The House


The Bellboy

It's rarely noted how fundamentally Jewish Jerry Lewis's humor is. I don't mean the urbanely intellectual name-dropping of Woody Allen, but rather the sheer raving fear and terror, the sense the world is out to get you, that permeates the fiction of Jewish writers like Franz Kafka and Leonard Michaels. At his best, Lewis convinces you that everyone is dangerous and that the most you can do is run away, shrieking. It's impossible for me to watch Jerry Lewis films without thinking of the Holocaust.

You may balk at the previous sentence, wondering whether it's meant to be funny. I've often had the same reaction to Lewis's films. Lewis ruled the box office in the 1950s with a series of comedies co-starring Dean Martin and directed by Frank Tashlin (Artists and Models is probably the best-known). After his partnership with Martin ended, Lewis became his own writer, director, and general metteur-en-scéne. A recent Anthology Film Archives retrospective devoted to his directorial efforts showed how Lewis took the persona he'd cultivated—a sort of cross-eyed, arm-swinging man-child, given to spluttering nonsensical outbursts along the lines of "Grupdideebooboowabumwacha"—and simultaneously used it while distancing himself from it, commenting on it. He uses not humor, but "humor," raising your awareness of the gags as they're unfolding. Eric Henderson, writing in Slant, points to a sequence from 1961's The Errand Boy where Lewis's character, Morty S. Tashman (shades of Tashlin), keeps bringing a great glass candy jar down from a high shelf, then back up. Audiences have been conditioned by slapstick—everything from the blind man shattering the shop in It's a Gift to the cream pie-and-spritzer of a Three Stooges routine—to expect Jerry to drop the jar. When he doesn't, the joke goes from being on him to being on us.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: artists and models, jerry lewis, the bellboy, the errand boy, the ladies man, the nutty professor, the patsy


Anna Karenina

Russian Film Week, like the Eastern-European films it shows, runs at an absurdly frustrating, devil-may-care pace (at least for this New Yorker). Screenings of sweeping 160-minute epics often begin an hour late, which admittedly comes in handy if you show up at the School of Visual Arts on the east side instead of the SVA Theater on the west side, as too many of us confused movie-goers did for a sold out Anna Karenina. But if you're willing to brave the stampeding, Russian-barking crowds at the entrance, followed by a sponsor-thanking trailer, followed by a live sponsor-thanking Russian, followed, of course, by the English translation, then by a gratitude-spewing director (or five or six if you went on the sold-out opening night), then by that English translation, to finally see whichever film you've by now forgotten the title of, you might just catch some meaningful cinema.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: anna karenina, kira muratova, lena kostyuk, melody for a street organ, roma burlaka, sergei solovyov


The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein

My Time Out New York compadres David Fear and Joshua Rothkopf, in addition to 11 other colleagues and friends (Stephen Garrett, Andrew Grant, Aaron Hillis, Kevin B. Lee, Karina Longworth, Maitland McDonagh, Troy Patterson, Nicolas Rapold, Lisa Rosman, Nick Schager and S. James Snyder), have just published our picks and blurbs for the top 50 films of the decade. I don't consider myself a list guy, but it's in the job description so I went really personal with my choices (different day, different rules, sure to be a different list). I'm happy with how it turned out, and that I got to blurb for Abbas Kiarostami's Five Dedicated to Ozu and John Gianvito's The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein in particular. (The latter film is the image you see above.) Click here to read the feature. I've reprinted my ballot submission below, with links to pieces I've written on the films or, in cases where I haven't put pen to paper, to related pieces/other goodies I find particularly inspiring. Hope it all sparks discussion and interest. Keith Uhlich

Keith Uhlich's Ballot

1. The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (2001)
2. The New World (2005)
3. Miami Vice (2006)
4. Five Dedicated to Ozu (2003)
5. Inland Empire (2006)
6. Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)
7. The Sun (2005)
8. Youth Without Youth (2007)
9. The Limits of Control (2009)
10. Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters (2007)

  • print
  • email

TAGS: Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, five dedicated to ozu, inland empire, looney tunes: back in action, miami vice, the limits of control, the mad songs of fernanda hussein, the new world, the sun, time out new york, youth without youth


Glee

Unless you're an executive at NBC, it's been a great fall season for TV. Despite the many editorials earlier this year heralding Jay Leno's primetime talk show as the death of scripted television (some of them quite convincing), this season has seen a number of new shows become breakout hits: NCIS: Los Angeles, Modern Family, Cougartown, The Cleveland Show. And the debuting show that's generated the most pop-culture buzz is easily FOX's Glee. On the surface it's about the misfits in a high-school glee club as they train for a national competition, but it's really a delightfully bizarre hybrid of teenage soap opera, musical melodrama, larger-than-life comedy and meditation on the unrealistic dreams of kids and the sad compromises of adults. In style and substance it feels like nothing else on television, but unlike most oddball, one-of-a-kind shows, Glee has managed to pull off the hat trick of achieving critical praise, a passionate cult following, and most importantly, impressive ratings. Although it's aired just ten episodes thus far, it's already earned a cover story in Entertainment Weekly and its cast members recently performed the national anthem at the World Series.

I hate to admit it, but a part of me is uneasy about Glee's success. Don't get me wrong, I love the show (and I've got the songs on my iPod to prove it). But I almost wish it was struggling in the ratings and that its creators were scrambling to wrap up the plotlines before the end of the season in case renewal wasn't a sure thing. After all, how long can Glee last? Can this show sustain its strange vibe of whimsy and melancholy for five years, or even two?

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: buffy the vampire slayer, glee, veronica mars


A celebration of cooking and eating on film. The first version (top) is a straight-up montage with movie titles listed chronologically at the end. The second version is annotated, using text to identify film clips, music cues and offscreen lines as they appear. To watch the videos at the Moving Image Source web site, or to read my written introduction, click here. Happy Thanksgiving!

Matt Zoller Seitz is the founder of The House Next Door.

  • print
  • email

TAGS: a patch of blue, annie hall, big night, eat drink man woman, goodfellas, like water for chocolate, no reservations, soul food, the age of innocence, the company


Elia Kazan

Andrew Sarris wrote of Elia Kazan in The American Cinema that "his career as a whole reflects an unending struggle between a stable camera and a jittery one." Historically that's more or less been the rap on Kazan—a highly-acclaimed filmmaker with many strong titles, but one whose work was too simultaneously bland and conflicted for the critical establishment to elevate him to auteur. The son of Greek immigrants and eventually a famed Broadway director, Kazan began filmmaking with a group-directed short called People of the Cumberland, broke into feature directing with 1945's adaptation of Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and left it 18 films later with a version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon. He came close to greatness on film, though rarely reached it: At his peak period he was at the high end of the middle bracket of several frankly liberal directors, many of whom had crossed over into movies from film and TV. He's lighter and earthier than the leaden, sententious cinema of Stanley Kramer and Richard Brooks, though he never achieves the pure ecstasy and reverie of the best Nicholas Ray.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: a face in the crowd, a streetcar named desire, a tree grows in brooklyn, america america, baby doll, east of eden, elia kazan, gentlemens agreement, james dean, marlon brando, montgomery clift, on the waterfront, panic in the streets, people of the cumberland, pinky, red river, splendor in the grass, the last tycoon, viva zapata, vivien leigh, wild river


God's Land[Editor's Note: The following is the ninth in a series of on-set reports by producer Jeremiah Kipp on God's Land, a feature film written and directed by Preston Miller, whose previous feature, Jones, was covered by The House Next Door here (review), here (interview), and here (podcast).]

Part I: Days Eighteen & Nineteen (Jeremiah Kipp)

The final days of principal photography are upon us. God's Land has been a long haul, exhausting but ultimately rewarding—it reminds me of when I used to run marathons. At a certain point in the middle of the run, the mind concentrates only on moving forward; as the finish line nears, there's a surge of renewed energy.

Preston and I enjoy our location scouting in New Jersey, where we stumble across the perfect location for our hotel scenes. The King's Inn has an outside décor that resembles a pyramid converted into a NASA space shuttle by way of 1950s Americana kitsch. In other words, we took one look at it and knew it was Preston's cup of tea. The hotel owners were reasonable and supportive of low budget independent cinema, though they did enjoy telling long anecdotes about how MTV shot there, and the abundance of trucks and lights and personnel. Preston smiles, acknowledges the grandeur, and tries to make it clear that our mom and pop operation is nothing like that. We're small potatoes!

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: carrie kiamesha, geeta citygirl, gloria diaz, god's land, jodi lin, matthew chiu, nancy eng, ostaro, ranjit chowdhry, sharon spiak, shing ka


Red Cliff and Red Cliff 2

Red Cliff

If we're to believe the military general in Red Cliff 2 who muses, "The times makes the hero," then somebody ought to tell Magnet Releasing, the American distributors of Red Cliff (John Woo's records-shattering period war epic set in 208 AD), that they're the villain. Just like British distributors before them, Magnet is releasing Woo's five hour, two-part epic as a single film in America, callously lopping off 140 minutes of footage because they simultaneously want to cater to a broad audience as well as to Woo's established fanbase. The times, it seems, when "Asian cinema" is sold as either exotic genre fodder for geeks or high-end Art for the culturally advanced, are against Magnet.

With its sweeping pageantry and spectacularly choreographed battle scenes, Red Cliff falls neatly into both categories, making the temptation to sell it both as a cultural event and tempting junk food understandable though hardly commendable. In doing so, Magnet is only cutting out the legs from underneath either of their respective target niche markets. (South Korean, Singaporean and Japanese distributors released the film in two parts, suggesting that the "international cut" is only tempting to Whitey.) And while the ghettoization of foreign film in America is hardly new news, it particularly reeks here.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: chiling lin, chow yun-fat, fengyi zhang, john woo, magnet releasing, red cliff, red cliff 2, summit entertainment, takeshi kaneshiro, tony leung chiu wai, wei zhao, yong you


"If you say so, dear."

Broken Embraces

The New Yorker used to be in the habit of sending someone to screenings along with their movie critics for the purposes of fact checking. Anthony Lane's latest piece of cocktail chat—it's Pedro Almodóvar's Broken Embraces he's discussing between sips of his martini this week—suggests that tough times at Condé Nast may have led to an abandonment of the practice. How else to account for the falsification in Lane's review?

Here's Lane:

"[Penélope] Cruz is certainly more worshipped than ever by [Almodóvar's] camera, and you have to laugh when, fresh from intercourse, with mussed hair, she stares at the bathroom mirror, as bare as a baby, and declares, "I look awful." If you say so, dear."

What Lane doesn't bother to tell you is that, just before saying that line, Cruz's character has vomited. The reason?

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: anthony lane, broken embraces, pedro almodóvar, penélope cruz, the new yorker


Coming Up In This Column: An Education, Amelia, The Great Locomotive Chase, Bitter Victory, Ride the High Country, Mad Men, A CSI Trilogy, A Couple of New Series, but first...

An Education

Fan Mail: Well, here's an example of why I love doing this column: Matt Zoller Seitz's taking exception to my views of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Unlike some writers, I love to be challenged, especially by somebody as smart as Matt. He did not mind what I felt was the lack of enough plot. He liked it as an "absurdist spectacle," which it was certainly trying to be. It fits in with the type of film that the great film scholar Tom Gunning called the "Cinema of Attractions." He first used the term to describe very early, pre-storyline films, but the term has come to refer to those films that put the emphasis on spectacle, such as any recent sci-fi film. As a pro-writer fellow, I tend to prefer a little more plot, but there are certainly joys to be found as a viewer in a spectacle. Matt also picked up on something else when he said the filmmakers want to "fill up [the movie] with sight gags." As I have mentioned on other occasions, comedies live or die by the jokes, and if the jokes are funny can get along with less plot. You make us laugh and we will forgive you almost anything. Make us laugh and enjoy it and we will forgive you anything. And just to assure you that I am not a complete stick in the mud, one of my guilty pleasures is one of Matt's: It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I agree with any criticism anybody has ever made about it, and I still love it.

"James" raised the question as to whether my teaching at a community college made me too close to the subject to find Community funny. He's right, although part of it is having heard community colleges traditionally dissed in our culture—I am a little tired of it. He mentioned that other shows have inaccuracies, including 30 Rock. I agree, and it bothers me on those shows as well, particularly the current story arc on 30 Rock about hiring a new performer. Surely if they were hiring a guy for a sketch comedy, somebody would have talked to him when he was not in his robot makeup.

A couple of things left over from my article "Talking Back to Documentaries." Todd Ford was "amazed" that I get students to talk, since he has found students reluctant to speak up. I have always had students who spoke up, especially at LACC, although I did have a bit of a problem the semester I taught at UCLA. I got the impression students there were afraid to speak up because they might be wrong. It took a little while to open them up."Cranky" had an interesting look and noted that he/she found the younger students' comments "quite frustrating." They can be, but that's part of the game.

And now, some movies:

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: amelia, an education, bitter victory, csi, mad men, ncis: los angeles, ride the high country, the great locomotive hcase, understanding screenwriting, white collar







The HouseCategories



The HouseThe Attic

More »



Site by  Docent Solutions