Thursday, August 30, 2018


Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in
The Miracle Worker

The dramatic story of Helen Keller, featuring Oscar winner Patty Duke as Helen and Oscar winner Anne Bancroft as her teacher Annie Sullivan, really gets to the nuts and bolts of what it is like to try to teach someone with a disability. Many of the scenes with Annie and her deaf, dumb and blind student are hard to watch, which frankly may have been the main reason I never watched it before..

Why have I never seen it? You would think I would have made a priority of seeing such a famous film at least once in my life, but the subject matter doesn't always lend itself to casual viewing.  I guess I never had a compelling enough reason before to watch it. Filling glaring holes like this in my movie viewing resume is one reason I started a movie blog in the first place.

Why Am I seeing it now? I'm glad you asked. Our local theater is putting on a production of The Miracle Worker and I've been fortunate enough to be cast in the role of Captain Arthur Keller, Helen's father. Arthur Keller is a well off former Confederate Army captain who you can probably label a bit of a misogynist by modern standards. The main emotion Arthur has towards Helen is pity. The ex-army officer seems unable to bring out the toughness in his own home that Helen needs. The part of Arthur Keller in the movie is played by Victor Jory (Jonas Wilkerson in Gone With the Wind). I don't really have an objection to how Jory plays the role, though the way he speaks dialogue is at a much faster pace than I plan to. I understand of course that live theater is a different animal than a motion picture. We'll see how it goes.

Victory Jory plays the father of the child a bit too harshly and loudly for the already loud tone of the whole-Bosley Crowther, New York Times May 24, 1962

Victor Jory in The Miracle Worker

Saturday, August 25, 2018


Fernando Rey considers consummating his 
peculiar affection for Silvia Pinal in Virdiana.

"An ugly, depressing view of life." -Bosley Crowther, New York Times, March 20, 1962

Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is a nun about to take her vows who is summoned to visit with her Uncle (Fernando Rey) and benefactor before she enters the convent. After she arrives at his house, Uncle is struck by her beauty and resemblance to his deceased wife and declares his love for her! He later drugs her before she goes to sleep and plans to take her virginity, though doesn't go through with the taking away her virginity part. He tells her he has anyway in order for her to stay. She rebuffs him and sets off on the bus trip back to the convent. She then receives the news that her despondent Uncle has committed suicide forcing her return to the house.

Her uncle leaves the estate to her and his illegitimate and neglected son, Jorge (Francisco Rabal). Jorge and Viridiana don't see eye to eye about how to run the house. This is complicated greatly by Viridiana taking in some of the town's beggars, who eventually take over the main house and make a shambles of the place. One of the beggars tries to sexually assault Viridiana and is only stopped by Jorge's bribe of one of the other beggars to turn on the assaulter.

The Last Supper recreated 
at the Beggar's Banquet scene in Viridiana

The final scene has Jorge and Ramona (a servant of the house that Jorge is having an affair with) in the house together playing cards. Viridiana comes to their door and joins them. Her hair is pulled down and she is now clearly secularized. She joins them in their game.

Let's play some cards!-The final deal in Viridiana

10 thoughts on Viridiana
1. The Uncle's thought process had to go something like, "You're about to go into a convent, I've drugged you,made you dress up as my ex-wife and plan to sexually assault you and blackmail you into staying with me. I'm sure this relationship is going to go so well!"

2. What is it about Luis Bunuel films and older men taking advantage of much younger women? (See The Young One)

3. What is it about Fernando Rey in Luis Bunuel films and older men taking advantage of much younger women (See Tristiana)

4. The meek shall inherit the earth...but the poor are not always so virtuous. When the beggars wreck the house and try to rape Viridiana it is truly sad from a societal standpoint.

5. The beggars recreation of The Last Supper while playing classical music is my favorite (and also the most disturbing) sequence in the film.

6. Bunuel often exhibits a dim view of organized religion, though the secular alternative isn't always a picnic either.

7. Silva Pinal hits the right angelic tone in the early part of this film which makes her putting her hair down in the final scene almost chilling.

8. The card playing sequence in the final scene struck me as odd at first, but upon further reflection it really was all that was needed here.

9. Reviewer Crother also stated he saw the film as being "obvious." I didn't find it that at all.

10. Bunuel is always interesting to me in that I didn't know a lot about his films and they tend to hit me pretty hard.

Monday, August 20, 2018


Miller (Zachary Scott) begins to have inappropriate thoughts
about Kay Meersman in The Young One

"Goodness knows why this middling picture received a special mention at the Cannes film festival."
-Bosley Crowther, New York Times January 19, 1961

Crowther further asserts that the film appears hard to not be making any point at all. I don't agree with that. I just think Luis Bunuel is making the points he is trying to make in ways that are subtle and very open to interpretation...Oh, Bosely.

The Young One  is basically a five character film:

Miller (Zachary Scott) runs a bee farm on a remote island with his partner (who dies at the opening of the film) leaving behind a teenage grandchild.

Evvie (Kay Meersman) is in her early teens whose life on the island with Miller and her grandfather has pretty much left her an innocent.

Traver (Bernie Hamilton) is a falsely accused black clarinet player who has escaped to the island for refuge.

Rev. Fleetwood (Claudio Brook) is a preacher that comes to the island to baptize Evvie and say a few words over her grandfather's burial place.

Jackson (Crahan Denton) brings the preacher to the island and takes glee in the thought of stringing up Traver after he finds out the fugitive is there.

The characters intertwine in an interesting way. Traver is a hep cat, whose jazzy lingo and clarinet playing are a revelation to the innocent Evvie. Rev. Fleetwood is a very adminrable character, unusual for a representative of organized religion in a Bunuel film. Miller might be the most interesting character of all. It's interesting that we feel any sympathy for him at all considering he takes advantage of a young girl and is clearly racist in his attitude toward Travver. Maybe because he does really care for the girl and doesn't lie about it to the Reverend. Miller is also less racist than Jackson and does stop the other man from killing Traver. Baby steps, I guess.

One scene that stands out in the film for me is when Traver and Miller discuss their similar experiences in serving in Italy in World War II. It seems they do bond a little...if just a little. More baby steps.

I'm looking forward the remaining Bunuel films on this list...they always seem to wind up being something I wasn't expecting.

Sometimes a clarinet is just a clarinet
Bernie Hamilton and Kay Meersman
in The Young One

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


This is your brain...

This is your brain while
watching Tarkovsky

You see! It's the same damn brain!

That being said, you are really going to have to use different parts of your brain than you may be use to to appreciate Tarkovsky.

Tarkovsky's Stalker was based on the novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and was released in 1979.

The plot summary involves life in a futuristic society with a mysterious forbidden zone (left by now departed aliens) where wishes come true at an end place in the zone just called "The Room." The zone can only be accessed through a guide called a stalker who leads clients through the hazards of the zone to reach their destination. The bulk of this two and a half hour film has a stalker leading a teacher and a writer in the hopes of eventually reaching the room.

Of course, since this is Tarkovsky, you aren't going to see the usual tropes such as a giant three-headed dog hindering our team from reaching the room. The blockades to their destination are all in their mind and in their dreams and in cryptic puzzles presumably set up by aliens to confuse our travelers on their trek.

Some may find this arduous endeavor confusing and aggravating in its lack of resolution. I didn't find it that way at all. I got caught up in this journey of the mind enough to watch it twice in a row. It definitely is one that will gain through repeated least it did for me. I still have to ponder a bit on the character of Monkey...

Most well known image from Tarkovsky's Stalker
I'm ordering a t-shirt with this image on it
(I'm not kidding!)

Of course, I had to follow up Stalker with another Tarkovsky movie I hadn't seen. I actually started watching Andrei Rublev (filmed in 1966, released more widely in 1969) about a year ago, but simply wasn't in the mood and decided to wait for another time. It is hard to get into at first. The story is a series of seven vignettes set in 15th century Russia whose common thread is the Russian monk and painter Andrei Rublev, who is sometimes the featured character in the stories and sometimes only serves a background player. Once I got use to this style and the way the stories were presented, I really began to appreciate it this time out. I think acclimating myself to this approach may have been the problem I had in my first abortive attempt to watch the film.

Rublev views the carnage after the brutal raid sequence
in Andrei Rublev

Andrei Rublev gives us images of war and truly gut wrenching horror (especially in sequence V. The Raid), but we also see redemption and hope, especially in the final sequence (The Bell). It's a difficult watch in more ways than one and plot points may get scrambled in your head, but I believe it's a difficult journey worth pursuing and one I plan to go on again.

Rublev comforts the young bellmaker
in Andrei Rublev

Overall, Tarvoksy doesn't go over easy no matter how many eggs you may already have in your basket.

Friday, August 10, 2018

REAL LIFE (1979)

Albert Brooks and friend in Real Life

I first encountered Albert Brooks from his short films during the first season of Saturday Night Live. I also thought his second film Modern Romance was fun and perceptive and his later Lost in America is one of my favorite comedies from the 80's. Somehow I missed seeing his first film Real Life, but in some ways it is actually better to see it now in that it was so far ahead of its time in what it depicts on the screen.

At the time, it was a sort of satire of An American Family, which was a PBS show of the 70's which featured a camera crew following around an actual family and recording the goings on of their everyday life.
An American Family was something unique at the time and it was certainly unique to make a satirical movie about it. Of course, in the past twenty years, reality TV is ubiquitous for better of for worse.

What we see in Real Life is Albert Brooks (playing himself) as a filmmaker attempting to film the daily activities of an normal American family. What we the audience actually see is the nuts and bolts of what goes into choosing what and how everything is portrayed. The family (father played by Charles Grodin, mother by Frances Lee McCain) chosen is willing and excited about it at first, but problems begin to ensue. We (the audience of the film Real Life) get to see all these issues, which have to be resolved before the show can be aired (to the TV audience). 

Men follow the family around wearing the camera apparatus pictured above as the family is instructed to go about their normal day to day existence. But so many problems ensue, many involving Brooks himself. Brooks is supposed to be an impartial observer, but he continually seems to be interfering in their lives. At one point the mother seems to be developing a crush on Brooks, which he has to quell without offending her. The family also has moments of not talking to each other-which makes for bad television. Print media gets wind of the family and wants to do a story on them which sets Brooks off on a tirade. And then there is the scene where veterinarian Grodin is caught on film accidentally causing his horse patient to die.

The film so accurately depicts a problem with reality TV in that unless you manufacture some conflict it can make for some pretty mundane television. The final scene (SPOILER) has Brooks making one last attempt to save his show by recreating the burning of Atlanta from Gone With the Wind by setting the house of the family on fire!

A very insightful film and Brooks (to me anyway) is always funny.

Actors playing a real life family being a real life family
on a television show in a movie about a real life family on a
television show

Sunday, August 5, 2018


Kermit and his merry pranksters travel across the country
in The Muppet Movie

What can you say about The Muppets? It seems like they've always just been around, doesn't it? I first remember encountering these innovative creations by Jim Henson (a cross between marionettes and puppets) from appearances on Sesame Street during the early stages of that show. The affable Kermit the Frog was the main Muppet during that time. Many of the Muppets also made appearances during the first year of Saturday Night Live.

But The Muppets didn't really become The Muppets until they got their own syndicated show in 1976. Kermit was joined by Fozzie (the bear who thought he was funny), Gonzo (the king of the outcasts), Rolff (the fun guy), Animal (too many drugs), Bunsen and Beaker (the eggheads), Statler and Waldorf (the grumpy old men) and of course, the perpetually horny pig, Miss Piggy.

The popularity of the show led to The Muppet Movie, released in 1979. The plot involves Kermit making a cross country trek to Hollywood to spread the joy of The Rainbow Connection across to the world. He picks up the other Muppets as he goes. All the while, he is pursued by the wicked Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) who wants Kermit to be the spokesman for French fried frog legs.

One interesting point for a kid watching this movie today might be their confusion as to who these people are that are making these strange cameos.Comic legends Milton Berle, Bob Hope and Edgar Bergen (practically on his death bed) are on hand for the festivities. But we also have more dramatic stars such as James Coburn and Elliot Gould making appearances. Steve Martin and Richard Pryor appear to lend some current comedy cred to the fun. Paul Williams provides the music. My favorite cameo might me the cigar chomping Orson Welles as a studio executive who may or may not give these young Muppets their big break.

It's all good fun...and the rest is Muppet history, including my son's later obsession with The Muppets in Space.

Orson Welles plays the benevolent studio executive he
always needed in The Muppet Movie

Wednesday, August 1, 2018


"With his silent productions, he (Abel Gance) made a fuller use of the medium than anyone before or since."
-Kevin Brownlee, The Parade's Gone By 

Albert Dieudonne as Napoleon

There is indeed much greatness in Abel Gance's 1927 silent film Napoleon. It contains unprecedented epic storytelling (at least from any silent I've seen) and skillful editing that must have been artistically revolutionary at the time. He also used a cast of thousands very effectively...maybe even more so than D. W. Griffith before him.

The way the story is presented could only have been done as a silent. The film would have had to have been slowed down to accommodate dialogue in a talkie. This speed of storytelling is part the uniqueness of silent cinema, which unfortunately was about to be lost forever within about a year of Napoleon's release. But Napoleon certainly sends the silent film out with a bang. 

However, there are frustrations with this film as well. Certain parts seem like they could have been edited in the middle to help with story flow. Also, Napoleon Bonaparte appears too noble and Godlike throughout. We see the rise of Napoleon...but wouldn't it have been nice to see the fall? I know Gance had planned to make subsequent Napoleon movies that never came to be...but it's still frustrating.

The version I saw was the Zoetrope 1980 restoration, which was restored by film historian Kevin Brownlow and is enhanced greatly by the score from Carmine Coppola.

Abel Gance's Napoleon

Quotes from two auteurs who never managed to make their Napoleon film dream come true...

"He did all kinds of admirable things. I'm not a mad Napoleon fan, but there's no denying his genius. A very complicated man. But had he never been born, there are millions of people who wouldn't have died. There were unnecessary wars that he fought for his own glorification, which makes him a villain in the last analysis."
-Orson Welles from My Lunches with Orson with Henry Jaglom, edited by Peter Biskind

"There has never been a good or accurate movie about him. Also, I find that all the issues with which it concerns itself are oddly contemporary-the responsibilities and abuses of power, the dynamics of social revolution, the relationship of the individual to the state, war, militarism, etc., so this will not be just a dusty historic pageant but a film about the basic questions of our own times, as well as Napoleon's."
-Stanley Kubrick from Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by Vincent Lobrutto

Blog note: This is the final silent film for me from the 1001 list.