film fatales #189: proof (jocelyn moorhouse, 1991)

This is the fourteenth 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 14 is called "Living in Obscurity Week":

Top 10 (or 50, or 100, or 250), Best of, and All-Time Greatest lists are all well and good, but sometimes the discerning movie-watcher desires the sweet thrill of discovery, of stumbling upon an obscure gem, of uncovering a magnificent concoction few others have. There is nothing wrong with those lauded collections of films—they are well-known and revered for good reason. But think about this: by some estimates, there are nearly 5 million films out there in the world! It's like a bucket of LEGO containing pieces of every size; all the little bricks sink to the bottom while the bigger ones rest on top. Movies, it seems, are no different.

This week, let's plunge our hands deep into the movie bucket and shun the measly 1% of films (if we're being generous) that get the most attention. However, 4.95 million films are a bit much to sift through. Luckily, Letterboxd makes our task easy: just pick a title from The Most Obscure Movie Recommendations List Ever as compiled by independent online film journal Bright Wall/Dark Room. Voila! Happy discovering!

Proof was the first feature for writer/director Jocelyn Moorhouse, and it was successful on the festival circuit, opening doors for Moorhouse's subsequent career. I've seen her later movie The Dressmaker, which was also highly regarded, although I felt it didn't add up to much. You could say Proof doesn't fit clearly into any genre, or that it crosses several genres, but in any case, it's just different enough to be surprising throughout. It's a study of a blind man, it's a buddy movie, it's a romantic triangle, and no one can every quite trust anyone else. Trust is at the center of the film ... the blind man can't trust what others say because he can't see evidence of what they are talking about. He takes photographs of everything, and then asks people to describe what they see. He compares their descriptions to what people said when the events took place, and can then know who is honest ... the photographs are his proof.

There's some nice acting going on. Hugo Weaving doesn't overplay his character's blindness, and is all the more believable because of that. Russell Crowe is impossibly young (he was 27), with a pleasing charisma. Geneviève Picot rounds out the triangle, and her character is written almost like a femme fatale from a noir picture. Picot makes it work.

Proof won't knock you off your feet, but it's a solid film and a strong start for Moorhouse.

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.