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About Shrew

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  1. Shrew

    The Searchers

    “Two Rode Together” isn’t a great movie, but it is an interesting companion/response to the Searchers. The focus is on the difficulty (and perhaps even the impossibility) of re-integration of captives back into white society, so it may satisfy people who feel Natalie Wood’s return is oversimplified. However, it’s an inherently pessimistic and unsatisfying film, anchored by Jimmy Stewart in one of his oft-overlooked unrepentant asshole roles. I think of it as one of Ford’s late “half-woke” films (Sergeant Rutledge, Cheynne Autumn) in which he is earnestly trying to take apart myths of the West from the perspectives of Native Americans and minorities, but he’s hamstrung by the conservatism of the studio system and the biases of the time as well as his own. The saddest example of this is how “Cheyenne Autumn” went from Ford’s original conception of a docu-realist narrative starring non-professional native actors to a bloated 60s Hollywood epic half-focused on white soldiers chasing the Cheyenne and half Sal Mineo and Ricardo Montalban in brownface. Anyway, I agree that The Searchers is good but underwhelming, particulary on first watch. It’s easy to get lost and frustrated in the meandering plot and miss the coherence of the themes and images, or fail to appreciate how easily the film switches from drama into action or suspense (and a little more abruptly in and out of comedy). It helps that since first watching this over a decade ago I’ve seen far more Ford films and become somewhat inoculated to his humor. One of the big problems with lists like the AFI is how they flatten genres and filmographies. It’s a pity that people write off Westerns or Ford or Wayne because this one overhyped classic doesn’t work for them (I did when I first saw this). It also makes films like this and High Noon seem especially unique, when really plenty of Westerns were similarly ambitious and complex. There’s as much complexity regarding different versions of masculinity in Stagecoach as there is in the Searchers (though admittedly, not much complexity with the treatment of Natives). There’s more darkness in Anthony Mann’s The Naked Spur or Boetticher’s Ride Lonesome. For better Ford, I’d highly recommend Fort Apache, which fictionalizes Custer and moves the action of Little Big Horn to Arizona, and is a much earlier, and in my opinion far sharper, take down of how Native Americans were mistreated and how the narrative around that was misshapen.
  2. Fuck it. Just throw in HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO (my vote) and talk about five Preston Sturges films.
  3. I wonder if an easier approach would be to pick one major auteur (e.g.,Hitchcock, Bergman, Kubrick, Kurosawa) with many canonical titles and hash out which one most belongs in the canon/best represents that director? Or just five of that director's films? That might be more structured than wading through 50 different idiosyncratic favorites. Hitchcock or Kubrick might be the most accesable, but Bergman's 100th birthday would be July 14th, so he'd be appropriate to discuss. Most of his films are on Filmstruck. If you wanted to focus on just five films, then maybe Fanny and Alexander, Seventh Seal, Persona, Winter Light... Scenes from a Marriage? That would give a good broad outline of his career. (You could also make arguments for Wild Strawberries, Shame, Cries and Whispers, Virgin Spring.)
  4. Shrew

    Episode 156 - Legends of the Fall (w/ Kendra James)

    There are plenty of US WWI films, some of the most important films in film history are WWI films, and the first and third Best Picture winners are even WWI films, but I admit this is all in the past and WWI hasn’t shown up on screens much recently (anyone remember War Horse?). Then again, neither has WWII—we had that late 90s/early 00s surge of war films, but there wasn’t much else until last year’s Dunkirk explosion. Part of the problem is that WWI holds a weird place in US history, and the films reflect that. US involvement was very brief, as was the large-scale popular support for the war. In 1918, you had a spate of pure propaganda movies against the evil "huns" like The Unbeliever (rich atheist pacifist joins up to prove his manliness, finds Jesus and war pretty ok) and Heart of Humanity (where von Stroheim throws a baby out a window). Make things quickly get more complicated. Most American troops didn’t experience much of the back-and-forth grind of trench warfare compared to European soldiers, so US WWI films tend to focus on one big battle wherein soldiers are mowed down advancing into machine gun nests. At the same time, WWI was the first chance for many Americans to see Europe, so lots of films center on leave in Paris or French villages and the excitement of just going abroad (see how “Paris” looms over American culture during the period). This means that many films from the 20s like The Big Parade, Wings, and What Price Glory tend to be half-adventure films, half-War Is Hell senseless death. Films that centered on European characters or characters who joined the war earlier than 1917 tend to have a much more apocalyptic view of the war, like John Ford’s Four Sons, mostly eliding war scenes). Or the aptly named Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which focuses on European emigrants to Argentina returning to fight on opposing sides (and all dying). That brings us to All Quiet on the Western Front and the 30s, when there was a growing sense of the futility and pointlessness of the war. Films in both Europe and the US start turning stridently anti-war, but also focusing more on European characters, casting the war as more of a European issue. This helps bolster isolationist tendencies in America, though that was likely never the intention (indeed, many of these filmmakers became active supporters of WWII). You also get more films where WWI is a past trauma (The Last Flight, about WWI vets drinking themselves into oblivion in Paris) or a narrative blip (as in Legends of the Fall), something that complicates a character or introduces an arc that needs to be resolved. Perhaps the best version of this is The Roaring Twenties with Cagney and Bogart, where the forgotten men of WWI become the gangsters of Prohibition, with varying degrees of guilt. Then as WWII approaches, there’s a strong effort to rewrite the narrative with Sgt. York and Yankee Doodle Dandy, casting WWI as something brutal but necessary to defend democracy. Post 1945, WWII and later Vietnam suck up most of the oxygen in the war room. US filmmakers still return to WWI occasionally when in need of a flat-out “bad war” as in Paths of Glory, Johnny Got His Gun, or War Horse (or, in the same vein, Wonder Woman). But also note that almost all these films are about Europeans (or in the case of Chris Pine in Wonder Woman, an American who joined up early). So why don’t we make more films about WWI? Recency? There are almost no films about the Revolutionary War, and really very few about the Civil War (though those few hover far higher in our cultural pantheon—hi Gone With the Wind). There also tends to be feast/famine pattern to war films about any period. But for America, a country that joined the war late has never made up its mind how to feel about getting involved, there’s also the unique problem of making a WWI film that doesn’t read, albeit often unintentionally, as isolationist. Also, yes, Legends of the Fall is mediocre. But god yes Douglas Sirk forever.
  5. If anyone wants more Udo Kier, this interview with him will bring you joy beyond measure. Here's a preview: AVC: Okay, we must skip ahead… UK: Yes, please do. Let’s talk about Pamela Anderson please, now. I want to talk about Pamela Anderson! AVC: I was going to ask about Berlin Alexanderplatz next. UK: No, I want to talk about Pamela! https://film.avclub....kier-1798223583
  6. This is one of my classical cinema albatrosses. I can appreciate its beauty and importance, its frank socioeconomics and gutpunch ending, but my blackened heart is incapable of love. Yet this is hard movie to hate, so I must bear the shame of my indifference without even the consolation of gleefully tearing down a sacred cow. Besides my apparently dead heart, I have two issues with Umbrellas. One, Legrand’s music is wonderful, but the intentionally banal dialogue-lyrics are not. It isn’t just that they’re bland, they’re often downright unmusical, trailing off before a progression resolves or the musical phrase ends, meaning the score needs to vamp for a few beats until a new phrase/lyric can begin. All that creates dead air in the conversations, dragging the film out and breaking up the natural rhythms of speech. I get the attempt to uncover the forgotten meaning and emotion hidden in everyday conversation, but the recitation-singing does nothing for me. The exception to this rule is of course “I Will Wait for You” (and for some reason, most of the parts with Cassard sound more focused and arranged, i.e. his and the mother’s “à demain”). Two, I just find the faces of people singing to be inherently boring, as if when the voice becomes more expressive the face becomes less. Deneuve actually overcomes this here, but Castelnuovo’s best moments are definitely when he’s quiet. Further, by focusing so much on singing, Umbrellas—akin to a lot of recent, mediocre adaptations of great stage musicals (Les Mis, Into the Woods)—neglects another key element of the classical musical: movement. Not just dancing, but movement of the actors within the frame and of the camera itself. Similar to Amy’s comment that the colors are maybe a bit too much, I think Demy overcompensates for lack of movement within the frame by whirling the camera or punctuating scenes with dollys in and out. That’s more interesting that shot/reverse shot coverage that dominates of a lot of contemporary musicals (cough, Greatest Showman), but movement is a key genre element that Umbrellas is never fully able to grasp and deconstruct in the way it does others. So in the end I vote “No,” not because Umbrellas isn’t canonical but as a protest vote for Young Girls of Rochefort, which does get movement (and songs), and manages a much fuller and richer deconstruction of the musical that people choose to overlook because there’s a happy ending (which also includes an ax murder). But also, my own romantic experience has been more false starts, missed connections, needless doubts, and eventual (sofar) happy ending, so maybe I’m biased?
  7. Shrew

    Episode 132 - Carnal Knowledge (w/ Molly Lambert)

    I’m glad Lambert brought this film to the show because it’s worth discussing, but I just don’t like it. There are moments of greatness but also of the subjective shittiness disguised as Profound Universal Statements about Human Relationships that 33 years later would gain sentience as Closer. The problem is that each segment gets more artificial and less interesting. The college segment might be one of the most perfect short films ever made. I do think it gets how young men talk to each other, with bravado covering up for inexperience, the performance of masculinity, affected sensitivity undercut by bouts confused naiveté (“I feel about getting laid the same way I feel about college. I'm being pressured into it.”) And Bergen is fantastic, establishing a character that has a clear presence and subjectivity, even in a film utterly dominated by the male point-of-view (as such, I understand why she disappears, but the film suffers from her absence). If we were only voting on this first segment, I would canonize it in a heartbeat. Then we jump ahead and the men are still talking like 18 year-olds. Maybe times have changed or I just don’t hang out with male friends enough anymore, but the way pornographic way Nicholson talks about women feels hollow, like a projection of how shitty men talk. Even the theatricality of the language becomes more apparent, each repetition of “bullshit artist” and “ball-buster” feeling more like a writer’s tic than natural slang. Ann-Margret saves this segment and her scenes with Nicholson bring us back to something sad and honest, but each conversation between Sandy and Jonathan is just trying to outperform the last for vileness. There is something disingenuously confessional here, like a man who keeps laments his bad behavior but never makes any effort to reform himself (like Ian Holm in Another Woman, “I accept you condemnation.”) And then that ending. It’s bad because A) that’s not how impotence/erectile dysfunction works; B ) it’s too perfectly ironic, as if the Sandys/Jules Feiffers of the world are taking revenge on the Jonathans/Nicholsons for having more sex than them. And C), as recent events have shown, I think the Jonathans are far more likely to be locking doors behind assistants and masturbating into plants to prove to themselves how powerful they are, rather than paying hookers to tell them how powerful they are. Admittedly, there may be an undercurrent of #notallmen to my reaction. Or maybe I just lead a sheltered life. Still, I’d recommend Eric Rohmer or Hong Sang-soo over this for films about how men treat women. Though I admit I'm harder pressed to think of a good alternative about how men talk to men about women.