David Bordwell's website on cinema   click for CV

Home

Blog

Books

Film Art: An Introduction

Christopher Nolan: A Labyrinth of Linkages pdf online

Pandora’s Digital Box: Films, Files, and the Future of Movies pdf online

Planet Hong Kong, second edition pdf online

The Way Hollywood Tells It pdf online

Poetics of Cinema pdf online

Figures Traced In Light

Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema pdf online

Exporting Entertainment: America in the World Film Market 1907–1934 pdf online

Video

Hou Hsiao-hsien: A new video lecture!

CinemaScope: The Modern Miracle You See Without Glasses

How Motion Pictures Became the Movies

Constructive editing in Pickpocket: A video essay

Essays

A Celestial Cinémathèque? or, Film Archives and Me: A Semi-Personal History

Shklovsky and His “Monument to a Scientific Error”

Murder Culture: Adventures in 1940s Suspense

The Viewer’s Share: Models of Mind in Explaining Film

Common Sense + Film Theory = Common-Sense Film Theory?

Mad Detective: Doubling Down

The Classical Hollywood Cinema Twenty-Five Years Along

Nordisk and the Tableau Aesthetic

William Cameron Menzies: One Forceful, Impressive Idea

Another Shaw Production: Anamorphic Adventures in Hong Kong

Paolo Gioli’s Vertical Cinema

(Re)Discovering Charles Dekeukeleire

Doing Film History

The Hook: Scene Transitions in Classical Cinema

Anatomy of the Action Picture

Hearing Voices

Preface, Croatian edition, On the History of Film Style

Slavoj Žižek: Say Anything

Film and the Historical Return

Studying Cinema

Articles

Book Reports

Observations on film art

You may own the night, but I’ve got a lien on midday

Saturday | November 10, 2007   open printable version open printable version

assassinationofjessejamesposter-400-square.jpg

DB here:

Since I retired, I usually go to matinee shows. It’s cheaper, and the auditorium is depopulated. Sometimes I’m the only person there. I know, movies are supposed to be seen with a big audience; but I’ve seldom liked the experience of a packed house. Does the humble worshipper in the temple need a congregation to confirm his faith? Isn’t it best to commune with the deity alone? More to the point: Even before the advent of cellphones, somebody always coughs or talks at the wrong time.

If there are any other people around during my matinees, they are likely to be elderly folks, misfits, losers, idlers, and troublemakers. This makes me feel superior. But then I realize that to an objective observer, I could fit into any of those categories. Last time I went to my local, the cashier at the ticket stand gave me the Senior Citizens discount automatically. The pleasure of saving a dollar was small compensation for the blow to baby-boomer pride—sort of the reverse of being carded at a bar when you’re 30.

Curiously, as film attendance is dropping, multiplexes are offering more screenings. I enjoyed the idea of starting the screening cycle at noon or so, but now some ‘plexes start running as early as 10:30. At my neighborhood ‘plex, you can attend the Baby Box Office (“The lights are a little brighter, the sound a little softer”) on Tuesdays at 10:00 AM. It’s currently featuring the ideal picture for babes in arms, American Gangster.

Here are some jotted opinions on movies seen at midday over the last couple of weeks.

we-own-night-225a.jpgWe Own the Night: I admired James Gray’s The Yards, but this seemed to me quite standard. One brother’s a cop, the other’s on the shady side: back to Warner Bros. of the 1930s. (Where’s the tough priest, though?) Although set in the 1980s, it looks a bit like a 1970s movie, with all those long-lens shots and flattened color values. The plot was by-the-numbers, and lines like “You’re a dead man” and “I love you very much” don’t help. I guess it’s a “personal” project for Phoenix and Wahlberg, both brave performers in other vehicles but mostly going through the motions here. Further evidence that today’s cinema is classic studio cinema, with more sex, violence, drugs, and rock-and-roll.

gone-baby-1-225.jpg

Gone Baby Gone: At least We Own the Night doesn’t promise to be more than a typical genre piece. For several years now, many ambitious or “prestige” pictures have given genres the uplift treatment, making them—well, serious. So a crime thriller that might have been trim at 90 minutes gets padded out to portentous dimensions, chiefly through scenery-gobbling performances and tricky narration. A recent model is The Departed, but Mystic River also worked this ground.

Such is Gone Baby Gone, another Lehane exercise in male pain in a gritty ethnic enclave. Director Ben Affleck shoots it in a standard way, with long-lens glimpses of homely people sitting on stoops (don’t get too close), and he resorts to the now-common device of flashbacks that fill us in on what really happened in a crucial scene. As usual in such fare, the plot is a pretext for Oscar-bait performances, and I confess that to my surprise I found Casey Affleck pretty riveting.

m-clayton-225.jpgMichael Clayton: Another tricked-out genre effort, with echoes of Three Days of the Condor. Again a mystery plot is overlaid with a guy’s personal problems: divorce, druggy brother, loyalty to his mentor. (By the way, when is someone going to do a study of the hero’s weak friend in Hollywood cinema?) We get the fancy flashbacks as well, starting at a high point—an exploding car bomb, which ought to grab you—before a title pops up: “Four days earlier.” Eventually, as per usual nowadays, the opening scene is replayed, from a more omniscient point of vantage. And just as I have problems with any movie that resolves its plot with somebody writing a check, I don’t find it terribly original to settle things by secretly taping the bad guys admitting their chicanery. Yet I appreciated Paul Gilroy’s calm direction. I especially liked his crosscut sequences, in which the sound of one line of action plays out over images from the other line. This technique isn’t brand-new, but Gilroy handles these passages well, building story momentum while creating compact characterizing bits (e.g., the insecurity of lawyer Tilda Swinton faced with critical meetings).

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: The really successful fancy-pants genre film in my latest round of viewings. Andrew Dominik has made a grave, spare movie about the myth of Jesse and his murderer that doesn’t splash on period details and swamp the action in overproduced sets. The film could have been another funny-hats Western, but it turns out to be as austere as a sharecropper’s porch in a Walker Evans photograph. With an average shot length close to seven seconds, the film lets actors use their bodies a bit and interact within a fixed frame. In this context, the vignetted shots stand out, but not as mere flourishes; their wavery softness is picked up in the distorting windowpanes of the farmhouses and eventually in the fatal reflection in the picture Jesse is adjusting.

For once a post-Unforgiven western earns its meta-commentary on the Legends of the West. Jesse is the quietly charismatic star, while Ford is the overeager admirer, the outlaw as groupie. Daringly, the plot wanders away from its main characters for considerable stretches, and the protracted dialogues feature archaic turns of speech that can become ominous. Jesse is a raconteur whose paranoia can unnerve anybody: “You got a tale to swap with me now?” Assassination also reminded me of Magnolia in the dry authority of its voice-over narration and in its epilogue, which follows Ford to the end of his enigmatic life.

But where am I at the peak hours on Friday and Saturday, when throngs at the multiplex line up for popcorn, nachos and Dots? At our cozy Cinematheque, where we screen dazzling items like Nouvelle Vague and Utamaro and His Five Women. Right now, Godard and Mizoguchi own my nights.

utamaro.jpg

Comments are closed.

David Bordwell
top of page

have comments about the state of this website? go here