June 2006 Archives

At Scanners, Jim Emerson is running a series on the opening shots of movies. In his introduction, Emerson writes:

“Any good movie — heck, even the occasional bad one — teaches you how to watch it. And that lesson usually starts with the very first image. ...The opening shot (or opening sequence) is the most important part of the movie ... at least until you get to the final shot. (And in good movies, the two are often related.)”

So far, the project includes two quizzes along with commentaries on the opening shots of everything from His Girl Friday to Miller’s Crossing to The Crying Game to Halloween (below).

From the opening shot of 'Halloween'

While these short essays (some by Emerson, but mostly submitted by readers and other critics) are about individual movies, they collectively represent a short course in watching film seriously.

Rather Routine

Sonic YouthIn Slate.com, Hua Hsu concisely articulates my boredom with Sonic Youth’s highly regarded (and moronically titled) new record:

“Despite being one of the most influential bands of the recent past, nobody has really come close to sounding like Sonic Youth. ... Now, on their 21st full-length album, Rather Ripped, Sonic Youth has done the unthinkable — they’ve begun to sound like everyone else.”

Less evaluation than appreciation, the article doesn’t view the statement quoted above as an indictment, but I do. If a band (or product) drops what makes it unique, it will soon become irrelevant. And Sonic Youth without feedback and without self-indulgent meanderings is pretty damned dull; those are essential elements of the band, not accoutrements.

If we’re comparing Superman and Christ, let’s not ignore what seems a fairly blatant artistic reference in the current campaign for Superman Returns, to Salvador Dali’s Christ of St. John of the Cross (top) and Crucifixion (bottom):

Salvador Dali's 'Christ of St. John of the Cross'

Poster for 'Superman Returns'

Salvador Dali's 'Crucifixion'

(I’m not the first to note the similarity.)

Stretching Superman

Father figure: Marlon Brando in 'Superman: The Movie'Jim Emerson directed me to this fascinating article from The Journal of Religion and Film.

The piece is remarkable less for its topic — a comparison of Superman to Jesus Christ — than its approach. In its analysis, the thorough, sometimes smart, and often laughable article uses the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies as its text for the Man of Steel. That’s akin to using the movie The Last Temptation of Christ as the authoritative source on Jesus’ life. It comes across as really lazy, a corner cut to avoid having to read decades of comic books.

Steve Martin and Claire DanesTwo movies live in Shopgirl. One is a creepy but strangely touching May-December romance between Claire Danes and Steve Martin. The other stars Danes and Jason Schwartzman in a screwball comedy, with an intrusive, superfluous voice-over. The first of these movies is surprisingly good; the second sucks. Plus: Silent Hill, another schizophrenic film.

Blowing It

Michelle Williams and Heath LedgerThe final two stops on the Culture Snob tour of 2005 Best Picture Oscar nominees are striking for their similarities. Both Brokeback Mountain and Munich are patient, well-made genre movies that strip most of the politics out of charged subjects. Sadly, both are also botches.

I just started watching Deadwood this week — late adopter and all — but found this essay compelling. It’s part of “Deadweek” at the always wonderful The House Next Door. Comparing the show to both Shakespeare and the first two parts of The Godfather, Andrew Dignan offers trenchant insights not only about HBO’s western series but about the Bard and Coppola’s movies.

And I think Deadwood is going to rock.

And I’m genuinely happy that creator David Milch is wrapping the series up after three seasons and (possibly) a couple movies. It’s a relief to know that in 2012, we shan’t be watching the sixth season of Deadwood and bitching: “Remember when that fuckin’ cocksucker was good?”


“Not with a bang ... not even a whimper ... it was more like a wet fart.”
There’s little point in trying to improve on this opening sentence from the House Next Door’s review of the kinda sorta season finale of The Sopranos.

Throughout the show’s 12-episode run this spring, the House Next Door has generously given series creator David Chase credit for knowing where he’s taking his Sopranos ship. The commentary on Sunday’s episode, however, marks a re-evaluation — a shortening of the critical leash. The premise of the analysis has been that Chase would brilliantly bring his gangster and family saga to a close. But after 12 episodes, we’re pretty much back where we started.

In an aimless, nearly endless essay (more than 3,000 words), Wagstaff brings up some fascinating questions in what mostly functions as a personal remembrance of the circumstances of watching movies.

The apparent thesis (which is presented past the 1,000-word mark) is more a statement of intent, but it’s provocative:

“Most film criticism is rightly focused on the movie itself. The purpose of this essay is to clear a little spot of ground for the circumstances that surround watching a movie, the things that affect so strongly how we see it.”

The author then offers an extreme (but effective) illustration of the effect of viewing context on a movie’s quality:

“Let’s pretend for a minute that Airport ’75 is an excellent film that achieves greatness. I contend that it would ... be a horrible film to show as an in-flight movie on an airplane. ... [C]ircumstances matter.”