Althouse | category: movies



a blog by Ann Althouse

"The preponderance of certain directors added to the sometimes clubbish vibe: In 1972, Welles and Ingmar Bergman alone..."

"... were responsible for more than a third of what the respondents considered the greatest films of all time.... But when this year’s Sight and Sound list was unveiled on Dec. 1, the list featured surprises galore. Nearly half of the elite Top 10 were newcomers, including No. 1 — a title that very few people saw coming …Chantal Akerman’s 'Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.'... And she’s not alone. Claire Denis’s 'Beau Travail' is joining her.... Akerman and Denis, the first women to ever appear on the list, made it into the Top 100 in 2012 …"

From "What Makes a Movie the Greatest of All Time?/The much-respected Sight and Sound poll of the best films ever shows that what is valued onscreen has changed over time, sometimes radically" (NYT).

This is an excellent graphic depiction of the history of the poll.

I quoted the part that goes along with the hypothesis I faintly sketched in yesterday's post about the poll "It’s a list of something. The question is what"

... I don't need these critics trying to make up for all their past decades of boosting the work of male film directors... if that's what's going on here.

Should you watch the monotonous 3+ hour 1975 feminist movie that hit #1 on the Sight & Sound poll or is it cinema enough to watch the 2-minute trailer for "Cocaine Bear"?


Everyone seems to be watching the "Cocaine Bear" trailer. I haven't felt this cultural vibe since the "Snakes on a Plane" trailer came out in 2006.

For those who doubt the "based on a true story" assertion, the NYT has "Yes, ‘Cocaine Bear’ Was Real. Here’s the Back Story. Nearly 40 years after a 175-pound black bear found and ingested cocaine in a Georgia forest, the drug binge has inspired a movie." 

The movie does add some things. Here's the barebones original story:

ADDED: From my November 2006 blog post, "It's time for calm reflection about... 'Snakes on a Plane'":

The movie promoted the hype more than the hype promoted the movie. Is this the way things will be in the future, with "instant, mutable, unmoored" doings on the web taking the place of thought-out cultural productions like movies? I wonder.

There's something about getting absorbed into the web that changes the whole structure of your mind, I think. (And I acknowledge the theory out there -- I read it on the web! -- that, in my personal case, I'm simply crazy. So don't go by just me.) I have lost all taste for things that are planned out and long. I no longer want to sit through anything. Once there's a script that's going to be followed, I'm looking around for something to click to see what else is happening.

Ha ha. That was 16 years ago. After 16 more years, how much more instant, mutable, unmoored are we? 

"It’s a list of something. The question is what."

That's all I have to say after my son John posts — on Facebook — a link to "'Jeanne Dielman' Tops Sight & Sound’s 2022 Poll of the Best Films of All Time."

The Sight & Sound poll results are much anticipated — every 10 years. I've been noticing this thing since the 1970s, so I'm familiar with what normally ends up at or near the top. Favorites come and go. But I've never seen the #1 position go to something I've never even heard of:

Directed by Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman and released in 1975, “Jeanne Dielman” is a three-hour, 20-minute film following the title character (Delphine Seyrig), a single mother and prostitute, as she carries out a monotonous daily routine that slowly breaks apart and collapses. Since its premiere, the film has been highly acclaimed as a landmark of feminist cinema.

What's going on here? And do I need to watch a 3-hour, 20-minute monotonous movie to have an opinion? A movie about a prostitute — but feminist. Keep watching, because she will break apart and collapse, and we're told it's feminist.

I've had my own feminist opinion about the overrepresentation of prostitutes in the movies, and I've had it for a long time — for many cycles of Sight & Sound polls. So I don't need these critics trying to make up for all their past decades of boosting the work of male film directors... if that's what's going on here.

"In 1964, Gloria Szymanski, a recently divorced mother struggling with the sexual and behavioral strictures of her new status, was filmed as a patient of three renowned therapists..."

"... Carl Rogers, Frederick Perls, and Albert Ellis. The film was produced and narrated by the psychologist Everett L. Shostrum, who was Szymanski’s personal therapist and who recruited her for this starring role.... 'He told Gloria that the films would only be used in schools and colleges to teach psychology students so imagine her surprise then when making her breakfast pancakes a year or so later to see her interview with Dr. Perls on TV and then she found out that the films were going to be shown in full in movie theatres all over the country.'... She talks, with frankness and charm, about her daddy issues and her pinings for smart, authoritative men. If not for the clinical setting and the disapproving gaze of the therapists, her desires would seem normal—which, of course, they are...."

From "Gender Critique Meets Lewd Spectacle in 'The Patient Gloria'/Gina Moxley’s play examines the sexual and behavioral strictures on women through the lens of psychotherapy circa 1964" (The New Yorker).

Even as disease could be perceived as health — see the first post of today — health could be perceived as disease.

ADDED: I believe it is a terrible invasion of privacy, but nevertheless, I found the original film on YouTube, so I present it here: 

"Actually, if you google the word senicide you’ll see that many parts of the world have a push/pull relationship with their older members..."

"... the push of veneration, the pull of elimination. The United States with its chrome-plated dreams of spit-shine modernity was never much for the admiration of its senior citizens. Way before taunts of 'Okay, boomer' and the calling of people with experience the pejorative term 'olds' this country has had a tendency to isolate the grizzled dotard, if not on an ice floe then in retirement camps where they could gum pudding and play bingo away from the delicate eyes of youth. It would be easy to blame the sixties, with silly slogans like 'Don’t trust anyone over thirty' or even sillier movies like Wild in the Streets, where anyone over thirty-five is herded in camps and given mandatory doses of LSD."

So writes Bob Dylan, in "The Philosophy of Modern Song."

So, of course, I google "senicide," and I'm reading this Wikipedia article "Senicide," while picturing 81-year-old Bob Dylan reading it too. Highlights:

The Heruli were a Germanic tribe during the Migration Period (about 400 to 800 CE) [who]  placed the sick and elderly on a tall stack of wood and stabbed them to death before setting the pyre alight....

Herodotus says of the Padeans of India: "... It is said to be their custom that when anyone of their fellows, whether man or woman, is sick, a man's closest friends kill him, saying that if wasted by disease he will be lost to them as meat; though he denies that he is sick, they will not believe him, but kill and eat him...."

In Nordic folklore, the ättestupa is a cliff where elderly people were said to leap, or be thrown, to death. While the practice has no historical evidence, the trope has survived as an urban legend, and a metaphor for deficient welfare for the elderly....

Herodotus tells us about the Massagetae that: "Though they fix no certain term to life, yet when a man is very old all his family meet together and kill him, with beasts of the flock besides, then boil the flesh and feast on it. This is held to be the happiest death; when a man dies of an illness, they do not eat him, but bury him in the earth, and lament that he did not live to be killed.

Contemporary Culture — In modern day western-culture, senicide often takes the form of placing senior citizens in overcrowded conditions where preventable diseases can easily spread. More often than not, these spaces are separate from other generations of people so problems such as quality of life, hygiene and isolation are less detectable to the wider population.

There are 3 citations for that last proposition, and all 3 are about Canada. 

I'm giving this post my tag "gerontocracy," thought the topic is only implied. We currently have a gerontocracy in the United States, but when these old people were young, there was "Wild in the Streets":

Quentin Tarantino's alternative reading of the Body Snatchers movies.

From his new book, "Cinema Speculation" (boldface added):

[T]he Pod People transformation is closer to a rebirth than a murder. You’re reborn as straight intellect, with a complete possession of your past and your abilities, but unburdened by messy human emotions. You also possess a complete fidelity to your fellow beings and a total commitment to the survival of your species. Are they inhuman? Of course, they’re vegetables. But the movies try to present their lack of humanity (they don’t have a sense of humor, they’re unmoved when a dog is hit by a car) as evidence of some deep-seated sinisterness. That’s a rather species-centric point of view. As human beings it may be our emotions that make us human, but it’s a stretch to say it’s what makes us great. Along with those positive emotions—love, joy, happiness, amusement—come negative emotions—hate, selfishness, racism, depression, violence, and rage....

Imagine in the fifties, when the [first "Body Snatchers"] film was made, that instead of some little town in Northern California (Santa Mira) that the aliens took root in, it was a horribly racist, segregated Ku Klux Klan stronghold in the heart of Mississippi.

Within weeks the color lines would disappear. Blacks and whites would be working together (in genuine brotherhood) towards a common goal. And humanity would be represented by one of the racist Kluxers whose investigative gaze notices formerly like-minded white folks seemingly enter into a conspiracy with some members of the county’s black community. Now picture his hysterical reaction to it (“Those people are coming after me! They’re not human! You’re next! You’re next!”).

"Julie Powell, the writer whose decision to spend a year cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' led to the popular food blog..."

"... the Julie/Julia Project, a movie starring Meryl Streep and a new following for Mrs. Child in the final years of her life, died on Oct. 26 at her home in Olivebridge, in upstate New York. She was 49. Her husband, Eric Powell, said the cause was cardiac arrest.

From the NYT obituary. 

"Mrs. Child never saw the film — she died in 2004 — but she was familiar with Ms. Powell’s project. Russ Parsons, a former Los Angeles Times food editor who was among the first to report on the blog, sent Mrs. Child, then in her 90s, some excerpts. She took the project as an affront, not the self-deprecating romp that Ms. Powell intended, and told Mr. Parsons that she and others had tested and retested the recipes so they would be accessible to cooks of all skill levels. 'I don’t understand how she could have problems with them,' he recalled her telling him. 'She just must not be much of a cook.'"

Very sad to die so young. I admire the specificity of her blogging project and loved seeing my favorite format — blogging — used with such focus and panache. You know how to make panache, don't you? Just kidding. Panache/ganache... what's the difference?

When Quentin Tarantino was 8 and his mother's black boyfriend took him to see 2 movies about black people in a theater with an all-black audience.

Great storytelling from Tarantino here: 


"The first movie is sort of a message-y movie... and the crowd hated it" — Bill Maher prompts.

Listen to the whole story, and you may be curious about this movie the audience jeered at, "The Bus Is Coming" (1971).

I went looking for something about it and easily stumbled into the entire movie:

I've only watched the first 3 minutes, and I won't presume to know what the crowd back then found worth shouting down for the entire length of the movie. Maybe it's just that it's slow-moving and un-slick, or maybe it's that it was just much more fun to talk back to the movie. Tarantino makes it sound very fun.

I take it the mother's boyfriend — who, we're told, was an L.A. Rams football player — thought the "message-y" movie would be good for the boy, but Tarantino, like the rest of the audience, greatly preferred the second movie, a slickly entertaining film starring Jim Brown. Or maybe the football-player boyfriend wanted the Hollywood movie featuring a man like him to win young Tarantino's admiration. 

The anecdote comes from Tarantino's new book "Cinema Speculation." The link goes to Amazon, and I think I'll buy it. I'd like to hear the rest of the story. I'm guessing the "speculation" is about why the commercial Jim Brown movie is superior to the the earnestly arty "The Bus Is Coming."

"Movies like 'Aquaman' and the upcoming live-action version of 'The Little Mermaid' take place underwater but don’t actually submerge the actors."

"'Avatar: The Way of Water' does, and the actors had to learn how to hold their breath for several minutes to shoot some of its undersea sequences. What’s gained from doing it for real?"

The NYT interviewer asks James Cameron in "James Cameron and the Cast of ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Hold Their Breath/The original was the biggest hit ever, but the sequel still took a long time to come together. How will it resonate in a different era of moviegoing?"

Cameron answers:

Oh, I don’t know, maybe that it looks good? Come on! You want it to look like the people are underwater, so they need to be underwater. It’s not some gigantic leap — if you were making a western, you’d be out learning how to ride a horse. I knew Sam was a surfer, but Sig and Zoe and the others weren’t particularly ocean-oriented folks. So I was very specific about what would be required, and we got the world’s best breath-hold specialists to talk them through it.

I didn't see the first "Avatar," so I'm not the audience for this, but if I were, knowing the actors were holding their breath for several minutes would take me out of the fantasy. I'd be thinking of the actors not as the characters in their fictional situation but as hard workers suffering... for what? To create the very illusion that my knowledge would ruin.

Should you watch the monotonous 3+ hour 1975 feminist movie that hit #1 on the Sight & Sound poll or is it cinema enough to watch the 2-minute trailer for "Cocaine Bear"?"In 1964, Gloria Szymanski, a recently divorced mother struggling with the sexual and behavioral strictures of her new status, was filmed as a patient of three renowned therapists...""Actually, if you google the word senicide you’ll see that many parts of the world have a push/pull relationship with their older members..."When Quentin Tarantino was 8 and his mother's black boyfriend took him to see 2 movies about black people in a theater with an all-black audience.

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