Monday, February 20, 2006


Re-re-re-reading Pauline Kael's essay Raising Kane, which still seems the best single essay I've read on anything. It's odd, I can't remember particularly liking any other Kael I've read, indeed I can't remember any other Kael, despite huffing and puffing through I Lost It At The Movies and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which isn't a good sign. But Raising Kane is driving me back to 'em, it's that good.

I keep on being impressed by Kael's ability to keep stepping back and back from Citizen Kane while keeping everything in focus. There's no point trying to sum up the whole essay, I might as well type the whole thing out. It's a bit like Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls in that it gives you not so much a new perspective on movies as a whole new behind the scenes at the sausage factory dimension, all the more shocking because it's stuff you really ought to have known, or worked out yourself, even if you've already dimly figgered that there's just no way that movies are made by individuals called Directors - unless they're Russ Meyer.

One of the many joys of Raising Kane is the insight it provides on where the movie came from - what now seems like a paleontology of 1930's cinema, after it calcified from a living culture to a petrified film studies topic. She calls Citizen Kane:
perhaps the one American talking picture that seems as fresh now as the day it opened. It may seem even fresher. A great deal in the movie that was conventional and almost banal in 1941 is so far in the past as to have been forgotten and become new.
Kael's terrific on the individual talents involved in that era: Hecht, Mankiewicz, Perelman, Preston Sturges, Dorothy Parker, Moss Hart, et al - the vicious circles of 1920's broadway playwrights and journalists who moved West to play at Hollywood Hacks. I'm particularly charmed that not only did they write screenplays revolving entirely about East Coast journalists (especially Editors, now an endangered species, restricted to the breeding pair of Spiderman's J. Jonah Jameson and Harry Hacket in The Paper), they also re-wrote their own Broadway plays as "original" screenplays, and, even better re-wrote each other's old plays.

(Pause for brief shout for Ian Hamilton's brilliant Writers in Hollywood, 1915-1951 (Heinemann, London, 1990/Harper, NY, 1990), which has the best opening quote EVAH)

Anyhow, here's Kael on how Hollywood resisted the tough skepticism of the East Coast writers:
Ben Hecht said he shuddered at the touches von Sternberg introduced into Underworld: "My head villain, Bull Weed, after robbing a bank, emerged with a suitcase full of money and paused in the crowded street to notice a blind beggar and give him a coin before making his getaway". That's exactly the sort of thing that quantities of people react to emotionally as "deep" and as "art", and that many film enthusiasts treasure - the inflated sentimental with a mystical drip.
Inflated sentiment with a mystical drip? Yowsah! Another yelp of recognition and glee from yours drooly. This immediately velcroed itself to the gland in my brain still pulsing and smarting from the discussion of what is or isn't art, linking arms with Martin Amis' War Against Cliche. Here's to art and sentiment. They're not strictly opposed terms, but one extends wayyy beyond the reach of the other. Sentiment is no bad thing, but inflated sentiment (mystical drip optional, see your dealer for details) is Corn, arguably Hard-Core Corn.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Line, Walked

Continuing this organ’s long and honoured tradition of spinning out tedious personal occurrence into startling new insights that transform your entire schema, let me tell you that I saw and was utterly conquered by Walk The Line. I was simply incapable of enjoying it more, couldn't be done, my body just can't handle any more pleasure, at least in celluloid form.

I’m usually no fan of pop biopics, not least because of the constant clinking, clanking backing track of Industrious Calculation, as the writer, director, actors, musical directors and attorneys of the estates of the actual stars in question all conspire to spin you a tale while satisfying their agendae. Walk The Line managed to…hmm…how you managed to proceed while neither deviating to one extreme nor…no, sorry. Anyhow, the film teems with pluriform delights. The central performances (Phoenix, Witherspoon, me) were entirely un-astonishing – at no point did I not think they actually, factually really were Black and Carter (i.e. disbelief not so much suspended as levitated right off the floor and out the door); the storyline’s brilliant simultaneous cake-devourage-and-retention (covering all the necessary Big Hits moments AND satisfying each character’s classical story arc without completely traducing the actual individuals or events involved).

But chief amongst my reasons for agogitude (and yes, agogididawooing go) was the gratitude I felt for the music. The film’s practically a musical, it’s so dense with performances: T-Bone Burnett (onetime Coward Brother of Elvis Costello, lest we forget, or care) outstrips any praise available to me for his efforts therein. Phoenix actually is Johnny Cash, remember, so he gets no praise for sounding exactly like him. But Burnett is owed particular props and praise for making it all sound new and fresh and revolutionary, and it’s SO hard to hear music of that vintage for the first time. It’s the same problem with Elvis or Miles Davis or Louis Armstrong or Charlie Parker or Wagner, they cast such long shadows, it’s as if they sound like everyone else, rather than everyone else sounding like them.

And if you were seeking any other reason to love Walk The Line, its DoP was Phedon Papamichel, son of Phedon Papamichel.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Clive, Plugged...

Shit your pants and run a mile, for Clive James has relaunched his web efforts!

Looks like he's smothered the always-too-good-for-this-world wot is now handsomely supplanted by the admirably does-what-it-says-on-the-tin

There's probably no bigger fool for Clive James than I. Like many, I first saw him being slightly awkward on TV (probably BBC2's Olde Schule "Did You See?"), then read his "Unreliable Memoirs", then "Falling Towards England" and "May Week Was In June" and then "The Metropolitan Critic" and then "The Dreaming Swimmer" and then "Other Passports" and now I'm dizzy and need to breathe out of a bag. Mmmm brown paper.

Yes, I know he's often too much, too far, too near, but check the damn site! Lookit the Videos! Martin Amis! On a sofa! Did they sit him on a board, like with kids at the barber's? Otherwise, they'd find him months later, along with coins and the walnut half and the old remote control.

I blame James for the fact that I still read more criticism than fiction. But dammit, he did write "The Book Of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered" and "Bring Me The Sweat Of Gabriella Sabatini". They alone demand a knighthood. And isn't it amazing how many H's "Knighthood" has? Back to the bag for me! MmmmmmmMMmmmmmm...