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Darren H

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Everything posted by Darren H

  1. Darren H

    John Ford

    I'm happy to hear it worked for you, Andrew. I love it when I watch or revisit a canonical film and discover that, yes, it is indeed great, which I've been doing a lot of lately.
  2. I'm planning to stick to that general rubric. I mentioned this briefly in another thread, but I'm thinking of the voting process as an opportunity to construct my ideal A&F Top 100, which is something a little different from Darren's Top 100. I'll probably sit down with 120 or so contendors and shuffle the order until I get an interesting mix, especially at the top of the list. For example, I have no problem with a director putting two films on the list, but in my ideal version no one would have two in the top 25. It's probably inevitable that the list will be weighted a bit toward films of the past 20 years, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I'm going to make some effort to distribute my points to increase diversity of eras, styles, genres, race, gender, etc.
  3. I've imagined May 10 being the dealine. I'll finish making the poll and open voting on May 1?
  4. > So far I've watched THE TURIN HORSE, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU, BLUE VELVET, ORDET, THE RED SHOES, and PAISAN. Wow. That's . . . a lot. I've been thinking about what it would look like to create a more diverse list, in all senses of the word. I'm pretty melancholic by nature and am at home in more somber material, so it's been really useful for me to be made more conscious of how my personality shapes my taste. Before voting, I might assemble my "ideal" A&F Top 100 and make sure it's balanced across several criteria.
  5. Evan, I don't know how many times I've seen Blue Velvet, but I've gone through three stages with it. I first saw it in high school or college, probably after reading about it in Rolling Stone or maybe after Twin Peaks premiered. As a naive evangelical kid not too different from Jeffrey and Sandy, I was a bit traumatized by it and would have called it "weird." For years I didn't think I liked Lynch, so in my mid-30s I watched/revisited everything he'd made, in sequence, and at the end of it I decided Inland Empire was my favorite of his films but Blue Velvet was the most complete feature and also the most concentrated expression of Lynch's style. When I watched Blue Velvet again recently, after The Return, I was stunned. I like Mike D'Angelo's line: "12 minutes in, when Sandy slowly emerges from the darkness of her tree-lined street as Badalamenti's score goes full Herrmann, I could no longer comprehend why most other filmmakers even bother to make films." All of which is to say, if you've seen a couple hundred films since the last time you watched Blue Velvet, I suspect it'll be a different movie for you this time.
  6. To cut to the chase, I'm hoping I can convince everyone who thinks David Lynch belongs on the Top 100 to throw their points to Blue Velvet, which would get my vote for best American film of the past 40 years. First a quick word about the other nominees . . . Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a very good film and among the best examples of Lynch's treatment of evil (something I'll write more about below). To my mind, though, it's disqualified, so to speak, for the same reason episode 8 of The Return is disqualified. Fire Walk With Me doesn't work very well as a stand-alone film. It's more like a mini-series that bridges the original two seasons with The Return. Twin Peaks is Lynch's greatest accomplishment, but I don’t know if it’s fairly represented by a two-hour snippet. I've watched Mulholland Drive a half-dozen times over the years, most recently last month, and I think it includes several of the greatest things he's ever shot -- the audition, Silencio, Winkie's, the cowboy. It's also his most thorough exploration of the Hollywood mythos and a really fun puzzle to solve. But it's uneven, in the same way that I can imagine The Return would be uneven if, say, the Dougie scenes had to be spliced into a feature-length telling of that story. When Mulholland Drive drifts away from Betty/Diane and Rita/Camilla to the side stories that would have been more prominent in the original TV concept, it loses some steam. And, ultimately, the questions at stake in the film aren't as interesting or as spiritually resonant to me as the ones driving his best work. The common line on Blue Velvet is that Lynch is revealing the darkness just beneath the surface of everyday American life, which is true enough. But what makes Lynch a great and profoundly moral artist is that he’s only fascinated by evil (for lack of a better word) as a counterbalance to the awesome beauty of the good. Laura Palmer is his deepest treatment of the idea: she’s a pageant queen who volunteers delivering meals to the sick while masking the unimaginable trauma in her life. Lynch lost interest in the original series after the network forced him to reveal the murderer because the driving concept was to offer a corrective to the sadistic murder-of-the-week shows that have become even more ubiquitous in the three decades since. The whodunnit angle was just a hook to get viewers to explore the life of -- and to care deeply for -- a victim of the most horrific kinds of abuse so that we could learn to temper our sick fascination with evil, practice empathy and compassion, and become better. More than once in the run of the show, Lynch himself says, as Gordon Cole, “Fix your hearts or die.” Like Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet is partly an homage to classic cinema, drawing on tropes from film noir and the teen movies Lynch watched as a kid in the ‘50s. One thing I enjoy about Lynch is that his genre experiments work as genre. The first 30 minutes of Blue Velvet is a great teen romance, the rare film that makes me nostalgic for those first conversations with a new crush. Jeffrey and Sandy begin as stereotypes of all-American kids, as embodiments of purity and virtue who can’t resist the pull of mystery and are too naïve to even conceive of the sorrow and violence they’re about to encounter. I use that word “sorrow” a lot with Lynch. I think his emotional radar is finely tuned to the horrible sadness of cruelty, waste, and destruction, but his eyes are also wide open to the allure of it all. Once Jeffrey is inside Dorothy’s apartment, Blue Velvet leans on all of the formal techniques and psychosexual dynamics we talk about when we talk about Hitchcock, but he implicates us in the experience by turning the subtext into text. I remember revisiting Vertigo for the first time as an adult and being shocked by the moment when Madeleine wakes up on Scottie’s couch, which Hitchcock turns into a little joke about how he undressed her while she slept -- you know, instead of taking the unconscious, suicidal woman to a hospital. Jefferies’s leering at Miss Torso in Rear Window gets the same treatment. In his one-star (and, I think, stupid) review of Blue Velvet, Roger Ebert pretends to be offended on Isabella Rossellini’s behalf because “she is asked to portray emotions that I imagine most actresses would rather not touch. She is degraded, slapped around, humiliated and undressed in front of the camera.” In other words, she’s actually doing all of the things women have done for a century in cinema, but Lynch is forcing us to look at it without the comforting distance of innuendo, glamour, and symbolism. What actually offended Ebert -- and not just him -- is that Blue Velvet made him feel ashamed of the thrill he’d experienced while watching Rossellini undress (“in a sequence that Hitchcock would have been proud of”) just minutes before the scene turns graphic and violent. Sadism is baked into the pleasures of spectatorship. “I don’t know if you’re a detective or a pervert,” Sandy says of Jeffrey and all of us in the audience. Haneke’s Funny Games has also been nominated for the Top 100, and it’s doing something along these lines, implicating viewers in their desire for violence. I admire Haneke but right now I find more wisdom in Lynch’s artistic ethic (not sure if that’s the right way to put it). The other mistake Ebert made was reading Blue Velvet as satire. I have the benefit of having seen Lynch’s career unfold over the past 35 years (imagine having to review this film after seeing it for the first time in 1986!), so I can chart his style and tone, and I’m now deeply moved by scenes like Sandy’s “robin” speech, which I’m sure I found ridiculous when I first watched the film as a teen. Lynch is playing with clichés here, but staging this speech in front of stained-glass windows and scoring it with a church organ isn’t a joke. Or, at least, it isn’t only a joke. It’s a sincere expression of Lynch’s morality -- “the blinding light of love” that is so magnificent and grace-filled only because it’s illuminating the bitter darkness of the world. I’ve already written more than 1,000 words, so I’ll stop for now except to say that the moment-to-moment image-making in this movie is brilliant. Sandy’s appearance is kind-of a lift from Vertigo -- she emerges from darkness rather than green neon -- but it’s still one of my favorite images from any film.
  7. I'll second both of Joel's recommendations. Secrets & Lies is on Criterion Channel right now. I watched it for the first time a few nights ago and was happy to see it lives up to the hype. Timothy Spall's Maurice immediately became one of my all-time favorite film characters.. It's been a few years since I saw Germany Year Zero, but I remember thinking at the end, "Oh, well, that's clearly one of the great films." The older I get, the more I cherish those Rossellini films. The Flowers of St. Francis and Germany Year Zero will be my two voting priorities for him.
  8. You have a couple of my nominations on your list, but I'll advocate for one: Frisco Jenny. I personally would like to see the list become diverse in every sense of the word, so I think it would benefit from having a pre-code gangster movie. I believe Frisco Jenny also happens to be a great work of transcendental cinema, in Paul Schrader's sense of the term. At this point in my life, I actually find Jenny a more resonant figure than Dreyer's Joan or Bresson's Marie, and I probably prefer Wellman's style to theirs as well.
  9. > D, how are you dealing with multiple films by the same director in that breakdown? I'm basically voting for my ideal version of the A&F Top 100, which takes into account our rules and is different from Darren's Top 100. So, for example, I'm planning to give The Son 6 points because if there were only one Dardenne film in the top 25, I think it should be that one. I haven't decided yet if I'll give 4 points to The Kid with a Bike (my favorite of their films) or Two Days, One Night (which is a better fit for my concept of the list). Their other films will get 3s. I'm not suggesting others should take this approach, but as I mentioned earlier I like having a rubric when assigning grades to such a long list. I came up with one seven years ago when I started assigning stars on Letterboxd and I still refer to it often.
  10. After a first pass through the spreadsheet, I have: 6 - 23 5 - 29 4 - 57 3 - 127 2 - 23 1 - 6 Haven't Seen - 85 My plan is to shuffle the votes so I end up with 25 6s, 35 5s, and 40 4s, which means I already have nine films that will drop to 3s. I'd like to watch/revisit at least 15 more films, which would get me up to 80% of the total list.
  11. > the greatest cinematic portrayal of conversion Over in the John Ford thread, I recommended to Andrew that he watch Drums Along the Mohawk because of a scene that presents Henry Fonda's character's post-war trauma. I think about that scene whenever I watch The Assassin, particularly when she takes a bath and pulls her body into a tight ball. It's a rare moment of vulnerability for her and an opportunity for her to really experience grief. Forgive this aside, but the greatest disappointment in my life as a critic is that when I finally got a chance to sit and talk with Hou Hsiao-hsien (about The Assassin), we had a terrible interpreter, so he was mostly confused by my questions and I was mostly confused by his answers. I sent the recording to a Chinese friend afterwards, and he confirmed it for me.
  12. Doesn't look great but it's on YouTube.
  13. Darren H

    Beau Travail (1999)

    > I think there's a parallel with the ecstatic ending of First Reformed. Clearly Toller's death by suicide is within the range of possible interpretations, but I don't think it's the best one. That's so interesting, because First Reformed only makes sense to me if the final scene is his fantasy at the moment of death!
  14. It was on my short list, so I was very relieved to see it nominated by someone else!
  15. Darren H

    John Ford

    The Netflix series is exactly what you think it is. Nothing groundbreaking about it but definitely worth a watch.
  16. Darren H

    John Ford

    > history was alive and Ford was attempting to use a popular form to speak to those events. That's a great point. I haven't dug up our old discussion of Jia yet, but this is why I'm really hopeful that Still Life makes it back onto our list. Jia and Wang Bing have been racing as fast as they can to document and make sense of the radical transformation of China over the past two decades.
  17. Darren H

    John Ford

    I'll be especially curious to hear what you think of Drums Along the Mohawk, Andrew. It contains a sequence I think about often where Henry Fonda returns from a battle and is clearly traumatized by it. The film tries to pick up from there, in classical Hollywood fashion, but the rest of the movie is colored by that trauma. It was released in 1939, as Fascism was spreading, and I think Ford had an acute sensitivity to the sorrows and violence of war -- despite his reputation as a hard-drinking, hell-raising manly man. I saw The Grapes of Wrath in high school after reading the novel and spent the next twenty years thinking it was ridiculous and dull. It's neither! The first 30 minutes in particular are as good as cinema has ever been. It and The Long Voyage Home were both shot by Gregg Toland, most famous for Citizen Kane and The Best Years of Our lives. It's crazy to think that between 1939 and America's entry into the war, Ford made: Stagecoach Young Mr. Lincoln Drums Along the Mohawk The Grapes of Wrath The Long Voyage Home Tobacco Road How Green Was My Valley
  18. Darren H

    John Ford

    I would rank our nominees: The Grapes of Wrath, The Quiet Man, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, How Green Was My Valley, and The Searchers, although there isn't much separating them. Andrew, I watched 30 or 40 Ford films in 2008-2009 and came away from the experience convinced he's the greatest filmmaker who's ever lived. I'd encourage you to track down a few of the silent films and to read Tag Gallagher's biography, which is one of the best book-length works of criticism I've found. I've said this line many times, but one of my main takeaways from watching Ford's films in sequence is that he began his career as a silent expressionist (he worked at Fox alongside Murnau and Borzage) and he ended his career as a silent expressionist (The Long Gray Line is a Sirk-ian melodrama for men). Of the films you haven't seen yet, here are ten that'll give you the full Ford spectrum: The Iron Horse (1924) Four Sons (1928) <- Borrows sets from Murnau's Sunrise Pilgrimage (1933) Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) The Long Voyage Home (1940) <- My favorite Ford 3 Godfathers (1948) Wagon Master (1950) <- My favorite Ford Western The Long Gray Line (1955) Cheyenne Autumn (1964) I have nearly all of these on DVD if you want to borrow any.
  19. I'm curious to see which Kiarostami films make the list. I can think of a half-dozen deserving of a spot, which makes me wonder if points will be distributed widely and none of them will score highly. I have several friends whose film taste I respect who think the final image in Where Is My Friend's House? is one of cinema's great moments. Because of that, my expectations were probably too high as well. It didn't affect me as powerfully as I wanted it to. But the collective experience of watching the Koker trilogy and Homework earlier this year did a number on me. The films build on one another in beautiful ways.
  20. Since our last Top 100 nearly a decade ago, I've become an enthusiastic watcher, programmer, and critic of what we can loosely call experimental cinema. This ties in somewhat with our conversation about "saturated phenomenon" over on the Beau Travail thread. I've lost some of my taste for traditional storytelling and am seeking, instead, affective experiences that are triggered more by form (if that makes sense). I'm happy to see Meshes of the Afternoon nominated again for the 2020 list, and am also happy to discover this thread, which I'd forgotten about. I rewatched it last night for the first time on Blu-ray, which was by far the best presentation of it I've seen. Deren is such an intense screen presence. Nearly everything that I admire about the film comes from her performance -- the way she moves. I nominated three other experimental films this year. One of them, Nathaniel Dorsky's Song and Solitude, is impossible to see unless you have a projector and rent his 16mm print, so I have no hopes of that one making the cut. But I would love to see one or both of my other nominations on the final list -- ahead of Meshes of the Afternoon, to be honest. Stan Brakhage's Mothlight is available on the Criterion release and can also be found on YouTube. It's a three-minute silent film that Brakhage originally constructed by pressing translucent insect wings and flowers between two strips of splicing tape. It's a moving collage, really. A couple years ago at Big Ears, I screened it in a program of short films for children. I set up a 16mm projector in the auditorium so that the kids (including my own) could see the film running past the bulb and hear the reels turning. The print I rented from Anthology Film Archives belonged to Brakhage and had his handwriting on the case, a reminder that cinema can also be handmade and personal. I can't think of a work of art that has so completely rewired my understanding of what it means to contemplate the beauty of creation. I also nominated Michael Snow's landmark structuralist film, Wavelength. It can also be found on YouTube, which will give you some sense of what it looks like, but it's a poor imitation for the experience of watching it on film in a dark theater with a loud audio system (the electronic sine wave becomes excruciating by the end). For me, contemplating cinema is also contemplating form, in the same way I hope we would consider, say, Mark Rothko, if we were putting together a list of spiritually significant painters. To not include a Snow or Brakhage would diminish the list's argument for film's potential.
  21. Mubi showed a bunch of Rouch films last year, which was my first opportunity to see them, and, unlike Rossellini, apparently, I was totally on board with his project.
  22. > The approach of this film and Close-Up to "truthiness" makes me uneasy. Interesting to reread this thread a decade later. I've been thumbing through Jonas Mekas's Movie Journal and, by coincidence, last night I read his transcript of a roundtable conversation with Rossellini around the time of the release of The Rise of Louis XIV. Good stuff from Rossellini:
  23. Darren H

    Beau Travail (1999)

    > The only way this conflation makes any sense to me is to read it as though Galoup does not know/understand himself. He is his own inscrutable object. That's as near an articulation of my own sense of Beau Travail as I've read. I think it's fair to say that inscrutability is part of Denis's formal strategy, and for me that's a strength of the film and of her voice as an artist. I'm not sure if you'd agree with me, though, Ken?
  24. I think it's so interesting how quickly the industry is adapting and that they're doing it cooperatively. I think everyone is terrified that this experience will reveal that their part of the system is unnecessary. Why do we need sellers and distributors if every production company can create an exclusive streaming window on their own website before negotiating terms with Apple, Amazon, Google, and Netflix for "wide" release? Why do we need professional critics when buzz is now generated by social media trends? Why do we need theaters except for spectacle films like Star Wars and MCU? Why do we need mid-budget films when TV and web "content" attract more eyeballs? I'd guess they're maintaining the elite status of NY/LA now so that NY/LA will retain their elite status when/if we ever get back to normal. Everyone wants to keep their job in the short term. In the meantime, I've bought annual memberships at independent theaters in Knoxville and Nashville.
  25. Darren H

    Beau Travail (1999)

    What a useful concept, Joel. I think it's fair to say that I love cinema because I'm always on the hunt for "saturated phenomena"! As an aside, a therapist once suggested I've spent so much of my life watching movies, listening to music, and in the company of art because it allows me to experience peak emotional and bodily sensations that others are able to access more easily.
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