In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_last_of_robin_hood

The Last of Robin Hood

A title as good as "The Last of Robin Hood" deserves a better movie. In fact, it deserves a good movie.

Thumb_as_above_so_below_xlg

As Above, So Below

It's that rare found-footage film with a strong premise, a memorably eccentric style, and plenty of energy to burn. It's also poorly conceived, and hard…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Cast and Crew

* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

#97 January 11, 2012

Marie writes: I have no words. Beyond the obvious, that is. And while I'm okay looking at photos, the video.... that was another story. I actually found myself turning away at times, the suspense too much to bear - despite knowing in advance that he's alive and well and there was nothing to worry about. The bottom of my stomach still fell out...

(click images to enlarge)

Continue reading →

John Huston's "Beat The Devil"

Primary_club_treelogo_blog_500pixels

The Ebert Club is pleased to share the following Film Noir cult classic, streaming free. I invite you to join the Club and dive into an eclectic assortment of wonderful and curious finds. Your subscription helps support the Newsletter, the Far-Flung Correspondents and the On-Demanders on my site. - RE"The movie has above all effortless charm. Once we catch on that nothing much is going to happen, we can relax and share the amusement of the actors, who are essentially being asked to share their playfulness. There is a scene on a veranda overlooking the sea, where Bogart and Jones play out their first flirtation, and by the end of their dialogue you can see they're all but cracking up; Bogart grins during the dissolve. The whole movie feels that way. Now that movies have become fearsome engines designed to hammer us with entertainment, it is nice to recall those that simply wanted to be witty company." - Roger, from his Great Movies review of "Beat the Devil".Beat The Devil (1953) Directed by John Huston. Co-written by John Huston and Truman Capote. Loosely based upon a novel of the same name by British journalist and critic Claud Cockburn; pseudonym James Helvick. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, Edward Underdown, Ivor Barnard, Marco Tulli, Bernard Lee and Saro Urzì.Synopsis: A quartet of international crooks - Peterson, O'Hara, Ross and Ravello - is stranded in Italy while their steamer is being repaired. With them are the Dannreuthers. The six are headed for Africa, presumably to sell vacuum cleaners but actually to buy land supposedly loaded with uranium. They're joined by others who apparently have similar designs. It was intended by Huston as a tongue-in-cheek spoof of his earlier masterpiece, "The Maltese Falcon" and the noir genre in general.

A weekly newsletter of unexpected treasures: Join the Club

Continue reading →

#95 December 28, 2011

Marie writes: some of you may recall reading about the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver, British Columbia Canada. (Click to enlarge.)

Continue reading →

Polanski's Chinatown: A dream analysis

Primary_chflaw-thumb-510x231-39976

WARNING: Big-time spoilers in the above video.

From the introduction to my fully explicated video, "Chinatown: Frames and Lenses," at Press Play, Chapter 4 in a week-long series: LIFE'S WORK: THE FILMS OF ROMAN POLANSKI:

Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" is a Panavision color film noir--a ghost story, really--about flawed vision and the inescapable resurgence of the past, made in 1974 and set in 1937.  Private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) thinks he knows what's going on, but as Noah Cross (John Huston) tells him, "Believe me, you don't."  We see what Jake sees, and it's invariably filtered or blocked--viewed from a distance through binoculars, or from outside through a door or window that obscures a more complete perspective. Photographs--snippets of time recorded on film, one of the tools of the detective trade--are potentially misleading because they don't--can't--capture what's going on outside of the frame, beyond the moment. 

This video montage is a hymn of praise to a film that had a profound effect on me when I first saw it as a 16-year-old in 1974, and that I've lived with, haunted, ever since. It's also an unabashed love poem to the desperate, damaged and determined Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway). 

Like "close-up," which I did in 2007, it's a free-associative critical essay/dream sequence, based on themes and images (and sound and music) from the movie. Although, like a lot of creative pursuits, the process of assembling it (from pieces of film that were already floating around in my head) was largely unconscious, I now (at least in retrospect) think I understand why each fragment is where it is.

So, I thought I'd turn around and look back at "Chinatown" through the lens (or frame or door or window, if you will) of my video essay, using it as a way of translating the film's images into critical prose. Because, in "Chinatown," every image is loaded with meanings, associations, resonances. If you're familiar with the film, you'll immediately see that this reflection on "Chinatown" isn't structured chronologically. Scenes, themes, moments and images keep circling back in fragments... not unlike they do in the film, but in a more condensed and less linear form...

Continue reading →

#68 June 22, 2011

Marie writes: this past Monday, the Chicago Sun Times updated "Movable Type" - a program used to create blogs. Roger's journal for example. Other newspapers might use "Word Press" instead; same idea though. Any-hoo, it's hosted on the "new" server at the Sun-Times and as is customary, you have to login to use it. It's online software. Meaning you're totally at the mercy of any freakiness that might be going on.I mention this because there was indeed some weirdness earlier (server choked) and that, plus the fact Movable Type does things differently now, put me behind schedule. So I don't really have anything for the front page. I can go look, though!  Meanwhile, just continue reading and if I find anything interesting, I'll let you know....Ooo, clams...

Continue reading →

Maria Schneider comes to America

Primary__20_20_20_20_20_20_20_20_204288957913_e4995824f8_o-thumb-350x222-31198

Roger Ebert / September 14, 1975

LOS ANGELES--It was, said the critic Pauline Kael, perhaps the most important artistic event since the first performance of Stravinsky's "The Rites of Spring." She was referring to the 1973 premiere of "Last Tango in Paris," a film by Bernardo Bertolucci which dealt in explicit detail with a brief affair between a middle-aged man and a girl barely out of her teens. The man was Marlon Brando, long acknowledged as the finest screen actor of his generation. The girl was Maria Schneider, a 20-year-old with an innocent face, a woman's body and an electrifying presence.

Most of the film involved just two actors, and Schneider held her own with Brando in a stunning confrontation with sex and death. It was an astonishing performance. Maria Schneider quickly became the favorite "bad girl" of the movie press. She gave shocking interviews, she walked off a movie set and had herself committed to an asylum with the woman she described as her lover, she seemed to be surrounded by scandal. And then she made a film with another of Europe's top directors, Michelangelo Antonioni, and another major star, Jack Nicholson. The film was "The Passenger," and this time her screen image was altogether different: She was quiet, intelligent, even sweet.

Then Schneider dropped from view. She moved to America; signed with Paul Kohner (the legendary agent who represents Ingmar Bergman, Liv Ullmann and many other Europeans), turned down several big film offers, and moved into a house in the Hollywood hills. This interview, conducted in Kohner's office, is her first in the United States. She wore faded denims, smoked frequently, looked thinner and more intriguing than in "Tango," and seemed ready to revise her European image.

Q. Why California?

A. The main thing was the space. It was getting hard to breathe in Europe - it's too compact, too compressed. I lived in France about three years, traveling around a lot, and then I tried London, and about six months ago I settled on here.

Q. Americans have a thing about Southern California . . .

A. So do I. It's hard to talk to the people here. They're very shallow. All they talk about is their look, their hair and their screwing. But I love to act, and here is the place to come for the movies. Q. Paul Kohner said you were reading a screenplay based on "The Story of an African Farm."

A. Yes. It's a wonderful story. It's about a girl growing up in South Africa a century ago, and finding herself, and learning how to rely on herself. The story's so good, I want to make the film. I've had offers for a lot more money, but this project is by a director who's young and ready and wrote the screenplay himself. He'll care more than someone who was just paid to direct a story . . . and it's a good role for a woman. In most movies these days, women are just decoration. I'll never be that.

Q. So far you've been in two movies with two top directors, Bertolucci and Antonioni . . .

A. Six movies. Nobody knows, but I did six movies before "Last Tango in Paris." I don't think any of them ever played here. One was directed by Roger Vadim, after he made "Pretty Maids All in a Row." And I did some theater, and a couple of underground French movies. I walked out on one of them when I wasn't paid. I fought with the director, went back to Paris, and met Bertolucci. He offered me the role in "Tango."

Dominique Sanda was going to do it, but she got pregnant.

Q. And you got a sort of immortality, because the movie's already a landmark.

A. So much of that was because of Brando. He was wonderful to work with, for an actor like myself who was still beginning. He had just finished "The Godfather," and now this was also part of his comeback, and you'd think he'd want the advantage in all of the scenes. Actors always try to look their best. But he gave me the advantage, the material to work with. And he was brilliant when we improvised . . . the bathroom scene was improvised.

Q. And Bertolucci?

A. He's a great director, but . . . well, I was 20 when I did "Tango." Bertolucci made me wear very heavy black makeup under my eyes. Makeup on a girl who's too young gives her the wrong character, gives her a funny look. I argued with him, but with no luck. I don't know who he thought I was supposed to be. Marlon was such a good force on the picture. We were working like dogs with an Italian crew, filming in Paris, overtime and all that, and two crew members came down with stomach ulcers. And Marlon was the one - not Bertolucci, who goes on about being a member of the Italian Communist party - but Marlon was the one who brought sandwiches and wine for the crew and worried about them.

Q. After the film was released you were suddenly famous - or infamous - all over the world.

A. And Marlon told me about that, too. He was the first to tell me about the bad parts of fame. How the press can seize on everything and make it as sensational as they can. And there the European press is worse than the American. I think they'll print anything.

Q. There were some amazing quotes attributed to you.

A. I think I said a lot of them. After "Tango" came out, I amused myself at interviews by saying scandalous things, thinking they were funny. I talked about going out with men, women, I sounded promiscuous, I took it all as a joke. I see now it wasn't funny . . .

Q. And then you went to Antonioni . . .

A. For "The Passenger." It's an interesting thing about that film. It did better in America than it did in Europe. And Antonioni is supposed to be a star in Europe. I'm glad the Americans could watch something slower and more thoughtful for a change, instead of all the violence and crime. Still, I think Michelangelo has a problem with his English. He doesn't speak it very well, and I think some of the dialog in "The Passenger," which was supposed to sound real, sounded falsely poetic. Like when Jack Nicholson says, "What the hell are you doing here with me?" And I say, "Which me?" You see how wrong that sounds? And in another scene he says, "I met you before - you were reading" And I say, "That must have been me." Terrible!

Q. Are you looking at scripts from American directors now?

A. I'm looking at all kinds of scripts. Most of them are no good. Hardly any of them have interesting female roles.

Q. Paul Kohner was thinking out loud about the idea of a movie of Hemingway's "Across the River and into the Trees," which would be directed by John Huston and might star Robert Mitchum as the old colonel and you as the young contessa . . .

A. And be shot in Venice. I'd love to work in Venice. I lived there for a while. The light and the silence and all around the sound of the footsteps. You know, I saw Mitchum just last night in "Farewell, My Lovely." It stayed in my mind all night. I loved Jack Nicholson playing the detective in "Chinatown," but I much preferred this detective by Mitchum. What do you think of the . . . the chemistry if Mitchum and I were to be together?

Q. Dynamite.

A. (Laughs) And yet, you know, I always act with these men like Brando and Nicholson, who are much older than me. I wouldn't be with a man that age in my own life. And I think there'd be a problem in filming in Venice, too.

Q. The canals?

A. No, the insurance. You know, I have a problem in Italy since my last film with the companies that insure a film. I signed myself into an asylum for a friend of mine. They locked her up, and so I had to do it out of loyalty.

Q. That was in all the papers here.

A. And all the papers everywhere. But they never printed that I finished the movie.

Q. You did? I got the impression it was closed down. A. Oh, yes, I finished it. It was called "The Baby Sitter," it's a thriller by Rene Clement, who did "Forbidden Games." It's a good thriller, well made, nothing poetic about it. They took away two-thirds of my salary to keep the insurance people happy. The producer was Carlo Ponti. He'll come out ahead any way he can. When Clement wanted me for the movie, he wanted me to play the role that was negative. There were two girls in the movie, and one was perverse and destroyed, and of course that was the one he wanted me for. But Antonioni showed him "The Passenger," and then I got the other role. He only knew me from "Tango." God knows what people think I really look like and act like!

Q. After "The Baby Sitter," did you split for Hollywood?

A. More or less. I was supposed to make a movie in Paris with Jean-Luc Godard. You know, he works in eight millimeter now. He gave a brilliant press conference about it in Cannes. He explained to me that the actor would put up $40,000, and he would put up $40,000, and then we would make the movie together. I would have, too, but I didn't have $40,000. And I still don't.

Q. But "Tango" made millions and millions . . .

A. Ha! You know what I was paid? Five thousand dollars! That's all. I didn't even get a percentage of all those profits. Jack Nicholson told me that after "Easy Rider" made so much money, they gave him something more in addition to the little he made in the first place. But no Italian producer would ever do that. I'm glad I've got Paul as my agent. He'll look after things like that. I'm no good with money. Working on my own, I constantly got ripped off. I just can't handle money.

Q. How'd you meet Kohner?

A. I walked in off the street. I'd heard he was the top agent. My doctor was in the building next door. I came out from his office, saw Paul's sign, and introduced myself at the switchboard. "Who are you?" they asked. I said I was an actress who wanted him to represent me. They asked what credits I had - they thought l was a nut off the street. I said I'd worked with Bertolucci and Antonioni. They didn't believe me. Finally one person in the office did recognize me. I look a little different now, I'm thinner, I'm 23, I wasn't wearing makeup.

Q. Kohner seems sort of paternal toward you, protective.

A. Well, I don't need too much protection. I live a simple life. And Paul tells me, let's wait for the right role. People get lazy doing whatever is given to them. I'd rather wait and go broke than be forced to do a bad movie for money. Paul has Charles Bronson and Ingmar Bergman among his clients. He says, we can go big, like Bronson, or small, like Bergman. I'd rather go small.

Q. And in the meantime you're keeping life uncomplicated?

A. That's right. I don't own anything. Well, I own a pickup truck. I don't have any maids or answering services or any of those things. I spend my money on food and travel and cameras. I live in Laurel Canyon with some friends, including some writers. None of my friends are actors or directors or Hollywood types.

I'm not interested in that crowd. And I'll just hold out and look for a decent role for a woman. "The Story of an African Farm" looks about the best.

Q. What else is around?

A. Paramount wants me to do "Black Sunday," which is about terrorists, and I play a Palestinian guerrilla. That's their idea of a woman's role. But things are changing. Most of the members of my generation are gay, or bisexual, they have more open minds about sexuality, about what a woman's role can be, or what the potentials are.

Q. Did you say most of your generation?

A. Most of my friends, anyway. Or maybe it's just California. The theme from "Last Tango in Paris:" Theme From Last Tango In Paris (1972) by seasonwitch

var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_config.linkname = "Roger Ebert's Journal"; a2a_config.linkurl = "http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/"; a2a_config.num_services = 8;

Continue reading →

#56 March 30, 2011

"Of few deaths can it be said that they end an era, but hers does. No other actress commanded more attention for longer, for her work, her beauty, her private life, and a series of health problems that brought her near death more than once." - Roger, from Elizabeth Taylor, a star in her own category

Continue reading →

#55 March 23, 2011

Marie writes:  Having recently seen a stage play, I was reminded again of how much I enjoy them. And the buildings they're often performed in. Which sent me off looking for old ones and hopefully Theatres you never hear about - as then it's like stumbling upon a secret known only to a lucky few. And thus how I found "Minack Theatre Portcurno Cornwall" with a view over-looking the Cornish sea...

Continue reading →

#54 March 16, 2011

From the Grand Poobah: After much planning with festival director Nate Kohn, here is the schedule for Ebertfest 2011, which Ebert Club members are of course the first to learn about. This schedule is tentative; several guests may be added.Wednesday April 275:00 pm Reception at University President's House (VIP passholders only)7:00 pm METROPOLIS Restored, with the Alloy Orchestra.-----------------Thursday April 289:00 am For Ebert Club members: Meet & Greet coffee and pastries, hosted by Chaz and Roger Ebert at the Illini Union.10:30 am Panel Discussion 1 (Nate Kohn moderates festival guests), Illini Union1:00 pm UMBERTO D, by Vittorio De Sica.3:30 pm MY DOG TULIP, with directors Paul and Sandra Fierlinger in person.8:00 pm TINY FURNITURE (98 min). In person: Kyle Martin, producer; David Call, actor; Alex Karposky, actor.------------------Friday April 299:00 am Panel Discussion 2, (Eric Pierson, moderator), Illini Union10:30 am Panel Discussion 3 (Far Flung Correspondents, Omer Mozaffer, moderator), Illini Union1:00 pm "45365," with directors Turner Ross and Bill Ross in person4:00 pm ME AND ORSON WELLES, with director Richard Linklater in person8:30 pm ONLY YOU, with director Norman Jewison in person-----------------Saturday April 3011:00 am A SMALL ACT. In person: Patti Lee, producer; Jennifer Arnold, director; Hilde Back.2:00 pm World Premiere: LIFE, ABOVE ALL. In person: Oliver Stoltz, producer; Khomotso Manyaka, actor; Michael Barker, distributor.6:30pm LEAVES OF GRASS. In person: Tim Blake Nelson.9:30pm I AM LOVE. In person: Tilda Swinton.---------------Sunday May 1Noon: LOUDER THAN A BOMB. In person: Jon Siskel and Greg Jacobs, directors; Kevin Coval, artistic director and founder; five poets will perform.For additional information and to purchase tickets, visit EBERFEST 2011Metropolis Restored (1927) Directed by Fritz Lang

Continue reading →

#47 January 26, 2010

Marie writes: Each year, the world's remotest film festival is held in Tromsø, Norway. The Tromsø International Film Festival to be exact, or TIFF (not to be confused with Toronto.) Well inside the Arctic Circle, the city is nevertheless warmer than most others located on the same latitude, due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. This likely explains how they're able to watch a movie outside, in the snow, in the Arctic, in the winter. :-)

Continue reading →

Drinking his way to hell

May Contain Spoilers

Spending almost two hours with the relentlessly drunk character is not a pleasant thing at all, and it is also not easy to watch the man who chooses to abandon himself to his own hell. He is almost near at the bottom. All he can do is moving further to the final destination he has been reaching for. He still has some fancy about getting out of his torment, but it only reminds him that he has already crossed the line. He screams out of frustration near the end of the movie, "It's not possible -- not in this world!"

John Huston's "Under the Volcano"(1984) poignantly looks at one of the bleakest states of mind. This is a sad portrayal of a man struggling with his addiction and the agonizing contradiction resulting from it. As one character in the movie says, no one can live without love, but he cannot accept it even if he has desperately yearned for.

The movie is mainly about one unfortunate day of the former British consul Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney) who has been stuck in Cuernavaca, Mexico. According to him, he resigned his post for himself, but that may be not true considering his present state. He is a drunkard going through the final stages of alcoholism where the drinking is necessary for getting "sober." He says he can deal with his addiction ("Surely you appreciate the fine balance I must strike between, uh, the shake of too little and, uh, the abyss of too much"), but his abstinence is just the brief moment of looking at his glass. His body soon craves for alcohol, he frantically searches for the bottle, and, after satisfying the need, he passes out.

Continue reading →

#21 July 28, 2010

Attention Ebert Club Members and fellow would-be chefs....drum roll... Marie writes: At long last, the highly anticipated "The Pot and How to Use it" is set for release! Containing numerous and surprisingly varied recipes for electric rice cookers, it is much more than a cookbook. Originating from Roger's 2008 Nov. blog entry, it includes readers' comments and recipes along side the Grand Poobah's own discerning insights and observations on why and how we cook. 128 pages, paperback format. Sept 21, 2010 release date. Available now for pre-order at Amazon at a discount.

(Click image to enlarge)Chaz visits Roger in the kitchen as he demonstrates the correct way to use the Pot. First, and this is very important; you need to remove the lid... :-)

Continue reading →

Deep Focus: Freedom of (eye-)movementin eight of the greatest long takes ever

May Contain Spoilers

We tend to remember long takes that call attention to themselves as such: the opening shots of "Touch of Evil" or "The Player"; the entrance to the Copacabana in "GoodFellas"; all those shots in Romanian movies, and pictures directed by Bela Tarr and Jia Zhangke... And then there are the ones you barely notice because your eyes have been guided so effortlessly around the frame, or you've been given the freedom to explore it on your own, or you've simply gotten so involved in the rhythms of the scene, the interplay between the characters, that you didn't notice how long the shot had been going on.

For this compilation, "Deep Focus," I've chosen eight shots I treasure (the last two I regard as among the finest in all of cinema). They're not all strictly "deep focus" shots, but they do emphasize three-dimensionality in their compositions. I've presented them with only minimal identifications so you can simply watch them and see what happens without distraction or interruption. Instead, I've decided to write about them below. Feel free to watch the clips and then re-watch (freeze-frame, rewind, replay) the clips to see what you can see. To say they repay re-viewing is an understatement.

Continue reading →

Name That Director!

Primary_cinemap-thumb-500x290-17136

Click above to REALLY enlarge...

UPDATED 01/28/10: 2:25 p.m. PST -- COMPLETED!: Thanks for all the detective work -- and special thanks to Christopher Stangl and Srikanth Srinivasan himself for their comprehensive efforts at filling the last few holes! Now I have to go read about who some of these experimental filmmakers are. I did find some Craig Baldwin movies on Netflix, actually...

Srikanth Srinivasan of Bangalore writes one of the most impressive movie blogs on the web: The Seventh Art. I don't remember how I happened upon it last week, but wow am I glad I did. Dig into his exploration of connections between Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Jean-Luc Godard's "History of Cinema." Or check out his piece on James Benning's 1986 "Landscape Suicide." There's a lot to look through, divided into sections for Hollywood and World Cinema.

In the section called "The Cinemaniac... I found the above collage (mosaic?) of mostly-famous faces belonging to film directors, which Srikanth says he assembled from thumbnails at Senses of Cinema. Many of them looked quite familiar to me, and if I'm not mistaken they were among the biographical portraits we used in the multimedia CD-ROM movie encyclopedia Microsoft Cinemania, which I edited from 1994 to 1998, first on disc, then also on the web. (Anybody with a copy of Cinemania able to confirm that? My Mac copy of Cinemania97 won't run on Snow Leopard.)

Continue reading →

Starry, starry nonsense

Primary_eb20081230answerman812309991ar

Q. How can you be so dead-on correct about 99 percent of the movies you review, but be 100 percent off about a piece of crap like "Marley and Me"? Boring material, terrible script and totally misleading advertisement -- worse than a Lifetime cable movie! We took our 5-year-old to what was supposed to be a fun family movie about a dog, not a slice of life from a totally uninteresting family. I won best jazz guitarist in all the major guitar magazines for two years in a row. I'm not perfect and neither are you, but I've never made a piece of music that's as horrible and dead wrong as your review.

Continue reading →

Simply the worst

View image No comment.

How good, or bad, does a movie have to be in order to make an impression -- enough of one, anyway, so that you can remember it, or even still feel like talking about it, 15 minutes after you've seen it? Inspired by "The Hottie and the Nottie," Joe Queenan suggests criteria for The Worst Movies of All Time ("From hell") in The Guardian.

Among the movies he considers: "Futz!" (a 1969 satire, based on a hit LaMaMa Broadway production, about a man who marries a pig), Marco Ferreri's "La Grande Bouffe" (1973), John Huston's "A Walk With Love and Death," Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Salo: 120 Days of Sodom," Roberto Benigni's "Life Is Beautiful" ("as morally repugnant -- precisely because of its apparent innocence -- as any film I can name"), Kevin Costner's "The Postman," Martin Brest's "Gigli" and Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate." Queenan writes: A generically appalling film like "The Hottie and the Nottie" is a scab that looks revolting while it is freshly coagulated; but once it festers, hardens and falls off the skin, it leaves no scar. By contrast, a truly bad movie, a bad movie for the ages, a bad movie made on an epic, lavish scale, is the cultural equivalent of leprosy: you can't stand looking at it, but at the same time you can't take your eyes off it. You are horrified by it, repelled by it, yet you are simultaneously mesmerised by its enticing hideousness....

Continue reading →

Three kinds of violence: Zodiac, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood

View image A figure in the shadows.

1. I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed.

2. I hate most people.... I see the worst in people. I don't need to look past seeing them to get all I need.

3. I want to rule and never, ever explain myself. I've built my hatreds up over the years, little by little.

Match the above comments to the character who speaks or writes them:

a) Anton Chigurh, "No Country for Old Men" b) The Zodiac, "Zodiac" c) Daniel Plainview, "There Will Be Blood"

(Answers at end of post.)

* * * *

NOTE: Spoilers lurk sinisterly below.

View image Daniel Plainview, "There Will Be Blood."

Three of the most admired and fervently debated American films of the year move inexorably toward a climactic confrontation with a killer -- or someone's conception of a killer. Only Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" actually culminates in a eruption of savagery, while David Fincher's "Zodiac" and Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old Men" gradually steer their attention away from the assaults and into the psyches of the characters who are haunted by the brutality penetrating their lives.

View image Anton Chigurh, "No Country for Old Men."

View image The Zodiac, "Zodiac" -- or as close as we ever get to seeing him.

Much has been written about the violence in these movies, the darkness they find in the American landscape, and what some see as their bleak, fatalistic and/or nihilistic attitude. Does this somehow reflect the country's moral ambivalence about being mired in two bloody, confusing guerrilla wars on the other side of the world? A sense of No Exit hopelessness that the Vietnam nightmare is recurring? Mainstream (or art house) torture porn that allows us to vicariously groove on -- as we are simultaneously appalled by -- the crimes at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo? Dissatisfaction with the materialistic emphasis on the American Dream? A cynical exploitation of artfully staged killings for our (cathartic?) entertainment?

The popular press likes to talk about violence in movies with a superficiality that assumes all violence and all movies are the same, that blood is blood (and that gore and gunplay are automatically more sensational than depictions of beatings or other forms of physical and psychological abuse). But that Sunday feature-section approach ignores what it's like to watch the movies themselves, and the diverse contexts in which they present acts of cruelty and lethality. To say that "Zodiac," "NCFOM" and "TWBB" are all "violent films" tells you as much about them as saying they all use the color red.¹ I'd like to consider how the violence in these films conveys its own meaning, apart from any op-ed political parallels that can be drawn, however legitimately.

Continue reading →