The House


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TAGS: jennifer dawson


Sad, Sad News

Hi, this is Alan Sepinwall, posting in Matt's place for reasons you'll understand in a minute. He's asked that I keep the lights on here while he's away, and since I can't pretend to be as smart about the cinema as him, I'm going to be relying on suggestions from you in the comments about things to post.

Anyway, I have some very bad news to share: Matt's wife Jennifer Dawson died suddenly Thursday evening. This is Matt's account of what happened, which he's not up to writing about himself for obvious reasons:

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TAGS: jennifer dawson, matt zoller seitz


The Sopranos

If the first six episodes of this season felt like a voyage into unexplored territory, Sunday night's Sopranos episode felt like a return to familiar stomping grounds—specifically those stretches of Season Two and Three when you felt pretty sure that David Chase and his writers were trying to run out the clock a bit while they figured out how to stage the mandatory season-ending string of whammies.

Written by Matthew Weiner and directed by Danny Leiner, this episode, titled "Luxury Lounge," wasn't unwatchable. It had unifying emotional threads, specifically envy and its twin, resentment. Diverse groupings of social strivers directed those feelings toward higher-ups on the food chain (aspiring Hollywood player Chris Moltisanti flying to L.A. to bag Ben Kingsley and becoming obsessed with the swag handed out to the sorts of people he dreams of emulating; failing restaurant owner Artie Bucco resenting Tony Soprano and the freelancing mob goons who were robbing him in a credit card scam) while the powerful expressed indifference or condescension toward those beneath (Kingsley's wary rebuffs to Hollywood parasites; Tony realizing the depth of Artie's despair too late to halt its consequences). All in all, though, the hour still felt slack and formulaic. (Admittedly that may seem an odd complaint, considering that last week's episode, "Live Free or Die," struck many viewers as meandering and uneventful—but I thought it was the year's second most suspenseful episode, after "Join the Club.")

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TAGS: alan sepinwall, ben kingsley, Danny Leiner, hbo, james gandolfini, John Ventimiglia, lauren bacall, matthew weiner, minority report, on the run, recap, six feet under, steve buscemi, steven spielberg, survivor, the apprentice, the sopranos, trees lounge


United 93

Had I seen United 93 prior to coming up with the main page's poll question last week it might have read differently: "Are New Yorkers ready for United 93?" In this week's Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum says that we don't need to see this film but then states we stand to benefit from recognizing in it "that there's no difference between those who died and us, in fear and in courage." Why, then, an A-minus for something we don't need to see? Equally confounding, how can we adopt this message Schwarzbaum speaks of without actually seeing the film? Schwarzbaum sends out all sorts of mixed messages in her review, which is swollen with sweeping statements about how "we" deal with and resolve tragedy. But her confusion is in keeping with what is a very confusing work of art, the most suspect, difficult-to-dismiss film I've seen since The Passion of the Christ. The other day, Matt Zoller Seitz likened United 93 to an adaptation of The Accused that showcases only the gang-rape sequence. I thought of it more as a Universal Studios theme park ride—a machine optimally designed to make one feel as miserable as humanly possible. (I'm serious when I say it wouldn't be entirely out of line to present audiences with barf bags going into the theater.) Though Seitz's correlation explains how the film simulates what might have happened aboard United 93 on September 11, 2001 with little in the way of context (just the occasional bits of conjecture—which, when they don't constitute bones thrown at people on both sides of the political divide, reaffirm affecting but easy truths about our common humanity), it doesn't account for the fact that no two people cope with tragedy the same way. Just as a woman would respond to The Accused: The All-Rape Edition a lot differently than a man would, anyone who eyewitnessed the events of 9/11 or lost friends and family on that day has dealt with this tragedy—and will cope with this film—a little differently than others across the country (and the world). Do we need to see this? I can't answer that for you, these women, this boy, or anyone for that matter who did or didn't see this or this happen in person or on television. Given how little United 93 illuminates, all I can say is that I didn't need to.

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.

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TAGS: 911, lisa schwarzbaum, paul greengrass, united 93


RajkumarFormer New York Press editor Alexander Zaitchik wrote a compelling feature for Spiked about the death of beloved movie star Rajkumar, which turned Bangalore, high-tech capital of India, into a literal mob scene.

"For two days in April," Zaitchik writes, "Bangalore looked like Baghdad. Following the death by heart attack of the south Indian film icon known as Rajkumar, grieving fans shut down the nation's knowledge capital. Bangalore's streets, usually imagined as paved with hi-tech gold, were on 12 and 13 April turned into a stage for tear gas, gunfire, burning cars and bloody street clashes between police and 60,000 of Rajkumar's supporters. The final body count: eight, including a young policeman killed and strung up by outraged fans attempting to gain entry into their hero's funeral. To a bemused world, this fiery convulsion triggered by the death of an old actor was just another example of Indians' idiosyncratic, borderline-religious love for their movie stars. This was also the local view in some quarters. According to an editorial in the the Hindustan Times, the state of Karnakatka had 'completely lost its mind.'"

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TAGS: alexander zaitchik, bruce lee, new york press, rajkumar, reason online, spiked


5 for the Day: Haiku

HaikuAs the OLDienator prepares to attend his 20 year high school reunion, he would like to nostalgically return you to the days of your high school English classes. Remember when the English teacher came to class one day, spouting weird Japanese words through a Cheshire Cat smile that seemed more sadistic than usual? Something about haiku, and how you were going to read 15 million of them and interpret every single one? You may remember saying afterward that if you ever saw another haiku, you might commit hari-kari.

Well, put that sword down! Haiku can be fun.

For the uninitiated, a haiku is an unrhymed three line poem in a 5-7-5 meter. The first line has five syllables, the second has seven, and the third has five. For example:

At The House Next Door
"The New World" is so worshipped!
But I fart in church.

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TAGS: 5 for the day, footloose, glitter, haiku, marlon brando, the new world, the score, white men can't jump


The TrialThis month's "From the Short Stack" collection is Durgnat on Film by Raymond Durgnat (1939-2002), the Swiss-born English critic who also wrote Luis Buñuel (1967), Jean Renoir (1975), and Films and Feelings (1967). I first read Durgnat on Film as an undergraduate and still revisit that dog-eared copy. I liked him right off because he was as stimulating as any other theorist on the reading list but much more fun. He described the interplay of form and content with pizzazz. His eye was so sharp and his prose so lucid whatever the subject, he could be counted on to deliver the last word.

Analyzing Orson Welles's The Trial he wrote, "Using in some sequences an incessantly roaming camera, in others a flurry of quick cuts, Welles makes all space fidget." Fritz Lang's American films "...have an American appearance, but are just as 'visual' as his German. He is a master of so arranging his characters in space that a kind of nameless, fatalistic suspense palpitates between them." In the work of Sergei Eisenstein and Carl Theodor Dreyer, "...we feel not that the actor dominates the image, but that the actor is a part of a visual composition—that he has practically been hammered and planed into shape." Durgnat was also a master of the comic 180. He backloaded academic sentences with quotable one-liners, a neat trick that made the reader more likely to remember the fact preceding the joke. ("Neorealism died, briefly, around 1953, killed partly by audiences' dislike of its drabness, partly by government dislike for its picture of an Italy where people were poor and it rained all the time.")

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TAGS: architecture in and of the movies, cahiers du cinéma, carl theodor dreyer, durgnat on film, films and feelings, fritz lang, from the short stack, jean renoir, kevin gough-yates, la notte, luis buñuel, michelangelo antonioni, orson welles, raymond durgnat, sergei eisenstein, the ministry of peace, the new yorker, the trial, w.c. fields


The Sopranos

In the comments section of Odienator's recent article on parting shots, House regular Wagstaff speculated that "if [a] movie has a philosophy, then that philosophy is most directly expressed in the final shot." I countered that if you considered the first and last shot of any halfway decent movie, "you get a snapshot of the filmmaker's worldview so accurate that nothing in between can deny it. Sort of polygraph-by-cinema." If you subject Sunday night's Sopranos episode to the polygraph test, the statement seems crystal-clear, and consistent with every episode that's aired during this exceptional season: it was about the difficulty of envisioning a life different from the one you're living—and the greater difficulty, even impossibility, of making it happen.

The hour opened with a wide shot of the still-recovering Tony Soprano shambling around the backyard of his palatial McMansion in his bathrobe and having his reading interrupted by the grinding whine of a defective ventilation unit. He walked over to the unit, futzed with it, ripped off the top and hurled it away in disgust, then resumed reading. Moments later, the grinding noise returned, and rather than attack the problem again, Tony ignored it. The episode's finale showed forcibly-outed mobster Vito, who'd fled to a small town in New Hampshire that seemed to be filled with handsome young bourgeois gay men (my brother Richard remarked, "He could be dead already; maybe this is heaven"), strolling down main street and then ducking into an antiques shop. When he asked the clerk about a particular vase, the clerk complimented Vito's taste. "You're a natural," he said. As the clerk walked away, director Tim Van Patten's camera dollied in slowly on Vito as he continued to regard the vase. What made this shot so potent was Vito's unselfconsciousness. For the first time in his history on the series, he seemed completely at ease. (Actor Joseph Gannascoli, who's seemed out of his depth in other episodes, underplayed this and other moments exquisitely).

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TAGS: alan sepinwall, deadwood, hbo, joseph gannascoli, recap, sean burns, six feet under, the sopranos, Tim Van Patten


Godfrey Cheshire

The following is the second half of a two-part interview with Godfrey Cheshire [below] by House Next Door contributor Jeremiah Kipp. Part one focused on Cheshire's influential two-part New York Press article "The Death of Film/The Decay of Cinema", and explored how Cheshire's predictions had or had not come true. This installment focuses on nonfiction film, the hazards of independent distribution, and Cheshire's own filmmaking debut, a documentary titled Moving Midway.

JK: Do you think that the Death of Film, and the major changes in the world, have been an impetus for documentaries to gain the level of attention and prominence that they have? The death of film leads to the emergence of video, and the proliferation of video has allowed a lot more documentaries to be made.

GC: The technology of low-budget filmmaking through video has allowed more people to make documentaries. It has made the whole food chain of documentary production, exhibition and distribution much more cost effective and easier for people in terms of making the films and getting viewer access to them. That has definitely stimulated things. Also, documentaries allow people to engage with what's happening with the world, as I said before. Documentaries in many cases aren't being produced by TV networks, which are doing the same sort of thing but very much under the corporate mandate. People understand that. You're able to presume that what's represented will be an independent viewpoint. In most cases, it's a liberal or progressive viewpoint, but the key thing is that it is individual. A lot of that is in reaction to how corporate the media has become, especially television media, because whether or not Edward R. Murrow was the great hero that George Clooney would like us to believe, there was a greater chance for a strong individual point-of-view in the [news and nonfiction programs] of decades past. The corporate mandate has soured people on recent TV, and they distrust the coverage of such things as the War in Iraq [seen in such theatrical documentaries as Occupation Dreamland]. TV has tried to make up some lost ground with its Hurricane Katrina coverage, which has been the answer to Iraq. Michael Moore or Barbara Kopple or any individual documentary maker and can go out with relatively little money, make something, and get it in front of people that is heretical to any corporate party line. This is why movies are going to retain a certain cultural importance for a long time to come—specifically because of this.

But the rise of documentaries is related to the decline of European auteurs, and the failure of significant American auteurs to arise from and remain in the independent world in very significant numbers. If you look at the whole Sundance phenomenon, there was such promise there, but while you've got a few interesting directors coming up, most of them just go on to the majors or whatever. In the past, people would go to the independent theaters and art theaters for foreign films, and specifically the great tradition of European films. That has dried up.

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TAGS: barbara kopple, edward r. murrow, george clooney, godfrey cheshire, hal hartley, happy here and now, jeremiah kipp, macky alston, michael almereyda, michael moore, moving midway, no such thing, occupation dreamland, ross mcelwee, the birth of a nation, the weinstein company, Tim Kirkman


The Last Picture Show

Today's 5 for the day pays tribute to that which comes just before the closing credits, the parting shot. Parting shots can be images that remain onscreen as the closing credits roll. Or they can be images that appear just before the screen goes black (or flashes the words "The End" or "Fin" or "Get the Hell Out"). They can also be a visual accompaniment or response to dialogue. But you won't find "Nobody's perfect" or "Shut up and deal" or "It's the stuff that dreams are made of" on this list, because I'm focusing on cappers that are mainly visual.

Here's a brief example: suppose you're watching a movie about Oscar Wilde. Wilde says on his deathbed, "Either the wallpaper goes, or I go." The next shot fades in, and it's of an empty bed in the room. The wallpaper is still there; Wilde is not. Fade out, movie ends, critics boo, and the screen gets bombarded with Sno-Caps. This list would probably focus on the wallpaper shot, and would mention Wilde's last line in passing, if at all.

The first item on my list is my favorite parting shot, and my favorite New York City movie from its era. The others are presented in no particular order. Spoiler alerts are in effect.

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TAGS: 5 for the day, aaron copland, Ben Johnson, blazing saddles, denzel washington, frank darabont, Gene Wilder, he got game, larry mcmurtry, mel brooks, morgan freeman, peter bogdanovich, ray allen, spike lee, the last picture show, the shawshank redemption, the taking of pelham 1 2 3, tim robbins, training day, walter matthau







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