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Monthly Archives: July 2007

on Bergman and Antonioni

So both Ingmar Bergman and Michaelangelo Antonioni have passed away. As is so often the case, The AV Club expresses my own feelings (and even experiences this time) better than I ever could.

When I was an 18-year-old Film student, I tried to force myself to appreciate the works of Antonioni and Bergman because they were clearly Great Works of Art. Their ponderousness and inscrutability was surely evidence of that, wasn’t it? Around the time I dropped out a couple of years later, though, I started to read Pauline Kael, and it was a revelation to find somebody vastly smarter, funnier, and more sophisticated than me… and who didn’t care for them either.

More recently I re-watched Smiles Of A Summer Night and Winter Light, and found a lot to admire, even though they still aren’t great favourites of mine. Maybe one day I’ll even understand why The Seventh Seal is regarded so highly.

Antonioni, though, I still think was a pretentious phony.

“Mr Shoop’s Surfin’ Summer School Midterm”

Mr Shoop’s Surfin’ Summer School MidtermI’ve praised Dennis Cozzalio’s Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule before, but probably my favourite part is his semi-regular film geek quizzes. I’ve never managed to actually find the time to fill one out before, though (hey, I have important Battlestar Galactica and The Wire to watch!). But this time, finally, I did. I’m so proud!

Anyway, here are my answers. And if you’re in any way reading this because you’re a film nerd, go take the quiz (and then let me know: I always like evidence I’m not shouting into the great interweb void). Or you can just read other people’s responses: always interesting and enlightening. I avoided reading any of the responses until I wrote my own, so I’m gonna go read them right now and envy all the people who came up with cooler answers than I could think of.

Mughal Sarāi 1) Favorite quote from a filmmaker

“Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates.” — Werner Herzog


“Filmmaking is not about the tiny details. It’s about the big picture.” — Ed Wood

Villa Park 2) A good movie from a bad director

Kevin Smith is pretty much a wash as a director, but I still like Chasing Amy a whole lot. (I like Clerks and Clerks II a lot, too, but I’m not sure I’d say they’re good movies.)

3) Favorite Laurence Olivier performance

I’ve seen maybe four or five Olivier movies in my life, but I don’t remember his performances in any of them well enough to compare.

4) Describe a famous location from a movie that you have visited (Bodega Bay, California, where the action in The Birds took place, for example). Was it anything like the way it was in the film? Why or why not?

My first trip to New York was a eye-opener. I couldn’t get over how “New York” it all looked. In retrospect I should have maybe expected that.

5) Carlo Ponti or Dino De Laurentiis (Producer)?

Dino. He not only produced Conan, Barbarella, Death Wish and Army of Darkness, but he had the brains not to get involved with Zabriski Point or the overrated Blowup.

6) Best movie about baseball

Mr Baseball.

7) Favorite Barbara Stanwyck performance

Double Indemnity, of course. Bad wig, bad make-up, and she looks downright feral in some scenes, but I still believe Fred MacMurray would kill a man to tap that.

8.) Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Dazed and Confused?

Dazed and Confused. I have no nostalgic attachment to Fast Times, Though Phoebe Cates in that bikini is pretty memorable.

9) What was the last movie you saw, and why? (We’ve used this one before, but your answer is presumably always going to be different, so…)

Sholay. I’ve been getting into Bollywood movies lately, and it’s a classic “curry western”.

10) Whether or not you have actually procreated or not, is there a movie you can think of that seriously affected the way you think about having kids of your own?

While it wasn’t part of my own childhood (which was essentially movie-free), various friends and relatives let their kids watch the same children’s movie over and over again. Being in such a house seems a special kind of hell to me.

On the other hand, there are all kinds of really great films I look forward to watching with my own kids: Iron Giant, Star Wars, The Princess Bride, and, of course, a pre-adolescent Jaws and The Exorcist double-bill. I often think about how different my life might have been if I’d first seen Jaws at age 12 instead of 26.

Maybe I shouldn’t reproduce.

11) Favorite Katharine Hepburn performance

Bringing up Baby. Back when she was still young and cute and trying to play a character rather than “the immortal Katherine Hepburn as…”.

12) A bad movie from a good director

Gangs of New York. Sometimes great artists follow their dreams where nobody can really be expected to follow.

13) Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom– yes or no?

I still have not brought myself to watch it, and having recently read Matthew Dessem’s review on The Criterion Contraption (“This film literally made me vomit.”), it’s not high on my list. But I suspect I will watch it one day. So, yes.

14) Ben Hecht or Billy Wilder (Screenwriter)?

Ben Hecht probably has more funny lines, but Billy Wilder’s characters are much more fully-realized. Advantage: Wilder.

15) Name the film festival you’d most want to attend, or your favorite festival that you actually have attended

I attended the Toronto film festival every year when I lived there and always saw a few movies that blew me away. I can’t say that about other festivals I’ve attended.

16) Head or 200 Motels?

I’ve only seen Head, but I suspect I might like 200 Motels more.

17) Favorite cameo appearance

Bill Murray in Wild Things. To quote Roger Ebert: “Bill Murray lands in the middle of this pie like a plum from heaven.”

18) Favorite Rosalind Russell performance

I’d have to go with His Girl Friday. It’s the only one of her films I’ve seen, but I liked her a whole lot.

19) What movie, either currently available on DVD or not, has never received the splashy collector’s edition treatment you think it deserves? What would such an edition include?

Is Kill Bill too obvious? Even if it is: Kill Bill. It would include the two-film version and the original one-film cut, and a long doc showing scenes from Kill Bill alongside the ones that inspired them. Plus, a commentary by a random Tarantino-hating film geek bragging about how he was into Lady Snowblood way before QT. Just to get the full experience.

20) Name a performance that everyone needs to be reminded of, for whatever reason

Bill Murray (again) in Groundhog Day. Even now, I don’t think Murray gets enough respect as an actor, and he sure didn’t then because he’s “funny”. In Groundhog Day, he goes through pretty much every emotion one can have but still stays identifiable as the same character.

21) Louis B. Mayer or Harry Cohn (Studio Head)?

Gonna have to pass.

22) Favorite John Wayne performance

His portrayal of Genghis Khan in The Conqueror is endlessly entertaining. “Dance for me, Tartar woman!”

23) Naked Lunch or Barton Fink?

Naked Lunch is less successful, but more ambitious and therefore more interesting. Advantage: Cronenberg.

24) Your Ray Harryhausen movie of choice

Is this a trick question? Jason and the Argonauts, of course! The skeleton scene is one of the greatest things ever committed to celluloid.

25) Is there a movie you can think of that you feel like the world would be better off without, one that should have never been made?

Leaving aside political films like Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will, I could cite The Jazz Singer and Heaven’s Gate for helping to kill off really pretty awesome periods of cinema. Though you could easily argue that if they hadn’t, another would have. So maybe I’ll just go with Matrix Reloaded, which was not only awful, but destroyed my ability to enjoy the original Matrix movie.

24) Favorite Dub Taylor performance

Given that I had to look on IMDB to even learn who the guy was, I’m gonna have to pass on this one, too.

25) If you had the choice of seeing three final movies, to go with your three last meals, before shuffling off this mortal coil, what would they be?

An Adam Sandler marathon would doubtless put me in the right frame of mind to welcome death.

26) And what movie theater would you choose to see them in?

One full of screaming babies.


Your proposed entry in the Atheist Film Festival


What advice on day-to-day living have you learned from the movies?

Beautiful, vivacious, quirky women are irresistibly attracted to moody, scruffy, brainy introverts. This knowledge is sure to pay off any day now.

Trailer for The Darjeeling Limited

A trailer is available for the upcoming Wes Anderson film, The Darjeeling Limited! This is, alongside the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men, my most anticipated movie right now.

I do love Wes Anderson. Rushmore and The Royal Tenebaums both made my top 100, but I think Bottle Rocket and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou are almost as brilliant. Merely having a favourite Wes Anderson film pretty much ensures I’ll be well-disposed to you. (For the record, most people prefer The Royal Tenebaums, but my favourite is still Rushmore. Though Tyson makes a strong case for Bottle Rocket and Nando, my supervisor, loves The Life Aquatic.)

Based on the trailer to Darjeeling, I’m bracing myself for the inevitable complaints like the ones that followed The Life Aquatic: he’s repeating himself, he won’t move past his interest in talented-but-quirky families, he hasn’t “grown as an artist”, blah blah blah. Man, do I find that a lame criticism. As though the cineplexes of Canada are so saturated with smart, moving, bittersweet comedies that Anderson can hang up his camera and move on. They aren’t. I checked.

alone in the lab

alone in the lab, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Thanks to a combination of conferences, vacations and nice weather, I’m the only person to show up in my lab. For the second day in a row.

While it makes it somewhat easier to work, it does make me feel like a bit of a sucker for showing up.

On the plus side, I get to listen to music on the speakers.

“statistics is unnatural and subversive”

Andrew Gellman posts a link on his blog to a great talk by Dick De Veaux about teaching Statistics, making the point that unlike math and music, but like literature, doing stats requires life experience.

Like a lot of math/science geeks, I went through a phase of my undergrad where I was caught up in the beauty and elegance of “pure” math. Now, though, I find statistics much more interesting. Not that I read myself to sleep with stats textbooks, and the more esoteric it gets the less interesting I find it, but I do find myself more and more looking at the world using the tools of statistics (and its dark cousin, economics). Pure math, like programming, creates a perfect, orderly universe that can be mechanically understood, but statistics gives us tools to make sense of a messy, anarchic universe without taming it. But in order to use stats, you have to first pay attention to its world and try to understand it. And then stats will show you how wrong you are.