Rightwing Film Geek

The first master

meliesmoon.jpgIn case it isn’t obvious from my screening log, I’ve been going through a Georges Melies DVD lately, and never in anything less than awe at what he could do. No discredit to Edison and his team or the Lumieres, but they were inventors primarily. ARRIVAL OF A TRAIN, e.g., exists today solely for (obviously enormous) historical interest. Melies, a former magician, was the first man to use this contraption for entertainment or artistic purposes (though he did have antecedents in magic-lantern shows; he obviously brought a great deal from then-current theater and magic shows; plus, he ripped off the Smashing Pumpkins).

To say that “the movies” descend from Melies, in the sense of the entertainment medium that we mostly mean when we use that term “the movies” … that would obviously oversimplify. But as oversimplifications go, it’s true enough. Here’s an example of his work, THE MAN WITH A RUBBER HEAD, one of my favorites from DVD.

I don’t think I’m the easily-dazzled type (special-effect-o-ramas generally bore me silly), but I don’t see how one’s mouth can’t be agape at that film, and Melies’s others (many, including A TRIP TO THE MOON, available at YouTube). Not because I’ve never seen that trick or don’t know it can be done better today; there’s no question, this is a very simple, primitive movie that doesn’t last as long as a Saturday Night Live sketch, though its comic timing and “sell” is as brilliant as gag-writing gets. But you can hardly watch that and believe … that this was made in 1901.


melies.jpgThat’s twice as close to Edison’s sneeze (1894) as it is to Griffith’s BIRTH OF A NATION (1915 … by which time, BTW, Melies’s career was basically over). That’s as close to the end of the French Revolution as it is to today. I do try generally to watch and judge movies in a decontextualized way (I have TRIUMPH OF THE WILL and EARTH on top of two of my 1930s Top 10s, after all). I try to avoid “grade on a curve” for time, but in this case I cannot. Melies doesn’t allow you to do that, simply because his films so specifically date themselves. For example, look at the “acting,” of Melies himself, in that film I linked to. But at the same time, he shows special effects that seem so FAR ahead of their time that they still work today. Some are even in [gulp] … color … like THE INFERNAL CAULDRON.

Melies also had more of an aesthetic sense than any filmmaker in 1900 had a right to — his camera never moved, partly from necessity, but also because he intuitively picked up that he was putting on a magic show and so the spectator should stay glued in his seat. His set designs were busy, baroque fantasies, painted backdrops of unreality 15 years ahead of CALIGARI and contemporary with HG Wells. Anyone with an interest in scifi or fantasy movies owes it to himself to see where it all began.

But even for me (not generally a genre hound), his films do the most basic thing a film can do — dazzle and amaze. Even when we see through it … it’s as if … you don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.

February 9, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 5 Comments

Enough about Romania

Just a couple of short items …

● A film I saw at Toronto in 2006, VINCE VAUGHN’S WILD WEST COMEDY SHOW was released Friday and I’ve added a link at the right to my review from then. I didn’t really recommend it back then, but I must acknowledge that the memory of it plays better in my head now than the film did at the time.

● I’ve started my 2008 Ten Best List, now that there’s at least 10 films that have releases made or scheduled that I have seen and graded at least 5/”mixed.” This is still only February, so I note simply that there’s only three films on that list that are certain shoo-ins, with two others that are “on the bubble.” The other five, though I’d recommend all at least somewhat, will not even be Honorable Mentions.

● The critics at Christianity Today revealed a couple of days ago their list of the year’s 10 Best Films (technically called Critics Choice), with JUNO on top, followed by the Evangelical Self-Hate Masterpiece THERE WILL BE BLOOD, and ATONEMENT, with NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and INTO GREAT SILENCE on the list. (The slightly different list of the 10 Most Redeeming Films, topped by the German Monk Movie, is here. I’m stunned at the poor showings for HOT FUZZ and GRINDHOUSE!!!) I think I’ll repeat something I said a few weeks ago when the Oscars were announced: that the best films of the year so clearly declared themselves, that there was no denying them.

February 9, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Cristian Mungiu Fan Club continues

4monthsmungiu2.jpgNot really. This is just a simple link … to an interview with 4 MONTHS director Cristian Mungiu that took up a whole hour on NPR’s Fresh Air, and I’ve already listened through it twice.¹

Mungiu talks about a score of interesting topics, besides 4 MONTHS specifically and the artistic choices he made (like never mentioning Communism per se). He talked for a long time about the system of funding movies in Romania, which is still state-run to a significant extent. As he also notes though, domestic private funding is basically nil since the Romanian box office has collapsed to 1/10 of what it had been because the country has so few theaters now. A thriving artistic culture, which includes a domestic movie industry, is part of the national common good and thus a legitimate thing for the state to support if private means do not. Mungiu tells of how he had to take 4 MONTHS on something like an old-style traveling road show, from town to town and village to village, for his film to be seen in much of Romania (a film about that will be an extra on the DVD, he promises).

He also notes that he was born in 1968, two years after abortion was made illegal, and part of the “Baby Boom” that took place in Romania in the first several years of abortion’s illegality. He says matter-of-factly that he was “not a planned child,” and this was something many Romanians of his generational cohort knew since this was something “our parents wouldn’t hide from us.” But most importantly, he says, “it’s not that our parents wouldn’t love us or that my parents wouldn’t love me.” Exactly. The very notion that Parenthood is a thing Planned is a lie or a rationalization. And every unplanned child was once an unplanned pregnancy.

I’m curious also about something Mungiu said at about the 3:20 mark. He’s giving the history of illegal abortion in Romania and noting that it had nothing to do with moral or religious reasons, especially since religion was discouraged under Communism. And then Mungiu says, with the emphasis that this is important, that in Romania “we are Orthodox, we are not Catholic.” Well, I at least knew that much. But its relevance went over my head. I had been pretty confident that the Orthodox Church condemns abortion too (less so, contraception; also outlawed by Ceausescu). So … what, if anything definitive,² does Orthodoxy teach about abortion and contraception? Peter? Rod?
¹ Don’t let the title “Oppression and Abortion” turn you off. That’s the National Pinko Radio headline-writers. Plus there’s no denying by sane people that the Ceausescu regime was (a) oppressive and (b) did not outlaw abortion for good reason.
² I understand very generally that differences in church structures could make this question, or any similar one, a bit more complicated for the East than the West.

February 9, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment