Any hip, against-the-grain aficionado with an appreciation for the surreal, the avant-garde, and the experimental will tell you flat out that there’s no comparison: it’s Keaton over Chaplin. You simply have to concede Keaton’s superiority because Chaplin was too accepted, too famous, too popular, too sentimental, too rich, too pedestrian in directorial style, too populist, too egotistical, too narcissistic, and nowhere near as prone to risk-taking as Keaton.
That was THE prevailing thought from the 60’s until quite recently and accurate only in theory because, like Beethoven, Chaplin really can’t be overrated, while Keaton certainly is (i.e., The General).
That doesn’t mean the above comparison has no truth and, naturally, it would be preposterous to say that Chaplin did not make some truly terrible films (King of NewYork and A Day’s Pleasure are people’s exhibit A).
However, Keaton’s experimentalist stature is grossly exaggerated. He was certainly the most innovative of the “A” list silent clowns, but was nowhere near as much so as either the recently re-discovered Charlie Bowers or Harry Langdon, who, as blasphemous as it may sound, really had more memorably etched, modern characterizations (Chaplin did say he only felt threatened by Langdon).
In hindsight, Keaton’s innovation, which surfaced only sporadically, seems suspiciously unintentional, even if his best films are indeed brilliant and highly innovative—The Playhouse and Sherlock Jr.
Years later, when working with Samuel Beckett on Film, Keaton revealed his impatience with experimentation by loudly grumbling.
One walks away from Keaton’s best films feeling impressed. One walks away from Chaplin’s best film unforgettably moved.
There is hardly a more profoundly artistic, emotionally overwhelming ending than that of City Lights . It remains the most memorable ending in screen history. Montgomery Clift declared it the greatest screen acting he had seen (that’s saying quite a bit from an actor of Clift’s caliber, but perhaps he had not seen Falconetti in Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, which is hardly acting in the gauged sense).
City Lights deserves all the acclaim it has received. It is Chaplin at his most spiritual and at his most expertly balanced (the pathos does not draw attention to itself, as in many of Continue reading IN A WORD, “CHAPLIN”→
Apparently Pee Wee’s Playhouse: The Movie is actually in production and is slated for a 2011 release.
There has always been an uneasy relationship between avant-garde and outsider art. In 1985, Tim Burton and Pee-Wee Herman brilliantly thumbed their noses at any pretense of tension between the two with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Herman and Burton seemed refreshing fresh air to a relatively young medium that was dangerously growing stale with mass manufactured Hollywood product.
Of course, Herman went on to produce what was possibly the best television program in the last twenty years with Pee Wee’s Playhouse, that is until some uptight Florida cops busted him when they caught him pleasuring himself in an adult theater (which is bit like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500, one would think). This was during the heyday of the now practically extinct video store. Panic ensued and everyone from the Blue and Yellow Giant down to drug stores yanked every Pee Wee video from the shelves. Oddly enough, not too long after O.J. Simpson was accused of decapitating two people, those same video chains were in a panic trying to get every O.J video into their stores, which is quite a commentary on American mores: Hmmm, let’s see, it’s much worse to masturbate than to kill people. Now would I rather my child grow up to have a healthy sex life, or be a mass murderer? (PS: On September 12th, 2001 those same corporate video chains were hustling to get all the Nostradamus videos in, feeding off American paranoia).
366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.
In a brief span of four years, from 1956 to 1960, Director Budd Boetticher, writer Burt Kennedy and actor Randolph Scott collaborated on a series of seven “chamber westerns” which rank as one of the most rewarding achievements in the art of American Cinema.
While a number of prominent film critics, historians and luminaries have rightly praised the “Ranown” series (named after Boetticher’s production company), attention is often paid to the fact that Boetticher produced the series on a shoestring budget. Thus, despite praise, the series and Boetticher himself are relegated to a second tier, “B” level, as if the monies poured into these films somehow affect and dictate their intrinsic value.
To the contrary, the Boetticher/Kennedy/Scott westerns are in every way equal to the larger budgeted collaborations of Ford and Wayne, Daves and Ford, Leone and Eastwood.
With these sparse, psychologically complex works, Boetticher did as much for the American western as Val Lewton did for the American Horror film in the 40’s.
The breakthrough Seven Men From Now (1956) was a long way from Ken Maynard’s white hat and bottle of milk atop a horse named Tarzan. It’s also far more aesthetically modernist, more taut, more complexly developed in character than the later, ultra-stylish westerns of Peckinpah and Leone (the exception being Peckinpah’s slightly overrated Ride the High Country, also starring Randolph Scott with Joel McCrea). Very few films in the genre can boast as richly developed characterizations. The Delmer Daves/Glenn Ford films along with the Anthony Mann/James Stewart cannon can arguably be mentioned in the same breath.
Seven Men From Now establishes Boetticher’s Ranown canvas. Randolph Scott was an actor of beautiful limitations and the director utilized Scott’s mere presence to compositional advantage. The actor’s weathered face parallels the expressionistic, Cezanne-like rocky terrains. Boetticher takes equal advantage of his hero’s range to etch a morally ambiguous personification.
Scott, out for revenge, seems, at first, to personify the mythological old west code of right and wrong. He is ancient, laconic, sips coffee, and projects a virtuous nobility with a mere shifting of the eyes. That is until his foil, Lee Marvin (superb here) astutely recalls how Scott had no qualms about stealing a friend’s wife. Even Walter Reed, as Gail Russell’s weak, cowardly husband, surprises in an act of redemption. The power in the Boetticher films lies in the riveting conversations and in a shrewd slicing of viewer expectations. There is a disconcerting, hushed quality throughout the film, even in those conversations, which project a tense, quiescent air of revelation.
Next week: perhaps the bleakest film of the cycle, The Tall T (1957).
This guest essay is by Alfred Eaker, director of Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes!, which was voted Best Experimental Film in the 2004 New York International Film and Video Festival, and the feature W the Movie.
“We must be cultural omnivores and raid all the art forms to enhance our own art”– Pierre Boulez; Modernist French composer.
Although, the meaning of postmodernism is replete with vagaries, one prominent characteristic of the so-called movement is that it abounds in eclecticism. Pierre Boulez’s advice for artists to mantle a mental state of being cultural omnivores seems tailor made for much that is pronounced in postmodernism. In that light, the movement had one of it’s most well-known, brilliantly driven, unofficial spokespersons in the late Stanley Kubrick.
Kubrick, of course, patterned his body of film work after a Beethoven aesthetic. Each of Beethoven’s nine symphonies had an individual theme. The Eroica was Beethoven’s initial support, later renounced, bio-portrait of Napoleon. The 4th, according to Robert Schumann, was a Greek maiden between two Norse gods. The immortal fifth was THE anti-war statement. The 6th , a pastorale; the 7th, a series of rhythmic movements; the 8th, more abstract, is a favorite among modernist conductors; and, of course, the mighty Ode to Joy.
Kubrick wanted to create a work in each of the genres and it’s unfortunate he never got to make his western (Marlon Brando foolishly took over directing One Eyed Jacks, after having Kubrick sacked). Regardless of genre, each Kubrick film is filtered through his own unique sensibilities (i.e., the dehumanization of man), thus rendering the idea of applying something as superfluous as a genre akin to hopelessly trivial labeling. When it comes to Kubrick, the genre/subject is almost incidental. Kubrick defiantly stamped his personal vision onto everything he approached (as author Stephen King would discover, to his complete dismay, when Kubrick took on The Shining. Kubrick was no assignment director).
Volumes have been written about Kubrick’s body of work with wildly varying and opposing opinions, but the almost unanimous conclusion that can be drawn is that Kubrick’s films are not designed for casual viewing.
Indeed, upon repeated absorption, Kubrick’s films reveal the degree to which Kubrick was a cultural omnivore.
Kubrick’s rep as being a “supremely controlled” artist is a misnomer. He was just as apt for experimentation, improvisation, and utilizing ideas from actors, etc. Hence, Kubrick’s reason for disallowing the publishing of his scripts (which he often deviated from) and ordering the destruction of all unused footage. In it’s rough cut, Clockwork Orange was originally a four hour film.
One of Kubrick’s most compelling scenes in Clockwork Orange was, by turns, supremely controlled and experimental, yet gives compelling insight into Kubrick’s multi-hued layering and eclectic aesthetics.
Alex and the droogs appear at an ultra modernist home, which welcomes visitors with a lit sign, marked simply “Home.” Kubrick’s customary symbolic red and white design work is as heavy laden here as it is throughout the rest of the film.
Husband Patrick Magee types away at his typewrite when the doorbell rings. The doorbell sounds of the overly familiar first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth: Fate knocking at the door. However, those four notes sound deceptively innocuous here, almost tinkling.
The camera pans across the room revealing Magee’s redhead wife, Adrienne Corri, dressed in red pajamas, sitting comfortably in a white, plastic chair in the next room. Husband and wife are detached from one another, echoing the barrenness of the house. Corri answers the door to hear Alex proclaim “there has been an accident outside” and his request to use the telephone. Corri is reluctant, but Magee instructs her to let the visitors in. With the unlocking of door, Fate enters in like a Beethovenian storm.
The “Singing in the Rain” beating/dance was not scripted and was improvised, worked, and re-worked until Kubrick was satisfied with the flowing tone. Adding this element was a brilliant instinct on Kubrick’s part. Without it, the breaking-in would have felt more like a tempest than a storm.
After Magee is tied up and beaten, Alex and the droogs turn to Corri. They take her in front of painting on the wall and begin to rape her. The visuals in this vignette reveal a homage narrative, akin to developing patterns in an unfolding puzzle. The design of the painting on the wall has a pronounced familiarity. In it’s colors and forms, it is a homage to Gustav Klimt and bears striking resemblance to Klimt works like “Farmhouse with Birch Trees”. Corri appears as a Klimt model personified. She is Klimt’s mysterious red head, pale and thin (i.e., “Hope 1”). She and the scene call to mind imagery from Klimt’s “The Beethoven Frieze”(especially in the sections, “The Longing for Happiness Finds Repose in Poetry” and “Hostile Powers”). In essence, Kubrick is paying homage to Klimt paying homage to Beethoven.