Author Topic: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons  (Read 23545 times)

pixote

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #560 on: May 11, 2018, 06:20:37 PM »
Lubitsch went to Hollywood in 1922, so his German directorial period is a relatively small window. I just watched The Doll (1919) this week (review coming this weekend, hopefully), and its style is definitely more playful and fantastical than I expected from Lubitsch and also much less refined; the work of a young director experimenting to find his style. I'm hoping to catch up with The Marriage Circle (1924) later this month for comparative purposes.

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1SO

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #561 on: May 11, 2018, 10:44:59 PM »
I've seen The Doll and The Oyster Princess (1919), but for me Lubitsch hit his stride with his collaborations with Maurice Chevalier...
The Love Parade (1929)
The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
One Hour with You (1932)
The Merry Widow (1934)
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #562 on: May 12, 2018, 03:36:46 AM »
Oh, I'd assumed he left Germany because of the rise of Nazism, but he left much earlier than that then.

I assume his Maurice Chevalier films are also full of mysteriously English-speaking Europeans, huh ? I suppose I should get to that at some point though, I should see at least some of Chevalier's work.
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #563 on: May 15, 2018, 11:45:05 AM »
Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder, 1950)



Adam & Matty's takes (stars at 33:59)

This is a Very Good Film.

That about wraps it up right ? I don't know, this is the kind of film I don't know what to say about. What's great about it is pretty obvious, but I can't endlessly rhapsodize about it either because I didn't quite fall in love with it. I'm not sure why that is, maybe the many layers of meta-narrative kept it at a bit of a distance for me ? I'm not sure. Maybe I just didn't care enough about the romance part of it, even though Nancy Olson is rather charming ? Maybe it's because William Holden is merely adequate as the lead, and has trouble keeping up with Gloria Swanson ?

Maybe. But those are all small things, really, because not only is this great in obvious ways, it's also fun. To the point that I thought early on I had been mistaken about this really being a noir rather than a noir pastiche... and frankly I'm still not sure how much of it is meant to be taken seriously. I think that's a result of the subject matter: once you're making a film about a screenwriter, with a character bemoaning the prevalence of dialogue in current films... well it's hard not to think about the man behind the camera (who happens to be known for his prowess at writing dialogue) and to think everything is a commentary of narrative conventions, up to and including the typical noir framing device and obligatory voice-over narration.

Gloria Swanson embodies that dichotomy within the film, starting as this over-the-top character that seems ridiculously out of touch with reality: her house is shot like Dracula's castle (with Bach's Toccata and Fugue to hammer that point home) and it now just occurs to me that this might be another meta touch, since one of the classic silent female characters was the "vamp", as in "seductive woman". She becomes the tragic heart of the film though, and I think that ambiguous relationship the whole film seems to have to her delusional and ridiculous but ultimately sympathetic character  is also that of Wilder to, well, cinema if not Hollywood. That is reflected in a more tender way through the character of Cecil B. DeMille... played by Cecil B. DeMille, which I did not know about going in. He's good, and gets much more than a cameo (as opposed to Keaton and the other "wax figures") which was doubly surprising. DeMille has faded in reputation nowadays, but I assume Wilder held him in high regard to give him this role here, one that contrasts a lot with the cynical protagonist who Wilder might have been closer to, but I guess I don't know enough about him to speculate on that.

It's hard to say how impactful lines like "I AM big, it's the pictures that got small" and "I'm ready for my close-up" would have been had I not known about them beforehand: the latter is still rather powerful and that whole sequence is a very fitting ending, but as a result I might not have had the feeling of discovery that I would have needed to hail the film as a masterpiece. Not that it matters, enough people have already (including Adam & Matty here), and I still have two of those coming up.

8/10
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #564 on: September 22, 2018, 12:57:35 PM »
*thread slowly rises from the grave while Also Sprach Zarathustra plays*

The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945)



Adam & Matty's takes (stars at 26:26)

I've never been addicted to a substance, probably because I know how easily I get addicted to other things and am very, very wary of opening myself up to things like smoking or drinking. I say this to explain that, despite not being a drinker, I felt like I could relate to Ray Milland's character a lot: it doesn't hurt that the reasons he has for drinking (ie not quite amounting to as much as he expected to) hit pretty close to home as well. So I found it easy to get invested in the film, and Wilder's depiction of addiction seems quite universal and effective to me, be it alcoholism or something else.

Ray Milland is excellent in the main role, especially when it comes to portraying the pain and anguish of his condition. It's a pretty big performance, but at the right pitch for the story I think, though I wish we felt the passing of time more. Here, the flashback structure muddles things a bit and the whole "4-day bender" thing ends up being more abstract than I would like. Because of the focus on a character losing his self-control, there are hints of something like Repulsion here, but Wilder doesn't go quite that far (even the hallucinations are pretty mild) and instead spends too much time with side characters he doesn't really bother writing with enough depth. From the brother who gives up on him to the woman at the bar who seems inexpicably attracted to him (he doesn't seem to be that fun a drunk), and of course Jane Wyman as his unwaveringly supportive girlfriend. It all seems to be there mainly so that the film can arrive at its conclusion, which is one of those quickly expedited Hays Code endings. The problem isn't that it ends well, but that it ends lazily, as if his problems were just a matter of finding the will to "get over it". I don't think the film quite argues that, in that it has too much empathy for its main character for that, but it is disappointingly simple.

I don't know how much of it reflects Wilder's own life: because Milland plays a writer, it's impossible not to think of Wilder and to wonder if he struggled with the same problem, and if that's what moved him to make a film that ends up feeling like a long PSA. It's a very well-directed PSA though and beside Milland's performance, it benefits from a pretty effective Miklos Rozsa's score which reminded me at times of Bernard Herrman's score. Vertigo, mostly, but Taxi Driver also came to mind even though the scores are obviously quite different (this is a pretty typical and loud Classic Hollywood score) because there are some exhoes of Travis Bickle in the protagonist's darkest moments here. His alienation never turns to violence (well, not towards others anyway), but there is a commonnality in that they are both characters who are self-destroying in a big city: the difference is that our main character here somehow has people to support him, which is perhaps the least convincing part of Brackett and Wilder's script.

7/10
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #565 on: September 24, 2018, 06:42:26 PM »
Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)



Adam & Matty's takes (starts at 34:08)

Wilder's take on screwball, which sounds great on paper, except the screwball comedy this most reminded me of is Bringing Up Baby, and that's not a good sign, for me. I guess it's the high-concept of it all, though I'm not really bothered by the story being unbelievable. I am bothered by it feeling artificial though. Sam praises the characters here, but I don't see that much in the way of character here, aside from Marilyn. Jack Lemmon is really good, and him fully embracing the courtship is comedy gold, but is it really character-motivated ? It seems to me that it happens because it's the funniest thing that could happen, and there's nothing wrong with that when it really is funny, but not all of it works as well. Bringing it back to Bringing Up Baby, I don't think Curtis' Grant impression works at all. I don't even know if it's supposed to be an impression or if it's just Curtis being lazy when havint to portray a bumbling nerdy type... but then again I didn't like the original performance either, so what do I know ?

If I sound down on the film, it's because I am, but only relative to its status. It's still pretty funny, and Monroe is iconic of course... though I'll confess I'm uncomfortable with her, here and in other films with the full Marilyn persona. It always feels exploitative of her, and it's entirely possible that I'm robbing her out of her agency by assuming she was being exploited, but... well I suppose I'd feel differently had she lived. She is good here though, for the most part, and I suspect the reason I didn't buy into the romance aspect is more Curtis than her. It's not that he's bad, but it's a very arch-performance which he never manages to ground really, unlike Lemmon, who's just as big but still works as a character, at least in the moment. Curtis is always transparently performing, even when his character isn't, exaggerating the "virility" of his voice to accentuate the contrast.

The cross-dressing concept, aside from the wacky hijinks it allows to ensue, does allow Wilder to insert some light social commentary here and there, though even that's pretty dicey, as it's just slightly harder to laugh at sexual harrasment these days, but that's really not Wilder's fault. I do think the film works better when it's about them in drag than when it's trying to be a gangster film, mainly because of Lemmon but also because there's some annoying smugness in Wilder's script when it comes to the 1929-ness of it all, with characters commenting on things like the stock market always going up and never falling, or random sports prediction that I'm sure were "hilariously" wrong. The more I think about this film, the more obvious it is to me that it's basically a mess that's saved from failure by Lemmon's performance, and Monroe's to a lesser extent.

I do wonder if I'm missing something subversive here, as it does all seem too broad and simple for a Wilder script, and I'm sure a film with such a heightened place in the canon has to have some interest to it beyond the entertainment value. Not that it'd need to, but watching it, it felt like a big studio productions centered around stars and a wacky high-concept more than an artist's vision. The whole point of the "politique des auteurs" was to reconcile those two ideas obviously, but I have some trouble finding where this all fits in for Wilder. Hopefully that'll be clearer once I'm done with this leg of the marathon.

6/10
« Last Edit: September 25, 2018, 12:40:40 PM by Teproc »
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oldkid

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #566 on: September 24, 2018, 09:40:51 PM »
I wasn't as much of a fan of Some Like it Hot, either.  The sexual politics seems dated somehow, even though you have two men getting married.  I suppose it is the tone of it, rather than the content.  Merilyn seems very in control, actually.  But still, it isn't a humor I care for.  And I'm a fan of Bringing Up Baby, which is silly but fun.
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #567 on: September 25, 2018, 12:44:58 PM »
I wasn't as much of a fan of Some Like it Hot, either.  The sexual politics seems dated somehow, even though you have two men getting married.  I suppose it is the tone of it, rather than the content.  Merilyn seems very in control, actually.  But still, it isn't a humor I care for.  And I'm a fan of Bringing Up Baby, which is silly but fun.

It made me think of Bringing Up Baby because it's the best example I know of a screwball comedy that's just too excessively zany and, well, screwball for me, but it's also probably Curtis's impression of Cary Grant reminding me specifically of his bumbling character in BUB. I'm wondering what makes you say Marilyn seems in control ? Her character is sympathetic and not as ditzy as she could be I suppose, but she still mostly seems to be there to be sexy. She has some fun lines, but they're often at her character's expense, which is what her whole thing was, but I guess that's what I always feel uncomfortable with.
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #568 on: September 29, 2018, 05:55:57 AM »
The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)



Adam & Matty's takes (starts at 36:48)

I recently watched the first season of Mad Men again, and there is an episode in which a few characters discuss seeing The Apartment and the way in which in relates to their lives. Knowing I would watch it for this, I took note of it, but I didn't expect it to feel so familiar, to the point that Wilder's film was obviously a major influence on Matthew Weiner, something everyone else was probably already aware of but oh well, it's never too late to learn. There's (slightly) less drinking and smoking going on here, but the cruel office/sexual politics and the underlying sadness beneath the comedy is all there, which did surprise me to some extent. It's very frank and casual about what goes on in the apartment, which is pretty bold for an era in which the Hays Code was technically still in place, though obviously crumbling.

The Apartment also differs visually from the Wilder films I've seen so far in its widescreen format, which Wilder uses to great effect with C.C. Baxter's seemingly never-ending office, which does a lot of work to help establish his character. Seeing him in that setting underlines the mediocrity and sadness of the character which allows Lemmon to be more broadly comedic: in just a few moments, that juxtaposition paints a full picture of the character and sets up the stakes for the film. He's a charming goofball and a "nice guy", but his most defining characteristic is being the ultimate pushover, the quintessential yes-man, which inevitably leads him to moral bankruptcy. Him realizing that and growing a spine is more or less the point of the film*, which I suppose is why Adam & Matty discuss the idea of Shirley MacLaine as a proto-Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I see their points, but I never felt that way during the film because MacLaine's performance is so, so strong: as much as Jack Lemmon is the focal point of the film, I think she is the standout performer here. Though I agree with Adam that her infatuation with McMurray is somewhat bewildering, I take her despair as motivated by a more general desperation with her situation in life. The way MacLaine conveys that deep sadness is ultimately what makes her work so well as a character, which I think disqualifies her from MPDG-dom (-ness ?), despite her bubbliness with Lemmon.

It's also a very funny film, which I should probably state since I'm making it sound so depressing. That it can be both is where Wilder's genius as a screenwriter shows of course (as well as the two main performances, again), but there is something that bothers me about the whole thing and prevents it from being a true favorite for me. It's the ending, but not just the ending: Lemmon's whole arc really. His interactions with MacLaine fit the trope of the "nice guy" so well, and the film ultimately revolves around him making a change and "getting the girl". There's something false about the ending, and I don't see the ambiguity in it that Adam seems to, I think we're meant to believe that he got the prize he rightly deserved for his moral righteousness, and that's MacLaine. Given how prevalent this idea of the nice guy who deserves a woman has become in our society (it shows up a bit in the podcast actually, in ways that it wouldn't in current Filmspotting episodes I might add), it makes the whole thing very uncomfortable to me, and not in a way that I think Wilder intended. Add to that the strange exchange in which Lemmon recites MacLaine's whole personal information, which she unexplicably finds delightful rather than creepy... it's certainly unfair to criticize the film for social implications that might have been very different in 60s America, but I can't help how a scene like that makes me squirm and distracts from the central romance.

This is a quibble more than anything though, there is still plenty to appreciate, and I'd consider this my favorite Wilder so far by a fair margin.

8/10

*I can think of a select group of senators who one might want to show The Apartment too in the coming week.
« Last Edit: September 29, 2018, 06:23:32 AM by Teproc »
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Sandy

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #569 on: September 29, 2018, 07:31:37 PM »
Great read, Teproc.  :)

If you'd like to see another great performance by Shirley Maclaine, I recommend Some Came Running. She holds nothing back.
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