Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Well, much as my contention that my interest in the Olympics has waned, at 7 PM i was getting ready to go to the gym, when i turned to CNBC and caught one of my favorite Winter Olympic sports: curling! It was the American women's team versus the Japanese women's team. (The Japanese team won.) When i first saw curling (as a child), i thought it was magic, because i couldn't understand how sweeping in front of the what seemed like a rounded iron could actually make that thing move. Curling is one of those wonderful events that you only get to see during the Olympics, and that's one reason that the Olympics used to be fun. But now curling is regulated to the "bush leagues" of CNBC and not network primetime.

In the recent (odd) brouhaha over Dick Cheney's shooting of a friend, the point seems to be that Cheney has been allowed to go around without any sort of press interest. That's what's frightening: this man, one of the most powerful men in the current administration, is allowed to conduct his business without ANY scrutiny from the press. I mean, the man had to shoot somebody before the press realized that Cheney has been going along without any press attention! (If George W. Bush has always seemed like a petulant Dauphin, this latest incident of Cheney's brings to mind Mel Brooks's French king in "The History of the World, Part I" where he invents the game of shooting peasants.) If this is how Cheney treats friends, i shudder to think what he has planned for his enemies....

Tomorrow, the documentary screening at the Walter Reade Theater is Robert Kramer's "Starting Place." Kramer is one of those very fascinating filmmakers from the 1960s; in his documentaries, such as "Starting Place," the long, often uninflected scenes (which tend to go on) seem to reveal something (an essence, an emotional truth), but when Kramer would do this in his fiction films ("The Edge," "Ice," "Milestones"), the rambling structure seemed to stall, often depleting interest. This semi-documentary approach (which is similar to Shirley Clarke's and John Cassavetes's) has gone from a curiosity to a status of classicism.

(George Robinson, who has a blog http://cine-journal.blogspot.com on this board, has some intriguing comments on Cassavetes, finding a link between Cassavetes's style and television. But there was a whole generation of television directors who moved to the cinema, and this "TV style" defined a lot of American movies of the late 1950s and 1960s: directors like Delbert Mann, Martin Ritt, John Frankenheimer, George Roy Hill, Sidney Lumet, Norman Jewison, Ralph Nelson, Arthur Penn. Whatever qualities these men brought to the movies, there was also something that was missing, a spatial and compositional sense, a visual splendor. And it's symptomatic of how people get used to the loss of this visual quality, that John Ford, who had long been the most honored American film director of all time, has had his reputation eroded. Yet i can't imagine three more beautiful and visually eloquent and genuinely poetic movies than the three movies Ford made in 1939: "Drums Along the Mohawk," "Stagecoach," and "Young Mr. Lincoln," the last of which just came out on DVD from The Criterion Collection. These movies are like reveries of the American past, and perhaps that sense of wonder at what had been assumed as the American heritage is no longer fashionable in this post-modern era of multiculturalism. Still, there are qualities to Ford's best movies which i hope continue to find adherents. I remember when Andrew Sarris wrote, "The last champions of John Ford have now gathered around 'Seven Women' as a beacon of personal cinema." In the 1960s, it didn't seem as if John Ford needed any "last champions"; now, it seems as if it may be too late.)

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