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

26 March 2012

The Briefest of Reviews from 1970

Michael Wadleigh's film Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music is another incredibly wonderful find from 1970. This documentary is filled with extraordinary footage from the 1969 festival. The movie lasts about 3 and 3/4 hours and it is fabulous. The music is obviously central here – and it's fantastic: Joan Baez, Richie Havens, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby Stills & Nash, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker – but the way the film itself works is just as important to how good the movie is. The editing, by Scorsese's frequent collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker, is nothing short of genius (Scorsese also worked as a co-editor on the movie). You can come and go with this one – it's long enough to feel too long in a single sitting – but this is a movie I could watch repeatedly. Much of the footage in Woodstock is absolutely unbelievable.

19 March 2012

The Briefest of Reviews from 1970

As I watch all of these movies from 1970, some are amazing films that I would never have seen (The Molly Maguires: so good!), some have brilliant acting (The Great White Hope, I Never Sang for My Father), and some are great lessons from the history of the time-period (Joe). Others, like The Hawaiians, have enormous casts and spend lots of money, but can't manage to tell a story that anyone would want to watch.

18 March 2012

John Carter... of Mars

I don't need to tell you John Carter, Disney's 275-million-dollar epic is bad. I am sure you know it's bad, and I'm sure you also know that everyone else knows it's bad (there were, I think, a few people in the multiplex in Tallahassee that had no idea, but I'll leave that for now).

The film is directed by Andrew Stanton, who is best known for the animated films Finding Nemo, A Bug's Life, and WALL·E. Carter is his live-action debut and he kinda has no idea what he's doing.

At one point I literally turned to my companions and said "I have no idea what's going on," (obviously a bad thing for a film aimed at a demographic much younger than me) and more than once my companions and I asked aloud: "but why doesn't she just...?" or "why wouldn't he...?" In one of the film's sequences, the villain (Dominic West from The Wire), offers up his life to the film's heroine (a gorgeous Lynn Collins). "Kill me," he says. "You have the power." But she doesn't. She swings the sword at his neck and stops before cutting his head off. She hates him and knows that if she doesn't kill him she will have to marry him. She also knows that marrying him means the downfall of her planet. He gives her the power to kill him and she doesn't take it, even though later she will interrupt her own wedding swords a-blazing (do swords blaze?) to stop the marriage. Nonsense.

There's also some weird thing in the movie about the planets aligning and light shining in a powerful beam and a ninth gate, but I had no idea what any of that was about except that one person wasn't supposed to know about it and everyone else needed to keep her from knowing about it. I honestly kept trying to figure this out in the movie, but I don't think it actually makes sense in any realm of logic.

I'm just gonna stop right there. I didn't totally dislike this movie, so I'll just stop criticizing it. Some good things:

The movie is quite funny in its early sequences. All of the stuff with John Carter back in Arizona in 1868 is great fun, expertly timed, beautifully edited.

I love me some Willem Dafoe. He appears as a green Martian king (they call them jeddaks on Mars). And his daughter is voiced by the lovely Samantha Morton. The entire movie involved a shirtless Taylor Kitsch running around in the desert, as well.

This is what that looked like:
...and let me tell you, that was fine with me.

There is also this very cool little reptile/dog beast, who runs around really quickly and follows Taylor Kitsch everywhere. He is good for lots of laughs in the film and is, frankly, adorable. I want one for my house.

I also complain a lot on this blog about how movies with lots of technology and giant robots just end up punching each other during fight sequences (cf. Iron Man, Transformers, Real Steel, etc.) but one thing John Carter has going for it is a cool technology that runs on human or martian energy somehow. The film doesn't bother explaining how it works, but we get to see a giant structure built out of these machines, and plenty of weapons. There is a superb sequence where John Carter is held prisoner via a kind of remote that seems to control his blood stream and his posture. It looks really cool.

And the jumping. The jumping is cool. Carter's human gravity on Earth is different than it is on Mars, so he can jump really high and far, and he has a kind of super-strength. I mean, that's fun.

But ohmygoddon'tseeit. You'll just hate yourself.

17 March 2012

The Briefest of Reviews from 1970

A weird poster for a very straightforward movie. I Never Sang for My Father successfully transfers Robert Anderson's play into the cinematic form. Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons are absolutely wonderful in this. (He was – inexplicably – nominated for Best Supporting Actor even though he is clearly the main character and has the bulk of the screen-time.) It is standard for Gil Cates's work to be small and simple, and this film is definitely that. But I Never Sang is very good for what it wishes to be.

07 March 2012


Isn't it funny how things just come to you sometimes? I am teaching a class on sex, gender, and sexuality in theatrical representations right now and the other day the class discussed Oscar Wilde's extraordinary play Salomé. Many of my students loved it and one in particular asked me to give him everything I had on the Symboliste movement related to sexuality. I have a lot of information about this, as it turns out – even more than I remembered that I had.

And I was looking at Symboliste novels: the really important ones were Raymond Roussel's truly bizarre Impressions d'Afrique, J.-K. Huysmans' À Rebours, and the Comte de Lautréamont's Les Chants de Maldoror. And I realized as I was giving my student the materials he requested that I had never actually read Maldoror and knew next to nothing about its author, who was, of course, not a comte at all (although the Marquis de Sade really was a marquis).

 So I cracked open Maldoror to see what all the fuss was about. And let me tell you it was much crazier than I thought it was going to be. I expected a little weird sexiness and a little darkness. No. Written around 1869, Les Chants de Maldoror are strange and grotesque in the extreme. The hero transforms into a shark, an eagle, and other various creatures. He does battle with the Almighty and with an archangel who has transformed into a crab. The whole thing is also composed very strangely, in what appear to be brief, unconnected episodes. It is truly an amazing book.

Here are a few samples. This is from the second canto:

It was evening. Night was beginning to spread the blackness of her veil over nature. A beautiful woman whom I could scarcely discern also exerted her bewitching sway upon me and looked at me with compassion. She did not, however, dare speak to me. I said: "Come closer that I may discern your features clearly, for at this distance the starlight is not strong enough to illumine them." Then, with modest demeanour, eyes lowered, she crossed the greensward and reached my side. As soon as I saw her: "I perceive that goodness and justice have dwelt in your heart: we could not live together. Now you are admiring my good looks which have bowled over more than one woman. But sooner or later you would regret having consecrated your love to me, for you do not know my soul. Not that I shall be unfaithful to you: she who devotes herself to me with so much abandon and trust – with the same trust and abandon do I devote myself to her. But get this into your head and never forget it: wolves and lambs look not on one another with gentle eyes."

A little later Maldoror meets a shark:

Swimmer and female shark he has rescued confront each other. For some minutes they stare warily at one another, each amazed to find such ferocity in the other's stare. They swim, circling, neither losing sight of the other. Each thinking: "Till now I was wrong – here is someone wickeder than I!" Then of one accord, in mutual admiration, they slid toward each other – the female parting the water with her fins, Maldoror smiting the surge with his arms – and held their breaths in deepest reverence, both longing to look for the first time on their living image. Three metres separated them. Effortlessly, abruptly, they fell upon each other like magnets, and embraced with dignity and recognition, in a hug as tender as a brother's or sister's. Carnal desires soon followed this demonstration of affection. A pair of sinewy thighs clung to the monster's viscous skin, close as leeches' and arms and fins entwined about the loved one's body, surrounded it with love, while throats and breasts soon fused into a glaucous mass reeking of see-wrack.

And in my favorite part from canto three, Maldoror and a young man named Mario ride swiftly on horseback to an unknown destination:

It was said that, flying side by side like two Andean condors, they liked to glide among the strata of the atmosphere adjacent to the sun; that in these regions they fed upon the purest essences of light; but that they would decide only reluctantly to lower the incline of their vertical flight towards the dismayed orbit where the human globe deliriously turns – inhabited by cruel spirits who massacre one another on fields where battle roars (when they do not kill each other treacherously, secretly, in the midst of towns, with the dagger of hatred or ambition), and who feed upon beings as full of life as themselves but placed a few rungs lower on the ladder of existence.
We did not speak. What do two hearts that love each other say? Nothing. But our eyes expressed everything. I warn him to wrap his cloak closer about him, and he points out to me that my horse is moving too far ahead of his. Each takes as much interest in the other's life as his own. We do not laugh. He endeavours to smile at me, but I see that his countenance bears the weight of the terrible impressions engraved there by reflections – constantly bent over the sphinxes which with sidelong glance baffle the mortal intellect and its great agonies.
I again raised my head like a ship's prow lifted by an enormous wave, and said to him: "Do you weep? Tell me if you can, king of snows and mists. I see no tears on your face – beautiful as the cactus-flower – and your eyelids are as dry as the riverbed. Yet I discern in your eyes' depths a vat full of blood, in which your innocence boils – its neck bitten by the large species of scorpion."

Weird, right? The whole thing is fascinating, actually. It is also completely frustrating, very dense, and quite difficult to read. So, I don't recommend it to everyone, but it is definitely worth a look if you are intrigued by nineteenth-century French spiritualism, Symbolisme, or shark sex.

06 March 2012

The Briefest of Reviews from 1970

This was weird, y'all. I mean, it is clear from this film why they broke up. There is some great stuff here, though. The concert on the roof at the end of the movie is classic, lovely. But what is Yoko Ono doing in this movie? She never says a word, and she just hovers, ubiquitous but never really contributing in any way. Paul is in charge in this film, that's clear enough. And Ringo: well, he looks slightly confused at all times. As my friend Julie says, that is part of his charm. She is correct, of course, about Ringo. As for the fourth Beatle, I just wanted to hug George Harrison the whole time. He needs a little consoling.

05 March 2012

The Briefest of Reviews from 1970

Wow. Martin Ritt's The Molly Maguires is the undiscovered gem of 1970. Like Cromwell it stars Richard Harris and Frank Finlay, with additional superb performances from Samantha Eggar and (even more importantly) Sean Connery. The molly maguires are a gang of saboteurs who work in the coal mines of nineteenth-century America. They are exploited, beaten down, and killed by the men who run the mines, and so they fight back: violence with violence. Ritt's film is a smart one, but I also found it deeply moving. Henry Mancini's score is haunting and beautiful, and the filmmaking is excellent.

03 March 2012

In Praise of the Like Button

I like the like button.

As a matter of fact I think it's great.

Some of the people I know speak negatively about facebook: it runs our lives, it's everywhere, it knows too much about us, it has destroyed old ways of communicating with the people in our lives. These complaints range from small gripes to apocalyptic jeremiads.

But I don't really get that. Communication is mediated anyway. And mediated first of all by language itself. And anyone who proposes that writing a letter or having a conversation on the telephone are somehow less mediated than connecting via facebook is in denial.

Now, of course, people are becoming more rude; I am sure that is true. And people often make the decision simply to text or email someone about something they really ought to handle in person. I get that. But that doesn't change my opinion of the benefits of facebook and its different ways that it connects people with one another. Rude people are going to be rude in person, too.

Anyway, the like button. It may seem perfunctory, sure, to like something on facebook. But it is a silent affirmation, a quiet little bit of approval we send to people we know. And it costs so little! Just one click. I like that. You have clever ideas. You are funny. You are making good decisions. I like you.

And this is a new thing, basically invented by facebook: instant approval of a choice or an idea or a joke. Imagine if every time someone did something clever you actually gave him or her a thumbs-up. It would get annoying or be awkward, maybe, or perhaps you yourself would get tired of approving of your friend's little choices and ideas. But not with the like button. No. It takes no effort! And yet it reminds your friend that you are listening to him or her, paying attention, along for the ride.