Monthly Archives: January 2019

In ‘At Eternity’s Gate,’ van Gogh remains mad, bad, dangerous to know

Wilem Dafoe already played an artist. In To Live and Die in L.A., William Friedkin’s shimmering tone poem about posing in Los Angeles’ fickle light, Dafoe played Masters, a painter and counterfeiter so sure of himself — so psychotic — that he can postpone the creation of masterpieces to kill cop William Petersen. Already in 1985 the actor boasted the ovular jaw and worn leather wallet of a voice that would make casting him a challenge for the next thirty years. Watch the jaw, though, whose positions he manipulated as surely as John Gielgud did pitch and timbre.

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James Ingram and his sweet seduction suite

Too often when considering selections for my Worst Songs Ever series I lingered over “I Don’t Have the Heart,” an example of the moist sponges that regularly topped the Hot 100 during the Poppy Bush Interzone. Poison didn’t sing it — that was the difference. In the end, no matter how high it ended on my short lists, I dismissed it. James Ingram co-wrote “P.Y.T.” He deserved better. Continue reading

The spirit of extravagance: Joseph von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich

No one in twentieth century cinema wore costumes with the panache of Marlene Dietrich, and no one photographed a person, men and women, in costume as fetchingly as Joseph von Sternberg. Thanks to Criterion’s Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood, viewers can watch the six films in which von Sternberg turned the German born chanteuse into an icon who never ossified into a public monument: her wit, vitality, and irony blew away the Norma Shearers and Ruth Chattertons making the transition into sound (but not Garbo or Stanwyck). These 2K or 4K digital restorations prove revelatory; it’s possible the films didn’t look this crisp in the 1930s. Continue reading