film fatales #188: dance, girl, dance (dorothy arzner, 1940)

There's no denying the historical importance of Dorothy Arzner, a pioneer film maker who was the first woman to join the Directors Guild of America. For most of her career, she was the only woman directing mainstream Hollywood movies. All of the Arzner films I've seen are solid efforts (admittedly, I've only seen three). Some find Dance, Girl, Dance her best work, while I find a consistency in the movies I've seen, where none is notably better than the others.

Dance, Girl, Dance is ripe for analysis of its feminist subtext. Some of this comes from our knowing about Arzner's importance ... we want to find that subtext. She only made one more movie after Dance, Girl, Dance, and while she lived until 1979, her films were not rediscovered until the burgeoning feminist film theorists of the early 70s. It's good that she was rediscovered, and I've liked her movies. But I think there's a tendency to overestimate work that is noteworthy for its place in film history. That Arzner was a pioneer doesn't guarantee that she was an elite director. We should be thankful for the general quality of her movies, without thinking we need to praise them as classics on their own.

Here is the defining scene from Dance, Girl, Dance ... the feminist subtext moves to the front:

Maureen O'Hara plays a dancer with dreams of being a successful ballet dancer. Lucille Ball is a dancer whose dreams are more about money than art. Arzner is not critical of her female characters ... we understand the motives of both women. There's an imbalance in the movie, though, because while O'Hara is OK, Ball steals the film. When she appears, we root for her, even though I don't think we are expected to prefer her dreams to O'Hara's.

music friday: spotify wrapped

Spotify's annual "Wrapped" has been released. Not sure why this became so viral, but once a year, Spotify sums up your listening, and makes it easy to post the results on social media. Here are songs, one per decade, that I listened to more than any other from that decade.









geezer cinema: the killer (david fincher, 2023)

I forget where I saw it, but someone suggested John Woo make a movie called Fight Club as payback for this one.

It might matter that I'm not a big fan of Fight Club. Not really a big fan of David Fincher, truth be known. My favorite is probably The Social Network, I detested Se7en, most of the others fall into the mid-range "well, I saw them" (The Killer is the 9th Fincher movie I've seen). Mostly, I found The Killer pointless and too slow. I didn't feel I learned anything about the title character, at least not enough that he seemed different at the end than he did at the beginning. Much of the movie is low-key, in keeping with the philosophy of the assassin, who tries to keep himself under control at all times. (It doesn't work.)

It doesn't help that I kept being reminded of other, better, films. Obviously, there's Woo's The Killer, one of the all-time greats, although in fairness Fincher's film isn't really like Woo's, other than the title. The movie that really comes to mind is Melville's Le Samouraï with Alain Delon. (An interesting side note: while I didn't find the Woo and Fincher films to be much alike, Woo was highly influenced by Le Samouraï when he made his The Killer.) I'm willing to accept that Michael Fassbender is a "better" actor than Alain Delon, and up until The Killer I had never seen anything with Fassbender that wasn't at least good (and, of course, he is brilliant in Hunger). I wrote, of Le Samouraï:

The "hero" is a loner ... there is no friend who understands. And Delon is perfect for this. Delon's acting, such as it is, depends on detachment. This makes Le Samouraï abstract, with little connection to real life. Ultimately, we do not want to become assassins after seeing Le Samouraï. We want to become Alain Delon.

Fassbender's assassin tries to be detached, but he can't quite pull it off, and for all his acting skills, Fassbender can't achieve what Delon manages just by being on the screen. So where I couldn't keep my eyes of the screen during Le Samouraï, I was bored a lot of the time in The Killer. (And was it too on target that the assassin's favorite music was The Smiths?)

christine (antonio campos, 2016)

This is the thirteenth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 13 is called "Breaking News Week":

The organizations of people who have wielded the power to decide what information should be disseminated to the mass public has had profound effects on societies throughout history for both good and evil. How events and people are depicted can influence and shape a whole generation, especially as global means of mass-communication, from the television to the Internet, has extended the news’ reach to more and more people. Even if you don’t watch or read the news yourself, you can’t escape the role it plays in shaping politics and the people in your communities, or in just hearing people discuss the latest headlines around you.

This week we honor, fear, and/or respect the power journalism has had on us by watching a movie about journalism. Here is a list to get you started.

Christine is about a reporter, but it's not really about journalism. Christine the reporter has serious personal problems, which exhibit in her work life and all other aspects of her life. She has opinions about what journalism should be about, and the film shows us life in the news department at a small-market television station, but what director Antonio Campos and writer Craig Shilowich are pushing here is the story of Christine the person, more than just using Christine to examine television news.

Thanks largely to Rebecca Hall's performance in the title role, Christine is an intense and realistic look at the life of someone struggling with life. Hall has had a fascinating career. She was acting on a TV series when she was 10. She began her stage career working with her father, Peter Hall. On film she has worked with everyone from Christopher Nolan to Woody Allen to Ron Howard. In 2021 alone, she starred in Godzilla vs. Kong and made her directorial debut with Passing. She has a unique screen presence, and she fits well in the part of Christine, so well it's almost scary.

[Spoiler alert] There is another important issue I haven't mentioned yet. Christine is bsaed on a true story ... there really was a Christine Chubbuck who worked as a television news reporter in Florida in the early 1970s. If you don't know her story coming to the film ... well, I can't speak to that because I knew how the story ended. And while Campos and Shilowich and Hall are very sympathetic to what Chubbuck was going through, knowing what is coming affects how the film plays. Because Christine Chubbuck was the first person to commit suicide on a live television broadcast. And knowing that, you can't help but think throughout the movie that it's all leading up to that suicide. It's not exactly exploitative, but we want the release that is coming, terrible as it is, like knowing in a movie about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that the quake is going to be the big scene. But the suicide of a real person is not the same as a depiction of a real earthquake. Christine leaves an unsettling residue that isn't solely because we feel for the tortured life of the main character. It's that we know if Chubbuck hadn't gone out in such a public, even historic way, there would be no movie about her. The suicide becomes the rationale for the film.