Monday, August 20, 2012

The Polka Dot Lives On

17 images from The Gang's All Here (Busby Berkeley, 1943).

Featuring the very affecting Alice Faye and the very sporting Benny Goodman, among others. An awesome movie, if you can't tell.

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Some others I've seen, going back quite a few months:

All my greatest movie experiences now take place at the Kimo Theater in downtown Albuquerque, in sparkling, vivid, and very large Blu-ray presentations (I think): Frankenstein and Dracula; the original Journey to the Center of the Earth (spectacles don’t really become any less spectacular as they age, but they demand a certain reverence, and a big screen; this one features a mostly naked and surprisingly attractive Pat Boone); Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress and Stray Dog (especially remarkable is the latter’s wordless but very noisy slumming sequence, capped by an amazing shot of serene night sky-gazing, drawn with comic book neatness); and the Albuquerque-filmed Lonely Are The Brave, a masterpiece.

The screening of this last one sticks out in hindsight as one of my formative Albuquerque experiences, along with my recent, and complementary, hike to the top of the same mountains where its climax was filmed. And what a climax, an impossible-seeming feat of filmmaking on par with Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, one that offers the Sandias as an undeniable cinematic force, a great place of the imagination, an obstacle of major symbolic weight, and, to stoop to the dumbly physical world, a beautiful hell of hard, hard earth. The movie provided Kirk Douglas with what he considered to be the best role he ever played, and his performance, and the film itself, deserves more champions. He’s at his best in a jailhouse scene, planning his escape, talkative and relaxed, with an expansive calm that has an imminent expiration. We can see this man could never survive prison, but he’s bolstered by such supreme confidence in his ability to release himself from any tight space that his nervous energy only barely registers.

Anyway, the movie informs my every waking moment in this city, in a mythic sort of way the other great Albuquerque photoplay, Breaking Bad, doesn’t quite get at, though I appreciate more than ever (and get distracted by) that show’s honest attempt to inhabit a real place.

And, for similar geographical reasons, I really like that Pixar movie Cars these days.

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We Need To Talk About Kevin is the only movie I remember seeing recently that’s edited almost entirely according to the graphic qualities of the individual shots. That might be why the circling-around-horror structure of the story is much more than a lurid tease. Instead, a network (a lifetime) of visual associations leads to the awful scene at the movie’s center.

Kent Jones puts it in funnier terms, but needless to say, accusing an artist of indecisiveness is often the last recourse of the critically indecisive. Bernie is a specific and intentional film, as Jones smartly describes.

“I see so many opportunities to do things in movies, and I don’t see them taken very often,” says Alex Ross Perry, director of The Color Wheel. Amen to that, and to his movie, which I can hardly describe because it does things I’m so little accustomed to describing. And if I “like” the lead characters a lot more than most critics, it’s only because I understand how a well-cultivated sense of futility can feel as good as a real act of youthful rebellion.

By the time Hushpuppy gets to the island brothel and the kitchen of her very temporary surrogate mother, in Beasts of the Southern Wild, it would be easy to view that room’s vision of falling dust as another example of the chaos of the universe. But in this movie of striking images, this one (a field of gentle, light-catching particles, like goosebumps) struck me most, with its sudden, previously unseen sense of… what? Feminine order?

I can get behind any movie that lists “Fornicus, Lord of Bondage and Pain” in the credits, but the real pleasure of The Cabin in the Woods is the opportunity to see Richard Jenkins repeatedly shouting “Fuck you!” at a television showing a roomful of Japanese schoolchildren.

Woody Allen has said that he gives indifferent titles to his indifferent movies, so if To Rome With Love is more than indifferent, it’s because the original intended title was Bop Decameron.

If I had to rewrite the beginning of his Manhattan: “He lay awake thinking about New York, a city he had never been to and would probably never see. He cared nothing about the people, real and fictitious, who had lived there, who lived there still, who’d mapped the city over thousands of nights of cramped solitude. He cared only for his own imaginings of a place and a life forever unclaimable.”

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Some things I read a while back:

When Captain Flint Was Still A Good Man by Nick Dybek: First I’ll propose that future printings of this fine book use an inverted title—A Good Man Was Still Captain Flint When—and then I’ll say that the book, as it actually exists, asks some pretty profound questions about music, and the act of listening to it, despite not describing in very interesting terms any of the music it features (overuse of the word “lilting,” etc.). One character lives her life in her record room; another comes to inhabit the same room later in life, and wonders how it might have been if everything he knew he’d learned in that room. He says that the music he plays marks time (because he has no other way to track it) while remaining outside of it, and then explains that music is love without the betrayal that real contact eventually requires. A lot of these ideas must be born of the solitude of a true listener.

June Moon by George Kaufman, Ring Lardner: They say American literature, or the strand of it that Kaufman and Lardner represent (see the latter’s You Know Me Al) is the literature of “talk,” so the success of June Moon is in its talkativeness, and in the success of its individual lines. Here are a few I liked:

1. “There won’t no woman untangle me.”

Fred mishears the word “entangle” (probably doesn’t even know the word), replaces it with another word that implies he’s a tangled mess of a man, and then surrounds it with hideous grammar contortions, poetic because they’re so thoughtless and natural.

2. “Wait—don’t you want to hear a great song? You know who I am, don’t you? I’m Benny Fox, the hit-writer. I write words and music both. I’m like Berlin, only more pathetic. Now I got a new one. It’s about a couple that have a baby without benefit to a clergyman, and you can dance to it.”

I don’t know if this is the origin of the phrase “and you can dance to it,” but it’s a much earlier occurrence than one might have imagined.

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Geoffrey S. misses the point

I’ll probably spend the rest of the year trying to figure out a way to explain why Frankie Rose’s Interstellar is such a beautiful experience, as I’ll necessarily have to do when I place it toward the top of my first post-apocalyptic top ten. To start with, I know I need to abandon the notion that Interstellar sounds like anything else that has ever existed. Because, no good band/album truly sounds like any other, right, the way no two words have the same meaning? I wrote previously about my personal dislike of the word “nostalgia” re: modern music, and now it might be time for a general application of the concept’s necessary retirement. Because, I keep wondering, if young musicians were really so deeply nostalgic, why would they bother making new music at all? A lot of music writing these days underestimates the pleasure and process of play, as if musicians are constantly aiming for some target and have no physical, unthinking relationship to sound. So, one might liken the supposedly retro Interstellar to The Cure, at times (I’ve done it), but what I really hear when I listen to it is a willful vision of peace from the rooftops of a crowded city. It’s a New York album. The humming interlude of “Gospel/Grace” is maybe the most profound denial of chaos I’ve ever heard, until those melancholy chords rise up underneath and scatter everything into a neat delirium, again. Most importantly, all of this takes place in the present: To paraphrase David Byrne, everything that happens (on Interstellar) happens today.

Elsewhere, the Pitchfork review of Big K.R.I.T.’s official debut concludes that, “at this point, good isn’t good enough.” I guess I can accept the idea, the same way I fail to understand yet accept the idea that a nation’s economy must forever grow larger (how does one ever come to terms with the knowledge that some people lived in the same cliff dwellings for a thousand years?). What I challenge is the notion that we’d heard K.R.I.T.’s album before, and, further, the failure to hear the unique qualities, the singular physical needs, that exist above and underneath and in between the generic narratives of sameness we ascribe to every album (like that “dead-end trip to the 80s” new Twin Shadow album, which is quite good).

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