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Sirk, Bunuel, McGoohan


Catching up with a few things that fell between the cracks in recent weeks: A passable edition of Douglas Sirk’s “Summer Storm” from VCI Entertainment, a handsome transfer (with a questionable aspect ratio) of Luis Bunuel’s French-Mexican co-production “Death in the Garden” from Microcinema, and A&E’s stunning Blu-ray edition of Patrick McGoohan’s seminal British television series “The Prisoner.” All under review here, in the NY Times.

264 comments to Sirk, Bunuel, McGoohan

  • nicolas saada

    Jonathan, very interesting piece on the Coen film : I am not sure what to expect from their next opus.
    Brian, BOOM ! is an experience in post-modern “kitsch”. I don’t like the film but it has one of the best scores by John Barry. It would be interesting to make a parallel between Losey’s “kitsch” and the Coen’s “kitsch” ( I am thinking of THE BIG LEBOWSKI or even BURN AFTER READING). To me this excess in drawing a character visually comes from the stage, whether it’s left wing theatre or perhaps other traditions I am not familir with. The Coen often refer to Orson Welles, and the “stage style of filmmaking” runs a thread from Welles to Losey to the Coens.
    I have been obsessed with the impact of the aesthetics of the GROUP THEATRE on film. It never occured to me until I discovered DEADLINE AT DAWN and Losey’s M. When I think about the films by the Coen, (let’s say the most recent ones)? i often think of Odets and how the GROUP THEATRE fashioned most of american post-war filmmaking. I actually first began to think about this when an American friend of mine expressed his feelings on Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING. I remember when he told me “it’s agit prop. It’s left wing theatre aesthetics from the thirties and forties”.

  • Adam N

    I think one of the best jokes in the movie is the ZAZ-style credit end gag about Finkel’s character from the prologue; a concise thematic summation in the form of a single well-placed punctuation mark.

  • Kent Jones

    NS, the Group Theatre aesthetic definitely looms large in American movies, but in a mysterious way. DEADLINE AT DAWN, not such a great movie, is obviously related because of Clurman and Odets. Kazan was the most formidable director to pass through there (as did Ritt, and, as a child, Lumet). And many of the actors fanned out through the movies. But only two of them were stars (John Garfield and Franchot Tone) and the rest were character actors. And then I guess the question is: what constitutes the Group aesthetic? Hard to say. There were a lot of big personalities under the Group umbrella (Strasberg, Clurman, Kazan, Odets, Stella Adler, Luther Adler), each of whom went their own way. What united them was an urge to make theater less stodgy, closer to lived experience, the kind of urge that happens periodically in the arts when things get stale through repetition, complacency and over-commercialization. They were “left wing,” but so were many other theater groups – in fact, WAITING FOR LEFTY wasn’t actually a Group production. Ray and Losey were involved with other approaches to theater, and Welles, also a leftist, probably had just as powerful an effect as the Group.

    Actually, I think you’re talking about a lot of varying influences, the principal one being Stanislavsky. But there was also Brecht, and there was Yevgeny Vakhtangov, a little less well known now, who meant a great deal to Strasberg. And I think you can’t underestimate Welles himself. I think all these elements combined to effect the change you’re talking about. Which reminds me: everyone should see Linklater’s ME AND ORSON WELLES, a very special film. It’s finally seeing the light of day, at least in New York.

  • Peter Henne

    Nicolas, You are another derogating BOOM! as kitsch but without explaining yourself. Your post is about the Coens and Losey’s earlier career. Why is it that so many pronounce their dislike or disfavor for this film without even bothering to give reasons? Could it be there is something artistically worthwhile but disturbing in the film that people would rather not look at? It’s a film by a major director following some frequently praised films, and usually those circumstances are sufficient for having to lay out an argument why the film is “kitsch” (in this case meant negatively). It’s worth noting that that director does not agree with the negative judgments of his critics. There was discussion of BOOM! in a davekehr thread this year, several people came out in favor it, and disagreement within the pro side made the discussion all the better. I’m hoping that BOOM! can be looked at attentively instead of the usual course of dismissing it out of hand.

  • Joseph McBride

    Welles’s nickname for his Mercury Theatre actor-assistant William Alland (the reporter in KANE and later a film producer) was “Vakhtangov.”

  • Kent Jones

    Hilarious. Have you seen ME AND ORSON WELLES, JM?

  • Joseph McBride

    I’ve been missing screenings of ME AND ORSON WELLES because they conflict with my teaching, but expect to catch up
    with it as soon as it opens in Berkeley in December. FYI to readers, Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote a good piece on the film for Moving Image Source. Dennis Lim’s piece on current Wellesiana in yesterday’s New York Times is highly knowledgeable. It’s great to have Dave Kehr and Dennis Lim writing for the Times — the level of film erudition has escalated there since Dave started contributing (and A. O. Scott and Manohla Dargis are first-rate reviewers; what a change from the bad old days of Bosley Crowther, who was running the show when I became a film scholar in the sixties). Larry French has a fascinating interview on with Christian McKay (the British actor who plays Welles in ME AND ORSON WELLES), who did a lot of research for the role and understands the key issues surrounding Welles’s career. Now if we could only get THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND into theaters . . . it’s scandalous that hasn’t happened, though I tried my best for decades. Others are still working to try to make it happen.

  • Kent Jones

    How about getting FILMING OTHELLO back in circulation in the bargain?

  • Brian Dauth

    Nicolas: I am curious to see how I will respond to BOOM!, especially after the intense discussion of camp that occurred recently. I remember liking the film when I saw it years ago as a novice cinephile. I agreed with Williams that it was the best version of his play THE MILK TRAIN DOESN’T STOP HERE ANYMORE.

    As for influences: over the years, the one I have been most interested in tracing has been that of Berlin/Weimar/Vienna on Classical Hollywood. I am not sure if I first loved the period or the work German/Austrian emigre directors, but along the way I realized that both had become very important to me.

  • The New York Times’ film critics are indeed a joy to read, even if Dargis sometimes get carried away with her own witticism. But then again who doesn’t?

    A Serious Man, Invictus, Me and Orson Welles! Can’t wait for them to reach Scottish cinemas. But I’ve seen Fantastic Mr Fox, Bright Star and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which were all rather wonderful in their own special ways.

  • Kent Jones

    Richard Boleslavsky and Maria Ouspenskaya are also interesting figures. They both came out of the Moscow Art Theatre and were extremely influential on the Group.

    Brian, an interesting German/Austrian/Weimer link – Helen Thimig, who played the old woman in ISLE OF THE DEAD and appeared in CLOAK AND DAGGER, was Mrs. Max Reinhardt.

  • nicolas saada

    Ok, peter: let’s just say that I’ve always regarded BOOM! as a deadpan serious version of MODESTY BLAISE…

  • RvB

    I’m a goy, but I’m still very fascinated by A Serious Man. I’m beginning to think that the dybbuk parable refers to the speed in which the wife becomes alienated. Fred Melamed claims that the point of the title is that Gopnik is not to be taken seriously: that seems to me a dybbuk’s point of view right there. Question: which member of the adulterous couple, if any, hosts a dybbuk?
    And re: Ella Taylor, let’s don’t forget her review of Vera Drake (“My grandmother would have helped them adopt those babies.”)

  • Dave K

    RvB, I appreciate your comments about “A Serious Man” but there is no need to denigrate Ella Taylor, a serious critic and a good friend who, as a British Jew who has lived in Israel, might actually have a relevant perspective on the issues involved.