Archive for February, 2010

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in service

February 25, 2010

Throughout the country, service people have been returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with tons of video footage and accompanying commentaries on their experiences.  Still, few of us have an idea of what the war looks like for them.  Nothing can completely capture that experience, of course, or help us feel the fears and exhilerations, joys and sorrows they feel.  As a result, we go about our daily lives not caring about their sacrifices, barely even aware that fighting is going on.  The reason is that this lack of attention to the wars seems to suit the purposes of the government and the major media outlets.  But it doesn’t serve our interests.  So we in the Pittsburgh region are very fortunate that people here have thought to collect this footage, interview the vets about what it means to them, and present it to us.  Filmmaker Ralph Vituccio undertook the monumental task of editing 75 hours of raw footage into a one hour film that powerfully relates the experiences and feelings of local vets and others involved in the fighting and helping us care for them as individuals doing their best in impossible circumstances.  Productions like this can help us come together, listen to each other, and find our way through this ordeal.  In Service: Iraq to Pittsburgh shows the courage and wisdom of those who’ve been asked to give the most.  It’s time that we listened.  I hope you feel like sharing what in the film had meaning to you.

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arsnic and old lace

February 11, 2010

The first thing you notice about this film is that the sets are horribly cheap and fake.  Frank Capra did this as a quick money maker before getting involved in the Why We Fight series during the war, and it’s hilarious.  With Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, and Peter Lorre, the cast couldn’t be better.  But then you see the sets and you wonder what’s going on.  The opening scene of a fight at a World Series game on Halloween seems equally incongruous.  What does that have to do with anything?  In addition, the Series never lasted until Halloween in those days. 

But Capra stays with it, going over the top with more self-reflexive material all through the film.  Grant has a long speech describing exactly what’s happening to him as evil brother Johnathan ties him up and how stupid it was when he saw it in a play.  To make the technique even more obvious, he mentions that this often happens in movies too.  Later, he mentions how no one in plays ever pays attention to what anyone else says to them, and that’s exactly what happens here.

The idea of laughing so hard at two serial killers is always a little bothersome, even if they are two silly old ladies.  So I think making everything so obviously phony, and then having the characters describe it that way, was a great choice.  Considering the times as well, maybe getting used to multiple deaths, or learning that we could come through it and be all right, were good ideas to present as well.  Though maybe in the end, we all belong in the sanitarium with the Brewster sisters too.

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Bullitt/detective-action films

February 8, 2010

Last Saturday night, I watched Steve McQueen in Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968 I believe) for the first time.  To me, it seemed that Yates was definitely going for something different.  Mainly, I think he was trying to identify Frank Bullitt (McQueen) as a working class guy.  Someone the audience could identify with.  He just tries to do his job, he likes jazz, goes out to eat, has a beautiful girlfriend who doesn’t realize what his job involves (Jaqueline Bissett) but stays with him in the end, wears his paisley pajamas to bed, and lives in an average house despite being well-known in his field.  He doesn’t make wisecracks, drink heavily, or complain that he really doesn’t want to do the job.  In fact, he seems quite lax in his work.  But when he and his partner go through evidence, they both make very factual comments about what they find and what they want labelled.  Yates keeps things incredibly low-key throughout especially through his use of sound.  Often the camera separates us from Bullitt with various barriers and we hear nothing of his conversation.  Soundtrack music is kept to a minimum, not even used to accompany the famous car chase.  Yates decides to avoid too much emotion and keeps the emphasis on Bullitt as no one special.  Yet, we don’t understand his work.  In the final shoot-out at the airport, crowd comments are questions about what was happening and what the dead criminal might have done.  It’s not a great film, but an interesting look at Hollywood’s attempt to capture both the young and the working class audiences at the time.