Grading On A Curve (Updated)

Everyone's favorite film blogger, that illustrious Jean Renoir of the intertubes, Dennis Cozzalio, posted a very fun quiz, "PROFESSOR BERTRAM POTTS' HELLA HOMEWORK FOR THE HOLIDAYS CHRISTMAS BREAK QUIZ" at his blog, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. Dennis's was the first film blog I went to regularly-- when Robert Altman died, he had a lovely eulogy that was so thoughtful, funny and personal that it drew me back to his site on a daily basis, just to see what such a generous personality would have to say about other film-related topics (the fact that he was as enamored of baseball as he was of movies just made me like him all the more). I think the greatest thing about Dennis's site is its sense of a blog as a charming cocktail party that everyone's invited to-- there's no imperiousness or snotty hipster posing at SLIFR, and I think this welcoming warmth really makes it stand out.

I was, at first, unclear as to whether Mr. C. wanted folks to post in comments or on their own blogs, then noticed he asked to post in the comments section. But as there don't seem to be hard and fast rules about it, as I don't want to clog up an already busy comments thread (39 people! Wow!), and as a way to encourage you to check out his blog, I'll post my answers here, and encourage you to wander over to SLIFR at your leisure. I don't think you'll regret it.

Fortwith, DC's questions, and my answers. Please feel free to pick this up as a meme on your own blog (but please credit and link to Dennis's post), and please feel free to post your own answers in the comments thread, if you so desire. Happy New Year, everyone!:

1) Your favorite opening shot (Here are some ideas to jog your memory, if you need ‘em.)

See, and right off!, Dennis has me stumped (thank god he's grading on a curve. Um, right?), not so much because I can't think of one, as because I can think of too many, then I'm overcome with a feat that my choices won't be cool enough. But here are a few: the opening shot of Rules of the Game, that cut from the reporter speaking to the long, snaking tracking shot that follows the radio cables through an anxious crowd awaiting their aviator hero (while all the hero thinks of is his thrwarted love, whom we can only see through by cutting away from the tracking shot, Renoir's witty visual commentatary/foreshadowing on their disconnect); The Player, duh, but not just for its Touch of Evil tribute or funny dialogue ("It's like The Gods Must Be Crazy, except the coke bottle is now a television actress"), but for how well it uses the up-and-down, all-around crane shot to create an anxiety in the viewer-- we're always teased that there's more going on in a given moment than we can possibly take in before the camera moves away again; the opening montage of Jules and JIm, with its breathless score acting as a sonic expression of the excitement the cutting builds in me as I watch. Is there any cinema opening moment that promises more?

2) Tuesday Weld or Mia Farrow?

Meh. No feeling for either, although I love Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby and The Purple Rose of Cairo.
Can I replace them both with the delightful Paula Prentiss?

3) Name a comedy you’re embarrassed to admit made you laugh

As a comedian might say, timing is everything. Were I to watch Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back today, I'd probably have the same reaction I have to all post-Chasing Amy Kevin Smith movies: that he's pretty much a tired, two-trick pony whose jus' folks hipster geek persona masks a furious ego, and that he's doomed to eventually be the center square. But I will admit that, when I saw it a few weeks after 9/11, my friend Dave and I laughed our asses off. Yes, it's stupid, sophomoric and self-regarding, but it's willingness to do anything to squeeze a chuckle from its viewers was precisely what I needed in that moment.

4) Best Movie of 1947

Out of the Past, for reminding us that we never learned anything by listening to ourselves speak, and that we should always be smoking.

5) Burt Reynolds was the Bandit. Jerry Reed was the Snowman. Paul LeMat was Spider. Candy Clark was Electra. What’s your movie handle?

Spider-pig, Cinephile, "Cohen!"-- people call me lots of things. Some of which are even printable!

6) Robert Vaughn or David McCallum?

Bullitt, The Magnificent Seven, the only man who retains a shred of dignity in Superman III-- there's a lot to be said for Napoleon Solo, especially since Vaughn is making something of a comeback as the charming old man among grifters on the BBC show Hustle.

7) Most exotic/unusual place/location in which you've seen a movie

Tie: the wintery landscapes of Fargo and the equally cold landscapes of Orson Welles' imagination in Citizen Kane.

UPDATE: Wait, I just re-read the question and realized it was asking me for the exotic place I've seen the movie, not the exotic place in the movie (damn speed reading through the questions!). Hmm...well, none of these places are 'exotic' in the John Pierson sense of the word, but as someone whose favorite scene in Radio Days is when the young Woody (Seth Green) goes to the movie palace (the launching pad of desire), I recall fond memories of the State Theater in Kalamazoo, an old palace from the 40s, where I saw many a Disney Christmastime matinee as a child, and Chicago's wonderful art deco gem, The Music Box, where I saw L'Atalante, The Bicycle Thief and Jules and Jim in glorious 35mm on consecutive Saturdays. I also remember watching Marilyn Monroe movies on a tiny TV in my dorm room on a late Saturday night, but that's probably because of the girl I was with. And the Cleveland Cinematheque is just cool and musty and old-school enough to make you think you're about to bump into Jean-Luc Godard or Henri Langlois at the coffee machine.

8) Favorite Errol Morris movie
The Thin Blue Line. Sue me, I'm a traditionalist. But you can't go wrong with that surreal Burger King cup and the insistently avant-noir scoring of Phillip Glass. I've taught it several times, and it never gets old.

9) Best Movie of 1967

Man, is any question on this list not boomer-driven? (: Well, La Chinoise is pretty good. Bonnie and Clyde always makes a nice wedding gift. You might see if they're registered anywhere, and maybe a place-setting, some silverware, or a bit of Point Blank, The Graduate, Fahrenheit 451 or Belle du Jour. Okay, let's get two! Go get 'em.

10) Describe a profoundly (or not-so-profoundly) disturbing moment you’ve had courtesy of the movies

Sitting in a theater watching the Coens' wretched remake of The Ladykillers, everyone around me laughing while I remain silent and want to slink out of the theater to take a shower and get the stink of the picture off my cinephiliac body; suffering through the racist, reactionary, hipster "Just Say No" commercial that was Requiem For A Dream, and realizing that it's the indie version of a Michael Bay movie-- all pyrotechnics designed to 'shock and awe' you (and at least Bay is honest about his hackery).

11) Anne Francis or Julie Newmar?

12) Describe your favorite one sheet (include a link if possible)

13) Best Movie of 1987

Gosh, is it *batteries not included or Superman IV: The Quest for Peace? I wrack my brain, wrestle like Bobby Petrino with the consequences my decision will create. Then I think, "Silly! Of course it's Amazon Women on the Moon!" I smile, relieved..until I remember Steven Seagal in Above the Law, and then the anxiety starts all over again.

If I were more seriously inclined (ha!), I'd add that the responsible, earnest, Linus Van Pelt-like side of me would say it's a tie between John Patrick Shanley's delirious ode to urban love, Moonstruck, and Steven Spielberg's most underrated film, the masterful Empire of The Sun. Although Broadcast News is pretty great, too. Tell you what-- let's meet at the place where we did that thing that one time, and we'll let all these films slug it out.

14) Favorite movie about obsession

Annie Hall.

15) Your ideal Christmas movie triple feature
Meet Me In St. Louis, The Godfather and Shop Around The Corner.

16) Montgomery Clift or James Dean?

At the risk of offending Michael Stipe, it's no contest-- Dean was great (I think his performance in Giant is underrated), but Montgomery Clift was extraordinary, his work both highly stylized and utterly involving in a way that neither Dean nor Brando is for me. His scene around the pool table with Elizabeth Taylor in A Place In The Sun is enough to earn him icon status, but I also treasure his quiet, conflicted priest in I Confess, his cocky young cowboy in Red River and his doomed performance in The Misfits. I haven't even named half his performances, but that list alone gives you a sense of his range. Bonus points for showing up in a Clash lyric, "The Right Profile."

17) Favorite Les Blank Movie
Well, I've only seen one, but it's a monster: Burden of Dreams.

18) This past summer food critic Anton Ego made the following statement: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” Your thoughts?

"When I was a critic, I thought as a filmmaker; now that I'm a filmmaker, I think as a critic. It's all one, it's all a continuum. The idea is to approach it from whatever side suits you best."-- Jean-Luc Godard

19) The last movie you watched on DVD? In a theater?
In theaters: Enchanted.

On DVD: Surf's Up.

And I liked them both, in case you were wondering.

20) Best Movie of 2007

This is a hard question, as I live in a small town, intermittently get to the big city for movies, and have yet to see the films all the kids are ravin' about, like There Will Be Blood, Sweeney Todd, Juno and No Country for Old Men. That said, I loved Paris, Je T'Aime, Breach, Spider-Man 3 and Ratatouille; was charmed by Once, Waitress and Hairspray; found myself pleasantly surprised by a trio of Shia The Beef films which were much better than they had any right to be (Transformers, Surf's Up and Disturbia); scratched my head at the hosannas for the alternately gripping and frustrating Zodiac; laughed hard at Superbad; and sat gobsmacked at the batshit audacity of Across The Universe. I also loved this movie made by two Oberlin students for a colleague's French New Wave class. For all that cinematic goodness, no movie, for me anyway, could match the texture, warmth, visual style and everyday heartbreak of the first season of Friday Night Lights, which I'm almost through on DVD, and thoroughly enjoying.

21) Worst Movie of 2007

So far, I'd have to say Beowulf, with the caveat that I couldn't get through La Vie en Rose, which a friend of mine termed The Passion of the Piaf.

22) Describe the stages of your cinephilia

Wow! That would take a whole separate post.

23) What is the one film you’ve had more difficulty than any other in convincing people to see or appreciate?

I think it depends on the audience: it's often difficult to convince my hipster students that a movie like Superman Returns is worth their time, while for my family, it's movies like Slacker or Memento. The most intriguing frustration I've had recently, though, was with Sullivan's Travels, a seeming crowd-pleaser that got a generally negative response in a class on Hollywood. Some of the students were frustrated that Sullivan (spoiler alert!) didn't end up making O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but I suspect from their remarks that the biggest frustration was the film's refusal to "settle" on a tone or genre, or to offer an easy binary of good/bad, political/non-political: it's a nimble film (that's its brilliance), and I think that fleet-footedness, and lack of stylistic coherence, was frustrating for folks who sometimes like their meanings to be what a colleague calls "portable" (i.e., "here's the theme in one sentence").

24) Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth?

Put the blame on Mame, but remember-- You'll Never Get Rich.

25) The Japanese word wabi denotes simplicity and quietude, but it can also mean an accidental or happenstance element (or perhaps even a small flaw) which gives elegance and uniqueness to the whole. What film or moment from a film best represents wabi to you?

Three-- John Garfield stumbling over his lines while shoving pancakes in his mouth in Gentleman's Agreement; Marlon Brando improvising in On The Waterfront by not giving Eva Marie Saint her glove back (companion piece: Brando going against script and accepting, rather than declining, the wine in the garden with MIchael in The Godfather: "I don't know-- lately, I drink a lot of wine," forcing Pacino to play along: "It's good for you, Pop."); and Jean-Pierre Leaud laughing at an offscreen Francois Truffaut asking him about his sex life, in The 400 Blows.

26) Favorite Documentary

Michael Apted's Up series-- yeah, it's probably a cliche to say so, but there's a reason for that: this is the most extraordinary document of humanistic love and inquiry this side of Jean Renoir, as funny as a Sturges comedy and as gripping as Hitchcock. I devoured the whole thing in a period of a couple of months last year, and it was 2006's best viewing experience.

27) Favorite opening credit sequence

Bond credits are generally good (even for turkeys like the 1967 Casino Royale), and I also love those for The Pink Panther and Superman, but I'm going to toss up another tie: Vertigo and Bunny Lake Is Missing. Saul Bass was a genius, and what stands out for me about those two is how well he times the images to the music: Bernard Hermann's nightmarish string-and-horn sections floating in tandem with Bass's geometric hallucinations, and Paul Glass's fragile, quiet chords acting as the perfect sonic accompaniment for Bass' ripped screen, both hinting at (but not revealing) the film's outcome.

28) Is there a film that has influenced your lifestyle in a significant or notable way? If so, what was it and how did it do so?

Breathless made me fall in love with the French New Wave, primarily because I was in love with the girl I went with. At the risk of being all Stan Leeish in my self-promotion, I wrote more about that here.

29) Glenn Ford or Dana Andrews?

Dana Andrews, but I'd prefer Joel McCrea to either.

30) Make a single prediction, cynical or hopeful, regarding the upcoming Academy Awards

That musicals and comedies might get as much recognition as hipster dramas, overlong biopics and tired social problem films this year. But that's a longshot-- what I know for certain is that a lot of critics and bloggers will jostle to become the new Roger Ebert by promoting and politicking the hell out of their favorites (The Coens already have a slew of online James Carvilles working on their behalf).

31) Best Actor of 2007
Remy the Rat. Or Shia The Beef-- I can't decide.

32) Best Actress of 2007
I think I'll let Josh R. settle this one, although you can't go wrong with Glenn Close or FNL's Connie Britton.

33) Best Director of 2007
tie: Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep) and Brad Bird (Ratatouille)

34) Best Screenplay of 2007

I haven't seen Darjeeling Limited yet, but Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's wonderfully smart balance of touching and deliriously raunchy in Superbad has to be up there somewhere. I also liked Adrienne Shelly's small-town sketches in Waitress, and the quietly gripping, complex unfolding of motive and meaning in Breach (Adam Mazar, William Rotko, Billy Ray).

35) Favorite single movie moment of 2007

The whoosh! into the past when Ego bites into the ratatouille, Ratatouille.

36) What’s your wish/hope for the movies in 2008?
Less CGI, more hand-drawn; less violence and more sex; a ban of Jon Heder from our screens; and for all the good film bloggers out there (you know who you are) to have a safe and happy new year.


Anonymous said…
Agree with you about Robert Vaughn, but David McCallum has achieved another hit tv series, with NCIS (the very charming Dr. Ducky Mallard). :)

Face it.. Illya was hot, and McCallum still has it. :)
Brian Doan said…
You know, I've only seen NCIS occasionally, but I agree that McCallum is fun on the show-- witty and very different from Illya. It's nice to see that both he and Vaughn are still getting opportunities on TV.
Greg said…
At the end you say, "Less CGI, more hand-drawn." Is this a true wish or one you say merely because if feels "correct." That is, as film fan/historian/teacher, hand-drawn plays to an aesthetic that is acceptable in cineaste community. I'm not trying to be a hard-ass, so please don't get me wrong, I'm just asking because you mention Ratatouille several times and are clearly impressed by it. And yet at the end you imply... well I don't know what you imply - probably nothing.

Why am I going on about this? I think because I hate CGI so much. In fact, I think I'll record my thoughts over at fish on the matter to clarify it in my head. But for now, just curious if you're going for an expected aesthetic with that statement, or do you generally believe hand-drawn is better? Or more to the point, could a movie like Ratattouille have been nearly as effective as a hand drawn film as it was with CGI? If not, why wouldn't you prefer CGI?
Brian Doan said…
Hi Jonathan,
I've tried posting this response twice already, and blogger seems to be acting wonkily, so hopefully multiple versions of it won't suddenly pop up onscreen. ANYway...

It's interesting that you raise that point in your comment, since it's something I thought about as I wrote. Part of me wants to use the Walt Whitman reason: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."

Except I don't realy think it's a contradiction. Please note that I said less CGI, not none. Ratatouille is an extraordinary film that couldn't be done in a hand-drawn style: it needs computer animation to create its shimmering Paris skylines, delectable food and wonderfully expressive faces, and it functions as a wonderful metacommentary on its subject matter: can one take this once-innovative form, which has since devolved into a mediorcre crutch, and make something new and tasty out of it? If all CGI films were as striking and fun as Brad Bird's (who also did wonders in the hand-drawn style in the underrated classic, The Iron Giant), I don't think I'd have any complaints at all. Unfortunately, the success of the semi-annual Pixar wonders has bred a lot of bad movies, and a laziness in approach (did anyone really enjoy Shrek 3, or Barnyard?) that doesn't use the form well at all.

I don't think I'm a Luddite, but watching Spirited Away with my students this fall, watching the animated sections of Enchanted, watching the old Looney Tunes stuff from the 40s, I was reminded of the pleasures of the hand-drawn style, its depth and breadth, and the fluidity of imagination it seems to encourage. Then I watch a wretched piece of shit like Beowulf or The Polar Express, and I weep that this might be the sole future of the form, if fetishists of the new and box office have the only say, and I feel like crawling into an uncanny valley myself (this, despite the delightful minor pleasures of recent CGI films like Bee Movie).

To make it short, I don't think I want an elimination of CGI so much as a space for hand-drawn, claymation and other animated forms: a diversity of approaches, rather than the increasing hegemony of one.
Greg said…
Excellent reply! I would have done well to read this before going off on my rant on my fishy site. I may have to do an update later... or just copy your comment over there.

P.S. I love Spirited Away!
Greg said…
P.S. I copied this comment to my post on The Synchronicity of Fish . Hope you don't mind.
Brian Doan said…
Copy my comment??!??!? NOOOOOOOoooooo....


Actually, no, that's cool-- I just love that Heston quote. (: And I'm flattered you wanted to include me in your post. I will head over there to commment now.

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