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One More Time

A striking image from Lupu Pick’s cautionary New Year’s Eve tale of 1924, “Sylvester: Tragödie einer Nacht,” reminds us that the hour is upon us to compile our ten best lists for 2011. My ten best is more like a two best — I don’t think I saw anything better than Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” and (to my own astonishment) Jason Reitman’s caustic and courageously unlikable “Young Adult.” But I missed a lot in the last twelve months and I’m open to suggestions, which I hope you folks will submit in great profusion.

308 comments to One More Time

  • Gregg Rickman

    Mike, Encore Westerns ran a marathon of the first couple of seasons of RAWHIDE a few days ago (and of LAREDO the day before, and very early GUNSMOKEs the day after); don’t know if this will become a habit or not. If you have that channel you can catch up pretty quickly, assuming you have nothing else to do with your time!

    In the 1970s I used to hie myself up to UCLA and watch their nitrate films on a Steenbeck. That’s where I saw ANGEL as well as THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN, and several Borzages. All were to say the least memorable. They most decidely had that “sheen” that Mark mentions. I rather doubt that this free-and-easy access policy is still in effect.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Kjellin threw in a very nice overhead shot into “Beyond the Sea of Death.” What an interesting career! Actor, Swedish protege of of Bergman, American tv mainstay.

    IMDB says his name was pronounced “Chell-in.” “Chillin’ with Kjellin” sounds like a good name for a blog devoted to tv directors… a job, as has been discussed here before, ideal for those below-the-radar craftsworkers who still use the basic vocabulary of film storytelling.

  • Johan Andreasson

    This is probably the way most Swedes still remember Alf Kjellin: as the romantic lead in DRIVER DAGG FALLER REGN (1946), one of Svensk Filmindusti’s biggest hits. The female lead is another future director: Mai Zetterling. Watch them chillin’ on this poster:

  • Monte Hellman’s “Road to Nowhere” is terrific, definitively one of the years best. It’s a shame that it never screened theatrically in Toronto. What is that about?
    “Road to Nowhere”, his first film in twenty-one years, is a great excuse for anyone to look over Hellman’s other films. They hold up. I just finished writing a review of “Road to Nowhere” on my website.
    If anyone is interested, here is the url :

  • David Cohen

    JBryant, THE STEEL TRAP was one of those movies that picked up steam even as it got more and more ridiculous. The parts were better than the whole.

  • dan

    NY Magazine reports that The Village Voice fired J. Hoberman…

  • My top films of 2011, in order of preference:

    J. EDGAR


    However, I did enjoy this second group of ten, again in order of preference:

    SUPER 8

    Here are ten pre-2011 discoveries in random order:

    PETER IBBETSON (Hathaway)
    LE MILLION (Clair)
    NOBODY’S CHILDREN (Matarazzo)
    BORN TO WIN (Passer)

    And ten more:

    THE CRAZIES (Romero)
    THE GAUNTLET (Eastwood)
    COMBAT SHOCK (Giovinazzo)
    RED LINE 7000 (Hawks)
    JUGGERNAUT (Lester)
    ULZANA’S RAID (Aldrich)
    THE INNOCENTS (Clayton)

    Thanks to Dave for hosting another year of top notch discussion and to all the contributors both frequent and occasional who make this such a lively and educational place. I tip my lid to you all….

  • Barry Putterman

    Sarris had kind words for Bernard Girard’s DEAD HEAT ON A MERRY-GO-ROUND but seemed to be under the impression that it was the start of his career. Girard had long experience in writing and directing for television during the 50s and early 60s and directed a few low budget features as well. I would like to put in a good word for a stark, tough “racial” western he did in the late 50s called RIDE OUT FOR REVENGE. It’s not quite in the stylistic league of Gerd Oswald’s westerns (few films are) but there is a long, slow walk down a deserted street taken by Vince Edwards and Frank De Kova that once seen, will long be remembered.

    If it is true that The Village Voice has fired Hoberman, it will probably draw more attention to the Voice than it has received in quite some time.

  • I knew I had forgotten something. On my short list of favourites of 2011, I forgot to include LAS ACACIAS (Pablo Giorgelli). Sorry!

    I saw THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO today and I was not amused. Boring and silly. I’ve tried on three occasions to read the novels but gave up due to the poor writing, and the film didn’t exactly make me want to give them another go. Of course the film looks good, and it has enough of Fincheresque scenes to satisfy the fans I suppose. Me, I just wish he had injected more life into the story.

  • Rob Leith

    Max Ophuls is my favorite director. My wife and I named our first dog after him, a basset hound whose furrowed look somehow conveyed some of the world-weary wisdom of Ophuls’s work. Letter from an Unknown Woman is without a doubt his American masterpiece, but I always thought that Caught, barely mentioned here, ranked second of the four Hollywood films. The Exile hasn’t come up at all, and it is the rarest of the bunch in my experience. Decades ago I made a Betamax tape (long ago discarded) of it off a UHF channel, a bad print that had been carelessly chopped up for the advertisements. Though it is the least of Ophuls’s postwar films, it contains a lovely final sequence in which Charles II (Douglas Fairbanks) gives up the woman with whom he has been spending time during his exile, with a superb tracking shot following his progress as he turns from the private life he wishes he could continue to his royal responsibilities, cutting afterwards, if I remember correctly, to a wonderful long shot in single of the woman he has sacrificed (and who has sacrificed him). For this part of the film alone I recommend it highly.

    My favorites of the newly released films I saw in 2011 were, in the order in which I saw them:

    Those films I saw for the first time and enjoyed most were:
    CLEO FROM 5-7 (I was a bit late getting to this!)
    IT ALL STARTS TODAY (Tavernier)
    SAFE CONDUCT (Tavernier)
    THE BLUEBIRD (Tourneur)

    Safe Conduct is a fascinating but uneven look at the French film-making industry in Paris during the Nazi occupation, with interesting references to figures like Carne and Clouzot.

  • David Bhekhirst

    It really saddens me about Hoberman.

  • Steve Elworth

    We knew that Jim’s firing was going to happen soon after the firing of all the long term writers in the last decade including what are now three major critics who each spent thirty years there, Hoberman, Giddins and Christgau. Now, it is only good for non-selective pets.

  • From the Philippines, I haven’t seen Brillante Mendoza’s Captive or Tikoy Aguiluz’s Asiong Salonga (a remake of a 1950’s film, about a Manila crime kingpin), but I hear good things about the latter–particularly the Director’s Cut (the producer’s sitting on that right now). There’s also a gay zombie film I’m trying to see that was actually more popular than the mainstream movies in the multiplexes…

    Some of our better films are Sari Dalena’s Ka Oryang (about women political prisoners in the Marcos regime) and Six Degrees of Separation from Lillia Cuntapay (a mockumentary on the career of an actual horror film character actress). Also Dennis Marasigan’s Anatomy of Corruption, from a classic Filipino play.

  • Actually the most fun I had all year wasn’t on the big screen: Mario O’Hara and Jon Red’s Sa Ngalan ng Ina (In the Name of the Mother) is a 16 hour plus retelling of Filipino political history for the past thirty years, done as a well-made TV soap. The ending is a tad too Pollyanna-ish but especially the first two weeks are terrific storytelling, equating politics with melodrama and melodrama with politics–the parallels are telling. The series os available for online streaming–not subtitled, sadly.

  • Gregg Rickman

    J. Hoberman has started a blog, at

    A good writer, with a good sense of the politics of everyday life. The VVM syndicate has been using him as a mainstay of its reviews in its chain of papers (LA Weekly, OC Weekly, SF Weekly, in California alone) for a long time now, so he actually had a wide, national readership, outside of just New York.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Rob Leith, Maurice Tourneur (director of THE BLUEBIRD) is a character in Tavernier’s SAFE CONDUCT. His career was spent in the teens and 20s as a major US director, and then in the 30s and 40s back in France. As coincidence would have it, I happened to be reading Alan Riding’s book “And the Show Went On” (2010), about the cultural life of Paris under the Nazis, today. It mentioned that Tourneur made more films for the German-financed Continental Films (six) than any other director. I haven’t seen any of them, however.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Barry, I did some more chillin’ for Kjellin this evening, and found that he did direct at least one theatrical feature in America, besides all those TV episodes: THE MCMASTERS (1969), a “racial” western (toughness unknown) with Brock Peters as a returning US soldier after the Civil War. Burl Ives and Nancy Kwan are also in the cast. Anyone?

    Joan Harrison had an eye for future inductees into Sarris’ “The American Cinema,” as in addition to Bernard Girard, Harvey Hart is also in Sarris’ hit parade (as Billy Wilder once called it) and also directed episodes of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR. Tonight’s episode, “Lonely Place,” was apparently one of the six episodes he directed for the show; Hart dwells oe’rmuch on Bruce Dern’s sadism as a home invading hobo, but brilliantly uses the bed shared by Teresa Wright and Pat Buttram (!) to visually indicate their imprisonment, by Dern and by their marriage.

  • Robert Garrick

    The Village Voice news is sad for many reasons. You can’t overstate the importance of that periodical to our endeavor here–the continuing intellectual development of the auteur theory in the United States. Andrew Sarris began his career at Film Culture, but his French-influenced auteur writing really got going at the Voice (and also at Film Comment). His first Voice review (for which he caught a lot of grief at the time) was a rave review of “Psycho.”

    When I first arrived in Manhattan in 1976, after spending my entire life out west, I grabbed a copy of the Voice, opened it to the film section, and saw a picture of Sam Fuller. I got a chill from that and I remember thinking: “This is home.”

    But, as many have noted, the Hoberman news is not surprising, not is it the worst firing at the Voice. How could they have let Gary Giddins go? To me, the first dead canary came when the Voice dropped Ben Katchor’s “Julius Knipl” comic, about twenty years ago. “Knipl” was, I thought, the greatest, coolest, most profound comic strip drawn in America, and I couldn’t believe that the Voice would be lame enough to ax it. But as it turned out, that was just the beginning of the ball rolling downhill.

    For his sake and for ours, I hope Jim finds steady employment somewhere, and continues to write on a regular basis. And for the record, I miss Dave Kehr’s weekly film reviews too. The DVD column is great, but “When Movies Mattered” reminded me of how important and extraordinarily good his regular reviews were. Nobody has replaced him.

  • nicolas saada

    I always had a soft spot for andrew and virginia stone’s films. There are some very good things in CRY TERROR for instance. When you look at these movies one sometimes wonders why minor films like BLAST OF SILENCE get such cult status when in fact, there’s as much “pulp” and excitement in films like STEEL TRAP or CRY TERROR. What I like about both of them is the lack of psychology, a sort of dry look at the characters. CRY TERROR is the best of their body of work.
    We discussed television in other threads. MY DAY WITH CARUSO is perhaps one of the most beautiful films made for television. It aired on French tv 25 years ago and I taped it forvSerge Daney. It became one of his favorites. Tv aesthetic never hampers this short achievement. I noticed that TV aesthetics ruled the look of Late fifties and early sixties studio films, from THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE to Lang’s BEYOND A RESONABLE DOUBT. I was surprised also when I realized that there is a series of sixties studio films of the period that break the aesthetic but often deal with similar themes: psychiatric internship for instance. As if the “auteurs” unconsciously had to create an aesthetic within the world of the mentally deranged. At the time when the real world seemed deranged through the eyes of European filmmakers like Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni or Godard, Hollywood personal directors had to use the excuse of madness to build a new aesthetic: PSYCHO, SCHOCK CORRIDOR, THE MIRACLE WORKER, A CHILD IS WAITING, DAVID AND LISA , LILITH, SECONDS. It’s not of course a general rule ( kazan, lumet, minnelli and others worked around the tv aesthetics) but it’s a very interesting fact….

  • Peter Hogue

    Gregg, re: Maurice Tourneur’s films from the period of the Occupation: three of them came out on DVD in France in late 2010 and all of them have a place on my (soon-to-be posted) list of vintage first-timers for 2011. CECILE EST MORTE is a very good Maigret mystery (with Albert Prejean playing the inspector). LE VAL D’ENFER is a noirish relationship drama with Ginette LeClerc (the femme fatale from Clouzot’s LE CORBEAU) playing a more maidenly sort of femme fatale. LA MAIN DU DIABLE, a kind of cross between FAUST and THE HAND OF ORLAC with Pierre Fresnay in the central role, is the best of the three, and it’s also the film which Tavernier has Tourneur and LeChanois chat about in SAFE CONDUCT. I think the Maigret gets mention there too.

  • Nicolas Saada (January 5, 2012 at 2:33 am), I agree about THE DAY I MET CARUSO. “Be worthy of thy gift”.

    Yet another example of tv aesthetics is RIO BRAVO, of which Robin Wood once claimed that there is not a single beautiful shot in it. I once saw a terrible tv transmission of it full of static, yet, galvanized, I could not move until it was over.

  • What the Village Voice did will ultimately damage the paper more than Jim Hoberman — you can’t buy that kind of stature and credibility. But the Voice seems doomed to oblivion anyway: in the last few months it’s shrunk to the size of a neighborhood shopper. They still have some good freelancers there and I hope they can hang on.

  • Barry Lane

    Pat Buttram was well thought of in his day. An interesting idea to put him with Wright.

  • Brian Dauth

    Growing up, I either had to get my Dad to bring home The Village Voice from the city or make sure that we stopped at the local stationery store to get one of the two copies they got in every week. My parents were sometimes dubious about the material in the front of the paper, but I always opened to the middle to read Andrew Sarris and J. Hoberman — it took me a while to realize that there were articles before the reviews that might interest me. Sarris and Hoberman were two poles of a dialectic which I moved between as I started to acquire my film education. It was because of Hoberman that I started going to Chinatown to watch all these great Hong Kong movies and learn that there were alternative ways to watch/understand a movie. With the firing of J. Hoberman, my last rationale for reading the Voice or going to its website has vanished. Nice that they let him do all the work of a year-end wrap up and then fire him.

  • Johan Andreasson

    A guest spot on ”Chillin’ with Kjellin” should be saved for director and actor Gunnar Hellström, who had a career not unlike Kjellin’s.

    He started out at the Royal Dramatic Theatre as an actor in the 1950s and then became both actor and director in films. His most famous Swedish film is SIMON SYNDAREN (Simon the Sinner, 1954).

    Like Kjellin he had a career in the U.S., as a TV director, mainly on series like Gunsmoke (33 episodes) and Dallas. He also had a few television roles, including one as a Swedish billionaire in Dallas in 1989.

  • mark gross

    “Barry, I did some more chillin’ for Kjellin this evening, and found that he did direct at least one theatrical feature in America, besides all those TV episodes: THE MCMASTERS (1969), a “racial” western (toughness unknown) with Brock Peters as a returning US soldier after the Civil War. Burl Ives and Nancy Kwan are also in the cast. Anyone?”

    Gregg Rickman:

    I saw THE MCMASTERS at the Lyric on 42nd Street in the Summer of 1970. I had never heard of the director but I went to see the film on the basis of the cast, especially Brock Peters & Burl Ives, who were both excellent. It’s been more than 40 years, so my memory is a little vague.

    The film seemed very low-budget, set mostly in one generic western street set, and a spare-looking farm. There was very little in the way of visual beauty, almost no vistas of surrounding landscape that one would expect in a Western, but the pacing (as would fit an experienced television director)was very precise and focused on presenting the character relationships and the conflicts in an exciting manner that was almost “invisible”, through the use of editing and composition (especially spelling out character relationships by the way actors were placed in the frame, reminiscent of late Allan Dwan) that continually moved the story forward. In other words, the film was directed more like a play, focusing on character interactions, and less like a typical movie Western.

    At the end, I remember there were a number of overhead shots from above that intensified the violent action, were visually elegant, with an emphasis on the color red, and also enabled a viewer to objectively see, through the placement of the actors, what was going on dramatically, which I found very emotional.

    Other than that, though, most of the film was done in master shots, usually at eye level, and not particularly stylishly. I have a feeling that most of the film, excepting the action climax, was shot very quickly, and with multiple cameras, television style. The beginning of the film was so bland visually (at least to my taste at the time)that I was thinking of leaving, but became completely caught up in the film due to the pacing and direction of the actors.

    Because I haven’t seen this film in over 40 years, some of these specifics may be faulty, but overall I remember thinking the film was terrific. Also, I think this may have been Brock Peters’ best performance. The politics of the film was also interesting, focused on the point of view of a black Union Solider, but because the action was character-based, the “racial” theme and liberal politics was very subtle, which was quite unusual for a 1970’s film.

  • Barry Putterman

    Pat Buttram is still well thought of by “Green Acres” fans worldwide.

    The unusual aspect of THE MCMASTERS was that it was released with two different endings; a tragic ending and a melodramatically happy ending. As I recall, theaters were permitted to show either ending or alternate them on different days. In any event, I only saw it on a black and white TV set some time during the 70s (and I don’t recall which ending was shown) and couldn’t comment on its quality at this point.

    In terms of U.S. film history, Kjellin might be thought of as a lower profile Paul Henreid. That is, a European actor who became a prolific director of series TV episodes with an occasional theatrical film thrown in.

    I would think that J. Hoberman’s future is in less jeopardy than “The Village Voice’s” is at this point.

  • mark gross

    “Yet another example of tv aesthetics is RIO BRAVO, of which Robin Wood once claimed that there is not a single beautiful shot in it. I once saw a terrible tv transmission of it full of static, yet, galvanized, I could not move until it was over.”


    In reference to Hawk’s RIO BRAVO, I guess it all depends what you mean by “beautiful.”
    I think Robin Wood may have actually meant “panoramic” or “lyrical” because RIO BRAVO is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. It’s not a film that wears its beauty on its sleeve, and is certainly attuned to the dramatic pacing and focused visuals of tv, taking place mostly on one Western street or a few spare interior sets, but RIO BRAVO, in its subtle use of the dynamics of space and color, especially on a big screen, is utterly stunning, much more so, I would say, that self-consciously “epic” films such as THE BIG COUNTRY.

    I first saw RIO BRAVO at the Roxy in 1958, and was completely blow away. Even on a tiny screen, though, those qualities come through. I once attended a class taught by Fred Camper at NYU where he put the first scene from RIO BRAVO on a flatbed Moiveola and analyzed all the color and frame relationships in the first five minutes of the film for two hours, and I must tell you that there isn’t another film that’s as visually expressive, except perhaps VERTIGO. And yes, RIO BRAVO is a film that you can’t stop watching, no matter how many times one has seen it before.

  • mark gross

    Thanks, Barry, for that info about the two endings for THE MCMASTERS. I’m not certain which ending I saw either, but based on my memory of the intense way I felt at the end of the film, I believe it was the tragic ending.

  • …and here are the votes from the Finnish jury… the second entry after Antti’s typically fascinating, knowledgeable and inspiring list.

    I also found this “problem film” enormously interesting and cinematically rich – a socially conscious film in Hitchcock’s style. Like “a who done it” about the inticacies of Iranian life. The actors and actresses were absolutely gorgeous: beautiful, handsome, intelligent, charismatic and professional. “Nader” was more handsome than Clooney, and “Simin” more beautiful than the greatest Hollywood stars.

    2. DRIVE
    The film had its stylized heart on its sleeve, but I was won over by this pastiche film noir, and especially the love story and the sacrifice the criminal made for the family’s well being, in the way of Shane before. The violence, however, was a bit too much. I’ve had a conversation with some Finnish film makers recently, and they did not like the film, especially the slow motion carrying of the child…

    3. SKIN I’M IN
    Return to form for Almódovar. Only the second film not Almó scripted? And I didn’t think much of CARNE TREMULA. But this reminded me not so much of Fritz Lang but Buñuel in the Archibaldo de la Cruz mode. A delightfully cool film, but with a final homecoming to bring you to tears. Wonderful.

    I only saw it this year on DVD. What a fine debut! A gangster family to rival THE GODFATHER, and a gangster mother to rival Brando! Tight and economical in style. Really good.

    Perhaps not the best Mike Leigh, but very enjoyable none the less. The central performance in the role of the tragic, lonely middle age lady was perhaps a little over the top, but it was touching and powerful. You’re very thankful of Leigh’s thoughtful films, even if they are not masterpieces every time, they offer things of awesome beauty and resonance.

    I only saw Xavier Beauvois’ film this year, and liked it much.

    “Joe” the director was at Sodankylä Midnight Sun Film Festival last summer, but hearing his thoughts on the film did not reduce the film’s mystery. Beautiful and timeless. Weerasethakul does not want to “kill the film” the audience has seen by explanations. Thank you!

    On the more popular side of filmmaking I enjoyed (8) TOAST, (9) SUPER 8 (I had a Super 8 camcorder myself!), which were both coming of age stories – TOAST was much better than the other British youngster film SUBMARINE and (10) X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (I like the firs two Bryan Singer X-Men films and this was a good prequel in the same vein about friends torn apart.

    “Opening nights” on DVD were as wonderful as the ones in the movie theatre. Tourneur’s STARS IN MY CROWN was released finally on DVD (Warner On Demand) and is such a revelation, and Skolimowski’s DEEP END was even better than I rememberd from the 70s – on Blu-ray and BFI FLIPSIDE’s great double pack with nice extra materials.

    Also I had to rearrange my thoughts on Elia Kazan after seeing AMERICA, AMERICA (what a fine filmic glimpse of the Armenian genocide in the opening minutes), it was a companion piece to Scorsese’s A LETTER TO ELIA, also seen at Sodankylä. Here in Finland Visconti’s THE LEOPARD for the first time on DVD – and also Kubrick’s exciting and exact THE KILLING.

    I wasn’t as pleased with LE HAVRE as Antti, but only because I compared it with – to me – Kaurismäki’s masterpieces MAN WITHOUT A PAST and THE MATCH FACTORY GIRL.

    MELANCHOLIA had a good start for a film, but without it’s final moments it would have looked like great fashion photography or an art video. I thought the measuring thing the child had made to watch the coming planet to be some kind of a metaphor for the vehicle of cinema, and the tepee built from branches a metaphor for creativity and art: we cannot but be creative even in the face of doom. And in this film the art, the building of the tepee, seemed to have a therapeutic effect for the characters as well the film audience. Beautiful, especially with the Wagner music to bring to mind Buñuel and Dalí’s UN CHIEN ANDALOU. But the middle section was rubbish, lazy filmmaking, uninspired improvisation, visual name dropping of familiar star faces with nothing interesting to do (Skarsgaard Snr. as an over familiar business type, John Hurt a boring father in a role that was really a cameo, Charlotte Rampling mistreated as a pain in the neck). It was poor FESTEN, and even the original was not made by “von” Trier. But at least it was better than the awful and heavy handed ANTICHRIST.

    Happy new year 2012, everybody!

  • Norman Lloyd told me that Alf Kjellin’s name was pronounced “shell-een,” like Lee Marvin’s character in CAT BALLOU. If that’s incorrect, it would be helpful to me if our Swedish correspondents chimed in (although I suppose Kjellin could’ve modified it to make it easier for American tongues). Lloyd admired Kjellin’s work, and that of a lesser-known Hungarian expat named Josef Leytes, for a quality of Germanic heaviness (even though neither of them was German), and tried to match them to scripts that benefitted from that whenever possible.

    The HITCHCOCK HOURs are very different from the cheaper-looking half-hour version and are probably underrated relative to it. Lloyd took a more active role in producing the HOUR and it’s possible to get a sense of his personality throughout, as well as those of other legitimate auteurs, both writers and directors, including Girard, Bridges, Kjellin, and … well, those of you following the show now will have fun picking them out for yourselves. One example: the mysterious Boris Sobelman, who wrote a few really funny black comedies for HITCHCOCK HOUR and THRILLER, and very little else of consequence.

  • Jim Gerow

    Great lists from everyone. I very much liked YOUNG ADULT. Since I haven’t managed to whittle down my own list yet, I’ll post Jim Hoberman’s final VV top 10 list instead as a tribute to his more than three decades of amazing work so far.

    1. A DANGEROUS METHOD (David Cronenberg)
    2. MELANCHOLIA (Lars von Trier)
    3. MYSTERIES OF LISBON (Raúl Ruiz)
    4. AURORA (Cristi Puiu)
    6. TO DIE LIKE A MAN (João Pedro Rodrigues)
    7. UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
    8. HUGO (Martin Scorsese)
    9. J. EDGAR (Clint Eastwood)
    10. UNITED RED ARMY (Koji Wakamatsu)

    Plus two non-theatrical film events:
    THE CLOCK (Christian Marclay)
    MILDRED PIERCE (Todd Haynes)

    I agree that Hoberman will come out of all this far better than the Voice. His last review, in characteristic Hoberman juxtaposition, is of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s great ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA and Ken Jacobs’s SEEKING THE MONKEY KING.

    I have a treasured copy of the Village Voice Film Guide signed by both Sarris and Hoberman, the latter “From One Jim to Another.”

    I’ve also been watching some of the Hitchcock Hour episodes. One of the best, and I don’t remember who directed it, featured John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands as a murderous acting couple.

  • Matthew

    With Rosenbaum and now Hoberman no longer actively involved in critiquing new releases, I’m at a bit of a loss about where to turn next. Who else today writes with depth and regularity about new films, placing them in their historical context and challenging the status quo without waxing academic? I’d be grateful for any recommendations.

  • “Yet another example of tv aesthetics is RIO BRAVO, of which Robin Wood once claimed that there is not a single beautiful shot in it.”

    Antti, are you sure that Wood was talking about “Rio Bravo”? I know he said something like this about “El Dorado.”

    I was disappointed by “J.Edgar”; it seemed to me not very different from “The Iron Lady”, both acting vehicles for their respective stars with little to say about the momentous political decisions they made or were part of.

    In the case of “J.Edgar” there are two falsifications that are never corrected, namely the bombing of A. Mitchell Palmer’s house and the gun fight in Centralia, both attributed to communists.

    Eastwood didn’t give any context to the Palmer bombing and in fact it was committed by an anarchist follower of the insurrectionist Luigi Gaellani.

    Eastwood shows a sniper firing on the Armistice Day marchers that Hoover attributes to communists. Instead, there was a pitched gun battle between American Legionnaires and Wobblies in front of the IWW Hall.

    Tolson corrects Hoover’s account of previous episodes but let’s these stand; these two incidents were political and the others Hoover narrates were merely self-serving.

  • “Some of our better films are Sari Dalena’s Ka Oryang (about women political prisoners in the Marcos regime) and Six Degrees of Separation from Lillia Cuntapay (a mockumentary on the career of an actual horror film character actress). Also Dennis Marasigan’s Anatomy of Corruption, from a classic Filipino play.”

    I’d love to see these Noel. When I lived in Hawai’i I was able to see several Filipino pictures of merit at the University of Hawai’i’s East-West Center. These days, you have to hope that some are entered into the annual Visual Images Asian-Pacific Film Festival here in Los Angeles.

  • IIRC , TV Guide had an article in the 70’s, saying Kjellin was pronounced “Shell-een”. Just like Norman Lloyd said.
    That’s how I’ve been pronouncing it ever since.
    I liked an episode of THE MAN FROM UNCLE written by Boris Sobelman:

    And two directed by Alf Kjellin:

  • If I were to spell out the sound of Kjellin it would be as a combination of Shell and Lean. Shellean.

    An interesting thing about Hellström is that he never really made it big in Sweden, at least not before he went to Hollywood. As I take any excuse to mention a Hasse Ekman-film (as revenge for every time the American contributors here mentioned films that are to be shown on TCM or is available on Netflix and which are unavailable to Europeans!) I should point out that his last role in Sweden before Hollywood was in Ekman’s last great film STÖTEN (The Heist, 1961).

    I watched the RAWHIDE episode INCIDENT OF THE DOG DAYS. It got off to a slow start but after some ten minutes I was hooked. Very good on group dynamics and well acted. Had it been just 15 minutes longer, same cast and crew and same story, it would have been a fine film, instead of “just” a fine episode of a TV-series. One reason why the almost complete neglect of TV studies in academia is so undeserved and wrong. Also, a reason I’ve heard why TV-studies cannot be taken seriously (unless it is for sociological purposes) is the lack of authors and authorship in TV. But surely that is to a large extent just prejudice and laziness on the part of the scholars and critics rather than some historical matter of fact.

  • mark gross

    “Also, a reason I’ve heard why TV-studies cannot be
    taken seriously (unless it is for sociological purposes) is the lack of authors
    and authorship in TV. But surely that is to a large extent just prejudice and
    laziness on the part of the scholars and critics rather than some historical
    matter of fact.”

    Very well put, Fredrik!

  • Fredrik,

    Thank you very much for your comments on RAWHIDE: INCIDENT OF THE DOG DAYS.
    Between you and Gregg and me, there are now three cinephiles who liked this.
    It is very rare to get any sort of feedback and discussion in the cinephile community about TV works.
    I agree with your comment on “group dynamics”.

    The fact is, that the cinema is at least twice as big as conventional wisdom has it. It is not just films for theaters, it is both theatrical film and television. Film Art extends across both. Throw in experimental films and one gets a huge body of work.
    Cinema has been made in huge quantities for TV in Japan and France and Italy and countless other countries, much of which we rarely get a chance to see in the USA. Except once in a while a classic like ELGAR (Russell) or THE AGE OF THE MEDICI (Rossellini).

  • Barry Putterman

    Fredrik, there are a large number of reasons why serious study of American television is much less common than that of the feature film industry. Yes, prejudice and laziness plays a part, and long historical chapters would have to be written to explain what that part is and how it came to be so. But speaking as one who does take the history of American television seriously, I can tell you that the biggest obstacle standing in the way of sound critical analysis is the overwhelming amount of time that you have to put in watching the shows before you can reach any serious conclusions.

    Here is just one example. You saw an episode of “Rawhide” and you enjoyed it. Well, there are more than 200 hour episodes of “Rawhide” which were produced and televised over more than seven years. During that time continuing characters came and went. The show changed producers a couple of time. The show was placed in different time periods on the network and was asked to take incrementally different approaches in order to defeat different shows on other networks in the ratings. And the show responded to social changes which were happening during that stretch. So you would have to know something about where this episode falls in relation to the entire history of the show before you could fully understand why it is the way it is.

    And “Rawhide” was a rather stable show considering that it ran for so long. Mike mentioned “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” above, and that was a show which run for a little over 100 episodes, but changed radically in tone and content in each individual season that it ran.

    So, basically I would say that television criticism is easy to do badly, since there is so much more on the surface of individual episodes of continuing series than on on stand alone theatrical films which build the world it inhabits for one time usage. But it takes a few additional lifetimes to do television criticism well.

  • joe dante

    Regarding Gunnar Hellstrom, no one has mentioned his elusive but very stylish 1968 indie “The Name of the Game is Kill”, a low-budget gem inventively shot by my friend Vilmos Zsigmond in his prolific B-picture period. This rarely seen item was revived a year or so ago in LA at the Cinefamily (in a pretty ragged and pinkish print) and Vilmos, who hadn’t seen it since it came out (or maybe ever) pronounced himself very satisfied and even impressed by it.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Never heard of Hellström’s “The Name of the Game is Kill”, but now I’m curious!

    What I’ve read here on old American TV shows sounds very interesting, but mostly I’m completely unfamiliar with the shows. I grew up watching classic Hollywood movies on television in the 70s and have never lost my taste for them, and jazz, blues and even Hawaiian music from the 30s and 40s was readily available to me on radio – but I never really had any awareness of television history.

    The first really great things I saw on TV was “I, Claudius” and Dennis Potter’s “Pennies From Heaven” and “The Singing Detective”. I only got seriously interested when “The Sopranos” started much later, and since then I’ve paid close attention on what’s being produced on American cable channels like HBO and AMC (and some regular network shows like “Lost”). However I’d love to dig into earlier American TV, and I keep hoping that some kind of streaming service will come along that allows me to do this (buying all this stuff on DVD isn’t economically possible for me).

    Speaking of J Hoberman, I noticed Scorsese’s HUGO on his top 10 of 2011 and also on top 10 lists posted by people here. HUGO hasn’t opened in Sweden yet, but since I was very interested in this movie I managed to elbow my way into a press screening. It’s certainly a great movie in many ways. I don’t think I’ve ever seen better use of 3-D, it’s constantly visually interesting with gorgeous sets, and once it gets going on recreating Méliès’ movie studio and films it’s just a joy to watch. But I also found it much to long, with a very slow moving first part, and I think the child actors are a bit lifeless.

    The thing that caught my eye in Hoberman’s list was his calling it “the best Spielberg movie that Spielberg never made”. Because in 2011 Spielberg made his own 3-D movie for kids: ”The Adventures of Tintin”, which probably isn’t on the level of HUGO artistically, but has some of the same strengths and weaknesses – visually impressive but sometimes lacking in storytelling.

    The point I wanted to make is that i think Tintin works better as a children’s movie. Where HUGO is sometimes a bit dull, Tintin’s weakness is that towards the end it becomes too much of a rollercoaster ride. This makes it a bit tiresome for adults but doesn’t seem to be a problem for kids. That said I have seen “Tintin” with an audience of children (who loved it) and HUGO only at a press screening attended mostly by old farts like myself, so I can’t really tell for sure.

    I’d be interested in hearing from someone who has seen HUGO with kids and how they reacted to it.

  • skelly

    Johan – don’t have many specifics for you – but I saw HUGO (in 3D) with my 8 year old daughter and TITIN (in 3D) with my daughter and my 9 year old son. I just asked my son which he preferred and he said they were “equally great”. He saw HUGO with his grade 4 class in an exercise whereby they had to compare the book with the film. I wish I had such assignments as a 9 year old. Personally, my expectations were higher for HUGO and lower for TINTIN – and they came out pretty equal (like father, like son). Good fun.

    In the spirit of lists – here are the best “old films” I saw for the first time in 2011 (many thanks to those around these parts that turned me on to these terrific movies): Gueule d’amour (1937 – Jean Gremillon); The Breaking Point (1950 – Michael Curtiz); The Lady with the Dog (1960 – Iosif Kheifits); Moonlighting (1982 – Jerzy Skolimowski); The Unknown (1927 – Tod Browning); Love (1971 – Karoly Makk);City Streets (1931 – Rouben Mamoulian); A Midnight Clear (1992 – Keith Gordon); The Twilight Samurai (2002 – Yoji Yamada); The Crucified Lovers (1954 – Kenji Mizoguchi);The Hanging Tree (1959 – Delmer Daves); Payday (1973 – Daryl Duke); Mädchen in Uniform (1931 – Leontine Sagan); The Half Naked Truth (1932 – Gregory La Cava); Safe in Hell (1931 – William Wellman); The Freshman (1925 – Fred Newmeyer & Sam Taylor); Girl Shy (1924 – Fred Newmeyer & Sam Taylor); Smilin’ Through (1932 – Sidney Franklin); History is Made at Night (1937 – Frank Borzage); Together (2000 – Lukas Moodysson); Devils on the Doorstep (2000 – Wen Jiang); The Gleaners and I (2000 – Agnes Varda); Adua and Her Friends (1960 – Antonio Pietrangeli); Mon oncle d’Amérique (1980 – Alain Resnais); No Man of Her Own (1950 – Mitchell Leisen); Brighton Rock (1947 – John Boulting); Teresa Venerdi (1941 – Vittorio De Sica); Ride the Pink Horse (1947 – Robert Montgomery); Intimate Lighting (1965 – Ivan Passer); Me and My Gal (1932 – Raoul Walsh); Les Cousins (1959 – Claude Chabrol); Street Scene (1931 – King Vidor); Little Man, What Now? (1934 – Frank Borzage); The Shepherd of the Hills (1941 – Henry Hathaway); It Always Rains On Sunday (1947 – Robert Hamer); A Page of Madness (1926 – Teinosuke Kinugasa)

  • Mark Gross (January 5, 2012 at 12:12 pm), x359594 (January 5, 2012 at 5:47 pm): Robin Wood’s claim that there is not a single beautiful image in Rio Bravo I remember having read in his Howard Hawks book, maybe in the introduction. It is a profound insight. Hawks had different approaches to visual beauty, and since The Dawn Patrol one of those approaches was a Spartan tendency of avoiding beauty in key action films such as Air Force and most strikingly Rio Bravo.

    Among the categories of aesthetics of the beautiful, the sublime, and the graceful I find Rio Bravo best falls into the domain of the sublime, and more specifically into the subcategory of dignity.

    After a break of five years in film-making Hawks chose to make a genre piece in the most common genre of the day, shot it on the usual Western street of the Warner Bros. Burbank studios like thousands of other shows, and recycled essential stuff from Only Angels Have Wings and To Have and Have Not. From familiar elements he created something great, original and unique.

    Unlike John Ford’s masterpieces such as The Searchers, Rio Bravo is not an image-driven film in the sense that it depends on breathtaking visuals. Rio Bravo has masterful storytelling, mise-en-scène, and editing, but I think most impressively it is a brilliant character-driven ensemble piece with great performances (the characters enjoy being who they are) and a profound sense of group dynamics, all highlighting the great themes of dignity, authority and self-respect. Visual beauty is irrelevant to them.

  • nicolas saada

    Mathhew, to answer your question: Dave Kehr and Kent Jones.

  • Barry, the history of TV is undoubtedly overwhelming, sprawling and complicated, but that doesn’t mean that it should be dismissed or be treated snarkily. I would respect any historian who tried and gave up but I have problem taking seriously those who, when TV is brought up, just shrug their shoulders. Not because they’ve been overwhelmed by the material but because it would never occur to them to even look at it.

    There’s a similar issue that annoys me. Critics and scholars (and often the woman on the street as well) will tell you “Now TV is better than it has ever been! Finally it’s worth watching and taking seriously. Now it actually matters.” and I think
    a) That’s poppycock.
    b) How would you know? Have you actually seen anything made before SOPRANOS?
    c) Have you actually tried to watch TV recently? (I mean actually watched what is being shown on the telly as opposed to watch a DVD-box of season three of THE WEST WING?)

    The bottom line is that I have yet to meet a “TV has never been so good!”-believer who knows what I’m talking about when I mention HILL STREET BLUES. When it comes to TV, many scholars and critics remind me of my students who think cinema began with FIGHT CLUB.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Mark, your “vauge memories” of THE MCMASTERS are extraordinarily precise and vivid! I wish I could remember details so well from films I saw last week (some of them, anyway). Your details tally with what I noticed about Kjellin’s clean, precise direction (including the overhead shot). Would be interested in seeing the Bergman comedy screenplay he directed. (THE PLEASURE GARDEN… not a Hitchcock remake!) I’ve seen it discussed in Bergman books… someone on this board from Sweden must have seen it, even if it’s only a fifty year old memory….

    Comments by Mike and Barry are very astute about television criticism. Fredrik is indeed correct in stating “Also, a reason I’™ve heard why TV-studies cannot be taken seriously (unless it is for sociological purposes) is the lack of authors and authorship in TV. But surely that is to a large extent just prejudice and laziness on the part of the scholars and critics rather than some historical matter of fact.” The obstacles — in seeing all the episodes a long series, in ascertaining production histories — are dire. Another obstacle is a general hostility towards recognizing creativity in the industrial world of television, but then people used to say that about movies too. Perhaps the brave new world of “the cloud” may lend itself to research… I notice that many of the Hitchcock HOURs are available at IMDB.

    TV authorship is generally ascribed to a series producer or perhaps more precisely the show runner (Vince Gilligan’s BREAKING BAD, Matt Weiner’s MADMEN, etc.) I *think* Norman Lloyd and Joan Harrison were responsible for day-to-day operations on the Hitchcock TV show (I recall Robert Altman blamed Harrison and not Hitchcock for his dismissal from the series after a couple of episodes early in his tv career; the feel of the series is as close to films she produced like UNCLE HARRY as it is to Hitchcock’s cinema). But if we dig deeper, certain directors (Kjellin, perhaps) seem to have a signature style even as certain B series film directors, and obsure studio directors, stand out (as Dave often discusses in his archival spelunking). To take a current “strong producer” show, BOARDWALK EMPIRE, season 2 episode 10, “Georgia Peaches” was as memorable for Jeremy Podeswa’s striking direction as it was for its lurid storyline. Martin Scorsese directed the pilot but unlike shows like HILL STREET BLUES and DEADWOOD, where the pilot director set the visual tone for the entire series, BOARDWALK seems to be more variable from episode to episode, for whatever reason. (TWIN PEAKS was another series with really crazy tonal shifts from episode to episode, depending on the assigned director.) (Perhaps David Lynch and Martin Scorsese, in their eminence grise roles, weren’t as overbearing to their fellow directors as a showrunner like Weiner supposedly is to the directors on MADMEN, where he supposedly guides every detail.)

    In any event I’ve checked Podeswa’s credits, which are on a variety of other (mostly good) shows, but no features, alas. Some other good directors have emerged from TV, such as Rodrigo Garcia, who directed for example the only good episode (“Lincoln Highway”) not directed by Tim Hunter in the second season of CARNIVALE, and whose most recent theatrical film is ALBERT NOBBS (which I haven’t seen yet). Then of course there are film directors who work in TV, sometimes with quite personal works (someday I’ll have to review my videotapes of Joe Dante’s EERIE INDIANA contributions). Rian Johnson (BRICK) directed an outstanding third season episode of BREAKING BAD (“Fly”). There are many other examples.

  • Robert Garrick

    Nicolas, Dave Kehr isn’t reviewing new films on a regular basis, and I don’t believe Kent Jones is either. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) Andrew Sarris was gently removed from “The New York Observer” a couple of years ago, and we all know about Jonathan Rosenbaum and Jim Hoberman. These are people who have been around for decades, and they’re still around, but they’re no longer providing weekly guidance.

    It’s a loss. When a young Dave Kehr decided that Walter Hill was a great talent, that was news in some circles. I’m not sure anyone writing regular reviews of new films has that kind of authority today.

    When I’m combing through the reviews on “Rotten Tomatoes,” I usually look at Roger Ebert and Todd McCarthy, and I’ll read other people on a case-by-case basis. Ebert and McCarthy are good critics, but they’re writing to target audiences, not to me. I have to do some translating.

    Kent Jones is another person whose life changed when someone handed him a copy of “The American Cinema” at a young age, and he (like at least three people here and also Manohla Dargis) spent some time in NYU’s Cinema Studies program.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Fredrik’s post came in while I was composing my last comment, which indeed references HILL STREET BLUES. (And Robert Butler was the tv auteur who set its distinctive, Altman-influenced style.) I would agree with Fredrik that tv history is oft forgot, but we ARE in a very strong period. My tv viewing over the years is actually fairly sparse, as I hardly watched anything in the 1980s or 90s beyond a single series a year (HILL STREET was my default viewing for much of the 80s). There are many very famous shows I’ve never seen anything from, so I’m hardly an expert. But good (and mediocre) direction should be observable by anyone, in either a movie, or in a 1959 episode of RAWHIDE.

    The look of RIO BRAVO might be compared profitably with series tv westerns of 1959 (“shot …on the usual Western street of the Warner Bros. Burbank studios”). (I doubt any tv westerns of 1959 are as great, though!) The look of PSYCHO is right out of Hitchcock’s tv series; famously, he used his tv crew to shoot it.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Fredrik makes a good point here. When TV is discussed today (and it is – a lot!) no one does it with the perspective of knowing its history, like you do with movies. Someone who made broad statements about the state of movies and wasn’t familiar with Griffith or Murnau wouldn’t be taken seriously.

    On the other hand I also agree with Gregg that we are in a very strong period now. I watched “Hill Street Blues” with pleasure in the 80s, but when you compare it to something like season 3 of “Breaking Bad”, which I just finished watching on blu-ray, I think it’s obvious that something has happened: If I switched on the TV in the 80s and stumbled into “Hill Street Blues” without knowing the series, I would have reflected that it was unusually cinematic but there would have been no question in my mind that it was a TV show I was watching. If I did the same thing with “Breaking Bad”, and was unfamiliar with the show, I’m not sure I could tell if it was a TV episode or a good contemporary movie.