Saturday, January 03, 2009

All Done for 2008. Happy New Year.

Wow. My last batch of films for 2008 certainly had a queer slant to them.

342. Gilda (1946, directed by Charles Vidor). The first hydrogen bomb was named "Gilda. " This movie is why. Rita Hayworth is the bombshell of all bombshells in this movie. The movie poster for this movie paints the dress she wears in "Put the Blame on Mame" as green, but in black and white, it becomes whatever color you like, so long as it's the color of sex. Incredibly, the two men in the story, Glenn Ford and George MacReady, seem to have eyes only for each other. This is just about the queerest movie the golden age of Hollywood ever produced.

343. Excalibur (1981, directed by John Boorman) is full of such obvious symbolism that it sometimes surprises me with how subtle it is. I mean, the interesting twinning effect that goes on at the marriage of Arthur and Guinevere never dawned on me before, as the camera follows Merlin and Morgana rather than the ceremony itself. Or maybe John Boorman realized that Nicol Williamson and Helen Mirren were the two most interesting members of his cast, and decided that this was one of the best opportunities to take advantage. Nigel Terry and Nicholas Clay are pretty stiff as Arthur and Launcelot, though I took more notice of Cheri Lunghi this time round. Still, Boorman occasionally lets his half-assed mysticism get the better of him, even though the movie always looks fabulous.

344. All About My Mother (1999, directed by Pedro Almodovar) is the director's most heartfelt hymn to her, whether they be Madonnas or whores or both (Penelope Cruz play's a pregnant nun--you do the math). This is my favorite of Almodovar's movies, in part because it manages the not-inconsiderable feat of taking a character who starts as a cliche--Antonia San Juan's transsexual prostitute (sheesh, again?)--and gives her her dignity as just another woman. Oh, and Cecilia Roth is my favorite of Pedro's leading ladies.

345. Milk (2008, directed by Gus Van Sant) is a film that packs so much shock of recognition into its moral arc that it's hard not to see it through the lens of contemporary GLBT politics. The events of Harvey Milk's life seem to have replayed themselves writ large in 2008. One could very well mistake this as a VERY IMPORTANT MOVIE, but for the fact that it's too damned much fun as a movie. It would have been easy for Gus Van Sant, the commercial filmmaker, to phone this in. Instead, we get Gus Van Sant the eccentric filmmaker instead. Parts of this are playful. Parts of it are lovely. All of it is acted to the hilt. Sean Penn gets a new lease on relevence with this film. It's his most approachable role in years--if you don't mind watching guys kissing, that is. Pity that element alone will keep some audiences away. Alas. In any event, it strikes me that Milk's revolution is similar to the one kinda sorta going today, in which GLBT youth aren't satisfied with the status quo of either their place in the world or their place in the GLBT establishment and are taking to the streets to take what they want. More power too 'em. The change is coming.

346. A Christmas Story (1983, directed by Bob Clark). Y'know, this perennial chestnut isn't that great for great whacks of its running time, but when it clicks, it really clicks. My favorite episode? Ralphie's relationship with the "ef" word, and its consequences. I sometimes wonder about the deal with the devil Bob Clark made. It came partly due shortly after this movie hit theaters--Clark never made anything even remotely worth a damn afterwards.

347. "The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello" (2005, directed by Anthony Lucas) (via YouTube: uses the same animation technique that Lotte Reiniger used in The Adventures of Prince Achmed, but it mixes in nearly a century of other animation techniques, too. It's a steampunk bitches brew of Jules Verne and H. P. Lovecraft that shouldn't work, but does. It's kind of wonderful. But see for yourself:

348. The Magnificent Ambersons (1941, directed by Orson Welles) remains the cinema's most interesting murdered movie. It's been a while since I saw it last and in the interim, I've read Booth Tarkington's novel. Welles knew Tarkington as a boy, and always thought that George Amberson Minifer was based on himself. Of course, he has his revenge, given that Tarkington is today remembered mainly because Welles made this movie. Such are the vaguaries of literary reputations. In any event, it strikes me that the studio may have had a point in appending a "happy" ending. Their ending more closely resembles the book. Mind you, I'd LOVE to see Welles's cut (come on South America! Yield up Welles's print!), but I can live with the current film. It really is lovely. And brisk! It rampages through the story without a pause. It's obviously a movie that's a masterpiece in some form or other--but maybe not at it's current 88 minute form. Or even maybe in that form at that.

349. Quills (2000, directed by Philip Kaufman) is remarkably sympathetic to the Marquis De Sade. He's the voice of freedom in addition to being the raging id of the Enlightenment. This is, make no mistake, a literary horror movie, in which the subject is not de Sade, but books: what it takes to make them, what books work upon the world, and who, ultimately, profits by them. Oh, it's about a lot of other things, too--particularly the notion that one can enjoy erotica without actually wanting to wallow in what it depicts, which brings me to...

350. Crash (1996, directed by David Cronenberg), which is the director's most misunderstood movie. Who in their right minds gets off on car crashes? The smart-ass in me wants to direct anyone who asks that question to a demolition derby, but it's really a moot point. The movie isn't about this particular (fictional) fetish, so much as it's about fetish in general. Car crashes are a stand in for whatever perverse thing turns your crank. It could be high heeled shoes or tightlaced corsets or furry animal suits. It doesn't matter. The characters in this movie are ensnared by their sexual pecadilloes to the point where they cannot function, cannot feel pleasure, without them. The ending of this movie--in which James Spader and Deborah Unger search for the next crash/orgasm--is the best instance I know where a movie shows the sexual impulse and the death impulse side by side with a clear eye. I think this movie is a masterpiece.

Finally, finishing up with The Chronological Donald Duck:

351. "Working for Peanuts" (1953, directed by Jack Hannah)
352. "Canvas Back Duck" (1953, directed by Jack Hannah)
353. "Donald's Diary" (1954, directed by Jack Kinney)
354. "Dragon Around" (1954, directed by Jack Hannah)
355. "Grin and Bear It" (1954, directed by Jack Hannah)
356. "The Flying Squirrel" (1954, directed by Jack Hannah)
357. "Grand Canyonscope" (1954, directed by Charles Nichols)
358. "Spare the Rod" (1954, directed by Jack Hannah)
359. "Bearly Asleep" (1955, directed by Jack Hannah)
360. "Beezy Bear" (1955, directed by Jack Hannah)
361. "Up a Tree" (1955, directed by Jack Hannah)
362. "No Hunting" (1955, directed by Jack Hannah)
363. "Chips Ahoy" (1956, directed by Jack Kinney)
364. "How to Have An Accident in The Home" (1956, directed by Charles Nichols)
364. "How to Have An Accident At Work" (1959, directed by Charles Nichols)
365. "Donald and the Wheel" (1961, directed by Hamilton Luske)
366. "The Litterbug" (1961, directed by Hamilton Luske)

The interesting thing to me about this bunch of ducks isn't the way they interchange Donald and the Park Ranger from cartoon to cartoon, or the fact that these take such a dim view of romance ("Donald's Diary" and "How To Have An Accident in the Home"), nor even the sometimes over-looked fact that Donald appears to have actually married Daisy at some point and had a kid with her, but rather, the way that Disney, like every other American animation studio in the 1950s, moved away from lush, full animation to a flatter, more abstract style. They mostly did it with their backgrounds, and they mostly did it in a very intelectual way. I mean, consider this landscape from "How To Have An Accident in the Home":

It reads as a landscape, but it's no more "realistic" than a painting by Cezanne (with which it shares some characteristics). Or take this shot from "How To Have An Accident at Work":

This still-frame has no acquaintance with mathematical perspective. It's completely abstract. Almost cubist. And yet, it works. Even at this late date, Disney's animators were master-designers.

The last batch of these cartoons have an educational bent to them, before Donald bowed out as a movie star in 1961's "The Litterbug." He would return, eventually, in such later features as Fantasia 2000 and Mickey's Christmas Carol, but they weren't HIS movies. Alas.

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