Thursday, October 29, 2009

Scarface (1932)

Scarface, 1932
Dir: Howard Hawks (Richard Rosson)
October 29, 2009

"Get outta my way Johnny, I'm gonna spit!"

Considering that the re-make of this has become a cliche, and for all intents and purposes, is really not that good, I wasn't really sure what to expect from this. Let me say this: it blows the bejesus out of the remake. Now, it's not a perfect film, but considering the time period, it is seriously violent, and a clear "master-in-training" piece from a true stylist, Howard Hawks.

A thinly veiled take on Al Capone, given authenticity and bite from a Chicago newspaperman turned screenwriter, Scarface is one of the most damning critiques of society ever put on screen. The re-makes anti-morality has become a rallying cry for rappers and douche-bags everywhere, but at the beginning of this, the title screen is actually demanding why people are giving credence to killers, and demands that they think about it. It's pretty startling, really. Paul Muni is Tony Camonte, a violent psychopath who rises to the top of his South Side gang after murdering his boss, setting his sights on top dog Boris Karloff and the North Side bootleggers, but a brash cockiness and happy trigger finger is no match for his ultimate downfall, rabid jealously over the sexual escapes of his (a little too much) beloved sister, Cesca (Ann Dvorak). She, along with Karen Morely, who plays a mistress of a South Side boss starting to gravitate towards Tony as he gains power, are actually really great female characters, though their acting is definitely a bit amateurish, if snarky.

Taken in context of early 30’s predecessors, Muni’s Camonte is mentally disturbed to the extreme, spitting out broken English through a grotesque smirk (a little annoying at times in it's over-the-topness and not really intimidating, but sometimes he can be downright funny and/or crazy); that his downfall comes because of an incestuous infatuation with his sister, as opposed to something obvious like blind ambition, and murdering Cesca's fiancée "Little Boy" (George Raft), his best friend, in cold blood, speaks to the depravity of the character and what his world has made him, and of the great characters this film has, in general. Shades of gray, people, along with a conscience. Pre-Code rules.

Hawks’ most overt symbolism, the recurring “X” theme every time a character is about to be assassinated, is obvious but visually striking (especially the bowling "strike"), as is the stunning opener, Tony’s killing of his boss in shadows, with the camera traveling back and forth on the studio stage in a nearly five-minute unbroken shot. Awesome. Howard Hawks is pure cinema, and I dig that a whole lot. I'm pretty sure this has convinced me to make Hawks my next American director to go through. It's either that or John Ford. I'm guessing I will dig both, but we'll see.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Spartacus, 1960
Dir: Stanley Kubrick
October 27, 2009

I have always avoided watching this like the Plague, and now I'm not sure why I thought it would be awful. This film is pretty much the perfect vehicle for an actor like Kirk Douglas, and as he was the executive producer with almost all creative control (which led to a clash with Kubrick), it's pretty much his movie. There is nothing definitively "Kubrick" about this film apart from the occasional visual flair and the fact that he is pretty much the cinematographer as well. Kubrick was only brought in because Douglas fired Anthony Mann after a week of shooting, probably for the same reason that arguments broke out with his new, much younger director. The film is about showcasing actors in an epic environment, and some are great, like Laurence Olivier and Charles Laughton, mixed in with some bad ones, like John Dall (whose intended naivete comes across as just plain awful; I also disliked him in Rope (1948), one of my least favorite Hitchcock films.) As for Douglas, he acts, as all "movie-stars" do, as the same character he always portrays, and in a film like this, it works, unlike in Paths of Glory (1957). Ham it up, Kirk! Seriously though, if you can enjoy a film like Ben-Hur (1959), then from a pure entertainment standpoint, there's no reason why you won't enjoy this. Sure, I rolled my eyes a few times, but it's kinda part of the whole deal. It's a big, epic film that's supposed to please. Actors like Tony Curtis were brought onto the picture for just more "star power." That's not to say that I wouldn't shit on a completely worthless monstrosity, like most of the DeMille films that I've seen, but there is also some artistic merit to a film like this. This is no Lawrence of Arabia (1962), but few films are.

Monday, October 26, 2009

2 or 3 choses que je sais d'elle

2 or 3 choses que je sais d'elle (Two or three things I know about her), 1967
Dir: Jean Luc-Godard
October 25, 2009

This at first glance this seems very typical of late 60s color Godard, a disjointed, anti-capitalist ramble with a whispering narrator (Godard) speaking elliptically. That stuff makes me want to punch someone in the face. But the entire film overall is never less than engaging, often hilarious, and sometimes astonishing (especially at a point when I have convinced myself that Godard has nothing worth saying to me anymore).

The film mostly follows the life of Julitte Jenson (Marina Vlady), a bourgeois housewife and mother who occasionally goes into Paris to work as a prostitute. Marina is a total babe, and watching her for an hour and a half is pretty remarkable, and for me, I was getting tired of Karina anyway. Good riddance, JLG. Vlady was the wife of Hotspur in Chimes at Midnight (1965), and she caught my eye there, despite only being in like 5 minutes of that film. The camera occasionally focuses on other characters, and cinema verite interviews mid-scene dissect their vapid lives. They sometimes have breathtaking insights, but more often just have a few mediocre witticisms. It even gets to Juliette's children, especially her hyper-active son, who pretty much gives the best performance a kid can, and his sequence about "nice, clean girls who don't disagree with me" is amazing. The always crying (or bawling her freakin eyes out) daughter is always on cue, which has to be somewhat difficult. In a typical Godard fashion, his argument is put forth sometimes directly, sometimes poetically: that modern society itself is prostitution, that we have come to value lifestyle over life. If the tired tirades against consumerism seem old, the overall effect is still one that is still frighteningly relevant 40 years later.

Even if you can't get behind his message, which believe me, I understand, 2 or 3 things is filled with so many powerful images and sequences that it makes me wonder what the hell he was doing on the brainfart that is Made in USA (1966). It also might be his funniest that I've seen, the presentation not nearly as serious as the thesis, coming across as a non-stop stream of visual puns and references. I think that's why I didn't hate this. The fact that Godard actually has a sense of humor and doesn't need to be so angry actually made this film as good as anything he ever made. But then, the mood will be changed with a gut-punch of insight and wonderment: the world in a coffee cup; the decision of which narrative to follow. The film is multi-layered and ambitious, and the things I didn't like about it are the things that I don't like about all Godard films. There are, however, too many things to like in this film to dismiss it. I'm a bit reluctant now to move on, since it was at this point that Godard revolted 1oomph against what he saw as "pleasurable" films. This might be the last kind-ish thing I have to say about him or his films. We'll see how long I go before i give up.

PS: Try watching this as big as possible: it's widescreen to THA MAX.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory, 1957
Dir: Stanley Kubrick
October 23, 2009

I don't know if it's the Kirk Douglas effect, but I was not really impressed with this in the overall. Yo, Kirk! You are acting as a French colonel, not a gunslinger in a Western. What's up with the english in this, anyway? It was pretty hard to imagine all those guys as French, but I guess it really doesn't matter in the end if other things are done right. The real problem is with Douglas playing an American every-man with American attitudes stuck in the French Army during WWI. Anytime he (or anybody, for that matter) talks, any semblance of reality is blown to smithereens. There is no tact in any of the acting.

The film sets up a huge Kubrick theme (anti-authority) and yet I wasn't invested in the film at all until the end. The black-and-white cinematography is terrific, and rightly showcases the awful lives men live when they are at war, but the black-and-white story itself is a no real importance. George Macready's ambitious, vengeful general is heavy handed, as is all the mise-en-scene that accompanies him (the dinner parties, the cognac, heck, even his "sofa" at the court-martial). With his voice, he comes across as some entitled Ivy League snob. The obvious counter-point to Douglas. From the very beginning, you are getting banged over the head that Douglas' Col. Dax and Macready's Gen. Mireau are headed for a confrontation. Some of the the minor characters (a sly, political minded Gen. or a drunken, cowardly Lt.) aren't so easy to pin down, but the way they play out most certainly is. Now, again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just the technique and execution are somewhat lacking, if you ask me.

Kubrick's pessimism is what really shines through. A forthright portrayal of injustice with a tragic ending. As he says, it's not so much an anti-war film as it's an assault on the "ignorance of authority." The battle charge was pretty heart-pounding for me, if only because I'm kinda interested in WWI in that it is severely under-filmed in terms of combat. The technology vastly outpaced the strategy of the times and NO ONE comprehended until millions had died. Seriously, let's charge at Gatling guns like they're horses! Anyway, the hard-eyed camera bores directly into the minds of some of the characters, and the execution scene is gut-wrenching, even if you don't feel bad for the characters portrayed, only for them as human beings. Some of the best acting in the film is done by Ralph Meeker, as a Cpl. who tries to say stern faced in the hours before his death but eventually breaks down in fear and self-pity as the time comes. You can't can't help but feel bitter when they die. But that's about the only emotion I felt at the end, bitter. At the "authority" in the film, and the film itself. It could have been the film that tons of people rave about. It really isn't.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Viaggio in Italia

Viaggio in Italia (Voyage to Italy), 1954
Dir: Roberto Rossellini
October 21, 2009

This is a pretty remarkable film for the mid-1950s. Of course, it's a European film, but subtle and inclusive in it's themes. Rossellini's direction captures the Italy all tourists see while blending in his homeland in a way that I'm sure all native Italians would approve of. Despite an ending that I'm not quite sure what to make of (maybe a little too Hollywood, and yet...), I found myself caught up in the lives of this couple on holiday (or business trip) in Italy as their marriage falls apart.

The way that Alex (George Sanders) and Katherine (Ingrid Bergman, Rossellini's wife at the time) treat each other is amazing. Alex has clearly convinced himself that he doesn't love Katherine anymore, and almost goes out of his way put her down. Sanders is amazing as this wealthy British man who back-talks his wife, flirts in front of her with other women, leaves her in Naples to go party with friends in Capri (where he definitely lusts after a married woman), and then as a indecisive soul who almost picks up a lonely prostitute before bubbling over with frustration as he yells at his wife that he wants a divorce. Bergman's Katherine is remarkable in a different way. I almost didn't like her acting at first. It was too stilted, almost like it was being read. The subtlety of her character starts to come out later though, as the time she spends in museums and the ancient ruins of Italy begin to impact her, along with the memory of a sickly young man who read his poetry to her. Half the time she tries to convince herself that she still loves Alex, while the other half she can do nothing but spew venom at him. They make each other jealous; Alex with his flirting, Katherine with her memories ("He was a fool." "He was not a fool! He was a poet." "Aren't they the same?").

Rossellini is also subtle in how he captures everything and creates a mood. From the classic "couples" Hollywood shots and the sweeping pans, the film is grounded in the pop cinema of the times. However, as he captures the people and landscape around the couple, the neo-realist frames almost make it feel like a documentary at points, as does the information that the tour guides give Katherine as she wanders around. The shots of the statues and ruins, along with the accompanying music as Katherine gets caught up in the art and imagery, is a truly remarkable way of representing a life changing moment, the way a great song or painting makes you feel when you first encounter it (It also lets you see where Godard got the idea for Les Mepris (1963)). Italy itself is also a character, with the music, the people, the sounds; everything about the mise-en-scene, especially in the "neo-realist" shots, seems like it could only be captured by an Italian.

So the ending. After the climax where they both decide that they need a divorce, a friend convinces them to go to Pompeii to look at an archeological site, despite their reluctance. There, they see men uncover a couple who died together when Vesuvius erupted, which greatly effects Katherine. They are forced to leave, while Alex thinks it might be best if he heads back to London, not only to give each of them their space but to contact a lawyer about getting divorce proceedings started. Along the way back, they are forced to stop by one of the many religious parades that have happened throughout the film. They get out and watch, and Katherine tries to bridge the gap between them once again, only for Alex to snap back, "You've never understood me and never tried! Let's stop making excuses when we're finally being honest with each other." It seems like the marriage is over, and if the movie had ended there, it would have blown my mind. However, as the parade marches on, a "miracle" happens as a statue passes (Mary, maybe?). A man on crutches is suddenly healed, and the crowd goes bonkers. Katherine gets caught up in the crowd surging towards the statue, and Alex is forced to go after her. When they get back together, they are moved by emotion, and declare their love for one another. Say whaaaat? A miracle, or bullshit? Their is clearly a connotation to the reconciliation and the power of faith, but I was a little let down by this ending. Maybe it's just that the film seemed to be heading for nothing other than the couple's separation, and this just felt like a cop-out. On reflection tough, the sincerely optimistic statement made by the ending is genuinely different in it's own way, not to mention about how faith and Italy are interwoven, though it's just not the one that I would have used. What your personal views about faith may have an impact on how you interpret the ending of the film.

The film succeeds because despite all the wandering and searching the film depicts (which is awesome), it is about a voyage of discovery. It's a leisurely, contemplative film in no hurry to get anywhere (like most vacations) that is a unique testament to faith, even if that means nothing to you. Viaggio in Italia is a film in search of itself, that doesn't know it's own ending until it finally get's to it, miraculously appearing for an audience that could not have possibly seen it coming. Does it feel "right?" I don't know, but I really enjoyed the vacation, as bumpy as it could be at times.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Made in U.S.A.

Made in U.S.A., 1966
Dir: Jean-Luc Godard
October 16, 2009

This might be Godard's first consciously made political film, yet it's trappings are grounded in the hard-boiled American detective films of the 40s, particularly those involving one of Godard's heroes, Humphrey Bogart. I guess, in the end though, that even it's classic cinema references couldn't save Made in U.S.A. for me. I don't feel like writing long reviews about these Godard films anymore. Or maybe just this one because it was mediocre, borderline bad, unlike Masculine Feminin (1966), which I've decided is pretty good. His attempts at genre (like Alphaville (1965)) come off as stunted to me. It's hard to say that it's homage, because he's thrown the cinema conventions to the dogs at this point, but these just seem inferior to the directors whom Godard so admired. Casting preferred directors and film critics, and naming minor characters "Robert McNamara" and "Richard Nixon" is only amusing to a point. The Maoist platitudes ("I think advertising is a form of fascism.") and philosophic name drops are getting beyond tedious though. The entire long French wordplay scene in the restaurant is completely baffling to me. I'm not a young marxist, nor am I caught up in the political strife of the 60s. When the actors directly address the camera, it's almost like he's giving you instructions. Brecht would be proud, I guess. Either this film has aged really bad, or I really don't give a shit about his political agenda, which sometimes Godard himself seems a little confused about. His narrative and technical experimants are inventive, as always, but stark in it's presentation and completely off-putting. Now, the film is great to look at, and I think that cinematographer Raoul Coutard might be the best thing about this film, with colors popping all over the place. "Anna Karina, private eye" is also nice, if only to look at as she prances, pouts, and shoots bad-guys all around a really weird Atlantic City where everyone speaks French. Jean-Pierre Léaud's silly gangster's death is my favorite part of the film, where Anna asks him, "Do you want to know when you are going to die, or for it to be unexpected (paraphrase)." He replies with the latter, and she goes on to shoot him without warning. The last shot of the film is a long take of Karina in a car with radio journalist Phillipe Labro, who plays himself, of them leaving the city, with the camera on the hood. In regards to Godard's main message, Karina states in their open-ended conversation/thesis summation, "We have years of struggle ahead of us." If Godard's later 60s films keep progressing like this, getting through them is going to be a fucking struggle, and literally take years.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


L'eclisse (The Eclipse), 1962
Dir: Michelangelo Antonioni
October 14, 2009

Antonioni's final film in his "trilogy" takes up stylistically where he left off with La Notte (1961). The post-modern figurehead is at the top of his game here, and it really show. It might be the best one, or I might just be saying that because it is the easiest to follow, or I'm starting to understand what he trying to get at a little bit more. Who knows? It is still a difficult film to watch if only for the stark portrayals of modern people pretending to care about each other, but in the end being really selfish and not giving a shit. I guess all of the Antonioni films that I've seen deal with classic "alienation" issues in new narrative trappings, and the compositions of Antonioni's shot reflect that mood, as well as his dour black-and-white cinematography and the slow pacing. Don't get me wrong, it all looks great, and the pacing is pretty much just a bout right throughout, but you get the idea. It kind of ups the ante of his provocative modernism by being the most radical as well. The "I don't give a shit" attitude of the narrative conventions and the chilling themes of absence and desire make you think about the film long after you're done viewing it.

At the beginning of L'eclisse, Vittoria, a translator (Monica Vitti) from the Roman suburbs is breaking off her engagement to Riccardo (Francisco Rabal). The whole scene sets ups the interactions between people who come across each others path: restless souls and neurotics. Riccardo is a neurotic. He can't understand why Vitorria is breaking it off. He wants to know how he can change. He wants to know if she ever loved him. He wants to be able to call her in a couple of days to see is she's changed her mind. All Vitorria can do is respond, "I don't know," or wonder why people ask so may questions. At points, her face is anguished as she tries to give Riccardo some reason that never amounts to anything, but it's hard to say if she feels truly bad for him or only for herself for getting into this tricky situation. She does this throughout the film, not being able to explain any of her impulses or actions as she drifts along. The only other time that Riccardo is seen again is when he throws rocks at her apartment window a little later and she hides so he can't see her. Then he dejectedly walks away, seemingly disappearing.

Vittoria tries to get some time in with her mother (Lilla Brignone) after this, who is a compulsive money trader, and spends most of her time at the stock market. Here Antonioni has stock-brokers going bonkers trying to make deals and deal with each other. Part of what makes theses scenes so overwhelming and breathtaking is the compositional style of using the edges of the frame and playing off the different sections of the crowed image in relation to one another, with gesticulating arms flailing everywhere as if they might burst through the screen. The mother of course, has very little time for her grown daughter, and asks her every time she sees her, "What are you doing here?" She is viewed by the other people there as generally crazy, and when the market crashes and she joins a mob going to complain about "socialists," the point is well proved with a little humor. Vittoria gets lost a little bit in these scenes, as they are really about Piero (Alain Delon), a young stock-broker who is employed by Vittoria's mother and soon starts a fling with Vittoria.

The relationship doesn't start right away, as their arcs meet each other the first couple of times that Vittoria goes to the market, but they only talk a little bit about the market or her mother. Piero's restlessness is different from Vittoria's in that he is driven; he has a "passion" for the market and money. His restlessness, as Vittoria notes, is that "he can't stay still;" he is a young man with virility. However, unlike in earlier films like L'avventura (1960) or La Notte, Antonioni doesn't seem to view his materialistic lifestyle or restless love life a bad thing; in fact, he shoots them as being some what vibrant, if spastic. Capitalism is a little less corrupt. A new attitude for Antonioni, where things are little less about guilt and compromise and selling-out? I'll have to see more films of his to know for sure. Vittoria is far more sluggish. Her impulses in between the Piero meetings are seen when she dresses up and dances for friends or randomly rides in an airplane to Verona with traveling friends. You're never really sure why she does any of these things. In life, though, you just do those things sometimes. The times when she just stops and looks at the things around her is a good demonstrator of what she's all about. Her face is pensive and wanting, but she never knows exactly what is is she needs.

The relationship really starts almost by accident. Vittoria becomes fascinated by a man who she is told just lost big in the market when it crashes and follows him around for a little bit. She bumps into Piero at a store where he buys her a drink. They form a fragile alliance where Piero wants what all guys want, and where Vittoria seems to blow hot and cold, much to Piero's confusion. The one thing that I didn't pick up until the end was the framing of Vittoria in relation to Piero. It's the exact way one of his former girlfriends is framed in an earlier scene, reminding us of exactly what Piero is all about. The relationship builds to the point where they seem to be in love, wasting time with each other and forgetting about the hustle and bustle of life. They remind each other of a meeting at their preferred spot, a construction site near Vittoria's apartment. After the promise of meeting, the characters are never scene again. It deconstructs to the point where by the end, you know both of them have come to the same conclusion that moving forward with the relationship would be a huge mistake. Maybe that's the really tough thing about watching it. The film begins with the termination of one love affair and ends with the scuttling of another. It seems to be nothing but narrative drift, but of course, that's Antonioni's purpose. Can you ever be satisfied? Trying to date Vittoria would be awful because you can never ever know her.

Watching L'eclisse on a large screen (HFA) really does the film justice for Antonioni's mise-en-scène, whether the focal point happens to be a rotating electric fan at dawn, a car with a corpse being hauled from a river, an illuminated street light at dusk, a couple necking on a sofa, or a crowd of screaming speculators. Even our misrecognition can play a role in the overall dynamics; characters with fleeting resemblances to Piero and Vittoria pass through the intersection where their meeting fails to take place, teasing us with possibilities. What's really hard to describe is the feeling that's left in the pit of your stomach when you are done watching it. If you combine the place of the meeting with the absence, and the mystery and uncertainty that pervades the entire film, what you are left with is the modern world. It's a place where all of us live, and where most stories are designed to protect us from the melancholy ache we are left with from L'eclisse. The entire trilogy is recommended if you like thinking about the way we treat each other as human beings in this modern age.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Killer's Kiss

Killer's Kiss, 1955
Dir: Stanley Kubrick
October 13, 2009

The fact that Kubrick actually wrote the script for this is really bizarre because there are no redeeming qualities in the dialogue, or the acting for that matter. He was only 26 when he directed it, and it looks really great, but it is, without a doubt, truly awful. At 66 minutes long, it's over pretty quick, which is something I guess. Like Fear and Desire (1953), he decided that microphones would mess up his lighting scheme so he decided to post-dub everything in after shooting. You'd like to think that maybe he could pull of something Wellesian in that department, but it's just really bad. Unlike his earlier effort, however, he was at least able to make this visually interesting at points, and the film doesn't have a bleached out feel to it. The grimy black-and-white photography actually helps capture a proper noir mood and the seedy elements of city life that it is trying to convey.

Boxer Davy Gordon (Jaime Smith) is washed-up and after losing a fight, gets involved with dancehall girl (Irene Kane) Gloria who lives in his building. Her sleazy boss Vincent (Frank Silvera) is a gangster who wants to make their relationship more personal. Every single scene that pushes the story forward has awful acting and atrocious writing. The only times where there is actually anything interesting is the intermittent scenes that act as buffers between these scenes, where Kubrick focuses on strange things like dolls or drunk guys in Times Square dancing and playing the harmonica and stealing scarfs. The dramatic noir downfall is not even met at the end, and it had the perfect opportunity to take advantage of it. I was just about to give the ending some respect when it was ruined. Gloria's character becomes barely interesting when the gangsters turn the tables on Davy and beat the crap out of him after he had them up against the wall with a gun. With her champion down, Gloria sweet talks Vincent, saying that she never cared about Davy, having only known him for two days, and that she "doesn't want to die." After some awful voice-over, typical noir narration that tells us about "what happened" between then and now, Davy is back in Penn Station, where the film began, expressing his emotions about Gloria. He heard everything that she said, and decides that he couldn't be with a girl like that and thinks that he will probably never see her again. A decent place to end a noir, if you ask me. Main character is still down, life sucks, sometimes it's just like that. But, no, Gloria comes running into the station right before he is about to leave and they make out, 'cause apparently he can be with a girl like that now. Watch The Killing (1956). It's a far better early Kubrick noir effort.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell

I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, 2009
Dir: Bob Gosse
October 6, 2009

Why o' why does every low-brow movie have to have a mushy ending now? It's the same conflict, reformation, redemption formula that all these movies have, with a little hint of the "Oh, this wise-acre might be back up to his old tricks" gag at the end. And it happens at a wedding. Holy fucking shit, that's like the first time that's ever happened. Is there a humongous problem with a guy that treats women like objects and only selfishly uses his friends for his own benefit to be left in his pathetic existence? Just be like, "Hey, I'm a terrible human being. I hope they serve beer in hell. The End." I'm not saying that would make this a good movie, maybe just rustle a few more feathers, because despite all of the un-p.c. jokes, this movies plays by all the rules and it's execution in that is still pretty lame. If Hollywood never comes out of the dark of the economic bust, I'm not quite sure what's going to happen to my love affair with retarded low-brow. All of these movies are the fucking same. I guess I just have to wait for the next season of Eastbound and Down for some quality comedy that is off the wall.

Like I said, this was a not good movie, but it's over the top offensiveness gets enough laughs if you're into that sort of thing. They could have done way more considering the tone that was set, though. If you can laugh at a guy who cares more about having sex with a midget stripper than he does about his friend's wedding or the circumstances that he constantly puts his friends into, then this is the movie for you. Could a better story have saved this movie? I doubt it. There are some funny zingers for sure, but nothing else about this movie is good.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Filming Othello

Filming 'Othello', 1978
Dir: Orson Welles
October 5, 2009

The last "completed" film ever made by Welles, this is basically just him sitting and talking about Othello (1952), the awesome shoe-string budget film that won Cannes. Maybe a bit pompous at times (though at the beginning he claims that he won't be), it's worth watching if you find Welles to be the master of cinema that he is, or if you just like to hear the sound of his voice. You know he clearly loves to hear his. It's really bizarre to think that the last two completed things that he could do were, in a sense, documentaries. It's a really odd coda to a career that should have been so much more. At the end of the film, you get a glimpse of Welles the man and the artist. You see his weariness and his exhaustion. It's deeply sad and profoundly moving.

It's on youtube:

F For Fake

F For Fake, 1974
Dir: Orson Welles
October 5, 2009

"This is a film about trickery and fraud; about lies...almost every kind of story is almost certainly some kind of lie."

I don't think that I can form any kind of higher praise of this film than to say that the entire time I was watching this, besides being spellbound, I felt like I was being deceived. Despite what we find out, and Orson's own admission about lying about the Picasso story, I almost want to say that, like Clifford Irving, he might have just made up everything. The fact that Elmyr de Hory and Clifford Irving were able to hoodwink (or as Welles would say, "use hanky-panky") "experts" in their own specific fields (art and writing) made me think that this might have been Welles' attempt at a cinematic version. At times he does seem inspired by the sheer gall that both men have, and how that might even tie into his own life, especially considering the War of the World episode. The interactions between Irving and de Hory are ridiculous and hilarious, considering that everything that comes out of de Hory's mouth is basically refuted by Irving as bullshit. Is de Hory really trying to get people acknowledge his forgeries at legimate pieces of art considering that no one could ever prove they weren't unless he admitted it, or is he just having more fun?

The film itself is structured in a way that lets you think about what is being offered you, and yet it blows by so quick it makes you feel like you've missed something, or have been tricked. Welles basically invented "MTV" editing for this film, and it comes as no surprise to me that it was force-fed to unsuspecting teens in the future. That fact is that it is very efficient in what it does. It is just another stunning way that Welles found to tell stories, and also dig deeper into the nature of cinema itself. The way the multiple "biographies" are woven together throughout the film, you aren't really ever certain what to believe about what is being said. At points with Oja Kodar, however, I kind of felt like he was just showing off his hot young girlfriend, like he was saying, "Look at this, everyone. Yeah, I know you like to look, but she is mine. All mine." Whatever, Orson. I indulge you with practically everything else, because it's awesome, but this was just too much.

The film, as many note, comes across as a very personal essay from a man that knew a thing or two about "fakery." There is no better place to find a thesis than when he talks about Chartres, the "anonymous" cathedral, which also happens to be the most poignant moment in the film :

"Ours, the scientists keep telling us, is a universe which is disposable. You know it might be just this one anonymous glory of all things, this rich stone forest, this epic chant, this gaiety, this grand choiring shout of affirmation, which we choose when all our cities are dust; to stand intact, to mark where we have been, to testify to what we had it in us to accomplish. Our works in stone, in paint, in print are spared, some of them for a few decades, or a millennium or two, but everything must fall in war or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash: the triumphs and the frauds, the treasures and the fakes. A fact of life ... we're going to die. 'Be of good heart,' cry the dead artists out of the living past. Our songs will all be silenced – but what of it? Go on singing. Maybe a man's name doesn't matter all that much."

Orson Welles was for quality art, no matter it's creation or creator. It's pretty obvious that throughout his career, he made an abundance of it.