New DVDs: Saville, Oboler, Lean

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Odds and ends this week: Victor Saville’s stylized 1954 Biblical epic “The Silver Chalice,” with a young Paul Newman, a scene-stealing Jack Palance and an intractable Virginia Mayo; Arch Oboler’s early apocalyptic fantasy “Five” (1951) and David Lean’s 1954 comedy “Hobson’s Choice,” in which Charles Laughton gets his comeuppance at the hands of Brenda De Banzie (above). Further details in the New York Times.

196 comments to New DVDs: Saville, Oboler, Lean

  • Tony Williams

    Tom,

    Was IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT shot in southern Illinois? “Black Rock” would be an ideal location and Rob Zombie could have shot his HALLOWEEN remake there rather than Pasadena. Those who have followed the I-57 route to St. Louis and passed the “Coon Club” on the way will need no special prompting.

    As I remarked to a contact, you don’t need to visit the area, just look at Michael Curtiz’s MOUNTAIN JUSTICE (1937).

    Sardonic humor aside, thank you, Junko, for confirming a feeling I had concerning the relationship between THUDERBOLT and ANATAHAN. I’m sure if a digitally remastered version appeared today to replace all these awful bootlegs derived from 3rd generation 16mm prints, THUNDERBOLT could be appreciated much better.

    Finally, I think Lorre is a great actor and Stephen Youngkin’s THE LOST ONE: A LIFE OF PETER LORRE both confirms the potential and the waste of his talents throughout his interesting career.

  • Junko, I agree with you absolutely about both “Thunderbolt” and “Anatahan”, which I would describe as Sternberg’s two most underrated films. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that I consider “Thunderbolt” to be an improvement in some ways over “Underworld”. (It can be considered in certain respects a remake.)

  • Tom Brueggemann

    One of the delights of IMDb is their filming locations link, which seems to be quite thorough.

    ItHofN used several Illinois locations, but the main one seems to have been the town of Chester, on the Mississippi about 40 miles SE of St. Louis. Basically, you get south of St Louis, and you are in the South, with the geography very similar to Mississippi just south of the Tennessee border.

    They used cotton fields in Tennessee.

    They clearly must have had some concerns for their safety at the time in Mississippi.

    False filming locations are a sub-interest of mine. I love finding those few films in which British locations stand in for American. Inventiveness like the San Fernando Valley, apart from a few process shots, standing in for the entire crosscountry trip in Hollywood or Bust fascinate me. On the other hand, as a Midwestern, seeing low mountains in Illinois, like in Baby Face Nelson (to name one of the worst examples) can drive me nuts.

  • Mike B.

    Scott,

    I haven’t seen BENJAMIN BUTTON yet — I wasn’t a fan of GUMP, and until I read what Dave says above this sounded a lot like that — but let me excitedly second your description of NEVER LET ME GO, my favorite novel by an author I love. My reading of and reaction to the book were very similar to yours, and I’ve been disappointed that so much of the commentary on it has focused on its dystopian sci-fi aspects (most recently in the Fall ’08 issue of Dissent). Thanks for your comment: I’m glad I’m not the only one who found its mortality resonances more salient, and more haunting, than its political vision.

    It’s a shame to hear you say that BUTTON doesn’t carry the emotional power of Ishiguro’s work because, come to think of it, just judging by the themes of ZODIAC I could see Fincher being a good match for Ishiguro. I remember Ivory’s REMAINS OF THE DAY as kind of disastrous, though it’s been a while; and although SADDEST MUSIC was fun, Maddin’s compulsive zaniness took things in very different directions from what you get in the novels. Curious if you or any other Ishiguro fans here have seen WHITE COUNTESS.

  • Alex Hicks

    As Osacar Hour apporached, an Aaron Daranofsky question comes to mind. Can anyone say anything to elucidate the auteur in Daranofsky –across his seemingly most stylistically and thematically varied films.

  • michael worrall

    Kent Jones wrote: “The final dialogue exchange between the sisters at the end of MAN IN THE MOON is shattering, like something out of Ozu.”

    But you know that I would say that the strength of scene ultimately rests on the placement or movement of the camera and the editing choices by the director.

  • michael worrall

    The dialogue could indeed be excellent, but be undermined by poor or pedestrian mise-en-scene.

  • Kent Jones

    Tom, did you see ASK THE DUST? I did not, but I wonder how Robert Towne fared with his attempt to recreate 30s LA in South Africa.

    HURRY SUNDOWN was shot in the deep south, and I know they had lots of trouble. Corman had trouble on THE INTRUDER, but that was shot in Missouri.

    Of course when it comes to crazy location shooting, Kubrick is king. You watch the end of FULL METAL JACKET and think: I never realized it gets that cold in Vietnam.

  • Kent Jones

    “The dialogue could indeed be excellent, but be undermined by poor or pedestrian mise-en-scene.”

    Absolutely true, Michael. I’ve seen many films in which indifferent dialogue is rendered beside the point by the mise-en-scène, and absolutely none where indifferent mise-en-scène is rescued by wonderful dialogue. Even in something like the 1940 PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, directed by an extremely neutral figure like Leonard, the mise-en-scène rises (or lifts on the strength of the overall idea of the film) to the occasion.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    The exchange between Michael and Kent about dialogue and mise-en-scene raises one of the crucial questions of film appreciation (and, incidentally, of the concept of auteurism). Leonard’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is an excellent example as the film is a rare achievement, astonishing from a highly competent but aesthetically “neutral” (as Kent puts it) director. I rather like the idea that the mise en scene “rises to the occasion” as we’re dealing with a superb screenplay, a great cast, first-rate “production values” etc… so that one might almost think, naively, that the film sort of ” directed itself.” So the question is: what is it that makes the mise en scene “rise” (or “lift”) to the “occasion?

    Kent, how do you like Horn’s “All My Tomorrows”?

  • Tony Williams

    Tom,

    Do you have access to a good copy of BABY FACE NELSON? The only one I know of is very blurred.

  • Jean-Pierre wrote: I rather like the idea that the mise en scene “rises to the occasion” as we’re dealing with a superb screenplay, a great cast, first-rate “production values” etc… so that one might almost think, naively, that the film sort of ” directed itself.” So the question is: what is it that makes the mise en scene “rise” (or “lift”) to the “occasion?

    J-P, Kent’s response made me think of the same question. I have not seen Leonard’s “Pride and Prejudice” but it could be that sometimes the level of proficiency that surrounds a director gives a film more than what an impersonal or even nondescript director would ordinary bring to it? Is the said director being a good traffic cop in letting people on the set go about their business, or is the director forced to engage in the material in a way that he/she would normally exert? (I believe Brad Stevens said Michael Winner’s strongest film was “The Mechanic” due to the fact that Winner pretty much followed the screenplay that was written by Monte Hellman.)

    For me, “Pennies From Heaven” is a strong example. Without Gordan Willis’ cinematography, Dennis Potter’s screenplay and Ken Adams’ set-design, would the film be as strong? The film, to me, is clearly Herbert Ross’ best film, but it really is not Ross’ film.

  • correction:

    Jean-Pierre wrote: I rather like the idea that the mise en scene “rises to the occasion” as we’re dealing with a superb screenplay, a great cast, first-rate “production values” etc… so that one might almost think, naively, that the film sort of ” directed itself.” So the question is: what is it that makes the mise en scene “rise” (or “lift”) to the “occasion?

    J-P, Kent’s response made me think of the same question. I have not seen Leonard’s “Pride and Prejudice” but it could be that sometimes the level of proficiency that surrounds a director gives a film more than what an impersonal or even nondescript director would ordinary bring to it. Is the said director being a good traffic cop in letting people on the set go about their business, or is the director forced to engage in the material in a way that he/she would normally exert? (I believe Brad Stevens said Michael Winner’s strongest film was “The Mechanic” due to the fact that Winner pretty much followed the screenplay that was written by Monte Hellman.)

    For me, “Pennies From Heaven” is a strong example. Without Gordan Willis’ cinematography, Dennis Potter’s screenplay and Ken Adams’ set-design, would the film be as strong? The film, to me, is clearly Herbert Ross’ best film, but it really is not Ross’ film.

  • ehhh..my proofing: Is the said director being a good traffic cop in letting people on the set go about their business, or is the director forced to engage in the material in a way that he/she would NOT normally exert?

  • tom brueggemann

    Kent – funny you mentioned Ask the Dust – I almost cited it as an oddball location, but effective.

    Tony – I don’t have a copy of Baby Face Nelson – not sure I;ve seen it since college

  • Kent wrote: “When it comes to making one place look like another, some people have it and some people don’t … THE BLACK DAHLIA was shot in Romania and it looks it”

    Kent, any excuse to kick old Brian, eh?? I have seen BLACK DAHLIA multiple times and have never once thought: “Jeez, it was shot in Romania”! It’s not his best film by any stretch, but whatever ‘it’ is, De Palma has it !! BLACK DAHLIA is an underrated film, like so many De Palma’s. And your point, however ironically intended, is right: it was Expressionism he was after there (much of it relates to the horror movie), not any realistic sense of place. Long live Romania!

  • Kent Jones

    Jean-Pierre and Michael – I think that the whole question of what constitutes a “script” on one hand and “direction” on another needs to be re-thought. Remember Godard reckoning that M and SHADOW OF A DOUBT were Lang’s and Hitchcock’s “least good” films because their “cleverly constructed” scripts didn’t “support” the mise-en-scène? A fascinating and provocative thing to write in 1950, and an idea that’s been followed closely in auteurism and that’s created a false impression. Lest I be accused once more by Bill Krohn of “trashing” Godard, I sympathize with the spirit in which it was written, that of a young man discovering cinema. But the idea of the script as a finished object is as wrong-headed as the idea of the director arriving on set and conjuring the movie into existence. Godard also said that the script was an accountant’s invention, and for him it’s (partly) true – as a filmmaker, he’s devoted himself to working as the earliest directors did, and that’s what’s so remarkable about him. But few others have the temperament or the inclination or the ambition to work that way. They have something called the script, and as Alexander Mackendrick put it, scripts aren’t written, they’re re-written. Again and again. Often by more than one person, much to the consternation of people like William Goldman or Paddy Chayefsky. Most directors work very closely with the writer, and the goal isn’t the realization of a script, but the making of a movie.

    Those movies based on “perfect scripts” often feel, to me at least, like movies made in fear, paralyzed by respect. PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, I’m sorry to say, seems like a perfect example. It may very well be Herbert Ross’ best film, but to me there’s so much Dennis Potter blanketing everything that the movie itself doesn’t come to life (I think the same could be said of most of Pinter’s output as a screenwriter). ALTERED STATES, on the other hand, seems like a good example of a director creatively violating a sacrosanct script and making an actual movie. Which is exactly why Chayefsky hated it.

    But what about PRIDE AND PREJUDICE? Or FOOTLIGHT PARADE? Or GOLDDIGGERS OF 1933? I think that the best “auteurless” films were made during the studio system, when there was a collective energy that lifted quite a few films to great heights (those conditions are long gone – the most recent examples I can think of are certain James Bond films, like OON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE). It happened often at Warner Brothers in the early 30s, and I think a Jane Austen novel was the perfect basis for an MGM movie – well-appointed, orderly, genteel (enough for Mayer at least), and teeming with character roles. It is not a movie that one looks to for evidence of magnificent mise-en-scène as understood according to the terms laid down by Godard or Sarris during his more extreme, polemicized moments. The same is true, as Michael wrote, of PENNIES, in which I am in the minority. And that begs the question hinted at by Jean-Pierre: to what degree are we watching movies, and to what degree are we searching for evidence of an auteur at work? Bazin addressed this issue with great care and eloquence, but his thinking on the matter has been overshadowed by more extremist views. Everyone here undoubtedly agrees that the greatest films ever made were fashioned by individuals who were directors by trade, as opposed to writers or actors or producers. But that doesn’t mean that films can’t come to life through other means.

    Jean-Pierre, sublime is the word for “All My Tomorrows.” The way it builds, so slowly…makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. And it’s so beautifully melancholy. I like Sinatra’s version, but hers is in another class. Thank you for the recommendation.

    Adrian, I was joking about Romania, but there is something odd about the movie – maybe it has to do with the idea of seeing a movie set in what has to be the most filmed city in the history of movies, a city that has stood in for practically everywhere else in the world, so obviously shot somewhere else. I guess I’ll have to restrain myself from mentioning De Palma in the future.

  • What would happen if we studied Robert Z. Leonard’s films in depth? Would we see an auteur’s profile emerge?
    I’ve never seen PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. It’s been treated as an example of a good movie sans auteur, since Andrew Sarris’ introduction to THE AMERICAN CINEMA.
    My scorecard for random viewings of Leonard films over the years:
    Good: THE DELICIOUS LITTLE DEVIL, AFTER OFFICE HOURS.
    OK: LET US BE GAY, STAND BY FOR ACTION, IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME
    Stinkers: A LADY OF CHANCE, EVERYTHING I HAVE IS YOURS

    Other than Leonard’s relentless gentility, I haven’t been able to see much in common with these. There are boats and water in both AFTER OFFICE HOURS and STAND BY FOR ACTION.
    Women cope with obnoxiously male chauvinist husbands in LET US BE GAY and EVERYTHING I HAVE IS YOURS.

  • Kent Jones

    Mike, should we really go to the trouble of studying Robert Z. Leonard’s films in depth? And if one were to find, say, 3 more movies with boats in water or 4 more in which women cope with obnoxiously male chauvinist husbands, or if some heretofore undetected preoccupation were to be found running through the bulk of his work, would an auteur’s profile emerge? More pressingly, would it improve the films? Has there ever been a case in which the discovery of running themes in the career of a director has caused people to see the films themselves in a more favorable light? Isn’t it the films themselves that should drive us to look more closely, as opposed to the Platonic image of the auteur?

  • Alex Hicks

    “But what about PRIDE AND PREJUDICE? Or FOOTLIGHT PARADE? Or GOLDDIGGERS OF 1933? I think that the best “auteurless” films were made during the studio system, when there was a collective energy that lifted quite a few films to great heights (those conditions are long gone – the most recent examples I can think of are certain James Bond films, like OON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE).”
    Seems to me the above digs pretty deep or goes pretty far back or both in search of good films by non auteurs.
    What about all the good studio-era films of Sarris never-rehabilitated Less than Meets the Eye directors like Lean, Mammalian, Reed, Wellman, Lineman, etc? Or Lightly Likable ones like Berkeley and Golding and Hathaway or Strained seriousness ones like Wise, Dassin, etc? Or all the similarly categorized directors from the grey area between studio and total package-unit eras like Lineman, Franklin Schaffner, Frankenheimer and Jewison? Are these directors being considered as auteurs? Do folks think Sarris considers them auteurs? Or have rationales of their own for so considering them?

    To me Leonard seems to me less an example of a non-auteur whom directed a fine PRIDE than an unaccomplished (if busy) director who did so
    (Not that i’d regard Bacon and LeRoy as essentially unaccomplished or LeRoy as inconceivable as an auteur.)

  • Kent,
    Another possibility is that merits of a film – in fact much of anything on-screen – is invisible till we learn to look for it. And this is often at the director level.
    We know in Bresson to look at hands, feet and other isolated body parts – they run through his films. So when cinephiles watch TRIAL OF JOAN OF ARC, we see the movement of the mother’s feet in the opening. And how they echo the movement of a clapper on a bell – a sort of visual pun.
    I suspect that when folks who’ve never heard of Bresson and whose cinema education is restricted to THE DARK KNIGHT watch TRIAL, that they don’t even see this. Their eyes are watching. But their brains are not processing. It is in effect, invisible.
    Naturally, such folks are going to find TRIAL “boring”. They will call it a film “where nothing happens”.
    I’ve repeatedly seen more in directors, when I come to know their characteristics. The web-book I wrote last year on Joseph H. Lewis was an eye-opening experience. Take GUN CRAZY, a film most people think they “know”. It is full of stuff you don’t see, even when looking at it. Many of the camera movements are of common types in Lewis. They only stand out, once you’ve seen them elsewhere. There are spirals in metal work: a Lewis trait. The geometry of the sister’s house shows up again in THE BIG COMBO and many RIFLEMAN episodes. Once you recognize all the hay scenes in Lewis, you suddenly notice the lovers on the train are in a boxcar full of hay. Lewis made two early films about road builders: PRIDE OF THE BOWERY and BOMBS OVER BURMA. When the robbing couple smash through a road crew at the end, they are attacking the workers glorified in other Lewis films. Swinging gates and doors are everywhere in Lewis: you only see the three in GUN CRAZY when you’ve noticed them as a trait. Even something as conspicuous as the gun duel at the carnival, begins to look richer when you compare it with the comic duels in BARANCA, DUEL OF HONOR, POMPEY, HONEST ABE, DUEL OF HONOR, and other Lewis works.

    What are we not seeing in Leonard? Maybe nothing – maybe he is a hack. But maybe he has a personal film language, like Bresson or Lewis. Only study will tell.

  • Mike Grost wrote: “There are boats and water in both AFTER OFFICE HOURS and STAND BY FOR ACTION.”

    Mike,I have always admired your tireless energy on seeing as many films from a director, be it an an A, B, C or D list director, but I have never quite understood why you assign locations or objects such as the above as possible signs of an auteur. There are countless films made by countless directors that have scenes with boats and water–the two are mot uncommonly seen together–, and I think one stands a good chance that one of the countless directors has made more than one film with boats and water in it.

  • Alex Hicks

    Mike,

    Bresson is a great example of inaccessibility for the Mall and Hollywood crowds: The morning I first saw PICKPOCKET during its Spring, 1963, U.S. premier, I had to choose between a blurb in the add for the film that proclaimed it one of the 10 greatest films ever made and a ONE STAR review in the N.Y. Daily News (the first i had ever seen)!

    As for patterns in Leonard’s film, well there MIGHT be some, but should stylistic or thematic expressiveness suffice to dub him an auteur director if the great bulk of his films seem poor? Buddy Hacket arguable was a an expressive actor and comedian or some consistency and perhaps development across roles, but…

  • Alex wrote: “Buddy Hacket arguable was a an expressive actor and comedian or some consistency and perhaps development across roles, but…”

    Especially “The Love Bug”. There are a lot of scenes with water in the films of Robert Stevenson –from “Bednobs and Broomsticks” and “Herbie Rides Again”– is Stevenson therefore an auteur?

  • Gentlemen,
    I agree that I know nothing about auteur profiles in Leonard. The boats-and-water was mentioned only as a desperate graping at straws, trying to find ANY sort of running theme.
    The point about Bresson, is that most of us are probably using unofficial auteurist profiles when we watch his movie. We know about the body parts, the camera lingering on doors, the unusual sound mosaics, the automatist models… We all have probably picked this up helter-skelter from Bresson criticism.
    Why not systematize this? And do it for other filmmakers?

  • -–from “Bednobs and Broomsticks” TO “Herbie Rides Again”–.

    Mike,

    Okay. I know, I am getting a little smart in the pants. In your essay on Richard Fleischer and his use of 180 pans –an observation I agree on–, I believe you also make auteurist claims for Fleischer in that a lot of his films have scenes in offices. I think one could find a lot of scenes in offices in crime films, particularly offices in a police station. Yes, there are a lot of scenes in offices in “Tora, Tora, Tora”, but where else would one think Fleischer would stage scenes of people discussing military briefs? Now if Fleischer shot these office scenes in a consistent and signature way there may be an argument, but the fact that a common location appears many times in a director’s films –maybe Leonard has many films with scenes in a office– does not seem to make an auteur.

  • Kent Jones

    Mike, forgive me but didn’t you write about Joseph H. Lewis in the first place because you liked some of his movies? As for the Bresson example, the gulfs between people who have an understanding of cinema beyond what’s playing at the mall and those who don’t is indeed great, but what exactly it has to do with this topic eludes me. People without a knowledge of cinema tend to have certain internalized consumer warning bells go off at the sight of something by Bresson or Hou – too slow, not enough action, foreign, no story, bad acting, etc. Once someone is interested, things change. Nothing is really “invisible.” It’s a matter of acclimitization and the spark of interest, which is true of everything. If you spend your whole life listening to top 40 radio, Beethoven and Charlie Parker might sound like visitations from another planet.

    Alex, maybe it’s a good idea to drop Sarris’ categories. First of all, you’re talking about real directors here. Secondly, Sarris never made a clear distinction between auteurs and non-auteurs. With good reason.

    I mentioned that the examples go pretty far back because of the right conditions during certain moments in the studio era, but for a more recent example, how about THE IN-LAWS? No one in their right mind would refer to it as “an Arthur Hiller film,” but it doesn’t seem to me to be entirely Andrew bergman’s film either. It’s a Peter Falk/Alan Arkin/Andrew Bergman/1979 movie. PENNIES FROM HEAVEN seems like an equally good example – I just don’t care for it personally.

  • From my web article on Fleischer:
    Elements in the American segments of Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) recall Fleischer’s early films of the 1940’s.
    * It is in semi-documentary style, and focuses on members of government institutions, as in Fleischer’s film noir.
    * Just as Follow Me Quietly showed police and press headquarters, so is this film frequently set in offices. The furniture and decor resembles that earlier film, with lots of long tables, old fashioned desks, wooden seats, and other accouterments of 1940’s style offices. The offices tend to have long, horizontal windows made up of repeated square panes; these recall the windows in the police and press rooms in that film.
    * We also see the Operation Magic code room and machinery: these recall the police lab in Armored Car Robbery.

    This is as concrete as I could make it. The two films’ offices really do look alike!

  • Kent, you are ascribing cinephiles’ understanding of Bresson to a generalized “knowledge of art cinema”.
    I’m suggesting cinephiles understand Bresson because they have learned “Bresson’s system of film making” (to use Burch / Bordwell terminology) or what I call an “auteurist profile of Bresson’s characteristics”.
    It’s true I studied Lewis because I liked his films, very much. This is a good point.

  • Alex Hicks

    Mikes and other Gentlemen,

    I just meant to use Hacket as an example of expressiveness without much accomplishment (though, sure, I might be missing something or imposing snooty tastes). Didn’t mean to reflect on any auteurship per se of actors or on the auteurship of director Stevenson via Hacket or otherwise though it’d be pleased here that the sometimes diverting Stevenson was an auteur– and at least amuse to hear a case for Hacket’s contribution to Art.
    As for learning to think of Bresson as an auteur from previously read criticism, very plausible. However, I’d say that a wee bit of middle school shop lifting and a couple of years in a disciplinarily inclined Latin American private school plus a lot of multinational movie going sufficed to prime me for Bresson’s PICKPOCKET and A MAN ESCAPES, respectively –quite without a whit of Bressonian criticism.

    And, oh yeah, any Gents really think Sarris is describing auteurs — as opposed to his Stateside variants of thedirectors of the “cinéma de qualité” (plus miscellany) –after page 154 of THE AMERICAN CINEMA?

  • Mike Grost wrote: “Just as Follow Me Quietly showed police and press headquarters, so is this film frequently set in offices. The furniture and decor resembles that earlier film, with lots of long tables, old fashioned desks, wooden seats, and other accouterments of 1940’s style offices.”

    Mike? Where else do you think Fleischer would have staged these scenes? How is the use of an office for such scenes unique? Maybe the films look alike in design because even though “Tora, Tora, Tora” was made in 1970, it takes place in the early 40s! I believe this is question of period and set design, not any thematic relations.

  • Kent Jones

    Mike, if you’re suggesting that people learn to like Bresson only after understanding his “system,” then I simply disagree. I was entranced by Bresson and Godard before I “understood” them. But I have never had the experience of pursuing the study of a director just for the sake of study, and then liking his or her work as a result. If I were forced to study the collected works of Richard Thorpe, I suppose I would instinctively develop some kind of fondness for the work, if only to make the assignment bearable. (Cue the Richard Thorpe defenders). In fact IVANHOE seems like another good example of a good auteur-less movie.

  • Alex wrote:” Stevenson was an auteur– and at least amuse to hear a case for Hacket’s contribution to Art>” I would like to hear your case for Stevenson as an auteur.

  • Some background:
    Today we have a crisis in film appreciation, with only a beleaguered minority enjoying films beyond multiplex fare. My hope is that the systematic study of directors can open the masses’ eyes to the wonders of cinema. Perhaps this hope is misguided – but it is based on a sincere desire to lift the siege of cinephilia.

    Traditionally, a few people were good at math, and took to it naturally. Most people “don’t get” math, and have terrible struggles learning it. Educators, psychologists etc are working around th eclock, trying to uncover secrets of math learning that will open math up to everybody.

    I certainly believe that people like Kent and Alex and others on this list are natural cinephiles, that saw Bresson and loved him right out of the box.

    But what about the masses? What can we do to help them?
    Maybe trying explain clearly what we see in Bresson or Lewis can open the box, and let everyone see!

  • Kent Jones

    Mike, we’re all part of “the masses,” aren’t we? In any event, I don’t see what the problem is with love of cinema and a consequent understanding as something that’s passed on from hand to hand, as opposed to a formalized educational system. The problem is when cinema appreciation as it now stands is equated with exclusivity when it’s actually nothing of the kind. It’s just a different, and time-worn, model of learning and understanding.

  • alex hicks

    A turn to page 29 of Sarris “The American Cinema, ” seems to me evidence enough that Sarris is precisely identifying his U.S. auteurs as of 1967 in terms of his “Pantheon,” “Far Side of Paradise” and “Expressive Esoterica” directors. Should we forget these categories? Maybe, but I think they provide a good baseline defense against just assuming that the directors whose films admire are auteurs . Of course, we’ve seen enlightening cases made here at this site for the auteur status of various directors who are not auteurs for Sarris – e.g., Curtiz, Daves, Fleischer, Leisen– good cases even though the stress has been mostly stylistic expressiveness without reference to Sarris’s stress on thematic expressivity (which I also think relevant, though it suggests an important role for aspects of the “script” –selection, influence, improvisation, writing, etc.–something often beyond directorial control

  • alex hicks

    Michael Worrall, Sorry to wet your appetite with the carelessly typed “it’d be pleased here that the sometimes diverting Stevenson was an auteur.”
    Ishould have typed out “I’d be pleased to hear that the sometimes diverting Stevenson was an auteur.” I don’t , in fact, suspect that he is.

  • Kent Jones

    Alex, I agree that Sarris set up something extremely valuable with those categories. But is it too much to wonder if the usefulness of the model might have come to an end? Maybe “throw out” is the wrong choice of words. “Build from” would be more accurate.

    First of all, Sarris would be the last one to argue that anything he wrote should be set in stone. Thus he has spent many years revising the opinions he expressed in that book, about Wyler, Huston, Wellman, Lean, along with many others and Wilder above all. Secondly, it’s the “thematic consistency” argument that’s always seemed to me to be the shakiest element of the “auteur theory.” “Auteur without a doubt, but what of?” as Bazin said, and one could say the same of a lot of filmmakers. Not to pick on poor Brian De Palma, but I am in complete agreement with his most extravagant admirers: he is an auteur, his films are extremely personal, his signature is immediately detectable. So what? Michael Mann? PT Anderson? Todd Solondz? Darren Aronofsky? Auteurs. What does that tell us about them? About their respective approaches to the medium, relationships with its history, and so on? Nothing. Luc Moullet once wrote that by the 70s, it had become possible for almost everyone to refer to themselves as auteurs. He was right.

    That’s why I believe that Sarris’ explanation of Cukor’s “theme” simply doesn’t wash. But does that make Cukor any less of a director? What exactly is the “theme” running throughout Jacques Tourneur’s body of work? I could point to the pursuit of a certain tone, a certain melding of character and atmosphere, to continuous intimations of the supernatural in the unlikeliest places, but a theme? On top of which, many great directors pursue a variety of themes across their careers – not everyone is as focused as Hitchcock or Hawks. Manny Farber’s model of the termite artist seems more workable to me, and that has its limits too.

    On the other hand, autuerism has been a blessing and will continue to be, for the simple reason that it places cinema where it belongs (in the realm of art) by placing its creation where it belongs (with the people behind the camera during the shoot). Michael is right – sparkling dialogue and sterling performances amount to nothing if they’re not integrated into the whole of the film. Which is why I can live with Brian De Palma being overrated, but I really can’t live with William Goldman being overrated.

    I just think that ranking will only get you so far. What should we ask ourselves? How does the film function, if it functions at all, and if it does why? Where is the filmmaker in relation to the film? In relation to history? In relation to the material, the coordination of actors within the frame, the grasp of cinema as an expressive tool? I think these are better questions than Is X or Y an auteur?

  • alex hicks

    Kent

    There’s a lot to chew on here, a lot of it a rather indirect spinoff from the mystery of Leonard’s PREJUDICE as a strong film from a non-auteur and/or perhaps simply weak director.

    The most interesting thing about it for me at first glance is a spinoff from it of my own: quite divergence from the auteurism –stylistic at least — so strong and prevalent at this site. Especially striking in contrast with what I see to be Dave K’s very strong stylistic auteurism, which I see as a very incomplete perspective in the abstract but a very rich one as wielded by Dave because of his ability to abstract out the stylistic-expressive aspect of a director and her films.

    On the possible weakness of thematic — or auteurism’s thematic dimension, I like it because it points narrative and contents side of film, which seems crucial to me. Here I would turn to Kristin Thompson’s “Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique” — rich in regard for narrative conceptions and writing– for moral support.

  • “.. my own: quite divergence from the auteurism –stylistic at least — so strong and prevalent at this site. Especially striking in contrast with what I see to be Dave K’s very strong stylistic auteurism …”

    Alex, you have lapsed into incoherence again! Stylsitic auteurism is in contrast to styilstic auteurism?? ‘Quite’ so !! I’m reaching for the headache poweders again …

  • Kent Jones

    Adrian, maybe you could give Alex a break here. “Quite” is probably “quiet,” the colon is a typo, and he’s not contrasting “stylistic auteurism” with itself at all. He’s saying that he diverges from what he perceives to be the strong strain of stylistic auteurism on this site, exemplified by Dave’s point of view.

  • A little prrofreading before pressing ‘send’ never hurt anybody !

  • I meant: PROOFREADING !!!

  • Alex Hicks

    “quite DIVERGENT from the auteurism –stylistic at least — so strong and prevalent at this site.”

  • Kent Jones

    Alex – thanks for the prrofreading.

  • Miguel Marías

    Maybe I’m too late and nobody follows this thread anymore, but I have just seen Arch Oboler’s “Five” and I’m astonished no one ever saw fit to comment on it, and rather talk about everything else, from Chabrol to Shirley Horn. I’m sorry to disagree with Dave K., but I found it an astounding picture, from whatever point of view I can look at it, and especially for a film made in 1951, only 6 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I think the actors are magnificent, the dialogue intelligent, that it is visually original (and beautiful) and that it is strikingly close, and better, more than half a century before, to Cormack McCarthy’s The Road. That’s a true “indie” film.
    Miguel Marías