Archive for 2010

Cinema Styles Year End Extravaganza!

It's the end of another year and you know what that means for Cinema Styles, right? Yep, pretty much, nothing. No top ten list (I never see enough new movies to make a top ten list comprehensive enough), no recap of the movie year, no cinematic resolutions for the next. Pretty much just a big ole helpin' of nuttin'! And every year I secretly tell myself (although now the secret will be out), "Next year, I'm going to see lots of new movies and do all the year end stuff all those other movie writers and critics do." And then? Yep, you guessed it! Nothing.

So it's time I stopped fooling myself. I'm not going to see a bunch of new movies this year because I tend to want to see the older ones first. Oh, don't get me wrong, I see plenty of new movies, I just don't see them when they come out. After about, say, three years have passed, I've pretty much seen all the big or important or highly praised movies of any given year. I just don't see them soon enough to write about them in the here and now. When they kind of take over the landscape, like an Avatar or Inglourious Basterds, I usually rush out to see them to take part in the conversation but, for the most part, I much prefer my steady diet of classic and foreign films taken in at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring, Maryland.

One thing that has happened in the last month has been my long-awaited return to regular posting (long-awaited by me, that is; I doubt anyone else was waiting.). After being laid off of work for a year I got a job at an art supply store that turned out to be exhausting and demoralizing and slightly less income than the unemployment was paying but it was a job and I needed to be employed again so I took it. It didn't matter if it paid a little less than unemployment because I knew as long as I worked hard I'd have a steady paycheck and not be left to the whims of congressional political ping-pong.

The real problem was that I had no computer access at work and when I got home I was too tired to write. Before that I was too depressed and anxious being unemployed to do anything either. The constant spectre of the money supply drying up with a house and four kids turned knots in my stomach almost daily. Then, finally, something positive happened. I got a call from the National Archives, with whom I had previously interviewed for another position I didn't get. They had an opening that fit my experience perfectly, asked for an interview the next day and the day after that called me and told me I was hired. The person I was replacing was leaving in less than two weeks so I had to train on my days off from my other job. True, I could have just vacated the art supply store job but that's simply not who I am. I gave them the proper two weeks notice and trained at the National Archives in my off-time. When I took over full time, the person I was replacing was gone and I had all of four days training under my belt. Through the autumn I see-sawed between happy and incredibly anxious. Happy that I had the job, and a very good one at that, anxious that I didn't know what the hell I was doing for a good two months. So, again, my posts slowed.

Finally, sometime around Thanksgiving I got my footing and ever since, posting has been back to normal around here. This month alone saw almost as many posts as I did for the entire summer (16 for June, July and August combined, 15 for December) and it feels good to be back on track after a year and a half of wandering aimlessly trying to figure out what I was doing.

Still, I've got a lot to do at work and a lot I want to do at home so I have to evaluate how much I can do online and when. Right now I'm running Cinema Styles and Unexplained Cinema while posting for the culture blog If Charlie Parker was a Gunslinger , conversing with a group of horror dads over at TCM and writing music reviews for Mondo Cult Magazine. I've put Unexplained Cinema on hold for now, awaiting inspiration for another sea change to occur. I got quite a boost earlier in the year when The Lincoln Center and its magazine, Film Comment, listed Unexplained Cinema as among the top film sites on the internet and mentioned Cinema Styles at the top of the piece as well. But I can't keep doing something if I'm not inspired by it and right now it's just not happening. I'll figure out something there, eventually.

Posting for Charlie Parker is always fun but something I don't have as much time for anymore. I used to browse photo archives every day but in the last year that's fallen by the wayside so my posting there has suffered as well. I don't know when, or if, I'll have the same amount of time again to devote to browsing photo archives endlessly so I'm probably safe just doing a pic or two a day there. Fortunately, it's a group effort led by the hardest working man online, Tom Sutpen, so I don't ever feel pressured to do more than comes naturally.

When Richard Harland Smith of the Movie Morlocks at TCM asked me to take part in a series of conversations about horror movies among fathers raising their kids on that very genre, I was a little reluctant at first, thinking this might tip the scales for doing too much online. My fears were unfounded as RHS has made it as malleable as possible, bending and contorting discussion times to fit everyone's schedule and I look forward to the next installment.

Mondo Cult Magazine is a breeze because Paul Gaita, one of the editors, sends out e-mails asking who wants to review what, giving a choice of CDs received by the studios pushing them and then sends them to whoever wants to review them. As a result, I never have to review anything for them I don't want to which is pretty damn convenient. My only problem is deadlines of which I'm notoriously late at meeting.

That leaves Cinema Styles and like I said up top, it's back to regular posting here. About a year ago I whittled all the special features here down to Opening Credits I Love, In the Land Before CGI and, now, The Short List, a collection of favorite supporting performances. Paring everything down has made the last year of anxiety much easier to manage and I've also decided to start reviewing music here as well, although unlike my reviews for Mondo Cult, they will be from my own collection. The first one was Oscar Peterson's Motions and Emotions and I look forward to doing many more.

And that's that. Thanks to everyone for sticking around through the lean months and a Happy New Year to all! See you in the 2011!

That C.B. Style


So, I was under the impression that the whole riding boots, jodhpurs, cap/beret, look was DeMille's. I was aided in this assumption by lines from DeMille bios stating things like, "In his trademark leather puttees and jodhpurs..." But now, looking at this picture, it seems that either 1)everyone who worked on a movie set wore this combo, this kind of movie-making uniform, if you will, 2)DeMille liked it so much he demanded anyone who worked with him wear the same thing, which seems unlikely because then he wouldn't stand out or 3) everyone just wanted to be like C.B.

Of course, other photos of other directors...












...lend support to the beret/cap being, at the very least, a part of some required director's uniform. But did it come from DeMille or just that everyone on a movie set in the twenties wore them and he was the only one remembered for it? Were you given a dress code violation for not wearing one, or for wearing a baseball cap or fedora instead? And, finally, did the studios provide them or did you have to buy your own?

So many questions, so few answers. All I know is, when I become a big time director, I'm bringing back the Fellini/Frankenheimer look. The beret thing's been so done, you know? Besides, all these years later and still no one does it better than DeMille.

The Red Shoes


The Red Shoes is Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's film about a ballet company and its new star, Victoria Page (Moira Shearer), who is torn between her love of dancing and her love of the composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring). Victoria has always dreamed of being a great dancer, and with the famous ballet director Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), she gets her chance, catching the notoriously picky Lermontov's attention and increasingly becoming the company's star performer. At the same time, Lermontov has hired the aspiring young composer Julian, and he too becomes a star within the company, composing original new music that impresses everyone who hears it. The only catch is that Lermontov has an obsession with dancers committing their entire lives to their art — he is furious when his previous star announces that she's getting married — and since it's inevitable that Victoria and Julian will eventually fall in love, their success seems very tenuous.

The film is about the ballet, of course, but more than that it's about the untenable position of women in a world that forces them to choose between ordinary domestic pleasures — love, marriage, family — and the ability to express themselves creatively or professionally. By the end of the film, Victoria is positioned between two men, Lermontov and Julian, neither of whom will allow her to build a balanced, happy life for herself. Both men demand that she choose one or the other. The final confrontation is structured like the showdown of a love triangle, the two men verbally dueling over the woman they both want, even though Lermontov has no sexual or romantic desire for Victoria; he wants only for her to dedicate herself entirely to dancing. In between them, Victoria can only cry, being asked to choose when it's obvious that she both loves Julian and loves dancing, and wouldn't want to give up either. (Though why she'd ever want Julian, who's made up like a wispy 30s Hollywood leading man and who's as much of an arrogant, unyielding jerk as Lermontov, is a question the film can never quite answer.) The film is positively progressive in its examination of Victoria's dilemma, even if it's only in tragic terms, with no way out for her, no solution to resolve these tensions tearing her apart.

But that's the nature of this film. It's an overwrought melodrama and it knows it — it revels in it, in fact. The performances, with the exception of Shearer's supple, subtle turn as Victoria, are uniformly over-the-top, both onstage and off. At one point, the choreographer Ljubov (Léonide Massine) dances around Lermontov while arguing with him, as though dancing a part in a ballet; a spotlight even follows Ljubov around as though he were still rehearsing. This scene, with its light comic undertones, suggests that these people live the ballet, that onstage and off they're prone to dramatics and overstatement, to grand gestures that could be seen way up in the last rows of the theater. They're always projecting, and so their histrionics work within the context of their characters. This is especially true of Lermontov, who despite his backstage role always seems to be acting, to be projecting the image of the demanding, tyrannical director that he believes he should inhabit. Walbrook's performance is such great fun because of this artificiality, this note of hysterical overacting that infuses everything Lermontov does. After he finally convinces Victoria to return to dancing towards the end of the film, when she leaves the room he shakes his arms around, clasping at the air, grandly declaring his excitement at his victory to the empty room.


Powell and Pressburger match the story's melodramatics with lush, patently artificial imagery that enhances the film's underlying themes: as is so often the case in their cinema, the film seems to take place in a surreal dreamworld of painted backdrops and lavish sets that stand in for such glamorous locales as Monte Carlo. Onstage and offstage are united in artificiality, suggesting that for these artists, under Lermontov's guidance, life and art are unified, with the latter overshadowing the former. Nowhere is this more apparent than during the sublime 15-minute sequence in which Victoria performs the ballet The Red Shoes for the first time. It is one of the finest sequences in the cinema, a beautiful and remarkably playful melding of the cinema and the theater, and an ode, not to the power of ballet but to the power of Powell and Pressburger's own chosen art.

Once the performance starts, Powell and Pressburger deliberately and playfully erase the boundaries and limitations of the theatrical stage, leaping into the realm of the cinema. When Victoria's character in the ballet sees the red shoes in a shop window, she imagines that she sees herself dancing in the window, turning pirouettes. It is an idea that's all but impossible to convey purely through dancing, on a stage: it is internal, a moment of imagination that can only be conveyed cinematically. So Powell and Pressburger superimpose an image of Victoria dancing in the window, as she stands outside, looking in and imagining this scene. Although the moment ostensibly occurs during a real theatrical performance of the ballet, before an audience, Powell and Pressburger instead stage the sequence with a cinematic sensibility that could never be translated to the stage in this way. When Victoria first dons the red shoes, she does so by leaping forward into them, and in a closeup on her feet, the shoes change, in an instant between frames, from her plain white ones to the bold red ones. It is, again, a moment that purposefully shatters the illusion of a ballet taking place on a stage — in a theatrical performance, the dancer would have to go backstage and change her shoes at this point, but Powell and Pressburger elide the costume change through the magic of editing.

Again and again, the filmmakers are calling attention to the differences between the cinema and live theater, using every cinematic trick at their disposal to transform this ballet into a fluid, magical sequence. Victoria turns and leaps across the stage — and the wooden boards of the floor keep reminding one that this is a stage — and dances in long straight lines that would be impossible to maintain on a real stage without dancing into the backstage area. Indeed, at one point, after a lengthy sequence in which Victoria dances through a succession of narrow corridors and between buildings, Powell and Pressburger cut back to a long shot of the entire stage, which reveals Victoria emerging from the rear of the stage, where she would have just been dancing for a long time completely unseen by a theater audience. Only the camera is able to follow her back there, its graceful tracking following the fluid lines of her movement. The subsequent sequence of Victoria being taken away by the power of the red shoes relies heavily on superimposition to lend a ghostly, translucent quality to the dancer as she hops and twirls through eerie nighttime vistas and, finally, enters a free fall that's familiar from cinematic dream sequences but would, again, break the constraints of reality on a real stage. Still later, she dances with a wisp of paper that transforms briefly into a man, her own costume changing between shots, before the man again fades away into a newspaper blowing in the breeze.

Towards the end of the performance, Powell and Pressburger finally insert a high shot looking out towards the audience beyond the row of lights at the front of the stage, the first time since the very beginning of the performance that the presence of the audience or the stage borders are revealed. But at this moment the audience is replaced by a superimposition of a churning sea, and the sound of the waves blends subtly with the sound of applause, suggesting that Victoria is seeing everything through her character and the story of the ballet, seeing everything around her transformed and made real through the magic of creative expression. It is a stirring, thrilling sequence, and one feels both Victoria's joy in the dance, and the joy of the filmmakers in shaping and directing her dance. That joy, both in front of the camera and behind it, is the joy of creativity and art, and even when this film is at its most tragic and heartrending, that joy is the feeling that comes through most strongly.

Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal

The 1985 documentary, Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal, provides an overview of the career of the famed animator, producer, director, writer and stop-motion pioneer as simply as it possibly can: It shows archival interviews with Pal, brief snippets of praise from both peers and acolytes and loads of scenes from his movies. In other words, it goals are modest, it's subject straightforward and it has no concerns with breaking new ground in documentary film making. Simply put, it's object is to show a lot of clips while giving the viewer the understanding that much of fantasy and science fiction of the sixties onward was heavily influenced by Mr. Pal. This isn't a documentary for fans of Ken Burns or Errol Morris. Fans of Barbara Kopple, don't bother. This documentary isn't about finding profound meanings hidden in the nooks or exploring the central core of Pal's being. It's about how cool the movies were that he made and how much they changed the landscape of fantasy/science fiction.

The point is made early, as in right in the opening scene, which isn't from a Pal movie at all, but Gremlins. This is followed by shots of E.T.,the Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters and the message is immediately clear: Pal paved the way for the fantasy/sci-fi of today. But in watching the documentary one also gets the impression that his legacy may also be that a kind, gentle and generous person can actually succeed in Hollywood.

It's expected in a documentary of this sort that no one interviewed will have anything bad to say ("I hated that bastard!") but the sheer volume of praise from the wide variety of actors (Russ Tamblyn, Charlton Heston, Tony Curtis, Rod Taylor, Janet Leigh, etc) and the sincerity with which they give it makes one feel an immediate affection for Pal. All of them talk about the confidence he had in them, the exuberance, the sheer unswerving optimism, all from a man who fled Nazi Germany (unlike Veit Harlan) and then, seven years later, had to flee again (he had fled to Holland then left for the United States just before Germany invaded). He saw how bad the world could get but always knew it could be better.

And hard working? They don't make 'em as hard working as George Pal anymore. He built his career around the success of his stop-motion animation, later to become his famous Puppetoons, only it wasn't claymation, it was replacement animation! That means every time a character changed expression, or walked, or waved their hand or freaking blinked(!), a new puppet figure had to be inserted. His charts and storyboards for this were so detailed it made the operation schematics for the construction of the atomic bomb look like a recipe for boiling water. This fascination with detail and the nuts and bolts of things is what contributed to his greatest successes in live action when the time came.

Ray Bradbury comments, correctly, that Destination Moon was the first sci-fi film all about the science. It's all about how the rocket works and the journey there that matters, not actually being on the moon. And it was Pal's interest in solving problems that led him to provide efficient ways to communicate the science to the audience, like having the scientists show a Woody Woodpecker cartoon to potential investors to explain how the process of getting to the moon works. This technique was used again years later by Steven Spielberg in Jurassic Park when John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) shows everyone a cartoon to explain how the dinosaurs have been created.

It's true, his movies are not masterpieces. The acting and writing seem unrefined at times and the budgets ran on the low side but, as stated again by Ray Bradbury, he did something very important for science fiction film: He made it respectable. Before Destination Moon, science fiction seemed entirely silly to most of Hollywood and most adult moviegoers but after Destination Moon, it proved it could take itself seriously and rake in the big bucks. It also helped that he hired the best artists and designers in the game, from the great matte artist Chesley Bonestell to model designer Albert Nozaki who created the iconic Martian spaceships for War of the Worlds.


George Pal continued to have success in film, most notably The Time Machine, with Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux in 1960, but it's his fifties sci-fi work that is most remembered today and clearly the most influential to future generations of sci-fi film makers. The pacing, style and action of today's sci-fi comes a variety of influences and directors such as Steven Spielberg and James Cameron but the idea that it could be something more than cheap serial fare came from Pal, and it's an idea I'm glad he didn't keep to himself.

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This has been a contribution post to the Steven Spielberg Blogathon hosted by Ryan Kelly and Adam Zanzie.

Billie Dove Freaks Out for Christmas


And she wishes everyone all the best, just don't touch her stuffed animals. She lived the dream life, that Billie. A Ziegfeld Girl in her teens, starring with Douglas Fairbanks in her twenties and retiring from all of it to live on a ranch at 29. She lived another 65 years after retiring, enjoying her family and free time. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

Happy Holidays!





Follow the yellow brick road to your local bookstore. Designs on Film makes a great gift!
(And yes, a little artistic license thrown in with my cat Snoopy).
Thank you for your support this past year and all the best for a prosperous and healthy 2011.

Happy Holidays!

Cathy Whitlock

Best of 2010


Later this week Rob and I will record our 'Best Of' podcast - exactly one year ago, our very first podcast was a summary of 2009. Back then, I had probably seen more films than Rob had- now that ratio has reversed radically, with Rob having seen hundreds of films at the Dukes and festivals. My record is much poorer and therefore my list is less authoritative - but somehow I feel like my list wouldn't be too different anyway. Deciding what to include is difficult, and for me, it's just everything I've seen in the year, including things that haven't been released in 2010 (or might never get a release here).

Listen to an audio version of this and Rob's list on iTunes or on the Picturehouse site.

1- ALAMAR
One of the most moving films I have seen in years. Simple, beautiful, perfect.
2- BLACK SWAN
A mashup of Polanski, Cronenberg and Powell - yet completely at home in Aronofsky's obsession with self-destruction.
3- THE SOCIAL NETWORK
The most relevant of all films released this year - media and business exposed in a Citizen Kane-style tableau of greed and ambition.
4- SHUTTER ISLAND
Nobody can create a film history pastiche like Scorsese and still move you. His best in years.
5- MOTHER
Further proof that Korea (and its protectionist film policies) are near the top of the pile when it comes to talent. Gripping, surprising, completely original
6- DOGTOOTH
A disturbing, powerful and wonderfully allegorical story that can be interpreted in a million ways.
7- LIFE DURING WARTIME
As good as HAPPINESS - scary, poignant and brave.
8 - GREENBERG
A great 1970s movie - with a different production date this would be a New Hollywood classic.
9- SONS OF CUBA
A tiny film that proves you really don't need much money to create drama - just an eye and a subject.
10- REVOLUCION (compilation of short films, Carlos Reygadas' episode)
The Reygadas episode of this portmanteau is controlled chaos and cinematic genius. Proves he can do so more than 'slow' cinema.

Honorable mentions: INCEPTION, THE PROMISE: THE MAKING OF THE DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN, THE MAID, THE GHOST.

Alain Resnais

Toute la mémoire du monde (1956)

"With its long tracking shots through cavernous library hallways and its skeptical corresponding text (courtesy of writer Rémo Forlani), Alain Resnais' short essay film Toute la Mémoire du Monde imagines the Bibliothèque Nationale as a forbiddingly inhuman landscape in which man attempts to imprison "knowledge" in an effort to counter the limits of his own memory. Only in the act of individual selection - a single patron choosing a specific text - is there hope that this undifferentiated mass of knowledge can be redeemed, as the reader makes discriminating use of the collective national memory for the fulfillment of a constructive individual purpose." Andrew Schenker

Minority Report


[This is a contribution to the Steven Spielberg Blogathon, hosted by Icebox Movies and Medfly Quarantine, running from December 18-28.]

It is fitting, and much remarked-upon, that for a film about seeing the future, eyes and vision are incredibly important to Steven Spielberg's Minority Report. The film literalizes the idea of seeing the future, removes the concept from the realm of the metaphysical and places it into the context of a gritty forensic police thriller. The future world it imagines, by way of Philip K. Dick, is one in which a trio of powerful precogs — savants with awesome mental abilities — are harnessed by the police department to prevent violent crimes before they happen. The precogs see — literally see — murders that are going to happen in the future, and their visions are harnessed through computers into video records that can then be played back, manipulated, and enhanced, their details thoroughly dissected by the precrime investigator John Anderton (Tom Cruise).

The business of cop shows, the sifting through of evidence and unearthing of clues, is translated into this futuristic milieu as Anderton analyzes these videos in order to discover the soon-to-occur murder's location and actors. Spielberg stages the introductory scene of Anderton leading an investigation as though the detective was conducting a symphony, using a complex computer system that responds to his every movement. He waves his hands and video fragments dash across the screen. Segments are looped and repeated, details are zoomed in on and snatches of sound are amplified, and every nuance of the video becomes a potential clue pointing towards the scene of the future crime. Detective work becomes a process of looking deeply and intently, examining the image — in other words, the detective becomes a figure analogous to a film editor, or perhaps a film critic, an analyzer of images, fitting together the bits and pieces of a scene in a way that makes sense and reveals the meaning of the scene.

The film's literalization of seeing the future is so potent because it's a metaphor or a model for the cinema, but even more poignantly it's compared to home movies. Anderton spends his days looking into the future, but his nights are spent immersed in the past, in home movie recordings of his young son, who disappeared and is presumed dead. We never say that we are seeing the past in the same way as we talk about seeing the future, but when we look at home movies or a photo album, we are in fact seeing the past, visually engaging with memories. When Anderton pulls up the footage of his son playing on the beach, selecting it from a larger collection like a connoisseur, he engages with it in much the same way as he does with the precogs' visions of the future: looping and rewinding, revisiting key passages as though hoping to extract some meaning, some tangible clue, from these images of his laughing, energetic son. It places Anderton's work in heartrending relief, as an effort to find the truth in these video images of the future, the truth that eludes and mystifies him when trying to make sense of the loss of his son through video records of the past.


The directive to look, to see deeply, is also central to the character of Agatha (Samantha Morton), the most powerful of the precogs. Agatha wants a witness, wants someone to look closely at a particular vision of hers, a vision of a crime that has long been thought "solved," the murder prevented before it happened. Agatha's quest becomes linked to Anderton's when Anderton sees himself in one of the precogs' visions, and sees his own name come up as the next would-be murderer for the police to apprehend. Anderton is forced to go on the run, eventually joined by Agatha, who he liberates from her weird imprisonment in the tanks that house the precogs and make them look like exhibits at an aquarium, an aspect of the whole precog system that everyone seems, curiously, morally blind to until Anderton rips Agatha out of this housing and is forced to confront her humanity.

That moral blindness is another form of seeing and not seeing, the motif that Spielberg seems fascinated with here. Is it really possible that this future society is so indifferent to the humanity of the precogs that a system where these people are permanantly chained, physically and mentally, to a computer system that channels their visions, is not only accepted but is soon to be unveiled on a larger scale? Before Anderton goes on the run, he and his fellow cops make some nods to the moral and philosophical dilemmas at the root of precrime — how do you arrest someone for a crime that hasn't actually occurred? — but they easily shake off the deeper doubts of FBI agent Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell), dismissing his concerns as inconsequential whining. In (broad) contemporary political terms, Witwer is the bleeding-heart liberal concerned with rights and morality, while the rest of society seems poised to side with the law-and-order conservatives who view the sacrifice of these abstract values and ideals as secondary to the gains of preventing murders. Spielberg never taps too deeply into this subcurrent of the story, but it's there nevertheless, teasing just below the surface.

Instead, there's a lot more fun with eyes and seeing. Anderton, grieving for his son, buys his drugs from an eyeless man whose hollow, empty sockets unseeingly bore into the center of the suffering Anderton. Later, he goes on the run but his eyes identify him wherever he goes. In this future society, eyescans are so routine that even advertisements scattered around on billboards scan the eyes of passersby in order to target spoken ads at individuals. As a result, wherever Anderton goes, his name is being shouted out amidst cheery slogans; Big Brother sees him everywhere because big companies see him everywhere. There's something to be said here, probably, about the reversal of the usual couch potato dynamic of consumers staring at ads. Now the ads stare back, and get personal, the logical outgrowths of online ad targeting and spyware. Spielberg, again, doesn't really go there, just leaves it as intriguing loose thread. For him, the eyescans are a plot device, necessary to give Anderton an obstacle to overcome.


This problem results in the ingenious sequence where Anderton goes to a disreputable doctor who gives him an eye transplant, which in this society where eyes are the windows not only to the soul but to one's entire person, is the equivalent of a new name and a new identity. Spielberg stages a brilliant sequence where the blind and blindfolded Anderton, who has to shield his eyes for some time after the surgery, is forced to hide from an army of spider-like miniature police robots. Spielberg's camera follows the robots on their skittering journey through the dilapidated building where Anderton is hiding, the camera seeming to creep through walls, finally arriving at the room where Anderton tries to slow his pulse and hide his breathing by submerging himself in cold water, before being forced to reveal his new eyes for the robots to scan.

All of this is set-up and preparation for the film's best gag, the slapstick chase sequence between Anderton and his own eye, a slippery connection to his past identity that he finally holds onto by the barest thread. Literally. This sense of humor — black, grisly, sometimes positively naughty as in Anderton and Agatha's visit to a virtual reality sin palace — enlivens the film, as does Spielberg's predictably fluid action staging. Minority Report is tense and visceral, balancing man-on-the-run suspense with bursts of action and those moments of piquant humor that give this dark film a surprisingly playful sensibility.

The finale drives home the film's multiple takes on seeing — to see the future, to see the truth, and not always at the same time or in the same sense — while first imprisoning Anderton in a way that mirrors the fates of the precogs at the beginning of the film, then unleashing him for the climax. Spielberg, as always, can't resist tying things up for the finale, resolving the darker undercurrents of the film in a tidy denouement where the bad guy is caught, the precog program ended, and everything set right. The rest of the film raises unsettling propositions about justice and morality: that justice could miscarry; that the illusion of moral certitude is just that, an illusion; that predicting the future can be the same as creating it, as Anderton is, paradoxically, set on the path to murder by the prediction that he would commit a murder. The film's ending tiredly suggests a more benign justice that will, eventually, win out in the end, but the torturous, unlikely machinations required to reach this happy ending only wind up enforcing the limitations of justice and law. Spielberg, no matter how hard he tries, can't erase the disquieting implications of his own film, and Minority Report is all the richer for this final lingering tension.

Speechless...

Iont even know what to even say about this, except when is it coming to a theater near me?




h/t stopbeingfamous

The Short List: Charles Grodin

A couple of weeks ago I did a post on supporting performances that stand out, a topic that could easily encompass most of movie history as the character actors, as they're so often known, so regularly outshine the stars in so many movies. I think the reason for that may well be that they're not the star and so, perhaps, they feel freer and looser in their portrayals, knowing they don't have to carry the movie. Whatever the reason, I decided whenever I watched or rewatched a movie or a scene of a supporting player making the most of their allotted screen time, I'd write it up to keep a running tally of such performances. While I'm keeping the official banner headline, The Short List, obviously it won't be very short at all if I keep doing this for the next ten years. And, whenever possible, I'd like to keep my choices to performances not already showered in awards and kudos, but instead choose performances overlooked, usually due to the film in which they appear not having the proper pedigree for the awards show mindset.

All this is to say that the other night I was once again reminded how talented Charles Grodin is when watching the 1976 remake of King Kong. Most people would point to Heaven Can Wait or Midnight Run, and they wouldn't be wrong for doing so, but, for me, Grodin was never better at scene stealing than he was in Kong.

Grodin plays Fred Wilson, a Petrox Oil Company suit who thinks he's on to the biggest discovery in untapped petroleum in the modern age only to discover it's all just a bunch of worthless goop. But, there is this big gorilla on the island...

We all know the story, or at least the basics of which this version is a mild variation. What's brilliant about the creation of Fred Wilson is that, unlike the Carl Denham of the 1933 and 2005 versions, he has no artistic veneer to cover up his pure, unadulterated grab for the cash. But there's more to it than just that: Grodin infuses him with an overwhelming sense of insecurity hiding inside a smug blowhard. Watching Grodin's scenes from this movie are always a pleasure because he let's Fred Wilson look so vulnerable. Seriously, his Fred Wilson gets more pies in the face than a society matron at a Three Stooges dessert buffet.

Here's the thing: Fred Wilson is proven wrong, a lot, but every time he thinks he's right he's still, despite all past experience, as giddy as a tweener at a Justin Bieber concert. And then someone shoots him down and he doesn't even attempt to hide the look of utter confusion and defeat until it's already obvious to everyone.

He'd bet everything there's oil on the island! Jack tells him no. Huh? Whaa?

There is oil, and it's going to be great! Nope, it's worthless. Huh? Whaa?

Don't worry folks, his feet are still chained! Squish.

Really, this guy fails at everything which makes him probably the most sympathetic villain a movie has ever had. Not that Fred Wilson is the villain of the movie but he's as close as it gets and Grodin pulls off the feat of playing him smug, insecure, arrogant and needy all at once. For that, Grodin makes the short list.

Holiday Hours!!



Happy Bats will be closed Friday December 24 to Sunday December 26 for the holiday fun times.

We will re-open at our regular time (1:30PM) on Monday December 27. We will have a post-Boxing Day sale that day!

We will also be closing earlier than usual on new Year's Eve, Friday December 31, at 8PM

We will also start the New Year slightly later at 1:30PM

Friday December 24: CLOSED
Saturday December 25: CLOSED
Sunday December 26: CLOSED

Friday December 31: open 1:30 - 8PM
Saturday January 1: open 1:30 - 11PM

Blow Out


Brian De Palma's Blow Out is the director's idiosyncratic take on Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, blending it with elements of Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation and, as usual for De Palma, a host of other cinematic reference points. De Palma's film unmistakeably twists its source material to the director's aesthetic and preoccupations, making it for good or ill its own work, separate from the films it's remaking. Like its predecessors, Blow Out opens with someone inadvertently witnessing a murder, in this case the movie soundman Jack Terry (John Travolta). Terry is out late one night near a lake, recording sounds for a film he's working on, when he sees — and hears, and thus records — a car get a blow out in its tire and crash off the road into the water. Terry jumps into the water and rescues the car's passenger, Sally (Nancy Allen), though the driver is already dead. It's only later that Terry realizes that he has witnessed a murder, that someone lurking in the woods had shot out the tire on that car, causing the crash. And it's only later that he realizes that the man who died in the crash was a governor and a prospective presidential candidate, and that the passenger was not his wife. Terry finds that the politician's friends and allies are now pushing for a cover-up, suppressing the fact that Sally had been in the car when it crashed, and hurrying the investigation through without looking too hard at anything.

Blow Out distinguishes itself from its antecedents by shifting the emphasis away from process and onto the thriller aspects of the plot. In Antonioni's Blow-Up, a photographer takes what he believes, initially, to be some innocuous photos of a couple in a park, but over time, as he examines the photos and becomes obsessed with them, he comes to believe that the images hide, in their details and shadows, the evidence of a murder. In The Conversation, similarly, Coppola focuses on a sound engineer who slowly zeroes in on a fragment of a recorded conversation that, he believes, is suggestive of a murder plot that's set to be enacted soon. In both films, the emphasis is on the slow process by which these men discover what they believe is the decisive evidence; ultimately, the films become psychological and internal, embroiled in nuances of image and sound more than concrete facts.

De Palma dispenses with this angle almost entirely. The mystery in Blow Out is not psychological or internal, and De Palma leaves no doubt about its concreteness by periodically diverting from Terry's perspective to show the actions of Sally and the photographer Manny (Dennis Franz), or the psychopathic Burke (John Lithgow), who committed the initial murder and who continues killing to cover it up. The result is that Blow Out becomes more of a straightforward thriller. Interestingly, where the films that De Palma draws upon placed the audience into the subjectivity of the protagonists' experiences, De Palma consistently allows the audience to be one step ahead of the protagonist. Even during the accident scene, while Terry races to jump into the water after the car, De Palma stages the sequence in a long shot to reveal a shadowy figure in the background, skulking behind Terry and then running away across a bridge at the top of the frame. This will turn out to be Manny, escaping after taking pictures of the accident, and later De Palma will show Sally going to see Manny, revealing that the two of them had been working together to set up the dead politician as a cheater. At other times, De Palma follows the creepy Burke as he plots to cover up the evidence of his crime and eliminate the remaining witnesses.


De Palma might sacrifice the claustrophobic psychological intimacy of Blow-Up and The Conversation, but he gains the propulsive forward momentum of a thriller. The film is taut and tense, centered on Travolta's casually effective performance, which really has the feel of an ordinary guy inadvertently caught up in a conspiracy that stretches far beyond his understanding. In the scenes after the accident, as the police question him, Terry reacts with annoyance and confusion as their questions seem to be steering him away from the facts of what actually happened. Things only get worse from there, and De Palma's decision to incorporate events other than those that directly involve Terry creates the impression that the soundman is caught up in a vast network of shadowy dealings and violence.

This is especially true of the hints one gets of the actions of Burke, a truly chilling character whose role in the film gradually becomes more prominent. At first he's simply a shadowy form, his face unseen, but the more he appears, the creepier he seems. He begins staging a series of sexual murders of women who are the same type as Sally, with the understanding that she'll eventually be slotted in as the final victim in the series. De Palma's staging of the crimes in a bright red light, often filmed from above, sets up the pulse-pounding finale, in which Terry desperately races to get to Sally before Burke kills her. Sally, framed against an American flag, bathed in its red glow, an ironic commentary on the film's political and patriotic backdrops, cries out to Terry, screaming, in one of the film's most bracing and memorable images. Another of the film's most affecting images is a dizzying 360-degree pan around Terry's studio as he realizes that someone — the sinister Burke, though Terry can only pin it on the ubiquitous and mysterious "they" — has erased all of his tapes, including the recordings of the car accident. As Terry scrambles around, putting on one tape after another, filling the room with the empty hum and hiss of blank tapes, the camera turns and turns, tracing a circle around the room to show all these machines playing back the sound of nothingness.

De Palma takes such obvious joy in these kinds of touches that it's obvious that the aesthetics are, in some ways, the real point and subject of this film. Like all of De Palma's films, this is a film that is as much about the texture and style of moviemaking as it is about anything else. There are several sequences where Terry, trying to produce a record of the car accident to prove that there was a shot fired, assembles a movie by marrying a sequence of still frames to his own soundtrack of the incident, creating a movie from these constituent parts. De Palma has taken a lineage of films about sound and images and made a film that celebrates the artistry of the movies, the ability of the cinema to deliver thrills through elements of style. The frantic, fast-paced, over-the-top chase sequence that ends the film makes this point powerfully enough, but then De Palma can't help but offer up one last bitterly ironic twist, as in the film's final moment, when a genuine expression of despair and terror is repurposed, through the magic of moviemaking techniques, as a cheap effect in a shoddy, exploitative B movie. This is perhaps De Palma's cynical joke on himself, on his own process of translating the movies of his forebears into this propulsive thriller. Blow Out may not be as sharp or as deep as the films it channels, but it's a tense, stylish, satisfying thriller in its own right.

UK Box Office 17-19 Dec

Disney opened TRON: LEGACY after an expensive budget ($170 million) and an equally expensive worldwide campaign ($150 million), and although I am skeptical about the legs on this title, it certainly did OK: nearly £2 million, and an over 4K screen average is nothing to be sniffed at. BURLESQUE, on the other hand, struggled out of the gate and stumbled along with just over £1K sreen average. Park Circus reissued IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, doing its 158th week of business and still going strong!

1- TRON: LEGACY (£1,954,589)(NEW)
2- CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF DAWN TREADER (£1,224,507)(2 weeks, total £4,773,562)
3- HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS - PART 1 (£870,110)(5 weeks, total £44,317,641)
4- THE TOURIST (£716,661)(2 weeks, total £2,913,208)
5- MEGAMIND (£566,806)(3 weeks, total £5,542,603)
6- BURLESQUE (£425,787)(New)
7- ANIMALS UNITED (£306,156)(New)
8- FRED: THE MOVIE (£252,117)(New)
9- UNSTOPPABLE (£157,051)(4 weeks, total £4,404,584)
10- DUE DATE (£75,227) (7 weeks, total £10,476,443)

At The Ballet






I was talking to a friend the other night who is a former professional "ballerina" who was quite dismayed at how Hollywood has portrayed her profession. Neurotic psychos, extreme disciplinarians and ruthless get-ahead-at-all-costs prima donnas are often the norm while a few films tend to capture the essence, technique and dedication of this truly incredible and often misunderstood art form:

Black Swan (Fox Searchlight, 2010)

The most recent addition to the dance film genre is Black Swan, a psychological thriller set in the world of the New York City Ballet. Natalie Portman plays Nina, a danceaholic who plays the lead role in Swan Lake and gets in touch with her dark side along the way. While some of the cliches are present - a bitter off the deep end retired dancer (Winona Ryder), stage door mother (Barbara Hershey), etc., the competitiveness and stress of the profession is effectively portrayed. The emotionally charged  film is garnering all sorts of early nominations and Oscar buzz.




The Turning Point (Twentieth Century Fox, 1977)

The Turning Point is the story of the lives two ballet dancers -- one who left the troupe to start a family (Shirley MacLaine) and another who became a prima ballerina (Anne Bancroft). Regret, reflection and jealousy between the two women ensues when MacLaine's daughter (Lesley Browne) joins the company. Doris Day, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn turned down the leads and as well as  real-life ballet legend Gelsey Kirkland who was offered the role of the daughter.  The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards including Best Picture and was miraculously shut out that year.


Lesley Browne and Mikhail Baryshnikov


Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine as friends and rivals
The Red Shoes (Archer, 1948)

The age old choice between love and career is the theme of this ballet classic. Moira Shearer plays a young dancer who becomes the lead in The Red Shoes production (inspired by a Hans Christian Anderson fable) and is considered one of the top ten British films ever made. Art director Hein Heckroth used over 120 paintings as backdrop for the opening dance sequence.



The Company (Sony Pictures, 2003)

Director Robert Altman's drama of a group of ballet dancers with Neve Campbell as  the principal of a Chicago ballet troupe. Apparently Campbell employed her own method acting and trained eight hours a day for four months. The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago cooperated fully with the production both on and off screen.


Campbell with the company's artistic director played by Malcolm McDowell

Photo Credits: Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Archer Films, Fox Searchlight.






                                                                                                                        

Opening Credits I Love: Flight of the Phoenix

On this day, December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright powered a heavier-than-air airplane and made it fly. On December 15, 1965, Flight of the Phoenix (d. Robert Aldrich) premiered, starring a plane that hits the ground before the credits are even finished. And that opening credits sequence is among my favorites in the annals of movie history. The freeze-framing on each actor as his name appears on the screen, the anguished screams from the men as things fall on them, the heightened looks of concern on their faces harking back to the silent era and the musical score punching in a cue for each new action all work in concert to produce a kind of festival of cheese that came to be standard for most of the action movies of the era where the actors in character are shown (either at the start of the movie or its finish) rather than simply scrolling the names up the screen. At some point they stopped doing credits this way, right around the time Burt Reynolds turned credit rolls into blooper reels with the Cannonball Run movies, but I sure wish they'd bring them back.



During the filming, Jimmy Stewart had a birthday and also marked his 70th film appearance with the lead role. The cast and crew made sure Stewart got a party and presents for his trouble.



New BFI


The BFI announced yesterday a series of restructuring measures ahead of their new lead role in shaping film policy in the UK. One of the key decisions was to close the current gallery at the BFI Southbank and replace it with the BFI Library. This will come as a blow to moving image practitioners and enthusiasts, as there are few spaces like this, specially in such high profile locations. The rest of the announcement holds few surprises, with cost-cutting measures across the board, and a 'research centre' at Berkhamstead - an odd location for such a centre.

Here is what the BFI said in its announcement:

"At the core of the proposals are:

1) A plan to bring greater coherence to the cultural programme across the whole of the BFI, a move which will also reduce costs and create more incentives for fundraising and philanthropy. A new post of Director of BFI Public Programmes will lead a unified team of programmers across cinemas, festivals, distribution, digital and print.

2) An aim to further increase the number of people across the UK and internationally who can engage with the BFI's public programme and film culture. Digital technologies will play a critical part in this and the BFI proposes renewing infrastructure and investing in new skills.

3) Closure of the BFI Gallery at BFI Southbank as part of the prioritisation on those activities that only the BFI can deliver.

4) A proposal to move the BFI Library and reading room from its current location and create new facilities at BFI Southbank in the space currently used for the BFI Gallery.

5) Establishing a bespoke research centre for academics, the film industry and researchers in the heart of the BFI National Archive at Berkhamsted.

6) A stringent review of procurement processes to achieve economies; reducing overheads by making savings in support costs; boosting new business through the development of commercial opportunities both within the UK and internationally; a drive to increase fundraising income and philanthropy."

What this actually means in the short or even long term remains to be seen. Let's hope Greg Dyke knows what he's doing.

Carlos


Olivier Assayas' Carlos is a probing, fascinating epic, a sprawling, admittedly fictionalized biography of the Venezuelan-born socialist terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, who went by the nom de guerre of Carlos (Édgar Ramírez). The film's scope and breadth encompasses, in sharply drawn detail over a five-and-a-half-hour running time, nearly 20 years in the life of this self-described revolutionary fighter, who briefly became an internationally infamous face of terrorism for his violent actions and bold plots. The film is a profile of one man and his actions, but more than that, it is a sweeping portrayal of terrorism, diplomacy, the shifting alliances of convenience and ideology that define global relations, the back-door dealings and maneuvers in which state action and anti-state terrorism exist as part of a single, densely connected network. It is an epic in the true sense of the word, a film that attempts to present a coherent portrait of this single terrorist's actions and, in the process, to examine the struggles of the Cold War and the struggles that continue to define the world today.

Carlos is an idealist for a cause, at least at the beginning of this three-part saga. Assayas opens the film with Carlos as an eager young fighter, already with some background in insurrectionary struggle behind him, but still relatively inexperienced. He nevertheless becomes an important figure in the European arm of a Palestinian terrorist organization, based in London, carrying out actions against prominent Jewish leaders. His first, clumsy attack on a businessman to some extent establishes the pattern for what's to come: Carlos is fast and violent and effective, but his gun jams and he only wounds the man, forced to escape frantically. His second attack, a bombing of a café, goes smoother, and soon afterward Carlos, naked and solid — he will grow fat in his later years, and is already boxy — admires himself in a mirror, caressing between his legs. It is as though this success is a sexual conquest for him, a validation of his manhood and his valor. He finds glory in the slaughter of random innocents.

Sexuality, masculinity and glory are very important to this film. Carlos is a compulsive womanizer, a man who loves women as much as he loves weapons, as much as he loves his cause — or the idea of a cause, since an actual ideological commitment seems increasingly remote in relation to him throughout the course of the film. In one of the film's most telling scenes, early on, with one of his many lover/conspirators, he shows her a trunk full of weapons, reveling in her fearful reaction. He caresses her with the weapons in his hands, placing a grenade first between her legs, then rubbing it up her body to place the arming ring between her bared teeth. Sex and war and revolution are all tangled up for Carlos. His lover tells him that his love of women and his love of weapons are the same, and Carlos seems to agree: "my weapons are extensions of me, like my arms." One can't help but think of that earlier scene, where Carlos held his penis in the aftermath of a bombing, celebrating these "extensions" of himself.


Carlos celebrates because, more than an ideological revolution, it's personal glory and personal success that he seems to thirst for. He chafes against orders, declaring that he's working for the revolution, not for any leader or single government. But later, when he's independent, with control over his own cell, he demands absolute obedience; he only wants to be the one giving the orders. At one point, he tells a Saudi Arabian diplomat that he cherishes democracy, that he will discuss a crucial matter with his comrades — but when his comrades disagree with him, he explodes, making the decision unilaterally on his own. It's not democracy he wants, it's not revolution, and more and more what he seems to want is money.

The brilliance of the film's three-part structure is that it documents the increasing distance of Carlos from any kind of idealism or, towards the end, any kind of action at all. Throughout the film's first part, Carlos is, at least ostensibly, striking out in the name of a cause, though even then his cause seems poorly defined, a so-called "internationalist" movement that aims to fight imperialism everywhere. He rejects peaceful means, rejects strikes and protests and political channels, and one suspects, even this early, that he does so not so much because he doubts their effectiveness as because these methods lack opportunities for glory and grand gestures, for headlines and action. When he's first asked to join the Palestinian group, he's told to think of a code name, but he already has: he's obviously put a lot of thought into this, come up with a cool name to make famous before he had done anything to require such an alias.

The first part ends with a shot of Carlos and his cell on a train, headed towards what will turn out to be their most decisive and grandiose action, an assault on an OPEC meeting, aimed at both making a big statement and, in the process, killing the Saudi and Iranian oil ministers to advance the agenda of Iraq. The film breaks here because if the first part documents Carlos' introduction to terrorist action, the second part is about his acclimation to infamy, about his willingness to allow himself the illusion that he's an important actor on a global stage. The OPEC assault becomes a protracted and increasingly bizarre hostage negotiation, as Carlos' initial plans fall apart due to machinations within various foreign governments. He had been relying on Libyan support, but during the initial attack he killed a member of the Libyan delegation, burning that bridge almost immediately.

As a result, the terrorists wind up flying back and forth between Libya and Algeria with a DC-9 full of OPEC delegates. It would be almost comical if the stakes weren't so high, and Assayas emphasizes how ridiculous and petty it all is — the plane lands in Libya despite official refusal, but isn't allowed to leave the edge of a runway, and while they're bickering with flight control, an Austrian diplomat steps in to demand that the terrorists return the borrowed DC-9. All this while lives hang in the balance, and the terrorists begin to realize that they're facing a choice between carrying out their mission — slaughtering the Iranian and Saudi ministers — and getting killed, or letting everyone free in exchange for a large sum of money and political protection. Carlos' militant associates are in favor of killing the ministers, sacrificing themselves to complete the mission, but Carlos disagrees. He's "a soldier, not a martyr," he says, and tries to convince the others — and possibly himself — that the revolution needs the money, but it's hard to ignore the sense of a man coming to terms with political realities.


The political reality, for Carlos and his allies, is that they are simply pawns in a complex global game. Carlos began his struggle with grand goals. But what is he fighting against? Imperialism, capitalism, Zionism. He offers up abstract enemies, ideologies to combat, but there's seldom any evidence that his missions — carried out, as often as not, in service of shadowy political motivations in Baghdad or Moscow — do anything to advance his abstract revolutionary program. He fights for money, for ransoms, to gain support of one possibly sympathetic government or another.

Within the film, the German revolutionary Angie (Christoph Bach) provides the voice to these doubts, expressing his desire to fight capitalism, to make a difference, not simply to "spread terror." Angie, disillusioned with the struggle, is particularly appalled by the actions of some of his German comrades who, during a siege on an airplane, separate the Jewish passengers from the non-Jews, threatening to kill the Jews first. Angie sees it as a continuation of the horrors of Auschwitz, perpetrated in the name of a cause that is supposed to oppose tyranny and brutality but winds up simply duplicating it or worse. Angie sees a clear difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and he also sees clearly that the actions he's taken part in have done little to advance the kind of cause he is interested in. Carlos sees the world in black and white, in terms of revolutionaries and anti-revolutionaries, but Angie understands that not all revolutions are equal, and that much of what is done in the name of revolution has little to do with advancing the fight against capitalism or opposing oppression.

To underscore this point, the film's second part, which encompasses the OPEC raid and its aftermath, ends with Carlos striking a deal with the Syrian government — formerly his enemies, who had once tried to killed him, but who now want his services in a changed world — to set up a new organization and work for them. In the film's third part, the bulk of the terrorists' time is spent shuttling from one place to another, establishing tenuous relationships with various socialist governments, getting an offer from the KGB to kill Egyptian president Anwar Sadat (Carlos dithers until someone beats him to the hit), forging alliances with Iraq, Syria and East Germany, even flirting with helping out Romanian dictator Ceausescu. Carlos' ideals, whatever they were, seem to have vanished, and when one German diplomat calls him a mercenary, it's essentially accurate. He plots mission after mission, most of which never happen, but which in any case all have as their only goal money, or weapons, or political support. The film's third act is a long decline into irrelevance, as Carlos gets old and fat, settles down with his wife Magdalena (Nora von Waldstätten) and their daughter, drinks, plays at the beach, poses as a businessman. It's an aging terrorist's idyll, and Assayas presents it as such, as a surreal interlude of domestic calm — at least relatively, since Carlos' philandering ways continue throughout — in a life of violence. Carlos' story doesn't end with a bang, it just peters out, until after the Cold War, after a montage shows the fall of the Berlin Wall and the destruction of the East Berlin Stasi offices where Carlos once cut so many deals, Carlos is simply a liability, welcome nowhere, kicked out of Syria and Libya, abandoned by the mistreated Magdalena, out of contact with his daughter. Even his vaunted penis fails him, throbbing with pain and requiring medical attention, while his vanity compels him to seek liposuction — "for his love handles," as an observing spy mocks him to a superior.


Carlos is forced to confront, then, the knowledge that he was not nearly as important as he had thought. With the Cold War over, there are no longer any friendly government embassies or spy headquarters where he is welcome, no longer any allies, no longer anyone who needs his services. He even tries to flatter himself by believing that someone is going to come after him and kill him, that the French or the Israelis or the CIA would want him dead, but the fact is that he's a small concern by this point, incidental, and he's finally only taken to France and tried for the long-ago murders of two policemen. He was a useful nuisance, an agitator in the long war between East and West, a gun-runner and a pawn. But despite his briefly famous name and his grandiose rhetoric, he accomplished nothing. He was never more than a tool passed around in the hands of various warring governments.

In documenting this harsh reality, Assayas' filmmaking crackles and vibrates with raw energy. The soundtrack buzzes with punk and post-punk songs by bands like Wire, New Order and the Dead Boys, music with a raw-nerve vitality that is perfectly suited to Assayas' globetrotting saga. His characteristic probing camera is equally well-suited to nuanced negotiations, fast-paced action, and the many slow, sensual scenes that establish the rhythms of Carlos' global lifestyle: his routine seductions of women, his constant traveling back and forth. The film leaps from place to place around the world, constantly introducing new cities and new power brokers with onscreen titles, conveying the sense of constant momentum that, in the early stretches of the film, establishes Carlos' rise to power, and is then used in similar ways later in the film to suggest that he is no longer welcome anywhere, that he's being forced from place to place.

The film's scope also allows Assayas to establish subtle rhymes and patterns, like the way that, during the OPEC hostage incident, the plane is turned away from Libya, and later, when Carlos is trying to find a safe asylum to settle in after being kicked out of Syria, his plane is again sent back from Libya, for very different reasons, but both times because of politics, alliances, appearances, diplomacy, all the things that Carlos likes to think he's involved in but that he really doesn't understand. There is a pattern, too, to Carlos' seductions of women, to the ways in which he draws women to him and uses them, always continuing to take other lovers, to see prostitutes, and to demand absolute obedience in matters both personal and political. He is a chauvinist who has little patience for feminism, who despite his supposed championing of the oppressed can see no role for women as equal partners.

This is just one of Carlos' limitations as limned here. Assayas, by necessity, invented much of this story, reading between the lines of his meticulous research, and he shapes the material into an examination of the ways in which ostensibly revolutionary programs again and again serve the interests of various states and governments, never doing anything to help the oppressed anywhere. Even when Carlos undertakes a campaign of bombing and terror with the intention of freeing Magdalena from prison, he only accomplishes the opposite, stiffening the sentence handed down against her in response to the attacks. In this respect, Assayas goes somewhat beyond Gillo Pontecorvo's famous The Battle of Algiers, to which he obliquely nods with his café bombing sequence. (Though Carlos, notably, never looks at the faces of his victims the way the terrorist in Pontecorvo's film so memorably did.) Pontecorvo's film was sensitive to the devastation wrought by terrorism while suggesting that sometimes such violent resistance was necessary in the face of oppression. Assayas suggests, instead, that if that were ever true, it's not anymore, in a constantly shifting world order where oppressive and unstable governments aim terrorism as a weapon at one another, using the terrorists themselves, and their ideals and ideologies, as pawns in this global game of high-stakes chess.

Harlan – In the Shadow of Jew Süss

Harlan - In the Shadow of Jew Süss is a 2008 documentary by Felix Moeller that examines the director of the infamous anti-Semitic propaganda film, Jew Süss, Veit Harlan, by interviewing the many members of his extended family. The documentary is a captivating, incisive look into his life as seen from a distance by family members desperately trying to come to terms with being related to the only German director tried for war crimes, not once, but twice. Both times he was acquitted.

Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels is enthusiastically greeted by director Veit Harlan

The family tree of Harlan is a large one and director Moeller wisely has Harlan's granddaughter, Alice, map out the family tree on poster board for the audience, lest we fall into utter confusion. Each of the family members, from sons and daughter to grandsons and granddaughters to nieces and nephews, all, understandably revile the film that made the Harlan name infamous in Germany after the war. This is not surprising and had the documentary simply been about their denouncement of Veit Harlan's work it would have been a rather mundane affair. Instead, Moeller has latched onto something quite interesting here and, in the midst of so many talking heads all related in one way or another going on about their familial shame, something perhaps overlooked upon its release. Essentially, what one ends up with is a cross-section of Germany and it's reaction to its own complicity in one of the greatest crimes in human history. Having watched it twice now, I can say this is, I believe, what Moeller is going for and he succeeds.

Harlan married three times, had five children and these five produced more children, from multiple marriages until finally, even Stanley Kubrick's widow, Christiane, is in the mix, being one of the nieces. Some of the children married into Jewish families after the war and one daughter, Susanne, even converted to Judaism after marrying Claude Jacoby, who escaped Germany and fled to America in 1938. Harlan himself married a Jewish woman in the twenties, his first wife, Dora Gershon. In 1943, Gershon perished at Auschwitz. The contradictions and complications of the Harlan family tree allow for a deeper look into their collective psyche and it is not long into the film that we realize that Moeller isn't really interested in Harlan's motivations but, rather, what his family thinks those motivations were. That is to say, and not to belabor the point, it's the reaction and coping of those indirectly involved that provide the insight into the reactions and copings of many Germans after the war.

The youngest of the family members, three granddaughters who appear to be in their teens and twenties, find the film repulsive morally but also dull and, in the words of one, "cheesy." It is in their history classes that they are gaining a fuller understanding of what it all meant. We see them first, and this makes perfect sense, because they represent the Germany of today. They know of the past horrors but it's all second and third hand to them and school provides their primary association with their own familial complicity. Gradually Moeller introduces others, nieces and nephews, who speak of a more direct guilt by association and finally, Harlan's children themselves, who run the gamut from something pretty close to outright dismissal of any wrongdoing by their father to overt guilt and gnawing feelings of responsibility.

One son, Kristian, takes the attitude that any thoughts he has about his father are his alone, understandable enough. But then he goes on to defend his father, using the argument that Harlan was forced to make the film even though he didn't believe in it. Still, he can't understand why his father made it so good. Harlan's other son, Thomas, supported his father when he was a teenager but as he grew older and learned more, he turned against him, something Kristian doesn't understand and feels caused Harlan unnecessary torment until his death in 1964 on the Isle of Capri.

Dorothea (Kristina Söderbaum) commits suicide after sexual coercion by Joseph Suss Oppenheimer.

But Thomas defends his views well, and spent his life making art films and aiding in the hunt for Nazi war criminals. His decision to do so came in 1952, after his father was acquitted a second time for crimes against humanity. Thomas describes Jew Süss, rightfully I think, as a murder weapon and says:

The judge, Dr. Tyrolf, who found him innocent on two occasions had, during the war, had Ukrainian women beheaded for the theft of a headscarf during an air raid. And the thought that my father had been found innocent amongst and by such people was abhorrent to me. That was it! I thought, this is a world I want no further dealings with. I must entirely distance myself from it.


Thomas doesn't believe his father was coerced into making the movie but made it of his own free will. Harlan was undeniably in the service of Goebbels but had he been forced to make something he considered evil, Thomas asks, would he have involved his wife, Kristina Söderbaum, in the production? Of course, she was a big star so Thomas' logic doesn't entirely work. Goebbels would have insisted, most likely, that Kristina be involved. But to the question of why he made the film so well, it could be because he believed in the film or, pulling a Colonel Nicholson, simply felt he should do the best job he could no matter what the subject. That explanation is a little thornier and a lot less believable.

One thing that makes the issue tricky for all involved is the question no one wants to ask and, in fact, never does: Why didn't Harlan leave Germany like the scores of other German filmmakers and actors? And what about his third and final wife, Kristina Söderbaum? In 1935, while others were fleeing Germany, she was moving there from Sweden to try and break into German films . The two, viewed through archival footage, including an interview with her conducted in the sixties, honestly don't ever seem very troubled about being the two biggest names in the Nazi film industry. Her archival interviews are all about the bad rap they got, not, "Oh my God! We made films for Nazis! I was directly involved in propaganda designed to incite the murder of anyone of Jewish descent. My God, my God, what have I done?" Nope, nothing like that. In fact, in what can only be described as extraordinary while fully acknowledging that the word "extraordinary" doesn't even come close to doing it justice, Kristina says in her sixties interview:

It [the film Jew Süss] ruined our lives. That's what it did. Like that. And at that point, you simply couldn't have guessed this. That it could be used in such a way. That it, that it could simply wreck a person's life.


"That it could be used in such a way." Not, in such a way as to incite the murder of Jews. No, that it could be used to wreck her life. And by saying, "used", she implies that, at face value, the film shouldn't wreck anyone's life but they twisted it and used it to stab her in the back. And, oh yeah, I guess some Jews died too but that's nothing compared to having to live out your life on massive German estates and the Isle of Capri knowing people didn't like your hate film. Poor thing.

After that, Thomas' theories gain credibility and the delusions of Kristian seem like nothing more than revisionism.

Veit Harlan and Kristina Söderbaum

Throughout the documentary, Moeller keeps the camera focused on the family, mixing in only occasional footage of Harlan and Söderbaum and the hateful Jew Süss. His intent is getting them to write the history, getting them to accept, deny or revise that which so horribly happened. He does it across generations, with Germans both Jewish and Gentile, directly and indirectly involved and, in the process, gets to the very soul of Germany and it's own tormented and conflicted feelings with its recent past. Jessica Jacoby, daughter of Susanne, gets to the very core of the matter when she notes that her grandfather on her mother's side, Veit Harlan, made films for the Nazis while her other grandparents, on her father's side, were killed by the Nazis in Minsk. What her one grandfather did, she says, her other grandparents "paid for with their lives." It's that bizarre counterpoint that Kristian won't look in the eye and from which Thomas cannot look away. The documentary provides no answers to any one question, one way or the other, but in many ways, examines Nazi Germany more thoroughly than most historic documentaries ever do.