I had a whole bunch of stuff to write about today and then it didn’t happen for a number of reasons. But I still found time to watch Les Blank’s 1978 film about the culture of New Orleans, Always for Pleasure. It’s not available as a whole film on YouTube; I watched it on Fandor. But there are a couple clips available. It’s pretty great. I know the New Orleans of 1978 is not the New Orleans of 2015 in many ways. But it still made me want to go to New Orleans again.
The only thing to say after that second clip is NOT ENOUGH CAYENNE!!!!
About four months ago, I screened a beautiful 35mm print of the picture for my daughter and her friends. “Why do we keep watching this?” I suppose it’s [Joseph] Cotten and [Alida] Valli – that’s the emotional core of the picture. For instance, the scene where Holly Martins (Cotten) finally goes to her apartment. He’s a little drunk, and he tells her he loves her and he knows he doesn’t have a chance. That’s when she says, “The cat only liked Harry.” So that leads right into the great revelation of Harry Lime in the doorway with the cat – which is iconic. But it’s more than that – it’s one of the great epiphanies in movies: the cat turning the corner and nestling itself on those wing-tip shoes, and then Harry Lime being revealed when the light is turned on in the doorway and it shines in his face.
Remember Walker Percy’s great novel The Moviegoer? He refers to that moment in such a beautiful, special way. It became a moment internationally, a shared experience for a vast audience seeing that film. It’s not just a dramatic revelation – there’s something about Orson Welles’ smile at that point that shifts everything to another level, and it sustains no matter how many times you see it. Welles comes into the picture about halfway through. That’s the first time you actually see him, after you’ve spent so much time picturing him in your mind because everyone has been talking about him and thinking about him. So that might be the best revelation – or the best reveal, as they say – in all of cinema.
The Third Man is of course amazing, but I’ll leave discussing it to Scorsese. What makes Scorsese so great is two things. First of course are his films. It would be nice if he stopped making pointless projects to the late era Stones because when he sets his mind to a story, he still almost always makes a good film. But at this point can do what he wants. Second is his effusion about film, a joy that is truly contagious. Part of this is his natural manic energy but much of it is his pure love for film that has influenced his whole career, yet not turned him into Brian DePalma, ripping off scenes from his favorite movies and sticking them into his own. That might be fine once such as with the famous Battleship Potemkin into The Untouchables baby carriage, but this has turned into a schtick. Anyway, Scorsese isn’t going to be around forever and when he’s gone, there is no possible replacement.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, an Oscar nominee getting Emmy buzz for her work on the Sundance miniseries “The Honourable Woman,” reveals that she was recently turned down for a role in a movie because she was too old to play the love interest for a 55-year-old man.
“There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time,” she said during an interview for an upcoming issue of TheWrap Magazine. “I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh.”
Leaving aside the fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal being 37 makes me 103, it’s amazing how deeply institutional Hollywood sexism runs. How on earth is 37 too old for a 55 year old man? The only solution for this is to pair up Clint Eastwood and Emma Stone as a couple. Now that makes sense.
*Let’s hope this post isn’t too forthright about sex for Google.
There was a time in this country when a movie like The Life of Brian which, I just read — thank God the theaters in Little Rock decided not to show, but it’s showing all over the Fort Worth–Dallas area, which is a mockery, which is a blasphemy against the very name of Jesus Christ, and I can remember a day even as young as I am when that would not have happened in this country or in the city in the South.
I wonder if there’s anything else the 1979 version of Mike Huckabee can nostalgically remember not happening in the South of his youth?
But friend, it’s happening all over and no one’s blinking an eye, and we can talk about how the devil’s moved in and the devil’s moved in but what’s really happened is God’s people have moved out and made room for it. We’ve put up the for sale sign and we’ve announced a very cheap price for what our lives really are. We’ve sold our character, we’ve sold our convictions, we’ve compromised, we’ve sold out and as a result we’ve moved out the devil’s moved in and he’s set up shop. And friend [he’s] preying on our own craving for pleasure.
I for one crave catchy songs while being nailed to the cross.
I just watched Mario Monicelli’s The Organizer and was blown away by it. One of my favorite leftist films. Then I wondered what the best leftist films are. I brought this up on Twitter today and thought it would be a good conversation here.
What are the best leftist movies? These come in 2 basic forms I think, which are films that display left activism and films that analyze left activism from a perspective that is basically sympathetic. Obviously people are going to define what makes a leftist film differently, which we can argue about.
Anyway, here are 20 I like a lot, more or less in order.
Interestingly, when I think of the greatest leftist directors, Ken Loach is one of the first to come up. But his most overtly political films are often his worst (that terrible SEIU Justice for Janitors film with Adrien Brody) while his relatively apolitical portrayals of the English working class are his most powerful (Sweet Sixteen, Throwing Stones, etc).
I really object to this analysis that calls Sullivan’s Travels “reactionary” toward the poor and poverty. Evidently the writer actually wanted to see “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” or that film Sullivan shows at the movie’s beginning about capital and labor fighting and dying on the train. What Preston Sturges did was make the depiction of poverty and its horrors palatable enough for the public that people would actually watch it. Laughing through poverty for the actual people suffering through the Depression meant Sturges was touching their lives. As the studio executives point in the film, the people who watch hard political intellectual films are politicized intellectuals. And that’s fine–I love Salt of the Earth and I Am Cuba and The Battle of Algiers as much as anyone (in fact, the latter is one of my top 5 all-time favorite films), but there’s no doubt that Sturges represented a truer version of poverty to popular audiences than any of those films. And not just through Sullivan’s Travels either, but in Christmas in July and in Easy Living, which he wrote but did not direct. These are all really sad stories that resonated with people. If they didn’t have the explicit goal of turning people into socialists, that doesn’t mean no viewers thought about their lives in new ways after seeing them. There were several such films in the 1930s. You could say much the same about Gold Diggers of 1933, which might be an absurd fluffy film but which also legitimately portrays poverty and has an entire final scene about the Bonus Army. I guess by these standards because it wasn’t calling for explicit class battle, it’s a reactionary film, but I don’t see it. The author clearly wants a certain kind of political film (he’s writing a book on anarchism and film) but that doesn’t mean a film that doesn’t have an objectively leftist agenda is a reactionary film.
I saw Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young and found this Molly Lambert piece on the film really good. Like her, I feel myself in this sort of time warp where everyone I know has children and their lives, naturally enough, revolve around them, whereas I don’t and have absolutely no desire to ever do so. So it makes social relationships slightly odd sometimes, even if most of my friends are not like characters in the film and talk about their children constantly. I basically live the life I always have ever since college, with really relatively only slight changes. Lambert is a few years younger than I am so she feels herself somewhere between Gen X and a millennial. I graduated from high school in 1992 so I am prototype Gen X but I hated that whole culture at the time (even if I have later embraced some of it; after all not listening to Pavement is a bad decision). There’s a lot more about millennial culture I find appealing than I did my own at the time. So I’m kind of stuck in the middle as an old man still trying to follow new young rock bands. For example, I’m a technophobe who has become relatively well known by embracing the kids’ technology. However, I will not go down the road of creating value for crap pop culture when it doesn’t exist as they often do. There is about as much good about Meat Loaf or Journey as there is about ketchup.
The movie is pretty good outside of making the aging childless viewers think about their own positionality within the world. I know some people don’t like Ben Stiller, but his schtick works pretty well with Baumbach’s directing. Naomi Watts is always great. Adam Driver is very good at playing annoying hipsters that you want to punch in the face. Charles Grodin is always welcome. There’s lots of good scenes of a couple in a stale relationship, the absurdity of hipster culture, and the excuses people find to never finish anything they start. And while the film doesn’t really end on a high note, by and large it’s a pretty funny satire of both hipsters and somewhat older people like myself who like a lot of the same things as these younger people but who are surely, aggressively even, not one of them. Pretending one is one of them is ripe material for satire and humor. And if Noah Baumbach films are always about immature people dealing with growing up, well, lots of good directors mine the same type of material over a whole career.
Enjoy this 1940 Rural Electrification Administration documentary on the drudgery of rural work before electricity and how REA cooperatives and the New Deal transforms the lives of farmers. Good stuff. I love the films of the New Deal. There are also useful stories here. Robert Caro’s first LBJ book is a wonderful book on Texas, the main character in its first half. Years later, I continue to recall how he described the drudgery of farm women’s labor in the Texas Hill Country. LBJ helped end that through being a big supporter of public power. That was necessary because with private utilities, profit comes before service. So even as late as 1940, you had American cities in the modern age and American farms basically in the 19th century when it came to life inside the home. The REA played a huge role in changing that. Public power was a justice issue. Naturally, Republicans largely opposed it, the godfather of public power George Norris being the exception that proved the rule as he was a Republican only to keep his seniority and openly attacked Republican presidents over the power issue.
This week in my film class, I made the students watch Birth of a Nation out of class and Superfly in class to get at depictions of African-Americans in film over the 20th century. The great Gordon Parks directed the latter and while it is a cheaply made blaxploitation flick, it also has some truly great scenes. Like the cocaine montage, which we should all watch tonight.