The U.S. military’s use of film during World War II was remarkable. The bravery of the cameramen, risking and often losing their lives, in taking this footage is amazing. Of course, it took good direction to turn unbelievable footage into a good film. In The Battle of San Pietro, John Huston did that. To the Shores of Iwo Jima definitely fails in that task. Plus it’s racist and jingoistic when the former was smart and focused on the soldiers’ lives. But regardless of its shortcomings, the footage here is jaw-dropping.
I am no expert on psychiatry. I do however have a great interest in American visions of the Soviet Union. Albert Maysles’ 1955 film “Psychiatry in Russia” is a pretty interesting entry in that category.
This week, Méliès Monday brings you 1908’s The Grandmother’s Story.
Although I probably like Her better overall, 12 Years a Slave is an excellent choice for Best Picture.
It’s also worth noting that it the first major Hollywood production to deal with slavery in a serious way came out in 2013. And no, Amistad was not a serious depiction of slavery. Can we aim for 2 major Hollywood productions dealing with slavery in the second century of film? Even a meh biopic of Frederick Douglass?
There are a lot of bad Best Picture winners. And I really dislike Slumdog Millionaire, although the other Best Picture nominees that year are no great shakes. I’d like to give it my vote. And it’s a crime against humanity than Dances with Wolves, off all the dreck out there, won over Goodfellas. But there is not only no worst Best Picture winner than Crash, there is barely a more loathsome movie. OK, that’s a slight overstatement, what with your The Idiots over here and Soldier Blue over there. But my god is Crash a terrible movie. And it was so obviously terrible at the time. I was watching the Oscars with friends the year it won and I remember annoying them with a good bit of angry swearing after it won. And for Christ’s sake, it beat Brokeback Mountain, a film 100 times superior. It also beat Capote, a film 20 times superior. I do have to give Crash credit though–by showing the hellish problem America faces with Iranian on Mexican crime, not to mention the mean the black woman who just doesn’t treat Matt Dillon very nicely which is bad even though Dillon sexually assaulted Thandie Newton and why can’t we all get along and of course Ludarcis carjacking that rich white dude at the beginning of the film after talking about how he hates being stereotyped as a criminal–it demonstrates that all of us are affected by racial prejudice equally and thus we can all equally forget about power structures and come to a nice liberal consensus that racism sucks.
About a year later, I was in Malaysia. There were some Europeans watching the film on a TV at the hotel where I was staying. They were watching it and talking about how messed up the United States well. I felt very smashy.
I think it’s time to turn this over to a better writer than I. Ta-Nehisi Coates, from 2009:
Before we go any further, I need to admit that several people who I love and respect actually like Crash. I need let them know that I don’t hold this against them, and I still love and respect them–though, with Crash in mind, more the former than the latter.
With that said, I don’t think there’s a single human being in Crash. Instead you have arguments and propaganda violently bumping into each other, impressed with their own quirkiness. (“Hey look, I’m a black carjacker who resents being stereotyped.”) But more than a bad film, Crash, which won an Oscar (!), is the apotheosis of a kind of unthinking, incurious, nihilistic, multiculturalism. To be blunt, nothing tempers my extremism more than watching a fellow liberal exhort the virtues of Crash.
If you’re angry about race, but not particularly interested in understanding why, you probably like Crash. If you’re black and believe in the curative qualities of yet another “dialogue around race,” you probably liked Crash. If you’re white and voted for Barack Obama strictly because he was black, you probably liked Crash. If you’ve ever used the term “post-racial” or “post-black” in a serious conversation, without a hint of irony, you probably liked Crash.
The English language does not contain the words needed to express how much I hate Crash.
I’ve put up another set of short reviews on my tenth-rate film blog. Read if you care. In short:
Leave Her to Heaven (Stahl, 1945)–I know people love this film, but I’ve seen in a couple times and can’t get over the huge plot problems.
Women Without Men (Neshat, 2009)–Beautifully shot film about Iranian women during the 1953 coup, major plot issues.
Climate of Change (Hill, 2010)–Unsuccessful documentary about people doing various things to fight climate change, makes no concerted attempt to speak truth to power. Tilda Swinton narrates in rhyme.
Gloria (Lelio, 2013)–Not going to change your life, but a pleasant enough film that embraces the sexuality of people in their 50s. Worthy.
The Oyster Princess (Lubitsch, 1919)–One of the first really complete and successful feature-length comedies. Lots of people doing the same thing does indeed turn out to be funny.
I Don’t Want to Be a Man (Lubitsch, 1918)–A mind-blowing gender bending comedy. Never let it be said silent films didn’t play with sexuality.
Our Daily Bread (Geyrhalter, 2005)–Kind of interesting film about the industrial food system that is incredibly powerful when showing meat production, less successful otherwise because of no narration or interviews.
Aurora (Puiu, 2010)–Another fast-paced Romanian film! Not enough of a payoff for such a long film. I know Puiu was the first of the modern Romanian directors to strike it big internationally, but I tend to find him less satisfactory than the others.
North Country (Caro, 2005)–I really wish this was better than it is.
The Front Line (Hun, 2011)–Fairly blase Korean film about the pointlessness of the last two years of the Korean War.
The Harder They Come (Henzell, 1972)–Sure the plot is a cliche but the music is great and it was probably the first piece of culture projecting the poverty of Kingston to the world. Fun stuff too.
Anatomy of a Murder (Preminger, 1959)–As awesome as advertised. Can’t believe I went this long without seeing it.
Divorce, Italian Style (Germi, 1961)–Quality satire of Italian gender roles, good thing that’s irrelevant to modern Italy….
I know we are reentering the New Gilded Age, what with the economic inequality and union busting and facial hair. But I’m not sure we need to go this far. I was certainly interested in the old-school high waisted pants Joaquin Phoenix wore in Her, but I didn’t suspect this:
The trousers are inspired by styles from yesteryear, but are intended to portent a futuristic vision of geeky Silicon Valley meets East Village menswear. “The first thing [people] want to know is if all guys are going to be wearing extreme high-waisted pants in the next few years,” said Storm of his involvement with Her.
He added, in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter: “It’s one of the last frontiers of men’s fashion to come back. But it does look weird when you first see it.” He admitted Phoenix himself had said: “I don’t get it, but I trust you guys,” when first told his character Theodore Twombly would be wearing the trousers.
“Theodore [is] sort of an average guy, and we wanted his style to reflect somebody that’s comfortable and not uptight, but also a little disassembled and just going through the world,” Storm told the Opening Ceremony blog last month. “I don’t know exactly how we arrived at the high-waisted pants, but I think when Spike wrote the character, he had Theodore Roosevelt in mind. Joaquin’s pants throughout the film also have a really tapered leg, based on late 1800s pants for riding horses. The vintage pants I found [as inspiration] were from a costume house, and when I tried them on Joaquin, it just looked right. It looked interesting and weird, but it felt comfortable and casual and a little sloppy.”
If this catches on, there’s only one step left I guess in our full return to Gilded Age fashion. Ladies, get out your corsets and gigantic hats. Crushing your internal organs and slaughtering songbirds for fashion goes well with adulterated food, desperate poverty, and extreme wealth.
I for one will not be wearing these pants.
Another set of reviews from my mediocre film blog. Waste time discussing as you like. Films since the last update:
Navy Blue Days, Pembroke and Rock, 1925–Stan Laurel running around a Latin American port looking for lovin’.
Fooling Casper, Montgomery, 1928–Lame adaptation of a popular comic strip of the era.
Her, Jonze, 2013–Brilliant. I liked this so much. Choke me with that dead cat.
The Battle of San Pietro, Huston, 1945–Arguably the greatest war documentary ever made.
American Hustle, Russell, 2013–The definition of entertainment, even if the plot was pretty messy. And of course, awesome fashion.
Two-Lane Blacktop, Hellman, 1971–Men. Car. Road. Hear me roar.
The King of Marvin Gardens, Rafelson, 1972–Did not like this much at all.
The Future, July, 2011–July has talent but I mostly didn’t like this film.
On the Edge, Yau, 2006–Very solid Hong Kong gangster/cop film.
Argo, Affleck, 2012–A very solid political thriller. Worthy of Best Picture? Not sure about that. But good.
Inside Llewyn Davis, Coen and Coen, 2013–Minor Coen. Good enough for a night out, but minor. Cat got robbed for Best Actor nomination.
The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, Kaufman, 1972–Stoned hippie western does Jesse James. Duvall overacts. Cliff Robertson looks like a good hippie sex symbol. Meh.
Foxy Brown, Hill, 1974–It is what it is. Good entertainment. Good movie? Maybe not. Pam Grier could bring it though.
Amour, Haneke, 2012–When Haneke isn’t trying to be a nihilist, he’s a pretty fine filmmaker.
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)