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Blake Edwards 1922-2010

Goodbye to Blake Edwards, who began with Frankie Laine and finished with Roberto Benigni and somehow managed to make marvelous films in most of the known genres in between. He was 88, and his New York Times obituary is here.

146 comments to Blake Edwards 1922-2010

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I’m not an expert on Panahi’s situation, but my understanding is that his “crimes” had little to do with his films, but rather with his publicly siding with those protesting against the fascist regime in Iran.

  • The Panahi verdict is incredibly upsetting. I can think of little that’s more nauseating than jailing an artist for dissent, but that they’ve also banned him from expressing himself (as he has done so, in the past, beautifully) through the cinema… I can barely comprehend it!

    Kiarostami, Panahi, Makhmalbaf (father and daughter), others: these artist have painted a picture of an amazing country, culture, and people. That their rigid and theocratic government has, time and again, failed to reflect that beauty is disappointing and sad.

  • The bar in “The Lost Weekend” was a replica of P.J. Clarke’s. Charles Jackson who wrote the novel was a regular at P.J. Clarke’s. Ray Milland used to tell the story that Robert Benchley – another Clarke’s regular – would wander on to the set every afternoon slap 50 cents on the bar and order a bourbon.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    The Panahi verdict is revolting but hardly surprising coming from a thoroughly repressive regime which, among many other examples of medieval “justice”, practices the stoning to death of supposedely unfaithful wives.

  • Vivian

    “…revolting but hardly surprising…” Not much to add to that.

    dm494, you’re right that the list of BBC Play of the Week episodes is incredible. I checked it out on IMDB when I was trying to jog my memory about that production of THE AMBASSADORS. I must have seen it when it aired on some PBS station in the early 80s as either a one-off or one of a limited series of some of the episodes. I did notice that Lee Remick also appeared in SUMMER AND SMOKE and thought how great it would be to be able to see that. I guess it’s never to be. And based on what you said about that tape being erased, I’m even more sure that I’ll never see THE AMBASSADORS again, either. Kind of like the old days, when you’d stumble on something great, be excited about seeing it, and have no guarantee that you’d easily (or ever) see it again.

  • I’m not sure if this is heteronormative or not, but I think Edwards would have enjoyed this mock-up for a tragically non-existent Criterion release of “Skin Deep” that recently appeared on Fake Criterions:
    skin deep

  • This is really funny!
    A lot of people, myself included, have written that they have loved Edwards’ films since they were kids.

    My brother used to hide in our room and jump out at me when I entered, in the tradition of Kato, when we were kids. He’d make the “karate yells”, too!

  • Barry Putterman

    Vivian, I come baring some hope vis a vis the “BBC Play of the Month.” For it is, in fact the “Month” series which ran from the mid 60s through the early 80s that included the two Lee Remick performances. BBC Video is indeed offering some of these shows under various guises. I have on “bought but haven’t yet watched” shelf a box set titled “Helen Mirren At the BBC.” It includes four “Play of the Month” titles; “The Changeling.” “The Apple Cart,” “The Little Minister,” and “The Country Wife.”

    And there are other box sets in this series. A Diana Rigg set is either already here or almost here for instance. Now, they aren’t going to do a Lee Remick box set of course. But possibly a Paul Scofield. For all I know, they may already have done a Scofield box.

    I guess that nothing can be done about “Summer and Smoke” if they somehow failed to preserve it. But that only goes to remind me of all of the kids programming, game show episodes and baseball games from my live TV childhood which weren’t recorded but yet continue to haunt my memories. Like Marcel Proust, I was simply born too soon.

  • Michael Worrall

    Brian wrote: “With regard to Toddy: he is a queer who keeps falling for the wrong men; the best relationship he has is the non-sexual one he has with V/V, so I guess a fag’s best friend is his hag.”

    So, at the end of VICTOR / VICTORIA, what are we supposed to make of Toddy saying “vou” and then throwing a rose to King’s bodyguard, the supposedly “wrong man” Toddy has been having a relationship with?

    If you have not already Brian, read Robin Wood’s essay on VICTOR / VICTORIA. I do, however, disagree with Wood about Edwards not going far enough, as Edwards is making a multi-million dollar film for a studio in the 1980s which generally lead to ideological compromises, and for which I do not think a Hollywood filmmaker should be blamed for. As Jean-pierre said: accepting a film for what it is, rather then what one wishes it to be.

    I also recommend the careful stylistic–an aspect completely left out of your criticisms, Brian– and thematic analysis of VICTOR / VICTORIA in “Returning to the Scene: Blake Edwards” by William Luhr and Peter Lehman

  • Vivian

    Barry, thanks for the note of hope. I checked out the BBC website and discovered that there does exist a “Henry James Collection” which, alas, doesn’t include THE AMBASSADORS, although it does have THE AMERICAN with Diana Rigg. The Diana Rigg set includes LITTLE EYOLF but not the performance of hers I’d really like to see again, as a deviously monstrous mother in the mystery MOTHER LOVE.

    So that, and THE AMBASSADORS, and so many baseball games and kids’ shows and dimly remembered episodes of this and that will have to continue to haunt my memories, as you say. Maybe it’s not a bad thing to actually have to depend on my own mind, free of assistance. And I definitely don’t feel like I was born too soon. Too many windows were open when I was a kid that are firmly slammed shut these days. I think I dodged a bullet not being born any later. I would have missed too much.

  • Blake Lucas

    Just want to point out that TCM is showing John Wayne Westerns all day for 24 hours, including a fair number of his peak films like THE SEARCHERS (Ford) and RIO BRAVO (Hawks), Ford’s entire cavalry trilogy and so on.

    Some of these have gone by but almost anyone here will have seen them. I’m writing to highly recommend the less well-regarded, indeed criminally underrated TRUE GRIT (1969), directed by Henry Hathaway. Plays at 8:00 ET (5:00 PT), which I believe is actually pride of place on their schedule.

    My own experience with this movie suggests that those who may have only seen it once should have another look. The first time, while I enjoyed it, I didn’t think it was that special. But it got better and better and has worn beautifully with the years, arguably the last great Western by a classical director (and God knows there have been precious few by anyone since the classical years).

    One mistake people make about this adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel is that it was refashioned into a John Wayne vehicle. That is not correct–the main character is clearly Mattie Ross, beautifully played by Kim Darby (what happened to her?), a prim and severe but in many ways admirable young girl who initiates the adventure of the film and that adventure in formative years is more about her than anything else. Wayne’s character of Rooster Cogburn is flamboyant and colorful enough that he will inevitably dominate to a great degree once he comes in (especially as played by Wayne, who is just wonderful in the role) but he is seen only fleetingly in the first 15-20 minutes which establish Mattie’s character, and in the film’s beautiful winter coda in which these two characters meet again and their contrasting attitudes to life and death have a sudden poignance (an ending that is the film’s own), the final shot of the film’s narrative is of her (a freeze frame behind the credits was perhaps a post-producion idea). The dominant cinematographer of Westerns in post-classical years, Lucien Ballard, gave this film its beautiful look–he had already done many beautiful films before this period but his work not only with Hathaway but also Peckinpah, Boetticher, John Sturges and Tom Gries kind of puts him in a class by himself for his vibrant use of color and artistic capturing of the Western landscape. Hathaway himself is a major director even if I wouldn’t argue he is one of the very greatest. I’ve seen about 50 of his films and usually like them. Everything is measured by the actual experience of the characters in his films–the narrative is not a cover for some subtext that the film is really about; the text and all its levels are one, so the films reveal themselves moment by moment in an appealing way and usually very surehanded in his realization. My other favorite Hathaway, PETER IBBETSON (1935) from early in his career, is a very different film in most ways but is very much the work of the same sensibility in this essential of taking the characters’ experience as it is and being at one with it.

    In any event, he was one of the dozen greatest directors of Westerns, generally dramatic but capable of a knowing humor, comfortable with violence but mature in treating it, and certainly never guilty of sentimentalism even if there might be genuine sentiment (in the distinction Dave made here earlier) and earned emotion in a work like this one. At the same time, he was never flippant or cynical or patronizing and that’s important in a film like TRUE GRIT.

    It is possible, of course, that one could go out to a theatre today and see a Western this good or better. But somehow I sincerely doubt it, unless you can find some classic at a good repertory house or cinematheque. So this is to enourage those who might not know the film or might want to take another look. And of course there are also those like me who will just be glad to see it again.

  • Vivian

    Blake, what a lovely post about TRUE GRIT. You do make me want to see it again. I wonder if you have thoughts about the new version and how it’s being compared to Hathaway’s film. Not to stir up a hornets’ nest or anything.

  • Barry Putterman

    I’m kind of thinking that Blake’s thoughts about the TRUE GRIT remake might be considered mild n comparison to a Henry Hathaway on the set tirade, yet still might not be acceptable on a family blog like this. But what the hey, we haven’t had a good Coen Brothers mashup in months and this IS the holiday season!

    My understanding is that Kim Darby teaches acting at one of the southern California universities. I remember seeing her “introduced” on a “Dr. Kildare” episode where she was playing a rebellious diabetes patient who, during a huge shouting match with Richard Chamberlain, grabs the needle and sticks it in her arm to prove that she isn’t afraid of the injections. A moment of primal anguish for me. And a determination that if you were forced to do such horrible things as an actor, then this was a field that I would never consider entering.

    Well, they may eventually put “Dr. Kildare” out on DVD so I might in time get a chance to relive that moment. And, of course, I was but fooling and pretending when I lamented about being born too soon. If anything, I should have said “too late” considering how much I love the culture of the first half of the 20th century. Nevertheless, I do often wonder how our current ability to create a visual record of our entire experiences has changed the perception of memory.

  • Blake Lucas

    Thank you, Vivian.

    It’s gratifying if you want to see it again. That really was my main motivation.

    Would you mind if I don’t address the question you raise? I felt the reason I posted this today was as obvious as the reason for TCM’s programming of the film today. Given that, I tried to be subtle as I could–and I don’t think it was very much–especially in which specific films I mentioned and which ones I didn’t.

    If you want me to say anything more, please ask and I will do it tomorrow.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘One mistake people make about this adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel is that it was refashioned into a John Wayne vehicle. That is not correct–the main character is clearly Mattie Ross, beautifully played by Kim Darby (what happened to her?), a prim and severe but in many ways admirable young girl who initiates the adventure of the film and that adventure in formative years is more about her than anything else.’

    I have seen Coen brothers’ version of TRUE GRIT from preview DVD. I have not read original novel. Is dialogue of novel made to sound period American speech? Coen brothers’ movie is having such dialogue. Story is little bit different from Hathaway version. Is Hathaway version close to novel? Is Coen brothers’ version more similar to novel? Is novel from Mattie’s voice?

    I hope Blake can answer question about original novel. If someone has read original novel, maybe they can say something about it.

    About Corn brothers’ version, it is not so engaging movie, not so interesting, but it is not awful movie. Only Mattie is interesting character. Far shot of landscape is sometimes interesting. Much distance from action through out movie. Finally, it is shallow movie to me.

  • Johan Andreasson

    It’s more than thirty years since I saw Hathaway’s TRUE GRIT, and all I remember now is that I liked it. The remake doesn’t sound like one of the Coen Brothers more promising ideas, but I usually like their work, and I’m still curious enough to want to see it when it opens here in a couple of weeks.

    If the remake hasn’t done anything else it’s brought a lot of attention to the writer Charles Portis, who sounds really interesting. One of my all time favorite novels, Larry McMurtry’s ”Lonesome Dove” was apparently first intended as a John Wayne movie that was never made (later adapted to a TV series which I haven’t seen). I’ve been meaning to check out more western writers after being so enthusiastic about McMurtry, and Portis is now on my to-read list.

  • Vivian

    Blake, you were sufficiently subtle! I lazily guessed at certain things that you might or might not have been implying, and I just threw my question out in case you wanted to comment further. Really, I was primarily interested in (and impressed by) what you said about the original TRUE GRIT, and Hathaway and Ballard.

    So say what you want, when you want. Or not. (I suspect that Junko’s typically measured description of the new film as “not so engaging, not interesting, but not awful” and “finally shallow” is pretty valid.)

  • Alex Hicks


    Although I’ve not seem the Coens’ TRUE GRIT, aspects of it relevant to youR points can be culled from the reviews.

    On the relations of the two films to the novel, many reviews stress that the Coens elevate the distinctive dialogue style of the of the novel — careful diction and elaborate sentence structures delivered as a kind of faux high literacy — as CENTRAL to the Coens film (quite the use of dialogue in Hathaway) — as a kind of “Hillbilly Shakespeare,” a kind of gentrified analoque to the scatological ornateness and graneloquence of the dialoque in DEADWOOD.

    In her carefully and rather elaborate review (or review-essay) in today’s New York Times, MANOHLA DARGIS nicely frames BOTH films in terms of the pre- and post-Vietnam War Western, the Western before and after its shift from a frequently (if partially pastoral/utopian) vision into resolutley dystopian one. In his New Yorker review, David Denby suggests that the Coens film is quinessentially Coen Brother: literary in orign, literate in dalogue, tending toward the misanthropic and dystopian in its vosion of character and society; as series of depiction of the West as violently anarchic. This seems to me to raise the possibility of some depth, although (of course) the film might in fact be shallow.

    Of course, many great Westerns bridge the utopian/dystopian divide to an extent when they juxtapose the force of community and law and order with those of anarchy (e.g., Ford’s CLEMINTINE) or they place destructive forces right at the center of a world not withouit its pastoral aspects (THE SEARCHERS).

    Although we may not have a truly Romerian Western, Kathryn Bigelow’s NEAR DARK is suggestive, as Denby suggests might be the Coens’ TRUE GRIT.

  • Brad Stevens

    Junko – There’s an interesting article by Donna Tartt about the novel TRUE GRIT which might answer some of your questions:

  • Brian Dauth

    Barry: At the end of Margo’s speech in the car she announces to Karen: “Slow curtain. The end.” The speech is yet another performance – this time for Karen’s sake. Are we to believe the performance – that this is the true Margo? Or is she just overplaying reality as she always does? Or was she being the true Margo when earlier she mocked Karen for being a “happy little housewife?” Everything Margo does (everything many Mankiewicz characters do) occurs with the quotation marks of performativity (Jean-Pierre is so right — I feel intelligent just typing words like performativity. I must catch my breath).

    That’s better. To continue.

    I do not find Margo’s choice reactionary since I do not see her as stopping her career, though she probably will no longer play roles she is too old for (maybe). In the final scene, Margo demonstrates that she is still a diva as she exits with Bill in tow (which raises questions about just what marriage means to Margo and how dedicated she is to it).

    Jean-Pierre: Whether or not King Marchand understands gender fluidity is not the point of enquiry. What I find interesting to investigate is what Blake Edwards thinks about gender as expressed in his work. In the same way that a film has a mise en scene made up of lighting, editing, gesture, etc., it also possesses a cultural mise en scene also worth exploring. A narrative film reproduces (with varying degrees of critique and compliment), the social relations of the culture in which it was produced. Some directors just reproduce the cultural/social relations provided by the script they are shooting. But I think the more interesting directors consciously shape these relations within the narrative structure.

    I would argue further that such artists are shaping these relations to, as Noel Carroll writes “educate morals and emotions by, in general, using what we already believe and feel, mobilizing it, exercising it, sometimes reorienting it, and sometimes enlarging it.” I do believe that there is a useful meeting of aesthetics and ethics in great works of art (a wonderful book on the subject is “Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection” edited by Jerrold Levinson. The volume includes a fine essay by Carroll as well as one by Mary Devereaux where she effectively argues that the concept of the aesthetic needs to be expanded beyond the categories of beauty and form to include all that goes toward making an artwork the artwork that it is). Reading Carroll has stirred my interest in the emotional responses a spectator experiences, especially when the response is a sentimental/sentimentalist one. This may not be a critical method that interests you, but I am not using terms just to be intelligent. I am using the terms I have found in my reading. If issues of performance and heteronormativity in art mean a great deal to me, it should come as no surprise. As a queer man, I have been hyper-aware from an early age of how I was supposed to act and respond with respect to societal norms/behaviors in order not to expose my secret and run the risk of getting beaten up. I am sure that your own prisms of aesthetic interest were also shaped by the facts and exigencies of your life. The terminology I use works for me since it correlates well to what I have experienced in my own life, and allows me to communicate the place where I come from with my critiques.

    Lastly, as to derailment. When I say that the film derails, it is not because the movie does not meet my expectations. It is because the work has changed/jumped from one track of meaning to another. VICTOR/VICTORIA starts out in one mode and then suddenly reverses itself. All I am doing is serving as witness to the occurrence. It is not a question of suspending or not suspending disbelief, but of examining the cultural/societal tropes Edwards puts into play and how he manages them.

    Michael: Thanks for telling me about Robin Wood’s essay. He seems to be on the same page as I am when he writes that VICTOR/VICTORIA is an “oppositional [film] only on the most superficial levels” and that “… its last scene simultaneously confirms the position of gays as comic and the position of women as inevitably subordinate… In the final scene, in direct contradiction to her earlier assertions, Victoria abandons the freedom of her male disguise in favor of her relationship with Marchand, while Toddy performs in her place in drag.” And while it is true that Edwards was making a commercial movie, there are examples of commercial Hollywood movies made earlier than V/V which go a lot further than Edwards chose to go. Also, in my recollection, Toddy broke up with Mr. Bernstein because he left too big a dent on his side of the bed. I did not remember them getting back together. My bad. Lastly, I have found the Luhr/Lehman book useful, though I do not always agree with them or come from their perspective.

  • Barry Putterman

    Brian, if I am understanding you correctly, the case is that marriage for Margo is not reactionary because she will continue to project her theatrical version of herself, while it is for the Julie Andrews character because it will force her to choose between Victor and Victoria. I would have to take another look at both films to see whether I agree with you on that. However, at this point, it does seem to me in both cases to reach beyond the evidence on the screen.

    Not that either is necessarily “right” or “wrong.” But wouldn’t it be equally plausible that Margo will be able to embrace her “theatrical self” within a deeper interpersonal relationship in the way that Biff and Amy do at the end of THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE? And, by the same token, wouldn’t it be equally plausible that Victor/Victoria will enter into her marriage with a deeper understanding of her nature through having played the other part in the way that (Dave, don’t read this part!) the two women do at the end of KISS ME STUPID?

  • Gregg Rickman

    In connection with Panahi tragedy, has anyone seen any films by the other director also sentenced to six years by the Iranian government? That would be Mohammad Rasoulof.

    Setting aside the obscenity of his sentence, Panahi I think has been somewhat underpraised and underrecognized as a director by western critics. Perhaps he’s been overshadowed by the two more famous directors, Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf, who emerged in the 1980s. THE CIRCLE and OFFSIDE are I think natural sequels, using somewhat similar narrative and formal techniques, to films by Ophuls (on the oppression of women in culture) and Jansco (on political oppression generally). I wonder if he’s spoken to that point (i.e., has acknowledged the work of those two filmmakers) or if his style emerged as a case of “parallel evolution” in a similarly stifling society to early 20th century Europe and mid-20th
    century Hungary.

  • In the 2010 International Film Guide, I am not going to quote verbatim, but whoever wrote the entry for Iran remarked that what is currently most impacting Iranian cinema is the difficulty of attaining permits to film on the streets and outside. The fact that there is this strict regulation on filmmaking practices, a form of government intervention that dictates form, makes it not as surprising that some of the most astonishing work that is coming out of Tehran is shot in cars like the films “The Mirror” and “Ten”.

    Jafar Pahani’s films have a dissident quality like the clear anti-authority theme running through “Offside” that becomes further complicated as the characters elaborate on their own personal motives, which leads to the group conflicts. The movies concluding footage on the streets celebrating the winning of the 2006 World Cup qualifying match anticipates the immediacy of the YouTube footage of last years Green Movement manifestations (where Jafar Panahi, a supporter of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, was, apparently, filming a new movie). It is truly upsetting to hear about Jafar Panahi imprisonment. It is the film community equivalent of the political imprisonment of the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

  • jbryant

    Tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. Eastern, TCM is showing Richard Quine’s 1952 SOUND OFF, starring Mickey Rooney and scripted by Blake Edwards, followed by Quine’s wonderful OPERATION MAD BALL, also with contributions by Rooney and Edwards. This isn’t tied in to an Edwards tribute; Mickey is the Star of the Month, and most of the day’s schedule is devoted to him.

    I quite like Hathaway’s THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER, also shot by Ballard.

    FWIW, Glenn Kenny is quite high on the Coens’ TRUE GRIT, and I admit I’m looking forward to it, though I like the original (which I’ve been seeing lately around Walmart and the like on Blu-Ray for about 15 bucks).

  • Junko Yasutani

    Thank for link Brad. That is what I wanted to know about novel.

    A;so thank you Alex for useful summary. From that I understand meaning of ‘anti-Western’ to describe attitude toward traditional Western.

  • tygreg

    “FWIW, Glenn Kenny is quite high on the Coens’ TRUE GRIT, and I admit I’m looking forward to it, though I like the original (which I’ve been seeing lately around Walmart and the like on Blu-Ray for about 15 bucks).”

    In fact, he went so far as to call the Coens “inheritors of F.W. Murnau” at the end of his piece. The reviews in general seem to be very strong for the film. I understand why some are skeptical, but I’m also looking forward to it a great deal. If nothing else, it’s just really exciting to see a high profile Western coming out — we don’t get many of them anymore.

  • Peter Henne

    Gregg, I couldn’t agree with you more about Jafar Panahi, though I have only seen three of his films and nothing since THE CIRCLE. I didn’t stop there out of any disappointment; in fact, the rapt color and even broader authority than before from having to answer to any realism brought his filmmaking to new poetic heights in my mind. Your comparison to Jancso strikes a chord in me, two directors who resist authoritarianism as naturally as drinking the water and breathing the air. I agree with everybody who has already said that the sentences brought against him and his countryman Mohammad Rasoulof are despicable, and if the latter’s work will be made more available I will be eager to see it. You can see a list of the prominent figures who have protested Panahi’s (and I assume Rasoulof’s) sentences at IMDB:

  • Brian Dauth

    Barry: The difference for me is that in AAE, Margo does not have to stop being an actress in order to marry Bill. She may no longer play roles she is too old for, but there is no indication that she will stop acting.

    In VICTOR/VICTORIA, the choice comes across to me more of a binary: Victoria can either have a career or a marriage. The persona of Victor is destroyed at the end of V/V as if only such an erasure will free Victoria to be with King. Visually, we go from Victoria alone in triumph on stage to being an audience member/spectator besides King. The film seems to switch from a moral imagination where a woman succeeds to one where a woman accessorizes. This may be what Robin Wood was referring to when he wrote about Victoria’s final positioning as being “inevitably subordinate.”

  • Barry Putterman

    Fair enough Brian. As I said, I would have to take another look at the films to see whether I would agree with you. Ultimately, I think that the most important point for everybody is that any viewpoint be expressed in a way that leaves room for other possible interpretations.

  • Alex Hicks

    The Coens’ TRUE GRIT is a terrific film for me: gripping, poised, moving, and deep with an appreciation of the harshness of time, as well as of Arkansas. Far deeper than Hathaway’s engrossing yarn, in part because this version centers less on the diverting possibilities of Rooster as a kind of softcore Long John Silver and more on circumstance in which a revenge adventure can provide the greatest riches that life has to offer.

    Directed with the Joel’s typical exactitude, which is put to good service by possiblities that Arkansan Portis’ harsh, ironic yet finaly compassionate vision — and sharp dialogue– offer. Produced with the Brothers’ typical brilliance from the perfect casting through Roger Deakins’s role to the poignant closing strands of a second great Arkasan artist, Iris Dement.

    A great film? Time will tell.

  • Gregg Rickman

    David, I agree with you about how OFFSIDE anticipated last year’s Green Movement demonstrations. What interests me about Panahi’s aesthetics (as opposed to his newsworthiness) is how the shifting back and forth in the power configurations of his long takes follows up on Jansco’s similar configurations. The first young woman’s attempt to enter the stadium in OFFSIDE is a great example of this, as her drive to freedom (via infiltration of the stadium in disguise) is blocked by the appearance within the frame of security officers. (I am quoting the shot from memory but I am quite sure Panahi didn’t use a shock cut to the officers when they appear.) Also, of course, many critics have written how Ophuls’ characters are trapped within their director’s long takes, be they residents of old Austria or 1949 Orange County. Both Ophuls and Jansco use stable, fluid long takes while for both practical reasons and (perhaps) aesthetic reasons Panahi prefers hand held, unstable images – perhaps for that reason his characters are capable of escape, as in the final scenes David mentions of OFFSIDE. (I prefer the present tense “prefers” here rather the past tense “preferred,” as a political gesture.)

    I would add that the yearning of the older man in CRIMSON GOLD for the special sort of gold jewelry the store clerk won’t show him – the gold jewelry he becomes obsessed with – is echoed by the material yearnings of the protagonists of CAUGHT or MADAME DE. And of course the circular narratives Panahi uses in THE CIRCLE (I love Peter’s phrase about his “not having to answer to any realism”) and CRIMSON GOLD parallels LA RONDE. In short I recommend Panahi’s merits as an artist as much as his as a political prisoner.

  • Gregg, It is a coincidence that I recently saw “2001” and I thought that that movie was very Ophuls-like; the camera-movements that creeps around room corners, it is a dynamic form of story telling. And I might not know the backstory, but the last thing I read about the Ophuls-Kubrick connection was that Godard did not notice one whatsoever (I think what I am recalling is from Godard on Godard). I am embarrassed to admit that I have yet to see a Miklos Jancso film. Hopefully I can in the near future (are they at all available on video?). Your memory is correct, Panahi did not use a shock-cut. I am not sure about Panahi’s later films, as I have not seen the 2010 “The Accordion”, but as I try to communicate in my earlier comment, his form, the back-lot territory of “Offside” has more to do with government filmmaking restrictions, Panahi cannot film in the open-stadium, then it does with his personal motive of story-telling, and the same could be said about Kiarostami’s “Ten” and, the Criterion Collection special feature “Ten on Ten”.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Brian, in the spirit of Christmas I want to (belatedly) apologize for my somewhat sarcastic comments of a while ago. I know that you don’t use certain words to impress the more ignorant folks like me. I should read more modern criticism.

    It seems to me, though, that Edwards, because of the very nature of the material (a rehash of a early thirties German then British quite traditional comedy) could not possibly force his narrative in the direction you would have liked him to go — whatever his personal thoughts on the subject might have been. What do you have in mind exactly when you speak of other movies (earlier than V/V) going “a lot further than Edwards chose to go”? “Going further” meaning King accepting his falling in love with Victor, a “man”? very interesting possibility, but it would have been another film, one that couldn’t be made and hadn’t been made at the time.

    The film’s “switch” that you deplore doesn’t strike me as such a negative for Victoria. She “abandons the freedom of her male disguise” but how much reel freedom does such a disguise entails? In order to gain some superficial freedom she abandons and betrays her personality as a woman. The film, you wrote, switches from a woman’s “success” to a woman who “accessorizes.” But what kind of success is it for a woman (outside of the actually rather unbelievable stage success as a female “impersonator”) to pass herself as a man who passes himself as a woman? And why should her marriage to King necessarily “accessorize” her? I find it difficult to accept Robin Wood’s “inevitably subordinate.” But whether he’s right or not, I don’t see how the film, being what it is, could have ended otherwise.

  • In his book on They Live Jonathan Lethem has an amusing footnote about watching The Party over and over with a friend trying to determine where the film’s humor finally goes awry.

  • Larry Kart

    Just saw TRUE GRIT. Very good — a virtually flawless pastiche, and “pastiche” might not be fair. The use of the novel’s rather studied diction (so I’m told, haven’t read the book myself) was a fine idea; the dialogue doesn’t come across as arch at all IMO, nor do the actors deliver it that way; it just fits.

    About the pastiche feeling, seems to me that there are some definite but unobtrusive echoes of “The Night of the Hunter” — Mattie is a character who is soberly and shrewdly living out, or living inside, a righteous fable, and you’d better not get between her and her goal because she’s wearing chain-mail underwear. Also, in emotional terms, she’s essentially a person who is exasperated at the foolishness and weakness of the world and the people around her (this is what gives her much of her power). Also she is at once keyed up and somewhat saddened by the fact that at age 14 she’s not only the most grown-up person in her family (including her late father) but also, probably, the only grown-up person she’s ever going to meet. In effect, as the epilogue suggests, Mattie was an orphan from the moment she saw what the world was like, and she wouldn’t have had it any other way. She even tells Jesse James to go —- himself.

    Mattie reminds me of Lillian Gish’s character in TNOTH (and Frances McDormand’s in “FARGO” for that matter); the girl who plays her is excellent. I can see that some might think that Bridges is playing a character he’s played many times before, but it worked for me. Matt Damon is quite good too.

    About what all this says about the Coens, I’m still thinking, just as I’m still thinking about how much of a pastiche their TRUE GRIT is.

  • Brian Dauth

    Jean-Pierre: Thanks for your kind post. You are the last person who needs to read more criticism. It is much truer to say that young critics need to read more by you.

    I think our difference is based on how we experience V/V’s masquerade. Ever since I saw the film on its opening weekend, I have loved the moment at the conclusion of V/V’s first song when she flips the wig on stage. It is a very powerful moment for me, cinematically and emotionally. This defiant statement of genderfuck strikes a deep chord within me, and signifies the performative nature of sex and gender.

    For you, (if I am correctly understanding your position), sex and gender are essential rather than performative. You write: “She ‘abandons the freedom of her male disguise’ but how much reel freedom does such a disguise entails? In order to gain some superficial freedom she abandons and betrays her personality as a woman.” For me, V/V’s gender/sex freedom is not at all superficial, but constitutive. What spells restriction/regulation for me is the concept of an essentialist “personality as a woman.” We have disagreed about the social construction of identity before, and our divergent outlooks affect how we experience VICTOR/VICTORIA.

    When Edwards’ film takes a turn to the essential, I experience it as sentimental/reactionary. You (if I am understanding your reaction) do not feel that way since you ask: “. . . what kind of success is it for a woman . . . to pass herself as a man who passes himself as a woman?” For me, it is the greatest success, since it breaks the tyranny of sex/gender essentialism. I am not disappointed that the film dos not go where I want it to – Edwards can make the film as he pleases. But when an artist presents what I perceive as a fraudulent representation of sex/gender (especially after he masterfully portrays a true one earlier in the same film), I am allowed to note my objection, which I believe to be more nuanced that a mere complaint that the film does not go where I want it to. It is no different from pointing out what I perceive as a fraudulent depiction of white/black relations in SONG OF THE SOUTH (with blacks portrayed as happy instruments of white desire fulfillment).

    As for filmmakers who, prior to the release of VICTOR/VICTORIA, explored the performative nature of sex/gender, I would point to Cukor, Leisen, Mankiewicz, and Fassbinder for a start.

  • Blake Lucas

    Tomorrow, Thursday 12/30, TCM will show DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD (1954), another Quine/Edwards collaboration, directed by Quine with screenplay by Edwards the last year before he himself became a director. This one is outstanding and cannot recommend enough to those who haven’t seen it.

    At 7:30 AM Eastern Time.

  • I second Blake’s recommendation – DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD is one of Quine’s first masterpieces.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    D.K to me the humor of THE PARTY goes awry with the appearance of the elephant. Everything goes wrong from that point on.

    Brian, I respect your point of view although I’m sure we’ll have further occasion to disagree about the social construction of identity. Inspired by our debate, I am writing a piece I’ll call “Switch and Drag: Gender Ambivalence and Ambiguity in Blake Edwards Cinema.” (not a joke, I really do; and I’m pretty sure you’ll disagree!).

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Not pleased with TCM today – they miscalculated the running times of the two overnight Will Rogers rareties (Too Busy to Work, Down to Earth) – both were in 75 slots, the former is 77 minutes, the latter 80. They started the first one two minutes early (I’ve never seen them do that), the latter then ran seven minutes over (I had allowed for an extra 5). Anyway, it pays to program your TiVo or equivalent accordingly.

  • D. K. Holm

    Hah! The elephant. That’s exactly what Lethem concludes.

  • I was surprised by that remark in Letham’s book. It’s not that “The Party” falls apart with the introduction of the elephant, but that it shifts gears thematically and tonally at that moment, from a cold, cruel slapstick with Hrundi as a comic victim to self-consciously Chaplinesque pathos, with Hrundi as the protector of the elephant and the abandoned girl. There always comes a point in Edwards when the slapstick stops being funny and folds back on itself, revealing the pain behind the facade. To me, that’s not a flaw but one of the elements that makes him a great filmmaker.

  • bill krohn

    One of the high points of my work for Cahiers was interviewing Blake Edwards with J-M Lalanne, which confirmed Krohn’s Law: Great directors always live up to their films. (The interview is reprinted in Backstory 7.) At the time he was writing a play, SCAPEGOAT, about Satan in psychoanalysis. I’ve been revisiting his work since his death, focusing on the late films (but not SKIN DEEP, which I know by heart) and loving them. THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN (co-written with his analyst – amazing film); MICKI AND MAUDE; REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER; A FINE MESS, the only dud, but he said so himself. Reportedly the latter was completely recut on orders from Columbia after a bad preview, but was originally an all-improvised film and a very funny one. I wonder if that preview print still exists. I gather from Mike S. that WILD ROVERS has been unearthed in Edwards’ cut — perhaps it will be available on DVD now that westerns are back and this great filmmaker is gone. Writing the introduction for the interview when it came out in English, focusing on Edwards the writer, I found a copy of PANHANDLE, a guerrilla western made from Edwards’ first script, at Eddie Brandt’s. It’s like a Restoration comedy! Incidentally, Edwards’ comments on his own work make it clear that he is a moralist (he added the reproving Peppard speech to BREAKFAST over Capote’s strong objections) and takes the pain of slapstick very seriously, as Dave notes. He and his daughter Jennifer are both extremely accident-prone, and he was once rendered paraplegic for 24 hours by a botched suicide attempt — which he says was a hilarious scene. I quoted Sarris re: GUNN “walking on the slick surfaces of modernity with the squeaky shoes of morality,” and he loved it. I’m still looking forward to revisiting SWITCH and the amazing THAT’S LIFE. I’ll probably end up revisiting all of them.

  • Bill, thanks for the excellent post — it’s great to see you here!

  • Brad Stevens

    The latest issue of UNDERCURRENT is now online, with a section on Blake Edwards that includes contributions from several regulars:

  • D. K. Holm

    I had occasion to see Days of Wine and Roses again the other night with several people. I noticed a visual link at the beginning to the speech that Lemmon gives at the end. When he and Lee Remick are at the pier at the end of their first date, he is drinking from a bottle and when it is empty he drops it into the bay; there is a shot of the bottle floating on the rough water. In the speech at the end, Joe Clay says that he and she were floating on a sea of booze and the boat sank. I found it gratifying that those associated with the film thought that far ahead, and inserted that subliminal foreshadowing, and am hard pressed to think of a similar sense of care and attention to detail in films from the past couple of years.