Wednesday Round-Up: Stanley Kubrick Loved “Citizen Kane” … and “White Men Can’t Jump”

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There is something fascinating about what films were favorites of great filmmakers — especially when some of the selections are a surprise. In the past week, two lists for two major directors — Stanley Kubrick and Spike Lee — were released in different forms.

The late, great Stanley K.’s cinephile tendencies were the subject of a wonderful article by Nick Wrigley for the British Film Institute. As Wrigley writes:

“I count myself among the many admirers of Kubrick’s films and his remarkable aptitude for problem solving in all areas of life. I would argue that the only remaining unexplored area of Stanley’s life in film is his relationship with, and love of, other people’s films. In his later life he chose not to talk publicly about such things, giving only a couple of interviews to large publications when each new film was ready – but through his associates, friends, and fellow filmmakers it’s now possible to piece together a revealing jigsaw. I wanted to try and pull together all the verified information I could locate and have it looked over by a wise, authoritative eye.”

That eye belongs to Kubrick’s brother-in-law, Jan Harlan, who is interviewed by Wrigley in a separate story (see quotes below).

Wrigley points to a list Kubrick submitted to an American magazine named Cinema in 1963:

1. “I Vitelloni” (Fellini, 1953)

2. “Wild Strawberries” (Bergman, 1957)

3. “Citizen Kane” (Welles, 1941)

4. “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (Huston, 1948)

5. “City Lights (Chaplin, 1931)

6. “Henry V” (Olivier, 1944)

7. “La notte” (Antonioni, 1961)

8. “The Bank Dick” (Fields, 1940)

9. “Roxie Hart” (Wellman, 1942)

10. “Hell’s Angels” (Hughes, 1930)

Later, Wrigley mentions a list “that appeared in September 1999 on the alt.movies.kubrick Usenet newsgroup courtesy of his daughter Katharina Kubrick-Hobbs, a list of films she “happen to know that he liked:

“‘Closely Observed Trains’ (Menzel, 1966)
‘An American Werewolf in London’ (Landis, 1981)
‘The Fireman’s Ball’ (Forman, 1967)
‘Metropolis’ (Lang, 1927)
‘The Spirit of the Beehive’ (Erice, 1973)
‘White Men Can’t Jump’ (Shelton, 1992)
‘La Belle et la Bête’ (Cocteau, 1946)
‘The Godfather’ (Coppola, 1972)
‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ (Hooper, 1974)
‘Dog Day Afternoon’ (Lumet, 1975)
‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (Forman, 1975)
‘Citizen Kane’ (Welles, 1941)
‘Abigail’s Party’ (Leigh, 1977)
‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (Demme, 1991)
and I know that he hated ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Ha Ha!”

Harlan points to others, including George Sluizer’s “The Vanishing” (1988): “Kubrick watched it three times and told Sluizer that it was ‘the most horrifying film I’ve ever seen.’ Sluizer asked: ‘Even moreso than The Shining?’ Kubrick replied that he thought it was.” As Harlan adds, “‘The Vanishing’ was real — ‘The Shining’ was a ghost film — a huge difference.” And the list also includes … “White Men Can’t Jump,” which is just awesome.

Wrigley asked Harlan for his thoughts on the undeniably enjoyable yet certainly silly documentary “Room 237”; Harlan’s thoughts.:

“I think it’s the silliest film ever. A complete rip-off. To say that hotel employees on the last day before closing — waiting with luggage for transport — is a reference to the Holocaust, is an insult to both Stanley and the victims of this greatest crime in human history. So are all other references to 1942. To go to the length of making drawings to prove that the large interiors of the hotel could never fit into the smallish place we see from the outside is a joke. Any schoolboy can see that! It’s a ghost film! Nothing [in ‘Room 237’] makes any logical sense.

I did not take the documentary that seriously — I thoroughly enjoyed it, yet never found any of the theories convincing. (It says a lot about how we read and interpret movies, sometimes illogically.) But it is unsurprising that someone close to Kubrick would have that reaction.

 

The rest of this week’s round-up, including a killer list from Spike Lee:

 

Image from BFI article. Stanley Kubrick, photographed by Dmitri Kasterine in 1969 on the set of A Clockwork Orange. Credit: Dmitri Kasterine: www.kasterine.com

Wednesday Round-Up: The Dissolve Kicks Off by Demonstrating Why “Innocence” is “Unmistakably Scorsese”

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I’m not sure why it took Pitchfork so longer to enter the film criticism realm, but taking its time may have been wise. Last week, The Dissolve finally launched, and it features a murderer’s row of cinema heavyweights: Keith Phipps, Scott Tobias, Nathan Rabin, Tasha Robinson, Matt Singer. These are some of my favorites, and the site that has brought them together, Avengers-style, is—so far, at least—a treat.

For example, check out the “Departures” column, explained thusly: “Departures looks at films by talents who defied expectations and tried something different. Are these films true anomalies, or not quite the left turns they appear to be?”

That’s a great idea, and Tobias’s first pick, Martin Scorsese’s “The Age of Innocence,” is an ideal selection:

“It’s hard to compare the New York of ‘The Age of Innocence’ to the savage criminal underworlds of Scorseseland a century later, but only because the kills here don’t stain the hardwood. But Newland is rubbed out just as surely as the pileup of gangsters in ‘Goodfellas’—to a point, he’s responsible for pulling the trigger—and for the same reason: With the world outside threatening change, the mobs in both films have to close rank to survive.”

“Innocence” is, I think one of Scorsese’s least best films, and is deserving of such a close analysis. If this is where The Dissolve is going, I applaud it.

Or consider the column “Performance Review,” in which “each entry focuses on a specific category in a given year, in several different awards ceremonies, in an effort to determine the year’s most criminally overlooked performances. First stop: Bes Supporting Actor, 1991.

I love Mike D’Angelo’s appreciation of Samuel L. Jackson’s un-nominated—by Oscar—role as Gator in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever”; he was honored by the New York Film Critics Circle:

“[I]n his final confrontation with his father, his act of defiance takes the form of a silent, murderous hate-shimmy that conveys far more contempt than words ever could. It’s chilling to behold. One year earlier, Jackson was still playing roles like ‘Taxi Dispatcher’ in films like ‘Betsy’s Wedding’; Gator changed that, and it’s no surprise it was the New York critics who acknowledged it.”

The Dissolve seems a worthy entry in the crowded field of online movie criticism, and it will be interesting to watch it develop.

And the rest:

  • “Eyes Wide Shut” opened on July 16, 1999. To commemorate, The Film Stage offers a doc on symbolism in Kubrick’s swan song.
  • “Only God Forgives finally opens this Friday, and I am having an internal debate: theater, or home? Chances are I’ll opt for VOD. I’m very much looking forward to it, although it’s difficult not to go in expecting a major letdown. Here is one of the more interesting reviews I’ve come across so far.
  • A Tweet about the ending of Jeff Nichols’ “Take Shelter” led me to this nice analysis of that film’s mysterious and controversial ending.
  • Two must-see trailers: The latest American preview for Wong Kar-wai’s “The Grandmaster,” and the first look at Spike Lee’s “Oldboy.” I did not spot a squid.
  • The great Indiewire is 15. Take a look at its “first issue.” Author Irvine Welsh made an appearance: “According to a story in this week’s issue of _New Yorker Magazine_ (July 15, 1996) the novelist who wrote TRAINSPOTTING spent a night in jail following ‘a recent four-day binge’ which featured ‘everything—everything you can imagine.’”
  • David Cronenberg’s latest has begun filming. “Map to the Stars” John Cusack, Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams, and Sarah Gadon.
  • The unrealized projects of Alan Resnais.
  • Guess what? Only 50 days until TIFF.

“The Age of Innocence” still is from a TIFF retrospective of the film

Wednesday Round-Up: Mary Harron Has Brought Us the Lives of Valerie Solanas, Bettie Page, and … Anna Nicole Smith?

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Mary Harron has one of modern cinema’s more unique, and uniquely cool, backgrounds. Though born in Canada she grew up in England, was an early contributor for the iconic Punk magazine and wrote for publications like The Guardian, and then moved into directing with the 1996 masterpiece (in my eyes) “I Shot Andy Warhol.” That film, the story of would-be Warhol assassin Valerie Solanas, is one of the finest films ever made about the Pop Art icon and the Factory scene.

She followed “Warhol” with an almost shocking departure: Bret Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho.” Filmmakers like Oliver Stone and David Cronenberg had attempted and failed to bring Patrick Bateman to the screen, but Harron succeeded by giving the film the satirical spin it needed. She also helped make Christian Bale a star.

“The Notorious Bettie Page” came next, and it was handsome but rather dull version of the pin-up icon’s life. Her last feature, the 2011 vampire film “The Moth Diaries,” cmae and went without a trace.

So there has been a bit of a downward trajectory from her first film on. Still, I’m not sure anyone saw her next project coming: Lifetime’s recently-aired biopic “The Anna Nicole Story.”

I have not watched it — although I did set the DVR to record a re-airing — but it is hard to feel much other than unease at the prospect of so talented a filmmaker taking on so garish a subject. But Film.com’s Matt Patches has made the film sound much more sensible, and even unmissable:

“At first glance, Harron’s Anne Nicole Smith biopic looks like the usual Lifetime schlocky melodrama full of drug abuse, soft core sex, and ridiculous twists (‘SHE WAS AMISH?!’). The iconography of Smith’s life lends itself to the Lifetime aesthetic — as evidenced in the trailer, quick cutting, camera sound effects, and a moody pop song easily turn Anne Nicole Smith’s life story into drama worthy of ‘Liz & Dick.’

“‘The Anna Nicole Story’ could have been another movie off the network’s conveyor belt. No one who tuned in would have batted an eye (and, perhaps, the movie would have more buzz) if it was a campy, exploitive interpretation of Nicole’s life. Yet with Harron, Lifetime finds a credible and sensitive filmmaker, able to elevate the material and mine its dramatic potential. They may not be HBO or AMC or Sundance or FX, but with ‘Anna Nicole,’ Lifetime realizes the potential of their brand. Deal in celebrity-driven tearjerkers, but make them good. With movie studios dropping the ball, there’s a window of opportunity for television and even unlikely brands like Lifetime are seizing it.”

Patches even sees the film as a cousin of Harron’s “Notorious Bettie Page,” as Harron again “examines the seductive qualities of fame on a woman at her lowest point.” I still find it odd to see Mary Harron at the helm of a Lifetime movie — especially THIS Lifetime movie. But Patches has succeeded in making me approach it with an open mind.

Meanwhile, here is Harron on why she made the film:

“Lifetime brought it to me and at first I was like, “Lifetime… hmm.” But I read the script and I’m always interested in doing women’s stories. What drew me to the Anna Nicole story was that the script was very sympathetic to her, because so much of the tabloid coverage of her was so sneering. I’m interested in beauty queens, and Anna Nicole is a kind of a Marilyn Monroe/Bettie Page for the 90s, and for the modern age of tabloids and reality TV. It is a tragic story and a lot of the outlines for those beauty queen stories are the same. They’re flying too close to the sun. I’m interested in these outsider people that society looks down on. I find them sympathetic and I find them interesting and I think that for all of Anna’s many faults as a mother and all the rest, she was a sweet person who was looking for happiness.”

The rest of this week’s round-up is Anna Nicole-free:

  • Sigh. The Stanley Kubrick exhibit recently ended its seven-month run at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and this video makes me depressed about how great it looked. Tour, please?
  • Here is a super-comprehensive site devoted to Cronenberg’s “The Fly.”
  • Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” will not open for some time, but the director gave a few, ahem, tastes of what to expect this week: Here is the film’s “first chapter,” as well as the first released footage.
  • The AV Club asks an interesting question: “Does ‘Before Midnight’ dodge the hardest part of relationships?”
  • Channing Tatum takes a hit with the opening weekend failure of “White House Down.”
  • And finally, two more bits from The Guardian: First, a gleeful takedown of the Google-adoring flop “The Internship,” and a wonderfully moving piece about autism written by “Cloud Atlas” author David Mitchell.

Photo credit: Patrick Eccelsine