Tuesday, December 30, 2008

One Savage Lady

The actress Ann Savage died in her sleep December 25. 

According to her manager, she had complications due to strokes. She was at a nursing home, and she was 87.

She debuted in 1943, and her career had been over in the mid-1950s. This year she had starred in Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg.

She has been known best for being the femme fatale in Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour (1945). She played a woman blackmailing the character played by Tom Neal. The movie reversed the traditional gender roles of its time. 

Detour has been enjoying a following, and I'm looking forward to seeing it myself. 

Monday, December 29, 2008

Please Give Her the Oscar

I have not seen any of the movies gunning for the next Academy Awards, but I'm aware of which ones have got the buzz.

My friends and I are hoping to see Leo in the running again, this time for Revolutionay Road.

Personally, I would like to see Kate Winslet bag an Oscar. She has two shots: one for the Road, and another for The Reader. She has better chances at the best supporting actress prize for The Reader. I have read the reviews, and it looks like one of those performances that's really a lead role, much like those of Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind, Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago and Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls.

She has been nominated previously for :

Sense and Sensibility, supporting actress, 1995

Titanic, lead actress, 1997

Iris, supporting actress, 2001

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, lead actress, 2004

Little Children, lead actress, 2006

Her credits also include Heavenly Creatures (1994), Quills (2000), and Finding Neverland (2004).

"I can't deny it would mean a huge deal. Whether that's going to happen ever in my life, of course, remains to be seen," said Winslet in an interview with David Germain.

"I'm a very good loser. I've actually got it down, I think. I have a formula I could sell. I'm 33 years old, for God's sake. I've been there five times before. It's been incredible every single time, and I'm nothing other than just genuinely amazed and truly, truly grateful to have had those moments in my life."

If she gets nominated for both roles and loses them, she will hold the record of most nominations without a win among actresses. (Deborah Kerr and Thelma Ritter each have six nods and no wins.) Which is okay, because they would be nominations six and seven for her, and that's a lot. But I would really like to see her win.


"Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting."

- Aldous Huxley

"I do think that the quality which makes a man want to write and be read is essentially a desire for self-exposure and is masochistic. Like one of those guys who has a compulsion to take his thing out and show it on the street."

- James Jones

"One of the least impressive liberties is the liberty to starve. This particular liberty is freely accorded to authors."

- Lord Goodman


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Just Another Fairy Tale

In 1993 Jane Campion became the first woman to win the best director prize at the Cannes International Film Festival. She received it for The Piano, her fourth feature.

In the early European colonization in the late 19th century, a Scottish woman named Ada McGrath was sent by her father to the wilds of New Zealand for an arranged marriage to Alisdair Stewart, a man she never met. She brings along with her her dear piano and her illegitimate daughter nine years of age.

Upon arrival, the piano is left on the beach because of expediency and economics.

Holly Hunter plays Ada in a controlled, sustained performance, and Anna Paquin plays her daughter. Paquin's performance is greatly aided by the editor Veronika Jenet. She makes her performance better and more shocking than it actually is. 

The movie itself has been called by a noted reviewer "a highly original fable."

How original is this, really? Let me count the ways.

Like all heroines of the fairy tale, Ada is an orphan. She does not have a mother anymore and her father is in a faraway land.

Like Rapunzel, she is a captive in a tower, locked up by the beast (Stewart). 

Who would rescue her, of course, but the knight in shining armor? Who comes in the form of George Baines (played by Harvey Keitel). We know he is Prince Charming because unlike Stewart, he does not buy any more land than he needs. Unlike the beast, he is one among the natives. 

When Stewart finds out Ada is having an affair, he severs her finger so she can no longer play the piano. Just like Ariel had to give up her voice to be with her man.   

The template for this story, then, is the fairy tale.

It is easy to see how The Piano can be considered a feminist allegory on female expression of the self. Ada chooses Baines not only because he is a strange man and therefore fascinating. She chooses him because he picked up the piano from the beach. He let her play it, and he would let her play any piece she wanted. He allowed her to earn it back.

"To be deaf. Awful, terrible."

"Actually, to tell you the whole truth, Mother says most people speak rubbish and it's not worth the listen."

"Well, that is a strong opinion."

"Aye. It's unholy."

It shows us that the piano had become her voice, and without it she cannot speak. Baines had given her voice back, and he listens to her, allows her to say whatever she'd like.

In a key scene, Stewart forces himself upon Ada and stops to find her speaking, even though her lips are not moving. It becomes clear, then, the many ways we have suppressed the woman's right to speak and be heard. We took their voice away, so they learned to speak in other languages. But if we only listened closely enough, they do have something to say, and it is well worth listening to. 

But when what we see is essentially a fairy tale we've seen many times before, how original does that make it, really?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Precccious

It's almost the end of the year and I have not yet watched The Lord of the Rings

It's been an annual tradition I've been keeping since 2004, and I don't want to start missing it this year.

What's keeping me are the crazy office schedules I, along with everybody else, have to follow.

My devotion cannot be stopped. There are four more days to 2008, and I will find time.

Maybe I ought to send a troll or a band of orcs to the manager.

Far Better

"There are far worse things awaiting man than death."

- Count Dracula

from Dracula (1931) 

Friday, December 26, 2008

On a Loop

Harlan Ellison, the fantasy writer, had won a suit claiming that a good part of The Terminator had been culled from The Outer Limits, a 1960s science fiction series.

Two of his acclaimed teleplays for the series seem to have given birth to the plot and the images  of the movie: "Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand."

Reports had it that the movie was too close to the episodes.

Coming up is another movie with a circular narrative: Christopher Nolan's Memento. It was ranked 100th in WGA's 101 Greatest Screenplays, just below The Wild Bunch and just above Notorious.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Not a Silent Day

The first celebration of Christmas was recorded in Rome in A.D. 336.

The song "Silent Night" was first performed on December 25, 1818 at the Church of St. Nikolaus in Oberndorf, Austria. It was written by Franz Guber and Father Joseph Mohr.

In 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as the eighth and last president of the Soviet Union.

Comedian WC Fields died in Pasadena, California on December 25, 1946. He was 66. 

Comedian Charles Chaplin died in Switzerland on December 25, 1977. He was 88. 

Singer James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul," died in Atlanta on December 25, 2006. He was 73.

This year,  actress Hanna Schygulla turns 65; Sissy Spacek, 59; and CCH Pounder, 56. Singer Jimmy Buffett is 62; Annie Lennox, 54; and Noel Hogan of The Cranberries, 37.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Big and Monstrous

Los Angeles in 2029 is depleted.

A cyborg is sent back through time to L.A. in 1984 to eliminate Sarah Connor, who will become the mother of the leader of the freedom fighters in the future.

This cyborg looks human, and he disposes everyone who gets in the way. Which is pretty much everyone. 

Kyle Reese, a human soldier, does the time travel as well to try and save her. He explains that where he came from, a nuclear war was waged by computers against the human race. It is his mission to ensure John Connor is born. He has no idea how big the role he is playing.

An action movie, science fiction and also a love story, this movie has terrific action and set pieces, smart and stylish. The Terminator remains one of the most formidable villains ever, one of the crowning accomplishments of Stan Winston. Many of the special effects now look dated, but they are still amazing: products of stop-motion animation and techniques before there was computer-generated imagery. Animatronics, models, miniatures and matte paintings.

Adam Greenberg's photography and Brad Fiedel's score help complete tech noir.

It is easy to underestimate James Cameron's achievement, especially because time has passed. 

At the time, Arnold had yet to earn his box office legs, and Cameron's own Piranha II: The Spawning did not hold promise for him.

The story itself courts turkey territory.

It was not a blockbuster when it was released in theaters, but it was a success in videotape and pay cable.

One of the conceits of the movie is how it used Arnold's features to great effect: the build, the accent, the facial expression all point to the anticipation of- uhm, robotic acting- but here, it is all perfectly fine. He spouts monosyllables and short phrases, no more than 15 lines, and he gets to convey malevolence.

Another is how Cameron has found a neat excuse for brief nudity: the time displacement machine.

Cameron has brought it all together. (Like the Terminator itself, Cameron is exacting and relentless. Legend has it that people who worked under him wore T-shirts that said: "You can't scare me. I work for James Cameron.")

And he likes putting them leading ladies through the wringer. He likes pitting them against big monsters: Here, a murderous machine that's virtually unstoppable. In Aliens, a mother predator, and in Titanic, a sinking ship with all its social conventions.

What does it say about him?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Better Than a Cat

"In a very real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read.... It is not true that we only have one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish."

-  S.I. Hayakawa

"When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before."

- Clifton Fadiman

"I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet gone ourselves."

- E.M. Forster

Sharpening My Rapier

I know I have not been publishing movie reviews lately.

But it does not mean I have not been writing them. In fact, I have been writing five at the same time. They are long, and I'm still editing, so I hope you'd be able to read them soon.

You see, I'd be working 11.5-hour shifts again in the next two weeks. I know this is not normal, but call centers in the Philippines is not normal in the first place. I'm having two days off, and I'd spend them with my family and to catch up on my sleep.

I have also accumulated an indecent number of books I have yet to read. And last month I had already sworn off not buying books I don't think I can read with the little time I've got.

Here's three still sitting on my desk:

The Simpsons: One Step Beyond Forever (Seasons 13 & 14)

           edited by Jesse L. McCann; Harper, 2005

           I bought this in a bargain books shop in Sta. Mesa for 110 pesos. It's packed with jokes and colorful illustrations.

Reading Myself and Others by Philip Roth

          Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975 for P70.

          Essays by the author of Portnoy's Complaint. In the dedication page he wrote: 'To Saul Bellow, the "other" I have read from the beginning with the deepest pleasure and admiration.'

Notes on a Scandal screenplay based on the book by Zoe Heller

           Faber and Faber Limited, 2006 for P40

           with notes on the screenplay by the movie's screenwriter Patrick Marber (He also wrote Mike Nichols's Closer.)

The last two I also got in Sta. Mesa. Now if I could only find the time to read them.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Monday last week, The New Yorker published a 1905 essay by Mark Twain, the first time it sees print.

In "The Privilege of the Grave," Twain writes:

"We have charity for what the dead say. We may disapprove of what they say, but we do not insult them, we do not revile them, as knowing they cannot now defend themselves. If they should speak, what revelations there would be!"

A hundred and three years later, and it still stands true. (I'm not about to attack this nugget of wisdom from Twain, you know.)

I'd try to publish here in this blog my thoughts on many things, and I would appreciate it if you would post a comment here and there. You may disapprove, you may puke, and that will be okay. You can save the respect for later when I'm gone. Much later. I'm not going to give you pleasure by going out early. 

"Now there is hardly one of us but would dearly like to reveal these secrets of ours; we know we cannot do it in life, then why not do it from the grave, and have the satisfaction of it?"

I'm very much here, so why not engage me? For questions, clarifications, violent reactions or flattery, make them known here or to my e-mail address: pages_screens@ymail.com

My Commander

Today at the Misa de Gallo, the priest relayed the story of three mothers talking about their sons.

Mother Number One says her son has been practicing law for quite some time now. People have started calling him Your Honor.

Number Two has a son who has been made bishop, so he is now Your Eminence.

Three's son has turned so large, he is now a planet unto himself. When people see him,  they exclaim, "My God!"

Upon hearing this, my girlfriend turned to me and said, "At the office, they call me Bossing."

I didn't know I was dating Vic.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


"I should have given you to God the day you were born!"

- Margaret White

from Carrie (1976)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Is He Lucky, or What?

Hugh Jackman, 40, has been tapped Friday to host the 81st Academy Awards.

This development comes as awards shows have been trying on new clothes. A few months ago, the Emmys had five reality-show hosts as masters-of-ceremonies. On the other hand, the Grammys added a live concert special to the announcement of the nominations. 

Results have been mixed. The Emmys received a beating because of the hosts, and this year's edition was one of the least-watched Emmys. The Grammys nomination special was fourth among prime-time shows.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has previously chosen new producers, a new director, a new music director, a new designer and it is even having a new accountant.

This is going to be an all-new Oscars this February 22. It is exciting and scary to see how things will turn out. The past few years we have seen Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres and Jon Stewart strut their stuff, and it is a wonder what Jackman will bring to the table. 

He had already been host to a few Tony Awards ceremonies. He even won an Emmy in 2005 for hosting the 58th annual Tony Awards. On the same night Tony, he got the best-actor prize for his role in the musical "The Boy from Oz."

He has done Broadway with distinction, so it is likely he will be doing songs and dances. Could he do stand-up monolgue? Will he?

Jackman has played Wolverine, he has worked with people such as Nolan and Kidman, and he had been nominated for a Golden Globe. This year People magazine named him "Sexiest Man Alive."  Now he can add Oscar host to his resume.

Somebody please stop him.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Grind

"You don't have to suffer to be a poet.  Adolescence is enough suffering for anyone."

- John Ciardi

"A serious reviewer should have an ax to grind. If you don't, your judgements will appear ephemeral, casual, even indifferent. But when you have an ax to grind, it is essential that you should not know what it is, and neither should anyone else."

- Anatole Broyard

"The one thing I have learned about editing over the years is that you have to edit and publish out of your own tastes, enthusiasms, and concerns, and not out of notions or guesswork about what other people might like to read."

- Norman Cousins

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What the Bleep?

On Thursday, John McCain was back at Letterman. Dave asked him what the change of pace has been like since the busy campaign period. 

McCain joked:

"I don't want to talk about the bleeping campaign. Understand? If you think I'm going to go back to that bleeping situation, then bleep you."

Please Don't Yell

Actor Joe Pantoliano was diagnosed as being clinically depressed. He was relieved that the problem was identified and he was able to do something about it. 

He said: "Mental disease is the only thing you can be diagnosed with and get yelled at for having. Why is that?"

Yeah, why is that?

If I Were You

Saito: "Do you know what will happen to me if the bridge is not built on time? ... I'll have to kill myself. What would you do if you were me?"

Col. Nicholson: "I suppose if I were you, I'd have to kill myself...."

- from The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Warped by Time

Work has been murder these past few days.

I had been working 11.5-hour shifts and I'm ripe for a nonstop 15-hour sleep. This is mandated by the company, so everybody's stress levels and states of discontent are reaching new heights.

We're not Cylons, you know.

I've had some time, though, to do some recreation.

For one, I've started watching the fourth season of Futurama. The first episode involves the gang going back in time to Roswell in the 1940s. Fry must guard his grandfather's life or else he will change the course of history and he would cease to exist. Fry exercises his mission with so much zeal that his grandfather is killed. He thinks, If I killed my grandpa, how can I still be here? So he thinks his grandfather's girlfriend can't be his grandma, and proceeds to sleep with her. Consequently, he becomes his own grandfather and grandson at the same time.

This reminds me of The Terminator....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Prime Target

Jay Leno is moving to NBC's prime time. Here's what the comics had to say about it this week: 

"A lot of people were shocked. They didn't know NBC still had a prime time."

- Jay Leno

"Welcome to the 'Late Show.' Still at 11:35."

-David Letterman

"Jay's getting a little older now. So 10 p.m. is kinda 'late night' for Jay."

-Craig Ferguson

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Power Almighty

If God is all-powerful, and if God is love, then:

I believe in love, the power almighty, greater than heaven and earth.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Wanted: Victor/Victoria

It has been reported that Angelina Jolie will be paid $15 million, with backend, for an action movie. The lead part was supposed to go to Tom Cruise.

What does it say about the Hollywood state of affairs when a  role can be cast in either gender? You would think that a person's sex will determine a character's motivations and actions, but here it gets thrown out the window. 

What does it show a screenwriter when an entire script can be reconstituted to accommodate a big star? Economics sure makes it easier to rethink business demands, especially casting decisions.

What does it mean when a woman is cast to play what is essentially a man's role? Given the perennial complaints about the roles the women are getting, including being victims or sex objects, does this part make her a demon? a predator? 

More important, what does it tell us when a role meant for Tom Cruise can be given to a woman?

Friday, December 5, 2008


My day job is in a call center that houses a newspaper which caters to a certain state in the USA. 

Back in training, we were told never to use 'expiration date.' Supposedly the phrase does not exist ("There's no such word")  and is not used by US Americans (hello, Ms South Carolina) , and that what we should use is 'expiry date' or 'expire date.'

Which was news to me, because I had worked for an international credit card company in my previous call center. For two and a half years, we were all using 'expiration date' and nothing else. I never got corrected by anyone.

Three months later, a co-worker receives a call. She uses 'expiry date' and the subscriber asks, "You're not from here, are you? Where are you located?" She answers, "This call is being handled in Manila, Philippines."

"That's what I figured. 'Cause you know, we don't use that word here. It's expiration date."

Then he hangs up.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pro or Anti?

Winston Churchill said: "Any man under thirty who is not a liberal has no heart, and any man over thirty who is not a conservative has no brains."

Does this apply to our country?

How about this one:

"Any man under thirty who is not against the government has no heart, and any man over thirty who is not for the government has no brains."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

you want revolutionary?

What I would like to see is Rufus Wainwright covering Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" with the lyrics intact.

And how about the Jonas Brothers doing "Papa Don't Preach" with some tweaks: "But I've made up my mind/ We're gonna keep our baby." Then critical attention would be- ahem, swift.

Swifter than a 27-second phone call, maybe?

Distilled Failures

"If there is a special Hell for writers it would be in the forced contemplation of their own works, with all the misconceptions, the omissions, the failures that any finished work of art implies."

- John Dos Passos

"I write a lot- every day, seven days a week- and I throw a lot away. Sometimes I think I write to throw away; it's a process of distillation."

- Donald Barthelme

"The faster I write the better my output. If I'm going slow I'm in trouble. It means I'm pushing the words instead of being pulled by them."

- Raymond Chandler

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Window Into Hayes, and the Trouble with Hitch

It was announced Monday that John Michael Hayes had died of natural causes November 19 at a retirement community. He was 89.

He was a screenwriter who wrote four scripts for Alfred Hitchcock: Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), The Trouble with Harry (1955), and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), the latter being a remake of Hitchcock's own 1934 movie of the same title. Among other things, these films were noted for the wordplay, the double entendres, the clever ways through which they worked around censorship at the time.

Rear Window earned Hayes an Oscar nomination, and he got another for Mark Robson's Peyton Place

His other movies include Butterfield Eight, for which Elizabeth Taylor won her first best actress Oscar. He also worked with directors such as Budd Boetticher, Edward Dmytryk and Anthony Mann.

In an interview with Susan Green (Backstory 3: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 60s,  edited by Patrick McGilligan, University of California Press, 1997) a little over a decade ago, he remembers growing up, his marriage and his career. 

He was the first in his family to go to college, which he did by maintaining scholarships and by working. He was on police beat covering homicides and suicides, and he wrote mysteries for radio, which may account for his skills in plot, dialogue and character. You could say it was fated that he and Hitch get- well, hitched.

Hayes talks about being on the set with Hitchcock, how he was given the freedom to write, and the locations they had been to. He notes that the movies were Hitch's life, and how the Master of Suspense shot the movies in his head, with specific camera angles and all.

Then he started getting prominent mentions in the reviews and the trade papers. Hitchcock, he says, did not want to share billing with him- he wanted to be the sole creator of his movies. Hayes notes that, when you mention Hitch's titles, what comes to mind is that they are Alfred Hitchcock Films. You would not have guessed the screenwriters who worked on them, including playwrights and Pulitzer Prize winners: Robert Sherwood (Rebecca, 1940), Thornton Wilder (Shadow of a Doubt, 1943), Samson Raphaelson (Suspicion, 1947) and Maxwell Anderson ( The Wrong Man, 1956).

Yet Hayes also says Hitchcock was the easiest to work with. He lets us in on working with William Wyler, whom he calls the most difficult ever. He recalls an argument they had, after which Wyler tours him around, reading the inscriptions on his awards. It all takes about half an hour, then Wyler says: "Now tell me I'm wrong. What does all this mean?" To which Hayes retorts: "Well, those were things you've done in the past. I think you're wrong now. "

Yes, the William Wyler. Who directed Ben-Hur (1959), Roman Holiday (1953), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and others.

Hayes has already secured his place, if only for Rear Window, ranked 83rd in the 2007 poll of screenwriters by the Writers Guild of America on the 101 greatest screenplays of all time.

In 1954 it was nominated best written drama in the Screen Writers Guild of America Awards. The prize went to On the Waterfront.
It was also awarded best motion picture in the Edgar Allan Poe Awards by the Mystery Writers of America. 
It competed for an Academy Award as well, which went to George Seaton for The Country Girl, also a Grace Kelly movie, the one for which she won her own Oscar. 

Monday, November 24, 2008

You Can Take the Boy Out of the Country, But...

Based on memoirs published 1946, The Pianist (2002) is about one man's survival amid the dread of Nazi atrocities. It is a sad, understated exploration of the brutality of war, and the dependence of one's fate on good luck and the kindness of strangers. 

Wladyslaw Szpilman is a Jewish pianist in Poland who works in radio. One time he was playing, bombs fall, and invasion gets underway.

As part of the middle class, he initially refuses to be daunted by the German occupation. It seems they would be safe, especially since England and France are going into war. They think they wil prevail, and that all will be right.

But Szpilman's family lose their belongings, and are sent into the ghetto. Through a series of surprising incidents and accidents, he is saved from transport to the death camps and gets involved with the resistance.

What is most remarkable here is the passivity of the movie, even as violence is so casually inflicted.

Roman Polanski's direction and Ronald Harwood' screenplay choose to be straightforward, so Szpilman's story is not told any more nobly than others who had gone through the horrors of war. Often the movies show us heroes, but what we get here is simply a survivor whose narrow escapes have largely depended on chance and the good will of strangers.

Often actors show us the motivations that dictate what the characters will do, but here their lead actor has a role so passive, he is essentially just drifting. Brody turns in a restrained performance, a mix of resignation and quiet defiance. 

In the end, Szpilman gets through the war, but it is hardly a triumph. For the rest of his life, he will get to play the piano among audiences, but he will be utterly alone. 

The war may be a distant country from the past, but those who had gone through it never really got away.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Who Wouldn't?

Jennifer Garner was able to secure Thursday a restraining order against a 36-year-old man. She had said the man has been stalking her and obsessing over her for years.

And who can blame him?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Top This

Power, expressed and realized, is one of the greater aphrodisiacs.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What's My Canvas?

Everyone who dreams, Nietzsche asserted, is an artist.

I say:

"I dream; therefore, I'm an artist."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Being Happy Being Weak

"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?"
- Henry Ward Beecher

"An ordinary man can…surround himself with two thousand books… and thenceforward have at least one place in the world in which it is possible to be happy."
- Augustine Birrell

"Publication- is the auction of the Mind of Man."
- Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Walking After You

This girl, whom we shall call Actress A, had auditioned for the lead role in a musical. As you may know, the part went to Nicole Kidman.

Eventually she starred in a movie of her own- a comedy- and their movies brought them to a face-off in the Academy Awards. They both lost, and the award went to another hot young thing.

The next year Actress A starred in a musical of her own, which earned her another nod from the Academy. She would then lose the category to... Nicole Kidman.

She would earn her own trophy the following year, for a movie in which she played support to...

Guess who.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why Fight

"The love impulse in man frequently expresses itself in terms of conflict."

-Katharine Hepburn to Cary Grant, in Howard Hawks's Bringing Up Baby

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Make Space for This

"Negative space, the command of experience which an artist can set resonating within a film, is a sense of terrain created partly by the audience's imaginationand partly by camera-actors-director." 

In Negative Space (Hillstone Publishing, 1971), Manny Farber tackles the basic nature of the movies, and the role of the critic and the power he wields.

Farber pays homage to the true masters of the male action film such as Howard Hawks (whom he hails as a bravado specialist, a genius, a poet), Raoul Walsh, and Anthony Mann- and John Ford pre-Stagecoach. He approves of the witty economy and the free-wheeling dialogue in the movies of Preston Sturges, and the lyricism and the wackiness in Samuel Fuller’s. He counts Jean-Luc Godard, George Kuchar, Satyajit Ray and Andy Warhol among the smart people in films.

(But what do we make of it when he writes that of the French wizards Godard-Malle- Truffaut, it is the former who has so consistently made him feel like a stupid ass?)

Farber also salutes the underappreciated lesser directors of movies about cowboys, gangsters and soldiers: William Wellman, Keighley, Robert Aldrich, Zoltan Korda, John Farrow, and Phil Karlson. He believes Michael Snow is incapable of a callow, clumsy, schmaltzy move; and he thinks his Wavelength couldn’t be more taut or intelligent.

He contends that what separates them is their ability to handle drab material. A great director finds ways to work within the confines of a particular genre, and yet makes it his own.

Additionally, he cites the obsessive themes running through the movies of Sam Peckinpah and Orson Welles.

Here in Negative Space, Farber looks for earthiness, humanism and shape in the movies. While doing so, he displays his amazing powers of description and classification. For example, here’s what he has to say about a few actors:

On Belmondo: outlandishly coy and unfinished

On Bardot: coarse, spunky shrewdness

On Palance: fiercely elegant, better silent


As for acting itself, it can be distorted, emotionalized, stylized, or understated.

Here you will see how a star like Joan Crawford can have more authenticity, even though she may have less real skills. Or how a thespian like Liv Ullmann can let another actor take over the screen, yet still leave a mark.

Among the movies he reviews in this book, Farber finds Detective Story to be way more engaging than melodramas such as A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire, which are equally lurid. He also proposes Sam Fuller’s Fixed Bayonets as the best war film since Bataan.


Naturally, one of the biggest pleasures in reading books like this is how certain personalities and movies fail upon assessment of the writer, like when he takes a shot at Catherine Deneuve.

For Farber, Frank Capra is a preacher and John Huston, Message Mad. He says Don Siegel has been wrongly deified by auteurists and Luis Bunuel, a man of fits and starts.

He bemoans “the success of efficient, hard-working mediocrities” in such fields as jazz, painting, the novel (Bellow! Cheever! Salinger!) and film (Delbert Mann, Kazan, Chayefsky).

Farber also takes jabs at the less talented De Sicas and Zinnemanns, and “the water buffaloes of film art: Stevens, Wilder, Clouzot.”

He points out the flaws of Huston and De Mille, and the defects of Antonioni, Richardson and Truffaut, even as he acknowledges that they are important directors.

He takes a stab at Psycho for its suppositions, and the movie’s advocates for heralding off-the-camera tricks rather than taking the movie for what is up on the screen.

Negative Space also covers the New York Film Festival in the late ‘60s, and explores the myths you can find in a film festival. He expounds on the particulars that make watching Eric Rohmer’s Ma Nuit Chez Maud a pleasure, and the levels that Bresson’s Mouchette moves on. He hails Faces as a real break-through in movie acting.

Farber discusses such movie trends and techniques as the Flat Man, the lead who does not have a past or a discernible future. Another is the Gimp, a string that is jerked by the film-maker when the movie has become safe, a shock tactic to make the movie artful. He charges A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire particularly guilty.

Furthermore, he sings the praises of the bit player, who may not have range, but who has the power to stir those brief moments that energize a movie to life.

This is one book that bears re-reading.


In Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend, a rich girl screams at a farmer who smashed her sports car and killed her boyfriend:

"You filthy unwashed peasant, you killed the man I loved and ruined my car. He was handsome and he was rich and now he's dead and you're stupid and ugly and you don't even care. You hate us because we screw in Saint Moritz. You probably don't even know how to screw. You just get screwed by the union. You probably don't even own the tractor. (She kicks the tires.) Cheap tires? My car was beautiful. It had a Chrysler motor. I got it because I screwed the son of General Motors."

Ha ha. I can't wait to see the movie.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Winner

"Who are the real winners in this election? Don't ask me. Ask Joe the Plumber's agent." - Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report." 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


"A room without books is like a body without soul."

- Cicero

"When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes."

- Desiderius Erasmus

"If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle, or as it were, fondle them- peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them at any rate be your acquaintances."

- Winston Churchill

Monday, October 27, 2008


As a child, I was reared on Pinoy movies. My fondest childhood memory of moviegoing is my mother taking me, when I was in grade school, to a theater near a university and a jeepney terminal along a major highway in Mandaluyong. The admission price was nine pesos, and a kilo of rice was P16. The movie was Super Inday and the Golden Bibe, the one where the Kapampangans had Maricel Soriano as their batya-and-palu-palo-wielding heroine. Aiza Seguerra was in there too- as an angel sent down to earth as a goose to earn her redemption. Boy, that was fun!

The one movie I watch every year is Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings (okay, three movies). I can write a review on it, but I'm afraid there is no word in English, Filipino, or Elvish to capture exactly how I feel about the series.

Currently, I am watching Jennifer Lopez on DVD. Don't laugh-it's Out of Sight by Steven Soderbergh. It was 1998's best film by the National Society of Film Critics. No wonder: it's smart, it's funny, it's sexy. So sexy you would almost sweat. There is a scene in the trunk of a car where they talk about prison life and the movies.  George Clooney's Jack wonders how in the movies, a female lead could fall for the leading man so fast. Then he proceeds to do just that. He touches her thigh, and she knows it, but she does not acknowledge it. You could almost hear your own palpitations.

Soderbergh and the screenwriter Scott Frank have made an adaptation so good, it makes me want to pick up an Elmore Leonard.

My friend Venjie, the one person I know who may be just as passionate with the movies as I am, or maybe even more so, vouches for the New York Film Critics Circle. I remain in the NSFC camp. This year the NYFCC chose No Country for Old Men their best picture; the NSFC's pick was There Will Be Blood. So we remain in our camps. I would like to note, though, that some members of the NYFCC are members of the NSFC as well.

I believe the worst movie to win the best picture Oscar in recent years was A Beautiful Mind, although I have yet to see Crash. I remember a conversation I once had with Venjie.

"Did you know they are turning The Da Vinci Code into a movie? Guess who's directing," he asked.

"Is he good?"

"Uhm.... He won an Oscar."

"Ron Howard."

End of conversation.

May I register my annoyance at how it has become fashionable to knock Shakespeare in Love. What do people see in Saving Private Ryan? That it has Spielberg's name on it, and that it is a war movie, so therefore it must be a prestige picture and more cinematic?  After the first half hour, what have you got?

Maybe people get thrown by the casting of Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck, so they regard Shakespeare as a teenybopper movie. Does anyone ever bring up that the Tom Stoppard is one of the screenwriters? Has anyone considered literature's place in cinema? Is it because it's a comedy? You may not be reading Shakespeare or Stoppard, but please don't knock the movie because of your ignorance.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Blown Away

“The 400 Blows,” an idiomatic expression from the French, means “raising hell,” so Roger Ebert says. CineBooks says the expression refers to the farthest point of what anybody could possibly bear.

Francois Truffaut’s first feature, Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959), gives us Antoine Doinel at age 12, and you haven’t seen anyone like him. Doinel is played by Jean-Pierre Leaud, and his embodiment of the character is so complete, he will haunt you long after the movie has ended. I have seen DiCaprio, O’Neal, Osment, and Paquin, but for the sincerity and the heartbreak, they do not touch Leaud.

Antoine’s mother and stepfather (Albert Remy) pass judgment on him based on surfaces and what other people say.

The teacher (Guy Decombie), for starters, paints him as trouble. One time, Antoine gets caught with a pinup calendar in his hands.

When assigned to write an essay, he pays homage to Balzac with paraphrasing so close, he can only be a plagiarist.

He skips school and to be excused, he claims his mother (Claire Maurier) has died. Guess who turns up to school the next day, and who gets branded a liar.

The mother herself has an affair, and Truffaut shows how hard it is for a child to deal with discovering it by chance. It is painful enough to learn what she is carrying on, but to have to hide it, and to finally get her attention just because she would like you to not speak about it, it is even more painful for Antoine to bear.

When you are only a child and neglected by those you hold dear, is rebellion not a logical reaction?

With a friend, Antoine steals a typewriter. He gets caught, and is detained in a police station. He runs away from home and ends up in a center for juvenile delinquents.

These are events that will make him the person he will be.

Without being sentimental, The 400 Blows manages to be a perceptive study of adolescence.

Four more films of the same actor playing the same character would follow to span 20years. Truffaut himself will go on to make Shoot the Piano Player (1960), Jules and Jim (61), and Day for Night (73).

The 400 Blows is the youth movie against which all other youth movies must be measured, and the more you know about the history of the cinema, the more you appreciate how good it is. Some of the techniques Truffaut has employed have become standard by now, but if you place yourself in the world of cinema, this is by 1959 really revolutionary stuff.

For one, they filmed on location, as opposed to productions bound in the studio, which Truffaut had attacked in his 1954 essay, “A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema.”

For another, here is the final freeze frame to which subsequent movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Thelma and Louise and Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban owe their own final freeze frames.

As he reaches the beach, you have to wonder, Is this liberation for him? Can he even go back?

Between land and the sea, where does he go?

Without a definitive conclusion, Truffaut and Leaud tell us there are no easy answers, and they invite us to think about the uncertainties in life.

As Luck Would Have It

"The man who said 'I'd rather be lucky than good' saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It's scary to think so much is out of one's control. There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward and you win…or maybe it doesn't, and you lose."

Match Point (2005) is like a less murderous Talented Mr. Ripley, but this time the main character has already reached the station he wants to belong to- through hard work and through perfectly legal means.

In it, Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is a retired tennis player who befriends the Hewett family in London by being their tennis instructor. He develops an affair with Nola (Scarlett Johansson), Tom Hewett’s one-time girlfriend, even until he has married into the family. Nola becomes pregnant and she presses Chris to leave his wife.

He has to choose between two women, and he does choose: He resorts to murdering Nola. In the process, director Woody Allen explores the nature of luck, and invites us to ponder the role it plays in our fate.

How does luck happen? Is it simply circumstance, or can it be helped along? When a ring is tossed into the river, Chris hopes that it will bury the evidence; consequently, he cannot be incriminated. Without him knowing it, the ring hits a rail, and it goes back to land, to be picked up by the police. We think he has did himself in, yet it is this very accident that will absolve him. How lucky of him. 

Or is it?

He gets to keep the one thing he has worked his entire life for, but is it worth it? Without passion, without the stirrings that Nola arouses in him, is he fortunate to get away with it?

Luck is a big force in the conduct of our affairs, more than we care to admit. Allen shows us how it can also bring us to ruin. 

*          *          *          *          *           *          *         *         *          *

Thelma and Louise (1991)

“I can’t figure out whether these girls are smart, or just real, real lucky.”
“It don’t matter. Brains will only get you so far, and luck always runs out.”

To break the monotony of their lives, Thelma Dickinson (a housewife) and Louise Sawyer (a waitress) decide one weekend to take a short fishing trip.

A man they meet in a bar nearly rapes Thelma (Geena Davis), and Louise (Susan Sarandon) shoots him to death. They believe the police are not likely to buy their version of what happened, so they flee. As they head to Mexico, the police give chase. 

Interestingly, Ridley Scott has worked mostly on male-centric movies (Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, American Gangster among other things). There are so many of them, only James Cameron comes close to being so testosteronic.

In a recombinant genre, Scott turns two traditionally-male movie genres into a vehicle for two of the best female performances in the ‘90s. It is at once a road movie and a buddy movie. 

They turn into fugitives from the law: they rob a convenience store, shoot a leering truck driver, and lock a cop in the trunk of his car. Signposts for the buddy action movie, sure, but a reversal of gender roles as well. You might even be reminded that Scott had directed Sigourney Weaver in Alien.

This raises the question of whether this is liberating for women, or yet another form of exploitation. In a key scene, Louise shoots the would-be rapist when he is no longer a threat.

The movie shows their journey to independence and self-assertiveness, culminating in a freeze-frame of the duo’s leap into the Grand Canyon.

The point is not that they make bad choices, but that they do make choices. They realize that there are options available to them, and these options are not to be dictated upon them, especially not by men. These are options for their taking, and they do not need to be alone in their journey. They are freed by their newfound power to assert themselves.

You consider everything that has happened to them, and you’ve got to ask: Do we just chalk it up to bad timing? Bad luck?

Screenwriter Callie Khouri shows what happens to women after years of being dominated and underestimated by men.

Thelma has a verbally abusive husband who cheats, while Louise has been waiting for too long for her musician boyfriend to commit. They decide to have a break, and it makes Thelma nervous. It is telling that when she points out they do not know how to fish, Louise retorts, “Darryl does it. How hard can it be?”

Along the way, we are given clues as to how women should be treated. Louise: “When a woman’s crying like that, she’s not having any fun.”

They achieve freedoms they might have not thought possible. Thelma finally gets to have a sexual experience that is not “completely disgusting,” and it is not with her husband. They may also have led criminal lives, but there will be no surrender: they would not go back to be trapped by the system. You can argue this is payback or a war of hate, but they have taken the matter in their own hands. The final freeze-frame tells us they are not giving up the freedoms they have earned, freedoms that should have been theirs in the first place.

Gender politics aside, Thelma and Louise remains a fun road trip.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


So here it is.

The movies hold a special sway over me, and here I burn my thoughts.

A movie is a dream- a dream that puzzles, terrifies, and enraptures.

Food- to the eyes, to the gut, to the soul.

Sometimes, even when you have company in the moviehouse, you feel utterly alone. In solitary confinement. In the dark.

Reeling. From pain, from disgust, from disbelief.

Even when you have fled the screening room, even when you are in the comforts of your house, the cinema has you in its clutches, it has you in its thrall.

It is a prison- but a prison I choose to be in. For while it holds me captive, it liberates me. 

A motion picture moves me: to tears, to laughter, to action.

The movies capture so many special moments, and here I capture the moments I have with the movies.

Here and now, I solemnly swear that I'm up to no good.