A celebration of Maggie Smith's career and a review of Michael Coveney's new biography about the actress.
Tom Shales looks at "Carson on TCM," a weekly series of shows culling great Carson interviews.
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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....
Above: That gritty Hollywood literalism and/or naturalism: "Off-putting to the contemporary sensibility."
I was wrong. Last night, just before going to bed, I read Stephen Metcalf's "Dilettante" column, "The Worst Best Movie: Why on earth did 'The Searchers' get canonized?". This did not make it easy for me to get to sleep, so I dashed off a preliminary response in which I harshly characterized Metcalf's piece as an "inexcusably stupid essay... about a classic John Ford Western." But now, re-reading the column in the light of day, I realize that Metcalf was hardly writing about "The Searchers" at all. And nearly every observation he does make about the film itself is cribbed from something Pauline Kael wrote (see more below). He'll just fling out an irresponsible, non sequitur comment like, "Even its adherents regard 'The Searchers' as something of an excruciating necessity," and let it lie there, flat on the screen, unexplained and unsupported. So, while I stand by my claim that what Metcalf has written is stupid and inexcusable (for the reasons I will delineate below), I don't think it has much to do with "The Searchers."
Instead, Metcalf is reacting to his own perception of the film's reputation (and in part to A.O. Scott's recent New York Times piece admiring "The Searchers"), using the movie to snidely deride people Mecalf labels "film geeks," "nerd cultists" and: ... critics whose careers emerged out of the rise of "film studies" as a discrete and self-respecting academic discipline, and the first generation of filmmakers -- Scorsese and Schrader, but also Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius, and George Lucas -- whose careers began in film school. (The latter are later characterized as "well-credentialed nerds.") The fault, then, in Metcalf's mind, is not so much in the film as in those who brazenly take film seriously as an art form. Using "The Searchers" as an anecdotal, ideological bludgeon, Metcalf attempts to attack the impudent and insidious notion that movies are worthy of serious study and artistic interpretation. Holy flashback to Clive James!
Walter Matthau, who claimed that "Foghorn" was his middle name, is dead at 79. The beloved actor, whose face was mapped with laugh lines, died of a heart attack early Saturday morning. He was brought into a Santa Monica hospital in cardiac arrest, and pronounced dead at 1:41 a.m. PDT.
LOS ANGELES -- I had been told to look for the groove. Grumpy old Walter Matthau has a groove worn into the end of one thumb, a friend said. It has been created over the years by the opposite thumbnail, during basketball games and horse races and anything else Matthau has money on.