Blog Directory CineVerse: May 2017

An insider's view of 1950s Hollywood

Thursday, May 25, 2017

It doesn't name real names, employ any credible hard-edged cynicism, or show warts-and-all Tinsel Town tawdriness and tribulations. But "The Bad and the Beautiful" also doesn't fail to entertain, despite its punches-pulled MGM pedigree. Observations reached by our CineVerse cadre include:

THEMES AT WORK IN THIS PICTURE:
Dreams unfulfilled or interrupted
The exploitation of fresh, raw talent
According to reviewer Matt Langdon:
o “The cost of putting one’s professional life before personal relationships”
o “The (difficult) choice that must be made between art and life”
o “Is it possible to forgive such heinous flaws” (as exemplified in the character of Shields)
o “Maintaining respect in a brutal business”
The dark side of the dream of fame and fortune: how hubris, profiteering, and sin are endemic to Hollywood
The irony of being beholden to your betrayer

WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING OR UNEXPECTED ABOUT THIS FILM?
It comes on the heels of “Sunset Boulevard,” released two years earlier, and seems to ape some of that movie’s cynicism and thematic content about the dark underbelly of Tinsel Town and the Hollywood dream.
Yet, it doesn’t point its arrows necessarily at the highest honchos on the totem pole; there’s no Louis B. Mayer that gets skewered here. “The highest rank of executive it’s willing to tar and feather is the semi-independent producer. But real studio heads are kept out of the picture,” wrote critic Glenn Erickson, who added: “Shield's career isn't squashed out of jealousy or fear by the higher-ups, Bartlow's talent isn't dissipated in hackwork, and starlet Lorrison's loose morals are attributed to her personal problems, not the studio system that kept starlets as salaried escorts on demand.”
There are not-so-subtle comparisons made between some of its characters and real-life Hollywood personalities of the 1940s/1950s. “Lana Turner's father-obsessed starlet stands in for Diana Barrymore, the Southern writer (Dick Powell) who hates Hollywood and wants to go home is a blatant take on Faulkner, the director (Barry Sullivan) plays Jacques Tourneur to Shields' Val Lewton on a movie called "Attack of the Cat Man"; the Shields character rings a bell…for David O. Selznick,” posited blogger Farran Smith Nehme.
Ironically, it seems to undercut its thematic argument that career accomplishments trump personal relationships. Consider that Shields doesn’t seem to experience a comeuppance, and the people he used and hurt come back to him for the opportunity to make more exploitable art.
The low key, expressive lighting style looks similar to film noir; non-noir dramas at this time utilized this stylistic look to convey dark and serious tones.

OTHER MOVIES THAT THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL MAKES YOU THINK OF:
Sunset Boulevard
A Star is Born
Two Weeks in Another Town
A Life of Her Own
The Barefoot Contessa
The Big Knife
The Carpetbaggers
The Player
Citizen Kane (which also uses flashbacks to tell its story and a high boom shot of technicians high aloft of the stage)
The low-budget but creative B horror pictures by Val Lewton

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY VINCENTE MINNELLI:
Meet Me in St. Louis
An American in Paris
The Band Wagon
Gigi
Brigadoon
Lust for Life
Father of the Bride

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It sure beats the good and the ugly

Sunday, May 21, 2017

You won't want to miss CineVerse on May 24, when the spotlight falls on “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952; 118 minutes), directed by Vincente Minnelli, chosen by Carole Bogaard.

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Film is a state of mind

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Whether you consider it more of a comedy or a drama, it's hard to deny the charms and philosophies at work on Hal Ashby's "Being There," featuring perhaps Peter Sellers' greatest performance. There's a lot of substance packed into this film, and more than meets the eye, as demonstrated by the extensive discussion we enjoyed last evening at CineVerse. Here's a roundup of that group talk:

THEMES EXPLORED IN BEING THERE:
The irony and danger of being a human cipher: 
o A man who is a blank slate and non-entity who seems to stand for and believe in nothing, yet ironically impresses and influences many by virtue of his ambiguity. As put by Criterion Collection essayist Mark Harris, Being There is “the portrait of a man who relates to no one but to whom everyone relates.”
o Harris says the film serves as a cautionary tale, noting that “we invest people with unspeakable power by reinventing them as reflections of our hopes and our vanities, and it is thus terrifyingly possible for us to endow a complete imbecile who watches TV all day with qualities he has never possessed.”
Being cast out of the Garden of Eden: Chance is evicted from his longtime home and is forced to wander, until he is taken in by “Eve.” 
Evolution and exploration: The film uses a disco version of the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme humorously and effectively; the song plays when Chance has to, for the first time, venture out of his cocoon into “outer space” and explore a strange new universe.
Power and privilege is own often unfairly bestowed upon an undeserving but fortunate man who looks the part: Roger Ebert noted: “Because he is a WASP, middle-aged, well-groomed, dressed in tailored suits, and speaks like an educated man, he is automatically presumed to be a person of substance. He is, in fact, socially naïve.” Recall what the housekeeper says about Chance: "Yes, sir, all you've gotta be is white in America, to get whatever you want."
The emperor has no clothes, but this is only recognized by the common man. Consider that street thugs, hired help and other middle- to lower-class people see Chance for what he dimwitted and unworthy of all the attention he’s receiving; but the upper class choose to see things in Chance that aren’t really there, indicating that they are as naïve and gullible as Chance.
Life is a state of mind, and ignorance is bliss: if your mind is relatively blank and carefree, life can appear carefree; Chance appears happy and content, likely because he’s ignorant, childlike and simple-minded.
Unbalanced, one-sided relationships: The characters who interact with and surround Chance grow and evolve or at least demonstrate that they’ve been affected by him; but we never get the sense that Chance grows, evolves, or truly connects with another human being. What’s going on in Chance’s head remains a mystery—the film’s last shot suggests that he remains naïve and oblivious to the world around him.

HOW DO YOU INTERPRET THE FINAL SHOT OF CHANCE WALKING ON WATER?
You could take it skeptically—that he is actually walking on a sandbar or hidden pier, which he may or may not be aware of; yet, from an observer’s perspective, it would appear as if Chance is actually able to walk on water and “perform miracles”, just as many who interact with him in the film begin to mistakenly conclude.
Or, you could take it literally, that he is actually walking on water from his perspective. Think about how Chance is so dissociated from reality and so brainwashed by television that perhaps, like the Road Runner who can run off a cliff without falling down, he believes he can truly walk on water because, as blogger Jeff Saporito theorizes, “he doesn’t understand his limitations. It is symbolic of his lack of restrictions…Throughout the picture, all of Chance’s actions stem from the honesty of his ignorance. He goes from a gardener to a confidant of billionaires to a presidential advisor to a presidential candidate himself, all without realizing. Chance walks on water at the end because he doesn’t realize he can’t.”
Or, Chance could represent a Christ-like figure who, like any other human, shouldn’t be able to walk on water, but is a rare breed who has the supernatural power to actually do so. Consider that we know very little about Christ’s background between birth and his emergence as an adult, just as we know almost nothing about Chance.
The fact that multiple interpretations are possible reinforces another of the film’s key themes: the nature of perception, and how we each see what we want to see in a character, which can differ from viewer to viewer. 

OTHER MOVIES THAT BEING THERE MAKES YOU THINK OF:
Screwball comedies like My Man Godfrey
Rain Man and the Laurel and Hardy movies (Chance is kind of like a cross between Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond and Stan Laurel’s quiet, bowler hat-wearing imbecile)
Big
Forrest Gump
2001: A Space Odyssey
Dave

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY HAL ASHBY
Harold and Maude
The Last Detail
Shampoo
Bound for Glory
Coming Home

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A not so long time to go, in a library not so far, far away...

Monday, May 15, 2017

On May 20, Cineversary returns to the Oak Lawn Library from 1-4 p.m. This time, we'll celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope” (1977; 121 minutes).

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Capitalize on a Sellers market

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Circle May 17 on your calendar: that's when CineVerse will feature “Being There” (1979; 130 minutes), directed by Hal Ashby, chosen by Dan Quenzel.

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From the lost and found department

Thursday, May 11, 2017

David Fincher's "Gone Girl" takes viewers on a tense and uncomfortable ride through the minefield of an unhinged marriage and gets us to the other side in one piece--but without a feeling of safety or closure. Our CineVerse discussion group took a closer look at this work of dark chocolate and arrived at the following observations:

WHAT IS DISTINCTIVE, NOTEWORTHY AND PERHAPS OFF-PUTTING ABOUT GONE GIRL?
There are many shifts in point of view and perspective and several reveals that make our two main characters unreliable narrators: the result is that you don’t know who or what to trust.
There isn’t much subtlety or nuance to this movie; as reviewer Matt Zoller Seitz posits: “the film raises…questions and others, and it answers nearly all of them, often in boldface, all-caps sentences that end with exclamation points.”
Like Hitchcock or De Palma, the filmmakers aren’t concerned with telling a realistic story or unfolding a plausible plot; they want to create a moody atmosphere, unsettling tone and formalistic film.
o These kind of movies are called, according to critic Anne Billson, “preposterous thrillers” wherein “characters and their behavior bear no relation not just to life as we know it, but to any sort of properly structured fiction we may have hitherto encountered." 
o Seitz suggests: “Not a single frame is meant to be taken literally…it’s working through primordial feelings in the manner of a blues song, a pulp thriller, a film noir, or a horror picture.”

WHAT THEMES ARE AT WORK IN GONE GIRL?
How well do you know your partner? There’s a darkness and danger lurking behind every marriage, and even the person you think you love may not be trustworthy. Consider: which characters do you trust in this film? Maybe the sister?
As suggested by New Yorker critic Joshua Rothman, “are there any stories that we can tell ourselves about marriage that ring true?”
The myth of coupledom is oppressive and results in victimization: “marriage and victimhood are inseparable”, theorizes Rothman, who adds that coupledom creates a power relationship wherein one party is more dominant or winning than the other.
The media lies (consider the women’s and men’s magazines that previously employed Amy and Nick), and the media is bloodthirsty, ruthless and easily manipulated.
We live in a vapid, cut-throat, attention-seeking culture.
Dual identities and alter egos

HALLMARKS OF MANY DAVID FINCHER PICTURES:
According to blogger G.S. Perno:
o Dark, labyrinth-like worlds with many corners, twists and sudden turns
o Plot twists and twist endings
o A dark lighting style combined with filtered/overlayed colors and crisp, highly focused cinematography; characters often have shadows obscuring their faces
o Smooth tracking camera shots
o Occasional insertion of single odd frames—almost like a quick subliminal image
o Downbeat, somber endings that often lack closure for characters and/or viewers

OTHER MOVIES THAT REMIND US OF “GONE GIRL”
“Preposterous” thrillers like Vertigo and Dressed to Kill, wherein the plot may not make much sense but the overall mood created is palpable and resonant
Unreliable psychological thrillers like Memento and Mulholland Drive
Prisoners
A Perfect Murder
To Die For
Basic Instinct
The documentary series The Staircase
Laura

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY DAVID FINCHER
Se7en
Fight Club
Zodiac
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Social Network
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

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From the missing persons file...

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Join CineVerse on May 10 for “Gone Girl” (2014; 149 minutes), directed by David Fincher, chosen by Tom Nesis. Note: Due to this film’s long runtime, CineVerse may conclude closer to 10:15 tonight.

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A "Fast and Furious" for the counterculture

Thursday, May 4, 2017

There's no cult movie quite like "Vanishing Point," a strange but exhilarating chase flick from 1971. On one hand, it likely would have appealed to manly men conservative types back in the day, but also to hippies, multicultural-minded moviegoers and liberal-leaning viewers, too. For a film that lacks any type of meaty plot or character development, there was a lot more to talk about with this picture than expected. Here's the thrust of our CineVerse discussion points:

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FILM’S TITLE? WHY CALL IT “VANISHING POINT”?
According to essayist Geoff Ward, it could be referring to “the point where the sides of a highway converge at the horizon through the action of perspective—the point towards which Kowalski is always and inevitably heading, where the sightlines converge, itself an illusion.”
It may be referencing the suicidal finale, “the point at which (Kowalski) vanishes from the world.”
It may make us think of how Kowalski reaches a point where he is no longer a person and instead assumes the mantle of a hero or villain, per Ward.
Consider, also that things appear and disappear in the movie, such as the white car that suddenly vanishes after passing the black car early in the movie.

WHAT THEMES COME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING THIS PICTURE?
The anti-hero vs. the Establishment: Kowalski becomes a sympathetic figure because he’s bucking the system and thwarting those who wish to control and curtail him.
The enigma and appeal of the mystery man, the rugged individualist, the romantic loner, the iconoclast: we know very little about Kowalski or what motivates him; indeed, his character and the film beg many unanswered questions, as posed by New York Times writer Rick Lyman: “Are we meant to remember Stanley Kowalski from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire?’ Why is he a pill-popping renegade? What induces him to make a meaningless suicidal bet with a drug dealer to drive his car to San Francisco in an impossibly short time? Why…does he choose to kill himself…rather than knuckle under?’
Crossings and X-factors: Kowalski’s vehicle creates a big “X” in the sand; also, he “crosses the central reservation, the railroad line, the state lines, No Name Creek, and…the line between what the authorities/establishment will and will not tolerate…and the line between optimism of the past and pessimism of the present, and, ultimately, the point of no return at Cisco, where he becomes resigned to his doom, is own personal ‘vanishing point,’” wrote Ward.
Signs: literally, in the form of road signs and visual cultural signifiers like ads, headlines and graffiti. Ward asks us to consider how often we see a “Stop” sign, or what the sign “End speed zone” is suggesting here, and what we’re supposed to think about other visual icons and symbols, like “Coca Cola, Mobil (big business, materialism), police insignia (the establishment, authority), Jesus Saves (religion, dogma), Love (the counter-culture)”...and "Argo’s Car Delivery," which "alludes to the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, the crew of the ship Argo who sailed in search of the Golden Fleece."
Cosmic irony and existential angst. Ward posits that “the movie depicts graphically how the realization of human potential, and the validation of human purpose, are frustrated not only by the very institutions which we create, but also by the very way we think…Kowalski sacrifices himself in order to bring this powerfully to our attention.”
WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING, UNIQUE OR UNEXPECTED ABOUT THIS FILM?
It can be enjoyed on multiple levels: as a straight-up action thriller, as an existential think piece about nonconformity, or as a dated time capsule movie endemic of the counterculture, cult film audience it appealed to.
Unlike other lawbreaking anti-hero characters in cinema, he seems to abide by a moral code: he rebuffs sexual offers from females, he stops and checks to make sure that drivers he leaves behind are not hurt, and he only takes what he needs, suggests Ward.
There’s a recurrent use of crash zooms and rapid focus shifts, a trend many 1970s grindhouse and exploitation films.
The movie features a bed of nearly nonstop music that varies from country to rock to soul.
There’s an awkward and stereotypical scene depicting gay outlaws that can be cringe-worthy today.
While the car chase shots/scenes involved risk and should be appreciated, many expect there to be more stunts, close calls, crashes, pile-ups and death-defying feats of driving, as we often see in other car chase films.
It’s hard not to watch this movie and not think of the O.J. Simpson car chase and the media frenzy that erupted from that event—demonstrating that life can imitate art.

WHAT OTHER MOVIES DOES VANISHING POINT CONJURE UP?
Easy Rider, with its anti-hero, counterculture themes and road movie template
Car chase plot films like Bullitt, Duel, Smokey and the Bandit, Death Proof, and the Fast and Furious series
Copycat pictures from the 1970s such as Crazy Mary, Dirty Larry, Death Race 2000, and Gone in 60 Seconds
Old and modern movies that feature incredible auto chase sequences, like The French Connection, The Rock, and Ronin
Thelma and Louise, which shares a similar tragic but romantic ending
First Blood, another movie in which a Vietnam vet is harassed and chased by authorities, who suffer at the skilled hands of the pursued

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY RICHARD C. SARAFIAN
Run Wild, Run Free
Man in the Wilderness
Lolly-Madonna XXX 

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