Short Film Saturday: Children in the Surf, Coney Island (1904)

Depending on your definition, we are in the now in the dog days of summer in the northern hemisphere. Therefore, this short doc by acclaimed cinematographer Billy Bitzer from 111 years ago seems appropriate. Enjoy!

61 Days of Halloween: Sisters (1973)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, and a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Sisters (1973)

One of the good things about going off a list, at least in part, to decide on viewing options is that it allows for more occasions for you to be a blank slate. A lot of the selections I’m seeing for this year are from Stephen King’s list of the best horror films from 1950-1980 that he included in his book Danse Macabre. I have replicated the list on my Letterboxd page (check it out!).

When I received Sisters from Netflix I knew it was De Palma and before Carrie and that’s all I could remember. Thankfully, the synopsis on the disc mailer didn’t give too much away.

On a personal note this may be my favorite film I’ve seen that set mostly on Staten Island. I had no idea that was coming and how it’s introduced is great: Danielle (Margot Kidder) is a Quebecois model/actress, and after a gig her and Philip (Lisle Wilson) have dinner and have it cut short by her ex (Emile Breton). Philip offers to take her home. She tells him she lives on Staten Island, and it goes something like this:
“Staten Island?” he says.
“Yes, Staten Island is part of New York isn’t it?”
Philip, smiling, says: “I guess it is.”

I was born in Manhattan, but I spent most of my formative years on Staten Island, and that statement in a nutshell is the conundrum of being from there; that whole “We’re New York too, dammit” subtext. A short exchange of dialogue encapsulates it on both sides.

Personal baggage aside, Sisters is a great little gem. I use that term because it starts with a fairly small series of events one after another that slowly turn in to a much bigger plot than was intimated at first. The simple Hitchcockian mystery element gets more byzantine as it progresses; even throwing some last second misdirection, making certain things even weirder than they are.

The first suspenseful passage features, yet another recently-viewed example of, a great use of split-screens. It’s a film that’s tied up in the psychology of its characters, their relationship to one another and secrets buried in the past.

In a certain way there were also parts of it that reminded me of Cronenberg as there were weird, significant things afoot with few characters noticing or being affected.

With scoring by the legendary Bernard Herrmann this film is quite the riveting pulse-pounder with a few jaw-dropping moments in store for those who do see it.

Film Thought: Moviegoing Solo

Sometimes the short commentary pieces are one I think of and slip my mind and crop up every so often and I need a nudge to remember that the question could use asking.

I’ve meant to discuss, hopefully open up a dialogue, about moviegoing solo for a while. It’s one of the several aspects of the moviegoing experience I feel are worth some exploration. This is due in part to the fact that not only do I actually enjoy it but quite frequently some of my favorite films of the year happen to be seen just that way. Most recently and notably number two last year.

The impetus to finally bring it up was the other day Alexander Huls on Twitter mentioned he was asked “Just one?” when buying a ticket. We had a brief discussion about this wherein I likened it to being attended to at a restaurant. What that question, in either scenario, boils down to, at the very least, is not taking into consideration its connotation and the presumptive nature. Yes, people meet up and get names in for tables ahead of time at restaurants. That’s why the question is “How many?”As with moviegoing, it should be the same.

There were then two moviegoing-related anecdotes in pop culture that came to mind; I believe it was the ‘movie-saving episode’ of Seinfeld that brought up the question, how is moviegoing inherently better in a group. I also frequently harken back to Stephen King’s comment in Danse Macabre about people attending horror films in packs, in part to subconsciously stave off being frightened.

The answer to the Seinfeld question is that it is and it isn’t inherently better. If the movie is any good, or worth discussing, you can instantly talk to your friends afterwards about what you just watched. I think I saw Sinister in a group of five (a rare pack outing for me) and there was much to discuss. However, if there’s a film I have to get in, or I really want to see, and I don’t want to have to twist anyone’s arm to do it, like say a Bela Tarr, why wouldn’t I go alone? There’s no good reason for it, and I frequently do go.

New York is one of the great moviegoing destinations in the world. Whenever I’m there now I like to partake in activities on either end of the spectrum: either fairly touristy or something more localized that I know of having been born and raised there. However, I also typically also make it an overnight excursion and take advantage of the fact that there’s plenty of films out I can only see there and for a limited time.

So those are some of my tales of moviegoing solo. And what of you? Do you like, love or hate it, and why?

Review- The Art of Getting By

Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts in The Art of Getting By (Fox Searchlight)

When I first saw a trailer for The Art of Getting By my initial reaction was that Freddie Highmore is back with a vengeance. This film, and the previously reviewed Toast, definitely bear that out. Highmore does some pretty difficult work in this film as he’s asked to make a character likable who is not very likable at a distance and who a lesser actor may make detestable.

However, the film establishes his philosophy on life and why he approaches it the way he does right off the bat through voice-over. The voice-over is used sparingly afterward but the “We’re going to die, so what’s the point?” attitude is not hard to wrap one’s head around it’s just that he takes it to an extreme level. However, I have no qualms with it because part of cinema is about living vicariously through others.

Of course, what does snap him out of that in part is a girl played by Emma Roberts. Hers is a task that’s also not very easy because in this film she plays perhaps the most enigmatic female lead I’ve seen since Emily Blunt in Wild Target. I believe I have cracked her as her behavior does seem strange and I think a lot of her subconscious motivation is that she really is a carbon copy of her mother but she fears admitting it and thus a lot of the irrational behavior you’ll see form her is explained.

While George (Highmore) is getting to know and like Sally (Roberts) the tension at home starts to bubble to the surface and he also is forced to come to grips with his slacking off at school and either make his work up or he’ll be expelled. Slowly and perceptibly he starts to change and the straw breaks the camel’s back you know he’ll make it up. A lot of the unexpected comes in his relationship.

What this film does well is that it manages intertwine several uncertain outcomes towards the end such that your focus isn’t entirely on one so even though things, to an extent, work out as expected there’s still that tension about which will be resolved when and how. One thing it keeps you waiting on is to see his one art project. It should also be noted that due to Sally’s enigmatic nature what she does at the end is by no means a sure thing.

While much of what you need resolved to have what can typically be considered a full filmic experience does get resolved there are a few things that are left open to interpretation. This openness was something I realized afterward where some events were viewed differently by myself and a friend.

For the most part this film does a fine job of carving out its universe and establishing who these people are and how their world functions. What never did jibe was the drinking. The leads are portraying high school seniors, eighteen-year-olds, yet they seem to be able to get alcohol by simply buying it (18 obviously being underage in New York City). This isn’t a prudish complaint, kids drink, if that factors in the story; fine. However, something as incongruous as getting served in a bar is something that cannot go unmentioned in the dialogue.

Despite a few unfortunate enigmas in the storytelling I believe that this film effectively created a narrative of the modern slacker and how he is snapped out of it and finds things to live for. The larger (or smaller) the world grows the more we can feel isolated at times so an occasional reminder about what makes it worth it is welcome.

7/10

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Sociopolitical Overview (Part 2 of 17)

Photo Credit: Peter Turnley/Corbis, The epitome of hope in the 80s: The fall of the Berlin Wall

When we think of the 90s sociopolitically you can almost draw a parallel to the kind of films that were produced. With Clinton in office the stock market more than doubled it was prosperity galore and yet there was a generation (Generation X followed by Y, how original) that could care less. There were hardly any films that reflected the times we were in because that would be bourgeois, no one really cared they had money in their pocket. Yet there was also nothing to escape unless you count the laughable Lewinsky affair, so film stagnated aside from the occasional blip here and there.

While the 80s were not like the 60s in that there was an issue constantly looming over everyone like the Vietnam War. There were several crucial events in America’s history. Films are the products of our society and the people writing those films for the most part came of age in the 60s and thus, had a higher social consciousness than those who grew up in the culturally devoid 70s.

Being children of the 60s coupled with the fact that escapist family-oriented cinema was in demand for a great part of the decade lead to many of these films having a lot of pie-in-the-sky idealism in them.
The 80s socially and politically were a mess. There was always something. New York was a crime-ridden dirty hole, which is reflected in Ghostbusters, and to some extent Trading Places. At the beginning of the decade there was the hostage crisis and the decade ended with the beginning of the communist collapse. While there were many crises and negative events there was a national sentiment in the nation and a presentiment that gave people a feeling that we could change things, amid all the excesses of the ‘me generation’ there was Hands Across America, Farm Aid and Artists for Africa which were movements by musicians that we could change the world and films like Amazing Grace and Chuck reflect that sentiment.

It was undoubtedly a turbulent time but there was a wind of change in the air. Reagan’s short-sightedness in his term is paralleled by the studio heads. Reagan wanted to give the taxpayers a break immediately and it hurt in the long run while the studios wanted money immediately and slowly the quality of films they were producing would dwindle. Thankfully, the quality did keep coming out until the end of the decade. The political conditions were all aligned for good, even great films to be made. Great films never come out in abundance when the nation is affluent. Pre-packaged hit-me films do, the 80s were a great time to grow up in because you probably weren’t aware of all that was going on around you. Yet I do recall seeing the possibility for change and seeing that something good can occur in this world and I saw it plastered across a large silver screen every weekend.

Note: This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school. It will be published here in installments. This is part two you can read part one here.