Saturday, March 31, 2012
So I'm trying to grab at least one '50s film a day over the next seven-and-a-half months (our chosen deadline for submission of members' lists is 12/12/12 -- just for the symmetry of it), and I will share my reactions with readers of the blog.
Very briefly, then, here are some first offerings.
My first official viewing for the '50s list is a nice little noir, Appointment with Danger (1951, directed by Lewis Allen). It's a brisk little number with Alan Ladd as a hard-bitten postal inspector (Hey, as the film notes, they are the oldest police force in the nation) whose current case puts him face-to-face with a nun (Phyullis Calvert) who has witnessed the murder of another postal inspector. The plot has a few holes in it, but at 89 minutes you barely notice. Great cinematography from the estimable John Seitz and a clever little screenplay by Richard Breen and Warren Duff. One of the 100 best films of the decade? Hardly, but fun all the same.
A couple of nights later, I caught the last 40 minutes of Preminger's River of No Return, a film of which I had fond memories. Regrettably, it's not as good as I remembered. Preminger, despite his other considerable virtues, isn't really an action director and the big setpieces are rather flat. Plus the process work for the raft and the river looks awful on television. Mitchum, of course, is splendid and Tommy Rettig is serviceable. Monroe and Rory Calhoun, on the other hand . . . . Preminger is all wrong for the western anyway; he needs fully endowed social institutions for his characters to interact with. His best work is set in urban societies (or in the case of something like Anatomy of a Murder, a rural outpost of a modern predominately urban society. Even a costumed kerfuffle like Forever Amber (which holds up surprisingly well) takes place in a social settign with a highly stratified system. That's seldom the case in the western -- especially in the '50s -- where we're dealing more in archetypes than institutions. Of course, in the late '60s you get all those fin-de-siecle westerns that are specifically about what happens when the frontier is finally subsumed into "civilization," a process that is always assumed in the '50s flms but rarely seen.
Naturally, a bullfighter-poker player like Budd Boetticher is particularly well-suited to the '50s western. I saw a minor Boetticher, Seminole, with Rock Hudson trying to avert a war with the eponymous tribe, which is led by his boyhood friend, Anthony "Osceola" Quinn. It's actually a workmanlike B picture with some hints of what ol' Budd will get up to later in the decade (including the appearances of Lee Marvin and James Best). As in the Scott cycle, he pits a truculent, taciturn male lead against a foe/friend who is distinguished from him by his colorful garb and hyper-articulate nature. There is an understated sense of the futility of human action, especially violence, and a rather complicated schema of good guys and bad guys who are often at war among themselves. In short, it's a very rough draft for the Ranown cycle, but with none of the later films' charm. Plus Hudson is a real lightweight at this point in his career, whereas Scott has already built a formidable iconography and has a wry quality that Hudson desperately needed for much of his career. In short, no, it's not one of the 100 best films of the '50s but I'm glad I saw it.
So it begins.
Friday, March 30, 2012
Family and friends have been busy too. The following is an e-mail from Margalit Fox who is, as regular readers know, my wife and a fine writer and reporter at the New York Times:
As many of you know, the New York Times unit of the Newspaper Guild has been locked for the past year in the contract fight of its life. Management's untenable (and thus far intractable) demands include freezing staff pensions at the current level -- in other words, even if my colleagues or I continue to work at the paper another 20 years or more, we will retire with not a dime more accrued in our pension than we have right now. The effect our newsroom's brilliant staff, many of whom routinely risk their lives to provide coverage from far-flung danger zones, would, it goes without saying, be devastating.
I would be so grateful if you could follow the link below to learn more fully about this issue, and disseminate this widely to all the Times readers you know, urging them to do likewise. There is strength in numbers.
With thanks and all best wishes,
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Info <email@example.com>
Date: Fri, Mar 30, 2012 at 2:40 PM
Subject: From the Guild: Volunteer to spread the word #saveourtimes
Today, the Guild released a video asking the public to join us in our campaign to "Save Our Times."
The video marks the one-year anniversary of the expiration of the Guild's contract with The Times and reminds folks that without dedicated staff and excellent journalists, The Times is just white space.
Please help us spread the word by visiting @saveourtimes and writing your messages with the hashtag, #saveourtimes.
Re-tweeting the Guild's message is an easy way to support the fight for a good contract.
If you're new to Twitter, just set up an account, find a bunch of friends on Twitter and visit the Guild's Twitter page @saveourtimes to "re-tweet" messages you like.
If you're not sure how Twitter works, ask a colleague. A list of Times colleagues who are familiar with Twitter can be found at https://twitter.com/saveourtimes/following, once you’ve set up your Twitter account. Also, feel free to use your Facebook accounts to post links to our video, SaveOurTimes.com and other news about the campaign.
Thanks and stay tuned!
The Guild Bargaining Committee
The 36th annual meeting of the New York Independent Film Critics Circle took place over a long, long weekend at the Mohegan Sun Hotel and Casino last week. As we do in every year ending in a 2, we voted on our all-time films list, to coincide with the Sight and Sound poll. This year, we really did it up brown, issuing a hundred-best films list. You can see my individual ballot elsewhere on this blog. But you can find the final tally for the group list and the winners of the 2011 Iras posted on the blog of fellow-Ira-voter Michael Giltz, as well as the joint blog of members Aaron Rich and Alex Lewin.
My ten-best list for 2011 (based on a paltry 85 films -- not a good year for me) is as follows:
1. In Darkness – Agnieszka Holland
2. Cave of Forgotten Dreams -- Werner Herzog
3. A Separation – Asghar Farhadi
4. Mysteries of Lisbon – Raul Ruiz
5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Tomas Alfredson
6. Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow – Sophie Fiennes
7. Of Gods and Men – Xavier Beauvois
8. Nostalgia for the Light – Patricio Guzman
9. Tuesday, After Christmas – Radu Munteanu
10. A Dangerous Method – David Cronenberg
Honorable Mention (in no particular order): Pina (Wim Wenders), Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki), The Time That Remains (Elia Suleiman), sleep furiously (Gideon Koppel), Project Nim (James Marshall), Shalom Aleichem: Laughter in the Dark (Joseph Dorman), The Artist (Michel Hazanvicius), Khodorkovsky (Cyril Tuschi), Puzzle (Natalia Smirnoff)
Wednesday, March 07, 2012
The violence in Footnote, by contrast, is all verbal and psychological, and no less distrubing and powerful for that. My review of the film is up on the Jewish Week website now.
Tuesday, March 06, 2012
I passed a kidney stone -- don't ask -- so I'm a somewhat relieved guy.
Have a great website to recommend, so I'm delighted:
Film Studies for Free is a terrific resource, linking to tons of free on-line materials covering the entire range of moving-image analysis. Bookmark this one pronto.
At the risk of being a cliche-spouting guy, if you can only see one movie this spring, you should get to Film Forum or whatever local venue is carrying it, and see Jafar Panahi's This Is Not a Film, not so much because it's an ingenious use of a very straitened set of circumstances -- house arrest, among other things -- although it is excellent film-making, but in solidarity with Panahi, whose plight you may have followed here.
I haven't been idle all this time, recuperation notwithstanding. As utterly indifferent as I am to the Oscars, I do have a few items regarding the foreign-language film award to pass along, my interview with Agnieszka Holland, whose In Darkness is a brilliant film, and at the end of the week my review of Joseph Cedar's Footnote, which impressed me, too. Both of them are filmmakers whose careers I have followed avidly, and I'm delighted to see them continue to make really stirring art.