The Roundup: October 27

Cinema

Destroy All Monsters: Marvel vs. DC Could End the Moviegoing World by Matt Brown at Twitchfilm

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If you think we’ve had a lot of superhero movies already, scroll down this post a minute to the Image of the Day and take a look at what’s in the pipeline, if both Marvel and DC hit all their announced release dates (I’m betting DC won’t, but that’s neither here nor there). Then come back and read Matt Brown’s astute take on why this rivalry might destroy moviegoing as we know it. Personally, I’m in for about four of these announced films, but I’m feeling fatigue already.

I’m not referring to the glut of similar properties (though that will be a factor) and the perennial movie business column-incher called “audience fatigue.” I’m simply referring back to the infinities of scale problem above. Great: you’ve assembled fifty superheroes and literally saved the universe. What now? What’s next?

DC and Marvel’s real-world pissing contest will force each of them to go bigger and bigger and bigger or go home, home, home. But on both a conceptual and visual level (and alongside them, a financial one), there is actually a ceiling on how big these movies can get. Iron Man vs. Captain America in Captain America 3? Brilliant, but what do you do for an encore?

15 Great Russian Movies by Sergey Kuznetsov at Film School Rejects

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Most of the time “12 Great Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen”-type lists irritate me, because I usually have seen many of the films on them, and it’s incredibly difficult to target one of those lists well when your potential audience is everybody. First of all, this one doesn’t make the mistake of titling itself with “you haven’t seen”, but it also focuses on films that are well-known and revered in Russia but not as well-known outside of Russian, which is a fascinating tack for me. I’d love to see more lists like this from other countries.

The Diamond Arm (Leonid Gaiday, 1969)
Perhaps the best Russian comedy, the story of an ordinary man who was incidentally involved in illegal diamond trafficking. It’s a parody of crime movies and of the Hitchcockian “wrong man in wrong circumstances” plot, as well as a satirical sketch of Soviet life. Sometimes the American audience might need some knowledge of Soviet realities, but I’m sure real cinephiles would highly appreciate the stylistic diversity and charms of the actors.

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American Movie Critics: H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)

[Ryan McNeil of The Matinee and I are reading through the American Movie Critics anthology and discussing each chapter as we go, crossposting on each of our blogs.]

We’re coming to the end of the silent era, and we cap it off with one of the most tantalizing and intriguing essays we’ve come across so far, about a film that both Ryan and I have seen – Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Jeanne d’Arc. Sometimes critics declare films to be masterpieces, and time doesn’t bear them out, or they dismiss films that are later revived as classics. Here we have a fascinating case of a critic (Hilda Doolittle, who was primarily a poet who published under her initials H.D.) who declares Jeanne d’Arc to be a masterpiece, and yet her review is an encapsulation of the emotional turmoil the film put her through, and her simultaneous appreciation of and resistance to the film. Her poetic side comes through in her turns of phrase throughout, but also in her sensibility – she values her troubled subjective experience of the film over a firm judgement of its objective quality. Ryan confessed during our conversation that he read the piece twice; I think I’ve read it four or five times now, partially to refamiliarize myself with it while writing, but also because I find it simply the most amazing thing we’ve read in the anthology so far. I would write criticism like this if I had the talent. As it is, I’m eternally grateful to Phillip Lopate for including it in this anthology so I knew to read it.

RYAN McNEIL:
When we discussed Carl Sandburg, you mentioned the way enthusiasm shone through in his writing. So today we have another poet, and again we’re met with another burst of enthusiasm. Do you think there’s something to be said about artists commenting and critiquing on other art forms? I don’t imagine it would always be as effusive as what Sandburg wrote before or what Hilda Doolittle writes here…but is there perhaps a creative spark that an artist latches on to that a journalist – or even an appreciator of the medium – wouldn’t?

JANDY HARDESTY:
There’s definitely something more expressionistic about both Sandburg’s and H.D.’s pieces in the anthology. I don’t think this piece on The Passion of Jeanne d’Arc is strictly speaking a review in the same sense of the weekly consumer reviews that Sandburg was writing, but they both have a commitment to the subjective, to the experiential, and to a certain turn of phrase that set them apart from many of their more prosaic contemporaries.

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RYAN:
I was also amazed to see her begin her piece by planting such a positive flag in the ground:

The Passion and Death of a Saint is a film that caused me more unrest, more spiritual forebodings, more intellectual rackings, more emotional torment than any I have yet seen. [39]

Now to be fair, Doolittle was being affected by what remains a benchmark in the medium…so we can hardly question how deeply she was affected. However, what caught me about this opening statement is how boldly it comes out swinging in the affirmative. It’s rare that this happens – why is that?

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Criterions for January

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January Criterions have been announced! Most exciting one to me is another addition to their collection of Preston Sturges films, with The Palm Beach Story. I can’t rank this one quite as high as Sullivan’s Travels or The Lady Eve, but it’s close on their heels in terms of straight-up zany fun. I’m so glad to see Criterion release a Hollywood classic like this just about every month.

Also releasing: Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg (an excellent and evocative film I’d love to own in a Criterion edition), Werner Rainer Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, and Lucrecia Martel’s La Ciénega, which I’ll admit I’ve never heard of. What Criterions are going on your wishlist for January?

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The Roundup: October 13

Cinema

It’s Time to Stop Freaking Out About Movies We Haven’t Seen by Tasha Robinson at The Dissolve

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Preach it, sister. The entire hype cycle needs to die down, from over-enthusiasm to pouncing on every bit of non-news to especially what Tasha is talking about here, getting riled up about every little thing about a film that we hear might possibly be going in a direction we think is wrong. I admit I got a little upset over the Into the Woods thing, but guess what? I was wrong, and I knew I was wrong. Just wait it out and judge the film by itself, not our idea of what it might be based on snippets of information that may or may not be true. (Of course, it would help if film sites would stop reporting this BS like it’s news in the first place.)

But more often than not, people who get worked up over pre-release Internet reports about films are quite literally getting excited over nothing: over false “facts” and vague fears. The environment of outrage on the Internet tends to build echo chambers where theories, misinterpretations, and outright hoaxes get repeated, encouraged, and taken as gospel. The excitement of being in on a prolonged, sweaty group attack on a not-yet-existing film can blunt the excitement of actually seeing the films when they come out.

Fritz Lang’s Game-Changing Man Hunt by Wade Sheeler at The Black Maria

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I’ve been working my way through Lang’s filmography, but I haven’t gotten to this one yet. Sounds like I need to get on it soon! (A couple of paragraphs of this in the middle seemed spoilery; I just skipped them and went on.)

Lang is without a doubt, one of the great architects of film noir as well as the superspy genre, starting with his Dr. Mabuse trilogy, through the astoundingly exciting Spione! (1928). When he fled Nazi Germany (in an oft told tale, following the offer to head up Germany’s Filmed Propaganda department by Goebbels himself) he came to the US, and had to, basically, start over. He was Germany’s genius, but in the States, he was little known. Throughout the 1930s he struggled to find projects that inspired him, or that he was able to leave his signature, and already oft imitated, style. Man Hunt finally gave him that opportunity.

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American Movie Critics: H.L. Mencken

Ryan McNeil of The Matinee and I are reading through the American Movie Critics anthology and discussing each chapter as we go, crossposting on each of our blogs.

Thus far on our journey through the American Movie Critics anthology, we’ve read poets and playwrights, psychologists and literary critics, weekly reviewers and moonlighters, but by and large all of the pieces we’ve read have been enthusiastic about the movies. With influential essayist H.L. Mencken, we hit our first outright cynic. Based on my quick Wikipedia skim, it sounds like Mencken was generally a skeptic, with a lively writing style and a quick wit, though he usually took government and religion as his targets rather than cinema. You might think this would have us in for a tough read this week, but nothing could be further from the truth, as Ryan and I found a lot to talk about in this one.

JANDY HARDESTY:
After a bunch of largely enthusiastic pieces, we at last come to a real cinema skeptic in H.L. Mencken. I’ve obviously heard of Mencken in connection with his non-film writing, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by him before, so I have no preconception of his work at all.

We talked in another one of these posts about humility in criticism, and whether a critic should allow for other viewpoints in reviews – here Mencken clearly isn’t doing that, and while it may make his opinion ultimately less persuasive (since we’re likely to disagree with him from our vantage point), I think it makes the article, as a piece of writing, rather stronger. Agree with him or not, there’s no question what he thinks, and I appreciate that he owns it.

RYAN McNEIL:
In reading Mencken’s piece, I was immediately envisioning a man who is a curmudgeon. If he were around today, I wager he’d pose that rock & roll died after 1977. The funny thing is that his take on technology sounded so darned familiar. It’s amazing to think that this piece is from the 1920′s because I swear I’ve read pieces that seem to paraphrase these very thoughts, but written this century.

JANDY:
Mencken’s writing style is highly acerbic and confrontational, and I think his conclusions are wrong, but I found this first truly negative piece in the anthology to be very entertaining. He basically argues that editing is ruining movies, as it breaks up scenes into confusing parts and interrupts actors so they have no time to truly act, but merely posture and react. (Keep in mind he’s complaining about shots lasting no longer than six or seven seconds – today’s average shot length in Hollywood is somewhere around 3-4 seconds). Do you think Mencken’s concerns have any ongoing merit, any corrective for American cinema, or is he just wrong-headed here?

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