Brian De Palma's first feature is a curio, recognizably his. He wears his influences on his sleeve (Hitchcock, of course, Michael Powell). It's got voyeurism and violence. It's got overly flashy technique. It's not much of a movie, and I can't recommend it to anybody but hardcore De Palma completionists. At least it's short.
I woke up to the following tunes, chosen by Spotify's AI DJ, "X". First, a song from Quicksilver Messenger Service's debut album in 1968, written by Dino Valenti, who was in prison at the time:
From 1965, a song that needs no introduction:
Also from 1965, the first single by The Yardbirds after Jeff Beck replaced Eric Clapton:
Amidst a bunch of 60s songs by bands of white guys, a 1989 track from a band of white guys:
Spooky Tooth, with Gary Wright, and a guitarist who later joined Mott the Hoople, from 1968, covering a Dylan song from the Basement Tapes era:
My favorite Byrds song was "Eight Miles High", and Crosby was still with the band at the time ... he received a songwriter's credit, although he may not have added much. There was a version the band preferred that wasn't used by the record label, but it became available long after the fact:
Here's the official version, with drums by Sina:
"Helplessly Hoping" by Crosby, Stills & Nash (written by Stills) was one of the only songs I ever sang on stage. Three of us played an acoustic set as an opening act for a metal band ... don't ask. "Helplessly Hoping" was one of our songs, and while my job mostly was to play bass while my friends sang real purty, "Helplessly Hoping" needed a third for harmonies. So there I was. Problem is, when I sing that song to myself, I end up doing the lead, and I kept coming in on the wrong note when we were together. So, even though we didn't have a bass in our version, as we began, I found my first harmony note on my bass and played it very quietly over and over until the singing began, at which point I sang the note from the bass and was able to continue with that harmony part of the rest of the song. (I didn't play that bass note after that.)
I saw CSN&Y once in 1974, and saw CS&N once in 1984 after a Giants game ... they played at second base.
"Love Work Out" was far and away my favorite song by Crosby & Nash. As I said on Facebook, "They are thankful for Danny Kortchmar and David Lindley on this track, as am I."
Finally, here is Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane doing right by one of Crosby's songs, "Triad":
Why do I have the trailer for a crappy Bonnie and Clyde ripoff? It's not because of the involvement of Dick Clark, although he was quite involved indeed: co-writer, co-producer, co-star. No, it's because Merle Haggard played a sheriff in the movie (spoiler alert: can you believe it, Dick Clark kills Hag in the picture!) Haggard is all over the soundtrack, which features a song he had only recently recorded, a song that became one of his most famous tunes: "Mama Tried".
The song has been covered by a large number of artists, including the Grateful Dead, who played it over 300 times live, including at Woodstock:
I'll probably watch a few more movies this year, but unless one is an all-time classic, these will likely remain the best movies I watched in 2021. All of them get my highest 10/10 rating. Sorted by release date:
- The Wizard of Oz (1939)
- Shame (1968)
- The Godfather (1972)
- The Godfather: Part II (1974)
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
- L.A. Confidential (1997)
- Spirited Away (2001)
- Stories We Tell (2012)
- Before Midnight (2013)
- Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)
Several times during The Sit-In, we are reminded that the week when Harry Belafonte hosted The Tonight Show was largely buried in the history of television. Yoruba Richen, who directed and co-wrote the documentary, emphasizes this because she believes Belafonte's hosting stint was an important moment in television ... she wants to ensure that it is forgotten no longer. She succeeds ... The Sit-In will be there for anyone who wants to discover (or rediscover) the week that was. It's a noble, even necessary, endeavor.
And Richen does what she can with the existing material. But here she is let down, which is unfortunate for her audience. First, she explains that in the 1960s, networks like NBC regularly recorded over tapes, so that, in the case of Belafonte on The Tonight Show, only segments from two of his five episodes exist today. So a look at the guest lists for his episodes is impressive, but we only get a handful of those guests. The truncated list remains impressive ... The Sit-In features Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who tells a joke!), Bobby Kennedy, Paul Newman, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Nipsey Russell, and others. But a lot of the brief (75 minutes) running time of The Sit-In consists of interviews with people who express surprise that these episodes existed at all. I'm always glad to hear from Questlove and Whoopi Goldberg, but their contributions to The Sit-In are extended beyond usefulness. Understandably, given the absence of much footage from the event, but it becomes a bit repetitious.
Richen does a good job of placing the episodes in the context of 1968, and ultimately, The Sit-In is a helpful, if incomplete, addition to our understanding of our history. It's not a classic, but you take what you can get.
And the drum cover by Sina, which got a big thumbs up from Ron's wife:
Medium Cool is legendary for a reason. Haskell Wexler used documentary techniques to tell a fictional story, and knew where to go and what to do with the camera. He may not have been able to predict just how crazy it would get in Chicago in August of 1968, but he knew it was a place to be, and that something could happen.
Robert Forster plays a news cameraperson, John Cassellis, who ends up on the streets of Chicago and learns something about how the people on those streets perceive the work he and his fellow journalists do. Part of him maintains a distance from the story, but he's too smart to avoid some of the implications. It's a key moment for John when he finds out his network lets the cops and the FBI see his footage.
Meanwhile, the entire Medium Cool project confronts the boundaries between fiction and documentary. Verna Bloom, a professional actor from New England in her first movie, is so convincing as a woman who has moved to Chicago from West Virginia that some people thought she was an amateur. Bloom has talked about the odd dual nature of her performance ... Wexler had her walking around during the police riots on the streets, and Bloom is both doing her job as an actor and experiencing the violence in reality. It is these documentary-style scenes that lift Medium Cool above the norm, as the plot is serviceable but no more, and some of the larger political points are muddled. But as the riots take hold, Medium Cool is gripping in ways that surpass the usual film.
The ending is weak ... it feels out of place, like something out of a more traditional Hollywood movie. But the last shot, of Wexler pointing a camera at us as the crowd chants "The whole world's watching!" is the perfect summation.
It took Phil Dellio, Scott Woods and I several Zooms to get through all of Stanley Kubrick.
Lolita, Dr. Strangelove (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)
Full Metal Jacket
OK, someone explain this to me. Shame is (at least) the 17th film by Ingmar Bergman I have seen. I have yet to see a bad one, so the expectations are great. But after watching Shame for the first time, I was embarrassed that I had never gotten around to it before. It is, to my mind, one of a handful of the greatest films of Bergman's career, and thus, one of the great films in cinema history. But apparently, not a lot of people agree with me. Bergman has 14 films on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time ... none of them are Shame (it finished at #1279). In the recent TSPDT users poll, Bergman received votes from 853 of the 1983 participants, the 6th-most of any director, and more than such directors as Wong Kar-wai, Welles, and Godard. 21 Bergman films received votes ... 12 of them got more votes than Shame, which got only 6. At the time of its release, noted critic Andrew Sarris wrote in the Village Voice that Shame was "completely worthless as a work of art."
OK, taste preferences and all that. But I'm dumbfounded nonetheless. Here I was so happy to fill in this blind spot in my filmgoing, and after the fact I find I wasn't alone in my blind spot. Except now that I've seen it, for me it is a blind spot no longer, and I am here to say that Shame is a great film.
Shame is a war movie, but at first it feels like an abstract war movie. Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann play an unsettled married couple who are living on an isolated island, only marginally aware of the war going on in the world outside of their lives. Bergman never explains who is fighting, or what they are fighting over. What he does show is the impact of war on even the non-participants. The couple is isolated, but not isolated enough ... eventually, the war comes to them. They must confront their own inner beings, and they aren't very pleased with themselves. Gradually, Shame becomes just brutal to watch (in its way, it's as hard to experience as Ichikawa's Fires on the Plain). We never do learn what the war is about, which is why it feels abstract, but what the war does to the characters is not abstract, but rather unsparingly real.
In the midst of all this, Liv Ullmann gives one of her greatest performances. Shame was left out when it came to Oscar nominations, but surely Ullmann deserved some attention. (Next January, she will finally get her first Oscar, an honorary award.) Ullmann comes face to face with her fellow actors, and with the audience (thanks to frequent close-ups), and she is never less than brilliant.