January 2022 Viewing Diary

Crossfire (1947; d. Edward Dmytryk)
Went on a little Robert Mitchum kick, thanks to the Criterion Channel. Crossfire came out the same year as Gentleman’s Agreement, and both films deal with anti-Semitism, which was very much on American minds at the time, as the revelations about what the Nazis were actually doing flooded the world with horror. I have always felt that Gentleman’s Agreement has very good intentions but is didactic and boring and Gregory Peck is stiff as an actor. John Garfield – an actual Jew, who changed his name in order to be more acceptable to mainstream anti-Semitic society – and little Dean Stockwell- walk away with the movie. Gentleman’s Agreement must be understood in the context of its time, and it was – rightfully – a big deal and an eye-opener. Anti-Semitism was just not talked about, or even acknowledged as a “thing”. To this DAY it’s not. And now, the Left is so anti-Israel that it comes up as anti-Semitism (see the flap about the Pride parade in Chicago a couple years back, where some people were “triggered” by a Star of David on a banner held up by a Jewish LGBTQ group. I’m not quoting “triggered” to be mean. I am literally quoting what was said. This is what we’re up against. Ignorance. And yes, equating all Jews with the crimes of one state IS anti-Semitic. So Gentleman’s Agreement set out to reveal the depths of anti-Semitism in civilized (or “civilized”) society. Okay. But here’s Crossfire, which doesn’t have as self-righteous a tone, and doesn’t feel like homework and/or a lecture – and it is powerfully ABOUT anti-Semitism and shows its hallucinatory hold on those who subscribe to it. An excellent cast of three “Roberts”: Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, and Robert Young. Plus, Gloria Grahame plays a small role and she is fantastic (unsurprisingly). Very good film.

The Big Steal (1949; d. Don Siegel)
Two years after Out of the Past, one of the greatest examples of film noir, comes The Big Steal, which reunites Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, this time in a Don Siegel production, about two people – both on the run for different reasons – teaming up in Mexico to escape the forces trailing them. I’ve been thinking about Don Siegel a lot, since I just re-watched Flaming Star, one of the best movies Elvis made. Elvis’ movies tended to be just that: “Elvis Movies”. But Flaming Star is a “Don Siegel movie”. Siegel understands action, creating tension, keeping things moving. And Mitchum and Greer are awesome together, two hard-bitten tough-talking people, holding each other at arms’ length until … they can’t anymore.

Everybody Knows (2019; d. Asghar Farhadi)
Farhadi is one of my favorite current-day directors but I had missed this one somehow. His first film with no connection to Iran. It takes place in Spain, and it stars Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, as one-time “sweethearts”, brought to together again by a big family reunion – where things go south – REAL south. Cruz is superb – it’s one of her best (although … every time she’s in something I say “it’s one of her best”). Devastating film, with Farhadi’s typically eagle eye on the lookout for moral and ethical conundrums.

Dopesick (2020; created by Danny Strong)
I binged the Hulu series, and then … watched it again. It is fantastic. Daunting, the challenge they set for themselves with this series, and Danny Strong in particular. Instead of focusing on just one person’s journey with opioids, the focus is diffused out – through this one community, but then also through the Purdue Pharma sales reps, as well as the boogey-man himself Richard Sackler. Such good acting, across the board.

The Pharmacist (2020; d. Jenner Furst; Julia Willoughby Nason)
I was on a roll with the whole Opioid crisis thing, so I re-watched this Netflex series, which I highly recommend.

Hidden Figures (2017; d. Theodore Melfi)
A re-watch. One of my favorite films of the last 10 years.

Crime of Passion (1957; d. Gerd Oswald)
This movie is so strange! Barbara Stanwyck, a popular advice columnist, throws it all away after an afternoon drink with a cop played by Sterling Hayden. Which … is not strange at all. I might throw away my whole former life if I spent an afternoon with Sterling Hayden. But she goes way too far! Suddenly, she’s no longer a career woman, and instead a wife ambitious for her husband’s career. But … he himself is NOT ambitious. She behaves like a total maniac! She totally doesn’t fit in with the other wives. She begins to plot and plan on his behalf. It is VERY uncomfortable. They get married and she instantly starts driving him crazy.

Normal People (2020; d. Lenny Abrahamson; Hettie Macdonald)
This one’s been a long time coming. I read the book and was bowled over by it. I held off on reading it because it was so universally praised and I’m a contrarian like that, and then I read it and was like, “Oh, so THAT’S what the fuss is all about.” It usually happens this way. I absolutely loved the series. They didn’t have to do too much to adapt the book. It’s all there. Such good actors.

West Side Story (2021; d. Steven Spielberg)
I took my niece Lucy to see this at a little movie palace, recently renovated, right down the street from me. It was such a special day. I knew Lucy would love it, but I should have warned her ahead of time that Tony dies. That was a tough one. She said to me after, “I don’t think I’ve seen a movie with a sad ending before.” I realized that this was a momentous day – I remember my first sad movie – so we went out for lunch after, and we talked about the sad ending, and if she had any feelings about it, and then we looked up all the actors on her phone so she could see what else they had done. It was a really good aunt-niece day.

Borrego (2022; d. Jesse Harris)
I reviewed this one for Ebert.

Cat’s Meow (2002; d. Peter Bogdanovich)
When he died this past month, one of you mentioned Cat’s Meow in the comments of my tribute post, so I decided to re-watch it. It’s been so long. I love it so much. Kirsten Dunst captures who and what Marion Davies really was – an effervescent funny lovable girl. Citizen Kane is not a documentary. It’s a fictional film. Marion Davies did not end up like Susan, although some of the underlying issues were present in the management of her career. I love how there’s an almost French farce quality to the activity in all the staterooms of that yacht – people sneaking in and out and around – and loved Eddie Izzard as Chaplin.

History is Made at Night (1937; d. Frank Borzage)
What a dream of a movie. So romantic. Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer spend a magical night together, falling into a dreamspace of intimacy, where time almost stands still. Borzage’s view of love is magical and redemptive. Love is literally life-saving. The movie ends with a ship colliding into an iceberg, and the sequences are, in some cases, shot for shot what shows up in Titanic. James Cameron knows his History is Made at Night, methinks.

Emma. (2020; d. Autumn de Wilde)
This is maybe my fourth time seeing it. I love it so much. Here’s my Ebert review.

Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint (2020; d. Halina Dyrschka)
I will always regret not getting my ass to the huge exhibition of her work in New York – I think it was in 2019, pre-pandemic. I was introduced to her work through Personal Shopper – thank you, Olivier Assayas – and this documentary is essential viewing. First film for the director. Highly recommended!

The King’s Daughter (2022; d. Sean McNamara)
To quote Tommy Lee Jones’ first line in The Fugitive: “My, my, my, what a mess.” I reviewed for Ebert.

Reckless (1935; d. Victor Fleming)
If I were to show someone the work of Jean Harlow, in an attempt to show this person what she was all about, what her persona was all about, this would be one of the ones I would show. She’s not remembered correctly. She’s seen as a bombshell of maybe the Mae West variety … but in her best roles, she plays a sweet hard-working working-class girl who just happens to look like that and is made to pay a price for being naturally sexy. She’s judged as a “bad girl” by her peers, she gets a bad reputation, it’s assumed she’s a husband-stealer, a man-eater – but the natural Harlow wasn’t that at all. She’s treated unfairly because she’s sexy and because men happen to find her attractive. It’s not HER fault. Women are the ones who treat her poorly – which is the case here. She’s shunned from polite society because it’s assumed she drove her husband (Franchot Tone) to suicide. When … he was unhappy when he married her. It wasn’t her fault. I really like this movie.

Something, Anything (2015; d. Paul Harrill)
I was restless one night, scrolling around looking for something to watch, not sure what I felt like. Do I want to re-watch? Sink into the familiar? Do I want something new? Comedy? Tragedy? For whatever reason, this one caught my eye – streaming on MUBI – and I liked the description. A woman suffers a miscarriage and has some kind of spiritual awakening following. It sounded intriguing. So I watched. And I felt like I had discovered buried treasure. It’s so good! I wrote about it here. Please see this beautiful film!

Louder Than Bombs (2015; d. Joachim Trier)
Second time for me. Isabelle Huppert, Gabriel Byrne and Jesse Eisenberg in a thoughtful quiet drama about a famous photojournalist (Huppert), killed by an IED in Iraq, and the fallout in her family afterward. This isn’t a spoiler. You know from the jump she’s dead, and her life is seen in flashback. Her PTSD is acute, and she’s basically a temporary member of her family, always waiting for her next assignment in some dangerous warzone.

Suspicion (1941; d. Alfred Hitchcock)
An old favorite. Cary Grant is so damn suspicious in this. He’s so strange as a leading man, strange as it is … his remoteness makes him an unlikely romantic figure (setting aside his looks, which I realize is difficult to do). But Hitchcock saw that remoteness, that strangeness, and thought he could work with it. He was forced to change the ending – since Cary Grant was a big star, and having him play a murderer was not acceptable – but in the next foray with Hitchcock – the mighty Notorious – Hitchcock got it right, got it the way he wanted. Still: this is a fascinating glimpse of what Grant could do, his strangeness, his other-ness, his capacity for cruelty.

Pickup On South Street (1953; d. Samuel Fuller)
Such a grim and brutal masterpiece. Posted a little bit about it here.

Love Me Tender (1956; d. Robert D. Webb)
Elvis’ debut! It’s so weird!!

The Worst Person in the World (2021; d. Joachim Trier)
Joachim Trier’s latest. I met Joachim Trier at Ebertfest in 2013 – my first time going – where his film Oslo August 31st was screened. I hadn’t seen the film before – it’s so good. It was also my introduction to Anders Danielsen Lie, who’s starred in most of Trier’s films – and was also recently seen in Mia Hansen-Love’s Bergman Island. He’s an incredible actor and is also a doctor, with a full practice. He does both. Acting and medicine. Amazing. Trier’s films are so good, but this is a departure for him, in a way, and the film is miraculous. I felt “seen” – not to be corny – but the portrait of the life of a woman in her late 20s is so right on. The fact that we’re different generations doesn’t matter. So much she went through was what I went through, and it’s presented in a way that resists “making a point”. But it’s doing all kinds of interesting things, in interesting ways … it just came out. I highly recommend it.

Loving You (1957; d. Hal Kanter)
Elvis’ second film. Where the powers that be (TPTB) attempted to actually deal with the Elvis phenomenon in real time. It’s an incredibly sanitized and in a way dishonest look at Elvis’ meteoric rise, with Lizabeth Scott – known mostly for noirs – playing what is, essentially, the Colonel Tom Parker role, the manager who wants to turn him into a “gimmick”. Surprisingly open about the whole situation.

Last Looks (2022; d. Tim Kirkby)
I kind of loved it. I reviewed for Ebert.

Jailhouse Rock (1957; d. Richard Thorpe)
Elvis’ third movie. His character is SUCH an asshole! But Jailhouse Rock features his most openly carnal moment. I can count a couple others, but in general his movies were weirdly chaste.

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14 Responses to January 2022 Viewing Diary

  1. I honestly do not remember what my first sad movie was. I have a feeling this question is going to vex me for a while.

    May I ask what yours was? You mention remembering it….

    • sheila says:

      Bless the Beasts and the Children, directed by Stanley Kramer – which was on afternoon TV and I was around 10 and I watched it because it was on one afternoon. It was legit a traumatic experience and I’ve never seen it since. It was worse because it starred children – so I felt kind of tricked.

      Huge growth spurt – which I feel like Lucy experienced, realizing that Tony was going to die. she had no experience of a movie that had rules like that. I should have prepared her.

      I want to show Great Escape to my nephew (11) who’s on a WWII kick – but I need to prepare him for the fact that … most of these guys are going to be gunned down by the side of the road.

      Let me know if you remember yours! I mean, if you think about it, Empire Strikes Back does NOT have a happy ending!!

      • This is going to vex me and I’m going to do deep dives into lists of movies released when I was a kid to figure this out! (EMPIRE doesn’t even have an *ending*, really–that movie is a cliffhanger, which is its own kettle of fish…I remember the smash-cut to “DIRECTED BY IRVIN KERSHNER” when I saw it and I remember it taking several minutes to dawn on me that yes, that was how the movie had left things!)

        • sheila says:

          I couldn’t believe it, especially the Han Solo part. I was too young to be philosophical or to be like “ooh can’t wait for the next one where all will be well!”

  2. Johnny says:

    Hi Sheila! I’m so glad you brought up Jailhouse rock again. When I watched it for the first time I thought that it was quite an odd choice to make his character so.. unlikeable! Like, what are his fans going to think? Wouldn’t he want to be the complete opposite? I guess part of it is that it was the studio’s way of representing his delinquent image and really and hone in on it. Isn’t it crazy that even from the get-go, the industry was trying to deal with this meteoric phenomenon and that by doing so it would bleed out into his films?

    • sheila says:

      Johnny – I know, it’s so STRANGE. They are definitely trying to do two things – as you mention – tell his story and deal with his fame (even incorporating things that happened to him – things everyone would know – like the little surgery he had on his throat, etc.) – and also loop him in with the Juvenile Delinquent craze going on at the time – have him be a “bad boy.” But Vince isn’t just a “bad boy” – he’s just a jerk, an entitled jerk. it’s so strange – but then Elvis, because he is Elvis, adds in these little moments of sweetness, shyness – making it all a very weird mix.

      It’s fascinating!

  3. Bill Wolfe says:

    Happily enough, I was the one who mentioned The Cat’s Meow. I’m glad you re-watched it and I totally agree with you about Kirsten Dunst’s depiction of Marion Davies.

    And History Is Made at Night is one of my top ten all-time favorite movies. I saw it for the first time with a friend at the Carnegie Hall cinema. After seeing it, I had to take him to the airport, after which I went back to the theater and bought another ticket so I could see it again. When Criterion (I think) released it recently in a beautiful new version, I was overjoyed. I can’t imagine anyone other than Frank Borzage being able to pull off the moment the moment where Charles Boyer makes a puppet out of a napkin to talk with Jean Arthur about her horrible marriage to Colin Clive.

    • sheila says:

      // after which I went back to the theater and bought another ticket so I could see it again. //


      My friend Dan wrote the booklet essay for the Criterion release.

      // where Charles Boyer makes a puppet out of a napkin to talk with Jean Arthur about her horrible marriage to Colin Clive. //

      Right? It made me think that Richard Linklater HAS to have seen this movie – it reminded me a lot of the scene in Before Sunrise where the two pretend to be each other making fictional phone calls to their roommates back home. Like, creating a once-removed situation where you can talk freely and reveal yourself.

  4. Jeff says:

    You might have heard this story before, since I know you’ve read a lot of Dave Marsh and I’m pretty sure I read it in one of his books about Springsteen. In any event – early on in their relationship, Jon Landau would give Bruce books to read, and one of them was Andrew Sarris’ “The American Cinema.” One night Landau told Bruce they would both go through the book and pick out the movie title that they thought would be the best fit for a Springsteen album. Landau chose “American Madness,” and Bruce chose “History Is Made at Night.”

  5. Barb says:

    I took my son to see Les Miserables when it came out. He would have been about 11, and he swore that it was the last movie that would ever make him cry. Pretty sure it was the final chorus of “Do you hear the people sing?” that pushed him over the edge. I’m not sure how this vow is holding up these days–

    For myself, I’ m not sure what my first sad movie was, but I vividly remember seeing the original movie version of West Side Story, and being stunned by the ending. I was probably about the same age as my kid, come to think of it.

    • sheila says:

      // I vividly remember seeing the original movie version of West Side Story, and being stunned by the ending. //

      So interesting – I shared this memory on Facebook and so many people responded that their first sad movie was the original West Side Story!

      • Barb says:

        I’ve been thinking about this some more, and remembering all of the movies that I watched as a kid that had downbeat endings. My folks pretty much let us watch anything that was cut for tv back then, and kids’ movies were not at all the box office blockbusters they are now. So there were all of these movies from the 60’s and 70’s that were deemed safe for me as a pre-teen. Butch Cassidy. The Parallax View. Deliverance. Jaws. Nashville. I think that might be why I can’t remember my first “sad” movie—I was raised on disillusionment!

        • sheila says:

          “raised on disillusionment” hahaha

          I had a very similar childhood. Afternoon TV was filled with stuff I probably shouldn’t have been watching. lol AND I watched it with no adult monitoring, so we didn’t like sit down and have a discussion afterwards where I could process what I had just saw.

          Parallax View! omg. I remember seeing The Exorcist when I was 11 or 12 – like, WHY – it was completely traumatizing, even more so because I basically was the age of Linda Blair, or close enough!! I don’t regret it though. It’s funny, looking back on it now.

          I’m sure my parents would have been horrified.

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