Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Director Draft

There are a few things that I am obsessed with. Movies, soccer, and Philadelphia Phillies baseball. That's more or less the list. I visit mesage boards on each of those three a few times a day to read up on rumors, news, and other peoples opinions. In a beautiful twist of fate the soccer message board I visit also has it's fair share of cinephiles. I would say over the past year or so, some of the more interesting suggestions and conversations I have had on film have come from a soccer message board.

Last year around this time on that board we held a "Movie Draft." I posted a little bit about it here, and included my final ten round roster. A year on many of those picks would be different. In part because of the films that were brought to my attention by other posters in the movie draft.

This year, many of the same guys are participating in an arranged directors draft. 16 people, 10 rounds. That would be 160 directors. That's plenty of directors, but that is the point, I guess. I look forward to learning about more directors to check out, to add to a Netflix queue that is already spiraling out of control.

We are into the third round right now. Being the tenth pick, I was unable to pick what would have been my first pick, Jean-Luc Godard. But that's okay. The #1 drafter chose him and in a later post mentioned he had to pick him #1, because he knew I would snatch him up if he didn't. The picks so far have been somewhat predctable, all directors that have been cannonized already. But some have gone higher than expected like Terrence Malick at 6 which I applaud as I was actually considering him as a first round sleeper with my #10 pick. But, even with 160 picks, several of us acknowledge that there will be many great directors left of the list.

Perhaps, I will continue to update this post as I fill out a roster of draftees. So far, I consider myself lucky to have gotten not only two greats, but two of my very favorites at picks 10 and 20.

Round 1. Robert Bresson
Round 2. Yasijuro Ozu
Round 3. Nicholas Ray
Round 4. Robert Wise
Round 5. Wim Wenders
Round 6. Otto Preminger
Round 7. David Gordon Green
Round 8. Jaques Tourneur
Round 9. Edgar G. Ulmer
Round 10. Ed Wood

Monday, March 19, 2007


Is it possible that Otto Preminger is one of the more neglected or looked over great directors. Maybe I am just not reading the right texts but i never hear him mentioned in the same breath as other greats from his era. But when you look at a body of work that includes, Anatomy of a Murder, Angel Face, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and Laura it's hard to not recognize him as one of the very best.

Last night I watched Laura for the first time and absolutely loved it. In the opening scene you have the voiceover of Clifton Webb playing the despicable Waldo Lydecker. The camera follows Dana Andrews gaze around the apartment as Lydecker makes mention of a clock that will become much more important in the closing scenes of the movie. As I watcehd this opening scene I was already riveted I found myself wondering why the camera paused to focus on specific areas of the apartement and tried to keep it all in my mind for later in the film. Our first meeting with Lydecker is while his in the bathtub and as he reads his alibi for the night in which Laura was murdered. Within 3 minutes I already had a profound dislike for Lydecker and was ready to sit in and hope that he was the guilty one. Both Clifton Webb and Preminger did their job, perfectly.

Dana Andrews is the investigator on the case, Mark McPherson. And while it seems foolish and a bit unbelievable that he allows Lydecker to trail him around as he visits other suspects, it soon becomes evident that McPherson is smarter than this whole lot, even the very arrogent Lydecker. Our first introduction to Laura is in a painting. She is shown, immortalized in a painting above a fireplace. The painting hovers like a spirit, hovers over the apartment and McPherson even begins to fall under its spell, one night passing out on a chair underneath the painting after a few too many scotches.

We eventually get to know Laura more through flashbacks of bothe Lydecker and Shelby Carpenter, played in my opinion to perfection by Vincent Price. But, as McPherson is passed out under the chair Laura shows up. She has not been murdered. She was the intended victim surely, but she is still alive. And now McPherson's investigation has to take a turn.

Gene Tierney is beautiful, seductive, and a bit caniving as Laura. And while its not hard to see why Carpenter, Lydecker, and McPherson all fall in love with her, one can't help but see her as a femme fatale. You see her string along all these men and while you see her as lovely and wonderful, you also know that she will do whatever she needs to take care of herself and little white lies along that way don't matter so much. She allows all three men to maintain their obsession with her, and it will end badly fo someone.

Preminger here didn't make a dark and seedy film noir. But other noir sensibilities are here in spades. In a wonderfully tight 90 minutes, obsession is the main story here. I find myself definitely wanting to view more of Preminger's classics after this.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A different March Madness

Stuff just ahsn't seemd to slow down for me at all. Too much work. Too much stuff on the periphery of work, possibilities of more or new work. I just haven't had tome to sit back and relax and watch movies, and take them in. In the past week I have watched The Passion of Joan of Arc and Battleship Potemkin. Somehow two silents come up in my netflix queue right after one another. I will say that I enjoyed The Passion of Joan of Arc much more this time than when I first saw it, some 7 years ago, likely a little bit drunk in college. As for Battleship Potemkin some scenes will forever stick in my mind, but the overall impact fell short of what I was hoping for.

And over the next few weeks due to travel I will not get a chance to watch as much as I would like. Though, I will bring my portable DVD player on the plane, no doubt, and maybe watch some extra features from Criterion DVD's that I haven't gotten to yet. But then, there is also sporting events this weekend, that will hold most of my interest. And, while I have entered three seperate NCAA polls, due to Villanova and Indiana's discourging draws, I don't have much hope for my teams succeeding.

This weekend will be more about the beginning of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship in Melbourne, Austrailia. I can't wait. Saturday night at 930 I will be at Otto's place taking in the race with him and Frampton as geeked as can be. Here are 6 quick storylines that have me so excited about this season.

1. It's the first season sans Michael Schumacher since I have followed the sport. Schumacher won 7 World Driver Championships. The past two seasons he was beaten by Fernando Alonso. However, there was little to no doubt he was at the very least amongst the top 3 drivers in the world at his time of retitrement. Every season started with Schumacher as a if not THE favorite for the title this season the title race is much more open, in part due to the other storylines here.

2. Fernado Alonso, after winning two straight titles at Renault has bolted to McClaren. This seemed like a good move when it wasannounced before last season that Fernando was spending his final season at Renault. Renault's future in the sport seemed uncertain and McClaren was a major player in the title race in 2005. Then in 2006 Macca failed to win a single race. Renault won the Constructors title (in very large part due to Alonso) and reaffirmed their commitment to stay in Formula 1. Drivers usually take a while to become acclimated to a team. How quickly Alonso acclimates himself to the McClaren team will determine what factor he plays in the championship this year.

3. Ferrari has two championship contenders Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa. A year ago to have stated that Massa would be a championship contender in 2007 would have been met with hearty laughter. But, he came on at the end of last season, he has probably the fastest car in the grid under him and a years experience with the team last year. Kimi is arguably the greater talent, but his work ethic is questioned, he needs to acclimate himself with the team like Alonso at McClaren, and some such as myself see his history of engine failures as partly due to Kimi overdriving the car. Kimi was a favorite to win the title last year, and didn't win a single race. One would think he needs to get a jump on Massa at Ferrari or else you could see him become a second priority as the team pushes Massa towards the title.

4. We have 3 rookies in great cars driving for top teams. Lewis Hamilton at McClaren, Heikki Kovalainen at Renualt, and Robert Kubica at the suddenly very quick BMW Sauber team. Any of these guys have the potential to win races. While they might not have the consistency to win the title, they very much may nip some points of their teamates. Kubica and Kovalainen especially may even outscore their teamates by the end of the season. Hamilton has a much tougher order with the champion as his teamate.

5. My team of choice for the past several years, Renault, looks to be in trouble. Giancarlo Fisichella, as much as I wish him to be, is likely not a viable number one driver or champion contender. After two consecutive years of running at the front, with a chance to win every race, they will be fighting for podium spots all season. It's not gonna be pretty, it's gonna take some getting used to. But, as I said before Kovalainen may be the real deal and does have potential to win races.

6. Finally, one of the great names in Grand Prix racing, Williams F1 had an abysmal season last year. The FW29 car has looked faster than some anticipated in preseason testing. I would like to see them at least fight their way back to respectabilty. However, I am less than impressed with their choice of Alex Wurz as a second driver to Nico Rosberg. It's just not a very inspiring choice in my mind. However, for some reason the sport is more fun when a "private" team such as Williams succeeds.

Each driver and each team has multiple storylines, but those are just the ones I look forward to following the most. I can't wait to start racing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


So there has been a ridiculous lack of posts lately. For once this has to do with me being exceptionally busy. The past 10 days have been filled mostly with 12-13 hour days at the museum as we switched to a new ticketing software. Ridiculous. But that should be dying down this week.

In the meantime, I turned 30. Much like New Years Eve a holdiday that is always preceeded for me by an extremely busy week of work I was too tired to plan any real large party of anty sorts. So, it was a very low key weekend. This actually was really nice. Low key weekends are terrific when you are getting old.

I did run about 3 and a half miles sunday morning. That made me wish I got a Segway for my birthday. I did follow that up with a nice breakfast at Three Sisters Cafe As far as gifts go, my parents were very generous as usual. I also got Spirit of the Beehive which I am thrilled about, Nelly Furtado's newest cd which for some reason I love, and fittingly a glorious televised 3-0 triumph by the Columbus Crew. What a fitting scoreline.

To finish up the weekend I watched the wonderful documentary Tell Me Do you Miss Me with friends as we mourned the end of Luna but got excited to see Dean and Britta at the Music Mill next Tuesday, which will be my actual celebration.

Not a bad weekend at all. Now hopefully work and life can go back to normal.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

RIP John Vuikovich

Some guys just transcend sports in a city. For baseball in Philadelphia and for Phillies fans, it was a career .160 something hitter. 31 of his 59 years were spent with the Phillies in some capacity. I don't really know what else to say. RIP John

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Innocence Mission still makes beautiful music.

My birthday is this Sunday, March 11.

There are very few things I will be getting for myself, because I am not very rich these days. But one thing I will get is the new cd by The Innocence Mission. There are very few bands out there that have the capability to make me so optimistic just by the sound and lyrics of their music. I am a natural cynic, in my faith, in my relationships, in every area. Something about Don Peris' lyrics and wavering guitar meshing with the voice of Karen makes me think that everything will be okay. Even in songs about love or loss, ground where I usually tend to wallow, I find something entirely different when I listen to The Innocence Mission. A favorite album of theirs for me has to be Glow. I've tried, but am unable to do anything other than completely slow down when I here the opening guitar line of That Was Another Country. Everything else just stops.

The new album, We Walked in Song will be released March 13. here is an mp3 of a track of the new album Listen, learn, and love.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


It's been lucky days for me. By coincidence shortly after vieweing a Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Eclisse in the comfort of my home far too late at night; I stumbled over to The House Next Door and came upon a post on Antonioni by Ryland Walker Knight (yes, you should click on that link and read it). His post struck me for it's candor. It also made me think back to my own into to Antonioni.

He wrote, For a long time I thought I didn’t get Antonioni. I rejected what I saw—a cool, detached intellectualism—as stuffy pretentiousness. I knew something was happening in L’avventura but I couldn’t articulate my anxious distaste. Also, I was bored. So I let it sit, somewhere behind something else in the recesses I don’t dip into every day and went on enjoying Godard, devouring the French director’s 1960s major works to the point that Antonioni wasn’t even a part of my filmic landscape." It's weird. This struck me because if there was a film that turned me entirely onto a world of cinema that I had yet to explore it was Godard's Band of Outsiders. After that I needed to see every Godard. And then anything remotely connected to the French New Wave. During that run I fell in love with Godard's Contempt. To this day, it may reamain my favorite film. I heard references to Antonioni while listening to the commentary, so, L'Avventurra made it's way to the Netflix queue. I was astounded.

Even on a 19 inch televison I was so taken by the images. The pace of the film was slow, I could not relate to the high class nature of the characters, yet I was completely transfixed. A friend called me halfway through it. I told her I was watching a movie but would be glad to start it over of she joined me. So I rewatched from the begging and was still astounded. Close to 5 hours were spent that night watching the film, if you include the parts of the commentary we watched. What was it about these seemingly cold higher class characters that was drawing me in so much? Sure I wished I had the money to sail off to a private island, but if I did so I don't think it would be with them for company. While the madison scene in Band of Outsiders is a scene I would go back to far more often than any of Antonioni's scenes (perhaps for my own sanity?) I couldn't help but be intrigued and try to figure out what it was about Antonioni's films that made me so curious. Yet, at the same time, it's not exactly a film that screams, "Invite over the friends, it's Saturday night! Let's watch a movie!"

Fast forward months later, I come home from working two jobs. It's 1130 at night. I wish I was tired, but I am not. In the Netflix envelope is L'Eclisse I notice the two hour running time, think twice about putting it in, but put it in anyway. I could always finish it tomorrow. But minutes in, I am again hooked. As Knight mentioned, "And how does it open? Monica Vitti, queen of anxious mugging, rejects her life indoors and walks outside, down into town. I was hooked. Still, as a colleague said, we must admit the film is “freakishly boring” in stretches, if brilliant. It’s how we navigate that boredom that defines our experience..."

Beginning to end two hours felt like 30 minutes to me. Even the boring scenes, a scene at the stock market that may drag on too long with no real advance in the story, I was riveted by the visuals. I was taken by the choreagraphy of the stock brokers. I anxiously awaited Vittoria (Monica Vitti's) arrival to the market to see where the story would go from here.

In the second half of the film again, I found myself confused as to why I was spending so much time with these characters. Like in L'Avventurra I found myself thinking that they were cold. There were moments where the characters gave themselves over to happiness or joy. But these moments never seemed to last longer than just moments. I alternated between pity for the characters, and something short of, but not quite disdain. I thought for a long time that the repression of joy for these characters was self imposed. But as the film went on there was a feeling that it wasn't self imposed. These characters would feel joy fleetingly, but in the long run they were likely doomed. This joy would never be longer than just those moments. Even if they gave all their effort (and who's to say they weren't?) there were limitations on them by something larger.

Both L'Avventura and L'Eclisse are grouped together by film scholars, and I believe Antonioni himself, as part of an Ennui Trilogy. I have not seen the other film is this trilogy, La Notte, or any other Antonioni film for that matter. Still after seeing only these two films I find myself in awe of Antonioni and his stories. Yet, I find myself not wanting to love his films. It almost seems to me that to love L'Avventura or L'Eclisse one would need to share that doomed world view of the protaganists, and if not the protoganists, cause sometimes they don't seem to even realize it, then at least that doomed world view of the camera. It's a world view that I don't want to entirely share. While I can look at the last seven minutes or so of L'Eclisse (though to be fair i should maybe say the entire film) as some of the most invigorating and thought provoking film making that I have seen, I find myself not wanting to love it.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Quick Link

A few weeks back I noticed that their was going to be a Kieslowski blogathon over at Quiet Bubble. I had every intention on writing on my favorite Kieslowski film No End but sadly, times have been hectic and March ahs creeped up on me far quicker than I anticipated.

But, the show does go on, so go visit the Krzysztof Kieslowski Blogathon at Quiet Bubble and read people more well better spoken than I talk about one of my favorite directors.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

The poster to Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia shown here is just great. Was one man's life worth one million dollars and the death of 21 men? it lets you know that from the start you are going to get into something that is a bit outlandish, and probably very bloody. But, for me, somehow, this was the first Peckinpah that I have seen I did not know what I was getting into to.

The first scene didn't prepare me for any of this either. A girl is sitting at the edge of the lake. Ducks, swans, and geese are swimming in the water and she is silent. Eventually her silence is broken by a man coming up and saying her father wants to see her immediately. And then another man saying the same. She is forcefully brought to her fathers mansion where she is stripped and then asked by her father numerous times while undergoing pain who the man was that left her pregnant and heartbroken. Through tears she eventually tells him, Alfredo Garcia. Her father then places a one million dollar bounty on Alfredo Garcia's head. From there we see the doors of the mansion close and bodyguards and ruffians go in search of Alfredo Garcia.

The main character here though is Benny played by Warren Oates. He is workingas a piano player in a bar, and some bodyguards for El Jefe eventually pay teh ba a visit. Benny knows of Alfredo Garcia and figures there may be some money in this for him. He figures this job will be even easier once he learns that Alfredo is already dead. He just needs to find the grave and take the head back to these bodyguards. He then can get the cash he has earned and leave the piano playing bar scene.

Benny is not particularly a likeable character. He comes across as almost a misogynist at times. he is travelling with a prostiute, Elita, who last saw Alfredo a few weeks back. There are tender moments between the two of them. At one point where the film really grabbed a hold of me they were having a picnic together, talking marriage. This however was broken up by some ruffians and a rape. Benny was needed to come to the rescue, and even as he did, the moments of tenderness from their picnic were far gone. For every tender moment between Benny and Elita there were several of shouting or violence. They talked, or rather benny talked of how the money would be their escape. Elita talked of how it was aough just to be near Benny. But much like Benny's tender times seemed questionable in their motives, Elita too only seemed to be tender in false hope of calming Benny down. It was hard not to get the feeling that they both knew that they were just playing out teh string and nobody would come out of this okay.

And this was just the stars, or heroes. These were the people we were supposed to be rooting for. These were the least unsavory of the entire cast. Peckipah put together a cast of entirely unbeautiful people, in an unbeautiful place, performing far less than beautiful deeds for nobody other than themselves and said, this is what you will watch.

The night before I watched Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia I watched De Sica's The Bicycle Thieves. These are two entirely different ends of the spectrum. I can see myself looking back years from now on the relationship between the father and son in De Sica's film. It appealed to a sense of justice within me. And people making the wrong choices, for the right reasons. It posed questions within me and those questions will stay with me for a long time. The story lends itself to that. And then ther is Peckinpah's film here. I will remember numerous scenes from this film. The slow motion violence. I will remember my conflicted feelings. I will wonder to myself, just how misogynistic was this film really. And I will definitely remember Benny's decsent into madness. And now I find myself wondering about Benny's choices, and if he had any other real choices. And whether his reasons were right or wrong at all. I find myself on reflection liking the movie a whole lot more than I thought I did while watching it.