February 2021 In Films
February came and went so fast I feel like I have whiplash and I fear the bulk of 2021 will follow suit. Thankfully, there’ll always be movies to distract from the abyss that is time. Along with watching far too many films in February, I also started a column at Moviefone called Female Filmmaker In Focus which you can read here and I wrote about the movie parallels in the videos for The Weeknd’s After Hours which you can read here. As always, you can see everything I watched plus a breakdown by decade after the cut.
- Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris
- Integration Report I
- A Tribute To Malcolm X
- I Am Somebody
- Deux (Two of Us)
- Malcolm & Marie
- Wild Mountain Thyme
- Girl Night Stand: Chapter 2
- The Little Things
- Dear Venus, Where Does Your Heart Lie?
- Blue Diary
- The Joy of Life
- 575 Castro St.
- The Royal Road
- In nomine Patris
- Ziegfeld Girl
- Judas and the Black Messiah
- A Powerful Thang
- Crocodile Conspiracy
- Jazz on a Summer’s Day
- Back Street
- Man Wanted
- Ginza keshô (Ginza Cosmetics)
- Subete ga kurutteru (Everything Goes Wrong)
- To All the Boys: Always and Forever
- Golden Eighties
- Western (2014)
- Mother of the River
- 7p., cuis., s. de b., … (à saisir)
- Fresh Horses
- The Toll of the Sea
- John Was Trying to Contact Aliens
- Test Pattern
- News of the World
- Ajube Kete
- Tea 4 Two
- Intermittent Delight
- Black Prom
- The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
- Koi no katamichi kippu (One-Way Ticket To Love)
- Kate Plays Christine
- Belle of the Nineties
- Goin’ to Town
- Go West Young Man
- Klondike Annie
- Every Day’s a Holiday
- My Little Chickadee
- The Grass Is Greener
- Father Goose
- Bisbee ’17
- Tabu: A Story of the South Seas
- Tabu (2012)
- The Loveless
- Standing Above the Clouds
This month may have gone by in a flash, but it also was filled with nothing but bangers. As you’ll notice I did not just highlight five films, not even ten. Oh no, I am going to highlight a whopping twelve films I watched in February because they all ruled. Most of these I watched on Criterion Channel, however several (though not all) expired at the end of February. Sorry. I’m sure you can hunt these all down if you do some sleuthing.
Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris, 1970 (dir. Terence Dixon)
Much is made of Baldwin’s contentious conversations with director Terence Dixon, but the real shining star of this doc is Baldwin’s fierce intellect. Dixon asks his queries in a manner that watching fifty years later is incredibly cringeworthy. Baldwin, though, always makes his points succinctly and with grace. Despite the tense moments, this doc is also filled with scenes of joy from Baldwin. Hard to ask for anything more than to see Baldwin amongst friends, with a shared mission, passions, and joy.
Danzón, 1991 (dir. María Novaro)
This movie is so lovely. It follows a Mexican telephone operator named Julia whose one passion in life is danzón, a form of dancing from Cuba. When her dance partner disappears, she hears he may have gone to a small coastal town. She leaves her teenage daughter and heads there to find him. What she finds instead is unexpected friendships with drag performers and a passionate love affair with a much younger man. There are several scenes of female lust and desire that were so wonderfully realized and performed in such a way as I feel I’ve rarely seen represented accurately on screen. A true hidden gem.
The Joy of Life, 2005 (dir. Jenni Olson)
Jenni Olson’s films are all love letters to San Francisco and as such I had waited quite a bit to watch them on Criterion Channel (they are still there for those interested!) because I knew they would make me ache to be back in the Bay. They did not disappoint. Of all of her films, this one hit the hardest. Not only does it showcase some absolutely breathtaking images of San Francisco (has any film ever captured the fog so well? I think not), but it also interrogates the dark legacy of the city’s most iconic landmark: the Golden Gate Bridge. Long a beacon for those wanting to die by suicide, Olson looks at the years of advocacy work to make it more difficult for people to jump and the struggles to make progress. The film is bookended by music from Weldon Kees, a jazz musician who likely died by suicide on the bridge, spends a good deal of time investigating the death by suicide of Olson’s friend and Frameline Film Festival founder Mark Finch, and includes snippets of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s reading of his ode to San Francisco “The Changing Light.” A few days ago Ferlinghetti passed a way, about a month shy of his 102nd birthday. When discussing the great San Francisco films, this must always make the list.
Compensation, 1999 (dir. Zeinabu irene Davis)
I watched my way through all of the films by Zeinabu irene Davis on Criterion Channel last month (they’re all still available; you should watch them too!!) and was completely impressed by what a singular talent Davis is. She has a vision and a style that is uniquely her own. A true independent filmmaker. This film was almost a decade in the making and takes places in Chicago, utilizing beautiful locations throughout the Windy City. A split narrative, the film follows two mixed hearing and deaf couples – one in contemporary Chicago and one at the turn of the century. Both couples have ups and downs as they try to become one and Davis skillfully shows parallels between the AIDS crisis and the rampant tuberculosis outbreaks of the era. She also cleverly uses the language of silent film to bridge the gap between the hearing and the deaf, using inter-titles in both narratives. Truly I’ve never seen anything quite like this film.
Jazz On A Summer’s Day, 1959 (dir. Bert Stern, Aram Avakian)
This is exactly what it sounds like. There’s jazz. There’s summer. It’s perfect. Shot at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island, not only do you get a peek at historic jazz peformances, the directors capture the vibe of Newport, Rhode Island so beautifully. It’s filled with shots of the ocean, people picnicking on rocks and that flowing alcohol joy that hits only in a summer afternoon drunk kind of way. There are shots of festival goers – some dressed to the nines with pearls and red lipstick, others wearing sunglasses gobbling ice cream before it melts. At one point during Louis Armstrong’s set the camera cuts to a young boy who is clearly transcending to a higher plane of existence. The acts featured include Thelonious Monk, Anita O’Day, Dinah Washington, Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, and more. A perfect rock doc.
Back Street, 1932 (dir. John M. Stahl)
The first of apparently three adaptations of the novel by Fannie Hurst, we follow a headstrong Irene Dunne who compensates for the boredom of small town life by flirting with traveling salesmen. One day when seeing one off to the train station she meets a man played by John Boles and love strikes its ugly head. Due to some unfortunate misunderstandings she is unable to meet him one fateful day and out of spite he marries someone else. Years later they meet by accident in New York City and she gives up her independence to be his kept woman. Now, with a plot like that modern audiences might shy away. They might yell at the screen. I may have done that myself. But somehow Stahl – and especially Dunne – make you believe their love, and make you want her to get all that she dreams of. By the end of the film we feel the loss of her years, but we also feel the compulsion driven by her deep love to sacrifice it all for this stupid man. Dunne is a goddess.
Golden Eighties, 1986 (dir. Chantal Akerman)
I am usually not the biggest fan of musicals, but every once in awhile one will sneak up and trick me. That is the case here, where Akerman’s buoyant use of color and sly commentary on the vapidness of 80s consumerism caught me up in its charm. Set almost entirely in a mall, the film follows a love triangle (quadrangle??) between the owner of clothing store, the manager of a hair salon (who is also the mistress of the owner, who himself is probably a gangster), and one of the hair salons stylists. There’s also another plot following an American who has returned to France and unexpectedly meets the Jewish woman from Poland who had been his lover during WWII. This would make a lovely double feature with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
7p., cuis., s. de b., … (à saisir), 1984 (dir. Agnès Varda)
Just when I thought I’d seen the weirdest Varda had to offer I got to this absolute fever dream of a film. Is it set in the present? In the past? Both at the same time? I don’t know! Are their ghosts? Maybe! A salute to the many lives of dwellings and how the history between walls is always there, regardless of who currently occupies the space. Varda should be considered many things, but for one she should always be discussed when the topic is masters of weird cinema.
Indiscreet, 1958 (dir. Stanley Donen)
Somehow I’d never seen this late-era Cary Grant film. In it he reunites with his Notorious co-star and formidable screen legend Ingrid Bergman in a film that is distinctly for adults. Bergman is Anna, star of the stage, who has yet to find the man for her. That is until she meets financier turned diplomat Philip (Grant). It’s love at first sight for both parties. However Philip is a dedicated bachelor who avoids marriage by telling women he’s already married. Anna is okay with being his mistress. Until she discovers he’s not actually married. Then all hell breaks loose and Bergman gives the funniest performance of her career. From today’s lens a lot of the social mores here are outdated, but for 1958 this was some racy stuff. Also, as in Notorious, Bergman and Grant have sizzling hot chemistry. You love to see it.
The Trip To Bountiful, 1985 (dir. Peter Masterson)
After a whopping eight nominations, Geraldine Page finally won an Academy Award for her performance in this film and damn was it deserved. Based on a play by Horton Foote (who also wrote the screenplay), Page plays an older woman named Mrs. Watts who desperately wants to return to her hometown of Bountiful, having not been home in over twenty years. She lives with her son Ludie (John Heard) and his wife Jessie Mae (Carlin Glynn), with whom she does not get along. One day when Jessie Mae is out meeting with a friend, Mrs. Watts sneaks away to the bus depot and boards a bus bound for the closet town she can find to her beloved Bountiful. Unbeknownst to her, in the twenty years she’s been gone – during the Great Depression and WWII, the town has all but disappeared. Having recently visited my hometown for the first time in about five years and seeing it how it is now (it’s considered half a ghost town) while still having memories of what it was when I was a youth fresh in my head I felt Mrs. Watts deeply. I felt the desire for the places and people she knew as a kid and felt the harsh disappointment in discovering those days are long gone. There’s a scene towards the very end where she youthfully sits in a field and plays with a piece of grass and when I tell you I cried. I cried.
Koi no katamichi kippu (One-Way Ticket To Love), 1960 (dir. Masahiro Shinoda)
This jazz-soaked melodrama was Shinoda’s debut feature film and it’s already filled to the hilt with style. It follows a down-on-his-luck saxophonist who all in one night meets a manager and the girl of his dreams. After playing a gig at an illicit strip joint that gets raided by the cops our saxophonist meets a girl on a bridge who appears to be suicidal. He takes her home out of the rain and the next day helps her secure a job – at a strip club! While at the office of his new manager the couple meet a rock star (played by Masaaki Hirao aka the Japanese Elvis) and a love triangle ensues. This movie is equally as sweet as it is nasty and truly embodies everything that is so great about the Japanese New Wave.
The Loveless, 1981 (dir. Kathryn Bigelow, Monty Montgomery)
Now this movie is a VIBE. It was nothing like I expected it to be and so much greater than I could have hoped for. Willem Dafoe plays a greaser on his way to Dayton when he stops at a cafe in the middle of nowhere Georgia for some grub. After some not so mild flirting with an almost catatonic waitress, the rest of his biker gang arrive. One of their bikes is in disarray and the gang take over a garage while they fix it. Enter a girl in a hot red convertible. This is the stuff of dreams. Except it’s not. Like the best of David Lynch (co-director Monty Montgomery would go on to a fruitful creative partnership with Lynch), we see that it’s not the bikers who are the degenerates. Under the wholesome surface of the town lies dark secrets and sad truths. Dafoe’s greaser may have the right idea by not putting down any roots when the soil is this poisonous.
Quite a month for just 28 days! As we head into March we head into ONE YEAR OF QUARANTINE and let me tell you I may seem like I’m coping because I’ve finally figured out how to sling some sentences together again, but my dears: no. Forever grateful to have cinema as a distraction, but my god this quarantine needs to end. If my movie watching has taught me anything it’s that movies just scratch the surface of what it means to be alive. They reflect experiences and in watching them they are a kind of experience, but they are not life and I deeply miss life.
Posted on March 1, 2021, in 2021 in Films and tagged 7p. cuis. s. de b. ... (à saisir), Agnès Varda, Aram Avakian, Back Street, Bert Stern, Chantal Akerman, Compensation, Danzón, Golden Eighties, Indiscreet, Jazz On A Summer's Day, Jenni Olson, John M. Stahl, Kathryn Bigelow, Koi no katamichi kippu, María Novaro, Masahiro Shinoda, Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris, Monty Montgomery, One-Way Ticket To Love, Peter Masterson, Stanley Donen, Terence Dixon, The Joy of Life, The Loveless, The Trip To Bountiful, Zeinabu irene Davis. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.