Little Murders is one of the greatest films of the 1970s—nay, of all time!—and anyone who doesn’t watch it is a scoundrel.
“What’s it about?” you ask. Warily.
The name “Viktor Shklovsky” comes up a lot at this site (I’m guilty of mentioning it in perhaps half of my posts), and one might wonder why the man and his work matters. Below, I’ll try and lay out what Viktor Shklovsky has done for me, and what he might be able to do for you, too! Because Shklovsky might be the single most interesting and, above all else, useful critic I’ve ever encountered…
I’ve been teaching Days of Heaven on and off for a several years now, and I transcribed Linda Manz‘s voice-over narration because I couldn’t find it online anywhere. Besides being one of the most extraordinary aspects of the film, it ranks as some of the finest poetry of the past 35 years.
Director Terrence Malick famously added Manz’s narration well after the film was completed; supposedly he showed her the film and let her comment freely (in character) on its scenes, then cut out portions and added them to the soundtrack. The result makes the film simultaneously more and less accessible (as Roger Ebert notes: “I remember seeing the film for the first time and being blind-sided by the power of a couple of sentences she speaks near the end”); it also rewrites the film as Linda’s story, giving it a narrative and emotional center essential to the film’s coherence. Days of Heaven is unimaginable without it, and I might argue that no one—Malick very much included—has used narration so masterfully, and so poetically, since.
The full text is below the jump.
[Drumming our fingers on the tabletop, humming along to Debbie Gibson, we contemplated just walking out on our waitress, when Jeremy remembered a Payday he had in his pocket. Passing it back and forth, we resumed our conversation.]
Jeremy: All this work, and still no appetizers. So we might as well talk about Kenneth Branagh, as this feeling of weary emptiness reminds me so much of his films …
A D: I remember adoring his Dead Again. I saw it on VHS, not too long after it came out. I had to pause it halfway through, I got so excited. I was, I think, all of sixteen.
Maria Schneider, the female lead in two of my all-time favorite films, Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972) and Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger (1975), died yesterday from cancer. This depresses me quite a bit, actually—Schneider was a tremendous actor who never really got the credit she deserved for her remarkable performances in each of those classic films. Anyone who can hold her own against Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson (and at such a young age, and in a second language, and in such difficult filming conditions) is obviously insanely talented. Roger Ebert, in his 2004 reconsideration of Last Tango, said it very well:
In my last post on this topic, I argued that cinema can be redefined as “the cinematic arts,” which would include not only movies and short films, but also music videos, commercials, TV programs, experimental film and video, installation art, video games, Flash animations, animated gifs, and even “nonelectrical” forms of moving images, such as flipbooks and camera obscuras. This redefinition raises a few questions:
After the jump, I’ll try answering each of these questions.
[Update 30 Jan 11: I’ve since written a follow-up to this post: “Why Do You Need So Many Cinemas?”]
“The movies” used to mean one thing—or we acted like they did. “I’m going to the movies.” “I saw a great movie the other night.” “You really ought to watch this movie.” But even though we often talk about “the movies,” or “films,” or “cinema,” or “the cinema” as a single, homogeneous thing, there is not just one thing, and never has been—a fact that grows increasingly apparent every year.
When most people say “the movies,” they mean “feature-length films.” These have existed since the early 1910s, and can be considered cinema’s most successful form—they’re the stereotype of motion pictures. They run somewhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours, perhaps a bit longer, and they debut (most of the time) in movie theaters. Then they become available on DVD; later they broadcast on TV, with commercial interruptions. That said, even this familiar model is changing; the length of time between theatrical run and DVD release has been shrinking, and we can see how DVDs themselves are doomed, the way that CDs have long been doomed: you don’t need little plastic discs when you can stream a feature directly to your computer or your TV, via Netflix or Hulu.
I had a stray thought recently about Otto Preminger’s classic 1944 noir Laura (1944), based on Vera Caspary’s 1943 novel of the same name. The film’s first half revolves around the murder of the title character, although of course it’s more complicated than that. And I’d like to argue that it’s slightly more complicated than even that, owing to a quality that’s perhaps inherent in plot itself.
(This contains spoilers—although, as we shall see, they may not spoil much of anything…)
Paul’s post “Science in the Ghetto” got me thinking about the infantilizing of Hollywood movies. I wanted to see if reality matches my impression (which is that Hollywood films these days are less oriented toward adult audiences), so I gathered the lists of the top-ten grossing English-language films for each year of the 1970s and the 2000s. Let’s compare.
Well, Arthur Penn died. He was of course a great director. And of course everyone will be talking about how great Bonnie and Clyde (1967) is—and it is great. It’s one of the most important of American films; along with John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967), it essentially kick-started 1970s cinema, and that decade’s auteur-driven New Hollywood.
But, for my money, Penn’s best movie was Night Moves (1975).
After college, a friend and I went on a tear, spending our weekends watching everything we could find by Godard, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, others. My friend’s father, a former cinephile who’d seen many of these movies during their initial US releases, occasionally poked his head into the living room, watching a few minutes here and there with us. Then he’d smile and leave, always quietly pronouncing, “It’s good, but it’s no Two-Lane Blacktop.”
In the comments section of my last post, Can Video Games Be Art?, I sketched out a definition of art as experience, or even as an attitude, rather than as a thing or a collection of things (see here and here). At the risk of repeating myself, I’d like expound on that position, in case anyone is interested (and wants to discuss/debate it).
But first, and briefly: I really do consider Roger Ebert’s argument—that video games aren’t art and can never be art—easily refuted. (I suspect Ebert thinks similarly; he’s obviously being polemical.) Here are two different ways:
1. Redefine art so that it includes video games. (As far as I’ve seen, no one caught up in the Ebert-inspired debate has taken the trouble to actually define art—always a big mistake.)
2. Demonstrate how video games display, in their own way, artistry (formal elegance, originality, personal expression, ingenuity, response to an artistic tradition, etc.). This is what I see most people trying to do, but the key is to find that artistry in the video games themselves, without comparing them to paintings, literature, cinema, etc. If they are an artistic medium, then video games should have their own unique artistic integrity.
That said, Ebert’s right when he asks why anyone really cares whether video games are art. I think it’s self-evident that they can be, but despite that most of them still totally suck.
So Roger Ebert has once again thrown down the Gauntlet, insisting that video games are not art—and what’s more, that they can NEVER be art. Obviously he’s being heavy-handed, and a bit of a firebrand. I swear I can hear his chuckling clear across town!
I have discovered a truly marvelous proof that Ebert is wrong, and that it is in fact IMPOSSIBLE for video games NOT to be art. However, this blog post is too narrow to contain it.