Friday, March 13, 2009

George and Bernard: Notes on a Scandal


Do you think George Sanders could have played Bernard Madoff?

Perhaps this unanswerable question is just the result of the Siren's two current obsessions, colliding. The Siren is superglued to the Madoff case, gobbling up each new detail and discovering, to her chagrin, that somehow friends and family do not share her fascination. Well, they're crazy. This is amazing stuff. It's Dickens, it's Balzac, it's Trollope.

But, perhaps, despite the actor's affinity for 19th-century material, not ideal material for the Sanders touch. The secret to why George Sanders is still loved is no secret at all--it is the same wit and sophistication that makes Ernst Lubitsch an enduring pleasure. Only, with Sanders, the wit becomes a stiletto.

If Bernard Madoff ever made a single witty remark, the Siren has yet to hear of it. Mark Seal's wonderful article for Vanity Fair strives to give you a picture of what the company of Bernie would truly be like. The answer: boring as all hell. This is a man with a world of ill-gotten gains at his disposal, who spent his spare time meandering from country club to country club, playing golf. Who went out on boats and just sat around. Who wore silly hats at parties, but never drank. Who could have purchased the best seats in the house, but who seldom went out at night and whose stereo was, unless better taste intervened, tuned to Neil Diamond. Who dined at the same restaurant, where he sat at the same table and ordered the same thing.

This isn't a Sanders character. This is the butt of a Sanders character's joke.

And there is little evidence that Madoff ever felt the self-knowledge, let alone the self-loathing woven into Sanders' best roles. Bernie had the soul of a smug, sociopathic burgher. He liked himself.

But then again...

With Sanders, the sophistication comes with a lip curled at the less wised-up. ("I know nothing about Lloyd and his loves. I leave those to Louisa May Alcott.") What pleasure did Madoff have in life, if not the ability to smirk at his own deceptions?






Alas, the Siren will never answer her first question with finality, unless the afterlife turns out to be a perpetual casting call. And she sweeps her eyes over the present-day acting profession and still has trouble casting Madoff. (Alan Rickman? Too elegant. Robert De Niro? Too menacing. Richard Gere? Hmm, maybe...) Someone should be cast as Madoff eventually, though. This is a saga begging for a screen treatment, provided the director has the requisite subtlety and can avoid turning it into the favorite American genre, the crime caper. This requires an eye not for criminal behavior, but for social dissection. You need Mikio Naruse--someone who can examine the role of social class and money, what people will do to claw out a piece of either, how they behave when both are snatched away.

Any movie about Madoff will have to answer the most important question about the scandal. In life, that question is "What happened to the money?" On screen, it would be "Why, Bernie?" And when it comes to that screen question, the Siren keeps thinking of two scenes that come late in two very different movies, made around the same time in the late 70s.





The first scene is from Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock. A group of schoolgirls in turn-of-the-century Australia go on the picnic of the title, and disappear. Only one, Irma, is found alive, but Irma has no memory of what happened.

It is late in the term. Irma has come to say goodbye to her classmates, before her parents take her away to Europe and they never see each other again. The schoolgirls, dressed simply in uniform, are lined up to bid farewell. Irma enters, wearing a fancy red cloak. She tries to smile at her old friends. They don't smile back. Instead they approach her, then suddenly surround her, and finally begin to attack her, asking a question that rises from a request to a half-crazed shriek: "What happened? Tell us. TELL US!"




The second scene is from Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery. In 1855, the theft of a shipment of gold from a moving train has been executed in meticulous detail, only to go wrong at the very end due to the simple fact of a torn coat. The mastermind of the robbery, played by Sean Connery, has been arrested and is on trial. The judge, indulging in the lawyerly vice of relishing his own oratory, thunders at the prisoner in the dock: "Now, on the matter of motive, we ask you: Why did you conceive, plan and execute this dastardly and scandalous crime?"

And Connery's reply comes back, delivered with a tinge of contempt for such obviousness: "I wanted the money."

339 comments:

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Gerard Jones said...

Hecht does seem to have been held up as the model for screenwriters from about 1930 to 1960. He was so fast, made so much money, was successful from the moment he hit town, and reached a plateau from which he never had to take crap from anybody and never had to fear saying what he really thought of Hollywood. Sturges was no doubt enviable for the few years of his peak, but then he became almost a cautionary tale.

X. Trapnel said...

Just wondering if there's anybody out there who shares my preference for Mr. Jinx, Dixie & Pixie to Tom and Jerry (in my Manichaean view it's Sinatra or Crosby, Astaire or Kelly, Yankees or Mets, etc.)

Yojimboen said...

“It's as if the deconstruction came before the construction.” Incisive observation, GJ. My point exactly. (I think.)

Here’s Tashlin on roughly the same topic:

“…I see these Road Runner cartoons [on TV] -- which I’d never seen in the theater – and they are joke – topper – joke – topper. […] That happens 20 times and that’s the picture. I did it with The Fox and the Crow [at Screen Gems]… You set up your problem: the cat is going to catch the mouse. Well, Barbera and Hanna did it for years. […] I’m amazed when I look at these Road Runner things. The guys are still hitting walls and leaving imprints […] I can’t believe that stuff is still going on. Those jokes are all forty years old…”

Interview with Mike Barrier
Editor of Funnyworld
May 29 1971

mndean – also a good point. I think some writers should never direct. Hecht was one, Axelrod was another. Which brings us to Lord Love a Duck - just an unholy mess of a film – saving the presence of the divine Tuesday Weld.

Which in truth, XT, would almost serve as an operating philosophy for my time on Spaceship Earth. Much as I (we) love the Delphines and the Nathalies, wherever I find myself on this planet (Belgium be damned), it must be Tuesday. (ouch!)

Karen – Yes, I knew about Gerard’s book, it was a lame attempt at humor on my part. Sorry. (I have read Mr. Jones’s CV, and am suitably impressed – I’d settle for half his accomplishments.)

X. Trapnel said...

Mr. Y: Being a philosophical pragmatist (screw the Absolute), I respect your operating philosophy but only Mlle. DD "works" for me in all places (Belgium et partout) and all times. Just heard her sing something called Ballade Irlandaise on Youtube, like a belated St. Paddy's day gift to my soi disant Irish self

Gerard Jones said...

X: I suppose one could view Pixie & Dixie as the purer vision of Hanna & Barbera, free of the suffocating influence of Fred Quimby. More charitable than calling it just a case of self-cannibalism.

Karen said...

I feel so stupid, but it's only just sunk through to me that the terrific quote from Sean Connery's thief character at the end of the Siren's original post has to have been based on the famous line [falsely] attributed to Willie Sutton:
"Why do you rob banks?"
"Because that's where the money is."

X. Trapnel said...

Gerard,

By purer do you mean less cluttered visually? In my cloudy memory the room(s), endless in chase sequences had almost no furniture. Wall and mousehole was everything.

The reason I raised the issue was that Mr. J, P&D seem to be rather forgotten (was the anguish of "I hate you meeces to pieces" too raw and real?) I always preferred them to Tom and Jerry (who always seemed to me rather square/bland/Republican).

Sylvester remains nonpareil.

mndean said...

I saw one of Hecht's films a long time ago (Spectre Of The Rose) and thought it had to be a misfire. Then I saw Angels Over Broadway. It disabused me from thinking all great writers could direct. Since he wrote them both, I wondered if in that stage of his career he might have been better at fixing other writer's scripts than in writing his own. Either that or he turned prostie because the pay was better.

mndean said...

Good grief, Tom and Jerry. I never understood the attraction, even with all the Oscar nominations. The only funny thing (albeit in a meta way) I think I ever saw in one is where they redrew/reshot some footage, but kept the same soundtrack, so you got a white woman with a Hollywood comic-Negro voice.

X. Trapnel said...

Spectre of the Rose is late 40s, no? Hecht's fiction is gruesome and arty-decadent and has the same dire fascination as his films. Maybe he needed to subordinate himself to larger talents. A strange figure.

Gerard Jones said...

There was also a T&J in which they recolored the maid (who was only visible from below the shoulders down, no face) and dubbed in a new voice--a thick Irish brogue. Evidently it was still important that she be an ethnic stereotype, just a less "controversial" ethnicity.

Corny as it sounds to say "I only like their early stuff," that's how I am with T&J. Some of the early ones really get me, like Zoot Cat. Like any slapstick, though, they're better on the big screen with a real audience. It takes a thinkier cartoon, like the Warners Chuck Joneses, to sustain a solitary viewing.

Don't waste time with the Chuck Jones Tom & Jerrys, though. A classic case of how even a genius can look bad on the wrong material.

Hanna-Barbera made a lot of use of those empty backgrounds. Also loops of repeated backgrounds and. It saved time and money, both of which they had to in order to feed the weekly TV maw. But there was an artistry to that minimalism, too. Their theatrical Tom and Jerrys were as overstuffed as the chairs and sofas they ran past. Very much an MGM aesthetic, and I suspect much of the reason they feel so bourgeois.

Didn't Hecht always speak with pride about being a prostitute? He was absurdly fast, very hit and miss. Seems like his best scripts were always in collaboration or adapting someone else's work or both. I've always thought of him as the consummate studio writer, popping in to jazz up some dialogue, whip out a scene rewrite, bang out a first draft for others to finesse.

mndean said...

Yes, it's late '40s, I think '46. The funny thing in these films is there's a pseudo-Hecht figure in each, I think modeled partly on himself and partly on other writer friends. I've read a few people's impressions of Hecht, and strange was an impression they got. I read a couple of his books and to tell you the truth, almost nothing in them stuck, the bulk vanished from my mind almost right after I read them.

Gerard Jones said...

Hecht would have written a fun version of the Madoff case. His Bernie would be a lot more entertaining than the reality.

mndean said...

I always thought his pride was just to turn necessity into a virtue. He was admired in Hollywood for something his old Broadway colleagues would have been less kind about, at least the ones that didn't go to Hollywood. It's not the worst thing in the world - some people are better as editors and accept that role. His pride was the flipside of Dorothy Parker's self-contempt.

Pete Lawson said...

Just been catching up on my Krazy Kat. This is the real thing - it makes 'Porky in Wackyland' look about as anarchic as a "You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps" sign.

It's rather endearing to learn that William Randolph Hearst was such a huge fan that he let the strip run for 30-odd years without interference, even when it wasn't particularly popular. What would the Madoff analogue be? The revelation that he's been using his loot to bankroll Homestar Runner?

mndean said...

The interesting thing with Herriman is that Hearst favored someone who was actually good. He kept a lot of bad writers around just because he liked them.

Pete Lawson said...

Gerard: Yeah, 'Zoot Cat' is great. "What's Jumping Chick?"

There's another swing-era T&J that's a lot of fun, which also happens to break the "They never talk" rule. I can't remember the title, but the main body of the cartoon consists of Tom serenading his gal by playing a boogie woogie riff on his double bass.

I wouldn't be so bold as to put Tom and Jerry on the same rung as the best Warners cartoons or Avery's MGMs, but it's not as rigidly formulaic a series as a lot of people seem to remember.

Gerard Jones said...

Hearst's taste in cartoonists was astonishing. When you look at the artists he either worked hard to steal from steal from competitors or to hang onto, it's like a list of the best and most important cartoonists of the time. He knew how great McCay and Herriman were when few others did, and he supported E.C. Segar in all his idiosyncracy before he finally scored a popular hit with that sailor man. He also really paid attention to the comics, making suggestions to his editors to the end of his life. He deserves a lot of credit for enabling comics to become an art form.

X. Trapnel said...

Ezra Pound, of all people, considered Hecht, of all people, to be the most intelligent man in America. Make of that what you will.

Yojimboen said...

As if I had to remind anyone:

"Millions are to grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don't let this get around."

Note from Herman Mankiewicz to Ben Hecht encouraging him to come out to H'Wood. circa 1925

Cut to some years later:

"Nor is movie writing easier than good writing. It's just as hard to make a toilet seat as it is a castle window. But the view is different."

Ben Hecht 1957

mndean said...

Trapnel,
I don't know what to make of it, really. It's hard to separate Pound the great poet from Pound the ardent Fascist and anti-Semite (I know, I know). I was always fond of an old saw I read many years ago, "Trust the art, not the artist". It's been one of my better defenses against conferring greatness on anyone who merely may have been a great self-promoter, and has always made me skeptical of autobiographies and pronouncements by "authorities".

mndean said...

In fact, Jean Renoir's quote from Rules Of The Game is apropos as well - "You see, in this world, there is one awful thing, and that is that everyone has his reasons."

Gerard Jones said...

"It's hard to separate Pound the great poet from Pound the ardent Fascist and anti-Semite."

And it's hard to reconcile either the artist or the anti-Semite with the opinion that a liberal Jewish screenwriter is the smartest man in America. As the kids say these days: WTF?

mndean said...

Not so much reconcile, but wonder what the motivation for Pound saying it was. The rest of my post was a hint that he may have different reasons than mere admiration, and we likely will never know. One point is in literary and screenwriting circles, logrolling is a great tradition. Also, after reading two of Hecht's books, he certainly was intelligent, but the most intelligent man in America? A bold (and IME unwarranted) statement. Note Pound did not say the most articulate, or the most witty, but the most intelligent. That can easily be taken as an intended derogation of America as well.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Yes everyone has his reasons.

Most of those reasons are shitty and some are downright psychotic.
Are we supposed to go along with them M. Renoir?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Ezra Pound was a fascist in thought word and deed. This is painfully obvious from everythign he ever wrote.

He created the myth of himself as a great poet and a bunch of pathetic suckers bought it.

mndean said...

David,
I always took Renoir's statement differently, as lamenting justifications without excusing the actions. Octave was a weak man and an outsider in that film, one who could see, advise, but never act. In a way, he was a rather large pet of the smart set in that film.

As for Pound being a great poet, I really should have put that in quotes. Last I read his poetry was in high school, many years ago. I don't remember having a reaction as with e.e. cummings and WCW (it was high school, we didn't stray far from the Accepted Great Poets of the time). Perhaps that was the trouble, his fascism by that time was old hat, and the drum beating that he was a great poet took precedence. I had so little interest in Pound that X. Trapnel's post recounting Pound's trumpeting of Hecht sent me scurrying to look up if what I vaguely remembered about him being all but a card-carrying Nazi were true or I was mistaking him for someone else.

Even with all this, I still don't understand why Pound lauded Hecht.

Gerard Jones said...

Maybe it was just a sarcastic slam at America. Didn't he once describe the US as a lunatic asylum? About the time he himself was sentenced to a real lunatic asylum?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Re Renoir, it's like the line from The Wild Bunch: "I know what you meant to do, it's what you did I don't like.!"

"Everyone has his reasons," has been cited ad nauseum by those who iwsh nothig more than to defend moral turpitude. It's the pseudointellectual version of "Oh...whatever !" And I for one refuse to give this rap a pass.

It also reminds me why I really don't care for The Rules of the Game very much (heresy I know) The Renoir that interest me ost deeply is Renoir of Boudu Saved From Drowning, Le Crime de M. L'Ange, La Bete Humaine, French CanCan, The Golden Coach and Le Testament du Dr. Cordelier

mndean said...

David,
I know it's a film we disagree on. I see Renoir not showing these people as very sympathetic or worthy of much more feeling than they showed the animals they slaughtered. I saw the characters in the film as those who would be quite happy living under Vichy, maybe even welcoming it as a break in the monotony. I don't think he'd lament their passing like he did the officer class in Grand Illusion.

n.b. It is not my favorite Renoir film, either. Le Crime de M. Lange I greatly prefer. I never saw La Bete Humaine except in a very poor print, but it seemed very good.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The huting sequence is kind of a trap. Of curse we're upset to see animals slaughtered in this fashion. But hunts of this sort are in no way exceptional to people of this social class and their indulgence in them is not the most troubling thing about them. The film doesn't examine these people or their socio-political allegiances at all. Rahter the action is given over to a kind of bedroom farce -- with an unhappy ending. The hostile reception the film received at its premier has been taken as an indication that Renoir had hit his target. But that's not the case at all. The moviegoing public were perfectly justified in not caring for a film like this for reasons quite outside of politics.

Don't get me wrong. it's a pretty good movie. But it's not a dethless masterpiece.

And the embrace of "everyone has his reasons" is egregious in the extreme.

Yojimboen said...

mn - "His [Hecht's] pride was the flipside of Dorothy Parker's self-contempt."

That's a stone brilliant comment, dude. Brilliant. I'm stealing it.

Re Renoir: His dialog (as writer as well as actor) is a parroting of the original (90% sure it's Voltaire): "The real tragedy of mankind is that we all do what we do for ostensibly the best reasons."

I've always regarded this adage as not much more than a somewhat obvious, if fatalistic, observation.

If I heard it as a teenager today, instead of 40 years ago, my reaction most likely would be, "Du-uh!"

X. Trapnel said...

Regarding Old Ez:

"A completely spurious poet"--George Orwell

"for all his violence he's still the sexless American professor"--W.B. Yeats

"He had a wet handshake and was completely crazy"--Robert Graves

Just to add my own mite to these treasurable observations, I've always beleived Pound to be utterly artificial, made of paper; his excruciatingly arch and affected language coming from books, not life (please don't anybody tell me he had ear for American speech; this is EP at his worst). I believe his praise of Hecht was entirely sincere; they were both provincials, would be exquisites. Hecht, perhaps wisely, chucked it all for money. compare both to the 9 to 5 stay at home Wallace Stevens who got the money AND found a poetics for the American sublime.

"Everyone has their reasons." If this has become a catchphrase it's not Renoir's fault. Recall that this is said early in the film, not in a spirit of complacency by Octave but in exasperation. If Renoir indeed intended this (though I doubt it) as a motto, it would only be a starting point rather than a conclusion. (compare it with Mme de Stael's very dubious and likewise overquoted "to understand is to forgive.")

Gerard Jones said...

I also interpret that Renoir line not as an excusing of moral terpitude but a sad recognition of the fact that we can rationalize even our worst deeds as "the right thing." Understanding that doesn't mean we accept the bad deed, just that we're not sacrificing our own awareness and compassion.

But I agree it's not one of his best flicks. I'm a Boudu/Bete man myself. His compassion is clearer and doesn't flirt with cynicism so much as in Game.

mndean said...

Gerard,
Not even just the worst deeds, the everyday betrayals, too. David's right in how the quote has been used unfortunately, which shows how some quotes can be turned on their head. It may be cultural, though it may have been cynically done. When I first heard the quote (short version) it was in the "whatever" context.

Trapnel,
You make me very glad I was never interested in Pound and read so little about him. Even his fascism was never revealed to me but for a book I read on another writer.

Yojimboen,
Brilliant? DONT SAY THAT! I'm here amongst published writers (something I wanted to do when I was much younger - the closest I came was a couple of small articles in an alternative paper which embarrass me now). People here may now expect better of me. Then I'll write something risible or stupidly contentious and you'll be saying, "What was I thinking?"

mndean said...

...now I feel like Buster Keaton when he made that auditorium-emptying speech in College.

Gerard Jones said...

We're all just silently admiring your words, mndean.

mndean said...

Now I get sarcasm! Which is like rain on graduation day! So I'm still in College. And my suit's shrinking.

Gerard Jones said...

Okay, I'll take you off the hook. The comments page of a blog is one place a person doesn't want to have the last word.

So...I have a question about ol' Uncle Ezra, for those who clearly know more about him than I do. Even when his sanity, politics, and poetry are called into question, I've always heard him praised for spotting and supporting truly great young talent. T. S. Eliot and all. Is that reputation deserved, at least? Or did he trump even that up?

Yojimboen said...

mn - "People here may now expect better of me. Then I'll write something risible or stupidly contentious..."

Both are likely true, my friend. I think - and hope - it's true for all present.

FWIW, I stumbled into this kaffeeklatsch 4-5 months ago - I noticed a stream where Richard Brooks and Burt Lancaster were accused of being film pyromaniacs and I knew better so I offered a rebuttal; I stayed because of the astonishingly high level of cinema (and social and political) scholarship manufactured daily in these premises.

So, if I see a nugget of original wisdom I'm likely to single it out for praise (and probably ignore modest protestations). But the price for that is I'll also point out when I think some emperors (like Clint) are starkers.

No doubt I will (as will you, mn, and all group members) also demonstrate some thunderingly dunder-headed opinionation. I expect to be called on it. As should you, mn, and all present.

That said, however, I submit we sondry folk are a pleynly luckye bunch to be thus well-met on this side-trip to Canterbury Cathedral.

Vanwall said...

Ah, M. Yojimboen, 'tis lucky we weren't ill met by moonlight - so went the day well? - just don't, on the way to Canterbury, have glue poured in one's hair.

Gerard Jones said...

The Glue Man! Stupidest goddamn plot device ever!

I hope Yojimboen doesn't find that too dunderheaded...

DavidEhrenstein said...

I have no doubt someone would have discovered T.S. Elliot if Pound hadn't become his publicist.

And yes The Glue Man is quite silly. Never much cared for that particular P & P, but then I'm not British.

Yojimboen said...

Not at all, GJ - nous sommes d'accords, but (here I go) killing somebody with a sharpened tripod leg runs a very close second.

Gerard Jones said...

They did like odd stories, didn't they? Even their best movies are constantly skirting the edge of absurdity. I like Stairway to Heaven, but can you imagine pitching that plot in a development meeting? I think Powell's secret was to weave a hypnotic spell with color and rhythmic movement that lulls our prefrontal lobes out of analytic thinking.

Vanwall said...

Glue Man - Lame; Cinematography - Bril! Whatever for, would one watch a P & P film otherwise?

Yojimboen said...

I adore P&P - I am more than willing to forgive the silliness of Tom for the wonderment of Thief of Baghdad, the delight of Red Shoes, Stairway, Colonel Blimp; but most of all for the transforming, carry-to-the-grave joy of I Know Where I'm Going. But then, I am merely a sentimental Scot - putty in P&Ps hands. (The bastards set me up with Edge of the World then used Wendy Hiller to bludgeon me to my knees and turn me into an eternal fan.)

DavidEhrenstein said...

I know the feeling. For me it was Sabu.

You can't imagine how wonderful it was growing up to have someone who looked like me starring in amovie. And he was the Hero!

Black Narcissus , needless to say, just about did me in. Sabu was the Marie Curie of Metrosexuality.

And don't get me started about Jean Simmons.

As for Peeping Tom there's a terrible logic to the knife/tripod.

Gerard Jones said...

Not sure how you mean "terrible logic." But I'll let it be...

I'll confess that Jean Simmons pushes a lot more of my buttons than Sabu. But he is pretty darned charming under P&P.

Gerard Jones said...

And yes, it was impressive that P&P made Sabu their hero! Quite a contrast to Fairbanks, and to the treatment of Wogs that still prevailed in the UK even in the '40s. Bold and honest.

Vanwall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vanwall said...

M Yojimboen - I share that touchstone to Killoran:

Vanwall Knows Where He's Going

Gerard Jones said...

Is it true that if you watch Stairway to Heaven backwards it turns out to be Satanic propaganda?

Yojimboen said...

M VW - Nicely written. Very. But I'm not sure I'm grateful for the reading of it. I suspect most of the guests at Madame Sirène's Salon have had a "Mouse" at one time or another. Mine died young; and now I'm going to have to spend the rest of my life worrying about yours.

Karen said...

Good heavens, I turn my back for just a few hours, and the comments turn into a Powell and Pressburger love fest! I can't stand it that I'm coming late to this party!

Yeah, the Glue Man is WEIRD, but I dearly love A Canterbury Tale. There are actually precious few P&Ps I don't adore. I may have seen all of them. I hope I haven't, because I like the idea that there are still more to be discovered. Has no one mentioned The 49th Parallel yet? It's on this Wednesday morning, on TCM!

Stairway to Heaven is my personal favorite--one of my favorite films of all time, actually--but it does take the cake for sheer nuttiness. I made Simon Schama watch it once and he practically lost it at the surreal interjection of the naked piping shepherd boy.

Gerard Jones said...

That's some good writing there, Vanwall. Made me sad, though. I was never intimately involved with a Mouse, but there were a lot of them skittering through my social sphere, captivating my friends. Somehow a perfect companion for a P&P movie...

Vanwall said...

Thank you, gentlemen, I'm honored. M Yojimboen, I believe it's best left as a Lady or the Tiger part of things from my past. I don't worry about what might have been or might have happened after those days, all I know is, I can't get away from enjoying film in a particularly quirky way because of her. There's more there if you care to peruse, as I have gotten back to reflecting on what made me interested in the moving image, and I will post some more humorous, and not so humorous, vignettes soon.

X. Trapnel said...

I though we were all a little thread weary. Wrong again.
Gerard and David: No, Pound was not a great discoverer (Eliot was doing just fine without him and was, in any case, a climber of Balzacian caliber, a great poet, and far more cunning:in essence he slipped beneath the radar of his own criticism and fooled generations of skoolmasters). Pound had no very significant role in the careers of Frost or Stevens nor among the next generation of English poets led by MacNeice and Auden. Philip Larkin, the greatest English poet of the last 50 years despised him. His main influence was on a handful of intereting but minor acolytes (Zukofsky, Oppen, Reznikoff) and outliers like Charles Olson. Mainly he was a propagandist for a dubious reading (with fascist or at least reactionary, anti-democratic overtones) of poetic tradition ("Make it New!" Make what new, Uncle EZZZ?). After WWII he became an academic totem figure in the battle to define the cultural meaning of poetic modernism that I hope and pray is falling apart at long last. Unlike Eliot (to say nothing of Yeats!) Pound needs academia to keep the hot air of his reputation from leaking away. I don't like him.

X. Trapnel said...

Vanwall,

Splendid evocation of how movies and movie memories insinuate themselves into our lives. I'm now recalling a crackling fire

X. Trapnel said...

Christ! computer burp just broke the mood

A crackling fire, an armful of warm girl and Intermezzo.

X. Trapnel said...

Many years ago i had the experience of seeing (for the first time) The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. The tape somehow had the wrong soundtrack and dialogue, but I kept watching, assuming this was just P&P/WTF.

Gerard Jones said...

Zukofsky, Oppen, and Reznikoff...weren't those the three silly commissars in Ninotchka?

Vanwall said...

Gerard - getting back to the animation aspect here, they could've been the Gremlins from the Kremlin.

X. Trapnel said...

Ha, ha. No not quite. Old Jewish guys sitting on park benches in Manhattan actually. Reznikoff's widow was a friend of mine.

Gerard Jones said...

Part of a Danny Kaye routine?

Gerard Jones said...

X: What soundtrack did your Col. Blimp come with? This could be a whole new way to enjoy film: Mash-ups.

X. Trapnel said...

I think a friend had recorded it for me; I just remained goggle eared and goggle eyed thinking P&P were weirder than I had ever imagined. The steambath scene in the beginning (bizarre enough on its own) was especially felicitous.

X. Trapnel said...

I like to think that the "soundtrack" was one of those 1970s made for tv movies with David Jansen or George Kennedy as a laid off aerospace engineer married to Angie Dickinson.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Thanks for the Pound-pounding, X. I don't like him either -- or his chief cinematic acolyte, Hollis Frampton.

My favorite poet is Frank O'Hara. (I'm such an easy lay.)

Yojimboen said...

And the hits keep coming...

News today from the London Times that Ted (he who could have saved wife Sylvia Plath but chose to follow his dick instead) Hughes just claimed another victim: their son, Nicholas Hughes hanged himself in Alaska of all places.

Christ! Larkin? Auden? Hughes? Give me the simplistic A-B A-B rhyming Victoriana of John Betjeman any day of the week and twice on Sundays!

DavidEhrenstein said...

In Alaska? I blame Sara Palin.

Gerard Jones said...

I like Benny and Bjorn's ABBA rhyme scheme. "You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life..."

X. Trapnel said...

Hey, who sez I don't love old Betjers?

From the geyser ventilators
Autumn winds are blowing down
On a thousand business women
Having baths in Camden Town

Waste pipes chuckle into runnels,
Steam's escaping here and there,
Morning trains through Camden cutting
Shake the Crescent and the Square.

Early nip of changeful autumn,
Dahlias glimpsed through garden doors,
At the back precarious bathrooms
Jutting out from upper floors;

And behind their frail partitions
Business women lie and soak,
Seeing through the draughty skylight
Flying clouds and railway smoke.

Rest you there, poor unbelov'd ones,
Lap your loneliness in heat.
All too soon the tiny breakfast,
Trolley-bus and windy street!

X. Trapnel said...

Zorro, the Lone Ranger, Dudley Do-Right, and J. Howard Christ combined couldn't have saved Sylvia Plath.

"At Ilkley Literature Festival a woman shrieked and vomited during a Ted Hughes reading. I must say I never felt like shrieking."--Philip Larkin

Yojimboen said...

Okay, okay, XT... Suit up, you're starting on Sunday. Yer takin' smart-mouth Jonesies' position!

X. Trapnel said...

Golly jeepers, thanks Coach!

Arthur S. said...

-----------------------------------
Most of those reasons are shitty and some are downright psychotic.
Are we supposed to go along with them M. Renoir?
-----------------------------------

First of, David, that is a line from a character in the film that Renoir happens to play and not Renoir's own opinion of his worldview in that film.

And in that same conversation with Marquis de la Cheyniest(medium shot, Octave on the left, standing before a mirror), Octave talks about how he has the feeling of just closing away all his emotions and his conscience, of being cut off from all ties and then says, "The most terrible thing in the world is that everyone has his reasons." In the context what that means is that he's irritated with the fact that there's two sides to everything and wishes that things were simple.

And actually, "everyone has his reasons" may not even be the correct translation of "Toute la monde a ses raisons", it translates literally but some people have said that the right meaning of that phrase in French is rendered as "The most terrible thing in the world is that everyone is right." Which complicates things further.

Renoir's own opinion about the society of ''La Regle du Jeu''(which is also ambiguous in French as it could also be "The Rule of the Game", a significant double meaning there) is clear in the documentary with Rivette on the Criterion DVD, "this is a society that kills, kills, kills and will keep killing as long as it survives." Can't argue with that! He has also been quoted elsewhere as saying "no one in the film is worth saving."

That said, critics using that half-quote from Renoir as justification or explanation of Renoir or his philosophy should certainly be taken to task but the film itself is a complex machine.

Arthur S. said...

------------------------
The film doesn't examine these people or their socio-political allegiances at all.
-------------------------

Not directly but Renoir makes the repression in the lives of these characters fairly clear. Like Marquis de la Chesniest is Jewish married to a Austrian(played by Nora Gregor, whose husband was exiled from Austria for opposing Hitler) and the Marquis' entire existence rests on his ability at being flamboyant and important, hence his obsession with those mechanical trinkets. And then that famous scene with that mechanical contraption and the slow camera movement that pans across those machines as it reaches Marcel Dalio's face and all his desperations and fears and jubilance are indistinguishable.

What really upset people was the fact that Renoir showed the lower-class characters in the film, the servants as being bound by the same bourgeois hypocrisy of their masters, totally symmetrical and of course the lower class characters have the freedom to say the only anti-semitic epithet in the film, albeit stifled quickly.

And don't forget the last line,
"Yes, the Marquis has class, and that's a quality that's disappearing."

X. Trapnel said...

I'm not sure that Renoir's comments ("a society that kills, kills, kills") are particularly illuminating (they smack of hindsight). Besides the local bunny community, who are these superannuated aristos killing? In the context of 1939 they seem less than carnivorous, more like parasites.

DavidEhrenstein said...

From what I've read it was the casting of Dalio as an aritocrat that raised the most objections. The servants' romantic entanglements mirroring thier masters was a staple of French comedy going all the way back.

But the thing is none of this really becoems socio-politcal commentary, as is th case in Le Crime de M. Lange where Renoir had a script by Jacques Prevert.

Gerard Jones said...

Such a poetic education I'm getting! I'm afraid I don't know the form well, although a few things I've been pointed toward have carved out huge space in my skull. The poetry I seek most hits my spiritual chords--something 20th Century English poems can do very well. I keep going back to the Four Quartets (we can call Eliot English, can't we?) and a lot of Yeats.

I've read some Ted Hughes poems about hawks and other birds that nearly lifted me in the same way but were ultimately frustrating. Too much of the personal, I think...I've really gotten sick of the 20th Century fascination with the personal. Took a look at his Birthday Poems about Sylvia and...I don't know. Verse applied to the autobiographical can sure be used to obfuscate and distort rather than reveal.

I like what I know of Larkin, both the few poems I've read and the many smart-ass remarks attributed to him. Of course "This Be the Verse" is great, and seems to be on the verge of becoming an anthem for people with family-of-origin issues.

I've never read Betjeman until today. Thanks for sharing that. I believe I like it.

Yojimboen said...

“The Rules of the Game”
Criterion laser disc
liner notes by
Alexander Sesonke

…Then in the late 30s, intent on creating rhythm and balance with complex narrative structures, he [Renoir] began constructing his films of matched opposing pairs, a form which helps bring coherence and resonance to these complex structures…[]

…Renoir called the film “an exact description of the bourgeoisie of our time.” He was so confident in his vision that he started shooting with only one third of the script complete. “In reality I had this subject so much inside me, so profoundly within me, that I had written only the entrances and movements, to avoid mistakes about them. The sense of the characters and the action and, above all, the symbolic side of the film, was something I had thought about for a long time. I had desired to do something like this for a long time, to show a rich, complex society where – to use a historic phrase – we are dancing on a volcano.”

For his dancers he finally chose no big stars, but talented supporting players, old friends like Dalio, Gaston Modot and Carette, with an unknown Austrian princess as his leading lady, Christine.

He filled out the cast with amateurs such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Jean Renoir himself in a major role as Octave, the meddling court-jester for the idle rich. Consequently, it is impossible to identify the central character in
The Rules of the Game. “There is none,” Renoir said, “The conception I had from the beginning was of a film representing a society, a group. I wanted to depict a class.”

Continued…

Gerard Jones said...

One question about Hughes: a lot of his work seems really...graceless. Vernacular and casual, but almost to the point of clunkiness. Is this like a thing with him. I mean, an intentional avoidance of sonorous words and poetic rhythms? To make an aesthetic point?

Yojimboen said...

Continued

The class, of course, is the haute bourgeoisie, the upper middle class whose blindness and intransigence helped create the hopeless situation of Europe in 1939.

To reveal the folly and the tragedy of that class and of his time, Renoir derived his action from two French classics, Musset’s
Les Caprices de Marianne and Beaumarchais’ Le Mariage de Figaro. For characters he began with four from Les Caprices de Marianne, jealous husband, faithful wife, despairing lover and interfering friend. Doubling this group then yields the central opposing pair in The Rules of the Game, two matched sets of husband, wife, lover, mistress and friend, one set among the masters, the other among the servants, thus evoking one of Renoir’s perennial themes, the relation among classes.

Luxurious townhouses define the social setting of the film and two remarks reveal its moral climate: “Love in society is the exchange of two fantasies and the contact of two skins.”
“On this earth there is one thing which is dreadful. It’s that everyone has his reasons.”

Everyone has his reasons, but in
The Rules of the Game the reason is always the same: I love her/him. The difference lies in the acts each character believes this reason justifies – ranging from suicide to murder.

ibid

X. Trapnel said...

Gerard, there is a great deal more to Larkin than clever misanthropy ("This Be the Verse" is very minor Larkin, but so very quotable; he himself said "I fully expect to hear it recited by 200 Girl Guides before I die"--Yeats had that experience with "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"). Just for starters the Larkin Sublime includes The Whitsun Weddings, The Old Fools, An Arundel Tomb, Church Going, Lines On a Young Lady's Photograph Album, Aubade, Livings, The Building.
You've got a good ear; a lot of Hughes is clunky/prosy: Here's Larkin's parody of TH:

The sky split apart in malice,
Stars rattled like pans on a shelf,
Crow shat on Buckingham Palace,
God pissed himself.

Yojimboen said...

Gerry - I'm tired of typing - here's a link to a couple of Betjeman classics, Slough and his most famous poem, A Subaltern's Love Song
(Scroll down)

And this for the back story.

Gerard Jones said...

Damn, I love parody! And I know just enough about Hughes to get it.

Thanks to you both for the links and titles.

"Love" is one of the great rationalizations for bad behavior. Love that's really vanity, possessiveness, and a lot else. Much more typical of movies to reinforce the rationale than to expose it. Exposing it gets one called a cynic, even if it's a humane act to reveal lies.

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Arthur S. said...

-------------------------------
But the thing is none of this really becoems socio-politcal commentary, as is th case in Le Crime de M. Lange where Renoir had a script by Jacques Prevert.
--------------------------------

I don't see how a film about a co-operative of workers supported and aided by a benevolent middle-class fop adds up to significant socio-political commentary. Though the final scene with Batala is quite strong.

I don't know exactly what you are looking for when you say, "socio-political commentary" from a film. For me, political cinema can take any number of forms and styles.

A film like LA REGLE DU JEU which basically shows the emptiness of purpose in the upper elite of society(and it's identified as a French upper-elite and the society is French and it's set in the late 30s), the repression on one hand and the callous violence working side-by-side. And what makes the film quite poignant is that everyone is trapped but the ones who survive are the ones that don't concieve of a way out. While those who do think about that and act on it create that tragedy at the end.

When the film was released it had enough effect for a guy to try and hurl a molotov cocktail on the screen and torch the theatre down. If the film is a "bedroom farce with an unhappy ending", then it's unlikely you'd get something that intense.

Whereas LE CRIME DE MONSIEUR LANGE got great reviews in Le Figaro.

X. Trapnel said...

Yojimboen, don't you think Betjemen unexportably English, even for "Anglophiles" (I love to imagine French foreheads furrowing over "Myfanwy.")

Here is Sir Maurice Bowra's parody of JB on being presented to Princess Margaret:

Green with lust and sick with shyness,
Let me lick your lacquered toes. Gosh, oh gosh, your Royal Highness,
Put your finger up my nose.

Only you can make me happy.
Tuck me tight beneath your arm. Wrap me in a woollen nappy;
Let me wet it till it's warm.

In a plush and plated pram
Wheel me round St James's, Ma'am Lightly plant your plimsolled heel Where my privy parts congeal.

Vanwall said...

Hmmm. As much as I care about Pound, (not a fig), and as much as I care about Hughes,(less than a fig, by far), and as little as I care about a lot of poets in general, I'm afraid my philistine aspects are best expressed by my ability to memorize "The Cremation of Sam McGee" at an early age - the Old Man was a Robert W. Service kinda guy - and later on in my schoolboy life, the thought provoking "Ballad of Eskimo Nell", another Service-able bit of doggerel, but I'm damned if I ever could get another hammered into place in my brainpan.

Poesy and me don't agree, I guess - if Will Shakespeare was up in front the crowd declaiming a sonnet, I'd be the one snorting loudly - and if Goodman Will made a crack about casting pearls before swine, why "Watcher pal, we ain't no poils!" 'ud be my rejoinder.

Sorry, lads that's just the way I am - Jack Vance's spoofy Navarth works are more along my line than O'Hara's, altho I did find solace in "A Farewell", by Coventry Patmore when I needed some. Mayhap I have redeeming qualities after all.

X. Trapnel said...

Coventry Patmore. Great name for a cat.

I've been mulling over the politics of Rules of the Game and I'm wondering whether there is a culturally implicit assumption that it needs the weight of social criticism to lend it the gravity of greatness. It's certainly outlived it's political moment, whereas The antiwar theme of La Grande Illusion is as powerful as ever (without it's ever becoming a message film). The notion that pleasure-seeking frivolity led to the fall of France was very much the royalist/right wing/fascist line enunciated by Petain. I wonder in what spirit that bomb was thrown at the screen. The radical left and right alike would have despised Renoir's characters.

I think that what lasts in the film is the subject of the deceptions and self-deceptions of love (a subject good enough for Shakespeare, Stendhal, Proust) and that the conventions of bedroom farce is a balletic framing device rather than being the essence.

mndean said...

Arthur,
I don't know why, but referring to René Lefèvre's character in Crime of Monsieur Lange as a fop seems a little wide of the mark. We can have a long discussion as to who's a fop, but I say let's not and just say we did. The one about who's a cad was long enough.

Gerard Jones said...

Vanwall: Doggerel's gotten a bad rep over the years, and I'm glad to see you standing up for it. R.W. Service is pretty grand, if you ask me, at least in the right mood. You just can't compare it to High Poesy because, dang it, he wasn't trying to be Eliot any more than Eliot was trying to be him.

My greatest achievement in 3rd grade was memorizing Carroll's Jabberwocky and reciting it in front of the class. I was so proud of myself that the next year I took on Father William. Kicked his ass, too.

Yojimboen said...

'Yojimboen, don't you think Betjeman unexportably English, even for "Anglophiles?"'

Dunno - It's bound to sound simplistic but I'll say it anyway, one either connects with a poet or one doesn't, no?

Betjeman exported a world to me - made me want to learn about Chelsea and Highgate and Oxford and Cornwall and trains and church architecture and... Myfanwy.
And, lest you forget, we wode-smeared savages from north of Hadrian's Wall are the least English people on Planet Earth.

GJ - Jabberwocky and Father William are impressive. Try Burns's 'Address to a Haggis'.

Arthur S. said...

To mndean,

By fop, I was referring to the character of Mr. Meunier's son who in the wake of Batala's "death" comes into that publishing firm and basically becomes a fairy godfather so that the co-operative can start running.

LE CRIME DE MONSIEUR LANGE is often been seen as a film about working class solidarity but the film is actually about collaborating between simpatico bourgeois and workers at publishing firms.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Arthur, by your standards Taxi Driver us the greatest political film of all time because it nearly got Ronald Reagan assassinated.

mndean said...

Sorry Arthur, somehow I misread your description because (insert "late night, was tired" lame excuse here). Even that character doesn't rise to the level of a fop to me. A fop to me is Leslie Howard's preening Sir Percy from The Scarlet Pimpernel or any number of Wodehouse characters.

Arthur S. said...

Ha Ha! That's not what I meant exactly but that's how it came out, as per THE WILD BUNCH.

In any case, what does socio-political commentary include for you?

Yojimboen said...

The 300th comment should at least celebrate this stream (of record duration?)and its remarkable full-circle swing from a lament on the crimes of Bernie Madoff to an elegant dissection of Le Crime de Monsieur Lange.

You set a nice table, Madame Sirene. Merci.

mndean said...

Sociopolitical commentary...gee I think I saw two films last night that might fit that description :)

...for non-American TCM watchers, they ran Wild Boys Of The Road and Heroes For Sale. For Hollywood fare, it's daring stuff - could you even imagine MGM doing films like those or I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang?

Gerard Jones said...

Hey, am I the only who's getting a little worried about Campaspe? We haven't heard anything from her for about a week, and I don't remember her saying she was going to France or anything. Maybe we've just exceeded her digression threshhold...

Gerard Jones said...

I say we get Renoir and Prevert to do the Madoff story. Starring Sabu. And it could open with a Frank Tashlin cartoon where Bugs sucks Elmer and Daffy into a Ponzi scheme.

X. Trapnel said...

with Yosemite Sam as Ezra Pound (Yo, Semite!)

Yojimboen said...

...Renoir and Prevert to do the Madoff story...

With Ben H (the) Echt rewrite man editing out the treif.

X. Trapnel said...

And John Ford keeping a suspicious eye on Prevert.

Yojimboen said...

You win.

Gerard Jones said...

Sure would be nice if we could find a role for Bob Cummings...

X. Trapnel said...

"That tears it."--Walter Neff

DavidEhrenstein said...

Ronnie Tavel R.I.P.

Noel Vera said...

"But I don't know that he was much of an influence on the young cartoonists trying to make their names in movie cartoons."

Call me crazy, but this cartoon betrays distant echoes of Herriman.

Noel Vera said...

Sorry, Nick has disowned it. here's a better link.

Gerard Jones said...

I can see the Herriman ghost in Invader Zim, yeah. One of the nifter developments of recent pop culture is the way old, old stuff can come back to influence people today. Ever since Herriman started getting reprinted in the late '80s he's become part of the cultural vocabulary again. And of course Tex Avery returned from obscurity to become the One True God of animators in the late '80s and '90s.

But you know, Frank Conniff, one the main writers of Zim, is an occasional participant on this very blog. I wonder if we can lure him in for thoughts on Zim's Kat roots....?

Arthur S. said...

Woody Allen weighs in on the Madoff insanity...
http://www.newyorker.com/humor/2009/03/30/090330sh_shouts_allen?yrail

He's dealt with the amorality of the Madoff issue already with CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS and in MATCH POINT, wonder if he'll get into the ring and make the anti-Madoff epic that we are all yearning for.

One of Renoir's Post-War films is ELENA AND HER MEN, a very over-the-top garish film about how military dictatorships can get popular support and it's done in a manner of crude, loud comedy. Renoir had the gift, and the guts, to make this film in that stlye and create the right tone for it. But then it wouldn't be popular, just like Elena wasn't, even though it anticipated de Gaulle's prise de pouvoir when he reformed the constitution in the 50s.

Sigh...

John Ford would have no interest in figures like Madoff. Wasn't that kind of film-maker.

So who do we need...

SAM FULLER.

Yes Fuller's over-the-top ebullience is what will get Madoff the treatment that it deserves. Fuller loved digging up dirt of crooks and gangsters and Madoff would have been up his alley.

Let us conduct a seance and bring him back into this life.

Yojimboen said...

Second the motion.

Underworld USA Pt2 !!

X. Trapnel said...

Hear, hear for bringing back Sam Fuller (but Max Ophuls first, pleeeeeaaaazzzze), but really why waste him on Bernie Madoff. Let's have The Further Adventures of Skip McCoy instead. In a year's time no one, including our hostess [where is she? She CAN'T have abandoned us], will care a fig abt Boring Bernie.

Gerard Jones said...

If only Madoff had half the integrity of Skip McCoy! Bernie would have to be played a la Richard Kiley. With Thelma Ritter as Elie Wiesel.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Sam would have centered the movie on the guy who kept reporting Maoff to the Securities and Exchange Commission and getting nowhere.

Sidney umet would do the same.Actually Lumet (being still with us) would be ideal to do th Madoff story. HE would center it on Bernie -- played of course by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Gerard Jones said...

Or maybe Sam would centered on the hooker who heads for another town to start a new life and meets a man who seems like the very embodiment of respectability...but then she kisses him and realizes...he's a PONZIPHILE!

Vanwall said...

The Naked Kiss-off.

Yojimboen said...

Question is, who plays Griff?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Benicio Del Toro

mndean said...

Since things have bogged down here and Siren appears incommunicado, how about another subject? I like being an agent provocateur so here's a somewhat more embarrassing subject for us: What's one movie that you love enough to own, but would be afraid to tell anyone because it's objectively pretty awful? I don't mean a movie that has aged badly, such as a film that was popular or won an award at one time but looks pretty putrid now, but one that's always been considered pretty bad. Anyone showing any pride in their selection will be immediately castigated as being a phony.

Yojimboen said...

Ah, the "Guilty Pleasure" Meme? Good idea mn.
Okay, I'll start.

May I suggest that owning a movie in VHS, Laser Disc and DVD (or at least 2 out of 3) should the basic requisite to tout it?

For me, it's Myra Breckinridge - absolutely hilariously bad in almost every aspect, and absolutely adorable. I'm kind of sorry that Mike Sarne's career jumped the shark almost before it got started. He coulda been a contender.

X. Trapnel said...

Excellent suggestion, mnd, but needs refinement. F'rinstance, there was a time when Ed Wood was the not so guilty pleasure of cognoscenti, but now it's a universal joke and nobody would be embarrassed at liking or owning Plan 9 et al. Yojimboen, I'm sure, does not enjoy Myra B on its own terms (Right, Y?) but on his. I'll bet the begetters thought they were making something really cool. Now I would look askance at anyone who genuinely admires and (God help us) enjoys the oeurve of Stanley Kramer or Ross Hunter, or such items as, Billy Jack, Patch Adams, or (fill in your own). I think this is the no-irony level we would have to establish to make the term "guilty pleasure" meaningful.

mndean said...

Trapnel.
As you often do, you hit the nail on the head. I meant enjoying a movie unironically, but knowing it is bad. Guilty pleasure, if you will, but I've seen too many people defend their guilty pleasures as though they were good, just misunderstood.

There are films I like that don't fit the definition that I'm looking for - ones that I like for a very left-field meta reason that really mean I don't enjoy the movie as it is. Those don't count.

X. Trapnel said...

Ok, let's see how this works:

I just bought a dvd of Arch of Triumph, a film universally trounced as turgid unto unwatchability, a flop in its day by a director, Louis Milestone, generally regarded as a competent mediocrity. I saw it many, many years ago and don't really remember what I thought. But think a moment: Bergman, Boyer, wartime Paris, lots of rain and fog, and all based on a good (I think) atmospheric novel by Erich Maria Remarque; how bad could it possibly be? Well I'll find out when I watch it, but if we eliminate the camp/embarrasment factor, I think we could all come up with a list of films that are not merely underrated, but despised that we feel strong enough about to defend (I absolutely love and will stoutly defend Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451, another alleged clunker).

mndean said...

Trapnel,
You're going in a different direction than me. The artistic failure (I consider Fahrenheit 451 to be one - I consider all Truffaut from The Soft Skin to Mississippi Mermaid to be failures in one way or another - I may be picking a fight, but it's how I feel about his work then) is rather different because you'll defend your choice (it does have some arresting scenes, and you're not the only one to defend it).

I mean the movie that is bad, trashy, cheap, misguided, but that you still find enjoyable on its own terms (mostly). It's the movie you like in spite of yourself, and can't defend. Myra Breckenridge fits. Arch of Triumph may fit. F451 doesn't really.

X. Trapnel said...

This is tougher than I thought. Poblems:
1. To me the only absolute, unforgivable artistic sin is to be boring and boring usually means a failure of style, so if a film holds interest it can't be utter trash.
2. Can one good or attractive element redeem a bad film, a great score (many examples), the presence of a much admired actor/actress? (I will watch anything with Danielle Darrieux, but this is l'amour fou).

I suspect the kind of film we're looking for must have some good elements but in form and substance is unjustifiable. Therefore, the film I choose is...Between Two Worlds, well acted by a great cast, beautifully scored (by Korngold), poorly directed (by some nonentity whose name escapes me), incredibly bad mise en scene (a dreamlike shipboard story that makes absolutely no imaginative use of the setting, uninteresting photography too), story and script a sentimentalized version of Outward Bound for wartime (1944) purposes, incredibly irritating performance by George Tobias as "lovable" prole Everyman (like Wm Bendix in Lifeboat, only worse).
Still, I like it for the film it might have been if directed by Michael Curtiz or Edmund Goulding.

Yojimboen said...

’ Morning all.
XT – Between Two Worlds Directed by Edward A. Blatt – I never heard of him either until today. This from IMDb trivia:

The play "Outward Bound" opened on Broadway in New York City, New York, USA on 7 January 1924 and closed in May 1924 after 144 performances. The opening night cast included Dudley Digges, Leslie Howard, J.M. Kerrigan, Alfred Lunt and Beryl Mercer. There was one Broadway revival in 1938, directed by Otto Preminger. More>

[I’d vote for a link that offered ‘Less>’.]

To answer the question: “Yojimboen, I'm sure, does not enjoy Myra B on its own terms…?”
Of course not. The phenomenology of Myra B was/is a monster sacré unto itself. Most of what appeals is not what’s on screen but rather what’s off.

Mike Sarne was a pop singer. He reached the No 1 spot on the British Pop Charts in 1962 with a silly ditty called “Come Outside” – like most people in the UK, I expected him to live out his career semi-respectably (like the Terry Denes and Billy Furys of the period) with occasional appearances on “Six-Five Special” or “Oh, Boy!” singing a medley of his hit.
But no. Suddenly Mike Sarne is a film director.

Out of nowhere in 1968 he makes a semi-charming piece of candy floss called Joanna; fluffy, indeed; lite, no argument, but with some rather tasty demi-clad dolly-birds and Donald Sutherland doing his soon-to-be-patented 'bless-you-my-children' dying Aristo and it goes through the roof and suddenly everybody wants to be in business with young Mike Sarne.

Fox won, Gore Vidal lost, and the rest is legend.

This from WikiPedia:
“Filming of the movie [Myra B] was also filled with controversy, due to Michael Sarne being granted complete control over the project. Sarne quickly went overbudget due to his unorthodox techniques, which included spending up to seven hours at a time by himself, "thinking," leaving the cast to wait around on set for him to return so that filming could commence.”

The point to all of this is that it’s possible to love movies in many ways. I love the back story of Myra B much more than the front. It was a perfect example of the lesson the majors refused - time after time - to learn.
And don’t get me started on Heaven’s Gate.

DavidEhrenstein said...

We've already started talking about Heaven's Gate over in "Shadowplay."

I've struck up a friendly acquaintance with Rex Ree recently but I have yet to bring up Myra -- an experience I trust he'd rather forget.

Side note: Gore Vidal always felt Anne Bancroft would have made a great Myra.

Gerard Jones said...

This is a tough one for me. For one thing, there are quite a few movies on my shelves that are there because they're fun to watch with my kid but that I surely wouldn't keep if I were wearing my Siren-Commenter hat all the time. All three Die Hards, for instance. (We both agreed that the second one is dreadful, but we got the boxed set cheap.)

Then I have this habit of recording everything that sounds vaguely interesting on TCM and burning it to DVD for later. A lot of times if I finally get around to watching one and discover it's awful I won't throw it away but will just stick it back in the binder, so there's a lot of junk in there I know I don't like. In fact, I'll bet money I've still got Between Two Worlds.

But I guess what I should be looking for in this case is a movie that I myself have actually chosen and can't blame on my son or simple laziness...

Gerard Jones said...

Christmas sentimentality is a deadly zone for me. Do I actually like White Christmas? No. Did I buy the commercial DVD? Yep.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's Woody on Bernie.

Vanwall said...

"Ice Pirates" On Beta, no less.

Karen said...

Is it just me, or has Woody been channelling S. J. Perelman in his short pieces for The New Yorker?

X. Trapnel said...

Hasn't he always done just that?

Yojimboen said...

Steal from the best.
Sid lives!

REBANA, MARAWIS, HADRAH, MARCHING BAND, ANGKLUNG said...

Ginger is very charming. And I find Warren William endlessly fascinating to watch in just about anything. I've burned several DVDs (for Personal Use Only) of his movies off TCM. Perhaps we could arrange something. Then old people have to postpone their retirement dreams. And of course the victims include people like Elie Wiesel, Spielberg, John Malkovich and Kevin Bacon

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