Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Kid with the Citizen Kane Tape


Neal Gabler, an excellent film writer and historian, had (and probably is having) a dark night of the soul over at the Los Angeles Times last weekend. Gabler believes that the taste for old movies--classic or not--is dying out, and he points a trembling J'accuse! finger at millennials, with their videogame-shortened attention spans and obsession with fashion. They want a new Spider-Man movie, Daddy, because the last Spider-Man movie was ten whole years ago, and only the shiniest iToys will do.

Greg Ferrara points out, in heated fashion, that despairing over the younger generation is an armchair sport that goes back thousands of years and never gets any more interesting or insightful than "Hot enough for you?" At Indiewire, an indignant Matt Singer threw down the gauntlet to his under-30 audience, asking them to come out in comments if they watch old movies, sort of: "Is cinephilia dead? Lazarus, come forth!" He's gotten quite a response.

Still, Matt's comments thread doesn't necessarily disprove Gabler's point. It is often hard to get ordinary people--which we could very loosely define as people who do not show a lively interest in the talkies of John Gilbert--revved up over old movies.

When this topic comes up, as it does, the Siren goes back to the same story.

Some years back the Wall Street Journal ran an article about an infamous incident, when the combination of a huge snowstorm and a wildcat labor dispute left hundreds of passengers cooped up in a couple of jetliners and stranded on a runway for hours and hours. As the toilets backed up and people got restless, the flight attendants asked if anyone had a video that they could use as a distraction. One young man, just starting college, had a copy of Citizen Kane. He'd seen it in a class and had fallen in love with it. He offered up his video and the flight attendants popped it in.

Maybe five minutes went by before people started groaning. "Boring!" "This is black and white!" "Who wants to watch this?" After a little while the flight attendants took out the tape and handed it back to the owner. Most people on the flight would rather re-read their magazines and complain to each other than watch Welles' masterpiece. The young man was crushed, and said so to the WSJ reporter.

Now you could take this as a terrible story about modern taste, and on dark days the Siren does.

But you could also focus on the kid with the Citizen Kane tape. He counts, too.

140 comments:

Greg F. said...

But you could also focus on the kid with the Citizen Kane tape. He counts, too.

That's awesome! And before you even got to the end, I was already thinking the same thing. Like I said in short burst, kids don't care about the past. What I didn't say was that most adults don't either. I overestimated them in my short diatribe. But it's not the end of the world. Enough kids in love with Citizen Kane exist to make it worthwhile, and make it last. I was one of them. So were you. So was practically everyone I've met so far blogging, whether poster or commenter.

Neil's entire post isn't completely wrongheaded and he concedes much of this is business as usual. It was simply that last florid passage I took issue with. Art, in any form, going extinct because the new generation hasn't caught on to it yet? Come on.

Anyway, once again, you're the cool and composed one who makes the best points long after we all should've counted to ten. In a heated debate I'd lose to you so badly my head would spin. Hopefully that'll never happen.

Dave Enkosky said...

I would definitely count myself among the "kids with Citizen Kane tape." I grew up in the eighties and nineties; but I had not much knowledge of current movies, as I was weaned on the classics.

Later in my college years when folks would bond over memories of John Hughes movies--none of which had I seen at that point--I would try to see if anyone else had Marx Brothers, and Abbot and Costello routines memorized.

It was lonely.

Jason Lefkowitz said...

Maybe five minutes went by before people started groaning. "Boring!" "This is black and white!" "Who wants to watch this?"

It's worth noting that this is pretty much how the public at large responded to Citizen Kane when it was first released in 1941. (Well, except for the "this is black and white!" part.)

And not just to Kane, either. The cards from an RKO test screening of The Magnificent Ambersons that David Thomson quotes in his Welles bio Rosebud are just brutal. "People like to laff, not be bored to death."

mndean said...

Considering I belong to a group that includes a teen interested in silents (Clara Bow, at that!), it's not altogether dire. They're out there, like the kid with the Kane tape. Unfortunately the young and old alike try to be hip, and that means they'll demean any older form of entertainment.

Why I ended up appreciating older films was there were a lot of them around when I grew up (the '70s nostalgia boom dovetailed with my teen years). Every TV station seemed to have at least part of their schedule dedicated to old films, and I was insomniac enough to have caught a lot of films I've never seen on tape or DVD to this day. I even faked an illness (easy to do when you have chronic bronchitis) to watch all the Paramount Marx Bros. films one week.

The Siren said...

Mndean, it depends on your definition of hip, too. All my life I've sought out kindred souls with the same batty interests, and in those circles I achieved a weird sort of hipness. The Internet has made that more possible than ever.

Greg, thank you. I don't know, we'll probably live long enough to see if the vaunted tech availability makes old movies higher-profile, or if it becomes increasingly a taste for the dedicated few. I'm basically an optimist. And an evangelist, as I've said umpteen times.

Dave, in a strange way Gabler has it backwards; it's easier to catch someone early on and get them interested in things.

Jason, it's true; Kane still has aspects that strike audiences as daring, and the beginning is possibly the most hard-core-arty part of the movie, with the newsreels and the shadowy murmuring journalists. I forget which critic (Rosenbaum, maybe?) pointed out that just the opening title, banging onto the screen without background music, was so avant-garde that when Godard borrowed the conceit for Breathless years later, it still looked daring.

That said, it's still a hugely accessible movie; it isn't like the poor guy was trying to get everybody to watch "Last Year at Marienbad." I fell in love with Kane on first viewing around age 10, maybe 11. I'd watched plenty of black-and-white to that point but I can't claim I had precocious taste, either.

VP81955 said...

I'm not sure how avant-garde "Kane" looks now, but I know the first time I saw it (about 1972), I was enthralled. While I liked a lot of films from that era, none looked like that. Moviegoers probably viewed it the same way concert audience heard Stravinsky's "The Rite Of Spring" in 1913 -- something definitely different.

But based on the number of young followers I have at "Carole & Co.", not to mention all the young classic film bloggers out there, I have hope for the future. Plenty of hope.

VP81955 said...

By "that era," I meant the '30s and '40s, not 1972.

joe said...

Gabler makes the mistake of assuming that there was ever a time when a significant percentage of young people were passionate about movies. most people, young and old, then and now, are never going to take movies seriously as art, and it's not the end of the world. we have each other!

X. Trapnel said...

Myself, I'm not too worried about the shrinking audience for old movies. There will always be a sizeable, though not huge, number of people who will want to see them(assuming their availability) even if they feel themselves to be culturally marginal. The same thing has happened with audiences for classical music, jazz, and popular music of the first half of the last century. I'd add though that the current lack of interest in old movies has nothing to do with b&w. Even if, god forbid, they were in color there would still be resistance because most people today cannot identify with the culture of the 20s, 30s, 40s, its aesthetic forms, its wit and humor, and its emotional expression and aspirations. It's not simply that they don't register; it's that for most post-60s people they seem quaint at best and false at worst.

Rachel said...

I realize that Gabler is using Spider-Man as a convenient and current jumping-off point, but I still find it odd. I thought the reason Spider-Man was remade was because Sony risked losing the rights if they didn't make a new film (that's the consistently repeated rumor, at least). Blaming the young audiences for the corporate decision to reboot a pre-tested, commercially secure product is like blaming them for the low quality of fast food French fries.

Although, I'm now curious to find out if there were any critics in 1941 who were groaning over the prospect of reviewing yet another Maltese Falcon movie. I mean, three film remakes in 10 years. All the fault of those young whippersnappers.

Lasso The Movies said...

I think there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the lack of "love" of classic movies. We don't have to limit the talk to the highly acclaimed movies like "Kane" either. Obviously, if you put two movies in front of a younger person, they will almost always pick the one with colors, fast cuts, loud music and hip themes that they can relate too. (That's why casino's look appealing to children.)
The solution is to find as many opportunities as possible for ANYONE to see these movies. If people sitting on a plane don't want to see "Kane" it could be because they have been sitting there so long that they are restless. If someone would have had a copy of "The Thin Man", "Bringing Up Baby" or "High Noon" perhaps this given audience would have been more receptive.
I for one have four young children that are being raised on a film diet that includes more black and white moves than color movies, and we try to watch at least one silent movie a week. I admit that when we started this, my four-year-old was bored out of her mind, but it didn't take her long to figure out that she prefers Chaplin to Keaton and Abbott & Costello to the Marx Brothers.
We, as the classic movie lovers of the world, have a responsibility to pass on our love for these movies to anyone and everyone that will listen.
This is a great post and I appreciate everything that is being said here.

X. Trapnel said...

I think many more people will come to older films individually, sporadically, by accident, or most likely from knowing someone else who loves film, and they won't be the kind of people who are bound by the assiduously fostered market pressure for the latest noisy thing and who have a hunger for the kind of beauty that classic film so abundantly provides. This is how culture is transmitted in post-cultural times.

johncarvill said...

I haven't read the piece (yet) but I'd say it's hard to counter any argument which holds that mainstream youth interest in classic movies is fading fast. I have a 22 year old daughter and she regards 1990 as ancient history, never mind the Golden Age. Black & White is unthinkable to her.

I recently bought my 5 year old son a DVD of Laurel and Hardy. As we sat there laughing at 'The Music Box', he called my wife into tyhe room: "Mummy! You have to see this. It's in black and white... but it's really funny!"

I can well imagine that stranded flight not wanting to watch Citizen Kane. Philistinism is a virulent strain in our society. People are less inclined to try new things.

In the Olden Days (circa 1989), classic movies shown on TV garnered huge audiences. Today's brave new media world of iPads, always-on, internet, facebook, and zillions of TV channels makes it even less likely that people will get an education in classic cinema the way previous generations did.

Sad times.

The Honey Pot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anagramsci said...

I'm another old movie lover who can trace the obsession back to "Matinee at the Bijou"-type programming (along with constant midnight movie classics) on PBS during the 1980s... Yes, those showings were amazing, but they didn't exactly convert anyone else in my grade two class... This passion of ours never was - and never will be - a widespread phenomenon.

The Siren is right - if it's going to happen (and it isn't going to happen very often), it'll happen at an early age. I'm sure there are just as many potential old movie lovers being born today as there were 40 or 60 years ago - it's just a matter of exposure at the correct age (for me, it was a screening of "Lady in the Lake" when I was 8)... And in that regard, things are better than ever!

More and more cable packages include TCM (I would almost certainly have traded 20 years of my life in exchange for access to that treasure trove, back when I was 12 and obsessively circling every obscure, they'll-probably-never-show-it film noir or Warner Brothers melodrama in my Leonard Maltin Guide)... and just think of the opportunities kids have to stumble onto some deathless celluloid scene on Youtube... I expect to see MORE classic film fans in the future, not less. But they'll never be plentiful.

Juanita's Journal said...

I'm sorry, but not everyone is a fan of old movies. For me, movies are about entertainment, not worshiping the past. As someone who loves movies, I've enjoyed both old and recently released films. But that is me. If most of the younger generation do not care for older movies, then they simply do not care for them. That is no reason to label them as "phillistines" or uneducated.

Enid said...

When I was a teenager, I felt as though "classic film" (and by this I mostly mean B&W; Technicolor somehow was OK) was being pushed at me like someone was trying to get me to eat my peas. Remember those cheesy '80's songs about "Bogie and Bacall," etc? Turn-off.

I started coming around when I caught "White Heat" on late-night WPIX or one of the other late, lamented NY indies. "Double Indemnity" was also a turning point for me, as was "Strange Love of Martha Ivers."

It may be that the more we old folks wring our hands about the perceived or real loss of interest in classic film, the fewer kids will want to watch it. Having it available, though, and having intelligent film writers who mention classic films as they discuss modern film, can be a great starting point. "Hugo," I think, will stay in the minds of many young people who saw it, as will the work of Georges Melies. I think TCM Sunday family night is a fantastic idea, although if I were a parent I wouldn't push it too hard.

In the meantime, I'm stockpiling my faves from Criterion, etc. on DVD and I'll probably turn them into digital files at some point. Should TCM ever go off the air (I don't even like to say it), my bunker will be ready.

RayRay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kelli Marshall said...

Love. Love. Love this little story.

I just posted this over at Greg's blog, but it fits here too:

Virtually ALL of my college film students adore REAR WINDOW, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, CASABLANCA, and SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. And at least 60% of them like (appreciate?) CITIZEN KANE. Several students have even informed me -- after the courses were over -- that they've purchased Gene Kelly and Hitchcock films on DVD. So, yes, there's (always) hope.

Kirk said...

Great closing sentence.

On my own blog, I'm currently in the midst of writing something about Celeste Holm and ALL ABOUT EVE, and am stressing over whether to refer to "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night" as a famous line or not. It's a famous line for old movie fans. But my blog, which is more of a general interest blog, isn't read exclusively, or at all, by old movie fans. My readers may not know it's a "famous" line, as incredible as that may seem. I'm going to refer to it as famous anyway. After all, it's my blog.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Kids today are scum" (Jean-Luc Godard in Premom Carmen)

-- except for the kid with the Citizen Kane tape.

Liz Bass said...

I was the kid with the Citizen Kane tape, but I got lucky. On my scary first day at a new school when I was fourteen, back in the 80s, the school had us wear name tags. They read "My name is____, ask me about___. I filled mine out to read "ask me about old movies." Needless to say, I spent most of the day not talking to anybody. Then, in a line waiting to get into some sort of assembly, I turned to the girl behind me, whose name tag read, "My name is Carol, ask me about old movies." I had the dizzy feeling that I'd landed in a world of kindred spirits...but for the next four years, Carol and I were part of the audience of four or five kids who would show up when a determined teacher showed City Lights or some other classic.

Laura said...

Oh, man! That's like my whole life!

"What's that, high school English teacher? We're reading East of Eden? Hey, I have the James Dean movie on VHS! It's not a very faithful retelling of the book, but James Dean is really good, and"--
"Uh-huh, that's great, dear. We'll...we'll get around to that."
Then my best friend would pat my hand comfortingly. Cuz we never did get around to that.

But hey, at least I got to see Harry Potter in my Foreign Lit class before the holidays, and Home Alone in Art! Great, now I'm weeping into my keyboard.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I was the philistine kid who saw Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlon Brando, only to put up with some old fogies, my parents and their friends, stating that only Clark Gable would do as Mr. Christian.

Caftan Woman said...

Through her high school years my now 21 year old daughter slowly, but surely been introducing her circle of friends to classic films - gnashing her teeth over the ones who refused to watch anything in black and white, reveling in success with Hitchcock. Currently as an art student aiming at a career in animation she has met a new group of people who - Hallejulah! - speak of older films with ease and knowledge. There is more than hope.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Great post and thoughtful comments. I think for those of us from the nostalgia-crazed 1970s, familiarity with classic films was easier to come by. First, they were shown on network television on any day. One might not become a fan of old movies, but was nevertheless exposed to them and could identify stars and films.

Also, many actors and actresses of classic films continued their careers, sometimes in film, but most often on television. We saw them on series shows or in guest spots, the stars and character actors both. It was possible to absorb knowledge about the classic film era without really being an ardent fan.

TCM is fantastic, but it's only one channel of several hundred that's easy to miss if you're not searching for an old movie to watch.

Unfortunately, the millenials do not have parents who tell them how great Bogart was because their parents don't know and don't care either. But fortunately, film - when it is preserved - is lasting and some future kids will always take classic films to heart just as much as we do.

Karen said...

Dave, in a strange way Gabler has it backwards; it's easier to catch someone early on and get them interested in things.

So true. I got my nephews young, with the Marx Brothers at around the age of 7. Now they are 14, and one loves musical comedies while the other is mesmerized by Warner Brothers gangster flicks. Black & White vs color is never even an issue.

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

Well, I have some thoughts on this one...

One one hand: yes, I know people in their 30's on down who will not watch a black and white or subtitled movie on principle - and it is just kind of heartbreaking.

On the other hand - some historical perspective:

- We were just talking about John Gilbert and other silent movie actors in your last blog entry...has there EVER been a case of sudden mass amnesia like there was in the early 30's? People spent many years loving a set of silent film actors and then 'poof' - forgot them. I presume most decided that silent films were inferior and were made to feel ashamed they had been deeply moved by them (one cruel aspect of America's obsession with 'progress').

From what I gather of James Agee's famous celebration of silent comedies written in the 40's, people were SHOCKED to be reminded that these movies actually might have been pretty great.

As fickle as today's youth may be I don't know if they can hold a candle to those in 1930 (although granted, people then were undergoing some tough times).

- I've always kind of wondered if a major underlying reason that 'art films' became trendy in the (I guess) late 50's and 60's was that there was more open sexuality in foreign films, and that if the boom in US-made porn (in the 70's? - and then porn becoming accessible in private) didn't help lead to people's becoming less and less inclined to seek out foreign films.

- As seems to be the case with some others here - I grew up before VCR's and cable and so my friends and I consumed what was on TV, which included LOTS of old black and white shows and movies. We did not draw big distinctions between the antiquated Little Rascals, the less antiquated Leave it to Beaver and the modern shows of the time. While in most ways having choices to see what you want to is great, I'm paradoxically glad I grew up in this media environment, as I feel like it makes me much less closed off than younger people sometimes are.

(reposted, because I just can't seem to proofread something properly until I've posted it)

Adam Zanzie said...

In high school (2005-2009) I was the kid with the Citizen Kane DVD, and proud of it -- except for the banal The Battle over Citizen Kane doc on the second disc, which makes the tired (and long since disproven) argument that Welles never made another great film afterwards.

Getting on topic, though, this is a phenomenon that's been going on for centuries. It's just that with the arrival of mass Internet usage, it's changed colors somewhat.

One time in high school I was at an afterparty in celebration of a play we'd just completed. We were looking for a movie to watch, and when I noticed my friend had Scorsese's Boxcar Bertha in his collection, I popped it in.

5 minutes into the movie, a girl whined, "Can't we watch something entertaining!??" So we took it out and put in The Breakfast Club instead.

And Boxcar Bertha is a 70's movie. A 70'S MOVIE! In fairness, it's not great Scorsese, but... you know.

Casey said...

I have to agree with the others who have said that people who really love film have always been in the minority. When I was in high school, in the seventies, I had three friends who were into movies. Everybody else thought we were strange.

I don't blame Gabler for being frustrated, but his rant sounds familiar. When I was young, back in the sixties, I spent endless hours in front of the TV set, and I remember numerous people making the same comments about my generation. No attention span. No love of culture. No sense of history.

I have a bunch of nieces and nephews. Most of them have no interest in old movies, but there is one who loves movies regardless of when they were made. She's just as interested in Fred Astaire as in Baz Luhrmann. Maybe it's a special gene?

X. Trapnel said...

"5 minutes into the movie, a girl whined, "Can't we watch something entertaining!??" So we took it out and put in The Breakfast Club instead."

We shouldn't forget that older films (and the popular culture they arose out of) were mainly about adults and adult doings and the stars, even those in their twenties/early thirties were decidedly grownups (take a look at that banner). Popular culture since the sixties has focused on childhood and adolescence, not only as subject matter, but as a state of grace from which we have fallen.

rcocean said...

"We shouldn't forget that older films (and the popular culture they arose out of) were mainly about adults and adult doings and the stars"

Great point X. We should remember that classical film was usually made by Grown-ups for Grown-ups at least until the mid -50s. Its amazing how "old" classical film stars were in attitude and their roles. Jane Fonda is still the adolescent, even at 76, while Teresa Wright seemed adult at 25.

mndean said...

I semi-understand why many people won't watch silents, it requires a different level of attention. You don't get the same cues as you do from talkies. But I like the idea that someone won't watch a black and white film "on principle". I know people like that, and I just want to know, what principle is being violated?

X. Trapnel said...

"what principle is being violated?"

1. Black and white is primitive and cheap looking.
2. Black and white is unrealistic (not true, of course, of cgi).

gmoke said...

No subtitles? I watch DVDs in English with Spanish or French subtitles on so that I can practice the languages, although I despair of ever being able to communicate in either. Once, I found a bonus DVD that had a Hungarian "making of" on Miyazaki and listened to the Hungarian while trying to read the Japanese and figure it all out for myself. For a few minutes anyway.

Here's how I'd introduce a Jackie Chan fan to silent film. Might even work for someone who liked Michael Bay (or his slightly more sedate model, Steven Spielberg).

johncarvill said...

5 minutes into the movie, a girl whined, "Can't we watch something entertaining!??" So we took it out and put in The Breakfast Club instead.

Heh. I considered it a small cultural victory when I persuaded my daughter to watch 'The Breakfast Club'!

DavidEhrenstein said...

There's noting "primitive and cheap-looking" about black and white as a viewing of 8 1/2, Eclipse, Veronika Voss, Les Amants Reguliers and even Under the Cherry Moon will make obvious.

"Fanboys" herald not only the Death of Cinema but the Death of Culture as a whole. Giant preening pieces of crap like The Dark Knight Rises flatter the stupid. I have no patience with them and neither should you.

Julia H. said...

I grew up in the 70s, back when we had only four channels on TV and you had to set your alarm for 4 a.m. to see an old movie. I would have been delirious with joy if there had been something like TCM or DVDs (or even VHS for that matter.) Later, as my kids were growing up, I rented movie classics and watched and explained them. As they got older and I had TCM on all the time, they began to recognize that they had favorite actors and genres. Now that they're all adults, two of the three ask for old movies at Christmas and on birthdays. I have hope for the oldest who claims he hates B&W movies because the acting is not "realistic" enough. Last time he visited I was watching The Devil and Daniel Webster on TCM and he was completely
absorbed in it.

Speaking of Citizen Kane, my two younger sons, both in their twenties, say that they consider it to be one of the best movies ever made and they came to that conclusion on their own as I don't hold the same opinion. Both of them are big fans of the modern day superhero genre and both play computer games, yet they still see the value of old movies, both as art and a record of the past.

Dan said...

Maybe few Millennials like old films, but everybody turns 30. It's about then, I'd guess, that people start to linger when flipping past TCM.

Speaking of lingering, I got home late on a Saturday night a few months ago and saw Citizen Kane was just starting. I thought, "I'll watch a few minutes of this before going to bed." I stayed up and watched the whole thing.

Casey said...

David,

Thanks for mentioning Under the Cherry Moon. Whatever shortcomings Prince may have had as a filmmaker, his love of the medium is obvious. I wish he'd direct more.

Gotta disagree, though, on your comment about the fanboys. The hysterical, obsessive, uncritical fan has been a big part of movie culture at least as far back as the teens. We may be disgusted by big, dumb, empty summer flicks, but Hollywood has been making those since the silent era. We remember films like The Circus and Broken Blossoms, but the studios churned out plenty of excessive junk back then, too.

Marilyn said...

I simply don't agree that "old" films were made by adults for adults. I just recently saw and reviewed No Greater Glory, which is a fine family film. Child actors like Shirley Temple, Jackie Coogan, Jackie Cooper, Margaret O'Brien appealed to whole families. Before there was TV, families would go together to films as a regular and cheap form of entertainment.

Now segmentation has become rampant not only in the film industry, but also in every other industry. Marketers can send you ads based on a link you clicked. It's all about catering to a perception of what someone of a specific age and demographic wants.

It's really not that hard to engage young audiences in classic films. My 12-year-old grandson ate up the films we took him to see at Noir City and absolutely loved the British WWII film Went the Day Well. Why did we take him to those movies? Because it seemed to have subject material he could relate to. We also took him to see John Carter at a vintage movie theatre. He loved them both.

The question is not that the young seem to reject what we oldsters love - and hurt our feelings in the process - but what they can learn to love. Children want to spend time with the adults in their lives, that's a fact, so it behooves us to include them whenever possible in all of our enthusiasms.

Seismic Puppy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
johncarvill said...

I think there's no question that things are fragmenting and that mainstream youth are becoming ever less likely to develop an interest in classic movies.

However, the wheel's still in spin: who knows how thus fragmentation will pan out? Clusters of interest will surely coalesce around blogs such as this, channels such as TCM etc. and the same technology that's brought about fragmentation also had expanded and will continue to further expand opportunities for people to pursue such interests.

I can remember waiting years, despite the existence of VHS, to see some films, such as Beat the Devil. Today, that film's just a few clicks away online. In future who knows how many ways such movies will be (even more easily) accessible?

As noted above, we film lovers must do what we can to kindle interest in our kids, students, etc.

X. Trapnel said...

"I simply don't agree that 'old' films were made by adults for adults..."

Well, films were made BY adults then and nominally still are, and by "adult" subject matter I meant not "sex," but love and work, war and peace, society and the individual, crime and punishment, conflicts of conscience, drama and comedy, yes, even the transition from childhood to adulthood (though not the reverse). Of course old movies had Shirley Temple (who my primeval 7-year-old self loathed), J. Cooper/gan, and Flash Gordon, but in correct proportion to a variegated cine-view of the world. The infantilism of contemporary film, which set in as early as the fifties, is based on the unifying and reactionary idea that superheros and the deep wisdom of children will save us.

My earliest (4,5,6?) film memory was watching a man running, presumably from the police, through field and forest and I recall as well a ditch and a wooden fence. I felt a sharp disappointment when he turned out, in close up, not to be Humphrey Bogart, whose name I did not know but whose presense had already marked me then and ever after. It was probably Dane Clark.

Shamus said...

Siren, not that I don't agree (I do) but what occasioned (precipitated?) such a depressing post?

Obviously, classical literature or or classical music have equally few (fewer) admirers- if and when Gabler writes something about "young people nowadays" who don't have time for Shakespeare and Tolstoy, and he finds something startling about the number, I'll trouble myself to be surprised.

Meanwhile, I'd rather be watching some film I haven't yet seen (Greed, Jeanne Dielman) than spend it worrying about whether what others might it find boring or perverse. Some people would not be able to sit through Kane any more than some of us here would tolerate, oh, I dunno, Twilight or Adam Sandler. (Although what is especially ironic here is that, with only a modicum of effort, Kane would be so grandly, thrillingly entertaining- accessible to nearly everyone.)

Shamus said...

XT, Marilyn,

Obviously, a few studios pandered to "innocence" (such as MGM, which is probably why it is the most disposable of studios, in terms of content) but H'wood unmistakably made movies for adults as well (Sturges, De Toth, Anthony Mann). Not so now, obviously, when Spielberg, Woody Allen or Tarantino are its chief attractions (so-called).

DavidEhrenstein said...

I can't agree, Casey. Films, especially those in series, have had passionate fans. But I don't recall anyone threatening a reviewer's life because they didn't lik eA Hard Day's Night or a James Bond flick.

The fanboys have gotten thicker as the films they obsess over have gotten thinner.

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus, let us not forget MGM's brief hospitality to Lubitsch and its imperishable results, and I for one would prefer the most insufferable Andy Hardy flick to any iteration of Johnny Boy and Bad Girl (god bless you, Nicholas Ray, but you've got a lot to answer for).

G said...

I've been thinking about this more since I last posted and would submit this:

People do not only consume media for their own personal edification, they may do it as being part of a group and to share their observations with others. If you're 20 and want to define yourself as 'hip', you (say) may be aligning yourself with 'geeks' or uncool oldsters if you open yourself up to watching and enjoying a black and white movie. So better to just stay away and remain safely within your 'tribe'.

I will repeat that I don't think prior generations were immune to this. People in 1950 were not clamoring to see the 'classics' from the 30's re-released. I really do think that it was the early years of TV when often there was nothing available to see BUT old material that created a historical blip that opened up a general appreciation for the 'old' that has since been transformed with a flood of new choices and the 'ghettoization' of old films onto a few specific channels.

Shamus said...

XT,

My list of "preferred" MGM titles would contain the two Langs, the Lubitsches, the '68 Kubrick, a handful of Minnellis/Arthur Freeds- collector items all. But you should weigh this with not only with the dross (TCM in my country plays almost nothing but MGM for some reason) but also the fact that someone like Borzage more apt to churn out dreadful pictures like Smilin' Through and Shining Hour (under M. Mank), rather than exciting movie-movies like Farewell to Arms and Moonrise.

In any case, I think RKO, which found employment for such diverse talents as Ophuls, Lang, Welles, Tourneur and Sturges, is, by far, the superior studio. You must agree too, no?

Yojimboen said...

X - Deep Valley (1947) has Dane Clark as an escapee on the run from San Quentin, finding shelter with my favorite hairdo, Ida Lupino.

X. Trapnel said...

For godsake Shamus I'm not defending MGM at all and please accept my sympathies for your captivity in TCM Mayeristan. Moreover, I'm currently immersed in the life and work of Scott Fitzgerald and the full horror of Mank (Monkeybitch in FSF's petulant formulation) and MGM has swelled beyong my previous imaginings.

X. Trapnel said...

Ah, Y, smoked you out at last. I thought it might be Deep Valley also, but alas, no such chase scene. Maybe it was Richard Rober.

Isn't Miss Ida's hairdo in Deep Valley a little less than usual like a Howard Roark inspiration? I like her anyway.

Shamus said...

Are you familiar with this piece on Herr Mank, XT?

Yojimboen said...

(Dad gummit, you kids today don’t know how lucky you are with your MTVs and MP3s and iToys… When I was your age I had to take drugs and go to concerts!)

Subtext from an outlier: In the UK we didn’t have Million $ Movie or Late Show or TCM or Milkman’s Matinee, every movie you guys saw on TV, I had to go out into the driving sleet to see it at the local Bijou. Shit, do I feel ancient!

X. Trapnel said...

Thanks for this Shamus; I want to read it carefully and at leisure (on quick glance my hackels [whatever those are] rose slightly at some implied criticism of Margaret Sullavan [as with Danielle Darrieux, who also sends me 'round the bend and off the rails, reason and temperence desert me at such. I shall strive to regain the high road]).

Manque, by his own account, claimed that Sullavan pronounced the dialogue "unspeakable" (in the literal sense as opposed the metaphorical one so applicable to her co-star) and one source claims a private Fitzgerald/Sullavan (my god!!!) conference. I hope Gallagher sheds some light.

DavidEhrenstein said...

F. Scott Fitzgerald was amiddling novelist and a very bad screenwriter (hi sgrotesquely inflated reputation to the contrary.)

Mankiewicz RULES!

DavidEhrenstein said...

That piece fails to mention why Mankiewicz left MGM.

He was having an affair with Judy Garland. Recognizing (as Minnelli never did) that Judy had serious psychological problems he reccomended a good psychiatrist. When Mayer found out about it he hit the roof. 'NOBODY TELLS ME MY LITTLE STAR IS CRAZY!!!" he fumed, and fired Mankiewicz on the spot.

Mankiewicz then went to Fox where be became a wrire-producer-director wining the Oscar triple crown twice in arow for A Letter To Three Wives and All About Eve

Vanwall said...

I made a point of having classic films on the TV, and later on tapes (yeah, Beta) and watched plenty of 'em under any circumstance - all when the boys were growing up. They both will watch an old film, altho they prefer newer vintages. It stuck with more that t'other, he went on to film school, even though I'd forgotten to turn off "Night of the Hunter" once when he was little, and Harry Powell scared the bejezus outta him. First time his future wife came to the house, and "Roma, città aperta" was on, she looked at it, having never seen it before, and said, "Isn't that Anna Magnani?" !!!! She had a theater background!! Holy cow, kid, marry that gal! Just gotta raise 'em right, is all.

X. Trapnel said...

"F. Scott Fitzgerald was amiddling novelist and a very bad screenwriter (hi sgrotesquely inflated reputation to the contrary.)"

Well, anyone can play this game (i.e., Mankiewicz, onlie begetter of Cleopatra, was a pretentious, shallow, and word-bedrunken hack), but I shan't. In what sense is Fitzgerald "grotesquely" overrated and by whom and why? Who are his superiors and in what ways? style? creative and poetic imagination? characterization and psychology? apprehension of history and society? aesthetic form and craftsmanship? local and universal truth? I'd say Fitzgerald comes up aces in all of these and would happily go into detail in each. Yes, he died much too young and his first two novels, though brilliant, are flawed. But bulk isn't everything, and I can't think of many subsequent American novels that can seriously be said to equal and none to surpass Gatsby and Tender is the Night.

I will grant that Fitzgerald was a terrible speller.

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

Fitzgerald couldn't hold a candle to Mankiewicz as a typist or a speller. OTOH, I've read people like Edmund Wilson, Max Perkins, Hemingway and Faulkner thought Fitzgerald was a passable writer - but then they probably didn't see "All about Eve" or go the movies much.

Mankiewicz could write very good scripts if had someone like Zanuck riding herd on him, demanding he tighten it up, speed it up, and not speechify. When he became "too big to edit" the quality dropped.

Yojimboen said...

C'mon, X., Hemingway typed standing up; doesn't that prove he was a much better writer than Fitzgerald?

And another thing: If Sheilagh Graham hadn't sent FSF out for cigarettes wouldn't he still be alive?

Shamus said...

Young people nowadays- they choose Bret Easton Ellis [, Donna Tartt] over F. Scott Fitzgerald [,Flannery O'Connor] every time! Just terrible!

Of course, the $182,000 question is: where is the kid with the first edition Great Gatsby ?

DavidEhrenstein said...

"In what sense is Fitzgerald "grotesquely" overrated and by whom and why? Who are his superiors and in what ways? style? creative and poetic imagination? characterization and psychology? apprehension of history and society? aesthetic form and craftsmanship? local and universal truth?"

Like Jerry Salinger, Fitzgewrald is less a writer than the idea of one beloved by a deeply anti-intellectual culture. The Great Gatsby is a nice little book, but it's in now way profound. Fitzgeralf isn't Edith Whartonor Henry James (writers who truly understood society) Fitzgerald is beloved as "celebrity" -- dancing the Charlston and gettign drunk. The s[uttering out of his career is thus a "cautionary tale" of being "too smart for your own good."

For a real understand ing of American life and culture I reccomend (as always) William Gaddis. Read The Recognitions then get back to about how "wonderful" Fitzgerald was.

I don't choose Bret Easton Ellis over ANYTHING (personally or artistically) But then I'm 65. I have no idea what today's kids are up to as a whole. But one of them I've jsut discovered is of enormous interest to me

X. Trapnel said...

"Like Jerry Salinger...[etc]"

No, not in the least like Jerry Salinger, the opposite in fact. The whole trajectory of Salingerism is to reject the world, society, change, maturity and roll yourself into a cozy little ball of innocence. There is no such theme or ideology at work in Fitzgerald whose characters are portrayed, like real people, with all their strengths and weaknesses, beautiful and less than beautiful ideals, and fleeting perceptions of truth within the allure and treachery of the modern world, their actions dramatized rather than solipsistically attitudinized. Comparison is this sense with James and Wharton, great writers both, is off the mark; they are writing about different worlds in different eras and Fitzgerald is following in their tradition; Wharton greatly admired Gatsby, as did T.S. Eliot who called it the first major advance in the American novel since James. Of course Eliot, like Gertrude Stein, Lionel Trilling, Willa Cather,Alfred Kazin, William Maxwell (a conspiracy so vast) must have simply succumbed to the lure of celebrity in finding profundity and great artistry in Fitzgerald, or else they were just sub-Mank intellects and dunderheads. Celebrity is utterly irrelevant here but very tempting for those who prefer the extra-literary to the actual demands of analyzing a text to prove that it is "a nice little book" as opposed to a nice big book like, say, The Recognitions. The latter may indeed reveal a great deal about American life and culture; so do many works of history, sociology, culture criticism. Fiction lives by other chiefly style, language, form as they used (dare I say with a certain compactness) to reveal truth in its visible and less visible aspects and to achieve beauty (not for nothing was Keats Fitzgerald's spiritual conscience). Gatsby is not just about America but about the tragic or comic distance between what people can imagine and the reality that forms and surrounds them at a particular historical moment, all done in prose as vivid and luminous as any modern English writing has to show.

gmoke said...

I am particularly partial to the Basil Duke Lee and Pat Hobby stories of Fitzgerald myself.

gmoke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
X. Trapnel said...

Aaarrgghh. Please read: 1. "Literature lives by other criteria" and 2. "...form as they are used..."

Interestingly, Maxwell Perkins was as bad a proofreader as Fitzgerald was a speller.

DavidEhrenstein said...

When I was comparing him to Jerry Salinger I wasn't referring to his style or subject matter but the context in which he has been elevated to a Literary Godhead. Edith Wharton liked him? Well Jacques Rivette loves Starship Troopers

"Celebrity is utterly irrelevant here" No it isn't. F Scott Fitzgerald is over and above a Famous For Being Famous.

Other modern American writers I prefer to him include Paul and Jane Bowles, Irving Rosenthal and Samuel R. Delany.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh yes -- and William Faulkner.

X. Trapnel said...

"F Scott Fitzgerald is over and above a Famous For Being Famous"

Wishful thinking. FFBF is perishable stuff; it does not last 80 years. Just ask Richard Harding Davis.

"...I prefer to him include Paul and Jane Bowles, Irving Rosenthal and Samuel R. Delany"

Fine. Likewise Faulkner, the afterthought to these worthies.

Yojimboen said...

Semi-amusing/semi-depressing take on today’s events by Chris Kelly:
(Sort of on-topic, it’s about movies…)

johncarvill said...

Wow! Some medium rare bull being dished out on this thread.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was "a middling novelist", who "is over and above a Famous For Being Famous", eh?

Shouldn't we cut him some slack for writing one of the key novels of the 20th Century?

Woody Allen's 'Manhattan' springs to mind...

"What about Mozart? I mean, you guys don't want to leave out Mozart, while you're trashing people."

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Shouldn't we cut him some slack for writing one of the key novels of the 20th Century?"

No The key novel of the 20th Century is "Two Serious Ladies."

What about Mozart? I mean, you guys don't want to leave out Mozart, while you're trashing people."

In no way shape or form is Mozart to be left out.

Shamus said...

I don't choose Bret Easton Ellis over ANYTHING...- Not referring to you, obviously, David.

This may sound a bit harsh but Woody Allen has done more to pander to a certain kind of middlebrow self-congratulation more than any director I can think of- relying, mostly, on his audience's recognition (and passing familiarity) with such names as Bergman, Hemingway, Groucho Marx and ee cummings. I'm not sure, though, how much he actually appreciates any of them. Mozart not excluded.

johncarvill said...

No The key novel of the 20th Century is "Two Serious Ladies."

Ah well, now. Notice I said one of the key novels of the 20th Century.


This may sound a bit harsh but Woody Allen has done more to pander to a certain kind of middlebrow self-congratulation more than any director I can think of- relying, mostly, on his audience's recognition (and passing familiarity) with such names as Bergman, Hemingway, Groucho Marx and ee cummings. I'm not sure, though, how much he actually appreciates any of them. Mozart not excluded.

Well, it depends on what age (literally and culturally) you are when you first see those films. I was a teenager first time round, so when he mentioned 'Bergman' I thought he meant Casablanca, and when he cited 'Swedish movies, obviously' as a reason for living, my friends and I sniggered at what we took to be a reference to porn.

I'm not sure what point you're trying to make. Is he 'pandering' to middlebrow tastes just by making such cultural references? Or is his crime that he - unlike you - doesn't truly feel for them, doesn't 'understand' them, emotionally or artistically? If so what are you basing that on?

I don't think there's much doubt that Woody Allen - despite his pretestations that he'd rather be watching baseball than reading Tolstoy, that "I read that stuff to keep up with my dates", etc. - has some knowledge of and interest in at least some of the referrants. We know he's a big jazz buff, for example, so we can't doubt the sincerity of his shout-out to Louis Armstrong's 'Potato Head Blues', can we? Same for Bergman, I mean come on.

None of us were born with erudtion, sophisticated worldviews, or nuanced cultural penchants. You have to develop them. What's wrong with picking at least some of our influences up from movies?

I read Flaubert's 'Sentimental Education' because when I found an old paperback copy of it in my parents' attic, I reocgnised the title from the reference in 'Manhattan'. Now maybe I'd have been better off with 'Madame Bovary', but that's another conversation. Point is that making such references can have a positive influence. In fact you could say that you're more likely to grow up to be the kid with the Kane tape, if you pick up on those kind of things.

The Siren said...

I love Woody Allen and don't know why anyone wouldn't see him as poking fun at New York intellectuals and their preoccupations and one-upmanship, rather than being part of the problem. That's in Allen's best movies, of course, but it's by their best movies that directors should be judged, in my view. And Manhattan is my favorite. The scene that Johncarvill references is one I've played with some of my more forbiddingly cultured acquaintances.

I myself have no trouble at all with admitting that I only picked up opera records because of "Rabbit of Seville," "What's Opera, Doc?" and "Long-Haired Hare." And what I acquired was passing familiarity, but it's a familiarity I've enjoyed and been enriched by. I've written before about liking the assumption in Deanna Durbin movies, for example, or the Marx Brothers, that the audience is acquainted with certain cultural warhorses. Don't see why Allen should get slammed so often for the same thing.

Also, too, I think The Great Gatsby is a permanent masterpiece of American literature, and incomparably more beautiful and profound than anything I've read from Gaddis.

So there, that's my hit-and-run for today.

Shamus said...

Siren, johncarvill- Woody Allen, I think, effectively replaces the artists' works with their celebrity (depending more on who they are than what they wrote or did)- somehow I thought this was relevant in light of the (highly) contentious discussion, supra.

His mild satire of the "New York intellectuals" is a only a tiny gesture, something you have set-off against the near-pornographic depiction of their wealth and (over)privilege. (And would Manhattan be so memorable if it were not for the work of a very great cinematographer?)

If he actually gets his audience to read said novels or watch said movies, I guess then that's as good an introduction as any.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"This may sound a bit harsh but Woody Allen has done more to pander to a certain kind of middlebrow self-congratulation more than any director I can think of- relying, mostly, on his audience's recognition (and passing familiarity) with such names as Bergman, Hemingway, Groucho Marx and ee cummings."

and F. Scott Fitgerald.

johncarvill said...

Siren, johncarvill- Woody Allen, I think, effectively replaces the artists' works with their celebrity (depending more on who they are than what they wrote or did)- somehow I thought this was relevant in light of the (highly) contentious discussion, supra.

With Fitzgerald, you might be able to make that argument, although I'd very strongly disagree. But what degree of 'celebrity' do you ascribe to Flaubert? Only someone who is either reasonably cultured, or on their way to being reasonably cultured, would recognise the name Flaubert.


His mild satire of the "New York intellectuals" is a only a tiny gesture, something you have set-off against the near-pornographic depiction of their wealth and (over)privilege.

I'll say this: for years I was irked when people complained that Woody only depicted either rich people or people who ostensibly weren't rich but could only liver were/how they did if they were rich. Then I saw 'Match Point' - with its head in the clouds view of British life: everybody in London works in the Gherkin, urchins shop on Bond |Street, out of work actresses inhabit flats in multimillion pound townhouses, etc. - and I understood. But so what? Allen has talked extensively about how he was seduced by the world depicted in classic B&W movies set in smart Manhattan circles, admitting that he was sufficiently smitten with that (at least partially imaginary) world that he wanted to live in it. His films don't make pornography of wealth any more than the average screwball comedy.


And would Manhattan be so memorable if it were not for the work of a very great cinematographer?

Shucks. You're just making gratuitous reference to Gordon WIllis as a celebrity, without really feeling or appreciating his work as an artist.

If he actually gets his audience to read said novels or watch said movies, I guess then that's as good an introduction as any.

Hey, thanks.... That's so egalitarian of you.

X. Trapnel said...

The key novel of the twentieth century is The Swiss Grapefruit by Mrs. Opal Emerson Mudge.

The problem with Woody Allen's cultural droppings is that they have no thematic relationship to the film. In Shop Around the Corner the references to Tolstoy, Zola, and the Comedie Francaise (that's a theater in France) are expressions of the characters' emotional idealism. Allen's problem is that he craves and resents culture at the same time, a wonderful theme but beyond his talent and intelligence. And his poking fun at NY intellectuals is way too gentle. Wallace Markfield's To an Early Grave (cf. Bye Bye, Braverman) is the real thing.

Y., I was just talking with a Canadian-born friend who well remembers the theater ban and the thrill and magic then of actually seeing a film.

Shamus said...

JC, I don't know if you really expected an answer to that last post but... a few thoughts, all the same:

My objection is not that he uses the name Flaubert or Cezanne per se but that he uses it like he would Nike or Armani: brand names to signify sophistication and erudition (Or is that pseudo-sophistication and psuedo-erudition? Because this is a satire of pretentious intellectuals) - just look at Midnight in Paris: except for an insistence that they are all famous people, Allen takes the most familiar and most public qualities of Hemingway and Piccaso and discards the rest. What does he have to say about any of them?

Also, for a satire, his movies (at least in the movies of the 70's and early 80's that I’m familiar with) wear an openly hungry look directed at the pretentious rich, if you will, standing around in posh restaurants, attending celebrity dinner parties, having expensive sex in expensive hotels. We are meant to cast an envious eye, we are meant to participate in that fantasy (but I'll take your word for it that Match Point is somehow different: I've not seen it). But creation of fantasy is something opposed to the very nature of screwball comedy, where the characters are always being dropped into the real world (Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby or Henry Fonda in Lady Eve). If Allen shares that sense of pleasure in bursting pretension that you find in most screwball comedies, then I must have missed it.

I would not mind any of this but Allen's plot construction is abysmal and he has very little of interest to say and even that is cleanly summarized at the end of each movie. "Live in the present, not the past," (MiP) "We can't really know much about death but isn't life enough" (HaHS) ... and so on. Not exactly monumental ideas, I would contend.

I never intended to make this a Woody Allen thread but I've tried to answer at length. (I've never cared much about him and I've long since lost touch with his work.) We might not agree even now but if you want to reply, go ahead. But refraining from ad-hominem attacks might make things easier. Just an idea…

Yojimboen said...

In Manhattan, Woody Allen’s Isaac ridicules Diane Keaton’s Mary for pronouncing Van Gogh’s name correctly; a scene I always found to be an odd retreat – uncharacteristic for Allen - into the protective colouration of unashamed ignorance most Americans exhibit when confronted with a foreign language. (Notur Dayme?)

There may be other minor flaws in the film, but I can’t think of any at the moment. Hmm… Nope, not one.

X. Trapnel said...

"...the protective colouration of unashamed ignorance most Americans exhibit when confronted with a foreign language"

Y, where do you think we got it from?

"Nearly every Englishman of working-class origin considers it effeminate to pronounce a foreign word correctly."--George Orwell

And not just working class: Don Joo-an, Ajincort

The Siren said...

This morning, I was tweeting at my good friend Victoria of Bois de Jasmin. She is in Brussels now and wrote a delightful post about homesickness and how "I just pronounced 'canard' as 'connard,' thus effectively asking my puzzled butcher for a jerk instead of a duck."

And if I tried to say Van Gogh a la Diane Keaton, people would think I had strep throat. Can't do those back-of-the-throat consonants for toffee.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that sometimes I just pronounce things badly. I NEVER sound more Alabama than when I am trying to speak French.

Also, I guess I am trying to change the subject. :)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Being a major closet queen Eric Blair was keen to avoid the "effeminate."

Jeff Gee said...

The key novel of the 20th century if the Lancer pb novelization of "Girls! Girls! Girls!"(1962). No author is listed but I believe I can discern the fine Italian hand of Daniel P. Mannix.

Yojimboen said...

Dear me, I just read the sentence “My objection is not that he uses the name Flaubert or Cezanne per se but that he uses it like he would Nike or Armani: brand names to signify sophistication and erudition…”

Talk about your nail on the head! I always react that way! Just say the word “Nike!” and I’ll go all a-quiver with insecurity and intimidation, overwhelmed by your sophistication and erudition.

Seriously, dear boyo, no big whoop. Horses for courses. Some people don’t care for Mr. Allen’s work, some do. (There are even people who admire and love some of Mr. Allen’s films, Manhattan, Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Zelig, while frankly detesting others, Match Point, Midnight in Paris.)

“Why is life worth living?”

Isaac’s recitation may not be Joyce or Yeats or Keats or even Perelman… but, it’ll do.

And if it’s partly valid – and I’ll grant it is – to characterize Allen’s ‘messages’ as somewhat simplistic, I submit it’s also fair to add to the scale Tracy’s closing line, “Not everybody gets corrupted… You have to have a little faith in people… ”

Yojimboen said...

S'kay, Mom, X an' me are just funnin'.

But someday, please, can someone explain to me why most Americans (none, I stress, who would ever read or comment at the Siren's Oasis) pronounce "femme fatale" half-wrong and half right?

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

The problem with Woody Allen's cultural droppings is that they have no thematic relationship to the film.


Maybe, but why is that necessarily a problem? Honestly: it’s an interesting topic – how ‘serious’ does a reference have to be to be ‘valid’? Somebody mentioned William Gaddis. Never had much success with actually enjoying his writing. On the other hand, I’m a big fan of Thomas Pynchon, who likes to throw in a cultural reference or two. To what extent do such references differ from those made by Woody, etc? What does Pynchon’s use of, say, Mickey Rooney really signify? I’d say it’s all just meant in fun.


In Shop Around the Corner the references to Tolstoy, Zola, and the Comedie Francaise (that's a theater in France) are expressions of the characters' emotional idealism.

Arguable, surely?

Allen's problem is that he craves and resents culture at the same time, a wonderful theme but beyond his talent and intelligence. And his poking fun at NY intellectuals is way too gentle. Wallace Markfield's To an Early Grave (cf. Bye Bye, Braverman) is the real thing.

If we agree that Allen does ‘crave and resent’ culture, that raises another interesting topic (one paralleled in Diane Keaton’s claim that she is both attracted to and repelled by the male organ?). Again, I’d ask: is such duality an unequivocally bad thing? Is there maybe some of that in more people than your post suggests? Many artists – Allen included – have explicitly played with just that theme: would we/you/I rather spend an evening consuming high culture, or making love with a sexually provocative but uncultured young lady?

All in all, this thread has thrown up a number of intriguing debating points. What is Allen’s (or anyone’s) purpose in throwing in these cultural references? My take would be that it’s just fun to do so, there’s no higher intent. But there are often very benign side-effects, as when a teenager watching a Woody Allen movie (not what you’d call high culture) is moved to check out Flaubert (one of the very best novelists of all time, second only to Tolstoy, probably).

johncarvill said...

(but I'll take your word for it that Match Point is somehow different: I've not seen it).

Well, what I was saying re. Match Point was that, since it was set in England and presented a thoroughly unrealistic view of England, it helped me understand the decades of complaints levelled at Allen’s films and their unrealistic portrayal of New York.

But creation of fantasy is something opposed to the very nature of screwball comedy, where the characters are always being dropped into the real world (Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby or Henry Fonda in Lady Eve). If Allen shares that sense of pleasure in bursting pretension that you find in most screwball comedies, then I must have missed it.

Come now, please remind me at what juncture, during ‘Bringing Up Baby’, the ‘real world’ intrudes?


I would not mind any of this but Allen's plot construction is abysmal ...

Could say the same about Hawks, no?

...and he has very little of interest to say and even that is cleanly summarized at the end of each movie. "Live in the present, not the past," (MiP) "We can't really know much about death but isn't life enough" (HaHS) ... and so on. Not exactly monumental ideas, I would contend.

By comparison, which monumental ideas do you find in other filmmakers’ works?


I never intended to make this a Woody Allen thread but I've tried to answer at length. (I've never cared much about him and I've long since lost touch with his work.) We might not agree even now but if you want to reply, go ahead. But refraining from ad-hominem attacks might make things easier. Just an idea…

Don’t think I did launch any ad hominem attacks. Didn’t intend to.

Shamus said...

Y, To clarify (oversimplify) Allen flatters his audience into thinking it is somehow knowledgeable or hip because it recognizes names like Flaubert and Gertrude Stein and that this is somehow a substitute to the real stuff- one reason why he is "beloved" filmmaker. The intimidating part, he leaves to another talky filmmaker who goes in for (far more esotoric) cultural references: Jean-Luc Godard. [Leaving aside the obvious differences, they even share a nasty, misanthropic (sometimes misogynistic) attitude. If Godard were less talented and take more trouble to rid his films of everything interesting, I'm sure he'd equally "beloved".]

As for I'm concerned, debating the so-called merit of Allen is a waste of anyone's time and you can have your precious Manhattan and Hannah, I'd rather go see Pierrot le Fou or 2 or 3 things again. There I've said it. Good God(ard), that feels good.

JC (cool initials, by the way), I hope this ---

By comparison, which monumental ideas do you find in other filmmakers’ works?

--- is a rhetorical question, because there is no way you claim that there were no significant ideas in any film in its 100 year odd history.

Anybody else want to change the subject?

X. Trapnel said...

Y, is there an accent aigu at the end of fatale? How are we Murricans mispronouncing it? The one I don't get is lingerie/lahnzheRAY.

JC,

In SATC cultural ambition, knowing something about art, history, literature, how many people live in Brazil (put down thy Mankiewicz; take up thy Raphaelson) is what brings Alfred K and Klara N together. Lubitsch adds a note of gentle skepticism in the person of Pirovitch but no points are scored, no one is condescended to. They are simply trying, however naiveley (like all of us) to rise above their circumstances. My point about Allen was that the duality of craving/resenting culture is not EXPLORED (sorry I don't know how to do italics outside of Word) because he probably doesn't perceive it in himself. He does know a little about art, but he knows that others know more (they MUST be pretentious) and therefore might stand a better chance of getting laid.

X. Trapnel said...

Change of subject: BLU-RAY OF LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN IN OCTOBER!

Shamus said...

Thank you. Now we're getting somewhere.

Shamus said...

On the subject: a related Gallagher post

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus, this looks promising and what a chance for an alphabetical daisy chain of pretentious Viennese cultural refernces: Alban Berg, Carl Dallago, Egon Friedel, Gerhart Hauptmann...all the way to Yefan Zweig.

johncarvill said...

JC (cool initials, by the way), I hope this ---

By comparison, which monumental ideas do you find in other filmmakers’ works?

--- is a rhetorical question, because there is no way you claim that there were no significant ideas in any film in its 100 year odd history.


Well, 'monumental ideas' is a big ask, no?

But anyway, I'm happy to change/close the subject.

Just received a TCm box of 4 Jrean Harlow movies, and in between commenting here (and intermittent childcare) have been enjoying 'Dinner At Eight'. Talk about culture!

DavidEhrenstein said...

Though frequently annoying Woody Allen can't be dismissed as a mere speudo-intellectual hack. Take this truly exquisite piece of montage for instance.

actually I enjoyed Midnight in Paris all the way through because for once the cultural references weren't there to impress me with how smart he is, but merely for fun. Besides the film's main course is Marion Cottillard -- a goddess that Woody teats with the consumate respect she deserves.

X. Trapnel said...

Looks like coffee table book photography to me.

rcocean said...

The academy of the overrated:

Bertolt Brecht
Saul Bellow
Toni Morrison
Ezra Pound
Luis Buñuel
George Bernard Shaw

Yojimboen said...

Ignore them, David, it’s a lovely montage and thank you for the link. But is it better than the opening montage in Manhattan? No. Not even close. Why? Because it’s Paris, and exquisite as Paris is, it’s not New York.

Incidentally, I hope “a goddess that Woody teats…” was a typo?

Whichever, teats or treats, Marion Cotillard is no goddess, she’s just an actress. A pretty good one; I’ve admired her for years (not because of the Piaf bio which I found barely so-so) and I’m glad she took the advice to keep her, shall we say, unorthodox opinions to herself (she insists the WTC Towers came down as part of an inside job), lest her H’Wood career takes a Vanessa Redgrave nose-dive into the deep end of ‘Take a message, I’ll get back to her.”

It became obvious rather smartly that I was going to have to watch Midnight in Paris through closed fingers (y’know, like monster movies when you’re six?); the problem was that I liked Everyone Says I Love You so much and I hoped W. Allen might match it or top it. I was surprised to find Owen Wilson in it (X., the guy is more annoying than broken wire hangers - what happened to our standing agreement to warn each other about such things?), and more surprised to witness an attempt to imitate the snaggle-toothed acting style of his boss which was even worse than Kenneth Branagh’s like attempt in Celebrity.

But unforgivably worst of all, and the real reason for the fingers over the eyes is that Midnight in Paris looks like the kind of film where any minute Richard E. Grant might waltz in playing Cole or Noel or Buffy or Muffy or Helga or Zelda and then where would I be? (I’ve been known to run screaming from theaters at the sight of Richard E. Grant.)

It was agony to watch. More agony to remember.
What the hey… At least Judy Davis wasn’t in it.

X. Trapnel said...

God's honest truth, I've never seen Owen Wilson move (the stills are sufficierntly terrifying) nor hear him produce sounds.

Speaking of slavishly imitating the boss, it was Michael Caine's jittery jangly courtship of Barbara Hershey (with an icky assist from eec, whom i often like) that put me off the Maestro forever.

And now to Richard E. Grant (I've been waiting YEARS for this. Thank you Y, and of course thanks to our hostess). Some years ago (never mind how many) I opened to the movie section of the NY Times and saw an ad for some film or other with a reviewer's blurb proclaiming in formidable block letters: RICHARD E. GRANT IS UTTERLY CHARMING. After I picked myself up, dusted myself off, etc. It occurred to me that this was some sort of philosophical proposition in infinite regress theory like "I am a liar" or "This statement cannot be proven." I ran it through my Godel/Wittgenstein (pretentious cultural ref.) decoder ring which emitted a high shrill sound and melted like the ambassador's phone in Fail Safe. All that remained was to take a header into Dada. I have a friend (a lurker here) who feels about RICHARD E. GRANT roughly as I do + Yojimboen and then some. so I clipped the blurb, made about 100 or so copies of it, and next time I visited him slipped them into every nook and cranny of his house. They were still turning up years later and may yet startle the current occupants. His revenge involved a copy of Dukakis and the Reform Impulse.

Didn't RICHARD E. GRANT play a giant pimple in some movie with poor Rachel Ward?

Shamus said...

The way Allen films Paris, not only can I not imagine anyone actually wanting to live there, I cannot imagine that anyone could possibly live in such dreadfully sterile environs. A far superior montage of Paris (not that I've been there) opens The 400 Blows.

And yes, of course, Marion Cotillard is a goddess. Of course.

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus,

I generally agree with all your points on WA but wouldn't go that far re this montage. It may be a series of postcards, lacking the visual excitement of Wilder's opening montage in Mauvaise Graine (with goddess of goddesses DD), the lived in look of Rohmer's Paris, or the truly exquisite (as opposed to exquizeet-t-t-t-t) poetry of Vigo's Paris and industrial scenes, but the individual shots are beautiful and full of life, the work of a fine photographer and Paris as its own auteur.

Shamus said...

There is something Barthes said on the subject: that he could imagine himself living in any place advertised on a travel brochure. And that montage seems to be designed for tourists.

I'd rather live in a Bela Tarr landscape, for all its mud and grime and dirt and shadow. But being a part of that serene bustle of life in Renoir's Boudu sauvé des eaux: that would do just fine.

Shamus said...

Damn:

could never imagine himself ...

Yojimboen said...

All right, I’m in a charitable mood.
Let’s all agree the lady is like unto a goddess and leave it at that, shall we?

X. Trapnel said...

By the mass, and 't is like a goddess, indeed.

johncarvill said...

All this talk of 'Midnight In Paris' reminds me that I forgot to make clear the fact that, when I speak of Woody Allen, I refer of course to the 'old' Woody, not the one who lost it decades ago.

I don't expect anything worthwhile from him now.

Yes, that montage is pretty. It's tourist posdcard-y, too, but not as bad as the London shots in 'Match Point'.

Michael Caine was terrific in 'Hannah'.

Richard E Grant is taking a bashing here. I assume you don't like 'Withnail and I'?

Owen Wilson was pretty good in 'The Royal Tenenbaums'.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Withnail and I is an acquired taste I've found it impossible to acquire. I like Richard E. Grant in other things, however -- especially Altman's The Player

My boyfriend Bill can't stand the sight or sound of Owen Wilson. I think he's OK in small doses.

The Siren said...

I like Owen Wilson very much, but he has a strongly mannered screen presence so it doesn't surprise me that he puts some people right off.

Richard E. Grant -- yes to The Player, Gosford Park, other sterling supporting work; noohgodnopleaseno to How Get Ahead in Advertising, meh to Withnail and I, a cult film that has failed to recruit me.

Jeff Gee said...

I took a couple of serious whacks at The Recognitions when I was in my early 30’s, the second time making it past the half way point, but I finally ground to a halt during a party sequence that had lasted for close to a hundred pages at the point where I bailed. It was brilliant. There was a guy at the party who was either Hemingway or a guy pretending to be Hemingway, and either way it was hilarious. But it was a hundred pages long, mostly dialogue, and the guy don’t use no quote marks. I remember things from that book, like the creepy nursery rhyme that winds through it, as vividly as anything I’ve ever read. Maybe I’ll give it another try some day, but probably not because mostly what I remember is how exhausting it was. There was no respite from the brilliance. Even the fucking commas were brilliant. But the brilliance was no fun. I had the impression, incorrect no doubt, that I wasn’t even supposed to enjoy this, an impression I never got from, for instance, Nabokov. NUTS about that guy. Read all the books, even the chess problems. But if I were stuck on the tarmac at JFK for three hours and the flight attendant came by with a selection of paperbacks, I believe that I would pass up King Queen Knave in favor of Pride of the Woosters despite the fact that the former gives you a bit more bang for the buck.
Bringing us back to the kid with the Citizen Kane tape. It’s probably a tarmac thing, not a Kane thing. If you’re stuck on the runway in a blizzard you want something familiar and safe, and maybe Casablanca (even in black and white) would have worked just fine. [continued….]

Jeff Gee said...

Sorry the kid’s movie got booed, but: This is an incredibly great time to be the kid with the Citizen Kane tape. Lots of people here know—they’ve written about it—what it was like to be the kid with the Citizen Kane tape in the 60’s and 70’s, when you couldn’t even get your hands on a published filmography because you had no idea what it was, you had no idea if Orson Welles made 20 movies after Kane or 5 or none, or how he got from THAT to being the big fat guy on the Dean Martin Show. Now you have instant access to clips from virtually all of his movies, to the complete run of his “Lives of Harry Lime” radio show, to recordings of Mercury Theater productions of the 30’s. And can you imagine being the Kid with the Citizen Kane tape in 1972 and coming across the equivalent of this blog? Would it not have been life-changing? And surely there ARE teenage kids with Citizen Kane tapes who have stumbled across this blog, lurking, and marinating in its nourishing juices.
It is sometimes infuriating to me when my young friends go out of their way (it seems to me) NOT to avail themselves of the staggering, endless mass of brilliant material literally (here meaning ‘literally’) at their fingertips. And it’s FREE. In my teens I would have spent all my spare time looking at and listening to that stuff because I had superb taste all the way across the board. [Pay no attention to that “Horse with No Name” 45 playing in the background]. It really is infuriating, but if they give me a jump when my car won’t start they can watch whatever crap they want and god bless ‘em. [continued…]

Jeff Gee said...

ETC:
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS: Thumbs down from me. Thought the script was like something a bright 15 year old would write:
WILSON: Did you read my story, Hemingway?
HEMINGWAY: I did not understand what you meant by ‘Toyota Prius,’ but I could tell that what you wrote was good, and true.
FITZGERALD: Hey Everybody! I got some bootleg hooch!
GERTRUDE STEIN (shaking her head): You are truly a lost generation…
WILSON (spinning in a circle with his arms extended, like Julie Andrews in ‘Sound of Music’): Paris in the 1920’s! It’s exactly the way I pictured it!
Like that, only two hours of it. Loved Vicki Christina Barcelona, though.
I rescind my vote for “Girl! Girls! Girls!” and now declare that Man from U.N.C.L.E. # 7: The Radioactive Camel Affair by Peter Leslie is the key novel of the 20th century.

The Siren said...

My favorite review of Midnight in Paris was from the brilliant and very gentlemanly Kent Jones, who comments here from time to time. I'm on board with just about all of it, save his admiration for "Alice," the one Allen film that (for reasons I have yet to analyze in any depth) I truly cannot abide.

Re: Citizen Kane and the tarmac--for me, it's a hugely entertaining movie. God knows it's ultimately tragic but it's also witty as hell. That marriage montage. "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper." And this. I frankly can't think of many better ways to take me out of a smelly airplane, although P.G. Wodehouse would be one, unless it's Aunts Aren't Gentlemen which is the only genuinely bad book I've ever read by him.

mas82730 said...

Well, maybe a Spiderman or a John Hughes brat pack movie will eventually lead a young film-lover to a Welles or an Antonioni, like the kid at JFK. And perhaps J.K. Rowling will whet a teen reader's appetite for Hardy or Poe. Hell, I grew up watching tapes of 'The Horror of Party Beach', Gidrah, the Three-Headed Monster' and Killer Klowns from Outer Space', and reading Nancy Drew's 'The Case of the Whispering Statue' ad nauseam. There's always hope.

X. Trapnel said...

Funny thing is Allen's NYer piece "A Twenties Memory"(said to be the source of MiP) is really very funny, an anarchic jab at the Lost Generation nachschleppers and their and their smug memoirs ("We were sitting in the south of France with our feet comfortably up on stools in the North of France"). A pity he gave up his early knockabout humor for Good Taste and academic beauty.

Shamus said...

And yet, Allen's themes and strategies are not completely alien from those of Rohmer before him and even Linklater after him, so I'm not sure why he feels so slight in comparison. Before Sunset, for instance, has the lovely, relaxed improvised quality that Allen's films always prized but never truly attained (not even in Annie Hall).

rcocean said...

Thanks Jeff Gee, you did a brilliant satire on Woody's Paris film. But let's be honest, if he'd tried to NOT use silly cliche's very few in his audience would've understood. Woody himself isn't a college grad, and spent most his early adulthood trying to make Sid Caesar laugh. I mean this is a country that thought Dick Cavett was too intellectual.

rcocean said...

But I did find it interesting Woody included Bunuel. How many outside of a small elite movie crowd know, let alone care, about him?

Maybe like Jerry Lewis, he's more popular in France.

X. Trapnel said...

rc, it's a long time since I've seen Manhattan, but my memory of the Academy of the Overrated was that it was intended to show up the pretentiousness of those who thought it up. WA certainly counts on an in-the-know segment within his larger audience who would certainly be aware of Bunuel.

rcocean said...

-Yale: "...Academy of the Overrated, for such notables as Gustav Mahler..."
-Mary: "And Isak Dinesen, and Carl Jung..."
-Yale: "Scott Fitzgerald..."
-Mary: "Lenny Bruce. Can't forget Lenny Bruce, now, can we? How
about Norman Mailer? And Walt Whitman?"
-Isaac: "I think that those people are all terrific, everyone
that you mentioned."
-Yale: "Who was that guy you had?
-Mary: "No, I didn't have it. It was yours. It was Heinrich
Böll, wasn't it?
-Yale: "Oh, God. Oh, we wouldn't want to leave out old Heinrich..."
-Isaac: "What about Mozart...?
-Mary: "Ah, well, how about Vincent van Gogh?"
-Isaac: "Van Goch? She said Van Goch? Van Goch..."
-Mary: "Or Ingmar Bergman?"

Yojimboen said...

“How many outside of a small elite movie crowd know, let alone care, about him (Buñuel)?”
Not sure I’d go along with that, rc.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie &
The Phantom of Liberty
played to sizeable audiences in NYC and (as a quick look at a calendar will tell you) That Obscure Object of Desire was packing them in at the Coronet (?) about the same time WA was writing Manhattan. I’d wager there was always a respectable overlap of audiences.

Re how small or elite the crowd was, I’ll paraphrase Agee on Keaton:

“…there are people who never much cared for [Buñuel]. Those who do cannot care mildly.”

DavidEhrenstein said...

If you pooped out half way through The Recognitions then it's not likely you'll be reading J.R., Carpenter's Gothic, A Frolic of His own and Agape Agape

X. Trapnel said...

Thanks, rc, for the clarification, and as I suspected it shows WA, ,as always, trying to have it both ways: defender and denigrater of the life of the mind, in the safest way possible.

Could he have scripted a scene in which a character explains why he thinks Van Gochghjk is overrated?

johncarvill said...

... it's a long time since I've seen Manhattan, but my memory of the Academy of the Overrated was that it was intended to show up the pretentiousness of those who thought it up...

Indeed. Which is why I brought it up, wrt people calling F Scott Fitzgerald overrated.

..meh to Withnail and I, a cult film that has failed to recruit me

Odd. Maybe partly a cultural thing? Very English humour in Withnail. But then same could be said for PG Woodehouse.

I would have expected people here to enjoy Withnail, if only for the love of language.

Here's a little piece I did no it a while back:

http://www.oomska.co.uk/on-holiday-by-mistake-the-enduring-legacy-of-withnail-and-i/

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's a pretty good NYT review of Vito which is premiering on HBO this week (I'm in it.)

mas82730 said...

Is that Eric Emerson of Warhol's 'Heat', etc, standing behind Russo off to the side?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Absolutely not.

rcocean said...

X, what amazes me about seeing Woody's "Academy of the overrated" in cold print, is how he mixes up (deliberately?) artists most of use would bristle at thinking as "over-rated" with artists who frankly don't deserve to be in the same company. Love 'em or hate'em does anyone honestly think Mahler is in the same class as Mozart, or Mailer with Fitzgerald, or Boll and Whitman? And what the hell is Lenny Bruce doing here?

We're obviously supposed to siding with Woody against these pretentious jerks, but is it believable they'd class Lenny Bruce and Walt Whitman in the same academy?

I wonder who Allen is signaling with this.

X. Trapnel said...

rc, I agree it doesn't make a lot of sense except to say that these are names familiar to semi-well-educated NYers. Re Mahler/Mozart, there are levels of greatness and while the former might not be quite on the level of the latter (and, hell, we can throw out WAM's first 296 K.s with no real loss {297 is the Symphonie Concertante for Winds, a lovely work]) he's still a tremendous figure. And Erich Korngold is a lesser composer than Mahler, but his music (not just for films) is precious to me. Lesser artists often give us things that greater ones don't and I for one am endlessly grateful for what is given.

Over the past 2 days I have reread The Great Gatsby, and it is as fresh, glistening, and miraculous as ever.

DavidEhrenstein said...

as fresh, glistening, and miraculous as ever

rcocean said...

X, agree on "The Great Gatsby" one of our greatest American novels.

Buttermilk Sky said...

The Richard E. Grant giant-pimple movie is being remade with Russell Brand.

Not really. But I scared you, didn't I?

HưngTen said...

o vote for celebrities who seem to be good at math, actress Kim Tae Hee ranked first with 43.4% of the votes, and Lee Seung Gi followed with 30.Archos 7 8GB Home Tablet with Android Black
Womens Clothing

homemade facial masks
local classifeds

fitness courses
free texting

Porsche Oxygen Sensor
text free

Bangkok shopping guide
free text messaging

online bingo promotions
ราคาบอลวันนี้

humör hosen
Very Promotional Codes

manufacturing scheduling software
free classifieds

bladder cancer treatments
San Francisco Movers

VoucherCodesNet
car rental michigan
9% of the votes. According to the students, “Lee Seung Gi looks smart and intelligent” and “Kim Tae Hee went to Seoul National University, she is smart for real.”

On the other hand, for celebrities who see