Thursday, March 30, 2006

Mildred Pierce (1945)

Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Available on DVD

Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) is the perfect wife. She spends her life doing what she can for her two daughters and keeping a tidy house while still finding time to make cakes for the neighborhood. When she confronts her husband about his infidelities, he leaves her and their two daughters to fend for themselves. She begins the difficult task of trying to find work, which for a woman who has spent her whole life as wife and mother proves to be a difficult task. Finally, she is able to find work at a diner and meets Ida Corwin (Eve Arden) who teaches her the ins and outs of the restaurant business and eventually becomes her business partner when Mildred decides to open her own restaurant. From there her life becomes more complicated as she tries to balance family, business and love. However, in true noir fashion, nothing is as simple as it seems.

The film is a perfect example of the Film Noir depiction of how the relationship between men and women changed during WWII. While the men were off to war, the women were put to work building the equipment they needed to fight. Once the war ended, the women were expected to return to the home and continue being nothing more than housewives and forgetting the taste of independence they got during the war, something many women were not happy with. Films of this era were clear about the consequences of going out of the home and returning to work, and Mildred Pierce is no exception.

Rear Window (1954)

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Available on DVD

L. B. Jefferies (James Stewart) has broken his leg and is only one week away from getting out of his cast and his wheelchair. Through the rear window of his apartment he has the perfect view of the backs of the neighboring windows and through their frames, a view into the lives of those who live inside. He spends his days and nights learning the lives and habits of those who surround him. It all seems like innocent fun until he witnesses what he believes to be a murder. In the process of investigating the proposed murder he convinces his uptown girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) and his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) but the person he needs to believe him the most is Det. Lt. Doyle (Wendell Corey) who is a harder sell.

This film is a clear condemnation of the hysteria over neighbors spying on each other in the height of the communist scare. Jefferies puts together a case for murder without ever actually seeing anything, his entire case is based in assumption and in his mind, he has convicted a man of murder without ever seeing anything but what happens in the window of the man’s apartment. There is also a clear statement about neighbors and the loss of contact to those we live closest to but know absolutely nothing about. The climax of the film features classic Hitchcock suspense that will keep you guessing to the very end who is right.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

For What It's Worth

My Oscar Pics:

Leading Actor – Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Supporting Actor – George Clooney
Leading Actress – Reese Witherspoon or Felicity Huffman 50/50 on this one
Supporting Actress – Michelle Williams
Animated Feature – Howl’s Moving Castle
Art Direction – Good Night, and Good Luck
Cinematography – Brokeback Mountain
Costume Design – Mrs. Henderson Presents or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 50/50 on this one too
Director – Ang Lee
Documentary – March of the Penguins
Documentary Short – The Mushroom Club
Film Editing – Munich
Foreign Language Film – Tsotsi
Makeup – The Chronicles of Narnia
Music – Brokeback Mountain
Music (Song) – “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”
Best Picture – Brokeback Mountain
Animated Short – The Moon and The Son: An Imagined Conversation
Live Action Short – Six Shooter
Sound Editing – King Kong
Sound Mixing – Walk The Line
Visual Effects – The Chronicles of Narnia
Writing Adapted – Brokeback Mountain
Writing Original – Good Night, and Good Luck

Also check out the Independent Spirit Awards Winners.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Plea for Independent Theatres

Thank you Girlzoot for posting so regularly on this site and keeping it alive while I have been overwhelmed with school. I would share some of the writing I have been doing for school with you all but I am sure that an eight page analysis of Barton Keyes in Double Indemnity (Wilder, 1944) would bore you all to tears.

I am writing today not about any specific film, but about the film industry. The state of independent arts is fragile. As a culture we are placing less value on truly original ideas that force us to question our world, values and beliefs. The films that are being produced by the major studios have become a long string of sequels and films based on existing material.

Moviegoers are noticing. In spite of large box office receipts, attendance to most theatres is down. While content and quality aren’t the only things contributing to this fall in the box office, I can’t help but notice that film festival attendance is up world-wide. There are now more chances to see films that would not normally be seen in larger theaters with film festivals and smaller art house theatres.

However, small theatrical venues are fighting uphill battles. They are often older venues that don’t have the glitz or glam of new multiplexes and have very little to no marketing budgets. Remember, the trailers you see on television, posters on the sides of streets and large full-page ads are for the most part not paid for by the theatres, but by the large studios that invest millions of dollars in marketing. In fact, more is spent marketing a large theatrical release than the entire budget of smaller more independent films.

Now, two recent developments have shown a possible trend in the art house community. The Weinstein Company closed Wellspring a small, independent film distributor and will now focus on direct to DVD sales of films. In the past few days Comcast Cable announced a deal with IFC (Independent Film Channel) to begin offering it’s customers the opportunity to rent films through on-demand services the same day they are released theatrically. If these trends continue, they may sound the final death knoll for many already struggling independent theatres.

With the advancement of home theatre technology it may seem like watching a film that doesn’t have big budget special effects or intense sound design at home is just as good as seeing it at the theatre. I know that I often find it difficult to make it down to a theatre because I just don’t have the time. It is easier for me to throw a DVD in my computer and watch it at home, but now we have to ask ourselves: “What are the potential consequences?”.

Here is my plea. If you have never been to an independent theatre, go to one. If you don’t know what film to see, check out their websites, and do some research. Look to people around you and ask them what you should see. Tell you what, start with Brokeback Mountain, don’t see it at the multiplex see it at the art house, that is the theatre it was made for. Come down to your local FilmCenter and see a classic film.

I know that it can be intimidating and frightening to come to an art house theatre for the first time, the titles are odd and a lot of the films aren’t in English, but most are so worth it. Naturally, the Starz FilmCenter is closest to my heart and a place that I really believe in, so I would prefer you make the trip to downtown and visit us but, if you can’t, then go to one of the other art houses in town.

Think of them like the Zoo or Museums. You would never be content watching a lion on your TV, or only seeing pictures of your favorite paintings and you shouldn’t be content being stuck watching your films at home. Get out of your house and get to the theatre before they are no longer there for you to go to.

Thanks for