Fatty goes from butcher boy to crossdresser for his love. He does it all while fighting off the evil Buster Keaton and his fellow henchmen. And he gets help from Luke the dog, of course.
Between Gates Of Heaven and The Thin Blue Line lies director Errol Morris’ second documentary film called Vernon, Florida. Morris really found some oddballs his second time around. Take the man pictured above for instance. That is a turtle he is holding, he knows that people think it’s a turtle, and he even notes how slow it moves, but still insists that it is a gopher. He also keeps a live possum in that metal container with the turtle.
Then there is the wiggler man. He’s kind of like Bubba from Forrest Gump in the sense that he feels the need to enumerate the many different types of wigglers. There’s orchard-worm wiggler, big red wiggler, eel worm wiggler, big ring-neck wiggler, and they got one they call the night crawler. He says there is a book about how to raise wigglers, but that it’s wrong.
We also listen to a wonderful preacher who gives an entire sermon on the word ‘therefore’. We enjoy in the exciting discovery that ‘therefore’ is a conjunction. Then it’s back to the dictionary to find out what a ‘conjunction’ is, only to discover another mystery word called ‘indeclinable’. It goes on for quite a while and we even end up looking at the Greek meaning of a certain word. Ultimately, he concludes that because of the widespread use of ‘therefore’ in the Bible, you shouldn’t take control of your own life. That would violate the word’s meaning and take away your God given peace.
However, not all of the characters Morris meets are jokes. The turkey hunter who looks like he belongs riding in a car with James Bond or in a Smokey And The Bandit film, turns out to be an enjoyable storyteller. Sure all the stories are about hunting turkeys, but he does it so well that we are mesmerized. Every time he mentions the word gobble, it’s funny, but the more time you spend with him, the more it becomes the call to his lifelong turkey hunt. It’s what he loves to do and hearing his stories lets us into that world for a short time.
While the turkey man who hears the call of the gobble is probably the sanest person in the lot, most are scary ignorant. I joked about the preacher and the old man who thought a turtle was a gopher, but there is a couple who actually believes the sand they retrieved from a nuclear testing site is growing. That’s right, that jar only had a little bit of sand when they first got it, now look at it! Another man actually advocates running people out of town on a rail complete with tar and feathers. I won’t even talk about the three old guys discussing whether taking off your shoe is necessary to blow your head off.
The members of this town can be funny and entertaining, but in the end they are sad. Morris never says this and he never demeans any the people he films. Still, you almost wish a nuke or a natural disaster would let the people and the place die. It’s short at a little under an hour, so as long as you know what you are getting into, it is worth a look.
How could Robert Mitchum fall for the femme fatale? That was the question I kept asking myself as I watched Angel Face. Mitchum plays an ambulance driver named Frank Jessup who gets a call to the home of Diane Tremayne whose stepmother is found alive in her room with the gas running. A suicide attempt or a murder? In no time, Diane tries to sink her hooks into Jessup and we find out that she really doesn’t like her stepmother.
This is where the film differentiates itself from other noirs. My original question was answered with…he isn’t. Diane tries to bring Frank into her plot to murder her stepmother, but he only seems to take the job as her family’s chauffeur because he isn’t happy at home. She manages to drive a little wedge between the stepmother and him by getting his hopes up for possible business funding, but it’s still preexisting unhappiness that drives Mitchum. Meanwhile, Diane moves forward with her murderous plan.
The film is really the story of her obsessions, her “love”, and her guilt. Jessup is along for the ride and seems content with her till the end. The movie can feel trying at times, such as the trial sequence, because we don’t feel that Double Indemnity manipulation and step by step murder plot. The manipulation never takes hold and the murder comes suddenly. However, the fatalism is strong even if it is easy to miss at first. Jessup stepped into Diane’s toilet bowl when he arrived at her home at the beginning and we are just watching as it spins up to suck them both down.
Director Otto Preminger does a fine job and so do the actors, but while I think I get it, that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it. Nothing made me care, nothing made me appreciate the fatalism, or enjoy the downward spiral. I felt like I was just on the fringes of the actual story of Diane’s self destruction rather than engaged in it. So for me, it gets a worth a look.
|“Strangers” On A Train (Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper)|
This is my fifth Wim Wenders film after having seen Alice In The Cities; Kings Of The Road; Paris, Texas; and Wings Of Desire. My first time through left me perplexed. Sure there was Bruno Ganz, but where was The Road literally or metaphorically? Where was the spiritual aspect? After doing a little reading and returning to the film, I still don’t completely get it, but I am seeing patterns. The film follows two men who would appear to be strangers, but actually share an emptiness and lack of home.
|“The Emigrant Longing”|
Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz) was once an art restorer, but now makes picture frames since he was diagnosed with a rare disease. Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper) sells forged art and is a cowboy in Hamburg. The two meet at an auction where Zimmermann is the only one who spots that the painting being sold by Ripley is a fake. He doesn’t say anything, but Ripley takes notice and after finding out about Zimmermann’s situation, he recommends him to a friend as a hitman. After all, since Zimmermann will probably be dying soon he would be willing to kill in order to leave money to his family. After that, the two get caught up in a series of murders that takes us to New York, Paris, Hamburg and Munich. With the plot out of the way, the patterns I see are frames of the characters within the cinematic frame, the American influence in West Germany, and a history of film.
The last image is of Tom Ripley surrounded by Polaroids as he takes repeated shots of himself and cries. Zimmermann can only make empty frames and Ripley is unable to fill any of the frames that contain him.
|The White House?|
The references to the history of cinema are a combination of old gadgets that create moving pictures to cameos from Hollywood elite. Two French film directors and Wenders himself make appearances as well.
|Director Nicholas Ray as Ripley’s Art Forger|
|Director Samuel Fuller as The American Mobster|
|Train Appears To Move|
|A Table Of Early Motion Picture Devices|
|Manipulating The Edges Animates The Face|
But how do these three patterns come together with the Hitchcockian plot to make The American Friend the lauded film it is? Maybe it’s all tied together in emptiness like the frames, the American references, and moving pictures whose illusion is easily broken and devoid of substance.Yet, Wenders doesn’t seem to take a Lars Von Trier attitude towards American influence, rather he embraces it. I don’t buy that it’s simply Ripley “helping” Zimmermann along through a plot stripped bare and sometimes broken to emphasize atmosphere and character. Maybe I am over thinking it, but I can’t shake the feeling I am still missing a piece that makes it all come together. If you have any ideas, please comment. As I currently understand it, it’s worth a look.
This is another one of Woody Allen’s sentimental trips down memory lane, but this time it focuses on the golden age of radio. Allen shows how radio was woven into his childhood and helped to stitch together people’s lives in the United States. It brought people together across long distances and connected them through a communal event. Today we get our information and entertainment from many sources, but then people gathered around the radio listening to the same program and thus shared an experience without having to be together physically. People knew the story of the pitcher above who lost his leg and pitched a winning season. Lost his arm and pitched another winning season. Went blind and pitched another winning season. Finally, after getting run over he pitched another winning season in heaven. They knew it because there wasn’t much fragmentation like there is today.
This unity carries into WWII as the heroes who fought the communists on the radio became guardians against fascism. Allen looks at some of the personalities in radio who are often played by notable actors and sometimes as slight variations of characters from early Allen pictures like Jeff Daniels reprising his role from the Purple Rose Of Cairo. We also look at an ordinary family and watch how radio touched their lives. However, there really isn’t any plot and the characters aren’t fleshed out. It’s like Fellini’s Amarcord where it’s the memories of the time and place that make up the movie. They are like vignettes with radio being the glue that holds them together.
For me, the film didn’t capture me the way Amarcord or even The Tree Of Life did. Instead, at times it felt like A Christmas Story knock off and other times was simply too disconnected to compel me to watch. However, whether Allen did it intentionally or not, he manages to show us the genesis of a nationwide web. The shows and stories that we see are what you see on television and since this is a movie, it is shown even more so in that light. It got me thinking of modern times and how television is on it’s way out as the Internet takes over. The content hasn’t changed, it’s just grown and become more fragmented. I wonder if we will get a Television Days where a director will reminisce about appointment television.
At the end, we see the stars of radio gathered on a rooftop and a few wonder if anyone will remember them. Stars and shows have come and gone, but radio hasn’t gone anywhere. Radio still helps to bind the world together. It just does it behind the scenes rather than being the star.
As a walk down memory lane, the movie is ok, but standing in the revolution that is the Internet, the film helps you get a little perspective on what’s been built on, what’s been gained, and what others are trying to recreate. It’s a worth a look.
To call this a biography of Marlene Dietrich is a bit misleading. It’s really a collection of oral histories arranged chronologically with summaries of her films inserted. The stories mostly examine Marlene herself and are often in her own words, but some are told by others and cover people and events she came into contact with in her time.
The book is broken up into four parts: Berlin, Hollywood, The Postwar World, and Paris. In Berlin we learn about her life leading up to and including her breakout performance as Lola Lola in The Blue Angel. I was not familiar with her films prior to The Blue Angel and having read this book I am still not familiar with them. It is her personal life that is covered in this book, not really her films. The Hollywood part is about just what it sounds like it would be, but her movies are not really analyzed. Again, it’s the person–not her work–in this book, so instead we get her romance with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. while having a husband, daughter, and her husband’s mistress in her life. In The Postwar World and Paris, we find out what happened to Marlene after she all but dropped off the cinematic radar and why she is a hero to many and a traitor to others.
The men in Marlene’s life from her father to Ernst Hemingway to Jean Gabin provide some of the most intriguing material in the book. One of the greatest lines in the book comes from Marlene when she says, “John Gilbert, I have come to save you.” She was having dinner when she heard the sad story about him drinking himself to death. She got up from dinner and drove to his home to save him and nearly did it too.
The strongest section of the book is the final one in which Marlene lives in seclusion in Paris answering the phone with a French accent to pretend she is only the maid. The story of the “courtship” leading to her final performance in Just A Gigolo is heartwarming.
The film summaries often feel like filler and the stories a little cobbled together, but the content is strong even if the form is wanting. If you have already read a conventional biography about Marlene Dietrich and wish to supplement it, then I recommend this book. For everyone else, it’s worth a look.
Clocking in at around 70 minutes, Mother And Son takes the Tarkovsky look and feel and uses it to tell a love story between a mother and a son. The mother appears to be dying because of physical illness or an unwillingness to live as her son consoles and cares for her almost as if she were a child. The film consists of a series of short conversations and long periods where the son carries his mother around the countryside. When we reach the end of the story the son takes a walk alone and we see–largely reflected in the landscape–the affect of the impending death of his mother.
The beauty of the film is in it’s simplicity and quiet long takes. We don’t learn a lot of about them personally, but instead dwell within their last moments together and the emotions involved. It’s a nice piece of experimental filmmaking and worth a look.
The film begins with actual footage of the Tennessee river flooding and an emotional story from a man who was caught in it and possibly lost several of his children. Then a voice over comes on telling us that in order to stop the devastation and harness the power of the river, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has been created to dam the river. Things have been going according to plan except for a small island whose owner refuses to sell. Enter Chuck Glover (Montgomery Clift) whose job it is to get that last piece of the puzzle.
|Chuck Glover (Montgomery Clift)|
Before Glover can make it to the island he gets a reminder that Tennessee is in the South when he is told why he can’t speed up the work by hiring blacks. Then Glover goes to the island which requires him to cross on a small ferry and pass by a sign that says “TVA KEEP OFF”.
On the island he meets a stubborn old woman named Ella Garth (Jo Van Fleet) who has a home and a shanty town filled with virtual slaves. Of course in the grand tradition of Mary Pickford, in every backwater or downtrodden part of America is a beautiful woman in-waiting. In this film, it’s Carol Garth Baldwin played by Lee Remick.
|Ella Garth (Jo Van Fleet)|
|Carol Garth Baldwin (Lee Remick)|
What follows can be interpreted as inevitability with a love story tied in, but you can also view the whole film as a deliberate manipulation. From the moment Glover shows up to the when he looks down from a plane to see the river dammed, he shows little to no real emotion and carefully pulls the people who surround Ella Garth away until she is as isolated as the island she refuses to leave. Montgomery Clift being a closet homosexual works to his advantage with this semi-detached performance, especially in terms of his relationship with Remick.
The film really doesn’t give you any easy positions to take. If you want to take Glover’s place, then what about all these people you are forcing off their land. If you take Ella’s place, then what about all the people who die and lose their homes when the river floods again. Ultimately, the dam is a civilizing force that will make this place gone with the water. It’s not the greatest movie I have ever seen, but it’s worth a look.
|Douce (Odette Joyeux) and Irène (Madeleine Robinson)|
How have the Criterion people not gotten around to this film yet? It’s considered great, off the radar, and is all but unavailable. At least I was finally able to get a copy with English subtitles for the French dialogue. The film begins in 1887 Paris with a confession. It’s a woman talking about a man she loves, but for whom a class difference could make their relationship disastrous. The priest tells her that pursuing such a man will send her to hell all alone. Ouch!
|A Paris In Progress|
However since her face is veiled, we are not sure who the woman is. Director Claude Autant-Lara plays with us for awhile as we follow the woman’s forgotten umbrella from the church into the household of Douce. Douce is a young woman who is unhappy with her rich and cloistered life. She is watched over by her peg leg father, domineering grandmother, and Governess Irène. The man who causes problems is Fabien. He manages the family’s estate, is the object of Douce’s desire, and is planning to run away with Irène. To throw another man into the mix, Douce’s father wants to marry Irène.
I watched this once without any subtitles and thought it was visually stunning, but without any antisemitism despite being made in Nazi occupied France. Watching it a second time with subtitles has made me appreciate the visuals and camerawork even more, but now I see something else as well. The film places great emphasis on the “class difference” by practically turning it into a religious wrong and something truly nefarious for those below trying to get ahead. The clothes, the lighting, and the acting all give us the impression that Irène and Fabien are mostly cold and calculating whereas the poor visited by the grandmother are portrayed with a nobility of place. Even the ending reminded me of the execution of the “evil” Jew at the end of Jew Süss. I could be reading to much into it, but that’s what I thought.
|The Evil Irène|
|The Innocent Douce|
|Irène and Fabien Trying To Hide Their Class While Visiting The Poor|
|The Poor Couple|
|The Expulsion Of Irène And Fabien|
|The Expulsion Of Irène And Fabien|
Of course, in someways The Heiress has a similar story, so what do I know. Despite the possible antisemitic slant, it is amazing that a French film of such quality was made under Nazi occupation. I say it is worth a look if you can find it.