Biggest disappointment of the week is Lord of War - a film that I was really, really looking forward to; while the worst film of the week (not having seen Venom, remember) is Just Like Heaven. I interviewed Mark "Daniel's brother" Waters once upon a time and even asked him about his insensitivity towards Asians – wish now that I’d pressed him when this film marks the third consecutive time that he’s taken a potshot at the poor ol’ slants. Best film of the week? Corpse Bride. It’s marvelous. Speaking of Andrew Niccol, the special version of The Truman Show isn’t really worth it – but the film itself is worth a revisit. I’d argue that it’s more topical now than it was seven years ago: check out the travel agency scene.
Of the ongoing journal of the inevitable rudeness at the public screenings: Corpse Bride, Just Like Heaven - only a cell phone answerer in the former, a woman who answered it not once, but twice, and repeatedly checked messages throughout the film. Her section got agitated, but no one said anything. Wouldn't have made a difference. A local critic sitting next to me used his flashlight a couple of times but as that’s the recommended way that one Christian yahoo is advising folks to see March of the Penguins (with a downloadable checklist, pen, and flashlight so as to mark off what God says to them and how during the film), I guess it’s something we should just hold our ankles for as Chronicles of Narnia slouches its way towards Bethlehem, carrying in its noisome wake busloads of folks who rented The Omega Code on VHS. Before the Corpse Bride screening, however, was my first look at the long-version of the trailer for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
It looks astonishing and, along with Peter Jackson’s King Kong, becomes the two films my viscera most wants to see this fall. Child of the Blockbuster - I'm helpless. The only real irritation during the Just Like Heaven screening were the weepers and the applauders, giving this appalling shipwreck the gold seal of middlebrow approval that means that Reese Witherspoon continues getting stuff that’s beneath her and Mark Ruffalo continues getting shoehorned into generic hunk roles when, let’s face it, he’s got just the right testosterone-injected skeeze to be something special.
Only one speaking engagement, a screening of the restored version of the 1942 re-mix of Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925) – a film that was cut by twenty minutes by Chaplin, narrated and scored (by Chaplin) to, in part, retain its copyright, and then restored to 72min for a late-70s re-release.
The 1925 original is better, goes without saying, not the least because of the original ending which saw the little Tramp kissing Georgia as a photog complains that they’ve “ruined the picture.” Self-awareness in the Gilded Age, the Roaring Twenties never got so melancholy, seriously, as it did in this flick’s “Auld Lang Syne” setpiece and its coded epilogue. The new version ends on the happy couple climbing some stairs – a happy ending that the piece doesn’t deserve to be saddled with into eternity. Alas, I don’t make these decisions for this series (at the Denver Public Library) and the audience had a great time regardless - brings up the question of director's cut pics, though, now and always.
The real tragedy is that this series is programmed directly opposite my friend Tom Delapa’s Alfred Hitchcock series for the Denver Art Museum. The screening of The Lady Vanishes, a turn-away crowd – but because my show was over early, I made it in time for the last ten minutes of the film (a ravishing 35mm print) and for all of the post-film discussion.
It’s a rare thing for a town like Denver to have that kind of choice on the same night: The Gold Rush or The Lady Vanishes, both with “professional” moderation and guided discussions (Tom’s a pro, I’m still paying for my own health insurance). It’s not much, especially in comparison to the cinemateque wonderlands of New York and Los Angeles, but it’s a start, goddamnit.
Next week, Sullivan’s Travels vs. The 39 Steps. Hate to say it, but even if I wasn’t doing the yakking, I’d choose Sturges over Hitch on this one. (Just finished re-reading Manny Farber’s piece on Sturges by way of research, by the by, and, holy crap. Sometimes Farber is just cross-eyed badger spit, but the man had a mystique about his writing that’s close to ecstatic.) Have to say that I feel a little rejuvenated after Corpse Bride - a film that for whatever else you might think of it, is alive in a way that most films aren’t anymore. It breathes, man, like it’s made of nerve-endings and synapses, and it couldn’t have come soon enough.