Another friend gone

This always happens when I check back with a morning news source later in the day: bad news. Sommer Mathis of DCist links to a column by Hank Stuever about the closing of the last of D.C.’s crackerbox art movie houses, the AMC Dupont Circle 5. The Dupont 5 never had the scope of the Biograph or the two-story interlock of the lovable Key, but attending a movie there always brought with it the challenge of getting there early enough to secure the one seat in each auditorium with decent sightlines. Apparently the cinemas’ closing has been quietly scheduled for some time. The doors close forever this weekend.

The Dupont 5 was a few dozen extremely familiar steps away from the south escalators of the Dupont Circle Metro station, between a Cosi and a Ben & Jerry’s, and not far from Olsson’s Books & Records. Here you had a perfect world of second and third dates. You could always see someone standing in front of the Dupont 5, wondering if his or her date was going to show up. (This was before everyone owned a cellphone.) A few hearts were broken in front of the Dupont 5.

Hollywood calling

From the very start of his career, [Michael] Haneke’s films have been calculated to shatter the viewer’s complacency to a degree rarely seen since the early work of Mike Leigh or perhaps since the politicized days of the French New Wave.

John Wray profiles the Austrian director, who made The Piano Teacher and Caché. He is remaking his Funny Games in English with Tim Roth and Naomi Watts.

Movie picks

Edward Copeland has released his collaborative 100-best list of foreign films. I’ve no real quibbles with anything in the top 25, but I find the high ranking of Wings of Desire at #41 inexplicable. This movie is perhaps the art-house version of The Princess Bride or The Gods Must Be Crazy in its overratedness.

I agree with many of Copeland’s committee that the Kieslowski Three Colors trilogy should be considered as one movie, not three: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Here’s an edited version of the note that I sent Copeland, with my picks:

I think that I have seen about 40% of the films on the list, albeit some of them not since college. Many of them are perfectly good, but I’m not sure that I would give them a 1-25 ranking. So here are my top 12…, including a few write-ins:

#1 M, Fritz Lang [#3 on the Copeland list]
#2 The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Demy [#65]
#3 Three Colors: Red, Kieslowski [#39]
#4 Three Colors: Blue, Kieslowski [#62]
#5 Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Almodovar — write-in
#6 Ran, Kurosawa [#16]
#7 Repulsion, Roman Polanski — write-in
#8 The Conformist, Bertolucci [#18]
#9 Three Colors: White, Kieslowski [did not make the Copeland cut]
#10 The Vanishing, Sluizer [did not make the Copeland cut]
#11 Open Hearts, Susanne Bier — write-in
#12 Fantastic Planet, Rene Laloux — write-in

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, Ki-duk Kim, should also be on the list, but I don’t think it meets your release-year criterion.

The voting has served as a prod to get Das Boot and Jules and Jim onto my Netflix queue.

Il miglior fabbro

Having recently chided a local reviewer, I think it’s appropriate to give some props to another local critic who does a damn fine job: Bob Mondello, who reviews for NPR’s All Things Considered and the Washington City Paper. Consider his recent write-up of two shows that I also viewed, 33 Variations and The Unmentionables.

Compared to my sketches, Mondello sees in sharper, more vivid colors; he chooses his words more precisely (prig, amanuensis, decency) without losing a conversational tone. Writing for both radio and print, he knows how to put a button on the end of a piece. He is one of the writers that I have to avoid reading before I see a show in hopes that I will appreciate a work and express myself without undue influence.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he and I agree on the merits of a lot of shows—these two, for instance. Granted, he has his formulas, but he makes them work (“Original? Well, not entirely.”) for him. His compact yet avuncular style works just as well on the air as on the page.

Not even trying

It’s a little of a dog-bites-man story, but the kerfluffle over the bad D.C. geography in the new Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake is entertaining in a wince-inducing way. Just one among the apparently many gaffes, spotted by Reliable Source:

To get from Georgetown to Cleveland Park, [Nicole Kidman as Carol Bennell] drives through a tunnel. Seems like the long route. Oh, it’s also rush hour and there’s no traffic. In our dreams.


Terrence Rafferty previews Film Forum’s N.Y.C. Noir series, which kicks off with Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success:

…the way [J.J.] Hunsecker drags the movie’s protagonist, an overeager press agent named Sidney Falco…, down into the ethical sewer with him is as brutal as what Richard Widmark does to the old lady in Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death (1947)….

It’s the nakedness of the newspaperman’s exercise of power, and the inability of the other, less monomaniacal characters to fight it, that make the picture unmistakably noir, even without gunplay. A sense of powerlessness — often disguised by tough-guy bravado — is a common trait in the heroes and heroines of film noir, and this is a feeling that New Yorkers know a thing or two about. We know too that the threat of physical violence is far from the only means the masters of our fates employ when they want us to know there’s no way out. In this dirty town, where people come to Make It, our desire to succeed and our terror of failure are usually all the ammunition the powerful require to keep us right where they want us.

Upcoming: 2

Turner Classic Movies has two really interesting themes for June: films featuring or directed by the sultry Ida Lupino, and Screened Out: Gay Images in Film. Some of the titles, like The Killing of Sister George and The Boys in the Band, I recognize as causing a stir at of the 1970s. They are largely forgotten now, but I remember them as being judged too mature for my adolescent sensibilities at the time.

Worth the wait

Oh, my: Tony Long watches Star Wars for the first time:

I watched it with a friend, a veteran of many viewings. She knew I wanted to approach this with fresh eyes and an open mind, so she was careful to keep her opinions to herself. Still, I knew where she stood. The fact that she owned the DVD told me what she thought of the movie. Every now and then as we watched, when I’d turn to her with a bemused expression, she’d simply smile and say nothing.

A pity that Princess Leia didn’t show my friend’s restraint. Geez Louise, what a harpy.

Ready when you are, Miss Lamont

Via, David S. Cohen notes that the technological transition from film to digital video is having an unexpected effect on acting styles, one that may prove as revolutionary as the introduction of sound in the late 1920s.

For actors, that additional experimentation means an entirely new way of working, says thesp Marley Shelton.

Shelton appears in both parts of Grindhouse: Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror was shot digitally, while Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof was shot on film.

With film, says Shelton, “there’s a beginning, middle and an end between ‘action’ and ‘cut.’ As an actor, one is trained to listen for cues such as ‘roll sound’ and slate, and you use that moment to prepare and go on a journey as your character for a few minutes or seconds. You use that time to suspend disbelief for yourself. In that 10 seconds, you’re sort of going into a zone.”

But, Shelton says, when shooting digital, the freedom to keep rolling means “you’re sort of sifting for diamonds. It’s great in that you can probe deeper in certain moments, but it’s less conducive to riding the impulses your character is having chronologically.”


Via The Morning News, an upload of Todd Haynes’s notorious Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. The video is a little artifacty and it’s of the expected dubious provenance. But the 43-minute film, which tells the story of 1970s soft rock chanteuse Karen Carpenter’s demise due to anorexia-related issues, and which uses Barbie dolls for actors, is not bad—and at times, rather good. And dang, the woman could sing.

Paging Mr. Bernard Herrmann

Via Arts & Letters Daily, new book by Jack Sullivan catalogs all the music in the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

The 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much uses Arthur Benjamin’s Storm Clouds cantata, which was commissioned for the 1934 version of the film. In the remake an assassination is to take place at a climactic cymbal crash. The bad guys, here as elsewhere in Hitchcock’s works, are surprisingly musically literate. They play recordings for the assassin.

AI = audience interface

Ten more things computers (and their users) do in the movies that they don’t in real life.

9. You’ve Got Mail is Always Good News

In the movies, checking your mail is a matter of picking out the one or two messages that are important to the plot. No information pollution or swamp of spam. No ever-changing client requests in the face of impending deadlines. And you never overlook information because a message’s subject line violated the email usability guidelines.

Blip blip blip-blip-blip blip

Via Boing Boing, a rant that needed to be ranted: What code DOESN’T do in real life (that it does in the movies). Coders, too.

5. Code does not make blip noises as it appears on the screen

This goes for ANY text, not just code. When text appears on my monitor it doesn’t make blip sounds – this isn’t 1902 (or whenever monitors used to do that). This is one of the most common offenses in Hollywood films, almost every movie that has a scene where a character is composing an email or surfing the net has the text make blippity-blip sounds as it appears. Do they have any idea how fucking irritating that would be in real life? This article alone would be like thirty thousand blippity-blips.