Oh why oh why did I not see this film when I was, say, fourteen or fifteen? I might have truly loved it then, watched it over and over and memorized every line. Now I was merely fascinated by it's bizarro twist and turns and the absurd grandiosity of its ambition. I was laughing out loud at some moments (the whole "eskimo" business is amazing), shaking my head at how far they were pushing the boundaries of logic in others.

I don't think any movies get dated as quickly as high school movies. It's the need to differentiate between the popular people and the geeks, I suppose. We have to see who belongs to which group right away, but while geeks look more or less the same throughout the decades, the popular kids go through at least one fad every year. This is so clearly an 80's movie, with the shoulder pads and big hair, it's a little bit of a distraction.

But I shouldn't whine. I can't think of any high school movie so deliberately strange and dark, so nasty. The only one in recent memory that comes close is "mean girls", which has a similar trio of "heathers" at its center. I loved the baby-faced and totally psycho Christian Slater here (admittedly, when do I not love Christian Slater, but that's another story), with his ambition to destroy society by destroying the high school he sees as a representative of it. I even liked Winona Ryder: her character is not very consistent, but the look on her face as she stands straight at the end, like the action hero at the end of a film,bruised, bleeding, and blackened by smoke but triumphant, is priceless.

Too bad I've grown to realize high school's not that important or representative, after all...

What I've been ...


He Walked By Night
(Werker & Mann, 1948)
The only reason this film could have been included in my film noir box is its cinematography, with long shadows and crooked angles, and a great chase through the sewers at the end. The only other interest it can have is historical, as this film is clearly the forebear of every police show ever made: we follow the police, see even the CSI unit of its day, see how a portrait of the suspect is made, etc.

The Fabulous Baker Boys
(Kloves, 1989)
I finally saw this, after hearing Nathanial at the Film Experience sing its praises for so long, and I'm glad I did. The cinematography is indeed gorgeous, as is Michelle Pfeiffer. The performances are spot on, and there are too many well-caught details to name them all here. Also: who knew the Dude was sexy?

Escape from Alcatraz (Siegel, 1979)
What can I say? This is my idea of fun: Clint Eastwood being snarky and kicking some ass. Admittedly, this film is a bit too slow, Clint doesn't really kick that much ass, and the characters are caricatures, but hey. Dirty Harry this is not, but it's fun enough for an hour or two, when you're tired and not up for anything more sophisticated.


Ghostwritten (David Mitchell)
The last book by Mitchell I hadn't read yet, I liked it. For the first half and more I was just ok with it, going along with it and admiring his craft but not particularly transported, but the last two of the nine stories really hit it out of the park.

As She Climbed Across the Table (Jonathan Lethem)
I keep running into female physicists lately. There's one in the second to last story in Ghostwritten, and this book is entirely about a guy in love with one. This is no masterpiece, but Lethem has fun with the concept (woman falls in love with big void in space whose only characteristic is taste), and manages to surprise you with some observations and ideas.

...listening to

Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
No need to say much about it, just listen to it. "The Underdog" is my favorite so far.

Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof OST
At first I couldn't stop playing April March's "Chick Habit", now it's Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch who get me dancing to "Hold Tight". One plays while a guy gets the shit beaten out of him, the other just before four girls get gruesomely killed. The songs bring a grin to my face. Should I be worried?


The Big Heat

On the outside, this is almost a boring story, and not very noir at all. Glenn Ford as Sgt. Bannion is the proverbial straight cop in a bent town, too good to be true, not cynical but still convinced good will beat evil in the end. He almost goes vigilante, almost lets his own darker side burst through, but in the end he lets a woman do the dirty job.

Ah, but that's where the film gets interesting, with this woman. Gloria Grahame is glorious as Debbie, who seems a supporting character for much of the movie, but don't get her angry. She's ditzy, perpetually drunk, and makes no excuses for placing money above everything else, but she's the cynical hero of this noir tale in the end. She's the one who gets all the good lines, too: she says of her perfume that it's "something new. It attracts mosquitoes and repels men", and as explanation for her roaring rampage of revenge, all she offers is a pouty "Vince should have never ruined my looks. It was a rotten thing to do".

She gets a raw deal, Debbie. All she does is execute Bannion's wishes, so that he can keep his conscience clean and return to his Sgt's desk while she's punished. She's by far the most interesting character here, but like the other women, she ends up by the side of the road.

I really can't recommend this film enough. It's deceptively simple, but there's so much lurking beneath the surface, so many repressed feelings and undercurrents of violence, violence against woman in particular. And then there's Lee Marvin, who is positively amazing here, making his sadistic thug more interesting than he has any right to be. It's a noir as noirs should be: in the end, the bad guys are punished and good does win, but we don't get to feel triumphant about it.

Gerry (continuing the 'going crazy in the desert' theme)

In the music of Arvo Pärt, the gaps, the silences, are just as important as the notes that are played, if not more. The same can be said for Gerry, and for the other two films in Gus van Sant's informal trilogy about (violent) death, Elephant and Last Days. This might be the emptiest of them all, but they have in common a total lack of motivation, structure, and above all meaning, defying viewers to make anything of the raw images.

As I watched this film, my mind often wandered, and I even went back one time, only to find that I had, in fact, seen and registered the shots that came before, just hadn't processed them. It might be the best way of seeing this film, and the two others: just letting the images stream through is, repressing our innate yearning to analyze and destroy.


Happy 100

Is there anyone comparable today? Sexy, self-possessed yet vulnerable, and most importantly, never, ever hiding her intelligence? Happy Birthday, Ruby.


The Sheltering Sky

There's nothing quite like going crazy in the desert, is there?

Bernardo Bertolucci's "the Sheltering Sky" opens with grainy B&W images of Manhattan: all the familiar spots, the neon signs, the skyline. Strange, as the movie takes place entirely in Morocco, albeit with American protagonists. But it's not the only strange detail: Paul Bowles (who wrote the novel the book is based on, and which I must read sometime soon) is briefly in the first half of the movie as a narrator, then disappears -likethe main characters do from civilization- for the rest of the movie, only to re-appear to deliver some memorable final words.

This isn't a good movie. I think. The plot meanders and stalls, the characters are sketchy and hard to understand, and I found myself bored and impatient with it for long stretches. While Bertolucci doesn't quite make the mistake of portraying the Moroccans and Tuaregs as noble savages, he does take too much of an anthropological interest, filming anything and everything vainly looking for some revelation. Still, at the end, I was oddly moved. Maybe owing to those final words, no doubt taken directly from the book:

"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well, yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless. "

It's not as deep as it wants to be, of course, but it made sense to me on some level. It made me want to see the movie again keeping that in mind (though not right now).

Debra Winger has a strange face. It shifts so much it's impossible to get a firm grasp on it, and at the same time it can be almost unbearably still. One scene she's a traditional beauty, the next she's almost unrecognizable, anonymous. She would make sense in the Manhattan world we glimpse, all fashionable clothes and wit, but it also doesn't quite surprise you when she "goes native".

I miss Morocco, sometimes.