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Friday, December 25, 2009

On top of the world, looking down on creation...

Yarrrr....

Up In the Air does such a good job wrapping a hetero-normative, pro-nuclear family message in a charming package for 3/4 of the film, before throwing it away with a stupid twist and a botched ending.

Still, kudos for at least letting Clooney give a convincing argument for his beliefs. And for being a film that acknowledges the economy and the definition of the American dream as having changed.
...
Actually, just reading that last part is a sad statement on film-making these days. Merry Christmas, people!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Stories that will last into history, long after you and me are gone": REDACTED

Redacted, d. Brian DePalma, 2007
Starring: A bunch of people you've never heard of or seen before and probably won't see again

"You don't want to hear a war story," says one of the main characters to a group of civilian friends at the end of the movie. And unfortunately, Brian DePalma spends most of the movie trying to prove that character right.

Now, conventional wisdom on Redacted, when it came out, was that Brian DePalma had turned in a shrill and ridiculously one-sided anti-war film with very little of his usual skill. And this is what even relatively sympathetic film critics said. In this case, conventional wisdom is right.

The plot, so far as there is one, is that it follows a few Marines serving in Samarra in 2006. Eventually, a couple of particularly awful Marines rape a 15 year old Iraqi girl and kill most of her family, claiming at various points that they were fighting insurgents, that it was a Sunni revenge killing, and that is was a Shiite revenge killing. This is all shown through various sources, including one Marine's video-recordings of his unit (in hopes of using it for a reality tv show or film school), a French documentary team, various blogs & youtube videos, security cameras and news footage.

The idea of the film, I think, is an interesting one. Trying to replicate the chopped-up news cycle & the multiplicity of viewpoints emerging around the Iraq War is a noble and interesting idea. In how many previous wars could civilians, with a minimum of effort, see the reaction of the occupied people without any intermediating authority. And when DePalma is merely presenting the contrast between Al-Jazeera, the French documentary team and a CNN stand-in's approaches deadpan, he gets across the problematic nature of the occupation and the way America's own POV prevents it from seeing those problems.

Unfortunately, most of the film is populated with one-note shrill stereotypes of Americans spouting on-the-nose dialogue when they're not doing horrible things. This is the kind of film where, six minutes in, one person says, "the camera never lies" and another person immediately responds, "the camera always lies". To a tiny extent, there might be moments when DePalma could have been arguing about the self-performative nature people develop when they know they're being recorded. But the fact so much of the Marine's documentary footage happens when the others don't know they're being recorded takes away that argument.

You'll notice I haven't really named any of the characters. That's because, with maybe one exception, all the characters make the space marines in Aliens seem complex and multi-faceted. It doesn't help that one character is unironically named Vasquez. One redneck soldier even calls himself a "wildcard", sparking images of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Charlie's hilariously pointless idiocy.

Every moment is so heavy-handed that even the documented incident that inspired this film starts to feel false. DePalma even compromises the (relative) integrity of his approach at the end by giving home video footage of the hero Lawyer McCoy (Robb DeVaney) giving an impassioned (if creaky) speech about the horrors of war and underlining it WITH A PROFESSIONAL HOLLYWOOD SOUNDTRACK! It's like DePalma is taking his stylistic cues from The Notebook!

Now, you can make a movie about horrible people doing awful things and make it interesting, but you have to display some empathy. But DePalma has our war criminals be the most brain-dead, racist sons-of-bitches you'll ever see. Robb DeVaney's character, the nominative good guy, is given some good moments and he rises to the occasion. But everyone else is given clunky dialogue, nonsensical motivations and the mostly non-professional actors respond by turning in awful performances.

Weirdly enough, the people playing Iraqis are really good, when they are given any screen-time. It might help that DePalma plays those moments unaffected and keeps the language simple.

And sadly, DePalma does have some good visual moments. Whether it's the echo of blood-spatter from an early checkpoint shoot-out in a Jihadi execution, or a flowing, surreal long-take of the checkpoint screening that highlights the incomprehensibility of the process, DePalma hasn't lost his touch with mise-en-scene. One of the early heavy-handed moments (a reading from Appointment in Samarra) is nicely undercut by the presence, right behind the reader, of cut-outs from pin-up magazines. In fact, the movie might play better left on mute.

In some ways, this movie is the opposite of another War on Terror flop, Richard Kelley's Southland Tales. Where Kelly's movie was sprawling and needlessly complex, DePalma's is shrill and to-the-point. Where Kelly stranded brilliant performances by actors in a go-nowhere plot, DePalma weds beautiful imagery to headache-inducing performances.

The most effective moment of the film is the closing "Collateral Damage" sequence, where DePalma presents a series of bloody photographs showing the civilians injured or killed by Iraq War violence. A movie about the innocents trying to survive both insurgents and the U.S. military could be effective, moving and reach across partisan talking points. Too bad no one's interested in making that film.

Grade: C-

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Blogger

So my project of liveblogging In Praise of Commercial Culture has gone on hiatus because I'm running out of things to say about it. As Cowen has moved to visual art and classical music, he's moved out of my comfort zone, though I keep getting suspicious that he's not grappling with the complex nature of "capitalism", which is frequently a mix of corporatism, nationalism and other weird beliefs that sort of simulate a free market. Instead, frequently, he seems content to say, "hey, everyone, as time passes, great composers/artists/writers get have earned comparatively more money and more freedom. I'd say that's pretty good."

He makes some good points about changing cultural practices and ideas that partially shape our vision of artistic golden ages as golden and how those practices and ideas blind us to the richness of our own age. But he's all too willing to wash his hands of modern composers who are increasingly exiled from both the classical and mainstream community, for example. He regrets it, and then just says, that's capitalism too. It's pretty easy to praise capitalism when capitalism is some weird omnipotent and perfect god. If you don't like capitalism (or a certain expression of capitalism), you just don't understand the Invisible Hand's ultimate design.

And then too, Cowen's approach to people and psychology seems hilarious. I seem to recall him admitting he possesses a somewhat autistic view of how people tick and that seems borne out in the book. Take this howler:
"Kurt Cobain of Nirvana committed suicide after only four albums, secure in his expectations of artistic immortality" (147).
That seems like a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of Cobain's emotional state and his feelings about his popularity. Or a misunderstanding of depression in general.
Or this, from a section entitled, "The Musical Revolution in Africa":
"Slavery was a disaster for its victims, but it revolutionized world music." (155)
...
And I know it is easy to take quotes out of context and make them seem ridiculous, but the paragraph weirdly equates slavery with some kind of "cultural interchange" and that the "barbaric form" of slave-based "cultural contact" paved the way for "later, more beneficial voluntary contacts". Cowen's not trying to be offensive, but he's refusing to grapple with the serious moral issue at stake here. He's even ignoring the fact that pro-capitalist economists were one of the first groups to see the problems with slavery.

It's like something Monty Python or Mr. Show would put in the mouth of a well-meaning buffoon.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

In the next re-release, I will shoot first...

I didn't think I was the first one to think of Lucas as a skilled craftsman with a very limited toolbox, but it's great to find something like this in Robin Wood's Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan:

"If we are to continue using the term 'imagination' to apply to a William Blake, we have no business using it of a George Lucas. Imagination and what is popularly referred to as pure fantasy (actually there is no such thing) are fundamentally incompatible. Imaginatin is a force that strives to graps and transform the world, not restore "the good old values". What we can justly credit Lucas with (I use the name, be it understood, to stand for his whole production team) is facility of invention, especially on the level of special effects and makeup and the creation of a range of cute or sinister or grotesque fauna (human and non-human)." (166-167) [emphasis mine]
So far, in skimming Wood, I'm quite impressed by his evaluation of Larry Cohen as well. I'm not so impressed by his hedging on Marxism (though I do agree that there's something weird about how reluctant people are to consider discussing something different from capitalism on a basic level in a free country such as ours).

E.T.A. Although Wood seems to think James Earl Jones is British and white. And he claims Lando Calrissian offers no prospect of revolution or subversion. Even though his first appearance in the cycle shows him betraying the white American hero? I won't argue totally with Wood's general claims about the handling of race in the Star Wars trilogy, but Lando seems to be one of Lucas & Co.'s few attempts at moral complexity (more so than Han, at least, after the first movie).

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Throw me to the rancor: Some almost-heresy on Star Wars

I know I'm hardly the first to say this, but with each subsequent viewing, the Star Wars original trilogy seems a little more threadbare to me.

To be fair, Lucas had great production design (from the late great John Barry), great practical effects work (now watered-down with some crappy CGI) and a supporting cast of great British actors to buoy his American neophyte actors and his awful dialogue. And occasionally, Lucas knows how to frame a shot or shoot a sequence.

Of course, Lucas did away with most of his advantages for the prequels, even as he tried to compensate for at least a few of his weaknesses (like the ringers who polished Revenge of the Sith's screenplay). Somewhere in those films, there are even some interesting implications and ideas to gloss the "original" trilogy with (like a religion whose "miracles" are based in a genetic mutation!). But that atrophying of his few talents/advantages is why the prequels' awfulness hit so hard.

I think Lucas' true genius was in consolidating so many pulp/b-movie cliches into one setting. Look at Episode IV. We start with a war/thriller angle (the pursuit of the Rebel cruiser and shipboard battle), detour into desert adventure (the C3PO/R2D2 travels) with a dash of Western (the Tusken Raiders as Indians, the Mos Eisley cantina scene), and get back to the spy/thriller before a rousing finale straight out of any war movie. The characters are just an amalgamation of different cliches, made interesting merely by the sheer oddity of combinations. Darth Vader is a robot/wizard/samurai, Han Solo a pirate/Wild West outlaw, and Luke a combination of hotrodding teen, young gun and brooding superhero.

And yet, most of the sci-fi and fantasy films have been ripping off these cliches for the past thirty plus years. No wonder s-f/fantasy is so creatively bankrupt.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bonafide hustler, making my name: Liveblogging In Praise of Commercial Culture

Chapter 2: The Market For the Written Word

Okay, so first, the prose style gets a little better once Cowen has a narrative to hold onto. I wouldn't say he holds interest as well as Malcolm Gladwell, for example, but neither of them is Joan Didion. Which is to say, neither is a prose stylist who uses that style successfully to convey a deeper understanding of the world around us. Gladwell is a prose stylist, but he's a little too flip with his philosophizing, trying to draw conclusions because he can. Cowen has some understanding of the big picture, but he can't use his writing to add an aesthetic dimension to his argument.

It helps that Cowen is talking, in this section, about a little-explored aspect of literary history, specifically the economic pressures of publishing in the British Enlightenment. We might have read works (by Swift or Pope) that deal with those economic issues or were written because of them, but that specific context sometimes doesn't even make the footnotes.

So this chapter is about Samuel Johnson, one of the first people to make their living solely through writing, versus Swift and Pope, among others, who believed that "fame" was the sole reason to write and that the government should choose who was talented.

And Cowen is willing to tackle Swift and Pope and bring to light their most troubling ideas. Though his arguments that Swift was a vehement establishment figure who believed in the healing benefits of central power does not seem to jive with Swift's basic misanthropy. I think he misreads at least some of Swift's work. As much as the Houyhnhnms in Gulliver's Travels might represent some sort of ideal, I don't think that even Swift expects us to totally accept them. I think there is some significance in the fact that our narrator (who has difficulty in detecting irony or recognizing the way other societies generally reflect his) ends the book currying the favor of his own farm animals. And "A Modest Proposal" is as much an indictment of central planning refusing to recognize the realities on the ground as it is of anti-Catholic sentiment.

And there are hints of other problems with capitalism as supporter of the arts that this chapter suggests. For one, Cowen expresses disappointment at Johnson taking a government pension at the end of his career. But given how Johnson hustled to provide himself a living for much of his life, is it really a surprise that he would desire a reliable source of income.

Because Cowen's idea of why capitalism is good for the arts relies heavily on creative destruction. Artists will become less popular, lose their edge and give way to new forms and new artists. Which I think is great for the arts.

But it sucks for the artists. Once the skill has faded and the passion has ebbed, an artist still requires sustenance. As this economic downturn (and previous recessions and depressions) proved, even very smart, skilled businessmen stink at long-term planning. Even as it regards their own personal finances.

Creative destruction doesn't care what you did for the last twenty years. It cares about what is happening today and tomorrow. It's like Alec Baldwin's character in "Glengarry Glen Ross", it doesn't care if you're a good father or a nice guy. Or a talented artist.

So Samuel Johnson takes a pension. He's a man that's dealt with awful depression and grinding poverty for years. What's Tyler Cowen's advice for one of the greater essayists of English literature? That he should have kept being talented and never felt that exhaustion in his bones?That he should never have gotten old? That he should have died before he became old?

I'm not saying we should get rid of capitalism. It's like the old saw about democracy. It's the worst system, except for all the other systems.

But a capitalist who loves artists or a capitalist who loves people needs to come to grips with the way capitalism shows no mercy to the weak and the old. And they need to suggest what we can do, instead of shrugging and muttering something about charity and the private sector.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Interlude

"Isn't that rough on him?"

"I don't know," Eitel said, "there are parts and parts to Collie. He enjoys being a martyr."

"Sounds like a sad character to me."

"Oh, everybody's sad if you want to look at them that way. Collie's not so bad off. Just remember there's nobody like him in the whole world."

- from The Deer Park by Norman Mailer, Part 2, Chapter 7

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Money: that's what I want

Also, Tyler Cowen loves to chalk normal psychology up to economics. So anxiety of influence, egotism and idealism become an economic need to innovate. When you've got the hammer of economics, everything looks like a pro-capitalist nail.

Also, I can't trust anyone who thinks Rebel without a Cause is "unintended farce, rather than a rousing story of an angry young man" (28). Um, has this guy seen the same version of Rebel without a Cause that has been released on DVD? Or any other Nicholas Ray film, ever?

Art is a kid, art is a kid, in a bull market: In Praise of Commercial Culture

You thought I'd forgotten all about you, didn't you? Maybe even my ramblings about commercial art and the like. Not quite.

For example, I finally got a chance to take a peek into In Praise of Commercial Culture by economist Tyler Cowen (one of the influential voices behind econoblog Marginal Revolutions). Only about 20 pages in, but I still have a few thoughts.

  • Cowen's writing is probably best suited to blogging. I suppose that, given the normal quality of the stereotypical professorial paper, mere readability is a rarity. But he makes Malcolm Gladwell look like Joan Didion. Perfectly adequate prose sentence plods into perfectly adequate prose sentence. For a book dealing with art, there's very little art. In small doses, clarity is fine. For an entire book, it's a slog.
  • So much of it is him putting down examples of his point. "You think artists don't care about money? But Beethoven said this. And Gaugin did this. And this person died in poverty." That's only slightly exaggerated. I hope later on he gets into a specific, piece-by-piece analysis of one work of art or artist.
  • To Cowen's credit, it's refreshing to see someone who points out the fallacies in all the well-crafted but contrived cultural polemics that seem to be the main way any pundit/philosopher makes money these days. He's not saying everything is perfect, but he is willing to point out that, yes, life has become less nasty, brutish and short for more people and to consign those people back to the status quo ante for some weird sense of cultural homogeny is stupid.
  • On the other hand, his triumphalism really vague. Some of his points, about the decrease in prices for materials as basic as paper have opened up the art field, make sense. Other arguments seem to boil down to, "hey, people have benefited from this technology/advance, and that's because of capitalism. And since artists are people, artists are benefiting from capitalism." Which is technically true, but, well, he decided to write a book about how capitalism benefits the artist specifically. It's not titled In Praise of Modernity.
More to come. Maybe next time, I'll get to his thought experiment (in blog-form) about how just recycling pop culture every 50 years would be perfectly cromulent.

Friday, November 6, 2009

"Just tell me I'll live forever... then I'll be happy": Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes is such a weird, disappointing movie. It's beautifully shot (imagine Michele Soavi or Mario Bava making a Disney film, with that same sense of the surreal), has a couple of great performances by Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce, and it has such a specific and terrifying vision of small-town life, adult desires and childhood.

But most of the other actors are either wasted (poor Royal Dano and Pam Grier) or just wooden.

Maybe more later. But seriously, what works in it works sooo well (especially the scene in the library and the parade/manhunt) that anything less than great is a disappointment. And as the movie shows, disappointment breeds evil.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chicago Theatre Blog thing

Maybe some day you'll get a substantive post, but for now:

CHICAGO PEOPLE! Put your hands in the air! Wave 'em like you just don't care!

Then go see Lucinda's Bed at Chicago Dramatists or the Hypocrites' production of Frankenstein at the MCA. They both have flaws but they're both really intriguing and fun.

We'll discuss in comments, perhaps?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Take a non-stop teenage romance/ and turn it all into lust": More thoughts on Jennifer's Body

Title quote courtesy of the classic Agent Orange song about the impossibility of separating love from lust.

So I do have more thoughts on Jennifer's Body. It isn't a good movie, nor is it a "so bad it's good" movie like The Apple or The Wicker Man remake. But it is a good movie to write about. In part, that's because Cody's script throws out so many ideas and never really does anything with any of them. It's all zeitgeist, very little substance. It definitely feels like a very very early screenplay pushed into production without very much production.

And the film's main concept is a good one and the one that gets the most development (while botching the execution). Discovering and expressing one's sexual identity as a teenager often feels simultaneously invigorating and dangerous. To elevate it to a state of literal death and damnation is pretty clever.

Needless to say, other films have played with this before, Ginger Snaps standing as the most thoughtful version. But it is still less common than the "have sex, get murdered by a serial killer" approach of most slasher films.

But Cody can't accept that as her sole subject. Or, at the very least, she can't unify the other elements around this subject. Instead, she's got to touch on cliques, small town life, absentee parents, the homosocial elements of close same-sex friendships and a couple other things.

And she's certainly not aided by a cast that either acts as if they are reading the script off of cue cards or trying to hide the blatant artificiality of dialogue.

Fox turns in probably the worst performance of the cast. Theoretically, this should be a dream role for her. She's playing a sex object who uses her beauty to rule what even she knows is a very circumscribed territory and who already fears that she's peaked. She's been granted an amazing amount of privilege that puts her above normal morality, but it's all dependent on the temporal nature of human beauty. She just needs to deliver her lines in a believable manner and show a moment or two of vulnerability, and she can just look pretty the entire rest of the film.

The problem is that Fox can't do the first of those two things expected of her. All her lines are delivered with the exact same intonation, as if she memorized them phonetically and is just reciting them in her breathy, "sexy" voice". It might have been possible to sell the stylized speaking style as that of a pretty, pretentious girl who no one is willing to tell that she is not as clever as she thinks. But there's no thought process going on for why she says these things.

Because of this, her most effective moments are the silent ones, like a beautiful shot of her swimming naked in a lake, ascending the ladder with supreme self-confidence, the water steaming from her diabolically warmed body. Her pride at her beauty and satisfaction that this can last forever are filled in by her posture and blase expression.*

But if Fox fails the script, so does pretty much everyone else. Adam Brody as a satanically aided lead singer does seem to get that everyone in the Cody-verse is just really clever and this is how they talk. My favorite sequence in the film is when he and his bandmates are about to sacrifice Jennifer to Satan (in order to get a real career)** and he goes from threatening to assured to cajoling in a matter of moments all to keep the sacrifice moving. Towards the very end, he starts singing Tommy Tutone's "867-5309 (Jenny)" as if this was just some late-night karaoke lark before viciously stabbing Fox to death. For a second, the mix of dark wit and horror take you somewhere unexpected. But it's just another momentary diversion in a film filled with too many of them already.

*The funny thing is that Marilyn Chambers, whose acting ability seems at least as limited as Fox's, turned in an extraordinarily more complex performance in a similar role in Rabid. And while Cronenberg's script is not as self-conscious or stylized as Cody's, he hardly gives Chambers the depth that Cody attempts to invest in Fox's character. Perhaps all that I need to add is that the director for JB also directed the live-action Aeon Flux. So the director might be yet another weak link. Maybe the surprise is how a film with a flawed script, a mediocre director and bad cast does manage to hit a nerve even a couple times.
** One of the best running gags is how the band's national success increases with every tragedy that strikes the town, when their Fall-Out-Boy-meets-the-Killers hit single gets co-opted as the soundtrack to the town's suffering, to the point that the song title is the theme for the high school dance.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pretty Girls Make Graves: The Movie Film for Theatres

Maybe a longer review later, but for now:

Jennifer's Body has a great idea at the core and has a couple more interesting ones on the outskirts. But the execution is really botched. Diablo Cody is not Joe Dante, and the people reading her dialogue need to act as if they aren't embarassed by it. Only Adam Brody pulls it off. Sadly, he is only in the film for 20 minutes.

Even Shorter Version: Finally, all you people that wanted Mean Girls and Cronenberg's Rabid to be the same film, only scripted by Diablo Cody, you got your wish. For everyone else who enjoyed Tina Fey's wit and Cronenberg's incisive mix of empathy misanthropy, stay far far away.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

So Rousseau, Hume and Locke land on an island...

So I've been watching a lot of Lost lately. As in, a season and a half in about a month.

And this is after having only ever seen ONE episode of the show somewhere in season 4.

I'm totally new (or was) to the show. I only knew the zeitgeist-y sort of scuttlebutt until recently: there are these people on an island, there's a smoke monster of some kind and polar bears, Michael Emerson is creepy, etc. And that a fake band named "Geronimo Jackson" showed up. But it wasn't until they put the first 4 seasons on Netflix Instant Viewing and I watched the pilot that I got hooked.

So I'm less of a Lost newbie now, but I think it holds together better in some ways, watching so much so close together. The callbacks and plot threads hold together better. It is rather well-plotted, the characters are well-drawn, and the cast is pretty solid. It might not be doing anything new per se, but the way it is combining a bunch of existing elements and ideas, both in terms of methods and themes, is interesting. Heck, even the way the show is peppered with allusions without getting pretentious with them is refreshing.

Of course, there are problems. It seems like sometimes people let stuff slide on the island faster than a real person would. Ten days after Locke gets Boone killed and lies to everyone, suddenly he's a trusted arbiter of whether Charlie is crazy or not? This is stuff that doesn't matter when you've got about a season separating these events. But when it ends up being separated by a few days (more similar to the way time is flowing on an the island), it kind of irks me.

But in some ways, it's like reading a serialized novel, like early Dickens. Over the next few days, I hope to post an entry or two about Lost up until where I am now (in the last few episodes of the second season). From then on, I intend to do TV Club-esque (a la the AV Club) entries episode by episode as I watch them, talking about themes, characters, and theories as I come across them. It should be amusing to see how much I miscalculate upcoming events, at the least. And heck, it seems like the AV Club's TV Club coverage doesn't really start 'til last season.

And I promise updates on some of the other stuff I've been promising along the way. Or at least to tie these entries into my pet causes. So, make your own kind of blogging/Blog your own kind of blog/ Even when nobody else blogs along!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Putting out blogfires...with gasoline!

So I saw Inglourious Basterds opening weekend and loved it. And I think the uproar over Tarantino's handling of the Holocaust and the movie-house alternate history was actually stupid. You'd think that no movie-maker had ever used the Nazis as easy historical punching bags before August 21, 2009. But apparently, suggesting that Jewish people might, like other people, wish to take revenge on their persecutors is out of line. Or something.

Other people have done better jobs of dismantling these arguments (start here, for example, and move forward chronologically). But the thing that struck me about Mendelsohn's article is the last paragraph: "It may be that our present-day taste for "empowerment," our anxious horror of being represented as "victims"—nowadays there are no victims, only "survivors"—has begun to distort the representation of the past, one in which passive victims, alas, vastly outnumbered those who were able to fight back."

I think that Mendelsohn has identified the fact that America does not like to watch people lose (especially when they feel like they are threatened, as in our current economic and political circumstances). We like to believe that the underdog will triumph, the poor but smart and nice guy will get the girl, and good will win out over evil. And these victories are usually because the hero is so darned good, awesome or competent (if not all three). There's little sense of "fate". We rarely see anyone who, despite their best efforts and hard work, fails utterly and completely. The best example of this kind of ending is Chinatown, which still ends powerfully, because the bad guy wins and the good guy hasn't done anything to hurt or stop him. And there's nothing he can do anymore.

But what surprises me is that Mendelsohn (and the other anti-IB people) pull this on Inglourious Basterds, of all movies! This is a movie that makes its own mythmaking-machinery visible to the audience (cf. Brad Pitt's speech about the Basterds' mission, the portrait of Hitler painted as a less-imposing Hitler rants, Nation's Pride being explicitly described as a "German Sergeant York") and certainly complicates the relationship between history and what happens on the screen. People might not recognize the inaccuracies in a million other films (Gladiator, Braveheart, The Patriot, etc.), but they certainly know how WWII ends!

But why not say this about any of a dozen other films about the Holocaust? Schindler's List focuses on some gentile saving Jews. Life is Beautiful is about a guy saving his son from a concentration camp by pure whimsy. Defiance is about Jews standing up and fighting against their oppressors. Described in this reductionist sense, don't all these attempts to understand the Holocaust in cinema fail utterly? Mendelsohn does call out Defiance as an attempt at a feel-good film, but why didn't he write this article then for its release?

In fact, the only Holocaust movie I've seen that points out the characters' helplessness and defeat by the machinery of the Nazis and their death camps is Bent! As far as I remember, the only victory Bent dares to claim for its heroes is in not giving up that final inch of themselves (to paraphrase Valerie in V for Vendetta). And ironically, that film was about the people who get ignored by Holocaust films/books/etc. Quick question: how many movies focus on the Gyspies, homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses persecuted by the Nazis? There might be less of them, but their experience too sheds light on the Nazi killing machine and philosophy.

But getting back to my original point, the problem is that Americans like to believe that they have the autonomy to save, alter or improve their lives, that there is no force they cannot defeat by sheer force of will and ingenuity. As far as beliefs go, it's not a bad one. But this tenet of American society really falls apart in the face of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Or the problem of pain in general.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Catch-Up Screening Log: July

Alphaville (d. Jean-Luc Godard, 1965) - Mystery/sci-fi hybrid where famous French detective Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) is sent to the utterly logical city of Alphaville to find Dr. Leonard Nosferatu van Braun (Howard Vernon), who developed a super-weapon for them. One of those early post-modern exercises in film, which is both effective and hilarious. The destruction of Alphaville at the end is handled more by implication than effects, but is all the more surprising for it. And Godard does a hilarious deadpan, from the futuristic newspaper name of Figaro-Pravda (he can at least imagine a post-Cold War society) to the utterly perfunctory initial attacks on Caution to the way that interstellar travel is just represented as a car driving down a highway. B+

Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (d. Larry Cohen, 1977, NIV) - Larry Cohen's ambition severely outstrips his ability in this film. As I've seen more and more Cohen, the less impressed I am with his film-making ability. His shot compositions are very basic (with the exception of one where Hoover, at his favorite restaurant, is framed as to be surrounded by his own reflection). Cohen's script is an amorphous blob; refusing to organize his picture around one era or one theme or even one character (!), Cohen aims for a "greatest hits of Hoover" approach. Poor, under-utilized Rip Torn serves as our on-again, off-again narrator/POV character (who doesn't even show up on screen until 40 minutes into the film!).
Broderick Crawford is amazing as Hoover, managing to bring some gravitas and mystery to a rather unsympathetic character. To Cohen's credit, he tries to position Hoover as an anti-hero with loathsome methods who still shouldered the huge burden of protecting his Bureau from even more loathsome people. Michael Parks as Robert Kennedy is probably the best of the politician impressionists, bothering to suggest a person behind the familiar affect. C-

Walk Hard (d. Jake Kasdan, 2007, NIV) - I really regret not seeing this in theatres now. I watched it in my bedroom on the heels of a bad break-up, and I still laughed uproariously. The screenplay strikes the perfect balance between stupid and clever in the best Airplane! and Top Secret! traditions. It perfectly punctures the pomposity of the biopic, with the prepackaged life story that always follows the same arc. The cast is excellent (Tim Meadows in particular displays a great comic sincerity and innocence totally at odds with what his character is doing) and the cameos are well-deployed. A-

Piranha (d. Joe Dante, 1978) - A great example of what B movie film-making represents at it's best. Although the opening sequence is well handled, and the Jaws video-game is an incredibly clever joke, the next ten minutes are kind of annoying as Bradford Dillman and Heather Menzies are thrown together by over-contrived circumstance and without any regard for the characterization they've established (because young, attractive girls go for paunchy, angry alcoholics all the time where I live). But once it gets past those 10 minutes, the pacing and plotting builds relentlessly and cleverly. The action sequences are well-staged and the caricatures that populate the story are engagingly depicted by a cast of b-movie character actors (Dick Miller, Barbara Steele, Kevin McCarthy). And Dante's visual wit (the escape attempt from the army, the race to stop the dam from venting) helps to lighten the mood. Like a fresh Krispy Kreme donut, you wouldn't want to devour more at one sitting, nor would you make a meal of it. But a fun time and not insulting to the intelligence. B-

Gypsy (d. Mervyn LeRoy, 1962) - A horror movie disguised as a musical, as suggested by one of my favorite blogs, Shadowplay. Rosalind Russell does a great job of portraying someone who has bought into the combined fantasies of show biz and the American Dream, trying to disguise her selfishness as kindness and bulldozing past any attempt at realism with sheer enthusiasm. Karl Malden and Natalie Wood also turn in great performances. Wood in particular deserves commendation for the decidedly tomboyish and defeated posture she carries through most of the film, totally effacing herself with a pitiful anti-charisma. LeRoy's direction marries these performances to a decidedly tactile universe that continually undercuts any attempts at show biz glamor by Rose (the cow head adds a particular grotesqueness, always lingering at the corner of the frame in most scenes). A

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (d. David Yates, 2009, at theater) Do I really need to give a synopsis? Yates does a great job of staging his scenes, so that a glimpse of a by-passed conversation in a quiet scene suddenly explodes into violence a second later. He and the production department also find a nice balance between the magical feeling of Hogwarts and the lived-in aspect that any such place would have. A good, game cast, but Jim Broadbent as Professor Slugworth adds a particular poignance. As a compromised, faded professor drawn to celebrities like a moth to flame, he offers a reminder of fates worse than death or Dementors that Voldemort can offer. B

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Thoughts brought on by "Antonio Margheriti" rubbing shoulders with G.W. Pabst in "Inglourious Basterds"

Howard Vernon, a mainstay of Spanish schlockmeister Jesus Franco and Jean Rollins, got his start with Fritz Lang on the 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse and appeared as Dr. Leonard Nosferatu von Braun in Godard's Alphaville.

Jesus Franco was a 2nd unit director for Orson Welles on Chimes at Midnight and Don Quixote. It was his Count Dracula that forms the basis of Pere Portabella's Cuadecuc, vampir.

Ruggero Deodato, director of Cannibal Holocaust, got his start as second unit director on Rosselini's Il Generale della Rovere.*

This is on top of Roger Corman's record for starting such luminaries as Monte Hellman, John Sayles, and Robert Towne, on top of Coppola and Scorcese, of course.

The cross-pollination between auteurist sensibility in the approved and the shadow auteurs that exist in the netherworld of exploitation film deserves greater examination.

Jesus Franco is no Orson Welles, it's true. But just as Cahiers du Cinema rehabilitated Samuel Fuller, Edgar Ulmer and Howard Hawks for the art-house, our generation has to grapple with the disconnect between exploitation/genre and art-house. Some art-house filmmakers are breaking down the boundaries of their own accord. But we don't have any kind of discussion between these two worlds except in the practical terms.

In addition to the economic reasons, Hollywood and whatever metonymy would represent the independent film-world need to face the artistic legacy of these overlapping, cross-breeding worlds just because of the artistic options they suggest. This examination offers something beyond blockbusters and middle-brow.

*Cannibal Holocaust might deserve some sort of comparison to the goals and practices of neo-realism. It is grappling with the social systems that hold together society, looking at media's methods of manipulation of reality. The hypocrisy or effectiveness of the approach also deserve discussion, but blanket dismissal is way too easy.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The King of Casting...

Just watched Scorcese's "The King of Comedy", his acerbic take on both celebrity and would-be celebrities.

And then I found this article (h/t The Playgoer).

Short version: Some douchebag casting director tweeted the results of her casting session, complaining about specific (though un-named) performances.

She claims she's being helpful, giving advice, but it seems to me that she could always just write an article or blog post or something constructive for future auditioners. The internet does allow you to post more than 140 words at a time. She knows that, right?

And if she really had a problem with something a specific performer does, why not address it to that specific person? That's a really passive-aggressive way to deal with your frustration.

I hope the next time Ms. Eisenberg does something private or personal that someone tweets every detail.

This is the exact kind of deafness to personal interaction that characterizes Rupert Pupkin's character in "King of Comedy", that makes you want to retch when he actually becomes a success. But in the defense of that character, the movie does point out a severely messed-up and disappointing life that made him that way. What's a successful, powerful casting director's defense?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Let a Thousand Audrey 2s Bloom...

Idea 1: The American film industry's best hope is a hundred modern-day Roger Cormans: profit-minded entrepreneurs with some artistic curiousity and cost-motivated desire to seek out and train new talent.

Idea 2: Perhaps the American film industry stands as the final titan of America's monolithic industries. I think it also the one that that has experienced the least government interference and/or support. Hollywood as the next Detroit?

Idea 3: Hollywood's creative destruction and the rise of the modern Cormans would be capitalism perfected. The pro-business, pro-family wing of the conservatives will be dismayed by this exercise of capitalism. The aesthetic/creative wing of the modern left will face incredible discomfort at the products.

I promise I will actually explicate and expand on these. But for now, whet your appetite with an article that points out how Corman was an auteur and craftsman in one of his most atypical films.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The geeks were right

Seriously, Richard Corliss? Netflix is ruining the movie-watching community?

He does remember that most of us were going to Blockbuster or Hollywood Video or some other awful video store which carried 50 copies of the latest blockbuster (with a little b) and maybe one copy of Gone With the Wind, if you were lucky? Right?

I mean, growing up in Raleigh, we didn't have a trendy place like Kim's Video to go to. My video store never even carried a copy of The Taking of Pelham 123.

Corliss is right that wait times suck, and Netflix's recommendation software isn't as good as a knowledgeable video clerk. But then again, in my memories of Blockbuster, you were lucky if there were two guys on register on a Friday night and a third person working the floor. That's awful customer service. Good luck getting out in 10 minutes with the movie you wanted, let alone getting recommendations!

I don't want to just snark Mr. Corliss. There are probably some cool video stores driven out of business by Netflix. But 99% of the places were crappy, ill-stocked chains that wanted to sell you over-priced popcorn and never carried a video that wasn't put out by a major studio.

And the thing is, I've been learning a lot about movies from the film blogosphere, by people not motivated by the urge to move product, who aren't in a hurry to get me out so they can serve someone else. Most of the people who blog about movies that I read care about more than the latest blockbuster and they want to have a conversation. Isn't that the kind of community that Richard Corliss misses?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sick as a dog... what's your story?

ugh...
bad bad blogger.
no content now.
promise to blog soon.
If you are in need of commentary, I will say, Die, Mommie, Die is disappointingly uncampy (at least compared to the source material it parodies). Maybe it works better on stage?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Information wants to be free: 19th Century edition

Apparently there's been some blogosphere dust-up lately about Chris Anderson's Free: The Future of a Radical Price, because, on the one hand, it's really easy to download an entire band's 30 year discography in a few minutes without having to put on pants these days, while, on the other hand, Wired still expects you to pay for subscriptions. Or something like that. This is a freshman blog, and the older bloggers keep pushing me into lockers or sending me to look for a pool on the roof when I try to join the discussion.

But, you know what, I'm reading Perry Miller's The Raven and the Whale: Poe, Melville and the New York Literary Scene right now. First of all, so far, it's much more interesting than the title might suggest. The New York literary scene in the 1830s and 1840s was filled with a lot of people arguing over what American literature would look like. And their arguments, as most arguments do, quickly became confused with political debates and, more importantly, a lot of personal insults.

So far, the whole thing strikes me as very similar to the message board flame wars that you encounter on nerd sites or those weird blog community rivalries (like, remember gawker vs. n+1? jeez, that makes me feel old). But instead of pretentious twenty-something bloggers or Green Lantern fans, these were august men of letters who were trying to help out Hawthorne, Poe and Melville. Or sink them.

Then maybe David Denby is wrong, these kind of poisonous fights for status in tiny communities are nothing new. The only difference is that now, it's easier for everyone to watch two geeks try to slap each other and roll their eyes.

But before I get totally distracted by my own snark, what is most interesting in terms of our time, is the difficulty of copyright in those days. While the fact that Poe and Melville and Hawthorne were perpetually fighting to keep the wolves from their door is nothing new, the arguments over copyright/literature piracy are also surprisingly current.

Once again, you have one side claiming that copyright is the only thing that would help encourage artists to pursue their craft without facing starvation. On the other side, people are arguing that if the best will still be able to support themselves if they are good, and copyright only encourages mediocrities in rent-seeking.

That's all very simplistic though. Because the copyright people also (generally) wanted literary protectionism that would encourage American writers (and implicitly keeping out European works). And yes, that was partly argued as a fear of European decadence infecting American readers.

While the copyfight people were, with the benefit of history, basically saying, "yeah, Poe and Melville and Hawthorne? Nobodies. Charles Lamb, now he's where it's at." Oh, and that creating art was something that only already rich people should indulge in.

So both historical sides are very problematic. And the problematic angles of both sides seem to be lurking underneath the current arguments too.

Up next: An argument that Hollywood is a best case scenario for commercial art. Also, speculation that Roger Corman and his ilk are the future of professional film-making (for better or worse).

Friday, June 26, 2009

Screening Log: June

Just to make sure I keep posting on a regular basis, I've decided to start recording the movies I've seen. I'm borrowing the format/idea from Forager Blog, who, if I remember it correctly, borrowed it from someone else (though I can't find the post). None of this is a comprehensive discussion of the movies I've seen, just things that struck me. Unlike him, I'm using a A through F grading scale. A is amazing (i.e. I'd put this on my list of favorite films), B is well-done (worthwhile viewing, no matter what your specific preferences), C is acceptable, with noteworthy elements, D is poorly done and boring, F is awful (but occasionally awful in a redeeming way).

So:
The Comfort of Strangers (d. Paul Schrader, 1990, DVD) - Adapted by Harold Pinter from a novel by Ian McEwan. Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson are English tourists visiting Venice, who run across a mysterious and charming couple played by Christopher Walken and Helen Mirren. Wonderful script that plays up the terrifying elements of the most banal, normal things, and the Venetian shooting locations really add both a menace and a thrill to everything. The cast is uniformly wonderful (between this and Cemetery Man, I really wish Rupert Everett did more horror). However, it's a sweet spot of Schrader and Pinter's hobby horses, and neither of them are doing everything that original, even though they do it well. Climax doesn't measure up the menace and weirdness established before. B-

The Man from Laramie (d. Anthony Mann, 1955, TV) Jimmy Stewart is hunting down the man who sold Apaches the rifles that killed his brother, and Donald Crisp is an aging cattle baron who might be responsible. It's the Duke of Gloucester plot from King Lear, set in the old West. Arthur Kennedy is particularly good as Crisp's hired hand and would-be adopted son, all competence and reason with an undercurrent of desperation. Beautifully shot, most of the violence is speedy and fascinatingly one-sided. As soon as things come to blows, the issue is usually decided. The tacked-on happy ending lets some of the air out of the balloon. And Stewart's romance with Cathy O'Donnell has no chemistry. A-

Punisher: War Zone (d. Lexi Alexander, 2008, DVD) - Third Punisher movie, third reboot, probably the one that comes closest to working. The Punisher (Ray Stevenson) is on a hunt for criminals, specifically Jigsaw (Dominic West) and his brother (Doug Hutchinson). No plot really beyond that. The screenwriter and director seem to understand that Punisher stories are about people doing nasty things to each other, in occasionally comic ways. Someone's face is literally pummeled into his skull. Another criminal is shot out of the sky with a rocket launcher as he jumps from building to building. The actors are mostly flailing around between cypher, hammy and wooden, with the exception of Stevenson and West. The plot doesn't even make sense. But the cinematography is both painstaking and hilariously over-the-top. The film's final shot is the best summation of the character I have ever seen. C -

The Tales of Hoffman (d. Powell & Pressburger, 1951, DVD) - Fairy tale writer ETA Hoffman (Robert Rounsenville) finds his attempts at romance blocked at every turn by the bureaucrat Lindorf (Robert Helpmann) or one of his stand-ins. A movie version of the Offenbach opera, but not a filmed opera performance. The libretto is okay, the music not to my taste. But all the actors are marvelous with great physical presence (Moira Shearer and Helpmann are the stand-outs) and the mise-en-scene in this film is a fore-runner to both the OCD perfection of P.T Anderson and the over-the-top fantastic of Frank Miller/Zach Snyder/Robert Rodriguez. Every fantasy/sci-fi/comic book artist in the world must wish they were that good. An optimistic fantasy-romance with one of the most brutal endings I've ever seen. A -

Death Walks at Midnight (d. Luciano Ercoli, 1972, DVD) - Nieves Navarro is a fashion model who remembers witnessing a murder while on drugs. Problem is, the murder was already solved by the police, but the crime doesn't fit her memories. Like most gialli, the acting is unconvincing (though better in Italian than in the English dub). Beautiful camera-work, with special attention paid to what is occurring in the edges of the frame. Extra credit to the screenwriters, who take what seems like a shaggy dog story and show that there is a rhyme and reason to what is happening. You will not be able to predict what happens next, but you don't feel as if the film-makers cheated. C+

Ransom (d. Ron Howard, 1996, Netflix Instant Viewing) - Mel Gibson and Rene Russo's kid is kidnapped, and the kidnapper's ringleader is a cop (Gary Sinise). This is the one where Gibson makes the ransom money into the bounty, remember? Ron Howard's direction is only competent, but the script and performances ground it and add tension up through the third act. At that point, the action movie cliches finally overwhelm careful detail and specifics. Gary Sinise deserves special credit for constructing such a perversely evil character which he never apologizes for. Case in point: an amazing monologue delivered over a voice-scrambled walkie talkie as he leads Gibson to the money-drop. Also the one sequence where Howard shines, as he uses shadows and lights on a NY expressway for all they are worth. B- for first 3 quarters, C- for the whole

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives

If you'd asked me three years ago, I would have said that I would never enjoy the Grateful Dead or Steely Dan.

Now I find I'm actually getting into both of them. I wonder if anyone else has noticed how much the Hold Steady owe to Steely Dan ("Kid Charlemagne" vs. "Charlemagne in Sweatpants", anyone?). As for the Dead, I'm not exactly listening to their concerts or jams, but some of their bluesier numbers like "Ship of Fools" or some of their Dylan numbers have a nice country-rock The Band vibe to them.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

"You got the most in you, and you use the least. You hear me, you? Got a million in you and spend pennies"

Read The Stars My Destination tonight. 

Alfred Bester wrote a great sci-fi novel that just stretches well past both his era and our era.

I find it so humbling and disappointing to find something so great. Because now there is one less great thing to find and one more thing to match myself against.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

She's Lost Control... of France

Just finished watching Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, which I really liked. There's something about the way she deploys anachronism in the film to mess with the audience's heads.

I think the decision to play against costume drama really works. The '80s music cues, the lack of Costume Drama dialogue (or pretentious classical drama delivery) and an impressionistic structure that mostly works from the POV of Marie Antoinette all serve to distance the viewer from getting lost in the romance of nostalgia while at the same time keeping us from condemning her as a tool of an oppressive regime. The biggest take-away of this film is that whether Marie was good or bad didn't matter, because the arena she actually had control over had only the most tangential relationship. There's a very telling moment early on in the film when one of Marie's hangers-on gossips that Madame du Barry (Asia Argento) is political because she refuses to reign only in the boudoir.

The movie functions as an amazing bait-and-switch, because it is only in the last twenty minutes that Coppola starts pulling the rug out from under us and Antoinette. For the first three quarters of the film, it's a coming-of-age/romance that we think we're watching and that Antoinette seems to think she's living in (notice how much her life is constructed around consumption and artifice). Then her portraits start getting vandalized and you start hearing the angry crowds. And the rest is literally history. How often do we think we're living one story and it turns out we're only supporting characters in another one?

Compare this to Alex Cox's Walker, where the anachronisms and ironies feel heavily italicized, or Anthony Mann's Reign of Terror, where you can mostly feel the actor and director getting uneasy any time it moves away from its weird noir moments and back into historical drama. Coppola strikes a good balance without losing focus or falling apart, and she's assembled a game, if eclectic cast (Asia Argento! Marianne Faithfull! Rip Torn! Steve Coogan!). So yeah, I'd recommend checking it out, provided you don't prefer Serious Costume Drama. Those movies have their place, but we won't run short of them any time soon.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

"No more blue tomorrows. You on high now, love," or, Inland Empire broke my mind

Inland Empire (d. David Lynch, 2006)
Starring: Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons and Justin Theroux

There's something weird about watching this on the same day I watched Uwe Boll's Bloodrayne. That weirdness is increased by the fact that both movies end with the respective heroines flashing back through earlier sequences in the movie. In Bloodrayne's case, it seems like mere padding. But who knows, maybe Boll has a budding auteur inside him, struggling to get out?

But Inland Empire is a dense, insular and obtuse film even for David Lynch. It starts off looking like it's about the way art blurs with reality or replaces reality, as co-stars Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) and Devon Berk (Justin Theroux) begin carrying on a relationship similar to the one they have in their film. And then it might also be about their film's cursed earlier incarnations, which ended in the murder of the two leads. Or it might be three juxtaposed versions of the same story that bleed into each other (including one set in pre-World War II Poland). And then the Polish mob shows up (or are they circus performers?) along with some time-travelling Hollywood Boulevard street-walkers. And unlike Mulholland Drive, which this sometimes seems like a remake of, it doesn't make sense at the end.

Inland Empire's pacing reminds me of the way Family Guy paces jokes. The first hour and a half, the movie seems to hold it's own internal consistency, focusing on Dern and Theroux's characters and the temptation to let art's intensity replace the stupidity and banality of real life.  But then things get very weird once Dern disappears into a set that's become a real building and I started getting lost. I sort of held in this confusing state of mind. And then, somewhere about thirty minutes before the end, the movie started clicking in some sense as callbacks to earlier sequences start proliferating. I still can't explain what the movie was about. Or what the ending meant.

But Laura Dern does an amazing job throughout, playing two different characters, but differentiating them in varied and subtle ways that helped clarify the movie somewhat. In fact, whenever Dern disappears from the film or the camera goes away from her, the film as a whole starts collapsing into a black hole of weirdness. But when she is on screen, it is clear that what's going on is happening to a real person and the strange stuff that people do in David Lynch films is, for her at least, grounded in some real place.

And for his part, Lynch does very well by Dern, treating her like a great cinematic beauty in some scenes (even though she's not a classical beauty in any sense), an intellectual enigma in others, and an adept performer of  slice-of-life realism in even more. I'm not sure if I've seen any other roles that have come close for sheer complexity in the last few years for women, let alone a woman in her 50s. 

But David Lynch makes a transformation into the art-house Lucio Fulci in this film. There are great set-pieces (the street-walkers in Dern's 'living room', Dern's painful death near Hollywood and Vine, all the "inside baseball" movie-making scenes), but the stuff between you have to come to some sort of Stockholm Syndrome-esque acceptance of.

This is far from a glowing review, but it is Lynch at his Lynchiest. It is a fascinating but frustrating glimpse inside a fascinating and frustrating mind. I wouldn't watch this to unwind or with a group of friends. It's a movie fit for a lonely day, when you're sick or mildly hung-over and your mind is in that strange half-accepting but half-stupid mode caused by minor illness or too much drinking.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

New York's alright if you like Sophokles..

I'm sad that, right after writing that huge post on Lucio Fulci, I found out the Wooster Group is doing a mash-up of Dido & Aeneas AND Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires. I can't think of anything that symbolizes my interests any better in one thing. Classical myth? Cult horror films? Theatre? And all my previous rants aside, I don't mind going avant garde sometimes, especially if you've got the Wooster Group's bonafides.

But karma is kind, because the production I was afraid of missing, Classical Stage Company's An Oresteia sounds like a dud. Sadly, even this blessing is somewhat mixed, because the reviewer loves Euripides' Orestes (which is not continuous with either his Elektra or his Iphigenia plays) for ALL THE WRONG REASONS. I don't know how Ann Carson could have so awfully botched her translation of Orestes that it turned from a tragi-comedy (a la Shakespeare's Troilus & Cressida) into a plain old comedy. It's a play about high minded sentiments masking depraved cruelty and justice undone by political considerations, performed near the end of the Peloponnesian War, when Athens' folly was laid bare.

If there is any comedy in the play (and especially in William Arrowsmith's excellent translation), it's the darkest kind, laughing at how every character's words come to justify more and more grotesque ends.

It's easy to look back and laugh at people like Charles and Mary Lamb, Colley Cibber and Nahum Tate for having the gall to rewrite Shakespeare. But you have to wonder if, another couple generations down the line, if people will think the same thing about productions like these.

"I wish I was a little bit hyphy/I wish E40 liked me"

So, Sasha Frere Jones does a good job explaining the evolution/devolution of Eminem in his review of Encore (linked to on his New Yorker blog on the occasion of Em's new video).

The thing is, the crowd of white rappers is kind of dispiriting right now. Beasties aside, it seems like the main trend is nerdy white guys or hipster white guys rapping over cuts from Pro Tools. I enjoy MC Chris and MC Frontalot and MC Lars, but the long, monotonous trail from MC Paul Barman to Optimus Rhyme is kind of depressing.

MC Chris has a decent flow and has one great song, in "Fett's Vette". MC Frontalot is a clever guy, but he's not really that good a rapper. His pieces are carried more by the puns and the lyrical conceits. And then MC Lars... he's funny and acceptable, but he seems to have only two modes: making fun of cliques and 'hey, DIY is the best thing ever'.

I guess El-P breaks it up a little, between his love for John Carpenter-esque samples and horror/sci-fi melodrama. And then there's Goldie Lockin' Chain, who, are a comedy group, but since the joke is in transporting rap to the down-at-the-heels parts of Wales, it's something that feels lived in and fun, instead of posing and snarkiness. But with the exception of GLC, I don't ever feel a need to listen to an entire album by any of them. *sigh*

Weird, because I'm not really that big a hip-hop fan (at least compared to my love of indie and classic rock), but I'd like a little more variety. Music fan cannot live on D&D jokes alone, you know?

ETA 9:01 PM: If this post comes off as racist, it's me being a stupid white guy, but not intentionally. I do listen to black rappers (I just got the new DOOM album). As I remark to Leigh in the comments, there were just all these white rappers in the 90s (or wanna-bes, at least), some of whom were working class or lower middle class. Now it seems like they're all trust fund kids or tech geeks (who usually come from middle or upper class, it seems). Isn't that a weird class change worth talking about? And unfortunately, my knowledge mostly runs to relatively mainstream hip-hop and nerdcore/indie. So yeah.

ETA 9:14 PM: Also, hip-hop could probably use more representation of every other race, gender, nationality and class. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Can't rap or sing/but he wants to do both"

Okay, I know I promised some more Lucio Fulci goodness with the next entry, but the media cycle interfered.

I'm not a huge hip-hop fan. I mean, I like Doom (or MF Doom or whatever he calls himself today), Public Enemy, the Roots, the Wu-Tang Clan and a hodge-podge of the classics (if there is a classic canon that includes both Nate Dogg and KRS-One). But I used to like Eminem.

I remember that, when Eminem came out, there was something bracing about him. He was an unpleasant guy and a vitriolic artist.  His Marshall Mathers LP was one of the few CDs that my mother actually made me return! (The other that comes to mind is The Offspring's Ignition.  See even mall punk can be threatening.) But there was a sense that he was moving rap beyond random sex and drug-running. Here was a rapper who had a sense of satire! Heck, he even had an emotional range. Can you imagine DMX or Ja Rule or any number of popular rappers from the '90s who could have covered the ground between "The Real Slim Shady" and "Stan"?

To my younger mind, there was more of Juvenal than Juvenile to Eminem. His was an awful worldview, but he seemed to include himself in it, mocking himself as much as Morrissey did. And for all of his 8 Mile and Dr. Dre supplied street cred, he felt like someone who understood the boringness of suburban/exurban life, where the only fantasies came packaged by the entertainment industry. Wu Tang Clan re-contextualized all their comic book/high fantasy/blaxploitation worlds to fit into the outer borough world, but they had New York at their doorstep, where their legendary heroes did battle.

Eminem (and D12, to a lesser extent) just had Detroit, a fading metropolis that no one was interested in fighting over. And while my hometown was nowhere near as bad as Detroit, there was the same feeling that life had passed us by and all the cool stuff happened elsewhere, with TRL and the Real World and prime time TV giving us glimpses of this reality. Eminem rapped about people stuck in dead-end jobs with only pop fantasies to carry them through, fantasized about empowering his fans down at Burger King.

But like all underdogs who start out fighting the power and win (even if the power is just Carson Daly and Britney Spears), he got fat and old and rich. Now he's got a new album out and the pop culture parodies have overwhelmed any actual satire. He's got all the women and drugs and a position as court jester and the fire's disappeared. He's even got his own label, made up of neglected rappers whose albums he has yet to release. 

So compare "Crack A Bottle" and "We Made You" (NSFW) off Relapse (Amelie Gilette's right about the wider implications too of the new video) with "Lose Yourself" or the bootleg diss track (directed at Everlast, another also-ran in the Great 90s Rap Rock war) "Quitter" (very NSFW), where he sounds like he's got anger saved up for everyone he's encountered for more than five minutes over the last ten years. On the chronologically earlier tracks, he's hugging the beats. On the later ones, he's sounding winded over a mid-tempo beat and hiding behind a sing-songy intonation. In other words, he's started doing the same thing he accused Everlast of (because Everlast was too worn out to really rap, in his opinion).

It's weird that these days, when Fred Durst is trying out to be the new Hal Ashby and the guys from Korn are finding God, it's Eminem who sounds exhausted and out of ideas. Maybe one day, we'll have to explain to kids that, yes, at one time, Eminem seemed to matter.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Life is far from peaceful": Beatrice Cenci and Lucio Fulci

Lucio Fulci is sort of in a weird place, canonically. Despite his substantial contributions to both giallo and the zombie film, his filmography is marred by too many bad films, and even many of his good later films suffer from narrative problems. Mario Bava gets retrospectives reviewed in the NY Times and his work appropriated by the Beastie Boys. Dario Argento's newest films are still anxiously awaited by horror fans (no matter how poorly executed), and his daughter's acting and directing career has also kept him in the public eye. 

But Fulci? Other than a Blue Underground/Anchor Bay reissue of Zombie (a.k.a. Zombi 2), some of his most popular works (The Beyond and City of the Living Dead) are out of print on DVD.  Not to mention that his last films, co-written/co-directed by frequent Bruno Mattei collaborator Claudio Fragasso (also the director of the infamous Troll 2) returned to the zombie well one too many time to incredibly diminished results. No wonder the epitaph that seems to stick to him is Tarkovsky's dismissive comment about Zombi 2: "Ghastly; repulsive trash".

I'd almost say, right now, Ruggero Deodato's received more of a critical re-evaluation than Lucio Fulci.

On the other hand, the qualities that make Fulci amazing are the ones obscured by crappy prints and critical blindspots. He strikes me as a pop culture surrealist in the mode of David Lynch, with the same transgressiveness that launches from a deeply conservative worldview.

His films are filled with an obsession with the ways our bodies betray us (the maggots and rotting flesh which fill his zombie cycle, the torture, drunkenness and lust that fill Beatrice Cenci), the self-serving blindness of bureaucrats (Dr. Menard's single-minded obsession with a scientific explanation in Zombi 2, the incompetent police of City of the Living Dead, the manipulative Dr. Boyle and blasphemous Dr. Freudstein in House by the Cemetery) and, most importantly, lives upturned by irrational, inexplicable events, whether human (Francesco Cenci's violence against his daughter, the murders in his giallo), or supernatural (his zombie films).

Fulci's greatest strength lies in his eye for shot composition and his oft-misunderstood use of pacing (the eyeball scene in Zombi 2, for example). He's not a writer's director or an actor's director, and he's often let down by his screenwriters. But like his contemporary Argento and his successor Michele Soavi, he has an ability to direct films that seem like nightmares, which follow their own grotesque dream logic.

Unfortunately, writers prefer to honor writing or acting, because they are concrete elements you can point to assign credit to (I include myself in this assessment). So someone whose work is poorly translated and poorly acted twists in the wind, whatever their merits.

Next post: actually talking about Beatrice Cenci, religion, and body horror for costume drama.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Magnificent Odd Obsessions

I just found an amazing video/dvd rental place that carries the obscure stuff that Netflix doesn't.

Up next: reviews of Lucio Fulci's Beatrice Cenci (and yes, that is the Cenci that was the subject of Keats' closet drama), which will probably also touch on my feelings on Fulci as horror auteur, and Welles' Magnificent Ambersons.

This is going to be an amazing week.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

"I'll go to Hollywood/they'll think that I'm so good"

Am going on blogacation (that's blog+vacation), that happens to fit my actual vacation. Will be in Los Angeles. I will try to resist the urge to spin tiny anecdotes into serious analysis a la Thomas Friedman.

However, I am growing facial hair, which, if Thomas Friedman is any indicator, compels one to talk in meaningless buzzwords and stories told by taxi drivers.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A strangers just a friend you haven't met... Streetcar!

So, in the vein of people not knowing the world has shattered around them, I present this article from entertainment industry site the Wrap. Not to insult someone who might be a very hard-working person who cares deeply about her industry but... opening a new production company in LA premised on the fact that there are always directors and actors willing to work for free seems both exploitative and unoriginal. There's also something startlingly naive about the way that she thinks people always wanting to see movies also equals people always paying to see movies, even though she thinks it's the way of life for the actual artists to go un-remunerated!

However, key lines:

"As Blanche Dubois said, 'I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.' Or in my case, a kind film executive or friend willing to pick up the tab for lunch."

Um... Blanche is saying this as she's being led to the insane asylum after being raped by her sister's husband. Using that as a mantra for optimists is like AA using John Lee Hooker's "One Bourbon, One Shot, One Beer" to kick off meetings. And that's before the bone-headed second sentence, which totally ignores that her quote comes from someone utterly failed by her actual friends.

"It rains on the just and the unjust alike, except in California."

Just this last thing about the Watchmen movie: it pointed out how much a dark sense of humor the graphic novel had, something the movie didn't follow through on as much. Such as the above line, which in the film, got cut down to, "It rains on the just and the unjust alike."

But the drop in the second week box office, after a decent opening weekend, almost seem symptomatic of Hollywood's problems. Dawn of the Dead and 300 both did well, but in part because they had no names and were relatively cheap to film, despite being recognizable properties. Zack Snyder tried to follow through in the same way on Watchmen with the relatively no-name cast, but he couldn't help but require expensive effects because of the property. And then legal issues came up to further divvy up whatever profit the movie actually makes.

I think that Los Angeles (and to a lesser extent, New York)' film industry is on the blink of oblivion. Whatever the unions do or don't do, whoever the moguls sue or don't sue, the entertainment economic model is increasingly untenable and whatever rough beast now slouching to Studio City waiting to be shot (on digital video, of course) could probably do just as well or better in Oregon or Arkansas or Wisconsin.

Some days, I can't wait to see it all fall down. Other days, it makes me sad and scared. Maybe someday I'll post my theories on the possible new models that might emerge, so that twenty years from now, when Jeff Zucker-tron owns the entire West Coast, everyone can look back and laugh at my blinkered predictions.

"How could he not foresee that Comcast would develop wireless skull implants?" The tight-pants, not-hip-hop listening ingrates I didn't fight in a war for will chortle.

Meanwhile, I'll sit in a theatre with Sam Neill, watching movies and going mad.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Abyss Gazes Also; or, Alan Moore Knows the Score

Long time, no blog, I know. Mr. K has been a bad blogger, especially in our brave new world with a comic book collecting president and a #1 comic book movie ruling the box offices.  I swear I've got ideas kicking around, but it didn't feel urgent to review Watchmen, especially since everyone else has already said all the things I'd ever want to say, both good and bad (Mr. Walton at Picture Poetry sums up some of my feelings re: my ambivalence to Watchmen the movie as an adaptation of Watchmen the book).

One thing I did want to remark on was that for years Alan Moore has feared that people will only see adaptations of his work and totally misunderstand his actual work. I've always thought this was absurd, that intelligent people at least wouldn't dismiss his body of literature based on a movie version. That's like saying Hamlet was stupid and immature because you didn't like Kenneth Branaugh's film version, right?

But then the media and the blogosphere seem determined to prove me wrong. As far as the AO Scott article that Isaac at Parabasis references, I think he does a good enough job of taking down the laziness. But the Freddie deBoer post has so many things wrong about it.

First of all, I can't tell if Freddie deBoer has ever ACTUALLY READ THE BOOK before he started bashing Alan Moore.  Because he blames the entire content of the book on Alan Moore, who apparently also pencilled, inked, colored and edited the graphic novel all by himself. Read the article again. You know who Freddie deBoer never references?

DAVE GIBBONS. The only creator that the movie actually credits with putting together Watchmen. The artist responsible for the look of the world of the comic, whose actual panels were the basis for several shots of the film. The man who Zach Snyder, the director of the film itself, met with for guidance. Also, an artist who collaborated with Alan Moore on several other projects and has also written comics solo. He's no work-for-hire hack that Moore dictated everything too.

This suggests to me that Freddie read the graphic novel (if he read it at all) as a NOVEL, ignoring, you know, the graphic part? Furthermore, it suggests to me that Freddie saw the film and remembered Alan Moore had something to do with it, remembered he had some poorly-reasoned dislike of Alan Moore and decided, hey, it's time for a blog post.

Because, hey, want to know something else? For all Freddie lumps the book with the film and disses Alan Moore, he never suggests that someone else directed the film, with a bunch of actors and designers who were also not Alan Moore, with a lot of final decisions regarding editing and marketing made by business executives not named Alan Moore. I've heard of the intentional fallacy, but this is the first time I've seen the only intent ascribed to someone who was desperate to disassociate himself from the actual film and only generated the original work it was based on! 

And he talks about the ridiculous violence and cruelty of the movie (which was problematic) and elides it with a book that mostly avoids showing violence and cruelty on the page. 

Do we actually see the Comedian impact on the pavement? Do we see the dogs actually murdered or the little girl molested and fed to the dogs?  (And note, these are things that neither the graphic novel or the movie actually show! ) 

And, sure, Freddie can say that the movie didn't have to deal with the awful violent subjects it continually suggests. And that might be fair, because the movie often slows to down to let you enjoy the violence because skull getting split is kewl!

But to blame the graphic novel for that? To say that, one of the only comic books that I've ever seen subject one of its biggest murderers to rigorous psychological examination, a graphic novel that continually ironizes (visually and textually) the idea that violence solves anything, a story which positions a passer-by trying to stop someone from abusing their lover on the street as more heroic than the costumed heroes supposed to protect him, to say that comic book is immature and pretentious is the mark of a shallow and superficial reader who needs his sentiments spoon-fed to him!

And that's even leaving out the fact that every death in Watchmen has a consequence, that we see it weigh on the characters in the art, that we see seemingly unconnected people having to cope with the aftermath of each death. Go back to the graphic novel and think about Nite Owl II's feelings of guilt over the policeman critically injured by a device he invented even though Rorschach pulled the trigger. Go reread the scenes where Malcolm Long's marriage and life are torn apart in his quest to understand what drove his patient to violence, even though his own life and behavior are perfectly exemplary. If you can't stick it out that far, take a look at the first chapter of Under the Hood that closes out issue one, where Hollis Mason remembers and feels shame over the suicide of a cuckolded man he once laughed at. People in this book take responsibility for the violence that takes place, even if they don't always respond the right way or even if they're not to blame.

Watchmen is a work that drips empathy for almost every character, so that by the end we feel sad to see a sociopathic vigilante murdered in the snow. Moore even makes a sympathetic, progressive character whose views most mirror Moore's politics the ultimate villain, while making a reprehensible, xenophobic right-wing tabloid the voice of truth!

But what can you expect from a writer whose idea of an argument against Lars Van Trier is that he's full of shit? So? That doesn't say anything about how his work mirrors or fails to mirror life. It tells me nothing about why his movies should be relegated to some historical dustbin.

So instead he complains about Alan Moore lacking delicacy and tact and the low critical bar that graphic novels have to leap. Maybe he should instead be glad for the even lower bar set for bloggers.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Slightly better than "Surviving the Game", Not as fun as "Gymkata"

I should probably admit that I'm not that huge a Joss Whedon fan, despite the fact that, in theory, he's everything I like wrapped in one geeky package. Comic book fan? Check. Innovative twists on sci-fi and horror, which acknowledge and update trappings and gender roles? Check. Weird sense of humor? Check.

But I've only seen a few episodes of "Firefly" (which I liked), no Buffy or Angel at all. I've never read his run on X-Men, and I haven't watched "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog". So keep that in mind when you get to the next part:

I think "Dollhouse" is okay. But I don't think it's going to be great as long as Eliza Dukshu's the lead.

The second episode just revealed the empress as naked, if you will. She's called upon to encounter different versions of herself during a drug-induced freakout. And my god, if it wasn't for the dialogue/costume cues, I wouldn't be able to tell which version was a mind-erased doll and which supposed to be a living being. Her only method for showing confusion is to walk in a weird stagger and shake her head from side to side.

I mean, I guess there might be some point to having someone as blank as Eliza Dushku play a character whose entire existence is projected onto her by other people. But I don't care about her plight or view her brainwashing as that bad a thing, which is incredibly problematic for this show.

And you know, when Harry Lennix is on screen, kicking butt and being morally troubled, or when Tahmoh Penikett's cute next door neighbor hits on him, or when the meta-plot is getting revealed, I'm engaged and enjoying myself.

But then Eliza Dushku is called upon to show some range and the show falls apart for me. My only hope is that Whedon has some master-stroke planned that is supposed to play off this. But so far, I'm a doubter.

I mean, when your "Most Dangerous Game" episode leaves me saying "eh", you should realize your show has a problem.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Boll-ing Alone: Uwe Boll Watch

It's been a long time, I know. I promise I'll break radio silence more significantly soon.

However, I am watching Uwe Boll's House of the Dead right now. And despite the fact that there are so so many things wrong with this film (as you would expect when CLINT HOWARD is your third billed star!), the following has to take the cake.

Jurgen Prochnow, a gun-smuggling ex-Armed Forces fishing boat captain, has just finished up an exposition dump/flashback about a "crazy Spanish padre" being banished to the New World for his inhumane experiments and he utters the following lines (verified by the English subtitles):

"The Spanish were trying to falling the sands into the limeys. They never made it back to the garrison."

House of the Dead, a movie that doesn't even make sense on a line by line basis!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mo' money, mo' existential crises

You know, I think I know which song represents America's current mood, the mix of strange hopefulness and fear, of schadenfreude and bitterness.

"Whatever You Like" by T.I.

It's  a song about a handsome, charismatic stranger sweeping you off your feet and giving you everything you could ever want. The lyrics explicitly say that you'll never need to depend on anyone else, totally cut loose from the world around you. 

This song is made even more complicated by the video (which I can't find on Youtube at the moment), which posits the whole thing as a dream sequence, ending with the heroine resuming her duties at a demeaning fast food job with a free-loading boyfriend. T.I. positions himself as a man to make your dreams come true, but he won't actually act on that ability. The whole thing reminds me of the Mr. Show videos for Three Times One Minus One, in which the R&B duo's appearances are sentimental wish-fulfillment for the group, with the object of desire shoved back into her tragic life at the end of each video.

On top of this, on the album Paper Trail, "Whatever You Like" is sequenced to follow "Live Your Life", whose lyrics exhort people to live their life and not chase money or wish for a different life. Doesn't this sum up the great contradiction of the modern American dream? We all want to be an amazing unique success, but with that success conferred by shortcuts or outsiders and expressed in the most conformist ways.

And don't get me started on the cover versions. Weird Al's parody is a fairly straightforward transformation of T.I.'s melodramatic sentiments into a low-rent absurdity that ends up representing people's imagined fearful definition of the new "luxury". [I recently saw a Target ad which proclaimed a 19 dollar Target tie the "new power suit" and a vial of sunless tanner as the "new vacation". So our desires are transferred to acquisition, just on a more pitiful level striving to mimic the rich who can afford the real items. Why not establish our own ]

Meanwhile, Moby issued a cover version [see January 14th entry] that turns it into a piece of neurotic Euro-trash duet a la "Southside" or late '70's Iggy Pop. Our narrator sounds bored with his wealth and luxury, with the limitless opportunity paralyzing him. His relationship with his partner occasionally rises into some simulation of passion, but then pulls back from the emotion, finally sliding into inertia. They pull each other into a quicksand of meaningless sex and expensive liquor. The claims of "long as you got me you won't need nobody" sound desperate, as if each fears the other will abandon him/her for a meaningful life. It's luxury as a suicide pact, a downward spiral of consumption that will end in either spiritual or financial bankruptcy.
Yay, America!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"I just got tired of running..."

Journey Into Fear [1943, d. Norman Foster, starring Joseph Cotten, Dolores Del Rio and Orson Welles]

Journey into Fear was Welles' attempt to close out his RKO contract by writing and producing it simultaneously alongside The Magnificent Ambersons. Since Welles put in uncredited work as a writer (the screenplay is attributed to Joseph Cotten!), along with acting in it, there seems to be the assumption that he also helped direct it. Having not read Hello, Americans yet, I want to withhold judgement. It is odd how self-effacing this film's credits are. No production or writing credits, and Welles gets billed last on the opening credits (without even so much as a "And Featuring"). He gets billed below a nightclub magician in only one scene! Makes you wonder if Welles was trying to wash his hands of a disappointing film or if the studio was trying to punish their prodigal son.

Because whatever role Welles had in the film's direction, his stamp is all over the film. His regulars fill out the cast, his mistress Dolores Del Rio gets top billing, there are visionary experiments with sound design, and the visual design is stunning.

So now to dispense with a plot summary. Joseph Cotten is the whiniest American naval gunnery expert ever and he's America's man in Turkey, helping the Turks rebuild their navy. I wonder if it was because none of his co-workers could stand him that he got this plum assignment. The upshot is, now he's the Nazi's number one target in Turkey since any replacement would take months to arrive. After a failed assassination attempt, Colonel Haki (Orson Welles), head of Turkish intelligence, all but forces him onto a dirty freighter at gunpoint, since the Nazis are expecting him to leave by train. Unfortunately, it seems like there is at least one German agent upon the boat with him, and given the eccentricities of his fellow passengers, Cotten's chances of pegging the right passenger for a Nazi are pretty unlikely.

First of all, this has to be a very dispiriting film to watch from an acting standpoint. Whereas most of Welles' other projects show an ability to cast to type, if not cast greats. Unfortunately, Joseph Cotten shows none of the ability that he showed in Citizen Kane or later in The Third Man. He's a whiny stuffed shirt for most of the picture, who manages to make even the most reasonable reactions come off as insufferable.

Meanwhile, Welles puts in a sleepwalking performance that relies mostly on his imposing bulk and a passable (for the 40s at least) Turkish accent. This despite the fact that the type, a possibly corrupt authority figure who is sympathetic mostly for his cleverness, is one that Welles would continuously return to. Here though, he's mostly trying to hit his mark, and it's hard to blame him since he was doing two films at once.

The rest of the cast is just kind of "meh", except when they become annoying. As for Dolores Del Rio, she is attractive, but she possesses little sex appeal and I see no threat of her successfully seducing Cotten. 

Then too, the tone of this film is weirdly inconsistent, veering between fish out of water comedy and tense thriller. Cotten's character seems as threatened by his lack of a topcoat as by the fact that Nazis are after him. By the final half hour, though, JiF almost feels like some nightmarish fantasy where xenophobia and paranoia are inextricably mixed and Cotten's inability to simply go from point A to point B becomes an existential crisis.

Because the elements of design, plot and direction in the film take on a life of their own and the flat acting fades into the weird dream reality of the movie. Sound blots out important information from both characters and audience. Turkish and German dialogue is left mostly untranslated. Cotten's stalkers on board turn out to be friends or mere mischief makers, while a pleasant acquaintance turns out to be the man plotting his death. There is an entire sequence devoted to Joseph Cotten's inability to find a convenient place to hide his gun, and another, upon his subsequent loss of it, on his inability to find another. Even the voiceover narrative, a letter written with the tone of a man talking from beyond the grave, turns out to be composed after the climax of the film.

There is also a very vague allegorical level here, with Cotten's well-meaning but befuddled researcher becoming a two-fisted man of action when his way of life is threatened, and while it is set up, Cotten's unlikeability and a lack of real emotion in the film undermines the message.

Certainly, Journey into Fear is no Touch of Evil or even another The Stranger. It lacks the ambition of any of Welles' later work, and yet fails at what little it aims for. At the same time, it suggests the idea of Welles as an unpretentious b-movie maker, who might have produced more satisfying work and not burned out so spectacularly.