Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Billy Wilder: an Introduction (part 1 - 3)

Billy Wilder is of course among the most loved and well known of all film-makers. And for good reasons. Here are a few scenes that's on introduction to his oeuvre. Follow me:

The first is from The Apartment (1960). A lovely little scene from the greatest of films. Notice Baxter's remarkably direct question to Fran if she's gay. If only it was always handled so casually, like it really was the most natural thing in the world. The film is basically about the immorality of modern life but it's easy to miss since it's such a warm and tender film, so different from much of Wilder's earlier work. It's worth pointing out that Wilder first worked with writer/producer Charles Brackett, from the 1930s to 1950, and that he after that formed a partnership with writer I.A.L. Diamond, from 1957. It's a fair point to say that Wilder's films changed, and became more humane and tender as a result.

The second scene is from Kiss Me, Stupid (1964). It's little known but pure Wilder, and a small delight. It makes vulgarity in to an art form. It's also an example of one thing typical of Wilder, how he plays with an actor's persona. Here Dean Martin's playing a drunk singer named Dino.

The third scene is from The Lost Weekend (1945), a cruel story about a writer who's also an alcoholic. He goes from one humiliation to another during a weekend of angst. It's Wilder's scariest film and the scene I've chosen is one of the writer's hallucinations, and can be interpreted as a struggle between his literary ambitions (the mouse) and his alcoholism (the bat).

Soon I'll continue with more scenes but these three will do for now.






Thursday, 24 September 2009

Aesthetics

To my mission statement the other day I'd like to add that I'm also interested in aesthetics, besides film history. I just realised that today actually. When asked by another student here which film was my favourite from an aesthetic point of view I was first flabbergasted, and said that I couldn't possibly answer that. But then I said Heat (1995). Then I corrected myself and said instead Great Expectations (1946). And then it dawned on me which the right answer to the question was. And now I do stand by that answer.

My Darling Clementine (1946). John Ford at his most magically poetical. Pure perfection. Here's a scene (unfortunately it's not complete, there's a scene in the hotel lobby which is missing, but still...)

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

St Andrews and Sergio Leone

I have finally arrived in St Andrews and my three year spell on Scottish soil will commence! Now I will start to blog regularly again, and let me begin with airing my despair over all the nonsense which is so often presented as film historic fact. The examples are all too many, but the latest I've encountered is that Sergio Leone was the first director to challenge the Hollywood convention of never showing the killer and the person killed in the same shot. If for example a man with a gun would shoot a man to death, you would, according to this theory, first see the killer fire the gun, and then there would be a cut after which you would see the other person falling to do ground. But Leone broke this rule and for the first time showed the killer and the victim in the same shot, without a cut breaking up the action.

It's not 100% clear what the purpose of this convention would be, but what is 100% clear is that I've seen endless examples of Hollywood films, made before Leone began, where the killer and the victim are seen in the same shot, without any cuts. So there was hardly such a convention, and consequently Leone did not break any rules (at least not that rule).

Monday, 14 September 2009

Howard Hawks, scene 2

Perhaps the most important thing about Hawks, and one of the things which make him not only so good, but also so unusual, is how he doesn't really care about story, plot, genre conventions or other superfluous things. Watching people's behaviour under stress is what he's interested in, and making scenes that are playful, personal and improvised, scenes which doesn't drive the film forward but are only there because they are fun, and explains and deepens the characters. Here's a brilliant example from The Big Sleep (1946). Bogart is Philip Marlowe, private detective, and Bacall is Vivian Rutledge, suspect and love interest.

Bergman for sale

Next weekend in Stockholm (when I'm not there) the big Bergman auction will take place. Here's a link if you're a collector: http://bergmanauction.com/

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Uglier Truth

I find it difficult to find enough time to write here, but that'll soon change. Until then just a quick follow-up.

I have now seen The Ugly Truth (my previous post about it is here) and I was wrong because the the guy was not driven away by the brazenness of Katherine Heigl's character, but rather attracted to it. But the rest I got right. I must also admit that after the first half hour, which was rather bad, it improved and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Mission Statement

I'm primarily a film historian, not a film theoretician. That doesn't mean I don't have some thoughts and ideas about film as such, how a film is made, which message, hidden or open, a film might project and what effect it has. But it does mean that I'm more interested in the when than the why and the how. Partly because a theory is just that, a theory, more or less applicable on the world we live in. In my experience, often less applicable than more.

So this here blog that I'm writing is mainly concerned with film history, something you may already have gathered. But new films, which after all are future film history, will also be discussed. When it comes to genres, countries, eras, styles or themes, I have no special preferences. I like anything that's good. You will never hear me say things like "but it's just a western" or "I can't stand French films". If it's good, it's good, and that's all there is to it.

Since I'm doing research on Swedish cinema, and since I've spent the last three years working with preserving and spreading Ingmar Bergman's legacy, there will be a lot written on those subjects. I know there's a big interest in all things Bergman out there and I want to satisfy that interest to the best of my abilities. And the neglected parts of Swedish cinema history, and in particular the work of Hasse Ekman, will also be written about, as well as the rest of world cinema.

And I want there to be an ongoing discussion, so feel free to comment and ask questions.