Tag Archives: Detour

The Roundup: March 23

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Detour‘s Detour by David Kalat at Movie Morlocks

For my money, you won’t find a more quintessentially noir film than 1945’s Detour – it’s got it all, from low contrast lighting to defeatist narrator to femme fatale, and in many ways, Detour displays the most primal forms of all these noir tropes. A while back I argued that Tom Neal’s desperate narrator is a basically good man pulled inevitably towards tragedy, but David Kalat has a slightly different and pretty convincing take on it as well – that Al is a misanthrope who could quite possibly be guilty of everything that seems fated to happen to him. He also brings in much more about the source novel, its author Martin M. Goldsmith, and director Edgar G. Ulmer than I ever knew, making this a fascinating read – and making me want to rewatch the film again immediately.

Narration, Voiceover, and the Shape of the World by Bilge Ebiri at They Live By Night

Voiceovers are often condemned ipso facto because they’re seen as being clumsy expository devices or ways to tell the audience about an event or character without just showing us. And certainly, they can be used that way, as lazy storytelling devices. But there are lots of other ways to use voiceover as well, and many voiceovers are inextricably part of a given film’s appeal. Try to imagine Badlands without Sissy Spacek’s dreamy, poetic voiceover (or True Romance, for that matter). Bilge Ebiri uses Malick’s early films as examples, as well as several others that use voiceovers either poetically or to actually comment on or counteract the narrative-as-shown. There’s a lot more than could be written about this topic, for sure, but this is good entry on the subject.

Fortress of Solitutude: Jeanne Dielman… by Dennis Cozallio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule

Chantal Akerman’s three and a half hour long opus Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is something of a test of endurance – it shows three days in the life of the title character, three days of carrying out menial housework, cooking, cleaning, caring for a neighbor’s baby, writing letters, and entertaining a gentleman caller (yes, that’s a euphemism). Dennis Cozallio’s excellent essay points out how effectively the film conveys “the crushing weight of Jeanne’s mundane day-to-day existence,” and he’s totally right. It’s a perfect example of how to make a “boring” film really well – when shifts in her routine do happen, the effect is immense.

In Character: William H. Macy by Alex at And So It Begins…

I’ve shared entries from Alex Withrow’s always-worthwhile series on character actors before, but when he got to William H. Macy, I couldn’t resist. Macy is one of those actors who always perks up a film with his presence, and in fact, I’ll often go see films just because he’s in them. Even so, there are a lot on Alex’s list I haven’t seen, so I’ll have to get on that. I do particularly recommend The Cooler, which actually stars Macy, even though he’s still in a very “character actor” kind of part. And though Alex didn’t mention it, he’s a ton of fun in Mystery Men.

10 Little Known Movies You Need to See Now by Kevyn Knox at Anomalous Material

Kevyn Knox comes up with some pretty awesome lists for his Anomalous Material column, and though this one is largely unthemed, it’s still a really great read. I’ve only seen a couple on here (one of them is Detour; see above for how much I love that film), but I’m definitely planning to move the others higher on my list. I hope Kevyn does more lists like this in the future. As if my to-watch list NEEDED to be any longer :)

Film Art: An Introduction Reaches a Milestone With Help from the Criterion Collection by David Bordwell

After pioneering the use of actual film captures instead of production stills for their textbook Film Art: An Introduction, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson are going on step further, partnering with the Criterion Collection to include video clips with commentary for teachers to use along with the textbook. You’d think this kind of thing would be a given by now, but copyright laws are difficult even in an academic context, where you’d assume fair use would reign supreme. So getting Criterion’s cooperation on this is a large step forward, and hopefully will open the door for more distributors and film textbook authors to take advantage of digital media in the classroom. Here’s an example of what they’re doing, with Thompson discussing Eliptical Editing in Varda’s Vagabond. (click link to open in a lightbox)

Help Rescue the Hitchcock 9 at BFI

Hitchcock’s films remain some of the most well-known and best-loved films of the entirety of classic cinema (and I’m not only speaking for myself there, I think), but there are still some of his films in need of preservation and restoration – especially his nine surviving silent films. The fact that only one of his silent films has been lost is amazing in and of itself, but these nine still need our attention. A few of them have been released on DVD, but the video quality is not the best. To rectify this situation, the BFI is undertaking the huge project of restoring all nine of these features to present as a retrospective in London in 2012, and they’re still raising funds to complete the project.

10 Reasons Why 21 Jump Street Exceeded Expectations by Oliver Lyttleton at The Playlist

Oliver Lyttleton was killing it this week over at The Playlist, with at least three or four editorials that I considered featuring. I decided to go with this one because these ten reasons are so solid regardless of the film at hand – if more studio filmmakers would remember these ten things, we’d have such better Hollywood films all around. I haven’t actually seen 21 Jump Street myself, but I’m far likelier to check it out at some point with articles like this floating around.

More Links!

Cool Videos, Trailers, and More

Full Prometheus Trailer – wowsers
Sound of My Voice TrailerAnother Earth‘s Brit Marling as a cult leader/possible time-traveler? I’m in.
David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis Teaser (NSFW)
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Trailer #2
Snow White and the Huntsman Trailer #2
Mondo artist Kevin Tong’s Edgar Wright Triple Bill poster – WANT

Noteworthy News

Film Classics: Detour (1945)

Detour_(poster).jpg
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Screenplay: Martin Goldsmith
Producers: Leon Fromkiss, Martin Mooney
Starring: Tom Neal, Anne Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald
Year: 1945
Country: United States
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Running time: 67min.

[Rating:4.5/5]

There are spoilers in this post, but if you’re familiar with noir, you won’t really expect it to end differently, and there’s a lot more to the ending than what I give away.

You couldn’t make a more quintessential noir film than Edgar G. Ulmer’s low-budget Detour if you’d known all the rules and tropes ahead of time. And he didn’t, because film noir wasn’t defined until the mid-1950s. Yet, just about all the elements that would eventually be considered definitively film noir are here: high-contrast lighting with lots of shadows, a defeated narrator telling the story of how fate continued to pile terrible circumstances on him no matter what he did, and a femme fatale who only makes things worse for him at every turn.

al.jpg

Our main character arrives at a diner, obviously rundown and weary – a fellow diner strikes up conversation, wondering where he’s headed (“east”) and where he’s come from (“west”), but soon our man snaps at him. He’s not out to make friends. The other diner puts a coin in the jukebox, but the song that comes on angers our traveler, who jumps up wild-eyed, screaming not to play that song. Why, we wonder? What has happened to this man that causes him to be so standoffish and crazed by a song on a jukebox? Don’t worry, he’s going to tell us.

club.jpgFlashback to the same man, Al Roberts, looking much less unkempt, jamming away on a piano in a club as a pretty girl sings the song from the jukebox. As Al continues narrating, we learn that he and the girl, Sue, are a couple, but they’re soon to be separated as Sue leaves for Los Angeles to pursue her singing career while he stays in New York, lacking the confidence to go with her immediately. Already Al is a revealed to be far from a hero – heroes do something with their lives, act to get what they want, and become the catalyst for change and movement in a story. But Al is simultaneously frustrated with his position in life and reluctant to do anything to change it, though he’s dating the most beautiful girl around and his talent as a pianist is undeniable and appreciated more than he realizes (or can accept). His piano solo soon after Sue leaves suggests that he could be a great classical pianist or maybe even a composer if he had the determination to go for it. But instead he seems to belittle his talent and think of himself as a loser. Perhaps he is right – for when he does decide to do something, head west to join Sue in LA, everything goes horribly wrong.

Film on TV: 9-15 March

Okay, I can haz new computer now. It’s a shiny, pretty Macbook that anyone who happens to follow me on Twitter or FriendFeed has already heard WAY too much about. Suffice it to say that it is much more fun writing these on a computer than on an iPhone (finding the greater than/more than symbols for all the html tags got old REAL quick on the phone). Looked like it was gonna be slim pickings this week with TCM’s lineup, but IFC more than picked up the slack.

Monday, March 9th

8:35am – IFC – Diabolique
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s tense thriller about a man whose wife and lover decide to join forces to off him. But there’s another twist beyond that.
(repeats at 2:30pm)

8:00pm – IFC – Day Watch
The sequel to the moody apocalyptic sci-fi film Night Watch from a couple of years ago. Night Watch was far from perfect (way better in concept than in execution, which was quite muddled), but still interesting, and I’m curious to see if Day Watch improved on it. It’s eventually supposed to be a trilogy.
(repeats at 1:30am on the 10th)

12:00M – Sundance – The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
One of the forerunners of Romania’s ongoing New Wave, focused on a spare, minimalist style of realism – my beloved 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days belongs to this movement as well. Lazarescu is an indictment of the Romanian healthcare system, following a dying man as a parademic tries to get him into hospital after hospital over the course of a night.

Tuesday, March 10th

8:30am – IFC – Howl’s Moving Castle
(repeats at 2:05pm)

11:00am – TCM – Detour
If you wanna see some classic B-level film noir, look no further. This is one of the touchstones – you got low-budget, dim lighting, fatalistic anti-hero, femme fatale, the works.

2:45pm – Sundance – Avenue Montaigne
Sweet and unassuming ensemble film, set in Paris. That’s all it takes to hook me.
(repeats at 1:00pm on the 14th)

1:00am (11th) – TCM – The Bridge on the River Kwai

Wednesday, March 11th

10:00am – TCM – Love Me or Leave Me
Doris Day turns in her best performance ever as the abused girlfriend of gangster James Cagney.

Thursday, March 12th

8:00pm – IFC – The Player
Robert Altman. Tim Robbins as a hotshot Hollywood producer who may just get his comeuppance. Virtuosic opening tracking shot.
(repeats at 2:00am on the 13th)

10:15pm – IFC – The Royal Tenenbaums
(repeats at 4:25am on the 13th)

2:00am (13th) – TCM – The Third Man

Friday, March 13th

6:25am – IFC – Picnic at Hanging Rock
I have a love-hate relationship with director Peter Weir, and I’m never sure which side of the fence this film falls on. I don’t really understand it, but it’s stuck in my head for years. I think I’m assigning that to love.
(repeats at 11:40am and 4:55pm)

7:45am – TCM – Blackboard Jungle
One of the first teacher-in-an-inner-city-school films, with a very young Sidney Poitier as one of the unruly students.

9:10am – Sundance – Mutual Appreciation
I actually just watched this today. It’s part of the so-called Mumblecore movement, which is largely associated with a group of New York indie filmmakers including Andrew Bujalski (who directed Mutual Appreciation), Joe Swanberg, Mark and Jay Duplass, Mary and Ronald Bronstein, actress Greta Gerwig, etc. Mumblecore often comes under fire for being pointless and navel-gazing, and sure. It’s that. I’m not even sure I like Mumblecore-labeled films that much, but if you’re interested in seeing some real DIY filmmaking (not what passes for indie in the world of Little Miss Sunshine and Juno), check this one out. It has a bit more plot than some of the others, plus it stars Justin Rice, the lead singer/guitarist/songwriter for Bishop Allen, which is fun.
(repeats at 4:35pm)

2:45pm – TCM – To Sir, With Love
Another teacher film, but this time Sidney Poitier’s the teacher, and the school is in inner-city London.

8:00pm – TCM – Double Indemnity
It’s James M Cain night over at TCM tonight, and all three of these films (this one, Mildred Pierce, and The Postman Always Rings Twice are well worth watching, straddling the film noir-melodrama line perfectly.

10:00pm – TCM – Mildred Pierce

12:00M – TCM – The Postman Always Rings Twice

Saturday, March 14th

9:45am – IFC – Waking Life
It may be a while before you see another film like Richard Linklater’s rotoscoped Waking Life, which doubles as philosophic treatise. It’s one of the most interesting, innovative, and brilliant films of the 21st century.
(repeats at 2:35pm)

4:00pm – TCM – From Here to Eternity

Sunday, March 15th

8:00am – IFC – Cléo from 5 to 7
At the end of last year, I posted a list of the best films I had seen. Cléo from 5 to 7 was at the top of that list. It combines a New Wave sensibility with a female director’s eye, which turned out to be such a perfect combination for me that I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since, and I can’t wait to see it again. And again.

9:35am – IFC – Vagabond
Vagabond is by the same director as Cléo from 5 to 7, Agnès Varda. Haven’t seen it yet, but hope to this time around.
(repeats at 4:15pm)

8:00pm – IFC – Raging Bull

9:45pm – Sundance – A Woman Under the Influence
I still have this John Cassavetes film on my DVR from the last time it was on. I should rectify that at some point.
(repeats at 5:30pm on the 16th)

12:00M – TCM – Nosferatu
F.W. Murnau’s 1922 version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula still ends up being one of the best versions of the story. For a great double feature, watch this and then 2001’s Shadow of the Vampire, a fun little film that wonders if Nosferatu actor Max Shrenk actually WAS a vampire.