Travis Bickle on the Riviera 05 – May 2011

01. The Long Riders (1980) Walter Hill
02. Southern Comfort (1981) Walter Hill
Two of Walter Hill’s slept-on classics, one an actual western and the other a war movie that lives in the realm of the western (Hill has said that he never made a movie that wasn’t in some form a western). The Long Riders is kind of the missing link between Peckinpah and the modern western (everything from The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford to Unforgiven lives and dies on things brought up in this film). The cast is full of real-life brothers playing the James and Younger gangs, and everyone here shines at least a little. .The Carradine brothers take it, though. Keith is always the best in everything I’ve seen him in, here is no different. David Carradine give birth to his characterization of Bill here in his scene on the train, equal parts womanizer on the decline and sage badass. Southern Comfort is the best Aliens movie ever made without Aliens.

03. It Felt Like a Kiss (2009) Adam Curtis
04 – 06. The Living Dead part 1-3 (1995) Adam Curtis
07 – 09. Pandora’s Box pt 1-3 (1998) Adam Curtis
10 – 13. The Century of Self pt 1-4 (2008) Adam Curtis
Spurred on by the trailer for ALL WATCHED OVER BY MACHINES OF LOVING GRACE (which is coming up later) I watched and rewatched a bunch of Adam Curtis’ documentaries. Curtis is most interesting, outside of his adeptness for audio/visual collage, is that he’s interested in how the individual effects mass history. More than that, though, is that the intention of the individual almost always mean nothing to the sweep of history, positive or negative. It Felt Like a Kiss is his masterpiece.

14. California Split (1974) Robert Altman
15. Images (1972) Robert Altman
California Split has a perfect opening crredits sequence, which drops you into these characters’ world long before you ever get to deal with them (or they each other). This is a behavioralist approach to characters but doesn’t sacrifice character, these two being Altman’s best. Images is less successful, but still completely compelling. The use of the storybook narration as a counterpoint to the story we’re watching, never overlapping or even commenting on each other, is inspired. This would make a pretty perfect counterpoint to Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. The ending is razorwire sharp, gut you in a second.

16. Hunger (2009) Steve McQueen
The opening 20 minutes are ice-cold, and Michael Fassbinder doesn’t screw around.

17. All the Real Girls (2003) David Gordon Green
David Gordon Green is one of the few filmmakers who can make movies about normal people doing not extraordinary things and make them into gorgeous and touching stories. On paper this is the kind of movie I can’t stand, but Green is so skilled at just showing people relate to one another, something that most movies ignore completely for things like “characterization”. Danny McBride’s first movie, and you can see even here he’s got the chops to handle real drama that he only really gets to use briefly in East Bound and Down.

18. Days of Heaven (1978) Terrence Malick
One of the most beautiful films ever made, and perfectly poised between biblical allegory and Andrew Wyeth painting brought to life. Richard Gere was never this good again. Can’t wait to finally see Tree of Life.

19. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) John Cassavettes
My final exam in my theater class gave me flashbacks to this film, because it largely consisted of me talking into a spotlight for an audience of one, playing for time. Gazzara at his finest.

20. Kill Bill vol. 1 (2003) Quentin Tarantino
21. Kill Bill vol. 2 (2004) Quentin Tarantino
22. Inglourious Basterds (2009) Quentin Tarantino
I’ve been watching Kill Bill because there’s a part of me that really wants to sit down and write a book about Kill Bill, and every time I sit down and start writing it I’m another few months deep into wannabe cinephilia so I see more of what he’s doing in the film, but I get the feeling that seeing every reference is actually impossible without sitting next to Tarantino while watching it. The other thing is, that.. no matter how many reference points you can spot, you are likely getting no closer to the actual heart of the story at hand. At a certain point, you realize that the amount of time it would take do it justice you could probably just write a goddamn screenplay (in this sentence “you” is in reference to “me”) or least spend some of that time in the gym. Inglourious, I think is just as complex as Kill Bill but I think I understand more of that film’s core because I actually know less of the quotes, it’s a forest/trees situation. Anyway I wrote more about Basterds in the previous post.

23. El Topo (1970) Alejondro Jodorowsky
Haven’t seen this in a few years, still a fantastic psychedelic western (in the sense that all psychedelic westerns are a perversion of the Western as a journey towards death not that it’s “trippy”). I do think that it has less of an impact after you’ve seen it once, in a way that Holy Mountain still has teeth on every rewatch. I guess it’s a trade-off because El Topo is a much more strong story than Holy Mountain, even though it fucks with you a little less.

24. Blade Runner the Final Cut (1982) Ridley Scott (Commentary)
Watched with the commentary track because I hadn’t gotten around to it. I’d put this commentary as a kind of home film school essential. Scott isn’t the most interesting interview, but it is incredibly honest and informative when it comes to just how much work went into the film, from what he was reading (BILAL and MOEBIUS) to who took Leon’s photographs (Douglas Trubmull).

25. Mystery Men (1999) Kinka Usher
If I ever have the chance to dj for people, I’m totally showing up as DJ Casanova Frankenstein. This movie is one of the best comic book adaptations, and features both the Goodie Mob and Michael Bay as supervillians. Of course, it has maybe one of the worst soundtrack of any movie in the 90s, so I guess that’s why people hate it as much as they do. Still: really funny, best of career performances from at least half of the people involved (Hank Azaria, Geoffrey Rush, Paul Reubens, and Tom Waits just as a start) and it really seems to get what is actually appealing and fun about superheroes as a concept in the in the same way that things like The Tick did, which is something that has existed in superhero comics in a long time.

26. Naked Lunch (1991) David Cronenberg
The scene where Weller is reciting the story of the talking asshole as we see the headlights play over a street that is neither NYC or Interzone, is Cronenberg’s mini-masterpiece of filmmaking.

27. Conan the Barbarian (1982) John Milius
Arnold and Milius better make a King Conan movie before one of them dies. Maybe a little dated, but truly committed to being a series of living Frank Frazetta paintings, and full of dialog that holds up better than any other fantasy dialog in film, simply by sticking to it’s cutthroat,  utilitarian nature.

28. Dune – Theatrical Cut (1984) David Lynch
Thought about watching it after reading about Ridley Scott and Jodorowsky’s failed attempts to make this into a movie. It’s fun to watch this to see the Lynch qualities that do show up, and the thought-bubble approach to narration, but this is on the whole terrible.

29. Men In Black (1997) Barry Sonnenfeld
Great buddy comedy.

30. Due Date (2010) Todd Phillips
Awful buddy comedy. Galifianakis in exile.

31. Fight For Your Right Revisited (2011) Adam Yauch
The Beastie Boy’s Hot Suce Committee pt. II is the album of the year, and this short is absolutely brilliant in how it goes “Oh yeah we’re still the Paul Revere dudes”. Chock full of cameos but that seems kind of beside the point, the actors here add up to a kind of texture, and to betray obscure in-jokes (Orlando Bloom I don’t care about, but Orlando Bloom playing Johnny Ryall? Hell yeah). My favorite moment outside of the literal pissing contest (and just how great the chemistry two casts of Beasties are) is the brief moment of Ad-Rock’s faux-Beatles narration as he gets stabbed by the metal girls on acid.

32. Sanjuro (1962) Akira Kurosawa
Kurosawa’s brilliant auto-critique on action movies, specifically his own. The film plays as a boys adventure fiction with Mifune replaying his Yojimbo role only more weary, the young samurai who follow him think they’re having a fun romp, but only in the last few seconds do they understand that being a samurai means playing for keeps.

33. Battle of Algiers (1966) Gillo Pontecorvo
Peeled my cap back. Still kind of reeling a week later. Battle of Algiers is the best movie about terrorism ever made because there is no judgement of either side, there is only actions and consequences. The filmmaking is stunningly good because you forget about any filmmaking being done, even though the leading of the narrative is being pulled along masterfully, you don’t see an edit after the opening introduction, it plays like a newsreel. I’m gonna watch it again soon, I’ve got to see if it grabs me again or if I can approach it as a technical object.

34. Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) Robert Weine
They really do not make movies this pretty anymore.

35. 39 Steps (1935) Alfred Hitchcock
The first half of the film I had trouble getting into, the second half, where the film transforms into a romantic-comedy-cum-spy-thriller, is a good candidate for my new favorite Hitchcock film. Also – even this eary Hitchcock understood how to show how large crowds act on film.

36-37. All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace pt. 1-2 (2011) Adam Curtis
Part 3 of this is airing next week so I can’t really say much about this work as a whole. So far, Curtis has gotten an even better selection of needle drops to break your heart (Pino Donaggio’s DePalma scores, late period NIN, Burial), and a need to expose the development of the modern condition from machine logic, using clear and concise lines of historical fact to take apart something as basic as ecology.

– – –
current count in 2011 – 117

- Sean Witzke June 2011.

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4 Responses to Travis Bickle on the Riviera 05 – May 2011

  1. Richard Baez says:

    Also – even this eary Hitchcock understood how to show how large crowds act on film.

    Your mention of this immediately brings to mind the umbrella scene in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT.

  2. Richard Baez says:

    Though, now that I’ve said that, I suspect the behavior of the crowd is secondary in that scene to the sheer beauty of that moment, which is where the impact really registers.

  3. Taranaich says:

    “Arnold and Milius better make a King Conan movie before one of them dies.”

    Hopefully not “Crown of Iron,” that was a terrible script.

  4. David Al says:

    “Curtis is most interesting, outside of his adeptness for audio/visual collage, is that he’s interested in how the individual effects mass history. More than that, though, is that the intention of the individual almost always mean nothing to the sweep of history, positive or negative.”

    I’ve been thinking about this since you posted, and… yeah, this question of “intention” is absolutely crucial, isn’t it? Curtis’ work is all about the power and futility of BIG IDEAS – how they can have a massive effect on the world, but not necessarily the effect the thinker was hoping for.

    His style dramatises this so well that even when I want to argue with some of Curtis’ statements or implications, I can’t help but feel like this is the point. That doesn’t mean we need to let Curtis off the hook – far from it! – but as bobsy pointed out on the Mindless Mailing list, the contrast between Curtis’ crisp RP tones and the fuzzy ambiguity of his collage work is too dramatic to be ignored.

    You’re right that It Felt Like a Kiss is his masterpiece too – as I argued here, the lack of voiceover means that it’s his most seductive work, the most like a beautiful advert for a horrible truth. Conversely, as I said at the time, that also makes it the Curtis piece that it’s easiest to find yourself arguing with. After all, who the fuck takes an advert at face value?

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