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.
Rithy Pahn’s documentary about the millions of forgotten people killed in Khmer Rouge death camps with scenes largely constructed with clay figurines looks amazing.
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.
I can’t see how this isn’t the greatest endorsement of the Democratic Party ever:
“Saturday Night Live” alumnus and “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” actor Rob Schneider appeared in a short video (embedded below) with California Assemblyman — and Republican gubernatorial hopeful — Tim Donnelly and Politichicks reporter Ann-Marie Murrell on Monday. In the video, Schneider declared that he hasn’t worked on a film in California in seven years because of the recent rise of Democrats in state elections.
“The state of California is a mess,” Schneider declared, “and the supermajority of Democrats is not working. I’ve been a lifelong Democrat and I have to switch over because it no longer serves the people of this great state. We need to have a new voice. We need to have a new direction, and we need to break the supermajority. It isn’t helping with jobs.”
“The last time I made a movie in California was seven years ago,” he said. “And that’s because we’re not being competitive. I own a vitamin company with my friend and we moved out of state because of overregulation. It isn’t helping businesses.”
If what Schneider is really saying is that I should give my life savings to the California Democratic Party, to whom do I give my back account number and password?
Warner Brothers is trying to sign Leonardo DiCaprio up for a biopic on Woodrow Wilson. Why do we need a biopic on Woodrow Wilson? I have no idea. Maybe it will center on Wilson holding a screening of Birth of a Nation in the White House. More likely it will center Wilson and the Versailles Treaty and neoconservatives will be excited. The AV Club brings the proper snark:
It’s likely the film will also cover some aspect of Wilson’s post-presidency, as he spent the rest of his life pushing the victorious Allies to form a League of Nations, only to see the U.S. Senate reject membership. It’s probably less likely that the film will spend a lot of time on Wilson’s history as a white supremacist who re-segregated most federal institutions for the first time since Reconstruction, and either demoted or fired as many African-American government employees as he could.
It seems to me that one of the tragedies of film in the last twenty years was Robert DeNiro deciding he still wanted to work a lot but he had no desire to try or push himself in his work. One could argue it’s the same for Pacino, but not only does DeNiro have a deeper catalog of great films than Pacino but I feel he’s just a better actor (although obviously Pacino’s top 5 films stack up with anyone’s in film history so you may disagree).
…..One piece of evidence here to DeNiro really not trying. Scorsese wanted to cast him as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York but DeNiro didn’t want to have to travel to Italy where the film was shot. While I guess I understand that, it’s pretty clear that he has no problem passing up roles for easy paychecks.