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The Lost Weekend (1945)
The Lost Weekend
I often take a fair bit of flack for listing The Lost Weekend as my favorite Billy Wilder film. With a career spanning over a dozen classics, The Lost Weekend, which took home top prize at the Oscar's in 1945, is often overlooked in Billy Wilder's accomplished filmography. The Lost Weekend isn't just my favorite Billy Wilder film, it's one of my favorite films of all time. Starring the ever alluring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman, the story of an alcoholic struggling through a 4-day drinking binge is a heartbreaking to watch.
Don Birnam, (Ray Milland) is an alcoholic who has recently begun the road to recovery, or so he pretends. When his brother Wick (Phillip Terry) plans a weekend away in the country with Don and his girlfriend Helen St. James (Jane Wyman) the thought of being away from the bottle with no chance of a drink becomes overwhelming to Don. Maybe all Don needs is a send-off from the bar to get him through the long weekend. Manipulating Helen, who loves Don dearly despite his addiction, he convinces her to take his brother to a show promising to leave on the train for the country when they return. Once Don is in front of the bartender he loses all track of time, missing the train and his brother who took an angry cab ride home after being stood up by Don. Don spends a great deal of time reminiscing about his life as a young writer. Don abandoned college after a story he wrote sold to a magazine, only to find that same amount of success unattainable to him in his mid- thirties. Stopping at nothing to drown his sorrows about the unhappiness of his writing career and his life, Don's weekend binge leads him to the hospital, then back at home as he contemplates the only option for him that will seem to make everyone happy.
The most obvious statement of the day is that Billy Wilder was a phenomenal director. He had a controlled yet inviting relationship with the camera that I truly appreciate. My favorite shot in cinema history is tucked into The Lost Weekend. The first time we see Don in the bar, it is indicated that time is passing solely by additional rings from his glass appearing on the table. The subtle beauty yet despair contained in that shot makes me pause the film at that moment each time I watch it just to be able to appreciate it for a few extra seconds. Wilder also captures a brilliant shot of a reflection in the mirror near the end of the film that allows Hellen to see just how dire Don's situation has become. There were also a couple scenes involving visions that were incredible. The scene of Don at the opera where he longs for the alcohol he stashed in his checked coat so badly he begins to imagine scores of his overcoat parading on stage was a dream to watch. Don also has a breakdown before falling asleep once back at his home where he imagines a mouse climbing out of a hole in his wall only to be attacked by a bat in his apartment perfectly illustrating the futile effort Don felt against the much more aggressive opponent of his alcoholism that he was facing. As for capturing the perils of addiction, The Lost Weekend succeeds tenfold. The Lost Weekend is a perfect double bill along with Otto Preminger's The Man with the Golden Arm which explores the life of a heroin addict. The Lost Weekend displays the family of the addict which is often a mix of enabling and tough love, the film illustrates the rage the addict often experiences when too many obstacles impede their next fix and the desperation of exhausting every seemingly available opportunity to get it. The audience is invited into Don Birnam's life when the camera pans his apartment windows from the outside before following the string attached to a bottle into his apartment. The string hiding a fix is a perfect metaphor for what Don's life has become. His life teeters on a precipice of resuming his writing career and settling down with Hellen or sinking deeper and deeper towards the bottle where "one (drink) is too many and 100 is not enough". We begin the emotional ride of the film outside of Don't life, then invited in for an intimate look at the weekend in which Don must make the decision that will dictate the rest of his life.
This brings me to the Ray Milland portion of this review. I love Ray Milland, and The Lost Weekend was the first film I saw of his. I was sold on his style immediately and only grew to love him more when Dial M for Murder became another personal favorite. His reserved command of the screen works for me on every level. Milland's name is one I don't hear nearly as often as I'd like to hear thrown around as a screen great of the Golden Age of Hollywood. His portrayal of Don Birnam which goes from the brink of despair complete with tears and screaming to the acceptance of an existence beyond alcohol was more than deserving of a gold statuette at the '45 Oscars, as well as a place in my heart for eternity.
Maybe it was Ray Milland's perfect portrayal of an alcoholic that kept me from taking even one drink my entire life, who knows.
Hugo was one of those cinematic experiences I occasionally have in which I feel a need to pen a letter of apology once it was finished. As a young cinephile just getting my feet wet in film, I did what I thought we all were supposed to do; worship at the altar of Martin Scorsese. During my second Film Studies class, I struck a deal with my professor where he let me complete a career retrospective in place of making a short film for my final project. I was thrilled that my professor agreed to this deal, as writing a 60-page paper seemed like less of a daunting undertaking than operating a camera. I knew I was going to pick Martin Scorsese before I knew if my professor was going to let this happen or not. With his help, I watched every film Scorsese ever made from Who's That Knocking at My Door to Shutter Island. Not only did I see all of his full-length features but I also saw a great deal of his shorts and documentaries. It was supposed to be a cathartic experience of me getting as close as possible to the director I loved until it wasn't. That's not to say I didn't enjoy and appreciate many of Scorsese's films--I did, but I also learned that his enormous contribution to cinema didn't necessitate him being my favorite director. It's unfortunate that this project was one year too early to have Hugo included because once this project was complete, I tended to shy away from Scorsese films that came after, for a spell anyway. I missed seeing Hugo in the theatre, how could I have known I would have loved it so much and it would have been about one of my favorite cinematic subjects? Georges Méliès was one of my first cinematic idols, and he remains one today, as I am finally completely healed from my tattoo immortalizing his iconic image of the moon with a rocket that landed on its eye. I even attempted my own version of a shot-by-shot re-imagining of A Trip to the Moon, achieved by painting 146 individual canvas screens photographed to appear as though they move; an intensive labor of love that has never seen the light of day. Georges Méliès life being portrayed on screen would have been enough to get me to a theatre had I not been in such a Scorsese burn-out that I never even bothered to read what his 2011 film was about when Hugo hit theatres. Starring Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield, and Chloë Grace Moretz, Hugo is a brilliant spectacle that would make even the most devout skeptic believe in magic.
Based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Hugo follows an orphan boy who lives in the clock mechanism of the train station keeping the train clocks running so he can have a place to live undetected avoiding the orphanage. Still reeling from the death of his father, Hugo (Asa Butterfield) painstakingly works to repair an automaton (mechanical man) that his father instructed would only be complete with a unique key. Once Hugo finds the key, he will know what secret it contains and retrieves the last message his father sent him. While attempting to find the key, Hugo crosses paths with a shop owner Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) who believes him to be a thief. When Hugo meets Georges' goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) who is always looking for an adventure, Hugo learns that their paths were destined to cross in ways he could have never imagined.
Hugo is one of the most beautiful films to look at that I have ever seen. Scorsese's outpouring of love to classic cinema and film preservation couldn't have tugged any harder on my heart strings if that had been the intention. Every single shot is gorgeous, capturing Scorsese's grand production design and exquisite colors. This is a film for us, for cinephiles, for the ones who don't feel the magic in any other setting than a dark theatre. Hugo is for the ones who dream in 16 millimeter and can't imagine a life without cinema. Hugo encompasses everything a cinephile feels in their heart when a film begins to roll, proving that "the movies are our special place."
"As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster."
Every single time we had to do the pointless and awkward introduction in my undergrad classes, Henry Hill's opening monologue was always my response. This achieved a couple goals for me, I avoided having to actually articulate the fact that I wanted to run for office, and I also got to see if there were any hidden cinephiles scattered around me. It never really worked; occasionally I would find another fan of the film, but never someone with a broad film taste who didn't suggest we watch Scarface as a double feature with Goodfellas. Martin Scorsese, one of the Kings of New York settled on adapting the novel by Nicholas Pileggi following the life of Henry Hill as he rose to prominence in the Brooklyn mafia. Starring Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, and Joe Pesci, Goodfellas is the work of a true auteur in top form and has remained a mafia classic 27 years after its release.
Growing up in a modest home with blue collar parents, Henry Hill saw a way to make everything he had ever wanted his. Henry saw how the "wiseguys' in his neighborhood lived, and wanted to be like them and have the freedom to go anywhere they wanted while wearing the best clothes and constantly having hundred dollar bills to flash. Henry started small as a child then a teenager, along with his friend Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) advancing in the mafia with each passing year. Learning the ins and outs, the rules and orders, the intricate details of the mafia--like only one could see from the inside, Henry had no problem paying his dues and earning his place. When Henry is really initiated and deemed worthy of meeting the higher ranks, he is introduced to Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro). Conway, Hill, and DeVito become something of a dream team executing some of the biggest robberies and hijackings the country had ever seen. Henry's life comes crashing down when he's "pinched" and must take the fall for a crime. While in jail, Hill enters the drug trade making more money at less of a split than he ever had before. After his jail sentence is complete, mob boss Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) assures Henry that he will be fine in the mafia once again. He understood that Henry had to deal in drugs to keep himself and his family afloat while in prison, but he has to give that up as Paulie isn't involved in the drug trade. Living better than he ever had before, however, meant that Hill had no intentions of leaving the drug trade behind. Staying involved in drugs and becoming an addict himself got Hill into a world of trouble and the only way he can get out is by bringing about the downfall of the two people closest to him, the two he had spent nearly his whole life with, Jimmy and Tommy.
In an expert maneuver, Martin Scorsese begins in the middle of the story, then traces to the beginning through the end. The story structure of Goodfellas is one to marvel at, and certainly one that wouldn't have been so flawlessly executed without director Martin Scorsese. Goodfellas is so engaging that I can't tell you how many times I've seen it, and yet, if I walk into a room in which it is playing I will watch until the end. From the perfect execution of the introductory scenes, which are often a rather boring part in other films, to the brilliant in-depth character development, Goodfellas is a film to study for its narrative. An astute viewer is given such a complete glimpse into the men's lives that one can see where the character's failings exist that will eventually bring them down. Some of the best tracking shots in cinema history are contained within Goodfellas. The one fans of the film love to discuss are the scene in which Henry and his eventual wife are shown across the street as their car is getting parked and followed by the camera all the way in through the kitchen then through the front of the restaurant. It's a beautiful shot lasting two full minutes, and that's just one example of directorial prowess concerning tracking shots. My personal favorite occurs during the scene in which the audience is introduced to the mafia members. The camera slides down the length of the bar as we learn the names of those in the Brooklyn mafia as well as certain character traits they possess. One of my favorite parts of the film is the way its narration changes seamlessly between Henry and Karen Hill. We go from hearing Henry's voice then his wife's, then back to Henry's voice again all the while changing the point of view but the audience never misses a step and the narrative is never sloppy. Put simply, Goodfellas is a master class in filmmaking from a director who is no stranger to making classic films. Goodfellas on its own would be enough for any director to hang their hat on, but the fact that the same director was also behind Raging Bull and Taxi Driver speaks to the greatness of Martin Scorsese.
I'll never get over what happened to Tommy, though.
I had seen Valkyrie, the 2008 film by Bryan Singer at the cinema, and I anxiously awaited its DVD release. I was gifted the DVD shortly after release and watched it for a few months straight several times. I added it to my June schedule after realizing I hadn't seen it in nearly 10 years since those months passed just after the DVD release, to see if it held up for me. I was happy to learn that it did, which is not always the case in a film I liked at the time of release after year pass. Valkyrie stars Tom Cruise and Kenneth Branagh in a retelling of the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler and political coup plotted by renegade German Army officers. Historical films are a tough batch if you're historically inclined and know the outcome of what's being filmed, and Valkyrie managed to sustain suspense despite knowing how the plot turned out.
Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) has been severely damaged, like many, by WWII. Losing an eye and an arm in battle, Colonel Stauffenberg along with many others has come to the conclusion that an honorable surrender is the only way out of the war. The problem with the idea of an honorable surrender is the fact that Adolf Hitler would have to be eliminated in order for that to take place. All previous attempts on Hitler's life had failed so Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg has been recruited to head this attempt. In order for this attempt to work, Operation: Valkyrie must be changed to enable the members of the coup to take control of Berlin in the event of Hitler's demise. As the coup members go to work plotting an assassination of Hitler and a military takeover of Berlin, their plan is thwarted by a series of failings and a rout of bad luck.
I remember being in the minority on the issue of the switch to English from German at the beginning of the film, and I was still unbothered by the change in language despite being a fan of foreign cinema. Granted, I'm usually on board for inventive methods of storytelling, but the language shift left me equally as unfazed ten years later. the most fulfilling part for me of waiting so long between viewings was being more familiar with the actors in the film. I had never seen a Kenneth Branagh film before the first time I saw Valkyrie, but I had heard about him a great deal; ten years later, however, I am familiar with Branagh and recognized him immediately in Valkyrie. The same can be said with my experience with Eddie Izzard. I had never even heard his name before my first viewing of Valkyrie, Izzard is well known to me now, and it was a treat to see him in such a role. I'm a classic film fan so I don't often get as much experience with contemporary actors as I probably should so this was a fun exercise in recognition that comes with ten years of cinema maturation. The pacing in Valkyrie was perfect building tension through the end of the film beautifully despite one knowing how the film ends. I was also especially stricken by the lighting of the film. Valkyrie was lit in a way that often evoked a dream-like state while simultaneously providing a ripped-from-the- past historical drama feel, as well. Adding to the tension of the well- paced film was the score, filling the audience with a sense of unease at every turn. Valkyrie is a strong war drama, which well utilizes a unique method of storytelling gripping audiences until the final credits roll; I'm glad the film held up.
I need to better familiarize myself with Ridley Scott. He's a director I have heard mixed reviews about, and one whom I have only seen a handful of his films. The first Ridley Scott film I watched was Legend, and I only saw that because Tim Curry was in it. Next, I watched The Martian, which is only memorable to me as being the first film I watched on my new blu-ray player, though it was a decent film. Alien fit my June theme of watching titles made up of one word or syllable. I guess what I'm getting at is that I've never been drawn to Ridley Scott's films for what they are, they've just always worked their way into my viewing schedules. After seeing Blade Runner last month, however, I began to become a bit more interested in Ridley Scott the director. His 1979 feature, Alien, starred Sigourney Weaver, and John Hurt as members of a team traveling through space to answer to an S.O.S. call from a distant moon. In what sounds like a paint-by-numbers who-dies-next film, Ridley Scott achieves an exceptionally atmospheric suspense film forcing itself to still be recognized today.
In the near future, the year 2122, a commercial spaceship Nostromo intercepts a distress signal from a nearby moon. The seven-member crew, who had been in hypersleep are awoken as they begin their descent to the distressed moon. Kane (John Hurt) is the member lucky enough to be the one exploring the moon attempting to find the source of the stress. He gets too close to the discovery of eggs as one attaches to him putting him into a coma. Ash (Ian Holm) pushes for him to be allowed back on board the ship breaking protocol which puts all members of the team at risk. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) fights against breaking protocol the most making her an outcast on the team. The team watches Kane when suddenly the parasite dies and he awakens, seemingly largely unfazed by the incident. At dinner, however, it is revealed that much more danger is in store for the team than initially anticipated.
I am such a sucker for sound design. I can become emotionally invested in a film for no other reason than its sound. I wrote down in three different ways in my notes how incredible the sound design was in Alien. I love John Hurt (R.I.P.) and Harry Dean Stanton so I was happy to see them in a film together. The vast incredible production design was an absolute treat to watch. The pacing and build-up of action were top- notch and demands the audience's attention all the way through. Typically, I don't pay too much attention to the actors in a film because I am so invested in the technical aspects, but Sigourney Weaver was incredible as the no-nonsense crew member who refused to be beaten. I enjoy the films in which the cast is picked off one-by-one, provided that it's done well and remains suspenseful, and Alien fits that bill. Despite the fact that at a certain point, you knew this was going to be a film where not many were left standing at the end, the tenseness and the deliberate pacing kept the film intriguing enough through the end. As a footnote, I have a huge cinematic black spot when it comes to sci- fi films so the only exposure I had to the famous scene in which an alien comes out of John Hurt's body was a Halloween costume worn by Darlene on Roseanne, so it was nice to finally know where that came from. A thrilling horror-sci-fi film that kept me interested in a genre I usually dismiss means I just may watch the rest of this series and end up seeing the new installment this year.
À bout de souffle (1960)
I was filled with anxiety before beginning Breathless. As someone who is firmly entrenched in the Truffaut camp, #TruffautisLife after all, I was terrified that I would see what is often regarded as the director with whom Truffaut shared an open and intense parting of ways with and see the masterpiece I've always been told it was. Obviously, I know that appreciating a Godard film will do nothing to diminish my love for all things Truffaut, I'm just a loyalist and was worried how I'd feel enjoying a Godard film. Little did I know, I had nothing to worry about. I actively disliked Breathless, I may have even hated it. Jean-Luc Godard's 1960 film was important, I suppose, to the burgeoning French New Wave. I'm sure to subject myself to more Godard films in the future as my journey through cinema goes on, but Breathless did not live up to its reputation, for me.
This is where the plot would go if there was one.
Just kidding, sort of, there are happenings in Breathless but it is clear that there were not many rehearsals with a script taking place. I've read that Godard was rewriting the script each day, removing nearly all of the influence of Truffaut, who had given the film's story to Godard. Godard would then feed the lines to the actors from offset resulting in very little familiarity between the words of the script and the actors speaking them. Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) a self-absorbed narcissistic sociopath, surely modeled after Jean-Luc Godard, steals a car then murders the police officer who chases after him. Needing a distraction and a place to hide out, Michel renews his relationship with Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg) an American in Paris studying journalism whom he met a few weeks prior. Despite their relationship being new and unestablished, Michel expects Patricia to accompany him on his getaway to Italy. Like a true narcissist, Michel is oblivious to the fact that his face is in all the papers and the police are closing in on him as he goes about his way collecting his money and planning his getaway. Focusing his attention on the American films that interest him and his American love interest, Michel ignores the fact that his very life is at stake.
During the opening minutes of the film, Jean-Paul Belmondo breaks the fourth wall by looking at and speaking directly to the camera which is a device that almost always works for me. I thought that meant that I may be in for something good, but almost immediately after this scene ended, I nearly ran out of things to enjoy. The jump cuts were amazing and served the story well. I don't give Godard credit for inventing those cuts, as many do, however. An idol, Sergei Eisenstein used jump cuts in film--most memorably in depicting an explosion in The Battleship Potemkin. Georges Melies, whose work I have memorialized on my body also used jump cuts through most of his career in silent cinema. Despite the fact that Godard often gets credit for inventing the jump cut which he surely did not, I can't argue the fact that he used the technique effectively cementing certain aspects of The French New Wave. The music was phenomenal, so kudos to Godard for that. From his first film, however, one can see my biggest criticism of Godard. Godard has no problem excluding his audience. Just listening to Godard speak in interviews, it's clear to discern that he only expects the highest brow of intellectuals to enjoy his films. If an audience member doesn't fit into that category, he doesn't really care. He created terribly unlikeable characters engaging in a plot and a romance that no one could possibly care about, all the while carrying on pseudo-intellectual conversations grating on the last bit of patience I could muster. Obviously, Breathless works for almost everyone except me, but after seeing his debut feature, there's not much encouraging me to try more Godard films.
The Big Sleep (1946)
The Big Sleep
Can someone promise to preserve this film for all-time as the perfect example of film noir? It would make me feel so much better to know that Howard Hawks 1946 feature starring screen royalty Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall would survive into eternity. I've been open with the fact that I love Humphrey Bogart. I believe Bogart to be the greatest actor to ever live. One might think I would have a definite pick, being a huge fan of Bogart, of which of his roles is my favorite. I don't have a favorite; what I actually have is a rotating list of what I call my favorite Bogart role. The Big Sleep, In A Lonely Place and The Maltese Falcon, are always in contention, as are Key Largo, To Have And Have Not, and, of course, Casablanca. The point is, The Big Sleep makes the long list of my favorite Bogart film. The Big Sleep finds Humphrey playing detective Philip Marlowe hired by a wealthy family to protect the patriarch's youngest daughter from being blackmailed. Of course, the detective is Humphrey Bogart so the case is far from simple, in fact, Marlowe must face murder, blackmail, and of course, love.
General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) hires Detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) to stop a blackmailing attempt of his youngest daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers). While tailing the blackmailer, Marlowe hears a gunshot and witnesses men rushing out to their car. Upon entering the home, Marlowe discovered Carmen drugged in a chair with the blackmailer dead at her feet. An empty camera left behind proved a photo to be taken probably with an attempt at further blackmail. Marlowe follows the trail of clues, in an attempt to regain the photo, leading him to a series of people involved in gambling. While investigating the case, Marlowe also meets General Sternwood's oldest daughter, Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall) a divorcée who catches the eye of Detective Marlowe. Vivian takes to assisting Marlowe with the case, which is beneficial for the both of them as chemistry grows between them. Working together yet independently, the two spin a web which leaves the blackmailers no choice but to get caught in it.
I can't write about The Big Sleep without highlighting the dialogue. The pace of the witty dialogue was aided by Humphrey Bogart's incredible delivery. There's no one else in the history of cinema that I enjoy watching speak more than Humphrey Bogart. Bogart is the absolute king of line delivery. A point I probably don't need to make is how incredible the chemistry was between Bogart and Bacall. The pair was already married, after having met while co-starring in the film To Have and Have Not three years prior. Their relationship hadn't lost a step, and their love resonated beyond the screen making them enjoyable to watch on-screen together. One of my favorite scenes is tucked within The Big Sleep. Humphrey Bogart waiting out the rain in a quaint bookshop while tailing the blackmailer is pure art. That scene had everything, quick-witted Humphrey Bogart line delivery, his on- screen persona as a hard-nosed yet romantic lead, and the gorgeous black and white shadows of film noir. There is just no purer image in the world than a trenchcoat and fedora wearing rain-soaked Humphrey Bogart, I'm convinced. The Big Sleep is a film I can watch anytime, I don't need to be "in the mood" for it because it's as comfortable as a warm blanket. The black and white photography, the dialogue, a favorite on-screen duo, my favorite actor, and of course, the trench coats make The Big Sleep a joy to watch no matter how many times I've seen it.
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
No piece of art has ever had as profound an impact on my life than Mulholland Dr. I say, in a very literal way, that Mulholland Dr. changed my life.I had never looked at cinema as an art form before, I actually had hardly looked at cinema before. I grew up in a single parent home with a childhood filled with independence and responsibility. Needless to say, there was no time for films or television. I was that person on the other side of mouth open stares hearing "how have you never seen (insert film name here)" I don't begrudge my childhood, I read a lot and enjoyed time with my friends, started working at a young age and never through about movies much. I was always out of the pop culture loop all the way through high school. I worked more than full-time in politics before college which led me to start my undergraduate work when I was 20. I took enough credits to need a signature from an academic adviser and in all the hustle of meetings and trying to gain approval for taking on so many hours I had forgotten even signing up for what I thought the most inconsequential class would be: Introduction to Film Studies.
Mulholland Dr., which many consider David Lynch's masterpiece, is even gaining traction as one of the best films ever made. Released in 2001, Mulholland Dr. stars Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, and Justin Theroux. The film follows a woman after a car accident leaves her amnesiac with her only lifeline being a naive woman who just moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams of being an actress after winning a dance contest in her hometown. The longer the two women are together the more they discover more about the murder attempt against the amnesiac woman who has taken to calling herself Rita (Laura Harring) Her naive friend Betty (Naomi Watts) looks at the whole ordeal as an adventure despite the fact that Rita's life hangs in the balance. Rita is even willing to put her acting dreams aside to attend to Rita and engage in some amateur sleuthing.
From my first viewing, I have never cared whether or not I understood what was going on in Mulholland Dr., nor did I ever look at the plot as a puzzle that needed to be pieced together. I enjoy what David Lynch does with his art and am pleased to simply experience his output. Of course, at this point in my life, I have whizzed through Lynch's entire filmography multiple times, and even through Mulholland Dr. isn't my favorite Lynch film, I have no problem admitting that it is probably his masterpiece. Lynch was on another level. Every aspect, each scene is perfect visual mastery. The one place that I find the most resistance to the perfection of the film are the people who claim that the opening scene is "weird for the sake of being weird" and unnecessary to the film. I wholeheartedly disagree with that assessment. The scene shows an insight into just how naive Betty was because we see her seem to truly believe that winning this dance contest was going to open doors in Hollywood for her. One of my favorite aspects of David Lynch's work is the fact that throughout his entire filmography you can see a similar thread running through each of his features yet he is not that director that is trying to recreate any of his previous films. I appreciate the newness of each of Lynch's films yet the familiarity of what I love about his work. I can't think of a more introspective filmmaker more capable of exploring an individual's failings in life and how it could have played out differently had career aspirations been realized better than David Lynch. The way in which he displays repressed fears and mixes past and present, proving part of our memories to be false is not only an exceptional example of filmmaking but an exceptional example of artistry. It's incredible, on paper, nothing about Mulholland Dr. seems as if it will make sense, yet the complete product is perfect. The seamless way Lynch transitions between two realizations of a life is incredible. David Lynch is my all-time favorite filmmaker, yet, I find that I must be in the proper mindset to enjoy many of his films. Mulholland Dr., however, while it is not my favorite Lynch film, is one that I can watch anytime and will always be all-in on. Fun fact: my personal favorite tracking shot in cinema history is tucked inside Mulholland Dr., the shot into Club Silencio is just beautiful. The whole film is incredible, and I firmly believe it is one of the best films of all-time. I don't know what my life would be like if I hadn't accidentally ended up in a film class on a semester when a Lynch film was being screened. I became a cinephile because of Mulholland Dr. and I couldn't be more thankful to Lynch and his art for inspiring that change in my existence. I am so thankful to David Lynch for Mulholland Dr., more thankful to David Lynch for Eraserhead, and the most thankful to David Lynch for bringing cinema alive to my eyes and heart.
I never did take that Shakespeare course, but I did take three more film studies courses. Thank you David Lynch.
Blue Velvet (1986)
The 1986 feature by notoriously difficult to understand David Lynch, was an exercise for the auteur to dabble with the topics of voyeurism and kidnapping. Blue Velvet was the vehicle Lynch used to film one of his most vivid childhood memories of seeing a bloodied naked woman walking down the street close to his childhood home, and build a film around that vision. What was her story? Why was she in the street naked and wounded? Lynch never knew, but Blue Velvet delves deep into the most idyllic of places and proves just how seedy of an underworld can exist where you least expect it. David Lynch, who even today describes himself simply as an Eagle Scout from Missoula Montana, has always been fascinated by what lurks below the surface. Growing up in one house resting behind a white picket fence after another, David was always in-tuned to the evil that may lurk beneath small town life. As Lynch has said: "I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath."
Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) is a college student who has returned home after the news that his father had been hospitalized. Tasked with running the hardware store his father owns while he is in the hospital, Jeffrey quickly settles back into the small town in which he was born, Lumberton, a town reliant upon lumber where it seems every house has white picket fences and tulips growing in the yard. Despite the picturesque atmosphere of Lumberton, Jeffrey discovers a human ear in a field on his way home from visiting his father in the hospital. Understandably troubled by his discovery, Jeffrey takes the ear in a bag to a detective he knows in town. After initially keeping him in the fold as the investigation gets underway, Jeffrey is soon told to forget about it and told that no further information will be divulged to him. Unable to forget, Jeffrey seeks out ways to stay involved in the case, one of those ways is by spending time with the detective's daughter, Sandy Williams (Laura Dern). Through their interactions together, Sandy shares what she knows about the case with Jeffrey, as her bedroom lies just above her father's home office. Sandy is able to enlighten Jeffrey that the case has to do with Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) who lives in an apartment near Jeffrey. Jeffrey's unquenchable curiosity leads him to break into Dorothy's apartment, with Sandy's help, and discover the sordid secrets his charming town actually holds.
I'm not convinced that there is a film in cinema history with a better opening than Blue Velvet. The fire truck driving by, the man waving while watering his lawn, the red roses lining the white picket fences which descend underground to the world hidden by grass inhabited by insects immediately gets to the heart of David Lynch's evaluation of small towns. Showing such gleaming iconography of small town life and the contrast of what goes on beneath the surface, a dark violent reality covered from view is exactly the kind of microscope Lynch reveals to his audiences. In the most basic sense, Lynch warns his audience that things are not always what they seem, and there can be a whole other world hidden beneath the surface of even the most seemingly innocent place. The interplay between the most trustworthy of people and the secrets they lurk with in the shadows is a constant presence in Lynch's work. Perhaps my favorite part of Blue Velvet is the fact that it sounds exactly like a David Lynch production. I'm not actually, for once, referring to Lynch's perfect sound design with ample harrowing hollow sounds filling the ears of the audience; that flawless use of sound is present in Blue Velvet, but what is so prominent to me is how much the script sounds like it came only from the pen of David Lynch. I'm no casual fan of Lynch's work, mind you; I list Eraserhead, the auteur's debut feature not only my favorite Lynch film, but my favorite film of all-time. I'm one of "those Lynch fans" that will discuss the merit of Dune and actually enjoyed every d*mn fine episode of season 2 of Twin Peaks. I worship at the alter of David Lynch and would sit through, happily, anything he decides to give us. That fandom has led me to ingest hours of Lynch interviews and I was immediately stricken by the dialogue and how much it sounded exactly like words that would come directly out of Lynch's mouth. Laura Dern's entrance from behind the trees ranks among the best film entrances, in my book. Now is probably the best time to say that Laura Dern is painfully underrated and a phenomenal actress. The Lynch color palette complete with striking vibrant primary colors adds to the magic of a film with the name of a color in the title. Lynch is probably (look at me pretending to be objective) one of the greats at using high contrast shots to pack an extra punch in his shots and such contrast, in combination with the lighting and sound design create a complete Lynch experience even in one of his more linear productions.
Despite the fact that the more linear the narrative, the comparatively less I like the entries in David Lynch's filmography, the auteur is my favorite director of all time and I am so thankful for his films and constant desire to detect what remains hidden in the world.
Body Double (1984)
I have never had such a hot and cold cinematic relationship that I have with Brian De Palma. Carrie was great, The Untouchables was great, Carlito's Way was phenomenal. Then there's Raising Cain, Scarface, and now Body Double that I don't simply dislike, but I loathe them. Body Double was the director's 1984 feature film starring Craig Wasson and Melanie Griffith that was maybe supposed to be an homage to Alfred Hitchcock but which actually made his film Vertigo into complete trash. The film chronicles a young actor's obsession with his neighbor that gets him entangled in a series of life-threatening events. Satirizing two of Hitchcock's most well- known features was the result of whatever Body Double was supposed to be, and I doubt that has anything to do with the director's intent or a testament to his skill. I really don't know what happened between the concept and the execution; heck, I still don't even really know what Body Double was supposed to be, but it struck all the wrong chords with me. I guess De Palma is going to continue to be a director whose output I either love or loathe, which will probably force me to see everything he does just to see where I fall.
Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) is an actor struggling through his current project when he comes home to find his girlfriend in bed with another man. (He makes this discovery in the most Mulholland Drive kind of way, which is one of the film's few good standout moments, for me). As Jake contemplates his next move and his next acting job, he meets an actor who needs a house sitter which is perfect for the newly homeless Jake. As Jake is being toured through the home learning the place he will be taken care of, the owner of the home is quick to show Jake his favorite neighbor. Across the street, there is a Ms. Torso-like woman who regularly parades in front of her window naked. The homeowner has positioned a telescope aimed directly at the neighbor's home that Jake is more than welcome to use through his stay there. Throughout his nightly viewing, Jake becomes completely obsessed with the neighbor and vows to meet her. The opportunity finally presents itself when Jake decides to act heroically and chase down a man who stole the neighbor's purse. Soon after Jake witnesses a murder, then learns that the police love pinning crimes on peeping toms. Without intervention from the police, Jake decides to hunt down the perpetrators all on his own.
I thought Body Double was going to be in the category of De Palma films that I enjoyed. The set up was wonderful, I especially appreciated the attention to detail De Palma paid to the world surrounding Jake. There was such intricate detail filling the small places Jake went or passed that was not lost on the audience. It was so fun to see the realism of the coffee shop Jake sits in and the people he passes. The film really loses it's footing for me when it tries to emulate a Hitchcock film. When Body Double switched from Rear Window to Vertigo I could not have wanted to check out more. I don't even like Vertigo that much yet, but I would have much rather watched that than Body Double. The lead actor, Craig Wasson, was an incredibly bland choice, which I understand was part of the intention but he doesn't pull off vanilla as well as the Jimmy Stewart archetype he was supposed to be. The music was poor, the plot was a mess, and the women in the film were terribly depicted. I have an odd enduring interest in De Palma despite my many failings with his output.