Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 70: 1969(Part 1)

So here’s a little update on how the project is going. I’m getting a little better at getting screenings going, but still a little shaky on keeping up with the entries. At this writing, I actually have a backlog of eight films, including all of 1969 and 1970, going back about 10 days. I think I need to work on a system. The good news is, that gets me through 37 films in 68 days, so my ratio’s improving. Just a little insight into how the sausage is made.
1969 has four titles, three of which I’ve seen before. We’re getting into a time period where quality is matching up a little with Academy Awards, though there’s still a bit of a schism. In any case, all the titles on this list were nominated for Oscars, and most of them won awards including Best Picture. I’ve been even more aware of the schism because 1969 was being talked about a great deal by film critics as I was watching these titles. The new version of True Grit by the Coen Bros. was just released and, coincidentally, the original was released in 1969. While groundbreaking works such as the ones on this list as well as Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch were released, True Grit seemed like a bit of a throwback by many accounts. Truthfully, I’ve seen the new one which I enjoyed very much, but I’ve never seen the original. Opinions of the original are merely an unscientific sampling of data based on…uh…stuff I’ve read. So this schism led to Midnight Cowboy winning Best Picture, both brilliant performances being nominated for Best Actor, and John Wayne winning for True Grit, seemingly to be primarily for sentimental value. I know I said I was losing interest in the Oscar side of this, but I never promised I’d be consistent.

Costa-Gavras’ Z is the first title of ’69. It’s based on an actual incident that happened in Greece, directed by a Greek director, but was shot in Algeria and France, in French, using primarily French actors. Because of this, it is allowed to be about more than merely the events the film is loosely based on, but also about all the other political conspiracies and coverups happening in the ‘60’s or, as Roger Ebert put it in his review, “It is no more about Greece than The Battle of Algiers was about Algeria.” A charismatic leftist candidate is attacked at a political rally and later dies of his injuries. It’s very clear that the attacker as well as the rest of the angry “counter demonstrators” are put up to it by the local police. I say clear in the sense that we’re given enough information in the beginning to know this to be true, but the details as to the breadth and depth of it are unfolded over the course of the film. In one of my opening posts, I made my disdain for critic Armond White clear, but I must give him credit for crafting a brilliant and thorough essay about Z included in the liner notes of the Criterion edition. In it, he refers to Z as “not a whodunit but a how it was done.” There are so many parallels to situations in the ‘60’s as well as today, so I’m just going to refer to the ones that struck me the most. I’m especially intrigued by the guerilla organization hired by the police to put down the demonstration. Rather than just making them hired thugs, they’re working stiffs convinced that they’re working to suppress Communism. But the tenets of Marxism taken out of context and not labeled as such are very appealing to working people. So they’re taken to meetings, told they’re fighting Communist, and then spoon feed them Communist propaganda to keep them interested. It hearkens to our present day Tea Party. Insurance companies fund them, send them to disrupt town hall meetings, and they sputter with outrage about how they don’t want government run health care to interfere with their Medicare, which, of course, is government run health care. This is the most direct analogy, but it also works in a general sense about how middle and lower class people are often duped into supporting policies that work against their own interests. I was very wary as the ending approached because it almost seemed as if the intrepid investigator who uncovers all the government corruption is actually going to see justice served. But, in the interests of reality, and, indeed, paranoid political films of this era that make them ring so true, the rug is pulled from under us in the final seconds of the film, reminding us that even when we think we’re making a difference, even when we think we’re gaining some ground, those in power rarely cede it even when you beat them using their own rules. Because, after all, they made the rules. And they can change them whenever they want.

The next title is Easy Rider and I invited my friend Matt P. to join me. I thought he might be a useful screening partner as he recently wrote a thesis entitled, “In a Blast of Trumpet Glory and Dust”: Bikers, Riders, and Motorcyclists in 20th Century Anglo America. Easy Rider is another one of those titles I first saw probably 20 years ago, and saw it at least twice. I hadn’t seen it in awhile, but it all seemed pretty familiar. I enjoyed revisiting it even if it didn’t make quite as much of an impact on me this time around. At the very least, it works as an impressive time capsule, perfectly capturing the counterculture of the time as well as the violent hostility towards it. I mentioned earlier about the way westerns, as a genre, were being redefined and exploded, the two extremes being True Grit and The Wild Bunch, but in some ways this feels a bit like a western as well, with the motorcycles as standins for horses. The plot is fairly simple. Billy and Captain America, also known as Wyatt(Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda) make a big score on a drug deal and set about a cross country journey on their motorcycles, starting in southern California, wanting to make a stop in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and eventually to Florida. They start out in a commune, which seems an Eden like paradise. Wyatt seems tempted to stay, but, of course, they venture out of paradise, leading them to arrest in one small town where they pick up a local ACLU lawyer(Jack Nicholson). Nicholson is beaten to death while camping and the other two are shot and killed on their motorcycles by a redneck who just seems to think its good sport. They make it to New Orleans first and trip on acid in a graveyard with a couple of hookers played by Toni Basil and Karen Black. The next night over the campfire as Billy looks forward to their next destination, Wyatt says simply, “We blew it.” This is a line much discussed and I brought it up with Matt as to what it meant. We essentially came to the same conclusion, I think. Of course, in a larger sense, he could be speaking for the generation, indicating that they could have changed the world, but instead they just opted out for the easy pleasures. Or maybe, as the character, he’s simply saying that they never should have left the paradise of the commune. If it seems as if I’m struggling with this, I am. I know a lot’s been said about this film and it’s certainly iconic and I don’t know what else can be said about it that’s not repetitive and superfluous. Maybe I should end this one on a more personal note. My parents recently visited me for the late December winter holidays and joined me for a number of screenings. The subject of Jack Nicholson came up. My father noted that Nicholson, who had not crossed his radar before, really caught his attention and piqued his curiosity in this film and he made it a point to seek out his work afterward. The film really does come to life in a new way when Nicholson enters the film. Though he has credits that date back to 1956, this really was the beginning of Nicholson not only as someone to watch, but as a key figure in the new Hollywood movement. It’s his first of seven titles on this list and reminds me that there are a curious mix of figures on this list. Some are established figures who are more products of old Hollywood and would have flourished there and indeed had been, people like Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Warren Beatty, who seemed to relish the idea of doing something a little more fresh and unconventional. And then there are people like Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman who no doubt would have worked, but because of the types of films that were being produced had their careers made. It’s a curious mix here as Hopper had a great deal of credits and Fonda was essentially, as the son of Peter Fonda, Hollywood royalty. Nicholson was also not even the first choice for the role. But here we see, in one moment, established names, rising stars, and a new style of filmmaking coming together to create something truly original.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Day 64: 1968(Part 3)

I was somehow under the impression that I was more familiar with The Odd Couple than I am. Though as I think about it I’ve never seen the film or any productions of the play. I’ve seen clips and I may have seen scenework, but, having watched the film, I’m much less familiar with it than I thought. I’m not sure if I’ve ever even read it. Perhaps my assumed familiarity is because so much of the basic outline and character conflict has been done, overdone, and done again. The film, based on Neil Simon’s play, is about two male friends of very different temperaments, trying to live together in a New York apartment. I specify that they’re friends because that seems to be a quality missing in a lot of the reappropriations of this formula. Put two opposites together and have them insult and mock each other mercilessly. Then cue the laugh track. I think I’ve just described every episode of Two and a Half Men, to name one example. To be fair, I’ve never actually made it through an entire of Two and a Half Men, but from what little I’ve managed, it certainly feels true. To be fair, I’m sure Neil Simon didn’t invent this formula, but the key elements that make it work are absent in many of its imitators. I think I need to unpack a little baggage here. I’m an actor. I came of age in the mid to late ‘80’s. Most of my peers did Neil Simon in high school and immediately developed a disdain for him when we went to college or acting school and discovered Sam Shepard and David Mamet and any number of gritty, raw, and naturalistic playwrights. I grew out of that phase to some degree, but I still approach most Simon with a bit of bias and skepticism. This is partly because the years have not been kind to him. Arguably, he hasn’t written much of note in decades and revivals are rarely well received, one high profile example being the recent Odd Couple Broadway revival with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. So it was a breath of fresh air to see this wonderful example of why he was once so popular. First of all, Oscar and Felix(Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, respectively) genuinely like each other. They’re good friends. They’re even somewhat self-aware of the worst of their individual faults. The approach is not each of them trying to one up each other with gag lines, but rather two people trying to get along. They really want to and they want each other to be happy. Oscar even acknowledges that Felix’s influence has made him a better person. What one would call the “break up” scene involves them not merely railing against each other, but expressing despair and frustration, albeit in an amusing way. One of my favorite moments involves Matthau practically crying as he explains to Lemmon why they can’t possibly share the same space. Oh, yeah, there’s a lot of good NYC location shooting here as well. I also noticed something curious here that I can’t help but note. It dawned on me that the basic plot structure bears more than a passing similarity to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Absurd? Hear me out. In this scenario, Felix is Blanche and Oscar is Stanley. A fussy idiosyncratic person invades the space of an alpha male until it builds to a crescendo of violence, resulting in the former being thrown out and having to rely on the kindness of strangers. And the entire proceedings are bookended with poker games. Admittedly, Felix seems much better off with the Pigeon sisters than Blanche does being hauled off to a sanitarium, but that’s what makes this version a comedy. And to top it all off, Oscar’s ex-wife’s name is Blanche? Coincidence? You be the judge.

I came totally unprepared with any baggage to The Thomas Crown Affair. I’d never seen it or the 1999 remake. I don’t know that I’d ever seen a Steve McQueen film in its entirety. Funny how these unexpected blind spots turn up. It starts out promisingly as a bank heist is set in place. Thomas Crown(McQueen) is one of those movie geniuses who thinks of everything and it goes off without a hitch. Except once insurance investigator Vicki Anderson(Faye Dunaway) sees his picture and his profile, she knows in her gut that he’s the culprit. She confronts him, he doesn’t admit to anything solid, but doesn’t really deny anything. And they fall in love while refusing to change or give ground to each other. There are some interesting moments here. Some fascinating work is done here with split screen, the influence of the French New Wave is evident(and apparently stated as an influence by director Norman Jewison), and McQueen’s and Dunaway’s chemistry is palpable and undeniable. Yet it never really came together for me. Some of the scenes seemed not inspired but lifted directly from other films. Where is the line between homage and stealing? When the gang exited the bank with the loot, the camera zooms in on a parking meter displaying the word “Violation.” Just like the opening scene in Cool Hand Luke. When McQueen is unwinding he likes to drive his sportscar along the beach. Just like in A Man and a Woman. And like so many films in this era, it shoehorns a pop song that may or may not actually fit. Here, the use of The Windmills of Your Mind seems to be there primarily to create the illusion of depth. Obviously, I was a little disappointed in this one. I did like that Dunaway’s character was not so much after justice but after getting her client’s money back, to the point that she was as unscrupulous as any thief, in one scene resorting to kidnapping a child to get her prey. I also wonder if Clooney was influenced at all by this when he chose to make the Steven Soderbergh film Out of Sight, as his thief character and Jennifer Lopez’ law enforcement character have a similar dynamic. Both characters are inexplicably drawn to each other and each has a strong identity that neither is willing to cede. If Out of Sight owes a debt to The Thomas Crown Affair, then I’m grateful, at the very least, that it exists for that reason.

The final title from 1968 is The Lion in Winter. My first encounter with this film was probably when I was a teenager or slightly before. I grew up in Dayton, OH, and there was a beautiful old theatre(since then painstakingly and beautifully restored) known as the Victory Theatre. It was primarily used for travelling road shows of plays, the local ballet, etc. During the summer it would host a screening series of classic films. So, though this film was released in the year of my birth, my first encounter with it was on the big screen. Since then, I’ve seen several stage productions(the film was based on a popular play) that met with varying degrees of success. So, much like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, I was pretty familiar with this one without having seen this version in more than two decades. Though the production never feels stagey, it’s a joy simply to watch great actors speaking great dialogue. Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn lead a great ensemble cast as King Henry II and Eleanor of Acquitaine, his estranged wife. This is the 12th century and he is the king of England, so estranged in this case means in prison. It’s a complete coincidence that this, in a sense, a Christmas film, got its turn in my series on December 17. A Christmas film in the sense that Henry has given Eleanor a brief reprieve from imprisonment to spend Christmas with him and their three adult children, each of who is jockeying to be the next king. The screenplay, adapted by James Goldman from his play is essentially a series of these five jockeying for power in a series of mind games, trickery, etc. It’s ostensibly all about who’s going to be the next king, who gets various disputed lands, etc. I’m deliberately vague about these details, because, to be honest, a week later, I’m not really sure how any of this is resolved, if indeed anything is at all. I can say, however, that I was constantly delighted by the serpentine maneuvers of the characters and of the script. All performances are good, and its interesting to note that of the others, the ones Roger Ebert chose to single out in his 1968 review are the two actors best known to us in 2010, Anthony Hopkins(as Richard the Lionhearted) and Timothy Dalton(as the King of France). I have to admit though, while giving no short shrift to the other actors, especially in a wonderful scene where the King of France sets up a scene where all the characters are made to realize that they’re all scheming to betray each other, the highlight is watching the interplay between O’Toole and Hepburn. I was also surprised to see that O’Toole was only 36 at the time this was filmed, 25 years younger than Hepburn, but plays completely believably as Hepburn’s contemporary. Which is even more curious thinking he’s only five years older than Dustin Hoffman, who a year before convincingly played a 20 year old having an affair with a woman supposed to be at least 20 years his senior who was in reality only six years older. I don’t know how relevant any of this is, aside from the fact that great acting and “movie magic” can transcend a great deal. I think that’s all I have to say about 1968. See you in ’69.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 61: 1968(Part 2)

I screened Blake Edwards’ The Party on December 13, 2010. Edwards died several days later. I mention this for no reason other than the fact that in the intervening days I’ve been exposed to a lot of biographical information and anecdotes about him and it might inform this entry. The Party stars Peter Sellers as a shy Indian actor who accidentally gets invited to a glitzy Hollywood party. Sellers’ character seems cursed as he’s always very pleasant and well meaning but chaos seems to follow him like a dark cloud over his head causing mayhem wherever he goes. Sellers and Edwards collaborated many times, though this was the only one that wasn’t a Pink Panther film, with Sellers playing his signature character, Inspector Clouseau. Interestingly, Clooney includes none of those films on the list. He chose this one. Why? I have to admit, following The Producers and 2001, this one seemed a little more slight. Though I appreciate the variety of the list, this one isn’t in the same league. But it is the last of three Sellers films on the list and the only Edwards film. I caught a little of the Clouseau film A Shot In the Dark the other day and I started to form a theory or two. The Clouseau films definitely have an antiauthority flavor to them, as they show the incompetence of the police and the disregard for Clouseau and yet, despite his bumbling, Clouseau always bests his superiors, sometimes accidentally. But Clouseau is arrogant himself. Bakshi, his character in The Party, is much more passive. He’s trying so hard to get along and yet bad things keep happening to him. And most of those who persecute him or dismiss him are Hollywood phonies. Perhaps that’s why this one turned up. The Hollywood establishment was being turned on its ear at the time and here was a film where a well meaning unassuming foreigner showed up and upset all the fat cats without even trying or intending to. But it also could be here because it’s funny in a very uncomplicated sense. Almost like silent film. Mostly on one set, there’s not a lot of distraction. It’s just gag after gag, each extended for as long as possible. It’s also a great snapshot of the culture at the time. 2001 may be timeless, but The Party shows 1968. Which returns me to the Hollywood power structure theme. I may be reading too much into this. Here is a shy unassuming man who stumbles into this party. Eventually he lets some hippies in(the children of his host) and, through a series of physical comedy set pieces, essentially destroys the house, which could be a metaphor for the fundamental changing of Hollywood or in a larger sense the optimistic feeling that great change was happening. Or it could just be a fun comedy. I’ve never seen Edwards’ S.O.B., but I understand it’s a savage satire of Hollywood. Edwards had a love/hate relationship with the system. Perhaps there were aspects to this film that set that one in motion in some ways. I’m still reflecting on Edwards’ career and really respect some of his films. Victor Victoria is probably my favorite, though I liked Micki and Maude, and 10(though I think as someone over 40 I need to see it again). In the interest of “keeping it real” I should also admit that my memory of Blind Date is that it was one of the worst films I’d ever seen. As peculiar as it may sound, I mention that out of respect, because I would feel disingenuous if I pretended like I loved everything he did. But he made his mark. I think I might be coming up with a sub list. Could be another blog, who knows? But I definitely want to watch 10, S.O.B., and That’s Life. And as far as Sellers goes, I absolutely need to see Being There again. Which brings me to Hal Ashby. Never mind. We’ll get to him soon enough.

I’m struggling to remember when I first encountered Rosemary’s Baby. I’m pretty sure I read the Ira Levin book when I was a teenager and probably saw the film not long after, most likely on late night television. I remember thinking it was good but not in a way that stuck with me. So I was looking forward to seeing it again, especially in a more optimal setting. This one was a real treat. I know I mentioned this briefly in a previous entry, but I’m a sucker for New York City location shooting. I guess the narcissist in me enjoys recognizing places I’ve been, but I also enjoy seeing those places in a different time and often am struck by how little they’ve really changed. I neglected to point this out before, but The Producers is rife with NYC shots as well. I suppose I always like location shooting in general because it takes so much more work to make a set seem like a real place. Anyway, NYC 1968 aside, this viewing had me riveted and didn’t let go. The basic story is that Rosemary(Mia Farrow) and her husband(John Cassavetes) move into a new apartment, she gets pregnant and has a baby. Along the way, Rosemary starts to realize that something’s not quite right. She comes to the conclusion that the kindly elderly nosy neighbors and many of the other building tenants are members of a Satanic cult. They have lured her husband into it, and, with his cooperation, impregnated her with the spawn of the devil. Having read the book, I knew all of this even before seeing the film the first time. But with the distance of a couple of decades, I was able to observe the machinations of the plot with fresh eyes and appreciate the subtlety with which it all unfolds. One thing I didn’t pick up on while watching, but rather from an interview with director Roman Polanski, is that there’s a bit of ambiguity as to whether any of these things are actually happening. Everything is essentially from Rosemary’s point of view. She’s definitely going mad. But is her madness driving her perceptions or is her actual reality driving her mad. Truthfully, I never really doubted the veracity as to what was happening, but this tone is still effective in other ways. By putting the audience into Rosemary’s head and taking us on her journey, watching the film is like experiencing her madness. What’s remarkable is that this film completely stands on this own and is, at the same time, completely a product of its time. Rosemary feels a paranoia that everything she’s been led to believe and trust is deceiving her. Sure, her husband is a little domineering and selfcentered, but isn’t that just a byproduct of traditional roles? Yes, the elderly neighbors are a bit nosy, but they’re probably well meaning. That famous doctor is awfully bossy and insistent that she does exactly as he says, but he’s the best in the business. He must know what he’s doing, right? All figures we’ve been told all our lives to trust and all conspiring to spin a web of betrayal and deceit. Polanski also was smart enough to use older actors who had been around in Hollywood who had often played trusted figures, adding another element to our perception. It’s fascinating that, despite all his moral failings and legal problems, Polanski remains a vital figure, having won accolades several years ago for The Pianist and even this past year with The Ghost Writer, which is making plenty of end of year best of lists.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 58: 1968(part 1)

So here’s some not so random numbers to throw out. There are seven titles on the list from 1968. I watched them on Days 42, 47, 52, 53, 55, and 56. That’s 29 titles so far. At this rate, the struggle is not for 100 days, but how far under 200 I can keep it. I feel pretty good about keeping pace with the titles. But keeping pace with the writing is a little tougher. Nothing I can’t handle. The eclecticism of the list continues. I’d seen four of these ones, was familiar with another, and knew virtually nothing about the other two. So let’s get started.

Mel Brooks’ The Producers is the first title from 1968 and the first of three Mel Brooks titles on the list. It was famously made into a smash Broadway musical decades later and consequently made into a second film. In my estimation, this is the best of all three. As I mentioned before, my family first got a VCR in 1986 when I was 18(for those keeping score, you’ve figured out that 1968 was also the year I was born). One of the most fascinating things about this device, as far as having one in my home, was being able to watch things over and over again. I often did this with Saturday Night Live, watching favorite sketches over and over again. I think I kind of wanted to be Phil Hartman and that was his first season. One Friday night, I found that one of our local TV stations was showing The Producers late at night, probably after the news as not every channel had a late night talk show at the time. I’d heard about this and had wanted to see it for some time, so I instantly started recording, both in the interest of watching it again and if I wasn’t able to stay awake for it. For years after, it was one of my favorite homemade tapes to show clips of it to my friends, specifically the lavish Springtime for Hitler number, but also the memorable audition scene(“Will all dancing Hitlers please leave, we’re only seeing singing Hitlers”), and the finale of that sequence, Dick Shawn as the flower child L.S.D. singing his sendup of ‘60’s hippie culture, “Love Power.” So, to put it mildly, I was looking forward to this one. I was joined in the screening room by Justin, John, and Maureen. I had promised 2001, and though we were all disappointed that the disc sent from Netflix was cracked and The Producers was an alternate selection, everyone showed up and had a great time. This is a perfect film to see with a group because the belly laughs involved are infectious. My favorite parts were as good as I remembered them and other sections were even funnier than I remembered, particularly an early scene with Kenneth Mars as the delusional playwright who became incensed recalling how Churchill could never pronounce “Nazi” properly. I could somewhat relate. I felt the same way about George W. Bush and “nuclear.” I also have profound appreciation for the way that great actors can engage in broad portrayals that still possess a kernel of honesty. Despite all the bluster and shouting by Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel, it always seems more like overexuberance than overacting. These are passionate people and a lower decibel level just wouldn’t seem right. Though arguably not as brilliant as the ones to immediately follow, this is clearly one of Mel Brooks’ finest films.

I’m struggling to remember my first memory of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I think it was the early to mid ‘80’s. A local classic rock radio station was simulcasting the audio in stereo with a midnight or perhaps Sunday night broadcast. I dutifully set up the speakers around our largest television to experience it fully. I don’t know that my teenaged self was ready to appreciate it. I remember thinking it was a good film, but that it left me rather cold. I’ve always considered it one of Kubrick’s also rans. Certainly better than Barry Lyndon(which I still think I might give another chance one day) and overall better than Full Metal Jacket(though taken on its own, the first section of it is one of the best films he ever made), but more technically proficient than a great film. I’ve always hoped to see it on a big screen one day, but watching it on a 42 inch plasma is certainly a great improvement. Coupled with 20 plus years life experience and the technological improvements, I found this to be an entirely different and superior experience. Maureen, John, and Justin joined me again. Justin provided a unique perspective as he was the only one of us who’d read the book. John had about as much distance from it as I had and Maureen had never seen it. I was struck by how much Kubrick was allowed creative freedom with his approach. Here was a true artist who was fortunate enough to live in an era where a truly idiosyncratic big budget film could be made. The first several minutes don’t even have any visuals. No dialogue is spoken for nearly 30 minutes. And I was always riveted. Aside from a few costumes and some furniture pieces, the film looks utterly timeless, more so, in fact, than Kubrick’s own A Clockwork Orange, also a futuristic film and released three years later. It’s also remarkable how much of the technology portrayed really didn’t exist at the time, but was eerily prescient. I would be remiss in not mentioning the remarkable presence of HAL, the evil computer who almost halts the evolution of man. I must credit Kubrick as well as the actor, Douglas Rain, for creating a voice that is completely believeable as a machine programmed to have enough similarities to that of a human that I had to remind myself it was just a person recording a voice. In the portrayal it sounded just mechanical enough but also human enough that I could believe it could have been programmed to replicate not just the human voice but tactical manipulation. It’s able to pretend to defer to the wisdom of the humans it interacts with while plotting against them, all the while denying the existence of “computer error” as all error is human. In this way, it’s a natural extension of the theme begun in the 1964 films in this series including Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove about putting too much power in the hands of machines because they are presumably more reliable than their human counterparts. Though I think I’ll still always prefer Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange, I have a newfound respect for this film and it is now on my list of favorite Kubrick films.

Update: I also wanted to add that due to Justin's input as well as some from my friend Scott's input on another forum, I've decided that I must read the original book that 2001 is based on.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Day 49: 1967(Part 3)

In the last five years, I’ve seen three versions of In Cold Blood and read the book it’s based on. The first was Capote, a film essentially about the making of the book. Shortly thereafter, I saw the 1967 film in a revival at the Film Forum in New York City and not long after I saw Infamous, another take on the making of the film. Two years ago, a friend of mine who hadn’t seen any of the films recommended the book highly and I stumbled across it at a used bookstore in Ohio not long afterwards. I could spend pages comparing and contrasting these, but I just mention it to give my frame of reference. In revisiting the film, I found it even more compelling than the first time, perhaps in part because of my increased knowledge of the material. The book was five years in the making, delayed primarily due to the series of appeals. There was no ending for the book until the killers were put to death. Apparently, Truman Capote, the author of the book, named it In Cold Blood as a double meaning. A family in Kansas was murdered in cold blood. Then the killers were murdered by us in cold blood. Once Capote got his ending, the film came out in short order, only two years after the executions of the killers. Apparently, many of the locations in the film were the actual locations where the events happened including the house where the murders took place. The acting is uniformly good, achieving an almost documentary simplicity. The stark black and white photography is breathtaking and the entire production is underscored by yet another great jazz score by Quincy Jones. The score has all the same strengths as well as some of the weaknesses as The Pawnbroker. Jones seems to have the ability to deliver a traditional score when he’s required to, such as some of the tranquil early scenes with the Clutter family, but he’s always at his best when left to jazz. Ebert wrote reviews of this film both when it was released and in 2002. Both reviews are four stars, the second being inclusion in the Great Movie series. The original review is a little puzzling to me as he almost seems a little dismissive of the storytelling because it actually happened, indicating that the author and screenwriter didn’t have to do much. Having read the book and seen countless “based on a true story” films, I find this characterization unfair. Capote came up with a brilliant structure, switching back and forth between the Clutters and their murderers as they go through their day, then the police investigation and the murderers path. The entire structure of the film comes straight from the book. He does make a good point, however, that the character in the film based on Capote is a little awkward and seems on hand mostly to deliver a message, which doesn’t really work. This is true, but it really didn’t bother me. It’s true also that neither the book nor the film really makes a good anti-death penalty case. I say this as a firm advocate against capital punishment. I think its easy to say that someone deserves to die. It’s a lot harder to say that we deserve to kill someone in cold blood. But that’s not a point that really comes across. Perhaps this is because of Capote’s gift for creating character. He makes the killers(well one of them anyway) as sympathetic as possible, but he does such a good job of doing the same for the Clutter family and the senseless brutality of their murder that its hard to feel too sorry for Dick and Perry when they meet their end. This didn’t leave a great impact on me when I saw it a few years ago, but this revisiting gave me new appreciation for it.

My family was late to the party when it came to getting a VCR. We got our first one in Christmas of 1986. So it must have been sometime shortly after that when I saw The Graduate for the first time. I must have been 18 or 19. 20 years after it first came out. Essentially the same age as Benjamin Braddock, the titular character. I had barely started college. My family wasn’t as well off as the one in the film. The ‘80’s were not the ‘60’s. And yet I recall to this day how I was struck by the timeliness of this story. A young man, drifting through life, who had always done what he was supposed to do. Admittedly, I questioned a bit more, but I felt the basic struggle. He followed the path, went to college, got a degree, and now what? He hadn’t taken the time to figure out his identity. He had never questioned and now he was all about questions but didn’t know which ones to ask. Everyone was always talking at him, but noone was actually listening to him. I could go on. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to seeing this one again and was glad for Justin to join me. This was everything I’d remembered and more. It seemed just as timeless as ever. In part, because it takes place in California in the ‘60’s, in part in Berkeley, but you don’t really see any hippies. Vietnam isn’t mentioned. And yet the undercurrent of unease is there that could easily translate to a college graduate in 2010 going into a shit economy and approaching double digit unemployment. Of course the golden boy who’s always done as he’s been told is apprehensive about what lurks in the real world. Justin and I could barely contain our enthusiasm for this film. It seemed we were constantly pausing to talk about how great a scene or a shot was. I really have to give credit to Mike Nichols for making an amazing transition from the theatre world into film. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was great and well shot, but the director was not as apparent. This film makes it clear that he’s well aware of the camera, how to frame a shot, composition, etc. There’s the obvious one where Dustin Hoffman is shot between Anne Bancroft’s legs, but there’s so much more. Dialogue is sometimes spare, though one of my favorite dialogue heavy scenes is one where Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson are in a hotel room engaged in one of their trysts. Benjamin is desperately trying to connect so he can feel. Mrs. Robinson just wants to lose herself in sex so she won’t feel how empty her life is. At various times they both seem on the verge of leaving, but by the end they both stay. And neither of them seems to want to. The best known scene without dialogue has to be the closing shot. Benjamin and Elaine are escaping on the bus. Nichols could have ended on their moment of triumph. But he lingers. And as he does reality starts to creep in. They’re triumphant that they’ve actually done something of their own choosing. But it slowly dawns on them that they have no idea what to do next. This scene was everything I remembered it to be. But another scene really struck me. Benjamin is having an affair with Mrs. Robinson, has started seeing her daughter Elaine, has told Elaine he’s had an affair with an older woman, but has left out the most crucial detail. The scene where she finds out is done with almost no words. And the entire story is told by one expression on Anne Bancroft’s face. That expression not only tells Elaine the horrible story, but allows us the closest glimpse of honesty into her character. Every other moment we see her is a fa├žade of some sort. The seductress, the harpy seeking revenge, etc. But in that one moment we see her pain and desperation, her emotions naked for the first time. I’m so rapturous even in my remembrance that I hesitate to even mention Ebert’s recent review(1997). I just hope that in 15 or so years from now I haven’t changed so much that I agree with him. And I know we have some common ground ahead. Look out 1968.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Day 46 and 1967(Part 2)

I’m finding it hard to keep up with this. But I guess that’s the nature of the beast. I’m writing this on day 46, though the first entry goes back to day 34. In case anyone’s keeping track. This starts with 18 on the list, though I’m currently up to 23. For more trivia, I’ve actually switched the order a few times. I actually watched Blow Up before I watched Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. That’s because I got confused. I watched Dont Look Back after In the Heat of the Night because it was convenient. I almost switched a couple of others but was thwarted by a damaged disc. Guess the universe was self correcting. Anyway. Enough stalling. Back to the entries.

Bonnie and Clyde is credited with a lot of things. Some herald it as the beginning of the New Hollywood movement. It’s heavily influenced by the French New Wave. Truffaut was even approached to direct it. It portrays violence in more graphic ways than anyone had seen, especially in American films, though it seems somewhat tame by today’s standards. It put new vitality into the careers of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Beatty struck new ground as an actor/ producer. Curiously, a lot of critics at the time dismissed it at first, Ebert being a notable exception. As audiences flocked to it, some critics actually reversed themselves. There’s no doubt that it’s an important film. It paved the way for what was to come. I find it entertaining and visually stimulating. I appreciate all the performances. It’s filled with great location shooting. It follows the themes both of anti heroes and distrust of authority figures. It even has newfound relevance as it casts bankers as the villains. As we’re repeating the depression, it’s almost more relevant in that regard than it was in 1967. This is another case where the fact that it was so new at the time I’m sure I would have been one of its biggest champions. But despite all my appreciation for all these things, I have to admit that my gut reaction is that this just leaves me a little cold. Glad I saw it. Had a good time watching it. I think I actually appreciate Warren Beatty more as a producer than as an actor. He certainly does his job well here, but I’m more impressed with what he went through to get the film made. The characters are kind of shallow and uninteresting and, though perhaps they didn’t deserve quite as brutal an ending as they received, I didn’t necessarily feel much when I saw it. It’s a lot of fun. But, for me, it just doesn’t hold up as well. But, in deference to Mr. Clooney, I can certainly see why it’s on the list as it’s a touchstone of the era.

Wait Until Dark is a curious entry to have on this list. It’s been about 11 days since I saw it and I enjoyed it very much. But I can’t say it’s really stuck with me. That doesn’t mean I don’t remember the plot points or the performances. That just means I enjoyed it a whole lot more watching it than it actually resonated with me. This continues the theme of crime, but otherwise it’s a fairly conventional genre thriller, the one unique aspect being that the woman in peril is blind and uses her disability to get the upper hand in the climactic scene. And, of course, the fact that said woman is Audrey Hepburn raised the stakes for 1967 moviegoers. It’s probably the finest performance I’ve ever seen her give, which may seem like faint praise if you’ve read my entry on My Fair Lady. I also didn’t see the appeal of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But I truly feel she’s very effective here. It was also great seeing Alan Arkin do such good work. He’s always great, but he hasn’t gotten a chance to do something this meaty in some time. It looks like he has other works represented on the list and I look forward to it. Wait Until Dark is based on a play and, as such, it’s mostly on one set. Director Terence Young also directed a number of the early James Bond films and displays a talent here for building suspense. Clearly, I don’t have a great deal of original thoughts on this one. If there’s even such a thing as a truly original thought. I think I need to work harder on getting these up in a timely fashion. It’s a good movie. Not the strongest of this batch, but worth your time.

My friend John joined me for the next two films starting with Cool Hand Luke. I saw this one for the first time probably around ten years ago. Memory is a curious thing. I don’t remember most of this. I remember the egg eating scene. I’m pretty sure I remember him dying at the end. But for the most part, this great looking Blu Ray transfer felt new to me. Ebert wrote about this one both in his original column and for his Great Movies series. He speculates in both reviews about anti hero archetypes and antiestablishment themes. He places the beginning of the antihero with Brando in The Wild One. But Paul Newman is a different breed. Not scowling or moody, he smiles through it all. Though the title comes from the line where he remarks during a card game that, “Sometimes nothing can be a pretty cool hand,” cool is the best word to describe Luke himself. Whether he’s spending the night in the box, eating 50 eggs in an hour, or processing the death of his mother, he never seems to be asking for pity. Though he certainly does suffer, he never asks for pity. When he finally escapes, the act of rebellion doesn’t seem to be an act of desperation. He’s put in “the box,” a tiny room where a prisoner can’t even really lie down, simply because his mother dies, which always makes prisoners “turn rabbity” as the warden says. Even in the stacked deck of prison rules, it seems he can’t take getting punished merely for something that happens to him as opposed to something he does. He was always popular, but this sets him on the road to martyrdom with the other prisoners. I was struck by how much this plot mirrored that of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, especially with the somewhat heavy handed Christ imagery near the end of it. This is Newman’s first appearance on the list and I’m looking forward to his other titles. Not much else to say here, but this is a good one.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Day 41. 1967(part 1). Cops, Robbers, a Musician and a Graduate

1967 brings us seven titles. Questioning authority and antiestablishment themes continue to be prevalent. Five of the titles feature cops, criminals, or both. The other two continue the antihero theme with alienated young men at their core. Well, maybe alienated may not be the right word. But they both view the world around them and the rules of society with varying degrees of scorn, skepticism, and bewilderment. Qualities which they, of course share with some of the criminals in the other films. Maybe some of the cops as well. When I started doing this, I thought comparing the titles with what won Oscars or what made the most money put things in context. And maybe it does. But I’ve realized that doesn’t really interest me so much. It’s mostly trivial. Suffice it to say that many of these titles did receive some awards. Many of them made a lot of money as well. And I’ll just leave it at that. I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy reading film criticism, particularly that of Roger Ebert. I don’t always agree with him, but I often enjoy his writing style and know his voice. He’s even answered a question or two of mine in his Movie Answer Man column. In 1967, 25 year old Roger Ebert was hired by the Chicago Sun Times. Most of his reviews are available online and many of these titles are included in his Great Movies list. I don’t know if this will be a continuing theme, as I hope to have many points of view to draw from, but I find his views to be prevalent in my analysis of many of these titles. And I found myself disagreeing with him more than I expected.

Dont Look Back is a fly on the wall cinema verite documentary chronicling Bob Dylan’s tour of London in 1965. I first saw this just a few years ago, also on DVD. Thanks to my sister Carole for gifting me with this copy. Directed by D.A. Pennebaker who went on to direct many concert films, music documentaries, the Clinton campaign documentary The War Room, and is still working today(most recently with 2009’s Kings of Pastry), Don’t Look Back is a classic of the genre. This is where watching the films chronologically gets interesting because I found it very curious watching this on the heels of A Hard Day’s Night. They’re both, on paper, essentially the same story. Following a popular music act backstage and onstage, dealing with fans, the press, their entourage, partying, etc. They both are shot in black and white and the Beatles film even imitates the verite style. Of course the Beatles film was fictionalized, not presented realistically, filled with absurdist flights of fancy, and the Dylan film is all real. Or is it? There’s always been a debate over how objective documentary filmmaking actually is or whether it even has a responsibility to be. Documentaries have hours and hours of footage that is never used. The director, in editing the film, essentially writes the story that he’s able to find within. On top of that, Dylan, even at 24, seemed to enjoy tweaking his image. It’s been said by those who were on the set that he was always very aware of the camera. So when he berates and grills one of the guests partying in his suite about who threw a glass off the balcony is he actually upset? Is he performing for the camera? Is he performing for the assembled crowd? I suppose one interpretation is, if he is deliberately presenting false images and impressions to the camera and others, then the image he chooses to portray, real or not, says something about him. Ultimately, I care less about the veracity of what we’re presented with, than the fact that I find it compelling. Though I thought he seemed a little rough on the science student(as he’s described) interviewing him, I have less sympathy for the journalists asking him inane questions at a press conference. It may not have the lighter wit that The Beatles had, but in both cases there’s a sense of performing. Is Dylan combative for the sake of being combative, or is he trying to challenge the norms? I find there is some wit in, while appearing to berate the press, he’s actually trying to get them to move beyond asking the same dozen or so questions that everyone asks him. By refusing to engage in the dull circus, he’s trying to elevate the tedium into an actual exchange of ideas. This is where Ebert confounds me. Both in his original 1968 review and in his 1998 review of the rerelease, he seems very dismissive of Dylan, describing him as, “immature, petty, vindictive, lacking a sense of humor, overly impressed with his own importance and not very bright.” It seems to me that Dylan doesn’t lack a sense of humor, but he lacks Roger Ebert’s sense of humor. It seems that Ebert is genuinely a fan of Dylan’s music, so perhaps this portrayal of him was tantamount to having a hero knocked off a pedestal. It seems he might have considered blaming Pennebaker rather than taking the Dylan he sees in this 96 minutes entirely at face value. In any case, I really enjoyed revisiting this and respectfully disagree with both the 25 and 55 year old Ebert. I should note that, his scorn for the version of Dylan in this film aside, his praise for the music is still high and the review is a moderately positive one.

I know I’ve seen In the Heat of the Night before, but it has to be a good 20 years ago or more. Though the details had faded, my basic impression of the film is the same. Here’s a film that tackles the issue of race relations in the late ‘60’s head on, but presents it in the form of a genre piece, a police procedural murder mystery. This gives audiences the opportunity to feel they’re seeing something important while still getting caught up in the whodunit aspects. I don’t mean to make this sound dismissive. I actually think it’s a rather clever idea. A small town in Mississippi has a murder on their hands and it just so happens that the only person who can help them is an African American homicide detective from Philadelphia who just happens to be passing through town. Rod Steiger is the bigoted, but maybe not as bigoted as you think, sheriff. Sidney Poitier is the visiting detective who gets introduced to Steiger after being arrested shortly after the murder. He’s from out of town, someone’s been murdered, he’s at the train station at 3 in the morning, and he’s black. So of course he’s arrested and assumed guilty without even a cursory check of ID. And thus begins the cycle. Poitier is constantly being second guessed and abused, yet the voices of reason always prevail. There’s always someone who’s listening closely enough to realize he knows what he’s talking about. Some reviews I’ve looked at are critical of the broad Southern bigot stereotypes. I think, if anything, beyond the characters treating him the way a black man would be treated in Mississippi in 1967 because that’s how it was, there are probably a lot more reasonable characters in it than is probably plausible. Yeah, they all call him boy, but when he points out that they have the wrong suspect because he’s lefthanded, they don’t dismiss him out of hand, or worse, just try to railroad the suspect through so they can satisfy the public. These cops may be as racist as the world they’ve grown up in, but they actually care about finding the real murderer. There are a number of irredeemable racist characters in this film, but generally speaking, they’re not the cops. Though acknowledging the flaws in the system, this film wants us to think it’s basically good. Flawed but not broken. Which makes it just controversial enough to get headlines. But mainstream enough to sell tickets and win awards. And, I should add, I did like it. I should also note that I enjoyed the Quincy Jones score yet again, though not quite as much as The Pawnbroker or another upcoming 1967 film.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Day 34 and 1966

As he did for 1965, George allowed 1966 four titles, Alfie, A Man and a Woman, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Blow Up. Two are based on plays and two come from acclaimed foreign directors. As such, the former pair are heavily dialogue driven and the latter have long wordless sections. I don’t have much here for pithy contextual analysis, so let’s just dive right in.

Alfie is directed by Lewis Gilbert, written by Bill Naughton(based on his play), and stars Michael Caine. From a cursory sweep, I can’t find anything particularly remarkable about Gilbert or Naughton, career wise or artistically speaking, other than Gilbert going on to direct three Bond Films and a couple of other play adaptations I’ve heard of. He’s worked steadily, won a few industry awards, but doesn’t seem to have a specific voice of note. As for Naughton, he’s got 12 IMDB credits over 50 years, two of which are a sequel to and a remake of Alfie. I say none of this to diminish their work here. I just wonder how it is that their paths led them where they did. Because this absolutely belongs on the list. As noted, it’s heavily dialogue driven, in part because Alfie is constantly talking to the camera, scarcely ever taking a breath before explaining to us exactly why he does what he does, his philosophies on life, etc. He starts this from the very beginning, explaining to us that we’re not going to see any opening titles after the main title card. It almost seems as if he’s warning us we’re going to have our expectations confounded at every turn. We see a handsome and charming young man and we might assume he’s going to find a young lady, perhaps quarrel with her a bit and by the end they’ll both skip away into the sunset. But this is not a romantic comedy. And Alfie, though ostensibly the protagonist, and indeed a handsome and charming young man, does not behave as we expect such men in movies to behave. The opening scene has him fumbling about in a car with a married woman, then immediately after explaining to us why this is the best situation for all parties involved, including the husband. We see Alfie flit about London, impregnating one woman, and never taking responsibility for it, have a brush with death, then turn around and betray a friend(if Alfie has any true friends) by knocking up his wife and setting up the abortion. All the while he winks at the camera, smiles at us and justifies his behavior. He has the occasional glimmer of humanity, such as when he starts to gain affection for his son, when he confronts his own mortality, when he realizes for a moment that he’s actually aging, and when he catches a glimpse of the aborted fetus that might have been his child. Well, maybe not humanity, exactly, but a pause where he seems to briefly doubt his course. At the end of the film, it seems that these moments of realization may have changed him slightly, may have a modicum of influence on his path, but probably not. I told my friend Adam I was watching this film and he said something about how bleak it was. I agreed that Alfie’s outlook might be bleak, but the film, in large part due to Caine’s performance, didn’t feel bleak to me. It says something for Caine that he made me mostly enjoy spending two hours with someone who, in real life, I probably wouldn’t want to spend two minutes with, let alone let him near my wife or girlfriend. Then again, I also allow that it’s hard to match three of the last list films, The Pawnbroker, Alphaville, and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold when it comes to bleak. But that does bring me to another theme I’ve noticed. Many of these titles have flawed male protagonists. Steiger and Burton’s chararacters essentially seemed to be just waiting to die, but were so drained of existence to lack the will to cause it directly. Alfie, on the other hand, was a pleasure to be around, all things considered, though it probably won’t be pretty to watch as he gets older and the charm wears off. I also could see a direct line between this grinning amoral sociopath and Alex from one of my favorite films upcoming on the list, A Clockwork Orange(#45).

Admittedly, there isn’t much to Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman. In plot, it’s a fairly straightforward love story. Boy meets girl, etc. From my, as usual, minimal research, this was very influential in future romantic films. Generally speaking, I have little patience for the films it supposedly spawned. Many critics, though acknowledging its influence, insist it hasn’t aged well and seem to be somewhat. Maybe I’m a sucker for visual style, as I’m certainly not one for this genre. But I found this extremely compelling. Admittedly, this was largely due to the visual style. It shifts between color, black and white, and sepia tone. It includes numerous flashbacks with varying degrees of subjectivity, one even turning into an extended musical sequence. So, I suppose, it’s not always the story, but the storyteller. In addition to the visual style, the lead actors, Jean-Louis Tringnant and Anouk Aimee, are quite natural, believable, and watchable. I also think that the hesitancy of the would be lovers lends it a lot more credence than a film that just dives in to the relationship and is all about being in love, letting us bask in the seemingly eternal happiness. This isn’t about being in love. Or even necessarily falling in love. It’s about two people wanting to love, but, on some level, not sure if they can. Even the ending, though optimistic, is preceded by what looks like the opposite. As a result, it achieves an ambiguity that’s easier to swallow. It ends with a moment of happiness but it’s far from certain what’s next for these two. Oh, yeah, and it looks great, too.

It’s probably been 25 years since I last saw the film version of Edward Albee’s brilliant play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. But it’s time to declare some baggage. It’s one of my favorite plays of all time by one of my favorite playwrights. I saw the 2005 Broadway revival with Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin twice. I even started to convince myself that Irwin’s interpretation of George was a more valid one than Burton’s. Not surprisingly, I was looking forward to revisiting this one with great anticipation. I wasn’t disappointed. Not only were all the performances riveting and compelling, Albee’s dialogue is given all due reverence. This was Mike Nichols film directing debut, previously better known as a performer and a theatre director. It’s very fortunate that he and the producers were wise enough to respect the fact that Albee’s writing was the most essential part. Apparently, the screenplay, adapted by Ernest Lehmann, was thrown out and replaced by all of Albee’s original dialogue save two lines. There are a few attempts to open it up, as the play took place all on one set. Though these attempts, particularly one to a roadhouse, are hardly necessary, they don’t detract from the power of the work at all. I could go on and on about this one. Perhaps the best work ever done by Taylor and Burton. Beautifully shot in black and white, both emphasizing the starkness of this existence and successfully masking the attractiveness of its two stars. Well, not entirely. Taylor is still quite attractive, but successfully pushed in the other direction to appear past her prime. I do want to say one last thing about my previous misconception about Burton’s performance and that of Bill Irwin’s on Broadway. Though revisiting this one reminded me of its power and I no doubt appreciated it more fully than I did in my teenage years, it in no way diminished the impact of the brilliant stage version. If anything, it reinforced how great the writing is, being malleable to all sorts of power dynamics. Two different but equally valid interpretations.

From a 130 minute film where the dialogue is almost nonstop, I moved on to Blow Up, Michelangelo Antonioni’s film about a young, brilliant, and temperamental photographer. Though artfully scored by Herbie Hancock, this film also has long sections with no dialogue and no score. I first saw this at a revival house only a few years ago, and this was one of the things that most impressed me. It’s hard to imagine contemporary audiences having the patience for this, when so many films are overscored and indicative, frequently cueing the viewer how to feel. When Hancock’s score was used, it reminded me, coming on the heels of Alfie and The Pawnbroker, how effective jazz can be as a scoring device. Unlike traditional film scoring, which, to some degree was parodied in Alphaville, jazz creates a mood in more of a subtle way. At least it does in these examples. This also continues the theme of antisocial young man mentioned in Alfie. David Hemmings character gets away with all sorts of horrible behavior, both in the way he treats his subjects, and in the way he constantly seems to be trying to keep people off balance. In one restaurant scene, he stops a passing waiter, simply points to a plate, indicating “I’ll have one of those” and merely says “and a pint.” Presumably he gets away with this because he’s a brilliant artist, and of course, this is always tolerated, especially in the fashion industry. One particular memorable version of this is a scene where he’s telling Vanessa Redgrave about his “wife.” As he tells the story, he keeps changing it, indicating that he’s married to her, but not, that they have kids, but not, that she’s easy to live with, but not, and that’s why they don’t live together, etc. This scene is also notable in the fact that Vanessa Redgrave is topless for a good portion of it, and Antonioni comes up with endless ways to shoot her without exposing her breasts. The nude scene in Austin Powers must have been partially inspired by this. Anyway, Hemmings discovers that he may or may not have witnessed a murder and in his investigation into this, his attitude changes entirely. As he tries to uncover this, he only gets further away from what may or may not have happened, and kept me second guessing what I had and hadn’t seen. The film finishes with more questions than answers. A murder mystery with no resolution. Some commentary I have read suggests it to be a criticism of 60’s youth culture. The cavalier and callous character perhaps representing young people mocking society and reevaluating when confronted with something real. If so, this represents a rather conservative point of view, as it ignores the very real social protest movement which was more than merely a rejection of norms but a confrontation of what was wrong with the system. Or that could be all bullshit. In any case, this is a very compelling film and I was glad to revisit it. Admittedly, the pace is rather slow at times, and I found I was more prepared for this on a second viewing.

Overall, I found 1966 to be one of the strongest years to date. I find the more films I screen that I’m truly engaged in, the less I find myself concerned with contextual analysis, re: why it’s on the list, how it fit into the climate, etc. And I’m not especially concerned with that. If the tone changes from entry to entry, if I’m inconsistent, I think that’s just how I want this to organically evolve. Certainly one of the most freeing things about the blogosphere is that I can make up my own rules. And then change them. Anyway, hope anyone paying attention out there is enjoying this. Just passed 100 hits and have acquired one follower. Not much in the scheme of things, or anything, but it is what is. Be back soon with 1967 part 1.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Day 28 and the delayed end of 1965

Progress is slow. It’s Day 28 And I’ve made it through 11 films. I’ll try to accelerate the pace soon. For what it’s worth I also saw four 2010 films since I last checked in. We’ll see if there are any parallels to be had as I pontificate over Clooney’s four choices from 1965, The Pawnbroker, Alphaville, Cat Ballou, and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Aside from three of these titles getting Best Actor nods(including the winner), these titles didn’t figure much into the Oscars. The big winner that year was The Sound of Music. I’m grateful, though he did include one mass audience studio film, this was not included.

The Pawnbroker fascinated me on many levels. Rod Steiger’s performance was phenomenal, not only for his central performance, but playing two other distinct versions of himself in several brief but haunting flashback sequences. Interestingly enough, almost all the titles in ’64 and ’65 are in black and white. Perhaps coincidentally, the two that aren’t are my least favorite of the batch. In addition to Steiger’s gifts as an actor, black and white affords a 40 year old man the ability to convincingly play someone more than 20 years his senior for most of the film. As a New Yorker(adopted as I’ve only been here 13 years), I also found the location shooting fascinating, especially in the sequences where Steiger roamed the streets of Harlem, including a shot of the Apollo, where the massive marquee advertised such talents as Nina Simone and Flip Wilson. Although there were a few sequences where overly manipulative underscoring tended to intrude, for the most part, Quincy Jones’ score was a compelling character in itself. This may seem like little more than a trivia question, but I had no idea that, though not written for this film, Jones wrote the classic instrumental tune Soul Bossa Nova, included in one of the nightclub scenes. This is better known to contemporary audiences as the Austin Powers theme. None of this would matter if it weren’t for the incredible storytelling abilities of Sidney Lumet’s direction. As much as has been made of the young iconoclasts blazing the New Hollywood auteur movement, Lumet was over 40, working in the system for over a decade, starting in television, and created some of the most vital work out there. Coppola and Bogdanovich are still struggling to create anything close to what they had in this period. Somehow Lumet hasn’t waned.

I consume a great deal of cinema. And yet I have blind spots. Though I’ve often intended to change this, Godard is one of them. Alphaville was my first Godard film. I was fascinated from the beginning. The bleak futuristic vision looks like it cost about a buck fifty. The punctuating score acts as a parody of film noir detective films. Occasionally, there are long passages where voiceover stretches go on too long to establish the philosophy. And yet. I couldn’t take my eyes from this film. I occasionally backed up scenes to make sure I fully comprehended what was said. Though it was occasionally didactic and polemical, the style kept me off balance and intrigued. It does a wonderful job of showing a future that’s a little like our world but extended to the absurdist extreme. All decisions are made by machines. It, to some degree, is an extension of the nuclear nightmare scenarios from ’64. If we have the power to destroy the world, we can’t possibly make that decision ourselves. We must program machines to make these decisions logically. And, of course, when logic is pushed this far, it becomes illogical. People are executed for not being logical in bizarre rituals involving water ballet. Forbidden words are constantly being established, meaning new editions of dictionaries are issued almost constantly. It’s Phillip Marlowe, 1984, and a little Heart of Darkness all rolled into a campy philosophical treatise on the evils of mechanized society. Though uneven at times, I’m very glad this one was on the list.

Cat Ballou is the Technicolor studio film represented in 1965. It’s a crowd pleaser. A silly western goof, with singing troubadours Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye functioning as a singing Greek chorus, Jane Fonda as the title heroine, and Lee Marvin in a dual role that won him an Oscar. I think the reason this is here, aside from being a bit of comic relief in a year with oppressive and bleak titles, is that it’s more subversive than it appears at first glance. The lead character is a woman who doesn’t accept injustices nor her role in society. The town is horribly corrupt, with the sheriff providing an alibi for an assassin, all to protect corporate interests. It even has a positive, though very silly, portrayal of a native American(though that term wasn’t widely used at that point). Though perhaps not as artful, in its own way, this is in the same family as Dr. Strangelove, as it uses humor to portray some of the worst elements of our culture. Apparently, the Farrelly brothers love this movie. Its influence is clear in There’s Something About Mary. I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have Roger Miller’s singing chicken in Disney’s animated Robin Hood without this one. But the first thing that I thought when I saw Cole and Kaye cheerfully warbling about Cat Ballou’s imminent hanging in the opening scene, was Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Cannibal the Musical. Not a film I think I need to see again. Probably the weakest this year. But a good deal of fun.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is our last title from 1965. Martin Ritt directs Richard Burton in a film based on John LeCarre’s novel. At a time when James Bond was at his peak, LeCarre’s Alec Leamas couldn’t be more removed from the glamorous world of Ian Fleming’s 007. He’s world weary and ready to be done with this business. Even his superiors freely admit that, though they think they’re working towards something good, there’s no real difference in tactics on either side. British espionage techniques are just as despicable as those of their Communist counterparts, but it’s presumed that the ends justify the means. Probably. When Leamas is told this by his superiors, they don’t even seem that convinced of it themselves. Rather than Bond’s dapper suits, scantily clad women, and swanky casinos, Leamas gets a cover of working class drudgery, rearranging books in a library. Though he is given a love interest, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of joy in the relationship. No martinis here, Leamas’ drink of choice is cheap Scotch he has to bully the local grocer into giving him on credit. Ultimately, it turns out the mission he is given is not even what he’s told it is, resulting in a series of double and triple crosses. And the very government he’s given his life and, indeed his very vitality to, sets him up to sacrifice the woman he loves and, ultimately, himself. Ritt is another director who came up from ‘50’s television and came to be very well regarded for being an actor’s director, perhaps owing to his work in the Group Theater. Based on this, I’d say this is also because he’s not especially adventurous with technique, but lets things unfold in a very naturalistic way. Ritt, though not as prolific as Lumet, went on to other highly regarded work, the best known perhaps, being Norma Rae. He doesn’t show up on the list again until near the end with The Front. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

So, two years, and 11 titles in, how do these four contribute thematically and to the evolution of cinema? As to the latter, I’m not prepared to go there yet. I need to wait for that pattern to emerge. As to the former, the antiauthority theme remains and is perhaps growing. Those we’ve been led to trust are corrupt and corrupting us. The Pawnbroker has a man believing he’s been running a legitimate business for years which he discovers is a front for a local crime syndicate. Alphaville, well, it’s pretty much the whole movie there. Cat Ballou has a corrupt government bowing to corporate interests with much of the townspeople eagerly falling in line to accept it. And The Spy Who Came in From the Cold questions the very nature of whether any element of the Cold War is worth it. Perhaps the very nature of the conflict is our governments dragging us all into the gutter. So that’s it for 1965. On to 1966. Hopefully I won’t keep you waiting nearly two weeks this time for another entry. But, as its been very clear to me, there’s no predicting. Only good intentions. Until next time.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

In 1964, well, a lot of stuff was going on. I just looked at the Wikipedia page. Apparently, years have their own Wikipedia pages, and honestly, there’s way too much for me to pick what’s important. So let’s stick to the world of film and extrapolate from there. I will mention the Oscars. Not because they indicate any sign of real quality, but they do give some indication of the cultural zeitgeist of the time. In 1964, the best picture nominees were Becket, Dr. Strangelove, Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, and Zorba the Greek. Of these, only two show up on the Clooney list. The one that won and the one that should’ve. Though it appears that the movie musical was on its way out, three of these titles were musicals. Including the one that won. The titles that round out 1964 on the list are A Hard Day’s Night, Fail Safe, and the aforementioned My Fair Lady. Thanks to Justin for joining me on the latter two.

I enjoyed A Hard Day’s Night. I’m a big Beatles fan. Though, admittedly, more of the later period than what was evidenced here. According to Wikipedia, Bob Dylan turned them on to weed in 1964, so I’m sure that was a crucial part of their artistic development. I actually saw this one a number of years ago, but I don’t think it made much of an impression on me. I will also concede that certain of the songs in this film such as the titular track(apparently only composed after it was chosen as the title for the film) and If I Fell certainly hint of the sophistication that is yet to come. I did find this film very enjoyable and I’m envious of what it must have been like to experience it at the time. In a year when three Elvis movies were cranked out, expectations for pop star vehicles must have been excruciatingly low. And yet, here are the Beatles, essentially playing themselves in an absurdist take on a day in the life of burgeoning pop sensations. Yes, they burst into song at peculiar times, but everything’s peculiar about the world of this film. That’s part of its charm. Though I didn’t necessarily appreciate it on a visceral level, I think I understand why it was important at the time. And, oddly, the more I research it and write about it, the more I look forward to seeing it again.

I first saw Fail Safe just a few years ago and looked forward to revisiting it. It was released by the same studio as Dr. Strangelove, but Kubrick had enough clout to insist that his film be released first. Though it received respectable reviews, it wasn’t embraced by audiences. In the wake of Strangelove, it was hard to take seriously. It got unintentional laughs. Henry Fonda, who played the president, even said that if he had seen Strangelove first, he probably wouldn’t have done Fail Safe. The plots are eerily similar. A number of planes accidentally are sent to attack the Soviet Union. The president negotiates with the Soviet premier. Crisis appears to be averted but one plane gets through resulting in catastrophe. I should be clear that everything just described occurs in both films. To be fair, Fail Safe is quite a remarkable film. And it also marks director Sidney Lumet’s first of five appearances on the list. Lumet is as prolific as Kubrick was perfectionist. He has 72 directing credits(mostly in film and some in television). Every decade Lumet worked in has remarkable examples of his work. His most recent film, 2007’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, is as vital, if not more so, than directors half his age. Fail Safe could feel stagey or talky as it is heavily dialogue driven, yet it is always very cinematic and looks great. The cast, ranging from veterans to young up and comers always feels fully invested and the situations are riveting. In fairness to 1964 audiences though, I can understand how, after seeing Strangelove, the solution in this film might seem absurd. The president agrees that, if Moscow is destroyed, he will destroy New York City in exchange for the Soviets not retaliating. And then he does just that. Like the Kubrick film, it highlights the absurdity, though using a completely different technique. It’s amazing Lumet was able to sell this as believable. In an odd way, Fail Safe almost feels more optimistic about humanity. It ends very abruptly. And I felt for these seemingly good men who had to make this horrible choice. Strangelove, on the other hand, ends with the generals in the war room scheming about how, in 100 years, when the survivors emerge from the rubble, the Americans can start figuring out right away how to start getting the upper hand. In Kubrick’s world, the carnage is greater. Humanity is wiped out. But we had it coming.

The last 1964 film on the list is My Fair Lady. Winner of 13 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. I promised when I started doing this that I’d check my baggage upfront. I’ve already mentioned that Dr. Strangelove is one of my favorite films of all time. Truth is, it’s also the type of film I’m more inclined to like. Every other film on this list from 1964 is one I’m more inclined to like than this one. This is a studio picture directed by a man born in the 19th century who even described himself in such terms as “not an auteur” and “perfectly competent.” The casting for this film was based on who would sell tickets as opposed to who could do the job. As a result, Audrey Hepburn’s singing had to be dubbed by Marni Nixon. Baggage declared. That being said, I don’t feel like I went into this with a chip on my shoulder. It’s on the list. I wanted to give it a chance. And I liked it. For awhile. Though I thought Hepburn was overacting a bit in the early scenes, I often found myself laughing at her mugging in spite of myself. I found the film thoroughly engaging for the first half and a bit beyond. I enjoyed the acting, the music, the stylized approach. It actually has something in common with A Hard Day’s Night in the sense that it totally exists in its own world. I also appreciated the liberal use of Shaw’s dialogue from Pygmalion(the play it was based on). As a result, it certainly has a much better script than many musicals. Justin, my viewing partner for this one, was essentially on the same page as I was. Not inclined to like it, but curious nonetheless. In fact, he told me that one of the reasons he attended the screening is that he couldn’t imagine he’d choose it on his own. We were both charmed as the plot unfolded. As Eliza went from cockney flower girl to refined lady. It also occurred to me how Shaw was in a sense ahead of his time. That perhaps the sly social commentary on class anticipated the civil rights movement that was beginning to unfold. But maybe I’m giving it too much credit. Maybe this was just being in the right place at the right time. My point is that I liked it better than I expected. For a long time. But not long into the second half, we both started to tire. And when I say second half, I should point out that this is a nearly three hour film including an intermission. I’m not opposed to three hour films. To paraphrase Roger Ebert, no good film is long enough and no bad film is short enough. But it just didn’t feel like this one had enough story to justify its length. In the last half hour(perhaps more) it just started to feel a little self indulgent. Every song, when I thought it was over, just kept going. And going. I’m glad I saw this. I really think that these six films paint a picture of what was going on in cinema in 1964. But I must also add that of all the films on the list so far, it’s the one I’m least likely to want to watch all the way through again.

So that’s 1955 and 1964. Seven films. Five days. And ten days of other stuff happening. I promise to get this thing going again as soon as I can. You’ve been very patient, blogosphere. I promise I won’t let you down.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Unexpected Delay

So I'm on Day 13 and I've only posted reports on four titles. I've watched three more and am preparing an entry. But something's recently happened. Here's where the ish comes into the 100 days(ish). A medical situation has come up regarding someone very dear to me. It happened very suddenly and unexpectedly and has been consuming me. Forgive me, blogosphere, if I leave the details at that. I know I said I would write about either the project or whatever was happening to delay the project. But first, this isn't really about me. And second, we're just getting to know each other and I'm not ready for intimate sharing. I really enjoy the time we've spent together and hope we can get to know each other better but I need to take it slow right now. I hope this doesn't scare you away. I do look forward to deepening our relationship, but right now it's just too soon. For what it's worth, the fog of this situation seems to be lifting nearly as quickly as it arrived. So I plan to post the next entry soon and return to the mission as soon as it feels right. Keep watching this space. More to come. Hope you understand.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day One and Beyond

Officially, as I write this, it’s now Day Three. I’m four titles in and expect to add a fifth before the day is out. Though I’m trying to stay away from being rule oriented and, as some who are dear to me have pointed out, I have a tendency to overexplain things, its occurred to me that I need to make one thing clear with regard to the contents of these writings. In the interest of embarking upon a freewheeling discussion, and because none of these films are less than 34 years old, there will be spoilers. Spoilers aplenty. They’re on the table and may even be encouraged. Fair warning.

I embarked upon this journey Sat., October 23, just after 8P.M., with a screening of the 1955 film, The Ladykillers. Thanks to Bricken and Eric for helping me launch this thing and getting off to a good start. I followed this up on Sunday with a Cold War triple feature of I Am Cuba, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and Seven Days in May. The only thread(besides the obvious one I already mentioned for the ’64 titles) that I’ve noticed is a healthy distrust of authority.

The Ladykillers is a pitch black comedy featuring, among others, Alec Guinness(who, as my guests and I noticed, didn’t seem exactly 22 years younger than he did as Obi Wan Kenobi) and Peter Sellers. It’s about a gang of criminals who plan a robbery but are each undone as a result of crossing paths with a cheerful little old lady. It simultaneously sends up both proper English culture and the respectability of Ealing Studios who, though very highly thought of and revered, was never as subversive as this with their other works. As one person involved in the project remarked, “There are six main characters and five of them end up dead. And it’s a comedy.” Though the themes running through it include robbery and murder, there is still a sense of right and wrong. The bad are punished. The good triumph. But that doesn’t necessarily mean all’s right with the world. Per the running theme I’ve noted, the authorities are unwittingly duped by their own incompetence.

I Am Cuba is a curious relic. It was financed by the Soviet Union shortly after the Cuban revolution and shown briefly in both countries. I’ve placed it on the list here based on when it was made, though technically it wasn’t shown in the U.S.A. until 1995, thanks to efforts by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. It is most definitely a work of propaganda. It’s anti American and anti imperialism. At one point a would be sniper is made to be a hero and a martyr. It’s also a beautiful and fascinating film. And American imperialism had it coming. The reason this survives and is worth revisiting is because it’s not so focused on the solution but on the problems. No matter what your opinion is on Castro, the conditions under Batista were intolerable and there was ample justification for revolution. Again, though, it’s also a beautifully shot film. Though somewhat languidly paced, some of the imagery is mesmerizing.

Dr. Strangelove is the first title on the list that I’ve seen before. The first time was on VHS in the late ‘80’s. I watched it twice in the three day rental period. I saw it again a few years later on the big screen, probably a restored print for some anniversary release. That may have been 15 to 20 years ago. To say I was looking forward to it is an understatement of great magnitude. All these years later, its lost none of its power or relevance. It is both completely a product of its time and utterly timeless. Stanley Kubrick started out developing this script as a drama, but discovered that, as the strategy of nuclear warfare was completely absurd, the idea of shifting to satire just seemed perfect. I can’t think of another film that is this hilarious and terrifying. I found myself looking up Kubrick, as I was looking forward to several of his titles on this list. I knew he was far from prolific, but I was still moderately surprised to see that, in a career that spanned nearly 50 years, he only directed 16 films. This is not only one of his greatest, but one of the very great films.

It would be hard for any film to follow the previous entry, but Seven Days in May is still very good. It’s more of a straight drama, though works well as a companion piece to Strangelove. Both contain fictional presidents and generals set against tensions with U.S.S.R. But they also highlight the conflict between politicians who want to keep the peace, however tenuous, and military figures chomping at the bit to jump into war. In Strangelove, Sterling Hayden’s Gen. Jack Ripper subverts the system to start a nuclear strike that triggers the destruction of the human race. In this one, Burt Lancaster’s Gen. Scott is engineering a conspiracy to overthrow the president. Arguably, the latter is almost more frightening as Hayden’s character is clearly batshit, while Lancaster is just the kind of charismatic seemingly reasonable figure that could make people side with him. Curiously, things seemed reversed in the recent Bush administration, with Bush excitedly pushing war and his general urging reason. Unfortunately, we seem to be back with this dynamic in the current administration. Recently, I saw Bob Woodward plugging his latest presidential book on Charlie Rose. It was a little unnerving to hear the way he described the generals pushing Obama around and not even making any real effort to try scaled back plans in Afghanistan. Of course, the media coverage of this only talked about Woodward’s speculation that Hillary Clinton might replace Joe Biden on the ticket in 2012. Guess Kubrick was right. Absurdity is the only way to make sense of any of it.

So don’t trust the authorities. Whether it’s the incompetent bobbies in The Ladykillers, a ruthless dictatorship in I Am Cuba, or the squabbling politicians and generals who insist that the only way to avoid nuclear holocaust is to build more nuclear bombs. Feels like we’re off to a good start. Up next is A Hard Day’s Night, Fail Safe, My Fair Lady, and then its off to 1965.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Day 1 approaches and The List

I'm planning to begin Day 1 on Sat., October 23 with a screening of The Ladykillers followed by a cold war triple feature on Sunday. I'll post soon. I realized, in case you want to play along at home, that I should post the list in its entirety once. This is, as mentioned before, in order of release date, which is the order I'll be screening. More to come!

The Ladykillers
I am Cuba
Dr Strangelove
Seven Days in May
A Hard Days’s Night
Fail Safe
My Fair Lady
The Pawn Broker
Alphaville
Cat Ballou
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Alfie
A Man and a Woman
Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?
Blow-Up
Don’t Look Back
In the Heat of the Night
Bonnie and Clyde
Wait Until Dark
Cool Hand Luke
In Cold Blood
The Graduate
The Producers
2001: A Space Odyssey
The Party
The Odd Couple
Rosemary’s Baby
The Thomas Crown Affair
The Lion in Winter
Z
Easy Rider
Midnight Cowboy
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
M*A*S*H
Patton
Catch-22
Five Easy Pieces
Little Murders
Klute
McCabe & Mrs Miller
Carnal Knowledge
The Last Picture Show
The French Connection
Straw Dogs
A Clockwork Orange
Harold and Maude
The Hot Rock
Cabaret
The Godfather
The Candidate
Deliverance
Everything You always wanted to know about Sex but were afraid to ask
Jeremiah Johnson
The King of Marvin Gardens
Last Tango in Paris
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean
The Long Goodbye
High Plains Drifter
Paper Moon
The Day of the Jackal
American Graffiti
Bang the Drum Slowly
Mean Streets
Badlands
The Way We Were
Lenny
Serpico
Don’t Look Now
The Last Detail
Papillon
Sleeper
The Sting
The Exorcist
Blazing Saddles
The Great Gatsby
The Conversation
The Parallax View
Chinatown
The Longest Yard
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
Murder on the Orient Express
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
The Godfather Part II
Young Frankenstein
Shampoo
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Nashville
Jaws
Dog Day Afternoon
Three Days of the Condor
Smile
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Taxi Driver
All the President’s Men
The Bad News Bears
The Omen
The Front
Marathon Man
Network
Bound for Glory

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Welcome

Welcome to The Untitled George Clooney Project or 100 Films in 100 days(ish). A few months ago I felt a little bit of malaise setting in regarding the films I was seeing. To put things in context I see a fair amount of films in theaters and a greater number using my Netflix account. I'd noticed a pattern lately. Most of the titles I'd been looking most forward to were TV shows such as Mad Men, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, etc. I'd been trying to have a significant number of titles be actual films, but my inspiration was waning. More often it seemed that films I had little excitement about were showing up on my queue. Perhaps films that had been languishing in obscurity finding their way to the top due to neglect. Some better than expected, some adequate, rarely anything outright bad, but in more than one instance I found myself scratching my head as to how it found its way there. And then I rented Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. This was the sort of film I should be spending my time with. I found myself wanting to go through a list of films that I was excited to see. I toyed with having a Monday Night Screening series at my house. I ran it by a couple of friends who seemed enthusiastic, but we all got busy. I thought maybe I should pick a director like Peckinpah or Altman or Ashby or Scorsese(the list goes on) and run through the complete works. But that seemed too easy to tire of. Oscar winners? Too much pretention and populism. Oscar doesn't connote quality as much as being in the right place at the right time. If you've got an awards season budget, you might be on this list. The AFI list? Similar problems. Both of these lists shared plenty of titles I'd look forward to coupled with films I would dread.


And then I remembered something I'd seen a few years ago. George Clooney had sent his friends 100 DVDs of his favorite films from what he deigned to be the best or most remarkable or something period in recent cinematic history. All but one between 1964-1976. I sought out this list and discovered I'd seen around 60 of them and among the titles were some of my all time favorites. They also had a remarkable eclecticism from splashy musicals to drama to documentaries to silly comedies to experimental foreign films to, well, you get the drift. I wouldn't have to worry about lack of shift in tone.


So here's what I decided to do. I'm going to watch all 100 films in chronological order in 100 days. Or maybe more. Probably more. It could be 200. I certainly hope it isn't 300. The number is a guideline to urge me to completion, not to enslave me to this blog. I understand that life might get in the way. I'm not going to call in sick to work for this blog. I'm not going to end my social life for this blog. If certain things cause extreme delays, well, I'll write about that. Perhaps a certain amount of navel gazing and reflection on my personal life and worldview will ensue. But I'm far too full of self-loathing to really believe something just about me would even sustain my interest, let alone yours. Maybe I've shared too much already. Anyway, here are the guidelines.


I'm not really big on rules, but I have to have some sort of approach so I know what rules to break. As stated before, I'm going to watch all 100 films in chronological order. The dates are determined by the earliest screening date as reported by IMDB. If I get some of these a little wrong, I'm not interested in having a debate over it. If somehow, they're a lot wrong, please let me know. I'm doing this almost entirely through my Netflix account, so if there are ever any delays, I may invert a couple of titles in the interest of efficiency. I'm not going to sweat seeing a film that was released in October followed by one from July if I have to. I'll be watching all of these films on a 42" 1080p plasma TV with a Bluray player. If I choose to watch any elsewhere, my rule is the technology has to be as good or better. I live in New York City where there are frequent revivals, so a screening at the Film Forum is certainly an upgrade. This would also be an example where I'd be willing to fudge the order a bit in order to have the best experience possible. But most of these screenings will be taking place in the living room of my one bedroom apartment in Astoria, Queens. I hope to have a rotating guest list of people to join me in the screenings in the interest of providing as many variables as possible. I think that does it for rules, guidelines, what have you.


I have no formal training in writing or in film history, but I am an avid film buff and I admire and consume film criticism. Perhaps the most frequent reviews I seek out are those of Roger Ebert. I was going to say apologies to Armond White fans, but Armond White's kind of an asshole. So fuck you Armond White fans. If you've ever read any Armond White, you know he can take it. I don't always agree with Ebert, but I like his writing style, and I've read enough of him to know his voice. Sometimes I'll even read a bad review that makes me want to see the film because I know his baggage. Perhaps the most glaring example of this is one of my favorite films of all time, Blue Velvet. There are those who think that film criticism can be an objective medium. But everyone brings their own baggage to criticism, be it general tastes or actors or directors we just don't care for. A good critic will recognize and cop to these biases. The ones he can recognize in himself anyway. And that's something I'll strive for, especially in the films that are my favorite or otherwise. Kubrick's one of my favorite directors. I've always thought Pollack was a bit overrated. These are just a few examples that I want to put on the table whenever possible. Hopefully, whatever personal details I share about myself as well as my worldview, such as it is, will inform my writing as well. I have a few other ideas as to how I'll frame my posts, but perhaps its best that, from here on out, I just let this project begin and define itself as it evolves. Day one is approaching.