Friday, September 23, 2011

Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control; Or How Everything Becomes Junk, Before It Becomes Nothing At All

Like everyone else I’m finding the whole Netflix/Qwikster kerfuffle kind of hilarious. I don't have much to say about the business angle of it, though I'm inclined to agree with Roger Ebert that ultimately what Netflix is doing in terms of focusing more on streaming is probably pretty smart. One aspect of the situation, however, captivates me in a different way. It has less to do with the specifics of Netflix’s conundrum (which I need not summarize here) and more with, well, something a bit harder to express. It's times like this that I wish I had a little more time and a lot more brain, but nevertheless, I’ll try.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Seriously, This New Jaws Book is Pretty Great

Many serious film types have an allergy to coffee table books about movies. Maybe it’s the price (if you bought too many of these things, you probably wouldn’t have any money to spend on seeing actual movies). Or maybe it has something to do with a perceived superficiality – why spend time with large, glossy pictures when you can pore over a dusty, dense bit of theory or a thick biography.  Of course, there are exceptions: Taschen’s Stanley Kubrick books are a perfect example of big, expensive art books that are nevertheless seen as essential reading as well.

To these I think I can add another one. Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard, written by Matt Taylor and with a foreword by Steven Spielberg himself, is a dense, beautiful (and relatively inexpensive) volume full of anecdotes, interviews, photos, illustrations, and contemporaneous articles about the 1974 shoot of Spielberg’s blockbuster on the island. Of course, the culture at large has an image of Martha’s Vineyard as some kind of haven for wealthy elite types (witness the media silliness over Obama’s recent visit there) but its actual residents appear to be anything but. And Jaws is a film whose shoot was deeply intertwined with the community at large: town residents actually played parts in the film, and the film itself is steeped in a unique kind of atmosphere that no studio set would ever have been able to match.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Make Me Ugly: 25th Hour and 9/11

There's been a lot of discussion recently about films and other art works related to 9/11. Allow me to put in a word here for what I consider to be not just the best film about 9/11, but the best film of its respective decade, period: Spike Lee’s 25th Hour. A film that, despite its measly box office and rapid fade from theaters, still keeps popping up in the cultural conversation, with many defenders as well as quite a number of haters. This isn't really meant to be a defense of the film (many more eloquent than I have made the case for it) but I do want to address one aspect of it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Do You Know What It Means to Lose Ettore Scola?

First things first: No, he’s not dead. Rather, the great Italian writer-director Ettore Scola, who gave us We All Loved Each Other So Much, Le Bal, La Terrazza, La Nuit de Varennes, The Family, Brutti, sporchi e cattivi (aka Down and Dirty)Passione d’Amore, and the little-seen but wonderfully-titled -- and just plain wonderful -- Will Our Heroes Be Able to Find Their Friend Who Has Mysteriously Disappeared in Africa?, just announced his retirement, at the age of 80. (He’s 80?? But then, that would make me….rgahaaaaggh…) 

I felt a little chill up my spine upon reading the announcement, because, I shit you not, I had just the previous night finally caught up with his long-hard-to-find 1964 directorial debut, the portmanteau comedy Let’s Talk About Women, and halfway through watching it I had the strange premonition that I was going to wake up to the news that Scola (about whom I had not thought for some time, admittedly) had died. Instead I woke up to the news that he’s finally retired, citing “production and distribution requirements [he] can no longer identify with.” ("I didn't want to become one of those old ladies who wear high heels and lipstick just to keep youthful company,” as he put it.) I guess that’s not as bad. But still. Waaah.