Chad Comello

libraries, culture, typewriters

Category: Film (page 1 of 14)

The Seventh Seal

Because the only screengrabs of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal I’ve ever seen are of a knight playing chess with Death, I really thought that would be the whole movie. Just a Very Serious Film that would be more film-buff obligation than an enjoyable experience. But wow, am I glad to be mistaken. It’s a profound, disturbing, grotesque, even goofy film, impressively rooted in religious inquiry but humanist at heart.

Two quotes stood out from Antonius Block (played gracefully by a young Max von Sydow), a disillusioned knight returning home from the Crusades to plague-ridden Denmark. His wager with Death—being spared if he wins—sets him apart as a determined, sensitive, and thoughtful seeker. So his wrestling with God is keenly felt:

“Is it so terribly inconceivable to comprehend God with one’s senses? Why does he hide in a cloud of half-promises and unseen miracles? How can we believe in the faithful when we lack faith? What will happen to us who want to believe, but can not? What about those who neither want to nor can believe? Why can’t I kill God in me? Why does He live on in me in a humiliating way—despite my wanting to evict Him from my heart? Why is He, despite all, a mocking reality I can’t be rid of?”

Yet later, while enjoying a moment of solace amidst the chaos of his journey, he practices a Middle Ages form of mindfulness and calls out his gratitude:

“I shall remember this hour of peace: the strawberries, the bowl of milk, your faces in the dusk. Mikael asleep, Jof with his lute. I shall remember our words, and shall bear this memory between my hands as carefully as a bowl of fresh milk. And this will be a sign, and a great content.”

This is only the third Ingmar Bergman film I’ve seen after Winter Light and Wild Strawberries. My regard for Bergman has shot up based on the caliber of these three alone. God bless Kanopy (free with a library card) for making it available. Looking forward to discovering more.

Gary Rydstrom on Rear Window’s ingenious sound design

Northwestern’s Block Museum hosted a screening of Rear Window that was introduced by Gary Rydstrom, Oscar-winning sound designer for Saving Private Ryan, Titanic, Jurassic Park, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and many other movies you love. Though I didn’t stay for the movie (I’ve already seen it on the big screen), I was eager to hear Rydstrom’s perspective on one of my all-time favorites.

He included this great quote from John Fawell’s Hitchcock’s Rear Window: The Well-Made Film:

Rear Window is so highly charged with a sense of the significance of the hidden, with the mystery of the barely glimpsed and distantly heard, that it is difficult not to carry this same sense of mystery back to our own world. Hitchcock’s cinema leaves us with a more highly charged sense of the mystery of the world. We notice certain things more after a Hitchcock film—a glass of milk, a woman’s handbag. Mundane items buzz with a mystery they did not have before. Hitchcock tends to invest us with his manifold neuroses. He makes us more wary of, and therefore more alive to, the world. Rear Window specifically heightens our attention to the barely glimpsed sights and distant sounds of our own neighborhood. It makes us more sensitive to the mystery of hidden lives, to the mysterious presence of loneliness and alienation in our own world.

Other notes from his brief talk:

  • He saw Rear Window on TV in 1971 as a 12 year old; turned him on to movies and sound design
  • His goal was to marry Grace Kelly (ditto)
  • We tend to think movie sound should be loud and dramatic; Rear Window‘s wasn’t, yet still an ingenious use of sound to this day
  • Film was a counter to criticisms of Hitchcock that his films were cold and clinical
  • The film’s hero is Lisa Fremont
  • Stewart’s Jeffries a criticism of the American male
  • Murder mystery was in service to the love story
  • Voyeurism generally has a reputation as a sickness, but this shows an upside
  • Diegetic music throughout (pianist, radio) comments on and contrasts with the action
  • Distance/echo of music around the apartment complex indicative of neighborly distance and alienation; also technically hard to do in 1954
  • Sound design changes once Thorwald appears
  • Pianist’s “Lisa” theme develops during movie along with the story

Hearts Beat Loud

“You gotta be brave before you can be good.”

So says a love interest to Sam (Kiersey Clemons), a shy but talented musician who reluctantly performs with her dad (Nick Offerman) in Hearts Beat Loud, the new indie film from Brett Haley. It’s a little High Fidelity, a little Once (or more like its inferior sibling Begin Again), a dash of That Thing You Do! and every New York indie film you’ve ever seen. Its scope is admirably small, its supporting cast (Toni Collette, Blythe Danner, Ted Danson as a bartender) appreciated but underused, and its music scenes charming and realistic enough.

Like lightning

“Come on, Doc, it’s not science! When it happens, it just hits you. It’s like lightning.” – Marty McFly, Back to the Future Part III

A couple nights before my buddy’s wedding, I was at his house with a bunch of other guys for a time of toasting, roasting, and advice-giving. One thing I shared was how immediately evident it was to me that the couple was The Real Deal, and how a similar certainty hit me like a bolt of lightning when I first met my future wife.

Later on, the wedding reception was held at Ace Eat Serve, a ping pong hall in a converted auto garage serving pan-Asian cuisine. (Loved the amazing food and the novelty of playing ping pong at a wedding.) The ping pong tables outside were made of concrete and had metal nets with Ace’s lightning logo cut through them, which in the sunlight looked like this:

It’s almost as if I was at the temporal junction point for the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.

Media of the moment, ctd.

An ongoing series on books, movies, and music I’ve encountered recently.

Truman by David McCullough. I’m not saying some parts aren’t skimmable, but I am saying this 1,000-page book (not including endnotes and index) didn’t feel that long and indeed deserves the Pulitzer Prize for Biography it received. That’s a testament to both McCullough and Truman, a match made in history buff heaven.

The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. When I watched these initially in college, I preferred Part II. This time around I see that the original reigns supreme.

Tag. Goofy fun.

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King. A good complement to Won’t You Be My Neighbor. Bounces around more than I wish it did. Love that the only TV shows he watched were The Waltons and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Mister Rogers on CD. Not being a great singer didn’t stop Rogers from writing and performing hundreds of songs on television. Check out Coming and Going, You Are Special, Bedtime, and You’re Growing.

Searching. Cleverly crafted thriller that unfurls exclusively through a computer screen, which means it’ll be dated by this time next year.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari. This is a 12-course meal of a book that touches a mind-boggling range of disciplines. It’s almost too much. But I enjoyed the challenge, the feeling of flying through millennia from a bird’s-eye view.

King of Comedy. This might be DeNiro’s best performance.

Revisiting my top films of 2008

Ten years ago I ranked my top 10 films of 2008. (I also started filmlogging.) Since last year’s revisit of my top films of 2007 was so fun, I thought I’d make this an annual tradition.

Here’s my original 2008 list:

  1. WALL-E
  2. Happy-Go-Lucky
  3. Man on Wire
  4. In Bruges
  5. Rachel Getting Married
  6. Shotgun Stories
  7. The Dark Knight ­­
  8. Tell No One
  9. Encounters at the End of the World
  10. Milk

Lots of interesting choices here. Kinda shocked Happy-Go-Lucky was so high and that Milk made the list. Also surprised I was so into Man on Wire and Rachel Getting Married. That year in general was a time with an odd mix of hope (Obama elected) and darkness (the world economy). The tenor of these picks falls all along that spectrum, as I suppose any year with a properly diverse array of films should.

Ten years out, that hope-despair spectrum remains but my taste has changed, if only slightly. As always, without rewatching all the candidates it’s hard to make a totally fair and accurate list, but here’s where my gut goes:

  1. Summer Hours
  2. WALL-E
  3. Goodbye Solo
  4. In Bruges
  5. Shotgun Stories
  6. Tell No One
  7. Man on Wire
  8. The Dark Knight
  9. Rachel Getting Married
  10. Encounters at the End of the World

With honorable mention to Rachel Getting Married, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Iron Man, Burn After Reading, The Wrestler, W., Happy-Go-Lucky, and Milk.

The precipitous drop of Happy-Go-Lucky, which went from #2 to honorable mention, was surprising. Perhaps a rewatch would put it back on the list. But I had to crown a new champion in Summer Hours, the Olivier Assayas family drama, and bump Milk for Goodbye Solo.

I fondly recall watching all of these during college, when I was also discovering so many old and new films in the cinephile canon. My college library and the public library were go-to sources. Some things never change.

Frequency

Frequency. Saw this on Amazon Prime and had to rewatch it. I was a big fan when it came out, so glad to see it holds up. It’s an ostensibly goofy concept of magical-realist family drama that turns into a murder mystery, but they somehow pulled it off.

Grant me a Roosevelt biopic

The Oscar winner has Teddy Roosevelt and Ulysses S. Grant biopics lined up, and scholars are using everything from 'Hamilton' to toxic masculinity to make their pitches to the actor.

Why didn’t anyone tell me there are Ulysses Grant and Theodore Roosevelt biopics in the works from Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese? And that Leonardo DiCaprio is attached to star in both of them?

The Hollywood Reporter asked a bunch of historians whether Leo should play Grant or Roosevelt. Looking at their pictures above I’d say he could pull off either. My preference is that he plays Roosevelt and Jared Harris plays Grant as he did in Spielberg’s Lincoln.

More important to me, though, is what kind of biopic they will be. Will they be like Lincoln, beautifully made, regal, and safe but not comprehensive, focused on a specific moment instead of the full life? Will they be like J. Edgar—or a Scorsese’s The Aviator for that matter—which tried to pack in decades of history and aging makeup, to the detriment of a cohesive and compelling portrait?

Or will they be something else entirely? I hope so. Love me some Lincoln, but Grant was no Lincoln. He deserves a director willing to go dark and gritty and avoid the hagiography that has recently started to envelope Grant.

Scorsese doing Roosevelt is growing on me though. Being a New Yorker himself will help him capture the fiery aspect of TR’s spirit, which has some modern resonance.

I’m gonna watch the hell out of these projects regardless.

5 tips from 10 years of filmlogging

In July 2008, while on a 24-hour break from the summer camp I was working at, I saw The Dark Knight with some fellow camp counselors. The next day I cracked open the new 3-subject composition notebook I’d brought to camp, flipped to the back third, and wrote a few lines on what I thought of the movie:

I hope this gets some Oscar nods. It’s smashing B.O. records for good reason. Heath Ledger owns this movie. Very smart, very dark, and very good.

Thus began a routine that is now 10 years old. Except for a gap between January and July 2010, since then I’ve been writing my initial thoughts on all first viewings of movies I see, new and old.

It took a month or two before I settled on the now standard structure of 4 lines per movie. I didn’t bother with star ratings or other metadata as I wanted to make it as easy as possible for myself to keep up with the exercise. And they all have a similar tone to that first one, like succinct bulletins to myself.

That first notebook lasted until December 2014. Then I decided to give the film log its own notebook.

Though my Logbook captures all my viewing and reading, I still keep up the paper film log. Not only for tradition and continuity’s sake, but because I find it valuable to capture my first fresh thoughts on what I watch in a tangible record. To see the pages gradually fill gives me visual evidence of all the amazing (and not so amazing) movies I’ve been able to see.

With that in mind, here are some tips for starting and keeping a logbook:

Tips for logging

1. Keep it simple.

I knew if I added too much beyond the basics to the logging process—a star rating, specifically where and when I saw it, etc.—it would become too unwieldy and easy to give up. Each entry takes me less than a minute.

2. Log sooner rather than later.

Right after you watch the movie, if possible. The point of this is to capture your immediate, visceral, and concise thoughts, not write a New Yorker story. I often fail at this and have to catch up on a few movies at once, which is why I make sure to at least add them to the Logbook so I can refer to it later.

3. Structure it just enough.

My format of four lines per movie didn’t happen right away. It developed naturally based on how much I found myself writing about each one. It also meant each 24-line page would neatly hold six movies. Love me some consistency!

4. Don’t stop at the log.

Many times what I log about a film ends up being the basis of further writing about it, whether on Letterboxd or on this blog. On the flip side, I often just log it and forget it. I often surprise myself with a film I didn’t realize I’d already seen and logged but had no memory of.

5. Whatever you log, stick with it.

It’s really cool to have a handwritten record of something I love, a kind of cultural diary that I can match up to other life events and see what connects. Yours doesn’t have to be movies: log your reading, beer drinking, museum hopping, whatever. Heck, start an Austin Kleon-style logbook and log it all! Whatever it is, keep it up and enjoy seeing the pages multiply.

Top 5 films of 2018 so far

The Death of Stalin. I’m a sucker for dark and irreverent political satires.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?This documentary about Fred Rogers didn’t make me cry, but it did make me sad about the Kids These Days who don’t know of him and his anti-television TV show.

First Reformed. I’m also a sucker for “dark night of the soul” films made by atheists that take faith and doubt seriously, which this Paul Schrader film is.

Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. Quite the one-two punchsplosion from Marvel. Haven’t rewatched either yet, but I think they’ll hold up.

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