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.
In related news, the 20th century was horrible. Luckily, all the secular fundamentalist* ideologies that led to the killing of so many are dead except for capitalism. Sadly, it is still in the ascendant and people die in the garment factories of Bangladesh, the coal mines of China, the houses in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley. Maybe someday the last deadly secular ideology will also go away.
* I am perfectly aware that religious fundamentalists ideologies have their own problems. But that’s for another posts. And they’ve ultimately killed a lot less people in the 20th century.
I just realized that somehow I never posted The Teddy Bears here before. Imagine a silent movie version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears with Teddy Roosevelt coming in at the end for an, um, disturbing ending. And some early version claymation bears. And the bears in full Victorian dress. But mostly that disturbing, bizarre ending satirizing Teddy Roosevelt. This is a real favorite to show students.