Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Siren's Cinephile Resolutions for 2009


The Siren staggers back into the room, thoroughly worn out from the holiday rush and traveling to the Pacific Northwest laden with toys and toddlers. She hopes all her patient readers had happy, healthy holidays and are ready for 2009.

Does anyone do New Year's Resolutions anymore? Anyone? Well, the Siren does. She makes them work by trying to pick attainable goals. So, not "I will no longer cuss," but rather, "I will no longer cuss in front of anyone under the age of 10." This year is bringing some changes, including a part-time day job. If I want to continue blogging at my current, medium-regular pace I had better get serious and get organized. Herewith, the Siren's 2009 Cinephile Resolutions, and what prompted each.

1. I will watch more foreign films. I have huge--ridiculously huge--gaps in my foreign-film watching, which was brought home when I was researching which DVDs to buy for my annual Happy Birthday to Me Amazon.com order. I think if I am conscientious, I can see one foreign movie per week, for a total of 52 by the end of the year. To keep myself honest I plan to post as I see them, but I won't be writing full-scale essays on each. The Siren tends to write when the muse raps her over the knuckles, and that doesn't happen for every movie, whether she likes the film or not. Then again, it will feel rather silly to post a string of stars or a sentence like "Awesome flick!" after, for example, I finally get around to seeing Pickpocket. If I don't want to write about the film, perhaps I will just post a still to indicate I watched it. Like this one, which was, indeed, an awesome flick, as I expected:




2. I will watch more silent films. My viewing gaps are not quite as embarrassing for this category, and one per week will be harder, especially if I am keeping up with my foreign-film resolution. So I think one per month will be the minimum goal and if I manage more than that I can always come back and brag about it.

3. I will finally figure out this whole RSS thing so I can keep up with my blog reading.

4. I will go ahead and get the damn Tivo. (No one under 10 just read that, I hope?)

5. I will make more of an effort to stagger outside my Siren lair and venture to the cinema. I will do this, at least occasionally, for new releases. Once there, I will not whine about the inevitable nuisances like over-air-conditioned theaters, the house lights blazing through the opening credits so people can get more junk food, inappropriate laughter or the overgrown person in front of me who refuses to slouch.

All right, let's hear your resolutions, or guffaws at mine. And once again, Happy 2009!

(Top picture from It'll Take the Snap Out of Your Garters!)

97 comments:

BMIML said...

It's embarrassing to admit, but Google Reader saved my bloggy life. Of course, now I spend so much time reading blogs (yours included) that I hardly find time to write anymore.

My main 09 resolution? Learn how to build a Wordpress blog from scratch! It's not the most difficult thing in the world, I know, but it's a must for me this year.

The second? Actually publishing to it! I've decided to ditch blackmailismylife.com altogether and start anew @ jtramsay.com in the near future. Wish me luck!

mndean said...

My main resolution is to record more movies not from the '30s - my most-recorded year is 1932, which has 1/10 of all my recorded films, far ahead of #2, 1933. (if I counted all the shorts, it would be even more lopsided, with all the Charley Chase and Laurel & Hardy).

FilmDr said...

My major resolution is to watch for the tendency to not blog about films I've seen. I've developed the bad habit of letting too many movies pass under the bridge (so to speak) without ever getting around to posting anything about them. I've noticed it is easy to do with very good films (such as Benjamin Button or very bad ones (i.e. The Spirit).

Moviezzz said...

Another plug for Google Reader. Simple to set up. Just add the addresses of all your favorite blogs. And, it is done. It is how I read your blog. You never miss a post, can save them to read later, email to people, etc. I couldn't blog without it.

Karen said...

I'll add my vote for Google Reader, too.

LOVE the new banner--Wonder Bar was one of my first pre-Code discoveries, and I enjoy screening it for the uninitiated and seeing their jaws drop.

I'm with you on the "more silents." I've started DVRing all of TCM's Sunday Silents whether they sound interesting or not, because I'm just interested in seeing how the medium works. Sometimes it's a gem, like DeMille's The Godless Girl, sometimes it's a well-meaning but not particularly well executed film like Oscar Micheaux's Within Our Gates or The Symbol of the Unconquered, but it's always rewarding.

Good luck with your resolutions!

Raquelle said...

I agree with folks on Google Reader. In fact, it's so useful for reading blogs, I find that people don't post frequently enough and I am constantly looking for new blogs to keep the content flowing.

You have great resolutions. Foreign films and silents films are definitely ones I need to see more of. And just contemporary ones in general.

Happy New Year!

X. Trapnel said...

Siren,

If it's any consolation, I have utterly no idea what the word "Tivo" refers to (Balkan dictator? Aboriginal delicacy gamely gulped down by a visiting anthropologist? New dance craze introduced by Fred and Ginger?)

The Maiden said...

I think my main resolutions are to see more foreign films as well (especially French) and to buy more films on Criterion. On the Silent Film front, I've had some silent films in my collection for too long without watching them (including a Box set with Gloria Swanson). But in any regard, I have too many films, in my collection that has yet to be seen… I NEED to catch up on my movie viewing here in 2009, with plenty of write-up in my blog.

Tony Dayoub said...

Foreign films are in my future as well, starting with Pasolini and Visconti, both of whom I'll certainly be blogging about. What film is that still from? Anyone?

Venturing to the cinema is all about timing. I try to go on off-peak hours to get the most bang for my buck.

@FilmDr:

"I've developed the bad habit of letting too many movies pass under the bridge (so to speak) without ever getting around to posting anything about them. I've noticed it is easy to do with very good films... or very bad ones..."

Amen to that. I have the same problem. Almost like words are too reductive for the good films, and I'm just kind of "Meh!" about the bad ones. With the majors unloading all of their award hopefuls in November and December, it has been a difficult past couple of months.

Yojimboen said...

Since I live and work in this heathen community, and get to see most movies earlier than the average bear, I resolve in 2009 to help my fellow-man more (well, at least my fellow commenters on S-SS) by giving a heads-up now and then about current H’wood fare to avoid. For instance, driving back from a screening over Xmas, I was pulled over on Wilshire by an LAPD traffic cop. He didn’t give me a ticket; he gave me a warning:
“Don’t see Valkyrie!” I thanked him. As I drove off, he shouted, “If you must see it, wear two eye-patches!”

Tucker said...

I am so glad to hear you find The Golden Coach awesome. It is one of my favorite films.

Also, I too use Google Reader which I find very good.

Campaspe said...

JT, give me a heads-up when you are operational and I will blogroll you. I am suprised to see that I didn't have Blackmail Is My Life on the sidebar before now.

M., 2008 was something of a 1930s binge chez Campaspe but I don't think that's a bad thing for me. If anything I need to see more Pre-Codes but that's for next year's resolutions, I had to keep it manageable. :D

FilmDr and Tony - yes, you are so right! I even have some fragments of unfinished posts on the hard drive but never got around to finishing them. I need to just let my blog be a blog and post things as they happen.

BMIML said...

No worries! I'll let you know when everything's up and running! In the meantime, fire up Google Reader!

Campaspe said...

Karen, I have seen that Wonder Bar still many times, and what always gives me a dry chuckle is how deeply, deeply unhappy our Kay looks, in contrast to the others. I hope she's more chipper in the movie. According to her biographers she was pissed that they kept expanding Del Rio's part at the expense of hers.

Moviezzz, every time I go over to Google Reader I am so flummoxed by that virtual tour thingy I just put it off again for a while longer. But the votes here seem near-unaninmous.

Raquelle, I finally remembered to blogroll you, too. I mean, how could I not when I clicked over and this time was greeted by Heaven Can Wait in your sidebar?

X. Trapnel I think Tivo is some kind of acronym but for what, I don't know.

Moviezzz said...

I didn't even catch that the banner was from WONDER BAR!

I'm going through a Busby Berkeley phase now and just finished up the two box sets (spent New Years Day going through Volume 2).

I've been reading about WONDER BAR, and seen clips on Youtube (YIKES!!) but have yet to see the entire film.

Does it still get shown on TCM? I don't think it will make it to DVD.

Campaspe said...

Yojimboen, I consider myself warned. It's a pity because that is a ripe subject for dramatization. But the reviews I have read indicate that the film is pretty hollow. If I were going to dramatize the July plot I think I would go with Adam von Trott zu Solz for my central character, not that anyone asked me. However, I have a treat for your pains, the best review of Valkyrie anywhere.

Tucker, each Renoir I see just makes me worship him that much more.

Campaspe said...

Moviezzz, my Wonder Bar viewing has been confined to Youtube as well! It looks like a pip.

Karen said...

Poor Kay!

The part that makes my skin crawl the most is in the already horrific "Goin' to Heaven on a Mule" number, when Jolson's grinning blackface rises up over a Yiddish copy of the Jewish Daily Forward. It always makes me feel a little sick.

Vanwall said...

NYR: I hereby resolve to be a better reciprocator, and get back to the planned timeline of my youth and the life filmic being blogged in some sort of reasonable frequency. Hopefully including cogent observations, if not always painless.

I was going to add visiting the movie, ahem, theater/house/hamster cage, also, but this year has brought so many new and exciting ways to cook mac & cheese, I'll have to be very selective. Maybe it's just me nowadays, but many of the action sequences induce severe eye strain as they pass across the screen, is there something different in the CGI that don't like me? - and if I had a pocket full of rocks, I'd bean me some projector dudes - the beam is invariably set lower to save a few bucks, and that ain't no fun either.

I already did the cussin' thing last year, and it's pretty hard to keep saying cotton-headed ninny-muggins and such, so good luck.

I switched off the RSS feeders I've used lately - it was like listening to the worst back-seater in a fast mover in the middle of a dogfight: too much info, brain overload, too much mental push...blah...blah...blah, and since I can only post rarely from my evil workplace, I have to wait until I'm home anyway. I visit the reg'lars and surf the occasional new, but there's only so much time after work, so I have forced myself to confine things to the best and brightest, (like here, of course!) and limited my commenting, as well - and just 'cause I don't comment doesn't mean I left any of you off the B&B list, either. I hunt & peck like molasses in a Wisconsin winter.

Happy Rest Of The Year!

Peter Nellhaus said...

I resolve to see Wonder Bar as soon as it is on DVD or any other viewable format.

mndean said...

It's a shame Wonder Bar isn't out, but there might be a reason - the materials on the film may not be satisfactory for a DVD. Some films shown on TCM aren't in good enough shape for a DVD release. If that's not the case then there's no earthly reason for the title not to have been issued, unless they're planning a third collection. There's not much left for big musicals - Wonder Bar and In Caliente are about it. Include Stars Over Broadway and The Singing Marine which have numbers staged and directed by him, and a few films directed by him that I've never seen (Stage Struck, Bright Lights, and The Go Getter), which I have no idea the quality of. Enough to make a set, but I had enough trouble with some of the choices in the second set that I'm not going to jump to buy a third.

NoirishCity.... said...

Hi! Self-Styled Siren,

I really enjoyed reading your New Year resolution(s!)for 2009...Thanks, for sharing! and Good-luck! with your resolutions!...(I truly can relate to your 1st resolution.)
Tks,
dcd ;-)

mndean said...

One thing I remember reading was a contemporary gossip article on Wonder Bar that trashed Jolson, among other things. Someone wrote that it was typical publicity for a new film. That puzzled me, as the gossip was rather pointed and negative. It contained the bit about Kay Francis being unhappy with her part. If I'd read that article when it was first printed, I wouldn't have been running to see the film, not in 1934 when jobs were scarce and every nickel was important.

Gloria said...

If I observed the habit of new year resolution, I'd likely vow myself for posting more often, and talking about films I see, but then I'd need an "inner sergeant" to bully me into doing things (the Brian-Donlevy-in-Beau-Geste type of inner sarge, that is).

Incidentally, I've got my dose of Renoir, too: "La Régle Du Jeu" and "La Bete Humaine" as seasonal gifts. It may be an unorthodox assesment, but seeing the former film, I beacome as much a fan of Renoir the actor as I am of Renoir the director.

Matt said...

great resolutions... i think that it is a natural tendency to go towards American/'talkie' movies. I find at least a 4 to 1 tendency this way... i should pick up the ball on this resolution as well.

Karen said...

Wonder Bar is (or has been) available on VHS; I know, because I have it.

If anyone wants it, they're welcome to it, because I no longer have a VCR!

mndean said...

Karen,
I still have a VHS machine, but I'll demur to see if someone more interested wants it. I'd like to have it but am perfectly happy waiting until TCM shows it again. At least it pretty much answers the question of whether good materials are available on the title.

wwolfe said...

My cinematic New Year's resolution is to buy a DVD burner, so I can make DVDs of the rare, great, and just plain interesting movies shown on TCM, but unavailable in any commercial format. Let's see how long I procrastinate on that one.

Karen said...

Well, mndean, let me know if you're in!

DavidEhrenstein said...

Glad to see you've finally discovered The Golden Coah and Pickpocket

You can find the "Goin' to Heaven on a Mule" number from Wonder Bar on You Tube.

Mere words cannot describe it.

mndean said...

David,
"Ever since I was a little pickaninny". I saw it on You Tube and it's hard to watch, even by the standards of the day. I don't think they missed one single stereotype (even a gay one) in the whole number. One question - was there anyone recognizably black in it? I saw nothing but blackface and can't tell from You Tube.

Karen said...

I don't believe there's anyone actually black in it--but then why would there be?

Interesting, also, that recognizable names are limited to two: Abraham Lincoln, "the man who set us free," and Emperor Jones, the protagonist of a play by Eugene O'Neill. No mentions of well-known black or black-authored figures in that pork chop heaven.

Noel Vera said...

Siren, a number of Filipino films are out and on DVD and subtitled to boot. Say the word and I'll recommend--oh, five titles for you to start with. Probably Brocka, as his are the easiest to find.

Yojimboen said...

mndean and Karen - Though I haven't seen the number in 100 years (and can't seem to find it now - if anyone has the Youtube link, I'd appreciate it) I believe there is an appearance by Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson - as a tap-dancing angel, if memory serves...

mndean said...

The tap-dancing angel is Hal LeRoy - his tap style is impossible to miss and nothing like Robinson's.

Yojimboen said...

I'll take your word for it; as I said, it's been years since I saw it.

mndean said...

Well, since I just rewatched the clip, I'm certain it's LeRoy, or as I call him, Spaghetti Legs. He has a few noticeable attributes - skinny (in '34 anyway), doesn't move his arms much, and legs flying akimbo, to all appearances only semi-controlled. If you put the title of the number in YouTube, you'll find the whole thing in two parts.

Campaspe said...

Everyone -- I just watched the Goin to Heaven number.

Sweet Saint Francis of Assisi.

This is as speechless as you will ever see me. My god, it makes that blackface number in Holiday Inn look like "Do the Right Thing."

Campaspe said...

okay, I have recovered sufficiently to post the link for Yojimboen and anyone else foolhardy enough to want to see this. Have smelling salts nearby.

Campaspe said...

Oh, and part 1 is here. That was part 2 before.

mndean said...

Kinda take your breath away, doesn't it? It's no surprise that Warner kept black actors on their lot from eating in the studio cafeteria, though I doubt they were the only ones.

Yojimboen said...

Dear me, there are no words.

Arthur Knight’s Disintegrating the Musical is IMHO the smartest analysis available on the phenomenology of blackface in general (and Jolson in particular) and the tradition of minstrelsy in American Theater. link here
It’s long, book length in fact, but a rewarding study.
Scroll down to p68 for the section on Wonder Bar.

Sample: “Despite an advertising campaign that included serializing Wonder Bar in the Defender [The Chicago Defender – then the foremost black newspaper in the US], the film played just one engagement on the South side of Chicago and sank, leaving dignified silence as its only trace in that paper.”

X. Trapnel said...

Nice to know that All God's Chillun be able to git the Yiddish papers when they gwine git to Hebbin.

What were they trying to tell us?

DavidEhrenstein said...

They were trying to tell us "See? We're really Jews. Not as bad as them Niggas!"

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's my favorite blackface number

And as you can see, unlike Jolie, Cantor included actual African-Americans who unmaks his charade.

mndean said...

I love the notion that they thought they could sell this movie to a black audience. I mean, that's got to be one piece of high comedy that Spike Lee just never thought of. Warner didn't learn easily, either. They came out with the patronizing The Green Pastures (a Pulitzer Prize winner, so it must be okay, right?), which has as one of its delights the idea (filched by Wonder Bar) that Heaven is a wonderful, fully segregated community. The fact that he also did a teleplay of this in 1957 doesn't say much for the TV networks of the late '50s, either. The only reason I ever watch any of the films in that genre is due mostly to not being able to see many black actors any other way.

DavidEhrenstein said...

And here's Cantor with Fayard and Harold -- who totally upstage him.

mndean said...

David,
That's certainly a better number. It's actually got some wit to it, and you never have to take Cantor seriously. Now why isn't Roman Scandals out?

mndean said...

To clarify, I meant the Keep Young And Beautiful number.

mndean said...

Those numbers really do have some merit - they actually kid the blackface of Cantor (and thank God he doesn't even attempt any sort of accent). During their heydays in film, who was the bigger star? I know who Jolson thought it was (didn't Ruby have to recite it every night before they went to bed?), but who was it really?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Ultimately Jolsen was the bigger star. He had a much longer career in vaudeville and The Jazz Singer wasn't chopped liver.

Cantor, unlike Jolsen, was a comedian first and foremost.

And yes I do wishe Roman Scandals was out on DVD. It's a great depression-era musical. Gloria Stuart (still lovely as she nears the century mark) is the female lead and Lucille Ball pops up in ensemble scenes. She even hs lines.

I also love Cantor in the great, insane wartime musical Thank Yor Lucky Stars in whcih all the Warner Bros. big names did a turn.

Here's one of my favorte numbers from it

DavidEhrenstein said...

All things considered Cantor had a longer run than Jolsen. He beagn in vaudeville, went to Broadway, then Hollywood and finally television.

Jolsen used to run the water tap in his dressing room to drown out the sound of the applause of the acts that preceded him in vaudeville.

mndean said...

David,
IIRC, didn't Cantor have a fairly decent radio career as well?

Karen said...

They were trying to tell us "See? We're really Jews. Not as bad as them Niggas!"

Yes, David, that's it exactly. "We're not REALLY the race you despise, see?" A kind of loathesome having one's cake and eating it, too.

I'm...pleased to have helped bring this number to so many people's attention. I do think it's the most egregiously hateful blackface number I've ever seen.

Thanks to David for pointing us to the video from Roman Scandals, which I haven't seen in years. It's very different in tone, isn't it? Although the presence of all those black servants primping those aggressively-blonde and pale women is a little disconcerting. Still, Cantor gave work to a good couple dozen African-American dancers, who all look considerably more beautiful than their white counterparts, for looking less like fake Gibson Girl fantasies. And the blackface joke does turn out to be on Cantor in the end, while Jolson's is just insulting on every conceivable level. That they tried to market Wonder Bar to a black audience betrays a level of tone-deafness that is truly breathtaking.

I agree that Jolson was a bigger star in overall terms, but I'll take Cantor over him any day of the week. Cantor really was funny. What's the movie where he's running away and accidentally hides in a psychiatric ward, where he's mistaken for someone about to get a lobotomy? I know, I know--it doesn't SOUND funny. But there's a great sequence where he's trying to fight his way off the gurney, and the male nurse keeps pushing him back, yelling, "Down!" After being pushed back for the third time, Cantor tries again, kicking furiously. And when the nurse growls at him to stop kicking, he pops up and says, "But I always kick on the fourth down!"

No? Only me laughing? Never mind then.

mndean said...

I agree Cantor is funny, a lot funnier than many comics. That particular joke doesn't work as well on paper as when it gets told by a pro, I'll wager.

The baffling part of Cantor's blackface is that he never takes it seriously for a second, never does any black caricature other than the face (not even the wig). Was he kidding Jolson? The idea of blackface? Whatever it was, it's sure a lot easier to take. Jolson on the other hand, makes himself a total caricature, the voice, the speech inflections, mannerisms, all of it. As far as him reading that newspaper, I'll bet that bit was looked upon much differently in the South of the '30s.

Campaspe said...

Oh hell Karen, I have seen that one too and it cracked me up as well ... too many years spent watching Alabama football. Can't remember the name for the life of me.

Jolson was widely regarded as one of the most prickly guys in show business and he's one of the ones where it shows a bit on screen. There's a grabbiness to his presence, he isn't a generous performer at all. Whereas Cantor truly seems to be enjoying himself.

David, I also love Thank Your Lucky Stars, which is indeed transcendently weird. Thanks so much for the links. I had seen the Roman Scandals number (totally agree with Karen that the black dancers tear it up) but not the one with the incredibly young Nicholas Brothers. As you say, they upstage Cantor, but he doesn't seem to mind, he's just letting them take the stage. Hard to imagine Jolson doing that.

Now someone needs to find out where the lobotomy joke comes from...

DavidEhrenstein said...

I also adore Cantor's last line in the "Keep Young and Beautiful" numer " "Oh Death where is thy sting? I don't care cause I've seen everything!"

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's another teriffic number from Thank Your Loucky Stars: Frank Loesser's tribute to sexual intercourse as delivered in superbly blunt style by the great Ann Sheridan.

I'm convinced this number was a major inspiration for Gore Vidal to write Myra Breckinridge.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's that link.

Karen said...

Oh, david, I love that number! I haven't seen it in ages. "A man doesn't take a taxi just to get no place." Heh.

I confess, though, that the I get distracted from those amazing lyrics by the power with which I covet Ann Sheridan's peignoir. WOW.

As to the Cantor film with the mental hospital scene, I suspect it is Kid Millions, but dno't have anything to play my VHS copy on to make sure.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Actually I think it's Thank Your Lucky Stars. In that one there are two Eddies -- a guy who looks like him and then , late in the last reel, the "real" Eddie.

And Ann Sheridan is indeed overwhelming.

I especially love her in Sirk's Take Me To Town with Sterling Hayden.

DavidEhrenstein said...

And to conclude my Eddie Cantor salute Here's "Makin' Whoop"

DavidEhrenstein said...

Which leads inevitably to The Ultimate Version of that same song.

LaBoheme said...

My uncle sent me to your page a week or so back,andI'm glad he did... I'll certainly be reading and commenting often.

But anyway...

I got to see The Golden Coach in a theatre, which was nice. GreatFilm indeed.

Good resolutions. I made a similar one a few years back and failed, which was confusing as it was something I actually wanted to do.

I think I may resolve again this year to see 100 movies I haven't seen, and hope it fairs better this time around.

Cheers

Yojimboen said...

And to tie up a few of the strands of this thread, check out the lovely Ann Sheridan in the Production Finale of Shine On Harvest Moon here, in which we are treated to the rather bizarre spectacle of the Four Step Brothers – one of the great black tap dance teams – performing in, if you can believe it, whiteface.

DavidEhrenstein said...

TERRIFYING!

Karen said...

Oh dear god, Yojimboen! My defenses were already weakened from listening to the otherwise-marvellous Jack Carson sing to me that he doesn't care if he's got a dummy for a wife as long as she's beautiful. Then to go to that horror show--I literally gasped. My heart just broke for those four men. I can't even imagine what it must have been like to report to the set.

Oh, and David, you're absolutely right--that mental hospital scene IS from Thank Your Lucky Stars. If, instead of spending an hour poring over plot summaries in the AFI Catalog, I had merely done a search on Eddie Cantor in my Gmail, I would have found the IMDb ticket from when I submitted that scene as a memorable quote. I am an idiot.

But here it is:

Marty: Now, don't be impatient! Dr. Kirby will be here in a few minutes.
Eddie Cantor: Dr. Kirby? Listen -
[sitting up]
Marty: [pushing him back on gurney] Down!
Eddie Cantor: You don't understand!
[sitting up]
Fred: [pushing him back on gurney] Down!
Eddie Cantor: This is all a mistake!
[sitting up]
Fred: [pushing him back on gurney] Down!
Eddie Cantor: [flailing his legs and sobbing] Oh-hoh-hoh-hoh-hoh!
Nurse Hamilton: [as all three hold down his legs] And don't kick!
Eddie Cantor: [sitting up] I always kick on the fourth down.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Now HERE'S a blackface number I really like.

Gareth said...

Back to the original subject of the post, my resolution is pretty simple, and mostly involves restating one from last year, that is, to try to go to my local specialty movie houses more rather than complaining in five years that they've all closed. 2008 was pretty good in that regard; we'll see how I do in 2009.

On your foreign film initiative - I wish I could persuade myself to be more systematic in my own viewing habits, but I'm completely scattershot, and worse than ever now that I'm working and taking classes again - I always find it hard when dealing with canonical movies: objectively, these films are accepted "classics" or are valued for one quality or another, whereas subjectively one simply might not do a whole lot for me, no matter how beautifully made, no matter now much I read about it, etc. I understand exactly what you mean about not posting anything - especially in my case if my reaction was anything less than reputation might indicate - since there's so much out there already, and anything I might make note of seems so trivial in the face of all that. And yet sometimes it's hard, too, not to note that - for example - an aspect of a work that is deemed to be part of its power simply might not work for me (sometimes I love Bresson, sometimes the particular kind of work he did with actors bothers me)... I think that in 2009, silence might, nonetheless, be something worth considering in some cases! Or at least "slow blogging"...

mndean said...

Gareth,
I know what you mean re: movies of the canon. There are a few that fill me with cold admiration - they're well crafted, imaginative, technically brilliant. And I sit there admiring those parts but have absolutely no interest in the story it's telling, usually because it is dull, emotionally manipulative, or has some other quality to detach me from the experience. I don't refer to such as Godard, who wanted to detach you partially from the story, although sometimes he did rather too well, as in The Married Woman.

Whenever a film from the canon that I don't love is discussed, I usually either say nothing, or have my say and leave it at that. Not everyone is going to react to a film in the same way due to cultural upbringing and whatever innate qualities a person has from just living. That's why I sometimes wonder how there is a canon of film. Film is too collaborationist to be a pure form like literature or art.

Kevin Deany said...

Siren: Huge fan of your site, first time poster.

I've been enjoying the Eddie Cantor discussion. My aunt's late mother was a chorus girl in vaudeville in the 1920s and appeared in several of his shows. She thought the world of him, and said he was a very nice man.

That "Goin to Heaven on a Mule" number is something, isn't it? It's like "Springtime for Hitler" for real.

It's too bad WONDER BAR is tainted by that number, as its a pretty nifty film otherwise. The other big Berkeley number "Don't Say Goodnight" is one of his best.

Campaspe said...

Kevin, welcome! and you have just nailed it. "Springtime for Hitler for real" -- yep, yep, yep. And as this discussion continues, I am increasingly positive that I saw Wonder Bar in my kid phase as someone who would watch anything in the way of old Berkeley musicals, because "Don't Say Goodnight" is very, very familiar to me in the way that Lullaby of Broadway or Pettin' in the Park is. (I've talked before about the sad phase of movie-viewing life where you find yourself watching a movie and realize you saw it a couple of decades ago.) BUT I am even more certain that I never saw the "Mule" number. My political awareness in terms of art was low until sometime in high school, but I always did hate blackface even before I had any notion of its history, just because it's ugly-looking. Like a good Southern girl I didn't like ugly.

How amazing that you have a relative who worked with Eddie Cantor, and it's great to hear that his seeming niceness continued off-set.

Gerard and Mndean, yes, it's uncomfortable to watch a highly touted movie and realize you're meh about it. I haven't posted very often when that happens. Trouble is, a highly skilled movie that you dislike is even more trouble to write about than one you loved. Unless you go the pure snark route, which is a. lazy and b. likely to start a thermonuclear comments meltdown, as the hapless LA Times blogger who dissed "Sunrise" found out.

Campaspe said...

Oops, meant to say before regarding Mule -- my assumption now is that if I saw Wonder Bar on TV as a kid, they had cut Going to Heaven on a Mule. Which is entirely possible.

mndean said...

Siren,
I would bet that was the case re: Heaven on a Mule, they did trim bits out of films for TV.

As for the great films we don't like - I never snark, it's too cheap and it shows you don't have anything to say, really. I can articulate something of what I don't like about most films, but some are less easy to pin down in my mind. Sometimes it is just too hard to articulate what bothers one about a film.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Speaking of canonical films that leave one cold, I've never been crazy about The Rules of the Game. It's quite a teriffic movie but I much prefer the Renoir of Le Crime de M. Lange and Boudu Saved From Drowning.

By contrast Citizen Kane has never lost its luster for me Every time I see it I find it a hoot and half -- and tremndously absorbing.

Vertigo's entry minto the canon is most fascinating in that back in the day Hitchcok wasn't taken seriously at all.

Yojimboen said...

“Sometimes it is just too hard to articulate what bothers one about a film.”

Good point, mn, but the process of trying to isolate and articulate what bothers us can be a fruitful intellectual exercise – surely one of the joys of our hostess’s salon, no?
Case in point as when last month (last year?) I voiced a certain unease with the general adulation heaped upon Lola Montes (and apparently ruffled a feather or two in the process). My problem, I hasten to repeat, is not with Ophuls - I’ll match my admiration of Max against anyone’s - but with this film in particular. The exchanges on these pages did – usefully, I insist – force me to re-examine my response to the classic and try to articulate for myself what it is about Lola which troubles me.
What that is, isn’t important, so I’ll stop before I become boring (“Too late!” came the cry from the gallery); what is important is that we should - and must - express our likes and dislikes for the iconic Movies and Performers freely and openly; else what’s a blogsite for?

mndean said...

Yojimboen,
A fruitful exercise yes, one I pursued for many years before the internet. I guess I'm a little tired of hashing all things cinematic out. On the internet, it is less a talk among friends than it is a defense of a thesis. It can get old to defend positions in what is, at bottom, a subjective judgment in many cases. There are cases where many people of taste and influence were impressed by a film, only to find it wanting not so many years later. I have other intellectual pursuits, equally stimulating with the benefit that I get paid, which is a real consideration now. And where it doesn't hurt to have eccentric tastes.

Gloria said...

Speaking of canonical films that leave one cold, I've never been crazy about The Rules of the Game. It's quite a teriffic movie but I much prefer the Renoir of Le Crime de M. Lange and Boudu Saved From Drowning.

I'm actually quite in love with "Rules of the game" (so mighty glad I got the DVD this Xmas!), but then I must say that when I saw it I didn't do so because I've seen it hailed as a masterwork, but because it was from the same guy who had directed "This Land Is Mine".

We shouldn't see a film because it is on a canon, but because we love films and we want to explore them and discover and make our own "canon" of sorts.

Canons and lists tend to sacralize films, which is always off-putting and hamper the viewer with a mistaken sense of duty pre-coinceived ideas. Maybe this is why I think that "Casablanca" is a nice film, but can't get into the "Casablanca" cult, or enjoy Einsestein's "the General Line" (a film which I saw with no prior notion of what to expect)

(I must confess, in fact, that I went to see "The Night of the Hunter" for the first time in genuflection, so it was actually at the second viewing -when I was "free from duty"- fully appreciated it)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well the Casablanca cult is quite different than the deeply serious regard afforded canonical films like Citizen Kane or Rules of the Game. It's first and foremost central to the Bogart cult. His wounded pride, masochistic obsession with Ingrid Bergman and then tossing that aside to save the world from the Nazis is the central plot motif and fetish object. What really makes it work is something is happening every thirty seconds involving a host of beyond brilliant character actors in supporting roles (Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Marcel Dalio, Sidney Grenstreet, Leonid Kinsky, "Cuddles" Sakall -- the list goes on and on). In short, Casablanca is great cheesy fun -- something Umberto Eco zeros in on in his essay on the film in Travels in Hyper-Reality

Campaspe said...

David, TCM showed Casablanca not long ago. For a cinephile that one is kind of like trying to look at the Last Supper with fresh eyes, but this time I found myself watching again and was struck by the same thing--the character actors. They make the film. It is probably the apogee of the Warner's stock company, all these fine actors doing small parts and making each one a little gem. Something as small as the moue the croupier makes when Bogart asks him how the house is doing, after letting the Bulgarian boy win at roulette, or the souk salesman dropping the price on the lace--there is so much to savor. And Curtiz's direction is superb, the way he gives all the actors room to shine without detracting from the main story line.

Rules of the Game is one of my very favorite movies of all time. Gloria's remark about Renoir the actor is very apt, as it's Octave whom I love the most in that film.

mndean said...

I believe in Eco's comments about Casablanca (I pretty much have all Eco's books, even the heavy stuff like A Theory in Semiotics), and still it's an excellently done film. I may prefer Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but it's not due to any flaw in Casablanca, just a better story at bottom. I also love Rules of the Game enough to have bought it, but I can see why others may not like it so much.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Curtiz tends to be underrated. He worked very fast and he always aimed to hit the mark squarely and hard. As a result his best work stands up far more than most others of the same period. Fassbidner really got into him towards the end and was palnnign to wirte a book about Curtiz when he died. There's been tons of stuff about Fassbinder and Sirk, but if you look at late Fassbinders like Lola and Veronika Voss, they're tons cloer to Curtiz.

Gloria said...

David, I find Casablanca great fun, too, but then "Rules of the Game" is a fun comedy, too, with most everyone having at least a couple of simultaneous love affairs, people making fools of themselves, fun frolicking chases around tables and good French character actors popping here and there (including Marcel Dalio, too)...

Maybe we approach classics with such reverence that we feel it is unproper to enjoy them, but the fact that makes people like Renoir, Hitchcock, Lubistch, Sturges, Leisen, it is not the fact that they did "classic films", but that these films they made are basically very entertaining.

Is Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress" a classic or a very entertaining Samurai "Western"? I think it is both things.

Yojimboen said...

Re Eco – I prefer Umberto when he isn’t taking himself – or us – too seriously; viz, his “review” of The Story of O in his collected Misreadings is hilarious; plus, why no one has filmed Foucault’s Pendulum is beyond me; it’s one of the best adventure stories written – everything The DaVinci Code aimed for and missed.
Curtiz? No argument here, a superb filmmaker. In fact I vaguely remember trying to interest the group in one Curtiz’s last (and sweetest) films, We’re No Angels over Christmas. But did anyone listen? Did anyone thank me? No-o-o-o.
I’m hurt… Hurt, I tell you. ;D

Vanwall said...

One thing I've felt about "classic" or "canon" films, is they were almost always stocked with great supporting roles, regardless of genre, and Casablanca more so than most. When you see Marcel Dalio in a throwaway role, and he nails it, and so do the others from the European diaspora, you know there is a kind of energy being produced that you can see and feel onscreen. I'd bet Bogie, who was mostly still seen as a gangster player now in a propaganda film, which is what it really started out as, never worked with so many scene-stealers again, even tho he was pretty generous about leaving the doors open so wide for such baldfaced theft. And Citizen Kane - where would it be without a crackerjack crew-to-die-for of supporting actors? Siren is right, the were great entertainment, and the depth of acting in a great film is always pretty deep.

My laptop was on the fritz, so I will add that Wonder Bar was shown uncut, as far as I could tell, on TV when I was a kid in the early '60s - I was just old enough to be bemusedly repulsed by Goin' to Heaven on a Mule, (it was a WTF? moment) and it wasn't there the next time they ran it a few years later; I thought I was remembering it from another film for quite a while. A lot of local stations weren't too sensitive to poor taste back then, and there were quite a few offensive scenes left in many films, as long as the rates were cheap and they fit into the schedule - they would cut the mildest scenes for commercial breaks and leave in the blackface many times. Go figure.

And Yojimboen, I gladly re-watched "We're no Angels" this holiday - thanks for the reminder.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Absolutely with you re Foucault's Pendulum

Have you seen Raul Ruz's Hupothesis of the Stolen Painting ? It' s about the Templar knights as decribed by Pierre Klossowski in "Le Baphomet." Jean Rougeul stars and in his motion picture debut Jean Reno appears as one of his ancestors -a Templar knight.

mndean said...

I hope that filmmakers leave Foucault's Pendulum alone. It's not unfilmable, but it's takes place in much time and space and a film of it would be sprawling if it tried to be faithful. The section in Brazil is important in the book but in any reasonable film I would think it would be reduced to little. It would be easier to film The Island Of The Day Before.

I like Eco's wit myself, and he's pretty much the only writer on semiotics I could take for more than a dozen pages.

LaBoheme said...

I grew up a huge fan of Eddie Cantor.

When AMC was still American Movie CLASSICS and I was just a wee lad, they showed his stuff a lot. My mom wanted to get me some of his movies on dvd for Christmas, but couldn't find the ones she wanted to get... She did get me "Be Yourself!" starring Fanny Brice, and Glorifying the American Girl, which are great two...

Does anyone know some good dvd copies of any of his work that aren't out of print and therefor worth my limbs?

mndean said...

Um, no DVD copies unless you want a copy of The Kid From Spain which was on TCM a while back. There was a box set of films on VHS which now goes for $$$ apparently, but no commercial DVDs released.

LaBoheme said...

Thanks, that's what I figured... I saw a thing on amazon for a couple of his silent shorts, but I don't know the dvd quality... At least he's in Glorifying the American Girl. though I haven't watched it yet, so I don't know how much.

mndean said...

It's early sound so don't expect too much from it, and Cantor is in the revue scenes which are toward the last third of the film IIRC, and it isn't a lot. The film is sort of like an early Broadway version of films about getting stardom in Hollywood.

Yojimboen said...

David - No, I haven't seen Ruiz's L'Hypothèse du Tableau Volé (I thought I had a DVD-R of it somewhere but can't seem to put my hand on it). I do have a French DVD with some of his TV work (and his Chilean Rhapsody, of course); you're right, he is a very interesting filmmaker. I have a copy of his Proust biopic, Temps Retrouvé and have screened it once. (Once is not nearly enough - he's hard work, but worth it.) I'm a little surprised he isn't better known in the US.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well I'm not. He's too complex and playful in ways that irritate Americans. Look at the recption given Synechdoche New York (a Ruiz-esque film to its very core.)

Campaspe said...

David, if you appreciated Synedoche I hope you saw Filmbrain's extensive review. He loved the movie and turned his complete intelligence on it, excellent reading.
Part 1

Part 2

DavidEhrenstein said...

Thanks! I've left a comment on his site.

Campaspe said...

Interesting comment over there! you both make me want to give Gaddis another chance. I tried The Recognitions, gosh, must have been 15 years ago and just didn't get it. Some novels you have to grow into, though, so I give things like that another go from time to time. That's how I finally got Henry James and Little Dorrit.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Gaddis is pretty damned daunting, but once you take the plunge you'll be thankful you didn. The Recognitions is a masterful exploration of postwar American bohemia wed to a discussion of artistic fakery that makes it ideal for anyone who loves Welles' F For Fake