New DVDs: Alexander Korda

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This week in the New York Times, I write about the new set from Criterion’s budget line, Eclipse, “Alexander Korda’s Private Lives,” which contains four historical films from the Hungarian-British producer.  The most interesting are the two that Korda directed himself:  “The Private Life of Henry VIII,” (1933), a Lubitschian comedy of sexual mores and table manners with an iconic performance by Charles Laughton, and the lovely, underrated “The Private Life of Don Juan” (1934), starring Douglas Fairbanks (in what would prove to be his final film) in a wise and witty reflection on the agelessness of the image and the frailty of the flesh.

For the new number of FIPRESCI’s Undercurrent, Chris Fujiwara has assembled 18 texts from some of our finest film thinkers, including Jean-Pierre Coursodon, Blake Lucas, Adrian Martin, Dan Sallitt, James Verniere, Richard T. Jameson, Sam Adams, Miguel Marias and David Sterritt, on a wide range of titles by John Ford.  I’m just getting started on it, but there is some very fine writing here, including Shigehiko Hasumi on Pappy’s little seen “Kentucky Pride” of 1925.

244 comments to New DVDs: Alexander Korda

  • Kent Jones

    Jean-Pierre, I have a feeling that THE DEAN’S DECEMBER is…WILD STRAWBERRIES? Is this right, Johann? Odd, because it’s the name of a Saul Bellow novel.

    I want to take exception to the idea that Kazan let his actors guide his movies. As someone who’s spent the last 3 years working on a film about him, I think that while there are many things one could say about his films (overreaching, a certain broadness in the acting of fathers and father figures, Raymond Massey excepted), this is not one of them. He certainly worked closely with his actors but I don’t think he let anyone guide anything.

    I myself admire STREETCAR as a sharp, sensitive version of a great play, but it’s not a film I care for so much. WILD RIVER is not the film that affects me the most, but it’s probably the greatest.

    Tony, I think I had the end of THE LADY OF SHANGHAI in mind when I mentioned the hall of mirrors. I find it so strange. When we were discussing THE STRANGER, at a certain point I felt like we were suddenly there, in the funhouse. Everything becomes so distorted on the internet, or amplified, or muted, or pulled inside out. Just for the record, there’s a sequence that is only a fragment of what Welles intended. Which is staggering, since it’s one of the greatest moments in his cinema.

    I want to mention that I saw Bob Gitt’s restoration of THE RED SHOES the other night, and it is absolutely magnificent – it was like being there in the 40s and seeing it on opening day. My heart was in my mouth from first frame to last.

  • Barry Putterman

    Kent – You can’t leave me hanging like that! Which Kazan film affects you the most?

    You know, the problems of Internet communication and subtitled prints are similar in some ways. You lose the vocal inflections connection to the words. It becomes so easy to misinterpret intention that way.

  • Tony Williams

    Well, Kent. I guessed that your Welles subconscious was certainly at work in your reference to the “hall of mirrors.”

    I wholeheartedly agree with you about that sequence being a “fragment” but still “one of the greatest moments in his cinema.”

  • jbryant

    Congrats to Kent, and good luck with a good cause!

    Mike: I hadn’t thought of the accent issues you raise with De Toth; I’ll have to pay attention to that next time I see one of his films. I’m with you on John Russell in Man in the Saddle, however. His intensity burns up the screen (even the small one I saw it on). Perhaps that’s why De Toth favors Russell with a number of close-ups despite his relatively small part.

  • Brian Dauth

    Jean-Pierre (and everybody): I have always wondered if Mankiewicz films were dubbed or subtitled when they were first shown in France. I know JLM was a favorite for some critics there, but his mise en scene is so involved with dialogue and vocal performance that I wondered how they had at first been viewed.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Kent, yes I DID mean WILD STRAWBERRIES. Odd that I should have mixed it up with Bellows novel (which I read in English, so the title must have stuck in my mind somehow).

    Jean-Pierre, the awkwardness of young peoples dilaouge in Bergmans films is a very common observation – in no way an original insight from me. It’s often mentioned in reviews when Bergmans films are shown on TV, and I have talked about this countless times with friends who are interested in movies. In WILD STRAWBERRIES it’s especially striking since it’s a short scene with Bibi Andersson sounding like she came from outer space in an otherwise (in my opinion) flawless film. It has to do primarily with the way the lines are written, but also with the delivery.

    In the case of MONICA I think young working class people must have been totally alien to Bergman. Per Anders Fogelström, the author of the story that MONICA is based on, is usually very good at portraying young working class people, so the trouble must be Bergmans adaptation. If I saw MONICA in a foreign language and with subtitles I think I would like it very much. I still think it’s a good film, but the stilted dialogue too often makes me lose track of the story and reminds me of the fact that I’m watching actors labour with funny sounding lines.

  • jbryant

    If this discussion has sparked or renewed anyone’s interest in In Cold Blood, it can be seen today (Sunday) on TCM at 12:30 PST, 3:30 Eastern.

    On Monday, they’re showing almost all of Capra’s pre-1933 sound work. And on the 20th they’ve got Mulligan’s rare The Pursuit of Happiness, which was discussed in an earlier thread.

  • Kent Jones

    Jesus, since you cited Arnaud Desplechin in relation to Bergman, it’s probably worth noting how powerful an effect Bergman’s films have had on him. He’s not alone in French cinema. Olivier Assayas did an interview book with Bergman, and obviously he was extremely important to Godard when he was young. I’ve never really thought of Bergman’s dialogue as “realistic” or not, but powerfully dense. The outpouring of words, as in SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE, has its own power. I think he got away from attempting to do naturalistic dialogue pretty early on.

    Jean-Pierre, Chion’s idea of looking closely at the accents and vocal patterns of actresses is a great idea. It’s like excavating a whole uncovered stratum of cinema. There are certain voices that are just magical. Roger Livesey’s, for instance. Or Delphine Seyrig’s, especially with Resnais – her voice was a formidable instrument. Or Everett Sloane’s – “It’s no trick to make a lot of money…if all you want is to make a lot of money.” Or, to return to THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, Glenn Anders’ – “So long…FELLAH!” Resnais has been very eloquent about his own love of certain voices, like Jack Benny’s. And didn’t Bresson cast actors after listening to their voices?

    Barry, I will risk the wrath of Blake Lucas and say that I find ON THE WATERFRONT enormously affecting. Meaning, the scenes between Brando and Saint and Brando and Steiger. The rest of the film, not so much. And, I find EAST OF EDEN a pretty overpowering experience. And I will state, with no shame, that if you’re ever in the mood to watch me sob, just bring over a copy of A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. The tears start flowing early on and come down in torrents when Joan Blondell gives Peggy Ann Garner the flowers from her father on graduation day. Of course, WILD RIVER and the ending of SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS have an emotional refinement and quiet that is unique in Kazan’s work – maybe certain sections of THE LAST TYCOON, too. Does everyone here know the early 70s book FAVORITE MOVIES? Robin Wood writes with customary eloquence on the incredible scene in WILD RIVER where Clift and Remick enter the abandoned house where she’s lived with her dead husband.

    jbryant, thanks very much.

  • Johan Andreasson

    “I think he got away from attempting to do naturalistic dialogue pretty early on.”

    Yes, that’s right! When we think about Bergman it’s important to remember that the movies are less than half of his lifes work. He came from the theatre where he was even more active. I think he benefited from accepting a certain “staginess” in his movie dialogue. SCENES FROM A MARRIGE would work just as fine on the stage – in fact I think it has been played as a stage production in many countries.

  • Alex Hicks

    Jean-Pierre, Sooon as I sent that last post off I thought, ooopps, Boris Ingster’s (!)”Stranger on the Third Floor,” with its Woolrich-like narrative pessimism and Musuraca’s landmark crime-genre expressionistic chiaroscuro is probably the first. However, I do think that ‘Maltese Falcon” qualifies as one of the first noirs, probably the first A-picture noir. As a narrative, it is the prototype of Krutnik’s “tough guy investigative thriller, which transforms the classical-mystery detective not only by hardboiling it but by stressing the psychological drama of the protagonists anxiety – threatened status, threatened male support, threatened macho control. (and Krutnik’s under-read “in a Lonely Street”) is one of my Bibles). In narrative and thematic terms, it is quite pessimistic enough. Visually, I think it is sufficiently on the terrain of nourish high-contrast-titling dark chiaroscuro to fit the Nor pattern, though it is neither the expressionistic innovation in the crime genre that “Third Floor was” nor the expressionistic style changer that “Kane” was. Anyhow, I take the existence of a conventional wisdom on “Falcon” as seminal noir as pretty good documentation for the argument that it is some sort of (very early) noir.

  • Favorite Movies is indeed a great book; I worry that we shall never see its like again. Wood’s essay in that volume is primarily about Mizoguchi’s Sansho Dayu, but building up to the main topic Wood dwells momentarily on Wild River. Wood goes into more detail on the film in the Kazan issue of Movie, No. 19, in his essentially dissenting essay, “The Kazan Problem.”

  • Favorite Movies is a classic from the era of High Auteurism. The piece by Stuart Byron on Hawks is superb. The whole book is very inspirational.

  • Oh, and Michel Chion’s work on the human voice in motion pictures has been collected in the book, The Voice in Cinema, translated by Claudia Gorbman, and published by Columbia University Press.

  • Perhaps film noir wasn’t launched so much by a single title as it coalesced around the agonized figure of Peter Lorre — from “M” (1930) through “Mad Love” (1935), “Crime and Punishment” (1935), “Island of Doomed Men” (1940), “Stranger on the Third Floor” (1940) and “The Face Behind the Mask” (1941). “Falcon” comes along fairly late.

  • Interesting point. One could almost argue that noir was driven by actors (and DPs) more than directors (but only if one takes the position that most directors associated with noir had somewhat undistinguished careers outside the genre). Later, Robert Mitchum inherited the role of noirteur from Lorre.

  • Barry Putterman

    Kent – The wrath of Blake Lucas is indeed a force to be reckoned with, but I am glad you took me up on this. Lee Remick in the now oft-mentioned WILD RIVER scene is what ultimately makes it the most affecting Kazan film for me. (Oh, and having Bruce Dern as “the voice of reason” in the fight scene – “You hit a WOMAN!!”). Maybe I will bring over A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN some day and we can sob together. By the time we get to Dorothy McGuire’s speech to Peggy Ann while having the baby….

    Actually, I was hoping that Jean-Pierre would get into the voice issue when I asked about dubbing in France. There’s still time if he’d like to.

  • nicolas saada

    I’ve looked through the Taschen Bergman book, a dream come true. I understand italian pretty much, and I sometimes realize that the acting in some Antonioni films of the early sixties is very stiff, as opposed for instance to fellini’s. But I don’t mind it. Johann I actually realized lately that bergman’s dialogue was unrealistic when I discovered a SWEDISH LOVE STORY last year, a film that looks like a Claire Denis drama…but shot in 1970 !
    I could write tons of things on “noir” since it was the central theme of my master thesis with Michel ciment. It got published as part of the FILM NOIR READER number 4. I’d put THIRD FLOOR as the first real “noir” myself, although you could actually slip in a couple of pre-code films as well. BEAST OF THE CITY sometimes looks like a Jules Dassin film: there’s an incredible footchase in downtown LA.
    Dubbing in France is often a sheer disaster except when fimmakers take it over. Pasacale Ferran was the dubbing supervisor of teh French release of EYES WIDE SHUT.
    I’d love to know what Junko thinks of how we perceive the acting in Japanese films. I tend to see a distinction between the very “thirties” theatrical voicing of Mifune and the mild approach to acting by one of my favorite japanese actors: Takashi Shimura. the acting in Ozu is more subdued, and i would imagine, more urban, but sometimes all the women sound alike. I would not say that of Mizoguchi.

  • Blake Lucas

    “Kent – The wrath of Blake Lucas is indeed a force to be reckoned with…”

    As John Wayne keeps saying in BIG JAKE “Not hardly…”

    Why gratuitously drag me into this, Kent? I hadn’t said a word on the subject. Anyway, I know ON THE WATERFRONT affects many people–but not everyone. I’ll acknowledge that it’s one of Kazan’s worst films for me, but less because of the casting then because of the seeming confusion in the minds of Kazan and Schulberg in equating someone informing on gangsters with HUAC testimony
    –this apologia with a martryed figure (and Brando too loves to move through the frames horribly beaten–see also THE CHASE) makes this film very tough going. By the way, I’m sure someone here has read Brando’s autobiography when he observed that the famous “I could have been a contender” scene was actor-proof because every audience member would so readily identify with the sentiment.

    Actually, I like Kazan, and especially value certain films. His two best for me are yes, WILD RIVER, and SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS–they are both favorite films of mine and close to my heart and I would hate to have to choose, but although I thought Robin Wood’s mostly dissenting view was generally rough, he had a point in Kazan being overrated by some, because there are 11 Nicholas Ray movies this great (over half that director’s work), and he never had the critical cachet of his old friend and colleague Kazan when they were both around except with auteurists.

    My other favorites are EAST OF EDEN and A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, and Kent’s responses to these films re the emotion in them resonates a lot with me, followed by THE ARRANGEMENT and AMERICA AMERICA. I do think he is a great director of most actors and actresses, especially women. For me the greatest performances in his film are Lee Remick in WILD RIVER, Natalie Wood in SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, Julie Harris in EAST OF EDEN and Dorothy McGuire in A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, which does kind of interestingly correspond to my favorites I know. But notwithstanding how immensely affecting TREE is, I believe Kazan’s artistry most fully blossomed later, when he really engaged the language of cinema. I don’t know if it’s true as I’ve heard that he gave renewed attention to Ford before making WILD RIVER–it sure feels like it might be true.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Barry, I responded to your querie about dubbing in France yesterday at 8:31PM. Check it out! Of course I could write a whole book about the horrors of dubbing.

    Brian asked if Mankiewicz films were dubbed or subtitled in France. The answer is: “both,” just like for practically all American films. As I said before, however, the number of subtitled prints (labelled VOST for “Version Originale sous-titree”) was (still is, I guess) limited since the VOST was shown in only a very few first-run theaters, with the result that if you missed the VO or didn’t live in Paris (practically the only town where VOs were shown at all) it was very difficult after a while to catch up with a film’s VO. Most French critics of course lived in Paris and could see VOs when the films were released, either in theaters or at press screenings. The overwhelming importance of language in Mankiewicz’s films was indeed discussed by critics and actually became a sort of cliche. Jean Douchet on Mank waxed biblical in the famous Cahiers du Cinema “Situation du cinema americain, II” issue: “Et le verbe se fait Mankiewicz, qui fonde entierement sa mise en scene sur le dynamisme de la parole.”

    I have never heard or read any French critic complaining about the difficulty of following abundant dialogue, in Mankiewicz’s films or any others. As far as cinephilic critics were concerned, some were able to follow dialogue without too much help from the subtitles, some couldn’t at all. But their proficiency in English or lack thereof made no difference. There was a tacit agreement that subtitles may be inadequate at times but that you just have to accept them if you don’t know the language.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Blake I think that it’s somewhat bizarre to claim that one director is overrated because another director is not (or is underrated), which seemed to be Robin Wood’s argument concerning Kazan and Ray.

    There seem to be an agreement that WILD RIVER is perhaps Kazan’s best film, and almost everybody’s favorite. I too love SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS. A few years ago I wrote an article on both films (“Two American Tragedies”) for a Kazan “dossier” in Positif.

  • Brian Dauth

    Thanks Jean-Pierre. Now could I ask you to translate what Douchet said for my unschooled self?

  • “And the Word became Mankiewicz, who entirely founded his mise-en-scène on the dynamism of the word.”
    See John 1:1
    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘I tend to see a distinction between the very “thirties” theatrical voicing of Mifune and the mild approach to acting by one of my favorite japanese actors: Takashi Shimura. the acting in Ozu is more subdued, and i would imagine, more urban, but sometimes all the women sound alike. I would not say that of Mizoguchi.’

    Nicolas, I am not understanding about thirties theatrical voicing. I understand about theatrical inflection, but not about thirties.

    About Mifune, he is playing usually tateyaku charcater type, so his voice is rough and in theatrical manner, typical voice for tateyaku. Shimura (great actor) is playing many type of charcater, and he had theatre background (Mifune was acting only in movies and TV shows, no theatre background), his acting was by own development. Mifune’s acting was developed by Kurosawa, and he had the limited range of performance, but still he was great actor. That is main difference between them.

    People in Ozu movies is speaking in artificial voice with artificial expression, and they is also types, not psychologically formed characters, but representatative charcaters like in Noh drama, but from contemporary urban life. Acting in his movies is like that, that is why women charcaters is speaking in similar voice.

    Mizoguchi charcters is social type, so they is speaking according to class background, regional accent. Especially he wanted regional accent for the character, Osaka accent, Kyoto accent, Kyushu accent. Also standard Tokyo accent. Ozu characters is speaking in stylized Tokyo accent mostly.

    Acting style has become ‘realistic’ from 1960s, especially with ‘new wave’ directors, especially Imamura.

  • Alex Hicks

    Dave K, Interesting Peter Lorre theory of noir. Soon as I step back from FALCON to THIRD FLOOR, I thought, “How about M.” But if you buy the Krutnik “tough guy” complement to that “agony” theme — and M and THIRD FLOOR would just be preludes or counterpoints to the appearance of Krutnik’s tough guy “masculine anxiety” at the point when Lorre type anxiety migrates into the likes of Lancaster’s Siodmak protagonists or the Wismar of NIGHT AND THE CITY — or, first of all, the control-obsessed Spade of Huston’s FALCON. (The Krutnik book hasn’t the style of Naremore but it’s thought through like a –strong- dissertation, which it almost certainly was. )

  • Kent Jones

    Johann, today I saw a selection of footage shot by Bergman with a home movie camera on the sets of many of his movies, edited by Stig Bjorkman. There is a series of shots of him conferring with Gunnar Bjornstrand, and I found them extremely moving because of the intimacy between them, the trust between actor and director, the energy and good will that results from it.

    Blake, I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to drag you into anything, it’s just that you’ve made your dislike of Marlon Brando so clear in the past.

    In the FAVORITE MOVIES piece, Wood actually says that Kazan is not a favorite. He also writes about the scene in BITTER VICTORY where Burton, Jurgens and Roman are sitting at the bar.

    Kazan and Ray were often paired off against each other – good friends from similar backgrounds and (somewhat) similar preoccupations. But the question of overrating and underrating seems kind of beside the point in terms of the present state of things. Both of them made movies that are now part of the official, all-time-greatest, AFI-sanctioned and Bob Osborne-blessed “canon.” Ray was more naturally gifted as a filmmaker, without a doubt. Blake, I guess that for me, there’s so much that’s great in ON THE WATERFRONT that’s I can’t just throw it under the train because of the HUAC parallel. Which exists not within the film proper, but only because of what we know about Kazan and Schulberg. My problem with the film is that the triumph at the end is some kind of impossible wish fulfillment. But it doesn’t blot out the rest of the movie. Not for me at least.

    Barry, ‘m looking forward to a good cry together. I’ll bring the Kleenex.

    D.K. Holm, your mention of Mitchum reminds me that Criterion’s new FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE disc includes a reprint of Grover Lewis’ absolutely incredible Mitchum profile from the set, “The Last Cinematic Desperado.” Which has to be read to be believed.

  • That Grover Lewis Rolling Stone piece is one of the most incredible on-set profiles I’ve ever read. It’s only excerpted in the Criterion booklet, though probably the bulk of it is there, but I am hoping it will be included in full in the forthcoming anthology of Lewis’s work to be published by the U of Texas Press later this year. I doubt if the profile was a last gasp, but it was surely representative of the sort of New Journalism approach that the studios probably found alarming and which they, or the serf-like publicity complex, more or less successfully quashed through increasingly restrictive practices, basically a return to a ’30s approach that made journalism an extension of the publicity department (I know I’m speaking broadly). Funnily enough, Mitchum’s daughter in the story expresses disdain for an earlier Life profile of Mitchum that did almost the same thing that Lewis was about to do to the actor. Lewis’s sketches of Boyle and Jordan are equally fascinating. As usual with reporting on Mitchum, part of the intellectual thrust of the piece is whether the actor really cared about his work (Yates says yes), or if we should take seriously his public proclamations against his own profession. Mitchum certainly had the soul or the ambition of an artist, as Lee Server’s bio suggests, especially in his early years as a writer. But his charisma was just too much for the screen to ignore. It’s that charisma that makes me think that his noir or thriller projects “coalesced,” as Dave says of Lorre, around him, too.

  • Alex Hicks

    Seems like there is a high proportion of Kazan films that garner more than fair bit of support as masterpieces (or excellent or something laudable) but that there is perhaps none –lest it be WILD RIVER– that gets consensual support as a masterpiece…. I think is is somewhat unusual — and mysterious.

  • Brian Dauth

    Thanks Mike. That certainly is waxing Biblical. I winder why the passion for JLM did not cross the ocean as so many of the passions for other directors did. What Cahiers critics saw as a strength in Mank was seen as a liability by American auteurists.

  • Blake Lucas

    Junko’s comments about the style of dialogue delivery in various Japanese films was very interesting to me. Earlier in that discussion, Jean-Pierre said he didn’t know any Swedish but enjoyed listening to it, like music. What Junko said about stylized dialogue delivery in Ozu resonates against that statement for me.

    Listening to characters talk in Ozu is very beautiful to me, and I enjoy it in Bergman also. Scandanavian languages may just be a pleasure to hear, but I thought Carl Dreyer took this to a whole other plateau in GERTRUD, as regard Jean-Pierre’s music analogy. So here’s a question, does anyone not believe the characters in GERTRUD
    –or for that matter in TOKYO STORY or SUMMER WITH MONIKA–because it’s in some way non-naturalistic, or as might more casually said, “realistic” dialogue.

    My feeling is that I don’t care anything about this in movies. I don’t understand why the move to so-called more “realistic” acting is so lauded, especially because it really isn’t more realistic at all, but just has the appearance of it, being more comfortable to contemporary ears.

    I’ll support my argument with a few references to American directors, ones most people agree are great. Josef von Sternberg has a style of dialogue delivery, in which the characters project with a kind of deceptive flatness, but actually a self-awareness, containing levels of irony and deep wells of struggle of ego against a less self-absorbed philosophical awareness. It does not sound realistic at all, but does anyone want it to be different.

    The consensus greats–Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, John Ford, and Orson Welles, too, all have styles in the way actors and actresses speak. These are not as extreme as Sternberg–in different ways there is a theatrical or stylized edge but the characters are at the same time supposed to come across, in different ways, (and I think they do, in all four cases) as unaffected and even relatively down-to-earth.

    The handling of dialogue in Joseph L. Mankiewicz movies, and just as much in the ones he didn’t write as those he did, are supremely of the same type it seems to me.

    Art is not supposed to be some unadored, realistic picture of reality, but it may be, in a movie “an impression of reality” as Jean-Pierre Coursodon once wrote effectively about Minnelli.
    It seems to me that this “impression of reality” should extend to dialogue itself, dialogue delivery, and how characters are represented on the screen by actors and actresses. It is part of the actor’s job to make a character believable within the kind of stylization in playing that a given director demands. For me, this happens effectively with all the directors I have mentioned in this post, whether I know the language or not.

    I also believe that if we think of dialogue and dialogue delivery this way, we might be a little less worried by how it dates, sounds decades later and so on–and also a little more comfortable to respond to languages we don’t know with some feeling that our response is meaningful after all. Art involves suspension of disbelief, and good artists create this.

    In any event, I find this a very worthwhile discussion to have and hope to hear more.

  • Blake Lucas

    that one line should have said “…some unadorned, realistic picture of reality…”

    Not unadored. We’re free to adore it, of course!

  • dm494

    Mike Grost, are you familiar with Alain Silver’s interview with De Toth up on the Senses of Cinema website? De Toth makes an interesting comment about getting his actors to try out a variety of different line readings and using an exercise with them where they just count off a series of numbers, varying the delivery each time they run through the count.

    Kent, speaking about Delphine Seyrig and her voice, did you know that she was, along with Billie Whitelaw, Samuel Beckett’s favorite actress? He even wrote a play for her.

    Blake, you’re absolutely right about the scorn people have for nonrealistic acting. The belief that good acting is realistic (or, in other words, invisible) is always found in people who haven’t seen many films–and, incidentally, haven’t seen any theater. All the same, I disagree witb you when you say that there really isn’t any such thing as realism in acting. The singing style of acting of a performer like John Gielgud–to name another actor famous for his voice–is clearly far-removed from natural human behavior. Unlike, say, Gene Hackman’s approach.

  • Blake Lucas

    “All the same, I disagree witb you when you say that there really isn’t any such thing as realism in acting.”

    That isn’t exactly what I said. Please note that I differentiated between acting styles in some of the directors named, some of them at least seeming relatively realistic and passing for same, as opposed to others. I agree with you that Gene Hackman is a good example of someone who comes over as real–in fact, I remember watching LUCKY LADY with someone and we were asking each other “How can he even seem real in this?” But it’s never as real as it seems–they are actors. That’s why although people always rightly note that acting in movies is generally best if it at least feels a little more natural than the theatre (and I don’t say that’s always true of course), they err in thinking this takes any less professional skill. It drives me up the wall when people say things like “Oh, John Wayne, he’s just playing himself.”

  • jakob

    about spoken/natural language Mike Grost mentioned de Toth. In his ‘Riding Shotgun’ there is the cantina owner who switches from english to german to spanish, speaking to the hero, to himself and to his family. Of course his character is meant to be unreliable, but at the same time he is always true – switching language.

  • dm494

    Blake, I took you to be denying realism when you said: “I don’t understand why the move to so-called more ‘realistic’ acting is so lauded, especially because it really isn’t more realistic at all, but just has the appearance of it, being more comfortable to contemporary ears.” If your point is that today’s realism becomes yesterday’s stylized performance, then I don’t disagree–we can now easily see the stylization of James Dean and Brando, who were once though paragons of realism, and I’ve even heard it said that John Barrymore (!) was once considered a realistic performer. At any rate, we’re agreed that purely realistic acting, unmediated by any technical conventions, doesn’t exist and that it’s not very sophisticated to believe art is about a direct, “raw” imitation of reality. Of course it isn’t. That’s why they call it art.

  • dm494

    One more thing, Blake: when people say John Wayne always plays himself, many of them must mean that as a shorthand for: “John Wayne always plays the John Wayne screen persona”; they don’t necessarily believe Wayne was like that in person.

  • Jim Gerow

    I have to agree with Kent (and Beckett) that Delphine Seyrig, particularly in the two Resnais films and in JEANNE DIELMAN, is some sort of exquisite axiom of the cinema. By the way, it was just announced that Akerman’s masterpiece is finally getting a Criterion release later this year.

    I wish I had a copy of that FAVORITE MOVIES book, which is unknown even to Amazon. I read several of Robin Wood’s books on directors during my formative cinephile years in the 70s, on Hitchcock, Hawks, Chabrol, and Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy.

    Steve Elworth’s comment that Sarris doesn’t include Michael Powell in THE AMERICAN CINEMA reminds me that this has always seemed like a major omission to me, since he lists most of the great 40s Powell films in his annual lists in the back of the book.

    Finally, apropos of THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, I would recommend Tilda Swinton’s wonderful deadpan monologue on Rita Hayworth’s blondeness and the hall of mirrors sequence in Jim Jarmusch’s THE LIMITS OF CONTROL.

  • Blake Lucas

    dm494, yours of 2:53 makes the point very well. We certainly agree about what you say there. What I was interested in most initially was exploring how actors in a language we don’t know
    (and can’t know how stylized their line readings are or are not) can be rightly perceived by us as contributing to what Barry, in the next Lang thread, calls “the world of the film” (I believe that was the phrase–it was a very good one). That’s what counts. Even if it’s a stylized, or musical, quality we are responding to, more than some greater or lesser degree of realism, that doesn’t make it less authentic for what the film is, and we may in the deeper sense, “believe” them just as much.

    By the way, re John Wayne, I hope you have read the posts on his playing of a Swedish sailor in THE LONG VOYAGE HOME, especially Johann’s. Chris Fujiwara also made glowing mention of this same performance in his piece on VOYAGE in UNDERCURRENT.

    Lots of actors do have a screen persona, of course–and often it’s one they build a career out of. But they are not necessarily bound to it and may have far more range and skill than they are sometimes credited for. Wayne is a great example, and I have the impression that anyone who really knows his career now agrees with that.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Were James Dean and Brando once considered “paragons of realism”? Their acting style (I should say “styles” because they were quite different from each other)was unlike any other before them, but does newness and originality equal realism? To me at least they didn’t act like any real person I had ever observed (I thought maybe that’s the way they behave in America but I didn’t really believe it)and I was quite aware of the stylized nature of their idiosyncratic mannerisms. Which were part of their attractiveness, quite independently from any dubious impression of reality.

  • Barry Putterman

    Hey, what are you guys all still doing over here? Nothing is shaking on the next page and it’s FRITZ LANG for goodness sake!! I’m sure we can still work all this in over there.

    Oh, alright. Why talk about Michael Powell as an omission in Sarris’ book rather than ask what Lean and Reed are doing there? I thought it was called “The AMERICAN Cinema,” not “The English Language Cinema.”

    Kazan and Ray. In our cinephile world Ray probably has a greater level of prestige at this moment. But in the larger artistic community Kazan is considered to be a towering figure who initially interprested our greatest playwrites and was the major force behind modern acting techniques. On the other hand I always felt that Ray’s commemorative stamp would be a picture of James Dean over the words “He directed REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.”

  • Jakob, thank you for the point about RIDING SHOTGUN. This is a creative Toth picture, very imaginative in its photography of the town.
    And dm494, thanks for the pointer to the Toth interview. Toth is a rich figure, and one suspects there is much more to be said about acting and voice in his films.

    Now, I will go to Fritz Lang!

  • Kent Jones

    “Oh, John Wayne, he’s just playing himself” – I used to hear this al the time in my house when I was growing up. He was always being compared unfavorably with Laurence Olivier. People are just coming to terms with movie-acting. His sherriff RIO BRAVO alone is one of the greatest pieces of acting in movie history.

    dm, I did not know that Beckett wrote a piece for Seyrig, but it’s not surprising. She was astonishing. One of the last things she did, which should be better known, is Duras’ version of James’ THE BEAST IN THE JUNGLE, directed by Alfredo Arias for the stage and brought to television by Benoit Jacquot.

    Jim Gerow, I really loved THE LIMITS OF CONTROL. And Tilda Swinton in it.

  • Alex Hicks

    The whole “just playing himself” line shows unawareness of the fact that many actors –especially one with star identities don’t much stray from playing variations of themselves however well honed and varied, and the line confuses acting with impersonations of the sort we get from the occasional stunt roles of Quinness and Sellers and the late roles of Olivier.

    Brando — Malloy, Zapata, Narc Anthony,Bonapart, Kawalski, Sky Masrterson, Sakini, Lt. Christian Diestl, Johnny Rio, Ambassadoir MacWhite, Ogden Maers, and Don Vito Corleoni– did blur the line between personae and impersonation.

  • Kent – thanks for the LIMITS OF CONTROL love. I’m really bewildered at the sheer venom being thrown its way, well beyond any kind of simple dislike. The suggestion that the entire film is some kind of put-on, and questions as to Jarmusch’s sincerity make me wonder if people watched the same film I did. It strikes me as a very heart felt film, and potently political at that (although perhaps not as specifically political as Jonathan Rosenbaum has suggested).

  • John Wayne Since no one is reading this thread anymore, I can now speak with the freedom of complete anonymity. I had occasion on Monday night, June 1 (2009, for the historical record) to tune in occasionally to Turner Movie Classics, which was staging a John Wayne – John Ford night. While political channel surfing with a friend, I was able to alight on TMC for some of my favorite moments from Stagecoach and from The Horse Soldiers. The Stagecoach moment has nothing to do with Wayne; it’s that startling, and also rather unFordian moment, when the camera is planted on the stagecoach as it attempts to cross the river. Still, what is obviously remarkable about Wayne in this movie is how he moves. What distinguishes the great Hollywood movie icons, at least in my estimation, is their physical movement, although it is also tied to a distinctive voice. No one walks quite like Mitchum; no one stands quite like Eastwood. The same with Wayne. But he could also deliver a line. My favorite part of The Horse Soldiers is his doctors-as-killers speech, which ends with the wonderful moment of self-questioning, where he wonders out loud why he didn’t shoot the doctors who unnecessarily operated on his wife and killer her. “I must have been crazy or … too conventional.” Not only is it a great line, but it is also funny at the culminating moment of extreme confession, and Wayne delivers it wonderfully. Like many posters in this thread, I grew up uninterested in Wayne because of his public politics and because he represented mainstream adult culture. It was only through my interest in auteurism that I began to appreciate how he was “used” by diverse directors such as Hawks and Ford. I saw the point of him and able to be of two minds about Wayne. Nevertheless, Wayne is one of those actors who verges on not being able to deliver a line convincingly. This is a sub-sector of popular American actor that includes William Holden, Victor Mature, and Gary Cooper. Charismatic physical specimens who are “unrealistic” because they don’t have the knack for speaking the lines in the script convincingly. The recent death of David Carradine reminds me that he was also a member of this sub-sector. On the level of audition I never believed a word he said. Yet he inherited some level of physical charisma from his father, John, who was of course, to bring this full circle, also in Stagecoach.