Spike’s Gotta Have It

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

    Sometimes I’m watching movies at such a furious clip I’m barely even seeing them.  I’ll watch the movies but then find that a week later I don’t remember what happened in the movie, how it ended or which character did what.  I haven’t had a stroke or anything, it’s just that it gets hard to remember things.  You try watching four Hollywood noirs from the 1950s one weekend then trying to remember which one is which a month later.  It’s hard.  So I was watching too many movies lately and I decided to read a book.  Obviously the book is somewhat about movies.  It’s Spike Lee’s basketball memoir Best Seat in the House from around 1997.  I’ve always liked Spike and basketball and movies.  No brainer.  

    Best Seat in the House was really great and made me like Spike Lee even more than I already did.  He’s funny and insightful, and a true basketball fan, loyal to his hometown team (RARE in Atlanta.  My friend Matt and I went to the Hawks-Lakers game and were nearly drowned in a sea of gold and purple-clad fake-as-shit Lakers fans.  Hawks won anyway, fuck all those assholes (sorry, I’m getting worked up just thinking about it)).  The book brought back memories of Spike on the sidelines feuding with Reggie Miller in the mid 90s.  I remember those games!  That made me consider that Spike Lee was probably the first person I ever knew as somebody who makes movies.  I’m sure I asked my mom or dad who that crazy courtside fan was, or maybe the announcers mentioned it.  Either way, I first knew Spike Lee as a sports fanatic who made movies.  It wasn’t until years later I saw the movies themselves.  It was in college that I first watched She’s Gotta Have It.  I remember it came on tv and I watched it with my roommate Josh (Big Mass, for those of you who know that there have been two Josh roommates in my life).  I loved She’s Gotta Have It, and even though I forget movies all the time, I never forgot this one.  

    She’s Gotta Have It is so funny.  It’s the tale of Nola Darling and her three very different boyfriends (Jamie, Greer, and Mars).  The men all know about each other and are bothered by the other boyfriends, but Nola’s worth it, and they all hold out hope that they will be the man Nola chooses in the end.   I just re-watched it for the first time since I watched it in college.  I remembered Mars Blackmon being funny as shit, but on second viewing I feel like Greer Childs stole the show.  I know the character lacks depth and is more caricature than anything, but I like him and everything he said made me laugh.  He’s vain and hilarious.  Mars is for sure much more original, but I laugh and laugh just thinking about Greer Childs.  It’s funny how Spike Lee has such an angry reputation and gets no credit at all for having the sweet gift of humor.  Oh well.
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Greer and Nola getting some sun.  Perhaps an early instance of the puka shell necklace

    I’d rank She’s Gotta Have It very highly in a number of categories.  It certainly deserves a plaque or a bust or a wax figure in the “first feature film” hall of fame.  It also pulls off one of the most difficult things, which is having characters talk to the camera.  This can so easily turn out awful, cutesy or cheesy, but here it works so well.  The camera talking reminds me of Annie Hall, which reminds me that She’s Gotta Have It is also a super hero of that other category, “New York movies.”  SOOOOOOO many movies are set or are filmed in New York, but only a select few are so profoundly attached to the place that they get “New York movie” status.  I know you’re shaking your head because Woody Allen and Spike Lee dominate this category, but what can I say?  There are other New York movies by other people, real ones, you just have to think about it.  Sweet Smell of Success is a good one.   Anyway, She’s Gotta Have It is a New York movie set and filmed entirely in Brooklyn.  Lastly, this movie is one of the best relationship comedies ever.  I don’t want to call it say “romantic comedy” because even though I have a wide range of what belongs in the genre, I think some people may think romantic comedy means some fluffy, safe, boring as shit chick flick starring Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Alba as rival spin class instructors who find themselves falling in love while on a cruise ship or something.  She’s Gotta Have It is not that type of movie! It’s a serious relationship movie that just happens to be insanely funny.  But it’s very insightful and unexpected and interesting.  It’s also by no means safe rom-com fare.  There is some cussin’ and lots and lots of nudity, some of it kinda strange.  But man, is it a good movie.  

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The men enjoying some Scrabble on Thanksgiving.  Enjoying isn’t the right word.

    When I was 9 years old I’d never seen a basketball fan like Spike Lee.  He was original; he was passionate; he was unforgettable.  The same things can be said of Spike Lee the movie director.

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William Faulkner: Almost a Movie Star

    During his initial flurry of cinematic success, Jean-Luc Godard had ideas in his head.  Ideas for movies he wanted to make.  Tons of them.  During this perpetual intellectual hurricane, he had the thought of putting the greatest living writer on earth in one of his movies.  Who was this writer back in the spring of 1962?  None other than your favorite and mine, the Mississippi Mystic, the Noble Nobelman, the Yoknapatawpha Yahoo himself, Mr. William Cuthbert Faulkner.  

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Movie star good looks. 

    Wow!  He wanted the movie’s starring role for his wife, Anna Karina; here’s a note he wrote some producer back then:

[the film would star] Anna herself, Anna, who is an actress and who arrives in New York.  She goes to see Gene Kelly and she says to him, “I am a French actress, I admire you, can’t you find me some work?”  Finally, it’s the discovery of America by this girl, from within seven or eight great genres of the American cinema.  Then Gene Kelly says, “But no, my little girl, the musical comedy is finished, the great stage at MGM no longer exists.”  Then they go into the street and it becomes a little bit musical.  Then, I don’t know what, she needs money, she steals money, she meets people and it becomes a criminal episode.  I would have wanted, for example, for her to get hired as a maid, or a gardener, or whatever, by Faulkner.   

    Alas, William Faulkner died that summer, before the project ever got anywhere.  But don’t cry for Mississippi Bill.  He did get to have his day in Hollywood, writing some movies for money.  He personally didn’t give a damn about movies and was only there for the paycheck, but he did get to jab a literary stick in Hemingway’s bleary drunken eye when he turned his piece of shit novella To Have and Have Not into a pretty decent movie which starred Humphrey Bogart and his soon-to-be wife Lauren Bacall.  

    So William Faulkner could’ve starred in a Godard movie.  I get giddy just thinking of it.   Would Faulkner be nervous in front of the camera?  Visibly drunk?  An acting revelation?  Who knows what would’ve happened, but it’s fun to think about.  And even though this one never made it out of the bullpen, it’s nice to know that the idea was there.  While an artist will be judged mostly on his completed works, sometimes I think we need to give the “interesting idea” its proper due as well.  Nobody else came up with this, and I guarantee that every producer who came across Godard’s note emphatically said some version of  “Wow! What a _______ idea!”

It’s the End of the World, but it’s the Beginning of the Universe

Akira (1988)

I was thinking the other day about the movies I like and the ones I’d written essays on and I noticed a theme.  I had the thought that maybe I only like movies with beautiful women in them.  Is this true?  No, it can’t be true.  But…maybe it is?  The overwhelming majority of movies do have beautiful actresses in them.  And God bless the movies for granting me the ability to gawk at all manner of beautiful women without fear of the disgusted reproach, pepper spray in eyes, or jealous  husband knifing me in my considerable gut.  Is that the only reason I like the movies?  The women?  This cannot be.  I thought of the manliest movies I like.  Blade Runner?  Yes!  I LOVE Blade Runner.  But, wait…Sean Young plays Rachael, the “more human than human” replicant of my dreams.  Is she my favorite part of the movie?  Yeah, probably.  But I’m on the right track, I know it.  Blade Runner…I’m close…something like Blade Runner…BINGO.  I do know a movie I love without a beautiful woman.  It’s kinda like Blade Runner, except there is no Sean Young.  There are no women at all.  There aren’t even any men.  The movie’s made up of little drawings!  It’s a cartoon!  It’s the 1988 anime classic AKIRA!!!!!

Anime has a reputation for being weird, and I mostly think that’s because it is weird.  I don’t know too much about anime.  I know Hayao Miyazaki is good and generally acceptable fare.  Being into Miyazaki will not get you the nerd status that being into several anime series that are like 900 episodes each will.  It’s normal good movie stuff.  Which is what I like.  There’s an anime movie called Perfect Blue I like too.  But none of the wondrous Miyazaki movies or the dark thriller Perfect Blue stuff will ever come close to being as awesome as Akira.  It’s insanely good, and if you can handle a bit of scary oddness (see picture below) it’s essential viewing.

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“…and if I die before I wake…” Tetsuo’s bad news bear

    Akira was a very critically acclaimed and widely read comic book first.  Katsuiro Otomo wrote and illustrated the book, which was first serialized in 1982.  Then, in 1988, he cowrote and directed the movie version.  That is pretty cool, you don’t usually hear about an artist jumping genres completely like that, or at least not with such a measure of success.

Like Blade Runner, which clearly influenced the visual style of the movie, Akira is set in the year 2019 and tells a futuristic tale in an urban setting.  Instead of the neon, bloated and bleak Los Angeles of Blade Runner we have the neon, bloated and bleak city of Neo Tokyo.  It’s “Neo” because the old Tokyo was blown to hell by a nuclear attack in 1988.  But the similarities between Blade Runner and Akira are mostly superficial: the year, the setting, the futuristic vehicles, the mood.  For one thing, Akira is a way more violent movie. Also the themes are different.  Akira is a story of young people in trouble, a super duper power, friendship, jealousy, corruption, gifted children, the end of mankind, the origins of mankind.  It’s a wild movie.  I know this is a phrase that’s thrown around a lot, but for real, Akira is visually STUNNING.  The motorcycle chase scenes are probably the coolest action sequences of all time.  I love them so much.

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Kaneda living dangerously on his cool motorcycle

Contrary to what DVD covers and posters would have you believe, Akira is not the name of the kid in the red jacket on the motorcycle.  That would be the loveably badass protagonist Kaneda.  Akira is something different.  Since it’s like the big secret of the movie suffice to say that Akira is a very very powerful…thing.  And Akira is a very very powerful movie, too.

Let’s Do This Together: Movie Couples

    I know of a lot of pretty important movie couples.  Not really just “celebrity” couples, but man and wife pairings who are important in the history of movies.  Usually these couples are comprised of the classic “director & leading lady” pairing.  Sometimes it’s a producer.  Here’s a list of some pretty awesome movie couples I can think of (to be old-fashioned, I’ve just included actual married couples):



Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer:  A true Hollywood power couple!  Thalberg, head of production at the super-studio of Hollywood’s golden age, MGM, was considered a young genius of impeccable taste.  His wife Norma was a very popular actress.  In 1930 she won the Best Actress Oscar for the juicy drama The Divorcee.  She was a bit cross-eyed and not as beautiful as some of the other actresses, but she had talent.  Her detractors would say she got the best parts because her husband was the 2nd most powerful man at the studio (after “King of Hollywood” Louis B. Mayer).  Cynics!  

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Giulietta Masina and Federico Fellini:  My favorite ever!  This husband and wife team combined their talents to make many fantastic movies, including two of the greatest movies of all time:  La Strada (1954) and Nights of Cabiria (1957).  Probably the most beloved and critically lauded movie couple of all time.  

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John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands:  Hollywood’s cutting edge!  If you’re in need of a deeply emotional roller coaster ride, any of the movies these two made together will work.  Faces, Opening Night, and especially A Woman Under the Influence are as full of feeling as any movies ever made.  Cassavetes and Rowlands were married for 35 years until John died in 1989.  I think they’re the coolest of all the movie couples. 

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-Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina:  The New Wave couple!  99% of men who become movie directors are doing so in the hopes of marrying somebody exactly like Anna Karina.  She’s as adorable and French as he is annoyingly intellectual and political and French.  Never mind that she was actually born in Denmark and he’s kinda Swiss.  They’re French I think.

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BONUS COUPLE:

Jean-Luc Godard and Anne Wiazemsky: I just found out about this couple the other day, and I was shocked, I even felt betrayed that I had no idea about this.  It’s unbelievable that something like this could escape my attention.  You see, Anne Wiazemsky plays Marie in Au Hasard Balthazar.  The Robert Bresson movie!  I LOVE ROBERT BRESSON MOVIES.  Anne Wiazemsky is a Bresson girl!  I can’t explain how much this stunned me.  How could I not know that Anne Wiazemsky was married to Jean-Luc Godard?  This shook me to my movie couple-loving core.  I think probably it’s because I love Robert Bresson movies so deeply and really believe them.  I can’t imagine that the characters aren’t real, and I REALLY can’t believe that one of his movie stars ended up marrying Godard.  French cinema surprise couple of the century!

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This isn’t a picture of Anne Wiazemsky and Godard, but it is Anne and an ass, which is close enough.  P.S. just affectionate ribbing of JLG; I love him!

Seeing Red

Red (1994)

    I saw this movie in my first film studies class at UGA.  I love that class, even though the teacher was kind of dismissive of me and said some rude shit to me way out of left field when I visited his office a few years later.  Sometimes needle-necked nerds take issue with my brand of intellectual, tall, dark and handsome suavity.  Cannot be helped.  ANYWAY, this movie was one of the highlights of that first class for me.  I remember being seriously into movies when I was just about to turn 18.  But I don’t think I was ready for all that I was reading and watching until I was 20.  This movie was one of the first “serious” movies I remember being exposed to that was a little deeper in the files than your average Fellini-Godard-Kurosawa-Ford essential type stuff.  It’s also of my time (made while I was alive), which is a bit different for me since most of the time I go over the moon for older movies.  It’s the 1994 Euro-dreamy (a term I invented just now!), art-house movie Red.  

    Red is the final chapter of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three colors trilogy, the first two being Blue and White.  The movies represent the French flag and those virtues liberte, fraternite, egalite.  Loosely, I mean.  Don’t hold Kieslowski to a strict interpretation.  But somehow, this trilogy does cohere in its way, despite each movie telling very different tales of different characters.  I remember Red being my favorite, although I liked them all very much.  

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Adorable Irene Jacob plays a model (not really a stretch)

    Red tells a mysterious story of Valentine, a pretty girl (Irene Jacob, the girl on the banner at the top of my blog!)  living in Geneva.  She hits a dog with her car (don’t worry, only minor bumps and bruises) and meets her (the dog’s) owner, a retired judge who spies on his neighbors.  He is played by French legend Jean-Louis Trintigant.  The movie is about people and relationships and the huge role that chance plays in everything.  A man drops his law book in the street and it falls open.  He picks it up reads the passage over and studies it and is later asked a question about that passage during his exam.  Two young people’s lives are so close but never intersecting, like parallel lines, until a tragic accident brings them together.  Red is a great movie.  The music by Zbigniew Preisner is incredible.  The performances of the actors are very good, especially Trintignant.  It’s an emotional and beautiful movie.

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Irene Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant see what the neighbors are up to

    I remember enjoying Red very much as I watched it for the first time, and having a feeling that I was watching something different, not like any movie I’d ever seen.  I was exhilarated by the movie, maybe it was Irene Jacob; I’m sure she moved me very much, but it was also a feeling that the horizon of how movies are was broadened for me.  It’s very hard to describe this excitement, but I knew then that I’d be able to find so many different types of movies to love, some strange, some conventional.  There was an ocean of them, thousands and thousands, more than I could watch in my whole life, and I’d be in love for that long, and the cinema would constantly bring me new discoveries and joys.  I knew this could last forever.  I think this revelation came when I saw Red.

Malick Time Again

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Terrence Malick. That reclusive man from Texas has returned. And so soon! Does the trailer look and feel almost exactly like the Tree of Life trailer? Well, yeah, but I just can’t get enough. Olga Kurylenko crying underwater? Javier Bardem as a priest? I am very excited about these things. I love this trailer because it’s lovely and all but I think the best part is the soothing voice of Javier Bardem. If I could I’d buy an advance ticket for this now, four months in advance.

Sacred Beauty

Nothing Sacred (1937) 

    Carole Lombard is one of my favorite movie stars from my favorite movie era, Hollywood’s golden age of the 1930s and 40s.  Early in her career, because she was so beautiful, she starred as the leading lady in many melodramas, which Hollywood produced by the same assembly line methods perfected by Henry Ford.  In mid 1930s she starred in some very good comedies, and she was probably the best comedic actress of the still young sound era.  Carole Lombard was the perfect comedic hero.  She was dizzy and absurd, pouty and childish, in over her head and head over her heels.  Nobody did it better is an understatement; nobody did it half as good.  In 1942 she had just made To Be or Not to Be, one of the greatest comedies of all time, and was at the very top of her game when she flew to Indiana for a war bond rally.  The flight back to California crashed in Nevada and the world lost its best comedienne.  Carole Lombard was 33 years old when she died.  

    It’s one of the damnedest shames I can think of, and it only makes me treasure Carole Lombard all the more.  She is so great, and her comedies are pure gold.  No matter how good the script is, or who starred opposite her, Carole Lombard is always the highlight.  I cannot choose my favorite of her movies, but one of the best is 1937’s technicolor sensation Nothing Sacred.  

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If you don’t like Carole Lombard in a fireman’s hat, you don’t like anything.

    The movie is screwball zaniness set in New York City and it’s full of the 1930s archetypes I love.  Carole Lombard is Hazel Flagg and Frederic March is newspaper man Wally Cook.  I don’t want to summarize the plot so I’ll just make a little list of things in the movie:  country girl faking sick (radium poisoning!) to get trip out of her sleepy small town and into New York,  newspaper man who breaks the story of very picturesque, very doomed young beauty saying farewell to the world and NYC,  a fake Sultan, a combustible newspaper editor, a wrestling match, hotel suite fisticuffs, a doctor who drinks more than his share, even the Wicked Witch of the West (the actress, anyway).  All these are great, but really, the best thing Nothing Sacred has is Carole Lombard.  And in color!  My goodness she’s just too lovely.  

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The funniest, prettiest lady in the world

    Will there ever be another like her?  Of course not.  Frankly, my head’s spinning over the fact that there was even one Carole Lombard.  Thank goodness.