It’s great to see D.W. Griffith’s scandalously underrated and neglected last feature (1931)–already available on VHS, finally just out on DVD–recognized, and for the right reasons, by Dave Kehr in his DVD column in the New York Times today. And on Dave’s web site, he’s thoughtfully featured the above lobby card. [11/18/08]
Okay, this 1952 Leo McCarey melodrama is flawed, even deranged in its second half, when the combined difficulties of Robert Walker’s sudden death during the film’s production and McCarey’s crazed view of the Communist Menace yield a creepy form of paranoid hysteria and delirium. But this is also one of the most moving and complexly felt movies McCarey ever made — also one of the best acted, especially for Walker, Helen Hayes, and Dean Jagger. Writing about Robert Warshow many years ago, Donald Phelps wrongly accused him of overrating Monsieur Verdoux but rightly accused him of underrating this film. Its continuing unavailability on DVD is a disservice both to McCarey’s memory and to his audience. [11/16/08]
We’ve finally elected a grownup.
John McCain’s concession speech was his finest moment.
The major triumph, at least potentially, isn’t left over right but unity over disunity. Which means that President Obama is bound to do some things that will distress his more progressive supporters as well as other things that will upset his detractors. His Lincolnesque brief—to end another Civil War, or at least to call a cease-fire—virtually guarantees this. But assuming that it’s still possible to think and act and feel together, it’s a hopeful start. [11/5/08]
Far be it for me to invent wimpy liberal alibis for police corruption in 1928 Los Angeles, punitive electroshock, a pederast serial killer, and cosmic injustice in general, but the main thing wrong with Clint Eastwood’s view of evil in this movie is how childish it seems. I don’t care if he’s 78 and apparently has some fixation about innocent boys abducted by sex maniacs; even if the plot periodically suggests a remake of Mystic River, the cackling villains belong in a Hopalong Cassidy western, not to mention Dirty Harry. The opening intertitle calls this “a true story,” but whether it’s verifiable that Christine Collins was really saved from electroshock just in the nick of time by Hopalong (John Malkovich, in the film’s only interesting performance) coming to her rescue is a matter worthy of some skepticism. And even if that really happened, would it justify Angelina Jolie’s terrible Oscar-mongering performance and all the attendant grandstanding, gigantic close-ups, and directorial pretensions that this movie’s “dark” view of human existence is some form of maturity? All I could think about was the usual compulsive kid stuff–McCain and Palin fulminating about the “good guys” and “bad guys”. [11/2/08]
Only about nine minutes into The Magnificent Ambersons, we enter the front door of the Amberson mansion along with a few guests to attend their grand ball, and the film not only moves into high gear; it leaps to a summit so high that in a way all that the remaining 70-add minutes of the film can do after this sequence is refer back to it, recall it, cross-reference it in numerous ways.
It’s almost 22 minutes into the 1954 A Star is Born when, along with Norman Maine, we enter the front door of a sleepy after-hours cabaret where swing musicians and a vocalist, Esther Blodgett, are performing exclusively for themselves. Esther casually slides into a chorus of “The Man Who Got Away”, and slowly she builds from there. Once again, a film suddenly leaps to such a high level of intensity , in this case for about four minutes, that all the remainder of the film—in this case, 150 minutes—can do is fitfully and wistfully remember that pinnacle, refer back to it musically and emotionally in a variety of ways.
Both films, of course, surivive today in the form of ruins, so we can’t speak about them as integral works with any confidence; even the “restored” A Star is Born is an incomplete similacrum. Yet it seems that even in their original forms, they suffered as well as thrived on the peculiar fact that they peak so early. All of the ensuing and interminable anticlimax has to proceed as a kind of slow recovery from that initial stretch of ecstasy. [11/1/08]