Movie Snips, Part 2

American Graffiti


The pith of ambiance. It’s about the specific generational importance of having a music to call your own. Visually and dramatically, it’s a companion to the soundtrack. I like the jukebox glow. But the film is extensional. There’s not enough humor to back up the irony that the characters have no depth. It’s serious in a hollow way.

The Black Room


A pulpy daub from the minds of Karloff & Columbia. Rich, Freudian, and crisp.

Eyes Wide Shut


A series of dreams that are corny, hypnotic, and strange. The sex is cold – knowingly cold. And by trying to clear things at the end, the movie cheats (or maybe not.  Maybe this is a fairy tale for adults). Dr. Bill (Tom Cruise) remains a mystery: Are the events that lure him just a figment? (The chance of sex/death threatens the reality of foreplay, a kind of masturbatory refuge.) Of course, the orgy is The Trial.

I Was Born, But…

(1932) +



Each film is summed by the imagery of the title credits. In Born the image of a boy guarding his genitals points to the film’s theme (humiliation of the male), and the director’s bent for static, succinct visuals of more than one meaning. In Kwaidan the images are colored and self-conscious – a pocket for the theme of evanescence. Each film is a kind of fatedness, or mono no aware. They lament the void of men.

Less Than Zero


Clipped and dispassionate, the book is a series of self-contained fragments. Characters come and go, their doom sad and gross. And casualness is the key; everybody is a case. The movie is more precise (it focuses on a love triangle), but the acting pokes our sympathy. As an addict, Robert Downey, Jr. is real.

Life Lessons


A portrait of the artist as a raging bull. For Lionel Dobie (Nick Nolte), life is art; brio is unfinished. With the eyes of a child, and a booger beard, he paints at the world, the girl, and himself. “Like A Rolling Stone” comes on (Bob Dylan & The Band, 1974). It breeds hunger – loudness as a way of life. Rarely has Scorsese been this naked, or succinct.

Planet Of The Apes

(1968 + 2001)

Camp is fun, but only when it’s kind of serious. There’s a delicate balance to be found. These movies almost get it.

Red Beard

(1965) +

High And Low


The heroes are Kurosawa’s view of Japan as the victim of a techno-industrial shift, from the collectivism of the Tokugawa era (Red Beard) to the individualism of the 20th century (High And Low). A man of morals, Nilde (Toshiro Mifune in Red Beard) becomes Gondo (Mifune in High And Low), a man of ambivalence. Each one does what society expects him to do. Nilde plugs himself into bettering others; Gondo is mechanized into going after wealth. The difference is that Gondo has conflicts of conscience. Nilde does not.

The Ring


“So good, it’s scary”? Yes and no. The Ring is one of the best horror films of the decade, and one of the most frustrating. The whole thing is a pastiche. It looks scary. But it’s completely inorganic: The seeming grip for detail, amid a seeming lack of info, is a tease. Ringu (1998) is reductive, but more ominous and less graphic. Still, the movies complement each other. They get at something more primal than meets the eye. I look forward to the next remake. After all, that is the true curse of The Ring – franchise, and the mystery deepened as a result.

Singin’ In The Rain


It’s got ham, verve, and dash; there are movies within movies; and it sends itself up. Rain is joyous. It captures the Hollywood transition to sound and the way it’s flexed through song-and-dance. (“Boom!”) Not every film should be a musical; not every musical should be a film. This is the bar.

Tony Sarg’s Almanac: “The First Circus”


In early animation, the presence of the animator is felt; the handicraft is there. Watching this is like watching the miracle of birth.

Woman In The Dunes


A ghost story about the effort to reach a state of bliss by leaving a stationary sense of self. The abstract city haunts the mortal village: The sand is filled with the architecture of chaos; the city stands for a missing god; and the village is the same doggone pit that Niki (Eiji Okada) tried to escape in the first place. He’s a ghost in a ghost world.



On the soundtrack, dissonant fanfare is the butt of passiveness: action is choice; choice is war. The music indicates the rompy pomp of James Bond. But Yojimbo does not like Westernization. Bond films are dreams of a world to which the hero (James) and his filmmakers have already bowed.

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