Summertime in the movie house

Women on the Verge 01

Carmen Maura in Pedro Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988).

Hooray! Dennis Cozzalio’s quarterly film quiz is back. As always, I’ve opted to post my responses here rather than clogging up his comments box. Here we go (after the jump).

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1) Your favorite musical moment in a movie

The brief reunion of Black Star during Dave Chappelle’s Block Party.

2) Ray Milland or Dana Andrews
Andrews.

3) Favorite Sidney Lumet movie
Find Me Guilty (2006).

4) Biggest surprise of the just-past summer movie season
I surprised myself by not being able to muster a single ounce of enthusiasm for seeing The Dark Knight nor did I wet myself over the Watchmen trailer, despite the fact that everyone I know assumed I would be first in line for both. Haven’t seen either, and don’t intend to.

5) Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth
Hayworth, Hayworth, Hayworth.

6) What’s the last movie you saw on DVD? In theaters?
DVD: Jacques Tati’s Trafic. In theaters: Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

7) Irwin Allen’s finest hour?
The Towering Inferno (1974).

Year of the Dog
8) What were the films where you would rather see the movie promised by the poster than the one that was actually made?
I would have prepared the charming, off-center comedy Year of the Dog shows in its poster rather than the smirkingly dark, shooting-fish-in-a-barrel satire of suburbia and cubicle culture (Aren’t these the easiest targets ever? So why does Hollywood’s take on them always look the same?) American Beauty meets Office Space, and then blended up with a PETA ad to create this Mike White concoction. Molly Shannon does her best to humanize this role, Tim Orr’s photography is as luscious as always, and I came away with perhaps a surprising sympathy for vegans and hardcore animal-rights activists. But that sympathy came at the expense of everyone else, who looks cartoonish and hypocritical in comparison. The poster promises the possible rejuvenation of a lonely soul—but God knows I didn’t need the smugness.

9) Chow Yun-Fat or Tony Leung?
Damn you, Dennis Cozzalio. This is one of the hardest film questions I’ve had to answer yet. So, I’m flipping a coin. It says Chow Yun-Fat. But both rule the world, damnit.

10) Most pretentious movie ever
That word—god, it irritates me more than any other in critical discourse. Look, all artists are inherently pretentious, in that they assume—and rightly so, if they’re good—that strangers will be willing to look at and possibly purchase the artist’s vision, that his/her vision is so significant that it deserves attention above and beyond that of countless other artists. Furthermore, all art is pretentious, in that it asks to be consumed even though we don’t need to do so in the same way that we need to consume food and water to survive. Art presumes that it carries weight in the way a roof over my head does. It’s true, in the sense that culture allows us entrance into locales, perspectives, and lives that might otherwise be inaccessible to us. In short, art enriches and expands our consciousness or, at least, our potential consciousness. Still, I’ll die if I don’t drink water for a week; I won’t die if I never see Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. That being said, cinema is far more pretentious than most artforms. After all, a painter can create her work by herself, with few instruments. A writer only needs a pen and paper. A sculptor needs a chisel and a rock. By default, even a small-scale, independent filmmaker corrals a crew of over 100 people—and millions of other people’s dollars—to realize his vision, and needs millions more dollars from an audience in order to sustain his art. In terms of pretension and egomania, only dance choreography and architecture really compare to cinema. So, defining cinema’s worth in terms of its levels of pretension is fundamentally worthless to me. The most pretentious movie is the first one that was ever made, and it all branches out from there.

11) Favorite Russ Meyer movie
Up! It begins with a piranha being placed in a bathtub in which Adolf Hitler soaks, so the Fuhrer gets murdered by a ravenous fish who starts with his groin. (The Coen brothers ripped off—ahem, parodied—this idea for a scene in The Big Lebowski.) Kitten Natividad is the (almost always) nude Greek Chorus who tries to explain what’s going on. Yeah, this movie makes no sense whatsoever, no matter how high you are.

12) Name the movie that you feel best reflects yourself, a movie you would recommend to an acquaintance that most accurately says, “This is me.”
Porco Rosso.

13) Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo?
Garbo, for Ninotchka. But that’s a hard call.

14) Best movie snack? Most vile movie snack?
Best: Buttered popcorn sprinkled with garlic powder and parmesan cheese. Worst: Raisinets.

15) Current movie star who would be most comfortable in the classic Hollywood studio system
Catherine Zeta-Jones.

16) Fitzcarraldo—yes or no?
Yes.

17) Your assignment is to book the ultimate triple bill to inaugurate your own revival theater. What three movies will we see on opening night?
An evening of comedies about love, from a variety of angles: Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality (1923), Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise (1932), and Pedro Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988).

18) What’s the name of your theater?
Cyril’s Caribbean Cricket Club.

19) Favorite Leo McCarey movie
What is it with the tough-ass questions this time around? You mean I have to choose between Duck Soup, the greatest of all Marx Brothers movies, and The Awful Truth, one of the greatest of all screwball comedies? Well, today I’m going with Groucho and company, but I’ll feel bad about it tomorrow.

20) Most impressive debut performance by an actor/actress
Actor: Jason Schwartzman, in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998). Actress: Thandie Newton, in John Duigan’s Flirting (1991).

21) Biggest disappointment of the just-past summer movie season
Discovering that I just didn’t have enough money to justify attending this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

22) Michelle Yeoh or Maggie Cheung?
So, I’m 16, 17 years old, and my friend invites me to go with her to a late-night screening of a Jackie Chan movie. Now, at this point, I’ve heard of this Chan fellow but I’ve got little knowledge of Chinese kung fu and wuxia cinema. But I’ve got a crush on this girl and she’s a lot of fun, so we go. For the first thirty minutes or so, Police Story 3: Supercop is pretty good. Chan plays the titular role as slapstick comedy rather than tired macho drivel, and this dubbed version features schlocky American accents and gangsta rap incongruously placed in the soundtrack. Michelle Yeoh plays the hard-ass Interpol officer supervising him and, up to the 30-minute point, she’s beautiful but a complete stick in the mud. During a night street parade, gang violence erupts, and suddenly the screen goes haywire. There’s too much color, flying bodies, and glitter filling the screen. Chan’s in trouble. From the top of the screen, in slow-motion, a figure arises above everyone, face purposeful, legs extended fully so that each foot lands on a different person’s head. From that moment on, Yeoh steals the movie from Chan, taking better pratfalls and driving a motorcycle onto a moving train, all the while playing the straight man to Chan’s buffoon and looking gorgeous. In the 1997 James Bond vehicle, Tomorrow Never Dies, the movie only catches fire during Yeoh’s fight sequences. In 1994’s Wing Chun, she holds off a small army singlehandedly, while keeping a large slab of bean curd perfectly intact, doing it all in a small room. In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, she shows off a to-that-point hidden wealth of emotional power and gravity. I like Maggie Cheung and all, but Yeoh in a landslide.

23) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Overrated
Citizen Kane. There, I said it.

24) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Underrated
F for Fake.

25) Fritz the Cat—yes or no?
R. Crumb’s original comic: yes. Ralph Bakshi’s animated adaptation: no.

26) Trevor Howard or Richard Todd
I don’t have a dog in this fight.

27) Antonioni once said, “I began taking liberties a long time ago; now it is standard practice for most directors to ignore the rules.” What filmmaker working today most fruitfully ignores the rules? What does ignoring the rules of cinema mean in 2008?
Apichatpong Weerasethakul hasn’t seen a genre convention that he’s unwilling to deconstruct, or a narrative idea that he can’t disrupt. He gets us fascinated in characters less through dialogue and action than through withholding such things from his audience. By forcing us to search and delve into his lush nightscapes and dreamy, woozy social connections, we create the characters as we go along, as much as Apichatpong does. But rules are funny. In brushing asides rules of standard cinema, Apichatpong has created his own set of conventions—dividing his films into two halves that comment on each other; inserting the credits midway through the movie; a slow pace that can tend towards lethargy; long, static takes; dialogue that seems to intentionally frustrate our desires for key information. His own rules can be just as rigid as Hollywood’s. Though I’ve liked everything I’ve seen by him, the law of diminishing returns is setting in. Ignoring the rules often just means creating your own, with all the freedom and rigidity that this implies.

28) Favorite William Castle movie
Never seen one.

29) Favorite ethnographically oriented movie
Lone Star (1996).

30) What’s the movie coming up in 2008 you’re most looking forward to? Why?
The Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading, because it’s time they got back to absurdist comedy, and it’ll be a kick to see Brad Pitt as a dim bulb.

31) What deceased director would you want to resurrect in order that she/he might make one more film?
Come back to the five & dime, Robert Altman, Robert Altman.

32) What director would you like to see, if not literally entombed, then at least go silent creatively?
Michael Bay’s films are fundamentally misogynist, racist, incoherent, and stupid. Make him stop at all costs.

33) Your first movie star crush
Princess Leia, gold bikini, Return of the Jedi. Enough said.

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 Summertime in the movie house

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Like what you say about pretention. (Or is that “pretentiousness”?) Although I was subjected to a play called [edited out to save me from a hard whupping by a bunch of collaborative theater artists with good search engine skills] last summer, and I think the title was five years past cool and well into pretention. Or pretentiousness.

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