Recommended daily reading – 22 September

From today’s feeds:

Via Whedonesque, a visualization by gabrielleabelle on LiveJournal of the number and intensity of connections between women characters on different TV shows. The starting point is Buffy.

At Panels on Pages, Ben Gilbert – again!asks what the future holds for films from comics, both superhero and not. I am interested in the relationship between movies and comics, and particularly what film adaptations mean to comics fans. This & this are my best pieces on PopMatters that address this connection.

Amanda Ann Klein, on her blog, judgmental observer, considers the complexities of being asked, “What’s your favorite film?” She notes that this question is a hard one for film scholars, in part for reasons of identity, a lot of yourself is at stake in the answer, but mostly because most of us don’t actually have a single favorite movie. We love different films for different reasons, and how we answer the ‘favorite question’ depends on context. Why am I am being asked? What do I want to watch the film for? And so on.

Her post reminded me of an entry from one of my previous blogs, no longer online, but I do have an archive copy. I am re-posting below, not only because I also consider the challenge in the question, but because, like Klein, my answer involves Terrence Malick.

from refracting kropotkin, 26 June 2006:

For some reason, The Hollywood Theater is featuring a revival of Days of Heaven this week. In spite of Anne-Marie’s absence, I had no choice but to head up to Portland on Saturday and take advantage of this rare opportunity.

Days of Heaven is one of three movies I routinely tick off in my head when asked to name a favorite film. The other two are In the Mood for Love (2000) and Chinatown (1974). This last is the one that I am most likely to cite.

Shawn Levy, head critic for The Oregonian, once explained how he answers the favorite film question. His way of addressing the query is to answer with a selection that is a) true most of the time and b) says something about you. Coincidentally, I think that Levy’s favored answer is also Chinatown. In my case, Chinatown has a number of qualities going for it, and there’s no use pretending that the second criterion isn’t critical when answering this kind of question (Nick Hornby addresses this beautifully in High Fidelity, 1996).

I am drawn to Chinatown for its set design – gorgeous period detail – some of the best dialogue ever written for film, and social and historical “weight” in its interpretation of key events in the history and geography of the West. This last point is particularly important for me given my interests in popular culture and the North American West. Faye Dunaway is strikingly beautiful, and Jack Nicholson is at his been knocked around, wise ass best. There’s also Roman Polanski’s delightful turn as the little hood who cuts Jake’s nose. This is a truly great American film.

Another virtue of Chinatown is that it is a well known and regarded movie, but not too well known. There are certain films like Casablanca (1942), The Big Sleep (1946), and GoodFellas (1990) that just don’t come to mind in part because of my perception of their obviousness. It is in these kinds of calculations that “true most of the time” and “says something about me” really converge.

Days of Heaven I love for the way the photography and mise-en-scene tie you to the land. The intimate images of birds and insects, working dogs, working people, convey a living, breathing landscape. You are totally immersed in the time and place of the film (Texas panhandle in 1916). The pacing of the narrative also works to plunge you into a period when an isolated farm would very likely live according to its own temporal rhythms, rather than by standardized, mechanical time. Linda’s (Linda Manz) voiceover’s are excellent examples of the artistic potential of this much maligned device. Her view is obviously subjective, and unique, simultaneously naive and world weary, and full of wonderful turns of phrase like “I could be a mud doctor and just listen to the earth.”

On the big screen I was struck by the complexity of the adult characters. This was unexpected as I had gone into the movie assuming that the experience would mostly be about the landscape. Instead, the drama of the love triangle was deeper and more intense than it is on dvd. Brooke Adams is noticeably more charismatic on the big screen. As a result, Abby comes across as more of an equal player next to Bill (Richard Gere) and The Farmer (Sam Shepard). Ennio Morricone’s score was also more powerful, masterfully underscoring the sublime beauty of the images and the roiling unease and darkness under the idyllic surface of the narrative. I was struck by how difficult pulling off some of the shots must have been, particularly when the grasshoppers descend on the farm. In 1977 there was no resort to digitization for such effects (not that I think Malick is prone to such devices even today).

Needless to say, if you get the chance to see Days of Heaven on the big screen  (and thanks to the Hollywood for giving the film the big auditorium even though other films, like A Prairie Home Companion, would be more likely to fill the seats). As it is, I think that Anne-Marie and I will have to devise a new rule for our Best of lists at the end of this year to keep me from putting the movie at the top of mine.

Post-script: I reviewed the Centennial Collection DVD of  Chinatown for PopMatters last year, and in my review, I re-visit choice of the film as ‘my favorite’.


My review of the New Video DVD for the 2007 documentary, Rem Koolhaas: A Kind of Architect is up at PopMatters today:

The opening argument in the film is that the “Rem Koolhaas” the viewer knows, the singular genius of media accounts, especially in America, is a convenient signifier that masks another “Rem Koolhaas”, one who is not singular, but plural, a walking composition of influences, ideas, theories and collaborations.

Read the full review.