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Schizophrenic Incident: History Is Made at Night

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Schizophrenic Incident: History Is Made at Night

Relegated by Andrew Sarris to “The Far Side Of Paradise,” Frank Borzage has long occupied an uneasy place in the film canon—claimed by some as an old Hollywood master, an emotionally volatile fellow traveler to Capra and Fuller, but generally appraised as a cult item. This (along with a thousand other bullet points) makes Armond White angry: “Film critics couldn’t care less about Frank Borzage,” he told Steven Boone last year. “They prefer to make reference to cynical filmmakers, less talented filmmakers, like Billy Wilder, for instance.”

So fine, maybe I’m cynical. History Is Made at Night is my first encounter with Borzage; my response, generally, is that it’s easy enough to see why he has ardent admirers, but also why he’ll never have more than a relative handful of those.

Borzage’s specialty, per reputation, is the uneasy juxtaposition of the strongest of all emotions—farce and tragedy cheek-by-jowl, seemingly unaware of their proximity. History is never boring, though I wasn’t on the edge of my seat for the plot, but rather to see what tonal swing would happen next. I’d already been unmanned discovering within five minutes that the Jean Arthur co-headlining the film wasn’t the fast-talking, brash dame of Mr. Deeds, Mr. Smith and general screwball repute: this Arthur is meek and oppressed, inarticulate in the extreme. “All I seem to be able to say is ’Oh’” she tells Charles Boyer, still in awe of her just-appeared protector—and while you could get a whole academic paper out of the unconscious orgasmic implications, it wouldn’t be entirely flippant or overreaching. The title is swooningly romantic, and so is the film—but when you’ve got an experienced French lover pursuing a presumably naïve Midwestern girl whose insanely jealous husband (Colin Clive) suspects her of having an affair even before it’s true, you could rewrite the film as the sexual liberation of a virginal American by a sensuous Gaul, opposed by the stereotypically repressed fury of a Brit.

Rote sociological-sexual readings aside, History survives not by plot, but incident, schizophrenically so. “It’s a pity there’s no laboratory device for testing tensile strength, base load and specific gravity of motion pictures,” Frank S. Nugent complained in the New York Times upon the film’s original release. “If there were, the chances are that this one would be split at several seams, torn to shreds and returned to its maker tagged ’defective.’ … it is nothing short of multidextrous: farce with one hand, melodrama with the next, comedy with a third, tragedy a fourth. We have no idea what the average would be.”

I don’t either. History is Romantic—love triumphs over geography, the laws of coincidence, even a near Titanic-level disaster. I can’t find that entirely satisfying, and I have no idea why that kind of naïve formulation is automatically positive: Love—inarticulate, irrational, based off little more than champagne and one magical night of lobster and dancing—would be better served by the kind of arduous, near-fatal attacks launched upon Arthur’s paramours in Capra, or, alternately, by the skeptical attitude of, say, Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story, where love can’t survive without financial stability. (Like today’s rom-coms, History conflates glittering romance and financial high-stepping without thinking twice, a Depression-era convention accepted to this day.)

But it’s something to see, at least once. Intensity of feeling may be what brings the fans in, but I preferred the droll sub-plot/tangent that swallows the film whole for 10 minutes: Boyer and his Italian chef buddy (Leo Carrillo, as fine a sputterer of cliche Italian phrases as any) arrive in New York with the plan of opening the city’s most successful restaurant—not hard, as the first place they step into is a disaster of bland bouillon and worse service. Quiet, civilized Europeans civilize brash, tasteless Americans: now that’s funny. The rest, I fear, I may never understand.

Vadim Rizov is a New York-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Reeler, Nerve, and, oddly enough, Salt Lake City Weekly.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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