A Movie Diary, July 2022
I am the first to admit: I need to be more consistent. I keep small journals in cheap notebooks about what I watch and some quick thoughts. I sometimes go on deep dives and dig up some interesting info! But, most of the time, the thoughts keep to themselves inside my head or in the notebooks. I hope (and promise) to do better on keeping up in sharing my thoughts.
Anyways, I always like to look back on the past month and see the movies I have watched — seeing what sticks or what disappeared from the memory bank. (I have this idea for a fun series re-visiting movies that you have seen once and vaguely remember, calling the series “Oh yeahhhhhh, this!” That is for another day, I suppose). For those who have not read the few I have done before, these are very informal, going deep when needed. Most of the time, I’ll call out scenes and performances that I really enjoyed — or maybe talking about the experience watching. It goes without saying, the movies mentioned here are all recommends in one way or another. These are the ones that stick.
To stave off a hot, humid July, movies were an escape. When aren’t they? In July, documentary watching took center stage. I caught up on some American Experience episodes from PBS: one on John Brown, one on the abolitionists of the mist 1800s (this is the one I recommend the most) one on Sandra Day O’Connor. The latter, however, produced one of my favorite stories in recent memory. When Sandra Day O’Connor worked in the Arizona Senate, she called out a fellow AZ politician for drinking too much. The man told her, “If you were a man, I would punch you.” O’Connor replied, “If you were a man, you could.” What a badass.
Also in the documentary front was the George Carlin doc currently streaming on HBO Max. It was really fun revisiting old clips and seeing the insight from family and close friends on how Carlin approached family, life and comedy. Growing up, Carlin was my guy. I wanted to be like him. I watched and re-watched how he approached delivering his lines — even though I had no intentions in being a stand-up comic. He just sounded so cool saying stuff. More importantly, I listened to what he had to say. Carlin made it appealing to be someone who strayed from the norm. Unbeknownst to him, Carlin helped me gain a more critical point-of-view of the mundane life of middle school. His humor, the way he approached his acts and interviews gave me a self-confidence unlike most things at that time. Speak your mind; it’s OK. A lot of his stand-up still makes me laugh, and I am forever grateful for George Carlin. “Fuck Tucker; Tucker sucks,” is something I say to myself whenever I need a brief moment of levity.
The most powerful documentary for me this month is Stanley Nelson’s A Place of Our Own. The doc details the community of Oak Bluff’s in Martha’s Vineyard. For most of the 20th century, the community was a getaway for African-Americans from the cruel racism of the day. Footage and old photos of African-American families having cook-outs, out at the beach and enjoying their community are images we don’t normally see enough of from the 1930’s and 1940’s. Hearing the stories of their oasis is incredibly touching. The documentary also covers Nelson’s own family — themselves being residents of Oak Bluff’s — and how his family’s history was shaped by their home in Oak’s Bluff. Insightful and powerful.
In terms of going to the theaters this month, the biggest event was going to see Casablanca at the Coolidge Corner Theater. The theater is a retro, Art-Deco style theater, and a 35mm print made the transportation back in time almost complete. What is most fun about re-visiting older films in full theaters is the heightened comedy or tension one experiences only with a crowd. Sure, you might chuckle at some lines sitting at home, but, when a crowd is laughing at all the right moments, that experience just elevates the movie to a far greater enjoyment level. The movie is a great example of the larger-than-life qualities movie stars had back then, and Bogart and Bergman continually showcase those aspects on every re-watching. What did I take-away from this re-watch of Casablanca? Claude Rains rules, and the La Marseillaise scene is about as moving as a film-scene gets.
(Interesting note: Madeleine Lebeau, who is in the preview image of the clip and most predominantly featured in the scene, is an actual French refugee — displaced from France due to the Nazi’s invasion. Her tears in the scene are genuine.)
I want to quickly shout-out Ankur, the first feature film from Shyam Benegal. This was a blind-watch on Mubi, and I have been slowly making way through the films of India on various streaming services. I was moved by the subtle, yet powerful performances and Benegal’s commentary on Indian culture. The film follows two characters (one more well-off and one poor) and details the complex social structures of culture in India. The film is also the debut for actress Shabana Azmi, who blew me away. Azmi expertly portrays someone trying to live life the best she can (and a life for her and not for anyone else), while battling the restrictions India’s society had on woman and the less fortunate.
I very much enjoyed The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which blends the emotional tides of a teenage coming-of-age story, while also showing the horrors of the experiences at a gay conversion center. The movie is beautifully acted from our main teenage perspectives: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck. For most of the film, the story is heavy. When there is a scene or two of light-hearted fun, the characters become alive with hope that life can be not all that bad.
Now, to the 1950’s. Both Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Girl Can’t Help It were joys to watch because of how fun they are. Movies can be fun, right? Not everything has to be award’s bait. Right!?
In the former, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell absolutely steal the show. Not being the largest Monroe fan, I wearily turned this on because of its cultural impact. I am glad I did. I was utterly in-love with Monroe’s quietness. But, she turns it on when performing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”. The number and her pink dress have become iconic. Jane Russell, for me, is the real MVP. Her wit and confidence is sensational to watch and pairs beautifully with Monroe’s character. The movie also portrays a friendship that is refreshing to see in movies. Samantha Mann, of Bust, notes, “The women remain steadfast in their loyalty to one another, and tolerate no one speaking ill of the other.” Sometimes, plot takes a backseat to watching two really talented people having the time of their lives. Though “Diamonds…” is the iconic number, my favorite number is the opening number — “Two Little Girls from Little Rock”. The song has been stuck in my mind all month. In fact, I’m listening to it right now. “We are just two little girls… from Little Rock!”
The Girl Can’t Help It is rock n’ roll being birthed. Not literally, but the movie acts as a historic document depicting when the genre of music is taking-off in popularity. For that, the movie is crucial in the pantheon of movie and music history. (The movie was highly impressionable for young man like John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who idolized American rock n’ roll stars. In 1968, they stopped a recording session at Abbey Road so they could watch the British TV premiere of this movie). The Girl Can’t Help It does a wonderful job at showcasing the new-ness rock n’ roll was for people. Some got its appeal instantly, while others seemingly confused at the hip-shaking and fast paced music performed on stage.
Like all musicals, if the story is not to your liking, it helps that the songs and performances are fucking great. The story follows a talent agent trying to make a star out of Jerri Jordan, played by Jayne Mansfield. The movie is very much a show-case for Mansfield, who was an actress and “sex-symbol” of the day. Jordan is Mansfield’s third credited role, and she steals the scenes in every one she is in. Her comedic chops are on display with great effect. Most importantly, the music is displayed and performed with color and electricity. Musicians such as Little Richard, The Platters, Fats Domino are few of the talent showcased in The Girl Can’t Help It and brought another added layer of popularity to rock n’ roll.
Quickly, speaking of musicals, I did finally get around to Cabaret, a really great Bob Fosse musical. I do not have any in-depth opinions and will follow popular logic on this one: Liza Minelli rules; “Mein Herr” is about as catchy as musical songs come. Yet, Fosse was never one to shy away from the darker side of things. The ending — a freeze-frame on a Nazi in uniform and implicating that the Nazi rule is incoming — is chilling and terrifying.
But to end this on a positive note, I watched The Talented Mr. Ripley, where the likes of Matt Damon, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow and Philip Seymour Hoffman just are living their best lives in Italy. Well, for the first hall of the movie, then things get twisted. But that first half is magical: amazing clothes, fun adventures in Europe, great times hanging out with (what you believe are) friends. I won’t spoil the movie completely, but I do recommend checking it out. (I also recommend Purple Noon, the French movie based on the same book). If the twists and turns don’t excite you, at least there are three great minutes of incredibly catchy and lively jazz music.
That’s my July. Did you watch anything interesting?