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« Chicago--Not My Kind of Movie | Main | Middle Age Memory »

February 03, 2003

TV Alert

Friedrich --

I made the mistake of turning on another PBS documentary -- will I never learn? -- and, predictably, wound up snoozing through most of it. It was about the painter Thomas Eakins. Have you caught it? Hard to imagine making his life -- full of scandal, and much, much nudity -- dull and ponderous. But mournful, solitary strings, and mournful, solemn pacing did the job. Luckily, we’re no longer held in documenary thrall by PBS now that lots of other channels supply shows on good topics. Nearly all of them attend to pace and storytelling a lot more cannily than PBS does.

*In honor of juicy information crisply delivered, The 2Blowhards Pick of this Week is Mysteries and Scandals, an E! Channel series hosted by A.J. Benza, who has his John Gotti/elegant-thug act down pretty well. (I believe that no new episodes are being made, but E! recycles the ones they have fairly regularly.) The topic is showbiz, the (overdone but bearable) style is nostalgia-for-gangsters-and-tabloids. And -- bliss -- the length is an innovative 30 minutes per episode. I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of topics I have 30 minutes’ worth of interest in, and many of them are showbiz-centric. Here are this week’s episodes:
10 a.m.: Tallulah Bankhead
10:30 a.m.: Susan Cabot
2/5   9 a.m.: Ava Gardner
9:30 a.m.: Linda Darnell
2/6   9 a.m.: The War of the Worlds
9:30 a.m.: Sam Peckinpah
2/7   9 a.m.: Aimee Semple McPherson
9:30 a.m.: The Hillside Strangler

And here are just a few of the week’s choice movies:

* Grand Hotel (TCM, Tuesday at 9:30 pm), followed directly by Dinner at Eight at midnight. A shrewd pairing: two big-star ensemble vehicles, comedy/dramas from the early sound days, classic precursors of the innumerable big-star ensemble comedy-dramas we’ve had since. Garbo, Barrymore, Harlow, Dressler -- legendary names. Now the film-buff crap: Part of the fascination of watching films from that time (the late ‘20s and early ‘30s) is that the studio style hadn’t yet settled. No one was yet sure of how to deliver lines, or even of how to film actors delivering them. So the films, however conventional, often have an enjoyably unsettled quality. These two, both of them full of stars imported from the theater, are an especially good way to sample the theater styles and personalities of the era.
* Mystery Train (IFC, Thursday at 2:00 pm). Jim Jarmusch may be the ultimate Mr.-Cool-Downtown filmmaker, making one conceptual-minimalist feature after another. This isn’t, by any means, an unqualified compliment: He never delivers much. But he’s resourceful, and has evolved a deadpan style that can sometimes deliver his not-muchness in a nicely-shot, fairly droll way. The most watchable of his features that I’ve seen is this one, a collection of three oddball stories linked in a pointedly (and characteristically) non-linked way: they’re all set in Memphis, all reflect the presence or absence of Elvis, and at some point in the course of each the same gunshot is heard. Like I say: Mr. Cool stuff, though in this case not nearly as obnoxious as that may sound.
* Stardom (Cinemax, Friday at 3 pm). My bit of self-indulgence for the week, a satire of fashion and celebrity that doesn’t work but that I enjoyed anyway. Jessica Pare stars as a smalltown Canadian girl who’s discovered and transformed into a top model. Denys Arcand, the film’s French-Canadian director, presents all the material as though it was taken from found or “reality” footage -- interviews, home videos, etc. When Arcand works in English, as he does here, his timing goes off -- lethal for satire. But he’s a real sophisticate anyway -- years ago, he directed the wonderful “Decline of the American Empire.” And if you don’t mind the way the laughs fail to materialize, you might enjoy this movie as an elegant, whirling, multilayered party game. I did.
* The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (TCM. 8 pm Friday). Friedrich von Blowhard, a longtime spaghetti-western buff, would be much more eloquent than I on the topic of this amazing Sergio Leone western, perhaps the ultimate spaghetti western. It’s a revenge opera, basically, with Clint Eastwood as the Man With No Name, and Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef. But the level the film really lives on is style. It’s an astounding melange of cartoon masculine style and hallucinatory pacing. Everything is ballooningly exaggerated: the diagrammatic action, the cheroots that enter the frame like railroad cars, the guns the size of submarines, the chin grizzle that’s like scalded wheat fields, the dust that swirls everywhere. With instantly-recognizable music by Ennio Morricone. Hey youngsters: Tarantino learned a lot from this guy! (Or am I mistaken here, and has Tarantino’s moment already passed?) Friedrich: eager to read you on the topic of spaghetti westerns. Posting, please!
* The Big Heat (TCM, 1 pm Saturday). Glenn Ford is a cop who’s out for revenge; Lee Marvin’s a scary thug; Gloria Graham is a moll who has an unhappy encounter with a pot of hot coffee. Trim, fast, first-rate black and white gangster movie, and one of Fritz Lang’s best American pictures.
* Kissed (IFC, 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning). An eerie, quiet, erotic/ poetic Canadian picture, starring the exquisite Molly Parker as a college girl who gets a parttime job at an undertakers and likes the work perhaps a little too much. Creepily enchanting. Lynne Stokewich directs, adapting from a very effective Barbara Gowdy short story.

My TV-watching resolution for the week? Get to know the Ovation channel. Does anyone have any tips about where to start?



posted by Michael at February 3, 2003


"Never delivers much"? Does Jarmusch ever deliver anything? With the exception of Sergio Corbucci's The Great Silence, I've never been able to get worked up about spaghetti westerns either...

Posted by: James Russell on February 4, 2003 05:08 AM

Regarding "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly":
1. Sergio Leone 's impact on cinematic style is significant and undeniable;
2. The character played by Clint Eastwood was the prototype for Dirty Harry (another landmark and underappreciated film by an another under appreciated director, Don Seigel),
and many others; and
3. 1oo years from now, Ennio Morricone will be recognized as a major 20th century composer,
not just as a film composer, but as a composer of concert music.
Finally, this movie is all about the art of the cinema. It could not be told on the stage or in a book, but only with film and music.
It is a form of abstract art set to music, that can be enjoyed, like all good art, on several different levels.

Posted by: Bill Nance on February 4, 2003 10:56 AM

Why fuck with me pal? All I'm doing is speaking about the legends who built this town. I ain't saying anything new, ass. Calm the fuck down. Or e-mail me directly.

Posted by: AJ Benza on March 25, 2003 09:25 AM

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