Thursday, December 21, 2006

Taking Ignorance to Magnificent Heights, or, Apocalypto

Seemingly sprung fully-formed from the mind of a 14-year-old boy who's fallen asleep face-first on his world history textbook, Apocalypto is the second-funniest movie of 2006 (I pronounced it the funniest until I remembered that Jackass Number Two came out this year). As it evokes everything from Home Alone to Italian cannibalsploitation to Ringu to 19th century American painting (the motif of the noble savage retreating to his fate off the side of the canvas), Apocalypto merits the adjective phrase "totally fucking bananas" like few other movies. It makes a point of showing an espcial amount of blood during a birth scene (mmhm, a BIRTH SCENE); it has few shots that last longer than an instant; it features the best facial tattoos of any movie in a while. As a former anthropologist, I found it so shatteringly offensive and retrograde that, after about ten minutes, I no longer paid attention (til the ridiculous end) to that aspect of the movie, which aside from not getting pre-Columbian cultures, does not know how THE SUN works. It would be like getting on your high horse about the wanton destruction of bison in your average round of "Oregon Trail." Really, this movie is all but a mid-90s P.C. quest-style game ("help Jaguar Paw make it home before it rains too hard--and destroy morally bankrupt civilization IF YOU CAN!").
In sum, the longest sequence in Apocalypto involves someone's face getting ripped off by a jaguar.
(finally, I know Mel Gibson has some bullshit answer to this, but honestly: why is this movie called APOCALYPTO?)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

El Topo and Jules et Jim, or, Possibly Smart Movies

A first viewing of El Topo relies on a viewer's gut reactions to the film's imagery and increasingly bizarre twists; although I did not really know what to expect before I saw it for the first time, on a grainy bootleg VHS on a sweltering afternoon in Texas, I almost wish I had not seen even a single image from the movie, so as to be fully open to the shock and amazement the movie can provoke. Unlike The Holy Mountain, El Topo has a geniuine narrative (though divided into about five chapters, it really has two parts: "I am God" and "I am not a God"--a hubristic gunman seeks glory, fails, seeks redemption, fails) that propels the film as a whole forwards, but does not necessarily matter in individual scenes, each of which depends, entirely and confidently, on the power and singularity of their images to leave an impression. Of course, it revels in psychedelic excess, but attains genuine profundity as well, both in moments of extreme sensory overload, and in instants when he cuts away quickly from a moment that matters a lot (the death of a child, the benignly executed suicide of a master gunman who has thrown away his gun). I mean, this movie is totally fucking ridiculous and self-indulgent, but I feel like discounting it as a massive acid trip, as some folks who have "grown out of it" tend to do, does it a disservice. Since you can finally see El Topo legally on a big screen, at IFC Center through the end of the week, you probably should.

Another movie people think they grow out of, Jules and Jim, is also playing this week (at Film Forum). I definitely saw it in the height of my "I am a junior in high school yet so sophisticated beyond my years I rent from the 'foreign' section of Blockbuster" phase, enjoyed it enough, and proceeded on with my life, remembering mainly how cute Jules is, how nice Catherine's stripey outfit is, and how charming their happy bike expeditions seem compared with the "dull" adult-y business of love and jealousy and death the fills the film's last half. Kids who watch it, though, miss the crushing, inexorable (<-this is my favorite word, have you noticed?) force of history, which makes this a film as much about people before/in/after a war as it is a film about people falling in and out of love.
Truffaut also makes Jeanne Moreau's character marvelously weird; you can't LIKE her, you can't HATE her, you can't sympathize with her, really, but you can't blame her for anything, either. Casting her really makes the movie because, as always, she doesn't bowl you over with her beauty but she does have the precise sphinx-like quality that the part demands.
Further of note: sick Georges Delerue score, killer theme song, lightness of tone and deliriousness of cinematography that mask the film's depth.
In other news, my parents presented me with a garlic press and I'm really, really bummed to say that the naysayers are right: way not as great as you might think.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

All of them witches: some great traffic with evil forces

I've just finished a fantastic book, Joris-Karl Huysmans's La-Bas (translated on my Penguin Classics edition as "The Damned," but I'm pretty sure the new crisp New York Review of Books edition goes by "Down There"). It's a fin de siecle novel about several different things: a man writing a biography of Gilles de Rais and his struggle, as an author, to understand the mind of a long-gone age while cobbling together archival sources; ideas about faith and evil and the fate of modern man; sketchy matters of the heart; delicious food; and, you know, Black Masses and all. Huysmans can write a stunning sentence, and his character de Hermies's monologue on dust may be the best thing ever written on the subject.

So then I was thinking about witches, and since about the most exciting thing doing at the library is a busted microfiche carrier, I thought I'd offer an annotated list great witch-y cultural moments, in no particular order.

1. Black Sabbath-Black Sabbath

DUH. There are songs about witches and witchcraft, but nothing seems as genuinely, terrifyingly ensorcelled as this (although I advise you all to seek out the EVEN SLOWER version of "Black Sabbath" from their Peel session).

2. Lolly Willowes-Sylvia Townsend Warner

A quaint, deft 1920s or 30s feminist novel about a spinster who escapes her awful family and massively boring lot in life to move out to the country and find herself in a village which (spoiler whatever), we come to learn, is peopled by folks who traffick with Satan. This books takes care of the "relatively cute herbal tea-type witch" entry for today.

3. Wide Sargasso Sea-Jean Rhys

In this literary classic, the amazing Ms. Rhys relocates her usual preoccupations (female sexuality and death, Britain and its relationship to the colonies, how those 2 relationships are sometimes similar, you know) to the Carribbean, where a vibrant young woman morphs into, well, the "madwoman in the attic." Voodoo is crucial. For more New World hijinks see the J-FIC novel The Witch of Blackbird Pond, a favorite of mine ca. 1994.

wait, why am I talking about books?

4. Day of Wrath (d. Carl Theodor Dreyer)

Everyone's favorite film textbook author David Bordwell has a nice essay about this film's ambiguities on his website , in which he points out the peculiarity of the film's narrative structure. One expects to sympathize with two women accused (unjustly, you think) of witchcraft--but then, one realizes that Dreyer has left open the question of whether, indeed, the two women possess otherwordly powers. More female sexuality/power-type themes prevail, alongside Dreyer's typically penetrating questions about faith and mind-blowing b&w cinematography.

5. The Devils (d. Ken Russell)

Abject insanity, based on the no-less insane true incident of the "possession" of an Ursuline convent at Loudon, France, with Oliver Reed playing a decent if all-too-human bishop and Vanessa Redgrave as the crippled nun whose lust for him, combined with medieval French political intrigue, naturally leads to a grand-scale scene of masturbating nuns, a lengthy burning at the stake sequence, and this crazed hippie-looking witch expert who is seriously one of the weirdest minor characters of cinema. A Czech move I've been aching to see, Mother Joan of the Angels tells the same story.

6.Witchfinder General aka The Conqueror Worm (d.Michael Reeves)

This movie--not a Hammer film, but very much in the Hammer Films mode, with gratuitous nudity, cut-rate Middle Ages costumes and sets, and Vincent Price--actually disappointed, but has an interesting, politicized take on witch hunts, and hey, Vincent Price stars as true-life witchfinder Matthew Hopkins (read his 1647 treatise "The Discovery of Witches") and there's gratuitous nudity.

7.The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (d. Raoul Ruiz)

Not properly about witches but rather about sinister worship, this completely BEWITCHING, Borgesian film pieces together a puzzle concerning a ritual that may be depicted in the last in a series of several paintings--which is missing, stolen, or may never have existed. An supercilious intellectual and an unseen narrator attempt to untangle the story for you, via a series of tableaux vivantes portraying the extant paintings, which the camera explores and in which you're supposed to find clues. Its intellectual view of the darker side of things reminds one of the aforementioned La Bas. Totally great.

8. The Holy Mountain (d. Alejandro Jodorowsky)

Apparently Jodorowsky himself has legitimately mastered the tarot and has cred in the circles who deal with these things. In this movie, he plays a sorcerer-seer-drug addled film director,etc., flanked by naked babes with kabbalistic symbols tattooed on their bodies and leopards, who can quite literally turn shit into gold. More on Jodorowsky after I go to see El Topo tomorrow.

Thinking about Endora from "Bewitched" reminded me of this bizarre, oft-overlooked Bible story in 1 Samuel 28, when a terrified, depressed, and crazed King Saul (who has banned the practice of magic) sneaks off to Endor to get a witch to summon the wrathful spirit of the late prophet Samuel. The part in the King James trans. when the witch says "I saw gods ascending out of the earth" is one of those terse, chilling moments that make the O.T. a pretty good read. I imagine a cinematic recreation of this would sort of resemble the brief, affecting scene with the medium in Rashomon.

10. Rosemary's Baby (d. Roman Polanski)

While there are plenty of witches I would love to talk about (how many nightmares did you have about Ursula from The Little Mermaid? How astonishing is that medieval mechanical hell in the beginning of Haxan? How many British folk-rock bands sang creepy ballads about witches? Will I ever find out what happens in the last 5 minutes of Black Sunday or will I be interrupted every time?) let's end at home in New York. A few thoughts: my mom is particularly fond of the part when Ruth Gordon gets angry at someone for spoiling her floor by throwing a knife at it; the poor man's muppet Satan is one of the least scary beasts ever to appear in a movie; the thought of witches living on the Upper West Side sort of redeems that neighborhood in my mind. I love this movie.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

World's Greatest Lunch

To be fair, although in real life I talk about food incessantly, this blog post is inspired by Dark Forces Swing, the excellently-written and totally intelligent blog about music, movies, and snax, written by this person Hank whose hand I think I shook once, and whose hand I would shake again, for his blog introduced me to taquitos , the greatest thing on the internet since Corey Cryer decided to produce a blog.

ANYWAY. The world's greatest lunch is the whole wheat bagel with tofu spread and tomato, what we in this parts sometimes refer to, modestly, as "the talya," since I have probably consumed at least 500 of these things.

I hope never to learn precisely how many calories this giant among lunches contains, although rest assured tofu spread cannot be good for you (as far as I can tell it mainly consists of severely mashed up tofu and oil). That's ok for two reasons, though: one, one deludes oneself that the whole wheat of the bagel provides a healthy counterbalance (I also don't care if that is really true). Two, part of the point of downing this shit is that it FILLS YOU UP, for no more than $2.75 or $3.25 usually. You can go for hours, sometimes a whole day, on a ww/ts/t sandwich without feeling the weird lethargy you sometimes feel after scarfing any other kind of bagel sandwich. The tomato contributes in that respect, I think, and also adds the necessary juice and flavor otherwise totally lacking from this sandwich. Somehow, the individual ingredients which might seem, honestly, kind of gross on their own (the tomatoes in bagel joints seldom excite), combine to create THE BEST LUNCH IN THE WORLD.

If you want to get excessive, Murray's Bagels on 6th Ave and 12th St. has WHOLE WHEAT EVERYTHING BAGELS, which I usually avoid just so I can make them a treat for bad days.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Conformist/Consumption Stymied

For some ridiculous reason, I have not seen a movie in an eon (thanks for nothing, school. Today, though, the New York Times DVD New Release column informs me that, at long last, Bertolucci's The Conformist has made it to DVD.
There are movies I describe as "the greatest thing ever," and there are movies I go to see twice in the theater in the span of less than a week, dragging a friend along the second time because I need someone to bear witness, with me, to something that reaffirms what cinema can do. The Conformist, for me, falls in the latter category.
Hopefully you saw it when it showed for a million years at Film Forum two summers ago, but in case you didn't, run out and rent it today. Few movies I've seen manage to capture the grotesque comedy of, well, human existence the way The Conformist does, blending surreal, dreamy scenes with moments of gut-wrenching, inexorable horror, portraying the stupidity of romance as well as it does the terrible idiocy of Fascism. I guess I should say, it's about a man, Jean-Louis Trintignant (who acts with this sort of laconic proto-Bill Murray demeanor that seems sort of scarily appropriate for the character he plays) so afraid of certain repressed tendencies and memories that he joins the secret police in Fascist Italy and gets sent to assassinate an old college professor in Paris. The film asks not just "what makes someone a Fascist?" but things like "what makes a person's character shallow or deep?" and does so with peculiar, unforgettable imagery (Trintignant's insane father looking like a Greek philosopher, swaddled in a blanket outside an asylum; Trintignant's seduction of his beautiful wife in a train car lit by a sunset as she describes her seduction by a dirty old uncle; I could sort of go on like this for a while).
Anyway, see it.
As far as consumption goes, things have been bleak due to the onset of consumption season, its attendant soundtrack of indie-rockified Christmas songs, and this overwhelming dull sense I get sometimes, usually at the record store but lately everywhere, when I find myself perplexed and disappointed at my inability to find anything I want, that forces me to question if, in fact, I like ANYTHING at all; this naturally leads to a creeping malaise and I wonder, if everyone else can blithely find things they want and expend hard-earned cash on them, what's my damage?
I did get a few birthday records, and a sweater from that store UNIQLO whose tiers of impeccably-folded sweaters, any of which would be as good as another, all equally desirable and undesirable, probably precipitated this silly (ignorant?) state I'm in.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fans of non-ignorant art forms, take note

Although letsgetignorant attempts to focus heavily on me me me, I make an exception today, since I am near-gleeful about this bit of good news.
Imagine my utter delight to open this morning when I should have been finishing a bibliography due a month ago and see a photograph of the stretching form of my dear and talented friend and former roommate of a million years, Ms. Ana Keilson!

(Front row center.)

In addition to having her picture in the paper, Ms. Ana deserves congratulations for getting in with this amazingly prestigious Bill T. Jones company and for the rave review (I think? I don't know anything, not a thing, about dance) that accompanies this nice picture. So, if I have any readers who happen to be wealthy dance fans, probably you should go see this.

Monday, December 04, 2006

1980s American Movies: A List

Nothing quite matches the sensation of looking away from your computer for a second and abruptly realizing you have been working for hours (and haven't realized it) and that, wow, suddenly your paper on the contentious issue of Library of Congress Subject Headings has filled 11 pages long and while you have not particularly made an argument yet have SO many more thoughts on the issue, you can perhaps wrap things up soon. I reward myself with a nice bowl of oatmeal (query: how do they make quick oats quicker than other oats?) and, you know, a blog post.
So, I forget when or why, but on the subway a while ago Ben and I decided to make TOP 10 (NORTH) AMERICAN MOVIES OF THE 1980s lists. Here's my "provisional" list, which I have a few questions about:
1. Do the Right Thing
(next in no real order)
Down by Law
The Empire Strikes Back
Raging Bull
Sherman's March
Videodrome (Canadian)
Paris, Texas (note: financed by foreigners but whatever)
Blue Velvet
Evil Dead

So, the first problem goes as follows: is Evil Dead in fact superior to Evil Dead 2? I'm not sure!
Next, I have some trouble figuring out the story with world cinema in the 1980s. A quick scan of Palme d'Or winners reveals nothing spectacular; all I can think of, really, is the Hong Kong action scene, which I would like to investigate further, and Eric Rohmer, whom I would not. Maybe the whole Kiarostami/Makhmalbaf situation started in Iran? Or was that not til the early '90s?
Also, the '80s present a weird problem because so many all-time favorites that aren't necessarily, you know, "good," come from that decade (it pains me a little to omit O.C. and Stiggs and Repo Man). I know some dudes would go all out and say, ok, well a top 1980s movies list made by someone born in 1983 really demands the inclusion of Ferris Bueller or some such, but does it? What else am I forgetting?
Last, Woody Allen made some wonderful things in the 1980s, I think, and I have a hard time remembering which ones I prefer. JEWS: let's go see The Purple Rose of Cairo on Christmas (AND, shit, Walkabout) at Film Forum on Christmas, ok?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

top shits

So I planned to blog a lot while in the throes of this term paper I have to write, but on the subway home from class I became abruptly and unexpectedly stoked about my topic (don't even ask), so I am going to try to absent myself from the internet for a few days. Before I go, though, here's a hack-style list of a few "best" consumer goods I am enjoying these days.

Most coveted item: convertible gloves. Bummer about the leather button on these J. Crew (uh-huh) wool-cashmere beauties:

Top jam purchased from record store:
Fucked Up-Hidden World. Even before this record, I loved this band so much I named my blog after something one of them said prior playing a show, wasted, at like 3am on a bridge in Texas. But seriously, what could you want more than some burly dude shouting about Henry Darger, Masonic symbols, and the afterlife over what are apparently 1990's oi! riffs?!

Top jam arrived in the mail
Bastard-Wind of Pain lp boot. I don't know that much about Japanese hardcore, but some dudes in the know think this is its be-all and end-all and I'm not particularly inclined to argue. THE RIFFS.

Top jam purchased serendipitously:
New Order-Substance. This is pretty severe, since hatred New Order has long stood as an unshakable tenet of mine. But this cassette cost $1 at a street fair and my goodness, how wrong I once was and I'm having trouble listening to anything else (aforementioned records excluded). Since I'm unsure about how to post YouTubes on here, go to that site and search "new order perfect kiss" and watch the nine and a half minute-long video (d. Jonathan Demme, classy [kind of]) of them playing "A Perfect Kiss," while eating some unsalted Snyder's mini-pretzels, and you will have a precise understanding of my current state of being.

Top food product: Tribe (did they jettison the "of Two Sheikhs" for the war on Terror?) Horseradish Hummus.

Top book, fiction:

The idea behind this book is pretty strange: it attempts to piece together a chronological picture of the character of Nick Adams through short stories, bits of larger works and unpublished stories and sketches. But SHIT. Probably my three favorite short stories of all time (that aren't Borges's "The Library of Babel," naturally) all appear in this book.

Top book, non-fiction:
Eichmann in Jerusalem
This is cheating a little since I took it out of the library and presently have no plans to buy it, but this might be the best thing I have ever read that isn't a Hemingway short story.

Top thing I need to buy:
Brown flats, solid color not tweedy and not made out of leather please. Suggestions welcomed.

OH! also, Top idea of the week: My friend and fellow-would-be-librarian Cory R. says that when he writes research papers, he takes all the articles he's printed out or photocopied and takes them to the copy shop to have them bound, thus creating a mini-reference work on a very particular subject. All I could say when he explained this to me was, after a long pause: "THAT IS A GOOD IDEA."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

"The 1992 Robert Smith of movies"

*Ben, who also saw this movie last night, uttered that memorable pronouncement, let's be fair.

If descriptions of Casino Royale omitted two key proper nouns and explained the film as something like "conflicted, brutish spy spends three hours playing cards, engaging in tepid banter, scuffling," few--well, fewer--dudes would shell out $11 to witness it. And yet, Bond is Bond, and thus I found myself at a midnight showing of this crap.
I understand that this is supposed to be a "leaner, meaner" Bond, for the days when one might indeed see security camera footage of British agents executing seemingly unarmed civilians on (note: I hope you are all following The Guardian's coverage of this Russian spy imbroglio, they've really stepped it up). Yet the movie still demands our apathy for the wanton destruction of construction sites and workers in developing countries, expects our suspicion of people with funny accents, and sets up--once again--an evil, multi-culti ring of international crime that assembles around a card table to decide the world's fate. So no, this movie is not less stupid than other Bond movies; it is, however, less fun. Spattering Daniel Craig with blood and having him profess true love to some fox (further note: You would, both Daniel Craig and Eva Green, although someone decided to assault Ms. Green with singularly unflattering makeup for almost the entire film) does not erase our memories of the charming, suave Bond, nor of Sean Connery's charming and suave yet heartless Bond. The character, in this film, demands the adjective "vulnerable"--whatever! We've seen "vulnerable" action heroes before; they have their place and James Bond has his. Do we really need to see him huddle up, fully clothed, next to a girl in a running shower to know that he feels something when he kills someone? [SPOILER: The film even denies you the payoff of seeing Bond kill the bad guy, which as far as I can tell, is structurally part of a movie in this subgenre]. Also, it's weird to pretend that you haven't seen a James Bond movie before, which is kind of the premise here. We know Judi Dench was Pierce Brosnan's boss in like 2002! WTF!
I wouldn't care about all this if the film had an engaging plot--not really, the epic terrorist-financing card game's about all it has--or killer set-pieces. Besides an excellent parkour-style sequence set in Madagascar, it drags pretty hard, and even a will-this-terrorist-blow-up-this-airplane scene doesn't bring it.
In sum, it is a wack Bond movie, and a wack regular action movie, and it is like two hours and forty minutes long. IGNORANT.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Long Goodbye, indeed

When I got a voice mail message offering me "condolences," I freaked out for one instant and then realized that it must have been Robert Altman who had gone on to the great movie palace in the sky. Sure enough, it was.
Notes on the passing of my favorite movie director of all time:

1)When I think about A Prairie Home Companion, I remember the lighting most of all. He used a soft--but not too soft--warm scheme, that set off the movie's wood-browns and golds and oranges in a way that gave the film the sort of glow you notice when you walk inside on a cold evening. That sounds absurdly hackneyed, but shit, the film's cheesy and familiar like that, and now it's an elegy, but I think everyone always knew it would be.

2)Often, you can say about a great individual who dies that his best work is either past or, what a shame, he was in his artistic prime. The quality of Robert Altman's films varied so consistently throughout his career, though, that we cannot know if he had a masterpiece left to make or another Cookie's Fortune.

3) Let's go back to Prairie Home for a sec: the happy regret of something finally reaching an inevitable end. In the movie, they make the final show of the fictitious radio show just like any other broadcast--no announcement is made, no tributes or retrospective, just competent, joyful business as usual. That's where the movie lies in Altman's filmography, I think.

4)I'm sad about this. It's a little weird to hail Altman as this titanic figure, though, when all his films are concerned with people who're precisely not anyone special--just regular dudes and ladies, who tend to mess up al the time, but even they find a few sparse instants of beauty or grace, even in this terrible, weird place that's America, in terrible and weird times.

5)A few of us (including Lev, who has a fine memorial post up, too) saw Thieves Like Us at the Museum of the Moving Image, and I think we were all blown away by a little part when Shelley Duvall shows up with her hair about 1/4 of the length it was in an earlier scene and a boy she likes says "Cut your hair?" and she smiles and shrugs and says "I dunno."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pre-Thanksgiving Movie Overload

Well, here I am in sunny South Orange New Jersey, full of leftover chard and rice pilaf or whatever (no tofurkey here, my mom and I celebrate the bounty of the fall harvest thankyou) and I will continue the post I wrote before I was rudely interrupted by library patrons and the passing of Robert Altman (see above).

As administrator, I have removed my O.J. post due to its obsolescence, since the American public decided to feign morality for a sec. Whatever, guys! At least I got to hear a truly next-level conversation at Generation Records about it (check back soon for a future post on mind-altering conversations/food delivery orders overheard at Generation Records).
Despite working something like eleven days in a row, I saw a glut of movies this past week.

So, I never saw Back to the Future until Friday. Really. The verdict: it's good and funny and all with some key skating by Michael J. Fox's stunt double but, as with many '80s comedies, I noticed a lot of peculiarly dark moments that overshadowed some of the hilarious bits: the massively depressing scene of the family at the table in the movie's beginning, the constant threat of Lorraine getting assaulted, etc. Robert Altman's butchery of an '80s teen comedy, O.C. and Stiggs, consists almost entirely of these cruel, weird fragments, and I would probably rather watch that any day over something that cuts in saccharine "Professor! TAKE THE LETTER!" shit. Don't get me wrong, though, I enjoyed it.

I took my mom on a date to see Europa '51 aka The Greatest Love at the Rossellini retro at the MOMA. Having not seen a great deal of Rossellini, I could see the potential for his turning this sort of consciousness/morality-awakening plot into something powerful. This movie, however, loaded on the sentiment and melodrama a bit thickly in its account of Ingrid Bergman turning from a thoughtless rich lady into a saint-like figure upon her son's death. A few stunning sequences compensate for some of the movie's more ridiculous parts, such as a several-minutes-long scene in a factory that's a kind of futurist nightmare, and every shot of Ingrid Bergman's face. Further note that the only thing that makes me cry harder than sports dramas is the instant in a movie when a mother realizes her son has died. See: Carmen Maura screaming "Hijo mio" in Todo sobre mi madre.

The next day my buddy Spencer persuaded me to watch Criterion release Gate of Flesh with him, telling me that it was like, the best movie he's seen all year. Naturally, I disbelieved, but my goodness, it took me by surprise. Having seen two other Seijun Suzuki movies, Tokyo Drifter and Fighting Elegy, I expected a twisted and near-incomprehensible plot, pretty insane mise en scene, and a killer theme song, but nothing great. This movie, however, is straight-up awesome, an undeniably powerful combination of exploitation cinema with politicized rage. Spencer made a good point when he said Gate of Flesh reminded him of West Side Story; the movie often acts like a musical, with its core group of tough-as-nails post-war Tokyo whores dressed in bright monochrome ensembles, trading off lines and wisecracks, and assembled in the frame like they're about to break out into song and dance. I guess it is some kind of allegory for the way the loss in the war emasculated Japanese men, and the complete breakdown of all social mores in the attempt to survive and comprehend the enormity of this loss? But mostly, what you get is girls hitting girls, hilarious grotesqueries (like when some kid pulls a condom out of a bowl of soup, oops!), and so much anger veiled by stunning Technicolor cinematography.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sports Dramas: Rules of the Game, Major League

You know what they say about fate and its ways, and so the combination of a sleepy me and a soapy carafe two days ago led to yesterday's purchase of an awfully nice 8-cup French press. Come by for a cup of coffee while the leaves here at the end of the world are still hanging on.
A recent proliferation of jobs has left me with little time to watch movies, much less to write about them. But now that I've received a (I hate this phrase but, for lack of better term) shout-out on Mr. Atkinson's super and popular blog, I feel like I'd better step it up a notch. The last two things I've seen are 1) Rules of the Game and 2)Major League.
Roommate and all-around top dude Ned offered that Rules of the Game was "good but not the greatest movie EVER." I may disagree, with only the explanation that--as dull and cliched as this may sound--this movie rewards multiple viewings more richly than perhaps anything else I've seen.
I cried a couple times this last time, and the pal with whom I watched it this time around told me he thought that was "cute," to which I replied that I cry during lots of movies. While true, this statement requires some nuance: I cry during every sports movie. Rules of the Game not only uses sporting as a metaphor and a plot element, but also has a similar payoff. The brief, intense outpouring of high-stakes emotions that challenges the status quo (feelings elicited by the aviator, or by your run of the mill rag-tag bunch of misfits) but ultimately, proves inconsequential (society will return to normal; Odessa, Texas will not find redemption through its high school football team) holds a great deal of the tragedy in both this film and your average sports drama or sporting event.
[Side note: that's weird about sports, isn't it? That fandom relies on an individual attaining this state of pure emotional involvement with an event that can have no tangible consequence for his own life?]
While we were watching Major League for the 10,000th time, Ned made me stop folding my socks and rewound a few seconds of the movie to show a bizarre, purposeless, and inept tracking shot. "That's not filmmaking!" he said, with happy indignation. No, it's not. This movie's inexplicably weird in wonderful ways, as seen best in Charlie Sheen's strange performance, playing the "tough guy" as a laconic naif, albeit one with amazing comedic timing (oh man, the part in the restaurant when he subtly holds the menu upside down). Once my pal Patrick said, "This is why they invented the internet."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Kitchenware I hope to acquire

During a marathon afternoon/evening/night of cooking, baking, drinking, and eating at 1988 Amst., I came up with this list of kitchenware that I would like to own someday.

-Garlic press: An inessential yet time-saving and absurdly fun tool, this would be nice to have since most things I make feature a shit-ton of garlic.
-French press coffeemaker: My present miniature coffeemaker hails from the late 1970s or early 1980s and makes just enough for 2 people. Coffee brewed in a French press generally tastes better, anyway.
-Tea spoon/strainer/brewing device: Despite the amount of coffee I consume, I also drink a great deal of tea, and we all know that loose tea makes a more delicious cup than teabags, unless you get those fancy pyramid-shaped teabags, which let's not go there.
-Pepper grinder: How can my rice and beans be appropriately piquant if I use old, mellowed-out black pepper? How?
-Heavy-duty plastic baking sheet: These make you seem tough and professional, and obviate standing in front of the sink for ages while trying to scrub crusty marinade gunk off of your roasting pan.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Buy this if you see another copy at the record fair

Mason Proffit-Wanted! Mason Proffit

We all know I'll buy just about any record that has dudes in flannel shirts and fringed vests kickin' it under a tree or on a porch, and that most of it's pretty mediocre and, at its best, convincingly imitates the Byrds or CCR or whoever. I'm on my second listen to this, though, and I'll go ahead and say it's one of the best screen-door-core ("country-rock" or uh, "rural psych" to you uninitiates) records I've ever heard. Seriously, I almost never recommend this stupid music to others, but it also doesn't usually blow me away the way this record does. If you like Notorious Byrd Brothers, you'll probably like this; that's how good I think it is. Thank you, Dan from Gimme Gimme Records, for using its cover art on the "rural psych" mix cd you made, without which I might not have remembered to pick this up.

In other news, I bought some other stuff at the record fair that I may listen to at some point when I can stop listening to Mason Proffit (actually, I'll probaby give The Saints Eternally Yours a spin now, since I'm so happy to own it at last)and I saw The Rules of the Game, which is yeah, what everyone else says it is. Reader, if you plan to go see it while it's still at Film Forum (through Nov. 16), let me know and I'll watch it again.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Groceries pt. 2

Maybe in this age, post-that wack Allen Ginsburg poem, "Lost in the Supermarket," and endless, redundant analyses of aesthetics of consumption (as seen, to less wack effect, in that Andreas Gursky photo), it's a little silly to blather poetically about going to the grocery store. But then, if an enormous fiberglass cow and chicken sat atop your local supermarket, you would probably veer right a little every time you got off the subway, figuring that you either need something now or will tomorrow.
Where clothes shopping holds the possibility of total disappointment--you won't want anything, what you want won't fit or will cost too much, or the truth that you probably don't genuinely need whatever it is plagues you--grocery shopping is all about endless promise. If the flourescent lights in dressing rooms draw out all your blemishes, the ones at the grocery only make the bananas yellower and more endearing. It is warm in winter, cold in summer, and I have probably spent more time in my life shopping for food than I have engaged in any other single activity (save, maybe, sleeping or complaining) so really, the grocery store's just as good as home.

Today I got
Soymilk (most necessary food item)
Pita bread (to accompany leftover lentil curry. I sprang for the slightly more expensive pita bread, using the later expiry date as an excuse)
Frozen spinach (cheaper than real spinach and a-ok in most things)
Newman's Own Cabernet Marinara Sauce (tomato sauce has myriad uses, really!)
Butternut squash (theoretically, for use in bean/squash/tomato/peanut soup. post-colonial!)
Tofu (for which I always have grand plans but will probably crumble up in tomato sauce or dump into miso/noodle soup)

Grocery store bummer/2 things about words

I planned to reward myself with a post-homework midnight trip to Fine Fare, but since I still have homework and already put on p.j. pants (fact: they have snowflakes on them), I can neither go to Fine Fare nor write about the pleasures of late night grocery store runs, because they are many and it'll just sadden me out to ponder what I'm missing.
Here are two things about words I should have figured out before today, though, which I only learned this afternoon while reading an article about spirit possession (note: unrelated to my homework) at the Mid-Manhattan Library:
1)The word "xenoglossia" exists, to describe the ability to spontaneously speak foreign languages, typical in spirit possession
2) The word dybbuk--the Jew type of malignant possessing spirit--comes from the Hebrew root which pertains to sticking, gluing, or attaching. I'm into that.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Speaking of Max Ophuls, I feared for the first ten minutes or so of L'Argent that the film would unfold like La Ronde--that the counterfeit bill that sets the film's events in motion would pass from person to person and that the movie would simply follow the bill. The gimmick works just fine in La Ronde (which some, David Thomson maybe, have proposed as a demonstration of the transmission of venereal disease), but, as a Bresson movie, L'Argent turns instead to the implications this sequence of events has on the minds and souls of a few people. I don't know why I'm forcing this comparison but, where Ophuls uses giddily superficial trappings to expose the abject emptiness of people's interactions with each other, Bresson employs his typical bare-bones style to massive, punch-in-the-stomach effect.
Bresson's minimalism has a deliberateness and depth that few have paralleled: I think, especially, of a repeated sequence in which a paddy wagon parks, the driver opens the back door, some cops empty out a few pieces of luggage and then lead prisoners out by a kind of leash attached to each set of handcuffs, as each prisoner picks up a bag and is pulled out of the frame. It has an eerie ritualistic quality and, I don't know, it got me.
In my snoopings around the internet (my room is freezing, I have a library school paper to finish, and am losing my shit slowly and surely), I'm surprised that few critics seem to note how much this film is about work: its necessity, the body's motion and the seeming alienation of various body parts while engaged in labor, the relationship people have with their money and where it comes from, etc. So many scenes--whether in the camera store, in the prison, or in the countryside at the movie's end--involve both major and minor characters doing their jobs, from cops to mail censors to an old woman responsible for the upkeep of a household. What to make of this in a film about something like the need for purging "sins" through the ultimate acceptance of responsibility for one's actions? I'm sleepy and uncertain.

There is a good piece about this at the Masters of Cinema Bresson page, by the by.
Current affordable snacks of choice: saltines, cuticles.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Top Hits of the 1990s

Last spring a bunch of us decided at brunch (a BRUNCH of us? ha! ha!) that the '90s are next. I believe this referred mainly to an inexorable desire to jam Slant 6, and indeed, autumn 2k6 has heard a lot of Rodan, Unwound, Killdozer, and the Melvins (and, uh, Lifetime) chez moi. No surprise, thus, that in the past 24 hours alone, I have conversed about "Da Dip," heard a song by the Toadies, and received an e-mail from my friend and most frequent movie-watching buddy Ben, listing his Top 10 Movies of the 1990s. Naturally, I had to make a response list. It's nothing too special--and, for the record, overlaps with Ben's gangster-heavy list by only one movie--but here it is.
Top movie: Naked
Other 9 in no order:
Raise the Red Lantern
Happy Together
Dazed and Confused
All About My Mother
La Promesse
Beau Travail

and I originally had The Celebration here and Hard Boiled as a runner up, but I might switch that around.
Notes: While I was scoping out other lists of top '90s movies to try and figure out what came out then, I realized that I'm not terribly familiar with many of the Great cinematic works of the 1990s (I've seen nothing by Hou Hsiao-Hsien and very little by Takeshi Kitano, for instance). Also, I forgot that the Voice picked Todd Haynes's Safe as the best film of the decade, a movie I do not even consider "good."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Letter from an Unknown Woman//An Eternal Question

The other day I told some poor, perplexed individual that my favorite directors are Robert Altman and Max Ophuls. I realized at the time that it sounded a little peculiar, but look, here I am discussing a Max Ophuls movie, having quoted a different one of his movies in my last post and discussed Robert Altman earlier, so there you go.
Funnily enough, Letter From an Unknown Woman has a few bits that--to stretch slightly--foreshadow Altman; in one scene, for instance, the lovely young Joan Fontaine and her horrid mother and stepfather meet two men on the street. The camera pulls back and moves to reveal hustling and bustling and the boring how-do-you-do conversation recedes beneath a layer of street noise, horse carts, other chatter, and so on. How protoAltmanesque!
Anyway, as in other Ophuls movies, this film's fairly straightforward, weepy plot about a woman who falls in love with a pianist who keeps taking up with her and then forgetting about her is saved from approaching the conventional thanks to a slew of classy cinematic techniques and persistent psychosexual weirdness (at one point, the slimy Louis Jourdan moves next to Ms. Joan, puts his arm around her, and murmurs, "Tell me about your father."). I know at least a few people who've had to watch this in Film Studies classes, so I won't ramble ignorantly about the ingenuity of the letter as narrative frame or p.o.v. shots or whatever. As someone who spends a lot of time reading and watching movies about upscale old-time ladies who enmeshed in a certain kind of trouble, though, I would say this is about as good as that stuff gets.

I didn't want to write about music in this blog but then I thought I should write about records I bought since they're things I bought, and then I thought, "but I haven't listened to THOSE yet, let's talk about what I am really&truly listening to now." And thus, the eternal question; brace yourselves.
One acceptable correct answer:
NEITHER, HOW CAN YOU LISTEN TO THAT SHIT?! but I'll ignore you for now.
Here's my two cents. Smarter minds than mine have pointed out that HELLO BASTARDS sounds tougher and reflects a more distinct influence of reputable bands (HUSKER DU, whom they cover, RITES OF SPRING,, and that its songwriting holds up better over time. Basically, it's a superior work of the "melodic hardcore punk" (thx Wikipedia) tradition.
But I like JERSEY'S BEST DANCERS better, although it is stupider and clearly foreshadows the abysmal poppy emo and pop-punk that would bear its influence, probably because I heard it first, and because it is perhaps the thing in the world that most represents what my life in high school was not. Anyway, thoughts? and if you're the kind of person who owns these records but is embarrassed about it, get in touch, because Ned might want his CDs back someday.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Movie Weekend: The Departed, Tenement, Decision at Sundown

In one of my all-time favorite films, Max Ophuls's The Earrings of Madame De... one of the characters criticizes his friend's affection for a woman by saying something like "But she is so superficial!" to which the friend responds "Ah! She is only superficially superficial," which is one of the smartest things ever uttered in a motion picture. That, I guess, provides some kind of context for the three movies I saw this weekend, Martin Scorsese's The Departed, Roberta Findlay's Tenement, and Budd Boetticher's Decision at Sundown.

I think I will handle The Departed in note form.

I. This film will entertain you consistently for two and a half hours. Ultimately, one finds oneself thinking "that was too long," and yet, I can't think of a moment in which I was bored--although there definitely were bits that could've been omitted (the mortifying scene with the Black prostitute and snowfall of coke and Jack Nicholson saying "Don't move until you're numb" leaps to mind, holy shit).
II. Between this movie and Invincible, Mark Wahlberg is Actor of 2006. I felt emasculated after listening to him berate and fake-fart at Leo d.C. for ten minutes.
III. Excess--a glut of symbols, cinematic trickery, overly purposeful editing, and son on--has always been a Scorsese trademark, right? It works to stunning effect in Goodfellas--a superficially superficial movie--and mostly works in other efforts. In his past bunch of films, though, he has seemed abjectly lost in his own need for epic amounts of mise en scene and Meaningful Shit. A key aspect of Hong Kong action movies' greatness, in contrast, lies in their ability to go entirely over-the-top, but have that very over-the-top-ness seem part and parcel of the film. What would The Killer be without flocks of doves, Chow Yun-Fat's five weeping scenes, or the blind girlfriend? In The Departed, Scorsese manages to own his own tendency towards excess by taking cues from the Hong Kong movies upon which he based this film. For instance, the final shootout and creepy scene with the Asian gangsters do not really resemble scenes from American action or gangster movies. In their combination of absurdity, style, and effectiveness, they're total Hong Kong.
IV. Despite being handed some atrocious dialogue, Leonardo di Caprio does a good job.
V. Because Martin Scorsese is, you know, an auteur, one expects that this movie should make some kind of grand statement about America or masculinity or something. Does it? All the hokum about fathers and sons, identity and success is persuasive at an emotional level, but I'm not sure if it succeeds as a great statement.
VI. Don't let anyone tell you it's a great movie--it's very good, though.


Spencer rented this exploitation-stravaganza (a.k.a. "Slaughter in the South Bronx" or "Tenement: Game of Survival") about a rundown Bronx apartment building beset by an inexplicably evil, drugged, crazed, and sartorially questionable gang who torment its inhabitants. Based on that sentence, one could probably write the plot of this movie. It's bad. In the vein of many truly bad films, though, Tenement has perplexing, oddly affecting moments, like when the woman who'd been prostituting herself to support her now-disemboweled junkie boyfriend's habit takes the hand of a man whose wife's neck has come to resemble Mt. Vesuvius-in-ketchup and tells him, "I know how hard it is."

Decision at Sundown

This movie (a '50s "psychological Western") relies so heavily on the audience's knowledge of the Western trope that it leaves out key plot elements that it knows you know. What exactly HAS John Carroll been doing to the town of Sundown ever since he arrived that has unleashed so many troubles? The movie doesn't say, but you understand. One might say "DUH, this is a B-movie that's but 77 minutes long," but since it's all about, you know, repression and emasculation, its ability to leave things unspoken--and when it speaks, to use some pretty worn cliches--makes a whole lot of sense. Moreover, the film takes place primarily inside a barn and a saloon, has no heroes, and Randolph Scott, its main character, rides off into the sunset in the company of a corpse, having discovered that the woman whose honor he was trying to avenge didn't have much honor anyway. WHAT? Yeah. Unfortunately, it seems like you can only watch it on bootlegged-off-TNT video, complete with commercial breaks, which is a legit bummer.
*The dudes at Senses of Cinema have written about this movie, probably in less ignorant a fashion than myself.
In other news, I succeeded in acquiring a non-boring (read: cardinal color) coat. Little consumption can take place between now and WFMU record fair, though, so if anyone has important tips regarding cooking with expired canned goods, let me know.

Friday, October 20, 2006

"Celebrity" Sighting #1

Malan from Project Runway spotted early yesterday evening on 14th St. between 5th and 6th Aves, looking fey as fuck and casting disdainful glances at garbage and passers-by.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

California Split

For no particular reason, I want to describe the very 1970's color scheme of Mr. Robert Altman's CALIFORNIA SPLIT as "rueful browns and golds;" I don't think that's precisely the right adjective for the kind of it's-not-the-'60s-any more-bummer look I mean, but let's leave it at that. I once knew the technical reason why movies from this era have this particularly grainy, muted palette but presently forget.

In any case, CALIFORNIA SPLIT (which I saw--alone, pleasantly enough--at Film Forum yesterday) is a wonderful and rueful movie, with a vague narrative trajectory that brings Elliott Gould as a motormouthed huckster obsessed with "finding the action" together with George Segal, a taciturn journalist with gambling and attitude problems. They sort of seek the proverbial "big score," but mostly they drift from bar to casino to boxing match to racetrack, winning and losing big, getting beat up, and being and not being friends. Gould and Segal have a weird chemistry brought about by equally striking yet totally contrasting performances. Myself, I'm down with that-which-is-'70s-Gould, sarky and motormouthed and pathetic with a sketchy-Jew vibe that's fantastically reminiscent of the oral surgeon who took out my wisdom teeth with his scrubs unbuttoned to mid-chest to reveal his giant star of David medallion. Segal's performance is withdrawn and weird: he speaks few complete and totally sensible sentences in the film. Instead, he acts via this strange, overenthused smile that takes a little to long to stretch out on his face, an expression induced only by Gould, gambling, and this girl he wants for about five minutes. Early in their friendship, the pair does a drunken song-and-dance number in a dark parking lot (shortly before getting mugged and beat to shit) that has become one of my all-time favorite Altman scenes.

One review I read described CALIFORNIA SPLIT as a "love song to gambling," which seems completely off-base to me. Yes, the film certainly portrays the "action" as a great, dizzying swirl of sound and movement. The opening sequence--usually described as "bravado"--takes place in a great expanse of poker tables, with impeccable Altman sound-editing and camera movement capturing the games' jerky rhythm and picking out Gould and Segal while situating them within this world. We know movies can "do" gambling, though, (see one of my favorites, Demy's La baie des anges), so a great deal of its interest comes when it steps outside for a minute to show the strange lives of Gould's prostitute roommates, or Segal going to beg a friend (who reveals that Segal has been abandoned by his wife) for a loan. While most are funny, these scenes are also pretty stark, though not as stark as the film's final scene, when Gould cuts the crap for just a sec--even his voice changes--and you ask yourself "oh, fuck, was this about EMPTINESS?" and then the movie's over.
Things I would like to purchase, Oct 19, 2006
-A winter coat, wool but sufficiently warm, which will last me for a while but isn't boring-looking.
-Face moisturizer
-The Susan Christie cd that is "on sale" at Kim's for $17.99
-Lunch (bagel?)
-Boots without holes, although I also totally want these dark orange and gold ballet flats the girl across from me on the subway yesterday was wearing.
-A discman. Craigslist?
-Personalized hoop earrings (TALYA or COOP). Actually, just one would do. This will only happen if I find $100 on the sidewalk, but maybe someone has a hookup.
-A bottle of whiskey
-A bulletin board (tangible, not e-)