teevee 2013
the karen sisco award and the mini-series

what i watched last week

The Battle of Chile. Part 1: The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie. Part 2: The Coup d’Etat (Patricio Guzmán, 1975-6). I watched the two parts on separate days, although it isn’t clear to me how we are supposed to approach the films. Are they one film, The Battle of Chile, with two parts, or two films on the same subject? (To add to the confusion, a third part came out in 1979, which I haven’t yet seen.) Together, the films are a remarkable document as well as a brilliant example of filmmaking on the run. Guzmán and his team filmed events on the ground as they happened in Chile in 1973. It thus documents the collapse of the Allende government in real time. I noted when discussing Hearts and Minds that its points were not always well-served by the clear propaganda elements in the film, but they were nothing compared to The Battle of Chile, which openly works from a Marxist perspective. The film is edited to make its points … perhaps more importantly, it seems to have been shot with those points in mind. Guzmán knew what he wanted to film, and he managed to be there when things happened. The result is a documentary of great immediacy. And while it is necessarily a low-budget affair, and it was made under the most trying of circumstances, it is at times a work of great elegance. Everything comes together at the end of Part 1, when, during a failed coup attempt, a soldier points his gun at a camera (and, figuratively, at us) and fires. The cameraman, Leonardo Henrichsen, 33, dies from the shots. Part 2 shows the final collapse of the Allende government. Guzmán gets his camera into seemingly every important meeting. We’re there when the socialist workers try to hammer out a plan. We’re there when the left-leaning people on the street express their opinions. We see the middle class talking about their hatred of socialism. We see the public meetings of the government. We see attempted coups, we see the military taking over towns, searching for weapons they never find, at one point dredging up graves, leading one woman to ask what did the soldiers fear, that the dead would throw their bones at them? That they never find weapons is a crucial point, for while the films argues that Allende has popular support (a rally late in the film draws 800,000 people), they are too disorganized to create a coherent plan, and they have no guns to fight off the Army and Navy when it becomes necessary. The film is criminally unknown. 10/10. For a more recent, different, film from Guzmán, check out Nostalgia for the Light.

Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012). Quentin Tarantino is one of the most reliable filmmakers of all time. You know what you are getting, even though each film stands as its own production. There will be violence, too much for some viewers. There will be profanity, too much for some viewers. There will be incessant pop culture references, too many for some viewers. The dialogue will be so good, you will look forward to long conversations, even though they postpone the action that supposedly gets us into the theater. And, for me, the films will always be good, at the least. I don’t know if we’ve seen Tarantino’s masterpiece yet, but I’ve seen seven of his features, and have yet to give a rating lower than 8/10. Tarantino’s flaws are easy to pick out, because they are often the same as his good points. He is excessive … “too much for some viewers” describes a lot of what happens in his movies. But the excess is essential to his movies, and when he goes overboard, as he often does, it is usually because he is trying for greatness. He has an interesting relationship to the Grade-B genre fare that inspires him. He treats it as valuable, influential culture, the equal of so-called better genres, but what he does with those “lesser” genres is to raise them another notch. That is, his homages to his beloved inspirations tend to be better than the originals. He makes movies that, by their quality, remind us of what is missing from much of the B-movies he draws from. Django has plenty of good acting, the dialogue as always is great (and while Tarantino deserves to be called out in general for his overuse of the n-word, it’s appropriate in the context of this particular movie), and that dialogue helps make the film’s 2 hour and 45 minute running time go by pretty quickly. I wish there had been more for Kerry Washington to do … Tarantino has written some great parts for women in the past, but you won’t find a Jackie Brown or The Bride here. #237 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 8/10. The obvious companion film would be Inglourious Basterds. I don’t know much about the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Corbucci, but the 1968 Django is another obvious choice, if you’re looking for more from that genre. The master of the genre is Sergio Leone, who did The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. Finally, if you’re looking for more Jamie Foxx, there’s always Booty Call, which gets the job done in 79 minutes (that is, if you started watching Booty Call and Django at the same time, you would finish Booty Call twice and still have 7 minutes before Django ended).

Love Affair (Leo McCarey, 1939). This was remade several times, most notably as An Affair to Remember, also directed by McCarey, with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The original is the best. The success of the film relies heavily on the star power of Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. Dunne always seems to be working hard, while Boyer coasts on a subtlety that hides deeper feelings. As with An Affair to Remember, the first part of the film is the best, as the two stars meet and fall in love on a cruise. But Love Affair doesn’t fall apart when the ship reaches New York, and it’s all over in less than 90 minutes. 7/10. The obvious thing to see alongside this is the Grant/Kerr movie, or even the 1994 remake, also titled Love Affair, with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening (which I haven’t seen, so this isn’t really a recommendation). For another pairing of Dunne and McCarey (and Cary Grant), check out The Awful Truth, which is one of the very best screwball comedies. And those looking for more Charles Boyer are directed to The Earrings of Madame de …, which happens to be #14 on my own all-time list.

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