Monday, September 24, 2007

Chaplin, D.G. Green, Paul Scofield, and Ken Burns

Some movies I saw this last week:

Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936):
This was the last time Chaplin played the role of the Little Tramp. Sound films had been around for 8 years, but he still did this one in pantomime, and for good reason: he had perfected an art. We watched this in film history, and the kids were rolling. Highlights: the high-tech eating machine, the eating of the cocaine, the "american dream" sequence. Most of them wrote about how they never realized silent films could be so entertaining and easy to relate to.

A quote from critic James Agee: “To put it unkindly, the only thing wrong with screen comedy today is that it takes place on a screen which talks. Because it talks, the only comedians who ever mastered the screen cannot work, for they cannot combine their comic style with talk. Because there is a screen, talking comedians are trapped into a continual exhibition of their inadequacy as screen comedians on a surface as big as the side of a barn.”

And another: "Of all comedians, Chaplin worked most deeply and most shrewdly within a realization of what a human being is, and is up against. The Tramp is as centrally representative of humanity, as many sided and as mysterious, as Hamlet, and it seems unlikely that any dancer or actor can ever have excelled him in eloquence, variety or poignancy of motion... Anyone who saw Chaplin eating a boiled shoe like brook trout in The Gold Rush, or embarrassed by a swallowed whistle in City Lights, has seen perfection."

All The Real Girls: I finally saw this one (on my own, not with the class), and was blown away. I haven't been this wrapped up in a film in a long time. So many parts in here where it captured exactly how I've felt at some point in my life.


The scene where he's talking to her on the phone while she's at the party. And she looks at that guy smiling at her through the window and she smiles back, and your heart sinks because you know what she's thinking. And then the scene at the park where he's trying to be all flirty with her and glad she's back, but she's all awkward because she knows (and so do we) she's about to drop the bomb on him. I could seriously feel my heart beating, I felt sick for him. So heartbreaking, and so beautiful. I love the two legged dog, and the conversation between the main guy and Tip, where Tip's sipping on the tallboy (what does he call it? "engine cylinder" or something?) saying how he got a girl pregnant.

A Man for All Seasons: This is the kind of thing that used to win Best Picture, that hollywood used to be proud to make. Now we get... Chicago? American Beauty? The Departed? Give me a break. Sure, it's not the kind of film that will get teenage boys into the seats, there's no shower scenes or exploding heads, but the dialogue sticks with you, the kind where afterwards you say, "Now that was a FILM!" And Paul Scofield! I'll confess a special affinity to Sir Thomas More when he spoke of the teacher's profession:

More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher. Perhaps even a great one.
Rich: And if I was, who would know it?
More: You, your pupils, your friends, God. Not a bad public, that.

The War: Did anyone watch episode 1 of this last night? Great stuff. I especially love the writing in all Ken Burn's stuff. And I was totally caught off guard by that song at the end with Norah Jones. Shows how sometimes documentaries can be the best stuff ever.


Blogger Bryan Summers said...

I watched Modern Times with my five year old son on Turner Classic Movies this past week. He was loved the whole thing. Didn't laugh much after the first fifteen minutes but man oh man did that beginning section kill. I have never heard my son laugh so long and so hard.

Later in the week we watched the Great Dictator. I didn't realize that it was in sound. It was wonderful but it didn't keep my son's attention. Too much talking.

We also watched the Laurel and Hardy short The Music Box. He really enjoyed it but didn't realize it was a comedy. He felt bad for the two men trying to move the piano.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Brandon said...

I still haven't seen the Great Dictator. How do you think it compares to his other stuff? I've just seen a clip from it, with Hitler playing with a blow up globe, which looked pretty awesome.

I've been meaning to track down that Laurel and Hardy film, but didn't know the name. I've showed the one called "big business" where they destroy a dude's house after he won't buy a christmas tree from them.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Bryan Summers said...

The Great Dictator is wonderful and has some very funny stuff. And some very suspenseful parts also.
It also feels very earnest. It is a message movie in the best sense.

The verbal stuff is very funny, but not as funny as his pantomime, so while I love the movie and it's better than most comedies, I still prefer The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times or any of the short films I've seen. (And that is all I've seen of his.)

I'll definitely watch it again in a few years time.

This week I'm going to watch a Night at the Opera with my son. See how he likes the Marx Brothers.

How did your students like Laurel and Hardy? The British love them. They are the most beloved old-time comedians over there.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

Brandon - good to read that you finally watched All the Real Girls. I had the very same reaction during that seen in the park - heartbreaking. it's pretty great stuff. i love how David Gordon Green manages to orchestrate those really genuine moments that feel so real they hurt (but in a good way).

8:21 PM  
Blogger Brandon said...

The students quite liked Laurel and Hardy. But I only showed that one, so I could use a few more goodies from them for next time around. I also highly recommend Chaplin's "The Circus." It's probably his least talked about feature, but it's just as good as the others you mentioned (which pretty much means it's one of the best films ever). The House of Mirrors sequence and the Tightrope scene are brilliant.

How old is your son, Bryan? My oldest is 6 now. It's interesting to see the things he gets interested in. When he was 2, his favorite film was Ken Burns' "Baseball". The next year we discovered Miyazaki together. And just last weekend we watched "How Green Was My Valley" and Henry was surprisingly caught up in it. He kept asking questions about everything. "Why are their faces all dirty?" "Because they work in the coal mines and dig big holes for their job. Do you want to dig holes for your job when you get older?" "Yeah!!! (clapping)"

11:29 AM  
Blogger Bryan Summers said...

I'll check out the Circus.

My son is five years old.

The movie he can't get enough of now is Erril Flynn's the Adventures of Robin Hood. He also likes Captain Blood. I should probably get him more Flynn movies.

9:49 AM  

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