• Drunk Napoleon

    Why was everyone in 1928 writing about houses?

    More importantly, what did we watch?

    • Drunk Napoleon

      LOST, Season Five, Episode Two, “The Lie”
      “We can’t even get fire!”
      [gets hit by flaming arrow]

      “Look, everything’s gonna make sense, I promise!”
      “It better!”

      Ana Lucia’s ghost shows up to help Hurley and give him a plan when Sayid is knocked out and he’s panicking. Once again, the mythology pushes the story where the writers want it to go, but this time instead of obscuring logistics, it’s to help a character whose skillset is way outside what he needs to accomplish. Speaking of once again, this episode, just like the previous, opens with a flash – the moment when the Oceanic Six all agreed to lie to the world – before moving onto the drama.

      What’s powering the engine of the Oceanic Six storyline is the their loyalty to one another – Ben’s constant lying finally gets into a Boy Who Cried Wolf situation when Hurley turns on him, partly motivated by Sayid telling him to do that. It’s the advantage of long-form storytelling; I absolutely buy into their camaraderie.

      Yesterday I joked about Dwayne the accountant; today he shows up in the form of Neil, aka Frogurt.

      Penny is with the Oceanic Six when they make their decision, and it’s really weird seeing her with them.

      Ownage: The time travellers are attacked by Dharma Initiative people, and Locke saves them with his knife skills.

      I was also gonna do an essay on Steve Billings and how he’s a great dramatic character and what I learned about dramatic writing through studying him, by unpacking the path from “From now on, whatever’s between zero and the city-mandated minimum? We’ll call that the Billings,” to his rage at the child predator, only to discover that the iconic line happened not in season five like I remembered but season seven, while the SVU moment happened in season six. I still stand by the quality of that line, and the basic principle I was setting up works and explains why Billings works so well – you establish a moral outlook as simple, clearly, and unsubtly as possible, and then find out what will make the character back off from it. I just lost a really simple, clear example of it (in my head it went “Zero, city, Billings” -> Billings is lazy at crime scenes -> Billings can’t bring himself to be lazy with a child predator).

      Hell, while we’re here, I’ve been working out each Shield protagonist’s greatest moment of ownage. I’ve just about got everyone, but I’m still stuck on a few. I’m not just doing this for kicks either; I’m tooling about with the idea that the greatest and most cathartic moments of ownage are tied into character, being tied into a character’s specific skills and motivation – e.g. Julian’s great moment is fueled by all three parts of himself, his homosexuality, his Christianity, and his status as a police officer; Dutch defeats Shawn from Rockford with both psychological insight and his own insecurity. Only Aceveda would have threatened someone with a detailed list of the ways their life could be ruined; only Claudette could have broken someone with sheer force of will.

      Vic: “Sweet butter”
      Shane: ???
      Lem: ???
      Ronnie: “No. No, that won’t be necessary.”
      Claudette: “No.” [closes door]
      Dutch: “How come a lowly civil servant like me just caught you?”
      Julian: “The feel of another man’s penis?”
      Danny: ???
      Corinne: “You have to pay some kind of price!”
      Aceveda: “You want to know what I can do?”

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        I’d also mention Aceveda’s glorious, uber primal beating of Pezuela.

        I’m having genuine trouble thinking of lasting ones for Danny, Shane and Lem.

        • Drunk Napoleon

          Despite wallflower getting Lem’s below (I woke up remembering him falling flat on his ass after his moment of ownage) I actually don’t mind Lem not getting one, because he never was about ownage – of all the characters, he was the one who was in it to help people.

      • Shane: “Oh I am just so tired of this” followed by “Enjoy the wheelchair, asshole.” (Most Shane ownages involve beating up suspects.) Not ownage, but a characteristic Shane line: “God dammit Deena!”

        Lem: Three guys jump Lem, he takes out two of them. Not ownage, but recognition: “I want this.”

        Danny: again, not ownage, but defining: “No sir, you’re a suspect because twenty people who look like your brother killed 3000 Americans,” maybe the most purely cop-like moment on The Shield.

        Very good adaptation of Billings’ morality as a general principle. The way I frame it: 1) establish the character’s morality; 2) arrange incidents (as few as possible) to take them to the limits of that morality; 3) what will they choose at the limit?

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Yeah Shane’s ownage isn’t like permanent or anything, its just more beatdowns and petty rage. What’s the “so tired of this” scene?

          • It’s a mid-season-two moment where the Team goes after someone who (I think) stole Van Bro’s wheelchair, and Shane has had enough of interrogating and just goes straight for the beating.

            Part of what’s so painful about Shane in the final seasons is his recognition how fragile his power always was.

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            Yup exactly – his last scene in “Possible Kill Screen” is perfect in showing how without the badge he’s just an unstable fuck way too prone to violence and large emotions.

          • Drunk Napoleon

            Yeah, the most powerful moment of Shane ownage I could think of was “f****t n****r son”, which suits Shane as well because a) it’s incredibly violent and bigoted b) motivated by a desire to save Vic and c) blows up in his face and sets up Antwon’s epic response.

        • Drunk Napoleon

          It’s a helpful way to understand why drama can’t be subtle, too. You have to know what the character wants, and you have to know it as soon and as clearly as possible.

    • The Wire, season 2, episodes 3 and 4 – this season is slowly coming into focus, and as well as a couple of welcome returning faces (Bubbles, Omar) these episodes give us a “gang gets back together” moment that feels exciting and satisfying even if Rawls won’t let McNulty out to play. The various players down at the docks are starting to feel a bit more fleshed-out now, and by “fleshed-out” I absolutely do mean that we get to see Ziggy’s dick again.

      Highlights: That amazing dialogue-free scene of Daniels and Greggs sharing awkward meals with their partners after agreeing to join the detail. Valchek actually listening to Prez for once. Nick and Ziggy selling cameras to one of the Greek’s minions (who has way more character than the Greek or his other associates thus far). Avon’s prison plan somehow being even more brutal and cruel than anything he did outside. Beadie pronouncing “Le Havre”.

      Speedy – many years after loving Safety Last!, I finally got around to watching another Harold Lloyd film, and it was very nearly as good. The first half (or so) – Harold’s various jobs, a sweet and funny romantic outing to Coney Island, lots of cute dog and an extended Babe Ruth cameo (!) – is absolutely amazing; I didn’t find the all-action finale quite as compelling, although it’s extremely impressive. The New York locations are amazing throughout though, and the Criterion restoration is one of the absolute best-looking silent films I’ve ever seen. And oh hey! It’s from 1928. Only cursory mentions of houses, though.

      • silverwheel

        That scene of awkward meals is a great example of the show growing subtly more stylized without breaking the realism of its approach.

    • More Men in Black animated. The fourth season mixes things up by finally moving its version of L out of the lab and onto the streets, giving her an alien partner with an attitude, and adding a new alien scientist. The changes aren’t huge, but they do tamp down the rut the show was getting into. Of note is that the alien cop was voice by Adam Baldwin prior to Firefly, and that they fired Jennifer Lien from the role of L (that actress could not catch a break).

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      Half of Apollo 13 – I kind of wonder if this movie isn’t subversive or sly enough for me to really take a strong interest in it but I like the procedural and professional elements of the movie enough that it isn’t a huge problem. I think I also wish Howard was a riskier filmmaker (the best shots here are like the Valve shooting off, very much like a horror film in Something going Terribly Wrong).

      New Girl, “Parking Spot” – Season Two is the best and this is such a classic piece of farce, in particular the race for the spot. I wonder how accurate this is to LA in terms of people desperately needing permanent parking (it feels right at least).

      Truly accurate: Shivrang totally having a condom justttttt in case his date works out and having to admit it in front of Cece.

      • The Narrator

        Occasionally I see people comparing Ron Howard to Michael Curtiz or a similar Golden Age of Hollywood journeyman, but there’s a big difference between being unshowy but attuned to the material and just making dull filmmaking choices that don’t really help the material.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Curtiz makes all the right choices, Howard makes the uninteresting ones.

      • Miller

        I am trying not to scoff my head off at the idea that people in snow-less LA would have parking concerns. In a related story, someone took the spot I shoveled out last night and Vince Vaughan’s opening scene in Brawl In Cell Block 99 took on a whole new resonance.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Woof! Yeah, that’s no fun. Small towns are nice I imagine because there’s no competition for your space. You can just put your car somewhere and no one’s gonna give you a ticket or eye you angrily for grabbing the spot first.

          • Miller

            Boston is now a week out from the storm that dumped all the snow and space saver tensions are running extremely high. I’m astonished that, as far as I know, Law and Order never made a “killed over a space saver” episode, maybe it’s too provincial?

        • pico

          I agree (having lived in a snow hell of Michigan for years), but then again, the idea of having to find parking in L.A.’s Koreatown around dinnertime is enough to make me reach for the bottle, so….

      • Ron Howard is definitely not a very interesting director, but I think his lack of style is a good fit for Apollo 13. Some of the “oh shit, this really happened!” moments worked particularly well for me because they weren’t depicted in a flashy way.

        That said, I’d like a totally stylised version as well, to check. In fact this is probably why I’m the one person in the world (seemingly) who absolutely loved Mission to Mars.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Yeah I can appreciate the meat n potatoes style of the movie but thats what makes it comfort food to me and not something I could watch on repeat.

        • The Voice of A Gnu Generation

          No love for The Paper around here? It’s got everything: a sweltering, summer day in early 90’s NYC shot in a verite style unusual for a Ron Howard movie, Michael Keaton getting nuts for the truth, Randy Quaid acting normal on camera (but secretly nuts off camera), Marisa Tomei waddling around pregnant, Robert Duvall killing it as the editor with a colon the size of a bagel. And this great exchange between Quaid and Glenn Close:

          “A bullet came through the wall. Why did a bullet come through the wall?”
          “To get to the other side?”

          So in short: I like The Paper

          • I haven’t seen it, but based on that write-up it’s going straight onto my watchlist.

      • Apollo 13 needed to go one of two ways to work, broader or narrower. As it was, there wasn’t enough procedure to geek out about (like The Martian),* and there wasn’t enough context (like The Right Stuff) to keep it from being generic.

        *I wholeheartedly endorse this:
        https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/the_martian.png

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Yeah, its, like, fine!! No real problems with it.

          I do love Gary Sinise’s slow burn anger turning into sad acceptance that no, he’s not going on the moon.

          • Miller

            What’s fun is picturing him being eaten alive by that anger over the coming decades, leading him to ultimately kidnap Mel Gibson’s kid. The Ron Howard Cinematic Universe!

          • Jake Gittes

            Gary Sinise is one of those quintessentially 1990s actors I wish would pop up again in something eye-catching. Not sure he himself is particularly interested in that these days, though.

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            Yeah after he signed onto CSI NY it seems like he was just done. It’s a bummer.

          • One of the great theater productions I missed: Sinise and John Malkovich as the leads in Sam Shephard’s True West in the early 1980s. Road map, etc.

          • pico

            I got to see John C. Reilly and Phillip Seymour Hoffman do True West back in 2000.

          • You magnificent bastard.

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            Much like how I feel when people say they got to see Hoffman and Garfield in the production of Death of A Salesman directed by Mike Nichols…fuck you.

          • pico

            *doffs hat, bows*

          • This is why it’s all the more delightful that Gary Sinise DOES get to go to Mars, in Mission to Mars!

      • I am one of those people who laps up books and articles about the space program. And while the fictionalized account of what happened on Apollo 13 is pretty good, it’s not as good as the book Lovell wrote. And that book isn’t exactly objective.

        What I saw of From the Earth to the Moon was better. It never got very subversive, but it was came closer in little ways. (Alas, we somehow lost interest after Apollo 11. How ironic.)

        • I’m going to give From the Earth to the Moon a long-overdue watch once I’ve gone back through The Wire.

          I love space program stuff too. Have you read Moondust by Andrew Smith? I really enjoyed that one.

    • Miller

      Crazyhead, first two episodes — British TV comedy/drama in a Buffy vein, two young women team up to hunt demons. There is something faintly but noticeably off in most British TV comedy for me, the only one that has entirely worked is Spaced (and Monty Python of course). The rhythm and pacing and performance are not bad, just like inferior versions of an American style. While Spaced and Python have their own unique styles. This isn’t bad but isn’t doing it and the second episode in particular relied heavily on the tedious trope of characters trying to lie and doing a wackily bad job of it – not unique to the Brits by any means but rarely good in general.

    • I saw I, Tonya…which was everything. And it felt like it was made exclusively for me. It’s some weird combination of Lifetime movie of the week and To Die For with filmmaking style courtesy of Magnolia (it even includes Supertramp’s Goodbye Stranger from that film). I’m in love.

      I also saw the first 90 minutes of Call Me By Your Name before walking out. I have not had the best time with gay movies this year, considering I hated God’s Own Country, thought Beach Rats was a straight woman fetishizing gay boys, and there were a couple other OK movies that I hestitate to call film. This one is no exception, in no small part because I hate James Ivory. I once started an adventure to make a super cut of all the heterosexual sex scenes in Merchant Ivory films as I found them to be an interesting case study of gay men doing straight sex scenes while being cautious and timid around homosexuality. This pattern continues even after Merchant’s death with a movie that’s about fondly yearning for a more closeted time when high school boys would yearn for hot guys who may or may not be open to their lustful same sex desire. Oh god, I do not want to return to that time. I don’t want to return to the time when dad accuses you of being homophobic while saying the gay couple is ridiculous. And I did not want to watch two fucking straight sex scenes only to have the camera tastefully pan away for the gay sex scenes. Fuck James Ivory. Fuck Luca Guadwhatever. Fuck this movie. And fuck your goddamned watersports fetish. How many goddamned shots of guys pissing does a movie have to have?

      • The Narrator

        Okay, but Sufjan’s still cool, right?

        • I don’t know. Who is he? Did I even make it to one of his songs? I walked out well before the finale.

          • pico

            There are three songs in there, the first is about midway through, the second opens the very last act, and the third closes the film. So probably not.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Not gonna lie, Sufjan Stevens doesn’t really fit my definition of cool, and the definition includes a lot of people.

          • The Narrator

            Look, if it’s not “cool” to release folk, Christmas, and occasionally electronica albums about personal traumas, who among us can really claim to be cool?

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            Millions!

          • This comment really goes with the avatar.

          • The Voice of A Gnu Generation

            My mom says I’m cool.

          • If we’re talking about “cool” in the traditional sense of jazz/hip cool, then I’d say the only time Sufjan really hits that is in his live performances, which are very much couched in irony and visual grandeur.

          • pico

            I think the closest he’s come to general pop-culture coolness was over 12 years ago, when he released Illinois. Best-reviewed album of the year, lots of press profiles, very much the “in” thing. He was even on the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack.

            But that sorta thing is fickle, so even though he’s doing much better work now (I love “Tonya Harding,” no apologies), I don’t think he’s considered very cool outside very small circles. Like mine!

        • Judging by his song Tonya Harding, no…he’s not cool. That was a painful 30 seconds I’ll never get back.

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            Stevens is a talented songwriter but his gasping tremors voice really pisses me off sometimes.

          • He reminds me of the super sensitive emo wave of music that followed the metal and grunge eras. It’s like the Goo Goo Dolls and the Decembrists of the new millennium.

          • Are the Decemberists emo?

          • I dunno. The kids I knew who liked them seemed emo. And the couple of songs they liked were kind of Sufjan Stevens heartfelt whatever.

          • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

            I wouldn’t say emo, but they tend toward the precious and twee. I like the Decemberists (at least their early work; I haven’t kept up) but the “sensitive and precious man” style in rock is something that doesn’t leave much room for error: If it’s not great, it quickly curdles into being insufferable.

          • Yeah, totally.

          • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

            (Side note: This is the reason why I think the best thing by far Ben Gibbard has done is the Postal Service; Jimmy Tamborello’s funky, staccato electronic beats provide a great counterbalance to Gibbard’s precious romanticism.)

          • Miller
      • Oh yeah, that’s the sweeeeeeeeet Kassendorf hate for the new year. Fuck This Movie needs to be your first book or at least a tag around here.

      • pico

        For what it’s worth, my husband’s negative reaction to Call Me By Your Name was similar: he said it was basically every cheesy gay movie he watched in his late teens/early 20s, just with a bigger budget and more competence behind the camera. And of course, everything you say about the sex is spot-on. Did you know they had to digitally remove Hammer’s balls in a few scenes, because the shorts he was wearing were too short? It’s all I could think about when the movie was ogling female breasts.

        What I did like about the movie was the unhurried languor (I can watch a whole movie about people lying around in the sun… Oh, hey Blissfully Yours!), but ultimately left unsatisfied. Chalemet is great, maybe the best performance I’ve seen all year, but the movie itself was not among my favorites.

        • I was looking for his balls in those short shorts. How dare they digitally remove them! I think this movie is for gays of a certain age and “class,” and for straight women.

          • pico
          • 2018 is gonna have some stiff (is phrasing still a thing?) competition in the Most Unbelievably On-the-Nose Metaphor category.

    • Jake Gittes

      Molly’s Game – fine if inessential Sorkin, starts off highly entertaining, then gets bogged down in some earnest moralistic speechifying and the story’s fundamental “and then this happened” nature closer to the end. It is at its best indulging in surface pleasures of smart, good-looking, impossibly loquacious people throwing around money and Sorkin dialogue in slick hotel rooms and lawyers’ offices; for me the more interesting version of this movie would have dived deeper into the culture of an environment created by a resourceful, principled, but necessarily self-objectifying woman (Chastain, spending more time wearing low-cut dresses and blouses in this one movie than some actresses do over decades-spanning careers) to cater to all the needs of rich, powerful, and often insecure men, but the actual film only spends as much time observing that environment as the larger story allots it. Still, it’s all written, acted and put together with enough force and wit to almost sustain it for 140 whole minutes, which is no small feat especially given Sorkin’s inexperience as a director. Special props for turning at least one poker-centered scene into a legitimately tense setpiece for this entirely poker-ignorant viewer, and also for realizing that taking one character (played by Chris O’Dowd) who can’t put together five words without losing track of what he wants to say and putting him into the Sorkinverse = comedy fucking gold.

    • Sworn Virgin–An Italian/Albanian film about a Balkan sworn virgin (read about it–fascinating), and it’s kind of lovely. It’s absolutely obsessed with bodies from the detached POV of someone who has essentially been completely outside her society’s gender constructs for her whole adult life and is, for a complicated set of reasons, beginning to pay a lot of attention to the ways that people carry themselves and their own images, and it’s mesmerizing.

      I’m also still working through Orange Is the New Black‘s fourth season. I’m a few episodes from the end, and the season is building to a head. I think this season is much more consistent overall (it doesn’t have anything nearly so bad as the Daya/Bennett bullshit), but I guess my main takeaway is that its depiction of white supremacy has not aged well at all, now that we’ve been dealing with real white supremacists making national news for the past year or so. It’s often a problem that the way that OItNB straddles the line between comedy and drama makes the character beats extremely broad until we’ve spent more time with people, but it’s especially feeling misguided in its white supremacist characters.

    • Babalugats

      The Layover– This reminded me of being a kid and watching raunchy comedies on broadcast television where all the jokes and sex and nudity had been cut out. This is the most neutral movie I’ve ever seen. It’s fascinating in it’s utter lack of personality. Why did this get made? Is William H Macy actually his character from Fargo? There’s a scene in this movie, that is framed like a joke, where Kate Upton drinks an entire bottle of Dr Pepper, and it’s treated as scandalous. Was this movie made by mormons? Is this whole thing a Dr Pepper ad? I don’t think so, because they treat it like she just drank a bottle of draino. Did that just happens on set, and get put in the movie by mistake?

      also, I was looking through Amazon’s 1983 movies, and I came across something called Zack. It’s a private eye church movie, from the director of God’s Not Dead. The movie has no rating on IMDB, but it has two Amazon reviews, both 5 stars, so of course I read them.

      there is no action, drama, argument, or conflict that you see in many movies so it is more relaxing to watch

      The other describes it as a mix between The Rockford Files and a Ziggy comic. I’ve got to admit, I’m intrigued.

      • Zack sounds like the kind of movie I’d love to hear somebody else describe but that I wouldn’t actually want to watch myself.

      • Miller

        Wouldn’t a cross between The Rockford Files and Ziggy just be Kojack?

      • The Voice of A Gnu Generation

        “there is no action, drama, argument, or conflict that you see in many movies so it is more relaxing to watch.”

        Having watched a bunch of Hallmark Channel Original Christmas movies over the holidays with my wife, this seems to be the main problem I had with pretty much all of them. I’m all for “nice” movies, but if you don’t have conflict or action you’re not left with much of a movie.

        • The Ploughman

          On the other hand, if you try to force the conflict into a “nice” movie, you’re left with Dan in Real Life.

          • The Voice of A Gnu Generation

            If not for that poster of Steve Carell resting his head on a stack of pancakes, do you think anyone would remember Dan in Real Life ?

    • Quinn the Eskimo

      A Clockwork Orange – this didn’t entirely click with me at first, but as it went on, I started to admire it more. It’s easy to ignore how this movie goes out of its way to contextualize Alex’s actions, using overwhelming, grotesquely decorated locations and fascist ideology cloaked in Nadsat to show how Alex is one hundred percent a product of his environment. Not a pleasant watch, but a fascinating one (even if I do prefer Paths of Glory and its tragic humanist worldview).

      • Quinn the Eskimo

        Also, I’m 20 today. *blows single pathetic noisemaker*

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        I have the take (which I’ve debated with other people a lot!) that the movie ending is preferable to the novel’s.

        • Quinn the Eskimo

          It’s fascinating to me that Kubrick manages to bury the way in which the authoritarian government retakes power, imprisons all its enemies, and accepts Alex into its ranks under the implications of that final shot, which just sucks all the air out of the room.

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            Right, and I think part of what makes the ending of the film more powerful is how the optimism of the novel’s conclusion seems profoundly misguided and directionless in the face of the obvious totalitarianism of the government (that and Alex is a rapist and murderer and while I agree that those people can be redeemed, even empathized with…its not easy as chalking those sins up to indiscretions in youth culture).

          • Quinn the Eskimo

            Exactly! It’s fitting that the characters in the film decrying youth culture are an old man shouting about “law and order” and a creepy teacher who grabs Alex’s crotch. The problem isn’t that they commit perverse acts of sex and violence, but that they don’t keep it to themselves.

    • PCguy

      SANTA FE MARSHAL (1940)

      A solid western with little filler from the golden age of Hopalong Cassidy films. William Boyd has always been a favorite of mine from the classic cowboy days. He mixes a laconic demeanor with a wry half-smile and expressive eyes that communicate perfectly to audiences that he will always have the upper hand. Unlike in Greek tragedy, the ironic distance between the character, who is largely obvious of his position in the larger narrative, and the audience, who is privileged with the knowledge of the rules of the scenario, is used to passively reassure the viewer that the conventional moral binary will always be positively reinforced. When Hoppy and his pardner are locked in a burning building even a child knows that he isn’t going to perish and Boyd’s acting style is constantly toying with this fact by operating in the middle distance between screen and reality. To me, this is a hallmark of the classical Hollywood acting style with familiar actors appearing on screen always partially as themselves as opposed to actors such as Lon Chaney or Alec Guinness who strove to embody the characters they played on screen. While Boyd never really got a chance to rise above the B-movies that made him famous he manages to consistently distinguish himself as a leading man.

      Of all the half-dozen or so dramatic schematics available to the Western programmer “lawman goes undercover as a bad guy” is probably my favorite. It gives an actor like Boyd a bigger role in the plot and makes the villains look doubly foolish as they inevitably discover that they have been tricked. It’s the perfect position for the Hopalong Cassidy character to give a nod to the audience that he’s the one controlling the action. Succinct and solidly executed, SANTA FE MARSHAL is a great example of how a B-movie studio machine could crank out reasonably well executed pictures of much higher quality than a typical 60 minute oater from the time period.

      Of mild interest to genre scholars should be the fact that this film has a female villain. In contemporary Western b-movies middle-aged women play almost no role and young women, as a rule, are daughters and sisters whose purpose is to be saved and wooed by the charismatic hero. To have a woman in a role with agency, who is an evil woman too, is an exception for such a rigidly masculine genre.

      Behind the gang that’s been robbing the town blind is the seemingly innocuous middle-aged face of “Ma”, the proprietress of the local boarding house. Played excellently by character actress Marjorie Rambeau, the role has her situated in a curious violation of the domestic sphere. From gruffly instructing her henchmen in a back room to go out and rob the silver mine she immediately transforms into a picture of domestic virtue upon hearing Hoppy come in the front door. All she has to do is grab a broom and pretend to sweep the steps and her disguise is complete. Not really notable in and of itself this genre outlier is noticeable in the context of the Western genre as an example of a golden age programmer that anticipated, in minor fashion, the reversing and deconstruction of the black hat/white hat moral binary that was to come in the late 60’s-early 70’s.

      • Son of Griff

        The performative style of B movie Western heroes, which you brilliantly illuminate here, seems even more common when the vehicle is a crossover between a musical personality and actor, an all too common occurrence in the 1930s. The celebrity persona of the performer and the onscreen character is so conjoined that the trajectory of the dramatic arc is circumscribed by the audience’s awareness of, and desire to sustain, the star making apparatus. i’m intrigued at figuring out what this means regarding star image and the audience’s participation in film spectatorship in the B movie.

        • PCguy

          Strange what Western audiences were willing to accept. The role that always gets me is Max Terhune’s iteration in the THREE MESQUITEERS series. He’s a cowboy that carries a friggin puppet with him wherever he goes. In reality how long would it take before his fellow trail-riders stopped him and told him to knock off his ventriloquism? There’s one movie where the dummy gets knocked into the dirt during a gunfight and dude jumps off his horse into a ditch to save the doll. It’s a ridiculous notion but it speaks to the way in which the west was performed in film and literature to an audience rapt for a closer understanding of an untouchable past.

    • mr_apollo

      The Road Movie, a compilation of footage from Russian dashboard cameras. If you’d rather look at the internet while in a movie theater, this is the film for you. There are sequences where I thought “Lynch wishes he had thought of that” or “Kiarostami must be sick with envy.” I may go see it again just to re-experience the slow drive between two forest fires.

      • Jake Gittes

        Hah, I had no idea this existed but it’s definitely something that demanded to.

  • I watched a couple of minutes from your designated timestamp and this does look delightful, especially the bit where somebody jumps over a bucket and unwittingly invents Donkey Kong.

    a fairly conventional plot about a gentle-hearted rube named Parasha (Vera Maretskaya) who, finding herself adrift in the Big City, eventually wins over everyone around her through her guileless simplicity and hard work

    This kind of plot tends to really work for me, which probably explains why I love both Paddington films so much – they fit that description almost perfectly.

    • pico

      You’ll love this, then: it’s about as smooth and well-crafted one of those stories as you can get in the 1920s. It seems strange to say that it feels “modern”, but in comparison to some other nearby films, like the fairly inept domestic drama in Aelita, it feels positively contemporary.

      Only one bit fell flat for me, because it feels like a few scenes are missing: there’s a mistaken identity moment near the end, where a Union delegate turns out to have the same name as Parasha. But it isn’t prepared very well, so when the plot turns on that moment, it’s a little jarring.

    • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

      Elf immediately comes to mind from that description.

      • pico

        Yes! If only the climax of Elf was about Will Ferrell unionizing Santa’s workshop!

  • Miller

    “Briefly, Shklovsky argued that enstrangement was a rejuvenating process central to art, that it involves taking rote expression and perception of phenomena and using various devices to halt our perception and re-view anew. Art makes us look again.”

    Holy shit, this is why I love Airplane! so much. And now I have scholarly justification! Excellent write-up, this sounds like a lot of fun.

    • pico

      So that got me looking up scholarly work on Airplane!, and there’s a bunch of stuff, go figure.

      • Brittany


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      • Judith


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  • Son of Griff

    Shlovsky’s definition of enstrangement reminds me of my first viewing of THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, and how that opened up the particular paradox of realism and ‘unreality” for me. I’m glad that there is a word for it.

    • pico

      The best explanation of ostranenie I’ve found in English was from A.D. Jameson’s long, negative review of James Woods’ How Fiction Works. Woods seems to misunderstand Shklovsky, so Jameson goes into detail on what enstrangement is and isn’t, and it helps to have the negative example to compare, since “defamiliarization” has become so commonly and carelessly used in academic work. (The article is really long, though, so if you’re interested, just CTRL-F “ostranenie”)

      Funny thing is, for Shklovsky, the concept is so broad because it’s not so much a tool as a reaction we have to artistic material: it the feeling that anything, any device or formal attribute, has shocked us out of rote recognition. When we experience that shock, we can then analyze the devices or formal attributes that caused it (thus: formalism). Somehow retellings of Shklovsky tend to focus on ostranenie as a device itself, not as the product of a device.

      • Son of Griff

        It strikes me that we are conditioned to think that the technique of commercial cinema is designed to cushion that shock, so that the reaction is muted, whereas avant garde works are more enstranged, as the point is to analyze. What appeals to me about applying formalistic analysis to more popular films is to recognize that this feeling is always present even when we are not consciously aware of it.

        • pico

          Absolutely agree: one of Shklovsky’s first articles about formalism was about Sherlock Holmes and other detective fiction!

          • Son of Griff

            There is a terrific Carlo Ginsberg essay that might mirror this to some degree.

  • Quinn the Eskimo

    I haven’t been here in a while, so I don’t know if this has been done recently, but… Shameless Self-Promotion? Is that still a thing?

    • Quinn the Eskimo

      I have a video essay about The Twilight Zone and the surprisingly popular fallacy that classic science fiction is an apolitical form. You can watch it here: https://youtu.be/bS1dKO5q6PY

      Also, I’ve got a new short film that’s sort of a weird serial killer movie kinda thing. I wrote music for it. I am mostly proud of it except for a terribly staged stunt near the end. Check it out here: https://youtu.be/m33hhkc-He4

      • 1. Subscribed.

        2. People think classic science fiction isn’t political? Did not know this.

        • Quinn the Eskimo

          1. Thank you!

          2. It’s a sadly common argument amongst younger sci-fi fans who believe that “political correctness” is ruining everything. It’s an easy strawman that ignores the necessity of artistic and cultural sensitivities changing (i.e. “the fact that you couldn’t make a certain work of art today doesn’t necessarily mean that you should”).

          • Ah, like the refrain that the new Star Wars is too political, and should be more escapist like the originals, and I just want to yell that the originals were political, you dense motherfuckers.

      • The Voice of A Gnu Generation

        Great essay. I had no idea about the “Noon on Doomsday” fiasco. It seems it’s literally impossible to find a picture or video of Rod Serling where he doesn’t have a cigarette in his hand. Also, I don’t know who this Vox Day person is but he sounds like a real asshole.

        • “White supremacy simply isn’t true. Whites are not superior, but whites are the only tribe willing and able to maintain Western civilization because they are the only tribe that truly values it. The answer for those who support Western civilization, regardless of sex, color, or religion, is to embrace white tribalism, white separatism, and especially white Christian masculine rule.”

          Vox Day

          • The Voice of A Gnu Generation

            Christ, what an asshole.

          • Quinn the Eskimo

            He also once tried to steal John Scalzi’s audience by releasing a book with a cover and title that were nearly identical to Scalzi’s most recent release.

        • Quinn the Eskimo

          It is impossible. Believe me, I tried.

    • pico

      Still in its very early stages, but I’m taking part as a translator for a volume of contemporary LGBT writing from Russia. Submitted a few draft translations of poems and short stories so far, but because this is all currently sans-publisher, it’s pro bono work on the side. Still, I’m excited about where it’s going, and I’ll drop a note at the site if/when we ever have a final product to share.

    • The Voice of A Gnu Generation

      This was published in December 2016. It’s a flash time-travel story. Nothing new since then. https://everydayfiction.com/the-man-from-1979-by-jeremy-schneider/

      • Quinn the Eskimo

        That’s pretty good! The final twist in particular is such a creative and unique riff on the classic time-loop story.

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      I have a piece coming out on Australian singer-songwriter Russell Morris (who I’d never heard of til it was assigned and now I think “The Real Thing” is one of the 20 best psychadelic singles ever), and a couple other writing things coming out. Also writing a horror/noir short story trying to use some of the lessons instilled by @drunknapoleon:disqus , @disqus_wallflower:disqus , The Shield, and James Ellroy on plotting, character, and minimalism.

      • Quinn the Eskimo

        I kinda want to read that story when it’s done. Horror noir is a sadly overlooked genre.

    • Son of Griff

      I’m on the selection committee on the documentary short subject program for the Oceanside Film Festival, and I will be handling some events for the San Diego International Jewish Film Festival this month.

      After finishing a couple of year in the month pieces I will be contributing some work here for Black History month focusing on the West in early African American Cinema.

  • BurgundySuit

    Wanna be as cool as pico? Then sign up for Year of the Month (from an idea by Elizabeth Lerner)!

    Here’s some of your possible topics:
    https://letterboxd.com/films/year/1928/
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1928_in_literature
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1928_in_music
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1928_in_art

    And here’s what we’ve already got on the docket!
    NO DATE: Son of Griff: Show People

    Jan 11th: Pico: The House on Trubnaya
    Jan 12th: Gillianren: Steamboat Willie
    Jan 15th: Joseph Finn: All Quiet on the Western Front
    Jan 20th: Conor Malcolm Crockford: Steamboat Bill Jr.
    Jan 28th: The Ploughman: The Circus
    Jan 30th: Miller: Decline and Fall
    Jan 31st: ZoeZ: Ashenden

    And coming in February, we’ll be moving on to 1983!

    https://letterboxd.com/films/year/1983/
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1983_in_literature
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1983_in_music

    Feb 6th: Jacob Thomas Klemmer: King of Comedy
    Feb 8th: Gillianren: Will Lee (Mr. Hooper)
    Feb 20th: Jacob Thomas Klemmer: Local Hero
    Feb 28th: BurgundySuit: Chartbusting!

    • The Ploughman

      These are gonna be fun, but I won’t lie – it’ll be nice to get Chartbusting and the comics covers back.

    • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

      Ooh, a year I was alive for! Unfortunately, my favorite albums from the year have been written on extensively enough that I don’t know if I have anything new or worthwhile to say. Maybe I’ll arrogantly talk myself into believing that about Murmur. Or Synchronicity.

      Long shots include Madonna, Madonna, and John Mellencamp, Uh-Huh, because it has what I think are probably his two best songs, “Pink Houses” and “Authority Song.”

      There’s a nonzero chance I could just see how many words I could write about “Der Kommissar” by After the Fire. Another great one for someone to do (probably not me) would be “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies.

      And someone has to write about Sports, just for the Patrick Bateman of it all.

      • Drunk Napoleon

        It was frustrating how you had to skip over when we did 1993 because you spent that year dead as a tax dodge.

        • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

          I wondered, “Does every twelve-year-old have to deal with this?”

    • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

      Ohh man. Speaking of things I could arrogantly convince myself I had something to say about, A Christmas Story.

      • BurgundySuit

        Should I put you down for any of these?

        • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

          Not yet. I need to think about which ones I’m actually capable of writing on.

    • Previously covered 1983 movies: Koyaanisqatsi, which got a Soundtracking and a Film on the Television, and Special Bulletin.

      I’ll very tentatively sign up for a Soundtracking on Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, date to come.

    • pico

      Errr…. I might be willing to do a double-post on John Sayles’ two movies that year, but I have to be sure I can actually find them first. I saw Lianna ages ago, and I haven’t seen Baby, It’s You, which is basically unavailable anywhere…

  • DJ JD

    This is one of those “advertising my own ignorance” comments, but my limited sense of the matter is that the “guileless, super hard-working young woman winning everyone over with her kindheartedness” is even more common in Russian folk tales than in more western ones. Is that correct? (Like, sure, we have Cinderella, but it seems like the Russians really ran with this one.) Would audiences of the day have received this as something of a folk tale of sorts just because of the central character being who she was, or otherwise pre-categorized this story somehow before they’d seen it from that piece of information?

    • pico

      That’s a good question, and I don’t know enough about audience reception to answer it. There were a lot of stories like this, but also ironic versions of it, circulating in the culture (you’ve already got Pushkin making fun of it in the 1830s), and this one seems so straightforward that I can’t imagine it wasn’t both intended and received exactly as you’re saying. That, and the formalists were interested in how to use tropes to construct narratives, especially in folktales (Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale was published the same year as this movie!), so it’d make sense if the screenwriters were playing it in exactly that way.

      Especially since there was such intensive political focus on the working classes, who were usually urban but had to contend with a massive influx of peasant workers. Already in the late 19th century there were attempts by the left to “go to the people” and make use of what they interpreted as a pure, unsullied blue-collar Russianness to build a revolutionary movement. It didn’t work, because The People tended to be far more conservative than they anticipated. So there’s a tradition in the left of idealizing this population, and it dovetails nicely with the political necessities of illustrating Russian socialism-at-work.