Thursday, October 23, 2008

Anecdote and Links of the Week


Typically upside-down and backwards week at the Siren's place. Working on a bigger post, but in the meantime I did a teensy bit of guest-blogging with an Anecdote of the Week over at The Film Experience. You will want to click on this one, if I do say so myself; nothing but the best for our Nathaniel. The title: "How do you score an orgasm?"

Other things I am reading when time permits:

Fantastic post on Leslie Caron's screening and interview in Los Angeles, over at And Your Little Blog, Too. If you love Lili and Gigi as the Siren does, this one is a must.

Heartfelt, sui generis post from Flickhead, on movies and memory.

Last week the Siren ran into Glenn Kenny on the street in Brooklyn. Glenn waved a DVD at her and asked if she was reading David Cairns. Oh yes Glenn, I'm addicted too, and David is expanding my must-see list exponentially as well. Here he is on the two U.S. movies made by the peerless Jean Gabin, Moontide (just out on DVD) and the Julien Duvivier-directed The Impostor.

Jonathan Lapper is deep into his Kill Fest. The Siren is enjoying it all, but this Universal monster montage will be hard to top.

Do you ever just mosey over to a blog and start digging through the archives? One film blogger who never fails to reward such an enterprise is Dennis Grunes. Check out this piece on The Hard Way. It's typical of Grunes' vivid analysis and intelligence, even if he gives criminally short shrift to the great Jack Carson.

Girish, consistently one of the most original film minds around, has a post on cross-border filmmaker affinities.

23 comments:

Alex said...

I rushed out and got Moontide the instant it was available and it just doesn't work for me. I suspect that Gabin's use of language works when he's speaking French within a French-language movie, but comes off somewhat ridiculous when speaking English with a French accent in an English-language movie. In general, the differing accents and dialects of French seem to be very differentiated and evocative to other speakers of French, while most French accented English just sounds too much alike to native speakers of English. (I.E. Brasseur and Gabin sound extraordinarily different to Frenchmen, but sound much more similar to each other when both are speaking English).

Campaspe said...

Alex, long time no see, and as I expect from you that's a point I have not heard before. I haven't watched Moontide yet as I am saving it to watch with my Gabin-loving French spouse. I will definitely ask him about the accent matter. I do love David's piece on Moontide, though, and apparently Kim Morgan did some of the commentary track which is also something to look forward to.

Vanwall said...

I love Gabin even in English, and throwing in Lupino was an extra side dish. Gabin had that screen-grabbing presence that was hard to define, but I know it when I see it, even if his inflections are flattened in English, something I agree with Alex.

I have to confess my in-laws have some sort of family connection with Gabin's, but I thought he was awesome before I knew about that. I do notice a difference in the films he made in Europe where the dialog was usually added in post, his voice might be somewhat manipulated in the process, intentional or not.

In Moontide, I see M. Cairns caught onto the greatest of Gabin's weapons in his well-stocked arsenal - his physical presence, which like Lancaster, was a subtle, or not so subtle, way to push the other actors into a visual corner. Very few actors surpassed Gabin in the use of physicality onscreen - he was sheer walking sex for women, and menacing macho for men, all without saying a word.

Erich Kuersten said...

Love the new Ann Dvorak photo!

I love Gabin in English more than in French. He plays with words like their sexy toys rather than symbolic references... which works great against Lupino's skittishness and Thomas Mitchell's clingy and closeted alky blackmailer -- Gabin's bulk is like a center of gravity for all these floating characters to cling to, barnacle-like.

Gerard Jones said...

I'm sure I'm sure I'm going to read your latest post soon, Campaspe, and no doubt I'll enjoy it immensely...but all I can do for now is stare at Ann...

DavidEhrenstein said...

You're quite right about Gabin, vanwall.

David C said...

Erich's comment compresses more into a sentence than I expressed in my whole piece! Love it. And thanks for the mention, I get a kick out of imagining myself being discussed in the streets of Brooklyn...

mndean said...

While I admire Girish and what he does, I mostly wish to escape that kind of academic film deconstruction. I was into that sort of thing for many years until I realized that I wasn't enjoying movies as I once did. Debating camera placement and angles and editing was eating away my soul, and I wasn't even being paid for it. I tried to participate at his blog when I felt enough passion about the subject being discussed, but the comments sometimes reminded me of the bad articles I'd read in a Cahiers du Cinema collection I once had. So after a I wrote a comment on Tati some time ago, I left never to return. It's a very good place to go for a more academic view of film, but I can't be that hardcore, I'm too old. I want enjoyment, entertainment (even low entertainment), and some of the joys of discovery in modest films rather than a clinical analysis.

Flickhead said...

mndean: I'm with you.

mndean said...

Truth is, when I was first learning it, I enjoyed that kind of analysis. Seeing how a director would frame a scene, how he used the frame, how his shots were edited, how he did his sets, etc. It was a valuable tool when I wanted to shoot my own films. But I found that classic-era Hollywood films are a lot more resistant to this sort of analysis since the studio was the ultimate arbiter of what went out the door. So you look around the edges, check for bits of business, and end up inferring a lot from what you see. It's like reading tea leaves. Plenty of what was left on the floor by studio fiat might give you a very different opinion of the film and filmmaker in question. And I found something else - a craftsman with a good script gave me as much if not more enjoyment than an artist who made a mediocre film.

If, like Girish, you're in academia and can go to the film festivals, etc. you've got a reason to do analysis of film in that way, and it is valuable to those who use it. For someone like me who works for a living and never goes farther than San Francisco for a film festival, it made less sense as I got older and as I said, it really interfered with my enjoyment of films. I like having my guilty pleasures and not having to defend what I enjoy at an academic level.

It's funny, but one post that Siren recommended had to do with lens flare and how Lazlo Kovacs was the first to use it. I knew the post was wrong, but I couldn't provide examples of other DP's who used flare before. Later I found films shot by William Fraker and Philip Lathrop which used flare a couple of years before Kovacs. And stranger still, it's used in Funny Face as well. All the way back in the late '50s. See? It's like a disease and sometimes I can't even escape!

Vanwall said...

mdean has a nice point, and I, too, have become less of a constructionist/deconstructionist regarding the joy of films - I suppose channeling the nuts and bolts of things into projects that actually use nuts and bolts is the best way for me to step back and regain the kind of clarity I used to have when sitting in a theater with my Milk Duds and Coke, and girl who cared. I can't ever have that kind of innocence again, true, but even tho the abyss has looked back into me, and even at a casual level I sometimes have to banish all thoughts of what's really happening behind the camera, I find film viewing is much more enjoyable if I just, as a more cogent friend and intuitive fan than I ever will be said early on in my film-watching youth, "Watch the goddamn movie."

Erich Kuersten said...

I never watch the making of documentaries on dvds for that very reason! Yet I like analyzing films from a psycho-analytic, beginners Lacan sort of way because you can get so much insight into the past by really watching for details. I don't think it ruins the movie, on that level, because you can enjoy the film on BOTH levels at the same time, but if you watch the film a few times, the dew is off the narrative lily and you notice the weird anacrhonisms of the era... like time travel.

I think film writing can be analytical and enhance your interest in seeing the movie, but a lot of critics and writers feel they have to give you the ending, spending half the damn article just talking about what happened.

Writing analytically in a fun, literary way is what I strive for as a writer, so the reader is engaged and amused and then can see the film (or already has seen it) and see stuff they may have missed.

I try to avoid reading about any movie I havent already seen, unless it's to quickly find out if I should bother to see it.

Campaspe said...

Girish was my first friend in the film blogosphere and remains one of its purest joys for me. As with Dave Kehr' blog, though, I tend to lurk. At Kehr's place I think you have to be one of the "known" commenters or else you get no engagement. Girish never fails to respond to a comment but it can be hard to engage others in his threads because the comments get so long so quickly. And when it comes to in-depth theoretical analysis I would rather read and learn as that isn't my forte. But Girish's blog, especially, is delightful to me because the opinions are highly intellectual and fiercely held, yet it retains an extremely civil and collegial atmosphere. That, I think, is due entirely to Girish's influence. If there is one thing I have learned in three years of blogging, it's that (barring the occasional tiff or troll invasion, which happen to everyone) comments take their tone from the blogger writing the post.

Campaspe said...

Also adding -- damn if I don't think you aren't right, M., there IS lens flare in Funny Face and I can even picture the scene in my mind (out at the church during the shoot for the wedding pictorial, am I right? or does my memory betray me?) But I should add that Chris, the blogger, didn't say it was Kovacs who was first, someone in the thread remarked that Kovacs *claimed* to be first, which with cinematography is always suspect, at least to me. Seems like every time a visual flourish is heralded as the first, there turns out to be a precedent, after all. I remember sitting around a table with a bunch of NYU film students and they were talking about Orson Welles and Gregg Toland being the first to include ceilings in the shots, and a couple of weeks later I caught Gone with the Wind in revival and guess what I saw in several shots?

Which brings me in a roundabout way to how useful academic analysis is for studio products. I think you can approach a lot of studio films that way, but an absolutist auteur approach is usually not the most productive for that era. I have seen it argued at Kehr's place, for example, that actors don't matter, and obviously that's a view I can barely fathom, let alone adapt.

Erich, how much plot to include is a constant question when you're writing about film. I try for as little as possible. I do think a more analytical approach can be extremely lively and readable, as David Bordwell proves every time he posts something.

mndean said...

You're right about Girish being a very congenial host and a brilliant analyst as well, but some of those fiercely held opinions of his commenters did drive me up the wall and I dislike debating opinions (especially passionately held ones) as they have a habit of turning into arguments. One of the reasons why I'm here is that it is a lot more congenial here and arguments never really get started.

I had gone to another congenial film site that was by invitation, but I left recently after asking a question about a line I heard in Golddiggers of 1937 that I swore I had heard in an earlier film nearly verbatim. The line was the Glenda Farrell classic golddigging line, "It's so hard to be good under the capitalistic system". The answer I got from the administrator was a political tirade about this year's election that had nothing to do with my question. She and I may not agree on some things, but I liked her nonetheless and didn't expect such a disrespectful answer.

Most places are (as you say) an extension of the personality of the proprietor and in many cases aren't congenial but contentious. I'm really glad I missed Dave Kehr's place (didn't know he had one), the idea of "approved" people being able to converse while others are ignored (in that "who is this little pissant?" attitude) is the sort of in-crowd snobbery I despise. I know people who like some pretty bad films but I still don't believe they might not have anything interesting to say. Some people have insight into areas I don't have, and I never think I can't learn something new.

Campaspe said...

M., I don't want to be unfair to Kehr's place at all--his posts are always interesting and I like back-reading the comments. But I think that a lot of his readers have been commenting there for a long time and just know and respond to each other. That's something that's bound to happen when the threads regularly approach 200 comments.

But now you have to tell me if I'm right about where the lens flare occurs in Funny Face?

Flickhead said...

Lens flare - it's in Funny Face, the church exterior.

Flickhead said...

By the bye, the main reason I've come to limit my blog comments has to do with what mdean talks about. If the blogosphere has taught me anything, it's to keep my big fat mouth shut -- at least on other people's blogs. But even my own writing has suffered for it.

As for the exclusivity being discussed, I've found it suffocating and not a little insulting. I'd love to write at length about it, but I'd probably go postal.

Campaspe said...

Ah Flickhead, thanks, I am proud that I remembered! As for your comments, of course it is a question of what makes you comfortable/happy but I am always glad to see a comment from you.

mndean said...

There is a little flare in the church sequence (almost as though someone forgot to put the compendium hood on and used an old uncoated lens, giving it a dreamy soft low-contrast quality, but that could be done with diffusion filters and even Vaseline as well), but the flare and aperture ghosting really happens in the darkroom, when Fred turns the enlarger light on. You get a nice halo from the lens, which is either wide open or has a lot of aperture leaves (older lenses had many more leaves than later ones, which dropped the number of leaves for technical reasons).

Alex said...

"In Moontide, I see M. Cairns caught onto the greatest of Gabin's weapons in his well-stocked arsenal - his physical presence, which like Lancaster, was a subtle, or not so subtle, way to push the other actors into a visual corner. Very few actors surpassed Gabin in the use of physicality onscreen - he was sheer walking sex for women, and menacing macho for men, all without saying a word."

The strange thing is: I agree with that most decidedly for Gabin's French movies, but it doesn't seem to ring true for me within Moontide. I think it's partially sociological: Gabin's working-class characters in French movies carry a large weight of European symbolism about the working class, anarchism, syndicalist politics, the demimonde's fascination with the apache, etc. There's certainly a class of American actors who do working-class laborers but Gabin's presentation of a laborer in Moontide seems so strange within the context that I couldn't accept it.

Campaspe said...

well, good or bad, now I definitely have to move Moontide toward the top of my "to be seen" stack ...

J&D said...
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