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

21 September 2018

La Grande Guerra (1959)

The brilliance of La Grande Guerra lies in its direction. Mario Monicelli is able perfectly to capture the satirical comedy for which he is known, the critique of war that calls such violence absurd, while also mercilessly showing us the damage that war does.

The characters are cowards, to be sure, but they are ethical and wise. They simply do not buy into the theory that war is good.

The film is absolutely genius, and if the tone of the movie is frequently comic, Monicelli's satire is consistently undergirded by carnage, by Marxist critique, and by an absolute refusal to see soldiers as heroes.

This is a kind of film that won't be seen again until Arthur Hiller's The Americanization of Emily in 1964, and even then won't be done as well as La Grande Guerra.

20 September 2018

Twin Sisters of Kyoto

Another great movie that isn't in print in the U.S.
Koto (古都) (also known as Twin Sisters of Kyoto) is spooky and imaginative without being the least bit scary. This movie is so good. I wish I could get some more Nakamura films bootlegged!

19 September 2018

Tlayucan (1962)

According to imdb, this movie concerns a man who becomes a thief out of desperation. If his identity becomes known, his neighbors might lynch him. The only friendly face in town is the local priest.

So... none of this is really true except that a man does steal something. And though it doesn't look like it from the poster, Tlayucan is a comedy, and quite a very good one. Furthermore, it is more of a Chekhovian story of the village itself (which is called Tlayucan) than it is a story of one man's desperation.

Indeed, as with so many movies from non-U.S. countries from this period, Tlayucan is a movie about cooperation in a real Marxist vein. So much so that the priest is, in fact, the butt of all the jokes, hardly a friendly face.

Of course, it didn't ever have a proper release in the U.S.

But this movie is delightful. I loved it.

17 September 2018

Der Hauptmann von Köpenick (1956)

The Captain from Köpenick  is excellent. It's very, very funny, while also being a harsh critique of both the German tendency to follow rules – something that would become all the more colorable following the Nuremberg trials – and German economic policies.

14 September 2018

Qivitoq (1956)

Qivitoq: Fjeldgængeren (The Mountain Wanderer) is a fairly conventional 1950s melodrama that is sort of invested in colonialism in Greenland. But the thing about Qivitoq is that it is so gorgeously photographed, it is so stunning, that every single annoying thing about the film is easily forgivable. The movie is just beautiful.

13 September 2018

Reunion in Vienna (1933)

Reunion in Vienna was sort of charming. John Barrymore does nothing for me, I must confess, but I love Frank Morgan, and Diana Wynyard really is a fabulous performer. I've been sleeping on her.

More importantly, there were 19 films nominated for Oscars in 1934.  
Reunion in Vienna is the last of these films that I hadn't seen.

Cavalcade won Best Picture in 1934 (also starring Diana Wynyard), with Katharine Hepburn winning Best Actress for Morning Glory and Charles Laughton winning Best Actor for The Private Life of Henry VIII.

08 September 2018

The Devil's Holiday

Meh. I watched this for Nancy Carroll, but even she, Ned Starks' hilarious world-wise drawl, and an occasionally shirtless Phillips Holmes were unable to save the terrible plot of The Devil's Holiday and Edmund Goulding's stodgy direction. Love me some Nancy Carroll, though!

01 September 2018

Laughter (1930)

Laughter is cute. I love Fredric March and Frank Morgan both, but both are underused here. The plot is interesting, and there are a few funny bits (there is a great sequence when Nancy Carroll and Fredric March roar at each other while wearing bear rugs), but this turns out to be rather a conventional bit of business.

23 August 2018

La Venganza (1958)

I was really into this film for most of its running time, and Jorge Mistral is so very handsome. La Venganza was a fairly good melodrama, and it has some smart aspects, too, particularly a charged sequences related to striking workers. But the vengeance of the title takes over a bit too much for my taste, and the film moves into territory that has nothing to say without histrionics.

09 August 2018

120 Battements par Minute (2017)

120 Beats per Minute is basically perfect. It is without question the best movie about AIDS I've ever seen. As a friend recently said to me: It might be the best anything about AIDS I've ever seen.

The final 20 minutes of this movie are absolutely extraordinary, capturing perfectly the impulses to mourn and party and fuck and protest that have been so beautifully theorized by Douglas Crimp and others. But it's no use even singling out those final 20 minutes because the entirety of 120 Beats per Minute is superb, and the performances – particularly Nahuel Pérez Biscayart's – are excellent.

08 August 2018

Some Post-Christianity Musings

I had an interesting conversation today when an acquaintance from my childhood church days messaged me out of the blue. I won't include her name here, obviously, but she's given me permission to share this little exchange. Calvary Road (whose name you will read below) is the church that I attended until I was in the sixth or seventh grade.
 * * *

Hi Aaron. I don't know if you remember me. I was thinking of us as kids and remembering what a cool kid you were. Just looked you up and saw how successful you have become. Just wanted to tell you congratulations.

Of course I remember you! Thank you so much. I don't always feel so successful, but things are indeed going pretty well!

I was reading up on you. You seem to have found your purpose. And you help others too. That's amazing. I'm happy for you. It must have been hard for you at Calvary Road. I'm sorry for anything that you went through there. You were (and are) such a creative soul and an inspiration to me.

This is very sweet of you to say. It is one of the sincere missions of my life to become more generous and to give more and be kinder to others. As for Calvary Road, I don't know... I think adolescence is difficult anyway. In many ways it was quite hard - feeling always that I didn't fit in and feeling always like there was something wrong with me. 

This was my church growing up. But without the fancy doors.
But, it is funny: I always say that that church turned me into a gay man, actually. I am not sure if I would have become gay had not the pastor of that church constantly vilified queer people – pointed them out as different and evil. I, as a boy, felt different, sinful, and strange, as though I didn't fit in, so when I heard about gay people as bad, different, etc. I thought to myself Oh I must be that thing.

In many ways, I think that the church gave shape to my life through that vilification. It's odd. Of course, I think the church did a great deal of damage to me too, mentally and physically (since so much of what our bodies become begins in our brains), and I am very sorry about that. And... then there are my parents, who will never quite know how to love their queer son the way I would like them to love me.

But... perhaps my work now is aimed at redressing a lot of those things, and maybe I am gaining a good amount of satisfaction by attempting to make more space in the world for people like me (and not like me).

Sorry that was a really long answer, but I am feeling introspective today and I appreciated the sensitivity of your comment.

I love your response. I'm honored that you shared it with me. Growing up in that church was difficult and damaging. I didn't see the light until I was 30 (yikes) and they were sabotaging a budding relationship. I ended up leaving because of that. And it wasn't until I was married to my husband for several years with kids that I realized that I didn't fit into the normal heterosexual box. I remember being afraid I was gay as a child and teen. Now I know it's more complicated than that. Not exactly sure what I am, but it's funny when my husband and I check out the same woman.

I think of you often and wish that I could have been a better friend growing up.

And that pastor is dangerous. His words are dangerous. I go to therapy to re-program those things that I learned. He has damaged so many. And it has turned me off of religion.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these things recently because I have been (up until a couple weeks ago) dating a man who is very involved with Christianity and hasn’t figured out (yet) how to reconcile his faith and his queer desire.

And maybe sometimes it does take until age 30.
* * *
I've written about this before – about Christianity and queerness – in my piece in QED from a year or two ago. And I was angry for a long time, rejecting Christianity outright and really being furious with Christianity and what it does to queer people as they grow up. But I have changed my mind in recent years – this has a lot to do with my efforts to understand and empathize with queer Christian students for whom Christianity is still very generative – and I am neither hostile toward Christianity per se nor to belief in a god per se anymore. At least I don't think I am. This has taken me a very long time, though.

There is much more to say about my relationship with this Christian man, too. But I am not ready to narrativize my love for him yet. I am not yet prepared for our relationship to turn into a mere story.

06 August 2018

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

This adaptation of The Bridge of San Luis Rey was terrible. (This is the 1944 United Artists film directed by Rowland Lee – not the 1929 MGM picture directed by Charles Brabin, which I haven't seen and haven't given up on yet.) 

I was in a Thornton Wilder mood since I am reading Jacob Gallagher-Ross's book Theaters of the Everyday, but this version of Wilder's novel is disastrously bad. The writing is bad, the adaptation is bad, the acting is terrible, and the directing is worse than all three. Akim Tamiroff (as usual) is a redeeming feature, but otherwise this is painfully terrible.

Go read Jake's book instead:

Muddy River (1981)

Muddy River (泥の河) is so good. I can't believe we are all sleeping on Oguri Kōhei, and I cannot believe this movie is not in print in English! It is excellent. This film was released in the U.S. in 1983 but is not on DVD at the moment.

 It's weird that I loved this as much as I did, too, because lately I have been very impatient with films from children's points of view, but this movie follows a young boy as he learns some serious life lessons. He is the child of a couple who runs a small restaurant, and he befriends a boy whose mother is a prostitute and has set up her riverboat near the restaurant so that she can take in customers. (That's her riverboat on the poster.) Muddy River is about poverty and labor and growing up, and, I think most importantly, treasuring what we have when we have it. It isn't so important that we hold on to what we have, just that we value it when we do... and that we don't let our prejudices get in the way of the love we have for one another.

30 July 2018

The Year Long Road (1958)

Cesta Duga Godinu Dana (The Year Long Road) is really a stunning achievement. I loved this movie. It's a kind of socialist fable or fairy tale, which is probably why I loved it so much, but it demonstrates the value of working together, and has so many beautifully realized side plots and so much lovely character work, that it transcends its political utility.

28 July 2018

The Fencer

The Fencer (Miekkailija) was utterly conventional, but it's beautifully photographed, and I rather loved every sentimental bit of it. The acting is also top-notch, which helped a great deal.