Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What the Siren Will Be Doing on the Night of Feb. 26



To her recollection, the Siren has never posted about an Oscar race, as opposed to the ceremony, but there's a first time for everything. This year, there are two movies up for Best Picture that are deeply concerned with film history: Hugo and The Artist. The Siren worshipped Hugo, as you know. The Artist was not as accomplished but she still found it a lovely movie, albeit one with parts that didn't work.

During the run-up to Oscar season (a long series of ceremonies fused in the Siren's mind as the "You Can't Make Me Care" awards), there's been a lot of venom directed at both these pictures online. (Greg Ferrara recently discussed that phenomenon under topic 5 of this post.) Why this is happening, the Siren couldn't tell you. There's a lack of proportion when some critics dislike a middlebrow, well-received movie, a type of anabolic rage that the Siren works mightily to avoid. She doesn't hold back because she aspires to become The Blessed Siren. She tempers her words because she wants to have some white-hot invective left if she should ever have to review something like, I don't know, Human Centipede 2.

The Siren has no quarrel with those who find Hugo or The Artist to be flawed to one degree or another--well, beyond marshaling cogent and irrefutable explanations of why with Hugo they're wrong. Marilyn Ferdinand was resolutely uncharmed by The Artist. Comrade Lou Lumenick responded to Hugo with, in essence, "meh." But there is one strain in the anti-Hugo, anti-Artist camps up with which the Siren will not put. That could be called the "ugh, a film about film history" strain.

It probably isn't Slate's fault that the Siren reached the outmost limit of enough when she saw these two discussions. It was bound to happen at some point, but that point came when in part two, Dan Kois weighed in with:


Are you ready for the most self-important Oscars ever??? Troy, you’re absolutely right that this year’s nominations skew oooooold. They’re also cinema-obsessed. Glen Weldon of NPR had it right when he tweeted that nods for The Artist and Hugo have essentially guaranteed that this Oscar ceremony will be well-nigh insufferable. ('The cinema. Dreams made of light, flickering in the dark. Film is the very language of the soul …') On Oscar night, I’m playing a drinking game in which I down a cocktail every time Martin Scorsese calls his movie 'the picture.' We've already made a reservation in the penthouse suit of our local hospital.


Mm-hm. Let's rewind the reel. Dave Kehr and others write frequently about the legions of films that have dropped out of circulation. We write about how hard it is to see some films even from major auteurs such as Raoul Walsh and Ernst Lubitsch, let alone someone arcane like Alfred E. Green. Huge swaths of the general public don’t want to see a black-and-white movie (and for that reason alone, the Siren doesn't think anyone should "barf" over an Artist win). Outside the major cities, the revival house is on the verge of extinction, and the people running the few that survive tell bloodcurdling tales of their struggles to obtain prints. Thirty-five millimeter is about to bite the dust (read here and sign the petition, the Siren hasn't even the heart to summarize). There is an overwhelming tilt toward the new on the big, high-traffic movie sites. About four years ago, Internet film writers--cinephiles, in other words, mostly young ones--were surveyed to compile a list of the 100 best films; two-thirds of the films selected were produced after 1970.

In light of all that, if you have a problem with a few minutes of people talking about light passing through film or the magic of the movies or whatever, while some old clips scroll by at the Kodak Theatre, then what the Siren says to you is suck it up.

The Siren stated her, ah, displeasure on Twitter and got a very polite and collegial response from Dana Stevens and Kois himself, Kois asking "Can't we lobby for the Oscars to deliver the message without the rhetoric?" and adding, "Use video. Use storytelling. Build an appreciation for film history without lectures." Fair enough, although the Siren thinks complaining about pompous writing in an Oscarcast is like complaining that the soy sauce is salty. The Siren will take Mr. Kois at his word, and has no hard feelings.

Even so, the Siren hereby declares her rooting interests ahead of the 84th Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 26. Forgive her language in advance.

The Siren wants an Oscar ceremony so stuffed with old-movie clips that the fanboy contingent chokes on their Cheetos. She wants tributes, she wants high-flown overwritten paeans, she wants audience reaction shots of dewy 20-year-old starlets looking puzzled as shit at the sight of Janet Gaynor.

The Siren will go further. If Michel Hazanavicius wins, she wants him to take that list of silent-movie inspirations he did for Indiewire, name-check them all and cause Wikipedia to crash from all the people looking up "King Vidor" at the same time. Then, she hopes Hazanavicius praises City Lights, which he said inspired The Artist more than any other film, and then she wants him to spell out the Amazon.com URL for The Chaplin Collection Volume Two letter by fucking letter.

Of course, the Siren hopes Scorsese wins. And if he does, she wants him to talk about the tragedy of decaying film stock. She wants him to point at the executives in the audience like Burr McIntosh ordering Lillian Gish into the snowstorm and demand to know what the hell they think they are doing, trashing 35 millimeter. She wants him to mention projection speeds, she wants an explanation of three-strip Technicolor and dye-transfer, she wants black-and-white deep-focus and a history of lenses from the Lumiere brothers on, she wants him to tell the suits to let poor Frank Borzage out of the vaults. She wants Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest film-preservation champions this country has ever produced, to get up there and talk longer than Greer Garson, talk until the violinists dangle their bows and wonder if they should grab a cup of coffee, talk until one single human being out there who has never seen a silent film sits up and says, "Gee, I should check one of these things out."

It won't happen. But if the Siren were a true pessimist, she'd blog about politics, not movies.

132 comments:

Brian said...

Neither of these two films made my top own top ten list, or anywhere near it in fact, but I've been rooting for them in the Oscar race since I saw them anyway, for precisely the reasons you cite. It may help that I long ago stopped looking at the Oscars as any kind of barometer of objective artistic quality (if such a thing exists) and more as a fascinating window into the dreaming soul of Hollywood. I'm surprised and pleased to see both films, despite their flaws, doing so well in the 'derby'.

The Siren said...

"as a fascinating window into the dreaming soul of Hollywood" - that's lovely, and probably the only way to view them and stay sane.

esco 20 said...

you remain the most delightful writer on the web. The situation you so perfectly describe is sadly the same in music. I dread to know how few people have ever heard Billie Holiday sing. A friend of mine who calls himself a jazz aficionado never heard of Louis Armstrong's Hot 5, The Beatles of the twenties. But enough digression, the question is how can we get your piece shouted from the highest mountaintops of filmdom & film blogs of course. My wife teaches film edit & film history. They think any film made earlier than 1990 is prehistoric, belonging with the dinosaurs. (It's a wonder they've heard of dinosaurs.) Best, keep up the great work, not that you could stop!

Gerg said...

Right on and well said. I'm just happy I've been able to convince both of my kids that they need an "essential film education" and to sit still and watch My Man Godfrey.

The Siren said...

Esco, thank you, what a lovely thing to say. Billie Holiday was a goddess in my house when I was growing up, and Armstrong would be hard to write about because how do you make that much praise interesting?

Gerg, I haven't tried My Man Godfrey with my kids. I'd bet they'll like the monkey imitation, if nothing else.

Danny Bowes said...

This is awesome. You liked Hugo a lot more than I did, but my favorite parts of it where when Professor Scorsese looked directly into the camera (figuratively speaking) and said THIS IS IMPORTANT. Because it is. May your vision of the Oscar telecast come true.

Patricia Perry said...

A lovely post, and I could not agree with you more wholeheartedly. (I loved HUGO, too, and will be checking out your linked review next.)

I read that Dan Kois post, too, and my first reaction was along the lines of "if you don't get dewy-eyed and filled with wonder at the the treasures of movie history, then why the hell do you write about film?" I can stand some overblown narration at the Oscars, if they give us glimpses at the great films of the past to accompany them.

Filmbrain said...

I never thought I would find myself in the position of defending the Oscars, but...Dan Kois has made the seemingly impossible possible! Thanks for the post. Perhaps dreams *can* come true, and we'll get to see Scorsese make that speech.

Ed Howard said...

Excellent stuff, Siren. I loved Hugo, didn't see The Artist, but I can't believe we've gotten to the point where film writers are actually moaning about *too much* attention being paid to film history. Meanwhile, as you say, the whole movie industry becomes more and more obsessed with the new — as in, what came out 5 minutes ago, not 5 years ago, let alone 50 or more — and too much of the critical establishment is willing and even eager to focus exclusively on the new as well. A film like Scorsese's, which has such genuine and moving love for the history of this medium, is a real breath of fresh air and a cause for celebration.

Trish said...

Bravo, Siren. But sadly, if Scorsese were to go on about decaying film stock et al, Maestro John Williams would raise his musical baton and shoo the poor man off the stage....

I loved The Artist. I would have loved it even more if the ending had been more "honest" (no spoilers here). I would have loved it more if there weren't so much of Bernard Herrmann (not that I didn't enjoy wallowing in it!). But how many of those young cinephiles you mentioned will get the music cue, or mistakenly assume it was written by the film's composer?

That said, I still love it. The sequence where Peppy wraps herself into George's jacket was to me very much like from a silent movie. Very Chaplin, very Clara Bow. And I think Dujardin is terrific - the heart and soul of the movie.

Larry A. said...

Prediction: Billy Crystal will walk on stage with the Artist dog and do some thing where his lips are moving and there is no sound. Silent film. Get it? Ha! The crowd will roar with laughter. Double ha!

Remember, Spinal Tap fans, mime is money.

The Siren said...

Thanks so much, guys. Glad to see the Hugo love. Larry, the "silent" jokes are inevitable, 'tis true. Trish, I would like to think that playing off Scorsese is a no-fly zone, but they've gotten really aggressive about it in recent years.

Caftan Woman said...

"The Siren wants an Oscar ceremony so stuffed with old-movie clips that the fanboy contingent chokes on their Cheetos."

If only that could be guaranteed then I'd be watching in freshly laundered pajamas. I'm always interested in the outcome of the Oscars, but the longer you stay away from the televised ceremony the harder it is to regain the habit. And unless they institute a name tag policy, I won't know who anybody is!

If the Academy doesn't celebrate their history all is lost.

The Siren said...

Caftan Woman, exactly! If the Oscars don't celebrate film history then what precisely is the point to them? Aside from the red-carpet "who are you wearing" thing.

Operator_99 said...

As always, when you post, you POST. Hugo was in the nearest multiplex for maybe a week when it was first released, and now with the nominations it's garnered, it's back. I don't hold an ounce of hope that the average movie goer will now rush out to see it, but perhaps a few who don't need explosions and cars flipping over in EVERY film, will find they enjoy this wonderful "picture".

VP81955 said...

I bet many of those fanboys decrying "The Artist" and "Hugo" are probably also rooting like hell for Michelle Williams to win Best Actress for "My Week With Marilyn," because film history after World War II still counts. Sort of.

As for me, I'm hoping the Best Picture nomination will help "The Artist" finally get some dates in Lynchburg, Va. We have a multiplex here in Falwell country that does what it can to get arthouse fare, and has been trying for weeks to land this movie. Perhaps now it will get the chance.

The Siren said...

Operator_99, I LOVE film people who refer to "the picture." It's like the word "swell," one of those old-fashioned things that tickles me.

VP, I'll be eager to hear what you think of The Artist!

DavidEhrenstein said...

Love Hugo, Loathe The Artist

I've no dpoubt Marty will talk about film preservation should he win -- very fast (as is his wont.)

If George wins (and I suspect he will) I want Tilda, dressed as Sasheen Littlefeather to pick up the award for him.

As The Artist is bound to get something (if not everything ) want a full press musical salute to Singin' in the Rain with Neil Patrick Harris and a cast of thousands recreating the "Broadway Melody" grand finale.

Is that too much to ask?

Marc Edward Heuck said...

Thank you, thank you for that! It seems like so often I'm in one of those movie-serial traps where the walls are closing in, one wall of "average" movie-goers who aren't interested in grand notions, and the other the snarkverse who want to be contrarian and mean about "pretentiousness". You stood up for my values eloquently.

Prof. FigoFan said...

Hasn't it been common knowledge that Dan Kois was a moron since the "cultural vegetables" thing nine months ago?

AndrewBW said...

I hadn't seen the Slate column you mentioned, since I stopped reading Slate ages and ages ago. Honestly, why Dahlia Lithwick continues to publish there is beyond me; she could do so much better for herself. So hearing that Slate published something dumb is sort of like hearing that the sun rose in the east. I mean, that's what it's there for! But anyway, good for you for getting pissed off and giving them hell. I don't recall ever seeing such, uhm, strenuous language here before!

Oh yeah, love your current banner image.

And the label "crabby dissent."

The Siren said...

Professor, I was no fan of the cultural vegetables piece either, for similar reasons to those described in this post. I just don't think that people writing for major publications should use that platform to give non-cinephiles an excuse to avoid whole classes of movies, or to cater to their impatience with the old. I prefer the positive, evangelical approach; how much better to pick a Russian film you DO like and hit the NY Times readers with that?

Andrew, I was forced to confess on FB that I *don't know* what movie that Garbo still is from; someone suggested Conquest, which fits in terms of decor, but I remember her hair being up for most of that one. Crabby dissent is a well-stocked category although I try not to dip in it too often.

David, I'll take a Neal Patrick Harris anything at this point. He's the cat's meow.

Mark David, thanks, and I know what you mean about the snark. It's the sheer volume that gets dispiriting.

Rachel said...

Even if I agreed with Kois' comments (which, as you could probably guess, I don't), I would be completely turned off by his tone. "This year's nominations skew oooooold," "well-nigh insufferable," "Academy members feel guilty about their gardeners," "which nomination made you barf?" and so on. I'm not asking for a formal essay here but c'mon, after I've been reading the intelligent, thoughtful commentary over at the SLIFR Tree House at Dennis Cozzalio's this week, you can't slap me with something of this quality in a professional piece.

Incredible post, Siren. If all Oscar commentary was this passionate and heartfelt, I'd be glued to the Oscar race from beginning to end.

The Siren said...

Rachel, you're so right that the folks participating in Dennis' roundtable are serious, intelligent, discerning and funny without snark, and I hope people follow that link.

Yojimboen said...

The banner shot of Garbo is from Romance 1930; here is another in the same series; and the background story of the photo session at Hurrell’s studio.

My own favourite Garbo shot is this one from Mata Hari 1931, which was cut from the film – for obvious reasons.

Dave Enkosky said...

Loved this piece. Although I generally find it hard to sit through the Oscars, I'll probably tune in this year, since it'll probably be an ode to the Hollywood of old.

And yes, I still call 'em "pictures."

DavidEhrenstein said...

WHOA Yojimb!

That's quite a gobble of Garbo!

Greg said...

In light of all that, if you have a problem with a few minutes of people talking about light passing through film or the magic of the movies or whatever, while some old clips scroll by at the Kodak Theatre, then what the Siren says to you is suck it up.

Preach it, sister!

The Artist came up again today on TCM in the comments of my post. I responded that, basically, I find critiques of it being not truly representative of a silent film somewhat pointless. It’s a modern movie playing with the idea of a silent film. If it were purely representational of a silent film, it would have no chance to offer anything new. Art doesn't simply replicate, it expands and elaborates. Chinatown got some of the same reactions (I’m old enough to remember). It was a mish-mash, an unconvincing pastiche, blah, blah, blah. It came from people trying to prove how oh-so-smart they were and how dumb all these people were that didn’t know anything about noir. But Chinatown wasn't trying to simply "copy" noir, it was expanding and elaborating on the form woven into the context of a new era, the seventies, told from the point of view of the forties. And now… well, we’ve forgotten all those whiners who did all the complaining and Chinatown speaks for itself, much as The Artist does now and will continue to do.

Hell, I don't even love The Artist (though I like it a lot) but I defend it righteously at this point because I'm a bit perplexed why such a harmless entertainment would inspire such hatred. David used the word "loathe" for it. Loathed it? What's there to loathe?

Now, David, I know you don't do proper reviews on your very creative blog but I'd love to hear a nice breakdown of why you loathed it, just out of curiosity. I'm sure there's plenty to critique there, don't get me wrong, but why the hatred? Of course, I'm only asking in case you have a review of it up somewhere. If not, I'm not asking you to put it up here. Just curious, that's all.

Excellent, excellent, excellent post, Siren. And thanks for the shout out.

Laura said...

The Artist's two most entrancing qualities are Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo. Yeah, it's nice and all that Hazanavicius brought back to the screen a beloved medium, not sacrificing character and creativity for the thrill of exploiting the novelty of the genre. But to paraphrase another cinematic washed up loony relic of the silent era, what was so great about silent movies were that actors "had faces back then." And Dujardin and Bejo have faces, and they have energy, and they're original yet reminiscent of so many classic greats at the same time. I know I'm gushing, but I do recognize the movie has its faults--but Dujardin and Bejo are certainly not among them. I am quite, quite pleased by their nominations.

Yojimboen said...

Searching the crannies of my fading memory for the anecdote to begin my contribution to this colloquy on Hugo, I suddenly remembered where I’d parked it: The basement vault of this Self-Same-Sirenic establishment – Dec 16th 2008, to be exact – a gloriously snippy exchange all round, well-worth revisiting. (Mine hostess her ownself yelled at me, “Yojimboen, it isn't who you piss off, but how stylishly you do it…”)

Anyway, I wanted to remind us all of the music critic who once reviewed Parsifal thusly: “The opera started promptly at six. Two hours later I sneaked a look at my watch; it said six-twenty.”

Now I’m not saying Hugo is bad, it’s everything but bad; the artistic end is breathtaking, technical execution is flawless, the performances unimpeachable, but…
It is so-o-o-o-o slo-o-o-o-w.
(Marty, pull over to the side of the road, will you, there’s a glacier trying to pass!) Seriously, people get married, raise children and send them off to college at a faster clip. A lovely, magnificent movie, but horribly timed, which makes it just tragically didactic. Nonetheless I’ll be overjoyed if it wins Best Picture.
(Though I voted for The Help.)

Honest, ma chère Sirène, this is me being nice – it’s my National Poet’s birthday so I’m heeding my grandmother’s edict and saying not a word about The Artist.

X. Trapnel said...

A toast to the Immortal Memory!

IMMORTAL Robert Burns of Ayr,
There's but few poets can with you compare;
Some of your poems and songs are very fine:
To "Mary in Heaven" is most sublime;
And then again in your "Cottar's Saturday Night,"
Your genius there does shine most bright,
As pure as the dewdrops of the night.

Your "Tam O'Shanter" is very fine,
Both funny, racy, and divine,
From John O'Groats to Dumfries
All critics consider it to be a masterpiece,
And, also, you have said the same,
Therefore they are not to blame.


And in my own opinion both you and they are right,
For your genius there does sparkle bright,
Which I most solemnly declare
To thee, Immortal Bard of Ayr!


Your " Banks and Braes of Bonnie Doon"
Is sweet and melodious in its tune,
And the poetry is moral and sublime,
And in my opinion nothing can be more fine.


Your "Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled"
Is most beautiful to hear sung or read;
For your genius there does shine as bright,
Like unto the stars of night


Immortal Bard of Ayr! I must conclude my muse
To speak in praise of thee does not refuse,
For you were a mighty poet, few could with you compare,
And also an honour to Scotland

Chris Muller said...

I once designed the set for a play based on a Kafka novel, and a friend said that even though the play was really very good, it would get withering reviews, because every critic has written a college paper on Kafka, and there's no possible way the play would accord with their serious youthful thoughts. And I note this applies to several film genres, as everyone has mentioned here: noir, musicals, screwball comedy, and the whole of the silent era - where the 'form' was perfected in the past (cue to regurgitate incisively written appreciation of said form).

I always find it slightly dismaying that people actually pay attention to the Oscars. It's a many-hour long ad for an industry (which then breaks for commercials!); a marketing trick dreamed up by Louis B. Mayer. It's just a bunch of tuxes.

I support your post, Siren, with my heart and soul.

Yojimboen said...

Ah, Mr. McGonagall, a legend in his own room.

Here's a virtual YouTube of the virtual man as virtual poet, reciting his virtual tribute.

Yojimboen said...

P.S. In William McGonagall's case, virtuality was its own reward.

X. Trapnel said...

My love is like a rose that is red,/In fact, one that grows in June it might be said./ Besides, it is also like a tune,/ Which might be sweetly played in bonnie Doon.

DavidEhrenstein said...

OK, Greg, here's a breakdown

1) Silent films were not like that. The Artist takes it's cue from
Kathy Seldin's (Debbie Reynolds') description of them in Singin' in the Rain : "It's all dumb show," immedialy followed by mugging expressions.

2)While Uggie is not without charm, Dujardin and Bejo are utterly devoid of it.

3) The Artist is a movie that flatters those who think they know what silent film was like but really don't have a clue. What Guy Maddin has had to say about silent film, particularely in the era that marked the corssover into sound, is especially telling on this point. Go "Google" one of his interviews -- and put Brand Upon the Brain! on you Netflix queque.

One of the greatest of all silent films came late in the day: Marcel L:'herbier's L'Argent (1928). Not sure about its availability. But Ozu's I Was Bon But. . (1932) is widely available as is Chaplins' City Lights.

As for early sound cinema: Sternberg's Thunderbolt and Mamoulian's Applause

All the titles i've cited are free of the specious cuteness that makes The Artist such a Total Pain.

Over and above all it is very important to seek out films that expand your knwoledge rather than confirm your ignorance.

You don't know all you need to know. We live in a culture whose advertising and propaganda imperatives demand everyone be treatested as if they have suffiencet knowledge -- when they don't. The past is labelled "Nostalgia." That's not what the past contains at all.

Do I make myself clear or do you want more?

The Siren said...

David, I must step in here and tell you that Greg does not need a crash course in silent cinema. He is very well familiar with it, more so that I am. And while I always feel that I need to see more, I have seen a respectable number of silents, including most of the big warhorse classics and, FTR, L'Herbier's L'Argent, which is available in a non-subtitled French edition for which my small French was sufficient. You are entitled to your opinion that The Artist hews to a "cutesy" view of silent movies, although I'd point out that it directly quotes, for example, The Crowd during George's skid, not exactly a saccharine silent reference. You are NOT entitled to imply that liking The Artist can arise solely from ignorance, unless you are willing to argue that Kevin Brownlow knows nothing about the art of silents, either. I rapped someone else on Twitter for that kind of specious argumentation, and I won't hold back here, either.

Laura said...

David, I definitely agree about the cute. I was ready to forgive The Artist for it just because I liked it a lot more than you did, but in the harsh light of day, yeah, it was a bit much. I do disagree quite respectfully with you about how "utterly devoid of charm" Dujardin and Bejo are, as you can tell from my earlier comment. I thought they held the movie together. And I thought Hazanavicius thankfully kept the mugging to a minimum, save for the more broad comedic moments--which does seem true to the silents I've seen (barring Buster, of course).

pigoletto said...

Amen, sister. Something that always strikes me as odd is how the general movie going public hates films that are nostalgic about its history, but when it comes to tv, that's absolutely fine - even genius. Just thinking of classic Simpons episodes where they not so subtly lift from Citizen Kane or the 60's show The Prisoner, or most of Community, where almost every plotline works in at least a couple nods to movies in the past (a recent nod to Invasion of the Body Snatchers had me wondering how much of the audience of the show actually saw the original). Is it some sort of snobbery? Personally, I loved the Artist, and I don't say it's perfect either - it's just a sweet, nostalgic nod to silents, and should be taken for what it is. It's no crime to point out great stuff in the past. God knows some of that Hollywood lot could use a lesson or two.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Actually I had a set-to with Brownlow a number of years back, Siren. See if you can scare up a copy of "December: A Magazine of the Arts and Opinion" Volume 23 3/4 1981. There you will find my piece "Silence Reconsidered."

"December" was edited by Robert Wilson (not to be confused with Robert Wilson) who was responsible for an invalubale volume collecting the reviews of Otis Fergueson -- a crtici sadly overlooked with all the talk of Agee, Manny and Pauline.

DavidEhrenstein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Siren said...

I find it so hard to imagine anyone having a "set-to" with Brownlow that I would definitely like to see that. I had the huge privilege of having dinner with him a couple of years ago and he was charm itself, although admittedly, I wasn't trying to argue with him.

Anyway, going toe-to-toe with him on the nature of silents would be quite something...

DavidEhrenstein said...

The Crowd is far more movingly saluted in two sound films I'm rather terrible superfond of: The Apartment and The Trial

The Siren said...

Also, for purposes of further rapprochement, I add that I bought the Wilson-edited edition of Otis Ferguson last year, when you and Yojimboen and Wolcott and others praised him to the skies. And I agree, he was an extremely special critical talent long due for a revival. As keen an eye as Agee, beautiful prose writer. You get the impression of a wide-open mind, someone who went to each movie willing to give it a fighting chance.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Brownlow is a dedicated historian, and is doubtless not without charm. But I take issue with him all over the place. I find he fetishes silent cinema in a way that does no do them justice.

Greg said...

and put Brand Upon the Brain! on you Netflix queque.

Will do and look forward to it. Moved it to the top of my DVD queue just now.

1) Silent films were not like that. The Artist takes it's cue from
Kathy Seldin's (Debbie Reynolds') description of them in Singin' in the Rain : "It's all dumb show," immedialy followed by mugging expressions.


It's just that we're seeing it differently here. I see The Artist playing with that idea, not incorporating it. If that's what it were really doing, the mugging would have continued throughout. However, less than halfway through it, a more serious tone develops and the mugging stops.

DavidEhrenstein said...

And when that "more serious tone develops" The Artist "samples" Bernard Herrmann

(Cue Kim Novak)

for reasons I for one cannot fathom.

Greg said...

It was a strange choice. I mean, I understand using music from other movies is a common practice so I don't have a problem with it like the lovely Ms. Novak did, but I do wish they'd used original music there. It took me out of the movie because, as a lover of BH's music and owner of 10 his scores on CD, all I could think was, "Hey, that's the music from Vertigo," and I shouldn't have been focusing on that at that crucial point.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Precisely.

And it's yet another reason why I loathe The Artist -- this magpie-like tendency to grab at everythign it can think of to shore up a very rickety structure.

I've discussed this tendency before re the egregrious Margaret

DavidEhrenstein said...

Look I probably have been a tad too harsh on the film's fans. But over the past several months I've been witness to seemingly ceaseless parade of people coming up to me and not only telling me how much they love the film but with that sinister glint in their eye that indicates the "know" that I love it too. Invariably they speak of how it made them appreciate silent cinema, yadd yadd yadda. So when I told them I DIDN'T "just love" The Artist the're reaciong is on par with discovering I'd murdered their firstborn child.

I have lot all patience with this sort of thing.

Greg said...

I will implicitly trust both yours and The Siren's feelings on Margaret as I have zero desire to ever see it.

So when I told them I DIDN'T "just love" The Artist the're reaciong is on par with discovering I'd murdered their firstborn child.

Ha, yeah, that's usually what happens to me with a lot of movies people love that they assume I must love too. It's one of the reasons I try to keep my discussion of film strictly online with people who know film, like everyone in this comment thread.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I would never deign to presume that anyone nows my all-time favorite film (Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train) much less likes it.

All I can do is hope that more people get a chance to see it -- and then we'll talk.

AndrewBW said...

Yojimboen, I've never seen that shot of Garbo before. Thank you for the link. Gorgeous.

Enid said...

As always, I guess that mindless snark on the Internet is more of a draw than thoughtful commentary and dissent.

I used to feel the same way as the kids apparently do these days about "old" movies: remember all that annoying MOR pop music about Bogie and Bacall, et al. from the early '80's? That was such a turn-off for my teenage self that I didn't really pay attention to films made earlier than 1970 until... I happened to catch "White Heat" on one of the old NY independent channels. That movie, and "Double Indemnity," broke the ice for me.

"Double Indemnity" screened in one of my college's many auditoriums for $2 admission. In Ann Arbor back in the '80's, you could see a print of some interesting film just about every night of the week. I don't know what it's like today.

I also remember the spiral-staircase scene from "The Red Shoes," which I must have seen when I was about 10. (My mom was half-watching it while she was sewing, and I didn't start paying attention until that moment.) It made quite an impression.

Needless to say, I'm glad I had a chance to see these films; not sure I would have checked them out so readily with today's distribution methods. Back then, you watched whatever was available on late-night TV or you did something else.

I saw "Hugo" at Thanksgiving. I agree with the "slowness" complaints, but I found some of the scenes magical -- the automaton finally coming to life, the Melies flashback. And I am really glad that I saw it in 3D; it's the first 3D film I see that really made proper use of the technology, but I don't have a lot of basis for comparison. I hope it wins an Oscar but I know better.

My fervent hope is that some of the younger kids got the message. From what I read online at GOOD blogs such as yours, Siren, some kids did really enjoy "Hugo." That's what I hear from some friends around these parts as well.

DavidEhrenstein said...

What we see when young can be of pivotal importance, Enid. There used to be a prgram on Channel 9 in New York called "Million Dollar Movie." Every week a particular film was shown once anight and twice on weekends. This is how boht Marty and I first saw The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffman -- in black and white. You can imagine how overwhelemed we were when we saw them in color at rep houses years later when we were teenagers.

Today's kids have so many ways and so amny opportunities to see any number of things. What they need is information and guidnace. Blogs like this one offer it constantly.

Vanwall said...

I do remember almost falling out of my chair when Jean Vigo's name was uttered referentially during an Oscar broadcast once a while back.

DavidEhrenstein said...

My favoirte Oscar moment was when the gave Satyajit Ray the career achievement award, and the cut to Ray live at home in India on his deathbed (he passe dshortly afterwards) with a big smile on his face going on and on about his favorite movie star

(wait for it)

Deanna Durbin.

tim r said...

Siren, this was a wonderful post. It simultaneously makes me feel even guiltier for not loving HUGO, and gladder that you did, as your passion for the movie's call-to-arms is genuinely stirring, hilariously expressed, and right on. Why shouldn't the Oscars be about commemorating our whole cinematic heritage? What the hell else are they even for? God forbid that we actually admit to cherishing a medium right back to its infancy. Anyway, bravo.

Yojimboen said...

Not often I find myself in complete agreement with David E., but I do today. And I don’t. (explain in a minute)

Meanwhile, major bravos DE for the Kathy Selden analogy – it will be put to good use I suspect in the years to come. I also suspect because she did the bit so brilliantly it had to have come from Reynolds herself and not Comden or Green (or Donen or Kelly).

Even less often I find myself in the role of peacemaker but that Siren-ethic has a way of rubbin’ off on you. So here goes. You’re right, David, and you’re wrong. Fact is neither Hugo nor The Artist were made for our gang. “Loathing” The Artist is kind of a ‘sledgehammer to a peanut’ waste of energy. I mean, why bother? There’s nothing there for you (or me). So is it worth the agita?

Last night I dissed Hugo as slower then frozen molasses; but that doesn’t mean I decry its quality – huge audiences will see the magic within and fall in love with the movie and – if M Scorcese gets his wish – absorb a little film history along the way.
No harm done.

The Artist offers nothing to you nor to me; I can’t remember when I last saw a film which, on so many levels, simply doesn’t put a foot right [and I alone know how to fix it! ;-)]; it wasn’t made for us Self-Styled-Cineastes; but in the real world if it clicks with an audience and winds up persuading a few people to seek out vintage movies – silent or sound – then I say good luck to it and to them.

(BTW I’d pay serious money to see Neil Patrick-Harris paint a wall.)

X. Trapnel said...

A few disjointed observations from one who has seen neither The Artist nor Hugo and is at present on a three-day high consequent on a first real viewing of The Constant Nymph. For me an essential difference between old and contemporary film is that the former draws you into its own space or mise en scene whereas the latter attempts, psychically and optically to occupy or overwhelm your space (3D being an obvious instance). I relate this latter to the colonization of childhood imagination by the Lucas/Spielberg combine and the arrogant slowness (slow signifies important) of films like Margaret. I am pledged by a friend to see Hugo (trying to think of how to get out of it) but the few excerpts I've seen do not bode well. They looked stunning but not in a living way. The Paris I saw was not an imaginative recreation, rather an image of the city and the period (1930s?) as a gigantic toy store full of aggressively material fantasy; it seems to do all the imagining for you. It reminds me of what I felt was wrong with The Age of Innocence, ostentatious and elaborate period decor suffocating the story.

KC said...

". . .she wants audience reaction shots of dewy 20-year-old starlets looking puzzled as shit at the sight of Janet Gaynor." This is funny because I imagine precisely how this would look!

Kevyn Knox said...

To quote The Siren: "Of course, the Siren hopes Scorsese wins. And if he does, she wants him to talk about the tragedy of decaying film stock. She wants him to point at the executives in the audience like Burr McIntosh ordering Lillian Gish into the snowstorm and demand to know what the hell they think they are doing, trashing 35 millimeter. She wants him to mention projection speeds, she wants an explanation of three-strip Technicolor and dye-transfer, she wants black-and-white deep-focus and a history of lenses from the Lumiere brothers on, she wants him to tell the suits to let poor Frank Borzage out of the vaults. She wants Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest film-preservation champions this country has ever produced, to get up there and talk longer than Greer Garson, talk until the violinists dangle their bows and wonder if they should grab a cup of coffee, talk until one single human being out there who has never seen a silent film sits up and says, "Gee, I should check one of these things out.""

I whole-heartedly agree!!! Bravo indeed!!!

Shamus said...

Not sure that I agree with you there, XT. In the first place, 3-d is not a exactly new invention and, more importantly, there were plenty of so-called spectacles which were made (DeMille, Wyler of the late 50s), which threatened to overwhelm you into a kind of submissive awe.

Alternatively, although perhaps not the ones made in Hollywood, there are a few recent films which have a "classical" mise-en-scene. The films of Hou or Oliveira, for instance.

G said...

As someone whose favorite decade of American filmmaking was the 20's, I could nitpick about many of the details in The Artist, but it WOULD be nitpicking. On a whole I think it was a lovely film which came up with a truly brilliant narrative that so cleverly acclimates a modern day audience to a now-foreign medium.

I think so many people desperate to seem 'hip' get so wound up about the "lowbrow' and 'manipulative' sentimentality' of the dog they lose sight of all the clever things in the film (I feel obliged to add, I liked the dog -- although I can't think of a non-comedic leading man-type in that or any subsequent era having a regular dog side-kick - whoops, was that a nitpick?)

I was reading comments on another website about "The Artist" and while most seemed to like the film they seemed far more nonplussed that they were the youngest people in the theater - apparently appalled at the prospect of being seen amongst the elderly.

I really liked Hugo and wish I would have loved it but the way the girl was written just bugged me.

I have to say I am rooting for Tree of Life to win best picture - but really would be happy to see Hugo or The Artist win for the reason you so capably laid out.

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus,

I'm sure I'm entirely wrong about all of this, but I'll still take issue on a few points. Of course 3D is nothing new, but in the 50s it was nothing more than a novelty in very minor films. Since Star Wars et al. so many films have aspired to the condition of 3D even before it came roaring back, crowding out human content (cf. A Night to Remember vs. Titanic). Likewise, while spectacle goes back at least to Intolerance on through DeMille and Ben Hur it was from being the dominant trend despite its popularity. I do believe there's a relation between 50s spectacle and the overblown qualities of the decade's dramatic and comedic modes along with the way in which stars were manufactured and I've often noted here that for most people these days film history starts in the 50s. The Artist, founded on what seems to me a pointless gimmick, underscores the extreme remoteness of the filmic past to contemporary audiences.

Shamus said...

Yes, spectacles do go as far back as Griffith, not to mention the original Ben-Hur and Ten Commandments. I, um, overlooked them.

One ironic thing, though: I saw Dovzhenko's Earth for the first time last night (my first Dovzhenko) and I was astounded by how modern it all seemed: while the framing is too beautiful to compare with any recent Hollywood film, the editing techniques could easily have been incorporated in any Christopher Nolan film and no-one would be able to tell the difference (other than the vast improvement it would bring).

I haven't seen The Artist (or Hugo, for that matter) but it is odd that while these movies advocate the "remoteness of the past", the silent movies seem strangely radical today.

BTW, Hou Hsiao-Hsien made a movie recently called Three Times, with three separate stories in three different eras, where the "past" section is shot as a silent (but color) movie. I'd like to watch that rather than The Artist right now.

X. Trapnel said...

Interesting, Shamus, that you say the editing seems modern but the beauty of the framing does not. Exactly right. Framing/composition, lighting, the whole of visual texture (all different from pointing the camera at pretty stuff) is analogous to what a painter does and the quality of beauty achieved can be seen as timeless (not a very fashionable idea, god knows). A film becomes beautiful (as opposed to beautiful to look at) when the visual and dramatic (i.e., human) elements blend like gin and vermouth. The preference today is for dazzlement over beauty and the human is usually lost in its glare.

Shamus said...

XT,

It was the expressiveness of the framing that struck me. Dovzhenko's framing is as eloquent and beautiful as Ford's or Dreyer's: words are rendered unnecessary.

Painter's eye. Exactly. And "timelessness of art" is not something I would quarrel with.

X. Trapnel said...

"Painter's eye. Exactly"

I should admit my aversion toward current forms of cinematic razzle-dazzle stems from a recent anti-epiphany at the now Gopnik-ized Museum of Modern Art. Can the quiet intensities of, say, early cubism or a Morandi still life communicate themselves to genrations brought up on Imax/cgi spectacle?

Yojimboen said...

In all the kerfuffle over the rediscovery of silent movies I've yet to hear or read any reference to Mel Brooks's eponymous Silent Movie (1976) which was flat-out hilarious and totally on the nose re the magic and joy of wordless comedy.

For those of you who haven't seen it, the only word of dialogue spoken in the film - "No!" - is spoken by Marcel Marceau.

(When Marceau died, I thought we should've had a moment of noise.)

Shamus said...

XT,

Maybe the unimaginative or bad soundtrack plays the more obnoxious role in today's movies: the images by themselves have little power (and they are too rapidly edited) except when they are coupled to loud noises. I'd like to remove the soundtrack of something like Dark Knight and see how many people would still throng to the theater.

The Siren said...

Y., Silent Movie is a stitch and a wonderful example of how you can play around with old-movie conventions in a way that has fun, but doesn't sneer. Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, ditto.

G, what a lovely, thoughtful comment. I don't think there's very many cinephiles who would be sorry to see Terrence Malick walk away with something, even if they couldn't stand Tree of Life (or, in my case, still didn't see it). Rock-ribbed visionaries, whether their visions succeed or fail, to me are an unalloyed good in film, which is why I admired Turin Horse without much caring for it. And there's some flaws in Hugo, most of them having to do with elisions in the script, which would also include pace, as Yojimboen points out. I didn't focus on them in my piece on Hugo because I wanted to focus on what made me love it. Dennis Cozzalio's blog epigraph is Kael's remark that "great movies are rarely perfect movies." Yes, just so.

One thing I loved about Hugo--with regard to your point about dismay over being in an audience that skews old--was that it was so very much an old man's movie saying that old people and old things still speak to the young. Melies DVD sales have gone up since Hugo's release. That, and people possibly getting interested in some of the movies that spawned The Artist, also strikes me as an unalloyed good. It doesn't have to be a lot of people; realistically, it will probably never be a lot of people. It's a game of small numbers and small victories.

(More "bloviation" tk)

DavidEhrenstein said...

As a major fan of slow cineam (eg. Gertrud, Jeanne Dielmann, India Song, Rameau's Nephew by Diderot (thanx to Denis Young) by Wilma Schoen) I don't see Hugo as part of it at all. I don't see it as 'toy" in the contemporary commercial sense either. Rather there's a relatioship between the film's recreated Paris and the automaton that's the film's Macguffin.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Re. Neil Patrick Harris, in the current issue of Out magazine - with him and David Burtka on the cover -- he mentions that on their first date they went to see Taking Lives aith Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke and a very interesting supporting cast. I don't know this movie at all, and NPH has nothing to say about it in the article in that he was falling in love with David at the time and therefore was not all that interested in paying attention to anything cinematic.

The Siren said...

So, circling back to Mr. Kois, here we have the heart of my problem with his problem with Oscar tributes. Already we have the honorary Oscars fucking QUARANTINED at some dumbass nontelevised banquet, as though it would kill us to watch Kevin Brownlow pick up an Oscar. (I hope everyone saw his speech; marvelous. And LONG, damnit.)

I simply don't buy Kois' explanation that it's the rhetoric that bothers him; I think that "bloviation" is straight-up code for "stop yakking about old movies, it's boring." But the Oscars, despite their plunging ratings, are still the biggest promotional platform that non-blockbusters tend to get these days. Mr. Kois also allowed as how he didn't think anyone was going to go out and watch a silent movie because they heard about it on the Oscars. Well, how the hell would he know? It doesn't seem impossible to me. You can get culture from all kinds of sources.

You're reading the blog of a woman who might never have checked out Wagner, Rossini and Donizetti were if not for Bugs Bunny. I'm serious, I went to the library and checked out Barber of Seville and Lucia di Lammermoor and Wagner's greatest hits because of Bugs. I am the first to admit that I was a weird kid and this blog chronicles the fact that I haven't changed a bit. But the audience for 80-plus-year-old movies is so small that if two dozen people out of the 60 million watching Feb. 26 decide they want to see a Chaplin movie, I'm gonna declare Unconditional Victory.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Kois undersocres the anti-intellectualism that's the dark heart of American culture. To say a film is "difficult" is to immediately incite a mad dash to the xit. We're constantly being told that films are "pure entertainment" and therefore anything that's mroe than that is anthema.

Brownlow has spent his life extolling the complexities of silent cinema. He's therefore anathema to those who see more in it than that.

A LOT more, IMO.

I'm certain those who post here will understand, but I for one find Film Socialisme to be incredibly entertaining.

Far more so than The Artist

Ed Howard said...

Well said, David. Mass audiences are naturally predisposed to run scared from the "difficult" in favor of unchallenging entertainment. The last thing we need is critics like Kois who, instead of extolling the virtues of challenging oneself through art, sneers at "boring" movies and champions passivity. Passivity doesn't exactly need defenders these days, unfortunately. Mass culture is never again going to eagerly embrace Godard or silent cinema; do we also need critics who encourage such lazy dismissals?

And yes, Film Socialisme is very entertaining, just like almost anything Godard has done. I've never understood the reputation of his later films, especially, as joyless polemics - they're "difficult" films, of course, but they're also bursting with wicked humor and visual beauty.

Brian Dauth said...

The problem is that Kois wants to experience movies in a very narrow field of vision -- without rhetoric (begone Aristotle!) and lectures. Any context beyond his personal gut taste is anathema to him. This line of thinking is often presented as unmediated and direct, but it is in reality quite simplistic since it ignores all cultural/historical/aesthetic discourses in which both the work and the viewer are enmeshed, settling instead for a "It's-got-a-good-beat-I-can-dance-to-it" Lilliputian subjectivity.

Happy Miser said...

As I was reading the part of your blog that begins:"The Siren wants an Oscar ceremony" and ends with: "letter by fucking letter"; I could here the Gone with The Wind theme faintly in the background and visualized the Siren in silouhette, standing on a hill with her fist clenched around an Oscar statue. Too much?

The Siren said...

I don't have a problem with a populist viewpoint, but as I think I said back up there somewhere (and on Twitter) when you have a big platform I don't think you should cater to the lowest common denominator. You don't have to tell every last person to run out and see Uncle Boonmee (although, would that be so horrible?) but I'm not fond of "It's perfectly okay to avoid the old and/or slow, because I do, and I'm at the Times," let alone still wanting credit for sophisticated taste while you're doing it.

I meant it when I said I don't have anything against Kois personally, but truly, it does. not. help.

(Reposted to delete a lame, jokey reference to a city. Unfair of the Siren, and she apologizes. She knows for a fact that there are plenty of people *everywhere* who love Solaris AND King Vidor, because they show up here. Slate and the Times should give us all more love.)

Ed Howard said...

The problem with a lot of supposedly populist viewpoints, like Kois', is that they assume that "populist" has to mean "simple." Uncle Boonmee's not a bad example: among other things, it's a goofy ghost story populated by monkeys with glowing red eyes, with a scene where a catfish gives oral sex to a princess. Who's to say that's not a film that could appeal to, if not quite a mass audience, then to some subset of that audience beyond just the usual arthouse crowd? Making the "populist" argument that people should just go see entertaining fluff cuts off the possibility that some of those people could get enjoyment out of films that aren't fluff. You're right, Siren, that's just catering to the lowest common denominator, assuming that one's readers couldn't handle a film that's complex, or slow, or has more to it than an entertaining yarn. That kind of populism is just thinly disguised contempt for the mass audience.

The Siren said...

Ed, yes, exactly; the real provincialism is in assuming that the audience isn't out there, which I guess we all do at times. Truth be told, I don't consider myself all that highbrow, as evidenced by most of the movies I write about--Hollywood studio products, not exactly Jeanne Dielman. But I loved Uncle Boonmee. It IS a goofy ghost story; I realized how much I loved the thing when one ghost starts helping the main character with his kidney treatments. Surely it could appeal to some non-cinephiles too.

I guess this is a cue for the lament over the death of the arthouse...

DavidEhrenstein said...

The goofiest part of Uncle Boonmee comes towards the end when Joe's boyfriend (playing a Monk) takes a shower.

There's no reason for this other than Joe's desire to film his boyfriend naked.

Matthew Dessem said...

Siren, I really don't get the "stop yakking about old movies, it's boring," thing from the Slate post. I think Kois is making a point that shouldn't be particularly controversial: no matter what movies are nominated, the Oscars always have a whole lot of Hollywood patting itself on the back. This year, there are two movies that are explicitly about how magical cinema is, so regardless of the films' merits, we can expect a lot more "Dreams Made of Light" nonsense in the ceremony. If there's a code, the plaintext is "stop yakking about what wonderful magicians everyone in the film industry is, you're embarrassing yourself." If that's "the anti-intellectualism that's the dark heart of American culture," then sign me right up.

I will be delighted if they spend any time at all "yakking about old movies." In a perfect world, Scorsese would win, and then excoriate the studio heads in the audience for destroying their own history to save a few nickels. But I'm pretty sure the best we can expect is a highlight reel of silent movies that no one in the Kodak Theater except the Academy employees has ever watched or will ever watch. If that gets someone out in TV Land to rent The Last Command, fantastic, and I'll applaud, too; but that doesn't mean Hollywood's self-aggrandizement isn't a bit rich.

Because they'll be there: the people who will go into work on Monday and continue selling off or destroying props, cutting corners on film storage, shredding archived files and laying off warehouse employees. I know at least one studio whose new headquarters doesn't have a film projector in the screening rooms: it's digital or they can't watch it.

Those are the people who will be attending the ceremony, telling the world how much they love the magic of old movies—when what they really love is the money that comes from new movies that pay tribute to a certain idea of old movies. Barf.

Cracking Up said...
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Matthew Fisher said...

I grew up in a small midwestern town with one theater plus two smallish video stores. Our family didn't have cable TV, and, with the exception of PBS, rarely watched the few stations that did manage to come in. (Yes, my father was a minister -- think Paul Schrader.) I was taken to the theater to see Snow White as a youngin (early eighties); my very next moviegoing experience was Beauty and the Beast (early nineties). I saw Citizen Kane in junior high, thanks to a family doctor who made regular donations of videocassettes to our local library. I was dumbfounded; I'd never seen or felt anything like it. "Somebody made this," I thought. I'd been bitten by the movie bug.

I was on my own. Neither my parents, nor my teachers, nor my friends, nor anyone I knew, was a cinephile. I didn't know movie magazines existed; I'd heard of Siskel & Ebert, but was only able to catch their show here and there; our library had no books on film, save Hollywood Babylon, hehe, and a mid-eighties edition of Video Movie Guide, both of which I checked out constantly.

I then made an incredible discovery: the Oscars. Here was a show on primetime TV, watched by gazillions of people, devoted entirely to movies and the people who made them. Here were dozens of actors, actresses, and (by this time) directors I'd been reading about, all in one room. For three hours. Wowza! Very quickly, the Oscars became a yearly ritual -- I would literally count down the days. I'd tape it, then watch and re-watch it endlessly, drooling over all the clips from movies old and new, many of which I didn't know existed. Bette Davis; Fellini; The "With a little sex in it" scene from Sullivan's Travels; Michael Kidd; Wallace and Gromit; Deborah Kerr. Me: "Who's this elderly Italian fellow Jack Nicholson is presenting with an honorary award? Huh. Guess they make movies in Italy! Makes sense, now that I think about it. His movies look mighty odd. Mimes playing tennis? This guy definitely goes to the top of the list..." And so on.

I haven't taped or watched or cared much about the Oscars for many years now, but I'll always remember how greatly my exposure to the clips, montages, and tributes fanned the flames of my burgeoning passion for movies. I won't argue that the average viewer is likely to go quite so cine-crazy. But I can't be THAT special; I'm sure others have been similarly affected.

Happy Miser said...

Matthew Fisher: I grew up and still live between New York and Philly and I too share your awe, surprise and sense of continued discovery!

Yojimboen said...

A round of applause to Matthew Fisher for reminding us all of where we came from. Every member (part-time or not) of this hallowed, yes goddamnit, hallowed website owes Mr. Fisher a nod of thanks.

(A word of caution, Matthew, register your wonderfully encapsulated life story with the WGA before some asshole like me steals it.)

Cracking Up said...
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DavidEhrenstein said...

Another round of applause for Matthew Fisher!

I was incredibly spoiled. I grew up in New York and the first movie I ever saw was Singin'' in the Rain

in 1952

at Radio City Music Hall

(I was five years old)

My parents took me to the movies constantly. Not just Hollywood stuff either. There was an Art Cinema quite nearby where I saw Wild Strawberries in 1957.

I went to the Paris theater in new York (next to the Plaza hotel) and saw Zazie dans le metro first-run back in 1961. I
had discovered the rep houses by then: The Thalia, The New Yorker, The Bleeker Street cinema. I haunted them all. Plus the Museum of Modern Art.

The thing that propelled me however was not just access but the taste for cinema I had developed. It's a taste we share Mr. Fisher -- which you had to satisy against incredible odds.

But Cinema Will Out!

Matthew Dessem said...

Matthew,

That's a really lovely story; the Oscars were similarly important to me when I was young. And it's easy to forget that, and just be cranky, so my apologies to all of you.

I do think it will be great if they talk about the importance of film preservation and the vital works of art of the past. I am very much pro-that, even if they do a bad job of it.

I maintain, however, that the manner in which the film industry talks about itself at the Oscars tends to be a little, let's say overblown, and that pointing that out is not evidence that you have cast your lot with the Philistines.

Cracking Up said...
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Joel Bocko said...

I'll tell you exactly what Scorsese and/or the filmmakers behind The Artist should do. Go up on stage when they win, politely wave their hand when they are offered the Oscar, and declare in polite but firm tones: "I'm sorry but I can't accept this award. When the Academy decided not to broadcast the Honorary Oscars, the most important part of their ceremony, they expressed their lack of respect for the history of film and, indeed, their own history as an institution. Without such recognition, this award is rendered meaningless. Should the Academy decide to restore the Honorary Awards to the broadcast, I will happily receive this award after the fact. Until then, this and other future awards, are not something I wish to receive."

X. Trapnel said...

What a fine gesture that would be. I stopped watching the Oscars after reading about "the Academy" turning down Paul Henried's offer to appear as a presenter in his white Victor Laszlo suit.

Yojimboen said...

The Athena Festival sounds like it might be the requisite white grape to counter the predictable bitter aftertaste of Oscar®.
(Sorry, available only to New Yorkers.
Damn, I miss the city!)

Make that Fuck! I miss the city!

Joel Bocko said...

Any more info on that anecdote, X? Google searches are drawing a blank.

Joel Bocko said...

"I've had plenty of students ask me about ... a director who got a lifetime award (in particular it happened when Andrzej Wajda won one)." Yeah, even more than the respect is shows the recipients, the balance it provides to the focus on the new, and the break it provides from the horse-race aspect of the broadcast, THIS is the biggest reason the inclusion of such awards were important, and why excising them is a contemptible (and contemptuous) gesture.

In defiance

DavidEhrenstein said...

I think that when George wins the Oscar (it's kind of inevitable) Tilda should accept for him dressed as Sasheen Littlefeather.

X. Trapnel said...

Joel,

Unfortunately, I can't remember the source but will check with a friend/lurker of oceanic film knowledge (MPPDA certificate number for The Great Man Votes, script supervisor on every film in which Ted de Corsia appeared; that sort of thing.)

Trish said...

Film criticism-and film appreciation for that matter-have long been hijacked by a purported intelligentsia whose aim is to demoralize and dismiss ordinary film fans who have neither a PhD in film studies nor a press pass to all the major film festivals. I don't know Guy Maddin, and I'm sure what he has to say about silent film is fascinating, but he's not going to be my final authority on silent film. That person (despite my sincere ignorance) would be me.

As for the stars of The Artist being "utterly devoid of charm".... If that's true, then the stars of Singin' in the Rain are equally lacking, wouldn't you say so, David?

X. Trapnel said...

Y,

I was waiting for "bridge or tunnel," but where, oh, where was "You shoulda taken the Gowanas"? (In NYC probably said to babies on first seeing the light).

Yojimboen said...

You're shittin' me! You paid how much??

DavidEhrenstein said...

No I wouldn't Trish.

"Film criticism-and film appreciation for that matter-have long been hijacked by a purported intelligentsia whose aim is to demoralize and dismiss ordinary film fans who have neither a PhD in film studies nor a press pass to all the major film festivals."

Translation: "The earth is flat and no 'scientist' is going to make me believe otherwise!"

Cracking Up said...
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X. Trapnel said...

Sounds like this is more a quibble over the word "authority" and the Eliotic notion of criticism as "the correction of taste." One may love a particular film/director/genre without claiming authority (I sure wouldn't on anything filmic). On the other hand no critic has anything but knowledge and persuasive power at his disposal to merit serious attention or agreement--at least outside of the academy.

Cracking Up said...
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X. Trapnel said...

There are multiple ironies here, all perhaps traceable to Plato's expulsion of poets from the Republic. There is an alternately fruitful and sterile antagonism between art and philosophy/criticism throughout the ages. The critical elites ARE real but their power to influence--or dictate--varies according to sociohistorical context over the centuries (I'll note as well that art itself does not dictate because the response comes from within rather than from without--which is why Plato and his progeny felt the need to control it). Where I disagree with Trish is on the matter of whether elite criticism exercises much power in our own time. I would say it does not.

X. Trapnel said...

One more point, pertinent, I think, to a great deal that has been written about film. The philosophical/critical response to what I said about dictatorial tendencies might be that while art may not dictate it does manipulate through its appeal to subjective emotion. A lot of Frankfurt School/Partisan Review ink was spilled on this back when.

Cracking Up said...
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Yojimboen said...

It's a word to be carefully used, Trish, and I'm always reluctant to employ it, but I'm not on the side of the angels on this one. @Cracking Up; XT and David E are right, The Artist is a monumental fake; a fake of the worst kind, as in it doesn't know it's fake. The filmmakers will probably get away with it, it may well win Best Picture, and they can thumb their noses at us non-believers. But the sad reality is that they manifestly don't know the first thing about what made silent movies - comedy or drama - work.

The anger floating around this issue is of fairly simple origin, I think (though I can only speak personally), I get really angry when I see people I care about: you, our Hostess et al, praising the emperor's new wardrobe; I hate to see friends buying shoddy goods.

(He pauses at the door and tosses a last conversational hand grenade): But what do I know, I also believe most of Scorcese's oeuvre is fake.

Cracking Up said...
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The Siren said...

My word. I took a long Saturday outing and thought my comments would be rather dead. No such thing.

Trish, I am pretty sure I mentioned this when I posted about their double screening at the New School, but Kim Morgan, Guy Maddin's wife, is a dear friend, and I've come to consider Guy a friend as well. I've seldom met a more instantly lovable man in my life. In person he's warm, funny and has a mind and conversation that range all over the place, all things that I think are very well reflected in his movies. He's also a genuine cinephile of the very deepest dye. Obviously, he has a fantastic intellect, but he wears it lightly. I'm sure you'd like him too. Last I heard, he hadn't seen The Artist. Love it, hate it, "meh" it, I'm sure his response would be well worth knowing.

As for The Artist, at this point all I can do is point to my post's second paragraph and shrug.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Talk about "conversational hand grenades," Yojim! If marty is a "fake" then I have spent the better part of my life in friendship with. . .Harry Lime.

(cue the zither music.)

No suprise that Guy Maddin is delight in person. Can't imagine toherwise for the creator of the peerless Sissy-Boy Slap Party

DavidEhrenstein said...

Marty makes his case for Blackie over Uggie

Trish said...

Cracking up, I didn't invent an elite, and thanks for proving my point.

Farran, I never intended to slight Guy Maddin. What I meant is that a layperson's views are equally valid.

Yojimboen, I've previously acknowledged The Artist's flaws. That doesn't prevent me from appreciating it.

Cracking Up said...
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The Siren said...

Cracking Up, in defense of Trish, she's as thoughtful and intelligent a commenter as any here; and also, it should be noted that simply showing up at the Siren's place indicates a certain insouciance about someone's academic/technical qualifications to pontificate on film, since mine are precisely zero. Never took a single film class, worked for two days on one student film, and I once temped dialogue for an indie that's never been released here in the States. That's it.

David, Sissy Boy Slap Party cracks me up. I sent that link a while back to a close friend who's not much of a dedicated cinephile, and her reply was something like "OH MY GOD THIS IS THE GREATEST THING EVER TO HIT YOUTUBE" or some such. She promptly watched My Winnipeg on Netflix and now she's a confirmed Maddin fan.

Cracking Up said...
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The Siren said...

Cracking Up, you've completely misread me. I wasn't taking a side one way or another, just trying to turn down the rhetorical volume. I think you've taken way more offense at Trish than she intended, and now it appears you've taken my response personally as well--I've often joked about having zero qualifications beyond a loud mouth and a DSL connection. I don't know why you'd extrapolate from that that you were getting the heave ho, but if you need to step away a bit, that's fine.

Yojimboen said...

Ixnay, David! Never said such a thing! Read it again. I said what I feel about M Scorcese’s work, not his person.

Let me quote from myself (this site April 2010) “I’ve said in these pages in the past that while I admire Mr. Scorcese’s inestimable work in film preservation – in that regard he is nothing less than a national treasure – I just wish he didn’t make films. Thus it was no small measure of reassurance to note that David Cairns has also observed (if I may quote):
'I’ll certainly continue to see his films, but it feels more like his directing is a secondary career compared to his invaluable work in film restoration.'

Jeff Gee said...

I saw HUGO yesterday, in 3-D, and found myself responding very strongly to the idea of living inside the walls of the train station (and being the secret clock technician!), considerably less so to everything else. And I say that as someone who imprinted on that picture of the moon with a rocket in its eye in some issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland or Castle of Frankenstein when I was 9. (Also as someone who later spent 22 years working as the mixer in a bakery so he could go to work when everybody else was asleep).

I think if the particular fantasy of living unsuspected in the walls doesn’t resonate with you at all, Hugo could be pretty tough going, especially the earlier sections. For me, it’s a cousin (in some cases a second or third cousin once removed, maybe) to “Evening Primrose,” Blue Velvet, Phantom of the Opera, and “In the Night Kitchen.” Could have been a lot worse and I would have felt my time was well spent. (Although I thought it was a little long).

I wish I could articulate this better.

The Siren said...

Jeff, I walked out of my first viewing of Hugo with Glenn Kenny and we both instantly said to one another, "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler." It's a powerful childhood fantasy for a lot of people, living unsuspected in a great public building.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here: Let Steve and Tony articulate for you.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I LONG for Marty to make a movie version of Merrily We Roll Along.

pigoletto said...

I'm sorry, but 'a semi-peasant way of spending your time'? You know, Cracking Up - I really resent that. I may not have anything as intelligent to say the way some of the commentors on here do, and I do enjoy reading and learning about film on here, but at the same time I find it really snobbish that someone would tell me it's ok that I like something but in the same breath say that clearly any person with real intellectual sense would dismiss it. You seem doing a good job of masquerading as that boogey-man elitist.

Joel Bocko said...

pigoletto, I'd venture a guess that CU just missed the "l" there. Worst-case scenario a Freudian slip unless he meant to coin a new phrase.

Joel Bocko said...

That "L" not "i" as in "semi-pLeasant" vs. "semi-peasant". Just a hunch...

Joel Bocko said...

Oh and re: DavidEhrenstein, apparently today is Sacheen Littlefeather's (née Maria Cruz's) 65th birthday...

pigoletto said...

Joel - I wondered that as well after writing that response.

VP81955 said...

"The Artist" finally came to Lynchburg this weekend, and here's what I thought of it: http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/483696.html

Unknown said...

Hear! Hear! I want to watch those Fanboys choke on their cheetos! I want the ghosts of Lillian Gish, Betty Bronson --she played a silent Peter Pan-- and Janet Gaynor to haunt Katherine Heigl, Julia Roberts, Orlando Bloom --and anyone else whose movies I never see-- for the rest of their careers! (When I recently lived in L.A., I visited Frank Borzage's grave whenever I visited Errol Flynn's. They're buried across the garden from each other at the Garden Of Everlasting Peace at Forest Lawn, Glendale.) I hope "The Artist" and "Hugo" (liked "The Artist;" LOVED "Hugo") win them all. Let's lock up all the young producers, suits, and other money-people in Hollywood and not let them out of the room, or feed and water them, until they've hand-copied your entire article in cursive, 100 times each, with no spelling mistakes or poor penmanship. (If this doesn't work, then we should torture them.)

Lemora said...

That was me. I don't have a blog, and all I wanted to do was comment on your wonderful article about film preservation and history, as relates to "The Artist" and "Hugo." Do I have to have a blog in order to post a comment?