Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Visual Culture

I've seen some good films recently, and some films which I had hoped would be good. Can't win 'em all:
  • WALL-E (2008): finally caught up to this one. Am I forgiven for liking Idiocracy more? Idiocracy is probably going to be Luke Wilson's last tolerable film, for whatever that's worth, and I prefer Mike Judge' misanthropy—pointed, superficial—to Pixar's sugar-coated version, which expresses itself in terms of hope and transcendence, yearning for a world in which humans will suddenly become, well, better-than-human, or at least better-than-our-bodies. Pixar consistently reinforces body-mind splits, and nowhere more so than in WALL-E; Mike Judge sees human minds as being just as bad as human bodies, or as hopeless. I'm not concurring with that opinion, but I do find it more convincing than Pixar's alternative.
  • A Letter to Three Wives (1949): Joseph Mankiewicz was not born to be a director of motion pictures. He was born to work with actors, sure, and stories and words, but there are a lot of jobs that can put you in regular contact with all three that don't also involve cameras and things. If All About Eve (1950) is a film that wants to be a play, A Letter to Three Wives desperately wants to be a radio show. Both films are about the medium they'd prefer, but play up the less savory side of that medium (the theater's vicious competitiveness, radio's vapid insipidity), so as to balance their yearning. Mankiewicz's camera-work is notoriously unimaginative—something the studios never evidently figured out—how could you give such a guy both Julius Caesar and Cleopatra to film? Yet he makes Eve and Three Wives work without much fancy camera business, and both are very enjoyable films; you just have to appreciate those things that film still has in common with its elder mediums.
  • Make Way for Tomorrow (1937): This film is very difficult to find—IMDB does not list any DVD details, and while I haven't really done too much searching, I don't think it has gotten a DVD release. But it's now (or is for the moment) available on YouTube, which is where I watched it. I am really glad I did so; I feel it's certainly one of the 30s' best films, and one of the best melodramas Hollywood's ever produced (and I've seen quite a few Sirks). Leo McCarey, the director, has not gotten very much recognition either—a look at his filmography reveals that he was behind the camera for all kinds of hits and classics, from the Marx Bros. to Bing Crosby's Going My Way. At any rate, if you love "Classical Hollywood Cinema," do yourself a favor and YouTube this pronto.
  • Ace in the Hole (1951): All films should have been made with Kirk Douglas. That is all.
  • Wise Blood (1979): Okay, so I don't like Flannery O'Connor. But I love John Huston! I thought it might balance out, but I wasn't expecting such a godawful soundtrack, which absolutely ruined the film. But I did feel that the conflict between Asa and Hazel was never really staged well, and it was often difficult to tell whether the many inarticulate moments of the film were entirely intentional, or whether the script had not been very well rehearsed. Oh well.
  • Pygmalion (1938): It's too bad they ruined it by making it a musical.
  • The Last Days of Disco (1998): It's on Hulu, it's coming out on Criterion in August. See this film. See this film. See this film.


Richard said...

Dude, Idiocracy is a terrible movie. Anything interesting about it is completely subsumed by the utter stupidity and wrongness of the thing. Though I suppose that wouldn't preclude one from preferring it to WALL-E--but seems to me that saying so is tantamount to a seriously negative review of the latter.

D. G. Myers said...


Do you really want to be caught urging people, three times yet, to see one of the best conservative movies of all time?

Andrew Seal said...


I will completely agree that it's a disaster of a movie. But it's a disaster with just enough order that the ideas are both clear and interesting, even if they're undermined by the film's awfulness.

David (if I may--I've always had trouble figuring out whether to address you by a title, your initials or--as others seem to--by your given name--my apologies if you consider this effrontery),
My tastes, as you may have noticed, frequently overlap with conservatives--not only is Whit Stillman my favorite director, but Bellow and Naipaul my favorite novelists. You'll probably consider this a return of the repressed, my inner nature struggling to slip through the shackles of my liberal academic brainwashing or whatever, but I'd rather see it as a fairly strong rebuttal to the idea that my politics constrains my taste.

But yeah, I'd recommend Last Days of Disco--it's not going to turn anyone into a conservative anymore than Brideshead Revisited will convert an unwary reader to Catholicism. Stillman certainly glorifies the decline of WASPdom, but he also makes no case for its value to anyone but the WASPs, and makes it quite clear that the decline is the WASPs' own fault.

D. G. Myers said...

I prefer “Butthead,” thanks. Be sure to check out Terry Teachout’s list of the greatest Westerns of all time.