Song Of The Day: "Nothing Compares 2 U."
Friday, October 04, 2013
For what I presume are obvious reasons, if you follow celebrity news. I will always be a Sinead fan.
Song of the Day-"Fletta"
Thursday, October 03, 2013
I am kind of giving up on Tumblr. They don't seem to make it easy--well, for me anyway--to post a video, give it a proper headline and write some comments. So, song of the day now becomes a regular feature of The Blue Chair.
I buy a lot of music. I think I digitally own ever album by Antony and The Johnson's except for their most recent one. I first became aware of Antony and his beautiful, haunting vocals when Lou Reed brought him around on tour about 10 years ago and I heard the results on Reed's 2004 live album, "Animal Serenade." Sometime after that, I started checking out Antony's own music. This song is from 2010's "Swanlight" and the fact that it's flown below my radar until now tells me what I've long suspected--that I own too damn much music to keep track of it all. Today, it randomly popped up on my itunes and I immediately recognized Bjork's distinctive vocals. In fact, Antony pretty much takes a back seat to her on this track, though his vocals can be clearly heard. How could I have had a song as lovely as this in my collection and not really have been aware of it? Criminal negligence, Chadwick. Just criminal.
Thoughts on 9/11--12 Years On.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
I was born and raised in New York City. On 9/11 I was living in Sherman Oaks, California. I was unemployed. My wife Laurie and I were sleeping. Laurie's mom called us, told us to turn on the TV. Laurie had worked in the towers, was there during the 1993 bombing. Former co-workers of hers were still there. (All lived.) So we both felt it on a personal level. I remember thinking I was somewhat relieved that my mom (born and lived her entire life in New York) had passed the year before, because I don't know if she could have comprehended the unspeakable insanity and horror. Every morning since, the first thing I do when I get up is turn on the TV. Life as we know it hasn't ended today? Good. Now I can get on with my day. I'm not posting maudlin photos today. Never forget? How would that be possible? The unspeakable horror of what the people on those planes, in those towers, must have experienced still fills my heart with rage. The fact that we have been at perpetual war since then sometimes makes me question if the real mission that day was, in fact, successful. And that angers me even more. I do not, however, acknowledge wacko conspiracy theories. Sometimes horrible things happen without anyone pulling the strings. The Evil Genius theory is weirdly more comforting to some people than the thought that horrible things can be triggered by a small number of individuals, or even one person. Attah and his followers were psychotic and evil, a death worshipping cult that was able to exploit our own naiveté and the fact that we were once too innocent to even imagine the unimaginable. We aren't now. Who can ever forget?
Review: Woody Allen's BLUE JASMINE
Sunday, August 04, 2013
BLUE JASMINE is a nice addition to the list of the better films in Woody Allen’s latter day canon. Not as buoyant as MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, but not as uneven as the disappointing TOO ROME WITH LOVE. But this film is really carried by its lead actor. How much you will enjoy this movie depends on how much you like Cate Blanchett. I happen to like her a lot, and while the film has a fine, ensemble cast, it’s her movie from beginning to end and it wouldn’t stun me if she received some nominations for this performance come awards season. It’s not necessarily that it’s that great of a performance, but it is the kind of rich, emotionally charged one the award givers seem to like. And Woody does have a damn good track record of getting his lead actresses Oscar nominations.
Blanchett plays Jasmine (not her real name but a name she took on later in life), the ex- wife of a Bernie Madoff scale swindler named Hal, played by Alec Baldwin. When we meet Jasmine, she’s in crisis, out of options, and on the way to San Francisco to stay with her sister, Ginger. (Played by Sally Hawkins.) Jasmine’s lost it all and no longer gets to play at being part of the 1%. Ginger, on the other hand, has always been working class. You see here where the sparks might fly. To Allen’s credit, he explains that the sisters are not related by blood but were both adopted by the same parents. It’s a good device for making both the physical and personality differences between the two more believable. More often than not, when this kind of disparate sibling casting is done in films, it sort of takes me out of the illusion of reality. And it serves the story too, to a certain extent.
The biggest problem I had with the film was its over reliance on flashbacks. While the film has been publicized for its San Francisco setting (another change for Allen, who seems to be enjoying travelling and shooting around the globe as he makes his way through his 70s), I would guess that almost half of it was shot in New York City, where all the scenes between Blanchett and Baldwin and their world are set. A lot of the back-story really isn’t that necessary to tell. We can kind of figure out pretty quickly how the fortunes of the two and their relationship spiraled downward. They are entertaining enough, but not really needed. And there’s a kind of revelation near the end (I won’t spoil it) that doesn’t have half the dramatic effect I suspect Allen thought it would and which also felt a little superfluous. At 98 minutes, it isn’t so much that the flashbacks lengthen the film, but that they actually, at times, make it feel a bit longer.
Nevertheless, I was taken in by the film. It’s one of those Allen films that’s half comedy, half drama. Maybe more drama than comedy, in fact. Blanchett, as I’ve stated, was very good and her character’s story proves to be a bit more complex than I initially thought it would be. Hawkins is almost equally good and the rest of the ensemble is outstanding, though Louis C.K. is kind of wasted in a minor role that could have been played by anyone. Bobby Cannavale is fine as Chili, Ginger’s current boyfriend, a rough, working class guy who Jasmine of course characterizes as a loser. There really are few throwaway supporting characters. On the surface, you may see them as types, but Allen writes them and the actors play them with a level of depth behind them.
But the real surprise is Andrew Dice Clay as Augie, ex-husband of Ginger. As you can figure out, Ginger has a type and Augie isn’t all that different from her current love interest. Augie first appears as a rough guy, but eventually, when you find out the story behind their break up, he comes off as more sympathetic. And getting me to feel sympathetic for the Dice Man is really an accomplishment for both Allen and Clay.
Overall, I really enjoyed it. The problem with Allen, as always, is that even when he makes a really good film (which I think this is), it’s always going to be compared less favorably to the masterpieces of his youth. I think the trick is to see a contemporary Allen film and imagine it being made by an unknown, up and coming indie filmmaker, free of all the baggage (positive and negative) that accompanies Allen. (Easier to do when he’s not in the film himself, which is the case here.) Made by someone I think a film like BLUE JASMINE would be regarded as a rousing success and the work of a filmmaker with a lot of promise. You may not feel the need to rush out and see this in the theatre, but it’s definitely worth your consideration when it hits DVDs and streaming services.
Ebert on Ozu
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
I've recently been watching and studying the films of the great Japanese director, Yasujiro Ozu. "Studying" as in reading up on him on the internet and watching the films with commentary tracks on with the Criterion editions. In fact, I'm kind of a bit obsessed with Ozu at this point of my life. There's something about his quiet, understated but poetic approach to everyday people that I find very compelling.
In honor of the passing of the great film critic Roger Ebert, Criterion has shared this opening of the commentary track of Ozu's "Floating Weeds" (a film I have yet to see) by none other than Ebert. It makes me want to watch the rest immediately. It also makes me miss Ebert's voice, which I hadn't heard in years. Some 40 seconds in, Ebert sums up Ozu in a way that I could not and which feels absolutely perfect to me. Commenting on the simplicity of the opening credits he explains how this serves notice to the viewer that "You're entering into a world that will not be highly charged with plots and with special effects, but into a contemplative world. a world that critic Paul Schrader wrote about Ozu in his book about Ozu, Bresson and Dryer, is a world about transcendental film, films that try to lift us up out of the ordinary and invite us to contemplate the beauty and the simplicity, the tragedy and the joy of ordinary human life."
To me, the noblest role that a critic can fill is to heighten one's appreciation for a great work of art. Ebert did this often and his work will be sorely missed in this age when snark and glibness pass for serious analysis.
Review: To The Wonder
Sunday, April 14, 2013
To The Wonder
A lot of people are going to hate this film. Maybe even you. Terrence Malick is often dismissed as boring, pretentious, and heavy-handed. But Malick, for whatever reason, has the clout to do what few filmmakers can do and what even fewer have the nerve—or indeed, the intellect—to do. And that is to make a film entirely on his own terms. Love it or hate it. Emphasis on the word “film.” Because Malick’s art can only be expressed through the medium of the film. It’s all about photography, music and –perhaps most importantly--editing. Which indeed where the art of film is most clearly defined and how it stands apart from still photography.
If Malick walked into film school with any of his recent scripts, he’d probably be told to go start with screen writing 101. Where’s the action? Where are the beats coming at 10, 20, 40 minutes? Where is the key dialogue needed to tell the audience what is happening, to heighten their suspense, to fulfill their dramatic expectations? I can only imagine what his films look like on the page, because so much of his art is synthesized through the shooting and what happens in postproduction. So if you want to go see a movie that will give you some cathartic release, a fulfillment of expectations, you don’t go see a Malick film. But if you are willing to let his films wash over you, to let character and story unfold through snippets of action, with minimal dialogue, with characters speaking poetically through voice over, internal monologue, then his films might be experiences worth putting yourself through. For me, they are never short of transformative.
TO THE WONDER isn’t quite as non-linear as its predecessor, THE TREE OF LIFE. It also isn’t as overtly cosmic. But it also tells a much larger, universal story with a minimum number of characters and situations. You won’t see the universe being born, or dinosaurs walking the earth. (Though you do see one lovely scene of a turtle swimming underwater. The closing credits site scenes from Tree of Life, and I’m going to assume this was one that previously was left on the cutting room floor of that film.) To condense it as simply as possible, the two main characters, Neil and Marina, (Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko, whose characters may never actually be referred to by name in the film) are living together in France when we first meet them. They are enjoying what appears to be, on the server, an almost too perfect romantic relationship. It’s the situation where most characters usually end up in more straightforward romantic story. But then they relocate to Oklahoma, presumably for Affleck’s work and because it’s where he’s originally from. She also brings her ten-year-old daughter from a previous marriage with her. It’s not long before disillusionment sets in, and what once seemed like a perfect, arranged-by-destiny relationship turns sour. Mother and child return to Europe and Neil begins a brief relationship with Jane (Rachel McAdams), someone he knew in his earlier life. It doesn’t last, Olga moves back to the U.S. (sans daughter, who seems to now be living with her father) and Neil and Marina quickly get married.
I won’t say more, although “spoilers” in a Malick film are hardly an issue—it’s how things are said, not what is said that usually counts. And you are left to fill in the blanks of a lot of this relationship, which sometimes moves slowly in idyllic bliss (lots of euphoric twirling and spinning by Marina, which admittedly wears a bit after time) and sometimes, almost shockingly, takes an abrupt and disturbing turn. Love is addressed as not just an emotional issue, but also a spiritual one. Indeed, the loss of love is examined as a certain loss in spiritual direction. Driving this more cosmic aspect of the story is Father Quintana, played by the always-compelling Javier Bardem. But at the same time the priest is trying to give guidance to others, we also very quickly learn that he is struggling with a spiritual crisis of his own.
Malick is possibly the most spiritual of all major, contemporary filmmakers. He clearly believes in God, in a higher purpose, in the bigger forces in the universe that have put us into play on this planet. But he also is not religious to the point that he avoids the eroticism of love either. His characters are entirely human (in spite of what a superficial reading of his films might lead one to believe) and the pain they cause to others and feel themselves is entirely real. As Malick sees it, the divine is always present in this world, though it doesn’t necessarily mean his characters are going to attain it or that they are lesser people for not doing so.
Malick’s characters are not spelled out or fully defined. Dialogue is fleeting. Often in his film, you are left in the observer role, much as we often are in real life. What was that fight about we saw that couple having in the restaurant? Look at those two people in love—I wonder how they met? In real life, we’re rarely exposed to all the specifics in the relationships between intimate partners. We usually can only observe as outsiders and try to ascertain the depth of their actual story. That’s sort of how Malick presents his characters. We are voyeurs, but we don’t get to live inside of their heads, much as writers and filmmakers attempt to do with most movie love stories. In Malick’s films, it’s the sum total of these fleeting glimpses that ultimate define what his films are “about.”
Parts of this were hard for me to take personally. I’ve been through a lot of what these characters experience on film. (Without the lavish side trip to France, unfortunately.) And I can say he portrays that bitterness that can develop between people who once loved each other intensely in a way that feels more real to me than most movies with clearer plots and way more dialogue. What isn’t said can often be more deadly than what is. Most people’s lives don’t play out like conventional beat-by-beat screenplays with an important plot turn at 20 minutes, an Act Two revelation and a tidy denouement after the climax. In that way, Malick’s films tend to be sometimes more emotional than intellectual experiences. Which may seem surprising, because I know there are people who dismiss his films as merely cold exercise in technique. But I almost always moved by his films. And that’s not just because of the always gorgeous photography and beautiful music. It’s the way he portrays the spaces between us in the way that can resonate down to the core.
Upon immediately leaving the theatre, it was hard for me to say what I actually “thought” about the film. For me, the difference between films that are merely very good entertainment and those that come close to be art is how much they resonate with me in the hours, days, weeks, months and years after I see them. Some scene that haunts me, some sequence whose importance only becomes after clear after I’ve had a period of time in which to process it. Films that provide catharsis leave us exiting the theatre thinking we’ve seen a really great film and we’ll rush out and tell all of our friends to go see it. I know I can’t do that with a Malick film. Almost every one of his films I see is initially a disappointment in the moments immediately after I see them, mainly because they inevitably, unfairly, have to be compared to his previous work. But I suspect TO THE WONDER is going to resonate with me in a way that every one of his previous films has.
Musical Acquisitions - One In An Inevitable Series
Sunday, November 25, 2012
I admit it. I’m a music junkie. And I am in constant need of new stimulation.
Because I fetishize music, digital downloads don’t cut it for me, except when I find myself in urgent need of a single song that I don’t currently own. I like packaging because it makes the experience felt less ephemeral, more substantial. I like the idea that a musical artist is presenting me with a bunch of new songs to discover all at once. Somewhere in there might be a song that will become my favorite not now, not next week, maybe not even this year. But someday I might find myself saying “Wow. How did I miss how great that song was?” Which is a joyous experience I generally don’t get to have if I exercise too much control over how I listen to the music. I like listening to entire albums so that I can savor the experience of discovering songs.
So far, 2012 hasn’t been particularly noteworthy. It’s November already and I’ve only purchased a handful of albums, none of them particularly memorable. Part of that has been me just not paying much attention. (As you’ll see, some of the albums on this list were released earlier this year.) I almost feel like it’s movie award season time, where suddenly you discover there are a bunch of movies turning up on critics’ best of the year list, none of which you’ve seen, so it’s time to hit the theatres on an almost daily basis in order to catch up. (What? Am I the only one who does this?)
The list below represents two shopping trips in the last two weeks. The first was to Lou’s Records in Encinitas, an old favorite that I returned to for the first time in over a year, following my move out of San Diego. The other was yesterday, to CD Trader in Tarzana, a store I used to patronize regularly ten years ago when I lived in Los Angeles before, and have now returned to several times since moving back. Both establishments worthy of your patronage, though I have to say that Lou’s is sadly only a shadow of its former self. When I first started going there in 2004, it was housed in three buildings: one for new material, one for used, and one for movies. Now they are all in the building that used to just be devoted to the used material and the inventory seems to be a fraction of what it once was, though I still discover the occasional used gem.
Enough with the preamble. Here’s what I got.
First Aid Kit THE LION'S ROAR
Been listening to Spotify a lot lately. One of the features I like best is the “Related Artists.” It’s led me to be able to check out a lot of people I’ve heard of but never had a chance to listen to, and those who I’ve missed entirely. Case in point. Can’t remember what artist I was originally listening to when I was first led to First Aid Kit. Regardless, I loved the album (released in January of this year, if my research is correct) the moment I heard it.
First Aid Kit are two sisters, Joanna and Klara Soderberg, a duet from Sweden, who are ridiculously young to be writing songs this good and playing with such polish. (They were both born in the 90s. Suck it up.) They have themselves created a number of eclectic playlists on Spotify, so one can only assume that they had hippy parents with an extensive and eclectic record collection. And we’re all the better for it. (The song “Emmylou” compares a relationship to those of Johnny Cash and June Carter as well as Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, just to give you an idea of the territory we’re in here.) The girls released a cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Fire Mountain Peasant Song” on YouTube 4 years ago (before I even heard of Fleet Foxes), which got the attention of the band and led to bigger things. It’s a great cover. Oh, and they were 18 and 15 when they did it. Talent this good is scary. I also love this video of the title track, with all of its hippie, artistic pretension and moodiness. Is it trite to use the description “old souls?” Shoot me for being trite then. Two girls who could be my daughters (by a lot) have released my favorite album of the year so far and I have no problem saying that.
Beth Orton THE SUGARING SEASON
I’ve been a Beth Orton fan for pretty much her entire career, dating back to her first album in 1997. Sounds odd saying that, because it just doesn’t seem like she’s been around that long, and yet it’s been six years between albums. For me, she’s always flown quietly under the radar. If you asked me to make a list of favorite artists, I don’t know if she’d make the first cut, and yet I’ve followed her loyally for 15 years now. Whenever I play one of her songs, I always think “Oh yeah, Beth. She’s great.” Even now, I’ve had to remind myself she’s been off the grid as long as she has. Of course that’s partly me; years pass like months in my current perspective of time.
Anyway, it’s great to have her back. Played this for the first time on a drive back from San Diego and really enjoyed it. There were a couple of standouts, though I can’t tell you what they were. (I have an old stereo system in my 10-year-old car that plays CDs and doesn’t show you song titles as it plays) Glad to have her back.
Titus Andronicus LOCAL BUSINESS
Unfortunately, this is one of those albums that, no matter how good it might be, will never live up to my expectations. “The Monitor,” its predecessor, is so far my favorite album of the current decade. (Yeah, I’m one of those people who start counting from the 0 year, as in an 80s song has to have an 8 in the year, the 90s, a 9 etc.) It’s an album so good, that it’s frightening. Driven with a raw, punk rock immediacy, but also richly complex and anthemic, simultaneously adolescent and maturely complex. I mean, come on, the guys named their band after a Shakespeare play, used the American Civil War as the thematic thread for the album and climaxed the album with a classic 14 minute rock epic, all while sounding like they grew up on a healthy dose of The Clash. Two years later, and I can’t stop playing it. So I almost wish they had waited a couple of years more for a follow up. But here it and as suspected, its disappointing. Which is such an unfair assessment. But I am so indebted to these guys for releasing one of the Greatest Albums Ever in their sophomore release that I feel I owe them the effort. I need to put on the headphones and listen to it with my undivided attention a few more times to give it a fair shake.
Bob Dylan TEMPEST
Speaking of titles from Shakespeare…
What can anyone say about Dylan at this point? Except that, with nothing left to prove, I just love this relaxed stage of his later career, where he’s just shambling along, putting together these very skillful backing bands, and having fun, releasing an album of new material every couple of years. They’re not going to shake up anybody’s world or even find themselves in the canon of great Dylan albums. (Though they certainly surpass most of his catalogue from the 80s and the pre-“Time Out Of Mind” 90s output.) They are just enjoyable albums to listen to. I’m just grateful to still have Bob, chugging along in his 70s, having a good time and putting out decent records.
M. Ward A WASTELAND COMPANION
In hindsight, I look back on the time roughly between 2005 and 2008 as the most recent of several, personal, musical “Golden Ages” I have passed through. At that time, I was still somewhat new to downloading music as my main means of acquiring new stuff and had a very generous subscription plan (90 downloads per month) with E-music. I was experimenting with new materials (and old stuff I had missed) as much as in any time of my life. And one of my favorites artists I got turned on to at the time was M.Ward. (Aka Matthew Stephen Ward.) He has already released a number of albums by the time I discovered him, but the then-just-released Post-War was, and remains, my favorite. Ward’s a prolific guy, but most of his recent work and notoriety has been through collaborations, such as Monsters of Folk and She and Him with actress Zooey Deschanel. But I’m still partial to his solo work and he’s only released one more solo album between 2006’s Post-War and this one. And yet somehow I missed A Wasteland Companion when it first came out and am only listening to it now, as I type these words. About what I had hoped for in a new Ward solo outing, so far, though the She & Him influence has definitely taken root. Deschanel does vocals on “Sweetheart” and it sounds like it could be on one of their albums together. Nothing otherwise too surprising here so far—nice mix of Ward’s mellower sound and his more rocking, Americana roots.
Andrew Bird BREAK IT YOURSELF
My discovery of Bird came out of that same time period when I first heard M.Ward, as described in the previous entry. With his reedy vocals and sometimes eclectic instrumentation, Bird’s a bit more of an acquired taste. Making music with various bands since the 90s, Bird’s solo career began in 2003, when his first albums were released via Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records. In 2007, he switched labels and released Armchair Apocrypha. I’m no Bird expert, but at least in my admittedly limited sampling, I would have to say I regard this as a masterpiece. It’s one of those rare albums that has gotten better and better to me over the years and I still play it regularly. Like Ward, he seems to have been more active in recent years in collaborative and side projects, including some soundtrack work. So it’s good to have him back doing a full-blown album of his own, which came out earlier this year and which I just seem to have gotten around to now. In fact, I just discovered that he quickly followed up Break It Yourself with a companion album titled Hands of Glory, which I also almost picked up yesterday but decided to give this one a go first.
There’s an official video of the song “Give It Away” from this album, but it’s weird and slightly disturbing (well, to me at least) so I decided to go with an unofficial video instead. Google it yourself.
Fiona Apple THE IDLER WHEEL IS WISER THAN THE DRIVER...(etc.)
Hell, did you think I was going to type out the whole thing?
I’ve had a mixed relationship with the music of Fiona Apple over the years. Like a lot of people, I was startled by her sheer raw talent at a very young age when I heard her debut album Tidal back in 1996. Don’t think I ever bought her second album. (Another extremely long title I’m too lazy to type out). Briefly owned 2005’s Extraordinary Machine, which was pretty decent. (But sold in one of my unfortunately periodic and brutal “I’m moving and don’t want to carry all of these and need the cash anyway” purges.) But it was her amazing performance of Elvis Costello’s “I Want You” during a 2006 VH1 Costello tribute concert that forever and permanently endeared me to her. One of the most scary and powerful vocal performances I have ever seen. As you might know, I’m a huge Costello fan and I think this is one of his greatest songs, but she will forever and always own it in my mind because of this performance . So I was predisposed to giving whatever she put out next a chance. Heard enough good things about the album, listened to it a few times on Spotify, so here we go.
Jack White BLUNDERBUSS
Which brings us to the solo debut of Mr. Jack White. In the early 00s, I was a huge White Stripes fan. Yes, just before they became rich and famous. In fact, I’d have to say that at the start of the new century, they were my favorite new band. But admittedly, the Stripes’ simplified, stripped down, retro-blues sound got repetitive and by the time I decided it was no longer sounding fresh to me, the Whites conveniently decided to break up. Never warmed up to Jack’s side band, The Raconteurs. When I heard that he released his first official solo album earlier this year, it barely registered with me. In case you are wondering if playing an album in a record store is an ever an effective sales tool, I’m here to testify “yes.” I had just about picked up everything I was going to buy for the day and this album had been playing in the background. By the time it got to the last track, I found myself thinking. “Is this the new Jack White album? It sounds really good.” And so it got added to the basket. Sounds fresher than the last couple of White Stripes albums. Nice to have him back in the fold.
All for now. What are you listening to?
Mr. Welles Explains It All
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Orson Welles meets with the press on the day after his infamous War of the Worlds radio play. I have only seen shorter snippets of this interview before. Fascinating.
Well, obviously my plans for making October "Orson Welles Month" fizzled out. What can I say? Things happened. But I couldn't let the month go by--and particularly this day--without marking the 74th anniversary of the War of the Worlds broadcast.
Strange though that this was probably the year I've been least interested in revisiting the original radio broadcast. "Superstorm" Sandy, the havoc it created in the New York/New Jersey area, and the continuing coverage of the aftermath presented a real life disaster in the same geographical area where Orson Welles' set his adaptation of H.G. Wells' original novel. I've been held enrapt by the real life events in a way that has made listening to a fictitious one pretty superfluous. Sections of New Jersey have been wiped out, only this time by nature and not by Martian machines.
Nevertheless, Halloween goes on and I'm not about to break the tradition. Here's the complete radio drama from 1938 if you wish to listen.
Thursday, October 04, 2012
Busy day and a late night, so not really much time to put anything substantial together. Just thought then that I'd share this image with you, a period ad for Citizen Kane, featuring a guy who looks nothing like Orson Welles, even at his thinnest. And how about that subtle headline? Anyway, about a month ago I was down in San Diego and was rummaging through my favorite antiques store. Not that I go to enough antiques stores to have an informed opinion about what makes one good or bad. But it's big. And it has a lot of cool stuff I like to look at and I can literally get lost in there for hours. And they have boxes and boxes of movie stills, lobby cards, old print ads, etc. I found a copy of this. (Not the exact one you see here; I stole this image from the internet.) It was cut out from a Life magazine from the period and was being sold for $20. So I grabbed it and I have it and I'm just waiting to find an appropriate frame for it.
And while I'm on the subject of hanging Orson Welles related images on my walls, a belated public thanks to my friend Larry Reynosa who gave me a framed copy of this poster for The Third Man. Larry's loss was my gain and I'm paying it the proper reverence. Thanks again, Larry.
Reassessing The Trial
Wednesday, October 03, 2012
This above clip is the introduction to Orson Welles’ film adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. That's Welles' unmistakable voice doing the narration, of course, and the images were created by Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker using the pinscreen animation process.
In the past week or so, my opinion on this film has turned around pretty radically. I never understood the praise some heaped upon it, finding it not only muddled and disjointed, but also hampered by the budgetary constraints that seem to plague most of Welles’ post-Hollywood projects. I always found it something of a chore to watch. One of my main problems with Welles' films of this era is the sound. He almost always dubbed in dialogue later, and often when editing the films months and sometimes years after he shot them, he was unable to bring many of the actors back to do their own voices. As a result, smaller roles would be voiced by Welles himself, who had among his many talents, a remarkable ability to mimic and create many different voices. (I was able to identify his voice in at least a half dozen speaking parts in this particular film; I've read that he did even more than that.) The end result was almost always that Welles' European films played like badly dubbed foreign film, even though they were shot in English. The Trial is no different.
Yet after recently reading a glowing essay about the film, I decided to give it another chance. And for reasons I can’t explain myself, the whole thing suddenly clicked for me. In fact, I ended up watching it twice in a matter of days. I actually now find it to be a pretty remarkable achievement and it is currently my favorite Welles’ film after Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil.
Why? Well, what once seemed disjointed and convoluted to me now seems complex and richly textured. The low budget aspect, which I once saw as a detriment, I now see as something of an asset. Faced with inadequate funding, Welles was quite ingenius at using found locations and lighting them in dramatic fashion to create arresting compositions. Welles shot the film in various locations throughout Europe and Ssome of the vast and decaying spaces he choose to shoot in only underscore the film’s themes of alienation and disorientation. There's a stylistic consistency that belies the film's gypsy-lie production. (Something Welles experienced on an even greater scale a decade earlier when he made Othello.) The introduction talks about the story’s similarity to a dream or a nightmare and the locations and camera work only reinforce this. The constantly moving camera and at times dizzying cutting style also feel ahead of their time and work to keep the viewer disoriented. It’s as disturbingly surreal as anything David Lynch has done.
Yet in spite of this, there’s a wonderful sense of humor running through what may seem to be on the surface a very dark and grim film. Coming off of his career-defining role in Hitchcock’s Psycho only a couple of years later, Anthony Perkins is perfectly cast as a jittery Joseph K, the protagonist of the story. The cast in general is wonderful and Welles’ even seems to have paid great care and attention to even the extras who have no speaking parts. There are odd and unusual faces in many scenes that are somewhat reminiscent of the kind of people Eisenstein would cast in his films, not for how they could act but for how they looked on camera. Many of these visual and narrative elements are in evidence in this wonderful, extended clip from about midway through the film.
I really cannot stop thinking about this film lately.
Unfortunately, Welles’ The Trial slipped into public domain some time ago, meaning just about anyone with the ability to do so can release the film on DVD. And, as you might expect, the quality of the version you might buy is something of a crapshoot, though just about all of them tend to be crappy. Studio Canal has just released a high quality remastered version of the film on Blu ray. Canal may be only second to the Criterion Collection in terms of the care and attention it brings to their DVD releases. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, it only seems to be available in Europe and the UK with no announced plans for a U.S. release. But you can read the details about this edition here. Needless to say, I'd love to own this.