Saturday, May 24, 2008

Take-Home Exam



Professor Cozzalio just passed out the final exam before summer, so I guess I should stop chatting with my other blog topics, and stop passing notes to Jonathan, and get down to business. Geez, this one looks pretty hard..Guess I should've been studying more...

(As always, feel free to copy the list over and offer your own responses in the comments section, or copy it over to your blog-- but link to Dennis's original post, please!)

1) Best transition from movies to TV (actor, actress, producer/director, movie/show)
Wow, cool question, and one with many different possible answers, depending on what one means by "best transition": is it someone who's able to take those qualities we liked in film, and make them work on TV (in which case I'd vote for Burt Reynolds, immensely charming in the early seasons of Evening Shade)? Someone who had only a middling career in films, but found him/herself unleashed by the possibilities television offered (in which case I'd vote for character actors like Raymond Burr or Ed Asner)? Someone who had mixed success in films, but works well in TV, where he has more control over the final product (in which case I'd vote for writer/director/producer Joss Whedon, whose natural home is on the tube)?

Ah, who am I kidding? The best movie to TV transition is actually a TV-to-movie-and-back-to-TV transition: I am speaking of course, of that Cary Grant of the smaller screen, that charming rogue, that card sharp-cum-beach bum detective, James Garner.

2) Living film director you most missing seeing on the cultural landscape regularly
This one stumped me for a couple of days, as I pondered the questions Dennis had offered up this time, and while I was tempted to list Francis Ford Coppola, I finally settled on Whit Stillman. Stillman has made two perfect comedies (Metropolitan and Barcelona) and one mixed success (Last Days of Disco, but in Stilman's defense, it's hard to make a good movie when Chloe Sevigny plays your heroine). And then he's disappeared for the last decade. The recent Criterion disc reveals a man still in full command of his verbal gifts and still passionately interested in the mechanics of cinematic storytelling-- so what gives? In an age of Ashton Kutcher, Stillman's graceful, Austen-like observations make him a crucial national resource, one which should be tapped far more often.

3) Eugene Pallette or Charles Coburn:
"Let us be crooked, Jane, but never common."

4) Fill in the blank: “I pray that no one ever turns _____________ into a movie.”
The Sopranos.

5) Jane Greer or Veronica Lake
Ooh, that's a tough choice-- how can one decide between Sullivan's Travels and Out of the Past? I'm giving the edge to Greer, but only because her introductory walk through that Mexican bar is so alluring, and the single shot I would choose if I had to define film noir.

6) What was the last movie you saw in a theater? On DVD? And why?
In theaters: Then She Found Me
On DVD: Daisy Miller (the 1974 Peter Bogdanovich version).

Why?

Two weeks ago, my girlfriend and I were supposed to go see Radney Foster in concert. We drove into Cleveland on a sunny afternoon and arrived at the Beachland Theater (the newspaper article said tickets would be available at the door). It was still a few hours until the show, but we thought we could get our tix early and then maybe grab a bite to eat. There was no one at the box office, so we decided to head to the basement record store that was also housed in the club. It was a very cool atmosphere, with stacks of vinyl, lots of vintage t-shirts, and a new wave/hipster ambience that felt inviting, rather than closed off. We asked the young man behind the counter how we might get tickets, and found out that the show had been cancelled, due to the sudden death of Foster's father.

Shaken by the news, we decided to stay in the Cleveland area for the night, anyway, and maybe catch a movie. The Cedar Lee, Cleveland Heights' fabulous old (circa 1926) theater, which now shows indie and foreign films, was only about 20 minutes away, so we headed over to see what was playing. A number of good films were there, and we finally settled on Then She Found Me as one to see. It's very good, by the way, especially if you like your romcoms to be a bit prickly and uncertain.

As for Daisy Miller...That had been sitting on my tv table for a couple of months (thank god Netflix doesn't have late fees!), and I finally got around to it the other day. The film has a bad reputation, since it was a commercial flop, and since some folks can't imagine Cybill Shepherd in the title role. But I love Bogdanovich's 70s/early 80s work (They All Laughed is a lost masterpiece), and have been fascinated by Henry James ever since I read Rachel Cohen's brilliant anedotal study A Chance Meeting (in which James plays a central role) and I was curious. It's not bad, actually-- it's full of beautiful long takes and lush location work in Switzerland and Italy, and Shepherd isn't terrible in the role, although I think she's miscast. The rest of the cast is excellent, especially the quietly controlling Eileen Brennan.

7) Name an actor you think should be a star
One of my earliest blog posts pondered the mystery of why no one's heard of Katie Finneran. I also think Lauren Graham is one decent film role away from stardom, wish more people knew of Giancarlo Esposito, and find Lee Pace much more interesting than Josh Hartnett. Still, isn't one of the joys of cinema the character actor who makes the film so much more interesting than it otherwise might be (I know when I see Stanley Tucci's name in the credits, for instance, that the film will be at least partially interesting).

8) Foxy Brown or Coffy
(*Hangs head in shame*) I've never seen either, but can either be bad if they both star Pam Grier?

9) Favorite TV show still without its own DVD box set
Ooh! Too many to list, starting with Frank's Place, one of the most interesting and textured looks at race ever to air in the sitcom form, moving through Thirtysomething (a show I was just too young to get when it aired), China Beach (far better than any of the 80s movies about Vietnam), and finally ending with a request to box any surviving "Golden Age" filmed plays (from Playhouse 90 and so on) so I could see those shows I wasn't even alive to catch.

10) Jack Elam or Neville Brand
Aside from Stalag 17, I'm honestly pretty unfamiliar with both, which says something about me, I guess, and also about the generational gaps that sometimes exist in the film blogosphere.

11) What movies would top your list of movies you need to revisit, for whatever reason?
Rules of the Game, the richest movie ever made; Breathless, the one which most radically re-shaped my cinematic imagination; anything from Errol Flynn's late 30s period; nearly anything by Howard Hawks and Francois Truffaut; and The Godfather films, which stop me cold and force me to watch them whenver they appear on TV.

12) Zodiac or All the President’s Men
Oh, All The President's Men, no question! Zodiac is ok, but Men is one of the three best American films of the 70s, and one of the most inexhaustible suspense films ever made (it's also a great teaching tool).

13) Using our best reviewer-speak, what is an “important” film comedy? And what is to you the most important film comedy of the last 35 years?

"Hey LAAY-DIEEEE!": Foucaultian Repression and Freudian Desire in the Le Cinema du Hilary Duff, or, When Is Hair Gel Just Hair Gel?." Movie Journal, vol.6, issue #4, May 2008. 35-55.

Abstract: Why...laughter? Thinking through the gendered problematics inherent in the capitalist construction of "tween" (and its relations to a Butlerian conception of the body as performance), this paper seeks to understand the intertwined notions of humor, femininity and "masked" identity in the works of Hilary Duff, in particular the plays with fairy tale imagery in A Cinderella Story, the "policed" notions of "cool" and "nerd" in The Lizzie McGuire Movie and the role of cyberspace avatars in A Perfect Man. Related topics will include The Mickey Mouse Club, the marketing of Dinsey Channel programming and the Barthesian mythologies of "Come Clean (Let The Rain Come Down)."

(Just out of curiosity, Dennis, what caused you to choose the 35-year limit?)

14) Describe the ideal environment for watching a movie.
This is such a cliche-- sorry!--but it really depends on the movie. For a big blockbuster, or even a cult film (like Pulp Fiction) that's eagerly awaited, it's hard to beat a packed multiplex on opening weekend, as the anticipation spills over onto the screen, and the screen fulfills or shatters it. On the other hand, one of my fondest cinema-going memories was watching Jules and Jim, L'Atalante, and The Bicycle Thief on back-to-back weekends at The Music Box, a gorgeous art deco theater in Chicago; unreeled in pristine 35mm prints in a tinier screening space, the smell of popcorn mixing with the smell of espressos, it was the perfect place to get caught up in the movies, and to not only see but feel the links between the films. There are some movies I can't watch with an audience, because I don't want to deal with the possibility that they might not like it (Some Came Running, for example, which I showed to a derisive cinema class one year), and some (like mediocre action films or B comedies) which find their ideal home on my TV screen on a free, rainy weekend day.

15) Michelle Williams or Eva Mendes
Despite Dawson's Creek, I'm gonna have to go with the actress who graced Dick with her playful blankness, and Brokeback Mountain with her bruised patience.

16) What’s the worst movie title of all time?
A Million to Juan. Yes, it's real, and when I worked in a video store, its crappy punning was a constant target of our snark. Also, Signs.

17) Best movie about teaching and/or learning
Six Degrees of Separation, Surviving Desire, and The Paper Chase.

18) Dracula (1931) or Horror of Dracula (1958)
Love the first one, and the second is in my Netflix queue. But what-- no love here for The Hunger or Angel?

19) Why do you blog? Or if you don’t, why do you read blogs? (Thanks, Girish)
I've actually been thinking about this question a lot lately, as I've started to ponder blog comments, and why I do or don't get them on certain posts, why some folks seem to post a lot and some hardly at all, and how that affects what I write. I guess that means there are two, intertwined answers to the question: one, I like the sense of community and sharing that exists in the film blogosphere (so different and less hostile than, say, political blogging) and the chance to connect my passions and obsessions with someone else's. Two, in the end, no matter what connections are made, I really do this to sort out the ideas and contradictions and weird nagging questions that rumble about in my brain (I once joked in a post that an alternate name for my blog could be "An X-Ray of My Head", and I think that's still basically true) (or, to put it another way, and to paraphrase Pauline Kael, I write because no one else is saying the things about movies I want to say). If that stuff touches other people, that's fantastic, and I love that sense of feeling like I'm not alone (and that I might be telling someone else that they aren't either) in my sometimes counter-intuitve tastes, but if not, I'm still having fun, and getting to do lots of different kinds of plays with writing and imagery.

20) Most memorable/disturbing death scene
Well, Psycho, of course, and Citizen Kane's opening, and the "I'm not dead yet!" chopping of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Kong's death (both versions). But I was always kind of struck by the quiet and absolute stillness of Kevin Spacey's expression, after he's shot, in L.A. Confidential.

21) Jason Robards or Robert Shaw
When the hell is somebody gonna go on the goddamn record here?!? Well, I will-- from my first glimpse of him as the magical uncle in Max Dugan Returns to that creepy deathbed scene in Magnolia, Robards' gravelly cool was one of my favorite cinephiliac pleasures, which takes nothing away from my love of Red Grant.

22) A good candidate for Most Blasphemous Movie Ever
Shakes the Clown: As Michael Powell once said of Forty Guns, "I don't wish to see my religion treated that way."

23) Rio Bravo or Red River
Both spectacular, but despite my abiding love of Dean Martin, it has to be Red River-- Clift is just too cool, and Wayne just too perfect as the psychotic patriarch. Despite its botched ending, Hawks' sense of narrative sweep was never stronger.

24) Werner Herzog is remaking Bad Lieutenant with Nicolas Cage—that’s reality. Try to outdo reality by concocting a match-up of director and title for a really strange imaginary remake.
The Bicycle Thief, directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Adam Sandler and Dakota Fanning.

25) Bulle Ogier or Charlotte Rampling
Rampling, if only because she was in an episode of The Avengers.

26) In the Realm of the Senses— yes or no?
Haven't seen it, but I like the other Oshima I've seen.

27) Name a movie you think of as your own (Thanks, Jim!)
Riffing on what Emerson wrote, I would have to say the overall body of work of Vincente Minnelli. Casablanca and Rules of the Game are my favorite films, but I feel protective of Minnelli because students sometimes don't know what to do with his inimitable blend of color, lushness, melodrama, humor and passion. That doesn't mean they are 'wrong' in their responses, but that, when they laugh at the heightened emotions during the climactic fair scene in Some Came Running, I feel like Michael talking to Fredo in The Godather, Part II: "You broke my heart...You broke my heart!!" And that's true of The Band Wagon, Meet Me In St. Louis, Father of the Bride, The Band and the Beautiful...some of these movies get good responses, some bad, but they are immensely dear to me, and even if I hate the feeling of disappointment when folks reject their pleasures, I love the feeling when they connect with a student, and those passions get translated from screen to audience.

28) Winged Migration or Microcosmos
I didn't care for the latter, so I never saw the former.

29) Your favorite football game featured in a movie
Either M*A*S*H or Horsefeathers, although the recent Leatherheads is also quite fun. The trick, I think, is to not take football seriously-- as in the atrocious Any Given Sunday-- but to use its absurdities as a jumping-off point for character and comedy.

30) Wendy Hiller or Deborah Kerr
They're both quite wonderful, but the edge goes to Kerr, great in nunneries, musicals, wheelchairs, and military uniforms. Plus, you can't beat starring in Otto Preminger's best film.

31) Dirtiest secret you have that is related to the movies
I like surfing movies, and Fassbinder bores me silly.

32) Name a favorite film and describe how it is illuminated and enriched by another favorite film.
I was fourteen or fifteen when I first saw Casblanca: we'd rented it from the local video store, and had it on in the background as we decorated the Christmas tree. Despite this bifurcated viewing situation, I was immediately drawn to its relaxed cool-- it wasn't just the stars or the romantic narrative that grabbed me, but the film's tone, and the sense of a whole world of glamour and witty repartee that it evoked. I wanted to live in that world, move through that stylish nightclub, exchange quips with Louis and play chess against myself. I also loved that I could understand the snippets of French that played as voicover as the Nazis marched through Paris: I might have been struggling with French in the classroom, but the magic of cinema could make everything comprehensible.

Four years later, I saw Breathless (which I blogged about here), those links between cinema, desire and comprehending new worlds made even stronger. The film famously references Bogart, of course, when Belmondo stares at the publicity still outside the theater, and tries to rub his lip in a Bogartian manner. But it was, again, the whole sense of a world created, and that even cooler sense of cool that it evoked, that drew me in. Here was a movie that was not only an object in and of itself, but one that also referenced and "spoke" to other movies, and in that gesture reconstituting the very glamour it was deconstructing. The movie and the experience of the movie were another lesson in cinephilia as a way of seeing the world, and understanding my place in it.

Place is strong in Rules of the Game, its Parisian apartments, country estates and midnight landing strips defining, expanding and inhibiting its characters. Famously booed and almost destroyed in its initial release, it would escape Nazi persecution by having a near-complete print hidden in the bathtub of Henri Langlois during the war, even as its star, Dalio, escaped to Hollywood, where he hides out in the gambling room of Rick Blaine ("I'm so sorry Monsieur Blaine, I don't know how this happened"). It's the greatest movie ever made, but when I first saw it, I didn't get it: I was nineteen, and I needed a few more years of life and heartbreak and maturity to really understand its visually and thematically layered elegance. I also needed a better print: Henri Langlois saved Rules from being destroyed in 1940, but it was the Criterion Collection, with their amazing, essential DVD a few years ago, that brought the film home to me, allowing me to at last comprehend Godard's famous quote: "Some directors start from documentary and move towards fiction, while some start from fiction and move towards documentary...Renoir occupies both positions at once, and that is why he is Renoir."

33) It’s a Gift or Horsefeathers
Horsefeathers: Marx always trumps Fields.

34) Your best story about seeing a movie at a drive-in
Drive-ins were on their way out as I was growing up, and so many of my "memories" of them come from seeing them in other films: the hilariously campy projections in The Thin Blue Line, the re-creations of 50s teen lust in Grease, the assassin's bullet cutting through the night sky in Targets. My own drive-in memory is connected to The Empire Strikes Back, and seeing it on a warm summer night's re-release, and enjoying the serendipity of night falling just as the Millenium Falcon roared into space: sky and screen blending into one glittering, star-ridden space.

35) Victor Mature or Tyrone Power
Ah, the age of the mid-forties beefcake: dull, shirtless, and so much less interesting than Gable, Grant or Stewart. Well, in this contest among the Brad Pitts of mid-century Hollywood, I will have to go with Tyrone Power, an excellent Zorro, and someone with the good fortune to star opposite Linda Darnell.

36) What does film criticism mean to you? Where do you think it’s headed?
Needs more cowbell.

7 comments:

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Hey, Brian, thanks for taking the time to give such thoughtful answers!

As for the 35 years number, it's completely arbitrary-- I was thinking of using it as a poll question and then kept it for the quiz, but I never changed the number.

You never linked to here over at my house, so I'm going to do so there, and I think I'll copy your answers into my comments column anyway. I love reading them all one after the other!

Thanks again for taking part!

Mrs. R said...

Couldn't answer all of these - no time

1) Best transition from movies to TV James Garner

2) Living film director you most missing seeing on the cultural landscape regularly. Coppola

3) Eugene Pallette or Charles Coburn: Coburn

4) Fill in the blank: “I pray that no one ever turns into a movie.”
Cavemen.

5) Jane Greer or Veronica Lake
Veronica Lake

6) What was the last movie you saw in a theater? On DVD? Affair of the Necklace. I have always been interested in that story.
Theaters: The First Saturday in May. Friend suggested it as excellent.

7) Name an actor you think should be a star. Bruce Davison

8) Foxy Brown or Coffy
Foxy Brown

9) Favorite TV show still without its own DVD box set. Love That Bob.

10) Jack Elam or Neville Brand
Jack Elam

11) What movies would top your list of movies you need to revisit, for whatever reason?
Road to Perdition, The Razor's Edge (1946), The Rains Came (1939), The Unnvited, Three Strangers, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point, Godfather I and II, Usual Suspects, LA Confidential.

12) Zodiac or All the President’s Men. All the President's Men.

18) Dracula (1931) or Horror of Dracula (1958)
Dracula

20) Most memorable/disturbing death scene
Tom Hanks' death in Road to Perdition. Jude Law was such a slimeball.

21) Jason Robards or Robert Shaw
Robards

23) Rio Bravo or Red River
Red River

24) Werner Herzog is remaking Bad Lieutenant with Nicolas Cage—that’s reality. Try to outdo reality by concocting a match-up of director and title for a really strange imaginary remake.
The Bicycle Thief, directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Adam Sandler and Dakota Fanning.

25) Bulle Ogier or Charlotte Rampling - Rampling

30) Wendy Hiller or Deborah Kerr
Deborah Kerr

31) Dirtiest secret you have that is related to the movies
I hated Raging Bull

32) Name a favorite film and describe how it is illuminated and enriched by another favorite film.
Pepe Le Moko.

33) It’s a Gift or Horsefeathers
Horsefeathers: Horsefeathers

34) Your best story about seeing a movie at a drive-in
Going on a blind date with a dentist in training friend of a friend. An excruciating evening. Patton and Bandolero or some-such on a double bill. The pre-film conversation consisted of me being given a list of dental terms to read. I refused to sit through Bandolero.

35) Victor Mature or Tyrone Power
Totally blasphemous comparison. Nothing dull about Tyrone Power - at all! Why compare that shlub Mature with someone who was as high as #2 for top boxoffice in the world and whose films made $1 billion when movies cost - at the time of his death - an average of 68 cents!

36) What does film criticism mean to you? Where do you think it’s headed?
It doesn't mean anything. I don't pay any attention to it. Perchance are you a critic?

This may have posted twice

Brian Doan said...

Dennis--
thanks, and thanks for the link! Your quizzes are always so cool.

Mrs. R.-- thanks for stopping by, and thanks for your great answers. Do you have a blog? I clicked on the link on your name, and it took me to a page where it looked like a couple were listed, but I couldn't get those subsequent links to take me anywhere. If you have one, I'd love to link to it!

Jonathan Lapper said...

I wanted to brag on my prediction come true. I was the first to answer Dennis' quiz and correctly stated in my "Zodiac/All The President's Men" answer that Brian Doan would pick ATPM. Thanks for not letting me down.

Brian Doan said...

Jonathan,
As that great poet, Mr. Bryan Adams might say: Everything I do, I do it for you.

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