Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
Saturday I’ll be introducing Double Indemnity at the Whidbey Island Film Festival’s “Femme Fatales of Film Noir” program, and delivering a few observations about the women of noir.
This has me checking some old notes for a Film Noir course I taught at Seattle University a few years ago. I realized that in jotting down ideas to mention in introducing the assigned films, these notes form a kind of found poetry on the subject of noir. So here are the scribblings for three classic films, offered as noir prosody:
The inaugural edition of the Scarecrow Academy presents a yearlong series devoted to a single idea: That the greatest year in film history was … 1959! That year marked a high point of Hollywood studio filmmaking, the rise of new independent cinema, the great flowering of international movies, and the beginning of the French New Wave. We have the mastery of cinematic masters bred in the silent era, but the stirring of the tumult that would arrive in the 1960s. Join Seattle Weekly film critic Robert Horton for a deep-dive look at the greatest films of a pivotal moment, each session including an introduction, screening, and post-film discussion.
Attendance is free, although RSVP is encouraged, you can do that right here.
The first installment on Saturday, January 26, at 1pm is The 400 Blows.
Francois Truffaut’s heartbreaking first feature is the classic story of a lost boy (indelibly played by Jean-Pierre Léaud), and the first great herald of the stylistically adventurous French New Wave. 109 minutes.
Here’s the rest of the schedule so far, with more dates to come:
February 9th: North by Northwest, directed by Alfred Hitchcock (USA)
Cary Grant stars in Hitchcock’s wrong-man comedy-suspense masterpiece, which includes thrilling visits to a cornfield and Mount Rushmore—and Bernard Herrmann’s unbeatable music. 136 min.
February 23rd: Nazarin, directed by Luis Buñuel (Mexico)
One of film history’s most important directors, Buñuel spent a decade working in Mexican cinema; this tale of a priest’s tribulations in a subtly ironic account of the price of good intentions. 94 min.
March 9th: Some Like It Hot, directed by Billy Wilder (USA)
Two jazz musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) go in drag to join a female band, where Marilyn Monroe is the lead singer. Wilder’s witty classic is a consensus choice for the comedy pantheon. 121 min.
March 23rd: Fires on the Plain (Nobi), directed by Kon Ichikawa (Japan)
This WWII film depicts the existential madness of war seen from the Japanese side, vividly captured in Ichikawa’s startling widescreen compositions. 108 min.
April 13th: Ride Lonesome, directed by Budd Boetticher (USA)
Part of the cycle of Westerns from Boetticher and craggy star Randolph Scott, Ride Lonesome may be the best of the lot, a beautifully lean examination of moral choices and CinemaScope landscapes. 73 min.
April 27th: Hiroshima Mon Amour, directed by Alain Resnais (France)
In one of the most talked-about films of its era (written by Marguerite Duras), a love affair between a French woman and a Japanese man sparks painful memories of the war. 90 min.
May 11th: A Bucket of Blood, directed by Roger Corman, and Pull My Daisy, directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie (USA)
The Beat movement comes to life: Daisy is a whimsical doodle about beatnik friends hanging out, written by Jack Kerouac and starring Allen Ginsburg; Bucket is a low-budget horror-comedy that parodies the Beats yet captures their spirit better than big Hollywood attempts at the subject. 30 min./66 min.
Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics and the longtime film critic for the Everett Herald and Seattle Weekly. He is a regular contributor to Film Comment magazine, and the author of Frankenstein (Columbia University Press) and Billy Wilder: Interviews (U. Press of Mississippi). He has been a Fulbright Specialist, an adjunct professor at Seattle University, the curator of the “Magic Lantern” film program at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, and a speaker with Smithsonian Journeys. His work is linked at the website The Crop Duster.
by John S.
“X” Marks The Spot is a series that zooms in on a specific section of the giant treasure map that is the Scarecrow Video floor plan – spotlighting some of the gems (known and unknown) hidden within Scarecrow’s vast collection. Let the treasure hunt begin!
British director Ridley Scott cut his teeth on TV commercials before moving on to hit feature films like Alien (1979) and cult classics like Blade Runner (1982). His innate ability to lend striking visuals and atmospheric mood to a movie did not cancel out his skills in telling a good story. In other words: style and substance (rarer than you think). Discover some of his overlooked golden pieces below:
THE DUELLISTS (1977) Scott’s film directing debut is also his most atypical (given the modern/futuristic entries that would follow). As sleek and pleasing to the eye as the rest of his output, this first entry is a historical drama that is often overlooked unjustly. The story follows two French soldiers (Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel) in the 1800s whose initial run-in escalates into a feud of epic proportions through the years as they challenge each other to a succession of duels. It’s a compelling look at obsession and the uncanny ability of men to make a bad situation much, much worse. Talk it out already, boneheads!
SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME (1987) The first romantic thriller from Scott (2001’s Hannibal would sort of be the second one) sees a working-class Manhattan detective (Tom Berenger) having to protect a beautiful heiress (Mimi Rogers) after she witnesses the murder of an acquaintance. Of course, they fall in love – which poses a huge problem since our hero is married to a woman who is a quick study (Lorraine Bracco). Unfortunately, both ladies become imperiled by the persistent killer. This flick came out the same year as Fatal Attraction, but is a warmer, more humane look at that pesky thing called The Love Triangle.
BLACK RAIN (1989) My favorite Ridley Scott film after Alien. Michael Douglas, in full anti-hero mode, plays a morally-ambiguous NYPD detective who reluctantly escorts a Yakuza criminal back to Japan – only to lose his captive at the airport upon arrival. Our hero and his sidekick (Andy Garcia) must now hunt the baddie on his own turf and contend with the dazzling yet also sinister, inscrutable environment around them. A great companion piece to Blade Runner. Kate Capshaw shines as a cool, hard-nosed Chicago transplant who could be friend or foe – she turns the “Ice Princess With A Heart of Gold” trope into something human and relatable.
G.I. JANE (1997) With Alien, Scott gave us an iconic heroine in the form of Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). This flick gives us an unsung one who deserves icon status in the form of Lieutenant Jordan O’Neill (Demi Moore). Lt. O’Neill becomes a pawn in the agenda of a crafty senator (Anne Bancroft) to make the U.S. Navy gender-neutral by allowing more women into fields normally assigned only to men. Moore’s intensive physical preparation for her role garnered as much publicity as the film itself – and deservedly so. She commites herself 150% to her character and knocks it out of the park.
HANNIBAL (2001) Scott’s follow-up to the immensely popular and influential The Silence of the Lambs (1991) was a big box-office hit – but also sharply divided critics and audiences. Stop comparing it to its more streamlined predecessor and accept it on its own baroque, dream-like, American Giallo terms, then Hannibal is much more fathomable. It’s basically a grisly love story/fairy tale about two people, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore, this time), who complete it each other in the darkest way but can never be together (thankfully). My third favorite Ridley Scott film after Alien and Black Rain.
A GOOD YEAR (2006) If you ever wondered what a romantic comedy directed by Ridley Scott would be like, this flick answers that quite well. Russell Crowe is a ruthless London corporate shark who inherits a run-down chateau in Provence from his bohemian uncle (Albert Finney). Unfortunately, our hero’s plan to flip the property and sell it quick are waylaid by his love/hate attraction to a fiery local restaurateur (Marion Cotillard). Will he suck it up and sell the place then move back to London? Or will he say Eff-You to city life and start raising grapes in the South of France with a tall, raven-haired beauty by his side? Decisions, decisions.
THE NEXT SPOT: Foreign Section – Italy
John S. is a Scarecrow volunteer who loves James Bond, Jason Bourne, Italian Gialli, Argento, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Theo James in anything, Steve Zahn in everything, Halloween (movie & holiday), South Park (cartoon & neighborhood), and Scarecrow Video – not necessarily in that order.