Friday, February 27, 2009

My brain hurts and BLOOD OF A POET (67)

It has been a long day.

I've been up since 5 in the morning. I've been moving and working and moving and working. I've been serving coffee and stuffing envelopes and training new people and walking down hills and up hills and just generally for the last eleven hours or so I've been in almost constant motion.

And lordy lordy am I tired. My brain just feels mushy right now, like I've been throwing it against a wall over and over and over again and just right now I've decided to finally spatula it off the wall and squeeze it through a funnel back in to its rightful place.

That said, I slogged through one of the worst movies I've seen in the Criterion Collection as of yet and I thought, mind numb or not that you should know so you never, ever have to even think about watching this film.

Blood of a Poet (66) in my meager opinion is the type of foreign film that a) no one ever sees and b) gives foreign cinema that negative, pretentious stigma that drives yokels in the Midwest to shun anything with subtitles. I watched this film twice because the first time I dozed through out nearly the entire film, then felt bad that I would be claiming that I'd seen the film and decided to sit through the entirety of its 55 minutes again. Second time around, I dozed less, but I still missed some sort of chunk in the middle that made the almost non-existent plot even less coherent. By the time the credits exploded on to the screen I was pretty much zonked out, and after a second try I was done.

Let me try to describe this movie to you and I think it'll get the point across as to just how mindlessly over-symbolic this film is. It follows and "artist" who's painting grows lips and these lips end up on his hand and then he talks to a statue and the statue tells him to fall through a mirror, which takes him to a hotel where he looks through keyholes at women hitting flying girls with whips amongst other things. At that's just the first twenty minutes. What follows is a disjointed series of images (some, to Jean Cocteau's amazing visual credit, pretty awesome) that, at least to me in my broken, exhausted state, added up to nothing worth these 55 minutes. Maybe I'm cynical about overly artistic films, but I challenge any of you to watch this blip on the Criterion radar and find any sort of meaning in its slew of near-hallucinatory "artistic" imagery.

Hey lucky for me, the next two films in the Collection are both directed by Cocteau and both similarly aimed at exposing the lasting connection between artist and creation. Somebody wake me up when it's time to watch The Last Temptation of Christ (70).

Monday: Orpheus (68)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Where do they come from and I'm extremely worried about BLOOD OF A POET (67)

Went out to see current fan-favorite Ra Ra Riot last night. I'll say this about the band: this is the last time you're going to be seeing them at a venue as small as Neumo's. These guys are strong performers who produce a sound that is catchy to both uneducated music dullards (many whom put on their party pants and white polos and came out last night) and music dorks a like. The opening two bands were pretty poor (though I think Cut Off Your Hands may have life on album) but Ra Ra Riot stepped up on stage and the crowd was instantaneously riveted. Fists pumping, hands clapping, even a few rare Seattle dancing pockets opened up - all around pretty entertaining.

My question is this though: why is it that one of every five audience members at every concert I ever go to is twelve feet taller than me? Seriously, whenever I go to shows, it's like the Big and Tall Convention has convened and all of a sudden I'm the dwarf in the crowd. And I don't get it.

I don't get how a man of fairly average height (somewhere around 5'10" in my mind) walks around all day feeling at least a functioning part of the height scale, at times even feeling slightly tall, and then I head off to a concert and suddenly every other fan in attendance is 7 feet tall.

Where in the fuck do these people come from? What draws them from their high-ceilings and basketball hoops directly to the spot in front of me at a concert? Are they in hiding? Am I just a lot shorter than I've always convinced myself and when I'm surrounded by a crowd this is just highlighted? Or is my slouchy, slouchy posture finally pushing me in to the ground?

These questions may never be answered. But just know, they're out there.

I'm really, really worried about the next three Criterion films. I put in Blood of a Poet (67) last night and was asleep almost instantaneously. It's a French film from the 1930s that focuses on the connection between artists and their creations and from minute one I was completely baffled as to why anyone would ever put this sort of early 20th century film class final project on the screen. The first few scenes involved this:

- A door handle jostling for five minutes. I shit you not.

- A man mouthing words to a "statue" that was just a woman painted white.

- An exploding water mirror.

- Spinning mesh heads.

- A lot of me dozing off.

Sure sounds like your run of the mill mushroom trip, but I'm telling you this is boredom writ large.

Now this first one is only 55 minutes, and I'm already struggling. What am I going to do with the next two far lengthier entries? I guess we'll find out.

Friday: Blood of a Poet (67)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My only true talent and RUSHMORE (65)

Many people have many talents. I always thought mine would lay somewhere in the creative fields. Maybe I'd be a writer, maybe an artist, maybe my post-adolescent squalor of a voice would go through a third change and I could be the lead singer of a hair-metal band, just like I always dreamed. I just always assumed that my one talent, the one innate ability I would be able to shape in to immense financial success would be something from my mind, not my motor reflexs. It turns out though, after far too many recent hours parked in front of a stout block of an arcade console, I've discovered my one true talent:

I am a god at Ms. Pac-Man.

This rare ability first showcased itself during my first interaction with Alex and, honestly, it almost ruined everything. I blankly guided my bow-wearing, pellet-eating circle through level after level, as Alex slowly lost interest. I wooped and hollered, completely immersed in a 2-D world of power pellets and flashing blue ghosts. It was not my proudest moment.

In the days and weeks and months that have followed though, I've decided, entirely of my own accord, that I'm damn near legendary at this stupid arcade game. I sit down with Big Secord at our local watering hole (free Ms. Pac-Man and huge German beers) and can almost everytime play through the first seven or so levels on one guy. I'm like a fucking Barry Sanders of this game. My hands are moving with speed unseen in the world of Ms. Pac-Man. People are oohing and aahing. Women are throwing their panties at me. I'm playing with my eyes closed, while eating, two games at once - it doesn't matter, I'm damn near Bobby Fisher at this shit.

Oh sure, I can hear the cries of "sad" and "get a life doughboy" but I don't care, I've found a talent, albeit a sad one, and I'm taking it to the fucking top of the world. Sure, I have no idea where that might be, but I'm going to find it, and I'm going to ascend to it, and I'm going to play a super-intelligent Russian robot for keys to the Ms. Pac-Man executive suite and then all you doubters can send in your resumes for Noah "Ms. Pac-Man Extraordinaire" Sanders' Toilet Cleaner.

On second look at this column so far, I should probably not drink before writing it.

Rushmore (65) as I've stated before, is one of the reasons why I'm so invested in film to this day. During my high school years, I knew I enjoyed movies, but I was still slogging through the dreck Hollywood was laying down each and every year. I was completely okay with accepting the big budget flicks as the best there was to be had, completely unaware that a whole other layer of flicks lurked below. And sure, Rushmore (65) isn't the most independent film ever made, but Jesus, if it wasn't a sparkling gem to a 15-year old more accustomed to Snow Falling on Cedars and The English Patient.

I watched that film in a dark theatre with my good friend Timothy Gelfling and realized that if properly sought out, there was vast world of unseen films for my eyes to be laid upon. I will always credit Rushmore (65) as the film that changed my mind about what could be seen on the silver screen.

And now, ten years later, I've probably seen the film fifty times, own the Criterion version and consider Wes Anderson to be in my echelon of favorite directors. It's been a while since I've sat down and watched it though, and I thought I'd just bullet point a few of my thoughts on how I see the film now:

- It's strange to see this film as a segue way between Anderson's less formal style (of films like Bottle Rocket (450)) and the super stylized takes of say The Royal Tenebaums (157). The camera seems almost unhinged in comparision to some of Anderson's later work, and, to be quite honest, it looks a little less put together in my mind. The characters, the world he creates, seem less Wes Anderson, but you can certainly see the progression in his style taking place.

- This film is sadder than I remembered. I don't know if it was because I was in a bit of a funke while viewing it last evening. But Jesus, Max Fischers trials and tribulations seemed so dour. Humor is abound in the film, but it's tinged with a sadness, a sort of reaching need to be something else, that I never saw before. It was almost jarring.

- The best performance in the film, sans Bill Murray whom I love and would never say a single imperfect thing about, has to go to Seymour Cassel as Max's Dad Bert Fisher. He's just this big friendly, old-timer of a man, who takes all the quirks Max has to offer and loves him like only a parent can. You can see the sadness line his face when Max, a selfish prick of kid really, turns against him, but he still loves him, no matter what.

- There's a slow-motion shot in this film that has Max coming out of the elevator, holding a bee box, and shoving his gum on the wall that haunts my dreams. I've thought about at least once a week since I saw this film, and seeing it again took my breath away an equal amount. Jesus, what a fucking shot.

And that's what I've got. The next six or so films are dire straits, so don't expect this amount of writing or excitement, you greedy bastards you.

Thursday: Blood of a Poet (66)

A bit of a funk and WHAT'S IN STORE.

I'm in a bit of a funk today. The weather is dismally gray, my ladyfriend returned to San Francisco, and the looming list of "things I have to do" before my giant move at the end of next month is growing steadily more urgent. Thus my head is sort of wrapped in an even more distracted haze of thoughts, heightened by a fitful night of lonesome sleeping. Don't fret though readers, this gloomy haze will disperse and my cynical self will once again reemerge.

For now, I'm going to preview the next five or so films in the Criterion Collection and gauge my level of excitement for these upcoming flicks.


Film: Rushmore (65)
Director: Wes Anderson

This was the second Criterion film I owned and one of the films I credit with turning me in to a film junkie early in my high school career. I've watched this and every other Wes Anderson film on repeat time and time and time again, and I've nothing but love and more love and than a healthy dollop of dirty love to shower upon it. I'm actually a little bit drooly right now just thinking about writing about Rushmore (65). Yeah that's right, thinking about movies makes my mouth salivate like a Pavlovian dog, you got a problem?

Film(s): The Orphic Trilogy (66-68)
Director: Jean Cocteau

Phew, here's hoping that the excitement lingering over from Rushmore (65) will have enough oomph to get me through these next three films by famed Frenchie Jean Cocteau. The descriptions of the films talks about the strained line between "artist and their creations" and pictures half-naked men in cemetaries talking to statues. Pretensious, I believe is the word. But, hey, lets be honest, last time I poo-pooed any sort of old French film, I fell in live with The Passion of Joan of Arc (62) so I'll pre-shit on this one with much trepidation.

Film: The Last Temptation of Christ (70)
Director: Martin Scorsese

I never know exactly what to do with this film in Scorsese's ouerve. I'm a dedicated Scorsese fan but my previous attempt at powering through this one found me curled up in to a fetal position, half-awake. It's a long, dense film about Jesus, surely a light chaser after three French films about art. It's Scorsese though, and I'm a little more growed up than I was when I first viewed it, so, hey, maybe it'll blow my mind. Maybe.

Film: The Magic Flute (71)
Director: Ingmar Bergman

Holy Jesus, three French films, a three hour film about religion and now another Ingmar Bergman flick? Somebody at old Criterion must've had the pretensious setting on the air-conditioning set to "high". Luckily this film doesn't have a boring sounding premise at all: a Swedish retelling of a Mozart composition ... oh, shit, I lied, that sounds terribly boring.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Whoa, if I can finish this onslaught of artsiness in the next two months, let alone by the end of the year, I'll be shocked, baffled even. But hell, I'm trying to complete a quest here, and this is the part in the quest where I have to fight a fire-breathing dragon wearing nothing but a loincloth. Color me not amused.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


It's almost a moot point to try and write something new or interesting about Carol Reed's bonafide classic The Third Man (64). It is a film that has been written about by every famed film critic ever. A film that features Orson Welles, and features some of the most well-remembered bits of camera work ever pressed to celluloid. I read an interesting review of the film that said something along the lines of, even if you haven't seen the film you remember the angles, the darkened corners, the silhouette of Orsen Welles Harry Lime emblazoned against the misty light of the sewer tunnels. This is a movie that has been shown hundreds of thousands of times on video, in festivals, in retrospectives of the great films of the last hundred years. It is truly a classic film.

And I absolutely love it.

Aside from High and Low (24) I can't imagine a film I've seen in the Collection so far that I enjoy more. That I want to watch compulsively. That I enjoy enough to recommend to those who aren't even the slightest bit interested in the beauties of classic film. This is a film that took the structures of film noir and turned them on their head. Carol Reed is an amazing director and his work with this twisting tale by the famed Graham Greene is reason enough for him to be lauded as such. There's a strange sense of lack of direction in this film highlighted by the post-war Vienna that is its setting. There's a twisting criss-cross of language and nationalities that highlights the confusion and directionless wanderings of penny-novel writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) as he searches for his dear friend and confidant Harry Lime. It's a story about the search for what we think we know, and what it means to find out that none of this is true.

Orson Welles (if you don't know who Orson Welles is, you and I, we need to have a talk) plays Harry Lime in the film and is really only on screen for a small bit, but the presence he brings to these small moments (the ferris wheel ride and the speech about "small black dots" some of my favorite on film) showcase why this troubled man is considered to be one of the greats of cinema. He literally stands out against the rest of this talented cast, almost seeming more real, more alive than those who surround him. It's impressive and almost breath-taking to watch a true master work.

Let us not forget the works of genial drunk Joseph Cotton, as his sort of bumbling every man gives the audience foothold in this constantly shifting cast of international criminals. Holly Martins is a simple man, an almost stereotypical portrayal of the more negative aspects of the travelling American thrust in to a situation he has no clue, and no interest in. His interactions with the law, the common folk, well, pretty much everyone in the search for Harry Lime are as interesting as any part of this gripping thriller's plot. It's his off-the-cuff hard-boiled dialogue that draws me back every single time. His delivery so spot-on, you can almost feel the grit on his collar, smell the smoke lingering at the tip of his cigarette.

Toss in camera work you just don't see anymore, and a Spanish guitar score by Antan Koras and you have a film that deserves every accolade it's every received. And that's saying a ton.

If I could recommend one film that'll draw you in to classic film, I'd give you The Third Man (64) (possibly with a chaser of Charade (57) just for shits and giggles) and let you go. I can't imagine anyone wouldn't be excited to start scratching a few more layers off.

Don't put this recommendation on the shelf. Do yourself a favor.

Tomorrow: Rushmore (65)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Break time.

Sorry suckers.

I'm taking a two day break.

I'll be back though on Monday, loaded to the gills with Criterion films to drop on your pretty heads.

I promise. Don't miss me too much.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

81 posts and the very beginning moments of THE THIRD MAN (64)

Holy jesus people, I've written 82 posts for Criterion Quest. 82 posts. That's a ton. A real pile of filmic ramblings if you ask me. I'm only 18 posts away from hitting the big one-hundro and after that the skies the limit.

Here's what I'm hoping for the future of this blog:

1. That I'll hit two hundred posts long after I finish my 100th Criterion. Sometimes I just stare at the list of amazing movies I have in store for me, and want to just skip ahead. But that's not in the nature of the quest. I don't want to take anything away from you beautiful beautiful readers or my pure enjoyment of seeing each and every one of these films in order. Nonetheless, if I'm still in the 70s when post 200 drops, there's going to be a lot of consideration of how to up my movie digestion rate.

2. I want to make this more of an interactive thing. I want you good people, how ever many there are lurking about the shadows these days, to, if you're interested, to be a part of this blog. I want you guys to write reviews of upcoming movies, give me your opinions on the films, give suggestions for other movies I, or the other readers might be interested in. So, seriously, if you're interested at all in guest reviewing a Criterion film, get in touch with me and we'll set you up with something I think you'll like. It's fun, I promise.

3. Hopefully, when I have a bit more time, I can spend two or three minutes making this site not look like the droppings from's rear end. As much as I enjoy "Template 3" from the fine catalog, I'd like this to be a blog that is actually enjoyable to look at. I just have no idea how to do that, because I'm slow.

4. In the far future, I'd like to make this a place where new material is posted. I'd like to try and interview and talk to people as interested in these old films as myself and let them write pieces for the site. This is what you might call, "a lot of work" and I can't promise this anytime in the near future. But make a mental note: one day this blog is going to be bigger, better and even more exciting to come visit every day.

I hope.

In the last two attempts at watching The Third Man (64) (one of my favorite movies) I've managed to catch brief glimpses of it while trying to wipe snotty crust from a two-year olds eyeball and seen only the vibrating strings of the guitar that the opening credits are placed upon. What can I tell you? I'm tuckered these days. Absolutely spent, and I'm barely eeking out the work I get paid for.

But look above at that beautiful poster for the film and just imagine what I might say about Orson Welles, Carol Reed and the always impressive Joseph Cotten.

But for now, wallow in my inability to say anything even slightly related to movies. I certainly am.

Thursday: Lets try for The Third Man (64) but I'm not promising much

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The "smart" side of horror and CARNIVAL OF SOULS (63)

I studied abroad in New Zealand many, many years ago. It was a slow, sometimes sad time that I'll always equate with Indian food and cheap, dark beer. During this time I fancied myself a film academic in training and signed up for a handful of film-related classes I was sure would fascinate me. Russian film (truly boring), New Zealand film (one of the worst taught classes I've ever been a part of) and Horror Film filled out my schedule and I was willing and ready to indulge in the glut of cinema coming down the pipe. Mostly, I was just excited for Horror Film. I've been a fan of horror in all its bizarre forms for years and the thought of someone actually teaching me about the genre's sordid history fascinated me, especially when our screening schedule featured some of the greats: The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Brood, and on and on and on.

Turns out the academic take on horror is fairly boring, fairly infuriating and exactly not what I wanted to learn about as a 20 year old in New Zealand. Instead of dissecting the director's motives behind a puking Linda Blair in The Exorcist we talked about periods and the "toothed vagina"; aliens in The Brood became symbols of mommy issues; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was removed from its context as seedy exploitation film and instead gained academic assumptions of family problems writ large. It was as boring and disappointing a class I've ever been a part of.

With that said, I was watching Carnival of Souls (63) last night and multitude of sort of academic minded thoughts (the kind that are based on a viewer's deas and not actually the thoughts of director, cast, writer, or cinematographer) came to mind. I'm not usually one who indulges in this sort of shit, but I thought it might be sort of interesting to pick apart a very basic, though beautiful and enjoyable b-movie and see if I could find deeper meaning in its subtext.

Layman's terms: I like wanking off intellectually.

Carnival of Souls (63) is, I think, a film about a modern woman in a tightly restricted society and the pressures it presents and how they eventually drive her to insanity. Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) after surviving an automobile's plunge in to an icy river, emerges as a new type of woman. Instead of the simpering, pure, motherly, almost subservient female audiences had become used to in the 1960s, Mary is much more a modern portrayal. She rebukes the advances of a skeezy boarder. She takes a job far away from family and friends, bucking the trends of the established housewife to pursue a career based on her academic history. In a scene with a stodgy preacher she attempts to force him in to breaking the law, and when he refuses, she comes back and does it again. Sure, she isn't reinventing Women's Liberation, but Mary is as modern a 1960s horror protagonist as you're going to get.

And she suffers greatly for it.

Mary has visions of ghosts that haunt her. Mary often times has these flashback like moments where she's actually drawn out of the real world and can only look on to the world passing her by. Mary slowly starts to lose her grip on the world she has known. Her bizarre flashbacks seem almost entirely based on her role as this modern woman, pushed so far outside of the prevailing views of the day that she actually unable to interact with those around her. She's pushed further and further away from reality, from the presence of real people and finds herself instead drawn to an architectural relic and the strange ghosts that float about there. She returns again and again to this decrepit resort (itself a symbol of a time gone by) and each time her loneliness seems more self-imposed in the context of this oppressive town she lives in.

As the film sort of plods to an end (it is not the most exciting of films), Mary is so disillusioned so terrified by her reception in this restrictive town, that she attempts to flee and is subjected to a series of horrifying visions in the process. As if the idea of breaking free from these ideals is so traumatizing that it actually draws these "terrifying" thoughts from her head. It ends tragically and I can't help but think that the final shots of Mary, dead in the front seat of the car, act as some sort of allusion to the cyclical world she may, or may not have felt trapped within.

Or Herk Harvey, director of Carnival of Souls (63) might've just been hungry to throw together a cheap-o horror film that starred a pretty girl and let him play with make-up. It's really just how you look at it.

Wednesday: The Third Man (64)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A few thoughts and CARNIVAL OF SOULS (63)

Here's a few thoughts:

1. Is there a shittier duo of holidays than Valentine's Day quickly followed by President's Day. Almost anyone who's been anywhere near me this week has probably heard my tirade about V-Day but here's a quick synopsis: Valentine's Day blows. Why? Because it's a no-win situation for anyone. If you're in a relationship you're automatically stressed because you're forced, for whatever reason, to create some sort of big event to show your loved one you care. Shouldn't you be showing said "loved one" you care every single day? On the other hand if you're not involved in a relationship, you're bludgeoned, repeatedly with the constant reminder that you my sad sack friend are without a special someone. Hope you aren't wallowing in depression and loneliness come February 14th, as it's pretty much sadness in a can, and lord knows what chemicals you'll be ingesting to, well "make yourself happy". I like the idea of having another reason to show the person you love how much you love, I don't like the fact that it's a plastic holiday created by a card company to make a bigger profit in the post-holiday season.

2. Oh, and even better, two days later it's fucking President's Day. Woooooooo! Go America lets celebrate a bunch of old dead white people who owned slaves and had rotten wooden teeth. Seriously, we have a holiday that celebrates politicians? What's next Lawyer Day? Thanks, but no thanks, celebrating corruption just isn't my bag.

3. I was at a concert on Friday night (a concert where I was so sick that I actually fell asleep standing up) and Henry Rollins was standing right next to me. Don't know who Henry Rollins is? Shame on you. One of the more influential musicians around. For those of you who do know the man, he's got to be 50 or so and he still looks like he could break the head off a lion. Sure, his fist pump seemed a little forced, and his man boobs poked out from his shirt a bit, but still, Henry fucking Rollins. Awesome!

And those are my thoughts.

B-movies can be described, in a more academic sense thusly:

(a) a genre film with minimal artistic ambitions or (b) a lively, energetic film uninhibited by the constraints imposed on more expensive projects and unburdened by the conventions of putatively "serious" independent film

In layman terms, b-movies are genre films (horror, sci-fi, westerns, etc.) shot on cheapskate budgets and usually unrestricted by the normal levels of quality you expect from your typical film. B-movies = shitty films that usually included monsters or cowboy hats. Yes, many of them are influential, but after you've waded through the river of academic shit, at the end of the day you're going to find low budget films that exist for well, fun.

So sure, the first half of Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls (63), the half I've watched, is good-natured cheesy fun. Sure, Harvey and his screenwriter John Clifford have put together a pretty stunning array of images, but in the end it's a high-end horror film. Girl survives terrible crash, girl drives to Utah to become organ player, girl starts seeing creepy maybe-dead people. That is honestly the entire plot. Yes, there's some side characters thrown in to round out the small town feel, but in general this is a movie about a woman who has visions after escaping a near-death experience. There's shoddy make-up, enjoyably bad dialogue, and a pervy male character that very well could be Christopher Walken's dirtier cousin - everything you want from your classic B-movie.

It's a fun film to watch, but in the long journey that will be the Criterion Quest I'm marking this one as a lesser oddity. A film I'm not unexcited to sit through, but not a masterpiece by any means.

Tuesday: Finishing off Carnival of Souls (63)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Waiting on the library, observations from the coffee shop, and my biggest addiction.

There isn't going to be any Criterion films on this blog for a few days. I ordered Carnival of Souls (63), the creepy cult film by Herk Harvey, from Netflix, and instead of the glorious beauty that is the Criterion double-disc affair, they sent me the altogether respectable Rhino reissue from a few years back. This isn't called Rhino Quest ladies and gentlemen so I'm putting the damn thing on hold for a few, while the plodding beast that is the Seattle Public Library gets me the good stuff. Until then I'm going to catch up on some of my TV "stories" and generally let my brain soften a bit in the sweet thrall of weekly storylines.

Shit, it was Crazy Person Breakfast at the old coffee shop this morning and I just wanted to drop a few observations of what I saw through the film of sleep wrapped about my eyes:

- The return of Dread Beard. As you might remember I talked briefly about old Dread Beard in a recent post. He is not a pirate, but at one point he did have two braids dangling from his dirty brown beard. When I last saw him he was being carted in to the back of an ambulance due to self-proclaimed "back pains". Before that he was telling me about cell phone lanyards, his plan to invest in a company loosely related to the sale of "Australian flags" and the search for a Kitchen-Aide for his, uh, "son". Everybody hates this guy, but not only do I find him harmless, but I think his sort of crazed rambling is damn entertaining. You don't have to listen in full, you can just sort of pick the bits and pieces you find interesting. Such as today, I have no idea what the connecting threads of these ideas were, but he spoke of these topics: the "3,000 year old argument of Communism" and it's role in a Yurt chat room he, yes, runs; the plague of efficiency engineers and their terror cell he refers to as "The Department of Vocation and Rehabilitation"; the invention of a structure he referred to as a "ply-room" and the equation for their construction that involved several hand signals and "the weight of a snow bank" (I stood slack jaw by the end of this conversation and he just said, "Simple math my friend"); and so much more that I missed as I near-slumbered behind the bar. This guy is gold and I pity those who can't revel in his absolutely lunacy.

- Hey guy wearing a flashlight clipped to your hat: you already look stupid enough wearing one of those goddamn Bluetooth headsets, the gold front tooth and ponytail aren't helping.

- Hey old guy in suit: yes, I've tasted the Ginger Ale, and the two minutes of rambling adjectives you used to describe it's flavor only confuse me. And yes, now we have your wallet, and Whiskey Pete has already spent your two dollars and thirty cents on malt liquor and 5-Hour Energy.

And that was my morning/afternoon at Fuel Coffee. I am a nexus of a oddness.

Lost is a big problem for me. Up until this season I've watched every single episode of this monstrous, fairly stupid weekly drama as they aired. For reasons I related to girl-related distraction, when the show fired up again five weeks ago I just wasn't in to following it on a live weekly basis. I had tired of the meandering plotlines, the reveals that meant nothing, the pure shittiness of some of the dialogue and acting. I was ready to give up.

But like the dirty yellow sheen of crystal to a meth-heads shiny eyes, I got a glimpse of the first episode on a website somewhere and was transfixed. There were flashing lights and time travel, John Locke and a big fat knife, and Hurleys man-boobs sheathed in the biggest shirt you've ever seen. And I was right back in to it. Over the last thre days I've been sacrificing even more sleep in my quest to catch back up to the misadventures of these island dwellers. I know, KNOW, that when the season crashes to a halt in eleven weeks, I'm going to be disappointed, I'm going to swear yet again to never go anywhere near this show again, I'm going to foreswear Damon Lindelof, J.J. Abrams and all their assorted ilk.

But it'll rear it's ugly head again, and I'll be honest, I'll be right back in the thick of it.

Monday: Again, I just don't know.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

As lame an injury as could possibly be and THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (62)

I'm a huge wuss. Lets just put that out there. I never played any legitimate sports. Have rarely put myself in to any sort of danger that wasn't directly preceded by many many many many beers. And in all this eschewing of treacherous situations I've always believed that I'd be able to better avoid these things athletes and you know, tough people have to deal with because of their, er, athleticism and, uh, toughness.

So, I'm pretty pissed to realize that somewhere between typing on my computer and making fucking coffee I've somehow injured my left wrist/forearm. Yup, through the hardcore exercise regime of tamping coffee grounds and tip-tapping on this infernal machine, I've done something to these crucial muscles that has left my arm tingly and at times numb.

I am the weakest man alive. I am a limp-wristed tyrannosaurus rex. I am a ball of sucky goo broken by espresso and machinery.

It is one of my favorite experiences on the planet to come in to a film thinking I'm going to hate it, and coming out completely infatuated with almost every aspect. The Passion of Joan of Arc (62) was just that sort of film. There's something about the way Carl Th. Dreyer portrays his Joan of Arc (Renee Falconetti) that draws the viewer in. This simple close-up of Falconetti's face is a window in to the soul of this martyred saint. We lucky viewers are not viewing a woman acting a part, but in truth, we are looking at Joan of Arc, standing up to her oppressors, coming to grips with her relationship with God in the face of wilting adversity, facing down the doubts that creep in when death looks you in the eye. It is as moving a performance by a female actor as I've ever seen, and she doesn't say a single word in the film that you can hear.

This is a great, albeit fucked up movie about what we do to protect the things we believe in. The final moments of the movie (spoiler: Joan of Arc died) as Joan is strapped to the stake and fire is burning away at her, and the soldiers are macing her followers and all hell is breaking lose is almost torturous to watch. Each shot of the film, especially in the ending is absolutely perfect in its framing and its symbolism. This is a film that could be made today for a handful of change stolen from a bum, but the major studios, and the dumbasses we call a public film audience would shit all over it. They'd call it too experimental, too strange, too slow and that's the sad fact of our artistically barren Hollywood machine.

My favorite story, before I go, about Carl Th. Dreyer and this production: Dreyer spent a million or so dollars (a historic amount for 1927) building a perfect recreation of the what he imagined 11th century rural France would look like But when the producers saw the first cut of the film they quickly realized that Dreyer had shot almost entirely in close-ups, barely focusing on this brilliant set they'd spent this gratuitous amount of money on. And Dreyer just didn't give a damn, he wanted to create an environment in which his actors would feel as if they were actually existing in the time period, regardless of what shots he decided to use in the final piece. And from what I can tell, it one hundred percent worked.

I'm waiting on a film from the library right now, so for the next few days I'll be catching up on television shows via the internet and just generally dicking around in terms of movies and such on this here blog. But don't fret, the Criterion Quest will continue.

Friday: Lord knows.

Sometimes there just isn't anything to say and THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (62)

I've been back from SF for one day and in that time I've sat in front of a multitude of computers, scrambling to put together a magazine. Aside from that I've done almost nothing of interest. Beers have been consumed, enchiladas devoured, bits and pieces of movies about fanatical French lesbians have been viewed. But in truth, I've done nothing that warrants the opening slot on this here website.

As per usual, I'm unable to not write anything in this opening slot though, so you've been subjected to a bland retelling of a fairly mundane 24 hours of my life. I have a pile of "sucker" name tags in the corner, if you'd just put one on ... yeah, that looks great.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (62) has an amazing back story. For years and years and years no
body could find a complete print of Carl Th. Dreyer's supposed masterpiece. There was scraps and reels that had been pieced together, but strangely the original copy, the full goddamn ball of wax was lost to the world ... until 1981, when the film was found in a janitorial closet in a mental institution in Oslo, Norway. A JANITOR'S CLOSET! That's absolutely amazing. Why was this landmark of cinema, lost to the ages, just sitting between buckets and brooms in a loony bin in Norway? No one knows, and sadly, no one ever will as Carl Th. Dreyer died almost fifty years before it's discovery.

That said, this film could be called "The Passion of Renee Falconetti's Face" as with out the tight close-ups of her boyish mug, this film would be six minutes long. I'm actually really enjoying this film, there's a real sense of foreboding religious oppression in the film that Dreyer manages to evoke through the wonderfully characteristic faces of the clergy. I don't know what happened to Ms. Falconetti after this picture, but I hope it was something amazing, as her portrayal of a 19-year old, tom boy, religious warrior is pretty brilliant. There is a wide-eyed, vacant stare Ms. Falconetti is able to pull out at any moment that often times has me wondering whether or not they just wrenched the actress from Senior Lunch at Ye Olde Nut House. Aside from that the woman can cry seemingly at the drop of a hat. This movie is called The Passion of Joan of Arc (62) and lord almighty is there a lot of tearful passion in the film. Every scene is pretty much a barrage of questions aimed at Joan of Arc that end up with her stoically sobbing in front of the camera. And you know, I think most people, with any love of old cinema, would actually enjoy this film. I'm shocked that I do.

I'm 22-minutes from Joan's eventual burning at the stake, so, if things go right, we should be able to wrap this up tomorrow.

Thursday: The Passion of Joan of Arc (62)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pretend parenting and THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (62)

For circumstances outside of my control, I spent the last three days of my life with Alex taking care of a two year old Guatemalan child through all the ins and outs of the day. This wasn't just wake up in the morning and head on over to a house where you spend the day drinking coffee, and letting the kid roll around in the dirt. Oh no. This was 24-hour care - diaper changing, food getting, snot-wiping, tear-blotting and everything else a nearly two-year old can manage.

What we ended up referring to as "Noah's Ark" contained these things: two lofts (both startling luxurious), two cars (including a behemoth of an truck that made me feel a bit like I was drop kicking the environment in the crotch), a dog named No-Pants, a bird named Thunder (that bit me and then flew in to a wall, furthering my belief that pet birds are worthless), and at one point two children (the aforementioned Guatemalan and the smartest three-year old you've ever laid eyes upon). As you might well think, I've derived a few thoughts about child-care and such, and, well, I'd like to share them with you:

- I can't believe that people do this for 18 years. I spent three days as the coach of the B-team (this meaning I was only there to dance like a muppet and occasionally pick a child up by his feet) and I'm exhausted. Hell, I didn't change diapers or prepare food or bath any snot-covered children and could lay my head down right now and sleep for days.

- To paraphrase JM, kids are great, they really are - bundles of energy and excitement that as we get older we can only wish we could muster. But Jesus, after spending 72 hours with one, a little quiet time where you aren't worrying what they're putting in their mouth, or what steep incline they're running down, or what that smell emanating from their trousers might be, is a sort of serene sublimity only those who take care of kids can enjoy.

- It is amazing how much liquid can flow from a two years old face. It doesn't matter what type of industrial strength face cleaner you're using, these children, sick or not sick, acquire a layer of filth over their entire dome piece, unimaginable. Weirdly enough, after a couple hours of spending time with Marco (my Guatemalan pretend-child) the crust of goo encapsulating his face was more endearing than disgusting and maybe that's just what being a parent is.

- I thought taking care of one child was difficult, but we threw a second kid in to the mix on Monday morning and my head nearly burst. Somewhere near noon I found myself sprawled on a rock, completely drained from hours of sprinkler avoidance and wounded children and the long march of tears and laughter that is every move from car to destination, completely in awe of every parental unit that is able to do this on a continuing daily basis.

- The Backyardagains is one of the most abysmal television shows currently being produced. That said, the sort of comatose state it puts children in certainly allows for a modicum of rest unknown through out the rest of the weekend.

- I do not envy those that have to make the parental journey on their own. I can't speak for Alex, but I'm pretty sure that with out our combined powers, this weekend would've been some sort of hell. I'm not placing any judgment on the hard path of single parents in this world, I'm just saying that I can't imagine taking care of one kid for a mere three days without someone I truly enjoyed by my side. Hats off to those who do though.

So, exhausting weekend in San Francisco taking care of children - anyone else do anything weird?

As I've said before I was not even a bit excited to slog through The Passion of Joan of Arc (62) and I think my incredibly low expectations for this nearly two hour silent film made in the late 1920s actually benefited my viewing of the film. Carl Th. Dreyer, a director whom, sadly, pops up good few more times in this here collection, creates a film that doesn't capture the adventure or the excitement of the more action-oriented Joan of Arc, but rather showcases her final trial, and the, well, passion that this soon-to-be saint carried with her at all times. Joan of Arc (Renee Falconetti) is captured almost entirely in restricted close-ups and Falconetti manages to exude the sort of fervored, probably lunatic emotional state this God-driven martyr lived out her final days in. There's something almost early-90s experimental about the way Dreyers film sucks up the tones of Falconetti, and the slew of skeevy religious figures' faces, almost as if you were watching a slideshow of Richard Avedon's black and white work.

Honestly, I'm not terribly excited by the film, but if anything, I'm interested, I'm captivated, I'm not yearning for it to stutter-stop to an end. The only thing which bothers me is the score the Criterion Collection decided to choose as an optional soundtrack. It's filled with operatic and choral voices and for whatever reason I feel as if it adds a layer of melodrama the film doesn't actually include. A sort of arch-emotional feeling that doesn't jive with how I view the film.

I'll get more in to fascinating history of this print and this film tomorrow after I've finished it.

Wednesday: The Passion of Joan of Arc (62)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Television bores me and MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN (61)

In the past I've been known to watch, well, a lot of television. It was always with a stomach full of dullard's guilt, but I would find myself for hours at a time flipping between cooking show re-runs and whatever competitive reality show might be playing on Bravo. In the last three months or so, I've cut myself, to a large degree off the old idiot box, invested a lot more of my time in reading, writing and distracted wall-staring. Sure, you can still catch me zoned out in front of over-edited basketball highlights, but for the most part, I've given it up.

Last night my father, the most fairweather of sports fans, invited Big Secord and myself over to their house for a night of pizza and Huskies' basketball. I love my dad, and again I do enjoy basketball, so it seemed reasonable to break the boob tube ban for an evening. You know how if you don't eat food for a while your stomach shrinks? And then when you go back to try and eat your regular amount of food, your stomach has shrunk and you can only get like two bites of Cheeze Whiz and crackers before you feel all nauseous? That's what has happened to my brain in terms of television.

The game was shit sure, but twenty, twenty-five minutes in to my watching experience I found myself reaching for a magazine, more interested in the impressive amount of pizza my father was consuming (8 pieces last night, I shit you not) than the flickering images on the screen. Seriously, basketball is a sport I love to watch, but the idea of just staring at a screen for that long put me in a sort of vegetative state in the past I think I've enjoyed.

Before you start tearing me a new one about the fact that yes, this blog is about watching a television screen for extended periods of time, let me say this: the movie/televison difference is marked by the fact that a film is a time-limited finite text; television on the other hand is an endless blob, likely to suck you in to a mushy, oblivious pit.

I have never been a huge fan of Monty Python and all their assorted satires. I can't explain why, but, even being a huge, huge dork, I can't help but find that the MP films are, well, too, uh dorky. I know that many of them are renowned as satires of history and, in the case of Monty Python's Life of Brian (61), Christianity, but all I can think of is the sweat-pant wearing Magic: The Gathering card players from my days working at a comic book store, sweatily reenacting their favorite scenes. This my friends, is a disconcerting image that still haunts my dreams.

Nonetheless, Monty Python's Life of Brian (61) is an enjoyable film to watch, I just don't see at as a part of the comedic canon so many others do. The film, about a man named Brian who's born right before Jesus, has it's moments: Brian's exposure to his waiting crowd, the chase scene in the middle, and of course the whistling, sing-song, crucified ending. I've seen this film a handful of times, and I always chuckle a bit, but I just can never find it as amusing as every one else.

What's awesome about the film is that when it was released, religious groups around the world were outraged by the fact that anyone could make a comedy about, huh, Jesus. Groups all over America and the UK splattered their pants trying to get this silly comedy that features lines like, "Blessed are the cheesemakers" banned. Good job fundamentalist Christians, what a great usage of your time.

Two films in two days. Are you guys proud of me?

Monday: The Passion of Joan of Arc (62)

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Charlotte: You do like me don't you?
Eva: You're my mother.

Autumn Sonata (60)
was world famous Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman's last film. And I can entirely see why. This film, set almost entirely in a cottage on a lake somewhere in rural Sweden, is as dark, brutally honest, and painful to watch as almost any I've watched before. It's a film about what armor we build to shield ourselves from the pain too harsh to deal with. It is also a film about the emotional wreckage we are forced to explore when that armor comes crashing down.

The story revolves around Eva (Liv Ullmann) and her mother Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman) a famed concert pianist who has been absent for most of her life. After two years of nearly no communication, Charlotte comes to visit Eva and they spend an emotionally raw evening sussing out the relationship they never truly had. There is a layer of honesty, brutal, brutal honesty on display in Autumn Sonata (60) that makes this film nearly unbearable to watch. The close-up camera angles of Eva as she breaks down her mother in to the cracks and flaws she is built from, pulls us in to her emotional state, and to some degree makes us, the viewer feel as if her harsh, but honest, words are aimed at us. There were times during this film, where I had to turn away from the screen, because the emotion present there made me feel uncomfortable.

There is a character in the film, Helena (Lena Nyman) who has some sort of undefined illness. She is the crux of the emotional revelations in the film, and as more and more shells are peeled away, we realize that each and everyone of these characters is sick. Charlotte is an emotional charlatan, a fake who has left her daughter a barren shell of a woman. While Eva is nothing more than the compiled parts of her anger. Both of these women are so damaged that their eventual reckoning cannot do anything but reveal them for what they are: bits and pieces held together by the hatred for each other still lingering in their hearts. When that emotion is finally exposed, the audience is left wondering, without their pain to hold on to, can these women be anything at all?

Whomever at The Criterion Collection programmed the last few films must've been having some sort of week, 'cause holy hell, these are some films that leave scars on my brain. Seemingly, some one gave this sour fellow/lady quite a hug, as the next film up is Monty Python's Life of Brian (61) and that is anything but a downer.

Jesus, I might need a hug after that one.

Friday: Monty Python's Life of Brian (61)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tooting my own horn.

Hah, remember when I used to watch movies and write about them on this thing? Those were the glory days.

They'll return, I promise. I just need to get my shit settled.

Until then if you're desperate for my thoughts on some sort of filmic goodness, head on over to Side One: Track One, an Austin-based blog where I've been lucky enough to been given a small amount of space to write up my, decidedly negative thoughts, on the weekly new film releases.

I have a lot of fun writing it and hope that you guys will enjoy it just as much as old Criterion Quest.

You check it out right HERE.

I'll get back in to writing about old, weird movies tomorrow.

Thursday: Autumn Sonata (60)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What's in store and what I think about it.

Exhausted, absolutely exhausted. That's what I have been over the course of the last five days and last night after a fairly marathon bout of sleeping I woke, groggy, but at least staring over the precipice of not being completely consumed by the need for sleep. Criterion films are not always the most exciting of movies. On occasion their subject matter is how may say, numbingly boring. Combine that with the fact that a lot of the films in this canon aren't bogged down with beautiful people, traditional cinematography, or the need for flashy explosions and special effects and, well, these films can be real snoozers.

Mix nap-inducing films with a very tired writer, and what you get is splashes of Ingrid Bergman's, a lot of frantic rewinding, and pretty much no film watched. It's okay though, in my scramble to try and come up with a lame excuse/idea I've actually managed to cobble together an interesting column. I'm going to preview the next four of five films I'll be writing about, give you guys a chance to maybe watch along with me, and let me get out some of my snarkier opinions on some of this high end films.

And away we go:

Film: Autumn Sonata (60)
Director: Ingmar Bergman

I know, I've supposedly "started" this film, but my collective memory so far is of a strange monologue, a beautifully cut story about death, and a mom and a daughter hugging. I've said it before, what I've seen of Bergman hasn't done much for me, but I'm curious to dig a little deeper, expose myself to one of the accepted masters of cinema. I just might need to ingest a little bit more caffeine before giving this one another go.

Film: Monty Python's The Life of Brian (61)
Director: Terry Jones

Hilarious to me that this is a Criterion film, but it is. I've seen this one a handful of times and it's my least favorite of the Monty Python features, but it's always an enjoyable, if not remarkably dorky bit of cinema. It leaves me a little accented, humming "'s a piece of shit..." and remembering my ex-girlfriend and how she thought she was going to really enjoy this film and just hated the shit out of it.

Film: The Passion of Joan of Arc (62)
Director: Carl Th. Dreyer

This is a two-hour, silent film from the late 1920s about world famous loony martyr Joan of Arc. It's revered by cineastes but I'll be honest, I think I'll be pretty bored. TWO HOURS OF SILENCE! I mean sure their will be music, but I sat through the ultra-revered serial killer flick M (30) and I was a picture of snoozy boredom. I'm giving this film a chance, but I'm coming in with low expectations. Sorry film snobs, I'm just not a silent film type of guy.

Film: Carnival of Souls (63)
Director: Herk Harvey

A weird cult horror film about apparitions and, well, spookiness? Count me in. 1960s horror is some of my favorite and this should nicely wash the cloying taste of silence from my maw.

Film: The Third Man (64)
Director: Carol Reed

The Third Man (64) is one of the great old films of all time. It's a mystery about a disappeared friend and the secrets that bubble up to the surface when we start to dig in to the past. It's dark and weird in a proper British manner, the way only Carol Reed and his contemporaries could pull off. It also features Orson Welles, and this I promise, if Welle's name is on it, then it's worth taking a look. I've seen it, many times, and you folk should certainly share in its glory.

Final Thoughts: Not terribly excited for the next few weeks of Criterion watching. Starts out really slow but picks up by the end. I wonder if Criterion programs their line-up like that? Big names, big films and then small, more boring, ones sprinkled amongst. I'm guessing, yes.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Coffee with a dominatrix and the very slightest bit of AUTUMN SONATA (60)

In the past four days I've worked six shifts at my coffee shop, including three doubles and two 5:30 shifts. This is the most interesting event that happened in those six shifts:

Friday night the store is dead. No customers, no walk-ins - nothing. I've tried to read and write in this blank time, but I'm distracted (as is usual in these transitory days) and find myself pacing up and down behind the bar.

When she walks in I almost instantly know something is different about her. She is a big, tall woman, and I believe the proper word for her is handsome. She orders a couple of drinks and as I always do I ask her, "So, big plans for the evening? Anything exciting?"

Smiling from ear to ear she answers, "Oh yes. Quite exciting."

Curious, as always, I inquire, "What exactly are you doing tonight?"

Still smiling, "Having a foursome." I'm not a prude, or even sensitive about sex talk, but this very open, honest admission catches me off guard. I laugh (giggle?) and stutter "Wow. That does sound like quite an evening." I thank her for her honesty and go back to pretending to work.

Twenty minutes or so go past, when the woman approaches me again. "Will you look at some erotic photos that I'm entering in to the Seattle Erotic Arts Festival?" she asks. Without even a blink of an eye, "Of course."

The pictures of certainly the one of the more risque thing I've ever seen in my coffee shop. Chains are attached to scrotums; my new found friend screams in the midst of an orgasm; I'm pretty sure there is something involving a butthole and a device this woman refers to, and aptly so (imagine nails) as "The Seattle Scream." I comment on each picture, tell her which I think are the best, and when she's garnered all the opinion I have, I go back to cleaning.

Dominatrixes, ass-nails, scrotum chains and a wide-eyed barista - all in a night's work at Fuel Coffee.
Since I've barely scratched the surface of Ingmar Bergman's Ingrid Bergman-starring film Autumn Sonata (60), I'm just going to write a few thoughts I've had about the film pre-viewing:

- If beloved film The Seventh Seal (11) is indicative of late Bergman, I'm a little worried about my enjoyment of this film. That film made me feel dumb like only a symbolism heavy Swedish film can. This one doesn't feature a white-faced Death as a main character though, so maybe I'll fare better.

- Yup, it's true this is a film by Ingmar Bergman starring Ingrid Bergman. The Swede's, they do shit differently.

- Loyal customer and reader Matthew described the film in one word for me, "Somber." Ooooooh weee, I can not wait.

- This stretch of The Criterion Collection is a little rough on me. Weirdly sexual Nazi films, quiet, brooding Swedish films, and the ominous presence of a two hour silent film about Joan of Arc looming on the horizon. The Third Man (64) you can not arrive soon enough.

For you my loyal readers, I'll take these bullets.

Tuesday: Autumn Sonata (60)