Some Brief Questions About the Movies

One of the best things about films–both good and bad–is that they inspire us to inquire. We ask while watching them: Did it really have to happen that way? Or maybe: What’s with the lighting in that scene? How does so-and-so get out of that scrape? We’re always exploring this universe. There always are questions that come up during the course of a picture.

Recently, I began to wonder if the ones I’m asking while watching certain flicks are the same as those being posed by other viewers. Perhaps we’re all thinking similarly … or perhaps not. In that interrogative light, here are my latest musings, as unattached to each other as they may be:

Does anybody really like the character George Berger in Milos Forman’s film version of Hair?

Which is more disturbing: The discovery in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia that Gasim, the man T.E. Lawrence saved from death in the desert, has murdered another man, or Michael Corleone’s lie to his wife Kay in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather about killing his sister’s husband?

Would Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus be a heckuva lot better without Alex North’s excruciatingly bombastic score?

What would have happened in Kenji Mizoguchi’s The Life of Oharu if the eponymous character had rejected the advances of her suitor at the beginning of the film?

Where did Antoine Doinel go at the end of Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows? How about Kevin at the end of Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits?

Couldn’t Louis Mazzini just have gone back into the prison to retrieve his memoirs at the conclusion of Robert Hamer’s Kind Hearts and Coronets?

I’m just wondering. How about you?

 

 

Skip’s Quips: Continuing to Relish ‘A Hard Day’s Night’

Blog Sketch 082813After watching a sobering documentary on the 1960s TV band The Monkees last night, I tuned in to more lighthearted fare: Richard Lester’s classic Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night.

And I wasn’t disappointed. I’d seen it countless times, yet in each instance it remained as fresh as ever. Nothing changed on Friday evening. The jokes were still funny, the cinematography superb, the editing slick, the direction sharp. Plus there was that Beatles music. You can’t go wrong with that.

Well, maybe you can with songs such as “Wild Honey Pie.” But thankfully, AHDN didn’t showcase ditties such as those.

The Monkees definitely tried to replicate the style and substance of The Beatles. But in my opinion, they didn’t come close. The material wasn’t the same. AHDN was an innovative picture. It changed the face of rock ‘n’ roll and its appearance in the cinema. To this day, there’s nothing like it, not even the myriad music videos that followed the flick years later. It’s one of a kind.

So I will continue to enjoy it, as I’ve done for decades. It may be a product of a bygone era. Yet there’s nothing dated about it. That’s the mark of a great movie. That’s the mark of art.

Skip’s Quips: Boy, Do I Miss Wallace & Gromit

Blog Sketch 082813Where have you gone, Nick Park?

It seems like only yesterday I was watching a variety of classics created by this great animator and starring his most beloved creations: the befuddled inventor Wallace and his trusty, whip-smart dog Gromit. There was The Wrong Trousers. Then there was A Close Shave. Heck, I even loved the duo’s earliest entry into cinema, A Grand Day Out.

Sadly, we haven’t seen any more of these brilliant movies in a while. I think that’s a shame.

The pair is as inimitable as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, or Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The few films they’ve starred in are comic treasures, filled with lovingly designed animation and wonderful, witty scripts, along with terrific, iconic characterizations.

I miss them.

Maybe one day Park will revisit these two cartoon stalwarts. I still remember watching them at Spike & Mike’s Festival of Animation in New York long ago, relishing their delightful humor. Please grace us with more films in which they appear, Mr. Park. We could use them.

Signing off now …

Setter’s ‘Spectives: There’s No Imitating ‘Imitation of Life’ … in Lousiness

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I’m not sure even the hallowed Cahiers du Cinéma could convince me that Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life is a good movie.

Maybe I’m missing something, but after about five minutes of this noisome, overdone film I’d had enough. I stopped watching, preferring to listen to the dialogue as it buffeted my ears.

Not fun.

Sirk may be highly regarded in some circles, but I just didn’t care for this weepy, obvious picture, and I suspect I’d feel the same way about many of his other flicks. Yes, I’m generalizing, but if this is the kind of thing Sirk is known for, I’m not interested. Give me Seven Samurai any day.

Oh, I realize I’ve got to supplement my intake of Kurosawa with lesser works now and then. I already do. Imitation of Life, however, is not something I want to revisit again; I’d even rather watch an old Steven Seagal hack-a-thon instead.

Though I hope I won’t have to make that choice. Anyway, on to better cinematic options.

Skip’s Quips: Criticizing Crummy Movies Is Fun!

Blog Sketch 082813Is it so wrong that I sometimes like lampooning films more than watching them?

I tell ya: There are thousands of bad movies out there that just beg to be criticized. And I’ve only broached the tip of the iceberg.

Yes, I do enjoy viewing great (or even good-enough) cinema. I love to talk about these pictures, too. But there’s nothing like making fun of a terrible piece of celluloid. It provides a satisfaction that can’t be beat.

Granted, I’m not really a fan of sitting through bad films … I prefer to critique them. So getting there is the hard part. Watching such junk can be grueling.

The rewards, however, are the gifts that keep on giving. Awful motion pictures last as long as quality ones. They’re just as resilient. So they’re just as worthy to discuss.

Thankfully, I don’t feel guilty about doing just that. And I don’t think anyone else should, either. As long as we have crummy cinema in this world, we should have people to make fun of it. It’s part of our critical fabric. It’s innate.

Let’s not let it go to waste.

Skip’s Quips: Christmas Confessions of a Nice Jewish Boy

Blog Sketch 082813I love watching the 1951 A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim during the holiday season.

Does it matter that I’m Jewish? I don’t think so. It’s a timeless story, with thrills, chills and a wonderful moral sensibility. Religion, methinks, is irrelevant when it comes to the cinema.

I do think it’s a shame that there aren’t that many films around that celebrate the Hanukkah holiday by telling the story of Judah Maccabee and his brethren. It’s a fascinating tale that would be most conducive to celluloid.

But I’m not at all against the trappings of Christmas on the telly. In fact, I welcome them. They bring a festive air to the season, which is much needed when the snow falls and the wind turns cold.

Viewing A Christmas Carol is one of my annual holiday traditions. I equate it to having turkey on Thanksgiving. You just can’t do without it.

And a great film is a great film, no matter what the subtext suggests. So I’m going to continue to watch Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge this season. And enjoy it. Until next year, of course. When the time for it comes around again.

Skip’s Quips: Hoping for a Film of ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’

Blog Sketch 082813One day, hopefully, A Confederacy of Dunces will become the movie it’s destined to be.

I’ve felt for a long time that this great John Kennedy Toole novel – which focuses on bizarre character Ignatius Reilly as he fumbles from mishap to mishap in New Orleans – was made for the cinema, as it’s got sweep, humor and a kind of beauty in its comic pages. Apparently, a project for a film of this book has been in the works for a while; its IMDB page notes that a picture is currently in development. This can, of course, take a long time to come to fruition, but I’m sanguine about the prospects. Ultimately, I believe, it’ll happen. It’s too good of a story not to.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair that so many lesser works have appeared onscreen before Dunces. I just have to keep hoping that this movie will become a reality. I also hope that it won’t be ruined like so many adaptations of classic tomes beforehand. It’s hard to know at this stage, though. Staying positive about the prospects is essential.

I think I can do that.

Skip’s Quips: The Song Process Remains the Same

Blog Sketch 082813If I had a dime for every movie that finishes up with some sort of awful song at the end, I’d be rich.

When did this trend in cinema start? It seems like every picture nowadays has some kind of rock tune playing over the final credits – and usually, they’re not that memorable. Once in a while, you get something along the lines of George Harrison’s “Dream Away,” which concluded Time Bandits. But it’s usually a noisy, guitar-heavy sound blast with screaming vocals. Not my cup of tea.

I like when filmmakers take the time to end their movies in interesting ways. A song can be appropriate, such as Simon & Garfunkel singing the “The Sound of Silence” in the remaining images of The Graduate. That ditty provided insight into the ways the main characters were feeling: lost and hopeful at the same time. I don’t see that kind of commentary, however, in most of the melodies ending films. And that should change. Directors can easily find songs that are germane. They don’t have to be just filler.

I don’t like watching filler onscreen. The credits can be just as much a part of a film as the dialogue; they can add something integral. Why can’t an ending song do the same?

Mundane melodies be damned. Let’s have topical tunes close more pictures … and more attention paid to these cinematic parts. A good, relevant ditty can keep fannies in the seats throughout the end of a movie. It would keep me in my place, for sure.

And that’s nothing to sneeze at. Or scream at, for that matter.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Your Seats Won’t Make a Bad Movie Better

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613It’s nice to know there are movie theaters out there that are trying to make the film-consumption process more palatable than the tired popcorn that’s churned out every day before being drizzled with slimy butter topping.

I recently had the experience of sitting in such a theater, which featured a kind of stadium seating that might be found in the first-class cabin of an airplane … if such flights featured cinema-oriented stadium seating. Composed of soft padding, the chair had a bit of a recline thing going on, as well as lots of space for me to shift my tuchas when my position became the least bit uncomfortable. The requisite cup holder added convenience; extra leg room added area.

Unfortunately, it didn’t improve the movie I was seeing: This Is Where I Leave You.

That’s too bad. I only wish the theater concentrated more on providing a better film than it did on offering cushy seating. For a good picture, I’d sit on hard wooden benches. I’d sit on the floor. I’d sit in the smoking lava of the Mount Doom caldera.

Well, maybe I wouldn’t go that far.

My point is that the quality of the seating in a theater is less important to me than the quality of the filmmaking. I prefer to see movies based on how good they may be, not how comfortable the space is. And I just don’t think a huge number of mainstream theaters consider that.

I understand numbers are important. I understand luring eyeballs is essential. But I just would like to see more of a focus on bringing great pictures to the theaters than one geared to bells and whistles. I don’t know if this will happen; it’s probably not a realistic hope. It’s the wish of a moviegoer, though. The wish of an individual.

That should factor in somewhere.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: What Happened to All Those Great Opera Movies?

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Remember Franco Zeffirelli’s excellent film of Verdi’s Otello? Lush production, sexy direction, terrific acting, and of course, the great Placido Domingo as the titular Moor.

Why can’t we get more movies like that today?

It seems like there isn’t as much of an impetus to develop cinematic spectaculars based on classic operas as there was three decades ago, and I think that’s a shame. Once upon a time, you had Ingmar Bergman doing Mozart’s The Magic Flute, too. But now, it appears that directors of a certain stature are more content to craft large-scale pictures out of popular contemporary musicals than operatic standards. It makes sense from a commercial standpoint, as the latter have a more limited audience. From an artistic perspective, however, it’s lamentable.

I want to see a great celluloid version of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, darn it! And not the nonsense that is Tristan + Isolde, see?

Today, with New York’s Metropolitan Opera doing HD films of various productions, it’s easy to think that we’ve come to an era where the genre is made accessible to everyone. I don’t think that’s the case, though. Movies of productions aren’t the same as cinematic iterations that aren’t confined to one stage; Zeffirelli’s Otello is proof of that. It was an actual film, not a filmed opera. That’s one of the reasons why it worked so well onscreen. Editing, cinematography, music, art direction – everything combined to make a powerful whole. It became a motion picture.

I don’t think opera is a dying art, nor do I believe it should be relegated to the upper class. It’s for everyone, and the great works deserve to be viewed and listened to by all. That’s why I’d like to see more of the type of thing that Zeffirelli has done in the theaters – not just HD versions. Many of these stories are quite cinematic, with fanciful plots and engaging characters. Shouldn’t they be put onscreen where they belong?

I think so. And I hope one day, we’ll see opera once again take its rightful place in the cinema.