Art School Confidential (2006)

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To view Art School Confidential click here.

Director Terry Zwigoff got his start with a short documentary about an obscure country-blues musician that was titled Louie Blue (1985). In 1994 he hit the big time with Crumb, another documentary but this time one focused on the famous underground cartoonist Robert Crumb. Crumb won countless awards and featured an amazing soundtrack full of “’78s of the late 1920s and early ’30s – jazz, blues, ragtime, and country music.” Continuing on in the liner notes to the soundtrack, Zwigoff adds: “This music seemed to fit the film somehow anyway. I’m glad, because by the time I was through with all the post-production, editing, sound-cutting, mixing, etc., I’d been forced to listen to these tunes hundreds of times each. Glad I started out with music I loved or it would have been sheer torture.” Seven years later Crumb was followed by Ghost World. Two years after that, improbably (and I say that because, really, who could have anticipated it): Bad Santa. Then, in 2006, Zwigoff made Art School Confidential, centered on a fictional art school based on Pratt Institute, and which somehow ties everything together insofar as all three of Zwigoff’s fiction films were written by Pratt Institute alumni.

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You’re Never Too Old to Discover Danny Kaye

HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN, Danny Kaye, Joey Walsh, 1952.

To view Hans Christian Andersen click here.

I have a confession to make, and this is just between us, ok? Up until a few months ago, I had never seen a Danny Kaye film. Not a single one. And before you think I’m accidentally forgetting White Christmas (1954) –nope. Never seen that one, either. For whatever reason, all these years I had rather stubbornly made up my mind that I didn’t like Danny Kaye. I had no explanation and entirely no basis for this formed opinion of mine. I even playfully argued with a good friend, and when he pressed me for a reason why, my response was simply, “Meh. Not my cup of tea.” How ridiculous is that? It’s a completely unfair, unreasonable and irrational stance. And after watching my very first Danny Kaye film, I felt embarrassment and regret for casually reducing the enormous contributions of such an immensely talented entertainer, one who left an indelible mark on Hollywood and pop culture, to an arrogant “meh.” The more I think about it, perhaps I owe my unfounded dislike to Clark Griswold and his hysterically colorful Christmas Eve tirade. I’m sure at some point I thought, “Ha! That’s a funny joke. Well, that’s all I need to know about Danny Kaye. I think that’ll do.”

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Keep on Buckin’… the System: Crumb (1994)

Crumb (1994)  Directed by Terry Zwigoff Shown: Robert Crumb

Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb enters FilmStruck at roughly 8:00pm ET today.

Near the end of the 1994 documentary Crumb, directed by Terry Zwigoff, we see Robert Crumb and his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, in their home supervising movers as they get ready to head out. Out of the country, that is. They’re moving to France and Crumb wonders if the “football jocks” can handle moving his delicate records. This leads Aline to relate a story of some people in Eureka that she visited who had a big football helmet chair and a “fat teenager” sitting in it in front of the tv playing Nintendo. Crumb says, rather condescendingly, “You don’t see much of that in France.” Crumb never had much regard for people leading lives mapped out for them by corporate culture and mass media. He even rants at an earlier point about people walking around with logos on their hats and shirts, paying corporations to advertise for them.  In many ways, it’s the most fitting possible coda to an examination of Robert Crumb, an artist whose adult life could be adequately described as an endless fight against copyright infringement, artistic mediocrity, and anything that might make him acceptable to the public at large.

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Honor Among Thieves: Farewell, Friend (1968)

FAREWELL FRIEND (aka ADIEU L'AMI), from left: Alain Delon, Charles Bronson, 1968

To view Farewell, Friend click here.

FilmStruck is currently streaming 11 films featuring Alain Delon as part of their “Icons: Alain Delon” theme and for the next 4 weeks I’ll be spotlighting a few of my favorite titles in this collection. To learn more about the French actor please see a previous post I wrote in 2010 to celebrate Delon’s 75th birthday titled, “The Ice-Cold Angel turns 75.” You might also enjoy perusing my modest collection of Delon memorabilia on display in Alain Delon: A Personal Passion

In the tradition of classic French heist films such as Touchez pas au grisbi (1954), Rififi (1955) and Bob le flambeur (1956), Farewell, Friend (aka Honor Among Thieves, 1968) takes viewers on a treacherous adventure where femme fatales lurk around every shadowy corner and crime rarely pays. But that doesn’t stop some fortune hunters from risking everything to make a quick buck or in this case, repay a debt to a dead man.

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Heaven Can Wait (1978): Here Comes Mr. Grusin

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To view Heaven Can Wait click here.

It’s funny how film scores go through stylistic transformations every decade, and how you can almost always pinpoint the year a film was made (within a year or two) based on the music you hear. Case in point: Dave Grusin, whose sound was so omnipresent in the 1970s and 1980s you can barely throw a rock at a movie theater without hitting a poster from one of his titles. Here at FilmStruck we’re tipping our hats to Mr. Grusin, whose distinct sound isn’t something you hear too often in theaters anymore—which is a loss for us all. One of his most infectious and upbeat works, Heaven Can Wait (1978), is a prime example of the Grusin soundtrack and boasts one of his most memorable themes, though incredibly, it wouldn’t have an album release in any format until 2013 when it finally hit CD paired up with another of his unreleased scores, Racing with the Moon (1984). I’m still waiting for someone to put out his majestic score for My Bodyguard (1980), too, but you can’t have everything!

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India Song: The River (1951)

The River (1951) Directed by Jean Renoir Shown: Adrienne Corri (right)

To view The River click here.

“In The River the screen no longer exists; there is nothing but reality.” - André Bazin

I have long been tantalized by this Bazin quote, which Dave Kehr included in his capsule review of The River for the Chicago Reader. It seems absurd on the face of it, as Renoir’s 1951 feature is blatantly artificial, shot in blazing Technicolor on a mix of studio sets and a refurbished Indian home. Bazin does not mean to say the film is documentary in any way, but that it captures the reality of the artifice, or to put it yet another way like Picasso, it is a lie to get to the truth. Renoir took a coming-of-age memoir and peeled back so much incident and plot that what remains is more reverie than narrative, leaving time to linger on faces and landscapes and the ever flowing Ganges. The emblematic images for me are a montage of naps which Renoir zooms in on with swaying drowsiness, aping the drift into unconsciousness. The film as a whole has the same kind of lulling effect, and if you lock into its tempo the screen will drop away as it did for Bazin, revealing eternal verities. If not, you’ll see an uneventful travelogue with pretty cinematography, which still isn’t too shabby.

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Ingrid Bergman: From Luminous to Scandalous to Illustrious

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To see the Ingrid Bergman films available on FilmStruck, click here.

Ingrid Bergman stepped in front of a camera for the first time 85 years ago. Bergman fans will be delighted to discover that FilmStuck offers 13 of her films, including a recent documentary by Swedish critic and filmmaker Stig Bjorkman titled Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words (2015).

Instead of Bergman’s glamorous Hollywood star turns—Gaslight (1944), Casablanca (1941), Notorious (1946)—FilmStruck offers her lesser-known European films, including seven early Swedish roles, four melodramas by husband Roberto Rossellini, one film made for Renoir, and her penultimate screen performance in Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata (1978).

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The Tragedy of Lineage: Tess (1979)

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To view Tess click here.

A haggard, beaten down farmer walks home down a quiet country road in Wessex and greets, and is greeted by, another man on a horse. The man on the horse is Parson Tringham (Tony Church) and the grizzled farmer is John Durbyfield (John Collin). The parson jokingly calls him “Sir John” and John, who prefers “Jack,” asks him why. This simple exchange sets in motion a series of events that will eventually lead to rape, murder and the complete ruin of John’s family and the imprisonment and execution of one of his daughters. How this comes to be is the story of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, a sprawling and extraordinary tale of how one man’s obsession with his family’s roots leads to the destruction of all around him and how Victorian society victimizes an intelligent, educated woman whose entire life lies at the center of the upheaval. That book was adapted to film in 1979 by Roman Polanski as Tess, and it remains one of most beautifully shot and richly detailed adaptations of any of Hardy’s works. It is also inexorably linked to the personal legacy of its director, a man making the film as a final wish to his late, murdered wife, Sharon Tate, while on the lam from the law for the rape of a thirteen-year-old girl.

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Targets (1968): Proof There Are Still Good Movies to Be Made

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To view Targets click here.

A few years ago, a friend convinced me to buy, sight unseen, Peter Bogdanovich’s directorial debut, 1968′s Targets starring Boris Karloff. Because of the newly released DVD, there had been renewed interest in this rarely seen film. My friend promised that it would be money well spent, and that it would completely blow my mind. “[Roger] Corman produced it, it’s got Boris Karloff and the ending is…trust me, you just need to watch it,” he said. Rarely wrong in his film recommendations, I snagged the DVD during a sale and put it in my ever-expanding “to-watch” stack. Late one Friday night, after coming up empty during some mindless channel surfing, and after months of harassment by my good-natured cinephile friend, I decided to give Targets a try. I’ll be honest: I was skeptical of my friend’s endorsement of the film, despite his good taste and solid track record of recommendations. Now, don’t get me wrong–I love Boris Karloff. But many of his late-career films are a bit cheesy and seriously underuse and undermine his talents as an actor. And so, knowing absolutely nothing about the film, except my friend’s vague comments and my own preconceived assumptions, I thought, “What do I have to lose? Two hours?” I could easily spend all night watching Bert Convy-hosted game show reruns or infomercials for Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, so this seemed like a reasonable investment of my time.

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Hannah Arendt (2012)

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There’s a rather clunky scene early on in Hannah Arendt (2012), one whose purpose seems clearly to provide a quick bio of Hannah for the novice viewer. It takes place inside the office of William Shawn (Nicholas Woodsen), editor of The New Yorker. He has just received an offer from Hannah Arendt (Barbara Sukowa) to cover the Adolph Eichmann trial for them. Francis Wells (Megan Gay) scoffs, asking who she is. Another editor, Jonathan Schell (Tom Leick), scolds her. “She wrote The Origins of Totalinarianism!” Shawn adds, “It’s one of the most important books of the 20th century!” Aside from the fact that there is no way an editor of The New Yorker didn’t know who Hannah Arendt was in 1960, and trying desperately to ignore the forced New York accents of all three non-American actors in the scene, the main problem lies in the scene so clumsily listing Arendt’s creds for the audience. It is the main failing of the movie encapsulated into that one scene. Throughout the film, characters will constantly state and restate the obvious but at its core is the real life figure and trial of Eichmann, and the moral questions surrounding that trial, that make Hannah Arendt an arresting movie to watch. At other times, it is as prosaic a biopic as any ever made. And through it all, Barbara Sukowa’s masterful performance keeps the audience engaged.

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