CIVIL WAR WITHIN THE CIVIL WAR

Razor-tongued Judith Crist, of national critical reputation at the time of the release of The Beguiled in 1976, wrote:  “A must for sadists and women-haters.”  Passing over whether that is an apt description of the earlier film with Clint Eastwood and directed by Don Siegel, I am curious about how many of my readers would describe Sofia Coppola’s current version in the same way.

Under the firm yet delicate hand of Coppola, this Beguiled, from the novel by Thomas Cullinan  is a mood piece.  Pace and rhythm, atmosphere and setting, are  beautifully sustained and controlled.  If Nicole Kidman’s off-set comments are accurate  —  that Coppola captains a relaxed ship  —  the final edited result here is an impressive achievement.  (I remain confused about one aspect of the production design and/or the photography.  The backgrounds of the external shots invariably resemble still photographs  —  not process shots but stills.  They are consistent and fit the mood.  Was their intention beyond consistency and fitness?  I would enjoy hearing from readers about this also.)

The story is set in the Confederacy during the Civil War at a girls’ boarding school  —    currently two instructors (Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst) and four students.  They rescue and nurse back to health a wounded Union soldier, and the male presence among them surfaces repressions, rivalries and jealousies.  SPOILER ALERT:  They heal the captain’s wounded leg, but Miss Martha (Kidman with stalwart nursing skills) will eventually amputate it. Captain McBurney (Farrell)  —  though pathological in his fury  — is more fortunate than he realizes because this is a substitute Freudian amputation.

Elle Fanning is uncomfortably good as the most nubile of the students.  Dunst is pitch perfect in her special loneliness; Farrell is perfectly cast and always excellent; and Kidman is at her best in one of her most subtle performances.

A.O. Scoot in the New York Times describes The Beguiled as a comedy.  This is debatable, even in the limited sense in which he apparently intended.  But his description of the look of the film and of Coppola’s intent and achievement are both admirable:  “Mist and cannon smoke from a distant battlefield hang amid the Spanish moss.  The atmosphere is too genteel to be gothic, but it is haunted nonetheless, by intimations of disorder, lust and violence.”  And Sofia Coppola’s film “is less a hothouse flower than a bonsai garden,a work of cool, exquisite artifice that evokes wildness on a small, controlled scale.”  (New York Times, 6/23/17.)

The Beguiled                     The Beguiled
Sofia Coppola                       Don Siegel
2017                                      1976

NEXT FRIDAY POST August 11

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

1976

ACADEMY AWARDS – a scattering of quotes

A few quotations over the last few years from the prominent and the not so prominent:

A.O. Scott wrote in the New York Times in 2008:

“…I am…bothered by the disproportionate importance that the Academy Awards have taken on, and by the distorting influence they exercise over the way we make, market and see movies in this country.”  (2/24/08)

Scott wrote in the same article:  “The wonderful thing about the Academy Awards is that they are fundamentally trivial.  To pretend otherwise is to trivialize movies.”   This reminds me of the psychiatrist who after a “Good morning!” from a fellow psychiatrist, asked himself:  I wonder what he meant by that.  I wish Scott had written more about what he meant.

“the way we make, market and see movies in this country”:  Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes in the NYT later that same year:  “If, as expected, ‘Iron Man’ comes into the awards mix, that will be partly because Paramount recently moved a more conventional prospect, a drama called ‘The Soloist,’ into next year and out of contention.  That film…had promised to complicate the studio’s life at a time when it saw awards potential for the currently hot Mr. Downey in three pictures at once.”  (“Box Office Winners,” NYT 10/28/08)

Two years later, Tom Sherak, then president of the Academy, was quoted by interviewer David Mermelstein in the Wall Street Journal about interesting the public in the awards presentation:  “…make them feel invested and that’s done by having movies they like up for awards.”  Mermelstein:  “ABC, the show’s long-time broadcaster, depends on high numbers (ratings) to set pricey advertising rates.  The greater the fees, the more the network pays to televise the ceremony.  That’s important because over 90% of the Academy’s revenue is derived from this relationship.”   (3/3/10)  AH!  “the way we make, market and see movies in this country.”

Back to 2008:  Sean Smith and Benjamin Svetkey wrote an article for Entertainment Weekly called “Why Does Hollywood’s Biggest Night Keep Getting Smaller?”  There’s very little historical perspective in this piece by youngsters unfamiliar with the world before T.V.; but they offer a couple of fascinating quotations from E.W. Davis, then  Executive Director of the Academy.  “…it’s not because we’re too dumb to know that people aren’t fascinated by who wins best production design.”  Well, they won’t become fascinated if that’s how the Executive Director feels; and they could become more interested in technical awards if the same dumb, shallow explanations of categories were not engaged  every year with stupid comments from silly gigglers like Goldie Hawn and arrogant clowns like Mike Myers.  This year one of the two awards I was most interested in was the award for production design which I so wanted to go to Budapest Hotel.”  In 2011 it was the single category in which I was most interested, in favor of Hugo.

But the strange Mr. Davis did make a good point:  “We gave out Oscars before there was any television broadcast at all.”  (Hear!  Hear!)  But the article next immediately made fun of that remark.  And Smith and Svetkey made an admirable observation themselves about “a fragmented media culture  —  with a glut of award shows and 24-hour entertainment coverage dimming the mystery of stardom…” (EW 3/7/08)

And continuing with Academy Award history, from Jerry Vermilye’s The Films of the Twenties:  “In the Academy’s third competition, there were no less than eight nominations for Best Actor, including two each for Ronald Colman, Maurice Chevalier and Geroge Arliss.”  (Secaucus, Citadel Press, 1985)  THEM WAS THE DAYS.

NEXT FRIDAY POST April 3
Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

 

Potpourri, Serious and Not

Rick’s Journal   (MY FILM CAREER)

JOTTINGS FROM Sunday evening, March 2

–  It’s way past my bedtime, and they’re still singing songs.  I thought we had decided to do away with singing the songs.I would rather have learned more about the awards to Lansbury, Cardinale (and she came!) and others.

–  If it has to be funny  —  and I still do not understand why the presentation of
achievement awards has to be funny — I prefer Ellen DeGeneres’ sense of fun to the
mean-spirited humor of recent hosts. She is not particularly inventive and is somewhat repetitive; but she makes the evening about other people, not about herself’.  She doesn’t make ugly personal comments about nominees;  she doesn’t talk and sing about contenders’ body parts; and she doesn’t ridicule the films the awards are asking us to take seriously as achievements. Jamie Foxx and Bill Murray took care of a lot of that, and we can be grateful that they weren’t on long.

–  We still have presenters who need to learn that it’s not about them.  Apparently so does the Academy since most of the behavior of these embarrassing presenters appears to be scripted  —   and badly read by stars who can’t be troubled to learn half a dozen lines. Best presenter: Christoph Waltz by a mile. Real class there.

– Other presenters with style: Benedict Cumberbatch and Jennifer Garner; Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emma Watson; Angelina Joilie; Matthew McConaughey; and Brad Pitt.

The Wizard of Oz deserves better, and so did Liza, Lorna and Joey. And for “Over the Rainbow,” the tits were a mistake.

– Bette Midler was really fine.

SIDELIGHT:  Manohla Dargis, A.O.Scott and Stephen Holden of the New York Times once again offered their own opinions in eight categories on a page titled “Academy Ballots of Our Own.”  I was interested to find that in the category of supporting actor all three listed James Franco in Spring Breakers (with Mr. Scott listing him for This Is the End as well).

*     *     *     *     *

Touki Bouki
Djibril Diop Mambéty
1973
(restored by Martin Scorsese)
with Magaye Niang as Mory
Mareme Niang as Anta

                      “…is it that finally being able to leave means you no longer have to?”
Eric Grode (New York Times 12/8/13)

Mory and Anta scheme with blithe amorality to gather enough money for passage out of their Senegalese homeland to the Mecca that, for them, is Paris.  The film is colorful (literally and figuratively), amusing, hilarious and tender.  The acting of the principals is outstanding with the two Niangas being deliciously funny as they join a large, important parade where they are taken by some of the crowd to be celebrities.  Their royal hand waving is as good as it gets.

*     *     *     *     *

COMING RIGHT UP

To all my readers who can make it to Cleveland:  John Ewing is showing Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder at the Cleveland Cinematheque on Thursday and Saturday, March 13 & 15.  At both showings the film will be introduced by Kurtiss Hare, writer, blogger and film programmer ( The Nightlight, Akron Film + Pixel).

Thursday – 6:45 P.M.

Saturday – 9:45 P.M.

NEXT FRIDAY POST March 14

See you at the movies,
Rick

CURRENT COMMENTS ON MOVIE YEAR 2012

Something to think about regarding two of the year’s significant films:

     Manola Darghis on The Master:  “…’The Master’…speaks to a fundamental human yearning for meaning in a story that is specifically American.”
in a New York Times article
called “Against the odds, smart films
thrive at the box office” 12/16/12

A.O. Scott on Django Unchained: “More than any other director [Tarantino] tests and extends the power of pop-culture fantasy to engage the painful atrocities of history.”
in a New YorkTimes article
called “25 favorites in a year when 10
isn’t enough” 12/16/12

 

THE OSCAR PRESENTATIONS

The madness continues and is currently evolving to stupidity.  In the Jan.25/Feb.1 special double issue of Entertainment Weekly Anthony Breznican continues to bring us more appalling news about this year’s Oscarcast.  Neil Meron and Craig Zadan are still boasting about what sound like alarming plans.  They are promising “more perfomances than on any previous Oscar show”  —  apparently unaware that we all want fewer.  There was not a single production number on the Golden Globes telecast,  a telecast the viewing audience apparently liked.  Unfortunately the Globes are picking up the Oscar habit of presenters ridiculing the awards they are about to bestow (or the nominees about to be honored), but at least the skits are well-written.

“It’s the show, stupid!”  Zadan, speaking of the announcement of this year’s Academy nominations, referred to previous occasions as “dry” because “the only things that were talked about were the nominees.”  Pardon?  And Seth MacFarlane assures us he won’t turn the audience off by getting “too specific” about contenders like Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild.  How do you get too specific?  By mentioning that they are nominated?  How about mentioning that they are talked about and honored around the world?  MacFarlane:  “First and foremost, the Oscars is [sic] a TV show.”  That ‘s just the problem and has been for years.  Why can’t they get it?

NEXT POST Friday February 1

See you at the movies,
Rick

the AWARDS SEASON, SHORT TAKES

NOMINATIONS, LIMITATIONS

A.O. Scott’s New York Times end-of-year piece on his choice of the year’s best movies is headed “25 Favorites From a Year When 10 Isn’t Enough.”  Hear!  Hear!  Spot-on.  The artificiality of categories and restrictions is being increasingly recognized.  This year the Venice Film Festival’s best actor award went to Philip Seymour Hoffman AND Joaquin Phoenix.

We need more of this.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences really needs more of this  —  or needs at least to start awarding the honor to the BEST performance or work of the GIVEN year.

Would it be a substantial improvement to do away with nominations?  —  just announce winners!  If the Academy took this approach, we could perhaps avoid the show, avoid the less than world class performances of the nominated songs.  The finding of enough of them to be nominated can take considerable effort these days anyway.  Maybe Oscar could go back to being a presentation of awards and stop getting those terrible reviews as a show.

COMING SOON TO THE SCREEN NEAREST YOU:  Discussion of an annual Oscar myth.

NEXT POST, FRIDAY January 25

See you at the movies,
Rick

NEWS, BLOGS & RECOMMENDED READING

SPECIAL NEWS

In August, Sight & Sound released the results of its latest poll of international critics and other experts.  What is the greatest film of all time?  In this poll Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo holds first place.  This is first time in fifty years  —  the poll is taken every decade  —  that Citizen Kane lost its hold on that first slot.  Also for the first time the magazine did a separate poll of filmmakers who chose Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story as number 1.  Vertigo ranks 7 in the filmmakers’ poll (in a tie with The Godfather) and the general poll has Tokyo Story as number 3.

Look for a future blog here about this poll and past Sight & Sound tallies.

Note from Rick’s Journal:  My Film Career.  My own poll for fifteen years has had Vertigo as number 1, followed by Citizen Kane and The General vying for second spot.  I feel excited about having been ahead of this game.

BLOGS

1)  Silent film enthusiasts and especially John Gilbert fans will want to check out http://johngilbertandme.wordpress.com.  The site is very knowledgeable in the details of the life and career of one of the screen’s great romantic leads and Greta Garbo’s favorite leading man.

2)  Students and fans of American film history should enjoy http://inafferrabileleslie.wordpress.com, a site devoted to actor Leslie Howard who in a single decade may have made more memorable movies than any other performer within a comparable time span.

RECOMMENDED READING; an article and a book

ARTICLE

If you can access the New York Times you will want to look at an article from July 1 with contributions by Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott.  The title makes the subject matter clear:  “Super- Dreams of an Alternate World Order…The modern comic book movie has become a Hollywood staple.  But exactly what is it selling?”

BOOK

The Great Moviemakers by George Stevens, Jr. (Conversations at the American Film Institute with the Great Moviemakers, the next generation, from the 1950s to Hollywood today), Knopf, 2012.

This is a rewarding collection of interviews with directors, writers, composers and performers.  I was especially intrigued by the talks with John Sayles and Paul Schrader.  Sayles’ analysis of his Lone Star is helpful, and his description of working with a studio (Baby It’s You) is illuminating if not surprising.  Sayles is also interesting as he discusses his own genre writing, done for other directors’ films.

The interview with Paul Schrader is as interesting as any other piece in the book.  Schrader’s remarks are apparently a composite from two different seminars.  It is not clear which questions arose when, but many of the queries put to Schrader come from an angry questioner who feels that the writer did not deliver a sufficiently clear racial message in Taxi Driver.  The more immature the question, the profounder and more revealing is the Schrader response.

My collaborator BKG found this splendid compendium at our local library, but this is a worthwhile purchase.

NEXT FRIDAY POST September 14

Until then, see you at the movies,
Rick