Sunday, September 27, 2009


So what the heck were the post-WW II neo-realistic filmmakers trying to do? Scenarist Cesare Zavatini defines these films as trying “to show things as they are, not as they seem; to use facts rather than fictions; to depict the common man rather than silken heroes; to reveal the everyday rather than the exceptional; to show man’s relationship to his real society rather than to his romantic dreams.” The films also show “unjust and perverted social structures threaten to warp and pervert the essential and internal human values.”

Roberto Rossellini’s Open City is generally regarded as the first of these films and it is very gritty and at times powerful. We can certainly root for the brave members of the resistance, including the local priest, fighting stealthily while under the thumb of the Third Reich. The sacrifice for others is shown over and over again here: The widow Pina working to provide for her family, the resistance fighters not giving away information despite being tortured eventually to death and the priest, who gives the children of the city the strength through his death to persevere in the soon to be opened city, we can hope.

Among the standout perfomers are Anna Magnani as Pina, Aldo Fabrizi as the Preist and Harry Feist, whose sleezy Nazi should be the measure to which all sleezy Nazis in film should be measured against.

A sometimes-hard film to watch is not quite as effective to me as De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief” but is certainly a strong and important movie in it own right.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Those big bold eyes of Brigitte Helm. The beautifully symmetrical head. This is the lasting image for me from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. In her role of Maria, Brigitte has to be a convincing spiritual leader, yet mesmerizing enough for John Frederson’s son to fall in love with her and then be a robot that is pure evil and deception. She does all this perfectly. According to IMDB, she didn’t continue her career after 1935. Too bad.

Properly regarded as one of the first great Science Fiction films, though its legacy may be seen more in films about worker rights like Norma Rae rather than latter day Sci-Fi films such as The Fifth Element. “There can be no understanding between the hands and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator.” This theme is pounded home again and again in this film and presumably Thea Von Harbou’s novel as well.

I first saw this film at Ansley Mall in Atlanta when it was re-released in the mid 80’s. The older DVD copy I have isn’t exactly top quality and I have no idea what the story is with the music. During the most dramatic parts of the movie, I have to hear Mendelssohn. Symphony No. 4, which is so associated with the bicycling movie Breaking Away that it seems horribly out of place here.

Gerald Mast in “A Short History of Movies” sees a lot of problems with the film. He calls Metropolis, “a series of stunning pictures with the silliest, wateriest intellectual and dramatic paste holding them together. Well, Hitler did like it and Queen used it as background for their video for Radio Gaga. I forgot my point.

“1001 Movies” states there is a newly restored version out that has been out in recent years. Hopefully, this version also has a new score.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Let’s see if I have this straight. Charlie Kaufman is the real life screenwriter for the film Being John Malkovich. Susan Orlean is the real life author of The Orchid Thief. Charlie adapted Susan’s unadaptable book as a screenplay for the film Adaptation. Charlie and Susan are both fictional characters in Adaptation, where Susan is having an affair with John Laroche, the subject from her original book. And that Susan Orlean, she's still writing! Shouldn't she be in jail?, I saw what she did to Donald in the movie! Wait, that didn't really happen. And is Charlie’s twin brother Donald even real? Apparently not, which is too bad since he seems like such a likeable guy. I’m thinking of “adapting” an imaginary twin into my life that will support me through all my endeavors.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


TCM put out a DVD a few years ago under the title the Lon Chaney Collection, which featured Ace of Hearts, Laugh Clown Laugh and The Unknown. Ace of Hearts might seem a bit melodramatic, but I really like the film. You got to love a lovelorn anarchist. It’s also one of the few surviving Chaney films from the early 20’s. Laugh, Clown, Laugh is even better, featuring Chaney as the (still) lovelorn clown Flik.

The film of this trio that is listed in “1001 movies,” that was the most disappointing was The Unknown. That isn’t to say I didn’t like it, in fact, I liked what was there so much that I was disappointed there wasn’t more. Coming in at 63 minutes running time, (Some parts are apparently lost)the movie seems very fragmented. I think the film really needs these missing scenes even though the film commentary says otherwise. But what is there is worth seeing. Chaney as Alonzo the armless, diabolical murderer hiding the fact that he has arms and a double thumb which would implicate him in a murder, Chaney smoking and eating using his feet (though not actually Chaney, but stunt feet!) and not to mention an extremely young Joan Crawford as the love interest.

Since most of Lon Chaney's films are no longer with us, I think in the next Indiana Jones movie, Indy should go in search of missing Chaney films. "Indiana Jones and the Flammable Nitrate Film Stock!" Just a thought.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Tracy Lord is engaged to George. Her ex-husband C. K. Dexter Haven shows back up for the wedding. Macauly Conner, the reporter covering the story, of course falls for Tracy, much to the chagrin of Elizabeth Imbrie, also working on the story. Of course, Tracy is probably still in love with with C. K. Dexter Haven. (Anyone doing a Cary Grant impersonation should do it saying “My name is C. K. Dexter Haven!” slowly emphasizing each syllable)

The Philadelphia Story is an enjoyable enough farce, but for me it not as much fun as some other of the great screwball comedies (My Man Godfrey comes to mind).

There are some memorable moments, I loved Jimmy Stewart’s drunk scene, for example. And the star power of the three leads of Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Stewart is a force. What’s the modern day equivalent? Julia Roberts…George Clooney…Brad Pitt maybe…Oh, no! That’s Ocean’s Eleven!”

Danny Peary’s book Alternate Oscars takes away Stewart’s Oscar for this film and gives it to Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath. He gives Stewart the prize for It’s a Wonderful Life. If only life worked like this! As long as we're doing Oscar do-overs, let's give Jimmy one for Harvey too.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Let’s see: I saw Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein at the theater when it came out, on the West Georgia College campus a couple of years later, when it came on TV, when it came out on VHS, when it came out on DVD and probably a couple of times in between and today. Obviously, it’s a favorite.
Since I’ve seen this movie so often, I’ll just try to come up with twenty memorable moments…in no particular order:

1)”Puttin’ on the Ritz!”
2) Gene Wilder’s hysterical rant after the creature doesn’t come to life
(Quiet dignity and grace?)
3) “Abby Normal, I’m pretty sure that was the name”
4) ”Sed-a-give!”
5) Peter Boyle’s reaction after the blind Gene Hackman destroys his cup during a toast.
6) Kenneth Mars’s artificial arms
7) Wilder stabbing the scalpel into his thigh (My grandfather’s work was doo-doo!)
8) “He vus mah boyfriend!”
9) “Sweeeeeet mystery of Life at Last I’ve found you.”
10) Madeline Kahn’s Bride of Frankenstein hairdo.
11) “You take the blonde, I’ll take the one in the toiban.”
12) “Frau Blucher!” (Horse whinnies)
13) “It could be worse, it could be raining.”
14) Girl flying through the air off the seesaw into her safe bed.
15) “Put the candle back”
16) “Pardon me boy, is this the Transylvannia station?” “Track 29, Care for a shine?”
17) Wilder using the corpses’ hand to avoid suspicion from the officer
18) “My name isn’t Fronkensteen, It’s FRANKENSTEIN!” (A surprisingly dramatic moment)
19) Igor’s shifting hump
20) And pretty much any other Marty Feldman line.

VERTIGO (1958)

Alfred Hitchcock is definitely the favorite director of the 1001 movies list, with close to 20 entries!

I remember in the 1980’s The Screening Room in Atlanta showed several re-released Hitchcock movies, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rear Window, Rope, The Trouble with Harry and Vertigo. I believe I went to see them all at the time. Four of these films star Jimmy Stewart and Vertigo may be the most critically acclaimed of the bunch today. (Though I need to see Rear Window again!).

Seeing it again now in a restored version it is a meticulously plotted, suspenseful film, built nicely to a dramatic climax. If you think about the plot too much, the setting up of the acrophobic Scottie Ferguson through the death (?) of the woman he loves might be a little far-fetched, but it hardly ruins the movie.

When Scottie finds someone who resembles his lost love, he tries to recreate her to look or be like her. Is he being a bully? Obsessive? Or is it actually his lost love? Scottie’s recreation of Judy is one of the best parts of the film.

William Goldman mentions in one of his books that he finds Vertigo an overrated film, but doesn’t say why. My guess is that he’s not buying into the plot.“1001 Movies” also mentions that the plot contrivances caused the film to not be a critical success at the time of release.

Overall, I got caught up in the film this time as much as I have during previous viewings. Few films show off a city better than this film shows off San Francisco. And few directors utilize music better than Hitchcock (through Bernard Herrmann’s score).

Interesting supporting performance from a young Barbara Bel Geddes as Stewart’s frustrated gal pal Midge.

Friday, September 11, 2009


What can you say about My Dinner with Andre? I never saw it until about a year ago. I always knew it as the movie where two guys talk at dinner and…well, that ‘s pretty much it. Whether on The Simpsons, Mystery Science Theater or the My Dinner with Andre action figures from Waiting for Guffman, Andre has been an easy target to poke fun at.

The question is, is it good? Or is it pretentious? Or is it longwinded? Or is it interesting?
Yes, to all these questions.
What about Andre and Wally? Are they likable?
I found Andre to be a rather interesting guy to listen to…for awhile. He goes on for about half the move about his experiments in the Polish woods with a performing troop, eating sand in the cold Sahara desert with a Japanese Monk (We’ve all had that fantasy, haven’t we?), surrealist magazines from the 20’s apparently put together by psychics, among other stories.

When Andre’s tales begin to get a little long, the film wisely changes gears and the happy-go-lucky Andre seems to transform into a manic-depressive who compares himself to Albert Speer, compares ALL of us to zombies in a trance going through the motions of our daily life, and tells Wally how comfort separates us from reality. He even compares New York to a concentration camp where the residents are their own guards who won’t allow them to escape

Wally is a little more down to earth, but he too is the artistic type. At one point Wally tells Andre, “I really don’t know WHAT you’re talking about!”
If Wally has his theater reviews, electric blanket, cup of coffee without a roach in it and Charlton Heston autobiography, he’s happy.

I actually like this pair: Andre Gregory, the gregarious intellectual, and Wallace Shawn the whiny, but likeable playwright. I give the film and director Louis Malle credit for doing something different pretty successfully. And if you’re ever on Jeopardy and the answer comes up “Main course served to Andre and Wally during My Dinner with Andre, the question is “What is Quail.”

One more thing, this film is not actually one of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die,” so I’m technically cheating with this entry. I do think something this original SHOULD be on the list. I’ll try to stick with the “1001” entry script, but it looks like I’m prone to an occasional deviation.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Some of my favorite films (“2001,” “8 ½” and “Clockwork Orange”) struck a chord with me much more on the second viewing than the first. Jean Renoir’s “Rules of the Game,” is the best example of this for me. On the first viewing, I didn’t really get it, but on the next viewing, it became one of my favorite films.

Renoir’s other classic “Grande Illusion” may fall into that category too. On this, my first viewing, I saw a lot of great cinematic touches: The German officer and French officer’s common traits, including duty to country, the use of musical motifs for effect, the loneliness war brings to the German widow, groups of soldiers playing as children and children playing as soldiers, the French drag show turning into the patriotic “Marseilles” after a French victory, etc. Now that I’ve starting naming them, they seem to be numerous.

Notable performances include: Dita Parlo in a small role as the war widow, Erich Von Stroheim as the surprisingly sympathetic German officer, and Marcel Dalio as Rosenthal, a much less straight laced character here than I remember him playing in “Rules of the Game.”

What is the Grand Illusion? That this is the war to end all wars, that life changes when you pass imaginary borders or that true love wins out. Or is it something more sinister?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

AMADEUS (1984)

The first step of my 1001 rung ladder was for one I’ve already seen two or three times before and have certainly enjoyed, “Amadeus.”

It's hard for me not sympathize a lot with Mozart’s rival Salieri, because of his great desire to be a composer for God, and having to deal with this talent instead being dispensed to the vulgar young Mozart.

Sure it’s fictional, but if you can get past that fact, there’s a lot to be enjoyed here.The operatic recreations such as Marriage of Fiagro and Don Giavonni are a fun even for a non-opera buff. The recreation of Viennese society is impressive too. Milos Foreman has directed several of my favorite films, the others being “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Man on the Moon,” the underappreciated “Hair,” and “The Fireman’s Ball,” which I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about. I really took notice of the fine supporting cast this time out. Jeffrey Jones as the emperor (“Well, there it is.”) and Roy Dotrice as Mozart’s father stand out. Two of the emperor’s court, played by Patrick Hines and Jonathan Moore, I recognized as Continental Congressmen from one of my favorite musicals, “1776.”

The casting of the two unconventional leads was successful. F. Murray Abraham was not that well known to moviegoers at the time and Tom Hulce was best know as Pinto from “Animal House.” Abraham, I thought, won a well deserved Oscar for Salieri and Hulce was surprisingly good as Amadeus. And who could forget that laugh?
Favorite part of the film? The collaboration between Mozart & Salieri on the Death Requiem.
Did it deserve to win best picture? There were other good movies that year, including “The Killing Fields,” but I would still go with Amadeus. Mediocrites everywhere. I absolve you all!