Naughty Marietta

Naughty Marietta

I haven’t seen a man I could love.

There’s a bit of a dark side to being a movie blogger, even an amateur one. If you’ve got the right focus, most days you just love to watch movies, and whatever you’re watching is something you not only want to watch, but you generally know you’re going to enjoy. Then, there’s the other days; the days where you’re watching something out of obligation, where it feels like a chore. I knew, or had a very certain idea, that when I decided to watch Naughty Marietta, a musical featuring a lot of operatic music a la One Night of Love, that it was going to feel like one of those days, the chore days. Needless to say, the very instant the opening credits first appeared, and that haughty operatic singing forced its way into my ears, I was certain that I was going to hate this film. I got to the first number, and I knew I was in a real bind; I hated it, all right.

Marie is a French princess who is set up on an arranged marriage to a Spanish duke. Incensed at the removal of her choice in the matter, Marie masquerades as her housemaid Marietta and flees the country on a boat to New Orleans full of unwed ladies looking for husbands and new lives in the colonies. En route, their boat is taken by pirates, and the ladies are then rescued by a band of mercenary troops led by Richard Warrington, who takes a shine to “Marietta”, and she to him, despite their mutual declaration that each of them do not want to marry anyone. You see where this is going: Marie’s past catches up to her, and she and Warrington must find a way to be together despite everything that threatens to keep them apart, etc etc. You’ve seen this film before, if only in its individual pieces, and I’m sorry to say that Naughty Marietta does not provide a good enough experience to warrant you seeing those pieces in this particular arrangement. From the first number, where the princess meets her composer friend and starts singing with him, only to join in with a singing group on the floor above, which expands further into the whole town singing outside the building to Marie about what a joy it is to sing with her, I was positively disgusted with the sheer exuberance put on display by this film; it was like the most chipper, upbeat musical you’ve ever seen accidentally-on-purpose swallowed a handful of uppers and started inhaling helium, all for the seeming entertainment value for the audience. Everyone sings as the only pastime, or they write songs and sing about writing songs with anyone around who joins in, or they sing to express their emotions or feelings, or… well, or they just sing for the hell of it. Sometimes this works, and it’s charming and lifts the spirits, and sometimes films take it too far, and this film definitely takes it too far. Even with its moderate running time, I still had to watch the film in very unpleasant installments, just to get through the whole thing, and that does not make a good film in any respect for me. I also couldn’t help but feel that the film was significantly hindered by the technology of the day, namely that the film was in black-and-white and definitely appeared to not know what to do with the format. I got the distinct impression that when color would come to film, that it would be the saving grace of the musical genre, thanks to the muddy and flat template on display by Naughty Marietta.

I can’t believe this was directed by the same guy that did The Thin Man the year prior. What the freaking hell, W.S. Van Dyke? Even the parts of this film that weren’t singing were piddling at best, so really, there’s nothing enjoyable about this film at all. This was nominated for Best Picture? I shudder at my future viewings of the other nominees if this was one of the best films of the year. It’s that rare film that is not only bad in every way, but is so bad that it raises my ire, forcing me to be exceptionally mean to it in my desperate attempts to give the film the comeuppance and chastising I feel it deserves, and Naughty Marietta is just such a film. I don’t really know what else to say. Don’t watch this. Please. I don’t wish this experience on any true lover of cinema.

Arbitrary Rating: 4/10

Alibi

Alibi

You’re a great little guy, ain’tcha?

Roland West’s Alibi, a Roland West film by Roland West, was written and directed by Roland West, as well as produced by Roland West, and if the copious screen credits and plastering of Roland West’s name all over this Roland West film and its promotional material weren’t enough to clue you in that this is a Roland West film, then clearly Roland West desires that you should watch this Roland West film a second time; after all, this is a Roland West picture, written and directed by Roland West. By the way, who’s Roland West, exactly? Despite his name all over this film, I’d never heard of Mr. West before now, and when I watched his film Alibi, I so very clearly understood why. Maybe he wanted to be a big one-man name in Hollywood, and considering this was nominated for Best Picture, he might’ve succeeded. Not in my book, though; not only should this never have come within earshot of the phrase Best Picture, but I actually feel bad that money was spent to quote-unquote “restore” this film and give it even the meager DVD release it got.

Chick Williams is a mobster just released from prison, who immediately gets back in with his gang and slates them for a robbery. When a cop is killed during the crime, however, suspicion falls on him; thankfully, he has an excellent alibi (ha, it’s the title of the movie; get it?) in that he was at the local theater with the police chief’s daughter the whole night. The police aren’t buying it, though, and the rest of the film is spent with them trying to poke holes in Chick’s alibi until they finally confront him face to face after an undercover cop gets whacked. I think that mildly in-depth plot synopsis is enough of a gift from me, so now, let’s talk about the film itself, and how horrendously awful it is. For starters, imagine if, for direction, the director (Roland West, who is directing a Roland West script produced by Roland West) had merely told the camera operator, “Okay, now start the shot here, and I’ll have the actors do their thing, and then hold on their faces for a couple extra seconds, and then cut,” cause that’s almost exactly how this was shot and edited together. Now imagine that West’s direction to his actors was, “Okay, now when the shot starts, start acting here, say your line here, in this way, with this facial expression, and then do that for the next line, and so on, and then hold that expression for a couple extra seconds, and then we’re gonna cut,” cause that’s almost exactly how the actors in this film deliver every painful line and every scrawled expression. Almost every aspect of this film was so incredibly blocky that it made me wonder if the addition of sound had caused the filmmakers, every single one of them, to completely forget how to make a film, let alone a good one. The opening montage (can I even call it a montage?) seemed to be designed solely to take advantage of this new-fangled techno-ma-jigger called sound, almost as if the film was crying out “Hey, look at what we can do with synchronized sound effects!” From there, it just got worse with every scene, from the ham-fisted acting by somehow-Academy-Award-nominated-for-this-role Chester Morris, who looked like he kept getting caught trying desperately to eat his own face, to the death of the undercover cop, which is reportedly one of, if not, the longest death sequences ever, and it feels every second of it.

I honestly feel I’m doing this film an unwarranted favor by rating it as highly as I am, but to be completely straight, I ended up giving it this rating by comparing it to other films I also rated this low; that was the only way I could figure out how to do it. I believe I ended up giving it an extra point just for the curveball with the reveal of the undercover cop, which was fairly well done, and for the fact that an average viewer will be able to at least get through it, solely because it was short and in English and for no other reason. But that would be it. Everything else to this one was almost Vinyl-levels of bad, and it only saved itself from being that bad because it was actually trying to be good, even though it failed on an almost disgusting level. Avoid Alibi like the plague. If this is one of the five best films of the 2nd Academy Awards, this does not bode well for the other films in the lineup, and for the first time already, I felt a little indignation, and slightly more than a little regret, at my taking this task on.

Arbitrary Rating: 4/10

Limite

Limite

And if I told you that Ella and Morphetica…?

If the quote below the poster up there confuses you, boy are you in for a rude awakening of a film. Ever since reviews for the 10th edition’s new entries started popping up, there’s been a dark cloud hanging over us 1001 Questers; a film so universally despised it threatened to shake up the “Worst on the List” list for years to come, if not forever. To say that Limite has had a murky reception is to make the astounding claim that the Pacific Ocean qualifies as “damp”. Rather than get it out of the way sooner than later, I opted (for whatever reason) to let the fates decide when I’d see it through my random number generator. Well, it came up today. So, how was it for me personally? Amusingly enough, I didn’t hate it for several reasons, but ended up disliking it for one big major one.

Rather than give you a plot summary, since there basically is no plot (although some may argue against this claim), I’ll instead detail my beginning experiences with the film pretty much as they happened. I got myself a bowl of ice cream, and a liter of water to occupy myself the rest of the way, and started the film, settling in for the long haul. The film’s odd, languid imagery began… and it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Actually, the images themselves were very striking, and even impressive at times, especially for a film at the end of the silent era. Then the rowboat came in, and we got a small sense of the characters floating around in it, which wasn’t much, but then again, I wasn’t expecting much. And then, I got a weird sense about myself: I didn’t hate this. I didn’t think it was a masterpiece, but I didn’t think it was the worst thing since and including Vinyl… And then I looked at the clock, and saw that only ten minutes had passed. And that’s when I knew I was in trouble. What did I like about Limite? The beauty of it. Even among those who hate the film with a passion, unless they simply let their emotions towards the film get the better of them, it would be hard for even they to argue against the fact that damn near every shot in this film has a quiet, ethereal poetry to it; the film tries its hardest to be dream-like, and shot-to-shot, it succeeds. But that’s the thing; it only works shot-to-shot, as in when one looks at each shot of the film on its own. With everything linked together in one long, massive, two-hour opus, it becomes an absolute slog to get through, and that was my main issue with Limite; it was TWO HOURS of this opaque-yet-eerily-beautiful material. The dream-like poetry works in small doses, but this is like being injected with a “dream-like poetry” enema; at some point, you just want it to stop.

You know what Limite is like? Remember the creepy stalker-ish young guy from American Beauty, and the film he shot of nothing but a plastic bag blowing around in the wind? Limite is like that, and I’d be willing to bet money that this film is that kid’s favorite film of all time. Here’s the thing though; I’d have rather had that home movie the kid shot be on the list than this. It achieves the same thing Limite does, and does so in a not-two-hour-long running time, which makes it that much better in my eyes than Mario Peixoto’s walrus of a feature. Others have gone as far as throwing swear words at the film and cursing the editors of the list for putting this on there over other better potential entries. I wouldn’t go that far, but I will say this: what others may say at and about this film, I will not begrudge. This may very well end up at the bottom of the heap of the new entries in the 10th edition. But, it was consistently pretty, so I didn’t hate it nearly as much as I probably should’ve.

Arbitrary Rating: 4/10

Dog Star Man

Dog Star Man

From the research I’ve done, of all the experimental/avant-garde filmmakers to somehow find their way onto the list, Stan Brakhage seems to be the most renowned of them all. What this says for experimental cinema and its ability to be considered as a form of cinema is something that may be debated for eons to come. For his representation on the list, in what seemed an arbitrary decision, the editors chose Dog Star Man, a five part film about… is it about anything? The Book’s information in the entry for this one seems to indicate that only Part I was included, but mention in the text is made of the five-part structure of the whole thing, so for completionist sake I opted to watch all five parts. Whether or not you do the same is up to you.

The biggest question, once one has actually started into Dog Star Man, is: what the heck is going on? The prelude, for example, starts off with an absolutely incoherent smattering of color and faded imagery layered over each other, as varied as it is befuddling. From what I’ve gathered elsewhere on the internet, it is supposed to be a realization of creation, including footage of the sun and, later, the Earth, but I have to digress. The Tree of Life also did a visual approximation of the creation myth, and it managed to get it done just fine and still be relatively comprehensible; this… this is just squiggles and splotches and smears of color flashing across the screen. When Part I comes along, we get occasional glimpses of a man struggling up a mountainside with a dog, but these offer no context, and seem to be as randomly captured as every other image in this film. There is no narrative line in the film itself; when I am required to have a secondary source along with me while I watch a film to be able to make sense of it all, or really any of it, then there is something wrong. It should all be contained in the film itself, in some form, even if it is ambiguous. This, this is just… nothing. Nothing but random images. No wonder Brakhage is the most renowned avant-garde filmmaker that I know of; he is simply the most avant-garde there is, and that’s all. I should also mention that there is no sound throughout any of the five parts of this film, or at least there wasn’t in the print that I saw, but sound or no sound, I don’t think it would have made all that much of a difference, unless the score or song selection was really, really good, and seeing what Brakhage has given me in the visual department, I have no high hopes he would’ve excelled in the audio department.

I don’t really know what I was expecting with this, but I guess I was expecting… something. Anything. Sure, if I viewed this a few more times, and was either incredibly tired or drunk or drugged out on some sort of illegal hallucinogen, I might be able to piece together a narrative, but it wouldn’t matter; I’d be essentially making it up, since Dog Star Man is nothing but senseless images scraped and spliced together. Looking back on my experiences with avant-garde and experimental cinema on the list, I can’t really say any have been positive (with the possible exception of Meshes of the Afternoon), but for a film to just have nothing of merit or substance that warrants an individual to spend what time is needed to sit through it is just… stupid. And vacuous. And that’s Dog Star Man: a vacuum of cinematic substance.

Arbitrary Rating: 4/10

Hold Me While I’m Naked

Hold Me While I'm Naked

There’s a lot of things in life worth livin’ for… isn’t there?

George Kuchar. Does the name sound familiar? Well, it shouldn’t, and if I had my way, you’d never have known it in the first place. Yes, you likely only know it because I just told it to you, but it’s not my fault; I’m hogtied into talking about the man, due to the presence of his short film, Hold Me While I’m Naked, on the List. Why this is on here, I have no idea; why it even exists, I haven’t a clue. This is the sort of short that is insulting to an aspiring filmmaker such as myself, since a film of this quality and content could easily have been squirted out by any competently artistic ten-year-old.

This has all the aesthetic and sensibility of a student film gone hideously out of whack. The video and sound quality were less than stellar, to say the least; most of the plot just seemed to be about the one filmmaker and a lot of naked and sexually alluring women, which isn’t much of a plot, but makes for one hell of a selling point. There’s some interesting images in this, I’ll give it that, but nothing that screams, “Oh my god, you HAVE to see this before you die”. Really, there’s nothing to this at all, and yet, everywhere I look, I can find at least one review or bullet point about this short calling it a masterpiece. Why? How? How is this a masterpiece? Really, that word is tossed around so much it has lost its relevance, but even in this watered-down lexicon, I cannot find any place for such a word to be thrown at this short.

Okay, at this point, I’m just emptying the rest of my clip into the dead corpse that lies before me, so I’ll stop, and just say this. Should you see this film? No, not really. It may not be as purely depraved as Flaming Creatures, or as baselessly random as Un Chien Andalou, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything of worth to be had here. It’s mostly just your average cliché American wannabe-Nouvelle-Vague student film; a mash-up of various elements with little to no care as to how they should go together. I suspect the elements of the underground film scene of yesteryear are mostly self-referential, as certain “major” players in the underground all seem to have one obligatory slot on the list, seemingly for no other reason than all the others have a slot of their own. Oh well; seems I’m not fully out of the woods quite yet.

Arbitrary Rating: 4/10

India Song

India Song

Leprosy. Leprosy of the heart.

As should be readily apparent by now to anyone who reads this blog, I make sure I know a little bit about a flick before I see it, both to prepare myself for what I’m about to see, and to make sure I’m not too caught off guard. So when I did a little research into India Song, to see what made it so outstanding, either in quality or in significance, and pretty much came up with nothing, I was a bit dubious as to whether the film was going to be worth it. Well, I’m glad I did my research; there is very little to be grateful to India Song for, and anything that is to be found here can easily be found elsewhere in much more worthwhile films.

The film apparently deals with the boredom-instigated indiscretions of the wife of a French diplomat living in India. I use the word “apparently” because I really couldn’t have given a flying arse what this film was about; that’s how badly the story was told. Most, if not all, of the plot and the dialogue takes place through voice-over narration, as if the film and its actors’ movements were mere art exhibits, and the voiceover was explaining the significance of what we were seeing to us; an audio tour guide straight from the artist herself. As for said artist, Marguerite Duras, this was apparently an adaptation of an unproduced play of hers, which makes me immediately want to call shenanigans; I was brought up in the theater, and grew up on film, and I know the fine line between the two, and one of the main focuses that makes a theatrical screenplay rather than a film screenplay is one word: dialogue. This film had none. Zero. Everything was voice-over explanation, so how in the world could this have been a stage play? I can see how it remained unproduced; if Duras had dared to do on stage what she does on screen here, I can’t imagine the sheer amount of rotting fruits and vegetables she would have had to endure coming her way on opening night.

I really, honestly, cannot believe I sat through this one. The Book calls this “demanding but fascinating viewing”, adding that people tend to find the work either “hypnotically seductive or maddeningly pretentious”. I don’t use quotes from the Book that often, but this was too perfect to ignore, and it matched my mindset about the film exactly; it was visually entrancing (mostly because of how deliberate and slow everything in the frame is), but one couldn’t ignore the air the film puts off – that air of “high art” that the film clearly thinks of itself as. I’d tell this film to look to the work of Terrence Malick to figure out how to have this air about oneself, but not have it come across so dramatically, and still be an entertaining film; this was just lofty and highbrow in the most stuck-up of ways, and one could very finitely get the sensation that the film felt it was better than you, and that if you didn’t like it, you were an indignant, uncultured troglodyte. Well, call me arrogant or egotistical for saying so, but I believe myself to have quite the cultured palette when it comes to film; able to enjoy a little bit of everything, including from the genres I don’t normally like, like lowbrow horror, neorealism, or screwball comedies. India Song, however, I could see right through like I had laser vision, and to quote another review I found about this film, it is “no content and all style”. Now, normally, I can go for a film like this; I will readily acknowledge my propensity to lavish praise upon films that are breathtaking visually but admittedly come up short in the story department, but this one was just so mean spirited about it; India Song, if it were a person, would have the stiffest upper lip I think I would have ever seen on anyone in my life, and no amount of sternly worded, look-down-the-nose debate from such a person is going to make me enjoy said person’s company.

I was completely on the fence about whether to give this a 5 or a 4, but in the end, I decided to be mean. Take from that what you will.

Arbitrary Rating: 4/10

Satantango

Satantango

Human life is meaningful, rich, beautiful, and filthy.

In this day and age of shortened attention spans, you’ve really gotta have something special if your film is gonna run over two hours. You have to keep your audience hooked the whole way through, or it isn’t gonna work as well as you think it will. So when a film like Satantango comes along, at a modestly hefty 7 hours and 12 minutes, you wonder just what could be so incredible about this film to warrant such a running time. Well, in Satantango’s case, nothing. The film is long merely because the director wanted it to be, and for no other reason.

The film’s opening shot, for instance, lasts roughly eight minutes, and consists of cows milling around a farm. There is nothing else that happens, just cows. Why this shot takes practically the length of an entire film reel is beyond me; this is a shot that easily could’ve made it onto the cutting room floor. And it’s not just the opening shot, oh no; every shot in the film is like this. The shots themselves have a very beautiful quality about them, in certain ways, but it’s mostly the fact that they linger for so long that really sticks with you, and perhaps not for the best reasons. There were many times I got up and went to the bathroom or went for a drink or a snack (in no hurry, mind you), and came back to find I had missed absolutely nothing. I can appreciate art, but art for art’s sake has a line, and for me, this film crossed it.

I can understand what the director wants with his vision; I can moderately appreciate what he tries to achieve with his film, but there was a small part of me that just took offense to the whole affair. I was insulted that the director had the gall to make me sit through a seven hour film pretty much solely because he wanted it to be that long. Well, another one off my list of 3+ hour films, at least. I feel this should be classified more as an art exhibit than an actual film, but to actually do so would be splitting hairs, so I won’t bother. The director, Bela Tarr, displays a fine craftsmanship and eye for beauty, but the film was just too much for me, and unless you’re an absolute diehard, it will be for you too.

Arbitrary Rating: 4/10