The Discreet Bourgeois

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


The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Godfather III (Francis Ford Coppola)
  2. The Pearls of the Crown (Sacha Guitry)
  3. Chicago (Rob Marshall)
  4. The Unguarded Moment (Sam Wood)
  5. The Lights of New York (Bryan Foy)
  6. Hell’s Highway (Rowland Brown)
  7. The Warped Ones (Koreyoshi Kurahara)
  8. The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (Nathan Juran)
  9. Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh)
  10. Horton Foote’s ‘Alone’ (Michael Lindsay-Hogg)


1. The Godfather  films are examples of the laws of diminishing returns.  The first part remains perhaps the greatest example of narrative cinema I can think of.  The characters, the plot, the endlessly quotable script, the baroque performances of Brando and Pacino, the heartbreakingly simple performances of Diane Keaton and John Cazale, all just get better with time and with each viewing. Godfather II is cut from the same cloth, made in almost the same period as the first film and has most of the greatness of first part. By the time Godfather III rolls around we are in a different world.  Everyone is older, tireder and that includes the script. I watched all three recently with friends who had not seen any of the films so they did not live through the long wait between Godfather II and Godfather III. During those 16 years or so, the first two films acquired the patina of classics. We were all nervous that the lily would be gilded with Godfather III. We were right.  However, seeing it again twenty-five years later, it’s not so bad. But that is about the best that can be said for it.  Poor movie, trying to get a foothold next to the first two parts!

2. This Sacha Guitry is amazingly entertaining. The Pearls of the Crown was a pure delight.

3. Had there been no Cabaret, there would be no Chicago.  Good thing there was Cabaret, because Chicago is pretty swell

4. What’s the first all-talking film? The Jazz Singer you say? Wrong.  That was the first major film with some sound sequences. The majority of it was silent. The first all-talking film was The Lights Of New York. That’s about all it has going for it.

5. See my earlier post concerning The Warped Ones and other teenage rebellion films.  As Maurice Chevalier sings in Gigi, I’m so glad that I’m not young anymore!

6. There is a cottage industry in film criticism which goes back to cheesy horror films of the fifties to extrapolate some sort of social critique of the time. I supposed somewhere you can find a good feminist critique of The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, explaining how it is the depiction of man’s greatest fear: women’s righteous anger being unleashed on souls of reprobate men.  Too bad the movie is so awful.

7. Mike Leigh.  I love you, Mike Leigh.  You are as great a genius as any of the geniuses you portray. Mr. Turner is dazzling, rich, hypnotic, cathartic, brilliant.  I remember when Topsy-Turvy came out.  I hadn’t seen it yet and I asked my friend Mike how he liked it.  His reply was, ‘I just want to know how it ever got made!’  Yes, a three-hour, big-budget film about the making of The Mikado.  How indeed. I now ask the same question about Mr. Turner. A two-and-a-half hour film on the life of a noted 19th century British seascape painter? How did it ever get made.  All I can say is that we all need to light a candle in thanks to the cinematic gods that is did get made. It is just magnificent.

8. I worry that Horton Foote will be forgotten.  He is the greatest playwright America has produced.  His works grow with the years. Get out of here, Eugene O’Neill.  Get out of here, Tennessee Williams.  Horton Foote is America’s Chekhov, albeit a Chekhov with an all-encompassing love for his characters and the West Texas world they live in. Please don’t let him slip away!


Ah, Youth!

When I was in sixth grade everyone had autograph books and we collected a little note from each of our fellow students and our teachers at graduation.  Usually the messages were generic.  ‘You’re a great kid. Good luck in Junior High.’ Sometimes the messages were more personal and revolved around an in-joke between you and the signer, infinitely upping the cool quotient of your autograph album.  Another feature of the autograph book was the way the date was written. It almost always revolved around a pun.  ‘Dated till Niagara Falls’ , ‘Dated till Bert Parks on Abbe Lane’, ‘Dated, are you?’  I rarely got the clever ‘dated’ puns in my album.  Instead I got things like: “Dated until Mitchell grows long hair and wears bell-bottoms’  or ‘Dated until Mitchell likes rock ‘n’ roll’.

The evidence here points to the fact that I was never interested in books, film or music aimed at ‘young people’.  I always felt I was being patronized. What? Am I not smart enough to read or view stuff intended for adults?

I was suspicious of the Beach Boys. ‘We’ll have fun, fun, fun till your Daddy takes your T-Bird away’  Wait, they are actually sneaking out behind their parents back and doing mischief in a car? Do they really believe they should be getting away with things that are wrong by singing a catchy tune about it?

A friend of mine was reading the Harry Potter books to her younger son until he asked her to stop. ‘These kids are told not to do things, they do them and never get in trouble for it.’ , he explained. This kid is my soul brother.

The problem that I had with youth-oriented art is that is seemed to prize rebellion for rebellion’s sake. That appeared to be bratty at best and destructive at worst. I was horrified when the Brando character in The Wild One was asked, ‘What are you rebelling against?”  His answer was ‘Whaddya got?’ “Well,  that’s no good!” I thought, “Who’s going to take you seriously if your rebellion is so unfocused and you are just being a thug?’

As I got a little older I realized that many of these ‘rebellious youth’ films were the studios’ cynical way of cashing in on the youth trend of the day.  In the Forties, audiences melted for the homespun high jinx of Andy Hardy.  In the Fifties and early Sixties you get things like Rebel Without A Cause with the iconic and greatly over-rated James Dean held up to be the spokesman of teenage angst. His classic line ‘You’re tearing me apart’ always makes me laugh.

you're tearing me apart

What problems does this bourgeois kid have that he is so rebellious? His parents are disconnected from him? Join the club.  Just the fact that the rebellion is described as being without a cause should immediately diminish the audiences interest. Nothing is more boring than spending two hours with a petulant teenager.

Yet the vague notion of being ‘against the Establishment’ was romantic enough to elevate Brando, Dean, Belmondo and the others to heroic stature.

I just never understood what I was supposed to take away from these films and characters. It wasn’t like they were fighting Nazis or the Spanish Civil War.  They just seemed like bored, suburban kids with way too much time on their hands which leads to a morbid self-obsession.

A few years ago I would have been tempted to add Breathless to the mix of movies of this type.  But on recent viewings it seems to me that Godard is actually doing a riff on the bad-boy rebel.  It is almost a pastiche, a send-up, loving though it is.

belmondo  breathless

That’s what makes the Japanese movie The Warped Ones all the more disturbing.  This film, whose Japanese title is more accurately rendered into English The Season of Heat, has as its hero a young man recently out of jail who, with his two sidekicks, a female prostitute and a male gang-banger wannabe, spend most of the movie misbehaving in public, raping girls on the beach, grooving to ‘black jazz’ and just in general being scarily sociopathic.

warped ones

 It is hard to tell if the director or screenwriter would have seen Breathless, since this film also came out in 1960. The lead, though,  seems like he is channeling Jean-Paul Belmondo’s character. He has a recurring gesture that recalls the famous thumb passing the lips in Breathless.  His restless taut body is also reminiscent of Belmondo.  But when it is all over, we are not left with much except a lot of expressed anger, anti-social behavior and a sense of despair. I am still not sure if this character is not being held up as some kind of counter-culture hero.

I can think of many examples of films that show feckless, rebellious youth to great effect.  I would recommend Louis Malle’s great Lacombe Lucien as an example of what happens when an angry bored young man can’t have his talents properly channeled.  I am sure there are others.  Any recommendations?