Saturday, August 28, 2010

Once Upon a Time on Skype: The Siren and Dennis Cozzalio Convene a Summit, Part II



Dennis Cozzalio, who has labored long and hard despite a nasty illness this week, has finally finished the enormous task of transcribing Part II of our Movie Blogger Summit. This edition touches on Jack Warner and the Siren's cussed fascination with Russia, why cranky critics should read more Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, the things that make blogging worthwhile, under which circumstances the Siren likes movies with exploding skulls, the joys of pre-Code Kay Francis, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, the role of the personal in blogging and why you should watch Dennis' space for a guest appearance by Julien Duvivier.

Dennis is pure joy, an exceptionally talented writer and critical thinker, one with an open mind and an uncommonly kind heart. Our conversation, which was his brainchild and in the planning stages for a long while, turned out to be almost too much fun.

And we are both so happy about the large response that Part I got from the film blogosphere, which reception Dennis describes in his introduction to Part II. The Siren seconds his every thought, and adds her own warm thanks to the ever-generous, ever-mighty James Wolcott, the gracious and witty Tom Shone, the indispensable Daily Mubi, the equally indispensable Film Studies for Free, blogging idol Glenn Kenny and the ever-erudite Richard Brody of the New Yorker's movie blog. And many thanks also to all those who participated in the great thread at Glenn's place, including Hollis Lime, Kent Jones, Tom Carson, David Cairns, Keith Uhlich, Bill Ryan, Lazarus, Jean-Pierre Coursodon and many more. It was the most fun the Siren has ever had discussing a movie when absolutely everyone basically disagreed with her.

Now, if you'll excuse the Siren, she's going to clear away any outstanding tasks that might interfere with watching Freebie and the Bean when she gets back to Brooklyn at the end of the week.

31 comments:

Karen said...

If you'll excuse me, Richard Schickel sounds like a Dick.

Vanwall said...

Dang. It's over now. I must say, it was a helluva ride there at M Cozzalio's, and all the other interested parties' venues, and well, well, worth the reading.

I, too, had a curious attraction to Russian subjects growing up, even taking a language class in HS. That in itself was a bit progressive for its time and place, and through that class, had exposure to Mosfilm and it's precedents and antecedents, so even as I was seeing the kind of films you and M Lumenick highlighted on TCM, I was trying like hell to see real Soviet films. I appreciated your efforts more than I can express, it was a singular achievement, and if they gave out awards for intelligent and fascinating programming, you'd be on the podium in my book.

I'm a sucker for film writers who put their personal interactions with a movie, whether in the past or present, as a major part of the reasons they're writing at all. Well done, to you and M. Cozzalio!

D Cairns said...

Great discussion. Thanks for the name-check, and thanks for passing on La Fin du Jour to another viewer who I'm sure will appreciate it and illuminate it.

Gloria said...

I was truly shocked about Schickel.

As it happens, I treasured at home a piece he wrote on Laughton, with a good section of it talking about the Ill-fated I, Claudius.

It is hard for me to conciliate the writer of that piece with the man which plainhates film blogging :C

DavidEhrenstein said...

Sounds like and IS ONE, Karen. He knows a tremendous lot about motion picture history, and has some degree of what used to be called "taste." But he's utterly overtaken with 'tude. And it's very annoying.

Vanwall said...

As an extra note, I like how your selection of accompanying header photos for the Skype Summits on this site and M Cozzalio's are so apropos. Well chosen! ;-)

Arthur S. said...

One of the key Schickel moments is in the extra documentary of RYAN'S DAUGHTER by David Lean, the documentary was about the making of the film and when it covered the reception of the film, it covered the hostile treatment of Lean at the hands of the New York Film Critics Circle. Schickel was interviewed for the piece and he said that he told Lean casually that they were wondering "how someone who made BRIEF ENCOUNTER mad such a piece of s--t".

Whatever flaws the film has, it is most certainly not and certainly didn't deserve that kind of treatment. And Schickel is still unapologetic all these years later. As a writer he is not very good at all, his real talent is in his documentaries about movies which are always worth one view at least. He personally didn't like Chaplin but his documentary on him is very, very good and it interviews people who are mostly pro-Chaplin. Aside from that, his biggest contribution to film culture is his reconstruction to THE BIG RED ONE.

gmoke said...

Once upon a time, my father interviewed Charlie Chaplin. He didn't come away with a good impression. "Handshake like a dead fish," I recall him saying.

The Siren said...

David E. sums up the Siren's view on Schickel with admirable precision. I also really like the man's book on Douglas Fairbanks St., His Picture in the Papers, which isn't so much straight biography as it is an examination of the beginnings of modern celebrity. I'd never dismiss him entirely. But I've been wary of Schickel's utterances ever since he reviewed Scott Eyman's Ford biography in the NY Times and devoted 9/10 of the 1200 words to how much he disliked Ford both as a person and a filmmaker. I guess the point was supposed to be that Ford wasn't worth a biography? I honestly have no idea. It was bizarre.

Laura said...

Schickel's not very nice to bloggers, either...he actually said a couple years ago that film reviewing "is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise.."

Rolling eyes...

Best wishes,
Laura

The Siren said...

Laura, good to see you, and yes, Schickel is merely the most vocal and unapologetic of the old guard who keep bemoaning the way film criticism's gotten all touristy. I agree with Dennis that Paul Brunick's *excellent* piece in Film Comment (with part II TK) and some recent threads at Glenn's place (the Leone, and y'all owe it to yourselves to check out the two discussions of dissolves going on right now) are excellent arguments against that viewpoint. I think anyone can understand that a longtime print critic might have a lot invested in the Way Things Used to Be, but it's frustrating when they won't acknowledge *any* good that has come from blogging. That's just blinkered.

Yojimboen said...

While we’re all piling on, the first occasion I met Pauline Kael back in the day, I found her somewhat pugnacious and really rather unpleasant. One evening she showed up unannounced and uninvited at a friend’s house where he and I had organized a private 16mm screening of a hitherto unreleased Nouvelle Vague film (possibly Alibicocco). Somehow she had heard of the screening and all but demanded to be admitted.

We gave in (though my then girlfriend suggested I toss the woman down the stairs) and it got worse. Ms Kael took the best seat in the house and wondered loudly what refreshments were being served.
When the film was over, she left without a word of thanks.

X. Trapnel said...

Y, I shall add this treasurable mite to my tres riche stock of anti-Kaeliana. Thank you.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Interesting, Youjim. While I've next-to-nver agreed with any of her cirtical utterances (though I like her brisk style) I always found Pauline quite pleasant personally.

One of these days someone (not me!) is going to write the definitve Kael biography. Quite a fascinating history. She originally wanted to be a playwright, but apprently failed at that. She took a number of odd jobs over th years, the most fascinating being Sonja Henie's make-up tester --as they had the very same complexion.

She has a daughter by James Broughton who she apparently seduced in a Triumph of The Will & Grace moment. He had nothing to do with Pauline or the offspring afterwards. Back in 1966 at New York Film Festival panel on critisim Jonas Mekas made some offhand remark about the peotics of film. Pauline chuckled loudly "Oh I know all about film poets!" That in turn inspried Gregory Markpoulos to stand up and scream at her that she was a soulless moron.

Ah the Good Old Days!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

My most humble thanks to you, dear Siren, for acceding to my request for this little get-together. I have to say it really did exceed my most humble expectations, both the conversation itself and the audience it managed to reach, and without false humility I lay credit for that at your footsteps. As I said over at my place, you are the smile on the Mona Lisa, and I'm so glad that my adventures in blogging have brought me to a place where I could find such a friend as you, and a place where such razor-sharp readers gather together to celebrate the living history of the movies. I have scheduled my late night Le Fin du Jour/Pepe le Moko double feature for this weekend, and though I admit to being a bit nervous about how it will go over I eagerly anticipate your comments on Freebie and the Bean. No need to be kind if the occasion does not warrant it, however-- the movie certainly ain't! That said, I hope you LOVE it!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

How does one lay credit at someone's footsteps? At your feet, maybe, or on your doorstep. The other seems a bit too metaphysical an endeavor to be really effective! Despite my clunky wordsmithin', I hope you know what I meant.

Jeez, these goddamn writers... ;)

The Siren said...

Y. and XT, to be clear, my own taste may not dovetail nearly as often with Pauline Kael as it does with Molly Haskell or James Agee, but I admire the hell out of Kael. Always have, and while the personal stories I've heard from people who knew her are, as David E says, pleasant, I'd admire her even if she weren't. I admire her for the passion and commitment she brought to reviewing, for her unswerving belief in her own judgment and for the wit and verve of her writing style. (Menand lost me completely when he said she wasn't funny. What? She could be freaking hilarious.)

Finally, I admire her for the way she rose to the top of a profession that was very male-dominated in her time and remains that way, to a lesser extent, to this day. And she did it by working her ass off, for years, as Dennis points out.

Actually, Dennis's defense of Kael, which he links to in the blogger summit, is well worth reading, because he really gets at what reading Kael could mean to someone who was far outside the cinephile orbit.

Yojimboen said...

Damn, David, I wish I’d seen Markopoulos’s sh*t-fit (but 1966 was before my arrival on these golden shores; I’ll trade having seen Godard punch out producer Iain Quarrier at the NFT Premier of One Plus One in 1968), and the Sonja Henie/Jim Broughton connections are priceless dish.

Re Kael’s manners, I must admit I was semi-amused by her bombastic gate-crash; fact is she had me up until the refreshment demand. It wasn’t quite “Who do I have to f*ck to get a drink around here?”, but close enough to jeopardize my New Yorker subscription.

Yes, those were the days.

Yojimboen said...

A hasty (crossed-in-the-email) addendum for my gracious hostess: my personal experiences of Pauline Kael play no part in my appreciation of her writings; though I disagreed with her most of time, there’s no question but she was a superb stylist, less intellectually acute than Haskell (whom I adore), but more organically readable; and I submit, sometimes the equal of Agee and almost Otis Ferguson (whom nobody surpasses in my book).

But without argument, Pauline Kael was a giant in her field.

X. Trapnel said...

I'll overlook anything in a critic who says Madame de is the greatest of films. Place that on one end of the seesaw and my animadversions on the other and the latter go flying into the stratosphere.

Still, I've rarely found her to be an inspiring or rereadable critic (for my taste the style is brilliant flash and filigree) like Haskell or Sarris, Geoffrey O'Brien or David Thomson. And YES in neon to Otis Ferguson (I've practically memorized his fleur de mots to Margaret Sullavan). I worship Agee as a writer but find his judgments peculiar.

Trish said...

I want to be kind to Richard Schickel, because when I was a teen he was THE authority and I read all of his books. Years later on one of those American Film Institute countdowns I saw another side of him: an intolerant snob. I wonder if he'd be kinder to bloggers if he weren't so frayed around the edges. Think of the origins of punk rock, when bands whose members could not play their instruments nonetheless created classic tunes. So it is with film blogging.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Mary Hopkins? I'll raise you Jane Birkin and Jimmy Rowles.

Jeff Gee said...

David E-- "Triumph of The Will & Grace" takes the breath away. Well, mine, anyhow...

DavidEhrenstein said...

You're welcome.

The Siren said...

Yes, "Triumph of the Will and Grace" deserves immortality, for sure.

DavidEhrenstein said...

STOP PRESS! MAJOR NEWS!

The American Cinematheque is goign to screen Stanley Kubrick's Fear and Desire at the Aero theater on Los Angeles on September 12th. The film's star, Paul Mazursky, will be there to talk about it.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Correction: It's going to be at the Egyptian -- not the Aero.

SteveW said...

I met Kael in the late '80s, had dinner with her a few times--she was unfailingly gracious, even when we disagreed about a movie. God knows, many people felt personally skewered by her, but I have to say that Yojimboen's story sounds wildly out of character for the woman I knew. But hey, maybe she had mellowed by the time I knew her.

Jordan Ruimy said...

@ Steve, Pauline didn't hate much, she just had a certain taste or criticsm for the people she'd talk to or meet up with and I guess you were her type ;))

Yojimboen said...

SteveW, since my original comment, I contacted my old friend who’s home it was where the incident took place (to verify my recollection of 30-plus years ago); he confirmed my memory but offered a detail I’d forgotten. Among the invitees, 8 or 10 people, mostly couples, there was another critic, invited socially, not professionally (for the life of me I can’t recall his name, but I think he wrote for the Voice). It’s possible, let’s say likely, that Pauline Kael, learning of the screening via this other critic, mistook the private get-together for some sort of secret professional event from which she had been excluded. (This was Pauline Kael after all – of The New Yorker.) Hence her pique on arrival and the general air of hostility following.

But it did happen as described; I can produce witnesses. :))

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