. . . Scorsese

. . .

Martin Scorsese: "Imitation of Christ.... Thank you very much, ladies and gentleman. And now: Jimmy Cagney...."

. . .

Bringing out the Dead confirms that Martin Scorsese should stick to black comedy, that Paul Schrader should shut the fuck up, and (insight via Juliet Clark) that Nicolas Cage is the only possible choice to play Andy Kaufman in a bio-pic.

And -- wow, you know, we're all so used to hearing "Shut the fuck up" (I am, anyway), but it looks kind of odd in print, doesn't it? Like maybe it could be from a gangster movie instead of "Rub the snitch out" or from like a sea chanty:

Shut the fuck up, boys,
Oh, shut the fuck up,
Heigh! ho! shut the fuck up....

. . .

100 Super Movies au maximum: Actress

Hsiao-yu tugged at me Director Stanley Kwan's film is a masterpiece, maybe the most intelligently self-aware historical melodrama ever made.

The Hong Kong producers' version, going under the title Centre Stage, thirty minutes shorter and completely restructured, is a Star-Is-Born-and-Then-Dies biopic with pretty cinematography and great acting.

Among the producers' cuts is the central scene of the movie:

After the protagonist's suicide, everyone is standing around her corpse, crying (or not). That's where Centre Stage ends.
Actress draws that shot out, and then interrupts it with Stanley Kwan's voice calling for a retake because he saw Maggie Cheung's chest move.
The scene is then played again, this time with the viewer aware of how much physical strain the perfectly still Cheung must be undergoing beneath and past the moving camera.
"Cut!", and Cheung comes surging up from her deathbed taking great racking gulps of air....

It's an extraordinarily moving collapse of film-as-documentation and film-as-artifice and film-as-immortality -- star as slain and resurrected sacrifice, perpetually reproducing the same....

Auntie Li, why don't you cry? A few prints of Actress have played a lot of film festivals over the years without ever finding a distributor. Despite Kwan's having produced the best entry in BFI's "Century of Cinema" series (going against the likes of Martin Scorsese and Jean-Luc Godard), his early ghost story Rouge remains pretty much the only work available to American audiences.

At this point Actress bids well to become the first great lost film of the 1990s.

. . .

Movie Comment: American Beauty

Credit where credit's due. Over the past couple years, most critically acclaimed crappy movies have just been vinyl-veneer knock-offs of Frank Perry, or Martin Scorsese, or Robert Altman, or David Lynch, or John Cassavetes. But only the makers of American Beauty have had sufficient vision to produce a vinyl-veneer knock-off of Norman Lear.

. . .

Movie Comments Comment

So many folks boiling over with critical insight and political acumen! And post-movie Q&A sessions provide an irresistable opportunity to lance those boils.

  1. My Brother's Wedding at Pixar, Emeryville, CA

    Lots of great Qs here, including "Does the director know Martin Scorsese? Because [long demonstration that if you've never seen a Cassavetes movie, you'll think that anything with talkative city dwellers is ripping off Scorsese]" and the always popular "How much did it cost?" (Wrong answer, guessed at by the hapless host of the evening: "I'm not sure -- one point five million?" Right answer: $80,000.)

    Best of show:

    "You always hear about how African-Americans have absent fathers and single-parent families. But that didn't seem to be a problem in this film. So I can't help wondering: Just what is the real story here?"
    Which reminded me of someone at DEC who was talking about some political dispute in the news and concluded, "How can black people expect to get anywhere? They can't even agree on a candidate!" Except that guy at least had the excuse of being from New Hampshire and I at least got the relief of answering him. At Pixar, I was the guest of a nonprofit institution hoping to impress potential donors, so decorum was called for. And was maintained by my companion hustling me the fuck out of there.

  2. What Have I Done to Deserve This? at New Directors / New Films, NY, NY

    1985. Pedro Almodóvar's first movie in the States. Disgruntled director on stage, dressed to the nines and stoned to the gills. An extremely wealthy, old, and frail-looking lady in the audience, with a grandmotherly smile:

    "You wouldn't have been able to do this when General Franco was in charge, would you?"
    ... I have nothing to add to that.

  3. Prelinger Archives selections, and other movies, and songs, and books, and TV shows, and paintings, and photographs at PFA, Berkeley, CA, and other places

    A young academic male:

    "Paradoxically, though, I feel that [artifact] actually is subversive in a way, since [earnest explication of some detail of the artifact]..."
    This may be unheimlichly gauche of me to admit, but not all pleasures are, strictly speaking, subversive.

    For example, you know that warm feeling you get from someone agreeing with you? Or when you feel clever for working something out? Well, that's not actually called subversion.

    In fact, as a fellow comfortable guy, I'd say that the only context in which it makes sense for a comfortable guy to apply the word "subversive" to anything is when he's trying to have it banned.

. . .

Reference Work, 1

For JL & JL

Two artists in dudgeons, one low, one high:

And every single person in the real world looks at this, and that's why we make our films the way we do. Because you don't have the freedom, you don't have the integrity, you have to remake everything we've done anyway. I go to see Martin Scorsese, and I say, Don't you think I should tell you about the lenses? And he says, What do you mean? And I said, Well, you're remaking my film, which is Infernal Affairs. Infernal Affairs was probably written in one week, we shot it in a month and you're going to remake it! Ha ha, good luck! What the fuck is this about? I mean, come on. In other words, if you read The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, then you'd actually have a very clear idea [laughs] about what's really happening in the U.S. right now. So what do we do? You tell me. [...] If Martin Scorsese can make a piece of shit called The Aviator and then go on to remake a Hong Kong film, don't you think he's lost the plot? Think it through. "I need my Oscar, I need my fucking Oscar!" Are you crazy? There's not a single person in the Oscar voting department who's under 65 years old. They don't even know how to get online. They have no idea what the real world is about. They have no visual experience anymore. They have preoccupations. So why the fuck would a great filmmaker need to suck the dick of the Academy with a piece of shit called The Aviator? And now he has to remake our film? I mean this is bullshit. This is total bullshit. I love Marty, I think he's a great person. And the other one is Tarantino. Oh yeah, let's appropriate everything. Are you lost? Yes, you are lost.
- Chris Doyle
Let's see, if we chide the writer who makes reference to low-brow material, who appropriates cultural material because appropriations are a bit like sampling in rap, really borderline plagiarism, everyone knows this we'll have to roll back to T.S. Eliot. Oops, we have to throw Eliot on the scrap heap, too apparently he risked some high-low mixing, and some appropriations. Forget Joyce, of course. We'd better go even further back. Once you begin looking at the underlying premise a blanket attack on the methods that modernism uncovered the kind of bogus nostalgia for a pure, as opposed to an impure, literature, what you really discover is a discomfort with literature itself. [...] It's not about reading. That's the problem. It really is about I'm repeating myself class anxiety. Once you have an eye for this you spot it in odd places. I read a review in Book Forum where a critic, quite incidentally, in attacking Michel Houellebecq, said in an aside, "But then again, the French regard Hitchcock as art." Well, now, wait a minute! These battles were fought and won. These victories were decisive ones, fifty years ago. There's no rolling that back. Hitchcock is art. So if you pin Hitchcock's scalp to your belt: "Not only have I seen through Michel Houellebecq, the charlatan, but in fact I'm going to tell you that the auturists were wrong and Hitchcock is low-brow and unsavory," you've discredited yourself so absolutely that you deserve to read nothing but Trollope for the rest of your life.
- Jonathan Lethem

OK, first, Trollope worked a day job for the fucking post office, so let's leave Trollope out of this fight.

Otherwise, it's a fight I felt like starting myself when I read this shallow attack on shallowness two years ago. (Why didn't I? Well, I work a day job, see....) For John Leonard, the difference between profundity and immaturity comes down to name-dropping:

Is it so unreasonable to want to know more of what he thinks about Julio Cortázar and less of how he feels about Obi-Wan Kenobi? [...] Superpowers are not what magic realism was about in Bulgakov, Kobo Abe, Salman Rushdie, or the Latin American flying carpets. That Michael Chabon and Paul Auster have gone graphic, that one Jonathan, Lethem, writes on and on about John Ford, while another Jonathan, Franzen, writes on and on about "Peanuts," even as Rick Moody confides to the Times Book Review that "comics are currently better at the sociology of the intimate gesture than literary fiction is," may just mean that the slick magazines with the scratch and sniff ads for vodka and opium [sic] are willing to pay a bundle for bombast about ephemera.

This approaches J. Jonah Jameson levels of wrong-headedness. As if Ulysses would've been improved by more of Lohengrin and less of "The Low-Backed Car". As if John Leonard ever actually took time to honor Alfred Bester for referencing Joyce or Patricia Highsmith for referencing James and Camus.

He asks me, "Do you care how many times I have seen The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, or what's going on in my head while I watch Sara Evans sing 'Suds in the Bucket' on the country music cable channel?" And I answer: "No more than I care what's going on in your head while you watch Carol Burnett. I don't even care what you think about books. Moreover, if you were a movie critic or a music critic, I still wouldn't care about your renting a Demy video or your pseudo-ironic celebrations of Evans but you'd tell me all the same. What matters in our relationship isn't whether I care; all that matters is what the NYRB and New York Magazine will publish."

In Leonard's horror at public lapses of taste, this professional book-and-televison critic failed to notice that his subject is not a professional critic of anything and The Disappointment Artist is not a collection of criticism: it's a linked collection of autobiographical essays whose hooks happen to be American cultural artifacts. Lethem could hardly have been more explicit about it. In his long tribute to the The Searchers, the "critical" argument is confined to two paragraphs terminated by the sentence "Snore."

Sure, some generic ambiguity exists: there's that strain of criticism-as-New-Journalism which was domesticated down from mutants like Meltzer and Bangs into the cage-raised free weekly strains. But those conventions presume a like-minded community, whereas Lethem peddles his wares to a middlebrow camp unlikely to have any interest in his ostensible topics. Therefore the focus stays on Lethem-as-character.

So let's imagine our successful young novelist writing a similar autobiographical essay about reading Kafka or Cortázar:

"And suddenly I realized: I write fiction too. Just like him."

Yeah, there's news.

Equally newsworthy:

"Professional pundit publishes asinine remarks; bloggers rant."

But god damn it, I can't seem to let it rest at that. What irks me is the feeling that I share some aspect of some response with Leonard and, in a different way, or a different aspect, with Lethem, too. And again, Lethem's admirably blatant about it: he put Disappointment right there in the title for us.

... to be continued ...


Even if you don't care for my stuff, I recommend this essay by tomemos which starts from Leonard but goes in a very different direction.

Can't speak for Leonard but my celebrations of Evans are strickly appreciations of artistry.

My guess was that Leonard admired Evans but threw "the country music cable channel" in for distancing thus the "pseudo-" of his irony.

. . .

J. Beez Wit the Remedy

For zunguzungu
Real tragedy is never resolved. It goes on hopelessly forever. Conventional tragedy is too easy. The hero dies and we feel a purging of the emotions. A real tragedy takes place in a corner, in an untidy spot, to quote W.H. Auden. The rest of the world is unaware of it. Like the man in A Handful of Dust who reads Dickens to Mr. Todd. There is no release for him. When the story ends he is still reading. There is no purging of the emotion for us because we are not there.
- No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe

Obi Okonkwo's reference to A Handful of Dust is double-edged: like so much art of its time and place, Waugh's novel depends on a burst of burlesque primitivism. As Jerome Meckier sums it, "Todd represents the breakdown of civilized conduct that humanism was not puissant enough to prevent. Consequently, the half-breed has the literary tastes of a Victorian gentleman and the ethics of a jungle savage." (Oddly, while Philip Rogers describes Obi's allusiveness as alienation and Waugh's hapless Tony Last as a failed idealist, he doesn't mention Last's journey into the heart of Brazilian darkness.)

In the art of my own time and place, I heard this tragedy-plus formula "They wind up wounded, not even dead" expressed by Bruce Springsteen in a song called "Jungleland." And for no verifiable reason, I remember it referring to the non-fatal end of Mean Streets, the inexact retribution which hit after Scorsese's hero scoffed, "Do I know Brooklyn? Do I know the jungle?"

Worse-than-tragedy finds its home in the "primitive," "unchanging," "stone-aged" jungle for the same reason better-than-comedy does: this is the inconclusive place, the place without strong story structure, the heat-death Club Med after the end of the world and Day of the Dead. Beyond catastrophe or happy ending lies mere or pure incident, sensation dropped after sensation; in bookworm terms, the fantasy of post-apocalyptic stack privileges, or even re-readable bookhood itself; in movie terms, spectacle.

Tony Last might not have appreciated the breakfast juice Mr. Todd fetched, and Jane Parker might have enjoyed reading aloud to her child-mate. Does recycled stock footage come as welcome eye-candy or as unbearable cheapness? Do we discover David Byrne's exactly-the-same heaven or Dante's obsessive-compulsive hell? It depends on the company.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Soundtrack: "Nothing" by Lazy Susan


Forget it, Jake, it's Chinuatown.

Aaron Bady points to an American Primitive:

... to add to your archive of folk wisdom on the question, Levon Helm's "dirt farmer"

well the poor old dirt farmer
how bad he must feel.
he fell off his tractor
up under the wheel.
and now his head
is shaped like a tread
but he aint quite dead.

that last triple rhyme kills me in the actual song, though it falls a bit flat on the page/screen.

. . .

The Cabbie

As noted by David Ehrenstein at the time of the film's release, Pupkin is in fact the "distorted funhouse mirror image" of the Idiot characters in Artists and Models, The Nutty Professor and The Patsy.
- Sadarshan Ramani

That resemblance escapes me, but I recall my horror when I realized how closely Travis Bickle's character arc mimics the Idiot-Makes-Good solo vehicles of Jerry Lewis.


I was prodded to that revelation by the missing-fingers gag ("gag" as in E.C. comics' CHOKE! GAG!).


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.