Moonrise Kingdom

27 Aug

Moonrise Kingdom—directed by Wes Anderson. Slapstick Comedy. 94 minutes Color 2012.
The Story: A twelve year-old girl and boy run off into the woods together and a whole town seeks to find them.
Glad to see this from its start to its finish, for me it is as though Buster Keaton transmogrified himself into a technicolor camera and let loose a whopping good fable. Actually Moonlight Kingdom is It Happened One Night updated to 1965, and It Happened One Night was actually The Taming Of The Shrew 1591 updated to 1934. I am watching a movie with an animated cartoon aesthetic, except the aesthetic is belongs to Wes Anderson rather than Looney Tunes. Spectacular silliness.

For Anderson is not so much funny in what he says as in how he shows. And the acting style the actors hop onto is Anderson’s odd bandwagon of straightfaced dedication to the preposterous and necessary. The pictorial symmetry of the camera opens up my brain, as though both my eyes were finally and concurrently put to separate use and flattered so to be. As a story teller he compliments and complements me at every turn.

Here we have Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton, and Bruce Willis to chase the children through the woods, and every one of them knows exactly what tone to pitch.

They are helped by a posse of a zillion boy scouts and a hurricane and Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra, his Noah’s Fludde, and a fanciful score by Alexandre Desplat. Indeed I experienced the movie itself as a duet between the movie itself and its score.

Moonrise Kingdom is candy from one’s childhood, the kind I hadn’t tasted since long ago, the sort I didn’t think they made anymore. It put a smile on my face. It puts a smile on my face to search for the words to send you its way.



06 Dec

Sunrise – directed by F.W. Murnau. Marital Drama. 95 minutes Black And White 1927
The Story: A young farmer, in midst of a mad affair with a cosmopolitan woman, follows his wife to The City, and their lives are changed forever.
It’s the only film allegory I know of. Allegory is a favorite mode since reading The Faeirie Queene, because the truth of how we humans actually live our inner lives is deeply explorable in allegory.

Anyhow, the film is a masterpiece for other reasons, not least because of the performance in it of Janet Gaynor. Sunrise won the first Oscar for best film and Gaynor won it for a collection of performances she gave that year, Seventh Heaven, Street Angel, and this. She certainly deserved it.

Watch what she does when he takes her out in the boat to drown her. Watch her when the boat is at the shore.

Gaynor was an actor of charm. One gets tired of charm. But not here Charm connects to the child’s approach to the vicissitudes of life. Its passport carries its bearer beyond the point of: “I know you won’t hurt me,” into an irresistable triumph. You can understand why George O’Brien is drawn to the porcelain sexuality of Margaret Livingston, with its core of brutality and greed. Such love is a complete system with no outside view. So they plan to murder the wife. Gaynor knows he is having the affair, but she then senses he means to kill her.

The film begins, as in Shakespeare, in the middle of all this and goes from sin to sin, as it shifts to The City with its luxurious barber shop, its mashers, its piggishness, is vagrant fun, its glistering pleasures. And Murnau has these two pass through these worlds, anyone of which could destroy them, somehow protected by the charm Gaynor exudes – charm as an armor, on an Amazon innocent of it and even ignorant she is an Amazon.

The picture was made by the old Fox studio then under the guidance of the sound-pioneering William Fox, so it has a sound score and sound effects. But you don’t need words. Not for the first time, the silence speaks louder than they.

Sunrise is generally considered to be one of the greatest films ever made. When you see it, or see it again, you probably won’t have any trouble with that conclusion.

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Bardelys, The Magnificent

27 Sep

Bardelys The Magnificent – directed by King Vidor. Silent Swashbuckler. 90 minutes Color Filters 1926.
The Story: A philandering blade, on a Cymbeline-bet to marry a certain lady, falls for her on sight and is almost hung for his pains.
What we see here is John Gilbert as a quite good actor.



Watching Queen Christina, who would have guessed? There, he looks like a high-strung ham.

Here, however, everything he does is geared to bodice-ripper style but played in the lowest key. He simply lets the tinpot gesticulations of the plot zoom around him, while he stays real. Smart actor. Too much makeup on his eyebrows does give their whites a gluttonous glare of intensity, perhaps, but otherwise he is light and easy, convincing and fun.

He rescues himself at the end with a series of spectacular aerial acrobatic feats, ala Douglas Fairbanks, worth waiting for. In the meantime, he has the fair Eleanor Boardman, (soon to marry King Vidor, the director). She is lovely, real, unusual. Worth seeing her acting and her spirit.

In a different way, the same can be said for Roy D’Arcy. Now there’s a villain for you. The eye makeup astonishes. Covering his eyebrows with flesh-colored tape, he pastes tiny upward slanting brows and below them the suspect balcony of a moustache, and below that the poisoned stiletto of a goatee. In silents, even in late and technically advanced ones like this, actors sometimes still used stage-makeup. What terrifying teeth! What a loathsome smile he generates with them! What a captivating gift is his! Repulsive. Silent films were his onion. Don’t miss him.

The story, of course, is tosh. But it is wittily over-costumed, and the sets, which look like sets, are hyperbolic – just what this sort of material requires. Amid a flurry of unconvincing duels with sabers, the film contains a number of famous scenes. The love scene in the punt with the swans floating past the weeping willows is justly renown.

This is MGM at its most expensive. The great William Daniels, who photographed Garbo and right up to Elizabeth Taylor in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, lavishes the talent of his lighting on every scene.

Check it out for your revision of Gilbert’s gifts. Gilbert almost married Garbo. He married Ina Claire for fifteen minutes. Marlene Dietrich saved his life in her usual manner. Dead at thirty-eight, alas. His daughter by actress Leatrice Joy, whom he also married, talks about him movingly, and the extras include two well informed commentators.

It’s a King Vidor film, so it has the power of true sexual attraction in it. The film was thought lost until recently. Its discovery and reconstruction is a wonder and a treat.


Seven Chances, The Balloonatic, Neighbors

12 Oct

Seven Chances, The Balloonatic, Neighbors – directed by Buster Keaton. Color and Black And White, 1920 and before.


The Story: A young man will inherit seven million dollars if he gets married by 7 that day.


Do you want to owe a debt of gratitude? Do you want to thank God on your deathbed that you used your time well, in one respect at least? Do you want to be the happiest you’ve ever been at a movie?

Buster Keaton is Circle du Soleil all rolled up into one. He was, he remains, the greatest humorist ever to appear in motion pictures. He is the paramount physical comedian to have appeared before the public. He is the muscularly strongest person ever to have acted before cameras.

You will see feats that will astonish you. You will not be able to believe your eyes. You will certainly not believe that one person could do all this without stand-ins, stunt men, or special effects. You will laugh yourself sane.

Keaton understood the wit inherent in the two-dimensionality of film, how what comes on from the left goes off from the right, and in between these two events takes place farce. The going, the action, the leaving constitute farce. The thousand deaths of farce are hilarious. For the flatness is death. And it deserves and wins our triumphant laughter at his triumphs.

We face the flat surface of the screen. This is a comedy which is funny because it reflects that part of life which is without dimension. This is comedy without depth. That is its depth. You do not reach into it. It reaches out at you at all times. If you want depth, wait, at some point or other you will see into Buster Keaton’s eyes.

Here he must run around and find a bride before dark. He asks seven. Then seven hundred ask him. What more does one need to tell of such a merriment?

Attached to this full length film are two two-reelers, The Balloonatic in which he goes up on the top of one. And Neighbors all shot on two sides of a tenement backyard fence that splits the screen.

And who will benefit from your watching these gems? Your entire family will. You will. You will be happy and you will die happy for having been so. And I?

It is to me you will owe the debt of gratitude, along with Buster Keaton, for having participated in your dying of laughter.


All Is Lost

11 Nov

All Is Lost – directed by J.C. Chandor. Survival Drama. A lone yachtsman finds himself in the middle of the Indian Ocean with a broken hull. 106 minutes Color 2013


Robert Redford is an actor to whom nothing can happen. For he has spent his life fortificationed by his appearance. So as one watches this picture, one knows he must escape. From the start, this demolishes the story for us. For as the damaged vessel goes from bad to worse, Redford remains resolute, calm, unmoved. He is never awkward; he is never funny; he never falls apart; he is without quirk. He goes through the motions of restoring the vessel to seaworthiness, that is all. He might as well be in a marina for all the worry he feels.

So one does not feel anything for him. But that does not mean that one does not feel anything about the situations in which we find him. With those as they mount, we feel more about them than he does, for our tension is consistent from the start – although we are baffled why it is not present in Redford at all. Yet, while he is never afraid, one does take an interest in the measures he employs to save the boat. One wonders what he is up to, but, as he is not an actor to reveal himself, he does not talk to himself, and we are not vouchsafed the information. Besides, those measures are never taken for him to save himself, only the boat, for he knows that he is a movie hero, and movie heroes do not die in the last reel. They never make mortal fools of themselves. They are really actors in serials, and they have to survive for the next episode, except the serials are full length movies. Gary Cooper laid down the law about that years ago, and Redford has honored it here. Though wounded, uncomfortable, soaking wet, imperiled, and drowning, Redford is not afraid for himself. He works hard to save the vessel, but he is diffident – so it is not surprising to find him frequently falling asleep. He is stalwart; he is practical; he is perfectly carved; he is iconic. He is a totem pole. He could float to safety.

Obviously, I would have enjoyed the film more if a more human actor had played it. As to Redford? – what does he risk? Anything? Why is this damn fool all alone by himself out of the shipping lanes in the middle of the Indian Ocean, without a working radio? That would be an interesting situation to explore. Except Redford could never play a damn fool. It wouldn’t occur to him. Yet there the character is, a jerk foundering without a working radio.


Daddy Long Legs

10 Jun

Daddy Long Legs – Directed by Marshall Neilan. Melodrama. A mischievous orphan girl is helped by a mystery man. 85 minutes Black and White with Color Filters, Silent 1919.

* * * * *

Isn’t this what we’ve always wanted: an unknown benefactor who sees through our detractors’ faults and banks us and banks on us and appears at the end as…. Ah, yes. And so our Miss Mary plays the juvenile orphan on this path, but with many a digression into naughty pranks and hijinks, which solidify the stark disapproval of the matron – but that’s what matrons are for, aren’t they? Some of these antics read like vaudeville turns, for Mary Pickford trod the boards from small childhood in second rate theatre companies touring through Canada and the States, and there she not only learned her craft but the tricks of the trade. So she’s a lot of fun as the movie marks time with a close-order-drill of great energy and variety until it gets on with the plot, which has to do with social rank, of course.  She is really wonderful here, and why is that? Because she is a fine film actress, one might say a revolutionary actress. Everything is simple unselfconscious as only plenty of rehearsals can provide. She does everything immediate and small. She was the first actress in film history to ever have a close-up. And how right that is, for the entire character registers on her visage in response to the forces that beset both her and the orphans around her. You will be interested to see the costumes of the period. And how smoking played such a large part in film acting from the time film started until quite recently. Tobacco in all its forms was the greatest of all actors’ props. It was versatile, it gave something for the actor to do, it was expressive, it could define mood and power. It gave one pause. It gave one interruption. It gave one romantic liaison. Take a look at Daddy Long Legs’ use of it here. It rises like an infernal emanation from behind the back of that chair, like a volcano not yet disturbed.




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