Tag Archives: Film classics

Eric Rohmer’s ‘Tales of the Four Seasons’ the ultimate valentine to friendship, chatter, and wine

It’s as if color excited him again, only instead of cornflowers and lilies and poppies the unexpected and often tacky juxtapositions endemic to 1980s fashion did the trick. No matter how thoughtful and droll My Night at Maud’s and Claire’s Knee were, writer-director Eric Rohmer filmed his best work two decades later. At the dawn of the Mitterand era with his Comedies and Proverbs series, Rohmer figured how to embellish epigrams; by the time he began his Tales of the Four Seasons, thanks to cinematographers Luc Pagès and Diane Baratier, he had perfected his method. Space and light and talk: Rohmer films are the visual equivalents of Saint Etienne albums. Continue reading

Screenings #46

If any streaming service has stepped up by acknowledging how reality encroaches on the normal way of doing things, it’s Criterion Channel. Since the George Floyd protests and the advent of #MeToo, the service has offered obscure or unscreened work by women and women of color. Cheryl Dunye was unknown to me last summer. Continue reading

The economic politics of film streaming

Longtime instructors grab from a ready wheelbarrow of accumulated tricks the parables, dad jokes, and double takes with which to hold students’ attention for ninety minutes. At some point in the semester, often in the first third, I watch my film students wince on learning I still request DVDs. Buying movies they understand. The covers are cool; they grew up with parents playing Pixar movies in the player (some even remember seeing VHS around the house); besides, Floridians understand it may take days for BellSouth or Xfinity to restore WiFi service after even minor hurricanes. But using a streaming service to request hard copies? Continue reading

George Segal — RIP

The lead actor in a childhood I was too young to know, George Segal incarnated an adulthood that would effluoresce and vanish by the time his peak decade ended. Men around me looked like him until Hollywood stopped making movies about and for people who looked like him. Like contemporary and erstwhile co-star Elliot Gould he was everywhere, like secondhand smoke from Salems.

Earning his only Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor as the straight man — in every sense — in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Segal turned the following decade into a referendum: from now on, he played Richard Burton’s George, the Rabelaisian wit who yielded to impulses he was too squishy to suppress and too infatuated with the new freedoms to give a shit about. What timing. Paul Mazursky’s favorite actor, an indelible part of fortysomething manhood suddenly entering the ’70s and needing mutton chops and free love: think The Owl and the Pussycat (1970), The Hot Rock (1972), Blume in Love (1973), California Split (1974). Exasperation was his muse — I hope Philip Roth had him in mind when creating his silly egoists. As a result, Blume in Love is the queasiest experience for twenty-first century audiences. A whiner of monstrous appetites, the title character becomes so frustrated at his inability to woo back his wife (played by Susan Aspach) that he rapes her in a scene and an aftermath that takes for granted the male viewer’s quiet approval (The New York Times‘ obit this morning: writer-director Mazursky treats the rape “a transgression suitably redressed by a punch in the nose”). Last summer for the first time in two decades I re-watched Blume (note the Roth- and Joyce-indebted title!) and could barely finish it.

After years in eighties TV purgatory, he found his footing again: perfection opposite Mary Tyler Moore as the harried husband in David O. Russell’s Flirting With Disaster; his double takes are masterpieces of exhaustion. I was the only one at a 1 p.m. screening in early summer ’96, laughing like a fool.

Jean-Claude Carrière — RIP

Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carriere discussing the Tristana script, Toledo, Spain 1969

For the self-admittedly “agraphic” writer and stupendously devoted drinker like Luis Buñuel, employing the late Jean-Claude Carrière as screenwriter and keeping him around as a martini buddy resulted in one of the more febrile late-career renaissances in film . Continue reading

Christopher Plummer — RIP

He wasn’t a great actor, actually. Infatuated with false notions of posh that include even mid-Atlantic accents deployed by Democrats, we Americans tend to think every Canadian or British who lived ever could play Cleon or Lear, or, worse, tend to consider the playing of Cleon or Lear signifies greatness. What the British, or, well, Canadians like Plummer do better than Americans is insouciance. Continue reading

The best final films

Whether it was Orson Welles proving how filmmaking and prestidigitation are species from the same genus, Bob Fosse pointing out the rot in the cultivation of a public persona, or Douglas Sirk shoving Americans’ noses into the cake of their polite racism, these final films incarnated what made these directors watching. All of then rank at or near the top of their director’s canon. Because it’s the holidays, John Huston’s adaptation of James Joyce’s short story looks most relevant; because we’re living in a permanently altered landscape, The Sacrifice looks most frightening. Continue reading

Ranking the films of David Fincher

On first glance, the stylish MTV videos he directed for stars and wannabes look like his strongest work. So much of David Fincher’s film career consists of genre efforts with chic staging of violence. But like Otto Preminger the lumbering pace of bureaucracies and the sturdiness of institutions fascinate him: police departments (Seven, Zodiac), Harvard administrators (The Social Network), marriage (Gone Girl), masculinity (Fight Club), Brad Pitt (pick three). Few of his films reward further study, despite the precision of their visual design; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are rebukes to the notion that movies should be more than excuses or precise visual design. The exception: Zodiac (2007), an Unsolved Mysteries episode whose body count wears down a generation of Bay Area investigators. Continue reading

Ask me about ‘The Searchers’

As the title sez, I’ve given John Ford’s purported masterpiece several tries over the years: five by my count. Fascinatingly photographed, tautly acted when Jeffrey Hunter isn’t flashing his baby blues, it’s an underwritten and underdeveloped film about the poison of racism. I don’t mind Ford flicks when the actors engage in horseplay, but unlike How Green Wa My Valley, My Darling Clementine, Rio Grande, or She Wore a Yellow Ribbon the horseplay distracts. I can’t be the only watcher who thinks Ethan Edwards (John Wayne)’ “turn” at the end is unearned.

Under what circumstances I learned about Orpheus I can no longer recall; but in the years when a solid Radio Shack coaxial cable allowed the interested to transfer prerecorded VHS material to a blank cassette, Jean Cocteau’s 1946 dreamscape exerted a robust influence. With its images of Nazi-era stormtroopers and anonymous, unyielding heavenly council, it has World War II on its mind while the rubber kitchen gloves, mirrors whose glass melts like ice, and bad poetry transmitted through car radios serve as Cocteau’s idea of surreality, and to his credit he doesn’t explain himself, though watching the blond grim-eyed palooka Jean Marais, the director’s lover, act as if he’s in love with the treacly Eurydice played by Marie Déa does tax my credulity. Continue reading