Tuesday, December 20, 2011


It's a gorgeous production, really. I think the original story is absolutely foolproof in the horror and the humanity it evokes (and that its message is timeless), and all an adaptation really has to do is commit to the characters and the words, but my goodness. George C. Scott gives a full-blooded, totally human Scrooge - cold-blooded at the start, but every little reaction he gives on the way back to humanity's embrace is well-calibrated, building on the one before it. And the whole damn cast commits - among others, who knew that David Warner had such reservoirs of vulnerability to draw upon?

A mention of the late Edward Woodward (yes he died two years ago, but I miss him still). I remember watching this with my mom, the first night it aired. Budding cinephile that I was, I was digging the period detail, the effectiveness of the performances and photography, and just having a nice pre-holiday with mom and this story. But good lord, when the Ghost of Christmas Present bounded in, Mom and I were both agape. Who the hell is this guy? Bedecked in white fur, holly laurels, and an impossible mane of hair, Woodward is the ultimate, pre-eminent party animal, both Lord of the Dance and one of the pubgoers from Wire's "A Serious Of Snakes". Watching him playfully fucking with Scrooge on their tour of Christmas present, and then seeing that mischief turn vicious as he delivers a WITHERING judgment on him, is an absolute joy. I wasn't at all surprised when Woodward returned to CBS the following year in his own series, and I like to think that some executive saw him booming through A CHRISTMAS CAROL and, for some beautifully obscure reason, said "Holy shit, this guy, THIS is our Robert McCall."

(Thanks to fellow Woodwardian Stacia at She Blogged by Night for the second image above.

And Merry Christmas to you.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

the Cassavetes dream

In the dream I'm watching a Cassavetes film.

It is the opening night of a play (so I assume the film is OPENING NIGHT, which I've never seen). I'm watching the film from within, travelling like a camera through various rooms backstage.

I note a tuxedo'd Cassavetes as director, pacing with a strange focused aimlessness. He is the director, after all. Gena Rowlands is in this lovely purple costume. Everything's tension and hushed excitement.

I slip alone into a small ready room and start crying. I'm aware that this moment is lost, even as I walk within it.

The show, now an opera, begins, continues, and ends.

Everybody's buzzed after the show. I'm offering congratulations to passing cast members. Soon I am brought to John, lucid but reclining on a brown sofa. He's happy to see me. He asks me if I'd ever seen "Prucci" (the opera just performed). I tell him no - he recommends it. I ask him if he conceived a fully mountable production of "Prucci" for the film. "Not quite," he says, allowing that he wanted the production to look full and convincing for the film, but that he stopped short of basically mounting the whole thing.

A huge rainstorm outside. Getting home will be tough, since I walked to the venue. It clears a bit, and I'm offered a ride home by one of the performers. She's a striking, dark-haired woman in black leather jacket and the tightest, shiniest, thickest black vinyl trousers I've ever seen on someone (in either reality or in dreams). "Come on," she says, and splits.

John gives me this warm but knowing look, chuckles, and says, "Yeah, you gotta go." I do of course.

Outside the woman has turned into a more earthy, but still charming woman who speaks to me in a recognizably East Coast accent. She asks me if I live in the dorms. I tell her I do. She laughs, says she hasn't lived in the dorms since she was older than me. She's 29. I tell her I'm forty. Visibly impressed, she tells me that clearly my battery's still running. And then the alarm clock goes off and fucks it all up.


You may recall that your proprietor was recently displaced from his apartment by a fire that tore through the building a couple of months back. I'm pleased to report that I've secured a place to live (after rooming in the homes of three different, dear friends), and am moving into a room in a Victorian just 1.5 blocks from my former-and-ideally-future residence. I move in early next week, and am relieved to have a space for at least the immediate future that is mine.

Thanks to everyone who wrote or tweeted their support. I'm blessed to have such thoughtful well-wishers, and your friendship has been a beacon through a darker period than I ever hope to experience again.


Justine isn't happy. Surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues during her wedding dinner, Justine's profound sense of depression and alienation casts a thick pall over the proceedings. This is evident to no one so much as Justine's doting (if frustrated) sister Claire, and Claire's husband John (who financed Justine's wedding). An untold number of days later, Justine's mood seems to change as a mysterious planet pulls dangerously close to Earth's orbit.

While watching MELANCHOLIA I couldn't help but flash onto Hitchcock's THE BIRDS. Like that film, the supernaturally-driven disaster of the second half seems indirectly caused by the heroine's actions and moods during the more realistically domestic first half. (Further Hedrenism comes in a painful horseback riding scene that recalls MARNIE.) But outside this atypical rhyme of another filmmaker's work, MELANCHOLIA is a Lars von Trier film through and through. The shifts from gorgeously rendered effects shots to documentary-styled scenes of domestic disturbance are familiar from BREAKING THE WAVES and THE KINGDOM, and the completely ineffective intellectual, aggressive male (played effectively here by Kiefer Sutherland) is a staple of Trier's work all the way back to EPIDEMIC.

Trier's use of an overture (music from Tristan und Isolde accompanying scenes of the film's cast amid apocalyptic images) is particularly deft here. Setting up our expectations from the very start, allowing that yes, indeed, the world will end in this film, we become more alert to the story unfolding. We're attentive to the strong performances of both Kirsten Dunst (who powerfully nails both Justine's depression and her eerie tranquility) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (whose groundedness gives way to all-consuming desperation). We look for hints that Justine's moods are tied into the events transpiring around her. We become more deeply engrossed, hoping that the stylized opening was only a fantasy, that maybe we're not doomed after all. And we take comfort in the weird grace and strength that ultimately radiates from Justine, seeing the futility and pointlessness of the world's rituals through her eyes and feeling an odd calm as we separate from them.

For all the film's stylization, it's in many ways Trier's most human film. I can't think of a more true-feeling representation of depression (this is surely aided by both Trier and Dunst's experiences with it) in film, or the reactions to it. There's something oddly upbeat in the very realization of this film - I don't recall Trier ever realizing a project this quickly that resonated with such depth.