Sunday, May 04, 2008

Although i saw "Theater of War" and "Life in Flight", the last press screening i attended at Tribeca was for Bill Plympton's "Idiots and Angels"... one thing i missed this year was the screenings of restored/rediscovered films, because this year there were no press screenings of those films; last year, there had been press screenings for "The Letter That Was Never Sent", "The Forty-Firts" and Gerard Blain's "The Pelican".

The end of the week brought more tornados to the south: Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, North Carolina... it's very frightening to see this wreckage. Of course, there can be little doubt that this is being caused by the changes in climate, etc. which have come about because of pollution, global warming, and so on.

This week, George Bush's approval ratings hit an all-time low. Over 70% of this country now disapproves of everything that Bush has done. And it doesn't matter: this is one man who could care less about anything but himself.

All this week, the news programs have had a lot of discussions about the housing crisis, that is, the mortgage fiasco which is causing a great deal of people to lose their homes. Listening to all these people analyzing the situation, the prognosis is so bleak that it's really frightening.

Back to the movies. Just wanted to say that one of the highlights of the restored/rediscovered films was Rene Clair's "Les Deux Timides", which is a movie i love. I remember the opening so well: the two people waking up, starting their day. Unless i'm remembering it totally wrong, "Les Deux Timides" had a very strong neo-realist feel, in the same way that King Vidor's "The Crowd" did. In the late silent period, there were a number of films in which the idea was to create a drama from elements of everyday life.

Right now, Rene Clair's silent work is woefully underrepresented. "The Italian Straw Hat" is just about the most elegant slapstick comedy ever made, and "Paris Qui Dort" is an amazing science fiction fantasy, rather a precursor of Godard's "Alphaville" in being a sci-fi film shot on location.

It's always hard to discuss work when so much is no longer available: in the days of revival houses, there were actually possibilities. One big example: a lot of the work from the late silent and early sound period. It's so depressing to read people online going on and on about (say) Fredric March, when they haven't seen movies like "The Royal Family of Broadway", "The Wild Party", "Merrily We Go to Hell"... they have no idea of his range, or why he was a star. And then, by the mid-30s, March is already pushing 40 (he's older than most of his "contemporaries", such as Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable), and he knows that his days as a matinee idol are over. Most people seem to have seen "Anthony Adverse", where he is miscast (and knows it) and judge him from that.

It's an unfortunate situation. But so much is like that now. Anne Thompson, on her Variety blog, had an item about "Real Guys", which A.J. Benza and Neal Gumpel talk about movies. She contrasts that with "Reel Geezers", the web program in which Marcia Nasatir and Lorenzo Semple, Jr. talk about movies. I've seen other episodes of "Reel Geezers" and it's hilarious. (I remember seeing their pre-Oscar episode... they're both members of the Academy, so it's interesting to hear people actually explaining what they think.) The point is that Marcia and Lorenzo Semple, Jr. aren't just "people", they're not even critics, they're industry insiders (Marcia's been a producer for decades, and Lorenzo Semple, Jr. is a screenwriter... he's written for TV and movies since the 1960s) and their views (and they are highly articulate people) reflect their years in the business.

I just checked IMDB, and Marcia's last producing credit is on a film titled "Death Defying Acts" which stars Catherine Zeta-Jones and Guy Pearce, and is directed by Gillian Armstrong. The date on the film is 2007, but there seems to be no release plans for the U.S. Marcia was a good friend of Pauline's, and i remember meeting her several times, going to the movies with her and Pauline and then going to dinner after, and listening to them discussing the movie, so Marcia's opinions aren't that surprising to me. (For example, she was very excited by Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", which i expected; for the last few months before her death, Pauline's favorite movie of 2000 was "Before Night Falls".)

Which reminds me of James Wolcott's article in Vanity Fair a while ago, where he talks about how, now that he's a married man, he's learned to appreciate what are called "chick flicks"; he mentions that he had to learn to appreciate "Sex and the City". This was hilarious to me. I remember seeing "Sex and the City" when HBO had its "free" weekends (we didn't subscribe to HBO or Showtime until we moved to Brooklyn; while you're in Manhattan, there didn't seem to be a need) during the introductory episodes, and Larry and i thought it was hilarious. It was a fantasy, of course, but one in which women were able to talk about sex as freely as men (especially gay men) and the effect was somehow liberating. And the cast was great: Sarah Jessica Parker had been on the verge of stardom for years, starting with the TV show "Square Pegs", but she never quite fit the mold. Here, she broke the mold. So when Pauline asked me what i saw, i told her, and recommended "Sex and the City" and i was surprised when, the next time i talked to her, she had seen the first episodes, and she loved it. And James Wolcott was always so... well, condescending and snarky about "Sex and the City", saying that it wasn't "real", it was like the fantasy that gay men had of "liberated" women. But that was the point: Pauline and her friends (Virginia Admiral, for example, or Marcia Nasatir) had tried to be "liberated" women in the 1940s (they were the generation after Mary McCarthy and Elizabeth Hardwick), and they often had gay men as close friends, and they were hyperarticulate and wanted to talk about sex in this "new" way. And here, finally, was a TV show that took this to an extreme, and Pauline and her friends reacted with delight. (Marcia Nasatir holds up "Sex and the City" as an example of more enlightened views of sex in comedy, as opposed to what she sees as the regressive sexual standards in the Judd Apatow films, and Lorenzo Semple, Jr. can't help reacting the way that James Wolcott used to react, with intense hostility.)

So that's funny.


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