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TODAY

Sunday, August 19

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Airbags

With the family around for the holidays, there's no better time to spend a few hours in a darkened theater. Or, barring that, some quality time with the DVD player. To that end, I present a few short items about motion pictures:

Metropolis
Long before the effects laden science fiction epic became a mainstay of the Hollywood system, Fritz Lang set the bar for the genre with his 1927 masterpiece, Metropolis.

Unfortunately, after its first showing, studio executives decided that the film needed a bit of trimming were it to attract a sufficiently profitable audience. Disregarding the plot, they hacked away at the final piece, leaving gaping holes in the narrative.

Since then, a few directors have tried to recover some of this lost footage in an effort to recover Lang's original vision. Thanks to them, we have wonderful versions of the film that have been altered to included cheesy "modern" effects and horrible soundtracks (performed by Queen, no less).

But not all is lost! Thanks to a tremendous amount of research and a heaping pile of digital restoration, the complete film has returned to the screen with its original score.

Unfortunately, no one saw fit to bring it here to Chicago. The next showing is in March, at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA. Anyone up for a road trip?

Rebecca
...Is just another extraordinary Hitchcock film. I talk about Hitchcock too often. Rather than a review, here's an anecdote:

I'm watching Hitchcock's Rebecca and I'm just at the good part; horrible Mrs. Danvers has our hero, the lovely Joan Fontaine on the verge of suicide. It'd be so easy to jump out the window, wouldn't it? Why don't you just do it. Get it over with, go on.

And I hear a scream. A real world scream, not something from the film.

Though separated by a thin audiological line, the difference between an honest, "I'm on the verge of great physical harm" scream and an excited "I'm exceedingly drunk and out partying with my friends" scream is immediately apparent. I hit pause, dive into my sandals, and venture outside to see what's wrong.

There, I'm joined by a few of neighbors who are likewise concerned. Though the two of us together add up to less than half a man, we join Sean, a guy down the block, and carefully step into the alley to see if someone is in need. It's empty.

The police arrive. Someone had placed a 911 call. They ask for details, but we can only say that we heard someone scream -- no, I'm not exactly sure where from -- somewhere nearby. They whip our their flashlights and undertake a closer inspection of the alley.

One of the officers does something which makes my stomach turn. Undoubtedly driven by experience, he opens each dumpster and peers inside. I didn't care to think about what he might find.

Thankfully, the issue was soon resolved. Across the street, in the alley behind those houses, a woman had been walking her dog. Approached by a group of men with a pit bull, her little poodle was attacked. While neither she nor the dog were harmed, her screams for help scared the fellows off and drew out the neighbors.

So after thanking all of us for making an appropriate 911 call, "You wouldn't believe the crazy shit we get called for sometimes," the cops speed off in pursuit of the "punks with the pit bull." I return home to finish watching Rebecca, just a little more creeped out than I otherwise would be.

American Splendor
As I've pointed out more often than friends would prefer, comic books are for losers. They are not, therefore, to be co-opted by the Hollywood entertainment apparatus.

All right, I'll grant that they did a decent job with X-Men, and Ghost World did retain a certain amount of its independent spirit. But these are exceptions. Alan Moore's masterpieces, From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were transformed into hideous, unwatchable aberrations. And The Hulk? That's best left undiscussed.

So, though I had high hopes for the film adaptation of Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, I prepared myself for disappointment. I was expecting a sort of Bukowski tinged working class drama about a file clerk cum underground comic writer. This had potential, but could very easily prove spectacularly awful.

But my expectations were defied and I was far from disappointed. American Splendor remained true to its comic book roots while managing to break new cinematic ground.

That's a crap paragraph for a movie review, but I'll let it stand.

American Splendor is at once a Willy Loman struggle of the working man, an undeniably funny comedy, and a documentary in the truest sense. The actors and the characters they portray swap roles, and the line between filmic space and the reality of a movie set is blurred. It could be jarring and uncomfortable, but it isn't. The film couldn't have been made any other way.

I've reached the deep end of my undergraduate film studies experience -- I'd best pull out here. Go rent the DVD and enjoy a life more dysfunctional than your own.

Solaris
Released just in time for last year's Thanksgiving movie rush, Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney produced what they hoped would be the next science fiction epic for the thinking person -- Solaris.

Interviewed on public television, both commented on what a groundbreaking film they'd created, mentioning that it was certain to spark discussions around the dinner table at homes throughout the country.

But their film had already been made.

Solaris, based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem, was produced in the Soviet Union by the famed Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972. It features what is arguably one of the most beautiful opening sequences ever captured on film, and is breathtaking in scope -- indeed, it's one of the few films I've ever seen that does almost completely away with a soundtrack; it relies instead on rich imagery and incredible cinematography.

Soderbergh, therefore, simply remade a classic of cinema with salable Hollywood faces and modern day special effects. King of the world, James Cameron was also involved. Forgive me if I can't get the bad taste out of my mouth -- you'd think I'd be used to it by now.

Soderbergh never denied that the film was a remake, but it's not something that was made readily apparent to the moviegoing public. This, of course, is standard operating procedure for Soderbergh, who gained great noterity for assembling an all-star cast for the remake of Ocean's 11.

I'd best stop before I lose myself. Before you know it, I'll start talking about Insomnia, a film written and produced in Norway long before Al Pacino and Hillary Swank received their scripts for the American remake.

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Comments

Naz / December 19, 2003 12:37 AM

Solaris aside, I think Soderbergh is more well-known and garnered his fame for both Erin Brockovich and the stellar Oscar-winning (Best Director) Traffic than Ocean's 11. Ocean's 11 was past both of those movies.

tony / December 19, 2003 9:30 AM

I'm up for a roadtrip to see Metropolis.

Alice / December 19, 2003 9:58 AM

But even Traffic was just a reworking of the 1989 British miniseries Traffik.

j3s / December 19, 2003 10:37 AM

Jeff Mills recently did a soundtrack accompaniment to Metropolis, I saw it at a screening at Sonar in Barcelona a couple years ago. I'd like to see the film again with its original score, but Mills's music gave it a certain tone that was interesting, an additional nudge to it's current-day relevancy.

Lacey / December 19, 2003 10:57 AM

I saw "Rebecca" not so long ago; that aside, it's hilarious how you abandoned the review entirely for a real-life, non-Rebecca-related experience. That's funny.

Naz / December 19, 2003 11:06 AM

Oh, I don't deny that Soderbergh has good source material, I was just stating that his claim to fame and thus noterity (aside from his first film Sex, Lies and Videotape, mind you) came from Traffic and Erin Brockovich rather than Ocean's 11. I'm being difficult.

I liked the Rebeccsa review as well. It reminds me of a Pitchfork review.

 

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