Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Novecento, Nosferatu, Gran Torino

I finally found time over the weekend to fill out my answers to the most recent quiz at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, this one administered by the stern but well-liked Professor Chipping. I realized I've been taking Dennis Cozzalio's quizzes for five years (and known him through the series of tubes for about the same amount of time); I always look forward to them, even as life necessitates that, rather than filling them out in one sitting, I carry the questions around with me, returning to them when I've thought of just the right answer. In many ways, I actually prefer doing it this way. Anyway, it's been a pleasure as always, and I highly recommend you head over to SLIFR and check out the many terrific answers to the quiz.

1) What is the biggest issue for you in the digital vs. film debate?

As others, including our host, have pointed out and discussed at length, it would have to be the availability of 35mm prints for art houses, independent cinemas and especially repertory screenings. The squeeze the industry is putting on smaller theatres to convert or die will inevitably result in a lot of smaller cinemas going under, which can only result in more screens devoted to the blockbuster of the week and less screens for more eclectic film programming. This is especially true with repertory cinemas, which will have fewer choices for the forseeable future. Here in New England, I dread seeing the great programming of theaters like the Brattle and the Coolidge affected by the digital conversion, although it appears so far that they’ve been able to use creative means – the Brattle recently borrowed John Landis’ personal print of Schlock – to keep their calendar as diverse as ever.

2) Without more than one minute’s consideration, name three great faces from the movies

Jack Elam

Sissy Spacek

Jim Broadbent

3) The movie you think could be interesting if remade as a movie musical When I was in high school, some friends and I ran our own theatre company (Rushmore wasn’t far from our reality). Once we were having a meeting about what play we should stage next, and a trenchcoat-wearing occult aficionado in the group piped up with “Let’s do Blade as a play!” We laughed at the time, but as the suggestion has stuck with me all these years, I have to admit that it would at least be interesting. Sadly, we never had the audacity to try it, although I remain proud of our production of Barton Fink.

4) The last movie you saw theatrically/on DVD, Blu-ray, streaming

Theatrically: Lincoln. A great movie and, as a Spielberg film, surprising in many ways. And so many outstanding beards!

On Blu-ray: 3 Women, as puzzling and hypnotic as ever.

5) Favorite movie about work

The Shining and The Conversation are two great movies about characters who spend too much time on the job. But for a movie set in a traditional workplace, I’d go with Secretary.

6) The movie you loved as a child that did not hold up when seen through adult eyes

I saw Hook on the big screen when I was seven years old, and I was completely enchanted; it was the first movie I asked to see a second time, and if you’d asked me back then, I would have told you it was as good as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. When I saw it again as an adult, I realized how overproduced and flat much of it is. I still can’t help having some affection for it, though, and Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hoskins are still terrific. And John Williams’ score is one of his best; it deserves a better movie.

7) Favorite “road” movie


8) Does Clint Eastwood’s appearance at the Republican National Convention change or confirm your perspective on him as a filmmaker/movie icon? Is that appearance relevant to his legacy as a filmmaker? Clint’s movies have always reflected his politics, but even movies with overtly conservative elements like Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino are strong enough films that they make a case for virtues like self-reliance (and his obvious contempt for people on welfare) without ever feeling didactic or one-sided. He should probably sit out the next RNC, but he’s a great director, and I don’t want to only watch movies that confirm the correctness of my own politics. I still like Bat Out of Hell, too.

9) Longest-lasting movie or movie-related obsession

I can’t wait to see Room 237, as daffy as some of the theories it presents about The Shining might be. I first saw the film over 20 years ago, and I think about it almost every day. I’ve read volumes about it, and I’m still capable of being sucked into a 5,000-word essay or 60-minute YouTube video analyzing the film at a moment’s notice.

10) Favorite artifact of movie exploitation

A Turkish one-sheet of Dario Argento’s Inferno, signed by the director. It was Argento who told me it was a Turkish poster, explaining, “In Turkey, they add snake. This not enough. They need snake. Yes, Turkey.”

11) Have you ever fallen asleep in a movie theater? If so, when and why?

I nodded off during the last 20 minutes of the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. I can’t think of a more damning review of that turd.

12) Favorite performance by an athlete in a movie

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator

13) Second favorite Rainer Werner Fassbinder movie

This quiz has reminded me of a serious blind spot of mine - I've only seen two Fassbinder movies! The lesser of the two is Querelle.

14) Favorite film of 1931

City Lights

15) Second favorite Raoul Walsh movie

High Sierra

16) Favorite film of 1951

The Day the Earth Stood Still

17) Second favorite Wong Kar-wai movie

Chungking Express

18) Favorite film of 1971

I put A Clockwork Orange at the top of my '71 list earlier this year. I re-watched it a few months ago, and it's still amazing, but I have to admit that a few scenes dragged in a way that they never had before. It could be that my perspective on it has changed a bit for the worse over the years, or (hopefully) I'm just too familiar with it and waiting a few years before another rewatch will make it fresh again. But for now, I'll go with Harold and Maude.

19) Second favorite Henri-Georges Clouzot movie

The Wages of Fear

20) Favorite film of 1991

My Own Private Idaho

21) Second favorite John Sturges movie

Bad Day At Black Rock

22) Favorite celebrity biopic

It's weird to think of Raging Bull as a "celebrity biopic," but it is a biopic and LaMotta was famous, so there it is.

23) Name a good script idea which was let down either by the director or circumstances of production

The first one that comes to mind is Red Dragon. It's the best of Thomas Harris' books featuring Hannibal Lecter, and we already had proof, with Manhunter, that it could make for a pretty great movie. But Brett Ratner's bland direction wastes both the script and one of the best casts ever assembled, and the awkward attempts to create more screen time for Anthony Hopkins results in scenes getting shoehorned into the movie that make little or no narrative sense. It's watchable, but I can't help being disappointed by what a huge missed opportunity it is.

24) Heaven’s Gate-- yes or no?

It's beautifully shot, but I found it dramatically inert. However, it's been ten years since I saw it, and I've found myself thinking about it here and there over the past few years. The Criterion Blu-ray is tempting, and I'm sure it would at least look fantastic on our TV, but I'm hesitant to spend thirty bucks to find out that it's no better than I remember, or perhaps even worse.

25) Favorite pairing of movie sex symbols

Julie Christie and Warren Beatty in McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Something about covering them in all that dirt and grit and stripping them of any glamor - Christie as a Cockney whore (using her real accent) and Beatty as a dopey grifter who, nevertheless, has got poetry in him - makes them sexier and more real than any of their star vehicles (Shampoo, where Beatty also plays a schmoe, is almost as sexy).

26) One word that you could say which would instantly evoke images and memories of your favorite movie. (Naming the movie is optional—might be more fun to see if we can guess what it is from the word itself)

27) Name one moment which to you demarcates a significant change, for better or worse, on the landscape of the movies over the last 20 years.

When Yoda went from puppet to CGI character in Attack of the Clones. It was the moment when practical effects officially became retro, the idea that a character that had been beloved for over twenty years was now a flaw that had to be improved. It was a solution that nobody was asking for.

28) Favorite pre-Code talkie

The Public Enemy

29) Oldest film in your personal collection (Thanks, Peter Nellhaus)


30) Longest film in your personal collection. (Thanks, Brian Darr)


31) Have your movie collection habits changed in the past 10 years? If so, how?

A few years ago, when my ex-wife and I separated, my movie collection was halved. As I've been gradually rebuilding my collection, I realized that my attempt to get as many classics and serious movies as possible had resulted in what a woman I dated rightly called a sad bastard collection; most of the comedies I had were nabbed by my ex, and my copies of movies like 21 Grams and A Very Long Engagement have been collecting dust for years. So I decided that I didn't have to replace every last Very Important Movie, and if I want to buy Predator 2 on Blu-ray for $7.50 then, by God, I'm going to buy Predator 2 on Blu-ray for $7.50.

32) Wackiest, most unlikely “directed by” credit you can name

Ghost Dad, directed by Sidney Poitier.

33) Best documentary you’ve seen in 2012 (made in 2012 or any other year)

 Cave of Forgotten Dreams

34) What’s your favorite “(this star) was almost cast in (this movie)” anecdote?

It'd have to be Nick Nolte as Han Solo, because it inspired this: 35) Program three nights of double bills at a revival theater that might best illuminate your love of the movies

Vertigo and Mulholland Drive, Orpheus and Wings of Desire, All That Jazz and Synecdoche, New York

36) You have been granted permission to invite any three people, alive or dead, to your house to watch the Oscars. Who are they?

Paul Lynde, Ivan the Terrible and LexG.

37) Favorite Mr. Chips. (Careful...)

Erik Estrada!