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. Broadway Danny Rose (Woody Allen)
  2. L’Atalante (Jean Vigo)
  3. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock)
  4. Lenny (Bob Fosse)
  5. The Tenant (Roman Polanski)
  6. The Traveler (Abbas Kiarostami)
  7. The Coward (Satyajit Ray)
  8. Sunset Song (Terence Davies)
  9. Dos Monjes (Juan Bustillo Oro)
  10. Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami)

1- If there is such a thing as a Thanksgiving movie, Broadway Danny Rose is it.  I think it might be Woody Allen’s most successful comedy, and that is because it is mostly kind.  Danny Rose is almost a holy fool. His goodness radiates out, and even though he is mistreated worst by those who owe him the most, eventually his kindness makes a difference in the world. There is none of the smarminess that we find in later Allen films, although the scene where he and Mia Farrow are tied up together seems pretty icky.   There are still the Italian caricatures that he is so fond of, but in all fairness he has a lot of Jewish caricatures as well. The jokes are wonderful.  The world of seedy New York is lovingly drawn.  Is it the 60s? The 70s? The 80s? I can’t tell.  The Greek Chorus of old Jewish Standup comics in the Deli that are narrating and commenting on ‘the best Danny Rose story’ are the heart of this movie.  The way they describe how hard it is to get a gig now is heartbreaking but they take it with a joke.  There is only one comic line that falls flat.  Let me know if you know which line I mean.

2- I am done with Jean Vigo.  I watched all his works again on the Criterion Channel. It only amounts to about 200 minutes, since he died so young, but they all bore the life out of me.  I find them tedious and pretentious.  Much noise is made about how revolutionary L’atalante is. I don’t see it.  It bores me. It may be my fault, but I have watched it four times, so the blame can’t entirely lie with me.  I think it is a bit of the James Dean syndrome.  Vigo died at the age of 29, with only one feature and a few shorts to his name.  Like James Dean, perhaps his talent has been overappreciated because there is so little of it available and what exists is flashy. Please tell me why you think I may be wrong.

3- My one great truth about Hitchcock is that his movies are not about what you think they are about.  The Birds is not about a series of unexplained bird attacks.  It is about the unresolved tension in the relationships between Melanie Daniels, Mitch Brenner and his mother, Lydia Brenner, with his sister Cathy thrown in the mix for fun.  Vertigo is not about Madeline Elster’s real identity. It is about the power of erotic self-destruction.  Rear Window is not about what happened to Mrs. Thorvald. It is about the struggle for the upper hand in the relationship between Jeff and Lisa (spoiler alert: it ends in a temporary draw).  And so, Psycho is not about the shower scene and what leads up to it. I am not really sure what it is about, but I have a feeling it is, in a perverse way, about the empowerment of women.  Marion steals the money to fix a situation that her lover seems incapable of fixing.  Lila ‘solves’ the mystery when all the men around her bungle it.  Even Mrs. Bates wins out at the end.   There is an extraordinary amount to male objectivizing for a movie of this time.   When we first see John Gavin in the hotel room, he is present as a sex object, even more  than Marion is.  Anthony Perkins is stunningly beautiful and so endearing as Norman Bates, that the end should always come as a shock even though, sixty years later, we know what it is.  The cliché is that Hitchcock was awful for women.  I think Psycho should make us reassess that thinking.

4- I missed seeing Lenny when it first came out and I was glad to watch it now.  I don’t know if Fosse was being more objective than the normal assessment vis-a-vis Lenny Bruce, but the comic comes off more as a dangerous and self-destructive figure than the shining exemplar of First Amendment rights. It is hard to pity his downward spiral, because as brilliant as he is, he is just MEAN. Dustin Hoffman is spectacular, yes, but Valerie Perrine. Wow.

5- Man, I LOVED The Tenant when it first came out.  I dragged all my friends to see it. I don’t think it has aged as well as the film it seems most closely linked to: Rosemary’s Baby. Apparently these two films plus Repulsion are a loose trilogy.  Rosemary’s Baby wins hands down.

6- The Traveler is Abbas Kiarostami’s first full-length feature, and as such it is solid.  I love movies that show kids to be rotten and not living in some kind of Edenic childhood paradise.  This boy is absolutely amoral and selfish.  Nowhere close to Kiarostami’s later works of genius, but worth a watch for sure.

7- I watched The Coward the day after the great Soumitra Chatterjee died.  He starred in a ton of Satyajit Ray, most famously making his film debut as Apu in the last film of the trilogy.  The Coward is a small film, but like every other Ray film I have seen, it is deeply satisfying. 

8- I am not sure what drew the great Terence Davies to Sunset Song. It is gorgeous to look at and involving, but it doesn’t have the overwhelming emotional impact of his masterpieces. The next film he made, A Quiet Passion about Emily Dickinson, has all the hallmarks of a Davies masterpiece.

9- If The Cabinet of Doctor Calegari and Rashomon got married, moved to 1930s Mexico and had a baby, it would be Dos Monjes. Expressionism and Mexican Romanticism.  The scenes in the monastery remind me of Ivan The Terrible weirdness.  And the multivalent story telling must have seems so fresh coming some 20 years before  Rashomon.  It thrills me that such sui-generis films exist that I never heard of. What else is out there to discover?

10- After watching a ton of Kiarostami films, I went back to The Taste of Cherry, often cited as his masterpiece. I didn’t get it when I saw it 15 years ago.  Having much more context now, I get it but I still don’t love it the way I love The Koker Trilogy and Close-up. It’s probably more my fault that Kiarostami’s.  This time around, I totally got the pacing and the extreme long takes, things which bored me before.  



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When is Bergman Not Bergman?


There are a lot of movies that I rewatch constantly.  There are others about which I think ‘Well, I’ve seen that once, no urgency to watch it again any time soon.” But then times goes by and I have either completely forgotten what the film was like or I have a vague positive memory and want to explore it again.  Over 40 years have gone by since the one and only time I saw Woody Allen’s InteriorsI thought it would be fun to watch it again.

I remember that when it came out, Woody Allen’s reputation was soaring. He was previously only considered a creator of wacky, somewhat slapstick comedies.  Then Annie Hall came out of nowhere. The emotional depth of this ‘comedy’ was profound. The wacky comedy was there, but so was a self-awareness of the narrator.  Multiple watchings reveal that Alvy Singer is casting himself as the reason why the romance dies.  Annie is generously and lovingly portrayed.

What would Woody Allen follow up this game-changer with?

When Interiors appeared many critics took great pains to portray it as the fulfillment of the promise of Annie Hall. The comic genius had given us a dark, Bergmanian family drama.  Critics were pulling their own heads off in rapture. His follow-up, Manhattansolidified his reputation as a master for the next 30 years or so, until his reputation was forever tarnished by disgusting personal behavior.

So, back at its premiere, it was regarded as a turning point.  How does it read now?

Not so great. In fact, truly bad and embarrassing.  His canon was still so new that the comparison to Ingmar Bergman was a badge of honor, as comparison to Fellini would be in later films like Stardust MemoriesViewed historically it is hard to see the ‘homage’ to these two giants as anything but pretension.

The cinematography is icy in the way Bergman’s is. The acting is quiet and internal the way Bergman’s is.  The problem is that neither are good.

I usually will applaud the effort of a ‘lighter’ artist to bring depth to his work, but this just evokes disbelief and laughter.

At one point, one of the daughters (don’t worry, I will not recap the plot!) expresses her dislike of her rich WASP father’s new girlfriend by shouting, “She is a vulgarian!”.  Really, this was uttered in all seriousness.

The symbolism is so heavy-handed as to indicate that the creator was not in command of what he was trying to show, perhaps didn’t even know what he was trying to show.  Case in point: the Hampton beach house where much of the action takes place is in muted earth tones, as are the costumes of the entire cast. Get it? They are repressing their emotions. Get it?  When the new girlfriend shows up, of course she is in a blood red dress. She is brimming with life. Get it?

It was like watching a high-school version of Eugene O’Neill.

Yes, Bergman had his howlers throughout his career. Some of his work suffers from the same kind of pretense. The difference is that he always had an agenda.  He was trying to show the impact of ‘God’s silence’ on our lives, he was trying to show the difficulty (Impossibilty?) of human connection. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but more often than not, it does.

Woody Allen here is just trying to show that he could make a movie that is as ‘serious’ and ‘artistic’ as Bergman.

It doesn’t work… all.

Do watch it though. You won’t believe how bad it is.



The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
  2. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)
  3. 1917 (Sam Mendes)
  4. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)
  5. Ford v Ferrari (James Mangold)
  6. Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
  7. Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir)
  8. Interiors (Woody Allen)
  9. Atlantic City (Louis Malle)
  10. Gretel & Hansel (Oz Perkins)


1- The cliche you hear now about The Irishman is that if you see it in the theater you will be enthralled and if you watch it on Netflix, you will be bored.  I watched it on Netflix

2- I loved and admired Little Women so much that I saw it again in the theater about a week after the first viewing. It was an even richer experience.

3- Interiors.  Oy vey.  Read this.

4- After the extremely disappointing revisit to Interiors, I am happy to report that I found Atlantic City even more poetic and moving than I remembered it.  A film for the ages.

5- I had a rip-roaring time watching 1917. They also serve who only entertain.  Thank you Sam Mendes.

6- I watched Gretel & Hansel in a state of confusion. I didn’t have a clue what it was trying to do. Creepy atmosphere was successfully achieved but what was it about?  Still, I had fun watching it and it was less than 90 minutes long, so no harm done. Look at this picture of the witch. Ripping off the innkeeper in Isle Of The Dead?


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!


O Woody! Where Art Thou?

I avoided Woody Allen’s films prior to Annie Hall when they were first being released.  They seemed sophomoric and stupid.  I did go to see Love And Death when it came out and I found it sophomoric and smart.  Woody Allen was not for me. I got the Borscht Belt humor, I got the nebbish shtick. It all just seemed dopey.

In the fall of 1976 I left for Germany to do my Senior year abroad. Kids studying abroad today don’t have withdrawal for things and people back home like we did.  Email, Facebook and Skype have changed that. One never feels disconnected from one’s ‘real’ life. During that year the high point of my day would be the when the mail was delivered to the dorm, followed immediately by the low point of the day when the manager of the dorm would sadistically say to me, ‘Heute nicht, Herr Brown’ (Not today, Mr. Brown), creating a crush of disappointment lasting until the next hopeful mail delivery the next day.

When the year was up in July and I got home, I was severely disoriented. Suddenly, I was able to understand everything that was happening around me and not just what my level of German allowed me to understand. I could now read every sign, get every joke and understand every overheard conversation. All the mysteries and difficulties of my year in Germany were suddenly gone. I was back to where I was before I left for college – in my parents’ house in deepest Brooklyn.  I was told by a friend that I really needed to see the new Woody Allen movie, Annie Hall.  It was hilarious, she told me, quoting the line about the only cultural advantage LA has over New York is that you can make a right turn on red. I thought “ More dumb Woody Allen humor”. Well, Annie Hall happened to be playing at the Canarsie Theater, our neighborhood third run movie house. So, I went.  And I was transfigured.

From the face-on opening monologue, right through the wistful ending, the movie showered down on me everything I had been deprived of over the past year: Brooklyn of my childhood and the Brooklyn that came before me, Yiddishkeit, the glory of New York City, crazy older Jewish relatives – everything I had missed.  Woody Allen was speaking directly to me, saying: ‘This is what you have been starving for! And you weren’t wrong to long for it! It’s the really great stuff’. I wandered out of the Canarsie Theater dazzled.

I must have seen Annie Hall at least five times that summer. Besides the very personal ‘welcome home’ message, I was thrilled watching a film by a director firing on all cylinders.  Everything flowed, there wasn’t a false note – I never once doubted the voice of the director. I knew that Allen was obsessively Jewish and an evangelical New Yorker and recognized those characteristics in the film. But even if it had been made by Rossellini, the work itself had such integrity that I was swept up in it from beginning to end. The social observations, the triste romance and, not least, the performance of Diane Keaton make it compulsively watchable in the way that All About Eve and The Shop Around The Corner are compulsively watchable. It was the film of a great, wholly integrated artist and not just a Woody Allen movie.

I remember the general reaction to Interiors, which followed Annie Hall, as being respectful.  This is a new Woody Allen, we told ourselves, he is stretching himself as an artist and if he wants to venture into Ingmar Bergman family drama, God bless him.

Luckily, Manhattan followed.  By that time I was a devoted reader of Andrew Sarris’ weekly column in the Village Voice.  His review for Manhattan was titled something like ‘Woody, You’re The Top’.  With that echo of the bygone sophistication of Cole Porter’s New York City of the 30s, for me the review was Allen’s official installation into the highest echelon of Sarris’ Pantheon (see his book The American Cinema).


To be living in New York at the time that each new Woody Allen film came out was pretty heady stuff for me. A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy pleased me with its homage to Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night. Stardust Memories pleased me with its homage to Fellini’s 8 ½. Broadway Danny Rose, Zelig and Radio Days pleased me with their great wit and heart. The arrival of Hannah and Her Sisters seemed to solidify Allen’s place in the cinematic firmament for me.

Then Crimes and Misdemeanors happened. I never bought the existential questions of this movie. The big probing moral issues raised never involved me. In fact, I found the whole enterprise quite smarmy – and this was to be a feature of Allen films to come. Granted, this is only my reaction. A lot of people consider this among Allen’s best.

What was missing for me was the sure-footedness of the preceding films. It wasn’t so much that I needed the schlemiel persona of Allen to make a film. What I did need to feel is that there was a steady hand guiding the enterprise.

Allen embarked on an extraordinarily prolific period at that time which lasts until today. His films are astounding for the amazing talent he assembles in front of and behind the camera. His acting ensembles invariably feature leading actors of the day as well as future stars. One of Meryl Streep’s first roles was a cameo part in Manhattan as the protagonist’s angry now-lesbian ex-wife.  In retrospect the role is a bit of a cliché but still, it’s swell to see Streep at the beginning of her glorious career.  He even got Max Von Sydow, Bergman’s chess playing knight, and Sven Nykvist, Bergman’s cinematographer, to be part of his  projects.

I understand that being prolific is good that the artist can work through themes and stylistic interests, but the danger is that a lot of inferior work can be the result.  Ingmar Bergman himself, Allen’s greatest idol, was also extraordinarily prolific and it is fascinating to watch what Bergman does with many of the same themes and actors over time. It can also get tedious when the work is less than polished and the mark is missed.

I began skipping the new Allen releases especially after seeing Mighty Aphrodite which I found sordid. Watching his earlier films again was shocking, as well. I always want to hold the author’s life story at arm’s length when considering the work, unless it is an author who is unapologetically biographical and doesn’t want you to ignore the personal aspects of the work. So, I tried to ignore the salacious stories about Allen’s private life.  However, I did find it hard to watch Manhattan again and view the protagonist’s relationship with the 17 year old Mariel Hemingway character through the same romantic filter I did back in 1979.  The ickiness factor prevailed. However, if that were the only problem, I could have still loved it the way I did when it was released.

For me, that easiness and sure-handedness of Annie Hall is gone. I go back to see his new films when they get public and popular acclaim, which is why I went to see Midnight In Paris. I hoped that all I was hearing about it would bode well. Alas.  I was amazed at the woodenness of the characters and the pretentiousness of the plot.  What could have been a delightful fantasy devolved into a dull name-dropping exercise.  “Hello old chap, the name’s Fitzgerald, Scott Fitzgerald and this is my wife Zelda.  We’re all going to a party at Gertrude Stein’s. You must join us.’  These are not exact quotes, but they convey the hollowness of the thing.  I found it so curious. I couldn’t figure out who the film was intended for. I felt that the audience members who knew who all these historical figures were would feel cheated by the shallowness of the treatment, and the audience members who didn’t know who they were wouldn’t care about the whole thing.

I had great hope for Blue Jasmine.  The acclaim for Cate Blanchett’s performance made it sound like Eleanora Duse had returned from the dead. What I actually encountered was an overplayed but less interesting version of Blanche DuBois.  As Streetcar Named Desire parallels became more apparent, I really got angry.  It all seemed like intellectual laziness in the guise of a big statement about …..what?  That being rich makes you shallow? That can’t be it since he lovingly depicts every detail of Blanchett’s super-rich New York life with voyeuristic delight.  We are hard-pressed to find a note of criticism in how she is portrayed.  Yes, she is nasty and condescending to lesser mortals, but wow  that apartment and wow those clothes! There is no question that you would rather live her ‘shallow’ Manhattan existence than live her sister Sally Hawkins’ squalid life as a Stella Kowalski stand-in with her Stanley played by Bobby Cannavale. We get signals that we should think that Cannavale and Hawkins are ‘salt of the earth’ and the people we should care about, but whole dichotomy of the good Hawkins San Francisco world versus the bad Blanchett New York world collapses for lack of support. Ironically the Hawkins world is so ugly, even though it is located in San Francisco, ostensibly the most beautiful city in the country!  Another anti-California jab?  I might also mention that Cannavale’s character made me recall other caricatures of Italians that appear at least as early as Annie Hall. The Italians in his films are almost invariably cartoonish, stupid and shown in a border-line racist way. I suppose one could say the same about his portrayal of the older Jewish characters, but they are from the inside out, and because of that, there seems to be more kindness and depth to the portrayal.

All of these plot problems coupled with a dull visual style really made me despair that I would ever love a Woody Allen movie again. He has become lost in pretensions and insincerities that blocks out what was original and pure in Annie Hall.   I will be hopeful, though, and continue to go to the new ones as they come out. You see, I need the eggs.


The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Tale Of Last Chrysanthemums   (Kenji  Mizoguchi)
  2. Happy Anniversary   (Pierre Étaix / Jean-Claude Carrière)
  3. Pierre Étaix – un destin animè   (Odile Étaix)
  4. L’amore    (Roberto Rossellini)
  5. There’s  Always Tomorrow   (Douglas Sirk)
  6. Blue Jasmine   (Woody Allen)
  7. Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman)
  8. Vampyr  (Carl Theodor Dreyer)
  9. Nashville (Robert Altman)
  10. Summer With Monika (Ingmar Bergman)


1- I first went nuts for Ingmar Bergman when I was 15. I saw everything I could.  So many of the only viewings of his stuff date from then.  I was dazzled but had no idea what I was watching in many cases. Watching Winter Light again is a beautiful reminder of how works of genius are always there for you at every stage of your life, giving what you need at the time.  I had never seen Summer With Monika and it impressed me mightily. It seems to sow the seeds of so many of Bergman’s later dysfunctional couples.  It was interesting to sense a trace of Neo-realism running through the film.

2- How many times will I have to force myself to watch Vampyr before I admit it bores me to tears?

3-Douglas Sirk continues to be a revelation. There’s Always Tomorrow is almost like All That Heaven Allows writ small, but more devastating.  ‘

4- I watched Blue Jasmine absolutely drop-jawed. Could it be as bad as it seemed? More on this later, maybe.  I don’t like venting spleen here.