Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mayfair

Happy Birthday to me. And Happy 50th Birthday to the 1964 New York World's Fair!

This was it. The zenith moment of the American Century. Opening five months to the day after Dallas broke the back of that Century, the Fair embodied all that was lost and would never return again: a belief that, in the words of the fallen martyr: "Our problems are manmade - - therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable - - and we believe they can do it again."

It was a moment on the cusp of Tonkin Gulf, on the cusp of the first urban riots soon to explode in Harlem, before the murders of Schwerner, Goodman & Chaney, before the take-off of Johnson / Goldwater, before the fall of Khrushchev. . .The martyr was to open the Fair; rather, it was opened by one of his killers, Lyndon Johnson.

Here's a glimpse of the Fair through the NBC lens of the ever-droning Edwin Newman. Watch closely. You'll never see the likes of this again.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Life

The greatest ending to a 20th-Century movie, the most moving, the most profound.

A beloved wife, mother, daughter and sister has died in childbirth. Her surviving younger daughter asks her uncle -- who believes he is Jesus Christ -- to bring her mother back from the dead. He does, and the mother returns with new, and terrible, understanding.



A brilliant essay by Chris Fujiwara on the Dreyer masterpiece.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Wizard


The Wizard of Oswald (2013) is Jack Robertson's very funny and very deep reading of almost everything Dallas 1963 -- all done at his computer, showing the complete uselessness of 21st Century police agencies. Robertson's conclusions are a bit jejune and accepting, but Jack the Wizard makes everything so much fun and detailed you won't care at all.

Monday, April 14, 2014

On Fire

Thursday, April 10, 2014

LHO


A brilliant and moving primer on the man who didn't shoot anybody, no sir: Shane O'Sullivan's Killing Oswald.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

It Was You, Barry

Surprise, surprise. It was the White House Death Squad Commander inventing and pushing all those lies about the Syrian government's involvement in the Ghouta poison gas attack last August. Actually, it was the US-backed Syrian "rebels" who did it, supplied by US lap dogs Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia -- intelligence well-known by Obama whose planned Libya-type destruction of Syria was stopped by -- get this -- the Pentagon. Hail to the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate!

Seymour Hersh spoke with Amy Goodman about his just published report. (A report blacked-out by all establishment US media.)



Hersh's full investigation.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Awakenings

In my movie lifetime, just about every young-girl-awakens-to-romance moment has gone something like this.



Point: be (or long for) a male model who drives a red Porsche 944.

*
Japan's first movie-kiss occurred on screens in late 1946, in Yasushi Sasaki's Twenty-Year-Old Youth (Hatachi no seishun). Post-surrender reforms imposed on Japan by Douglas MacArthur's "Supreme Commander of Allied Powers" (SCAP) were less economic and systemic in effect, than they were stylistic and emotional. Real power remained basically where it'd been before the Japanese military went insane. (An insanity ignited by the 1930s economic war waged on Japan by white Western forces.) SCAP instead went after the underpinnings of culture both popular and traditional, and blew them, after a period of time, apart: zaibatsu still ran the country; everything else changed. Most dramatically, the role of women. A gradual shift from a culture of tradition to one of youth. Dress. What was acceptable in fiction, journalism, and music. Popular dancing. Ideas of romance and marriage. And sex.

Not long after the release of Twenty-Year-Old Youth, Mikio Naruse became the first prestigious movie director to show the (attempted) physical act of love on screen, and it is a moment of terror. From the point-of-view of 2014 and a world of general human and cultural decomposition, the corporate devouring of myth and consequence ~ and Rin Sakuragi ~ Naruse's Spring Awakens (Haru no mezame) is very hard to believe. Did this world really exist? Watching the movie feels like touching the pre-historic. This isn't Imperial Rome or Renaissance France. My daughter's grandparents lived this world when they were Saya-chan's age. . .

Three pretty high school students genuinely (and believably) know nothing about sex, or how babies are born. (In a movie filled with many small miracles of gesture and nuance, this is the large one.) Two years after the destruction of the country, where is the Year Zero barbarism? (See Mizoguchi's Women of the Night.) Three boys are their friends: an artist, a writer, and a doctor's son. The boys and girls are surrounded by their own confusions: the maid in Kumiko's household must be dismissed for having a black-marketeer boyfriend; Koji's adored older sister is getting married; a "dirty picture" is found in one schoolgirl's desk, causing the ransacking of all the girls' desks. And Akiko must leave school because of a pregnancy, a pregnancy we are are led to believe will soon be terminated.


The boys and girls (and we) are also faced with intense and continuing sensuality: the explosion of spring and summer, as if nature is holding the small town as one holds a bee between the palms of the hands, when it is benumbed; Kyoko and Kumiko lying close together on the hillgrass, one girl in kimono, the other in western clothes; Kumiko thinking about where babies come from and Naruse fading on her upturned swinging bare feet; the physical at the girls' school; the boys-and-girls Sunday picnic; Hanae and Kyoko hiking up their skirts -- again one girl in kimomo, the other not -- in the river as they play with a family of ducks and as they try to avoid rocks playfully tossed at them by the boys.

The scene where Noshiro (the artist) forcefully kisses Kumiko, because it came from such a famous director, instantly became legend. Yet the following sequence, during a lightning-and-thunder storm, is the film's greatest. Kyoko and her friend Hanae's older brother are in love. She is terrified of thunder, the sound of falling bombs. Has any other movie sequence better captured a young girl's sexual torment and longing? What would've happened if Hanae had not returned home? And Hanae -- who also loves Koji, who only has eyes for Kumiko -- senses what she may have interrupted. . . .



Five-thousand miles away that same year, another great director had a similar idea, sort of.



(Is there any doubt from these two sequences who "won" the war?)

Yet the sadness of the film. (The relationships between Kumiko and her little sister, and Koji and his older sister, are especially moving.) My favorite moment: Kumiko and the doctor's son have loved each other since childhood. At one point Koji's soon-to-be-married sister gives him a memory album for him to keep. One photo is of herself, and Kumiko and Koji as children.


Later, on the morning of the sister's wedding, Koji and Kumiko walk together, discussing nothing in particular, and at the end of their walk, as both feel the other's growing attachment, Koji kicks a stone ahead. Watch the cut.



Another spring, another wedding, two years later. Another shot embodying the love for a girl-as-she-was, this time from a father about to lose her.



The same deep sadness from Ozu and Naruse (and many other places), as if the pain of what has happened and what was happening to Japan was too overwhelming to be numbed by even the most beautiful and most human of dreams.

Naruse's Spring Awakens (1947).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Guess Who Was Behind This Junk?


[For the answer, please click on it.]

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Fools Rush In

"Logorama" (2009) from H5.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Know That There Are Witches


"And what do witches drink?"
-- Robert Mitchum, Angel Face

In Angel Face (1952), Jean Simmons wishes to drink deeply of everything Robert Mitchum. To be more precise, of Frank Jessup, Mitchum's character. And is Frank glad. Until Diane Tremayne, Miss Simmon's character, becomes an inconvenience, she and her crooning, insane, very true love.

It is perplexing, and somewhat motiveless, Diane's love. A luscious 19- (going on 20) year-old, lovely, slender, stylish, very smart and very rich and motherless -- yet she is her own island within Beverly Hills. There is no hint of any current or past sexual or romantic connections surrounding her. An island she literally dives off of to chase down Mitchum's departing and empty ambulance. The heart wants what it wants. And so does the vagina. How else to explain Diane Tremayne's immediate swoon? For Frank Jessup is a singularly (for a 50s leading man) repulsive character, the most repulsive of Mitchum's career. (He is evil and the very opposite of repulsive in Night of the Hunter [1955] and Cape Fear [1962].) Jessup is a shaggy seedy slob (and seems much older than the Jeff Bailey/Markham of five years before). He jumps at Diane's chauffeur offer. At the chance to drive Diane's race-car at Pebble Beach. At the chance to grab some of her stepmother Barbara O'Neil's loot for his would-be foreign car repair shop. At Diane's first scent, he drops his buddy Bill, his girlfriend Mary, the hospital and his job. And drops Diane herself once he's cleared of murder charges, an acquittal mostly achieved through a fake marriage to Diane. He drops her to run off to Mexico, a place he's never been to before. (But not before betting Diane for her car, with Frank putting up nothing.) Much of what he says rings hollow. This lazy guy a former race-car driver before the war? Now driving an ambulance, seven years after war's end, to save up for his shop and his marriage to Mary (she clearly a pit-stop)? (His idea of a warehouse-type garage servicing all foreign makes is pretty dumb for L.A. where every foreign car owner brings the car to shops specializing only in that make or model.) Frank is a user and a blank.

But never more on the prowl than after his afterwork phone call to Mary aborted by Diane's arrival. Frank wants to fuck Diane very much and cheat on Mary very much, once they can flee the greasy diner. (Her entrance is to "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan.") He goes out of his way to sound as much as a lying prick as possible to Mary, his manner of showing-off before Diane. Yet how they treat each other is the reverse of the good. She acts toward him as if he's a shining prince. He treats her like a skank, something dirty and dangerous and impure. "With a girl like you, how can a man be sure?" he asks her.

A girl like her?

  
So, he refuses to love Diane because of the one thing he is sure about: that she gives it away. That her falling for him is cheap and common. Worse. That her love can be stolen from him at any time by a night beneath the moon, one that goes from night 'til dawn. For strange, unexplained reasons Diane insists on nights of separation. Jessup seems in a sexual panic over these nights. ("I'm very tired, Frank." "Yeah, that I can believe.") ~ while director Otto Preminger shows us her playing chess with her worshipful father Herbert Marshall.

"No and we don't love the same either. It wouldn't matter to me what you were or what you did."
-- Jean Simmons, Angel Face

The question hangs over the movie, it is perhaps the only question we care about: how new is this for them both, how unique are these feelings for Diane, for Jessup (not at all), for post-war Los Angeles? (Whether Diane monkeyed with the stepmother's car, or had help from Frank, is pooh-poohed in the flat middle section of the movie, when the trial and throttle retractor springs and shift levers and goofy DA Jim Backus make it stop dead. We also never learn what went down in Barbara O'Neil's bedroom at the beginning of the story. But oh that "murder" scene. . .)



The suffocating assumptions around Diane of amorality, corruption, debauchery have driven her insane. In a work about complete erotic love, everyone is afraid. Herbert Marshall is a man with a daughter-complex married to a castrato, who fears murder from her step-daughter. Bill, Jessup's red-headed buddy (Ken Tobey), hasn't the guts (or the sex) to go after the girl he loves, Frank's Mary (Mona Freeman). Until Mary runs to him afraid of the inevitable sexual wounds Frank would inflict on her. ("I'm the one afraid of the competition.")  Mitchum hopes to runs to Mexico, fleeing Diane's burning. All are afraid.



Except Diane. All the way, for Frank, is the trueness of her heart and vagina. Her nature is clearly isolate. When we see her at piano, her face is still and remote. Strange and amorphous, Diane yearns though her troubles in a warm vagueness, her soul and otherwise throbbing for Frank, because he does not want her, not her. In a five-shot, four-minute sequence, she walks across her mansion barely seeing the house around her, drifting, quiescent, in a state of metamorphosis, darkening -- as if a light inside her has gone out. Preminger's and DP Harry Stradling's wonder-light fades, cold air breathes down. She has crossed to the other side.



Joining her sisters in the coven of extreme movie love: Josette Day in Beauty and the Beast (1946), Annie Starr, Mabel Longhetti, Anne from Day of Wrath, Gertrud, Lola Montes and Madame de, Rose Hobart, Madeleine/Judy, Rose Balestrero, Bunuel's Lya Lys, Mrs. Soffel, Dragnet Girl. (Perhaps Preminger's most remarkable achievement in Angel Face is his appearing to not take sides.)

As safe, sexually-insecure Mary tells Frank: both he and Bill went on that ambulance run to the Tremayne mansion. Yet only Frank drank from Diane's cup. Even though Frank had a girlfriend and Bill did not. And so the world, the movie says, is divided between those who would stir Jean Simmons, and those who would not. Then divided again -- between those with the guts to take her and those without. Those who taste victory and those who do not. And, the movie warns, do not enter a marriage or intimate relationship with those who do taste because though they may be tasting you now, how long before it's someone else? In Angel Face, sexual passion is love for a woman. For a man, a warning sign that she cannot be trusted.

There are other views.

***
Tag Gallagher is one of our great movie writers. His books on Rossellini and John Ford are among the best director bios (and readings of their works) we have. Lately, he's been creating video essays about specific movies. Here, in a 26-minute work called "A Moment's Inattention," Gallagher breaks down Angel Face.


His interpretation is rather straight. There's no mention of the trial, the parents, or the background friends. Dumbfounding is how Gallagher sees Frank Jessup, calling him "practically the same man" as Mitchum's Jeff Bailey/Markham from Tourneur's Out of the Past (1947). (The last third of the essay makes iconic connections between the two Mitchum movies, falsely in my opinion. Out of the Past is that rare masterpiece concerned almost not at all with romantic love or sexual ardor.) Jeff Bailey/Markham is one of the strongest moral agents in movie history. Frank Jessup is a pig.

***
The World and Its Double is the best and most comprehensive book we have on Otto Preminger. While not as astonishing as Fujiwara's masterpieces on Tourneur and Jerry Lewis (mainly because Preminger's art is less interesting than Fujiwara's), it is consistently jaw-dropping as the writer again and again improves on what he's seeing, or matches its greatness. The only disappointment with his Angel Face chapter (the best sections of the book are on Anatomy of a Murder, Advise & Consent and yes, Skidoo) is its brevity. Imagine a chapter controlled by a vision such as this, for all the scenes (30:00):
In an extraordinary sequence of Angel Face, Preminger gives us a model of how to see his characters. The sequence begins with a shot of Diane and her father, Charles Tremayne, playing chess in his study. The shot is partly framed by the open balcony door, a frame that freezes the moment in time and makes of it an idyllic and emblematic scene. The chess game is intercut with shots of Frank alone in the room outside his bedroom. He looks out the window, then goes to the phone and calls Mary's workplace. Failing to reach her, he discontentedly removes his tie (the camera tracking forward to a close shot), darting glances, as he does so, offscreen right (in the direction of the window). (His look offscreen repeats the look by which he first sees Diane and is drawn into her world for the first time.) The staging of the scene implies that Frank has been waiting for Diane to emerge from the house and that, disappointed, he instead calls Mary, still wishing, no longer with much hope, for Diane to appear. (That instead of Mary he reaches a third woman, one Janey, shows that women are interchangeable for him at this point.)
Or this (1:21:30):
The scene of Diane's attempted confession in Barrett's office is one of the greatest scenes in all Preminger's work, not only because of the hopeless truth made vivid by the contrast between Diane's stern, slow, dreamlike gravity and Barrett's indomitable cynicism, worldliness, and superficiality, but because, to form a triangle with the two principals, the scene introduces the key Preminger figure of the impassive witness, incarnated by the stenographer, Miss Preston. The mystery of this figure, who is reduced to the function of recording witness, permitted in no way to express any opinion or feeling about the drama that unfolds before her, will engage Preminger in several films, notable Advise & Consent, in the shots of functionaries during and after the Senate subcomittee hearing. The impassive witness has a similar function to that of the interested but silent observer, incarnated in another scene in Angel Face by Bill when he and Mary listen to Frank's attempt to renew his relationship with Mary. . .  Frank's words are directed to Mary alone, who alone responds to them, but they also fall, so to speak, on the blank and thoughtful face of Bill.
Or this (32:00):
. . . She goes to the piano, on whose lid sits a framed photograph of her father, at which she pauses to look. Then she sits at the piano and begins to play the film's theme as the camera (which has followed her across the room) tracks forward into a close-up. At first she looks downward; as she plays, she raises her eyes slightly, then looks up and stares at a point just below the level of the camera, so that light reflects from her pupils. . . This shot dissolves slowly into a close-up of the face of a clock, whose glass, too, reflects points of light (during the dissolve, the stars of Diane's pupils seem to become part of a larger constellation, with the stars of the clock face). The camera tracks back to reveal that the clock is sitting on a table outside Frank's bedroom; Diane, in a nightgown, enters hurriedly up the stairs and knocks at the bedroom door. Frank emerges, and Diane proceeds to tell him that her stepmother has just tried to kill her with gas.
Humbling, from the best film reader I know.

Angel Face.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Girl II

What a wonderful word. Defamed and discarded along the road toward the Corporatist takeover of feminism, then restored to mean quite the opposite of its original sense (girlzzzz = skanks with Attitude), it embodies a nature yielding, but only toward for what it yearns. Modest and proud; somewhat lost and incomplete. Warm; earnest; open. Seeing the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. Wondrous. Kind. Fetching. And a warrior.

My soon-to-be-10-year-old is a classic in the making, yet is it possible for a youth to pass through the Valley of Lena DumbHam & Kathryn Pigelow without being punked? Here's a classic: the young Elinor Donahue in a funny, moving and very lovely episode of FKB, "Betty Hates Carter" from Christmas Week 1955. (That's Robert Easton as the goofy and very lucky object of affection.)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Girl

Please let it stop snowing.

Stan Getz and the Gilbertos 50 years on. . . .

Friday, March 21, 2014

It Lives

You think things are murderous and suffocating now. . .

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring is Here . . . I Hear

Courtesy of Bill Evans and filmmaker Javier Mayoral.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Never Saw It Coming

Even the greatest of television series give us too much information -- sound and visual, and certainly story. Strange, considering we don't require background for most characters going in. The locations are normally familiar to us. So is what might be called the "moral architecture" of the show: we grasp in terms of style and meaning where it will go, and where it will not. The best episodes in the best series, usually by miracle, seem to contain these presumptions almost as distraction, using them to deepen and complicate the mysteries already at the heart of the matter.

For the first 20 minutes of its 48-minute length, "Counter Gambit" (an episode of The Rockford Files from the middle of its initial season) gives us nothing but false information. Two ex-cons with sudden new freedom hire private investigator (and ex-con) Jim Rockford to find a missing girl and her $250,000 of missing pearls. They expect Rockford to locate the girl, soften her up, get the lay of her apartment, then grab the loot. The only question seems to be whether the P.I. will return honor among thieves, or turn the necklace over to the cops.

Not exactly. The story begins way past middle and only after wrap-up can we understand what's really happened. "Counter Gambit" -- originally premiering for NBC on January 24, 1975, written by Howard Berk and Juanita Bartlett, directed by the fine actor Jackie Cooper -- is one of the great con episodes in TV history. Secretly dense and complicated, it feels like it was set up by the Rockford crew that week in about six seconds, the story was shot out of the trees, and no one ever saw it coming. It is perfect.

So many nice turns. Ford Raines as Manny Tolan. The wonderful Noah Berry Jr. twice briefly. M. Emmet Walsh as a particularly sweaty "insurance investigator." Garner throughout. Mary Frann luscious and seven years away from becoming Newhart's Joanna Loudon. And Stuart Margolin's first meaningful appearance as Angel Martin. (Margolin had directed a previous Rockford episode.) Not yet the corrupt and sniveling Angel we all know, "Counter Gambit"'s Angel is more endearing and smarter. (The scene inside the 1970s porn house is one of the funniest in the series.)

Eddie Fontaine steals it as Moss Williams.

Monday, March 17, 2014

95.7 Precent of Crimeans Flip Off the White House

by Paul Craig Roberts
In an unprecedented turnout unmatched by any Western election, Crimeans voted 95.7% to join Russia.  As I pointed out earlier today, under the twisted logic of Washington Crimea has never been a part of Ukraine as Russians were not allowed to vote when the Soviet dictator Khrushchev stuck the Russian province of Crimea into Ukraine in 1954.

While Crimeans celebrate in the streets and international observers declare the referendum to be totally fair and free of all interference and threat, the neo-Nazi White House declared that “we don’t recognize no stinking vote.”  The moronic White House spokesperson said that the White House and “the international community”–Washington  in its arrogance thinks that it is the voice of “the international community”–do not recognize the results of democracy in action.

Democracy is not acceptable to Washington, or to the two-bit punk American puppets who rule for Washington in Germany, UK, and France, when democracy does not serve Washington’s agenda of hegemony over the entire world. The neo-Nazi White House spokesperson lied through his teeth when he claimed that the referendum, which has been declared by international observers to have been completely free, was “administered under threats of violence and intimidation.”

This statement, which the entire world now knows to be false, marks the government in Washington, and its subservient media,  as the worst and most dangerous liar the world has ever experienced.  All Washington is capable of is lies: Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and al Qaeda connections, Syrian President Assad used chemical weapons against his own citizens, Iran has a nuclear weapons program, Gaddafi gave his soldiers viagra so they could better rape Libyan women, Russia invaded Crimea, on and on.  I could continue with hundreds of incidences of Washington’s lies.  Indeed, among aware people the word Washington has become synonymous with liar.

When will the world sanction the criminal enterprise that pretends to be a government of the United States?

When will the War Crimes Tribunal and the International Criminal Court issue arrest warrants for Obama and his entire criminal regime as well as the criminal regimes of Bush and Clinton?

When will the assets of the US government and its criminal members be seized?

How long will the world tolerate Washington’s incessant destruction of countries and peoples from Somalia to Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya to Pakistan to Yemen to Syria to Ukraine, with Russia, Iran, and China waiting in the wings?

The United States government is the worst criminal enterprise in the history of the world. Not a single member of the government has told the truth about anything in the entire 21st century. The executive branch lies consistently to Congress, and the cowardly, weak, despicable fools sit there and take it.  Congress is so useless it might as well be abolished.  I expect Obama to issue an executive order abolishing the useless institution at any moment.

But “we have freedom and democracy.”

The truth is that the entire evil of the universe is concentrated in Washington.  It is this evil that is destroying millions of lives, and it is this evil that will destroy the world.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Resnais II

His stunning short on the birth of French plastics, Song of Styrene (1958).