Moderated a screening/discussion this week of Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, one of the best films of all time that has the misfortune in the United States of being in a egregiously under-valued medium. It’s anime, of course, the Japanese animation form that I won’t presume to be able to educate anyone about, but will say is home to one of the best pure, nasty action films of the last twenty years (Ninja Scroll); a few of the best children’s films (My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away); and this, among the most heart-rending war films – yeah, I’ll say it – ever. The performances are astonishing, the direction assured, and the images indelible: it’s a picture that’s almost impossible to watch twice.
So you can imagine my disappointment when only seven people showed up for the screening (the Douglas County library draws an average of about fifty people to this series) – older folks, with a group of teens appearing early on but leaving before their seats were warm. In the United States, animation isn’t taken seriously as a medium for sober storytelling – I still think that Schindler’s List would’ve been better as a cartoon but, even as I finish typing that, someone’s writing me a flame mail calling me anti-Semitic. Believe me when I say that animation, by ironic dint of its state as completely produced media, is actually less distracting in most cases than non-animated pictures. Consider scenes of mass-urban-destruction in Grave of the Fireflies: were it live action, moments would be spent marveling at how such a special effect could be accomplished.
But in the US, animation is a dirty word.
Thank Disney for that though, ironically again, Disney is to be thanked for post-war Japan’s inroads into studio animation. Hopefully with the spate of recent, successful, adaptations of graphic novels – in particular, Rodriguez’s divisive (but inarguably animated) Sin City and Linklater’s upcoming A Scanner Darkly - the tide is turning finally on these shores towards mature pictures told, as some can only be told, with pencil and paper. Maybe it took the technological advancement of animation to make it momentous enough for sobriety.
Also did a discussion/screening of The Maltese Falcon with a wonderful crowd at Gilpin County: revisiting the Huston masterpiece as the first in five John Huston films that will include The Big Sleep (Bogie sans Huston), Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Misfits (Huston sans Bogie), and Key Largo. What remains after this screening and analysis is my distaste for the casting of Mary Astor when Geraldine Fitzgerald proved unavailable – Astor is fine, I guess, for what she is, but Fitzgerald would’ve put the “femme” in femme fatale. A lot of the ambivalence of Sam’s final choice is lost to Astor’s too-literal, too-unsexy portrayal of the treacherous dame and a classic film gets its biggest black eye.
Still, it’s something like dizzy delight seeing Peter Lorre, Bogie, and Sydney Greenstreet squaring off here, armed with Huston’s storyboarded shots and Dashiell Hammett's ventriloquited dialogue – no wonder they work together again the very next year in Casablanca.
The week started with me at the Denver Public Library, talking a little Run Lola Run just a few weeks after presenting the film at Lone Tree. Good flick – starting to fray at the edges, though, under too much personal scrutiny. This coming week, just as packed, but I will catch shows of United 93, a civilian screening of the cool-looking Silent Hill, and probably Robin Williams’ just appalling-looking R.V.. I wanted to claw my eyes out during the preview. It does not bode well for the feature-length version.
Also this week, screening/discussion series Tuesday, 6:30pm at the DPL main branch of Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly; Thursday at 2:00pm at the DPL main branch (discussion only) of classic Westerns Stagecoach, Ox-Bow Incident, and Ride the High Country; and Saturday at 1:00pm at Gilpin County’s library of Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Come out if you’re in the area, all shows are free.
Question of the week? Bad casting boners. Mary Astor in Maltese Falcon and Sofia Coppola, of course, in Godfather III (and for many of the same reasons) – casting that’s off enough to throw off the tone/intent of the films in which they’ve been shoehorned – which stand out in your mind?
Here’s this week’s capture and, in posting it, know that I know that we’re running over-limit without me keeping score very well. I’ll tally up this coming week and we’ll see what there is to see in regards to a winner this crazy round.
Hot off the Presses (4.25)
Bill provides the down & dirty on "Terry" Malick's The New World and Hayao Miyazaki's disappointing Howl's Moving Castle; Travis has nice things to say about The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio; and I do the deed on the second season of Fox Network's fireman/caveman drama "Rescue Me".
Hot off the Presses (4.26)
Hot off the Presses (4.27)
Travis tackles the Mae West box set, and after a tally of this fourth screenshot contest, I find a tie - both winners, Bhuvan and David H, send me your addresses to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll get your gifts out to you. Next week, we start fresh. Here's the final tally:
b. earnest – A Perfect World
bhuvan – One-Eyed Jacks & Minority Report
Ian – Element of Crime
Jefferson – War of the Worlds (1953)
hollow man – Ratcatcher
Stephen Reese – Jude
Adam N. – Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
David H – Aguirre: The Wrath of God & Fahrenheit 451