April 10, 2006

Notes from the Trenches

Setting up a nursery tonight after months of procrastination: we’re checking into the hospital at 10:00am MST, having the c-section at 12:00pm, and being a household of four, officially, if all goes well not long after. Last few days have been a flurry of activity punctuated by long nights tossing and turning and thinking of my father who passed away about a month to the day before our first was born two-and-a-half years ago – why is “guilt” a major player again? In any case – too much on the back burner and am looking forward, perversely, to the time off after the birth to get my proverbial house in order and a few dozen titles off my backlog. The Landmark city manager out here is about a hair’s breadth away from sending out an APB on my AWOL ass. Might try to catch a morning screening of The Notorious Betty Page on Tuesday, depending on the hospital situation. It’d be nice to get back into the flow of it before the new baby makes life, and juggling responsibilities, suddenly a lot more interesting.

I did manage a screening of Akeelah and the Bee last week, a film that I won't review because of a conflict of interest that I have with the Starbucks corporation (and their employment of someone near and dear to me), and so all I can say is that unless things change, I won’t be able to put it on my bottom ten for this year. Think: more WWII Asian stereotypes from the fine distributors of Crash and the terms “looking like Rosie Greer” and “unfortunate echoes of What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and let’s leave it at that.

Did a fruitful Q&A of Spider with an extremely receptive audience at tiny Gilpin County Public Library and will do another with the same film at the comparably-sized Lone Tree Public Library this Friday. Spider has become one of my favorite speaking gigs – not just for its complexity and spare beauty, but because every time I show it, it becomes someone’s favorite movie. It’s also a lot less controversial than History of Violence: a picture that I’m finding it hard to show because of exhibitor squeamishness. Wenders says something about titles that are too programmatic and damned if he doesn’t make a fine point.

Later this month will find me speaking after a screening of Grave of the Fireflies while a local rotary club has asked me to keynote one of their monthly meetings next month. The Vail Symposium, under a new director, has called asking for ideas for a summer series and the Beaver Creek Film Festival is looking to expand with me along for the ride in some capacity. What’s that smartass Chinese curse? May you live in interesting times.

The DPL cinema club series is currently in the midst of screenings for Classic Westerns: Stagecoach, The Ox-Bow Incident, and Ride the High Country (discussion later this month, too) – and I’m continuing to get nice feedback for the Vail Fest’s panel – all in all, an overwhelming, exhausting, draining few days.

Apologies for the brevity and in-eloquence of this week’s post – got about an ounce of reserves left before it’s just fumes to the horizon.

Reading a remarkable collection of interviews done by the AFI and George Stevens, Jr., by the way - one that includes an invaluable chat with James Wong Howe: one of my favorite cinematographers of all time. There just aren't enough interviews with cinematographers. Currently reading the King Vidor and am mesmerized by his description of the tracking shot up the stairs in his The Crowd and how it paralleled, unconsciously, a bad memory of his from childhood.

It calls up the question of what your fave individual shot sequences are in film: whether or not they live in films of any relative value. My happiest Wong Howe moment is the grape-stomping scene during the bacchanal of Seconds' California fandango and the image it conjures of the conservative shutterbug, climbing in that vat with Rock Hudson and a few naked hippie chicks - I was saddened to learn that he and Frankenheimer had a falling out late in both of their careers. Odd one that comes to mind is Jackie Brown in the parking lot right after DeNiro kills Fonda: the sound editing in there is nigh orgasmic.

Here’s the screen capture, an easy one I think – see you on the flip, when my life is completely different again:

36 comments:

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Cobra Verde

Scott said...

I've always loved, loved, loved the sequence near the end of MALCOLM X, where Washington is driving down to the Audobon ballroom, the mournful sound of Sam Cook's 'A Change Is Gonna Come' signalling his fate. And I love the capper -- then nice old lady telling him: "Jesus loves you." The look on Denzel's face, the humor and sadness and understanding and futility -- is stunning and funny and moving.

Anonymous said...

While I think Hollow Man got this one, my guess is Aguirre: The Wrath of God, just in case.

- David H.

Jack_Sommersby said...

No earthly idea on the screenshot, but lots and lots of best wishes to you and your family, Walter.

Jefferson said...

Best of luck to you both. Hope the dog is healthy enough by now to greet a new family member.

PS: Looks like Aguirre to me too.

Chad Evan said...

God bless you and yours, Walter.

Favorite shot sequence? Got to be the festa sequence in Godfather II in which Vito stalks and kills Don Fanucci before walking back through a shower of sparks--or is it Baptism of fire?--to his family. The images and sound are so thematically loaded; I could watch this scene forever.

As for great scenes from not-great movies, the climactic moment of Return of the Jedi when Luke goes apeshit on Vader and the choir comes in never fails to give me chills, although the rest of the movie strikes me as clumsy in the extreme--the scene on Jabba's barge where Luke and Lando nod at each other in plain view of all the bad guys is so ham-fisted it belongs in a Michael Bay flick. But for ten seconds or so, all the themes and resonances introduced in Empire come together beautifully.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Yeah, I'd bet it's Aguirre, too. At first I thought it might be Excalibur, but the image is way too sunshiny, and we all know Walter's affectation for Herzog. Speaking of which, my library has the documentary My Best Friend, which details the psychological battle between Herzog and Klaus Kinski, and I'm inclined to check it out now. Incidentally, whenever Klaus Kinski is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the scene in Billy Wilder's Buddy, Buddy, where Kinski, playing a sex-therapist expert, says to his attending audience, "Premature ejaculation -- means always having to say you are sorry." Hey, be lenient, folks -- this was the first time I saw Kinski. Buddy, Buddy (which I still think is worth seeing despite its pretty bad reviews) was one of the first things I saw as a young teen on cable TV.

jer fairall said...

Probably not right, but the first thing that came to mind: John Boorman's Excalibur?

Joe f said...

The final scene of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Bleak and beautiful.

Rich said...

Screenshot: The Mission? Looks an awful lot like Aguirre, though.

James Allen said...

Best to you and yours, Walt.

Favorite shot sequences? I remember when I first saw Jaws and the whole sequence leading up to Quint shooting the barrells into the shark (including Hooper tying the homing light to one of the barrells); the music, sound, and editing, was some of the most thrilling in film I've ever seen in my life, and I first saw that in a theater over 30 years ago (when I was but a lad watching a film that, on the whole, scared the bejesus out of me.)

Ian Pugh said...

Ditto with Joe on the ending of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The final shot of Leatherface's wretched chainsaw ballet is a simultaneously terrifying and saddening capper to the entire film.

Another: the "reveal" shot from James Whale's The Invisible Man; with the force in Claude Rains' voice slowly bubbling to a rage, the moment that he effortlessly pops off his prosthetic nose to reveal an "empty" head always manages to make me gasp.

And all the best to you and the fam, Walt!

Anonymous said...

Tee hee, is it coincidence that the "From the Archives" for the day is Birth?

Anyway, all the best to you, your wife and the kids, new and old!

Anonymous said...

Too many favorite shots to count, but just to push people toward Walter's review of Birth, there's a wowser in that movie that follows Nicole Kidman from her late entrance to the symphony until it zooms in on her face and holds it for a minute or more.

Bill C said...

Tee hee, is it coincidence that the "From the Archives" for the day is Birth?

Ha, I wondered if anyone would pick up on that.

Walter_Chaw said...

Folks - exhausted, but the stats are: 7lb 11oz, 21 in. of pink, bouncing baby boy. Mommy and baby are great, big sis and Daddy are pretty good, too. Thanks for the well-wishes and, David H gets the prize for Aguirre: The Wrath of God - perhaps one of the best movies ever made in terms of lasting impact with all of its unspeakably beautiful opening sequence down a mountain pass ranking as high in the fave sequence race.

More tomorrow after a little rest.

Walter_Chaw said...

Ah, James Whale - what a beaut. Great reference, Ian - and treble the final shot of TTCM.

Anonymous said...

I just watched The Fisher King, a largely disappointing and annoying movie. However, the opening scenes, where Gilliam applies his trademark panache to nothing more than a scene of Jeff Bridges hosting a radio show, is an absolute masterpiece of kinetic energy. I really felt like I was about to watch a great movie; that was not the case.

And how about that bravura sequence in Shaun of the Dead, where Shaun stumbles obliviously through a newly zombified London?

--Kim

Alex Jackson said...

Speaking of Shaun of the Dead I love that part in the new Dawn of the Dead where the zombie is chasing Sarah Polley and then get distracted and veers off.

Have to admit that I can't think of many great individual shot sequences unless entire Kubrick films count as shot sequences. I swear to God, camera, actors, and a pair of scissors. Composition, mise-in-scene movement, camera movement, duration of shot, sequence of shot. It's cinema as distilled and pure and as basic as it comes.

I wonder if we can go back to the classics. Goodfellas anybody? The Billy Bats murder to Atlantis and the Layla montage?

Bill C said...

For my money, there is no greater 10-minute stretch of film than the "In Dreams" sequence from Blue Velvet; I put that on sometimes the way I'll just listen to one track of a prog-rock album.

I've also seen the opening sequences of The Godfather, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid dozens of times each independent of the movies themselves. And I find I can be relatively satisfied watching Taxi Driver on a scene-by-scene basis. There isn't a half-assed montage in that entire movie.

On my final day of film class in high school, our teacher showed us his five favourite sequences of all-time. For the life of me I can't remember the final three, but the first two were the Russian Roulette sequence from The Deer Hunter and William Holden dancing with Kim Novak in Picnic. He was a romantic, old Fairb. But I digress.

Chad Evan said...

Bill,
I came mighty close to naming that very sequence you speak of. Something so powerful in particular about the end, with Booth rattling off the lyrics to Jeffrey like bulletts from a fuckin' gun while one of those strange women dances on top of the car...beauty, sadness, anger, fear, humiliation: it's all in that scene.

Joe f said...

Congrats to you and your wife, Walter.

Alex Jackson said...

Not that the "In Dreams" sequence is overrated but I personally prefer the first kiss at the party with "Mysteries of Love".

Oh shit, and speaking of Orbison how could I leave out the ending of Gummo?!

Chad Evan said...

And then the title song, dreadfully but hypnotically performed by Isabella Rossellini. That's three songs I can't hear without thinking of the movie (albeit one of them was written specifically for it.)

So Blue Velvet certainly belongs on a list of best musical moments, too.

Jefferson said...

Alex Jackson said...
I wonder if we can go back to the classics. Goodfellas anybody? The Billy Bats murder to Atlantis and the Layla montage?


I always found it funny to think of a bunch of mobsters sitting in an after-hours bar listening to hippie-dippy Donovan, but it does make a nice sequence.

I like the supernatural force chasing Ash into his windmill, and then pounding on the door in Army of Darkness.

Jefferson said...

Oh, duh ... and congratulations to Walter, wife and family. Great news. A new geek joins the ranks!

Bill C said...

I always found it funny to think of a bunch of mobsters sitting in an after-hours bar listening to hippie-dippy Donovan, but it does make a nice sequence.

Hmmm, I always thought the music in that sequence was non-diegetic.

Alex Jackson said...

Hmmm, I always thought the music in that sequence was non-diegetic.

I just cued up the scene and the music is clearly playing in the background behind the dialogue and the sound effects. Yeah, I'll put my vote in for ambiant, technically speaking, although the song seems particularly attuned to Ray Liotta's "you-gotta-be-kiddin-me" gape when Joe Pesci tells him he doesn't want to get blood on his floor.

Bill C said...

Ack, how embarrassing. I used to know that movie inside-out.

tcebula said...

Gonna have to back up Alex on this one, was thinking it even before I scrolled down to where he mentioned Goodfellas--you just can't beat the camera following Ray Liotta and Lorraine Brocco into the Copacabana. I'm drooling now just thinking about it.

tmhoover said...

Belatedly, again: congratulations, Walter, and best wishes for the new addition.

-Travis

Anonymous said...

Congratulations!

Bemis said...

Congrats, Walter. I look forward to hearing about your son's first experience at the movies.

Speaking of Roy Orbison, I always get chills during the "Blue Bayou" scene with the wall of televisions in The Man Who Fell to Earth.

James Allen said...

"From the archives" goes from Birth to Million Dollar Baby to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly? Hmmmmmmmmm...

Erin said...

Congratulations to your whole fmaily, Walter!

brandon curtis said...

On April 10th you wrote:

Last few days have been a flurry of activity punctuated by long nights tossing and turning and thinking of my father who passed away about a month to the day before our first was born two-and-a-half years ago – why is “guilt” a major player again?
-------
Since you asked and maybe its only a rhetorical question, my thoughts are this: my roommates and I were at Wal-Mart one 3 a.m. a couple of months ago and each one of has misgivings about our fathers, one's father was a heavy drinker and absentee and another just flat out never connected with his dad or liked him in any way. As for myself, well, my dad introduced me to my first love- the movies and I've been hooked ever since, he always gave me the space to do my own thing and I think I took a little too much distance and now that I'm older and moved out of the house I feel myself missing him more and more (seeing him is difficult as he lives about 300 miles away)- the loneliness, however, fuels my writing (I sit in my room writing about fathers, sons and those mysteries of distance between them).

I'm getting off point though and for a change I actually have one. I think as far as fathers and son go we all tend to fall short of our ideal and life sooner or later becomes about making up for lost time (maybe the guilt stems from no more time). In the end, though, I guess the only thing we can do is try to be the men to our children that our fathers were to us.

Here's to the best for you and me hoping I didn't miss the point.

Brandon Curtis