Saturday, October 27, 2012

800 Words: My Cultural Heresies - Old Movies

-          Charlie Chaplin is pleasant and charming, occasionally he’s even funny. But are you kidding Early-20th century? If this is the funniest stuff you had, I’m glad I live in the Age of the Farrelly Brothers and Bromantic comedies.

-          Buster Keaton is fascinating technically, but his movies aren’t all that funny.

-          The Three Stooges are incredibly stupid and not all that funny. I don’t care. Curly Howard is the greatest man who ever lived. I’ve thought this since I was eight, and will never betray my eight-year-old self by betraying it now.

-           Laurel and Hardy are like a b-list Three Stooges.

-          German Expressionism (Fritz Lang, Murnau) like much German Romantic culture (Wagner, Goethe, Nietszche, Thomas Mann etc.), depends on your ability to stifle laughter. If you can get past the fact that it’s unbelievably ridiculous, it can be amazingly compelling. None is more amazing and ridiculous than Metropolis, in which the most amazing techniques imaginable are put in the service of a story so stupid as to defy contemplation. A pattern which more modern cinema repeats over and over again…

-          Ditto Sergei Eisenstein.

-          At least C. B. DeMille seemed to be winking at you, as though in the back of his mind he knew just how ridiculous his movies were (though I couldn’t swear to it).

-          I’ve only seen one Carl Theodore Dreyer movie. And The Passion of Joan of Arc may be the single most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t know if I have the mental composure to ever get through it again, but even if I don’t, it will haunt my dreams for decades.

-          The Marx Brothers are amazing, even when their movies suck. Period. Accept no debate on this matter.

-          Jean Renoir is the spiritual center of movies. Anybody who believes life worth living should watch them all on a yearly basis. Debate on this matter is confined to the Marx Brothers category.

-          The Rules of the Game is, as far as I’m concerned, the greatest work of art ever made. I judge you by your reaction to this movie. Be warned (though if you go in thinking you’re watching Blazing Saddles, I make an exception).

-          Hitchcock’s early movies are as though they’re from a completely different director. They’re just as good, but they’re so…English! How did he adapt to America so easily??

-          Triumph of the Will is the dumbest piece of shit ever put on screen. How did anybody take it seriously?

-          Howard Hawks is the first truly ‘Great American Filmmaker.’ In his movies you can trace the development of everything that is amazing about the greatest Hollywood movies – the love of language, the banter, the sex, the battle of the sexes, the violent sex, the sex and violence, the sexy violence... Everything after Hawks in Hollywood is a reaction to the template he set.

-          Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday are the most awesome couple in movie history.

-          Frank Capra is Howard Hawks through a sex filter. Hawks realizes it’s all ridiculous, Capra thinks it’s all serious, and as a result makes towering paeans to everything that’s wrong with America – the earnestness, the susceptibility to easy narratives, the rampant demagoguery.

-          In Mr. Smith goes to Washington I root for Claude Rains. Jimmy Stewart’s character is a fascist.
-          Potterville is a much more reliable economic future for Bedford Falls than the Wall Street bailout which George Bailey gets in It’s a Wonderful Life.

-          Ernst Lubitsch blows Billy Wilder’s comedies out of the water. Shame nobody remembers them. Start with To Be or Not To Be, then find Ninotchka.

-          If Frank Capra is everything that’s wrong with America, Disney is everything that’s wrong with America’s place in the world. The idea that every American is a Disney hero or heroine, and all the anthropomorphic animals exist at the behest of their happiness. Yes, it can be seen as a metaphor for everything people hate about America, and they’re right to hate those things about it. Even if they’re not right to think that that is everything America is, Disney is representative of America at its worst. Don’t hate America, hate Disney.

-          Orson Welles was the great artistic genius of the twentieth century. And like so many similarly explosive geniuses (Mozart, Tolstoy, Leonardo…), we only got a small sliver of what he was capable.

-          Citizen Kane is not the greatest movie ever made, but it’s damn close. Not only is it great, it’s also fun. People of my generation are tired of hearing it vaunted as the greatest movie ever made and think of it as stuffy and old-fashioned, meanwhile they hold up far stuffier and more old-fashioned movies as paragons of greatness (Vertigo, 2001, Man with a Movie Camera…).

-          John Ford is amazingly overrated. Hawks’s movies never die, but the Western genre is almost completely dead and shows no signs of serious revival. It’s whole conception of America as a land to be conquered by brutal men we should hold up as heroes because they abide by antique codes of honor is incredibly dated and offensive.  Carry Hawks on our shoulders, throw Ford into the dustbin.

-          Casablanca gets better every time I watch it. For a sloppily thrown together movie, it really is amazing.

-          Sometimes I think Olivier’s Henry V is the greatest Shakespeare movie ever made. It’s certainly 20,000 leagues better than his Hamlet.

-          Most of The Third Man was probably directed by Orson Welles in secret under Carol Reed’s name so he could get financial backing.

-          The Ealing Comedies need a comeback. The Lavender Hill Mob is still one of the funniest movies ever made. 

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