Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Desert Island Film 107

Or when Kubrick's formal skills meet up with Sellers' genius

Monday, December 18, 2023

Desert Island Film 106

For the power of the close up when used sparingly

Friday, December 15, 2023

Desert Island Film 105

Partly for the sheer beauty of Taylor and Clift

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Desert Island Film 104

For the way it embraces and transcends its economic limitations

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Desert Island Film 103

As good a representation as I know of Demme's loose style and ease and comfort with his actors

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Desert Island Film 102

The type of focused character piece the French do as well as anyone

Monday, December 11, 2023

Desert Island Film 101

Where I would start people who are looking to begin discovering the challenging but important work of Cassavetes

Friday, December 8, 2023

Desert Island Film 100

A missing predecessor for a number of 80s movies I like a great deal including Stranger Than Paradise and the first two Leos Carax features

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Desert Island Film 99

For the scene in the car between Paul Newman and Diane Kagan

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Desert Island Film 98

Kenji Mizoguchi, one of the masters of the medium, in a rarefied group, less than two hands full, with Dreyer, Ozu, Bresson, Godard, Renoir, Rohmer, Welles, and Wiseman.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Desert Island Film 97

For the way McElwee lets you in on his awkwardness, insecurities, anxieties and how he does it with nuance, grace, and humor

Monday, December 4, 2023

Desert Island Film 96

For the presence of Hossain and the narrative structure

Friday, December 1, 2023

Desert Island Film 95

One of the cinema's very best films about the great profession of journalism

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Desert Island Film 94

One of numerous films that convinced me that Sinatra could act and Minnelli could direct

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Desert Island Film 93

Study this, or one of Eastwood's many as director, to learn how to keep the narrative simple and the tone earnest (as opposed to ironic)

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Desert Island Film 92

One of the more important final bookends to the American New Wave

Monday, November 27, 2023

Desert Island Film 91

A film full of heart that reminds me of Bujalski, Carax, and Hartley

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Recommendations from our 5th Reel Adventures

For each Reel Adventures at RW Norton Art Gallery in addition to the highlighted movie I provide a few other recommendations. Here are the recommendations from our 5th Reel Adventures.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Desert Island Film 90

For the colors and that scene at the gas station

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Desert Island Film 89

1 of about 20 Hawks films I could have chosen

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Desert Island Film 88

For its unusually sensitive treatment of Clara

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Trivia from 5th Reel Adventures

Here's the trivia I asked for our 5th Reel Adventures at RW Norton Art Gallery:

• Who directed the movie My Fair Lady?
• What is the difference between a lady and a flower girl?
• What does Pickering drink to quiet his nerves?
• What does Mr. Doolittle tell Pickering when he asks him if he has any morals?
• What does Higgins tell Mrs. Pearce to use if she can’t clean Eliza?

• What kind of flower does Freddy knock out of Eliza’s basket in the opening scene?
• Where is Higgins standing when Mr. Doolittle first comes to see him?
• What are the two subjects Higgins tells Eliza to keep to at the races?
• What nationality does Zoltan say Eliza is?
• What is the scene immediately following the Entr’acte?

• What does Higgins tell Eliza is the greatest possession we have?
• What does Higgins tell Eliza she must do to get much further with the lord?
• What does Higgins tell Mrs. Pearce to wrap Eliza in until her new clothes come?
• What does Higgins tell Eliza not to confuse if she wants to become a lady in a shop?
• Why does Higgins say Eliza should be hung?

• What opera are they leaving in the beginning?
• Who won Best Actress in 1965, for what film and why was there some controversy around this selection?
• What are all the reasons Butterman gives to explain why Pygmalion was not an obvious candidate for becoming a musical?

Desert Island Film 87

For the intersection of two great artists -Thelonious Monk and Clint Eastwood

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Reel Adventures #5 - My Fair Lady Talk (Video Component)

The other major component of my talk Friday night for the 5th Reel Adventures at RW Norton Art Gallery were clips from my discussion with Shreveport Symphony Orchestra Music Director Michael Butterman.

Here are the six clips we showed in the order we presented them:

What an incredible treat to have the opportunity to sit down with Butterman and hear some of his thoughts on My Fair Lady.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Reel Adventures #5 - My Fair Lady Talk

Our fifth Reel Adventures at R.W. Norton Art Gallery was another special night! Stay tuned for our next one. Date and movie will be announced over the next month.

Here is my talk that included clips of a discussion I had with Shreveport Symphony Orchestra Music Director Michael Butterman. Over the coming days I'll share the clips of Butterman speaking as well:

Clip #1 of Butterman

I have other clips of Michael Butterman speaking about My Fair Lady and I want you to hear from him tonight as much as you hear from me. But before I play others I want to say a few things.

Hitchcock, Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola, Tarantino. These are filmmakers, directors specifically, who all have names that are as recognizable if not more than the films they made.

And then you have someone like tonight’s director, George Cukor ("cue-core"), who consistently took a back seat to the work he directed. During his career, Cukor made 10 films with Katharine Hepburn and 

Hepburn once said the following, “All the other directors I have worked with starred themselves but George starred the actor. He didn’t want people to say, ‘this great director.’ He wanted them to say, ‘this great actor.’

George Cukor was exactly the type of director Butterman described. Cukor was an interpretative director, somebody who excelled at bringing the vision that other people had to life. For instance, although Cukor made over 50 films he never once wrote the screenplay for a film he directed.

Tonight, I want to give you some background information on Cukor and explain why I think he took on more of this interpreter role as a filmmaker. And let me be clear, in calling Cukor an interpretative director, I’m not looking to demean his talent nor do I consider him less than the filmmakers I mentioned above who have more distinctive directorial styles. In fact, Cukor has long been among my favorite filmmakers. On the sheet of paper all of you have on your tables, I have listed three of my other favorite Cukor films but there are at least 5-10 others that I also hold in very high regard.

The first reason I think Cukor was more of an interpreter was his background as a theater director. Cukor started in the theater in New York and had directed numerous plays before going out to Hollywood. Almost all theater directors are interpreters. They take playwright’s plays, often works that were written centuries before, think of all the Shakespeare productions, and conceive of a way to bring them to the theater.

On the other hand, in film many of the quote/unquote artists are writer-directors, or directors who almost exclusively direct things they have written. That’s how Woody Allen is, the Coen Brothers, and almost all the famous international filmmakers you’ve ever heard about – Fellini, Bergman, etc.

But in theater it’s rare for the writer to also be the director.

After the next round of trivia, I’ll come back and talk about two more reasons why I believe Cukor was more comfortable as an interpreter than an initiator of the creative work he directed.

The next reason I think Cukor was more comfortable as an interpreter was how and when he got to Hollywood. In 1929, movies converted to talkies and experienced theater directors were in demand since theater directors, far more than silent film directors, knew how to work with actors speaking words. When Cukor arrived in Hollywood, he started as a dialogue director, just helping actors get comfortable with their dialogue. In fact, the first major film he worked on was as a dialogue director on All Quiet On the Western Front.

So why do I think it’s so important that Cukor arrived in Hollywood in 1929?

Before talkies, film was purely a visual medium. In other words, because directors did not have to worry about sound, they were free to do things with the camera and think visually and experiment visually in ways that were no longer possible once talkies came along. When talkies came along, they grounded the camera, limiting what directors could do with it and how much they could move it. All or most of you have seen what I’m talking about documented in the movie Singing in the Rain - the camera had to be placed in a soundproof booth so that mechanical noises would not be picked up on the soundtrack.

Again, why does all of this matter?

Well, because of their background in silent film, many of Cukor’s peers were much stronger visually and much more comfortable with a camera than Cukor was. We’ve talked about this in previous Reel Adventures, that filmmakers like Ford and Hitchcock made a string of silent films before they transitioned to talkies. Cukor, even though he was their peer in age, never made a silent film because he didn’t arrive to Hollywood until silent film was going out of fashion.

Therefore, from a technical standpoint, Cukor was far less confident than some of the other great filmmakers of his generation. And as a result, he was more comfortable putting the story and actors at the fore of the films that he made than his own directorial voice or style.

The final reason why I think Cukor was more of an interpretative director than a director with a flashy, recognizable style is because George Cukor wanted to blend in. His parents immigrated from Hungary and as a first-generation American Cukor aspired, more than anything, to fit in.

Cukor was Jewish, Hungarian-American and homosexual but sought to downplay all three of these aspects of his life. And I would argue that the downplaying of his directorial style is in line with this same behavior.

I have read where it has been described as Cukor’s “camouflage”. Cukor was Jewish but saw being Jewish as an impediment to his assimilation so he submerged his religious background. In a similar manner, I read where Cukor made a vow to himself not to be a “hyphenated American” like his grandfather and uncle who were both well-known figures in the Hungarian-American immigrant community. The submergence of his religious background and the downplaying of his Hungarian ancestry were all part of Cukor’s camouflage and his desire to blend in with American society.

Knowing the above, it’s not a far stretch then to see why Cukor would be so comfortable having an “invisible” directing style. Or, in other words, an approach to filmmaking where your attention is on the story and the actors and with little regard to whether the audience recognizes or knows the name of the director delivering them the product.

Cukor might not be a household name but he had an extraordinary career. He was born on July 7, 1899 and made films for more than half a century.

Cukor is 4th all-time among directors who have directed the most Oscar-nominated performances. 21 of his actors were nominated and 5 of them won Oscars for their work with Cukor.

I’m going to leave you with a number of clips from my discussion with Michael Butterman.

I appreciate you allowing me the opportunity to say a few words about Cukor. People have tried to shortchange him through the years by labeling him an actor’s director, a woman’s director and even an anonymous craftsman. While for me he simply made some of the best films in the history of American cinema.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Desert Island Film 86

Because I had never seen a human glide like Astaire

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Desert Island Film 85

Watch this and then watch Zulu.  More of us should know the work of Endfield.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Desert Island Film 84

Any genre Hellman put his camera to was transformed into something we had never seen before.  The western being no exception.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Desert Island Film 83

It feels most akin to a French art film, something Desplechin or Assayas would attempt

Friday, November 3, 2023

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Desert Island Film 80

A masterful noir that seems like one of the two or three biggest influences on The Godfather and on Scorsese's style

Monday, October 30, 2023

Desert Island Film 79

Ashby, Towne, Beatty and one of the greatest films ever about Los Angeles

Friday, October 27, 2023

Desert Island Film 78

One of the most memorable cinematic discoveries for me in the last five years

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Desert Island Film 77

 Arthur Penn's noir with a memorable Hackman and Melanie Griffith

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Desert Island Film 76

Ray captures the buoyant feelings of innocence masterfully

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Desert Island Film 75

Perhaps the first of Scorsese's films with that primal energy he would become known for

Monday, October 23, 2023

Desert Island Film 74

Has the New Wave's keen interest and eye in youth, female beauty and the sea

Friday, October 20, 2023

Desert Island Film 73

For so many reasons, including one of the great closing scenes in the history of film

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Desert Island Film 72

One of the most underrated filmmakers' most underrated films

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Desert Island Film 71

The more I watch, the more Ford seems like the narrative version of Wiseman, a filmmaker deeply concerned with our institutions and the very foundation on which this country is supposed to rest.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Desert Island Film 70

Not to be missed.  One of France's great action films and one of its greatest filmmakers greatest films.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Desert Island Film 69

Unrelenting and powerful and one of the key American New Wave films

Sunday, October 15, 2023

My Current Top 50

I see so many movies that every now and then I like to take a step back and think about where I would rate them all. Here’s what I would call my current top 50. I limited it to one film per director and gave greatest emphasis to the films that continue to haunt me:

Sunrise (1927)
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)
Morocco (1930)
La chienne (1931)
City Lights (1931)
L’atalante (1934)
Holiday (1938)
The Shop Around The Corner (1940)
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
Gentleman Jim (1942)
Notorious (1946)
Late Spring (1949)
In a Lonely Place (1950)
Stars in My Crown (1950)
The Big Heat (1953)
The Sun Shines Bright (1953)
The Barefoot Contessa (1954)
Voyage in Italy (1954)
Written on the Wind (1956)
Pickpocket (1959)
Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
Chronicle of a Summer (1961)
Gertrud (1964)
Pierrot le fou (1965)
Army of Shadows (1969)
Kes (1969)
La maison des bois (1971)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
The Mother and the Whore (1973)
Alice in the Cities (1974)
The Passenger (1975)
Mikey and Nicky (1976)
Blow Out (1981)
Le Pont du Nord (1981)
Boy Meets Girl (1984)
Full Moon in Paris (1984)
Where Is The Friend’s House? (1987)
Trust (1990)
Heat (1995)
Dead Man (1995)
Goodbye South, Goodbye (1996)
Funny Ha Ha (2002)
Still Life (2006)
Mysteries of Lisbon (2010)
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
Right Now, Wrong Then (2015)
In Jackson Heights (2015)
Certain Women (2017)
Let the Sunshine In (2017)
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021)

Friday, October 13, 2023

Desert Island Film 68

 One of Bunuel's most free-flowing and liberated films

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Desert Island Film 67

For fans of long takes and of the work of Hou Hsiao-hsien.  A great example of a 21st century art film.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Desert Island Film 66

Erice's most accessible film to date.  A poetic and beautiful film that explores the feelings the young have for the older generation as they discover their flaws and their humanity.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Desert Island Film 65

For the power of motion, or in other words, cinema

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Desert Island Film 64

A fabulous new addition to trance cinema (Garrel's Regular Lovers, Dead Man, McCabe & Mrs. Miller) and a completely original approach to the biopic