Saturday, July 21, 2007

My answers to Mr. Shoop's Surfin' Summer School Midterm

I originally posted these over at Dennis' blog, but I figured it couldn't hurt to post them here too. And if you haven't posted your answers yet, what are you waiting for?

1) Favorite quote from a filmmaker

“Most directors make films with their eyes. I make films with my cojones.” - Jodorowsky

2) A good movie from a bad director

I’m guessing most people would disagree as to this movie’s goodness, but despite not being a Tony Scott fan, I love Domino. Normally his hyperkinetic style is distracting at best, but here it perfectly suits the ambitious, wacked-out screenplay. In addition to being an awesome ride, it’s also a clever satire about the currency of celebrity, in which trash TV is the go-to public venue for the poor and anyone can define himself through popular culture.

3) Favorite Laurence Olivier performance

There’s no denying the greatness of his Shakespeare work, but I’ve gotta go with Sleuth. Olivier’s Andrew Wyke is a wicked send-up of ruling-class entitlement, and his performance is delicious, especially when he suddenly finds himself interrogated by the decidedly blue-collar Inspector Doppler.

4) Describe a famous location from a movie that you have visited (Bodega Bay, California, where the action in The Birds takes place, for example)

The Ferris wheel in the Prater, Vienna. I actually rode this not long after seeing the movie on the big screen, and while the city around it had changed a lot since 1949, the Ferris wheel itself was more or less the same.

5) Carlo Ponti or Dino De Laurentiis (Producer)?

Ponti and De Laurentiis both made loads of schlock, but only Ponti movies for Godard, Antonioni, Melville, Rosellini, Polanski, Forman, Varda, and Demy, all in the prime of their careers. Plus he married Sophia Loren. Twice. By contrast, De Laurentiis gave the world a handful of classics, a whole lot of junk, and a gigantic, turned-on ape, which might fit into either group, depending on your tastes.

6) Best movie about baseball

I’m not a huge baseball fan (or any sports, really), but I sure do love Baseball Bugs.

7) Favorite Barbara Stanwyck performance

What are you trying to do to me, Shoop? How does one choose one performance from one of Hollywood’s greatest and most versatile talents? The best I can do is three: Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity, Jean Harrington in The Lady Eve, and “the high ridin’ woman with a whip” herself, Jessica Drummond in Forty Guns.

8) Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Dazed and Confused?

I’m not a huge Fast Times fan, but even if I was, Dazed and Confused would still be tough to beat. Linklater accomplishes something tricky in Dazed, mining a fondly-remembered period in his past without romanticizing or whitewashing it. He paints the world of the film warts and all, while at the same time showing love for each of the characters (yes, even O’Bannion). It’s so rich and detailed that you can imagine living there and, more importantly, you’d want to, although maybe not so much as an incoming freshman.

9) What was the last movie you saw, and why? (We’ve used this one before, but your answer is presumably always going to be different, so…)

I finally caught up with Teshigahara’s The Face of Another the other day, thanks to the good folks at Criterion. I’ve wanted to see it for a while, and it didn’t disappoint.

10) Whether or not you have actually procreated or not, is there a movie you can think of that serious(ly) affected the way you think about having kids of your own?

Not really. I know that at this point in my life I should be thinking about stuff like having kids, but the possibility just feels too far off to me at this point. However, The Secret Lives of Dentists gave me a greater appreciation of how tough being a parent can be.

11) Favorite Katharine Hepburn performance

(Warning: blasphemy alert!) Honestly, I’ve never been a big fan of Hepburn’s, especially in her early years. Her performances almost always feel too mannered by half. But I have to admit that she’s pretty perfect in The Philadelphia Story, which makes excellent use of her innate patrician haughtiness.

12) A bad movie from a good director

There are so many choices here, but for me the obvious one is Ingmar Bergman’s The Serpent’s Egg, the ultimate awful movie from a master. Bergman’s biggest-budget movie was produced by the aforementioned Signor De Laurentiis during Bergman’s brief exile from Sweden, and it’s no surprise that their styles don’t mesh. But The Serpent’s Egg is borderline inept in parts, and so laughable that one might think it was directed by Andrew Bergman. Most surprising is Liv Ullmann’s subpar performance, as she finds herself adrift in this mess.

13) Salo: The 120 Days of
Sodom-- yes or no?

Haven’t seen it (no video store around here carries it) so the jury’s still out.

14) Ben Hecht or Billy Wilder (Screenwriter)?

Tough call. Wilder wrote some the greats even before he started directing them as well, and he managed to do it in a language different from the one he was born into. But it’s hard to argue with Hecht’s body of work. I was actually leaning toward Wilder when I scanned Hecht’s list on IMDb, and if you include the films he wasn’t credited on, the list is pretty staggering.

15) Name the film festival you’d most want to attend, or your favorite festival that you actually have attended

I know I’m supposed to say Cannes or Venice or Sundance here, but honestly I find them a little intimidating. If I was a paid critic, or I somehow got a film in competition, they might be doable, but for a civilian they’d be tough to navigate. Toronto, on the other hand, is much more user-friendly and accessible for non-industry types. I’ll be attending for the first time this fall, so we’ll see how it goes.

16) Head or 200 Motels?

Haven’t seen 200 Motels yet, so it’s Head by default. But Head is pretty awesome, so I won’t complain.

17) Favorite cameo appearance

Does Charlie Sheen in Being John Malkovich count?

18) Favorite Rosalind Russell performance

Finally, a gimme. His Girl Friday, no contest. She was good in other movies, but never this awesome.

19) What movie, either currently available on DVD or not, has never received the splashy collector’s edition treatment you think it deserves? What would such an edition include?

We live in a world where you can get four seasons of ALF on Region DVD, but not Celine and Julie Go Boating or Privilege. But the fact that my all-time favorite movie, Belle de Jour, has a positively awful U.S. DVD is particularly sickening. As with many of the non-Oscar-bait movies in their library, the Weinsteins spared every expense that could’ve given Bunuel’s classic the DVD edition it deserves. It’s not enough that the only extras on this are a handful of Miramax trailers and a dry-as-dust commentary track from “Bunuel scholar Julie Jones.” No, the real shame is the barely-above-VHS-quality transfer of the movie itself. In light of the inspired DVD treatment Criterion gave to The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, it’s tempting to imagine what they might do with Belle. I’d love to see interviews with some of the principal players in the film- Deneuve, Michel Piccoli, Pierre Clementi- as well as with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere. And a remastered transfer of the film would be a godsend, allowing American home viewers to finally relish the work of Bunuel and his great D.P. Sacha Vierny. But the one must-have in this dream edition would be the world’s greatest DVD case- a wooden box that emits a small, intriguing buzz when you open it. Not even Severine herself could turn that down.

20) Name a performance that everyone needs to be reminded of, for whatever reason

How did Awards Season 2005 pass with nary a mention of Damian Lewis’ towering work in Keane? Oh yeah, because nobody saw the movie. That’s a pity, since it’s one of the best performances I’ve seen all decade. So many actors take mentally ill roles as an excuse to overact, but Lewis’ achievement isn’t that he portrays the title character as a man at war with himself. Unlike so many “crazy” performances, Keane is cursed with self-awareness, and he struggles every minute of every day with the realization that he could lose control. Some of the credit should go to director Lodge Kerrigan, who keeps us with Keane every step of the way, but without Lewis, the movie would fall to pieces.

21) Louis B. Mayer or Harry Cohn (Studio Head)?

I’m always a pushover for a scrappy underdog, so I’m leaning toward Cohn here.

22) Favorite John Wayne performance

Again, how can I possibly choose one? I’m tempted to say Red River, when he displayed the authority and elder-statesman presence that would carry him to the end of his career. However, I have a soft spot for his performance as Ole Olsen in The Long Voyage Home. His Swedish accent was a little suspect, but his boyishness is extremely touching, and he more than holds his own with a cast of Ford regulars.

23) Naked Lunch or Barton Fink?

What is this, the 1991 cult-movies-about-writers, starring-Judy-Davis Deathmatch? I love both of these, but only one gives me that Barton Fink feeling. Plus no performance in Cronenberg’s film even comes close to John Mahoney as W.P. Mayhew. Kind of sad that most of America thinks of the guy only as the dad from Frasier.

24) Your Ray Harryhausen movie of choice

Jason and the Argonauts. Although I haven’t watched any Harryhausen since I was in middle school, so I’m really overdue to revisit them.

25) Is there a movie you can think of that you feel like the world would be better off without, one that should have never been made?

No, I don’t think so. Creatively bankrupt bad movies are forgettable enough that nobody misses them when they’re gone, and out-and-out fiascos are at least interesting in their badness. So while I’m getting really sick of hearing people tell me how awesome Garden State is, I don’t begrudge people their favorites, just as I hope they don’t begrudge me mine.

26) Favorite Dub
Taylor performance

The only one that springs to mind is Bonnie and Clyde.

27) If you had the choice of seeing three final movies, to go with your three last meals, before shuffling off this mortal coil, what would they be?

I’m tempted to be a smartass and answer Satantango, Out 1, and Berlin Alexanderplatz, but if I knew my life was going to be over once the third movie was finished, I’d want to pick movies that would make me forget that. First, Belle de Jour. As I said before, my favorite, and such a given in times like this. Second, A Hard Day’s Night! For me, there are few films more joyous. And finally, 2001: A Space Odyssey, because if I knew I was about to travel beyond the infinite, I’d want a film to take me there.

28) And what movie theater would you choose to see them in?

The Royal in Anarene, Texas. How fitting would that be?

Bonus questions:

A) Your proposed entry in the Atheist Film Festival

In Kevin McDonald’s documentary Touching the Void, Joe Simpson relates his experiences of being trapped in a mountain crevice for days with no food and a severly broken leg. He was near death and he knew it, and yet by his own account, even in a situation that seemed hopeless, he couldn’t bring himself to believe in God. According to Simpson, it was this belief that nothing awaited him after death that inspired him to try to save himself. So many movies operate under the oh-so-pious belief that salvation comes through God (think of the Jesus/water bottle scene in World Trade Center) that it’s more than a little bracing to hear the other side of the coin. Many devout people treat atheists as merely lapsed believer, waited to be jolted out of darkness, but Simpson’s story tells us otherwise.

B) What advice on day-to-day living have you learned from the movies?

Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige's wall, there was this one: ‘Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.’ Master Ittei commented, ‘Matters of small concern should be treated seriously.’” It’s originally from Hagakure, but I learned it from Ghost Dog, and it’s proven to be sound advice. Perhaps I haven’t gotten rich off of it, but it’s helped me stay levelheaded and relatively happy, which is nothing to sneeze at


Steve said...

Damn you! You took my quote!

Paul C. said...

See, and here I thought that'd be Andrew's quote. Not that I picked it for that reason, mind you. I just like it is all.