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I have used images to further convey my points, so I suggest reading the article here: https://thefilmera.com/2018/09/22/the-coen-brothers-idiosyncratic-masters-top-10-scenes/
Let's delve into it!
“We grew up in America, and we tell American stories in American settings, within American frames of reference.” — Ethan Coen
That’s the consensus. There is, however, a point of contention over what is truly a Coen brothers film. Having watched nearly all of their movies recently, I have come up with three main distinguishing criteria: Characters, Comedy as a Shield, and Endings, and two rather personal ones: Collaboration with Roger Deakins and Dolly-in shot.
A myriad of idiosyncratic, whimsical and enigmatic characters inhabits the world of the Coen brothers’ films. An outlaw on a journey to fulfill his American dream, the laziest man in LA county takin’er easy for all us sinners, and an inexorable friendo beyond good and evil are only a few examples. This is one of the reasons why their films are memorable. Even the side characters, the ones with a few-minutes of screen time leave a lasting impression on you, like Jesus and Nihilists from The Big Lebowski:
Nihilist #1: His girlfriend gave up her toe!
Nihilist #2: She thought we’d be getting million dollars!
Nihilist #1: It’s not fair!
Walter: Fair?!?! Who’s the fucking nihilist around here, you bunch o’
There are many awkward pauses, characters breaking off their sentences in the middle, losing their train of thought, ridiculous body languages, and weird facial expressions. In nearly all of their films, however, there is a consistent behavior which ends up hilarious – especially on multiple viewings. That is, characters repeating certain words, phrases, and sentences. For instance, in Miller’s Crossing: “what’s the rumpus?” “Ethics;” or in The Big Lebowski: “Shut da fuck up, Donny,” “That rug tied the room together,” “man.” This is also apparent in specific scenes. In Fargo, When Lou and Marge are investigating a crime scene, Lou repeats “yah” and “oh, yah” 10 times.
In No Country for Old Men, Anton Chigurh asks “where does he work?” three times from an old lady to glean information on Llewelyn Moss.
In Burn After Reading, there’s a scene where the characters are trying to know what is on the CD Monolo found. Monolo repeats “On the floor there” and “It was just lying there” And every time he says so, we get a low-angle medium shot of him, amplifying the comedic effect.
“But it seems to us that comedy is a part of life. Look at the recent example of the people who tried to blow up the World Trade Center. They rented a panel truck to use for the explosion and then, after committing the crime, went back to the rental agency to get back the money they left on deposit. The absurdity of this kind of behavior is terribly funny in itself.”
This sums up their approach to comedy: a serious event, mingled with comedic moments, creating a shield which protects us from drowning in the tragedy of the story. When we laugh at the scenes, we get some distance, and some perspective, on the underlying messages.
“Look how horrible people can be; isn’t life great?” — Ethan Coen
Take this scene from Fargo: Marge stumbles upon the whereabouts of the kidnappers. She catches one of them, Gaear, shredding the other one, Carl, into pieces in a wood chipper. This would’ve been enough to let us know what’s going on. The Coen brothers, however, have added a neat comedic touch: a upside-down leg with socks. It makes you laugh and makes the scene less oppressive.
In this scene from Burn After Reading, Harry, heart-broken over divorce and devastated over the murder, is taking it out on his passion project. Then, amid all the wrath, we get a medium shot of a dildo going up and down with no intention of giving up; an incongruent and hilarious section of an otherwise serious moment.
In Barton Fink, after the mysterious death of Audrey, there’s a two-shot of Barton, sitting in dismay, and Audrey, lying there soaked in blood. This moment lingers until Barton suddenly squeals, leaving you with no option but to laugh.
Of the many elements that reward multiple viewings, one of the best is that their films have ambiguous endings that encourage multiple interpretations. Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn’t There, No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man and Inside Lewin Davis all have endings that demand scrutiny from the audience. They mystify you on the first viewing and encourage you to be more investigative during the next ones.
In his article “No Country for Old Men – The Coens’ Tragic Western,” Richard Gilmore writes:
“The movie ends with Bell telling his wife Loretta (Tess Harper) about two dreams that he had had the night before. Both dreams have his father in them. The first is about some money that Bell loses. The second has his father riding past him in the night, carrying fire in a horn. Bell ends his description of the dream by saying, “And in the dream I knew that he was goin’ on ahead and that he was fixin’ to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. Out there up ahead.” Prometheus stole fire from the gods to give to human beings in order to save them from extinction. To make a fire is an art. It is by the arts that human beings thrive, and I take that original art of making fire to stand, metonymically, for all the arts. Fire beats back the darkness, the darkness of fear, of ignorance, of hubris, of greed. I read Bell’s dream of his father to be a dream of carrying on the fire of memory, the fire of the stories that one has of what one has seen in this world. It is the fire of the wisdom that those stories can yield with the telling of them. This, too, is an important role to play, to be the bearer of this fire. It is less heroic in the eyes of the world than that of lawman or outlaw, but it is probably more important to human survival and thriving than either of those.”
“People confuse pretty and good cinematography. It was Freddie Francis who said “There’s good cinematography, bad cinematography and the cinematography that’s right for the movie.”
“I don’t think have a style; I have a style that suits the project I’m on.” — Roger Deakins
The Coen brothers regard Roger Deakins as one of the best DPs in recent memory. They have collaborated with him on the majority of their projects, including O Brother Where Art Thou?, Fargo, and No Country for Old Men. The distinct look and feel of the films is a testament to him abiding by the philosophy in those quotes. This collaboration might not be as distinguishing feature of a Coen brothers film, but working with Deakins compliments their vision. For me, it can go beyond that. O Brother Where Art Thou didn’t resonate with me on a script level, but I relished the alluring cinematography.
And he has this to say about the Coen brothers:
“They can shoot anything and make it interesting, they’re true poets of the cinema.”
Granted, the dolly-in shot is not exclusive to the Coen brothers. They, however, employ it frequently and with more creativity than most other filmmakers. They use it in two ways: frenetic and gradual. For the former, we can refer to The Big Lebowski, Miller’s Crossing, and Raising Arizona (the gifs below), where the frenetic dolly-in shot adds to the comedic sense of the scene. The subtler use occurs in conversations, which allows the Coens to avoid unnecessary cuts and keep and audience engaged. To elaborate on this, I’ll use two scenes from Fargo and A Serious Man.
Notice how we’re gonna go from a wide frame – which establishes the setting, with the curtains behind him akin to bars – to the final close-up. As the conversation starts to go south, the camera gradually dollies in on Jerry. The final wide shot frames him isolated in his own prison, conveying his predicament.
There is a similar one in A Serious Man, with the exception being that the final shot is an extreme close-up.
I have discussed some of my favorite scenes of their filmography here, feel free to check it out.
So, what do you think makes them different? which film has the most "Coenness" (I would go with Fargo) and which film the least (would go with True Grit)? and finally, what are your favorite scenes?
While everything was well executed for the most part and there's not much to complain about when it comes to the technical aspects, I still couldn't help but feel the stylistic influences in this film were a little overbearing. I'm not talking about the story here (even though you could draw obvious comparisons between the plot of this and a movie like Goodfellas), just that the way the film presented itself set up this immediate connection in my mind to a Scorsese film. The non-stop, active tracking shots (most iconically that one long opening take but other examples can be found too), the quick pans, heavy use of era-specific music, all pulled off impressively and at potentially an expert level, but with barely a hint of originality or a personal, unique spin on PTA's part. I understand he was inspired to an extent, but this was just distracting. Maybe not crossing the line, but more than enough to taint the experience for me. It could well be that the mental comparison I mentioned is unfair, or that this film frankly seems to be overhyped everywhere and as a result of that my expectations were unrealistically high, but my main criticism always seems to come back to PTA being heavy-handed with the whole paying homage thing. Even a film like The Master, which I didn't fully appreciate the first time round, I could tell was uniquely a PTA film with its own identity and not one comprised of its influences. What do you think?
(For the record, I didn't entirely hate this movie just because it seemed like PTA doing his best Martin Scorsese impression. There were a few scenes - particularly towards the latter half of the film - that had me genuinely invested, and Mark Wahlberg was the best I've ever seen him here.)
In the past year I've gained a couple of friends who've expressed an interest in film to me, to the point where I gave them a list. They loved it, and seemed kind of surprised at all these great suggestions I had for them, having not heard of much. I put some 'risky' ones on there - films that if you've never seen anything like before, they might struggle with. However they didn't give those a try for months. Eventually I went over and we watched Mulholland Drive together, and my friends - they're smart people, they've just never watched anything like that before and it really threw them. It was a sad day... Last month we watched Dogtooth together (another film I love) and the energy in the room was so bad, it felt as if they had completely lost faith in my taste. I think the quote was, "You're on Neptune, and we're still on Mars."
So now, I come to you... before I try more Lynch, or Haneke or who knows what - I think I need some gateway films to help them on their way. Surprisingly they enjoyed The Lobster. Maybe it was because I wasn't in the room for that one. I mean, how can you like The Lobster and not Dogtooth? Anyway... any help?
A lot of people disliked the ending to this film, but I really enjoyed it myself. Beatrice was seen beaten on the floor making a desperate phone call to Mary. Mary was annoyed with Beatrice for the entire film and so she ignored the phone calls. Immediately you know that something bad is going to happen when she keeps ignoring the calls as she had done previously in the film, and then steps into her apartment. She is attacked, and it is revealed to be a boyfriend of the woman she had operated on previously to remove her private parts.
What made the ending scenes so good for me, was the instant realization of the situation. The boyfriend probably had strong affections for this woman that Mary operated on, and was completely shocked and appalled at the body modifications that she had undergone. In a fit of anger, disbelief, and emotion, he immediately goes after the people that did this to her. It is a very plausible outcome. I thought it was a great way to end the movie. Why does everyone hate it so much?
Yesterday, I watched De Palma's The Black Dahlia (2006), fully expecting to experience a turkey with a few good scenes. It's 33% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and abysmal box office indicated "Universal Disdain".
I've never read any of James Ellroy's books. For me, genre novels tend to overstay their welcome after page 200. Curtis Hanson's L.A. Confidential is one of the few movies I walked out on, and I recently tried giving it another chance and I didn't last past Danny Devito's opening voiceover. That movie is as subtle as (the vastly more entertaining) Batman '66 ("Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!"). At any rate, I suspected, given the length of Ellroy's source novel and his high status in the world of crime fiction, this novel would be "unfilmable".
Few experiences give me greater pleasure than having my preconceived notions invalidated. Even De Palma "apologists" feel the need to dismiss The Black Dahlia as a "work for hire" (and unless they have bottomless pockets like a Mel Gibson or George Lucas - directing is always a "job") - or even more condescendingly - as a competent thrill ride.
The plot is dense and I had to follow up with the plot synopsis on wiki to understand what happened. However, this is not a throwaway, minor work in De Palma's filmography (or ouvre, if you speak French. I don't). It is deeply humane, sympathetic (not sentimental), vital, and crammed with information. Right, I never read the book, but after watching the movie I felt like I'd read a long novel. More happens in 2 hours than does in a 10 hour season of The Wire.
I could only find two reviews in English that were positive Nathan Rabin's A/V Club and Matt Zoller Seitz's glowing review, All is Loss. If there are others, they're not easy to find. I'm mystified by one critic's assessment that Hilary Swank was miscast when she was just playing against type. She's never disappointed me, but she didn't just hit the ball out of the park in this one, she vaporized it in mid-air.
Really, what does it say about the future of film when our top critics can't even identify the gems in a sack of gravel? De Palma is a VISUAL director. It's not the story, it's how it's told.
So I recently rewatched the movie for the second time, though the first time was when I was like 7. The movie was great but very disturbing, my question is why didn't the futuristic super mecha at the end of the film simply get rid of the imprinting and upgrade him past the naive child he's been for the last 2,000 years? I know it would ruin the ending of the movie and David's perfect day but why not put David out of his misery and simply rid him of his thoughts of Monica? I mean it was 2,000 years since she was alive and at least David could move on and have friendships with other mechas? Also why were Teddy and Joe so aware and self sacrificing for David while David could never change?
I'd like to introduce the films of Tarkovsky to some friends, and am trying to figure out what film would be most rewarding for them to watch.
For the most part, they are pretty mainstream movie-watchers (which is in no way an insult), and as such, the long run-times, and the lack of clarity of the films might be turn offs....but I'd rather leave an impact than just not try!
(EDIT: It's occurred to me that this might work better in the casual discussion rather than its own post, but I'd like to see a wide variety of responses, so hopefully nobody will mind if I leave it here. Sorry!)
Now, I don't mean this in an elitist way, and maybe I'm off base here. I'm only now starting to get deeper into film, but the more I dig through my "to watch" list, the more I see myself thinking that older movies just seem to be more...honest, is the word?
I don't really know how to explain it simply, and it isn't a matter of quality either since I'm not saying it makes them better than new movies. This isn't a hipster "born in the wrong generation" post by any means. With current movies I don't mean "popular movies" either, I've been watching a lot of more art house and indie movies and it checks out as well. Older movies would be...early 90s and back? It definitely starts being a thing after the late 90s.
It's just, it seems current movies seem to focus on aesthetic more, filling dialogue scenes with funny quips or introspective "deep" dialogue, having a soundtrack that stands out instead of something more subdued, and sometimes just not getting to the point? Vagueness and twists are more common, specific plot points take more time to resolve, a lot of tension gets lost.
In an older movie, if a character had something to say I can fully expect that character to just come out and say it, in whatever their own way may be. Characters would interact and stuff would happen. There's much less of a focus on the setting, on the scale, on side stuff.
I feel like I'm not explaining myself properly and the post will get a bad reception regardless, so I guess I'll give an example:
Johnny finds out his little brother got beat up.
In an older movie, Johnny goes and talks to a friends all angry, saying he's going to beat the crap out of the guy who beat up his brother, friends calm him down, Johnny seems to calm down but now apparently always carried a cup of whiskey around when we see him in night scenes inside, which friends try to slowly avoid. One day he gets arrested for murdering whoever beat up his little brother on a drunken rage, his friends are pissed because they thought he'd manage to forget that and blame themselves for not being able to stop his drinking problem.
In a newer movie, Johnny stops hanging with his friends and gives a pissed off reaction whenever they try to interact with him, while simultaneously drinking alone and brooding. Friends make funny quips about how he probably got dumped and that's why he was moody, it gets swept under the rug. A few scenes later, Johnny's seen getting arrested and it gets out that he killed someone, everyone talks about him like he's a terrible person; until a few scenes latee they find out he was drunk and killed the guy who beat up his little brother, after which they understand and forgive him for treating them like shit.
I mean, in an older movie, if they want to put forward a plot point, they just do it. In a newer one, it seems to be a bit less linear. Am I alone in thinking this is a thing?
Amour is one of the most honest depictions of lasting love put to film. The relationship between Anne and Georges is as equally inspiring as it is heartbreaking. I can only hope I can have a relationship as tender and dedicated as they did. At the same time, however, having a relationship that strong die in such gut wrenching fashion would break me.
Michael Haneke's use of long takes puts perfect emphasis on the emotional beats of the film. Anytime you're suppose to stew in the emotional potency of a scene, he refuses to cut and forces you to live in the moment without the reprieve of a cut. The lasting nature of many scenes adds to the brutal reality Haneke builds over the runtime of the film.
The inevitability of age and decay is obviously a personal topic for Haneke and the two leads which is why the storytelling and acting comes off so effortless. Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant undoubtedly show chemistry in the film but not in the typical romance movie way. Their chemistry is less explosive and romantic and more understated and caring.
Amour is a tearjerker but that is simply a symptom of its subject matter rather than its purpose. The combination of Haneke's in the moment filmmaking and Emannuelle and Jean-Louis' honest performances make Amour one of the most emotionally challenging movies I've seen and a journey I both dread and am eager to embark on again in the future.
This is my first post on this sub after being a lurker for several years so go easy. I really enjoyed writing this and hope it's appropriate for the sub.
American Graffiti is one of my favourite movies of all time, and it just got me thinking about George Lucas and how it would've been interesting to see what kind of films he'd make, if the idea of Star Wars never came to him. As much as I love those films, it always makes me a little bit sad that he didn't get to direct any movies, after A New Hope, that weren't Star Wars. I guess, there's no real point to this post but, what do think he would've done if Star Wars wasn't a thing? What would you've liked him to do? Would he still be making films? Would he ever be a big name in Hollywood if he'd kept making films?
“Ride due west as the sun sets; turn left at the Rocky Mountains…”
With this simple advice, Jeremiah Johnson sets forth on a brutal course toward life anew. Robert Redford is the titular hero recently returned from the Mexican-American war in Sydney Pollack’s 1972 western. He abandons civilization for the mystic allure of the Rockies with plans to hunt “bear, beaver, and other critters worth cash money when skinned.” This journey completely reshapes Jeremiah, gradually molding the tale of his harrowing fate into a mythical, merciless, ice-cold mountain ghost story.
In spite of his goal to escape the clatter of humanity, the mountain coaxes Jeremiah into a strange wilderness thick with people both living and dead. First he finds Cactus Jack, a corpse frozen at the base of a tree with eyes locked deep in an empty gaze. Jeremiah pries Jack’s .50 caliber rifle from his frosted clasp and quickly happens upon Bear Claw, a wise cracking, wild-bearded mountain man played with subtle tenderness by Will Geer. He saves Jeremiah from starvation and eventually shares decades of his rugged hinterland wisdom. These scenes are executed with tremendous control by Redford and Geer. Their poignant synergy yields an unusual kinship while quietly revealing numerous scars of isolation. Bear Claw is a reflection of the man Jeremiah will become, a subtle warning of the harsh life ahead.
Alone once again, Jeremiah wanders into the mountain barrens, this time boasting a survivalist’s education. Cactus Jack’s rifle and these newfound skills provide a stroke of good luck and allow him to thrive for a short while. Opportunities soon arise to trade furs with a Crow Indian called Paints His Shirt Red. Jeremiah even lets loose and tugs a few puffs from the peace pipe.
While thankful of his rapport with the Crow, Jeremiah still hopes to conquer the wild riding solo. Unfortunately, the mountain has a different idea. He discovers the aftermath of a grisly massacre where two survivors remain: a young boy shocked mute and his hysterical mother. He helps bury their dead and sings along over the fresh graves as the woman howls a painful hymn. She then scuttles into the brush to die alone, leaving her son to live with Jeremiah. Not long after becoming a father, he finds himself married to a Flathead woman called Swan thanks in part to the careless savagery of a bald-headed scoundrel named Del Gue.
Though initially bothered by their presence, he slowly fosters affection for Swan and his son, whom he calls Caleb. This blossoming affinity is paralleled with the physical act of constructing their family cabin in a powerful scene that ignores sluggish exposition in favor of rich montage and music. As they work together, palms raw from exhausting labor, a faint glimmer of hope dances between them. It appears Jeremiah has found peace in an unlikely place.
“Mountain’s got its own ways.”
Early in the film, when Bear Claw first says these words, they go without notice from Jeremiah. The dreadful truth emerges when he agrees to lead a tired company of soldiers into the bowels of the mountain to rescue starving settlers. They arrive at the outskirts of a Crow burial ground grimly decorated with old bones and tribal altars to honor the dead. He warns of the repercussion in desecrating such sacred land, but the soldiers remind him of their dire mission. Unable to ignore the poor souls in jeopardy, he guides them through and pays the ultimate price. A small band of Crow invade his home and butcher his family as punishment. The scene that follows provides one of the film’s most visceral, striking sequences. With the lifeless bodies of his loved ones entombed inside, Jeremiah sets the cabin ablaze like a makeshift funeral pyre. The flames curl and climb, slowly eating what remains of the life they forged. It’s in this tragic moment that the film takes a violent turn. No longer concerned with solitude or harmony, Jeremiah instead veers down a path toward sorrow and blood-soaked vengeance.
Jeremiah wastes no time in finding the Crow. He growls and stomps through their camp, fighting all five men at once like a ruthless demon. The tale of his revenge is told by the lone survivor, which rouses a seemingly endless barrage of retaliations sent by the jaded Crow. In another impressive use of montage, a storm of surprise-attacks synthesize in slick fashion, each with Jeremiah as the eventual victor. The story of his unforgiving resistance rattles the wilderness and all the people within, drawing the film further into mythological terrain. It doesn’t take long for word to spread of the lonely white man slowly dismantling the Crow. Enemies begin to fear him like a snarling beast from their nightmares. Some think he’s a ghost, others believe he’s immortal. Soon everyone knows the legend of Jeremiah Johnson.
This isn’t a Western crowded by shootouts or horse and buggy chases. Pollack’s film is a fascinating character study that relies on stellar acting and poetic images to spur the story. Redford boldly embodies the role and achieves a level of placid realism by saying more with his eyes than any dialogue could communicate. The magnificent frames of cinematographer Duke Callaghan invite the viewer to traipse through the snow and shiver with the hero in his struggle for survival. The editing is cautious, but full of meaningful intent. It implies a deep-rooted relativity between man and mountain, dissolving many shots of Redford into landscapes of the cruel environment, ingeniously emphasizing nature’s undying intervention in Jeremiah’s life.
At times Pollack’s film aims toward an intellectual audience. It begins with an overture and pauses for a brief intermission somewhere in the 108-minute runtime. The sparse amount of dialogue demands the story be digested through patient, visual comprehension. Redford doesn’t rush his soft-spoken characterization, allowing himself ample time to develop his role through Jeremiah’s actions. Littered among these triumphant moments are aspects that pull the film in an opposite direction, away from its art-house sensibilities, hinting at somewhat of an identity crisis hidden under the skin. Banjo-accompanied scenes of slapstick with Bear Claw, Del Gue’s bumbling, cartoonish delivery—these scenes seem better fit for cowboy television from decades prior. Humor is steadfast in the western genre, but here it feels forced and is spread far too thin, leaving a hokey aftertaste as it fails to add balance to the strenuous narrative.
The music of Jeremiah Johnson is another element plagued by inconsistency. John Rubinstein’s score is beautiful and constantly engaging, but his instrumentals are book-ended by a cringe-inducing theme song. Tim McIntire’s vocals in “The Ballad of Jeremiah Johnson” are dull and meandering, summarizing the story before the film can even begin. What’s the point of half-heartedly telling the audience something the camera will soon reveal with great poise and eloquence? The singing oddly reappears once more out of the thin mountain air as McIntire muddles the excellent final words, “And some say…he’s still up there,” sounding winded like he sprinted to the studio to record at the last minute. The film was based upon a folk legend, and the song seems intent on enhancing the mythical vibes of the source material, but there isn’t enough time for the tune to resonate. This results in an awkward rather than uplifting song, leaving viewers like me to search for logical explanations to justify its inclusion.
These weaknesses are somewhat inconsequential. Pollack’s film still shines unlike any other western. Jeremiah Johnson is not just simple entertainment, but a work of art that requires an open mind and undivided attention to pay it proper respect. It’s said to have a devoted cult following which comes as no surprise. A few years ago, I watched it with a friend and his father, an avid VHS collector and passionate fan of the film. From the first narration to the final credits, he mumbled nearly every word of dialogue crackling from the television. Though initially a bit off-putting, I later noticed scuffs on the tape from constantly feeding it to the VCR, and in this moment the film’s endearing impact became indisputable. This sentiment was reaffirmed with my most recent viewing. I again found Jeremiah Johnson to be a unique cinematic experience that almost entirely evades the weathering of time. I suggest seeing the film at least once, alone or with a group of close friends or family, if only to absorb the exquisite artistry that unravels on screen.
To quote in Herman Blume in Rushmore:
What's the secret [Max] ?
It's funny too that I'm really familiar with sites like putlocker that can provide obscure HD movies at times. But there's a whole bunch that escape my grasp. So many awesome films as well out there waiting to be enjoyed.
For instance this sub introduced me to Hu Bo and An Elephant Sitting Still and after watching the trailer I haven't been more eager to see a film in years. Hu seems like such a lovely and interesting person and I'm so sad to hear of what occurred to them. The film seems like exactly my type and I've been rewatching many of my old favourites recently so it's time for something new.
But... it has only 177 votes on IMDB after a half year of release even after being featured at TIFF and getting received really well, as a brilliantly crisp breath of fresh air. I'm not sure how I'll ever get to watch it honestly at this rate. Hope to get lucky, in large part to see it become widely celebrated as well.
Things like a quality version of the brilliant Hourglass Sanatorium as well.
I'm on Kanopy and a few other similar sites but would love to know more resources.
Maybe we should collectively crowdfund a site like this for awesome but underappreciated films.
I saw Gaspar Noé's Climax in a festival screening last weekend. It left me utterly disappointed but not entirely in a negative way. Since most of you probably haven't seen it, I'll try to avoid spoiling any plot points here.
In the first 45-60 minutes of the film, I thought it was absolutely fantastic. In a terrifying way. I have never before had such a feeling in cinema. A feeling where everything is out of everyone's control and the whole situation is escalating at a pace you're absolutely not comfortable with. My heart was racing and I was sweating in my seat. This is cinema at its best.
Then Gaspar Noé did what Gaspar Noé does, and took it one step further. One step too far. A specific event happened, and the film crossed the line to the silly territory. I immediately snapped out of my immersion to the unfolding chaos and couldn't get back in no matter how hard I tried. I couldn't take the film seriously anymore. For the rest of the film, I was watching the events from the outside, wanting to get back in.
This left me with a very mixed feeling about the film. The first half was brilliant, and I wanted the ride to continue until the end. And it would have if the immersion had lasted, because the second half kept the same style, energy and pace. But I couldn't play along anymore, which left me extremely frustrated.
Has anybody else seen the film yet? I would love to hear what others felt while watching it. Or to those who haven't seen it yet, have you had similar experiences with other films? Is immersion necessary for you to enjoy a film or do you rather watch them from a distance?
Idk if this is a case of recency bias but when I compare performances from child actors in the present day to the performances in the last century, I feel like there's been a massive improvement.
2017 was talked about a lot as a year for great performances by children especially in big blockbusters like War of the Planet of the Apes, Logan, It and probably a few others I'm forgetting. And obviously the Stranger Things kids too in the world of TV.
But then you also have great performances from kids in lower-budget movies like The Florida Project, Wonder, A Quiet Place and Gifted.
Is it just a case of better roles being written for different groups of people? Like how black people are getting better representation in cinema now. Or is there something else at work?
I was first introduced to Johnny Guitar the way I assume a lot of people my age were: patrolling the Mojave Wasteland in Obsidian Entertainment’s modern roleplaying classic, Fallout: New Vegas. It’s one of my all-time favorite games, but considering its length (not to mention its replayability) and the fact that the soundtrack is fairly limited, you end up hearing the same songs over and over again. One of those is Peggy Lee’s “Johnny Guitar”, a song written specifically for the film. I can still vividly hear AI radio host Mr. New Vegas queuing up the song:
"Got a song for you right now that’s about a man that’s cold on the exterior, but deep down you know he’s a good man, and his name is Johnny Guitar."
I don’t really have the vocabulary to accurately assess music, but suffice to say it’s a beautiful ballad, with Lee’s sultry vocals and Victor Young’s measured composition masterfully evoking a sense of long-lost love. It has a sparseness that feels perfectly suited to the barren frontier of the western genre, while retaining a pained romantic undercurrent reminiscent of a Douglas Sirk movie. Which is to say, the song is a microcosm of its namesake: a western dressed up as a melodrama, and a melodrama dressed up as a western.
Initially derided by critics, except in France where François Truffaut lavished it with praise and referred to it as “the Beauty and the Beast of westerns”, Johnny Guitar is a complex film that has invited many readings and reassessments over the years, chock full of gender dynamics, McCarthy era politics, repressed sexuality, and a healthy dose of camp. Though it’s not exactly part of the revisionist western canon that would begin to form in the decade following its release, it features many of the same antithetical trappings. Its distinct style might prove off-putting to some, but for my money it’s one of the genre’s very best.
The plot begins with Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden) witnessing a stagecoach holdup on his way to an outskirts saloon run by the iron-fisted Vienna (Joan Crawford). Once there we are introduced to former city slicker The Dancin’ Kid (Scott Brady) and his gang: the standard tough guy Bart (Ernest Borgnine), the loyal and sickly Corey (Royal Dano), and the boyish Turkey (Ben Cooper). Then an angry mob barges in, led by the fiery Emma (Mercedes McCambridge), whose brother died in the holdup. She accuses The Kid and his gang of committing the crime and demands they hang alongside Vienna, whom she believes is in cahoots with them. Though there’s no proof, the townsfolk already hold a grudge against Vienna because her saloon is poised to make a great deal of money when an incoming railroad is built; town leader John McIvers (Ward Bond) compromises and gives them twenty-four hours to leave.
With so many people involved, it should come as no surprise that newcomer Johnny is sort of a periphery player—don’t let the title fool you, Johnny is by no means the protagonist. Played with laidback machismo, Hayden delivers the film’s rich, sometimes over-the-top dialogue with a palpable sense of coolness. It helps that he has a deep voice, and of course at 6’5” he towers above the rest of the cast, so even though he’s essentially just along for the ride, when he does speak his magnetism does wonders. He and Crawford are responsible for one my all-time favorite scenes, which I’ll get into later.
It’s no secret that westerns are typically a boy’s club. From noble cowboys to wicked outlaws, town drunks, shopkeepers, card dealers, what have you—women are almost always left out. And when they do show up, it’s either as a prostitute or as a standard wife/mother character who exists solely in service of her husband. There are certainly examples of more fleshed out characters who deviate from the norm (Katy Jurado in High Noon comes to mind), but even then they’re still sidelined and usually not integral to the main plot. That was never going to be the case with Johnny Guitar however, considering it was made as a starring-vehicle for Crawford from the jump (she held the rights to the book), but her real-life animosity for McCambridge led to rewrites that made Vienna even more prominent, including her demand that she have the climactic shootout, not Johnny.
In Crawford’s hands, Vienna is a domineering force, a former prostitute turned entrepreneur who backs down to no one. She wears pants and a six-shooter, which lends her a sense of masculinity, but a variety of colorful scarves and tops, including her iconic red-scarf/yellow-shirt combo, add a touch of femininity (remember this is the old west, where pretty much everyone wore shades of black and brown). She takes delight in her power, barking orders and flirting freely, but she isn’t a bad person. She possesses a great deal of loyalty and treats her employees well. All she wants to do is bide her time till the railroad comes. Her card dealer, Sam (Robert Osterloh), sums her up thusly: “Never seen a woman who was more of a man. She thinks like one, acts like one, and sometimes makes me feel like I’m not.”
And in McCambridge’s hands, Emma becomes one of the best antagonists in a genre full of them. Her hatred for Vienna bleeds out of every word she says, as she grits her teeth, refutes logic at every step, and visibly shakes with murderous intent; no doubt her feud with Crawford aided her performance. I believe the shot of her running out of the saloon, after she’s callously set the place on fire (pictured above), is one of cinema’s finest moments. Vienna and The Dancin’ Kid have a shared romantic past, which Vienna claims is the true reason she doesn’t care for her (Emma seemingly has a crush on him, but won’t allow herself to admit it), but if you read between the lines, it’s clear Emma’s interests lie in Vienna, not The Kid. This adds a layer of tragedy to the role, a woman so hellbent on defying her attraction to the same sex that she won’t stop until everyone involved hangs.
In fact, same sex attraction is kind of rampant throughout the film, if not the whole genre. Obviously male bonding doesn’t automatically equate to homosexuality, but most westerns are about dudes shacking up together in some way or another, either on the road or in the thick of battle. When The Kid first sizes up Johnny, he places his hands on his belt buckle and looks him up and down like a piece of meat. And of course there’s the gun-as-phallus metaphor that everyone knows about. Elsewhere, a character says of Johnny: “That’s a lot of man you’re carrying in those boots, stranger! You know, there’s something about a tall man that makes people sit up and take notice.” I mean, if that quote doesn’t stand on its own, what does? No explanation needed.
Which leads to my next point—the script is phenomenal. There are so many good lines, really too many to list, but a few of my favorites:
"Johnny: There’s nothin’ like a good smoke and a cuppa’ coffee. You know, some men got the craving for gold and silver. Others need lotsa’ land, with herds of cattle. And then there’s those that got the weakness for whiskey, and for women. When you boil it all down, what does a man really need? Just a smoke and a cup of coffee."
"Dancin’ Kid: I like you, Guitar Man. How’d you like to work for me?Johnny: I wouldn’t.Dancin’ Kid: Now all of a sudden I don’t like you.Johnny: Now that makes me real sad."
"Dancin’ Kid: How’d Turkey take it? Hard?Johnny: You ever know anyone to take a hangin’ easy?"
Anyway, I could go on and on, but far and away my favorite bit of dialogue is the famous “Lie to me” scene featured above. This is the moment where the melodramatic nature of the film is fully actualized, with Hayden and Crawford’s words playfully bouncing off each other, while the music swells and heartstrings are pulled. It’s heightened acting at its finest, favoring a realm of romance over reality; in other words, it’s pure cinema. That it takes place in Vienna’s saloon, an entirely manufactured setting that doesn’t really make sense at all—the place is built against a mountain, with the back wall being made of red rock—only amplifies the otherworldly nature of the scene (and the film as a whole). Director Nicholas Ray wasn’t concerned with logic, he was concerned with feeling.
And what feeling is best evoked by the film’s lynching scene? Fear. Hysteria. Disgust. Take your pick, they all apply. After being given the option to incriminate Vienna for something she didn’t do in exchange for his own life, Turkey fearfully pleads to her: “What should I do? I don’t want to die. What do I do?” “Save yourself,” she answers. So Turkey gives in, offering the mob a version of reality that better serves their bloodlust. What does he get for it? A noose just the same, a fitting allegory for the era of Hollywood blacklisting and McCarthyism fearmongering.
By now, it should be clear that I absolutely adore this movie. The sumptuous Trucolor visuals allow the vibrant set and costume design to really pop—I promise you, the sky has never looked bluer—and a wealth of interesting characters, exquisite dialogue, an iconic theme, and a strangeness that feels wholly unique all combine to create a masterpiece of genre-bending filmmaking. In a way, I fell in love with the film before I even laid eyes on it, and I’m happy to say that 8 years later my love burns as bright as ever. Like a nourishing dish of comfort food, Johnny Guitar warms the soul and scratches my cineaste itch like few others. I could—and will—watch it till the end of time.
I observe this sentiment across Reddit and other places, and not only on films, but mostly to it. When someone dislikes or say a movie like The Last Jedi, Interstellar, or Avatar, which are mostly well liked, they are criticicized for their opinions. However, when people exaggerate disliking over less popular movies, such as The Phantom Menace, Event Horizon, or any other "bad" movies with their fans, they are supported as being "cool" and "funny". I don't get it why is it ok to bash less popular movies, which are already punching bags to a lot of people, but criticizing well liked movies means someone is contrarian or wrong? Wouldn't that mean no movie can be objectively good or bad, as there will never be a consensus?
What I'm thinking is - it's only "cool" to tear down a movie people circlejerk around against than something more mainstream people like it, either being the everyday blockbuster or the everyday art film.
As the festival finally draws to a close, TIFF begins handing out its festival prizes. There’s no official competition like in Cannes or Venice; rather, since it’s the people’s festival, the people vote on all of the films playing. The People’s Choice Award has recently been positioned as a kingmaker in the fall movie season, with nine out of the ten previous winners nabbing Oscar noms for Best Picture, three of them—Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, and 12 Years a Slave—winning. Every now and then you might still get a curveball, but we’ve come a long way since Toronto audiences were handing out the award to international arthouse favorites like Nicolas Roeg, Pedro Almodóvar and Takeshi Kitano.
TIFF did, however, introduce a competition program four years ago, dubbed Platform, after the film by Jia Zhangke, who presided over the jury in the inaugural year. Platform is a section dedicated to bold, boundary-pushing visions from exciting filmmakers. I only saw one Platform film this year, Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer. The winner was Ho Wi Ding’s Cities of Last Things, which had flown completely under my radar. TIFF has also recently added People’s Choice Awards for the best films in the Documentary and Midnight Madness sections, which went to Free Solo and The Man Who Feels No Pain, respectively. But all eyes, of course, remain on the top prize. The early favorite to win was A Star is Born, but Peter Farrelly’s Green Book pulled off an upset.
The winner always screens for free on closing night, and I was able to get a ticket so I decided to check it out. Green Book is based on a true story and stars Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lip and Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley. Out of work for two months while the Copacabana undergoes repairs, Tony takes a job as a driver for Don, a professional pianist, who is embarking on a music tour through the American South. Tony was recommended for his particular “talents” when it comes to handling trouble, but there’s a catch: Don is black, and Tony is racist. Oh no!
You know exactly where this movie is going without having to see it. Green Book is a road trip movie in which a black man and a white man get to know each other and make the world a better place, or at least make white people feel better about it. Yes, it’s based on a true story, and yes, it’s actually a warm and funny and endearing journey, and yes, Mortensen and Ali are great together and a joy to watch. But the film’s politics are the most disingenuous sort of liberal hogwash—that is to say, they’re clearly the politics of white Democratic voters, who would have voted for Obama for a third term. There’s a scene towards the end of the film, a pointed reversal of an earlier sequence involving our protagonists getting arrested and thrown in jail overnight, that functions dramatically as a #NotAllCops moment. Green Book is the kind of movie that’s full of dubious good intentions, existing for no other reason than to reinforce the status quo. It’s liberal, sure, but it’s also the opposite of progressive.
Lee Chang-dong’s Burning was one of my most anticipated films of the year, but my reaction ended up being unexpectedly muted. It’s a good movie, formally assured and accomplished and as well-directed as anything Lee has made before, if not better. I overheard people calling it Lee’s best film as they were pouring out of the theatre, and its record-breaking 3.8 score on the Cannes jury grid would indicate such a consensus. But I found it clumsy in its scripting, with “clues” deployed in obvious and heavy-handed ways. It’s the kind of movie where a character is a writer and is writing a story, but what is his story, or what will it be, and how many times are characters going to repeat this dialogue? Burning is a mystery film, more loose and imprecise than Lee’s previous work. The cumulative impact didn’t cut me like Secret Sunshine or Poetry, for example, but at the same time, the more diffuse emotional reaction I got from this is something that will simply take more time to unpack.
Burning is not the kind of film one wants to process on the 11th day of a massive film festival. I’m tired! And I’m curious to see what a second viewing will do, since a lot of my problems here, such as they are, amount to quibbles and nitpicks in the scripting. The film’s central mystery requires its characters to be ciphers, to a degree, and some of the characterization and plot setup just wasn’t working for me. That’s another of way of saying the film starts slow and takes a while to find its footing. But once Steven Yeun shows up, I was hooked. This is still a strong film; it builds and unfolds extremely well despite a daunting 150-minute runtime. Lee’s masterful direction is a big part of that, but Yeun is the true revelation of the film. I had seen him before in a couple small roles (I’ve never seen The Walking Dead, sorry), but he never left an impression on me. With Burning, Yeun gives one of the best performances I saw this year at TIFF. The film only works insofar as we can believe his character, Ben, capable of certain actions just as easily as not, and Yeun’s chilling and alluring performance hits every single note.
Thinking about Yeun’s performance, I started to think about the other performances I saw at the festival. Not a lot of them jump out at me, surprisingly. That might actually put Yeun on top, but there are a couple other worthy mentions here. Nicole Kidman is a towering inferno in Destroyer; I wish the movie around her was stronger, but I loved every second of what she was doing, goofy makeup and all. Anders Danielsen Lie is captivating and unsettling, but it’s a good performance deployed in an incredibly misguided way by Paul Greengrass—this being a reminder that 22 July is the worst film I saw this year and you should skip it. As for good performances in good films, I have to give a shout-out to the entire cast of High Life. The opening segments with Robert Pattinson and his daughter were some of the most memorable moments of the festival, but I could say that about almost any scene in Denis’s astonishing sci-fi epic, from Juliette Binoche in her “fuckbox” to every single tender and beguiling moment with André Benjamin.
The last film I saw this year was Shinya Tsukamoto’s Zan, or Killing. It’s a period piece about a masterless samurai lodging with a small group of villagers. He is forced to prepare for war when another samurai, played by Tsukamoto himself, passes through looking to recruit soldiers on his way to Edo. The film is a continuation of the political, anti-war statements that have dominated Tsukamoto’s late career, at times even feeling like an addendum to his previous film, Fires on the Plain. Killing is cut from the same aesthetic cloth as Fires, a scrappy low-budget effort juxtaposing violent, existential horrors with shots of clouds rolling across the sky, captured with Tsukamoto’s relentlessly vibrating camera. It builds to a powerful conclusion, one final, anguished cry that echoes long into the night. But it’s also a shaky sketch of a film, feeling unusually underdeveloped for its 80-minute runtime. Tsukamoto typically excels with shorter work, but Killing ultimately feels slight and even unfinished.
Killing functions best as a house built to support Chu Ishikawa’s final work. I only recently read about Ishikawa’s passing and was devastated by the news. Ishikawa was a legend in Japan’s industrial music scene and also produced film scores for nearly all of Tsukamoto’s films. I heard a lot of great music at TIFF this year, from Mowg’s brilliant score for Burning to the equally wonderful work by Hsu Chih-Yuan and Lim Giong for Long Day’s Journey into Night. I also have to give a shout-out here to Legend of the Demon Cat; Klaus Badelt’s score admittedly pales in comparison to his work on The Promise, but the film has a secret weapon in the form of RADWIMPS, who produced the theme song, “Mountain Top.” RADWIMPS previously composed the score for Your Name, and their theme for Legend of the Demon Cat might just be one of their best songs. But Chu Ishikawa’s score for Killing is where my mind keeps returning.
I’ve been a Tsukamoto fan ever since a classmate introduced me to Tetsuo, the Iron Man back in high school. That means I’ve been an Ishikawa fan for just as long. Musical collaborations guide my cinematic tastes as much as anything. Imagine Federico Fellini without Nino Rota, Sergio Leone without Ennio Morricone, Satoshi Kon without Susumu Hirasawa, Hou Hsiao-hsien without Lim Giong (Millennium Mambo has one of the most iconic openings in all of cinema, and that doesn’t happen without Lim’s music). Tsukamoto and Ishikawa has been one of the most memorable and genre-defining collaborations, greatly influencing my sensibilities growing up, as a movie fan or otherwise.
Walking out of the Scotiabank theatre after Killing had finished, I was filled with a sense of melancholy. That was the last time I was ever going to hear Ishikawa’s music. As I walked around the city, workers on cranes were already starting to tear down all of the TIFF posters on the sides of buildings, and the finality was overwhelming. My mind immediately went back to a scene in Long Day’s Journey into Night, when Luo hands Wan a watch, and she scolds him, saying you shouldn’t gift a watch because it’s a symbol of the eternal. In return, she hands him a small firework, or sparkler. But you shouldn’t gift someone a firework, Luo remarks, because it’s a symbol of the transitory. Wan replies, “Isn’t that what we are?”
And so the festival is over. And I need some sleep.
Thanks for reading.
The 43rd Toronto International Film Festival ran from September 6th to 16th, 2018.
Not the film, the film is brilliant! Just the subtext of the characters.
Has anyone ever noticed how stupid some of the characters are in the movie?
Reed Rothchild - Clearly not at all intelligent
Dirk Diggler - Not smart at all, mother tells him he's stupid (albeit, she is an unreliable source)
Rollergirl - Intimidated by her High School test (as well as the guy teasing her), walks out. Obvious by her facial expression as soon as she opens up the test (pure confusion)
Scotty - Do I even need to point out how dumb Scotty is?
Besides this, a lot of the main characters, except for Jack Horner and those in control of the industry, are shown to have a severe lack of intelligence or forward thinking.
I just finished watching the movie, and i really loved its atmosphere, as well as the soundtrack (namely the 80s lysergic synth stuff) and the overall visual style. Could anybody help me figuring out which are the main cinematographic and even literary influences on the movie (and maybe recommend me some similar ones)? I seem to have spotted some Sam Raimi in there, and sometimes The Crow came to my mind, but that's about it.
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We always hear how bad it is when movie directors are given limited control on big budget movies under major film companies, and how it generally leads to the movie becoming much worse than they originally were going to be.
However, are there cases where the lack of control did a movie favors? If so, what were these movies, and what were the modifications?
At which point do you think lack of freedom/creative input is bad, and when does the director goes too far and the studio steps in to make a change?
I come to you guys today with a rather technical/organisational question:I've been in the cinema collective of my University for quite some time now, usually as the organizer of the screening rights for the movies we're showing.
Until now, it's always been kind of a drag finding the screening rights for the particular movies, because I didn't find any really helpful and extensive online platform with a search engine for movie titles or directors etc. that shows you the possessor of the screening rights in your country.
The only one I've been using so far and which has proven itself as quite helpful is the Lumière Database (http://lumiere.obs.coe.int/web/search/).
So here's my question: Would you by chance know any helpful online platforms for the search of screening rights?
Thanks in advance, and best wishes!AlarmingNeedleworker
PS: I'm from Switzerland, in case you have specific national or regional online platforms in mind.PPS: Hope I'm posting this in the right subreddit! If not, I apologize. If you know a better subreddit for this sort of question, tell me in the comments.
I love the way Hitchcock incorporates quirks of the local culture, or characters' occupations, or natural landscape into the action of his films. Eg Carey Grant having nowhere to hide in the middle of those cornfields or James Stewart using his camera equipment as a weapon. What are other films or filmmakers that do this well? Or where its particularly cheesy and poorly done?