Some late Georges Méliès this week, from 1912
More short reviews on my pointless film blog. Reviewed since my last update:
The Dallas Buyers Club, Vallee, 2013 (OK, but cliche on cliche)
To the Wonder, Malick, 2012 (OMG this is a disaster)
Before Midnight, Linklater, 2013 (I do like these movies mostly but the idea of Hawke’s character as a serious novelist is laughable)
Night Moves, Penn, 1975 (a script with holes so wide you could drive a tractor trailer filled with stolen Mayan artifacts through it. Hackman is outstanding however)
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, Barretto, 1976 (the lesson is that all a woman really wants is hot sex so treat her as you will if you provide it)
The Thorn in the Heart, Gondry, 2009 (when filmmakers make films about their family members who are not particularly compelling)
Idiots and Angels, Plympton, 2008 (wanted to like this but it really falls apart in the last 20 minutes)
Salome, Bryant, 1923 (an excellent example of silent directors using Biblical stories as a cover to show a lot of flesh. Pretty good too)
Eyes Without a Face, Franju, 1960 (maybe my favorite film ending of all time)
A Story of Floating Weeds, Ozu, 1934 (an early masterpiece by one of the top 5 directors of all time)
12 Years a Slave, McQueen, 2013 (incredibly powerful depiction of slavery. That it is unrelenting may turn off some filmgoers but it is necessary to convey the true hell of the institution that the South committed treason to defend)
The Thin Red Line, Malick, 1998 (one of the top five World War II films ever. Malick at the height of his powers)
Scrooge, Greenwood, 1923 (not a bad adaptation for the time period)
In all the celebrations of Peter O’Toole upon his death, let us not forget the equally sad demise of the great Joan Fontaine.
Is there a pre-atomic era film about the world ending?
One of the great women of film noir has passed. She’s perhaps best known for her work in Lady in the Lake, which is famous primarily for being shot entirely from the perspective of Robert Montgomery as Philip Marlowe. It’s a gimmick and it doesn’t totally work but it’s hardly uninteresting.
Georges Méliès, The Haunted Castle, from 1896.
Yet another set of pointless thoughts about film on my side blog. I wouldn’t read it either. Recently viewed films, with one phrase reviews here, are:
Paris is Burning, Livingston, 1990 (excellent documentary on gay and transsexual men in New York just as AIDS is hitting)
The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Feuerzeig, 2005 (we are fascinated with artists suffering from mental illness)
La Ronde, Ophuls, 1950 (I guess I’m supposed to love it because it’s on Criterion)
Silver Linings Playbook, Russell, 2012 (meh)
The Cry of Jazz, Bland, 1959 (and the most angry people have ever gotten at me writing on film)
Riding the California Trail, Nigh, 1947 (mmm…racism….)
The Big Chase, Hilton, 1954 (a big chase indeed. Like 40% of the film)
The Wages of Fear, Clouzot, 1953 (one of the great films about work, among other things)
Spite Marriage, Keaton, 1929 (awesome)
The Cameraman, Keaton, 1928 (Keaton loves the racial stereotypes)
The House on Trubnaya, Barnet, 1928 (what, yet another Soviet comedy?)
Silas Marner, Warde, 1916 (silents based on books don’t work well)
It seems a good Monday evening tradition here would be to show a Georges Méliès film. After all, he only directed 553 films, according to IMDB. Plus, their weirdness and his magic show/science fiction orientation is fun for modern audiences, yet most people haven’t seen his works. Let’s change that.
The Mermaid, from 1904.
Why do I spend my time watching French cigarette commercials from the 30s? I do it for you of course.
D.W. Griffith’s 1909 film about how much it sucked when Progressive Era women with gargantuan hats sat in front of you at the theater.
Edward Bland’s 1959 documentary The Cry of Jazz is one of the most remarkable films I’ve ever seen. An early statement of the black nationalism that would become famous in the late 60s, Bland argues in this 30 minute film that only African-Americans have the soul and history to play jazz and that whites need to understand their inferiority in the genre is precisely because of their racist history. It’s an amazing film.
Shot for nearly nothing, The Cry for Jazz has bad acting, cheesy dialogue, and an awesome political point. There’s some sort of jazz club meeting. Whites and blacks are both there. They start arguing about race and jazz. The whites typically eschew any sense that blacks are better at jazz or that they have any responsibility for racial inequality or the legacy of slavery and racism. And for Bland, those two things are inseparable. The rest of the film switches from a narrator explaining the relationship between race and music (along with some quite technical information about the music, not every casual fan would get all the references) and the conversation continuing onto new points. The black characters in the room utter such lines as “The Negro is the only Human American” and “If whites had souls, they wouldn’t have tried to steal the Negro’s.” The legacy of racism creates the suffering that allows jazz to exist, thus “Jazz is the one element in American life where whites must be humble to Negroes.”
At the point of maybe convincing the whites, the lead narrator makes an even more shocking statement–Jazz is dying. Why? Because it can’t contain the black experience. New forms of music are needed, a clear reference to rock and roll. One assumes Bland saw hip hop as the extension of this late in life, but I wonder. And let’s face it, jazz is pretty white in 2013. Not exclusively so. But pretty white.
Who thus was Bland’s choice as the vanguard of the African nationalist music at the time? Why Sun Ra and his Arkestra! First, it’s of course the appropriate choice but who knows how obvious that was in 1959? Second, this is the first known footage of the Arkestra! It’s shot very darkly so most of it is of John Gilmore and you only see Ra’s back. But wow.
The film was quite controversial within the African-American intellectual community. Ralph Ellison hated it. LeRoi Jones, later known as Amiri Baraka, loved it. For a period where assimilationism dominated the civil rights movement, this is quite the forward thinking statement.
Certainly not the best movie I’ve ever seen but judged for its jaw-dropping message and audacity, it’s a must see.
Stanley Kauffmann, the dean of American film criticism and one of the greatest film critics in history, has passed. He worked for decades at The New Republic, including in the 90s when he was pretty much the only thing worth reading over there. He was also pretty much the last critic who could actually remember the silent era. Working nearly until the end, reading Kauffmann was a century of film history in each review. He’d talk about knowing Jimmy Stewart in the 30s, an unknown Marlon Brando starring in Kauffmann’s own play, etc. I didn’t always agree with him, that’s for sure. But he was probably the first serious film critic I ever really read. Quite a loss.