Friday, December 30, 2011

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Royal We

"I thought we'd drop in on young Richard for a bit."
"Uh, 'we' in the sense of visiting royalty. […] I am referring to the editorial we."  

The Invisible Woman (1940)
written by Curt Siodmak, Joe May, Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo & Gertrude Purcell  

"We dropped off the damn money."
"I! The Royal 'we'! You know, the editorial..."

The Big Lebowski (1998)
written by Joel and Ethan Coen

The Archeology Class

The Mummy's Ghost (1944)
dir. Reginald Le Borg

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
dir. Steven Spielberg

The Duel

Barry Lyndon (1975)
dir. Stanley Kubrick

The Duellists (1977)
dir. Ridley Scott

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Proposed Double Features #2


That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) and The Duellists (1977)

"This story is about an eccentric kind of hunger." - The Duellists

Most of the films of 1977 are obscured by the tidal wave of Star Wars, but among other things it produced the last film of one of cinema's true visionaries, Luis Buñuel's That Obscure Object of Desire, and the first film of another of cinema's true visionaries, Ridley Scott's The Duellists.

Each is a story of "an eccentric kind of hunger" - in the case of The Duellists, it is the hunger for honor. Keith Carradine's Napoleonic soldier d'Hubert doesn't know why his fellow soldier, Harvey Keitel's Féraud, wants so badly to fight him, but his deep and inarticulate ("honor is... indescribable, unchallengeable," he strains) need to preserve his honor locks them into a years-long series of increasingly violent duels. Against this, France's bloody wars unspool, hardly noticed and bleeding into one another.

In That Obscure Object of Desire, it is Mathieu's (Fernando Rey) hunger for sex which drives the action. The film charts the years-long foreplay of a sexual cat and mouse game between Mathieu and Conchita, his one-time maid played brilliantly and interchangeably by both Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina. Against this, a bloody French revolution unspools, hardly noticed by the wealthy protagonist.

What strikes me about That Obscure Object of Desire is the way each sexual encounter mutates into a bitter power struggle. Mathieu hardly knows a thing about Conchita, but he speaks deeply and constantly of his love for her. This is because he wants to conquer her. For him, sex itself is a fetish. It's a symbol of his power. d'Hubert treats honor in much the same way. It's a perverse worldview of his - he must maintain, no matter how insane a choice it is.

Two battlegrounds.

We never quite know the motives of Féraud or Conchita, but it's clear that their dark secret involves sublimating passion into power - the only real difference is that Féraud's is an angry passion, Conchita's an erotic one.

Each sexual encounter and each duel seems to promise fulfillment. One man will die, and Mathieu and Conchita will finally have sex. Yet time and time again, from nation to nation, room to room, year to year, fulfillment is denied. The duellists stubbornly survive, the lovers stubbornly refuse to make love.

Sex and death spin at the center of Luis Buñuel's work and at the center of Ridley Scott's, and here in the final and first films of their respective careers, they both reached at the same study of drawn-out, obsessive hungers. They're practically the same film... aside from the fact that they're totally different.

The Lobby

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
dir. Stanley Kubrick

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
dir. Stanley Kubrick

both pictures from Screen Musings

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Injustice

Until earlier today when I credited her for a few notable roles, the wonderful actress Theresa Harris was not credited for a single movie on the movie aggregator CritickerThat means she wasn't acknowledged for 1942's Cat People, in which she steals the show with a single scene as a feisty waitress, or for 1933's Baby Face, in which she displays amazing chemistry as a second lead. 

Criticker is a wonderful site, and I'm not accusing the contributors of any malice here. I think she slipped through the cracks, and I'm pretty sure this happened because as a black woman, she was far down on the cast list even for movies she starred in. As great an actress and as beautiful a woman as she was, it's still an uphill battle for her to get any recognition, these many decades later.

Just a reminder of the lingering spirit of Hollywood's sad legacy of racial exclusion.

The Woman in Bed

Citizen Kane (1941)
dir. Orson Welles

Lolita (1962)
dir. Stanley Kubrick

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Triad (2)

Interiors (1978)
dir. Woody Allen

Submarine (2010)
dir. Richard Ayoade

from Sheldrake

The Painting

Untitled (pre 1973)
Henry Darger

Battle Royale (2000)
dir. Kinji Fukasaku

from fenix down

The Triad

Hotel Lobby (1943)
Edward Hopper

Beware of a Holy Whore (1971)
dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Ship Piercing the Atmosphere

Alien (1979)
dir. Ridley Scott

Aliens (1986)
dir. James Cameron

Avatar (2009)
dir. James Cameron

Prometheus (2012) (trailer)
dir. Ridley Scott

Okay this one is a little convoluted so bear with me:

In 1979, Ridley Scott films the landing sequence in Alien as a visceral bumpy, wind-whipped roller-coaster ride. It's the first time I've ever seen that in a film - a conscious rejection of the scientifically-smooth landings of prior science fiction. The ship seems to pierce through the atmosphere with physical exertion, punching through layers of shrieking clouds.

In 1986, James Cameron helms the sequel, Aliens, and embellishes that same visceral whip-whipped ride with an extended sequence of a small dropship piercing the atmosphere. The scene's central image is an all-too-brief eerily beautiful shot of the dropship suspended in the white plains of the clouds.

In 2007, Ridley Scott declares "science fiction is dead."

In 2009, James Cameron pushes the tech barrier and drops Avatar, a central image of which is a small dropship piercing the atmosphere. This time, Cameron lingers on the eerie beauty of it, emphasizing the majestic contrails and pulling back far enough that the bumpiness of the ride levels out.

Suddenly, in early 2010, Ridley Scott decides to return to science fiction, shooting a film on the same rig James Cameron invented for Avatar. Scott's project is Prometheus - a prequel to Alien and Aliens. The trailer, which was released today, includes a powerful image of a small ship piercing the atmosphere, pulled back even farther than Cameron's Avatar, cutting a line though the majesty of the cloud layer, but also framed between inhospitable rock faces which bring the image back to its rugged origins on the uninhabitable wasteland of Alien. To top it off, it's underneath title text which uses the same iconic reveal as Alien's does.

This central image of a lone ship in the clouds is at the heart of Ridley Scott's first major success, James Cameron's first big budget success, and James Cameron's record-breaking grand-slam which certainly inspired the latest film - Ridley Scott's return to the genre that made him, and to the film series which made them both.

It's a dizzy little ouroboros, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Boat

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
dir. Frank Darabont

Never Let Me Go (2010)
dir. Mark Romanek

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Clenched Teeth

I Married a Strange Person! (1997)
dir. Bill Plympton

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
dir. Quentin Tarantino

The Crime Scene

Woyzeck (1979)
dir. Werner Herzog

Memories of Murder (2003)
dir. Bong Joon-Ho

The Mountaineers

The Gold Rush (1925)
dir. Charles Chaplin

Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972)
dir. Werner Herzog

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Locked Door

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
dir. Sidney Lanfield

The Shining (1980)
dir. Stanley Kubrick

The Globe Dance

Douglas Fairbanks Home Movie of Charles Chaplin (1929)
dir. Douglas Fairbanks

The Great Dictator (1940)
dir. Charles Chaplin

from Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's Unknown Chaplin.