Monthly Archives: July 2015

Midnight Screening: White Dog


white_dog_battle-of-willsTwo Sam Fuller films this week for Midnight Screenings, one from the very beginning of his career and one from the mature, weary Fuller nearing his end.

You just want to feel bad for White Dog. No film should be subject to the dogged (excuse the pun) beating Samuel Fuller’s 1982 social expose was, especially coming hot on the heels of the studio absolutely decimating Fuller’s seminal 1980 war picture The Big Red One. Even a worthless production shouldn’t have to wait over a quarter-century to receive any meaningful public exposure after failed preview screenings. No film, I say, should bear this sort of weight. But especially not White Dog, one of the greatest films to even glance at racism head-on. After the film was shunned from theatrical distribution in 1982 and Sam Fuller grew disinterested in making American film productions ever again, its eventual release by Criterion 25 years late is no great consolation prize. Continue reading


Midnight Screening: Pickup on South Street

Two Sam Fuller films this week for Midnight Screenings, one from the very beginning of his career and one from the mature, weary Fuller nearing his end.

When Pickup on South Street begins, contorted, confrontational eyes are already prowling, lurking, and snapping at one another in a sweatily-packed train. We do not know who is who, and the film relies on that fact, as well as director Samuel Fuller’s acid-tinged eye for the jungle gyms of human collectivity. Scrawled into the film in harsh black-and-white lines by Fuller, a train is an accident waiting to happen, a self-immolating battering ram to the backside of the human ego. There is no community on the train. Just competing interests and faces that almost shout about how they would rather be anywhere else, or anyone else. Continue reading

Review: It’s Such a Beautiful Day

Frankly, modern cinema is a little glazed-over, which isn’t the same thing as saying it is bad. Tons of great films are released every year, but even among the greatest, a certain stagnancy grips them, cuts off their heads, and keeps them grounded. Comedy and animation are arguably the two biggest offenders on this front; when was the last time you can recall a comedy with a legitimate eye for visual framing and using editing and composition to enhance or form the girders of the humor? Films still have interesting stories to tell, but they seldom have an interesting means to tell stories. Content can fly, but the technique, the art of film itself, has been grounded for too long. Continue reading

Progenitors: Vacation

Vacation was the first zeitgeist-defining hit for a young John Hughes, writer for National Lampoon and eventual savior of its brand name, albeit only temporarily. Hughes, who would go on to direct his fair share of generally more teen-focused films that tend to fall into the quintessential and unmatched “basically solid and fine but primarily unexceptional and more notable for not being the schlock coming out on either side of them” basket from the mid-to-late 1980s. Hughes wasn’t the funniest writer, or the most precise, but he had an unbridled warmth and generosity about him that melded with his legitimately caustic ear for everyday human experiences, a bond that ultimately allowed him to create his fair share of sentimental, humanistic films that sometimes veered into sickly sweet, but generally stayed on the right side of the line. Continue reading

Midnight Screening: Bigger Than Life

Nicholas Ray is not generally considered a canonical director; he’s a deep cuts guy, but he holds a pride of place among the faithful. His films are so unapologetic in their demonic distortion that they seem to decompose the very girders of cinema itself. The films themselves become dangerous. But Ray deserves all the status in the world, for his films were more sincere than arguably any other directors working at the time, or ever. Ray’s films lived with a pure mantra, and arguably the purest mantra of all great directors: cinema should, at its best, be a totally sensory experience, an experiential pang of emotion where story, theme, and character are transmuted into direct experience. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: The Exterminating Angel

the-exterminating-angelA little switch-up, if you will, because I couldn’t watch a 1961 Cannes film at pace, but will get to it soon enough. So 1961 and 1962 have been flipped, after which the order shall return to normal…

Luis Buñuel’s triumphant return to Spain after many years working in Mexico was short-lived but unequivocally rabble-rousing. The lone film he produced was as provocative a film as the world has ever seen. 1961’s Viridiana won the Palme d’Or, was rapturously received by critics, and revolted the Spanish government right from under their noses. The production was, charitably, pure havoc, subject to rigorous and ruthless censorship, and produced with the help of tricks and masquerades on Bu>ñuel’s behalf. It is one of the quintessential works of world cinema, by all means, but it came with a toll. Jagged knives aimed at the Spanish government, it seems, couldn’t but get a little blood on Buñuel’s face. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: La Dolce Vita

la-dolce-vita-still-526x295In my review of Nights of Cabiria, I noted that Federico Fellini grew more fantastical and whimsical with age, and he became forever less entombed in the limits of pure realism. True, and it might be assumed that with whimsy and fantasy come happiness and warmth. To some extent, they did; Nights of Cabiria ends on one of the most singularly uplifting notes in all of cinema. But whimsy does not automatically imply joy, nor a new leaf. Fellini was still an angry, tormented, complicated man; he had simply developed a new filmic vocabulary for exploring his emotions, whatever emotions they may be. New storytelling mechanisms dictated how he would explore emotions, and not what emotions he would explore. His application of Hollywood romance and Italian/ French romanticism was not always an uncomplicated acceptance, but more often a dare. Fellini would follow romanticism and melodrama to their limits and see if he could come out the other side a believer. With La Dolce Vita, melodrama is a slaughterhouse, and you unravel from the other side in shreds. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Black Orpheus

Update late 2018: Watching the film again, its vaguely exoticizing view of Brazilian culture is a more important discussion point than I let on in my original review, but as is its frequently scintillating signifying on Greek drama, its navigation of the Afro-diasporic tradition of updating and reconfiguring the Western canon in ways which both appreciate and assess the immanence of European thought by exploring how applicable Western narratives may or may not be to non-European cultures. Plus, it’s intoxicating cinema. 

signifies both on the tradition of carnivalesque inversion of the world in the Carribean and … culture and on social mimicry to … and subvert white forms of …, including conjuring the spirit of classical tragedy and … to …


certainly a question for debate, whether … is merely essentializing, or whether, as many Negritude philosophers have debated for decades, there is a way to think-through what were once considered, in an Orientalist manner, “gifts” of … “bestowed” by the non-white world, in a way which takes seriously their critique of Western rationality and ascetic … – their denial of play, rhythm, etc – without …

Original Review:

Black Orpheus opens with a gesture that is both instantly transfixing and entirely pragmatic. A close-up in static of a classical Greek marble bas relief presented with stately respect and disquiet, and then a cataclysm of percussive instrumentation and flamboyant color from a Brazilian festival bursting through the image, almost blowing it up as we are pulled right into the vivaciousness of Brazilian culture and everyday life. It is an instantly lovable, provocative jab at the regal historicism of European art lulled into submission by the weight of relying on the past. It is a pop-art statement to the fire and enticing chaos of Brazilian life. An instant announcement that this film is not going to be your classical Orpheus myth, deriving instead from another artistic and cultural tradition entirely, one brimming with life and present-day presentational zest and movement. Continue reading

Review: Slow West

The Western, that forlorn, mystical genre that formed the girders of the American cinematic imagination, has been a boomin’ over the past decade. After a long quarter century no man’s land for the genre, something got in the air in the mid-’00s and the genre was popular again. We had the grisly tone poem The Proposition that found the historical and ideological connection between American and Australian history. We had the trio of stupendous 2007 efforts, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which interpreted the Western through the lens of the 1980s, the early 1900s, and the classic period, respectively. We had Tommy Lee Jones provide two deeply classical studies in anti-classicism in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and The Homesman, both infatuated with and critical of the violent “proper” masculinity of American society. The Western has become, as it always was in film, a prismatic, malleable creature prone to variations and styles and impulses that fitted it to the needs of the nation and the passions of the cast and film crew. Continue reading

Review: The Homesman

In his moonlighting career as a director of steely, even mulish focus, the perpetually weathered, stern Tommy Lee Jones has taken the Clint Eastwood route of imbibing in the great American traditions, although he does not share Eastwood’s masculine commitment to the Sam Fuller get-in-and-get-out storytelling method. Jones imbibes so much, in fact, that he catches his nation’s favorite tradition, the Western, when the genre is looking the other way with its pants down. In his previous directorial work The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, he pursued the sociospatial region of the modern American small-town – a space forever clinging to its past and stubbornly, cantankerously refusing to examine itself – as an avenue for comment on the history of the American imagination. Continue reading