Happy New Year!

December 30, 2015

Oh, 2015. Life-wise you were pretty lackluster but movie-wise you rocked. I watched quite a few movies this year that became instant favorites. I FINALLY got around to watching most of the Alain Delon movies that I had been hoarding on my computer since 2010 (btw, thanks 2010 Kate!) and I saw so many classic movies on the big screen that my heart could explode with joy.

And I finally got the video-making bug again. I think I'm probably the only one who watches the videos, but they make me so happy! This one in particular, which I worked on until 6am this morning and then couldn't sleep because I wanted to keep watching it! It includes clips from 36 different movies, ranging from The Grapes of Wrath and Citizen Kane to Beach Blanket Bingo and Boom!, from La Dolce Vita and Le Samourai to Gold Diggers of 1933 and Since You Went Away (full movie list in the youtube description box) 

I just feel like the mood from the clips (and the music) is very infectious. I can't help but smile while I'm watching this one, and hopefully it'll make you smile, too! :)

Happy New Year!!

A Blue Christmas in Shangri-La

December 24, 2015

I should apologize, because this isn't even remotely a Christmas themed post. It's Christmas Eve as I'm typing this, and by all means I should be watching It's a Wonderful Life right now, but unfortunately I haven't had much Christmas spirit this year. I've been waiting and waiting for it to finally kick in, but at 11pm on Christmas Eve I'm guessing it just isn't happening this year.

In a way, that lack of spirit is sort of related to this post (although I still don't think that would qualify this post as a Christmas-themed one, by any stretch of the imagination.) I've just had an emotionally draining year, and the one thing that's helped me escape my brain's nagging thoughts over the last 12 months has been movies. There have been days when I have literally been LIVING for the chance to watch a movie when I'm done working. That moment, usually around 1am, I tuck myself into bed and hit play... sheer bliss. Two hours of total, complete happiness in an otherwise oppressively monotonous and stressful day.

While movies have been getting me through the doldrums this year, it's got me thinking a lot about escapism and whether or not it's actually a good thing. I really use film like a drug. Movies cheer me up while they're playing (even the soul-crushing dramas, I just love movies) but when they're over and the screen goes black I'm faced with reality once again.

From oral legends passed down through generations to Roman plays and medieval fairy tales, we've always sought some form of escape from daily life. But in modern society we have constant access to a world of fantasy right at our fingertips. I can watch movies as much as my schedule will allow, any time of the day or night, and disappear into a world where my troubles don't exist.

Does my own existence feel duller because I spend so much of it watching other people partaking in exciting adventures? Does my loneliness feel magnified by the sight of couples onscreen? Would my life seem perfectly acceptable and pleasant if I didn't constantly seek escape in movies? Does perspective beget disappointment, or would the disappointment manifest itself no matter what, and escapism only helps to relieve all of life's little letdowns?

Is it the worst thing ever to start a sentence with "Wikipedia defines"? Because... 

Wikipedia defines Shangri-La as "a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world" and in a sense, I think movies are my Shangri-La. A world I can visit that's untouched by my own worries and troubles, a place to escape to, a utopia in a world filled with sadness and violence and heartache.

In the game of "in which movie would you like to live?" Lost Horizon constantly appears on my list -- I mean, you've got Ronald Colman and eternal life, I'm not sure many movies can top that? -- because who wouldn't want to live in Shangri-La? And when it comes down to it, I think that answers my escapism question in a nutshell. If given the chance, wouldn't we all move to Shangri-La? And therefore, if we can find a little Shangri-La in our own humdrum lives, be it watching movies or playing golf or knitting scarves, who are we to deny ourselves a piece of Utopia, however small it may be?

Summer Wind + Plein Soleil

December 22, 2015

This video is a tribute to Plein Soleil (Purple Noon), the French 1960 Rene Clement film starring Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet and Marie LaForet, and based on the Patricia Highsmith novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. I felt like Summer Wind by Frank Sinatra would be a good match for the sun-drenched, breezy setting of the film, but once they are paired together and you have shots of Alain Delon's conniving, shifty Tom Ripley playing against the moody summer ballad, Sinatra's words become fraught with double meaning ("my fickle friend") and the laid-back melody is suddenly laced with a more sinister undertone.

I only saw Plein Soleil for the first time this year, but I've already watched it three times, including once on the big screen at The Film Forum (!!) and after the first viewing it had already edged its way into my top four favorite films. Like all of my favorite movies, I have a hard time pinpointing exactly what it is about a film that warrants my devotion. It's more of a gut-reaction, that I see a movie and feel an instant, immediate connection. As if we were movie soulmates.

If you aren't a fan of foreign film (yet!) I feel like this is a really good place to start. While I'm personally a fan of art-house dramas with sparse dialogue, I feel like a lot of people think that is the only thing foreign films have to offer and choose to stay away. Plein Soleil has no shortage of symbolism and artsy cinematography, but on the surface the movie is interesting, beautiful, suspenseful, well-paced, and the structure will feel familiar enough to anyone whose movie repertoire is usually comprised of products of Hollywood.

Plein Soleil might not speak to your soul the way it speaks to mine, but if you haven't seen it yet I urge you to give it a watch. It's available to stream as part of the Criterion collection on Hulu Plus, and it's available to rent on Amazon here.

Deux hommes dans la ville (1973)

December 09, 2015

Deux hommes dans la ville (1973) is such a heartbreaking indictment on the death penalty, and while the guillotine is now a relic of the past in France, it is incredibly painful to watch this as an American, where state sanctioned executions are still carried out on a regular basis.

Aside from the political aspect, it was just brilliantly acted. Jean Gabin somehow shows so much emotion without ever seeming to actually change his expression. And I'm pretty sure that Alain Delon is second only to Omar Sharif as the best eye-actor who ever lived. There is one scene towards the end where Jean Gabin and Alain Delon meet and say nothing-- Alain Delon's eyes slowly well up with tears and Gabin looks helpless. It was so powerful I actually ached for both of them.

On my second viewing I decided to watch with the commentary turned on (from the Cohen Film Collection DVD) It's absolutely fascinating, and there's a really interesting moral question at the end about whether a filmmaker's personal life should affect how we feel about their art, which is something I've given a lot of thought to in the past. The writer/director Jose Giovanni was apparently a pretty horrible guy (I learned about his background from this commentary but it's on Wikipedia if you're curious. It's pretty bad stuff, so don't read it if you're afraid it'll spoil his movies for you) but this movie is fantastic. And the anti-capital punishment, pro-prison reform message is powerful and intense and (strange, perhaps, coming from someone with such questionable scruples) morally just.

It's such a tough call but in general I often wonder why we hold modern artists to a much higher moral standard than we ever did in the past. I don't know if it's due to the rapid dissemination of information, that information is more readily available, or the fact that our collective opinion has shifted on whether artists must be stand-up citizens in order for their art to be appreciated. The painter Caravaggio was a violent man who was convicted of murder, but the passage of time has forgiven his personal crimes because of the beautiful art he created.

I'm completely undecided on where I stand on this, mostly because I enjoy so many films made by people who don't seem too awesome in real life. I mean, Gary Cooper was a friendly witness. I'm basically in love with Alain Delon but his politics make me cringe. And could I really live my life without ever watching another Roman Polanski movie?

I guess I don't have to decide this right now. But this movie stuck in my gut for days after I watched it and now I think the commentary is going to have the same effect.

Breathing the same air as: Robert Redford

December 02, 2015

Photo by me

Tonight I had the distinct pleasure of sitting not 20 feet away from Robert Redford at The Paley Center in New York. The tickets went on sale at 12:00PM on my birthday. I was in New York, standing outside of Penn Station in the pouring rain, wiping raindrops off of my phone while my dad read me my credit card numbers so I could snag a ticket before it sold out. I still can't believe that I managed to get one and that tonight ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

The event only lasted about an hour and a half, but they covered so much of his career. He began by talking a bit about his first career as an artist, and his desire to see more of the world after growing up in Los Angeles. I didn't take notes so I don't have the exact phrase, but I thought that the way he described his wanderlust was beautiful, something like "I grew up surrounded by red, white, and blue, and I wanted to see more colors."

When they got to his early years acting on television they played a reel that The Paley Center had assembled from their collection. It had clips from various live tv plays, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason, etc. I have to say, this was my favorite part of the whole night. Not necessarily the clips (although they were so fun to see, and I definitely want to seek out more of his tv work now!) but Robert Redford watching himself in them. They had a big screen set up behind the stage for the audience to watch, and then there was a television set up near the front row for Redford and the moderator, Pat Mitchell (former CEO of The Paley Center.) In the flickering light of the projector you could see his face, cringing a bit at his early performances, and quietly proud when they played his Oscar acceptance speech and a clip from Quiz Show.

Photo from The Paley Center's twitter account

I think my favorite anecdote that he told was about a practical joke between him and Paul Newman. One year for Newman's birthday he got a totaled Porsche, had it wrapped up with a bow, and left it at Paul Newman's house. A little while later he came home to find a box in his entryway, so heavy it had dented the floor of his rented home! After prying it open with a crowbar he found that Paul Newman had had the Porsche melted down into a giant metal cube. But it doesn't end there! Robert Redford went to a sculptor friend of his (who, he says, wasn't actually a very good sculptor, lol) and asked her to make something from the cube. Then he had the ugly sculpture planted in Paul Newman's garden. And Newman left it there, and neither of them ever spoke of it.

Overall, this was just a fairytale night as far as I'm concerned. I love his work in front of & behind the camera, I respect his work on the environment and with Sundance, and I have an undying admiration for him as a human being. He lived up to and surpassed all of the notions of him that I had in my head. He seemed decent, kind, soft spoken -- but with a deep voice that easily filled the room without any need for projection. He was humble, sweet, and incredibly intelligent. I could have easily listened to him for hours more (I think I might have audibly groaned "awwww" when Mitchell said that it was time to end the interview.)

It's a pleasure to share this planet with someone like Robert Redford, so to share a room with him for a brief period of time is an honor I'll not soon forget.