Tag Archives: Film classics

Queer in the age of quarantine

Chary of joining a movement that required a public self-definition that I, under the spell of New Criticism and New Criticism’s agonist Harold Bloom, I’d spent years adjuring, I identify as queer louder than I do as a Democrat, and 2002-era Lord Soto would have smeared rotten eggs on both those selves. If quarantine has refreshed a belief in first principles, it’s a sense in which my queerness depended on media: the online revolution of the late nineties, culminating in the social media era’s intrinsic performativity. Scared of too much discovery, I lived my queerness through reading and writing, themselves queer activities because explaining them requires humility for the sake of an audience conditioned to regard both as species of idleness (the late Toni Morrison has confessed how many years it took for her to confidently declare, “I’m a writer” instead of “I work in textbooks”). Continue reading

The best films of 1980

You forgot 1980, one of my regular commenters wrote.  Auspicatory timing, too, for the previous weekend I’d watched Loulou, an experience for which I’m glad I waited til my age.  Tightly plotted, suffused with an air of erotic menace, Maurice Pialat’s films create the impression anything can happen. In this story about Isabelle Huppert’s falling into a mutually satisfying but consequential affair with Gerard Depardieu’s petty hood, the stink of sex, too many cigarettes, unwashed skin, and empty bottles presages what Mike Leigh would film one step up the class chain. Continue reading

Fall in love without the pain: Coronavirus update #25

Several weeks of unseemly hesitation later, I swallowed the last of my wine and demanded a friend shave my head Saturday night. Readers know what a sculpted coif means to me. I want what I haven’t got. But no goddamn way was I visiting a beauty salon or barber shop, despite the all-clear decree from Tallahassee. The consequences hit me yesterday afternoon after my shower. In my medicine cabinet were my pair of styling creams, none likely to be of much use until at least July. RIP, my friends. Continue reading

Films about film making

A temptation for young writers who know more about the medium they want to master than about the life that will master them, self-reflexive art has produced many masterpieces. In film, 8 1/2 remains the ur-text, even if its considerable visual achievement and Marcello Mastrioanni’s performance often don’t compensate for the self-pity; Sullivan’s Travels, almost as fraught, is more entertaining (The Bad and the Beautiful, watched again last month, is not). Abbas Kiarostami has built an oeuvre out of austere studies of artist who spin webs in which they trap themselves.

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I sleep in slime: Coronoavirus update #20

Using “reopen” as verb and metaphor summons an image of a coffin creaking open. To mull over eating at a restaurant or sitting at a bar anywhere would tempt morticians yet that’s where we’re at in Florida (the state with the prettiest name!). Although Governor Ron DeSantis omitted Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach from his gradual “reopening” order, Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez has released details about what life might be like:

Gyms would be closed when hotels first resume accepting reservations, but pools could be open. Valet parking is discouraged but not banned. Employees are required to wear personal protective equipment and will be issued masks, and the leader of the hotel association that helped draft the plan said face coverings would be mandatory for guests, too.

Menus must be disposable and elevator buttons sanitized at least once an hour. Limits would be set on how many people can enter the lobby at one time.

Trying to keep some hope in dark times that doesn’t consist of reading every Barbara Pym novel I can find or restocking amaros, I noted with approval the putatively exhaustive hygienic methods by which the Sanibel accommodations where friends and I hope to stay in late July is assuaging fears (locals consider late July and early August the slowest time of the year). “Three months from now!” you might say. Well, today marks the seventh week under these conditions; seven weeks from now will take us into the end of June. And here we are. Continue reading

The reopening blues: Coronoavirus update #19

Miami awakens to the twittering of mockingbirds and, get this, a 68-degree morning. We survived, to remind readers, our warmest April on record. As with presidential elections Florida (the state with the prettiest name!) can’t keep its head on straight. Today I’ll scrub the bathroom, attend the week’s last Zoom meeting, and, after five, mix this cocktail idea (if anyone’s tried the Take 3, please let me know if I can substitute tonic water for seltzer). I’m supposed to receive a new package of books: Love’s Labour’s Lost (as promised for a week), Barbara Pym’s Less Than Angels (a recommendation), and Thomas Bernhard’s Correction. Continue reading

‘The Talk of the Town’ all talk, mostly charm

Imagine casting directors in 1942, looking at his filmography, thought, “I know! We’ll cast Cary Grant as a labor agitator.” To thicken the broth, Grant plays a labor agitator accused of arson. In The Talk of the Town, he plays Leopold Dilg, who escapes jail and hides at the home of Nora Shelley (Jean Arthur), a former schoolmate. Most women and many men would find the idea of Cary Grant stashed away in the attic a delicious prospect, but Nora has to get the house ready for renter Michael Lightcap (Ronald Colman), a law professor so credentialed (“He eats with the governor! He writes to the President!”) he’s rumored to be on a short list of Supreme Court nominees. Lightcap needs some kind of compensation for keeping one of the most absurd beards in Hollywood history. Given that he’s prone to exquisitely modulated but pompous explanations of How the Law Works, it feels like a punishment. Continue reading

Westerns and the willies: Coronavirus update #14

How many got their stimulus checks in the last forty-eight hours? There it was, an overnight deposit. The full amount too. Thanks to the largesse of the federal government, the Campari Fund will remain in the black for Fiscal Year 2020. I kid. This morning I withdrew most of it with the intention of paying for long-delayed home improvements to which I hope to turn when Ron DeSantis treats the pandemic more seriously than I have the state of my larder.

The last few updates have ended with politics. I’ll reverse course so I can get to the better stuff… Continue reading

Fritz Lang’s ‘Human Desire’ a welcome noir turn in the 1950s

Although Fritz Lang directed more films in America than in his native Germany, cineastes will think of Metropolis, M, and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse before, say, Fury, The Woman in the Window, and The Big Heat. Unlike contemporary Jean Renoir, Lang’s American films didn’t coalesce into an episode of his life; thanks to German politics, they became his life. The rise of film noir during the war years suited Lang’s fatalism; his is a United States in which people make choices they know will bring little pleasure and likely doom them. For Lang to adapt La Bête Humaine was like baiting a mousetrap. Renoir had already directed a superb version in 1938; in Lang’s hands Émile Zola’s novel became another working out of the generic title Human Desire: what happens to men and women who get what they want and remain unsated? Continue reading

Max von Sydow — RIP

A scion of what used to be called world cinema, Max von Sydow was one of those actors whom one could not catch “acting.” He looked like a jagged cliff and spoke like a truck. In role after role for Ingmar Bergman, von Sydow showed how versatility is a small matter when an artist can fill those roles with recognizable human gestures: the knight in The Seventh Seal (1957) and the father in The Virgin Spring (1960), for example, but also The Passion of Anna (1968) and, in one of his most empathetic performances, as the doomed husband to Liv Ullmann in Shame‘s war-torn wasteland. For a generation of cineastes his soft eyes and round face were as recognizable as Marcello Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Anouk Aimée, and Yves Montand.

Hollywood came a-knocking, and soon he was playing Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), kindly Fr. Merrin in The Exorcist (1973), and a chilly villain in Three Days of the Condor (1975).Even in gobbling turkeys like Hawaii, von Sydow filled the roles to capacity. Cast as the dour painter who assumes smug monologues on the state of American culture keep Barbara Hershey sexually excited in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), he played a parody of the Nordic angst he had come to personify. Happily, he was also in Flash Gordon, Never Say Never, and, in his last decade, Star Wars: The Force Awakens as if to remind audiences he liked a bit of fun. He earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination, his second after 1988’s Pelle the Conqueror, as the near mute renter in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011). Continue reading

On the inchoate politics of ‘Dirty Harry’

“In terms of ideology and politics, Dirty Harry plays a lot of footsie,” Glenn Kenny writes in a reappraisal of Don Siegel’s cop drama about released at the peak of the Nixon era’s obsession with “law and order” as wedge issue. Kenny:

It was the scene between Harry and the robber that concerned Siegel most; he wanted to emphasize in the film that Harry was not a bigot as such, and inserted a scene in which the wounded Harry is tended by a black doctor, and the dialogue reveals the two are from the same neighborhood.

The scene doesn’t register as strongly as Siegel hoped, but it’s true that the character is unfairly summed up as a sour caricature of The Man. This resonates more in the scene where Callahan has another wounded partner, and speaks with the man’s wife about it. She asks him, about being a cop, “Why do you stay in it, then?” And he answers, “I don’t know. I really don’t.” The next Dirty Harry movie, Magnum Force, directed by Ted Post from a script by genuine right-wing person John Milius, would take that ambivalence back. But in the original, it’s undeniable, and it makes the movie less simplistic than its overall reputation would suggest.

How reassuring, then, that the sensibility around which Don Siegel built a film and an icon is still game enough to play footsie as it approaches its ninth decade.

The best of Powell and Pressburger

Creating films whose sensibilities and textures suggested Kenneth Grahame directed by Fritz Lang, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger as The Archers dominated British cinema in the period before and after World War II. They tested their fealty to an idea of Englishness with dollies, Expressionistic angles, and florid dialogue; they encouraged fulsome performances from their casts. I have to pump myself to watch a Powell-Pressburger; although the films reward (and then some) constant viewing, their tonalities, as I wrote, can alienate like good Brecht. Consequently, The Red Shoes doesn’t excite me much, nor the beloved kids film The Thief of Baghdad (or is it?). Give me I Know Where I’m Going!, with career-best work by Wendy Hiller and Roger Livesey flirting in the Hebrides.

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