Against The Hype

movies, criticism and their pleasures

Archive for September, 2010

First Night at Doc Films: Stan Brakhage’s Murder Psalm

September 29, 2010 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

If you want an auspicious start with Doc Films, which screens movies every night of the academic year at the University of Chicago, you wouldn’t find it with late-era Stan Brakhage. No offense to the master, but these apparently random film collages failed to make a case against the urgency of my reading assignments. I did make it through Murder Psalm, Brakhage’s 16-minute short that intercuts “found” clips of Mickey Mouse barraging down a city street, trotting warhorses in negative, a corpse being slit, a girl assaulted by the splash of a beach ball on a fountain, another girl driven to an epileptic fit by a flash of lightning, yet another girl staring at her unchanging reflection in the mirror—or is it, etc. There are interpretations to be made here about the multiplicity of violence, identity and horror, though such interpretations may find it harder to justify the interpolating frames of damaged nitrate (one wonders if they were part of the original). To be charitable, I’m clearly still unprepared for the avant-garde, and I’m not yet willing to cede all worth in the movies to the strength of their coherence and readability. But so it goes.

Nonetheless, I am now the proud owner of a Doc Films quarterly pass, which lets you into every. single. movie. that Doc is showing this quarter, a veritable list that includes (in screening order) Gilda, Pather Panchali, McCabe & Mrs Miller, Dr Strangelove, The Kids Are All Right,  The Birth of a Nation, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Intolerance, Back to the Future, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Winter’s Bone, Eyes Wide Shut and I Am Love. So I’m not at all shaken that I dropped down $30 earlier for a slip of paper into 16 minutes of disjointment; it’ll pay itself back. I’m more concerned about the two acquaintances I met earlier who paid $5 each for their regular admission tickets, then came over to ask me what tonight’s film was about. I had to suppress my mirth at their facial expressions when I mentioned the words “avant-garde director”. But, again, so it goes.

Off to College! A Viewing List of Films that Made History

September 15, 2010 By: Colin Low Category: One-Liner Reviews

Perhaps it is inappropriate that G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box will be the last movie I watch before flying 18 hours to the University of Chicago, and into a new chapter of my life. After all, the movie depicts characters who can barely understand or avoid the impulses they chase, even though this inevitably leads them into situations ever more dire. Indeed, in the shot above, Lulu (Louise Brooks) thinks she’s just ensured that things will go back to the way they were. Spoiler alert: they will not.

But I would like to think that I have a better grasp on my future than Lulu does, and the movie also works as fitting emblem for some of my hopes and resolutions. Take this very shot: as she gets dressed for her stage debut, assistants decked out-of-focus around her, you might think the reasons for Lulu’s glee are entirely professional. In truth, she’s just netted a very personal triumph, but you wouldn’t know this if I hadn’t said it (unless you’ve watched the film, of course). Take it from me too, then, that this blog is going to get a lot more personal from now on, since its pegging to my ups and downs as a film-studying undergrad means that my relationship to the movies will advance beyond the occasional rental and formal critique.

Then again, I don’t mean to understate just how far my pre-college cinephilia extends, since I bought Bordwell and Thompson’s magisterial Film History: An Introduction for a bit of enjoyable reading more than two months ago. Thus I can’t see how Pandora’s Box is anything but appropriate for this moment: not only did Nathaniel R fortuitously delay its episode in his inspiring Hit Me with Your Best Shot series so it coincided nicely with my departure; not only does it belong to the silent era, an area of expertise for my university’s film studies department; it also fits into one of the biggest gaps in my movie knowledge that I’m already most eager to fill.

What follows, then, is a list of movies that I’m hoping to catch for the first time (or would like a proper new look at) while in college. They’re divided into the sections of Film History that I’ve read in which they turn up, and Pandora’s Box lies crossed out among them, giving you a glimpse of the kind of tweet-length response that follows when I’ve watched one of them. And of course I’m expecting this list to grow—not least because you might have some to recommend!


The Best Shots of A Face in the Crowd

September 02, 2010 By: Colin Low Category: Full Essays

A Face in the Crowd asks Andy Griffith to embody Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a sort of barnstorming hick that rouses the nation over the airwaves (first by radio, then by TV) with his lack of pretense. But it’s hard to know what’s more condescendingly offensive: that his schtick works as it does, with all these fawning reaction shots of “aw-shucks” Americans in their old-fashioned living rooms and kitchens, smitten with a voice that finally speaks for them; or that Lonesome finally succumbs to corruption, like all star-is-born types inevitably do (or at least the males, those power-starved horndogs!). Worse, in order to fell him, the movie resorts to the cheap trick of having him learn to despise the masses who love him, and spout his disdain just when he thinks they aren’t listening. One would think he, of all people, would know how they hang onto every word. (more…)