Glen or Glenda

You'd think the label "worst director of all time" would be, well, hard to live up to. It's a form of overly high expectations, after all, what if people come to your films expecting terrible and getting merely mediocre?

Don't worry though, "Glen or Glenda" is anything but merely mediocre. The reason it is this terrible, and fascinating, is because it's so incredibly earnest, so filled with ideas and good intentions, so convinced of its own importance. It's a movie that has no lesser goal than to spread understanding and acceptance of transvestism (a term which is defined, in almost the same terms, twice, as if to pound it in our head, or maybe Wood had simply forgotten he'd already done it).

But what a strange movie this is. It's hard even to talk of "scenes". Glen himself gets some lines with his Barbara, but as Glenda he is mostly just followed through the street by a voice-over. There are multiple framing devices: a doctor who tells the story of Glen "and all the other Glens" to a concerned policeman, but also strange bits with Bela Lugosi as some puppeteer going nefariously on and on about "pulling the string" and "puppy dog tails and fat big snails". There's even a scene of him in a lab, but what he's mixing we don't know. It produces a lot of smoke though.

There are weird dream sequences too, and then, there's his love of stock footage. When we see Bela, for example, it's framed by shots of lightning. The story of Alan - also told by the doctor- is mostly narrated over war footage. A shot of a highway, cars streaming through, comes back over and over again with only a mere excuse for it the first time.

It's a totally bizarre film, and while it can be applauded for at least trying to make transvestism normal, it spoils that by being thoroughly homophobic. It confirms that Wood might, indeed, be the worst director of all time, but also a director with so much ambition and so many ideas that it's amazing none of them turn out to be good.

So do yourself a favor. Don't go see the merely mediocre "I know who killed me" or anything like that this weekend. Treat yourself to something truly terrible instead.


Recently Seen Roundup

2.50, less than the cost of renting a movie, for a movie a) starring Humphrey Bogart b) directed by John Huston c) with Peter Lorre in a supporting part and as I later found out d) co-written by Truman Capote, how could I resist? I'm glad I didn't, because while Beat the Devil is a mess of a movie with a plot that's both ludicrous and not quite there, the lines and the performances are wonderful. I want to see more of Jennifer Jones now, who's hilarious here, and what about this short bit by Peter Lorre on time:
"Time. Time. What is time? Swiss manufacture it. French hoard it. Italians squander it. Americans say it is money. Hindus say it does not exist. Do you know what I say? I say time is a crook. "

Also for a mere 2.50, "Reform School Girl". I already had a postcard, two in fact, of the poster, and I just had to see what was behind it. It turns out it's a lovely little B-movie, 73 minutes long, which is a lot less outrageous and sleazy than you'd think, although I'll admit it contains plenty of girls walking around in their nightgowns and pulling each other's hair. The girls here are scary, seriously, scarier than the guy who's supposed to be the main bad guy. The acting from some supporting players is as bad and over-the-top as you might expect, but all-in-all this is very worth seeing, and not only for the camp factor.

I can admit it now: I'd never seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but this gap in my cinematic education has now been filled. I liked it a lot, mostly because it has no narrative ambition aside from showing a year of this kids' lives. It also shows all too clearly how out culture had regressed and grown more conservative in the past 25 years. Sure, in sex comedies, the girls still freely have sex, but they don't think about it like the girls do here, not to mention they're not by far as complex characters as Stacey and Linda are here. And the way abortion is treated in this movie? I don't think it could happen any more today.

I also saw "The Sea" or HafiĆ°, an Icelandic movie my cousin (hey Ruben!) lent me. I liked how it started the same way it ended: it emphasizes how images in and of themselves are often meaningless, but are given meaning by what comes before. Aside form that, the plot is overdrawn, with soap-like developments being divulged with much ado but little surprise, and the only really redeeming thing are the character quirks and the strong performances. It also gives a good impression of how claustrophobic it must be to live in such a small, isolated community.

Finally, I've also been watching "Flight of the Conchords" a lot, and I just want to say, Jemaine and Bret? I love you. The series by itself if plenty fun, with supporting characters Murray and Mal are over-the-top but hilarious, and then there's the musical numbers, which bump this series from good to great. Little things like the "binary solo" in the humans are dead are brilliant, and some songs you can't even decide which excerpts to lift out. So, I'll just leave you with the following:



I saw Goodfellas 4 days ago already, but I kept putting off writing about it. Why? Well...I'm afraid I'm going to blaspheme.

Oh, not blaspheme in the "fucking show yourself, you goddamn bloodsucker" way I was talking to the hiding mosquito in my room on my hunt after the movie, infected by the language. No, blaspheme as in: I didn't really like it all that much.

Oh, Scorses is definitely a master filmmaker, so I did find much to admire: there are some breathtaking tracking shots, the dialogue snaps like it should, basically every technical aspect is perfect. Somehow, though, I was unaffected.

One thing might be that it's long, and that I didn't find the story particularly engaging or suspenseful. To put it crudely, I didn't really care who lived or died. It might be that I found the switching between the perspective of the voice-over from Henry to Karen and back distracting and unnecessary. More importantly, I think it's from a lack of affinity with Scorsese's take on the mafia as a topos.

It's interesting that almost every director to take on the genre of mob movies has his own take on it. To Coppola, the family aspect, the traditional side, was most important. To Tarantino, gangsters are just the epitome of cool. In Mann's movies, being a gangster is just a job like another, with it's own rules and ethics, sure, but not all that different from being a cop, a journalist, a cab driver.

To Scorsese, it's a calling.

And see, that's where he loses me, because I can't for the life of me understand Henry. He describes it in detail: he likes the respect he gets, the perks, that he doesn't need to wait in line.

I mean really? To not have to wait in line you're ok with hurting and killing people? You're happy to exploit people?

Of course, the element of the film that is intriguing, I have to admit, is the unreliability of the narrator. Henry justifies a little too much, tries too hard to justify the mafia as a not-so-evil form of business. They protect these people after all, see? Also, in the voice-over he seems reluctant to use violence, quite a nice guy actually, but he seems just a little too eager to hit his wife for that to be true.

I'm almost scared to type the above, to justify myself by saying "it's not the movie, it's probably just me". After all, this is #92 on the most recent AFI list, #18 on the imdb top 250. But I'll be bold, and say it outright: I think Goodfellas is overrated.

If you'll excuse me, I'll go run and hide now.

Hairspray & Once

Yay! My first two press screenings. Two musicals, but they couldn't possible have been more different. Whereas everything in Hairspray is oversized, from the protagonist to the hair through the feelings and the stars, Once is one of the smallest, most understated and most quietly charming films I've ever seen.

I liked Hairspray more than I thought I would. It's infectious, the way a musical should be, and even if I was a little disturbed because it seemed to equate discrimination against fat people to racism, I ended up rather liking it. It's mainly because it feels so refreshing to see people really dance instead of shots of moving body parts edited together as fast as possible, but also because of the performances. I wasn't really impressed with John Travolta, but I admire him for taking the role straight, without apologizing for it through caricature, James Marsden was a true surprise here (what a voice!) and I'm sure we'll hear more from Elijah Kelley.

But Once, well, that's an entirely different ballgame. I don't want to say too much, actually, because I think it's best seen without any expectations or prior knowledge. I'm grateful to Sam from filmspotting because he was the one reviewer not agreeing with the near universal adulation of this film. It lowered my expectations enough that I could still be surprised by how wonderful it is.

I'm very happy that Glen Hansard, of the Frames, plays the main part, and not Cillian Murphy as was apparently planned at first. Together with the hand-held camera and the naturalistic style, the fact that it's two unknown faces playing the unnamed Guy and Girl means there's a very everyday quality to the film. Realism is the last thing you expect in a musical, but the music is totally organic here.

Ok, I'll stop now. Go see it! I mean, seeing Hairspray, you'll be entertained, but it doesn't really stick in any way, not the music or the details. Once, on the other hand, is still playing in my head.


The Deathly Hallows

This is the end, then. 7 books, and the saga is concluded.

I know no-one likes a spoiler, but does it count if it's relatively minor and occurs on page 52? Just in case, I'll give you some space to surf away...

Hedwig dies! And you can understand how that would be upsetting to me. Well, not quite upsetting, but unsettling, in any case. And her death is only the beginning. She was the reason I started reading, after all, narcissistic as that might sound: this was just before book 4 came out, I was bored while babysitting and picked up a copy of the Dutch translation of the second book. I noticed the name, and asked my dad to bring back the English version of The Philosopher's Stone from his trip to London. He brought back the first three, and three days later, I'd finished them just in time to buy the fourth.

The Harry Potter books really aren't for children any more, are they, although I dare say books 3, 5 and 6 were darker: whereas those has touches of the psychological thriller, this one is a war book, maybe most clearly because the school year doesn't frame the story any more: society isn't teetering on the brink any more, it's fallen. The book goes from action scene to action scene with very little of the self-doubt and the despair in daily routine that filled the other books.

I never quite understood the Potter hype, but these are gripping books. I mean, I read this one in a day, mostly because I was in a lot of delayed trains (enough to get me to page 481), but also because it's a thrilling adventure with many small mysteries to be resolved. There are no less than 10 important magical artifacts in this story, maybe too many, in fact. And as for the resolution, I won't spoil anything here, but I was glad to discover I was right all along about one particular detail.

However, I didn't stand in line on Friday night: I simply strolled into the bookshop on Saturday morning and was able to buy it right away. And I am not as in awe of the saga as a whole as many people seem to be. I love the humor, the inventiveness, the richness of the world J.K.Rowling has created, but in the end she is just a little too traditional for me. Oh, I love the small satirical touches she has here, and this book could even somehow be seen as allegorical of the war on terror, but she's simply not on the level of, say, Roald Dahl, because in the end, she's simply not cynical enough. Love conquers all, and the "nineteen years later" epilogue is really some of the most soppy and sappy stuff I've ever read. Totally unnecessary, too: it only serves to stir up some feeling and allow the reader to feel better after putting down the book. If you're going to let the body count climb so high - and climb it does- it feels like a cop-out to not take the consequences of that.

I don't mean to be cranky. I enjoyed every book (my favorite would have to be either the first one, for its humor, or the third, for obvious reasons), and Rowling deserves every penny she's earned for introducing so many children to the power and magic of reading, showing them that books don't need to be any less thrilling than films or television. I just hope these children will go on to discover there's much more to read out there than wand-waving and selfless sacrifice.