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.