Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Twelve more movies

[No spoilers.]

High Hopes (dir. Mike Leigh, 1998). Classism, socialism, gentrification, adultery, fidelity, aging, hospitality, and rudeness. I think highly of every Leigh film I’ve seen, with one exception: Mr. Turner .


Where to Invade Next (dir. Michael Moore, 2016). Michael Moore’s grand tour, which takes him to nation after nation in search of good ideas to bring back to the United States (ideas that, guess what, originated, at least sort of, in the United States). Other countries, it turns out, are filled with shiny, happy people. And gosh: Iran is a leader in stem-cell research. (Never mind its approach to human rights.) While watching this film, I began to think of Michael Moore as the Garrison Keillor of documentaries: a shambling folksy caricature who must be in the scene at all times. (If you’ve ever heard Keillor pitch in on a song, you should know what I mean.) Moore’s habit of playing the naïf — What, you have windows in a factory? — quickly becomes insufferable.


Populaire (dir. Régis Roinsard, 2012). Love and speed-typing contests, with manual typewriters. From the opening credits to the archival footage that runs in the credits, a delight. Like The Artist (dir. Michel Hazanavicius, 2011), Populaire recreates a style of filmmaking: it’s a 1950s romantic comedy, a loving and knowing imitation teeming with tropes. There’s even a brief homage to Vertigo , with non-1950s nudity. My favorite moment: the boss, having given up on his secretary/beloved, looks at a photograph of himself as a boxer and decides that he must fight. Yes, fight!


What Happened, Miss Simone? (dir. Liz Garbus, 2015). “People seem to think that when she went out on stage that was when she became Nina Simone. My mother was Nina Simone 24/7, and that’s where it became a problem”: Lisa Simone Kelly. This documentary follows the story of an immense talent struggling against racism, domestic violence, and mental illness. With a stunning performance of “I Loves You, Porgy” from Playboy’s Penthouse (not available online).


The Search for General Tso (dir. Ian Cheney, 2014). Who was he? Or did he even exist? The mystery is not one: for some years, anyone with a browser or a library card has been able to get the goods. The real questions: how and why Chinese food became “American.” An engaging, well-paced meditation on otherness, assimilation, appropriation, and originality.


Iris (dir. Albert Maysles, 2014). Iris Apfel, ninety-three when this documentary was made, describes herself as “a geriatric starlet.” She is a woman of fashion and, well, clutter. Iris is enthusiastic, witty, and utterly unconcerned with anyone’s idea of what’s appropriate in clothing or interior design. My favorite moment: at a big event, Iris presses the photographer Bill Cunningham about coming over for dinner, and he blithely dodges her by pointing out that her public is waiting.

I am thrilled to realize after all these years that Old World Weavers, the textile importer my friend Aldo Carrasco worked for in 1984 and 1985, was Iris and Carl Apfel’s company. Aldo worked for Iris Apfel! He sent telexes to Elaine at her day-job in Boston (a sample) and sent us beautiful fabric ends that we turned into curtains.


Pete Kelly’s Blues (dir. Jack Webb, 1955). A movie about jazz musicians directed by and starring Jack Webb? Yes, and there was also a radio show: Webb had a genuine love of jazz. There is a startling and beautiful beginning at an African-American burial service, and fine musical moments from Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee, but the core of the movie, a musicians-v.-hoodlums story, lacks energy and interest. Interesting to see a young Martin Milner, who would go on to appear on Dragnet and star in Adam-12 . I didn’t know that he and Webb went back so far.


The Paper Chase (dir. James Bridges, 1973). I know that lawyer-types love it. I prefer the television series, which has more warmth and camaraderie. (Maybe that explains why I’m not a lawyer.) At the center of the movie is a bafflingly dysfunctional, claustrophobic love story between first-year student James Hart (Timothy Bottoms) and Susan Fields (Lindsay Wagner). All Hart can talk about is Professor Kingsfield (John Houseman). Casual, unexamined sexism is everywhere, with sensitive-looking long-haired guys (Hart, Susan’s ex) staking their claims to a woman. Or not. One of the movie’s taglines: “You have to choose between the girl you love and the diploma you’ve worked for all your life. You have 30 seconds.” You ? Girl ?

Look for Blair Brown as a student in Contracts. She speaks with a southern accent.


A River Runs Through It (dir. Robert Redford, 1992). Pretty good but pretty predictable. And just plain pretty. Pretty natural scenery. Pretty water. And a pretty good fight scene with sardines.


Paul Williams: Still Alive (dir. Stephen Kessler, 2011). He co-wrote, among other songs, “Rainbow Connection,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” and “We’ve Only Just Begun.” He was everywhere on television. And he’s still alive, still performing, now sober and happy. “My life is pretty interesting right now,” he says. But there’s this guy following him everywhere wanting to make a documentary. Most revealing moment: Williams, appalled, watching a videotape his younger self — high, arrogant, crude — on a talk show.


Teacher’s Pet (dir. George Seaton, 1958). We thought this might be a good follow-up to Populaire . Not exactly. Did viewers really find the pairing of Clark Gable and Doris Day appealing? Mid-century, what was wrong with you? It reveals little to point out that the teacher is Day; Gable is the night-class faux-student who grabs and kisses her in her office. Jeez, this movie was awful. And there’s Mamie Van Doren, “The Girl Who Invented Rock and Roll.” Day later offers a reprise. Jeez, this movie was awful. Did I say that already?

One odd detail: Day’s character is a college instructor (not professor). Yet she has her own office, with an assistant (Marion Ross) who manages the opaque projector in the classroom and answers the telephone from her own outer office.

Okay, fambly, now we know where Parker Posey’s song in Waiting for Guffman (dir. Christopher Guest, 1997) came from.


The Winding Stream: The Carters, the Cashes, and the Course of Country Music (dir. Beth Harrington, 2014). The story of the Carter Family, A. P., Sara, Maybelle, their many descendants, and their relations by marriage (who include Johnny Cash). Placards pop up to fill in details of fact: a welcome alternative to what could too easily have been a Ken Burns-like voiceover. With Louis Armstrong, Charley Patton, Jimmie Rodgers, and Bessie Smith, the Carters are in the DNA of vernacular American music.

What would you recommend?

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen more : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve : Another twelve

comments: 2

Fresca said...

I'm on a documentary kick myself, but Michael Moore makes me cringe too--I don't know why I even agreed to go see this movie with a friend-- but I did like the section on the Finnish school system. [though it's naive to suggest we could just plunk it on the USA]
(Have you seen since that the colored pencil(!) factory he visits has had to increase its production because of the craze for adult coloring books?)

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, there have been concerns about shortages. The only reason I wanted to see this movie: because Faber-Castell is in it. Go pencils!