Sunday, September 28, 2008

Oh, Mann

I remember when Steven Soderbergh mentioned that it was tough to grow and try new things as a filmmaker. He felt the system wants directors to spring fully formed from the head of celluloid. This sucks of course. What fun is it to watch a fully formed filmmaker, or someone who will never change? It’s boring.

History of Violence is a really impressive movie, but becomes even better if you have witnessed the progression of David Cronenberg’s films. The guy who made Shivers, The Fly, and Dead Ringers seems like such an odd choice to make History of Violence, but at the same time it fits together like a perfect puzzle. All of these carry themes of identity and sexuality. You may scratch your head a bit but trust me, I’m much smarter than you. Yes there are major differences, but that’s the point of evolution. The ability to grow and work the craft, to become a better filmmaker, and explore themes through different constructs.

Which brings me to Anthony Mann. I just finished watching The Furies on DVD. This is another one of those Criterion releases that made me wonder why they would release it. Then I witnessed its grandeur, its scope of story and human psychology. Just glancing at his resume, it looks like Mann’s breakout from Noir into the Western genre and he said, “Fuck you, the western can be as good as Shakespeare!”(My quote, not his.) He set out to prove it and did.

The Furies was his Tempest with a little bit of King Lear thrown in for good measure. An exquisite piece that demands the viewer to invest in characters that wallow in the emotional grays of life. By the end, these don’t seem like people on a screen, but Greek gods clashing over who rules the heavens. If you decide to sit down and give this a watch, you'll think I’m crazy at first. But don’t fight it, let the film take over. Roll with it and by the time all of the betrayal, revenge, and scheming is set up, you’ll be glued to the screen. Walter Huston is mesmerizing and Barbara Stanwyk has one of her best roles and one of the best lines of dialog that she’d ever get outside of Double Indemnity. To witness these two spar on screen is like standing in the eye of a tornado. You are perfectly safe and secure as the world around you is torn up from the roots.

Mann would never have achieved this if he didn’t have the time to grow and practice his craft. By working among the poverty row film companies, pumping out quickie noirs, Mann honed his storytelling style and personal voice. He came into his own with films like T-Men, Raw Deal, He Walked by Nightforming a visual style that feels like images carved in rock. Hard edges, high contrast, meaning within the composed frame itself. He’d transfer all he learned into the western and drive the genre in his own direction.

I wasn’t just waxing Mann’s car when I said his work was comparable to Shakespeare. Winchester '73 and The Naked Spur strike chords of Hamlet and Macbeth. The Man From Laramie drips the King plays from every pore. I hate to say that I have no idea what to compare The Tin Star to, but by that point, I feel Mann had stepped into his own. Exploring the myth of these characters and letting them ride off into the sunset where we’d never hear from their chorus again.

Here is what I find ironic. When Mann moves into the period epic, all of the emotions I carry from his other films disappear. All of those things that seem classic and epic in his noir and westerns, which are smaller and more intimate, go away when he gives us Fall of the Roman Empire or El Cid. It’s like the epic scale of the visual, displaced the epic quality of the characters. His visuals in these epics are amazing and just as solid as anything seen in Ben Hur or Cleopatra, they just lack in soul when compared to his other films.

If you have never taken the time to follow the evolution of a filmmaker, give Mann a shot. From small no budget noirs where he honed his skills, to the physical and psychological vistas of the old west, to the biggest budget mega-epics of the 50’s. Mann put up on screen a mosaic of humanity that very few have or will. There is reason why it is important to allow filmmakers to grow through their art and Mann is a legendary example.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Three Years

Three years clean and sober. This has been the toughest year as far as wanting to give up and start drinking goes. The funny thing is it was always when I was working at my last job. It could have been coincidence, but there were a lot of stress inducing situations there.

I even remember that at two years clean and sober, I couldn't have cared less. I was too tired and to involved in a job that meant nothing to even notice where I was in my life. It's interesting how a job effects a person.

Part of it could have been the third year trembles. It is a long talked about issue in AA that the third year is a tough one to get through. I don't think there is any specific reason, everyone has a story to tell and they are very rarely similar with the fact that it always takes place in the third year of sobriety.

Anyway, I feel pretty good. I've been working my way back to getting in shape again, slowly but there is momentum. I've also stayed off of cigarettes. I've indulged in two since I quit in May and I haven't had any urges to start back up again. Had I stayed on the exercise regiment when I quit smoking, I may not have had this extra weight I need to get rid of.

There was a two day period that was rather hard for me last year and I'd like to thank Aaron, Antonio and Gillian for helping me through it. I might have made it through without their help, but I might not have and their help and support was a big factor in lessening the blow.

I've mentioned this before, but I'll mention it again. One of the things that they pound into your brain in AA is that the life you begin to lead when you are sober may not be the life you always wanted, but it will be a better life then the one you had when you were drinking and drugging. I have to agree. Even though it may not be the dream life I've thought myself of having, there isn't one day that hasn't been better that what I once had.

So onward, forward, to battle. Let's see what the next year has to bring.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Return Of Rat Kid

I'm slowly watching the films of Busby Berekely and for those of you keeping track I had posted a piece about Rat Kid. I'm not sure if this little guy is a kid or a midget(dwarf?) but he is a little creepy and a total perv.

In the second film I've seen, Gold Diggers of 1933, Rat Kid shows up in a baby carriage! He runs around, gawks up a couple dresses, looks lasciviously at the camera and pulls up curtains on a bunch of women changing clothes. This is all done during a routine called "Pettin' in the Park." A revised song after the original title, "Blowjob on the Bench" was considered to vague.

Now these movies are pre Hays Code, so they are racy and that's a lot of fun. The dance routines are what make the films worth while, but I'm starting to notice a trend. The last routine is always this patriotic support our troops, America is great, raw-raw thing. It seems almost like a different film because this is how it ends. You have this frothy love story with wacky comedy giant dance numbers then a bunch of soldiers march through in the rain and it you're left feeling a little let down. 

But if Rat Kid keeps making cameos, I'm keeping them in the queue.

Il Trittcio

So a week after seeing the operatic version of The Fly, I go back to see a series of Puccini operas... operettas? Not sure how it ads up, but I was invited because the three pieces were directed by filmmakers William Friedkin and Woody Allen. I'm a big fan of both of them, but after The Fly, I wasn't sure how I felt about opera. Well, I have to say it was an amazing experience. There were some weaker singers, but some amazing ones and the emotional kick that was missing from last weeks endeavor, was paid back three fold in this one. Murder, suicide, greed. These were the themes that drove the pieces and the staging, production design and costuming were pitch perfect. 

Here is what I found most interesting, they actually felt like they were directed by Friedkin and Allen. The first two pieces directed by Friedkin had atmosphere and subtle strokes that create final moments that are an incredible emotional release. The Woody Allen piece had all of the fun and goof ball humor that his comedies of the 70's had. Just a blast and if you get an opportunity to check it out, I'd recommend it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I Chuckled

Look at him run! 

And why the hell can't these people draw feet on these guys? I get that the hands are used for cross walk signs across our great nation, but the feet are never used for anything. Somewhere is a giant warehouse of nondescript mechanical feet drawings going to waste.

Also, and I know I'm not an expert in the field of sign design, but I would have drawn little vibration lines behind him to show how fast he's running. It would really sell the, "I'm fuckin' outa' here!" feel.

Come Fly With Me

So last night I went to see opera version of The Fly. For those of you new to this story, it's about a dude scientist who is building teleportation pods. He hops in a pod to teleport to the next one and is successful. What he doesn't catch, is a fly was in there with him and his teleportation device spliced both sets of genes together. Now our dude scientist is slowly mutating into half man/half fly. Pretty cool right?

It was a movie in the 50's (I think) and had a guy walking around with a fly head, which was hysterical. In 1986, David Cronenberg went the gore route and had Jeff Goldblum slowly mutate and ooze his way into a creature. It's a great movie with killer effects, excellent acting and a great characters. A really solid horror film that has become something of a classic.

Now Cronenberg and the composer of the movie Howard Shore have turned it into an opera. At first you scratch your head, then you think about it and say why not. Then you see it and start scratching your head again. The set was cool, the singing was good, I'm guessing here, and the story was just like the 86 version of the movie. But it doesn't work. I didn't feel any love between the main characters, the libretto (lyrics) were real wishy-washy and I never felt any drop of fear. It just seemed like a missed opportunity. Plus it seems like they added these bits that were lifted from Cronenberg's Videodrome to give it a different theme, but it all fell, flat. 

I saw the movie last week and Cronenberg was there to discuss the film and pimp the opera. He'd said the Opera was very different than the movie. He kind of lied. There were a few different things added in and an ending that allows us to, "All hail the new flesh!", but still it was way too close to the film. Ya pulled one over on me Dave and I'm kind of miffed about it.

Here's how I feel it could have been saved. As a matter of fact if this happened, I'd buy tickets for everyone I know. It could have been exactly the same in every way shape or form. 

It's nearing the end and everyone I've taken is looking at me like I'm nuts for liking this thing. Then in the last minute, Seth (The Fly) is creeping up on Veronica (Female Lead) and about to pounce and kill her. Then like a mouse trap going off, this giant fly swatter shoots down and splats him flat. Cut to black, the end. Nothing but open mouths from the audience. 

Out walks Cronenberg with a stagehand wheeling Cronenberg's giant balls in a wheel barrow.  
That's fucking art!!