Criterion Discovery: Dont Look Back

Background Dont Look Back (Spine #786) is one of the greatest “rock docs” of film history (practically inventing the subgenre), and likely the most famous of director D.A. Pennebaker’s cinematic oeuvre. It is the fourth film of Pennebaker’s in the collection, the others being The War Room (#602), Monterey Pop (Spine #168), and Jimi Plays Monterey & Shake! Otis at Monterey (#169). Story The documentary covers Dylan’s 1965 tour in England, focusing on the minutiae of his time across the pond: his sparring with journalists, his conversations with roadies, and his thoughts on life in general. The Film Dont Look Back is filmed with the...

Is it Still Great: The Departed 10 Years Later

Time is a force like battery acid, corrosive. Frequently, films are released to raves and fawning admiration, only to soon fall into obscurity, hardly seen purposefully by anyone except maybe the Turner Classic Movies guy. Other times films will be positively received initially, and then quickly become nearly universally despised, touted as “overrated tripe” or the even more cutting, “lame.” For a cinephile, to see any film, even the most overrated and lame of them all, succumb to a fate like this is a depressing and dispiriting thing to witness. To see a truly great film, a film that honestly earned its accolades during its postnatal run...

Stand By Me 30 Years Later: How Does Nostalgia Age...

When we first see Gordie LaChance , it is autumn, a time of endings, of dying things. He gazes aimlessly out of his car window, his face blank with memory. As the daylight begins to wane in the rural field around him, he watches a few young kids putter along innocently on bicycles. He has grown old. Stand By Me is so clearly a film borne out of wistful reflection that this opening series of shots establishing the somber Richard Dreyfuss as Gordie LaChance, The Writer behind this story, is hardly necessary. From the dreamy soft lighting to the almost nauseatingly “of the time” soundtrack, the movie is one with its neck eternally craned to...

Truth In Brian De Palma’s Blow Out 35 Years ...

A common topic for artists when speaking of their work is this amorphous and kind of indefinable idea of truth. The unspoken tenets of art seem to call for this truth, or verisimilitude, that transcends a work from just something someone made, to a divine object of a cultural significance few people have ever seen. What a strange notion, this idea of truth? There are few things more elaborately and deliberately untruthful than art. Film, especially, is a particularly deceptive and sneaky art form. It is so carefully put together, each of its elements picked and chosen to fit a theme and idea. It is all rehearsed, all theatre. It would seem...

Making a Brick: Richard Linklater’s Slacker ...

When James Joyce first published his now celestial-seeming classic novel Ulysses, he was asked why he put so much effort into the specifics of the book’s geography, focusing a great amount of text on street names and building placements and so forth. In his reply, Joyce articulated that “if I can get to the heart of Dublin, I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.” For Joyce, getting all the details of Dublin with a certain painstaking exaction was essential, for if he could do that, he could truly capture Dublin in all its uniqueness and eccentricity. It is that...

Criterion Discovery: Badlands

Background Badlands (Spine #651) is the debut film of famous auteur Terrence Malick and stars Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, and Warren Oates. Malick currently has two films in the collection, Days of Heaven (Spine #409) and The Thin Red Line (Spine #536), with a third, The New World (Spine #826), on the way. Story Drawing on the 1958 midwestern killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, Terrence Malick tells an ethereal and impressionistic story of yearning, murder, and young love gone sour. Badlands follows Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen), a charming and sociopathic James Dean look-a-like, as he and his girlfriend, Holly...

Loneliness and Longing in The Man Who Fell to Eart...

I was never able to watch The Man Who Fell to Earth all the way through. The first time I tried was early last year. I switched the film off after about forty-five minutes or so, feeling it was dull and strange without a real sense of offered connection. I came back to it after a while, eventually finishing it in bits and pieces.. While this seems like a far from ideal way to watch a film, it seems oddly fitting for The Man Who Fell to Earth. The film is about Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie), an alien from some distant, unnamed desert planet who crash lands on Earth looking for water. His home is undergoing a drought and he comes boldly...

Is Blood Meridian Re...

The phrase “unfilmable” gets thrown around often when the discussion of adapting great novels for the screen is brought to the table. This is because what makes so many great novels characteristically great is their multiplicity. So much goes on in the confines of a novel’s pages. So much...

The Unexplainable, Wonderful Chaos of Bob Dylan...

Throughout the singer-songwriter’s almost six decade career, Bob Dylan has been compared to Jesus Christ many times. From the moment his “wild mercury sound” broke through to the public, monikers like “prophet,” “savior,” and “voice of a generation” have been attributed to the man with such frequency and rapidity it’s a wonder a religion hasn’t sprung up around the man yet. It’s entirely likely Dylan has even considered himself a sort of Christ figure at one point. The comparisons, however absurd and over-dramatic they may seem, do have some founding in fact and reason. Dylan came out of humble beginnings. Like Jesus’ ascension from his...

Meaning in the Meaningless-The Cinematic Philosophy of Richard Linklater Apr21

Meaning in the Meaningless-The Cinematic Philosoph...

The concept of time and its relation with memory has been mused on and pondered over by several artists over the millennia. Yet, while everyone from Tom Waits to Marcel Proust has had a few words on the slipping by of life, no one has been able to create art dealing with the subject quite like Richard Linklater. Over his prolific and confoundingly interesting career spanning almost three decades, Linklater has captured the passage of time perhaps more honestly than any artist who attempted before him. Linklater understands that to truly be able to understand time and its effects, one cannot look at time as one whole, grand concept, but...

Cinema Speaks for the Dead: Movie Lines as Epitaphs Apr06

Cinema Speaks for the Dead: Movie Lines as Epitaph...

Like it or not, most of what exists of a person after death is merely what is said about that person. Someone could be immensely intelligent and complex in life, but if they were boring or something of an asshole, they will not be remembered as intelligent or complex after they pass, but rather, as a bore and an asshole. This an unfortunate but undeniably true fact of life. Regardless of what several mediums and psychics would like to think, you cannot speak from beyond the grave to defend yourself. The closest to this medium-psychic-communication from the dead the human race has, as archaic as it may sound, is the epitaph. That inscription...

Criterion Discovery: Ikiru Mar24

Criterion Discovery: Ikiru

Background Ikiru (Spine #221) is a 1952 drama from legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, starring Takashi Shimura and Miki Odagiri. Kurosawa is a favorite of the Criterion Collection, with over 20 films in the collection, including Yojimbo and High and Low. Story With Ikiru, Kurosawa follows an old, decrepit bureaucrat (nicknamed “The Mummy” by his subordinates) as he navigates the search for meaning in life after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. After he dies, his colleagues discuss his legacy and what it means to truly be a “great man.” The Film Ikiru begins with the specter of death hanging over it. From the opening shots, the...

The Language of Terrence Malick Mar08

The Language of Terrence Malick

Poetry, at its core, seems to function as a reaction to the sheer intensity of the world. Often, it’s an attempt to capture the beauty of something, as with Wordsworth and Frost; at other times, poetry can be used to describe the squalor and despair of the world, as with Bukowski and Waits. Poets take what they see around them and compress it down into verse: a strange, almost stilted style of writing that isn’t quite prose at all, but something wholly different. It feels almost ancient and mystical, religious, almost. The world human beings inhabit is such a complex, multifaceted, and yes, even mystical place that it deserves nothing less...

Meaning and Pain on Infinite Jest’s 20th Ann...

In David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, he talks of finding meaning in the “boredom, routine, and petty frustration” of everyday life. He talks of turning “a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation” into something not only meaningful but also sacred. Much of life is cramped, crowded, and unimaginably, skull-numbingly boring. The time spent waiting for the bus in the rain seems to far outweigh the time spent being the places where the bus is supposed to take us. In order for one to live a fruitful and (there’s that word again) meaningful life, one has to try and glean some beauty out of those painful,...

Danger, Death, and Comedy: The World of the Coens Feb04

Danger, Death, and Comedy: The World of the Coens

Life, for Joel and Ethan Coen, is steadily hurtling toward disaster. Their world is one of constant, albeit absurd, danger. Whether it be Steve Buscemi getting shot in the face in Fargo or the more drawn-out, Job-esque fate of Larry Gopnik in their vastly under-appreciated film, A Serious Man, the Coens seem adamant in showing the world as a huge, strange mine field where it appears as if no one is safe. There are few filmmakers who create such deliberately deathly cinematic landscapes (though Peckinpah and Tarantino do come to mind). Every aspect of their movies, from the cinematography to the setting of their stories, adds to this...

Criterion Discovery: Cries and Whispers

Background Cries and Whispers (Spine #101) is a 1972 drama written and directed by legendary Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman and starring Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Thulin, and Kari Sylwan. Bergman is a favorite of the Criterion Collection and presently has over twenty films in the collection, including Persona (Spine #701) and The Seventh Seal (Spine #11). Story Cries and Whispers, like many of Bergman’s films, is steeped in a sort of deathly dread. The movie begins in a room painted in a striking, bloody crimson. Though Cries is a remarkably understated and quiet film, from the beginning there is an innate feeling of pain and...

The Hateful Eight Is Another Tarantino Opus Jan04

The Hateful Eight Is...

Overview: A group of eccentric strangers are thrown together in a desolate haberdashery when a blizzard hits, and as the snow piles up outside, a nefarious plot of murder and deception is revealed. The Weinstein Company; 2015; Rated R; 187 minutes. A Doomed America: With The Hateful Eight,...

The Films of Quentin Tarantino Dec23

The Films of Quentin Tarantino

Toward the end of Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 motion picture Inglorious Basterds, a gunfight breaks out in a movie theater. Simultaneously, the theater bursts into flames and begins to crumble. In some way, this fire-and-brimstone shootout is the ultimate exemplification of Tarantino’s movies. His films all share their similarities, mainly in their bloodiness and love of cinema itself. In some ways, he’s been directing shootouts in a movie theater for years. Yet, despite these obvious resemblances, each film he’s made is its own singular piece of work. Whether he’s traversing the muddy moral ground of WWII Nazi Germany or adapting the pulpy...

Pulp Fiction and the Myth of Originality Dec22

Pulp Fiction and the Myth of Originality

There are no truly original ideas. In the whole myriad world of art, there are several different permutations, but no singularly new concepts. The job of the artist, as the French philosopher Roland Barthes put it, is to be merely a “scriptor,” compiling several different elements into one, cohesive whole. Think of the painter; one who takes the colors at hand and arranges them in such a way as to create something; a painting. The best artist, regardless of the medium, is one who can take the resources already available and rearrange, and occasionally subvert, them into something that feels genuinely fresh and original. In reality, it is...

A Pigeon Sat on a Br...

Overview: A series of loosely connected vignettes ruminate drolly on the inhumane nature of humanity. Filmproduktion AB; 2015; Rated PG-13; 101 minutes. Gazing into the Mirror: The film begins with a man, someone who has the blank gaze and slumped demeanor of what could be called an idiot, in...

The Unstable Glory of Casino 20 Years On

In the opening credits sequence of Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film Casino, the words “Adapted From a True Story” are prominently displayed. But how much of it is true? How much of it is “adapted?” How much comes from the mind of Martin Scorsese? The film begins with Robert De Niro’s character Sam “Ace” Rothstein, getting blown sky high in a car bomb. “When you love someone, you’ve gotta trust them,” he says. Later on, it turns out Rothstein wasn’t really killed by the car bomb, despite what the papers said. Scorsese spends the whole film playing with perceptions and perspectives like this, and it makes for an immensely interesting, and a...

Criterion Discovery: Mulholland Dr.

Background Mulholland Dr. (Spine #779) is a 2001 psychological-horror film written and directed by notorious auteur David Lynch, starring Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. Currently, Lynch has only one other film in the collection: Eraserhead (Spine #725). Story It begins with a car crash. A woman (Harring) stumbles from the smoldering wreckage of a limousine into a lush Los Angeles apartment, wholly bewildered. There, she finds perky and wide-eyed Betty (Watts), and together they embark on a hazy, surreal journey for identity and that elusive fiction known to most as the truth. As is the norm for a Lynch artwork, nothing is clear-cut and...

Criterion Discovery: The Thin Red Line

Background The Thin Red Line (Spine #536) is a 1998 ensemble war film directed by Terrence Malick and based on James Jones’ 1962 novel of the same name. Malick has two other films in the Criterion canon: Badlands (Spine #651) and Days of Heaven (Spine #409). Story World War II is a veritable fountain from which filmmakers have been drawing ideas since the war itself actually happened. Whether it be The Dirty Dozen, Saving Private Ryan, or Inglorious Basterds, it seems that artists never grow tired of the grand narrative of the Axis versus the Allies. However, Malick’s The Thin Red Line is one of the very first films to cover the story of...

Criterion Discovery: The Seventh Seal

Background The Seventh Seal (Spine #11) was directed by Ingmar Bergman and was released in 1957. Bergman is a favorite of Criterion, with over twenty films in the collection including Persona (Spine #701) and Autumn Sonata (Spine #60). Story Bergman paints a nightmarish portrait of a disillusioned Crusades soldier, Antonius Block (played by Max Von Sydow), who plays chess with the physical manifestation of Death in order to stay alive while the Black Plague ravages the society around him. The Film In The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman captures fear in a way few directors have before. During the Middle Ages in which the film takes place, death...

Almost Famous is Wonderfully Uncool 15 Years Later

It is a time tested truth that nostalgia fogs up one’s memory of the past worse than downpour hitting the windshield of a bus careening down a highway during a rainstorm. One cannot truly remember without that said memory being filtered through every feeling, obsession, interaction, and nuance that existed in the time in which the memory takes place. When one recalls the past, the past is shown cloaked in a blanket of personality and subjectivity. Not many people understand this as well as Cameron Crowe does. With Almost Famous, what is likely the best film he has made, Crowe crafted a lush and wistful portrait of a particular time (based...