December 31, 2009

favorite films of the 2000s

Film lovers have been making "Best of the Decade" lists for several months now and have been making a lot of noise about it, too. This is my own contribution, but without the noise.

I am still new to this decade's cinema. I only discovered that it appealed to me after watching Cafe Lumiere this past summer, and I have been trying to catch up on this decade ever since. I had hoped that this list-making year-end frenzy would provide a wealth of recommendations for me to study, but alas it is not so. Everybody seems to be recommending Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Lord of the Rings. Woe is me.

I have alphabetized my list using English titles. It does not deviate much from standard arthouse decade lists (update: I have weakened my list with anime), but this might change once I have been better educated on the 00s. I have restricted myself to one film per director. There are 15 films.


5cm Per Second (2007)

Brand Upon the Brain! (2006)

Cafe Lumiere (2003)

Film Ist. a girl & a gun (2009)

I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (2006)

In Praise of Love (2001)

In the City of Sylvia (2007)

Linda Linda Linda (2005)

Love Exposure (2008)

Marie Antoinette (2006)

Medicine for Melancholy (2008)

Nights and Weekends (2008)

Of Time and the City (2008)

Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007)

Syndromes and a Century (2006)

Finally, I take this opportunity to note: on every list I have come across, somebody has commented that they were shocked that their favorite film does not appear on the list. I have not commented on these lists and I am unable to name an absolute "favorite" from this decade, but I want to contribute to the trend. So I wish to say that I am shocked -- shocked! -- that I have not seen a girl & a gun on any other list by mine. What a shame.

Je 6 Expanded to 15
Mr 5 -Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007) +Medicine for Melancholy (2008)

December 26, 2009

ivens, politics, poetry

I first discovered Ivens (like most North Americans, I suppose) through The Bridge (1928) and Rain (1929). Mundell has something to say about this at Senses of Cinema:
These early films -- in particular The Bridge, Rain and Philips Radio -- retain a high critical reputation for their cinematic beauty and formal inventiveness. Film historians place them equally among the founding films of documentary and the tail-end of Europe's silent avant-garde. However, in light of what Ivens went on to do, they are also “safe” films for critics to like. They are not politically explicit and do not transcend what is acceptable in terms of manipulation for the camera. This is Ivens before he was “spoilt”.
I find this argument peculiar. I have always known Ivens to be a political filmmaker -- every blurb about the man tells me so -- and I have never known film critics/scholars to shy away from the political. (By "political" I mean "leftist," as the case is for the 20th century.) Perhaps they are safe choices, as likeable as they are, but I think these earlier films are best known (here to young film-lovers) for reasons of availability. The early avant-garde is quite popular, and Rain fits in perfectly with a DVD release. Ivens's other films, his later political ones, have the misfortune of being original, of fitting into no defined cinematic "movement," of crossing the lines between politics and poetry, "realism" and "formalism," short and feature. I do not think people are repelled by this work (who would call it "spoilt"?); they just do not know about it, or do not know that they could know about it (as it is a rather rogue branch of their standard history).

That is my thesis. Now on to my guilt: of all the Ivens films I have watched this month, it is his least political (and most poetic) films which I have most enjoyed; namely The Seine Meets Paris (1957), ...A Valparaiso (1963), and Pour le Mistral (1965). Especially The Seine Meets Paris. I have conversed with myself for days about the endless beauty and charm of that film.

I have withdrawn myself from politics. But the left still holds my sympathies, and I find no fault with the messages in films like Borinage (1933) or The Spanish Earth (1937) or Power and the Land (1940). At least, I certainly wouldn't call them "spoilt." But nothing compels me to them, either. And I feel guilty for this because the messages are so painfully heartfelt and sincere. Watching an important Spanish soldier in battle while Orson Welles (is it really him?? the credits say so, but I cannot believe it) tells us he died in that battle is quite moving. But why am I left so cold? I know what it is to believe in this cause, and I know that I ought to engage with Ivens's politics with equal sincerity.

OK, then. Sincere question: What is the hoped-for end of these political films? It is this question with which I stumble when considering films from the left. Perhaps the final end is "defeat capitalism," but one does not bring down capitalism with a single film screening (at least, I hope political filmmakers are not thinking this -- what a disappointment when capitalism continues as it always has!). A film is part of a larger process, a brick in the building of "class consciousness." But how to build class consciousness and proletariat solidarity with a film? There are generally two schools of thought answering this question: the realists and the formalists. The formalists argue that the masses have to be agitated out of false consciousness, and thus the formalists use all manner of artistic agitation in their art. The first half of the 20th century was a hotbed for this school. Eisenstein and Brecht are two noteworthy examples. The realists argue that reality has to be "redeemed" in art, and that bourgeois art (as consumed by the masses) creates false consciousness and masks the suffering of the proletariat; only by portraying reality as honestly and brutally as possible will the masses wake up to their situation under capitalism. This school finds roots with Lukacs and the beginnings of Marxist literary criticism, but it really takes off in the latter half of the 20th century after Bazin and Italian Neorealism.

I draw the reader's attention to Ivens's place in this narrative: Mundell thinks Ivens poses a challenge to the "realists," who so dominate our thoughts today, while in the beginning of his political career Ivens was criticized by the "formalists," who did not like his realist approach. What a pickle.

Before I can comment any further on Ivens's own artistic ambitions, I must study up on him some more (and I will, I will -- though I never seem to keep such promises). Mundell identifies his poetic films, the ones I find so wonderful, as his "mature" films. This is encouraging. The serenity of this poetry, though informed by politics, accomplishes so much more on an artistic/emotional level than straight politics does. So I think. But, again, I really need to study up on Ivens, now that I have a solid foundation. I am most curious about how he originally got into politics and into the left. It happened some time between Philips Radio and Borinage (presumably before Song of Heroes (1932)). Amusingly, Ivens's shift from poetry to politics can be pinpointed in a moment in New Earth (1933). Let me tell you about it:

New Earth is adapted from Zuiderzee (1930), a film Ivens made earlier about the Dutch who "set about reclaiming land from the vast northern inland sea, building dykes, pumping out water and creating new agricultural land." This was part of a series of films called We Are Building. It was commissioned by the Dutch construction workers' trade union (Algemene Nederlandse Bouwarbeidersbond -- so the internet says). From this Zuiderzee film, Ivens made New Earth with the help of two friends, Van Dongen and Hanns Eisler.

The first twenty minutes of the film document the building of dykes and the harvesting of the new land. This is all done in a very relaxed style. In the last ten minutes, however (and this is the crystallization of the political Ivens), the film abruptly changes into a charged polemic, yelling at the fatcats atop the Depression who are letting grain rot while thousands starve so that they (the fatcats) can keep prices high. Newsreels of the Depression are cut in to this section (many of these images are also cut into Borinage) and are accompanied by a bombastic voice singing these lyrics (written by Eisler):
they are throwing bread into the flames
they are throwing grain into the sea
when will the bag-throwers throw the robbing fatcats down?
you see, that is strange, my boy!
you see, this will be some winter, my boy!
All that is amusing enough (I enjoyed myself), but what is more amusing is what Schoots has to say about the film. Apparently this political finale was Eisler's idea, not Ivens's (although he went with it). Schoots describes their difference of opinion:
The addition of a political finale was not a stylistic improvement. A film that had formed a superb unity had been extended with an extra reel in which both editing and commentary were glaring and obtrusive. Ivens had sacrificed the form to the message. He realized that it lacked cinematic unity, and hoped to compensate this with 'the uniting strength of the ideas'. Later he admitted that 'for an economist my position is primitive; the film is an appeal to justice, humanity, common sense.' Eisler, on the other hand, was wildly enthusiastic and wrote to Brecht that, in comparison to New Earth, Eisenstein's Potemkin was 'a sickly, rightist-reformist, yes, almost petit bourgeois, concoction.'
One can only admire such humility.

For those curious, Brecht also had an opinion about the film:
When New Earth was completed, Eisler, Brecht and Kisch viewed the results in a private showing. The Czech expressed his doubts about the scene with the grain, whereupon Brecht declared: 'Kisch, this is a classic masterpiece, you're talking rubbish!'
That is enough politics. Poetry is what I crave. I must rewatch A Tale of the Wind (1988).

December 24, 2009

philips radio (1931)

Most of my viewings this month have been Joris Ivens films. This Ivens kick has been long overdue. I have decided to write about some of these films.

Philips Radio began my Ivens kick. As an abstract "industrial symphony" and early silent-sound hybrid, the film is certainly a safe entry point for me. It is beautiful and pleasant...

I write this mild description of the film because other bloggers have not found it mild, beautiful, and pleasant. This confused me.

For example, this guy writes:
The first Dutch sound film, it was commissioned by the Philips Eindhoven company, branches of which refused to show it. This film is openly ambivalent about the factory whose activity it shows.

Glass bulb blowing exerts its usual fascination; the strenuously puffed cheeks are no worse than afflicts a musician playing certain instruments. The tone is moderate; most of the film seems neutral -- although at length this in itself projects something of the dehumanizing factory monotony of Jean-Luc Godard’s
British Sounds (1968) and Pravda (1970)....

Ivens’s film expresses the ambivalence towards the factory that most of us, consciously or unconsciously, feel. Such progress -- at such a human cost.
If this is what Philips Radio expresses, I completely missed it. I saw people at work, all of them quite human. But if this guy's fact about Philips branches refusing to show the picture is true, I really missed something. Perhaps this "pleasant" film is actually critical.

This other guy seems to think so:
At this early stage Ivens already observes social problems. He showed the deadly repetitious action of a boy at a stamping machine where the machine seems to do the thinking and the boy the moving. Hundreds of girls working at the endless conveyer belt - where a girl would be fired if she broke one of the thousands inexpensive bulbs which she handled daily. The glass-blowers rarely live beyond the age of 45 and earn only 10% more than their fellow workers.
Where did these new facts suddenly come from? None of this was in the film I saw. Glass blowers blew and stamping machines stamped and girls did routine routines, yes, but all in a very pleasant way. I saw no injustice or death to speak of. Here are some screenshots of workers; tell me if you see injustice/death:

After reading these strange bloggers, I sought clarity. In Hans Schoots's biography of Ivens, I found it:
The Dutch reviews of Philips Radio were favorable but far from jubilant. A striking number of critics complained that Ivens showed an excessive interest in the machinery and too little interest in the people who worked at it. 'Ivens didn't see any people in the factories,' wrote Het Volk, and even spoke of a 'document inhumain'. The filmmaker himself developed an ambiguous attitude to this piece of work. He sometimes liked considering it a documentary version of Chaplin's Modern Times, but although Ivens also showed man as an appendage of the machine, he lacked Chaplin's critical approach. At other times Ivens simply said that the film gave an impression 'of what a cineaste who is sympathetic to the product sees'. More than anything, his film shows his enormous respect for modern technology, an admiration that was consistent with the aim of the film. During shooting Ivens explained to an NRC journalist: 'The audience has to be fascinated by what it sees, it has to be impressed by the company, so that it goes away thinking: a company with a set-up like this must make a good product.' He had made a company film in pure Neue Sachlichkeit style, something no one could reasonably object to. Although there were apparently some dissenting voices, the management of Philips was generally satisfied and the screening even brought tears to the eyes of old Mr. Philips. A company press release spoke of a 'good modern film', and Philips proudly referred to 'our Ivens film' in letters to the Commission for Film Censorship.
Good. I am right. But what of the places that refused to show the film?
This did not stop the film from being cut for screenings in Rotterdam and Nijmegen. The film was too long to be part of a double feature within a normal program, and as a concession to the theater operators, Philips arranged for it to be shortened. The abstract, experimental ending took the brunt.
I do not know what is wrong with bloggers these days; one is safest not reading them.

As for Philips Radio ... I leave you with images of mechanical abstraction, the beauty that is the film's heart:

December 16, 2009

ticket stubs

This is a follow-up to my previous post.

I have been saving ticket stubs for several years. I remember starting this habit even before getting into film. I did it for no real reason except sentimentality, deciding once I got home that I did not want to throw my ticket stub away. The pile grew for a number of years before, one day, I cleaned my room and either put my original pile into a corner I have not yet rediscovered or else threw it away. According to the pile I have now, this date was some time in the summer of 2007.

But to the point: I had forgotten about my pile when writing my last post. I am looking through it now. On top is THE RED SHOES 12/4/2009 and FILM IST. A GIRL & A GUN 11/18/2009. Digging deeper I find some curious tickets from screenings I can't even remember. Some highlights:

THE 39 STEPS 11/1/2008
LA MARSEILLAISE 11/3/2007 (I have seen multiple Renoir in a theater!)
ROOM AT THE TOP 10/6/2007
CRIA CUERVOS 7/29/2007

This is a very strange and scattered history. I am not all that careful about ticket stubs, and frequently tear them (in which case I do not keep them) or lose them or throw them away by accident. And as a film student, I had many theater privileges which need no ticket. Most of my theater history is thus absent from the current record, and it is sort of frightening to think that if I could forget so many screenings that were on the record, what have I missed that is off it?

At the very bottom of my pile, where my current record begins, are two tickets:
GOLDDIGGERS OF 1933 7/14/2007
I stared at the tickets for a moment before I realized what this meant. "That night was even better than I had remembered." It was a double feature. I listed Brand Upon the Brain! as one of my three best in-theater experiences, and I could not even remember that it was a double feature.

I will pretend this is a comment on how underwhelming my experience with theaters has been.

December 15, 2009

my best theater experiences

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to see The Red Shoes (1948) in a theater, on a newly struck 35mm print. The crowd was fussy, and people were walking in and out of the theater throughout the screening. At every reel change, the sound would cut out for a few moments, stopping sentences short and leaving the ghostly image foolishly mouthing words. And, in the quiet moments of the film such as these, the sound from a particularly noisy film playing across the hall would seep into our theater. These distractions were tremendously unpleasant. I had come for the colors and not for the story (which I consider weak P+P), but still, I would not have minded the total imaginative immersion that the distractions made impossible.

All this set my mind on the in-theater viewing experience. Had I ever had a great one? Were such experiences worth anything?

The theater experience is overrated. Most film lovers adore the theater experience, but when I think of the film theater my first thought is of Sullivan's time with the "farmer's wife" ... yes, that awful. I mostly avoid the theater; admittedly, however, this is because the types of films that get screened in theaters are usually the types of films I think are worth avoiding. (My taste is not of the people's.) Some theater experiences have diminished my respect for a film; occasionally I have walked into a screening of a film I once loved in my youth, quite buoyant with anticipation, only to walk out of the screening disappointed and slightly angry. Such is the case with Fight Club (1999) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). (And I regret to say that The Red Shoes has also fallen in my estimation since seeing it on the big screen (but not the colors!).) The worst theater experiences generate within me a blistering, uncontrollable rage; Inland Empire (2006) and There Will Be Blood (2007) fall into this category, both experiences thoroughly horrific because the theater's sound was too loud. This sort of experience can only be described as physical violence (think A Clockwork Orange). In both instances, I walked out of the theater never wanting to watch a film again, and my pain only increased when I learned that my friends, whom I had hoped were as tortured by the film as I was, had loved it and wanted to see it again. What betrayal! Good friends are hard to find.

Let no one tell me that I must experience a film in a theater. Such people are insufferable. I know that many of them are good at heart and simply think, however naively, that the in-theater experience is the best. But there are many others for whom the theater is a test of legitimacy -- they think that you cannot have a legitimate opinion about a film until you have seen it "how it was meant to be seen." There are many tests for legitimacy, and undoubtedly your opinion will never be legitimate in their eyes. Legitimacy snobs should be shipped to Siberia.

For all that, I have had fine viewing experiences in a theater. They were difficult to remember, but, having dug them out from all the bad and indifferent memories, I have decided that I would not trade them for anything. In fact, I want to share them. Here are my three favorite in-theater viewing experiences, listed in chronological order:

#1. Jaws (1975); fall 2005

Although films had my attention at the time, I was not yet a film-lover -- I was a physics major, and one morning, while I was driving to school, I noticed a multiplex theater sign which read: "Giant Screen: JAWS." I suddenly had something to do that night.

I went to the screening alone. (I would bring a friend along to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) a few weeks later.) At the theater I discovered that they screened "classics" like this every Wed. for a few months in the Fall and that, to my delight, the screenings only cost $5. I had never been this "in-the-know" about films before.

I took my seat. The theater filled rather quickly ... not quite full, but still a few hundred people by my estimate. Hopefully this gives you an idea of how big this theater is. And "Giant Screen" is an understatement. One could land an airplane on it.

This was my first time in such an environment. For those who can imagine it, I need not stress how deeply, profoundly awed I was by the experience. There was so much space, so much noise, so much energy, so much life. That night, I was in love with movies.

But this was years ago. I hate the film now. And I am more than embarrassed that I once fell under the spell of such vulgar hullabaloo. But nostalgia wins this time. For a night, I understood what movie magic meant. It gripped me. I laughed and gasped and sweated and all sorts of weird things with hundreds of strangers, and that meant something. It was a defining moment. In just over a year I would be making the leap from physics to film studies. Although I have life left yet to regret this switch, today I can remember the Jaws screening fondly and wonder at my innocence.

#2. Brand Upon the Brain! (2006); summer 07

Before Brand Upon the Brain! played in Denver, I had known of Maddin only through his short The Heart of the World (2000), which I watched once on the internet. ("Watch" is a curious word for what I do with movies on the internet.) Others had recommended Maddin's work to me, as I had grown fond of early cinema by this time and Maddin, it seems, likes early cinema, too. I was cautious, though. For most people, a pastiche of early cinematic techniques usually just means cutting out the sound (and putting in ragtime music) and color. Sometimes the actors dress in something like old-timey clothes (usually badly done). Nobody pays attention to framing, lighting, editing, camera movement, and every other technique that defines early cinema. They just cut the sound and think it clever. Such pastiches are always painful to watch.

Hearing that Maddin's work was a pastiche of early cinema did not encourage me to see his films. What was worse were the comparisons to Lynch and surrealism. "Surrealism," too, is a completely misapplied and misunderstood technique in film. Please, people, study up on early cinema some more.

All these things considered, I braced myself and entered Brand Upon the Brain!

Before Brand Upon the Brain! started, The Heart of the World screened. I did not know this was going to happen. I was excited to see it for real. In the five minutes between the start of The Heart of the World and the end of it, I discovered that everything people said about Maddin was wrong. This is not a surrealist pastiche of silent cinema. This is something completely different, completely new, completely awesome.

And nothing could have better prepared me for Brand Upon the Brain! My heart was flying. It flew through most of the feature. I wish to describe the sort of impact it had on my mind while I was watching it: with most films, I can grasp an image easily; I can understand it spatially and figure out its place in the broader context pretty quickly. When I cannot work out an image immediately, I ask myself questions and play with the image in my mind. Why this shot? Why this time? How does it fit? In Brand Upon the Brain!, I began by trying to apply the same thought-process; many of Maddin's images are complicated -- they are very expressively shot, and their subject is frequently unreal and surprising, and all of this is made the more overwhelming by the rapid-neuro-editing style Maddin has adopted. The film's incredibly complex images pass across the screen like lighting, and one barely glimpses an image before another strike occurs. All my efforts to stop and grasp the image failed. I could not understand, in expressible terms, what the images meant, and somewhere around "Chapter 6" I stopped trying. One doesn't need logic for Maddin. One needs emotions. I let Maddin's pseudo-retro childhood fantasia flow through me. Those are vague words for a vague experience. I cannot describe what I thought or felt once in the grip of this film, but hopefully you trust me when I say that it was thrilling.

Maddin had me thinking in images, not words. There were times when, because the editing is so frantic, I began to feel as though I were catching the individual frames. And not only those frames, but the moments of darkness that cushioned them. That's right, I saw the darkness on the screen that no one sees thanks to the "phi effect." And ever since that night, when in the presence of some banal moment in other films, I have sought that darkness, have looked for that darkness between the images. It never fails to restore my interest in film.

It was a special night. I became a Maddin fan. I learned that for some festival screenings, Brand Upon the Brain! had live sound performers instead of a soundtrack. That sounded cool. Would that have been a better experience? I doubt I would have seen the darkness in such conditions. The performers might have been altogether annoying. No need for envy. I was perfectly happy with my theatrical experience. Best to treasure this memory. Best to remember the darkness.


I may complain about the theater experience, but I have been lucky enough to see many wonderful movies on the big screen, including my favorite film (listed first): Man with a Movie Camera (1929), Sherlock Jr. (1924) (and many others from Buster), Rules of the Game (1939), It Happened One Night (1934), The Thin Man (1934), Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Lady Eve (1941), Black Narcissus (1947). The list goes on. Comfortable theater experiences. I have also had a good dose of the 60s arthouse experience: I have survived the films of Antonioni, Bergman, Bresson, Fellini, Godard, &c. in the theater. I do not get to the theater often, but I have accumulated a list of in-theater experiences that impresses even me.

And I am usually alone (or virtually alone -- at a screening of Amarcord (1973) this past summer my two comrades fell asleep!). My aloneness also impresses me. It could be that I regard the theater to be so low because I go there alone ... but then I remember that most of my worst theater experiences have been with a group. Also that I was alone for each of the three screenings in my list.

So I have a brief story to tell which, I hope, explains both my mysteriously impressive in-theater list and my preferential in-theater solitude:

On the first Saturday of every month, Starz Denver Film Center, the theater at (what was once) my school, screens a free classic. Many of these films are taken from the theater's small archive, whose history I have heard pieces of but has yet to be satisfactorily explained. In my fledgling film days, these screenings were a blessing -- I could count on going to the theater at least once a month (and the theater is a luxury for a poor student) and seeing a film which was, at the very least, old, which was all I needed to know I would enjoy myself.

I went to these screenings alone, mostly because it is hard to find people willing to see an old movie, even a free one. One month, however, I convinced some friends to go. Or precisely: one friend, his younger brother, and his younger brother's friend (but I consider all three to be good friends). The film was Went the Day Well? (1942). We loaded ourselves with Japanese candy from a nearby Asian grocers before the film. We were all quite happy.

At these screenings, before the feature, the theater also plays a short film (all films selected and introduced by H. Movshovitz), and since this short film is not noted on the schedule, it is usually a surprise. That night, Listen to Britain (1942) played. I had heard of this short before but did not know much about it. I soon discovered that it is a montage documentary. I also discovered that I absolutely loved it. So much detachment and artistry, yet so much pathos! Such a strong propagandistic message of unity and strength, but so little of it feels like propaganda! My brain filled with thoughts and questions. I did not want the feature to start yet.

But it did. And I enjoyed Went the Day Well? a great deal. I absolutely connect with British WWII propaganda and its understated emphasis on British character. Normal, stubborn people continue to be normal and stubborn, in spite of those humorless Germans. Brits don't lose their heads or get sentimental. Went the Day Well? is all about this sort of thing; ordinary Brits do ordinary things which happen to be extraordinary in wartime. And, with all that, the film does something beautifully audacious, in a very British sort of way: the film takes place after the war has ended, even though the war was still happening. Were I a WWII-era Brit exposed to such films, nothing could have stopped me from enlisting.

But enough about the film. It ended. And I was still thinking about Listen to Britain. My friends and I strolled out of the theater. They had enjoyed the film a great deal. That is good, I thought. I was hoping they would enjoy it. But what I wanted to know was: "What did you guys think about the short film that played before?" They hesitated. Nothing to say, perhaps. Finally somebody responded: "What was the short film? I don't remember it."

#3. Major Barbara (1941); fall 2008

This was another such free monthly screening. I had been attending the screenings only rarely by this time since I had become familiar with most of the films they showed, but were they to play nothing but Major Barbara every month I would attend every screening. I had fallen in love with it earlier that year, quite by accident, after stumbling upon a VHS copy of it in the library. This is what a screen version of Shaw should be, I thought.

Every seat in the theater was filled. This happened sometimes. I remember one night when, after having ticketed out a screening of The Third Man (1949) and still having people line up for it, they decided to show the film simultaneously on another screen, and promptly ran out of tickets for two whole theaters. One screen played a 16mm print, the other the Criterion DVD. My friend and I saw the Criterion screening. But The Third Man is one thing, Major Barbara quite another. A lot of this crowd had come after hearing Howie review it on the radio; I do not know what praise he heaped on the film, but judging by the crowd his review must have been stellar. Major Barbara needs the publicity -- if only more critics would follow this example!

When the film started, I worried that the crowd would have trouble understanding the jokes; Shaw's wit is many-layered, and some of the jokes are difficult to catch when they are delivered by thick, lower-class London accents. But the crowd surprised me. They caught all the jokes I hoped they would, and they laughed at many jokes I had never caught. I was surprised. I had underestimated the crowd.

The greatest joke comes in the third act, when Undershaft rebukes his son. I copy it here from the play (slightly different from the film), but change the final lines to the punchline I remember from the film:
STEPHEN. I hope it is settled that I repudiate the canon business.

UNDERSHAFT. Come, come! don't be so devilishly sulky: it's boyish. Freedom should be generous. Besides, I owe you a fair start in life in exchange for disinheriting you. You can't become prime minister all at once. Haven't you a turn for something? What about literature, art and so forth?

STEPHEN. I have nothing of the artist about me, either in faculty or character, thank Heaven!

UNDERSHAFT. A philosopher, perhaps? Eh?

STEPHEN. I make no such ridiculous pretension.

UNDERSHAFT. Just so. Well, there is the army, the navy, the Church, the Bar. The Bar requires some ability. What about the Bar?

STEPHEN. I have not studied law. And I am afraid I have not the necessary push -- I believe that is the name barristers give to their vulgarity -- for success in pleading.

UNDERSHAFT. Rather a difficult case, Stephen. Hardly anything left but the stage, is there? Well, come! is there anything you know or care for?

STEPHEN. I know the difference between right and wrong.

UNDERSHAFT. You don't say so! What! no capacity for business, no knowledge of law, no sympathy with art, no pretension to philosophy; only the simple knowledge of the secret that has puzzled all the philosophers, baffled all the lawyers, muddled all the men of business, and ruined most of the artists: the secret of right and wrong. Why, man, you're a genius, a master of masters, a god! At twenty-four, too!

STEPHEN. You are pleased to be facetious. I pretend to nothing more than any honorable English gentleman claims as his birthright.

UNDERSHAFT. ...You know nothing, and you think you know everything. That points clearly to a political career.
At this, the audience burst into the loudest, longest applause I have ever heard. This was the election season, you see, and we still had a month left until the vote and were all rather exhausted with politics. The applause/laughter was deafening, intoxicating. I have never heard a more beautifully crafted joke receive more beautifully sincere applause. I did not realize Shaw could still be appreciated. I did not expect it. I will never underestimate the crowd again.

A good crowd is worth so much. A bad crowd ruins the whole experience. I had the best possible crowd for Major Barbara. If only Shaw had been there! It is a night I relive with joy. Truly, I had seen Major Barbara "as it was meant to be seen."

That's it for my theater experiences. A smart reader will notice how dull my "best" experiences have been. I bet there are some wild theater stories out there. I would like to hear them. Please tell them.

December 02, 2009

November 09 favorites

Here are my favorite first time viewings from last month (no number, no order):

Berlin Express (1948)

Voici les temps des assassins (1956)

Film Ist. a girl & a gun (2009)

That Hamilton Woman (1941)

July Rain (1966)

Four Seasons of Children (1939)

Prix de Beauté (Miss Europe) (1930)

Because I am about to die graduate and because I am having a number of computer problems (awfully frustrating), I won't be able to update much this month.