pt anderson blogathon @ moon in the gutter

My film blogging comrade over at Moon in the Gutter, Jeremy Richey, is hosting a P.T. Anderson blogathon September 13-19 and it will no doubt be an entertaining, exciting event.  I’m contributing an essay–not sure which film I’ll be focusing on yet–and I can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with.  I wrote a short piece about Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love in my first book, a film that is (I feel) one of the best of the last decade and a rather damn fine romantic comedy at that, so there’s always the temptation to revisit it… maybe do some screengrabs or something.  But I’ve been dying to write about There Will Be Blood since I saw it in January 2008 the day before I left for Europe and then watched again in the Leitrim Cinemobile when I was living in Ireland.  Seriously, some enterprising cinephiles in the States need to bring cinema to the masses with trucks like these.  They’re great.  And they’re warm too, which was surprising since it’s always so damn cold in Ireland year round!  Also, the cool thing about the Leitrim Cinemobile was that it would screen international films and smaller indie fare from the States… not blockbusters.  This was out in the boondocks, mind you.  We didn’t live in the city.  And these were real 35mm prints, not DVDs or digital projections.  Real films, real patrons in seats, and loads of arguments afterward as you scurried down the pub for a few pints.  Make sure to check out the video below that gives you a glimpse of how cool the Leitrim Cinemobile is.  But I digress.

P.T. Anderson.  Blogathon.  Moon in the Gutter.  That has Awesome all over it.

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not for sale: winchester ’73 (1950)

This is the first of five Westerns (eight films overall) that star Jimmy Stewart made with director Anthony Mann, inaugurating one of the most fascinating actor/director combos of the classic Hollywood era.  Mann, along with Alfred Hitchcock, realized that there was a wellspring of angst and turmoil underneath Stewart’s likable, American “everyman” persona, and that if guided in the right way Stewart would not alienate audiences but keep them transfixed despite the harder-edged tone of the film and character.  We would still be able to sympathize with Stewart’s character even when he tipped over into madness (however brief), because Jimmy Stewart would never exact vengeance for the pleasure of it.  He had to have a good reason to commit bloodshed, right?

Winchester ’73 originated at Universal Pictures with producer Aaron Rosenberg and Stewart attached but with no real script or director yet involved.  Screenwriter Borden Chase, a specialist in hard-hitting manly actioneers like The Fighting Seabees (1944) and Red River (1948), was brought aboard when the first screenwriter involved Robert Richards couldn’t get things cookin’, and it was Chase who was the one to see in Stewart the need for a new post-WWII toughness.  Stewart was desperate for a career resurrection after his last three films failed to connect with the box office.  He was more than a little game to forge into this new cinematic territory.  Only problem was, would audiences be ready for a tougher, more violent Jimmy Stewart?  John Wayne made gritty Westerns, not the guy more well-known for his easy going comedic and dramatic skills.  But Chase, who had grown up on the mean streets of New York City and in the 1920s served as gangster Frankie Yale’s chauffeur for a short time before Yale ended up a corpse, knew a killer when he saw one.  “[Jimmy Stewart] was in the Air Force, he knows how to kill,” Chase said in an interview with writer/film critic/professor of cinema studies Jim Kitses in 1970.  “You know, when you command a wing of fighters in a war, you’re not exactly soft.”

Anthony Mann, a journeyman director of considerable talent best known at that time for a series of hard-boiled pictures like T-Men (1947), Raw Deal (1948), and Border Incident (1949), was eventually hired to helm the picture on Stewart’s recommendation (they’d known each other years before) after Fritz Lang declined the job.  The resulting film became a huge success for the studio and specifically for Stewart who had taken a 50% share on the film’s profits instead of an upfront salary.  But the more important upswing surrounding Winchester ’73‘s success was that a new artistic partnership had been forged.  Over the next decade, Stewart and Mann would team up for seven other films–Bend of the River (1952), The Naked Spur (1953), Thunder Bay (1953), The Glenn Miller Story (1954), The Far Country (1955), Strategic Air Command (1955), and The Man from Laramie (1955)–most of them Westerns that are comparable in many ways to the finest of John Ford’s shoot ’em ups with John Wayne, though with far more Oedipal melodrama and intense psychological complexity bordering on the noirish than anything Ford and Duke would ever sully themselves with.   This was a new kind of Western in which conflict generated from within the main protagonist as much as it came from exterior dramatic circumstances.  The Mann/Stewart Westerns (three of them written with Chase) would betray the cracks deepening within the American postwar psyche, giving us doubt, turmoil, and showing a frightening, blinding rage hiding beneath the veneer of the good guy’s quest for redemption and honor.

In Winchester ’73, Stewart is no cowboy anti-hero, although he foreshadows how such a character would be shaped into misshapen idolization under the direction of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah more than a decade later.  The significant nudge into more mature territory that Winchester ’73 was attempting, moving away from the oaters of the past where divisions between good and evil were clearly recognized and into more complex psychological terrain,  was the inevitable evolutionary step for a genre that had already changed drastically since the Edison company tried to capture the American West on film with the short Cripple Creek Baroom in 1898 and Edwin S. Porter made cinema history with the more narrative-driven one-reeler, The Great Train Robbery (1903).

Winchester ’73 centers on the fabled “Gun that Won the West” and the strange attraction it held for those who coveted such a tool to tame the land.

The 1873 model was a limited edition.  Highly prized for its accuracy, durability, and efficiency.

It was a rare and beautiful machine.

Lin McAdam (Stewart) and his sidekick “High-Spade” (Millard Mitchell) ride into Dodge City on the hunt for the man who killed McAdam’s father.

Vengeance is good and all, but not in Dodge City.

In town, Wyatt Earp (Will Geer) is the law and guns have no place there except when he wields one.

Or when you can shoot for fun.

A July 4th shooting contest to be exact.

Winner wins a Winchester ’73 rifle.

McAdam is a good shot.  He beats everyone but one fella…

Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally)…

The cagey bastard he’s been hunting…

Who also happens to be talented with the ways of the gun.

After a few rounds, the stalemate holds tough.

So it comes down to McAdam…

If he can shoot through the postage stamp fixed to a coin as it flies through the air…

He wins.

McAdam wins the rifle and is given the option to have his very own name engraved on the metal plate affixed to the weapon.

Being that McAdam is a no-nonsense kind of guy, he declines.

He’s got more important things to deal with…

Like chase down loser Dutch Henry who has just split town with his gang…

Or so we thought.

Seems ol’ Dutch doesn’t like to lose.

And he doesn’t like to be hunted, either.

Dutch wants the Winchester, too.

And he figures he’s mean enough to take it.

But this rage inside of McAdam is something fierce.

He’s been living with it so long.

It’s rooted deep within him…

This lonely wilderness of pain within.

He’s been living with it so long.

It’s so easy to get lost within it…

Forget why you’re on this path in the first place…

That’s why it’s important to remain clear…

Keep focused on the task at hand…

That’s what Pa always said, right?

If you don’t keep it together and work hard…

You’re liable to lose control of the situation…

You’re liable to get yourself hurt…

Or wind up something worse.

There are always tougher hombres out there.

Sometimes it’s best just to let them win the battle.

It’s not about the gun anyway.

It’s about the long-haul.

It’s about biding one’s time.

Remembering why you’re at this moment in the first place.

What it took to get there…

And all the suffering that came along with it.

The “winning of the West” wasn’t just about brute force.

For some men, like McAdam, it was about weighing your options…

Knowing when to lie down on the floorboards and take a beating…

Remaining cool… in the moment…

Because the cool guy is the one who gets the job done.

It’s all about balance.

Never letting the rage within consume you…

It’s the guy who eases back on the trigger who stays alive.

Because it’s the angry ones who get themselves killed…

And wind up the subject matter for another person’s idiosyncratic blog.

experimental george lucas films set to be released

Experimental filmmaker George Lucas announces the release of six of his most obscure films on Blu-ray. The films–which have rarely been viewed since their initial screenings in various basement non-profit film parties in the Bay Area years ago, and reverently spoken about by the handful of cinephiles lucky enough to have actually seen them–will now get their chance to win over the arthouse audience they were always intended for. But considering Mr. Lucas’s sometimes jarring editing schemes, static compositions, dimensional emigrations within the frame, and his reliance on abrasive sound extractions, not to mention the psychodramatic performances from his large cast of non-actors–time will tell whether or not the arthouse crowd is now ready for Mr. Lucas’s erratic, difficult visions. Beloved Hollywood directors Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet are rumored to be penning extensive liner notes for all six films.

You can read more about the release of the boxed set here.

directory of world cinema: american independent and sinescope

It’s been pretty busy around these parts and as the summer crawls forward… it’s only going to get busier as the Terry Gilliam book gets finished and a new book project gets started.  I’m not going to say anything publicly about the latter thingy… but it’s exciting and in time I can be more open about it.

First off, I noticed this evening that my comrade from across the pond, UK film academic/editor/writer John Berra, has been interviewed by Jeremy Richey over at his fabulous site Moon in the Gutter.  I was fortunate to have been able to contribute a number of reviews (and an essay on Yakuza cinema) to both of the books that Berra edited (when not teaching film studies at Sheffield Hellam University), Directory of World Cinema: Japan and Directory of World Cinema: American Independent (both published by Intellect).

The book on Japanese films is now available in the UK and will soon be available in the US.  The American Independent book can now be pre-ordered here.

I also want to mention a project that I’m very happy about.  I’m now a contributing editor and resident film critic at the online arts journal Sinescope.  The site just went up Sunday evening and… well, it’s just getting started.  Plenty of wonderful essays already up over there–including my own piece on Quentin Tarantino’s war epic Inglourious Basterds–and I also have a film-oriented blog (He Watched by Night) there too which will include DVD/Blu-ray, theatrical, and movie biz items.  And if you head over there you can read my reviews of the recent superb Criterion Collection releases Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy and Steve McQueen’s remarkable feature-film debut Hunger.

Whew!  Sorry for the self-promotion, but I really wanted to mention those nifty things.  We now return to regular programming…

burn hollywood burn

hollywood

The Hollywood dream factory has always sold bullshit to the eager masses.  Some years are worse than others, some decades shine brighter with genuine talent and provocative films.  And sometimes, if the stars are right… real art may be conjured.

I’m talking mainstream, commercial films here, just so we’re clear.  Films made by the major studios.  There’s just as much garbage in the pseudo-indie sphere as well and the genuine independent arena is a whole other matter.  But junk is junk and it exists anywhere and everywhere.

But screenwriter/director Charlie Kaufman thinks the situation in Hollywood is dire and getting worse.  I can’t argue that it’s a depressing situation.  Do we really need another superhero movie?  Have the studios simply given up on making films for adults?

But I’ll hold out for some sort of creative resurgence.  There’s no arguing that the current model of film distribution (just like in the music industry) is antiquated, oppressive, and in need of restructuring.  The major studios are dinosaurs and seemingly lumbering into the tar pits.  Though haven’t they always been that way?

When we least expect it, a new wave always comes crashing down.  The last time young filmmakers infiltrated the ranks of the studios (ten years ago) we saw the arrival of Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonze, Sofia Coppola, Wes Anderson, and others.  None of them make blockbusters, of course.  But most of the films they created did make money while furthering the medium in artistic ways.

So I hold out hope.  For now.

Perhaps Kaufman will figure a way to write himself (and us) out of this narrative purgatory.

You can read Kaufman’s comments here.

david carradine

Saddened by the death of actor David Carradine, I’ve been wanting to post something about him but I’ve been unable to get a handle on what I wanted to say.  The “perversity” surrounding the manner of his death doesn’t really interest me… and it’s too bad that so many people are focusing on that aspect, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Actors like Carradine–geniunely weird, eccentric, volatile, and frequently great–are a dying breed.  Back when I was eleven or twelve, I came into possession of a treasure trove of Playboy magazines and read an article on Carradine back when he was still riding that post-Kung Fu wave.  I don’t recall specifically what it was in the piece that freaked me out, but I remember being shocked by how untamed and unpolished he came across, shattering my tiny mind regarding how I thought actors were supposed to behave away from the cameras.  Of course, if you can’t deliver on talent to balance out the wildness, then you’re just out-of-control.  Carradine delivered.

Anyway… here’s a link to a piece on David Carradine that pretty much sums up (more eloquently) what I think as well.

paul newman

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/28/movies/28newman.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

One of the great true Hollywood stars has died.  Although Newman’s film appearances were rare the last couple of decades… the body of work, the iconic roles he left behind is impressive.  Here’s a clip from my favorite Newman movie, Martin Ritt’s Cool Hand Luke (1967).  Now… if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a parking meter to vandalize and 50 hardboiled eggs to gulp down.