Sunday, June 30, 2019


Too Early-French countryside

Too Early, Too Late has been the movie from the 1001 movie list that had previously been the most difficult to find. Not on DVD, streaming or at any library I could find, I kept putting this one off by necessity. Finally, I found a version of YouTube just this month (Thanks for posting, Adrift!). I told my wife that I was very excited to find this documentary that I probably wasn't going to like very much and wasn't that great.

The film itself is in two parts. The first (and shorter) section has us going around France, seeing mostly landscapes with a narration (that the 1001 book tells us) is director Hullet reading excerpts from Frederich Engels, et al. about French peasants and cites a lot of statistics about the number of people living under the poverty line.

The longer second section has us going around Egypt...showcasing workers on bicycles with an occasional tractor thrown in. We also go down rural roads and see all kinds of things, including a lot of people with wares for sale and oxen aplenty. This goes on mostly in silence, but there is occasional narration from Marxist Mahmoud Hussein about the struggles of the peasantry. "Both sections suggested the peasants revolted too early and succeeded too late," according to 1001 contributor and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.

I actually went from questioning how am I going to sit through two hours of this to rather liking it as I progressed down these dusty back roads. I know this is an easy one to mock. You can see it as basically turning on your camera and throwing in some narration every few minutes, but I really began to wonder where is the guy on that mule going? What is his life like? I hope that was at least part of the point.

Too Late-Egyptian backroads

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

BULLITT (1968), PAPILLON (1973)

One of my favorite movie stars has always been Steve McQueen. He really had a special electricity when he was on the screen. However, his reputation as an actor was of someone who was more than a little difficult. I recently listened to the audiobook on Mcqueen's life by Marc Eliot titled (oddly enough) Steve McQueen.

Steve McQueen and his 1968 Ford Mustang
in Bullitt

This fandom makes it surprising (at least to me) that I've never seen Bullitt before. A favorite of many McQueen fans and a forerunner to future cop movies like Dirty Harry, I'm happy to say that I liked the film after finally viewing it, including the famous car chase scene which I can't believe I've never seen until now! McQueen could have made a successful franchise of Bullitt films, but didn't like to repeat himself, which was probably to the benefit of Clint Eastwood.

Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen
in Papillon

Papillon, on the other hand, was one of the first "adult" movies I ever saw at the theater. By adult, I mean not a Disney production, a film that featured a friendly otter or any type of movie with the Brothers Grimm listed somewhere in the credits. I was certainly predisposed to liking it when I saw it in 1974 at age 11 and luckily, I found this tale of a man sentenced to a French prison camp and later Devil's island engrossing then and still find it a fine film. We did make jokes at the time about him having to eat roaches, though I think that was just a coping mechanism as there really isn't anything funny about being on half rations! McQueen is very good in the film and I'm not sure how he didn't get at least an Academy Award nomination for it. It's the kind of performance where you just know the actor went through the ringer physically and emotionally and is usually the kind of role the Academy usually likes. Maybe they just couldn't bear to nominate the difficult McQueen.

Additional note: The screenplay for Papillon was written by former blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo found the original novel by Henri Charriere to not really be all that compelling to put on film. He changed a good deal of the story around, beefing up the role of Papillon's forger friend Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman).Another book recommendation for those interested in Trumbo is the Trumbo biography by Bruce Cook. This book was later adapted to film as Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston.

Irrelevant additional note: The above picture is of an album I bought in 1974. It was put out by Pickwick records and featured covers of movie themes of the day.The album cover had a picture of what looked like a possessed girl like in The Exorcist, a Mia Farrow and Robert Redford look-alikes, a drawing of a guy who looks like Al Pacino in Serpico but isn't Al Pacino and a picture of a bird that I'm guessing was supposed to represent Jonathan Livingston Seagull. No Papillon pictures on the album cover, but a cover version of Jerry Goldsmith's Papillon theme song is included.

Cover of Idiot magazine
May 1974, Issue no. 2

Even more irrelevant additional note: I wrote a few issues of a MAD magazine like magazine titled IDIOT in 1974 when I probably should have been working on my Algebra instead. My first movie satire was of Papillon, which I predictably called Crapillon.

 Papillon satire from Idiot magazine
May 1974, Issue no. 2

Thursday, June 20, 2019


Five Deadly Venoms

When I watched Kung Fu Theater on the late night telly during the 80's, I admit it was more for camp then anything else. The voice dubbing was poor and the one man fighting off an army of attackers by himself seemed pretty ridiculous. It took me a long to appreciate that some of these movies were actually pretty good, especially if you could watch one with subtitles. Obviously, Quentin Tarantino appreciated them. The film Five Deadly Venoms really serves as a blueprint for Tarantino's Kill Bill. The plot of this film features a dying martial arts master who sends out a novice pupil to subdue five of his former pupils (Centipede, Snake, Cobra, Lizard and Toad) who may be using their distinctive individual powers for no good. The novice has to lay back and bide his time until he discovers which of the pupils to trust, which need to be defeated and how to use his skills to defeat the enemy.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin features a young student named Liu Yude who witnesses an attack on his village by the army of General Ten Tai and vows to learn Kung Fu and have his revenge. (Liu Yude is played by Gordon Liu, who later played Pai Mei in Tarantino's Kill Bill 2.) Liu Yude goes through a rigorous 36-step training process at the local temple. He proves to be a most worthy student and returns to his village to subdue the evil General and in the process develops a new chamber to train the common people to defend themselves. The film certainly reminded me of the 70's TV classic Kung Fu, which starred David Carradine, who of course played Bill in Kill Bill.

Asian action films are probably our most popular DVD checkout for Foreign Language Films at the library. I have a customer that keeps insisting I watch the IP Man trilogy. I may check that out next, and am open to other suggestions in this category.

 Gordon Liu as Pai Mei
in Kill Bill

A pre-Kill Bill David Carradine
as Caine in Kung Fu

Saturday, June 15, 2019


I have to agree with the statement made by some critics* that the films of Sam Peckinpah get better over repeated viewings.
Dustin Hoffman comforts? his wife Susan George
in Straw Dogs

Straw Dogs is a film about a couple who are living in a remote English country home and end up in  a situation that leads the husband to a violent confrontation with locals by the film's end. But this is no good guy gets his revenge piece against the bad guys. Every character in this film is flawed in some way and no line, movement or action seems trivial or wasted in Peckinpah's film. The performances are all solid (Susan George as the wife is a standout). It has some controversial scenes for sure (The rape scene is certainly one), but no drama in the film feels gratuitous or unearned to me. It's really a stunning piece of work and may be Sam's best film.

You missed a spot: Jason Robards bathes Stella Stevens
in The Ballad of Cable Hogue

After watching Straw Dogs, The Ballad of Cable Hogue was a bit of a first, anyway. The story of a man left for dead in the old west that survives to become a desert entrepreneur had some comedic scenes that seemed a little trivial and Here Comes the Bridish, but this film did start to grow on me. Once again, a second viewing really helped with this one. It was also one of Sam's favorite of his own films.

Male bonding: Robert Preston and Steve McQueen
in Junior Bonner

Junior Bonner seems in line with many of the character studies in American film released around this time (Early 70's). Junior is a 40ish rodeo rider who wants to ride that rascally demon bull named Sunshine. Junior (Steve McQueen) is doing it for personal pride, but he's also doing it for a little scratch, too. Junior's relationship with his roustabout father (The always engaging Robert Preston), his long suffering mother (Ida Lupino), and entrepreneurial brother (Joe Don Baker) are at the heart of the film. We also see glimpses of rodeo life and maybe more importantly, the post rodeo bonding rituals at the neighborhood bar. It's certainly a nice addition to Peckinpah cannon.

*All the films I saw were enhanced with contributions from Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle or Stephen Prince. They are indeed the masters of Peckinpah scholarship.

Now where is that DVD copy of The Killer Elite with the commentary track?

Monday, June 10, 2019


The Hollywood Librarian

I was at the American Library Association annual conference in 2007 when I met a feisty and energetic librarian named Ann Seidl. Ann was in the process of putting together a documentary about libraries called The Hollywood Librarian: A Look at Librarians Through Film. She showed some clips and her enthusiasm for her film and librarianship in general was infectious. The film can be viewed today through the library streaming service Kanopy. It features interviews with librarians talking about their profession, readership, running a library and dealing with shrinking budgets. It intersperses these interviews with dozens of clips featuring libraries on films-So you'll see Donna Reed closing the library in the alternate universe part of  It's a Wonderful Life, Parker Posey learning about the Dewey Decimal System in Party Girl, and Katherine Hepburn answering reference questions in Desk Set. Hepburn's sister was Peg Hepburn Perry, a real life librarian and was also interviewed for the film.

Party Girl

"Don't you know the Dewey Decimal System?" Ann Seidl used this quote from the movie Party Girl during her speech in 2007 to the delight of several librarians familiar with the film. (I wasn't at the time). In fact, I just now got around to seeing this film about a mid-90's party girl named Mary who earns some extra money by becoming a clerk at the library. 

She gets the job through her Godmother and Mary doesn't take the whole thing too seriously at first, but eventually she finds that books are her true calling! How could I not love a closing scene where the main character declares she wants nothing more than a career in library science? If there is another film that has this as a dramatic declaration in the denoument, I am not aware of it. Party Girl is a slight but fun film and I always find Parker Posey and references to Melvil Dewey most charming.

The Public

Many of us in the library world have been waiting for Emilio Estevez's film about the homeless and public libraries the way most of the move-going public was awaiting the last Avengers movie. Luckily, The Public was playing in one theater in town for one week and was able to catch it. We at the public library (at least at the Mobile Public Library, and most downtown libraries) do have the issue of dealing with the homelessness. and their needs. How the library deals with these citizens is the topic that is the centerpiece in this film. Librarian and author Ryan Dowd (The Librarian's Guide to Homelessness: An Empathy Driven Approach to Solving Problems, Preventing Conflict and Serving Everyone) actually traveled around with Estevez to promote the movie.

The Public has Estevez playing a librarian that leads a sit-in in the Cincinnati Public Library with many homeless men who have run out of places of shelter on a below zero degrees night. The librarian has to deal with the media circus that ensues, as well as the political ramifications unfolding around him. The film is insightful and humanizes many of the characters here in terms I can very much relate too. The resolution of the crisis is also a doozy.

And don't forget to visit your local public library.

 Librarian Peg Hepburn Perry's sister
playing a librarian in Desk Set

Wednesday, June 5, 2019


Usually when the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list is updated, there is an inclusion of one documentary from the previous year. Here are five possibilities for inclusion on the list.

Won't You Be My Neighbor (The popular film) This documentary on legendary children's television performer Fred Roger's may have been the most watched documentary of the year. It is nostalgic, informative and at times quite inspirational. It surprisingly did not get an Oscar nomination.
Won't You Be My Neighbor

Three Identical Strangers (The film with unexpected twists)
The story of three identical twins that happen to discover each other's existence when they were of college age is a fascinating story in the beginning. The film then diverts in to totally unexpected territory when the boys find out why they were separated in the first place. It also did not get an Oscar nomination to the surprise of many.
Three Identical Strangers

RBG (The solid biography of a noted person)
With the first two films on the list not nominated for Best Picture, some sources I saw thought this documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg might win Best Documentary. It didn't, but RBG is still a very worthwhile story of a very admirable and inspirational person.

Free Solo (The Best Documentary winner) This is the story of Alex Honnold, who is a free soloist, someone that climbs dangerous mountains without the benefit of ropes, harnesses or nets. Alex's final mountain to climb (literally) is the mighty El Capitan. When he is doing the climb, it is an extremely stressful journey for the viewer (At least this one) as well as for Alex.
 Free Solo

Of Fathers and Sons (The Weight)
William Goldman once said that movies were chosen for the Cannes Film Festival that had a certain weight or importance. A movie like Of Father and Sons, where a journalist stays for an extended period with a Syrian family led by a jihadist father who removes mines definitely fits this description. In fact, the father has his leg blown off during the time of the film. The 1001 list also likes film with weight and it is possible that this will be the one added to the list.
Of Fathers and Sons

I think all these films are worthy viewing. My guess is the 1001 book will add Of Fathers and Sons or Free Solo, but then again they may choose something different or may not add a documentary at all!

Saturday, June 1, 2019


Wall Street

Wall Street is the story of a young stockbroker (Charlie Sheen) who gets involved with a Wall Street titan (Michael Douglas). Douglas plays the iconic character of Gordon Gekko, whose ruthlessness is exemplified in his catchphrase "Greed is good." I'm just glad that we've learned to reign in these real life megalomaniacs like Gekko with regulations that would prevent them from blowing up the economy...Unfortunately, I'm not serious about our ability to do the right thing, as the 2008 Global Financial Crisis shows. At least we learned our lesson and didn't bail these jackals out...Wait, we did that too. I'm depressed now-I think I'll move on to a more upbeat topic-TV news!

Broadcast News

Broadcast News is the story of a network news show, led by a dynamic producer (Holly Hunter, the best thing in the film), an ace reporter (Albert Brooks) and a newsman being groomed for the network host chair (William Hurt). There are some things that seem quaintly dated viewing now, including the noted scene where Joan Cusack runs a VHS tape across the studio for them to put it in a second VHS player to add an image to a news story. Oh, 1987 and your ancient technology!

The real life network's main competitor for news in 1987 was CNN (And maybe the MacNeil-Lehrer Report). They have a lot of company these days with many cable news shows that will be happy to skew opinion to the specific biases of their audience. You can also get a lot of news on a strange post-1987 invention called "The Internet.". I get a lot of my news online these days and almost never watch network news. All I can say is no matter what news outlet you use, don't forget to check your sources!