INVESTIGATION: Just what *are* Arendelle’s major exports?

Did King Agnarr hide Elsa because he wanted to protect his daughter? Or because he wanted to protect his economy?

Mickey: The Forgotten Blockbuster

Quick: Name America’s most popular silent film. No, it’s not anything by Charlie Chaplin. Not Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd either. Film students might answer The Birth of a Nation, but if we judge by ticket sales, that’s wrong too. Mickey, a film starring comedian Mabel Normand, was by far the most-seen and most popular [...]

How many tickets did The Birth of a Nation sell, really?

D. W. Griffith’s evil, racist film The Birth of a Nation is widely regarded as the most popular silent movie ever made. I believe this reputation is based on a misinterpretation of its box office records. The Birth of a Nation indeed made an awful lot of money. It had an estimated $18 million gross [...]

Stanley Kubrick and Male Violence

It’s long been understood that Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre tells stories of violence. But what often gets lost is that Kubrick’s focus is not on violence in general, but on violence that is particularly male in nature. Take Dr. Strangelove as an example: In the twisted logic of the film, violence feeds on itself, begetting more [...]

World War I and the Birth of Horror

World War I’s impact on modern art and philosophy are well documented. The Victorian Age took human progress for granted. The Enlightenment idea that rationality would continuously improve and perfect civilization ruled. That view of the world died, along with 16 million people. The universe seemed broken, and death reigned. Otto Dix (1891–1969) . Storm [...]

Battlestar Galactica’s moral complexity

The Sci-Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica is 15 years old this year, and it’s still making news. A new film from Universal is in the works, a podcast about the show is underway, and a retrospective is on bookstore shelves. One of the secrets of Battlestar Galactica’s success is the moral complexity shown both by its [...]

Power Worship & Superheroes

I'm a fan of superhero films. But the genre has gotten mired in a disturbing trend that needs to be discussed. Ten years ago, I had the opportunity to tour the Vatican Museums. The collections were displayed in chronological order, and they told a fascinating story as I walked from room to room. The art [...]

It’s past time we condemned Fitzcarraldo

Fitzcarraldo (1982) dir. Werner Herzog The production of Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, in which several people lost their lives or had their bodies mutilated, is often held up as an example of courageous art on the part of the director. It is no such thing, and it's long past time the filimic community cast a more [...]

Songs from the Second Floor – Not with a bang,

Sånger från andra våningen - Songs from the Second Floor (2000) dir. Roy Andersson Songs from the Second Floor brings us back to the turn of the century and anxiety over the apocalypse. Our fear at the time, seen better in retrospect, wasn't that the apocalypse was about to happen. Rather, our fear was that [...]

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) dir. Jacques Demy I saw The Umbrellas of Cherbourg last June, in just enough time to spoil La La Land. I've learned I'm not the only one to have had the same experience - my father knew exactly how Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone's relationship was going to progress and [...]

Woman in the Dunes

Woman in the Dunes (1964) dir.Hiroshi Teshigahara The form of Woman in the Dunes is horror, but its soul is a family tragedy. A middle-aged man finds himself trapped in an ever-collapsing home. His wife adores him, and he may love her too, but they cannot help but fight. His heart, even in the blissful [...]

Bollywood & Hollywood Nationalism

I've seen two Bollywood films during the past few weeks that really stood out – not only for their engaging quality, but also for the ways they each promoted Indian nationalism. I've been reading about the growing sense of national identity in that country during this century. I found that each promoted nationalism for India [...]

Harakiri and Japanese Tradition

Harakiri aka Seppuku (1962) dir. Masaki Kobayashi Post-War Japan was a period of intense adjustment, as the society reacted both to the sudden influence of American culture and the horrors of Imperial Japan. In Late Spring, Ozu found a way to move Japan into the new world while still honoring traditional values. Kobayashi's later film, [...]

Audition’s Slow-Boil Feminism

Audition (2000) - dir. Takashi Miike I love horror films with a slow, patient build. Audition is the best at this I've ever seen. It follows the same basic pattern as Hitchcock's The Birds. The first 90 minutes of a film with a 115-minute running time plays like an elegiac romance. Aoyama is a lonely [...]

The Cranes are Flying

The Cranes are Flying (1957) - dir. Mikhail Kalatozov The Cranes are Flying is a Soviet film released a little more than a decade after the end of The Great Patriotic War, and four years after the death of Joseph Stalin. It was only well after Stalin's death, under the protection of Khrushchev's thaw, that director [...]

Beau travail & Billy Budd

Beau travail (1999) dir. Claire Denis Beau travail is (loosely) adapted from Herman Melville's Billy Budd, and takes its score from the 1951 opera also based on the novel. Denis takes us away from the world of 19th Century seafaring, and stages the action in a late 20th Century North African outpost of the French Legion. The sand [...]

The Keaton Decade

The star of a film comedian waxes and wanes more rapidly than that of any other. Actors who seem like comic genius can - in the space of only 5-10 years - deplete their reserves of gags and jokes. Novelty matters in comedy, and when we grow too used to a style, it becomes not [...]

Color Schemes in Paris, Texas

Paris, Texas (1984) dir. Wim Wenders The color scheme introduced in the beginning of the film is magnificent. It uses the harsh browns and blues as Lawrence of Arabia, but adds a bold red to give it a surreal, almost pop look. The palette is bold enough to call our conscious attention to it. We [...]

Salò and Eyes Wide Shut

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) - dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini Eyes Wide Shut (1999) - dir. Stanley Kubrick Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1975 Salò and Stanley Kubrick's 1999 Eyes Wide Shut were separated by a quarter-century, but share basic structure, themes and strategies that each director use to condemn consumerism. Both Pasolini and [...]

The Movie We Don’t Want to Talk About

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, and the 100th anniversary of the birth of Hollywood. That's no coincidence. The first true blockbuster - the movie that helped create the modern industry - was director D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation. If it had been any other film, [...]

Nanook and “The Vanishing Race”

Nanook of the North (1922) dir. Robert J. Flaherty  The iconic Nanook of the North has been a staple in film schools for decades, and was just voted 7th-best documentary film of all time by the BFI. Even though Nanook's reputation as an artistic masterpiece are secure, its reputation as a piece of ethnography or proto-ethnography has waxed and [...]

Strategic Exoticism in Touki Bouki

Touki Bouki aka The Journey of the Hyena (1973) dir. Djibril Diop Mambéty Christ of the Ozarks There's a romantic attraction to the unfamiliar, and enjoying the exotic can be refreshing and provide new perspective. I imagine the Buddharūpa I encounter in films and museums could be seen as kitsch by people who grow up with them. Locals here in Northwest [...]

Murnau’s Faust in 5 Frames

Faust (1926) - dir. F.W. Murnau

Your Changing Body – Videodrome and Marshall McLuhan

McLuhan stand-in Prof. Brian O'Blivion Videodrome (1983) - dir. David Cronenberg David Cronenberg's Videodrome explores the disorienting ways that new media technology ruthlessly transforms not only our shared cultures, but also our very bodies and minds. Videodrome relies on the theories expounded by 20th Century thinker Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan believed "the medium is the message." [...]

Dr. Mabuse and the Nazis

Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler aka Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922) dir. Fritz Lang Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse aka The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) dir. Fritz Lang It is impossible to see any movie made during Weimar Republic Germany outside the lens of the rise of Nazism. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, released in [...]

Werckmeister Harmonies and Music

Werckmeister harmóniák aka Werkmeister Harmonies (2000) - dir. Béla Tarr In the opening scene of Werckmeister Harmonies, Janos explains the nature of an eclipse to a group of men in a bar. He begins scientifically, charting out the motions of the heavenly bodies. As the men's movements turn into an ethereal dance, János ventures into [...]

Von Trier’s Musical Critique of America

Dancer in the Dark (2000) dir. Lars von Trier Even the film's defenders say the big musical numbers fall flat, and the plot seems more like it belongs to a 1912 melodrama than a 21st Century art film. Its critics are even less kind - The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw called it "perhaps one of the [...]

The Dark Side of Henry V

Laurence Olivier's 1944 Technicolor adaptation of Henry V is widely regarded as the play's defining performance for popular audiences. Henry is a chivalrous king who inspires his men to victory. It is a terrific film, with bold technicolor, inventive storytelling and a fascinating design based on images from the Très Riches Heures. But Olivier's wartime [...]

The end of The Word

Ordet aka The Word (1955) - dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer Carl Theodor Dreyer's final scene in The Word centers around the resurrection of Inger from her casket. The scene leaves us with a scene of awe, wonder, and hope for life after death. The Word's style ensures that the miracle is both narratively sound and [...]

Uncertain Detectives

Zodiac (2007) dir. David Fincher The 1891 Sherlock Holmes story "The Five Orange Pips" is loaded with some of the genre's most delicious tropes. It spans two continents, includes a secret society, two mysterious deaths, a will and a locked room mystery. Holmes, true to form, solves the mystery without even leaving his home. Or [...]

Lawrence, Kierkegaard, and the limits of self-invention

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) dir. David Lean The mystery of Lawrence of Arabia is the person of Lawrence himself. He is charismatic and captivating, but who is he? New York Times critic Bosley Crowther famously complained in his 1962 review of the film, "We know little more about this strange man when it is over [...]

12 Years a Slave – Breaking the Silence on Slavery

12 Years a Slave (2013) - dir. Steve McQueen Hollywood has released more movies about slavery in ancient Rome than slavery in America. And the rare popular films that do directly discuss the issue, such as Amistad and Lincoln, are more concerned with the political battles fought by the white leading characters than they are [...]

When the world ends

Melancholia (2011) - dir. Lars von Trier "..depressives and melancholics act more calmly in violent situations, while “ordinary, happy" people are more apt to panic. Melancholics are ready for it. They already know everything is going to hell." Or so Lars von Trier's therapist told him, according to the Danish Film Institute, inspiring his end-of-the-world [...]

Angels & Tomboys

I recently was able to tour the Angels & Tomboys exhibition at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, featuring depictions of girls in 19th-century American art.  The introductory sign explains that the paintings "...reveal artists' fascination with this subject, particularly after the Civil War, when the themes of home and its female inhabitants [...]

Sayat Nova – Celebrating Armenia

Sayat Nova aka The Color of Pomegranates (1968) - dir. Sergei Parajanov The Color of Pomegranates is an illustrated poem. It has no narrative. A voice speaks the words of the 18th Century Armenian poet Sayat-Nova, and on-screen we see "living pictures" (tableau vivant) in the style of medieval Armenian manuscript art. In 1915, the [...]

Eraserhead and Buñuel

A Buñuel-esque dinner. Eraserhead (1977) dir. David Lynch The most direct comparison to David Lynch's Eraserhead is some of the early work of Luis Buñuel. Both are surrealist, gothic artists, consciously informed by Freud. Lynch is clearly working out his own anxieties over fatherhood and carefully crafts images and sounds that can convey his horror. [...]

Imitation of Life – Racism, Vicious and Defensive

Imitation of Life (1959) dir. Douglas Sirk Imitation of Life could almost be a parody of everything Americans find embarrassing about our social attitudes in the 1950's. The woman who chooses a career over marriage finds herself empty and her family falling apart. The teenage girl listening to records finds herself seduced into a life [...]

Bresson’s Focus on Action in A Man Escaped

A Man Escaped or: The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth (1956) dir. Robert Bresson A Man Escaped is "based on a true story" - in this case the memoirs of French prisoner of war André Devigny.  An opening title tells us 7,000 people died at the Montluc prison at the hands of the Nazis during World War [...]

Throne of Blood: Why Macbeth?

Throne of Blood (1957) dir. Akira Kurosawa Throne of Blood is director Akira Kurosawa's adaptation of Shakespeare's MacBeth.  He makes the bard's tale Japan's own, replacing Scottish warlords with armies of Japanese Samurai.  Yuwen Hsiung is one of many who have written about the ways Kurosawa integrated traditions with Japanese Noh theater into his telling of one of the [...]

Close-Up, Fiction, and Fact

Close-Up (1990) dir. Abbas Kiarostami Film buff Hossain Sabzian pretends to be famous Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and tells a family he intends to make a documentary about them.  They believe him at first, but soon the truth is uncovered.  Sabzian faces criminal charges. Real-life Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami reads about Sabzian in a magazine.  He [...]

Day of Wrath as a World War II Allegory

Day of Wrath (1943) dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer Day of Wrath, a movie about 17th Century women accused and condemned of witchcraft, was made during the Nazi occupation of Denmark, and released just months after the Nazis dissolved the Protectorate Government, announced martial law and began hunting for Danish Jews. Jonathan Rosenbaum reports that director [...]

Sedmikrásky – Feminist Food Wasting

Daisies - aka Sedmikrásky (1966) - dir. Vera Chytilová Sedmikrásky (or Daisies) is an iconic feminist, absurd film from the Czechoslovak New Wave.  Director Věra Chytilová comes from the grand tradition of Dada -- she doesn't so much break from traditional film convention as she does rip it apart and only pretend to put it back [...]

Shoah: What’s To Blame?

Shoah (1985) - dir. Claude Lanzmann The 9 1/2 hour film Shoah consists of eyewitness testimony of those who participated in and were the victims of the slaughter of 6 million European Jews by the Nazi regime.  Claude Lanzmann interviews survivors, former Nazis, train drivers, and neighbors.  There is no archival footage - Lanzmann overlays [...]

René Clair, From Silents to Sound

The apex of René Clair's career was during the transition from silent film to sound. Other great directors successfully made the move during the late 20's and early 30's, but Hitchcock still had yet to perfect his craft, while Chaplin simply put it off as long as he could. Clair managed to keep a consistent [...]

L’eclisse – Antonioni’s Wasteland

L'eclisse (1962) dir. Michelangelo Antonioni Antonioni's characters are creatures without meaning; people who are unnecessary and without whom the world would still go on. Critic Adriano Aprà makes the point in an interview available on Hulu - the world exists before the characters do, and the characters are just visitors. In many stories, the world [...]

Truthful Cinema

Les maîtres fous (1955) dir. Jean Rouch Chronique d'un été (1961) dir. Jean Rouch & Edgar Morin If a documentary is supposed to be true to life, what does this mean for the documentarian? The problem is especially acute for ethnographic fillmmakers, trying to capture a culture. But the filmmaker's simple presence changes the life [...]

Uncertainty in The Innocents

The Innocents (1961) - dir. Jack Clayton Do we see ghosts... or don't we?  That's the question asked early on in most supernatural horror films.  The medium is uniquely suited for this sort of game.  In literature we usually feel cheated if the author describes something that later turns out to just be a vision. [...]

Dead Man: A White Man Looks at Indians

Dead Man (1995) - dir. Jim Jarmusch Johnny Depp is William Blake, a white Clevelander who comes out West, in search of a job.  He quickly becomes wanted for several murders, some of which he commits.  His only friend is "Nobody," who is part Cree and part Blackfoot. Dead Man has been lauded for its [...]

India Through British Eyes

The River (1951) dir. Jean Renoir The River was the first color film for both director Jean Renoir, nephew and cinematographer Claude Renoir, and for assistant Satyajit Ray.  As Scorsese notes in his introduction to the Criterion DVD, the Renoir reputation for distinct contrast comes through in the technicolor; Jean had the garden lawn painted because it "wasn't [...]

Peeping Tom & The Male Gaze

Peeping Tom (1961) - dir. Michael Powell Peeping Tom is about Mark Lewis, a focus puller for a movie production crew.  He constantly carries a camera with him, and uses a hidden dagger in the tripod's leg to stab women's throats while filming their frightened faces for a documentary. Michael Powell's commentary is deliciously complex. [...]

Harlan County, USA

Harlan County, USA (1976) dir. Barbara Kopple A group of impoverished coal miners in rural Kentucky strike against their company.  They're shot at and beaten.  The camera crew is attacked as well. Harlan County, USA is documentary at its most exciting.  It's political, it's violent, it's ethnic.  The popular activist docs of the present; i.e. Gasland, Food, Inc.,  use the same [...]

Modern and Postmodern Jesus Films

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) - dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini "Could these also be reasons why God has given us two creation stories and four versions of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?" - Merold Westphal Pasolini, a dedicated Marxist, was not the most obvious person to make a reverent film about [...]

Godard’s Musical Comedy

Une femme est une femme (A Woman is a Woman) (1961) - dir. Jean-Luc Godard A Woman Is a Woman is one of Godard's earliest films.  This is back with young, playful, happy Godard; decades before the grumpy, mean, ole crotchety Godard we have now. Godard had reason to be happy.  He was in love with his [...]

Suppression of Passion in Scarlet Street

Scarlet Street (1945) - dir. Fritz Lang After seeing The Woman in the Window - made with the same director and lead cast the year before - I was much more sympathetic to Joan Bennett's character in Scarlet Street than I perhaps should have been.  It was, after all, based on the French novel La Chienne (The Bitch). It also took [...]

Scarface and the Hays Code

Scarface (1932) - dir. Howard Hawks The Hays Code wasn't technically in effect when Scarface was released, but the tide of censorship was rising.  Hawks stayed close to the line of acceptability, but he was always on the side that would allow him to show his picture. Perhaps no part of the Hays Code had more effect on the [...]

Tornado fears in Take Shelter

Take Shelter (2011) - dir. Jeff Nichols Arkansas native Jeff Nichols delivers an understated film on a topic that is traditionally overdone.  The psychological journey of Michael Shannon is similar to Natalie Portman's in Black Swan, but Take Shelter uses more subtle methods to achieve - at times - a similar frenzy. Shannon is a family man, who [...]

The Woman in the Window’s Controversial Ending

The Woman in the Window (1944) dir. Fritz Lang Spoilers abound in this post, so please consider watching The Woman in the Window before reading. The "it was all a dream" ending of the film has frustrated many viewers.  The audience has become emotionally engaged in what happens to Professor Wanley, and are disappointed to learn that none of [...]

John Wayne in Red River

Red River (1948) - dir. Howard Hawks John Wayne's best performance - at least of those I've seen - comes as playing a dark, malevolent character in Howard Hawks' Red River. John Wayne leaves the cattle train he works for after seeing a nice, large spot of land in Texas, across the Red River.  Problem is, the [...]

The Last Laugh – A True Silent Film

The Last Laugh (1924) - dir. F. W. Murnau The Last Laugh is a true silent film.  It has only one title card, and it is put in as a joke.  Emil Jannings (who later won the very first Oscar, became a Nazi and was burned alive in Inglourious Basterds) does an excellent acting job, [...]

Freaks

Freaks (1932) - dir. Tod Browning Freaks is about a group of people treated like second-class citizens.  The sideshow performers have physical deformities which are exploited by the "normal" people. Freaks has many similarities with standard Hollywood films that attempt to promote diversity but remain problematic. The freaks are oppressed, but they're cheerful.  Like all [...]

Death Race 2000: “The most popular sporting event in human history.”

Death Race 2000 (1975) - dir. Paul Bartel The United States has been replaced by the United Provinces, ruled by the tyrannical "Mr. President," but what really matters is the Transcontinental Road Race, "the most popular sporting event in human history." Every child who ever stared out a school bus window during the past 36 [...]

Sexism & the City

The Stepford Wives (1975) - dir. Bryan Forbes Sexism "Feminism" in Hollywood is often code for "give her boots and a gun."  From the silent era to Sucker Punch, female characters exist primarily to cater to male fantasies.  In 1975, The Stepford Wives pit real women against their fake replacements and well, nothing much has [...]

Wong Kar-wai’s First Masterpiece

Chungking Express (1994) - dir. Wong Kar-wai Chungking Express is one of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai's early films.  It is split into two stories that are unrelated narratively or thematically, but share a common style. The first concerns a young man who copes with a breakup through denial, jogging and pineapples.  Does his obsession with [...]

King Vidor’s Late Silent Masterpieces

Two of King Vidor's late silent films are early landmarks in genre. 1925's The Big Parade, much moreso than Griffith's Birth of a Nation laid down the template for war films, World War films in particular. 1928's The Crowd gives us the biopic of the ordinary man. The Big Parade follows the story of an American boy who enlists to [...]

The Wrong Man

The Wrong Man (1956) dir. Alfred Hitchcock On January 14, 1953, Christopher Emannuel Balestrero was arrested for a crime he did not commit.  In 1956, Alfred Hitchcock made a film about it. For this movie, Hitchcock toned down his usual style in favor of a documentary feel.  His fidelity to the actual facts of the case [...]

Alex DeLarge and Prince Myshkin

A Clockwork Orange (1971) dir. Stanley Kubrick "imagine a human subject devoid of the defense mechanisms produced by a history of hurting and being hurt, of choices and therefore of exclusions; imagine someone who has never had to make a choice that excludes an option or disadvantages another. In other words, imagine unfallen humanity, as [...]

Fahrenheit 451: Freedom from Books

Fahrenheit 451 (1966) dir. François Truffaut The 1990’s campaign against "political correctness" quickly devolved into a way for right-wing commentators to say racist things without getting in trouble.  But the silliness of the anti-PC movement doesn't mean there isn't a point to be made. Liberal society manages multiculturalism by creating a generic, neutral meeting space. "When the [...]

Alphaville: Je vous aime vs. sola Ratio

Alphaville: Une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965) dir. Jean-Luc Godard With the coming of the Enlightenment, we see a sort of secularization of the Protestant principle: sola Scriptura becomes sola Ratio. - Julián Carrón One of the central battles between post-Enlightenment utopian and dystopian thinkers is over the role of reason. The gauntlet was symbolically [...]

Dr. Zaius Was Right

Planet of the Apes (1968) dir. Franklin J. Schaffner For the first hour and forty minutes, Planet of the Apes plays like a standard anti-theocratic dystopia.  Prisoner Charlton Heston is given a brief look at ape society, which is ruled dogmatically by fundamentalists reading old scrolls.  The church is opposed entirely to free thought and scientific inquiry. [...]

Lord of the Flies

The 20th Century however, demonstrated that even Piggy has a heart of darkness.

Come and See

Come and See (1985) dir. Elem Klimov "The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer Come and See might be the best war film I've seen.  Devoid of the trappings [...]

Postmodern Sincerity

Vivre sa vie (1962) dir. Jean-Luc Godard Pather Panchali (1955) dir. Satyajit Ray Those who aspire at post-postmodernism generally see themselves as rejecting the irony of postmodernism in favor of genuine feeling.  Stuckism and the New Sincerity are sold as anecdotes to the supposed coldness of modern and postmodern art. But I'm starting to think [...]

The Post-Utopian Trial

The Trial (1962) dir. Orson Welles Many sci-fi films are anti-utopias.  Each is a description of a would-be utopia that, due to internal flaws, doesn't work. Animal Farm critiques Stalinism, The Great Dictator critiques Nazism, and Metropolis critiques both.  Each also provides a solution - a replacement utopia, if you will. Orson Welles's adaptation of [...]

Out of the Past

Out of the Past (1947) dir. Jacques Tourneur It feels like there are 3 movies here, or maybe 4.  The first is of a reformed man who starts a new life, only to be pulled in for one last job.  There is the story of two lovers who double-cross the rich corner of the triangle.  There [...]

Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus (1947) dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger A nun should practice celibacy and acknowledge natural lust - "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."  But weak flesh conflicts with Sister Clodagh's titular narcissistic vision of herself.  She imagines that someone deserving of the Sister Superior title is above base temptation.  So, [...]

The Red Balloon

The Red Balloon (1956) dir. Albert Lamorisse The Red Balloon is a classic example of magic realism.  People react to the balloon, but not much differently than I think they would in reality.  Most of us would just assume it seemed as though the balloon was alive, watch for a minute, and then return to [...]

Problems With Fictional Time Travel

La Jetée (1962) dir. Chris Marker Time travel is a popular device among sci-fi writers, and have often provided a glance at possible utopias and dystopias. Throughout the history of film and literature, only a tiny number of works on time travel have attempted to portray a realistic outcome.  La Jetée is one, and derives [...]

Time Enough at Last

At first glance, Henry Bemis is the victim. But watch again.

The Tyranny of the Camera

The presence of cameras everywhere a candidate goes has not resulted in a “more real” look at candidates. Rather, the opposite has happened. Sarah Palin is always playing the character Sarah Palin. Those who lack the ability to perform 24-7-365 inevitably slip, cause a scandal, and are run out of a job.

The Cat’s In A Bag And The Bag’s In The River

Sweet Smell of Success (1957) dir. Alexander Mackendrick The best way to write about Sweet Smell of Success could be to just copy-and-paste the IMDb quotes page.  In fact, let's try it for a bit. I'd hate to take a bite outta you. You're a cookie full of arsenic. Sidney, this syrup you're giving out [...]

Animal Farm (1954, CIA)

Animal Farm (1954) dir. John Halas, Joy Batchelor "And after all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm -- in fact, there couldn't have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed (some might argue), was not more [...]

Greed: Stroheim’s $64,000 Question

Even at only 4 hours, the film feels like a Russian novel. It gives the lives of American plebs the Dostoevskian treatment. The Death Valley finale truly feels like the culmination of a lifetime.

Paisan

Paisan (1946) dir. Roberto Rossellini Rossellini's realism isn't any less contrived or manipulative than classical Hollywood styles.  'Simplicity,' rather than 'realism' might be a more accurate word in this sense.  The film still lies, '24 frames a second.' But its lie is convincing; Paisan feels much more natural and more 'real' than a different war [...]

The Great Dictator: Remembering Hitler Properly

The Apotheosis of Adolf was a project started by the Nazis and continued in the popular imagination by casting him as a malevolent deity. Hitler’s plans for Germany didn’t work out, but his egotistical desire to become a Wagnerian god has.
The real Nazi party was a disorganized mess, and Hitler only achieved the military success he did through luck rather than some sort of genius. Yet popular historiography simply perpetuates the self-glorifying mythos he created.

The Magnificent Ambersons – What might have been

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) dir. Orson Welles The Magnificent Ambersons is the Ken Griffey Jr. of film. A first-ballot Hall of Famer without question, but oh, what might have been... The story is pretty well known. Welles thought he had finished the film, and went to Brazil to shoot a picture for the government. War [...]

Gertrud

Gertrud is fully committed to ideal love. She is immature, she is narcissistic, she is genuine. She’s willing to sacrifice any and all happiness on the altar of poetic romance.
Some authors reward this self-indulgent martyrdom with a happy ending just before the credits roll; others reward it even more with a grand suicide, replete with symbolism and pathos.

Metropolis: A Proto-Fascist Anti-Utopia

Hitler was reportedly a big fan of Metropolis and of Lang’s work in general.  He seems to have fancied himself as Freder.

Scorpio Rising: The Anti-Mad Men, Anti-American Graffiti

There are two reasons to enjoy Scorpio Rising – the conflicted legacy of our liberal post-war, post-Christendom culture, and the techniques Scorpio uses to describe those tensions.

Horror of the Absurd

The true horrors are in the unknown, and more so, in the unknowable.

Un chant d’amour – A Song of Love

Un chant d'amour (1950) - dir. Jean Genet Despite my ignorance, Un chant d'amour speaks on a very basic level that needs no research to understand.  Banned as obscene and pornographic, the 1950 short film was smuggled to the United States in pieces, hidden in a traveler's clothing. Un chant d'amour is erotic vividly communicates [...]

Forgetting, Hiroshima, Mon Amour

Whatever Hiroshima means to us today, its not what it meant to those in Hiroshima.

Sansho the Bailiff – Liberal, Japanese Values

Sansho the Bailiff (1954) - dir. Kenji Mizoguchi  Zushiô's father is an anachronistic Lockean, telling his son "Men are created equal. Everyone is entitled to their happiness."  His commitment to Enlightenment ideals doesn't play over well in 11th Century Japan, and his family is exiled.  They don't even last a full day before being kidnapped.  [...]

Marienbad, Your Grandfather’s Inception

There is no “solution” to Marienbad – no clothes on the emperor. But we can’t help but imagine some. This is its beauty.

D. W. Griffith and the “Numinous Chinaman”

In 1915, D. W. Griffith made The Birth of a Nation, and spent the rest of his life trying to prove he wasn’t racist.

John Wayne, Colonel Blimp and War Crimes

Two John Ford films and one Michael Powell flick ask the question – the bad guys don’t play nice, so why should the good guys?

Viridiana – Mocking Charity

The idea that the poor are just as sinful as the rich doesn’t seem too revolutionary, until you look at the majority of Western art and literature. Usually we get the Charles Dickens trope. If only the mean rich people were to leave and the poor people were put in charge, things would run more smoothly.
Viridiana in contrast, might have been written by Ayn Rand. It’s about as anti-populist as you can get. Rand however, would have tossed in a Prometheus or two. Buñuel’s Calvinistic misanthropy allows for no heroes.

How To Tell If You’re In A Dream

We simply don’t know when we don’t know the limits of our own knowledge, either individually or collectively.

Land Without Bread – The Original Borat

Land Without Bread (1933) - dir. Luis Buñuel Luis Buñuel's 1933 Land Without Bread is a hilarious parody of early ethnographic documentaries.  I'm glad I saw it just a few days after The Song of Ceylon; seeing at least one example of the genre prior to Land Without Bread is recommended. The film features all [...]

Winter’s Bone – Oscar for Jennifer Lawrence?

Winter’s Bone avoids the rural-themed art house cliches. The plot moves along briskly – there aren’t the monotonous landscape-indulgent pauses that plagued Frozen River and its ilk. The accents seem unaffected, and the film relies on story and character, so that concerns over “genuineness” are forgotten. It eschews both Hollywood mawkishness and indie over-understatedness.

Splice takes its premise far — and that’s a good thing

Splice (2009) – dir. Vincenzo Natali Recommended For: Sci-fi fans, especially those of the particular subject matter at hand (biological engineering) Splice is a movie impossible to recommend well without spoiling it. Simply stating the fact that there are important spoilers is a spoiler in itself. I didn’t read any reviews before seeing the film, […]