I Am DB

August 31, 2014

Movie Mixtape #2

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 11:00 am
Tags: ,

Well, it’s taken us long enough, but the wait is over. 14 months after the first release, and nearly 13 months after this compilation was started, we’ve finally got something to show for it. Without further ado, Burnce and Frants Present Movie Mixtape #2.

 

BA: Alright kid. Our first Movie Mixtape was clearly a huge success. Picked up on several blogs, shared by thousands of film lovers all over the world. Let’s not leave them wanting for too long. Also, let’s make clear that, honestly, maybe ten people total read our first Movie Mixtape, and most of the preceding claims here are lies. But hey, films are lies too, right?

As you may know, I went on a bit of a film noir kick a few years back. Rewatched some that I already loved, like Double Indemnity. Discovered some new ones to love, like Out of the Past. Needless to say, I have developed quite an affinity for the genre, so I’m going to start Movie Mixtape #2 with one of my favorites. One of the many reasons I love this one is that it feels like the first Post-Noir film (not neo-noir). Most people tend to date the film noir movement from around ’41 to the late 50s. This film is from 1957, so it’s just under the wire there. And it has all the qualities you’d expect: the dirty city, corrupt and powerful men, duplicity, depravity, personal destruction. But it’s not about gangsters or detectives or police. It’s about a press agent and a gossip columnist. The noir elements are there, but the film’s been ‘miscast.’ That’s why it feels post-noir: someone said, “Hey, let’s make a noir, but let’s change up the characters.” It feels like the first major film that tipped its cap to the genre instead of being implicitly part of it.
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The script is just wonderful, so many wonderful one-liners and rapid-fire back and forth (eat your heart out, Aaron Sorkin). The performances by Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster are dripping with sleaze. I tell ya, it’s just tops.
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Sweet Smell of Success
Dir. Alexander Mackendrick
Wrt. Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman
1957
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DB: In one of this movie’s many great lines, Lancaster’s J.J. Hunsecker describes Curtis’ Sidney Falco (GREAT names, by the way) as “a cookie full of arsenic.” The same could be said of the movie itself. If only all poison went down so easily. I think studio executives often worry that a movie has to have a main character that the audience can relate to, and/or sympathize with. I’ve never agreed with that. I don’t have to like, admire or identify with the protagonists. I simply have to be interested in them. This movie could stand as Exhibit A in defending that position. Hunsecker and Falco are despicable through and through, but what fun it is to watch them play their games of power and manipulation. By making them so enjoyable to watch, the movie makes us complicit in their shady dealings at the same time that we’re rooting for the victims of their plotting to win the day. It’s a nifty trick of dramatic orchestration. You aren’t kidding about the performances, either. The physically imposing Lancaster keeps cool while personifying menace and malice, and Curtis shuffles between private anxiety and public confidence with artful ease, maintaining an underlying moral vacancy all along.
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Our last mixtape touched on movies that captured the thrill of New York City on film, and this one really achieved that for me. Half of this movie feels like it’s happening at 1:00 in the morning, which seems fitting since Hunsecker and Falco are vampires of a sort. But no matter what time of day the events are happening, Mackendrick portrays a city that is pulsing with activity and energy. He gets some help in that department from Elmer Bernstein’s jazzy score and the cinematography from the great James Wong Howe.
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Sweet Smell of Success hovers on the edge of the journalism world. For the follow-up, I give you a movie that brings us directly into that scene. This one spends a lot more time in the newsroom (while still plenty outside of it), as our lead characters – another two man team – exemplify a more virtuous side of the field than J.J. Hunsecker. They are sometimes forced to play games and manipulate too, but they do so toward more noble ends than their own power or personal glory. I’ve always enjoyed stories about the newspaper industry, and as it continues to fight for survival, this movie is the ultimate reminder of the important role that print journalism has played in American history.
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All the President’s Men
Dir. Alan J. Pakula
Wrt. William Goldman
1976
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BA: There’s not much new insight I can bring to such an iconic film. As far as a ‘procedural’ goes, this one doesn’t let up. Peeling back layer after layer, starting to realize you’re poking a tiger, then that you’re poking a thousand tigers. It almost begins to play like a horror movie. But maybe because I recently rewatched Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor (’75), I do have something that feels worthy of pointing out. The Cold War gave something to film history that filmmakers have struggled to replace since the fall of the Soviet Union: a high stakes bad guy that everyone understood straight off. There was a constant bipolar tension in the world then. Damon Lindelof recently talked about the stakes in event films these days: once your budget passes $100 million, you have to save the world. That’s given us a crazy tent-pole season that I called The Summer of Peak Fist. But during the Cold War, the stakes were always that high, such that one man (like Redford’s Condor) could be running around the city, also trying to save the world. One mistake, one misunderstanding, could result in a simple button press and POOF, it’s all over. We don’t have that situation anymore. Die Hard gave us the “rogue terrorist” formula that worked well for years, and of course now we have the post-9/11 terrorism films, but terrorism plots, no matter how heinous, are almost always local. During the Cold War, the world needed saving every second of every day.
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The spy film genre flourished under this situation, profiling the clandestine methods in which we kept the world from exploding. Criterion just released a fine example in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (’65). What I want to point out here, though, is what the subject of All The President’s Men – the Watergate scandal and resulting cover-up – seemed to do to the genre. Before Watergate, there was always a double agent, a communist threat, a Russian spy. But then Watergate happened. And so look at Three Days of the Condor (spoiler ahead!!!): a hit on a CIA office, led by German Max Von Sydow, leads the audience to naturally assume, “It’s the commies!” But it turns out to be American spy agencies protecting their own operations.  Three Days of the Condor is a spy film that chooses as its bad guy not the Soviets but ourselves. And the movie doesn’t have any closure, but rather ends with the suggestion that the government can even tell the media what to print. Without closure, without “And that’s that,” the audience leaves the theater with a new mistrust of everything around them. That All The President’s Men was released the following year, also with Redford, almost feels like kismet: “See what we did in Condor? This is why it’s the new normal.”
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This is all speculation, of course, heightened by the coincidence of me watching both films within a week of each other. But it feels right, no? Regardless, in looking for my next suggestion, I strove to find another historical event that changed the way filmmakers approached their storytelling. I arrived at World War II. Things were going well, and then BAM, war again. It gave us the gung-ho, USA!-USA! war hero films. It gave us more and more escapist musicals. It gave us the dark, dirty noir genre. And by the end of the war, it even gave us introspective looks at ourselves, in William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (’46). I almost recommended that one, but I thought I’d spice it up with a comedy. And so here’s an unexpected film made during the war, that deals with the over-patriotic hero worship in a surprisingly frank way. A man comes back to his hometown, having lied about going to war, and is honored as a hero. As with any comedy, the momentum of it all results in our ‘hero’ going along with it as best he can, as it snowballs out of control. With a kooky performance by Eddie Bracken, I give you wartime political satire that’s just as relevant today, even if the jokes feel a bit dated.
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Wrt & Dir: Preston Sturges
1944
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DB: Excellent insights into two movies that clearly demonstrated Robert Redford’s disillusionment with the American government in the 1970’s…a sensibility that was shared by much of the country and which was reflected by so many of the great films of that decade (a decade bursting with great films). Interesting thoughts as well on the changing face of the movies’ big baddie over the last several decades.
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There’s no bad guy to overthrow in Hail the Conquering Hero. Instead it’s the protagonist’s own shame that must be overcome, along with the tidal wave of adulation that prevents him from doing just that despite his repeated efforts. That was one element that prevented me from fully embracing the movie. I tend to lose patience with stories in which people won’t just shut up for a minute and listen to what someone is trying to tell them, which happens over and over again here as Eddie Bracken’s Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith tries to come clean with his hometown worshippers, only to be steamrolled each time by their frenetic enthusiasm and insistence on celebrating him. I also found the tone distractingly inconsistent. Was it a satire of what you called “overly-patriotic hero worship,” or was it the kind of broad, goofy comedy in which the band keeps playing at the wrong moment and the mayor is a buffoon? It couldn’t quite decide. Bracken’s performance seemed to belong in the latter, while much of the activity crowding around him seemed more of the former. This made it harder for me to buy into the relationship between Woodrow and Libby (played by the lovely Ella Raines). Her devotion to him never quite made sense to me, since they seemed like such an unlikely pair. Unlikely because while her performance was grounded, his was comically exaggerated. Only in the early scenes, prior to his newfound Marine buddies inventing the lie about his military service, and the climactic scene where he makes his confessional speech, did he seem like he was in the satire rather than the screwball comedy of errors. Still, I enjoyed Bracken’s performance on its own. I only knew him from his small role years later as Walley World founder Roy Walley in Vacation, so it was neat to see him in his heyday. There were a lot of colorful supporting performances as well, but I’m afraid the movie didn’t quite jell for me.
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As it pertains to our mix tape endeavor, I did notice something interesting. Even at this early stage, we seem to be repeating a characteristic among our choices: movies about people who get caught up in a lie or misunderstanding, whether or not they themselves are responsible for it. Looking at the previous tape, we had Meet John Doe, The 39 Steps, and Doc Hollywood (and maybe you could argue Brewster’s Millions). I’m not sure whether my next pick perpetuates this coincidence or uses it as a jumping off point, but whereas the main characters of all those movies are aware of their circumstances and consciously dealing with them in one way or another, here the character in question is completely oblivious to the effect he has on those around him. In my mind, that separates it from the other selections.
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He’s a simpleton who stumbles into the corridors of power and finds himself influencing policy at the highest level. Kind of like most of today’s Republican party…if the protagonist here was sinister, manipulative, and willfully ignorant and childlike as opposed to naturally so. (Sorry to get political, but as I write this, we’re nearly two weeks into the federal government shutdown, so idiots behaving like children while occupying positions of power are top of mind.) In cinematic terms, the character is like a forerunner to Forrest Gump, and he’s brought to life through a delightful performance by Peter Sellers that is every bit the equal of the classic character work he delivered in Dr. Strangelove and The Pink Panther films, but without makeup or funny accents to conceal him.
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I look forward to hearing what strikes you about this movie, both because there are so many things in it that ring true nearly 35 years later, and because its final scene has the potential to reframe everything that’s come before it.
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Being There
Dir. Hal Ashby
Wrt. Jerzy Kosinski
1979

BA: Let me go grad student on you here: for me, so much of this film is about the power of filmmaking itself. If you were to turn this film on somewhere near the end, you’d find a charmingly quiet man standing at the bedside of a dying man. And when that dying man gives up his last breath, the quiet man reaches out and puts his hand across the dead man’s forehead. It’s a touching gesture, a moment of final human connection. But it’s none of that, because the quiet man – Peter Sellers’ brilliant portrayal of simpleton “Chauncey Gardner” – is just aping something meaningless from earlier: in the opening scenes, when his caretaker dies, the maid informs him that she felt his forehead, and he was cold as a fish. So he went upstairs to the dead body and felt the forehead. That’s what you do when there’s a dead body, he must think.

In a weird, infinity-mirror type of way, that’s the magic of a film. It shows you what it thinks you need to see, and the overall experience delivers a certain emotional journey. Here, that journey is of an ‘idiot’ being mistaken for a profound genius, because the people he’s interacting with haven’t seen the rest of his story and don’t bother to try. We as the audience are privy to it, and so the comedy comes from something we know that they don’t. On top of that, Gardner himself can only come across as competent – however accidentally – because he himself has spent a lifetime clicking around the television stations. He never stays on one show for very long, so what he’s seen of other people interacting with each other are to him out of context. So we have this crazy snowball effect, where a simple man who’s only seen snippets of filmed stories walks around repeating those snippets when a similar context arrives, and the people he repeats them to, themselves having only seen this snippet of his life, think they understand it just as he believes to understand a soap opera or exercise show. It’s only the audience that knows the whole story……
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….. or do we? That last shot, for all its Christ-like allusions and state-of-mind easiness, delivers something else: there’s a magic in a film, unlimited possibilities. Even the audience, who have been in the know this whole time, is surprised by it. A common reaction may be to say, “How did that happen? Is there a sandbar or hidden floor? Is it literal or a metaphor?” But that’s beside the point, because the entire film is filled with people who simply accept what they’ve seen as what they think it is, no questions asked. They’re ‘experiencing’ life, not analyzing it. This is driven home when director Ashby includes end credit outtakes of Sellers and crew giggling through a particularly silly moment that didn’t appear in the film. Ashby gets the last word, pointing out, “And even YOU didn’t see everything. You only saw what I wanted you to see.” Sure, there are cynical lessons here about politics and media that are relevant today (and, I may add, continue the trend discussed earlier: Watergate changed the enemy, and from then on the natural artistic response is analysis [….President’s Men], a new reality […Condor], and finally, satire), but I think the real magic here is in the details themselves, and how they combine to form a complete and deliberate vision.
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So, let’s stick with that. The telling of a story, the completeness of a life, and the limitations of two hours of screen time. This next film is crazy, in the best way. Your mind starts to reel at it all, but it kind of makes sense despite itself, because its progression is our progression. From the loony mind of a gifted writer, in his directorial debut.
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Dir./Wrt. Charlie Kaufman
2008
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DB: Ooof. When I saw you had selected this movie, I was both excited and…I’m not sure what word to use. Overwhelmed? Excited because ever since I saw it when it first came out, I’ve wanted to see it again. Overwhelmed because the main reason I wanted to see it again is that it’s so dense and so heady and there’s so much going on that I had no idea what to make of it on first viewing, beyond being once again enraptured by the dizzying imagination of Charlie Kaufman. There could be an entire, semester-long course dedicated to this movie. My brother took a class in college on the James Joyce novel Finnegan’s Wake, which is so complex and challenging that there are actually companion books the class read in conjunction with the novel itself in order to help understand it. I feel like this movie would benefit from similar assistance.
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If you and our reader(s) will indulge me a personal side note, you said something in your Being There commentary that struck me. Describing the characters in the movie, you said, “they’re experiencing life, not analyzing it.” I think that’s true of the different ways that you and I watch movies. I wrote at the top of my post about my favorite movies of 2012 that I experience movies emotionally, not intellectually. Maybe every now and then I have a more analytical take on something, but more often my response is a simple gut reaction. I’m all about the surface pleasures. So although I’m an avid movie watcher, I’m also a shallow one.  With this mixtape project of ours, that leaves me a bit outmatched as you continually extrapolate the most interesting, inside-out takes on these movies. Your thoughts on Being There are so far removed from anything that would ever occur to me. And then as if to highlight this contrast, you offer up fucking Synecdoche, New York. You magnificent bastard.
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Still, when it comes to this movie, I can’t beat myself up. I don’t think anyone can watch it just once and walk away with more than a small amount of comprehension. And though this was my second time, it may as well have been my first given the passage of years since I initially saw it. There is so much happening both visually and thematically – and all at once – that it demands repeat viewings. One interesting thing I learned through the DVD’s special features is that Cotard, the last name of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s central character, is taken from a mental health condition called Cotard Delusion, or Cotard’s Syndrome, which finds the afflicted believing that they are dead or do not exist, or are slowly dying, or losing their blood and internal organs. Hoffman’s Caden Cotard is introduced as a death-obsessed hypochondriac, and his ongoing debilitation bears out the meaning of the name. The title itself is also loaded. “Synecdoche” is a term for part of something that is used to represent the whole, or vice versa. (Wikipedia offers the examples of a congregation being called “the church” or workers being referred to as “hired hands.”) See, before we even get into the actual movie itself, the work begins.
I don’t want to suggest that I’m uninterested in movies that make you think or make you work, but in the case of a movie as packed as this one, I rarely feel like I have the time to spend on thoughtful consideration. There’s just too damn much to do. Rumination at the level required by Synecdoche is a luxury I can’t afford. I know…poor me. So because I don’t possess the hours or the intellectual capacity to unpack this movie even superficially, let me hone in on one small aspect of it to finally lead us into our next track. (The flow of these posts don’t convey the time between movies, but it’s been nearly two months since you sent me this selection.)
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Caden is a theatre director, married to an artist named Adele, and they have an adorable young daughter named Olive, upon whom both selfishly and ignorantly dump their neuroses. Adele soon takes Olive to Berlin for a work related trip, and never returns, even keeping her from Caden when he travels there to see her some years later. While Caden’s life goes on, and he sinks deeper and deeper into the quagmire of his massively staged, hopelessly layered, eternally unfinished creation, the loss of Olive is a throughline that haunts him. Not that he was ever fit to be a father, and he probably had no idea the damage he was doing to her when they were together, but his love for her was always sincere. There’s not much in this movie we can trust as real; in fact, I’m not even confident saying that Olive was ever real. But she’s certainly real to Caden, and so is the effect of losing her.
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This is something we’ve seen before in art, and sadly in life. Children become pawns in the manipulations of their fucked-up parents. Maybe the parents really love their child, or maybe they’re incapable of loving anything beyond themselves. It’s a tragedy that was played out quite beautifully in a movie from just this past year. So with nothing but respect and admiration for Charlie Kaufman, I’m nevertheless unabashedly happy to pass the “Now Leaving Synecdoche, New York” sign and move on to this adaptation of an 1897 novel by Henry James, updated to the present day and starring Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan as the self-involved parents of a little girl who can’t even comprehend that she’s fighting to retain her innocence as she gets tossed around from guardian to guardian. The young actress at the center, Onata Aprile, will both warm and break your heart.
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What Maisie Knew
Dir. Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Wrt. Nancy Doyne, Carroll Cartwright
2013
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BA: This touching and heartbreaking little film highlights two important parts of filmmaking. And with this particular subject matter, the two parts bump up against each other. The first is an established perspective. The entire film is from Maisie’s point of view, often with the camera literally at her level, the adults cut off at the top of frame. If the parents are arguing and Maisie wanders back to her room, we can no longer hear the argument. We’re just with Maisie as she avoids whatever it is the adults are yelling about and focuses on a book, or a drawing, or looking out the window. Having even a single scene without Maisie present would have broken the whole film apart. It’s not just that she has to be in the scene; the audience can only know what she knows. Only then can we really try to connect with her innocence emotionally, because we’re denied the full adult story if she tunes out or walks away.
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Which brings up the second point: knowing your audience. What works against a film like this, where you’re trying to experience life as a young girl does (Onata Aprile’s quiet performance is lovely). The audience is very likely comprised wholly of adults, and adults will bring with them an understanding of what’s really going on. What the judge says, the petty underhanded fighting, one parent fishing for info on the other through seemingly innocent questioning of the daughter. WE know what they’re really up to, and we get protective of Maisie. Because we know she doesn’t hear that stuff and know what it really is. Thus, the film has to live in this in-between space: trying to portray the innocence of a child’s perspective to an audience that has already lost it. You can’t put the rabbit back in the hat, but you can remind us there was a time when the hat surprisingly produced a rabbit. It’s just that now, we’ve seen the hidden compartment.
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That disconnect prevented me from all-out loving the film, though I did enjoy it completely. Maybe that disconnect is the filmmakers’ intention, too (there is a running theme about a moat, the barrier between a castle and the dangerous animals outside). But I’ve seen that story before. I wonder if you can even make a film that gives you a true experience of childhood to anyone other than a child. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought of it, either. I’ve been taking notes for at least 8 years on a film I’d like to find a way to write someday that completely captures, visually as well as emotionally, what it was like to be a kid. So far, it’s a bizarre mash-up of Willy Wonka Technicolor meets Gondry-like visual devices. Who knows? It’s hard to have an adult experience a story about childhood without the nostalgia element. Beasts of the Southern Wild got the closest, I’d say. And it required magical animals and a flooded landscape.
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I knew pretty quickly what the next film on our mixtape should be. It also tells a story through a child’s perspective, an incomplete understanding of the realities of the adult world influencing conclusions about what’s what. Only here, we add the DNA of a spy film. An Embassy on foreign soil, an accidental death, and ever so many lies. Before Carol Reed and Graham Greene gave us the classic The Third Man, they gave us this unique thriller.
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Dir. Carol Reed
Wrt. Graham Greene
1948
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DB: Our running theme of characters caught up in lies continues with this nifty little thriller. One of the key differences here, however, is that some of the falsehoods are of a much more innocent nature. Phillipe is told many lies during the course of the movie, and they are the same lies children are told everyday because the truth is too complicated, or beyond their comprehension. And as the film goes on, it becomes painful to watch this poor little boy try to work through the confusion that these lies have wrought. Every time he thinks he’s trying to do the right thing to help his friend Baines, his actions instead threaten to seal the man’s fate. It starts to feel like you’re watching a rag doll get kicked around. By the end, I just wanted the adults to listen to what he was so desperately trying to tell them…even though if they did, it would just mean another strike against Baines.

There’s also the fact that Phillipe himself is lying to protect Baines, even though he mistakenly thinks Baines has just killed someone. It struck me immediately that the obvious follow-up to this movie would be Atonement, another story in which a bright but naive child sees something – or rather, doesn’t see what they think they’ve seen – and reacts in a dangerously misguided fashion because they don’t understand the truth. Those two movies would make for a nice double-feature. But I’m not picking that, since it’s a bit too much of the same. Children, misunderstandings, harmful lies…I think we need to go in another direction, which also rules out some other good follow-ups that I considered and which further involve the consequences of lies. Instead, I’m taking the concept down a different but related road. In The Fallen Idol, Baines has regaled Phillipe with tales of his adventures in Africa. We soon learn that these are lies as well, since none of the events ever took place. We don’t consider them to be lies though, do we? They’re stories, told for the boy’s amusement. But really, what are stories if not lies that we tell for the purpose of entertainment? And aren’t movies and TV shows the biggest lies of all? You brought up the same idea in the very first paragraph of this post. Acting, editing, sets, special effects….all tools to construct an illusion. This is an idea that plays directly into a project you’re working on right now, so I know you know what I mean.

For the last 15 years or so, reality television has blurred the lines even further. Sure, the situations may not be fictional exactly, but they are very much constructed; shaped to create a narrative, with real people jammed into roles of good guys and bad. These shows are not reality. They’re fiction, blatantly manipulated, yet audiences welcome these “lies.” They view the programs obsessively, and thus become active, willing partners in their own deceit. This next movie concerns one gigantic lie, designed to entertain the masses. And that it does. With the exception of the person at its center, everybody’s in on it, everybody’s caught up in it, and nobody has ever stopped to consider the cost because they’re all enjoying it too much.

The Truman Show
Dir. Peter Weir
Wrt. Andrew Niccol
1998

BA: So the story goes that Andrew Niccol’s first draft of this script was a dark sci-fi thriller, set in NYC, and that Brian de Palma was going to direct. Makes sense coming from the guy who wrote (and directed) Gattaca, but what a different movie that would have been! Probably closer in tone to that same year’s Alex Proyas thriller Dark City. Once Peter Weir came on board, he began to craft it into the timeless setting of Seahaven.

I’ve seen this more than a few times, but it’s been a while. So this time around, two things really jumped out at me. First, it’s a lot quicker than I remembered. I think that’s a testament to the depth and detail of the film. The way we’re introduced to the world as if we’re watching the TV show, the way 99% of the camera shots are of the ‘hidden’ variety (almost a precursor to ‘found footage,’ in a way?). The structure of the film gives us Truman’s life, interrupted almost immediately by the light that falls from the sky. And then we get flashbacks, and then when we finally meet Christof (a little on-the-nose with that name), we do so via an interview during which we get to experience the entire life of Truman from birth to now. All of this in a lean hour-plus, which then takes us into Truman’s falling apart and eventual awakening. By the time he opens that door at the end and steps through, we’re hit hard with it, because we feel like we’ve been watching the show for decades as well.
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Much of that, too, comes from the art direction. And that’s the second thing that jumped out at me. The music the characters listen to, the clothes they wear, their furniture and appliances feel like the 1950s. And yet there’s modern cars, computers, phones. It’s this odd mixture of past and present, which is really interesting when you step back and think about it. Part of it was no doubt to draw a solid line between Truman’s world and the modern world looking in at him (Christof’s production has all the tech he could ever need, even a Weathermaker!). Truman’s almost 30 in the film, which means that the show started in 1968. So even then, the 50s thing would’ve been somewhat dated. And yet it didn’t change. Maybe that’s the appeal of a familiar TV show: your favorite characters will always be in their familiar spots. The Cosby Show‘s living room, ER‘s hospital, 21 Jump Street‘s 21 Jump Street. It’s yet another trove of detail that shows you how deeply everyone involved with this film really thought it all out.
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It’s off this latter point that I pivot to the penultimate film on our mixtape. The choice to film in the cookie-cutter town of Seaside, Florida really drove home the homogeny of the environment created around Truman. Rightfully so, too, because Christof wants complete control over what affects his main character. Seahaven is a blank slate, everything so alike and innocent that you don’t even notice it. Then all Christof has to do is start a fire, or make it snow, or throw in a love interest, and he’s guaranteed that the drama will come from that action, not something unexpected. But, like the false elevator wall Truman discovers during his ‘breakdown,’ things are never so cut and dry. Even in the picture perfect, let’s-move-to-the-suburbs, nuclear family/Donna Reed 50s that the art direction is modelled after, shit gets real.
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Even during the 1950s themselves, filmmakers were pulling back the curtain and showing America that behind the ambrosia salad and rotary mowers, life really was ugly and imperfect. One director in particular made his name doing just that, and I give to you my favorite of his soapy, soapy films.
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Dir. Douglas Sirk
Wrt. Peg Fenwick
1955
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DB: I’ve been wanting to see this movie for over a decade, ever since watching Todd Haynes’ 2002 film Far From Heaven, his homage to these “women’s pictures” on which Douglas Sirk made his reputation. All That Heaven Allows and Imitation of Life (which I also have yet to see) are considered the primary inspirations for that film, but I never got around to watching them after seeing it, despite my intentions. Now that this one is under my belt, its influence on Haynes is clear. And though I’d assumed his effort was just a thematic interpretation of Sirk’s work, now I see that Haynes also recreated Sirk’s stunning use of color.
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Perhaps the colors stood out so much because the light was refracted through all of the suds in which the movie is lathered. Your description of “soapy” was apt. Melodramatic as it may be though, it was hard not to get caught up in the drama. Almost everyone in Cary’s life – from her college-age children to her so-called friends from the country club and cocktail party crowd – react so disdainfully to her romance with the younger, blue-collar Ron, and there were a few characters I found myself talking smack to out loud for their treatment of the couple. Yet at the same time that I felt defensive on behalf of their relationship, the romance felt a little rushed to me. I don’t think the movie did much to build up their attraction, which went from 0 to 10 in little more than the time it took to tour Ron’s rundown mill.

If I wanted to follow this up with another story of lovers battling outside forces that threaten to break them apart, there would be no shortage of movies to choose. But what will linger with me over time about this movie isn’t the story or the social commentary, but those vibrant, gorgeous colors. There were moments – think of those wide shots of Ron’s mill – that looked like they were animated. Cary and Ron might well have been walking around in a Disney cartoon. I mean, Jesus – there was even an adorable reindeer hanging around! A reindeer, Brantley!

So it’s color and cartoons that I’m thinking about as we wrap up this set. And while I have two movies in mind that might actually be more applicable than the one I’m going with, my ultimate selection accomplishes a couple of additional things. Yes, it elaborates on the idea of live actors in a world that sometimes seems (and at least briefly is) animated, but it also offers a nice bit of symmetry by serving as another riff – albeit a much lighter one – on the film noir origins that inspired your pick for our opener, Sweet Smell of Success. Lastly, it allows me to pay tribute to a terrific actor who recently left us. So enjoy revisiting this classic from our childhood, and raise a drink to Bob Hoskins as you do.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Dir. Robert Zemeckis
Wrt. Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman
1988

BA: What can you say about Roger Rabbit that any movie lover in our generation doesn’t already know? That they got the rights to cartoon characters from every conceivable studio. That Hoskins was asked to do the near-impossible, acting alongside greenscreens and practical gadgets that would later be drawn over. Watching it again, from start to finish, you can see all the noir tropes it’s supposed to have: a private detective, his trusty gal, a femme fatale, a musical number, a gin joint, a mystery in Los Angeles that (like Chinatown) is basically just a land grab. And as you said, a solid way to wrap up Movie Mixtape #2. Not just because we’ve bookended this thing with noir, but because in just two months, I’ll be getting married in the very movie theater in which I first saw Roger Rabbit. An old school Art Deco theater that would fit in quite nicely in Eddie Valiant’s world.

Coming Eventually: Movie Mixtape #3

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1 Comment »

  1. Nice post.

    Though the TV news I am giddy about is the revival of the Tick. The Tick.

    Excellent.

    CBECK

    Date: Sun, 31 Aug 2014 18:00:07 +0000 To: c.t.beck@hotmail.com

    Comment by C Beck — August 31, 2014 @ 11:53 am | Reply


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