Author: Whit Denton

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...

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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...

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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...

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

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...

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Making a Brick: Richard Linklater’s Slacker 25 Years Later

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...

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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...

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Loneliness and Longing in The Man Who Fell to Earth 40 Years Later

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...

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Is Blood Meridian Really Unfilmable?

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 that it often cannot be fit into a reasonable running time. Additionally, much of the goings on in great novels just often doesn’t seem to be what one would call cinematic. A significant portion of Moby Dick consists of Melville’s ruminations on the concept of whaling itself, along with lengthy...

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Meaning in the Meaningless-The Cinematic Philosophy of Richard Linklater

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,...

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Cinema Speaks for the Dead: Movie Lines as Epitaphs

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...

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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...

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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,...

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Meaning and Pain on Infinite Jest’s 20th Anniversary

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...

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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...

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