Sunday, November 27, 2011

Last days of celluloid

I've been wanting to say something about the sad news that motion picture film cameras are no longer being made which was quickly followed by the news that movie houses will no longer be able to project 35mm prints due to the switch to digital distribution. This change in medium has been readily apparent for quite some time. Since moving to Seattle and attending SIFF, it quickly became obvious just how many small, independent films were being shot and projected digitally. They were easy to spot due to the darker picture and lower resolution, but over time, film shot digitally became less obvious. Some of this might be due to improvements in digital technology, but I'm still skeptical. Mostly, because of my own experience with still photography.

I am the proud owner of an old, Nikon 35mm film camera. It has been years since I've studied photography, but took photography in high school and again in graduate school when I realized that the darkroom was open to anyone who paid a rather small user fee and I love playing in darkrooms. So while working on my degree in Immunology, I'd occasionally shoot a few rolls of film and was delighted by the quality of the prints I was creating. And completely fell head-over-heels in love with high contrast, high resolution black and white.

Like so many things, I seem to gravitate towards old fashioned, antiquated technologies and art forms. As an undergraduate, I signed up for an introductory tap dance class where I was exposed to vernacular Jazz tap from the 1930s, that was kept alive by a few dancers in the south and NYC, like Gregory Hines. The cool, relaxed quality of the movements appealed to me as well as the stark contrast to Russian Ballet, the dance form I was trained in. And as I studied Jazz Tap, I was told that it was a dead art form. This is no longer the case as Savion Glover has helped to re-popularize the modernize the form, but in the early 90s, popular opinion was that jazz and rhythm tap was a historical dance form and I cannot help but think that may have been some of the appeal. I also gravitate toward clothing of past eras. I think the clothing of the 30s and 40s is sexier and more flattering to women, than today's styles. I also have a thing for 1970s, UK glam rock and don't listen to current music. And while I have a kindle, I still prefer books on paper and even would like to learn calligraphy as I am also saddened by the loss of handwriting. But when it comes to my reaction toward digital images, I simply do not believe they are better then film.

When 35mm film became harder to find, I looked into transitioning to digital photography. It seemed so much cheaper and easier as one doesn't have to buy film, pay for developing, or need access to a darkroom. And it seems greener as all of those film processing chemicals must be a nightmare to dispose of properly. But when I actually looked at the cameras and at examples of impressive black and white photography, I noticed that photographers were still using film cameras. And digital cameras are very expensive. To achieve the same resolution that I get with my camera, I would have to spend several thousand dollars on a camera, that will probably be obsolete in a few years. What was immediately clear was that due to the differences in optics between an old 35mm SLR camera and a new digital SLR, when shooting in black and white, film looks better. And due to this, I doubt that cinema shot with a digital camera and projected digitally will ever look as good as film.

Although, I am seeing examples of some great looking cinema that was shot with digital cameras. One of the reasons I'm so crazy about Nicolas Winding Refn is the look of his films. I missed seeing Valhalla Rising on the big screen, but was completely blown away by the cinematography when I caught up with it at home. Valhalla Rising looks like the kind of film that couldn't have been made with a digital motion picture camera, but IMDB technical specifications state that it was shot with a Red One Camera and transferred to 35mm film. Additionally, being a long time fan of Robert Rodriguez, he has illustrated just how powerful the digital medium can be, if you've seen his 10 Minute Film School series or looked at what he achieved with Sin City. And shooting in digital is significantly cheaper then working with film, allowing anyone with a cell phone to make a movie, as Park Chan-wook proved with Night Fishing. I even bought an inexpensive digital video camera to play with, but sadly, my health has been poor and I haven't had the energy to figure out editing software.

So I'm grieving the changes going on in cinema, but see advantages to the evolution of the art form. I still believe I can tell the difference between film and a digital print, but maybe one day, I won't be able to. But while I'm resigned to the fact that more films are shot with digital cameras, I'm still saddened by the news that in the near future, very few theaters will be projecting film prints. I still see the cigarette burns that indicate reel changes on most of the films that I see in the cinema, but for how much longer?

Valhalla Rising (2009)

RIP, the movie camera
35mm Projection is at Risk. Does That Matter?
Petition for 35mm Film Distribution
Why We Love Film (photography)

Monday, September 12, 2011

The devil you know is better than the devil you don't

Gavin O'Conner's Warrior is everything a good boxing movie should be. One cannot help but to become emotionally invested in the two leads, the fights are riveting, and the final victory is earned and profoundly moving. I loved this movie. Granted, I have a softspot for boxing movies. Sports of hand to hand combat are naturally cinematic. Inherent in the sport is a compelling story arc. There's conflict, struggle, conquest, and in the world of boxing, most fighters are among the underclasses of America, so they are all underdog stories. This alone is the bones of a good movie, as long is it avoids the pitfalls of being too saccharine and too heavy handed. Warrior avoids this with the power and authenticity of it's leads and a setting of modern, post-market crash, war torn America.

Tommy Riodan (Tom Hardy) returns to the home of his childhood, not to make amends with his alcoholic father (Nick Nolte), but to enlist him as his trainer for a mixed martial arts tournament. The unexpected appearance of Tommy is cloaked with mystery. He says little, but he is an imposing figure that has been destroyed by circumstances. However, he is a force to be reckoned with in the ring, which is revealed in a sparing match in a small gym when Tommy takes down the middle weight contender in a matter of seconds. Tommy's estranged brother, Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) is similarly broken by life. He is a high school physics teacher, underwater on his mortgage, who is suspended without pay when it is discovered that he is earning money on the side in fights in the parking lots of strip clubs. Brendan provides a stark contrast to his pill popping, unhinged brother. He too is a skilled fighter, but a controlled fighter who plays by the rules. He does it for the money to support his wife and daughters, one of which has an expensive, heart condition.

Probably the strongest element of Warrior is provided by the authenticity of the two lead actors. Tom Hardy's career took off after he bulked up to become the notorious English convict, Charlie Bronson and he again brings a similar physical menace to Tommy. Probably having no more than a dozen lines in the film, Hardy dominates the film with his powerful build and aggressive demeanor, but also vulnerability. However, all vulnerability is absent when Tommy is in the cage, where he is reminiscent of Kurosawa's samurai heroes, striking down any challenger in the blink of an eye, with a single sword strike. Tommy's fights are over before his opponent has a chance to fight back and he exits the cage before the fight can be called. Joel Edgerton gives a similar level of authenticity and believability to Brendan, since he has an athletic physique that is not in top condition, about what one would expect from a teacher that fights on the side. And he is probably not new to physical roles, since Joel Edgerton wrote many of the films that his brother, stuntman Nash Edgerton directed. Both Hardy and Edgerton were plausible as brothers and very natural as fighters.

While Warrior succeeds as a solid sports movie with great fight scenes and an exciting climactic win, at it's heart, Warrior is a film about family and forgiveness. Gavin O'Connor has made a film that is devoid of any cynicism. There is real compassion for Brendan and Tommy in their struggles to redefine masculinity. Both have rejected the violent and domineering model of manhood provided by their father, Paddy Conlin (Nick Nolte), but the alternative paths taken by the brothers have failed them. Tommy became a soldier to escape his past and Brendan became a teacher and a family man, but in the post-9/11 world, both are damaged by not only their alcoholic father, but also the war and the lack of any kind of social safety net. But in Warrior, Tommy and Brendan find forgiveness and redemption when they face off in the ring in what should have come across as trite, in a film with so much honesty and heart, Warrior instead becomes triumphant.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

A few things about Friends with Benefits

I have not been getting out to many movies recently. My health has kept me home and the medications I've been on have made it difficult to concentrate. But while I haven't been seeing many of the 2011 summer movies, what I have seen has been damn enjoyable and the proceeding coming attractions seems to suggest that there are going to be a lot of exciting movies in the near future.

But I didn't want to miss the opportunity to say a few good things about what might be among my favorite romantic comedies of the year, Friends with Benefits. In Will Gluck's follow up to Easy A, Jamie (Mila Kunis) is a head-hunter who successfully recruits Dylan (Justin Timberlake) for GQ. They quickly become friends and as both have just survived ugly break-ups, they agree to a friends with benefits arrangement as they obviously are both too emotionally unavailable and damaged to be in a relationship. And what develops is a very self-aware romantic comedy that is well versed in the conventions of the genre, but takes care with employing them. Friends with Benefits avoids some of the cliches simply by the nature of Dylan and Jamie's relationship being about friendship instead of romance.

Not to say that Friends with Benefits didn't still employ a few of the conventions that are so familiar in the modern romantic comedy, like the gay best friend, as there most definitely is a token gay best friend. However, unexpectedly, is isn't Jamie with the flamboyant, gay sidekick, but Dylan. Woody Harrelson plays Tommy, the gay sports writer at GQ who is quick to point out that it is Dylan, the pretty boy GQ art director that should be the queer one and seems more than a bit skeptical of Dylan's assertions of heterosexuality. So while the inclusion of a gay friend, to function as comedic relief is a convention, the specifics are anything but conventional. Woody Harrelson is not the first actor to come to mind when casting gay and his portrayal of Tommy is a far cry from the neutered, gay man in the majority of Hollywood movies. Like while Tommy does not have romantic interest of his own, he isn't exactly subtle about making his preference and interest in cock known. Additionally, Friends with Benefits doesn't treat homosexuality as some kind of threat to masculinity. Tommy is open with his appreciation of Dylan's assets, but not being an apetow comedy, these characters are not at all threatened or bothered by each others sexual orientation. In otherwords, this is a modern, mature comedy about sex.

And finally, Friends with Benefits recognizes that friendship is the essential ingredient to healthy, functional relationships. This plays out early in the film when the arrangement is made and they determine their compatabiity. It is downright subversive the way Dylan and Jamie discuss sex. At one point, Jamie interrupts Dylan's attempt at cunnilingus because it wasn't working and shows him what does. I was stunned. I've only seen that scene in one other movie and it was from a much less mainstream filmmaker and part of the new gay cinema that is know for pushing the bounds of on screen sexuality, but I never expected to see a similar sex scene in a mainstream, summer romantic comedy.

But finally, what makes Friends with Benefits enjoyable is the natural chemistry between Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. They are extremely charismatic stars that are easy to watch fall in love and while by the conclusion, Friends with Benefits easily falls into the mold of a conventional romance, I still appreciated that in this love story, the most essential aspect of Dylan and Jamie's relationship was not the sex, but the friendship. And this is a movie message that I can endorse.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

SIFF 2011: Natural Selection

Natural Selection is the first feature film from Robbie Pickering and was a big hit of the SXSW film festival taking home quite a few awards including both the audience and the grand jury awards for narrative feature and a movie I would have completely overlooked since I tend to avoid small American features, because nothing good is American. Natural Selection follows Linda White (Rachael Harris) on a road trip to find her husband's illegitimate son, Raymond (Matt O'Leary). After many years in a sexless marriage to the devout Abe (John Diehl) who has been making frequent donations to a fertility clinic instead of having sex with his barren wife and Linda only finds out about this extracurricular activity after Abe has a stroke during one of these donations. Natural Selection is a sly comedy that follows Linda on a journey of self discovery as she pushes her way into Raymond's life. Slowly, these two individuals learn to trust and care for one another on their journey.

What really struck me about Natural Selection was that this is a film about a devoutly christian woman that doesn't belittle her for her faith. No what is does is highlight just how misogynistic Christianity is. Much of Linda's life has been negatively impacted by Christianity as her marriage is based not on love but on guilt and regret and is being further degraded by a husband that refuses to make love to her because of the belief that she cannot have children. But her faith also gives her a sweet naivety that allows her to trust Raymond, when she finds him, when she really shouldn't. But it also allows these two people to connect in refreshingly original ways.

Natural Selection - SXSW 2011 Accepted Film

Saturday, May 28, 2011

SIFF 2011: The Future

One problem I have with trying to write something about every film that I see at SIFF each year is that there are movies that not only am I not impressed by, but literally have no thought on them at all. The Future would be one of those. So instead of sitting around trying to figure out what Miranda July was intending, I thought I'd just ask Nate whether he had any thoughts on the Future. I think listening to his complaining about Miranda July's movie was much more enjoyable then actually watching it. Now for a few paraphrased quotes, that probably aren't even accurate since I am sitting in a bar writing this as I wait for my next SIFF screening. Because that is the sort of party girl that I am!

"You know, it could be kinda fun to be buried up to your neck and the only way I'd watch the Future again".

"I think Miranda July wrote a movie about all of the worst and most annoying qualities of both 90s slacker culture and hipster culture."

And when I asked what he thought of Miranda July's narration as Paw Paw the dying, shelter cat he replied that Paw Paw is Dylan Thomas, and quoted "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

What it comes down to is that Miranda July has made an enjoyable, quirky and original film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, but her style doesn't translate well to darker material. I didn't find much compassion for a couple attempting to find meaning during an existential crisis caused by the potential stress of pet ownership. So they quit their jobs in an effort to find meaning and their relationship unravels after Sophie (July) cheats and Jason (Hamish Linklater) stops time to have a chat with the moon. Yup, it's that kind of movie...

Hopefully, there will be no more films narrated by dying shelter cats this year at SIFF.

The Future will have a limited release in the US in July.

The Future - Trailer HD

SIFF 2011: Beginners

Beginners will be a festival favorite. As can be seen in the trailer (linked below), there is a lot to be charmed by here. There's Ewan MacGregor, who cannot seem to turn off the charm, portraying Oliver after the death of his gay dad and he is falling for the lovely French actress, Anna (Melanie Laurent) and Oliver has inherited his dad's adorable Jack Russell terrier, Arthur, who talks to Oliver. I mean who doesn't like a movie with a mopey Ewan MacGregor flirting with Melanie Laurent. And I was totally on board once I saw the trailer as it is a great trailer, but unfortunately, the movie doesn't add much beyond length to the trailer. But it is still pretty entertaining.

What really does work in Beginners in the depiction of Oliver's relationship with his father Hal(Christopher Plummer). Shortly after his mother's death, Hal comes out as gay and spends the remainder of his days living life to the fullest. He has a much younger boyfriend (Goran Visnjic), goes out to clubs, and subscribes to nearly every gay periodical around. Even after a terminal cancer diagnosis, Hal continues to live life to the fullest while Oliver ties to stay by his side through the appointments, treatments, and finally his last days in hospice care. And all of the flashbacks to moments shared between Oliver and his father are touching and a lovely portrait of a little seen father and son relationship. Where the film falls short is in the romance between Oliver and Anna.

The beginning was promising, when they meet at a Halloween party when he is dressed as Freud play acting psychoanalysis all night and she has laryngitis, so is mute using a notepad for communication. But once the initial meeting is over, and Anna gets her voice back, the romance follows every convention in the book. There are early scenes with them frolicking, rollerskating, etc. and when things seem to be going well, they have to have the convention imposed breakup so that Oliver can realize that just because his parent's marriage wasn't exactly as it appeared, that is no reason to be afraid of commitment, or relationships, or whatever the contrived issue was.

But despite the contrived romance there was still a lot to like about Beginners. It just is not as moving or profound as it wants to be and it also suffers from trying too hard to be a cute, quirky indie film. As someone who appreciates the artifice of cinema and my favorite filmmakers revel in its artifice, but here the aritiface doesn't marry well with the realism of Oliver's journey to understand his childhood and deal with the passing of his father. Beginners marks the first disappointment of SIFF 2011, but this is still a pretty endearing film, just not a great film in comparison to Perfect Sense and 3.

'Beginners' Trailer HD

Thursday, May 26, 2011

SIFF 2011: Perfect Sense

David Mackenzie makes intriguing and rather challenging films. I might be quite taken with his work. I was a bit mystified by Young Adam, but completely adored every second of Hallum Foe and am again quite taken with Perfect Sense which is a rather timely apocalyptic allegory on humanity.

Susan (Eva Green) is an epidemiologist puzzling about a peculiar outbreak involving a sudden loss of the sense of smell. The loss of this sense follows a period of immense grief over past wrongs and regrets. Susan appears less absorbed with this strange epidemic, then her failed relationships and terrible luck with men. Michael (Ewan McGregor) is a chef at the restaurant across from Susan's flat, who's livelihood is being threatened by the impact loss of scent has on the enjoyment of dining. After a bummed cigarette, their lives become entangled by mutual desire and synchronous onset of the illness. With both Micheal and Susan in the throes of profound grief and need, their relationship gains depth quickly, without being overcome by the kinds of doubts and fears that preclude the progression of many relationships. They are caught up in the center of a confusing, global crisis that Susan should be among the scientists attempting to solve, while Michael is only trying to continue working as a chef in a world where people are not drawn to food by the enticing scents.

But the epidemic rages on. The loss of the sense of smell is only the first of the senses to depart. Taste is lost after an orgiastic hunger. Hearing is next after a loud, demonstrative period of violence and rage. And after people lose a sense, there is a brief period of panic, until the world learns to cope with the loss. Micheal draws back costumers without the sense of smell, by enhancing the flavor of the meals, then once taste has departed, they experiment with the texture and sensory aspects of eating. This leads to a delightful bath tub lovemaking scene where soap is eaten and suds playfully spit after the lovers have lost their sense of taste. This is what really works with Perfect Sense. While their is no attempt to explain an outbreak that robs mankind of each sense one by one, the film instead explores the elements at the root of humanity and has an optimistic outlook on mankind's ability to adapt to any situation. Finally, even in the darkest moments of this film, when it appears that there is no hope for the human race, the underlying message comes across that even in the middle of a global crisis that will likely lead to the final days of human life on the planet, that love will persevere.

Because when there is nothing left, all you need is love.

Monday, May 23, 2011

SIFF 2011: 3

Occasionally it is obvious in the first minutes of a movie that this will be one of my favorites. This doesn't happen frequently, but when it does, it reaffirms why I love cinema. Tom Tykwer's 3 begins with a contemporary dance piece that essentially the plot of the film. I'm afraid that hook was set from the beginning, I'm a sucker for good, contemporary interpretive dance, and Tykwer reeled me in.

3 is a very contemporary story of relationships, specifically a very mature relationship between Hanna (Sophie Rois) and Simon (Sebastian Schipper). This is the story of a relationship that has endured for 20 years and has arrives at a particularly difficult period involving the death of a parent and a testicular cancer diagnosis. These kinds of big, life changing events are bound to bring conflict into any relationship, but barely phase Hanny and Simon. If anything, their connection only seems to strengthen as they cope with loss. Well, sort of.

During all of these events, Hanna is a bit, shall we say, distracted. This is a spot on depiction of the impact a crush can have on an existing relationship, not that I personally can relate to such a situation, but as Simon's mother becomes ill, Hanna meets Adam at a stem cell conference and then again at an ethics committee, where she finds herself publically at odds with him over a stem cell debate. It doesn't take long before the sparks are flying between them and Hanna makes a few huge mistakes with Simon that in any other film would have been unforgivable, but here, we are looking at the lives of a couple that have already been making relationship blunders for 2 decades and have weathered plenty together. So despite Hanna's frequent, unexplained absences, this relationship moves along unphased and unaware of the existence of Adam.

That is until Simon encounters Adam in a locker room. What follows is the most astonishing locker room hook up that I've seen on film. Not only does Simon's connection with Adam feel completely unforced to the narrative, but it makes emotional sense. And the sex scene while brief and totally unexpected is just perfect in a wonderful life affirming way. And it even involves a money shot. Seriously. The aftermath is just as amazing in that Simon becomes completely infatuated and as he attempts to make sense of his feelings, Adam shrugs off his questions and tells Simon not to get too caught up in sexual determinism.

As the narrative progresses and these three characters lives become entwined in ways that would never happen in any American movie and remain just as innovative as Tykwer's visual style. 3 is a surprising and wonderful film and I cannot wait to see this one again and again and again.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

SIFF 2011: The Pillow Book

The summer of 1997 was spent doing a research internship in Chicago. Not being much of a social butterfly, I never did find anyone to spend my free time with during those 10 weeks, so when I left the lab, I explored the museums, art galleries and the cinema. The most memorable of these movie outings was a trip to the Music Box to see Peter Greenaway's the Pillow Book. Ever since that summer night, it is the Pillow Book that I reference as my favorite film.

Just a few weeks ago, I revisited the Pillow Book on DVD just to see hif it stood the test of time. I hadn't seen it in several years, but my reaction for the first time was not favorable. I had grown an uneasy relationship with the Pillow Book and Peter Greenaway, but I should have trusted in its ability to withstand repeat viewings as over the years, this is a film that I've probably seen dozens of times. I used to see everything I could by the English painter turned experimental auteur, but recently, I've found his work to be excessively cold, pretentious and often slightly nauseating. After that most recent home viewing, the film lost its standing in the pantheon and I was a bit mystified by my previous adoration for Greenaway.

Friday night, I was able to see the Pillow Book again in its original aspect ratio with an audience and it has regained its place at the top of my favorite films. This is a film that is hurt by small screens and the cropped, wide screen format. And it is a projectionist's nightmare. The constantly shifting frames kept the projectionist busy throughout the screening keeping text and boxes from falling off the screen. I had forgotten about just how experimental Greenaway's layered montages are, since much is cropped in the DVD versions or simply too small to appreciate. This format wasn't pioneered with the Pillow Book as Prospero's Books also incorporates innovative use of text, subtitle, and layering of frames, but appears much more organic display of Japanese art and calligraphy then it did western texts. And not only does Greenaway layer motion picture images, but text. The text from Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book is layered alongside subtitles, scrolling lyrics, and the text is in more languages than Jerome is credited in knowing. We see English, French, Japanese, Chinese, Sanskrit, and even a scribbled bit of Yiddish appears. Not only are languages displayed for visual appreciation, but the we are treated to the sounds of many languages too.

While the visuals of The Pillow Book are unforgettably sensual, the use of sound is every bit as experimental. During this viewing I was struck by how the use of sound distinguished the major movements of the film. Nagiko's childhood was enveloped in the sounds of a traditional Japan (voices of Buddhist monks, Japanese court music) and those of her childhood home, specifically an old popular Chinese song that her mother always played. Nagiko's exodus from Japan was filled with the noises of the city, jets flying overhead, and loud club music. Finally her return to Japan and revenge combines some of the music earlier in the film, but also uses classical music. I've always been struck by the impact of sound, but this viewing I was particularly struck by how unusual it is, not just in the musical choices, but in the way that sounds often overlapped one another just as Greenaway has overlapped the visuals. And again, the languages heard are just as diverse as the text that scrolls across the screen. Jerome, the translator, is not the only character with fluency in multiple Eastern and Western languages and Greenaway must have an aethetic ear, since there are several portions of the film where Japanese is spoken, but never subtitled allowing for the experience of just listening to the rhythm of the language.

So thinking I had been overly impressed with this film in the past, due to not yet having seen so many other great films, I began to see the weaknesses in Greenaway's films. The acting is perfunctory, the characters are in no way representations of people and therefore difficult to relate to, and the allusions are so plentiful and often obscure and overly academic. But these weaknesses are really just a difference in the filmmaker's approach and values. The actors are little more than bodies and voices that are used to add sound and movement to Greenaway's cinematic canvas. The characters are not meant to be realistic as Greenaway has a preference for allegory over realism. So while I have trouble connecting to the majority of Greenaway's films, the Pillow Book remains my favorite film. Here is a stunningly painted allegory of love, writing and revenge that shares my personal fetish for the written word as an object of beauty and sensuality. Yes, indeed, I still am completely in love with every frame of this film, even the ones that I have not yet been able to figure out why they were included, but I'll just keep looking at it until they do.

The Pillow Book (1996) trailer

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dennis Nyback's Super Secret Pre-Code Musical Lallapalooza Big Magilla Thrilla Festival, Friday

Currently, at The Grand Illusion Cinema, Dennis Nyback is presenting a different program each night as Dennis Nyback's Super Secret Pre-Code Musical Lallapalooza Big Magilla Thrilla Festival and I was able to attend the first night. The films were not announced in advance, but on Friday, they were all from 1930 and presented as they would have been at that time, beginning with a newsreel, trailer, animated short, a short film and finally the feature.

I will just admit now that I am not knowledgeable of film history. Essentially, my film school has occurred in the cinemas at movies that are current, with the exception of an occasional archival screening, but thanks, in part, to The Celluloid Closet, I am a bit familiar with the Hollywood's history of self-censorship via the Hays Code and today, with the MPAA rating system. And it has been interesting to read about what had to be taken out of scripts, if a movie were to be produced post 1934. I was aware that homosexuality was strictly forbidden, but so was drug use, nudity, abortion, and it seems that just about any portrayal of sexuality that makes it seem like it could be a good time.

So it was instructive to see Dennis Nyback's program on Friday night. After the newsreel, were were treated to a preview for Gold Diggers of 1933, followed by an animated short, Wise Flies, where a fly uses her seductive prowess and spiderweb dancing abilities to avoid being taken home for supper. Apparently, the animated shorts of the time were typically set to popular jazz tunes of the time, so they aren't much different from an animated music video.

Then a musical short film, A Night in a Dormitory, with a 19 year old Ginger Rogers and some of the most awkward tap dancing ever. The dancers did not appear to have been hired for their dancing ability. Despite the showcasing of some questionable dancing abilities, the short was alone worth the price of admission. Ginger Rogers is completely charming in this tale of a school girl's nightclub adventure.

And on Friday, the feature was Oh, for a Man!, a romance between a bored opera singer, Jeanette MacDonald, and a cat burglar, Reginald Denny after he break in one night to steal her jewels and instead, she convinces him to train as a singer himself.

As none of these films were particularly shocking for their pre-code content, they were all quite enjoyable. One difference between these films and the movies that would follow are that the women depicted are sexual in a fashion that would be refreshing in today's films. So tonight, I'm about to go off and see another selection of Pre-code movies from 1930. I'll have to pay closer attention this time to see exactly what scandalous content they were getting away with, now that I have a better idea of what restrictions Hollywood would impose just a few years later.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Favorites of 2010, in pictures

I didn't get out to nearly as many films as usual in 2010, but seems I've seen most of the noteworthy films that are going to be recognized at the various award shows and I doubt my personal favorites will get much recognition. For one thing, many of my favorites showed up early in the year and another is that not many people saw some of these and there are quite a few "genre films" among these. And what's particularly odd are the films that didn't make the cut that I was 100% certain would. Among these are Inception, The Fighter, Black Swan, and True Grit. Inception and Black Swan were disappointments, and The Fighter and True Grit just didn't resonate with me despite being fine films. And while I didn't see as many films in 2010, I still had more then 10 that could replaced some of the titles on this list, like Toy Story 3, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Secret in Their Eyes, and Vengeance. Not at bad year, really.

The Ghost Writer (2010)
Dir. Roman Polanski

The Social Network (2010)
Dir. David Fincher

Fish Tank (2009)
Dir. Andrea Arnold

Winter's Bone (2010)
Dir. Debra Granik

A Propehet (2009)
Dir. Jacques Audiard

The American (2010)
Dir. Anton Corbijn

Never Let Me Go (2010)
Dir. Mark Romanek

Mother (2009)
Dir. Bong Joon-ho

Valhalla Rising (2009)
Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

The Square (2008)
Dir. Nash Edgerton

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Childhood favorites

Two nights of insomnia and an evening conversation has me trying to remember the movies I loved as a kid. The problem is that there are so many. I have always blamed Thelma and Louise for being the film that created my addiction, but after a couple of restless nights, I realized that this started much earlier.

In the late 1070s, my mother bought her first VCR (VHS format) and she immediate set out to collect movies, in the days before they were available for home collectors. Early on, I remember seeing most of the Disney classics and westerns. Later, she moved on to collecting everything. The library grew to hundreds and then thousands of video tapes and my home became a regular location for movie nights. I wasn't allowed to participate, so I would crawl into the hallway at night and watch in the darkness. This is how I first saw Alien and Close Encounters and oddly, it is still the Spielberg movie that chills me.

My childhood wasn't typical. My parents were not fond of kids so I didn't really have friends growing up. I wasn't allowed to have people over and I wasn't allowed to go to other people's homes to play. So my childhood was very centered on digging up fossils in the yard, i.e. remains from Dad's hunts that I was convinced were ancient fossils from strange, now extinct beasts, dancing, drawing, and watching movies. Yes, I watched many, many hours of film as something was always playing.

Some of the early favorites are obvious and even age appropriate. Watcher in the Woods and Something Wicked This Way Comes were frequently viewed and generally, I preferred them to the classic Disney animation, since to this day, I still believe that cartoons are for babies and I am not a baby, but there were a few of the classics that I loved despite myself. I couldn't keep myself from watching Sleeping Beauty, because I loved the dragon at the end. One of my favorite picture books was of Brayer Rabbit and the tar baby, so Song of the South was an instant favorite. But my very favorite of the Disney classics was Fantasia. I loved the dinosaurs, the Greek mythologies and especially end sequence of Night on Bald Mountain with the ghosts and demons. I really need to watch this again as it has been a decade or more since I've seen it.

The movie that changed my life, was in 4th grade when I saw Staying Alive for the first time. I begged my parents to let me give up the cello and take dance lessons. So yes, it was John Travolta and Finola Hughes that gave me the idea that I wanted to dance. Sure, I also loved Singing in the Rain, but it was the emphasis on auditions and studio classes in Staying Alive that led to the idea that one could dance as a career.

And then there are the seriously age inappropriate movies that make me wonder whether I was in fact a pre-teen boy: Conan, the Barbarian, Blade Runner, The Terminator, 9 Deaths of the Ninja, and Spirtual Kung-Fu. Later, I would add 9 1/2 Weeks and Two-Moon Junction to my very favorites, but I don't know that at 15, that still counts as childhood. Those might be my young adult favorites. And there are so many others that are difficult to categorize: Rear Window, The Magnificent Seven, Ladyhawk, The Karate Kid, Adventures in Babysitting, Gremlins, and The Trouble with Harry.

And then there were the movies that I saw repeatedly at the dollar theater in the summer. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. In one summer, I saw Temple of Doom 13 times and could quote huge portions of it. Actually, I still can.

And finally, there was the movie that taught me that my taste was much more evolved then my peers. I loved The Court Jester (1955) and would watch it on repeat. Once I actually had some classmates over and they wanted to watch a movie so I showed it to them. And they were bored. Hmmm, I wonder if this is the root of my disappointment in humanity? Perhaps.