The Trailer for the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar!: “I Can’t Wait” Doesn’t Even Begin to Cover It

I’m hyperventilating. Scarlett Johanssen as a cross between Esther Williams, Jean Harlow, and Carole Lombard? Her voice! The tough-dame voice that no longer exists in cinema anywhere? Tilda Swinton as Hedda Hopper? George Clooney as a pre-verbal Clark Gable type? Josh Brolin? Jonah Hill? Frances McDormand? Ralph Fiennes?

And Channing Tatum … tap dancing in a white sailor suit, not to mention what happens at minute 2:04?

I need to forget this movie exists because otherwise I can’t bear the wait.

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Meadowland (2015), starring Luke Wilson and Olivia Wilde


Meadowland is the first feature for cinematographer Reed Morano. It’s a hell of a debut. Starring Luke Wilson and Olivia Wilde, it has a great supporting cast (John Leguizamo, Elizabeth Moss, Giovanni Ribisi). Meadowland looks at the aftermath in a couple’s lives when their 7-year-old son vanishes from a gas station restroom. (That event happens in the opening scene, so not a spoiler.) Grief and fear drives the couple apart in increasingly fractured ways. They have different responses to the event: the wife (Wilde) SURE that her son is still alive and out there, the husband (Wilson) more willing to consider other darker possibilities. Not because he’s callous, but because he’s a cop, and he is trying to wrap his head around what has happened in his life. The film is disturbing, emotional, gorgeously shot – but not TOO gorgeous: the subject matter is so dark it borders on the hallucinatory (as grief can do in people’s lives). While the word “bipolar” is never mentioned (despite the fact that Lithium is a factor in the wife’s life) – there’s one scene that is so unbelievably evocative of bipolar mania (not what it looks like, but what it FEELS like) that I almost had to get up and leave the theatre. A chill of dread: Never again. It was beautifully done and terrible.

The actors are all incredible. Wilde is a phenom. This is my kind of movie. If you care about mid-level low-budget movies, made by people who want to take risks, and the survival of such difficult adult complex films, then this is the kind of movie to seek out and support.

I saw Meadowland at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, and it’s now slated to open in the States on October 16th. Keep an eye out for it.

Here’s my original review of Meadowland. (I mention all the stuff I mentioned in this post also in the review, so forgive the repetition.)

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The Final Girls (2015)


A spoof on the horror-film trope of “The Final Girl”, The Final Girls is sometimes not-so-good, sometimes very entertaining – but doesn’t really have anything to say about “The Final Girl” concept. Look for Angela Trimbur though. That actress is hilarious.

My review of The Final Girls is now up at

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Happy Birthday to Belfast Poet Ciarán Carson

Irish poet Rita Kelly had this to say on Belfast poet Ciarán Carson:

I am reminded of Keats, Wordsworth too, especially the Prelude, the long and winding narrative to take the reader beyond the first few lines, not to mention the first movement. This ability and need to tell the longer narrative in verse is refreshingly rare, in times where compression is all. We are at pains to squeeze the lyric poem in general and the sonnet in particular down to a very significant couplet. None of that attempt is bad in itself, it just makes the tumbling, breathless, overspilling lines of Carson’s alexandrines exciting to say the least. This poet is in love with language – Latin, English, Irish, perhaps not so much Greek. He loves the exact word for everything, an Audi Quattro, a beehive, hair-do, breeze-block walls, bakelite, bread farrels, couplings, between carriages, flak, caesurae (which he rhymes with ‘slate-grey’ to echo an old Irish metre), sheepshank and clove hitch knots, cleats and staves. You are taken up in his excitement, tossed on the ‘Briny Say’ of his rich and rollicking imagination full of voices and vignettes, ‘Catestants and Protholics’ and all the vistas and views, sounds and sensations of Belfast… Carson is certainly in the ambit of Joyce, the teeming detail, the love and adoration of that which is so well-known and absorbed into the sinew of memory. The rhythm is closer to the spill and tumble of Finnegans Wake than anything else.”

Barra Ó Séaghdha, reviewing a book of interviews with Irish writers, had this to say about Carson (in 2002):

[Paul] Muldoon has always had the knack of inspiring awe among his peers and his elders. Ciarán Carson testifies to having written very little between 1976 and 1985: “Paul Muldoon was doing the thing so well, so why bother?” It is extraordinary that someone with Carson’s already proven gifts should have felt this, and fortunate that he was able to re-invent himself in collections like The Irish for No and Belfast Confetti.’ Further, Ciaran Carson has worked on 19th-century French poetry rather than on his contemporaries. It is arguable that there was a greater knowledge of European culture and languages among Irish writers of the pre-cappuccino era than among today’s young writers. In any case, it is worth asking just what our alleged Europeanness amounts to.

Paul Muldoon is a name that invariably comes up when Carson is mentioned (post about Muldoon here). There are similarities between the two (Northern Irish settings/concerns, long chatty lines, postmodern accumulation of detail), but the voices are entirely different. They both can be quite funny, and encyclopedic in what they are willing to include in any given poem (names, dates, places), but there the similarities end. Paul Muldoon is the “famous” one. He is the “big name”. Would there be room for Ciarán Carson in the already-clogged landscape of Irish poetry? Obviously there was, and still is. The recent publication of Ciaran Carson’s collected poems runs to almost 600 pages and got reviewed everywhere.

He grew up in Belfast. He still lives there. He grew up speaking only Irish, the sole language spoken in his household. This has given him a distinct perspective on language which he continues to develop and examine today. He is careful to not sentimentalize it, however:

I write in English because the Irish that I spoke was the Irish of the home and I wouldn’t be able to wwrite in the same way in Irish as I can in the English I have. If I were to write in Irish I’d have to go back and learn it all over again very well. And I feel at times that the idea that I should write in Irish because it’s the language of the Irish soul or someting like this is a bit off, anyway.

He’s funny. I like him a lot.

Growing up in County Mayo in the 40s or 50s, say, it wouldn’t be that unusual to only speak Irish, but it was quite unusual in Northern Ireland at the time Carson was coming. His obsession with language has led him to take on translations, and is why he is so often compared with Joyce. He was born in 1948, and so that put him in the thick of things in Belfast as a young man. He, unlike many of his contemporaries, and unlike many Irish poets going back to Yeats and beyond, did not see rural life as the key to Irish-ness. There is no sense in him, like there is in some others, that “going back” to the land is where the real truth resides. He is a strictly urban poet. To him, Belfast provides all the inspiration he needs, although much of it is violent and frightening. His early collections feature the landscape of Belfast as one of interruptions – barricades and barriers and ramps, helicopters overhead – never able to get from here to there in a direct line.

For years I’ve had a series of recurrent dreams about Belfast – nightmares, sometimes, or dreams of containment, repression, anxiety and claustrophobia …often, I’m lost in an ambiguous labyrinth betweenthe Falls and the Shankill; at other times, the city is idealised and takes on a Gothic industrial beauty.

Some of his earliest stuff seems a bit sentimental, as is common with young poets. Dancing colleens around a fire, a jug of poteen, all that stuff. And once you get to know what Ciarán Carson’s later poems LOOK like (at least the ones that made his name), the early poems, with their traditional-looking stanzas and blocky structure, you wonder if it’s by the same guy.

He became famous for his long lines, another similarity with Muldoon. The lines spill over one another, and while there is internal structure, the overall effect is mildly chaotic, chatty, and deeply rooted in the wonderful tradition of Irish storytelling.

The poems are meant to be read out loud.

In recent years, he has abandoned the long line almost entirely, and now goes in for short sometimes one-word lines, almost like lists, the details accumulating until you get a full picture. But only through the fragments can one see clearly. His stuff is impressionistic. I suppose his long-line stuff is also impressionistic, but it feels the way people talk. Very few people talk with correct pronunciation. Their sentences meander, they interrupt, go back, and then resume … but if you’ve ever heard an old Irish guy tell a story or a joke (or, hell, give directions), you know that he has the end-result, the punchline, if you will, in his head at all times. The good storyteller always knows where he is going.

Carson is also a big fan of traditional Irish music, and has written a book on the topic. He says:

I get bored and angry with those who protest that traditional music, compared with the ‘big’ tradition of classical music, is limited. By the same token a lot of classical music is histrioniic and vulgar. I often think that people don’t listen enough, or that their education has made them incapable of listening […] and the same thing can apply to poetry – a lot of poets, it seems to me, are unaware of the beauty and sophistication of ‘ordinary’ speech.

One of his most famous poems is called “Dresden”. A cornucopia of experience and characters. The title immediately calls up all kinds of horrifying images, and yet Dresden (the word – meaning the place) doesn’t appear in the poem until almost the end. This is, again, part of the storyteller’s tool: setting up tension in the reader, who keeps waiting for “Dresden” to show up, and instead we are treated to a Northern Irish tinker, and a guy named Horse, and his brother Mule, and details upon details … but … where is Dresden?

“Dresden” is an Irish story. So when Dresden finally arrives, it packs a devastating wallop. And in the final lines, Carson ties up all of the loose ends and images that have been floating through the poem, seemingly unconnected, until the reader is left with a vast and yet specific experience, a 20th century experience. You realize that the poet knew all along where he was going. He had the end in mind from the beginning.

Ciarán Carson is one of the most enjoyable and readable and interesting Irish poets writing today. He is still developing his voice. I continue to look forward to hearing from him.

(More poems by Ciarán Carson here. And at the bottom of the post, some links to his books and one translation – “The Midnight Court” – I wrote a post about “Midnight Court”, and Seamus Heaney’s essay on it.)


Horse Boyle was called Horse Boyle because of his brother Mule;
Though why Mule was called Mule is anybody’s guess. I stayed
there once,
Or rather, i nearly stayed there once. But that’s another story.
At any rate they lived in this decrepit caravan, not two miles out of
Encroached upon by baroque pyramids of empty baked bean tins,
And ochres, hints of autumn merging into twilight. Horse believed
They were as good as a watchdog, and to tell you the truth
You couldn’t go near the place without something falling over:
A minor avalanche would ensue – more like a shop bell, really.

The old-fashioned ones on string, connected to the latch, I think,
And as you entered in, the bell would tinkle in the empty shop, a
Of soap and turf and sweets would hit you from the gloom.
Baling wire. Twine. And, of course, shelves and pyramids of tins.
An old woman would appear from the back – there was a sizzling
pan in there,
Somewhere, a whiff of eggs and bacon – and ask you what you
Or rather, she wouldn’t ask; she would talk about the weather. It
had rained
That day, but it was looking better. They had just put in the spuds.
I had only come to pass the time of day, so I bought a token packet
of Gold Leaf.
All this time the fry was frying away. Maybe she’d a daughter in
Somewhere, though I hadn’t heard the neighbours talk of it; if
anybody knew,
It would be Horse. Horse kept his ears to the ground.
And he was a great man for current affairs; he owned the only TV
in the place.
Come dusk he’d set off on his rounds, to tell the whole townland
the latest
Situation in the Middle East, a mortar bomb attack in
Mullaghbawn –
The damn things never worked, of course – and so he’d tell the
How in his young day it was very different. Take young Flynn, for
Who was ordered to take this bus and smuggle some sticks of gelignite

Across the border, into Derry, when the RUC – or was it the
RIC? –
Got wind of it. The bus was stopped, the peeler stepped on. Young
Took it like a man, of course, he owned up right away. He opened
the bag
And produced the bomb, his rank and serial number. For all the
Like a pound of sausages. Of course, the thing was, the peeler’s
Had got a puncture, and he didn’t know young Flynn from Adam.
All he wanted
Was to get home for his tea. Flynn was in for seven years and
learned to speak
The best of Irish. He had thirteen words for a cow in heat;
A word for the third thwart in a boat, the wake of a boat on the ebb tide.

He knew the extinct names of insects, flowers, why this place was
Whatever: Carrick, for example, was a rock. He was damn right
there –
As the man said, When you buy meat you buy bones, when you buy land
you buy stones.

You’d be hard put to find a square foot in the whole bloody parish
That wasn’t thick with flint and pebbles. To this day he could hear
the grate
And scrape as the spade struck home, for it reminded him of broken
Digging a graveyard, maybe – or better still, trying to dig a
reclaimed tip
Of broken delph and crockery ware – you know that sound that sets
your teeth on edge
When the chalk squeaks on the blackboard, or you shovel ashes
from the stove?

Master McGinty – he’d be on about McGinty then, and discipline,
the capitals
Of South America, Moore’s Melodies, the Battle of Clontarf, and
Tell me this, an educated man like you: What goes on four legs when it’s
Two legs when it’s grown up, and three legs when it’s old?
I’d pretend
I didn’t know. McGinty’s leather strap would come up then, stuffed
With threepenny bits to give it weight and sting. Of course, it never
did him
Any harm: You could take a horse to water but you couldn’t make him

He himself was nearly going on to be a priest.
And many’s the young cub left the school, as wise as when he came.

Carrowkeel was where McGinty came from – Narrow Quarter
Flynn explained –
Back before the Troubles, a place that was so mean and crabbed,
Horse would have it, men were known to eat their dinner from a
Which they’d slide shut the minute you’d walk in.
He’d demonstrate this at the kitchen table, hunched and furtive,
Out the window – past the teetering minarets of rust, down the
hedge-dark aisle –
To where a stranger might appear, a passer-by, or what was maybe
Someone he knew. Someone who wanted something. Someone
who was hungry.
Of course who should come tottering up the lane that instant but his

Mule. I forgot to mention they were twins. They were as like two –
No, not peas in a pod, for this is not the time nor the place to go into
Comparisons, and this is really Horse’s story, Horse who – now I’m
Round to it – flew over Dresden in the war. He’d emigrated first, to
Manchester. Something to do with scrap – redundant mill
Giant flywheels, broken looms that would, eventually, be ships, or
He said he wore his fingers to the bone.
And so, on impulse, he had joined the RAF. He became a rear
Of all the missions, Dresden broke his heart. It reminded him of

As he remembered it, long afterwards, he could hear, or almost
Between the rapid desultory thunderclaps, a thousand tinkling
echoes –
All across the map of Dresden, store-rooms full of china shivered,
And collapsed, an avalanche of porcelain, slushing and cascading:
Shepherdesses, figurines of Hope and Peace and Victory, delicate
bone fragments.
He recalled in particular a figure from his childhood, a milkmaid
Standing on the mantelpiece. Each night as they knelt down for the
His eyes would wander up to where she seemed to beckon to him,
Offering him, eternally, her pitcher of milk, her mouth of rose and cream.

One day, reaching up to hold her yet again, his fingers stumbled,
and she fell.
He lifted down a biscuit tin, and opened it.
It breathed an antique incense: things like pencils, snuff, tobacco.
His war medals. A broken rosary. And there, the milkmaid’s creamy
hand, the outstretched
Pitcher of milk, all that survived. Outside, there was a scraping
And a tittering; I knew Mule’s step by now, his careful drunken
Through the tin-stacks. I might have stayed the night, but there’s
no time
To go back to that now; I could hardly, at any rate, pick up the
I wandered out through the steeples of rust, the gate that was a
broken bed.

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Outrage (1950); Directed by Pioneer Ida Lupino: A Powerful Examination of Rape and Its Aftermath


Ida Lupino was an anomaly, a phenom, a pioneer. She was an actress, of course, a woman whose acting career stretched from the early 1930s to Columbo episodes in the mid-1970s. At first her roles were insignificant, like in Artists and Models (1937).


The Light That Failed (1939) gave her a juicier role, more to do, with some emotional complexity.

The Light That Failed - Ida Lupino

An excellent role in The Sea Wolf came in 1941, but the real breakthrough for Lupino was when she played opposite Humphrey Bogart in the crime-thriller/adventure movie High Sierra (1941). She’s unforgettable in it, and the film was a huge hit. And in terms of Bogart: Casablanca would come the following year, putting Bogart firmly in the Improbable Leading Man category (he was short, balding, and had a lisp: his transition into iconic Leading Man is one of the most improbable – and perfect – results that emerged out of the studio system). Before that, though, he played gangsters, criminals, and anti-heroes.


High Sierra ends with a doomed stand-off between Bogart hiding in the rocks above with the cops gathered below. It is a sequence still imitated today. Lupino was terrific in High Sierra, and able to hold her own with Bogart, a worthy co-star. She was perfect for the rise of film noir, its obsession with sex and neuroticism, crime and the underworld. There was something about her that suggested a woman with secrets, a woman who had been around. I love her in Moontide (1942), opposite a fabulous Jean Gabin.


She is first seen as a black faraway figure walking determinedly into a rough ocean. Her suicide attempt is never explained, but the character played by Gabin, a binge-drinker and a womanizer, rescues her and takes her back to the floating deck he lives on, a place where he sells “live bait.” Over the course of a couple of days, she and he connect. The connection surprises both of them, she, because she had considered her life was over, and he, because he was caught up in a whirl of self-destruction and never thought about love. Claude Rains is wonderful (as always) as Gabin’s smiling supportive friend. Thomas Mitchell is excellent in it, as Gabin’s jealous friend, probably gay (he is first seen whipping a naked Rains with a wet towel – all in fun, right?), and determined to yank Lupino off the pedestal that Gabin has put her on. You can imagine how he tries to do that.

She worked with all the great directors of the day, Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh (a bunch of films), William Wellman, Michael Curtiz, Anatole Litvak, Charles Vidor, Jean Negulesco. In 1947, she got out of her contract with Warner Brothers and freelanced around. She still worked, but not as much as the late-30s and 40s. As her career transitioned into the 1950s, she started to play middle-aged parts, directed by Nicholas Ray, Robert Aldrich, Fritz Lang. Once live television shows started happening out of New York (the real Golden Ages of television), she switched to mostly television. She was in her 40s now, she wanted to keep working. Those live television programs, like “The Four Star Playhouse” “The Ford Television Theatre”, “General Electric Theatre” and on and on provided new and vigorous and exciting opportunities for actors, writers, and young directors. So many luminaries (Paddy Chayevsky. Arthur Penn) got their start in these programs. So many writers cut their teeth on them. And so many New York actors became famous through performances on these television programs. Lupino was still acting, in everything. She appeared on Twilight Zone, Bonanza, Batman, Mod Squad. She still did movies here and there. I love her performance in 1955 in Women’s Prison as the totally psychopathic prison warden, so cruel that the prisoners gang up on her to give her a taste of her own medicine. I reviewed Women’s Prison, love it.


It’s the kind of acting career I most admire. It mixes a blend of artistry, star power and practicality. Stardom was not as important to her as continuing to work. And work she did.

But the most pioneering part of her career (even if she had “just” been an actress she would be remembered as an icon of the tough wrong-side-of-the-tracks broad with a soft and mushy heart) was when she started directing. It happened early. Like I said: she was talented, but she was also practical. One can almost imagine her thinking Okay, I’m getting older now, not getting as good parts … what next? Many actresses are sunk by the so-called “blackout period” when they hit their 40s. That “blackout period” lasts about 15 years. Nobody wants to see women as they transition into old age, especially an actress whose beautiful youth had been captured on camera so many times. It is not only unfair but infuriating that the culture cannot deal with women’s transition into middle-age, and have no problem with men’s. But again, Lupino felt that reality at work, and made a change. She stepped behind the camera. She worked job to job for a bit, and then formed a production company with her husband. And so after that, we are graced with the gorgeous credit at the start of her films: AN IDA LUPINO PRODUCTION. Hell, yes!


I was thrilled when Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to get a Best Directing Oscar. And I loved Hurt Locker. But it’s outrageous that the “first” would come so late in the game. (And take a look at the statistics of how many times a film helmed by a woman was nominated for Best Picture but NOT nominated for Best Director. I think it was Steven Spielberg who cracked, when this happened to Streisand, “I guess the picture directed itself, huh.” May have been someone else. I do know Streisand showed her director’s cut of Yentl to him and asked for his opinion. He said, “I wouldn’t change a frame.”)

There had been “women directors” since cinema’s earliest age. Not many. Dorothy Arzner was a pioneer in the 1930s, really the only woman behind the camera at that time. She directed the awesome pre-Code film Merrily We Go to Hell (starring Fredric March and Sylvia Sidney.) See it if you can. I reviewed here (unfortunately I lost a ton of pictures on my site with the last WordPress upgrade. Anger.) Shirley Clarke was another pioneer in the 50s. In France, Agnes Varda was starting to work, in deeply experimental films, and of course she became one of the leading lights of the French New Wave (and she’s still directing today). Elaine May was a pioneer in the 70s. Lina Wertmüller. The late Chantal Akerman (it hurts to say “late”). Joan Rivers. Gillian Armstrong. These women were anomalies at the time. Bold and pushing out the space for women in film. In the 80s, things started to really change. Some of the most influential pop-culture films of that generation were made by women, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, directed by Amy Heckerling (whom I still love: MORE FILMS BY AMY HECKERLING) probably the most famous example. Penny Marshall directed gigantic Hollywood smash-hits. Nancy Savoca. Jane Campion. Julie Dash. Allison Anders. Barbra Streisand. Nora Ephron. Catherine Breillat. Mary Harron. Julie Taymor. Sofia Coppola (she was the third female director to be nominated for Best Director. Nice, but still: ridiculous considering the films of all of the women who came before her. Better late than never, I suppose.) Lisa Chodolenko. Haifaa al-Mansour (talk about a pioneer: first film to be shot inside Saudi Arabia. Helmed by a Saudi woman. Written by her too. She was not allowed to be out on the streets with her male actors, so she had to huddle in a truck with her monitor a block away, communicating with her crew and cast via walkie-talkie. That film was Wadjida, a wonderful film.) Ava DuVernay with Selma. Again, apparently Selma directed itself since it was nominated for Best Picture and DuVernay was NOT nominated for Best Director. How do these voters sleep at night?

Every single one of these directors owe a huge debt to Lupino.

Lupino’s directing career was almost as extensive as her acting career. She did both at the same time. It started by a fluke. A director had dropped out of a project (Lupino had written the script), and she was asked to step in. She did. It was 1949. The film was called Not Wanted and it was about an unwed mother. (Lupino was not scared to take on taboo topics, as Outrage also shows. And she brought a female perspective to them, so missing at that time in Hollywood.) However, Lupino went uncredited as the director of Not Wanted.


Outrage from 1950 portrays a young woman’s experience of PTSD after a violent rape. It’s so ahead of its time that the mind boggles. It’s frank about sexual crime and the debilitating flashbacks that sometimes come with PTSD. One of the most groundbreaking parts of Outrage was something noted by Richard Brody at The New Yorker:

[“Outrage” ] looks intimately, painfully, and analytically at what we now know to call rape culture.

Lupino directed The Bigamist around this time, an interesting film I actually just saw a couple of months ago about a nice guy who … ends up becoming a bigamist. Ida Lupino is in it as well, and Joan Fontaine is in it too. It’s a moody and ambivalent film (the whole thing is on Youtube, FYI).

Lupino directed family melodramas, “issue” pictures. She’s talented with creating a look and feel (the rape scene in Outrage is terrifying). She is most known for 1953’s The Hitch-hiker, a great great film.


If she hadn’t done The Hitch-Hiker, I’m not sure if her stature as a director would be as significant, although her other films are always good. What is so GREAT about The Hitch-Hiker is it is not, in any way shape or form, a “woman’s picture.” It’s a film about men. It’s a film with only men in it. It’s a thriller, not seen as women’s territory at all. (Back to Bigelow: That’s why I was disappointed Bigelow hadn’t acknowledged the pioneer women who came before her, especially Lupino, whom she owes so much to. Her speech was wonderful and emotional otherwise, I think it was just a missed opportunity. Like Lupino, Bigelow does not direct “chick flicks.” She directs action films, political films, war films, guys in camo, macho surfers. No love stories whatsoever. It doesn’t interest her.) Lupino was not hemmed in either by gender expectations of what she should be interested in, what she should do. She was able to take on any topic with power. The Hitch-Hiker is a great film, a moody terrifying noir about two guys who pick up a mysterious hitch-hiker.


Filled with dread and shadows, The Hitch-Hiker is enough to put Lupino on the map forever. She literally, in one fell swoop, broadened the boundaries for women in film. She did that. In 1953, mind you.

According to Wikipedia, Outrage in 1950 was the first studio picture directed by a woman SINCE Dorothy Arzner in the 1930s. Lupino wrote the script too. Talk about “auteur.”

There are some unforgettable and chilling images in the beginning scenes of Outrage, evidence of Lupino’s powerful visual style. She isn’t strictly a linear “and then this happened and then this happened” film-maker. She sets up a MOOD visually, the mood equally as important as the plot.

For example, Ann Walton (Mala Powers), a young woman working as a secretary in a bustling trucking company, heads to a nearby lunch truck in the first scene. She buys two pieces of chocolate cake. She’s on her way to have lunch with her boyfriend (soon-to-be-fiance) Jim (Robert Clarke). The lunch-truck worker is a big burly guy with a scar on his neck. The first image we get of him are his hands, pushing a coffee cup across the counter. As Ann makes her order, those hands remain, sticking into the right side of the frame. It’s terrifying, but also extremely specific. Sexual threat is already there. It’s the air women breathe. I’ve talked about this before. This is an incredibly insightful and bold observation to make in 1950. Women do not walk around trying to be sexualized objects. As with men, being sexual is a private matter, for specific times when they’re going to, you know, have sex. But the sexual side of women is brought out, in unwelcome circumstances, in unwelcome moments. They’re trying to buy lunch at a lunch-counter and they have to deal with leers and innuendoes and come-ons. At times that type of leering is indistinguishable from actual violence.(Not always – a guy cat-called me a couple months ago and he made my day. That was just days after the random sexual assault I experienced. So … that cat-caller – who was working on a construction site, total cliche, shouted out a comment to me about my “red hair” and how “stacked” I was … #1. He speaks the truth on both counts. I couldn’t argue with his perception of reality. and #2. I needed it, I was feeling pretty beat up, like a piece of shit really, and his tone was so friendly and appreciative. Go figure.) But some leers put the THREAT of rape into the air. Until this dynamic is truly understood, and until men start listening to women on this issue, we will still have problems.

Ann is an innocent. She’s happy with her boyfriend, lives with her parents, and is excited to be married. The sexualization of the atmosphere that women experience is omnipresent in Outrage, an accepted part of life, noxious and yet invisible. She even gets it from her co-worker, who is a nice person, but still manages to touch her inappropriately in one of their interactions. Women are up for grabs, you see. And it is expected that women will tolerate it.

One night Ann works late and starts to walk home through the ranks of empty cargo trucks parked in the lot outside the building. She whistles. Her happy mood is undercut so strongly by the shadowy hostile environment of that trucking lot that you are terrified for her. It’s similar to the opening scene of another disturbing movie about rape, 1961’s Something Wild (which, honestly, you must see.) Something Wild is OUT THERE, but equally honest about sexual trauma (the young woman comes home after the rape, tells no one, and goes straight to the bathroom where she cuts up the dress she was wearing and flushes the pieces down the toilet, and then gets into the tub and scrubs herself all over as though the dirt is underneath her skin).

Eventually, Ann realizes she is being followed. (She does not know it is the lunch-truck owner. She never sees his face.) His elongated shadow looms out around corners. A chase ensues. It is terrible. Ann tries to hide. But her footfalls echo through the silence, he finds her, he always finds her. Eventually, her hyperventilation is so extreme that she collapses on a small dock outside a warehouse. As the lunch-truck worker approaches slowly up the stairs, Lupino moves the camera up, up, up the side of the warehouse, so that the angle is dizzyingly high, and we cannot see Ann collapsed just around the corner, but we see the man’s approach. Then he disappears too around the corner. Blackout. The next image we see is Ann staggering home, holding her stomach, disheveled and dirty. It’s brutal.

Unlike Something Wild, Ann tells her parents, who call the police. Ann has collapsed into trauma, sedated by the kindly doctor, and unable to answer the questions of the female police detective. The burly male detective stands downstairs, uncomfortably dealing with Ann’s grieving devastated father. It’s all so honest. Police officers sending a woman to do the interview. The police officers do not come off as callous or judgmental. They are on the front-lines. They cannot protect women from this. They understand the trauma better than the community does. But there is just no system set up to support those who have been raped. The cops do the best they can.


The word “rape” is not used. “Criminal assault” is the term, and everybody knows what it means. The male detective feels helpless. Rapists (again: he says something like “the type of men who commit this heinous crime”) are sometimes rounded up, but they’re out on the street the next day, a commentary on women’s fear of moving forward with prosecution. This fear is exacerbated to the breaking point by a certain sense of prudery and judgment that follows Ann around relentlessly after the attack is known by her small-town community. People whisper about her on the streets. Men suddenly act really familiar with her (gross). Other women either don’t know what to say, or recoil from her like she has a communicable disease.

This here is a ruthless critique of the fear and prudery surrounding sex in 1950s America (and elsewhere, of course, but this is an American story.) It still exists today. Rape victims are torn apart and victimized again by the system, by people commenting on her and what happened to her. She must have brought it on somehow. Inadvertently, Outrage says that if you can’t even give something its proper name, if “rape” is a forbidden term, even by police officers, then a culture is in deep trouble.

One of the most sensitive aspects of the portrayal of Ann’s breakdown and PTSD following the rape comes about when her fiancé tries to comfort her, to insist that nothing has changed, that they will “put this all behind them” and be married and happy. That life is no longer for her, she feels, that future is no longer possible. Not only is she tarnished forever, something precious taken away from her, but she now cringes and recoils from male touch, even casual everyday touch, or affectionate touch from her fiancé.


Jim doesn’t understand what that rape has done to his fiance. He can’t conceive how her impression of herself has changed, how her former softness and openness to his touch (which we see in their first scene together) is now altered. When he tries to hug her, she leaps back. He’s hurt. He is confused. He doesn’t know enough to understand that this is a part of sexual trauma. When she insists that no, she will not marry him, he gets aggressive with her, grabbing her arms and shouting in her face. It’s the worst choice he could make. Her perception of men has altered. They all have the potential to do to her what that horrible man did to her.

Eventually, her psychosis deepens and she runs away. She has no idea where she is going. But somewhere she thinks that maybe if she moves to another place she won’t have to deal with what happened, nobody will know. Ending up in a small town, after a collapse by the side of the road, she is embraced by the community of orange-pickers. She works in the orange-packing factory. A pastor named Bruce Ferguson (beautifully played by Tod Andrews) is gentle with her, but you can tell he is eventually interested in her romantically too. The introduction of Bruce, his first scene with Ann, sets up an uneasy expectation that he, too, will take advantage of this troubled young woman. He touches her shoulder. At this point, the film has made its point so strongly about unwanted touch that you recoil FOR Ann. (The film is only an hour and 15 minutes long, to give you an idea of how efficient Lupino was as a storyteller.)

There are scenes when Ann’s old life seems like it will be about to catch up to her. She hears radio announcers talk about a “missing woman” named Ann Morton who fled after a “vicious criminal attack.” She is terrified of being tracked down. She feels safe with the pastor, with the orange pickers. She doesn’t want to go back.


She tells nobody about what has happened to her.

Minor everyday moments are fraught with terror. Men seem dangerous. Outrage is told entirely from Ann’s perspective, a deeply compassionate approach. Rape has a long-lasting impact, rape is an assault not just of the body but of who a person IS, and rape impacts the rest of someone’s life in the way that, say, a mugging does not. Because a purse is a purse. But your sexuality is something that is part of you, and when it is stolen from you it impacts ALL areas of your life. Outrage gets that.

There are scenes that are haunting, sensitively shot by Lupino, prioritizing Ann’s point of view. There’s one moment when Ann circles around a small platform of hearty country people dancing at a county fair. Ann is outside the charmed circle of being human, of being included in innocent pleasures like dancing and flirtation. Lupino shoots it in one, a slow pan around. It’s an intuitive and very perceptive approach. There is no language in Outrage saying, “I cannot love anyone or kiss anyone or marry anyone ever.” Lupino doesn’t need that explanatory dialogue. Ann’s slow walk around the fair platform says it all.

The ending is poignant and painful. I wouldn’t give it away. But the film addresses the reality of PTSD. It understands how flashbacks of trauma work. Its greatest contribution, though, may be its portrayal of the casual omnipresent atmosphere of sexual violence present in all women’s lives, so omnipresent that you become completely accustomed to feeling it and dealing with it.

It’s an extraordinary film. It is not available on DVD. TCM plays it on occasion. I did track down its entirety on Youtube. Probably uploaded without permission, so it may not stay there long.

Outrage is a must-see. Here it is on Youtube.

Ida Lupino. A woman in a man’s world. Doing it her way. A hero.


Posted in Actors, Directors, Movies | Tagged | 38 Comments

Supernatural, Season 11 Premiere


As always, if possible, let’s keep current season conversations separate from the conversation about my re-caps. It’s just my organizational obsessiveness. Those re-caps are a shit-ton of work (fun work, mind you!), and the discussions RULE but again, I like to keep things organized in their little buckets, especially considering the number of comments.

Thank you!

I won’t be watching tonight. In all honesty, believe it or not, I thought the premiere was next week. But I’ll catch you all later here once I’ve seen it.

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“I think you can do your article by thinking about the film for yourself. I’m not the writer. I have already done the film—so now it’s your work.” – Director Chantal Akerman


The outpouring of loss in response to the death of Belgian experimental and influential (so influential that I think it will be a generation before we really can get a handle on it) has been intense and personal. People feel the loss personally. Akerman was only 65 years old. Her body of work is stunning, and she started at the age of 18. She shot out of the gate fully-formed. Someone on Twitter (I can’t remember who, sorry) said something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if Jeanne Dielman was eventually recognized as the greatest film of all time, and we looked back on the Citizen Kane decades with regrets?” It could happen. Give it time.

“Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles”, directed by Chantal Akerman at the age of 24

I wrote my own small tribute but at the bottom of that post there are multiple links to other essays that delve far deeper into her work.

I wanted to also point your way to a phenomenal interview done by Daniel Kasman over at MUBI after he had seen her latest film No Home Movie at Locarno.

Chantal Akerman was part of the first generation of children born to Holocaust survivors. Her relationship with her mother (who survived Auschwitz) was quite stormy and difficult, and in No Home Movie she puts together an autobiographical video-essay, interviewing her mother about her life. (Her mother has since died.) I have not seen the film yet.

Kaman’s interview starts like this:

NOTEBOOK: This is not the first film we’ve seen of yours that is about your relationship with your mother. This has been a filmmaking motif for you. Can you say something about its importance, the relationship to your filmmaking practice?

CHANTAL AKERMAN: I cannot. I had the feeling for a long time—my mother went into the camps and never said a word about it—that I had to talk for her, which is crazy because you cannot talk for someone else. So I was obsessed by that, by her life. I was obsessed also by the way when she went out of the camps she made her house into a jail. That’s Jeanne Dielman. Now I can tell that, but I was not aware of that when I did it, you know?

First of all: “I cannot.” That is an artist speaking, an artist who does what she does because it feels right to her, and doesn’t overthink it or even KNOW what she’s doing at the time. It’s not an intellectual process. It’s instinct. The job of the critic is to analyze. The job of the director is to DO. Two very different things.

This reminds me of a great snippet from Scott Eyman’s John Wayne biography. In the 60s and 70s, thanks really to the French who loved the American movies that were considered our “trash” (crime noirs, Westerns), there was increased critical interest in John Wayne, the Westerns he had been involved in. Howard Hawks was one of the heroes of the French New Wave. Red River, starring John Wayne, is (of course) a masterpiece, but it came more than halfway through Wayne’s career. He had been working since the late 20s. So anyway, a critic came to interview Wayne. This was in the 70s. The critic started off with, “So your career really began with Red River …”
1. How rude.
2. How can you dismiss the 100+ films Wayne had already done? Is it because YOU want to “set the tone” for how we talk about Wayne? Who the hell are YOU? You’re a CRITIC. Know your place.

Anyway, the critic made that comment, and Wayne barked in response, “That’s a theory.” That critic got let off easy, in my opinion. Hopefully he learned a lesson.

Back to Akerman: Her responses to Kasman’s observations (all quite insightful) are fascinating, putting her in the same category as the great directors of the American past: Howard Hawks, John Ford – who, when asked such questions of analysis – tended to respond with: “Well, that was the story I was telling.” Or “I’m not an artist. I do my job and I do it well.” To sit around and pontificate about the post-modern existentialism of their films, or whatever, would be ridiculous (not to mention pompous.)

So Kasman asks Akerman if she could “say something” about her process. Her response is “I cannot.”

It’s not a rude or prickly interview, there’s so much great stuff there, but she refuses to analyze what she feels she cannot. She’s asked about her camera angles, how she chose them. The genius Akerman responds:

Well, you know, I have done that all my life, so it’s like a second nature!

There is speculation (including in the New York Times obit) that she committed suicide because No Home Movie was booed at Cannes. What a shameful speculation. There is zero evidence that it is true. A couple lone “Boo”s maybe. Dear speculators: this isn’t about you and the importance of your opinions to Akerman. She was tough as nails. She endured much. She was an artist. To assume that this ferociously independent woman would be crushed by a couple of Boos betrays such a complete misunderstanding – not only of the relationship between artist/art and audience – but of the multiple interconnected “reasons” that anyone might choose to take her own life. Ignore those comments. Or better yet, judge and shame those who indulge in such speculation.

Dennis Lim, who has written a lot about Akerman, had this to say on Facebook (and it has since gone viral on Twitter):

Amid the shock and sadness over Chantal Akerman’s passing, it’s hard not to also feel irate about the flagrantly irresponsible and ignorant obituaries – two of which, in prominent publications, connect her death to a few boos from a couple of idiots at a film festival press screening. I assure you, she did not give a shit about your fucking boos.


And to bring the conversation back to where it belongs, here, again is a link to Daniel Kasman’s recent interview with Chantal Akerman.

Chantal Akerman, as the lead in her first film, a 12-minute short called “Saute Ma Ville”. She was only 18. The entirety of it is on Youtube. See it.

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“I feel I am an actress. I feel I have talent.” – Rita Hayworth

Wonderful 1967 interview with Rita Hayworth, on Gilda, the old star system, and being stereo-typed. Hayworth was grateful for what Gilda did for her (she became the biggest star in the world – and she was alREADY beloved by American GIs the world over because of her famous pin-up that then showed up in the Stephen King story).


But she had mixed feelings about Gilda too. It really was a defining role. Leaving a dent in the earth like a huge meteor. After Gilda, those were the types of roles she was offered, it was seen as ALL she could do. Rather ridiculous, really, since Hayworth didn’t come out of nowhere in Gilda. She had already been working and dancing in Hollywood for almost 10 years at that point. She had been great and tough and sexy in a smallish (but very memorable) part in Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings (1939), where she has a great scene stumbling around in a bar late at night, holding a bottle of wine, looking for a corkscrew, and laughing at a stern Cary Grant, “Lock the doors, Judith’s lost her equilibrium.”


She had some major successes in big musicals in the early-mid 40s, starring Fred Astaire, or Gene Kelly – where she was absolutely wonderful, and a phenomenal dancer. Gilda represented a complete change, a change that shattered the rosy-cheeked ingenue. Startling. Bold. Radical. Unforced. Maybe a more appropriate reaction to Hayworth in Gilda would be, “Wow. I just saw her tap-dancing and grinning in a movie just last year. And now this? This woman can do ANYTHING.”

mame black strapless 6 rita hayworth gilda
Hayworth in “Gilda”

Gilda exploded Rita Hayworth into the stratosphere (where she remains today). She fought against the influence of “Gilda” for the rest of her life (and gave some wonderful performances afterwards: Sadie Thompson, Separate Tables. And of course I probably saw her on that Carol Burnette Show sketch when I was a kid.) A troubled and shy woman whose death came far too early, she had a pretty sad end as she descended into dementia (Hayworth was the first star to go public with her battle with Alzheimer’s: it brought huge awareness to the disease).

Sometimes the personal life dramas overshadow the work, especially with bombshell sex-symbols unfortunately. It’s all part of that uneasy (or it seems uneasy to me, so uncomfortable are we still with freely expressed female sexuality) and vested interest in boxing those types of women in, tossing them out when they get old, diminishing their accomplishments, lessening the meaningfulness of their impact. Honestly, what is more meaningful than a Movie Goddess?

So much of the earlier footage of Hayworth is just newsreel-y stuff and posed publicity photos so I was so happy to find this small interview clip. Smart, thoughtful, grateful, and honest.

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R.I.P. Chantal Akerman


The news of the death of pioneering Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman, came as a shock this morning. Even worse, it is being reported as a suicide (although I’ve read different reports), which, if true, is just heart-breaking and awful. Akerman has a new film called No Home Movie (an autobiographical video-essay film about her Holocaust survivor mother), and it’s about to open at the New York Film Festival. (See Glenn Kenny’s take on that film, No Home Movie, below.) But the impact of Akerman’s 1975 film (Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles) was such that when word of No Home Movie reached me I felt a bolt of excitement. When Chantal Akerman spoke, it was important. She had plans coming up, film festivals, symposiums, etc. She was only 65 years old. If it was suicide, this is even more tragic.

Here she is in 1975 talking about Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Akerman was only 24 years old when she made it. Astonishing, really. Many film-makers have to work decades before they make a film that confident, that knowing, that stylistically sophisticated. Look at how young she is.

In the film Delphine Seyrig plays the widowed Jeanne, who lives in a flat with her son, filling her day with housewifely tasks (shown in excruciating real time: cleaning the sink, making veal cutlets, etc.), and from 5 to 5:30 every day she “entertains” men in her bedroom. It’s a compartmentalized part of her day, a part that seemingly does not touch all of the other parts. The film is (not surprisingly) a feminist classic (although Akerman didn’t like being referred to as a “feminist” film-maker). The majority of the action is unbelievably banal and may try your patience at times (“Do we really have to watch every step of her making breakfast? With NO CUTS?”). Dennis Lim wrote a short essay about the film in the book Defining Events in Movies and his words capture what Ackerman was up to with her style of storytelling in Jeanne Dielman:

Covering 48 hours over three days, the film immerses itself in the ritualized minutiae of Jeanne’s household chores. These mundane events are captured with a static camera, often in real time. The viewer is compelled to experience the full monotony of each task …

Akerman so firmly establishes Jeanne’s routine that when the tiniest cracks start to emerge – overcooked potatoes, a dropped spoon – they play like major events.

The film’s portrayal of deadening ritualistic housework is a critique of the very concept of “woman’s work.” Alongside of that is Jeanne’s matter-of-fact compartmentalized prostitution, also seen as “woman’s work,” right? This topic has been covered before in many films, from Belle de Jour to the more recent Concussion. Happy homemaker by day, whore by night. But Jeanne Dielman breaks that mold, shatters it, forces us to endure the “homemaker” stuff, endlessly: each day the same, so that we watch the routine, we understand how it should go, we see her meticulous nature … and then, slowly, also mundanely, it unravels. How can a spoon dropped on the floor open up a crack revealing an abyss? Watch how Akerman does it. With no language. Sometimes it is not just the story one wants to tell that provides fascination or interest. It is the APPROACH that breaks new ground, and that’s the case with Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. You watch, there are moments of extreme boredom. But then the rhythm of the film, its own insistent and ruthless commitment to itself, cracks you open. You can’t stop watching because something is going on. And that “something” is not visible, but you can feel it. A story is being told, an event unfolding, a woman revealed. We see her through what she does. When things start to go awry, no matter how small, we know she doesn’t have much time left. The routine will be shattered for good.

Chantal Akerman has made many more films since that masterpiece in 1975. Some I have seen, more I have not. While she has spoken eloquently about how Godard inspired her to get into film-making (she and the rest of her generation), she was that very rare thing in cinema, a unique visionary with a unique voice. An original.

Her first film, made when she was 18, financed herself, where she played the lead, is a 12-minute short called Saute ma ville, and it’s on Youtube. She shot right out of the gate, confident, bold, personal, and believed in her own perspective, her own voice and vision. She’s 18 years old. Look at this film.

Here’s a Chantal Akerman Primer from Sight & Sound.

Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote a terrific essay about Akerman entitled “Chantal Akerman: The Integrity of Exile and the Everyday.” Rosenbaum writes:

This desire for normalcy accounts for much of the difficulty of assimilating Akerman’s work to any political program, feminist or otherwise. As an account of domestic oppression and repression, Jeanne Dielman largely escapes these strictures, and Akerman herself has admitted that this film can be regarded as feminist. But she also once refused to allow je tu il elle to be shown in a gay and lesbian film festival and, more generally, has often denied that she considers herself a feminist filmmaker, despite the efforts of certain feminist film critics to claim her as one.

On one hand, her films are extremely varied. Some are in 16 millimetre and some are in 35; some are narrative and some are nonnarrative; the running times range from about 11 minutes to 201 and the genres range from autobiography to personal psychodrama to domestic drama to romantic comedy to musical to documentary – a span that still fails to include a silent, not-exactly-documentary study of a run-down New York hotel (Hotel Monterey, 1972), a vast collection of miniplots covering a single night in a city (Toute une nuit, 1982), and a feature-length string of Jewish jokes recited by immigrants in a vacant lot in Brooklyn at night (Food, Family and Philosophy aka Histoires d’Amérique, 1989), among other oddities.

On the other hand, paradoxically, there are few important contemporary filmmakers whose range is as ruthlessly narrow as Akerman’s, formally and emotionally. Most of her films, regardless of genre, come across as melancholy, narcissistic meditations charged with feelings of loneliness and anxiety; and nearly all of them have the same hard-edged painterly presence and monumentality, the same precise sense of framing, locations and empty space.

More generally, if I had to try to summarise the cinema of Chantal Akerman, thematically and formally, in a single phrase, ‘the discomfort of bodies in rooms’ would probably be my first choice. And ‘the discomfort of bodies inside shots’ might be the second.

Catherine Grant has put together such an impressive list of content about Chantal Akerman. I will be delving through.

My friend Dan Callahan interviewed Akerman for Slant Magazine via email and some of the answers were wonderful. The orgasm bit, for example. I also loved Dan sharing the anecdote about seeing Jeanne Dielman in a crowded theatre and the audience gasped when she dropped the spoon. That’s it exactly.

Was waiting, on some level, for Glenn Kenny to speak, and he has, and it’s beautiful and sad.

And finally from Richard Brody at The New Yorker. The following bit about Jeanne Dielman is so important to keep in mind, especially when you think about how often women’s accomplishments are sidelined, ignored, diminished. It’s the first sentence that one really needs to remember, for context, take note.

Akerman was younger than Orson Welles was when he made “Citizen Kane,” younger than Jean-Luc Godard was when he made “Breathless.” The three films deserve to be mentioned together. “Jeanne Dielman” is as influential and as important for generations of young filmmakers as Welles’s and Godard’s first films have been.

If you see any extensive list of Great Films of the 20th Century and Jeanne Dielman isn’t on it, or Great Directors of the 20th Century and Chantal Akerman isn’t on it, toss that list, it’s no good.

This is very sad news.


Posted in Directors, RIP | Tagged | 11 Comments

Barbara Meek, Part 2: Patsy Rodenburg’s Lecture “Why I Do Theatre”

Please watch. It’s so important.

Acting teacher Patsy Rodenburg gives one of the most extraordinary explanations from any artist about why they do what they do, why they put up with the bullshit, what they are really after in such a rigorous and sometimes thankless career.

I thought of this clip when I heard of the passing of Rhode Island acting icon, Barbara Meek. Her career was a living example of what Patsy Rodenburg was talking about.

Posted in Actors, Theatre | 5 Comments