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):


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":

From pbs.org:

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.


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.


duel (steven spielberg, 1971)

This is the thirty-first 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 31 is called "Cut to the Chase Week":

Quick! What do Watergate, pet rocks, bell bottoms, roller skates, disco, and afros have in common? The 1970s! Do you know what else we got in the '70s? Nothing less than JawsAlienRockyTaxi DriverThe Godfather, and Star Wars, that's what. But there's a little subsection of 1970s moviemaking you might not have thought to consider: The Golden Age of the Car Chase. The '70s was the decade for 'em. More violent, more exciting, and more real (shove off, CGI), the decade's car chases threw around unbelievable amounts of gasoline-propelled metal in raw, exhilarating ways and paved the way for such epic chases as those seen in RoninThe Italian Job remake, the entire Fast and the Furious franchise, Death ProofDrive, and Baby Driver, to name a few. So strap in, rev your engine, and hang on to your mutton chops—this week is gonna be a wild ride!

The challenge this week is to chase down and watch a movie from Karl Janssen's The Golden Age of Car Chase Films (1970s) list.

Pauline Kael once told a story about sitting around watching the Bela Lugosi Dracula with some academic friends. As the post-mortem conversation went:

We had begun to surprise each other by the affectionate, nostalgic tone of our mock erudition when the youngest person present, an instructor in English, said, in clear, firm tone, "The Beast with Five Fingers is the greatest horror picture I've ever seen." Stunned that so bright a young man could display such shocking taste, preferring a Warner, Brothers forties mediocrity to the classics, I gasped, "But why?" And he answered, "Because it's completely irrational. It doesn't make any sense, and that's the true terror."

Duel makes no sense. And that's the true terror.

It's worth noting that Duel is indeed a tense picture, something of a small masterpiece, stripped to its essentials. (This may have been even more true in its original form as a TV movie, since 16 minutes were later added by Spielberg for its theatrical release.) I think its reputation is greater than it might deserve, because it's called Spielberg's first feature and in many ways it is recognizably his. (It ranks #959 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.) Duel is good, Duel is efficient, Duel shows a promising film maker, but his next (first theatrical) feature, The Sugarland Express, is a better movie.


geezer cinema/film fatales #205: the hitch-hiker (ida lupino, 1953)

Ida Lupino gets credit for being a woman director in Hollywood when there were no such things. I'm behind the times with Lupino ... this is the first of her directed movies I've seen, and I only saw one movie that she acted in (High Sierra, which I watched recently).

The Hitch-Hiker is compact (71 minutes). Lupino wastes no time, there is no flab, nor is there time to think too hard about what you are seeing. In short, it's effective for what it is attempting. It's a noir without a femme fatale, and ironically the only noir directed by a woman. The best noirs (Double Indemnity and The Night of the Hunter, to name two) are as good as the best films of any genre. It does seem to me that the genre has a reputation that is a bit elevated, though. If you make a spare, inexpensive film with a touch of style, your movie will be highly regarded. A movie like, say, Kansas City Confidential is fine, but that's all it is (and it should go without saying that "fine" is not a pejorative).

So The Hitch-Hiker is a good movie, but its status may be high in part because Lupino directed it, and it's an underexposed noir.

For boomers, the highlight of The Hitch-Hiker is probably William Talman as the title character. This hitch-hiker is a vicious killer, while Talman became best known for his years playing district attorney Hamilton Burger on the old Perry Mason television series. Talman is indeed ferocious here, with a droopy eye that adds menace. Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy are two friends who pick up Talman, to their regret. The movie I was most reminded of was Detour, which is the best of all the cheapie Grade-Z noirs. The Hitch-Hiker is nowhere near as good as Detour, but it's a worthy addition to your noir viewing.