Death by Hanging | Nagisa Oshima | 1968
Ah, yes! Not just a screed against capital punishment, ladies and gents, but a film that knows all too well and all too accurately that the death penalty is a soggy appendage of the right-wing state. Crime and punishment don’t float in the purified ether of moral abstraction (and never have!) but rather hang in toxic admixture with the pestilential smog of imperialism. There’s a spare moment of visceral humanist outrage just at the beginning – R’s spasmodic hobble toward the noose – before Oshima cerebralizes the proceedings with incisive semantics and rhetorical mindfuck, with chains of performative intent and the steady Venn Diagram overlapping of criminal violence Platonicized with the victimhood psychology wrought by colonialist dispossession. The execution room is an echo chamber giving leaden dimension to the void between R’s dehumanized soullessness and the prison staff’s madhouse buffoonery, and with Oshima’s camera in restless panoramic whirligig – always in search of new dynamite compositions – there’s never a dang dull moment!
Has the ship sailed on such creepily dispassionate self-interrogations of the imperialist mindstate? We need a Death by Hanging for these Islamophobic times! For Israel/Palestine!! HEY DANIEL!!!!!!!
All Fall Down | MGM | John Frankenheimer | 1962
Tomorrow my ITBS pals and I record a podcast on the first five features of John Frankenheimer, as a pretext for which I checked out this unsung Frankenheimeric classic last night. It concerns Brandon de Wilde’s anguished innocence, first dented by the Cold War neuroses of his fucked-up parents and then impaled on the phallic stake of his older brother’s feral misogyny. We have a drab medley of competing tones, with Malden and Lansbury play-acting a shrill comedy of suburbanite anxiety (prefiguring The Manchurian Candidate in more ways than one) that ebbs and flows with the fever pitch of Warren Beatty’s Method agony — his Southern-accented, soft-lipped boyishness prefacing fits of convulsive, cock-eyed violence. And Eva Marie Saint gives one the best performances I’ve ever seen from her, as s a fragile beauty at the onset of spinsterhood (can you believe she’s a year older than Lansbury in this?) who puts on a show of sunny sweetness that only faintly eclipses a mellow vulnerability, so distinctly that of a mature woman too…she’s not a patronized cliche, folks!!! (On top of which, this was one of her favorite films!)
Can’t wait to talk about this killer flick in greater depth tomorrow!
I was reading some of Proust’s The Captive today, and there’s this lovely bit about the haze of impressionism glinting the everyday with the same painterly beauty as the grandest cathedrals. In a way this sentiment wafts into the world of film crit, which has yet to produce a Notre Dame and should probably give up trying. Nonetheless, certain dipshit writers fashion themselves after classicist architects, trying in vain to erect definitive statements and comprehensive assessments, and gussy up their every fetid thought with ‘professional,’ ‘journalistic’ bowties and acne-oil excesses of authoritativeness. In truth, they wind up slip ‘n sliding all over their wet-cement prose, which can only calcify into rubble.
The greatest film writers, and this has been true since the beginning of film crit history, recast their filmic subjects, already staidly illumined by the silver screen, in new lights – perhaps strobe-lit polychrome (in which the prose ecstatically dances to the film’s elusive but pulsating rhythm), candlelight flicker (the jittery scrawl of the captive observer who experiences the work in radiant flashes), or slanted sunlight (whereby all that is opaque and easily explicable – plot, theme, style – projects an elongated shadow into the critic’s subconscious that he or she then seeks to tortuously reproduce in writing). Where the average film critic simply describes what the viewer has already seen, and performs a trick akin to turning a light switch off and then on again, the masters of the form – the Farbers, the Fergusons, the Kaels, and the Sutpens – treat criticism as a chemical reaction, whereby the subatomic particles that comprise the film in question are subjectively scattered and reassembled into spell-binding streaks of linguistic lightning! Instead of ‘such and such happened’ or ‘Hawks does so and so,’ or even a matter of the how such and such happened or why Hawks does so and so…it’s really and truly a matter of such and such and so and so alchemized with the unique neural wiring of my brain into an experience never to be recaptured, only reflected in the imperfect poeticism of this ensuing scribble.
Which brings me to wigwam. Of all the film writers I have ever encountered, wigwam is by far the most honest, a creature of soul and psychosis who threads every film he watches through his clattering, fatiguing, environmentally unsound textile mill of a brain and brazenly exhibits the finished product for all the world to see. For those who know this madman, it is abundantly clear that no other human mind has been so garishly Frankenstein-style stitched together like wigwam’s: a patchwork quilt of mental disorder cradling a Gorgon’s head whose hellfire rage is interrupted only by the dopiest cornball giggles of self-lacerating humor. This otherworldly being watches lots of movies and writes a little something on just about every one of them.
Instead of faithful model-airplane reconstructions of a film’s intrinsic facts and mechanics – the stock and trade of Indiewire bottom-feeders – wigwam traffics in the extrinsic, the glare of a nearby mobile phone, the number of klonopins recently ingested, or the efficacy of his gun-range earmuffs purchased to block out the wails of nearby parasitic infants. His reviews describe not only the film in question but also the sum total of lunatic life experiences that have led him to view it. When wigwam labels something a FAVORITE or a BEST EVER, you get the sense that these superlatives connote not innate qualities or virtues but the flashpoint convergence of such intrinsic merits with the properties of wigwam’s mental state at the time he saw it – a cosmic coinciding of paroxysmal head-space with carved-in-stone cinema that dropped like manna from heaven when he needed it most.
Such cinephilic reportage is endlessly fascinating in its own right, as some kind of crazed, freakshow phenomenon or psychological case study. But, against all odds, wigwam is also a brilliant writer, a splatter-paint prose artist whose emulsions of psychotic rage or conked-out klonz-induced euphoria yield sparkling, gemstone rarities of dancelike diction, verbal verve, essayistic ecstasy! Many a time have I reached the end of an entry of wigwamwatches and thought, “if only I could write like this. Alas, I am not crazy enough.”
But be forewarned, faithful readers, if you visit wigwamwatches.blogspot.com and find nary a thing to be seen, it is because, like most testaments to the glory of God, the writings of wigwam are truly ephemeral. It is only through the goodness of monsieur wam at his most stable and least psychologically anguished that this blog is ever visible at all. I cannot count the times that I have been itching to read his crazed reviews of Monsters University or A Hard Day’s Night only to find the vault all locked up. wigwam giveth, and wigwam taketh away.
So please, dear reader, make sure to add wigwamwatches to your online bookmarks. You will not, I hope, regret it.
Hits the damn spot folks.
Unless you’re a loser, you know that John Ford is the greatest American filmmaker. And since no reader of Rio Bravado is foolish enough to believe otherwise, I entreat all of you to read Joseph McBride’s definitive mammoth biography sometime. It’s everything you ever wanted to know about this crazed sadist with an eye (literally, in his later eye-patched years) for grandeur. And not just any grandeur, but the kind of scenic mythopoeia that fortifies the soul and limns the contours of history with needlepoint delicacy and big breathtaking brushstrokes. The kind that investigates its own desperate nostalgia, whose supercharged emotions billow from the chimneys of distant hovels and tumbleweed-scrawl the barren landscape where hallowed anachronisms go to die.
Anyway, here are ten things I learned from McBride’s book that utterly fascinated me. Enjoy!
1) Ford’s brother Francis Ford beat him to Hollywood and collaborated on Universal serials with his girlfriend, together with whom he lived a life of reckless ambition that ultimately sunk him come the silent era’s wistful twilight. Out of his ashes John Ford rose to stature and cast his big bro in such poignant roles as Slim Pickens’ backwoods buddy in The Sun Shines Bright.
2) I enjoyed reading about Ford’s friendship with Hepburn. It’s so weird that they only made that one film but remained friends for decades. What I didn’t know so much about, on the other hand, was Ford’s weird relationship with Spencer Tracy, who after starring for Ford in Up the River (his first feature film to boot!) was petitioned many times to become a member of Ford’s stock company. Tracy, of course, never succumbed to these invitations and went off to become one of MGM’s golden boys. And it was Hepburn who helped them rebuild their relationship in time for The Last Hurrah in 1958.
3) Ward Bond is seemingly the ultimate lunkhead, the most pea-brained right-winger ever to be set on fire by John Wayne. I never imagined that his relationship with Ford was so imbalanced, less gruff roughhousing buddies on equal footing than the toxic parasitism of a groveling sycophant and his cacklingly abusive boss. Hilarious stuff.
4) Ford’s relationship with his son is so painful to read about. Emotional neglect, halfhearted string-pulling that didn’t even really pay off, and — most shockingly — cutting Pat out of his will entirely. Ford had big problems folks!!!
5) Ford was so vain about his military career. He’d already snagged plenty of medals but kept on lobbying for more until the end of his life. Thankfully Richard Nixon was there in ’73 to give the old guy a Presidential Medal of Freedom!
6) Ford’s daughter Barbara got married to Robert Walker after his divorce from Jennifer Jones. A whirlwind courtship followed by harrowing abuse. I never knew this bit of trivia and it reads like the weirdest, most misguided, most terrifying development in the life of this poor girl and this hypersensitive nutjob of an actor who achieved more in death (sabotaging Leo McCarey’s My Son John) than most people do in life.
7) Virulent racist extraordinaire James Warner Bellah was responsible for writing many short stories that formed the basis of mid-to-late period Ford classics — even those deemed by many of his admirers to be progressive, such as Fort Apache and Sergeant Rutledge. While the former is a masterpiece, thanks in large part to the screenplay wizardry of Frank S. Nugent, the latter remains weird and flawed in a hundred different ways.
8) The catalogue of embarrassments that beset Ford during the sinking ship that was his stint on Mister Roberts. It’s not just the blowout with Fonda — no matter whose account of which you happen to believe is just a goddamn embarrassment — but also a poolside encounter with Betsy Palmer that paints dear old Pappy as the ultimate perv (and he went on to crush hard on just about every young actress he cast in a movie from then on out).
9) John Wayne gave Ford some work on The Alamo as a pity gesture. Ford was such a lonely guy in his old age, and he always resented that Wayne skyrocketed to popularity while he floundered about in relative obscurity. I can’t wait to watch the Ford-fawning docs released in a momentary spurt at the start of the seventies. Bogdanovich to the rescue!
10) John Ford’s Araner adventures seem legendary. I wish I coulda hopped aboard 😦
Andrew Sarris, eat your heart out!!!!
America the Bad and the Beautiful
- John Ford
- Otto Preminger
- Anthony Mann
- Frederick Wiseman
- Robert Aldrich
- Kelly Reichardt
- Robert Altman
- Samuel Fuller
- Frank Capra
- Joe Dante
- Elia Kazan
- William Wyler
Hole in the Head
- John Cassavetes
- Nicholas Ray
- Rainer Werner Fassbinder
- Pier Paolo Pasolini
- Roman Polanski
The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
- Vincente Minnelli
- David Lynch
- Luis Bunuel
- Aleksandr Sokurov
- Andrei Tarkovsky
- FW Murnau
- Alain Resnais
- David Cronenberg
- Michael Powell
- Jacques Tourneur
No Time for Comedy
- Ernst Lubitsch
- Billy Wilder
- Elaine May
- Leo McCarey
- Preston Sturges
- Albert Brooks
- Hong-Sang Soo
- Frank Tashlin
- Fritz Lang
- Jacques Tati
- Kenji Mizoguchi
- Douglas Sirk
- Chantal Akerman
- Robert Siodmak
- Busby Berkeley
- Edward Dmytryk
(i.e., Glacial Glories / Sinuous Surfaces / Paroxysmal Puzzles)
- Jean-Luc Godard
- Michelangelo Antonioni
- Max Ophuls
- Josef von Sternberg
- Alfred Hitchcock
- Orson Welles
- Stanley Kubrick
- Jacques Rivette
- Hou Hsiao-hsien
The Power of Christ Compels You
- Terence Davies
- Eric Rohmer
- Robert Bresson
- Cecil B. DeMille
- Ingmar Bergman
- Frank Borzage
- Raoul Walsh
- Howard Hawks
- Don Siegel
- Sam Peckinpah
- William A. Wellman
- John Huston
- Allan Dwan
- George Cukor
- Michael Curtiz
- Stanley Donen
- Richard Lester
- Jacques Demy
- Blake Edwards
- Jean Renoir
- Yasujiro Ozu
- Roberto Rossellini
- Charles Burnett
- Abbas Kiarostami
- Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
- Delmer Daves
- Terrence Malick
Hiya folks! This past weekend was a regular bundle of celluloid surprises, the grab-baggin’est, most hectic ‘n eclectic batch of flicks I’ve squeezed into a couple days in a long time! Action, comedy, drama, suspense, and dance!
And as a service to the loyal readers of Rio Bravado, I’m gonna be rounding up five of these formidable flicks as my personal, certified recommendations. From me. To you. Let’s get this party started.
Faust | UFA | FW Murnau | 1926
I know, I know, you’re wondering what old man meat is doing watching such a sanctified cinema classic. Don’t I have better things to watch? The answer is: NO! I first watched this movie in my freshman year of college, and needless to say, I didn’t really enjoy it. I still had that whipper-snapper immunity to silent cinema while also paradoxically believing wholeheartedly in the greatness of anything and everything that trickled down into my possession from Jonathan Rosenbaum’s almighty obelisk-like list. And so I stumbled through this Murnau masterpiece while under-my-breath-ing the mantra that this is really and truly a classic no matter how much of it is soaring over my dumb head.
Well, on re-watch, I gotta say…this is one helluva fine flick! My advice to you neophytes: get lost in the spectacle and photosynthesize its sparkling rays. Be the Faust you wish to see in the world! Bust in on the Duchess’ palace like a cannonball and slink forlornly through the barren village outskirts where Mephisto extends a spindly hand. A plague unfurls from the devil’s cloak, the dead come back to life! Song and dance and subterfuge, and your sickly soul the centrifuge! Round and round it goes!
Jim Thorpe — All American | Warner Brothers | Michael Curtiz | 1951
For the diehard Lancaster-philes only. Too many early Burts seem to harvest him for his musculature and cast his acting talent to the wind. Of course, I love watching Burt just be a hulking behemoth for ninety minutes. The Crimson Pirate and The Flame and the Arrow are swashbuckled to the max and great fun to boot! Even if there is zero inkling of a hint of the performances that would come later.
Jim Thorpe is…a strange one. It’s a substandard rah-rah biopic set to the screeching tempo of Charles Bickford’s voice-over narration, with a full hour that’s just a victory montage in endless crescendo. Lancaster as the greatest athlete in the world is no-brainer casting, and half the appeal is just watching him throw javelins and hurdle obstacles and act tough. But there’s some interesting shit here regardless. So Jim Thorpe is Native American, and like Robert Aldrich’s Apache, this is Lancaster trying to do some liberal do-gooderism. As a non-Western, it trades redface for heavy dollops of whitesplaining, but at least the intention is there, y’know? And then after the first hour of never-ending glory accretion, the last half-hour of the film is similarly never-ending despair. I mean, he gets stripped of his medals and his kid dies and he leaves his wife and becomes a Vegas sideshow? And the only conciliation is an impotent framing device where lots of old shitheads give a toast in his honor? Depressing stuff!
Again, this ain’t top-tier Lancaster, but if you’ve seen 20+ of his films like I have, it’s a decent B-Side.
The Woman on the Beach | RKO | Jean Renoir | 1947
I knew I was gonna eat this up. I worship at the altar of Robert Ryan. Everything is right with that guy. His name alliterates, his politics were solid, and, most importantly, he channeled the grueling self-punishment and tattered masculinity of postwar America with nary a shred of showboating aplomb. He just knew how to train his glinting marble eyes and clench his gnarled lower lip and spill out the most quietly imposing, creakily mellifluous of voices — laced with claustrophobic intonation and beset by a burbling anxiety.
And here’s Ryan with Renoir in a creepy film noir, where the beach is a boneyard and eros its pervading specter. There’s no articulating what’s under this guy’s skin, and thank the lord! It’s a lot of symbolically charged imagery without any actual symbolism — the organic flow of the figurative that my main man Jean was able to effortlessly conjure. Oneiric whirlpools, a paradoxically perceptive blind man, mist and tempest and haunted shipwreck…but then the RKO butchery and wonky ending that renders tangible what should be misty abstraction. So not perfect. But when you have movies like Bob Ryan in them, who needs perfect?????????
The Trial of Joan of Arc | Robert Bresson | 1962
Damn, I loved this. It’s technically minor I guess, but very pure. Polar extremities of visceral tactility and disembodied speech without performance to mediate them. Footsteps and Anti-clericalism: The Movie.
Streets of Fire | Walter Hill | 1984
I don’t know what to say. This movie is so dumb. It’s the pop-schlock eighties raining neon confetti on my corneas. It’s like a worse version of Trouble in Mind, with a way dumber storyline (point A to B and back again!). But when it’s just electric flashes of rock madness it’s the kind of numbing euphoria that eighties Hollywood exists for. But then it garbage-chutes into cornball noir-aping tortured past shit. Rick Moranis should have been the lead. Am I wrong to assume that Walter Hill just keeps getting worse and worse as his career goes along?