New DVDs 4-15-2008

Criterion’s very nice disc of “Blast of Silence,” Alan Baron’s New York indie noir from 1961, contains among its many other virtues some strikingly unvarnished images of Manhattan in the early 60s. Above is a view of St. Mark’s Place, where Baron’s main character, a lone-wolf contract killer, takes a room in a seedy hotel that still exists with only slight modifications.  Next door is the bathouse that would enter American social history when it was renamed “The Continental Baths” a few years later; New York cinephiles will of coure recognize it as the present day headquarters of the Kim’s Video empire — where, no doubt, “Blast of Silence” is on sale at a healthy discount.

And I have a few words on the latest “film de gore” from France, Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s “Inside” — the anti-“Juno” film par excellence, as Nathan Lee has pointed out.

It’s only mid-April, but I think we have a candidate for critic of the year.  Check out this perceptive analysis of “Sunrise” from the LA Times movie blog.

81 comments to New DVDs 4-15-2008

  • Richard von Busack

    I just want to walk right into that frame of Blast of Silence.
    I can match the stupidity of Tom O’Neill–about ten years ago someone at EW did an article about how Jim Carrey was funnier than Buster Keaton. I don’t have a link, but the conclusive evidence was “Buster never talked out of his ass, like Jim Carrey.” Though O’Neill is doing a pretty good job of talking out of his own.

  • Michael Worrall

    Digital Tramp wrote: “Who is its audience? I think “Sunrise” can hardly be considered “disreputable,” and the audience I think it attracts tends to be of a higher taste.’

    I was not implying “Sunrise” is disreputable, I was saying there are elements within it that are considered “low brow” and they may serve as the bridge between high and low art.

    I think it is important to remember that “Sunrise” was produced within the Hollywood studio system and that the intended audience was not just for a happy few. True, Fox wanted to make a prestige picture, but I think there are reasons why Murnau and Carl Mayer chose a very “simple” subject matter and story line. Murnau did not overlook the need to create an accessible commercial feature and Fox wanted it to make money.

  • Mike Grost

    There might be other problems with the reception of “Sunrise” vs “Wings”.
    Tom O’Neill likes “Wings”, a war story filled with combat, killing and uniforms. He can’t stand the love story “Sunrise”. His favorite film seems to be “Titanic”, in which special effects show hundreds of people dying in agony.
    Like many contemporary viewers, O’Neill seem obsessed with violence, war and killing. Much pre-1970 culture has gone “invisible” to today’s crowd, who value only violence. That is one reason we are in Iraq: because many people are caught up in sick values that glorifies war, torture and killing.
    One has to remember that “Sunrise” has a political dimension. It is a film about a man who renounces violence. O’Brien starts out as a man who thinks that violence can solve his problems. But then he renounces violence, and repents in tears in a church. He finds a new definition of masculinity, that does not encompass killing. Such a non-violent view of manhood is a direct threat to the core values of many people today. Violence is sold and sold and sold as the key to a (cheap) manhood. A man who rejects killing as trash is a threat to the whole Bush-conservative war-mongering world.

  • Michael Worrall

    Digital Tramp wrote: “My point was that it may be wishful thinking, especially to impassioned cineastes, that a Hou film would be received “with as much seriousness and equal consideration” by the general public as would “Starman.” ”

    I think you have misunderstood me in the last thread about low art/high art hierarchies. I was referring to what I expected from cinephiles and writers on film, not the general movie-going audience. People go to see films for various reasons and who am I to dictate how they should watch a film and respond to it. Like Blake, I do not want to make assumptions about who does or does not get “Sunrise”.

  • Michael Worrall

    correction: I think you may have misunderstood me.

  • DigitalTramp

    Blake Lucas, you are correct – the negative mail proves a happy MANY do (thankfully) appreciate “Sunrise.” As much as I, as well, don’t want to make assumptions about audiences, I was just intrigued as to why O’Neil didn’t get it, and, as it must be, what audience he represents, thus the divide I (reluctantly) suggested, and would deny if nonexistent.
    O’Neil’s represented audience? Many of Kehr’s posters (most recently, M. Gost) have already suggested various identities and their values.
    Looking forward to reading Kent Jones’ reply!

    Michael Worrall, I understood your points, and am thankful for the facts of the matter (“Sunrise”’s production), and completely agree with your expectations from cinephiles. I only questioned the implied power of the lowbrow elements in “Sunrise.” I was just suggesting that these elements may very well not serve as a bridge, and I brought up an assumed audience for “Sunrise” to consider this point. If there is lowbrow culture, who does it appeal to – who is it? – and are they (were they) watching “Sunrise?”

    But, I’ll admit, if the inebriated pig kept one person from leaving the theater who normally would have, and then that same person was enlightened to “Sunrise”’s other qualities, then, I stand corrected, and say “job well done!”

    And really, better yet, it was the cinephiles and Murnau fans who loved the pig!

  • jwarthen

    If the IMDb biography is correct, George O’Brien participated in World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam Wars– besides carrying his weight in Murnau’s glorious film (and several other good ones) and siring a major writer in Darcy O’B. A unique American life– I hope someone can refer me to a good biography.

  • Alex Hicks

    “If there is lowbrow culture” ?!
    Gee, DigitalTramp, it’s tough to know exactly what such a culture would be, but stipulate a definition and I do thinl it IS there to be found. Conceptually, there really isn’t any definitive statement of the three brows and their various precedents – like , J. S.Mill’s “strong stimuli for coarse minds” for the high and Matthew Arnold’s appreciators of the “best that has been written and said” for the high and the Virginia Wolf of the posthumously published “Middlebrow” for thee midbrow –or what she saw as “betwixt and between.” Dwight McDonalds” 1960 ”Masscult and Midcult,” which draws on mass society for its lowliest physionomy make perhaps the most systematic attempt as a summary statement. “Highbrow culture, to MacDonald, is,” to quote from Wikipedia with some semblance of a straight face, thast culture “associated with specialization for the connoisseurs, while lowbrow culture entails folk products made authentically for specific communities. Mass culture, masscult, copies, and manipulates both these traditions, with factory creations made without innovation or care expressly for the market “pleas[ing] the crowd by any means.” Vanderbilt’s Richard A. Peterson makes havoc of this with his claim, half postmodern repudiation of cultural hierarchy, as least of genres and ethnic/national cultures, half empirical induction from surveys of consumer culture, that today both connoisseurs and the general population tend to be “omnivorse” finding quality little bounded by received social distinctions. Certainly non-connoisseurs with a taste for the classically coarse stimuli of sex and violence and “vulgar” humor could be called “low brow and teir out there. However, as each “brow” is not just receiving audience but a targeted one, and as great directors, like playwrite Skakespeare, have often won the highbrow term for their product without spurning either lowbrow contents or audience, film had got quite a lot of “lowhigh” puzzles.

  • Professor Echo

    I have to say that having read all the responses here to the offending critique of SUNRISE prior to reading said piece, I now have to ask: What is all the fuss about? Why does anyone invest any care and concern in what this particular person opines, whether it’s for or against? Is it just his connection to the L.A. Times that incurs wrath enough to somehow legitimize or de-legitimize(if such a word exists?) his point-of-view? If so, why? Who has any expectations for anyone in the media anymore to convey a honest, lucid, learned perspective? And who puts any faith in the Los Angeles Times, a sad little rag that sold its soul to hypocritical editorializing, superficial fact checking and monumentally trivial celebrity worship long ago. If any offense called for ignoring it outright or at least rising above it, this silly little, albeit pathetic, incident is it. There is a reason why such adages as CONSIDER THE SOURCE become such adages. In the context of what this person wrote, all this umbrage is much ado about nothing. It has led to interesting detours, yes, as such things can happen in the nature of message boards, but still, after reading his article or whatever you want to call it, I see absolutely no reason to have ever taken this person, his affiliation or his opinions about anything seriously. One must choose one’s battles and this one ain’t worth a hill of beans.

  • Kent Jones

    Blake, I apologize for appearing to be corrective. I meant that the employment of a guy like O’Neill is financially driven, as opposed to a reflection of the greater culture.

    Mike, I’m sympathetic to your argument, but if I remember the film correctly, O’Brien doesn’t exactly renounce violence: he’s pretty rough on Margaret Livingston when he returns from the city.

    I echo Alex’s thoughts on questions of high/low culture. The “low comedy” in SUNRISE has nothing on the “low comedy” in Shakespeare, or in Renoir, for that matter.

    I also think that Alex makes a very good point when he employs the word “targeted.” It seems to me that brows are constantly shifting, from high to low to middle and back again, and that the rigid defining is a result of the currently dominant brand of thinking modeled on advertising.

    The fretting over the word “elitist” is similar if not identical to anxiety over the word “liberal.” In private, we can all be as elitist as we like. In public, we worry about it. Politicians worry about it for fear of alienating their constituencies, potential and actual. But why should film lovers worry about it? Every good film is meant to be seen and appreciated by as many people as possible. Some filmmakers think in terms of real audiences, others in terms of future or ideal audiences. Some filmmakers make films during moments or in cultures that are relatively friendly to artistic ambition, others are not so lucky. But among the many things that the French New Wave taught us, one of the most important is that we shouldn’t worry about the high-low distinctions between Hawks and Bresson and Hitchcock and Dreyer and Hou and Carpenter.

    Whenever anyone throws out the charge of elitism, even if it’s a guy like O’Neill, it sticks. And it shouldn’t. It’s almost always politically or economically motivated, rarely observational, so the effort to identify a common level of taste and then wonder about how much or how little you depart from it doesn’t yield much beyond worry. The best thing you can do to combat it is to insist on common terms – logic, clarity, civility, mutual respect. Which, Professor Echo, is exactly what many of those who responded to O’Neill did quite eloquently.

    My long-winded way of saying that if you love SUNRISE, don’t waste you time worrying about how accessible it is to others.

  • Professor Echo

    I certainly don’t dispute nor disagree with the eloquence of many of the responses, just the extent of the ideas and ideals behind it.

    At some point I think you have to acknowledge that this person did what many commentators in the media and certainly bloggers do and that is not to present any insightful observations and deductions, but to provoke a reaction by any means necessary. Read his piece again and you’ll see that he isn’t doing much beyond being contrary for its own sake, starting the fire and then gleefully watching it burn. I enjoy some of the discussion it has engendered, but only because much of it has transcended the impetus for it with, as Kent said, “logic, clarity, civility and mutual respect.” Then again, to use message board parlance, a troll is a troll and the fact remains that this troll is probably never going to “get it.” He’s no doubt already moved on to his next fire with nary a lesson learned from the last one.

    If all the subsequent debate has been to publicly reinforce one’s own position or to perhaps help enlighten the more impressionable of his readers, those who may naively take him at his word, fair enough. But to think your hard fought eloquence is ever going to prove illuminating for this particular blogger is, most likely, a proposition doomed to failure. More’s the pity, but my guess is that he thrives on all the attention paid him, but none of the intention behind it.

  • Kent Jones

    I don’t think it’s important that he learn a lesson – that he won’t is to be expected. But if others read the blog, at least they can see that it’s possible to approach the issue thoughtfully.

  • Blake Lucas

    Professor Echo-I have to second Kent even as I’m sure we all acknowledge you are right that we cannot and should not take O’Neill seriously. Remember, that Dave initially linked this piece with a lightly witty, facetious phrase, and didn’t say “Let’s all worry about this…”

    I haven’t had the impression that anyone here is worried about SUNRISE’s reputation or feel that its artistry is any way diminished–I know I’m not and have said so before. O’Neill did put up that poll of eight films from that year (and it’s interesting to notice what great 1927-1928 films are not on it and that I’m guessing he is not even aware of), and not surprisingly at this point SUNRISE has more than 50% of the vote for all eight films, way ahead of any of the others.

    But people are naturally upset when a know-nothing can get a job writing about movies at all–and getting paid for it, even granted the context of crass considerations of newspapers and such venues (BTW, though I acknowledged earlier still subscribing to the Times I hasten to add that I have never even opened “The Envelope”–which is included every Thursday–which I now see has been a good impulse; the O’Neill piece is the first thing I’ve ever read there).

    And on a higher level of motivation for the onslaught of responses, damn it, Echo, people just care about the films they love, the ones that have most deeply carried cinema’s finest artistic impulses as well as inspiring other great filmmakers. Look through that mail he got and that is really the through line that unites those letters and has animated the discussion here too.

    Just looking at his mail now, I noticed something that further verifies his credentials as “knowledgeable film critic and historian of pristine taste.” Someone mentioned TO BE OR NOT TO BE in relation to this whole thing (rather aptly), and O’Neill came back with it as a Mel Brooks film–since the writer used the word masterpiece I think it was clear to everyone which version he meant, and I had the distinct impression O’Neill is only aware of the Brooks.

  • DigitalTramp

    Gee, Alex Hicks, thanks for the schooling (sincerely). I said, “If there is lowbrow culture.” Bad word, “if.” Simply meant to ask: are the vulgarians embracing “Sunrise?” (Or is the low comedy and inebriated pig in the melodramatic “Sunrise” embracing the vulgarian in the connoisseur?)
    Either way, interesting, yes, the brows as targets (it’s got me looking over my shoulder) and Kent Jones’ point about the low yield of such classifications.

    Here in New York, looking forward to the “Hawksian action films” being shown at Anthology Film Archives in June – “Late Hawks.”

  • Dellamorte

    I asked to be Himmler, yeah. Seriously, if you invoke nazis, game over, you lost. O’Neil’s an idiot. Sadly he gets paid for it, but whatever. Having spent the last couple years on message boards, I’m altogether too familiar with people who make spectacularly horrible pronouncements about films that deserve more analysis, or better argued contrarianism. It’s par for the course. But everyone has the classics they don’t love like they should, or that David Thompson-esque blind spots for certain greats. It’s just you have to either concede their worth, or make a case.

  • Professor Echo

    I did say that the ensuing discussion certainly had merit, I just wish that it had been inspired by something as equally thoughtful instead of being provoked by such shallow, manipulative, cheap shot baiting. But there I go again trying to write the script for the rest of the world. Call me when you’re ready to shoot!;)

  • Professor Echo

    Hey Dave, pardon me if you already addressed this and I somehow missed it, but I’ve been wondering: What happened to all the other archived posts prior to this month?

  • Regarding New York films, I wanted to throw in Escape From New York for its trashed vision of the city, Planet of the Apes for perhaps an even more radically altered look, The Warriors and Enemies a Love Story for their views of Coney Island, and I guess Raging Bull for its period glimpse of a public swimming pool, among others.

    That O’Neil piece is a hoot and a half.

  • Kent Jones

    That swimming pool in RAGING BULL can be found on Leroy Street in the west village, and it still looks pretty much the same.

  • Alex

    Hey, doesn’t the world need mass consummer guides?

    Yeah, and shouldn’t also cinephiles be expected to get a little territorial about them at times (not to speak of the natural consternation of the “happy few” upon seeing shit smeared on the shinola).

    New York, New York!

  • chris_wells

    Kent, I’d just like to say that your recent forays into the world of blog commenting have been most welcome. Please keep it up!

  • Michael Dempsey

    The nocturnal exterior views of early-1980s upscale Manhattan hotels, apartment blocks, and avenues — as well as the swanky interiors where the “UHB” (urban haute bourgeois) hyper-trendy yet beleagured preppies hold their after-parties — in “Metropolitan” should be on any list of movies in which New York portrays itself at various times in its history.

  • Kent Jones

    Thank you, Chris.

    Let’s not forget THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, as long as we’re talking about Whit Stillman.

  • Professor Echo

    Has anyone mentioned THE TATTOOED STRANGER from RKO in 1950? That is loaded with great NYC location filming.

    Coppola’s YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW is filled with some wonderfully colorful scenes of Broadway and 42nd Street, circa the mid-60’s.

    An unlikely source for New York City panoramas, but nevertheless, GODSPELL was filmed all over Manhattan in the early 70’s.

  • Ben

    Kent,

    When is your book on HHH coming out? Your presence on these shore of blog comments is most welcome.

  • Kent Jones

    Thanks for the kind words, Ben. I don’t know about the HHH book. I have to finish a book on Ford for Cahiers du Cinéma first.

  • Stephen Cone

    Kent, I happily second/third the previous Welcome, Kent! posts. It’s been fun. I’ll add, too, that I never would’ve known Kurosawa’s Retribution existed if you hadn’t of mentioned the film in the recent Year-End Film Comment. Rented it and will watch it soon. Excited.

    (By the way, I think we posted something at approximately the same time on the morning (7:45ish) of the 18th and you may have missed my inquiry re: an old article of yours on Silence of the Lambs. Did I misread that information somewhere? Does it still exist? If you have a chance, let me know. Thanks!)

  • Kent Jones

    Stephen – Thank you. That’s an article I wrote for a now defunct Boston magazine called Visions. There were only a few issues.

  • Julian Pearce

    Dave, On your recommendation I got a copy of Inside, which I found dazzling. One note on your review: wouldn’t Beatrice Dalle’s “bondage corset” be a fake pregnancy-belly? Her back is turned when she removes it, and this lack of belly might be what tips off the cops that she’s not the expectant mother. That and the face, I suppose. This movie really deserves to be seen.

  • DamienB

    Blake Lucas wrote:

    “One more thing about O’Neill, and this kind of writing about films involved in Oscars (there is surely no need to comment further on what he said about SUNRISE, because his readers have done the job already). They always lead to comparisons that are not even that meaningful, and personally, it makes me a little sad that WINGS has to be the whipping boy in this case. It’s a
    completely different kind of film than SUNRISE,
    and while not in the same class with one of the greatest films ever made as a work of art, I consider it one of the best films of the talented if uneven William Wellman–not at all nondescript, benefitting from his own flying experience, and a success on its own terms.
    Really, most Best Picture Oscar winners have not been as good–it’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time here.”

    There’s a similar situation with “How Green Was My Valley”‘s consistently being denigrated as the film that won Best Picture instead of “Citizen Kane.” As far as I’m concerned, “Valley” is the best movie ever to win the Oscar (ironically, it just wasn’t the best movie of 1941).

  • jbryant

    Did Welles ever offer up an opinion of How Green Was My Valley. We know he revered Ford and supposedly watched Stagecoach repeatedly in preparation for Kane, and of course he chose frequent Ford collaborator Gregg Toland as his DP. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard Welles comment on Valley or what he thought of it winning the Oscar over Kane.