All posts by NotesonFilm1

About NotesonFilm1

Spanish Canadian working in the UK. Former film journalist. Lecturer in Film Studies. Podcast with Michael Glass on cinema at https://eavesdroppingatthemovies.com/ and also a series of conversations with artists and intellectuals on their work at https://josearroyoinconversationwith.com/

A note on ‘Good News’ (Charles Walters, 1947)

 

Last night’s viewing: eye-popping colour; leads who can neither sing nor dance but who nonetheless imbue the whole show with verve and charm;June Allyson at her prettiest; The film that made Mel Tormé — billed as The Velvet Fog of Radio and Recording Fame in the trailer — a teen idol; Big Band 40s doing Roaring Twenties in a college setting is its own particular delight and Chuck Walters brings joyous movement to the choreography AND to the mise-en-scene. Not the Freed Unit’s best but after the Varsity Drag Number and the film’s ending, I felt like applauding. Gorgeous Warners Archive print.

Here’ a clip of Mel Tormé singing ‘The Best Things in Live Are Free’ and giving them ideas during their French Lesson:

José Arroyo

José Arroyo in Conversation with Fiona Cox on ‘It’s a Sin’

 

A discussion between friends, informed but informal, eager for exchange and hoping to contribute to a discussion, practically unedited. We probably missed many reference points but as soon as we stopped talking I realised the most obvious one is 120 BPM. You can nonetheless follow up discussions on that truly great film here:

A Conversation with Adam Carver on 120 BPM

and here:

Eavesdropping at the Movies 62 – 120 BPM

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 273 – Suzaki Paradise: Akashingō

A young, destitute couple seek survival and stability in Yuzo Kawashima’s 1956 drama, Suzaki Paradise: Akashingō (in English, this subtitle is given as Red Light, or Red Light District). Tsutae and Yoshiji spend their last few yen on a bus to anywhere, ending up on the outskirts of Tokyo’s red light district, separated from it only by an ominous bridge that is spoken of by the locals as though fearful, dreaded, even mythical. They take to their new home differently: Tsutae easily finds work as a waitress at a bar, comfortable for reasons that become clear; Yoshiji, a former office worker, has trouble adjusting, and, though it’s not put into words as such, spends much of the film depressed.

We discuss the portrayal of Tokyo’s unfortunates, their attitudes to life and to each other, and the tightrope Kawashima walks between wallowing in poverty porn and sentimentalising the couple’s situation. The motif of the bridge is a potent one, recurring throughout, and we consider how it’s used, what it signifies, and how it combines with the film’s theme of patriarchy and how it oppresses both women and men.

Suzaki Paradise is a concise and potent film, an intelligent dramatisation of social and economic issues in post-war Japan, and an expressive melodrama. It’s worth seeking out.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 272 – Cool Hand Luke

A key film in Paul Newman’s career that gave us one of cinema’s most iconic lines, Cool Hand Luke is known to both Mike and José – but previously seen by neither. The reasons that it became a cultural touchstone remain crystal clear, despite it failing, to a significant degree, to grab us as it might. We question the authenticity and purpose of Luke’s rebellion, the depiction of prison life, and the flimsy Christian allegory that tirelessly insists upon itself. The brutality perhaps seems unfairly tame today, an unavoidable consequence of coming to the film more than fifty years late, but its comedy still works beautifully and Newman’s charm has gone nowhere. It’s a fantasy, we conclude, for the privileged – an ultimately mortal fight against The Man, the point of which may very well be its lack of focus and clarity of purpose. Jesus was crucified for our sins; will we be recounting the story of Luke in two thousand years? Only time will tell.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Brando: cruising, masculinity and queer desire in Reflections in a Golden Eye

 

The cruising, the relation between performativity and masculinity, the longing and frustration, the contortions of queer desire in the closet —  I hope this all  comes out in the edit itself.  I’ll eventually put some text in it but not much. I feel the video below speaks for itself.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 271 – Soul

Occupying some similar thematic terrain to Coco, Pixar’s 2017 masterpiece, Soul uses an afterlife-bound journey with a tight deadline to explore what it is that makes us human, in the context of a life devoted to music. When Joe, a music teacher and passionate jazz pianist, dies in a classic open manhole cover accident, his soul, now separated from his body but desperate to live, escapes an A Matter of Life and Death-inspired travelator to Heaven and ends up in the Great Before, a meadow populated with unborn souls preparing for their upcoming lives. Mistaken for a mentor, he is assigned 22, a cynical, sarcastic soul with no desire to live on Earth, and when he tries to return to his body, she accidentally comes with.

As well as to Coco, Mike finds Soul comparable to another of Pixar’s films: Soul handles philosophical concepts the way Inside Out did psychological ones, rendering them visually imaginative and narratively physical. ‘The zone’, where people describe themselves when feeling that transcendent state of flow when an activity consumes them, is in the Great Beyond a real place that Joe and 22 visit; the unborn souls develop personality traits signified by Boy Scout-style badges. The storytelling is economical and concise, characters’ priorities and attitudes smoothly and legibly changing as their goals and relationships shift. It’s a beautifully told story.

José considers the social and economic setting of Joe’s life, the music he loves and the barber he visits, about whose life he learns – the film humanely understands people and hardship without wallowing in despair, finding space for joy. We wonder how well it will play to kids, thrilled that Pixar refuses to speak down to its audience, if a little unsure about how much will translate to the younger members of its target audience. Predictably, Mike finished the film in tears, despite an ending he found to be overly mechanical and inorganic.

Soul is a beautiful, wonderful film. To José, it’s a masterpiece. To Mike, possibly not, but only because Coco exists. See it.

Andrew Griffith has brought to out attention this article you may also find interesting about rumblings of discontent in relation to the film and why it’s turned out surprisingly polarasing.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Overview of Burt Lancaster’s Career

An overview of Lancaster’s career that highlights his noir period in the late 40s, his contributions as a producer, and his late-career work in auteur cinema. A version of this was given for Westminster Libraries and updated and expanded for the Film and Television Stardom module at the University of Warwick.

 

 

Female Film Stars on the cover of Time

A surprisingly small number of female film stars made the cover of Time between 1930 and 1969; barely one a year, and men appeared more rarely still. I have not included actresses who appeared on the cover due to their success on Broadway, such as Ethel Merman, Shirley Booth, Ruth Gordon and others

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 269 – Small Axe: Education

 

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, or Spotify.

Small Axe ends with what, based on his 2014 profile in the Guardian, we take to be a tale partially inspired by Steve McQueen’s own childhood. In Education, a young dyslexic boy, Kingsley, is transferred to a school for the “educationally subnormal”, a real practice in the 1970s that disproportionately involved black children. The institution to which he’s sent is barely a school, the children left unsupervised by bored teachers and allowed to run riot – but it’s covertly investigated by a group of activists hoping to fight and end the system.

Mike relates to the film, recognising in Kingsley’s mum the same righteous anger and desire to fight for her son that his own mum showed for him as a youngster, and to its evocation of British school life. (It may be set twenty years prior to his school years, but British kids have had to perform London’s Burning on recorders and tambourines since time immemorial.) The aesthetic evokes the era vividly, the visual quality of the images, the shot selections and editing all perfectly emulating the look of Play for Today, the iconic anthology series. And as with the rest of Small Axe, a concise historical struggle within Britain’s wider racist society is effectively rendered complex…

… up to a point. Though the situation and its effects are complex, the characters are mostly fairly one-note, and the film’s ending is rather pat – even a little phony, though it’s forgivable for this series to want to end on a hopeful note. Still, it’s an intelligent, thoughtful film that fits in perfectly amongst the rest of the series, and as we have throughout, we implore you to watch it all.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 28: Alexandria …. New York

 

An extended discussion of Youssef Chahine’s Alexandria, New York. ‘I love American cinema but America doesn’t love me’. Anyone who loves Chahine’s cinema will find this irresistible. A film made by someone who thinks and knows how to visualise and dramatise. We will see it again. The discussion can be listened to in the player below:

 

The Variety review Richard mentions can be found here: 

There’s also an interesting comment  from a 19 year old: Remembering Chahine a Personal Tribute.

Listeners might also be interesting in the clips below which are discussed in the podcast:

  1. Watching Cairo Station in New York.

2. Watching the Girls Go By (and whose gaze is it?).

A bisexual gaze?

A coming full circle:

New York, New York: An Arab Ending.

Whilst scrambling to collect these clips this morning, Richard and I realised that we were speaking in relation to different prints and his findings might be of interest to some of you. Richard writes:

Very interesting – I’m assuming the 2hr 3 version is an Egyptian edit, and the longer one(2h9m) is the French version. Differences I could find are:

Scene at the dance contest: conversation at the bar is shorter and the presentation of the prize is cut (not clear why this is). Young Yehia walks Ginger home after the dance – their final long kiss is cut.

Scene with the peeping landlady – ends when she appears at Yehia’s door. Entire sequence of him showering in her flat and her joining him is gone. (about 2 minutes cut here)

Later scene where Ginger comes to Yehia’s room and they are interrupted by the landlady – their kiss is cut.

End of this scene where Yehia and Ginger go to bed is also cut.

Sex scene in Yehia’s room when he is planning to leave – opening two minutes of this scene has gone, the shorter cut opens at the end of this sequence with them lying in bed together (so, interestingly, it is still OK to show them in bed) 70s scene with the older Yehia and Ginger in his hotel room – mostly intact but the end of this scene is cut.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 268 – Small Axe: Alex Wheatle

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, or Spotify.

The theme of assimilation is given a fascinating twist in Alex Wheatle, the fourth Small Axe film. While Mangrove and Red, White and Blue, in particular, depicted black people’s attempts to assimilate into mainland British culture and life and the racism they faced, the title character here is a young black man brought up in an abusive children’s home, orphaned from his parents, and whose move to Brixton sees him culturally dislocated and having to, in effect, learn to ‘be black’.

Cultural and familial dislocation are connected through Alex. The abandonment by his parents led to his upbringing by the state, amongst white Britons, and when an influential Rastafarian he meets in prison expounds on the importance of education and knowing one’s past, to Alex, he’s speaking just as much about his personal past as about the history of the African disapora. This is the most interesting aspect of Alex Wheatle and we focus on it, but there’s more to discuss, including the continued invocation of music as a kind of life-giving force, how Alex learns to be black and British and the spaces in which that happens, and director Steve McQueen’s expressive formal visual storytelling.

Alex Wheatle elegantly tells a unique and complex story, and we continue to urge you to watch this remarkable series of films in its entirety.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

A brief note on Bridgerton

I’m generally a supporter of blind casting — love it in much Shakespeare — but am having trouble with it in Bridgerton. If slavery and colonialism is to a considerable extent what funded this class of people and their lifestyle it seems dodgy to me to cast people of colour as Dukes etc in in the series, somehow making black people not only complicit in but actual beneficiaries of the slavery and oppression of their like.

I did end up watching the whole series and very much enjoyed it in the way that I enjoy the rest of Shondaland. But this aspect remans a niggle and I plan to read Kristen J Warner’s The Cultural Politics of Colorblind TV Casting, which I’ve been told is excellent.

 

José Arroyo

A brief note on How To Get Away With Murder

Into the second season of How to Get Away With Murder now and completely immersed in Shondaland. Viola Davis is ferocious in the lead and the show itself is glossy, melodramatic, unafraid of trashyness and yet well-dramatising all the modish issues of the day: the show is very sophisticated on issues of race and gender, and on various representational levels; poverty, social inequality, broader issues of social justice are so far largely absent. In the first season Viola Davis covered up the murder of her husband whilst juggling an affair with Billy Brown. In this season Viola goes full steam on with Famke Jenssen. I like the narrative trope of returning to a primal scene of murder, sometimes as a flashback sometimes as a flash-forward in almost every episode. I love seeing stars of yesterday appearing in key parts (Cecily Tyson, Elizabeth Perkins, Angela Bassett) and given space to make an impact. Every chapter begins with a set of questions seeking solutions; every ending is a cliff-hanger. it’s compulsive, glossy, sexy. Perfect for this time of year.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 267 – Small Axe: Red, White and Blue

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, or Spotify.

Another Steve McQueen rendition of a true story, Red, White and Blue examines institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police, as did Mangrove – but from the inside. Leroy Logan, a research scientist, applies to the police with the express intention of combating its attitude and behaviour towards black people, in part because of his father’s own abuse at their hands.

The theme of black British identity runs throughout Small Axe, and here it’s intriguingly augmented by imagery of the Queen; we discuss how it can be interpreted, including as a symbol of the common nationality the Windrush generation ostensibly shares with British-born white people, and a painful reminder of the fact that that shared identity is not truly embodied, and also as an icon of the establishment Leroy hopes to disrupt and improve. We also concentrate on Leroy’s relationship with his father, which frames the entire film, and how their attitudes, experiences and understanding of each other intersect.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 266 – Mank

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, or Spotify.

José hasn’t seen a worse film from David Fincher than Mank, a contentious biopic of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the screenwriter whose collaboration with Orson Welles resulted in The Greatest Film of All Time™, Citizen Kane. Mike had rather a good time, despite seeing numerous problems with the film, raising the question: How much background knowledge is the right amount for enjoying Mank?

Mank doesn’t even explain, for instance, that the film Mankiewicz and Welles would create is considered one of history’s greatest, so some knowledge of the subject is clearly necessary; too much, though, and its missed opportunities and purposeful alterations to and adaptations of the facts become evident and impossible to ignore. Mike finds that he’s just ignorant – or is that informed – enough to understand the film’s background and setting without going crazy, as José does, as it clashes with his knowledge of the history.

We discuss Mank‘s obvious inspiration in Pauline Kael’s discredited essay, Raising Kane, which argued that Mankiewicz deserved sole credit for Kane‘s screenplay; its flashback structure that shows us where the screenplay came from and why Mankiewicz is the only person who could have written it; its depiction of Hollywood in the 30s (not to mention Mankiewicz in HIS 30s); the parallels that it draws with Hollywood and, more generally, the state of the world today, and more. Almost every criticism José makes, Mike agrees with – but he cannot and will not deny that he had a good time, finding the film witty and energetic where José felt it musty and lethargic. It’s a poor showing from a filmmaker with a largely exceptional oeuvre – unless you’re in that Goldilocks zone with Mike.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.