The Discreet Bourgeois

Possessed by an urgency to make sure all this stuff I love doesn't just disappear


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Repeat Viewings

For most films, once is enough.  That isn’t to say that they are necessarily bad or weak, it’s just that they either reveal all their worth on first viewing or that the effort of watching them again seems unnecessary.

Then, there are films that one effortlessly watch over and over again. What makes them so compulsively re-watchable? This came up in discussion recently with The Princh, whose name will be revealed if she gives me permission.  She opined that she can watch certain films over and over again because she is on the lookout for something new to delight her.  This seemed right to me, but it didn’t seem like enough.

The answer as to why I personally watch things over and over again hit me recently while watching The Magnificent Ambersons for the billionth time.

As I was watching it I realized that movies I re-watch are really little worlds to which I like to return and live in for a while.  The attraction is precisely that they are so familiar.  I know every corner of the them like I know every corner of my Chicago neighborhood.

But then this happened:

Towards the end of the movie, there is a cut to the above headline, which advances the plot.  Nothing special about that.  But then I was thunderstruck by what I saw in the upper-left hand corner.  There was a theater column written by Jed Leland, a major character from Orson Welles’ previous film Citizen Kane. 

What this said was that people in the town the Ambersons’ town read the column of a character from another movie, and that both films were of the same world! With this quick visual, Welles expanded both Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons into worlds that existed complexly and quite independently of my being a part of them.  When I was not watching them, they whirled around in their enormous, self-contained universe.

From now on, when I revisit these films, I will know that there is more going on behind the screen than I ever imagined. I may not know what it all is, but it justifies my feeling of a world I can visit and dream in.

 

 

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)
  2. Big Eyes (Tim Burton)
  3. The Smallest Show On Earth (Basil Dearden)
  4. Carol (Todd Haynes)
  5. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp  (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)
  6. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa)
  7. The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci)
  8. Homicidal (William Castle)
  9. Vacation From Marriage (Alexander Korda)
  10. The Scarlet Empress (Josef von Sternberg)

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1- I found Arrival be intriguing until at the end, a whiplash revelation plunged the whole enterprise into a depressing place.  Amy Adams is so wonderful in everything she does. More of her please.

2- I have never met a Tim Burton film I haven’t loved.  They are all so quirky and so heartfelt at the same time.  I loved Big Eyes. Another great Amy Adams showcase. An old-fashioned, unashamed Hollywood happy end, too.

3- Finally, a gay-themed movie that doesn’t fall into the Celluloid Closet cliche, and also is not a fluffy silly comedy! Carol is a beautifully modulated love story of two women in the 1950s. Gay identity is a big part of the story, of course, but what makes it so satisfying is that it is not the only part.  These are multi-dimensional characters. Interesting meditations on class differences. And, amazingly, a beautifully delivered happy ending.  Cate Blanchett should get a lifetime Oscar for the look she gives in the final frame.

4- The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was a film I saw 40 years ago and remembered loving.  This time around I still liked it a lot, but found that the idiosyncratic elements that the Archers bring to their films, which I once found thrilling, now struck me as a little forced. I really enjoyed seeing it again and was sad to think how Deborah Kerr is almost forgotten today.

5- Seven Samurai was one of the first Japanese films I watched.  Year and hundreds of Japanese films later, I still like it, but I find that I am more partial to the modern-era films by Kurosawa.  High and Low and Ikiru satisfy me more deeply than the Samurai era films do.  But hell, was an enormous accomplishment this film is.  I want to watch it again soon with the Criterion commentary track turned on.  There is so much to see in every frame of this movie.

6- The Death of Stalin hilarious and eventually tedious but how wonderful to see Michael Palin as Molotov and Steve Buscemi as a priceless Krushchev.

7- I remembered The Scarlet Empress being a set designer’s fever dream of Expressionist insanity.  This time I grooved on the weirdness (the sets, Sam Jaffe’s loopy performance), but I found the whole thing didn’t hang together as a complete work of art.  The sum of the whole was less than the part

8- The Smallest Show On Earth is one of those tiny, delightful British comedies from right after WWII filled with quirky, lovable characters, cozy atmosphere and amusing plots.  Lest I make it seem like a slight entertainment, let me stress that I have thought about this film every day since I watched it a few months ago.


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Separate Tables (Delbert Mann)
  2. Sayonara (Joshua Logan)
  3. Kim (Victor Saville)
  4. Doctor Faustus (Richard Burton/Nevill Coghill)
  5. Spring Dreams (Keisuke Kinoshita)
  6. Blue Sky (Tony Richardson)
  7. Ex Libris (Frederick Wiseman)
  8. Farewell to Spring (Keisuke Kinoshita)
  9. The Pilgrim (Charlie Chaplin)
  10. The Young Victoria (Jean-Marc Vallée)

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1- When I was growing up in New York, one of the local TV networks would show the same movie for a week at 7PM.  The show was called Million Dollar MovieIt started with a thrilling drumroll which led into a grand performance of Tara’s Theme. If it were a film that I liked, I would watch every showing of it.  A recent viewing of David and Lisa reminded me of the kind of obsessive little kid I was.  I fondly recalled Separate Tables from that time. Like David and LisaI knew this was an grown-up movie dealing with things I didn’t quite understand, but loved watching. It held up very well.  The film is based on a drama by Terrence Rattigan, he of the ‘well-made play’.  You just won’t get this kind of movie any more.  And what a cast: Burt Lancaster, David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Rita Hayworth and goddess Wendy Hiller.  Great to see this again.

2- Sayonara is an Oscar winner that I had long chased (it won both Best Supporting Actor and Actress that year).  What a disappointment.  Very much rooted in its 1950 sense of social justice laid on with a trowel.  Brando doing an extremely annoying Southern accent.   Well, check it off my list, I guess.

3- For some reason I decided to read Kim by Rudyard Kipling.  It was excruciating.  I felt like I could not get a foothold in the book. It kept going on and I had only a slight idea of what was going on. I finally made it to the end, not a moment to soon.  I saw that the film version of it was going to be on TCM. Pretty dumb, but young Dean Stockwell was an amazing child actor…..Paul Lukas and Errol Flynn were really miscast. I got absolutely no insight into the book from the film.

4- Spring Dreams was a surprise and delight.  I had seen other films by Kinoshita including the famous 24 Eyes. This was so different.  It was like a cross between The Man Who Came to Dinner and My Man Godfrey. It is absolutely hilarious.

5- Who remembers Blue Sky? Jessica Lange won the Best Actress for it and it is completely forgotten now. Good, tight story.  Over the top characterization, the kind the Academy loves to lavish awards on.

6- Ex Libris is the first Frederick Wiseman film I have watched.  It is long (over 3 hours) and about an unpromising topic: The New York Public Library.  It was riveting.  No voice-overs, no narration.  Endless scenes of board meetings, lectures, visits to branches all over the city…and it was endlessly fascinating.  Please see it.

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Million Dollar Legs (Edward Cline)
  2. The Ring (Alfred Hitchcock)
  3. Rebels on Pointe (Bobbi Jo Hart)
  4. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles)
  5. The Primrose Path (Gregory La Cava)
  6. Mudbound (Dee Rees)
  7. High and Low (Akira Kurosawa)
  8. Bluebeard’s Eight Wife (Ernst Lubitsch)
  9. Giant (George Stevens)
  10. Johnny Belinda (Jean Negolescu)

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1- I LOVE movies and books that portray an insane world by presenting it as normal to its own inhabitants.  Alice In Wonderland and Through The Lookingglass are my favorite books. This is the reason that I adore The Palm Beach Storytoo.  For sheer insanity but not on the epic scale of Alice or the denizens of Palm Beach, I heartily recommend Million Dollar Legs. It is so nuts and it features W.C. Fields.  What else do you need.

2- Recently re-watched High and Low.  What a masterpiece this is.  The sustained tension is masterfully handled and the moral dilemmas that the characters are put through present real ethical quandaries for the audience. The first half is complete room-bound, almost as claustrophobic as the room in RopeWhat makes this part of the film so dazzling is that even though it is all played in a very restricted space, it is shot in widescreen which creates a dizzying feeling.   The Olympian home in the first section, gives way to the Hades of the Japanese underworld. Brueghel at his best.  Mifune is masterful and the final confrontation between him and the villain, showing Mifune’s fruitless attempts to understand why the villain did what he did, are dazzling.


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Skin Game (Alfred Hitchcock)
  2. Rocco and his Brothers (Luchino Visconti)
  3. Consolation Marriage (Paul Sloane)
  4. The Manxman (Alfred Hitchcock)
  5. All The President’s Men (Alan Pakula)
  6. Arrowsmith (John Ford)
  7. Hell or High Water (David McKenzie)
  8. Downhill (Alfred Hitchcock)
  9. Aguirre, The Wrath of God (Werner Herzog)
  10. La Jetée (Chris Marker)

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1- Early Hitchcock can be very interesting.  Looking for the hallmarks of his later great period is not really recommended.  Instead it is fascinating to see how much the works of the Twenties and the early Thirties are influences by German Expressionism.  Also, Hitchcock made much of the notion of ‘pure cinema’. Watching these early films, I realize that this term really just refers to the aesthetic of the silent film: the image is everything. Everything is communicated by what you see. Sound is unnecessary.  Think of the great set pieces of later Hitchcock like the shower scene in Psycho or any of the rhapsodically delirious sequences of longing in Vertigo or the great bird attacks in The Birds. They are all totally reliant on montage for the emotion.  The only difference between the early and later works, in the regard, is the masterful use of music to enhance the emotion.  But this, too, seems to be feature of silent film making at its best. Out of all the above early Hitchocks, I think Downhill was the most satisfying.  Plus you get a rare opportunity to see Ivor Novello.  He was the most enormous star of his time and is all but forgotten today.

2- Rocco and his Brothers comes closer to an opera than any other film I can think of, and that includes The Godfather. I don’t know how much I enjoyed it, it is way too long, but I did get the feel of a juicy verismo potboiler. Alain Delon is lovely as the Alyosha Karamazov-type brother.

3- Aguirre, The Wrath of God dates from that wonderful last gasp of ‘art house’ film from the late 70s/ early 80s.  I was nuts for this movie when it first came out and saw it half a million times.  I hadn’t seen it in more that 30 years and I thrilled to say that is it just as magical and quirky and satisfying as I found it originally.

4- For some reason I can’t handle stories that deal with time travel. That said, I think I would watch La Jetee any times.  Its audacious story, packed into a brief 30-minute running time, and its unusual story-telling technique of using still photographs almost exclusively, lead to a thoroughly satisfying and, for me, quite creepy experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Isle Of The Dead (Mark Robson)
  2. Ugetsu Monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi)
  3. The Devil’s Own (The Witches) (Cyril Franklin)
  4. Let The Right One In (Tomas Alfredson)
  5. Woman Of The Year (George Stevens)
  6. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
  7. Get Out (Jordan Peele)
  8. Pretty Poison (Noel Black)
  9. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson)
  10. Jackie (Pablo Larrain)

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1- Hallowe’en is my favorite secular holiday.  OK, I know that it originated in All Souls Day, but just shut up. That is not what it is about anymore and I defy anyone to prove otherwise.  My greatest happiness during this holiday is watching the kind of horror films that satisfy the need for Gothic eroticism.  Thank you Val Lewton for your marvelous little miracles of haunting horror.  So good to see The Isle of the Dead featuring Boris Karloff’s greatest role. It is as multi-faceted and troubling as John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards in The Searchers

2- I used Hallowe’en as an excuse to re-watch Ugetsu Monogatari.  I mean, it is a ghost story, right? It is also breathtakingly beautiful, even in its depictions of cruelty.

3- Whimsy is a difficult thing for a movie.  It requires great skill from the filmmakers to keep it from teetering into being excruciating.  It also requires an agreement from the audience to indulge in an emotion which today is often despised: sentimentality.   When I first watched The Royal Tenenbaums years ago, I was not ready to uphold my end of this bargain.  I think that Wes Anderson and his co-creators did for the most part.  Watching something whimsical when you are not in the proper frame of mind is not fair to the whimsy.   This time around I had already seen and was enchanted by The Grand Hotel Budapest and Moonlight Kingdom.  Also, many people who I respect have told me how much they love this movie.  So, watching it again, I did a better job of being in a whimsical mood.  Ironically, now that I was ready to meet the movie on its own terms, I found that Anderson & Co. did not keep their part of the contract.  I could see where the whimsy was trying too hard, and that killed a lot of the immediate joy I was supposed to feel.  Still, I liked it a lot more that I did before.  The characters, though  undeveloped, were ingratiating, and the plot was silly enough to carry me along.  Maybe thrice is the charm?

4- You don’t need me to tell you how wicked and smart Get Out! is.  It is at once a up-to-date critique on race as well as an homage to all your favorite horror tropes.  So good.

5- Not sure what to think about Moonlight.   It is the bleakest film I’ve seen in years.  My difficulty is that it has the trappings of a ‘triumphing over adversity’ film, but the story goes another way.  The tone of the movie is not what the movie is ultimately about.  I think.

6- There were a lot of funny yet creepy films that came about as a result of the sexual revolution of the 60s.  Some are just smarmy comedies that have no other agenda that being all in your face with sexual frankness.   Then there are films like Pretty Poison.  I always wanted to catch up with it. It was one of those films that was lauded but unseen when it was made. Now it has a patina of a classic, but a really sick classic.  What a tragedy that Tuesday Weld didn’t have a greater career.  She is terrific in this.

7- I kept thinking that Daniel Aronofsky made Jackiesince it made me nervous the way his films make me nervous……………..