Rightwing Film Geek

AMADEUS blogathon

The previous post, which obviously took a while to wrote and reflect on (hence my lack of Top 10/Skandies updates), was made as my commitment to an AMADEUS blogathon, led by my bud Bilge Ebiri, who also has a post linking to all the other posts in the Blogathon. The links I reproduce here (you can also obviously go to Bilge’s site too) as reciprocation and thanks to everyone else for participating.

Peter Labuza on Milos Forman’s use of music.

Matthew Wilder on AMADEUS as an 80s film.

Glenn Kenny on the literary origins of AMADEUS.

Paul Clark on his personal history with AMADEUS and Mozart.

Zach Ralston on Salieri’s musical talent — as a critic.

Andrew Welch applies Graham Greene’s theory of film to AMADEUS.*

Tim Grierson on audience identification in AMADEUS.

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* Look for that theory tomorrow (I promise) when I wrote about #9

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February 10, 2012 Posted by | Blogathons | 2 Comments

Blog Me Amadeus: The Homily on Salieri

“For by grace you are saved … not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no man may glory. For we are His workmanship.”

— St. Paul, Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 2

When describing AMADEUS, Salieri is frequently described as an initially pious man who turns against God because He gave Salieri the gift of the love of music while giving the gift of music itself to Mozart, an impious clown. I myself used almost those exact words a couple of years ago when describing the effect seeing AMADEUS had on me in the late-80s. While it is obviously correct as a description of the general narrative trajectory, I used one word there that is significant. “Initially.” The central event is the tossing of a crucifix on the fire, and the whole back half of the film is about an explicitly-named plot against God.

Or so I thought.

When I looked at AMADEUS again a week ago for this blogathon, I had religious questions and issues in the front of my head because I had told Bilge in vague terms that I would write something about how the character of God is presented. This caused me to look more closely at the ways in which Salieri describes his piety, and to privilege mentions of religiously-fraught details. Viewed in that light, the film turned itself upside-down from how I had previously seen it. Never before had I seen how spiritually inevitable it was and how Salieri’s undoing was the result of his own vices, which he sees as virtues. AMADEUS is not the story of a pious man cruelly treated by a Tyrant-god given to cosmic jokes (though that IS how Salieri presents it). Rather, it is the story of an impiously proud man who tries to exercise Providence as if he himself were God.

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February 10, 2012 Posted by | Blogathons, Milos Forman, Religion in movies | 2 Comments

White Elephant Rap

COOL AS ICE — David Kellogg / Vanilla Ice, USA, 1991, 11

All right stop collaborate and listen. Ice is back with another new invention. Take heed cause he’s a thespian poet. Miami’s on the scene just in case you didn’t know it.

In order to get to make his cinematic magnum opus, COOL AS ICE, one of the staggering masterpieces of the cinema, Vanilla Ice had to rise from the ghetto, where he and his homey Luther Campbell were hanging, smoking endo, sipping on gin and juice, laid back, with their mind on their money and their money on their mind. His autobiography “Ice by Ice: The Vanilla Ice Story,” chronicles his life in the various street gangs of Miami (FL), to his successful drag-racing career, and even to his brief yet torrid affair with Madonna (or was it Tiffany?), this masterpiece is a must-read for any self-respecting, red-blooded american, whether literate or not. It really doesn’t matter. The book is that good. yup yup.

After shaking the foundations of music in 1990 by inventing hiphop with “Ice Ice Baby,” the first rap hit to reach #1 on the Billboard charts, Mr. Ice went on to conquer the world of movies the next year with his smash-hit masterpiece COOL AS ICE, proving that he was every bit as great an actor as he was a rapper.

All right stop collaborate and listen. Ice is back with another new invention. Take heed cause he’s a thespian poet. Miami’s on the scene just in case you didn’t know it.

Let’s start with the box, which right away indicates what a major achievement COOL AS ICE is. For starters, it only comes in a “Special 2-Disc Edition,” a sure sign of quality. The tagline describes the superhuman powers Mr. Ice will possess: “when a girl has a heart of stone, there’s only one way to melt it. Just add Ice.” And in homage to the tradition of early silent films, Dogme, Carl-Theodor Dreyer and other cinematic giants, the box features no general cast or credit list. The back of the box does, however, mention “cameos from Naomi Campbell and Bobby Brown” and Mr. Ice’s landmark role in “famously sampling Queen and David Bowie’s UNDER PRESSURE,” which brought those artists to a new generation of music fans and assured they would be remembered to this day.

In a similar way, Mr. Ice updates, and thus makes more relevant, elements of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and THE WILD ONE, following in the tradition of James Dean and Marlon Brando. He plays a misunderstood outsider from nowhere who dresses different from The Squares, and is devoted to The Girl as he is kind to Negroes, and rides a motorbike. In COOL AS ICE though, the star adopts a more heroic role, winning the nice girl, rescuing her brother from kidnappers by beating up two ex-cops with his fists single-handedly, and persuading her father that he shouldn’t be suspicious of him. Then he leaves with The Girl, for some unknown period, they know not where, and they never even had a chance to thank him. Mr. Ice’s performance rivals Mr. Dean’s and Mr. Brando’s in its laconic quality. Can you imagine Mr. Dean and Natalie Wood doing better with this exchange?

Ice: So, how long you lived here?
Girl: All my life.
Ice: So, what’s it like?
Girl: What do you mean?
Ice: Y’know, having parents and all that stuff, a brother, all that stuff.
Girl: It’s nice … You can always depend on them.
Ice: I guess … So, whaddya wanna ask me?
Girl: Nothing. Where are you from?
Ice: Around.

All right stop collaborate and listen. Ice is back with another new invention. Take heed cause he’s a thespian poet. Miami’s on the scene just in case you didn’t know it.

Mr. Ice is totally at home with dialog that, I tell you, Hemingway himself couldn’t match. There’s also Lubitschian bon mots like “See ya later, Dick,” to a character named “Nick” and “Drop that zero and get with the hero!” And dialogue that states a personal credo, like “You ain’t being true to yourself, you ain’t being true to nobody. Live your life for someone else and you ain’t living. Straight up fact.” Since this dialog blazed across the screen in 1991, you can hear its influence everywhere. Being true to yourself and ignoring others above all has since become the Credo of youths born into the world Vanilla Ice created. In addition, look at the speech patterns — you can almost hear the hashtag in that last sentence, as if Mr. Ice is anticipating the fractured, truncated speech rhythms of the Twitter generation of which he was an avant-garde definer #word

COOL AS ICE also tackles such hot-button issues as racism and classism. The Girl is dating a guy who drives a white Corvette convertible and who is a rich square who just wants to destroy a homey’s motorbike for no reason at the lame-ass Sugar Shack club. Fortunately, Mr. Ice also easily topped Brando and Dean in the category of menacing badassness and whips four guys at once. While bustin a dance move or two — influencing Brazilian capoiea. COOL AS ICE also raises awareness about date rape in a scene where the Bad Boyfriend said “All you’ve been saying lately is no,” and The Girl says “Well, no means something.” COOL AS ICE also makes a timely statement about police abuse — The Girl’s father is in the witness protection program, now hounded by the two crooked ex-cops he fingered. Fortunately, Mr. Ice kicks their asses too. And to top it off, the closing credits contain the line. “B kool, stay in skool,” something very relevant to being good and stuff.

All right stop collaborate and listen. Ice is back with another new invention. Take heed cause he’s a thespian poet. Miami’s on the scene just in case you didn’t know it.

The power and influence of Mr. Ice’s performance goes down to such things as his jacket — emblazoned with messages like “Down by Law” that cover the whole jacket, influencing tattoomania, the cars and jumpsuits of NASCAR drivers, the T-shirts and trunks of every UFC fighter, and the entire wardrobe of documentarian Morgan Spurlock. The jacket also serves as a symbol of his individuality and his belief in personal freedom. Only he doesn’t have to tell us that #cuzthatshowhehangs

But COOL AS ICE is a musical, and this is its center. After an overture number at a Music Factory (featuring Miss Campbell’s singing) the first musical number is when Mr. Ice and his posse go into the Sugar Shack and see that the music ain’t down and happenin, and so Mr. Ice races to the stage. His charisma stops The Girl cold and his mad skillz is so awesome that the film has to crawl to a stop to accommodate it. Why’s he so awesome? The title says it: he’s the people’s choice. (I found out, thanks to this song BTW, about a Rhythm & Blues  group from the Olden Days called Sly and the Family Stone and their cut “Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself Again.” I gotta look up their stuff some day.) The “People’s Choice” number I can only praise by adding it to a short list: Whatever Ice is doing while he performs that song isn’t merely singing; it’s whatever Rita Hayworth did in “Gilda” and Marilyn Monroe did in “Some Like It Hot,” and I didn’t want him to stop.

Mr. Ice’s performance and music are for the ages. His music paved the way for some performers as Snow, New Kids on the Block, and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. And his cinematic and TV career went from strength to strength along the path blazed by COOL AS ICE — TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 2, CIRCUS OF THE STARS, JUGGALO CHAMPIONSHIT WRESTLING (Mr. Ice’s influence on John Cena can hardly be denied), THE HELIX LOADED, THE NEW GUY, THE SURREAL LIFE, DANCING ON ICE and he became his own auteur in THE VANILLA ICE PROJECT

All right stop collaborate and listen. Ice is back with another new invention. Take heed cause he’s a thespian poet. Miami’s on the scene just in case you didn’t know it.

The cinematic virtuosity on display in COOL AS ICE also staggers the imagination. The movie is lensed by Janusz Kaminski, kicking off a decade of greatness that would include two Oscars for Best Cinematography. From the ultra-modern sans-serif fonts on the opening title-credits to the plastic-pastel colors — bright orange jackets, shocking yellow motorcycles, the Pee-Wee’s playhouse bike-repair shop with Belinda Carlisle-video globes — Mr. Kaminski and the production designers here vividly create a pop-art world of suburban ennui.

Director David Kellogg’s extensive experience with Playboy playmate and calendar films serves him well with this project — smoke and haze in the background to make cheap sets not look like sets and other clever workarounds. For example, lacking a ramp or other device to launch a motorcycle into mid-air and jump Evel-Knievel-style over a fence and (later) a Corvette, he simply stages the scenes without any physical means the better to underline Mr. Ice’s superhuman powers. He also brilliantly combines the music and the narrative by having Mr. Ice figure out where the kidnapped boy was being held by using his keen ability to hear things hidden in the background of tapes. The editing strategies in COOL AS ICE are as radical as Godard’s. For example, there is a scene where the phone cords — having been ripped out of the wall by the ex-cops while kidnapping the girl’s little brother — have been restored and repaired in time to later have the father call 911. Kellogg goes beyond BREATHLESS’s jump cuts within a scene to jump cuts that CONTAIN a scene.

But sometimes, it all does comes back to Beavis & Butt-head …

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April 1, 2011 Posted by | Blogathons, David Kellogg | 4 Comments

‘Sadist’ explanation

I suppose I left that title and the premise unelaborated on in my last post.

My review of L’INTRUS is part of the 4th annual White Elephant Blogathon, which is being run this year by my bud Paul Clark and which I am joining for the first time. The premise is that everyone submits a movie for someone else to write on. Being sadistic hipster juveniles, most of us put into the pool a film they know is bad or is widely reviled. Paul then assigns the films “randomly” (somehow, I, a Claire Denis nonfan wound up with the only art film in the pool). Everyone who submitted a film has to write about his assigned film and publish it on his site on a fixed date, Tuesday in this case.

At the link above, Paul provides the titles and sites for the blog-a-thon participants — highly recommended, even (especially) if you haven’t seen the mostly terrible movies (I mostly have not). Some are laugh out loud funny, including one, by Dennis Cozzalio of MANNEQUIN 2, that’s an even more elaborate conceit than my “Review of Denis in the Style of Denis” stunt. And there’s also this “rousing defense of the Hays code” that includes some little known facts of cinema history, from KC, reviewing the masterpiece OLGA’S GIRLS. But a buncha fun reading available there.

Paul also says yours truly was his most anticipated review — random, my bloomin arse. In the immortal words of Bea Arthur as Maude, “God’ll get you for that, Paul.”

I notice also that my submission has not appeared yet. I can’t imagine why. It’s widely regarded as one of the greatest films of its kind ever, a feminist landmark and easily the most-canonized title in this blog-a-thon. However … well … let’s just say it poses a problem or two of perspective. (Hey … just because I accused Paul of being a sadist doesn’t mean I’m not.)

June 15, 2010 Posted by | Blogathons, Paul Clark | 1 Comment

Paul Clark is a sadist

L’INTRUS (France)

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Which is annoying, isn’t it?

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June 15, 2010 Posted by | Blogathons, Claire Denis | 1 Comment