Sunday, December 3, 2017

Elia Kazan

Elia Kazan

Host:  Freddy

Freddy's Take:  I stumbled on to Kazan through watching "On The Waterfront". I always try to learn some things about the movies I watch and when I saw that the director had also done famous films such as "East of Eden" and "A Street Car Named Desire" (Stella!!!! Hey, Stella!!!!), I figured I should look into his work more closely. My intention was to have us watch movies from a younger filmmaker, but Kazan intrigued me and I changed my mind. I bought the "Elia Kazan Collection" that was compiled by Martin Scorsese and watched several documentaries. It was quickly apparent that this guy was already one of my favorite filmmakers after seeing the aforementioned movies along with "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn", "Baby Doll", and "Gentleman's Agreement". Over the course of three weeks I watched 10 Kazan films. The guy was a master filmmaker! Each film delivered on the promise of the last one. I can honestly say that his films attack subject manner that is timeless and are still very relevant today. Themes of labor/class strife, racial inequality, media saturation in our culture, mental illness, and sexism. Any movie lover would be doing themselves a favor to look into his work. 

I had so many great films to choose from but I went with "On The Waterfront", " East of Eden", and the terrifically underrated "A Face In The Crowd". "OTW" featured Marlon Brandon, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, and Rod Steiger, as well as the awesome Lee Cobb (12 Angry Men, The Exorcist). The quality of the acting along with the story leaves no doubt as to why this is considered one of the greatest movies of all-time. This was Kazan's answer (explanation?) to his involvement in naming people that may have had ties to communism back during the "red scare", disguised as a film about the mob ran shipping yards in New Jersey. Brando is pretty awesome and the backseat scene with him and Steiger is a piece of classic cinema. "You was my brother. Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit". 

Next up was "East of Eden", starring James Dean. I had seen all of Dean's films (Rebel Without A Cause, Giant) previous to this and while I thought he was solid, I understood what the fuss was after catching "East of Eden" a second time. Dean's performance is raw and real. I couldn't imagine another actor in the role of "Cal". The story is pretty much that of Cain and Abel from Genesis in the the Bible. Betrayal, jealousy, the want for acceptance, and misplaced ambition are all themes and though that's a lot to put on the plate of one movie, Kazan weaves it all into a powerful and touching film. This film elevated my interest in Kazan and Dean. 

The third film should have been easy, right?  "A Street Car Named Desire" seemed like an easy choice, but having watched "On The Waterfront", I felt like we got a sense of how Kazan was great with an almost "play" like script, so I decided to move off the beaten path and choose a film that was not reviewed very well upon its' release but has gained momentum as a classic years after it's release; "A Face In The Crowd". It stars Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal and is a sharp look at how the media (radio, then television) can shape the way people feel about the world around them, lead people to buy products, and how it can even influence the way the general public views a politician. This topic was decades ahead of its' time and it's probably more relevant today than when it was released. Griffith gives a fantastic, over the top performance and Patricia Neal is given plenty of script to work with to develop her strong and savvy character, which was kind of a rarity for women in 1950's era Hollywood. 

The films were the catalyst for a little more conversation than we sometimes get into, so it made me happy to know that even if Chris and Tanner weren't crazy about the films, there were aspects that caught their attention and triggered a want to express feelings about the film. James Dean seemed, in particular, to be a standout in our discussions. I was pleased with the day and look forward to the next get together!  

On The Waterfront

East of Eden

A Face In The Crowd

Elia Kazan discusses working with Marlon Brando and James Dean. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman

Host:  Tanner

Freddy's Take: The only movie by Bergman I had ever watched was "The Seventh Seal" and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I don't suppose it struck me enough to immediately follow up with Bergman. Tanner brought "The Seventh Seal", "Wild Strawberries" and "Persona", so I was going to get exposure to a couple movies I wasn't familiar with at all. 

The films can be a little confusing at times, but I found them to be so much more sophisticated than many (most?) of the American films I've seen from the same time period. I have to learn more about that, as it seems European film from that era were fairly abstract, open, and challenging, whereas American film was much more focused on story narrative and character and were rarely overt on the topics of race, sex, and politics. Religion and death are points that get touched on quite a bit in "Seventh Seal" and "Wild Strawberries" and Bergman never seems to take a very clear stand on just exactly how he feels about either.  I believe these are three movies that I am going to go back to again and in all probability I'll seek out even more of the directors work.  Ingmar Bergman has a new fan.

The Seventh Seal

Wild Strawberries


A short segment from a Charlie Rose interview with Max von Sydow, discussing Ingmar Bergman. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Six Years & Still Going Strong: A Director Day Retrospective

I love watching movies and I have a passion for really good film making and storytelling. The biggest passions in my life outside of family and friends are movies and music. The artistic elements of those things can be both inspiring and worthy of a change or evolution in world view. I've learned a lot about the world, others, and myself through both of those art forms and I've also gotten a lot of entertainment value from them and at the end of the day, isn't that the reason those things are so popular?

I don't really remember how "Director Day" started as a "thing". Tanner and I talked a lot at work about our love of movies. Compared likes and dislikes, spent time spewing quotes back and forth at each other and throwing in the occasional Christopher Walken impression. ("I remember as a child....picking grandmother's lemon...tree") Chris and I had also spent time watching and talking about movies over the years, and we were able to turn each other on to aspects that the other hadn't considered. I convinced him that film was art and could be watched over and over to pick up more detail or to find different points or subtlety (my main argument being "you wouldn't only listen to an album you love once would you?") He convinced me to start following directors more than actors to get a better sense of the art through a body of work presented by the artist (filmmaker). I suppose I thought it would be a good time to get together with a couple of friends and watch movies one Saturday afternoon. I do remember our first DD and that it was Stanley Kubrick we held up for consideration on that day that birthed what I would now call a beloved tradition in my life. 

Kubrick was a natural starting point I guess. He isn't exactly an "old master", but he bridged the gap from the old school factory of Hollywood movie making to the era where the director would become king and have much more control over the actors and story telling. Censorship was starting to fall off and a stark and heightened sense of the world was being allowed more and more. Traditions could be taken on. Sacred cows and institutions could be examined and picked apart and even parodied without fear of having a production shut down. Kubrick pushed the limits at times and probably moved film making more towards honest art as much as anyone could during the 1960's. 

From there we moved on to different eras, different styles and different genres. Chris' first effort was to highlight his favorite director, David Lynch. His love of the surreal and almost psychedelic bend of Lynch films was on full display as he brought us "Blue Velvet" and "Lost Highway" and eased up on us a bit with the politically charged study of American culture/politics "Wild At Heart". The pattern had been set in that there didn't have to be a pattern. Mainstream films as well as non-traditional film would work. It was obvious after the Lynch day that we would be free to subject our friends to movies and directors off the beaten path. We could expose each other to different kinds of films and try to help each other understand our preferences and share conversation about what we liked or disliked. We would be sharing a part of our passion and interests with other people. We were/are a truly captive audience for one another and no matter how challenging it could be at times (ie, The Brown Bunny), we all seemed to welcome the experience. To allow ourselves to see something in a new or different way or even more importantly, to open ourselves up to a movie we may otherwise never consider watching. 

Tanner's first endeavor was Roman Polanski. In his notes, Tanner says "Polanski was a left field choice for me. The only film I had seen of his was The Pianist. I assumed Freddy and Chris weren't well versed with him either. I had always known his name was renowned in the industry, and in choosing him I would open us all up to his filmography. So, I thought "Fuck it. If the movies suck, then at least we know." It was quite the opposite." (Rosemary's Baby was an absolute revelation!) Now, the gauntlet had been thrown down. In only three  days, we had evolved from wanting to share a movie experience with our friends to challenging our friends to exploring uncharted territory together. This also marked what would become how we conduct DD moving forward. We would have a rotation. We had each shared a director, so what next? We could have left it at that, but I decided that I would go again and from there we took turns. Myself, then Chris, then Tanner. Other than having two "special" days devoted to Star Wars (the original trilogy) and 
John Carpenter, we have held on to our rotation. 

We don't really have "rules" and even the name "Director Day" isn't truly indicative of what we can do with our day when it comes around. I have went outside the box a couple of times, devoting one of my days to character actor Harry Dean Stanton and another to Christopher Guest  as I used one of my three selections on a film that he was in (Spinal Tap) but didn't direct,which was sort of a celebration of the "mockumentary". I also had a "BBS" day to celebrate the beginning of the independent film company. Chris held a day for one of his favorite actors, Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  Personally, I think we all like the idea of being able to go outside the box when we want to. To last, an entity has to maintain freshness and interest. We have largely avoided the big name modern directors (such as Spielberg, Tarantino, Scorcese, Nolan, etc), but recently Tanner broke out the Coen Brothers, so he was the first to choose a director that none of us were very familiar with (Polanski) and the first to choose an obvious, modern filmmaker. Having few rules will probably yield some very interesting and engaging days in the future.

Just using my own preconception, I would say that I was probably the first to give us the most conventional and truly mainstream and accessible filmmaker with Cameron Crowe. It's still one of my favorite days that I have hosted. The three films (Almost Famous, Say Anything, Vanilla Sky) I chose are all dear to me and I just wanted to share them. At heart, I really just want to watch movies with my friends and since I loved these so much, why wouldn't I want to spend my day immersed in my interests with two people that I wanted to spend time with? Chris followed suit by going with one of his favorites, Wes Anderson. Another day, when we all knew that the director had a special place in the heart of the host. Who doesn't love Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums? The most challenging day, without a doubt, belongs to Chris and his choice of Vincent Gallo (and the aforementioned The Brown Bunny). I'm of the opinion that it's a good thing to be challenged and Gallo's films certainly do that. Chris also shared facts about Gallo's life and his other interests which added a little mystique and oddity to the day. This was truly a step outside of conventional film making and a bit of a risk for Chris. I think Tanner and I passed the "test". I could appreciate what Gallo brought to the table and how he pushed his audience to the edge of what was acceptable or interesting and maybe even what could be construed as art. It was a day that sparked conversation and in my opinion, the days where we spend some time talking about the film or the filmmaker instead of just moving on, are the best kind of DD's. Tanner came close to this also with his choice of independent movie maker Jim Jarmusch, which also turned out to be an interesting day. "Dead Man" may be Johnny Depps most under appreciated film. We learned that we were safe. We could challenge our friends with the unconventional and not come away feeling like we had disappointed anyone. It's one of those things where we are all open minded enough to engage our friends and take the ride (for better or worse....and so far, always for the better) together. 

I guess to start towards wrapping this up, I want to give kudo's to my peeps for being who they are. It's one thing to know some movies and know some directors, but being able to put the two together and see an emerging trend in style is an added benefit of Director Day for me. Everyone has heard about how great Fellini, Kurosawa, and Lumet are, but I had only seen a couple of movies between the three of them. Tanner exposed me to those directors and although I may have come to them eventually, I may not have and for that this whole endeavor has been worthwhile, if we never got together again. Overall, I'd say that Tanner has probably done the most for my appreciation of foreign movies, which I had previously not had much experience with. Chris has done a great job of bringing some oddity and a surreal nature (Gallo, Cronenberg, Lynch, Hitchcock) to some of our days. I welcome those things, as I want to break out of my own safety net and find new avenues of film to explore. I'd like to think that I have educated and expanded Chris and Tanner's horizons also, with directors like Franklin Schaffner and John Ford and exposure to American originals like the BBS films (Head, Easy Rider, The Last Picture Show). 

When will this end? I don't know. I think when it does, it will likely be organic. I can't see us just deciding to end it, especially since we don't put much of an emphasis on any day being time critical. We generally like to not go more than a couple of months between DD's, but we have had a couple of long spells. We have also had some rapid fire dates too, where we were inspired to follow up as soon as possible! As long as my friends want to continue to spend a Saturday with me, watching movies, I'll be game. Oh, and I'll have the crock pot BBQ or taco bar fired up and ready!  Who's up next!  

Frederico Fellini

Frederico Fellini

Host:  Tanner

8 1/2

La Strada

La Dolce Vita

John Ford

John Ford

Host:  Freddy

Freddy's Take: I got to John Ford through John Wayne and Steven Spielberg. John Wayne is in one of my favorite movies "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" and Spielberg had mentioned the impact Ford had on him as a filmmaker in several interviews, so it piqued my interest. I chose "The Searchers", "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", and "The Grapes of Wrath" as the films I wanted to watch with Chris and Tanner. I love all of those movies and each one also comes from a different period in Ford's career. Each one has its' own flavor. "Wrath" is a story that follows a family across an unfriendly and perilous landscape as they try to survive in post-Dust Bowl America. An America that was becoming more of an industrialized and corporate farming nation, especially in the Midwest. "The Searchers" deals with racism in a post-Civil War America that is quickly expanding westward and is hell bent on seeing manifest destiny through, by marginalizing the native Americans and even wanting their extermination. "Valance" is a story of fact and fiction and an emerging modern world that at one point started making certain kinds of men obsolete, yet held on to their "heroism" through legend and storytelling. Each had it's own style. "Valance" was more of a play, while "The Searches" was a wide screen epic and a beautifully shot visual masterpiece. I hope the day yielded a greater appreciation for Chris and Tanner on how much of an impact that older films play on today's movies when taken into the context of their time. Those old movies had to be subtle in the way they approached big ideas and taboo subjects, but the great directors like Ford, Kurosawa (Tanner), Hitchcock (Chris), and Welles were able to pull it off and that's why they are so revered by many modern filmmakers. We have each now taken a crack at bringing an "old master" into the consciousness of other movie lovers and I truly think we are better film lovers and "students of the game" for it. It was one of my favorite Director Days and it basically marks the beginning of our sixth year into doing these semi-regular get togethers or which I'm very proud to say has lasted longer than any of us probably thought it would. 

The Grapes Of Wrath

The Searchers

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Coen Brothers

Joel & Ethan Coen

Host: Tanner

Freddy's Take: As soon as Tanner announced the Coen Brothers would be the focus of his director day, I knew we were in for a treat. These guys seem incapable of making a bad movie. There are so many great films to choose from that you could just pull three out of a hat and have a great day. No Country For Old Men is one of their best. It has some dry humor and a couple of absurd characters and that's a staple for the Coens. O' Brother Where Art Thou? is a great one too. The humor is much more overt, and it's loaded with off kilter characters from the leads on down to the extras. A very fun movie that an audience of any age can really dig. A Serious Man is one of their lesser known films to the general public, but it's by no means a forgettable film. It's more of a comedy than it seems at first glance, because you have to feel sorry for this "Job" like character that just can't catch a break, but all that happens to him is surrounded by bizarre circumstances. The lead character seems to be an extra in his own life. Another great day of movie watching with my friends!

No Country For Old Men

O' Brother, Where Art Thou?

 A Serious Man