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. 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 time.  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. All This and Heaven, Too (Anton Litvak)
  2. Joy (David O. Russell)
  3. The Wedding March (Erich Von Stroheim)
  4. Manhatta (Charles Sheeler/Paul Strand)
  5. Grass (Merian C. Cooper/Ernest B. Schoedsack)
  6. Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock)
  7. Chang (Merian C. Cooper/Ernest B. Schoedsack)
  8. 3:10 To Yuma (Delmer Daves)
  9. The Golem (Carl Boese/Paul Wegener)
  10. My Brilliant Career (Gillian Armstrong)

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1- All This and Heaven, Too is the perfect example of what was known as a ‘woman’s picture’.  Nothing pejorative meant by that. It was a particular genre that was extraordinarily popular at the time. Star-crossed romances, attractive tragic protagonists, luscious scores by Max Steiner. I guess things like the Twilight series are the diminished descendents of these films.  Since this starred the great Bette Davis, I was expecting a plot with a little more meat and a tougher heroine.  Still, it was fun enough.  I don’t get why Charles Boyer was such a sex symbol, but he was. Must have been the French accent.

2- I think that David O. Russell makes movies just for me. I absorb them effortlessly and with great satisfaction.  The quirkiness of the plots and characters is never condescending.  His stable of actors is immensely appealing. Silver Lining Playbook and American Hustle were absolute delights.  Joy is also a joy.  He might be becoming formulaic, but it is such a tasty formula!

3- Each time I watch a Von Stroheim film, I am amazed that he succeeded in getting it made. The elaborateness of the productions, the penetrating psychology of the characters, the epic scope make you wonder how the studio heads ever agreed to his projects, especially since they were hugely expensive and perhaps not box-office smashes. I hadn’t seen The Wedding March in a long, long time, but it really holds up as an exemplar of what makes a Von Stroheim film so masterful. It is tragic that the second part of the film, The Honeymoon, was lost in a fire in Paris in the Fifties, but there are enough stills and information for us to piece together what the end of this melancholy story would have looked like.  The recent discovery of the complete Metropolis makes me take heart that The Honeymoon might be found in some European basement someday.  It is not like the missing reels of Greed which were deliberately destroyed by the studio, apparently.  This just seems to be a case of neglect. Keeping my fingers crossed.  Take a look at my survey of Von Stroheim if you have not already.

4- Bless TCM for their monthly perspectives.  This month, they are focusing on documentaries.  This gave me the chance to see three short films that I had always heard about but never had the opportunity to see. Manhatta is an astounding 11-minute silent film showing views of New York from highly artistic and interesting camera set-ups.  Grass and Chang are the products of Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack, the boys who brought us King Kong. Granted, these are not documentaries in the strictest sense as many of the sequences seem staged, but just to imagine the difficulty that this kind of location filming presented in the 1920s makes these films even more amazing. Someone described Chang, set in the jungles of Thailand, as a ‘wild animal snuff film’. Cute, and somewhat accurate. But the anthropological details of the life of these people is so interesting. Grass is absolutely thrilling. It depicts the epic journey of the Bakhtiari people from central Turkey to somewhere in present-day Iran. They are fleeing the dried out fields of Anatolia for the lush grassland of Iran to feed their flocks.  Grass equals life here.  I was dazzled by the camera work and could not imagine how these epic set-ups were co-ordinated.  CGI has truly killed the thrill of this kind of cinema!

5- 3:10 To Yuma should be as regarded and as well known as High Noon.  When westerns are great, they are sublime, like The Searchers and Once Upon A Time In The West. When they are very good, they are very, very good, like 3:10 To Yuma. I am talking about the original here, with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. Don’t know anything about the remake.  Like most remakes, I question the wisdom of the whole enterprise. (Probably only John Huston’s version of The Maltese Falcon was the only necessary and transcendent remake!).   When critics talk about the greatness of later westerns, they usually focus on the psychological depictions of the characters.  Here, the cat-and-mouse between Ford and Heflin keeps the whole thing taut and involving.  And that last shot in the rain is gorgeous.

6- I was glad finally to catch up with The Golem.  It was one of the major German Expressionist films that I had not seen. I watched it since it was one of the films covered in the new podcast The Chosen Films created by two friends of mine, Aaron Midler and Rabbi Shoshana Conover.  They discuss films from a Jewish perspective and their selections are eclectic.  I don’t think this film is as majestic as others of this time (The Cabinet of Dr. Calegari, Metropolis or Faust, but it is fascinating for the weird but not demonizing portrayal of those medieval Jews.  See it.

 

7- The late 70s/early 80s were a heady time for ‘art house’ cinema.  Bergman, Fellini and Hitchcock were still active, and we were discovering new corners of the cinematic universe.  Most impressive was what was called The Australian New Wave.  Fascinating, accomplished films like Picnic At Hanging Rock, The Last Wave  and Gallipoli burst Athena-like, fully-formed and glorious.  My Brilliant Career was a film that I saw at the time and liked a lot, but had completely forgotten about.  I was glad to catch up with it again and see that it was even more satisfying than I remembered. And Sam Neill is gorgeous.

sam-neill

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Sabotage (Alfred Hitchcock)
  2. The Importance of Being Earnest (Anthony Asquith)
  3. Room and a Half (Andrei Khrzhanovsky)
  4. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman)
  5. I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock)
  6. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan)
  7. The Navigator (Donald Crisp/Buster Keaton)
  8. It’s a Wonderful World (W.S. Van Dyke)
  9. Seven Days in May (John Frankenheimer)
  10. Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey)

1 – I am often more interested in cinematic technique, i.e., how the filmmaker conveys the plot than in the plot per se.  I know Hitchcock felt the same way – see his concept of ‘MacGuffin’.  But, with certain filmmakers you just can’t ignore content.  The French critics considered Hitchcock the most personal of the personal auteurs. His fetishes and private fears appear all through his oeuvre.  One of his great themes, and probably one of his great personal concerns, is the concept of guilt and sin. No one makes the audience feel more complicit in the actions of characters than Hitchcock.  We assume their guilt.  Remember the scene when Norman Bates is trying to sink the car containing the murdered Janet Leigh in a pond? It stops sinking midway and we all think ‘Oh no! Norman and his mother will be caught now!’  Then the car resumes its downward descent and disappears underwater and we are relieved. Then to our horror we realize ‘We were just rooting for a man abetting a murder committed by his mother!’ Later on, we find out there is much more to be horrified by.  Sabotage is a film reeking with the notion of complicity and guilt and, perhaps, original sin.  What is it that causes Sylvia Sidney to do what she does at the end? She achieves a makeshift absolution by the mechanics of the plot, but does she really?  A terribly unsettling film in so many ways, and in many ways the first ‘Hitchcock film’.

2- I wonder why Room and a Half  is not better known.  Based on works of the poet Joseph Brodsky, this is a wonderfully inventive fantasy memoir about events that never happened.  Apparently, Brodsky never went back to Russia, so this depiction of his reunion with his (possibly dead) parents is all the stuff of imagination.  The combination of animation, raucous humor and the depiction of what it must have been like to be an intellectual in the latter days of the Soviet Union are entrancing.  There are moments of great lyricism mixed in with great humor.  I wish I knew more of his work, since I would probably understand more of the poetic tropes in the film For instance, his dead parents live on in two crows that come to the adult Brodsky. Is this part of his body of work?

This would have been a hit if we still lived in the days of the Art House movie theater.

3- All I can say is that I will be happy to watch Wild Strawberries every few months for the rest of my life.

4- I Confess is widely considered lesser Hitchcock.  I had seen it decades ago and didn’t remember much about it.  But having just watched Sabotage and The Lodger, I hoped that it would prove to be a pleasant surprise. It didn’t.  I think the big flaw is having Montgomery Clift in the lead.  He just seems to be in a different movie the whole time.  I think that he was probably doing his Method actor thing, but Hitchcock’s plan did not catch what he was doing. Hence, he looks like he is just stumbling around Quebec.  Anne Baxter seems very miscast as well.  The plot has all the trapping of a classic Hitchcock film, but it never really gets off the ground. I think Hitchcock himself is dismissive of it and seems to blame Clift, too.

5- I am so glad that I finally made time to sit down and watch the complete, three-hour version of Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret.  I always loved his You Can Count On Me, and was amazed to see that Margaret was only his second feature.  It was plagued by creative and legal woes and never really had a theatrical run.  It is pretty much forgotted but it is a work of profound genius and creativity.  More to come on this one.

6- It’s hard to believe that I can actually say, ‘I haven’t seen that movie in over 35 years’, but such is the case with Seven Days In May.  It really holds up as an exemplar of cold-war paranoia.  It was directed by the master of screen paranoia, John Frankenheimer, who gave us such other delicious, cinematic nightmares as The Manchurian Canditate (yikes!) and Seconds, which has the most terrifying film of any film I have ever seen. OK, the Dutch version of The Vanishing has a worse ending, but Seconds is a very close second.

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. To Each His Own (Mitchell Leisen)
  2. It’s Love I’m After (Archie Mayo)
  3. Black Moon (Roy William Neill)
  4. The Life Of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi)
  5. Hitler’s Children (Edward Dmytryk)
  6. Hitchcock/Truffaut (Kent Jones)
  7. The Whales of August (Lindsay Anderson)
  8. The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer)
  9. Written On The Wind (Douglas Sirk)
  10. The Lodger (Alfred Hitchcock)

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1- I guess there are only so many things you can do with the classic ‘white woman drawn to the wicked world of Caribbean Voodoo’, but I must say that I was really struck by how much Black Moon looked and felt like my beloved I Walked With A Zombie.  A side-by-side viewing of the two would really show what makes a film of genius as opposed to a solid Hollywood B-film.  Of course, I Walked With A Zombie does have that Jane Eyre thing going for it, but it also has pacing, a great script, terrific acting and atmosphere you could cut with a knife.  Black Moon has more the feel of the second part of a Saturday afternoon double-bill from the Thirties. Fun, creepy, a little depressing, but not much more.

2- Can a man be a feminist director? I don’t know what else to call Kenji Mizoguchi.  Every one of his films that I have seen depict the plight of women, especially at the hands of self-interested men.  The Life Of Ohara is an especially bleak example of this. It is gorgeous, and the performance of Kinuyo Tanaka is amazing, but man, is it depressing.

3- Thank you Criterion for having another 50% off sale and allowing me to own the endlessly insane Written On The Wind. I would love to know what the reaction was when it first appeared in theaters.  Nymphomania, sexual performance anxiety and Lauren Bacall all wrapped up in an absolutely over the top Dallas-like story.  The image of Dorothy Malone dancing in sexual frenzy in her bedroom in her underwear, while right outside her door her father dies of a heart attack, is something I don’t think I will soon forget – nor would I want to.  This film is nowhere near the level of genius of All The Heaven Allows, but it is almost as formally dazzling. Color, costuming, mise-en-scene are all plotted out within an inch of their lives. Sirk seems to invert the famous Chekhov dictum by saying, ‘If a gun goes off in the first five minutes of a movie, you better see that gun for the rest of the film’. Malone won the Best Supporting Actress award for this frenzied portrayal, beating out another iconic performance of late 50s nuttiness: Patty McCormack as the terrifying Rhoda in The Bad Seed.  I guess the Academy didn’t dare give it to any one else for fear that Malone would come and shimmy them all to death.  And do I even need to mention her fondling of her father’s ‘oil well’ at the end of the film?

dorothy malone

 

4- Thank you, Betsy Rubin, for your gift of a collection of more obscure Hitchcock films.  Because of this I was finally able to watch his silent gem The Lodger.  I feared that it would be more ‘homework’ than ‘pleasure’ but I was wrong.  It was a wonderful watch. You certainly can tell that Hitchcock spent time in Germany and watching German films – this looks like it could have been directed by UFA-period Fritz Lang.  The expressionist shadow and paranoia have obvious roots in Babelsberg, but so much of it is full of stuff we will see over and over again in later Hitchcock: the ‘wrong man’ plot, the underwear fetish, Catholic iconography (there is a really blatant re-enactment of the deposition from the cross). The interesting thing about this ‘wrong man’ plot is that Hitchcock doesn’t fill the audience in on the details until almost the end, so we don’t have the sympathy for Ivor Norvello that we do for Cary Grant in North By Northwest.

On to The Parradine Case!


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The Last Ten Movies I’ve Seen

  1. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman)
  2. Broadway Danny Rose (Woody Allen)
  3. Nashville (Robert Altman)
  4. I’m No Angel (Wesley Ruggles)
  5. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
  6. Charulata (Satyajit Ray)
  7. Stage Fright (Alfred Hitchcock)
  8. The Magician (Ingmar Bergman)
  9. Zero Focus (Yoshitaro Nomura)
  10. The Music Room (Satyajit Ray)

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1- I recently had a big, round birthday and I wanted to do nothing more than watch a few of my ‘birthday’ movies.  These are films that one watches over and over again throughout one’s life and that come to define one’s aesthetic. On my big day I got up at 5:30 in the morning and had the pleasure of once again taking that momentous car trip in Wild Strawberries.  I rounded the day out later in the evening with a viewing of the exceedingly kind and lovely Broadway Danny Rose and the, for me, epochal Nashville. I think I need to write a piece about ‘birthday’ movies.

2- Ah, Mae West! Subversive, hilarious and, more than anything else, powerful. Too bad that there aren’t more films.  I’m No Angel is brilliant. I keep hearing her as she saunters past the jury box while she is acting as her own defense attorney and saying to the folks in the box ‘How am I doin’?’  Mae! The best.

3- Both Stage Fright and The Magician I had regarded as lesser works of towering masters. I was kind of right with Stage Fright, but it is still a hugely entertaining movie – just without the subtexts that make Hitchcock a master.  The Magician, on the other hand, is up there with Bergman’s best. Fascinating.

4- As time goes on, I realize that film noir isn’t a genre, it’s a posture. The very messy Japanese film Zero Focus really brought this point home to me. Plus, it made me realize that I find the whole film noir cult a little tedious.  It is all too operatic without the great music.

5- I am belatedly going through Satyajit Ray’s oeuvre.  You don’t need me to tell you that he is one of the absolute masters. You do need me to tell you to watch more Satyajit Ray. Good news: Criterion will be releasing the restored Apu Trilogy in the fall. Rejoice!