Thursday, April 30, 2009

Does It Hold Up?

During the course of the weekend the conversation steered itself in such a direction that my wife admitted with a reluctant smile that she had, in fact, never seen THE BIG LEBOWSKI.

“Never seen it? But it’s brilliant! Hysterical!” My eyes widened with each exclamation of greatness. “We must rectify the situation immediately!”

She settled into her preferred corner of the couch as I went about opening the various leather albums we’ve been transferring our DVDs into in an effort to save space. I flipped through the pages and considered something I hadn’t though of when I previously combusted with enthusiasm at the thought of introducing her to THE BIG LEBOWSKI:

Was it really as good as I remembered it?

I originally saw it in the theater, its viewing remarkable because it was the first time I recalled taking my younger brother along with my friends. He loved it, and it cemented now long-standing ritual of checking out at least one movie every time we get together. Past that, I maybe saw the film in its entirety once more when I bought original DVD, and some snippets here and there on cable.


I needn’t have worried; if anything THE BIG LEBOWSKI got even better 11 years later. Particularly John Goodman’s performance. I’m sure it was always there, but watching this time I was able to catch a lot of the cracks in his hardcore shell: the wincing pain when his ex-wife comes up, the flare-ups at poor Donny (a wonderfully understated Steve Buscemi) that mask deeper insecurities. If Jeff Bridges’ “Dude” is the unwavering constant, then Goodman’s Walter is the journeyman in the film: the close on him hugging the Dude after Donny’s ashes are haphazardly flung into the ocean (and the Dude’s face) is hilarious and poignant, we feel Walter may have turned a corner in his life, even as “the Dude abides,” as Sam Elliot points out in the final scene.

The point is, the damn thing not only held up, but improved in my eyes years later.

Over the next few days, I started thinking about other films I loved upon initial viewing but haven’t seen in years…would they hold up to scrutiny? And is the opposite true - would films I didn’t like age like a fine cheese with the appropriate distance? I’m guessing the latter is probably more true than not: there are a lot of films that take time, knowledge, and experience to appreciate. L’AVVENTURA is up front in the list of films I just didn’t enjoy or “get” the first time around. Admittedly it’s been well over a dozen years since I tried, those years filled with a lot more amateur experience in watching and writing about movies. So maybe next time it’ll work out, who know?


If there’s a question anywhere in this post, I suppose it’s this: what films out there did you love, only to find out it wasn’t the film you remember upon seeing it again? Conversely, what films got better with time, not only moving up in an already favorable estimation, but actually changing your mind about it?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

Dario Argento is generally held high on the shoulders of horror fandom for the vibrant visual palette he brings to his horror films, particularly his series of giallo films. FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET was his third film, considered "lost" due to its long absence on DVD, and it's a crazy ride into many of the visual themes and cues he would use to later effect in more classic films like DEEP RED and SUSPIRIA.

It's interesting that DEEP RED came only a few years and one film after FOUR FLIES, which was originally supposed to be Argento's goodbye to the giallo genre. You can watch the two in sitting (as I did) and really see FOUR FLIES as a kind of workprint for what Argento would do cleaner and more impactful in DEEP RED. Because for all its wonderful moments, including an amazing rock and roll soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, beautiful use of colors and moving cameras, and some excellent ahead of its time POV shots, FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET is an absolute mess as far as story is concerned. Essentially, it's about a drummer in a rock band (Michael Brandon) named Roberto who is being stalked by a mysterious man in black, with a glorious, full and bushy mustache (I bring this up because it was a bad-ass mustache). Roberto confronts the gentleman in an abandoned playhouse, a struggle ensues, a knife comes out, and the stalker crashes to the stage, seemingly stabbed by mistake in the struggle. High above in the balcony, a figure wearing a mask shaped like a doll's head snaps pictures. Soon Roberto is terrorized by the new stranger, and as he attempts to figure out what's going on, one by one those who attempt to help him are murdered.

Don't bother trying to figure out what the dreams of decapitation mean, or the whirling scenes that take place in a padded cell. Forget the obvious and sometimes hysterical homosexual under (and over-) tones of the characters and just revel in how masterly Argento controls the action on the screen. It doesn't make a lot of sense, and when you find out who the killer is, you'll probably be as stumped as I am with trying to understand why they went through all of the trouble of doing what they did in the beginning if they only wanted to kill Roberto in the end. Even the scene that finally explains the title of the movie: wonderful to look at, really inconsequential in the grand scheme of the story. Argento basically directs the hell out of a movie that's light as a feather, but watched in conjunction with DEEP RED, FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET gets better when you think of it as a sort of proving ground for what he would accomplish in the later film.

All in all, nice to finally have it out on DVD, but I think this one is more of a curiosity for those who want to catch all of Argento rather than anything like a lost classic.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Back and Tweaking

You know what I realized?

I really have no desire to log and review every single film I see.

There. It's out there now. I feel better for having admitting it. And it's not because I didn't see any good films - sometimes the best reviews come from the ones you didn't like. It's a combination of things: films had taken a bit of a back-seat after WATCHMEN, making room for some family things and some hobbies long-neglected but recently taken back up. Films are still wonderful, but the rush to have a review up for every single thing I've watched plus articles and essays about film-related matter didn't give me the time to really focus on improving my film writing, which was one of the main goals in breaking out and creating this site.

So there's going to be some adjustments - the main one being the reviews. There will be fewer, but hopefully they'll begin to take a more definite shape. Additionally, the chances of the reviewed film being new or current releases is going to be slim - I'm just not getting out there as much as I want to, and I have a slew of DVDs that frankly are more interesting to me right now than whatever happens to be playing in the local mainstream theaters (except for OBSERVE AND REPORT, which has me very interested).

The look of the site will change as well - I'm not happy with the bleak, grey look - so we'll see what we can do about that as well.

In the meantime, check out some of the great writing going on from the list on the right side of this site. One and all they're all worthy of your time. I'll be back soon with a review of Dario Argento's "lost" giallo FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET.