Saturday, August 24, 2013

Surrealist Daydreams

Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be, out Tuesday in a spiffy new DVD/Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection, is comedy on a knife's edge,  choosing at several moments to forgo its farcical set-ups in favor of the look and tone of a wartime thriller. Imagine a screwball Carole Lombard being dropped into Clouzot’s Le Corbeau, and you begin to get a sense of how Lubitsch is deploying his talent to startling effect. It has all of the exquisite detail and knowing sensuality of Lubitsch's earlier comedies, but it’s less interested in tickling the funny bone than in alternately caressing and grabbing your throat—it juggles slapstick and tragedy like a sublime, Surrealist daydream. My review of this essential disc is up at Cinespect.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Over at his excellent blog, Some Came Running, film critic Glenn Kenny has spent a couple of posts engaging with Anil Dash's bizarre pro-"talking in theaters" manifesto (an exercise in sophistry that elicited a different, equally interesting response from critic Matt Zoller Seitz). I'm not that interested in discussing Dash's piece here, except to note that I stand more or less with the "shush" crowd, feel no shame in asking grown adults to shut the hell up in a theater during a film, and believe the Surrealist viewing procedures Kenny smartly cites are different and much more complex than Dash's smug "join or die" syllogisms.

What really interests me is Kenny's citation in both pieces of the Steven Spielberg/Bernardo Bertolucci notion that movie theaters are cathedrals. He quotes (via Self-Styled Siren), Bertolucci's remark that "Maybe I'm an idealist, but I still think of the movie theater as a cathedral where we all go together to dream the dream together" (and really, the whole Kenny post in which that quote is embedded,  "5+1 Transcendent Movie Theater Experiences I've Had In The Last Twelve Months," is itself a transcendent, shimmering thing of cinephiliac, anecdotal beauty that you should read in its entriety. Go ahead, I can wait). Bertolucci's comment might be set in opposition to the implied argument in Kenny's observation that "New generations used to get themselves noticed by trying to change the society that they lived in; now they affect a societal change by the way they choose to define experience" (and how that experience is therefore defined for all those people who might not want to see the light from your texting screen, thank you very much).

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Days of Futures Past

It's far from perfect, but The Wolverine also captures the '70s and '80s X-Men comics' ridiculously thrilling blend of angst and art-pulp better than any of the previous mutant movies. My review of the Hugh Jackman epic (including thoughts on other summer superhero films) is up at Cinespect.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Societies of The Spectacle

 In the late 1930s, as his work on Gone with the Wind was unfolding, production designer William Cameron Menzies spoke of his personal aesthetic. “I am interested,” Menzies said, “in the photoplay as a series of pictures—as a series of fixed and moving patterns—as a fluid composition…When the art director receives the finished scenario, he begins to transpose the written words into a series of mental pictures…collecting in his mind the opportunities for interesting compositions.” Menzies—whose elaborate storyboards and groundbreaking matte designs established much of the complex, conflicted visual language of Wind—had worked for 15 years as a Hollywood designer on films like The Thief of Baghdad, and David Selznick’s epic offered a grand space to display his vision. But three years earlier, in a very different war-torn setting, Menzies’s conception of cinema as a series of interesting stills would reach its apogee, for better and for worse. 
The 1936 Menzies-directed film Things to Come,  out now on Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection, balances tremulously between spectacle and speechifying, the familiarity of the old and the shock of the new. My review of the disc is up at Cinespect.