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

24 July 2008

Evelyn Waugh Dream

Lat night I dreamed I was part of a doomed (but passionate) love-affair in an Evelyn Waugh novel. We were sneaking around, trying not to get caught by our parents (I was in college or whatever it is those boys did when they went to Eton or Oxford or whatever... why don't I actually know that information?). This part was the good part: I would be delighted to be in a passionate love-affair, even if it were a doomed one. The weird part is that I knew the ending of the novel or at least I knew part of the future. I could see us getting caught in bed together at his parents' house (by which I mean mansion, of course). I knew that we would get caught and that we would be separated forever.
So when I got caught by the butler/security guard person while I was sneaking into the house, I was relieved because I knew then that I really should leave. This way I would leave and our affair could continue and neither he nor I would get caught for anything serious. The security guard kicked me out. (They didn't really have security in early 1900s England, did they? Surely not. This security guard was black, too... just like the movies.) But as I was sitting in the snow, thinking about what I was going to do, I saw that my lover threw a letter out of his window and I ran to get it, but it fell down into the hands of these two guys who also went to school with me and whoever I was in love with (I have no idea what he looked like). I ran to grab the letter from them, but before I got it away from them, they read enough to learn our secret.

Then I woke up.

It's rather clear to me what this dream likely means, which means that I am obviously delusional. I am not having a passionate-but-doomed love-affair with anyone.

23 July 2008

Broken Lance

I quite liked Edward Dmytryk's Western Broken Lance. It stars Spencer Tracy as a modern-day King Lear with four sons, played by Robert Wagner, Richard Widmark, and two other (obviously lesser important) guys. This is mostly a drama about race, though. Tracy is married to Katy Jurado in the film, and Robert Wagner, with a darker tan than I've ever seen him sporting (brownface?), is their "half-breed" son.

I forget that people really used to talk like this about other people, and so it is a little jarring to hear, but the film is quite interesting. Wagner fights prejudice throughout--especially when he falls in love with some old white man's daughter.
Tracy is in fine form, although, he is supposed to be an aging old patriarch, so he tends toward the feeble at times. I am actually starting to really like ol' Spencer Tracy. I wonder what I had against him for so long... I disliked him for years, but I guess I have no explanation for that. As for Wagner, I grew up with him on "Hart to Hart" (my mother was obsessed with that show: hi mom!) and of course I've seen him in other things before. I consider him a rather limited actor. Still he is fine in the role. Widmark and Jurado are both very good (she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress that year). I love both of them, if I haven't mentioned that before.

Anyway, Broken Lance didn't change my life, but it is a solid Western.

18 July 2008

The Greatest Show on Earth?

Cecil B. DeMille's 1952 movie The Greatest Show on Earth may be one of the strangest movies I've ever seen in my life. Stranger still, it kinda works. The Greatest Show on Earth is your standard melodramatic plot structure: girl (Betty Hutton) loves boy (Charlton Heston); boy loves work more than girl; girl finds new boy (Cornel Wilde); boy pretends he doesn't care; boy learns to love girl more than work; girl gets boy. This plot, which is totally ridiculous, but somehow totally intriguing, is interspersed with extremely long performance sequences featuring various circus acts. The movie is filled with elephants and horses, acrobats, tight-rope walkers, clowns, lions, you name it. The majority of these sequences has nothing to do at all with the romantic plot. There is also an intrigue plot, featuring a scheming guy in a suit. I never figured out what any of the guy-in-the-suit's machinations were about. It was totally incomprehensible as far as I am concerned. Making the whole combination even more strange, the movie is filled with documentary-style sequences where the audience learns about the circus and all that goes into producing this show. These documentary sequences are narrated by DeMille himself and are basically a commercial for the circus. The film even ends with a huge musical number exhorting everyone to come out and see the circus when it comes through town.

There is a little more to it: there's a huge train wreck near the end of the movie, that looks like it was done with model trains, and there is some good acting... by Gloria Grahame. (Funny, I just finished hating on her for her work in Oklahoma! and here I am loving her again.) The actor who plays Charlton Heston's rival (Cornel Wilde) is gorgeous. I'm not normally into really muscular guys, but for him I'd make an exception. Oh, and Dorothy Lamour is in this movie too for no reason at all. The film totally forgets about her after awhile and she is given no plot at all. And I forgot: Jimmy Stewart is in the movie too. He is a clown with a secret past. His plot is boring.

I'm telling you though, the movie is not half-bad. It's a weird patchwork of a movie and it's too long, but I rather enjoyed its histrionics.

And speaking of clichéd plots. Walter Lang's With a Song in My Heart is the true-life story of Jane Froman, played in the movie by Susan Hayward. Zzzzzz. Oh my lord it's boring. The worst part of it is that it's a musical, and Jane Froman's real voice is used for all the sequences (much like the producers of The Jolson Story did with their movie) but Jane Froman's music is boring. She'd take an interesting song and make it slow and flavorless, I swear. The plot is hideous, too. There's a husband who can't get a break and he spends the whole movie moping about it. Skip this one for sure.

I saw three more movies the last couple of days. Luis Buñuel's Robinson Crusoe is some of the most racist shit I've seen in a long while. Do not see this unless you feel like getting pissed off.

And I saw two gay movies: André Téchiné's Les Témoins (The Witnesses) is a story of Paris in 1984 during the free-love period right before the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. Les Témoins is the story of a very young man and his platonic relationship with an older man and the older man's married friends. It's a very interesting, movie with an intelligent, queer sensibility, and the married couple (Sami Bouajila and Emmanuelle Béart) are both wonderful in it. I loved them both. The movie sort of loses speed near its end, but it's still worth catching. It's not on the heartbreaking level of Longtime Companion, but it's intriguing to see the Paris side of the war on AIDS anyway.

I also watched the 1919 silent film Different from the Others (§ 175) which is a pro-gay propaganda film from Germany directed by Richard Oswald, and engineered by Magnus Hirschfeld. It's interesting, but I didn't watch it to enjoy myself; I watched it to see what they were up to in 1919. It's a fairly standard thing: blackmail plot, gay suicide, etc. And there are (of course) long sequences where we hear about how gay people can't help it (they're born that way!) and how Paragraph 175 ought to be repealed. It's a pretty cool thing, all told. It's 1919 for heaven's sake!

13 July 2008

Been Busy

My dear Intro students had their first paper due on Friday, and so I've spent the last two days grading 40 papers.

I didn't see Hellboy II this weekend, though I meant to. But I did watch a couple movies at home. First, Kimberly Peirce's soldier story Stop-loss. I had a strange journey watching this movie. It has stars I like (Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Victor Rasuk) but I didn't get into the movie until around the thirty-minute mark. It's just so hetero. Soldiers, buddies, (Texans), supporting one another and getting into bar-fights and coming home to their fiancées. And then there's the war itself. The war in Iraq is fucking depressing. I don't know, the whole idea of the film made me kinda bored and turned off. Maybe I wasn't really thinking about what I knew the movie was going to be about, but I was surprised when (of course) Ryan Phillippe's character is stop-lossed and then he goes AWOL. The drama gets really great from this point and the movie starts to become the kind of anti-war film I would expect from Kimberly Peirce. It's still very Texan, and the characters don't all become likeable or redeemable. The truth is that this isn't really my kind of war film. I'm a Thin Red Line, Kingdom of Heaven, Jarhead kind of guy: I want pretty pictures and poetry. But I was very, very moved by Stop-loss. There's a rather long sequence in a hospital where Phillippe goes to visit Victor Rasuk, a guy who was in his platoon, that had me in tears through the whole thing. This is an excellent movie. The acting is top-notch all around, with memorable performances from everyone named above. Leading lady Abbie Cornish is quite good, too, and there are some fabulous performances even among most of the side players: Ciarán Hinds, Linda Emond (love her), Mamie Gummer, Laurie Metcalf, and Troy Kittles. Don't miss this one.

09 July 2008

God Bless Criterion

Yesterday I sat down and watched The Thief of Bagdad: an Arabian Fantasy from 1940. Now, I don't know how I would feel about this movie if I saw a bad print of it or saw it in a dimly lit theatre (like the crap Talla-classy theatre in which I saw Tarsem's The Fall), but thankfully, Criterion has come along and saved the day for this movie.

The new DVD of The Thief of Bagdad is gorgeous. The movie is from 1940, but the colors are extraordinarily clear and the beautiful cinematography shines through almost seventy years later. It's lovely.

Mentioning Tarsem's The Fall is actually quite appropriate to The Thief of Bagdad: they'd make a nice double feature.

Thief is short on themes and short on good acting (most of the performances are downright awful, really), but it's eye-popping and fun with some special effects that look nowhere near realistic now, but must have been exciting in 1940. What's really amazing about the whole thing is how truly enjoyable the film is all these years later and despite all of the drawbacks I've listed. Thief is a true pleasure to watch, filled with suspense and magic and shady morals. And the central performance by Sabu, while I wouldn't say it is realistic or believable has an excited, infectious quality that makes it clear why the young man became such a big star.

08 July 2008

I Have No Idea What Is Going On

Oooooooooooooooooooooklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.

Um, I had never seen Fred Zinnemann's 1955 film version of Oklahoma! by Rodgers & Hammerstein. Until today. And, well, it's Oklahoma!

I liked it. But then I like the show. I haven't always liked it, but I have for several years. I like the songs. They are catchy and fun and I think rather brilliant (both the lyrics and the music, if you can believe it).

The film is not great, though. Gloria Grahame plays Ado Annie, and while I like Gloria Grahame (I think she's cute and sassy and unconventional. Like Jennifer Tilly) she's a terrible Ado Annie. Too nervous about her singing ability to be funny. Or something. It's a funny role, but you wouldn't know it from the film version. Grahame is almost dead on screen. It's actually difficult to watch. Frankly, I was none to keen on any of the performances in the movie. Even Gordon MacRae, who has a lovely voice seems a little too old for Curly; jaded where he could've been earnest or hopeful.
I dunno. I was soft on the whole thing. Still, it's Oklahoma! and the film gave me new appreciation for more than one of the old songs. And there aren't too many things better than MacRae gorgeous rendition of "Oh What a Beautiful Morning."

07 July 2008

Seen Around Talla-classy

I spotted this one on the way home from the coffee shop I frequent. Note the many abilities of the sign's owner:

I am confused what that word "Jamaican" is doing there, though. I assume it's Jamaican barbecue (yum) but is William's last name Jamaican?

I don't know why I found the following sign funny, but this is from my way into work:

Perhaps what I found funny is the implication of buffalo testicles that the sign seems to offer...

And now for my favorite:

The quotation marks around "prayer" make me envision a little man making quotes with fingers around each side of his head as he says "prayer". It's as if prayer doesn't even exist and though the sticker claims that it works, it knows the claim is hollow and can only be said with irony.

06 July 2008

A Kids' Movie?

As predicted by Julie, I loved Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which upped the ante on James Cameron's first (1984) Terminator by focusing more on character development, increasing the special effects and taking advantage of 1991's better visual effects technology. Arnold Schwarzenegger, merely menacing and indecipherable in the first film, emerges as a comic talent, essential to the second film, where he was only incidental in the first.

Edward Furlong is also great as the young John Connor, who learns to trust and love Schwarzenegger's Terminator. Cameron crafts these scenes so well that long before the heavy-handed voice-over explicitly states it, we realize that the cyborg gas become an important father-figure to the young boy. The only real problem with Terminator 2 is Linda Hamilton's overly serious performance as Sarah Connor. She's great in the first film, where she spends a lot of time running and screaming and, well, responding to all of the crazy plot twists provided in The Terminator. But in the second film, Hamilton is asked to drive entire sections of the movie, and her intensely earnest portrayal of what could be a diva-esque role makes her scenes irritating or even slightly painful when they could have been wickedly fun.

And today I watched René Clément's 1952 French film Jeux Interdits, which goes by the (rather salacious, if you ask me) title Forbidden Games. This is a movie about games played by two children and the English language title implies slightly scary sexual play to me. Anyway, my problems with the English title notwithstanding, Jeux Interdits is an excellent little film about a young girl named Paulette whose (civilian) parents are killed in one of the Nazi bombings of France. Paulette is immediately adopted/befriended by a little boy named Michel, who brings her home and insists that his family take her in. The jeux in the title refer to the pet cemetary the two children begin to construct after Paulette decides to bury her pet dog Jock, who was also killed by the Nazis.

Jeux Interdits didn't make me cry per se. It isn't sentimental in that way (I did cry at Terminator 2 in case you were wondering), but Clément's film gnaws away at you in a different way. The film's ending is absolutely devastating. It's a sock-in-the-jaw, merciless way to end a film that feels honest but heartbreaking. I'm not going to give the ending away, but for me the ending makes or breaks a film and Jeux Interdits' ending unequivocally makes this one.

04 July 2008

On How I Am a Sap and Other Tales of Silliness

I often think of myself as cold-hearted or mean. (My dear friend Wahima likes to describe me that way, certainly.) But then I sit down to watch an old sentimental movie like George Stevens' I Remember Mama and find myself totally overwhelmed with emotion, crying as though I have the softest heart in the world.

I Remember Mama is the story of a Norwegian immigrant family who live in San Francisco and the wise matriarch (played by Irene Dunne) who presides over the family. It's touching and sweet and I found it very beautiful. The tone of the movie is often silly and sometimes veering on the cartoony (Oskar Homolka as the crazy uncle gives a particularly ridiculous performance), but all of this is okay because the story is told from the point of view of a young girl who is coming of age. The fantastical does not seem so out of place as seen through her eyes. Anyway, I loved it.

And now for two more films I really liked. It's been a good week...

Jean-Jacques Beineix's 1986 movie 37°2 le Matin which was released in the U.S. as Betty Blue is wonderful. It's a sexy, quirky tale of two lovers who try to stay together as one of them (Betty) deteriorates under the weight of what become severe mental problems. I have no idea why the movie was called Betty Blue in English, nor do I have any idea what a literal translation of the film's French title might mean: 37.2 Degrees in the Morning. (What is that about? Is it idiomatic?) The film is not really the story of Betty, though. It is the story of the couple (his name is Zorg) and their life together. I can't say enough good things about the movie. Both lead performances are excellent (Béatrice Dalle plays Betty; Jean-Hugues Anglade plays Zorg) and both of them are incredibly sexy. Anglade, in fact, has to be one of the sexiest men I've ever seen in my life. Betty Blue is long (it runs a little over three hours), but because it delves so deeply into the minutiae of the relationship, the movie's impact is all the greater.

And last night I saw Michael Patrick King's big-screen version of Sex and the City, which is a film all about clothes. There isn't much else to the movie. There are breakups and some life-lessons that seem totally obvious from the movie's get-go, and barely the ghost of a plot, but I really liked this movie. The performances are serviceable, there are several funny jokes, there is loads of bitchiness and plenty of camp. But chiefly Sex and the City is a film about clothes. Did I say that already? To my mind, the clothes make the entire experience not only worth the price of a ticket, but totally unforgettable.

02 July 2008

I Miss Barbra.

The sad part about WALL·E's liberal quoting of Gene Kelly's Hello, Dolly! is that though the song "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" opens the movie and we hear Michael Crawford's clear, lovely tenor voice, the song fades out during all of the parts where Barbra Streisand sings in the song. In the copy of the soundtrack I have, Babs starts singing at the 1:15 mark. It looks like WALL·E's soundtrack (for sale everywhere) also omits Barbra, since the "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" track lasts only a minute and seventeen seconds.

Now, I'll admit that Hello, Dolly! is not the best musical in the world. In truth, it's probably not in too many people's top ten. And Gene Kelly's film is a problematic behemoth of a movie, as well. The fact that it stars Barbra Streisand in the first place is controversial (and perhaps not the best decision.) I should also mention that "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" is not exactly the best song Jerry Herman ever wrote, either.

But I really like Hello, Dolly! for all its faults and grandeur and silliness. It's warm and loveable and sweet, and Herman's music is infectious and fun if not necessarily groundbreaking. And my favorite part of the movie is Barbra herself. She is larger than life, and she's not exactly acting her heart out, but she's brassy and fabulous and clever. And that twinkle in her eye makes me fall in love with her.

I know, I know. This is the gayest post ever. But I am about to make it a little gayer because I want to talk some more about Andrew Stanton's WALL·E. I am still thinking about it because everyone on earth is talking about how much they love it. Now I love that WALL·E begins by quoting a movie every musical-loving queen will know. But one of the things that I really disliked about WALL·E is that the robots WALL·E and EVE have such clearly defined genders. Why do they have to be male and female? I mean, robots don't have genders. They don't have genitals for Chrissakes! And they don't have sex. Or children. Or societal norms. So it seems really heteronormative and unnecessary that WALL·E and EVE's genders are so obvious.

I could go on about how holding hands is a heteronormative obsession, too, but I guess I should probably stop being down on the feel-good movie of the summer.

This doesn't really have anything to do with Barbra Streisand, I guess. But all through WALL·E I kept waiting for Barbra to make an appearance, and when she didn't I was definitely disappointed.