Cold fun in the wintertime

Another year, another quarterly film quiz from Dennis Cozzalio. The winter edition features the usual mix of idiosyncratic, straightforward, and downright nutty questions about cinema. As per my previous two responses, I’m setting down my answers here instead of at his site, so that I won’t clog up his comments box.

1) Your favorite opening shot (Here are some ideas to jog your memory, if you need ‘em.)

The first five minutes of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958).

2) Tuesday Weld or Mia Farrow?

Weld, to a large degree because she also appears on the cover of one of my favorite rock albums [Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend].

3) Name a comedy you’re embarrassed to admit made you laugh

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, but I’m not that embarrassed.

4) Best Movie of 1947

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Black Narcissus

5) Burt Reynolds was the Bandit. Jerry Reed was the Snowman. Paul LeMat was Spider. Candy Clark was Electra. What’s your movie handle?

The Percolator.

6) Robert Vaughn or David McCallum?

Vaughn

7) Most exotic/unusual place/location in which you’ve seen a movie

I saw Terminator 2 in the old Granada Theatre with a family friend, on lower Greenville Avenue in East Dallas. The movie had a full gourmet menu and drinks, with tuxedoed waiters who came by and took orders as the movie unspooled. The friend bought me a margarita, though I was underage at the time, and I ate buffalo wings with a fresh blue-cheese dressing and a Caesar salad while Arnold Schwarzenegger and the shape-shifting Robert Patrick duked it out in the glorious early stages of CGI animation. This high-end cinema experience is becoming more common, but was weird back in 1991, especially since the flick itself was schlocky good fun and not exactly class-appropriate for porcelain plates and hand-crafted silverware. Okay, so my viewing spots aren’t so exotic—oh well.

8) Favorite Errol Morris movie

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never seen a Morris feature, but I love the influential Oscar spot—people (some famous, some not) talking about their favorite movies, with a stark white background—that he did back in 2002. Susan Sontag, Wavy Gravy, Mikhail Gorbachev, some NYPD beat cops, Iggy Pop, Fran Lebowitz, and more tell us about their love affair with the silver screen, and one guy even insists that Ernest Goes to Jail is an existential masterpiece. (See it here.) So, that one.

9) Best Movie of 1967

Jacques Tati’s Play Time

10) Describe a profoundly (or not-so-profoundly) disturbing moment you’ve had courtesy of the movies

The second time I saw Jurassic Park in the theaters, I went with my parents. Mom was scared shitless throughout, and I surprised by being the same, even though I had seen it, with a freckly, foxy redhead who gripped my knee and hugged me for comfort the entire time, a week before. (Hi, Kadie!) That’s not what disturbed me. Coming out of the theater, rattled and shimmering with the aftereffects of fear, we noticed an altercation in front of the ticket booth. A theater usher and a man in a brown jacket were yelling at each other, and the vocal tones were sharp and acrid enough to bite into the surprisingly cool summer air. We were walking back to our car, about 30 yards from the yellers, when they started grappling with each other. The small crowd of moviegoers slowly began coming toward the fistfight, until five pops of white light sprang from the jacketed man. Gunshots. Lots of yelling and screaming and diving behind and underneath our cars. My mom calmed down a woman who was crying and scratching her nails into the asphalt. I honed my ears for footsteps and gravel crackle. We laid flat on the parking lot for 20 minutes, until we thought it was okay to raise our heads, clamber into our cars, and drive home, even more nerve-jangled than before we’d entered the theater. The usher was unhurt. I never found out what happened to the shooter.

11) Anne Francis or Julie Newmar?

Newmar, because Catwoman introduced me to sex when I watched reruns of Batman back in the 1980s, and there’s been no looking back.

12) Describe your favorite one sheet (include a link if possible)

I’m neither a publicist nor particularly interested in movie marketing memorabilia, but I love the French-language movie posters for Krystof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy. (I own the posters for Blanc and Rouge—can anyone help a brother out for Bleu? Yes, I’m a dork.) If these count as one sheets, then there you go.

13) Best Movie of 1987

The Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona.

14) Favorite movie about obsession

Takashi Miike’s Audition, though I watched the last 30 minutes between tightly clenched fingers.

15) Your ideal Christmas movie triple feature

The Nightmare Before Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and The Royal Tenenbaums, the last of which isn’t technically set at Christmastime, but it somehow feels like Christmas.

16) Montgomery Clift or James Dean?

Clift. Dean’s just a poseur in comparison. (In today’s framework, Johnny Depp is the Clift to Sean Penn’s James Dean, and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s better than both of them.)

17) Favorite Les Blank Movie

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980)

18) This past summer food critic Anton Ego made the following statement: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” Your thoughts?

He’s wrong about the junk/criticism aspect, in that there are writings by several critics (Pauline Kael, Manny Farber, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Armond White, Sarah Kerr) that I remember more than the trash they were writing about at the time. And, honestly, negative criticism isn’t that much fun for me to write—though, admittedly, it can be fun to read. But Ego’s final coda is divine; of course, a great artist can come from anywhere—why on Earth would any considerate person think otherwise? The care, subtlety, and exactitude put into this paragraph, by the way, is yet another reason that I stand by, for the time being, my response to #20 (below).

19) The last movie you watched on DVD? In a theater?

On DVD, Killer of Sheep. In the theater, No Country for Old Men.

20) Best Movie of 2007:

All of this will change dramatically by the time I do my year-in-review, at the end of this month. For now, though…

Short: Patrick Daughter’s music video for Feist’s “1,2,3,4.”

Feature: Brad Bird’s Ratatouille.

DVD reissue: Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep.

21) Worst Movie of 2007

I had an unusually good year at the theaters—actually, everyone did—and attended my two first film festivals. So, 2007 is a banner year for me. But, whoa lordy, Shamim Sharif’s The World Unseen did everything wrong except have two lusciously beautiful actresses—Lisa Ray and Sheetal Sheth—share a lingering kiss, and even that doesn’t make up for the 90 minutes before it. Plodding in pace, ugly in lighting scheme, with music that telegraphs how you’re supposed to feel during every second (and loudly), and clumsily pushed buttons about apartheid and homosexuality in 1950s South Africa, the movie screams out for attention and Relevance. By the way, neither Ray nor Sheth are particularly good; they’re just gorgeous.

22) Describe the stages of your cinephilia

Birth to age 10: Mostly unconscious of cinema or TV, beyond what flickered onscreen as I played Nintendo. I was only allowed an hour a day of television outside of video games. Age 9 (1986): Pee-Wee’s Playhouse premieres in September, and mind is subsequently blown by the possibilities of set design, writing, filming, and animation working together in an orgy of wacky genius. Suddenly, I take this whole filmmaking thing—the final product and its construction seriously. 1990: I see The Seven Samurai for the first time. From then on, most Westerns are dead to me. 1994: Parents give me Pauline Kael’s For Keeps as a birthday present. My world changes, and I’ll argue with her, probably, for the rest of my life. 1998: I saw The Thin Red Line three times in a week, and wrote two screenplays in six weeks for a class. 1999: The best year in cinema in 1974. I spent most of the year—my senior year of college—with my skin buzzing with cinema dreams. I saw more foreign-language and avant-garde movies in those twelve months than I’d seen collectively in my entire lifetime. 2007: I attend that year’s Crossroads Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, exposing myself fully to great cinema and great writers (i.e., bloggers) on cinema. 2000-the present: Ongoing movie love.

23) What is the one film you’ve had more difficulty than any other in convincing people to see or appreciate?

Friday Foster (1975), though I haven’t tried as hard as I should, and my friends know that my lust for Pam Grier makes me unreliable on this score.

24) Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth?

Hayworth, Hayworth, Hayworth.

25) The Japanese word wabi denotes simplicity and quietude, but it can also mean an accidental or happenstance element (or perhaps even a small flaw) which gives elegance and uniqueness to the whole. What film or moment from a film best represents wabi to you?

My answer, here, involves the “simplicity and quietude” part of the response rather than the happenstance, and it’s Yoshifumi Kondo’s Whisper of the Heart. The animated feature’s plot is rather simple, in the sense that it’s really just one-damn-thing-after-another in a young girl/budding writer’s life. But Kondo, with a script by master Hayao Miyazaki, lets every aspect of his meticulously planned feature unfurl slowly, with the sly, stray visual details of everyday life, and with the stutter-step dialogue and furtive motions of young love in bloom. Every frame must have been storyboarded, and every composition was planned months in advance. So why does it feel as spontaneous and casual and on-the-spot as a Robert Altman movie? Because Kondo was a master animator. Each moment resonates—high school has rarely seemed so accurate, so pungently real—but it’s only an hour into the movie that it’s evident how well Whisper is constructed.

26) Favorite Documentary

The answer hasn’t changed since I answered this question in the spring: Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense (1984)

27) Favorite opening credit sequence

Catch Me If You Can (2002).

28) Is there a film that has influenced your lifestyle in a significant or notable way? If so, what was it and how did it do so?

Stop Making Sense made it okay for me to dance in public without knowing how, exactly. God bless David Byrne for making me less self-conscious.

29) Glenn Ford or Dana Andrews?

Andrews

30) Make a single prediction, cynical or hopeful, regarding the upcoming Academy Awards

The Coens will get their first Oscar for Best Director, and it’s about time.

It’s not clear whether Dennis wants questions #31-34 to be answered with our predictions for Oscar night, or with our personal favorites. I’m doing the latter, since I’m notoriously bad at predicting nominations, much less wins. All the more reason to take my answer to #30 with multiple grains of salt.

31) Best Actor of 2007

A tripartite tossup (sorry): Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn; Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, and Patton Oswalt’s voice in Ratatouille

32) Best Actress of 2007

Juliette Binoche in The Flight of the Red Balloon

33) Best Director of 2007

Wes Anderson, The Darjeeling Limited

34) Best Screenplay of 2007

Guy Maddin and George Toles, My Winnipeg

35) Favorite single movie moment of 2007

The conversation between a gas station attendant (Gene Jones) and the incarnation of Evil (Javier Bardem) in No Country for Old Men, in which the former slowly comes to realize that his life hinges on the flip of a coin. Although I like the screenplay as a whole for My Winnipeg slightly better than the Coens’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, this scene is easily the best piece of writing I saw in American cinema in 2007.

36) What’s your wish/hope for the movies in 2008?

That Disney will go back to hand-drawn animation. It won’t happen, but it’s worth wishing for, isn’t it?

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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One Response to Cold fun in the wintertime

  1. W. Australopithecus says:

    Nice call on the Feist video. I remember thinking when I first saw it that I would be reading about it all over in the cinephile blogs, but yours is the first mention I’ve seen of it.

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