Category Archives: Movies

Revisiting the Recent: The Avengers (2012)

Sometimes things — ideas, experiences, nouns in general — require more than a knee jerk reaction.  In Revisiting the Recent, I look at pop culture from the not-so-distant past to see how my opinions have grown or changed.  In honor of this upcoming weekend’s big release, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, here are a few thoughts on a recent second viewing I had of its predecessor, 2012’s  The Avengers.

Rating: Four stars (out of five)

Properly cast, characterized, and scoped (?), Joss Whedon’s take on the super team remains the gold standard for ensemble superhero movies. Unlike the franchise-ification of other films in the genre — the worst offender being The Amazing Spider-Man‘s insistence on obfuscating Peter’s familial backstory to give a sense of mystery that hints at a possible resolution in theoretical later installments — The Avengers tells a self-contained story. Of course, it incorporates elements from the earlier Marvel films, but this plot opens and shuts itself without insisting on other chapters to finish its story for it.

Each character gets a proper introduction that shows off their personalities, each of which is genuinely distinct.  Nobody speaks in the same voice, a bigger feat for this type of movie than it would (or should) seem.  It’s a credit right off the bat, even if the pattern of “here’s this character, then here’s this character, now here’s this guy, and so on,” to open a movie designed for big thrills isn’t the most organic introduction.  The scope of the story gets properly huge even in comparison to the Shakespearean drama in Heaven that was Thor.  This group of heroes really does need to save the world, and Whedon makes that abundantly clear with the barnstorming climax.  Everyone learns to deal with each other’s weaknesses, be it Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) narcissism, Bruce Banner’s (Mark Ruffalo) being the epitome of a wild card, Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) haughtiness and entitlement, or Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) constant meddling and manipulation for the greater good.  It’s a huge movie grounded in character arcs, always a pleasing surprise.  And it does it well, just like it does everything else, like editing, score, CGI, and character designs.

And yet, it’s still not transcendent.  That’s a lot to ask of something created as pure entertainment, but for every box it checks on what we consider solid filmmaking, it lacks a spark to truly send it over the edge.  It’s a prime candidate for the Hall of Really Good, like Alan Trammell.  But it’s not something we will hold up as the best cinema has to offer.

And that’s all perfectly fine.  I’d gladly take 30 movies a year done with as much care for craft and character as this one does.  I would beg for it, in fact.

But let’s explore for a bit what makes The Avengers very good, not great.  What is it missing?  It’s odd to say this for a movie that has so much of what I call “bang zoom,” but it’s not a film with a particularly interesting visual style.  For all the CGI pizzazz (again, it’s great and doesn’t look like it will be Escape from L.A.-level laughable in five years’ time), Whedon shoots everything matter-of-factly.  He does not have a style to call his own.  J.J. Abrams’s lens flares have been derided for years, but they’re a signature.  Steven Spielberg has perfected the Vertigo push-in/zoom-out to instill fear, confusion, and awe in his characters’ faces.  Whedon has his characterization and witty dialogue, plus a seeming strength in working with actors (though these are actors returning to characters they had created elsewhere, except for Ruffalo’s recast Bruce Banner, so Whedon may not have had to do much to get them ready to play these scenes), but it’s hard to remember specific shots or angles he uses.  He does not have a stylistic flair for telling visual stories the same way some of his peers do.  It’s all paint-by-numbers in what has become the Marvel house style.  Again, this is all fine, but it lacks in pure cinema, the way of using the camera and moving pictures to create something impossible in other mediums.  Whedon’s work animates some of the best elements of the comic books that spawned these characters, but he does not make them as truly cinematic as have other adaptations from different mediums. It keeps The Avengers from burrowing its way into a viewer’s mind.

Something tells me nobody, including me, will mind returning to it for the characters, adventure, and wit, though.

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Streaming Choices: Fritz Lang Interviewed by William Friedkin (1974)

In Streaming Choices, I take a quick glance at the world of cinema available on Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services.

Rating: Four stars (out of five)

William Friedkin’s The Exorcist would have looked like an entirely different film without Fritz Lang’s influence.  The shadows in the bedroom, the ominous staircase, the classic poster image with the bright light cascading down on the silhouetted priest, and plenty other visual flourishes owe much (everything?) to Lang classics like MetropolisM, and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.  Interviewing Lang a year after his own hit horror classic hit theaters, Friedkin tries to pick his hero’s brain about the meanings, influences, and craft of his greatest works.

But Lang has different ideas.  The shop talk moments — intriguing in their own right, although often undercut by Friedkin’s jittery zooms, jostling camera, and cuts implemented like a bored child — give way to something more powerful and vital.

After an extended discussion of how “you cannot live in a country which has lost a war without being influenced,” Lang tells the story of how he left Nazi Germany in 1933.

While preparing for The Testament of Dr. Mabuse’s release, Lang was informed by “the yellow shirts” they would confiscate his film because of his blatant critiques of Nazism in it.  In the film, the titular Dr. Mabuse spews messages of how his crime syndicate will reign for 1000 years, recreating, almost word-for-word, Hitler’s own predictions for his Third Reich.  Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels “invited” (ordered) Lang for a meeting, at which Lang figured he would have to explain himself for the allegory.

The way Lang tells the story is astounding in its immediacy.  You can see that he feels he’s experiencing it again, his expression one of relived fear and disgust.  He describes in absolute detail the dress code he was required to wear to the meeting, the way the concrete looked in the Propaganda Ministry, and the way sound echoed off the walls.  He’s there, reporting to us what he sees.  Friedkin’s irritating camera and editing finally get out of the story’s way as he holds in a tight over-the-shoulder as Lang deadpans, “It was disagreeable.”

The tale features rising and falling action and story beats that feel like his movies and less like an extemporaneous retelling of a moment in a man’s life.  The suspense he sews in us while Goebbels sits with him to discuss his summons is up there with the opening of M.

And just like every good storyteller, Lang hits us with a surprise that simultaneously releases tension by answering in the negative the initial question (would he be jailed, or worse, for criticizing the regime?) with one that creates a grander, terrifying one: Goebbels offers Lang the job to be the German filmmaker of the Third Reich.  He tells of the sweat that soaked his body and the daydreams of withdrawing his savings and leaving immediately.  Lang informs Goebbels that he has Jewish blood, something which Goebbels brushes away with a flippant response that shows the pick-and-choose ideological bankruptcy of Nazism: “Mr. Lang, we decide who is an Aryan.”

Lang is remarkable for not even considering the deal with the devil such a high perch would give him.  He just wanted out.  He doesn’t pat himself on the back for his morals; they are simply there.  He left the next day on a train out of the country on his way to becoming one of the finest film noir directors of the ensuing decades.

You can watch Fritz Lang Interviewed by William Friedkin on YouTube.  Embedded below is the video for the first part.

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Revisiting the Recent: Black Swan (2010)

Sometimes things — ideas, experiences, nouns in general — require more than a knee jerk reaction.  In Revisiting the Recent, I look at pop culture from the not-so-distant past to see how my opinions have grown or changed.

Rating: Five stars (out of five)

This movie adheres to the idea that the most damaged people make the greatest art, usually through force of will alone. Nina (Natalie Portman) alternately rejects and embraces her worst impulses again and again, figuratively (literally?) killing herself for perfection she cannot achieve.  It’s a theme that grow more with the passage of time, and Black Swan reveals itself a perfect vessel to deliver it.  The more life we experience, the more failure we experience.  We want to give up — our jobs, our relationships, our art — but the briefest of hopeful moments reminds us to keep going, then we hit worse snags than before.  It’s both a hopeful message (“If we just try hard enough, we’ll get there eventually.”) and a horrifying prospect (“What if we never get there?”).  If we don’t keep our heads on straight and succumb to our demons, like Nina does here, that hope recedes entirely.

The process of Nina cracking up is done in the tautest way, not wasting a moment. It runs 108 minutes, but it feels far shorter.  The script, from Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John J. McLaughlin, trims all unnecessary fat; there are no wrenching speeches.  We know Nina’s mother, played by Barbara Hershey, gave up her own ballet career, but this information is dropped organically, through tense comments between mother and daughter.  When Nina snaps, “You were 28,” it’s a devastating takedown, more than just implying — but without being completely overt at the same time — her meddling mother was never going to reach the heights Nina finds herself immersed in, perhaps not entirely because of her own talent.  Editor Andrew Weisblum shapes these moments just right, never stepping on the script or performances, and yet he scoots the narrative along at a snappier pace than typical awards season fair, which this film was plopped in the heart of.

Director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, this weekend’s Noah) implements CGI minimally, which lands harder than a blockbuster’s computerized saturation could.  The reason this works is because the handheld immediacy of the camerawork gives us the false sense that this world is real.  The camera swoops around these intense dance sequences, the ballerinas soaked in sweat, their breath heaving, their joints straining from constant punishment, then the reality drops out in almost cruel fashion to shatter our hold on the film’s reality.  Nina bursts magnificent black feathers, her eyes turn crimson, her legs reverse grotesquely at the knees, and she floats around the stage as sexual menace.  And just as quickly, she reverts to the familiar figure of Natalie Portman.  Aronofsky knows to keep the audience unsure of Nina’s mental health and therefore her reliability as a narrator.

Even more impressive is the almost total lack of jump scares Aronofsky uses to frighten the audience. It’s a terrifying picture, but this results from building suspense in which we know Nina’s losing it.  Seeing her react to her oncoming insanity is scarier than any monster popping up behind her.  Portman creates this stressed wreck of a girl, kept from adulthood by her overbearing mother, her initial lowly place in the dance company, and what is likely an inherent emotional instability.  But she gets invited into this world of attention, backhanded affirmation, and the scary specter of sex, and she can’t keep all the plates spinning.  Growing up is a frightening thing and we don’t all handle it well.  Nina’s on the extreme side of this, and she offers us a glimpse of the worst we can get when we don’t deal with our hangups.

These elements create an environment to deepen the film’s appeal, four years later.  The shallower fears one experiences during first viewing– the visual grotesqueries of Nina’s shattered psyche, her mother’s jarring appearance during Nina’s “homework assignment” — are stretched during rewatches into a mounting dread of inevitability.  Nina’s “What if I never get there?” insecurity would be heartbreaking if it weren’t plumbing the depths of horror.  To her, and Aronofsky, failing at one’s chosen art form is the worst, most evil thing that could happen, and Black Swan brings this notion home in the most visceral sense.

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Streaming Choices: Four Rooms (1995)

In Streaming Choices, I take a quick glance at the world of cinema available on Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services.

Rating: two and a half stars (out of five)

Courtesy of

Anthologies rarely fire on all cylinders. Four Rooms is no exception to this, though it features plenty of likable elements, particularly Quentin Tarantino’s riff on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (and namedropping of an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode with Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre), which features a roving camera with very few cuts and an absurdist drunken bet.

Tim Roth’s Ted the Bellboy provides the connective tissue as the only character to appear in all four segments, written and directed, respectively, by Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez, and Tarantino. Maybe it’s unfair to say this and I’ve been biased by a critic-created narrative, but it’s not surprising that the sketches get better as they go from relatively unknown filmmakers (Anders has done a number of television episodes for series like The L Word and Sex and the City and Rockwell a handful of small budget indies) to the hyper successful Rodriguez and the Hall of Famer Tarantino. They utilize Roth to different degrees, but his “speaking Mr. Bean on cocaine” performance is unlike anything I’ve seen him do. It grates at times, but in the latter two stories, he becomes the perfect vehicle for farce and a surprisingly effective straight man (albeit with a greedy streak) for the crazies in the penthouse.

It’s not all rosy, of course.  The animated spells and practical effects of Anders’s segment look atrocious, like imports from an educational children’s show.  They’re not supposed to be taken seriously, but they come across as the product of a filmmaker struggling to care about the material; Anders very well could have been roped into doing it, and it shows.  The witches in the coven, including Madonna, vacillate between trying to exude campy fun and stifling yawns.  In Rockwell’s section, he toys with noir genre staples like the femme fatale driving her man mad, and Roth gets stuck in between them during a psychosexual spat involving a big handgun, some rope, and a mouth gag.  It’s a confused, unsuccessful attempt to walk the tightrope between the noir of the setup and a spoof embodied by Roth’s everyman stand-in.

Rodriguez and Tarantino do what they can with their stories, and each is fun, but they’re both genre exercises without much to say about the world beyond, “We’ve seen farces (Rodriguez) and thrillers (Tarantino).”  Luckily the filmmaking collective here knows not to overstay their welcome, and each section is tightly edited.  The movie scoots along at just over an hour and a half, but doesn’t leave much to think about after it’s over.

Four Rooms is currently available on Netflix Instant.

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Schoolwork Repurposed: More German Film Essays

Here is part two of my Contemporary German Cinema midterm essay, in which I discuss Four Minutes (2006), Fitzcarraldo (1982), and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974).

The German people, and by extension their filmmakers, seem to long for individuality.  Likely, this is a direct result of the oppressive, “do what Hitler says or be killed,” nature of Nazi Germany in the World War II era that stamped out all forms of individual thought, critical thinking, and civil liberties for the common citizens.  Since the fall of the Third Reich, it would likely not be remiss to suggest Germany has searched for a new, looser national identity, one that of course favors collective advancement as any country should, but also a culture that celebrates individual achievement.

In each of the films we have seen so far in this class, each has featured at least one scene in which a character asserts their individuality, be it quiet and righteous indignation, bratty insubordination, idealistic disobedience, or other such ways of going against the flow of societal norms.

In Four Minutes, Jenny and Frau Krueger each yearn for their individuality in intense ways, but they go about attaining that individuality in opposite ways.  Jenny is fierce.  She is a loud, in-your-face, punk rock character with a (reasonable) hatred for the system that has imprisoned her, both physically and creatively.

Therefore, Frau Krueger is at first a representation of that system to Jenny.  Her rigid adherence to the structure of classical music (and her hatred of Jenny’s “negro music”) gives her a dictatorial quality over Jenny, one she likely picked up from her years of working during the Third Reich.

As the two characters grow and bond together, they see the pros and cons of each other’s points of view.  Jenny still has her outburst at the film’s climax, but she does it in a way that is, in a sense, pleasing to Frau Krueger.  Jenny’s choice of a classical song for the recital goes along with Frau’s rules and regulations, but she cannot stamp out everything that Jenny stands for.  The song starts conventionally, but soon Jenny takes it for an avant-garde ride.  She plucks the piano strings from inside the instrument’s body, she stomps her feet for percussion, and she throws everything she has into something that had been, to Frau Krueger, only in the realm of inflexibility.

In Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Ali is a reserved man.  Whether that is his natural state or a result of the racial prejudice he experiences daily is unexplained.  He seemingly is a go-with-the-flow type, willing to accept whatever Emmi wants him to do.  This is likely tied to guilt he feels toward her.  She took him in, loved him—even if he did not fully return that love, at least romantically—and made him feel at home in a foreign land that often treated him as unwelcome.  He probably feels like he owes her.

However, he is still a man twenty years her junior, one who does not necessarily feel much or any attraction to her.  Of course, the argument could be made that he committed to Emmi, so he should adhere to that commitment.  That argument does not account for his personal happiness, though, nor does it understand simple human nature.  We all make mistakes, and if he were to gallantly stay by his elderly wife’s side, he would uphold the then-current pie-in-the-sky liberal thinking that assumes an almost saint-like quality to the people who are different from the white, Western norm; the “noble savage” trope, among others. [Author’s note: Don’t confuse this with modern liberalism, which takes a more evenhanded approach to dealing with people from other cultures; i.e. they’re human and make mistakes just like anyone else.] In subverting that expectation, director Rainer Werner Fassbinder gives richness to Ali one would not expect.

How exactly does Fassbinder subvert the expectation?  He has Ali visit his bartender mistress several times after his marriage to Emmi.  He needs the (physical) love of a woman he finds attractive, one with whom he can connect on even as flimsy a level as age.  Is it right?  Probably not, but in the moment Ali feels the physical need, and perhaps he does not handle the situation well, but he needs to be with a woman who does not treat him like a wonderful pet.

Possibly the most individualistic character in any of the movies we have watched thus far is Fitzcarraldo from the Werner Herzog film that shares his name.  He is not an individual because he wants to separate himself from bondage like Jenny, nor does he want to connect with another human being for sex like Ali.  No, Fitz wants to share his eccentric dreams with the world in general, and specifically the South American jungle peoples he meets on his trek.

Fitz stands out in several ways.  His shock of blond hair stands untamed atop his head, looking much like Ludwig von Beethoven.  This is maybe an affectation, given his gargantuan love of opera; maybe he wants to pay tribute to one of the finest composers to ever live.  But nothing about Fitzcarraldo stands out quite like his action that forms the central plot of the film.

If Fitz were to think for more than a few seconds about his plan to drag his rickety ship over the thickly forested hills, he would probably still not be deterred to build his opera house, but he would maybe admit his own insanity.  It is a downright goofy plan, and one that seems doomed to failure, which makes it all the more watchable.  Even though it does not fully work, his idea to bring his passion to people wholly unlike those he had met previously in his life is quite a righteous plan, and certainly an individualistic one.  Yes, he engages in some imperialistic behavior to accomplish his goal, but it is all part of a plan to share something almost universally thought to be good: Music.  That is a splendid reason for going your own way.

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Dark Horse to Release Lucas’s Original ‘Star Wars’ Script as Comic Series

George Lucas’s first, highly different Star Wars script will soon be repurposed by Dark Horse Comics for an eight-issue miniseries.

Written in 1974, the original draft of what ultimately became the epic franchise’s first screenplay is quite a different adventure than the one from the galaxy far, far away that was immortalized on screen. Luke Skywalker is an older Jedi general, while charismatic smuggler Han Solo is a lizard-type alien. The story’s main protagonist is named Annikin Starkiller.

There aren’t even light-sabers. Instead, there are ‘laser-swords.’

Inside looks at the creative process — how things grow and evolve from draft to draft, etc. — are always fascinating, but eight issues of reading the term “laser-swords” time and again might show why things do change.

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Chinese Iron Man 3 To Be Different from U.S. Version

With Marvel deciding to release a different version of Iron Man 3 in China, what are we to wonder?

Of course, it probably has something to do with the fact that the evil terrorist trying to take over the world is named The Mandarin.  Or maybe Disney wants to replicate Marvel’s decades old variant cover plot to sell “collectible” versions of the same story multiple times.

My guess, though?  In the Chinese version, Tony Stark will have recurring dreams about unicorns and his true nature will be more explicit.  Bing bang boom, cult classic.  Call it a scoop.

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McConaughey, Through the Wormhole

Per Deadline, Matthew McConaughey, whose surging career has led him to such recent critically acclaimed films as Magic MikeThe Lincoln Lawyer, and Killer Joe (although he mostly played second fiddle to Clarence Carter in that) is in negotiations to lead Christopher Nolan’s upcoming science fiction movie, Interstellar.

If he were to accept the role, that might be one of the only pieces of information we get about the film until a trailer hits, given Nolan’s borderline compulsive propensity for secrecy.

But the premise of the suddenly-not-half-assing-his-way-through-romantic-comedies McConaughey toplining a wormhole adventure story is an exciting one.  With Nolan’s pedigree and the space trappings, the 2001: A Space Odyssey comparisons will likely abound, but hopefully the Inception director will subvert our expectations and reveal his real plans: Melba Toast in Space.

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Schoolwork Repurposed: German Film Essays

The lags in productivity on this blog are almost always caused by school work.  This semester, though, I am enrolled in my final two film studies classes to complete my minor (and graduate in May, thankfully).  So when I have to write things for these classes, Contemporary German Cinema and Latin American History at the Movies, I’ll simply post them here for your perusal/approval.  This is my midterm take-home essay exam for German Cinema.  The prompt was as follows:

Owen Evans points to the popularity, among international audiences, of German films that “represent the totalitarian past” and argues that such films might “comprise a specific genre that proves very attractive to cinema goers: the German totalitarian thriller, we could perhaps calls it” (New Directions 58-59). Using Downfall and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days as sources of evidence and examples, create your own description of “the German totalitarian thriller.”  What are its characteristics?  Is that label too reductive, or does it get at important psychological components of these films?  Feel free to draw upon the class texts as well as the movies.

Is there such a thing as a “German totalitarian thriller,” as suggested by Owen Evans in New Directions in German Cinema?  The answer to that is not definite.  Rather, the most confident reply one could have to that question is, “Partially.”  Films like Downfall and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days feature elements inherent in thrillers of all stripes—seemingly constant peril awaiting the characters at every turn, central characters who represent a semblance of “the common (wo)man,” a strong focus on the psychological impacts of the characters’ predicaments, among others—but these two movies lack the fictional plot thrust, the action-adventure qualities common in more traditional thrillers in the Alfred Hitchcock mold.  These examples are character studies not quite masquerading as thrillers, given the features listed above, but still they fail to reach thriller status all the same.

To enter that Hitchcock mold, one must first understand the fundamentally artificial idea that is suspense.  This is not to say being artificial or contrived is necessarily bad, but simply put, it must be created.  To paraphrase Hitchcock himself, suspense is the audience knowing a bomb is hidden, ticking away underneath a table while the characters onscreen remain oblivious.  The suspense lies in the waiting, the moments of not knowing how the characters in whom the audience has conceivably placed their empathy will get out of the situation.

Both Downfall and Sophie Scholl run into a severe problem here: History.  Even (especially?) foreign audiences know that Hitler spent his last days hiding in a bunker before ultimately committing suicide.  Perhaps a little more obscure, but still widely available knowledge is the fact that Sophie Scholl and other members of the White Rose resistance movement were captured and put to death as traitors to the German state.  Without the element of surprise—“What will happen to them?”—provided by fictional plots, suspense in the traditional sense is nearly impossible to achieve in these films.

What make these movies “thrilling” are their introspective looks at the ways these characters deal with the situations in which they find themselves.

Downfall does not have much plot, per se, as most of the typical rise-and-fall story structure happens before the start of the film.  From the film’s beginning, the audience—and most Nazi members—knows Hitler is finished; the Allies are practically knocking on the bunker door.  What follows is a character study in self delusion.  Seeing Hitler not only appear almost fatherly to Traudl, his secretary, but have moments of weakness is engrossing.  It’s an intimate look at someone who has reached mythical status in the eyes of so many.  In its own way, its sense of discovery, of tearing away the artificial, terrorizing cloud that surrounds the man is thrilling.  But it is not suspenseful.  It has no way to be.  There is no way for Hitler to get out of the situation—furthermore, nobody would want him to avoid his fate—and the first moments of the film show an elderly version of the empathetic Traudl reflecting on her time serving the Fuhrer, so the audience knows she survived the downfall of the film’s title.  Because of the historical restraints, there can be no gripping, “What will happen next?” moments like the attempted-assassination-by-airplane in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest or the classic sewer showdown in Andrew Davis’s The Fugitive.  The only scenes to approximate a similar “pulse pounding” nature in Downfall all exist in the quieter moments, when Hitler allows himself time to think critically, to contemplate his inevitable defeat.  The wait for him to snap back into howling denial is frightening, to be sure, but it exists as an internal character trait, not a plot-driven moment; for the context of the film, this is better than an external event, but it still avoids what makes a thriller, well, a thriller.

Sophie Scholl succeeds to a larger degree than Downfall in fulfilling the requirements of a thriller, but those are quickly spent in the film’s inciting incident: The anti-Nazi flyer distribution at a college that leads to the arrest of Sophie and her brother.  Once the siblings have placed what would be a sufficient amount of flyers at strategic spots in the university’s main hall, they are left with a couple stacks of leftovers.  The decision to go back and push the remaining papers from a balcony is the film’s only true “thriller” moment, an instance of cinematic contrivance: A plot device included to heighten the drama.  From there, the film falls into a similar character study style as Downfall, in which director Marc Rothemund shows Sophie’s youthful courage—some might say stupidity—in standing up for her beliefs against the totalitarian regime in which Evans situates his argument.  It peels away layers of the Nazi ideology through Sophie’s arguments with her captors, and that is more important than artificially stimulating the audience with thriller trappings anyway.  But again, it lacks what is classically understood as filmic suspense.

For there to be a true “German totalitarian thriller,” filmmakers would need to worry less about historical figures, biopics, and the like, and focus on the themes and lessons present during the reign of the Third Reich.  These rhetorical screenwriters and directors should conjure their own characters, fill them with their own personal obsessions—much like in any imaginary story—and plug those people into the Nazi era, free to do whatever they want with those characters.  That way, the storytellers can concentrate on crafting a yarn, inviting the audience to participate in the more “fun” aspects of filmmaking by scaring them, making them laugh, and awing them with the exploits of someone they do not know.  This would provide the taste and texture of the more staid productions mentioned in this essay, but without the restrictions of adhering to the truth of history.  Historically accurate films like Downfall and Sophie Scholl cannot accomplish that because they are not free to play with true-life figures the way a filmmaker would with a created character.

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Kubrick and Jazz-loving Nazis? It Almost Happened.

This James Hughes article in The Atlantic looks into one of Stanley Kubrick’s lesser-known projects — it’s nuts to think he has multiple well-known yet unrealized projects — about certain German military members obsessed with jazz.

However, it’s Kubrick’s interest in jazz-loving Nazis that represents his most fascinating unrealized war film. The book that Kubrick was handed, and one he considered adapting soon after wrapping Full Metal Jacket, was Swing Under the Nazis, published in 1985 and written by Mike Zwerin, a trombonist from Queens who had performed with Miles Davis and Eric Dolphy before turning to journalism. The officer in that Strangelovian snapshot was Dietrich Schulz-Koehn, a fanatic for “hot swing” and other variations of jazz outlawed as “jungle music” by his superiors. Schulz-Koehn published an illegal underground newsletter, euphemistically referred to as “travel letters,” which flaunted his unique ability to jaunt across Western Europe and report back on the jazz scenes in cities conquered by the Fatherland. Kubrick’s title for the project was derived from the pen name Schulz-Koehn published under: Dr. Jazz.

It’s fascinating to think of a Kubrick movie with a relatively positive message — “Stanley was also drawn to what this said about music and its ability to unify people and transcend even rigid political differences.” — rather than the critical, detached view of humanity present in films like The KillingThe Shining, and Paths of Glory.

Of course, such a movie would not likely be lighthearted, given Kubrick’s pedigree and the Nazi trappings, but this gives a juicy “what if?” alternate history thought to the day.


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