Saturday, November 6, 2010

I don't even know what I'm qualified to do...

*tap tap tap* This thing on?

So, it's been a while. Okay. Maybe more than a while. Real Life got in the way of important things like blogging for a few months, but I never intended to abandon this thing entirely. That said, the reason I'm back to post one more review is because of a movie that's quite a bit like my Real Life: No Footing.

Rowan alum Michael Licisyn screened his film for current students and faculty last night in an event hosted by the Cinema Workshop. No Footing tells the story of Madison (Jensen Bucher), a 23-year-old art school graduate trying to get her life on track. Despite her Bachelor's degree, she finds herself working in a copy shop for an unbearably absurd boss (a perfectly over-the-top performance by Derek Lindeman). She can barely pay the bills and is far too drained at the end of the day to paint for herself, let alone pursue the dream of making a living with her art.

She feels stuck and alone when she finds herself continually bumping into Christopher (Jake Matthews), a kindred spirit of sorts who gave up the theater in order to get a steady job as a high school guidance counselor. Their relationship is refreshingly complex; this is not a love story, despite one very suggestive dream sequence. Instead they are not quite even friends. Their dynamic is one of a mentor and protegee. Madison latches onto him in the hopes that he can teach her how to cope with what she perceives as failure. In turn, he teaches her to take responsibility for her own happiness.

In a Q&A session after the film, Licisyn stated that Madison's journey was based largely on his own, when he was struggling to establish himself after graduation. This may be why the film rings so true. Madison's world is the same one that I'm living in, as are many of my peers, and Licisyn explores the myriad of ways in which we all cope with it. Like Madison's best friend Kylie, I chose to extend my undergraduate education by an extra year (although I didn't fail any classes in order to do it). Like Madison herself, most of my friends who have already graduated are working low-wage jobs unrelated to their majors. Madison's parents are my parents, down to the mother pushing for a career in teaching as a back-up plan. And of course everyone has a Cory (Michael Bower, better known as "Donkeylips" to those of us who were kids in the '90s), that eccentric success story we can't help but look at with envy. This film captures all the uncertainty of entering adulthood at a time when degrees are plentiful but jobs are few, and it does so with a subtlety that is absent from most coming-of-age stories.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Boudu Sauvé des Eaux

Suicide seems to have been a common theme in French comedies, or at least the ones showcased in Cannes Classics this year. Jean Renoir's Boudu Sauvé des Eaux is about a homeless man, Boudu, saved from drowning himself by the middle-class bookseller Monsieur Lestingois. Hailed as a hero by the community, Lestingois takes Boudu in and tries to give him a respectable life. However, Boudu isn't interested in the so-called good life. He takes everything Lestingois is willing to give him, up to and including the bookseller's own mistress; after marrying her, he realizes that he was happier as a bum than a bourgeois, and jumps back into the river to reclaim his old life.

Much of the film's humor comes from the disparities between the Lestingois family's genteel lifestyle and Boudu's crude existence. Although Lestingois holds a higher place in society, Boudu continually bests him, running the man and his family ragged simply because they won't stand up to him -- it would be poor manners, after all, to refuse their guest. The lowly Boudu, therefore, comes off as smarter and wittier than his well-educated hosts, ironic because they run and live in a bookstore, which theoretically should be a fountain of wisdom.

However, this film is more than just another story of a poor man outsmarting a richer one. The characters are all complex and engaging; Lestingois does the right thing by taking in Boudu, but he does so at least partially because it makes him look good -- he's more concerned with society's opinion than with his family's. Boudu takes advantage of his hosts, but he too is shown to have at least something resembling a heart. This lighthearted film bypasses the preachy route by poking fun at both classes simultaneously, with the natural interactions between characters.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Au Petit Bonheur (1946)

Cannes Classics brought a restored print of Au Petit Bonheur back to the big screen last week. This absolutely hysterical French comedy from 1946 features Danielle Darrieux as Martine, the crazy and jealous wife in a marriage of convenience who sets out to make her husband fall in love with her, collateral damage be damned.

Said collateral damage consists of playwright Alain Plessis, whose car she first shoots and then repeatedly comandeers. Plessis is on his way to a remote inn, a wonderfully creepy place that serves to isolate the main cast, which is where he fell in love with an actress who later left him. He plans to relive their first happy moments, then kill himself; his plan is postponed when he comes across the innkeeper, Brigitte, who is rehearsing her own suicide. Together, they happen upon Martine's husband, Denis, who had broken in to get away from her. When Martine discovers him and he leaves her, she too decides to take her own life. Yes, kids, this is a comedy.

The rest of the film involves Martine and Denis scheming with other people to get each other back. Martine, who started out as mentally unstable, gains the upper hand by overhearing a conversation between Denis and Plessis. However, she is thwarted by an accidental dose of sleeping pills. All three characters are literally on the precipice before Plessins realizes he doesn't want to die, and Martine and Denis realize that neither of them wants a divorce. Along the way, there are more than enough misunderstandings and plays on words to keep this comedy from becoming too dark, and everything is tied up neatly in the end -- literally, with the rope that Brigitte would have used to hang herself.

Monday, May 17, 2010

You ain't supposed to enjoy yourself 'til sundown...

Well, kids, I made it. I’m writing to you live from the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France. Don’t expect regular updates for a while (does anyone still expect regular updates from me?) because I’m working my derrière off, to use the local vernacular. But, I’ll do what I can.

Early in the festival I had the amazing opportunity to see a newly-restored print of From Here to Eternity projected onto a giant screen on the beach. This was my first time seeing the film, believe it or not, so obviously I jumped at the chance.

The movie itself definitely lived up to the hype. I thought it was interesting to see a film from 1953 set around Pearl Harbor, because it presented a critical view of the military that certainly would not have gotten past the censors had the war still been going on. For example, Warden routinely manipulates and makes a fool of his superior, Holmes; officers would never have been looked down upon like that in a wartime flick. I also thought that the film had a mood of inevitability in the scenes leading up to the attack that might possibly have mirrored the general mood of the public in the 1950s -- that is, the idea that war would break out at any moment. I saw this parallel particularly strongly when Warden and Karen were in the car discussing their future, and he told her, "We're sure to be into a war by then."

The role of the two women in this film is also very interesting. It definitely showcases post-war attitudes about a woman's place being in the home; Karen defines waste as "a house without a child," and her back story revolves around being unable to have children, as though that's what determines her sense of self-worth. Alma, who goes by Lorene, has a job of her own, but it's not considered respectable; she dreams of marrying rich. The goals of both women are completely dependent on men. For this reason, I thought it was fascinating that the film closes on them rather than on the soldiers.

Unfortunately, the screening wasn't as picture-perfect as it sounded in theory. There was another beach-side event on a pier close by, and the music from that drowned out much of the beautifully restored soundtrack for parts of the movie, including the iconic scene of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling in the surf. Fireworks in the ocean, though pretty, were also a distraction. Still, seeing the film at all was a wonderful way to start the festival; I just wish the exhibition had done it justice.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Maybe she was alright, and maybe Christmas comes in July...

World War II brought about a lot of disruptions and restrictions to which Hollywood had to adapt. The end of the war, however, brought about its own set of challenges. With the troops overseas, filmmakers had grown used to targeting a fragmented audience -- the men on the front lines, and the women on the home front. As soldiers returned home, Hollywood led the way in helping America adjust to a reunified peacetime society. Films became more violent to attract the male audiences who were fresh from combat, and female characters exemplified the American woman's return from the workplace back into the home. 1947's Dead Reckoning is a prime illustration of how Hollywood transitioned into the postwar period.

Dead Reckoning is clearly aimed at soldiers returning from war. The main male character, Captain Warren "Rip" Murdock (Humphrey Bogart), is a former soldier. Fitting with noir conventions, he refuses aid from his superiors in Washington, acting more as a lone detective as he tries to clear the name of his fellow soldier, Johnny, who had enlisted under an alias after having been accused of murdering the husband of his lover, Coral "Dusty" Chandler (played by Lauren Bacall look-alike Lizabeth Scott). In keeping with censorship rules regarding the portrayal of the military, it is immediately revealed that Johnny is innocent -- we can't have the audience doubting the virtue of a man in uniform, after all. The film then unfolds as a whodunnit as Rip tries to determine who framed Johnny.

There are several elements throughout the film that point to a marked change in censorship compared to earlier noirs. For example, Martinelli, the owner of the club where Dusty works, is portrayed as a gangster. This marks the return of a genre and character that had been banned during the war as "unAmerican." Here, the mobsters are German, with Nazi weapons; American audiences at this time were seeing newsreels of the liberated concentration camps, leaving a lasting and powerful impression of the atrocities committed by the defeated enemy. In particular, Martinelli's right-hand man Krause is portrayed as positively sadistic, doling out brutal beatings set to music. The excessive violence was a means of reaching audiences who had been desensitized, either by combat or by footage of its aftermath.

One of the most radical differences between wartime and postwar films noir is the portrayal of gender roles. Earlier films featured independent working females holding down the fort while the men were away. At the end of the war, Hollywood needed to convince women to give up their independence so that men could regain their jobs in the face of massive unemployment. From a modern perspective, this film is not at all subtle in its pursuit of that goal. Rip and Dusty have a recurring conversation about a woman's place -- which, according to Rip, is in a man's pocket until he's ready to pull her out again, and then only to look pretty. After resisting, double-crossing, and even trying to kill Rip, Dusty dies wishing that he could pick her up and put her in his pocket. Taken in its historical context, this could be seen as a warning to the women in the audience who balked at surrendering their independence: repent or die.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Those are harsh words to throw at a man, especially as he's walking out of your bedroom...

The impact of politics on the film industry is a subject I find fascinating, particularly during and immediately after WWII into the Cold War. The more I learn, the more I want to know, and the more I want to watch films from that era so that I can try to pick apart what was going on behind the scenes in terms of censorship and government regulation. I've talked before about movies that were made at the beginning or during the height of the war, but once the end of the conflict was in sight, Hollywood faced a new set of challenges in the transition to the postwar era. In my Film Noir class, we've been discussing these challenges and how they are exemplified by films such as The Big Sleep.

As the war drew to a close, Hollywood had to appeal not only to the largely female homefront audience, but now to the men returning from overseas as well. Heroes gave way to anti-heroes, including Humphrey Bogart's hardboiled detective Phillip Marlowe. Marlowe is hired by an ailing but wealthy veteran to figure out who is blackmailing his wild young daughter, Carmen. The case is over with rather quickly, as Geiger, the blackmailer, is killed right under Marlowe's nose. But the detective is unsatisfied with this resolution and digs deeper, much to the chagrin of General Sternwood's older daughter, Vivian (Lauren Bacall), who does everything in her power to throw Marlowe off-track as he finds himself investigating not only Geiger's case, but the disappearance of Sternwood's employee Sean Regan, who was alleged to have run off with the wife of Geiger's landlord, Eddie Mars.

Though Marlowe was hired to extract Carmen from a potentially dangerous situation, he soon switches his focus to Vivian; this is the result of early screenings of the film for troops overseas, who wanted to see Lauren Bacall's role expanded after the success of her pairing with Bogart in To Have And Have Not. I haven't seen the earlier version, but I thought that Vivian was the more interesting sister and I was glad when the narrative shifted towards her shady dealings instead of Carmen's drunken mix-ups. Still, both sisters' troubles are a lot to pack into one movie.

The violence in this film is very overt and hands-on, targeted at the many men who were readjusting to life after combat. Marlowe gives Carmen a couple of hard slaps to get her to come to when he discovers her in Geiger's house with his newly-dead body, and he himself is beaten bloody more than once, not to mention multiple murders that occur as Marlowe attempts to solve the riddle of Geiger's slaying. Additionally, Marlowe is presented as someone that other men would want to be; women throw themselves at him throughout the film, with the exception of Vivian, who eventually admits her attraction to him. It seems there is no woman that Marlowe couldn't have, but Vivian still holds her own as a classic femme fatale. Courting both male and female audiences was a daunting task at this time, but by cultivating strong women and men of action in his characters, Howard Hawks walked the tightrope well.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I was the steam when hot meets cold...

Tom Kalin is not a director who shies away from controversial subjects. What I like about his films, in fact, is his ability to pull social taboos out into the light and examine them without deliberately trying to be provocative. Perhaps the best example of this is his 2007 feature, Savage Grace.

Savage Grace is, like Swoon, based on a real-life murder case. This one involves the Baekeland family, hiers to the Bakelite plastics fortune. The film chronicles the relationships between Brooks Baekeland, his wife Barbara Daly Baekeland, and their only child, Antony Baekeland, from Tony's infancy through Barbara's death at the hands of her son. A major theme of the film is the rumored incestuous relationship between Barbara and Tony, alleged to be the catalyst that led Tony to kill his mother.

One of the many remarkable things about this film is the way it was shot. As he proved in Swoon, Kalin does period films very thoroughly, shooting each segment as it would have been shot in the time period in which it was set. The progression from a stable camera and classical Hollywood-style invisible editing in the 1940s and 50s to the handheld camera and more adventurous style in the 60s subtly helps to orient the viewer each time the narrative jumps ahead, while making the transition feel seamless by immediately calling to mind the decade that is now being portrayed.

Of course, what many would consider the most remarkable thing about this film is its subject matter. Incest is among the gravest taboos in modern society, foremost on the unwritten list of "Thou Shalt Nots" that governs what topics are addressed in the mainstream media. It's easy to assume that anyone who would make a movie about it is purely looking to capitalize on shock value, but after viewing Savage Grace I can say that this doesn't seem to be the case here. In fact, Kalin seems to take great pains in order to avoid shocking the audience -- anymore than absolutely necessary, that is, because the Baekeland case is shocking in and of itself. Rather than exploiting his characters, Kalin explores them as human beings, flaws and all, and presents a respectful picture of what can go wrong in the human mind that would lead to such tragic events.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I'm king of the world...

You can really tell it's awards season, can't you? Grammys, Oscars, Razzies, blog awards... Yes, that's right, there's another one of those going around already, and this one was graciously presented to me by Sally. It's the Over The Top award, and the rules are as follows:

Link back to the person who tagged you, answer the following questions with one word only (I may have fudged this one a bit), and then link to a few other blogs that are also Over the Top.

1. Where is your phone? desk
2. Your hair? blonde
3. Your Mother? lovely
4. Your Father? witty
5. Your favorite food? chocolate
6. Your dream last night? hazy
7. Your favorite drink? white Russian
8. Your dream/goal? professional student
9. What room are you in? bedroom
10. Your hobby? blogging
11. Your fear? needles
(12. is missing)
13. Where were you last night? Grammy-watching party
14. Something that you’re not? musical
15. Muffins? delicious
16. Wish list item? iTouch
17. Where did you grow up? Jersey
18. Last thing you did? shower
19. What are you wearing? PJs
20. Your TV? fuzzy
21. Your pets? dog
22. Friends? wonderful
23. Your life? excellent
24. Your mood? sleepy
25. Missing someone? old friends
26. Vehicle? ancient
27. Something you’re not wearing? socks
28. Your favorite store? Kohl's
29. Your Favorite color? blue
30. When was the last time you laughed? 10:58
31. The last time you cried? unimportant
32. Your best friend? hilarious
33. One place that I go to over and over? Philly
34. Facebook? Twitter
35. Favorite place to eat? Subway

Here are some other Over The Top blogs I think you'll all enjoy:

Bygone Brilliance
Hollywood Dreamland
Movie Viewing Girl
Skeins Of Thought
Some Parade

Sunday, January 31, 2010

I wanted to pass the boundaries of intelligence for something more pure...

Like Alfred Hitchcock and many others before him, Tom Kalin chose to explore the Leopold and Loeb case through film. The result, Swoon, takes a unique look at the crime by focusing on the intimate relationship between the two men rather than on the adversarial relationship between them and the rest of society, as we saw in Rope.

Through both the cinematography and the mise-en-scène, Kalin puts the audience into the time period of the film while simultaneously taking them out of it. The grainy black-and-white film stock is reminiscent of that which was used in films shot during the 1920s, while occasional extreme angles or use of a handheld camera give the film a more modern feel. Likewise, anachronisms such as a black female stenographer (at the time of the court case, the position was held only by white males) and technology that was unavailable in the 20s, such as touch-tone phones, were used very deliberately and effectively. Taken together, these choices give the audience the dichotomous feelings of watching events unfold as they happen and seeing them with the perspective granted by hindsight.

One of the most interesting scenes in the film comes in the aftermath of the crime. After they are arrested thanks to evidence left at the scene by the perpetually anxious Nathan, the killers are questioned separately and turn on each other. Once they are reunited, each tries to convince the investigators that he had been driving the car while his partner committed the murder in the backseat. They both stick to their stories so firmly that it's impossible to discern which of them is lying; in a tense moment, however, Dickie slips up and "forgets" that he had supposedly been driving. He uses his natural charms to cover his tracks, and both he and Nathan are charged with murder, but the film conclusively indicates that he was the more guilty party.

According to Tom Kalin, who spoke with our class a few weeks after we screened this film, that scene was taken directly from the court transcripts. The film's story grew out of the moment when Richard Loeb inadvertently identified Nathan Leopold as the driver of their car, implying that he himself had been in the backseat with the victim. After reading that part of the transcript, Kalin was convinced that Loeb had been the one to actually take the boy's life, and wrote the movie from that perspective. As a writing student as well as a film student, I found it very interesting to think about the entire film having spiraled out of this one defining moment of truth. The next time I see the movie, I will definitely be thinking about how it leads up to and away from that revelation.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Made it, Ma! Top of the world...

A little over a week ago, the esteemed Moira Finnie was kind enough to tag me in the Kreativ Blogger Award. It came the day I moved into a new apartment at the beginning of a new semester, so hopefully she can forgive the delay in my response, but I was (and am) very flattered and very grateful.

The rules of engagement are as follows:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
Many, many thanks, Moira!

2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
You mean this logo here?

3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
Right this way, please.

4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.

Oh, dear. This might take me another week-and-a-half.

~I'm going to be interning with the American Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival this May. This means I'll have access to not only the festival, which is obviously an incredible opportunity in and of itself, but panels and roundtable discussions specifically aimed at film students. To say I'm excited would be a major understatement.

~Last weekend, I baked someting from scratch for the first time ever. I had the help of my roommate and a friend of ours, and a few other friends helped with the eating part. Our cupcakes turned out quite well, considering who made them.

~I kept a running tally of every film I watched in 2009. Surprisingly, the only one I saw more than twice was Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, which I saw in its entirety four times. It's hardly my favorite Kevin Smith movie (oh hi there, Mallrats), but it was on the CW all the time and I only have a handful of cable channels in my room at home.

~My top five most-played songs on iTunes are "Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?" by The Gaslight Anthem (120), "Straw Dog" by Something Corporate" (104), "Engines" by Snow Patrol (95), "Old White Lincoln" by The Gaslight Anthem (93), and "Etreintes Fatales" by Johnny Hallyday (86). One of these things is not like the others...

~Today I found two Carole Lombard movies on one DVD for $2.99 in ShopRite, of all places (it's a grocery store, for those not in the northeast US). The movies are Made For Each Other and Nothing Sacred. Score!

~I'm becoming very interested in the effects of sociopolitical issues on the film industry. It started with the blacklist panel, and now I'd really love to study it more in-depth someday.

~I'm really not that interesting. Or I just can't count to seven.

5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers and post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.

A Noodle In A Haystack
Cinema Splendor
Discovering Dirk Bogarde
Flying Down To Hollywood
Lolita's Classics
Out Of The Past
She Blogged By Night

All of these blogs are well-written, informative, and a delight to read!

6. There's no number 6. Somebody should make one up.

7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.

Friday, January 22, 2010

What people oughta do is get outside their own house and look in for once...

I seem to have taken another unintentional hiatus. Winter break involved a lot less "break" than I thought it would, but I'm back at school now and taking two more film classes this semester. Well, one is actually a French class in which we study French films. In French. This will go swimmingly, I'm sure. Anyway, I still have a whole bunch of notes and blog posts in various stages of construction from last semester, so hopefully the backlog will keep me from going off-air again for a while. For now, I'm going to pick up where I left off.

By pure convenient coincidence, I saw Hitchcock's Rear Window in my Film History class last semester on the same day that I saw his earlier film, Rope, in The Movie Industry. It was my first time watching both movies, and seeing them just a few hours apart I couldn't help comparing the two and drawing some conclusions about Hitchcock as an auteur.

To some extent, Rear Window seems to be Hitchcock's second attempt at the continuous-take effect that he first tried out in Rope. At least, he seems to have learned from his previous mistakes; Rear Window is shot with a lot of long takes and a fluidly moving camera, but there are cuts where necessary to keep the audience interested visually as well as psychologically. Additionally, there is often a lot more going on within the frame than there was in Rope. Although both films take place entirely within the confines of one apartment, Rope kept the camera confined indoors, with the large windows serving only as a backdrop and to indicate the passage of time. In Rear Window, the titular pane offers the camera -- along with protagonist L.B. Jeffries -- an escape. Through his own camera lens, Jeff can view the entire apartment building (which, by the way, was the largest set ever built at the time the film was made) or zoom in on any one residence. Likewise, there are many different areas of the screen on which the audience can concentrate during those long takes, because the frame is filled with the activities of many different interesting and eccentric minor characters.

In addition to being a great technical improvement over Rope, Rear Window is a quintessential psychological thriller. The decision to trap the camera inside with Jeff gives viewers a keen sense of his growing fear and desperation, even when they may find themselves siding with other characters who think he's off his rocker. At any given time, the audience only has as much information as Jeff does, and as a result shares his feeling of helplessness. This emotional connection, formed from the beginning of the film onward, increases the suspense felt at the film's climax, when finally Jeff begins to hear ominous footsteps outside his own door.