Category Archives: Directing the Directors

John Huston: The Night of the Iguana

nightoftheiguanaDeeply, unremittingly accepting John Huston’s blithely woozy, boozed-out vibe in full flourish, the strung-out, rampaging The Night of the Iguana is probably a little farcical in its over-heatedness. But then, this is Tennessee Williams. At least we’re in the presence of a full-throated, deviant, near-hallucinogenic dive into haughty, drunken melodrama, much more synonymous with the post-Faulkner Southern-modernist Williams spirit than most other Williams adaptations, usually quasi-heated chamber pieces vaguely tied to false-naturalism. In comparison, Iguana is unapologetic and viciously lacking in timidity, rejecting the half-hearted naturalistic ticks of most Williams adaptations for a merry expression of demented, licentious, sinful goodwill. Unlike, say, the good but overrated A Streetcar Named Desire, where the Method acting bug (as it often did) turned performance into a calculated private experiment rather than a vocally external art, The Night of the Iguana isn’t afraid to be to-the-rafters cinema. Baldly, even oppressively cinematic, it treats the brambles of melodrama as a wellspring of possibility to wrap itself in rather than as a shopworn, past-its-prime memory of Old Hollywood to skirt around. Continue reading


John Huston: The Misfits

sjff_01_img0326A little upstart four-part series of reviews on less-remembered John Huston films.

As with a few of John Huston’s works, The Misfits feels a little over-determined in its willingness to suffuse the screen with agony, but at least its particular agony is full-throated. Released in 1961, a twilight year for both the Western genre and the Old Hollywood edifice, The Misfits is a little on the nose in its embodiment of the death throes of The Way Things Were, assuming of course that the film actually believes things were ever like The Way Things Were to begin with. The casual misery rampant during the film’s production infests the screen with a fell acrimony, with the on-screen result bearing testament to the declining glory of the Old Hollywood as Huston displays no qualms about doing his part to slay that particular beast. Which is to say, it is a film about the crumbling Old Hollywood ivory tower that is, via its corrosive production details, itself an embodiment of the crumbling Old Hollywood ivory tower. Continue reading

De Palma: Femme Fatale

MCDFEFA EC010Another of Brian De Palma’s swirling, gliding art-house exploitation films with a tempestuous relationship with the female form, Femme Fatale is perhaps Brian De Palma’s most swaggering embracement and censure of the genre-cinema project. De Palma’s film derives oxygen from cinema history – Euro-thrillers and film noirs most of all – much as his protagonist Laurie (Rebecca Romijn) draws energy from the stereotypes of women in classic cinema: using them for air only to douse them in a ferocious breath of fire. Continue reading

De Palma: Snake Eyes

220px-snakeeyesposterA full-throated assemblage of directorly misconduct, Snake Eyes is a devious, delightful marriage of form and content that discovers visual subterfuge around every corner. Dancing in similar company with more overtly sense-refracting films from the same era – your Being John Malkovichs and every other 18-year-old film connoisseur’s favorite new discoveries, almost all of them released the year after Snake Eyes – but De Palma’s film is the lone perceptual study that also manifests its analysis primarily through camera movement, from long takes to De Palma’s trademark bifurcated screens. What a thought: a film about seeing things anew that actually demands we, you know, see.  Continue reading

De Palma: Blow Out

film_562w_blowout_originalLess serrated than the frenzied, madcap pop-art exclamations of his youthful, more uninhibited days, Brian De Palma’s self-consciously mature 1981 effort is undoubtedly a work of its time, and a statement of De Palma stretching out, if not always to great effect. This update and inversion of Michelangelo Antonioni’s scintillatingly deconstructive Blow Up is an embodiment of the ennui-encrusted political halitosis of life in 1981, a scabrous redressing of the Reagan administration’s proposition of oncoming better times. Perhaps it was less De Palma maturing than adapting, having spent a cynical decade throwing the proverbial stylistic excrement at the fan in a flurry of toxic pent-up frustration and demented fun. Now, with the early ‘80s calling for a re-flourishing propaganda and jingoism, the ever-malleable, ever-angry, ever-anti-establishment De Palma swerves and gives them paranoia and an existential void. It’s not unlike the director, rejecting not only the times but his own cinematic past just to stir the shit; it is what he does best, but his best had been better before. Continue reading

De Palma: Body Double

depalma_body_doubleTacky and tricky, Body Double is director Brian De Palma’s bilious libido unhinged in a startling excoriation of his own cinematic oeuvre wrapped up in an even harsher smack to his critics’ and his audience’s faces, delivered as only the director could have: an audience-mocking follow-up to his proper entry in the A-list with the distended, over-exerted Scarface. Admittedly, that earlier film still exhibits inlaid moments of vigor and self-consciously absurdist, artificial “macho” dialogue designed to mock gangster romanticism. But it is the follow-up Body Double that more dramatically and viciously works out our ability to sympathize with the screen or to even accept it as anything other than curated, controlled meaning. De Palma had already worked with John Travolta and Al Pacino, both ironically on the eve of their declines (one commercial and the other artistic), but it is Body Double that captures the platonic ideal of those two phallus-swinging actors walking down a New Jersey boardwalk like they own the place. Right before De Palma runs up and kicks them in the junk, but that’s the De Palma way: taking your self-confidence and smacking it around self-confidently. Continue reading

De Palma: Obsession

220px-obsessionposterAnother short series about a director, this one in honor of the recently released De Palma, a documentary that continues, but hopefully doesn’t climax, the decade long reinvestigation of one of modern cinema’s most misunderstood directors. 

Hitchcockian in the primordial sense, 1976’s Obsession finds Brian De Palma joining the more poetic and certainly less lurid Robert Bresson as the only director who can go round to round with Hitch for dominance over every tick, subsuming each actorly movement, and exerting force over every camera quaver by subsuming it under his jurisdiction. With its rehashed and delirium-caked Vertigo update where a New Orleans businessman (Cliff Robertson) discovers his inner-Hitchcock 18 years after his wife and daughter’s death, even the disjunctive lunacy of the film’s depiction of him courting a new woman to dress and behave like his deceased wife feels like an expression of the histrionic lunatic-fringe that is male obsession. Continue reading

Playing God(ard): Weekend


Update late 2019: After realizing just how omnipresent modernization rhetoric was in France in the ’60s, how severe the hypertrophy of automation, how extensive the rhetorical quickening of the society, and how emphatically connected the unending road and the conquering car were to those symbolic projects, Godard’s sudden, inexorable brick wall seems all the more brutal, and all the more perceptive. Weekend is a centrifuge that spins what many were calling “modernism in the streets” into a perhaps-unrecoverable tailspin, a remorseless, unbending monstrosity propagating an unshakable doubt about the future of the world and the growth projections of Western modernity,

Original Review:

Reviewing Goodbye to Language made me realize how criminal it was that I had never, in almost two years of blogging, reviewed a film from perhaps the most important director of the past sixty years. What was I doing with my life?

If Pierrot was the cataclysm, Godard’s Weekend is the fallout. An offhand joke midway through Pierrot – one of the many murders either committed or not committed by the central couple is presented as an impossible Dadaist implosion of automobile parts turned on their slantwise dimension – is curdled into a drunken stupor in Weekend. In Pierrot, the moment was baleful in its satire but flippant and recklessly fleet in its unceremonious, abstract, sudden-gust-of-wind presentation. In Weekend, an automobile pile-up rendered avant-garde art piece stops the film dead in its tracks, intentionally so, as the main characters errantly slobber between cars as subversive minimovies play out between the other passengers. It’s an elegant, wrathful expression of Weekend’s position as the comeuppance for Godard’s race-car cinema, a self-imposed crackerjack crash of non-narrative film now stopped dead in its tracks by its own ambition. Cinema breathing in its own fumes too long has turned into the cinema of the fumigated. Continue reading

Playing God(ard): Pierrot le Fou

pierrot-le-fouReviewing Goodbye to Language made me realize how criminal it was that I had never, in almost two years of blogging, reviewed a film from perhaps the most important director of the past sixty years. What was I doing with my life?

Pierrot le Fou is a candy-coated slurry of modernity as only Godard could have dreamt: cinema, philosophy, technology, tectonic outbursts of Demy-esque sing-speaking, and bellowing gusts of ennui encapsulated in a manic fantasia. The intersection of Godard and color alone is given primacy of place in the dueling introductory collages, two bewitching technicolor symphonies from Raoul Coutard (the French New cinematographer if ever there was one). In the first, a contented bourgeois couple wanders through a party that turns into a sepulchral haze as women spontaneously lose their tops in a playfully tossed-off expression of benign and malignant pop culture coalescing into a heated maelstrom and exploding in mutual psychedelic abandon. In the second, the same malleable color scheme, slipping between primary colors like stages of sleep in a seizure, basks the couple during their hasty, browbeaten escape from the party. In relying on the same color scheme during the party and during the party-escape, Godard furtively suggests that, even in hazarding a life on the run, they’ve done nothing but ensure your submission to the bourgeois, day-glo circumstances you escape from. Continue reading

Playing God(ard): Band of Outsiders

vlcsnap2012101310h40m37Reviewing Goodbye to Language made me realize how criminal it was that I had never, in almost two years of blogging, reviewed a film from perhaps the most important director of the past sixty years. What was I doing with my life?

If Godard’s cinema prismatically spread its wings soon after Breathless, perusing the variant nascent realms of that debut’s arrythmically cadenced virtues, Band of Outsiders decides to leave it to other features to experiment with the nihilism of Godard’s investment in gender, modernity, and self-reflexive filmic form, even as it encapsulates features of all of the above. Godard would test his schismatic brand of cinema more vigorously in Pierrot le Fou and procure a more demonstrative premonition of cinema’s fallout, and the world’s abomination, in Weekend. But Band of Outsiders is far too busy with its own magnanimous brand of cinematic joie de vivre to concern itself with the end of anything. Of all of Godard’s films, Band of Outsiders most fully encapsulates the momentous high of going to the movies. Continue reading