Random Double Feature: The Barefoot Contessa and Ladri di Biciclette

Every once in a while (in truth, probably a little more often than the average person), I will watch two movies in one sitting. Thanks to Netflix instant streaming and my handy-dandy Blue-Ray player with built-in wi-fi, I am able to select two movies almost at random to watch on my TV anytime. Of course, if it were truly random, the potential list would include every film ever made and I wouldn’t have any choice in either of them. That would be an interesting experiment, indeed. But since I do have a say in the matter, I pick films from my bloated queue (usually), which means I must have a pre-existing interest in any given component of any given “random” double feature.

Last night, the films I chose were Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s 1954 Hollywood melodrama The Barefoot Contessa, and Vittorio De Sica‘s 1948 Italian neorealist classic Ladri di Biciclette. Although made within a few years of each other and each taking place at least partly in Italy, the movies are worlds apart in theme, look and sensibility. It may even seem unfair to compare them, like comparing apples and clothes hangers. But I found this pairing surprisingly useful in clarifying some of my personal cinematic tastes. Readers of this blog will no doubt have different takes and tastes. I’d be interested to hear what you think. Continue reading

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Unhappy Anniversary

DOUG KANTER/AFP/Getty Images

What an awesome image this photo is! (To get the full effect, click on it.)

The Twin Towers were not terribly beautiful when they stood over lower Manhattan for the thirty years of their lives: just two big awkwardly long rectangles on their sides stretching far above everything in their surroundings. They were  iconic, of course, but they achieved their stature cheaply, just by virtue of being the tallest things around.

In death, however, the Towers’ architecture has achieved a powerful iconicism of chaos and doom. The twisting, torn shards of its wrecked lattices look like ghostly hands reaching weakly for help, or bombed-out miniature cities–in a way, fractals of the larger destruction around them. How utterly ruined they were on that day! How totally devastated was their straight, clean sharpness!

The man in this photo, according to its official AFP caption, is calling out to see if any survivors answer. Patriots will quickly note the most alive looking object in the image: the American flag yet waving in the smoky sunlight. Eleven years on, you have to wonder what became of the land and home it represents.

The Profound Beauty of Micachu and The Shapes

Here’s a new band on me: Micachu and The Shapes (with multi-instrumentalist Mica Levi, keyboardist Raisa Khan and drummer Marc Pell)  have been playing and recording highly idiosyncratic pop music since 2008. I’m glad to say I’ll be seeing them with another eccentric pop band I’ve written about, tUnE-yArDs featuring Merrill Garbus, as well as Delicate Steve, about whom I know almost nothing. Of course tUnE-yArDs is my main reason for going to the show (June 1st at Terminal 5 in New York City), but researching the other bands on YouTube, I discovered this is promising to be an extraordinary evening. Continue reading

My Random International Film Festival

I went international with my movie-viewing this weekend. I viewed films, all made between 2001 and 2010, from Iran, France, Thailand and Korea. All of these are available to stream instantly on Netflix, and though, I have reservations about two of them, I recommend them all anyway.  Following are my caspule reviews: Continue reading

Louis CK and Fans #Occupy the Entertainment Industry

Louis CK, the comedian and star of the FX comedy series Louis (which, I confess, I haven’t gotten around to actually ever seeing), just conducted an amazing, radical experiment in do-it-yourself capitalism that has paid off beautifully for him. Continue reading

Random Double Feature: Imitation of Life and Anna Lucasta

A few weeks ago, after reading an obituary of underground film legend George Kuchar in the New York Times, I watched Jennifer M. Kroot‘s 2009 documentary It Came from Kuchar, a very enjoyable film in its own right, about the delightfully weird hand-made movies of George and his twin brother Michael. The Kuchars of the Bronx made over-the-top satires with their friends and family on, first, a wind-up action DeJur 8mm camera (the kind I loved making films with as a kid) and then a Bolex 16mm (the kind I always wished I had). Unlike their underground peers Andy Warhol or Kenneth Anger, the Kuchar’s were primarily interested in Hollywood-style narrative (though their movies are far stranger than anything Hollywood could ever dream up) and were heavily influenced in particular by Douglas Sirk, whose melodramas they watched over and over at local movie houses.

From my days of interest in New German cinema, I knew Rainer Werner Fassbinder was also a Sirk fanatic, and I was intrigued by the homages he paid Sirk in films like Lola and Veronika Voss–not the narrative influence so much as the visual influence, the use of  primary color light gels and art design components to telegraph emotion. These visuals also clearly appealed to the Kuchars. In It Came from Kuchar, you can see that George was still practicing Sirk-style lighting in his film classes at San Francisco Art Institute. (Sins of the Fleshapoids, which is available in multipart on YouTube, is a good example of an original Kuchar epic employing Sirk-inspired lighting techniques.)

I only knew about Sirk as an auteur worth investigating from my interest in Fassbinder. So far as I know, I had never seen a Sirk until just the other night. It was the Kuchar films that piqued my interest anew, so when I saw Imitation of Life available on Netflix, I queued it up. By coincidence, my own twin brother Erik recommended I see the remake of Philip Yordan’s Anna Lucasta (directed by Arthur Laven) with Eartha Kitt and Sammy Davis Jr just that day, so when Imitation of Life was over, I went right into Anna Lucasta, which is also available for instant streaming on Netflix. They make for an interesting double feature. Continue reading

Random Double Feature: Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and Le Doulos

I wasn’t expecting to watch either Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) or Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Doulos (1962) last night. Almost randomly, I selected each just seconds before watching them from my Netflix instant watch list, where both had been sitting for perhaps a year or possibly more. Each made a surprisingly provocative complement to the other on my random double feature bill. Continue reading