…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “Martin Scorsese

My Movie Year


Andy Hart from FandangoGroovers sent us an e-mail asking us what our best movie years are and instead just blurting out what years I chose, I opted for introducing my reasoning behind the chosen years.

Because I’m suicidal.

There have been other posts like this obviously, citing the year that saw the height noir as a style in 1941. It’s easy to assume that the year before, 1940, might be a weaker year but I don’t think so (what were you thinking, Paolo?). I already said that 1941 was the year of the noir and it was the beginning of stylistic achievements that will be influential for the next forty years. But no one wants to peak young Those arguments, I admit, are me trying to put both years under investigation before I declare them as banner years).

What 1940 has is diversity. What other year could boast an animated movie that has different yet complementary aesthetics and another movie that successfully convinces us that the all-American Jimmy Stewart is European and/or a man of class? What year will we find such comedy greats like Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell? It was also a great actressing year that followed 1939. Joan Fontaine being the light anchor in only Alfred Hitchcock movie that won an Oscar for Best Picture. Katharine Hepburn returns and makes the studios realize that her sense of comic timing can crowd the movie theatres. And Vivien Leigh simply haunts us. The movies: Fantasia, The Shop Around the Corner, Rebecca, The Philadelphia Story, Waterloo Bridge.

Because it was the year of (forgotten) classics.

1955 saw three movies so breathtaking that it almost makes me want to say ‘Revisionist Western,’ although it would be too anachronistic to use that phrase. But those movies subverts North American ideas of villainy, race and  It was also the year of the blond.

Doing away with her Academy Award-winning de-glam, Grace Kelly has a career-best performance in another Hitchcock movie as a smart golden-locked woman.  Shelley Winters plays victim to Robert Mitchum, too charming to be good, but she might not necessarily be dumb. Marilyn Monroe almost steals Evelyn Keyes’ husband and makes us think differently about the hot air on street vents. Julie Harris, a honey blond, steers the lost James Dean, in his best performance, into sanity and domesticity. But the brunettes represented too, James Dean also finding love in a hopeful teenager Natalie Wood. Jean Simmons making Marlon Brando fly her to Cuba and she still won’t give him the love that he doesn’t deserve yet. And Martine Carol, overshadowed by younger French actresses, gives us a 19th cnetury circus act that we should never forget. The movies: The Night of the Hunter,  East of Eden, Bad Day at Black Rock, To Catch a Thief, Lola Montes.

Because I might be suicidal after all.

1974 saw most movies come back to the streets. Walter Matthau deals with a subway train gets high jacked in Manhattan, New York City by good for nothing British terrorists. Los Angeles saw its share of impersonators, near impossible water shortages and crazy ladies chasing for their children riding in school buses. In San Francisco, Gene Hackman and John Cazale do their job as many lovely yet suspicious conversations under wiretap. And the past catches up with the present as Michael Corleone does his best to escape chaos and brotherly betrayal in Havana, Cuba. But that doesn’t mean that the rural areas didn’t get some love, as a singer travels to find a job and a college student finds a crazy family.

When it comes to the Oscars, Martin Scorsese directs a melodrama (he needs to do another one and if you say Hugo I swear I’ll…). Francis Ford Coppola created a kinetic magnum opus and lost Best Picture against himself. A frazzled married woman played by Gena Rowlands and a tough woman with a tougher lawyer in Faye Dunaway lose to determined single mother brought to life by Ellen Burstyn. The movies: The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under the Influence.

Because I’m a hopeless romantic.

2010 was the year I started blogging, the year culminating the plurality that independent cinema has worked for in the past forty years. Indie masters like David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky and Edgar Wright made movies with actors who will become Hollywood’s future and made hundreds of millions of dollars with them. I’m going to try to stop overusing the word ‘indie’ no, although I used it one last time to a movie so good that it doesn’t even need to be finished.

But in 2010, I surprisingly found sympathy within mopey characters aimlessly wandering the streets of Los Angeles. Or it could be London, where a reluctant king impersonates an Emperor penguin for the young daughters who themselves will make history. Boston also has its share of competitive brothers, both brothers and their entertainingly abrasive mother, sisters and wives. A brother and sister explore what we assume is Lebanon and learn a heart wrenching through, out of all things, mathematics. The fashionable Milan has a shy, Russian housewife learning what love is in its primal states, throwing her life away from him. And I learned how to love an overrated director since he created characters who can make the Parisian streets of their dreams shake and bend. The movies: Greenberg, I am Love, Meek’s Cutoff, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, The Fighter.

Other years under further investigation: 1927 – the year when the Academy started getting it wrong (Sunrise, Metropolis), 1939 – the height of the studios (The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind), 1966 – the year when we said terrible things to each other a lot (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Persona), 1988 – when he loved and hated the Germans (Der Himmel Uber Berlin, Die Hard), 1991 – genre versus genre (Silence of the Lambs, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and 2001 – weirdest sexiest year ever (Mulholland Drive, Y Tu Mama Tambien).

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Parent Relationships: Hugo


Any other seventeen year old can see that the paternal figures in Hugo represent a cultural fatherhood as it does with a biological one. That our eponymous hero Hugo’s (Asa Butterfield) status as an orphan living in a train station is a break from that said culture and identity. And his self-appointed mission to fix the automaton that his father (Jude Law) has brought home from the museum where the latter works is symbolic of him repatriating himself. The he in convinced that the automaton has a message for him that stems from the belief that the objects our forbears leave us says a lot about them and ourselves.

John Logan, screenwriter and Martin Scorsese, director adapted this movie from Brian Selznick’s children’s book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” And as a necessary evil, Hugo’s life is full of coincidences, his notebook of the drawings of the automatons catches the eye and anger of a man named Papa Georges (Shutter Island alum Ben Kingsley), who owns the top shop from which Hugo steals. That Hugo can’t even utter why he has the notebook points to how stunted he is. Papa Georges takes the notebook, a part of Hugo’s journey then being to recover it, going to the former’s through a cemetery, a setting so visualized out that it inescapably became overt symbolism.

Anyway, Papa Georges is actually acclaimed silent filmmaker George Melies, almost lost in movie history until Hugo and Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg) rediscover him in the early 1930’s (I imagine a more boring story, Tabard or some twenty-something assistant finding Melies through records or whatnot, but we like this story better for reasons of our own). Pointing out Papa Georges is a case example shows how loss doesn’t only occur through accidents but through adult self-will. He almost shuns movies because he believes that his contributions are no longer wanted, because he’ll never have a comeback because those things aren’t supposed to happen.

Speaking of which, the movie, being from a children’s lit source material, only shows the development and evolution of a child through its connections with the father. But whatever is missing through the Hugo-father-Georges story lines is shown through other story lines and connections within the characters. There’s the limitation or lack of Hugo’s adolescent phase, the loss he experiences or his survivalist induced kleptomania don’t count as that. His adolescent phase is shown through the world falling out of Georges’ movies the same way a person outgrows movies or cultural pieces they used to love as children. ‘Films have the power to capture dreams,’ as Hugo quotes his father describing a movie the latter has seen as a child.

But that fantastical quality is also George’s biggest disadvantage, as most of the children who have seen and loved his films have experienced the war and other misfortunes and have wanted other movies if none at all. The lightest genres they can tolerate are social commentaries disguised as comedies, as evinced by Harold Lloyds and Charlie Chaplins. And time moves on, as sound in movies demand that even those slapstick silent movies have to become relics. Thankfully, not everyone grows into adolescence or adulthood, that Hugo and Rene, instead of sporting battle scars and limps, use their first childhood encounters with beauty and magic to continue into great artistry. Their much derided interests can show the other grown-ups that dreams can come true in a big screen. They even have to remind Georges that.

The second thing missing directly from Hugo as a character but is well and alive through traces around him is the female presence. The only thing we know from his mother is his father’s words of her English provenance. There are slightly stronger examples. Hugo’s love interest Isabelle (Chloë Moretz, her grating accent scaring me of what Les Miserables might be like this year) instinctively chooses to dig up her godfather Georges’ past with Hugo – both calling it an adventure –  her precociousness disregards that she can possibly hurt Georges’ feelings and instead views this as her right to know about his past or about anything. She probably chooses this as punishment for her godfather banning her to watch movies.

She lacks the protective instincts that her godmother Mama Jeanne has, but she still has a stake on the resurfacing of Georges’ work, her role as his actress and muse being a great contribution to his work. Rene’s compliments confirm her share within early cinema. There’s also the woman selling flowers in the train station (Shutter Island co-alum Emily Mortimer) revealing to the Station Inspector Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen) that her brother died in the same war that has gotten him injured. I resent giving masculine-dominated movies brownie points for writing one line for each female character or something (which is an exaggeration I admit but come on, why give Emily Mortimer such a small role?). But these women and men surprise each other with their shared history, and these revelations support and cement the connections that these characters have.

There are a few silver linings to being an orphan (or yes, fan girls and boys, to Jude Law dying. The movie visualizes his death forgettably, as paper-thin fires consume a museum, one of equally paper-thin looking sets. Anyway….). First is the connections that these grownups forge under his voyeuristic eye, that these workers and shopkeepers and regulars organically create a familial rapport. That these are older versions of his lonely self, and that they can cure their anomie.

Second is that Hugo’s orphan-hood allows him to dig twice as hard and in many different directions to discover himself. Let’s think about his direct provenance – he’s a son and nephew of repairmen and he would have stayed that way had these elder men lived. I don’t want to romanticize him living in a train station by himself. The other train station orphan shows what hygienic state Hugo could have been in. But the station also represents multifaceted urban stimuli and he could also have followed the examples of those around him. A cafe owner, a flower sales rep, a station inspector (Gustave also being an orphan), a librarian, an Indian Chief, you know how the Imperial nursery rhyme goes. For a person who belongs nowhere, like an apprentice in Confucius’ world, the choices are endless. And as much as there are people like Gustave who wants to lock him up or the characters who think he’s invisible but there are others like Georges and Rene who give him a chance.

Lastly, I don’t want to sound like I’m belittling repairmen. If anything Georges just saw himself as a box cranker and a vaudeville act – a man with a bigger sense of entitlement would have probably died instead of reducing himself as a toy shop keeper. But as Hugo’s father saw potential in an automaton that the museum didn’t want to display, these stray young characters’ constant search has great results. As much as this movie is about the characters’ returning home, it’s also about appreciating the utilitarian craft, a 20th century fight and attitude towards unappreciated art forms. The other characters have thought as a rickety few hours of escapism, Hugo and Rene’s mission was to convince everyone that they have experienced movies as magic.


The Last Temptation of Christ


The first time I saw the similarities between The Last Temptation of Christ and Black Narcissus when the men drag Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey) down a pathway of a small hill the same way the beggar-maid gets whipped by Angu Ayah. The earlier film tackles female sexuality and its barbaric repression in a non-Christian society. How else, I suppose, can one portray the non-Christian than to depict the pre-Christian. Sister Clogah is enduring a similar uphill climb in showing the non-Christians rationality the same way Jesus (Willem Dafoe) has.

As a Catholic child, I’ve played the game when I wear a blanket and hey, I’m one of the apostles, which is what I assume is the approach of most film renditions of that era. But in this film I didn’t see Palestine, I saw India. This is probably the most exotic depiction of the Biblical era I’ve seen so far without counting the disco ethos of Norman Jewison’s Jesus Christ Superstar. Herod and his harem in The Passion of the Christ is by nature very orgiastic, but I feel like this whole film is bejweled, and not just by looking at Magdalene. There’s the myth that Israel kept insular despite its many conquerors, but it’s as if Scorsese approached that culture with more interaction with the outside world. Just look at the money changers bustling as if Jerusalem was a port city, or the free love Hare Krishna predecessors being baptized by John or the cosmopolitan groups making up Magdalene’s customers or Jesus’ disciples.

The film doesn’t make up any consistent portrayal of Jesus’ state of mind, putting his opinions under a shroud, but instead showed us that He was once a soul within body. His eyes become large as Lazarus attack hugs him. He’s convulsing on the floor as he feels others’ crucifixion or making love to Magdalene. He tries to escape being  by sacrificing himself yet thinks about escaping sacrifice to become physical again. I’m still confused, but then I suppose being the Son of God might have led Him to make some leaps of logic. I don’t even remember His crucifixion, despite the violence in showing the nails driving into Jesus’ palms, being portrayed as gruesome as the Mel Gibson propaganda piece. It was as if He was in the transcendental state, able to meet the Last Temptation and see and live an alternate scenario.

Scorsese’s Magdalene turns from being a disgruntled whore to Jesus’ pity girlfriend to dead housewife. It’s nice to pretend that the King of Spain is a direct descendant of the alleged holy couple, but the real Magdalene may not have been a whore at all and preached His word in Ephesus until she died. Of course, the new Testament are written by people from what was then a helplessly patriarchal culture, so we’ll never know if Jesus was John Stuart Mill or Ludwig Wittgenstein. And true, she wouldn’t have had to preach in Ephesus if Jesus himself stopped teaching, and that the Last Temptation turns Jesus into an equally domestic figure as the love of His life.

Why does Scorsese and other ‘revisionist’ biblical storytellers have to give Him ‘dimension’ and nuance through her? In other words why are women merely advice columns, frail consorts or femmes fatale, all passive under male perspectives and labels? The only feminist Scorsese film I remember is The Age of Innocence, although the female characters’ corrective agency can itself be subverted. Durn.


Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore


The last three movies I’ve seen of director Martin Scorsese have been male-centric and gun crazy that it’s a relief to see his earlier woman’s picture Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore on TV. Housewife Alice Hyatt (Ellen Burstyn), with her son Tommy (Alfred Lutter) at her side, drives towards Monterey after her husband’s death. Again, I didn’t see it all in the beginning, but I think I tuned in at the right time.

Alice has a conversation with Tommy during a meal, goes to work as a singer on a piano bar and is courted by Ben (Harvey Keitel) a guy with a ridiculous white cowboy costume. Their conversation pretty much was a marker for me in the film, with its energetic humour. In the rest of the film, we see and hear Alice – smart, jaded yet funny – talk to the other characters. Along with Ben there are other characters as we meet them. Her outgoing nature towards the other characters make for the appearance of good writing. Or good writing, complemented by Scorsese’s vision for characters. The film adds Scorsesean characteristic on women, who repress their actions but not while speaking their minds.

ph. Warner

Alice imagines her son being ‘bored out of his mind,’ and there he is, watching an old colour movie where a man makes a woman’s costume more scandalous, makes her sing, but she sings gladly. Eventually he’ll get bad friends (Jodie Foster) and get into trouble. Two possible readings of the scene and Tommy’s story line. First and the most obvious one, he’s imagining his mother going through the same thing, as the movie he’s watching is cheapening both women’s common ordeal. Alice would later tell her next boyfriend David (Kris Kristofferson) about Lana Turner, showing how movies influence these characters’ perceptions. The second, this scene is the manifestation of familial conditions of the time. Not just with single moms but with the looming recession two years after this film is released, mothers both single and married have to go back in the workplace and children are left alone in their homes. Scorsese, however, is mature enough not to blame neither mother nor child for this.

The only reason why I hesitated to call on the film’s excellent writing is because of how one of the next scenes play out. Surprisingly, Ben’s wife comes knocking at Alice’s door. There’s an emotional scene found in most melodramas, mixed not so distractingly with Scorsese using handheld, only to be sandbagged by Ben banging on Alice’s motel room door. I really thought Keitel would stay against type in the film, and I expected the same with Scorsese as well. It ended up becoming like a milder version of that scene in Raging Bull. However, I accept what happens in the story, especially since we’re observing Alice’s reaction to Ben showing his evil side. She looks like she’s been there before, but she’s shell shocked and defeated, unable to defy Ben. Nonetheless, she knows what to do.

Her pit stop at Tucson – hopefully not as backwoods-y as Scorsese portrays it – takes up half of the film’s running time, escalating the tension between her and Tommy. A main reason I like this film is her rapport with him, possibly echoed within the passive aggressive banter of Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment almost a decade later. Plus Alice knows how to play with her child, sometimes gets too mean and shortsighted towards him, yet she never seems childlike with him. They’re each other’s best friends, they share each other’s dreams and allow each other’s indulgences. With their runaway budget, she gets to buy dresses, he gets to have guitar lessons.

This film also breaks the cardinal rule of ‘All child actors before Haley Joel Osment are terrible.’ There are exceptions to this rule, but we’ll talk about that later, as well as showing how well Scorsese works with younger actors. Lutter puts flesh, blood and preteen intelligence to Tommy, questioning his mother’s decisions as per situations when families become ‘unconventional.’ He’s also a test to both her mother and to David. David, despite the nice working farmer’s smile, has hit him unlike Ben but Alice never gets comfortable with Ben enough for him to get to know the previous boyfriend. David fails a test but is right on a few things about a Tommy and Alice.

Alice in Tucson also exposes a duality within her, cowering slightly when Tommy swears in front of David or when Flo (Diane Ladd) uses her in the latter’s routine. She’s a woman with one foot off the edge of respectability, in a way denying that she’s in denial about her ‘maniac’ boyfriends, low paying jobs, serving locals better food than what she’s recently cooked for her own son. Unlike say, a Blanche duBois who relates being ladylike with fragility, and choosing that over truth, Alice is tougher. She’ll shed her exterior if that means having to survive and having to keep her relationships together. Yes, I know that Gena Rowlands must have had a better performance than this on A Woman Under the Influence – I haven’t seen it yet – but Burstyn as Alice is a work of being and balance, a performance about decisions on a mental level instead of a physical one.

What follows, as Chuck Klosterman would say, in the consummation of a relationship – offscreen – but that presents problems of its own. Alice has already made sacrifices on her first marriage and worry about the compromises she’ll make on this relationship. Nonetheless, she’s happy. Tommy’s happy. They understand each other and are more mature in the end.


Moments of 2010 movie fashion


The first look I’m gonna be talking about comes from my first movie in 2010, Martin ScorseseShutter Island. Yes, there’s Teddy Daniels’ (Leonardo di Caprio) wife (Michelle Williams) in yellow, but among many things we wonder why Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) has a better suit than Teddy, his supposed superior. Then Chuck stands there, his fake benevolence makes him seem sinister, and he reveals to Teddy and to the audience a pulpy ending we don’t want.

There’s also the literally punk ethos generations later. There’s gonna be another movie on this list that covers the same time period, the style The Runaways being the more stereotypical if you have to compare the two. But say, younger Cherie Curie (Dakota Fanning) taking style cues from David Bowie makes us all reminisce even if we’ve never been there.

It’s been known that Tilda Swinton can do anything, including wearing Jil Sander dresses and not look like a clueless model wearing a box. I am Love focuses on Emma Recchi’s (Swinton) facade of womanhood, or how lovers try to hide and find each other through cities and nature. And when Emma puts up her hair in a bun, it reminds me of Madeleine Elster. Emma Recchi (Swinton) is allowed little bits of freedom, but is she willing to risk it all?

Now we move on to chunky sweaters! Such as the staple in Never Let Me Go. The youth from Hailsham and the other special schools get to wear browns and greys while the people they watch on television are more wild and colourful. But I actually like this, since it shows the Armaniesque minimalism that was just as prevalent in the 70’s and 80’s. If you look Cher in Moonstruck, both films take the same approach in costume.

I’ll probably get hanged if I didn’t talk about Rodarte’s textural touches in Black Swan‘s costumes both onstage and off, the outer layers that ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) have to put on and peel off. I also like the scarves that both Nina and alternate Lilly (Mila Kunis) wear. Why are they dressing alike? What they wear outside reminds us that their season starts in winter, when hibernation (repression) is something that Nina can either adapt or rebel against.

One of the most painful cinematic experiences I’ve ever had is also one of my first in the newly erected Bell Lightbox. Fortunately, there’s the little moments of fashion in L.A. Zombie, and it helped that I knew that they were created by Bernard Wilhelm, one of the designers whose whole collections I wanna buy when I get rich enough. That and they’re worn by one fo the sexiest men to ever live, Francios Sagat. I hate this movie partly because of Catholic guilt. Are you happy I admitted that?

This year was the year of the blue dress, like the Balenciaga inspired ones in Attenberg and Amy Ryan’s ill-fitting yet fabulous dress in Jack Goes Boating, but the one that knocks it out of the park is Miriam’s (Rosamund Pike) in Barney’s Version. To be able to catch the eye of a just married man like the anti-hero Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) and come out like an angel doesn’t always have something to do with what’s inside a person.

Hey look, another hot guy in a suit. The titular hero of Carlos (Edgar Ramirez) audaciously wears white or light coloured suits while motorcycling through the streets of Beirut and other cities in the Middle East. He is smooth, a conundrum, presenting himself as a terrorist while looking like he’s spending money on a Saturday night. The film will also show him in Speedos and his birthday suit if that’s your thing.

There’s young Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) in a movie that might be the only one in this list to get an Oscar nomination for Best Costume, True Grit. Mattie chooses subtlety and fit, unlike the wild colours of the Ann Sheridan types or loose-fitting sloppiness of the men. She is the daughter of Frank Ross, a man of manageable wealth and assets. Although she dresses more ‘manly’ when she goes into Indian territory to find her dad’s murdered Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).

Rosamund Pike reappears in this last entry but for another movie where her talent is better used – made in Dagenham. The red Biba dress that Sally Hawkins’ character is originally her characters’ anyway. The dress reminds me of how Britain had power in the garment industry before the Central Saint Martin school came along. And even female politicians will talk to each other about clothes. Make of that what you will.


These movies sucked


Lists like this for me happens in accident, or two years later when the movie comes up on TV and say ‘Hey, that was crap.’ I trust critics. If I read a terrible review, it means I won’t pay 12 bucks for it. There are exceptions. Seven or so of these were movies selected by film festivals in either 2009 or 2010. Making fun of festival movies is like kicking a dead dog, but sometimes I have no choice. Sorry for the grumpiness.

Shutter Island

Green Zone

Chloe

Is It Just Me?

Alice in Wonderland

Late Autumn


L.A. Zombie

Passion Play

Les Amours Imaginaires

Enter the Void


Images: Casino


Geek done good Martin Scorsese is like a pre-Tarantino in his depth in film knowledge. The master, however, exceeds the extra mile by referencing both film and art in his 90’s film Casino, and make those references fit into the 1970’s and 1980’s when the movie was set. Scorsese’s always been visual but it was his work in the 90’s showcased this talent, with movies like Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence, and arguably Cape Fear.

John Ferren

ph. Universal

Dan Flavin

Caravaggio

Edward Hopper – although this is a little bit of a stretch

Edvard Munch – SPOILERS!