Saturday, May 21, 2011

There's a paper waiting to be written citing all of these (and it will be called "From Sazeracs to Nazi Quacks: Green Things and Insanity in Post-WWI Anglophone Cinema")

To give y'all a break from my insufferable partisan hackery, I thought I'd muse for a bit on five great movies I saw this week, ranging in subject matter from American sincerism to Nazi mysticism (not that that's a spectrum, although, come to think of it...)
- - - - -
STATE OF THE UNION (1948)

Only caught the second half of this one, but starved as I am for good political drama I couldn't turn away. Directed by Frank Capra with Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and a particularly impressive young Angela Lansbury-- what's not to like, right? Except the incredibly preachy (and predictable) ending about the hypocrisy of politicians and their respective machines (it's actually based on a Pulitzer Prize winning 1945 play by Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay, a writing duo famous for reworking the libretto to Anything Goes) Still, Lansbury really shines as the driving force behind Tracy's dark horse candidacy; if you're interested in models of female political strength, it's worth your two hours. It's a fun script, with lines like "I haven't enjoyed myself so much since Huey Long died!" (delivered by aging Sazerac swiller Lulubelle Alexander).

In this scene, a drunk Mary Matthews (Hepburn) realizes she's had enough of politics after overhearing a comment implicating her husband and wannabe GOP nominee Grant Matthews (Tracy) in an affair with influential newspaper publisher and de facto campaign manager Kay Thorndyke (Lansbury). Meanwhile, in the midst of an important national broadcast boosting Grant's candidacy, Kay beats uppity labor leader Bill Hardy back in line just minutes before his speech. All martini glass and opera gloves in a sea of red faced, grasping hacks, she not only holds her own but shuts them down, not giving any of them an inch and getting Hardy out in front of the mic just in time.


LOVE AND DEATH (1975)

What could a Dostoevsky-obsessed Russianist born and raised in New York possibly say about Love and Death? I've seen it at least a dozen times, but woke up to it on channel five thousand thirty six the other night and realized I haven't pimped it on this blog yet. If you're not a Slavophile (or at least an ardent Slav-symp), you might not think this is Woody Allen's best film-- but you'd be wrong.

This is far and away the most obvious clip to share with you, but it's also the most necessary. If you've read even one pre-revolutionary work of Russian literature, put this on your Netflix queue, and if you haven't, what on earth are you doing here?


INVINCIBLE (2001)

There are apparently several films by this name, but only one was directed by Werner Herzog. I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical of the plot at first (Jewish strongman performs in a Nazi circus to pay off a debt), thinking it too mawkish and unreal, until I read online that it was based on the true story of Zishe Breitbart, Polish blacksmith-cum-folk hero.

The movie itself was very well done and I highly recommend it, but the "trivia" listed on its IMDB page are too good  not to pass along:

"An elderly woman who lived in one of the houses near where the marketplace scenes were shot once stepped out into it with a shopping bag and, even though director Werner Herzog told her it was just a movie set, insisted on shopping and interrupted the shoot for 15 minutes."

"Jouko Ahola, who plays the strongman [Zishe], is an actual strongman and actually lifted the weights as seen in the film."

Yes, he lifts that (he even acts, too!).
"After two minutes of the hypnosis scene, the cinematographer started to weave and his head sunk back. Herzog grabbed him and put him softly back to the camera where he continued. Not only that, but Roth was actually able to hypnotize the young woman as well, again Herzog stating that one 'cannot act waking up from hypnosis' like we see in the film."

This is because Tim Roth (who plays the mystic Nazi hypnotist cabaret manager) is so seductively good he probably is in league with the devil. I am very sorry for you, dear reader, that I was unable to find any good clips of him in this film online. All I could find was this, which in no way does justice to his performance, or his ability to, er, hypnotize suggestable young women.

THE LAST STATION (2009)

It's no news to anyone that I'm not exactly Tolstoy's biggest fan, and this biopic chronicling his last months did nothing to raise him in my esteem. This is another one I only saw the last half of, and while what I saw was good, what I did want to draw your attention to was this:


That's Paul Giamatti as Vladimir Chertkov, a devotee of Lev Nikolaevich's so ardent it was said that he was more Tolstoy than Tolstoy himself. 

That's a painting of Chertkov by Ilya Repin completed about seventy years before Paul Giamatti was even born.

I guess we know how an American slipped into this film now.

BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009)

(Herzog's really not very good with the naming thing, is he?) I put off watching this movie for weeks, figuring from the title it was just some cheap cop thriller Nicolas Cage did to pay off Dog the Bounty Hunter, but it's actually a hell of a lot of fun (in a wild hedonistic desperation kind of way-- sort of like Leaving Las Vegas meets Vampire's Kiss meets 8MM meets Lord of War... it's a Nic Cage movie, okay?). He plays a drug addicted, iguana hallucinating sergeant (later lieutenant) in post-Katrina New Orleans. The plot doesn't really matter, it's all just an excuse for him to run around saying things like, "Shoot him again, his soul is still dancing."

If you don't like Nicolas Cage doing his Nicolas Cage thing, you probably won't like this movie-- though again, I have to wonder what you're doing reading this blog (Cage, Waits, and Dostoevsky sum me up about as well as anything can).

Here is one of the many scenes in which he is on crack:


Almost enough to make a gal pro-drug war (how art survives in Portugal I just haven't the foggiest).

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