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!

Wigwam Watches: FOR LOVE OR MONEY

Wherein mystery meat wires his Bravado publishing privileges over to Dr. Wiggeth Q. Wam himself! (see A Note About Ally-Watching)

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For Love or Money | Barry Sonnenfeld | 1993 | USA | 96 min | 2016-09-01 | VHS –> CRT | Chico, Victorville | *REWATCH (STILL DISLIKE)
First Seen: For Love or Money | Barry Sonnenfeld | 1993 | USA | 96 min | 1993-10-02 | 35MM | Midland Park Mall, Midland | DISLIKED

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

This month I’m hopping over from my new job at Xerox in Palmdale CA to the swank new digs at Victorville Film Archive in Victorville (CA) where they’ve taken over the Chico theater to show some Popcorn Classics!

Tonight they showed For Love or Money, a proto-Clean™ directed by Barry Sonnenfeild in 1993 in between Addams Family installments. Sonnenfeld would later direct a couple real Clean™s I think, Big Trouble, um… some other bullshit.

This is a terrible movie because its screenplay is so formulaic (or just has a proto-formulaic sterility?) and its just all lazy typecasting (the elevator dweeb, jeeeez) BUT its middle fun&games setpiece in the Hamptons house is very agile and witty, has a cool cameo from Isaac Mizrahi and is totes Clean™ and like most of the rest of the movie it utilized Gabrielle Anwar’s beauty effectively (but what is she in that doesn’t?). Oh and because of the hotel and money I guess it’s kinda proto-Comfy Towels too.

But, most importantly, it’s shit. And a popcorn classic.

This theater was so-so. The A/C was too loud but no one had their cellphones out. I think everyone has flip-phones here still. The popcorn was shitty. The little cookies were good though.

See you tomorrow night!

Book Learnin’: THE CATASTROPHE OF SUCCESS

capra.

At the forefront of Film but forever forlorn,

Of formidable secrets, full disclosure forborne.

In his Columbia fortress, he foraged for fame

 His finesse to inform and his fears to inflame.

His foreskin foregone, so his fortune foretold

Though he forefended disfavor, was forced out of the fold.

So no more Forbiddens, just formula fraud

And forsaking his friendships, he forged a façade.

Foregrounded in fiction, fortified by the flag,

His memoirs foreclosed on his license to brag:

Former glory to forfeit, former friends to foray

Even foreign forefathers forced into the fray.

And as Longfellow Deeds might forebodingly say,

“Ol’ fork-tongued Frank: Phony for a Day”

~ Wordsworth

I bet you fiendish readers of mine assumed that in this months-long break from Bravado I was whittling away my precious time on frivolous pursuits like videogames or online dating…. Well nay, dear readers, nay! Unbeknownst to you rascals, I have been in monastic study of ‘Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success,’ Joseph McBride’s definitive biography of the man who brought out the best in Barbara Stanwyck, the worst in Cary Grant, and the dipshit dopiest in Gary Cooper! The Name Above the Title himself.

It’s essential reading for cinephiles. Firstly because most cinephiles haven’t risen above the “I’m too cool for this Capracorn bullshit” stage and discovered the buried treasures of Ladies of Leisure, Platinum Blonde, and American Madness. Secondly because it is a case study of retrospective auteurism gone wildly off the rails. Here’s a guy who sprinkled his memoirs with just enough self-deprecation to sell his artistic purity and independence as a bill of goods to blinkered ‘film historians’ willing to forego all methodological rigor and inquiry to lap it up. And when film historians and first-generation auteurists are gathered around the same contaminated well, you just know that the record is blemished forever. All so that face-saving Frank could reclaim some tiny fragment of his long-eroded glory before departing this life hand-in-hand with the little man of his dreams (who, let’s be honest, probably looked a lot more like Harry Cohn than Henry Travers).

McBride pretty much has to contort the extant wisdom on Capra into a lot of unrecognizable bio-historical origami to return some semblance of balance to the lunatic lore that pervades just about everyone’s understanding of the man, fans and detractors alike. On top of all this, there’s just so much damn information, not just about Capra’s childhood but about the political climate that shaped him and all but destroyed him as his career fell deeper and deeper into a tepidity wrought by paralytic paranoia.

It’s just a compelling story. I implore you to read it. And if not, then phooey! I have more content in the damn pipeline for you to maybe engage with. Shitheads!

Jules Rules! — THE CANTERVILLE GHOST

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The Canterville Ghost | MGM | Jules Dassin | 1944

The irresistible prospect of Charles Laughton doing Oscar Wilde, bulldozed and pasteurized into…WWII propaganda? MGM, at its worst, was pestilential, a plague of sugar-stuffed locusts on the most promising material. Peter Lawford’s screech-voice opens the picture before passing the baton to Laughton’s blubbery sub-Ray Bolger antics. Robert Young’s trademarked personality-lessness wants to foil against but instead just droopily overlays the rest of his army cornballs to castrate and fabulize the very idea of military combat/heroism/existence so that it becomes the stuff of cozy fireside yuk-yuks.  Margaret O’Brien is the majestically infantilized proxy for the solipsistic audience who wants to believe in this no man’s fantasy land.  Who was the genius who came up with “Oscar Wilde–but for kids!….and with Nazis?”  Thanks be to God I quickly washed the taste out with Night and Fog in Japan!