A continuing series of 26 posts about movies...
Ok, well maybe not one of my “favorite” films, Xanadu (1980) perfectly embodies its cultural moment—a bizarre, train wreck of a science fiction meets musical fever dream that features a fair amount of roller skating and dancing, the cameo of a golden era Hollywood star (Gene Kelly), the girl from Grease, a great soundtrack featuring ELO, and all the weirdness that you’d expect from such an assortment of poorly conceived and executed concepts. Available to stream via Hoopla.
The newest Coen Brothers film Hail, Caesar! is out now in theaters which got me thinking about other films (and they are numerous) that are essentially films within a film or in some cases films about filmmaking, the industry of Hollywood or that meditate upon the artistic process. Here is a small list of seminal meta-movies that situate the subject of cinema as their primary focus.
Day for Night
Singin’ in the Rain
Part musical, part feel-good drama with just enough charm to balance the weighty subjects of war and racism, The Sapphires is an entertaining if not typical, rags to riches tale about a collection of young, Australian Aboriginal women who take their talents for singing Motown on the road to the heart of the Vietnam War. Loosely based upon a true story, actor Chris O'Dowd plays the group's flaky but lovable manager who encourages the gutsy women to embrace soul music as a way to find success playing concerts for American troops. It's a predictable film that feels like you've seen it before but like a good pop song, the infectious characters groove their way into your sentimental heart and sometimes, that's just enough.
In this Stephen Sondheim remake, the plots of many Grimm’s fairy tales are mixed together as everyone goes to the woods to seek their deepest held wishes. Cinderella wishes to go to the festival, Little Red Ridinghood wishes to bring baked goods to her grandma, and the charming princes wish for their unattainable love interests. The first act concludes with everyone singing about how wonderful it is that they have achieved their “happily ever after” and then things get interesting.
From the Prelude:
Into the woods,
But careful not
To lose the way.
Into the woods,
Who knows what may
Be lurking on the journey?
Into the woods
To get the thing
That makes it worth
Into the woods…
For fans of the Scottish musical group Belle and Sebastian, it will come as no surprise that the recently released musical God Help the Girl is a film that mirrors the vision, style and conceptual interests of the band’s singer Stuart Murdoch. Murdoch wrote the music and the script as well as directing this charming, respectable first effort. Light on the maudlin and mawkish for a musical, yet a bit heavy on the “yeah right” moments, those who fall for the modish surface of the film and who already enjoy Belle and Sebastian’s tunes will embrace the film’s strengths while likely ignoring the uninspired story that centers on the forming of a pop group.
The Academy Awards are just around the corner (this Sunday the 22nd) so let's talk about the sugary Begin Again, a predictable drama soaked in pop music and stale messages about...well...beginning again when life becomes complicated. There are some great actors in this film and while they aren't capable of saving it from its conventional trappings, the sweet and uplifting tone will get you through a night when all you crave is a bit of a diversion from the act of shoveling and cold weather. The lead actress Keira Knightley has earned a nomination for her rendition of the song Lost Stars.
When my girls were younger we loved the Bollywood films
because they were full of singing, dancing, beautiful costumes, handsome men
and gorgeous women. Ram-Leela , a 2013 film directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali , is like that. It has beautiful, beautiful saris,
tons of jewelry, a very handsome lead star and the most beautiful heiress.
There’s lots of singing and dancing. The film is more modern than I’m used to.
The dance moves have lots of hip action and everyone is running around with
cell phones and guns.
Ram-Leela is about a couple that falls in love. Their clans
have been at war for 5 centuries. Ram is from a crime family and Leela is an
heiress, whose mother is ruthless and determined to marry Leela, her jewel, off
to a good family. Oh, there are so many surprises with this modern day Romeo
and Juliet plot you would think I wouldn’t be surprised, but I was
crushed. Oh and yeah, there are subtitles, but reading the subtitles just kept me glued to the screen.
After watching one of the last episodes of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, in which one of the characters performs a poignant rendition of the classic ballad La Vie En Rose with a Ukulele, I began thinking about the cinematic role of this Hawaiian instrument (one of my favorites). Several recent films came immediately to mind (Her and Blue Valentine) but after a Youtube search, I discovered a few others films that feature this little guitar’s power to pluck an audience’s heartstrings. For fans of the instrument, check out Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder’s album Ukulele Songs.
From the movie Her:
A compilation of movie scenes:
Made during a time when the Hollywood musical was all but dead, French director Jacques Demy’s sherbet-toned, song and dance-fest was about as uncool as it got in the sphere of mid-sixties French cinema when it hit theaters in 1967. It was a Technicolor throwback, a flamboyant and syrupy homage to the Hollywood musicals made during the previous decade. Starring French actress Catherine Deneuve (Delphine), her real-life sister Francois Doreleac (Solange) and American screen icon Gene Kelly, the film is set around a city-wide festival in the uninspiring town of Rochefort. The self-absorbed twins (Delphine is a dancer and Solange is a composer) are bored with their predictable, mundane lives and wish for the riches of celebrity in their artistic fields. Love and romance of course are also on their to-do list. Made in collaboration with sixties It-composer Michel Legrand, Demy’s classic is an energetic and luminous show of treacly schmaltz with its quixotic heart worn unashamedly upon its brightly colored sleeve.
As rabid a film watcher as I am, time restrictions will forever thwart my capacity to plow through KPL’s stellar movie collection but here is an abbreviated list of some of my favorite films from KPL’s collection, watched over the past year. While we add new releases each week, don’t forget about the diversified depth of our collection. We can’t purchase every movie that is requested or inquired about but we can work toward the goal of having most titles for most of our patrons, most of the time.
Upstream Color: With the exception of the increasingly abstract, fragmented and non-linear narratives of Terrence Malick, there have been few notable American films over the past decade or so that have attempted to remake the kind of Eurocentric, anti-classical/realist/romantic films of the 1960’s and 70’s (think: Godard, Bresson, Tarr, Tarkovsky, Resnais, Warhol, Antonioni). With Upstream Color, a sort of Hiroshima Mon Amour for our contemporary times, one hopes that young filmmakers will continue to take the value of abstraction seriously, reimagining it in new and thoughtful ways.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch: A film that came out (pun intended) way ahead of its time. It’s kind of an absurdist musical that is in-your-face bonkers, but bonkers in the most vital, transgressive and beautifully rebellious way. A postmodern Hair.
Young Adult: Charlize Theron gives a great performance as an unraveled mess of a person that attempts to transition from a life of boredom and narcissism toward a more complete, self-aware state where the adjective ‘young’ can finally wither away.
Sullivan’s Travels: I checked this film out because the great American director Preston Sturges’ name kept popping up in literature on director/writer Wes Anderson (a favorite of mine). This well-written and acted screwball comedy hits the mark and lives up to its acclaim as one of the 1940’s best films.
My Dinner with Andre: A film like few others--this conventions-busting mixture of fiction and nonfiction, storytelling and improvised riffing will either bore you into slumber or thrill you with its originality. We almost forget, due to the strong writing, that the great French autuer Louis Malle was its director.
Insignificance: I’m still not sure I ‘get’ this peculiar film but it was certainly compelling, the way in which a film can unfold as both an irritant and a puzzling enigma.
Hiroshima Mon Amour: Before I saw this Alain Resnais masterpiece about memory, love and loss, I considered Harold and Maude my favorite film. Now it’s number two.
12 Angry Men: Watch this fictional, court room drama and then the documentary The Central Park Five. The very notion of facts, evidence, justice and human objectivity are brilliantly rendered as a hollow collection of outdated concepts with tragic application.
Hunger: Not to be mistaken with Steve McQueen’s first film about the imprisonment of IRA soldiers of the same name but rather the nimble and haunting adaptation of the classic, existential novella by Danish writer Knut Hamsun.
Summer with Monika: Arguably, my favorite film of Bergman’s but nowhere near his best. That distinction belongs to his magnum opus Scenes from a Marriage, a film that should only be approached by the single and the happily married couple.
Rules of the Game: My goal for movie watching this year was to view a handful of those classics considered important to the historical development of the art form according to the Sight and Sound Magazine’s list of 250 Greatest Films; a list created every ten years by an esteemed cadre of critics. Renoir’s masterpiece (rated at No. 4) is there for a reason and its influence can be seen in almost every film made since 1939 that skewers the vacuity of the rich and clueless.
La Jetee/Sans Soleil: Made by maverick film essayist Chris Marker, these two films are quite distinct from one another in both content and style. Both represent the best in avant-garde, envelope-pushing cinema that emerged parallel with the various manifestations of the European New Wave movement.
Picnic at Hanging Rock: This 70’s cult classic by Peter Weir still holds up as a truly original film that tackles the subject of loss, regret and repressed longing, all of which are tied to a mystery that leaves an Australian women’s school in shock and confusion.
Other notable films: L’ Avventura, Stroszek, Bringing Up Baby, Amarcord, The Killing, Neighboring Sounds, Damnation, The Lives of Others, Magnificent Ambersons, Harvey, Pat and Mike, The Third Man, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, The Searchers, Elevator to the Gallows, As I Lay Dying, Cleo from 5 to 7, Frances Ha, The Silence, Winter Light, Cries and Whispers, Blast of Silence, Through a Glass Darkly, Argo, Shallow Grave, Band of Outsiders, Fanny and Alexander, Mud, Harry and Tonto, Chasing Ice, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.