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. 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.


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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.