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 Silver Cord (John Cromwell)
  2. Elevator to the Gallows (Louis Malle)
  3. Brewster Mccloud (Robert Altman)
  4. Deep in my Heart (Stanley Donen)
  5. Shoot the Piano Player (François Truffaut)
  6. La Règle du Jeu (Jean Renoir)
  7. Coming Home (Hal Ashby)
  8. Mother (Mikio Naruse)
  9. Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard)
  10. Ballad of Narayama (Keisuke Kinoshita)


1- Much has been written about how camera movement was suddenly restricted in the beginning of the talkies due to the restraints of the technology. Early sound films often look like filmed stage plays, and that is because they were often just that. The Silver Cord was a Broadway hit. It is a very odd story of a mother’s sick and controlling hold over her two sons. She breaks up one son’s engagement and nearly destroys the other’s marriage. Pretty potent stuff. And to think that this gorgon of a mother was played by Laura Hope Crewes, the dotty Aunt Pittypat from Gone With The Wind.

2- Both Elevator to the Gallows and Shoot The Piano Player are examples of what happens when French New Wave directors make their homage to film noir. It is clear to me that Louis Malle is by far the more accomplished filmmaker of the two. I believe this might have been his first feature. It is masterful and fascinating. Shoot The Piano Player is ok but the whole time I would just saying to myself, “Oh. I see. Truffaut is making hommage to film noir. It is the more artificial of the two.

3- It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I consider Nashville perhaps the greatest film of all times….at least the greatest American film. Yes, I am giving into hyperbole and I am not forgetting about Citizen Kane, The Godfather and All About Eve, but Nashville, even after 45 years, still thrills and satisfies. This preamble is to emphasize how disappointed I am with just about every other Altman film I’ve seen and yes, that includes everyone’s favorite, McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Brewster McCloud is weird and fun but I just couldn’t get a handle on what it was trying to do. It made me laugh a lot, and it was creepy, too. It is the first film to feature Shelley Duval doing her kooky Shelley Duvall thing, so that is fun. But when it was over, I said ‘Huh’?

4- Watching Deep In My Heart made me realize what a weird, stylized subgenre MGM musical biographies of the great song writers is. They always seem to have the same weird features:

a- a weirdly intrusive voice-over narrating the story

b- a completely fictionalized love story

c- cameos of the composer’s greatest hits sung by the big MGM musical stars of the day.

Deep in my Heart is a particularly demented version of the above mostly because it is about a mostly forgotten songwriter and it stars the totally uncharismatic and unmusical Jose Ferrer. You have not lived until you see Ferrer do a soft shoe routine with Metropolitan Opera Wagnerian soprano Helen Traubel. She steals the movie, by the way.

5- Coming Home was a satisfying surprise. I had never seen it and I felt it would be too dated to watch it now. No way. It is a wonderfully adult depiction of a very complicated set of relationships. Jane Fonda is subdued and powerful. Jon Voight is heart-wrenching. For once there is a sex scene that is not smarmy/gratuitous but which really underscores the bond between the two lovers. I remember at the time people were rejoicing that Hollywood was finally dealing with Vietnam. It was the year that The Deer Hunter won the best picture Oscar. Coming Home was robbed.

** I am happy to have finally subscribed to the Criterion Channel. What a treasure it is! The next three films were the first three I watched**

6- I love Mikio Naruse, but the problem is that only one of his sound films is available in Region 1 DVD format, the stupendous When A Woman Ascends The Stairs. The Criterion Channel has many of his sound films available to watch. The first film I watched on the Criterion Channel was Mother. It completely validated my opinion that he is one of the masters.

7- Readers of this blog will know about my humiliating struggles with the films of Jean-Luc Godard. For some reason though, I keep trying. I always think if I watched one more, it would all click. I must have seen at least 15 of his films so far. Is this bordering on masochism? My latest foray into the world of JLG was Contempt. I had great hopes for this one because it is universally praised and since it stars Brigitte Bardot, I thought the chances of accessibility would be high. I was right. I was quite taken by the whole thing. The supersaturated Technicolor and the Cinemascope look stunning. The music by Georges DeLerue was as overpowering as anything Max Steiner cooked up for MGM. I even think I have a good idea about what the film was trying to accomplish, which is no little feat for me watching a JLG film. It is such a nice feeling to come away from a film and not feel like you have just been kicked in the head.

8- After tempting fate with Contempt, I went back to safer stuff with The Ballad Of Narayama. This is the first filming of this brutal story and I found it very affecting. It uses many Kabuki tropes (music, costuming, sets), and that is always a plus for me. Looks like the Criterion Channel is already turning out to be a great investment.


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)


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


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 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)


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!


The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Guilt Trip (Anne Fletcher)
  2. American Hustle (David O. Russell)
  3. Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale)
  4. An Autumn Afternoon (Yasujiro Ozu)
  5. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman)
  6. Gate Of Hell (Teinosuke Kinugasa)
  7. The Burmese Harp (Kon Ichikawa)
  8. Romance (Clarence Brown)
  9. The Virgin Spring (Ingmar Bergman)
  10. She Done Him Wrong (Lowell Sherman)

1- Sometimes I feel like a big-game hunter when it comes to watching movies. There are films that I track for years but never quite bag.  McCabe & Mrs. Miller was such a movie.  I had been trying to see it ever since I went nuts for Nashville when that masterpiece came out in the 70s.  I finally caught up with McCabe & Mrs. Miller and it made very little impression on me.  I wonder if my viewing of it suffered from the ‘checking it off a list’ mentality? Can one watch too many movies? Possibly.  The Burmese Harp was another title I had been tracking for a long time. I made more of a connection with it than with McCabe & Mrs. Miller and I don’t know why, since it is far from a great film and the consensus is that McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a great film.  Perhaps the Altman style hadn’t crystallized yet? Perhaps watching a master hone his craft not as interesting as watching him at the top of his form. I would be interested in hearing pros and cons concerning McCabe & Mrs. Miller .

2- An artist who always seems to be on the top of his form is Yasujiro Ozu.  An Autumn Afternoon  is his final film and it is just beautiful.  It stayed with me for days.

3- The Virgin Spring holds up as well as I hoped it would. I hadn’t seen it in perhaps 20 years and since I have been playing around with a Bergman piece for this blog, I thought it would be good research. It is even more powerful and stunning than I remember.  I was struck by the similarity of this film to Richard Strauss’ opera Elektra, not because of plot or style, but in the brutal single-mindedness of the conception and execution of both works.

4- I wonder how such a stunningly bad movie like Romance could have been made. Greta Garbo was one of the hugest stars of the time, and she had just made a sensational transition from Silents to Talkies just recently with Anna Christie. This looks like it was slapped together from some creaky, mid-Victorian potboiler just to get Garbo in front of the cameras again quickly.  The melodrama is laughable and I am sure it was laughable in 1930.  I am all for melodrama (see my rhapsodies on Sirk) but this was excruciating to watch.  But try it, you might have fun!


Book Recommendation




The Nashville Chronicles by Jan Stuart

In August 1975 I came back to NYC after backpacking around Europe for the first time. I was still swimming in all things European. A very good friend at the time told me ‘There’s a new movie called Nashville. When you see that movie, you see truth’.

Was she ever right. I saw it a few days after my return and it was an experience that I never recovered from. The sheer hugeness of that American world it depicted stunned me. It almost wiped my European trip from my brain. That entire summer I followed that movie all over NYC and have since seen it at least 30 times.

Over the years I have made sure that everyone I care about not only sees this movie but understands why it is probably the great film of the 1970s – probably one of the greatest American film of all times, sharing that pride of place with its equally audacious older brother Citizen Kane.

This book was written on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the film. I never knew it existed until I happened to see the author’s by-line in a review in the New York Sunday Times Book Section a few weeks ago.

This is essential reading for anyone else obsessed with the movie. Stuart interviewed almost everyone involved with the making of Nashville and has woven together a chatty, gossipy but never cheap backstage story. The thorough explanation of how Altman’s improvisational style gave the film its unique form is probably what led my friend to declare it as ‘Truth’ so many years ago.

See the movie, please, at least 25 times. Then luxuriate in this tasty book!

(reprinted from