This being the first in a (slightly delayed) series on music movies for the month of October.
Two years before its release, Billy Wilder gave the world Hollywood’s greatest anti-Hollywood poison-pen-hate-letter by taking equal parts film noir fakery and haughty Grand Damery, putting them into a blender, and turning it to “positively eviscerate”. Perhaps populist Hollywood was listening. Just as that film peered behind the Hollywood lens, so too does Singin’ in the Rain give us a peek behind the cameras and into the unease of the filmmaking process. But while Billy Wilder came from a place of deep concern and perturbed, quiet nervousness, Singin’ in the Rain comes from a place of unabashed, borderline-oppressive, love. Continue reading →
The central reality of The Muppets, the thing which many are afraid to speak but which virtually any opinion of the film fundamentally rests on, is nostalgia. One might expect, considering that the film’s director James Bobin is most known for co-creating the archly-dry Flight of the Concords, that this film would follow suit and place the emphasis squarely on the reality that everything which made the Muppets so lovable was also extremely lame (and I mean this in the best way possible, since the Muppets were always proud of their lameness and held it in high regard).This is not so, for Bobin and co-writers Jason Segel and Nick Stoller in fact adopt not arch-irony but arch-genuineness in the film. The humor, while occasionally pointed, is mostly of the gentle and sweetly grinning variety, clearly in an attempt to mimic the original show. In today’s hyper-cynical world, this is quite a wonderful thing, and it makes the film curiously out-of-touch (in a good way) with a modern society that can’t seem to enjoy anything without its daily dose of irony on the side. Continue reading →
After uploading two of the most depressing British films I can imagine, I decided a nice counter-balance would be in order: a couple of bonus reviews of just about two of the damn cheeriest films in existence. It’s been my pleasure. Update 2018: As is the case with so many of these roughly college-written reviews, I don’t exactly agree with this anymore, especially in my expression of my ideas, and often in terms of my ability to perceive the film’s ideas in the first place. I’ll let this review stand as is, but at this point in my life, I’d be inclined to argue that the film isn’t really taking pop to task as artificial, proposing a leaden pop and reality dichotomy, but rather using pop dialectically, to discover other avenues to truth – the truths of experimentation, adventure, silliness, spontaneity, artifice – that lie not necessarily outside but at least beyond observational documentary reality as it is conventionally understood.
It’s a rare and beautiful thing that something that should in any sane universe be nothing more than a phoned-in cash-grab is in fact one of the great pieces of pop-anarchism ever essayed on film. A Hard Day’s Night, the film accompanying the album of the same name (the Beatles’ first all-time classic album) in 1964, played a big part in asserting the band’s dominance in the Western world. And, intentionally (wonderfully) it has no real narrative. There’s something in here about the boys and how they get caught up in protecting an old man from his own tomfoolery while they are dealing with preparations for a TV show they are to appear on. But this is merely a clothesline for not only a series of great jokes and gags and the film’s central tension between its technique and its content, but for one of the most thoroughly deconstructive pop manifestos ever committed to celluloid. Continue reading →
After uploading two of the most depressing British films I can imagine, I decided a nice counter-balance would be in order: a couple of bonus reviews of just about two of the damn cheeriest films in existence. It’s been my pleasure.
Yellow Submarine is a Beatles film, and this carries certain baggage. Above all, we must have the Beatles – this is the Beatles psychedelia express vaguely hiding as a children’s film after all, and insofar as they are the star of the show, they must be in the film. We must ask of any Beatles film then: what does it reflect about the Beatles as an entity? What is most surprising about 1969’s candy-coated art film, then, is how little a presence they have in the film, and how little import they play even as the narrative (insofar as it can be called one) is wholly about them. I don’t mean this as a negative – their aloof, detached standoffishness, their inability to take any problem seriously, and their seeming lack of interest in really doing much of anything seems wholly intentional. And it is subversive as all hell. Continue reading →
Robert Altman, among his many talents, was first and foremost the American master of nervous, human comedy. His films all have that special wink-and-a-nod approach to drama, that bittersweet, knowing approach to humor. MASH is usually considered his foremost and best comedy, but he expanded his horizons and explored the limits of gallows humor in his other more somber films as well. Even his quietest, most somber affair, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, reveals dry humor as early as its opening scene. Presenting a vision of a decrepit Pacific Northwest town all but destroyed by big business, the film’s hero, who we expect to save the day, rides in to town slowly, hunched over, and equally weathered with age. It’s an image shot through with bitter irony and acidic wit, one which gives us a Western town with no desert and a Western hero riding in but here looking mundane and even sickly.
Nashville, however, is perhaps his grand comic opus, and it too wastes no time revealing its caustic humor. Early on, we’re introduced to Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson), a longtime hero of America’s country-western music scene, performing a song written for the bicentennial with lyrics so hokey it’s impossible to take seriously. But he, and America, does. The lyrics belie a crushing self-seriousness to the grandiose performance that explicitly remind of the performative nature of this jingoistic conception of the American spirit. Continue reading →