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Film notes

Tuesday 5/16/23

Watched the 1989 horror film, Society, which one could say is about unwanted extreme fisting. I wonder if Jeffrey Toobin is a fan. David Remnick would probably know.

Perhaps no film looks more like itself--if that makes sense--than 1939's The Adventures of Robin Hood. If ever a film was meant to look like it looks, it's that film. The attention to detail of the sound design was clearly an influence on Star Wars (1977), too.

Night of the Living Dead as a title has always been conversationally and culturally applied in ways that no other film titles have been as a referencing phrase. There is an old Lester Bangs essays where he did it--someone remarks that he looks like Night of the Living Dead--and it came up recently with a friend whose father is having a medical procedure with his arm. The skin is open so that something may heal. My friend saw a photo and said, "It looked like Night of the Living Dead." He's not a film buff.

Howard Hawks' The Thing from Another World is close to being a perfect movie. One could fault the ending as a touch anticlimactic, with that announcement/warning back to the more southernly part of the country, but the directive to "watch the skies" is one I hear almost as an advertisement for the Ground Observer Corps. That people should watch the sky for suspicious enemy activity of a human nature. The film has elements of Citizen Kane (overlapping dialogue), vampire pictures, the Western (male camaraderie in an unsettled locale), Nanook of the North.

Watched Anthony Mann's Winchester '73, the first of the five Westerns he made with James Stewart. First time I saw it was as a junior in high school. Teacher put it on. Had nothing to do with the class. He just liked interesting things. I came up to him after it was over and said something about the unbilled Ray Teal, who went on to be Sheriff Coffee on Bonanza, and he didn't know how or why I'd know that.

So many 1950s sci-fi films that you think wouldn't be good--on account of their relative cheapness and "silly" concepts-are eminently watchable. Jack Arnold's Monster on the Campus (1958) is a good example. You can't go much wrong with an Arnold film. He's a sort of auteur of 1950s sci-fi cinema.

No film term is so regularly misused as that of noir. More terms would also be misused as much if people knew them, but they don't. So many films that are described as noir are not noir in the slightest. Simply having a film with crime in it that's in black and white in the middle of the century doesn't make it noir.

It's a strange experience watching Jacques Tourneur's Wichita, a 1955 color Western, after watching the pictures for which he's known. There's nothing wrong with it. It's just that Tourneur paints in black and white. That's when he is who he is. Or I should say he paints in shades of darkness, with some being somewhat illuminated. He had one great film left in him, which was 1957's Night of the Demon, based upon the M.R. James story, "Casting the Runes." To be great, he had to go back to his kind of painting. You need a story you can paint that way. Demon was one such story, Out of the Past, of course, another.

On Twitter, which it never does to look at, one will sometimes see people chiming in on what they think the best horror soundtracks are. No one looks any further than the timeline of their own life, which shows how sheltered, arrogant, ignorant, uncurious, and lazy people are. The world didn't start when you were born. It didn't become more interesting because you were born. All of the answers were predictable. No one had anything interesting as a choice. Most of it was dross. I would go with Richard Addinsell's score for Scrooge (1951) in the top spot--a score I wrote about in depth in my book on the film--and then Franz Waxman's score for Bride of Frankenstein (1935), which I listen to regularly--probably at least once a month.


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