I’m writing this from my new desk, in my new office, with my new puppy, in my new house. I’ve been busy. Since we put the offer down on our new house on my birthday in August, things have moved at warpspeed. So much has happened that I’m not sure I’ve even come to terms with most of it. This blog has always been a little way for me to reflect, albeit mainly on things I’ve read or watched, and I’ve missed having a chance to write. Metro is finally on break so here I am, reflecting.
One of the cooler things I had a chance to do this quarter was speak at the film festival my college has every year. It’s a very small festival, but I gave a talk on film theory to a handful of young filmmakers. I love teaching English, and although I try to incorporate as much film as I can into my classes, I really miss the more academic film world. Going through my old film textbooks and reading Bazin and Eisenstein really got my film blood pumping. I even convinced Lizz to watch Citizen Kane with me. It’s increasingly hard to find time to spend time with film (or anything for that matter) which probably explains why I’m more likely to read a comic than an actual book or watch a TV show than a movie. But even when I do watch a movie, I rarely watch something from start to finish. I hate the ability to pause and start at my own convenience, even though I allow myself to do it. That’s why the theater is still so great; you can’t distract yourself and you’ve got nowhere to go. I just wish I got out to more movies.
Since my talk, I’ve been sparked into watching more stuff. I’ve been trying to fill in some gaps in my film knowledge and probably the best thing I’ve seen is Touch of Evil. I’m desperately out of touch on Welles, but from the jump, you can tell this is on another level. The opening tracking shot is justly famous, but every scene is shot in an interesting, vibrant way. So many filmmakers are content to be efficient, and they think that efficiency serves the story. But great filmmakers understand that truly thinking through the scene and pushing the camera in interesting ways also serves the story. Granted, a dark, twisted story like this lends itself to more daring directorial choices, but you can always try to make the story more interesting visually.
I also rewatched Blood Simple. It’s really great to go back to the Coen brothers early stuff and see how quickly they established their style and tone. This film isn’t as tight visually as some of their later work, but there are some really remarkable sequences, particularly the final showdown involving M. Emmett Walsh and Frances McDormand. And of course, it’s a really funny movie that uses irony in a way that isn’t smarmy or tongue-in-cheek; it’s a pretty classical irony that is at once funny and also revelatory about the characters and their internal workings. My favorite is the scene where Ray drives into the middle of a field at night to bury Julian. The process takes all night, and the Coens cut to an aerial shot in the morning that reveals he’s been working only 200 yards from a farmhouse. It’s a great dig at Ray’s complete inability to deal with his affair with Abby and its aftermath. It seems like this was really a precursor to Fargo, as they share a lot of elements; Fargo seems like a more refined version of their debut.
Another Coen brothers movie I hadn’t seen in a while was The Hudsucker Proxy. Although I haven’t seen The Ladykillers or True Grit, I think this is the only Coen film I’d consider a failure. The rest of their work has such a singular focus, but this is just all over the place, with jarring stylistic shifts and a completely exhausting Tim Robbins (who I don’t like anyways). It seems like their most ambitious film, especially visually and in set design, but it isn’t ever clear what they are going for. I also don’t really like the meta-elements they add to the conclusion; they’ve done meta better and more subtly in films like The Big Lebowski. Overall, I think there’s a reason this is one of the least regarded of their work.
We’ll see how the coming quarter goes, but I can’t imagine it will be as crazy. Hopefully I’ve got more time for writing.