Thursday, May 16, 2013
Can't get enough of my opinions here? Need an extra tonnage of puns, links, and random twilight musings? Come follow me on Twitter! It's free, it's fun, and as a certain junkyard philosopher said, you might learn something, too. You can click on the link above, or the one in the upper right under my profile. Let's all be twits together!
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Decades before Baz Luhrmann, Prince offered his own blend of Deco pop pastiche and Fitzgeraldian doomed romance in the underrated Under The Cherry Moon (1986). I wrote some thoughts that act both their age and their shoe size--on the film's improvisation of history, identity, glamour and funk, and its broader meanings for film adaptation--over at Cinespect.
Monday, May 6, 2013
(WARNING: SPOILERS, GEEKINESS, NERDING OUT, blah blah blah)
The key to the Iron Man movies has always been the face of Robert Downey, Jr., alternately playful and haunted, but constantly signifying and suggesting layers to the character that the screenplay or the action sequences can't convey. Casting Downey was a masterstroke, not only because his own blend of genius and addiction mirrors that of the title character, but because few contemporary actors (and certainly no superstars) convey thought as well as he does: dancing around his basement laboratories, squinting at holographic equations or literally mapping out a universe, Downey's darting eyes, furrowed forehead and ADD eyebrows are the superhero trilogy's most thrilling special effects. Watching the electronic guidance systems of his helmet bounce off his cheekbones humanizes a character that might otherwise seem like an impenetrable, out-of-control, weaponized metal shell-- and I don't mean the suit of armor. Iron Man 3, the latest armored epic (and a film so confident of its own power that it don't need no stinkin' subtitle), takes the dramatic possibilities of this face to their logical endpoints by tossing aside the helmet and giving Stark's human visage as much screen time as possible. The result is to make the character at once more open and more gloriously inscrutable than ever.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Since You Went Away (1944) was on TCM late Friday night. I wrote my MA thesis on this film, and have seen it countless times, but hadn't watched it in about a decade. I came in just as Guy Madison's sailor got on the bus, and Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones walked into the nearby soda shop to continue their date. What follows is a variation on Classical Hollywood shot/reverse-shot framing. It lasts less than five minutes, but I've been haunted by it ever since.
Saturday, April 6, 2013
Roger Ebert invited us into a slangy, smart conversation about movies—and in doing so, transformed film criticism forever. I wrote some brief thoughts in appreciation over at Cinespect.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Assassins! Just as the weather was getting warm, and this blog was starting to heat its carburetors, throw its pistons into gear, and do other metaphorical car things that I really don't understand, that dastardly headmaster, Dennis Cozzalio, returned to keep us in line (and heavy with cyber-guilt) with one of his maddeningly addictive quizzes, this time invoking "that distinguished lady of letters and professed expert on the Romantic Fascists, Miss Jean Brodie." That's right, the Dowager Professor has reared her tenured head, with the Miss Jean Brodie's Modestly Magnificent, Matriarchally Manipulative Springtime-For-Mussolini Movie Quiz. Although Dennis assures us that taking part will not lead to inappropriate affairs, shocking deaths, or support for Franco, I'd warn you that heading over to Dennis' site via the links above may result in the loss of countless hours of productive work-time, as you luxuriate in the hundreds of posts Dennis has crafted-- all of them full of wit, perception, great screen grabs, stimulating opinions, and endless grace. So, consider yourself warned. As Miss Brodie herself might say, give Dennis a cinephile at an impressionable age, and he or she is Cozzalio's for life.
So, to avoid P-E-T-R-I-F-I-C-A-T-I-O-N, let's begin!
Sunday, March 3, 2013
It's a shallow person who doesn't judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
Does it matter that Diana Vreeland could not have seen Charles Lindbergh fly above her house in The Spirit of St. Louis in 1927, as she claimed in an interview ("Right above our house! I considered that very lucky," she exclaims in archival footage, early on in Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011)? Towards the end of the film, it's mentioned that Vreeland's home in Albany was nowhere near Lindbergh's flight path, a minor detail that Vreeland would write off as getting in the way of the "faction" that was her real Truth.
The Eye Has To Travel, co-directed by Vreeland's granddaughter-in-law Lisa Immordino Vreeland, relies on a spirit of faction (in all senses) as its structuring device, slyly deploying found footage, feature film clips, and actors reading transcripts to create a dialectic that both comments on and re-creates Vreeland's alluring fabulism, her desire to make words and images pulse for her audience, her need to tell a story that found the real in the glamorous. As much as any of the models she made famous in the pages of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, Vreeland (who died in 1989) was a star-- first in her mind, then in the offices she shaped in her image, and eventually in the way that image shaped the overlapping worlds of fashion, art, and cinema. Taking over as Bazaar's fashion chief in 1936, she was famous enough by 1941 to be the inspiration for Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin's Broadway musical Lady in the Dark; in 1957 she would be immortalized by Kay Thompson in Funny Face, and both celebrated and satirized a decade later by William Klein in Who Are You, Patty Magoo? She was a consultant to Jackie Kennedy, a compatriot of Cecil Beaton, and a friend to anyone who shared her love of artifice, clothing and stories. "The eternal is in every case far more the ruffle on a dress than an idea,” Walter Benjamin noted in the mid-thirties (just as Vreeland was getting her start), and the success of The Eye Has To Travel is how well it blurs the line between fashion and criticism, in a manner that offers both needed perspective and witty sympathy for its lovable-but-generally-unreliable subject.
Writing in the early seventies, just as Vreeland was being fired from Vogue (and then hired by the Met as a consultant for their Costume Institute), Roland Barthes would offer a different cut on Benjamin's line: "One might call 'poetic' (without value judgment)," he wrote, "any discourse in which the word leads the idea." Numerous interview subjects in the film note Vreeland's unique use of the English language, her taste for anecdotes (photographer David Bailey tells a priceless story about Vreeland calling him before a shoot in Egypt, asking him to imagine a dead princess floating through the desert), her propensity for speaking, as one man says, "in haiku." It's an underrated way of working, particularly in academic and historical writing (indeed, Vreeland's harshest critics in the film are those frustrated by her lack of linearity), but it gets at the heart of so much that fascinates in the relationship between iconography and idea. There's a beautiful passage late in the film when Vreeland discusses her fascination with surfing, with the tranquil qualities of the water, and what it means to ride a wave (rhythm, as so many people note in the film, was very important to how she structured her page layouts). A writer or filmmaker faces the same question: how do you sustain the flow? If we replace "word" with "image" in Barthes' formulation above, the rhythms of The Eye Has To Travel become more apparent.
Popularizing blue jeans and bikinis, dressing First Ladies, discovering three generations of models and actresses, internationalizing fashion journalism, and transforming the meaning of layouts from prim suggestions for suburban wives into pages full of sensual stories, Vreeland's accomplishments are impressive (the film is lush with dazzling Bazaar and Vogue covers, and page spreads that are a fashionista's delight). The film that frames them is by turns fascinating and interminable, offering a blend of insight and distraction that I can only describe as deep ephemerality: I was mostly absorbed for its eighty-six minutes, and it almost immediately began to float out of my memory as David Bowie sang "Lady Grinning Soul" over the closing credits. But the wave it creates and sustains made me hungry to know more about her. She relates an anecdote towards the end of the film, about seeing Diaghilev and Nijinsky in Paris as a girl, and she might be describing her own, fabulous life: "We knew it was amazing. Because it was so amazing, it appeared amazing. Not all things that are amazing appear, perhaps. You know?"