The Week That Was, or Jackasserie

The post below is originally from Friday, February 23. As we were settling down for the night, we heard running, then rushing water. Within minutes water was pouring out of the ceiling and flooding over my shoes. Parts of the ceiling fell in. No one was physically hurt, but we had to move to a new apartment and the kids will be waiting for another month before we have all of their clothes and toys in order to know if they are too damaged from the water. We were in a hotel for about two weeks. We’re slowly getting life back together. 

I’ve had to abandon several writing projects that I hope to resume as soon as I can. Until then, this may be the last update for a while.

I have to give thanks to family, friends, students, and colleagues who have been patient and helped support us through this. Thank you! 

Also, a big thanks to Elton Ripley, who has been incredibly helpful. We couldn’t have gotten through this process without him.

Here’s what I was writing a few Fridays ago: 

Shorter work weeks feel more difficult than a normal week. It’s like everyone still crams in the same amount of work and expectations over fewer days.

And that’s been most of the week, really. Lots of work and essay grading, which will likely continue for at least a month before reviews start kicking in.

My AP students did an exercise writing descriptive paragraphs that used polysyndeton in one version and asyndeton in another. Then they analyzed how the devices altered the tone and tempo of their writing. Though descriptive writing can be blended into any writing mode, it sure felt like a break reading these in between the various analytical papers we generally write. It’s nice to see a different side of their personality come out in their writing.

I did a random line doodle that turned into a portrait of a donkey. Balthazar? I was once told I was like the Eeyore of faculty meetings. I’m trying!

Balthazar

 

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Bluebeard (1936)

I love stop-motion animation and I had never heard of this one before it turned up on FilmStruck. It’s short, but fun–and extremely violent. I mean it’s like California Raisin gore, but still. It retells the Bluebeard folktale of a powerful, ugly nobleman whose wives have a habit of disappearing. He warns a new wife that she can go anywhere and enjoy any treasure, but to stay away from a chamber in the bottom of the castle.

While not the smoothest animation, Bluebeard has some interesting design concepts and sometimes an interesting use of materials, for example, the cottony fabric used for dust coming off of the roads.

And the quality in some spots is breathtaking, though you can tell that the film stock or stocks that the restoration was done from were damaged. It’s part of a Criterion Collection of Jean Painlevé’s, Science Is Fiction, which features some outstanding short films on underwater subjects like the octopus and sea horse.

Some recent viewing…

Titles in bold are ones I particularly liked.

Animated

“Drums West” (1961)

Documentary

Art / Literature
Poetry in Motion (1982)

Music
Ornette: Made in America (1985)

Art House

Nostalgia (1983)

Horror / Sci-fi / VHS Weirdness

The Black Cat (1981)
Death Watch (1980)
The Alchemist Cookbook (2016)

Everything Else

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
That Most Important Thing: Love (1975)
Losing Ground (1982)
Sweetie (1989)
The Wedding Banquet (1993)
“We’re Going to the Zoo” (2006)

Relating to an Irrelatable World: Melinda Camber Porter in Conversation with Wim Wenders

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.50.42 PMI assume that like many others, my initial interest in this book was in Wim Wenders. It also caught my attention that this was about my favorite movie of his, Paris,Texas (1984), and that the interviews were done during filming. I was hoping that the book would then be a peek into the process that Wenders was using for the film, and there the book doesn’t disappoint.

For example, Wenders and Sam Shepard, one of the screenwriters, are full of doubt and concern that the film may fail artistically and monetarily. Neither artist was a total unknown at this point, both were fairly well-established in the industry, though not necessarily household names, which didn’t seem to be their goals anyway. The takeaway, particularly for young artists, is that even established creators work in self-doubt and struggle. Wenders, who had been making movies for almost a decade-and-a-half at that point, says, “I mean if you make a movie that questions its own ideas all the way, you realize that questioning your ‘ideas’ really means questioning yourself.” For him, this means that he has to maintain confidence in those around him, even “mankind,” (though I’m not quite sure what that means–maybe that the film will find its audience?) rather than himself.

While not always discussed blatantly, much of the thematic material shines through the conversation. Wenders discusses the “discrepancy” in the title, Paris, Texas, and you realize how much that illuminates the film. Wenders, a European, telling this story written by Shepard, an American, sometimes iconic for his loner/rambler status. This discrepancy, really a beautiful tension, gets carried over into the film in which the viewer encounters the visuals of the American landscape set to a European cinematic pacing.

Initially, I thought that this was more or less like many “on set” books, but opening it up to the title page I noticed that it was labeled as part of the “Melinda Camber Porter Archive of Creative Works Series in Journalism” as “Volume 1, Number 3.” I was wondering if Porter was someone I should know or had read before, but didn’t remember her name. Reading her bio I realized she had died of ovarian cancer in 2008 and “left a significant body of work in art, journalism, and literature.” When I had casually flipped through the pages previously, I wondered why there were pictures of the tapes and cassette recorder that Porter had used to record the interviews. It just seemed odd, but the backstory helped me make sense of them.

There are photographs in the book by Porter that are spare and gorgeous, reminiscent of O’Keefe’s desert paintings, yet more abstract. Her husband, Joseph Flicek, also has photos, though his remind me more of Andrew Wyeth in terms of color and composition. When I carve out some time, I’m interested in seeing her paintings.

After reading the book, I was directed forward in a couple of ways. One, it made me interested in Porter’s work, an artist that I knew nothing about. Two, the conversation made me go back and watch Paris, Texas for the first time in about twenty years. Not only did it look much better, since I wasn’t watching it on a rental VHS, but the movie was even better than I had remembered. And that’s probably the best praise I can offer a book that is a transcribed conversation, that it is an impetus into the creative works under discussion.

If I do what you tell me, will you love me?: The AFI Top 100, Part III.

Here are the next five in chronological order. You can read the original posts here and here.

Also, the “featured image” for this post on my menu is courtesy of Jason Munn. Check out more of his often minimal and geometric work at his website. Great stuff!

My Favorite 20 of AFI’s Top 100+

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High Noon (1952)
Like Stagecoach, this film was another immersive experience for me. I guess what I mean by this is largely the shut-off of the intellectual valve and a willingness to invest in the world onscreen more viscerally. It’s the pure joy that cinema can bring sometimes. The film experiments with “real time” leading up to a showdown at….well, you get it. Evidently presidents are quite fond of this one. Supposedly Bill Clinton screened it a record number of times at The White House. Reagan and Eisenhower both considered it a favorite.

 

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Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Students often ask me about music. What kind of music do you like?, they’ll ask. Almost everything, I’ll say. Ask me about a type of music. A common response is that a student will say, Me, too. I like everything, but rap and country. I’ll say, well, I like rap and country, too. I can’t imagine music without Public Enemy and Hank Williams. Musicals seem to inhabit that land of “rap and country.” This movie is not just a great musical, but great cinema. I’ve mentioned before that one of the benefits of lists is that they introduce me to work that I may have ignored left to my own devices. This is one of those cases. The “Make ‘Em Laugh” section is not too far from classic Jackie Chan. Grace. Athleticism. Goofiness.

 

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On the Waterfront (1954)
Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando give two spectacular performances. It’s worth watching for that alone.

 

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Vertigo (1958)
Before the age of ten and for years after, if asked, I would have said that Hitchcock was my favorite director. The Harryhausen films had introduced me to Bernard Herrmann’s music, but, honestly, if you dig into his filmography, even the amazing scores he did for Hitchcock are just scratching the surface. His film scoring career begins with both Citizen Kane and The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) and ends with Taxi Driver (1976). What!? I am curious to delve into his pre-film radio career, if any of it is available.

Saul Bass’s poster design is incredible. Lots of iconic imagery from this one, and interestingly, reactions to this film and Hitchcock in general seem to go in cycles of appreciation, elevation, and devaluation. Ultimately, that’s probably a good thing.

When I was younger, I was always excited to see a Hitchcock movie because I knew I would see something, usually technical, that I had never seen before, some sort of new camera movement or lighting technique. It was the same way I approached Dario Argento’s work. Maybe that’s why it took me years to notice his bizarre form of storytelling. I was too busy looking at the wallpaper that a set designer (or Argento, you never know with that guy) chose.

 

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The Last Picture Show (1972)
A bildungsroman that showcases mood and atmosphere as much as character and story. It evokes the experience of growing up in small town America and discovering oneself, while also feeling stuck or stalled. The ending is like a long, pained exhalation. I mean that in a good way.

 

The list so far:

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
City Lights (1931)
Frankenstein (1931)
King Kong (1933)
Stagecoach (1939)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Fantasia (1940)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
High Noon (1952)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
On the Waterfront (1954)
Vertigo  (1958)
The Last Picture Show (1972)

We Interrupt This List Already in Progress to Bring You Another List Already in Progress.

After I posted about watching the AFI Top 100, a former student asked me about recommendations from the Criterion Collection (Hello Lydia! Hope all is well! Hope you find something you like here!). I’ve seen a small percentage of the Collection, and as a film obsessive choosing one to watch can be mentally crippling, much less trying to rank them. Luckily, despite what these lists may seem to indicate, I like a well-rounded film diet, one that includes Neil Breen and Street Trash (1987) as well as Maya Deren and Agnes Varda, so I’ve watched only a portion of what the collection offers.

I made a few rules. I did a top five from each decade, with the occasional short film as a bonus. I also didn’t include any film that appears on my AFI list. Also, like I told my student, I skew towards horror and surrealism, so, again, I don’t mean this as a “best of” but a list of favorites.

 

Quick Reference:
My Top Ten Through the Decades

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
The Orphic Trilogy (The Blood of a Poet/Orpheus/Testament of Orpheus) (1930-1959)
Black Narcissus (1947)
Ikiru (1952)
Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
Eraserhead (1977)
Dekalog (1988)
Dreams (1990)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

 

The Full List

The Phantom Carriage (1921)
Häxan (1922)
Safety Last! (1923)
Body and Soul (1925)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

The Orphic Trilogy (The Blood of a Poet/Orpheus/Testament of Orpheus)
M (1931)
Vampyr (1932)
I Was Born, But ….(1932)
It Happened One Night (1934)

The Great Dictator (1940)
The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)
Cat People (1942)
Black Narcissus (1947)
Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Ikiru (1952)
The Wages of Fear (1953)
Tokyo Story (1953)
Godzilla (1954)
Diabolique (1955)

Bonus short: “The Red Balloon” (1956)

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
8 1/2 (1963)
The Naked Kiss (1964)
Red Desert (1964)
The Battle of Algiers (1966)

Bonus Short: “La jetée” (1963)

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
Grey Gardens (1976)
Eraserhead (1977)
House (1977)

(Yeah, that 5 equals 6, but I couldn’t remove any of those films.)

Videodrome (1983)
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)
Mala Noche (1985)
Dekalog (1988)
Do the Right Thing (1989)

Dreams (1990)
The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
My Own Private Idaho (1991)
Crumb (1995)
Breaking the Waves (1996)

George Washington (2000)
Y tu mamá también (2001)
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Brand Upon the Brain! (2006)

I didn’t include the 2010s because I’ve only seen two in the collection.