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the tall t (budd boetticher, 1957)

Another pairing of director Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott. Criterion released a box set of these Westerns, and this is the second I've watched (after Ride Lonesome). This is better, although both films share certain qualities: Scott as a hero with a conscience, concise film making on a budget, plenty of interesting names in the cast. Richard Boone is good as the main bad guy, and his part is written with more than the usual complexity. Maureen O'Sullivan plays a plain woman, which seems a bit silly, while Henry Silva did what Hollywood often asked him to do. Silva, born in Brooklyn with Sicilian and Spanish ancestry, plays a gunslinger named "Chink". In the end, Scott saves the day and walks off with O'Sullivan.

10 things i hate about you (gil junger, 1999)

This is the thirty-third and final 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 33 is called "Party Like It's 1999 Week":

Capping off the 9th Annual Letterboxd Season Challenge with a celebration of what many consider the best movie year ever, 1999. If you haven't seen all the classics like The MatrixThe Sixth SenseFight Club, or Magnolia, now's a great time to catch up with them. And if you have, there are plenty of other gems to discover.

This week's challenge is to watch a film from 1999.

It's a bit odd to be celebrating the end of another Letterboxd Challenge here, because while this is indeed the end of the line, Week 33, I watched and wrote about 10 Things I Hate About You back in October. Anticipating a month in Spain in April, I watched the last five films in the Challenge long before our trip, knowing I wouldn't have the chance to watch them as they turned up on the Challenge calendar. So this post, and the four previous ones, are all post-dated.

I think I'm the wrong age/generation for this movie. It's about high-school kids in 1999, and I'm 70, and in 1999 I was 46. It's true that high school remains a common experience for many of us who grew up in the U.S. ... there are things we can identify with, no matter our age or generation. Nonetheless, I didn't connect with 10 Things I Hate About You, which is a take on The Taming of the Shrew. Certainly not the way I locked into Bottoms. Maybe it's the simple fact that 10 Things walks a line that allowed it to get a PG-13 rating, while Bottoms was aggressively R. The Kate stand-in (she's called Kat in this one) is never really a shrew. In fact, she's quite reasonable, although that means she's anti-social in the terms that high school works.

The movie introduces us to some actors who went on to impressive careers. Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles were up-and-comers in 1999. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was better known, since he had a regular role on a popular TV show, but like his co-stars, he was still young and in the early part of his career. All three are good in 10 Things. But the movie isn't much, although don't listen to me ... it did OK at the box office, and Stiles won an MTV Movie Award for Breakthrough Female Performance. The soundtrack is good ... I'd play it before I watched this movie again. Ultimately, 10 Things I Hate About You is like a pilot episode for a TV series, and in fact, while it took 10 years, it did finally become a series.

A summary of my 9th Annual Challenge:

Best Movie: Secrets & Lies

Worst Movie: Inherit the Wind

Longest Movie: Secrets & Lies

Shortest Movie: Black Girl

Most Popular Movie: Call Me by Your Name

Most Obscure Movie: The Lady in Red

Most Highly-Regarded Movie: Secrets & Lies

Least Highly-Regarded Movie: Smile

geezer cinema: the greeks had a word for them (lowell sherman, 1932)

I'm not the first person to point out that any movie is made better by the presence of Joan Blondell. Here, she is joined by Madge Evans and Ina Claire, and they make a fun threesome, making their way through "drinkies" as they work as "showgirls-turned-courtesans" in this pre-Code picture. There's not much to it ... as is often the case with a lesser film like this, the trivia is as interesting as anything else. Blondell married the cameraman (it didn't last), and the title was variable ... based on a play, The Greeks Had a Word for It, and for some reason that title was deemed offensive, so they changed "It" until "Them". It was re-released as Three Broadway Girls, which was the title of the print I saw. That print was crappy. This is one of the films that fell into the public domain. There were a few recognizable people who went uncredited: Louise Beavers had a scene or two, can't remember, and Ward Bond had a scene as a cabbie. It's said that Betty Grable's in there, too. Best part: it's over in 79 minutes.

Here's one of the great movie moments featuring Joan Blondell, presented in two parts because the YouTube clips in general are a bit of a mess (the movie is Gold Diggers of 1933):

music friday: 1989

Madonna, "Like a Prayer". Probably my favorite Madonna song.

The B-52s, "Love Shack". Formed in 1976, first album in 1979, were a popular cult band for a decade. Guitarist Ricky Wilson had a unique style that was an important part of the band's sound, and when he died of AIDS in 1985, his bandmates were crushed. In 1989, they bounced back with Cosmic Thing, which went 4x Platinum in the States ... you couldn't really call them a cult band by that point. "Love Shack" is for many the band's signature tune. I saw them live sometime around 1980.

Neneh Cherry, "Buffalo Stance". Cherry was 25 when she released her debut album, Raw Like Sushi, which included this international hit. She did it on Top of the Pops when she was seven months pregnant ... asked if that was safe, she said, "It's not an illness!"

Bonuses: I saw GG Allin in 1989 at a club that closed for good after the concert. I've never experienced anything like that show. Here's a news story explaining one of GG's gigs:

I saw The Feelies twice, the first time in 1989 when they opened for Lou Reed. This is my favorite of their songs:

goodbye, dragon inn (tsai ming-liang, 2003)

You've heard the saying: "well, that's 82 minutes of my life I'll never get back". After watching Goodbye, Dragon Inn, I thought, "well, that's 182 minutes out of my life I'll never get back". Except Goodbye, Dragon Inn is only 82 minutes long. But it was so excruciating, I felt like I'd lost three hours of my life. #284 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time, #16 on the list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. Perhaps the weirdest example of how unconnected I was to this movie: apparently some people think it's a comedy. My favorite bit of trivia about the film: director Tsai Ming-liang has twice voted for it on the director's poll for the Sight and Sound 10 greatest films of all time list.

african-american directors series: is that black enough for you ?!? (elvis mitchell, 2022)

This is the thirty-second 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 32 is called "Remembering Belafonte Week":


With his glowing, handsome face and silky-husky voice, [Harry] Belafonte was one of the first Black performers to gain a wide following on film and to sell a million records as a singer; many still know him for his signature hit "Banana Boat Song (Day-O)," and its call of "Day-O! Daaaaay-O." But he forged a greater legacy once he scaled back his performing career in the 1960s and lived out his hero Paul Robeson’s decree that artists are "gatekeepers of truth."

He stands as the model and the epitome of the celebrity activist. Few kept up with Belafonte’s time and commitment and none his stature as a meeting point among Hollywood, Washington and the civil rights movement.

This week, your task is to watch a film starring Harry Belafonte as we mark the first anniversary of his passing. Whether as an actor, singer, or activist, Belafonte was a formidable force, and the world is made poorer by his absence, yet undoubtedly richer in the wake of his presence.

It's a bit of a cheat to use this documentary as "a film starring Harry Belafonte," although it appears on the list we are supplied, so it's not an official cheat. Belafonte is fairly prominent, both as an example of black cinema and as a commentator on cinema. But the driving force behind Black Enough is writer/director Elvis Mitchell. whose career as a film critic spans more than 40 years.

The films that Mitchell chooses to demonstrate how blackness was presented in films are the usual. Two things make Black Enough especially valuable. First, he has a good selection of commentators, not just Belafonte, but also people like Laurence Fishburne, Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson, Margaret Avery, and Billy Dee Williams. Since Mitchell's primary focus is on the Black cinema of the 70s, he gives us Antonio Fargas, Glynn Turman, and others. There are behind the scenes people like director Charles Burnett and producer Suzanne De Passe. Even Zendaya turns up, saying "We have so many stories to tell. We just wanna see more of us existing in all different forms, and I think that is a common frustration, I think, amongst my peers. We just wanna see us just being kids or, like, in sci-fi, whatever."

It's Mitchell's take on 70s Black Cinema that is most important for the film. His vast knowledge of film matters, but he also shows a genuine affection for the movies and stars of the day that don't always get positive reactions. Pam Grier was almost a genre all by herself. Mitchell doesn't just show us Superfly, he talks about the sequels. And he discusses the more mainstream films of the day like Sounder and Lady Sings the Blues. There is a lot to learn from Black Enough, but Mitchell never talks down to his audience.

film fatales #206: showing up (kelly reichardt, 2022)

Back in 2008, I saw my first Kelly Reichardt film, Old Joy. I hated it (I should revisit it ... I find that when I have such a big negative response to a movie, there's something going on besides the movie).

It is a sign of the high regard for Reichardt among critics that I have come back for more. Showing Up is the fifth of her films I have seen, and I've liked all of the subsequent movies more than I did Old Joy. But I haven't loved any of them (Wendy and Lucy and First Cow are my favorites). And Showing Up is more of the same, as good as my favorites, but nothing that knocks me out. I appreciate that "knocking me out" isn't necessarily what Reichardt is up to in her films, but there's a connection I seem to be missing.

Some themes emerge. About Wendy and Lucy, I wrote that film had "a good feel for nature (and the beautiful cinematography to go with it), a lack of a narrative thrust, and the willingness to take the time to let the film develop (if “develop” is the right word)." On First Cow: "Kelly Reichardt has a very specific, personal style of film making, and more power to her. It really helps, though, if you know going in that she will force you to slow down to her pace." And about another film: "Meek's Cutoff is the kind of film that does such a good job of presenting the crushing boredom of the situation that the movie itself becomes boring."

I don't think there is an easy solution to this problem, nor do I think a solution is necessary. Reichardt seems to make the films she wants to make, with little interference, and that is a good thing, even if I feel distanced from the results.

This note from the IMDB hit home for me. "According to writer-director Kelly Reichardt, [Showing Up] deconstructs the idea of a genius. For her, it's a pure construct: the movie (and its title) refers to the idea of showing up to work every day, and taking time to hone a skill, until it becomes automatic, like eating." This willful rejection of genius in the mame of showing up is interesting on paper, but perhaps for a movie to grab me, there needs to be a little genius as well. Showing Up is about artists, and only one of them is ever referred to as a genius. He is a delusional conspiracy-minded soul who, when he finally begins work on a piece, begins digging up enormous holes in his backyard.

The acting is strong. Michelle Williams and Kelly Reichardt have worked together in the past, and it's a powerful relationship. The supporting cast includes Hong Chau (good as always, but I disliked her character), André 3000, Amanda Plummer, and Judd Hirsch (less hammy than usual). Kelly Reichardt is a consistent filmmaker, a winner of many awards, with films that are regulars at festivals. I only wish I cared more about her movies. #313 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

music friday: 1988

Phil Collins, "A Groovy Kind of Love". I learned a few things about this recording ... nothing earth-shaking, I just didn't notice it in 1988 for some reason (perhaps because it sux). I remember it as a hit in the 60s for The Mindbenders ... what I didn't know in the 60s, or in 1988 for that matter, is that the song was co-written by the soon-to-be ubiquitous Carole Bayer Sager. Collins recorded it for the 1988 film Buster ... again, I must have slept through 1988, I don't remember that movie, which actually starred Collins in the title role!

Bobby McFerrin, "Don't Worry, Be Happy". But wait, it gets worse. This insipid piece of junk might work as a novelty, with McFerrin using his specialty (all of the sounds on the track are made by McFerrin without instruments). This leads to one of the most remarkable bits of trivia I've ever heard, and once again, I can't believe I didn't know this before. McFerrin affects a Jamaican-sounding accent for no apparent reason, but according to Wikipedia, McFerrin was influenced by a Mexican restaurant next to the recording studio (the famous Fantasy Studios, aka the House that Creedence Built). I can't say I recognize the Mexican influence in his stupid vocals, but let me get to the trivia. Fantasy Studios, which is about half-a-mile from my house, is across the street from Juan's Place, where we have been eating for close to 50 years. My wife and I even have our pictures on the wall. Here is a picture of me with the late Juan:

With juan 2

Belinda Carlisle, "Heaven Is a Place on Earth". A bit of a cheat, here, as this one came out in 1987. The video is directed by Diane Keaton. Carlisle is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She's not there as a solo artist.

Bonus: The Proclaimers, "Oh Jean". I'm no expert, but if I had to guess, I'd say Americans think of The Proclaimers as one-hit wonders, that hit being "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)". That song came from their 1988 album Sunshine on Leith. It's a great song, but I've also always loved "Oh Jean" from the same album. Here's a lo-fi live recording of that one:

One-hit wonders in the USA, perhaps, but not necessarily in their native Scotland. In fact, Sunshine on Leith became the basis for an award-winning musical in 2007. In 2013 came a film version:

And yes, "500 Miles" was in the film, as well:

geezer cinema: the file on thelma jordon (robert siodmak, 1949)

Run-of-the-mill noir that has many of the trappings of the genre, but seems to want to pass as a whodunit. By 1949, studios could put Barbara Stanwyck into a movie like this and coast on her presence to give a noir feel. But as written, Thelma Jordon isn't much of a femme fatale until the end of the movie, which means the film drags. Something like Double Indemnity shows us from the start that Stanwyck's character is no good, but here, Thelma comes across as a wronged woman, unjustly accused of murder, which gives the courtroom scenes at the end some interest, but it's more entertaining to watch a femme fatale at work, and so since Stanwyck isn't revealed until the end, the entertainment value is lessened.

It doesn't help that Wendell Corey is a drab male lead. I kept waiting for something to spark, but it never happened. There's nothing awful about The File on Thelma Jordon ... it's a passable time-waster. But I wouldn't go any higher than that.

african-american directors series: symbiopsychotaxiplasm: take one (willliam greaves, 1968)

This film is as hard to describe as it is to pronounce its title. Letterboxd and the IMDB classify it as a documentary. Writer/director William Greaves produced more than 200 documentaries, and in Symbiopsychotaxiplasm he is the on-screen director and writer of the film, as himself. The actors all appear as themselves ... the only one you might recognize is Susan Anspach, two years before Five Easy Pieces. In the film, Greaves is making a movie with the actors ... the crew also appear in the film, and we see the process of filmmaking. We see the same scene over and over ... it seems to serve as a screen test for the various actors. The best equivalent I can come up with is Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up.

There is no real narrative thrust to the film, and the cinéma vérité appearance adds to the documentary feel. But I don't know ... sometimes it feels about as "real" as Curb Your Enthusiasm. Wikipedia describes it thusly: "Greaves creates a circular meta-documentary about a documentary, a documentary about a documentary and a documentary documenting a documentary about a documentary."

You can't make this stuff up. The IMDB tells us that "William Greaves believed that he had made a masterpiece, and that the only place to première it was the Cannes Film Festival. So he carried the print to France himself, where it was screened for programmers. However, the projectionist made the mistake of showing the reels out of order. The film was turned down. Greaves came home, figured he had made a mistake, and put the film in his closet." It appears to have mostly stayed in that closet until the early 90s, when it was shown once or twice. Steve Buscemi saw it and loved it ... Steven Soderberg soon joined the list of admirers. The film was finally re-released in 2005. It was named to the Slate Black Film Canon, and is #627 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.