Color Me Depressed

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Howdy folks. Too much time has transpired since my last missive. No resource is more abundant, none quicker to slide through your fingers than Time, like the Ozymandian sands that flood the Western landscape of my cinema-drenched brain. That brain took a beating these last few months. I won’t bore you with too many of the details. Let’s just say that I’ve spent my life ingesting cultural product at a high velocity, absorbing plot points and conflicts and feelings and ideas and abstractions as the remote experiences of fictional characters, all while cozied up in my middle class whitebread problem-free linear-careerism where none of those things really had to be viscerally experienced. But, y’know, they do have to be experienced – the storm-door of your mind won’t stay bolted shut forever – and as of last October I experienced them with a vengeance. I held existentialism in the palm of my hand and felt its melon-rind texture, while depression chained me to the ocean floor and the water pressure asphyxiated all sense of happiness and stability and day-to-day perceptual neutrality. It was pretty fucked.

During this time, movies lost their luster. I mean, what’s the point? “Ah yes, another movie under my belt! My Allan Dwan expertise is through the roof! This is important and totally of value to my mental health!” How to prioritize the kinda consumption I’d built so much of my life on when actually grappling with what finally felt like Reality for the first time in my fucking life? But my aversion to cinema was also Fear of Cinema. It would be self-deception to frame the issue in terms of cinephile self-loathing – whereby watching movies is frivolous, for shut-ins, and all that rigmarole – and ignore the harsher truth engraving the underside of the coin. That being that actually engaging with cinema – where it’s not for checklist cred or mired in ally-watch offhandedness or fossil fuel for hobby-horse habituation – is impossibly stimulating. Depression destocked the armory of my mind, leaving it volatile, vulnerable, like an untended herd of cattle at the onset of a thunderstorm. And if I let cinema into my head – really and truly into it, where its equal parts nebulous and expressive appendages could burrow into my scarily impressionable brain – then what kind of chemical reaction might ensue? Or, to strip my prose of its floridity a bit, would I lose my mind? Would I get terrifying ideas, make frightful associations, exacerbate my depression, lose my grip on the reality I really and truly and desperately needed to reclaim?

That question is not a rhetorical one, and I’ll leave it unanswered for now.

So here’s another: what of other artistic pursuits? It’s interesting. Listening to certain music was a downright terrifying prospect, but literature attained that height of therapeutic serenity advertised by all evangelical bibliophiles. Like existentialism and depression, this too was made tangible – picture a Scandinavian hot spring, the way sunlight glints like crystal on a liquid blanket of aquamarine, and how it feels to lean your head back and stare up at the sky to refresh your numbingly straight-ahead perceptual default. And the books I read! ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens, that perennial classic, gave me real perspective, reminded me that my growing pains and uncertainties and anxieties are not exclusive to me as an individual (duh) nor (more revelatory) to the century that spawned me (the fear of being exceptional is a big part of all this, as are the travails of being emotionally sensitive, neither of which I feel capable of exploring at length right now but both of which were assuaged by the original Chuck D at the height of his powers!). ‘The Great American Novel’ by Philip Roth gave me a pleasure I never thought I’d experience again (Alliteration alleviates all ailments! Who knew?), and Joan Didion gave me the itch to return to essayin’ (you are reading the result!).

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But no book was more important than ‘Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements’ by Bob Mehr. My critical faculties are gonna fail me here….Well, look. It’s this meticulously researched tome about the band that epitomized working class Middle American depression. It’s a book about music, but it’s more about alcoholism, bipolar disorder, abusive relationships, self-destruction, the fear of success, and, uh, a lot of harrowing shit. And, I mean, you read those words and they’re just words and maybe even the stuff you expect to get out of biographies generally. Sordid backstories illustrating the dark side of success. Yeah yeah yeah, we know. But I guess the setup/punchline of great famous figure –> fucked up in some hidden unexpected curiosity-piquing buy-this-book kinda way isn’t really a factor here. Cuz Bob Mehr respects that The Replacements aren’t Great Figures, so much as a bunch of fuckups who fortuitously banded together and happened to make great, indelible, borderline primitivist musical illustrations of what it means to be a Minneapolis street urchin with no aspirations. And it’s a testament to who they were as human beings that as they became successful by any objective metric they could still attest to a fundamental aspirationlessness without giving off a whiff of hypocrisy.

If anything, the despair is the core of the story and the music practically incidental. I would recommend this to people who don’t care for music. Just think of a band as a family unit and read it like it’s Eugene O’Neill, except a rock bio. And if you’re depressed like me, then it’s empathy-as-heroin. Like obviously I Feel For These People, but their problems are not pornographed so that I could get off on any “well at least my life isn’t that fucked up” satisfaction. Nor is it some false hope that perhaps I might wield my depression in service of some great artistic achievement the way they managed to.  It’s more like: for better and for worse, the depressing aspects of human experience that produced this band have also produced me at this scary juncture in my life. No potential success is gonna redeem or cure me and no amount of despair is gonna keep me from putting one foot in front of the other and slumming through the days ahead, even if I gotta turn to substance abuse to cope.

And, well, I haven’t had to do that! Life is pretty good. I have friends, I have antidepressants, I have a therapist…and I have books! And music! And even movies! To come full circle, I did end up watching a movie, a life-changing one. And I really and truly engaged with it, at the risk of overloading my battered brain with strange new stimuli. The Landlord by Hal Ashby (listen to the commentary folks!) deconstructs the ways in which certain people (guilty as charged) compartmentalize and commodify the experiences of others, such that self-definition is a patronizing matter of measuring oneself by another’s yardstick – other people are means to an end, and that end is existential tourism. And the glorious genius of this movie is that it somehow avoids compartmentalizing and commodifying the kind of privileged fucks (again, raises hand) who are so guilty of same. And so human experience really does take on a liberating nebulousness, an ineffable empathetic mist whereby the streams of many consciences commingle.

Which is kinda the ideal?

Right?

Wigwam Watches: DOUBLE MCNICHOLS ON THE DIME!

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14424950_10154589142518809_3776013107530141079_oJust the Way You Are | Édouard Molinaro | 1984
The Forgotten One | Phillip Badger | 198

This week the Victorville Film Archive is parlaying its magnificent Dreyfussfest with a mini-Kristy McNichols retrospective, in one shes a troubled soul aching for love from John Locke and in the others she’s like a crippled flautist (?) but in both she’s STELLAR!!! Hers was a star that only could have shone in the 80s. And it did friends, it did…

This theater continues to suck. I hate Palmdale. I’m so sad and lonely. Starry eyes, starry eyes forever will be miiiiiine…

Wigwam Watches: TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER MOVIE THEATER

Sorry folks! Some serious analytics emergencies at Xerox kept me from filing my Rio Bravado missives, so let’s a-wrangle up some stray viewin’s partners… (yeehaw)

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Mr. Destiny | James Orr | 1990

saw this when it came out …uh it’s even shittier?

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Monkeybone | Henry Selick | 2001

Selick’s Giant Peach is a gem, knew some folks who worked on this, they were shitheads abut this movie was wonderful!

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Tom & Huck | Peter Hewitt | 1995

Yikes, terrible! And JTT is disturbing to look at, like a rubber-y Renee Zellwegger mask or something…? RIP Renfro, a tru bro

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The Addiction | Abel Ferrara | 1995

STill good, I think I saw it like last year maybe, a classic. JTT woulda been good in the Renee Zellwegger role.

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Mr. Holland’s Opus | Stephen Herek | 1995

Saw this when it came out with my Mormon girlfriend at the time, she wouldnt let me get further than a kiss and this movie is equally disappointing

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Once Around | Lasse Hallström | 1991

Always confuse this movie with Home for the Holidays and some Dreyfuss joint where hes a gambler (Let It Ride?). It’s cute but like what a weird movie its just about how this frumpy spinsters new rich hubby disrupts her family but like I kept waiting for him to turn out to be a fraud and then wondered why she was so attached to her family. People are weird to me.

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The Competition | Joel Oliansky | 1980

Dreyfuss-fest concludes with this proto-Hollands Opus, but like he never tries to fuck any students or gets called an asshole in sign language. Plus Amy Irving just makes one long for the superior 80s musical, Honeysuckle Rose

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Crazy Moon | Allan Eastman | 1987

Hey no joke this is a great movie!

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Impromptu | James Lapine | 1991

Also great, but insert your High Grant joke here!

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Two Moon Junction | Zalman King | 1988

Maybe the first female nudity I saw? But she looks better as Audrey, oh I miss hpn gotta get back on the internet!!!

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Boris and Natasha | Charles Martin Smith | 1992

If ol’ wigwam had his way, Dave Thomas would have never been allowed near a camera lens! This opinion is hereby cosigned by Rio Bravado™

[editorial note: I’m gonna let wigwam’s blasphemin’ ballyhoo about Dave Thomas stand, but he’s got two more strikes, and he’s outta here! That two-timin’ rough-ridin’ rat! ~ mystery meat]

All Walshed Up: THE MAN I LOVE

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The Man I Love | Warner Brothers | Raoul Walsh | 1947

The rottenest people are the best people! Ida Lupino gets a lot of that “cheap hussy” flack, but it doesn’t stick (why would it when Wily Walsh is behind the camera?? No way he’s gonna endorse pejoratives lobbed at his lithe, loose-lipped ladies!). I mean yeah, she wallows in a mucky milieu of mobsters and flounderin’ floozies, but when the going gets tough, her brassy slick talk saves the day in a way that her chaste, snoozeball of a sister (Andrea King) never could! But hey, speaking of sisters, this movie has enough plot for three movies to munch on! Complementing Ida Lupino’s blowouts with Bruce Bennet and Bob Alda is this weird PTSD subplot involving King’s husband that’s so scarcely a story thread it can whip up an ice-cream sundae of a third-act twist without feeling cheap. Yeah, not cheap like that other sister, that Dolores Moran character! Walsh shovels her marital problems into the furnace so yet another, more noir-y subplot can take shape. But Walsh shovels with flair, and the little glimpses of this fucked marriage have some real-world oomph — I mean, not to get all auteurist on you fellas, but Walsh at Warners is all about filling in the cracks in his tough-guy foundation with some really lovely, sensitive stuff. And ya know, that’s why this movie can mélange a lot of prior Warners flicks and one-up every one of ‘em. There’s inklings of Mildred Pierce and Humoresque and even fuckin’ Casablanca, but the verve with which Walsh stirs it all up is what old Hollywood’s all about! Capiche?

Chronicle of a Slummer: LABOR DAYS Pt 2

Howdy folks! Here’s everything else I watched on my break, with artisanal, hand-crafted write-ups fresh from the oven! Enjoy!

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Made for Each Other | David O. Selznick | John Cromwell | 1939

Proto-It’s a Wonderful Life Stewart weighted down by financial difficulties and emoting pure anguish like he probably hadn’t done on screen much (at all?) up to that point (thanks a lot MGM!). Carole Lombard has great chemistry with him, but it’s Charlie Coburn who really steals the show, as always.

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Lessons of Darkness | Werner Herzog | 1992

This is my fav Herzog. Aguirre aside, his canonized fiction features are too…oblong? spacey? anthropologically curious to a conked out fault? Extrinsic conceits of steamer-hauling and hypnotized locals and Krazed Kinski Kalamity, with a bemused deadpan cosmic outlook withdrawing all stakes and facilitating the weird eccentricities that these movies were made to grenade-launch at your face (main offenders: Fitzcarraldo, Cobra Verde, Heart of Glass, and *gag* Even Dwarfs Started Small). I dunno fellas, I’m kinda iffy on this primitivism fetish, this grotesquerie. Err, I dunno I guess I see its place and enjoy it from time to time, but also don’t think what Herzog’s doing really necessitates feature length films a lot of the time? And maybe I have a preference as to how and when and under what conditions the human race should be gawked at? I dunno!

Lessons, though, was pure image-making with no freakshow anchorage…image-making worthy of its beautiful classical musical accompaniment, and the Herzog voice-over I was gritting my teeth to cringe at getting absorbed into the majesty with ease! Also, I guess I rarely venture into post-60s cinema, but man, helicopter shots are cool right? Feel like they’re aimlessly misused a lot of the time. Not here, though, this is like peak helicopter cinema!

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Satan’s Brew | Rainer Werner Fassbinder | 1976

This fuckin’ sucked! Fassbinder’s default is already sufficiently, naturally, twistedly nuts, I don’t need this try-hard ante-upping screwed ‘n’ balled screwball nonsense!

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The Nun | Jacques Rivette | 1966

Oh god this limestone aesthetic, splotchy textured swaths of gray/beige/cream interrupted on occasion by muted autumnal outdoorsiness that’s still too limited in its twilit gold ’n’ auburn to really puncture or offset those oppressive hues. Basically this is an opportunity to see Rivette accomplishing a certain set of goals that fall outside the out-on-a-limb shadow-conspiracy stuff he’s known for. And those goals are really impressive/ambitious ones, among them an attempt to (apparently? according to Rosenbaum?) channel a Mizoguchi-like camera style into a fittingly depressing story of soul-crushing institutionalism. Check it out!

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Vivacious Lady | RKO | George Stevens | 1938

More early Stewart! Kinda bummed that neither this nor the other JStew I watched for the break — Made for Each Other — were made at MGM, his home base at the time. But based on how much better these movies are than, like, Of Human Hearts, that’s more than okay! Here Stevens/RKO knows to foil his bashful blueblood prissiness against Ginger Rogers’ red-hot cat fight-ready sauciness, and Stewart knows to do this droopy, weary, exasperated thing with his eyes that sets a better tempo for the comedy than any spastic collar-tugging shit you can imagine a lesser actor directed by a lesser director would do. He’s super square but he’s still in the know! And that’s why Rogers love him, by golly. And, whoa! More Charlie Coburn! and Franklin Pangborn! and Beulah Bondi! Grrrrrrreat cast!

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Lady for a Day | Columbia | Frank Capra | 1933

I don’t know why I put this off for so long. Ensemble dexterity twirling in carousel merriment around a wrenching lead performance, with AMERICA as this rose-tinted razor blade of (on the one hand) class pliability and the on-a-dime implosion of uptight officialdom and a confetti-swarm of infectious, liberating good cheer…and (on the other) lots and lots of sadness, self-loathing, class-based psychological terror. Subliminally devastating? Basically, I’m not convinced that May Robson’s (masterfully performed) stop-the-music confession speech, had it arrived at its endpoint uninterrupted, would have gone over as swimmingly as it might have in the typical class-traversal wish-fulfillment fantasy of the era. The glorious sentimentality of everyone coming together to play-act for the benefit of her artificially elevate social standing is, I believe, offset by the sobering realization that this phoniness really and truly is her only option, that, yeah, her fear that her daughter will disown her in the event that her precarious high society jenga tower comes crashing down is absolutely well-founded. There’s something pointedly unsatisfying here, and I think it’s written on Robson’s face at the end (speaking of which, like Westward the Women, this one was another bawler 😦 ).

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Fear | Roberto Rossellini | 1954

Hey, I liked this! I like Rossellini a lot more now that I’m not trying to play auteurist games with him. Like I think analyzing and codifying and Tag Gallaghering his “style” dilutes him so much, even more so than most auteurs. Cuz his approach is so intuitive/organic, with a pungent flavor that can’t be replicated in a lab! And speaking of labs, I like how the scientist husband kinda looks like Rossellini and the irony that Ross himself would prob be threatening to drunkenly drive one of his fancy racing cars into a tree were these events to unfold in real life. Anyway, I like the melodrama, the pacing, the simplicity, the miraculousness and the themes of justness/punishment vs. rightness/mercy, but I HATE how dumb it is that caging movies into thematic trilogies leaves works like this out in the blistering cold.

Wake to Westness: WESTWARD THE WOMEN

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Westward the Women | MGM | William A. Wellman | 1951

This…this…THIS is a Western! I mean, jesus. It started out cute and fun, like “oh this is a clever idea for a Western” and “yeah, Wellman’s good for this chummy collective stuff [e.g. Wild Boys of the Road, The Lady of Burlesque, Battleground]” but this went beyond chummy into wrenching tests of character and bravery hovering above little private personal anxiety-ridden solo-stories determinedly sublimated to the collective effort! the mass journey! Wellman is so cool about capturing rock formations and dust clouds and creaky wagon wheels and even the tatteredness of pioneer garb and the battered physiognomies of his no-stars-admitted cast of women that the whole movie is pure texture, with no bold chiaroscuro compositions privileging handsome human forms against the surrounding wilderness. it’s all pain, it’s all grit, it’s all WESTNESS. And unlike most movies of this nature, there’s a very real palpable sense, by the end, of having traversed an impossible divide, of having risked it all, of having sidled along the ramparts of hell itself, so that the payoff — the matchmaking en masse and turnstile weddings, with a lot of maybe-disappointments cloaked in the quietude of maybe-discomfort that, in one perfectly timed instant, scatter to the wind while the merry men and women get to minglin’ — this payoff, weird and antiquated and progressive but most importantly gloriously deserved and smile-inducingly cathartic — THIS PAYOFF GOT ME A CRYIN’. That’s right, pardners, i said a bawlin’. It was beautiful beyond words!

Credit to the hirthological imperatives for inspiring this viewing! Yee haw!

Wigwam Watches: DAD

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Dad | Gary David Goldberg | 1989 | USA | 117 min | 2016-09-03 | VHS –> CRT | Chico, Victorville | *REWATCH (STILL DISLIKE)

First Seen: Dad | Gary David Goldberg | 1989 | USA | 117 min | 1989-10-29 | 35MM | North Park, Midland | DISLIKED

Howdy, folks! Wigwam here, reporter at large for Rio Bravado.

Went to this with my dad when it came out. Shit then, shit still.

Maaaaaaan I love these cookies at this place! But that A/C, jeeeeez…

There was some Christian rock band soundchecking before the show, either playing later tonight or tomorrow or both. I dunno, I bailed asap.

See you tomorrow!

Cross Country: THE HEIRESS

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The Heiress | Paramount | William Wyler | 1949

In 1949, several wayward forces were marshaled in service of one of those rare instances of Exquisite Cinema. Many great movies, even some masterpieces, are not quite exquisite, exquisite denoting the kind of film that exudes mastery, every shot a crystal shard flecked by genius and fused into a diamond-like design.

And so the ghost of Henry James bestowed his paranormal blessing on a project green-lit by Paramount, which beckoned William Wyler fresh out of the Goldwyn gates and Olivia De Havilland hot off a landmark lawsuit against the sinister studios! De Havilland, triumph channeled into ambition, alighted upon a play based on one ‘Washington Square.’ What better way to cut ties with the fanciful frolicsome Warner Bros work she was, and is still known for? Meanwhile, Monty Clift’s burgeoning screen career was busy astrologically aligning itself with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play an atypical (atypical in 1949, atypical in any time) character like Morris Townsend, a role that required a yet relatively unfamiliar screen persona capable of teetering on an ambiguous Jamesian precipice without losing its footing (to think that goddamned Errol Flynn was under consideration for this, oooooy). Ralph Richardson fit Dr. Sloper like a surgical glove. And Miriam Hopkins, well past her prime and all the better for it, rounded out the formidable cast.

Wyler, shedding the Oscar-baiting grandiloquence that could be said to be the only significant shortcoming of his work for Goldwyn (I’m not sure if I would be numbered among that particular chorus…Best Years pile-drives my heart every time 😥 ), kept his engineer’s precision intact while proving that subtlety, nuance, and the capability for zen-like engagement with a literary work — from which to extract not merely the shape nor the form nor the story but the very essence of what, in this case, ‘Washington Square’ is all about — were all in his estimable directorial wheelhouse.

All of which is to say that The Heiress is a masterpiece. As yet unaddressed is the fact that NO ONE EVER TALKS ABOUT THIS MOVIE. Which is why I, and my pal Tom, and my pal Brian, and my pal Zach, did just that. Enjoy!

Wigwam Watches: A DANGEROUS WOMAN

mystery meat here. just a little forewarnin’ that Dr. Wam rides a wee bit rougher than some of the other cowpokes in my posse. His choice of image may be a bit hard for some o’ you to handle, but hey, that’s what our line of work is all about!

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A Dangerous Woman | Stephen Gyllenhaal | 1993 | USA | 102 min | 2016-09-02 | VHS –> CRT | Chico, Victorville | LOVED

Howdy, folks! Wigwam here, reporter at large for Rio Bravado.

This is an incredible movie about a bunch of great actors doing great acting while pretty photography and soothing sound design encapsulate them. You got your Straithairn, your Gabriel Byrne, Barbara Hershey, the sister from Roseanne, the dad from Lost, Nancy Spungen from Twins, even that guy from The Bob Newhart Show is a blink&you’ll miss him piano player at a party. And they all do wonderfully, especially the main star Debra Winger who is asked to go full art-hard but she demures in favor of perfect pitch. There’s sexy moments, there’s sad moments, THERES CINEMATIC MOMENTS DROPPIN SO FAST YOU CANT EVEN HANDLE IT BRO!!!!!! But what would you expect from the director of the second best episode of Twin Peaks? (Directing an adapted screenplay by the writer/director of Very Good Girls?) Speaking of which, it’s a Gyllenhaal-Foner family joint, Magz and lil Donnie D cameo towards the beginning. It’s cute. Here’s hoping they all reunite to make something spectacular! Or, wait, is he dead? Or am I thinking of Caleb Deschanel? His Twin Peaks were pretty too. RIP Daddy Bones 😞

Anyway, great movie!

Wonderful experience at this theater again. Really love those cookies. The flip-phones kind of have a clicky noise when they close but their screens are so dim it’s an easy trade off. If my dream of cellphones being outlawed like smoking is to take place, then this is the equivalent of a zippo clicking shut or something. Plenty of parking. 5 stars for the theater alone hahah!

See you tomorrow! Happy Labor Day weekend! Oh and everything’s going great at Xerox, we got out early today, and my place in Palmdale is almost unpacked.

Chronicle of a Slummer: LABOR DAYS Pt 1

Labor Day Weekend, the time of year where any good system-gaming worker knows to shave some extra days off and reap the (in my case) five-day rewards! As you can see below, I have really and truly kicked it all off with a bang!

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The Garden of Women | Keisuke Kinoshita | 1954

My idea of cultural vegetables at this juncture of my filmgoing is all the so-called arthouse-tagged stuff outside the glorious Old Hollywood cosmos. When it comes to Japanese cinema I only know some of the basic constellations and so feel ill-equipped to really haggle about history or act authoritative or exude expertise. My response to this random Kinoshita that popped up on my Hulu watchlist and that I decided would be a nice blindspot filler for the evening basically boils down to its status as (maybe?) a precedent of sorts to Night and Fog in Japan (allowing, naturally, for many other leftist beads that might be threaded thru the postwar years that I have no idea about). As what it is — a movie about students at an all women college in righteous revolt against the authoritarian superstructure — it’s really good, methinks. There’s this first-act morass of stifling pedagogical fascism that withholds any characterization for a good fifteen minutes, which is just one structural ingredient in this perfectly strategically paced 2.5hr runtime whereby a nice slow simmering of braised tension is incrementally brought to an apoplectic boil. But what’s most impressive is the ambiguity, the pointed ambiguity, concerning the proliferation of faulthood, the privileged left hijacking the more incremental and actionable causes of the truly marginalized, and the inability for any of the film’s many sermons to win out against the others. Truly, this is one fine, fiery flick!

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The Patsy | MGM | King Vidor | 1928

This, on the other hand, is pure politix-less Americana! The social imbalances of family life are gnawing but hilarious, Marie Dressler’s bulgy mobility is like she’s made of plasma, or like the Fleischers’ squash-and-stretch animation was based entirely on her, and there are these great little drudgery-puncturing turning points in the story, like when it cuts from that snooty party to Mr. Speedboat veering into port. Oh, also, this is a good movie to watch to learn how great intertitles are. So witty! It’s like its own dual comedy channel bobbing and weaving with the slapstick. Love those silents.

I hope your Labor Day Weekend Movie Marathon is going as well as mine! Till next time, pals!