Rightwing Film Geek

Films of My Life — 2

AMADEUS (Milos Forman, USA, 1984, 10)

Much as I loved THE BREAKFAST CLUB, I would have to say that if I could only pick one movie and say “THAT is the one that made me a critic,” it would be Milos Forman’s AMADEUS.

When it was released in 1984, like most teens I suspect, I wrote it off sight-unseen as another PBS edumacational-type biography about that dumbass classical music composer that your parents and teachers were always trying to get you to “appreciate.” Hard as it may be to believe, I was fairly ambivalent about school; by the standards of Top-10-in-their-graduating-class bookworms, I fairly hated school. Then when it swept the Oscars, again like most teens I suspect, I just thought — well, that’s just those old farts who didn’t even have the sense to nominate BEVERLY HILLS COP.

One Monday night at home, around 1987 or so, AMADEUS was playing on TV on one of San Antonio’s independent channels at 7 p.m. and my father wanted to watch it. I wanted to watch Monday Night Football, which started at 8 p.m. I told him more or less what I just wrote in the previous paragraph. My father, who apparently already had seen the movie, assured me that it was nothing like I thought and that if I promised to sit through the first hour, but didn’t like it, we’d switch it over to MNF.

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September 7, 2010 Posted by | Films of my Life, Milos Forman, Roger Ebert | 3 Comments

The end of an era

It’s the film criticism equivalent of Tiger Woods hypothetically retiring next week or of the death of Ronald Reagan. Roger Ebert is walking away from the show that made him certainly the most-famous and arguably the most-influential film critic ever.

In its various incarnations, from PBS to syndication, from “Sneak Previews” to “At the Movies” to “Siskel and Ebert,” his show was the show that put film criticism into the popular consciousness and made stars of him and Gene Siskel, to the point they were commenting on the Olympics, appearing on Carson and Arsenio, and speaking to Harvard Law School and Playboy magazine (one of only three issues I ever purchased). His reflected glory was even enough to make a star of Richard Roeper, who also is leaving the show, and the breakdown of whose negotiations with Disney apparently created the occasion for Ebert’s official leave-taking. People who have seen him since his jaw surgery had told me they doubted Ebert would ever appear on TV again, because of what the surgery had to do to his voice and his face. This statement though seems to imply Ebert may be back on TV:

The trademark still belongs to me and Marlene Iglitzen, Gene’s widow, and the thumbs will return.

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July 24, 2008 Posted by | Roger Ebert | 3 Comments

Is it a documentary?

Leni RiefenstahlRoger Ebert devoted his Great Movie column last weekend to TRIUMPH OF THE WILL (and I’ll return to that in a day or two), after teasing that fact in his journal. I commented a couple of times on the narrowly vulgar issue of whether she and Hitler were lovers.

But I made another comment that wasn’t posted and I can pretend neither to be pleased nor understand. This is the moderator’s prereogative, of course, but I don’t know what about what follows is objectionable or unpublishable, particularly since a comment about the glories of Soviet Communism did pass the offense test. I flattered myself that perhaps Ebert was gonna make the exact same point in his piece (though I still would have published it; it’s not a blindingly original point that could form the basis of a cribbing charge). But he didn’t.

And here is what I wrote.
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Mr. Urquhart:

The answer is that TRIUMPH OF THE WILL neither is nor isn’t a documentary, but rather, it created its own category in a kind of Hegelian synthesis, and it’s a synthesis that news coverage and politicians since have not been able to do without: The Photo-Op.

That is, “reality” that exists in order for itself to be photographed. When the American president goes for a visit to the flooded parts of Iowa, a significant part of the reason (after all, he can sign aid bills or disaster declarations sitting in DC) is so he can be seen doing it for public consumption, just like all the Nazis marched through Nuremburg in history’s grandest and greatest photo-op. TRIUMPH was something new for politics. And what I said of the Iowa floods is true of any president of any party; I’m not making the childish “Bushitler” arguments of some above.

While TRIUMPH is in no way a “pure” documentary in the way that cinema-verite purists insist, it is just as clearly not fiction — the Nuremberg Rally really did happen as Leni Riefenstahl showed it; and significant events that did not appear in the film happened anyway.

Every time you turn on CNN or Fox News or the BBC, etc., you are watching something that Leni Riefenstahl and TRIUMPH OF THE WILL made possible. Rinse and repeat with ESPN and OLYMPIA (though the details are a bit different), and you have the greatest and most-influential documentarian (and female director) of all time. No doubt about it.

July 2, 2008 Posted by | Leni Riefenstahl, Roger Ebert | 1 Comment