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Instant Watch Film Society's Bogus Journey - Week 11: The Red and the White

2

Posts

  • ThomamelasThomamelas “Three films a day, three books a week and records of great music would be enough to make me happy to the day I die.” Registered User regular
    For those acquainted, is The Two Jakes worth a look? Chinatown is one of my all-time favorites, but I have no desire to tarnish my impression with a faulty sequel.

    It's not up to Chinatown. It's not an awful movie, it's a serviceable entertaining film. And likely I would have thought better of it if it wasn't the sequel to Chinatown.

    Vincent Canby's review:
    http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9c0ce2df1139f933a2575bc0a966958260

  • wanderingwandering Registered User regular
    Vincent Canby wasn't crazy about Chinatown either.

    http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=EE05E7DF1739E460BC4951DFB066838F669EDE
    Robert Towne, who adapted The Last Detail and wrote the original screenplay for Chinatown, is good but I'm not sure he's good enough to compete with the big boys. When Robert Altman set out to make Chandler's The Long Good-bye, he had the good sense to turn it into a contemporary film that was as much a comment on the form as an evocation of it.

    Mr. Polanski and Mr. Towne have attempted nothing so witty and entertaining, being content instead to make a competently stylish, more or less thirties-ish movie that continually made me wish I were back seeing The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep. Others may not be as finicky.

    jBEKRTH.png
  • ThomamelasThomamelas “Three films a day, three books a week and records of great music would be enough to make me happy to the day I die.” Registered User regular
    I offered it as a benchmark review. I assumed Atomic Ross has read some of Canby's reviews before and can use it as a basis for judgement.

  • AtomikaAtomika Social Justice Mage + 12 charm/-5 lockpickingRegistered User regular
  • ThomamelasThomamelas “Three films a day, three books a week and records of great music would be enough to make me happy to the day I die.” Registered User regular
    Vincent Canby is apparently an idiot.

    Eh, if you find a critic who is right 100% of the time, let me know. So I can mug him and take his time machine.

  • AtomikaAtomika Social Justice Mage + 12 charm/-5 lockpickingRegistered User regular
    edited March 2012
    Thomamelas wrote: »
    Vincent Canby is apparently an idiot.

    Eh, if you find a critic who is right 100% of the time, let me know. So I can mug him and take his time machine.

    True, but criticism is one of those things where you can be wrong to different degrees. There's more than just one value of faulty interpretation.

    Like, if you come away from Birth of a Nation and go, "Wow, this film made some really interesting salient points about how awful black people are," that's like wrong^10.

    Atomika on
  • DeaderinredDeaderinred Registered User regular
    So chinatown isn't on netflix uk, i sorta feel left out now.

    gonna have to buy the disc i think.

  • TychoCelchuuuTychoCelchuuu ___________PIGEON _________San Diego, CA Registered User regular
    Excellent writeup, jakob! I especially like your observation about Jake's detective acumen. Detective noir is often about anything other than the actual investigating, and it's the little things like Jake's cough when he tears the page out from the record book or the stopwatches he sticks under Mulray's tires to the big things like his tenacity in tracking down answers that gives Chinatown a great backbone to hang all the classic noir stuff on.

    I mentioned this in the film thread too, but it's worth repeating: a fun little homage to Chinatown is Assassination of a High School President (although it's not streaming on Netflix, so you'll have to wait for the disc in the mail).

  • ElkiElki hegemon globalSuper Moderator, Moderator, ClubPA mod
    The title belongs.


    chinatown%20sce%20title%20capture.jpg




    I feel terrible every time, and every time I end up laughing when I see the black eye. I always forget about that scene. And darkly comedic tone that colors much of the film.

  • BobCescaBobCesca Registered User regular
    So chinatown isn't on netflix uk, i sorta feel left out now.

    gonna have to buy the disc i think.

    There's bugger all on Netflix UK.

  • ThomamelasThomamelas “Three films a day, three books a week and records of great music would be enough to make me happy to the day I die.” Registered User regular



    If you asked me to pick the definitive classic western, it would be Shane. It's the film where all of the trappings of the genre come together in a single place. Our hero wears a whitish hat. Our villain wears a black one. We have the beautiful vista of the West and the sound of spurs on wood. We have the reluctant gunfighter knight and the homesteaders. We have the conflict of the culture of civilization, and the culture of the frontier. The man so steeped in violence that he can never really escape it. All of these things come together in a single film that Stevens handles masterfully.

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    Shane opens with a beautiful shot of our title character riding into a valley where the Starretts, among others, are making their homestead. We see him through the eyes of young Joey, who spots him while pretending to draw a bead on a dear. In a single long scene, we see both the external conflict of the ranchers verses the homesteaders and the inner conflict within Shane. As he approaches Shane is greeted warmly by the Starrets, but the trauma within Shane becomes clear as he reacts to the sound of Joey working the action of his rifle as he plays. The practiced, rapid draw makes it clear he is no stranger to violence, and the look of shame on his face as he realizes what he has done shows us he isn't so far gone as to be a monster. Riker and his men want to drive the homesteaders off the land so he can use it to expand his cattle range. Starrett and the homesteaders want to build up their small farms for their family.

    As the film progresses we see Shane settle into life with the Starretts as a hired hand. We watch him through the eyes of Joey, seeing him become part of a family that he can never truly have. The joy in the physical labor of building a farm, the comradeship he develops Joe Starrett and the suppressed love he feels for Marion. Mean while the conflict between the homesteaders and Riker continues to build up. Jack Wilson is hired to provoke and kill the homesteaders, and we see him in contrast to Shane. Whereas Shane is a reluctant warrior, Wilson is a killer, a man who enjoys ending a life. When he confronts Torey we watch Wilson bait the man, provoke him in to drawing his pistol. Then making it clear that Torey is in over his head. And as Torey backs down Wilson shoots him dead.

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    All of this builds up to the climax, as Shane confronts Riker and Wilson, killing Riker, Wilson and his men. But he's wounded. And it's clear to him that there is no escape from the violence he's soaked himself in. So he tells Joey, "There's no living with a killing. There's no goin' back from one. Right or wrong, it's a brand... a brand sticks. There's no goin' back. Now you run on home to your mother and tell her... tell her everything's alright. And there aren't any more guns in the valley." and rides off into the distance to die.

    This theme of a man caught in a cycle of violence is one that exploded in the post-war westerns, and Shane perhaps embodies it the most starkly. It was a metaphor for those men who had come back from the war and had trouble readjusting to peacetime. Those men with emotional trauma and PTSD that found they simply couldn't end the war for themselves. Nor could they talk about what they were going through at home. And in that context Shane's ending is even more bittersweet, with it's message that the cycle doesn't end until death, but that the suffering has meaning. That it was for a greater good, and that some hope and happiness should be taken from that. Stevens spent the war doing film work for the military. This includes filming D-Day, the Duben labor camp and Dachau. His film would be used as evidence in the Nuremberg trials. After the war, his films became more serious.

  • TychoCelchuuuTychoCelchuuu ___________PIGEON _________San Diego, CA Registered User regular
    Did you know Jean Arthur was 50 when she made this film? That blew me away. In any case, my favorite parts about Shane, aside from the pretty cinematography and Jack Palance doing an awesome villain, are the touches that make you sort of sympathetic towards Riker (including not just his speech about the old days, but the way he really seems to see himself as being forced into what he does) and Elisha Cook Jr. (Torrey) who I think is a fun actor to watch. I love this quote about him from his Wikipedia page:
    "[Cook] lived alone up in the High Sierra, tied flies and caught golden trout between films. When he was wanted in Hollywood, they sent word up to his mountain cabin by courier. He would come down, do a picture, and then withdraw again to his retreat."

  • ThomamelasThomamelas “Three films a day, three books a week and records of great music would be enough to make me happy to the day I die.” Registered User regular
    Did you know Jean Arthur was 50 when she made this film? That blew me away. In any case, my favorite parts about Shane, aside from the pretty cinematography and Jack Palance doing an awesome villain, are the touches that make you sort of sympathetic towards Riker (including not just his speech about the old days, but the way he really seems to see himself as being forced into what he does) and Elisha Cook Jr. (Torrey) who I think is a fun actor to watch. I love this quote about him from his Wikipedia page:
    "[Cook] lived alone up in the High Sierra, tied flies and caught golden trout between films. When he was wanted in Hollywood, they sent word up to his mountain cabin by courier. He would come down, do a picture, and then withdraw again to his retreat."

    Stevens really got great performances out of every character. I can't think of a character in that film that feels like a cardboard cutout. Even really minor roles like Grafton, played by Paul McVey give you the sense of depth. He's clearly conflicted about all of this. And what he did with Palance was amazing. He has a handful of lines, and two big scenes but he just owns them. He could have easily been a cardboard villain but it becomes clear that he is Shane's opposite.

  • BogartBogart MR. Lady Anime Registered User regular
    It's certainly an iconic film, one that pretty much epitomises one of the basic story plots in the movies: a stranger comes to town. I've only seen it once, but I've seen Eastwood's version of it many, many times.

  • elkataselkatas Registered User regular
    Is it just me, or is Netflix's instant watch lacking woefull foreign language films. I had more than dozen good ideas for the films, but none of them are available.

    Hypnotically inclined.
  • ThomamelasThomamelas “Three films a day, three books a week and records of great music would be enough to make me happy to the day I die.” Registered User regular
    Bogart wrote: »
    It's certainly an iconic film, one that pretty much epitomises one of the basic story plots in the movies: a stranger comes to town. I've only seen it once, but I've seen Eastwood's version of it many, many times.

    One of the little things about Shane is that it's the first film where we hear the sound of spurs while someone is walking on wood. And yet it's a sound that we immediately identify as a sound belonging in Westerns.

  • BobCescaBobCesca Registered User regular
    Shane introduced me to Westerns I actually liked (and the list Thomamelas provided). Made me realise that I like the old Westerns, the ones from the 50s and maybe 60s, but I still think this is one of my favourites. It's just beautiful and (at times) heartbreaking.

  • BogartBogart MR. Lady Anime Registered User regular
    Sometimes, comedians become gameshow hosts. They're often pretty good at it. And if they're a comedian and they've reached the level of popularity that means they can front a gameshow, they've probably done a movie or two as well, maybe a sitcom. They've dipped their toe into acting, probably leaning heavily on their stand-up persona, but still. Maybe they've directed a couple of episodes of their TV show as well. That's pretty much the career trajectory of Japanese actor, comic, gameshow host, writer and director 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano, except instead of making amiable comedies that will delight the whole family, Kitano turned out to be the Japanese equivalent of Robert De Niro, Martin Scorcese and Steven Soderbergh all rolled into one amazing rennaisance man. It is as though Drew Carey wrote, directed and starred in Bad Lieutenant.

    He paints as well.

    I first became aware of him after seeing his first movie, Violent Cop, of the back of a recommendation from I can't remember where. It's a pretty bleak film, one in which almost everyone ends up dead, and where Kitano's protagonist is a cold, brutal killer cop barely any better than the murderers he's chasing. But all the way through it's completely clear that Kitano draws the eye like few other movie stars. A single long shot of him walking towards the camera is ridiculously absorbing, his arms swinging unevenly as he scurries along. And his face. Lord, his face. Impassive and plain yet extraordinarily interesting, even when, as is often the case, he's looking down or away from the camera. An horrific motorcycle accident that left him with considerable facial damage has made it even more arresting. You may remember him from such movies as Battle Royale, and the fairly terrible Johnny Mnemonic.

    Violent Cop gave him a certain amount of foreign critical attention, but it was Sonatine that really made people really sit up and take notice. I should mention that pretty much all the clips are NSFW, and some are spoiler-heavy. Here's the trailer.



    Kitano plays Murakawa, a weary gangster sent to calm the waters between two rival gangster clans in Okinawa. Suspecting a set up, Murakawa finds his suspicions confirmed when he and his men are attacked. The survivors flee to a beach house, and it's here that the movie takes flight. Up till now it's been solid, but hardly unique, gangster movie fare. Once they reach the beach it's like a different movie entirely. The gangsters start playing childish games and playing pranks on each other, relaxing against the gorgeous backdrop of the beach and the blue, blue ocean. Long scenes of nothing more than these guys messing about with fireworks or pretending to be cardboard sumo wrestlers. It's almost idyllic, though when shooting beer cans off each others heads turns into a game of Russian Roulette you start to wonder where all this will end. A sinister undercurrent of violence flows around all this good, clean fun. Here's a justly famed scene where the gang plays on the beach.



    Murakawa and his men are eventually drawn back into the gangster conflict from which they have retreated with a sudden, violent shock. Further violence punctuates the movie like a short series of hard slaps, over in a flash, leaving you jolted and nervy. You can see it in the trailer, as a gunfight erupts in an elevator and suddenly BANG BANG BANG in a tiny space and then there are dead bodies everywhere. Then there's the end, with the strangely beautiful sight of a gunfight in almost total darkness, everything lit by muzzle flashes and the constant yellow glare of automatic weapons firing on full auto. Half the action isn't even seen, as the camera looks on from the ground outside up at the windows illuminated by gunfire. It's an amazing choice for a climactic gunfight. Warning, heavy spoilers in this clip, including the end of the movie:



    It's a truly odd film, part brutal yakuza movie, part leisurely comedy piece, part quiet, contemplative arthouse flick.

    Kitano's materpiece, Hana Bi, shares much in common with Sonatine, though it's a quieter film, with better jokes and the single most underplayed bank robbery scene I can remember seeing. Zaitochi is a samurai film with Kitano as the titular lead: a wandering, blind ronin. He's made more yakuza movies (perhaps going to that well too many times), autobiographical movies, lyrical meditations on love and a movie about a deaf surfer. But if you want an introduction to Takeshi Kitano, Sonatine is the best bet. Revenge, honour, betrayal, broad comedy, sudden, shocking violence and that rarest of things in the movies: a genuine sense that the film has left the rails of normal narrative convention and is merrily chugging away to who knows where.

    I'll leave you with the bank robbery in Hana Bi:

  • Linespider5Linespider5 I told her on Alderaan nothing else was going on.Registered User regular
    I've got a bit of a full plate tonight, but I'll be bringing to bear my opinions on Sonatine later this week. Tekashi does have one hell of a face. Just looking at him you feel like you know him. There's some unnerving quality to his features that makes him appear like an old family member or a friend from back in school-he immediately seems genuinely familiar without giving any quantifiable reason as to suggest why.

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  • TychoCelchuuuTychoCelchuuu ___________PIGEON _________San Diego, CA Registered User regular
    Yikes, you guys weren't kidding about the face. Best part of the movie right there. I can totally see how this guy was a comedian before he was playing mass murderers. Not sure I have much to say about the movie though: I liked the ending, and the parts where everything just exploded into violence were all the more gripping because of the odd combination of serenity and tension that the lazier parts of the movie held. Something about how obviously it was a setup, plus of course the "every once in a while there's a gunfight," gave just enough edge to the beach house retreat stuff to keep the tone from swinging too widely when it went from "let's throw a frisbee" to "let's play Russian roulette." I guess my point is that things could've easily been discordant: first a gunfight, then everyone's chilling on the beach, then suddenly it's all serious, then more chilling on the beach and dancing with clams, then suddenly it's serious again, then a gunfight - that shit could've easily gotten tedious or just hard to predict and comprehend, but I felt like Sonatine was extremely cohesive, and from the very beginning to the very end, everything Murakawa did made sense and fit into the narrative.

  • Linespider5Linespider5 I told her on Alderaan nothing else was going on.Registered User regular
    edited March 2012
    Sonatine was really not what I expected at all.

    Its characters are Yakuza, but I think it's mostly a disservice to think of it as one, because Sonatine is something more. It's less a crime drama and more of a meditation on character interaction in general. The time away from the day-to-day life of the Yakuza, spent on the beach with an unlikely combination of mediators and some local guys who suddenly have nothing to do but lay low and generally carouse until things blow over and everything can go back to normal unleashes some pretty powerful and beautiful scenes. But this is not a movies about the standard motifs involving the intrigues of organized crime-everything feeds into the state of the main character, a man who has simply come too far in the world he inhabits, and he kind of knows he's run out of growing room. Although the assignment to mediate a feud is very obviously some kind of setup, he does it anyway-what else can he do? Vent his grievances on the guy that puts the onus on him? Okay, but he's still gotta go out there and somehow resolve this dubious feud.

    One thing I've begun to notice, and I hope this is a thing I can expect to see more of, is that Yakuza in the movies I've seen so far tend to have a predilection for making highly ironic statements about what's going on. In Sonatine, Murakawa gets to hear the lovely assurance that "There will be no bloodshed, you are only there to restore peace," as though those two never go hand in hand.

    But Murakawa is mostly bored. The scene in the shabby little bar where he and his men are ambushed is great-rather than glorifying the violence in any way, the men involved prettymuch just stand in one place, dumbly firing their weapons at eachother until one side is dead. The hideout on the beach serves as some kind of gathering point, not just for allowing the men to regroup, but also to allow Murakawa to kind of regress a little bit to how his life may have been before he got entangled in the Yakuza in the first place. It's no coincidence that under his rule the men begin goofing off and playing childlike games, and that Murakawa ends up spending a great deal of time with a woman like two kids going on dates together.

    There's also the car.

    2dqn3mq.jpg

    This was the best picture of it I could find online, and I'm surprised I couldn't find a better one. The car, to me, is pretty important. For one, a great deal is made of the fact that Murakawa cannot drive well, but the other characters do confirm he can drive, just poorly. At one point we see the results of Murakawa somehow running the car off a secluded, straight road due to a 'snake crossing.' There may have been a little bit more to it than that, but, the main thing I get out of the car is an explanation of Murakawa's destiny. He can't get where he needs to go from where he is. It's no coincidence that the car is found at the same time as the woman. He sees some kind of way out with her. There are also references to other cars in the movie that can't be used any longer after being blown up and the like.

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    Then there's the colour of the car. I think it's intentional. The movie starts with a peculiar image of a speared fish that seems to be very similar in hue. Maybe it's just me, but compared to the other cars in the movie, which tend to be glossy, black things, having this one matte powder blue car is very conspicuous. What else is that colour in the movie?
    sonatine-poster.jpg?w=640&h=359

    The beautiful sky of the beach, where all things seem possible?

    I think the car is a metaphor for...I'm not sure if it's paradise, heaven, or just freedom, but it certainly represents a force of positivity and possibility in a world where a man gets to walk into a con job with no options but to let it happen to him. In the end, Murakawa realizes that it's not really a world he can leave permanently, and that he cannot run to the worlds of others, he can only pull others into his own. The consequences of the beach prove this, and, in order to save those that remain, he takes the blue car and finds a way to truly leave it all behind.

    Linespider5 on
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  • AtomikaAtomika Social Justice Mage + 12 charm/-5 lockpickingRegistered User regular
    THE BIG LEBOWSKI
    dir: Joel Coen
    writ: Joel & Ethan Coen
    released: 1998, by Working Title





    Let's start with an obvious observation: the Coen Brothers make movies about other movies. This is part (and likely a big part) of why they have been the darlings of film nerds and cinema historians for nearly three decades now (and man, do I feel old typing that). They aren't just making great movies; they're making great movies that comment on a history of great movies. This theme of providing a running metatextual commentary really was cemented as one of their signature styles with 1991's Barton Fink, a film entirely predicated upon the dynamics between those who document the human condition, those who peddle entertainment, and the "common man" who is constantly being either pandered to or romanticized about, depending on who is wielding the pen.

    Barton Fink was the film that put the Coens on the map in a critical context after winning the Palm d'Or in Cannes, as well as Best Director and Best Actor for John Turturro, a Coen staple who would continue to pop up in their films, not the least memorable appearance of which is within The Big Lebowski. This sudden and unexpected success gave them the focus of the critical community at large, which the Coens wasted no time in wowing with their next effort, a stark and darkly humorous comedy about murder set in the snowy wilds of the upper midwest, Fargo. It took the Academy Awards by storm, being nominated for seven of the major categories, and winning two awards for Best Screenplay and Best Actress for Frances McDormand. McDormand would go on to be another staple of the Coen players, but she had a bit of an in: she's Joel Coen's wife. After this, the critical world was ready to sup ravenously from the Coen trough, eagerly awaiting the next little gem of melancholy observation.

    So imagine their surprise when The Big Lebowski landed at their box office.

    LEBOWSKI-646.jpg


    The Big Lebowski, on the surface, is pretty simple. It's about how a hippie burnout on the wrong side of middle age gets roped into the middle of a mystery involving a missing trophy wife, a crippled billionaire, the Malibu pornography industry, an "extremely vaginal" avant-garde artist, two rug-pissing douchebags, and a mob of angry German nihilists/electronica musicians/adult film stars. Oh, and an aquatic marmot.

    You know. The usual.

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    So that's the text. What's the meta-text?

    It all goes back to the Coens making movies about other movies. This film is where they get to make their own Robert Marlowe detective story, which is a subgenre all to itself by now. Aside from the legion TV and radio adaptations, the character of Robert Marlowe has been put to film 10 times over the course of cinematic history, and by nine different actors, but perhaps most famously Humphrey Bogart (in 1946's The Big Sleep) and Elliot Gould (in 1973's The Long Goodbye). The character of Marlowe, with so many stories and iterations over the years, has been reinterpreted many times over, but it's apparent that the version that the Coens were drawn to was the Gould version, as Jeff Bridges' portrayal of Jeffrey Lebowski is just one shambling step above the aloof, preoccupied, ambling private detective Gould put to film:

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    As you can see, Bridges is playing a pretty laid-back character. And who is "The Dude," as he refers to himself? The Dude is a man outside his time, though you don't need me to tell you that. The other Jeffrey Lebowski in the film, a billionaire cripple with a missing wife, reminds him that The Dude is a bum, and the bums lost, and maybe you should get a job, you filthy bum.

    LEBOWSKI-62.jpg


    This is a nice little bit of character-building on the part of both Lebowski characters, but it also plays into one of the key metatextual themes of the film: the impotence of radicals in the post-Vietnam world.

    The film actually begins with a clip of George H. W. Bush giving a press conference announcing that the US is going to war against Iraq to defend Kuwait, uttering the line that The Dude will later use to justify the events that set the plot into motion, "This unchecked aggression will not stand." This proclamation of military involvement, at this stage in The Dude's life, as he's writing a check for 91 cents to pay for cocktail mixings, elicits only the most tired of raised eyebrows. This is who The Dude is now, a quiet man living his quiet life outside the real world as much as he comfortably can. If the US wants to get into a fake war to protect their oil interests, then that's just whatever, man.

    These ideas are carried over into the character of Walter Sobchak (played by another Coen regular, John Goodman), The Dude's blustery best friend who sees the world through a filter of entitlement for his involvement in the Vietnam War, and most things through that filter become an affront to the memory of his young comrades who, as we're frequently reminded, "died face-down in the muck." These affronts include everything from the possible dalliances of Mrs. Bunny Lebowski to someone making a minor foul in bowling.

    LEBOWSKI-106.jpg


    The Dude and Walter represent the two sides of aging radicalism, the former being the beleaguered quitter who doesn't see the point anymore, and the later finding it harder and harder to legitimately place his simmering ire or (worse) find anyone that cares. This is later contrasted against the oppressive, monolithic grandeur of Jackie Treehorn's mansion on the beach in Malibu, where the mod stylings and opulence of the 1960s have been cranked up to their full glory. If the bums did indeed lose the culture war of the Vietnam Era, people like Treehorn are the ones who won it.

    LEBOWSKI-579.jpg



    On the surface, the mystery of the missing trophy wife seems like a classic shaggy-dog story, with its protagonist merely buffeting along from vignette to vignette, pushed around like a pinball by outside influences. Probably just like his spectral godfather, Raymond Chandler, The Dude doesn't understand the plot any more so himself. He's the most inert detective that's probably ever been put to screen, and purposefully so. His one act of proactive investigation is little more than a big middle finger:

    Spoiler:

    This constant reminder of how little The Dude is involved in this case is the running gag of the film, making the final act all that more potent and comedic with the realization that the plans of all the parties involved collapsed under the scrutiny of a guy who had no desire to even be involved and certainly wasn't the brightest man around. However, there is an overarc that one might buy into that says everyone in the film with an aggressive agenda (Mr. Lebowski, the Nihilists) ends up worse for wear.




    Of the many, many reasons I adore the Coen brothers, primarily among all of them is their mandate to fill their films with characters. There is no part too small in their films, and no one is allowed to just be an assumed placeholder of a position, as many films are wont to do. Take the cab driver that takes The Dude away from the Malibu sheriff's office; in any other film, that's just a faceless role, but here he's an angry African who really REALLY loves The Eagles. It's these roles, like David Thewlis as the tittering artist or John Turturro as the insane bowler, that flavor and texture this film (and all Coens' films) beyond just rote plotting and exposition. It's why their films always feel like little worlds instead of just people doing things for an audience. The Dude feels like a real person, and even though he's a shiftless layabout, we root for him because we empathize with his plight in the context of his motivation and his worldview. His conflicts aren't against faceless scripts and archetypes, he exists opposing real people with real motivations, and that complexity always keeps our intellect engaged. The Coens never get lazy and ask the audience to do the work or fill in the blanks with assumptions based on archetypal precedent, because why make a movie if you don't want to make ALL of the movie?

    Likewise, the Coens refuse to let their films be left to the page and performance, which is why Roger Deakins' cinematography is just the icing on the cake. He may be our greatest living photographer working in film today, and here he's working on a goofy little comedy. That's devotion to the craft, and a greater admission that a subject is only as legitimate as the way you treat it. Just look at these compositions:

    LEBOWSKI-631.jpg
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    The lion's share of the Coens' films are among my favorites, and The Big Lebowski stands as a favorite among those favorites. I know most of you probably have seen this film, but if it's been a long time, take another look with fresh eyes. If you haven't seen it, I strongly implore that you do. Not only are you out of the loop on one of the biggest cult films of all time (and countless internet memes), but you're missing out on a truly fantastic project from the best directors working today.




    If you're interested in some cross-referencing and homework, check out The Long Goodbye (on Netflix streaming) or any of the numerous Phillip Marlowe adaptations, and certainly seek out more Coen Brothers films, particularly Burn After Reading, another shaggy-dog tale of mystery and intrigue.

    Enjoy.

  • DeaderinredDeaderinred Registered User regular
    The Big Lebowski was my first Coen Brothers film and probably my favourite of all theirs that I've seen. (this, fargo, no country, true grit.. so i still got a fair bit to watch.) A friend of mine kept going on and on about them forever and I was like "yeah.. whatever man.. maybe I'll watch a film of theirs one day, maybe not, deal with it."

    When I did I was in love instantly.

  • VariableVariable Ted Hitler Stroke Me Lady FameRegistered User regular
    ross I love your description of what's happening when he does the pencil shading. I always found that to be the absolute funniest scene in the movie, but your description of it as the only real detective work he does is spot on and I never thought of it quite that way.

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  • TychoCelchuuuTychoCelchuuu ___________PIGEON _________San Diego, CA Registered User regular
    So much about The Big Lebowski is great. I'll just talk about one thing which jumped out this time I watched it, which is the narrator (The Stranger). In terms of subverting the film noir, I think he's one of the best parts of that. I've been watching a lot of noir recently (there's a lot on Netflix streaming, in fact) and one movie I saw a week ago was The Naked City. It's pretty good, but the narrator really grates: it's almost entirely redundant and intrusive until some fun stuff near the end. I also watched Kansas City Confidential, which opens with a bit of narration and then doesn't have any from then on. That, too, was entirely redundant. I've never been super clear on the reason to have these kinds of narrators. I suppose one thing they can do is keep the audience from getting bored when there's nothing happening, and another thing they can do is explain what's going on for stupid people. Then there are movies like Double Indemnity and Sunset Blvd. which use the narration to lend an additional air of tragedy and inevitability to the whole enterprise.

    Then we have the narration here, which seems to have stepped in from a family-friendly Western or something like that, even though Westerns don't have narration like film noir does. The Stranger sometimes forgets what he's talking to, can't really make a point, drops in side comments about himself that we don't care at all about because he doesn't really say anything, completely fails to narrate any of the important parts of the movie, and basically only adds to the confusion, because the one time he does say something of note (Little Lebowski is on the way), it's not clear how he knows it, because as a character in the world it looks like he hasn't talked to anyone or learned anything aside from his two utterly vapid conversations with The Dude.

    So instead of the traditional noir narrator, which is either an objective, bird's eye view voice from God telling us what's going on or the main character talking about things in hindsight, generally pointed out where he went wrong and why everything has ended up like this, we get some nutty mustachioed cowboy who doesn't like cuss words and who can't clear up anything for us. How is The Dude the man for his time and place? What does that even mean? And we can't even trust the narrator to give us the moral of the story or wrap things up or give us any insight. At the end, all he can do is repeat the famous quote from "The Dude abides" and hope that The Dude makes it to the bowling league finals. How is that a resolution? How is that anything?

  • AtomikaAtomika Social Justice Mage + 12 charm/-5 lockpickingRegistered User regular
    So much about The Big Lebowski is great. I'll just talk about one thing which jumped out this time I watched it, which is the narrator (The Stranger). In terms of subverting the film noir, I think he's one of the best parts of that. I've been watching a lot of noir recently (there's a lot on Netflix streaming, in fact) and one movie I saw a week ago was The Naked City. It's pretty good, but the narrator really grates: it's almost entirely redundant and intrusive until some fun stuff near the end. I also watched Kansas City Confidential, which opens with a bit of narration and then doesn't have any from then on. That, too, was entirely redundant. I've never been super clear on the reason to have these kinds of narrators. I suppose one thing they can do is keep the audience from getting bored when there's nothing happening, and another thing they can do is explain what's going on for stupid people. Then there are movies like Double Indemnity and Sunset Blvd. which use the narration to lend an additional air of tragedy and inevitability to the whole enterprise.

    Then we have the narration here, which seems to have stepped in from a family-friendly Western or something like that, even though Westerns don't have narration like film noir does. The Stranger sometimes forgets what he's talking to, can't really make a point, drops in side comments about himself that we don't care at all about because he doesn't really say anything, completely fails to narrate any of the important parts of the movie, and basically only adds to the confusion, because the one time he does say something of note (Little Lebowski is on the way), it's not clear how he knows it, because as a character in the world it looks like he hasn't talked to anyone or learned anything aside from his two utterly vapid conversations with The Dude.

    So instead of the traditional noir narrator, which is either an objective, bird's eye view voice from God telling us what's going on or the main character talking about things in hindsight, generally pointed out where he went wrong and why everything has ended up like this, we get some nutty mustachioed cowboy who doesn't like cuss words and who can't clear up anything for us. How is The Dude the man for his time and place? What does that even mean? And we can't even trust the narrator to give us the moral of the story or wrap things up or give us any insight. At the end, all he can do is repeat the famous quote from "The Dude abides" and hope that The Dude makes it to the bowling league finals. How is that a resolution? How is that anything?

    The narrator is indeed a great part of this film.

    As you said, his awareness or insight or relevance is never really nailed down, and actually it's likely that he's more purposefully obfuscatory than anything else. Film Noire and Hard-Boiled Mystery are the wellspring of voice-over narratives, and those narratives have always had a way of being notoriously superfluous, narrating things as they clearly happen on-screen.

    I certainly think the unreliable and irrelevant nature of the Stranger's narration is purposeful, and I think Sam Elliot was probably chosen due to his vocal similarity to Robert Mitchum. Mitchum and Elliot are both famous for their portrayals of tough-guy detectives and cowboys, and Mitchum not only starred in a lot of pulp noire films, but is the only film actor to play Phillip Marlowe twice. I don't think the casting is accidental, and if Mitchum had not died a few years before, I wouldn't have been surprised to see him play the Stranger's part.

  • GreasyKidsStuffGreasyKidsStuff Registered User regular
    I watched an interview with Sam Elliot, and he had said the screenplay was written with him in mind. Something like, "the narrator sounds not unlike Sam Elliot".

    I really appreciate you guys talking about this. The Big Lebowski for me is a film I enjoy for a few reasons (Ross' note on the film being populated by actual characters is one), but at the same time I struggle to really find the metatextuality that I know the Coens fill their films with. I think part of that is just a lack of experience with a certain kind of film genre (noir and detective films) so I don't quiet get the references. So reading what you guys have to say about it is enlightening.

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  • DeaderinredDeaderinred Registered User regular
    edited March 2012
    I watched an interview with Sam Elliot, and he had said the screenplay was written with him in mind. Something like, "the narrator sounds not unlike Sam Elliot".

    yeah it does, i have the screenplay and the exact line is:

    "We are floating up a steep scrubby slope. We hear male voices gently singing "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" and a deep, affable, Western-accented voice--Sam Elliot's, perhaps:"

    Deaderinred on
  • Joe DizzyJoe Dizzy Registered User regular
    Lebowski is probably my favourite Coen's film, but I find the meta-textual aspect and the references rather grating.

    ...in accordance to the ancient prophecies.

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Super Moderator, Moderator mod
    Joe Dizzy wrote: »
    Lebowski is probably my favourite Coen's film, but I find the meta-textual aspect and the references rather grating.

    why? I don't think it's intrusive. It's only there if you go looking for it.

  • GreasyKidsStuffGreasyKidsStuff Registered User regular
    Jacobkosh wrote: »
    Joe Dizzy wrote: »
    Lebowski is probably my favourite Coen's film, but I find the meta-textual aspect and the references rather grating.

    why? I don't think it's intrusive. It's only there if you go looking for it.

    Exactly. Like I said, I enjoy it for a lot of reasons but the metatextual elements fly over my head (unfortunately).

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  • mcdermottmcdermott Registered User regular
    Wow, definitely checking out Long Goodbye. Also, damn the Big Lebowski looks a lot like Dick Cheney to me now.

    This was one of my favorite movies as a teenager, for reasons many of which should be obvious. Looking back on it now (and I just re-watched it a few weeks ago), it's awesome because I still love it, but for totally different reasons. I get so much more of it now. Though obviously there are still some things I missed.

  • wanderingwandering Registered User regular
    edited March 2012
    Another movie with great nutty narration is The Informant!

    Also my plan was to watch and comment on every movie I hadn't seen but I guess I missed Sonatine. Whoops.
    Barton Fink, a film entirely predicated upon the dynamics between those who document the human condition, those who peddle entertainment, and the "common man" who is constantly being either pandered to or romanticized about, depending on who is wielding the pen.
    It's probably giving Barton too much credit to say he documents the human condition, although that's no doubt what he tries to do.

    wandering on
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  • Joe DizzyJoe Dizzy Registered User regular
    Jacobkosh wrote: »
    Joe Dizzy wrote: »
    Lebowski is probably my favourite Coen's film, but I find the meta-textual aspect and the references rather grating.

    why? I don't think it's intrusive. It's only there if you go looking for it.

    I don't know how apparent they objectively are, but they didn't seem to serve much of discernable purpose to me. But it's a minor criticism about an otherwise highly enjoyable film.

    ...in accordance to the ancient prophecies.

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  • TomantaTomanta Registered User regular
    This reminded me of the Shakespeare Version of Lebowski.

    Which I am disappointed to find is no longer freely available in full but instead has been published as a book.

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  • BogartBogart MR. Lady Anime Registered User regular
    The Big Lebowski is a movie I always watch if I catch it on TV, whether it's already halfway through or it's ten minutes after the opening scene. It's incredibly watchable, and hysterically funny every single time.

    One story I heard about the making is about the scene where John Goodman throws a bag stuffed with ransom money from a car out into the roadside. they wanted the bag to have a high, long trajectory and Goodman just couldn't get the necessary force behind the throw from where he was holding the bag. They tried a whole bunch of takes until some bright spark suggested filming the car backing up, throwing the bag to Goodman from off-camera and then running the film in reverse.

    I guess that story might be on the commentary (never heard it), and it might not be true, but it's a nice example of how the Coen brothers pay attention to every little detail, down to the angle of a thrown bag for a 2 second shot.

  • KalTorakKalTorak Registered User regular
    Filming backward is such a simple trick (i think even Charlie Chaplin used it) but I'm always delighted by the different things people use it for.

  • AtomikaAtomika Social Justice Mage + 12 charm/-5 lockpickingRegistered User regular
    KalTorak wrote: »
    Filming backward is such a simple trick (i think even Charlie Chaplin used it) but I'm always delighted by the different things people use it for.

    I always think of the scene in Evil Dead II where the creature's eye pops out and goes into the girl's mouth.

  • amateurhouramateurhour Registered User regular
    Interesting footnote to The Big Lebowski. After the film hit cult following status, a lot of people who go to comic conventions loved to dress up as "The Dude"

    The actual cardigan was made by Pendelton Woolen Mills and was in a limited run (I believe it wasn't a popular seller) so the legend as it was told to me is that after the movie came out some lucky man contacted Pendelton and purchased all of their remaining inventory and made a short living selling the officially licensed Dude sweaters until both a) imitations that looked shockingly accurate began appearing online to undercut him and b) Pendelton eventually started making the sweater again at a reasonable price for a limited time.

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  • KalTorakKalTorak Registered User regular
    I think the film also caused a massive resurgence (or just... surgence) in the popularity of White Russians.

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