Tag Archives: movies

“Dear Miss Spencer, This is just to say cheerio. Yours Sincerely, Stanley Moon. P.S.: I leave you my collection of moths.”

I have been watching few films, too busy with working on my own. I’ve left off writing them down for so long that now I don’t think I’ll be able to remember all of them. Let’s see…

Brazil – Terry Gilliam – 1985

The Brothers Grimm – Terry Gilliam – 2005 (bad idea)

Detour – Edgar G. Ulmer – 1945

Joy Division – Grant Gee – 2007

Sabotage – Alfred Hitchcock – 1936

The Killing – Stanley Kubrick – 1956

Raw Deal – Anthony Mann – 1948

Atlantic City – Loius Malle – 1981

Mister Lonely – Harmony Korine – 2008

Bedazzled – Stanley Donen – 1967 (HA! Bet you didn’t expect that one to pop up here. Thanks, Hulu. You’re the only one who’s there for me during my sleepless nights.)

Soon I’ll write in depth about several of the above.

By -the-by, here’s a picture of Pete & Dud:

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“Check again to see if there are any more brave men who know how to swim and row.”

Werner Herzog on location during the filming of Fitzcarraldo, around 1982. One of the most inspiring photographs ever.

The end of the previous post should help us segue back into Herzog nicely. Burden of Dreams is a fascinating film… but it is about Herzog, not by him. That’s a very important distinction, though you can clearly see how much Les Blank reveres and idolizes many things about his subject.

You may be inclined to ask why it is I’m watching SO much Herzog lately. For those who care, things between Werner and I are strictly platonic. The reasons for my Herzog bender… are: my fascination with filmmakers who have methods that the business deems unconventional, my admiration for Herzog’s particular process, my curiosity about it, and for how his mind works and how it is that he is driven to do things the way he does. He’s an amazing artist in a time when there are fewer and fewer individualists left. He is indispensable. 

I have a little problem: I don’t have any interest in politics or economics or other such constructs that everyone is convinced are the driving forces of human existence. I only have one interest – the individual. I don’t know why it is that this elusive creature has been sighted rarer and rarer as time goes by. I don’t think it’s true that everything has been done. Someone like Herzog can show us that you can make anything your own. All you need is that one quality that separates human from animal and continues to subdivide humans into kings and knaves: vision. And one who has Vision must be Persistent about it. 

Burden of Dreams sensationalizes to some degree the kind of work that Herzog does. Whenever I mention 

 Herzog to anyone, the response I get is, “Oh my god, have you seen Burden of Dreams? That guy’s fucking crazy.” Now I have finally seen it. And no, he isn’t crazy. 

For someone as individualistic as I make him out to be, Herzog has said before that he doesn’t look at himself, he doesn’t look into his eyes in the mirror when he shaves, and he doesn’t even have dreams when he sleeps. For him, the body is nothing but an instrument for the will. And dreams are inextricably connected with reality – he has admitted to having “daydreams” while he travels on foot. He has said that walking is the closest thing to filmmaking. He has this in common with Alan Clarke and his ever-tracking camera, stalking the action like a hunter. 

Herzog is an Active filmmaker. There is a violent energy in his films, which comes from the ultimate rebellion: rebelling against health and sense – rebelling against Nature. To rebel even in the most seemingly insignificant way – let’s say, to just stay up late at night until the dawn – is to challenge the patterns that life is hung upon, to make your own pattern. Herzog doesn’t just stay up late. He goes into the Amazonian jungle and with sheer force of will, holds together a production in which everything, absolutely everything goes wrong. At one point he says to Blank, “sometimes I wish I could just sit in an easy chair with a cup of tea.” The idealist in me (or what’s left of the idealist in me) wants to believe that this is the only lie he’s ever told.

Herzog is a very contradictory artist – most great artists are. the great contradiction is that he puts himself and everyone in his crew and cast through the ringer because he believes, and rightly, that there are realities that cannot be faked on a Hollywood set (almost thirty years after the making of Fitzcarraldo he reminisces with much amusement about how the studio he initially tried to make the film through wanted him to shoot it in a Botanic Garden in Southern California… that’s the thing about him: he seems to feel no rage at the obstacles put in his way, only amusement). In this he is very similar to another of my very favorite filmmakers, Jean Renoir. I highly recommend Renoir’s fantastic and invaluable autobiography, My Life and My Films. Renoir was also very passionate about capturing the immediate reality of what he was filming – he never re-recorded sound in a studio, he was convinced that the sound of, say, a pair of heels walking down a wet Parisian street at that particular moment of filming, could not be faked, that even such a small detail would compromise the meaning and impact of a moment. And he was right! 

Renoir and crew.

At the same time, Renoir was not bound by these material realities, and the stories he wove on film remain some of the most imaginative and poetic… Herzog is german and Renoir is French. Renoir’s father was the much-loved Impressionist Pierre Auguste, Herzog didn’t use a telephone or listen to music until almost in his adulthood. Herzog is a fighter and Renoir is a lover… yet in their art there are many overlapping points. Not the least of their commonalities is the fact that both have visions so strong that even the occasional imperfections and flaws in their films can be enjoyed, as opposed to overlooked.

Look at that, I seem to have digressed…

Back to Burden of Dreams, then.

As I was trying to say, Herzog puts everyone including himself through very difficult conditions, determined that a sort of truth will emerge. However, even in his documentaries, the truth that you see is not the factual reality of whatever he’s documenting. He mixes reality with his own vision to in the search for a greater truth. Every filmmaker struggles over how to make the strongest possible impression on the audience, and people seem to think that Herzog is too wrapped up in his experiences during shooting to care about what the audience thinks in the end, but I must say that it seems to me that he cares deeply, and feels that it is necessary to leave the strongest possible impression. As he says in Burden of Dreams, the only difference between the poet and the ordinary man is that the poet is able to articulate that which the ordinary man cannot. And Herzog also said in a different interview something that has become a sort of mantra for me: the poet must not avert his eyes. 

The title of this post is taken from something Herzog says in Burden of Dreams while trying to organize the native Peruvians, and I think it’s an important question. Are there any more brave men? And are they willing to challenge Nature? To swim against the current as Herzog does is the purest articulation of the very purpose of being human. Why have free will if no to rebel against the unconquerable?

Three times around the square and then off to the pub.

Last night I watched a film starring Laird Cregar for the first time… there’s a lot of similarities between Cregar and Charles Laughton… I noticed them immediately, without knowing anything about Cregar’s personal history. Honestly – as soon as I saw his face I was reminded of Laughton’s features, and his voice and behavior… I saw immediately that he was a talent, and I would also have guessed that just like Laughton he was gay. The pre-“out of the closets and into the streets” variety of homosexuality which seems to have given many of our greatest actors a strangely incalculable depth. The film was Hangover Square, and it was Cregar’s last. He died of a double heart attack before its completion. Like Laughton, Cregar saw himself as a grotesque… he was overweight and did terrible damage to his body with various regiments of diet and exercise, wanting to lose enough weight to move from playing heavies and villains to being like his idol, John Barrymore. In Hangover Square he is at his thinnest, and in a certain light, he is oddly reminiscent of Barrymore. Again, that was a thought I had while watching the film, before finding out anything about his life. 

 

Laird Cregar as George Harvey Bone.

Laird Cregar as George Harvey Bone.

 I wanted to see Hangover Square based on two things: an incredible still from the final shot of the film (a pianist playing in a huge room up in flames) and the wonderfully off-kilter premise described in the caption: “Many noir protagonists are a little bit mad, and some are a lot mad. After hearing a discordant sound, composer George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar) blacks out and commits murders at the behest of his subconscious. Here, he plays a final, bitter symphony.”

 

Reader, beware: Hangover Square is an underwhelming thriller, save for Cregar’s performance (the best American playing an Englishman that I have ever seen! One thing I would have gotten wrong about him is his nationality) and one incredibly twisted and unforgettable scene that takes place on Guy Fawkes Day. Even the pyromanic ending cannot eclipse that one particular scene. I’m not sure if I would recommend this film with much enthusiasm, but it certainly wasn’t bad. Like Herzog does many times over in his work, Hangover Square does have one unforgettable image.

“I didn’t mean to eat this shoe in public…”

Back to the sauna now with Herzog, or maybe the ice: Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe is only truly interesting to me because of the amazing monologues Herzog is given to in moments of action, much like the greatest actors. It’s amazing, in a very cliched and devastating way that 30 years ago when that film was made, he was talking about the death of languages and of images because of television. So many people would argue and say that television now is better than it has ever been. That’s just because we’re used to it, my dear, dear friends.

“Max ist brav.”

Nobody Wants to Play with Me is a short film about a little boy who is abused at home and humiliated at school by his classmates. The lack of care he is given at home causes his isolation. The whispers of the other children are viscerally disquieting. “He lives in an old house, we can’t play with him, he stinks. He eats only popcorn.” The aesthetic and manner of the film is such that you never wonder whether it is a documentary or fiction, although it is obviously a bit of both. There is something amazing about Herzog’s ability to not be bound by form or plot. Often the stories of his films are incredible, but he isn’t obligated to them. He is able to use these stories as reasons to create iconic images – my current definition of iconic is an image that stays in my mind for long after the film is through, and to behold it for the first time feels like being branded with a hot poker. It’s almost a physical sensation, to know immediately that what you’re seeing is absolutely true… and yet he’s not an absolutist, he isn’t really anything but himself. And his truths, as we know, are not limited by their literate definitions. Nobody Wants to Play with Me has one such iconic image… the main character, having made one single friend in school, decides to give her Max, his pet crow – the camera tracks with him as he walks determinedly through the snow in his thin red coat from his house to hers, carrying the cage as Max repeats, “Max is good,” and “Goal!”

false start

I will write about the films posted previously in a short while. For now I have decided to focus on my most recent viewings. The last few days have proved difficult ones for filmwatching, but nonetheless I’ve managed the following:

 

Mit mir will keiner spielen (Nobody Wants to Play with Me) – Werner Herzog – 1976

Quills – Philip Kaufman – 2000

Life Is Sweet – Mike Leigh – 1991 

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe – Les Blank – 1980

The Real Blonde – tom DiCillo – 1997 (revisited)

Ordinary People – Robert Redford – 1980 (revisited)

Burden of Dreams – Les Blank – 1982

Night of the Hunter – Charles Laughton – 1955 (revisited)

Hangover Square – John Brahm – 1945

 

As you can probably guess, this will mostly be about Herzog.  But let’s just go in order.

“It was his story against mine, but of course I told my story better…”

That’s something Humphrey Bogart says in one of my favorite films, Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place. It’s a quote illustrative of what I’ll be doing here. To be able to sermonize uninterrupted will take some getting used to. But I do hope to be interrupted.

This whole idea started out as a list I began keeping about a week ago of the films I’ve been watching… 

Out of the Past – Jacques Tourneur – 1947

My Geisha – Jack Cardiff – 1962 

Asphalt Jungle – John Huston – 1947

Gilda – Charles Vidor – 1946

Girl in the Red Velvet Swing – Richard Fleischer – 1955

A King in New York – Charlie Chaplin – 1957 

King of New York – Abel Ferrara – 1990 

Eyes Without a Face – Georges Franju – 1959 

Control – Anton Corbijn – 2007 

Jigoku (Hell) – Nobuo Nakagawa – 1960

Palindromes – Todd Solondz – 2004

I did also see The Dark Knight, but believe me when I say I won’t litter the infinite internet with any words on the subject. Thoughts on some of the films in the list above will be forthcoming.