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. High Hopes (Mike Leigh)
  2. The Short and Curlies (Mike Leigh)
  3. The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda)
  4. Merrily We Go To Hell (Dorothy Arzner)
  5. Lured (Douglas Sirk)
  6. Newsfront (Phillip Noyce)
  7. Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock)
  8. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles)
  9. High Heels (Pedro Almodóvar)
  10. Peggy Sue Got Married (Francis Ford Coppola)


1-  Mike Leigh’s films seems to be some combination of life-affirming, bleak, cynical and joyous, sometimes in equal measure. But all are works of genius. High Hopes tends toward life-affirming with generous dashes of bleak. The marvelous Ruth Sheen is on hand to provide yet another one of the indomitable figures that are sprinkled across Leigh’s works.

2- I don’t think that I had watched an entire Agnes Varda film before I watched The Gleaners and I.  It is a lovely, odd documentary of people in France who would better be described as scavengers. Although seldom on screen, the personality of Varda permeates the film.  It is a personality that I look forward to spending more time with.

3- Merrily We Go To Hell was shown on TCM as a complement to the Mark Cousins’ multi-part documentary Women Make Film. The documentary is really a film class explaining all aspects of creating a film (framing, script, track shots, characterization, etc.)  After each of the weekly episodes, films that were used as examples are shown in their entirety.  This film was by Dorothy Arzner, the only active woman director besides Ida Lupino in Hollywood.   I had hoped that  it would be pretty raw, since that this was a pre-code film about a society women who marries as seriously alcoholic newspaperman. It is mostly raw, but their is an unfortunate ‘happy end’ tacked on.  I guess even in pre-code days this was to be expected.

4- It was lovely to see Newsfront again. I saw it back in the late 70s as the Australian New Wave was hitting the US. I didn’t remember a thing about it except that it was about newsreel makers in the days just before television.  It is a great combination of fiction and archival footage, with a nicely affecting story to boot.

5- I always had fun watching Rear Window, but this time around I realized that it might very well be greater than Vertigo.  More on this in a later post.

6- Sometimes too much knowledge is too much.  I always knew that The Magnificent Ambersons was a mangled masterpiece, but I thought the mutilation by RKO was on the end of the film, which always seems abrupt and sloppy. I watched it again on the Criterion Collection with the full-length commentary. It seems that the mutilation was far more extensive, hitting about every part of the film. Apparently something like 50 minutes were cut and are now lost.  With the commentary it became apparent that the film is a mess, with moments of brilliance (Fanny’s breakdown, the last party at the Amberson’s mansion).   What was unfortunate about watching with the commentary is that it planted the seed in my mind that even with the deleted holy-grail scenes, it might still be a mess.

7- Pedro Almodóvar has gone from being a campy director of loco shock comedies to one of the great humanists working in film today. High Heels dates from his epater le bourgeois period, so a little of it, for me at least, goes a long way.  There is no denying that the film is stunning-looking.  He was a master of the art form even then, but he hadn’t yet found the great themes that his technical genius was begging for.   He has found them now. Watch Pain and Glory to see way I mean.  It is overwhelming in every sense, but first and foremost, it is overwhelming because you are watching a genius who is at the top of his game.

8- I hadn’t seen Peggy Sue Got Married since it was first realeased.  I remembered being disappointed with it at the time, and it still is disappointing.  It has great ideas, but it is too timid to do anything with them.  It’s fun to see a 12-year-old Sofia Coppola as an annoying younger sister, though.



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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.




The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Cabinet of Dr. Calegari (Robert Wiene)
  2. Nashville (Robert Altman)
  3. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles)
  4. La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
  5. The Best Worst Thing That Ever Happened (Lonny Price)
  6. Mifune: The Last Samurai (Steven Okazaki)
  7. The 400 Blows (François Truffaut)
  8. La Regle du Jeu (Jean Renoir)
  9. Crimson Peak (Guillermo Del Toro)
  10. Gojira (Godzilla) (Ishiro Honda)


1- Director Amy Heckerling was the Guest Programmer on TCM this month, and one of her picks was The Cabinet of Dr. Calegari. While introducing it, she said one of the funniest things I’ve heard in a long time: ‘It seems there was a shortage of right angles in Germany after World War I.’  I now officially love this woman.

2- It is interesting to have seen Nashville and La La Land so close together.  Nashville is certainly not a musical in the general sense, but it is emblematic of how songs arise in movies since the end of the great era of musicals (roughly 1932 through 1965).  These songs are performances of the characters.  Some are deliciously terrible and some are very moving.  But in no case, does a character break into song in a dramatic situation, with a song which highlights his or her emotion.  That was the trope of the classic age of musicals.  The plot would hit a dramatic point (or a comic point) and suddenly the character or characters would be singing, as if the music could elevate the dialogue to a level that mere speaking couldn’t.   La La Land is a throwback to this style of song.  Much has been said about how the success of this film will usher in a flood of such musicals. I am dubious.  It has been too long since this sort of musical was common fare.  Audiences are too used to either the way Nashville introduces songs or they are used to the Cabaret style where the songs are isolated moments which are outside of the narrative reality of the film – often the depiction of a performance.  I hope that someone talented enough to be able to convince modern audiences that burst-into-song musicals are not ridiculous, but we’ll see……

3- The more I see of the French New Wave, the more I love Ingmar Bergman.  I don’t have much use for this exuberant, youth-oriented genre.  I find it very sloppy and tiresome.  It does not age well. I always had it in my mind that The 400 Blows was an exception.  I just found it tedious to get through, although Antoine Doinel is fun to spend time with.

4- Crimson Peak is a terrible movie that, as you are watching it, you think is a great movie. It has fantastic production values, super actors and a somewhat intriguing script….at least in the beginning. It soon peters out.  I felt the same way about Pan’s Labyrinth.  Heresy, I know

5- Look for a post about Gojira shortly

6- I guess it is still problematic to revere a pantheon of great films, but it is my experience that there are films that on repeated viewing become even more dazzling.  Surely this is a mark of greatness.   La Regle du Jeu and The Magnificent Ambersons are so stuffed with genius that I watch them drop-jawed


The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles)
  2. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock)
  3. Faust (F.W. Murnau)
  4. Late Spring (Yasujiro Ozu)
  5. Early Summer (Yasujiro Ozu)
  6. Mr. Kaplan (Alvaro Brechner)
  7. The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (Yasujiro Ozu)
  8. Diary of a Lost Girl (G. W. Pabst)
  9. Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu)
  10. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy)


1- Citizen Kane is described as the greatest film ever made. While it is impossible (and pointless) to quantify that title, many critics, film lovers and journalists have worked hard to maintain it over the decades.  The highly-regarded Sight + Sound poll, which has appeared every ten years since 1952, had Citizen Kane first place in every poll from 1962 through 2002.  Then in 2012 it fell to second place, replaced by Vertigo. What does it mean? Nothing? A backlash against fifty years of being an unassailable icon? Perhaps, since critics and film devotees are often peevish folk. I had the pleasure of watching both of these films back to back recently.  I had seen them both about a million times. Seeing them in such quick succession highlighted how different they are in form and execution.  On the surface, Citizen Kane is a dazzling, precocious, exhilirating explosion of cinematic joy.  Under the surface, it is a profound rumination on the nature of truth and perception.  Vertigo presents a cool, controlled surface, and underneath it is a roiling sea of suppressed passion. Vertigo is not as linear in its story-telling as it first appears, and Citizen Kane is not as complicated as it first appears. So,  is Vertigo now greater than Citizen Kane? Shut up and stop asking such stupid questions.  Instead, watch them both as many times as you can, then come back here and give me your observations.  Both films are gifts that keep giving.  Don’t insult them by trying to rank them.

2- Late Spring, Early Summer and Tokyo Story comprise what is often referred to as Yasujiro’s Noriko trilogy.  Look for a Have You Tried…… piece on these three films appearing soon at a blog near you.

3- The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice is reassuring in that it shows even masters like Ozu can falter.  The film is OK, but doesn’t have the depth or incisive character study of many of his other films.  Glad I saw it, of course.

4- Diary of a Lost Girl  is the poster child for everything that is perverse and outre in German Expressionism. It is so sick and depressing, yet so much fun to watch. Yuck.  I think I need a Blue Angel chaser soon.

5- You never know where Life’s little pleasures will pop up.  Apparently there is a Spanish Film Club that meets periodically on the University of Chicago campus.  That is where I got to see Mr. Kaplan, a lovely mash-up of Holocaust survivor story and Don Quixote. I have no idea where you can find it but I recommend it highly.  It was delight and very moving.  I will post more information about this film club as I find it.

6- Talking about competent films: Spotlight.  One of the ‘important’ Best Picture Oscar winners which probably win the award because of the serious issues it deals with.  Think Crash, Kramer vs. Kramer, All The President’s Men.  Good films all, but would you keep going back to them? Probably not.




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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Kuroneko (Kaneto Shindo)
  2. Lola (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  3. Fort Apache (John Ford)
  4. Veronika Voss (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  5. Macbeth (Orson Welles)
  6. All These Women (Ingmar Bergman)
  7. The Son of the Sheik (George Fitzmaurice)
  8. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)
  9. Deathdream (Bob Clark)
  10. Ginza Cosmetics (Mikio Naruse)


1- When I first when crazy for movies, like around the age of 12 or so, I saw Orson Welles’ Macbeth on TV and was bowled over. I was intrigued by the play to begin with, but I had never seen anything like the movie. The ultra-expressionistic lighting and camerawork were thrilling to me. I roundly declared it my favorite movie.  I hadn’t seen it since then, but I had seen the other Welles Shakespeare adaptations (Othello, Chimes At Midnight) and was concerned that my youthful enthusiasm would be a little embarrassing to the adult me. I must say, that for what it is, it is really good.  He kind of massacres the play to make it fit into his vision. Characters are cut, new ones invented but it works.  Very well.  Jeannette Nolan is terrifying as Lady Macbeth.  Roddy McDowell is adorable and callow as the young Malcolm. I wonder how much Kurosawa was influenced by the Welles film when he made Throne of Blood? Perhaps not at all.  Perhaps the two films seem similar because an film version of the play would have to have to have similar atmospherics.

2-  I first got to know Ingmar Bergman when I was about 15 years old. One of the local TV stations would show his films late on Saturday night, hosted by critic Judith Crist. I was enthralled.  I am pretty sure that it was the only time that I saw All These Women.  I don’t know what I made of it then. Probably I thought something like ‘Europeans are very witty about sex and the relations between men and women.  This is probably very funny and when I am older I will understand it’   Well, I am older and it is awful.  I see what he was doing.  It is a sex farce but extremely labored. Smiles of a Summer Night from about 10 years before seems so much more effortless and honest (as well as funnier!) He seems use Fellini’s 8 1/2 as his jumping-off point, but in addition, he has his knife particularly sharpened for the critics. It is extremely tedious.  Hard to believe this is what he chose to make after the harrowing films informally referred to as Bergman’s Trilogy (Through A Glass Darkly, Winter Light, The Silence). Talk about a change of pace!

What really struck me is how even with this mediocre film he exerted such an influence on Woody Allen.  The smarmy sex jokes, the frantic farce pace, even the choice of music – a 20s Jazz band version of ‘Yes, We Have No Bananas’, seem to inform the Allen farce style.

3- Rudolph Valentino dressed up in sheik garb is so iconic, that I figured it was probably unnecessary to see the films that the images come from, since they were probably awful. Well I was a little right. The movie, The Son of The Sheik, is a dumb, Arabian-nights piece of fluff but what struck me was the erotic gaze of the camera on Valentino.  He was extremely gorgeous and exuded a real animal sex appeal. Is this the earliest example of a man being objectivized by the camera?  Probably not, but it is maybe the most powerful.

4- I really didn’t like Wes Anderson – then I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel and was delighted. But, I thought it was a fluke, its success riding on the wonderful performance of Ralph Fiennes. Wrong.  Moonrise Kingdom completely charmed me, despite my earnestly trying to hate it for the first 20 minutes.  I watched it twice in one day. I wonder what delights Mr. Anderson has in store for us.

5- In Deathdream, a variation on the famous short story, The Monkey’s Paw, a distraught mother prays that the notification of her son’s death in Vietnam is an error and that he will return home.  Well, she gets her wish, sorta. I remember this truly horrifying film fondly from my days in NYC when one of the local stations would show horror films late on Saturday night.  Deathdream was a standout among the other kind of awful but fun films that were shown.  What strikes me now is that this was filmed at the height of the anti-war protests.  Could war really turn us into family killing zombies?

6- I really need to write a Have You Tried ….. piece about the great, unjustly unknown in the West Mikio Naruse.  Stay tuned.