Friday, January 28, 2011
Thursday, January 27, 2011
It's a bit hard to get past Newman doing an Italian/NY east side accent, there weren't any Italian actors around?, but it's a decent film. It's the Hollywood version of Graziano's autobiography, so who knows how much of it is true. It's a pretty traditional rags to riches story, ending in triumph, giving the filmmakers a lot less freedom. I prefer Wise's earlier boxing picture The Set-Up.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
I can understand why the private detective genre seems pretty dead. Unless you put in a car chase or something, and still keeping things realistic, there is not that much action to be had. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was very good, but what else has there been? Brick and The Big Lebowski, but neither of those were straight detective stories. The Drowning Pool is not a bad film, but a bit slow, in a 70s way. There always seems to be a chauffeur in these stories, and as usual, they are never up to any good.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
I'm not sure how well the private eye genre works on film. It can be a bit repetitive - a guy walking around knocking on doors, asking questions. The story in the film seems to be a variation on The Big Sleep; Fortunately they avoid the easily parodic Chandleresque voiceover. There is nothing really original here, though. As a viewer there are certain storyelements you wait for and can cross off as they appear: the nympho trying to get the detective in bed, the old broad that needs to be fed liquor to talk, the unfriendly cop, the two tough guys sent to threaten the detective, the scene where he's knocked out and so on. With a story so familiar, it needs some style, something you find plenty of in the Chandler novels, maybe in the MacDonald novels - I haven't read any - but don't see too much of in this film.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Did Arthur Penn come from the theater? This western has a theatrical feel to it, the characters don't ring true and everything seems a bit off. Newman is at his most method-y and least convincing. This kind of broody acting might look okay on stage in a Tennessee Williams play, but looks a bit silly in a western, dating the film pretty badly.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Got a box-set of Newman's early films I'll watch next, but first: Paris Blues. Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier are jazz musicians in Paris. They meet American tourists Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll. Also starring Louis Armstrong and Serge Reggiani, directed by Martin Ritt.
The film looks great in black and white, but is less interesting than other Newman films from this period, like Hud and The Hustler. It just feels less authentic. There are exterior shots from Paris, but interiors seem to be filmed in a studio. The film is completely out of touch with the nouvelle vague that was happening in France at that time; A bout de souffle came out the year before. It rather gives a kitchy impression of Paris that would have fit better in a 50s film. There is some talk of race and drugs, and as can be seen on Mad Men, women were seriously sexy during the early 60s - those tight skirts and sweaters! - but as a whole the film feels a bit pale and bloodless.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Belmondo is a soldier on leave who arrives in Paris just in time to see his girlfriend being kidnapped. He rushes after her and they both end up in Rio de Janeiro, searching for an Inca treasure. The girlfriend is played by Françoise Dorleac, the sister of Catherine Deneuve, who tragically died just a few years after this film. Also starring Jean Servais, directed by Philippe De Broca.
This is one of those films I saw on tv as a kid and still have some nostalgic feelings for. An interesting thing about it is the influence from Tintin. There are several visual cues taken directly from the Hergé albums. Dorleac is very cute and Belmondo creates his screen persona for a lot of his work in the 70s. The direction is not much to brag about. Visually the film actually is a bit ugly, filmed in a let's get it done already-style, never bothering with things like building tension. It's far from the mastery of someone like Hitchcock. Of course, when you're twelve you don't notice any of that, you just see the story. It's still a fun film, but it's possible that it's better to see it at that age than as an adult.
Friday, January 21, 2011
It's a bit hard to care about people who have servants, no matter how unhappy they are. When Moreau starts having an affair with a poloplayer I was just about to stop the film and move on to the next. But then, on the way back to Paris her car breaks down and she meets a younger student who drives her the rest of the way. They have a conversation, he makes a joke that makes her laugh, and she comes to life for the first time in the film. The rest is pure movie magic, Moreau's face is poetry on the screen. It's hard to understand that this film, from 58, was once considered shocking, even obscene. In a Hollywood film there would have been some form of punishment, death probably, but in this film they drive happily off into the future. There's still some ambiguity, though, if the happiness can last.
It reminded me a bit of the ending of The Graduate, a very romantic, triumphant ending, with Dustin Hoffmann breaking into the church, snatching his girlfriend right in the middle of the wedding and then escaping on a bus, but how can things ever go up from there? They can only go down, and in my mind at least, for that film, there's an epilogue 20 years later where she curses him for doing it, she could have been happy, and look at them now.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
... from one of the stories in Athos in America. Page 1 and 2 is at the upper half of the first image, page 3 and 4 at the upper half of the second image, you then need to go to the lower half of the first image for page 5 and 6 and so on. Sorry, I haven't learned how to put these things together in photoshop yet. Anyway, sometimes I draw directly on the original, sometimes I first make these small sketches to see how the story should be told. The text is not final, I'll work on that as I'm drawing.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Monday, January 17, 2011
Carol Sklenicka's biography of Raymond Carver
It's an interesting read, especially about the years lost to alcoholism (but which gave him a lot of material for his short stories) and his relationship with his editor, Gordon Lish, who took out half the text in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and then refused to discuss changing it back.
Beginners by Raymond Carver
This is the original, unedited text. It's good to have, to be able to compare the two versions. It's far from minimalistic, a term that was often given him. I should probably re-read WWTAWWTAL before saying anything, but I think A Small, Good Thing, one of his most famous stories, is wastly better in the longer, original version. The Lish version is really butchered. But, possibly, Tell The Women We're Going and One More Thing, I might actually prefer the Lish versions. He gave those two stories final punchlines, and for Tell The Women it's maybe better to imagine what really happened than being told.
Sunset Park by Paul Auster
After some disappointing books I think this book and the previous one, Invisible, have been much better.
My Hitch in Hell by Lester I. Tenney
A memoir about surviving the Bataan Death March and three and a half years in Japanese prison camps.
Currently reading: I Was Looking for a Street by Charles Willeford
And on my bedside table, waiting to be read: Jack Kerouac, Selected Letters 1940 - 1956, Selected Letters 1957 - 1969 and A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Saturday, January 15, 2011
It's a French film allright! The alienation of the bourgeouisie... Again Malles's camera is simply observing what is happening, never intruding. We follow Ronet around in bars, cafés and finally an evening party, there are lots of philosophical conversations and chic parisiennes. The film looks great in black and white, and Ronet is good in the main part, but in the end I got a bit bored. Who are these people? Why should I care about them? It reminded me of that Monty Python sketch where they make fun of Godard and made me long for a film with Jean-Paul Belmondo and a barfight.
Next: Les Amants
Friday, January 14, 2011
I've been curious about Louis Malle, only knowing his American films, so I got the collection of his early French films, and will start watching those. First up: Lift To The Scaffolds. Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet are the lovers whose plan it is to kill her husband and make it look like a suicide. So far everything works out, but then fate steps in. Also starring Lino Ventura as a policeman, music by Miles Davis.
The film reminded me of the Coen brothers, the way that nothing goes as planned and the characters constantly being tripped up. Malle tells the story in a nonchalant style. He doesn't really seem that interested in the plot. Instead we get a long sequence of Moreau walking around in Paris, in the rain, looking for Ronet and having a very French and poetic voiceover. The film has almost a dreamlike quality. Ronet climbs up a building in broad daylight, easily visible from the street, but is apparently seen by no one. After the killing he then forgets to bring the rope with him, starting the whole chain of reactions. It's a bit hard to believe, but in a dream it would make perfect sense. The two main characters never curse the Gods for what is happening, instead calmly accepting the way their well laid plans fall to pieces, ending the film just as it begun with a close up of Moreau's face.
Next: Le Feu Follet
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Burt Lancaster is an old nobody from the glory days of Atlantic City that finally gets to be a hero. Also starring Susan Sarandon, directed by Louis Malle.
This is very much a European vision of America. Just like Barfly by Barbet Schroeder it's more interested in the backside of the American Dream. It's a great role for Lancaster. In a small part we also see Wally Shawn from Malle's My Dinner With André. This is the last Lancaster film for now, but I hope to find some more. I'd like to see the other films he did with Frankenheimer and also Elmer Gantry that he won his Oscar for.
Monday, January 10, 2011
It's another great Lancaster/Frankenheimer film, again based on real events. There's the usual problem with English language films from World War II - a strange mix of accents or lack thereof. Some of the dialogue by the French actors are clearly dubbed. Lancaster himself plays a Frenchman, and with a handrolled cigarette in the side of his mouth he actually looks a bit Jean Gabin-ish. It's easier to believe in him as a Frenchman than in Tom Cruise as a German in Valkyrie. The film is shot in gorgeous black and white. It asks an interesting question: How many lives is a painting worth?
Sunday, January 9, 2011
This is one of those films I first saw on tv when I was a kid, automatically giving it a magical quality. It's over 30 years ago, but I still remember some of the scenes from then: the building of the bird cage and the bird pulling the little wagon. The film lasts two and a half hours, so it's possible I never saw the ending. Rewatching the film now, the ending is the weakest part - the whole Alcatraz part. That's the trouble with basing movies on real events, sometimes there's no satisfying third act. If it was fiction, he would probably have been paroled, lived with the woman he married while in jail, and continued his studies of birds. In real life he had to give up the birds and spent the rest of his life behind bars. Despite this, it's a great film, and possibly better on tv than on a big cinema screen.
Friday, January 7, 2011
It's just a small part for Lancaster, but he adds class to the whole film. Costner is very good, I think, in his role. The film works as well as it does partly because Robinson never overdoes it - it's not sirupy; I can only imagine what Spielberg would have done with it. Even as a European I could enjoy the film, not knowing anything about the rules of baseball, but connecting with it on an emotional level.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
You're immediately dropped into the middle of the story, then in pure film noir style you're told what has happened so far in flashbacks and voice over. The heist is once again a bravura sequence, DeCarlo is dreamy and Duryea can do this sort of bad guy in his sleep. The story takes place in Los Angeles, and part of the fun of of the film is that you get to see some of Raymond Chandler's city, things he wrote about in his books, like Bunker Hill and the Angel's Flight funicular railway. John Fante's Ask The Dust took place in the same neighborhood. This film has also been remade, as The Underneath, by Steven Soderbergh, which I've never seen, but that could be interesting to watch. I doubt it will surpass the original, though.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Watching the remake of The Killers made me want to rewatch the original. Charles McGraw and William Conrad are the two killers, Burt Lancaster is the victim, Ava Gardner the femme fatale. Also starring Edmond O'Brien, directed by Robert Siodmak.
Now this is how you light a film noir! - it's a lot darker and moodier than The Big Heat. The first 12 minutes is a pretty faithful retelling of Ernest Hemingway's short story. Then we follow the insurance investigator trying to find out what happened, and the reason Lancaster didn't try to run is told in flashbacks. It was because of a girl, of course. In this film it's Ava Gardner, and it's totally understandable that she made a sucker out of Lancaster. Ah, those doublecrossing dames, I tell ya, what would film noir be without them. The film is still great, not as dated as the remake. There is particularly one remarkable shot of the heist and the getaway, all done in one take, in one sweeping camera move, that wouldn't look out of place in any film made today.
Monday, January 3, 2011
I like how married couples are portrayed in movies from the 40s and 50s. They always talk to each other in this chirpy tone. And people sure wore hats in those days. When did that stop? The film itself is a bit disappointing, I had expected something better from Lang. There isn't the desperation that you find in the best film noirs. And it's a bit too black and white. The hero is heroic and the bad guy throws scalding coffee in the face of his girlfriend. Some shades of gray would have been nice. Ford is too much of a prettyboy. Even the death of his wife, for which he is partly to blame, doesn't seem to affect him too much. He doesn't have the haunted quality someone like Bogart could have given the part. Visually, the film isn't that noir and rather seems too brightly lit.
It's a good western, following in the footsteps of The Magnificent Seven. It's a well-written script. The film looks great. So does Claudia Cardinale. Lancaster steals the show. Ryan is underused.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
This film is the opposite of Point Blank. Aldrich is an old school, classic Hollywood director - there's none of that arty stuff. It's a good film, but not great. There's a kind of father and son relationship building between Marvin and Carradine, to be torn by the ending. There is however no emotional release when the endcredits start, more of a That's it? It feels a bit unsatisfying after almost two hours. Borgnine is very good in his role. The music is pretty terrible, more 60s than 30s. The fake blood looks really fake.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
The film is some sort of masterpiece, I guess, a revisionist noir heavily influenced by the nouvelle vague and European art cinema. It's an interesting film, a document of it's era in the same way as Blow Up and Don't Look Now, the time when the director was king. I still have some mixed feelings about it. You get the impression that Boorman doesn't really care that much about the book the film was based on, seeing the film more as an exercise, an opportunity to show off. While watching, I was a bit curious about how Marvin felt about doing such an arty film - I imagined him to be more old school, but there is a commentary track by Boorman and Steven Soderbergh, and it turns out Marvin helped in shaping the script. Boorman also talks about how he uses colour in the film.
Lee Marvin is, of course, very good in his part, looking like the definition of iconic. Dickinson is also solid in the girl-part, and there is a very funny scene in the film of her hitting him with all she's got and Marvin taking it, never changing expression. The film was later remade as Payback, with Mel Gibson in the Marvin part. I've never seen the whole of that film, but it makes you forgive Boorman for a certain artiness in the original.