thing: they work brilliantly in their own version, but can never be mixed because by taking them out of their context, you end up polluting both.
I was appalled, as was my friend Fidel Gomez, Jr. (who may or may not be dead). The audience sat in stunned silence when that clip rolled, and I remember no applause. She didn't get it: they take place in two wildly different scenarios, and she was perverting BOTH versions by this weak attempt at being 'artsy, daring'. Gomez, a Kubrick fanatic, thought she was mocking one of his favorite films, while I, a musical aficionado, was disgusted by her efforts to connect the violence McDowell was displaying with the beauty of Kelly's performance. I KNOW what she was going for, and the fact that A.) she misjudged so terribly, and B.) failed so disastrously, forever made me suspicious of college film-makers who are more interested in showing off than in showing a story. She seemed so intent on being clever she failed to be good. That may be my only hesitation when it comes to this anthology. How I hate 'artistes' trying to show off. It's one thing to try for originality (which can be achieved), but another when originality is the ONLY thing you're going for. Still, this is WHY I'm going: to conquer my fear and make new discoveries. I may yet be surprised and find that there are some people who genuinely want to make good films, as opposed to clever ones.
I note there are now silent films into the mix, and I couldn't be more delighted. I love silent movies and wonder why they don't make them anymore. Oddly, the answer may come from Singin' In the Rain: like Kathy Selden, people may believe silent film acting is all 'dumb show', with people making wildly exaggerated faces and very broad, bombastic acting. This perception is shattered once someone sees a silent Greta Garbo film: she never made faces and was very subtle in her performances, in fact, to quote Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond, they "HAD faces", a certain screen presence that needed no translation. I have seen Metropolis and The General, but in the case of the first this will be the newly discovered extended edition, so it's like seeing it for the very first time. In the case of the second, I hope children get to go: visuals that funny don't come every day.
Of course, there are some familiar films I HAVE to see on the BIG SCREEN. Last year, it was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (still one of my all-time favorites). This year, it's Singin' In the Rain. If there is such a thing as the perfect musical, this is it. I love The Godfather (and curiously enough, so did my grandmother--who'd imagine a sweet old Mexican lady would be into Sicilian mafiosi); it is a brilliant film, I daresay, the Citizen Kane of crime dramas, but that's more for my brother Gabe than for me: all one has to do is say to him, "I believe in America..." and he's off and running. He knows EVERYTHING about the film; in fact, I think he knows how many rooms the Corleone mansion has, right down to where the closets are and what's inside the cupboards. Finally, yes, CITIZEN KANE. Dear God, CITIZEN KANE. We forget that, even though it's the greatest film ever made, it also is a good film. Ah, the pity...
Well, there it is. 14 films is not as ambitious as I think, though I'm still debating Saturday Night Fever--that's at 10 p.m. and I do work the next day. I will write about all of them, so I expect there will be a nice gap between today and reviews. Still, to see these films as nature intended, oh the glory. I can only hope that people will expand their minds and try new fare. I know some people will go to the PCFF because they LIKE these old films, but I hope that there will be a few who will go and be shocked to discover that film did not start with Star Wars and that there are films older than your grandparents that are actually BETTER than Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or Grown Ups. Who knows: it may just get someone away from ESPN and onto TCM (not that I have anything against the former).