The Discreet Bourgeois

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


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock)
  2. The Last Wave (Peter Weir)
  3. Rio Grande (John Ford)
  4. Manchester-by-the-Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
  5. The Man Who Could Work Miracles (Lothar Mendes)
  6. The Lost Squadron (George Archainbaud)
  7. Boy Erased (Joel Edgerton)
  8. Love, Simon (Greg Berlanti)
  9. The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro)
  10. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)

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1- The Birds is one of the films I have seen the most times in my life.  Others include Citizen Kane, Wild Strawberries, All About Eve, Nashville, The Shop Around the Corner and Celine and Julie Go Boating.  They are like little vacations for me to resort towns that I know so well.  Some of these resort towns are creepier than others. All are familiar as home.

2- I remember when the films of the ‘Australian New Wave’ hit New York City in the late 70s/early 80s.  They had the effect on me that the appearance of the French New Wave must have had on my cinephile forebears in the late 60s/early 70s.  Films like Picnic at Hanging Rock, My Brilliant Career, Walkabout, Gallipoli and The Last Wave were young, exciting and sometimes perplexing.  Out of all of these, Picnic at Hanging Rock remains the most meaningful to me.

I hadn’t seen The Last Wave since my first viewing, and always considered it a companion piece to Picnic at Hanging Rock, mostly because they were shown on double bills throughout the 80s.  Seeing The Last Wave again made me realize that it is a lesser film for exactly the reason why Picnic at Hanging Rock is a superior film: ambiguity.  The mystery of Picnic at Hanging Rock is never really solved, but you realize that that is not the point of the film.  The point seems to be the effect of disaster on the world.  You would think that the same would be true of The Last WaveI love the foreboding atmospherics and the tantalizing aboriginal hoodoo, but ultimately it is too much about a mystery that never is cleared up and it doesn’t satisfy the way the other film does. Still, it is a great watch.

3- I need to write a piece on John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy. The Trilogy consists of Fort Apache, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande, in descending order of greatness and complexity. They are all masterpieces. Stay tuned.

4- Manchester-by-the-Sea. The only word for it is ‘magnificent’.  The complex relationships are handled so masterfully and the story is revealed so artfully. I am not a big believer in a movie needing to be ‘realistic’ to be great. Most of the time when filmmakers are reaching for realism, the results are embarrassing. Here, though, I felt that I was spending time with people I knew and understood. Not necessarily liked, mind you. The cumulative effect is devastating.  The buzz before I saw it was that it was incredibly depressing.  Obviously, the people who said this have had no life experience.  Magnificent.

5- I knew that pre-code films were pretty loose with morals and conventions but imagine my surprise when I saw this in The Lost Squadron:

 

6- Regarding Boy Erased and Love, Simon I refer you to my post on movies targeted to a specific audience.  I would be selling both of these short if I were to imply that they don’t appeal to a wider audience than Gay people. But Love, Simon is incredibly sweet and mostly just a Gay rom-com (not that there is anything wrong with that!) and Boy Erased is greater in its ambitions. The portrayal of the characters is nuanced, and transcends stereotypes. Thrillingly so.  Lucas Hedges is amazing, just like he was in Manchester By The Sea.

7- The Shape of Water. Best Picture of the Year? Really? I have long ago given up on the idea of Oscars as the arbiters of anything, but this award really baffles me. Except for The Devil’s Backbone, every Guillermo Del Toro films I have seen collapses under the weight of its own diffuseness and studied weirdness. This is no exception. Please feel free to tell my why I am wrong here.

8- I went crazy for both Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love when they both came out. I also really liked Boogie Nights a lot.  Since then I have felt a huge disconnect with the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.  I hate it because I see the attention, intelligence and style that are lavished on these movies, as well as the incredible performances he gets out of his stars. But once again, Phantom Thread left me cold and confused. Not as cold and confused as The Master.  Seeking your opinion here also as to what I might have missed.

 

 

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Black Girl (Sembene Ousmane)
  2. Far From The Madding Crowd (John Schlesinger)
  3. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
  4. Till The Clouds Roll By (Richard Whorf)
  5. The Mummy’s Ghost (Reginald Le Borg)
  6. Persona (Ingmar Bergman)
  7. Peterloo (Mike Leigh)
  8. Rasputin, The Mad Monk (Don Sharp)
  9. The Mysterious Doctor  (Benjamin Stoloff)
  10. Le Rayon Vert (Summer) (Eric Rohmer)

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1- I had seen clips from Black Girl on TCM when they did that terrific series on World Cinema.  They were so haunting. I was glad to get the chance to see the whole film.  Powerful, poetic, tragic and very beautiful.  That mask, wow!

2- In my last post, I decried turning great novels into film. Well I was a little wrong. Far From The Madding Crowd is a very commendable attempt to turn Thomas Hardy’s novel into a film.  The book, of course, is way better, but the movie hits on all of the book’s main points and really gets to the emotion behind it all.  Pretty arty camera work by Nicholas Roeg considering that this was a typical big-budget prestige project. I want to read more Hardy.

3- I am currently teaching a course on the Great American Songbook and this weekend I will be speaking about Jerome Kern.  I figured that it would be a good time to watch Till The Clouds Roll By, even though I knew that its ties with reality were very tenuous.  It turns out that they were ridiculously tenuous.  This had hardly anything to do with Kern’s life, the way that Night and Day has nothing to do with Cole Porter’s life and Rhapsody in Blue has nothing to do with George Gershwin’s life.  What this film really is, is an excuse to have MGM’s musical stars do star turns singing or dancing to Kern songs, which is fun enough.  But what a stinker of a movie.

4- The Mummy’s Ghost – it is Hallowe’en season and I must watch as many classic horror movies as I can, many of them bad.  Like this one.  How can a 61 minute movie feel like it is three hours long? At least it had that classic Universal horror-romance atmosphere.

5- Thanks to Kathleen Rooney and Martin Seay, true friends who helped be to wrestle with just what the hell Persona is. I have seen and loved this movie many times but could never articulate what I felt it was. Thanks to K & M I’m a little closer to that goal.  All three of us are pretty convinced that it is a masterpiece sui generis.

6- Mike Leigh is a giant who walks among us. I may through the word ‘masterpiece’ around too much, but his films really deserve the name.  Peterloo is an epic yet intimate depiction of one of the first labor rebellions in English history, and its terrifying suppression. I hope it gets wide release.  I saw it at the Chicago Film Festival and I hope it doesn’t disappear.

7- I get such perverse pleasure from All That Heaven Allows. I love showing it to new people, because by the end it is not what they expected.

8- Please see Le Rayon Vert and read my post about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Le Rayon Vert aka The Green Ray aka Summer

I saw this Eric Rohmer film when it came out in 1986.  It was released under the title Summerwhich is a particularly useless title which doesn’t mean much, except that the film takes place during summer vacation and the heroine is preoccupied with how to spend the time.

The French title is Le Rayon Vert which translates to ‘The Green Ray’.  This is the name of a long-forgotten novel by Jules Verne which has a great bearing on the film’s entire story arc.

I had nice memories of it but I hadn’t seen it again until TCM (Heaven bless them!) showed it last week. I was bowled over by it.

The plot is very simple: Delphine, a secretary, has been dumped by the friends she intended to spend the vacation with.  She desperately tries to come up with alternative plans, because no self-respecting Parisian can remain in Paris during August. All her attempts pan out disastrously. The blame for this bad time can partially be laid at the feet of our heroine.  She is second only by Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse in her infuriating sense that she is right.

The difference between Delphine and Miss Woodhouse is that, as we slowly discover, Delphine is actually right.  Her restless bouncing from vacation spot to vacation spot, her despairing hopes for discovering love are outwardly neurotic, but as we spend more time in her company, we realize that there is something bigger going on here.

Rohmer is the king of the static camera. This allows his characters to sit, discuss, debate and argue in a very Gallic way for a very long time.  The conversations are captured by Rohmer with a loving irony, but the beauty of it all is that, for all her comical self-involvement (you should hear her rationalization for being vegetarian!) we realize that Delphine could be teetering on the edge of the abyss. The attempts to have ‘fun’ seem to get more desperate.  Her final attempt at fun in Biarritz seems to be heading for the ultimate French bummer.  Then a very peculiar thing happens.  Love comes to the rescue.   We realize that Delphine and her skepticism about happiness was right up until now, but the magical moment in the Biarritz train station changes everything.

Delphine, who has armed herself will all kinds of rationalization that prevented ‘happiness’, finally realizes that now is the time to let go of them and embrace happiness.

At that beautiful moment we realize that she was right all along and our loving head-shaking at her foibles was wrong.

This is the most convincing depiction of falling in love that I can think of, and it comes as a beautiful relief for Delphine and for us.

I was so delighted by the resolution of this film, because at the end you realize that what seemed like a director’s loving look at a neurotic was actually a director showing us a person learning that she doesn’t need her rationalizations any more and that by casting them off, she can be happy.  Ecstatically so.

Unfortunately, this film doesn’t seem to be available in a reliable region 1 (USA) edition.  Get with the program, Criterion Collection.

In the meantime, if you would like to see it, (and believe me, you would like to see it), I have it on my DVR.

 

 

 

 

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Hiroshima, Mon Amour (Alain Resnais)
  2. Caged (John Cromwell)
  3. The Room (Tommy Wiseau)
  4. The Disaster Artist (James Franco)
  5. White Nights (Luchino Visconti)
  6. Blackkklansman (Spike Lee)
  7. The Wife (Björn L Runge)
  8. Anna Lucasta (Arnold Laven)
  9. Thieves Like Us (Robert Altman)
  10. The Man Who Would Be King (John Huston)

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1- I always remembered Hiroshima, Mon Amour as being a difficult film.  Seeing Last Year at Marienbad reinforced that memory.  However, seeing it recently, I was surprised how accessible it is.  I was wondering if the ‘difficulties’ I first encountered were innovations at the time, but now are part of mainstream filmmaking. Not sure, but the film hit me on a visceral level, which I don’t remember it doing before. Maybe it is time to try Muriel again?

 

2- The only really good excuse for watching The Room is to watch and enjoy The Disaster Artista very entertaining film about the making of that legendarily awful film.  The Room is mind-bogglingly bad.  It is boring.  It is baffling. It is incoherent.  There is nothing about it that is endearing in the way the films of Ed Wood could be considered endearing.  This is just an unholy mess made by someone whose aspirations (whatever the hell they are) far exceeded his capabilities and intellect.  But The Disaster Artist is lots of fun.  Was it worth it watching The Room in order to enjoy it? I doubt it.

3- Anna Lucasta was a kind of revelation.  A movie all about African-Americans made in the 50s that never brings up the topic of race once. In many ways, this makes it more radical than more pointedly political films of the time, like The Defiant Ones.  These are just people living out their lives, dealing with family and love issues. It is really a ‘post-racial’ film.  Eartha Kitt is terrific.  This must be before she became a caricature of herself.  She was a fine actress.  I wish she had done more in this vein.

4-  Everyone who ever mentioned The Man Who Would Be King spoke of it as a great pleasure.  I finally caught up with it and I must say that in this age of #metoo and heightened racial awareness, the film borders on offensive.  The male hi-jinks of Sean Connery and Michael Caine now are grating where maybe 40 years ago I would have felt it was a romp


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Sorry To Bother You (Boots Riley)
  2. King Cobra (Justin Kelly)
  3. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)
  4. 4th Man Out (Andrew Nackman)
  5. God’s Own Country (Francis Lee)
  6. Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (Stephen Cone)
  7. The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges)
  8. Handsome Devil (John Butler)
  9. American Pastoral (Ewan Mcgregor)
  10. Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau)

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1- Sorry To Bother You remained great fun through the end, but I felt that it skidded off the rails about two-thirds of the way through and the film and I parted company at that point.  Centaurs? Really? It’s been quite a common thing to compare this movie to the wonderfully brilliant Get Out. The comparison does not serve either film.  Still, it was fun….if a little tedious by the end.

2 – For my thoughts on 4th Man Out, Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party and Handsome Devil please see my recent post

3- God’s Own Country has been called the British Brokeback Mountain. Why would anyone so insult a brilliant work like this movie? It is so powerful, so masterfully written and shot. so adult, so life-affirming. I loved it. I wonder if there are any free Gay Romanian shepherd out there looking for someone like me?

4- I love movies and I love novels. At one time I was happy to see adaptations of books I liked. That might have come to an end with American Pastoral. This is a perfect (almost) rendition of the plot of Philip Roth’s masterpiece. That is not enough.  We don’t need a Classics Illustrated version of Roth.  The scale of the book and it’s insights and emotions are gone. All that is left is story.  I felt sorry for the actors who were trying so hard. Instead of seeing this film, read the book. If you have already, read it again

 

 


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Someone Like Me Up On The Screen

I alway cringe when I hear someone of a particular ethnic or religious or sexual orientation or racial or economic or political group begin to complain because they want to go to the movies and see ‘someone like me on the screen’.  I never got this.  I know what I am like.  Why would I want to spend two hours looking at myself.  Seems narcissistic. And besides, who would be a person like me? I would be loath to pigeon-hole myself to fit a ‘type’ for a movie.

I would often be berated for expressing this thought. Too ethnocentric or patriarchal or cis-gender-centric or classist, etc. Still, I thought I had a good point.

Until, I started thinking about the topic a little more. I was wondering if there were some genre that I just didn’t care for because I couldn’t identify with it.

I love Rashomon, Ugetsu and Seven Samurai even though I am not from medieval Japan.  I love The Best Years of Our Lives even though I never lived in Small Town, U.S.A. and never experienced the difficult repatriation of soldiers after World War II. I loved these films because they rise above specificity and are genuinely human works.

But then I thought about Rom-Coms.  Now there’s a genre that I cannot relate to at all.  The slightness of the relationships, the implied sexism on both sides. The contrived happy endings. Nope, nothing there for me, I thought.

Then Netflix started recommending a genre that I could only called Adolescent Gay Rom-Coms.  These movies are exactly like the heterosexual version except a cute girl is swapped out for another cute guy.  There is still ‘meeting cute’, frustrating misunderstandings that you know will be worked out by film’s end, as well as a universe of friends and family rooting for or helping the couple in question to work it out.

The three films I watched were 4th Man OutHenry Gamble’s Birthday Party and Handsome Devil. While not exactly following the classic Rom-Com formula, they cleaved close enough to it to give me the feeling of pleasing, unalloyed mushiness that heterosexual Rom-Coms gave their audience.

Was I pulled in because of the Gay element? Yes. Did it lull me into a kind of uncritical complacency that let me enjoy an otherwise not great movie.  Yes. Did I get suckered into rooting for the thwarted lovers. Yes. Did I feel vindicated by seeing someone like me up on the screen. No. Emphatically. No.

I realized while watching these 3 films, that movies created to appeal to a target audience as being ‘for them’ necessarily are lesser entertainments.  The agenda shines through and you never forget that you are being sort of had. I felt the same way when people foisted Young Adult novels on me when I was a teenager. No thank you, I am reading Dickens.

Just like The Best Years Of Our Lives has as its starting point a story about repatriating soldiers, but becomes something infinitely more universal, “Gay” films like God’s Own Country and Call Me By Your Name start out as troubled Gay love stories, but by the end are so much more.

So, will I ever watch another Gay Rom-Com? Maybe. Will I ever find one that ‘reflects me up on the screen’? Not likely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Magnificent Obsession (Douglas Sirk)
  2. Danton (Andrzej Wajda)
  3. I Fidanzati  (Ermanno Olmi)
  4. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman)
  5. A Woman’s Face (Gustav Molander)
  6. The Steamroller and the Violin (Andrei Tarkovsky)
  7. That Forsyte Woman (Compton Bennett)
  8. The Catcher Was a Spy (Ben Lewin)
  9. Florence Foster Jenkins (Stephen Frears)
  10. Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir)

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1- The Steamroller and the Violin – A tender film from Andrei Tarkovsky? Well, it was a student project, but it is really lovely.   No indication at all of the strenuous films to come

2- I was obsessed with the BBC version of The Forsyte Saga when it played here in the 70s. Because of that, I turned my nose up at the MGM version That Forsyte Woman.  First of all, what a silly title. Second, Errol Flynn as the homely Soames Forsyte?  But watching it now it is a solid MGM adaptation, a good example of their ‘Tradition of Quality’.  I wonder why there weren’t more films of these books.  The story and characters are so rich

3- I think we take for granted how talented and multi-faceted Meryl Streep is.  Her output is an embarrassment of riches.  What can’t she play.  Each character is uniquely conceived and not like any other.  Bette Davis was as brilliant, but she was always playing a Bette Davis character.  Streep as the infamous Florence Foster Jenkins is poignant, hilarious and infuriating.  Another work of genius.