Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

20 July 2019

David and Bathsheba (1951)

David and Bathsheba is a really interesting biblical movie. (It's boring, don't get me wrong; I am not here to say that it is a good movie.) But although this movie looks like your typical swords-and-sandals epic – it has the lush score by Alfred Newman, the beautiful Leon Shamroy cinematography, the insanely enormous cast, beautiful art direction, big stars – but what is interesting about this movie is that this movie is skeptical of a Christianity/Judaism that is invested in laws and punishment and destruction. It is also skeptical of priests who interpret the desires of gods. Henry King's film doesn't go quite so far as to say that the priests in David and Bathsheba are corrupt and self-seeking – although it certainly could have taken this tack if it wished – but this is a skeptical film, one that asks its audiences to think ethically about punishment, cruelty, desert, and judgment.

Susan Hayward as Bathsheba
David and Bathsheba conflates a series of events in Hebrew history – the affair of David and Bathsheba and the civil war of Absalom against his father – but more than anything this is a kind of character study of David himself. The film spends long minutes exploring David's face while nothing else happens. We watch David carefully as he makes decisions, as he wars with himself, as he debates the nonsense spoken by the priest of Israel.

As I say, this is a really weird film. It is in the film's third act when we flashback to Samuel's anointing of David as a shepherd boy and then to David's battle with Goliath. Of course, this means that we follow David as a young man (i.e. not Gregory Peck) at the end of the film rather than the film's star, Gregory Peck, whom we have been following for the movie's first ninety minutes.

Despite this poster's promises, Gregory Peck wears a shirt at all times.
The film justifies David and Bathsheba's affair from the beginning. They like each other, an Bathsheba's husband does not love her. He does not even care about her, and is not the least interested in what she thinks. In the end, even the film's god blesses David and Bathsheba's relationship. It is, as I say, a film made by a skeptic. The conflict in the film is that David has forgotten the ways of the god and has broken the Mosaic law. The film doesn't really believe this, but tries to make us believe this in act two by introducing a prophet none of us likes. Then in act three, David argues with Bathsheba about those laws. One of the great moments in the movie is in the third act, when David tells Bathsheba that the god he knew as a boy, in the trees and rocks is not the god of vengeance that the priests preach. (In act two the film watches a beautiful woman get stoned to death for adultery. It's a sequence that judges this kind of law very harshly, but it doesn't seem to treat those laws in an orientalist fashion. In other words, David and Bathsheba doesn't call Mosaic law backward or barbaric as such. Instead, it is asking audiences to judge these laws for themselves, and to be skeptical of unjust law in general.)

But what David does at the end of the film is in fact defy the Mosaic law and go talk to the god directly. Once he does this – once he remembers the god – the god forgives him and it rains in Israel. What the film is saying is that laws against adultery aren't important (it has said that throughout the film). Each man must make the ethical choices that accord with his own beliefs. As long as the individual remembers the god, believes in him, pays homage to him, then his behavior is immaterial – or at least mostly immaterial. Even David's murder of Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba's husband, is apparently forgiven by the rain that the god sends at the film's end.

18 July 2019

Dogman

Dogman was really cool. It's a vicious and darkly funny crime film from the director of Gomorrah. It also seemed to me fairly allegorical. A cowardly and fairly insipid but harmless dog-groomer is friends with a violent, terrible, drug-addicted bully. And the bad friend keeps convincing the good friend to do really bad things. And he keeps fucking doing them. It is a smart and intriguing character study.

16 July 2019

Tirez sur le Pianiste (1960)

I loved Shoot the Piano Player, and I'm not even a huge Truffaut fan. In fact, I often say that I don't really get the Nouvelle Vague, but this was really a good time. I adored Charles Aznavour in the lead role, and his character Charlie is scripted beautifully by Truffaut. The movie itself is a kind of tribute to American movies, but it's also sexy and fun and funny at times, while winding up being quite serious and sad in a typical crime–melodrama sort of way. I was really into it.

15 July 2019

That Uncertain Feeling (1941)

That Uncertain Feeling is hilarious and delightful. The script is very funny, Oberon and Douglas are charming, and the direction is bright and fast. I am sort of surprised at how sexually frank this was. For 1941 that is rather a surprise.

14 July 2019

High Life

I didn't really get a lot of Claire Denis's High Life. I mean, I understand what's happening in this movie, but it didn't really work for me. I love Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche, but I didn't feel like I understood any of these characters enough for me to really care much about what was going on.

13 July 2019

The Shootist (1976)

I actually didn't understand this film. The Shootist concerns an ageing gunslinger who holes up in Carson City for the last week of his life as he prepares to die. But how does he prepare to die? By killing a bunch of guys who – as far as I can tell – haven't really done anything to him or anyone else. Lauren Bacall is interesting as an old woman who starts to care for the old shootist, but I don't understand why she or anyone else should have cared. I sure didn't.

12 July 2019

Happy New Year (1987)

There are lots of strange things about Happy New Year, but the strangest thing of all is that Wendy Hughes, the main actress, kisses several men in the movie, but she never kisses Peter Falk, who is her love interest in the film. Other than that, this movie has a couple good bits, but it's mostly not interesting.

16 June 2019

Transit (2018)

Transit is haunting and very, very smart. Christian Petzold is such a good director. I really liked this and boasts some brilliant performances, especially Franz Rogowski. Furthermore, and most interestingly, Petzold has adapted Seghers' novel from its WWII setting to the present day, but we still have cleansing and occupation and terror. All of Petzold's films so far have been about World War II, but with this movie it is clear that he is asking us to think differently about World War II, and perhaps that none of his films has been about World War II at all. Instead, Petzold deals with serious ethical quandaries and real desperation.

03 June 2019

Perfumed Nightmare

Wow. Mababangong Bangungot (Perfumed Nightmare) is an extraordinary film. It's from 1977 in the Philippines and it's like a Nouvelle Vague movie, but it is also very different and totally it's own thing, which is a documentary–memoir–fiction–fantasy that is by turns absolutely hilarious and poignant. Perfumed Nightmare is also very clearly the inspiration for Rithy Panh's film work.

Hi Diddle Diddle (1943)

This would be a totally forgettable romantic comedy caper if it weren't for the fabulous intertextuality that pervades the film. There is animated Wagnerian wallpaper, a running meta-cinematic gag about an actress who plays multiple parts in the movie, and an actress who sings a duet with a Panoram (look it up) of herself. This is a delight. As for the title Hi Diddle Diddle, I have no idea why this movie is called this, but I guess it must be somewhere in:

...the cat and the fiddle
the cow jumped over the moon
the little dog laughed
to see such sport
and the dish ran away with the spoon.

Maybe Martha Scott is supposed to be the dish?

19 May 2019

Pennies from Heaven (1936)

Pennies from Heaven is a pretty stupid film. But it was designed as a kind of pick-me-up during the Great Depression, and "Pennies from Heaven" is a gem of a song, especially sung by Bing Crosby.

13 May 2019

The Thomas Crown Affair (the Original)

What sexy fun! I loved The Thomas Crown Affair. It's superbly directed, delightfully performed, with the perfect light touch by both Dunaway and McQueen, and it's just so pleasurable! It's also brilliantly scripted. Structurally, Alan Trustman (who also wrote Bullitt) has put the big set piece in the opening twenty minutes. It's a brilliant move that is so surprising and challenging, and it cleverly lets the rest of the film be about something else. So smart.

11 May 2019

The Spy Who Loved Me

If Barbara Bach had been a better actress, this movie would have worked much better. The chief villain, too, leaves a bit to be desired (he's not very scary), but his number one henchman is very strange, and so he is quite interesting, and The Spy Who Loved Me turns out to be a fun Bond movie, with a great Bond girl (as scripted), a killer theme song (but then, we already knew that) and plenty of fun travel.

09 May 2019

The Naked Spur

I really like Robert Ryan and Ralph Meeker. Actually I liked everyone in this. I am not sure I really buy Stewart as the masculine figure this movie wants him to be – this is a role much better suited to someone like Burt Lancaster or, at any rate, someone younger. But the script is good, the Colorado scenery is lovely, and the psychological mind-games are fun.

07 May 2019

Village on the River (1958)

Fons Rademakers' Village on the River (Dorp aan de Rivier) is fine. It's not quite funny enough to really charm, though.