And continuing my reposting of my January movie diary as seen on Letterboxd.com. Again, these aren't really reviews, just reactions. For my own benefit, but if they help or intrigue others, great.
Keep thinking I should be including some links to the films, videos maybe, but that's a little more effort than I care to go for just now -- a pain enough reformatting these things for LiveJournal as it is. That way lies not posting anything here at all. So, for now, the short reactions.
I very much disliked this film when I first saw it (on the Vestron VHS release that, for some reason, like all their releases felt somehow really cheap). I've seen it three or four times since, usually when I was going through a "Ken Russell Complete" phase, and it got better each time. This time I really liked it (enough to add a star and click the heart), and am not quite sure what was wrong with me before. Maybe it just wasn't what I wanted and was expecting from the Ken Russell of The Devils and Tommy and Mahler and The Boy Friend, etc.
Now, it feels like Merchant/Ivory without whatever it is that gets up my nose about Merchant/Ivory (though I have the distinct feeling I need to give their work a reappraisal as well...). The punch and clarity of the frame and editing is distinctly Russell's, as well as the excellent performances that maybe teeter on the edge of camp or hamminess, but in the best way. And his love of the Lake District and nature fills every landscape (though I was beginning to recognize his locations -- oh there's a hill from Mahler, that island is in Tommy...). It's the most beautiful film of Russell's Vestron B-picture period -- Gothic struggles against its budget limitations (and terrible score), Salome's Last Dance is the only boring film Russell has ever made (Whore is worse, FAR worse, but it's not boring), and the campy Lair of the White Worm gets less interesting on repeated viewings. The simple charm of Russell's Lawrence adaptation (as well as the pleasure I get from seeing so many familiar faces of beloved actors from his earlier films) grows on me more and more each time I see it. Three Stars
Didn't hold up as well as Down By Law did on the last rewatch. Surprised. The bits and pieces just don't cohere as I remembered them doing. Still good, but seems a little more condescending and distanced from its characters than I thought -- maybe because I was 21 when I first saw it, it seemed so cool and mature (Jarmusch was 36). Now it seems a little bit trying-too-hard for me at 45.
Still. The humor, the beauty, and the performances pull it through and make it work, for the most part. Three Stars
Great footage from the 8mm camera of the Nixon staff, but otherwise nothing new in the text if you've been an obsessive Nixon-book reader for decades (and if you watched the DVD-ROM of The Haldeman Diaries, you got some of the footage as well). Nice use of music in the opening and closing credits, but yeah, nothing new here, and not put together in an interesting enough way to make the same old footage worth sitting through again. Two and a half Stars
I've been seeing a lot of mentions of this having some interesting footage, but basically being badly made and not containing anything new or interesting. I disagree. There's nothing much new about the central narrative of Big Star here, but the footage of the band and Memphis at the time of the band's work, as well as the digressions and narration from the people surrounding the band (especially the great producer Jim Dickinson) expands all the stories I already knew tremendously. The form is nothing special -- pretty standard modern documentary -- but it seems more than merely competent. As always, I'm unnerved by the extent to which the Big Star fanatics in the film sell the band as the greatest thing ever heard on earth -- NO band could live up to the hyperbole, and I was put off by it for a long time before being able to get into the band -- but there's only a little of that at the start. Three and a half Stars
It's such a shame to have to watch this beautiful movie in a lo-res YouTube version (albeit on a large HDTV), but it holds up anyway -- maybe even sometimes works better in making it feel like a bad print on cheap stock of some strange art-film rarity unearthed from a dank, forgotten vault, which from some things Tom Schiller has said is very likely how he'd like the film to be seen...
I've seen this one three times in 35mm in the 80s and 90s, with the director present each time -- apparently a provision of it being shown publicly! Each time I saw it then, the simple story of a somewhat gormless young man coming to a fantastic New York City - containing elements of NYC that make it seem an "anytime" from the 30s to the 70s - having the desire to be an artist (but no apparent skill) and wandering into a much bigger story really got to me personally. The few times I've seen it since on bootleg video didn't help my memories of those first viewings, and I was worried it would keep fading, but this viewing jumped it right back up in my estimation.
It's sweet, it's funny, and it's beautiful. It's short and just stays long enough to not become cloying. I wish it would get a real release someday, but that looks very unlikely. At least the YouTube print is the most complete I've ever seen (various prints seem to be missing scenes). Four and a half Stars
Watched on YouTube again - first time as one nice long file on a big-screen TV. Continues to impress, even when I disagree with it. A staggering achievement in film essay. For someone fascinated by movies, architecture, and the history of Los Angeles, it's a gold mine -- my wife was amused by how often a challenge or question from me was immediately answered by an image or the narration of the film. And now again I want to be wandering that strange city, though I know, from this film more than anything else, that the illusion in my head from cinema has little or nothing to do with reality. Five Stars
Not sure why I'm so resistant to just admitting to myself that I really like John Sturges's films, but I wouldn't have really gotten to that admission until this second viewing of this film. They aren't "my kinds of films," but as I keep being surprised by liking so many films that aren't, I don't know what that is anymore.
In any case, the first time I saw this, I admired it, but was a hair disappointed, as I'd grown up seeing still after still from this one reproduced in books, with the vaguest idea of what the plot was in the text, and the film I'd conjured up in my head was a little more... noir? Filled with dread, at least. Seeing it again, knowing it, I was able to appreciate it more. Fantastic collection of big men sweating and being angry and paranoid (wait, does that describe most of Sturges's films?). Sturges knows how to use a Cinemascope frame perfectly. I always dig seeing Anne Francis.
I still feel like I maybe sit back thinking about what a good movie this is without really being grabbed by it, but I love how SOLID it all feels. Four Stars
Sorry, if that's a table-flipping offense man, and I say this as a Russell fanatic, but I tried it in the theater when it came out, twice on video the week the VHS came out, and three times since (the last last year), and apart from the very last, I was bored stiff each time -- the last time, I was... less bored. I'd probably still watch it before Whore if forced to choose a rewatch between the two (Whore is SO horrible and dispiriting), but I'd rather not go there again. Maybe I'll try in another ten years.
I'd love! to see SALOME'S LAST DANCE theatrically - I find it everything but boring, and actually number it among my favorite plays-to-film. I like how it plays its conceit, and jams in every conceivable perversion while still delivering on the text.
I'm fonder of WHORE than you as well, messy though it is.