Sunday, April 29, 2012

SLIFR Movie Quiz

It's that time of year again. The inimitable Dennis Cozzalio of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule has published another SLIFR Movie Quiz, this time in honor of spring and Sister Clodagh. This is not your grandmother's movie quiz. Any time Dennis makes a quiz, it is a palm-sweating, pencil-breaking, wake-up-at-3AM-thinking-of-the-answer-you-should-have-given test of cinephilia. I've posted my answers in the comment section of his blog as per his rules but I thought I would post here too, to give my readers a chance to see them. And to invite you guys to visit Dennis's blog and post there too.

Ready? Here we go.

1) Favorite movie featuring nuns
Black Narcissus

2) Second favorite John Frankenheimer movie

The Manchurian Candidate (The more flawed but more fascinating Seconds is first.)

3) William Bendix or Scott Brady?

William Bendix

4) What movie, real or imagined, would you stand in line six hours to see? Have you ever done so in real life?

The restored version of The Magnificent Ambersons in its original cut and I can see that I'm not the only one.

5)Favorite Mitchell Leisen movie

6) Ann Savage or Peggy Cummins?
Peggy Cummins (Savage is fantastic but Cummins in Gun Crazy is perfection.)

7) First movie you remember seeing as a child
Beauty and the Beast (1990)

8) What moment in a movie that is not a horror movie made you want to bolt from the theater screaming?
One of the combat scenes from Black Hawk Down, can't remember which, because I had a splitting headache and oh God, it was seizure-inducing.

9) Richard Widmark or Robert Mitchum?
Richard Widmark

10) Best movie Jesus
Robert Torti in Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical (2005) . For serious Jesus, I suppose I prefer the way his presence is handled in Ben-Hur.

11) Silliest straight horror film that you’re still fond of
I'm not really up to speed on true campy horror so I'll say The Fly (1958). 

12) Emily Blunt or Sally Gray?
Emily Blunt

13) Favorite cinematic Biblical spectacular
Ben-Hur. We watched it in my seventh-grade homeroom class, over the course of several days like a movie serial and I still say, big screens aside, that is the proper way to watch it. (Will Judah ever reunite with his family? Tune in tomorrow!)

14) Favorite cinematic moment of unintentional humor
Everyone and their accountant have made fun of this already but yes, the "I hate sand" dialogue from Attack of the Clones

15) Michael Fassbender or David Farrar?
Fassbender is a very attractive man and a fascinating talent no question, but David Farrar has three Powell and Pressburger classics to his credit. Advantage, Farrar. 

16) Most effective faith-affirming movie
Groundhog Day could  affirm pretty near any faith.

17) Movie that makes the best case for agnosticism
I've pondered this one for some time and come up blank.

18) Favorite song and/or dance sequence from a musical
For solo dance: Gene Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain"
For pair dancing: Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth, the "I'm Old Fashioned" number from You Were Never Lovelier
For dance as emotional narrative: The final dream sequence from Lili

19) Third favorite Howard Hawks movie
A tie between Ball of Fire and Rio Bravo.

20) Clara Bow or Jean Harlow?
Jean Harlow

21) Movie most recently seen in the theater? On DVD/Blu-ray/Streaming?
Theater--War Horse. On actual DVD--The Magnificent Ambersons. On streaming--Robocop.

22) Most unlikely good movie about religion
The Truman Show

23) Phil Silvers or Red Skelton?
I really don't have a horse in this race.

24) “Favorite” Hollywood scandal 
Favorite? The William Desmond Taylor murder remains one of the most fascinating, I guess.

25) Best religious movie (non-Christian)
Don't know about best, but I've loved Fiddler on the Roof since childhood.

26) The King of Cinema: King Vidor, King Hu or Henry King? (Thanks, Peter)
King Vidor

27) Name something modern movies need to relearn how to do that American or foreign classics had down pat 
Exposition, especially when it comes to pacing a film. Hollywood could learn so much from watching some of those good old snappy 70-minute programmers and how expertly they sum up the characters and the situation.

28) Least favorite Federico Fellini movie
Since I'm pledged to honesty, the only Fellini film I've seen is La Dolce Vita. You are now welcome to stone me to death with DVD copies of 8 1/2.

29) The Three Stooges (2012)—yes or no?
Not a Stooges fan.

30) Mary Wickes or Patsy Kelly?
Mary Wickes ("Dora, I suspect you're a treasure.")

31) Best movie-related conspiracy theory
All the theories about Walt Disney's corpse. Talk about random...

32) Your candidate for most misunderstood or misinterpreted movie
Network. How many times have we heard some pundit misappropriate the "I'm mad as hell speech" now?

33) Movie that made you question your own belief system (religious or otherwise)
Before watching The Unknown (1927), I was convinced I'd never wholeheartedly enjoy a 

silent film.

Well, that's all for now, folks. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some frantic film renting to do.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Farewell, Dick Clark

I played records, the kids danced, and America watched.

Dick Clark (1929-2012)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Fascination Films

On my list of Indispensable Bloggers, there would be a place of honor for Greg Ferrara, who always manages to stir up the most thought-provoking film discussions. Just a casual glance at his posts for Movie Morlocks and I guarantee you'll find something to jolt your movie-lover's brain. Anyway, Greg's latest topic for Movie Morlocks is "I Half-Heartedly Recommend This Movie," about the films we sorta-kinda-maybe want our friends to see except for the fact that the good is matched with just enough bad to make it a little embarrassing. We all have movies like that.

But Greg's post got me thinking, not so much about mediocre films, but about what I think of as my "fascination films." Have you ever had that moment of walking down a street and suddenly swiveling your head to stare at someone, thinking, "Huh, they're not my type, maybe they're not even that attractive, but there's something there?" Some films I don't consider great, hell maybe I don't even like them all that much, but they fascinate me.

I'm not talking about the feeling of guilty pleasure as in, "Holy shit, guys, I'm starting to find myself actually invested in the love story of Samson and Delilah. Hold me." Nor am I talking about the nostalgia you feel for much-flawed, much-loved films of your childhood (which is where I'd put something like Desiree). I'm talking about the films that I find myself thinking about, weeks, even years afterward, possibly more than I think about genuinely better films. For example, The Ox-Bow Incident is a fantastic film, but I don't think I've given it half the mental space I've given to the muddled, murky Pursued.

What is it about these films that intrigues me? Do they hit some kind of emotional trigger? Am I drawn by their tantalizing possibilities or by their grating flaws? Well, before this post is lost in a sea of rhetorical questions, here's a look at some films I can't help but find...fascinating.

The Collector (1965)

I'll be tackling this one for an upcoming blogathon. The Collector is William Wyler's adaptation of the classic John Fowles novel about an insane, working-class butterfly collector and the beautiful posh girl he captures to make his own. It's got Terence Stamp  in a frightening performance as the creepy collector (the fact that Stamp can look so genuinely repulsive while at the height of his beauty is a feat in and of itself) and Samantha Eggar was never better. And of course it has Wyler, probably one of the greatest "actor's directors" that ever lived. But somehow, The Collector ends up stranded somewhere between a polished but airless film translation and a brilliant, gripping thriller. It's got far more subtlety and nuance than your average thriller yet, watching it, I can't help thinking that the film needed a director with more willingness to be lurid and animalistic and sexual. More like Nicholas Ray or Samuel Fuller. Something in Fowles' harsh, class-conscious novel doesn't translate to Wyler's reasoned, reserved style. And Maurice Jarre's goofy score just tears a gaping hole through the film's mood. And yet, I find this movie so compulsively watchable. If it only took that one step forward into being truly twisted, it would be a genuine classic.

Pursued (1947)

It's not every day you get to watch a Freudian Western noir. Not to mention one with Robert Mitchum as an amnesiac hero, Teresa Wright as his semi-incestuous love interest, and Judith Anderson as the stoic homesteader who adopts Mitchum. Hell, just trying to wrap your head around the idea of Judith Anderson in a Western is hard enough. The film's plot is so bizarre I don't dare summarize it (go watch it yourselves), but it is an oddly enjoyable film. Give credit to director Raoul Walsh and cinematographer James Wong Howe for making such an incredible mishmash of ideas into a coherent film. Howe's cinematography in particular; he manages to make the wide open vistas of New Mexico into a space as dark and cramped as any film noir alleyway. And I have to admit, I'm a sucker for Teresa Wright and watching my favorite cinematic good girl get all vengeful and seductive is a real treat. True, the Niven Busch script stumbles pretty badly at times, as if Busch really, really wanted to make this another Duel in the Sun and had to be forcibly restrained. But man, this film is a trip. If nothing else, it proves my theory that film noir and Westerns have always really been two sides of the same coin.

Stella Dallas (1937)

Ah, Stella Dallas. The film that's essentially required watching for any Barbara Stanwyck fan. I have to admit though, even as a Stanwyck fan, that this movie pisses me off. I don't like how ridiculously manipulative it is. I don't like the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of Stanwyck's Stella (who is poised and attractive enough to charm a rich man into marrying her, but suddenly displays the taste and subtlety of a circus clown whenever the film wants her to be embarrassing). I don't like the way the film asks me to believe in the beauty and selflessness of the love between Stella and her daughter Laurel and then tries to tell me that Laurel could be so easily tricked into believing that her mother doesn't love her. Even Laurel's actress, Anne Shirley, said this was a load of crock and she had no sympathy for this ninny she was playing.

However, and I hate to admit it, there is a great deal of truth in Stella Dallas. There's Stella's anguish as she slowly comes to see herself as a burden. There's Laurel's teenage desperation as she practically hurls her long limbs off a stool in an attempt to keep her mother away from the boy she likes. There's the brittle condescension and forced "understanding" of the upper classes, when faced with their raucous inferiors. Unlike many critics, I don't think the film agrees with Stella's decision to abandon her daughter to a better life. I don't think this film even likes rich people that much. The movie looks at the American cultural divide of the time and sees it as a self-perpetuating tragedy. When it focuses on that and Stanwyck's performance, it's a sharp and heartbreaking film. If only the film didn't take such ham-handed methods to get us there.

Peter Ibbetson (1935)

Peter Ibbetson is that rarest of cinematic unicorns, a unique film. Peter Ibbetson (Gary Cooper) fell hopelessly in love with Mary (Ann Harding) when they were children and when they reunite, circumstances force them apart. Yet, through some kind of miracle, they find that they can meet together in each other's dreams, living out their pure, deathless love in their minds even as their bodies age. There was a flood of romantic fantasy film in the 40s (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Portrait of Jennie, A Matter of Life and Death, etc) that handled this kind of material with humor and longing and sophistication. But Peter Ibbetson, especially compared to other 30s films, is like a Victorian aunt that suddenly wandered out into a crowd of wisecracking showgirls. Mary becomes Peter's spiritual guide,  the symbol of absolute purity and devotion, essentially the Beatrice to his Dante. It's the kind of romantic ideal that's been pretty much killed stone-dead for the past century or so; nowadays we like our romances a little more human. And I can't really say I like Peter Ibbetson. Cooper and Harding are stiff as boards, the child actors are dreadful (and they call each other Gogo and Mimsey, no really) and outside of the dream sequences, the film doesn't really convey any kind of otherworldly charm. But it's the kind of film which compels me to ask people, "Have you seen it? What did you think?"

Marnie (1964)

Well, you all knew by my intro picture that this one was coming. A lot of critics like to call Vertigo Hitchcock's most personal film. But for me, this is the one that feels like it sprang fully forth from somebody's Id. All of the Hitchcock obsessions are here: blondes, Tippi Hedren, sadism, rape, traumatic memories, flashing colors, bad matte paintings, and a suspense plot that's more about attraction and repulsion than whether anyone actually commits evil. It's like Hitchcock had so much he wanted to say that he no longer cared whether his audience would follow his lead. The first time I saw Marnie, as a middle-schooler speeding my way through every Hitchcock film, I thought it was okay but a little off. The next time, I saw Marnie, I thought it was dreadful. And then the next time I saw it, I was completely enthralled. It's just that kind of film. Half the time I don't know whether I should be giggling or shuddering.

Robin Wood's famous salvo ("If you don't love Marnie, you don't love cinema") doesn't do the film any favors and my opinion of Hedren's performance sways with every passing breeze. And all that "red is the color of blood" imagery is even worse than the matte paintings. But even so, the film's incoherent passion and darkness and cruelty still give it the power to draw you in. The relationship between Marnie and Mark is one of the most fascinating in all of Hitchcock. And the character of Marnie herself, childish, sarcastic, cold and tormented, is compelling enough to defy any schlock psychology about frigid females. She's more interesting perhaps, than even Hitchcock knew.

While writing this post, I struck up a conversation with one of my co-workers and, hoping to get some inspiration from her, asked her if there were any films she found, not just good, not just bad, but fascinating. With a puzzled smile, she told me, "I don't feel that way about moves." To which I can only respond, like Barbara Stanwyck, "What a life!"