It’s beginning to look a lot like cinema

Okay, so I'm not gone quite yet. Just in time to be an (unintended) wedding gift to me, Dennis Cozzalio has posted his quarterly film quiz, giving me an excuse to write about movies again. (Scroll through my “Film” section to see my responses to previous quizzes; my last set of responses is here.) Here we go, after the jump.

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1) Second-favorite Coen Brothers movie.
Just going ahead and starting things out hard, aren’t you, Dennis? I can’t even figure out my favorite much less second-favorite. Assuming (for today only) that O Brother, Where Art Thou? is my fave, then The Hudsucker Proxy is #2. I’ll change my mind tomorrow.

2) Movie seen only on home format that you would pay to see on the biggest movie screen possible?
Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding.

3) Japan or France?
Japan. Although the live-action cinemas of both countries are nearly equal in depth and relevance, French animation ain’t got shit on anime’s legacy.

4) Favorite moment/line from a western.
The beans/campfire sequence from Blazing Saddles.

5) Of all the arts the movies draw upon to become what they are, which is the most important, or the one you value most?
I think it all comes down to choreography, which, while related to the theater, isn’t quite the same thing. Here’s what I mean: Everything you see onscreen is the result of negotiations in space between stationary figures (objects), moving bodies (humans, animals, trees, appliances), fluctuating light that draws attention to both, and the camera—sometimes stationary, sometimes still—that tracks it all. The principles of blocking, the use of gaffers, and an understanding of basic camera movement (tracking shots, zooms, handheld photography, etc.) are critical to even the most haphazard movie production. It’s all bodies in space, and how light and camera are timed to capture it. A great movie is always a well-choreographed movie, in terms of both the cast and the crew, no matter how improvised it looks.

6) Most misunderstood movie of the 2000s (The Naughties?).
Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited.

7) Name a filmmaker/actor/actress/film you once unashamedly loved who has fallen furthest in your esteem.
This is going to require a short apology to Dennis Cozzalio, formulator of this fine quiz; I can just tell already. Like many a cine-mad American male raised in the 1990s, I once thought Quentin Tarantino was God. And then I grew up, or he regressed further into his junk-obsessed adolescence, or something. In any case Jackie Brown (1997) is the last fully worthwhile feature he’s directed, and even the works I loved as a kid—Reservoir Dogs and especially Pulp Fiction—seem so enchanted with their own wit and movie knowingness that they bear no relation to (and don’t want to) any recognizable world outside of genre conventions and obscure pop-culture detritus. I almost convinced myself to see Inglourious Basterds (see question #28) but so much of its hype and fervor for it—especially from the film-blogging community—is for a hyper-allusive, experiential nostalgia that I don’t share and that I think is actively damaging to cinema. Tarantino’s biggest effect, oddly, has been on children’s cinema (particularly animation) which is now as brand-name besotted, sensation-saturated, quip-ready, self-consciously pop-knowledgable, and self-consciously violent (in the same smirking, thinks-it’s-witty way) as Kill Bill and Death Proof—and about as emotionally effective and humane. Which is to say, not at all. Yes, Tarantino has a ready way with dialogue and visual pizzazz, but it all seems designed to draw attention to his cleverness. In short, his cinema does not open up understanding of the larger world—as great art does—but merely allows us access into Tarantino. No matter how much blood there is, how many racial and historical tropes he upsets, or how many genres he alludes to, Tarantino isn’t a generous filmmaker—these allusions serve himself. Tarantino’s oeuvre isn’t about anything other than Tarantino, cares about nothing but Tarantino, and gives us nothing but the Tarantino persona. For all the orgy of references he thrusts upon his audiences, Quentin Tarantino is the most selfish filmmaker of his generation—he reveals nothing but his ego.

8) Herbert Lom or Patrick Magee?
Magee.

9) Which is your least favorite David Lynch film
Dune
.

10) Gordon Willis or Conrad Hall?
Willis, Willis, Willis. Now, if it had been Willis vs. Caleb Deschanel or Emmanuel Lubezki or especially Roger Deakins (see #1), that would have been hard.

11) Second favorite Don Siegel movie.
Charley Varrick
, with Invasion of the Body Snatchers being the obvious first.

12) Last movie you saw on DVD/Blu-ray? In theaters?
DVD: Whatever Works. (Better than I expected.) Theaters: The Fantastic Mr. Fox. (An absolute triumph.)

13) Which DVD in your private collection screams hardest to be replaced by a Blu-ray?
Bernardo Bertolucci’s Besieged.

14) Eddie Deezen or Christopher Mintz-Plasse?
Deezen.

THANDIE_NEWTON1 15) Actor/actress who you feel automatically elevates whatever project they are in, or whom you would watch in virtually anything.
The glorious, the brilliant, the fetching Ms. Thandie Newton. Hell, I even watched Crash because she was in it.

16) Fight Club—yes or no?
No.

17) Teresa Wright or Olivia De Havilland?
De Havilland

18) Favorite moment/line from a film noir.
The last scene in The Third Man:

19) Best (or worst) death scene involving an obvious dummy substituting for a human or any other unsuccessful special effect(s)—see the wonderful blog Destructible Man for inspiration.
The “men” falling to their deaths from a rope bridge at the end of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I don’t think they even have real facial features.

20) What’s the least you’ve spent on a film and still regretted it?
In 1987, I saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for 50 cents at a second-run movie theater in Dallas, and was enjoying the movie wholeheartedly until the third reel, which flipped the image upside-down and ran the sound backward, and at a slow crawl and then just stopped running sound altogether. For a second, we thought it was on purpose, another one of Robert Zemeckis’s conceptual hijinks. Alas. Since the movie was an hour in, and my family of four comprised a third of the audience, the theater refused to refund our money.

21) Van Johnson or Van Heflin?
Johnson.

22) Favorite Alan Rudolph film.
I guess The Secret Lives of Dentists but I didn’t even like that very much.

23) Name a documentary that you believe more people should see.
Jonathan Demme’s The Agronomist.

24) In deference to this quiz’s professor, name a favorite film which revolves around someone becoming stranded.
Carroll Ballard’s The Black Stallion.

25) Is there a moment when your knowledge of film, or lack thereof, caused you an unusual degree of embarrassment and/or humiliation? If so, please share.
It's too embarrassing to mention.

26) Ann Sheridan or Geraldine Fitzgerald?
Sheridan.

27) Do you or any of your family members physically resemble movie actors or other notable figures in the film world? If so, who?
Not to my knowledge. We’re black, though, so I’m sure some white person has said that one of us looks “just like that guy in The Pelican Brief, you know, real well-spoken and articulate guy, you know?” (Denzel Washington, and absolutely wrong.)

28) Is there a movie you have purposely avoided seeing? If so, why?
Inglourious Basterds
, because, well, see question #7.

29) Movie with the most palpable or otherwise effective wintry atmosphere or ambience.
Wonder Boys
. God, I love that movie.

30) Gerrit Graham or Jeffrey Jones?
I grew up with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as one of my favorite movies, so of course my answer is Rooney. I mean, Jones.

31) The best cinematic antidote to a cultural stereotype (sexual, political, regional, whatever).
Working-class stiffs aren’t supposed to be literate, gentle, or nuanced at least not in the movies, or at least the American movies. Woody Allen’s underrated Cassandra’s Dream blows that shit out of the water real good.

32) Second favorite John Wayne movie.
True Grit
.

33) Favorite movie car chase.
The bike chase through the Warner Bros. studio lot, at the end of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure:

34) In the spirit of His Girl Friday, propose a gender-switched remake of a classic or not-so-classic film.
What would Knocked Up look like if the guy was a mature go-getter with everything to lose from his one-night-stand with a slovenly loser girl who’s twenty yards shy of emotional immaturity, and who sorta isn’t sure she even wants to keep the kid? (And, no, I don’t think this movie is a classic; I just thought the switch—and reactions to such a narrative—would be interesting.)

35) Barbara Rhoades or Barbara Feldon?
Agent 99! I mean, um, Feldon. (By the way, Anne Hathaway did a pretty sexy and fun interpretation of 99 in the remake.)

36) Favorite Andre De Toth movie.
Never seen one.

37) If you could take one filmmaker's entire body of work and erase it from all time and memory, as if it had never happened, whose oeuvre would it be?
Sure, it’s a cliché at this point, but all the same: Goodbye, Michael Bay, goodbye.

38) Name a film you actively hated when you first encountered it, only to see it again later in life and fall in love with it.
Raising Arizona
, which I (inexplicably) thought was mind-numbingly stupid and boring as a kid, and is now among my favorite comedies (and a challenger to question #1, above). I can quote extensive passages from the movie.

39) Max Ophuls or Marcel Ophuls?
Max.

40) In which club would you most want an active membership, the Delta Tau Chi fraternity, the Cutters or the Warriors? And which member would you most resemble, either physically or in personality?
The Cutters, because I like bike riding. Unfortunately, I’d be the big lug played by a young Dennis Quaid.

41) Your favorite movie cliché.
In romantic comedies, the dorky girl who becomes a sex goddess as soon as someone gets her to remove her glasses.

42) Vincente Minnelli or Stanley Donen? (Submitted by Bob Westal)
Donen, because of Charade and Bedazzled.

43) Favorite Christmas-themed horror movie or sequence.
Gremlins
.

44) Favorite moment of self- or selfless sacrifice in a movie.
The Thin Red Line
: Woody Harrelson throwing himself on a grenade, which he’s accidentally tripped from a number draped on his person, in order to save the soldiers around him. I always get tears in my eyes.

45) If you were the cinematic Spanish Inquisition, which movie cult (or cult movie) would you decimate?
With the exception of Lone Scherfig’s Italian for Beginners, did the Dogme 95 movement produce anything worth seeing, or any ideas worth pursuing in the long term? So, goodbye to that.

Caroline Munro 02 46) Caroline Munro or Veronica Carlson?
I’ve never seen a Hammer horror film with either of them in it, so I can’t judge either of them on their acting merits. But Munro is, um…. Oh my gosh. Yeah, her.

47) Favorite eye-patch wearing director.
I guess John Ford, because I can’t think of any others.

48) Favorite ambiguous movie ending.
Joe Vs. the Volcano
—with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan adrift at sea on a raft made of luggage? Are they off for another adventure, or are they facing certain, slow death? And why are both options so funny and so romantic?

49) In giving thanks for the movies this year, what are you most thankful for?
I’m thankful that, in this age of CGI—is there an American feature over $25 million that isn’t at least partly animated?—stop-motion animation still has a home. Henry Selick’s Coraline, Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Nick Park’s Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death all prove that the form has life and verve, and can ape the mild disappointment of Up and the heavy disappointments of Where the Wild Things Are, Ice Age Part 20,000, and the rest. Also, I’m thankful that Disney has returned to hand-drawn animation with The Princess and the Frog (and that it has introduced a black protagonist!), and that—in the hand-drawn regard—Miyazaki’s still showing ‘em how it’s done with Ponyo.

50) George Kennedy or Alan North? (Submitted by Peet Gelderblom)
Kennedy.

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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5 Responses to It’s beginning to look a lot like cinema

  1. Andi says:

    I clearly don’t watch enough movies. But I just have to say that I agree with you, The Darjeeling Limited probably is most misunderstood, but is one of my favorite movies of the last couple of years.

  2. Wax Banks says:

    Yes! And, um, no! [this didn’t post at first, so i’ve lost formatting. oh well.]
    2) In grad school I was the Creative Writing Counselor at a little arts camp for incoming MIT freshmen – once with a friend, once alone. The first year I led an expedition to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Kendall Cinema (or was it up in Harvard Square?) and it absolutely destroyed the kids’ minds; I was so proud. But then I knew what I was getting into. The second year I convinced a magnificent Latina named Anastasia to co-lead an expedition to Kendall for Monsoon Wedding, which none of us had yet seen. We both spent the whole movie crying like babies and emerged transformed, humbled, homesick, ecstatically happy. Stayed at the student centre after the kids had gone, just talking about family. Wonderful.
    It still holds a special place in my heart, and I’ve seen it with not a few ladies in subsequent years. Including my wife – my favourite of all, as tomorrow is my favourite day.
    16) Are you mad, man?! People miss Fight Club’s brutal honesty for its brutality, and the film wallows in degradation and its characters’ puerility – I can understand being turned off by it – but beyond its hilarious kiss-off to all forms of groupthink and false empowerment, it’s a technically-flawless work of incredible narrative economy – the fastest-moving Smart Film in a year full of smart films. It’s a lot like The Matrix in that regard – if both movies weren’t such well-oiled thrill machines, people might more readily notice how nastily subversive they are…but no one would want to. Most of its fans seem to think it’s an action movie, but like Neil Gaiman and Phish and Barack Obama, Fight Club doesn’t deserve to be seen as narrowly as its fans see it.
    33) No love for Ronin?
    6) I’d list the Matrix sequels here, followed by Avatar maybe. Have you seen that, by the way? What a wonderful experience…

  3. Hey, Wax. Monsoon Wedding is hands-down my favorite movie about family EVER, and I watch it at least twice annually. (I’ve introduced La Bella to it, too.) Haven’t seen Avatar, and admit to being turned off by both the hype and Cameron’s last few works, Titanic and the TV series Dark Angel. For all his technical know-how, he’s hampered by 1) an inability to turn out a good screenplay and, more importantly, 2) the inability to recognize this flaw (or any flaw) in himself, and get talented writers to help him hone his vision. I’m deeply, deeply cynical about 3D’s aesthetic–as opposed to commercial–possibilities, and still find it distracting (and, thus, the opposite of immersive) in the recent 3D movies I’ve seen: Up, Coraline, and U2:3D. I haven’t seen Ronin, either, so can’t judge.
    But Fight Club… I’m half-jokingly wondering if you’d be interested in having an online exchange about it, a la the baseball roundtable. I think I’m smart enough to know both what it’s trying to accomplish and whether its ambitions are worth pursuing and/or tethered to any recognizable reality and representation of masculinity. In short, I agree that it’s technically accomplished and that Fincher is a genius of composition, but his compositional savvy is used to foster a worldview that I find repellent and (more significantly) deeply false. I’ve liked Fincher in the past–The Game and Se7en, as improbable as they are, work for me. (As a counterexample, I think the Coen Brothers’ vision of humanity is equally dark and nasty, but it’s one that is painfully, hilariously accurate.) As for The Matrix, I maintain after two viewings that it’s gloriously slick style in search of substance, and what little it has was done better by Philip K. Dick in the 1960s, and without Keanu Reeves’ flat line readings.
    Does anyone actually think Neil Gaiman is thematically limited? Maybe I’m not reading enough fan forums, but Gaiman seems to be obviously a writer with a great deal of thematic and tonal variety, and is impressive in his ability to maintain his aesthetic/moral vision in diverse mediums–film (Mirrormask, Stardust, Neverwhere), comics (duh…), animation (the magnificent Caroline), and novels (the terrific Anansi Boys–maybe the best thing he’s ever done–and The Graveyard Book). And we agree completely about Phish, of course…

  4. Wax Banks says:

    Happy New Year! Hey I’m up for a Fight Club club fight, no question. :) I’ll have to dust off these ancient emails I wrote a decade ago about how the most important fact about the story is that Jack really does find a lump in Marla’s breast…(?!)
    I didn’t mean to imply you were missing the point of the film though – on rereading that comment does come off as condescending, sorry about that. I guess I’m saying that (1) the film is unimpeachable in its various technical aspects, and (2) its message (about both capitalist and anti-capitalist movement building, masculinist and other-than-that) really resonates with me. Though I haven’t thought deeply about it in a long time, sort of accepting that I love the movie. Thinking back now to the cornflower blue tie and so forth, it seems like a spoof on anyone who clings to the punk notion of ‘purity’ – and that appeals to me still. Well, I guess I gotta think about it. A roundtable would be a fine reason for doing so!
    Dunno if I ever said it: congratulations to you and La Bella on the recent nuptials. The photos were quite stylish. :)

  5. Wax Banks says:

    Maybe it’s time to admit that I think Neil Gaiman is an immensely talented, vastly overrated writer? As for Ronin, David Mamet is my dark god and its car chase is one of the all-time greats, though Pee-Wee is a fine choice too.
    As for Avatar: there are almost no gratuitous 3-D shenanigans in the film, rest assured. Tasteful 3-D at last! Its script is hopelessly clunky, but it’s just…my god, it’s unbelievably beautiful and transporting. It’s what the Endor scenes of Return of the Jedi should’ve been. I spent much of the film in a nearly-forgotten state of awe. Not to say it’s ‘well-wrought’ or anything. I gotta say too, I’ve never seen a movie so enthusiastic about biology, and that rings cherries for me. Especially now, reading about the neurobiology of meditation and limbic resonance and all manner of miraculous demystifications…

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