Tuesday, October 30, 2012

800 Words: My Cultural Heresies - Middle Aged Movies (part 1)


-          If I have to watch a Long Day’s Journey Into Night one more time I think I’ll borrow some of the mother’s morphine.

-          Bonnie and Clyde is an amazing but troubling movie that makes violence and radical chic seem amazingly appealing. Then again, The Godfather glorifies violence and right-wing authoritarianism…but more on that in a few minutes.

-          Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is really just a documentary in which Newman and Redford play themselves and decided one day to have a camera crew follow them around for a month while they wore 19th century Western costumes.

-          Easy Rider is dumb.

-          How am I supposed to take Cool Hand Luke seriously when the main prisoner badass was Frank Drebin’s boss/sidekick in The Naked Gun?

-          I have never seen a Steve McQueen movie through to the end. He’s not alive to beat me up for that.

-          The Manchurian Candidate is the greatest movie ever made about American politics. It makes what seems like a completely impossible situation in American politics into something scarily plausible in ways which Oliver Stone can only dream about making. The fact that this movie ever got made at all is a miracle. The fact that it was ever re-released after the JFK assassination is a testament to the fact that America is still a democracy – however imperfect.

-          Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is total realism. We’ve all been at dinner parties with too much liquor that got that ugly that quick…don’t pretend you haven’t...

-          The Graduate is a good movie that would be great if it didn’t rely on those Simon and Garfunkel songs to reel in the young people…

-          I have no idea what The Dirty Dozen’s moral stand is…but it’s awesome!

-          The continued success of James Bond mystifies and irritates me. His attitudes on everything from patriotism to women to technology were anachronisms by the release of Dr. No.

-          If Inspector Clouseau isn’t there to bump into me at the gates of heaven, I don’t want to go.

-          West Side Story is an amazing musical and one of the most disappointing movies ever made – saved from fiascodom by the few dance numbers they allowed Jerome Robbins to direct.

-          Honestly, Audrey Hepburn wasn’t that bad in My Fair Lady… though Julie Andrews would have been better and hopefully saved from all the disasters she starred in which followed.

-          It took Orson Welles fifty years to turn into Falstaff. I got there in half that.

-           I love Planet of the Apes, as much for the seriousness of it as the ridiculousness.

-          Putting Godard and Truffaut together as equal partners in the French New Wave is as dumb as giving Howard Dean equal credit for the Obama presidency.

-          My Dad says that Last Year in Marienbad is the dumbest movie he’s ever seen.  Who am I to doubt him?

-          La Jetee is interesting, not good. Anything else I’ve ever seen from Chris Marker is neither.

-           There is a crapload of important French New Wave I’ve never seen. However, if I could name one New Wave movie nobody talks about that’s truly fantastic, it’s Love in the Afternoon from Eric Rohmer.  

-          Couldn’t tell you about the book, but Tom Jones is a completely forgotten Great Movie that everyone should watch.

-          Ken Russell’s film career had the twin unpardonable sins of creating the music video as we know it and turning the entire world off of classical music.

-          Persona is not a percentage point as deep as it thinks it is. But it has two spectacular actresses, some great scenes, and the hottest monologue in movie history.

-          Jiri Menzel is helped by his source material, but if I’d be very happy to watch Closely Watched Trains and I Served the King of England every day for the rest of my life.

-          Rosemary’s Baby is a thousand times scarier than most modern horror movies. And I’m scared by horror movies.

-          Never seen anything by Tarkovsky. And I’m tempted to never remedy that.

-          I still haven’t finished La Dolce Vita and I’m on try #6. At what point is the fault still mine?

-          How is Eight-and-a-half so much better?

-          Would anybody have ever taken the philosophy in Blow-Up seriously if it didn’t have a random threesome in the middle of the movie?

-          Spaghetti Westerns manage to make violence boring.

-          I don’t care how stuffy and fussy opera people think Zefferelli is. His Romeo and Juliet is one of the very great Shakespeare movies.

-          I’ll say this for Yojimbo, I finally made it through on try #4.

-          The period from Bonnie and Clyde (1967) to The Right Stuff (1983) is both the greatest period American movies will ever have and the period when everything great about American movies began to crumble. Hitchcock, Hawks, and Lubitsch were all very strict classicists who played by an even stricter set of rules – and those who worked within them were able to have extraordinarily long and productive careers. But those ‘romantics’ from Welles to Coppola who insisted on making their own rules did not have guaranteed patronage – and were therefore just as susceptible to flameout as any romantic poet or musician.

-          M*A*S*H is still the best Robert Altman movie I’ve ever seen.

-          McCabe and Mrs. Miller ruins everything good about it with all sorts of excessively arty touches from the ‘I’ve got poetry in me’ speech to the snow shootout.

-          Nashville is a very good movie that kills its own momentum over and over again by refusing to rein itself in.

-          Five Easy Pieces is one of the forgotten Great American Movies – and yes, it has (still) the greatest of all Jack Nicholson scenes.

-          Anybody who doesn’t love The Last Picture Show hates America.

-          Ditto One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

-          Cabaret’s an amazing musical – shitty movie.

-          I honestly can’t get past the premise of Harold and Maude…

-          The Deer Hunter is The Godfather crossed with Deliverance disguised as a war movie.

-          There’s nothing to say about Chinatown except that Roman Polanski's ugly compulsions made him a great movie-maker and also ensured that he'd rarely make another great movie. 

-           Dirty Harry is neither fascist nor a symbol of America. Dirty Harry is just a dumb movie. Rent Coogan’s Bluff instead, at least it’s watchable.

-          The French Connection is still one of the most awesomely exciting movies you’ll ever see – doubly so for the fact that Gene Hackman plays such a schmuck.

-          Network is truly prescient. It’s also in terrible need of a script editor.

-          I know I’m not Catholic, but do people really find The Exorcist scary?

-          Do I really have to see another Terrance Malick movie?

-          The Godfather is best seen as ‘The Godfather Novel for Television’ with all the scenes done in chronological order and many deleted scenes restored. Part I absolutely survives as a masterpiece in its original cut, part II absolutely does not. The Godfather is an epic in the same way that Homer and Tolstoy are – there are boring passages, but it doesn’t change the hugeness of the vision which makes it all possible.

-          Nobody should doubt The Godfather’s towering greatness, but there’s something wrong about this movie at its very core. It’s a movie that makes a case for a police state in which we all need protection from violent thugs by violent thugs. The movie practically argued Richard Nixon’s re-election case for him.

-          The Conversation has a brilliant middle section – but forgettable in the extremities.

-          Apocalypse Now should also be seen with its deleted scenes restored. Coppola thrived on rambling – he was a director who went for vividness, not perfection. Every scene adds a new hue to the larger texture.

-          Coppola and Scorsese are two different visions of Italian-American New York from the same period. Coppola was the upper-middle-class son of an eminent orchestral flautist and his movies are drenched in allusions to religious painting, Italian opera, and high literature (both American and Italian). Scorsese was a lower-middle-class kid who probably would have ended up in the mob had he not been asthmatic – he found refuge in the moviehouses and his movies are drenched in allusions to the movies of Classic Hollywood.  

-          Mean Streets may still be Scorsese’s best movie.

-          Taxi Driver is still as powerful as ever, but it also glamorizes psycho loners for no good reason – with the end result being John Hinckley...

-          Raging Bull is better than Taxi Driver. I only understood that on the third time I watched it. Taxi Driver is about redemption through violence, Raging Bull is about redemption from violence. The latter is much, much harder to demonstrate.

-          George Lucas is a robot with a toupee. Even in American Graffiti he managed to create the appearance of real human beings while still making a movie whose main purpose seems to be to resell classic cars and old music. There’s just enough humanity in the movie to make all the ‘cool stuff’ on the screen believable, and not an ounce more.

-          I love many things about Star Wars, but it’s influence is still the most evil thing to ever happen to movies in America. Thanks to Star Wars almost no American director can ever in our lifetime make a movie about human feelings for more than 1/20th the cost of a special-effects blockbuster.

-          I love Stephen Spielberg and will do battle with anybody who says he’s anything but a great filmmaker. But we’re kidding ourselves when we say that even his best movies can compete with the best of those moviemakers of his generation who’ve barely been able to fund a project in thirty years.

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