Blood of a Poet

Tit for Tat

Apart from the fact that alum jokes don’t really play anymore, Tit for Tat is a pretty well perfect film. It quite resembles L&H’s silent milestone, Big Business, in its singleminded devotion to destruction. It actually reminds me, LDS folk, of the no-quarter conclusion of the Book of Ether. (Same with Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.) But let’s […]

The Live Ghost

Here we find Stan & Ollie playing a pair of shanghai-ers. It’s true that they were, themselves, somewhat pressed into this unsavoury service. On the other hand, they’re sure pitching in with a will. What nerve! It’s like making a pro-scab movie. In other news, one of the impressed sailors turns out to be an utter […]

Them Thar Hills

Out of the Past, a noted film noir that super-stylist Jacques Tourneur directed in 1947, is partly celebrated for the way it brought urban jeopardy and paranoia into a traditionally idyllic rural setting. I wonder why Them Thar Hills should be any less celebrated, what with having gotten the jump on all that by more than […]

The Music Box

Saw #TheMusicBox. What new thing can you say about such super-famous films? Well, it’s kind of sloppy … … And, for all of the millions of versions & releases that have circulated through the ages, it’s badly in need of a good restoration … … That’s true of most of the films, in fact. C’mon, somebody! […]

Any Old Port

Stan & Ollie are two tars again, helping a damsel in distress. I worry a bit when the boys, or when Larry and Curly and Moe for that matter, start doing things like that. Sunday School good behaviour just doesn’t suit them, or the films in which they appear. Further, mayhem ends up taking a […]

Beau Hunks

There’s a knock on the door. Stan picks up the telephone. Here is one of the great dad or grandpa jokes ever. Or is it one of the worst? Or are those two things the same? Maybe this great and terrible dad/grandpa joke actually provides a key to the understanding and enjoying of these films. There’s […]

One Good Turn

The boys are out, camping. Ollie is washing clothes in a stream. He finishes scrubbing a couple of articles, and calls Stan over. “Hang these clean clothes on the line,” he says. “And it must follow, as the night to day…” Stan trips over the tent’s guy rope, which causes the tent to collapse and […]

Come Clean

Come Clean is a lot like Chickens Come Home. Femmes Fatales at hand! These boys are not quite capable of anything too noir, and their genial, equitable relations with the comediennes appearing in their films is anything but misogynist. (The shrewish types that these comediennes sometimes play, on the other hand, do productively complicate that equation.) […]

Pardon Us

A confession! This is not a short, but rather a short feature. We just wanted to put it in anyway. This one starts with a superbly executed deep focus composition. The boys are engaged in selling liquor, which you may recall, at the time that this film was released, was a breach of the 18th […]

Our Wife

This one’s a classic, in a number of very specific senses. It has stood the test of time. It exactly balances form and function, and it’s also equal parts practical and beautiful. It’s perfectly navigable, and wonderful symmetrical. It is a product of Ancient Greece. A Classic, through and through. There’s a pile of dishes […]

Chickens Come Home

Here’s something new, or unusual. The boys are practically professionals here. Granted, they are “dealers in high grade fertilizer.” But still. Note that we find Stan to have just been in the sample room. That is a very large pencil! In Chickens Come Home Mae Busch is playing a past indiscretion, as it were. She is […]

Be Big

“No man is bigger than the excuses he can make to his wife. So remember. Be big!” Is it sufficiently remarked upon that the L&H films of this period made really effective, really imaginative use of sound? Notice the two doorbells at the beginning here, or the sound the telephone makes. Stan and Ollie have […]

Another Fine Mess

Another Fine Mess features spoken titles at the beginning, long before the more celebrated use of that technique in Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). So that’s kind of interesting. This one’s a three-reeler, which means that it lasts nearly a half an hour. All sorts of things edged these makers of short comedies toward the feature […]

Hog Wild

A masterpiece! Hog Wild is a lot like Perfect Day, inasmuch as everyone takes a ton of a lot of time and trouble to accomplish absolutely nothing. Unless nothing is also a thorough dismantling of the impulses and attitudes of bourgeois materialism, in which case the boys, and their film too, accomplish a very great deal indeed. […]

Below Zero

The boys are street musicians, playing just outside the Deaf and Dumb Institute. Understandably, they are not having a lot of luck. This is wildly impolite. Inappropriate, I was going to say, but then decided not to. What do you think? How would your afflicted loved one feel about a joke like this? Or, if […]


Saw #Brats, in which the child echoes in L&H’s characters are made explicit, what w’ them also playing their own children & all. #Brats. Aggressively, gleefully implausible. They don’t believe it for a second, and yet invest in it completely. Result: triumph. #Brats. “Oh!” says the child-Ollie, w’ his mouth all rounded. One of the […]


This is a major accomplishment, all the way through. So many wonderful things! Ollie calls Stan on the phone. “Is that you, Stan?” “Yes,” Stanley says, and hangs up. Ollie calls back, and then keeps doing so as the implacable Stan finds a thousand minutely graduated ways to not answer properly. As usual, as always, […]

Night Owls

In his amazingly amazing book on silent film comedy, The Silent Clowns (1975), critic Walter Kerr observes that when sound came Laurel and Hardy essentially enacted and then repeated (and then repeated) about the exact same jokes that other comedians had always done, back in the silent days. But their distinction, which runs against the grain, seemingly […]

The Hoose-Gow

This is a pretty good little film. It’s modest, a little ragged even, as so many of the L&H shorts were. As often happened, it features one little bit of business that is so good as to be positively historical. Stan decides that he wants to eat an apple. He decides to put the entire […]

Perfect Day

Many people find this kind of film, which these boys made quite a few of, to be frustrating. My wife, for instance, and one and a half of our kids. We have known these frustrated individuals, when we have managed to get them to sit down and watch with us for a minute, to then […]

Big Business

Very famous, and quite properly. An innocuous little mercantile exchange between Stan, Ollie, and Mr. Jimmy Finlayson escalates into an astounding, devastating analogy for total, annihilating war. We love Norman McLaren, and Norman McLaren’s Neighbors. But that film is so heartfelt and heartsick that it kind of does trip over itself. Here, the boys are simply […]

Wrong Again

The Blue Boy is a painting, of course. It’s also, on this occasion, the name of a race horse. Stan, a groomsman, is instructed to put him on the grand piano. Can you guess what follows? As often, it’s not the idea that counts so much, it’s the execution of the idea. As we’ve observed […]


The film starts with a kind of patriotic montage, dedicated to the idea of liberty and its benevolent and leavening presence throughout the course of American history. This inspiring semi-nonsense is immediately punctured by a really amazing moving/satirical shot. (A big man, Oliver Hardy. But boy, can he ever move!) Really, Eisenstein himself has nothing […]

Two Tars

Let’s continue that thought (see last entry). Is this the car-wreckingest climax in movie history? Bigger than Bullitt! But so much calmer, and kind of, strangely, chivalrous too. They wreck, but there are rules. Kudos to Roach’s effects guys as well, for their amazing automotive ingenuity, which they elaborated over years and years. Also, get […]

You’re Darn Tootin’

An extremely insightful and accomplished film about music, and an extremely resourceful one as well. Especially given that it’s a silent film. Watch for the salt joke, and then for the pepper joke that follows hard upon. There are manholes, and a blow torch. Finally, the conclusion has to be the most clothes-tearin’ climax in all […]

The Battle of the Century

The pie fight is the famous thing here. It shouldn’t cause us to forget the fine boxing sequence that gets the film underway. That Stan L. is so great! And you can see, you can really feel how Hardy is figuring out to play with him, play against him, establish this rich network of connections […]

Putting Pants on Philip

Along with a number of other observers, film scholar Wm. Everson has this film as the first true, maybe the first full Laurel and Hardy collaboration. They’d appeared together in films before this, or they’d both been in the same film, though not always together. But the personae weren’t yet in place, nor the exact […]

Introduction to Chaplin’s Mutual Comedies

In 1916 and 1917 Charles Chaplin made 12 films for the Mutual Film Corporation. He joined Mutual after his initial apprenticeship with Mack Sennett at Keystone, during which he had come into his own both as a comic actor, and as a filmmaker. A lucrative stretch with the Essanay company followed. Here Chaplin further refined […]

Easy Street

This review originally appeared in BYU TMA’s Children’s Media Review: While peace on earth may be too much to hope for, peace on Easy Street is just a good right hook away. Charlie Chaplin’s 1916 silent comedy sees the Little Tramp as a reformed reformer, Born Again in an urban mission and employed by the […]

The Fireman

Anarchy! This is probably more abundance of energy and invention than intentional rococo or counterpoint or speed metal, to cite a few other places where you can find things a-bursting. In other words, The Fireman looks back to the Keystone comedies, and some of those crazier Essanays. It might not be a move forward, evolutionarily speaking, but […]

The Floorwalker

Chaplin’s Essanay comedies are quite variable, not necessarily in overall quality, but in their ambition, or cinematic technique. Some are pretty simply and successfully aggressive, cheerfully knockabout films without much thought for character or context (In the Park). In The Tramp and Work and The Bank you sense that Chaplin is trying for something more. The Mutual films […]

The Adventurer

A lot of very bright people really love this last of the Mutual comedies. I won’t contradict, except to say that I’ve never felt that, quite as much. There’s not much poignancy or portent here. Just hijinks. But given that Chaplin is responsible for it, that’s not so bad! The convict escaping at the beach […]

The Immigrant

Watch what he does with the beans! And with the black lined handkerchief. The greatest actor in the world, whatever is asked of him. Which doesn’t even address his role and contribution as director. By any measure, here is one of the greatest of all films.

The Cure

This may not be the most satisfying whole, but it sure has some great parts. Chaplin is really good at the drunk act, in which he gives us another glimpse at his exquisite body control. The sequence with the revolving door sequence is really elaborate and really extended. And really fast. The variations are constant, […]

The Rink

Hearkening back to those genial Keystone messes. The Rink is gleefully sloppy, even nonsensical. Everything is an excuse for the cheerful violence, which is maybe not as sublimely executed as elsewhere. (The actual rink sequence, for all of it’s many happy roller skating accidents, is the messiest of all. On the other hand, can this guy […]

Behind the Screen

This film features one of the cinema’s great pieces of dialogue: “You woke us up. We’re going on strike.” Maybe that’s why The Great Dictator falls so short, politically speaking; this guy is an anarchist, not an ideologue. When he gets too specific the joins really show. But when he plays to his strengths, addressing […]

The Pawnshop

Chaplin is essaying the archetypal Harlequin character again, but now he’s placed him in a solid, coherent narrative structure. He’s got it all down, and everything is in place, and it’s perfect. The Pawnshop features an  unremitting parade of great jokes, all wonderfully executed. The ample fighting and the dancing are especially outstanding. The fact […]

The Count

My memory continues faulty. I’d thought The Count was a lesser film too. How wrong can a guy be? Chaplin is Harlequin, from the commedia dell’arte! This is ancient, bedrock stuff, however lightly Chaplin’s taking it on. The great thing is that the commedia was geologic, but it looked forward too. Progress is evidenced in its detailed, […]

One A.M.

The Albert Austin/dropped-by-a-taxi bit tips his hand: Chaplin is in what would become W.C. Fields or Jerry Lewis territory here. He establishes a situation, an array of gags and variations, then demonstrates every willingness to stretch all the way to and past every breaking point. Nerve! Virtuosity! Love: the rug and the slippery floor, the […]

The Vagabond

A more callow and imperceptive edition of myself once saw this film as straining, mis-proportioned, inadequate. Ah, callow self. Wrong again! The dramatic bits are a bit ill-digested. The gypsy (or is that Irish?!) slattern is ridiculously overcalculated, and the lost child/happy reunion stuff is preposterous. (It’s just like The Kid, obviously. And like The […]

The Traveler

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The Adventures of Tin-Tin

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The 39 Steps

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Le Trou

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Little Fugitive

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My Way Home

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The Adventures of Prince Achmed

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The Ninth Gate

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Quick Change

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Monte Walsh

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Monkey Business (1952)

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Ah, Wilderness!

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A Woman of Paris

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Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29

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A Man for All Seasons

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A Streetcar Named Desire

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It’s a Gift

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The Music Box

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Lady Windermere’s Fan

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The Cocoanuts

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White Wilderness

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A Winter Straw Ride

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The Secret World of Arriety

Saw #TheSecretWorldofArriety. Don’t you love the Catholicism of his sources? Which he respects, & feels quite free to utterly transform … … Mary Norton’s English original, charmingly fussy, flinching even, still (’52) reflecting the trauma that led to those uncertain qualities … … is much expanded, here becoming a lovely encouragement for youth, w’ all […]

Pom Poko

Hayao Miyazaki is so great, but you’ve got to admit that he’s made some pretty strange films; his old colleague Isao Takahata is probably less known over here: he’s also so great, & quite distinctly; style & sensibility aside though, Pom Poko gives ample evidence that he can be every bit as weird as his more […]

Flying Down to Rio

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Golddiggers of 1933

Brassy broads! Scantily-clad chorus girls! Lascivious babies! Songs about public philandering! Everything a respectable film musical should have. The plot is simple. Brazen ladies don’t let dire economic circumstances get them down; instead they go around being fabulous and witty. That’s all the plot you need, as it turns out, because everything about this film […]

Footlight Parade

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King Kong

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The Docks of New York

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The ‘Burbs

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The Zulu’s Heart

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Shoot the Piano Player

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Vernon, Florida

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Jour de Fete

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The Fireman’s Ball

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Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Let us refer you:

Orphans of the Storm

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Gerald McBoing-Boing

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Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould

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My Dog Tulip

Saw #MyDogTulip. Activated my most curmudgeonly, kill-joy reflexes. Adult, frank, refreshingly unsentimental, some smart film folk are saying … … Unpleasantly, unproductively vulgar, say I. Priggishness & prudishness are undoubtedly bad. So’s countenancing anything, for inclusivity’s sake. #MyDogTulip. On the other hand, this innovative approach to animating the story is definitely productive, & a refreshing […]

The Secret of Nimh

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Man in the Shadow

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Beau Hunks

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Saturday Night Fever

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Three Days of the Condor

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J. Edgar

Saw #JEdgar. Hoover’s almost completely become a hiss & a byword, hasn’t he? We’ve decided he was a villain, or a despot … … and we despise him for it. More/recently—is it to justify? do we take it as emblem & evidence of his perfidy?— … … we key on his alleged or seeming homosexuality, […]

Gangs of New York

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The Exiles

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Murder, My Sweet

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The Musketeers of Pig Alley

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The Wildcat

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Anna Boleyn

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Wild Strawberries

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The Shop Around the Corner

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Snowball Express

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The Bellboy

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The Girl Can’t Help It

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The Paleface (1948)

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Isle of the Dead

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The Body Snatcher

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The Curse of the Cat People

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The Ghost Ship

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Leopard Man

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I Walked With a Zombie

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War Horse

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Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

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The Rescuers

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The Secret of Roan Inish

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The Black Stallion

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Savage Messiah

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The Devils

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Song of Summer: Frederick Delius

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Dante’s Inferno

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Always on Sunday

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The Debussy Film

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La Danse

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A Prophet

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Mickey Mouse Monopoly

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Not One Less

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Letter to Jane

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

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The Tragedy of the Winnipeg Jets

This kind of defiantly local, defiantly lo-fi stuff is really important. Why should everyone have to get funding and rent equipment and hire actors and all? DJ, remix, repurpose, appropriate, steal. The commons, freedom of speech and all. The grains and vert hold problems can be tolerated. Mind you, D.I.Y. often means done clumsily, or […]

A Night at the Opera

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Duck Soup

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Monkey Business (1931)

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Animal Crackers

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Introduction to the films of the Three Stooges

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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The Circle

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Edvard Munch

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The Red and the White

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Fires on the Plain

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Troll Hunter

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Speed Racer

Saw #SpeedRacer. One of our family’s very most favourite movies of all time! Equally, more, every time we see it! #SpeedRacer. We enthuse, but maybe you’ve heard otherwise, & almost across the board. I say beware negativity bandwagons, … … but you gotta be fair too. Sometimes where there’s smoke of that kind there’s a […]


Saw #Rushmore. Very, very special. A bildungsroman both sharp & tender, & tale of excessive self-regard & the most poignant vulnerability … … so formally precise as to be practically sphincteral (but we haven’t seen nothin’ yet, have we?), and yet coming off as wonderfully natural, organic. #Rushmore. What’s cool, what puts w/d Wes Anderson […]

My Brilliant Career

This is Gillian Armstrong’s brilliant adaptation of Miles Franklin’s semi-fiction/sort-of-memoir. “MF” is a sort of pseudonym, which eliminates the other given names of the (very!) young woman who self-published the book in 1901. The film features Judy Davis, who is overpowering, inexpressible, immeasurable in this breakout role. She’s a force of nature, and yet at […]

Robinson Crusoe On Mars

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

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The Big Clock

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The Pirate

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Topper Returns

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Jesus Christ, Superstar

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Wild and Wooly

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Babette’s Feast

Set in a blustery, austere, Danish coastal town, Babette’s Feast is both a wry comedy of manners and a sophisticated, even moving attempt at the reconciliation of religious devotion and sensuous satisfaction. The story focuses on two spinsterly Lutheran sisters, Martina and Philippa, who have taken care of the members of their small community for […]

The Danish Poet

Man, these NFB kids’ films! Maybe I should say, Man, the way the best of these NFB kids’ films contain what’s best about kids’ literature and culture! The Danish Poet is not a Hans Andersen adaptation, but it sure features an Andersen-like narrative voice. “I wanted the style [of narration],” he said, “to be such […]

Through My Thick Glasses

I first saw this at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival. (Highly recommended!) It belonged there, but boy is it a kids’ film with a difference! It’s indirect, quirky, eccentric even. It takes its time, and it’s kind of digressive at the plot level. Elusive too. Not only do you wonder where it’s going, but […]

Dinner for Two

This superb film sermon was partly funded by UNICEF and Justice Canada. You bet it has an agenda, but it’s also a great example of how it is too possible for films to be instructive and entertaining at the same time. I seem to recall Aristotle making a similar point, somewhere or other. It’s something […]


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To Live

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Bad News Bears

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La Cérémonie

Saw Claude Chabrol’s #LaCérémonie. So fierce, such fury in the scenario, the situation, & in the conduct of these restive protagonists … … so suave, so cool to the point of consummate in the way the director renders all of this ferment. You’ve heard this: … … Chabrol is France’s answer to Hitchcock. This film […]


Bombshell! I wish I’d seen this right when it came out, and been knowledgeable and sensitive and humble enough to understand what I was seeing. How striking it must have seemed, how unparalleled, how unprecedented. What a shock it must have been! What a game-changer, for all that it derives from modernist American literature, as […]

Monsieur Verdoux

In which Chaplin, finally and once and for all, abandons the Tramp character. And shocks everybody, and offends them more, and even sort of upsets the equilibrium of world cinema. And reveals that he’s his own man, stubborn, strange, intractable, and as great a filmmaker, as great an artist and mirror and conscience and goad […]


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Wuthering Heights

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Ride Lonesome

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Buchanan Rides Alone

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Decision at Sundown

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Seven Men from Now

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Pas de Deux

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Lines: Horizontal

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Lines: Vertical

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Opening Speech

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A Chairy Tale

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Begone Dull Care

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C’est L’aviron

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Hen Hop

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Mail Early

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Book Bargain

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Introduction to the Films of William Wegman

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Introduction to cartoons produced at the Warner Brothers Studio

Let’s talk about some cartoons. We’re following the lead of an historic dvd release of one of film’s great treasure troves. The four disc, 60 cartoons & tons-of-extras Looney Tunes Golden Collection was released annually, in six volumes, between 2003 and 2008. And yes, it was and continues to be a commercial venture, not only […]

Introduction to Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies

The Silly Symphonies were a series of 75 short cartoons produced and distributed by Walt Disney and his collaborators between 1929 and 1939. Their ostensible purpose was to celebrate the Coming of Sound to Hollywood, and to explore ways that it could be more thoroughly and effectively integrated into an entirely new mode of production. […]

Introduction to the films of George Méliès

Georges Méliès is one of film’s very most important artists and entrepreneurs. He was there, practically from the very beginning. He established, refined and perfected many many of the things that we take for granted in the narrative film, and in the industries that grew up around it. Because so much time has passed, and […]

Introduction to the Gaumont Production Company

As with the films produced by and for Thomas Edison (q.v.), this cluster of French films from the pioneering Gaumont Company reminds us of the importance and beauty of early cinema. With the dizzying volume of movies released today it is easy to neglect and outright ignore formative efforts in the medium. Danger! The reasoning […]

Introduction to Thomas Edison films

The extraordinarily important films in this cluster appear on the outstanding dvd collection Edison: the Invention of the Movies, 1891-1918. This historic release draws upon the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Library of Congress. (Information here: It also features an exemplary array of scholarly notes by Charles Musser, in part […]

Another Earth

Saw #AnotherEarth. Enterprising, resourceful. Mind-blowing! For all that, still/always attentive to the subtleties of psychology … … the workings of the heart & the aspirations of the soul. Modest & enormous at the same time. Independent film!

Cowboys & Aliens

Saw #Cowboys&Aliens. I don’t know the source, & might not read enough graphic novels, which may well be the reason … … I found this to be such an execrable piece of crud. #Cowboys&Aliens. Genre hybrids often work. When they don’t, they’re still often interesting. Here, though, I just feel like I’ve been held up.


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Quatermass and the Pit

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Black Sabbath

Not to be confused with the same director’s not far from contemporaneous Black Sunday, (q.v.)! Mario Bava is a very important filmmaker, and Italy is very important in the history of horror movies. This one comes along at a very important point, as in many ways the near future of the Italian horror is proceeding from […]

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Books and covers. This film’s title might put you off. It sounds like one of those silly ’50’s horror movies. (Have we actually watched any of those silly horror movies? Them! sounds pretty dumb, doesn’t it? Turns out that it’s really, really good though.) Well it is a horror movie, kind of. It has a justifiably […]

The Magnificent Seven

This probably isn’t relevant, but once when we were watching this I tried to eat a whole can of sweetened condensed milk. By myself. I failed, but should also add that I stopped before quite making myself sick. So that’s a form of relevance, I guess. The Magnificent Seven is a cool movie. That’s partly the […]

Forty Guns

What an opening! The notion is nervy enough, in-the-story, & stylistically. More impressive is that Fuller et al. have the courage of their convictions, and the craft as well, to see it through all the way to its logical end. Has to be seen to be believed. I was going to say that nothing in this […]

Star Trek

Saw the 2009, rebooted #StarTrek. You could quibble, couldn’t you? Taking liberties w’ the sacred source! Or, give this dinosaur a rest! … … I can be as sour-pussed as the next guy, I guess, but I found myself grateful for re/connections that were at 1st surprising, then, … … on reflection, extremely apt. Spock devised […]

Hot Rod

Saw #HotRod, all the kids having gotten there before me. Sometimes you should join the crowd, or be current … … Sometimes the crowd is actually right. Not only am I now cool, & caught up. This was also really enjoyable! #HotRod. The crowd? Didn’t this film flop? Box Office is definitely so important, except […]

The Adventures of Milo and Otis

In class, at home, I’m always railing on youngsters for complaining about sub-titles, or for watching English versions of Asian animations. This is correct of me, and I am righteous when I do so. Interestingly, I have never been quite as pure in my experience with this Japanese property, which I have most pointedly only […]

Mr. Vampire

You gotta be careful, don’t you? It’s tempting to, or it’s almost impossible not to, judge things on terms that don’t properly apply. For instance, you’re an aficionado of horror literature, or horror films. You’re familiar with the milestones, and more particularly you’ve been steeped in genealogies and conventions that are native to Europe and […]

The Magic Flute

Ingmar Bergman’s affectingly dour autobiography, The Magic Lantern, gives a wonderful sense of the importance that this film, this phenomenon, held for him. There was much in his life and art of anguish, anger, doubt, despair. He was extremely prolific, both on stage and in film, and he worked at a remarkably high level of […]

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

I fear that contemporary FX snobs—which means most of you, right?—will simply dismiss, may go so far as to scoff at this marvel of time-illuminating adventure and derring-do. This was cutting edge! More, that cutting edge completely operated in the service of the story, which is why the film should still stand, and receive our proper […]

Mon Oncle

I love this film! Have we made this observation? Writer/director/star Jacques Tati’s movies seem especially apt for bright, happy, curious little kids, or for PhDs. They make for the very best bouts of family cinema, but they’ll also sustain the most rigourous theoretical scrutiny that you could possibly apply. They are simple, direct and sweet, […]

Hail the Conquering Hero

Saw #HailtheConqueringHero. It’s gotta be Sturges’ masterpiece, don’t you think? Unless that honour goes to The Lady Eve … … Or maybe The Palm Beach Story, what with the weenie king and all. But then there’s The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (q.v.) … … How can you not pick that one? Except that Christmas in July, […]


A Chump at Oxford (1940) has much to recommend it, but Block-Heads is probably the last thoroughly satisfying, thoroughly great Laurel & Hardy movie. I like it so much that I put a discussion of it near the climax of a book I wrote about children’s literature and film (McFarland, 2015). Why don’t I quote […]

An Optical Poem

An avant garde/out-and-out abstract film from MGM? It’s anomalous to the point of oxymoronic, but yes, that’s about right. Strange bedfellows, and a wonderfully productive union. The industrial gloss—the super-professional musical performance, the fidelity of the sound recording, the exactitude w’ which these bright coloured objects are fashioned & manipulated—of Oskar Fischinger’s standout production almost seems contrary to […]


This essay appears in the Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film, ed. Ian Aitken, Routledge (2006). It is, perhaps, ironic that the first post in a cluster devoted to fun films should be so stuffily professorial. Yee-hah! Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack’s Chang is an extraordinary entertainment, as well as a document of real people doing […]

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

The title sounds pretty bargain basement, doesn’t it? Maybe it suggests or anticipates an Abbott and Costello spoof, which was the kind of thing that could indicate genre exhaustion, or at least that some genre strain had played itself out. It’s definitely true that horror (gangster, musical, etc.) motifs rose, thrived and petered out. That’s […]

The Cat and the Canary (1939)

This film had me immediately comparing it to Paul Leni’s 1927 version. It’s a logical impulse, but it’s potentially quite unfair. Judge things on their own terms! Leni, 1927, is a good and very entertaining example of form superseding content. It’s a stylistic marvel, which either distracts from or plain overpowers the modest, mechanical, reasonably […]

West of Zanzibar

This is the second last of Lon Chaney and Tod Browning’s 10 film collaborations, which were spaced out between 1919 and 1929. They’re a wide ranging set of titles, but it seems people mostly remember the films for their fundamental contribution to the evolution of the horror genre. That’s right/true/very important. But it’s not as […]

Bend of the River

Saw #BendoftheRiver. These characters’ protean nature, the fact that they’re good, & loyal, & then not, at all … … really forces me out of complacency, comfort zones, & the reassuring clichés of so many commercial movies. #BendoftheRiver. Lots of Westerns feature generic shoot-’em-ups, that you don’t quite take seriously … … This one, this […]

The Ox-Bow Incident

Saw #TheOxBowIncident. Preachy, po-faced, partly set-bound, self-important to the point, for some, perhaps, of insufferability. #TheOxBowIncident. Unflinchingly direct, steadfast, brave, angry & empathetic at the same time. Both reproof & inspiration … … in terms of our shortcomings & our ethical responsibilities/opportunities. Altogether a noble piece of work … … In fact, I think, it’s […]

Strange Cargo

Utah native (and Catholic) Frank Borzage was Hollywood’s great Romantic, his grand theme the redemptive power of love between man and woman. Commercial American films have generally managed to overemphasize this subject and get it completely wrong at the same time. Accustomed to this state of things we may become cynical not only about love […]

7th Heaven

You know that dumb thing people say—I know I’ve said it—about how if someone doesn’t like or do or subscribe to some certain thing, then there’s something wrong with them? Well, I’m afraid that that dumb thing people say might actually be true in the case of this late silent film milestone. But it’s true […]


[Review pending . . . ]


It was the salaries, wasn’t it? Beatty and Hoffman got paid ridiculous sums of money for their contributions, which offended people’s moral sensibilities in all sorts of ways, such that a lot of them never gave the actual film a fair shake. There were lots of problems during production too, which I guess is kind […]

Heaven’s Gate

Have you ever felt this way? Certain films really get savaged when they come out, both critically and culturally. It starts to make you wonder. There can be a blood-in-the-water tone to the conversation. We turn into mobs, and often without seeing the film itself. Can it really be all that bad? Sometimes you want to […]

Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Saw #PhantomoftheOpera. Lon Chaney! Make that Lon Chaney!! Further, the production is very handsome, very lushly & tastelessly designed … … I’m meaning that in a good way. Further, more, somewhat & even significantly, ZZZ. #PhantomoftheOpera. Genre films, some stars, get too easily dismissed. Then, to compensate, afficionados get over-enthusiastic … … That might sort […]

Here’s Hockey!

This isn’t meant to be a masterpiece, nor is it remotely thorough, or very systematic, in laying out any kind of historical or conceptual overview of the sport. On the other hand, it may be these multiple partialities that make Here’s Hockey! so charming, and even moving. No one’s making any great claims for the […]


Saw Gilles Carle’s #Patinoire, which suggests, which practically proves that professionals, corporations & marketing notwithstanding … … the best & deepest & most beautiful winter recreation is plain, simple, local, & utterly uncommercial (all those bright Habs sweaters aside!). #Patinoire. Speaking of the Habs, this is as dear & delightful as Roch Carrier’s much more […]

Broken Arrow (1950)

Broken Arrow might strike contemporary viewers as being pretty stodgy, self-conscious, straining. That’s probably fair, film-evaluatively speaking. However if we think of the movie’s intent, of the way that it really did push against long-held conventions in the portraying of Native Americans on film, and attempted to bring some nuance to the discussion of historical […]

I Remember Mama

Have you heard this, or have you ever said it? Maybe it was those Otto Preminger films, or Some Like it Hot, or Tom Jones or The Pawnbroker or Bonnie and Clyde. It may even be since important European films started getting distributed in N. America in the late 40’s and the 50’s, that people have […]


Saw #Bambi. As w’ so much, most, nearly all classic Disney, it’s a triumph of the animators’ art. Resourceful, artful, endlessly admirable. #Bambi. As w’ so much, most, nearly all classic Disney, it’s a bundle of conceptual & ideological contradictions … … I wouldn’t exactly say it’s not appropriate for kids. But on the other hand—note how […]


I love Laurel & Hardy. I should note that a good number of their precious film productions feature marital relations that are not, shall we say, ideal. In fact, with a few quite pretty exceptions—see Stan, ensconced, at the conclusion of Sons of the Desert—marital prospects in Stan & Ollie films tend to be positively (August) […]

The Sons of Ingmar

[Review pending . . . ]

Way Out West

Nearly all of Stan and Ollie’s feature films have much to recommend them, at least until their contract with Hal Roach ran out. Is it just me though (and also L & H historians John McCabe and Randy Skretvedt, and my BYU colleague Jim D’Arc…), or do the usual standards of evaluation not really apply […]

Paddle to the Sea

Here is an excerpt from a book of mine about children’s literature and film, to be/published by McFarland in 2015: The cinema is greatly benefited by its proclivity for substantial spectacle, for all manner of arresting audio-visual highlights that can so impress themselves upon the brain, and the soul. The Little Colonel’s charge in Birth […]

The Back-Breaking Leaf

Have you noticed? I love the NFB! This production doesn’t necessarily appear at the top of the Board’s lists of milestones, though it clearly comes right out of the core of the amazing Unit B, so active and productive back during one of the organization’s numerous primes. This just reminds me that promotional lists, though […]

Family Portrait

This review is taken from a longer essay on Humphrey Jennings that appears in the Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film, ed. Ian Aitken, Routledge (2006).  The common wisdom about Humphrey Jennings is that the end of the Second World War also signalled the end of his relevance as a filmmaker. Certainly he had some trouble […]


Before Criterion released that complete Jean Vigo disk, I’ll bet most of us didn’t know that he’d made an educational/promotional documentary too. Vigo is properly vaunted as one of film’s supreme firebrand-anarchists. That’s mostly in À propos de Nice and Zéro de conduite. He was also one of film’s supreme sensualists—that would be the luminous L’Atalante, and this […]

Rare Exports

Bah. I’m disappointed that a perfectly good demon Santa concept was wasted on such a terrible movie. Poor relationships, stupid and unmotivated plot developments, and a 12-year old who talks to his stuffed animal so the audience doesn’t get confused or anything. There are a lot of naked old men running around, though, so I guess that’s kind of funny. Drew Duncan Tweet reviews: Saw the self-satisfied mean-spirited jerkily revisionist Christmas-&-children-hating #RareExports. […]

Resident Evil

Hey. Distinguished film critic Dave Kehr has likes some Paul W.S. Anderson films. I definitely like Dave Kehr. Women should get to kill things too, I always say. Plus, games. I keep catching a couple of my kids playing them. (I am proud of that moment of paternal triumph when I jettisoned that child-sucking Tony […]

Rumble in the Bronx

Let me confess to missing the point here. And to being obtuse. And a kill-joy. These things are all true, and none of them are anything to be proud of. My poor kids! Still, being a fuddy-duddy does have its benefits. Like keeping me from being besmirched by the dubious charms of this cross-over effort. […]


Saw Godard’s #Contempt. He’s vaunted for his vast reading, & the provocative manner in which he incorporates that reading into his films … … Right, good. But here he really runs rough-shod over Moravia’s incredibly dark & detailed account of husbandly compulsion/paranoia … … wifely impenetrability—as it were—& apocalyptic domestic dissolution. Not so much radical […]

One Hour With You

Saw Ernst Lubtisch’s #OneHourwithYou. It’s an early sound remake of his previous The Marriage Circle. Compare, contrast, … … then don’t bother to pick a winner. How great, how instructive to luxuriate in the bounty of two overly neglected periods in film history! #OneHourwithYou. Lots of Lubitsch or pre-Code stuff you could discuss. Let’s skip it. […]

Harvest of Shame

This 1960 television documentary on the plight of migrant agricultural workers on the American eastern seaboard is an exemplary piece of investigative reporting. The justifiably celebrated Ed Murrow—implacable, magisterial, smoking like a chimney—is our host and guide, but it’s important to remember that this milestone of broadcast journalism is a collective effort. It organizes the […]

Listen to Britain

This review is taken from a longer essay on Humphrey Jennings that appears in the Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film, ed. Ian Aitken, Routledge (2006).  At one level Listen to Britain (1942) is Humphrey Jennings’ definitive mass observation film, made up of a series of exquisitely chosen vignettes which give a vivid picture—and soundtrack—of life during wartime. […]

The Land

It’s Flaherty’s The Great Dictator! Both RF and Chaplin had sort of taken on sound on their previous productions (we’ll skip Elephant Boy, which in the end was not really Flaherty’s film), but they’d done so on their own terms, and in a highly stylized fashion. This time, though, they’re speaking plainly, and in both […]

Housing Problems

This extraordinarily important documentary milestone may strike you as being unwieldy, both technologically and stylistically. The historic record is clear—and it’s evident when you watch the film, too—in telling us that the latter is almost completely due to the former. This is one of the first times that documentarians recorded synchronized sound, out in the […]

Man with a Movie Camera

I ask you! Is this the cockiest movie in film history? These young Soviet collaborators are so aware of their awesome technique, and so aggressive in pummeling us with it! They’re just as certain about what they’re saying, so confident about its absolute significance. You really can’t blame them. First, the virtuosity on display here […]


Joris Ivens is one of the great activists in documentary film history. He was decades-unfailing in his devotion to causes, or rather to one great, multi-faceted Cause. With Chris Marker, Ivens was the cinema’s great Leftist. He was in it for the long haul, attentive to every historical or ideological shift, capable of joyous affirmation, […]

In the Mood for Love

Saw Wong Kar-wai’s #IntheMoodforLove. Warning! There’s a real possibility that this film could lead to aesthetical coronaries. #IntheMoodforLove. Wong’s? Better make that Wong & Chris. Doyle’s In the Mood for Love. Rarely have a director & cinematographer collaborated … … so concentratedly, devotedly, saturatedly. Their visuals are ecstatic/intense to the point of near abstraction. #IntheMoodforLove. […]

Gate of Hell

The following response is not particularly insightful, cinematically speaking. But it’s the truth! I first tried to see Teinosuke Kinugasa’s pioneering colour film when I was going to film school at USC, in Los Angeles. We were living in Montrose, CA, up there between Glendale and Pasadena. I checked a video copy out of the […]

Land Mines, a Love Story

Boy, I remember when this seemed, when this was such breaking news! It’s just past ten years gone at the time of this writing, so it’s not like the film is now irrelevant, or a mere curio. But we need to keep in mind the ever-urgent fact that today’s report, however vivid, can never be seen […]

Yap: How Did You Know We’d Like TV

Have you ever heard of Yap Island, out there in Micronesia? Well Yap Island has heard of you. That sounds like it about sums up the situation, doesn’t it? Backwaters, and the centres of commerce and power and influence. It’s too bad that privilege isn’t more informed about the rest of the world. It’d be […]

Will Penny

Saw #WillPenny. This is such a beautiful film! It’s so good on the hard day-to-day, job-to-job of a cowboy’s life … … It’s so good on the limitations & virtues of a cowboy’s character, which are partly a consequence of that life … … It’s so good on how passivity, how lack of education & opportunity, can […]

Real Steel

Saw #RealSteel. What a dumb premise! What pandering, to lunkheads. Right along side, what grotesque sentimentality. At the end, what strained contrivance … … All things considered together, what a great movie!

The Return of the Pink Panther

Saw #TheReturnofthePinkPanther. I died at, I died of this in 1975. Perfect 11-or-12-year-old boy fare! … … When our family started to produce 11-or-12-year-olds, we trotted it out and tried it again. Still perfect! How old are your kids now?

Jason and the Argonauts

Alright, let’s get this out of the way. The models of all these Greek-mythological prodigies. don’t look real. That wasn’t really the point. They were supposed to look cool, or magical, which is a whole ‘nother matter. This too? Something might be a bit off with the film’s direction. Jason, which is to say the […]

The Awful Truth

Leo McCarey was a gag man for Hal Roach, and then one of his most trusted directors. At the Roach lot that meant collaborating or, as many rapturous recollections have it, singing parts around a piano with Stan and Ollie and Charley Chase. He went on to direct Eddie Cantor, and the Marx Brothers, in […]

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Saw #MissionImpossibleGhostProtocol. See title, typed above. That colon is interesting, isn’t it? A bit like the franchise: … … if they could, if they would only slow down, maybe we could all catch our breath & say/see something sensible, or resonant. #MissionImpossibleGhostProtocol. But wait a minute! This time they did! It’s product, but prepared w’ […]

The Kid Brother

In 1989 Kevin Brownlow and David Gill produced a documentary about Harold Lloyd entitled Harold Lloyd: the Third Genius. It’s very good, both on Lloyd himself, on how his work related to the film industry of his time, and even to society entire. It might be fair to point out, though, that this film’s title […]

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Saw #ATreeGrowsinBrooklyn. We think of d. Elia Kazan as the man who brought the Method to Hollywood, and who nudged/shoved H-wood … … into actually making adult films, w’ adult means & methods, on subjects that were more than just merely escapist … … A firebrand as well, & an ideological lightning rod, or maybe, finally, […]

The Days of Whiskey Gap

Do you know about the Mounties? The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, that is. Beyond the Musical Ride, or dumb Hollywood clichés, have you actually heard the story? Or the stories, rather? Well this extremely capable documentary, short enough to go down easy, expansive enough to cover some considerable ground, will go a long way toward […]


Saw #Universe. We’re crediting it to Colin Low, but this is by the National Film Board of Canada, & the miraculous Unit B in particular … … During its brief, bright ascendancy Unit B was practically cinema’s answer to the Scottish Enlightenment … … Or, that what you Sassenachs thought was an irrelevant backwater was […]

City of Gold

This essay appears in the Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film, ed. Ian Aitken, Routledge (2006).  The National Film Board of Canada’s City of Gold (1957) is one of the most celebrated short films ever produced, and one of the most decorated. Its numerous international awards, as well as its influence on the historical documentary and […]


In a way this short film is simply a series of ably assembled impressions. We’re in Colin Low’s corner of south-western Alberta, which affords any number of extraordinarily attractive vistas. Impressionism comes into play because Low and his cinematographer/collaborator Wolf Koenig resist the temptation to concentrate on mere grandeur, or on picturesque effects. Paintings and postcards, […]

Modern Times

Saw Chaplin’s #ModernTimes. It had been a while. Found that I remembered, exactly, every little bit. I’m not so smart; it’s so indelible! #ModernTimes. CC can be naive or wrong-headed, politically. This time, by design or happy accident, he got it profoundly & perfectly right: … … commodity fetishization, the alienation of the worker, repressive […]

El Cid

History is an infinitely complicated and contradictory thing. Historians, and maybe even more the layfolk that consult them, sometimes seek simple answers to historical questions. We want the essence, the meaning, the victor. And it can be true that clear conclusions are justifiably drawn from all of history’s actual back and forth. The Depression really […]


When but a lad, I read a critic who dismissed this film as an elephantine betrayal of a beloved stage source. He said that the film adaptation misunderstood the delicate artificiality of this story, and of the musical genre as well. By shooting on location, by opening up what was and should have remained sweet […]

Metropolis (2001)

Saw #Metropolis, a turn-o’-the-century mashup of Fritz Lang & Osama Tezuka. Draws on both, takes a back seat to neither. #Metropolis is outlandishly plot-eventful, a constant tumult, w’ everything maintained at a level of utmost importance … … To its very great credit, it keeps the spectator very well oriented, & all-the-way committed to the […]

Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media

Saw #ManufacturingConsentNoamChomskyandtheMedia. Formidable, challenging, blisteringly confrontational; bracing, inspiring— … … altogether electrifying. One of the most important, most urgent, most exciting & entertaining movies I’ve ever seen. #ManufacturingConsent. Much of our conversation about the media, whether technophilic or sky-is-falling, is mere bromide, mere platitude … … This 3 hr. doc won’t have any of that. Rather […]


Saw #Twilight. Find I am resisting, from the start: this franchise isn’t & shouldn’t be for me; I must set an example of elderly dignity & decorum; … … Mr. Pattinson does not at all correspond to my own notion of ideal male beauty (think Ryan Smyth’s most resplendent hockey hair) … … I pause, & […]


Saw #Xanadu. Oh boy …

The Wiz

Here’s a thing. There are really bad movies, the utter duds & debacles, & you know it right off & straight through. These films can stimulate sharp popular criticism, or comedy (as in MST3K). They’ll provide a rubbernecking kind of recreation for you and your more lunkheaded buddies. Or, maybe most often, they tempt us to malice, […]

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Saw #AguirretheWrathofGod. Herzog’s a master self-promoter, & he keeps himself busy, & in the papers, … … and he’s become some kind of mannerist, to the point, sometimes, of self-caricature, of near or practical irrelevance … … But there’s always & ever this one prodigious film, by which he took & keeps his place among the […]

The Exterminating Angel

Saw Luis Buñuel’s #TheExterminatingAngel. Is Evelyn Waugh 1928 too mordant for your tastes? A High Wind in Jamaica too terrifying? … … Is The Lord of the Flies overly emphatic? And Edward Gibbon just too damn long? Well this might be the Decline & Fall for you! #TheExterminatingAngel, A run-of-the-mill bourgeois party develops a little difficulty regarding the guests’ […]

The Bellboy

Saw Jerry Lewis’s 1st feature as director, #TheBellboy. At 1st glance this might seem like some sort of newly beheaded chicken … … scurrying & spurting all over the place, anything-for-a-laugh, never quite settling on a story, an idea, or coherent character trajectory … … Look again: its nature & objectives are those of the […]

The Band Concert

Saw #TheBandConcert. Joy! A milestone in the history of animation, of film comedy, & in fact one of the Medium’s veriest masterpieces … … Let’s go overboard: This is more than must-see … … In fact, you’re not a real family until you’ve sat down & submitted yourself to this deeply mischievous, ultimately affirmative delight. […]

It’s a Gift

Saw #ItsaGift. A serious candidate for the greatest screen comedy in the history of the medium. #ItsaGift is painfully funny in a number of ways. It’s an exemplary piece of comic craftsmanship, effective in a number of styles & registers … … Conceptually, thematically, even morally, it resonates to the point of being deeply & […]

The Fatal Glass of Beer

Saw #TheFatalGlassofBeer. We don’t know W.C. Fields anymore, do we? I fear that most of what comes down to us is pale, uninformed caricature … … made up of equal parts shiftlessness, alcoholism, & child-hating misanthropy. An unfortunate reduction. A libel, in fact! … … Suggests that in the matter of reputations, what they say […]

In Time

Saw #InTime. And in Idaho Falls, at that! Found #InTime to be an imaginative, urgent rendering of the divisions between rich/poor, have/not, 99/1%, even (Mitt Romney’s) 47/53 … … It recasts this familiar & dispiritingly permanent set of binaries in a fresh new sci-fi setting which engages our interest, freshens the conversation … … & […]

Tucker: The Man and His Dream

Saw #TuckerTheManandHisDream. See last review. This (handsome, estimable, inspiring) film isn’t about auto manufacture at all! Is it? … … It’s more like the story of Francis Coppola’s brave & brilliant attempt to create an alternative to Hollywood film production/distribution … … And how the result was so superior to the status-quo, & then, how hegemonic […]


Saw #Tess. Say! This is Polanski’s autobiography, isn’t it? Specifically, about how hypocritical society unfairly judges & even destroys … … its freest and most beautiful spirits. For instance by pursuing charges of statutory rape … #Tess. Tremendous film, by the way. Wildly worth seeing. Kinski!! But there are real conceptual, moral problems at the […]

Fantastic Voyage

Saw #FantasticVoyage. Vividly recollected from childhood, & it very much stands up to, even increases in the face of adult scrutiny. #FantasticVoyage is kind of a sheep & goats film, special fx-wise. If you’re a slave to digital verisimilitude, you might not appreciate, or even get it … … However, if your heart is open […]

Bad Day at Black Rock

Saw #BadDayatBlackRock. An earnest, sincere, substantial film about how the US won the War against hatred & bigotry, … … while contributing to wrestle, at times w’ conspicuous un-success, w’ hatred & bigotry at home. #BadDayatBlackRock. Not a popular message! Or a pleasant one. Or, for some, a problem theretofore unrecognized, or unacknowledged … … […]

Churchill’s Island

This essay appears in the Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film, ed. Ian Aitken, Routledge (2006).  Churchill’s Island is most remembered as the first film from the National Film Board of Canada to win an Academy Award (best documentary, 1941). But it is not so much its acceptance by the commercial mainstream as its departure from […]

Strangers in Good Company

Saw #TheCompanyofStrangers, or #StrangersinGoodCompany. Author Carol Shields has productively compared a phallic … … & an ovulatory approach to story. (In Dressing Up for the Carnival, 2000.) Both are tremendous, natural, & most beneficial … … One, the direct, forceful, singleminded kind, devoted to striving & conflicts & the climaxes that resolve them … … […]

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)

Saw #TinkerTailorSoldierSpy. A very important & distinguished book, which produced a very distinguished & important mini-series (1979) … … is abridged & then adapted, anew, w’ great distinction. #TinkerTailorSoldierSpy. Aprés Le Carré, this one’s both mind-blower & potentially, brain-melter. Actually brings to mind … … Wm. Goldman’s script for All the President’s Men. Commercial audiences don’t […]

The Small Back Room

Saw #TheSmallBackRoom. We remember, celebrate, sometimes get impatient w’ Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger … … for the consistent, insistent ambition & grandeur of their films. Look at what happens when they dial it back! … … Much reduced in scale, in volume, in expanse. Not a bit diminished in power! #TheSmallBackRoom. A milestone in […]

Tuck Everlasting

Saw #TuckEverlasting. The protagonist of Natalie Babbitt’s great source novel is 10 yrs old. This causes her to be drawn to the immortally 17 yr. old Jesse … … as a little sister would be. The film version’s protagonist is 15, which causes her to be drawn to swim w’ the immortally 17 year old Jesse […]

The Black Cauldron

Saw Disney’s #TheBlackCauldron. It’s an adaptation of the first two books in Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series … … We urgently recommend that you read them, and the remaining three volumes as well! #TheBlackCauldron. We are committed to positivity around here, to being courteous, to fairly considering the challenges … that film productions so often grapple […]

A Farewell to Arms

Saw Frank Borzage’s adaptation of Hemingway’s #AFarewelltoArms. The book’s unbearably poignant, describing an individual … … & collective tragedy so thorough that it practically adds up to utter negation. Borzage, attuned to sorrow … … & yet so sublimely certain of the saving power of love between men and women, will have none of it […]


Saw the 1995 version of J. Austen’s #Persuasion. Less ingratiating, less budgeted, almost certainly less acclaimed & even heard of … … than the number of more celebrated Austen adaptations from about this time. So admirable that all these potential limitations … … which after all parallel the strict circumscriptions to which its heroine is subject, […]

The Goat

I wonder. Is this multiply astonishing thing Keaton’s best short? A number of his features are major, out-and-out miracles. But given how the shorts are so incredibly accomplished, and have stood up so very well, I wonder again. Is this his best film? And given how deep and wide prime Keaton is, I’m asking if […]

The Princess and the Frog

There we were, avoiding this latest Disney concoction like crazy. What’s wrong with us?—it’s fun! And nice too. Let’s look for alternatives, and condemn corporate practice, and all of that other healthy contrarian stuff. But if the product provides a profit for the producer, and simple, familiar, reassuring pleasure for the patron, who’s to complain? […]

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

I want to like it more than I do, as the theme is important–something dies when we haven’t time for visionaries, however inconvenient–and the sensibility, not to mention the circumstances, in other words, Gilliam, are all completely appropriate for the theme, unfortunately, despite all this, much of what lingers is a sensation of stridency and […]


Great survey class introduction, with its stylized Japanese stasis (long conversations, especially within still, stylized places) and western action, Mifune is earth-shakingly charismatic, and the film is a real textbook study of how to create sympathy and admiration for a protagonist, including tics and apparent flaws; it’s escapist action but by no means mindless, the […]


Tremendously enjoyable conscious hokum, or starting hokey at least, but ending plain great, lots of beautiful colours and costumes, the mistaken identity, misapprehension goings on (she’s my sister; no, he’s my brother) are just familiar and just surprising enough, the design is ravishing (especially the chaste and textured fencing studio), the cinematography worthy of the […]

The Black Swan

Modern awarenesses make this violent wooing of women stuff (I know you want me) distressing, and renders all the swashbuckling hi-jinx somehow less diverting, and though the Power character gets his share of whacks during the negotiations, somehow the deck seems stacked against Miss O’ Hara; apart from that, lovely florid technicolor, a story that […]

The Jungle Book

A wonderful children’s movie because, unlike the later and lousy Disney version, nothing’s dumbed down for the audience, the storyteller brackets are intriguing beyond the convention–the least admirable character within the story tells the story!–and the story itself works very nicely; the jungle introduction is a spectacular technicolor showcase, and since it also sets the […]

Shadows in Paradise

Saw #ShadowsinParadise. Surface: barely black-comic miserabilism. Substance: transcendental taciturnity. Funny, believing, beautiful. #ShadowsinParadise. The setting & the philosophy is obviously utterly other, but the cutting & camera here are very Bressonian. #ShadowsinParadise. I love how Kaurismaki loves/honours work, & working people. Not so far from Popular Front cinema, actually … … In this, he’s anticipating […]

Le Deuxième Souffle

From a practically abstract prison-break opening director Jean-Pierre Melville moves on to a more and more concrete, systematic, comprehensive portrayal of what they used to call the lower depths. In this combination of stylization and near reportage he fashions what must be his greatest film. (Or is that Army of Shadows? And I realize that […]

Class Tous Risques

The first fifteen minutes of this film are perfect, propulsive, really astounding. This is pulse-quickeningly kinetic stuff, but it’s carefully judged too, with incidents that lead logically—not quite inexorably, as that’s for the tragic/inevitable, the inevitable/tragic ending—to next events, with surprises that make sense upon further reflection. Boy can these guys escape from the scene […]

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Saw #CaveofForgottenDreams. Herzog’s a mannered/crackpot mystic. Furthermore, that’s his actual brand, from which all funding flows … … However, I’m also glad to admit that there’s lots to be positive about, & by now the benefits really do … … far outweigh the aggravating disadvantages. #CaveofForgottenDreams. Here’s what Herzog has to offer. Modernity isn’t frivolous, […]

Blue Jasmine

Saw Woody Allen’s #BlueJasmine. We could also call it Cate Blanchett’s Blue Jasmine. Incredible! #BlueJasmine. Sally Hawkins, contrasting, is pretty much on par. Also, credit & kudos to Allen for digging up … … the really affecting Andrew Dice Clay! There’s more to people than we think, isn’t there? #BlueJasmine. Much to admire here. Pretty […]

Wait Until Dark

Saw #WaitUntilDark. Impressively gender-inappropriate, to the point of gender-obliviousness. Ms. Hepburn’s character wants to be useful … … Make soufflés. Pick ties. Choose wallpaper. Which is worse, objectification or infantilization? #WaitUntilDark. Susy’s blindness is a stunt, or a gambit. It makes for some effective suspense … … which is the best thing the play/film has to […]


Saw David Lean’s #Summertime. Actually, as remarkable as is Lean’s marshaling of this Venetian location … … we might just as well call it Katharine Hepburn’s Summertime. Do we remember or realize how good she really was? #Summertime. Handsome, bourgeois (conformist, materialist), & on the brink of big change. For instance … … in addition […]

Johnny Guitar

Saw #JohnnyGuitar. Campy rep, but there’s more. Some of this fruity dialogue is as good as Double Indemnity. #JohnnyGuitar. Crazily cool acting flourishes, as in Sterling Hayden tossing that gun back & forth & back again! #JohnnyGuitar plays a bit like Joan Crawford starring in a Western version of A Room of One’s Own! #JohnnyGuitar. Maybe because […]

The Female of the Species

Saw Griffith’s #TheFemaleoftheSpecies. Moves impressively from dire naturalism to salvific female/sister-hood. McTeague/Marcus/Trina … … become Ullman/Thulin/Andersson, become convincing, saving sisters of mercy. Gender-limited/ing? Probably, or at least possibly … … Or, the heroic world view, leavened by the Book of Ruth. #TheFemaleoftheSpecies. You know Mary Pickford. (Don’t you?) Introducing Claire McDowell & Dorothy Bernard!

Treat Bottle

Teasing. Cruelty. Anthropological non-intervention. Pretend anthropogical non-intervention, since he’s the one who put the treat in the bottle. What four-legged creatures are up against. Animal reasoning, or the partial lack thereof. The lengths we’ll go to. Sisyphus. Things Fall Apart! A linear narrative, with rising action, crisis and climax. Feeling good for the deserving protagonist […]

Peck and Chuck A

What Galileo might think of that silly tongue-twister. A small difference is that this may not stand up to scientific scrutiny.

Name Board

Not only the last word in shaggy dog, but it completely peters out, an observation/conclusion that’s very much in the spirit of the piece. Name Board is terrific, a picaresque tale, an improvisation that is also or actually a demonstration/critique of improvisation. It solves the challenge contained in some avant garde films, which is that lacking […]

The Kiss

This time the dog wins. Attached to and underpinning Wegman’s usual gag-leads-to-concept method is the relationship between the dog and his man, which is actually very deep and loving. It’s not just that Bill lets Man Ray lick him all over the place, which is just him being genially gross—look at his expression at the […]

In the Cup

First the joke, then, if you want, some ripples. The subject is, or could be, the power of suggestion. Furthermore, and not for the first time, Wegman is demonstrating how communication and storytelling can take place in very reduced circumstances, with very reduced means. And very effectively, at that.


A technological, trade-show tall tale.

Straw and String

A nice magic trick, or an over-complicated labour saving device, all motivated by germ neurosis. From which I am betting Wegman does not suffer in the least.

Same Shirt

As with the previous film in this cluster, Same Shirt is a really reduced take on the workings of enactment, performance, theatre. Look how easy it is to take on roles. Once again, Wegman is being body frank and body healthy. That’s a woman there, and then he makes nothing more of it, and there’s no […]

Monkey Business (1971)

This is actually precisely how the medium/media of puppetry works, and maybe even narrative itself. You’ve got the world, or your imagination. And you’ve got all of these near-infinite options available for telling the stories that come from those two profound places. (Wegman’s) Monkey Business reduces Aristotle’s medium and matter and mode—see the second paragraph of Poetics—to […]

Coin Toss

Typical, emblematic Wegman. It’s a joke. It’s a play on words, and a friendly reveal of the absurd way we use those words. There’s some semiotic inquiry, which is to say that he interrogates the way we make meaning, and the assumptions that underlie the process. That’s also a cultural critique, and maybe a bit […]

Cape On

Suggesting off-screen space, and causing us to wonder what’s making that dog swivel. The duration of the film causes us to reflect on the nature and reality of dog’s devotion. Also on how the illustration of same may not always be funny.

Light Trails

Very Norman McLaren. This is a formalist exercise/demonstration, but we know about Wegman’s playful sensibility, and feel it in the vicinity. This causes us to register the play of light on black surfaces, or in darkness, as well as the persistence of vision that video activates. But since Wegman never works with abstraction alone, Light […]


Here’s a shorter and simpler version of Hollis Frampton’s roughly contemporaneous avant garde milestone nostalgia (1971). In that film Frampton, with the assistance or complicity of fellow trailblazer Michael Snow, knocks image and sound provocatively and disturbingly out of synch. Wegman doesn’t seem too invested in disturbing anyone, unless it’s when he eats things that had […]


Nice. Mystery, solved. A mini-Last Year at Marienbad.


More nostril acting. It’s striking to see how character can be evoked through such minimal means. There’s even some psychology here, or a prompt that brings us to consider our contradictions. The pushy person puts us off, but the more appealing idle guy has probably pushed her to it.

Happy Song

Or is it? Wegman’s brusque version of Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality…” which replaces the Poet’s astonishing elaborations and cuts to the heart of a glory having passed from the earth. “Dammit!”

Stomach Song

Well what do you know? A man’s torso really does look like a face. With the left eyebrow raised at that. Here’s some more of Wegman’s inspired, inspiring body comfort and body frankness. I love how there’s a spoken word prologue—“hey you!”—and a B section to follow the introductory A.

Hidden Utensil

Barthes, whom I’ve been citing, complains about how the caption domesticates or obliterates the ambiguous, multiplicitous photo image. Wegman, through the use of the hermaneutic code that Barthes also explicated (in other words, through a bit of strategical withholding and non-lethal suspense), turns that situation around. He demonstrates how captions can sharpen our perceptions and […]

Come In

Ditto. There are several props on the table, as it were. The dog/Man Ray is quiet over there, but you suspect that he might be the loaded gun in the scene. Surely he’s going to react to the ball that Wegman is tossing around. Nope. In the end we have an illustration of that Gary […]


Nice. By this point Wegman has got us wondering what he’s got up his sleeve, right from the beginning. The scout camp component here is that he blows a match out with his nostrils. The art part is how the image of flame leaves a flaring trace on the video’s/medium’s retina.


Here’s a very nice study on the complementary relationship between image scale and stasis/movement. When you’re close up, small gradations register very clearly. Then, of course, the mischief takes over and the movement gets very marked. The contorting nose—you’ve also got to love those titles—is funny, but there’s also a second formal question. We know […]

Out and In

Art films, made for 12-year-old boys. This is gross, but it’s also a good trick, and very well executed.


Joke, formal riddle. The foot is obviously fake. What else is he up to? It’s not what we expected. As usual, having fun and being a modernist at the same time.

Dress Curtains

Nice. It’s like an optical illusion, presented fast and fun and smart. Or, more accurately, a magical trick. When he completes it, there’s a little frisson of delight. There is beauty all around.


This one is a scream. Is it the title that turns potential vulgarity into guileless, even sweet bawdiness? It’s just a guy expressing and enacting a natural interest, the fun being that they obviously aren’t, but still look like they are. It’s not unusual to find some artistic rigour besides. The frame is superbly, exactly […]

William Wegman in Chinese

Funny. Wegman is at the centre of a lot of these films, but so humourously, and in such a sweetly silly way, that there’s no narcissism to it. And China? Actually, even though the up and down, fast talking stuff is a bit chu-chin-chow stereotypical, the calligraphy is being taken very seriously indeed. Comedy is […]

The Door

Teasing the dog, who is unable to think its way around where and how his master is going. If this is a portrait of canine dimness, though, it’s also a rather touching document of canine loyalty.


A terrific mystery/poser: Milk/Floor is not exactly a whodunit, but what on earth is he doing? The eventual reveal comes like a big light bulb over your head, making obvious what no one could ever have imagined—it’s a perfect surprise, and a perfect ending. Perfect symmetry, too, unto chiasmus. (Perfect camera placement too.) And so funny! […]

Randy’s Sick

Hans Christian Andersen? Here’s a child-like imagination, vivifying inanimate objects. And, or, here’s the big person enacting goofy things as a way to encourage and embrace a little person. That’s also called scaffolding, an idea that comes from Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky’s notion of zones of proximal development. All that means that kids learn from […]

The Ring

Notice the weight of the object as it hits the floor. Sounds like a Pound coin! Really simple films can help you notice, even help you honour plain and constantly present things that you too often take for granted.

Pocketbook Man

The best part of this is how Wegman does the whole thing in his underwear. There’s some friendly provocation in that, maybe. Even more, there’s comfortable domesticity. Maybe it was just a hot day. He’s still got his runners and his coloured socks on, mind you. The ridiculousness of the whole satisfies, mostly because, as […]


Funny performance in support of a charmingly cheesy joke. We also have the usual value added. Ill is good on space within frames, on the use and potential of scrims or objects that obscure objects within the frame.

Spit Sandwich

This is very gross, and not just glancingly so. We have Wegman’s often and even usual situation, where we keep looking to figure out what the heck he’s doing. The conclusion is unexpected, and funnier because of it. If he’d started this series of little films with this one then we could well suspect him […]

Squirrel Around

The kind of joke your Dad might tell, except that this one is spatial instead of verbal. Reminds me that Dads should be appreciated more often as the ground-breaking modernists they really are.


Here’s an illustration of that Barthesian thing about titles, that we discussed a few films back. Wegman is walking backwards, but look at that space, at the head-chopping composition, the sailor swaying of the arms, and of course the little payoff of the pillar that falls onto the chair. It’s what they say, and often […]


Terrific. It turns out that with the early video technology Wegman is utilizing your household electric appliances interfere with signal transmission, leading to the usually transparent medium obfuscating or interfering with the message that it is trying to transmit. One guess at which appliance he’s using.

Tortoise and the Hare

In which Man Ray—the canine version, that is—makes his first appearance, and the crane from a few films ago comes back for more. Norman McLaren’s Animated Motion series does it more systematically, and Miyazaki’s lateral tracks do it more beautifully. But this is still a nice demonstration of the pace of movement as it pertains […]

Tonsil Song

Typical. This is silly, in a happy, friendly way. It’s frankly and unconflictedly body-centered. You have to love the way that Wegman puts himself in the centre of his movies. There may be youth in that, but not narcissism. He’s outgoing and funny, he’s comfortable with himself, and he sweetly shares things with the rest […]


Structuralist, because there are three sections that call attention to themselves. Musical, because there’s a statement, a development, and a culminating recapitulation. Minimalist, because the means are so aggressively reduced. Fun, because it is. First Wegman shakes the camera, which really does make a noise like a rocket when he does so. Then he shakes […]

Alex, Bart and Bill

Nice. Shaggy dog, digressive, a study in duration, a sweet punchline. After calling attention to the workings of the medium, Wegman concludes by expressing his gratitude for the Fig Newton.


Here we’re introduced to what will become one of Wegman’s trademark tricks. The twins in question blink, and one of them sways. First you notice what they’re doing. Then you mark the synchronization, and wonder how they do it, given that they’re not looking at each other or anything. (You wonder even more when the […]

Crane Art

The titles are really important here. They don’t function in that way that Roland Barthes quite properly criticized in his essay “The Rhetoric of the Image” (collected in the book Image, Music, Text, 1977). That idea was that captions effectively eliminate the richness and multiplicity of the image, because they cause us to stop looking […]

TV Plunger

Duration is the point here, and not knowing quite what it is that the time is marking. These are long-standingly fundamental concerns for the cinematic avant garde. Wegman is exploring them capably, and also very jokingly. Even those are modernists. It would seem that he wishes us to see that jokes without set-ups or even […]

Falling Milk

Trick glass? A trick angle, camera relative to subject? We remain uncertain. Except that beyond the formal riddle this is certainly silly.

I Got …

Here he is, fully formed from the first. Wegman operates with radically reduced means, betraying no feeling that those reduced means are any kind of disadvantage, or that he might want it otherwise. He has a very healthy, appealing frankness and un-self-consciousness (ie. the presentation of and attitude toward his body). He is one part […]

Stop! Look! And Hasten!

This title inspires me, and I don’t even quite know what it means! This is the 5th entry in this series. Now the Coyote is eating bugs and tin cans. And we start out with him. Is he the protagonist? Even further, are we now sort of expected to sympathize with him? That many-legged run […]

Vidas Secas

Really vivid neo-realism.  It’s very instructive, especially with all of its authentic, authoritative regional particularities. It is informed, nuanced. Every instance of poverty or hopelessness is distinct. Is it in poor taste to suggest that it isn’t very entertaining? The images are powerfully rendered and combined, but they add up to an over-determination in excess […]


There are strong echoes of Nicholas Ray’s celebrated On Dangerous Ground (1951) here. There’s savagery in the city, and the country isn’t altogether free of it. either. But there’s a clarity or simplicity there—collecting those apples, cutting that wood—that just might allow for a bit of decent happiness. That’s a sincere, even ardent part of this […]

Funny People

This is a handsome, ambitious production. Apatow is trying to jam a lot of things in here, and though the result is somewhat garbled and distended, ambition can do that. Let a guy try things! Not only is there a lot of really funny stuff, there are also considerable insights, successful scenes, powerfully developed motifs […]

Red Line 7000

This late Howard Hawks picture reminds me of John Ford’s send-off, 7 Women. It also reflected the encroachment of modernity upon a classical method, and upon a classical sensibility. It was also marked by the breakdown of the film studios and, a little bit, by the fact that the acting stables seem to have been all […]

The Night of the Hunter

The Night of the Hunter is a super-celebrated film, and it should be. But we can take that kind of thing for granted, can’t we? We put the title on a get-to list, and then never get to it. Or we see it dutifully, and dully file the experience away, often internalizing the common wisdom […]

Late Spring

“Why didn’t we do this more often?” asks the father after a pleasant family trip, on the brink of cinema’s most affecting, most devastating separation. “Father,” replies his luminous daughter, just as that light goes out for the sake of societal custom and convention. “For all the years of loving kindness, I thank you.” I […]

Eyes Without a Face

We studied the horror film in a genres class, and looked at Eyes Without a Face as an example of poetic cinema, or a poetic horror film. That is true, what with the way they play of circus music while this character prepares to kill that one. But for all of its undoubted poetry, Georges Franju’s […]

Yellow Sky

This is sort of an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It features some really electrifying location shooting, in Death Valley no less. The chiaroscuro of its remarkable visuals is matched by its ambiguous characters, which add an enriching element to a genre that can thrive on and overly indulge in overly sharp outlines. Unless they […]

Kings Row

You might be surprised how frank and detailed and dark this 1942 production is. The fact that it was adapted from a celebrated novel, or at least a very popular one, would have helped. Also, operatic melodramas sometimes seemed to get some extra consideration, or indulgence, from the censors. Now, having suggested how surprisingly frank […]

Hell’s Bells

We don’t have a lot to say here. We mostly wanted to alert you to the fact that there’s a Disney cartoon called Hell’s Bells. Oh, and you might want to take note of the tasteful joke with the dragon cow.

The Terrible Toreador

It is and it has always been an important part of the Walt Disney Corporation’s business plan to insist that it is the premiere purveyor of family entertainment. For my part I want to be wary of the self-mythologizing of big multi-national corporations. But still, Disney’s claim—and it’s very often been a real aspiration too—isn’t […]

The Skeleton Dance

The Skeleton Dance is the first release in Walt Disney’s Silly Symphony series. This alone makes it an important film, but its appeal is much more than just historical. In fact, it is one of the funnest, sweetest, most joyful concoctions in the entire Disney oeuvre. Right out of the gate, which is really quite remarkable. Adapting […]

Acrobatty Bunny

There are a number of McKimson cartoons that contradict a somewhat prevailing notion that his cartoons are a little bit pedestrian. This one, however, is a little bit pedestrian. There’s some nice working circus people stuff at the beginning.  Work and its patterns always help a film. There’s a good intercutting bit with the sniffing […]

Case of the Missing Hare

This looks forward to Long-Haired Hare, which is way better. Bugs’ various holes tend to be quite wonderfully designed, confident, sufficient spaces. We understand why he resents being pulled out, and why this sometimes means war.

Homeless Hare

This is a good one. It’s the mature Bugs again, inclined to be peaceful, only fighting back when he’s really pushed. The punishment he wreaks on the construction foreman is beautifully judged, pleasingly distributed, exquisitely executed. The assaults come in two waves, the first being when Bugs is displaced, the second after he sees the […]

Bowery Bugs

Directed by Arthur Davis, eh? There’s a frame story with Bugs as a barker, telling a tale to that old guy on the Brooklyn Bridge. His account includes a really striking photomontage, which brings us to the the film or plot proper. Which no one seems to care particularly about. Bowery Bugs is mostly gags-a-poppin’, and […]

The Wabbit Who Came to Supper

Early Elmer—the evolution of these characters is really interesting. Yet we still, in the end, think of them as real. This is the Tom and Jerry, Million Dollar Cat situation. Elmer will receive an inheritance if he can manage not to hurt the rabbit. Why do people think they can go around blowing creatures’ heads […]

Easter Yeggs

How to multiply?! The Easter Bunny is depressed. Bug steps in. There’s some funny wrestling with that redhead. I like the range of emotional responses that Bugs has to his duties, and to the challenges related thereto. His family! Elmer, who is subject to travails that are like unto the Coyote, enters in.  The Easter […]

A Hare Grows in Manhattan

Hollywood Bugs’ house is a hole in the ground. They are Bio-spoofing the fan mags. There’s a bit of class-discourse here, and not just the usual brown-nosing. Bugs has a carrot bottle. He does a great dance, and favours us with another one of those well-chosen old tunes (“The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady”). Wouldn’t it […]

Hare Tonic

Great angles and camera movement. Elmer is going to take Bugs home and fricassee him. As usual, as naturally, Bugs is not in the least bit fazed. Elmer apparently showers with his undies on. There are some good clothes gags, especially the one involving Elmer’s tie. They do the Max Linder/Marx Brothers mirror gag! Millet […]

Hare Remover

Elmer is, or is trying to be, a mad scientist. They contrive some fun mad scientist gear/ iconography. There’s some good business with the old rabbit trap. The pace is leisurely for a while. That’s a bit uncharacteristic, and very nice. As was/is so often the case there’s lots of fourth wall-breaking. The Hyde shenanigans […]

Hare Force

Warm dog vs. rabbit foundling. Conflict! This is a dog and cat comedy, but there are also some rich echoes relating to the dynamics of sibling rivalry. “I did a bad thing.” There’s some very effective dog abuse going on here. That beating is very funny, with a troubling aftertaste of an early-Bugs type of […]

Porky in Wackyland

This pioneering WB cartoon/Bob Clampett picture is a Lewis Carroll narrative, containing reference and homage, as well as traces of a more integral, actual ancestry. Porky is operating a patently toy airplane. Direct address is all over the place. Dark/Darker/Darkest Africa. Wackyland’s borders are all zig-zag. Are they artificial? Is it all in the mind? […]

Duck Soup to Nuts

Another hunting picture, though of course this one pre-dates the classic Bugs ‘n Daffy trilogy. Daffy is swimming with some real ducks in that pond. “I’m gifted,” he says. He shows Porky how he can act. He sure can! A good phrenology gag, which is not something too many films can say. “I have no […]

The Great Piggy Bank Robbery

This is pretty Tex-like. Or it’s a Clampett film. A really manic Daffy gets a Duck Tracy comic book in the mail. He reads it, or gets involved with it, as if it were a film: non-diegetic space becomes diegetic, detached reading becomes immersion and identification. We don’t’ need to get all Christian Metz here, […]

Old Glory

Porky doesn’t know why he has to learn the Pledge of Allegiance. Uncle Sam shows up to put him straight. You don’t appreciate it, Porky, but the colonists did! Porky Pig is usually an adult, more or less. They infantilize him here, the better to make their patriotic/didactic point, as well as to hint at […]

Baby Bottleneck

The post-war baby boom is usually said to have begun in 1946. Had it been noted this early, and if so, did it partly motivate this production? Or is it just a coincidence? If the latter, then Baby Bottleneck still reflects a mindset, or something of a collective sentiment. Eventually, somewhere in there, films are a […]

Kitty Cornered

Great open. It’s 9 o’clock of a winter evening, and everyone is tossing their cats out of the door. Porky expels three Sylvester-like felines, and then a fourth, tiny kitten throws him out. This is a Bob Clampett film all over the place. It’s really manic, really energetic, chock-full of jokes. In this case—sometimes Clampett’s […]

Tweetie Pie

The first film in which Tweety and Sylvester appear together, and the first WB cartoon to receive an Oscar. And Tom and Jerry were the inspiration. Some start: a freezing, snow-filled yard at night, and Tweety trying to warm himself over a cigar butt. Sylvester/ Thomas is hiding in that snowman—a nice combination of lurking […]

Snow Business

Granny’s bird and Granny’s cat are snow bound in their cabin. Sylvester kisses Tweety to reassure him. This gives him an idea. These pictures are kind of like Call of the Wild and White Fang, put together. Add the fact that the snowbound cabin is stocked only with bird seed and you get Jack London, […]

A Bird in a Guilty Cage

That is one crazy dummy. The roller skates in these cartoons, those repeated, constant tools of mayhem, are really quite reassuring. Is that hat sequence inspired by Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr.? Sylvester shoots his finger off! The shotgun and ribbons part is wonderfully impossible, at the same time that it’s reassuringly or terrifyingly inevitable. […]

Ain’t She Tweet

We begin with some exemplary Mickey Mousing music, accompanying the conversation between Tweety and the mouse in the pet store window. Sylvester looks on hungrily. Brick, cop, face! Tweety is sold to Granny, and her hundred bulldogs. “They’re so cute and active.” The subsequent string of gags is really superb. “Dat Putty Tat’s got pink […]

Gift Wrapped

Christmas morning. Sylvester keeps eating Tweety. Cats will be cats. The holly part suggests how do-gooders will keep trying to turn human/feline nature against itself. Fine, if one believes in reform and repentance. And who doesn’t? On the other hand, what folly! The next present extends this line of thought very nicely. Now we have […]

Tweet Tweet Tweety

Good pump/TNT gag. Nice use of offscreen space on that swing/log driver bit. Excellent trying-to-row-up-a-waterfall conclusion.

Room and Bird

This Tweety adventure is set in a hotel called The Spinster Arms (“Baby It’s Cold Inside”). Isn’t that an amazing thing to put in an ostensible children’s cartoon? I’m for it, by the way—say this kind of thing in front of the kids. They’re evolving into understanding, and this tone and balance seems to point toward health […]

All a Bir-r-r-d

This one has a particularly nice credit sequence, that takes us quickly and efficiently into the story itself. Tweety and Sylvester adjacent to each other in a baggage car—always these loaded scenarios. (Sylvester’s hand moves like a real person’s. Animation is amazing.) He repeatedly piles up luggage in order to try and reach Tweety. These […]

Bad Ol’ Putty Tat

What a great first shot. The birdhouse, panning down across the wrapped barbed wire, coming to rest on a battered Sylvester. Tweety always spends a lot of time telling us how frightened he his, even though he clearly isn’t frightened at all. (Cf. Olive Oyl in I Yam What I Yam.) It’s makes for a […]

Hyde and Hare

Jekyll is funny, as is Bugs trying to move like an actual rabbit. “Carry me.” Someone around here knew something about kids, or about self-imposed infantilization. Bugs is a fine piano player. “I wish my brother George were here,” he says. “Oh—that failing of mine.” The Hyde/addiction thing is quite well-judged. Bugs, being the impulsive […]

Baby Buggy Bunny

Stylized design—great looking. This thirty-five year old baby is really grotesque! What can we do about the problem of body hair? This might be a nod at or a wink toward the part kid, part adult individuals who make all of these cartoons. The whole prologue is put together like, as a silent film. It’s […]

Slick Hare

More movie star cameos, in a picture set at a Hollywood restaurant.  Stokowski plugs the juke box. Frank Sinatra gets sucked into his own straw. The situation is that Humphrey Bogart wants an order of fried rabbit. Elmer the waiter becomes a toady to the stars—very unpleasant—while Bugs first tries to preserve his life, and […]

Rabbit Transit

We find Bugs in a spa, reading “The Tortoise and the Hare.” He is furious. Thus, the film that follows.  The tortoise’s running in place is funny. His slow speech is a very effective pace ritarder. The bike! The jet propelled shell is a good idea, and it’s very well sustained, all the way through. […]

Tortoise Beats Hare

Bugs reads the titles, then tears them apart. He starts huffing and puffing—“sorry.  Wrong story.” Disney plays it straight or crooked, depending on the franchise. The WB’s are always fracturing, from the very first. The tortoise start is funny. They cheat by means of a kind of species party line. There’s some factional insight here, […]

Little Red Riding Rabbit

That is a great drawing on the opening credit card. And get a load of this young woman with the glasses. That voice! That grotesque, buddingly adolescent body! “To have, see!” Her mountain shortcut to grandmother’s house is ridiculous, hilarious. The bunch of grumbling, nightie’d wolves in the bed signals to us that the gang […]

The Heckling Hare

This is the former, earlier, more insufferable Bugs, through and through. He’s torturing the dog that’s chasing him. “Let’s see,” he says.“What can I do to this guy now?” Director Tex Avery’s high spirits are precious, but he can, he does tease unto sadism. (This is the last time those high spirits would be put […]

Hare Conditioned

I find this one to be kind of unattractive, but there are lots of good jokes. There’s some very nice musical mickey-mousing, so typical of cartoons that tell the story both on the picture and the sound track. The nature/culture trick is funny—this sylvan setting is actually in a showroom (cf. Tati’s Trafic). The unctuous […]

The Hare-Brained Hypnotist

I submit that Arthur Q. Bryan is, in his own one-character way, as great an actor as Mel Blanc. The flying bear joke is nicely established and extended. There are some nice tag variations. The hypnotized Bugs gets a bit of comeuppance, which is only fair, and  very satisfying. At one point, as Stephen Leacock […]

Gorilla My Dreams

Did you hear me back there, casting dissenting votes as to Bob McKimson’s cartoon qualifications? Now, here, he looks like some kind of master. (What a title!) I guess that’s industrialized production for you. Inspiration one day, run of the mill the next, and then repeat. Maybe that’s criticizing too. You have an idea of […]

French Rarebit

Bugs starts out as an Innocent Abroad, or maybe just as a plain ignoramus. It’s not a tension, an irony, or a paradox. It’s more a miscalculation. His status seems to be less crafted, less calculated than often, or generally. McKimson? This may relate too much to reputation, or maybe to our auteurist-inflected sentiments about […]

Duck! Rabbit, Duck!

Add this to Rabbit Seasoning and Rabbit Fire and we’ve essentially got a cartoon equivalent, a cartoon prophecy of those Howard Hawks/Leigh Bracket films! All the same, all infinitely distinct. The winter backgrounds here are actually exquisite. There are striking angles all over the place. On the surface these guys are producing product and entertaining […]

Hillbilly Hare

Bugs is taking a vacation in the Ozarks, which is so peaceful, so far from harm or accident or evil. Ah… The hick design here is plain amazing, starting out by going way too far, and then proceeding to go way too far on top of that. Fearless stuff, which also, somehow, ends up being […]

Hare Do

Elmer is using a wabbit detector. “I got up at quarter to five.” That theatre is showing Anthony Adverse. The pardon me/excuse me bit, where Bugs repeatedly, and then repeatedly again gets in and out of his row, is really obnoxious, really knowing, really funny. Also very funny are the change options on that vending […]

Wackicki Wabbit

We start with two men, lost at sea, and starting to indulge in cannibal fantasies. These cartoons can entertain your family in so many different wholesome ways. The backgrounds are completely, outlandishly stylized. Eventually these drifters sight an island, manage to get ashore, and find Bugs there. He engages in some really funny Hawaiian gibberish, […]

You Ought to Be in Pictures

Those are the actual WB animators, filmed in live action, going to lunch. They leave Porky and Daffy to fight among themselves. Daffy is trying to convince Porky to leave WB for greener cinematic pastures, but it’s mostly so he can take over Porky’s place. Allowing for a slight shift in cast, this is the […]

What’s Opera, Doc?

Well, here it is. The Cartoon of All Cartoons? You can actually make that claim, especially if you keep rotating lots of other C. o’ all C.’s on and off of that platform. But What’s Opera Doc really does have some formidable reputation. And it really stands up, doesn’t it? Look at the thing! Shadows! Abstractions! Elmer! […]

Stage Door Cartoon

This is a good looking early Elmer. “You treacherous miscreant!” he says. He’s hunting wabbits. Somehow, illogically, they move from a sylvan setting to the stage of a Vaudeville theatre. Illogic works with these cartoons, of course. When that curtain opens Elmer finds himself in that classic anxiety scenario, out on a stage without a […]

Show Biz Bugs

The situation here is pretty basic to these characters, and should actually be pretty relevant to and resonant with young viewers. Or men entering their mid-life crises. Or wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy. Bugs and Daffy are performing together. Daffy is mad because Bugs keeps getting first billing. Why does everyone love […]

Rhapsody Rabbit

Let us uncover the apparatus. I wrote a pretty considerable revision of this review. Thought it was pretty good, if I do say so myself. Usually I copy and paste the text before I save it, because occasionally you get kicked right out the review template here, and lose the whole thing. You know what’s […]

Three Little Bops

Great title graphics! They’ve recruited the Shorty Rogers ensemble for this jazzy update of Disney’s Three Little Pigs. They’re performing in another idiom, obviously, but what they produce is very much on par with WB’s customarily outstanding musical accompaniments. This time the wolf just wants to join the pigs’ band. The pigs do that perforated […]

The Hep Cat

This titular hipster starts out by singing a bit of “Five O’Clock Whistle,” which the astonishing Little Red Riding Rabbit would dust off just a couple of years later. Lots of cultural archeology in these films! Similarly, the dog’s name in this 1942 film is Rosebud. In the Anything-Goes world of WB animation, and of Bob […]

Katnip Kollege

As you go through the Golden Collections you’ll start to wander just a little bit off the beaten path, encountering a little more than the super-familiar standbys. This can actually be a bit disconcerting, a bit like watching a film that doesn’t use film music, or close-ups. What are we supposed to think about all […]

I Love to Singa

This is a good one! Supervised by Fred Avery, with animation by Charles Jones. Here’s that familiar Henry James, Sinclair Lewis situation, without any of their ambivalence. It’s Europe and America, trying to figure each other out. This New World post is attractively optimistic and generous, reflecting the kind of healthy self-esteem you like to […]

Hollywood Steps Out

On the other hand. Here’s more toadying, set at Ciro’s. That Greta Garbo is really ugly! The big/hot foot joke is really funny. Leopold Stokowski does the cha cha cha. Are they rotoscoping Sally Rand? Her dance is very nicely executed. The ogling that goes on in response is not so well executed. Tex Avery’s […]

Have You Got Any Castles?

As I keep stating in with aggravating frequency, I don’t much like WB’s celebrity cartoons, the ones doing all of the wan and obsequious take-offs of Hollywood celebrities. Well, familiar figures appear in this one too, but it’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. A real treat! A lot of time has passed, and pop […]

A Corny Concerto

This has an interesting structure, and it’s quite unusual. There’s a concert frame, a couple of classical musical numbers, lots of hi jinx in each and not much coherence across or between them. Wait! It’s a Fantasia take-off of course, and not a very respectful one. It starts off with a Fantasia-like silhouette. Except that instead of […]

Book Revue

This one’s a crazy Bob Clampett gagfest. It’s just jokes-a-poppin’, and a lot of them very good ones. You wonder sometimes, with these Tashlin/Avery/Clampett kinds of cartoon. It’s not at all that they feel contempt or anything. But was the audience even a consideration? They’re out to please and amuse themselves! Not such a bad […]

Back Alley Oproar

Elmer was in that bed before the light went out! There’s a very nice composition with Sylvester on that wall in front of the full moon. Grease on the stairs, and tacks at the bottom. Twice. Kindly cartoons… Here’s more great song selection. “You never know where you’re going ‘til you get there…” That big, […]

One Froggy Evening

Surely this is their greatest one-off. Greatest one-off by anyone. Greatest thing by anyone, maybe. This concept is surpassing ridiculous. Except that that frog really does give it his all! There are a lot of great faces here, especially our promoter, with his broken nose. Note also the very crafty use of silence. This is […]

A Bear for Punishment

The alarm clocks, and how they all play out. Junyer reads comics and then gets punched in the face by his dad. Abuse lurks at the margins of this one, or rather makes its way right into the smack-dab centre. Abuse, and/or the possibility that some families—some kids!—are so maddening that popping them is all […]

Mouse Wreckers

The set up does have a cruel efficiency. Just get that cat out. There’s some real hit and miss in the working out of that set up, with good jokes—blowing the cat up with bellows—being neutralized by stinkers (discarding the catnip). The film does hit its stride with a string of well-executed bits. The dog’s […]

The Dover Boys at Pimento University

Animation aficionados are all over this one, but the uninitiated don’t always get to interesting alternatives like this one. WB, and maybe Tedd Pierce/Chuck Jones especially, is trying something new. Good for them. Hard to pull off! This young woman, Miss Dora Standpipe, is very strikingly introduced. Dan Backslide’s anti-Tom, Dick and Larry tirade is […]

Cheese Chasers

For me the Hubie and Bertie pairing isn’t too appealing. Doesn’t at all mean that that’s going to be the case for anyone else. And whatever I may feel about the protagonists, they’ve got quite an idea here. Cheese stuffed mice try to commit suicide by running into the cat’s mouth! The dominos fall in […]

Whoa, Be-Gone!

I am admiring this title. This is a kind of pre-credit sequence! And that is an amazing fulcrum joke. How many variations can these guys come up with? As previously mentioned, there’s a popular mechanics component to these cartoons. It goes deeper than that though. It’s like Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, or a meditation on trying […]

Zoom and Bored

How about these fanciful, impossible topographies? Turn the sound down, resist character identification, and the roadrunner cartoons become impressive exercises in visual abstraction, in the relations between lines and shapes and the illusion of reality, or, as previously mentioned, in pure trajectory and velocity. A thought: this isn’t just the story of a gray-flannel suit, […]

Scrambled Aches

Man! Some of these films are as good as films can possibly be. Most of these films, actually. It’s a really remarkable, absolutely historic series. Scrambled Aches. Get it? I love their titles! All these concoctions, contraptions, devices! Repeatedly, creators and their creature alike take trouble, develop and utilize technologies far above what the problem, […]

There They Go-Go-Go!

I keep saying it but those backgrounds are getting really stylized! There They Go-Go-Go is full of bold, elaborate jokes, superb non-sequiturs. When his feet and tail catch fire, the coyote finds a divining rod, and then some water to douse himself with. This is superbly admirable inefficiency. The same strategy continues with another series of […]

Gee Whiz-z-z-z-z-z-z

These Roadrunner/Coyote backgrounds are already starting to look really stylized. To add to the illusion-breaking, a truck pulls in the opening credit card, and a box with Chuck Jones’ name on it lands on and crushes the coyote. They’ve certainly got a franchise going here, with all of the confidence and self-reference that the word […]

Guided Muscle

He takes very great pains in preparing that tin can for dinner. Shades of Chaplin’s shoes in The Gold Rush, maybe. The human harpoon! That’s a great one. This whole series could be seen as an extended exploration of the formal possibilities of off screen space, as well as the sometimes menace of the often […]

Ready, Set, Zoom!

Ready, Set, Zoom! features the immortal sequence in which the Coyote is forced to walk with his bum. You’ll understand it, and remember, when you see it. We are accumulating some real thematic substance and power as these films go forward. Hope springing eternal; hope eternally frustrated. As so often happens, he is so-o close to […]


Do you remember the surrealists’ exquisite corpses? It’s a game played with language, or with images, by having a first person write or draw, and then having the second follow without reading or looking at the first entry. Automatic writing results, automatically (as it were). Amusing disjunctions and unexpected correspondences result too. Tezuka is riffing […]

The Genesis

I wonder if this was inspired in part by John Huston’s not-long-previous Bible film? There are structural similarities. Not so much the sensibility, or approach. Here we find Tezuka giving his considerable, considerably eccentric imagination free rein. In the old days, a burgeoning Western film school cinephile would start learning about Japan by comparing the […]

Pictures at an Exhibition

The whole of the Coen brothers’ oeuvre, all in one anthology film! The point of the exercise seems to be to try and to show a wide range of styles and, sort of, the sensibilities that go along with them. (And as to my earlier reference, the Coens’ filmography doesn’t always seem to cohere as […]

Story of a Certain Street Corner

This is really bold, and maybe even a folly. Thirty-eight minutes, and of what? I suspect that this thin story is actually something of a self-challenge, and not just a thin story. Very well met, too. The long middle section with all of those vividly designed posters assuming life—though not necessarily any movement—is a triumph. […]

The Drop

There’s much more than manga, more than Astro Boy to this famous Japanese artist’s work. This short film is kind of Act Without Words I, with a little bit of the Yugoslavian short Krek thrown in. The world is cruel, the smallest objects are practically out to get you, and the smallest comforts are unlikely. The orchestral score […]

The Godfather

Saw #TheGodfather. Weegee, by Visconti. #TheGodfather. Ridiculously, almost ponderously handsome. Their craft raises potential/otherwise squalor to exalted heights. #TheGodfather. This is the other way (contra Sergio Leone, say) to make a film opera. Luxury, extravagance, even excess, … … not as faults, but as first principles. The better to linger, inhabit, become immersed in. Is […]


#Amore (L’). Here is Opera, & its debates, distilled. 1 person’s preposterous excess & extenuation, another’s super-abundance. This could be … … an embarrassing travesty, or we might start to suspect that the basic Elements comprise earth, air, fire, water, and Anna Magnani. #Amore (L’). One reads of Rossellini’s intentionally perfunctory, unlovely shooting style, but […]


This is pretty impressive stuff, actually, intertextual without being emptily post-modern, kinetical at the same time that it’s being deeply interrogative, and even critical. It’s also really well structured and executed. The violence is post-Peckinpah, and suggests how much further we can go and have gone with those original methods. Tremendous, if you like this […]

Let the Right One In

I felt blown away the first time I saw this. A repeat viewing causes it to diminish a bit. It’s pretty good on early adolescence and being an outsider—casting!—pretty by-the-numbers about bullying. (That doesn’t mean that that one ear-whack, or the modest little resolution at the big swimming pool aren’t still really stunning.) In other […]

Treeless Mountain

Night of the Hunter!—without the robbery or Robert Mitchum. It’s a hard world for little ones, but in the end they abide. On the way to very convincingly making this point, Treeless Mountain is defiantly sub-dramatic. Or it leaves the drama outside the frame, and outside the consciousness or understanding of its young protagonists. The early […]

The White Balloon

From the Children’s Media Review: Mysteriously hooded females aside, everything about The White Balloon—its gently whining child protagonist, its simple, 85-minute cross-section of a few blocks of Tehran, Iran—begs a comparison the daily culture, sociology, and atmosphere of Anytown, U.S.A. This seems especially pertinent, since the specter of recent—and current—world events has blocked for many […]

Cria Cuervos

This movie is split a bit, somewhat divided against itself. Is it disrespectful, or ungrateful to say that the fascist parts—the way that uniformed men behave, the father figure, with his preposterous demise—are somewhat strained? With the exception of the interestingly neurotic Geraldine Chaplin character, the adults seem stick figures, or strained abstractions. (I guess […]

Alice in the Cities

From the Children’s Media Review: Though this is universally celebrated as a great film, and a key work in the New German Cinema, the style with which director Wim Wenders tells his story, or rather with which he explores the seemingly miniscule events that stories usually skip, will put off many viewers. The approach has […]

The Spirit of the Beehive

This tiny child and her inert and declining community create a productive, painful tension. Is The Spirit of the Beehive about possibility and promise, or is it about social and political and even geographical exhaustion? And if it favours the former, then how can the former ever overcome or come out from under the latter? The […]

Grave of the Fireflies

From the Children’s Media Review: One of the cardinal rules of children’s media has a long tradition of being violated. Beginning with Disney’s early Dumbo and Bambi, down to the recent Finding Nemo, American animated features have occasionally dared to harm or take away the near-sacred mother figure, and have approached, albeit with some trepidation, […]

All My Babies: A Midwife’s Own Story

Who cares about fictional features, part infinity. There’s some 1953 vintage paternalism here, and it’s proper, very important to admit it. But All My Babies is a good example of a very important, insufficiently acknowledged fact. Just because you’re paternalistic, or unenlightened in some other important way, doesn’t mean you can just be dismissed. We reflect […]

Hue and Cry

Exuberant light entertainment which further thought suggests might well be at the middle of a whole ton of important movements and moments, though I don’t know that anyone’s ever remarked it; the use of the Trump penny dreadful, a tawdry rag that takes the workers’ money and keeps them distracted from their true oppressions (to […]


Moredecai Richler’s Jacob Two-Two books tell us that a child’s greatest difficulty is that adults just won’t listen to him. That’s why he has to say everything twice. That’s also the underlying idea in this tremendous little film. The conceit with which it’s communicated is as ridiculous, as simple, and as eye-opening as the one […]


What a precious film! It bucks convention in two ways: the soundtrack leads, and the kids are the centre. The first of these things is paradoxically freeing. The (animated) picture track subordinates itself to the recorded voices, but also partakes of their freedom. Those pictures register for the kids, but they’re also very adventurous, exploring […]

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call—New Orleans

Okay, can we just have a moratorium on these kinds of films? Maybe I should just establish my own personal moratorium. Pretty vivid, and there’s instruction, I guess, about how a lot of people live. Plus, the iguanas. After all these awful, mannered, hair-plugged National Treasure-like films that he’s been appearing in, Nicolas Cage comes […]

Paranormal Activity

A very effective movie. Most consumer grade, lo-fi filmmaking just ends up being annoyingly mannerist. Here the approach makes dramatic sense, is executed with skill and discipline, and adds very nicely to the overall affect. The build and distribution of expository information and escalating anomalies/scares is very well judged. Special commendation for the character of […]


Produced by Marty Scorcese, eh? Isn’t he tired of this disheartening prospect? I know I am. Enough, already! That said, the setting for this same old story is strikingly new. In addition to depressing nihilistic naturalism, we also get considerable methodological (how they all go about their dirty business) and sociological value. So I guess […]


The original film, and not the remake. (We’ve got nothing inherently against remakes. This is just about the original.) On the plus side, one feels that after seeing this film that one has visited northern Norway in the month of June. The midnight sun is the point of the exercise, and I guess it’s interestingly […]

The Quick and the Dead

A mix of Once Upon a Time in the West and High Noon, which as it turns out isn’t such a good thing. The fancy camera moves and cuts are well enough executed, and the setting is nice, and Ms. Stone, who is very attractive, wears a lot of cool clothes. Gene Hackman is some actor. […]

Sweet Movie

The virgin pageant might be admissible, and the Buñuel, L’Atalante and Last Tango quotes suggest proper, substantial precedents for the extremely adult material on display here. Even the preposterous Mr. Kapital part has a certain outlandish validity and meaning to it. Arguably valid, if severely pushing envelopes. But director Dušan Makavejev is only getting underway; things get […]

I Don’t Want to Be a Man

A very energetic film, with handsome settings, marvelous distribution and direction of extras, very confident detailing of the high life. Unfortunately, it is also something of a moral sinkhole. The Victor/Victoria gender bent stuff stands out the most, and might/must have raised eyebrows here, just before the dawn of Weimar Germany. (And actually, let’s pause […]

Get Low

There are a lot of lovely period details. As has been observed before, Mr. Duvall is pretty formidable. Bill Murray is funny, and then he reaches down and finds a bit more than that. I really like how regional it is. This is true of the tail, and of its distribution too. Well done, Georgia! […]

A Decade Under the Influence

A documentary about the groundbreaking American cinema of the 1970s. The array of contributors is impressive, and there’s a reasonable recapitulation of the received wisdom. But as is often or even inevitably the case, you get the impression that some of these people have said this exact same thing before. The subject under review is […]

H.G. Wells’ First Men on the Moon

The beginning parts on the moon are charming, and really benefit from that Ray Harryhausen effect. Of course it’s fake. But not only is it obvious now, it was obvious then. That was part of the point. Special effects can do more than be dazzlingly convincing. They can also delight us with their patent and cheerful […]


This is a sour, wan swan song, and a rather unpleasant film. From the exalted wonder of Pas de Deux and Ballet Adagio we come to this dire thing. It is full of McLaren’s accustomed fluidity and expertise, but it’s also rife with a sense of betrayal and repudiation. Who has betrayed whom? Uncertain, but […]

McLaren on McLaren

That hair! Very friendly and accommodating. Very diminished. Because he’s doing a favour, and/or because it’s kind of corporate, or at least superficial? Unlike so many previous other occasions, the self-reflection isn’t artistic. It ends up being pretty pedestrian.

Animated Motion, pt. 5

Upping the ante: can you animate without movement? Unsurprisingly, yes. This is accomplished through change: of light value, tone, texture, form or colour. We hear about fades, or mixes (dissolves). We’re shown a bunch of mix options, then reminded that all change, even if there’s no motion, needs a tempo (back to those previous five […]

Animated Motion, pt. 4

The disc becomes a rod, and we get a demonstration of rotation and travel, as they relate to each other. We learn that animation of particular parts of an object (“jointing and pivoting of parts”) is extremely important, since this is how humans and animals move. Then a charming, poignant demonstration, and the idea that […]

Animated Motion, pt. 3

On to zero motion, or a hold. We learn that pausing in animation is as important as a rest in music, or a zero in mathematics. McLaren and Munro show us a double frame technique (where you repeat a frame without moving the object in the second one). We learn that when you double frame […]

Mad Love

The US and its Hollywood studio system, yes, but where would this genre be without the Germans? Karl Freund is the secret weapon, the implicit star of this whole spate of movies, from his seminal work in Germany with Murnau and Lang (’24/’27), right up to this little masterpiece. It’s kind of an unusual horror […]

White Zombie

That Lugosi is a handsome devil. They make him mug a lot, though. What was striking in Dracula is already becoming mannerist here. But I’ll bet he could have done more for them, poor guy. The situation here is also very Dracula-like; the sets are actually from the earlier film. Again, they’re superb, and very […]

The Mummy (1932)

The opening of this movie is terrific. Patient, quiet, atmospheric, with a rising tension and thickening atmosphere. It’s Mr. Freund that’s responsible, of course, here and through the duration of the piece. It’s nice how western/modern attitudes are embodied by the attending white guys. One is a devoted scientist, one a scientist unto careerism or […]


That abnormal brain that Fritz stole is an unfortunate betrayal of the grand original. It consigns Mary Shelley’s complex notions about noble savagery and the abandonment of children to the margins, makes the creature a mere monster, and is somehow supposed to justify Victor’s obscene abandonment of his own creation, or excuse the film’s mobocratic […]

The Unknown

A real mess of a Tod Browning movie. Is Lon Chaney/Alonzo the tender-hearted swain, or is he a psychopath? The fact that he’s careeningly both is implausible, both narratively and psychologically. But that fact also yields a great deal of what we might call psychoanalytical insight. We conform to expectations. We behave decourously, and yet […]

The Tall T

Saw #TheTallT. Mixes all sorts of moods and tones, yet always maintains a serene, even majestic consistency. 74 minutes/a small, perfect jewel. #TheTallT. Antagonism unto sociopathology (Silva!). Antagonism, w’ glimmers of possible reclamation (Boone). Decency, resourcefulness … … reluctant/righteous anger (Scott!) win out. It’s an exciting yarn, all right, but these vivid characters make it […]

Trouble with the Curve

Saw #TroublewiththeCurve. An anti-stats sports fantasy, but the analytics guys really have won, haven’t they? #TroublewiththeCurve. A plot summary would suggest efficiency, & that your interest will be engaged. That’s likely to be the case … … but be careful of the bait & switch. Leisurely! Is the advancing age of the protagonist/star responsible? … […]

The Last Command

The early images, where the extras are getting assigned and pushed all over the place, are tremendously, world-beatingly textured and graded and even palpable. Sternberg (and Glennon, and Drier) was a picture maker without parallel. Isn’t that enough? Yes, actually. The parallels and ironies of the story may not stand up to scrutiny, and the […]


The opening feels like a lot of other great late silent films, so confident, kinetic, precipitous. Lang’s Spies maybe. The story and the ideas that grow out of it are pretty simple, but it’s all composed and performed and cut so propulsively that it is still quite thrilling. This continues—basically we’ve got a really artful […]


More absurdism, except that this time it’s Vladimir and Estragon, not Lucky and Pozzo. These co-protagonists are self-regarding and incapable of learning from or responding to challenges and failures. But they are appealing, and there’s an admirable perseverance in the way that they continue to put up with each other. Like with Beckett, the figurative connections […]

The Fat and the Lean

More practically perfect camera placement, all the way through. Polanski, who plays lean, is also a very good actor. He has fashioned a familiar and reasonably effective master/servant scenario. It seems to be a manifestly Polish film, with what you might expect from the regime at this date. That fat guy suggests capital, or the […]

The Lamp

Introducing one of the 20th century’s great artists of anxiety. Or of straight-out inescapable horror. The mis-en-scene (image composition) in this short film has a Wellesian, Hitchcockian exactitude to it. But this is more than just virtuosity, or putting the audience through it. (Fritz) Langian fatefulness? Sort of—but it’s not really that either. The Lamp suggests […]

Two Men and a Wardrobe

What a leap forward! This celebrated film school project is textbook example of Absurdism. It might easily have been a strained and derivative attempt at a fashionable strategy or world view, attempted and failed at by a young aspirant. (No great dishonour in that, by the way!) It turns out to be nothing of the […]

A Murderer

See last entry! This is probably a film school exercise. Shooting entries, exits, conversations, maybe even knifings provides a student with healthy, helpful challenges. Pretty brutal though! Once again, everything is shadowy and sharp at the same time, and there’s a matter-of-factness, an inevitablity to the cold-hearted puncturing. Watch out for this guy!

Break Up the Dance

Very sharply shot and assembled. The intro and the epilogue feature some especially fine moving camera shots. Beyond that though, it’s The Nihilists. You wonder. What does this little episode tell us, or teach us? Does the film advocate this kind of hooliganism, does its maker countenance it? It turns out that Polanski actually contrived […]

Toothy Smile

A future film master, starting out. A bit of surrealism, hints of charnel cruelty, but mostly unseemly and voyeuristic. Not too propitious! And yet this still anticipates a filmmaker who’s most masterful work will feature plenty of all those things.

The Ugly Duckling

Good looking, and much better than their first attempt at this thing. But in the end this version is simultaneously adept and uninspiring. Is it the calculation of the thing? The situation is obviously poignant, but they rather lay it on. You resent it. Maybe they were so distracted by the features that they’d given […]

Mother Goose Goes Hollywood

With this late-issue extravaganza, Disney pulls the off the celebrity caricature/homage thing much better than the WB’s tend to do. Maybe it’s because these caricatures are like the cameos in Cukor’s David Copperfield (1935). They’re kind of forced, but they have at least a bit of narrative justification, a bit of dramatic integrity. Plus there’s a […]


Quit with the babies’ bottoms already! Further, since we are given to understand that mermaids don’t actually have human bottoms, the abundance of them in this cartoon comes across as being not only strange, but unseemly. Babies are precious and all, but enough! The underwater parade is quite nice, in that formless, plotless, conflictless sense […]

Farmyard Symphony

I love this one! Beautiful backgrounds, lots of nice business up front. The rooster keeps things moving, but the incidental or secondary action is just as pleasing, even more so. This is a whole, complex location, and with it you also get the sense of an organic, interacting community of creatures. That’s further emphasized when […]

Wynken, Blynken and Nod

More multi-plane camera, leading to more stunning establishing early shots. In those days, kids, there was a fashion for ladies that sang like that. The Sillies are inconsistent, because sometimes—remember Lullaby Land?—they’ll quite gleefully try to traumatize their young audience. On other occasions, its reassurance that they’re after. There’s definitely a place for both of these […]

The Old Mill

Okay, I’ll bite, or acquiesce to their obvious intentions. It’s a masterpiece! The opening tracking shot, in which Disney makes its first use of this multiplane camera, is amazing. Here’s an invention in which the technological and the aesthetical obtain a perfect balance. (Check out the opening of Disney’s Pinocchio too, as if you didn’t know […]

Little Hiawatha

By this point the visuals are always terrific. The concepts, and the level of taste attending their execution, is considerably more varied. This one is actually kind of offensive. HW Longfellow’s Hiawatha is a young man, fully situated in a setting which, though admittedly mythologized and idealized, is respectfully researched and detailed. To the point […]

Woodland Café

As you’ll have observed, I obviously prefer the atmospheric entries in this series. Woodland Café is just lots of fun, really friendly, full of any number felicitous little things. It’s very busy, but always coherent. It has some jokes, but doesn’t push them too hard. The creditable/actual jazz music inspires the animators to all sorts of […]

Back to the Woods

Here’s another lovely dance. Let me reiterate that these guys are as important as L&H, in their own way. There’s certainly a similar sweetness going on beneath the battery.

More Kittens

Mammy Two-Shoes again (cf. Three Orphaned Kittens, q.v.). The title card is kind of cool, and after that there’s pretty well nothing to recommend the film, except for the fact that blanket statements like that deserve to be challenged and countered.

Three Dumb Clucks

They use Curly’s head to break out of jail. Pa is a nice creation, or variation. Looks like Curly, but sure doesn’t act like him. Cheers, Mr. Howard. You wouldn’t want to say that he didn’t have range, since this one character contains so many delights. But his paternal turn in this picture makes you […]

Mother Pluto

In just a few years we’ll see this story/theme perfectly presented in Horton Hatches the Egg. Disney’s take on that moral scenario isn’t bad, though it does leave some unsatisfying loose ends. Unlike Horton—and by the way that’s almost certainly not a fair comparison—Pluto didn’t really commit to the chicks, or really do much of […]

Three Blind Mousketeers

Not the Mickey Mouse Club yet, but rather Disney continuing to work through and appropriate the world’s folk and fairy literature. It was a good idea, and a good strategy: easily accessed, familiar to audiences, and yet not so familiar as to be a disadvantage. That is to say that we get a bit hazy […]

Toby Tortoise Returns

We’ve got another sequel here, as the Tortoise and the Hare make their way from the race course to the boxing ring. We’ve got lots of characters from other cartoons filling out the crowd here, establishing a whole community, or a whole mess of franchising. This might have been an interesting idea to explore (and […]

Three Little Wolves

The wide world enters into what had previously, mostly, been a pretty protected, insular institutional space. Three Little Wolves begins with the wolf family planning an attack, setting forth their plan by means of a call-and-response song performed in pastiche German. Hitler parallels abound, while other possible parallels confound, or contradict, in interesting ways. Do the […]

Elmer Elephant

More irreproachable animation, in the service of a dubious, positively unhealthy didacticism. Andersen’s ugly duckling was treated badly until he found the swans. After awkward childhood or brutal adolescence he lands on his feet, because this is the possible or even usual course of things. Dramatically speaking his problem was solved. Morally speaking the problem […]

Broken Toys

This might be the best of Disney’s/Silly’s cast-of-thousands, process and manufacture cartoons, or at least the most purposeful and productive. Santa’s Workshop is simply abundant and pretty, and has no particular axe to grind or message to impart. In this it provides a welcome relief to all those threadbare melodramas in which myriad little creatures […]

Cock o’ the Walk

More dumb, threadbare gender stuff. If it weren’t for the fact that Disney cartoons are all anthropomorphic, and that this one’s zoological rigour ends with physiology, you might argue that these creatures are just acting like animals. But even if that were true, that would still be the precise problem. The portrayal of bullying brawn […]

Three Orphan Kittens

The art in these things is often really superb, with their beautiful colours and textures and all. That’s what first strikes you in this one. Some snowstorm at the beginning! It reminds me of very how labour-intensive these things are, and how even the most innocuous or inadequate of productions requires so much back-breaking. That […]

Music Land

As we’ve both mentioned and appreciated, these cartoons almost always have a lot of happy visual, setting-related business going on. It’s often excessive, or at least super-abundant; one imagines background and supporting artists really busily filling things in, and they do it very capably/attractively. The whole thing, put together, recalls the rococo. That means that […]

Who Killed Cock Robin?

Lots of people swear by this one. They have their excellent reasons, which don’t bring me to agree with them. First, though, what gorgeous colour and design! The exposition and the inciting incident are actually quite involving, menacing, impressive. It seems that maybe they are at Disney going to incorporate some of the darkness and […]

The Cookie Carnival

I wonder if the folks at MGM were thinking about this film when they designed Munchkin land? There are real similarities in the later singing section, as the different cookies do very short bits, and the music shifts very quickly a la Franz Liszt or Brian Wilson (not to mention Carl Stalling). The exposition is […]

Water Babies

This one is lovely! Significantly, it’s another of a number in the series that is pretty completely lacking in conflict. That one bullfrog looks like he’s going to up the melodramatic ante, but then it turns out he’s just trying to enhance the experience for everyone. Beautiful backgrounds, lots of business but not too busy. […]

The Robber Kitten

Pretty good one! Very moralistic, but with some space for real character development, and for some fun too. The kid is fantasizing at the beginning—his name is Ambrose, but he’s going to be Butch for a while. He then has a very different experience when his scoundrelly fantasy subsequently, sort of, comes true. Dirty Bill […]

The Golden Touch

You’ll have heard of this one, maybe. Directed by Walt Disney himself, and so badly that he actually suppressed it, and never returned to directing again. Well, maybe Disney was a better manager/mogul than he was as an artist. (And yet saying it that way suddenly sounds so simple-minded! After all, what is that special something that […]

The Tortoise and the Hare

This has lovely backgrounds, lots of nice business related to the effects of the hare’s speed, or the particularities of the tortoise’s passage. Is it familiarity though? Academy Award or not, in the end I find this version of The Tortoise and the Hare to be kind of, even basically, annoying. The fault probably lies in […]

The Goddess of Spring

The Persephone myth! It’s always seemed to me to be one of the most striking inventions in all of human storytelling. So simple, so elemental, so enormous. Such depth of feeling, so mournful, and yet so tinged with hope and possibility. So elegant, and artful! These qualities are not so evident in this present telling! […]

Peculiar Penguins

Here’s a good bit. The show-off boy penguin chases that cute fish, who introduces us to this blowfish, who gets captured and eaten by that lady penguin. This is on its way to becoming a compound gag, but there’s some character significance to it too. Penguins are the main characters in this film, but we’ve […]

The Flying Mouse

Let’s start by being positive. The birds are pretty, and there’s a happy little bath sequence. Otherwise, The Flying Mouse is not only poor, it’s actually dangerous. The lesson is a kids’ lit/didactic commonplace, and it’s okay. Beware of what you wish for. It’s not the lesson so much, but the means by which it is […]

The Wise Little Hen

Nailed it! Decoration, digression, didacticism in equal measure. The results are instruction and delight both, just as Horace would have had it. The lesson—Depression specific, and much more general than that—is made effective because we see life going on around the lesson. For instance there’s a nice detailing of each agricultural stage or task. (Again, […]

The Big Bad Wolf

Nine minutes long, and every second weighing upon my soul. Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein mash-ups can be fun, and the Warner Brothers’ cartoons (Rocky and Bullwinkle, Jim Henson, even Hans Christian Andersen, if you want) certainly show us the value and freshness of fractured fairy tales. But this feels like a plain exploitative sequel. […]

Funny Little Bunnies

Nice one, and after the pattern of the Santa’s Workshop-type Silly Symphonies that I evidently prefer. As with several of those sweetest Sillies, story here is replaced by a combination of happy process and multiple micro gags. Now what is my problem again, and what would be my preference in the face thereof? Well, simply, Grimm-like […]

The Grasshopper and the Ants

Just right. The bad guy is the good guy. He learns his lesson, and we do too, since as children or slightly lazy big people we identify with him. He’s not so bad. But he’s not in the right. Another good thing is that Colin Lowe, Jolifou Inn idea (see review, q.v.). Look how much […]

The China Shop

There sure are a lot of stories in which the inanimate objects wait for the human to leave and then have fun, aren’t there? Hans Andersen was the great master of this device, and explored it with quite astonishing range and variety: The Daisy, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Flying Trunk, The Bronze Pig, “Monday” […]

The Night Before Christmas

Here I am again. The less melodramatic, cartoon-lengthening conflict, the better. Here’s another very pretty establishing shot. I say that a lot, but it’s because they do that a lot. Details: there’s a diaper hanging on the mantel along with all those stockings. This one really is for kids, not only broadly/vaguely, but in the […]

The Pied Piper

Remember when we were talking about Lullaby Land? This one is even worse. This piper pipes the kids away so they won’t grow up like their terrible parents, and gets to the mountain which suddenly opens up to reveal Toyland, Toyland. Even the crippled boy enters, healed, and no one ever looks back. “Happy forever […]

Lullaby Land

A muddle. Quite nicely designed, and executed. Really condescending to children! Are they thinking about their alleged audience? Do they know it? Disney/”Disney” have been at it for quite a while now, and they’ve certainly put out a ton of product. Still, at the same time, these are still early days. Have they figured everything […]

Old King Cole

A real improvement on Mother Goose’s Melodies (q.v.) There’s some wonderful business here from the different Mother Goose characters, that have been disgorged from a number of books. Great idea! We’ll see more of this, of course. This adaptation is really quite effective: the original verses are so spare and mysterious, such that these glimpses and […]

The Three Little Pigs

I feel to resist, what with overfamiliarity and over-rating. But you can see that there are reasons for all the attention and even acclaim that the film gets. Some structure! This isn’t a linear story—unless you were to reverse it, and approach things from the wolf’s perspective—but rather a symmetrical didactic fable. It’s really nicely […]

Father Noah’s Ark

Mrs. Ham, Shem and Japheth, eh? There’s a nice saw mill joke. Mrs. Noah is the shrewish character that prevailed in the medieval mystery play tradition. Rain and sea effects are nice, as is the colour. Also, the sort-of Negro music is quite interesting. An accident? A gesture toward diversity? An accident?

Birds in the Spring

Very pretty. The bird pairings at the beginning reminded me of the reveal at the start of Pather Panchali, for some reason. In connection, the joyful advent of the babies is more affecting than you’d think it would be. Love the dissolve to them with feathers! Very nice use of music too.

Santa’s Workshop

No conflict! This is what I’ve been angling for, in case you haven’t noticed. What a sweet and friendly film! The geography is great, starting with an establishing shot of a luminous north pole, and then exploring the workshop in patient and charming detail. Note that the interest is not narrative. It’s better than that: […]

Babes in the Woods

More reckless, head-scratching adaptation decisions, à la the first version of the ugly duckling. These eponymous babes sure look like Hansel and Gretel. What? Elves? You figure that a witch is coming, and that the elves are going to get her. Maybe audiences liked that spider and fly dynamic, but what does it do to […]

Bugs in Love

An amazing opening shot/sequence, positively Brueghelian in its abundance and variety. The echoes are certainly unconscious, but the little creatures making recreational do with the refuse at hand is wonderfully like a peasant symphony, validated by an affectionately satirical eye. The talcum powder/jingle bells skating interlude played very well when our family watched it one […]

King Neptune

Good looking character, bragging and blustering quite unattractively. Hey! Those mermaids aren’t wearing any tops. They’re very awkwardly drawn too. There’s a bit of nice fish business, but this is basically bland antagonism between the sea creatures (at war like in The Spider and the Fly) and the pirate baddies. Bland except for that effeminate […]

Flowers and Trees

If we were grading these films, we’d bump this one up a point or two just for that colour. There had been lots of experiments but here’s the very first three-strip Technicolor (where’s the trade mark key on this keyboard?) film released to theatres. What must people have felt when this process was introduced? It’s […]

Just Dogs

Pluto’s first starring role, or his first solo appearance anyway. In it we find that captivity gives way to liberty, which as it turns out, isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. Underneath plot it’s how we desire independence—adulthood—and then encounter pitfalls that give us some second thoughts. That’s a pretty standard, reasonably productive […]

The Bears and the Bees

My youngest child observes that the little bears look just like Mickey Mouse. She’s right! Nothing too sinister in that, of course. It’s efficient manufacture, melded with a desire to cross-pollinate your commodities. The little bears have a funny little fight. This is good, and actually addresses some of my overly insistent objections about some […]

The Bird Store

Those are four Marx Brothers birds there. Not just a broad nod either, as they refer quite specifically to one Chico’s musical routines. Someone must not have thought that pleasant avian interaction is enough to sustain this film, since at about 4:50 the antagonistic cat shows up. This kind of antagonism is often utilized in […]

The Ugly Duckling

Someone around here fell asleep at the wheel! This ugly duckling actually is a duckling, and then he gets mixed up with these chickens, who don’t appreciate him until a Rudolf-the-Reindeer-type opportunity arises. There’s a cyclone and then a waterfall, and the duck saves them all because he can swim. So now they accept him. There’s […]

The Fox Hunt

Now there’s an interesting plot choice! Class commentary? Anti-the aristocracy? Probably not. We get some funny galloping gags, though. And a pretty crafty escape by the fox, aided by a likewise misunderstood and persecuted skunk. Class commentary? Anti—oh yeah. We already covered all that.

The Spider and the Fly

Here’s the power of protagonism for you. By starting with these flies, which come from maggots, and spending time with these flies, which spread all manner of noxious disease, we end up sympathetic to these flies, which I believe eat their food and then throw it up and thus spread contagion all across the face […]

The Clock Store

This one features a terrific opening gambit, as the lamplighter (and the animation camera) moves laterally, introducing us to the milieu, as well as the style that the animators are applying as they render it. Now the lamplighter passes the eponymous clock store, where we stay, while he goes right out of the film. Buñuel’s […]

Egyptian Melodies

The best thing here comes right at the start. It’s the delightful, even joyful tracking shot that follows the spider down into the depths below the pyramid. There’s lot of dancing and experimental animation down there, though it never quite catches up with that auspicious open. There’s a mummy dance that’s quite reminiscent of the […]

The Cat’s Out

This is an unusual entry in the Silly Symphony series. There’s less correlation and equalization between picture and sound than usual. I should probably cite this next notion, though proof abounds. Walt Disney really liked jokes or gags or puns or non-sequiturs about bottoms! They’re just all over the place, pretty well regardless of the […]

The Busy Beavers

Charmingly cheerful. Also not so accurate about beavers. We’re not usually offended by that kind of thing, are we? Conversely, though people get impatient when you bring it up, clueless conversations about or insensitive representations of people, or groups of people, can do harm. Is this also true of animals? If a bunch of beavers […]

The China Plate

The Disney Corporation emphasizes the home runs among these films, or it celebrates the distinction and historical importance of the whole sequence. It might not talk quite as much about the apparent also-rans, or of how much interest, craft and quality that they so often contain. Not all of the Silly Symphonies are masterpieces. A […]

Mother Goose Melodies

The Mother Goose verses are too short to be adapted into stories. Unless they’re first expanded unto bloatation, and then adapted into stories that is. But as originally, the Mother Goose verses are charmingly too small. However, charmingly too small turns out to be perfect for the musical, choreographical and gag/comical dimensions typical of some of the […]

Birds of a Feather

A sylvan setting, bird species abounding, numbers of little musical and choreographical bits, with charming tiny jokes attached. Can be viewed either as a pretty primitive sound comedy, or perfect for babies and toddlers. Birds of a Feather isn’t a fairy tale, nor is it derived from one. It has that dynamic though, including pitched conflict, […]


Eric Knight’s original novel is dear and nice and nearly a classic. Liz Taylor appears in the original film version. There are a number of well-meaning sequels. None of any of these come close to this whopping thing. The synopsis suggests simple, sentimental kids’ story, which is true. But this is the simplicity of saga, […]


That long ago? This is almost annoyingly popular and favoured. It’s not like it’s perfect. James Caan as the candidate for redemption is like Gene Lockhart playing an angel in Carousel. Which he did. With Ed Asner this time, we’re still being coy and cowardly with this Santa Claus/Jesus thing. Surprise link: Still, isn’t […]

Roger and Me

Speaking seasonally, this documentary records some forced evictions that take place on Christmas Day, or thereabouts. These evictions understandably stimulate glancing harsh language from the newly dispossessed, the which language gives this film an R-rating, which causes many people not to see it, and therefore spares them from a chance to seriously consider some of […]

The Sure Thing

More secular/Jewish than Christian/Christmas, I think. But it does take place over the December break. Road trip! Starts with crass males, making crassly male assumptions. These are complicated when said males come into contact with actually sentient, independent, intelligent females. Suddenly crassness starts to have a tough time of it. Comedy, with a message for […]


My younger, more wide-eyed and Capra-corny self was very perturbed when this movie first emergéd, mostly because of that nastily contrived dad-died-at-Christmas story that Phoebe Cates delivers toward the end. Impiety! How dare they profane It’s a Wonderful Life? More, what mean-spirits! Now, in my antiquity, I see it all a bit differently. A comparison. […]

A Christmas Carol (1984)

Lots of TV production values. George C.’s accent slips a bit. That ghost of Christmas yet to come is a bit silly, if you want to think about it overly. But the text is very well served and, especially, very well delivered. Actors! Many of them find something new, or something more to say with […]

Fanny and Alexander

Fanny and Alexander is superstar high-modernist Ingmar Bergman’s culminating work, and it’s a masterpiece. (And doesn’t it know it!) Its long middle section revisits some of IB’s deepest preoccupations about faith and doubt and futility. It’s severely clear, admirably cruel, bracingly hopeless. The last section is quite distinct, all mystical and magical, dark and occultish, full […]

Ordinary People

Ends at Christmas, doesn’t it? Devastatingly. Good grown-up stuff, on how things go well, and don’t. An adult film, or one for kids who are preparing to embark. P.S. Best Picture, you may ask? Or, what exactly did director Robert Redford bring to the project? Well, he and so many other actors who’ve gone behind […]

Mr. Krueger’s Christmas


The Sweater

It turns out that Red and Blue are the real, the only primary colours. Red, mostly. The Sweater is a happy answer to Claude Jutra’s chilly view of pre-Quiet revolution Quebec (Mon Oncle Antoine, q.v.). Dark times aren’t always and only awful! The animation here is extremely vivid and agile, practically bursting with colour and childish joy. […]

Une Vieille Boîte / An Old Box

There are so many cool animation styles that are beyond me. Uncool ones are also beyond me. This film is another take on the little match girl, now in a modern urban setting, and with a dispensable old guy replacing the Dickensian child. Andersen posits plenty/sufficiency as natural, so that poverty registers as an especial […]

Mon Oncle Antoine

This milestone in the history of Quebec/Canadian cinema posits and portrays a form of medieval serfdom, right in the middle of the 20th century. It begins cheerily, saucily (note: adult film!), blithely. Then, the ashes. Beneath this bright/then bootless scurrying there’s a vivid and thoroughly detailed regional Christmas, an irresistibly pre-Vatican Counsel Catholic world view, and M. […]

My Night at Maud’s

Eric Rohmer’s brainy dramatization of Blaise Pascal’s wager, mingled with reflections on the relationship between mathematics and morality, and with a little Mozart thrown in. Memorably, part-ironically, most luminously set on a snowy Christmas Eve. Festive at the margins, striving through and through, and love and mercy at the core. (Pascal’s wager is here, in […]

The Great Toy Robbery

Very early exposure to this piquant little Western spoof led to it actually colonize my subconscious! See if it’ll do the same for your youngsters. We must teach these young people that there’s more to the world of animation or children’s entertainment than Walt Disney! Listen for Santa’s silly accent.

The Dirigible “Homeland”

A simple actuality, partly capturing what they could of an interesting event, as and how they could.

On the Barricade

This will soon come to be the same kind of cinematic politics indulged in by D.W. Griffith, and by multitudes of his successors. The subject here is topical, and ideological points are made, unfairly, mostly, through sentimental contrivance and overstatement. The thing is that anyone’s heart can be touched, and should be, by vulnerability and […]

The Irresistible Piano

We’ve got one concept here, or one conceit, clearly established and cheerfully and charmingly played out. That’s Alice Guy. She’s not a genius, nor really a stylist, or much of an innovator. She’s a pro, though, a really fine and genial pro. At the end of this collection the viewer has developed feelings of affection […]

The Rolling Bed

The pattern, once again: exposition in the interior space, then outside for the elaboration of the plot, and for the fun. This isn’t too profound of me, but doesn’t this film make you think about the importance of beds, and of having a place to lay your head? Yes we’re unaccommodated, poor, bare and forkéd. […]

A Four-Year Old Hero

This is a very important film, especially with regard to kid subjects, and attitudes toward children. It looks forward to a film like D.W. Griffith’s The Sunbeam, without being at all subordinate or inferior to the later production. In fact, though DWG will frame a bit more craftily, though he’ll incorporate props in a really […]

The Cleaning Man

The French, she is a gesticulating race. This time the women are definitely not being played by women. The scenic sameness we questioned in The Fur Hat is nowhere to be seen, because we cut between a number of contiguous interior spaces, and that quite quickly. In fact, The Cleaning Man is kinetic unto Sovietness. Better, in […]

The Fur Hat

At this point in film history (1907) interiors continue to be a challenge. This film is five minutes long, and it’s full of incident. That incident is very nicely graded and developed and paced. As far as cinema goes, though, there’s a certain inertia. The camera just sits there. This is not to say that there’s […]

The Wind Rises

Saw #TheWindRises. Multiply, consecutively, preposterously gorgeous. Very moving, simply on the level of craft … … Story/concept/character? Well: that opening dream sequence approaches Wild Strawberries or 8 ½. Then surpasses them, I’d say. … Caproni character kinda combines Porco Rosso & Abel Magwitch! Fearsome, ultimately benevolent, & the world an intractable perplexity. … That long-gestating […]

A Walk in the Sun

Beautiful dialogue, with an ear simultaneously for the poetic and the prosaic (the former coming from the latter), beautiful direction which fits the same description: loose documentary techniques for men on the move, careful compositions for conversation, operatic effects (extravagant movements and real montages) when the violence explodes; the episodic structuring must have been a […]

Fires Were Started

How many three and five year olds have sat all the way through this, and liked it? myself, I’ve tended to side with the GU students who find it painful, though I’m too respectful to be as impolite as they are about it, sided there, that is, until this time, when I finally got what […]

Air Force

An exciting movie lurks beneath the tiresome jingoism, all that straining American stuff that thrills so many of them and nauseates most of the rest of us, one need only look at, say (obviously), Jennings to see that it’s not propaganda persay, but what informs it that can be so galling, here–Hollywood–it’s not poetry or […]

The Battle of Britain

Boring, frankly, Wagner to symbolize the German juggernaut (see Prelude to War), Churchill impersonation for some reason, nice sequence with “Auld Lang Syne” over genuinely touching Coventry funeral material, Christmas and “O Come…” unavoidably affecting; but the stiff upper lip is pushed excessively, (staged) British reserve melding uncomfortably with the overemphatic Capra/Fordtype doc music that […]

In Which We Serve

Significant that this propaganda piece starts with a ship sunk, and ends with + half the men dead, meaning I supposed that a public blitzed would know a lying escapism when they saw it, and preferred its uplift somewhat seasoned with reality, Coward’s a strangely urbane captain, though you’re won over, and perhaps for auteurist […]

The 49th Parallel

After the economy of the Viedt/Hobson films, here begin the extravagant leaps (eccentric flab?) that eventually culminate in the looney mastery of Red Shoes/Hoffman, and which I guess eventually culminate in the end of the Archers, it may be the location shooting that leaves first things clumsy, or the slightly cartoony Germans, but after the […]


Insanely intense film, with structure and continuity and motivation all thrown aside, the better to shout the wrong-headed, right-hearted message that there must be no more war, even though in 1937 it seems to have been becoming obvious that there would too have to be one, in fact, Gance so superlatively–and prophetically!, you’d swear it […]

Scherzo Infernal

Okay, at this point Borowczyk really does appear to be an addict, or at least an obsessive of late-Pasolinian dimensions. The proliferation of these demon phalluses is really remarkable, for range, imagination, ridiculousness. The appearance of this ravaged, innocent-going-on-depraved angel only ups the ante, or confirms one’s suspicions. There is a reassuring and not inappropriate […]

Un Collection Particuliere

We’ve skipped over a number of Borowczyk’s feature films now, and are finding him on the brink of a new phase in his career. He’s been thinking and communicating in this register, but going forward it’s going to look like he’s a plain pornographer. Or maybe an extremely artful, intertextual plain-pornographer. Is this film that? […]


Man! A remarkable accomplishment, if only at a logistical level. Memento, schmemento! This is more than just hard work and resourcefulness, though. Renaissance is a very rich little fable, or a richly confounding absurd assemblage. It’s the remembrance of things past. The seeming prescience of some objects. The fetishization of objects. The best laid plans, going aft […]

Les Astronautes

On to France now, where we find Borowczyk collaborating with the formidable Chris Marker. You’re tempted to make ideological assumptions with these two markedly and yet very distinctively ideological filmmakers. That’s a fair urge, at the same time that it’s one to be wary of. Assumptions like these can be pretty pat, taken for granted […]


Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica are making films first, but do we know Jan Švankmajer a little better these days? If that’s the case, then let’s say that Dom is a Švankmajer kind of avant garde film. Films by Maya Deren or Stan Brakhage or Andrei Tarkovsky can feel insularly inaccessible. There are symbols operating, but […]

The Story of the Weeping Camel

Repeated viewings aren’t diminishing this film. It is true and beautiful. This kind of lightning doesn’t really strike twice, unfortunately—Nanook was really the only one of Flaherty’s films to be any kind of a hit, wasn’t it? But a lack of subscribers doesn’t mean you’re not right. When you think about it it all seems […]

River of Victory

In which the three BYU boys who produced this film successfully avoid, even if by accident, all manner of cultural or colonialist perils. The subject is poverty, but by giving the film over to these poor people, by giving us their names and voices, the filmmakers haven’t made an object of that poverty. This means […]

Foster Child

This film has a very serious case of the camera game. Gil! You’re occasionally pretty obvious in the way you play to the camera! That’s a real documentary issue, and fair to mention. But then, it’s such a tiny thing! Especially compared to how very, how incalculably important this small film is. Foster Child is the […]

Les Ordres

In October of 1970, when I was turning seven and hearing about Jacques and Pierre Rose and the FLQ and the murder of Pierre Laporte, I was relieved to know that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had invoked the War Measures Act. (Which, I later discover, both Premier Bourassa and Mayor Drapeau had requested.) I also […]

The House is Black

In which the commercial feature film finally crumbles into superfluity and irrelevance. How can one think of box office or the fickle fan in the face of such awe-inspiration? You certainly can’t imagine Farrokhzad caring about such trivialities. That’s for cultural and historical reasons, but not only. Her view here is unflinching and empathetic, her […]

The Anderson Platoon

This material was obviously gathered under great duress, and at a great cost. All sorts of terrible things, including terror itself, hover at the edges of the frame, and often enough they enter right in. In other words there’s a very good reason for all of the ellipses and unclarities. But it’s really elliptical, to […]

Tales from the Gimli Hospital

There’s inspiration, madness (like a fox?) and burgeoning genius all over the place here in arch-Manitoban Guy Maddin’s first feature film. Longeurs, too—he’ll need to work out his method and his mix. It’s all too almost—you find yourself with a nearly smile kind of stuck to your face, because the prospect of pleasure too infrequently […]

The Legend of Suram Fortress

A free man! This film gives the impression of having emerged straight out of antiquity. There’s no sign of industrialism, or of exploration or conquest. The dramatic method, which alternates intensely concentrated scenes of ritual with wild and even reckless ellipses, only increases the impression that this is actually, uniquely, a piece of archeological cinema. […]

My Ain Folk

Parallels, precedents and subsequents come to mind here. These faces and spaces have a dreadful authority, suggesting a (much more!) dour version of Jean Rouch’s Cinema Direct, as well as all of those Flaherty-like films in which fiction and reality ambiguously and richly interact. This is typage, too, resembling the Soviet version in which half […]

My Childhood

If you want to call it a childhood. Blasted! This feels quite similar to what Charles Burnett would be doing a few years later in Los Angeles, with his historic independent production Killer of Sheep. (Add some Vidas Secas to that as well.) It’s neo-realism, of course (non-actors in real places doing about what real people […]

I Know Where I’m Going!

Distracted at first by the sound on the video dropping out every 15 seconds, as well as by the this time disturbingly eccentric opening (not to mention that awful song), it takes awhile to realize that this is another unique great Archers film, first of all with the casting of Hiller as the beauty (correct, […]

The Story of a Cheat

Ah! The miraculous extended opening to The Magnificent Ambersons suddenly looks just a little less miraculous. As I believe Orson Welles himself has freely acknowledged, that exquisite long opening is straight out of Guitry, and out of this film particularly. The Story of a Cheat is relentlessly clever, a really terrific combination of cinematic and theatrical […]

Two Solutions to One Problem

That is a very descriptive title. Not only is this film admirable for its didactic clarity and sincerity, but also for its quietly striking style. Look at AB hold on the faces of those two wounded little boys. Reaction shots tell you how you’re supposed to feel. Here they don’t manipulate, they tell you that […]

Bread and Alley

You know how some artists, how most of us have to evolve very gradually into our mature style, as it were? If we even get that far? Well, as far as Abbas Kiarostami’s films go it’s all here, right from the very beginning. Compose, hold, hold some more. And what results! Fans of the famous […]

The Host

As the pundits say, the river sequence that openings this humdinger of a film is pretty virtuosic. But if you don’t mind my saying it, that monster is also pretty computery. It’s not that big of a deal, but the movie does depend upon the monster a lot. Does this synthetic base keep The Host from […]

The Thing from Another World

Ford’s My Darling Clementine! A lot like it, anyway. As in that other towering monument of virtuous Americanness, the good guys here confront some pretty formidable malice, even evil. And as in Ford’s film, standing up against evil carries a considerable cost. There’s no perfunctory scriptsmanship here, and the intensity is such that the real world […]

Night of the Hunter (1991)

It’s not fair to compare any TV movie with a classic original, and it suffices to say that the one’s great, and that this one stinks, but the points of departure do bear enumerating for what they say about two worlds not so far apart; Laughton’s film takes place in the black and white past […]

The Norliss Tapes

I saw this when it was first broadcast. It was really scary! Let’s see what I think this time around. The poverties of vintage TV movie production (zooms, plot jumps and implausibilities, etc.) are actually pretty interesting, if we allow them to be. What if we just decided not to get upset about them? These […]

By Night with Torch and Spear

Modernist? Eccentric? Looney? As we’ve seen (Rose Hobart, q.v.) all those descriptors are pretty apt for this particular head-scratchingly trailblazing filmmaker. Very sharp images! The backward titles are bratty, but also interestingly disorienting. Cornell’s provocative combination of industrial and anthropological does generate something of mystery and of menace.

Note to Pati

Gives a powerful impression of long, actual winters, of the mere logistics of living through them, and also the fun and fellowship to be had. The small film stock is beautiful. So are the people, and that red coat. The skimming, wobbling, swish-panning gives us to understand that this is not commercial film, and that […]


I don’t think I like when filmmakers put celebrity footage into their films. Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger are important in any number of ways, but appropriating them as they are appropriated in this film can so easily and often come off as cheating, or obsequiousness. Inquiry or reflection, and formalist elaboration too, can just […]


An impressive study of symmetry and superimposition, and of optical printing too. As with a number of avant garde films, the gradations of representation and abstraction are given a special pop and interest when the represented/abstracted object is an unclothed female body. Is O’Neill trying to make some futurist point by juxtaposing the oil pump […]

Peyote Queen

This is always a question, and establishing production and release dates/details doesn’t always provide the answer. And the question applies here in an avant garde setting, just as much as it did/does in commercial or mainstream settings. Front-leading, or following the trends? The question matters, but not in the way we might immediately think …

Odds and Ends

As its title suggests, Jane Conger Belson Shimane’s film is quite pointedly miscellaneous. The picture track is a very nice compendium of art on film techniques. It mixes found footage, defamiliarized body parts, painted and cut-out abstractions. They’re put together with a nice combination of calculation and looseness. They’re also  served more or less straight. […]

Fake Fruit Factory

We’re looking at a few selections from the fourth entry in a very important series of avant garde compilations. Here’s what the American Film Preservation Foundation has to say about it: Fake Fruit Factory: Sociological and formal, in equal measure. In the first place, Fake Fruit Factory is a very patient, concentrated, instructive document about working […]

The Place Beyond the Pines

Saw #ThePlaceBeyondthePines. Like Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, compounded, w’ characters out of Wm. Faulkner. #ThePlaceBeyondthePines. Some switch! Contrived, but Fateful, and not merely manipulation or dire coincidence. Terrible/mercy. #ThePlaceBeyondthePines. Also a lot like, exactly like Marcel Pagnol’s Jean de Florette/Manon des Sources. Sins of the fathers… #ThePlaceBeyondthePines. Dear movies. I know I sound like […]


Saw #Polytechnique. Beautiful winter imagery, poignant footage w’ all these vividly engaged young adults on the brink of horror … … The spree is very effectively rendered, awful w’out being  exploitative. Not sure what it adds up to. Not sure the film knows, either.

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

Saw Mikio Naruse’s superb #WhenAWomanAscendstheStairs. Apologizing in advance for these outsized analogies! #WhenAWomanAscendstheStairs. Reflections on the Marshall Plan. Successful export of Western systems & values? … … Or a Holocaust, w’ women instead of Jews/Gays/Gypsies now being in danger of  figurative extermination. #WhenAWomanAscendstheStairs. E. Olmi’s Il Posto gives us post-war economic recovery as complicated, contradictory […]

Remembering Arthur

Saw #RememberingArthur. As in Arthur Lipsett/NFB. Watch the 1st four; you will likely be stupended. #RememberingArthur. Some film excerpts & photos, but mostly uninterrupted long takes of loved ones, remembering … … Seems a good way, the exact right way, probably, to do a biographical doc. #RememberingArthur. Spends tons of time w’ this amazing, articulate, […]

The Cook

Saw R. Arbuckle’s #TheCook in a great films class. So amazingly agile, attractive, elegant even. (Keaton too, of course.) Cleopatra! Look him up! #TheCook demonstrates a transgressive, positively excessive willingness to digress, noodle, waste time & just generally smell the roses.

Mouse Trouble

Tom get punched in the eyeball, and has occasion to use a toupee. He also dies at the end, and uses that Mae West line as he ascends to heaven.

The Bodyguard

Did Tex Avery’s Bad Luck Blackie steal all of this? I think that Bad Luck Blackie does it all better, but you always take your hat off to the originator, and just as much when the person who follows refines and improves.

The Million Dollar Cat

These painted backgrounds are gorgeous, and so is that arced, concaved movement that Tom does at the start, and that Jerry repeats at the end. I must confess that I’ve been feeling resistant to Jerry. Tom and Jerry are constantly playing out what would later become a very Roadrunner situation, obviously, though there are some […]

The Zoot Cat

Jerry butts a cigarette out in Tom’s face! Lingo or current-event cartoons don’t tend to date very well. Like this one. The Jerry dancing shots are a bit funny, and the way Tom’s suit shrinks to Jerry size is very nice.

Baby Puss

All of these cartoons cut the heads off of the humans. The kid’s voice and patter are pretty cloying, though they interestingly echo perceived parental talk. Nice use of songs. Reaches heights of gleeful sadism when those three cats show up.

Sufferin’ Cats!

Jerry’s dodging two cats now, and they both deserve their comeuppance.  So dual duplicity is justified, morally/existentially speaking. But Sufferin’ Cats isn’t a philosophical treatise, so the results are less Red Harvest/Yojimbo than just not quite making sense. That’s the whole, but even when the cartoon doesn’t fully come off, T & J always deliver something. Consider […]

The Yankee Doodle Mouse

Violence unto abstraction. There’s no context or objective: mayhem is all. Considered thusly, this film, this series even, becomes a formalist study in theme and variations. Pretty virtuosic, too. The Yankee Doodle Mouse is very cinematic, with great shots and gags all over the place. Diabelli-calibre (Beethoven), in fact. The grater! That brassiere is surprisingly detailed. […]

Cash and Carry

Look out! There are two orphans, and one of them is crippled! Also, Roosevelt shows up at the end. This is the first rearing of sentimentality’s ugly head. Those grifters right things nicely, what with their deception being so nasty. Plus, Curly wallops Moe right on the head with a sledgehammer. The cut is perfect, […]

Dizzy Doctors

This one is at the disorganized end of the scale. It doesn’t do much with the fact that the boys are married. They’re sleeping together—symmetrically, and it’s about noon. The wives are not pleased, so out they go. What can we conclude here? What with two of the Stooges being brothers and all, it’s not […]

Slippery Silks

Nineteen films in and these guys are giving Chuck Jones a run for his money. The happiest oeuvre in the cinema? I’m probably getting carried away, but families do better from laughing together than subjecting each other to endless nagging or lectures. The introduction of that Chinese cabinet is as fateful and portentous as the […]

Whoops, I’m an Indian!

If at the end of your life you could only claim to have come up with the title of this film, and that’s all, then you could still probably claim to have fulfilled the measure of your creation. Don’t you appreciate the great truths that so often appear in mighty lines of dialogue provided by […]

False Alarms

False Alarms compares favourably with Chaplin’s The Fireman. Twenty years have passed, but this isn’t appreciatively less chaotic than the (way!) earlier production. Normally you’d think that film should be progressing—refining, tightening—in that amount of time. This isn’t normally. Speaking of which, Larry’s hair nearly carry the day here, all by itself. Notice its super-abundance, there […]

A Pain in the Pullman

This one is a classic, a real comic milestone. I’ll tell you: these films can plain make a person happy. I love that dancing. “Goldstein, Goldberg,  Goldblatt and O’Brien,” says the Semitic looking guy with the heavy Yiddish accent. “O’Brien speaking.” The two carrying-the-trunk shots are superb—not only violent, but joyfully kinetic. As title half […]

Termites of 1938

Great open. Moe gets shot out of a cannon—it makes sense in the movie—which leaves his ears ringing, so that he doesn’t quite hear that the lady wants an escort, not an exterminator. The high-class meal is nice. It’s a pretty sloppy sequence, but the ramshackle quality in these films is important in a lot […]

The Sitter Downers

Very farcical—a ridiculous scenario about three sisters and their three suitors has nudging and winking implications, and is at the same time very sweet and innocent. Chaucer? Life itself? The facts of life are up front, and by not hiding them, or hiding from them, we end up having a healthy, balanced, unforced/unfetishized relationship with […]

Playing the Ponies

This race is pretty implausible, which is good. Larry steals one from Charlie Chaplin (The Rink, 1916), and maybe the whole commedia tradition, by calculating the tab from the food he finds on his customer’s tie. This pepperinos gag is going to come back, isn’t it?  It’s a good one. I would like to say […]

Disorder in the Court

The take off your hat part is quite good. The idea of having the boys and that attractive little accused woman act out the crime is also quite good. The execution of the idea is only okay. Being a fan, or a member, or a citizen, doesn’t mean that you have to be a toady. […]

Half-Shot Shooters

This is superficially similar to the Stan and Ollie’s Blockheads, with its WWII prologue and contemporary body. The L&H piece is more profound, but this has its own Stoog-ian consistency and integrity. It’s doubtful that they meant anything by it, but the bit where they utterly pummel their sergeant at the announcement of the Armistice, in […]

Movie Maniacs

That three-in-a-bed dolly-in is really nice. Curly’s song! “Barrymore?” “Kiss me, my Caliban!” Where on earth does this kind of stuff come from? It’s forward to SCTV, if you want, or The Simpsons, or MST3K, or Spongebob. These productions might seem, might actually be all sorts of low-brow. But the range of reference! Sometimes, as […]

Ants in the Pantry

Here’s another fun scenario, as the exterminators are forced to do a bit of infesting on the side. In this Ants in the Pantry is much like the best Hal Roach shorts, in which the scenario has enough dimension to be interesting, but isn’t so elaborate as to confuse or tire us, or to get in […]

Three Little Beers

This one is appealing, with some good jokes, and it’s a bit too sloppy to quite hit the stratosphere. The way the boys are introduced is always fun. There’s a conventional prologue in which someone announces a problem, and then the existence of three new people who we hope are going to help solve it. […]

Hoi Polloi

It’s the Stooges’ Pygmalion, which starts with a question about whether environment and heredity will always win out over nurture. A wager follows, of course. One of the correspondents says that he can prove his point with two men. “Make it three and I’ll accept your wager.” Gee. Any candidates? The training part of the […]

Pardon My Scotch

“When will that shipment of liquor be over?” From small acorns great oak trees grow, as another couple of distinguished philosophers once said. From that thin wisp comes one of film’s great comedies. (The prohibition background lends extra historical interest.) The whisky situation provides a through line, but really what we’ve got here is three […]

Uncivil Warriors

That’s a really dumb title. I love how the supporting players in films like this so often overact. Are they trying to make their mark as they vie for the big time? Did the director forget to strategize about and impose a consistent or plausible comic tone? Or are these productions basically scrambled eggs, providing […]

Pop Goes the Easel

Here’s another simple, effective conceit. Some nice material about being unemployed gives way to this alleged broom stealing, and the whole rest of the movie. Running into the art school places the Stooges in a parallel universe, and establishes them as semi-aliens. The results are felicitous. Good gags all over, in addition to another terrifying […]

Restless Knights

I suggest that we all keep an eye on Curly’s costumes. There are a couple of nice camera moves here, and even a composition illuminated by Rembrandt (obscured in-frame source) light. They slip on that rug really beautifully. The queen gets tossed on to her rear end, and, later, knocked on the head. It occurs […]

Horses’ Collars

This is more threadbare nonsense, narratively and industrially speaking. But for a number of reasons— our viewers’ affection for these boys is already coalescing and increasing, gag comedy doesn’t need much rationale or verisimilitude, and some of these gags are really tremendous—it works beautifully. There’s Curly, sitting there doing the old eyes painted on his […]

Men in Black (1934)

In which the Three Stooges begin to hit their stride, if you can call something so transgressively wonky and anarchic a stride. There is some structure, in the form of some sequential gags—the director’s door, the switchboard, the various vehicles they use to go and attend to things. But structure doesn’t really seem to be […]

Punch Drunks

I like the early scenes in the diner the best. We find Larry—who is a very good looking man, by the way—appearing briefly as an itinerant Jew, right down to the persecution. Did William Dieterle and Bernard Hermann and company hear or think about this film when they were getting their Daniel Webster movie (1941) […]

Woman Haters

Their debut! Let’s take a closer look at the first bunch of Three Stooges productions. I will now declare that I quite like Wikipedia, and am happy to paste in this link that will lead you to the best and most careful collections of their films. Recommending! Woman Haters is a novelty film, part of a […]

The Secret of Kells

Not only is 2-D alive and kicking, it would appear that you can entertain and make money with a 2-D film that is almost completely visually and narratively stylized, as well as being really rooted in a complex and dimly distant past.  It’s an awful lot to chew on, and that they pull it off […]

A Town Called Panic

This is a completely delightful, almost totally unhinged film.  It’s also a lovely demonstration of how powerful suspended disbelief can be, particularly when the tale-spinner does his part.  It never occurred to us to question or object, despite the patent preposterousness of the erstwhile story, or the ridiculous figure animation.  One of the reasons, of […]

Source Code

Not quite the conceptual humdinger that Moon was (same director, of course), but this is still an intelligent, agile, and conscientious exploration of interesting ideas: time and space, will and fate, authority and independence, love and death and love, etc. Cool, if not quite mind-blowing or world-shaking. This isn’t a very big problem, since Source […]


For all its modern techno-accoutrements, for all of its media echoes and hyper macro-zooms, Limitless is kind of another version of kids’ lit standard works Half Magic and The Five Children and It. That is not at all to disparage, mind you; not only do the kids like the concept, but they like it because it reflects a basic, […]

The Adjustment Bureau

 There might be something in this recent spate of thrillers that not only have philosophical pretensions, but actually rise to a measure of philosophizing. This one has some good stuff about God and man, free will and determinism, and then the possibility and viability of personal determination over and above it all. As Mr. Damon, […]


The bad guys are very reminiscent of the Donald Pleasance gang in Will Penny. Same thing, actually: an extraordinary, nearly plotless gentleness, intersected by blood and thunder. (For that matter the same goes for the Clantons in Ford’s My Darling Clementine.) This is more plotless and gentle, such that in the end the blood and thunder […]

The Gunfighter

The Peggy and Jimmy characters are generic, and effectively so. They are a little pat, though. This isn’t so much a flaw as a characteristic of chivalrous narratives. Other than that, what perfection! Each contribution is just right, exquisitely fashioned, exactly integrated, registering individually and yet accumulating into a nearly overwhelming gestalt. This is an […]

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

Not quite as plotless as I’d thought, seeing it as a youngster. The impression had come from the fact that the dramatic spikes are balanced and even countered by a deep, practically transgressive interest in plain logistical detail. Procedure is everywhere, and preparation, such that much of the film seems to be intentionally avoiding conventional […]

Robin and Marian

I’ve shared this with you folks before. I’m afraid that I just find Audrey Hepburn to be overrated. Winsome and delicate and even exquisite—absolutely, obviously. And that’s just as true now, in her middle age, as when she went on that Roman Holiday. (She’s actually quite good in that one.) But beyond a certain range, […]

Diary of a Country Priest

I get it now, this near un-inflection combines with the lovely, solemn, oratorio like music (instrumental sections), the protagonist’s static pained beauty (byzantine, as Shrader says; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief), the monotonic lines and monologues, the doublings and triplings of banal actions to deny us the crutches of identification and suspense […]

They Caught the Ferry

There’s some Danish documentary value here that is in some ways as interesting as the unexpected anomaly of Carl Theodor Dreyer directing an action picture. Look at them wait for every conveyance to get off the first ferry. Look at the housewife gas station attendant, and how they spill all of that gas! In terms […]

The Way to the Stars

Quite Twelve O’Clock High-like, except with more civilians, they begin similarly, moving through empty scenes of past glories and thunders, this is less a critique of heroism, because there aren’t quite the bloated hyperboles in British wartime cinema (or in British culture itself) that the Americans were needing to question, not much mention is made […]

The Plough and the Stars

Saw John Ford’s take on O’Casey’s #ThePloughandtheStars. Dido and Aeneas! Too bad the Stanwyck character’s so all wet about it. #ThePloughandtheStars. 1916 isn’t illuminated, especially. The Oirish comedy, however, is extREMEly successful. #ThePloughandtheStars. #4Sons aside, expressionism doesn’t suit Ford, dispositionally speaking. That said, this is a real visual stunner.

The Enchanted Sedan Chair

There are so many more of these beautiful films. We’re going to leave them here, though. Shall we summarize? We have more transparent match cuts, of course, and more going on than just that. At first there’s a kind of uninteresting mannequin situation—let me see—it’s going to come alive, right? The masqued variations and multiplications […]

A Crazy Composer

We start with Méliès doing a funny musical number at the keyboard. He falls asleep, the muses appear and dance decorously. So far, so bland. Is that on purpose, because he’s lying in wait for us? I wouldn’t put it past him. Now the scene changes to what appears to be some cheerfully infernal setting. And […]

The Palace of the Arabian Nights

The Rajah’s daughter? There they go, disrespecting their sources again. Or rather, Méliès is as phantasmagoric as the original composers and compilers, so he can do whatever he wants. We could use a close up here, or a detail in the midst of all that composition and proliferation. Beautiful colour pop, mind you. And look […]

The Lilliputian Minuet

We should have more movies with titles like this! Again, the trick cuts aren’t really that tricky anymore. But neither are they the only thing operating here. The little dancers are charming (inspiring something very similar in The Bride of Frankenstein?), and the reduction of the big cards until they’re the size of a regular […]

The Magic Dice

Always the fabulous costumes, as well as some really big dice. This is a fragment, but the opening up of to the big plant that then opens up to reveal the beautiful lady is promising.

The Black Imp

More of the most non-toxic demons in film history. The shocking transformations are okay, and pretty familiar by now. Getting to be a bit rote? The superb Méliès will eventually enter into a decline, or he’ll be bypassed as so many things march past the marvelous methods that he innovated and perfected and then wouldn’t […]

The Living Playing Cards

In the we-see-through-you category, except for the nice, literal jump cut at the end.

The Firefall

Eye-popping, but not as interesting as he generally is.

The Impossible Voyage

Paying tribute again to all this enormous ambition, so often executed to such genial perfection. I’ll stand by that word, I think. The Impossible Voyage is about perfect in its framing and pacing. Again and as usual, that framing is basically proscenium in nature, but Méliès has got the foreground/mid/background relations going very fluidly. Also, though […]

The Mermaid

The magician at work. I love how he moves and presents. Also love the fish and the rabbits. The mermaid part is a little less interesting. We’ve established how sometimes Méliès’ dramatic sense lets him down a bit. Similarly, his reverent self is occasionally, even generally less effective than his antic self. Laudable though—while watching […]

The Devilish Prank

But where’s the prank? Great clown costume, terrific cut as they drop through the bucket and become courtiers.

The Cook in Trouble

Matthew 25! The most devils ever, probably. They tumble delightfully, while the mortals buffoon amusingly. Action proliferates to practical orchestral proportions. The pacing is perfect, and they explore x, y and z axes in practically virtusoic measure. A film director! Terrific topper, when the stove falls all that way to hit the cook on the […]

The Wonderful Living Fan

Lovely. Just lovely. Beautiful clear picture, with a music box score that really enhances. The French Revolution is long past, but with such superb costuming, with actors and dancers that so know how to wear them, with all of these graceful and musical movements, the imagination is fired. The intellect is fired too. Could it […]

Tchin-Chao, the Chinese Conjurer

I am thinking that Chinese woman is dressed in traditional Japanese clothes. As we have discussed caricature is fine when there’s lots of rounded or respectful images to offset it. Short of that, it may be natural/inevitable for people to behave this way when they first encounter the other. It’s like an evolutionary stage, through […]

Faust and Marguerite

As before, as often with these dear films, it feels like someone needs to invent a new, more naturalistic style of acting. Great devil/Mephistopheles costume. What else is new? After Marguerite rebuffs Faust the villagers—just out of church?—embark on a charming dance. I love this guy! This is an extremely important character, isn’t it? A […]

A Miracle Under the Inquisition

Cf. Méliès’ Bluebeard—when the trick cut is utilized in some narrative or moral connection, potential mannerism becomes purposeful method. This one is quite scarifying. The wrapping of the woman at the stake effects a very successful sleight of hand: you can’t quite spot the dissolve, so that she really appears to go up in those […]

The Imperceptible Transmutations

Sharp picture! Thank you, archivists and film preservationists! We have a Frenchy interior, with a Watteau background through the central doorway. This corresponds with the aristocratic get-up Méliès is wearing, and with the boy (who’s really a diminutive woman) he summons. There’s a wonderful balance between these players in the subsequent dance. S/he’s featured, and […]

The Clockmaker’s Revenge

I affirm my admiration and support and desire to praise and sustain a great and underappreciated artist. I also affirm that I don’t understand what’s going on in this one.

Untamable Whiskers

Méliès is technologically and technically resourceful, as well as being sensitive to the direction, the need of the story. That’s why we find him here, adjusting shot size for dramatic purpose. It turns out he’s a very good speed drawer. In his essential study of the silent film comedy (1975), Walter Kerr observed that the […]

The Bewitched Trunk

At first all the tricks are obviously accomplished through cutting, so that they’re not all that magical. But then come the permutations, and the recollection that though sleight-of-hand may pale, or even pall, this kind of graceful terpsichore never does. This is Méliès’ great trajectory, isn’t it? Magic turns to dance, so that his devices […]

Tit for Tat

Not quite sure what it means. Love the wigs.

A Moonlight Serenade

Tons of lovely lunar stuff here, especially when Pierrot is gathered up to join the woman who is sitting up there. Méliès is in metamorphic mode now, as the moon now turns into a blinking, patently filmed eye. It scares the laird so much that his hair turns white. The effect, the self-reflexive expanse of […]

The Terrible Turkish Executioner

The title gives you a sense of things to come, doesn’t it? There’s going to be a decapitation! Méliès applies his (fabulous!) floating head trick to an actual narrative, with very good results. I’m trying to see up his sleeve. There’s a black backdrop, and a number of black masks that blend in to it. […]

The Damnation of Faust

Those first two shots are kind of close ups, or at least medium shots, and the characters cross the frame obliquely, dynamically. Which is to say, cinematically. The parade of flats and drops as we descend to the infernal depths outdoes even The Kingdom of the Fairies (q.v.). And that is saying something! These ballerinas […]

The Ballet Master’s Dream

Whenever the ballet master actually reaches for one of these pretty girls, she turns into a leering old lady. In fine Tex Avery fashion, this leering old lady now returns the ballet master’s original attentions in a very spirited fashion. Suddenly the ballet master is not quite as interested.

The Magic Lantern

This film would reward a (Christian) Metzian analysis as much as Buster Keaton’s so much more (so justifiably!) celebrated Sherlock Jr., and it could accommodate a mess of other connections as well. The exhibitionists are Pulcinella and Pierrot! They set up the lantern theatrically, and then the slides, which are superimposed photographically, move cinematically! What we […]

Comical Conjuring

Erik Barnouw, right again. If your magic trick is accomplished by means of a cut, then it’s not really that much of a trick. That part of Méliès’ arsenal of tricks will be getting, has already gotten into the realm of diminishing returns. But there’s so much more to it! This is sweetly genial stuff. […]

Alcofribas, the Master Magician

Familiar stunts, but this grotto setting features not only stalactites, but some outer space-looking rectillinders. More than that, Méliès is really pulling out the stops and upping the ante with the special effects. He’s using a few stills now, and multiple superimpositions, distributed across different sections of the frame. There’s a close up, even, of […]

Extraordinary Illusions

Nice exchanges between the man and the woman. All these Méliès films are extremely male in attitude and perspective. That’s a limitation, but it’s not necessarily a problem. (That’s why everyone needs a voice, and a forum. That way we don’t have to apologize for or condemn innocent/appropriate expressions just because they’re incomplete.) So the […]

Jack Jaggs and Dum Dum

That second guy keeps doing the exact same silly dance, to the amusing consternation of that first guy. Followed by a gag with a great big hammer. Also, familiar fun with dismemberment and an amusing, jumbled reassembly.

Ten Ladies in an Umbrella

Andre Bazin suggested that the discovery of perspective was the original sin of Western painting. (“The Ontology of the Photographic Image.”) At that point the wonders of creation, the child’s pleasure in simple shapes and colours and forms, basically give way to vaunting ambition. Can the same be true of narrative’s advent? We all like […]

Jupiter’s Thunderbolts

You wouldn’t want to do this kind of score too often, given that the cool Giorgio Moroder ends up obscuring the geologic Fritz Lang, but it sure works here. As ever, all the settings are very successful. First come the stormy clouds, the (portly/o’er bearded, effectively comic) deity appearing in their midst, with an aureole […]


That is a big candle! That dancing lady becomes a leering beastie. This transformation is undoubtedly just for fun, and maybe some appealingly vain display. But there a lot of materialistic and gender implication, roiling just beneath that surface! There they go again: the beastie has now become a convincing ghost. Now that ghost is […]

The Infernal Cauldron

Very sharp picture, more nice stenciled colour. Great devil heads mounted back there on the wall. How on earth? Or, should I say, how the hell? Those three ladies that they dumped in that cauldron just emerged to become the most translucent (not superimposed, but somehow integrated), the most  convincing apparitions ever.

The Kingdom of the Fairies

I want to elaborate here, or explicate. I want to appreciate and pay tribute to the lengths these people went to in providing these entertainments for their audiences. What pretty pageantry! Everyone is really comfortable in these costumes, and in these settings. It’s hard to overestimate how important that is. That sense of comfort infuses […]

The Monster

More narration on this one. Flicker Alley/FPA provide a very helpful, very interesting explanation for this phenomenon. Again, very early films, both as produced (we knew that already) and as exhibited, reflected contemporary theatrical practice much more than we may realize. The narration here has everything to do with the exhibition side of the equation. […]

The Melomaniac

Another film in which the author’s energy and animation and imagination are positively inspiring. The Melomaniac is a real variation of or an advance on Méliès’ customary head trick. He’s notes on a musical staff! And the notes sound out God save the king! And the female chorus arrays itself beneath the staff and holds solfeggio signs […]

The Spiritualistic Photographer

Here’s an important innovation. Not a trick cut, but a trick dissolve, and only in an isolated part of the frame. The film concludes with some lovely closure, or symmetry, as the woman becomes a painting and then becomes a woman again.

The Oracle of Delphi

Very simple, very nice. There are tricks here, some transformations. That’s just what Méliès does. But in addition to that happy status quo, it may be that he is actually playing this subject straight. In his last years Roberto Rossellini undertook a series of films that sought to expose audiences to, teach audiences about the […]

The Witch’s Revenge

The chair that turns into the guy! This is one of his best ever trick cuts. The placement of the portable stage is just right. It’s clearly taken from contemporary theatrical practice. This makes it historically interesting, and also, potentially, useful for contemporarily purposes. They did it right then, and it worked beautifully. Today we […]

The Drawing Lesson

Not a burlesque or satire, or send-up, but an actual period piece. It’s spectacular, but I wonder if there’s something more at hand. The illusion and artificiality of aristocratic France?

The Inn Where No Man Rests

I’ve said it before, I say it now, and I’ll feel to point it out whenever the opportunity arises. This amazing movie is another reason to dismiss the standard dismissal about Méliès and his work. When his films explore and use the frame so effortlessly, so comprehensively, they are not mere theatrical relics. They are […]

The Enchanted Well

Méliès’, with some more non-toxic, cheerfully non-threatening devils. Nice donkey. Amazing serpent. The Méliès’ atelier is always really good with hydraulics (the transformations of that well), or with stage technology/special effects generally. This one features some more nice figure proliferation, and its screen movement is very well paced and distributed. Quibble, or historical impatience: at […]

The Infernal Cake-Walk

The fun these people are having is powerfully palpable, and it’s all communicated to the viewer too. Not just fun, but well-crafted fun. The establishment of the setting and situation (those flats!), the themes that are played thereupon, the single turns and the group routines are all beautifully paced and presented. As often, Méliès’ frame […]

Misfortune Never Comes Alone

This is basically the another version of the Lumiéres’ sprinkler sprinkled. Another much more elaborate version, nicely compounded to almost James Agee-an proportions. (See opening section of his 1949 essary, “Comedy’s Greatest Era,”.) There is a bit too much knee-slapping going on, mind you, just as Bertrand Tavernier observes in the wonderful The Lumiére Brothers’ […]

The Marvelous Wreath

As mentioned, Erik Barnouw (1981) makes a good point about Méliès. At some point it’s all comes down to this one particular cut. He wonders. Really, how much can you really do with that one trick? Well, as we’ve seen, quite a lot! And yet, as mentioned twice now, Barnouw makes a good point. But […]

The Coronation of Edward VII

Wow. This looks a real space, with non-gesticulating, non-exaggerating players making me absolutely believe that the filmmakers were there, and that I am too. They weren’t, of course, and this re-enactment introduces us to another film-historical commonplace. That is that film producers would often re-enact or, in this rare case, anticipate real-life events, and then […]

Gulliver’s Travels Among the Lilliputians and the Giants

Beautiful! Note the delicate tinted colours, and the spatial planes provided by those exquisitely tooled flats. Here is that film history commonplace, in which the familiar narrative is severely truncated or abridged, because the producers assume that spectators will bring their fore or pre-knowledge to their production, and it fill in the cinematic gaps. Méliès […]

Horse Feathers

Returning to watch all of these films is making me wonder if internal evaluative hierarchies might be so much ideology, or sales pitch, or intellectual laziness. Why is Duck Soup necessarily the best one? From Animal Crackers to MGM, they’re all of a piece, dangerously anarchic, charmingly, even sweetly familial/ethnic—aggressively leading edge. Free men. And themselves […]

Arrière Saison

This one is a little overdetermined, I think. Empty lives, making a decisive break, decision as worse than inertia, returning to emptiness. It is very beautifully mounted, though. The details of the peasant household, of the woodsman’s life not only seem authentic, they seem positively educational. There’s a scintillating foreground/background shot involving a flowerpot, a […]

Brumes d’automne

If you’re not careful you might get caught up on the surface, and miss the substance. You might conclude that a cine-poem is something that has lots of water in it. Leaves area also an option, especially of the falling variety. This is certainly true of the late 20s, or of Kino Video’s important collections […]

All is Lost

Saw #AllIsLost. Elemental setting, & a plot devoted exclusively to process. Just nouns & verbs, but such evocation … … in the wake of that simplicity! Salutary, inspiring. #AllIsLost slots in as part of a great, now underserved tradition: … Captain’s Courageous. Conrad’s “Youth.” The Sea Wolf.  … Hemingway, Huston, Mowat, Craighead George, Paulsen, etc. […]


Saw #Gravity. Won’t say it’s being over-praised, but it is being uncritically praised. We oughta think things all the way through … … even when we love them. #Gravity. It may seem strange to say, but this is kinda C. Kane-like. Not exactly, not even unprecedented. But some synthesis! #Gravity. This all comes from that […]

Never Cry Wolf

 Saw #NeverCryWolf. Conflict strategies shift interestingly, importantly. Man-against-nature becomes … … man-&-nature, in utter harmony. Until more men show up, & wreck that equilibrium utterly. Where are we, in that? #NeverCryWolf. Exemplary photography (Ballard/Narita) communicates narrative & themes, singlehandedly … … Note how at 1st ECU’s & ELS’s alternate alienatingly. Then they give way to extreme […]

The Naked Island

So glad to have seen Kaneto Shindo’s incredibly nervy & accomplished #TheNakedIsland, which we’d missed at last year’s BFI/NFT retrospective.  #TheNakedIsland. Sisyphus demythologized, or played out in real time and space. Process & typicality, combined w’ deepest archetype. #TheNakedIsland. The national & cultural traditions/precedents don’t really match up, but this is Genesis 3: 16, 19 […]

Carnival in Flanders

Saw J. Feyder’s #CarnivalInFlanders. Remains a bit obscure, historically. Truffaut-dismissed? Careful. He had no time for #PatherPanchali, either. #CarnivalInFlanders. You can see how it might have looked like an apology for collaboration. But echoes of Aristophanes (Lysistrata, inverted) … … Chaucer, Mozart/Da Ponte (Cosi fan Tutte, but more pro-women [cf. Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters!]) seem much […]

By the Law

At first it’s full of that peculiar Kuleshov acting, and the most interesting thing is wondering what revolutionary point they’re going to make with London, there’s an obviously telling in frame montage with Kokhlova’s hiked dress, fancy boots and a bible over top, but though she does a fanatical religious act all through, which is […]


Saw the US/Disney version of #Oceans. Meanders, but pleasingly. Atypically sparing on the hokum and sentimentality. Gorgeous! #Oceans. Fun to see a film distributed by the uber-corporation being so unequivocal/unapologetic about the causes of climate change.

La Soufriere

This is a good subject, set in a pretty spectacular setting. It comes off as a stunt, though.  Maybe it’s the fact that Werner Herzog always insists on droning over the top of the people he’s interviewing. What’s wrong with subtitles? Let us hear their actual voices, and intuit the truths that come from intonations, […]


Take that, Mr. Herzog! Let’s just pause to say that this old trapper’s solitary journey is not quite, not exactly solitary, since the cameraman that we never actually see is still, obviously with him the whole time. And yet this combination chronicle/homage is more complicated than the conundrum of the camera game (as discussed in […]

Moods of the Sea

Consummate skill, completely dedicated and subordinated to the service of the subject, which is so dramatic as to result in virtuosic fireworks anyway.


The elements! Endless variety, beauty and mystery, in the most commonplace, taken-for-granted material. There’s a Vertovian (Film-Eye/Film-Truth) component here; without the isolation that the frame provides, without close ups and the sensitivity of film stocks, we’d never be able to see all this. And/or, the camera is better than the eye, at least when the […]

The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes

Saw #TheActofSeeingwithOnesOwnEyes. Warning! This is a film of an autopsy, or an assembly featuring a number of autopsies … … It is terribly distressing! And terribly moving too, for the simple, almost chaste way in which Brakhage shot & assembled it all … … It is as if he had set out to avoid any obfuscation […]

Scenes from Under Childhood, Section One

Another soundtrack! Its hum is very suggestive, somewhere between looming and threatening. Womb noise, we assume, going considerably against the grain to suggest something we might not often think about. We know about Lacan and maternal plenitude and all. But what if fetal existence were also terrifying? Brakhage has stated that this film seeks to […]

Two: Creeley/McClure

Think of the things that could happen if films and filmmakers were to forego plot—psychology, motivation, verisimilitude, etc.—and concentrate instead on portraiture. They could do it classically, or in more modern fashion, as here. Love the double exposures and jumps. Also, and this is part of the modern fashion too, quite sloppy!

The Riddle of Lumen

Something is happening here, but I don’t know what it is… The idea sounds good. A celebration of light, a compilation of ways that it falls on all of the things that it falls on. Also, a compilation of ways you can capture that falling with a camera. There are certainly some pretty things in […]


At ten minutes length, this film uses a ton-of-a-lot of paint! Some of that paint is extraordinarily thick too, unto three dimensions. One productive consequence is that we are now not thinking about the film itself, but the means and conditions of its exhibition. How did they get this through the projector? There’s a very […]

Commingled Containers

The images of water and of what lies under its surface are beautifully sharp and shining. Interesting things happen when Brakhage mixes an actually recognizable thing from the physical world with those customary, luminously unrecognizable lines. Norman McLaren and the bouncing ball (Mosaic, 1965)? Pee Wee Herman and the sprinkler? As rapturous, as other-worldly or […]

The Dark Tower

I’m viewing and writing in circles here. The Dark Tower gives us more fabulously vivid colour. The explanation for it makes sense, as and if Brakhage says so. But I’m wondering if these elaborations can’t, don’t sometimes close things down, inhibit the viewer from seeking more, or different. Maybe, sometimes, it’s better if we see and connect […]


Begins and ends with a beautiful fix and fade effect. In between, more colourful than the sky to which I’m accustomed. Brakhage makes me wonder. Have I ever really looked? At anything? Which is actually the most fundamental question in all of his yearningly inquiring works, for all their considerable range and diversity.

Black Ice

Cool effect. Metamorphic, but he’ll also hold just long enough for you to grasp the images. These resemble jewelry, and those a cave of wonders. By this time—I’ll  say!—he’s got his methods, and his meanings, and he visits and communicates them very confidently and productively.

Untitled (For Marilyn)

The closed-eye visions are really evident here, and really rapturous. What a painter! The film is in constant flux, and you’re conscious that each new frame picture really deserves, and would really reward, more concentrated attention. If this is a closed-eye vision, though, then the desire to fix and domesticate is probably inappropriate. In the […]

Delicacies of Molten Horror Synapse

Brakhage stated that this is an hypnagogic vision, or equivalent: what we might see or experience as we move from wakefulness to sleep. In this case, while we’re watching television! Quite resembles Norman McLaren’s historic Begone Dull Care, without the benefit of Oscar Peterson’s astounding piano accompaniment giving shape and direction to the image. This makes […]

Glaze of Cathexis

Personally, I’m not quite grasping what Stan has to say about this one. Brakhage scholar Fred Camper’s commentary is remarkable. Is he overly anthropomorphizing or concretizing the plainly abstract? Probably not—why not have the images, and also the critic’s artful interpretation thereof? The idea of a spirited interaction with someone else’s film images is after […]

Rage Net

Brakhage’s spoken introduction is very poignant. It causes the viewer to secondarily revise the abstract images, which indeed seem to illustrate the text, just as he suggested. What would happen if we hadn’t have heard the spoken introduction? Brakhage, both teacher and filmmaker, will be comfortable with that result too. Either way, in any case, […]

Night Music

What a lovely explanation! “This little film attempts to capture the beauty of sadness, as the eyes have it when closed in meditation on sorrow.” Quite similar to The Dante Quartet, about which we just read.

The Dante Quartet

Amazing! More than Norman McLaren ever did with painting on celluloid. Not more, as in better or more dedicated. More like Pollock is more than Kandinsky, or Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz is more than The Shape of Jazz to Come. All of the usual Brakhage platitudes make perfect sense here. It’s an ecstatic vision, whether […]


The musical collage on this soundtrack is a very nice addition, and quite unusual in a filmmaker so dedicated to making aggressively silent films. This soundtrack resembles a cut and paste version of Hanns Eisler’s very important film-musical idea (cf. his book Composing for Films, 1947, or his score for the celebrated Night and Fog, 1955). This […]


I’m really repeating myself, aren’t I? Again, private vocabularies and motivations, which don’t really appear to the naked eye.

The Stars are Beautiful

Some of the creation myths that Brakhage made up are interesting, and the idea of making up your own creation myths is very interesting. Without the introduction on the Criterion disc, it is unclear how or whether the images, which seem more dim and grainy and unframed than had to have been necessary, actually relate […]

Garden of Earthly Delights

Beautiful! An ABA structure, the three parts being that a dark background washes, then gets dark again. Is it the 35 mm that makes the edges and filaments and colours and all so sharp? These things pass by very quickly, yet seem to impress themselves individually, easily, and vividly upon the mind. Maybe because each […]

The Wold Shadow

Though by all accounts it was not intended, I took this as something of a history of Western painting, or perhaps a questioning of some of that history’s common conclusions. Brakhage alternates conventionally photographed and painted images. In fact, he alternates photographed and painted frames. In this The Wold Shadow qualifies as a structuralist film, which […]

Eye Myth

That’s a really short film! Really cool looking. Looks, in fact, like an early film stencil process, applied with techniques and to materials consistent with turn of that century modernist painting. What’d you see?


Wonderful idea! Brakhage mounts moth wings and flower petals between strips of splicing tape, and transfers the whole thing to film. The resultant projection is not an illusion or a metaphor. It’s the thing itself. In some ways Mothlight is like the story Jean Renoir tells of hanging his dad’s paintings in that barn, as he […]

Thigh Line Lyre Triangular

Cool title! When compared to Brakhage’s first baby film, the intensely beautiful Window Water Baby Moving (q.v.), Thigh Line Lyre Triangular will strike most viewers as allusive and indirect. Quite difficult, in fact. That’s even more true if it’s compared to the commercial run-of-the-mill to which we are probably accustomed. The challenges are considerable, but they can lead […]

The Dead (1960)

This is shot in Brakhage’s searching, subjective style. No more establishing shots and careful compositions for him. This after all is how we really see (a further elaboration of what V.I. Pudovkin was saying about montage in the 1920s [published in English in 1954]). You can certainly make that argument, and the film does very […]

Window Water Baby Moving

A unique and striking title. The four words are separate, or sequential. They trip off the tongue too, like “look/listen/vibrate/smile.” They are something in the order of chapter titles. Or named musical motifs, because the sections do intertwine some. There’s something of a joyous pun on the last two words that is especially apt, and […]

Cat’s Cradle

Tons of cuts, lots of surfaces and textures, things in and out of focus. This must be Tarkovskian: meaning and substance abound, but it’s so hermetic as to be practically impenetrable. What we’re left with may also be the point of the exercise, and it’s an extraordinarily important point. Don’t take my meaning. Make your […]

Sirius Remembered

The Brakhages’ dog died, and this is what followed. A good subject, I think, for a family that had its babies at home back in the 1950s. For all of us, actually, who through modernity and advanced capitalism have removed ourselves from where our food comes from, where babies come from, and where it all […]

The Wonder Ring

I may be wrong here. I may be making inappropriate comparisons to D.A. Pennebaker’s Daybreak Express (q.v., 1953), which features a very similar subject, but with a very distinct approach thereto. It’s amazingly accomplished, amazingly good. Plus, it has all sorts of help from Duke Ellington and one of his bands. Like I said, the […]


More with Brakhage’s buddies. There’s some striking camera work, especially the handheld movements and the narrow depths of field. Desistfilm has plenty of that oft-mentioned Beat sensibility, but more than that it’s really good at youth’s desperate desires to happily occupy itself, and at the dumb things youth does as it pursues that desire. Also, as […]

The Extraordinary Child

This strikes me as a really dumb film, and not in a good way. The director leaves his actors hanging. They appear to be trying to gesture over the lack of a soundtrack, which is something he hasn’t had trouble with before. On the other hand, he is making films with his friends, which may […]

The Way to Shadow Garden

Here’s something new. The sharpness of Brakhage’s b&w imagery continues, and now these editorial discontinuities establish a subjectivity, an interiority that he will pursue, with increasing intense purity, ever after. What’s it about? Well look at these wrinkled sheets—it’s still and always the same old problem for this young man. He should go serve somebody, maybe […]

Unglazed Windows Cast a Terrible Reflection

Another young man’s film. This situation is pretty generic, actually. In fact, it’s horror film generic—youngsters in an isolated place, descending to violence. This is the kind of things that kids do, and it’s okay. What’s exciting is, once again, the unapologetic localness of the thing. We are in Nowhere, Colorado. No apologies are needed, […]


19 years old!  Just terrific. Reputedly inspired by neo-realism; in responding to that movement, Brakhage actually prefigures Antonioni. The landscapes are blasted, the tentative connection, waylaid by carnality, ends in dire alienation. Is that a little schematic, or over-dramatic? He’s nineteen! The chiasmic balance of this thing is actually quite exquisite. It’s not slavishly symmetrical: […]


Leningrad, from the inside. This is challengingly and beautifully unvarnished. So much quieter than the noble Capra film, and an amazing supplement thereto (or vice versa!). So much of the indescribable, incalculable event isn’t here. Some of what remains is surprisingly run-of-the-mill, or everyday. Look at those wide streets. Look at how powerfully wintery it is. Look at how the feudal, […]

The Battle of Russia

It’s kind of a false division, but what if you were to pit entertainment against education, and have this film represent the better part? It’s no contest, overwhelmingly. This isn’t Hollywood rescuing and compromising dull information; it’s information rendered with the spirit it deserves, and producing the electricity native to it. It’s not often that you can say […]

The Sound Barrier

Saw Rattigan’s #TheSoundBarrier. A well-made play, but w’ a few striking structural surprises. Good on the wild blue yonder, maybe better … … on the costs & consequences. In fact, this is the story of Thetis & Achilles, or Dido & Aeneas! Ralph R.! Also a lovely, kindly conclusion. Saw Lean’s #TheSoundBarrier, in which film’s […]

The Greatest Show on Earth

Profoundly hokey stuff, but the kids were transfixed for all 150 minutes, the colours quite beautiful, that sawdust-in-their-veins silliness is so earnestly presented that it becomes fun, and even slightly convincing, same with dumb romance, dashing Sebastian and earnest Brad, Stewart/Buttons stuff is laughable and involving at the same time, Lamour’s funny, songs stink, parade […]

San Francisco

We skipped all the melodrama before the earthquake, which is a towering accomplishment in special effects, and which is cut as fragmentedly, as vividly, and as successfully (at least on a visceral level) as the best Soviet stuff, of course this means very little, and though there’s poignancy in Blackie’s long search through the ruins, […]

The Covered Wagon

Impressive location work, though as with de Mille’s Joan, some of the train musters and river crossings aren’t cut (or thought) as dynamically or coherently as later excursions, which build on this founding expression, would be; one can see how a lot of movies sprang from right here, not only in the crossing the plains […]

Calder’s Circus

These are wonderful contraptions, invented with tremendous imagination, created with great skill and patience. They’re nicely shot too. The film alternates between illusion and apparatus  Sometimes we see the objects in close up, operating in seeming isolation, or even independence. Then we not only see Calder, his wife, the record player, the audience and all. […]

John Cage: From Zero

Cage is a charming, charismatic old guy. The filmmakers seem really star-struck. Chance operations and indeterminacy are profound. This isn’t. They’re not being at all consistent with their rules and restrictions. As far as Cage’s statements go, they’re what you might expect when someone sticks a mic in someone else’s face and asks them to […]

The Reality of Karel Appel

A naked modern artist? Maybe, partly. But he sure gives himself to the part, and the work stands up both formally (these volcanoes of paint look great) and thematically (all is violence and striving), if you want them too. The middle part, when Appel looks around and absorbs the world around him, is quite contrived. […]

The Mystery of Picasso

He’s a volcano! Long ago, as a callow youth who was trying to learn how films worked, I felt obligated to like this. These years later I find it irresistible. Thank you, art major daughter! Not that I’m having more than an informed layman’s experience, but one of the best thing about this marvelous document […]

The Green Pastures

Ethnic clichés, both written and acted, and the knowledge of white creators all makes the correct prick up their ears, which is why the smarty pants Entertainment Weekly rag gave it a D mark when it was released on video; there is condescension here–all said to be seen through negro eyes, and the film structures […]


Saw #Dames (1934). Interesting & amusing on moral majorities & legions of decency. Kibbee, Pitts & Herbert are VERY funny … … These might not be Berkeley’s greatest musical numbers. Might be the weirdest, though, which is saying something! + #IOnlyHaveEyesForYou

42nd Street

This is a really important, really seminal musical picture. You may not be aware, though, that early sound musicals can really show their age, or at least be off-putting to the uninitiated, or the unprepared. Still, for historical and literacy reasons, you should see it. Still, more than that, you should see it because crazy […]

The Class

You have to admire the process that led to this sincere and substantial film. Cast social actors, collaborate with them to insure that the material is authentic, or as authentic as possible. You have to admire the results too, the general impression of honesty and reality. Still, it’s interesting that, for all of the sociological […]

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt

Some of you might still want to resist this one. Gay propaganda! It’s calculated, craftily manipulative, an ideological example of the Hollywood Studios’ old practice—judged to be unconstitutional, mind you, and eventually made illegal—of block booking. If you want this Clark Gable picture, they said, you’re going to have to take these other nine films […]

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

This is an elusive film; in fact, like several other P&P productions, it’s quite eccentric, to the point of being positively strange; It certainly took me a few tries to find my way in, but having done so I now, & for some time since, find it to be completely admirable, a triumph of craft, […]

The Spy in Black

Thrilling, not just because of its effective generic/genre qualities, but because there’s such life and feeling beyond the form. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s first film together strikingly resembles Jean Renoir’s much more celebrated pacifist milestone, Grand Illusion. That seems obvious, but it’s less obvious that the similarity is as much a matter of shared sensibility as […]

Spare Time

More GPO good will, and the hint of a commissioned subject too until the final Handel sequence, where a poet starts to emerge, miseries and indignities and general griminess are all bound up and covered over by sweet solace, a benediction on the soundtrack which unites and sanctifies the homely pursuits of all of the […]

Last Train Home

Niche stories and niche markets are okay, or more than okay, but they can become so specialized/particular as to become completely hermetic, indulgent, irrelevant. And then there’s this situation, where the niche or subculture in question is 130 million (!) Chinese who are permanently, life-long strung out by a can’t-go-on/I’ll-go-on migrant worker existence. Your heart […]

Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square

This subject is very interesting and important. The filmmaker provides a reasonable overview, but is especially concerned with giving us an individual view of the whole thing. That, in addition to the really adept mixture of visual media, is the greatest, sometimes most chilling contribution. The things these people did, and the way the regime […]

The Mikado

I liked it! The film’s middling reputation is somewhat justified. Kenny Baker’s Nanki-Poo sings sweetly, but he’s really boring. And what’s with casting an American?! This is Gilbert & Sullivan! The production is also a bit wan in spots. In addition it is, as everyone seems to like to say, somewhat stagey. Or it’s trying […]

The Dragon Painter

Very picturesque. Those waterfall shots! The historical context is really interesting—a whole dedicated production company for silent film star Hessue Hayakawa to make films with. (You know him as the camp commandant in The Bridge on the River Kwai [1957, q.v.]. He’s so much more than that!) More than twenty produced during its existence. He must […]

Wet Earth and Warm People

This is an ideal documentary, informative and impassioned, amusing and heartrending, strikingly individual while impressing you with its universality. The great Michael Rubbo gives this far away Indonesian place so much more than a cursory fly-by, which means that the not so-blameworthy exotical curiosity that, say, a North American like me might bring to an […]

Cannibal Tours

Dennis O’Rourke’s Papua New Guinea documentary is calm, controlled, courteous, doubly devastating. Some commentary on the film differs, but I think that he likes some of these tourists, and many, even most of them deserve to be liked. And just because you’re a native doesn’t mean you can’t be self-serving or plain unpleasant. Having established […]

N!Ai, The Story of a !Kung Woman

This film is basically an anthropologist’s confession. Marshall and his method and his discipline are not nearly as aggressively at fault as the colonists and capitalists and industrialists are. However, he admits, even testifies that in the end he and his contributed just as markedly to this disaster as did the usual suspects, or the […]

The Naked Prey

Fantastic. This is (Jean-Pierre) Melville-like in its singleminded focus, in the way that it’s stripped down almost unto abstraction. As the title promises Cornel Wilde, the great director/star, is stripped down as well, and at fifty-three years of age he is a marvel. There’s not really much sense that he’s vain or showing off. He’s […]

The Silent Enemy

The prologue encapsulates Bazin’s ontology (preserving what’s dead) and especially Flaherty, who obviously influenced this (some authenticity in rendering indigenous crafts, hunger as the basic challenge of primitive life); it’s strongest when that influence is most direct, in the opening, very beautiful scenes of village life, the attention to little tasks there, the fine birch […]

True Grit (2010)

So close! So on the brink of being a classic! Everything is shot and decorated and enacted in a way that not only seems designed to inspire admiration, but actually deserves that admiration. There are no end of superb things here. Like this kid, and her super performance, and the way that everyone chews on […]


Our protagonist’s foes are generally made despicable, so we can celebrate when he savagely dispatches them. It’s a rhetorically effective strategy, but pretty immoral! The boldness of that dispatching elicits some admiration. The punishment actually goes both ways, such that a cliché comes to mind. Gibson takes screen punishment as well as Brando—from the very […]


It’s kind of hard to concentrate on plot the first time you see this. The second time I noticed that the plot is secondary to the point of insignificance. In fact the story itself, the explicit content of the film is made up of implausibilities, dumb dialogue and (mostly) bad performances. (What are you up […]

The Killers (1964)

Some cast. The opening sequence is, in its own fast-and-loose TV production way, as arbitrary and precipitous and horrifying as the one in the properly celebrated 1946 version. Those actual blind people, and the actual faces and auras of Lee Marvin and John Cassavetes, create a sense of real menace, and fatality. After that the […]

Went the Day Well?

This is an amazing movie, experienced without diminishment every time I see it. At a recent in-class screening we asked if any of the students had ever encountered it, or even heard of it. Not even remotely. And don’t you find, when a class isn’t forcing you, that not having heard of things makes it […]

The Holy Man

Saw Satyajit Ray’s #TheHolyMan (#Mahapurush). Inspired by Tartuffe, I take it. Polytheism, multi-lingualism, … … and the vast knowledge shared by the comical villain & his cultured creator really bend Moliére’s old classic into interesting shapes. #TheHolyMan. A film master, relaxing. All in fun, though the unmasking of the charlatan is fierce. Also/boy, does he […]

It’s Always Fair Weather

Saw Donen/Kelly’s #ItsAlwaysFairWeather. Generally considered a semi-remake, at least a reconsideration, of their delightful On the Town … … True, in the manner of Caravaggio’s respectively cocky & perditional versions of The Supper at Emmaus. Similar subject. Something’s changed! #ItsAlwaysFairWeather. Sharp societal satire on the subject of the great victory that might just have turned … […]

El Sueño del Pongo

Here Alvarez leaves his customary expansive photo-montage aside for a minute. Instead we have this really contained, even centralized strategy. It’s this pobre campesino, intently, intensively, in terms of sympathy, exclusively. Very effective. Notwithstanding the switch, the director’s use of static images is still really dynamic. It’s a tremendous option, way too little used. It’s […]


In a basic sense this stuff is really forceful, really impressive. This is montage: kinetic juxtaposition leads us to concepts, really quickly, really efficiently, really inexpensively. In this latter connection, it strikes one that compilation films are both the great lost and the more excellent way. Think how much more a person could produce, how […]

Hasta la Victoria Siempre

We start with peasant imagery, with peasants straddled between material want and fundamental nobility. Che (actually!—he was a person, not a t-shirt) speaks, and then a celebratory montage of photographs follows. To Bolivia now, where images affirm that the authorities are working for the men with the money. Now we go to the guerillas. A […]


What is this? A student production?! A one minute credit sequence on a five minute film seems a bit much. Back to something relevant. First we have a very striking montage of civil rights images. The pictures are arresting, and the juxtaposition thereof grabs you. The selection and pacing are very adept, but though it’s […]

An Impossible Balancing Feat

The auteur, front and centre, as before and often. This time he varies his multi-exposure, multi-Méliès bit by incorporating his human fly trick. It’s just a stunt, but always a fun one, and featuring a striking technological wrinkle. Plus, he just looks so exceptionally graceful and attractive when he throws those clothes up, and they […]

The Human Fly

How did he do that?! A bit Grand Day Out—the technical leap is pretty great, and the content is just a bit, very forgivably lacking in its wake. Still, those three wall walks are distinct, and have a real sense of build. The last one features some impressive gymnastics, made even more impressive by that […]

The Treasures of Satan

Surprise, surprise: this film is very brisk and energetic. The advent of these ladies might set moderns a-thinking, as well it should. I am suspecting that it is probably intended more as friendly erotic display, rather than the misogynist symbolism that you might suspect. There are lots of transformation cuts with that casket. They split […]

A Trip to the Moon

This little cluster of Méliès reviews/appreciations, though they feature only a small number of the hundreds of films that he made, are attempting to suggest how much more there is to him than this very famous, extremely significant, way over-emphasized film. Over-emphasized, but not over-rated, mind you. As follows: A Trip to the Moon features the […]

The Dancing Midget

More excessive reacting. This was a standard device of course, remarked upon in a number of our Edison reviews (q.v.) , written about by Charles Musser, among others. The device now appears to be ineffective, which is to say it’s more or less defunct. What is interesting is that these react-ors, there to cue spectators […]

The Colonel’s Shower Bath

You could kind of see that one coming. Then they do so much painful knee slapping after the boom is lowered that we don’t really have to, don’t even want to join in.

The Devil and the Statue

At first romance = inertia and the female protagonist = boredom. That’s not the intent, of course. It’s just my spectatorial experience. But first impressions can be deceptive, or superseded. Combining that rubber head trick with the devil is an complete inspiration. Some dance. And then he becomes enormous! I keep saying, with all my […]

The Man with the Rubber Head

Another really excellent title! There’s a pretty good idea behind, a pretty good trick (the bellows!) connected to it. Not so much happens, though, in terms of development.

The Hat with Many Surprises

That is one really big fan! Charming + amazing makes for a very nice equation, indeed. Méliès expertly, effortlessly escalates proportions and pace and participants here. The result actually starts to look like Harold with a purple crayon, but without the strategic naiveté, or ambiguity. It’s the director, as god of his own creation.

Blue Beard

A masterpiece. Not for its times, or despite its limitations. But fully, unequivocally, thunderously. What a perfect subject for him! Dismemberments and all. The proscenium style shows and falls short in the first sequence, but those costumes and backdrops are so tremendous. And this method can’t just be dismissed, since at times the frame is […]

Excelsior!—Prince of Magicians

More on that Barnouw 1981 thing, which is that film, and film montage particularly, went far toward rendering a certain kind of stage magicianship obsolete. And then that a certain kind of cinematic magic, most clearly exemplified by Méliès, became its own dead end. There’s only so much you can do, he says, with that […]

The Bachelor’s Paradise

The paradise in question being ladies, multiplying quite prodigiously. Here we have childlike wonder, interestingly extended to the realms of heterosexual self-absorption. Interesting, maybe with equal parts problematic. Within reason though, or seasoned with some grains of salt, no harm done.

The Magician’s Cavern

Erik Barnouw (1981) is right on this one, at least with regard to the lady on the sawhorses. This is plain, transparent fakery. But then there’s so much energy (performance) and generosity (spectacle as an emblem of invention, and an offering of love to the audience!) that you still have to be disarmed, and charmed. […]

Extraordinary Illusions

It must be admitted that sometimes there’s not much more to a trick film than the film’s trick. It must be admitted that that seems, sounds, sometimes is kind of limited. Limited, that is, unless the trick is like this one. How on earth did he do that?! When all those limbs start working separately […]

The Brahmin and the Butterfly

Is that really how Indians walk? Lovely wings, very nice wire work.

What is Home Without the Boarder?

Again, who says Méliès didn’t cut? In addition to that, this film is terrifically, inspiringly polycentral. The reason it’s so terrific is that, notwithstanding the fact that there are many focal points, they are all elaborated in quite an orderly and navigable manner. (Was Jacques Tati ever directly instructed and inspired by this material? Even if […]

How He Missed His Train

This is like “going to bed” (q.v.), but this time it’s just as long as it should be. When our beleaguered protagonist tries to put on pants, they become a coat or vest. When he tries to put on boots they become a hat. And vice versa. Many of these films are simple gag comedies. […]

Eight Girls in a Barrel

A “chimpanze” can’t have a tail! This inappropriate tail eventually detaches itself and becomes a prehensile nose. Ovidian! The monkey gets around to pulling the dress off that maid, in a nice bit of equal opportunity assault.

Going to Bed Under Difficulties

Great title! This is a funny idea (clothes fly unaccountably on, as fast as he can take ‘em off) that might go on just a bit too long.

Fat and Lean Wrestling Match

The very root of what you might call mud pie cinema. Making a mess, with only the dimmest intimation of later constructiveness, or edification. As for the here and now, though, no moral purpose or value, whatsoever. Dangerous, perhaps. And, I would say, a developmental, probably moral necessity. You can’t always be behaving yourself! That’s […]

The Last Airbender

You know what they say? Well they’re right—this really stinks! I know that they’re all saying this too, but it’s kind of hard not to. What happened to this guy? No need to detail all that. Let’s hope that Mr. Shyamalan finds his feet again. Here’s this interesting thing. There are some promising things here, […]

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Lightning Thief

Chris Columbus is a terrible director. He insults us in the dramatic or relational parts, and disorients us utterly whenever there’s action. (Is it insult, or is he just utterly lacking in perception and feeling? “If you see my dad on the way to hell, kick his ass for me.” Cut, cue AC/DC on the […]


This film’s opening sequence combines two famous scenes from Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973): the child’s death at the beginning, and the spouses’ extended amorous tryst in the middle. Lars Von Trier, the director of Antichrist, pays homage to Roeg and his film by tossing a toddler out an upper-story window while his parents cavort […]

For Your Eyes Only

It’s hard to describe, measure, or comprehend how bad this movie is. It’s kind of dispiriting to even contemplate having to talk about it. Witless, flaccid, inept. To the point that it actually becomes kind of amazing. Maybe Cubby Broccoli had Quinn Martin in to co-produce. The skier in the luge run stunt is pretty […]

Murder at the Gallop

One liked this when one was young. One now wonders why  on earth one did so. Margaret Rutherford is a marvel, and we are all edified by the gratuitious prospect of a funny looking old lady in evening dress, doing the twist. But is there a director in this movie? Or someone who can focus […]

This Is It

There’s a melancholy weight to this, equal measures of poignancy and pathos. It’s pathetic too—those poor, sincere, loving folks in the prologue! Some of them literally, palpably worship Michael Jackson. Who at times appears to be as pathetic as they are. Not much of a transcendent signifier! On the other hand, he’s not all that […]

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan

It’s the John Lennon story! This one obviously ended differently, but the sense of dread and impending is very powerful, and in fact makes this much more of a Scorsese picture than you might at first think. That unsettling, threatening something is just as powerful as in his more noted, more typical pictures, maybe even […]

Elvis: That’s the Way It Is

Observational cinema gets knocked for leaving out the context, or for not drawing the proper or needed conclusions. That can be and has been a problem. But observational cinema is also, properly, praised because the context and the likely consequences are often embedded in that carefully and dutifully assembled footage. It’s quite possible to see […]

Brian Wilson, Songwriter, 1962-69

There’s an awful lot of media about Brian Wilson. This looks like it’s going to be something new. Let’s approach this familiar tale from a musicological, music-theoretical angle! There’s a bit of that for a while, plus some kind of refreshingly detailed early-days stuff. The Four Freshman material is very helpful, partly because they do […]

Summer Wars

Saw #SummerWars. Craftily links tradition & post-modernity/technology. Damned if it doesn’t reconcile the two! But remember: this is fiction.

The Thing

Saw #JohnCarpentersTheThing. Furiously nihilistic, but K. Russell’s majestic hair & beard still leave me hope for the future.

Cat People (1982)

Saw #CatPeople (’82). Schrader expands & explicifies the artfully indirect & poetic original, from 1942. Which, he says, he didn’t even like! … … This only leads to excess, & to utter, nonsensical mumbo jumbo. ‪#CatPeople‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬. Paul Schrader is a scholar & an artist. Here he quotes Dante & says he wanted to evoke Beatrice. […]

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

Saw Herzog/Vasyukov’s #HappyPeople. Herzog’s incipient Rob’t Flaherty-worship has never been more evident, or more affecting … … What seems extremity & privation becomes, through patient attention to process, a beautiful sufficiency. Reproved! Inspired! #HappyPeople. Maybe, definitely we should say Vasyukov/Herzog’s #HappyPeople. You need to look up the production history on this one! #HappyPeople. Vasuykov/Herzog, & […]

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Saw #BeastsoftheSouthernWild. Theme and impressionistic details very good. Central relationships less so… Still, heartfelt, wonderfully regional, w’ good lessons to teach (environment & individuality). Very creditable effort. #BeastsoftheSouthernWild. There’s AMPAS, really wanting to help independent cinema, & really patting itself on the back as it does so … … We deign to acknowledge the little […]


Saw #Pelotero. No news to anyone, but don’t you love how docs show/tell you things you didn’t know, and that you’re glad to find out about? #Pelotero. A multi-faceted take on how privilege (MLB, etc.) exploits vulnerability. Films like this sort of do the same thing.

How the Myth was Made: a Study of Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran

Saw George Stoney’s #HowtheMythwasMade. A superb work of film-scholarship, identifying & filling the gaps Flaherty left, … … the errors Flaherty made. At the same time it communicates the ultimate resonance & nobility of the great film, & its great filmmaker. #HowtheMythwasMade. A nice balance: sincere & celebrating, frankly critical. It can, it must, it […]

Man of Aran

Saw #ManofAran. Patchwork, poetry & profound all mixed together. The story, such as it is, is nearly shoddy. The Eisensteinian editing … … (not Flaherty’s idea, originally) is very striking, & really pretty strained. More expository assemblies … … are effectively impressionistic. As has been often observed, they don’t quite give us the whole/real economic […]

The Story of Qiu Ju

Revenge of the hayseeds! This is some relentless main character. To the film’s great credit that quality is both cause for celebration, and the cause of a terrible injustice. Chinese officialdom comes off very well—the regime liked this one, didn’t they? But we might also notice that its responsiveness, the way that it so courteously […]

I Vitelloni

A piquant morality tale. It’s not very circumspect, mind you. There’s too much glee in the bad behaviour, which is rendered with considerable intensity, frequency and authentic detail. I Vitteloni must have shocked the sheltered back in 1953. For all that, the moral material still registers very strongly, and very effectively. It does so in part […]

The Masseurs and a Woman

I have a great interest in the East, and I am an inveterate Westerner. As such I am very sympathetic to this impressive film, which I nevertheless find to be both historically and culturally elusive. I don’t know much about masseurs, blind or otherwise, about resorts where massaged and massaging come together, nor about the […]

To Catch a Thief

Saw #ToCatchaThief. Starts breezily, & then the breezes increase into utter inconsequentiality. On purpose? … … Maybe after you make a masterpiece like Rear Window, you get to relax a little. #ToCatchaThief. Really liked the early shots of that black cat, the 2nd unit helicopter chase, & the general wide-eyed touristical ogling … … of […]

Into the West

Charming, avoiding plain old sentimentality by the vivid desolation of the Dublin scenes, Byrne’s unrelenting character, the typed savagery of the typed bad cop, and by the squished mugs of the women and children, idea of Ma lingering and guarding the children is a touching one, the climax is wrenching, one wonders whether fantasy elements […]

Elmer Gantry

Changes from the book are extremely interesting, the most significant being that Lewis’ complete wolf in sheep’s clothing becomes Lancaster’s (requirement of late H-wood star system?) flawed but ultimately believing charismatic; we encounter him a sinner, we catch glimpses of past excesses and see their continuation, we see in fair detail his manipulations and their […]

Winter Soldier

This is an extremely disturbing, upsetting movie. It might be customary at this point to say that it’s an extremely disturbing, upsetting movie that everyone should see. Actually, maybe not. You don’t have to be an Israelite without guile or a snow white dove to get traumatically disturbed by this wrenching, nauseating assemblage. But if […]


Great first shot! After a nearly agonizing long time, that sheep looks right at us. There might be a bit too much of Ricky Leacock’s snide characterization of observational documentary in this movie. It was monkeys typing, wasn’t it? Observer doc-makers think that if you shoot and shoot and shoot something eventually is bound to […]


Saw #Haywire, in which a formidable young woman keeps kicking guys in the sternum, really hard. Highly recommended.


The bookends are impressive. Bang, and then that Godardian red coloured background, with the emphatic, primitive lettering on it. On the other hand, Hanna might have been better if it were less emphatic. There are some interesting resonances concerning the conflict between nature and culture, and the appeals and limitations of both. It’s actually a step […]

Knight and Day

Starts very well. Cruise is terrific: energetic, kinetic, and with a deep, palpable vein of chivalry. It’s a humanity that grounds the popcorn derring-do. Which, at about the half-way point, starts to get kind of noisy and tiresome. There’s a sour Parallax View cynicism beneath the alleged high spirits. Institutions all rotten … I guess, […]


That spinning car stunt is stupendous, even if computers are responsible for most of it. It not only made the movie worth it, it made getting up that day worth it. The first hour of this concoction is really good. In that standard linear narrative way, plot is first and most important, but the plot […]

State of Play

Making protagonist Ben Affleck the eventual (though contradictory) villain takes State of Play into Warren Beatty territory (Shampoo, Bulworth), and would seem to prefigure what he did with and in the subsequent Argo. The complexities in this adaptation—from a BBC original—are not only consistent with the post Le Carré political thriller, but with the dispiriting realities of […]

Redemption: For Robbing the Dead

This is a good, which is to say a decent film. Its quietness, its stateliness, its basic modesty set it apart very strongly, and give it a sensibility that corresponds with and is worthy of its subject. Beyond the particularities and complications of the plot, that subject can be reduced to the most basic levels: […]

Arthur Christmas

Saw #ArthurChristmas. Crafty. O’er-crowded w’ incident, exhaustingly imaginative. Humane on the subject of seasonal commercialization … … bravely, even hopefully agnostical about the need for powerful myths, & how creaky/dear some of those myths are.

A Christmas Carol (2009)

This motion capture process is getting grotesque. Too many of the characters, or actually all the characters just look weird or aggressively unpleasant. And Fezziwig’s dance! What’s with Fan? The razzle dazzle that provided some reasonable fun to Polar Express feels kind of ill-behaved in this admittedly over-familiar, still sacred setting. (The rocket was funny though.) […]


Design is all, but this documentary doesn’t say it very inspiringly, or even all that interestingly. Mostly it demonstrates that designers are effete, self-regarding elitists. Actually, that’s not fair, or at least it’s not universal. It’s a part of a big picture though, and Objectified, which comes across as a fussy, hermetic statement, reinforces that […]

The Green Hornet

Rogen has that knucklehead schtick down pretty good, and they get a reasonable number of shaggy dog type laughs from it. The Cato relationship is actually pretty resonant, culturally speaking. If we want, their relationship echoes that of the US and the nations it helps and takes advantage of, or the US and its longsuffering […]


It’s not like there’s an original, exactly, but this film’s perpetrators are kind of all over the place with their treatment of the source/s. (Interesting directing credit! And good luck to him, too.) Mind you, the idea of Loki as an adopted son who hadn’t known of his origins is actually kind of interesting. What’s […]

Iron Man 2

Robert Downey’s character, and Robert Downey himself, looks headed toward a kind of Screwball Squirrel situation. That is to say that they’re so obnoxious you can hardly stand them! Fortunately plot and technology and the blockbuster conventions/effects that presently fuel them both come barreling down the pike. Though with the aforementioned motor-mouth that just sounds […]

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Now there’s a good summer movie! They’ve really updated and improved Rod Serling’s (cool, flawed) original concept. You can’t evolve like that, in the Darwinian sense, in a mere seven thousand years. You can mutate though, or go viral. Good solution. This high concept is very nicely developed, meaning that in addition to the gimmick […]

Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Joe Dante’s sequel to his own original is a post-modern text par excellence, but there’s lots more than just playful rootlessness(something of a reduction of the post-modern project, it must be admitted!) going on; The jokes tend not just to play & revel in the intertextual glut; rather, Gremlins 2 takes firm/specific satirical aim & expresses real […]

Streets of Fire

This looks kind of dumb, a generation later.  That’s partly because Hill et al. were really trying for something different, something new. It’s a misstep, but an adventurous and ambitious one. So credit is due. They’ve fashioned a viable, kind of plausible alternative universe—derived from The Warriors (1979), and even The Odyssey too, if only by accident. […]

The Karate Kid

This is certainly a time capsule film, which is not particularly to its advantage. The insertion of all those songs, for instance, is really annoying. The perfidy of the antagonists—this is what Mr. Jared Hess is puncturing with his “bow to your sensei” stuff—is really risible, really ridiculous. It makes the conclusion pretty foregone, and, […]

The Courage of Lassie

Most weird, not so much for the postcardy setting and the hysterical Cathy character, as portrayed with almost hopped up wholesomeness by Ms. Taylor, as the quite developments of “Bill” the dog’s induction into the army, training as a commando dog, masochistic heroism and sudden breakage from excess of strain, followed by escape, return home, […]


The winter location work is very impressive, convincingly suggesting a small town and winter, and making it beautiful, the technicolor is full of strange, arty silhouettes, the story is a charming trifle which sometimes makes you aware of its status as Hollywood product (one is hard pressed in buying the much admired French teacher, some […]

Come Live With Me

A bare high concept movie, with a highly artificial situation, conventional obstacles, pauses for heavily ideological messages, and the not quite believable but still necessary conclusion, the German (Jewish?) refugee finds kindness (the customs man) in the American city, but it’s not until she gets to the country that she’s introduced to the real and […]

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Man! Talk about radical duration! There’s really nothing like this in the movies, including Tarkovsky (more spatially expansive, way more poetical/symbolic/ impenetrable) or those Warhol features (more strategically meandering, more self-reflexively improvised or inert). Maybe Abbas Kiarostami qualifies a little bit, except that a bit of fresh air tends to blow through his super-long shots […]


Jules Dassin’s Rififi isn’t as magisterial as those Jean-Pierre Melville procedurals (esp. ’62, ’66, ’70), which are so singleminded as to be practically abstract. Not as magisterial, and also, maybe as a result, more accessible. It is also not as profound, but it sure is easier. Its celebrated near-silent caper sequence is really is celebratable—it’s singleminded to […]

Please Vote for Me

I’ve just watched these two Chinese documentaries. (This, and Last Train Home [q.v.].) We’d better be careful about making generalizations, but they make you think that Chinese filmmakers are pretty comfortable with the most obvious and even outlandish documentary contrivance and manipulation. In other words, they are clearly and nakedly setting stuff up, but not […]

Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037

Interesting. Here is old time craftsmanship, preserved within a seemingly industrial context. The unspoken complication is that the resulting product is only affordable to the utmost plutocrat. Still, the array of skillful hands and flavourful voices that contribute to the manufacture of these pianos is kind of inspiring. In fact, Note by Note ends up as […]

Humaine, Trop Humaine

They start and they end with dreariness and drudgery, but this is actually a very subtle, substantial take on a subject that is too often taken for granted. Marx and his minions bemoan the standardization and diminution and alienation of industrial process. We take that for granted because it’s true. But it’s not only, or […]

Vive le Tour

This is really nice. Less artful, less amazing than the more or less contemporary 60 Cycles, but it’s also more event-centered, more textured and typical. Here is narration with a difference. They’ve got a number of experienced people making really insightful observations, sometimes under footage that illustrates exactly, and sometimes independent of what we’re seeing. I […]


This seems a modest, workmanlike production. But beneath that dutiful spirit it evokes the whole history of the Griersonian documentary, as well as entirely fulfilling its purpose and potential. Here is intense detailing, an artistic portrayal of an essential, often overlooked or undervalued public service. In this it resembles Grierson’s own Drifters. The part in which […]


Saw #Lincoln. It’s Spielberg/Kushner’s version of I’m Just a Bill (on Capitol Hill)! The cinema of social studies … … (cf. the also admirable Amistad). Wouldn’t it be cool if SS swore off dinosaurs forever, & turned that formidable technique, … … his late-career energies, to the causes of Education and Enlightenment? Not stuffy, mind. Our […]

The Kid

Coogan is extraordinarily beautiful, and his acting is completely winning, and Chaplin, who’s very unselfish here, answers to the exact same description, it’s interesting how this isn’t very much of a comedy at all, though the window-breaking stuff is great, and the domestic arrangements are full of innovation and charm (and inspiration–how the poor make […]

Phoebe in Wonderland

This is a helpful movie, probably, working sincerely to portray a troubled kid’s inner life in a way that honours her independence and vulnerability and sufficiency. And clichés and sarcasm aside, there’s nothing wrong with disease of the week programming. But this still feels kind of inappropriate. It’s that Noah Baumbach situation—the idea is one […]


Very interesting part of the Ealing cycle, full of fine documentary detail (the simultaneously authentic and stylized neighbourhood in which the family lives, especially the very compelling activities within the school–derived from the British documentary movement, or does one just see it because one looks for it?) combined with a surprising amount of overt style; […]

Twelve O’Clock High

The first bomber landing is surprisingly graphic in its rendering of injury and exhaustion, and the aftermath leading to the first leader break down sustains that first considerable power, from there there’s this strange and conflicted investigation of different modes of leadership, seeming to edge toward a fairly dubious (though well defended, and maybe certain […]

The Men

One always hears about Zinneman’s documentary past and its bearing on his features, but all anyone can come up with is stuff like the handheld camera in the opening battle sequence here, but there’s much more to it, which is what makes this such a strange and fascinating and atypical Hollywood production; it’s a problem […]


Exceptionally dark visual design, beautifully paced and nuanced dialogue, menacingly understated deliveries and directions, excellent performances–Young’s man with a pipe, Mitchum’s extremely relaxed moral compass, Ryan’s usual menace–a generally satisfying civics lesson, painfully connected to the Holocaust even as it displaces more urgent (in the US) issues of how blacks are treated, not to mention […]

With the Marines at Tarawa

Lorne Green and Walter Huston and Michael Redgrave have demonstrated how powerful and effective the narrated war propaganda doc can be. (Churchill’s Island, Why We Fight, A Diary for Timothy.) This film demonstrates how it is historically explainable and justifiable, but then, ultimately, really limited and inadequate. Most everything here is affirmative and almost cheery, […]

The Adventures of Billy

Saw #TheAdventuresofBilly (Griffith, 1911). Good one! Cool director cameo, this tremendous, tear-jerking Edna Foster kid, Donald Crisp … … previewing his character from Broken Blossoms, & a wonder dog that broke up an actual scene, which they actually left in anyway.

Captain America: the First Avenger

There are some nice things going on here, starting with the basic premise. The eponymous, enhanced hero is simply a physical externalization of the integrity and decency of the actual, original guy. We’re in Superman territory here, real schoolboy stuff, and it’s tremendous that the producers of the film undertake it all in good faith. […]

Way Down East

An outsizedly elaborate, Intolerance-like screed against polygamy in which some mysterious more seems to be going on, there’s a curious similarity to Nanook, which also ignores the real modern problem (Europe’s destroying/ed the natives, everyone, including the women and country folks, is becoming morally heedless) in favour of a touchingly, maybe consciously naive 40-years-ago idealism: […]

The Haunted Castle

This F.W. Murnau feature comes just before the pioneering, incalculably important Nosferatu. It is, or at least strikes me as being much, much the lesser film. Plot is the problem. Let’s be fair: plot is my problem, though it’s quite possible-to-likely that this assembly of mountingly implausible and preposterous developments was precisely to the taste […]

Joan the Woman

Curious, looks primitive next to The Cheat, as if “the big picture” made people’s brains turn off a little bit, which doesn’t mean it’s as bad as I’ve made it sound; is this religious stylization or dell s’arte stylization? to be sure Farrar (a very curious kind of movie star, though it speaks better for […]

Barcelona by Train

This is actually as good, as amazing even, as that tracking shot through the marshes in Murnau’s Sunrise. We have the same exhilaration, even exaltation of movement, both by the camera itself, as well as by all of the constantly shifting objects within and around the frame.  In its leisurely unfolding the film feels utterly modern […]

Alice in Wonderland

This is the English film pioneer Cecil Hepworth’s 1903 version. He gives us detailed intertitles, and then shows us all the action the titles have just described. This production is very much of its time—of course, and how could it not be?—and it’s ripe for grammatical or syntactic reform. There are limitations, but there are […]

Seven Psychopaths

Saw #SevenPsychopaths. Exceptionally adept, all-round. On the other hand, found it was not especially conducive to the Christmas spirit.

The Social Network

Maybe the way to neutralize a precocious director who is prone to show off is to pit him against a precocious writer who feels the same way. The result can be obnoxious unto insufferable. Or it can balance the worst of both, and leave us with strengths both complementary and compounded. Which is basically the […]

Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story

You do credit the claims that this film was helpful in putting eating disorders on the map for a lot of people. Not as many as Karen herself of course, but still. Maybe apathy, ignorance, superstition and fear about anorexia/etc. caused co-writer/director Todd Haynes to strain and press like he does. There’s a valid idea […]

Love Is Colder Than Death

Saw RWF’s Godardian #LoveIsColderThanDeath. Verfremdungseffekt! Also, more about films, & filmmaker precociousness, than it is about life. #LoveIsColderThanDeath. Technical/stylistic/directorial choices make a virtue of extremely reduced circumstance. #LoveIsColderThanDeath. Curious, cocky, fairly/aggressively distasteful mixture of brutality, misogyny (knowing, I’ll bet) & homosocial sentimentality. #LoveIsColderThanDeath. The nerve, putting himself in the middle of his 1st film w’ […]

Murder a la Mod

He’s certainly precocious, and metatextual, and an inveterate show-off right, from the very start. Brian De Palma tropes are fully in evidence, if not quite fully developed. (But then again, does he ever fully develop them?) It’s fair to note that though Hitchcock is almost certainly the origin for most of the ideas, Murder a […]

What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

Near where Woody Allen started out, film-wise. Compared with the MST3K guys, who to put it mildly took this format and ran a very long way with it, this is surprisingly halting. But making fun can be fun, and there are certainly a few successful zingers in here. The later semi/self-serious auteur—some of you don’t […]

It Happened Here

Curious that with all the justifiable attention received by Battle of Algiers and the Watkins films, this contemporaneous piece which quite masterfully demonstrates similar approaches and excellencies seems to get no attention, I’m not sure of the motivation for it, though Sorrow and the Pity was being prepared at the same time on the same […]

The Fountain of Youth

What a pity! Why didn’t anyone ever employ this guy? Yes, I’ve heard the stories, but really! With no means at all, and with what appears to be utter effortlessness, Welles fashions this cinematically agile, thematically piquant concoction. The tone is Mephistophelian, but not Faustian. That is to say that temptations and devils abound, but […]

Adventures of Popeye

Product differentiation, at the same time that the product is reassuringly the same. What’s new is this sissy/bully live action part. It’s quite nicely produced, in a sloppy Our Gang manner.

Vim, Vigor and Vitaliky

Another most admirable title. That is one fat lady! Bluto’s female impersonation is wonderfully grotesque, or maybe he is, made over into a woman, wonderfully and horribly ugly. The brief effeminate mincing puts one in mind of Chaplin’s Behind the Screen, from his Mutual days. This is of its time, and so it has interest, […]

The Spinach Overture

I admire this title. Has some very funny hair jokes, which you can’t always say outside of a Three Stooges comedy. Are these Stokowski derived? Bluto is a very good violinist! Just bangy on the piano though. How interesting, in this thoroughly urban series, that when Popeye eats the spinach he starts playing ragtime.

King of the Mardi Gras

The Popeyes are funny, but we ought not to forget or miss out on their consistent technical distinctions. A great lateral track at the very beginning. Models, behind the animation. Some scream by Olive! There are some lovely depth and diagonal effects on that roller coaster.

You Gotta Be a Football Hero

Olive the cheerleader! Feels a lot like The Freshman and Horse Feathers when it’s on that field. Pretty exalted company! (For some reason I feel compelled to mention the not-exalted football sequences in The Dark Knight Rises, which I actually try to mention as often as I can.) Features some of the Fleischers’ beautiful camera […]

Sailor’s Hornpipes: The Voices of Popeye

A lot of aspiring film students applying to our program try to curry favour by telling us about all the making-of special dvd features they’ve watched. We show our disapproval by out dismissive body language, and then we reject them. Don’t waste your time on how they scaled Frodo and Gandalf! Read books! And watch […]

For Better or Worser

Gender oblivious, or a critique of male expectations? And of female vanity? No, I’m thinking it’s not either of those latter two high-falutin’ things. Just dangin’ funny.

Choose Yer ‘Weppins’

This immortal episode features the exchange with the handsies and the elbowsies. The dialogue is practically always amazing in its mumbled incoherence and irrelevancy. Is this where Jerry Lewis got it? (You’ll want to turn on the subtitle option when you’re watching his films on dvd as well.) The knife swindle is funny, and a […]

Be Kind to ‘Aminals’

This is a very eccentric entry in this very eccentric series. It’s full of what intentional and provocative repetitions, ritards, double-backs and implausibilities. Putting fighting and dancing together, and doing it so beautifully, makes it simultaneously ridiculous and precious.

Beware of Barnacle Bill

These Popeye cartoons are so good! Vast substance for the scholar and the sociologist—see what these bursts of joyful vinegar have, that the contemporary Disney shorts don’t (cf. our Silly Symphonies cluster)—deep and consecutive joy for the entire family. Ad copy always says stuff like that that. But this isn’t ad copy. This is family-tested. So […]


This isn’t Popeye yet, but Popeye purveyor Max Fleischer’s amazing Rotoscope invention, put to the use of animating the character that would presently become Koko the Clown. This is from Fleischer’s famous “Out of the Inkwell” series, and like so many old, old films, its most evident value and interest is historical. But also, as […]

La fête

Nice. The subject and the style are effectively limited, and there are abundant pleasures, insights, grace notes that emerge out of that voluntary limitation. Inspired by Ryan Larkin?

Of Time and the City

Syntax and semantics define genres, says Professor Rick Altman (1987). It would seem that they also define auteurs, or assist us in understanding or criticizing them. Syntactically, this film is Terence Davies all over. He’s not designing and creating the images like he does in his fiction features, but he certainly uses stock and music in […]

Solo, the Law of the Favela

Solo, the Law of the Favela is a seeming and sort of documentary about football culture in Brazil, and it’s pretty perfect. The football part is engaging, and very impressive, but this is also an valuable assemblage of sociological data. Everything is clear and calm, one thing leading logically to the next, ending in a very […]

Model Shop

Cool combination: the counter culture as seen by an existentialist, or at least a rapt romantic in existential mode. Most of the subjective or trendoid productions of the 1960s look dumb by now, and even then, probably. By speaking quietly and calmly Demy gives us a more plausible sense of the time. The boy/girl romance—Anouk […]

La Strada

Much better than remembered, given that post-synchronization and excessive sentimentality are not so much flaws as cinematic and post-operatic conventions, Rota’s music is superb, as much in the surreally jaunty sections as when the heartstrings are pulled at, and speaking of which, instead of rebelling at the manipulations going on, one could always consider that […]

The Edge of the World

Who are those reedy imperialist English folk?, I ask at the prologue, which is awkward to boot, then whoops, it’s Powell and the Missus, and what follows, though with its share of post-Ingram picture making (and beautiful ones they are, too), creaks and idealized quaintifyings, is so full of love for a people and appreciation […]

In the Street

This is superbly vivid, revealing, anthropological stuff. Absent plot, these collaborators have assembled in this concise film a comprehensive, irrefutable catalogue of urban, immigrant experience. Youth (kids! that irrepressible little boy in what appears to be a dress!) and age, recreation and work, and, very movingly, an ethnic range that hasn’t even close to melted. The […]

Gente del Po

Take a look at the year this came out, and then take a look at who directed it. Gente del Po looks like an assignment, and it’s effectively handled. Assignments like this don’t need and maybe don’t even want traces of future mastery; sometimes industriousness and humble skill are more appropriate, go much further than auteur […]

A Bronx Morning

A Bronx Morning provides a striking contrast to Manhattan Melody, which also appears in this review cluster. One thing I learn in the comparison is that there are lots of different ways to be great. Leyda is a bit Vertovian too—lots of modernist compositions, framing for interesting framing’s sake. But there’s an andante quality to this that […]

Manhattan Melody

I like this one very much. It behaves at first like a newsreel, with the cheerfully generic music (some interesting ethnic typage in there) contributing especially to the impression. However, closer inspection reveals Manhattan Melody to be a really successful city symphony. It takes us from morning to night, with lots of exquisite images taking us […]

Glasgow’s Yesterdays

This compilation starts with the actuality equivalent of films d’art inertia. They put the camera on the sidewalk, point it pretty well, and then just sit there while people walk past and look. It’s not quite cinema, except that, since it’s real, it doesn’t have to be. Some poor kids from Springburn, as well as […]

Winter Fishing in Rymättylä

What a setting, and what a feat! These men and women, and even a few of their kids, harvest fish, twice a day, with nets, from under the ice. In Finland! The discourses of heroism privilege outlandish challenges and singular accomplishments, but Robert Flaherty, not to mention the whole history of human subsistence and sufficiency, […]

Land of Milk and Honey

The Etaix-fest concludes. Saw #LandofMilk&Honey. The career-killer, they say. You can see why, but so interesting! #LandofMilk&Honey. He’d long been staging his gags w’in the frame. This is an exercise in laying the comedy across the cut … … Drawing upon the Soviets on purpose? #LandofMilk&Honey. As intellectual montage this is no more heavy handed […]

Le Grand Amour

Saw Etaix’s #LeGrandAmour. A serpent seems to have entered this garden. From the director’s divorce, maybe. Before we had homage & history … … comic craft, & that sweet sensibility. This is still fantastically stylized but its mood (melancholy—sourness, really) now seems much more life-derived. #LeGrandAmour. Concentrates on transitions, & verbal puns translated to visual […]

Feeling Good

Saw Pierre Etaix’s #FeelingGood. Predates & surpasses Jean-Luc Godard’s traffic jam (1967, of course) in its critique  … … of bourgeois capitalism’s mad pursuit of joyless recreation. Way nicer, though!

As Long as You’ve Got Your Health

Saw Etaix’s #AsLongasYouveGotYourHealth. What a time capsule! Sharp satire/parody of things (Hammer horrors … … a certain approach to advertising, or pollution) that have changed a lot. The last episode is more timeless, or classic maybe … … It actually evokes Renoir’s Rules of the Game, & doesn’t suffer in the comparison. Not many films […]


Saw Etaix’s #Yoyo. Pt. I is a spot on homage to Buster’s The Navigator, except that this version vividly set & shot in France … … There’s that & more in pt. II. Now the film is Fellini-derived—the circus—but also, I would say/in this respect, Fellini surpassing … … Etaix knows more about it, doesn’t […]

The Suitor

Saw Pierre Etaix’s #TheSuitor. What a find, this guy! A miracle, more like. It’s as if Jacques Tati (or Keaton, or Lewis) … … had a non-identical filmmaking twin, familial but distinct, just as talented, & with just as much to offer.

To the Wonder

Saw #TotheWonder. Phenomenological cinema. Malick has made a full, free-standing ½ movie, then left us to finish it … … Rights of the reader! Or, a terrifying responsibility … #TotheWonder. Plays/feels like adaptation of/meditation on Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality! … … “There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream/The earth, and every common […]


Saw Roberto Rossellini’s stupendous #Stromboli, which is actually a whole ton of films in one. #Stromboli, semi-improvised and really only ½ finished, lazily/nervily leading protagonist/spectator up to an impossible brink … … and then just leaving them there. Or #Stromboli, which provides the spectator a sketchy scenario, an implicit archetypal plenitude … … and the […]

The Prestige

Saw #ThePrestige. M. Caine. C. Bale bellowing like M. Caine, of a certain vintage. Is A. Shaffer’s #Sleuth the Nolans’ touchstone text?


Saw #Elysium. Somewhat garbled/cluttered in the particulars. More broadly, though, sci-fi doing its job … … An apt analogy in which a stylization of S. African history opens up nicely to include & envelope the whole world. #Elysium, or health care obstructionism as de facto economic apartheid, a sure emblem, whether the perpetrators know it […]

The Nightmare Before Christmas

This is a really remarkable allegory, even if it was somewhat unintended by the filmmakers, or uncomprehended by some viewers who thought it reflected an eroding of Christian values. It’s certainly more remarkable, more substantial than is suspected by all the people who just got geeky over it. Consider. The world is media-supersaturated, and it’s full […]

Drag Me to Hell

Our horror class goes nuts when we open the semester with this one. Drag Me to Hell really clearly illustrates the methods and the enjoyments of the Grand Guignol. By alternating horror and comedy the Raimis makes the horror fun, and leave you just a bit unsettled for the rest. Wildly, delightfully kinetic, and yet in […]

Addams Family Values

A superb pre-title sequence contains & prefigures the strengths that put the entire film across: great design, wittily & self-consciously derivative technique, firm, broad comic performances that are just properly cartoonish without ever quite wearing; Raul Julia & Christina Ricci are especially effective; Addams Family Values is dominated by an extended camp sequence (as in, the […]

The Devil’s Backbone

It’s Pan’s Labyrinth! Fascism, which after all has the force and threat of a fairy-tale ogre, forces children into the realms of fantasy, where they find some solace, or maybe a way to come back out and defeat the real menace. The darkness of the fantasy, and the fact that kids can be pretty fascistic […]

The Necktie

Biting the hand that feeds? The Necktie appears to be portraying State bureaucracy as an all-consuming, soul destroying Moloch. Then what about the state organization that sponsored this very production? Well, I guess that only means that it’s a free country, and since this issue is real and this scenario possible (not to mention relatable to […]


Saw H. Harris’s #Organism. The micro/macro conceit takes early, effective hold. Seems to intend direness, but the camerawork is so cool … … that it almost turns the film technophilic. Love that synth score!

The Hand

Think, first, of what you know about this place, at this time in history. That’s what The Hand is about. But because it’s not only timely, but timeless (cf. Hugh Nibley, 1978), then there’s also much more to it than just this particular regime, or that impending tragedy. Trnka’s work functions as pointed parable or as […]


Terrific graphic design, extremely informed by the un/discipline of advertising. There’s the film’s pretty formidable bite. Unlike, say, the much earlier Gerald McBoing-Boing cartoons, Ersatz doesn’t belie its modernist look and method by selling out. In fact, it’s kind of omni-cynical. It’s a bracing attitude, in small doses. As I’m sure we all know, seemingly simple […]

The Vampire

I don’t know about the claims of Nazi parallels, here in Jean Painlevé’s nature/species film. It certainly stands up as a nature/species film, and doesn’t need the historical parallel. This is very nicely structured. A Buñuelian prologue (cf. L’Age D’Or, 1930) about armoured or aggressive creatures giving rise to folklores gives way to the bat itself. A […]

John Henry

A big Disney budget makes this a bit unfair to the virtuous, underfunded opposition, but sometimes Disney resources, plied with artistry they can also and often muster, makes that point moot. A striking quilt/oral history opening foregrounds the common man components of the tale, and plants seeds for a good tall tale discussion. In this […]

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

A simple, great-hearted parable, fascinatingly & consciously updating the TV series’ 60s liberalism, pushing a didactic agenda & daring resistance, getting none (at least from me) because we sense by now that the hammy performances & heavy moralizing are like the beloved bumps in the character of a familiar, and to remove them would eliminate […]

Shock Corridor

Shock Corridor reminds me a lot of Fritz Lang’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Except that it’s way crazier. Sam Fuller’s film is set in an insane asylum. It’s built on three main, very striking set pieces. They are powerful, and undeniable in their pertinence. There’s been a murder, and there are three witnesses to a murder. […]

Silver Lode

Saw #SilverLode. An impressively stoical take on High Noon‘s extracinematically compelling (a tale of the Hollywood blacklist) … … generically problematic (what’s with the wheedling, and whining?!) scenario. As emblem, & drama, I’ll take this one any day. By the way, that High Noon critique can be, should be accessed in Robin Wood’s 1968 book […]

The Little House

This is a familiar scenario, from Frédéric Back’s Krac! for instance, and Up, and of course Virginia Lee Burton’s original picture book. From The Little House we learn that development is bad. This is an appealing, practically no-brained sentiment. Can be true. Has been true. But to state it as a totality is also both facile and reactionary. […]

The Harvey Girls

Saw #TheHarveyGirls, which presents us with a very attractive Hesiodic counter to the Western’s usual Homeric/heroic stance. #TheHarveyGirls says that decent entrepeneurial activity & staunchly traditional womanhood were the making of this country (the US, that is) … … Based on this evidence, I’ll buy some of that! #TheHarveyGirls. I notice that Ms. Garland has […]

The Human Comedy

Fascinating wartime propaganda, which makes sure to acknowledge death and sorrow even as it pulls out all the consolation stops, the presiding/framing angels insure us that God (though He’s only officially referenced in the very bold direct address scene on the troupe train, during which one can imagine audiences joining in to sing “Leaning on […]

The Days Before Christmas

The Maysles brothers and Frederick Wiseman quite properly get celebrated for their pioneering observational documentaries, in the 60’s and afterwards. But they didn’t invent the approach, nor were they the first to apply it to perfection. Exhibit A. Co-director Wolf Koenig not only cited Cartier-Bresson’s notion of the decisive moment in photography (cf. C-B’s seminal […]


What with the warm mythological haze of childhood ritual—this version, every Christmas Eve, from memory’s advent to this sad exile in the soul-chilling USA—it’s hard to bring any kind of proper critical perspective to this property. Well—maybe not hard, but I just don’t want tae. Yes, there’s a little bit of poverty in the production, […]


This is almost obnoxiously referential. I guess there’s a sort of story about being yourself and finding your dreams and all, so that it’s not all and only soullessly intertextual. But clever seems to be the basic point. Don’t you get tired of that? (Cf. Fredric Jameson, 1984 and then 1991.) That’s fair, and it’s […]

How to Train Your Dragon

Firstly, why are these Vikings speaking with Scots accents? Some things we’ll never know, I guess. There’s some healthy gender discourse lurking around here, slightly or indirectly relating to sexuality, but having more to do with allowing for a greater range of male/female being. This is effectively explored because the filmmakers ultimately have a lot […]

Despicable Me

This is all winky and ironic, but the orphanage scenarios is still basically creaky. In connection, the three adorable kids, with their generic single complexity each, are pure syrup. But the design is really good, there are many very well worked out gags—central to the situation, or tossed off and thrown away—and we’d better just […]

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Nice! Split right between anarchy and didacticism, with lots of really high-spirited rascality decorating the margins. Some of this rascality relates to character hijinx and jokes, and some of it relates to the way these computer animating guys like to show off. In this case, more power to ’em. That spaghetti tornado is especially great. […]

A Matter of Loaf and Death

A Grand Day Out works out the kinks, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave blow our minds, the wererabbit movie is a Rabelaisian celebration of kid-appropriate bawdry, as well as being a Simpsons-esque compendium of intertextual/post-modern reference. This latest one seems to have nothing left to prove. It simply tells us another story and […]

Princes and Princesses

This is a nice, modest little piece. Lotte Reiniger, the pioneering jointed-silhouette animator, casts such a long pardon-the-pun shadow that this is not only homage, but, inescapably, a derivative. Still, it’s confidently and really capably executed, and these young people really bring some of their own to the party. The bookends are pretty cool, especially […]

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm

Incredibly pointless to crop Cinerama on TV, makes for a frustrating viewing experience, especially with glimpses of glorious settings, sets and costumes that remain, as for the story and stories that you still can see, they’re clearly not the best thing here, Boehm as the plodding scholar Jacob is an apt dud, but Harvey as […]

Babes in Toyland

This operetta stuff is very intriguing, though the intrigue doesn’t quite extend to the material on the screen, or at least not completely (I know that millions disagree), the sets, costumes and effects have an off-putting, charming put-on-a-show raggedness which our technology sated modern eyes can never see innocently, which is really too bad–I suppose […]

Le Bras de Levier et la Rivière

You’re wanting to take note of the extraordinarily important director who is involved here. Brault has fashioned something like Rossellini for kids, but this time with a scientific subject. Maybe we should make that David MacAulay, and then with photography that you might see in an Eric Rohmer film. The situation here is really set […]

The Great Adventure

The narration sapifies it, which may well be a problem of translation, the familiar and slightly formless year round natural passage narrative hints at its limitations and pleasures: the imposed story is charming, and the little details about family and farm and the stuff of boyhood, but what’s really great is the quite stupendous imagery […]

The Yearling

Opening narration and the progressive vistas drawing us into primordial, archetypal wildernesses set a wonderful fable-like tone, which the extra-careful compositions, the extra-vivid colours and the extra-tender totality most masterfully sustain, here is an idealized coming of age, full of births and deaths and sorrows and redemptions, seemingly quoting the illustrations from the original Rawlins […]


Saw #Tommy. K. Russell feels like Fellini, here. Juliet…/’65. Imagination! Insularity! Then come those beans. Make that Fellini ’69. Feeling for/appreciating Miss Ann-Margret,  anachronistic vibrato & all. Gives her all/does her best! #Tommy. Can you even believe that “Pinball Wizard” sequence? Look closely though: there’s a shot in there, … … a compound camera movement that […]

The Boyfriend

Saw K. Russell’s #TheBoyFriend. Imaginatively, brilliantly splits the difference between #BusbyBerkeley & #DennisPotter. But why? Saw #TheBoyFriend. Frivolously Brechtian, or it’s Brechtian about frivolousness. G-rated, but positively leering at the margins. Oh, KR…

The Music Lovers

Saw Russell & Bragg’s #TheMusicLovers. Major talents in full flower, just before going round the bend into utter indulgence & excess … … (i.e. The Devils, ’71, etc.) For now though, still, adult content has meaning, purpose, substance. Or, saw #TheMusicLovers. Major talents going round the bend into indulgence & excess. Impressive virtuosity, but KR’s […]

Isadora Duncan

Starts with an antic fast-forward prologue that is suspiciously. doubtless/intentionally, reminiscent of the News on the March sequence in Citizen Kane. Welles’ and Russell’s films are actually quite similar. They are at the same time biographical, and gleefully cinematic, both bold and brave unto brash ostentation. It’s just about at this point in Russell’s career that his boldness […]


Bold and singleminded, upping the absurd ante of Carroll’s book, removing all sentiment, all possibility of an explanation or a way out. It seems too easy to cite Kafka, but how Kafka-esque! Svankmajer’s rabbit hole equivalent is characteristic of his troubling and yet very productive strategy. All of Carroll’s familiar episodes are here, but they […]

Down to the Cellar

There’s a primal fear! A child sent down to a dark place on an errand in which she can’t have the least interest. This is very rich, because two contradictory hypotheses are posited and proven. The first is that the usefulness or necessity of adult-imposed chores doesn’t even register when compared with the anxiety they […]

Dimensions of Dialogue

This one is also quite reminiscent of A Game with Stones, to the point that it has to be a conscious variation. A very successful one, too; the earlier film is formal and rhythmical and basically abstract. Beyond some mild, mostly unconflicted breaking up, it is geologically stable and philosophically untroubled. Here the pulverizing and […]

A Quiet Week in the House

A bit like A Game with Stones. At one level, it’s strictly structural. The guy goes into the house at the beginning, and leaves at the end. In between he bores six holes in six doors and takes a look at what’s inside. He also goes to bed, and gets up. The comic/menacing furtiveness at […]

Picnic with Weismann

Svankmajer’s is a kind of Randy Newman ambiguity. Newman: do the beautiful settings soften the cynical sentiments, or do the cynical sentiments besmirch the beautiful settings? Svankmajer: the vivivication of the inanimate gives the objects something of agency, psychology, poignancy. The mechanization of the organic players, though it doesn’t exactly dehumanize them, makes their vulnerable […]

The Flat

Quite astounding; a real milestone. An utterly recognizable face, surrounded by utterly everyday objects, all made absolutely unsettling by Svankmajer’s stop-motion, juxtapositional derring-do. It’s obviously surreal—remove the conventions of function and association and the whole world becomes transformed. Since this is Eastern Europe, the transformations make for anxiety. Also, since this is Eastern Europe, they […]

Et Cetera

Is Svankmajer systematically exploring and enacting a range of avant garde strategies? If so, it’s a great course for the practitioner and the preceptor alike. This comes in three pieces, and in that way quite resembles Norman McLaren’s Mosaic. This time Svankmajer is showing us his 2D chops. As always, he emphasizes joins and surfaces, […]

Punch and Judy

Ah—here he is. We’re still on a stage, separated and presentational, but the last film’s 90º gives way to this one’s complete mobility. The selection and arrangement of props is superficially Eames-like: all these amazing toys and contraptions, handmade and textured and very beautiful. However, the use of and attitude toward these things is not […]

A Game with Stones

I think of  Svankmajer as an artist of decay and entropy, or of the malevolence of inanimate objects. Here, though, his virtuosities are a little less dire—the film’s title may be plain descriptive. This clock chimes five times, and the stones press through the faucet and into the bucket, and he contrives five wonderful variations […]


Saw #Her. An adult movie, made searchingly & sincerely. Some adult enactments may not be particularly productive for some populations. OtoH, #Her adds to & enlivens a pornography conversation that is too often smug & dismissive & man-hating. Dehumanization, yes, in part … … but there are analogue components too, something of the organic, of […]

A Dangerous Method

Saw #ADangerousMethod. A decorous (with exceptions!) costume drama, from this past master of film mayhem? Well … … I’m remembering that Mel Brooks co-produced The Elephant Man (1980), that the arch-vulgarian & … … the body-fascinated/horrified David Lynch actually have a lot in common. So, too, here … … Cronenberg has been seriously and substantially considering […]

Two for the Road

Saw #TwofortheRoad. Lots o’ tricksy editing. Lots of fashion & formalism, but also full of deepest feeling … … Much, much more than merely stylish, or formalistic. #TwofortheRoad. Its elaborate back & forth structure is kinda descended from the Soviets. V.I. Pudovkin (1949) said … … that montage is analogous to how our eyes & ears apprehend […]

A Sense of History

Mike Leigh is the big director on this project, but his contributions to it are actually quite modest. Technical credits are patently plain, getting out of the way of text and performance, while at the same time quietly and wittily lampooning the way that these kinds of Heritage programs get made. Quiet lampooning is eclipsed, […]

Basic Training

Another milestone from Frederick Wiseman—what a run of movies he made, from 1967 to 1971!—released at a powerfully pivotal juncture of time, encouraging & even demanding that we reconsider our assumptions about the American Armed Forces; Straight to it: there may be jerks and abusers in the military (“wipe that smile off yer face or […]

High School

Spectacular! Frederick Wiseman’s pioneering documentary makes more familiar late 60s film fare like Woodstock look pretty thin, pretty lightweight; here the vaunted social changes of this time are a weighty presence, but that weight is often felt through their partial absence: there’s a reference to Doctor King here, a student with beads and shades there, & […]

The Peacekeepers

We’ve talked about this elsewhere on this website. This is another adult movie, and another kind of adult movie. Once again, that doesn’t have anything to do with explicit or inappropriate content (though there are a few, brief, heart-rending images that demonstrate the dire consequences of their perfidy and our apathy). It means that issues […]

Little Buddha

Bertolucci’s hard to figure, though that Premiere interview where he sounds like a lightweight Freudian and a callow pervert makes one wonder if it’s all Storaro, still, in what must be his most wholesome film to date, there are pleasures amidst the muddles; colour and design separation between sterile west and vibrant east is effective, […]

Waiting for Fidel

Saw Michael Rubbo/NFB’s historic documentary, #WaitingforFidel. A great, the great doc example of how humility, flexibility & perseverance … … can turn seeming or even certain disaster into unenvisioned success, into increase & wisdom. #WaitingforFidel. Rubbo’s change-of-plan method powerfully demonstrates the difference between an a priori vision … … imposed on a subject, & an inquiry […]

Du Côté de la Côte

An early effort from the versatile-to-the-point of uncategorizable Agnés Varda. It’s what is often called a film essay, which you might say bears the same relationship to conventional documentaries as the editorial does to reportage. This is very artfully assembled and presented example of that form. Great intelligence and artistry—Colour! Composition! Rhythm! Juxtaposition!—are clearly operating […]

Subconscious Password

Saw #SubconsciousPassword, another mind-blower from Chris Landreth. Here: #SubconsciousPassword. Humorous, ostentatious intertextualizing on the brink of banal anxiety, then disability, then utter dissolution. Lovecraft! #SubconsciousPassword. Like C. Barker & R. Condie, Landreth has become a bona fide auteur (view, style, élan) on the strength of a very few films.

Ted Baryluk’s Grocery

Saw the #NFB’s #TedBaryluksGrocery. Superb, even scintillating use of de/limited resources.

The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T.

From BYU/TMA’s Children’s Media Review: Watching this pioneering children’s film is like jumping into the pages of one of Dr. Seuss’s phantasmagoric books, and with good reason: Seuss, otherwise known as Theodore Geisel, conceived of the story, co-wrote the script and consulted on the design of the piece. And it shows. The sets and props […]

The Conjuring

Saw #TheConjuring. The Exorcist, for kids! Effective horror is all in the soundtrack, isn’t it? (Cf. Cat People, Friedkin, Repulsion., etc.) #TheConjuring. Bonus points for the positively inspiring period costumes. Also, hats off, Lili Taylor! #The Conjuring. Over to you, NY Times.


Saw Robert Zemickis’ #Flight. Actors! #Flight. The plane crash! #Flight. Zemeckis’ films often flip between clarity & overly. Here, w’ those awful, overused musical cues, it’s decidedly the former. #Flight. Razzles plenty, but it’s also good on the hard & the slow. Denzel W. is a one man melodrama: … … good guy & bad […]

The Passion of the Christ

This is a mad movie, a Folly of the first order. Little things in the film trouble you as being unseemly or misguided, and the same goes for many of its bigger patterns and strategies. Too many falls. An obsessiveness and relentlessness that borders on the ridiculous, if you want to look at it that […]

The Thin Blue Line

By now the vaunted reflexive stuff with which Errol Morris stuffed this movie looks kind of precious, self-conscious, self-important. Granted, it does illustrate one of the film’s main points, the Citizen Kane-like notion that multiple versions of the events in our lives make ultimate truth, even reasonable understanding, inaccessible. These most desirable, these deeply necessary […]

The King of Comedy

I’m looking closely. It’s seeming obvious that this is a contemplation of, a variation on themes explored in Taxi Driver (Schrader/Scorcese, 1976). More to the point, it seems quite pointedly to be about John Lennon and Mark David Chapman. We’re spared the terrible conclusion of that real story, but it’s not necessarily a comfort, or […]

The Big Mouth

I have ancient memories of this film’s opening sequence, a half squeamish, half empathetic feeling for the guy who gets hooked, right in the mouth. Ouch! It’s really interesting to return as a big person, to fill in the gaps. What do we find? Well practically, or industrially speaking, you can kind of see that […]

Peeping Tom

You’d think I would have noticed, before this fourth or fifth or sixth time seeing it, that there’s a naked woman right in the middle of this film. However, thankfully, a number of our attentive BYU students did notice for me. Peeping Tom is a very famous film, which is at least partly to say, a […]

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Lang’s Gertrud? His last Hollywood film looks a little bit like going through the motions, like ennui or even exhaustion. Or maybe it’s just to-the-bone efficient, representing an old man’s understanding or communication of the essence of things. The framing, the subtle and yet emphatic camera movements are razor-exact, such that the somewhat tired narrative […]


And how! These filmmakers stick to their observational guns with a vengeance. And once again the mode proves itself most adequate to the representation of processes and typicalities. And, if you choose your subject carefully, you can also be assured that a crisis or two will arise. Again, as is generally suggested, the recording and […]

For Your Consideration

Featuring the heroic Harry Sheerer. Plus Fred Willard is a genius. This satire about Hollywood, etc., is pretty perfectly crafted. The framing and cutting are completely conventional, but the conventions are interestingly exposed by their double use—in Home for Purim, and in the erstwhile making of. (Actually, it’s not a making of. It’s D.A. Pennebaker’s […]

The Three Musketeers (1939)

At 72 minutes it’s clearly just a program picture. Hooray for Hollywood (and the pioneering, extraordinarily prolific and long-contributing Allan Dwan): the technical credits, the look and lighting and design and direction of the thing are all shimmering anyway. The romantic parts are kind of all wet, but this film is still chock full of […]

Meet the Pioneers

Let’s remember that this is a work for hire, and that the industrialist/sponsor is calling the shots. These facts do not necessarily require Lindsay Anderson, or any other working media producer, to perjure himself, or do anything at all egregious. But even though it’s very much aware of Coal Face—the opening explicitly tells us that […]

The Painting

Saw #ThePainting (2011), which made for a really successful and productive Family Cinema session. You guys should see it. #ThePainting. Knowingly, lovingly integrates post/impression/fauvist principle, practice, practitioners. Thoroughly: see foregrounds/ … … backgrounds, figure/ground, characters/setting. This isn’t pastiche. It’s a kids’ museum, or a really inspiring multi-art lesson. #ThePainting. Resonant conflict patterns: mud/purebloods, star-bellied Sneetches; […]


Saw #Paperman. Elaborates, resolves the glancing vision that Mr. Bernstein had on the ferry in Citizen Kane. More optimistic. Less poignant!

The Other Guys

Very funny! There’s a nice balance between notated plot and improvised, sketchy bits. Both parts get their due without getting too much. Jackson/Johnson are funny with an edge, which eventually connects to the closing credits, and the apparent motivation behind the whole exercise. These filmmakers are really angry at patriarchal/capitalistic power! Plenty to back them […]

Eight Men Out

This is writer/director/American treasure John Sayles’ fine take on the 1919 White Sox/Black Sox scandal; it starts w’ an exhilarating display of narrative economy & skill, a virtuosic opening sequence in which players & press & owners are introduced all of their complex & contradictory interrelationships: there’s the joy of athletic endeavour, pressed by exploiters, […]

Taking Woodstock

Upstate New York is very beautiful. There’s a good sense of how places like this can be both idyllic/Edenic, and brackish backwaters. The film is a triumph, in quantity and quality, for designers and art directors of all stripes. Gene Levy is a very handsome Jewish man. He can’t quite seem to help adding a […]

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

What have they done with that tender little book? Where did the director of the sublime Amazing Grace (and the Up series!) go? Lewis’s reflective and theological bits are replaced by noise and tumult, especially as regarding Eustace/the dragon. Aslan’s intervention was the whole point of that episode, and the high point of the whole book. […]

Kung Fu Panda 2

The Beauty and the Beast-like prologue doesn’t register, narratively or emotionally or anything. Who is this peacock guy? Who cares? The film never recovers from this uncertain opening, which is a real pity, given how very good the first one was. By the end, after a strained to the point of annoying withholding of expositional […]

Cars 2

Alas! The production is as exquisite as ever, but was there ever a more gratuitous—as in unnecessary—movie? Let’s not get too down on these superb people in this superb organization, but you got to call a spade a spade. Stinker!

Astro Boy

Nic Cage, eh English version? I wonder what he needed that assistant for? This looks terrific, especially the main character. Design is always very  important. Other than that though, it’s faintly offensive. The three main male adults are criminally fickle and emotionally inadequate/abusive (Dad), criminally manipulative and deceptive (Lane), and criminally psychopathic (Sutherland). I guess […]

Pray the Devil Back to Hell

Liberia, liberated. This is obviously a very worthy subject, a comparative historical obscurity that deserves to be exposed and celebrated. Beyond the real-life/feel-good components, there are numerous other, socio-political points of interest. The rapprochement between the Christian and the Muslim women is really important, and quite touching. It certainly runs counter to pattern or at […]

For All Mankind

The lead-up to great event is both suspenseful and educational, and the blast off is really awe-inspiring. The first orbits of the globe really disperse that cynicism; you can’t help but identify and join with the technocrats and the astronauts as they express their humble appreciation and giddy enthusiasm. Beautiful pictures! The same goes for […]

Invitation to the Dance

Alfred Junge’s design contributions are as textured, as terrific as you might expect. More front and centre, Kelly’s direction (blocking and pacing, as well as the really nice compositions and camera moves) and choreography are also pretty, or partly tremendous. The film is good in pieces but somehow the whole doesn’t come off at all. […]

Night Train to Munich

Criterion’s sensible approach is to talk about how tough it is for this film to get out from under the shadow of The Lady Vanishes, and that it really should be considered on its own terms. Definitely. It’s good that the film is available, and there are certainly points of interest: a few nice twists, […]

The Fog of War

Saw #TheFogofWar. Like all of Errol Morris’s work, really updates & exemplifies John Grierson’s notion that documentary … … is “the creative treatment of actuality.” #TheFogofWar. Grierson’s critics: if it’s actuality, should you really be inflecting/obscuring it w’ your creative treatment? #TheFogofWar. On the other hand, apparent reality’s apparently serene surfaces so often hide such […]


Saw#Oblivion. Liked the long expository prologue. Ramble On & Whiter Shade of Pale? Come on music guys! Do some actual work! #Oblivion. Pretty pastiche-y. Undigested bits of R.’s Bradbury & Serling, some Jaws & Waterworld, … … even a bit of that awful football part of The Dark Knight Rises. Not so original, maybe, but magpie movies […]

The Purge

Saw #ThePurge. Key subject: brazen, oblivious privilege & its hatred of the underclass. But try Land of the Dead or Jonathan Kozol instead.

Death Wish

Saw #DeathWish. Charles Bronson is an interesting cat, McQueen/Delon-like, & stands up very well in the comparison. #DeathWish. Vincent Gardenia looks like Doug McKenzie. #DeathWish. This is one Brown-Shirt of a movie. Replace complexity w’ melodrama, make the underclass into undifferentiated savages … … & let the killing begin. Not a bit of irony or […]

Dirty Harry

Saw #DirtyHarry. Sophisticated/simple. Cinematically: efficient policier, w’ tremendous effusions (the football field!) … … Ideologically: straw men (howling sociopathic long-hairs) to help you drive home your law & order, take-no-prisoners platform … … Or is that it? Scorpio/Callahan, like Scar/Ethan E. in The Searchers, keep sort of resembling each other … … Is the protagonist the bad […]

Ender’s Game

Saw #EndersGame. Let’s see. Chest-beating maleness/competition, w’ a psychotic tinge, administered by bullies … … Leads/adds up to indoctrination, sir-yes-sir, troops at the ready. So, militarism, & the kind of patriotism that countenances it … … w’ fascism following. Next, quite naturally, comes genocide. Now. Is this being critiqued, or embraced? … … Both, I guess, […]

A Foreign Affair

A fascinating reversal, or at least extension of two documents from Wilder’s past, most obviously in a western Ninotchka going east, undergoing a partial (no facile flagwaving here either) ideological thawing as romance and friendship and other such ambiguous chicaneries add some grades between the black and the white, here an intriguing difference is that […]

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum

This is a cold, curious picture. At first it looks a bit like a TV movie, though later you notice that imagery and framing and cutting are actually very exact and effective. It’s just not slick, which is good. But there’s something off-putting. Is it that 70’s Germanness, so evident in so many Fassbinder films?? […]

One, Two, Three

Exhausting, and off-putting at first, given the pan and scan, the unattractive types that were to dominate the second echelon of 60s pictures (Horst Bucholz, indeed), and the strain of Wilder/Diamond’s incipient vulgarity (I can see your goose pimples, double indeed), but the virtuosic last 30 or is it 45 minutes reminds one that farce […]

Ballad of a Soldier

Starts clunkily, promises annoyingness as all the narrative obstacles promise tragic missed connections, which subject one is accustomed to from nihilistic modernisms, but which seems less palatable in such socialist romanticism as this–with the modern form such an approach seems almost obligatory, whereas here it just feels sappy and indulgent; still, one is half won […]


Karl Freund uber alles; after all these viewings (and I really must see a non-disco version again) it still grips tremendously, for all its mighty creakings, this I think is an expressionist movie (so often not true in German 20s, as we settle for inaccurate historical clichés), a fact most borne out by extremely interesting […]


Saw G. Whiteley’s #Mitt. Good embedded doc, strong on the community/culture & its motivations. #Mitt. Embedded docs are, by nature, weak on the rest of the world. That’s why single primary sources, however great, are never enough. #Mitt. MR comes off exTREMEly well. I’m touched by the clear, seemingly unqualified regard that the grand/kids have […]

Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Ah, the Left. The thesis is compelling, provocative, having that never-thought-of-that/of-course! quality to it. It crosses the mind that hegemony ought to be considered; it’s not always a conspiracy, but rather the regrettable thing comes as a result of circumstance, proclivity, passivity. On the other hand, when you hear Mr. Friedman’s practiced and cynical sidestepping […]

… A Valparaíso

This is a lost masterpiece. Actually, it’s more a masterpiece that hardly any one has ever heard of, at least after its initial production and utilization. How many more of these are there out there? Joris Ivens and Chris Marker, for heaven’s sake, both working at the top of their game, which means the top […]

Endless Summer

Endless Summer is obviously pretty grotesque on the sensitivity front. Paradoxically that very obliviousness is the very best thing about the movie. These boys are anthropological knuckleheads on the subject of West Africans, but the ethnographic value of their self-portrait is practically incalculable. Dumb surfer-Americans? Absolutely. Ugly? Not exactly. Not even! They’re young! Also, how fun […]

Palmour Street

This important educational film is quite untidy. As Stoney himself says, things that would be masterfully mingled in the impending All My Babies are being tried for the first time here. So untidy, and uncertain too are natural, and instructive in all sorts of ways. And while some sequences or performances are pretty awkward, there are […]


Saw Wm. Wyler/WB’s #Jezebel. The sheer scope of the resources arrayed here, & the skill & affection w’ which they are put into effect, is awesome. #Jezebel. You can’t get around its problematic ideologies: race, obviously, & gender, more troublingly/insidiously … … Further, though: you shouldn’t get around the fact that errors or insensitivities in […]

The Adventures of Dollie

Saw #TheAdventuresofDollie. The great man debuts w’ a conventional tale of racial anxiety/hostility. As you’d expect … … none of its attitudes are questioned, countered, or even conscious, probably. Also, very nicely composed … … & blocked exterior scenes. The best thing is those barely necessary bare footed boys.

Django Unchained

Starting a Westerns class tonight. Saw #DjangoUnchained. Not a big spaghetti fan. Def. not a big QT fan. Surprise! Crass glibness turns … … into a grave kind of facility. Showing off of yore here registers as operatic heightening. Violence? For 2 hrs I’m with him … … The leads are on a quasi, nearly-Quijotic […]


Saw #Tabloid. For all of his refined methods & increasingly serious subject matters, Errol Morris looks here like the antical weenie of 1978 & … … 1981. Is McKinney a fool, or is he making her look like one? Or, if she’s a fool, does he have to make her look like one? #Tabloid. The […]

Julie & Julia

Saw #Julie&Julia. The Paris part is very, very nice. Meryl Streep should be declared a UNESCO world heritage site. #Julie&Julia. The modern part was like watching Chris Columbus direct A Clockwork Orange. Telegraphed, self-satisfied, smug… … celebrating/embodying the thing (frivolous bourgeois/female self-absorption) it purports to counter … … Feel that my IQ has actually dropped. […]

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Saw #BramStokersDracula, in which G. Oldman over/acts circles around those two young understudies that wandered onto the set … #BramStokersDracula. Exquisite technical credits, all expressed in an emphatic, operatic register. Terrific early film quotations … … varieties of avant garde technique, nearly a film unto abstraction. Too bad the rest is Hammer homage. #Fastforward!


Saw the great geriatric Passion Play, #Amour. Cruel/not sadistic. Clinical/not cold-hearted. Not sentimental, but full of deep sentiment. Starkly tender film landmarks on the subject of age: The Parson’s Widow. The lost Grannis/Baker sub-plot, from Greed. Make Way … … for Tomorrow, & Tokyo Story. Wild Strawberries. The Leopard. Strangers in Good Company. Away From Her. […]

Of Gods and Men

This inevitably recalls country priests of the cinematic past, but there is much more than mere echoing going on here. Of Gods and Men earns Bressonian comparisons on its own terms. Processes of devotion, both ritualized/liturgical and pragmatic/practical, are laid out in detail and at length. There’s no rushing or sweetening or apologizing. The film, like […]

Places in the Heart

The effect only increases with each screening, exceedingly fine craft–each story point leads directly but uncontrivedly to the next, leaving the viewer neither out nor objection; the direction restrained and respectful so that the high points (still restrained and respectful) are actually explosive; the acting by the hard to believe cast full of nuances, humanizing […]


Saw Roberto Rossellini’s #Socrates. One of these, though not included here: #Socrates. Crazy Rossellini. All this scrupulous preparation & elaborate production, all this trouble & expense … … and then such perversely plied alienation effects (à la B.Brecht) to inhibit our access & enjoyment … … Damned, then, if it doesn’t still conclude quite movingly, […]

The Gospel According to Matthew

An extraordinarily pure film, it is just what the title suggests, the screenplay taken only from Matthew reveals how very sparse and uninflected the gospels are, and Pasolini has the grace and restraint to keep it that way, usually adaptors can’t leave the warm hard facts alone, having to tart the story up and wrap […]

The Trial of Joan of Arc

Saw Bresson’s #TheTrialofJoanofArc. The subject is unwavering chastity, the method is chaste and unwavering. Very spare, really full. Saw #SheWoreaYellowRibbon. It often seems Dr. Johnson’s observations about patriotism are about exactly true. … … But not always, as this luminously patriotic declaration demonstrates. #SheWoreaYellowRibbon. Grows with each viewing, one of those Ford films which exactly […]


I was stunned, I was decimated when first I saw this movie. I’ve repeated that experience, since then. Not so many movies get better and better, every time you see them. What’s the cause? Where does this rare thing, this exalted and exalting feeling come from? In one sense, the component parts of Robert Bresson’s […]


It appears that I missed the point on this the first time I saw it, back in graduate school. Or maybe I keyed on just one or two components of what now turns out to be a real vastitude. So I missed the point. Either way, how wrong can you be! Talk about gestalt! Taken […]

Madame’s Cravings

Was this already a dumb old idea in 1907? The gesturing is still pretty excessive, though the close-ups of Madame indulging are fantastically so. A traveling salesman’s pipe, indeed. As always, there’s great documentary value to be found and treasured when narrative contrivances play out in real locations.

An Obstacle Course

We’re back to Mlle. Alice Guy. This is an actual French course comique, and right from the classic period. So we shouldn’t expect innovation or apotheosis. It’s industrial product, and quite well executed too. One does note a sameness—run, run, run—some incoherence (what’s going on back there in that first, situation-establishing shot?), and some considerable […]

Shooting the Chutes

Beware the received wisdom. It’s 1896, and already they have smaller cameras, and already they’re out on location. They’ve got a good angle here, but they mostly miss the interesting action that they might should have gotten from that angle. Thing is, it’s creation’s morning! So still, pretty great.

Black Orpheus

Wonderfully vibrant from the marvellous beginning with the briefly sedate acoustic guitars over the stone relief of some greek figures, which image explodes out and is replaced by those incessant jungle drums and those wildly gesticulating natives–is this completely cultural cliché, do Brazilians resent the representation? a European made it, yes, but the indigenos are […]

The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

A very peculiar movie, stiff (language difficulties?) and challenged by the need to have one character carry most everything, strangely appealing for a’ that, especially as that character is something of a maiden aunt who starts to turn kind of loopy in addition to taking the usually cited imperialistic liberties, it’s actually not that simple […]

The Living Desert

Imposition of European perceptions on indigenous culture (animals and nature), just like the Johnsons’ intertitles in their African movies, score reinforces same (tarantula waltz, “hot time in the old town tonight” as rats celebrate their victory over snake, scorpion square dance, with repeats and reversals to further manipulate), this is just as disrespectful to realities […]

Whisky Galore!

Though Compton Mackenzie’s source novel is brief, its pace & plotting are both actually very leisurely: it’s fascinating to see how ruthlessly the novelist’s own film script pares the story to the bone, compressing romantic trajectories, eliminating two year courtships, placing both heroines in the same family, having the liquor-laden ship sink the very next […]

Stanley and Livingstone

A great example of how complex and intelligent regular old films can be, apart from the canonized modernist or auteurist anomalies, they don’t make ones like these anymore, but those who despair of the fact as well as those who rejoice are missing important points: the good old days did not only mindlessly affirm some […]

Elephant Boy

Sort of interesting, not very good at all, Sabu’s hard to take, especially in that endless intro, clear and uncomfortable grafting of stilted story material (Korda?) onto some neat though meandering looking doc footage (Flaherty, of course), not exactly reactionary, as the Indians have some dimension, and some may actually be Indians, but it’s hardly […]

The Spider Woman (Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman)

Saw #TheSpiderWoman. Some very nice repartee ‘twixt Holmes & his female nemesis. Features the sappiest crook’s sidekick ever … … & a kid cameo that comes close to being the weirdest. You take, you like the middling w’ the good. #TheSpiderWoman. Good ol’ Nigel Bruce! Nice climax. A mere program picture, & yet very much worth […]

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death

Saw #SherlockHolmesFacesDeath. Good movie! Mostly takes place in just one location, & it’s exploited superbly— … … atmosphere, comedy, suspense, even a bit of gravity. #SherlockHolmesFacesDeath. And hey, families wanting a bit of/not too much media on a school night … … These are all about an hour & ten minutes long!

Sherlock Holmes in Washington

Saw #SherlockHolmesinWashington. That train sequence is really great. Again, they may be programmatic B movies … … but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t executed w’ skill, care & honourable craft. #SherlockHolmesinWashington. Note its race components, & race relations. Hierarchies, inequities are clear … … But so too are subtleties, complexities, & the fact that […]

World War Z

Saw #WorldWarZ. I knew global warming was for real! #WorldWarZ. Not just another zombie bid. W’ regard to the real issues at hand, though, I found myself thinking, maybe unfairly … … about just playing things straight. As in, this is good, but you guys should really see Contagion! #WorldWarZ. I admire its comparative restraint. […]

The World’s End

Saw #TheWorldsEnd. These guys are really adept. Very well written, performed, staged, assembled. #TheWorldsEnd. Didn’t anticipate the direction take by that post-apocalyptic epilogue. Found it to be very interesting, even courageous. #TheWorldsEnd. Still, for me, lacking. Found the Midwich Cuckoos & Village of the Damned quotes/elaborations … … to be unilluminating, even gratuitous. There’s a […]

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay

Saw #DeceptivePractices… So-called B-roll is so textured & vivid as to graduate itself all the way to A-status. Exemplary artifacting. #DeceptivePractices. Jay is an incredible multi-virtuoso, in all manner of wildly arcane, basically useless things. Folly/heroic devotion. #DeceptivePractices. Folly, or magical abstract expressionism? This is modernism, art sans referent, w’ medium/materials the point & subject. […]

The Book of Eli

He’s blind! And that ending is kind of exactly copped from Truffaut’s take on Fahrenheit 451. Originality isn’t everything, so that’s not necessarily a problem. But a bigger uncertainty, and a fundamental strategical misstep sort of sink this. With regard to that uncertainty one should be fair. Who really understands religion, or spirituality, or God? Well, […]

The Devil, Probably

Saw Robert Bresson’s #TheDevilProbably. Really interesting combination of Godardian discourse &, decidedly, Bressonian method … … The pre-repentance part of Pickpocket runs into Mouchette‘s despair-inducing milieu. Very powerful conclusion!

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Finally saw #TexasChainsawMassacre (’74). Okay. Is that atmospheric lighting, or is it just way too dark in/out there? … … How do I put this? Some of the performances do not quite cohere w’ some of the other performances, or w’ themselves … … Now that that’s out of the way: those things apart, or, […]

Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell

Saw #GokeBodySnatcherfromHell. Lurid, hysterical, preposterous … … Quite admirable in its unwavering commitment to all those fine things. #Goke. As has often been observed, the hijacker guy, who is then, subsequently, hijacked by the aliens … … goes on to develop what appears to be a vagina in the middle of his forehead. #Goke. Avalanche […]


Is this why Barker takes so long between films? We can only be grateful for whatever he deigns to give us. Man! This reads as bailout fable, class critique, existential parable. (Naturalism too—could it be that they actually, intentionally distilled Zola’s La Bete Humaine for us?) It’s also a sentimentality buster, or an ideological primer—viz. […]

The Erlking

Man! This is completely worthy of its exalted sources. Goethe and Schubert? No problem. Perfect pacing: the King gradually insinuates himself, and by the end it’s devastating. Perfect execution: the child’s fear! The father’s realization! This is dark enchantment, accomplished through the most advanced technology, and opening up the most poignant and universal truths. The […]

Village of Idiots

A near anthology of animation techniques, utilized as much to interrupt illusion and identification as to tell the story. That part is wonderfully done. And the story ends up being equal to the wealth of visuals. The balance is terrific. This is a Chelm story, a shaggy folk tale without apparent pretensions. Unpretentious, but with […]

The Titfield Thunderbolt

Here’s the fictional situation. National Rail is closing down a branch line. Local forces vie. Some of the Ealing comedies can tiptoe inoffensively, but like the best/most forceful of them (cf. The Man in the White Suit particularly), this film blithely tweaks both the left and the right. The union man retires defeated because it turns […]


I really like this movie. It’s all over the place, but bravely so. I know they used to read those audience response cards like crazy, but for all that Fantasia feels like a gamble, and a statement of conviction and affection. The opening, where the orchestra comes into this carefully and crazily lit space, is […]


Saw Richard Pearce’s #Heartland. Trekking Mormons forget about pioneering’s Homestead option. Plenty more where you came from! #Heartland. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s stirring essay on the Arts & the Sciences ( now looks problematic … … in the way it idealizes indigenous populations. On the other hand, it applies exactly, perfectly to this subject, & setting … […]

The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge

This brings Losey’s Don Giovanni to mind. The French decors, the various costumes—practically (Josef von) Sternbergian in their grand excess—the magnificent Spanish settings: ignore the story and turn the sound off and you’ll still be rewarded to the point of ravishment. Three Musketeers things still apply, obviously, since it’s all basically the same film. (Made […]

The Three Musketeers (1973)

More painterly than Renoir, and just as farcical and humane. More multi-planed and modernist than Altman, and so much more accessible. Very bawdy, not remotely vulgar. Full of comic virtuosity—not only compound gags, but compound gags compounded through the frame and across the cuts—but in the end its decency registers most. (Cf. the last exchange […]

Chimes at Midnight

The sound leaves this feeling quite like an avant garde film, which maybe it is, as with Othello, but with a text less familiar, clear trajectories of plot and character are not achieved (not attempted?), and instead we have revelatory stretches interspersed with exhilarating incomprehensibles, it’s talked so fast and overlappingly that you’re left either […]

The Sun Shines Bright

Saw John Ford’s #TheSunShinesBright, reputed to be his own favourite among all the many features he made … … Tons of things that’ll seem inappropriate or unacceptable to moderns! This is like the Walter Scott-infused South … … as described & condemned by Mark Twain (in Life on the Mississippi, 1883). Worse, even. How is it […]


Air and freedom, want notwithstanding, give way triumphantly (I mean in terms of superb control in creating terrible and inevitable tragedy) to darkness and death, the boys, leads and supports, are gritty and attractive, the circumstances leading to imprisonment, stupid and unopposable, leave us feeling trapped as well, the reformatory becomes a character through fluid […]

City Girl

Better than Sunrise! It’s every bit as artful and adventurous, and it’s certainly similarly Romantic. But the emotion is less synthesized, the psychology a little more careful and nuanced, and the conclusion more organic (as opposed to mythic, or musical). City Girl is also so much less familiar, obscured as it has been by its inexplicable […]

The Fighter

This is Rocky, which was the Chuck Wepner story, which is an optimistic take on the problems and possibilities of overcoming difficulty and making your dreams come true. Of course this Rocky is decidedly more naturalistic than the original. That is almost completely an advantage. Not everyone will agree with this estimation. The prudish might […]

Breaking In

That 80’s score obscures the fact for the little while, but this is a timeless little piece. Breaking In is defiantly small-scaled, quiet, even modest. But there are powerful accumulations here, little lasers of perception and compassion, of interesting incident combined with real wisdom. The size of the coveralls. The friendly guard dog, and the soft-sold, […]

The Ghost Writer

That house! Here’s a filmmaker at the top of his considerable powers, and an ensemble of collaborators at the top of theirs. The young firebrand who made Knife in the Water and Repulsion has become positively magisterial, a complete master in every cinematic sense of the word. He’s just as powerful at a conceptual or […]


This is a neat exercise in literary adaptation. Charles Bennett, H-cock’s often-writer during this period, takes on Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel The Secret Agent. Earlier that year they’d collaborated on The Secret Agent, which was not an adaptation of Conrad, but of Somerset Maugham. In 1942 Hitchcock made a film called Saboteur, which is not […]


Saw J. Tourneur’s #Wichita. Plays like a Western version of Alexander Mackendrick/Ealing Studios’ The Man in the White Suit: … … moral imperative runs complicatedly up against nice folks who put their honest faith in market forces. Both correct, both incomplete … … Confusions ensue! Here’s genre, effortlessly & elegantly introducing & illuminating the fields of […]

The Only Son

Saw #TheOnlySon. Courtesy & consideration continue as hopeful ambitions resolve into pretty deep disappointment. As a result … … courtesy & consideration start registering w’ earthquake magnitude. Not religion per se, but spirituality still! #thresholdofsignificance #TheOnlySon. Really noticed those pillow shots! I know that’s Ozu 101, but had I ever thought them through sufficiently? … […]

Sherlock Jr.

Saw Keaton’s #SherlockJr. Effortless invention, so consecutive as to seem practically infinite. It’s just a movie … … but this fun really does start to become magical. Then, w’ the films that will follow, magical really does turn into miracle.

Portrait of Jennie

Best kind of schmaltzy H-wood production, with farfetched-ness so attractive and superlatively presented that it’s bought happily, missed the opening darn it but there’s sea symbolism, an intense Ethel Barrymore and a whole bunch of strong supporting bits, lots of Debussy used leit-motifically, strange given the clichés about the Romantics dominating H-wood music, but superficially […]


Not a single misstep, and beyond the justifiably celebrated second half set pieces (the key at the party, the search in the wine cellar, Alicia’s discovery that she’s being poisoned and the superlative last rescue and last execution) one notices the astonishing control of the first half, all of the portentous whisperings (it’s a film […]

The Uninvited

Saw #TheUninvited. Ah! It was the lesbians. #TheUninvited. I strongly suspect that this movie has read/seen Du Maurier/Hitchcock’s Rebecca. #TheUninvited. Studio resources, & craftsmen, a light heart, & terrific atmosphere, all most deserving of praise … … Not much oomph, though, mythologically speaking.

That Hamilton Woman

Definitely the Tradition of Quality (cf. F. Truffaut, 1954), but it doesn’t play stodgily at all. (That’s actually true of a lot of the films that Truffaut excoriated.) Could it be the charge of a real romance, going on during the course of production? Or the fact that the clearly illicit components of the story […]


Preposterous, lots of fun, as insanely blossom’d as The Wedding March, with paradoxical combinations of concert hall pretense and common folk idealizing, Eddy’s obnoxious American character gets on the nerves, but he and MacDonald still make a marvellous pair, and their on stage reunion manages to be fairly musically thrilling, and full of yearning tensions […]


Good one. Simple in concept and execution (except the doubling of their main actor; how do they do that?!), but multiple in implication. Here’s sci-fi, in other words, working like it should. Beneath the fanciful speculation and the techno-geekery are great insights about important things. Like in this one, the ethics and particularities of cloning. […]

The H-Man

Saw Toho’s #TheHMan. Plot’s perfunctory, but the nuclear subtext isn’t. Nice use of wide screen, cool effects … … Remember. Bullets don’t hurt blobs! #TheHMan. Interesting patterns of deference & impertinence, which I’m not culturally informed enough to decipher. #TheHMan. Has two performance/musical numbers that are so wayward & weird & tone deaf as to […]

The Wolfman

The wolf man was the most synthetic, the most manufactured of the classic Hollywood monsters, the least rooted in tradition and myth. The 1942 film has atmosphere and exposition, and moments, and not as much resonance as some of the others. That may mean that the possibilities are lesser with a project like this, or […]

The Lovely Bones

What a shimmering, exquisite young woman, this Saoirse Ronan! Her luminous introduction, her very luminosity make the murder that follows so much more appalling. This whole extended sequence is quite perfectly rendered, cinematically speaking. But it made me wonder. This is an old squeamishness, which is quite natural, quite honestly come by. It’s different from […]

The Dead Zone

There’s a brief, even glancing bit of gross-out in this David Cronenberg/Steven King semi-collaboration. They’re both specialists in that regard, or at least were specialists at that point in their careers. But beyond the fact that Colleen Dewhurst, beloved by millions for her performance as Marilla Cuthbert in the CBC’s 1985 production of Anne of […]

Assault on Precinct 13

They killed that kid from Escape from Witch Mountain! Right at the beginning of the movie! Assault on Precinct 13 is one of those Sam Fuller, Honeymoon Killers-type low budget films. If you’re expecting the glossy norm you might miss the real deal that they’ve accomplished here: film like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. […]


Juggernaut might not come immediately to mind when you think about 70s disaster movies, but these days it sure looks a lot better than most of the other alleged milestones of that genre, or that period. It’s missing what at the time seemed like gloss and flash and spectacle. In fact it kind of feels like […]

Black Sunday

That mask, with those spikes, and that big mallet! The acting in this important-to-the-point-of-being-a-milestone horror film does rather let us down, as does the overly sparse soundtrack. No ambient sound? You know that these things are post-synchronized anyway, but this soundtrack is so much of a problem that it compromises the film. Still, there are […]

The Fiend Without a Face

Ah, the mountains of Manitoba. It is probably in poor taste to key on the threadbare and implausible parts of a low budget exploitation picture. Ideology is a fairer target, and/or convention. The romance, I mean, and the US butting in and enlisting our sympathy when the darkened locals object to their presence, and their […]

Man of the West

Saw Anthony Mann’s great #ManoftheWest, which asks whether or not men are naturally civilized, or savage … … Men, & by extension/more particularly, the USA. The returns are not reassuring. #ManoftheWest. The 50’s really did see much of peace & prosperity. Mann’s film throws all that into disarray, even jeopardy … … Here, all that undoubted decency […]

Rancho Notorious

Colour! If this is 1950 then the song that helps structure the narrative pre-dates the more famous High Noon (A Walk in the Sun pre-dates them both); Dramatically shot, tightly cut, & quite savage, such that it really anticipates Lang’s upcoming The Big Heat: there it was boiling coffee in the face, while this one starts […]


My attention’s 1st caught by the electrifying prologue: flashing spurs & the Habañera rhythm (as crafty & compelling as in Vertigo), the superb disappearing man black-framed in the doorway; this is world-class stuff, a primal scene, a traumatic touchstone, a nightmare to haunt everything that follows, an interesting example of H-wood’s semi-successful/semi-substantial appropriations of Freud […]


Saw #Austenland. Two films, battling: the 1st is ardent but prudent, decorous & self-empowering. A bit dull-ish … … The 2nd film is more or less Rabelaisian, not too fit for polite company. #1 wins. Is their heart, is there more heart in #2? … … As it were? #Austenland. What are these 3 (& […]


This very special film achieves a beautiful balance between story and style, content and form, message and manner. It’s also terrifically simple. We have that nice, textured old desk. We have a sketchpad, and this resourceful young woman doing these cool, agile, charmingly stylized drawings. There’s plenty to appreciate here, but Flawed really touches upon the obsessive nature of […]

Gap-Toothed Women

Speaking generally this project is about as important a project as film, or documentary, or whatever, has ever taken on. In fact this project might be carrying out documentary’s fundamental raison d’etre, its greatest and most consistent contribution. Look closely and sympathetically at the people that are usually invisible. Attend to the people that are […]


House starts brightly, and looks positively promising/appealing when we’re introduced to these various schoolgirls and their variously quirky characteristics. This is the best part of the movie, confidently, cheekily, intelligently self-reflexive, making a bit and having a lot of fun. So far so good. Things, or the hope of things, are maintained when these young women […]


With all of its ambiguities and obscurities and provocations, Věra Chytilová’s Daisies is at least partly an exercise in perception, or a construct designed to call attention to how we perceive. The beginning and the end—machinery and bombing intercut, the ruined city—suggest that there is also something further, or deeper, at hand. However, the thorough and unremitting brattiness […]


Roman Polanski’s Repulsion is a really remarkable film, and a really distressing one too. It’s classically symmetrical in structure (note the very first and last shot/image), Romantic/auteurist in method, and ultimately Modern in its form and pessimism. It’s quite perfectly calculated, relentless in portraying its protagonist’s mounting paranoia, finally not just describing but actually enacting a process of […]

Women of the Night

A real scorcher! Serene surfaces, with intimations of difficulty and systemic shortcoming, give way to the whirlwind. As a result this is both a very detailed, persuasive sociological and ideological critique, and a deeper, much direr vision. Man as irredeemable! And that’s man, very specifically. Put this one next to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion as a witness than […]


This highly stylized short film is a very good example of myth and Freud, coming productively coming. The primordial echo is played out in a contemporary setting, with all sorts of rich implications. Which are basically that this filmmaker, and maybe something in all of us, really fears women. The Harpy’s anatomy really gets this […]

Bout de Zan Steals an Elephant

In addition to that lovely young elephant, the best thing here, again, is the authenticity of the street scenes. This of course is the thing for which Feuillade would become most celebrated, when he started making those historic serials. Back to the elephant: the meeting of a person and a wild animal can never be […]

The Nativity

Feuillade’s static compositions are lovely, splitting the difference between well-behaved painting and tableaux theatrics. The planes are particularly well calculated, and he goes so far as to shift his symmetries across the cuts. The playing of the shepherds is semaphoric, and pleasingly so. Is that reverence the viewer feels manger-side? I’ll bet that actual baby […]

Custody of the Child

They’re up to something important here, and something very good. This is a sad story, and a very common one. As is well known, American commercial cinema would take forever to even acknowledge it, let alone do it justice. Here, just as film narratives are getting ambitious and stretching themselves out, it gets the detailed and sympathetic […]

The Roman Orgy

Again, great costumes, very comfortably worn. The arrangement of figures within the frame, the movement of figures through and across the frame, is very capable. You can’t over-emphasize how important this kind of thing is, how central it is to the craft of film directing, however much it may derive from the stage. The camera […]

The Fairy of the Surf

Nice tinting, toning, stenciling. The actors look comfortable in their costumes, and in the impressive period settings. We’re moving beyond M. Méliès’ elaborately artificial sets, and as wonderful as those are, it’s very much a positive step. Locations, well utilized, can really provide dramatic leaven—plausibility, authenticity, resonance. There’s a very nice post-wedding parade of aristocrats. This kind […]


Painterly or photographical tableaux, more evocation than dramatization. The subjects, if they’re not unclothed little boys, bravely try to circulate in their classical wear. The unclothed little boys just run around. The film comes off as unnatural, sometimes a bit awkward. That can mean failure, or it can mean the brink of big advances. A […]

A Very Fine Lady

Fantastic? Make that fabulous! The standard, even tired, even potentially unseemly plot—pretty lady turns heads—is enlivened by the whole-hearted good humour of the performers, and by the skillful execution of the various gags. We have hoses (way better than the Lumieres, though that may not be a fair comparison), planks, ladders, Tati turn-arounds. Piled on, […]

The Colonel’s Account

And now, Louis Feuillade. Geoff Gardner, posting on the tremendous Senses of Cinema website, refers to Feuillade as the cinema’s “first master.” ( It’s a notion that no longer raises any eyebrows. Feuillade started his quite astonishingly prolific career as a film director about a year and a half before D.W. Griffith. The selection of Feuillade films on […]

The Glue

Man, she’s good! An adult poacher-type is apprehended, leaving a kid poacher-type to pursue the task in his own particular way. We know the drill by now. The conceit is very simple—spread glue over all sorts of surfaces and let the zaniness ensue—but the variations are more than sufficient to sustain the story and entertain […]

The Race for the Sausage

This course comique is strictly, concentratedly done for laughs. Very successful too. Guy’s method appears again, and works nicely. She has an idea, or an assignment, and both are developed faithfully, without any distraction or deviation. The dog steals the long rope of sausage, and the store’s proprietor grabs onto the end, and then we […]

The Game-Keeper’s Son

The structure and style—if not the attitude—of the course comique/comic chase film are here applied to more serious subject matter. It’s a successful combination, with the value added of a tremendous amount of documentary (social, sartorial, geographical) detail. It’s a little earnest, sentimental and heart stirring. Note the shot that starts with the mourning family, […]

Ocean Studies

Cool. While the whole film world, this director included, is elaborating on the possibilities of story and performance, mis-en-scene and a kind of montage, we get this nice little throwback to the wide-eyed advent of the medium. No apologies required for a little three shot film that thinks the sea meeting the shore is beautiful.

The Consequences of Feminism

I don’t know if this really demonstrates the consequences of feminism, or if it’s even, very seriously, meant to. But the central concept sure is consistently and successfully maintained here, to the point, maybe or even, of sustaining the idea behind it. Again, Guy makes a whole film about a pretty simple situation. Gender roles […]

The Truth Behind the Ape-Man

The truth to which the title refers remains somewhat obscure to me. On the other hand this is energetically, skillfully and amusingly performed. Sense isn’t after all the most important part of a comic narrative, nor of an anxious one. (This is also the latter, under the surface, with regard to maleness, and in a […]

The Parish Priest’s Christmas

This is a very sweet little thing. Guy’s interior shots aren’t nearly as dynamic or interesting as her exteriors. (Not to criticize; a number of year later no less a man than Griffith will have the same struggle.) Here they go on rather, and the dramatic or narrative sense of the scenes can also get […]

The Drunken Mattress

Here’s another simple, single situation. And this time it’s very nicely explored. There’s some really striking, appealing use of long shots—long in camera placement, long in duration, long in the exploration and integration of visual planes (cf. the terrific shot when the drunk waddles in from the very way back of the frame). Camera placement […]

A Story Well Spun

I’ve read Guy’s autobiography. It’s very good, very interesting. It’s not too long, and though full of interesting details, doesn’t really detail the work at all. Especially given that she did so very much work. (Not suprisingly, though you wouldn’t necessarily lump them together, the same goes for Mary Pickford and her memoir.) We need […]

The Cruel Mother

This one is sincere and concerned, so it comes off as less subtle, dramatically interesting, socially effective. And actually, what social ill are they addressing here? Mythological stepmothers, maybe. Her cruelty doesn’t make much sense, except that it was probably in the script. The abused boy is terrific, as is the physical nature of his […]

The Hierarchies of Love

More nice exteriors. The French context deepens the obvious scenario in interesting ways. A soldier pursues a servant girl, but then has to cede to a superior. And so on. None of them seem to question the appropriateness of chasing after said servant girl. And they’re all so sophisticated or permissive that what might have […]

A Sticky Woman

Great! Let me say that one more time. Great! This is a fabulous joke. Guy’s blocking and composition are sometimes kind of perfunctory. This time she has her principals—the officious lady, her obliging servant, and the guy who’s getting aroused by it all—come up into the foreground, while all the while bits of business go […]

The Birth, Life and Death of Christ

Did I count that right? Twenty-one or twenty-two episodes, almost all played practically whole, in a combination of sequence shot and Sunday School tableau. The assembly is contradictory, or maybe simultaneous, in all sorts of interesting ways. It’s kind of primitive, but there are confidences and clarities in the midst of the elementary. It’s kind […]

Félix Mayol Performs “The Trottins’ Polka”

Ditto (see previous mini-review), but with a bit of choreography added in .

Félix Mayol Performs “Indiscreet Questions”

It’s interesting how sound handcuffs the director here. Maybe it just causes the director to get completely out of the way and let the novelty hold sway. In one way the sound, the increased presence of the performer, raises this above those much derided early films of theatrical people doing theatrical things on a theatrical […]

Dranem Performs “Five O’Clock Tea”

Colour now, a sort of close-up, and a lovely drapery right behind.

Dranem Performs “The True Jiu-Jitsu”

A little racial stereotyping here. Silly, and maybe so silly as to be harmless. But people take this kind of thing seriously, don’t they? And a little silly, a time or two too many, starts to add up to mis/perceptions, and attitudes and actions that back them up. That 360˚ shuggle is pretty funny though.

Polin Performs “The Anatomy of a Draftee”

Contrary to rumour, or the ideologically suspect standard history, films were not silent until 1927. Right here we’re hearing really good sound, from a very long time ago. Translations would help. Learning French would help more.

Saharet Performs the Bolero

Directorially, this material starts to echo, or rather anticipate Charlie Chaplin. It’s not necessarily fancy, but it’s quite sufficient to the task at hand. It’s what’s going on in front of the camera that counts! Here is some more pretty stenciling. Here is a really nice exploration/exploitation of a surprisingly small physical stage or space. […]

Alice Guy Films a “Phonoscène”

Very interesting. There’s the set and the scene, in the centre and back of the frame. The apparatus is in silhouette in the foreground. Banks of lights, a big reflector, the camera, Miss Guy. The scene begins, as it were. They are filming the usual sequence shot, and the usual or at least often artificial, […]

Cake Walk, Performed by Nouveau Cirque

An actual black couple, dancing very well. A (jump) cut, and then a number of black and white people together, dancing very well. When we see minorities in old films we’re inclined to look for and make assumptions about injustice, inequity, prejudice. We are almost certainly right to do so, as there certainly was plenty […]

Cook & Rilly’s Trained Rooster

Handsome beast. Very well photographed. The training implied by the title seems to consist of standing there and crowing when it feels like it.

The Malagueña and the Bullfighter

More tourism. Guy is appropriating culture, exporting stereotypes, doing all the things that moderns might blame her for. Plus, it’s salvage ethnography, and these people do dance very well. Also, they’re long dead, and yet here they are.


Actualities! Here are eight celebrated Spanish locations, mostly covered by a simple, very well executed left to right pan, which allows us to see what there is to see. By chance a few interesting perspectives, or unexpected shifts/details come into view. A range of classes here, some Moorish architecture there. This is absolutely tourist cinema, […]

Clown, Dog and Balloon

What a great title! It’s both courteous disclosure, and an appealing promise of what’s to follow. Take or leave the carrying on of the clown. To my mind it looks like he’s trying too hard. On the other hand, that dog looks like he’s really having fun! The balloon casts a shadow against the painted […]

The Magician’s Alms

The match/trick shots are by the book. The transportation of those tricks into real locations is not by the book at all. This magician is coming out of a real café. Its proprietor, and his helper, look just a little self-conscious. That’s a tiny bit of dramatic uncertainty, but it’s more than made up for […]

The Statue

This is an uninterrupted sequence shot from a fixed camera position, and the backdrop is artificial, theatrically rendered. The actors gesticulate, exaggerate. M. Méliès still, obviously, reigns preeminent. But though his significance looms large, The Statue is not just a knock-off. For instance, note the spaciousness and classicism of those backgrounds. The performances are broad—not too broad, mind—but […]

The O’Mers in “The Bricklayers”

There’s a ton of business in this single, uninterrupted two-minute shot. Thematically we have lots of salutary disrespect for authority. Stylistically we have a pretty successful (if very sloppy) attempt to use the whole of the frame. I’m afraid I’m going to say this again. Méliès has managed this kind of thing quite often, and quite successfully. […]

Faust and Mephistopheles

Wow! This isn’t successful in a lot of ways. It’s hard to tell who is who, and what is actually happening. But here is the Méliès match cut in a way that not even Méliès used it. In part we’re seeing the early film thing that I keep talking about over and over, in which a familiar, pre-existing source […]

How Monsieur Takes His Bath

Here we go again. Alice Guy is no Méliès, but significant exposure to her work, and to material from this period generally, reveals so many gradations and distinctions—this medium, at this time, is definitely big enough for the both of them. As was generally the case, this one doesn’t have quite enough shape, direction, pace to […]

Miss Dundee and Her Performing Dogs

Charming. This is a retrenchment grammatically, even something of a backslide—pure cinema of attractions. Well we needn’t be evolving all the time, need we? Prettily paced and presented, and the dogs are very well trained indeed. The repeated gag where that one little fellow keeps coming back to  mourn for his seemingly dead comrade moves […]

An Untimely Intrusion

This time that lady is being played by a man.  Again, this isn’t very clear, or very tight.

Midwife to the Upper Class

That young man is being played by a young girl!  We understand that this is a (virtual?) remake of an earlier Guy film, so popular that they wore the negative out.  The film is made up of two sequence shots, the second of which takes place in the proverbial cabbage patch!  This is simultaneously cute […]

Serpentine Dance by Lina Esbrard

Isn’t it a bit late in the day for another serpentine dance? The first couple of years of projected film, and even with the Kinetoscope before that, saw an abundance of them. Lacking the footnotes about which we’ve already spoken, or short of the scholars (i.e. Richard Abel, UC Press, 1994), it’s hard to know […]

The Cabbage-Patch Fairy

We need footnotes here, as the passage of time and the changing of sensibilities can sometimes leave us in the dark, at least a little bit. What’s going on? Dave Kehr reports that this is a remake of Guy’s very first film, made back in 1895. Or 1896. It had been very popular with audiences, […]

At the Floral Ball

See previous review, for Pierrette’s Escapades. Same here. This time the prettily adept dancing does meander a bit. We conclude with these two women—one playing Pierrot, who is of course a male character—engaging in a series of chastely suggestive romantic interactions. Genderquake? Contemporary audiences may well see it that way. At the time of production it […]

Pierrette’s Escapades

Beautifully coloured, and very prettily danced.

Turn-of-the-Century Surgery

Starts out nice and inappropriately. After the obvious match cut, the surgeons try to figure out which horrible implement will most effectively dismember their victim. That’s a pleasantly in-poor-taste, start, but they fail to find an interesting conclusion.

The Landlady

A-B-A. Man comes to a door to inquire, kids come to the same door to ring and run, man returns to re-inquire and gets hit by a bucket of water meant for the kids. Very simple, and very nicely done! The adults gesticulate like Italians, except that they do so in the French manner. We […]

Dance of the Seasons: Winter, Snow Dance

She’s definitely a dancer, and she traverses that little space quite well. Also, the fake snow is nice. This kind of thing was probably a comfort to the cultural arbiters who feared film’s low-brow tendencies. Today it looks silly. It’s quite possible that some viewers felt similarly in 1900.

At the Photographer’s

Look at these films, proliferating and deepening so quickly, right before our eyes! This is also like the waterer watered. Like the Lumières, a little bit, Guy has to figure out how to arrange and time her action so it ends when the film strip does. This particular conclusion here isn’t all that monumental, but it […]

Automated Hat-Maker and Sausage-Grinder

Having lots of fun with a very silly idea. Eventually, quite soon even, all sorts of professional standards and scruples will crowd out a lot of this kind of thing. That would be partly to the good. Partly a pity though.

Avenue de l’Opéra

The point of this production is that the film is running backwards, which of course we all enjoy, from back when we were rewinding science films in junior high school. But as with a lot of long ago film novelties, the real value is in the stuff the filmmakers probably took for granted. Look at […]

Wonderful Absinthe

More dramatic uncertainty. This drinker does a funny little contortion, that works very well. He promptly leaves frame with it too. And the camera stays comfortably in place, while the remaining characters look with interest beyond the frame line, past our vision. Given the Lumières’ basic camera immobility you suspect that Guy and friends weren’t doing […]

At the Club

This is pretty ineptly enacted. As Méliès has amply demonstrated (time to stop making that unfair comparison), lots of French people knew how to act at the turn of the century. Those people must not have been available to Mlle. Guy, or maybe she hadn’t yet figured out what to do with them. The camera, however, is […]

Surprise Attack on a House at Daybreak

They shot that guy in the back! This is pretty complex, with intersecting lines, some of them radiating on the z axis, and a sense of off-screen space. The latter is probably not so much conscious realist technique as it is waiting for someone to figure out that we can move the camera, or at […]

Disappearing Act

Now Guy has a guy doing magic tricks for us. Predictably, they are accomplished or communicated through trick cuts, without the whole compendium of lovely things that Méliès often does with that potentially limiting device. I do like that monkey costume!

The Burglars

The comedy is undistinguished, even indistinguishable. On the other hand the roof top setting, partly constructed and partly painted, is very nice. We can key on the figure, or we can look for the ground. There’s pretty well always something that you can get out of  movies.

At the Hypnotist’s

Georges Méliès continues to loom large. Mlle. Guy’s not yet nearly the director he is. There’s a temptation to gender speculate, with regard to the man who is playing the lady, and is subjected not only to humiliations, but objectifications. You wouldn’t want to push it too much, given how scrambling and therefore semi-innocent these early productions […]

The Turn-of-the-Century Blind Man

Méliès-like, though without the particular pop that he was so good at providing. All gag, and if the gag is not especially funny, it is interestingly sadistic. The Buñuelian poor?

Serpentine Dance by Mme. Bob Walter

Someone’s wife, evidently. The more cloying, then, her somewhat childish affectations. She serpentines for quite a long time.

Bathing in a Stream

It’s The Turn-of-the-Century Blindman, with the joke removed. Still a bit contrived, à la the Lumières’ workers leaving the factory. For instance, no one looks at the camera. It crosses the mind that this is a (Pierre-Auguste) Renoirian subject. Wouldn’t it be cool if these were semi-draped ladies? Then it crosses the mind that these are semi-draped […]

The Fisherman at the Stream

The Fisherman at the Stream, then. This is obviously a copy of/elaboration on the Lumière brothers’ The Waterer Watered, made way back in 1895. Derivatives can’t be formative, but this one might actually be the richer of the two films. That impresion would be helped by this gleaming print, and would be owing to a really felicitous, […]

The Party

Saw P. Sellers/Bl. Edwards’ #TheParty. Sellers isn’t doing a mere faux-Indian pastiche here. The detail & thoroughness are quite astonishing … … Even more striking is how exactly & adeptly he mimics the methods of Stan Laurel. The same goes with director Edwards, … … channeling the work of Jacques Tati, and specifically the long […]

The Mighty River

Animation is so agonizingly time-intensive, and Frédéric Back is committed to parables. He takes forever, and then insists on morally educating us. In many ways, for many audiences, that makes him both inaccessible and unpalatable. This means, or at least it could mean, that Back is a double world-class artist, who has produced distressingly few films, […]

The Man Who Planted Trees

The Man Who Planted Trees is a multi-faceted parable. It is what it is, which is to say a story about a single man planting an entire forest. It’s an arborial/dendrological tract, an inspiringly artful, just-as-scientifical study of how trees grow and why they are important. It is, as is always the case with Back, a […]

All Nothing

Back has fashioned his very own creation myth here. It’s a pretty great one. The moment of creation, which makes flesh the mind of God, is superbly concise, achieving a simultaneous simplicity and magnitude. Also, what a lovely design for the Deity. Back’s metamorphoses are dizzying in number and variety, but each one is also […]


Taratata is similar to Charles and Ray Eames’ Parade, and looks fair to becoming similarly effective, or inspiring, even. Back is certainly on par with the Eames in terms of his sincerity and artistry. Too bad he put in that annoying nuclear reactor! Exquisite artistry, but in his ardour he tends to overreach, or overstate. The film […]


The beginning and the end of this film start to look like they’re by the prodigy who will  make The Man Who Planted Trees. Back is some kind of artist, evoking the concrete by means of indirect impressionistic technique, by near-abstraction sometimes. These bookend sections have an appealing formlessness, visually and narratively. The middle part, in […]

The Invention of Birds

A mythological vagueness informs this slight scenario. That is consistent with the indigenous tales collected by John Bierhorst, or for that matter with the myths that James Frazer goes on to elaborate in The Golden Bough. That elusiveness/allusiveness works very well here. Birds emerge as a kind of equivalent to the rainbow in Genesis, a […]


Though not terribly prolific, Frédéric Back is a terribly important filmmaker. Here is a link to a boxed set of his collected works, as advertised an distributed by an organization operating in Back’s spirit: The recorder theme is very pretty. There are lots of nice backgrounds and textures and transitions. The story is kind of wild-eyed, […]

Seven Sweethearts

#SevenSweethearts. I make this my 24th #FrankBorzage feature. An incredibly rewarding oeuvre … … for all its increasing, externally imposed inconsistency. F’rinstance, stuck w’ Van Heflin as the male romantic lead! Looking deeper … … diminished circumstances don’t affect the still exalted/exalting skills & sensibility. Check him out! #SevenSweethearts. Early Kathryn Grayson, on her way […]

The Mortal Storm

What’s with this “non-Aryan” stuff? The word is “Jew”! Speaking of which, this film is usually criticized for its naiveté and insufficiency. That’s fair, as long as that criticism considers the conventions and restrictions and the reality of the times. What else were they going to say, or do? It’s a Nanook-like situation; limitations diminish […]

The Shining Hour

Hedda Gabler, with a happy ending! They earn it too; beneath the posheries and romantic near-nonsense, this is ultimately another Frank Borzage film. Of course it is, you might say. The credits say that he directed it. That’s true, but what I mean is that basic auteur theory thing, which is that sometimes fine directors […]

History is Made at Night

Saw #HistoryisMadeatNight, Frank Borzage’s Titanic mash-up. As ever, this guy is a real litmus test. Are we reasonable, if disappointed, rationalists? … … Or, the artist having done his part, can we suspend our disbelief? (Cf. S.T. Coleridge’s 1st use of that term. Here, in ch. 14: … … This is so important! We think […]

Flirtation Walk

Here’s a very nice entry in the Warner Brothers’ Archive Series, and a nice indication of its uses. Flirtation Walk is no masterpiece, but it’s plenty craftsmanlike, interestingly of its time, of more than sufficient narrative interest and entertainment value. In other words, here’s a 1931 example of many of the movies that we mostly go […]

Zipping Along

They’ve got a lovely concerto grosso thing going here. Just as the big ensemble is set against or converses with the small, these Roadrunner films alternate big elaborate gags with simple little jokes. The alternation is not completely symmetrical, or tick-tock predictable, so things remain surprising and fresh. The result is a pleasing, organic balance. […]

Going! Going! Gosh!

He missed. There’s that old quick drying cement gag. The grenade, manhole cover, grenade gag is wonderfully chiasmic. Drag, foiled. It might be unseemly to mention it, but look at the coyote’s left breast. Here’s one of the first of those 2-D/3-D, illusion/reality gags, that they’ll use so often in the series. The Coyote paints […]

Beep Beep

Here’s the second entry in the Coyote/Roadrunner series (though it came some time after the first one). They’re doing flipbooks after the Latin nomenclature freeze frame. The backgrounds are Utah (Monument Valley) realistic. The coyote’s anvil blueprint, together with that TNT plan brings to mind the nine-to-fiver planning out his day. The geometrical, satellite view […]

Bunny Hugged

We open with a really striking visual composition. The Crusher! That muscle shower is really excessive, and it works. The same goes, double, for the announcement and introduction of the challenger. An Arthur Rank gong, garlands and mascots, and Ravishing Ronald, the denatured boy. Fabulous, fabulously effeminate (Gorgeous George, of course), and all stupendously punctured […]

Bugs Bunny Rides Again

This is a good one! Sam goes right under thse swinging saloon doors. Look at those bow legs! And that’s the first movement of Beethoven’s 8th piano sonata! “This town isn’t big enough for the both of us,” Sam says. Bugs goes out and sketches a modern city skyline behind the frontier main street. “Is […]

Broom-Stick Bunny

The UPA-ish backgrounds are the most interesting thing here. Since this is 1956, and the UPA started a long time ago, there’s nothing very ground-breaking in the similarity. Interesting though. One rabbit’s clavicle, eh? Broom-Stick Bunny demonstrates more of the WB’s happy refusal to reduce vocabulary. There’s a staircase part of the central chase that is […]

The Big Snooze

Here’s Elmer, hunting a transitional Bugs Bunny. It’s not going well for him, as usual. At one point he is subjected to a series of indignities by means of that hollow log. These gags struck me as being Jerry Lewis excessive. Then I thought that might be inapt, since Lewis was just then starting his […]

Devil May Hare

Isn’t this an amazing thing? What could have possessed them? No matter how many times you see it, no matter how familiar it gets, it is still just an amazing thing. Youngsters will not only respond to its untrammeled aggression—all the more reason to censor, say the censorious, and not without reason!—but the exposure, and the […]

A Broken Leghorn

Busybodies mock as poor Prissy makes her daily attempt to lay an egg. H.C. Andersen’s “The Neighbours”? Brian de Palma’s take on Stephen King’s Carrie? Mr. F. Leghorn decides to help, by means of a surreptitious switcheroo. He refers to Prissy so tenderly. “Now to slip this egg under old square britches.” A boy child […]

Early to Bet

This score is very good. Now they’re using “We’re in the Money,” from Golddiggers of 1933! Which WB produced, of course. In this picture we have this gambling bug in his native habitat, plus a compulsive cat and a punishing dog that talks like Sheldon Leonard. It’s cool when they try to develop new characters, […]

Daffy Duck Hunt

This is the crazy Daffy, having more or less his last gasp. I prefer the later version, but this one’s certainly going out with a bang. His French song, for instance. Also, he says this: “Why the copious flow of lachrymose fluid, my garrulous canine?” Weren’t we just talking about not reducing vocabulary, just because kids […]

The Foghorn Leghorn

“You’re probably going to hate me for what I’m going to do, but after all I am a chicken hawk.” Biological determinism! This whole cartoon does interesting things with protagonism, what with one main character candidate passing the torch to the next, and that next one’s antagonist being so vivid and overbearing that he takes […]

Tweety’s S.O.S.

Granny has a superb voice, doesn’t she? Let’s credit Bea Benadaret, even though the actual films never did. “What a hypocrite!” says Tweety, at one point. This is just one instance among so many. As both parent and plain person I appreciate that there was never any vocabulary reduction in these cartoons. (The Roadrunner doesn’t […]

Speedy Gonzales

Here we are at the border, with a bunch of sleepy-eyed Mexican mice. Danger! Averted! It’s not only the absurdity of the task they have before them (infiltrating the border-straddling Ajax Cheese Factory), but it’s the gleeful hyperbole of their caricatures. This isn’t insensitivity or obliviousness. It’s gloves-off satire, with the usual WB foundation of […]

Lumber Jerks

This might help kids think about how woodland creatures feel about logging and such. There’s a circular saw bit to help in the capture and direction of those sympathies. It’s very well executed, even on the brink of terrifying. There’s actually an interesting hint of industrial process as they lay out and, slightly, portray the goings […]

Canned Feud

Here’s another admirably simple scenario. They forgot to put out the cat before they went on holiday, locking the door behind him. He’s going to starve. But wait. Here is salvation, in the form of endless cans of cat food and tuna. “All I need now is the can opener…” And of course, every possible […]

Bugs and Thugs

We sub/urban moderns yearn for the idyll of rural life, but this cartoon touches (if inadvertently) on the Darwinian truth that the rural, or rather nature itself, is never idyllic for an animal. Yann Martel talked about that in the early portions of Life of Pi. Zoos might not be so bad, he says, when […]

Putty Tat Trouble

This is a really super setting/situation, with little Tweety like some avian pillar saint perched in the cold between those two very urban apartment buildings. It’s Beckett-like, elemental, primordial. How vulnerable are the little ones! Except that, once again, this particular little one isn’t actually very vulnerable at all. Here we see the meek inheriting […]

Kit for Cat

We’re establishing a pattern here. This is so single-mindedly savage! The basic objective is as usual to be funny, and the gags are pretty good. But they’ve also touched upon sibling rivalry, and even on how your older stinkers can corrupt the innocent younger ones! Or, since the cute baby ends up being the real […]

Bunker Hill Bunny

As stated elsewhere (supplementary material for High Diving Hare, in vol. 1 of WB’s Golden Collection), director Freleng loved, loved to demonstrate how stripped-down and pure cartoons could be. Here’s the Revolutionary War for instance—or war generally, or strife, or the struggle of the oppressed, or people got the power. And all expressed in just two […]

Canary Row

We start with this bird watchers’ society, which seems innocuous enough. Sylvester is looking at something through his binoculars, but there’s some mild suspense music and that pointedly urban setting to suggest that something else is up. What’s that? Broken Arms Apartments, eh? And Tweety looking right back at him! This is Rear Window exactly (except […]

Don’t Give Up on the Sheep

It’s Ralph Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog. It’s also Chuck Jones and Mike Maltese. You’ll notice that Ralph is designed exactly like Wile E. Coyote, except for the red nose. Here we see ancient instinct imposed upon or constrained by a 9 to 5 world. Also a terrific demonstration of gagsmanship, from brilliant conception to […]

Feed the Kitty

One of the loveliest films in the world. On the face of it it’s just cat-versus-dog, or at least it looks like it. It’s jokes in a domestic setting, and other assorted bits of apparent run-of-the-mill. But there’s so much way more going on than that! Actually as I see it, when I watch it, Feed […]

Baton Bunny

This is a fun one, quite distinct from WB’s various familiar formulae. Bugs is developing the old Leopold (Stokowski) stuff, one of the elaborations of which is that he’s also the Giovanni Jones character—powerful and put upon both. Very healthy. We talk endlessly about an antagonism, which certainly exists. But in so many ways, and […]

The Hypo-Chondri-Cat

This title is so strained that it caused me, these many years and miles away, to pull a muscle. Blues in the Night, eh? WB certainly used its musical catalogue in these cartoons. There’s an interesting suggestion of how and that this was always business, however much we spectators may key on culture and art […]

Frigid Hare

Albuquerque, of course. The results of Bugs’ dive into that frozen water are extremely gratifying. This film is not especially sensitive toward this Inuit hunter, his culture or his ethnicity. “He went that-a-way, Nanook,” says Bugs, at one point. Calls him an “Eskimo pie-head,” as well. What do we do? That was funny, as is […]

For Scent-imental Reasons

This celebrated award-winner gets underway with a lot of French gibberish—”le mew,” “le purr”—some affectionate cultural clichés, and a ton of really beautiful Paris design. Really, the backgrounds of so many of these cartoons could supply sufficient entertainment and amaze, if we wanted to turn the sound down and ignore the main goings-on. Pepé Le […]

Haredevil Hare

Two headlines: scientists make launch announcement; heroic rabbit volunteers. In two quick shots they’ve inscribed the topical and established the satirical—very sure-handed! Cutting to Bugs and his less than enthusiastic attitude deepens all that, in addition to (re)establishing character, and giving a bit of a puncture to the whole lofty, hubristic enterprise. The uber-rocket is […]

The Awful Orphan

Nice city setting. There’s a big set up, in which this dog that has to or tries to sell himself connects us to all sorts of corporate or entrepreneurial realities. (Are my sympathies, or rather my antipathies, showing?) What Makes Sammy Run! Charlie the dog now makes contact with Porky the pig. On the face […]

Hair Raising Hare

There’s Bugs, being watched on a TV-like apparatus (it’s 1946), by a personage that looks and sounds like Peter Lorre. That mechanical female rabbit! She, or it, are very ETA Hoffmann. The “is there a doctor in the house?” joke is so Tex Avery that it has to be an homage. The mirror gag, in […]

Fast and Furry-ous

The first Roadrunner/Coyote cartoon! Director Chuck Jones says that in the beginning the coyote actually wanted to eat the roadrunner. Later that would change, as his hunting gave way to pure conflict, for its own sake. (Even later pure conflict will approach a remarkable near-abstraction, as the cartoons almost become studies in trajectory, velocity, geometry.) Pure […]

Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears

Mozart, K. 545! It’s playing beneath the opening narration: “Once upon a time there were three bears.” Here we have a very efficient, even simultaneous affirmation and subversion of a couple of classical things. We’re hearing Mozart’s exquisite symmetry, and embarking upon a very basic folk tale. But Mozart’s exquisite symmetry will not be matched […]

Elmer’s Candid Camera

Nice that Elmer’s not hunting with a gun this time. It’s kind of shocking to see and hear this version of Bugs Bunny. We’re so used to what he evolved into! (Have you ever wished you’d met your spouse when he or she was just a kid? Wouldn’t that be amazing? Or, maybe we don’t […]

Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½ Century

Designer Maurice Noble wins. The drafting and the sets, the props and gadgets are tremendously imagined and executed. “The world’s supply of aluminum phosdex, the shaving crème atom, is alarmingly low.” It’s just a gag, but it’s also a Jonathan-Swiftian displacement/hyperbole. The dumb things we get all excited about! Daffy and Porky make a really […]

Rabbit Fire

Historic! This is a multiple milestone in the history of Bugs ‘n Daffy, Warner Bros. cartoons, and film generally. Of course Rabbit Fire is the first of what we might call the Daffy-getting-repeatedly-shot-in-the-face trilogy. Talk about pushing the boundaries! I love these, but am somehow feeling anxious to acknowledge your right and reason to be concerned or […]

Golden Yeggs

We’ve got anatomical hens in the yard there, and then an impossible cartoon goose—who actually seems to be a male—that lays that golden egg. (Cartoon as commodity?) Knowing his Aesop, s/he blames the deed on Daffy. Now Rocky, the WB’s spectacular diminutive gangster, makes his inaugural appearance! The gangster/door gag is good, though not as […]

Boobs in the Woods

I must go on record as saying that I think this title is just outstanding. So that’s the first thing. A song called “You Can Call Me Daffy” provides a good verbal/spatial intro to the film, and to the a/Absurd register in which it will operate. Look at Daffy paint a tunnel through that tree […]

Deduce, You Say!

The modern backgrounds are very nice, as are the ridiculously exaggerated English facial types. Here’s a very effective lampoon of Sherlock Holmes-type detective stories. There are lots of good laughs. (“Name?” “Shropshire Slasher.” “Occupation?” “Shropshire Slasher.”) It demonstrates an important thing about genres, which is that when you view sympathetically the seemingly identical can still […]

Wearing of the Grin

More Porky Gothic. These blarney stereotypes are harmless, and maybe not especially interesting. Except when the head leprechaun keeps telling his sidekick to calm down, over and over again, in the exact same somnolent tone. At this point the blarney becomes kind of passive aggressive, as in the subversion of Scots stereotypes in Alexander Mackendrick’s […]

Porky Chops

Directed by Arthur Davis? The hep-cat squirrel at the centre of this one is also an anomaly, a practical some-kind-of one-off. It’s so easy to key on master and masterpieces from this source, but we need to remember that there were lots of working people, and lots of product being R&D’d. This squirrel is from […]

Yankee Doodle Daffy

Porky is the studio head and Daffy is a talent agent. Still a showbiz setting, but Yankee Doodle Daffy doesn’t indulge in the same kind of fawning, straining caricatures that usually larded this kind of picture. The result is that it works much better. The key is probably that these caricatures—Carmen Miranda (wow!), Al Jolson—have some […]

The Scarlet Pumpernickel

We start with Daffy talking to Jack Warner, and pitching a new project to star in. More of that self-regarding, toadying self-promotional self-reflexivity. Evidently I don’t prefer the films that do that. That is a fat horse! There’s Mama Bear, playing a harp in the background. Actually, this turns into a WB all-stars short, with Sylvester […]

The Ducksters

“Truth or Aaaaggh!” The radio parody doesn’t much register these days, but the sadism certainly does! This gleefully brutal concoction is more pleasing than, say, the superficially similar Wabbit Trouble. Why? Is it because Elmer is innocent, but the media really is at fault? The malice has a referent and thus, in part, a morality? “Here’s […]

Scaredy Cat

The first of an eventual trio of Porky/Sylvester Gothics. That’s some shot, when Sylvester bounces down the stairs there. It’s probably easy to forget how well timed and composed and calculated these films are, and all with the added difficulty of this agonizing process of animation. This is an important story type, isn’t it? And a […]

Drip-Along Daffy

This is the first in a number of Porky/Daffy genre spoofs. “Western type hero. Comedy relief.” Michael Barrier points out the importance of these two not being antagonists. That’s very interesting. This seemingly small shift actually changes everything, as now it’s parody as much as conflict that motivates and directs the distribution of gags. It […]

Dough for the Do-Do

A more-or-less remake of the even more remarkable Porky in Wackyland, which was released eleven years previous, in 1938. They quote Dalí, though without any perceptivel anxiety or obsequiousness. Aren’t they all, in their own way and even in a very similar idiom, just as accomplished? This can be mentioned in the same breath as Dalí, as […]

Duck Amuck

This film has been so written about. And most justifiably. Let me only make these two little comparisons. With Manet’s The Fifer (1866), especially with its provocatively indistinct or undefined background. My undergraduate art history teacher said that this one was the real writing on the wall, in some ways, a modernist gauntlet, thrown resoundingly […]

Rabbit of Seville

Elmer is hunting wabbits again. This is the final, crazy apotheosis or demolition of that bare and simple set up. Elmer’s horror at finding himself on stage is one of the most basic of nightmare scenarios. Is that where Luis Buñuel got it (1972)? (His wonderful 1983 autobiography, My Last Sigh, suggests otherwise. Still, as […]

Ballot Box Bunny

This is just a really great film. It’s very (very!) funny, but it’s got plenty of bite too. In fact, it’s positively Old Comedy/Aristophanic. We are talking about you, contemporary political and ideological practice! Sam is campaigning, of course, and he is doing it so obnoxiously that Bugs decides to counter him. Their empty political […]

Wabbit Twouble

Bugs shows pure, unprovoked malice in this. It’s 1941 after all, and the character was still evolving. At this point he isn’t yet, isn’t consistently the charmer who is only semi or occasionally a scoundrel. He minds his own business, in fact, unless someone disrespects him, or tries to impose his will upon him. (Hey! […]

My Bunny Lies Over the Sea

“Cucamonga, LA, Wilshire to the La Brea Tar Pits.” Ah, Los Angeles, and its sometimes insular film industry. A commonplace in discussions about post-WWII cinema is that the world had opened irreversibly up, and American producers and audiences were forced to expand their awareness and their sympathies in order to adapt. True and good, but that […]

Big Top Bunny

Kind of High Diving Hare, with Yosemite Sam being replaced with these catch-me-Bruno variations. (See also Popeye in the circus tent with those daring young men, etc.) Then they go on to some other non high-wire jokes. More expanse = less intensity? Having said that, the last compound gag—weight, trampoline, fat lady (!), foot juggle, […]

Big House Bunny

Here’s some cheerful all-round anarchy, and a pointed undercutting of authority. Alison Lurie’s Don’t Tell the Grown-Ups: Subversive Chidren’s Literature (1990) holds that kid rebellion is pretty well always a virtue, always necessary. Her argument is instructive, but I don’t buy it. (Mostly because I demand that my children obey me, at all times.) I […]

Water, Water Every Hare

Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude, eh? The gag variations pertaining to the  first flood are terrific, and kind of Stan Laurel-like. Like the best Stan Laurel material, the pacing is very, even excessively leisurely. Sometimes that signals or constitutes an agonizing absurdity. But more, or here, it’s actually a very friendly and welcoming method. Both the presentation […]

Rabbit’s Kin

Pete Puma is kind of annoying. I’ll bet it’s tough to create an entirely new cartoon character. Having said that, the part when he’s dressed as Mrs. Rabbit is pretty funny. We can’t help reacting, but we can make an effort as well.

What’s Up, Doc?

The caricatures of the out of work actors (Jolson, Benny, Cantor, Crosby) are what almost all of their caricatures end up being: simultaneously self-serving, and obsequious product placements. Mind you, there’s at least a little poignant, film-historical truth to the Jolson and Cantor situatios. As for the film itself, it benefits from some effective, dead-pan […]

Bully for Bugs

Here is absurdism’s, or T.S. Eliot’s objective correlative. Man faces an implacable foe in a preposterous, cruel, intractable setting/circumstance. Man loses, or worse. Man can never win! Beckett. Ionesco. Genet. Not Chuck Jones though. In this preposterous setting and circumstance the man prevails, or at least this protean, omni-capable rabbit does. Let’s say it’s absurdism […]

High Diving Hare

This is the apotheosis of the WB/classic cartoon gag film. It’s all in the diving board, and the diving board is about all there is. They go up seven times, and then a half time, and another time again. And, of course, they go down. That’s about it! And it’s all that’s needed too. What […]

Long-Haired Hare

A nice bit of hi/lo, more or less remaking Disney’s The Band Concert, as well as anticipating Avery’s Magical Maestro. (There’s some One Hundred Men and a Girl/Fantasia stuff going on here too.) It’s in the respective tunes that Bugs and Giovanni Jones—love the name!—are singing, and the way that Bugs’ keep winning out. You can’t keep […]

Rabbit Seasoning

These Bugs/Daffy (Sam, Sylvester, etc.) conflicts bring to mind Bruno Bettelheim’s point about character bifurcations in Hansel and Gretel, etc. He says that both characters represent different components of the same child: willful, selfish, unreasonable, even malicious; antic, infinitely resourceful and, like the classic fairy tale hero, ever victorious. With that in mind, what do […]

Baseball Bugs

The gag is the beginning and the end in these pictures, and everything in between. Jokes, and more jokes. When the jokes are good, as they so very often are, then we have one of film’s most felicitous perfections, where their ingratiatingly awesome technique meets our sociability and joyful desires right in the very sweetest […]

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

When you think of it, this barely lands on the good side of the reprehensible Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. Both films portray the same demographic, beset by the same dangers and temptations; both go easy on the implications for the sake of currying audience favour. But that one is rotten, and this one is […]

RIP: A Remix Manifesto

I’m with you guys—the concept of the commons, how there’s art in receiving and joy and freedom in reshaping, the need for an alternative to or the actual destruction of corporate method and its legion of attendant, dehumanizing corporate attitudes. True, and convincingly communicated. Some of the historical summaries and legal analyses (the shifting of […]

The Secret Garden

Still, always, very beautiful. The technical credits are irreproachable, and the kids are lovely too—especially this Miss Maberly. That dark, impassive, offended and resentful face is at first more Charlotte Bronte than what we usually think of Frances Hodgson Burnett. Things will change, but the initial effect lingers on, and very productively. It’s interesting. This […]

Éloge de Chiac

Who ever thinks of Acadians, of French speakers in New Brunswick, let alone of their obscure Chiac language? Precisely the problem! And what reproof! After this artless, subject-led little assembly, Acadians, in New Brunswick, struggling to figure out the place of their linguistic tradition, suddenly emerge as the most important people in the world. Back […]

People on Sunday

What a breath of multiply fresh air! This is a stupendous piece of work, a patently and very positively amateur assembly of casual and superficial and glancing interactions that add up in the end to great poignancy and beauty. Part of that has to do with the period, and the inevitable and probably overdetermined associations […]


For all the elaborate fictionalizing and preconception (despite Mrs. Flaherty’s claims) this is in the end a home movie in the very best sense of the phrase, with an amateur shooting who and what he will for the love of it; idealizing, certainly, and I suppose typing, but these ideals show each character as beautiful […]

Stride, Soviet

Saw Dziga Vertov’s #StrideSoviet. Relentlessly rhetorical, trashing the other guy while maintaining a constant cheery chirping … … about its own validity & virtue. Ah, the courageous confidence of youth! Or, punks! #StrideSoviet. Did you catch that weighing-the-bread sequence? You can make ANYTHING exciting. Doc wins this round!

Young America

There’s some strange do-gooder stuff going on here, with the film generally, and especially with Ralph Bellamy’s kind of weird judge business. (For a clue about what and why, check the date of the film’s release.) They’re talking straight to us, and their aim is to teach us a lesson. This results in some of […]

After Tomorrow

This is obviously adapted from a play. There’s some opening up at the beginning, but the beauty of it is that most of the film limits the setting in a very theatrical way. This may be a nod to the source, but mostly it concentrates and intensifies everything. And what intensity! The Depression is the […]

Bad Girl

That’s better! As I keep  mentioning, the Murnau/Borzage box provides ample and powerful illustration of the (Rudolf) Arnheimian notion that high silent cinema was the best that cinema ever could or would be. The other side of that argument is that the coming of sound film caused a disastrous and even permanent come-down. Well films […]


Sharp print! Thanks, once again, you marvelous Murnau/Borzage-at-Fox box set. Note also that this adaptation of Ferenc Molnár’s play would be remade by Fritz Lang just a few years later. Later yet, it would become RR&OHII’s Carousel, and then another film after that. They’re all a problem! Let’s investigate. There are a number of terrific compositions and designs […]

Song o’ My Heart

This is a creaky old curio. You’d think that the director of Street Angel and Lucky Star, not to mention A Farewell to Arms, would have hit the ground, at the transition to sound, more running. The story is a bit schematic, or implausible, or stereotypical. On the other hand, it’s all very nice, too. […]

They Had to See Paris

This is the guy who directed Street Angel? If Borzage had continued on like this he might have become a John Gilbert-like casualty, and with better reason. This film has a snail’s pace, and it’s made up of scenes that are, basically, dramatically inert. Could it be Will Rogers’ fault? I know he was beloved […]

The River (1929)

Saw Frank Borzage’s #TheRiver, or at least what’s left of it. Concludes w’ a miracle—flesh, & flesh as salvation—that’s positively impudent … … As usual w’ this most sweetly sophisticated director, he gets away with it. #TheRiver. Very moving, & w’ real-life implications that the more pinched & joyless among us ought to think about […]

Street Angel

Saw Frank Borzage’s astonishing #StreetAngel. Apropos, you guys need to know about this: #StreetAngel. Marked by, not marred by film’s then transition to sound. #StreetAngel. The camera work in the prologue is as athletical, as electrifying as it’s possible for film to be … … Miraculously, the prologue has a depth of feeling to match […]

Lazy Bones

He’s on the brink, but he’s not quite there yet. A lot of this feels like a job of work, very reasonably executed, but maybe not quite inspired. The protagonist’s slothfulness is a Tom Sawyer, Penrod commonplace. I don’t know that it’s all that interesting. Falling in love with the girl he raised from an […]

The Circle

Saw Borzage’s #TheCircle. Good looking film. Don’t know Maugham’s original; this plays as a not-so-sparkling derivative of Wilde’s … … Lady Windermere’s Fan. Great director, average film. #TheCircle, but not really. Strongly recommend fine Lubitsch-directed film version of Wilde, released just months after this.


Saw #Skyfall. Young companion wonders why JB never gets any STD’s. Touché, young companion. #Skyfall. The entire franchise is, shall we say, problematic. Note, though, that something is happening w’ the D. Craig reboot … … As ambiguity & gravity deepen, crassness is giving way to complexity, and error reaps the whirlwind. #Skyfall. In other […]


Saw #Eclipse. Renewed feelings of deep love I have always had for Native Americans. Noticed that it contained intense sequences … … of action and violence. Also, closer inspection revealed some sensuality. #Eclipse. Actually, that wasn’t so bad! I liked the quilt scene. Ms. Stewart is fine or at least she does what is asked […]

The Golden Compass

Re-saw #TheGoldenCompass. Not very good, is it? Jackson’s Tolkein films worked. BBC’s Bleak House & Little Dorrit too … … Pullman’s franchise could absolutely be adapted successfully, or Alexander/Prydain, or Susan Cooper (’65-’77), or etc. … … You just need proper $ & time & taste. Not the conventions of the knucklehead noisy kid blockbuster (Cf. […]

The Muppet Movie

Saw #TheMuppetMovie. Aggressively, intentionally lame jokes, gratuitous celebrity cameos, & a 42nd Street … … Star is Born plot set the tone, establish the template for the entire franchise. Pretty dull, actually. Until that Kermit/bicycle shot! … … Isn’t that showbiz for you? Strained, preposterous, a waste of time. And then they cause your jaw to […]

The Girl Who Knew Too Much

Saw Mario Bava’s #TheGirlWhoKnewTooMuch, which is the very tip of big Italian iceberg! Context, please: #TheGirlWhoKnewTooMuch. Droll start, superb inciting sequence, w’ interest diminishing after … … That fair but cranky observation/attitude not really in the spirit of the gialli, or of genre generally. #TheGirlWhoKnewTooMuch. Visuals, as per usual w’ Bava, are quite stunning, […]

The Moment of Truth

Saw F. Rosi’s #TheMomentofTruth. Seems a come-down after its 2 masterly predecessors … … Then again, don’t we too frequently look for come-downs in the wake of masterpieces, by the masterful? So let’s look a little more carefully, & respectfully. #TheMomentofTruth finds this incisive chronicler of Italian ideology in Spain … … Doesn’t mean that […]

Mani Sulla Citta

One of the very greatest of gangster pictures, partly for the way it subverts and even eschews the gangster picture’s usual iconography. Rackets are one thing, but isn’t this the substance of organized crime? Funds, work to be done, real relationships between the government official that oversees a necessary project, and the businessmen who can […]

Salvatore Giuliano

It appears that The Battle of Algiers was not unprecedented after all, and that La Terra Trema did too have its descendants. Claims to the contrary are probably merely enthusiastic, or designed to sell copies of the former/reclaim the latter. No harm, maybe, but sometimes we ought to resist the urge to particularize and super-celebrate […]

Le Chant du Styréne

Given what Alain Resnais had already done (magisterial non-fiction treatments of major Holocausts, and the French National Library), and what he would go on to do (the master of modernist ennui, and then of antic geriatrical cinema), this little bagatelle of an industrial film comes off as more than just a little bit ironical. The […]

Toute la Mémoire du Monde

This one demonstrates the untapped, unsuspected, maybe immeasurable potential of the industrial or instructional film. Does it take a French guy? Across the way from the nation of moneychangers in the temples of culture and learning, it is clear that doing an interrogation of and an homage to the bibliothèque nationale de France requires so […]

Night and Fog

Saw #NightandFog, in horror class. Features, maybe coincidentally, a number of the standard stylistic conventions of horror films … … Unsurprisingly, in this context these conventions suddenly come to seem horribly inapt. Fun is fun, but mayhem has costs & consequences. #NightandFog. Further recommended for how Hanns Eisler’s score illustrates ideas found in his fine […]

Jack the Giant Slayer

Saw #JacktheGiantSlayer, based on some word of mouth concerning the monumentality of Ewan McG’s hair. Was not disappointed, on that count. #JacktheGiantSlayer. Slim, simple English original gets a world-making, Tolkien-like expansion. Not a bad idea. Mixed results here.

The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend

This film is always pegged as being a near-last gasp from a once great filmmaker. Well the scale is small, and everyone strains overly to shoot Porter Hall in the rear end for that third time at the film’s conclusion. But mostly, where’s the decline? If this isn’t prime Sturges, then it’s still clearly, satisfyingly, […]

Blades and Brass

The Tijuana Brass pastiche that serves as the soundtrack is very of its time, and it’s not much more than a gimmick. But music has that ability of conforming itself to images, and what images! Sharp, beautiful colour, a poetic combination of real time and slow motion, of straight on and high angle. There’s not […]

Little Women

Even though they didn’t always make ’em like they used to even when they were making ’em like they used to, this proves that when the stars align and the will is there, little miracles of sweetness and light can still come out in the theatres, perhaps it’s because it was shot on Vancouver Island, […]

The Brave Don’t Cry

Very admirable and moving docudrama, British style, which means that unlike much excellent similar stuff in the States at the time, there’s much more than just locations and authentic faces decoratively arranged, here they leave the tabloid brashness and crashness aside and lovingly sketch the details and the characters, slowing things down so that dramatic […]

The King’s Speech

Acting! Well, they are really good. Firth and Rush form a superb tandem, and there’s no end of really able support. (Gambon!) But this entirely assembly is pretty powerfully calculated. And look—it worked! Best picture of the year, apparently. And we might as well admit that The King’s Speech is reasonably intelligent, and really well-crafted. We […]


Simple and sincere. A bit simpleminded? Is that fair? Or if it is, is simpleminded always necessarily a flaw? Couldn’t it be a stage in the evolution of our understanding a certain issue? (That would be true both for the student listening to the lecture, and for the teacher as she refines and deepens that […]

Amazing Grace

I love this movie. It’s utterly clear, utterly convicted, unashamedly didactic, enormously stirring. Moral codes are steadfastly presented and defended, but complexity and contradiction (the Bill Paterson character, the fitful, fickle public) are respected as well. This is not mere zealotry. Humour (Sewell) helps too, but finally, more than anything, Amazing Grace believes deeply, maintains that belief […]


Lovely middle class commercial filmmaking, tasteful and solidly intelligent, without challenging or surprising overly; look is quietly and completely evocative, full of quiet, warm textures, beautiful lines and objects, direction is properly restrained (except for the trailer excerpt “you’re the most complete person I’ve ever known” bit), especially when the Winger character dies–man and boy […]

Judgment at Nuremberg

Saw #JudgmentatNuremberg. As accused, it’s a high school ethics lesson. Watched it w’ a high school student. We were instructed & edified together. #JudgmentatNuremberg. Stanley Kramer: over-earnest & over-emphatic are problems, flaws even … … Not so ambition or seriousness of purpose. His results are often, usually mixed. Still, finally: good for him! #JudgmentatNuremberg. Affirms […]

King of Kings

In addition to the Sunday School film, religious expression in the American commercial cinema of the 1920s came primarily in large and luxurious packages. Drawing upon Italian spectacles produced in the early 19-teens, and building on the innovation and ambition of filmmakers like D.W. Griffith and Thomas Ince, these big pictures set spiritual searching in […]


Mary Pickford’s last go-round as a juvenile lead (she was thirty-four years old when she produced and starred in this project) is simultaneously one of the most commercially calculated and one of the most beautiful of late silent films. It’s half gothic melodrama, half Sunday-School sermon, pulling out the good-guy/bad-guy stops at the same time […]

Three Bad Men

This Western adventure from director John Ford is both precipitous and wonderful relaxed. From our perspective, there may be a sense that at this point in time the western film is still in some ways a-forming. That’s true in a certain sense; there’s much to be done going forward, and certain essential evolutionary leaps—many of […]

The Ten Commandments

Extremely stiff historical prologue (neat Red Sea and finger of God special effects) gives way to extremely natural, even light (direction, acting, etc.) modern story, morals and messages are extremely clear, but in a charming, even understated way (like Woman of Paris–Victorian, with some characters typed, but all quite effectively so); when lines are written […]

Silver Linings Playbook

Saw #SilverLiningsPlaybook, which reminds me that a strong script & strong performances do a good movie make. What’d Aristotle say? … … Plot, character & reasoning, in that order. Yes, it’s an ancient prescription. So what?! Fantastic craft, fantastic movie. #SilverLiningsPlaybook is a lot like its David O. Russell predecessor, The Fighter. It’s kinda rough! … … […]

Cutie and the Boxer

Saw #CutieandtheBoxer. Reveals that a life devoted to art is all you ever thought it could, ever feared it would be. Follow your dreams! … … Or, abandon hope all ye who enter! These boxing paintings are pretty cool, mind you. #CutieandtheBoxer is a real life version of V. Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own! […]

The Stories We Tell

Saw Sarah Polley’s #TheStoriesWeTell. The stats at Metacritic suggest that this estimable film is getting something of a critical free ride. Let us see … #TheStoriesWeTell. Very Kane-like. Welles uses a gimmick (sled, etc.) to nail the relativity of truth & the unknowability of things … … Polley nails the sled/gimmick, while the material on […]

Photographic Memory

Saw Ross McElwee’s #PhotographicMemory. A mournful, almost nihilistic work from this perennial optimist … … The case is particular, but still posits toward the general proposition  that all the bright paths from youth’s hope & promise … … lead only & ultimately to the diminishment & disappointment of entropic age. What a change! Good luck to […]

Seal Island

Saw Disney’s True Life Adventure, #SealIsland. Musical Mickey-Mousing, goofy anthropomorphization … … ideological howlers, implausible, nay, preposterous subplots, made up out of whole cloth. Also, fun! #SealIsland. Plus, something of a menace. Relax, people’ll say. It’s just a movie! How dare you, people’ll say. This is classic Disney! … … Well yes, but this 1st […]


Saw M. Night’s tremendous #Signs, w’ that superb central performance by Mel G. How have the mighty fallen, I think … … Then I think, No. I’m thinking wrong! Fine talents more like, w’ hopefully more great stuff to come.

To Joy

Saw Ingmar Bergman’s #ToJoy. Self & other-lacerating, self & other-loathing, oppressively perceptive, but maybe not all that productive … … Should one, as artist or person, model himself on & after August Strindberg? Still, hints of other, better. These women, for instance! #ToJoy. Made we think of DH Lawrence, on Dostoievsky: “He is like the […]

Master of the House

Saw #MasteroftheHouse. A stirring dramatization of the ordinance of the washing of the feet! God among the saucepans, as St. Teresa said. #MasteroftheHouse. Or, Carl Dreyer’s take on HC Andersen’s Wild Swans, w’out magic or transformations … … Woman as saviour/woman as martyr. #MasteroftheHouse. Just as perceptive in its withering, punitive, & then finally atoning […]

My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts

CMR: More important than any narrative found in books or movies is the stories told within families, older generation to younger generation (and vice versa). It’s through these conversations that traditions are upheld and familial relationships are strengthened. The National Film Board of Canada’s 1999 animated short film, My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts is […]

Lorenzo’s Oil

From the Children’s Media Review: When Augusto and Michaela Odone’s six-year-old begins to throw uncharacteristic tantrums, the couple turns to the medical world—then away from it, as the doctors’ answers grow less and less hopeful. George Miller (a medical doctor before he began his film career) directed this true story of little Lorenzo Odone’s extremely […]

The Muppets Take Manhattan

Here’s another holdover from BYU/TMA’s Children’s Media Review: Since the earliest days of Sesame Street, Jim Henson and associates have maintained a tradition of playing with media conventions. Television, film, and theatre are delightfully rich subjects for satire, and everything from the tongue-in-cheek Sesame Street News, to the backstage antics central to the Muppet Show […]

Little Red Riding Hood

Two ways to elaborate these little archetypal fables? One is to try to make them convincing, to have them correspond in some way to actual realities. That seems difficult and perilous. I can think of examples, but you’ll angrily disagree, and then we may co-identify any number of dubious attempts. Here we see the second […]

Jack and the Beanstalk

Aggressively artificial, with green screens and models that defiantly don’t balance or convince. Starts to make sense when that bean seller, who up top dresses like a very ugly princess, appears to mug and cavort with an abandon positively abstract. (Gender ambiguities laden; a reflection of the diverse production family, and their feelings of acceptance […]

Sleeping Beauty

As in Shelly Duvall. (After you, friends at Wikipedia: Huffy moralists—and there’s definitely a reason to be a moralist, and there are often reasons for huffing!—may well find things to be upset about in this long-running, wide-ranging, appealingly meandering and semi-sloppy series. Consider the extra-textual elaboration from this early episode. It’s a reminder that […]


Saw #Mama. Very cool pre-credit sequence. Made me think of Raising Arizona. Hurrah, precocious young cinéastes! #Mama. Some implausibility, like Jessica Chastain as a punker. Who cares? I loved this one! #Mama really echoes Agee/Laughton’s (Cortez’s!) Night of the Hunter. Here the males, whether murderous or magnanimous … … are basically ineffectual. Shelley Winters comes […]


Saw #Devil (2010). Gripping, w’out sensationalism; earnest, too, & invested. Satan menaces … … but God is much more than just a structuring absence. Very nice! #Devil. Definitely a commercial film proposition, made for entertainment & profit. And/or, equally, it’s a very good Sunday School sermon.


Saw #Poltergeist. Raimi/Hooper-like material, Spielberg-burnished like crazy. Doesn’t work, or interesting tension? Nelson/Williams-superb! #Poltergeist. Found it to be an o’er/enjoyably glossy mash up of The Exorcist, Carrie, and Ibsen’s Enemy of the People (cf. Jaws) #Poltergeist. Full of into-the-light mumbo-jumbo, cameras tracking in on wonder-filled faces, & extremely large pairs of eyeglasses.

Lucky Star

This Frank Borzage production is a perfect example of the heights that late silent films could and did attain, and it gives a real sense of why a lot of people were so upset at the coming of sound. This kind of delicate stylization really did have to be abandoned. And it’s such a loss! […]

Faces of Children

Saw Jacques Feyder’s #FacesofChildren. Superb use of the spectacular Swiss setting. Kinda classical, kinda restrained … … in approach, but really pulling out the stops when called for (as in the funeral & avalanche sequences) … … A really great example of how wide ranging, agile, & very beautiful silent films can be. #FacesofChildren. Wicked […]

The Son

Saw the Dardenne brothers’ awe-inspiring #TheSon. Doesn’t quite put everything else to shame—happily, at this late date … … there can be lyric poetry after the Holocaust—but it sure makes most of the commercial run-of-the-mill look utterly frivolous. #TheSon. An ethical, economical, sociological thriller. A theological thriller, even. I know/love Hitchcock. This beats him, handily.

Tsunami: Caught On Camera

Saw #TsunamiCaughtonCamera. A lot like the Scotts’ Life in a Day, except that this representative miscellany was captured … … in uttermost extremity, compiled in greatest solemnity. Respectful unto reverence. How to deal w’ disaster on film. #TsunamiCaughtonCamera is quite lacking, technically. Sometimes, really quite often, technical matters not a bit.

12 Years a Slave

Saw #12YearsASlave. A calm, clear-eyed, detailed disquisition on the institution of slavery. Also, a time-fractured, hallucinatory horror film … … Also, mad as hell. #12YearsASlave says that nominal decencies (the Cumberbatch character), operating in the midst of systematic iniquities, are still, actually … … indecent. #12YearsASlave. Is this kind of thing, this kind of Institution, […]

Zero Dark Thirty

Saw #ZeroDarkThirty. Lots of 100’s over on Metacritic. Lots of good arguments there too. I find myself to be a lot less stirred. #ZeroDarkThirty. Wim Wenders’ Goalie’s Anxiety is quite similar. Protagonist isolated, the rest of the world rolls, w’ Disquiet resulting … … Here that Disquiet moves us to some kind of closure & […]

This Is Not a Film

Saw J. Panahi’s #ThisIsNotaFilm. A piquant provocation, in part. Minimalism edges toward cheeky non-entity. Cf. Mr. Kiarostami, of course. #ThisisnotaFilm. Cheeky non-entity, or the de-facto non-existence of a house-arrested political prisoner. This is making the best of a bad situation … … w’ a twinkle in the eye even, & certainly a catch in the […]


Saw #Restrepo. Brutal, brutalizing deployment. The same kinda goes for the film itself, I’m afraid. A distressing document. These poor guys. #Restrepo. Brought to mind a noble L. Milestone film, the similarly situated, omni-disoriented A Walk in the Sun. That one’s uncertain … … but affirmative. Doesn’t work that way anymore, does it? And really, […]

The Driver

Saw Walter Hill’s #TheDriver. Existential taciturnity alternates w’ amazing analogue car chases. Pure genre, w’ intimations. #TheDriver. Bruce Dern, up to his usual shenanigans. Is that the actual Ms. Adjani, actually looking terrified during the climactic car chase? #TheDriver. Pretty clearly inspired by J.P Melville. I think I see Michael Mann, just a few years […]

India: Matri Bhumi

Saw the Cineteca di Bologna’s beautiful restoration of Roberto Rossellini’s exquisite #India:MatriBhumi. All hail celluloid! And woe … … it is passing! Mind you, & to be fair, the Cin. di Bol.’s beautiful restored images were restored digitally … #India: Matri Bhumi. Mr. Jonathan Rosenbaum holds forth: #India: Matri Bhumi. An amazing amalgam/essay in which […]

The Far Country

Saw #TheFarCountry. Most Canada-shot H-wood films have nothing to do w’ Canada. This one is actually set there, & considers Canadian … … alternatives to American individualism (charismatic, poisonous) & commerce (rapacious, cancerous). The J. Stewart character is tempted … … even inclined in that direction. But communal values & a collectivist spirit prevail, such that […]

My Darling Clementine

Saw #MyDarlingClementine. Not perfect, I think, but so many perfections! In its structural symmetry, its exquisite visual design … … it’s sensitive, funny, tender dramatic detail there’s Parthenon & Grecian urn both. A true Classic … … in the best Attic & American senses.

The Fog of War

Here is complexity, clearly set forth. Not easy to do! And at the end of all of the analysis, depth of feeling. This is really fantastic stuff. Mr. McNamara is some paradoxically thorny/responsive, formidable subject. He, and Morris’s film too, offer all sorts of very valuable lessons. One is that though obviously there are great […]

The Fall of Fujimori

Independent docs frequently have that unfortunate, off-putting strain to them. They use dramatic devices partly smuggled out of the fiction camp, or otherwise used by tacky ghost-hunter type non-fictions. You know: dramatic musical underscoring, a straining toward solemnity and significance. It’s too bad, since so often—here, for instance—the story doesn’t need any help at all. […]

A Grin Without a Cat

This is agitprop, evolved to a very high, challenging and invaluable degree. We’re finding Chris Marker still to be a dedicated Marxist, but he’s no party hack, and I think that this film is better and truer—more searching, more self-critical, more humane—than so many of the original Soviet productions. Not that Marker has softened in […]

The Conspirator

I am thinking about something that I once heard from a very nice, very dedicated pastor in a presentation to some local youth. “In my experience,” he said, “PG-13 just means that there are at least thirteen instances of pornography and gratuitousness.” Again, this man is extremely devoted, very sincere and loving. He goes about […]

Rabbit-Proof Fence

Here’s another review adapted from TMA’s Children’s Media Revew: The term “melodrama” is one of the trickiest words in the arts to define. The original Greek literally means “song-play,” and it has come down to us as a pejorative reference to silliness or emotional excess. Somewhere in-between, however, is a dramatic genre characterized, among other qualities, […]

The Rise to Power of Louis XIV

Quite beautiful in an austere, Gertrud-like way, brilliantly goes past the mere trappings to contemplate what they mean and why they’re there, part of its breadth is found in the fact that this obscene and fascinating splendour wasn’t just to distract the court and insure loyalty because of vast obligation (fascinating idea, evidence of all […]

Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time

This gives new meaning to the creative treatment of actuality. John Grierson’s idea was profound and correct, and it has made the world a better place. His idea is also at least somewhat problematical, and has led to some justified criticisms and complaints. Aren’t honesty or clarity more important? Isn’t it presumptuous and even deceptive […]

The Voyageurs

Peter Watkins before Peter Watkins. Werner Herzog before Werner Herzog! The Film Board’s celebrated City of Gold (1957, q.v.) did something similar with photographs. Here it’s live action, but the results are basically the same, and they are important to the point of incalculation. The reenactment or dramatization technique used in The Voyageurs extends the range of […]


This starts with a clear, simple statement of a problem, a clear, simple prescription of the solution, which we’re convinced is the only one, and then a clear, simple portrayal of the solution effected; the beginning’s best, looking like all those other great Soviet typage portrayals of want before revolutionary fervour makes things right (cf. […]

Toot, Whistle, Plunk & Boom

At some point—right here, probably—Walt or the corporation entire went from anarchy through corporate expansion to becoming arbiters of taste and instructors of the world’s youth. That might not be so bad—didn’t Roberto Rossellini describe a similar trajectory? And the educational films that resulted are like nothing else in all of film history. Conceptual, curricular […]

Adventures in Music: Melody

The Disney TV show brought a need for different kinds of programming, presumably, and properly. No longer being a child, I am no longer automatically delighted by these things. I like this one though. The modern, even pop/industrial design is really nice. The turn-on-a-dime shifts in subject work because of a great Carl Stalling-like score. […]

The “Teddy” Bears

“Goldilocks and the Three Bears” is here combined with that little anecdote about Teddy Roosevelt and the bear cub, plus maybe a bit of Little Red RH thrown in. So it’s a hybrid production, and that very early in the film-industrial game. Pathé, and some of those mid-teens features (the 1916 Snow White), and Disney […]

Getting Evidence

It’s been a while since we’ve had that unseemly, unpleasant, cavalier quality in the Edison films in this exemplary dvd collection. But it’s back.  The photographer is the protagonist, sort of, at least structurally. But he’s up to no good, and he’s approaching his dubious task with a grating insistence and sameness. The bourgeois population […]

Kathleen Mavourneen

Here’s an ambitious period piece, evidently a prestige production, and a good effort all around. We’ve mostly been pretty contemporary for the last little while (1905-6); it’s nice to see them stretch and reach. The notes suggest that this is a bit of the Ben Hur situation, or Edison’s own (terrific) version of Uncle Tom’s […]

The Terrible Kids

Here we are, back to the more customary, conventional Edwin Porter. This is a fun film.  The boys are quite unsentimentally, irredeemably naughty. Good for them! (For a bracing dose of that sentiment, try out Mark Twain’s stories about bad and good little boys.) The value added is this tremendous dog, who is not only […]

Films of The San Francisco Earthquake

Time has been passing, in case you haven’t noticed. These Edison films are getting crafty. Film grammar is developing and all. But these particular images revert, as they naturally would. Actuality, especially when it is rooted in difficulty, needn’t ever apologize for a certain roughness. This document reminds us how, as grateful as we are […]

Three American Beauties

So lovely! The colouring is simple, and it’s surpassing exquisite. A tremulous red rose—an American Beauty rose, of course—gives way to a modest, beautiful lady with her eyes averted (that dress!), and then to a billowing American flag. Preceded by such organic and natural demureness that flag, which can register in the world as garish […]

The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend

Charles Musser reminds us that Porter and McCutcheon got much of this from Winsor McCay, and from a particular Pathé film about a dream and the moon. This is important information, but not because it diminishes this amazing film’s great accomplishment. The precedents only signify that Dream of a Rarebit Fiend is not so much an […]

Police Chasing Scorching Auto

Early attempts are always modernist, inasmuch as they expose the workings of the not yet mastered, not yet constituted medium. You can’t help but notice the mechanics of the first shot’s rescue. Nicely diagonal camera placement, kid with her back to us on the street, flagging down the quickly closing mounted policeman. (An extra treat […]

Life of an American Policeman

Obviously inspired by and quite similar to Porter’s previous Life of and American Fireman. One of the main, most interesting similarities is the mix of arranged and actual material. They start with a nice domestic scene, featuring three real little kids circulating sweetly around the theatrical space. Next comes a long-ish shot of a whole […]

The Train Wreckers

The notes direct us to Griffith’s A Girl and Her Trust, which this indeed resembles. The later film works better, what with the advantage of time and evolution and all.  But though DWG has close-ups and comedy, moving cameras and parallel montage on his side, the dramatic and ideological assumptions in both films are virtually […]

The Miller’s Daughter

An adaptation of Steele Mackaye’s Hazel Kirke, eh? Cf., extremely reminiscent of, Lottie Blair Parker’s Way Down East. Rip-roarers, in other words. It’s tempting to key on the implausibilities, the coincidences, the stick figures and the threadbareness. The principles may be true, and the patterns, or at least the possibilities, do exist. But melodrama can […]

The Watermelon Patch

Uh-oh. You look at that title and just shudder at what you imagine is coming. You’ll be right, but not only. Films, including films with unfortunate or objectionable components, are complicated. That first frame is very effectively filled, or maybe infiltrated. Watermelons are good-looking objects! We should probably  make more movies about them. The revelation […]

The White Caps

Is this vigilante film any less objectionable than Birth of a Nation, with its Klan elements? You could certainly say that the guy had it coming, and it’s practically a relief that there’s no racial motivation. It’s okay to tar and feather white wife beaters, isn’t it? (And there they are, actually tarring and feathering […]

The Little Train Robbery

A great train robbery, but perpetrated by children. Sounds fun, and there’s nothing, inherently, with being derivative. But this isn’t much of a movie, and it’s quite lacking its predecessor’s spark or freshness or urgency. There’s some really flaccid staging and framing, especially the actual robbery part on the curve of the funicular line there. […]

Coney Island at Night

Simple, beautiful. However it was managed photographically, these bright lights emerge quite stunningly out of what seems to be complete darkness. It had to have been something of an accident, but this little film, intended as an actuality, also functions as a series of abstract images. Having a literal, physical camera placement (note especially the […]

The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog

I seem to recall that in a long ago bit of sub-scholarship I suggested that this film was directly derived from the stage. I stand corrected. Always trust Mr. Musser! It’s comic postcards that provided the inspiration for this little trifle. The “Dam” pun is so dumb and innocent that it’s kind of charming. These actors […]

The Seven Ages

These graphics, this lettering is pretty ugly. This is from As You Like It, of course. Their adaptation is not very Shakespearean. And is that a faintly leering tone? On the other hand, it’s interesting to consider how much more or differently the kiss used to operate. Also, there are a couple of striking exteriors […]

The Klepto-maniac

See review for The Ex-Convict; ditto, this one. The Klepto-maniac is more conceptually than dramatically effective. Still, it’s effective. As the notes point out, without some explanation the situation is not entirely clear. Everything is overplayed (that little girl is really good!), so that our sympathies and hostilities are never in question. Movies will need to […]

The Ex-Convict

This production is very well-meaning, calculated, telegraphed, obvious. As we will come to find out, ad infinitum, cinematic sincerity won’t always help situations like this, though cinematic anger might. The Ex-Convict renders a real social problem, and reflects real activist fury in the face thereof. As usual, the accidental documentary details (how the child is dressed, […]

The Strenuous Life; or, Anti-Race Suicide

Charles Musser’s notes tell us a couple of things about the title, and about the setting, that we could never know by ourselves. Pedants really are necessary, or at least they can make the world a little more comprehensible. This is a very nice piece of work. Where some of these Edison films drag, this […]

Scarecrow Pump

Cinematically pretty inert. Another Edison in which one character tries to make another character look stupid. The fact that the plan backfires, and it’s the first guy ends up looking foolish, may not make the film  that much more tasteful. These early films so often have unexpected, unheralded components. We’ll probably never know the why […]

Nervy Nat Kisses the Bride

They throw him off the back of the train! This gag/comeuppance is made convincing by a very nice match cut. Look at film technique and technology, catching up with filmmakers’ imaginations! In other news, and not for the first time, there’s a sourness here, an unpleasantness of tone. What’s with these guys?

How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the New York Herald Personal Columns

An American course comique, utilizing famous landmarks (Grant’s tomb) and real rural locations instead of the streets and flats of the more familiar Pathé films. Is that a general pattern, or is this just a one off? That’s what scholarship is for! Whether its typical or anomalous, this structure is the same as in those […]

European Rest Cure

Here’s an interesting combination of modes. They’re alternating previous actualities with staged (one set-up, painted backdrop) comic scenes, making a hybrid that is both efficient and reasonably effective. European Rest Cure is a simple combination of travelogue, somewhat formless knockabout and broad comic concept. The concept is that our naive American protagonist has gone over for […]

The Great Train Robbery

This is an extremely famous, enormously important movie. This time around I find it familiar to the point of memorization. What to say, that hasn’t already been so said? Well, the interiors scenes are staged perpendicular to the camera, but outside we get all sorts of interesting angles. Watch for the striking and very effective […]

What Happened in the Tunnel

More apt camera placement. These characters appear to actually be on a train; the landscape passing by through the window back there is wonderful convincing. More race stuff: the scenario is regrettable, but that actual black lady looks to be laughing it up kind of sincerely.

Turning the Tables

Way to put the camera in the right place! Great location too, and a real sense of a summer day. The film is also amusingly, healthily anti-authority, though the action is pretty clumsily handled.

The Gay Shoe Clerk

In olden days a glimpse of stocking… That’s a nice close-up there, followed by a pleasingly immediate and brazen kiss.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

This is a wonderful old film. I would like to run through it, in some detail. There are so many things to appreciate and admire! The first thing that I notice is that I love these title cards. There are great big ellipses between the various scenes that the makers of this film have chosen to […]

A Scrap in Black and White

As has been very well documented, there were lot of boxing films in the earliest years of the medium. This one is very striking. Is it a generic revision? Parody? Whatever was intended, what they actually made is very sweet, and socially striking. The black kid wins! At the end the combatants go down in […]

Egyptian Fakir with Dancing Monkey

The camera is in a poor spot. We’ve got some pretty cool dancing here, much abetted by props and costume, and, of course, the proprietor. A little ways into the film the viewer notices that goat standing patiently and precariously on that little platform. You watch for that which the title proclaims, and you realize […]

The Life of an American Fireman

A thought window! A beautiful close up of the call box! Again, this lovely, extraordinarily important film has equal dramatic and documentary value. They’ve contrived it, but if that isn’t really a fire hall then those are really fire engines and fire horses. Probably firemen too, right?  There’s a tremendous long shot, taken from just […]

Electrocuting an Elephant

This is an appalling vision, one likely to generate all kinds of huffy, self-righteous thoughts. This noble creature, so ignominiously murdered! You cringe in anticipation as Topsy walks up and past. You cringe even more as that terrible current goes through, and at the prospect of that distress and destruction. Goes to show—there’s always more […]

Interrupted Bathers

I appreciate their modesty; why are these ladies bathing in their clothes? More mean-spiritedness from the Edison combine.

Jack and the Beanstalk

This is a very charming film, and a very important one too. It is Meliés-influenced (theatrical décor, sequence shots with transitions), though not a patch on Meliés himself. But if its more heavy-footed and threadbare than its main inspiration, it’s also more innocent and alive with joyful enthusiasm. The cow! Fantastic. The use of this […]

Burlesque Suicide, No. 2

Here’s another close-up. It’s quite well executed, featuring some very well distributed changes, or gradations. Is that an intentional mis-framing? Probably not—the gunshot takes place just above the frame. Intentional or not, it’s still interesting. On the other hand, as before and too often with these early Edisons, Burlesque Suicide, No. 2 strikes me as an […]

The Burning of Durland’s Riding Academy

Chaos! This is an event that deserves to be recorded, and this is a medium that is, or at least will be up to just this kind of recording. But on this day it all seems to have been too much for the cameramen, or for the assemblers. The results are lacking, but not at […]

Trapeze Disrobing Act

We don’t see a lot of trapeze disrobing films anymore, do we? This matter-of-fact and very muscular woman makes the film less vulgar than it might be, for all of the efforts by the two gaping spectators with whom we’re supposed to identify.

Pan-American Exposition by Night

Cool, incremental formal developments, and a subject that needs no developing at all. This lovely film is very simple, featuring a pan/orama left, then continuing onto a spectacularly glowing vista of the same prospect at night.

What Happened on Twenty-Third Street, New York City

An alternative title might be How much of this was staged, and who was in the know? Just the conclusion, you suspect, and just that central couple. That means that, as so often was the case back then, as is almost always, complicatedly but most certainlyly the case now, this is fiction and fact both. […]

Photo-graphing a Country Couple

The usual rube-baiting. Who were they pleasing, what were they addressing with films like these? The camera is completely static, of course, but the pretty complicated action going on within the frame is actually quite well blocked. The Edison films’ often have an undercurrent of crassness, even cruelty. That undercurrent is definitely pulling at the […]

High Diving Scene

Just about perfect. The camera is placed just right, compositionally. Well, nearly just right. The high diver in question does just fly up out of the frame, such that they have to tilt up a bit to find him. Unfortunately, they don’t manage to do so, which means we actually miss the apex of the […]

Old Maid Having Her Picture Taken

Solid comic construction, pacing, timing. The female impersonator causes things to fall off of the wall, breaks the mirror, and makes the camera blow up because she’s so ugly. All this is set off by a certain dignity in her comportment. This is so important! Sometimes the less you try, the more you accomplish. By […]

A Storm at Sea

The bounding main! Amazing.

Capture of Boer Battery by British

Warning: not a real capture, after all. The camera is in a very nice spot. Nice performances too, which means actors actually doing things, and inhabiting the costumes in which they do them. I love how we get the entire duration of the charge. I suspect the film accomplishes all of these good things more […]

The Kiss (a.k.a. The New Kiss)

This is about the kissing-est movie ever. These young leads are very attractive and, what’s more, very convincing. It must have been challenging to maintain this impression, given how endless this film is. Or seems. I wonder: to what do we assign the impulse the young man has to look at us? He’s not quite […]

Searching Ruins on Broadway, Galveston, for Dead Bodies

Shows that just shooting isn’t quite enough. As a glimpse of a terrible thing, this is powerful. As a documentary, or proto-documentary, it doesn’t adequately report or interpret or shape or select. Mind you that’s a tall order for the time, and for someone trying to grab footage in a disaster area.

Dewars Scottish Whiskey

There doesn’t appear to be anything authentic going on in this film. Someone’s having fun, though. Maybe they got into the merchandise.

Gold Rush Scenes in the Klondike

This is tremendous. They actually start with a shot of a newspaper headline, describing difficulties and disasters up in Dawson. The four shots that comprise this little actuality proper do nothing to support or illustrate that dire account. But pictures are so evocative!—you can imagine the problems that paper is reporting, or see that there’s […]

A Wringing Good Joke

Actually it is. Not only do they yank the chair out from under this old fellow, but he gets a monumental tubful of soapy water in the face as a result. So much so that the cruel contrivance of the joke—more weenie cinema here—turns into something of an actuality on the topic of physics, or […]

Firemen Rescuing Men and Women

This is great. On the evidence of the film itself it’s uncertain whether this is actually an authentic fire, or an authentic practice fire, or a authentic staged pretend fire. But those look like real ladders, and real firemen, and a real building, and some definite smoke. Flaherty, before Flaherty? As often, the photographic composition […]

The Burglar on the Roof

Here are Messrs. Blackton and Smith, anticipating and preparing for the very future of films. For the present this is pretty paltry stuff, though it is enacted energetically enough. Coming up, however…

U. S. Troops Landing at Daiquiri, Cuba

The DVD adds patriotic music to what would otherwise be a completely neutral (excellently composed) view. As Roland Barthes would suggest, captions work that way too, or even adjectives and adverbs. I guess we can decide that it’s helpful, as much as we can choose annoying. There’s another option though, though maybe not so viable in […]

Troop Ships for the Philippines

Maybe not the absolutely optimum camera position. Authenticity over composition, though. Immediacy too, and, actually, excitement. This is a very stirring passage! A beautiful craft, and all those uniformed young men going blithely and proudly and imperialistically off. Someone contrived to have the colours billow in the foreground, and then to have the film run […]

Return of Lifeboat

This is a great looking view. The film breaks, and there is an actual, intentional, fairly disorienting cut. These ancient pieces are all terrific, and you’re very grateful. Having said that, and meant it, you can’t help thinking, and with some justice, that this medium should probably start using intertitles, or any other device it […]

Mr. Edison at Work in His Chemical Laboratory

That’s him! Having a bit of fun, clearly on a set, which is clearly full of authentic scientifical stuff.  Why can I not resist the urge to think that there’s some sinister self-promotion and corporatism going on here? Also, that’s him!

Fifth Avenue, New York

Lovely. Everyone out in all of their finery, which is very fine indeed. Some look at the camera, some don’t. Also, we pan over to the right there, and then cut to two other, additional shots. What do you know? An actuality!

The First Sleigh Ride

These conveyances have real documentary interest, and value. This also looks like it’s probably a reasonably honest slice-of-life. You wonder. Who arranged all those guys who are standing there in that decorous way? Documentaries get directed too, right from the very beginning.

American Falls from Above, American Side

You don’t need syntax when you’ve got sights like this. Sufficient. Not complete, though. Wouldn’t it also be cool to see the dimensions of the falls, and to see the water hit bottom?

Black Diamond Express

That story about those 1895 Parisians jumping out of the way of the Lumières’ incoming train film has always seemed pretty implausible to me. This one makes me wonder, though. You still want to jump out of the way! Perfect camera placement here, and that thing chugging down on us like nobody’s business. Remember those […]

A Morning Alarm

Ditto. These little films are all wonderful, but you can see and agree that at some point someone will have to expand the reach of the non-fiction film, as well as inventing the fact and the apparatus of the fiction film. You can’t just stand around waiting with a camera in case a fire engine […]

Going to the Fire

Hold on—they really are going to a fire, aren’t they? As such, no one is thinking to pan around to watch the engines pass. Nor are they loading up and hustling over to film what might have been a dramatic sequel, Arriving at the Fire. It’s not fair to expect that they would, and anyway, being […]

Mounted Police Charge

Nearly an innovation. The camera here isn’t placed to capture the standard Lumièrian diagonal. They put it right in the middle of the road! A little bit of more than just movie suspense accrues. What are these horsemen going to do now? Well, in this case, they just pull their mounts up short. Makes sense. […]

The Burning Stable

Staged, by any chance? It’s too early for people to have figured this out yet, but they’re going to need longer shots, or an assembly of numerous shots, to get this kind of thing adequately. The syntax is inadequate. The image itself is really beautiful.

A Morning Bath

You can’t be quite sure what the motives or even meaning of some of these old things, these old primary documents might be. Without the note this appears to be a happy opposite of Watermelon Eating Contest (qv.). A well appointed young black woman bathes a temporarily unhappy black baby. Surely this isn’t presentational, stereotypical or […]

Feeding the Doves

Didn’t the Lumière brothers do one of these? Exactly this one, in fact? I’ll say, she’s feeding those doves! The uncertainty of early picture taking and projecting—remember those hand cranks—make this into quite a ghostly, ethereal, image. Everything moves just a little bit slow-motion. It’s a haunting, lovely effect. The familiar, made just a little […]

Interrupted Lovers

Supposed to be funny; not funny. Is it just that the fashions and mechanics of comedy change so much, and so quickly? I don’t think so, actually. I’ll bet we needn’t connect this overly to the soul of the 1890’s, but there starts to be evidence that many films of the 1890s, at least out […]

The Lone Fisherman

A really interesting mess of a film. Charles Musser’s film notes don’t say so, but I wonder if someone might not be riffing on The Waterer Watered. The Lone Fisherman is a little more natural dramatically, and more ambitious logistically. Unlike the Lumieres’ previous piece, the action here is actually kind of plausible. Also, there’s so much more […]

Watermelon Eating Contest

Uh-oh. It appears that someone thinks this is funny. Where did this watermelon-&-black-folk stereotype come from, anyway? It’s embarrassing, and you hope and assume that many contemporary spectators thought so as well. Mind you, there’s always something factual or actual beneath fictional contrivance, behind ideological constructs and lapses in taste and courtesy. This is actually […]

Mess Call

First of all, through the flecks and all, this is a gorgeous image. So sharp, from the foreground all the way back. Second of all, the camera is perfectly placed, perpendicular to the people right in front, and at a nice diagonal to the people crossing at another 45º angle in the middle there. Thirdly, […]

Fatima, Muscle Dancer

From the theatricality/artificiality of the Black Maria to the theatricality/ artificiality of an actual stage. These films are taking great steps, though sometimes they’re stepping as much to the side as they are stepping forward. This one’s famous, of course, for the musical staff lines that were printed horizontally over Fatima’s most provocative parts, for […]

The John C. Rice-May Irwin Kiss

A close-up! says Charles Musser. A sensation at the time, which is very interesting. We take grammar and such for granted, but how multiply amazing it really is, and what collective genius enables communities and nations to establish and refine it. Really old/really early films take us back, as it were, to Creation’s morn. Terrific […]

Amy Muller

Amy Muller was a vaudeville danseuse, but by now she comes to us pretty anonymously, and a bit unremarkably. Wait a minute, though. Abbas Kiarostami did something like this in his 1974 film, The Traveler. He might have gotten it from the collectively authored 1930 German milestone People on Sunday, which probably copped the idea from […]

The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

Location, costumes (people standing around in the background, as usual), even a trick cut and a decapitation! Are we starting to leave behind primitive naiveté? Or, rather, the wonder of an infant medium, explored by sophisticated and intelligent adults? It’s an advance, but it might not be progress.

Princess Ali, Egyptian Dance

Very glancing. There are hints of something real here, lying beneath the early technological, or the ethnic/racial burlesque. It has everything to do with gender and even gender representation, except that it goes even deeper. Generation, more like, or even geology. Watch the hips…

Dickson Experimental Sound Film

Remember, it wasn’t actually Edison! Turns out that the inventor/director also knows how to play the violin. The dancing shop lads are pretty funny, and raise a bunch of questions that the film itself can’t and needn’t answer. Who’s that guy who walks into the frame? A time of mystery and innocence.

Billy Edwards and the Unknown

Does that mean his unknown opponent, or the existential anxiety of our inherently meaningless and eventually terminal existence? The former, probably. This boxing film looks pretty mannered and by rote, already. Pretty skinny, pretty balding boxers! And why not? If everyone should be able to enjoy jumping into a bathing suit and going to the […]

Fire Rescue Scene

In which that oft-reviled Black Maria space functions perfectly. It may not be too good on social or anthropological complexity, but it’s pretty great for photography and framing. This has some really spectacular use of off-screen space, and the smoke works really dramatically as well. A woman is handed down into the frame, and then […]

Band Drill

Fun, spirited. This is a nice split between silly and skilful. Note title: too bad it’s silent!

Robetta and Doretto, Chinese Laundry Scene

A nice vaudevillian fragment, featuring a bit of timing, a bit of blocking, and a bit of athleticism.

Annie Oakley

It’s really her! Mighty fine shooting, though from that distance even I might not have missed some of those static targets. You can see that they’re caught between effective staging and blocking strategies for the stage or in the arena, and the effective way to catch it on film. They haven’t quite figured it out, […]

Bucking Broncho

Here’s more of that appealingly naïve, ideologically laden straddling of the line between fictional contrivance and actual documentation. Not their fault: not only had rules not been established, they probably hadn’t even been thought of. The camera placement might not be perfect here. The spectators in the background are very intentionally placed, and they all […]

Louis Martinetti, Contortionist

This guy has no sockets! Is this the definition of, is this the formula for a vaudeville or circus act? Half amazing, half useless. Or, review, pt. 2. That last response was rather ridden with uninterrogated ideological assumptions, or maybe just a sour disposition. How ’bout half useless, half amazing!

Glenroy Bros., no. 2

Very interesting. The boxing genre has become so predominant by this time that they’ve already progressed to comic boxing. This particular routine is sort of silly, but there is some pacing, some choreography that we can appreciate. That cartwheel is funny. And out of the Harlem Globetrotters nonsense, as it were, we do get a […]

Hadj Cheriff, Arab Knife Juggler

See note on Buffalo Dance (q.v.). Is this cultural authenticity, or is this a performing monkey? And what should we think or do when these two things intersect, as they so clearly do right here?

Buffalo Dance

Looks like they’re having fun. They’re definitely dancing well. And are they ever looking at the camera! The exoticism of this little actuality had to have been enormously interesting. It still is. It might have been a bit confusing too. How do I respond to this phenomenon? What’s informing it, and how do I understand […]

Sioux Ghost Dance

I’ll say it’s a ghost dance, and in more than just an anthropological or descriptive sense. The image is degraded for one thing, and the photographers are not successful in rendering those varyingly dark skin tones. Plus, of course, they’re doing a kind of cultural salvage work on something that’s still on the brink of […]

Corbett and Courtney Before the Kinetograph

Look at those shorts! This is quite interesting. It’s obviously faked, but there’s still some force, maybe even some hostility attending this exchange of combatants. All the spectators arrayed out the back are probably there to add some dramatic plausibility, to make us think that this is a real match.  They also provide some very […]

Cockfight, no. 2

The off-white background, seen through the screen, is interesting. There’s some directorial uncertainty here. (No reason in the world to blame them for that, especially at this stage.) Do we put the proprietors in with their competitors? Directorial uncertainty carries the day, as they kind of do, and sort of don’t. I’m almost certainly assuming […]

Caicedo with Pole

They’re outside! Film history teaches about the Edison films and the Black Maria, and film history is right to do so. But soon, always, all over the place, film history is full of exceptions to the rules, or the rumours, or the usual run of things. Which is to say that here is a very […]

Boxing Cats

Mildly amusing. Not very nice, probably.


Note the little flash points of blemished and decaying film here. The most contrived and performative of old movies document all sorts of social reality. There’s another interesting thing: contrivance and documentation, when subjected to chemical decay and dissolution, suddenly merge into a kind of material, inadvertent abstraction. Movies are really rich! Oh. Pretty reasonable […]


This one’s very famous, for a lot of good reasons. The scholars can fill us in on that. In addition to, underneath all that, this is some tremendous figure of a man! Beautiful.

Athlete with Wand

This is pretty (Roland) Barthesian. “Athlete with Wand” fails to alert you to that dog, which is probably the most interesting thing in the film. The point of the exercise actually seems kind of silly (and who do I think I am?), though this guy’s athleticism is very visible, and quite admirable.

Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (Fred Ott’s Sneeze)

Again, archeological fragments, such that you can barely even find the sneeze in question.

The Barber Shop

Sharp image! Yes, the Black Maria required that the world come to it, and for that reason it become subject to theatrical contrivance and artificiality. (Or, equally, the contrivance and artificiality of the photographic studio.) That’s usually the start of the story that has us concluding that the Lumiere brothers were superior to these guys. […]

Blacksmithing Scene

For just an instant there’s someone standing in the extreme foreground on the left side of the frame. It’s obviously inadvertent, but it’s also pictorial, portentous, a profound index of the actual event. This film is obviously part contrivance, part lark. But that hammer rhythm, those aprons and haircuts, even the beer bottle they pass […]

Men Boxing

It’s obvious how technically, how technologically important these old films are. Though it may not be evident, their economic significance, as it relates to the soon or eventual development of film and media industries, is also enormous. But because these films are so old, because production practices and viewing attitudes have changed so much, it […]

Newark Athlete (with Indian Clubs)

That is a fragment!

Dickson Greeting

“Mr. Edison will be taking all the credit, but I’m the actual inventor of this apparatus.”

Monkey-shines, no. 1 & 2

Life to those shadows! (Cf. Noel Burch, U of C Press, 1990.) Simultaneously gives an impression of almost archeological antiquity, and of classic modernism. Content and form, obscuring and complementing each other at the same time. Also, this Edison dvd set is awesomely thorough, simultaneously scholarly and accessible.

The Beaches of Agnès

There are some very beautiful things here. I love the part near the beginning where Varda uses that big mirror to actually frame and explicitly honour her collaborators. Big mirrors don’t belong on a beach, you say? They do now. The multi-media recounting of her childhood, including some present day and very obvious reenactments, work […]

You, the Living

Mr. Andersson sure puts the camera in the right place. There are some molasses paced Tati-like gags that work pretty well, in which Andersson’s obsessive pictoral compositions utilize a human subject in some bright way. Quirk and perceptiveness actually get together on a couple of occasions, and maybe even generate a little warm feeling. Same […]

The Hudsucker Proxy

Dizzyingly admirable and endlessly innovative, it’s all so breathtaking that one doesn’t quite have the time or even the resources to respond more than weakly; is the failure in the film or in the viewer? it’s true that this is much more than blood simple smarty-pants filmmaking, but it still tends to leave you in […]


Folly! Knightriders is acclaimed horror-meister George Romero’s loopy tale of a troupe of bikers who joust with each other while trying to uphold antiquated chivalrous values, which by the way are thoroughly detailed, utterly sustained and played completely straight. Oh, and it’s not a horror movie either, which is overwhelmingly what film fans know and pay […]

A Canterbury Tale

The mystery of the glue man is a marvellously quirky entrée into a very rich, very beautiful and very loving contemplation of eternal verities in times of trial, although the wartime setting is firmly established, it’s interesting how they quickly leave behind all things modern and create timelessness, the non-actor American soldier is a very […]


This one prefigures their upcoming, extremely celebrated Powers of Ten, not only in its expansiveness, its cool compression of enormous events and its two-parted symmetry, but in the bland music and narration. Pretty interesting though. The Huns!

The World of Franklin and Jefferson

That’s more like it. This is for kids, sort of, or for any reasonably intelligent, properly curious person wanting to find out about an extremely important, eminently interesting subject. Since this is the subject, and since that is the audience, no indignities or pandering are required. Sit down, and we’ll serve you sufficiently. It’s Orson […]

Paris: The Opening of an Exhibition

We begin with courtly music arranged for synthesizer. This goes with the setting up footage: the sounds and ideas of the Enlightenment registering in the age of the bell-bottom. The Eames have done this kind of thing before, and understandably, but this time it seems to be purely (self?) promotional. And where would you show […]

Kepler’s Laws

Look how they draw that ellipse with that string! Then I think I understand the first law, and seem to get the second, while—there it goes!—the third completely bypasses me. Then it’s already over. Is this a modest elaboration, or a trifle? Look at me, unable to properly judge. We’ve drawn out a number of […]


Here’s a greater Pole than Chopin, without a doubt. Art is amazing, but let’s keep things in perspective here! There they go again, concisely saying a ton, because the clear cataloguing of the historical events is so enhanced by their spectacular selection and presentation of artifacts. The biographical details are lovely, and they add up […]

Exponents: A Study I Generalization


Design Q&A

Piquant. Gnomic.


This is an out and out commercial. And the world would be a better place if advertising always behaved like this.  The Way Things Work leads quite naturally to Why You Should Buy. This kind of r&d probably goes into a lot of products, but they don’t tell us about it/we don’t care about it. […]

Fiberglass Chairs

They’ve mastered processes, and their portrayal as well. The way the Eames so artfully assemble their films convinces you of the artfulness of the thing they’re portraying, too. That would seem to be the message here, and not for the first time. The chairs are assembled industrially. They show all the parts of the process […]

Polyorchis Haplus

Ah, Bach. Delicate stuff, and admirably concentrated. The whole film is this amazing creature, established with wonderfully clear images, and then dissected, as it were, through a series of really narrowly focused shots. Or maybe they just had a really tiny cameraman. It’s instructive to compare this with Painléve, or some of the other, less […]

The Black Ships

Look at those cool models, and how the Eames move the camera just a tiny bit and entirely animate them by doing so. According to this account, it was felt to be important that Japan be opened, because the US desired access. They don’t quite tell us if this seemingly unexceptionable idea might not have […]


Warning: I think this is one of the greatest film ever made. At first glance this production is simply about a bunch of people playing with a bunch of tops, but with a little concentration you can almost hear the heavens proclaiming the glory of God. The apparatus itself works as a result of balanced centripetal […]

A Computer Glossary

Remember how I just said they should give the lunkheads a chance? Well, look where that leads. The jargon here gives me less of a headache than the explanation does. Can’t my teaching assistant just take care of it? I am able to enjoy and appreciate some more exciting and inexplicable quick-footed camera work in […]


A fantasia on a theme, rather than an explication of the invention. Looks good, and it’s probably just as well not to explain things for lunkheads like me. But let us lunkheads try, at least! As for the invention itself, for heaven’s sake! It strikes the layman as a Rube Goldberg device, as some machine […]

National Fisheries Center and Aquarium

If you can manage to execute it the trick of moving a camera past or through an arrangement of miniatures, especially with a narrow depth of field, can work so wonderfully. The Eames have executed that trick as successfully and wonderfully as anyone, ever. (I am suddenly remembering with a great deal of fondness that […]

IBM at the Fair

There’s some great candid/hidden camera material collected at the start of this film. People are just interesting to look at, and they present beautifully when photographed. The fast motion is really interesting. Through its use the individuals from the beginning turn into abstractions, part of a general pattern of movement and stasis and movement again. […]

IBM Mathematics Peep Show

This is a record of an installation, which again suggests how far and how helpfully the Eames’ methods and sensibilities really go. You young filmmakers should not only not be afraid of industrial or informational films, you shouldn’t even be afraid of not being filmmakers. I noted that this film treats Eratosthenes, Topology, Symmetry, (Something […]

Kaleidoscope Jazz Chair

Oh—a sequential title, as in window water baby moving. Lots of beautiful kaleidoscopes accompanied by some swinging music. Then some imaginative presenting of the chairs that the Eames designed and manufactured. (Thought their names sounded familar?) At our house, and in my hallway at work, we are very wary of advertising. But advertising this digressive […]

Toccata for Toy Trains

This has got to be the Eames’ masterpiece. It’s so jaw-dropping that it feels almost like the masterpiece of the whole medium, at least insofar as the medium lovingly photographs things that exist within and move through a physical space. The introduction is clear, as are its concepts about toys and play and craftsmanship. After […]

The Expanding Airport

Of-the-period illustration now, along with some architectural sketches, and an unusually effective photo-montage of distressed airport travelers. The Expanding Airport is kind of like Emile de Antonio’s Eugene McCarthy film (America is Hard to See, 1970). The narrator sounds very confident that this is the way of the future. It isn’t. Strong misreading? The Sound of […]

Day of the Dead

The Eames’ slide show, still-photographic method is really, really great. This assembly of photographic images register in a way that’s sort of similar to the great artistic monuments of late silent cinema. In both cases the stylization is considerable, and even complete. The real world isn’t like this, at all! But how this artfully stylized […]

Solar Do-Nothing Machine

Is that solar apparatus powering that thing? We know what abstract art is. This is abstract mechanics: these machines don’t do or make anything. They move for the sake of movement alone. Not only do the Eames do some cool things with narrow depths of field, but also with the part of the image that […]

Tops (from Stars of Jazz)

This music turns this careful arrangement of spinning, careening objects into a dance film. It’s nice, but not quite like the stratsopheric tops film they’ll make next time. We don’t really think of filmmakers, directors, etc., redrafting or revisiting or taking another whack at their previous projects. Why not though? Painters do it, all the […]

Lounge Chair

Norman McLaren’s pixillations do all of their various Norman McLaren-like things. This makes the process into a time lapse, which is perfect for showing the stages of some task or job of work. I love how the Vertovian framing acknowledges human agency without psychological (sentimental) particularlizing. It’s the work that counts. Until that funny interlude—not […]

House: After Five Years of Living

Here they go again, stumbling onto a primordial, fundamental, infinitely repeatable method. Photographs! Make a kind of slide show, of your native surroundings especially, or the time you skipped class and went for a walk, or pretty well anything you can think of. What’s great is that this idea is completely accessible, democratic, universal. We […]


If Hollywood is your dream, then any other mode of film production and distribution constitutes a failure. But what if you’re a designer, and you consort with manufacturers, and you want to get your stuff to the public? Why can’t industrial films be the centre of the cinematic universe? If they’re as careful, and crafted, […]


This is an infinitely great, infinitely revisitable idea. Take a plain, precious, unappreciated household object or nearby thing, and film it right to the ground. The Eames move quite quickly through the bread making process itself, concentrating instead on the vast range of breadness, and on its photographic qualities. Which are considerable. It’s a great […]

Blacktop: A Story of the Washing of a School Play Yard

Set to Wanda Landowska’s pioneering harpsichord performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Glenn Gould more famously brought those back to everybody’s attention in 1955, but Landowska far preceded him, and this film did too. Makes me think of Norman McLaren’s pre-Beatles collaboration with Ravi Shankar. Hurray for George, but roots like that tend to go much […]


Here’s a major collection, and a major alternative to the commercial features to which we’re so accustomed. Charles and Ray Eames are probably best known for their noted design work. They were also major filmmakers, working exclusively and very happily in an educational idiom. On this site we have celebrated the work of, the fact […]

Dead Snow

Locations are impressive. Wardrobe is impressive. (Gross) effects are very impressive. Otherwise, how idiotic! Plausibility isn’t always necessary, but your outlandish antics should be somehow purposeful, your satire sharp, the behaviour you enact or portray somewhere in the realm of human possibility and experience. Here it’s all implausibility and crass stupidity. What’s that old guy […]

Superman II

My gosh! Christopher Reeve was a fine actor, and a beautiful specimen. That big mute bad guy ends up being pretty funny, and there are some happy Richard Lester-type gags (i.e. the ice cream cone). Other than that, disaster! Wim Wenders’ angels (1987, 1993) come down for all sorts of profound reasons, and having characters […]

Gentlemen Broncos

Except for that hilarious stab of Irish-looped dialogue, the Lonnie/Steven Groo stuff is a big miscalculation, and it pretty well scuppers this whole movie. Still, on a second viewing, this craft mess/commercial disaster also has the feel of the rawest dream matter that you can imagine. It is positively Buñuelian (or George Kuchar-like) in its […]

Inland Empire

Much later David Lynch now. It’s brave, bold, indulgent, annoying. He’s a genius, and an empty provocateur (this after coincidentally screened a Terry Gilliam and a Werner Herzog, in just the last few days). We have aggressive incoherence and a lurking suspicion of craft ineptitude, and/or the ultimate and proper enshrinement of dream illogic/irrationality over […]


Someone around here appears to be uncomfortable with the idea and the actuality of procreation! Plus, the lady in the radiator. David Lynch’s in/famous provocation is actually a multiple thing. The early visit to the in-laws is prime grotesque comedy. “They’re not even sure it is a baby!” The material with said infant seems straightforwardly […]

Hour of the Wolf

When I first saw acclaimed international art director Ingmar Bergman’s whack at a horror film, I really liked it. Hour of the Wolf had the intensity, the adept composition and assembly of striking images, the remarkably modulated performances and of course the thematic penetration to which I was accustomed and which I expected from this source. Plus, […]

Carnival of Souls

Here’s a pioneering American Independent film, with all sorts of things to recommend and distinguish it. One of those things is that it might look, to those accustomed to gloss and slick and unrealistically/unrepresentatively big budgets, a little amateurish. Far from hurting it, however, this seeming quality is actually the making of the film, not […]

Beauty and the Beast

Cocteau’s special effects (smoking beast, when Belle comes through the wall of her house) are just amazing, as is the decor and especially the matchless rendering of magic in the beast’s castle, as are the costumes, the relationship between Belle and Bete is a wonderful fairy tale like thing, and the touches that surround them–smoking, […]

Tommy Douglas: Keeper of the Flame

This seems to be two films. Donald Brittain wrote it, and he brings to the project his customary conceptual clarity, mingled with his characteristic power and poetry. The second film is much lesser, which might have something do to with Elise Swerhone, otherwise known as the director. Unlike The Thing From Another World or Super […]

Volcano: an Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry

Here is a complete mastery of the documentarian’s, and the documentary biographer’s art. This is an  expository film (again, cf. Bill Nichols, 1991), so the narration leads. But it leads in a way that always gives precedence to the subject, as well the interviewees’ perspectives thereon. That means that modesty, or maturity, prevails; Brittain devotes […]

Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen

When this was released, the musical career for which Cohen is best bet known had not even begun. This being the case, this record is likely to come as something of a revelation. I guess it’s a bit like learning that, in addition to being your favourite political activist, Noam Chomsky, is also one of […]


This film isn’t all that groundbreaking or anything. It’s just so good! These classic Film Board documentaries suggest, to me at least, that innovative artistry is really exciting and important, but that professionalism and craftsmanship are probably, ultimately of higher value. Norman Bethune is a great character, not only for his own estimable self, but […]


This chronicle of the Holocaust is a perfect, textbook example of what historian Erik Barnouw (1972, with multiple subsequent editions) referred to as the prosecutorial impulse in the documentary film. Brittain’s holocaust précis is absolutely seminal, and would be understood as such if it weren’t so generally and unjustly underappreciated. (Let’s try to rectify that. […]

Fields of Sacrifice

This reminds me a lot of Agnés Varda’s 1958 documentary film essay, Du côté de la côte. Both films quite strikingly avoid human subjects, concentrating instead on a carefully formalistic assembly of monuments that these absent subjects have built to themselves. Varda’s essay is self-conscious, ironic, piquant. It seems to be in the service frivolousness, but […]

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wait—is this even a kids’ movie? Charlotte Huck, the pioneering American scholar of children’s literature, made a near-rule that to be of most benefit to their intended readers, kids’ books should have kid protagonists (Children’s Literature in the Elementary School, 1961, with many subsequent editions). That rule isn’t necessarily universal, and Roald Dahl might have […]

Ugetsu Monogatari

This director’s mis-en-scene is, as usual, mind melting. Note for instance the parallel peasant groups in the background of that last shot. Not only do they enhance the image, they also add to its thematic, historical and moral resonance. Mizoguchi is a formalist, but never at the expense of plot, or world. And that’s just […]

Make Way for Tomorrow

Or, in the words of a 1911 D.W. Griffith film, what shall we do with our old? This is exhibit A for the notion that director Leo McCarey was Hollywood’s answer to Jean Renoir. Some of the daughters here don’t come off so well, but the fact is that everyone in this scenario really does […]

I Was Born, But…

How on earth did they manage to so completely control all of these kids, or generate such naturalistic performances while doing so? Among its many other distinctions, I Was Born, But… is a real milestone in the history of great child performances in film, from the front-and-centre to the most glancing and peripheral. Yasujiro Ozu fans […]

Glenn Gould: Hereafter

I wonder—as Ray Manzarek is to Jim Morrison, so Bruno Monsaingeon to Glenn Gould? That’s probably overstating it, but you start to suspect.  Could it be? I think that we now probably have too many movies about this guy. I’m worrying that his cinematic or documentary ubiquity might contribute to our bypassing other individuals or institutions […]

Arvo Pärt: 24 Preludes for a Fugue

Someone involved with this has obviously seen François Girard’s Glenn Gould film. That one had a reason for its structural conceit (the Goldberg Variations), and even better, it superbly, practically perfectly executed that conceit. There’s no such coherence in this one, which evokes structure and then basically meanders. Where’s the link, what’s the connection between […]

In Search of the English Folk Song

The director of those long ago ground-breaking BBC docs is in ample evidence here. So is the director of all those lunatical late 60’s/70’s provocations. Not so much the art-pornographer with pretensions that followed. There’s an appealing picaresque quality to the various episodes of this program. Russell—very front and centre, and a really pleasing presence—wonders, […]

The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

Severe and beautiful, the latter quality obviously provided by the music, which in addition to being matchless itself is also revealed in all of its compositional complexity and physical rigour, the very daring and unapologetic end to end and in one shot performances reveal what it means to learn and play these things, and in […]

The Coltrane Legacy

Saw #TheColtraneLegacy (1985). Pretty simple: devoted collaborators set up vintage footage, & then he plays, & plays, & plays … … What they say seems true. Coltrane looks & feels the saintly ascetic, standing stock-still while cascades of exalting music flows out.

The Adventures of Mark Twain

Saw Will Vinton’s #TheAdventuresofMarkTwain. An inspiringly ambitious hodgepodge. Beautifully designed & very well clay-mated … … Could technical challenges have taken toll on pace & distribution, etc.? Most of Twain’s dialogue feels like it comes from Bartlett’s Quotations.

Haunted Spooks

Saw H. Lloyd in #HauntedSpooks. As usual, more straining good-willed effort than actual comedy. #HauntedSpooks. My children want me to revise that last one. They think it’s very funny, and when I watch it w’ ’em, I agree. #HauntedSpooks. As usual, pt. 2: the gags are very elaborately worked out, very capably & pleasingly staged […]

The Last Emperor

Visual perfection, and in several different registers. Bernardo Bertolucci and Vittorio Storaro and Ferdinando Scarfiotti (direction, camera, design) outdo themselves, which given the various heights they’ve accomplished, in tandem and separately, is really saying something. There’s something of the historical pageant going on here, what with everyone play acting in the actual places where it […]

Don Giovanni

This opera isn’t as ingratiating, doesn’t have the abundantly accessible musical jawdroppers that Figaro and Cosi fan Tutte do. It doesn’t have their subtlety, either, in the areas of who is good and bad or what is right and wrong.  In other words, this isn’t the one that interested Jean Renoir, or inspired his greatest […]

Modesty Blaise

Some flops are ill-conceived messes. Some are well-made, but badly promoted, or distributed. They can be ahead of their time, or maybe just victims of bad timing, of a restive audience. They can be an unwelcome subversion of blockbusting, or a jerky biting of the hands that are investing. Modesty Blaise, however, is a whole […]

Kill Baby, Kill

Saw Mario Bava’s #KillBabyKill. Plot, w’ its various withholdings & disclosures, is pretty good. Visuals that render it are out of this world … … Pools of light in shadow, and & in the most careful colour. Magisterial composition/camera movement. Who else ever made films like this?… … Powell & Pressburger? Welles in Europe? Luchino […]

Red Desert

This insanely, heroically over-designed film is quite comparable to Jacques Tati’s just-later Playtime, though this one’s objections are more insistent, to the point of being nearly as neurotic as its protagonist. They criticize galloping modernism and excessive industrialization (bureaucratization, dehumanization), but the industrial processes that made both films—and their settings!—possible, not to mention the modernist methods they […]

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Be careful about ardently imprudent mis/alliances, young people, or you may one day find yourselves heartbroken on a devastatingly beautiful Christmas Eve at a French Esso station with the snow softly falling all around you. Tweet Review: Saw #UmbrellasofCherbourg. Some preposterous concoction, all that impossible colour coordination & relent/dishly pretty music … … Or, this […]


Saw #Argo. Terrific expository introduction sets up historical tensions and contradictions. Does us the favour of exposing the complex roots … … of a situation that we’ve viewed too simplistically. As it turns out, as generally, there was plenty of blame and justification to go around! #Argo. Strange to say, but that terrific expository introduction reminded […]

The Company You Keep

Saw Robert Redford’s latest directorial effort, #TheCompanyYouKeep. Yes, this has both Pollack ’75 & Pakula ’76, written all over it … … And something feels lacking this time. Going back to the well, one time too many? A dog, to his vomit? … … I’m not sure! We can’t alway say can we? Overall, in […]

The Bay

Saw Barry Levinson’s #TheBay, which nicely mixes Henrik Ibsen’s Enemy of the People, Peter Watkins’ The War Game … … and Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View. In other words we’ve got the perfidy of commerce, or of commercial collectives … … and the difficulty/necessity of standing up to them; we’ve got some very crafty use […]

Frances Ha

Saw Noah Baumbach/Greta Gerwig’s #FrancesHa. Observations about how much it owes to the French New Wave are very apt … … There’s been some impatience w’ that, too. We oughta remember how wildly referential, how full of ardent & even genuflecting … … quotation the New Wave itself could be! #FrancesHa. Derivative works, when attentively & […]


Saw Rian Johnson’s #Looper. Echoes of Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.” Marker’s , La Jetée, obviously (q.v.) … … Distant echoes of Oedipus, even. So, precedents. And yet, I come away w’ an impression of utter originality! … … It’s not so much what you use, maybe, but how you use it. #Looper. All […]

The Living Skeleton

Saw #TheLivingSkeleton. Walking that knife edge between liberatingly untrammeled, & idiotic. Edging toward the latter. #TheLivingSkeleton. Resembles The Bride Wore Black and Kuroneko (all ’68), except that the systematic revenge isn’t suspenseful … … and the poetically semi-linear supernatural stuff isn’t very poetic.

Cannibal Tours

This is calm, controlled, courteous, doubly devastating. O’Rourke likes some of these tourists, and many, even most of them deserve to be liked. And just because you’re a native doesn’t mean you can’t be self-serving or plain unpleasant. Having established this, what’s left is utter devastation, and an utter quandary. Cannibalism was obviously no good, […]

Half Life

Dennis O’Rourke is a regional filmmaker, broadly speaking. He’s Australian, and he’s covered that waterfront. But he also takes an interest in and has access to a number of pressing Oceanic and Asian issues, bringing to them a certain hemispheric, maybe antipodean perspective that Northerners of all sorts of stripes may not have considered, or […]

Strictly Ballroom

Here, right from the very get go, we have the shape of Baz to come: I find this to be a great commercial film, which wants very much to be liked but doesn’t grovel or compromise itself for the favour; that ingratiating semi-impertinence is in the film’s sharp parody, its near mockery of a lunatic […]

Heaven Can Wait

Heaven Can Wait looks kind of wan next to or after the vastly superior Shampoo (or McCabe…, or The Parallax View). Mind you, the more superior films are pretty profound in their pessimism. Maybe, in addition to commercial impulse, this time everyone just wanted to be a little more positive. On its way to that, Heaven Can […]

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

This has holes in it, because in addition to the many, many superb scenes–the opening death, dinner at the governor’s house, Jeff’s touching nomination meeting, the irresistible liberty montage capped by the powerful recitation at the Lincoln memorial, etc.–there are a bunch of implausibles and stretches of actual dryness, all the manoevrings that get our […]

The Mark of Zorro

The characters are completely cardboard and there’s nothing at all to the story, which makes the long middle stretch after the vivid introduction in the bar and before the final stuntathon pretty tedious; what remains is the marvel of this short pudgy guy doing all of these good-humoured and outrageous things, which things come in […]

Toy Story 3

Are they, in that action packed opening sequence, succumbing to the mostly noisy inflation of current children’s media? They are not. “The orphans!” This over-stimulating sequence resolves wonderfully into another instance of imaginative play, with which this series started, and which the trilogy ends up treating pretty comprehensively. That is because of the way that […]


Hooray for genre pictures! The situation is really simple, the film is really single-minded, the plot comes first, and the characters plausibly, satisfyingly emerge and evolve as a result. While they’re at it they give us a pretty nuanced, detailed glimpse of some important, taken-for-granted processes. There even seems to be an actual, non-commercial secondary […]

A Face in the Crowd

Starts with Kazan’s typical 50s formalist verité–grainy and hypercomposed, bravado performers alongside neo-realist faces–and ends with Network-like fableulous displacement, the big world where these bad behaviours are tempered and diffused turns into a media never-neverland, the point being that that’s what the media can/does become, the trouble being that the gullible boneheads look like they […]

The Man in the White Suit

Exemplary farce, partly because the farce is so quiet (is that possible?), with the fast and furious goings on presented so reservedly and with such stable frame compositions and superbly measured camera moves, fascinating female characters–the boss’s daughter and the union maid–unique and thorny and unapologetic, Guinness is very fine, the explosions montage is full […]

Christmas in July

Quite wonderfully compact, not feeling to attend to the niceties of smooth transitions and standard narrative development, as such, there’s a feeling, despite a standardish from-the-depression story, that anything can happen, and of total freshness; boldly starts with a long, statically covered discussion in which the not quite conventional characters perform very slight variations of […]

The Ghost Goes West

René Clair directs The Ghost Goes West with his customary charm, & it’s designed by the magisterial Vincent Korda to boot! Lots to like here, both dramatically/directorially, & in the beautiful manufacture of the thing; We worry about ethnic & racial stereotypes, as well we should, but something instructive is going on here, & I learned a […]

Passing Fancy

This stuff is actually quite similar to early Hitchcock. I haven’t seen enough silent Ozu to know when he first found his footing, but according to this evidence the first films were facile unto utter mastery, with a lightness of technique and heart that must be youth, and that kind of belies or contrasts what […]

That’s Entertainment! III

Partly a big commercial for the Turner library, & a considerable gloss on what really went on, for instance, at MGM (what was it exactly that caused Miss Garland’s little breakdown?); there’s not much distinguishing here between productions & conditions that are actually separated by decades; maybe homogenizing is a conscious part of the story […]

Spite Marriage

Keaton still had it, and even this late & reputedly minor effort is full of marvels; The way this milquetoast moves from the periphery (admiring the actress from afar, attending endless play performances), past the margins (insinuating himself into the play, then into an actual marriage) & finally, most glancingly, least convincingly & most poignantly […]

Fair Game

All the President’s Men comparisons may be a bit hasty—Penn’s final speech, for instance, is way too spot on, the Sam Shepard intervention comes as predictably as the sparrows to Capistrano, and Doug Liman is no Alan Pakula/Gordon Willis. (This site deplores inappropriate directo-centrism; let’s add William Goldman to that list of conspicuous auteurs.) Plus […]

The Corporation

This film isn’t quite being fair, but it’s a lot less unfair than the rapacious behemoth it’s being unfair to! It is important to acknowledge that a few things fall flat here. All the product placements made in care of “the corporation,” for instance. It’s important to admit that writer Joel Bakan and directors Mark […]

4 Little Girls

4 Little Girls is an effective rendering of a terrible and necessary story. The necessity has something to do with how this event and these lives open into a much bigger story, or maybe, rather, a much broader story. The bombing, Birmingham, segregation, Civil Rights, the different social actors and their various methods, the slow but […]

Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance

As with You Are On Indian Land, there are times when these native Americans (native Canadians, actually) really play to the camera, strategically using it in order to make their case and further their ends. That’s not always the case, but because of this partial calculation there are times in Kanehsatake… where the line between […]

Harlan County, USA

Deepest, darkest Kentucky: generational poverty, generations of social inequality and economic disadvantage, hardship rooted down in the very bedrock. “Why don’t they just move?” asks one of our documentary film students. Someone asks that one every time. This next is not inevitable, though it’s very, very likely. The person who asks that question is almost […]

The Cranes Are Flying

Saw #TheCranesAreFlying. The camera deserves a personal fitness merit badge! Astonishing mobility, to the point of heroism even … … There’s really nothing like it, unless it’s (d.) Kalatozov & (c.) Urusevsky further collaborating in ’60 & ’64. Inspiring. Unbelievable! #TheCranesAreFlying. Propaganda? Maybe, but honourably. Do we ever consider that our adversaries might also believe, & […]

Amelia and the Angel

This looks right off like a New Wave film.  Or, since it was made in 1957, proto-New Wave.  Maybe, like new-realism, this is a multi-available, multi-viable response to reduced circumstances.  The Italians, for the most part, keyed on the world beyond the films.  New Waves, in contrast, point to the artist, to the sensibility, or […]

The Way Way Back

Saw #TheWayWayBack. Perceptive, well & quietly crafted, compassionate. Again, movies = text, performance of text, direction of the whole. #TheWayWayBack. The Carell character’s a good bad guy; his daughter’s a straw (wo)man. Is Sam Rockwell (American treasure) a tad underdirected?

Il Posto

Saw Ermanno Olmi’s #IlPosto. I think this is a perfect film, simultaneously subtle and simple, w’out guile & surpassing wise … … I most warmly, even urgently recommend it! #IlPosto is a real milestone in Italian film history. Neo-realist technique & sensibility, but now applied … … to the economic recovery. Rich ambiguities result. Poverty kills, […]

Grandma’s Boy

Harold, Harold… This film’s gags and gag sequences tend to be resourceful in conception, precise in execution, and kind of short on inspiration. That’s how I experience a lot of Lloyd’s films these days, though you should definitely feel free to see them for yourself and disagree with me. For me, though, Grandma’s Boy is sweet and […]

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

At first this looks like rubbernecking, an unpleasant laying out of the dispiriting, disgusting details of this infamous incident of statutory rape, and seemingly for no other reason than to appeal to prurient interest. So Polanski is guilty. How is this fact, or what these filmmakers are doing about it, going to help anyone? Fortunately […]

Millhouse: A White Comedy

What a strange, awkward man! Some of the Brechtian components the de Antonio shoehorns in here play awkwardly too, and some of the more antical ones (Spanish, the more fanciful intercutting) they don’t work so well. The director’s amply documented hatred of Nixon sometimes causes him to stumble, I think. What’s best here is central […]

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsburg and the Pentagon Papers

As far as the filmmaking goes this is a pretty plain, even perfunctory piece. But sometimes plain is all you need. What’s good is how the collaborators who made this movie pull together all sorts of varied, complicated even contradictory things. There’s Ellsburg himself—probably the key to their getting any funding, as well as the […]

The Lenny Bruce Performance Film

This sketchy later-career document helps the viewer to understand how electrifying Bruce must have been when all the cylinders were firing, when things were going well. Here is a very bright, observant, perceptive man who has studied and worked and thought and absorbed. Having done so he goes out unpremeditatedly, without wires or nets, without […]

Captain Phillips

Saw #CaptainPhillips. Partly a good guy/bad guy movie, productively problematized by other/further binaries (north/south, have/haven’t). #CaptainPhillips. Freshens the old White Heat/Strangers On a Train device of antagonists converging. This stark antagonism … … is mitigated by a fair sketching of both sides’ contexts, a considerable procedural detailing of the way that both sides work. #CaptainPhillips. […]

12 Angry Men

Saw the 1957 version of #12AngryMen. That old cinematographer’s saw—”Don’t say it, show it”— roundly refuted … … or at least problematized. And if the talk is this good? Lots of ways to make, and enjoy, a good movie! #12AngryMen. I’m full of admiration for the text/character-sensitive blocking, pacing & cutting … … We should […]


This is one of those intermittent NFB staples, the Royal Journey, Helicopter Canada-like country-crossing celebration of the Canadian totality, rendered by means of discrete, regional Canadian impressions. They are supposed to add up to the Nation, which they at least sort of do. (Remember Donald Brittain’s acerbic narration for the latter film? If the Board […]

In the Labyrinth

To start with one of this method’s most noted proponents, this electrifying production leaves all of Brian de Palma’s various split and multi-frame affectations in the dust. In fact, it obliterates Brian de Palma entire. And Abel Gance. And let’s add the Soviets. Getting carried away? I am trying to communicate how historically, how matchlessly […]

Fishermen’s Meeting

Half of this record of a fisherman’s meeting is taken up by the Film Board folk taking the concerns of the meeting to the minister. Is this the social democrat equivalent to the market economy problem of voluntary largesse? If the economy is bad, then the voluntary generosity dries up. If Colin Low isn’t around, […]

Two Cabinet Ministers

This is as uncinematic as a film can be. Two guys sit there talking, until they stop. When you listen to what they’re saying, though, or to how they’re saying it, a thought comes to mind. Could this kind of thing be film’s best destiny? It’s a little bit like Michel Brault’s epochal Éloge de Chiac (q.v.). […]

Introduction to Fogo Island

This is very simple, very small-scaled. It confidently and unapologetically sets itself apart from most of the films we see and think about. In doing so, and in doing that separate thing so successfully, it makes you wonder why things are so upside down. Entertainment is fine, but this kind of thing represents the form’s […]

The Children of Fogo Island

Here are some home movies, by the greatest photographer/filmmakers in the world. Perfect compositions and juxtapositions, in the service of beautiful children at plainest and sweetest play. This is chock full of typical activities that register—this is after all the soon to be defunct Fogo Island—as exotically delightful. We’re tempted to idealize and condescend.  Look […]

The Circus

Coming at a difficult time in Chaplin’s career, & life, & in the midst of all sorts of legal wrangling, not to mention the little inconvenience of the coming of sound to motion pictures, it’s no surprise that The Circus comes off as just a bit minor, which in the case of this artist usually still means […]

The Pilgrim

Even though this film is much respected, even revered, I have the sneaking that hardly anyone really remembers it, or watches it anymore: Emergency! I need to tell you all that this is amazing stuff, quite perfect after perfect after perfect; Compare that little red flag that leads to a mass political demonstration & riot in […]

The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Reifenstahl

“Let’s call it ‘The Wonderful Life of Leni Riefenstahl’…no, let’s call it ‘The Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl’ …no…” apart from the stinky title this is quite good, most of all because the subject turns out to be worth the three hours, both for the times her life illuminates, and for her life itself; I […]

The Milky Way

Harold’s character is intact and interesting, with significant updatings, as now his success comes more through fluke and external chicaneries as from his own resolve, he quotes his Speedy introduction, but he’s not desperately dredging up past glories: a pleasing way with dialogue, quietly sophisticated sound design and a general sharing of focus and funnies […]

Seven Years Bad Luck

Unless its That’s My Wife–the inadequate titling of the Linder compilation doesn’t diminish the enjoyment, but it makes it hard to know what film you’re watching, or when it was made; maybe this contributes to the slight incoherence of the story, as the competing suitor, the trainmaster stuff and the jailing don’t quite make sense, […]

The Greatest Story Ever Told

The standard criticisms aren’t completely off base, but they’re obviously delivered in in glib critic mean-spiritedness, and they’re delivered by non-believers, which makes all the difference in the world; this is obviously full of feeling and conviction, the infamous snail’s pace could just as well be seen as reverence and an unwillingness to lard things […]

A King in New York

Vastly underrated, I find, though the political sentiments do hector somewhat, the use of son Michael as voice is in its own way as awkward as the “dictator” speeches, but here it comes out of personal affront, and not as an expression of vague and not all that helpful sap, even at that jr.’s speeches […]

Land of the Pharaohs

I’m admiring the nerve of my grade 6 teacher Mr. Ammon for showing us this creaky old creature, the pyramidical contraptionry of which impressed me furiously at the time, while it struck me even more for the coptic chill of its eternal live burials; These things remain very cool: in fact the film’s whole trajectory, leading so masterfully […]

The Living Stone

This documentary about Inuit artists is an interesting combination of multiple, somewhat incompatible, sort of reconcilable energies and impulses. It’s got lots of Robert Flaherty-like idealization, and folklorization. It’s also got RF’s attention to the details—textures, durations—of physical process, and of its cultural foundation as well. That’s not idealization any more! It does distill and […]

Peter and the Wolf

This is an amazing demonstration of perspective, especially when set against the way more familiar Disney version. When you view the familiar from a different angle, it’s suddenly not so familiar anymore. In fact, the incontrovertible can suddenly become unrecognizable, or inconceivable. When comparing the two films, Disney and Sterling Holloway emerge as being ideologically […]

Witchfinder General

Saw #WitchfinderGeneral. Its reputation is inflated, but it’s sure better than the Hammer/AIP run-of-the-mill of that time. #WitchfinderGeneral. Better than, still similar to. Fundamentalist cruelties are self/righteously condemned … … (no doubt intended also as a contemporary critique of the religiously affiliated & war-mongering Right Wing) … … at the same time that they are […]

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

It’s bad, but is it worse than Xanadu? This is the kind of question that made it necessary to establish academic film programs. Both films say more than they mean to about the dire state of popular culture at the time, as well as about mankind’s constant moral vulnerability. PG films both, but there are […]


Its reputation is justified, the apotheosis of a zoomy style & period, one which tends to look awful next to the less gimmicky & more consciously beautiful movements in film history, but which in Roeg’s extremely quirky, deft hands, actually turns out to be very beautiful, though the film’s very difficult, full of the most […]


The objective correlative, perfectly illustrated. Privilege, the work beast, and a conclusion straight out of von Stroheim’s Greed. See for yourself:

Les Enfants du Silence

Saw Claude Jutra’s #LesEnfantsduSilence. Lots has changed since ’62! Cochlear implants, for instance, or deaf people who want no part of them … … There’s not a hint of any of that in this brave, affecting document. It’s practically perfect &, now, these many years later, seriously out of date. #LesEnfantsduSilence. In terms of issues […]

The Brainwashers

Sometimes, these days, figure animators appear to be capable of almost anything. Here we have multiple technical perfections in the service of an infernal, charnel house vision. It owes considerable to Jan Svankmajer and the Quays, obviously, but there’s a structural, motivic dazzle here that’s all its own. The Brainwashers is out and out surrealism, […]

Dead of Night

A most admirable episode film, or portmanteau project, pulling in the best of what we associate with British Studio product: excellent art direction and set design, ensemble playing that subsumes individualistic impulse to collective ends, quietly ironic humour with an undercurrent of eccentricity (in this case increasingly troubling), people who smoke excessively; in or after […]


It appears that someone has been reading Harold Pinter. The vivid, ancient setting—Lindisfarne!—adds some history, even some eternity to that fashionable anxiety, and cruelty. Ditto the superb camera work. This looks just like what Orson Welles was doing on Chimes at Midnight, except that I think this was made first. Plus which it’s not that […]

Silence and Cry

Saw Miklos Jancsó’s #SilenceandCry (’67). The standard view of long takes & moving cameras is Renoirian, Bazinian, redolent of humanism & optimism … … Not MJ! His cameras move patiently, relentlessly, like the objective correlative, like Fritz Lang + Franz Kafka. You can run, but you can’t hide.

Remains of the Day

Very elusive, these Merchant/Ivory things, and as it eluded at first I was thinking overly of how it differed from the book and whether the differences were good, instead of why they were there; everything’s sumptuous as usual, & subtle (though amazingly the book’s even more so), the upstairs/downstairs dynamic is very interestingly and expertly […]

American Dream

Tremendously sophisticated & subtle, just as moving & sad, with a solemn, even chilling theme running right through: suggesting that expectations for fairness & safety in the American workplace clarity (what is right, what we should do) and expectations of fairness and safety have become things of the past; What makes American Dream more than just […]

An Inconvenient Truth

Saw #AnInconvenientTruth. Interesting to be in the room w’ numerous climate-change deniers, or conscientious objectors … … As we like these folks, these things made me much more conscious of the film’s considerable smug quotient … … & the creaky contrivance of its B-roll. #AnInconvenientTruth. On the other hand, M. Moore’s sins notwithstanding, sometimes data […]

An Autumn Afternoon

Extremely subtle & gentle, with lots of understated humour, added unto & countered by a Tati-like musical score that emphasizes the melancholy wistfulness of it all, & with this very tender Father figure—Ryū!—presiding over & underpinning the whole; Here’s the bare, simple synopsis: Dad marries off daughter & is sad … So much more! The […]

Los Olvidados

Endlessly harrowing, Oliver Twist without any of the sentimentality, or even sentiment, or even compassion, or even feeling at all, social workers are almost Brechtianly unconvincing, the handicapped (blind) guy is the worst of the whole lot, which is not quite in line with the Tiny-Tim school of portraying the downtrodden, the nerve with which […]

Animated Motion, pt. 2

Now McLaren and Munro give us a further subdivision into five categories of motion, starting with constant, acceleration, and deceleration. At the middle of the spectrum, acceleration becomes constant motion. At this point McLaren brings us out of the abstract again, making associative suggestions that transform and animate this plain moving ball. These variable rates […]

Animated Motion, pt. 1

This is the first of Norman McLaren and Grant Munro’s five how-to-animate films, prepared as McLaren’s career as an active filmmaker was approaching its close. They are terrific. In fact they’re very beautiful, both for themselves, and for any number of things that are happening just outside the frame, as it were. We’ll elaborate, one […]


The actual Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker demonstrate their miraculous apparatus for the assembled NFB animators. Very clear, very helpful. Also, very nitpicky! It’s almost impressive, how nitpicky they are. We forget that the people who invent or accomplish unprecedented and amazing things were probably all exacting, and maybe to a maddening degree. On that […]

Ballet Adagio

The film’s superbly designed titles, so simultaneously saturated and chaste, give way to its similarly delineated main body. The background (colour fields hinting at actual sky forms, as in McLaren’s Spheres) is cool, and the floor, bodies and costumes are warm. Two contrasting tones, but absolutely complementary. That describes these dancers as well. Their performance […]


Three parted, like the immortal Begone Dull Care. Though McLaren often does it, he obviously doesn’t need to: Synchromy has no anthropomorphizing at all. Rather, the interest is in figuring out the meaning, or maybe the method of those flashes falling through the frame. When you do—this is the score, filmed; the bigger the object, the […]


The watercolour backgrounds make the basically mathematical/geometrical subject somehow human, and the butterfly at the end of each of the three sections functions like McLaren himself did in 1965’s Mosaic. J.S. Bach’s music certainly humanizes as well. The last section becomes an awesome exploration of the possibilities, the multiplicities of perspective. Which, given the uses […]

The Phenix City Story

Boomerang and Panic in the Streets (1947 and 1950) are important attempts to incorporate some of the methods of Italian neo-realism in within the American commercial film, to try to access some of its spirit. If they don’t quite go all the way—director Elia Kazan blinked just a bit, or the budgets and dizzying professional standards […]

Split Second

B-movies! Efficient as can be, but full of resonance, even decency. You can’t just dismiss the Hollywood studios, part infinity. Split Second casts echoes, or seems familiar. It’s reminiscent of John Huston’s Key Largo (after Maxwell Anderson), or William Wyler’s subsequent The Desperate Hours, and maybe even Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. If it’s true that here there be clichés, then […]

99 River Street

Saw Phil Karlson’s blistering #99RiverStreet. Terrific B noir! Labyrinthine, brutal, corrupt as can be … … You can practically smell the brimstone! Here’s a good trick: corrupt as can be, but not at all corrupting. See things, folks.

Armored Car Robbery

Not all program pictures are diamonds in the rough, are they? A fine director (Richard Fleisher) and some interesting actors notwithstanding, Armored Car Robbery never engages the attention. At least it never engaged mine. We’ve got caper on one side, investigation on the other. The robbery is actually quite good, both in design and execution. If […]


Saw D. Villeneuve’s #Prisoners. Stately pace & style add solemnity/elegy to the procedural elements, & to the abattoir-ish tone & view … … Still, an abattoir. #Prisoners. Child harmers, & the millstone. Could it be that Luke 17: 1-2 applies to the production of such movies too, or to their subject matters?


Saw #Sorcerer. Quite impressive, in its sweaty, seedy, misanthropic way. Wm. Friedkin proves himself a worthy heir … … of the people-hating HG Clouzot, who made the original. Not sure why you’d want to take on that mantle, mind you. #Sorcerer. The objective correlative—life as an impassable road, packed with explosives & attended, always … […]

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Some actor. This film is convincingly, tiresomely seedy. It’s not quite saying that everything is betrayal, or at least it’s not quite meant that way. But given how things are, and what’s expected and required of you, and the calibre of people in the vicinity, everything is betrayal. It comes across as (J-P) Melville-like. Inspiration? […]


Saw Koreyoshi Kurahara’s #Intimidation. Efficient, nicely coiled. Peopled by scoundrels and patsies, who end up being patsies and scoundrels … … A convincing & unattractive picture of a Machiavellian, Darwinian world. And there I go again, w’ the Western referents.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Saw … #WalterMitty. Crowd-pleaser/heart-warmer. Uh-oh! But craft & taste, dollops of quirk & some real feeling win out. A very nice movie! Thurber’s #WalterMitty sort of wins. Stiller’s definitely does. Check out the lovely Biblical parallel/echo in 1 Samuel 30: 21-25. … … Every worker, worthy of his hire… #WalterMitty. A pretty free, dispositionally approximate […]

Cry, the Beloved Country

Saw #CrytheBelovedCountry (’95). Solemn, sincere, super-clear. Artless, but still skilful, & made w’ love & devotion. The dialogue is faithful, but #CrytheBelovedCountry doesn’t otherwise find a cinematic equivalent to Alan Paton’s literary sublime. It does, however … … find a dramatic, or performative equivalent. James Earl Jones! This book is unmissable. The film adaptation is a worthy handmaiden thereto.

Slap Shot

Saw #SlapShot. The industrial/working/underclass stuff is really vivid. #SlapShot. Newman’s semi-redemption is appropriately ambiguous. He is, after all, a scoundrel, however appealing. #SlapShot. The still & ever-thriving Hanson cult has pretty completely obscured the original (half-hearted) critique … … of Philadelphia Flyers-type violence. I remember, for what it’s worth. It wasn’t that funny! #SlapShot. Paul Newman skates […]


Saw #Rocky. Mean Streets, for kids! #Rocky. Loved the 1st hour. Decent impulses, hard pressed by heredity and environment. Very well-observed, & very sweet. … … From the cracking of those raw eggs, though, it’s another, lesser film. #Rocky. Montages showing their age! Fairy tales need happy endings though, don’t they? I’ve read Zola & […]

Hard Times

Saw Walter Hill’s #HardTimes. Plays like the offspring of The Sting & California Split, but jettisons the slick of the one, … … the at least partial obfuscation/impenetrability of the other. The result is a clear-eyed, unsentimental, proportionately hopeful look … … at tough prospects & limited lives, & the decency & sufficiency that can […]

My Home is Copacabana

Saw #MyHomeIsCopacabana. A kid-populated version of Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano: extremity, diminishing hope … … and the degradation of poverty, in the midst of all this paradisiacal beauty. As Paul said, “having no hope, & without God in the world …” #MyHomeIsCopacabana. Who knew that Sweden’s greatest nature filmmaker shot a semi-improvised, Flaherty-like half […]


This is a lovely, long, challenging thing. As with a lot of nonverbal, conceptual art, it’s hard to keep up exactly with what is meaning which, when and where. That’s usually by design—I don’t know, what do you think the obelisk means? Hurray phenomenology, and having our own relationship with all the symbols in the […]

Nine Variations on a Dance Theme

Very interesting. This is partly a technical challenge, a justifiable but not especially communicative exercise in Steve Reich-ian repetition and slight, incremental variation. But the presence of this woman, of her face and especially her almost obsessively rendered body, makes Nine Variations way more than just an formalist exercise. It might cross your mind to wonder. Is […]

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Hein Heckroth and Michael Powell, together again! There’s no reason—other than the stranglehold of the conventional feature film, and people’s basic philistinism—that really cinematic films can’t be dedicated to dance, or music, or the arts in general. The apprentice is a woman. Were our principles inspired by how James Barrie and subsequent generations caste the […]

White Mane

White Mane, Albert Lamorisse’s other, much less famous kids’ film, has a number of things going for it, providing pleasure and interest at a number of points. For one thing, it is a terrific demonstration of what the Soviet film pioneers of the 1920s (Lev Kuleshov, V.I. Pudovkin) called creative geography. This means that it’s a […]

Daybreak Express

This bright little city symphony is similar to, roughly contemporary with Stan Brakhage’s The Wonder Ring. It’s not a contest, but whereas Brakhage seems to be finding his voice, or his craft, Pennebaker is already there. And at this wonderfully confident early part in his career, his voice is his craft; this is photographically, rhythmically […]

Dance in the Sun

Bumped up a grade for the astounding conclusion, in which this superb dancer/athlete lights up a big cigarette for himself and his accompanist. One assumes that Clark’s fim was very much aware of Maya Deren’s previous, somewhat similar study. Here I think the match cuts and location jumps are actually more successful, maybe because there’s […]

The Last Exorcism

The handi-cam mock-doc approach to feature filmmaking makes sense. You can excuse and explain and indulge in no-budget, no-technique technique—you have your cake and you eat it. Mind you this state of affairs does distract us from a deeper, better truth, which is that observational and verité techniques can work terrifically in outright serious fiction […]

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Have you ever wondered? Why the grime all the time, Gilliam? There are echoes of the good old days here (Time Bandits, Munchausen, a bit of Brazil), with some whimsy that’s real and not just mannered, some bona fide imaginative turns that seem on the brink of being visionary. Or if Gilliam is not quite […]

Osmosis Jones

I think the Farrellys have bitten off more than they could chew, but that’s actually to their credit. The inciting incident here is pretty cool, in a gleefuly disgusting way: Bill Murray takes that mayo-slavered, salt covered hard boiled egg out of the mouth of the monkey that stole it from him, and off the […]

The Illusionist

Really exquisite. It is more than a pleasure, it actually feels like a miracle to see Jacques Tati, to see Jaques Tati’s thematics—Tati’s compositions and spatial, durational complexities!—after all these years. (That impossible, inevitable rural car crash and that two motorcycle gag, which may well have been in the scenario, are the clearest examples among […]

All That Jazz

It’s something of a commonplace to note that Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical film was inspired by, or is a contemplation of, Federico Fellini’s 8½. That’s apt, and it’s a productive text-to-text connection. There are more of those, though, and they’re not necessarily so exalted, or exalting. How about Visconti’s The Damned, or late Pasolini? Utter corruption, utterly […]

Easter Parade

We all know that musicals are stylized and artificial, and that we need to bring our grains of salt and suspended disbelief and all. But what if the musical in question is really dumb? The problem here is that these couplings and uncouplings and consummations make no sense at all, in any way. Why would […]

American Hustle

Saw #AmericanHustle, or the battle of the 2 David O. Russells. In this particular bout … … the charitable naturalist bests the profanely jerky caricaturist. Just barely. #AmericanHustle. Lots of virtuosos, shredding. Exhilarating, but for stretches you wonder if there’s any actual music going on in there. #AmericanHustle. Speaking of music. The classical film score […]

Blow Out

Writer-director Brian De Palma is kind of a jerk, at least if his films are any indication. And he may occasionally aspire to decency, as a few of the films definitely demonstrate. Maybe he even gets there once in a while. Then he goes back to making things like Scarface. That’s as much the story of […]


It seems a bit unfair to just lump this in with Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, but it is awfully inspired by those films. It’s out and out derivative, actually, but in an interesting way, and with a productive twist or two. As with, more than its more distinguished forebears, I find myself wanting to […]


Epidermal suffocation, eh? Goldfinger is at least partly pleasing, in its own excessive, winkingly suave way. The evening clothes under the wet suit and all. By this third entry the franchise is already too big for its own britches, but it’s not quite elephantine, yet. For instance, the spectacular-to-preposterous Fort Knox climax is offset by the very […]

The Great O’Malley

Saw William Dieterle’s sentimental, uber-coincidental #TheGreatOMalley. Why not? This time the moonshine all goes to the support … … of a fine social sermon about spirit leavening the law’s letter. Also a great, typical example of fast/tough/efficient early 30s’ cinema. #TheGreatOMalley. It’s kind of Bicycle Thieves by way of A Christmas Carol, except that this time […]

The Great Gatsby

Saw #TheGreatGatsby. Going in, feared SK’s A Clockwork Orange (succumbing to the thing allegedly being criticized). At 1st … … over-stimulated, I started to fear Sig. Fellini’s Satyricon. Then, going further forward, I started to fear Xanadu! #TheGreatGatsby. But wait. This excessive movie goes on to show signs of knowing what it’s up to. Sensory overload, yes […]

A Serious Man

Saw the Coens’ #ASeriousMan. More misanthropy, I thought, though much better balanced than the execrable #BurnAfterReading … … Then, I overhear talk about it being their very best film. Let us think about this. What have we got here? #ASeriousMan. That shtetl prologue really sets an ambiguous tone, one that is quite superbly maintained throughout […]

Stars in My Crown

Saw Jacques Tourneur’s terrific, unjustly underappreciated #StarsinMyCrown. It reminds me, & reminds me to remind all of you … … how cool the whole Warner Archive imprint really is. Let’s let the vendor have his say: #StarsinMyCrown. Along with W. Faulkner’s Intruder In the Dust, & Clarence Brown’s excellent film version … … Tourneur’s […]

Dick Tracy

That is some opening shot. The cars and the trench coats are really great. The patent artificiality is pretty great too, or is it maybe too pleased with itself? The patent over/simplicity of the story mixes in an interesting, kind of head-scratching way with the noirish incoherence of the plot. What are they getting at […]


Could well be called Waiting for Giffard, except that M. Giffard ends up doing just as much waiting for Hulot, & then they actually, miraculously meet after all; still, for all the undoubted gentleness, humanity & optimism that this film comedy opts & reaches for, Absurdity, alienation & disaffection are still at the doors & […]


Here’s another one we watched in our horror film class. It plays very well! In fact, the jadedly self-assured modern undergraduate tends to be surprised by how powerful, how disconcerting Targets still is. You guys should try it out. I don’t think the film’s argument about wholesome old horror somehow besting modern psychoses quite stands up. […]

Downhill Racer

Did they even write any dialogue for this thing? We’re finding ourselves in that paradoxical stretch of Hollywood history in which instability dominated, profits plummeted, and experimentation held benevolent sway. People tried stuff, and art, avant garde or plain independent—Redford is a very important figure here, and going forward—ideas get a foothold. Given how unverbal […]

60 Cycles

I think this is a really great movie. The subject is a particular bicycle race, as well as bicycles, racers, and the sport entire. Equally, and just as successfully, the subject is film itself, as technique and form are repeatedly, compellingly pushed to the foreground. On the face of it 60 Cycles is a modest […]

Manufactured Landscapes

Blake bemoaned the dark Satanic mills.  According to this those were the good old days; the world is now a slag heap.  Irrecovably?  That’s the question these days.  Burtynsky’s images, as I’m sure everyone has pointed out, are paradoxically beautiful.  Perfectly composed, awesomely expansive, blindingly clear.  The sequences that show him shooting have documentary, and […]

Spirited Away

Another piece slightly adapted from Theatre & Media Arts’ previous Children’s Media Review: This latest film by Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki and his associates at Studio Ghibli provides an excellent opportunity for anime neophytes to have a positive and substantial first experience with the form. Initiates, if they haven’t seen it already, can be […]

The Wolf of Wall Street

Saw #WolfofWallStreet. Boy. Should have checked the parents’ guide on that one. #WoWS. Gleeful, operatic iniquity, if you like that kind of thing. #WoWS. Irony, they’re saying, or implicit critique. But will audiences understand? … … I’m remembering all of those young men who enthusiastically established fight clubs in ’99-00. #WoWS. Representation doesn’t necessarily equal […]


Saw Park’s #Oldboy. Quite astoundingly resourceful & imaginative, & all so as to contrive that its protagonist have sex w’ his own daughter! #Oldboy. Oedipal variations are obvious. Actually cites The Count of Monte Cristo (wronged ex-captive preparing his vengeance) … … But Sophocles gives us hubris & fatefulness, & the nobility that can attend our falling […]

The Cabin in the Woods

Saw #CabinintheWoods. Landmark, they say, & I’d not seen it. While teaching a horror class! I watch then, dutiful, studious … … in the interests of film literacy … … Presently my up-late, paper-finishing, film-overhearing teen calls down from the other room. “Nice movie, Dad!” He’s right/I’m wrong! #CabinintheWoods. Is an unfair, practically bigoted meta-caricature […]

Once in a Lifetime

Saw the NY Cosmos doc, #OnceinaLifetime. The Corporate & the Competitive sure do bring the Bastards out! #OnceinaLifetime. Some spectacle, flash & vulgarity inherent in the subject. At times the film gleefully utilizes or reflects these same qualities … … Not necessarily an appealing or admirable prospect, either way.

Cannibal Holocaust

Saw #CannibalHolocaust. Resourceful (the infamous skewer shot), energetic, & utterly, grotesquely hypocritical. Crocodile-crying as it … … condemns its own exploitative, pan-pornographic mayhem. But it inspired Blair Witch! For the cause of horror/film literacy, I guess.

Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea

Listen to that title! Like Haiku—beautiful! That storm sequence—you’ll know the one I mean when you see it—is film historically, all-time good, both in concept and execution. (Chicken feet?! Always some deep eccentricity with this guy!) It’s a veritable vision, a child moving with power and majesty on the waters! For me at least, Ponyo itself is […]

Howl’s Moving Castle

You know, I’m never quite sure what is going on in this movie. But if the story eludes, the feeling of the thing is eloquently clear. It has archetypal, mythological weight; through the course, at the end, you have that sense of an ineffable something. This is majesty, grandeur, even and finally, truth. The character […]

Porco Rosso

The mere care and craft of this piece is moving enough, even without all of the other great things it has going on. Shot after beautiful shot leaves you in aesthetical raptures, as well as having a remarkable effect on the entropic inter-war setting in which the story takes place. The Italian cinema of the […]

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Early days for Hayao Miyazaki, at least as a writer-director of feature films. This second features contains some interesting inconsistencies and gaucheries. Or could it be that, even at this early stage, he’s an utter individual, and we mortals don’t get it? That’s always a possibility, and our justifiable fondness for this so-estimable artist can […]

The Castle of Cagliostro

This is an ideal kids’ movie. The plot is propulsive, but not so propulsive that it doesn’t take time for character elaboration, or for comic/lyric digression. The animation is really lovely, with gorgeous vistas, foregrounds zipping by while the backgrounds graduate slowly (incident tempered by principle?), the resplendence of the colour green. It’s really funny: […]

The Princess Bride

Hey! This is a really overrated movie. I realize that lots of people love it more than life itself, and often for reasons that lie outside of the film itself. Your buddies, your family, your future spouse—1987! Films can be great vehicles for taking us to more important places, and without being particularly good themselves they […]

The Godfather Part II

Saw #GodfatherII. Mightily impressed as a youngster. What was I thinking, I’m now thinking! Not nearly as important as it is self-important. #GodfatherII. Still almost unbearably handsome, but how did all these ham-handed and tin-eared scenes make it through? … … Behavioural, emotional, familial implausibilities abounding.  Women & children especially ill-served. #GodfatherII. Can’t see that […]


This starts really well, with its Saul Bass-like graphics—tip of the hat, anyone?—and that groovy Henry Mancini theme. (My dad liked it so much that he bought two copies of the l.p.!) How 1963! Times and places are always cool, whenever or wherever they are. A precipitous prologue features a murder in murky brown, suggesting […]

The Bridge on the River Kwai

I find it autobiographically poignant that I so liked this as a lad, when I saw it during my very first year at university. (Meanwhile my now same-aged daughter is instant-playing 12 Monkeys and The Virgin Spring.) I don’t feel to regret or repudiate that at all—in fact this time I quite enjoyed watching our […]

The Quiet Man

Saw #TheQuietMan. Fun to see w’ the kids, & full of a number of very fine, even very beautiful things. But really … … all added up & in the end, what nonsense!

Kind Hearts and Coronets

Very droll, to be sure, with Dennis Price and Joan Greenwood expertly maximizing the effect by their very expert languidness (was ever a human being more like an insinuating, self-sufficient feline than she?); still, though one appreciates the film, the wryness of its narration, how that narration doesn’t quite double its imagery (cf. Bresson’s Diary […]

Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

This is the remake we’re talking about: May I tirade? Hollywood mainstream product can be so terribly bland! so contrived in its stories, so typed in its characters, its more generic stabs at writing and directing so lacking in any kind of convincing detail, authentic gestures or interactions, so seemingly lacking in an awareness of […]

Safety Last

Harold Lloyd’s character is strainingly decent, and don’t you always really sense that Harold Lloyd himself was the same way? Look at how warmly, how sweetly he greets his policeman friend, or how he interacts with that cute Mildred Davis (whom he would soon marry, and remain with for more than 40 years). Evidence abounds […]

The Damned United

This is nice—treating an historical, regional subject like it was the most important thing in the world. Because of the passion and commitment with which it is made, The Damned United  becomes precisely that, at least for the duration. It seems a simple thing, but films like this are a good way to learn about times and places, institutions […]

A Little Fellow from Gambo: The Joey Smallwood Story

They’ve got that right, not only because he is a little fellow from Gambo (Newfoundland, that is), but because he keeps on telling everyone that he’s a little fellow from Gambo. Premiere Joey Smallwood is the real McCoy, and a yarn-spinning self-mythologist at the same time. This kind of bring-us-up-to-the-present biographical film is invaluable. It gives us […]

The Beatles Anthology

That’s a ton-of-a-lot of Beatles material! And what a treasure trove! You sense that those responsible could have doubled the length of this massive thing, what with the ridiculous amount of documentation that they’ve got archived. The following might not go for everybody. It goes for me, though: you further sense that you would have […]

The Trials of Oscar Wilde

Extremely impressive! Peter Finch, as Wilde, is wonderful; his portrayal goes way beyond the usual witty epithets to suggest some of the ways & reasons that he might so have slung them around; released in 1960, Trials is strikingly fair-minded & forward-looking in its attitude toward homosexuality; it’s not quite condoned, nor very much detailed in […]


Personally, I like to find reasons for things, and give the benefit of the doubt. There usually are, and it’s usually deserved. But there’s a small problem with this really fine film, and it has bigger implications, at least for a lot of the audiences that I’m acquainted with around here. That little brothel sequence […]


I remember being very impressed by this in my youth. It was funny. Sometimes it was shockingly so. Sometimes the shocking wasn’t comical at all. As I tried to process all of this I understood that Allen was making a serious comedy, and if his film was frank to the point of overly, then in […]

Apocalypse Now Redux

When it comes down to it, this film isn’t much better than Heaven’s Gate, is it? The eye is dazzled, because the cinematic fireworks are admittedly really dazzling. Coppola and Storaro and Tavoularis provide no end of jaw dropping images, and they even combine them into a few jaw dropping set pieces. (Let’s also acknowledge […]

Nights of Cabiria

I’ve come back to this, and tried to view it calmly and dispassionately. I have a conclusion, I’m afraid. Nights of Cabiria is really overrated! That judgment has to take Giulietta Masina into account, since she is as central to this film as any performer or performance has ever been. As everyone always says—let me jump in […]

An American in Paris

Musicals are preposterous by nature, but this one is really preposterous. Not in a people-don’t-really-sing-out-loud-like-that way, but because people don’t think or act this way either, stylized setting or not. Maybe it’s the way that they inappropriately assign some of these tunes (that French cabaret singer; “I got!”). Something’s just off there. The romance is […]

Battleship Potemkin

It’s easy to tiptoe around the great canonical works, to be uncritically appreciative without actually thinking about the nature of that appreciation, or its object. North by Northwest is a great film! But, or, have you watched it lately? Well, Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin is a great film, or at least an undeniably important one. He […]


Look how much more tastefully, organically, appropriately naked this film is. We get some landscape for the general setting, and for a bit of historical and lyrical background. We get the season, and the end of the workday that is so much, so eternally a part of the season. There’s the building itself, and the […]

The Geography of the Body

The poem/narration utilized in this avant garde milestone is funny, in a kind of adolescent way. It’s quite a bit like that explicit and obscured erotic monologue in Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend (1967). Godard kept playing with the sound mix in that sequence, bringing the music forward just at the moment when his actor described the […]

No Swimming

Here’s a relic that is more straightforwardly unseemly. Brazen ladies in a pond, who keep looking at the camera at this end while they unconvincingly interact with the killjoy cop at the other. The level of explicitness—pretty minimal, for modern sensibilities!—might make No Swimming seem pretty quaint, pretty harmless. And it is, now. It’s interesting to think […]

The Sand Bath

This film gives the impression of plain nudism, and not pornography. The prurient components are certainly there, and in fact they’re the reason for the production and distribution of the film. But the scene itself is not really provocative, but just a naked person in nature. She actually looks pretty comfortable. Au natural is the […]

Akt-Skulpturen: Studienfilm für bildende Künstler

This naked woman is a complete professional, as is the naked man who subsequently joins her. They are confident, focused, purposeful. They know how to pose, and that’s precisely, exclusively what they are doing. It is likely that this film was distributed with at least some degree of cynicism, likely that it was viewed pruriently […]

3 Godfathers

Here’s John Ford’s slightly eccentric remake of his tremendous 1926 Western, Three Bad Men. It’s a Christmas parable, for some reason, and the previous version’s plucky young heroine is now a stranded and endangered male infant. The wise men are bandits. (Shepherds and kings combined, à la the myth of American democracy?) I’ll bet the […]

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Edmund Gwenn, with his charming turn as Kris Kringle, is the Trojan Horse.  Let him into your house and in no time the moneychangers will drop out and desecrate the place. The spirit of giving and Christmas are here pressed into the service of Macey’s, Christmas commerce, Mammon. “They don’t make ’em like they used […]

It’s a Wonderful Life

A Pilgrim’s Progress.  

Miracle of Morgan’s Creek

A stunning parable, as well as being a kind of purloined letter, hiding in plain sight of all of the censors and watchdogs who should have objected, and yet somehow missed it. (Or could there have been reasonable functionaries in there, turning blind eyes when they could?) The movie’s central, alleged marriage is very funny, […]

Going My Way

Bing Crosby is the greatest. Leo McCarey is also the greatest, or was for quite a long time. This movie, it seems to me, is not the greatest. You may disagree. Oscars, for instance. At the same time it may be time for us to consider the possibility that Oscars don’t always mean as much, […]

Meet Me in St. Louis

A superlative demonstration of studio resources and studio craft, a superlative example of design and cinematography, and of design and cinematography conforming themselves to the mandates of the Technicolor™ Corporation; a superlative showcase for the sublime soon-to-be/already woman of sorrows Judy Garland, and for her soon-to-be/already superlative studio director/artist/husband, Vincente Minelli, a superlative example of […]

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Pretty poverty row. What’s with the sound? Famous filmmaker, post-his famous contributions, still needing to make a living. For all that, this is a fresh take on this horrible franchise. Rudolph lives out in a sort of plausible world, and Santa pulls away from all that cruel incomprehension because he needs help and sees the […]

Santa’s Surprise

No big studio, no big distributor. This is Poverty Row, in fact. Pretty good, too. Think of all the obscure things we miss out on. This one even Features Jack Mercer and Mae Questel! Santa’s Surprise a combination love letter and dream come true for the Santa fans in the audience. They join the main characters […]

Star Trek Into Darkness

Saw #IntoDarkness. Liked it. The mythos expands. Laughs, some boffo & boom, a few big ideas, & a deus ex tribble to boot. Good popcorn, I say. #IntoDarkness made me wonder a bit. Is this a new movie, or just a remix of Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan? … … And could the […]

The Exorcist

The Iraq prologue doesn’t make any sense, nor, really, do the logistics of possession. The sequencing is just all over the place, and not just for disorientation’s or dread’s sake. Kinda reminded me of the uncertain, inconsistent particulars in Angels in America. Could it be that the perpetrators of this movie finally didn’t really know what […]


This one comes right out of that mid-to-late-60’s observational cinema ferment, and it’s a pretty powerful example of the observational documentary’s various strengths and shortcomings. One thing you have to say for it—Warrendale certainly avoids one of the most egregious of observational’s sometimes pitfalls (as outlined, for instance, by the derisive Ricky Leacock in Lewis Jacobs, […]

Zabriskie Point

Frederick Wiseman’s contemporaneous Law and Order makes me skeptical about this film’s cops-are-pigs thesis. They can be and have been, but not only, and not always. On the other hand J. Hoberman’s account (2003) of Michelangelo Antonioni’s troubled production does suggest not only that times were tough, but that official villainy was almost certainly afoot. It […]

Brewster McCloud

You shouldn’t put Eugene Ionesco (Aberjonois’ Lecturer), Bertolt Brecht (Alienation, everywhere), Alfred Jarry (loads of excrement) and John Bunyan (when is an Astrodome not just an Astrodome?) together in one film, should you? Well I guess you can do anything you want, but the results are going to be messy! On the other hand maybe […]

The Gladiators

Peter Watkins had perfected his method by this time, and here he applies it interestingly and effectively in an unfamiliar setting. Maybe the author of The Hunger Games doesn’t know it, but this sure has the exact identical scenario! The idea sounds better than the film plays, though. A creditable miss by a major figure.

The Rain People

We’ve got a director here! When it comes to this period we probably talk too much about the usual Easy Riding suspects. Scratch the surface, or delve beneath it, and you see how very exciting and world changing these times were. Cinematically, generally. Exciting, and dangerous too—these texts are to be studied, and they’re worthy […]

Sweet Charity

Really square! 1969’s Sweet Charity is so outside of, so clueless about the contemporary counter-culture as to be positively mind boggling. Mind boggling, and really fascinating. Get a load of those hippies at the very end. Get a load of that Sammy Davis, Jr. number. (He’s so good in this misbegotten thing that he strikes you as […]


The new cinema of permissiveness was important in all sorts of ways. There were things that needed portraying, and considering, and American commercial cinema had in many ways done too little of either. For this reason 70s cinema is often extremely rewarding. You feel the truth of certain things, and an exhilaration in the expressing […]

The Wall

This is a great example of a film that really has to be in black and white, that has to be somber toned, and that has to end ambiguously. You can’t impose your single favourite methodology and attitude on every text. The barbed-wire/clothesline shot (you’ll know it when you see it!) induces agonized, empathetic gasps […]

Destination Moon

Destination Moon is awesomely dull and stolid, to the point of a strange, admirable sort of integrity. Did Carl Dreyer see this before undertaking Gertrud? I find Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers to be intelligently and honourably Conservative, and Farmer in the Sky too. This one, with Heinlein’s numerous writing contributions, has a little more Cold War […]

Green for Danger

The main character, more or less, enters the film a whole thirty-eight minutes in, which is pretty nervy when you think of it. I have noticed that people are tempted to give Alastair Sim a free pass, but you gotta admit that he really is effortlessly funny, and charming in a wonderful, paradoxical way. Green […]

A Matter of Life and Death

I saw this film when I was very young. It left an indelible impression. I saw it again, when I was a little less young. I was able to identify and articulate a number of the things that led to that first impression. Which continued more or less unabated. I revisit the film again, decades […]

There Was a Father

Saw #ThereWasAFather. As has been observed there’s an imperial, martial tinge to it, what w’ all this talk of duty & sacrifice … … The war never actually comes up though. In this it’s sort of like Ozu’s, or rather Shochiku’s, Meet Me In St. Louis! #ThereWasAFather. That 1st son-encouraging speech echoes Polonius’s (I iii), […]

King Creole

Saw #KingCreole. Ever wondered what the fuss was all about? It’s all here! Before/after all the hype & caricature, this guy’s a superstar. #KingCreole kinda recalls Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets (1950). This is a (good) melodrama, that a topical thriller. Both are transformed by location shooting … … Curtiz, the great H-wood moonshiner, is […]


Saw Jacques Feyder’s #Crainquebille. Strong location work, nice Silas Marner-like ending. Satirical bits clash … … somewhat w’ all of the careful sociological detailing. Impending master, not quite arrived.

Shutter Island

From reading Dennis Lehane’s source novel you might expect this to be another one of Martin Scorcese’s wearisome, increasingly unnecessary Mean Streets/Raging Bull/Goodfellas/Casino-like films. But it’s not. After the bughouse bits, and through the superb integration of the WWII material and the protagonist’s personal trauma, Shutter Island ends up being quite straightforwardly, quite movingly charitable. All […]

Stone Reader

Mark Moskowitz, this film’s perpetrator, is something of a show off, but he’s also what he purports to be. By day he makes media, but in real life, at core and in his heart, he is a Reader. The result is that in addition to having a mild tinge of harmless look-at-me, Stone Reader is also […]


The mechanics of the participatory documentary get really unwieldy here, so much so that you wonder if it can ever be otherwise. Interviews are no problem, and Michael Moore-like hijinx work very well. But when the filmmaker is a long-term participant in an actual person’s actual life, then cinéma vérité can easily become cinema forcé. Pan to […]

Close Up

Saw Abbas Kiarostami’s #CloseUp. It’s an Iranian King of Comedy, isn’t it? W’ bits of Blow Up & Jeanne Dielman thrown in! … … Morbid, even terrifying celebrity obsession, correspondingly close, even compulsive detailing of their investigation … … and an approach to duration that will either make you scream, or outright blow your mind. […]

Tokyo Story

Unsurprisingly, it’s slow—unsurprisingly, it’s very satisfyingly so; one thinks first of King Lear (or Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow!), what with all these nasty offspring, but the thundering on the heath never arrives; rather, everything just kind of whispers in a sad and lovely way; Particulars: the hairdresser daughter is especially irksome, the poor daughter-in-law—Setsuko Hara!—who’s […]

Quai des Orfevres

Children of Paradise gets all the credit, but why isn’t this considered the great celebration of the substance and insights and glorious consolations of French theatre? Henri-Georges Clouzot’s evocation of these spaces, this milieu, of the various stages and levels and theatrical crafts, is positively miraculous. That goes for the titular police address too, as […]

Mr. Thank You

Hiroshi Shimizu’s little jewel of a film starts out all bland and tiny, but by sticking to its guns, or maybe its extraordinarily simple and single-minded structure/method, it ends by being something very considerable. Up the mountain and down, stopping and starting, chatting and being silent. Nothing to it! But this simplicity ingratiates, then insinuates, […]

Whistling Smith

This is a fine piece of inner city moral naturalism. Some things can’t be fixed, and what can you do? Sergeant Smith appears to be striking a difficult and very decent balance here. He upholds the law, and he upholds the dignity of his benighted, often erring constituents at the same time. He is remarkably […]


Very striking and powerful, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s first film as director is full of text-book neo-realist techniques: (non) actors cast more for look or authenticity than for technique, action played out in actual, decidedly dreary locations, camera shadows and imprecise post-synching, uninflected and episodic narrative structure which is, for all that, still full–extremely full!–of dramatic […]

Angels with Dirty Faces

James Cagney is an absolute force of nature. I think that Bogart gets most of the credit these days, or most of the press anyway: he’s certainly been the subject of a lot more mythologizing. But Cagney has got to be H-wood’s great anti-hero. In so many of the films you can’t approve of his […]

The Very Eye of Night

Great title! There are many felicities here: the dancers themselves, their clear confidence, the obvious comprehensiveness of their technique. There are a number of striking shots and angles. The last choreographed coupling and their last departure are very beautiful (quite reminiscent of the last shot in Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast). We’ve been very open […]

A Study of Choreography for Camera

Mr. Beatty has a very beautiful body, and he uses it beautifully. There are nice motion matches that cover over geographical jumps, a lovely back-and-forth camera move, and the slow-to-fast motion of the pirouhettes, head, feet and whole, are both educational and inspiring.

Ritual in Transfigured Time

Deren’s three women strategy is curious and compelling, elusive and clear at the same time. (Components of the individual, the solidarity of the sex, etc.) Some more superb creative geography cutting (Pudovkin, 1925, Orson Welles, 1952) brings us to a party that, like our own first forays away from domestic shelter and safety, feels both […]

At Land

Some opening! It’s not Boticellian, exactly—an utterly different time, place, artistic and philosophical foundation—but it’s still in the same beautiful ballpark. Deren’s compositions and cuts are razor sharp, and her creative geography—climbing out of that tree, across a film cut, and onto the banquet table!—is right up there with Pudovkin’s Chess Fever or Welles’ Othello. That […]

Meshes in the Afternoon

Like, say, some of the music of Miss Joni Mitchell, this may not be made for people like me. Certainly when I first saw it, all those years ago, it left me in a combination of mild confusion and mild disinterest. Well, I’m still on the outside, but in possession of quite a few more […]

The Tree of Life

If the LDS Temple Endowment were undertaken by a filmmaker/philosopher with Catholic roots, tons of nerve, and infinite reserves of imagination and perspective and tenderness, this is what it would look like. Not only does writer-director Terrence Malick have the effrontery to start his film thusly … : Where wast thou when I laid the foundations […]

127 Hours

I bet Mr. Boyle was partly motivated by a desire to wow us with his usual hyperkinetic mumbo jumbo, applied to this perverse or even impossible property. This kind of thing can be really annoying, partly because it’s a motivation that basically gets the ultimate reason for art or even plain conversation—only connect! (E.M. Forster, […]

King Lear

Awesome. Everything attains real magnitude, while nothing is remotely inflated. Everything is bold, but there’s nothing at all of recklessness, and not a misstep to be seen. The setting is monumental. The cinematography is equal to it. The set pieces—the initial division of property, the first confrontation with the infidel daughters, the moor, the reconciliation, […]

Rio Bravo

Saw #RioBravo. What more can one say? A tale fit for the longhouse, & fit for the ages. #RioBravo. Noticed/appreciated how comfortably, even perversely unhurried this is. Cool guys, walkin’ around. Sounds like Cinema!

A Man Escaped

Andre Bazin talked about Bresson’s narrative strategy in his 1951 milestone, Diary of a Country Priest. He observed that it is triply articulated, with the diary, and the narration, and then the actual enactment of the things that both describe. The result for Bazin was not the tautology that you might expect, but rather an almost […]


Danish writer/director Carl-Theodor Dreyer abominated the compromises filmmakers made for the sake of security, a demanding producer, or a passive audience. One of the results of his scrupulousness was that he made fewer and fewer films as the years went on (five features in the last thirty years of his life). During this time Dreyer […]


The early shorts reveal that Lynne Ramsay was a full-fledged stylist before making this debut feature. But encountering her in this new setting, the viewer is immediately struck: what a full-fledged stylist! Very good with actors too, as well as narrative structure and trajectory. It goes without saying that she’s/they’ve got the milieu down, the […]


Dramatic details and cinematic craft, together with a real sense of lives as they are lived. Quiet, kind of shattering, the more so because it’s certainly not hopeful, bt it’s not quite nihilistic. This poor man finds himself in a predicament! So do these poor kids! Everyone acts as they might, not so well, not […]

Kill the Day

Sociological circles of despair. Kill the Day is reminiscent of the works of England’s great film activist Ken Loach. It’s quite a bit tricksier, mind. A bit opaque too, maybe not intentionally, or maybe not so helpfully. Young filmmaker, finding her way …

Small Deaths

Scots writer-director Ramsay’s first short film is kind of schematic, though it’s intelligently, promisingly so. Its first episode is probably the most effective, because it’s so muted and modest. Things seem friendly, even kind of tender. There are details in the design, in the characters’ interactions, especially in the sound (this throughout her work) that […]

The Doll

As stylized as Caligari, but playing so much more straightforwardly, and effectively. That may be due to the fact that expressionism, or at least Robert Wiene’s version of it, is finally kind of hysterical, and even unhealthy. The conventions of the commedia dell’arte are artificial too, but it’s an ancient and accessible artificiality. Anyway, The […]

The Oyster Princess

That’s better. The line between joyful sauciness and corruption is blurred, dotted, semi-permeable. How does one distinguish? Is it the wind, blowing as it listeth? Or is it just the fragment of an underdone potato? Anyway, this one feels like it’s on the right side of the line, acknowledging the life force, detailing how it […]

The Bakery Girl of Monceau

As with the courses comiques of the first years of cinema, Eric Rohmer’s first great film success has tremendous documentary value, over and above the plot and enactment. These Parisian places and people register powerfully, burstingly, even imperishably. As for Rohmer, he really seems to have found his method, and hit his stride. We’ve got […]

Smiles of a Summer Night

Ingmar Bergman’s famous film comedy has the pretty symmetry of a minuet, or maybe the cold efficiency of a guy making watches. Either way, the clarity of all that dizzy coupling and uncoupling is quite admirable, and the final cadences are both satisfying and apt. In fact, Smiles of a Summer Night a pretty perfect primer […]

Autumn Fire

How presumptuous, that Hollywood! And what gullibility, when we uncritically endorse or proselyte Hollywood’s version of the story. If sound came in and 1927, and everyone but Chaplin was using it from 1929, then what do we with Herman Weinberg? Maya Deren? Stan Brakhage? (And what of Japan, or the Soviet Union?) The industrial/commercial part […]

It’s All True

The documentary section capably conveys the standard idea of the Welles tragedy, which is strengthened by the master’s presence, completely hypnotic and raconteuring and very sad, it sketches the possible political reasons for the debacle (racism–same as Eisenstein, which this compositionally resembles all over the place?), the samba idea is intriguing if muddled; the real […]

Pigs is Pigs

There’s some fantastic modern design here, some really good blocking, really good use of space, kinesis, etc. All in the service of a headscratcher. I sense some libertarian sentiment; bureaucracy doubtless deserves to be bashed, but this reaches a level that is more hysterical than comic. And why urge it upon the kids? And what’s […]

Ben and Me

Spoon fulls of sugar are okay, when the medicine still goes down. (Even though that’s utterly the wrong way to discuss educational media, the best of which is full of bracing natural sugars, and doesn’t remotely need any special urging or apology!) Suggesting that a little mouse was responsible for Benjamin Franklin’s many world-shaking accomplishments […]

Football Now and Then

There are some nice abstractions of the contest. Otherwise, what’s the point, or what’s accomplished? These miscellaneous films—for filling the TV show, right?—generally look and feel like orphans. Not cute ones that you give presents to though. Dumb and ugly ones, more like, that don’t really arouse the viewer’s sympathy at all.

Lambert the Sheepish Lion

Boy—practically every film in this collection is terrible. They still animate well enough, and they execute those well-turned tricks of theirs. But these shorts are feeling as tired, as meaningless, even as mean as some of the worst features from the post-Walt years. This one is another ugly duckling knock-off shot through with a nasty […]

Morris the Midget Moose

More bland uplift. Or, a subversive parable about sexual difference and the deep sexual insecurity that lies beneath most masculine posturing and hierarchy. Notice the solution to the main narrative problem, and what that solution does to the heterosexuals. Or, more bland uplift.

The Brave Engineer

That is a lovely first shot. Jerry Colonna, who narrates, is a caution. There’s some really nice animated geometry as the engine goes to great and twisted lengths to get out of the train yard. After that, The Brave Engineer turns pretty strained, and pretty strange, too. Didn’t Casey Jones actually die? Partly because of unreasonable […]

The Pelican and the Snipe

Monte and Video, eh? Maybe there’s some Three Caballeros run-off/remaindering here, but The Pelican and the Snipe really doesn’t help us move any closer to an understanding of our South American neighbours. In fact, it’s really dumb. There’s an absurdist sadism in the relationship between these two. The same goes with Stan and Ollie, of course, […]

Ferdinand the Bull

Yes I know that it won an Academy Award, but I can’t see that this adaptation adds anything to Munro Leaf’s book at all. It extends and plays out Robert Lawson’s original illustrations, and in doing so somehow turns the source’s pretty, fable-like simplicity into smarm, and even political naiveté … (It might be argued […]

Raising Arizona

Saw #RaisingArizona. A Frank Tashlin movie! My young self loved it. My ancient, declining self finds it to be one part precociousness … …& promise, 1 part nonsense, & 1 part actual tenderness & terrific filmmaking. Cage & Hunter & Goodman & Forsythe! #RaisingArizona. Special commendation to all involved for the veritable festival of outlandish, preposterous, […]

The Seventh Victim

Another Val Lewton thriller from RKO. This is a real curiosity, a strange stop and start thing. (Plus it’s about Satanists, produced right in the middle of the production code period. What on earth?!) The protagonist, played by a very fresh-faced Kim Hunter, finds herself in a situation much like Jane Eyre’s—an unsympathetic boarding school […]

Cat People

I want to call your attention to that scene in the restaurant: “Moya sestra”—wow! Cat People‘s three most famous sequences—walking, swimming, draft-room—are so justifiably famous, so exquisitely executed! They’re effectively suspenseful, too, even horrific (ca. 1942, anyway). But that’s not really what makes them so special. Their exactitude, their chaste restraint that is yet so full […]

Colour Flight

Colour Flight is a commercial, plain and simple (sponsorship by Imperial Airways.) Countering that potentially alarming thought is another, kind of implausible plain-and-simple, that’s almost like the lamb and the lion lying down together. At one point in this commercial film there’s a very brief spike into the objective, as Lye’s usual array of dancing shapes turns […]

Trade Tattoo

This is a real extension of Lye’s methods, and a real deepening. For the first time he incorporates documentary footage, and to very great effect. We see workers working, in support of commerce and trade and the general welfare. (Is this necessarily the case? Are their complexities, hypocrisies, injustices? The fact that there are, and […]

Rainbow Dance

Lye keeps hitting these things out of the park. Perfect music, once again. The human figure, coming and going, etched and printed over, is a great addition to his ensemble of images. I love the train and the fish and the ship. The end about how the bank provides the pot of gold at the […]

A Colour Box

In picking this up on behalf of the British government’s General Post Office (GPO) film unit, and later clearing the way for Norman McLaren at the Canadian government’s National Film Board of Canada (NFB), dour documentary dominie John Grierson reveals himself to be a frivolous softy at heart. Thank heaven! These maracas are so delightful, […]


The greatest cigarette commercial ever made! As mentioned, the pioneering Scots/Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren would eventually become much better known for doing a lot of things that Lye explored, first. (Some of that abundance: This needn’t, this shouldn’t be a contest. Both enacted their various works with equal joy and virtuosity. A difference—not better, not worse, […]

It Came From Kuchar

This isn’t a film by the boys, but a documentary about the boys. Let’s be frank. These guys are afflicted! And high functioning too, sometimes to the point of an odd, whacked out, undeniable genius. All this being the case the Kuchars, and their films too, are unusually important, and unusually complicated. There are lots […]

I, An Actress

As often, maybe as always with Kuchar films, we’re not completely sure what’s intended here, or what it adds up to. Here lies much of the appeal, and much of the difficulty of their great, problematical Underground ouevre. This poor gal! Kuchar is very funny, with all of his outlandish directorial interjections and instructions. Based […]

Eclipse of the Sun Virgin

Terrific titles, more exemplary use of all sorts of lush, multi-sourced music. The film comes up and fades down in a really nice combination of low-budget/pirate expediency, and practically Godardian critique. The colour design is also really admirable. This time it’s either fauvist elation or something subconscious; with the Kuchars, you figure, the analytical component […]

Hold Me While I’m Naked

An unofficial adaptation of the Who’s “Pictures of Lily”? Knocked Up, without the gloss and character closure? Let’s start with this. Hold Me While I’m Naked is saucy to the point of being completely unchecked, and maybe, probably it’s not very helpful to vulnerable populations. (Would that be all of us? [Mind you it’s 1966, and this is […]

Sins of the Fleshapoids

We are robots, but we can still be in love. Beyond the campy excess and the bargain basement compromises, Sins of the Fleshapoids (isn’t that a tremendous title?) is a pretty simple, pretty straightforward, pretty undeniable plea for tolerance, for the right of the different to pursue their difference. Does this just open the doors for […]


Sorry, but I’m saying it again. Fred Wiseman! Kieslowski and his crew are flying on the wall of an institution, not quite judging, but certainly giving us enough data to make a judgment for ourselves. Or, giving us enough data to confirm our preconceived suspicions. Does this portrait testify of or add up to an […]

Railway Station

More tremendous composition and juxtaposition. But the accomplishment here is way more than just formal; in its own quiet, allusive way, Kieslowski’s Railway Station rumbles as much as Andrzej Wajda’s celebrated feature film, Man of Iron. If KK’s Factory gave us an ambiguous, simultaneous critique/appreciation of the regime and its functionaries, then this one is infused by an […]

Talking Heads

This is a fantastic idea, executed with great discipline and efficiency. Interview subjects are selected according to the year of their birth. They feature accordingly in the film, which counts back from the present, one person, one year at a time. The interviews provide content, of course, but in many ways Talking Heads is also a structural […]

The Musicians

This wasn’t directed by Kieslowski, but rather by his mentor Kazimierz Karabasz, who taught in the documentary program at the Łódź Film School. The pupil’s eventual methods are prefigured in his predecessor’s small jewel of a film. Half of its running time is devoted to establishing the factory space in which the concert will be […]


There’s a formal component to this short documentary, which can be seen as a series of sharp and expressive visual portraits. There’s an ethical patina as well. The boardroom camera is both removed and zoomed in, and it probes and uncovers in a way that will turn out to be quite typical of the director. […]

The Crowd Roars

#TheCrowdRoars. Some of these frank pre-code pictures remind us how mugs & dames are never just mugs & dames … … They’re clearly sinners, & they clearly sin. And so what? They know; they try; lay off! Very New Testament, actually. Well done! Say! H. Hawks’ #TheCrowdRoars is definitely a 2nd tier work from a […]


Saw #Frankenweenie. Design and narrative equally well-crafted, which isn’t always true w’ this filmmaker. Awesome execution, actually… … Loved the very well-distributed, monster-multiplying climax, balanced by that sweetly understated coda. Very well made, very well done. #Frankenweenie’s V. Price-lookin’, M. Landau soundin’ science teacher sure steps outside commercial film’s usual bland decorum … … to […]

Where the Wild Things Are

The first impressive thing is the photography, which shifts and probes, frequently utilizes a narrow depth of field, establishes a dialogue between characters and objects in the story, and lines and surfaces within the frame. If we wanted to stretch we could see a correlation between that strategy and Max’s unsettled family situation, or Max’s […]


What a sweet movie this is! Yes, the Institution of the Princess has a lot to answer for, and it’s gotten decidedly and dangerously out of hand. And yes, Disney, even as it packages and markets this very movie, is at least half of the problem. But if we move beyond franchising and ideological entrapment—a […]

One Magic Christmas

This is kind of like The Great Mouse Detective or Rescuers Down Under.  Something good is starting to happen in Disneyland, ca. 1985, but they’re not quite there yet. Encouraging, though. Could be the Canadian components. (Look closely. Those with eyes to see, let them see…) Anyway, One Magic Christmas is an honourable updating/commercialization of the Scrooge myth, in which a […]


The general wisdom on this film is that it’s not only a flop, but a failure. Once again, it appears that we shouldn’t always believe what they tell us. Yes there’s a bit of awkward here and there. Kids are tough to wrangle, after all, and there are a ton of them. Also, the Curry/Peters […]

Snow Business

Granny’s bird and Granny’s cat are snow bound in Granny’s cabin. Granny’s cat kisses Granny’s bird to reassure him. Then suddenly this kiss gives Granny’s cat an idea. Zaniness ensues.   These Tweety and Sylvester pictures are kind of like Jack London’s Call of the Wild andWhite Fang, put together: we have domestication introduced and forced to adapt […]

Putty Tat Trouble

The setting/situation, with little Tweety like some avian pillar saint perched in the cold between those two very urban apartment buildings, is superb: Beckett-like, elemental, primordial. How vulnerable are the little ones! Except for this little one, who actually isn’t vulnerable at all, his vast diminutiveness notwithstanding. Have you ever noticed? Tweety is never scared! […]

Kitty Kornered

Starts with a bang.  It’s 9 o’clock of a winter evening, and everyone is tossing their cats out of the door. Porky expels three Sylvester-like felines, and then a fourth, tiny kitten throws him out. This is a Bob Clampett film all over the place: really manic, really energetic, chock-full of jokes. In this case—sometimes Clampett films are too […]

Children From Overseas

This is National Film Board propaganda about refugee English children, evacuated to Canada during the Second World War. It effaces all sorts of trauma and sorrow, but as usual with the Board’s then production supervisor Stuart Legg (John Grierson tended to handle the rhetoric, and the civil servants), the context of the situation is so […]

The Shanty Where Santy Clause Lives

Nice one. There’s some bite to the poverty at the opening, and there’s real relief as it subsequently gives way to bounty. It feels like the Depression is a presence, and not just a gimmick or placeholder.

The Night Before Christmas

For me anyway, the less melodramatic, cartoon-lengthening conflict, the better. This has a very pretty establishing shot. There’s a diaper hanging on the mantel along with all those stockings. Some of the Silly Symphonies lecture and hector and annoy all over the place. I guess that’s for the kids’ sake, but this one really is […]

Lady for a Day

A lot of these movies end on Christmas day, which isn’t the same as being a Christmas movie. They affirm/exploit the fact that Christmas is an easy and obvious symbol of all sorts of other plenitudes. We’re invested, and then they proceed to have their way with us. Filmmakers! Mind you, Lady for a Day makes […]

Santa’s Workshop

No conflict! What a sweet and friendly thing this is. Its geography is great, starting with an establishing shot of a luminous north pole, and then exploring the workshop in patient and charming detail. Note that the film’s interest is not narrative. It’s better than that: atmosphere and procedure is the whole point, and occupies […]

The Christmas Dream

This is basically Hans Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl,” but from the inside, or from the perspective of the fortunate. What a great idea! We start with sweet masque-like visions of prosperity and comfort, with processions and dances, angels and snowflakes. Meliés’ work is always stylized (mimed, dance-like), but in addition to these pretty pictures […]

The Hutterites

A perfect film. Beyond the quiet virtuosity of every technical credit, The Hutterites definitively embodies all of the National Film Board’s noble aims. Revealing Canada to Canadians: affirming the necessity of the mosaic, in the midst of the tempting oblivion of the melting pot; proving the primacy of the collective, which is both featured in the film […]

Circle of the Sun/Standing Alone/Round Up

Saw #CircleoftheSun. Here’s Documentary’s prime directive, which is to give a voice to the voiceless. Paternalistic? Presumptuous? Maybe, slightly … … inevitably. But groundbreakers can’t do the fine carpentry work too. One step at a time—one giant leap, in this case. On giants’ shoulders. #CircleoftheSun. Gorgeous technical credits, w’ the Board’s awesome Unit B (Low, […]

City Out of Time

Was this a film assignment, a mere job of work? It could have been the former, but these particular Film Board guys are unusually, deeply devoted to just this kind of work, and never seem to be troubled by grandiose dreams when there’s a useful task before them. As a result they never seem to […]

The Jolifou Inn

This film is about Cornelius Krieghoff’s paintings of rural Quebec in the mid 19th century. Paintings and film alike share a nice, picturesque quality. Director Colin Low is an anglo-Albertan. Those so inclined might sense a hint of condescension, even colonialism in his production. Fair question, and a multi-faceted one too. Is this the case? […]

The Romance of Transportation in Canada

Early days for a future film giant. Who is he? These links give a sense, at the same time that they just scratch the surface: The Canadian Encyclopedia: A Quebec perspective:  The Film Board: So much more, and so worth your while! For now, this very early film … Compare these graphics to the […]

The Memories of Angels

Saw Luc Bourdon’s intensely Montréal-worshipping #TheMemoriesofAngels. Montréal appears to be worthy of every bit of its ardent devotion. #TheMemoriesofAngels utilizes most all of Sergei Eisenstein’s famous Methods of Montage (Film Form, ’49). Contra the pugnacious Soviets, however … … there’s nothing here of conflict, nor of revolution. Instead, its all serenity, luminosity. This is up there […]

L’Amour Existe

Saw M. Pialat’s L’#AmourExiste. These future luminaries sure do make some interesting documentaries! … … Sharply assembled, strikingly narrated. Chris Marker influence? L’#AmourExiste resembles Alain Resnais’ docs in the assembly, & Luis Buñuel’s in its bilious view … … Straining, rather, for the latter; methinks he doth protest too much.


Saw P. Fejos’ #Lonesome. A valuable curio: effervescent, resourceful, fairy tale & urban document all at once. And then those studio imposed … … dialogue scenes draw everything to a screeching halt, turning fantasy into threadbare, ardour into dumb. Proves Rudolf Arnheim (1932) right … … both regarding the glories of the high silent cinema, […]

The Idle Class

There is no apparent strain, or effort, or agenda here. It’s just the world’s greatest actor and, quietly, the world’s greatest director, caring reasonably for his craft as he fulfills a contract obligation. As workaday as that may sound, this is undoubtedly the formula that produced a lot of the world’s very greatest films. Chaplin’s […]

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Saw the final iteration of #TheHobbit. Notice that critical legions seem to be all up in arms, dismissive, even angry … … Me & mine? “Yesh …”

A Dog’s Life

This review has been adapted from TMA’s Children’s Media Review: This is one of Chaplin’s finest films, undertaken at the beginning of his contract with the First National Company. As usual with early Chaplin, the story is simplicity itself, or maybe more a juxtaposition of situations than a story. Comic bits flesh out each simple […]

Kid Auto Races at Venice

Boom! This is really just a one-trick pony, a one-joke film. It starts well, incidentally gathers some vivid documentary footage, then pretty completely peters out at the end. No matter, because not only a star is born, but comic modernism—as opposed to the inexhaustible direct-address bounty of the ancient commedia tradition—is born too. It’s like it […]

The Kid with a Bike

Saw #KidWithABike, by Belgium’s brothers Dardenne. I can’t possibly praise this film highly enough, or recommend it urgently enough. #KidWithABike catches the complex, contradictory combination of vulnerability & impossibility that makes youngsters both so precious & so trying. #KidWithABike’s Samantha character (C. De France) gives the lie to the old notion that virtue can’t be […]

Les Misérables

Saw #LesMisérables (2012). Appreciated the live vocals. Makes it into a musical/concoction and a performance documentary … … bringing it somewhat into this exhilarating, live-wire realm: #LesMisérables brought to mind J. Mankiewicz/MGM’s Guys & Dolls (’55), another film complicated & deepened by the presence of non & semi-singers. #LesMisérables. Snark & bile bug me. Leave Russell […]

Le Havre

Saw Aki Kaurismaki’s #LeHavre. Hilarious, masterfully made, ethically important, very  moving. Run, don’t walk. #LeHavre really resembles Les Misérables, at the same time inverting it in fascinating & significant ways. Now Cosette (Blondin/Iddridsa) … … is a victim of immigration policy, Valjean & Thénardier are conflated into one (Wilms/Marx), & Javert (Daroussin/Monet) … … is not only implacable, […]

I Wish

Saw Hirokazu Koreeda’s #IWish. Kinda like The Parent Trap and I Vitelloni moved to Japan … … and had an extraordinarily well-favoured child there. Sweet, dear, luminous stuff! #IWish. The work of an exceeding sensitive & subtle filmmaker. Requires/rewards the same kind of viewing … … It’s full of seeming inconsequentialities, & they’re rendered, on the face […]

From Up on Poppy Hill

Saw Studio Ghibli’s #FromUpOnPoppyHill. Actually a lot like Howl’s Moving Castle, minus Howl, the castle, or the moving. #FromUpOnPoppyHill. The synopsis sounds soap-opera. The film, however, is tranquility, serenity, sweetness itself … … Then the soap-opera-sounding plot turns out to be anything but. As so often, there’s the cover, & then there’s the actual book. […]

Comanche Station

Saw Budd Boetticher’s gentle, courtly #ComancheStation. Hail B Movies! A ton of a lot accomplished in a mere 74 minutes! #ComancheStation. I love how horse-loving director BB devotes so much time to near gratuitous, utterly elegant equestrian display … … and to all these tiny, disproportionately portentous little conversations. So indirect, so quiet & modest […]

Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

Saw #HeyBoo. A bit tidy, perhaps. Smart, convicted talking heads say reassuring, expected things. B-roll solid, even stolid … … Still, it draws some surprising, insightful conclusions. And finally, it’s a tender take on a great person, & the touching story she told. #HeyBoo. “Mockingbird” was a thunderbolt, courageous to the point of miraculousness in […]

The Times of Harvey Milk

Saw #TheTimesofHarveyMilk, which shows how powerful, how vivid local/regional/individual stories can be … … How resonant too—w’ all of its unique particularities, this time-bound & very specific San Francisco still turns into the whole world. #TheTimesofHarveyMilk. It’s stirring, sorrowful, maddening, inspiring. Also, like its subject, quite calculating & manipulative! … … This is rhetoric, & […]


Saw the NFB’s prime ministerial biography #Dief. Effective, well-structured collage provides a good portrait of this impossible, eccentric … … extremely authentic figure. But where’s the history? We get nothing of that enormous landslide victory, the ignominious defeat, etc. … … The film’s fine, as far as it goes. In fact, it really needn’t go further. […]

Grey Gardens

“It’s the gentlemen callers,” say the Maysles brothers at the beginning of this remarkable, sui generis documentary. And Grey Gardens does seem very glass menagerie, though without Tennessee Williams’ artful tidiness, or his courteous, consoling symbols. Things start out that way anyway; by the end this astonishing mother/daughter pair have come to resemble Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, all […]

Broadway Danny Rose

Suggests, is worthy of I.B. Singer’s Gimpel the Fool! Lots of very good jokes here—”she looked like something you might find at a live bait shop,” or gangster profanity under the influence of helium gas—but the quiet desperations and ultimately prevailing decencies end up carrying the day. The Italian and Jewish stereotypes that Allen quite […]

The Horse’s Mouth

This one is elusive. It’s British/Cinema/1950s shabby. It seems to be aware of, reaching toward, even representative of a change for the better. Some of the change toward which it is reaching will be even more shabby than what went before. The voice that Guinness is doing, that he insists on using all the way […]

Boys Will Be Boys

This one stars and is written by Will Hay, popular of yore, pretty obscure now, and quite undeservedly so. He is a very amusing figure, here inaugurating his soon to be celebrated schoolmaster role. It’s a charming character, part clever and crafty, part dumb idiot. Boys Will Be Boys is especially admirable for what it […]

The Square

Saw J. Noujaim’s #TheSquare. Omni-praise on Twitter. Me, I’m remembering that important and worthy don’t automatically mean good. #TheSquare. Doc scholar Bill Nichols (1991, 2001) tells us that observational docs are good at crisis. Analysis, not so much. Definitely true here! #TheSquare. Problems w’ character/s performing their passion for the camera. Sincere, yes, youth, definitely. […]

Every Child

Saw the NFB/UNICEF’s #EveryChild. Good propaganda, concisely communicated. The point is made gently & humourously, but the point is still made … … In making that point there’s no sense that the problem is now solved; after all good propaganda also needs task forces & legislation & hard work, afterwards. #EveryChild. Listen for that Umbrellas of […]

High Society

Beware of the common wisdom! I had always understood High Society to be a wan, unsuccessful, even faintly blasphemous musical updating of its source, the celebrated The Philadelphia Story (directed by George Cukor at MGM, 1940). I had understood this to be the case because that’s what most everyone always says. Well as we all know, […]

The Long, Long Trailer

Those are some credits! Modern viewers might have forgotten all about this movie, but from the get-go there’s A-grade talent, every where you look. The Long, Long Trailer is kind of like Frank Tashlin/Paramount’s roughly contemporaneous Artists and Models, detailing a pressing trend/concern that we know longer worry or even know about. That means either that […]


Major painter! The big survey textbooks emphasize their various figures and movements, and they apparently miss a thing or two. Regions, and ethnicities, and representational paintings (with a touch of very sophisticated naiveté) telling the simple, nuanced, archetypal tales of the people who make the world go round. The animation camera absolutely vivifies these already […]

Eskimo Artist: Kenojuak

Here’s a combination of Paul Tomkowicz and Circle of the Sun, believe it or not. It’s not like all Inuit are alike, or that one Eskimo film marks all the rest. Unless it’s “Nanook,” and the fact is that the parallels are important. This is Flaherty-like in its sensitive, sympathetic, artful recreations. As with Flaherty, […]


What an opening shot! A lot of this film is devoted to goodish, pretty plummy art critical narration. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing very lasting either. Much more impressive is how the producers add ethno-dramatic or neo-realistic method to the educational stuff. Mr. F.H. Varley himself is an actor in his own film, which […]


This combination educational film and artist celebration was made before the Varley film (q.v.), which share’s this one’s objectives, and pulls them off a little better. The second builds upon the first, and both provide considerable pleasure and benefit. Mr. Lismer comes off very attractively, if just a bit inflatedly. The inflation is all in […]

The Gold Ghost

Well, this is on the cheap, and Keaton is looking, and sounding, the worse for wear. Still, it’s pretty funny! Celebrating Citizen Kane or The General doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate The Trial, or these later shorts that BK made for Educational Pictures. At the start we’ve got that wall-to-wall two-reel comedy music going. A […]

Day Dreams

Saw Keaton’s #DayDreams. Doesn’t get discussed a lot. The shorts were ending, the features coming, after all … … Too bad. It’s a perfect film. What a joy, this guy. What a gift!

The Blacksmith

Saw Keaton’s #TheBlacksmith. The usual terrifying adeptness, masquerading as genial ineptitude. Also gleefully dedicated to the cause … … of thoroughly soiling rich people’s possessions. Doesn’t fully cohere, which makes it a genius’s mere larky miscellany. Still, a genius.

My Wife’s Relations

Saw Keaton’s #MyWifesRelations. Reflects his life w’ his in-laws the Talmadges, obviously. That situation was dispiriting … … eventually disastrous. Here, however, he transforms sadness into plain, gleeful, almost immoral roughhousing. Well done! #MyWifesRelations. Interesting take on poverty & privation. Contrary to often, or usual, the subject doesn’t lead Keaton … … to pity or […]

The Paleface

Saw Keaton’s #ThePaleface. Good fun. The at-the-stake part is quite astounding. ‘Midst all the comic hi-jinx we get these gravely beautiful … … long shots: w’ the blanket parachute, & the steep hill (that would later appear so felicitously/astoundingly in Seven Chances), … … or the whole bit w’ the bridge. Now he’s evolving into some kind of comic […]


Saw Keaton’s #Cops. Tranquilly, majestically virtuosic rendering of nerve-wracking, then annihilating jeopardy. Like Kafka, by Mozart.

The Playhouse

Saw Keaton’s #ThePlayhouse. Technically staggering, but so effortlessly executed & performed that you’re tempted to simply enjoy it … … That’s Keaton, isn’t it? At his (very) frequent best he’s endless inspiration for the initiate, & utter, joyful accessibility to the neophyte.

The Boat

Saw Keaton’s #TheBoat. This is a much praised, much loved film. That’s very cool, & quite correct. May I quietly mention that … … for my part, though there are lots of felicities, the film has always struck me as a bit frantic, & a bit minor? #TheBoat. Frantic & minor. On the other hand, […]

Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear

Once again, did any detection actually take place here? By now, later on in the series, it’s all atmosphere and characterization, with some eye-winking thrown in. As mentioned before, we may all feel to regret how the literary Watson was turned into this bumbling Nigel Bruce character. Having said that, the storm lashed near-climax, in […]

Terror By Night

Sharp edges, nice exposition and placement of the various character pieces. Good atmosphere, too. I wish to say that my son and I both spotted the diamond switch. Mr. Bruce has another fun bout of bumbling as he attempts to interrogate that maths professor. Not much visible detection, once again. The switch at the end, […]

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Hey, this is the very title of  AC Doyle’s first collection of Holmes stories (1892)! Very crafty of them. Especially since the film doesn’t really resemble any of those stories at all. Ah, weel, that is how the film industry does business. This is no reason not to subscribe, however. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is […]

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon

The opening escape from Switzerland is pretty fun. The films are now quite firmly set in the present day. However, these stick figures—especially the actual sticks, and the actual figures—really do evoke the original Conan Doyle stories. Hard working, resourcefully intelligent film technicians are at least something like our striving sleuths, are they not? One […]

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror

Watson reminds Holmes not to put on that deerstalker, signaling the franchise’s move into the modern era. The updating may seem silly, or exploitative, or even tacky. On the other hand, why not? There’s some nice, sharp photography here. H.’s first deduction, relating to how the officials don’t want him, is lots of fun. In […]

Frozen North

Saw Keaton’s #FrozenNorth. Lots of strategical implausibility and outlandishness. Excess, played matter-of-factly … … In this he anticipates his own upcoming arch-masterpiece Sherlock Jr., not to mention Surrealism generally. #FrozenNorth is a genre parody. That’s William S. Hart in or as that cowboy cutout. This means that the film’s violence … … is also parodical, […]

Hard Luck

The uneven picture quality (see brief discussion of Convict 13 , q.v.) and the missing bits don’t help this one. It might once have been a classic. It doesn’t appear that way now. And it’s unlikely that we’ll ever know for sure. Be nice to silent films! (Note: as of early 2015, rumours are circulating that the […]

The Haunted House

The bank and the haunted house and Joe Roberts’ schemes never really come together, or even make any particular sense. For all of the accomplishments of Keaton’s first film shorts, these are still early days. You think that maybe they’ve taken a small step back, or are still finding their way. On the other hand, […]

The Neighbors

The tenement setting in Keaton’s 4th released short film suggests Chaplin, and Keaton proves himself up to that lofty challenge. Like Easy Street (1917) or A Dog’s Life (1918), The Neighbors hints at real deprivations, real conditions and consequences. Like Chaplin generally, that subtext actually deepens or sharpens this film’s comedy, which is quite considerable. Domestic […]

The Scarecrow

I wonder if Tim Burton & Co. looked at this film when they were fashioning Pee Wee’s Herman’s house in that first feature? Probably not, but there are some really striking similarities. Both scenarios reflect a wonderfully healthy, kid-engaging fascination with simple objects and everyday tasks. That fascination is expressed in all these exquisite mechanical […]

Convict 13

I’m watching this film on Kino’s three disc blue ray compilation of Keaton shorts. (Here: This is an exemplary release of vintage film material, and the picture quality on this particular movie is, in places, quite sorely lacking. Convict 13, or more properly this print of Convict 13—over which superb technicians laboured long and hard, […]

Point of Order

Watched Emile de Antonio’s Joseph McCarthy documentary #PointofOrder. So compelling, so maddening to see Sen. McCarthy … … drone on & on w’ such unrelenting, positively infernal insistence. In this he inadvertently echoes the devil figure, … … the possessed Professor Weston, from C.S. Lewis’s Eden-parable, Perelandra (1943). Weston won’t let up, either. Listen: … … “If […]

One Week

One Week is pretty familiar, pretty famous by now, but sometimes, even when you know that it’s coming, you can’t quite believe what the director/actor/maestro just did. And maestro is the word, for all that this is Keaton’s first released directorial effort, and he was all of twenty-three years old. As a filmmaker he demonstrates the […]

The High Sign

History tells us that Buster wasn’t happy with his first solo short, and that he shelved it, and that it was only ever released because of that one broken ankle that put him temporarily out of commission and made it impossible for him to fulfill his contract obligations for a bit. Interesting, and given the […]


Bruce Conner’s Breakaway is basically a really groovy art film. Toni’s (Basil’s) title song isn’t too imperishable, but it’s enhanced by what would become a music video truism. Cool pictures really buck up middling music! The visual concept is kind of Stan Brakhage, from a more distant, less emotionally or relationally committed perspective. In other words, this […]

Ten Second Film

Leader, a slate, and end title. Structuralist, obviously. But seeing as it’s Bruce Conner, not exclusively.

Cosmic Ray

The start of this film—a scratchy film leader rolls while Ray Charles makes an introduction, then starts that elemental riff—is about as propulsive, as exciting as abstract cinema gets. What’d I say! Then, of course, come all the naked girls. They’re cut glancingly, coyly even—it’s all very compelling, in the way that naked girls tend […]

A Movie

This is part deconstruction, part heavy-handed (or should we say youthfully emphatic) statement on dumb human ambition/aggression, and the nuclear places that they are likely to take us. And, or, sexuality. Ringmaster Conner inserts the image of a mostly naked woman in the midst of the academy leader—10-9-8-7…—and then follows the countdown with an end […]

Tron: Legacy

Looks great—really great!—and sounds great too. Thinking? Not so bad at all! For me and my companions anyway, Tron: Legacy was altogether terrific popcorn stuff. There’s also some emotional resonance in the father-son material, especially when we finally meet the actual father. Say, it’s Jeff Bridges, from the original! It’s all moonshine of course, utter nonsense. […]

Super 8

It’s part of the film’s promotional campaign, but everyone involved also seem to be taking it seriously. Enough with the torch passing stuff! Spielberg and Abrams are not Moses and Joshua, after all. In fact, beyond that obnoxiously, doubly self-serving auto-myth about Spielberg’s teenage movie being preserved by the teenaged JJ, I don’t see much […]

New Moon

This film is all wet. I can see why its ardent young admirers might be drawn to all of its relentless moping and self-absorption. They wouldn’t see it my way at all and that’s definitely alright. But you’d think that Twilight & Co. might make a more mature sensibility somewhat impatient, not to mention making a certain […]

Star Trek: First Contact

The Borg are a really formidable antagonist. This is true conceptually, and it’s true in practice, because they are really well rendered. A relentless, incomprehensible, unstoppable force—classical horror, the monster as complete Other. Very nice. Alice Krige’s Borg Queen localizes and specifies the menace, without domesticating it at all. That’s quite a character intro! She […]

Star Trek: Generations

The prologue is affecting, in a flabby way. Jim dies for us! After that, flabby becomes flaccid. This is a pretty poor movie! (The sequence in that star-field room is quite cool, I guess.) The issues here are identical to the ones covered (more effectively) way back in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan […]

The Prince of Egypt

This is a repeat viewing, after taking the whole family and really liking it, together, many years ago. The whole family tried it again. Here’s what we thought. The Prince of Egypt is entertaining, respectful, substantial. It’s not perfect. Sandra Bullock’s Miriam is sounding merely callow at this distance, or maybe just too American. (Same thing? [Cheap […]


Wow! I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Star Wars franchise, but if I make just a little effort I can definitely see the devotée’s point. In many ways Avatar is the same kind of beast, and this time I’m beginning to see the light! It’s shamelessly popular; it’s completely successful. And it’s the kind of thing […]

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Very handsome, very atmospheric. Very obvious, too, with telegraphing, leading cutaways, over/emphases that look mighty obvious these days. I have vague memories of the book behaving similarly, or at least of the conclusion being a bit Scooby-Doo. A pretend ghost dog! (To be fair, it’s a pretty impressive pretend ghost dog.) I need to revisit […]

Our Nixon

Saw #OurNixon, which reminds us that publicly pilloried villains, however guilty, are much, much more than merely villainous. #OurNixon. The Super-8 footage is great, maybe not too well integrated. The audio-tapes are a revelation, but really deserve their own entire, exhaustive release … … These tremendous primary sources, then, serve here as a child’s guide to […]

Pink Ribbons Inc.

Saw #PinkRibbonsInc. Very good on 3 tough things: breast cancer; the harmful, hurtful, plain clueless nature of well-meaning … … mis-placed cheer; the carcinogenic nature of corporate charity when/since it insists on pursuing profit, at all times & in all places … … This isn’t conspiracy, it’s hegemony. Less blameworthy/even worse! #PinkRibbonsInc. Respect & appreciation […]

A State of Mind

Saw N. Korea doc #AStateofMind. Damn the Dear Leader, but one hopes that His benighted, direly indoctrinated … … disastrously deceived subjects are richly rewarded for the sweet & fervent faith that they so inspiringly demonstrate. #AStateofMind makes me think that integrity isn’t necessarily or only being right, but in doing honourably what you believe to be […]

Control Room

Saw #ControlRoom, the noted, much-disputed documentary about the Al-Jazeera news network. Can’t speak to those particulars … … but am certain that, in general, no other-cultural inquiry is complete, or even decent, without the witness of native informants. #ControlRoom. Reminds & demonstrates that there’s always another side to every story. And that other side usually […]

King and Country

Saw Joseph Losey’s #King&Country. Very handsome, w’ a sharply dynamic visual design reminiscent of Orson Welles’ Europe-shot films … … Full of obligatory observations about the perfidy o’ war & the high command, etc. Remarque, and these guys … …—not to mention Shakespeare—already have this covered.

The Killing

Saw Kubrick’s #TheKilling. The chronology is tricksy, but the film’s o’er-narration puts it more into the realm of pulp than high-modernism … … Great pulp, mind, what w’ J. Thompson’s acid spewing dialogue & SK’s cataclysmically confident camera moves. Windsor! Carey!! #TheKilling clearly demonstrates the basic moral neutrality of protagonism; we at least partly want these […]

Colorado Territory

Saw #ColoradoTerritory. Comparisons to Walsh’s similar High Sierra are apt. (Quite resembles his Roaring 20s too.) Action-packed/entertaining … … but also unusually thoughtful, & subtle. Complex, contradictory, deeply sympathetic main characters. Really smart, really wise … … on links/gaps between perception & reality, our errors & our merits, on being trapped by our choices & what others […]

Anchors Aweigh

Saw #AnchorsAweigh. Love the snappy, stylized, geometrical open. After that, downhill. Should 143 minute long musicals even be allowed? #AnchorsAweigh. A sometimes feature in Gene Kelly movies quite disfigures this one … … Sentimentality & comic chauvinism alternate, doing distasteful battle on their way … … to unconvincing chivalry, & unearned romantic union. Still, that (FS) […]

Serene Velocity

There’s a Terry Riley-like patterning to Ernie Gehr’s pioneering structuralist work, a sense of almost outlandishly extensive repetition. It’s a very challenging film, but it’s very rich too: attentive viewers may soon mark an awakening, even exhilarating realization of the almost inexhaustible incremental change occurring within these repeated patterns. Gehr placed a camera in a […]


When we’re not sure what something means, or when conventional meaning/narrative are obviously not the point, then explication can serve us just as well. We just make a list, and the significance of the various elements eventually emerges, or our simple list becomes sufficiently significant in itself. Occasionally, perhaps inevitably, explication gives way to bits […]


Celebrity footage can be a mixed blessing, or even a plain problem. Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger are important in any number of ways, but appropriating them on film can so easily, so often be plain cheating, or plain obsequiousness … But wait! As Wallace Berman’s only film is viewed, quite properly, as a milestone […]

Go! Go! Go!

So many ways to discuss these art films! For one thing, Go! Go! Go! is a very dear, bright, cheerful piece of work. It is also a nice prefiguration of, a very nice companion piece to Hilary Harris’s influential 1975 film Organism (q.v.). Where the latter film takes a bird’s or god’s eye view of the […]


The title comes from a W.C. Bryant poem, and from a word that means seeing one’s own death. This is a very striking, powerful, chilling piece of work. On the soundtrack we have a heartbeat, and what sounds more or less like a buzz saw. These sounds are present, eventually quite nerve-wrackingly, all through the […]

The Blood of a Poet

Every poem must be deciphered, says Jean Cocteau, the celebrated creator of this celebrated film. He further states that The Blood of a Poet is a realistic documentary of unrealistic events. More than anything, he says, he wants to “create a vehicle for poetry.” Did you get that? From the outset Cocteau is declaring the intentional […]

Rien que les Heures

Alberto Calvalcanti’s innovative film experiment is something of a city symphony, with detours. The city symphony was a staple of the documentary avant garde in the 1920s, providing formally precocious morn-til-midnight portraits of some great urban centre or other. This time it’s Paris, and Cavalcanti’s detours are about to become a very important departure for […]

L’Etoile de Mer

This is quite good! It complicates that old saw about how photography freed painting from the burden of representation. And what if the photographer wasn’t interested in documentation? What if he, too, wa