Over here. Now is this the same as the one in that most excellent of recent James Bond films The World Is Not Enough, or is it a different one?
Archive for the 'films' Category
I finally got around to seeing Clint Eastwood’s film, The Outlaw Josey Wales the other evening, and wasn’t terribly impressed. Partly, I think, I didn’t much like it because it was so heavily indebted to another film I don’t much like, John Ford’s The Searchers, as it piles on reference after reference and parallel after parallel, saving the most blatant for last, when the distinctive shapes of Monument Valley make an appearance in the background of one of the final shots. But I was interested enough to see if the internetweb had much to say about this kind of thing, and dug up this (solid but ungripping) 2003 essay on the subject by Robert C. Sickels, which kicks off with the remarkable claim that “what virtually every critic has failed to recognize is its [= TOJW's] undeniable relationship to John Ford’s The Searchers…” That can’t be true, can it? Film writers surely haven’t been that blinkered? Or is Sickels just exaggerating a bit to get his own essay off the ground? I know there are (i) film buffs and (ii) Western enthusiasts who read this page, so any information posted in the Comments will be cheerily digested.
Seeing Dodgeball last night (fun film, fun film) reminded me to remind you all that 19 September is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, so get practicing.
I’m told that the advertising slogan for Dodgeball in the US is “Grab Life By The Ball”, and that the UK slogan adds the letter “S” to make the last word into “Balls”. This is entertaining, if true.
Those who want to practice T-ing like a P might want to ask themselves what letter comes before “S” in the alphabet, saying it loudly in a preposterous voice.
Oxford’s Psychiatry Department is circulating this leaflet, left, around the university. Turns out that when you turn over the page you learn that beer isn’t really the cure for depression after all, and that it’s better to take antidepressants (and, perhaps, to follow some other therapies) than to booze heavily in response to feeling gloomy. Got that?
It seemed, however, a nice image to accompany a blogpost to report that Guy Maddin’s new film, The Saddest Music in the World is a fine, fine film — since this really is a film about how a particular kind of Canadian beer, brewed in Winnipeg, will help to lift North America out of the Depression (and a reminder of just how Depressing the United States must have been in the Prohibition era).
Oh yes, and it said in the glossy cinema programme in reasonably big letters that “While rejecting accusations that he’s a mere pasticheur, Maddin resurrects long-abandoned film forms, stirring into the mix with admirably straight-faced conviction German expressionist lighting, Soviet montage, “golden age” Hollywood melodramatics and Busby Berkeley’s more fetishistic choreography”. That’s an opinion from one Michael Brooke, writing in Sight and Sound, and a reminder that my brother is one of the world experts on the films of Guy Maddin, which must be quite a strange thing to be.
Only seen three of them myself, but very much want to see Careful if I ever get the chance.
One thing I share with Norm is a deep loathing of the film Life is Beautiful. So go read his thoughts on the subject here and here, where he’s reprinting the relevant section of his critical piece on the film from Imprints, the small-circulation socialist journal.
I nod at almost every sentence, either agreeing, or seeing exactly where he’s coming from and strongly sympathizing, or not knowing exactly what he’s talking about because I don’t know the other artworks he mentions, but strongly suspecting that he’s onto something. And I also agree with his central argument about what it is that’s really wrong with the film, which is more or less why I hated the film so much when I saw it in 1999 — which also happens to be the reason why I think the film failed in its own – or at least in its own director’s – terms.
I read an interview somewhere where Benigni said something about how he wanted to make a film in which he put his stock clown character in the most extreme situation imaginable. And that’s not obviously an unworthy goal. But the point is that he just didn’t manage to do that in La vita Ã¨ bella, because again and again in the film the camp was presented as being a less oppressive place than we have reason to believe that Nazi camps in fact were (even in the absence of the kinds of gruesome scenes that Norm lists as being absent from the mind’s eye when viewing the film). Benigni’s character is tolerably able to move around the camp unmolested at night, get work in the officer’s lodgings, exchange certain kinds of messages with his wife, etc., as he continues the work of persuading his child that this is all a game. And so whatever else this is, this isn’t a film in which the stock character is placed in the most extreme situation imaginable, but a film in which the representation of a Nazi extermination camp is organised around the requirements of the plot of a light comedy. And that (or so it seems to me) is a pretty ethically dubious way of manufacturing Holocaust-related art.
Perhaps I saw the film too soon after a visit to Auschwitz/Birkenau, so I couldn’t help but relate what I saw on the screen to what I’d seen in Poland and read about beforehand, but in general as I watched the film, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that — some powerful images aside — Benigni had given us a much kinder, gentler Nazi camp than the historical record warranted. Artistically, that fact was fatal both for my enjoyment of the film (not that I want to watch films of Nazi atrocities, please note) and, so it seemed to me subsequently, for what I learned about the director’s own artistic ambitions. And politically it seemed repulsive, because for better or for worse we live in an era where lots of people get their education about subjects as serious as the Holocaust from films like La vita Ã¨ bella, and I’d certainly hate it if this film really were the source of a lot of people’s Holocaust awareness.
A small number of people whose judgment I generally respect tell me that they think it’s not a bad film, all things considered. But it really, really stank for me. I mean, I hated Ridicule for lots of reasons. But when all’s said and done, that was just unfunny and generally worthless. La vita Ã¨ bella is something else altogether.
If you haven’t already, go and read what my brother has to say about Withnail and I, a great, great film.
(As I recall, another reason why the film made such an impact on him when it came out was that he first saw it in the company of a friend who was both a drama student and a man with a non-trivial physical resemblance to Richard E. Grant, which must have made for a rather odd experience.)
Over the last few days we were off in Morocco visiting the archaeologists who were playing “Mafia” (scroll down to “here’s how Mafia works”) and digging up the lower slopes of the site at Volubilis; hence no blog activity. And I learned that there’s something slightly strange about walking across the tarmac with your beloved at Casablanca airport to get onto the plane that will take you North.
In any case, I wasn’t at all tempted to stay behind with a naughty French police officer.
Melanie Phillips has just sat through Mel Gibson’s almost-certainly-appalling new film about the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth:
Most of the reactions have focused on the astonishing sadism and violence. Very few have seen fit even to mention the way it portrays the Jews as the real killers of the son of God…
Yup. That’s probably why a google search on “Mel Gibson” and “anti-semitism” and “Passion” taken together generates, um, over twenty-two thousand hits…
A mighty wind’s a-blowing, it’s kicking up the sand,
It’s blowing out a message to every woman, child and man.
Yes, a mighty wind’s a-blowing, ‘cross the land and ‘cross the sea;
It’s blowing peace and freedom, it’s blowing equality,
Yes, it’s blowing peace and freedom, it’s blowing you and me…
This isn’t a candidate for either the best or the worst political song of all time contest, but just a moment at which to record that A Mighty Wind — last night, the Oxford Phoenix — was every bit as enjoyable as I wanted it to be, so I’m in a good mood this morning.
The promised post by my brother Michael on this film which I mentioned four posts back is now up, responding to the piece in yesterday’s Guardian. As I say, I haven’t seen the film, so I couldn’t possibly comment…
… Though this didn’t stop me the other day denouncing as “egregious nonsense” a book which I hadn’t read, Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath’s Who Killed Homer? I came to this conclusion on the strength of Peter Green’s brutally funny review in the NYRoB, but I felt a bit bad — no, I sort of almost felt a very little bit bad — about doing that. I’ve read most of it, however, since then, and I can confirm that, on the strength of that, it is, as I suspected, egregious nonsense. Glad to have cleared that one up, and apologies for the confusion.
From Yes, Minister:
JIM HACKER: [reading a short piece about him in Private Eye] “… the egregious Jim Hacker”. [to Humphrey] What does “egregious” mean?
SIR HUMPHREY: I think it means “outstanding”, Minister… in one way or another.
Here’s the list I sent in to the Normblog Best Movies poll, ordered by date, though the first is also the best:
NapolÃ©on vu par Abel Gance (1927)
A Night at the Opera (1935)
Ladri di biciclette [Bicycle Thieves] (1948)
The Third Man (1949)
High Noon (1952)
Kumonosu jo [Throne of Blood] (1957)
Il Gattopardo [The Leopard] (1963)
La Battaglia di Algeri [The Battle of Algiers] (1965)
C’era una volta il West [Once Upon a Time in the West] (1968)
I’m pleased to see just how important good music is to most of these films: NapolÃ©on requires an orchestra to perform properly, A Night at the Opera is all about music (and even has bearable musical interludes!), the Marseillaise scene from Casablanca is right at the heart of the filmï¿½s drama, two of these films have fine Ennio Morricone scores, one (High Noon) has the greatest title song ever (which Iï¿½ve blogged about before), another (The Third Man) has everyone’s favourite zither music.Other random thoughts: it’s a very conservative list: all of these films are generally reckoned to be masterpieces, and thereï¿½s nothing especially quirky or idiosyncratic here. It’s also a very male list, too: there are very few really interesting parts for women in any of these films (and I’m not counting Margaret Dumont in A Night at the Opera here), several of which centre — as so many films do — around the antagonistic relationships between the male principals. I’m surprised that there’s nothing French on this list apart from NapolÃ©on (I remember enjoying La rÃ¨gle du jeu, but itï¿½s too long since I saw it to have a strong memory of why it was so good, so it doesnï¿½t make it onto this list). There’s nothing Russian. Nothing by several directors whose work I generally like quite a lot: Alfred Hitchcock, Satyajit Ray, Woody Allen. Most obviously of all, thereï¿½s nothing at all recent either, which seems odd, because I don’t usually think of myself as being the kind of person who thinks that the only really good films are the really old ones. (Last year’s City of God was splendid.) But there’s nothing here since Once Upon a Time in the West, and all of these films fit into a forty year period or so, 1927-1968, which is a striking distribution for an artform which has been around now for more than a century. Hmm.
My brother Michael now gets paid to write about films all day, which is a Good Thing, and he’s usefully sent me a list of leftist film people currently included in the whopping great screenonline project on the history of British cinema that he’s caught up in.
So just in case anyone else is interested, here goes: Jim Allen, the Amber Collective, Lindsay Anderson, Anthony Asquith, Ralph Bond, Alan Clarke, Sidney Cole, Bill Douglas, Cy Endfield, Karl Francis, Kenneth Griffith, Michael Grigsby, Glenda Jackson, Humphrey Jennings, Roland JoffÃ©, Ken Loach, Joseph Losey, Kay Mander, Ivor Montagu, Harold Pinter, Vanessa Redgrave, Paul Robeson, John Taylor and Peter Watkins.
Christopher Frayling was on Desert Island Discs this morning (repeat show, Sunday 11.15am), and answered the question I posed at the end of this post by choosing a song from Rousseau’s opera Le Devin du Village and the Ennio Morricone music from the climactic three-way duel at the end of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as two of his records.
I enjoyed TMWSLV very much indeed last night [see below]; and this morning enjoyed reading Steven Lubet’s discussion in the UCLA Law Review of what might have happened if the case of The People vs TMWSLV had gone to trial.
It’s a fun article, one of whose merits it that it’s probably the law journal article with the highest ratio of words to footnotes you’re ever likely to encounter. Don’t read it, though, if you haven’t seen the film.
Norman Geras has too much time on his hands, but my goodness he uses it well.
And, on a related note, as part of my long-intended but never-really-acted-upon plan to watch more Westerns, I’m looking forward to watching The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance this evening. This is the film which, as Victor Muniz reminds us, is the unlikely case study in an excellent essay by Christine Korsgaard – which I’ve mentioned before – on Immanuel Kant and the right to revolution.
It’s no wonder, really, that we sometimes call the subject I try to teach the History of Western Political Thought…