by HELEN GEIB
Free-Talking Series: Next Post
[Note: The monthly Free-Talking post is updated every five days, give or take a day every now and then.]
FEBRUARY 26, 2011- AND MY LEAST FAVORITE MONTH OF THE YEAR DRAWS TO A CLOSE
Last night I saw Memento at the IMA. I hadn’t seen it since it was new and had forgotten all but the broad outline. That’s not a memory joke, but a preface to saying how much I enjoyed being taken by surprise again by the plot twists. It was the closing film of the “Winter Nights” series, theme: noir and neo-noir, and also gave my group our best post-movie discussion of the series. We sat around for well more than an hour (until the Starbucks kicked us out) deconstructing the plot, analyzing the themes, teasing out noir tropes and influences….
Before Memento came Kurosawa’s crime drama Stray Dog– more neorealist than noir, but I wasn’t about to complain because I love that movie and was thrilled to see it, projected even, on the big screen- and Kiss Me Deadly– definitely noir, and what an ending! The series took a week off for the (third) annual silent accompanied by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra. The first two years featured Keaton and Lloyd, so this year was Chaplin’s turn with The Kid. I’ve never cared much for Chaplin’s features and this was no exception, but the orchestra played wonderfully and the accompanying Chaplin two-reeler The Idle Class had some classic bits.
Precipitation-wise this was a hard month, but it doesn’t compare to Siberia, or even the mountains of Bulgaria where I believe the Siberia-set sequences of The Way Back were actually filmed. I was sorry to see the movie leave theaters so quickly, but at least I did manage to convince several people to see it first. I also sold a few tickets to Another Year. My ego needed the boost after my abject failure to convince a single person to see 127 Hours when it made its brief return engagement, or for that matter when it was in its regular run. (And I’m not talking about strangers who stumble on this site either, this is people I regularly hang out with to talk about movies.) “That’s the one where the guy cuts his own arm off, right?” Some movies not even the Academy can sell.
Incredibly (for me), I’ve only seen one wide-release movie this month, at least so far (one weekend day left to go!). The lucky winner was The Eagle, which I enjoyed quite a lot. Thank goodness the forecast and the Hollywood release schedule for March are both much improved. I’m missing my Friday nights at the revival house already.
How does your month at the movies measure up? Did I miss anything good at the multiplex?
FEBRUARY 19, 2011- RUMINATING ON OSCAR
Oscar season is well underway with just a little over a week to go before the awards ceremony. The question is, as it is every year…
Why do I give so much time to the Oscars?!
I don’t begrudge the event’s very existence as some seem to. Why shouldn’t Hollywood throw an annual party to celebrate its accomplishments? However, since I’m not part of the industry, on the face of it there’s no reason why I should pay attention- a lot of attention- to something that is basically meaningless outside the industry.
Why “meaningless”? True, the Academy is partly guided by perceived quality and mainstream critical assessment. However, other things that play a role in the voting have rather less to do with intrinsic merit: how it will look to outsiders when the list is announced, favoritism, personal preferences (acknowledged and unacknowledged), box office receipts, not having seen a lot of the year’s releases, and political statement-making.
All those factors are at play in critics groups’ “best of” lists too, but those I can give a passing glance to and move on. Not so Oscar.
(And for those who haven’t heard me hold forth on this topic before: I don’t even believe in “bests” and top-whatever rankings when it comes to the arts.)
So, why do I give so much time to the Oscars every year, year after year? Because for better or worse, they’re what everyone’s talking about, and I want to be part of the cultural conversation.
The Oscars are in the paper, on the radio, all over the internet, the talk of movie fans everywhere. Everyone I know who knows I’m interested in movies asks me what I think of the nominations, and wants to talk about their favorites and what they thought of last year’s winner.
A little more of this and I’ll have myself convinced the Oscars are a great thing after all. The national conversation only turns to movies for two things, the other being analyzing the box office returns for the summer tent pole releases. At least the discussion around the Oscars puts artistry front and center.
FEBRUARY 12, 2011- A FEW GOOD BLOG POSTS
David Bordwell announced the e-publication of Planet Hong Kong 2d edition in a post listing 25 essential Hong Kong films, the first of several posts celebrating the cinema
The one on “principles of HK action cinema” is required reading for action movie aficionados
The essay “Playing with the Truth” at Getafilm considers the intersection of reality and dramatization in five recent films “based on true events”
FEBRUARY 6, 2011- CONNECTIONS: THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998)
When I decided to write about The Big Lebowski and the theme of connections (series introduction post here), the question became, where to start? It belongs to that strand of the Coen brothers’ body of work that is defined- to greater or lesser degree from film to film- in relation to other works, primarily classic Hollywood movies.
Their crime movies, among which The Big Lebowski surprisingly numbers, additionally draw inspiration from American crime novels. Lebowski can be read as an extended parody of the Raymond Chandler school of detection fiction and its classic film noir adaptations, with The Dude an inverse Philip Marlowe. The point shouldn’t be pushed too far. Detective stories, literary or cinematic, are hardly the movie’s only point of reference, and as interpreted by Jeff Bridges, Dude is a beguiling original creation. Nevertheless, the connection is clear, with the voiceover narration, Dude’s entanglement with the self-possessed daughter of his rich old man client ala The Big Sleep (1946), and the direct quotation of dialogue from Murder My Sweet (1944) (“A black pool opened up at my feet. I dived in. It had no bottom.”) just a sampling of the many references and in-jokes.
My favorite part of the movie, after The Dude writ large that is, is Dude’s Busby Berkeleyesque drug-fueled dream starring himself, Maude Lebowski, and chorus girls in bowling pin headdresses. It must seem unutterably bizarre to people who’ve never seen a Berkeley original. It’s still bizarre even when you have, but familiarity with the source does take the edge off the strangeness. In an important respect, Lebowski‘s musical number is easier to take: it’s contextualized as a dream, where Berkeley’s fantasies were supposed to be actual stage shows.
And there’s so much more. What to make of the references to Westerns? (The narration delivered by Sam Elliott’s nameless cowboy, the intro’s tumbling tumbleweeds.) What’s up with the German nihilist fake kidnappers? Is Dude and Walter’s friendship a meditation on the post-Vietnam era? Does it all finally come down to Joel and Ethan Coen’s twisted sense of humor? I wouldn’t rule it out.
FEBRUARY 1, 2011- DESERT ISLAND MOVIES, WINTER STORM EDITION
blizzard of 1978
As I’m writing this, Indianapolis is entering a 48-hour winter storm warning, the forecasters are predicting up to an inch of ice followed by heavy snow, and the radar weather map is tracking a huge blob of that nasty pink color that means wintry mix. There’s nothing else for it but to start thinking about what DVDs I’ll watch if/when I’m stuck at home for the next two days.
What movies would you reach for to sit out a blizzard?
Free-Talking Series: Prior Post