El espíritu de la colmena [1973)

I have wanted to bring my readers this film for some time.

Therefore, it is an honor to review The Spirit of the Beehive for you.

I first saw this film by chance one night on TCM long ago.

I don’t remember the exact chain of events, but it was either right before seeing this or right after seeing this that I found out I was going to Spain (the country of provenance of this film).

The opportunity to visit Spain was a miracle (as have been all my travels).  Never did I think I would see La Sagrada Família.  Never did I dream of seeing the Guggenheim in Bilbao.  These things were too much to dream.  But they happened.

And this film is the quintessence of that miracle experience.

Two little girls.  Ana and Isabel.

The sonic motif throughout this film is the name “Isabel” whispered by her younger sister Ana.

It is an entreaty.  A putting faith in someone.

Please tell me why this, and why that.

Few films have matched the magic of this one.  If you are a fan of Cinema Paradiso, this film will show you where that template originated.

Before the great Giuseppe Tornatore, there was the equally great Víctor Erice (auteur of the film under consideration).

There is a magic here which is akin to Amélie and also Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.  It is a naïveté befitting of Erik Satie…a wonderment which is rarely expressed effectively in film.

For more modern viewers, the best parallel might perhaps be Beasts of the Southern Wild (on the soundtrack of which I had the honor to perform with my old band).

And so there you have it.

Bees, bees everywhere.  Like Mercury Rev…”Chasing a Bee Inside a Jar”…and “Syringe Mouth” (‘here you come dripping from the hive’).

The hum.  The drone.  Like a subway screeching through the turns in a New York subway tunnel.  And the honeycomb.  Like DNA.

I should add.  A certain sadness.  Like a tawny port.

It was only fitting that this film was kicked to the curb for me, the poor-man’s Henri Langlois, to find at this particular time.

And so I too whisper the name Isabel.  Isabel with your hair pulled back behind your ears.  Don’t be cruel.

 

-PD

Dirty Harry [1971)

Cops get a bad rap.  It’s only fitting that Kinney National Company, by way of their 1969 purchase of Warner Bros.-Seven Arts film company, should bring you this message.  Kinney National Services, Inc. was the product of a 1966 merger between Kinney Parking (as in, parking lots) Company and National Cleaning Company.  The former, a New Jersey operation, was owned by three gentlemen…at least one of which was a mobster:  Abner Zwillman.  But wait, it gets richer…

Before Kinney Parking Company was publicly listed in 1960, it merged with the funeral home (!) company Riverside.

Ah yes…Abner Zwillman.  Newark.  Cut numbers…  Tosches.

Zwillman did alright for himself…  Dated Jean Harlow…

Along with Al Capone, Zwillman controlled the movie projectionist union.  Histoire(s) du cinema.

Funny that an extortionist should start a company which would eventually make a film about an extortionist.

Zwillman died an untimely death by hanging…just before he was to appear before a U.S. Senate committee organized crime hearing. 1959.

Another chthonic founder of Kinney Parking Company was Manny (Emmanuel) Kimmel.  Keep in mind, folks–this developed into Time Warner!  Yeah.

Along with the racketeer/bootlegger Zwillman, Kimmel used his garages to store the liquor which the former was smuggling into the U.S. from Canada in armored WW I trucks during Prohibition.  The FBI “compelled” him to testify in two notable mafia trials (including Zwillman’s).

Kimmel…legendary New York horseracing bookie, blackjack card-counter, “compelled” witness.

Kimmel and Zwillman (to say nothing of Sigmund Dornbusch) circuitously brought you the film Dirty Harry.  Oh, the irony!

And thus it starts:  perhaps the most quintessential American movie.  No, dear friends, you cannot watch this with commercial interruptions on AMC…no way.

And TCM has been slow to “get it”…though their screening format is superior.

Don Siegel hits a vein–a gusher–with this one!

From that first rifle scope focus…that first glamorous victim…that icy blue summer swimming pool atop the roof suddenly tinged with blood…

We could have mentioned Vito Genovese.  Meyer Lansky.  Bugsy Siegel…

But we will focus on the immensely talented Don Siegel.

In Don Siegel we encounter the difference between American montage and French montage:  not at all the same thing.

We find Peckinpah as an assistant.

Friends…

Hell, Siegel even directed Baby Face Nelson in 1957 (a couple years before Zwillman was suicided).

But the big story?  The big scoop???  Clint Eastwood.

Eastwood was born in San Francisco (the setting of Dirty Harry).  11 pounds and 6 ounces.

The mid-60s were good to Eastwood…three spaghetti westerns helmed by Sergio Leone with Clint in the lead.  All three were financial successes…low-budget and high box office return.

By 1971 Eastwood had just completed his directorial debut:  Play Misty for Me.

But let’s not forget the Finks who wrote Dirty Harry’s script:  Harry Julian Fink and R.M. Fink!

The Finks were joined by Dean Riesner and John Milius.

Now they just needed a villain.  A mashup of the Zodiac Killer and actor Andy Robinson provided just the right level of disgust for audiences to swallow the vigilante Harry Callahan.

Yeah, a butcher knife and a hard-on is probably probable cause…though D.A. Rothko would likely disagree.

The Smith & Wesson Model 29…we’re talking about a handgun that approaches three pounds (depending on barrel length).

I know what you’re thinking.  Did he just put two unrelated phrases ass-to-ass on purpose or on accident?

Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself.

Scorpio…

Signed crosshairs.  Benicia.  Vallejo.  Lake Berryessa.  Presidio Heights.

This was real.

Well, Harry’s usual hot dogs had not kept him in the greatest cardio shape, though he admirably runs from payphone to payphone.  It’s a pretty ingenious plot device.  The thrilling uncertainty would do Hitchcock proud.  Yes, Hitch would direct two more films after Harry Callahan hit the world’s stage.  One can’t help wondering if he saw this masterpiece.

When Eastwood stabs Scorpio in the leg…that is cinema.  It’s not far from the iconography of Kubrick’s The Shining or Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (though it predates both).

When Eastwood steps into the arena (sand) of Kezar Stadium, we know there will be blood.  Would you torture a psychopath to save an innocent teenage girl?  These are the types of questions which came to dominate Clint Eastwood’s amazing career.

Even smalltime shits like Scorpio understand the concept of the good old false flag, but it doesn’t work.

And then like Superman with no name…sun at his back on the railroad trestle…Eastwood hops the short bus.

“But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

It’s too long to be a haiku, but it floats…

-PD

The Lovely Bones [2009)

Somehow, at some point…people forgot how to make films.  This would be considered cinema in today’s Hollywood (which is to say, a great film).  Sadly, this is barely a good film.

Once upon a time there were masters like Murnau and Lang and Dreyer. They worked in an age before sound.  They had less variables to ponder.  And yet, they managed to tell stories in elegant, sophisticated ways.  There was no CGI.

Cut to the present film.  Saoirse Ronan is truly lovely, yet not even she can salvage this schmaltz.  To be sure, this is not a happy story.  I would like to congratulate director Peter Jackson, but I cannot do so without a plethora of caveats.

Let me start by saying that Mark Wahlberg, at least, does an excellent acting job.  I can’t help thinking of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch every time I see his name.  That was the age I was raised in:  ridiculous, posturing hip-hop.  Don’t get me wrong…some of it was good.  I even remember having a fondness for Wahlberg’s group, but suffice it to say that their oeuvre has not aged particularly well.  I fear the same might be the case with this film.

Stanley Tucci is excellent and creepy as hell as the serial killer George Harvey.  Susan Sarandon, on the other hand, is a caricature of herself…completely ridiculous and superfluous to any of the aims which this film should have had.  Rose McIver is actually quite good as Susie’s younger sister (though the film seems to suggest she is the older sister in the beginning…just one loose end among many, many others).

There are moments when this film touches on the sublime, but they may not be the ones of which you’re thinking.  When director Jackson approaches the realm of Hitchcock, he does so quite capably.  One even gets the sense that a Silence of the Lambs might be developing on screen.  Sadly, we seem to slip into What Dreams May Come.  Much better to emulate Alfred than Vincent Ward.  Yikes!

About these dream sequences–this “In-Between”…it is as if Salvador Dalí’s superb imagination was being hijacked by a third-rate M.C. Escher reproductionist.  It is as if we were watching the music video to Seal’s “Crazy.”  It is horrible.

Nikki SooHoo’s acting is really, really bad.  Poor girl.  She is the Jar Jar Binks of this ill-fated venture.

After all this CGI tomfoolery we finally have another shard of cinema when McIver find’s the murderer’s sketchbook.  The close-ups of her fingernails trying to silently lower the loose floorboard back into place have a gripping suspense worthy of Hitch.  Jackson at least does a good job of making fingernails (you heard me) a significant motif throughout the picture.  Tucci’s neatly manicured nails are pictured in close-up as he disgustingly fondles the dead Susie’s house charm which he ripped off her bracelet.

The story is not bad, but Jackson has not inspired me to read the book any time soon.  The motif of the kiss is a sweet sentiment and it is just one of many touching moments in this train-wreck of a film.  Susie is supposed to be the amateur photographer.  Jackson directs like a 14-year-old.  The film would doubtless have been better had he 1/100th the budget.

The overall narrative (with voiceover by Ronan) is a formulaic, staid, pale imitation of American Beauty.

One last thought:  I can’t believe Brian Eno did the music.  Sadly, the only musical moments which are transcendent come at the hands of Dave Edmunds and The Hollies (though the latter’s is ruined by a Sarandon montage).  Nay, I shan’t be running out to see any Lord of the Rings movies anytime soon.  This is a stinker which won’t soon enough evaporate from my memory.  Jackson could really use a good night in with TCM for starters (and then, perhaps, God forbid…an Ingmar Bergman movie).  Harmony Korine’s Julien Donkey-Boy obliterates The Lovely Bones in every aspect.  Google Dogme 95, Mr. Jackson.  Learning is fun.

 

-PD

 

I Love You, Alice B. Toklas [1968)

I must hand it to Drew Barrymore.  She fought the law and she won.  It is nothing short of a minor coup (?) that she persisted in having this film shown as part of TCM’s Essentials programming (against, perhaps, the “better” judgment of Robert Osborne).  I’ve had this film in VHS form sans case awaiting the perfect moment to watch it.  That moment came tonight thanks to guest programmer Drew.

I should mention that I rather like Robert Osborne.  His love for film is unquestioned.  He has that twinkle in his eye…even when speaking about the most apocryphal “classics.”  It was truly a moment in my life when I first heard the word Cahiers pronounced…and the speaker was none other than Mr. Osborne.

On to the film at hand.  This really is a strange movie.  Mostly because it is not strange.  Peter Sellers plays what might best be described as Zeppo Marx for the entirety of the film.  I must, however, give it to director Hy Averback for having crafted a film which nicely calls into question the values people place on rather vacuous objects and principles.  At least the very last scene (Sellers hastily strolling down the street) finally achieves a sublime effect which was labored over for 94 minutes before being realized.  Sadly, this film has all the trappings of The Party (truly Sellers’ best performance) with almost none of the brilliance.  It is acutely agonizing to watch Sellers play the straight man.

 

-PD