Author Archive: admin

Movie 94: Last Year at Marienbad

Manly Footwear: It’s so easy to make fun of this movie, and so tempting, even while watching it, that it’s even easier to forget how really successful it is. I almost wrote, “how great it is,” but that would require considerable redefinition of the word “great” in the context of the other movies on this list, and in fact in relation to any kind of critical judgment of art. The shots are painterly and impeccably staged, the camerawork subdued and elegant, and the acting exactly as artificial as it needs to be, all in service of making a narrative meant to toy with the viewer’s idea of what a narrative is, of what a movie is. Marienbad is also fairly easy to summarize: a man, a woman, and (probably) her husband are guests at a huge, ornate hotel. The man tells the woman that they met last year, and arranged to meet again this year, she resists his argument, the husband appears. This basic scene is played over and over again, in different rooms, or in the same room that is now decorated in a radically differently way, or in the garden, or the bar—in between his attempts to convince…
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Movie 95: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels

Manly Footwear: Comfortina asked if this movie, like so many we’ve already watched, was about a descent into madness. I said I couldn’t remember, I wasn’t even sure I’ve ever seen the whole thing, but probably—we then checked the list, and of the films we recognized, MANY were about people descending into madness. We talked about what this might mean, that the top 100 best movies, as assembled from various critic’s lists, seems to contain an inordinate number about people going insane. When we get closer to the end, we’ll do a proper count, but assuming we are correct and such is a dominant theme, several questions are begged: what is so compelling about watching movies where people lose their minds? Is it something especially compelling to critics? Do we assign value to the emotionally wrenching more than to the light-hearted work of art? Is this valuation cultural, or something that transcends culture? I only have the vaguest replies to any of these questions, but I can confidently assert that Jeanne Dielman is powerful, hypnotic, and yes, wrenching depiction of a descent into madness. The descent here is slow, and also sudden: Chantal Akerman, the director, does things with pace…
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Movie #96: The Shining

Manly Footwear: This is the first of several movies on the list that I have seen so many times, and is such a part of the motion picture ecosystem, I worried I would not be able to see it clearly. And I was right, it is all but impossible to separate all the other times I’ve seen the rivers of blood gush out from the elevators from this viewing, or to muffle the echoes of every line of dialog before they are spoken. So, I paid attention to the way shots were framed, pacing, editing, the better to appreciate The Shining as a work of art. And, as a work of film-making art, I noticed how much of the film looks like a series of paintings in a gallery: static, rectangular shots of large, beautiful spaces with one or two figures doing something small. Even the tracking shots of the boy on his tricycle have a graceful, old master kind of feel to them. Had I thought of it, I would have done better to watch The Shining with the sound down, and just look at all the beautiful, creepy stuff going on in every scene, because the story, and much of the dialog,…
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Movie #97: A Woman Under the Influence

Manly Footwear: We went to see Amanda Palmer perform in Toronto the weekend that we watched this film, and I wondered if some of the points she made—about the absence of female songwriting icons in the 1980s, for example—would be part of the way I viewed A Woman Under the Influence now, since I have already seen it 6 or 7 times during last 15 years. Would I find it misogynistic, given the attention #metoo has focused on the male directorial gaze? Or exploitative of the mentally ill? Or simply self-indulgent, given Palmer’s ability to reinvent self-indulgent art as profound cabaret? Thankfully, Palmer’s performance was transcendent, and I was glad to have had access to her vision because she reminded me that equity is always the goal, that the more various and inclusive the voices making up the chorus of our vision, the better chance we have to be astonished, and that, after 7 or 8 viewings, A Woman Under The Influence still astonishes me. I love the idea that Cassavetes did not consider Gena Rowlands’ character “crazy,” for example. Accepting that Mabel and Nickie were just two people smothered by their gender roles is interesting and difficult to do, because they are…
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Movie # 98: Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Manly Footwear: my complaint about Blowup’s main character being an asshole and thus ruining the movie watching experience for me might need a bit of refining, since I love Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and the main character is an insane, murderous colonizer who soothes himself with visions of the incestuous empire he will found with his daughter. But Klaus Kinski’s Aguirre is not an asshole, he is evil, and evil is fascinating, whereas assholism is dull, not the least because assholes have neither the creativity nor the will to go all the way to the dark side. If Kinski’s Aguirre found a corpse in the park, as Thomas the photographer does in Blowup, he’d probably strip it naked and set it on fire so he could roast a lemur. That Kinski overacts almost goes without saying: he never stands up straight once during the film, swaggering around like his spine had a pivot joint at its base, preventing his shoulders from ever coming full center, and he does so, for most of the movie, on a raft drifting down river. Even when he sits and broods, which he does a lot, he manages to overdo it, but it just makes sense, with regards…
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Movie #99: Blowup

Manly Footwear: This was the first film on our list that I have seen multiple times, and I can’t say quite why, since I have never sought it out until now. Directed by Michael Antonioni in 1966, Blowup features a parade of 60’s mod cons, stylish camera work, a darting narrative that MacGuffins everything in its path, and Vanessa Redgrave, but I just don’t particularly like it, probably because the main character–who dominates every scene–is a complete asshole. Certainly, I’ve found reason to watch, again and again, other movies about terrible people (Raging Bull, off the top of my head, is #24 on our list), so what about Thomas, the fashion photographer, is so off-putting? I understand that in part the movie is meant as a commentary on a shallow world inhabited by shallow people, and that such a world is, more and more, coming to define even our private lives. And I get to see Jeff Beck smash a guitar, and I actually dig the idea that there is a body, and murder, and oh well, forget about it–as Roger Ebert wrote, Blowup is “a hypnotic conjuring act, in which a character is awakened briefly from a deep sleep…
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Movie #100: Sans Soleil

Manly: Chris Marker built this movie from other films, and from his own 16mm clips taken on travels to Japan and Guinea-Bisseau, as well as some from Iceland, San Francisco, Cape Verde, Ireland, and France. A voice-over, letters from an imaginary traveler named Sandor Kressna (read by Alexandra Stewart), weaves in and out and around the various clips, helping hold the whole assemblage together. And, none of the preceding description does any justice to the astonishing grace with which it drifts from here to there, from flat film stock to violently manipulated imagery, from one culture to another. It brought to mind the writing of WG Sebald, in the themes of memory and loss that his work shares with this film, but also in the meandering style that only reveals its tightly controlled structure in retrospect, and also the Japanese essay form zuihutsu (随筆), which is similarly fragmented and wandering at first blush, but which reveals a wealth of connections the longer one contemplates the different sections. History throws its empty bottles out the window, the narrator says at one point, and true to a film about memory and the nature of time, Sans Soleil dips and weaves narratively, but…
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New Blog Project

I started this blog so I could listen to all the CDs I own, one at a time, and write about them, after my wife asked me why I had so many of the damn things. I got up to 888, and then I packed them all away because we thought we might move again. We didn’t, but I haven’t the heart to sort through and figure out which ones I’ve listed here and which I haven’t, plus the 50 more I’ve purchased since then, so: time to put that project aside, and start another! The plan now is to watch the top 100 movies ever made, as compiled by They Shoot Pictures Don’t They, and blog about each one. I thought to watch and write about 1 per week, which my lovely wife though was “aggressive,” but I still think it is a good average to shoot for. The list gets updated from time to time and movies shift position, so we’ll use the list I grabbed today, 2/18/2019. #100 is Sans Soleil, a documentary by Chris Marker, director of La Jetée. Here is the full list: Movie List

Put those bricks over here

I started clearing away brush and piles of dead leaves so I could move our compost bins yesterday. That this is what concerns me now seems odd, or at least not the kind of activity I would have predicted for myself twenty years ago. I was not raised on a farm, or even in a family that kept a garden, and I’m not sure where I picked up the habit. I’m not an avid gardener, I’m pretty haphazard about the whole endeavor, but I like watching things grow, and I like the flowers and vegetables that result, and I have a little space to make it viable. In fact, I probably don’t need a compost bin, I could get by with a garbage can if I was just producing compost for the stuff I grow, but I also like the idea of not throwing things away if I can help it, so there I was, scraping a rough “E” shape in a microbial landscape so I could arrange bricks into bins. Before I could get to the brush and leaf and loam, though, I had to pick up the pile of bricks stacked on the spot. We’d claimed them from…
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Where have I been?

Good lord, my previous post to this blog was last year, in October. I have been elsewhere, apparently. I was here: Medium, the Operating System, thanks to the kind invitation of Jared Schickling. And I was here: Rockvale Review, and I was many other places, but too often I was working on other people’s projects (yeah, you know me). So, time to get some of my own projects cranking again. This is my reminder to myself, done in public so I can’t renege.