31 May 2005

Films Part Two.

I hosted out of town guests from Manhattan and Framingwickhamshiretownville this weekend for a few conversations about films. A strange thing happened while I was doing my said hosting...

As much as I love having guests in town, I found hosting in Brooklyn to be a bit trickier than it is in Manhattan. When my guests and I went out on Sunday afternoon to stroll the fashionable Bedford Avenue, I was made immediately aware of the fact that I live in a neighborhood that has seen improvements come at a pace far below the rate of occupancy. I love strolling the neighborhood but at certain times on the weekend (the east village and LES suffer from the exact same plight) it is obnoxiously full. Having to entertain guests in a neighborhood that has barely the capacity to do so can prove to be difficult. In Manhattan, there is always somewhere. In Brooklyn this is not necessarily so.

We went to this bagel shop I'd never set foot in and began chatting and unwinding. The music was obnoxious. I went for a stroll and found myself in the Clovis Book Store, a copy of Jonathan Lethem's new book of essays in my hand. I'd read "Speak Hoyt Schermerhorn" in Harpers a few months ago, and loved it. His Brooklyn childhood I was assured by the back cover, would be well represented. His first essay, "Defending The Searchers" was precisely the kind of movie talk we'd been engaged in the previous evening.

I read about his first viewing of this John Wayne/John Ford western during his first year at Bennington College. He describes how the crowd turn on the film and he, in his black rimmed glasses (worn specifically for the occasion where he needed to look distant and intelligent), cannot voice his own opinions on the film. He takes the criticism of his classmates but lets the film haunt him. To make a long essay about a long essay short, he approves of the film for reasons he cannot entirely communicate.

And I realized that I had told my guests that I was going to watch 15 films this week to broaden my horizons. But Lethem's essay reinforced the belief that a movie is not great because of some definable feature that can be communicated, but because it has a story behind its initial viewing. Looking back over my favorite films, I had a story behind how each of them has come to occupy that spot.

I couldn't get my head around the fact that so-and-so didn't love Touch of Evil because they'd seen it on a weeknight in front of a television set where countless other films had been viewed. The reason I couldn't grasp this is because I'd driven 60 miles at age 17 to watch it alone in a near-empty movie theater in the shitty "big city" nearby: it had just been re-cut and re-released, and I was told it was a classic and it did overwhelm me and the whole drive home well after midnight confirmed for me that the movie would only grow in my imagination. It could have been the Third Man, The Seven Year Itch, The Goonies that night, and I still would have been floored. It was the experience of watching it that I've always remembered. The sensation of seeing it the first time is with me on repeat viewings. No matter how many movies I watch on my laptop, half asleep on the couch, I won't come close to topping that. Every time I watch Woody Allen's Manhattan I laugh, during every single scene I laugh, because I know jokes are coming. Even during tense, awkwardly framed and told moments I laugh, because I know the comic relief is coming and I can relax... I am an expert at watching this film. I can thoroughly enjoy myself. No other film is as good at showing itself to me. I can't watch it any better.

On Sunday I put the final touches on my films list, and looking over the top 30, I remember vividly the first time I saw each of these films. I looked over the list and where there was a film that didn't have a memory accompanying it, it deserted its coveted position for a more memorable viewing. I love the fact that all of the films on this list are only as good as the time I had watching them. It gives me some (miniscule) control over how overwhelmingly brilliant they are. Here they stand, no matter what I try to watch and like in the coming days...

1. manhattan
2. talk to her
3. touch of evil
4. cries and whispers
5. the general
6. back to the future
7. red
8. duck soup
9. crumb
10. 2046
11. being there
12 city of god
13 dr. strangelove
14 the agronomist
15 band of outsiders
16. network
17. pee wee’s big adventure
18. american movie: the making of northwestern
19. eyes wide shut
20. willy wonka and the chocolate factory
21. pickup on south street
22. shakespeare in love
23. barfly
24. casablanca
25. in the company of men
26. in the mood for love
27. his girl friday
28. roger and me
29. rushmore
30. a night at the opera

#30, I saw in 2001 at a packed house at the Film Forum on Houston St, for the first time since I was 10 years old. The audience was mostly children, and they laughed and laughed and laughed. I now feel when I watch it that the pauses are too long, but its because movies in the 30s were supposed to have them for the laughter to subside, and that when the Marx Brothers were performing its best parts on stage it had to have that timing. They perfected it for the crowds, not for my DVD player. The kids filled in the gaps and I loved it more then I ever thought possible.

#22, I cried the first time I saw it, again in Montreal, as it had already won Best Picture and I had to know what all the fuss was about. I still cry every single time I see it, and have rarely cried outside a viewing of this film in the last few years.

#14, but I cried twice during this, because I was in the Angelica Film Center and you know the person next to you isn't going to make a big fuss over it, cuz nobody else knows you.

#25, the lights came up and my three male friends and I looked at what seemed to be an entire theater full of women glaring at the despicable things we were capable of. Neil Labute climbed into me that night and made me, for the first time, despise my own gender.

#29, I left the theater in Albany where I'd seen Touch of Evil, and the friend who'd accompanied me said only this: "When people ask me what kind of movies I like, and I've never been able to answer this question, I'm now gonna tell them that I like movies like Rushmore."

#10, I watched the first hour at a friend's house and couldn't believe my eyes. I was watching the future I thought, the future of film. But I had to leave and never saw the conclusion of this 2 and a half hour epic. A month passed and the scenes stuck in my head. I rented three of the director's other films. Great stuff, but not even close. I called around, "We can't sell it because its got a distributor now and comes out in August." "Its at the Tribeca Film Festival but its sold out." I went down to Chinatown and looked for signs that said "DVDs." On Mott Street, between final exams I stumbled into a store that had a Hong Kong edition for sale. I watched it the next day and smoked cigarettes with Tony Leung and let the thing completely overwhelm me. The landlord came upstairs and bitched out my roommate for throwing cigarette butts in the alleyway (we're the new tenants). Her response, "We don't smoke." Bai Ling would've said the same thing.

#4, i'd like to bury my intellectualism and be able to point out a movie that has the most disturbing scene I have ever witnessed on film, and say, "This movie had this one scene and it was incredible." Unfortunately, this film has the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd most disturbing things I have ever viewed all in a single film. Perhaps it takes the size of a screen in an enormous theater to overwhelm a viewer with something that on a TV is rather mundane, but I was paralyzed in a way that Clockwork Orange never accomplished.

#19, I saw it with my friend Matt. I went to Hoyts Cinema at the local mall and they wouldnt sell me two tickets because it had an R rating and they could only sell one ticket per person per valid ID. When Matt showed up it was sold out, and I was so frustrated at my hometown that I got on a payphone and called a theater in Saratoga (20 miles south) to check their showtimes. We drove down and caught the last showing, and strolled around the parking lot of that mall for an hour talking about the film. His insights seemed so much more profound than my own. I couldn't believe a film was capable of such things. A year later he calls me from his apartment in Montreal and says, "Its playing this weekend." I get in the car and drive up just to see it, and leave after the movie, because I knew that I would always love it and that no other moment of my week would come close to the feeling of that drive home.

I could go on like this all night...

16 May 2005


Bryan posted his list of movies to watch, and Pat and I talked this week about recommendations for the weeks ahead. I will start with his. I asked for three movies he thought might be perfect for my list:

1. The Passion of Joan of Arc
2. The Last Picture Show
3. The Great Dictator

So they go on my list of "To Be Seen" by the QHS Movie 200 deadline, June 6th.

Here's the rest of it:

1. Cleo From 5 to 7
2. The Decalogue Parts 1, 2, 3.
3. Day For Night
4. A Short Film About Love
5. Night and Fog
6. La Strada
7. The Navigator
8. Collateral
9. Ray
10. Hard Boiled

And here are the films I saw this week, and some thoughts:

L'Avventura - Took three watchings to make it through this thing. Worth it. The acting, the glamor, the dialogue, the scenery. If it wasnt for the late night viewings (I fell asleep during the same scene twice in a row) I'd feel more comfortable saying it was indispensible.

Wild Strawberries - I realized ten minutes from the end that I could predict the ending of the story not because it was formulaic in any sense, but because I'd seen it already. Something told me that I hadn't, but it seemed so familiar that all I could think was, "Man Bergman's black and white films are all the same." But I've only seen two black and white films of his, and this wasn't the third. Who knows how that happened. I like it but I'll keep it off the list for now.

Happy Together - Wong Kar Wai's 1997 film about two gay lovers stranded in Buenos Aires. Tony Cheung is the world's finest actor. His brutality and introspections juxtapose each other at a dizzying pace. He is absolutely mesmerizing. I knew nearly every street scene, but they never (and will never) look the way he shot them. I wish I had time to watch it again.

2046 - Wong Kar Wai's 2005 Tribeca Film Festival entry (available in Chinatown and released everywhere on the globe but here) is easily one of the greatest films I have ever seen. An effortless top ten entry. The subtitles were the poorest I've ever read; I felt as though I was translating myself. About ten lousy minutes disqualified it from being the best film I have ever seen (for an hour and a half it was), but maybe on repeat viewings I will forgive them. A fucking masterpiece.

These were my recommendations to Pat, all of which will figure highly on my list:

1. White
2. In the Mood For Love
3. City of God

Any other recommendations are absolutely welcomed.

05 May 2005

Oh the business of business...

I have been busy as hell. Aside from moving this entire operation to Greenpoint(The Eiffel 94 now employs 44 part-time staffers and a dozen interns... add to this my bed, laptop, and some books), I have been refurbishing the new office complex (22 back to back cubicles, a sliding-shelf file room spread out over 6000 square feet... and painting the kitchen and living room, only about 500 square feet but a hell of a lot of work) and now I'm almost completely moved. Some junk still in Harlem, some junk still needing to be hung on the walls, but outside of that, you can address all memos and quarterly reports to:

The Eiffel Ninety-Four Corporation Enterprises Inc.
81 Monitor St. 3R
Brooklyn NY 11222

Morale is high. We're looking to post some good figures when our fiscal year ends, whenever the hell that is. Ask my accountants. They live on East 3rd Street with an adorable - albeit geriartric - cat named Kittie.

My goal to expand my music collection to 2000 cds for April fell WAY short of the mark. But I did manage to break 1300 a few days ago. Got the new roommates CDs in a week, and it'll take the rest of the lease to get around to listening to them. Problem is, with 12 movies from Netflix on the external hard drive, and all the music, my 200GB is full. If anyone has a program for OS X Tiger (RAWWWRRR!!!) that can compress Video_TS files (one I dont have to pay for) I'd be really indebted. Not with money, but... spiritually indebted.

Anyway, this is another one of those blogs that has become a blog about how little time I have for blogging. Expect more of the same in the weeks to come.