Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Siegel Film: Edge of Eternity (1959) and Private Hell 36 (1954)

The seventh in a series of appreciations of the work of director Don Siegel, courtesy of the current retrospective of his work at New York's Film Forum.

Edge of Eternity is in color. Victoria Shaw gets pulled over by Cornel Wilde's deputy. She sashays out of the covertible, tight-corseted and smiling. Chinese lanterns shimmer on her dress. They distract me. That red is really red. They trade some charming B-level innuendo but it doesn't matter - shit that shit is red. So it's like this: a poorly plotted, dramatically inert, competently performed whodunit becomes very entertaining because of Ms. Victoria Shaw's outfits. And sometimes her lipstick. The print was that good. Absolutely gorgeous.

Cornel Wilde is your basic disgraced cop seeking redemption in a small town - but that small town happens to lie next to.....the Grand Canyon! Helicopter shots! More helicopter shots! And a badass climactic fight on a tram running across said canyon. The camera held the shot of the body tumbling gracefully to its death far longer than usual. Is that Siegel peeking through with that shot? Who cares! He's no auteur - he's a craftsman, unable to mold the materials to his personality - so the quality of his collaborators dictates the quality of his work. Here he's got shit, so the movie's shit - except for the colors, Jack Elam, the Grand Canyon, and a falling body. Not negligible pleasures, but none having to do with Don Siegel's influence.

Private Hell 36 offered a bit more. Co-scripted by and starring Ida Lupino, Siegel has superior stuff to work with here, and the result is a satisfying noirish dirty cop tale. It begins with a spectacularly violent fight in a drug store when chest-haired Cal (Steve Cochran) notices a cardboard cut-out tip over in a display window. It's a nice little detail, a tiny, graceful motion that sets into motion the guy's self-destruction. He enters, unsavory characters appear, and a vicious throw-down commences. They toss each other through every piece of furniture in the store: table, bar, dresser - until Siegel cuts to the exterior, the cardboard cut-out tips over again, and is followed by the two beasts rolling out the window. It's a fabulous action scene.

But yes, our pal Cal has some sticky fingers, and lifts some cash from a crime scene in order to please the tastes of sardonic nightclub gal Ida Lupino, who is fabulous here, who's every phrase cracks with the weight of experience. She speak-sings a tune to Steve at her club, and it broke my tiny little heart. Cal's wuss partner Jack (Howard Duff) can't take the heat so gulps down scotch sweatily while snapping at his besweatered busty wife Francey (Dorothy Malone - who I knew I'd seen before, and just discovered was the horny sister Marylee in Written on the Wind). The pace lags after the money is snatched, as the movie ditches the characters to emphasize MORALITY, but whatever, I had my fun before then.

A Siegel Film: Riot on Cell Block 11 (1954)

The sixth in a series of appreciations of the work of director Don Siegel, courtesy of the current retrospective of his work at New York's Film Forum.

Riot on Cell Block 11 was a rarity at the Don Siegel retrospective: a disappointment.

11 was amongst the most highly praised of all Siegel's films in the various pieces that ran in the New York papers to kick off the Forum retro. “A classic of the genre, almost documentary in approach, and boiling up an explosive violence kept under perfect control.” said Time Out (London), as quoted on Forum's website. While waiting in line in the lobby one day last week, I read a Siegel apppreciation — and forgive me for forgetting who exactly wrote it — saying that despite his low profile amongst casual movie fans, Siegel directed the definitive film in three genres: the sci-fi picture (Body Snatchers), the cop-on-the-edge picture (Dirty Harry), and, with Riot on Cell Block 11, the prison movie. So I went into this thing expecting it to be the toppermost of the poppermost.

Maybe it was the resulting high expectations, but Riot on Cell Block 11 did not deliver. Given the tawdry subject matter and Siegel's knack for tremendously manly action, I anticipated a high octane thriller of chills, spills, and kills. But Siegel (or, according to IMDb, producer Walter Wanger) is more concerned with exposing the corruption and hypocrisy within the American penitentiary system in the early 1950s. It's a serious and important issue for sure, but one that lends itself more to manly speechifying than manly action.

Filming in the real Folsom Prison gives the picture a nice visual grittiness, but otherwise Siegel's technique is, for one film at least, undistinguished. The story involves a prison riot which begins far too easily, when an inmate suckers a guard into opening his cell in the dead of night by saying he needs something delivered to another inmate — and he says ok! Is it that simple to get the jump on guards in jail? Forget taking him hostage; why not just try asking the guard to let you out?

Like Flaming Star, Riot is about characters forced to make unsavory decisions that frequently blur the line between right and wrong. As we learn, the criminals may have more integrity than their jailers and the politicians who appoint them. Unfortunately, the characters making these decisions and learning these lessons are universally thin and uninteresting, portrayed by a mediocre ensemble, although one guy looks exactly like Patrick Swayze, which is kind of cool. I kept waiting for him to turn to someone in the middle of the riot and shout "I've had the time of my life! And I've never felt this way before!"

So Riot was a bust. But the beauty of these retrospectives is finding greatness where you least expect it, discovering lost classics instead of just confirming the canon. Riot's double feature partner was a little picture I'd never heard of called Private Hell 36, and lo and behold, it was clearly the superior picture on this day: taut, gritty, with some of the best dialogue of the retro courtesy of co-star and co-writer Ida Lupino. I suspect you'll be reading about it in a future post.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Siegel Film: Flaming Star (1960)

The fifth in a series of appreciations of the work of director Don Siegel, courtesy of the current retrospective of his work at New York's Film Forum.

My favorite Andy Warhol is 1963's "Double Elvis." The image itself, Elvis with an unreadable snear on his face and a gun at his hip, is great, but doubling it ads layer upon layer (like the fact that it calls to mind Elvis' twin brother Jesse, who died during childbirth). I loved the Warhol painting and I knew the still was from Don Siegel's Flaming Star but until I saw it earlier this evening I didn't realize how perfectly it captured the spirit of the film as well.

Presley plays Pacer, which is, I believe, Native American for "One Who Is Named in a Lame Attempt to Sound Cool." A half-breed, Pacer lives on a small farm in the great American West of 1878, with his white father (John McIntire) and half-brother (Steve Forrest) and Native American mother (Dolores Del Rio). Despite the family's mixed heritages it lives in peace with its neighbors; the open scenes paint the land as an agrarian utopia, but that doen't last. The local tribe, the Kiowas, gain a new chief, who seeks to reclaim his people's land. He slaughters Pacer's neighbors, increasing tensions between the whites and the Native Americans. Pacer and his family are caught in the middle: both side expects them to be with them, both sides equate their neutrality with aggression.

Siegel plays the Native Americans for fools a few times, but he doesn't pussyfoot around the central issue: they are right, the land is rightfully theirs, or at least was at some indeterminate point in the past. Now, entrenched for some 20 years, the whites are settled and they aren't going anywhere. Siegel paints the sides not as good and evil but as two conflicting point of views and lifestyles that cannot co-exist. In the director's judgement, neither is right and both are wrong. In fact, the film is structured around moments where there are no "correct" actions, when doing the right thing for yourself means doing the wrong thing to others. It's a far cry from the short film, Star in the Night (1945), which played earlier in Film Forum's Siegel retro, a Christ allegory that proposes that beneath its superficial squabbling, mankind is inherently good. Flaming Star suggests the earlier position is a load of bunk.

The film is littered with tiny moral abysses, where no decision is correct. Pacer must hold a child at gunpoint to save his mother's life. The structure of racial violence in the film resembles the ripples from a rock thrown in the pond: starting from that one simple spot, and spreading to everything in sight. The circle is endless: the Native Americans kill a family, the only survivor kills the first Indians he can find: Pacer's family.

Siegel's visual style isn't quite as pungent as in the marvelous Hell is For Heroes but one particular image lingers with the viewer. One of the main characters from Pacer's family dies, and the survivors hold the funeral on a hill near their farm so that their home, lush and pastoral, is visible in the distance behind them. Lingering in long shot, the farm crystal clear in deep focus, Siegel communicates the way the perfect life the family led is forever behind them without a single word to that effect. When another family member dies, Siegel repeats the image, and the impact is doubly painful.

Flaming Star is regarded as Presley's best performance. I'm no expert (though I love Viva Las Vegas and have an undying love for Phil Karlson's Kid Galahad) but he is outstanding the role: utterly convincing as a cowboy and a half-breed. Like Harry Callahan from Dirty Harry a decade later, Pacer straddles the line between two worlds and finds no place in either of them, desired and hated by all. He is everyone and no one, like a ghost of himself, or Andy Warhol's interpretation of such a concept.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Life is a Highway. So Where's The Rest Stop?

Cameron Crowe is a director of great instincts, if not great talents. It takes great instincts to make a movie like Almost Famous — one of the most self-indulgent movies ever made — not seem self-indulgent. From Fast Times (which he wrote, but did not direct) to Say Anything to Jerry Maguire to Almost Famous (or the superior director's cut of the film, available on DVD as Untitled), Crowe's been a great populist: he makes pictures you feel good about liking. They are un-guilty pleasures, if such a thing exists. Even when you didn't like the film (i.e. Jerry Maguire in my case), you can still admire his instincts: that movie is the Dolly the lamb of romantic dramedies, genetically engineered to play the audience with a maestro's touch.

But this decade has not been kind to Crowe. The artistic and commercial success of Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous permitted him the indulgence of Vanilla Sky, the Zooropa to his Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. But Crowe's Zooropa was more successful than U2's: even though I don't know anyone who genuinely likes Vanilla Sky (a few admire it, a few defend it, but show me someone who actually likes it) the film made over $100 million. If it hadn't, Elizabethtown may have ended up more like All That You Can't Leave Behind and less like Pop. (And with that, I officially retire the metaphor. Moving on...)

Elizabethtown sounds enough like Jerry Maguire to suggest Crowe back in his element but there are too many loose ends and the project as a whole lacks a cohesive drive. Orlando Bloom plays Drew, a sneaker designer whose newest creation is about to cost his company a billion dollars. Just as he's about to kill himself the phone rings: Drew's father died. Temporarily putting suicide on hold, he flies down to his family's home in Elizabethtown, Kentucky to supervise the preparations for the funeral. On a flight to Kentucky in which he's the only passenger, he hits it off with an attendant named Claire (Kirsten Dunst); she takes a liking to him and keeps popping back into his life for the remainder of the film.

Cut by something like a half an hour after its disastrous Toronto Film Fest premiere, Elizabethtown still drags like it's too long by twenty minutes, yet its characters feel a little thin. Drew claims he didn't know his dad but we never really learn why (contrary to my expectations, the father did not leave the family when Drew was young). Susan Sarandon's mom has a big scene at the end of the film where she pays tribute to her dead husband, but we've only seen in her in perhaps three brief scenes for the previous two hours, so the moment carries no weight. The plot description says Drew gets fired and dumped by his girlfriend (Jessica Biel, in a brief cameo) but I don't know that I ever specifically saw either of those events. Things rise and fade in Elizabethtown without warning or explanation.

That may have been Crowe's intent. Certainly one of the biggest flaws of the film — that Bloom's character never seems to fit in with his family or connect with them in any way — is intentional. Perhaps that is Bloom's fault, as the actor floats along on a a cloud of malaise and an ethereal American accent and never seems grounded or connected to Drew, or much attracted to Dunst's Claire, or much upset over his father's passing.

That is, until the film's marvelous epilogue, which is so potent you almost want to go back and rewatch the rest of the movie and see if you misjudged it (note I said almost). After the funeral, Claire gives Drew a map of America and a batch of mix CDs and orders him to drive cross-country back to his home in Oregon, following her careful instructions and listening to her music. With his father's remains strapped in the passenger seat, good tunes on the dash, and the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System at his feet, Elizabethtown suddenly, exhilaratingly comes alive, as Crowe gives us a great tour of the South and Midwest, showing us what (I have to assume) are real exotic places and people of interest. Finally Crowe's instincts return; just as in Almost Famous, he has a deep sense of the beauty and serenity of the open road, and his skill with pop soundtracks is well established.

The film ends on a high note with its most romantic gesture, as a sort of anti-Brown Bunny. It's strange that Crowe's instincts betrayed him so badly for two hours but returned so vibrantly for the last fifteen minutes. There seems a lot more of himself, the seen-it-all, globe-trotting journalist and careful cartographer of the music nerd's soul, in that road trip than the rest of the film. Perhaps this was a personal story about Crowe and his own father that he felt needed to be told. But if he'd listened to his instincts he would have known he buried his lead and dumped the stuff of a sure-fire classic on the last reel before the credits.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

"This ain't no Inside Man review!"

Like Roger Ebert, I observed that the plot of Inside Man makes very little sense. Unlike Roger, I simply don't care that it doesn't.

It doesn't matter because of the strength of Spike Lee's string-pulled-at-both-ends tension, the performance of a uniformly superb ensemble, and — most importantly — the abundance of small touches that enrich the admittedly implausible narrative. If Inside Man had been the typical, flavorless, 90 minute version of a Hollywood (this-ain't-no) bank robbery, it would not be worth recommending. But Inside Man, which runs a robust 130 minutes, gets to luxuriate in the world it creates: to show in fascinating, rigorous detail how the police contain a hostage situation (the way the plainclothes detectives receive heavily armed cover every single time they walk past the bank's entrance); to comment hilariously and pointedly, on the state of video game culture amongst young children; to give racial relations their place in the film; to present a cynical but (I'd suspect) not inaccurate view of New York politics. The film feels long but it feels appropriately long: Inside Man, as few hostage movies do, permits us to feel the anguish and anxiety of a prolonged police action and the slow choreographed dance between cop and perp.

Seemingly nobody on the planet but me noticed how good Clive Owen was in Sin City, where, as far as I'm concerned, he officially inherited the mantle of reluctant-but-unstoppable masculinity from Robert Mitchum (Everyone else was blinded by the showiness of his inferior co-star Mickey Rourke). Working in a very similar mode of persistent simmering, Owen makes a great sort of bankrobber we hate to love. That he performs most of the film from beneath a hood, mask, and sunglasses, is all the more impressive.

Name-checking Dog Day Afternoon, as Inside Man does in one particularly strong sequence, is sort of required in this postmodern world, but the fact is Inside Man earns the reference: it is the best film of the kind since Lumet's.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Who's the Man?

Don't worry your pretty little termite heads. I'm leaving ample crit space for those who wish to wax candlesticks or poetics re: Spike's new jernt (Sorry all -- saw it this afternoon and couldn't wait to post). Es ist gut, sehr gut is alls I gots to say. And maybe this: When can we get a review copy of "Kill Dat Ni**a"? Akiva, can you get on that right away?

Just wanted to point out a popular IM reviewing trope -- one which I can't say I wouldn't have employed myself given its appropriateness -- offered in three different guises. The irresistible urge in question? Playing with Spike Lee's insider/outsider status re: Hollywood/genre fare. Three such examples, from Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, the Times's Manohla Dargis, and the Voice's own J. Hoba (shouts to all, b/t/w; click on each for context):

Steph Lova: "He is the inside man."

Manoh, Lawd: "For most of his career, the great and maddeningly unreliable Spike Lee has been anything but — to borrow the title of his diverting new film — an inside man."

J. Hoba: "I wouldn't say that he exactly robbed the bank, but in this joint at least, he's his own inside man."

The Ten Words Project

Termite Art fans should head over to our colleague Ed Park's blog, Ten Words, for two recent TA contributions.

The idea behind Ten Words is simple: review a movie, or a CD, or a book, or anything on this planet in exactly ten words. Each blog post contains ten Ten Words reviews, and the last two entries are Termite Art contributions. Emmet focused on his trip to Italy:

That reggae band sure was terrible. Kissing's still fun though.

While I provided a scattered assemblage of film reviews:

Why is he always squinting? Dude, just get some sunglasses.

It's a fun website worth a spin. Enjoy your weekend and be here Monday, when, I'm sure one or both of us will have written about Inside Man.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Don Siegel appreciation... share this eerie story of childhood development.

Though I have no recollection of it, I have been told I was quite a fan of The Electric Company as a child. And recently I learned that my lifelong love of Spider-Man began with his guest appearances on TEC. So when The Best of The Electric Company arrived at The Voice I naturally had to take it home and see just what about it fascinated my 5-year-old mind.

The collection contains two episodes that feature Spidey. What I found in the second one blew my mind. In it, Spider-Man takes a day off from fighting crime and goes (in costume, go figure) to a New York Mets game.

(You may have noticed the various Mets web pages listed amongst the Termite Art links; that's because Sweeney and I are both Mets fans of somewhat obsessive proportions.)

Trying to uncover the roots of one obsession, I seem to have stumbled onto the key to all of them. Take a look for yourself:

I'm pretty sure I've had dreams that looked like this.

Imagine discovering the Rosetta Stone to your own life. Seriously: if Orson Welles was in this thing, you could pretty much seal up the nature vs. nuture debate permanently. But, alas, no Orson. Morgan Freeman does play an angry umpire though.

I began rethinking everything about myself while I watched this TEC: do I like hot dogs because Spidey likes hot dogs?

Do I shove hot dogs in strangers' faces because Spidey shoves hot dogs in strangers' faces?

The story makes absolutely no sense: the villain Spidey fights is called The Wall. He is...he is a man who looks a wall, and he moves into position to make a fly ball look like a home run. The Mets are made to look even more pathetic than they normally did in the late 1970s and The Wall, clearly a Braves fan, sabotages the Web-Crawler's favorite team. Uh oh. Spidey doesn't couch no cheaters, and neither does Morgan Freeman.

After some minor kid-friendly scuffling, the problem is solved (thanks, in part, to hot dogs), and the game can continue and we get our requisite happpy ending. And I'm left wondering: What else about me came from this show??? Until I solve that one true believers — keep reading! Take us out Spidey!


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Siegel Film: Hell Is For Heroes (1962)

The fourth in a series of appreciations of the work of director Don Siegel, courtesy of the current retrospective of his work at New York's Film Forum.

A squadron of men are ordered to help hold a position along the Siegfried Line during WWII after they believed they were being sent home. The majority of the company then pulls out to cover a northern position, leaving the squad alone and undermanned. They then try to deceive the enemy into believing the full force is still present. They hold out until they don't.

This is the plot of Don Siegel's 1962 film Hell Is For Heroes, and it tells little of its cumulative impact. It's a brutal, vicious, cynical little war picture that also happens to be rich in characterization (it's almost as good as the equally brutal Men In War, Anthony Mann's Korean War film). The star, as it were, is Steve McQueen, a burnt out master sergeant busted down to private who joins the squad right before deployment. He says little - usually knife-edged insults to his superiors, peers, and a grabby barmaid. Then he goes back to oiling his gun. It's a superbly understated performance, his rage simmering all the way down through his perfectly pressed pants.

It's truly an ensemble piece however, with Bob Newhart (in his film debut), James Coburn, Harry Guardino, Bobby Darin, and Fess Parker all putting in good work. Darin is especially charming as the huckster infantryman, selling his black-market wares with capitalistic gusto, and teaching Newhart how to shoot a gun with aggrieved insolence.

Siegel streamlines the exposition, hustling the soldiers up to the line with military precision, only stopping to secure a ravishing-sunset-in-ravaged-church shot to crystallize the men's dismay at having to court death once again. Characters are filled in: Coburn is affable and technically adept, Guardino gruff and loyal, Darin bombastic and kind, Parker calm and workmanlike. McQueen is just pissed.

Then, Siegel details the process of their work, insisting on repetitions: dummy ammo boxes are set up to make noise and deceive the Germans into thinking a large patrol is around. We see Guardino order Coburn to retrieve wire, and the laborious process of setting them up in the field, each men's progress detailed and repeated. This repetition comes back when McQueen ignores orders and leads a team to take out a pillbox surrounded by mines. In an extended sequence, McQueen's hand searches for a mine, and places a mark. Then Coburn and another soldier feel for them in turn. Each of these motions is documented and repeated beyond what is necessary to establish the situation. What is nailed home is how monotonous the work in staying alive is. And when there's an explosion, the shock is magnified by the process that came before it.

These processes also forge the adoration the men have for each other - no one else can do what they can - so when the main crisis arrives, and Guardino opts to follow the chain of command rather than green light a mission that could save them all, he's painted not as a coward but as a man doing his job. Despite the soldiers' opposition to his decision, they still respect him. They are tremendously humane in their own way.

Siegel admirably keeps out of the mess, adding few flourishes until the battle erupts, where one camera move adheres to my mind. There's an explosion, a man is gashed open, and the cut is to a view from above, the camera tracks as the bleeding, screaming man is hauled into the back of a jeep. It is quick and precise, but extremely powerful because of the restraint Siegel shows in the rest of the film.

It ends with redemption in blood and wonders whether the redemption's worth it. I think it is.

A Siegel Film: Crime in the Streets (1956)

The third in a series of appreciations of the work of director Don Siegel, courtesy of the current retrospective of his work at New York's Film Forum.

In two days I have been loudly berated twice — twice!! — in the typically sedate confines of Film Forum theater 2. Yesterday, not three minutes into the Siegel short Star in the Night — ironically, a Christ allegory about the inherent goodness in humanity — a woman turned and screamed at me "CAN YOU STOP KICKING MY SEAT?!?" after accidentally bumping her chair while crossing my legs. Today, chuckling at the still-rolling Crime in the Streets credits, I heard from over my shoulder "Will you shut your mouth?" Then, turning around because I couldn't believe I'd been shushed for laughing — a behavior that is a widely accepted form of movie theater expression on the planet I come from — the gentlemen added "YEAH I'M TALKING TO YOU DICKHEAD!"

It's becoming clear that the works of Don Siegel attract a particular kind of audience, surlier than I expected, with a worldview that apes the director's own: that people are inherently and often irredeemably flawed, that kindness is repayed with misery, and that the normal operating system of the universe is one of revenge and murder. Crime in the Streets isn't anywhere near the top of Siegel's filmography, but it still features another unlikable, bloodthirsty protagonist (a delinquent teen played by a young and ferocious John Cassavetes) in a story of vengeance. Cassavetes' character is the leader of a gang of street toughs, who fight with other hoods for bragging rights and terrorize their neighborhood for fun. A social worker (James Whitmore), whose boxy haircut practically marks him as a square, tries to intercede before Cassavetes leads his gang of petty thugs into a life of murder.

Siegel staged Crime in the Streets entirely on one set comprised of one city block. Budget or schedule or convenience may have made that choice for him, but Siegel turned the restriction into a advantage. Cassavetes and his gang (which also includes Sal Mineo and Mark Rydell) turn to crime out of boredom and a perceived lack of a prospects. The confined setting literalizes their inability to see a world beyond their juvenile desires, while simultaneously evoking the sense of suffocation the teens must feel.

Cassavetes shines brightly in this dingy little picture, and even Film Forum's poor-by-their-standards print couldn't dim the terrifying intensity he brings to the role of a kid with nothing to do but hate everything around him. Forget that he's at least ten years too old for the part, forget that most of the movie he's acting tough in a V-neck sweater, he is stone cold mean. Which is something I suspect Siegel fans can appreciate.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Siegel Film: The Big Steal (1949)

The second in a series of appreciations of the work of director Don Siegel, courtesy of the current retrospective of his work at New York's Film Forum.

Don Siegel's third film, after The Verdict and the Ronald Reagan vehicle Night After Night, is the light-hearted actioner The Big Steal. Made in 1949, it reteams Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer two years after they flirted to death in Out of the Past. It also boasts the same screenwriter(and novelist), Daniel Mainwaring, who is also credited as contributing to Anthony Mann's stellar The Tall Target (1951), Phil Karlson's The Phenix City Story (1955), and Siegel's own Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Baby Face Nelson (1957). He later wrote an episode of Mannix. If anyone has any more info about this individual, please send it my way.

The Big Steal is a lithe piece of work. Mitchum is chasing after the pencil-moustachioed Patric Knowles, who stole the Army's payroll money that Mitch was hired to deliver. Mitch in turn is being chased by his boss, the meaty William Bendix, who fingers him for the crime. Off a ship in Vera Cruz, Mitch meets cute with Jane Greer, and the rest of the film documents their playful mutual seduction as they avoid getting shot. The film is an hour and a half of bemused courting, the scattered violence material for the two would-be lovers to riff on. The power relations shift continually: Greer can speak Spanish, leaving Mitchum helpless in public - while in the private criminal world of men it's Mitchum who lays out the bad guys. Both rip the other for these shortcomings. It's a pose, their emotions coming out only when reading each other's bodies, Greer staunching his nosebleed, Mitchum, well, laying out the bad guys. In the climax they speak in looks to initiate the final assault - the repartee receding in the face of bodily menace.

It's a Mitchum film more than a Siegel one - the actors have their way, and the action set-pieces are a bit rote, especially an extended car chase that runs endlessly with a minimum of tension, saved only by Mitchum's contented smirk. Only his suit gets ruffled.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Siegel Film: The Verdict (1946)

The first in a series of appreciations of the work of director Don Siegel, courtesy of the current retrospective of his work at New York's Film Forum.

1946's The Verdict marks the feature directorial debut of Don Siegel. If we're a long way off from the man who became powerful and influential enough to attach the flamboyant "A Siegel Film" credit to his work, we're already witnessing a director of generous talent with a keen eye for simple but effective visual style.

Like much of Siegel's work, the story is dark but the tone is light: the enormous Sydney Greenstreet plays a disgraced police inspector in London of the 1890s, forced out of his job by a young buck (Citizen Kane's George Coulouris) after he sends an innocent man to his death. Soon after, Greenstreet's character finds himself neighbor to a rather unsolvable murder, and he delights in watching Coulouris' character fumble about as he conducts an investigation of his own, with the aid of his friend Victor, played with boundless insouciance by a never-better Peter Lorre.

Lorre and Greenstreet appeared together many times — in Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon and in lesser known films like Three Strangers and The Mask of Dimitrios — and The Verdict is, if IMDb is to be believed, their final pairing. Their on-screen chemistry benefited from the frequent teamings: by this stage in their partnership they have an utterly believable rapport as two long-time drinking buddies who chuckle in the face of death and chortle in the face of liver failure. They make for such an odd visual pair: the diminutive Lorre and the enormous Greenstreet, but the caliber of their back-and-forth banter levels the playing field and makes it clear they are, at least intellectually speaking, equals.

Siegel's visual prowess would only grow with time, but his talent for comedy, mystery, and bubbling undercurrents of repressed sexuality is already remarkably assured. Frequent Siegel motifs — the blurry line between cop and criminal, the moral implications of revenge, the great man facing a world that no longer needs him — all make appearances, and I was reminded more than once of Dirty Harry and The Shootist in particular.

His camera movement in particular is exquisite: in the most dynamic example, Siegel puts us in the center of the film's courtroom climax through the use of a dizzying and impossible pan, which whips from the judge to the jury to the accussed to the real murder and the other major characters in the span of about five seconds. In one shot, the fate of the entire cast is sealed. It's an unforgettable image.

Soon to come, Emmet on the equally entertaining The Big Steal, and we are just getting started. Our "A Siegel Film" spotlight will soldier on with looks at lots of other great Siegel obscurities including (we hope) Crime in the Streets, Hell is For Heroes, The Beguiled and more. Be reading, people. Be reading.

A Buzz Film

Plenty of people — myself included for a time — couldn't wrap their heads around David Cronenberg's interest in making A History of Violence. After seeing his 1986 film The Fly it somehow seems to make more sense.

Though they are in completely different genres with different tones, Violence plays like a variation on The Fly. Both are about the painful, tragic process of synthesizing different aspects of a personality into a whole: Tom and Joey, Brundle and The Fly. There are quite literal human duplicates, sexual triangles and jealousy, and narrative trajectories where very likable characters are slowly transformed into characters we dislike, don't understand, fear, etc.

If A History of Violence is an adaptation of a 1990s graphic novel, The Fly feels a bit like a cynic's interpretation of a Silver Age Marvel comic (or, perhaps, a very faithful rendition of an EC comic). A talented scientist (Jeff Goldblum) invents the world's first teleporter then, in a fit of drunken stupidity instigated by jealousy over the relationship between his girlfriend (Geena Davis) and her former lover and boss (John Getz) uses himself as his human test subject. Unfortunately, a fly also sneaks into the teleppod. In the Marvel comic version, the hero — whose name would have to be a lot snappier than Seth Brundle, maybe something like Brock Brundle — would grow wings and realize that he must now fight crime as Fly Guy: Winged Protector Of Humanity! The EC comic version would have tamped down the sexuality (just a little) but otherwise it would have played the same: the scientist and the fly are spliced, the scientist becomes a man-fly, and body horror, shedding of flesh, excreting of fluids ensue.

It may not qualify as the standard definition "horror film" but Cronenberg's The Fly is one of the most disturbing films I've seen, largely because the horrific elements do not seem played for sensationalism, but for tragedy. Cronenberg's camera seems as horrified by Goldblum's transformation as we are and the makeup used on the actor is so downright repellent that it's sometimes difficult to even look at the screen. The stuff at the end may put it over the top as the most disgusting movie I have ever seen.

And yet! And yet I loved it. Cronenberg's crazy, proof-that-the-man-should-be-institutionalized personality is all over the film, from Goldblum's ramblings about fearing the flesh and penetrating things, to the circular nature of death and birth, genius and madness. The usually loathsome Goldblum gives perhaps his most Goldblumian performance ever, yet there's something magnetic about his performance in the beginning and downright tragic in the ending. Now if I can just go my entire life without ever seeing it again.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Muxima and This Is Not A Time For Dreaming

Venturing tentatively once more into the world of cold and uninviting art galleries, I took in a rather wonderful video at the Galerie Lelong. It's called Muxima and was made by Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar.

Essentially a love letter to the people and music of Angola, Muxima is split into ten cantos. Jaar, a passionate admirer of Angolan music, discovered he owned five different versions of a folk song, Muxima (heart). The film cues these variations on the tune to images from the country, alternating between lyrical shots of everyday life with political allegories, some more didactic than others.

Canto I is a still image, a group of young boys with their hands placed over their heart. It is an anticipation and visual corollary to the song, as well as communicating that the video is about, well, love for the country.

Canto II examines statues from the era of Portugese colonialism, circling across their scarred faces, and then in a dramatic pan downward, uncovers the rusted iron poles holding them up, exposed after years enduring the elements. Muxima plays for the first time over these images.

The rest of this film follows this pattern, oft-beautiful shots of everyday life (cartwheels on a beach, colorful umbrella on canoe, woman knelt in prayer) contrasted with reminders of the country's volatile politics - set to variations on a folk song. We see an arm gathering local fauna in close-up, the hand-held camera gliding over the verdant field. Brief shots of a microphone are joltingly inserted. Incrementally more is revealed as the camera pulls back - it is a man in protective gear, clearing land in a mine-field, setting the bombs off. After the bomb explodes, it returns to the studio, with a man singing a tender, lyrical version of the tune. The film thrives on these contrasts, forever finding the political in the formal, and does it with an adoring and searching eye.

Unfortunately its run is over.
However! Pierre Huyghe's entrancingly weird puppet-film "This is Not a Time for Dreaming" just opened at the Marian Goodman gallery. Based on the art-historical tale about Le Corbusier's travails designing the art center at Harvard, it's tender and delirious, extravagantly self-reflexive and terribly concerned about the value of art. The scene where a dreaming Le Corbusier imagines his ideal building is a fantastical imagining of the creative process, which makes the later concessions he had to make that much more painful, especially since they were forced upon him by a demoniac personification of Harvard itself.

...and I hope they burn in hell!

Must we truly wax poetic about SNAP? Read this if you desire more, but all you should want is a ticket.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

New Worldism

Just a tip. Head on over to Dave Kehr's blog and the furor he created by (gasp!) cogently crticizing The New World. Matt Zoller Seitz wrote reams (constructively) in response, as did N.P. Thompson, some of whose quotes were so insulting Kehr removed them from the site, and he has now decided to moderate all future comments.

I'm an advocate of the film, it even topped my end-of-the-year list, but the invective with which these critics bash those who understandably have reservations about it is ridiculous. They take each criticism personally, as if it were their personal savior. It's a little creepy.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

History Lessons

Manny Farber lamented the death of the male action film in his seminal essay, "Underground Film." He's one of those guys, like Sarris, who had no art-film pretensions, films were good if they got under your skin, if they heaped on dirty little details, framed a face you haven't seen before. Farber names Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, William Wellman, William Kieghley, the early, pre-Stagecoach John Ford, Anthony Mann as these unpretentious icons. They get into the grit. Aside from Kieghley (whom I need to look up ASAP), these names still resonate with cineastes, film buffs, etc. So why are the male action films of today pushed aside with the same disdain as Hawks and Walsh were in their day - even among the so-called film literate? Snobbery is still rampant, it's easier to seem intellectual if you're praising Hong Sang-soo rather than The Bourne Supremacy, even though to these eyes Hong's tales of modern malaise are far more bound to cliches (art-film instead of action) than Bourne's invigorating studies of bodies in action.

The only guy regularly championing genre filmmaking with the polemical gusto (but without the stylistic chops) of Farber these days is Armond White, which makes him indispensable despite his tendency to go off the hyperbolic deep-end. So while wavering between seeing Night Watch and Running Scared, I did some research and found a White rave and a reluctant Sarris endorsement of RS, so my decision was made.

Wayne Kramer's follow up to his tepid debut The Cooler is an 1 1/2 hour chase film that, as White points out, re-connects action with virtue, as Paul Walker's small time hood tries to a recover a stolen gun. The key is the neighbor's son, Oleg, who lives under the brutal regime of his dad, a Russian immigrant with a tattoo of the Duke on his back. There's a surreal scene where the father is watching The Cowboys on TV, yelling at Wayne not to get shot, as the 8mm copy he wore out in Russia didn't contain that scene. He's looking for a big Hollywood (or Tarantino) action film, where blood barely spills amidst the explosions and where actions hold no consequences. Here every action has its price, and much of the energy of the film comes from the thought that goes into each one before the bullets fly.

The shit hits the fan when Oleg calls Wayne a faggot and shoots his Dad in the shoulder. This thread is paid off at the end of the film when the father's redemption comes with his realization of that Wayne's persona was based on his virtue, not his indestructibility.

An admission. I was apprehensive after the opening shootout at a drug deal that I was dealing with a Tony Scott disciple. Edited to hell with jumpy camerawork and grainy stock, I girded myself for a Man on Fire level monstrosity. But thankfully, Kramer restrains himself a bit, enough for the actions to register, each scene of physical violence from then on becomes more textured and lucid, enough to see the trajectory of a hockey puck slam into Walker's face.

The pace is relentless, as Paul tries to protect his son, his wife, and Oleg as they dive into a parallel Alice in the Underworld universe of pimps, pedophiles, and n'er do wells. Vera Farmiga is fabulous as the take-no-shit wife who rescues Oleg from the most fantastical part of the film, a candy colored apartment of child molesters where each shadow holds monsters. I'm down with the fairy tale nastiness of the scene - but he thrill killing that follows throws the moral balance of the film out of whack. I didn't say it was perfect.

But then, back on track, and it throws itself into a ridiculous conclusion that hopes for better things. Why not. It's earned it.

And I have no issue with Paul Walker here. He was solid.

So, please, give the modern male action film a chance.

A crazy crab, your mic make my d!@% itch!

Cheers to R. for bringing the music video into our discussion. I can't say without strong bias that this video is better than Kelly Clarkson's, or all the Oscar nominees, or if it even qualifies as a "music video" in MTV terms (who gives a hoot though), but this guy, who some of you may remember dominating radio airplay and frightening caucasians with equal panache back in the early-to-mid '90s, definitely outraps Ludacris even while under six feet of lime, loam, and lush grass (Though I would also tell you that Mr. Chris Bridges is no slouch in the acting dept., that is, if you were to ask me). So in the spirit of Dave Chappelle's Block Party, I present this li'l block party, uncapped but no smaller in stature. Same neighborhood, different kind of performance. Surely he would've headlined Dave and Michel's gig, had someone not seen fit to end his life's freestyle way too early, today in 1997.

Things that make me smile:

a) the cat with the do-rag draped up underneath his hat in the background (right), clearly, surrogately (you know what I mean) loving every minute.
b) the way you have no idea who's getting lyrically undressed until he appears, suddenly, after the first well-flung bon mot that blows up the crowd (and makes even him laugh)
c) the way same dude doesn't make eye contact with his then-unsainted-but-destined-for-greatness nemesis, nervously bopping up, down, and around, suffering every second but at the same time knowing this is the greatest sheet he's heard, ever -- almost blessed to be the object of scorn
d) how 100 location scouts, casting agents, and art directors combined could never get the background/atmosphere more perfect
e) 17 yrs. old. 17.
f) all of the above


One) Some may never have known the provenance of the name "Biggie Smalls": It comes from the 1953 comedy Let's Do It Again set in 1920s Montreal, refashioned for a 1975 musical comedy starring Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby (with titular theme song sung by The Staple Sisters, produced and written by Curtis Mayfield who produced every dope-ass piece of music from that era. Look it up).

Two) Christopher Wallace's middle names were George and Latore: his father's given and surnames. Big Poppa's pops was a small-time Jamaican politician.

Gordon Parks: 1912-2006

It was kind of an off year for the Oscar's annual montage of the dead, but we already landed one big member of next year's fraternity: Gordon Parks died on Tuesday at the age of 93. I'm not going to talk about his importance or his photography or his great career, because I'm not much of a historian (here's the AP's obit). I'm just going to tell you about a movie Parks made, the coolest movie of all time, really. The movie is called Shaft.

I remember the first time I saw Shaft. I remember where I was (a dorm room in Boston), I remember who I was with (my two roommates and a friend from the dorm next door). I remember how excited I was when I realized that everyone in the movie was going to call him Shaft. I remember how I felt when I first heard Isaac Hayes' immortal theme song (something along the lines of "HOLY SHIT!").

Shaft caught me at an important age. I was 16, and just becoming aware of the depth and beauty of movies that were older than I was. A steady diet of Welles, Ford, Fellini, Truffaut in that period had pounded into my head that old movies were important. Watching Shaft taught me old movies could be fun.

I have read the original Ernest Tidyman Shaft novel. It's good, but Parks' movie is better. It's simpler, more pure: Shaft is simply and utterly the biggest badass ever to swagger through Times Square, on or off the silver screen. He is the be all, end all of cinematic cool: smart, suave, sexy, and sophistocated (and let's not forget that it's Richard Roundtree in the role) . I've seen the film maybe half a dozen times now, and it never gets old. The plot is perfect: private dick (can't resist) John Shaft caught in the middle of a turf war between the African-Americans and the Italians while the cops are right on his ass.

I have a favorite scene. The Mafia has sent some goons to beat Shaft up. They're waiting for him in the bar across the street from his pad. But they don't know what he looks like so he goes into the bar, and pretends to be the bartender. He serves them free drinks and gets them good and liquored up. Then he makes sure they're there for him and, when they're good and boozy, beats the ever loving crap out of them and gets them hauled off to jail.

Now that's cool.

I wrote a paper on Shaft in grad school; the assignment was to pick a film from our master list of hundreds of films we were supposed to see before graduation, and to study one scene in relation to one aspect of film form. Because I loved the movie and because I thought it would be a lot more fun than just about anything else on the list, I chose Shaft and studied the use of sound and mise-en-scene in the film's opening scene, where Shaft rises from a subway and walks through Times Square on his way to work.

Close examination revealed just how carefully Parks orchestrated the scene for maximum impact. Shaft is surrounded on his walk through Times Square by movie marquees, but Parks only shows the ones that comment on his film, like the one that reads "NEW POLICY" and "ALL COLOR" and suggest the film's importance as the first of what would be known as "blaxploitation" films.

On the Shaft DVD extras we get to watch Parks tell Hayes how to score the scene:

"“The sequence we saw this morning...Times Square, pan on off the skyscrapers, along the 42nd Street, over the marquees, and when Shaft pops up out of that subway, that’s when it should really come on, and carry him all the way through Times Square right to his first encounter with the newspaper man. That should be a driving, savage beat... so that we’re right with him all the time.”

Hayes made the music to fit the scene, and that lent the scene another powerful effect: by watching Roundtree walk, and designing a beat to match his steps, Shaft almost always appears to be walking in time to the music, while everyone around him (who, I should add, are mostly white) is not. The way his strut is timed to the music we're hearing gives the character an immediate sense of power and importance, even when he's a tiny speck on a crowded Manhattan street corner yet to speak a line of dialogue. (The full version of this brief but effective paper is available here)

It doesn't get any better than that Gordon. Thanks.


Let me make a modest claim. The music video directed by Joseph Kahn of Kelly Clarkson's Walk Away is superior to every film nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. And by quite a large margin. To begin, it has a great riff. There are no great riffs in the Best Picture category. Walk the Line wasn't nominated.

Next, it has performances that elicit emotion without resorting to affectations. Kelly Clarkson sings into a microphone, and various normal looking people dance at their places of work. They enjoy their dancing, but do not seem to be imitating another as they are doing it. They seem to be truly enjoying themselves. Nobody nominated for Best Picture seemed to be enjoying themselves. Everybody was depressed and/or serious. Self-absorbed I'd say. Perhaps if they listened to Kelly Clarkson's Walk Away they'd feel better. A quality suggestion.

The music video speaks about love in a mature manner. None of the films nominated for Best Picture do so. Brokeback Mountain follows the pattern of the "love-in-separation" motif that makes for great drama but has little relation to the life loving people lead. In the video Kelly wishes to receive an answer from her lover as to whether he wants to stay with her. If he can't decide, he should Walk Away, you see. She longs for a man who can make such a decision. Instead of wallowing in pain, she decides to cut the depressed individual loose. Very mature, that. Her strength is reassuring, and one glides over the chorus believing we can be as strong in our relationships as well. Art should provide a template such as this.

The video was from the director of Torque, which was one of Armond White's favorite films of 2004. It's a film I've wanted to see since that review, but have never got around to . One of many. And none of the Best Picture noms was one of Armond White's favorite films of 2004.

Also, enjoy those match cuts, a hairdresser and cop joining in the chorus with our Kelly, eliciting that sense of utopia that cinema at its best can afford. The musical genre was very good at this. The upcoming DVD release of It's Always Fair Weather a dystopic exception that proves the rule. Kelly and Joseph Kahn should make a musical. Please.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Termite Art in The Village Voice: Vol. LI, No. 10

Matt Singer on Shakespeare Behind Bars

"This is probably the only Tempest cast in history with the role of Ariel played by a man named Bulldog."

Also, be sure to check out the Film Spring Preview Listings which was something of a Termite Art affair, with contributions from myself, Jaime and Pete (along with Termiters-in-spirit Drew Tillman and Leo Goldsmith).

Monday, March 06, 2006

Seriously, Academy: what the deuce?!?

I'm sitting here in the befuddled, head-scratching afterglow of the 78th Academy Awards trying to figure this out: Crash is the Best Picture of the year. That was a surprise, more surprising than it might have been because Crash didn't win most of the minor awards it was up for. When the night began, I felt that the race between Brokeback and Crash was a dead heat. But with Matt Dillon losing the first award of the night to George Clooney, I figured Brokeback was safe. When Crash lost Best Song to Hustle & Flow, it seemed to confirm things: surely if the film was riding such a genuine wave of buzz, it would be picking up these smaller awards as well, right?


In his acceptance speech for Best Original Screenplay, writer Paul Haggis said, "Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it." Say what you will about his movie (and believe me, I'm about to), but Haggis certainly lives by his Brechtian credo: his well-intentioned but overly melodramatic, impossibly coincidental, dramatically overwrought film in no way reflects the real world we live in, and delivers its message with all the subtlety of a wet fart. He's hammering his points home by beating us over the head with them with all the artistry of blunt force trauma. While I admire the film's willingness to explore an important issue, I still can't see the execution as anything other than one big jamboree of shrill, paper-thin, illogical stereotypes. In other words, it is exactly the sort of movie about race you would expect from the creator of Walker, Texas Ranger.

If Crash had been nominated amongst a field of fluff I could at least conceptualize the choice in the context of a vote for a Hollywood cinema that deals with issues. But all the other nominees were just as socially conscious: from Brokeback to Good Night, and Good Luck to Munich (even Capote, though less so than the other four). I guess Brokeback was simply the favorite for too long, but mark my words, the backlash against Crash will commence any day now. The movie is just too crazy for it not too. This may go down as one of the biggest cock-ups in Academy history.

Jon Stewart was as funny, relaxed, and quick-witted as you expected, which was good because the show around him was amongst the most pretentious in memory. Early on, with amusing skits from presenters Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, and Steve Carell (and brilliant fake negative ads for Best Actress and Best Sound, with voiceover provided by Stephen Colbert), the show seemed to be cruising. But as the night wore on, more and more winners got on their high horse to declare the importance of their movies, the greatness of Hollywood, the wonder of it all. Talk about buying your own hype. By the end of the night I was burying my head in my hands and covering my ears just to get through the self-congradulatory egomania. None of the speeches stood out and there were no powerful moments akin to those from Halle Berry and Jamie Foxx in recent years. The one acceptance highlight was Robert Altman, who was heartfelt and genuine, and gracious when he didn't need to be. In the montage of his films, they played the audio from Academy Awards past where he was nominated as Best Director, but they glossed over the fact that he never actually won anything, because they never voted for him.

But the worst moments were the impossibly bad interpretative dance numbers for the Best Original Song nominees, particularly for Crash, where Katherine "Bird" York sang at the front of the stage, while a group of dancers acted out classic moments from the film while backlit by a burning car. If you watched closely, you could even see them doing the scene where Matt Dillon's character sexually assaults Thandie Newton's, complete with slo-mo groping, dress lifting and crotch grabbing. Frankly, calling it interpretive dance might be too generous; there was no level of abstraction, just simple, hilarious reptition — rabid racial hate with jazz hands. Actually, now that I think about it, it was kind of fitting.

Who's idea was this? I kept scratching my eyes, imagining I had somehow stumbled into the Academy Awards featured in Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (the presence of Leslie Nielsen stumbling through the smoky, flaming, race-hatin' wreckage was the only way to make that dreck any funnier than it already was). The version of Three 6 Mafia's "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp" with flashdancing ho's was relatively classy in comparison. Pimping ain't easy, but it can't be as tough as watching the Oscars nowadays.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Siskel & Ebert Outtake For The Week of March 1st

In our continuining coverage of (and deepening obsession with) Siskel & Ebert promo outtakes presented by The Voice's Ed Park, we bring you the latest, and perhaps greatest one yet.

It's certainly the strangest. Honestly, I really don't know what's going on in this one. Oh sure at the end it's all fun and games as Gene tries to pimp out the duo's upcoming review of Steve Martin's Roxanne, and Roger chastizes him repeatedly for his lack of energy, his poor reading skills, and his unrelenting baldness (the last one is speculation on my part). But the bulk of this clip is devoted to a political manifesto of completely unintelligble proportions, one that involves a societal revolution against the influence of WASPs and lots of Protestant jokes that are practically offensive to me. Along the way, the president, Catholic-Jewish relations, and pretty much every generation after Siskel's is given a good wrap on the knuckles.

What any of this had to do with promoting a television show about movie reviews is anyone's guess. I'm telling you people: these men were geniuses. Keep 'em coming, Ed.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Of the education of children

Just got back from Canadia (Shouts to all my norff-a-da-border playas out there holding it down) and get this: there's this magical, windblown world of ice and brunettetitude called "Quebec" where--are you ready for this--tout le monde speaks FRENCH! When can I move? (Incidentally I'll use this sprinkle of Gallic flavor to shout out a literary paragon & pal o'mine, my mans Michel de Montaigne, whose birthday was yesterday, Feb 28. Happy 473rd, kid!)

Apart from narrowly avoiding the loss of my passport (shouts to Fabien @ Bily Kun), and the further loss of my pride and Canadian dollars at the Montreal casino, a great time was had by all, criticizing laughably myopic (for once, not American) coverage of the Olympics, savoring the heavenly unification of gravy, cheese curds, and french fries that is poutine, and detesting duMaurier cigarettes.

Not much film was watched apart from Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence, out on DVD (though, not quite available yet Stateside) which by all rights should be given some home theater love. If you've got a free 30 minutes, read Montaigne's essay--a letter to the Comtesse de Gurson--about the education of children, a topic which very much concerns the narrative drive (call it that if you're generous) of Innocence. Where Montaigne is more explicit, more Polonius-to-Laertes in advice-doling, Hadzihalilovic is oblique, allegorical, and pleasantly obsessed with brightly colored ribbons. All the better, I say. Cinematography's achingly lush, and the candied gauziness stands in opposition to the mounting dread you feel as this world of lollipops & hulahoops feels threatened by some malevolent darkness lurking, one which you hope is some ghastly werewolf but is probably just teenage boys. Again, fully deserving of a first/second look, even if you never quite know why the little pixies show up to their prepubescent paradise in coffins.

Not-at-all-inspired-by-this-paean-to-girlhood, another film was made. After Chris Marker's La Jetee, a short composed entirely of still photos (one of which is posted above) will be making their way to other blogshores, and maybe even this one, once completed. Get excited.

Termite Art in The Village Voice: Vol. LI, No. 9

Matt Singer on Doing Time For Patsy Cline

...she's the mysterious vixen who is crazy for trying, and crazy for lying, and crazy for loving him.

Also two book reviews. First, Singer on We All Die Alone

Even the most receptive reader may not buy into the notion of a comic strip comprised entirely of toilet paper wrappers (or, for that matter, a dozen pages of comic strips comprised entirely of toilet paper wrappers).

And Pete L'Official on U.S.! (I forgot to include it last week):

Part of the enjoyment of reading U.S.! comes, yes, from discovering Sinclair's disturbing penchant for exclamation points