Bowfinger (Frank Oz, 1999)

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Another comedy about Hollywood filmmaking, this one written by Steve Martin, who knew a thing or two about it, that somehow passed me by when first released. Eddie Murphy plays the biggest star in Hollywood (and his cousin). Steve Martin is  making a film on the fly, starring Murphy´s character, without his knowing it. It´s full of terrific gags, a very pointed commentary on the Hollywood of the time. But the Heather Graham character comes across as too sexist now I think, and Baransky as an earnest, slightly deluded diva, doesn´t quite make up for it. Robert Downey is very good as a Hollywood insider. Murphy is phenomenal.´We´re trying to make a movie here, not a film!

The Spearchucker bit above and the Buck the Wonder Slave gag below are terrific:

 

José Arroyo

 

 

Hellzappoppin (H.C.Potter, USA, 1941)

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Thinking about films about filmmaking and/or Hollywood led me to Hellzappoppin. I don’t know why I avoided it for so long. I suppose I thought the humour would be dumb, cheap, low-down, coarse, which of course it is. But it is also very clever with it. It tries to get laughs from practically everything at all times and I often succumbed. It has great audio-visual gags, humour made possible only by the medium itself, something which contemporary comedy directors could learn from.

 

Some examples below:

 

 

As you can see above some of the humour, well done as it is, is cartoonish, talking dogs that comment on talking bears, the leaky suit etc.

But some of the gags are unthinkable without cinema, here above, following from The Invisible Man, making an entire sequence around disappearing tops and disappearing bottoms, and ending the gag with the double exposure. Hellzappoppin was based on a hit Broadway play but the mediu was definitely taken into account for the movie.

‘Ít´s a great picture see how much it weighs.’ Ít´s a movie, we change everything’. The dialogue is brilliant and the visual gags fantastic. See how the pictures talk back, the comment on the story, which is a comment on cinema. A friend said Olsen and Johnson don´t just break the fourth wall, they explode it.

‘There never has been a picture without a story and there never will be a picture without a story’ But there is space and here Olsen and Johnson move through a whole series of spaces in the studio.

There are songs throughout, good ones, and some terrific lindy hopping but then note how the whole Stinky Miller gag is developed here, through writing over the images, then we see the shadow of Stinky leaving the theatre, before the protagonists also draw their own vision of happyness on-screen. Brechtian evokes some of the techniques but none of the pleasures. The film takes pleasure, and makes humour from,  every aspect of cinema, uses the form to make gags with, and even goes beyond it to the projection booth and the audience.

Hellzappoppin is not seamless, there will be elements that will jar. But it is brilliant and made me think of this great video essay by Tony Zhou. Everything that Zhou admires in Edgar Wright´s comedy (and finds lacking in much of the rest of contemporary comedy films) can be found in Hellzappoppin. In spades. Mischa Auer is terrific, and seeing Martha Ray on the rampage after him is a sight to behold.

José Arroyo

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My Name is Julia Ross (Joseph H. Lewis,

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A Columbia quickie, on the Gothic end of the noir spectrum, directed with great flair by Joseph H. Lewis, director of Gun Crazy (1950) and The Big Combo (1955), and thus one of the most significant figures in noir. Nina Foch, pre An American in Paris is Julia Ross,  a middle-class working girl on her uppers and desperate for a job. George Macready, pre-Gilda, is Ralph, quick to temper and overly interested in knives. His mother, Mrs. Hughes (Dame May Whitty) is the only who can control her son and is overly protective. She has set up a whole personnel agency just to  find the right live-in personal secretary. There’s a great point made about no family and no attachments and we’ll soon learn why.

Julia goes to work one night and wakes up a prisoner in a rand cliff-side house in Cornwall, with the staff told she’s Ralph’s wife and so nuts they must ignore what she says. Why are they doing this to her? How will she escape? The film bears a loose resemblance to Rebecca and is worth seeing today for the ingenious ways Lewis figures a woman imprisoned in a world of shadows (see images below).

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The Arrow Academy release features a very good introductory essay by Adrian Martin and an intriguing discussion by Nora Fiore, of Nitrate Diva Fame, on the relationship between the film and the social context it was made and released in.

 

José Arroyo

Too Late for Tears (Byron Haskin, 1949)

 

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A film noir I hadn´t seen before. Cheap, pulpy, lurid, hard-boiled, and rotten to its core. Just the way I like ’em. A bag of cash is thrown into the wrong car and the rest of the film is about everyone it doesn´t belong to trying to get their hands on it. Lizabeth Scott makes a bid to be the most fatal of femmes in the whole of film noir. She lies, and lies and lies. She cons and schemes and scams and is also able to come up with a new story every time she´s cornered. She´s so cool and collected she drives even Dan Duryea to drink. ´Don´t ever change,’ he tells her, ‘I wouldn´t like to see what you´re like with a heart’. Good thing because her heart is nowhere evident. Men fall like flies. Scott is totally inexpressive and completely great. She only livens up when her eyes focus on cash, diamonds or furs. Her heart beats only to the good life and she positively glistens to a kill. As to the saps…I mean the men… Oy, vey! The film is nothing special visually. Except for Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea, the cast is second-rate. But it´s got real narrative propulsion and completely basks in the seamy underside of life like great pulp is meant to. I loved it.

 

The Arrow Academy transfer is a pleasure to watch with very fine extras by Alex K Rode and a documentary on the film´s restoration. A must have for noir aficionados.

 

José Arroyo

Born Yesterday (George Cukor, 1950)

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Of the films I´ve been seeing recently that I loved as a child, Born Yesterday has been the most disappointing. It´s relative of course. The film is certainly interesting and entertaining; and the political satire, a relatively brave choice for a popular entertainment in the midst of the McCarthy era, seems more relevant than ever. The travelogue elements of how we´re shown Washington D.C. must have been a real attraction then and still work now. And surely playing writers chased by Gloria Swanson and Judy Holliday in two of the hit films of that year — Sunset Boulevard was the other one —  is what must have catapulted William Holden into being a proper box-office star? Still that said, the film is overly pat and a little preachy, Broderick Crawford´s performance is a bit coarse, and Holliday, whom I adore, seems overly rehearsed. She´s great — it´s her most celebrated performance — but not quite real, every line reading fuelled by a clearly visible intention for very particular effects. The revelation of the re-watching has been Holden: A subtle performance, really understated and yet bringing charm and liveliness to a completely thankless role.It makes me uneasy also that the villain is a working class self-made millionaire who´s worked since he was twelve. The faith in the system is touching, its mythification less so. There are reasons the Garson Kanin´s play isn´t much revived: everything´s a bit pat and mechanical, though Cukor´s direction is controlled, masterful really, and opens up the play in interesting ways. 

 

The Arrow Academy transfer is lovely and Pam Hutchtinson´s introductory essay is excellent. But talking-head discussion, even by prominent academics, make for quite dull extras. A disappointment, if only in relation to my memory of it. 

José Arroyo

The Heiress (William Wyler, 1949)

 

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The Heiress is so great. There must be other films that are about the slow, brutal realisation that one is unloved, even by one’s nearest and dearest, and how that knowledge closes off and diminishes a person, but I can’t think of any. It would make a great double bill with Now, Voyager which has an almost opposite trajectory, ie learning to value and love oneself. Also interesting is the different traditions of acting all the protagonists –Olivia de Havilland, Ralph Richardson, Montgomery Clift, Miriam Hopkins –work in, and which Wyler prevents from clashing. Montgomery Clift is arguably at his most beautiful in the opening sequences. Wonderfully directed too so that space itself becomes allegorical (the uses of the staircase in the house).  I want to explore the ending of the film more because doesn´t she in fact end up doing what her father wanted to and she herself railed against? In a way isn´t she defeated, bitter, vengeful and shut-in in her house, as her father wanted. Doesn´t patriarchy still win out in spite of Monty knocking desperately and helplessly at the door?
The Criterion is a great edition, and hidden amidst the extras is a fascinating short film on the role of the costume designer, using Edith Head’s decision making process through a film as a means to illustrate it.
José Arroyo

Frame Grabs from Godard´s Le mépris

I hadn´t seen the film for years. I´d forgotten how beautiful it is. Each frame a painting, as they say, filmed by Raoul Coutard. And each evocative, expressive, beautiful. But it´s 24 of them a second, part of a shot, often accompanied by dialogue or Georges Delerue´s beautiful score. And there´s Bardot, and Piccoli, and Jack Palance and Lang and Bazin and cinema as it once was, and even then in the process of becoming something else. I couldn´t stop myself from grabbing frames. It´s on MUBI.

 

José Arroyo

A note on the ´33 and ´49 versions of Little Women

The Greta Gerwig Little Women needs to be great because the Cukor-Hepburn one is perfect. Plus having the additional bonus of being, along with King Kong and Mae West, the sociological phenomenon of 1933. It´s a pity it´s not more seen:

 

Watching the ´49 version of Little Women only made me appreciate the 1933 Cukor-Hepburn version more. The 1933 version roots it in the Civil War, privation, self-sacrifice, kindness, family, sisterhood, complicated interpersonal relationships, and with a kind of yankee fierceness that is completely lacking in the sop of the ´49,. To see June Allyson after Hepburn is merely to see lack, where Hepburn was romantic, tomboyish, determined, longing to be an artist and a free woman, Allyson simply lowers her voice and juts her jaw. And even with that she´s better than Peter Lawford. A starry cast almost entirely wasted, Mary Astor certainly is, though Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret O´Brian have their moments (if only a few). Comparing the two is like comparing the illustrated comic of the novel to the novel itself. Same plot, more gloss, more shine, less depth and way less charm. I´d forgotten how important the Christmas setting is to all versions

 

José Arroyo

Montparnasse 19 (Jacques Becquer, France,1958)

I saw Montparnasse 19 as a child and never forgot it. Seeing it again now I understand why it is unforgettable: the framing, the lighting, the composition of Gérard Philipe as Modigliani, in medium close-ups, suffering for his art, which no one is interested in, as Lilli Palmer, Anouk Aimee, and other women who love him look on helplessly, is very powerful. I’d forgotten Lino Ventura is also in it. Jacques Becker is such a great director, leaving actors their space and privileging their faces, and in this case that of the greatest romantic actor of his generation. Every frame does indeed seem not so much a painting as a work of art in itself. The Arrow edition is beautiful. It includes an appreciation by Ginette Vincendeau, which I look forward to seeing.

 

I’ve written previously on a memory of the film vs an encounter with a portrait of Modigliani here.

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 202 – Cats

 

The podcast you´ve all been waiting for. Mike is so traumatised, he can only continue watching from the safety of the exit. I was entranced. There was cosplay in the audience. We disagree throughout. it´s great:

 

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

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 201 – Marriage Story

A beautifully observed, intelligently written and transparently played drama, Marriage Story shows the separation of two people with deep and ongoing love for each other, and how they change under the stress of their marriage breakup. Mike argues that it’s an advert for therapy, the unread notes in which each partner describes what they love about the other, with which the film opens, returning structurally despite the descent into legal hell and gamesmanship. José remarks upon the generosity the film has towards its characters and the magic that Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver bring, and Mike picks up on the length of some scenes, scenes that move smoothly and in real time through evolving conversations.

Marriage Story is on Netflix now and worth your time.

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

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

Atom Eyogan Interview for Cinema Canada

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What one finds trawling through the internet: This was the cover story for the October 1987 issue of Cinema Canada, on the occasion of the release of Egoyan´s Family Viewing and timed to coincide with that year´s Toronto International Film Festival. The image above is a sad photocopy of a too-used magazine of what was originally quite a beautifully coloured image. The full article can be accessed by clicking on the link at the botton:

 

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For the full interview click on the link below:

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Eavesdropping at the Movies: 199 – The Report

 

Adam Driver and Annette Bening shine in writer-director Scott Z. Burns’ historical drama The Report, about Senate staffer Daniel Jones and Senator Dianne Feinstein’s work to investigate the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11. Mike’s been filling up on this stuff lately, quite by coincidence, watching old episodes of The Daily Show; José didn’t even know what the film was about, and the difference in our responses is perhaps quite telling, the film not going out of its way to help its audience into its murky waters, leaving it up to them to pick up on what it’s on about.

In that respect, it’s a film that requires and respects its audience’s attention and intelligence, though it could do more in dramatic terms to earn it. It’s rather a dry affair, though not without its charms – in particular those of its lead actors, who captivate every second they’re on screen. The story is told partially in flashback, depicting the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and the main plot covers the better part of a decade, shifting from initial questions to the depths of Jones’ secretive study, to the fight he and Feinstein face to get it published – and Burns structures all of this well and narrates it admirably smoothly. Unfortunately, he’s content to descend into bog-standard platitudes about the greatness of America being its desire to admit its own mistakes and rancid behaviour, without ever addressing the idea that behaving that way might be equally American.

We compare the film, as we so often do with films about institutional failure and corruption, to Spotlight, the story of the Boston Globe’s exposure of child abuse in the Catholic Church, in particular the complexity of that film’s investigation and apportioning of blame, Mike arguing that the Globe’s realisation of its own part in the cover-up is a crucial and necessary complicating factor, and not something we see here, with the goodies of the Senate and the baddies of the CIA entirely separate – there’s indictment of the people behind the programme of torture that was known to be useless was pursued, but only the barest, most superficial indictment of the culture that produced and allowed it.

Despite these issues, Mike remains a fan of the film, finding it a well-told story for the most part that does more than simply illustrate its historical context and the arguments therein, and José, who is less familiar with this stuff and has less of an interest in it, is also glad to have seen it, and our discussion was an enjoyable one. The Report is on Amazon Prime and worth a watch.

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

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

The Simulacro Magazine Interview

An interview with moi-même. Julia Scrive-Loyer had the wit to ask the questions. Delighted that it´s for Simulacro, one of the prettiest and most engaging of cinephile magazines . And the photo is by the great Jaime Guerra. It´s in Spanish, so those of you who don´t speak the language get the added thrill of looking it all up in the dictionary like early Anglo cinephiles did with Cahiers:

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The link to the magazine is here: https://www.simulacromag.com/entrevistas/2019/12/17/eavesdropping-con-jos-arroyo?fbclid=IwAR24UMJr0kilgu_KzWoJq99lRrd3iz0Jf2USUxxbVRVXrjQITdghAJzjixQ

 

José Arroyo

 

Eva Kastelic and José Arroyo on ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’

Eva Kastelic and José Arroyo explore the slow unravelling of character personalities and psychologies in ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’, the anime-influenced and critically acclaimed Nickelodeon animated series.

Depth of Field

Eva Kastelic and José Arroyo explore the slow unravelling of character personalities and psychologies in ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’, the anime-influenced and critically acclaimed Nickelodeon animated series.

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Eavesdropping at the Movies:198 – Harriet

A truly deserved biopic, Harriet tells the story of the escaped slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who served as part of the Underground Railroad, undertaking several journeys to liberate around 70 slaves, and later serving as in the Union Army during the American Civil War (this latter part of her life forming the film’s coda, as its focus is her escape to Philadelphia and rescue missions).

Despite its obvious value, though, it’s poorly told story, with a depiction of Tubman’s devout religiousness and prophetic visions that serves to confuse more than express or inspire, and too little tension in what are really action scenes, too little sense of hardship in Tubman’s escape, work, and life. We try to keep in mind that our relationship to Tubman’s story is distanced, that its importance as a black narrative and feminist narrative is easy for us to be blind to when all we can see are flaws, but ultimately we find the film a let-down.

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

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 197 – Jay and Silent Bob Reboot

 

A trip to the Mockingbird Cinema in the Custard Factory yields a massively hyped up and receptive audience of fat white blokes for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. Mike is one of them, and he’s never been harder to pick out of a lineup, laughing like a drain at the fan service and antics. José isn’t, and he was already a bit too old for Kevin Smith when he emerged in the 90s, but he has almost as good a time as everyone else there. The film is huge fun and creates a palpable sense of community, filled with friends and family, incorporating in-jokes and characters from throughout Smith’s work – it’s pure comfort food for its fans.

We think about Smith as a figure, his reputation as a writer who can barely direct, and what he takes pride in. And we look over his filmography, José thinking back on what made Chasing Amy radical in its day, and Mike suggesting that with Jersey Girl and Cop Out, Smith’s reputation, and perhaps an external factor or two (remember Bennifer?) played a part in the hostile reception for two films he found perfectly acceptable and even charming.

He’s an interesting figure, Kevin Smith, a director whose cinematic reputation is outshone by his stardom as an individual, something to which his mighty legion of podcasts and Q&As speaks – indeed, Reboot‘s UK screenings come with a bespoke post-credits Q&A, and Smith is accompanying the film around the US and Canada on its roadshow release – but his films have earned and maintained a devoted following for 25 years now, something to which the audience tonight can attest. Wherever Reboot is showing, it’s worth checking out, because with an audience as up for it as ours was, it’s a special event.

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

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

In Conversation with John Gibbs

I´m an admirer of  John Gibbs’ work on the ´Long Take,´on mise-en-scène, and on style-based criticism; on his careful consideration of the implications of various choices on film style; on the ways style and meaning intersect. It´s work that often requires reading of the text in conjunction with viewing, usually before and after, and occasionally even multiple times thereafter. His videographic criticism seems a natural extension of his previous practice in prose: observant, detailed, precise.

I´ve found that, like his scholarly work in prose, his videographic criticism similarly enhances my understanding and appreciation of film style in general and the particular works his video essays explore, sometimes in ways that prove truly illuminating. As John says, it´s a means of extending both the methods and subjects of style-based criticism but with perhaps a different kind of relationship with an audience, more immediate and with a wider reach.

I was keen to talk to him about all of this and in the podcast above we discuss how videographic criticism offers new possibilities to engage with the rich texture of movies and to extend methods of style-based criticism. We explore non-linear, non-hierarchical approaches to film history, how they present new possibilities of dealing with detailed analysis of film whilst also offering greater access to criticism and the potential for a wider audience. We chat about how good video essays enable the works to speak for themselves whilst simultaneously providing particular types of analyses to criticism, new tools for teaching, and different means through which students may achieve excellence. John mentions how videographic criticism often construct a journey of point of view through an experience, more like a filmmaker than an essayist in a traditional sense and some of the these forms invite a different kind of engagement, particularly considering the different kinds of practices going on — part of the excitement — and their relationship to found footage filmmaking, gallery art practice etc.

 

The conversation refers to particular works of videographic criticism by John Gibbs (including his collaborations with Douglas Pye) and you can see them below.

 

 

 

José Arroyo