A possible footnote to movie history.
The excellent Michael Reeves horror film Witchfinder General was released in 1968. It includes a chilling scene in which some English village children circa 1640 use the ashes left behind by the burning of a witch to roast a few potatoes:
A year later, Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch was released.
This could be written off as an odd coincidence except for the fact that when Peckinpah travelled to England in 1970 to make Straw Dogs, he hired as his cinematographer a then relatively obscure DP named John Coquillon, whose only previous claim to fame was the excellent work he had done on Witchfinder General. Supposedly it was Reeves' mentor Don Siegel who showed the film to his pal Sam.
Of course the fact that Peckinpah saw Witchfinder before making Straw Dogs is no proof that he saw it before making The Wild Bunch, although he certainly could have, even without the recommendation: It was released in the US by AIP in 1968, as The Congueror Worm.
The timeline is suggestive but obscure. But the shots themselves, and their implications within the two films? A damn good match, if you ask me. Don't forget you read it here first.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
A possible footnote to movie history.
Monday, June 22, 2009
For years I've been trying to get someone -- anyone -- to share my enthusiasm for the BBC Radio 4 series (available by podcast as well as archived) "In Our Time"
Format: Three academic specialists in a narrow subject in a 45 minute discussion moderated by a well-briefed Melvyn Bragg, who pokes and prods them along as the audience's surrogate. Subjects over the last couple of months include: the trial of Charles I, Augustan Rome, the building of St. Petersburg, the vacuum of space, Baconian science.
The most recent program, "Elizabethan and Jacobean Revenge Tragedy," deals with the issues that obsess this blog: especially the connections between high and low art, violence, sex, parody, and, of course, English literature.
Not worth mentioning, perhaps, but when Jonathan Bate, Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at the University of Warwick stated -- and it can't be contradicted -- that Thomas Middleton's "The Revenger's Tragedy" bore the same relationship to "The Spanish Tragedy" by Thomas Kyd that Tarentino's movies do to Clint Eastwood films like "High Plains Drifter," I laughed aloud with pleasure.
Makes it all worth it.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
That line from Taken deserves a spot on the top shelf, right beside "I'm going to need a hacksaw."
According to David "Buzzkill" Edelstein: "The script, by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, panders to macho American wet dreams that feel distinctly antiquated in the new age of American non-exceptionalism. And in a just universe, the idea that rich white American virgins are the prime targets of sex-slavers would make tens of thousands of captive underage Asian girls rise up shouting, 'That is the last straw!'"
Monday, June 15, 2009
...I spent a fair portion of the weekend with The Offspring catching up on pop culture phenoms on DVD. Including:
Twilight, which, though not aimed at the likes of me, is impressively crafted for what it is, basically a swoony teen romance with pasty-faced emo vampires. (Did any of Americxa's esteemeed scribes recognize the huge debt the movie owes to shojo manga and anime? I would guess not.) The only real revelation is the lead acress, Kristen Stewart, whose work was well described by David Edelstein: "[Director Catherine] Hardwicke jacks up the stakes with a swooping camera and a romantic-grunge soundtrack, but the most vivid thing in the film is Kristen Stewart. She was the leggy hobo-camp teen in love with Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild, and she’s better at conveying physical longing than any of the actors playing vampires. She alone suggests how this series was born, in the mind of a young Mormon girl who had to sublimate like mad with thoughts of having her blood sucked." Though snobbism reigns supreme in the critical realm to such an extent that I expect the "discovery" reviews will have to wait for the release of Stewart's next one.
Lost, which, though hardly a discovery, turns out to have a degree of re-watchability that I would not have expected. Nora is working her way through season four, and I watched six of them again, almost two years after the fact, with pleasure -- especially a time-hopping prodigy called "The Constant," surely one of the most potent 40-minute chunks of television ever broadcast.
And a somewhat promising prospect, co-written by the notably un-smug Michael Chabon.
In other news... Man bites dog.
In an extraordinary screed against the new movie by the talentless Sam Mendes, Todd McCarthy, whom I will now read religiously, blasts the new snobbery and humorless of the smugocracy. He says about Mendes what should have been said about two minutes after the first screening of the dreadful "American Beauty". Wonderful quotes:
Old-fashioned snobs were often possessed of dazzling intelligence, quick wit and scabrous humor, which is more than can be said for the new smuggie breed, which seems immune to any humor designed for any purpose other than to caricature those of whom it disapproves. At least that's the impression I take away from "Away We Go," a breezy, all but insufferable film quickly made by director Sam Mendes as an acknowledged vacation after the angst of "Revolutionary Road" but that conceals a sack of poison and contempt at least as potent as that contained by the recent adaptation of Richard Yates' novel.
Snobs often have generations of breeding as an excuse for their often-inexcusable attitudes; smuggies, on the other hand, seem to suffer from the certainty of the recently converted, and preferably possess the pedigree of having been part of the vaguely defined counterculture, even if only by going vegan, purchasing a Prius or blindly buying everything said in "An Inconvenient Truth" by Al Gore, who, by virtue of his statement that his views on "global warming" are beyond debate, would seem to qualify as the patron saint of humorless smuggies.
Burt and Verona are utterly unremarkable people made to appear virtuous, even saintly, in comparison to everyone else they encounter on their journey to find a place to settle down. Now into their mid-30s, they have absolutely nothing to show for themselves, no accomplishments, not even strong convictions, other than Verona's determination never to get married.In and of themselves, the two are not smug; they're neither intellectually developed nor presumptuous enough for that. But their position in the world forcibly becomes one of superiority based on what we see of the rest of the human race in one of the most caricatured renderings of it I've ever seen outside of a comicstrip or an overt work of propaganda.
and finally, a shout out to "Hangover"
It was instructive to catch "Away We Go" on the same day I saw "The Hangover." Both are portraits of seriously stunted growth, of people who have resisted growing up. In this case, the gross, commercially intended movie has it all over the refined art film. What's great about "The Hangover" is that, beneath the boisterous, outrageous comedy lies a disturbing illustration not only of arrested development but of the pronounced differences between men and women -- avoidance versus over-anxiety -- and of the extremes of losing control (to the point of not remembering anything) and control freakishness. It's a fine example of popular entertainment (with hidden content that's there if you want it) that knows what it's about far better than a self-consciously composed artifact for the elite.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Friday, June 5, 2009
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Great fun on Saturday watching Drag Me to Hell with a bunch of like-minded (doomed) souls at the drive-in that time forgot in Montclair, CA. The event was organized, and has been memorialized here, by Dennis Cozzalio of the passionate movie blog "Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule."
Key quote: "The single shot where we slowly become aware of the old woman’s presence in the back seat of Lohman’s car in that parking garage is a small masterpiece of slow-revealing terror that will reconnect you with the childlike sensation of not being able to get your hands up over your face fast enough, while being unable to resist the temptation to peek at the same time."
This was, in effect, a tail gate party, with beach chairs and yoga pads deployed upon the asphalt, but a tail gate party for movie freaks rather than football fans. At regular intervals, freight trains rolled past, drowning out several lines of dialog. My only regret? We should have been eating chili dogs and jalpeno nachos from the concession stand, rather than chicken and red wine from a picnic basket, fare better suited to classical music at the Bowl. Above all, in this life, one must have a sense of occasion.
A convincing rave.
And a Post-Mortum.