Re-Watch Ranchero: PETULIA


Petulia | Warner Brothers | Richard Lester | 1968

Richard Lester, somewhere along the way, accidentally became a modest champion for auteurists. Garbed in quirk (so they say), he wriggled around in big studio productions with a little caustic visual wit and goofball savvy, and shazam!  He’s an artist! And it’s perceptible in everything he made from The Knack to Superman III! Now, this isn’t particularly off-base, I guess. I love Lester! There’s just something about this narrative that sticks in my craw. I guess it’s the fact that auteurism feeds on the myth of artistic consistency and is generally reticent to admit to jagged oeuvres, scattered blips of hackwork and breakthrough unfit for linear graph.

I mean, look, Lester directed this movie called Petulia. You may have heard of it. It’s the natural auteurist reflex to insist that it seamlessly bridges How I Won the War to The Bed Sitting Room, or else is but a mere fragment of the ‘Lester mosaic,’ or whatever bullshit. Doctor, this reflex needs to be corrected, pronto! Petulia is a watershed, an anomaly, a masterpiece where no one could have expected it. I’m hardly interested in Lester as the director of this movie, even, because it’s so ineffable, immersive, flashbulb-imprinted in the ol’ noggin, that to talk in terms of its creation seems perverse, as if the wonders of nature required the existence of an intelligent designer to justify their adoration.

Petulia is the sixties in self-devouring paradox. Its strengths do not gather in one thematic or tonal direction, but drift to opposite polarities. What we have here is a lucid nightmare, misery draped in bright colors, the zeitgeist looking back on its own lagging present. Peripheral comedy commiserates with gut-sunken tragedy, and thanks to a bit of achronological editing – as emotionally intuitive as that method has ever been deployed – the film exists in a state of endless climax, from which there is, naturally, no release.

You walk into this movie, you walk out of it, black box-style. You’re not allowed to scrutinize it from a dispassionate distance, and god help me, you should be thrown in jail for appraising it in terms of its own dismal marketing campaign. On the (forthcoming!) ITBS commentary track, we assess it from inside the experience, and for more on the systemic violence of American culture, on the irreplicable hybridization of color-coded formalism with rack-focused, handheld, improvised volatility, on George C. Scott and Julie Christie and the infinite dimensions of their performances – I highly recommend giving it a listen, in sync with the film. But from my perch here at Rio Bravado, where I can merely refer you to the work in question, I find it utterly disrespectful to ‘analyze’ and thus objectify one of the least tangible films to come out of a Hollywood studio.  So here this entry ends. Watch Petulia, mooks!!!!!


Re-Watch Ranchero: MON ONCLE


Mon Oncle | Jacques Tati | 1958

Tati movies are aircraft ammo for execrable formalist zigzag shot-by-shot drudgery, a form of film crit that works at an experiential inverse to its subject by supplanting fun/breezy/colorful/funny with anvils of cast iron verbiage to stub your toe on or trip over or get flattened by.

I re-watched Mon Oncle on the near-eve of the start of a new job and I vacuumed all theory from my memory-banks (as best I could) and was gripped by what is the movie equivalent of those big colorful activity books I used to read as a kid, where each two-page spread is a maze to be traced through or a diorama to get lost in or a weird deconstructive puzzle that cross-sections the world into its joints and parts and inner-mechanisms. Tati is the only director who could have adapted ‘Where’s Waldo’ for the screen!

Cross-thesis: Autonomy is anomaly! For both the happy homemaker bores and jollifying gesture-lobbing fruit vendor folks alike! They all lack faces. I mean you mind’s-eye any of these people and it’s just these faceless miller-abouters whose bodily expressions, animated as they are, don’t extend to anything facially expressive. Most long-shot cinema doesn’t really mannequin-ize or silhouette or just all around depersonalize (figuralize?) human subjects the way that this movie does. Which is cool, cuz it’s such a sweet, gentle, relaxing, rocking-chair movie with lovable characters and treacly little situations (i.e., a totally human movie! not soggy, sickening soul-sucking sociology!). But it arrives at those things by getting you – the exalted viewer! – to extract them from a distance, by observing an ant-farm overview of communal interactivity, midday labor, the throwaway rituals of everyday life and relearning the nested joyfulness of these monotonies. It’s not an ‘in spite of’ thing or even a daring feat of artistry. It’s just a reminder that you don’t have to do big sentimental wide-eyed mugging to enforce the oft-ignored (cuz not tailored to the star-system subconscious of Hollywood filmmaking???) universal truth that fingertip-nosetip contact is poignant, that handclasping without eye contact is poignant, that uncle and nephew sharing a bicycle is poignant. etc. etc. etc. Not to mention, of course, all the things that are funny that require no facial acting, which prompts a disquisition that I’ll leave David Bordwell to elaborate into an award-winning textbook.

Oof that paragraph was long…but the most fun I’ve had writing film criticism in ages! Anyway, I’m on my way to my new corporate hangzone tomorrow, just like Hulot!

EDIT: Couldn’t publish this last night cuz of Internet issues, so I just got back from work and sad to say I’m not gonna inadvertently buck the system into laughs for all the way my main man Hulot would, but it’s still gonna be a sick-ass gig!

Re-Watch Ranchero: 3:10 TO YUMA

yuma3:10 to Yuma | Columbia Pictures | Delmer Daves | 1957

I’m working on a big ol’ essayish thing about the spreadsheet virus (with which I am afflicted), but lately, fortunately, that virus has grown benign in me (thanks to be life changes comin’ round the bend?) over the last few weeks. So I have decided, while cleaning out my apartment, that the best way to relax in the midst of so much tumult is to re-watch some old favorites!

And so today I re-watched 3:10 to Yuma! And it was greeeeeeeeat!

Firstly, beleaguered de-masculinized cowpoke moroseness, as cleft into the immortally craggy, lopsided, misshapen face of the perennially under-appreciated Van Heflin, has never seemed more vivid (or even present) to me in any other movie. Cuz most Western movies are about marshals and outlaws, not the ordinary dead-end ranchers building their Biblical house on the unstable sands of frothing frontier frenzy! Glenn Ford plays the role of the Western’s archetypal charisma-peddler (with a ruthless condescension that’s also, weirdly, gentle? cuz he’s also, in his way, a beleaguered cowpoke himself, who’s gotta feel bad for a guy who wasn’t even blessed with charisma enough to compensate his raw luck), in contrast to whom hangdog Heflin slouches increasingly toward frigidity.

And because the whole meaty expanse of silent tension that the whole film is founded on is, well, silent, you get the full seldom-accessed soundbank of creaks and whistles and gusts and raps that would comprise the actual lonesome monotonous aural backdrop to the painstakingly lonesome monotony of Western existence. This is a movie that’s all about being an Every Man in a genre that never gives its characters the chance to be Every Men cuz they’re too busy laying down the whole dadgum civilization of Every Men to come! Sadsacks stewin’ in the Western sun, parched for the elixir of life!

And speaking of the sun, those interiors where it’s hard-lighting but not hard enough to register anything remotely nighttime shadowy chiaroscuro–like so distinctly the flavor of being inside on a hot sweltering day…Charles Lawton Jr., you godsend you!