Decades Blogathon – The Tenant (1966)

 

Jordan has graciously contributed a review of Roman Polanski’s 1976 Parisian drama The Tenant. Head on over to Mark’s place to check out what he had to say! Thanks!

three rows back

Decades Blogathon Banner 20161976 2Hot diggity, it’s already day five of the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and the awesome Tom from Digital Shortbread. That means we’re already half way through! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I will run a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post); and I’m delighted to welcome Jordan from Epileptic Moondancer to present his views on Roman Polanski’s unnerving psychological drama The Tenant.

Years ago, I introduced myself to film by rifling through the filmographies of Kubrick and Gilliam. Once that was done, I wanted to find another director whose films I could work through.

Through a Google search using the phrase ‘mind-f**k movies’ I came across Repulsion, perhaps Polanski’s best film. The atmosphere and the camerawork instantly hyptonised me and after watching the film the next…

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Decades Blogathon — Andrei Rublev (1966)

1966

 

Greetings one and all! I hope you’ve been enjoying the 2016 edition of the Decades Blogathon thus far. I know I certainly have. Just a little note to our contributors who are yet to be featured: me and Mark have decided that, given the considerable drop-off in viewership over the weekend, we shall suspend the Decades until Monday, that way we can be sure everyone doesn’t miss one of these excellent posts. In the meantime I will probably have a review up of Shane Black’s newest crime comedy, The Nice Guys. (Haha. What a great flick that was!)

Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to present another quality piece from my good friend Stu from The Last Picture Blog. Stu’s a writer I really look up to and learn a lot from, so please be sure to check out his page if you haven’t yet. There’s a lot to digest over there. Here’s his thoughts on the 1966 epic Andrei Rublev:


For the uninitiated, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev is a historical epic from 1966 that dramatises the life of the titular Russian artist and monk, who worked primarily as an icon painter during the 15th Century. It examines the role of artists at that time, within its own version of Russian society, and details their desire to create works of beauty while also responding to the violence and destruction that surrounds them. The film clocks in at a bum-numbing 3 hours and 25 minutes, which is the length of the supposedly-definitive Criterion edition, though there are other shorter versions available, with censored material cut out. For me this is roughly the point at which watching a film begins to tip over from being an enjoyable activity (most of the time, anyway) into the realm of ordeal, though I’ve sat through longer on occasion. As a portrait of society in Russia at the time it’s extremely negative. It also offered thinly-veiled criticism of the Soviet regime during the 1960s – it’s no coincidence that an artist named Andrei was chosen as the filmmaker’s subject and protagonist – and it’s unsurprising that the film failed to see the light of day in its original state for many years. Eventually, of course, it made it to Cannes, and worldwide acclaim followed in the early 1970s. Tarkovsky – with this film in particular – influenced many directors whose work I am more (or slightly more) familiar with, and appreciate, from Lars von Trier to Terrence Malick, from Bela Tarr to Gus van Sant, from Alexei German to Nuri Bilge Ceylan. You’ll even find scenes from Andrei Rublev referenced in modern works as diverse as HBO’s Game Of Thrones and Ben Wheatley’s Kill List. I’m mentioning all of this now because it’s potentially useful contextual information: I was acutely aware of the legacy of Tarkovsky as a filmmaker and the history of the film itself while watching Andrei Rublev; you feel it’s importance, you think about the way it echoes in the work of so many filmmakers on top of those mentioned above, and you’re also acutely aware of the irony that a film about artistic censorship and the battle between creativity and destruction should end up being butchered and banned itself for many years. All of this seems to hang in the air for every one of those 205 minutes.

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Little is known about the real Rublev (certainly when compared to other European artists of the period), so Tarkovsky decided to portray his protagonist as – per Jim Hoberman’s Criterion essay – ‘a world-historic figure’. In this film, and this version of Russia, the talented painter (played by Anatoly Solonitsyn) is well-known within certain artistic and religious circles, and his fame seems to increase as time progresses. Tarkovsky opts for an episodic structure, and there are eight separately-titled black-and-white segments in total, along with a prologue and a full-colour epilogue; each of the segments portrays different events during Rublev’s adult life, including a rural meeting with a jester-type figure, a strange encounter with a group of pagans, a brutal Tatar raid on a village and a story about the casting of a bell. The artist travels to a monastery to study, leaves, works on a church fresco, takes a mentally-ill girl under his wing, kills a man to save her and, eventually, withdraws into a vow of silence, only to be inspired once again at the end of the film. Together the episodes cover around 25 years, though the emphasis is on a dozen of those. Sometimes Rublev is the central figure, sometimes he’s an incidental character. Throughout we see various attacks on art, creativity, Christianity and free speech, usually by groups of soldiers or warriors, and carried out through the practice of censorship or via verbal and physical reproaches. Whenever something is created in the film then the creation in question – or something close by, or related – is wrecked soon after, save for the bell at the end, an optimistic symbol to ring in the changes as the country enters a new era. But, for the most part, Rublev and those around him struggle with exterior, uncontrollable forces – mobs, the petty jealousies of contemporaries, the whims of (largely-unseen) princes and masters – or bear witness to others enduring similar struggles and persecution.

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Inevitably one or two of the segments are less exciting or involving than others, though the film is packed with striking camerawork and memorable images that ensure looking at it is never dull, and they also imbue it with a sense of grandness; the sheer number of meticulously-arranged frames – sometimes featuring hundreds of extras – that stack up is as unexpected for the first-time viewer as it is impressive. The camera tracks characters as they move through or around buildings, usually during long takes. There are well-executed long shots that reveal the ebb and flow of the landscape as well as the size of entire towns and settlements. There are even some of these from high up in the air, breathtaking in their scope, with birds’ eye perspectives and, in one case, the view of a man who has temporarily managed to fly in a balloon. Such lofty views and filled frames – it’s all about the edges – contrast with stark, minimal close-ups on terra firma. How a film looks is – for me – more important as an individual element to the overall work than just about anything else, including the acting, the script or the plot, and Andrei Rublev is without doubt one of the best-looking films I’ve ever seen. (The cinematographer was Vadim Yusov, who also shot Tarkovsky’s Solaris and one of the director’s early featurettes.)

As you might expect, given the care and attention toward the film’s visual style and the extended running time, there are recurring motifs. Horses – a symbol of life – feature prominently, with one infamously filmed falling down some stairs during the Tatar raid sequence. Birds, particularly ducks and swans, are also regularly evident, while it’s a film that is intermittently besieged by heavy rain, the storms constantly adding to the pervading boggy, muddy, grimness of many of the sets and locations. The grittiness of Tarkovsky’s medieval Russia is furthered by the violence, which is brutal and bloody more often than not. Few people escape the clutches of the soldiers and warriors who rampage with impunity, and those who find themselves at the mercy of other men invariably end up beaten, burned, beheaded, cut down or – in one case – tied to a horse as it gallops away. Yet that’s not to say Andrei Rublev is merely a feast of medieval hacking and slashing; that’s the exciting stuff, for sure, but there are long passages in which conversations about art and religion take place that may test the patience of some. I found myself drifting in and out of two of these in particular, unable to sustain enough interest in the subject of the dialogue.

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It’s often difficult to know exactly where you are, or who the characters are, or what their significance is to Andrei. That alone will cause many people to dislike the film, or at the very least to find the experience of watching it a chore. In today’s age we’re lucky, in the sense that it’s possible to watch Tarkovsky’s film after reading a plot summary or a synopsis of the historical background, as I did, but even with that information I still struggled at times. I wonder how those who managed to see Andrei Rublev in the late 1960s or early 1970s fared; it can’t have been easy to follow, but in a way I wonder whether that even matters, given the obvious rewards that can be found from other aspects of the film. And I suppose that’s Tarkovsky’s second feature in a nutshell; it is difficult, and challenging, and unwieldy, for many reasons, but it’s also immensely rewarding all the same. I won’t deny that watching it felt like a slog at times (though, in truth, there were other periods during which the minutes flew by), and I agree with the writer David Thompson, who says ‘Tarkovsky’s epic stance reveals his single handicap: the lack of humour, and the way in which that slows his grinding pace’. This. Is. A. Film. That. Grinds. Really, though, such trifling is far outweighed by the wonders of this singular, incredible achievement. When the prologue finally arrives it’s a glorious epiphany: we see close-ups of some of Rublev’s surviving works, in all their glory. They are beautiful to look at, and despite the mud-inflected brutality of much of the action, so is Tarkovsky’s film.


Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Decades Blogathon — Labyrinth (1986)

1986

Greetings, and welcome back around to another edition of the Decades Blogathon! It is my pleasure getting to co-host this great event with Three Rows Back — a site if you are finding out about for the first time right now (or if it’s been awhile . . .) you must absolutely drop by. Mark is the reason this blogathon exists! 

Anywho, today I’d like to welcome Filmscorehunter, who’s the pen behind The Cinematic Frontier, a very user-friendly and diverse site featuring everything from reviews of films both new and old, to Blu-Ray recommendations to blogathon posts (just like this one!). Go on and pop around there if you like what you read here. Now let me step aside and let him take over . . . 


'Labyrinth' movie poster

Jim Henson brought joy and education to children and adults through TV programs such as Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and Fraggle Rock.  He eventually became involved in feature filmmaking as well (such as the first three Muppet movies; he made his directorial debut with 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper).  After co-directing 1982’s The Dark Crystal with Frank Oz, Henson next focused on another fantasy film that would require technical challenges that pushed the limits of special effects technology at the time (and would also be a musical).  I was fortunate enough to catch a midnight screening of Labyrinth three years ago on the big screen at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema during a visit to Atlanta, Georgia.  It was fun seeing it again after having seen it many years before on cable.  I was finally able to catch a midnight screening of the film a few months ago at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York City, and it was a joy to see it once more on the big screen.  This review of Labyrinth is my entry in the Decades Blogathon hosted by Three Rows Back & Digital Shortbread.

1986’s Labyrinth follows a teenage girl who embarks on a quest to save her baby brother, who’s being held hostage by the Goblin King in his castle after she had originally wished for him to take her half-brother away.  Henson gathered together an impressive ensemble that includes Jennifer Connelly (as Sarah Williams), David Bowie (as Jareth the Goblin King), Toby Froud (as Toby Williams), Christopher Malcolm (as Robert Williams), Shelley Thompson (as Irene Williams), Brian Henson (as the voice of Hoggle), Ron Mueck (as the voice of Ludo), David Shaughnessy (as the voices of Sir Didymus and the Wiseman’s bird hat), Percy Edwards (as the voice of Ambrosius), Timothy Bateson (as the voice of the Worm), Michael Hordern (as the voice of the Wiseman), Denise Bryer (as the voice of the Junk Lady), David Healy (as the voice of the Right Door Knocker), Robert Beatty (as the voice of the Left Door Knocker), and Kevin Clash (as the voice of Firey #1).  Connelly gives an engaging performance as the young Sarah, who must undertake a physical and emotional journey through a labyrinth in order to get to the Goblin King’s castle.  Bowie is simultaneously cruel, seductive, and otherworldly as the Goblin King in a mesmerizing performance.

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The screenplay by Terry Jones explores a coming-of-age story influenced by The Wizard of Oz, Alice In Wonderland, Outside Over There, and Where the Wild Things Are.  Alex Thomson’s cinematography is beautiful, and Elliot Scott’s production design creates a diverse number of locations, including swamps, villages, and castle interiors (I especially loved the M.C. Escher-esque stairs and the Bog of Eternal Stench).  The costume designs by Brian Froud and Ellis Flyte are stunning (especially the ones featured in the ballroom sequence), and John Grover’s editing moves the film at a good pace.  The spectacular special effects are a seamless blend of practical effects, puppetry, and blue screen compositing.  Trevor Jones delivers an eclectic score that complements the songs contributed by Bowie (As the World Falls Down is my favorite song of the bunch).  Henson’s Labyrinth is a remarkable achievement that showcases an entertaining coming-of-age story as well as his boundless imagination.  Although not a box office success, it has developed a cult following over the last 30 years and is now a classic fantasy film.


Photo credits: http://www.brandedinthe80s.com; http://www.avclub.com

Decades Blogathon Update: We have our line-up!

Decades Blogathon banner 2016

Hey there one and all! Well it pleases me greatly to announce the official line-up of the 2016 Decades Blogathon, and so quickly. Thank you for responding so quickly and Mark and I both look forward to jumping in here and reading what you all have to say about your chosen movies. Once again this year we have an impressively eclectic selection of titles, and that’s just the way we like it.

So here’s how things are going to play out. Once again, there will be one review posted each day either on this site or on Three Rows Back, and whichever site it doesn’t go up on first, it will be re-blogged there on that day.

Posts are ordered on a first-come, first-serve basis. Which means our esteemed blogging machine Rob from Movie Rob kicks things off in style with his review of Top Gun (1986) — (way to pick a classic, Rob! 🙂 ) — and Mark, the brains behind this whole operation, will conclude things with his thoughts on Taxi Driver, which came out the decade prior.

I guess I could also mention when you can expect to see these posts start going up. We have decided that Monday, May 16 will be the first day of posting. Please have entries in latest by Friday the 13th, that way sloths like me will have time to sort through the reviews and get them formatted and set-up for presentation.

Because the spots filled so quickly this year, we’re anticipating a few late requests. Though we won’t be able to expand the pool to more than 20, last year we had one or two people duck out of the race at the last second, so if you find yourself on the outside looking in, you might just have a chance to get in if you let us know soon. If someone does drop out, those spots will be yours (again, on a first-come, first-serve basis). Thanks for your interest everyone and we look forward to getting this thing rolling on the 16th.


  1. Movie Rob — Top Gun (1986)
  2. Keith & the Movies — Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
  3. It Rains, You Get Wet — The Outlaw Josey Whales (1976)
  4. Cindy Bruchman — Notorious (1946)
  5. Ramblings of a Cinephile — The Battle of Algiers (1966)
  6. The Last Picture Blog — Andrei Rublev (1966)
  7. Fast Film Reviews — The Ten Commandments (1956)
  8. Flick Chicks — The Fountain (2006)
  9. Drew’s Movie Reviews — Grandma’s Boy (2006)
  10. Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger — Scream (1996)
  11. Defiant Success — Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
  12. The Cinematic Frontier — Labyrinth (1976)
  13. Movie Man Jackson — She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
  14. Nola Film Vibes  — Stand By Me (1986)
  15. Flixchatter — Casino Royale (2006)
  16. Carly Hearts Movies — Trainspotting (1996)
  17. Epileptic Moondancer — The Tenant (1976)
  18. Marked Movies — A Scanner Darkly (2006)
  19. Digital Shortbread — Inside Man (2006)
  20. Three Rows Back — Taxi Driver (1976)

Casting Call: Bloggers wanted for ‘The Decades Blogathon’ (2016)

Decades Blogathon banner 2016

Greetings everyone! Guess what time of year it is? That’s right! Christmas 2.0! Or, better known as the time of year where me and Mark start inviting our esteemed bloggers from around the world to participate once again in the Decades Blogathon, a 10(ish) day event in which we take a look at films from different decades.

Last year was the inaugural event and it went off without a hitch and was a lot of fun. So much so, we just had to do it again. For those who sent their wonderful entries last year, you already know the drill. But to get newcomers on board, it’s going to go a little something like this:

  1. Pick a film from any decade with the year ending in ‘6’ (given that it’s now 2016), and there’s no restrictions here. We’re not snobs . . . not really, anyway; we’ll gladly accept anything from 1906 all the way up to releases that have come out so far this year). Just remember the year must end in a ‘6.’
  2. The postings will go up on a first-come, first-serve basis. We’ll put up the entries that come in first and there will be one posted every day on this site and Three Rows Back, with each entry having a corresponding re-blog on the other site.
  3. The Decades Blogathon will be capped this year at 20 posts. As much as we would love to take 50 or 100 entries, that’d be a daunting task to take on so we are going to limit the entries to 20. We kindly ask participants to only send one piece in so we can maximize the number of contributors (Mark and I will also be included in that count. Our reviews will come at the end.)
  4. If you want to become involved, send an email to either myself (tomlittle2011@gmail.com) or Mark (threerowsback@gmail.com) with your suggestion. If no one else has already claimed that movie we’ll give you the green light and you can fire those entries right back to those same email addresses (or you can send them normally, that’d be preferable).
  5. Like last year, we’re aiming for mid-May to start posting entries. Please have your reviews/posts in by Thursday the 12th and no later than Friday the 13th. That gives us time to go over the posts and construct the posting schedule. If you need any extra time to enter, just send either Mark or myself an email and we’ll get you in any way we can!

ONE LAST THING: As to the availability of the titles, I will be putting up my thoughts on Spike Lee’s 2006 hostage thriller Inside Man, and Mark has gone full-DeNiro with his selection of the 1976 Scorsese classic Taxi Driver. Those are the only titles that are already claimed. Be sure to let us know if you’d like to talk about something and we’ll get this thing rolling! Thanks everyone!

IMDb Top 250: The Elephant Man (1980)

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I would like to thank Table9Mutant (a.k.a. Mutant, a.k.a. Mutey) of Cinema Parrot Disco for the opportunity to review a film that is, in my estimation, a downright classic. If you have yet to check out her site yet, please drop what you’re doing now and head over there (or after you’ve read this, that works too. 😉 )

So there was this movie I needed to watch for this IMDb Top 250 movie challenge thing I was participating in. I’m using the past tense because this was something I had committed to about . . . a year and a half ago at this point. (Is that about right Mutey? Year and a half? or has it been longer?) The movie was David Lynch’s The Elephant Man and I finally managed to calm my ADHD down enough to where I could actually watch it. However, as I was cueing it up to watch my mind started being a bit of an ass, provoking me and stuff, telling me to flip to a different On-Demand channel, something that was playing a more recent movie.

“No!” I yelled back at it, out loud. Seated on a couch in the middle of a very quiet living room. All I had done over the last several months was learn to procrastinate better. Err, sorry, excuse me — blog about other movies that to me at the time seemed more urgent. Finally I realized I could always procrastinate — yes, that ‘extremely-nonsensical-combination-of-letters-that-if-repeated-enough-over-a-short-span-of-time-makes-even-less-sense-but-somehow-if-you-only-say-it-once-you-know-exactly-what-it’s-referring-to’ word — later on anyway. I had to hit the play button now.

I was transported back to the late 1800s, and Victorian England, where traveling circuses were still all the rage and attracted (semi-) massive crowds. I think it’s only fair to assume those who did not turn out for these shows had some kind of moral compass that wasn’t shattered into shitty little useless bits. After a brief but trippy dream-like sequence, Lynch pans in on a striking man (Anthony Hopkins) moving through the crowds, trying to access a particular exhibit known only as ‘The Elephant Man.’ However a shift in the public perception of what these most bizarre and unholy of events actually represented — not curiosity, but cruelness — led to more than a few of the more obscure and unattractive exhibits being closed down by authorities. ‘The Elephant Man’ was one such exhibit.

Cut to a dank and depressingly dark alleyway somewhere in the London area, where once again Hopkins’ Dr. Frederick Treves is trying to get a glimpse of this elephant-like man. To do so, he must uncomfortably agree to some terms (mostly monetary . . . natch) set by the manager, a horrible man named Bytes (Freddie Jones). When he’s finally granted access Treves is so moved by what he sees that he asks if he may ‘study him’ back at the London Hospital, where Treves is a renowned practitioner of medicine. Or whatever fancy way 19th Century English people referred to medical-y people.

As Lynch’s often powerfully emotive work seeks to explore the relationship Dr. Treves formed with his patient, Joseph Merrick (a breathtakingly good John Hurt), during the time he stayed in this hospital, the narrative gets cozy in this facility, spending much of the remaining time concerned with the passage of time and how it can quite literally heal wounds. Unfortunately, the London Hospital had been deemed a facility fit only for those who could be cured of their ailment(s). Go figure, Victorian England. As if Joseph needed the added pressure of becoming an inconvenience to the bureaucracy. (Random bit of trivia: Joseph’s so commonly mistakenly referred to as John that he is actually ‘John’ in the movie as well, so for the purposes of this review I’ll stick with his movie name from here on out.)

The fabric of this narrative is weaved from a tough, humanistic cloth. The Elephant Man is an absorbing study of one of the most fundamental aspects of existence, the need and desire to fit in and belong to something. For the heavily disfigured John, it’s heartbreakingly sufficient for him to have his presence actually acknowledged by at least one person. Perhaps this explains why he opens up at all to the doctor who found him in the streets and why he said precious little to his circus manager/owner. John sees Dr. Treves as a paternal figure of sorts. At the very least, a reincarnation of his mother, of whom he carries around a picture in his pocket. Since early childhood, around the age of 10 when she passed away, John was always curious to know if she, too, would have rejected him like his father and his new wife had . . . or would she have accepted him for what and who he was?

The Elephant Man is powered by two tremendous performances from Hurt and Hopkins, the former being one of the strongest in all of cinematic history. (Certainly in my history of watching movies, which is like, so totally not a history at all . . . . . ) I feel pretty comfortable making that claim even when factoring in make-up effects that were ahead of their time, effects so convincing they inspired the Academy to introduce an award category the following year specifically for Make-Up Artistry.* Hurt, behind a mask that graphically depicts the brutality of random chance (a.k.a. the nature of genetics), is mesmerick (see what I did there? I spelled that word as if it were his last name as part of the . . . okay, yeah this is pointless information). But for cereals, you cannot turn away from this performance, not for a second. The man is utterly transfixing throughout, in ways that ingeniously distract from the grotesque physical appearance. Physically embodying the character was one step, but giving the man personality . . . that’s another challenge entirely. And yet, it doesn’t seem to be a problem for Hurt. He’s stoic yet nevertheless heartbroken by his past; grateful for Treves’ kindness yet still aware that not everyone can be like him. There’s an aura surrounding John that is wholly indebted to Hurt’s interpretation.

Obviously Hopkins is no slouch either. A complicated individual, Treves is first at odds with the hospital and its ‘curable patients’ policy. Over the months and years of John remaining under his care Treves makes more enemies than just Bytes, who reemerges infrequently throughout, eager to reclaim his prized possession any day. John’s life in the London Hospital begins in isolation, but as the doc makes leaps and bounds in progress with the patient, and the tenuous bond of trust they establish eventuates in John’s transfer to a more social area of the hospital, Treves must face up to the ethical consequences of using John as a pseudo-medical experiment. Hopkins is immensely likable as Dr. Treves, yet he’s perfectly imperfect. He doesn’t immediately question his approach with John, like how one of the first things he did with him was show him off to an auditorium packed with, yes, other medical-y people and laying claim to how this would be his most interesting patient yet. Instead, that question comes much later, after circumstances have changed dramatically. Yet, if we’re meant to feel ambivalent towards Treves, Hopkins does a damn fine job of convincing us of his better qualities.

This is of course not easy material to get through. If you have the patience to sit through some many trying scenes (I’m talking the kind that make you angry), then the upshot will be powerful, a potent reminder that people have an immense capacity for kindness in spite of all that has been shown here. Yet the treacherous scenes that come before are often punishment on the conscience; their bluntness at times visceral and greatly upsetting. Some parts are sickening, while others can be downright unwatchable. How can ignorance beget such monstrous behavior? The kind of freakishness that occurs naturally only in tents that capitalize on monsters. Lynch crafts a beautiful symmetry between John’s unfortunate looks and society’s collective hideousness.

The Elephant Man has been described as one of Lynch’s most accessible films. Structurally speaking it’s as straightforward as a . . . I don’t know, something that’s straightforward — a ruler, perhaps? No, a documentary. As straightforward as a documentary. I hesitate to make that comparison because it makes the film sound uninspired and possibly even lazy. Given the way The Elephant Man flows from one stage of life to the next, ducking and diving in and out of the various rooms that constituted John’s life the film does take on some of the evaluative properties of an in-depth documentary. Lynch didn’t have to concoct a timeline-distorting, reality-bending head trip to leave an impression here. He just needed to let the subject matter speak for itself.

slight correction: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created the new category for the following year’s ceremony, but only after they were pressured publicly to do so. When The Elephant Man failed to garner attention for its make-up effects, it was petitioned to have an honorary award bestowed upon it, even though the AMPAS refused. An American Werewolf in London was the first film that won the prize in the following year

Recommendation: Emotionally devastating and difficult to watch on more than one occasion, The Elephant Man is an essential experience for fans of deeply human stories. In this case I think the subject matter far outweighs the talents involved in creating it (with perhaps the exception of John Hurt who makes the product worth the while on his own). This may be a David Lynch film but I will probably remember it more as just a generally classic film with astounding performances. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 124 mins.

Quoted: “I am not an animal! I am a human being! I . . . am . .  . a man!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com

PSH Blogathon: This is the fun part, sweetheart

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I would like to first give a shout-out to my friend Jordan of the one and only Epileptic Moondancer for providing me the perfect platform from which I can profess my infatuation with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and his role in Jan de Bont’s exhilarating, special effects-driven Twister. I have been looking for another avenue to venture down when it comes to talking about his simply charming performance in that film, one of the very first few I got to see in theaters. I have Jordan to thank for that.

Born: July 23, 1967

[Character actor]

Role: Supporting

Character:  Dustin ‘Dusty’ Davis

Twister operates under the assumption the viewers are, if not nearly as, then equally infatuated with extreme weather as its central protagonists. It bounces around from one corn belt locale to another in the height of one of the most active tornadic seasons in American history in the summer of 1996. Conveniently frequent encounters with this uniquely violent weather phenomenon ensure Twister rarely has down time. But if there were ever a person, a character who could compete for our attention, by virtue of their own charisma, with the ethereal beauty of cylindrical clouds connecting sky to earth, it would be Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Dusty.

Garbed in loose-fitting clothes, tattered and torn by his own enthusiasm for storm chasing, Dusty is Jo’s team’s identifiable loose cannon. He sports a long and ragged crop of dirty blonde hair kept mostly under control by his hat-hood combination, road-weary eyes hiding behind a pair of aviators (presumably this is the best kind of eye protection when driving down roads presided over by ominous castles built out of accumulating wall clouds). If Bill Paxton’s Bill Harding successfully sucked a lot of the fun out of the chase — and you can bet he did with that temper of his — Dusty was the anti-vaccuum, essentially vomiting gusto for the next opportunity to seek out what Tornado Alley has to offer.

Twister isn’t known for its character development and yet the film is rich with characterization. Bill’s a hothead who has been branded as ‘the craziest son of a bitch in the game,’ while Helen Hunt’s Jo is a stubborn woman whose toughness has been forged out of the tragic weather-related loss of her father at an early age; there’s Beltzer and Rabbit — unremarkable in their own rights but highly energetic contributors to a young team who are gung-ho on making a technical break-through when it comes to predicting and rescuing people from this extreme weather. Similar to his on-screen colleagues Dusty doesn’t undergo change so much as he endures one of the craziest seasons of storm chasing of his career. It’s his pairing with Bill’s new fiancée Melissa (Jami Gertz) that tends to bring out his wilder side, where we get to zero in on this peculiar extension of this team.

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Dusty’s all too eager to introduce the sex therapist to the world of meteorology and storm chasing, providing a handful of scenes in which his enthusiasm far exceeds any slight burgeoning interest Melissa musters for her would-be husband’s former career. “This is the fun part, sweetheart,” Dusty tells her as Bill and Jo go gallivanting off in the red truck towards a purported F-3 tornado, the third iteration of the Dorothy weather tracking instrument in tow. An eye roll from Jami Gertz is the actress’ way of defending against a smile from breaking out on her face. She knows as well as anyone Hoffman is intensely infectious in this movie.

Combined with his pseudo-hippie converted school bus — affectionately nicknamed the Barn Burner, complete with loudspeakers and an atrocious paint job — Dusty is arguably Twister‘s soul and spirit. (He’s the guy I most closely associate with the adrenaline of Van Halen’s ‘Humans Being,’ anyway.) The visual effects are clearly the centerpiece of de Bont’s film, with each tornado ramping up the action spectacle and becoming a character unto itself based upon the ease with which it converts towns into splinters, bridges into dust, corn fields into particles of lovely yellow shit. Not to mention the psychological impacts it has upon the chase team(s): “I’m sorry Jo, I don’t even know if you want to hear this but the NSSL is predicting an F-5.”

But we ought to move beyond the obviousness of Twister‘s visuals. There’s no denying that without Hoffman’s eccentric work here, Twister would be all the worse off for it. It’s one character in a multitude that proves the actor’s dedication to the work assigned to him. It’s something lovers of film and lovers of this film specifically shouldn’t take for granted. The energy is so very specific, yet unfortunately comes at quite an expensive price.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 113 mins.

Quoted: “Repo Man spends his life getting into intense situations, Beltzer!”

“Meg’s gravy is famous. It’s practically a food group.”

“He strolls up to the twister, and he says, ‘Have a drink.’ And he chucks the bottle into the twister, and it never hits the ground.”

“He’s gonna rue the day he came up against The Extreme, baby. Bill, I’m talkin’ imminent rueage.”

“Fashionably late again, eh Jonas? Fashionably late. Gimme a kiss baby!”


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