A dispatch from the New York Film Festival on the latest from Kelly Reichardt, Oliver Laxe, Eloy Enciso Cachafeiro, and Pietro Marcello.
Sheila writes: Just in case you haven't had your fill of End of Year lists, Steven Soderbergh put up a list on his site of everything he watched in 2014, in chronological order, as well as everything he read. Television, movies, books, scripts ... it's all here. It made me consider doing something similar, just to track what I've taken in over any given year. I love reading other people's lists. Do any of you keep lists like this?
Whereas Hitch's film worked very loosely from the original novel, deftly weaving romantic comedy and social commentary into the suspenseful fabric, screenwriter Fiona Seres' take on the material focuses so intently on its "vanishing" that the tale becomes monotonous and too narrowly focused in its telling.
Marie writes: Once upon a time, a long time ago and in a childhood far, far away, kids used to be able to buy a special treat called a Frosted Malt. Then, with the arrival of progress and the subsequent destruction of all that is noble and pure, the world found itself reduced to settling for a frosty at Wendy's, at least where I live. Unable to support a "second rate" frosted malt for a second longer, I decided to do something about it!
Marie writes: I recently heard from an ex-coworker named Athena aka the production manager on an animated series I'd painted digital backgrounds for. She sent me some great photos she'd found on various sites. More than few made me smile and thus inspired, I thought I'd share them with club members. I've added captions for fun but if you can come up with something better, feel free to submit your wit by way of posted comment. Note: I don't know who the photographers are; doesn't say. (Click pics to enlarge.)
"I want a peanut for every photo you took of me..."
From Jason Haggstrom (haggie), Reel 3:
The opening shot of Robert Altman's "The Player" establishes the film as a self-reflexive deconstruction of the Hollywood system and those who run it. With its prolonged shot length, the take is also designed as a means to introduce the bevy of players who work on the lot and to setup the film's general plot--or at least its tone--as a thriller/murder mystery.
The first image in this extended opening shot is of a film set--a painting of one, to be precise. We hear the sounds of a film crew before a clapper pops into the frame. The (off-screen) director shouts "And... action" informing the audience that the film should be viewed as a construct, a film. The camera tracks back to reveal its location on a Hollywood studio lot where movies are described not in accolades of quality, but of quantity with an oversized sign that reads, "Movies, now more than ever."
The lot is filled with commotion. Writers come and go (some invited, some not) as do executives, pages, and assistants. The political hierarchy is highlighted through dialog and interactions that expose the value system of Hollywood. The most powerful arrive by car; high-end models pervade the mise-en-scène in all of the take's exterior moments. An assistant is made to run (literally, and in high heels) for the mail, and then -- before she even has a chance to catch her breath -- to park an executive's car.
They don't teach cinematic grammar in elementary schools, though they ought to. But somehow kids understand it anyway -- even before they understand spoken and written language. David Bordwell ponders this mystery in a post about final shots called "Molly wanted more," in which he describes a friend's three-year-old daughter crying out for "More!" as Snow White and the prince ride off into the sunset at the end of Disney's 1937 "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
"How could she know, on her first pass, that the story was ending?" he wonders. Using examples from "Snow White," "The Wild One" and "The Silence of the Lambs," among others, DB examines one of the conventions for entering and exiting movie stories, in which we move in on the characters (or they approach us) at the beginning and pull back (or they move away from us) at the end:
Thanks to the visual nature of movies, the widening or closing-off of the story world can mimic the act of our entering or backing out of a tangible situation. That's what we see in "Snow White" and my other examples. In a sense we greet the characters, and after spending some time with them we bid them farewell. [...]
John Fitzgerald Kennedy's early cameo appearance in "Nashville," at Lady Pearl's Old Time Picking Parlor.
Please consider this my initial contribution to Andy Horbal's Film Criticism Blog-a-Thon -- happening all weekend at No More Marriages!
View image Inside Pearl's Parlor: Red, white and bluegrass. Kenny Fraiser (David Hayward) enters from behind the flag at center.
How can two critics see (or remember) the same movie, and have such contradictory interpretations of how it works and what it means? And what better case-in-point than Robert Altman's 1975 "Nashville" -- now being remembered in the wake of Altman's death last week, and seen through the prism of Emilio Estevez's recent release about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, "Bobby"?
View image Lady Pearl: "The only time I ever went hog wild, 'round the bend, was for the Kennedy boys. But they were different."
From two reviews of "Bobby":
View image "... and the asshole got 556,577 votes."
Watching the movie, I kept thinking of "Nashville." And not just because Robert Altman's 1975 masterpiece remains the most politically and psychologically astute big-ensemble/where-America's-at movie ever made (it's got a presidential campaign and ends with a beloved public figure gunned down, too). There's a minor character in it, played by Barbara Baxley, who's a Kennedy-loving Yankee married to a country music star. In one boozy monologue, she expresses all that was both hopeful and delusional about what the dead Kennedys represented for progressive citizens. I've never forgotten that speech, while the more simplistic and diffuse "Bobby" is already starting to fade from memory.
-- Bob Strauss, LA Daily News
View image Alone at Mass.
Despite its reputation as an exuberant classic, "Nashville" knows zip and cares even less about country music or the city of Nashville (where it was shot) -- which doesn't prevent it from heaping scorn on both. It even ridicules a dowager who tearfully reminisces about John and Bobby Kennedy, and it shamelessly encourages viewers to share its contempt for the rubes. The relentless cynicism that Nashville brandishes as proof of its hipness ultimately gives way to glib, high-flown rhetoric in the climactic repeated shots of an American flag filling the screen while a nihilistic pseudocountry anthem, "It Don't Worry Me," builds to a crescendo, asserting the concert audience's unembarrassed cluelessness.
-- Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
First, I want to point out the obvious: Bob Strauss is right even when he's wrong (I don't think Baxley's character is minor or a Yankee) and Jonathan Rosenbaum is wrong even when he's right (Altman admitted he wasn't interested in making a movie about the real Nashville or country music; after all, he let the actors write their own songs). Rosenbaum's preoccupation with his own perception of "hipness" (which he deems extremely uncool) appears to have obscured his view (or his memory) of what's happening on the screen in Altman's movie. As I said in a comment over at The House Next Door, using "Bobby" to bash "Nashville" makes as much sense as using "Neil Simon's California Suite" to bash "Short Cuts" -- or "The Towering Inferno" to belittle "Playtime." Yes, there are superficial similarities (as Bob points out), but in terms of ambition, complexity, vitality and sheer movieness, there's no comparison.
"Nashville" 25th reunion. (photo by Jim Emerson)
When the doctor says you're through Keep a'goin! Why, he's a human just like you -- Keep a'goin!
-- Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) in "Nashville"
View image 24 of your favorite stars.
Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld so I can sigh eternally
-- Kurt Cobain, "Pennyroyal Tea"
It's true that all the men you knew were dealers who said that they were through with dealing every time you gave them shelter
-- Leonard Cohen, opening lyrics for "McCabe & Mrs. Miller"
View image "Nashville" 25th reunion. Note gigantic Oscar at right; Altman got his own, regular-sized one six years later. (photo by Jim Emerson)
"However, the cortex, which is dwarfed in most species by other brain areas, makes up a whopping 80 percent of the human brain. Compared with other animals, our huge cortex also has many more regions specialized for particular functions, such as associating words with objects or forming relationships and reflecting on them. The cortex is what makes us human."
-- John J. Ratley, M.D., "A User's Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain"
I'm not sure what, if anything, meaningfully connects these fragments to the passing of Robert Altman -- or his films, as alive now as they ever were -- but they were all things I encountered during a day spent thinking about Altman and, to my surprise, not wanting to speak out loud about him to anyone. I talked to my mother on the phone. She asked hesitantly, "Have you heard any news today?" "Yeah," I said, and changed the subject. What can I say that isn't trivial? (Rhetorical question, please.)
In this state of grief, nothing I'm writing or thinking about Altman is adequate, or even makes much sense, in large part because a whole moviegoing lifetime of engagement with his movies (beginning at age 15) has so profoundly shaped who I am and how I experience the world. Like hundreds, thousands (millions?) of cinephiles and cinephiliacs, I found life (and, paradoxically, shelter) in Robert Altman's movies. "Nashville" is my church, to which I return again and again for joy, insight, inspiration and sustenance. (I haven't written about it for years, but I also know that I'm almost never not writing about "Nashville.")
To this day, I am in some deep but irrational sense convinced that the characters in "Nashville" (even though I know they're played by 24 of my very favorite stars!) continue to exist outside the parameters of the movie itself. I've met and interviewed, for example, Ned Beatty, but there's Ned Beatty the actor and then there's Delbert Reese, who is someone else entirely. Delbert exists, imaginatively independent of the great actor (one of my all-time favorites) who inhabited him in "Nashville." (This is most unlike the other most-influential movie in my life, Roman Polanski's "Chinatown," made just the year before "Nashville," which is as "closed" a film as "Nashville" is "open." "Chinatown" ends so definitively that, "Two Jakes" aside, any life beyond the final frame is unthinkable.)
Right now I just want to share another fantastic memory: In 2000, I heard there was going to be a 25th anniversary reunion screening of "Nashville" at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. I'd moved back to Seattle by this time, but I bought tickets the moment they became available (for five bucks apiece) and went to LA for the event: My favorite movie, in a pristine print, in one of the finest movie theaters in the world, with most of those 24 favorite stars in attendance. It was... transplendent (as a Shelley Duvall character once said). I'll post an update with IDs later, but for now, see if you can identify the people onstage (taken with a now-primitive, but still beloved, Canon Digital Elph)
Pauline Kael's famous, ebullient review of "Nashville" here reminds us how exciting and innovative the movie was in 1975.
Principal population of "Nashville" after the jump:
View image Rise and shine...
What do we have here? It's the opening shot of one of my favorite 1970s comedies, a dark absurdist urban paranoid masterpiece called "Little Murders" (1971) written by Jules Feiffer ("Carnal Knowledge") and directed by Alan Arkin (as was the second, successful run of the play in New York in 1969; the first staging a year earlier closed in a week). As you might guess, it's a movie about windows and frames. Look out any window, and there's another one looking right back at you -- with a telescope, a camera, maybe even a gun. After a while, you don't want to know what's out there. You shut off the TV, bar the windows and bolt the door just to keep the madness... out?
Elliott Gould plays Alfred, a listless, benumbed photographer who shoots piles of dog shit. That's his subject. In this shot, Alfred is somewhere outside the window, getting beat up. That's Patsy (Marcia Rodd) in bed. The sounds of Alfred's mugging are drifting in her window, but that's not what awakens her. It's the phone -- another call from the heavy breather (in an era where "obscene phone calls" were the latest in pornographic technological phenomena). But although the image may at first remind you of Kitty Genovese (the murder victim whose screams were ignored by neighbors in Queens), Patsy intervenes. And that's the way it all begins.
Arkin jump-cuts into the scene a few times as the credits appear, in a way that reminds me of the percussive cuts of Harvey Keitel waking up (to the Ronettes' "Be My Baby") at the start of "Mean Streets" (1973). By the end of the film, the windows will be flung open again, to let the fresh air in... and the sniper rifles out.
P.S. Roger Ebert's original 1971 review of "Little Murders" gets at why I think it's such a good, and disturbing, comedy. It doesn't tell you when it's OK to laugh: Arkin said, shortly after the film was released, that he'd only seen his movie once in a theater, and he was afraid to go again. When he saw it with an audience, he said, he thought it was a flop because there was no pattern to the laughs. People were laughing as individuals, almost uneasily, as specific things in the movie touched or clobbered them.
That's my feeling about "Little Murders." One of the reasons it works, and is indeed a definitive reflection of America's darker moods, is that it breaks audiences down into isolated individuals, vulnerable and uncertain. Most movies create a temporary sort of democracy, a community of strangers there in the darkened theater. Not this one. The movie seems to be saying that New York City has a similar effect on its citizens, and that it will get you if you don't watch out.
HOLLYWOOD - Robert Mitchum is wearing this...tie. It features bold horizontal stripes of green and glittering gold. "Look at the damn thing, will ya?" he says. It is like no tie anyone has ever seen before, and the tag on its back says Space Delicious.
He's a big, cheerful, bear-like man with the ability (unusual among film directors) to poke fun at his own work. "I stay with my films all the way," says Robert Altman. "Through the editing, through the post-production, all the way until they're in the theater and really failures."