Is love difficult for Hollywood to capture because it isn’t real?
Okay, let’s try not to be so existential. I’m not looking to be cute. Love, or at least what we think as love, we experience in various forms, to varying degrees. It assumes the shape of loyalty, attachment, desire, inspiration, lust, warmth, friendship, empathy, commonality, electricity. It lasts lifetimes. Or it atomizes in three hours. Or two weeks. Or five years.
I was surprised how good I thought Paper Moon was. Like so many, I had become accustomed to the fall from grace narrative that has followed Peter Bogdanovich. His Sopranos appearances. His books on cinema. His incessant references to Welles, “Hitch” and others, always wearing the ever-present ascot. It’s all had the effect of someone playing a cameo in his own life, cobbling together bits and pieces of what he used to be.
But maybe Paper Moon shows us all that Bogdanovich ever was: a gifted critic with a gift for mimicry. The film feels something like The Grapes of Wrath played as a screwball comedy. John Ford fused with, I don’t know, Howard Hawks? There’s some Wellesian deep focus photography mixed in too. Bogdanovich’s influences are splattered everywhere. This was also true for The Last Picture Show and What’s Up, Doc? (both fine films in their own right). As the saying goes, you could do worse than to have Ford, Hawks and Welles as your influences. But which one was the real him? Or was it the director who later made At Long Last Love and Mask?
Two things struck me about Humphrey Bogart in this picture: One, he’s in color. Like his contemporary Cary Grant, Bogart seemed to lose a little bit with the Technicolor revolution. The two stars were made for black and white. Bright colors dulled their edge, even in terrific entertainments such as North by Northwest or The African Queen.
The other was the looseness and the warmth with which he played the role of Charlie Allnut, such as in the well-known sequence where he imitates hippos and monkeys. The pensiveness, the mistrust, that is such a hallmark of the Bogart persona is almost entirely gone, replaced by a sort of dimwitted generosity.
In an effort to jump start this blog, I’m committing to watching 30 films in 30 days, chronicling them as I go. There’s no plan, no agenda. I watch whatever appeals to me at the moment. First up: One of the immortals—and one of the, uh, mortals.
I didn’t intend for Casablanca, of all films, to be the one that launched this project, but the Blu-ray (the 2008, not the new 2012 restoration) arrived in the mail and I thought, why not? It’s only fitting. I was first exposed to this landmark as a teenager at the Drexel Theater on the east side of Columbus. And have likely watched it two dozen times since.
To me, it’s neither the greatest film ever made nor my own personal favorite (although I’m not sure I could easily come up with better candidates on either score). Rather, it’s that Casablanca to me encapsulates every reason to go to the movies. I have a bias toward what I might call high-end popcorn films and nothing has ever delivered sheer entertainment quite as effectively as this wartime thriller. Continue reading
I’ve meaning to write about these two movies, which I viewed on consecutive evenings, for weeks, but the post was OBE, as they say, overtaken by events. A new job, for one thing– one that may even incentivize me to become more prolific in my uneven film-blogging.
So what does a high-society comedy from the golden days of the Hollywood studio system share in common with a modern European film made by an Iranian director? More than you might think.
Truth is, I have never been much of an envelope-pusher. When the chips tumble in the wrong direction, I take refuge in genre. And to me, as a fan of classic filmmakers like Howard Hawks and John Ford or modern ones such as Michael Mann, nothing gives me more pleasure than a well-crafted genre piece. It’s a critical weakness, I know. And strangely, I am more forgiving of it with film than I am with literature. I can’t remember the last time I read an airport potboiler, but I’ll defend a film that never breaks convention to the last breath.
The trick is, naturally, smarts. Polanski can make Chinatown or Frantic and give a new spin on Hammett and Hitchcock. Eastwood can update the western with Unforgiven. Tarantino can take a World War II film in a new direction with Inglourious Basterds. It’s like a cover of a pop song. The interpretation is the attraction; the artist filtering the material through his or her own sensibilities. I have probably always found that more interesting than the avant-guardians who are the true pioneers. I won’t succumb to electronic music, splatters on a canvas , or Joycian narratives. But again, that’s my problem.
I had a girlfriend once–hm, maybe I should stop there.These days, that alone seems like an accomplishment. Anyway, I clearly recall this woman becoming almost physically ill as she watched Nic Cage commit suicide-by-drink in Leaving Las Vegas (1995). She simply couldn’t watch someone purposefully abuse themselves so thoroughly.
But then, she wasn’t in love with Cage’s character (or me, as it happened) and so perhaps didn’t quite understand the capacity a spouse or partner can develop for witnessing the self-mandated destruction of an intimate.