Bogart is given the porn-star name Dix Steele, a washed-up Hollywood screenwriter who happens to be the last guy to see murdered coat-check girl Martha Stewart (not the rich felon, the actress from Daisy Kenyon) – other than the murderer, of course, which the cops suspect Dix of being, since he gets so fired up about the details of the case.

Dix’s alibi is neighbor Gloria Grahame (The Big Heat). She’s hiding out from her violent ex, and as the pressure mounts, with the murder suspicion and Dix’s new screenplay and his general manic-depression, ex-soldier Dix begins to act paranoid and violent as well. He turns on Gloria at the end, and she leaves him for good. Between this and Bigger Than Life, Ray seems very good at portraying men with manias.

Art and Gloria:

Bogie’s old war buddy Brub (Frank Lovejoy, useless cop in House of Wax) is police, walks the line between friendship and suspicion (as does Gloria). He works for Captain Carl Reid (of the same year’s Fuller Brush Girl – a profession mentioned by Grahame in this movie), who has it in for Dix until the dead girl’s mustachey boyfriend confesses to the crime. Art Smith (of Ride The Pink Horse from the same novelist) is Dix’s agent, at least until he casually fires Dix for slapping him. And speaking of the source novel, it’s fun that this film, reportedly a very loose adaptation of the book, is about a screenwriter writing a very loose adaptation of a book. Also good: the coat-check girl in this black and white movie telling Dix “I do hope it’s gonna be in technicolor.”

Brub and his wife Jeff, re-enacting the murder:

The earliest Ray picture I’ve seen, unless you count my notes saying I watched They Live By Night a couple decades ago on TCM, which I do not recall. Good, dark movie, but most importantly it seems to be the inspiration for lyrics from the Versus song “Morning Glory.”

As far as I could remember from watching the early Criterion disc in 1999, this was a short-ish movie about bell casting, so imagine my surprise discovering that it’s a long-ish episodic movie about a painter with an extended bell-casting sequence at the end. Not my favorite Tarkovsky – too Catholic, and I think we’re supposed to know something about 1400’s Russian art history going in, because otherwise there’s not much drama following around this painter who never paints anything.

Turns out I also remembered the intro – a man flying away on ropes and balloons – a soviet myth according to the commentary, of the first flight of man – followed by a shot of a horse rolling over. Andrei and fellow painter/monks Kiril and Danil take shelter in their travels and witness a profane jester being brutalized by the cops.

Danil, Andrei, Kiril:

Some years later, an elder painter named Theo invites Andrei to work with him, invoking jealousy from the other monks, particularly whiny bitch Kiril, who beats his dog in anger (the movie is not kind to animals in general). Andrei takes along his slacker assistant, gets into an escapade with some naked pagans, some people get blinded, then there’s a long section of war and torture because a prince and his brother are feuding, and I didn’t know the motivation for most of this until reading a plot summary later – I thought the point was “the 1400s were terrible, yet Andrei still managed to paint beautiful things”. At the end of this though, Andrei has quit painting, or even speaking. Funny to watch this movie about a painter not painting, the day after Devotion, which features writers not writing.

Theo and Andrei:

Painters, not painting, as usual:

The movie jumps forward a decade to the part I remember – a young bellmaker’s son is approached to cast a new bell for a church, by order of the prince, who will throw a party if they succeed and kill them all if they don’t. Young Boriska claims that his recently deceased father passed on the secrets of bellmaking, but actually the kid is making it up as he goes, publicly barking orders and commanding a hundred men, but privately sick with worry. Andrei and Kirill are hanging around while all this is happening, doing nothing helpful, and it ends with the triumphant ringing of the new bell, then a color slideshow of period icons.

Boriska:

A more specific title would’ve been Bronte Sisters In Love. Charlotte is writing the more popular Jane Eyre while Emily is writing the critical fave Wuthering Heights, but we don’t see much of this, mostly we follow their fascination with their boringly strict minister-father’s bland employee (Paul Henreid, Bergman’s husband in Casablanca).

Oldest Charlotte is Olivia de Havilland in long tight curls (same year she played twin sisters in The Dark Mirror), Emily is Ida Lupino (just a few years before she’d start directing), and their drunkard painter brother Branwell is Arthur Kennedy (whom we recognized from the westerns). There’s also the youngest sister (Anne: Nancy Coleman) and mostly we amused ourselves by trying to tell the three girls apart.

Bran paints his sisters:

Part of a flurry of Brontë interest, after the 1939 Wuthering Heights, 1943 Jane Eyre (with Joan Fontaine, sister of de Havilland), and (purportedly based on Jane Eyre) I Walked With a Zombie. Mostly a stodgy, joyless costume drama from Warner Bros and Bernhardt (Joan Crawford’s Possessed), and the writers of Undercurrent and National Velvet and Above Suspicion.

Emily in the sky:

Satire about the limited/terrible roles for black men in hollywood movies – Townsend’s directorial debut, a few months before his film of Eddie Murphy Raw (and containing some hilarious Murphy impressions). Sometimes it’s clunky and low-budget, but overall a winning comedy. There’s a main plot, where aspiring actor Townsend gets cast in a demeaning role and takes the moral high ground by walking out, but half the movie is sketches and parodies, reimagining Hollywood hits with black actors. This was a couple years before cowriter Keenan Ivory Wayans would create In Living Color. Townsend’s girl is played by Anne-Marie Johnson of Robot Jox, and Paul Mooney plays the head of the NAACP.

Along with Talking About Trees, we’re catching up with movies we meant to watch at this year’s True/False. We had tickets to see this (plus two shorts) at 10:15pm on Saturday after four other screenings, but ran out of energy. It’s a mid-length movie combining three different kinds of things:

1. Modern news footage of police violence mixed with classic Black Panther film mixed with colorful HD shots of the director herself, posing and walking through the titular garden. This is sometimes set to music by Nelson Bandela (Random Acts of Flyness), and is overlaid with thin strips or entire areas of Mothlight flicker.

2. Concert film of Nina Simone in 1976, playing a rambling but wonderful song called “Feelings.” Incidentally, it seems like her entire persona was copped by Cat Power.

3. Street interviews, the director stopping women in Harlem to ask if they feel safe. The rest of the movie worked beautifully for me – I’d watch those sections all day long – but the interviews weren’t as enlightening. Of the True/False movies we’ve seen in the last 15 months that involve asking New Yorkers about their anxiety, I preferred Hottest August.

And since this was supposed to run at True/False with a couple of shorts, here’s something: a SXSW 2020 selection which moved onto vimeo instead. SXSW was the first fest to be canceled, and it happened while we were at True/False, the last fest to not be canceled. T/F got a last-minute premiere from SXSW on its final night, and I assumed everything else would move online and I’d hold a Quarantine Film Festival, but it turns out, after working hard for years to make your feature film and then getting accepted into fests, nobody wants to premiere on vimeo instead. Amazon’s doing a SXSW thing with only seven features, Mailchimp got all the shorts, and I watched this one then decided to focus on catching up with older films.

Blackheads (2020, Emily Ann Hoffman)

Stop-motion with 2D animation on top is pretty much my favorite thing… relationship-talk with zit closeups is about my least-favorite, so this short is gonna have to meet in the middle. Pretty fun example of displaying your influences – where Gaspar just stacked up his favorite books and movies for the opening scenes of Climax, Hoffman made miniature models of Persepolis and a Miranda July book for her character’s nightstand.

The lost, final Maysles film appeared online for a week during the Great Quarantine, was recommended by True/False enthusiast Alissa Wilkinson, so we watched. Filmed on eastbound and westbound legs of the Empire Builder railway route, so I had that Aesop Rock song in my head (“hi-ho silver, high-pass filter, live from an empire builder”). The movie picks up stories from several regular characters, with one-off scenes of riders in between, gradually building several cross-cut/cross-country journies – a woman going home to give birth, a woman returning to her family after years away, a couple of young men fleeing North Dakota to be with their loves, an aged photographer seeing the country for the last time… somehow all these people and more opened up to a camera crew on their train ride.

The five members of the Sudanese Film Group in Khartoum reenact scenes from classic movies, pretend to film each other, hold public screenings of Chaplin’s Modern Times – and almost Django Unchained, until the authorities find out.

A warm little movie, slow-paced but engrossing. Played this year’s True/False with director in attendance, but it didn’t fit into our schedule.

We held a miniature Jane Austen film festival at home the week all the movie theaters closed and first-release films started coming out to (expensively) stream… tried one of those, plus three standard-def classics.


Persuasion (1995, Roger Michell)

Better of the two Persuasions. Anne is an old maid (by classic brit-lit standards) who rarely smiles. When her dad and snob-ass sisters retreat to Bath, Anne encounters old flame Captain Wentworth, whom she turned down before he became rich and acclaimed. She follows like a mouse while he’s aggressively courted by a neighboring family with ridiculous daughters, then when a “rich” (not at all rich) cousin shows interest in Anne, Wentworth reveals that he still likes her, and all is settled nicely.

Amanda Root followed up with a Jane Eyre, Ciaran Hinds with Cold Lazarus. The fluffy-haired, not-rich-after-all cousin is Samuel West (Dr. Frankenstein in that jacked-up Van Helsing). Complainy sister Mary is Sophie Thompson of the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma. Susan Fleetwood, Anne’s substitute mom who wears great hats, died of cancer the year this came out.


Emma (2020, Autumn de Wilde)

Radiant looking movie, with high color and production design, and I do love Anya Taylor-Joy and Bill Nighy. Unfortunately the editing was all over the place. It turns out we watched the two Emmas in the wrong order – you’re supposed to watch the one that makes dramatic sense first, then the one that’s super stylized. Persuasion followed Anne, who was persuaded to reject her love, and now we follow Emma, who persuades her friend Mia Goth (of Suspiria Remake) to reject her farmer suitor. Both girls end up with their rightful guys in the end.


Persuasion (2007, Adrian Shergold)

Oh wow, somebody got a digital HD camera and is very excited about it. Sally Hawkins is a more naturally emotive Anne, at least, and we enjoyed that Giles plays her dad. Shergold had previously filmed Dennis Potter’s Christabel and a Timothy Spall hangman movie.


Emma (1996, Douglas McGrath)

A proper version of the story, and highly enjoyable, with the title character as played by Gwyneth Paltrow seeming more foolish and less cruel. Toni Collette played the Mia Goth role, Alan Cumming as the minister who Emma tries to hook up with Toni, and Jeremy Northam as the man both Harriet and Emma fall for, before Harriet goes back to her farmer. Ewan McGregor is briefly a love interest before it’s revealed that he’s secretly marrying Emma’s rival. The music beat Randy Newman and Hans Zimmer at the oscars, and The English Patient beat this for costumes. Confusingly, between the two versions of Persuasion, Paltrow and Northam and Jennifer Ehle starred in a non-Austen movie called Possession.

Every 15 min an eye-rolling line, usually a Jennifer Lawrence scene, until she’s killed, which breaks up the gang into defenders and revengers. Jean should’ve died in space, instead absorbs incredible alien solar-flare virus powers. Bad call casting Jessica Chastain as an emotionless alien, and letting Sophie Turner carry the film. A really promising first half hour before it gets bad… either that, or the global pandemic that swept the country between when I started this movie and finished it affected my mood.

Smurf love:

Real Star Wars 3 energy, dutifully connecting the dots between the original and the last prequel… haha, this was Kinberg’s attempted redemption for writing X-Men 3, also based on the Dark Phoenix books, and he botched it again. Generic dialogue, feels first-drafty, even though wikipedia says the last act was reshot after test screenings.

Jean vs. Chastain:

Series creator Singer was off winning oscars for Bohemian Rhapsody while having his production credits erased from this over child abuse charges. Still good, despite everything: Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee: Let Me In, voice of ParaNorman), Quicksilver (Evan Peters, in 100 episodes of American Horror Story), Magneto (Fassbender!) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp was in Love Simon between the last movie and this one).

Jean starts turning people to dust, just like in part 3, which I thought we all agreed was bad: