Sunday, October 26, 2008

I've gotten a bunch of notices in my Inbox on Facebook, but i can't access Facebook: every time i've gone to the site, i'm told that the site is down due to maintenance and will be back in a few hours.

I've been really slacking off, but one reason really is that i'm in limbo: jury duty starts on Wednesday, and i don't want to get started on anything that might have to be put aside for two weeks. I just watched "Once" again, it remains a very charming movie, i'm thinking about it as an example of the situation of cross-cultural exchange, which is one of the themes of my proposed topic for the intercultural theater program at the Free University of Berlin... except that they're not calling it "intercultural", i got their prospectus in which there is the explanation that they believe that performance cultures have now become intertwined but they are trying to get away from the term intercultural. Anyway, by next October, there i'll be, in Berlin, as part of this new theater institute. But it's not "intercultural".

And last year (when i was first offered the appointment), i was asked to give my topic (which i am supposed to be researching), and i came up with "The Post-Modern Pastiche as Historical Signifier". The reason was that last year, i was thinking of the movies that people i knew had made (Todd's "I'm Not There", Julie Taymor's "Across the Universe", Ira's "Married Life") and also the theatrical "experiments" by so many groups like The Wooster Group, where there is a combustion of styles: the aim is not to create a unified aesthetic experience, but one which is far more uneven, because this is supposed to mirror the fragmentation of contemporary consciousness.

So that's what i told them i was doing.

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's been more than two weeks since i've blogged; somehow, i have not been able to concentrate. Since the beginning of October, the New York Film Festival ended, i finally made my first trip in four years (i went to Napa Valley for my niece's wedding), and since i've been back, it's been rather uneventful. Or i've been uneventful: it's been hard for me to find the energy to get out.

But the news has just kept me constantly watching the television. Yesterday, there was the city council vote on term limits; this whole stock market collapse (which is going global) remains fascinating (and to think that a month ago, i woke up to Larry saying "It's the Depression!"), and the last two weeks until the election are proving to be rather harrowing.

I'm sorry but my love for the Rachel Maddow Show seems to have faded fast. One reason: the ubiquity of Pat Buchanan. I do understand that there are network policies about fairness, and if you're going to have a liberal lesbian as a host, well, for some reason, you've got to stick in a bigoted right-wing blowhard. But i don't have to watch it, and every time he comes on, i turn the channel.

TCM's Star of the Month Carole Lombard isn't as revelatory or as much fun as last month's Kay Francis. For one thing: i'm familiar with most of Lombard's movies (and there are a few they're not showing which are actually losses: i'm thinking of the Gregory LaCava early talkie "Big News" and the Garson Kanin-directed "They Knew What They Wanted"), and so there's nothing to discover (like "Man Wanted" or "A Notorious Affair" or "Transgression", all pre-Code movies starring Francis which were pretty startling), and in her early movies (like "Virtue" or "No More Orchids"), Carole Lombard is ok, but it's like she's under wraps. She needs to be active, frantic and manic. Moping around, trying to be a demure heroine, she's almost a hole on the screen.

But it's interesting. There are a few early Lombard films which aren't being shown, but i remember them. There are the musicals with George Raft, "Bolero" (1934) and "Rumba" (1935), there's "We're Not Dressing" (1934) with Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman, and George Burns and Gracie Allen, and "Supernatural" (1933) was pretty spooky. "We're Not Dressing" was one of the movies that showed her true talent (the other was "Twentieth Century") as a comedienne.

A lot of people seem to think that someone is a star from the start. This was not the case with Jean Arthur, this was not the case with Myrna Loy, this was not the case with Claudette Colbert, this was not the case with Susan Hayward or Ava Gardner. It can take a while for someone to find the right persona for them.

And that's one reason people can complain about the current lack of stars: there aren't many opportunities for people to develop their personae. And it's funny to see Carole Lombard: without the screwball comedienne persona, it's as if she has no personality.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The last few days have been volatile (if not traumatic). The New York Film Festival press screenings have been strange: i ran into Fabiano Canosa after one of them (which one? i forget) and he remarked that he knew very few people at the screening. It's been a couple of years since i've seen Amos and Marcia Vogel at a NYFF screening, and, aside from one or two sightings, i haven't seen Adrienne Mancia or Eileen Bowser much.

One problem is that this year, the Film Society tried to show most films twice, and so it wasn't the same camaraderie of everyone going to the same screenings.

Of course, the events in the news have been amazing. Good or bad, it's hard to work up enthusiasm for fabricated events when the real world has such spectacular happenings, such as the financial meltdown and the vice-presidential debate. I'll admit that i couldn't sit through the vice-presidential debate: it made me too anxious. Whenever i'd turn to it, Sarah Palin would be doing her folksy number, and it was driving me crazy. But on Friday, i watched Washington Week on PBS, and MSNBC (especially Rachel Maddow) and the critical stance on the debate was reassuring. But David Letterman was hilarious: he had on Brian Williams, who kept saying that he couldn't give an opinion on the candidates, but Williams would then set it up so that Letterman could deliver a zinger about McCain.

The inevitability of death and taxes. In terms of death: three weeks ago, the NY Times had an obit about Edgardo Vega Yunque. That freaked me out. It was unexpected: he was rushed to the hospital on August 26 and died while in the emergency room. The reason this was freaky was that i did an audit of the reading series at the Medicine Show at the end of July, and the writers were Lisa Monroy and Edgardo Vega Yunque. That was a problematic reading: it happened on one of those days when there had been a severe rainstorm, and there had been subway flooding, and the reading was sparsely attended. So through the accidents of fate, my one meeting with Edgardo Vega Yunque turned out to be his last public appearance.

David Foster Wallace's suicide was sad, but there was a certain inevitability to it. Since "Infinite Jest", he'd been doing a lot of articles and short pieces, but in some cases (not all) it was rather like treading water. It was hard to know what direction he was trying to take in some of his writings, but he certainly was a brilliant writer.

Paul Newman's death was also inevitable: a few months ago, there were reports that he had cancer, and so the announcement wasn't unexpected.

Right now, Larry and i are going through conniptions trying to make arrangements for me to get to my niece's wedding at the end of the week. It's going to be in Napa Valley, at the Culinary Institute. It's not easy, because (of course) i remain one of those people who doesn't drive. (Barbara Walters mentioned that one big regret she had was that she never learned to drive, because it gets to be a chore to always have to arrange for a driver when you're going anywhere, like when you're in L.A.) Growing up and living all my life in NYC, driving never seemed to be a necessity. But more and more, it seems like you can't get anywhere outside of the cities if you don't drive.

But my brother learned to drive when he went to law school in Boston, and my sister learned to drive when they moved out to New Jersey.

Bill E. Jones was telling me about the public transportation system in L.A. now: it has really become important to the city. And i haven't been in L.A. since 1991 or so, so the public transportation system developed since then, in the last 15 years. For Bill and Mark, this was a real blessing, because it meant they could get rid of their car (which is a real expense: insurance, gas, etc.).

Last night, i watched "The Spanish Main". I am (of course) a huge fan of Frank Borzage, but i've never really liked "The Spanish Main". It just seems rather prefunctory. I can't say it's improved, especially in light of recent viewings of "Man's Castle", "Three Comrades", "Living on Velvet" and "Stranded". Even (finally) seeing "Secrets"... in "Secrets", Mary Pickford gives an acceptable performance, which is amazing since her performances in "Kiki" and "Coquette" are truly atrocious! "The Spanish Main" is fine, but it's a little flat.

And then i watched the 1946 version of "Of Human Bondage". (It was Paul Henreid night on TCM.) I'd seen it before, but it was interesting to see it again: it's not bad at all, and the cast is actually quite good. The sets are the same tatty English sets that were used at that time for movies like "Escape Me Never" or "Three Strangers". That was Warner Brothers going through its faux-British period. But the 1934 "Of Human Bondage" had an excitement (which it still has) which none of the other version can match, and a lot of it has to do with Bette Davis finally going all out with a role, and Leslie Howard revelling in his sensitive-wounded-soul star status. Davis and Howard are stars in a way that Eleanor Parker and Paul Henreid are not (quite), and in a way that Kim Novak and Laurence Harvey also aren't (quite). But (of course) Kim Novak was a beauty in a way that Davis and Parker never quite appraoched.

But the two best movies i saw this week turned out to be "Lola Montes" (in the new restored print) and "Ashes of Time Redux" (also new and restored). Andrew Sarris said as much in his review of "Ashes of Time Redux", and i know what he meant. There's an ecstatic approach to color, movement, and all the elements of filmmaking in these films, and it's something you don't find in a lot of recent movies.