Virtual Bourgeois

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Archive for May, 2011

Filmsite Post: Catching Up for Spring 2011 Part 2 (Movies #7, #8, and #9)

Posted by Gerald on May 17, 2011

#7 Psycho (1960):  Another film that I can’t believe I hadn’t watched before.  In this case it is likely because I’d seen so much about it, and I’d seen the infamous shower sequence so many times, it felt like I already had seen it and I just kept putting it off.  That it motivated me to watch this movie at last justifies this entire project for me.  I generally love the inversion of standard tropes, and this film is full of that.  Throughout watching it I kept thinking about what it must have been like seeing it before it became such a common part of the culture.  Almost anyone who knows anything about film has seen the shower sequence and knows Norman Bates is the killer.  It must have been quite an experience to see this film without knowing these things.  At first, it would have seemed like a heist drama – but then why is it entitled “Psycho”?  Then the shower scene – a transition within a transition (genius) – and you are in a new film about a murder.  Even then, it would have seemed like the audience could see what was coming – Arbograst, the private eye, will solve the murder.  Then he dies.  Neither Sam nor Lila are traditional film heroes at all.  Where the hell is this thing going?  The tension and menace of the movie itself is magnified by a sense of the unfamiliar in the style of the movie.  Add to this all of the brilliant film-making – camera work, the way the shower scene was shot, the music.  Brilliant.

#8 The Graduate (1967): I thought parts of this film were brilliant and parts of it not so much.  There are some very familiar – one might say “well-worn” comic tropes in this movie.  I’d also argue it is uneven in tone in a way that isn’t so much unique as off-putting.  The sequence with the diving suit was funny (I couldn’t help but think of Ralphie and the pink bunny suit in “A Christmas Story”).  It was also on-point in that it emphasized the idea that Benjamin was insulated from his own life.  Still, it felt awkward to me – like a good idea that belonged in a different movie.  Still, the parts that are brilliant just shine.  The montage of Benjamin floating through his life by alternating between cuts of him floating on the pool and having sex with Mrs. Robinson was brilliant.  The camera work and editing made that effective.  Another piece of camera work I was really impressed by was the confrontation between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson outside of Elaine’s bedroom, where she is shot small and hunched in a corner against this large white angled wall and ceiling – emphasizing the idea of her vulnerability and the notion of a dangerous and cornered animal at the same time.  Finally that last shot – the young lovers ride away on the bus – but the shot doesn’t just end, it lingers… and lingers.  They never speak.  Is this really a happy ending?  Is there such a thing?  It is so deliciously uncertain.

#9 Singin’ in the Rain (1952): A Post-modernist classic, in the same sense that “Green Acres” was an Absurdist classic.  Here we have a film about the story behind the making of the film we just watched.  It features musical sequences as delightfully unconnected to the narrative flow of the rest of the movie as anything produced in Bollywood.  Beautiful.  Seriously, what’s not to love?  Gene Kelly doing his most iconic work.  Donald O’Connor at his best.  A young Debbie Reynolds holding her own on the screen with them both.  Romance, comedy, a loving mirror held up to itself – everything Hollywood was best at when it was at its best.  I just felt better after I watched it.

I’m going to save “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” for later.


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Filmsite Post: Catching Up for Spring 2011 Part 1 (Movies #4, #5, and #6)

Posted by Gerald on May 14, 2011

Like an old dog to an old bone, I return to gnaw at this blog some more.  I’m hoping to make major inroads on this list over the summer so I can make my goal of watching them all this year).

Just for my own ego, I’m going to mention that I’m starting here with the twenty-some movies on this top 100 list I’ve never seen (although I’ve violated that with the first two, “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane”) and then am going to move on to about ten more that I’ve seen already but, for various reason, retain little impression of or saw so long ago I need to view them afresh (“The Apartment” is a good example of the former and “Taxi Driver” a good example of the latter.)  After that it is going to be a process of re-watching films I’m more or less familiar with.

Oh, and the numbers are just the order I’m watching them in.

So, onwards.  I’ve watched five more from the list since I last posted.  I’m going to be a bit brief with them in the interests of getting caught up.

First, two Billy Wilder films: #4 “Some Like It Hot” and #5 “Sunset Boulevard”

#4 “Some Like it Hot” (1959): I really enjoyed it, but I don’t have much to say about it.  It is funny (although I’ve never really been bowled over by the who mainstream drag-humor thing – I always found Milton Berle funnier in a tux than in a dress).  I think this is a movie where you can see that “Marilyn Monroe thing.”  Her character should be an instantly forgettable Hollywood stereotype blonde bimbo, but there is something more there.  Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis were hysterical.  Wilder is at his best dealing with showbiz.  It is kind of like “Stagecoach” in that it uses but also invents a genre of films we’ve all seen a hundred times since.  Therefore it is simultaneously epochal and a bit familiar.

#5 “Sunset Boulevard” (1950): Where to start?  You have here a movie that manages to be both a loving tribute and a savage parody of Hollywood at the same time.  Gloria Swanson is funny, poignant, pathetic, and towering.  William Holden is playing that tarnished rogue he perfected and that no one has ever done quite as well since.  Erich von Stroheim, Jack Webb, cameos by half of Golden-Age Hollywood – including Cecil B. DeMille, and a dead chimp – all in a brilliant mishmash of film noir, romance, and Hollywood.  I loved it.

#6 “To Kill a Mockingbird”  (1962): Ever since my father’s death, I’ve become incredibly weepy at stories about fathers and children.  When the reverend tells Jem and Scout to stand as their father leaves the courtroom, I just lost it.  Cynics can call this manipulative, I call it moving.  This is a signature role for one of the greatest actors in American film (or anywhere – let’s face it) – Gregory Peck.  It has Robert Duvall’s first film role.  It combines a great courtroom drama with a great study of American racism, adds in an exploration of what it means to be ethical, what heroism is, and what it means to be a father – and the movie does them all well.  This is one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen. 

It is late, so I’m closing this here.  I’ll try to finish the catch-up post tomorrow with #7 Psycho, #8 The Graduate, #9 Singing in the Rain, and #10 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (another I’ve seen many times, but happened to watch again a couple of weeks ago).

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