As of this writing, Todd Phillips’ “Joker” has earned nearly $1 billion globally, making it one of the most successful comic book movies ever released. But the discourse surrounding it will outlive this moment. No comic book-derived film since “Black Panther” has sparked more commentary, although the discussion surrounding this one has been more oppositional than anything else, and clouded by bad faith on every side.
A review of new films by Terrence Malick and Corneliu Porumboiu.
A celebration of the late Setsuko Hara.
A review of Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi's "The 50 Year Argument," airing on HBO this Monday, September 29.
Haifaa Al-Mansour, Keith Stanfield, Matt Zoller Seitz and more discuss "Film & Cultural Politics" at Ebertfest.
Marie writes: many simply know her as the girl with the black helmet. Mary Louise Brooks (1906 - 1985), aka Louise Brooks, an American dancer, model, showgirl and silent film actress famous for her bobbed haircut and sex appeal. To cinefiles, she's best remembered for her three starring roles in Pandora's Box (1929) and Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) directed by G. W. Pabst, and Prix de Beauté (1930) by Augusto Genina. She starred in 17 silent films (many lost) and later authored a memoir, Lulu in Hollywood."She regards us from the screen as if the screen were not there; she casts away the artifice of film and invites us to play with her." - Roger, from his review of the silent classic Pandor's Box.
Ever since David Thomson's "A Biographical Dictionary of Film" was published in 1975, browsers have said that they love to hate Thomson's contrarian arguments -- against John Ford or Frank Capra, Coppola or Kubrick, for example.¹ Fans and critics can cite favorite passages of resonant beauty, mystifyingly vague and dismissive summary judgements, and entire entries in which the man appears to have gone off his rocker. And that's the fun of it.
To be fair, Thomson broke faith with (or has been suffering a crisis of faith in) American movies at least far back as "Overexposures: The Crisis in American Filmmaking" (1981), and he's been writing about his crisis ever since. To put it in a sentence that could serve as the ending of one of his entries: I am willing to believe that he loves (or once loved) movies even if he doesn't like them very much. (Wait -- how does he conclude the Katharine Hepburn piece? "She loved movies, while disapproving of them.")
When I encountered the first edition of this book, the year I entered college, I immediately fell in love with it because it was not a standard reference. It was personal, cranky, eloquent, pretentious, pithy, petty, ambitious... It was, as I think Thomson himself suggested in the foreword to the first or second edition (this is the fifth), more accurately titled "An Autobiographical Dictionary of Film." Many times over the years I have implored my employers or partners to license digital rights to Thomson's book so that it could augment and be integrated with other movie databases and references (at Cinemania, FilmPix, Reel.com, RogerEbert.com)... but we've never done it. What, they would ask, is the "value-add"? (Really. Some people used to talk that way.) As a reference, its coverage is too spotty (Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia is much more comprehensive but also has loads of incomplete filmographies), as criticism it's wildly idiosyncratic (nothing wrong with that) and as biography it's whimsically selective and uneven, leaving as many holes as it fills.
Andrew O'Hehir of Salon is a critic I admire, but he has nevertheless written a review of "Secretariat" so bizarre I cannot allow it to pass unnoticed. I don't find anywhere in "Secretariat" the ideology he discovers there. In its reasoning, his review resembles a fevered conspiracy theory.
In this example , we do not find proof that Obama is a Muslim Communist born in Kenya. No, the news is worse than that. It involves Secretariat, a horse who up until now we innocently thought of as merely very fast. We learn the horse is a carrier not merely of Ron Turcotte's 130 pounds, but of Nazism, racism, Tea Party ideology and the dark side of Christianity.
Oh, and I forgot the Ku Klux Klan: "The movie itself is ablaze with its own crazy sense of purpose," O'Hehir writes, "...as if someone just off-screen were burning a cross on the lawn."
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...
"When I'm making a movie, the world goes away and I'm on Mt. Everest. Obama is President? Who cares? I'm making my movie." -- Quentin Tarantino, Village Voice interview (2009)
A wily WWII Looney Tunes propaganda movie that conjures up 1945's "Herr Meets Hare," (in which Bugs Bunny goes a-hunting with Hermann Goering in the Black Forest; full cartoon below) and the towering legends of Sergio Leone's widescreen Westerns -- and about a gazillion other movies and bits of movie history from Leni Riefenstahl to Anthony Mann to Brian De Palma -- Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" is a gorgeous and goofy revenge cartoon, a conceptual genre picture about the mythmaking power of cinema. Re-writing history? That's missing the point by several kilometers. This is pure celluloid fantasy -- an invigorating wallow in the vicarious pleasures of movie-watching by someone who would rather watch movies than do anything else in the world. Except maybe talk about them.
I spent the last week preparing for "Inglourious Basterds" by watching the two Tarantinos I'd missed: both volumes of "Kill Bill" and "Death Proof." (I came to think of it as the Foot-Fetish Film Festival.) So, with that in mind, I thought I'd begin by taking a general look at how I think Tarantino's movies work -- what they do, and what they don't do -- because, although I haven't read more than a few brief passages from other "Basterds" reviews yet, people seem to think there's been a lot of misrepresentation and/or misinterpretation going around (starting with Newsweek and The Atlantic). Some clearly wanted or expected the movie to be something else. A morality lesson, perhaps. But those other movies would not be ones Quentin Tarantino has ever shown any interest in making. "Inglourious Basterds," love it or hate it (and I think it puts most contemporary American filmmaking to shame), it is what it is because it's exactly the way Tarantino wants it to be. Let's consider...
After the release of his "Standard Operating Procedures," the director Errol Morris writes me: This movie seems to have incited controversy, almost as if I broke some sort of rule or series of rules. The ultimate mystery is people. They are often mysteries not only to others but to themselves. Almost everyone wants to dismiss the bad apples rather than look at them, as if there is nothing inherently interesting in their stories. Oh well. The words "to themselves" hold the key.
My previous blog item, "Hillary and Bill: The Movie," has inspired a lot of comments, and some of them utterly baffle me. They take it for granted that I am pro-Hillary, if not necessarily anti-Obama. I've read the item again and believe it is neutral, as it was intended to be. I'm a political creature, but I intend to keep partisan politics out of this journal, which will, and should, deal only with the movies in various ways. I think those comments do, however, reveal something about how we watch movies.
View image Richard Widmark, straight shooter.
You may have heard some version of this story about Richard Widmark, who died last week at age 93. I was there, at the Telluride Film Festival in 1983 when it happened, in the Sheridan Opera House for the tributes to Andrei Tarkovsky and Widmark. Emotions were heightened, perhaps, not only by the thin mountain atmosphere, but but by a terrifying Cold War showdown between Leonid Brezhnev's Soviet Union and Ronald Reagan's USA (I don't know which scared me more at the time) over the shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which we didn't learn about until we got to Telluride. Things were chilly up there.
The emotions associated with my memories are indelible, even if their precision has faded. But the gist of what Richard Widmark said that weekend, and the eloquence with which he said it, will always stay with me. Shortly after Widmark's death, I contacted Gary Meyer, director of the Telluride Film Festival (whom I'd known as co-founder of Landmark Theatres), to see if Widmark's tribute speech was transcribed anywhere, because I would love to reprint it. Those were relatively early days for the Telluride festival (which began in 1974 and seemed much more remote than it is now) and Gary couldn't find any record of the speech, which I remember Widmark reading from notes he produced from his jacket pocket. But he did find some 1983 press coverage, from which I have pieced together the following "story."
Interviewees: Dick Morris, Ron Silver, Ann Coulter, David Frum, Ed Koch, Frank Gaffney, Steve Emerson, Peter King, Zell Miller, Dave Kopel, David Hardy, Jason Clarke, Bill Sammon.
HOLLYWOOD -- There's joy in Middle-earth tonight. "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" led the 76th annual Academy Awards with a record-tying 11 Oscars, including best picture and director. Vanquishing all opposition like the forces of Sauron, it won every category for which it was was nominated.
Q. Was the academy honoring "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" or the entire trilogy with its onslaught of awards? I'm asking because it seems unfair to ask one film to compete against three. The movie deserved all of its technical awards, I'm sure, but I don't think it belongs in the same breath as "Ben-Hur" and "Titanic."
Q. Considering the mixed reaction Elia Kazan got for his Lifetime Achievement Award--due to his artistic brilliance but lousy moral judgment--do you think Leni Riefenstahl will be acknowledged during the "in memory of" presentation at the next Academy Awards? If so, do you predict applause or protest? (Alexander Higle, Stamford CT)
Leni Riefenstahl, who did more than any other artist to shape the image of the Third Reich, died in her sleep Monday night in Berlin. She was 101. Although her 1934 documentary "Triumph of the Will" was the most dramatic and influential visual treatment of Nazism and the cult of Adolf Hitler, she maintained until the end that she was not a Nazi.
Right in the middle of our tangled discussion of his new movie, right in the middle of one of those great, impassioned philosophical arguments that you hardly ever hold after you graduate from college, Richard Dreyfuss threw me a curve ball. "Ah," he said, "but what about 'Triumph of the Will'?" And right away, I saw the corner I had painted myself into.