The introductions at TCM Classic Film Festival are often the most revealing portion of the filmgoing experience. So it wasn’t a good sign when, during his pre-screening speech, iconic television host Robert Osborne spoke this fateful line of Robert Florey’s 1943 version ofThe Desert Song, a film that hasn’t seen the light of day for 50 years due to rights issues: “It’s not a great movie, but it’s a fun one.” Well, he was half right. Released during the heart of WWII, this choppy adventure/musical is most interesting when seen as a blatant guilt trip made by Hollywood to remind European pacifists of their indifference during the swelling Nazi threat in the mid-to-late 1930s. As a classic genre film, it’s an inconsistent and inert Casablanca clone.
Exciting news! I’m writing a new image essay column entitled “Meshes” for Kevin B. Lee’s excellent Keyframe Blog at Fandor. On a monthly basis, I’ll pick two films from different decades and examine how they stylistically and thematically overlap, using stills from each to juxtapose my thoughts.
My first entry highlights the aesthetic relationship between Miranda July and Maya Deren and two of their most well-know films. Meshes #1.
Nuns, fires, revenge, bastard children, reversals, floods, and deathbed confessions: Matarazzo’s breakneck poems of suffering have it all. Call it MeloDrama with a capital D. Review.
The always indispensable Not Coming to a Theater Near You has spent the recent weeks exploring and celebrating the work of cinematic collaborators Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder. I’ve reviewed one of the filmmaking duo’s later efforts: The highly entertaining and strange Post WWII farce A Foreign Affair. Reading all the wonderful essays reminds me there’s a world of great films beyond the surface of entrenched film canons.
Sometimes looking back at childhood classics ends up tainting their memory with a jaded adult perspective. I dealt with this concern in my review of Walt Disney’s Bambi, just released in a nice Blu-ray package for the first time. I’d forgotten (or maybe never realized) how little conventional “plot” there is in the film, replaced with small nuances of nature’s cycles, character development, and minimal well-placed dialogue. Not one of my all-time favorite Disney’s, but certainly a stunner in many regards.
I’ve been given the green light to write a long form column at the indispensable blog The House Next Door, a bimonthly look at the endlessly mysterious aesthetics, politics, and ideologies of B movies. It’s entitled B Role, and my introduction/debut piece on Andre de Toth’s slithering swamp noir/melodrama Dark Waters went up a few days back.
It’s an exciting pet project based on my own personal process of film discovery, and I can’t wait to find out where it takes me. Special thanks go out to my editors, Ed Gonzalez and Keith Uhlich, for giving me the proper virtual real estate to go crazy.
Fritz Lang levels his crosshairs at British appeasement in Man Hunt, a tensely plotted thriller set weeks before Germany’s invasion of Poland. In the Expressionist opening sequence, Lang introduces a cavalier big game hunter named Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) as he stalks through a thick and shadowy forest, finally reaching a perch overlooking Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. Thorndike takes aim with Hitler dead in his sights, pulls the trigger, and “click”. He laughs to himself having completed a personal victory – it is possible to stalk the world’s most dangerous man. However, this theoretical experiment makes for a dark moment of historical revisionism, pushing Thorndike down a perilous path of murder, guilt, and finally national responsibility, as he’s captured by the S.S., tortured, and pursued back to England by heinous German agents.
When Man Hunt reaches London, Lang reveals his most damning argument against the British upper class’s indifference toward the German advancement. Throndike’s ambassador brother is a squirmy rationalizing bureaucrat of Chamberlain’s ilk, stressing to the high heavens the Nazi’s wouldn’t dare start WWII. Even Throndike himself, after seeing the true audaciousness of the S.S., casually struts through the London harbor commenting on how the “fresh British air” comforts him while completely missing the German spies who’ve been waiting in the shadows. Western arrogance only leads to destruction, and Lang constructs Thorndike as an analogy for all of Britain. The aggressive and vengeful nature of the ending is alarming, and not completely unexpected considering Thorndike’s path. But ultimately, Lang’s masterful use of cinematic space feeds into his main goal – to bring the true evil of the Third Reich out from the shadows and into the forefront for the world to understand and combat against.