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.


Blogger Michael in New York said...

Paul Henreid night? Sounds like a sure cure for insomnia. If there's any flaw to Casblanca, surely its the idea that anyone would waver even for a moment between him and Bogey. I approach Lola Montes w great misgivings -- even the trailer looks stuffy and bad to me, but I'll give it a shot since it's on the big (okay, smallish) screen at Film Forum. But I can't imagine thinking it the equivalent of The earrings....

12:34 PM


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