Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Top 5 Douglas Sirk Films:
1. There's Always Tomorrow (1956)
2. Written on the Wind (1956)
3. The Tarnished Angels (1957)
4. A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958)
5. Magnificent Obsession (1954)
Top 5 Rock Hudson Films:
1. Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk, 1956)
2. Winchester '73 (Anthony Mann, 1950)
3. The Tarnished Angels (Douglas Sirk, 1957)
4. Bend of the River (Anthony Mann, 1952)
5. Magnificent Obsession (Douglas Sirk, 1954)
Top 5 Agnes Moorehead Films:
1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
2. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)
3. Magnificent Obsession (Douglas Sirk, 1954)
4. Pollyanna (David Swift, 1960)
5. Dark Passage (Delmer Daves, 1947)
Top 5 Non-Sirk Melodramas:
1. Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
2. Letter From an Unknown Woman (Max Ophuls, 1948)
3. Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942)
4. Waterloo Bridge (Mervyn LeRoy, 1940)
5. Broken Blossoms (DW Griffith, 1919)
Top 5 Films of 1955:
1. Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich)
2. Mr. Arkadin (Orson Welles)
3. Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton)
4. Ordet (Carl Theodor Dreyer)
5. Lola Montes (Max Ophuls)
Posted by Sean Gilman at 10:57 AM
Monday, August 30, 2010
Still lacking for any better ideas, I'm taking another crack at dream pairings for this week's film, Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows.
First up, we'll have a Sirk double bill with 1956's There's Always Tomorrow, the film he made after Heaven. The two films tackle the same basic theme, the agonizing dullness of 1950s middle class life, in fundamentally different ways. Heaven is shot in glorious Technicolor, focussing on a widow's romance with a younger man (Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, respectively) and the punishment she receives for this from her children, first by disapproval, then by indifference. Filmed in black and white, Tomorrow is about a middle class husband (Fred McMurray) who, faced with the indifference of his wife and children, finds himself tempted into an affair with an old colleague (Barbara Stanwyck), resulting in the aggressive disapproval of his children. Both films are therefore about mid-life romances by middle class suburbanites with unpleasant offspring. The different gendered protagonists of the two films combine to show how the 50s pretty much screwed over everyone, men and women, and unites them both in their distaste for their ungrateful children. But while McMurray remains pretty much free to carry on his affair if he chooses, with nothing more than a sly wink from the outside world, Wyman's transgression is a social one, and her entire world tries to shut her down. Also, There's Always Tomorrow has Rex, the Walking, Talking Robot.
I assume another great pair with All That Heaven Allows would be with Rainer Werner Fassbender's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, about a German widow's romance with an Arab worker. It's Fassbender's homage to Heaven, but I haven't seen it so I probably shouldn't be recommending it. But I'll take Chris Fujiwara's word for it: "It’s inaccurate, however, to call Fear Eats the Soul a “remake” of All That Heaven Allows, as has sometimes been done. There are a few precise echoes of the earlier ﬁlm in the later one. Emmi’s tearful confession that, despite her pretended indifference, the hatred of the Germans does matter to her, recalls lines spoken by Jane Wyman in the Sirk ﬁlm; and Fassbinder borrows from Sirk the symbol of a TV set as the sterile link between the heroine and her son (without recreating Sirk’s devastating camera movement toward Wyman’s reﬂection in the TV screen). But in adapting the story of All That Heaven Allows. . . Fassbinder simpliﬁes it, makes its contrasts more extreme, turns it away from melodrama and toward fable, and intensiﬁes its motive forces: the love of the couple and the oppression acting on them."
Finally, I'd pair All That Heaven Allows with Todd Haynes's 2002 film Far From Heaven, which is like a shinier, dumber remake of the Sirk film: the double feature would show off just how awesome the Sirk really is. I wrote this about it a year ago: "It's a pastiche of Douglas Sirk films, with Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert recreating the housewife/gardener dynamic from All That Heaven Allows. Except in this film, director Todd Haynes adds the twist that the gardener is black, changing the class issues from Sirk's film to racial ones. And, in a twist too far, he gives Moore a husband (Dennis Quaid, trying hard) who's working on trying not to hook up with other men every chance he gets. Haynes just piles on the social issues, and the humanity gets buried behind the topicality. The movie either needed to be a lot longer, giving it a more novelistic scope (at only an hour and forty-five minutes, surely there was room for greater detail on Quaid and Moore in particular), or a lot shorter, focusing on just the Moore/Quaid or Moore/Haysbert relationship. In every other respect, the film is fantastic. The set designs are wonderful, often putting even Mad Men to shame, but the real star of the film is the lighting: deep reds and blues, gold highlights breaking through the colors, magic hour sunsets and greens for danger, it's all so lovely."
Posted by Sean Gilman at 5:08 AM
Sunday, August 29, 2010
The great beast of mid-century film criticism, Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, chimed in with a quite condescending, spoiler-filled review of "this frankly feminine fiction" back in 1956.
Fortunately Dave Kehr is around to present a more enlightened view in his capsule review in the Chicago Reader: "the stuff of a standard weepie, you might think, until Sirk's camera begins to draw a deeply disturbing, deeply compassionate portrait of a woman trapped by stifling moral and social codes. Sirk's meaning is conveyed almost entirely by his mise-en-scene—a world of glistening, treacherous surfaces, of objects that take on a terrifying life of their own; he is one of those rare filmmakers who insist that you read the image."
Laura Mulvey's essay for The Criterion Collection recaps the history of director Douglas Sirk's rehabilitation by film critics, and points out some of the main features of his style: "Years after initial dismissal (and sometimes derision) by reviewers, Sirk’s successful string of big-budget soapers (and the director himself) acquired a rich and complex critical afterlife, as different aspects and facets of the films have been reclaimed by successive phases of film criticism. For auteurists and structuralists of the 1960s, Sirk’s mastery of cinematic language transcended the working conditions of the Hollywood studio system; feminists reclaimed him as a director of melodrama, with his women protagonists and dramas of interiority, domestic space and sexual desire; gay critics today see a camp subtext in his films with Rock Hudson, in which double entendre and ambiguous situations can be read as something other than what they seem."
Posted by Sean Gilman at 2:52 PM
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Top 5 Vincente Minnelli Films:
1. The Band Wagon (1953)
2. An American in Paris (1951)
3. The Pirate (1948)
4. Some Came Running (1958)
5. The Clock (1945)
Top 5 Judy Garland Films:
1. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)
2. The Pirate (Vincent Minnelli, 1948)
3. A Star is Born (George Cukor, 1954)
4. The Clock (Vincente Minnelli, 1945)
5. Babes in Arms (Busby Berkeley, 1939)
Top 5 Mary Astor Films:
1. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)
2. Red Dust (Victor Fleming, 1932)
3. The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges, 1942)
4. Midnight (Mitchell Leisen, 1939)
5. The Hurricance (John Ford, 1937)
Top 5 Musicals of the 1940s:
1. The Red Shoes (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1948)
2. The Gang's All Here (Busby Berkely, 1943)
3. Fantasia (Various, 1940)
4. The Pirate (Vincente Minnelli, 1948)
5. Going My Way (Leo McCarey, 1946)
Top 5 Films of 1944:
1. A Canterbury Tale (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)
2. Ivan the Terrible Part 1 (Sergei Eisenstein)
3. To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks)
4. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder)
5. Laura (Otto Preminger)
Posted by Sean Gilman at 7:03 PM
Monday, August 23, 2010
Bosley Crowther reviewed the film for the New York Times back on November 29th, 1944 and found it "a ginger peachy show":
"Let those who would savor their enjoyment of innocent family merriment with the fragrance of dried-rose petals and who would revel in girlish rhapsodies make a bee-line right down to the Astor. For there's honey to be had inside."
Robbie Freeling at Reverse Shot argues for Meet Me in St. Louis as one of the all-time great Halloween films:
"Even though Minnelli doesn’t go for the full fright or perform any sort of supernatural intervention, he accomplishes what’s most important: he creates an unnerving setting in which it seems like anything can happen. Kind of like Halloween itself."
Bob Dylan sang "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" on the terrific Christmas album he put out last year. Unfortunately, there's no video for that one, but there is for this:
Posted by Sean Gilman at 3:30 PM
Sunday, August 22, 2010
We here at Metro Classics are a big fan of double features, after all, who wouldn't rather see twice as many movies? Unfortunately, economic reality constrains our ability to actually have as many double bills as we would like. So, since I've already written about the history of the musical and I can't think of anything else to write about this week (and my wife is busy doing other things), we're launching a new feature: what movies would make great double features with this week's Classic, Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St. Louis?
I was recently surprised to learn that I've seen 23 Vincente Minnelli films, though I can't say I've paid close attention to all of them. One of his recurring situations is that of a young person in conflict with a small town, yearning to break away and led a different kind of life, often in something artistic. That's not the case in Meet Me in St. Louis, however, where no one really wants to leave their nostalgia-tinged ideal Middle American town. So my first proposed double feature would be one of Minnelli's other portraits of small town life, either Some Came Running or The Pirate. It would really depend on my mood. In Some Came Running, Frank Sinatra's war veteran writer returns to his hometown and finds only bitterness and heartbreak. In The Pirate, Judy Garland yearns to break out of her tiny village and lead a life of adventure with murderous rapey pirates or, failing that, a song and dance troupe. Some Came Running brings out the darkness in Meet Me in St. Louis, The Pirate emphasizes its playfulness.
Minnelli grew up in the Midwest, and Meet Me in St. Louis is very much a personal film for him, an idealized portrait of the world he came from. The Magnificent Ambersons serves somewhat the same function for Orson Welles, also a Midwesterner. Ambersons, however, teems with Welles's sardonic worldview, his voiceover narration mocking the turn of the century world of the film. Often that mockery is of the pleasant, ironical type, but his opinion of the film's main character, the loathsome George Minafer is quite withering. Welles shows the world he came from (or rather, the world his parents came from), but always at a distance. A performance like the one that Minnelli manages to get out of Margaret O'Brien in Meet Me in St. Louis would never be possible in a Welles film: it's too natural, too rawly emotional. Minnelli can show the world through the eyes of a child; Welles view is always from the outside, even when filming terrific actors giving heartfelt and heart-breaking performances. Minnelli could be innocent, but Welles was always a hipster.
My favorite double feature idea is Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg, his pseudo-documentary remembrance of and tribute to his home town. Maddin's Winnipeg is surreal and lunatic: a cabal of witches and old hockey players runs city hall, his mother is a minor television personality, horse head sit strewn about a frozen river all winter long, some of which might be true, but really it's no stranger than a turn of the century trolly breaking into song because a crazy girl caught sight of the boy next door. Maddin's film never condescends in the way Welles's sometimes does, it's ironic without being superior, and it highlights the inherent whimsy of Minnelli's musicals, while translating their core concepts into a more modern idiom.
Posted by Sean Gilman at 7:05 PM
Monday, August 16, 2010
Once again overcome with laziness, Mike and I have managed to get one of our friends to do some blog-writing for us, in this case, my lovely wife.
To say that I love this movie would be a gross understatement. My absolute adoration of The Princess Bride is nothing short of an obsession. One that forces me to watch it almost every time it appears on television, regardless of whatever productive activity I should be pursuing (and there are many). One that initiated a rather odd friendship many years ago, based solely on a shared love of the movie (and the ability to repeat entire scenes to each other verbatim for hours on end). One that requires my making a beeline to the letter 'G' in the fiction section of any used bookstore, searching frantically for 'William Goldman' (not to be confused with William Golding, of Lord of the Flies fame) to see if there are any books by him, and if by chance they have a copy of The Princess Bride, forcing me to buy it (because it may have a different cover, be a different edition, or someone might be in need of a spare someday, or (gasp!) perhaps have not yet even read it). It's not because I need another copy (at last count, I have six---but there are a few boxes that were not unpacked from the last move, and I suspect I may have more) but rather because I am compelled. In a way, it’s similar to missionaries spreading the gospel. And it is, unfortunately, the same reason that, in my youth, I searched for and watched some truly wretched movies only because Cary Elwes played a part (thankfully, I came to my senses before the first Saw was released).
Still, it's difficult to describe why The Princess Bride resonates with me so intensely. I can say for certain that it’s not the acting, or the high adventure, the swashbuckling, or the humor---although I certainly find these things enjoyable. But these are simply the means for delivering the message. That message being simply that life isn’t fair, and that anyone that tries to tell you differently is selling something. A philosophy that even as a child I could relate to.
Movies, at least the ones I saw growing up, usually tell a very different story. The story ends, however improbably, with a happily ever after. Which is all fine and good as long as you don’t expect everything in your life to end that same way. And most kids, like me, are stupid (having not yet met with much disappointment in their young lives) and don’t understand that distinction: they expect to be the star athlete, to escape the punishment for breaking the window, to get the girl or guy in the end, or to have their favorite movie be offered as part of Metro Classics during the first series, and not the tenth, all because they practiced hard, really wanted to, or (gulp) simply felt they deserved to have that happily ever after ending. That is the genius of the Fred Savage/Peter Falk storyline. It acknowledges children's ingrained expectation that everything have a happy ending, and yet counters that with bits of reality that brings both the audience and reader back to the real world with all of its failings and disappointments, and tells us that life will still be OK. It is the perfect blend of cynicism and hope, of a world where there is dead and mostly dead, all-conquering true love, fire-proof clothing, nasty princes who start unnecessary wars, revenge not quite healing all wounds, and sweet giants saving the day.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Top 5 William Goldman Films:
1. Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969)
2. A Bridge Too Far (Richard Attenborough, 1977)
3. Marathon Man (John Schlesinger, 1976)
4. All the President's Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976)
5. Maverick (Richard Donner, 1994)
Top 5 Rob Reiner Films:
1. This is Spinal Tap (1984)
2. When Harry Met Sally . . . (1989)
3. A Few Good Men (1992)
4. Stand By Me (1986)
5. Misery (1990)
Top 5 Cary Elwes Films:
1. Glory (Edward Zwick, 1989)
2. Bram Stoker's Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992)
3. Hot Shots! (Jim Abrahams, 1991)
4. Cradle Will Rock (Tim Robbins, 1999)
5. The Cat's Meow (Peter Bogdanovich, 2001)
Top 5 Wallace Shawn Films:
1. Manhattan/All That Jazz (Woody Allen/Bob Fosse, 1979)
2. Toy Story 1-3 (Lasseter, Lasseter, Unkrich, 1995/1999/2010)
2. Vanya on 42nd Street/My Dinner With Andre (Louis Malle, 1994/1981)
3. Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)
5. Southland Tales (Richard Kelly, 2006)
Top 5 Films of 1987:
1. Broadcast News (James L. Brooks)
2. Empire of the Sun (Steven Spielberg)
3. Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick)
4. Raising Arizona (The Coen Brothers)
5. Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi)
Posted by Sean Gilman at 9:31 PM
Friday, August 13, 2010
IMDB's Memorable Quotes page for The Princess Bride seems to cover the entire screenplay. That sounds about right.
Christopher Sunami at kitoba.com cites The Princess Bride, both the book and film, as an example of "reconstructivist art" where "the disassembled elements of art and meaning have been reassembled in new and better ways. . .…to reawaken a sense of the Real in a world where everything has been demonstrated to be an illusion…" Other examples include Star Wars, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, Maus and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.
Here's the official site for the book, where you can have the missing scene emailed to you.
Finally, apparently someone out there needs SparkNotes for The Princess Bride, which is just the saddest thing I've seen in a long time.
Posted by Sean Gilman at 11:30 AM
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Top 5 Merian C. Cooper Films:
1. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
2. The Quiet Man (John Ford, 1952)
3. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (John Ford, 1949)
4. The Most Dangerous Game (Irving Pichel & Ernest Schoedsack, 1932)
5. Flying Down to Rio (Thornton Freeland, 1933)
Top 5 Movies Featuring a City-Destroying Rampage:
1. Godzilla (Ishiro Honda, 1954)
2. Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984)
3. Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988)
4. Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)
5. The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006)
Top 5 Sc-Fi Films of the 1930s:
1. Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931)
2. Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932)
3. Tarzan the Ape Man (WS Van Dyke, 1932)
4. The Invisible Man (James Whale, 1933)
5. The Mummy (Karl Freund, 1932)
Top 5 Films that Were Remade in the 2000s:
1. Love in the Afternoon (Eric Rohmer, 1972)
2. Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter, 1976)
3. Spring in a Small Town (Fei Mu, 1948)
4. Bad Lieutenant (Abel Fererra, 1992)
5. Planet of the Apes (Franklin Scaffner, 1968)
Top 5 Films of 1933:
1. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey)
2. Hallelujah, I'm a Bum (Lewis Milestone)
3. 42nd Street (Lloyd Bacon)
4. Baby Face (Alfred E. Green)
5. Footlight Parade (Lloyd Bacon)
Posted by Sean Gilman at 7:58 PM
Monday, August 9, 2010
King Kong was enthusiastically received in the New York Times back in 1933, as you can read in this plot-heavy review. "Constant exclamations issued from the Radio City Music Hall yesterday. "What a man!" observed one youth when the ape forced down the great oaken door on the island."
For a more historical perspective on the film, we have Roger Ebert's Great Movies review. "On good days I consider Citizen Kane the seminal film of the sound era, but on bad days it is King Kong. That is not to say I dislike King Kong, which, in this age of technical perfection, uses its very naivete to generate a kind of creepy awe."
Finally, we have the entirety of The Lost World, from 1925. This silent adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle story features pioneering stop-motion animation work from Willis O'Brien, who managed to top his work here with Kong eight years later.
Posted by Sean Gilman at 10:53 AM
Friday, August 6, 2010
Early in the afternoon on Thursday the 15th of December 02005, I was walking down 45th Street from the Metro when I came upon my friend Nicole working the door at the majestic Neptune Theatre (Sean's new home!). They had opened Peter Jackson's King Kong the day before and in our moment of idle chitchat I asked Nicole how well it was doing. She informed me that there was barely anyone in the theatre for this first show of the day. Few phrases* manage to elicit more excitement in me than "there's barely anyone in the theatre" (obviously only in non-Metro Classics-related screenings). Having nothing better to do (if memory serves I was in search of a doughnut at the time) I decided what the hey, I'll check out this three-hour digital monstrosity.
At this point in time the only Peter Jackson film I had seen was Heavenly Creatures, which was way back in high school. When those fancy-pants Lord of the Rings movies came out I was completely off the radar of the cultural zeitgeist (plus: I'm an elitist snob!) and missed that train entirely, something I rectified a few years later. I still haven't gotten around to any of those Harry Potter thingamajigs...
Anyhow, I bought myself a ticket and planted myself in a creaky old seat in the Neptune's charming balcony. Soon enough the lights went down, I watched King Kong, and then went about my meaningless day. Nothing special right? Except that I adored it. From frame one to the final credit three freaking hours later, I was completely and utterly swept up in the Power of Movies. This big, hulking, unwieldy behemoth of a motion picture managed to seductively get under my skin. Through a two dimensional play of light on a wall, I was transported to another place and time (and life!), thanks to digitized smoke and pixelated mirrors.
I loved, loved, loved King Kong. Every little thing about it. The 1930s period setting; the clothes; the face of Naomi Watts; the heavy-handed; slow-motion TV movie effects used when Adrien Brody types out S-K-U-L-L I-S-L-A-N-D; Naomi Watts juggling; the fact that it takes an entire hour before we even get to Skull Island (digression: in fact, the entire pacing of the film is a wonder, see the bloated extended edition for proof at the theatrical cut's amazing rhythm); the awesomely disgusting bug attack; Jack Black being perfectly cast; Naomi Watts running/laughing/crying; three (3) Tyrannosaurus Rex!!! But far and away the best thing about King Kong is Andy Serkis's portrayal of the titular great ape. His intuitive, heartfelt performance makes Kong the best, most fully-realized digital creation of all time. Avatar's Na'vi look like Jar Jar Binks compared to this.
Did I mention Naomi Watts? In the early primordial ooze of discussion, lists, daydreams and lapses of reason that gestated, coalesced and was given life as Metro Classics, my colleague Ryland Walker Knight proposed a double feature of King Kong and David Lynch's Mulholland Dr, dubbing it a Naomi Watts Love Fest, which it most certainly is, and so much more. One could see Kong's Ann Darrow as the idealized actress her character(s) in Mulholland Dr aspire to be. It's the best idea Ryland has ever had. I know because I monitor his mind.
I ultimately saw King Kong three times in the theatre. Once more at the Neptune where I was stood up by my friend Aaron, so I watched it gleefully alone twice. The third viewing came several weeks later. My girlfriend who time and again expressed no interest in the film despite my secular hosannas, saw clips of it whilst watching the Oscars and said to me, "hey that looks pretty cool". I jumped ten feet in the air, screaming obscenities. Later in the week we took a bus out to West Seattle and saw Kong at the discount theatre, the Admiral Twin, the only place around still showing the film. My girlfriend cried. Ha-ha!
So did I.
*Other phrases that get me all hot and bothered include:
-"Pizza Pi, can I take your order?"
-"Blah, blah, blah, something... the Melvins... something, something...."
-"My favorite ride at Disneyland is _________"
-"The earth, it moves too slow."
-"Now batting for the Seattle Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki"
-"These aren't the droids you're looking for."
-"Fuck you old man!"
-"Who wants cookies?"
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Top 5 Katharine Hepburn Films:
1. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
2. The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940)
3. The Lion in Winter (Anthony Harvey, 1968)
4. Sylvia Scarlett (George Cukor, 1935)
5. Adam's Rib (George Cukor, 1949)
Top 5 Humphrey Bogart Films:
1. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
2. The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946)
3. To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks, 1944)
4. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
5. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)
Top 5 John Huston Films:
1. The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
2. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
3. Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
4. Victory (1981)
5. In This Our Life (1942)
Top 5 Films Set in Sub-Saharan Africa:
1. Zulu (Cy Endfield, 1964)
2. Red Dust/Mogambo (Victor Fleming, 1932/John Ford, 1953)
3. White Hunter, Black Heart (Clint Eastwood, 1990)
4. Out of Africa (Sydney Pollack, 1985)
5. Tarzan the Ape Man (WS Van Dyke, 1932)
Top 5 Films of 1951:
1. Early Summer (Yasujiro Ozu)
2. The River (Jean Renoir)
3. The Steel Helmet (Samuel Fuller)
4. The Thing From Another World (Christain Nyby)
5. An American in Paris (Vincente Minnelli)
Posted by Sean Gilman at 1:24 PM