Archive for the ‘cross-blog fun’ Category

vlcsnap-2012-07-22-18h54m42s71Dear Anagramsci (and Motime) Readers:

Please note that my new culture-blogging home is right here (at Sound on Sight Magazine). I’ll be writing about comics, movies and maybe even television, at some point. At the moment, I’m winding up my press coverage of the Toronto Silent Film Festival (which it has been a real privilege to attend). Hope you’ll bookmark that first link – or at least check in on what I’m up to over there, from time to time.

And don’t hesitate to comment, quarrel (I’ll be making it a priority to respond promptly!) and share these pieces with others!

Thanks friends!


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Consider this one my contribution to the get-David-Cairns-to-do-a-Dieterle-Week fund:


In 1933, as it must to all directors (well, maybe not all),  the Foreign Legion film came to William Dieterle. Like Six Hours To Live, The Devil’s in Love was made at Fox, rather than at the director’s 1930s home studio, Warner Brothers, where, I must agree with Andrew Sarris, he sometimes came across as a second-string Michael Curtiz (although, even during that period, he did manage to slip in a few wonderfully distinctive pieces-i.e. The Last Flight, Jewel Robbery, Scarlet Dawn, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Great O’Malley, Another Dawn, JuarezFog Over Frisco, on the other hand, while justly celebrated for its technical bravura, does seem like ersatz Curtiz–although I’ve only seen it once… I’ll post on it when I revisit it)

Anyway–the Fox Dieterles provide about as clear a forecast of the brilliant period that stretches from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) to The Turning Point (1952) as any aficionado could want! Devil, in fact, plays like a trial run for 1937’s Another Dawn–a pretty amazing snatch of “orientalist” romance starring Kay Francis and Errol Flynn (among other things, the two films share a no-win love triangle between three very likable characters, a European imperialist millieu AND Herbert Mundin in pretty much exactly the same role–scoundrel/affectionate sidekick).

The story is completely wack, but it is perfectly concocted to liberate the director’s expressionistic genie. To wit: have you ever seen an image that more perfectly evokes a court-martial death sentence than the above shot?

Forget “love”–Victor Jory is in trouble! Framed for murder by one of J. Carrol Naish’s patented weakling/bastards (although a much more sympathetic specimen of the type than he often played):


As always in a Dieterle film, arbitrary authority is the only “evil.” In this case, the real devil of the piece (although he shows no signs of being in love) is a sadistic base commander who treats his servant (Naish) so badly that you are cheering for the guy, until you realize that the craven fellow plans to exact his revenge by pinning the justifiable homicide upon the outpost’s resident humanist, doctor Victor Jory–who is basically the liberal saint of Dieterle’s Muni/Kay Francis (as Florence Nightingale)/Robinson biopic cycle, transplanted from the history books into the more wonderfully manured garden of melodrama.

All of this happens within a few minutes of the title credits! Before you’re two sips into your coffee (you all drink coffee with your avi files, don’t you?), prosecutor Bela Lugosi is bearing down upon our noble protagonist with the irrefutable evidence that the doctor and the sadistic major were sworn enemies (with diametrically opposed views of the West’s proper role in Africa).


Luckily, Jory’s best friend, played by apparent Dieterle favourite David Manners (who has been steadily rising in my estimation for years–to the point where I actually love his jokey scenes with the amazing Helen Chandler in Browning’s Dracula) is a captain who knows when to subvert military discipline, and he quickly engineers the doctor’s escape.

After that, we get about 40 minutes of Jory hiding in plain sight in a city close to the base, where he becomes known as the “Consul of the Damned,” thanks to his untiring medical efforts on behalf of the region’s sickly underclass. Along the way, he meets two women, both of whom prove to be wonderful human beings… One of them, a fellow crusader at the local Christian mission, captures Jory’s heart (but when does he become a devil, the viewer wonders?). This comes as no surprise, since she is played by the eye-poppingly young Loretta Young.


But of course there are problems. She’s engaged. To Manners. It was inevitable. But it’s great! And, as always with Dieterle, the film doesn’t just tell you the characters are in love–it makes you believe it, and even need it. Only Borzage does this as well.

I won’t say any more, except that, of course, events do conspire to bring all of the principals into close proximity–and Jory does get pretty scarily demonic in this scene (when he confronts Naish with his suspicions about the latter’s role in the opening shenanigans):


Amazing stuff!

Bonjour les amis!


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Fantasia Island

Yes, Fantasia is now in full swing–and Anagramsci friend David Bradford will be covering a movie a day at Press Pass and Hegemony!

Find out just how close a man and his cinephilia can get to world domination.

And stay tuned for more King Vidor posts from me later this week!


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Greetings once again–still not able to culture blog just yet, but I thought I’d point you in the direction of the main thing that’s been sucking up my time.

My novel-in-progress–Paradise Reaganed: A Fable of Temporal Containment

That link will take you to the first 5 “scenes” (the current drafts of them, anyway) of the book… I think longtime readers (from Motime, I mean) will recognize many of the sources of this spastic endeavor.

If you do happen to read it, please let me know what you think!

good afternoon!


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Lynch Meme

So much to write about, and so little time!

Here’s a fun exercise that I did manage to complete, prompted by an IMDB thread, of all things!

Rank the Lynch films (giving a few reasons along the way)–and then tack on 5 favourite non-Lynch films.

This is what I came up with:

1. Mulholland Dr.

I wrote so much about it here that I’m afraid to do anymore. Suffice it to say: it’s my favourite film, and the most compelling examination of the divided nature of the self ever created in any medium… Naomi Watts is astonishing… it also delivers some of the best laughs in the Lynch canon

2. Inland Empire

absolutely unnerving, touching and metaphysically sublime–the ultimate fuck you to the people who waste their time worrying about what’s “real” and what’s a “dream” in Lynch’s work… it’s ALL real and all a dream… just like our own lives… the Grace Zabriskie stuff, the chase through the sound stage, Laura Dern on the street(“Where am I? I’m sca-yared.”), the facial transformation in the theatre near the end… it all lives in my subconscious as if it had always been there

3. Lost Highway

The best thing about Lynch is that he nearly always hits you with the full spectrum of emotion and thought at once… this one is quite exceptional in that regard–presenting the horror of desire (“you’ll NEVER have me”) without giving us much in the way of the euphoria generated by those fleeting victories over abjection and alienation…still, deeply, deeply compelling… and a real breakthrough in terms of narrative structure… a declaration of independence from linear plotting

4. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (including the episodes)

Amazingly empathetic examination of the physical and psychological trauma inflicted upon Laura Palmer–whom I like to think of as the Christ of modern America… her suffering is more typical (of life under patriarchal late capitalism) than anyone would like to admit

5. Wild at Heart:

Amour Fou. this is what the surrealists were trying to do

6. Blue Velvet:

this would be any other director’s best film… it IS amazing–and really establishes the pattern for Lynch’s meditation upon life in America… it is both the most optimistic and the most nihilistic of films–just as America is the most optimistic and nihilistic of cultures… it doesn’t flinch from the American Dream or the American Nightmare–both are absolutely real

7. Eraserhead

astonishingly great–and already shows an artist near the full possession of his worldview–but not in dialogue with the history of cinema (and of America) in the way that most of his subsequent films are… if the truest cinema plays like the collective dream of its audience, this one still seems more like a dramatization of the artist’s own personal dreams

8. Elephant Man

Another extraordinary piece–alternately cruel, objective and heart-breakingly empathetic in equal measure… this is #8–and it too would be most directors’ best film

9. Straight Story

have only seen this one once (when it was released)–it IS wonderful–but (by design of course) lacks the ability to infect the viewer’s dreams

10. Dune:

did not like this when I saw it as a kid–some day I will have to give it another try


Do let me know if you decide to make your own list!

bonne apres midi


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been really busy of late–especially with the Montreal Fiores–but at least I’m keeping up with some of what’s going on out there.

like what?

well, I’m very much looking forward to

Cinema Viewfinder’s Brian De Palma blog-a-thon! I hope to get into the spirit by writing at least one piece on the director (probably Blow Out or Femme Fatale–two of my absolute favourites)


David Cairns’ Film Club/Hitchcock Year two-car collision in the vicinity of Strangers on a Train–on track for tomorrow

I also loved Jacqueline T. Lynch‘s pieces on Picnic and Peyton Place. (I’m especially interested in the latter–both as a film and a novel… Metalious’ book was a revelation, when I finally read it last year… one fine day I’ll write that post on Middlemarch/Kings Row/Peyton Place that’s been knocking around in my brain)

I’ve also been reading as much Inglourious stuff as I can, and delighting in the current issue of In Posse Review–which features two of my favourite writers doing characteristically fascinating things:

Jamie Popowich’s “Banana Peels”

and (for all you monomaniac sorts, or types)

Angela Szczepaniak’s “Bitter Heaven: A Romance”

enjoy ’em all

oh–and I suppose I ought to put these final thoughts about Inglourious Basterds up here [cut and pasted from the glorious Shadowplay thread, but perhaps even more inspired by Sean Collins’ thoughts on the film here]:

commenter-Brian wrote:

“The Nazi war hero can’t watch his own exploits on the screen because he knows real men die. ”

I replied:

I thought the Nazi war hero was distracted by his desire to rape Shoshanna… one of the real strengths of this film, for me, is its refusal to sentimentalize in this “real men die” way… sure Zoller knows this propganda shite isn’t like the films he admires, but he’s no disillusioned war vet either…

EVERYONE in this film (except for the “Jew-hunter”) is 100% convinced of the need to kill their enemies–and absolutely none of them are thinking about the ways in which those enmities have been constructed…

The people who are constructing this movie as a phantasmagoria of art uber alles [this is where Sean comes in] are the most perplexing to me of all… if the movie works at all, it works in the reverse direction–as a statement about the inability of art to do anything but respond to other art… I think we’ve all had enough of the “monster-who-understands-the-finer-things” trope, and the best thing about this movie is the way it sets us up to expect a meeting of the hearts and minds between Shoshanna and Zoller on the aesthetic plane, and then tosses them both onto the celluloid pyre, without any moment of tenderness passing between them (unless you count Shoshanna’s nod toward empathy after she thinks she has nullified the threat represented by Zoller… personally, I like to read that as another tease)

see you soon


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Another quick note here on Tarantino’s new film.

Yesterday (in conversations here with Charles Reece, with a number of interlocutors on Shadowplay and through email, with a friend) I somehow argued myself toward an interpretation of Inglourious Basterds that gets past the Frank-Miller-death-obsession that powers much of the film, and overpowered my senses at the cinema.

What I came up with is this:

[in response to my friend Angela’s claims for the movie’s ability to dramatize extreme ideological hatred in action, at the intersubjective level]

Agreed–that’s the kind of thing that can be taken either way, and perhaps I’m doing the film an injustice, Starship Troopers-style…

There’s no doubt that World War Two, both as a military and a MEDIA event, lies at the absolute bedrock of contemporary western political consciousness… I’ve got no problem with movies about movies–and you could argue that movies about World War Two movies provide the auteur with an opportunity to dynamite the (ultra-damaging) hegemonic Western metanarrative at its source.

The real question everyone should be asking about Inglourious Basterds–or about any other film that engages with media and military conflict during the 20th century–is: “Can this film destroy the motherfuckin’ History Channel?”

If you think about the Pitt character’s growing love affair with swastika-branding as a statement about America’s subsequent proclivity for doing the same thing to anyone that gets in its way, you’ve got a strong political critique on your hands. One that strikes at the heart of the country’s self-image makeover, much of which really did occur in the films (and superhero comics) made by Hollywood while the war raged on… The fact is that the Nazis came as a godsend to American ideologues–and the worst political elements in the country have been living off of the Third Reich ever since.


Does Tarantino understand that? Maybe, maybe not… But his film does allow us to think about this issue in unusually visceral ways, so I guess that’s a good thing.

On the other hand, you have the expected fanboy defense of the film (the one that turned my stomach at the theatre–and turned me so stridently against it). As usual, the most intelligent iteration of this interpretation (anathema to me) is provided by Kirbyist/Millerist supreme Geoff Klock.

A sample from Klock’s post:

I [Geoff Klock] would like to answer a question of yours [Slate‘s Dana Stevens].

“But Tarantino’s signature nastiness and his juvenile delight in shocking the audience undercut the movie’s larger purpose. Which is what, again? Watching someone get beaten to death with a baseball bat, or having a swastika carved into their flesh in tight closeup, is sickening whether the victim is a Nazi or not. In the scenes where the bloodthirsty Basterds (one of whom is played by Eli Roth, the director of the ultra-sadistic Hostel movies and a friend of Tarantino’s) perpetrate these exploits, are we supposed to be cheering them on? Is the best way to work through the atrocities of the 20th century really to dream up ironically apt punishments for the long-dead torturers?”


No, Geoff.



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Great discussion at David Cairns’ Shadowplay.

I may have to write something on Tarantino vs. Verhoeven (with Robert Aldrich figuring heavily as a precursor–have I ever told you how much I love Vera Cruz?) very soon.

After I complete the next “Montreal Fiore,” I guess.

for now–here’s a reprint from my old blog, on the subject of Verhoeven’s ability to do what Tarantino cannot (and, I suppose, does not WANT to) do:

T-Shirt Philosophy;
or, Verhoevens To Betsy!

I’ve always prided myself upon my imperviousness to the critically commonplace, but I’ll admit that they got me this time! For thirteen years! And I would still be in the dark if visiting friends hadn’t set my sights Verhoeven-ward once again, by instigating a Starship Troopers/Total Recall double-feature over the weekend.

I got so excited about this pair (especially the glorious Heinlein ad-slap-tation) that I announced my intention to watch everything the man has done, since coming to America in the mid-’80s. “Not Showgirls though, right?” my friends inquired. Of course Showgirls! How could I skip that one? I wasn’t expecting to like it–but I did think that it would at least fit with the theory that the Dutch director’s entire career in Hollywood constitutes some kind of meta-critique of the culture the industry serves/helps to create…

Well I’m tossing that theory out the window. Forget meta-critique–the films themselves offer the purest critique you will ever see. Even purer than Motime fave Grant Morrison’s The Filth, because Verhoeven really dares to produce exploitation films that vibrate on a plane SO closely in tune with the worst in the culture that you could very easily fail to find your way into the anti-chambers (and I DO mean anti–, not antechambers, no matter what my word processor says!) they contain. And most people have done just that. Failed.

Where to start with Showgirls? Well, first off, I’d say, the All About Eve comparisons have to go. I understand them. Even considered them. But they can only lead you astray. This is NOT a critique of “ambition” or “show biz shallowness”… Those have been completely acceptable targets since the dawn of Hollywood–a part of the whole “the rich and powerful have problems of their own” strain of thought that keeps the capitalist treadmill rolling, despite the inequities it breeds.

What to compare it to then? My choices would be Robert Rossen and Abraham Polonsky’s Body and Soul (1947) and Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange (1971). The earlier film is a classic noirish expose of capitalist exploitation, as seen through the prism of the fight game, which grinds up the bodies of the poor boys it feeds upon. It features incredible performances by John Garfield and Canada Lee–both of whom would be destroyed during the “Second Red Scare”–and I love it–but I’ve always been disappointed by the popular front humanism (saintly working class mother, neighborhood solidarity, the very idea of a “soul” existing apart from an exploited “body”) that dulls its critical edge. Kubrick’s film, on the other hand, has this rep for being an ultra-cool satire that drowns the viewer in the crocodile tears which are the life’s blood of do-goodery and moral/ethical thinking. (and I suppose it IS that–but it’s ALSO an ultra-cheezy paean to the prerogative of the “sensitive artist/intellectual” that is no less sentimental than a fuckin’ Julia Cameron self-help guide).

Verhoeven’s film goes so much further than either of these predecessors. If you want a REAL comparison–you might want to check out Richard Wright’s Native Son. Think of Elizabeth Berkley’s Nomi as Bigger Thomas, and you’ll begin to see the movie aright. Shallow? Violent? Unable to tell friend from foe? Yes. Yes. Yes. Patriarchy creates its own form of lumpenproletarian.

Is the dialogue  terrible? I’m never sure what people mean when they say this. It’s not erudite? (how could it be?) It’s not realistic? (fuck off!–to paraphrase Marx–artists have done a decent job of describing reality in the past century or so–but the point is to CHANGE it) It’s not appropriate? That depends upon what you think the movie is. Reviewers are shocked by the stupid lines. “It must be nice not to have guys coming on you every night”???? That’s supposed to be heartwarming? Yes. Yes, it is. (supposed to be) And no. No it’s not. (why should it be? What resources can these people call upon in order to create that special moment that audiences seem to want?) All of the <<insert tender exchange here>> scenes in this film expose the ways in which seemingly-sophisticated viewers are looking for exactly the same things that a movie-of-the-week specializes in serving up. I happen to think that the script serves the narrative perfectly.

And what IS the narrative? Well! It’s the story of a soulless wreck of a human being who begins the film with a confused idea in her head about the way to salvation/empowerment/”a soul” and ends the film on a DIFFERENT confused route (leading out of Las Vegas) to the same never-never land. Along the way, she comes as close as she is capable of coming to two other people (her roommate and the woman she supplants in the show)–although, in both cases, this happens too late and can’t lead to anything that anyone could confuse with anything that is actually good. Like Body and Soul, Showgirls presents us with the ultimate survivor–a person who, for whatever Satan-given reason, has been granted the power to survive in ANY environment… Unlike the Rossen film however–Showgirls strips that power of all glamourous/inspirational/heartwarming qualities… John Garfield walks away from the fight game arm-in-arm with Lilli Palmer. Elizabeth Berkley makes good her escape in a cowgirl costume, holding a knife to the throat of the once-and-future dick who first brought her to Sin City–from a place, we later learn, that was worse than ANYTHING we see in the film itself… And she’s clearly headed back to the same dismal place. It’s called the world we live in. There’s nothing else. And no safe place to view it from. Verhoeven satirizes the half-smart satirists that give the genre a bad name (in my book, at any rate). Nathanael West would have loved this film. And so do I.

as you were!


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Was away on vacation (Toronto was quite wonderful) and I’m still quite bus slagged, but I gotta keep my hand in here, right? I’m afraid the best I can offer today is a finger (the index–not the middle):

1. David Allison has returned–check out his latest foray into The Filth

2. David Cairns’ film club rolls on (Renoir-style)! I won’t miss any of these, from now on!

3. my discussion with Andre Soares (re: Cassavetes and Judy Garland) in the comments section here will soon flower into an Anagramsci post–look for it (if that’s your kind of thing)

4. and here we have Sean Collins on Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme–’nuff said

a bientot


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UPDATE! Here is the actual Film Club post.


Just a quick note to point you in the direction of David Cairns’ new Film Club initiative, which will premiere on Monday, August 3rd.

I’m especially pleased to note that DC has chosen to kick things off with William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster.

Dieterle, as some of you may know, is one of my absolute favourites–in a class (in my mind) with Lynch, Borzage, Capra, Cassavetes, Fritz Lang, Dreyer, Powell/Pressburger, Sternberg, Vidor, Paul Thomas Anderson and very few others.


The last time I watched the film, I had this to say about it.

That was five years ago.

I’m looking forward to another go ’round!

Hope you’ll toss your two cents into the discussion on Monday.


a bientot!


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