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Postby mystery meat » Wed Feb 20, 2019 12:23 am

a weekend at the movies

by mystery meat

Saturday I woke up with a sober commitment to finish the rest of Maurice Pialat's Van Gogh (1990), which i had not been enjoying over the course of many spaced out spare-time viewings. I am sure there are Pialat-stans on here but his conception of human behavior as emotionally discontinuous cycles of abuse + pretty ephemera does nothing for me, even if i can admire the camera-craft and individuated scene-building artisanship. But as Van Gogh marched out of my retinas, Lev Kuleshov's astonishing By the Law (1926) clawed its way in. Here is a movie placed in the same acrid unforgiving American frontier hellscape as Stroheim's Greed, suffused with the same kind of violence and hysteria; but where Greed is rendered via epic duration, widespread mise-en-scene, blistering textures cooking into your brain as you soak in its novelistic density, Kuleshov is all montage-vertiginous torment, hyper-intensive flare-up, anguished close-ups firing at a rapid clip.

I met the afternoon with an intuitively curated Minnelli/Fassbinder double feature -- Goodbye Charlie (1964) and Querelle (1982). The former: Minnelli's worst, a real doozy of a premise (look up a synopsis if you don't know the gist), with a hideous 60s-kids'-cartoon singalong theme song, Tony Curtis the handsomely flabbergasted cartoon he tends toward in his worst comedies, and, in terms of raw direction, a number of garish tonal mishandlings of already weak-willed verbal witticisms.* Walter Matthau is something else though, the man flies high into the crispest altitudes of wacko-stylization in this one. That and Debbie Reynolds' emulation of Lauren Bacall's husky delivery style are the reasons to see it.

The latter is as virtuosic as I would expect. The backdrops are of a sumptuous orange-gold sheet-metal saturation, the foregrounds are the customarily opulent clutter of other Fassbinder mise-en-scene benchmarks (Lola, World on a Wire, Chinese Roulette, etc.), and the dramaturgical design of the picture is beautiful -- at key narrative junctures, the film's bronze-lit imagery will melt into a white-heat radiant plate of the original Jean Genet text, matched to a dry and directionless (and therefore, somehow, completely effective) voiceover and what I recall as a purifying choral sound. I don't want the fact that it was his final film compel me into swansong eulogizing** but I do want to take a few moments to relish the fact of Fassbinder's utter mastery of all of the gears and levers of the machinery of film production at this, the last of a late-career succession of artistic high points.

Saturday night, I decided to investigate what James Cagney and Doris Day -- former Warner Bros stalwarts of differing eras in the studio's history -- might look like in a big all-star MGM musical production together. Love Me or Leave Me (1955) is a mixed bag. Cagney more or less rebounds to Public Enemy levels of abusive-in-all-directions ego-juiced monstrosity, rattling off all the old gangsterisms with all the old nervous rage. Not all of the songs land for me, but I'm always lightly enthralled by Doris Day. But on the whole, it's a misdirected effort to ride the doomed-showbiz-love-story wave precipitated by A Star is Born from the previous year. There's none of the ecstatic 'rising star' momentum to match the grandiloquence of its thematic intentions or the length of its runtime, and it all dissolves into bad biopic soap opera.

Sunday: a day for church bells and Pre-Codes -- The Big House (1930) is one of the original bareknuckle prison dramas, with a lot to recommend it. I still can't say that Chester Morris has ever made an impression on me, but Wallace Beery snarls up a storm, and Robert Montgomery does a good turn as a square, spoiled, but sympathetically mortified new inmate, completely unequipped to meet prison life even halfway. I must confess to having lost track of main thrust of the plot when the outside world got involved and hence the soporific specter of Redemption as served up by filmmakers-cum-armchair-criminologists reared its dreary head. Dracula (1931) by Tod Browning is all shadow-play shot through with shuddering punctuations of silence and piecemeal close-ups of various grisly miscellany. Nothing like sparkling Hollywood chiaroscuro lensed by living room weed haze to close out the weekend.

*Also the 20th Century Fox 'Screen Archives' (Fox's answer to the Warner Archive DVD line) disc was hideously cropped, which enraged my normal self to no end.

**Nor do I want to take on Ben Mankiewiczs' gross and unenviable task of watering down radical queer cinema for the TCM audience of old conservative white suburbanites.
Last edited by mystery meat on Wed Feb 20, 2019 11:03 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby DasLofGang » Wed Feb 20, 2019 12:27 am

mystery meat wrote:the TCM audience of old conservative white suburbanites.

sincere: aren’t they sort of dying off though? the last time I could afford tcm it seemed like they were actively trying to be a little less crumbling-to-dust with this
heven’s full of merderers
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Postby mystery meat » Wed Feb 20, 2019 12:42 am

TCM does a lot of good work programming valuable cinema from marginalized artists and movements (stuff that's netted them tons of angry reactionary facebook feedback) but i guess they use the hosts to soft-sell more transgressive stuff to their base with the usual bad quips and infomarketing.
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Postby Plainsong » Fri Mar 15, 2019 6:21 am

Hi mystery meat. Was wondering if you could rec me any Wyler stuff to watch? I've only seen The Westerner, Roman Hoilday, and The Big Country which all ruled. I'm pretty keen on watching The Best Years Of Our Lives, and The Children's Hour if you think they're worth a watch?
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Postby goldsoundz » Fri Mar 15, 2019 6:50 am

definitely the heiress and the best years of our lives
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Postby Plainsong » Fri Mar 15, 2019 6:53 am

goldsoundz wrote:definitely the heiress and the best years of our lives

Thanks for the recs goldsoundz.
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Postby inmate » Fri Mar 15, 2019 1:18 pm

the letter is also pretty good and worth watching
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Postby mystery meat » Mon Mar 18, 2019 9:02 am

Best Years of Our Lives and The Heiress are the best

also recommend The Good Fairy, Dodsworth, The Little Foxes
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Postby Plainsong » Mon Mar 18, 2019 9:03 am

mystery meat wrote:Best Years of Our Lives and The Heiress are the best

also recommend The Good Fairy, Dodsworth, The Little Foxes

Thanks mm, is The Children's Hour worth watching?
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Postby mystery meat » Mon Mar 18, 2019 9:04 am

yeah i would double feature it with his original version of the same story, These Three
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Postby Plainsong » Mon Mar 18, 2019 9:07 am

mystery meat wrote:yeah i would double feature it with his original version of the same story, These Three

Cool.
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