24 August 2006

15. the apartment

another one from grant park.

billy wilder is one of my favorite filmmakers ever. i think the reason i like him so much is the he embodies several things that i love about classical hollywood cinema. first off, he made the kind of pictures that movie stars loved to be in, because he made them look good and gave them snappy dialogue that made them seem cool. in other words, he kept the movie stars glamorous, and we could use more of that these days. he also used the studio system and its genres to explore his own particular worldview, the (in)famous wilder cynicism. finally, he wrote so motherfucking cleanly.

in my own writing, i notice an amateurish tendency to overwrite, or to let the writing be sloppy and not tighten things up (a good example of this is this: the script i sent into sundance is 175 page long!). wilder didn't fuck around like that: his scripts are only as long as they need to be, and once the picture is over, it is over. "shut up and deal." -- what else needs to be said?

the good writing starts from the beginning. with a voiceover and good visuals, we see and discover c.c. baxter's conflict -- he is another new york businessman, lonely, a cog in the wheel. and as much as it sucks, the only way he knows how to get ahead is to let his bosses use his apartment to fuck other women.

crazy premise for a romantic comedy, right? but that's another thing that wilder did well throughout his career -- gave us premises in genres that we wouldn't expect, and , in lesser hands, would probably be a trainwreck. think about "some like it hot": a comedy about the st. valentine's day massacre, with two jazz musicians dressed up as women? what studio head would accept that pitch?

one of the greatest things about this movie is how well it captures the alienation and bleakness of the disconnected modern city-dweller in the 20th century. life stuck in big buildings, or their cooker-cutter cubicles, or elevators, or shitty chinese restaurants, or small apartments with nosy neighbors, and the only outlet or release is a vain search for love. wilder seems to be asking: why do we live like this? and he seems to be answering: because we don't know any better.

15 August 2006

american graffiti

i saw "american graffiti" this past week at the outdoor movie festival in grant park. holy shit! go do this if you have a chance. we sat almost directly in front of the projection truck, the beautiful chicago skyline on the left, a (almost) full-moon on the right, clouds weaving in and out. there's nothing more fun that watching a comedy on a blanket on the grass and laughing along with thousands of other people who also happen to be there. a unique movie experience, to be sure.

now, the movie. it reminds you that george lucas did indeed know how to make movies once, right? and by which i mean he knew how to write believable dialogue and let his actors actually act. the movie is written well, and i think a part of what makes this movie so successful is that it is so personal -- this is george lucas reliving his own teenage years, which of course are so specific and so concrete as to be universal. how many people these days go hot-rodding? how many people listen to wolfman jack? how many people go to a sock hop? but because he makes it about his very specific experiences, it becomes more.

one other thing to say about the movie: the soundtrack! i grew up in the 80's, and for whatever reason, the 80's had a big hard-on for the 50's. so when i was a young boy, i heard a lot of 50's music -- early rock and roll shit. listening to the soundtrack for american graffiti takes me right back to being a kid, listening to those songs around the house on our old sleek silver hi-fi or on our way to fairfield in my mom's shitty toyota tercel. the soundtrack seems like pure nostalgia to me, and it is weaved into every nook and cranny of the movie. it reminds me of "goodfellas" or "boogie nights" -- wall to wall soundtracks give you a mood and an atmosphere that very few other techniques can. wonderful.

12 August 2006

98. the grapes of wrath

see this post for more.

99. the wild bunch

so, the wild bunch. i like this movie. it revolves around a theme that i like a lot in movies, and one that i find myself returning to very often in my own screenwriting: the nature of violence. violence is fucking powerful in film, and if done well it can be profound. one recent example was in "brokeback mountain", several scenes showing how ennis' repressed homosexuality exploded into him either beating bikers up at the fourth of july fireworks, or fighting a man in truck who happened to almost run him over. but in this movie, we see the passing of that violence on, from a wild, out-of-control sense of violence used by the older generation, to a more impersonal and casual use of violence by the younger generation, either through technology or gameplay.

the best example of this is in the magnificent opening sequence, where the wild bunch rides into town as officers to rob a bank, and before and after the actual heist we see a circle of kids placing a scorpion in the middle of a teeming collection of fire ants, who envelope and kill the scorpion. then, as the old robbers ride away, we see a very quick shot of children miming shooting at them.

the second example is when the wild bunch return to the mexican village to find their old comrade strung up, drug around the town square behind a car. to these men, the worst thing you could do is kill by proxy; at least have the decency to shoot someone yourself.

finally, there's a quick shot in the mexican village of a woman breast-feeding her baby with a bandolier of bullets covering the other side of her chest! peckinpah isn't the most subtle of moviemakers in the world, and this is an example.

oh, and did i mention that pike is finally shot and killed by a kid?

so i believe the theme of the movie is the increasingly casual nature of violence and how it is being passed to the younger generation, but the movie also is filled with an atmosphere and stench of death and a passing way of life. it wasn't set in 1913 for no reason -- peckinpah wanted to show the last gasp of the wild west as we think of it, and to show a dying way of life, the kind that is expressed in pike's quote: "we gotta start thinking beyond our guns...those days are closing fast."

this makes sense for peckinpah, who i imagine thought of himself as old-school, old-fashioned, out-of-date, past his prime. he made his movie in the swinging 60's, full of hippies and hair and drugs and all that, and there he was, an anachronistic old drunk. i believe this movie is his elegy for men, who are professionals, who take care of business, who fuck prostitutes, who use guns. no free love, no hippie bullshit. and i think peckinpah used genre to take on his own feelings about society at that point in time, and how he didn't care for what he saw. as pike says: "it ain't what it used to be, but it will do."

that said, i'm curious about why this movie was included in this list. it is well-written, to be sure, but in my mind the greater strengths of the movie lie in the photography, the direction, the music, the acting (especially holden and borgenine), and above all, peckinpah's ability to create atmosphere, usually through editing.