Tuesday, January 22, 2019

BlacKkKlansman (2018)


I know Godard and Tarantino are the directors most often held up as examples of Filmmaking as Film Criticism, but Spike Lee is no slouch either. It’s no accident that BlacKkKlansman opens with a clip from Gone with the Wind. Of course Lee’s prime targets are White Nationals and the President who has emboldened them, but NYU Professor Spike clearly also has his sights set on Film History itself.

It makes perfect sense that back in film school, Lee made a short about a black filmmaker being hired to remake The Birth of a Nation, because BlacKkKlansman serves as a perfect inverse to D.W. Griffith’s Klan-glorifying epic. Whereas the older film reinvigorated a once dormant Hate Group, Lee’s Joint is aimed at ridiculing that same Hate Group, and depicting them as the racist Terrorists that they are. The most brilliant stroke is that Spike uses Griffith’s own weapon against him - crosscutting.

Lee and his editor, Barry Alexander Brown weave together a tapestry of parallel actions that leave poor D.W. in the dust. They cut between characters, cut between locations, cut between time periods, between fiction and documentary. They even cut between their film and Griffith’s!

You can have quibbles about the film’s possible glorification of the police, or the ways it plays fast and loose with “real” events, but thanks to Lee and Brown’s skill with montage, there is no way in Hell for you to come out of this film with even an ounce of respect for White Nationals. There are no “fine people” to be found there. And that’s the triple-truth, Ruth!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Sight & Sound Challenge: Wanda (1970)

Film: Wanda (231/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

I had the pleasure of seeing this film on the big screen at my local arthouse theater. So many films on this list were hard to hunt down, and some I had to settle for watching on my phone. I always appreciate getting to see them on the big screen, free from distraction, confronting these characters. And what characters they are! Wanda (Barbara Loden, who also wrote and directed the film) is aimless, a little scatterbrained, and frustrating as hell. She stumbles along, seeming to not know or care what happens to her or who she ends up with. She barely speaks up for herself, and there appears to be an undercurrent of self-loathing within her. I wanted to hug her and shake her. And do her hair, honestly. Wanda eventually ends up tagging along with a thief and gets pulled into his crimes. She doesn't object, probably because she doesn't have anything else to do. This film is the opposite of eye candy. The world looks bleak, dirty, pointless. Everyone treats everyone like garbage. In spite of this, I found myself chuckling quite a few times at the (very dark) humor. The thief Norman Dennis (Michel Higgins) is an asshole, self-important and more than a little ridiculous. He deserves to pay for his crimes, and yet why do I pity him? Why is Wanda crying for him? Loden creates such deceivingly complex characters that I wanted to know much more about. What is Wanda thinking? Is she thinking anything? How did she get to this point? Where does she go from here? It's a shame that this was the only feature she ever directed; she had an interesting point of view. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

Friday Quote: The Little Hours

"Sister Ginevra, these are your sins: ingestion of drugs, lying with a woman, not being baptized...Not being baptized? That's what makes you what you are! You can't... you shouldn't even be coming through those doors! Being a busybody, filthy conversation, vain jangling, drinking, eating blood. Do you think I've ever written down "eating blood" before? Where am I? Envy, fornication, homosexuality...that's the same as lying with a woman, but we separate those. Lustfulness, reveling, mischief in your heart. That's the longest list I've ever had...for sins."
The Little Hours (2017)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Sight & Sound Challenge: The Leopard (1963)

Film: The Leopard (230/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

Okay guys, full disclosure. I'm really close to being done with this list, but I likely won't finish. I started over three years ago while I was going through the process to become a foster parent, and I needed a distraction from the anxiety of waiting to become a parent. Well, now I am the parent of a rambunctious (and adorable) toddler who takes up a LOT of my now very precious time. A lot of the remaining films are either unavailable/impossible to find, or 3+ hours long, in some cases 4, 5, 6, 8, or 12 hours long. 12 hours! I'll do my best, but I won't kill myself, and I'm still watching a film almost every night. I just don't have the stamina for the super long ones. So that's the long story of why it took me so long to get to this one, and why I had a few mini-naps peppered throughout my viewing. 

It's not boring, it's just long. I understand why it has the long run-time. It's the story of Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina. He is coming to terms with the end of an era, the end of a way of life, his way of life. It's a story that would feel strange being told in 90 minutes. The scope, the lush colors (seriously, you could frame any still from this movie), it feels epic. I may have nodded off a couple times (lots of loooong conversations) but it's easy enough to follow, and Claudia Cardinale kept me coming back. Seriously, she's so gorgeous in this. Burt Lancaster gives a lovely and restrained performance. You feel his whole life in his eyes and his posture. He's tired, he feels old, and he is melancholy seeing the change in his world, even as he knows it is necessary. He's saying goodbye and good luck to a new Italy, one that he will not be a part of. And we see this new beginning ushered in the most gorgeous ball scene ever. Even if you don't sit through the rest of this, you have to see the ballroom scene. It's too beautiful. Just another example of the visual power of cinema, transporting us as if by magic. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Friday Quote: Morocco

"What am I bid for my apple, the fruit that made Adam so wise? On the historic night, when he took a bite, they discovered a new paradise. An apple, they say, keeps the doctor away, while his pretty young wife has the time of her life, with the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker... Oh, what am I bid for my apple?"
Morocco (1930)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Sight & Sound Challenge: The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)

Film: The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (229/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

Mr. Lazarescu is sick. In fact, he is dying, but he doesn't know it. Nobody is taking him very seriously. They shrug off his complaints of pain as simply the grumblings of an old unreliable drunk. And so, knowing the title of the film, we watch him and wait for him to die. This film moves in what feels like real time: his trips to various hospitals, the tests, the doctors reluctantly examining him, the paramedic stubbornly staying by his side. The film is advertised as a black comedy, but I found it overwhelmingly depressing. We know little about this man's previous life, and we have only tuned in for the very end. The film grabs you and makes you confront your own mortality, the reality that when it's your time to go, it could very well be this bleak. But, it's a comedy, right?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sight & Sound Challenge: Memories of Underdevelopment (1968)

Film: Memories of Underdevelopment (228/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

The nice thing about watching a film without any type of obligations (for me, it's the knowledge that hardly anyone is reading this and I'm not a professional film writer of any kind) is that I can watch it through whatever filter I like and bring whatever I want to that viewing to enhance it for myself. For example, when I watched The Turin Horse, I imagined that the characters were all dead and living in some kind of purgatory, which intrigued the hell out of me. In Memories of Underdevelopment, a story about a wealthy writer who decides to stay in Cuba after his wife and friends flee, I was getting Fellini vibes during my viewing. So, I decided that this character fancied himself a version of Marcello Mastroianni in his own 8 1/2, if only he wasn't stuck in Cuba. So cool, so suave, so aimless. I enjoyed the narrative jumps, the use of stills, and I really enjoyed Daisy Granados as Elena, who reminded me of photographs of my mother as a teenager. I learned a lot about the setting of Cuba at that time, a country in turmoil, and it created an even richer cinematic experience for me. More like this, please!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Friday Quote: Summertime

"You are like a hungry child who is given ravioli to eat. 'No' you say, 'I want beefsteak!' My dear girl, you are hungry. Eat the ravioli."
Summertime (1955)

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Sight & Sound Challenge: Tropical Malady (2004)

Film: Tropical Malady (227/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

Tropical Malady isn't one film, it's two. The first half is the story of two men embarking on a romance, and the second is of a man looking for a lost villager in the woods who encounters a tiger spirit and loses himself. The second half is evocative, and works great as a stand-alone short film. I was a little frustrated at leaving the first half so soon...I wanted more time with these characters, I wanted to follow more of their story. They had a charisma and a chemistry that was irresistible, but all too soon we were moving into the darkness of the forest and leaving them behind. It took me time to settle into the second half once I realized what was happening, but it eventually captivated me like it did the poor soldier. The wind rustling through the trees, whispers, it was all so hypnotic. I need to visit it again, as I watched it in the worst way possible (on my phone while on a lunch break). I think being completely free of distractions will help me appreciate it even more. Hell, that goes for any movie.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Sight & Sound Challenge: Greed (1924)


Film: Greed (226/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

There's something kinda magical about silent films. I used to watch them every week back in high school thanks to Turner Classic Movies and their "Silent Sunday Nights". They were my gateway into the world of classic film and they hold a special place in my heart. Having said that, a four hour silent film (cut down from its original 9 hours, good grief!) is a lot for anyone to sit through. Luckily I was a lot more engaged than I expected to be. The plot concerns interwoven tales of greed (obviously) between two different couples, and an elderly couple who is wise enough to not let money be an issue between them. There is backstabbing, violence, murder, and some pretty chilling visuals; the one above in particular haunted me. Greed is a bit of an undertaking to watch, but apparently it was a bigger undertaking to make, and I think director Erich von Stroheim deserves my attention for it. It's important to me to see films from those early days of cinema, when everything was new and filmmakers were exploring new territory. I'm just in awe of their talent, from making little shorts to making epics like this in such a short amount of time. Makes you feel lazy, doesn't it?