Friday, November 30, 2012

George Bellows. The Metropolitan Museum of Art


There once was an artist named Bellows who died very young poor fellow. Bellows who died at the young age of 42 from a ruptured appendix is now the subject of a large leisurely paced and nicely installed retrospective at the Met and has enough marvelous paintings in it, to make it worth a look for anyone interested in American painting at the beginning of the 20th Century. Granted for me the most wonderful works are in the early galleries where Bellows taking the advice of his teacher Robert Henri painted scenes of everyday life in Manhattan. Some of these were rowdy and kinetic with a lush and expressionistic handling of his paint. His boxing paintings from this period are probably his most famous and best known works presenting the viewer with violent images of fighters going at each other while scary looking aficionados of the sport look on. These works are still an influence today, just take a look at the poster for the recent revival of “Golden Boy”. Also strong are his early portraits of everyday people and his portrait of Paddy Flannigan a street kid bearing his chest and buck teeth is superb, moving  and memorable. Also terrific are his large canvases of street kids many of them swimming nude in the murky waters of the East River and his street scenes especially “Cave Dwellers” that was painted almost 100 years ago, and is teeming with color and crowded city life. Bellows was part of the Ashcan school whose work was shocking in its day because of the raw look at New York City life that the artists showed, yet his work was also accepted and rewarded. I must admit that the later galleries which include many bucolic landscapes and stiff and stilted portraits of family and friends didn’t impress me all that much There is also a gallery devoted to large paintings that he did in response to the rumors about German atrocities to the people of Belgium in World War I that work more as propaganda than as singular works of art. The exhibition ends with his last boxing painting the wonderful Dempsey and Firpo that has always been a favorite of mine and it marked a change in his painting style with the promise of great things to come. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I really had no intention of seeing this show, but since I was up at the Met to see the George Bellows show (more on him later) I figured why not, I mean how bad could it be? I knew that it had pretty much been panned by most critics but hey its Warhol, pop, celebrity, color, fun right? Well wrong it was even worse than what I was expecting. Crowded and badly installed with many mediocre works by 60 count them 60 artists who seem to have been chosen by having their names pulled from a hat. Why these artists and not 60 others that could equally have illustrated the curators rather murky, weak and obvious thesis of how Warhol has been influencing artists for the past Fifty years. Ok I get it, and I hardly need these curators to remind me of this fact that I got way back when. Why not simply have a Warhol retrospective and be done with it instead of mounting this lumbering show that has the feeling of a high school popularity contest featuring all the usual overrated suspects that I have come to know and hate. Remember in high school the art students who although not as talented as yourself seemed to always get picked to design the senior button, the yearbook cover and were voted artist of the year, then you can begin to get the feel and drift of this dreadful show that is actually like the visual equivalent of an episode of “Glee” but not nearly as much fun. And it goes on forever with galleries devoted to different themes and subjects so the crowds can understand what they are seeing, never mind the question that was in my head throughout this joyless ride why?  The show for me finally has some pleasure in the last gallery that is devoted only to Warhol with walls covered with his marvelous fluorescent “Cow Wallpaper” and his helium-filled silver pillows floating above my head and the Velvet Underground lightly singing in the background. This is the worst exhibition of 2012.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Literary Orphans

Literary Orphans has just posted their latest issue with some of my photographs. Its a bit complicated so I'm listing the stories and poems that you can see the work. To see the photographs better click on the photograph. They also used some as backgrounds

Bite Down & Outside
The Electric Level
Flight and Freedom
Second Street
An Emotion, hard to Define
The Night And Its Prestiges

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Postcard painting. November 2012 Ink, Paint and Wax on Postcard.

Some Recent Photographs

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Best Films Of 2012

The best films of 2012

This is not really a list of the best films of the year. Its simply a list (in no order of preference of some really marvelous films that I saw on dvd  and that I  wrote about in 2012. There were 100’s of other films that I saw on dvd that I loved, liked or simply enjoyed that I didn’t write about, and I also wrote reviews of many films that I hated or didn’t like, but why dwell on those.

High and Low 1963

This 1963 Akira Kurosawa film opens on a widescreen tense meeting taking place in the large modern living room of a mansion set high on a hill  over looking Yokohama. The men are executives in National Shoe a successful company that manufactures woman’s footwear but is having recent problems with profits. The discussion is getting heated between the director played with Samurai like intensity by the great Toshiro Mifune and the other top brass. They want to take over the the company from the old man who owns most of the stock and they’re trying to convince Mifune to go in with them  add his shares to theirs so that a coup can take place. Watching this scene take place you would think  that this is going to be a corporate drama and you would be right in thinking that. Kurosawa shoots this scene in long takes, straight on and without much movement. His pictorial frame is mainly made up of his characters in tight constricted groups with lots of space around them, and an occasional extreme close-up, it’s almost like watching a play and for a time nothing very dramatic happens. The men get testy with each other, and Mifune finally throws them out with nothing settled between them.  Sudenly a crime is commited, a kidnapping to be exact, and the film changes course and becomes a taunt suspense thriller. I don’t really want to give much plot because that will spoil the fun and enjoyment of this terrific film. The original Japanese title was Heaven and Hell and Kurosawa based the film on a pulp novel by Ed McBain called King’s Ransom. The American title High and Low works better and can be seen as metaphors. The house sits on a high hill while below people live in slums and poverty. Some of the characters take the moral high ground while others sink to low standards. For almost an hour into the films nearly 2 ½ hour running time, most of the action is contained in the house, until the police enter the picture and the game as they say is on. The film takes care of the kidnapping victim early on, and the rest of this riveting  film is a manhunt to find the criminal. There are some great sequences and set pieces in this film, one takes place on a speeding train, another is set in a crowded interracial dance club and yet another places us in a drug alley with scary and clawing junkies. The ending is also great, its abrupt, dramatic and perfect. One of the 10 best films of the year.

 Stray Dog. 1949
Sizzling  detective Noir from Kurosawa. On a hot, steamy stinking day in postwar Tokyo rookie detective Toshiro Mifune (so young and handsome) is riding a crowded bus, when a pickpocket steals his gun. The film follows his desperate manhunt for this outlaw who is committing crimes using his gun, and giving Mifune huge amounts of guilt and remorse. Everyone is sweating buckets literally and figuratively as Mifune searches high and low for this stray dog. Looking through books of mug shots he id’s a lady bad who was standing next to him in the bus reeking and stinking of cheap perfume and follows her everywhere she goes until she can’t stand it any longer and throws him a clue like a mercy fuck as to where he might find his dog. Next up is a long audacious sequence that takes place in outdoor black market that is photographed without dialogue as Mifune goes undercover, (wearing an old army uniform no less) looking for black market gun dealers who might give him a lead on the whereabouts of the criminal and his Colt. Beautiful Mifune is so tired and depressed of the whole thing that he tries to resign with a letter as big as one of the tablets that God threw at Moses, but his superior rips it up and throws Mifune over to one of the old boys on the homicide squad played by the great Takashi Shimura and they quickly bond and start sweating together. Kurosawa throws another wonderful scene (There are many of those in this great film) at us when Shimura takes Mifune home with him for an evening of beer and deep conversation after visiting a Hoochie coochie music hall full of very sweaty chorus girls in cheap costumes dancing in front of a sad backdrop of hot shot New York City skyscrapers. They hope to get some talk from one of the girls who is tangled up with the dog, but she ain’t yapping, and once again Mifune stays on her case. This film is of course influenced by American film noir and Italian Neo realistic films, but we never lose sight of being in this stinking shit hole of a city shortly after it was destroyed by all those bombs bursting in air. However Kurosawa doesn’t dwell on the outer destruction, instead he hones in on the inner destruction that war can have on the men who fought it and ties it up maybe too conveniently by giving Mifune and the dog somewhat similar war experiences. A minor criticism to be sure. If possible this film should be viewed on a hot humid August night in a room without air conditioning so you can experience the new movie gimmick that Kurosawa introduced to the world called sweat o vision. One of the ten best films of 1949.
There’s No Business Like Show Business. 1954

This garish ,brash fun musical was made in the second year of the cinemascope revolution and directed by 20th Century Fox’s in house director Walter Lang. Lang who had a very long career that began with silent films and went on directing  movies right  up to 1961 with the lowly and ludicrous  Snow White and The Three Stooges. He was a decent enough director and is mostly known for directing Betty Grable and Alice Faye in all those interminable 1940’s lavish musicals along with some Shirley Temple features.  His biggest achievement to some was directing The King And I for which he received his only Oscar nomination .  No Biz as I shall refer to it is big in every sense of the word and features a rousing cast, Ethel Merman, Dan Dailey, Mitzi Gaynor, Donald O’Connor, Johnny Ray and Marilyn Monroe. The film chronicles the life and career of a vaudeville couple played by Merman and Dailey who when the film opens is singing and dancing their hearts out on the vaudeville circuit circa 1919. They soon are having kids who also perform with them, and swiftly grow up to become O’Connor, Gaynor and Ray. At first the look of the film including the costumes tries to indicate the period but soon we are in a 1950’s version of the 1920’s through the 1940’s. The film is cramped with movement and color, and is lush with the wonderful music of Irving Berlin and a “sing out Louise”  Ethel Merman, who looks like an over wrapped Christmas present. Lang’s use of the wide screen is rather ordinary, a more imaginative use of the process would have to wait for the likes of Nicholas Ray, Sam Fuller and Vincente Minnelli to show us what could be done with it. The costumes are also on the whole jaw dropping and look like they were designed by Katy Keene the comic book fashionista of the 1950’s who by the way I loved. The gals look like they were poured or sewed into them.  There are the usual family trials and tribulations that one associates with this kind of film, and it floats along nicely but doesn’t really grab you until Monroe appears. She sizzles and shines and does several great numbers including “After You Get What You Want You Don't Want It” and the justly famous “Heat Wave” that was originally slated for Merman, but was given to Monroe to entice her to come aboard the project.  The finale with the entire cast singing surrounded by lots of chorus boys and girls (every dancer worked that week in Hollywood) is vividly colored and kinetic.

The Two Mrs  Carrolls. 1947

Somewhat creaky stage bound thriller starring Humphrey Bogart as a psychopathic American painter living in England with his second wife played by Barbara Stanwyck. Based on a play that had a decent run in the early 40’s on Broadway, which explains its static boxed in look. Stanwyck should have known better falling for Bogie but if she did then we wouldn’t have a movie, so it’s all well and good. Short on logic and exposition, this Warner Bros nearly B movie does have nice production values, and some good atmospheric touches including lots of rain and windy nights. Stanwyck is a rich heiress, (she’s British but Babs doesn’t even attempt an accent) who is madly in love with Bogie, but who slowly realizes that he is completely nuts, (Don’t drink that milk Babs) and that’s when the film picks up. Also on hand is a very beautiful but nasty Alexis Smith who would like to become the third Mrs. Carroll, Nigel Bruce as a country doctor, the marvelous Isobel Elsom as Alexis’s bitchy mom and the lovely child actess Ann Carter, (you might recall her as the haunted child in Curse of The Cat People) as Bogie’s daughter by the first Mrs. Carroll. There are a few jolts near the end, which made me spill my cranberry juice all over myself.  Directed by the competent but forgettable Peter Godfrey who was an in house B director at Warner Bros. In the 1940’s. Only available from the Warner Bros. Archive.

Betrayed (when Strangers Marry) 1944
This is a really good and cheap little Monogram thriller directed by of all people William Castle before he became the gimmicky schlock master of Hollywood B's. The original title "When Strangers Marry" was changed for some reason to Betrayed, and this little thing is loaded with many nice touches. The story is about a very sweet but naive young waitress played by Kim Hunter who comes to New York City to meet up with her mysterious husband who she married after knowing him for only 3 days. A murder happens in Philadelphia (why Philadelphia?) and her husband played by Dean Jagger in a rare romantic lead is the main suspect. Kim spends most of the quick 67 minutes trying to prove his innocence with the help of former boyfriend Robert Mitchum. As I said its very cheap and somewhat sordid just they way I like my men and movies, so I had a really good time with it. Influenced by Hitchcock and the films of Val Lewton there are scenes set in movie theatres, an after hours jazz joint in Harlem, various hotel rooms and paper thin New York Streets. The very young Ronda Fleming has a tiny part at the end of the film Its available only through the Warner bros. archive, and you might be able to get it from your library.
Point Blank 2011

No this is not a remake of the 1967 John Boorman classic, but a trim fast and furious French thriller that comes in at a sparse 84 minutes  and is without a dull moment. The film is about a nice youngish couple, he’s a nurse’s aid in a big Paris hospital and she’s a stay at home wife who is pregnant with the couple’s first child. Suddenly they find themselves in a very dangerous situation that fuels the film, and that’s all I’m going to say about the plot.  Well directed by Fred Cavaye with smooth camerawork by Alain Duplantier, and a good cast of actors, most of whom are unknown to me, there is also a nice sly little homage to Diva near the end of the film that brought a smile to my face. The film is violent, tough and tangy and full of twists and surprises, this is the kind of thriller that Hollywood should be making.  One  of the best films of 2011.

The Skin I Live In 2011

A twisty and twisted film from Pedro Almodovar that reunites him with his favorite male actor from his early career the still handsome and sexy Antonio Banderas who plays a wealthy demented plastic surgeon who is doing some very nasty research studies and experiments involving new techniques in skin transplants & synthetic skin that will make your own skin crawl and your  hair stand on end. Banderas has suffered a string of tragedies in his life which pushes him over the edge, way over the edge and these tragic circumstances is what fuels this very entertaining film. It’s not easy to review this film without giving it away, but I will say that there is much in it that you won’t see coming and if you do, you’ll want to duck. Odd characters are introduced it seems every 8 minutes, and the plot twists are also fast and loose. The Almodovar touch and his humanity is there throughout the film along with his recurring themes of family, the love of parents for their children, off the wall sexual encounters, gender and the cards that life deals us even if we don’t want to play. The film is also rich and overflowing with his careful use of color, décor and fashion (which by the way plays an important part in the film) that helps propel this wild film along its curvy and dangerous road. Almodovar has always been a referential director and this film is no exception with influences as wide and varied as Frankenstein, Vertigo, Cronenberg, Oscar Wilde and Charles Ludlam. Also in the cast is another one of his regulars, the marvelous  Marisa Paredes who plays his loving and dedicated housekeeper and has enough of her own secrets to fuel another film. Not one of his great films, for that you have to see “Talk To Her” or “All About My Mother” but it’s still first rate Almodovar. One of the ten best films  of 2011.  

Smile 1975

No doubt Christopher Guest who has spent many years making topical parodies that mock the American scene saw this terrific little comedy directed by Michael Ritchie about a Southern California beauty pageant. Toxic in its humor and jaundiced in it’s view of this beloved American past time along with many other things that Americans hold near and dear it’s also a laugh out loud film.  The movie is set in Santa Rosa during the finals of a teen beauty pageant, and when the film opens we are treated to some really lousy (is there any other) talent hopefuls. My favorite contender was a ditzy teen who for her talent showed how to pack a suitcase and of course she scores high in the competition. The pageant is being run by the marvelous Barbara Feldon who is falling apart from the tension and stress of putting this show together and  a failing marriage. The head judge is played with dead pan style by Bruce Dern a used car salesman, and together they make one hell of a team. Also on hand is a sarcastic and testy 3rd rate chorographer- director who is hired to push and pull the production numbers featuring these klutzy teens into shape played by the first rate chorographer Michael Kidd. Among the contestants look for a very young Melanie Griffith already a vixen and the wonderful Annette O’Toole. Some what controversial is the treatment of the only Mexican American contestant  who is mocked, picked on and whose talent consists of  a zany patriotic send up that is sabotaged by some of the other girls. True she is also pushy and nasty in her own right and makes buckets of Guacamole to bribe the judges with. I won’t say if it does her any good.

Panic In The Streets 1950

is a tough tight, tangy exciting norish thriller about the possibility of a plague hitting the city of New Orleans. The reason that this is possible is because an illegal immigrant named Kochak brought it in via a freighter and before he can actually die from it, he is shot down by some criminal cronies of his who wants the money that he won in a card game. The opening scene beautifully sets the action up and introduces us to the low lives led by Walter Jack Palance in his movie debut as Blackie and his stooge played by a bleating and sweating Zero Mostel. The two mensches of the film are a police officer  and a U.S. Public Health official played by Paul Douglas and Richard Widmark ,who were two of Hollywood’s finest post war actors.  At first they are at each other’s throats over what to do about this crisis, but they slowly come around to each other. They are both wrecks because they have only 48 hours to find the trail and the infected parties who threated the city, the country and the world with this Pneumonic plague. Directed with beautiful style and assurance by Elia Kazan who had already won an Oscar in 1947 for Gentleman’s Agreement, and filmed mostly on location at night in a dark and fetid New Orleans , this is not the city of and for tourists.  Everything looks wet, dirty and diseased.  Blackie who has a rundown Laundromat as a legitimate front (he should put his black soul in one of the machines for a good cleaning) has it in his head that Kochak’s cousin Poldi who is now also dying from the plague has something of value that Kochak passed on to him, yeah it’s the plague moron, and pushes and pulls at him in order to find out what the valuable merchandise might be. There is a shocking scene in the film when Blackie who is trying to get the dying Poldi out of his house so he can do terrible things to him to find out what he is hiding throws him down a flight of stairs when he is confronted by Widmark.  Kazan contrasts these dark scenes with ones of light and softness between Widmark and his wife played by the wonderful Barbara Bel Geddes and his young son played by Tommy Rettig. Also of note is the final chase where the rat like Blackie tries to escape his destiny and the beautiful inky black and white cinematography by Joseph MacDonald and the pounding music score by Alfred Newman. Winner of best original motion picture story Oscar . One of the ten best films of the year.

 Who's That Knocking At My Door. 1967
Profoundly moving if somewhat flawed first film by Martin Scorsese who was all of 25 when he made it on a shoe string budget. It began as several small film school shorts and finally made it out of its cocoon in 1967. Loaded with film references and influences from Fellini, Neo Realism, the New Wave and Cassavetes this is still very much a Scorsese film, autobiographical and complex in its characters and narrative. We see these big young Italian calves hanging and acting out on the lower eastside of New York City with the focus on J.R. played by an impossibly young Harvey Keitel who is between jobs as he says, and is both sensitive and sterile in his emotions and feelings. J.R. simply does not know how to handle relationships outside of his small circle of all male friends even though we can see that he longs for something more than what he has. This is expressed best when J.R. and two other friends take a car ride upstate New York and are like fish out of water, but Keitel’s reaction to seeing a beautiful landscape probably for the first time from the top of a mountain seems to mesmerize him, it’s almost like he’s having an epiphany. The film really begins when riding the Staten Island ferry one night he meets the Madonna of his dreams Zina Bethune who is reading a French magazine, even though she can’t read French. They strike up a conversation that is awkward and real. Here Scorsese throws in a wonderful reference to “The Searchers” and John Wayne, and later has the couple leaving the old Beacon Theatre on the upper west side after seeing Rio Bravo. They fall in love, but when Zina opens up about her scared past Keitel goes ballistic and ruins their relationship. The themes, images and indeed characters presented here in stark black and white will over the years show up over and over again in Scorsese’s films. The movie is also notable for being film editor Thelma Schoonmaker’s first film and the use of rock n roll songs for the soundtrack a technique that Scorsese would use in some of his later films.
Kings Row 1942

Chances are good that if you mentioned the name of director Sam Wood to someone, you would be met with a blank stare.  But it turns out that Wood was responsible for some big box office hits of Hollywood’s golden years not too mention some of the most entertaining ones. Films of his included A Day At The Races, Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Devil And Miss Jones, Pride of The Yankees, For Whom The Bell Tolls, Our Town  and 1942’s Kings Row. Based on a big novel about small town life at the beginning of the 20th century by Henry Bellamann, and I guess you could look at it as a precursor to Peyton Place. It included all sorts of issues that one would think would make it impossible to film in 1942. The novel included incest, insanity, nymphomania, sadism and homosexuality all of which were taboo topics back in 1942 when Warner Bros. tackled the making of this film.  Watered down somewhat, and with much of the forbidden subjects either played down or totally eliminated, (the sadism element is in the film),  the movie  still had enough implied  hot and forbidden stuff  behind its closed doors to hold 1940’s movie goers in rapt attention. The film opens with a beautiful traveling shot of children leaving school in the small town of Kings Row and we are soon introduced to the four young leads who will later grow up and become the main characters of the piece. Some of the dark secrets are also hinted at in this early part of the film nestled among the bucolic setting of small town life which will later hang in the air with dire consequences for all concerned. The cast was good, and especially fine were Ronald Reagan, (yes Ronald Reagan)  Ann Sheridan (ah Ann) and Betty Field all of whom have strong, indelible moving moments and scenes including Reagan’s famous where’s the rest of me bit.  The only actor who falls way too short is Robert Cummings who was not capable of bringing much depth or shading to the lead role of Parris Mitchell. It’s a shame that they didn’t cast an actor with more charisma in this part. Originally Tyrone Power was talked about, but his home studio 20th Century Fox balked at this idea and would not let him do it, a shame because he would have been far more believable and infinitely more attractive in the role than Cummings.  The film is beautiful to look at with great cinematography by James Wong Howe and classy set design by the great William Cameron Menzies. Also of note is the brilliant and memorable score by  Erich Wolfgang Korngold and I couldn’t help picking out parts of the score that reminded me of John Williams’s score for Star Wars, and made me think Mr. Williams was strongly influenced by it. The marvelous supporting cast included  Claude Raines, Charles Colburn, Judith Anderson and Maria Ouspenskaya. The ending which is somewhat abrupt and hokey doesn’t take away from this example of elegant Hollywood movie making at its very best.  Nominated for 3 Oscars including one for best picture of 1942.  

James Ellroy’s  Feast Of Death. 2001

Homophobic, racist, anti-Semitic, right winger  and hater of the Kennedys and the Clintons, he’s also one of the best writers working today in the crime detective genre. This rabid pit bull bully can be intimidating and I honestly don’t know that I would like him if I ever met him, but as a writer I generally do. That being said and out of the way I can spend some time writing about this compelling documentary about James Ellroy and his dark fascination with the horrible murder of his mother when he was 10 and the Black Dahlia murder case that has held his interest for many years. Both murders are capital letters  L.A. crimes. Palm trees and cheap road houses, booze, cars and Hollywood starlets fast and loose and both remain unsolved to this day.  Ellroy has been sparked and goosed by these two murders and they have fueled several books by him and made him a wealthy man. Good for him. Murder does pay. The movie shows him giving bookstore readings, (he sure has his shtick down pat), having dinner with L.A. detectives, revisiting his mother’s murder, and cruising by his past checking and pointing out childhood landmarks of his youth in L.A. He was a bad boy. He would sneak into homes when empty and smell the panties of the young girls who lived there.  Junkie  and alcoholic at a young age and a champion voyeur in his teens. This guy was brilliantly fucked up, and he survived all this shit to tell us the story of his mother who he loved and hated and to spell and spill out her tawdry life for us. The film is sometimes grisly as when we are shown crime photos of his mom lying dead on the side of a road, and especially those horrible photos of Elizabeth Short all chopped up in pieces with the blood drained out of her and a sardonic smile carved into her once pretty face. This stuff hurts, it’s a rolling bolder coming at us at high speed, and believe me this documentary is not for everyone, hell it might not be for anyone, but hey if you’re up for it and can handle your nightmares that poke at you even during the day, then I say see this bitch of a movie but don’t come crying to me afterwards.

Summertime. 1955

This is the one about a lonely spinster from Ohio who takes a long planned trip to Venice and immediately falls in love not only with the city but with a dashing and charming antiques dealer. The spinster is played with charm and subtly by Katharine Hepburn who would be starting the vivid 2nd half of her remarkable film career with the playing of this kind of role. One can of course point to 1951’s The African Queen as the real starting point of her spinster roles but as we all know that film turns out to have a happy fairy tale ending, Summertime doesn’t. Her lover is played by the very appealing and good looking  Rossano Brazzi, and there is also a good small supporting cast that adds to the charm of the film. Of course the other star of the film is the city of Venice and David Lean and the great cinematographer Jack Hildyard capture the beauty of this place in vivid and stunning color shots and scenes. This film also marks the end of David Lean’s marvelous character driven small chamber pieces (a good bookend to the film would be his great 1945 film Brief Encounter which has a lot in common with Summertime, including that both of these strong heterosexual love stories were penned by gay men, (but that’s a whole other topic).   After this film Lean would embark on his large scale epics that would consume the rest of his brilliant career with mixed results. I love this film and have made a point of seeing it at least once a year, I simply never tire of it, and I’m always left sobbing uncontrollably at the final scene. Hepburn is perfect in it, and her somewhat at times irritating  mannerisms  tics and tocks have not fully made themselves at home in her acting persona. Watching her deal with her loneliness and self- consciousness as she sits by herself in a café in the Plaza San Marco is for me a gateway into mine own sometimes sadness and loneliness that’s how good she is in this role. There can be critiques made of the clichéd portrayals of the boring, silly and overbearing American couple who dash about this remarkable city as if they were in some department store, and the overly cute little street urchin who takes Hepburn by surprise  and charms and delights her, but these criticisms are  minor and some might even say that they are needed clichés and who cares when you realize how glorious and captivating this film is. I’ve mentioned the beautiful cinematography by Hildyard (the Criterion transfer is breathtaking) and I would also like to point out the superb music score by Alessandro Cicognini. Also in the cast are Darren McGavin as an American painter and Isa Miranda as the owner of the pensione that Hepburn is staying at. Based on Arthur Laurent’s play The Time Of The Cuckoo that was later turned into the 1965 musical “Do I Hear A Waltz” with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It was a dismal failure and ran for only 220 performances.  One of the ten best films of 1955.   

Delirious Delirium. On a streamlined Technicolor drenched train going to New Mexico, a young author (played by the very handsome Cornel Wilde) catches the very lovely Gene Tierney reading his latest novel, and starts swooning and mooning all over the place. Gene looks up from her reading and is mesmerized by the sheer beauty of Cornel Wilde and before you know it, they are flirting wild and wooly 1945 style and Gene tells Cornel how much he reminds her of her dear dead daddy, of course when her daddy was young and not dead and acting as if she doesn’t realize that Cornel is the author of the book.  This is the pivotal line and scene of this hot house woman’s movie with a blood red streak running through it, and it warns us the audience that there is going to be a lot of trouble and plot coming down the line. Off to a cute start the two realize that they are visiting the same person in New Mexico played by Ray Collins and that Gene is meeting her family there to spread around the desert the ashes of her father who died a few years before, thus setting up one of the great camp scenes of the entire decade.  Gene early one morning madly rides out on a horse to the desert throwing her father’s ashes all over the place looking beautiful and possessed as she does the throwing. Collins who is a lawyer friend of everyone (and who tells the story in a flashback) lives in this fantastic house with a swimming pool carved what looks like out of the side of a mountain that abuts the house, and looks like it just goes on forever and ever. Water plays a big symbolic role in this movie. Gene Quickly gets her shinny red fingernails into Cornell and within the hour she dumps her boring fiancée played with over cooked hilarity by the hammy Vincent Price and marries Cornel. Off to the side is her standoffish mother, who knows more about her daughter than we do, and her sweet half sister played by Jeanne Crain who of course is secretly in love with Cornel. Soon bad things start to happen; all instigated by Gene who we finally realize is fucking nuts, and is jealous of anyone who throws her lovely lovey dovey even a glance including her innocent virginal half-sister and Cornel’s dependent sweet young disabled brother played with earnest adulation for big brother Cornel by Darryl Hickman.  Gene is acting crazy jealous and in another one of the great camp scenes of the 40’s, she lets little brother drown one lazy afternoon while they are out rowing on a lake in Maine. Tierney who got her only Oscar nomination for this film no doubt impressed the academy with this  scene in which she dons her sunglasses to block out her eyes from us as she coldly watches little Darryl get a cramp and disappear under the water. This ain’t no nice Laura from the year before and more nasty and nutty behavior follows with Gene wearing fabulous clothes, hats, robes, and shoes and I promised myself that I would not give away any more  of the plot of this overripe tomato that ends in a ludicrous trial. This is a film that has to be seen to be believed. Directed by John M. Stahl who was known for his women’s movies including the original Imitation Of Life and Magnificent Obsession, both later remade in the 1950’s by Douglas Sirk.  Winner of the Oscar for Color Cinematography.        

Anatomy of a Murder 1959

Its 53 years ago this July that Anatomy Of A Murder opened in New York City at The Criterion Theatre, and even though I was only 12 years old, the film caught my attention. The main reason for this attention grabbing was the bold logo for the film of a cut up body that was designed by the great Saul Bass. I had no idea who he was, even though I had been seeing his designs for titles and ads for a few years. But this one was different, it inspired me. It made me want to be creative, to spend my life making things. I didn’t understand really what graphic design was or for that matter what art really was, but I knew that I wanted to do something with my imagination. I wanted to be an artist. The film of course was taboo and out of bounds for me to see. There was trouble with the censors over some words that Preminger refused to change or take out, but in the end he did make one change using the word violation instead of penetration.  And then there was the big brouhaha over the use of the words panties and bitch, hard to imagine so much controversy over these words today.  This was not going to be a Saturday afternoon movie outing for me at my neighborhood Loew’s eating my popcorn and drinking my coke. Just the year before at 11 years of age I was turned away from an afternoon showing of “Some Came Running”, and I finally had to wait to until my Mom took me to see it on a Friday night. I wanted to see “Anatomy” as I referred to it when talking it up with my mother at the Criterion, but this didn’t happen and I had to wait until it was on the 3rd run Neighborhood circuit at the lousy run down Beverly Theatre on Church Avenue. I sat in the darken balcony watching the movie in shock and awe with smoke from my mother’s Raleigh cigarettes swirling all around me. This was an adult movie, a sleazy murder and trial based on a real incident that took place in some backwoods small time town in Michigan. We never see the actual murder nor the alleged rape, there would be no movie if we did, but I was still engrossed by what was happening on that screen.  I finally repaid a visit to this childhood film of mine via the beautiful Criterion transfer. Directed with assurance by Otto Preminger (this is to my mind his last good film) and superbly acted by an impeccable cast including James Stewart, Lee Remick, Eve Arden, Arthur O’Connell, Ben Gazzar, George C. Scott and in an imaginative touch of casting  Joseph N. Welch as the presiding  judge. Welch was the head counsel for the army during the Army-McCarthy-Army hearings and scolded McCarthy with his statement “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” which was the beginning of the end for the evil senator from Wisconsin. The film starts with the superb title sequence by Bass with the great Duke Ellington score laid over it and pounding away. We are soon introduced to James Stewart in a smooth tracking shot driving home after one of his many fishing trips. Steward plays an ambiguous lawyer and bachelor Paul Biegler, (Polly to his friends) who lives in a rundown smudged house (this was the real life home of the author of the book John D. Voelker who was a sitting judge and wrote novels under the pen name of Robert Traver). Soon we also meet his much put upon and rarely paid secretary-assistant played by the great Eve Arden, and his rummy ex-lawyer friend played perfectly by Arthur O’Connell who rises to the occasion when asked by Stewart for his help. There is a message waiting for Stewart asking him to call Laura Manion whose husband  a lieutenant in the army played by an intense Ben Gazzara is in jail awaiting trial for the murder of a bar owner who allegedly raped his wife played by the luminous and sexy Lee Remick. The film is lavish and leisurely with its exposition and not very mobile with most of the second half of the film taking place in the courtroom. The fun of the film, (and it is fun) comes from watching the actors strut their stuff especially when Stewart goes up against the big hot shot city prosecutor Claude Dancer played with oily presence by the terrific George C. Scott in this his 2nd film, and watching Lee Remick throw her sexual attractiveness around with loose abandonment as if she is saying to us I know what I got, and I’m going to spend it while I can. Filmed on location where the actual story took place with terrific black and white cinematography by Sam Leavitt.  The film is ambiguous and the ending is swift, cynical and hard. One of the years 10 Best Films, Best Supporting Actor Arthur O’Connell and Best Supporting Actress Lee Remick.   

The Stranger 1946

Supposedly Orson Welles wanted Agnes Moorehead to play the part of Wilson the Nazi hunter, but the studio balked at this idea and the role went to Edward G. Robinson. Last night as I watched this very good thriller visions of Agnes doing this part danced in my head. And as good as Robinson is in it, I find the idea of Moorehead doing it is so tantalizing. The film  which I’ve seen many times (usually in bad public domain transfers) is generally  put down by critics and by Welles himself, as being lesser Welles but I find it visually exciting  (Its Orson Welles after all) and a damn good thriller with some serious implications. Made right after the war, the plot concerns Robinson’s search to bring to justice a Nazi war criminal known as Franz Kindler who he traces (with the help of another Nazi who is purposefully allowed to escape from prison so he can lead Robinson to him) to a small bucolic town in Connecticut. It’s a sweet town with a church and a broken clock that is really another a character in the film, and will in the end bring Kindler literally to his fall from grace. Kindler is played by Welles who has assimilated himself into the town’s fabric and life by getting a teaching job in a preppy boy’s school and marrying the good looking daughter of a Supreme Court justice who also lives in the town. Welles uses Christianity to counter the dark forces of Nazism by the use of the church that looms over the town and by having Kindler who is an expert on clocks work on repairing the broken medieval clock in his spare time. Welles and his screenwriter even give Biblical names to three of the main characters, and has the escaped Nazi Konrad Meinike who meets a bad end at the hands of Kindler find spiritual rejuvenation by embracing Jesus Christ. There are some memorable scenes including one in which Welles who has killed Meinike in the woods frantically (watch how Welles moves in this scene) tries to cover up his murder of him while some of his students are running a paper chase and Welles desperately tries to pick up the tossed papers and change the path that the runners are taking so they do not stumble on the freshly murdered body. The cast is good.  Besides Welles and Robinson the duped daughter is played by a terrific Loretta Young, and her brother is played by the young and handsome Richard Long who Robinson enlists in his plans to bring Kindler to justice. Also terrific is the little known character actor Billy House who plays the proprietor of the town’s drug store and soda fountain who prefers to sit in his comfy chair hustling  people to play chess with him then wait on customers who are told to get what they need themselves including food and drink at the lunch counter. The film is also notable for being the first commercial film to use actual footage of the concentration camps, and Russell Metty’s rich black and white nourish cinematography that has been beautifully restored for this dvd release. One of the ten best films of 1946.

Sudden Fear 1952

If you can accept the premise of Joan Crawford as a very successful and rich playwright and Jack Palance as a romantic lead, then you should be able to enjoy this twisty but somewhat ludicrous femme jep movie from the early 50’s. Joan who was 47 at the time and approaching her gorgon period plays as I said a hot playwright who is also an heiress with a large home in San Francisco where most of the movie takes place. The film opens with a rehearsal of her new play in New York, with Jack Palance playing the lead. Joan has qualms about him not being romantic enough (read handsome) to play the part and has him fired.  So of course on the cross country train ride that Joan is taking back home to San Francisco after the play opens to smash reviews, who should also be on the train but none other than Jack. Joan is all so sorry for firing him, and before you know it they’re playing poker and having breakfast as the train speeds on to the city by the bay. Well Joan of course falls madly in love with Jack and soon they’re in montages taking in the sights, and dining and dancing in all the hot spots.  And then they get married and its darling this and darling that until Joan discovers by accident a devious plot Jack is hatching with his old girlfriend played with hellish relish by Gloria Grahame, all blonde and bad. Joan who has had many moments of over the top acting in her career really soars in this one   and I swear at one point I thought her eyes were going to pop out of her head.  Palance who excelled at playing villains throughout his long career simply gives away the show by being well Jack Palance. What with his unattractive face that looks like a cubist portrait with mud thrown on it, or a bruised boxer’s mug, and in fact one of his famous roles was as the battered fighter in “Requiem For A Heavyweight” that he did on Playhouse 90 in 1956 andh e does have a down and dirty animal magnetism that works well in his scenes with Grahame (kiss me, kiss me hard she moans to Palance).  The film is a bit slow and tedious in parts, because there’s so much plot but the last hour is good and goosy with a beautifully done if improbable ending. Smoothly directed by David Miller who began his career directing sports shorts like “Table Tennis”, “Hurling,” “Racing Canines”, and “Aquatic Artistry” and went on to direct feature films most notably “Lonely Are The Brave” in 1962. With a good thumping score by Elmer Bernstein, and cinematography by the great Charles Lang who received an Oscar nomination for his work.  Also Oscar nominations for costume, Actress and supporting actor.   Surprisingly considering that this is a Kino release both the sound and the transfer leave much to be desired.


The Eclipse 2009

This is a good little ghost story with a nice literary sub plot thrown in for good measure. Set in a small beautiful coastal town in Ireland during a literary festival where Ciaran Hinds lives and works as a woodworking teacher. He also loves literature and has a secret passion to become a writer himself, and does volunteer work for the festival every year which usually includes driving the visiting authors around the town. His wife has just died from Cancer a few months earlier and he is alone now with his two pre-teen children. Into the mix comes two authors the well know and insufferable  Nicholas Holden played with believable nastiness by Aidan Quinn and Iben Hjejle An attractive  Danish actress who is new to me who plays an author of supernatural books. There is a messy tangled old story involving the married Quinn with Hjejle who appears to have had a one night stand a few years back. Quinn wants to get back into her life, but she doesn’t want to have anything to do with him, and who can blame her.  Ciaran who passes the time being spooked by spooks and driving Ms Hjejle around the picturesque Irish landscape start to bond with her as they open up with each other, and this drives the jealous Quinn up the wall, and finally one night there is a rather nasty confrontation between the three of them. That’s the romantic side of the film, and it paces itself nicely jogging along side by side with the ghost story which by the way gave me a few jolts and isn’t this what a good ghost story should do. I had never heard of the film, until it came up as a recommendation on Netflix and I’m glad I took their word for it. Directed and co written by the well known Irish playwright Conor McPherson the performances are all very good. Hinds has long been a favorite actor of mine, scraggly and built like a piece of granite rock and looking like a cross between a Saul Steinberg and H..C. Westermann  drawing he won the best actor award at the Tribeca Film Fesival for his performance. The movie itself is short but not so sweet running about 90 minutes.

Margaret 2011

Saw this film last week and I’m still thinking about it. Directed and written by Kenneth Lonergan whose first film was “You Can Count on Me,” which was a good small complex  film about relationships.  Margaret is also complex and is also about relationships but is more ambitious than YCCM, which can be seen as one of its flaws. The film  had many problems and several lawsuits on its long  journey to fruition   mostly having to do with the editing  process, and was finally taken over with Lonergan’s blessing by Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker before getting a long delayed release and a running time of nearly 2 ½” hours. The movie tells  the story of a somewhat self centered spoiled upper west side private school 17 year old played convincingly by Anna Panquin, who was 23 when the film started shooting in 2005 and some might say she was pushing the age envelope, but Anna  pulls it off and delivers a very good performance. Her character’s name is Lisa, not Margaret and she is flirty, flighty and furious; usually with her mother who is an actress and is just about to open in an off Broadway play. Along with her younger brother they share a surprisingly small apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where most of the film takes place.  One day while behaving foolishly she witnesses a horrible accident for which she is partly to blame  and her life drastically changes. Her dealings with practically everyone she comes into contact with are troublesome, and because of this the film is layered with tension and dread. The film sprawls and sometimes stalls across the city and is somewhat Operatic in tone and style with opera itself playing an important supporting role. The cast is very good and impressive including the great Allison Janney in a small crucial heartbreaking scene, J. Cameron Smith as her much put upon mother, Mark Ruffalo , Matt Damon, Jean Reno, Mathew Broderick, Rosemarie DeWitt and in what I consider the best supporting female performance of 2011 Jeannie Berlin. And just to clear something up because I kept waiting for this Margaret chick to show up, the Margaret of the title comes from a poem “Spring and Fall,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, which was written to a young girl named Margaret and is recited in Lisa’s English class . One of the ten best films of 2011.

Notorious 1946

If a film student asked me to recommend a movie for them to watch to learn the rudiments of movie making I would not hesitate to tell them to watch this classic Alfred Hitchcock film. Everything about this mo vie, which by the way I saw again the other night for maybe the 5th time is perfection, from the great Ben Hecht script, to the cinematography and of course Hitchcock’s direction and the superb performances by Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman both of whom were at the peak of their beauty and talent. The plot is typical Hitchcock that touches on themes that have occupied him for pretty much his entire impressive career, and I’ll try to give away as little of the story as I can so that first time viewers of the film can feast on it without knowing too much about the plot. The story involves espionage and the efforts of a secret agency of the United States (think O.S.S. ) to find out what a rogue group of Nazi’s are up to in Rio de Janeiro. Its just after the war and this band of nasty Nazi’s is headed by Claude Rains (brilliant and Oscar nominated) who lives in a very large mansion with his mother from hell played with relish by Leopoldine Konstatin who gives a marvelous scary performance and is the first of Hitchcock’s long list of mommy horrors. Grant plays an agent who must get Ingrid Bergman to work with them to find out what the Nazi’s are up to and he pushes her to come into the mix because of her family ties, you see her father was a Nazi spy who she hated and also at one time she had Rains eating out of the palm of her hand and falling madly in love with her. Bergman of course is no Nazi but she is one hell of a play girl and a nasty drunk (in the original story that the film is based on she was actually a prostitute) who loves a good time and makes no bones about it. Here is Madonna Bergman who just a year earlier was playing a nun in The Bells of St. Mary and is now playing against type a bad girl (she also played another bad girl in 1946 in Saratoga Trunk). In real life this Madonna was a few years away from playing to some a real life bad girl, cast away for more than a decade by Hollywood for her life choices but that’s another story. Grant is also playing against type oh he’s still suave and debonair but he’s also a cold son of a bitch who tosses Bergman left and right to make sure she plays by his rules. The film has several famous sequences including the long erotic kissing scene between Bergman and Grant that begins on a balcony overlooking a process shot Rio and moves inside to answer a ringing phone, the incredible crane tracking shot that begins high above an elegant party and then swoops down to an important key prop and the very taunt and suspenseful wine cellar scene with the Hitchcockian MacGuffin sitting on a shelf. In the end of course Grant finally becomes Cary and Bergman Ingrid and this very entertaining and smooth romantic thriller comes to a satisfying end. Also with the always terrific Louis Calhern as the laid back boss of Grant’s and the complex cinematography is by Ted Tetzlaff . One of the ten best films of 1946.

Deception 1946

The first thing we see after the credits is a rain soaked (there is a lot of rain in this film) street with a close up of a pair of woman’s gams rushing towards an imposing building. The legs belong to Bette Davis, and the building is a Warner Bros. Back lot concert hall. Bette is rushing to catch a concert by a long lost love of hers who she thought long dead during the war in Europe and is shocked to find that Paul Henreid is alive and kicking and playing his heart out on his cello “I thought you were dead” Bette gushes and cries in that unique tone of hers to Henreid in his dressing room after the concert. Thus starts this early post war woman’s melodrama about love lost, found and then finally lost for good. I wish the rest of the film that was directed by Irving Rapper was as good as the opening scene, but it’s not, still there are pleasures to be found. The chief one of course is Claude Rains who is his usually brilliant self as the narcissistic  overbearing and controlling composer named Alexander Hollenius  who Bette (she’s also a musician, I know I know) had a long affair with and has been kept by him like a pet in a lavish loft in a big midtown building. Bette tries to keep this secret from Henreid who she marries in like 10 minutes after being reunited with him and of course this is what pushes the plot and gives us title of the film. The director and his three stars are reunited here from the much better  film “Now Voyager” that they did in 1942, but hey listen Deception is not all that bad with its mixture of classical musical, deceit, lavish expressionistic  sets , cinematography and murder. Davis who was winding down her long career at Warner Bros. still had a few great performances in her most notably of course “All About Eve” in 1950 but basically this film can be seen as her swan song as a glamorous leading lady. The beautiful inky black and white noirish cinematography (even the shadows have shadows) is by the great Ernest Haller, and the impressive expressionistic art direction is by the equally great Anton Grot. Not a great film but still fun for a gloomy rainy night.

Marwencol. 2010

Deeply moving documentary about a man Mark Hogencamp who one night when leaving a bar in his upstate New York town is beaten up by 5 cowards, and is thrown into a coma for 9 days and a hospital stay of 40 days. His memory is pretty much gone, but he survives and begins his own form of therapy by making up and building in his yard an imaginary town in Belgium (the title of the film) which is a combination of his first name and the names of two women who he has crushes on. The time for his tableau non vivant is World War II and he peoples the town with action figure and Barbie dolls and names some after friends and relatives which he then places in provocative and sometimes violent scenes and then photographs them. Mark is a sweet and gentle soul, who was alcoholic before his beating and has lost all fondness for the booze but still has a strong lifelong inclination for cross dressing which might have been the reason for his beating; it seems that upstate bigots don’t care for guys who like to get dressed in woman’s clothes. All indications given is that Mark is straight, loves women, but likes wearing high heels and an occasional dress as he goes about playing with his dolls and photographing them. I was very taken with this self-taught very outsider artist and his make believe worlds, and like any good fairy tale it ends on a happy note with Mark being discovered and having a show in a New York City gallery where at the opening he happily dons a pair of heels and is gleefully and figuratively embraced by the gallery patrons.

The Crimson Kimono 1959

Pulp  friction.  Made in 1959 and running a tight 82 minutes, film brut Sam Fuller’s The Crimson Kimono opens with an aerial nighttime shot of Los Angles, with a caption telling us where we are that comes shooting at us in bold letters like a newspaper headline. Fuller then puts us outside an actual cheap Burlesque theatre on main street and soon we are inside watching a somewhat zaftig over the hill stripper named Sugar Torch doing her act to some loud jazzy jittery music.  Fuller then follows her off stage and as she opens her dressing room door we catch a glimpse of a figure who fires shots at her, and this sets poor sugar off and running down the street where her killer soon catches up with her and shoots her down dead. This is a fabulous opening done without dialogue and shot on location in a long tracking shot by the great Sam Levitt and sets the tone for the rest of the movie.  Much  of the film of course concerns the hunt for the killer but Fuller drapes this murder mystery  over a story of interracial love that was way ahead of it’s time.and  peppers it with an intense male bonding friendship between two cops played by the very good and sensitive actor James Shigeta and an all American cute as a button Glenn Corbett. The guys met in Korea where they shared a fox hole and some blood that literally saved the life of one of them. Now in L.A. they share an apartment and most of their free time together that has a lurking homoerotic touch to it. In fact Curtis Hanson on the dvd supplement goes as far as to call it a love story between the two of them.  But let’s not get too excited because although there is a love story sandwiched between the murder plot, it’s a triangle between them and a woman artist who is a prime key to the murder. The artist named Chris at one time painted a portrait of Sugar wearing a kimono and might have some information on who put out Sugar’s torch.  Chris is played by the trim, proper, attractive but dull late 50’s starlet Victoria Shaw who is the complete opposite of another artist in the film Mac played by Anna Lee (very good) who is Alcoholic and vibrant (she spits beer on her large abstract paintings),where Shaw is cold and aloof.  Its Interestingly I guess that both females in the film have male names (this is not the first time fuller has given his females characters male names or nicknames)  and the Lee character is another strong but flawed motherly type that Fuller favors in many of his films. Joe the James Shigeta character is smart and sensitive (he even plays the piano) but has problems dealing with his Japanese American heritage and has huge conflicts over his love for Chris and his perceived notions of hurting his best friend who also has feelings for her. This is where the friction comes in. It’s there between the two friends, and it’s there within Shigeta who has self-doubts and feelings of persecution that threatens his relationships with Chris and Corbett. Fuller fills his scenes with lots of good details, and the on location shooting of a now gone L.A. also helps to give the film a good tangy feel. As usual with many unappreciated B’s at the time, this one was dumped on a double bill with “Battle of The Coral Sea” that starred Cliff Robinson who would give what I consider to be his best performance two years late in Fuller’s “Underworld U.S.A.  Thanks to the recent arrival of the film on dvd in a very nice transfer audiences can now discover this little seen Sam Fuller film for themselves. One of the ten best films of 1959




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