Wednesday, April 05, 2006

It's been more than a week since i've written anything, and so much has happened. A number of screenings, a lot of TV, current events, et al. And though i've had a lot of thoughts about everything, i've also been hugely depressed. It's depressing to state things and have them come true: people i know don't bother listening to me anymore, and then when what i've said comes true, they act surprised. It's like New Directors/New Films ended, and i told people that the series would get the worst reviews in years, and i was right. Not because i necessarily agreed with the negative reviews (i didn't) but because i always listen when other people are talking after press screenings, so i can figure out what other people think. It doesn't change what i think, but it clues me in to what the critical climate is right now. What are people looking for?

The Tribeca Film Festival started its press screenings, and i've now seen two movies, "The Sci Fi Boys" and "Encounter Point". Once again, i have the sense that a lot of the work will be projected digitally, and a lot of the work (especially the documentary work) will have been shot on digital. And the whole issue of aesthetics will again be muddied. Quite bluntly: most documentaries are not works of art. A simple definition: a work of art is a work of the imagination. Most documentaries do not engage the imagination. A good documentary deals in fact, and illuminates in a factual manner. A documentary is like journalism. But most journalists are not artists. But nowadays, what the hell is the difference? And what is imagination anyway?

Dave Kehr reviewed "The Busby Berkeley Collection" last week, a rather extensive review discussing the aesthetic of Berkeley and comparing Berkeley's usage of space and mass to Leni Riefenstahl (and noting that Susan Sontag made the same comparison in her essay "Fascinating Fascism"). This week, Kehr reviews Universal's "The Glamour Collection", DVD sets of films starring Carole Lombard, Mae West and Marlene Dietrich. Of course, the Dietrich set is essential as "art": it contains three of her films directed by Josef von Sternberg ("Morocco", "Blonde Venus" and "The Devil is a Woman"). But he devoted the most space to discussing Carole Lombard, though it should be noted that she is a very uneven actress: in 1934 (one of her busiest years) she could go from "Twentieth Century" (one of her greatest performances) to "We're Not Dressing" (included in the set, and a fine comic performance) to "Now and Forever" (to be found on DVD on the "Shirley Temple Little Darling Pack"; a flat and uninteresting performance, though she looks sensational). More than most actresses, she needed congenial directors and good scripts and a rapport with the other performers. But even in the era of amazing actresses (Colbert, Arthur, Loy, Hepburn, Davis, Stanwyck, Harlow, Rogers, Russell, Garbo, Dietrich, et al), she was special. The fact that comedy is underrated can be seen in the fact that: she was only nominated once for an Academy Award (the same goes for Jean Arthur, and Loy was never nominated), yet her best performances ("Twentieth Century", "My Man Godfrey", "Nothing Sacred", "To Be or Not to Be") rank with the best ever.

One interesting note: on Turner Classic Movies this month, the guest programmer is Ileana Douglas, and she has programmed three movies in which her grandfather, Melvyn Douglas, costarred. This is amazing to me, because about a decade ago, when she was in "To Die For", one subject that was absolutely verboten to mention was her grandparents: she did not want any mention of Melvyn Douglas or Helen Gahagan. She was trying so hard to distance herself from her grandparents (why? aside from everything else, her grandfather was one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild, and her grandmother ran against Richard Nixon, and would have won, except that Nixon pulled a number of very dirty tricks, which resulted in Melvyn Douglas being blacklisted in the 1950s), but i guess she's relented.

Either that, or Robert Osborne is some sort of real Svengali!

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