Saturday, February 17, 2007

I'm still a technological idiot, but now i'm blogging on my Google account. (I have no idea what this means.) In the past few days, have seen a bunch of movies, press screenings from the Rendez-vous with French Cinema series at the Walter Reade Theater, and the end of the Independent Spirit Awards Netflix queue. The last movie: a screener for "The Painted Veil". Surprise, surprise: a very well-done old-fashioned movie. In fact, quite a beautiful old-fashioned studio movie. Except that it isn't a studio movie, it's an independent production. A symptom of what's happening: here is material that was done (twice) as a big-budget star vehicle (in 1934, as an MGM vehicle for Garbo; in 1957, as an MGM followup for Eleanor Parker who had just had a huge hit for MGM in "Interrupted Melody"), now it's being done as an independent with Edward Norton and Naomi Watts (who are quite wonderful). It's well-written (by Ron Nyswaner) and well-directed (by John Curran)... the location shooting in China is spectacular. everything is so well-crafted... yet why was the movie made? In short: in an independent film, there's usually a sense of someone's passion which motivates the project. But Larry and i really liked this version of "The Painted Veil". (Talked about this movie with Ronnie Scheib, who reviewed it for Variety; she said that it is old-fashioned, and it is well-done, and you keep waiting for it to get really stupid or anachronistic, but it doesn't, and that's why it's surprising.)

Now, i still have three weeks on my free Netflix subscription, and Larry and i have decided to see some of the "indie" or foreign releases which i didn't get press screening invites. The first three: Wim Wenders's "Don't Come Knocking", Andrew Bujalski's "Mutual Appreciation" and the Mexican Julian Hernandez's "Broken Sky". I can't wait. I know that Amy Taubin and Jim Hoberman (among others) really liked "Mutual Appreciation"; Armond White really recommends "Broken Sky". And after that, the Portuguese film "Two Drifters" is next on my queue; i know that Nathan Lee recommended that film. So Larry and i are ctatching up on releases that we didn't get to in 2006.

We did see "Infamous". Very problematic. I don't really want to go into it. But one problem: the "research" is skewed. I'll use an analogy: in "I Shot Andy Warhol", the Warhol that is on display si the gnomic, withdrawn Warhol, the post-shooting Andy. But the Andy of the mid-1960s... he wasn't loud (he was neverloud) but Warhol used to chatter incessantly (this can be seen in a documentary that the BBC did on Susan Sontag, where she goes to visit Warhol at the Factory so he can do "screen tests" of her). At one point, when Capote is trying to interview the townspeople, he's wearing this long fleece coat... which he wouldn't have worn in 1961, because nobody made those coats in 1961. Those were post-1966 fashions. The post-hippie, post-Carnaby Street look. But 1961: no. And the cutesiness of the casting really was a downer. It must have seemed like such a cute idea to have Signourney Weaver (daughter of Pat Weaver, who was head of NBC in the 1950s) play Babe Paley, the wife of Bill Paley (the head of CBS from the 1940s through the 1970s). What a clever idea! And Hope Davis (who can be wonderful, i loved her in "American Splendor" and in "About Schmidt") is hopeless as Slim Keith. Slim Keith is "known" in the oddest way possible....

In 1937, Howard Hawks was directing "Come and Get It" when he embarked on an affair with Frances Farmer. Hawks got into a fight with the producer, Samuel Goldwyn, and walked off the set. (According to Joel McCrea, this left Frances Farmer utterly bereft.) But a few months later, he would meet another husky-voiced, athletic, adolescent blonde, a girl named Nancy that was nicknamed Slim. In 1939, Hawks would attempt to make the first of his "portraits" of Slim: he had Jean Arthur dress in the suits that his wife favored, and she already had the husky voice, but he wanted her to wisecrack. (The husky voice somehow made everything Slim said sound vaguely naughty.) Jean Arthur balked at this, and she and Hawks fought constantly on the set, though there were enough of the snappy dialogue to make "Only Angels Have Wings" entertaining. In 1940, Hawks put Rosalind Russell in the suits for "His Girl Friday". Finally, in 1943, Slim was looking through a fashion magazine when she saw a young model. Hawks took the girl (a New York Jewish teenager of 18) and spent months getting her to lower her voice, getting rid of her New York accent, and putting her in the "Slim Hawks" suits, and turning Betty Perske into Lauren Bacall, the "Imitation of Slim". Hope Davis doesn't have the rangy, athletic hauteur of Slim Hawks. (And Slim Hawks was no fool: she kept her own counsel, but she was also very loyal... her stepchildren, Brooke Hayward and her brother Bill, really loved her, which is in contrast to Pamela Churchill, whom Leland Hayward would marry after his divorce from Slim... Pamela Churchill they hated! But Slim also seemed to have "been around", which is why she wasn't anxious to gossip with Truman Capote.)

The other night, i was watching "Frances" again, and Jessica Lange's performance is very forceful. But (of course) her voice is wrong, but that's ok. Her performance isn't an impersonation, it's an attempt to actually create a rounded portrait.

Anyway, this week, i missed "La Vie en Rose" because of the mini-blizzard on Wednesday. But i did go to press screenings on Thursday and Friday. Thursday: "Blame It on Fidel", Bruno Dumont's "Flanders" and "Ambitious"; on Friday, "The Page Turner" and "The Singer". But there's something so smug about the screenings, i'm starting to hate them. I hate being with a bunch of critics who are nestled in their superiority in how "cultured" they are that they can delight in French films. Especially when French cinema is at a low ebb: so many of the movies are simply polished commercial crap. I almost went crazy at "The Valet", the cute boulevard farce complications were just nerve wracking, and it made me feel like i never wanted to see another French film again.

So much this past week. Ed Halter (online) and Jim Hoberman (in The Village Voice) wrote very illuminating pieces about the Peter Whitehead documentaries now at Anthology. Vivian Gornick had a really terrific piece on Susan Sontag in Bookforum; i liked Jim Hoberman's piece on recent L.A. "neo-noirs" ("The Decay of Fiction", "The Black Dahlia", "Hollywoodland") in Artforum.

I've been trying to convince people to see "The Wayward Cloud", one of the best "new" movies around. I hope that there's an audience for "These Encounters of Theirs", which i really thought was so lovely.

Already, there are a number of great movies that have been released in 2007: Garrel's "Regular Lovers", the marvellous meditative doc "Into Great Silence", "Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams", "The Lives of Others" and the doc "The Decomposition of the Soul", Azazel Jacobs's woozy but charming "The Goodtimeskid", "Two Wrenching Departures", the Rumanian satire "12:08 East of Bucharest", the Russian "The Italian", and the Israeli "Close to Home". Plus "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" will open (one of Ken Loach's best films, i think, with phenomenal performances). That's not so bad, and it's only February!


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