The Zero Theorem
Terry Gilliam's first science fiction film since "12 Monkeys" is an inventively designed but oddly inert satire on technology, God and the future of humankind.
* 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.
An obituary for actor Eli Wallach.
May 2014 Blu-rays of note.
A survey of selected films available now on Blu-ray.
Triceratops never existed; Coppola and DePalma betwixt passions; 8 books every educated person should read; the Syrian rebel problem; The Last Temptation of Christ revisited; Herzog + Morris.
Sheila writes: The glamorous days of air travel were already on their way out by the time I first stepped foot on an airplane (Aer Lingus, 1980) so I have always been fascinated by glimpses of what traveling by plane used to be like: the linens, the cocktail glasses, the curtains, the elegance! I came across a piece about a man, Anthony Toth, who had such a sense of nostalgia for those bygone days that he built a partial replica of a Pan Am 747 in a warehouse in Redondo Beach, where he lives. At first, the replica was in his garage, but then he realized he needed to build an upper level, so he moved the entire thing to a warehouse, where it still sits today. The local press picked up on the story, and it created such interest that you can now visit and have dinner, Pan Am style.
Quentin Tarantino has found his actor in Christoph Waltz -- someone who can speak Tarantinian fluently and still make it his own. When Waltz uses a self-consciously ostentatious word like "ascertain" (as in, "I was simply trying to ascertain..." -- the kind of verbiage QT is as likely to put in the mouth of a lowlife crook as a German dentist, or a Francophile plantation slavemaster, for that matter), it sounds right. As someone to whom Tarantino's dialog often sounds cliche-ridden and cutesy, it's a pleasure to hear Waltz saying the words in character rather than simply as a mouthpiece for the writer-director.
Oh, stop. This isn't sounding the way I want it to.
Oh my. Here we go again with all the deathiness. Movie criticism keeps dying deader and deader. Film itself has keeled over and given up the ghost. Cinema ist kaput, and at the end of last month "movie culture" was pronounced almost as deceased as John Cleese's parrot. Ex-parrot, I mean. Then the movie "Looper" came out, posing questions like: "What if you could go back in time? Would you kill cinema?" Or something like that.
People, this dying has gotta stop.
OK, this is where it really gets interesting. Forget the consensus Top 50 Greatest Movies of All Time; let's get personal. Sight & Sound has now published the top 250 titles in its 2012 international critics poll, the full list of more than 2,000 movies mentioned, and all the individual lists of the 845 participating critics, academics, archivists and programmers, along with any accompanying remarks they submitted. I find this to be the most captivating aspect of the survey, because it reminds us of so many terrific movies we may have forgotten about, or never even heard of. If you want to seek out surprising, rewarding movies, this is a terrific place to start looking. For the past few days I've been taking various slices at the "data" trying to find statistical patterns, and to glean from the wealth of titles some treasures I'd like to heartily recommend -- and either re-watch or catch up with myself.
I know we're supposed to consider the S&S poll a feature film "canon" -- a historically influential decennial event since 1952, but just one of many. I don't disagree with Greg Ferrara at TCM's Movie Morlocks ("Ranking the Greats: Please Make it Stop") when he says that limiting ballots to ten all-time "best" (or "favorite," "significant," "influential" titles is incredibly limiting. That's why I think perusing at the critics' personal lists, the Top 250 (cited by seven critics or more) and the full list of 2,045 films mentioned is more enjoyable pastime.
It's wise to remember that, although the top of the poll may at first glance look relatively conservative or traditional, there's a tremendous diversity in the individual lists. Even the top vote-getter, "Vertigo," was chosen by less than one quarter of the participants.
Like all of us, I'm living under a death sentence. Not to sound alarmist, but to quote Woody Allen in "Love and Death": "Isn't all mankind ultimately executed for a crime it never committed? The difference is that all men go eventually, but I go six o'clock tomorrow morning." Looking on the bright side of death, I think in some ways it must be nice to have such certainty. But we live in perpetual uncertainty and doubt (see "No Country for Old Men"). My own awareness of the prospect of my demise ranges between roughly five years and five seconds, according to fluctuations in the health of my heart. I've gotten close enough to peer over the threshold (and in one case, lost my grip and fell into the void for, I'm told, about 10 or 15 minutes). My point is, I don't see death as an abstraction but a... vividly imminent possibility, depending on the situation.
(Neuroscientists say it may take the human brain 20-30 years or of development to really begin to fathom the concept anyway -- to some extent we tend to feel, and behave, as if we are immortal before that. I think my brain "knew" somewhat earlier.)
My adventures in mortality are absolutely nothing, however, compared to what some of my friends and acquaintances have been through. People have asked me if my near-death (temporary-death?) experience in 2000 gave me a new perspective on life and I have to say... no. I've been preoccupied with death ever since I was old enough to have a rudimentary understanding of what that was. It used to make me a little dizzy thinking about an infinity of nonexistence, like the one I didn't experience before I was born, but I don't find anything disturbing or frightening about that. Hey, it happens to everybody. Dying is easy; living is hard.*
UPDATED (08/01/12): Scroll to the bottom of this entry to see my first impressions of the newly announced critics' and directors' poll results.
Vittorio De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves" (1948) topped the first Sight & Sound critics' poll in 1952, only four years after it was first released, dropped to #7 in 1962, and then disappeared from the top ten never to be seen again. (In 2002 only five of the 145 participating critics voted for it.) Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) flopped in its initial release but was rediscovered in the 1950s after RKO licensed its films to television in 1956. From 1962 to 2002 "Kane" has remained at the top of the poll (46 critics voted for it last time). This year, a whopping 846 top-ten ballots (mentioning 2,045 different titles) were counted, solicited from international "critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles" -- including bloggers and other online-only writers. Sight & Sound has announced it will live-tweet the 2012 "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time" (@SightSoundmag #sightsoundpoll) August 1, and as I write this the night before, I of course don't know the results. But, for now at least, I'm more interested in the process.
Given the much wider and younger selection of voters in 2012, ist-watchers have been speculating: Will another movie (leading candidate: Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," number 2 in 2002) supplant "Kane" at the top of the list? Will there be any silent films in the top 10? (Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" and Murnau's "Sunrise" tied for #7 on the 2002 list, but the latter was released in 1927 with a Fox Movietone sound-on-film musical score and sound effects.)
Though there's been no rule about how much time should pass between a film's initial release and its eligibility (the Library of Congress's National Film Registry requires that selections be at least ten years old), most of the selections ten to have stood the test of time for at least a decade or two. The newest film on the 2002 list was the combination of "The Godfather" (1972) and "The Godfather, Part II" (1974) -- but they won't be allowed to count as one title for 2012.
Britain is overrun with film festivals. I wouldn't be shocked to learn we have more per hundred miles per year than any nation on Earth. But there is room for more, provided they are carefully conceived, intelligently programmed and don't overreach themselves in their early years. ID Fest, which ran this year between May 24 and 27, is a fine example.
Beginning in 2010, with a year off in 2011, ID Fest is "a boutique festival", with each instalment programmed around a specific theme branching from the larger theme of identity - hence "ID" Fest. As such, it separates itself from Britain's large international festivals; small, un-themed local festivals; and genre fests, of which there seem to be more each month. The first ID Fest investigated what it means to be English (as opposed to British) but the second had a far broader focus, befitting its ambitions to become a truly international festival. In 2012, its theme was heroism.
Git on up in here! Dennis Cozzalio is our host for the second annual Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule Movie Tree House -- and you're invited, too. Join returning Tree Housers Dennis, Jason Bellamy, Sheila O'Malley and me, and welcome Simon Abrams and Steven Boone to the lofty branches, where we have been discussing such life-and-death matters as...
The art and science of year-end list-making (from Dennis):
As of January 2012, it's a chore for me to recall anything but fragments of images from The Tree of Life beyond that wonderful sequence in which the oldest boy's growing up amongst his two younger siblings is compressed into a beautiful visual essay about the way a child might see the surrounding world. It seems to me it is with this gaze that Malick most clearly relates. Unfortunately, a child's focus is also all over the map, and that too is a feeling I get from "The Tree of Life." So am I crazy in having to admit that I have higher regard for "Your Highness" or "Captain America: The First Avenger" or "Troll Hunter" or "Contagion" than I do for "The Tree of Life"? You tell me.
In compiling my list for the year I also had the strange experience of having my expectations for how that list might look at the end of the year scrambled and significantly altered by three very different movie experiences, two of which I just happened to have on the same night less than two weeks ago....
The acting! (from Sheila):
When I saw, and immediately wrote about, Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive," I knew almost nothing about it except the title and that Ryan Gosling was in it. I remembered that it had received acclaim at Cannes back in May (I did not recall that Refn had won the best director prize) and, as it turns out, I hadn't seen any of Refn's previous films -- although "Bronson" and "Valhalla Rising" had been recommended to me by friends. Since then, I've been reading up on "Drive" and have discovered so many fascinating little tidbits (many of which confirm my first impressions) that I decided to put together this little primer.
I recommend that you refrain from reading this until you've seen the movie, though.
Cited influences include: Grimm's Fairy Tales, John Hughes ("Sixteen Candles," "Pretty in Pink"), Sergio Leone, Alejandro Jodorowsky...
On the title font:
Refn: Me and Mat Newman, who edits all my movies, we stole that in the editing table from "Risky Business."
-- from an interview with Scott Tobias at The A.V. Club
Google "best movies of 2011 so far" (without the quotation marks) and you'll get approximately 19-and-a-half million results, which is just about what this whole obsessive-compulsive list-making thing feels like to me. "Ten-best" (and "ten-worst") mania used to be an annual phenomenon among movie fans and critics; now it happens every few months. Perhaps it's a symptom of what Simon Reynolds calls "Retromania," reflecting the brevity of pop-culture nostalgia cycles (is the first decade of the 21st century now officially "retro"? Oooh, remember those cool circle touchpads on old-skool iPods?) and the "museumification" and "curation " of virtually everything that can be collected, commodified, categorized, chronologized, hierarchically ranked or otherwise pigeonholed. (I sometimes enjoy lists, too, but while I occasionally make artisanal ones -- even bespoke ones -- I do not curate them.)
Seems I've been running across those headlines since May, at least: "Best Movies of 2011 (So Far)," and "Worst Movies of 2011 (So Far)." Here's a sampling of critics and outlets that have published such lists: Metacritic, Moviefone, Roger Ebert (best and worst), IndieWIRE's The Playlist, JoBlo.com, somebody at the Huffington Post, Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at "Ebert Presents: At the Movies (both best and worst), Dennis Cozallio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, Paste magazine, Awards Daily (the name of which says exactly where I fear we're headed), CinemaBlend.com, Glenn Kenny at MSN Movies and FilmFan, Peter Travers at Rolling Stone, RopeofSilicon.com, IFC.com, beliefnet's Movie Mom, Fandango... STOP already!
You're invited to climb up the ladder and into the Movie Tree House with Dennis Cozzalio, Sheila O'Malley, Jason Bellamy and me to talk about... guess what? Movies! All kinds of movies, from the ones we saw in 2010 (and are still catching up with) to the beginnings of the medium to the future. Dennis is our host at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, and we've just finished our first round. Yes, we know that the format is basically the same as the Slate Movie Club, but ours is in a tree! And we want you to join the discussion.
We all come at movies from slightly different perspectives, which is what makes it interesting. I love what Sheila says about Annette Bening's eyewear in "The Kids Are All Right":
I told Jason in a comments thread on his site, that Annette Bening's "glasses behavior" in that film is worthy of an entire thesis paper. Her business with her glasses is so subtle, so character-driven, that you might not even notice it, or you might take it for granted, but there is some great great acting going on there. Bening's adjusting of her glasses, her freedom with that prop, her specificity in using those glasses was some of the best acting done this year.
For some reason I have the notion that the guy with the camera, getting the low-angle shots of Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley) against that American flag that stretches across the Parthenon from sea to shining sea, is the cinematographer Paul Lohmann. Is that right?
I didn't know it at the time, but 35 years ago the course of my life was set into motion. It began, no doubt, the previous summer with Roman Polanski's "Chinatown," followed the next June by Robert Altman's "Nashville." If those two movies -- seen at the impressionable ages of 16 and 17 -- don't thoroughly transform your world, then I don't know what would. I'd always loved the arts, but from that moment on I knew for certain that movies were the art form of the century -- my century -- because never before could such vibrant, kinetic masterpieces have been born. They made me feel fortunate to have come into the world just at the moment in human history when, at long last, such miracles became possible.
I was watching Akira Kurosawa's 1948 "Stray Dog" the other night, in which a nightclub owner said one of his chorus girls was "sick" with "her monthlies." This is not something you could have heard in a Hollywood film in 1948. But it reminded me of several things I wanted to let you know about this particular month:
1) It's Un Mumf de Odienator at Big Media Vandalism again -- that is, the third annual Black History Mumf! Odie kicks things off with a stellar appreciation of "Boyz N the Hood," capping it with a personal note:
Black History Mumf is all about my confessions, which I wrap up and hide in these pieces. Growing up, I was Tre minus the bad temper. I was the smartest kid most of my friends and family knew, and for that I was ostracized, beaten up, and ignored by the girls. They went for the guys I knew who sold drugs. It seemed like everybody I knew was up to that, or stealing cars, so I wanted to participate as well. I wanted to belong, to be popular, to have the girls like me too.
If all the year-end and decade-end lists (even though we realize the decade isn't actually over until 2011) have left you dizzied and depleted, take heart! Perhaps you've missed out on some of the more invigorating, far-sighted list-based ventures. Over at Some Came Running, for example, Glenn Kenny conducted an ingenious and fascinating project, going back and taking a look at the late Manny Farber's Best Films of 1951. Meanwhile, at The Crop Duster, Robert Horton is engaged in surveying the year's best -- in non-chronological order -- from, oh, about 1919 or so, to the present, posting a new list every Sunday. What fantastic delights are to be found in these itemized accounts...
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.)
The decision to see a film is irreversible. The decision to not see it -- today, right now -- is not. It can be put off indefinitely, subject to reconsideration at any time -- until you run out of time, permanently -- but once you've seen the movie, you can't "urn-see" it, no matter how much you might want to. Innocence cannot be recaptured, virginity cannot be restored. In a suspenseful post at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, Dennis Cozzalio faces this dilemma head-on: Should he watch Gaspar Noe's grueling 2003 "Irreversible"? Sometimes, Dennis writes, he is nagged by the presence of films "that I feel an obligation to get to know, sometimes out of simple curiosity, sometimes because to not know them is to be left out of a conversation that might stretch beyond the boundaries of that one particular film, and sometimes I feel the desire to see a film because people I respect and trust advise me to see it because they hold it in high regard. That sense of obligation reared its head again this past week concerning Irreversible, a movie with a rather proud reputation for being a shocking, unrelenting, formally compelling but ultimately nasty piece of work."
I was in high school when I picked up a hardback copy of the first edition of Robin Wood's "Hitchcock's Films" (1965) from a remainder table at a depressingly small, sterile, fluorescent-lit Crown Books in an old-fashioned, long-gone outdoor mall (called Aurora Village) in North Seattle. That was in the mid-1970s and now I'm writing this and Robin Wood died last week at the age of 78.
I'll never forget standing in that store, reading the famous, much-quoted opening words:
Why should we take Hitchcock seriously?
It is a pity the question has to be raised: if the cinema were truly regarded as an autonomous art, not as a mere adjunct of the novel or the drama -- if we were able yet to see films instead of mentally reducing them to literature -- it would be unnecessary.
As a number of online critics have noted, Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" has inspired some of the most exciting critical discussion of the year. I'm grateful to Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, who has been a big part of that discussion, for pointing out one of the most penetrating pieces on the movie yet, "For Bravery: Das Unheimliche and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS" by Chris Stangl at The Exploding Kinetoscope.
Although I think he misinterprets something I wrote (and I'll get to that later), he's a superb writer who has an affinity for Tarantino's work and an ability to articulate it compellingly.
Stangl offers inspired analysis of the structures and character games in Tarantino's films; the invocation of decadent "Nazisploitation" (from "Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS" to Visconti's "The Damned") among the layered movie textures in "IB"; Tarantino's use of deep focus "to impart as much information as possible in a shot"...
Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" is about World War II in roughly the same way that, I suppose, Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" is about a haunted hotel. The war is indeed the setting, but that's not so much what the movie is about. I also don't see it as an act of Holocaust denial or an anti-vengeance fable in which we are supposed to first applaud the Face of Jewish Revenge, and then feel uncomfortable sympathy for the Nazis. The movie comes down firmly on the side of the Jews, and of revenge, of an early end to the war and the saving of thousands of lives, with barely a quibble.
But while "Inglourious Basterds" is indisputably a WW II revenge fantasy (and, of course, a typically Tarantinian "love letter to cinema"), a theme that is central to nearly every moment, every image, every line of dialog, is that of performance -- of existence as a form of acting, and human identity as both projection and perception. As you would expect from a film that is also an espionage picture and a detective movie, it's shot through with identity games, interrogations, role-playing and people or situations that are not what they appear to be...
I hope you're enjoying all the arguments swirling around "Inglourious Basterds" as much as I am -- not just here, but all over the place. Since I posted "Some ways to watch Inglourious Basterds [sic]," I've been reading other people's reviews and comments and interviews about the movie and, hell, even Quentin Tarantino doesn't always agree with Quentin Tarantino about what the movie's up to. (And why should he? Like all of us, he contains multitudes.) It's not about the Holocaust, but it is about the Holocaust; it's not real, but it's real; it's not fantasy, but it's fantasy; it's not history, but it's history; it's not amoral, but it's amoral; it's not moral, but it's moral...
What some people have difficulty with is exactly what others delight in: "Inglorious Basterds" is never situated in one reality or another reality. It's always juggling various combinations of reality and unreality -- history, alt-history, war movie (platoon movie, mission movie, spy movie, detective movie, propaganda movie, European art movie...), cartoon, folklore, satire, comic book, revenge fantasy, etc. -- and the combinations change from one moment to the next. And that, I think, is its subject. I don't think there's anything more to it than QT trying to create movie-moments. He does, and some of them are superb. I don't blame people who find its story and characters thin, or factual liberties preposterous, or generic conventions twisted, or (a-)morality ambiguous, or humor offensive, but he's got no reason to apologize for creating his alternative historical universe in a Hollywood movie -- a world in which all of the above are woven into its warp and woof.
Because "Inglourious Basterds" provides so much to talk about and to interpret, I thought I'd put together some fascinating observations (some of which I wish I'd made myself; some of which I think are off-base, but nevertheless revealing of something about the film) and set them bouncing off one another to get your own analytical juices flowing, starting with QT's (and others') takes on the nature of the world in which it unreels:
"I stop short of calling it a fantasy. I present it in this fairytale kind of thing as far as for the masses to take in, but that's not where I'm coming from. Where I'm coming from is my characters changed the course of the war. Now that didn't happen, because my characters didn't exist, but if they had existed, everything that happens in the movie is possible."-- QT, after a Museum of Jewish Heritage screening in Manhattan
Director Joe Dante ("Piranha," "The Howling," "Gremlins," "Matinee," "Homecoming") talks with Dennis Cozzalio about stories and effects at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, in one of the most enjoyable filmmaker interviews I've read in a long time:
... I'm not saying all these new techniques are better. Unfortunately, you can't go home again, and it is difficult to make films using the old technology. I've seen a couple of pictures in Europe when I've gone to festivals where they have carefully tried to use the old Rob Bottin-Rick Baker school of do-it-in-the-camera, and it's often very effective, but those movies often don't get released anywhere because they're not CGI, they're not what people expect. I mean, love it or hate it, CGI is here to stay -- the trick is to find a way to work it so that it doesn't look as sterile and mechanical as by definition it is.