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The Big List o’ Lists

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To begin with some actual news, James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, announced this morning the latest 25 films to be added to the National Film Registry, bringing the total number of titles on the list to the nice round figure of 500. The NFR isn’t meant to be a “best” list, but rather a reckoning of films that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant, and more broadly symbolic of the many different kinds of American cinema that merit preservation (full disclosure: I’m a member of the committee, the National Film Preservation Board, that advises the Librarian on the selection). To that end, the annual lists have increasingly moved beyond the borders of Hollywood narrative filmmaking to include avant-garde, independent, documentary and sponsored work; this year, there’s even a student film (Mitchell Block’s 1973 “No Lies”).

The new additions, in alphabetical order:

1) The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
2) Deliverance (1972)
3) Disneyland Dream (1956)
4) A Face in the Crowd (1957)
5) Flower Drum Song (1961)
6) Foolish Wives (1922)
7) Free Radicals (1979)
8) Hallelujah (1929)
9) In Cold Blood (1967)
10) The Invisible Man (1933)
11) Johnny Guitar (1954)
12) The Killers (1946)
13) The March (1964)
14) No Lies (1973)
15) On the Bowery (1957)
16) One Week (1920)
17) The Pawnbroker (1965)
18) The Perils of Pauline (1914)
19) Sergeant York (1941)
20) The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
21) So’s Your Old Man (1926)
22) George Stevens WW2 Footage (1943-46)
23) The Terminator (1984)
24) Water and Power (1989)
25) White Fawn’s Devotion (1910)

For more information on the individual titles, go to the NFPB site, located here. The smiley in shades next to “Hallelujah” seems to represent the unsolicited opinion of WordPress, the excellent and otherwise unassuming program that underlies this blog; in any case, I can’t figure out where it came from or how to get rid of it.

In less consequential news, the DVD columnist of the New York Times has choked up a list of “ten notable DVDs” issued this year. It can be found, along with the usual vain attempts at self-justification, here.

And finally, just to prove that I still have one foot in the 21st century, here’s my alphabetical list of the best movies I saw in the last twelve months, which I hope will soon be overwhelmed by contributions from the readers of this space:

A Christmas Tale/Arnaud Desplechin
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button/David Fincher
Diary of the Dead/George A. Romero
The Fall/Tarsem
Gran Torino/Clint Eastwood
Sparrow/Johnnie To
Still Life/Jia Zhang-Ke
Tropic Thunder/Ben Stiller
Wall-E/Andrew Stanton
Wendy and Lucy/Kelly Reichardt

382 comments to The Big List o’ Lists

  • Brian Dauth

    Brad: I never made the Heller connection, but did feel that THE TRAIL was only loosely associated with Kafka. It is the Welles’ film that I find the most humor in and the most pleasure. THE TRAIL is queer in almost every sense of the word.

  • Brian Dauth

    Jaime: What you said makes sense, but I have always gotten the feeling that THE TRAIL is an outlier for many cinephiles. Just my impression.

  • Tony Williams

    Brian, In a post on “Film as Politics”, David Ehrenstein referred to Kafka as being really a realist in terms of the Ethics Test Fiasco in Illinois under Governor Rod when those who finished too quickly (when no time limit was given) were accused of breaking the law and forced to sign a docucment stating this or lose their jobs. However, as James Naremore points out in his study of THE TRIAL, Welles does not accept the passive nature of Kakka’s text but engages in struggle with it at the climax.

    Finally, Michael Worrall, hats off to you for including ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN with the great Wang Yu in your ten best list.

  • Jaime

    Brian, since Tony and Brad have broached the subject, what do you make of the detours Welles makes away from Kafka’s novel? With respect to calling it queer, does he change the ending to acknowledge a world that would observe Stonewall within a few years?

  • Michael Worrall

    Tony,

    Thank you. The connecting piece of all the films I selected is that I believe all of them represent a worldview of the filmmakers expressed through visual means. ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN is perhaps the most visionary film I saw in this aspect; I witnessed a distinct filmmaking voice unfolding in front of me.

    Yet there are those roads in “Mad Max” and that Miller seems to implicitly knos how to photograph them via the ‘Scope frame and moving camera. A small spec in the middle of the image that grows to the very edges of the frame.

    As with the task of compiling lists such as these, I left one out: “Once Upon in Time in China III” by Tsui Hark. The ecstatic spectacle of the all the lion dancers competing for “Heaven’s Bait” has continued to haunt me all year. The sequence was like a fever dream to me. (Then there is the rather Langian moment of the film camera revealing who the real murderer is.)

  • Brian Dauth

    Jaime: I think Welles does mark a shift from where the homosexual particpated in his destruction to where he fights against it. Welles doesn’t seem to favor passive characters. They often seem to be after something.

    I also think that for Welles there had to be a concrete transgression committed by Joseph K., and he latched on to the idea of sexual deviance from the societal norm. He also had the perfect actor in Anthony Perkins to be the queer transgressor. It is a delight watching all the actresses trying to seduce Joseph K. who particpates as much as he can, all the while slowly realizing that the role (and Advocate’s coat) will never fit. (There is also that wonderful sm scene in the closet under the stairs that is perverse and funny at the same time.)

    The door in the beginning parable that must be gone through is the closet door and each queer has her own door and no one else can pass through it for them. The man wants to come out and is “begging admittance to the Law” – legal recognition.

    In the final confrontation between Joseph K. and the Advocate, the Advocate says that K’s “particular delusions are described in the writings that preface the Law.” Queer desire had first to be scientifically defined (in Germany at the end of the 19th century), then categorized as deviant before laws could be passed to criminalize such behavior. K’s resistance at the end is that he will no longer submit to the whim of the Law and its agents must kill him — he will not be another suicidal fag.

    Now, I did not see all this when I first watched THE TRIAL as a teenager (at least on a conscious level). It was only later that it all fell into place for me (especially after learning that the movie director at the center of TOSOTW was gay). For me, there is a fascinating thread of homosexuality that runs through THE TRIAL, CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, F FOR FAKE, and FILMING OTHELLO (those lovely queens having tea with Welles). It is far from the only thread, but a tantalizing one in my eyes.

  • My List:
    Le petit Lieutenant (The little Lieutenant, Xavier Beauvois, 2005), Kagami no onnatachi (Women in the mirror, Yoshishige Yoshida, 2002), Sharasojyu (Naomi Kawase, 2003), Un conte de Noël (A Christmas tale, Arnaud Desplechin, 2008), La vie nouvelle (Philippe Grandrieux, 2002), Le chignon d´Olga (Jérôme Bonnell, 2003), Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (Aparna Sen, 2002), Fu zi (After this, our exile, Patrick Tam, 2007), La question humaine (Nicolas Klotz, 2007), Tout est pardonné (All is forgiven, Mia Hansen-Løve, 2005), Les amours d´Astrée et de Céladon (Eric Rohmer, 2007), Solntse (The sun, Aleksandr Sokurov, 2005), Un couple parfait (Suwa Nobuhiro, 2005), Haebyonui yoin (Woman on the beach, Hong Sang-soo, 2006), Maicliang pelicula nañg ysañg indio nacional (A short film about the Indio Nacional, Raya Martin, 2005), Kagadanan sa banwaan ning mga Engkanto (Dead in the land of Encantos, Lav Diaz, 2007), Hei yan quan (I don´t want to sleep alone, Tsai Ming-liang, 2006), Wuyong (Useless, Jia Zhangke, 2007), Autohystoria (Raya Martin, 2007), Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, 2007), Kakushi ken oni no tsume (The hidden blade, Yoji Yamada, 2004), All the real girls (David Gordon Green, 2003), Zwartboek (Black book, Paul Verhoeven, 2006), Le voyage du ballon rouge (Flight of the red balloon, Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2007), Changeling (Clint Eastwood, 2008), Into the wild (Sean Penn, 2007), Predstavlenie (Revue, Sergeí Loznitsa, 2008), Sing kung chok tse sup yut tam (Whispers and moans, Herman Yau, 2007), L´heure d´eté (Summer hours, Olivier Assayas, 2008), We own the night (James Gray, 2007), Changhen ge (Everlasting regret, Stanley Kwan, 2005), Klimt (Raoul Ruiz, 2005), Ana y los otros (Celina Murga, 2003), Boarding gate (Olivier Assayas, 2007), Centochiodi (A hundred nails, Ermanno Olmi, 2008), Die stille vor Bach (The silence before Bach, Pere Portabella, 2007), Old joy (Kelly Reichardt, 2006), Retour en Normandie (Nicolas Philibert, 2007), La mujer sin cabeza (The headless woman, Lucrecia Martel, 2008), El prado de las estrellas (Mario Camus, 2007), Appaloosa (Ed Harris, 2008), My blueberry nights (Wong Kar-wai, 2007), Las variaciones Marker (Isaki Lacuesta, 2007), No country for old men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007), Before the devil knows you´re dead (Sidney Lumet, 2007) and The Queen (Stephen Frears, 2005).
    Impossible to see:
    La vie moderne, Un lac, Aquele querido mês de agosto, Nanayomachi, Tulpan, El cant dels ocells, 35 rhums, Er shi si cheng ji, Le silence de Lorna, Bam gua nat, Le genou d´Artémide, Shirin, J’attends quelqu’un, Hunger, La frontière de l´aube, Faut que ça danse!, Milk, Liverpool, He Fengming …

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘if someone says INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is the Lucas/Spielberg equivalent of HATARI! or DONOVAN’S REEF–or A PRIVATE’S AFFAIR for that matter–I can accept it.’

    I cannot see resemblance with INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL and HATARI! or DONOVAN’S REEF. Big difference to me is John Ford movie and Howard Hawks movie has sincere attitude to story, but Speilberg-Lucas has ironic attitude to story. Hawks and Ford has community they believe in even if making comedy from it. Spileberg-Lucas movie does not have community,just seperate charcters.

    Other difference, between action scene in HATARI! the people is important, but the people in INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is only there to be in next action scene. To me this is not so interesting.

  • steve elworth

    Junko, I love your point. Even if Lucas/Spielberg have a similar sense of play to the late Hawks and late Ford, the concentration on character and community and what occurs between the action sequences. It is interesting to compare Wayne’s somewhat flawed and reduced heroes to Harrison ford character who on some level has been reduced from the beginning but at the same time is taken at a much more macho level. what is missing is the relation of the hero to the romantic lead and to community.

  • David Boxwell

    Concur: THE TRIAL is a brilliant essay on Perkins’ closeted homosexuality. Accusation, humiliation, exposure, nightmare.

  • Brad Stevens

    I see THE TRIAL as being about masculinity under assault, with Joseph K constantly encountering quirky independent women (and one gay male) who refuse to behave predictably (Scorsese catches this aspect beautifully in his semi-remake AFTER HOURS, in which he even quotes the parable that begins Welles’ film). A scene removed from the film included a discussion about why a computer had been given a female name. All this suggests that the incomprehensibility of the law has some connection with incomprehensible femininity (incomprehensible, that is, when seen from a masculine perspective). It’s essentially a surrealist version of THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI.

  • Scott

    Getting back to the past year in film for a moment, the National Society of Film Critics weighted in today with their picks for the best of 2008. Of the myriad critics awards, the NSFC is typically the most discerning game in town — and, if I recall correctly, our host Mr. Kehr is a voting member?

    Anyhow, in a rather surprising move, they picked Ari Folman’s “Waltz with Bashir” for the top prize. But the movie they really seemed to go gaga over was Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky”, which won Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay. (Go figure, it was only runner-up for Best Picture.)

    On a personal note, I didn’t exactly love “Waltz with Bashir”, but it’s nice that the NSFC remains probably the only critics group that will occasionally give the Best Picture award to a foreign film (of course, in the case of the Folman, it’s also a documentary and an animated work). Hanna Schygulla getting the Best Supporting Actress prize for “The Edge of Heaven” is also pretty cool.

  • Brian Dauth

    Brad: for me, it is heteronormativity that is under assault. In the cut sequence, K realizes that for the computer his “problem is a bit beyond her.” Since a female is useless to a queer man in any sexual sense, the computer can only tell K. the crime he is most likely to commit — suicide. Verbalizing/naming K’s crime as sexual deviance is beyond the computer (and possibly the film itself) since the machine has been programmed to be not only female, but a heteronormative female. The computer (science) can only advocate self-annihilation.

    The women K encounters try to normalize him by awakening and satisfying his heterosexual desires. But since he is queer these attempts are doomed to failure. The world presented in THE TRIAL is a disjointed one since to a queer, the heteronormative world is dysfunctional — it does not compute. K’s resistance to offing himself provokes the explosive ending — hetronormativity only works when everyone — male and female — go along.

  • arsaib

    Kent: I believe you referred to the DVD of Omirbaev’s KILLER released by HK-based Panorama Entertainment. The edition I have might be Region-3, but it’s English subtitled and, if memory serves, quite affordable.

    I think Demirkubuz’s FATE is the one which takes some of its cues from THE STRANGER. He would later borrow from CRIME AND PUNISHMENT in THE WAITING ROOM, his most self-reflexive film to date. But perhaps the one I like the most is INNOCENCE, which also serves as a precursor of sorts to DESTINY. I’m not sure how applicable a comparison this is, but the volatile emotional temperature of some of Demirkubuz’s films remind me a little of Pialat’s work. And, similarly, I think he’s quite adept at sustaining the intensity and honesty of those emotions until they nearly become uncomfortable to watch. I’d also add that, like Pialat, his films aren’t always striking in visual terms — something that arguably can’t be said about the work of his contemporary Nuri Bilge Ceylan, though that didn’t prevent me from disliking THREE MONKEYS.

    As for FANTASMA, I was initially under the impression that perhaps my familiarity with Alonso’s earlier efforts made me more attuned to the various dichotomies at play here, but maybe it’s my high regard for GOODBYE, DRAGON INN, the film Alonso clearly homages, which is the true culprit. I regret not being able to attend last year’s Toronto fest where LIVERPOOL had its N. American premiere. Will keep an eye out for the Film Comment Selects schedule. I hope both Alonso and Lucrecia Martel keep producing quality films for many years to come, and despite the fact that one is a self-proclaimed maverick who hasn’t yet had a film in competition at a major festival while the other is now financially supported by the Almodóvars, they can peacefully coexist in the minds of critics and programmers alike.

  • I gotta say, I am absolutely baffled by the praise heaped upon Benjamin Button. Granted, it is positively gorgeous to look at, but I have to say I really loved the movie the first time I saw it….when it was called Forrest Gump, which I think is infinitely better than Button… but I guess I’m in the minority.

  • Nick, Kent Jones has a fine piece in the new issue of Cinemascope that addresses “Benjamin Button.” If I ever dig my way out of my present deadlines, I hope to write something else (I already did a story on it for the Sunday New York Times Arts and Leisure section, though because it was a pre-release story, I couldn’t get into any actual criticism. It’s still on line here. To put my sense of “Benajmin” in brief, I’d say it was a movie about mortality in which the basic material, the digital image, is itself lifeless, or at least several technological steps away from a moist, heavy human presence. It’s fascinating to me that a film made so early in the transition to an all-digital cinema has already acquired both a distinctive weight and texture and a poetic appreciation of those qualities. Movies won’t be the same after “Zodiac” and “Benjamin Button” — two films that cleanly mark the transition between analog and digital filmmaking.

    And, yes, Scott, today was the awards vote for the National Society of Film Critics. I’ll put the results on a new page, since this thread is getting a bit long.

  • Tony Williams

    Michael,

    Brilliant insights about ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA 3, especially the lion dance that I finally witnessed for the first time in a very crowded Chinatown in New York. I’ve also seen the great Kwan Tak-hing in HUANG-FEI HONG: THE INCREDIBLE LION DANCER (1968) taking on none other than Sek Kin whose character here is far from redeemable. The great fight between Jet Li and Donnie Yuen in ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA 2 is also superb.

  • Kent Jones

    Junko, I remember Richard Wilson’s comments now. Yes, that was the Harris/Katz restoration.

    Arsaib, you’re correct, the KILLER disc is Region 3. I find Demirkubuz extremely interesting, but it’s been a while. In any event, I think he’s a much better filmmaker than Ceylan. I’ve never really cared for any of his work.

    Regarding FANTASMA, maybe Alonso was paying homage to GOODBYE DRAGON INN, but I can’t agree that the films are equal. The Tsai is a work of great beauty, and FANTASMA is, in my opinion, an extended afterthought to LOS MUERTOS.

    I saw a lot of terrific movies this year, including RR, the Desplechin, the Assayas, the Fincher, the Kurosawa. The Martel film really took me aback. Artists that talented don’t come along very often.

  • Nelson

    Coming in late to this very long and even-more-interesting-than-usual thread, but here are my ten favorite fiction features of the year:

    FROWNLAND
    SILENT LIGHT
    HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
    SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK
    REPRISE
    HUNGER
    NIGHT AND DAY
    MOMMA’S MAN
    TROPIC THUNDER
    BALLAST

    And in the “older films that were new to me” category: first, the NYFF’s screening of Guy Debord’s breathtaking IN GIRUM IMUS NOCTE ET CONSUMIMUR IGNI, which I believe Kent programmed (or at least, he wrote the program notes) — Kent, any word whether there will be an English-subtitled DVD? Second, Toshio Matsumoto’s FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES, a 1969 Japanese New Wave film recently released as a Region 2 DVD by Masters of Cinema — this film really deserves to be much better known; in terms of sheer visual inventiveness and stylistic boldness, I think it’s comparable to THE CONFORMIST or SHADOWS OF OUR FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS.

  • arsaib

    I couldn’t agree more regarding Martel, Kent. When it comes to her, I really don’t know where to begin.

    Thanks for the comments, Jake. For my money, Germany right now has the most talented young group of filmmakers working anywhere. Ulrich Köhler is certainly one of them. If you haven’t already, I hope you also get to see his fine debut feature, BUNGALOW. I’m glad you mentioned THE DAYS BETWEEN, which I also admire quite a bit. And if this German movement currently has a face, it might be the sullen, tomboyish visage of Sabine Timoteo, who has embodied the youthful discontent present at the heart of many of the applicable films. I’m also a fan.

    It looks like we have another YUMURTA supporter among us. I’m certainly interested in watching the Gomes film, André. And thanks for the link to your interview with Speth. I’ll try to have it translated.

  • Garcia

    Kent, per Wise and Lewton, it’s now vaguely familar, but for the life of me I cannot remember the incident that clearly from your movie. That’s a bit disconcerting.

  • arsaib: You’re right on naming the new German independent filmmakers as extremely relevant. Besides Christian Petzold, Angela Schanelec and Thomas Arslan, who all came from a film academy, the dffb, where Bitomsky and Farocki taught, and Maria Speth, there are also younger ones like Ulrich Köhler, that you’ve mentioned, and specially the tremendously gifted Valeska Grisebach with her both amazing MEIN STERN and SEHNSUCHT.

    I’ve had them all earlier last year in a program called “New Berlin School – A cinema of unease” in Lisbon. There’s a great retrospective of this cinema coming up in São Paulo.

  • I have a question about our beloved “Preminiger’ for all present and interested, specifically the great FALLEN ANGEL. One often reads (and I haven’t read everything on this film) that there is stuff missing from the final cut, presumably taken out by Otto himself (he was producer, and appears not to have complained of Fox studio interference here): specifically, material involving the Alice Faye character (who, according to some sources, was furious about her part being ‘played down’ in the editing). Bob Baker in THE MOVIE BOOK OF FILM NOIR claims to see one clear ‘gap in emotional continuity’ in the scenes in the second half between Faye and Dana Andrews, but doesn’t spell out exactly what he’s referring to. My question: does anyone know/has anyone ever researched what is, in fact, missing – and maybe there’s a chance that nothing is ‘missing’, whatever that means in this case – from FALLEN ANGEL? I confess I watched it many times before even encountering this claim, and never suspected there was a hole or gap of any kind in the film’s story or psychology (I tend to think the film is perfect as it is!). What do other people think?

  • Kent Jones

    Adrian – “When FALLEN ANGEL fell under his scissors, Zanuck excised Faye’s dendition of ‘Slowly’ and several dramatic scenes featuring her – a decision that turned her against him for good. She later said, ‘It nearly broke my heart…Zanuck…cut most of my best stuff…Linda Darnell had one of the other leads and Zanuck, who was building her up at the time, wanted more of the focus on her.’ Comparison of the released film with the final script confirms that much material involving June was omitted.” This is from Fujiwara’s book, and he names several moments: a street scene, a visit to a bowling alley during Faye and Andrews’ first date, a couple of encounters between Faye and Revere, and so on. So chalk it up to cutting down the older star to make room for the rising younger one.

    Nelson, Debord was a combined effort between Gavin Smith and, more than anyone else, Olivier Assayas. He and I had talked about it for years and it took a long time to put together on the French end. So really, there were a lot of people involved, including Alice Debord, Ken Knabb, the Agnès B. team. But Olivier was the one who really drove everything forward.

  • JJ

    I firmly stand by my INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF HATARI’S REEF statement, although I don’t see what it has to do with THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS….

  • jbryant

    Man, I’ve got to get that Fujiwara book. Foster Hirsch’s Preminger book was a good biographical overview, but Fujiwara’s is a critical bio, right? I’m guessing that will be more up my alley.

    I’ve watched my Fallen Angel DVD a couple of times since it happily replaced my worn VHS copied from TV, but have yet to listen to the entire commentary by Eddie Muller and Susan Andrews (daughter of Dana). Maybe soon.

  • Kent Jones

    JJ, it’s admirable that you’re standing behind your statement, but I have no idea why you think the last INDIANA JONES movie is Spielberg’s HATARI/DONOVAN’S REEF. I don’t even understand why Spielberg needs to have his own HATARI/DONOVAN’S REEF.

  • Brian Dauth

    Kent, I think it is great when a director gets to a point in her career when she is able to produce a HATARI/DONOVAN’S REEF. We have Monet’s and DeKooning’s late canvases; Yeats’s and Stevens’ late poems; Pinter’s and Beckett’s late plays (more like playlets).

    But because of the expense of making movies and other difficulties faced by aging autuers, we do not have all the late works we should. Films made by directors at the “peak of their powers”tm are great, but movies made in the stage beyond that are often more revelatory than the consensus masterpieces. For me cinema would be a deeply diminished place without FRENZY; FAMILY PLOT; HUSTLE; 7 WOMEN; SLEUTH; FEDORA; WARM WATER UNDER A RED BRIDGE; ELENA ET LES HOMMES; RIO LOBO; THE HUMAN FACTOR; RHAPSODY IN AUGUST.

    I will confess to a fondness for late work, but even acknowledging that bias I would maintain that late works often contain the most profound use and understanding of form and content in a filmmaker’s oeuvre.

  • Bill DeLapp

    Stephen Bowie: Belated thanks regarding your input about by Encore Western recording woes. Time Warner Cable suggested renting their hard-drive gizmo but I’ve been balking ever since discovering that my DVD recorder won’t/can’t record the stereo signals from the digital channels (the episodes of Rome that I recorded from HBO On Demand were in Dolby Digital mono). So I’ve been frequently yanking the cable line from the digital set-top box and plugging it into the DVR to grab shows and movies in analog stereo. While this method understandably limits my access to the HBO/Encore multiplexes, I’m usually assured of uninterrupted service, since my digital box has a nasty habit of turning itself off during the night–right around the time that Game Show Network is airing a 50-year-old What’s My Line?

  • Bill DeLapp

    Sorry, that should read “my Encore Western recording woes.”

  • Kent Jones

    Brian, I couldn’t agree more. That still doesn’t explain why INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is Steven Spielberg’s HATARI/DONOVAN’S REEF.

  • Tony Williams

    Spielberg is no John Ford nor Howard Hawkjs and he does not deserve the excuse of having the last INDIANA JONES compared to HATARI and DONOVAN’S REEF. With certain exceptions, Spielberg represents the cinema of infantile escapism chracteristic of Reaganite entertainment that Andrew Britton has analyzed in his excellent essay “Blissin’ Out” that will appear in the Wayne State anthology of his complete criticism. Comparing Spielberg to Ford and Hawks is equivalent to paralleling an infant with tanatlizing glimpses of the adult he could have become with these two great mature masters of the classical Hollywood cinema.

    Despite the circumstances, Brian’s cogent listing describes why Spielberg is little better than a minor talent or the Cecil B. DeMille GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH director of his era.

  • Kent Jones

    I’m told that Fred Zinnemann’s last film, FIVE DAYS ONE SUMMER, was also quite beautiful. He himself loved it. I also love those two films King Vidor made on 16mm, METAPHOR and TRUTH AND ILLUSION. And let’s not forget LE PETIT THEATRE DE JEAN RENOIR.

  • Garcia

    Hey, Tony, with all due respect, what the heck is “Reaganite entertainment”? While were at it, what do you mean by “infantile escapism”? I’m sure I can guess pretty closely to what you mean, but I wouldn’t mind having you elaborate on them. I’m also curious as to what are the exceptions you write about. I’m not sure if your hyperbolic sentiments are with tongue firmly planted in your cheek, or if you really think Speilberg to Ford/Hawks is like a infant to an adult. It seems a bit over the top.

  • Garcia

    By the way, this last Indiana Jones movies was pretty much worthless on all accounts, and it shouldn’t be compared to Hatari or Donovan’s Reef. We agree there. It’s simply those other statements that feel out of bounds.

  • Garcia, with all due respect, does harsh criticism of Spielberg really “feel out of bounds” to you? I am mostly with Tony on this one (including my high regard for Andrew Britton’s essential “Blissing Out” article – but Tony, there is no ‘g’ missin’ from that first word!!) There are some SS movies I would gladly look again closely, like EMPIRE OF THE SUN and A.I. – but overall, I remain extremely unconvinced that he deserves to held in the same ‘pantheon’ as Ford Hawks, Lubitsch, Preminger, Lang, De Palma, etc (Kent, I threw that last one in just for you!) His films ARE, in many, many respects infantile – that’s not just a put-down word, it’s a clinical description! The whole mess of childhood nostalgia, ideological conformism, sentimental redemption and lord knows what else adds up to a big populist headache. I don’t think he has a clue – not even intuitively – what his films are about (least of all that last Indiana J shocker): that sometimes unleashes something ‘symptomatically’ interesting – i.e., interest that has nothing much to do with the intrinsic worth or value of the film itself – but more often fizzles into banality.

  • Garcia

    No, it’s not any kind of harsh criticism of Speilberg that feels out of bounds, it overreaching terms like “reagonite entertainment” and using an anology of an infant to an adult. Although my guess is that I find Speilberg a bit better than you and Mr. Williams, I’m no apologist. Writing out of bounds was a poor choice of phrase on my part, but I’d stick with my original sentiment that it’s a little over the top. I suspect that it’s the “big poplulist headache” that bothers so many people over the content of the movies.

    I don’t want this to get into a McNerny vs Worral part II, but I’d be pretty shocked if you could back up your last sentence by empirical evidence within the films themselves. I mean, Speilberg might be so bad that Ed Wood is sitting in heaven thinking, “Thank God this guy came around to get these assholes off my back.”, but do you really, honestly think he hasn’t a clue what his movies are about? Again, what evidence would bring you to that conclusion?

    By the way, what pantheon are you referring to? Did I miss that article or book or statement as to the official film pantheon?

  • Garcia asked: “what pantheon are you referring to?” Apart from throwing in De Palma as a joke/provocation, do you really have trouble with the idea that Ford Hawks, Lubitsch, Preminger and Lang would be (part of) a Pantheon? If not, wow, we are all in deep trouble!! Not even I am that iconoclastic!

    In terms of Spielberg, I don’t mean he is a ‘bad’ filmmaker in some strict sense – although I do find his style often grotesquely mechanical (I can guess the shots before they appear … ). I was referring to the incoherence and confusion – at a thematic level – of his films: hard to pinpoint in a sentence, but Britton spent about 20 pages on this! I feel that SS’s sense of what his films are about is uterly banal (judging by his public comments, etc) – and we could say that, no doubt, of many filmmakers (including Ford and Preminger and Scorsese), but in this case what it seems to me that what his films are ‘really’ about, deep down, is not coherent or interesting, just an unpleasant mess. I tried to say something about this in my book PHANTASMS (in relation to the strange JURASSIC PARK films, which will surely be forgotten – have already been justly forgotten! – not far out from their being made. Films in which the ustensible conservative ‘get a family and love it’ message chafes against the films’ evident sadistic glee in meancing children: the whole Spielberg neurosis is knotted right there.) It’s not ‘populism’ or popular success as such I decry here – there are good populisms, sometimes!

  • Unfortunately, I’ve never read Andrew Britton – his essays are very hard to find. Looking forward to his book.

    I’m nervous, too, about the concept of “Reaganite entertainment”. Is everyone who had the bad taste to make a movie during 1980-1988 guilty of committing “Reaganite entertainment”? Are SUNRISE and THE GOLD RUSH Calvin Coolidge entertainment, and thus trash? Is BAND OF OUTSIDERS “LBJ entertainment”?

    Collective dismissals of the 1980’s often seem to be on flimsy evidence, not applied to films made in other decades.

    This is not a defense of Spielberg.

  • Brian Dauth

    Kent: I did not mean to be unclear: IJATKOTCS (looks better that way, doesn’t it?) is no late masterpiece in my eyes. If nothing else, Spielberg’s films usually provided me with a minimnal level of craft, but this one was off the charts bad. Hawks in RIO LOBO still cares deeply: he and Wayne just cannot (for many reasons) make RIO BRAVO again, and the result is one of the greatest last films ever made. I have no idea what was going on with IJATKOTCS.

  • Garcia

    My comment on the pantheon was not about the members there of, but the fact that such a list actually exists. If you would, send me the link or point me in the right direction where I can read more about it.

    I remember a few years ago when Paul Schrader dared come up with something akin to a film canon and the mini uproar that created. He included, for example, The Battle of Algiers, which if I remeber correctly, Michael Ciment seemed to have a big problem with, and what was left out, oddly enough for our discussion, Hawks and Lubitch. Like the top ten lists that began this thread, talk about a pantheon and a canon is a good academic exercise, it’s fun to bat around different ideas, but in the end it’s a fairly meaningless exercise. Which is to say, these lists don’t really mean much.

    I might be wrong on my history here, and I’m sure someone will correct me if I am wrong on the facts, but I believe no one in the critical community really gave a shit about Hawks when he was making many of what he think of now as his great works. It was only later that the French writers sort of rediscovered him that he was suddenly exhaulted to that of auteur. In other words, it’s a sliding scale, and perhaps in another 20 years Hawks will slip back into obscurity.

    Which is different, I hope you understand, then saying he should. I’m not claiming that one bit.

    What style of Speilberg’s is grossly mechanical? I think that if you start with Duel and worked your way forward you would find the his “style” has changed fairly radically over the years. It would take more words and time than I have available to actually prove this, so you can take that for what it’s worth.

    And, yes, Jurasic Park is not a very good movie, and will probably be remembered more for the sound and visual innovation it helped usher in more than anything else, for better or worse.

    I’m curious, what would you consider a good populism?

  • Kent Jones

    Spielberg…everyone could go around and around and around forever. There is no empirical evidence that will prove anything, in one direction or another. From where I sit, his films seem no more or less “incoherent” than most people’s. Instead, they seem opportunistic in their quest for significance. I guess I agree with Adrian – Spielberg’s relationship to his own material is extremely odd, and when I read his most enthusiastic supporters’ descriptions of MUNICH or WAR OF THE WORLDS, I just don’t recognize the movies I saw. I’ve never understood why A.I. affected so many people so deeply – on paper, yes, but not the finished film (for the same reason, most of the people who dislike BENJAMIN BUTTON seem to me, at least, to be responding to the script rather than the film).

    The whole Reaganite entertainment idea has always seemed questionable to me, even during the dreaded Reagan era itself. It’s only logical that any given moment in history is going to affect the tone and thematic make-up of its entertainment. That RAMBO was a hero in perfect alignment with the presidency of a former movie star whose fantasy life seemed to overtake his grasp of reality was glaringly obvious, even at the time. I don’t remember the Britton piece that well, but I’m sure one could say the same of GHOSTBUSTERS and the INDIANA JONES movies.

    It seems more likely that two realities, neither of which had much to do with the other, converged: the Reagan presidency and its manufactured imagery on the one hand, the retrenchment of the film industry in the aftermath of HEAVEN’S GATE on the other. A perfect ideological storm, I suppose.

    Spielberg also seems…tired. Very, very tired. That was my biggest problem with that last INDIANA JONES movie. There didn’t seem to be much vigor left. But I’ve always found him a lopsided filmmaker who comes alive when he’s doing big, logistically complex action but goes either dead or impatient when he’s obliged to film anything else.

  • Kent Jones

    Garcia, I hadn’t read your post when I wrote mine. Henri Langlois recognized Hawks’ genius early on. So did Manny Farber. And while most critics weren’t alive to the real greatness of his work in the 30s and 40s, he was extremely successful. The people who actually made the movies knew how good he was.

    I’d be hard-pressed to figure out those radical changes in Spielberg’s style. He’s been drawn to different material over the years and adapted accordingly, I guess.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘I’ve always found him a lopsided filmmaker who comes alive when he’s doing big, logistically complex action but goes either dead or impatient when he’s obliged to film anything else.’

    Kent, that is exact problem of Spielberg movie for me too.

    Usual Spielberg movie is like amusement park ride, even his serious drama is like that, THE COLOR PURPLE, SCHINDLER’S LIST, EMPIRE OF THE SUN. Impatientence between big scenes is like standing in line for ride.

    Spielberg is successful, movies very popular, he has academy award, defense by critics, books about him, but his movies is not liked by everyone, but some defenders want everyone to like them. It can’t be done.

  • I’d more speak of “Crystal Skull” in similar breaths to Lang’s India films or Herge’s Tintin adventures (in many respects I think “CS” was a dry-run for Spielberg’s CG Tintin adaptation, whatever its current status).

    It’s particularly vital for its 50s pastiche: the diner discussion between Mutt and Indy bursts in ways that remind me of the penultimate sequence of “Brigadoon” (when Gene Kelly returns to the big city mainland) and the two key images (the mushroom cloud and the UFO) speak to a very specific fear-of-destruction/dream-of-the-stars that I think is entirely personal to both the era and to Spielberg (as I noted in my review, this adventure takes place in a period of which Spielberg has actual recall).

    I’ve revisited it several times since release, and I hope it gains in appreciation (hope the same for fellow film-brat Coppola’s “Youth Without Youth”). “CS” is a much more sophisticated work than it might initially seem.

  • Garcia

    I think what he did working with the scope framing in Sugarland Express, Jaws, and Close Encounters is very different than 1.85 work he did from E.T. through Minority Report. It’s seems odd that since Report he has gone back to the scope framing. The earlier films it feels as if he was content to hold a shot and let much of the action play out in one takes. The action was composed within the shot instead of a bunch of singles edited together. He didn’t do this so much after Raiders, but I believe it’s a technique that he is going back to. It seems as if a lot of things have changed with him over the years. The types of shots and coverage that he favors, the length of shots, the type of lighting he prefers, camera movement. Maybe this all is a case of adapting to the material, it could aslo be due to working with various d.ps. Speilbergs style is certainly different since he’s been working with Janusz Kaminski, from Schindler’s List on.

    I do agree that you get the sense that Speilberg really wants to be thought of as an important, significant director. I also agree that he excells when he’s doing the big, complex action scenes, where pound for pound he’s hard to beat. He’s a bit lost when dealing with human beings actually dealing with one another on an interpersonal level. But I’m not sure if that was always the case. I’m thinking about Jaws and Close Encounters here.

  • Brian Dauth

    I can only second Keith’s hope for YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH, an amazing film that I love more with each successive viewing. Each time I watch the film, it becomes both clearer and more mysterious.

  • JJ

    Okay…Let’s return to Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of Hatari’s Reef.

    Uhm…Late period works. Lucas’s Hatari; Spielberg’s Donovan’s Reef. (Spielberg already made his Hatari, it was The Lost World, and THAT was the lame-o hollow popcorn movie where the director felt bored, folks.) Big, glossy, Hollywood, Technicolor stories that at the same time seem rather personal and insular, that seem to almost actively frustrate audiences. Stories about getting old but still being able to pull it togethor when it counts. Stories about families, or surrogate families, or parents and children. Old comrades and the value of friendship. All three films signifigantly flawed and a bit unsatisfying. Specifically Hawksian: Marion Ravenwood, Mutt Williams, and the Indy films, esp. Raiders and this one, have always been among the Sons Of Howard Hawks anyway (and daughters of Leigh Brackett). Specifically Fordian: The brawl in the cafe, the midpoint feel of loss, the wedding scene at the end.

    Kent, I’m sorry Spielberg just leaves ya cold. I know what you mean, I feel the same way about a lot of filmmakers other people adore: Angeloupolous, most Von Trier-Europa worked for me–some others. Anyway:

    Look, it’s obviously not the masterpeice Raiders Of The Lost Ark was (and I do think Raiders is a pretty great film); but it’s got a lot of great things about it anyway, and whether your own personal childhood Kingdom was 1957 (George and Steven) or 1981 (yours truly) it’s an affectionate look back at both. And that’s okay.

    I’ve long thought Spielberg, love him or hate him, has had the most interesting late career period of any director since Kurosawa. Now that would be an interesting comparison to work out…

  • JJ

    Keith: RIGHT ON! I had the exact same Tintin / Herge suspicion myself.

  • Garcia,

    Andrew Sarris’ book THE AMERICAN CINEMA (1968) contains lists of filmmakers that are still relevant to canon formation. Directors in the first four categories are still considered good (Pantheon, Far Side of Paradise, Expressive Esoterica, Fringe Benefits). So are quite a few in a later category (Subjects for Further Research).

    I know a 40-year-old book is not the last word in canon formation. But its ideas still resonate with perhaps the majority of film historians. If you are looking for the not-so-hidden substrate of this discussion, you can find it in Sarris.

    In any case, a film lover should be familiar with key works of all the directors in those five categories. They are all still admired today.
    *
    Jacques Rivette published a key article glorifying Hawks in the early 1950’s. It was near the start of a huge Hawks boom, that has never really subsided.

    As Yogi Berra (famed baseball manager) once said, “It is difficult to predict, especially the future.” Who knows what tomorrows canon will hold?