Saturday, April 20, 2013


I am not exactly sure why the NW Film Center programmed their Pierre Étaix retrospective in reverse, but it means my viewing of the director's oeuvre was kind of a backwards journey, retracing the footsteps of the star's artistic travels.

Étaix's first major feature was 1962's The Suitor, an intentionally Keaton-esque romantic comedy. Pierre plays Pierre, a stargazing dreamer whose parents demand he give up his cosmic charts and get married. The only problem is that Pierre is totally uneducated in the ways of love, and so The Suitor follows him as he bumbles from one scenario to another, attempting to pick up on women in the streets, going to nightclubs, and eventually becoming obsessed with a torch singer. The film's funniest sequence comes when Pierre sneaks backstage at one of her concerts and engages in all manner of slapstick stagecraft trying to find her and avoid being thrown out. Étaix's past as a live performer is placed front and center, with most of his routines echoing vaudeville and even dabbling a little in sleight-of-hand magic.

I won't spoil the punch line by revealing what happens with the singer, but suffice to say, most of Pierre's downfalls in The Suitor have less to do with his inexperience and more with his illusions about what women are like. He has certain misconceptions about how people come together, approaching his first potential dates with an almost scientific calculation. He collects evidence, and experiments with what he's found. His only truly successful pick-up itself backfires, as the woman in question turns out to be a loud, overbearing drunk. Laurence Lignéres makes for a great comedic partner for Étaix. His energy is perpetually turned inward, his confidence receding; Lignéres is constantly pushing outward. Indeed, she spends much of the movie chasing after her man. Her high-volume antics at the bar wouldn't be out of place in the party scene in Blake Edwards' Breakfast a Tiffany's [review]. It's surprising to see that the actress did very little work after The Suitor.

As in the rest of Étaix's movies, the humor in The Suitor is gentle. Pierre is a bit of a buffoon, but there is no cruelty in how we laugh at him. Part of this, again, is the sadness that is inherent in his situation. He's hopeless, but he's trying. To remind us that he is kind and capable of love, Étaix keeps bringing us back to the Swedish maid (Karin Vesely) that is staying with his family. If she'd have him, he would marry her. Our suspicion is that the only reason she doesn't accept the offer is the language barrier prevents her from understanding what he's asking. Our expectation, then, is that this scenario will circle on itself--an expectation that Étaix cleverly fulfills in The Suitor's closing shot.

Showing alongside The Suitor is the original short Étaix made the year prior, 1961's Rupture. It's largely a solo effort set inside a one-room apartment, predicting a similar sequence that would show up a few years later in As Long as You're Healthy [review]. In Rupture, Étaix plays a man who has just been jilted via letter. The comedy erupts out of his clumsy efforts trying to pen his reply to his former lover. You've never seen a man have so much trouble licking a stamp!

The Suitor plays today, April 20, at 2pm, and again on Monday, April 22, at 7pm, as part of the NW Film Center's Pierre Étaix retrospective. View the full schedule here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Pierre Étaix's second feature, Yoyo, finds the director and star confidently assuming the role of auteur. This 1965 vehicle is not only a great showcase for the performer's talent, but also a tribute to his heroes and the comedic tradition that informed the Étaix persona. It's a celebration of comedy, but also one clown's celebration of self.

Yoyo opens in the 1920s. Étaix plays a lonely millionaire who spends his fortune on elaborate entertainments to cure his ennui. Model boats, dancing girls, live music, alcohol--none of it can ease the man's true problem, his broken heart. The millionaire pines for a lost love.

This opening scenario is crafted as a silent film, albeit one with sound effects rather than a musical score. Étaix shows the millionaire's opulent life and the intricate design of his house via a series of sight gags. There is an important visual theme running through all of Yoyo, as Étaix explores the notion of illusion as it pertains to entertainment and how that relates to the illusions we create in our own lives. The millionaire is seeking happiness through simulacrum. None of his pleasures are real, they are designed.

Fate intervenes twice for the millionaire. First, when a traveling circus stops by to perform on his estate, and he realizes that his former lover is amongst their performers. She is a clown, as is her son, the young boy Yoyo (Philippe Dionnet). The child is inexplicably drawn to the millionaire's home, and he sneaks around the mansion, examining its many treasures, until the troupe's elephant, the boy's own guardian angel, comes looking for him. The connection should be obvious: Yoyo is the son the millionaire didn't know he had. A sort of paternal sixth sense has drawn them together. Fate's second intervention is the stock market crash, which forces the millionaire out of his home. With nowhere else to turn, he joins his long-lost family on the road, becoming a performer alongside Yoyo and his mother. Étaix times the onset of the Great Depression with the advent of "talkies," and so Yoyo shifts from silent expression and title cards to full dialogue.

Interestingly, though Yoyo is kind of designed as a mini-history of 20th-century entertainment, Étaix only pays tribute to motion pictures as sly asides. Yoyo's youth is spent traveling from town to town, perfecting his act with his parents and dreaming of one day having a real home like the one where he met his father. On one stop on their tour, the millionaire despairs to see that another circus has beaten them to the punch. The camera pans to a poster advertising a different show, and cinephiles will recognize Giulietta  Masina and Anthony Quinn from La Strada [review], Federico Fellini's cinematic tribute to the traveling circus. Indeed, little Yoyo's make-up is not that dissimilar to Masina's. Plus, both films pay tribute to Charlie Chaplin. Étaix does it twice, actually. First Yoyo's mother borrows the Tramp's act for her own, and later, when the narrative shifts to WWII, Étaix upends The Great Dictator [review] by showing Hitler similarly cosplaying as Chaplin's signature character. It's around here that Étaix takes over playing Yoyo as an adult, showing the clown performing for Allied soldiers before being captured by the Germans. It's actually a bizarre coincidence that years later Étaix would have a role in Jerry Lewis' infamous 1972 disaster The Day the Clown Cried, about a clown who performs for the prisoners of a concentration camp. Smartly, Étaix skips right over Yoyo's incarceration, instead moving straight to the post-War period when he returns to the circus.

(Quick Sidenote: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that there was a mutual appreciation between Pierre Étaix and Federico Fellini. Only in researching for this series did I realize that I knew Étaix from his segment in Fellini's documentary I clowns, released in 1970, and reviewed by me here. Criterion fans might have also seen Étaix in a small role in Aki Kaurismäki's Le Havre [review].)

The war is addressed only indirectly following Yoyo's freedom. A soberness settles over the character, however, and he pours most of his energy and money into finally rebuilding his chateau. Étaix has split Yoyo into two halves, and the back part basically shows the son reliving the mistakes of his father. As he isolates himself, Citizen Kane-style, he becomes estranged from what matters. Yoyo finds new fame on television, but at the sacrifice of spontaneity and audience connection. Another illusion is shown here, as what we initially take as a despondent Yoyo performing on the street turns out to be Yoyo on the boob tube--though his skit truly represents what is in his heart.

At the same time, Yoyo also fails to seize on his love for the beautiful acrobat Isolina (Claudine Auger, a.k.a. Domino from Thunderball). Yoyo culminates in the ostentatious housewarming party the sad clown throws for himself. The closing of the picture thus mirrors the opening, as Yoyo's party guests engage in complicated slapstick and the host spends most of the event chasing down his own dissatisfaction with the situation he has created for himself. His redemption comes via another repeated image: the return of the elephant who was his childhood guardian. Yoyo's new friends flee in fear, but the grown man is otherwise reminded of everything the elephant represents, the memories he should have never forgot.

This makes way for Étaix's brilliant closing shot, a poetic return to the traditional performance space, a validation of the circus' capacity to entertain. The ending is almost clairvoyant, as Étaix himself would eventually leave his fame and return to his first love, though that was still half a decade away. Watching Yoyo, the mind boggles imagining the movies Pierre Étaix could have made had he stuck with it. With just his second feature, he shows himself as an entertainer with heart and insight, a worthy successor to Chaplin and the rest. Great comedy always has a bit of sadness, and Pierre Étaix is a clown who has the soul of a poet. Laughter is a sign of one's health and humanity, and like the character he portrayed, this performer's commitment to entertaining others, regardless of where he pursued it, was never more obvious or essential. 

Yoyo plays Thursday, April 18, and Saturday, April 20, as part of the NW Film Center's Pierre Étaix retrospective. View the full schedule here.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Pierre Étaix's 1966 (and 1971) film As Long as You're Healthy (also known as As Long as You've Got Your Health) is an anthology picture, featuring a quartet of lengthy skits showcasing the clown's penchant for visual gags and physical slapstick. On its original release in the mid-60s, the stories were threaded together by a unifying character--essentially, Pierre Étaix. In 1971, the director regained control of the movie, and he re-edited the feature to fit his original vision. One segment was cut, and another, his previously unfinished short subject "Insomnia," was added in its place.

As Long as You're Healthy is presented as pure entertainment, framed only by the conceit that we, as the audience, are watching it in our own theater--not unlike what Jean Renoir would do with his "petite cinema." The tales have no connectors except for cutting back to the theatrical façade. Each section is distinct, with only stylistic overflows. "Insomnia" leads and is the most different, not leastwise because it's in color while the other 3/4 of Healthy is black-and-white. It shows Étaix in bed, reading a vampire book to fall asleep. The movie goes in and out of his brain, showing the words he reads on the page coming to life as actual events, and features several excellent bits connecting Étaix's behavior in the real world to what is going on in his imagination.

The second piece is titled "The Cinema," and it stars Étaix as a moviegoer trying to find good seats in a crowded theater before the action leaps from the auditorium and onto the screen for an extended stream-of-conscious riff on advertising. The way Étaix moves through the showroom and how the camera roams the audience, zooming in on other comic characters and showing how they interact with their fellow moviegoers and the movie itself, brought to mind old Looney Tunes that used a similar set-up. Only here the observational humor is more grounded, playing on the common irritations that cinephiles endure in a multiplex when catching a film with folks who are less invested than they are. Truth be told, the laughs I got watching "The Cinema" were kind of cathartic.

From a possible cartoon influence to a more credible contemporary parallel, the title track, "As Long as You're Healthy," has shades of Tati's Playtime [review]. Étaix careens through Paris on an average day, making comedic hay out of many modern problems, like traffic jams, quack doctors, and overcrowded restaurants. The best sketch comes at the beginning, however. A punishing jackhammer rocks a neighborhood, disrupting lives with its noise and vibrations, all the way up to Étaix's apartment, where the helpless comedian is trying to keep all of his stuff from falling over and breaking. It's a wonderfully choreographed sequence. Every time Étaix moves one precious object, another crashes down in its place.

Finally, As Long as You're Healthy ends with "We're No Longer in the Woods," a triptych of wilderness travelers crossing paths and tripping over one another. Étaix plays a hunter out for the day. The other participants are a farmer building his fence and a city couple looking to picnic. Through a series of elaborate incidents, as each tries to go about his or her business, each action sets off a chain reaction that affects the others. How the affected parties react to the intrusion sets off another chain, etc.

As Long as You're Healthy is a perfect showcase for Étaix's humor. He and co-writer Jean-Claude Carrière are at their best when exploiting the tunnel vision of the average man. There is nothing mean-spirited in how they cause their characters to bump into one another, and yet all the jokes arise out of individual foibles, from folks too caught up in their own pursuits to consider that they share the planet with others just like them. It's surprising, then, that the most impressive skit is the the closing piece of "The Cinema," when Étaix leaves everyday occurrences behind and goes into the invented world of advertising, parodying the all-in-one, all-purpose products that must have been gaining popularity in 1966. The orchestration of these routines is marvelous, with each gag butting into the next, exploding and imploding in tandem. Étaix ends up the hapless victim of his own campaign, always doing something wrong, putting the product to use in ways that exposes its flaws, and then having to cover lest he also expose the gullibility of his friends.

Presented alongside As Long as You're Healthy is the short film Feeling Good. This is actually the original portion of the main feature that Étaix cut when he reassembled the picture. Judging by the content, my guess is that it somehow connected the city stories of "Healthy" and "Cinema" by moving the star outdoors for "Woods." Feeling Good begins with a Buster Keaton-like morning routine where the camping Étaix stumbles and bumbles his way through making breakfast, before taking us to a nearby campground full of oddballs and nutcases. Étaix links each tent together by having his character walk through the camp and observing his fellow campers in action, before he finally finds his way out through the other side, tunneling like Bugs Bunny on his way to destinations unknown.

As Long as You're Healthy plays today, April 14, at 5pm, as part of the NW Film Center's Pierre Étaix retrospective. View the full schedule here.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


The first five tags in the keywords section of Land of Milk and Honey's IMDB section are "marriage," "transvestite," "comic relief," "hippie," and "brass band." That seems about right. Though there is much more to the film than those handful of descriptors, they do get at the scattered nature of the last film from Pierre Étaix's initial run as a director. I just wish Land of Milk and Honey had a little more of the comic relief. I'd have easily given up a few members of the brass band.

Land of Milk and Honey is an absolute departure from Étaix's narrative cinema. The 1971 documentary was made in the wake of the political and social upheaval that rocked France in May of 1968. The footage that the filmmaker gathered after these events took him the next couple of years to assemble, a plight jokingly referred to in the movie's opening skit. It's one of only two times that Étaix appears in front of the camera, and it's a bit misleading as an intro. The entirely staged segment shows Étaix in discussion with himself, buried in a self-replicating pile of celluloid. We won't see the star again until the very end of the film, when he amusingly asks his random interview subjects if they've ever heard of Pierre Étaix. Many haven't, and the ones that do definitely have an opinion about what Étaix considers humor. The movie closes with Étaix taking a bow, having just performed a song and dance number in disguise. He exits the stage, and effectively exits cinema.

What takes place between these two bookends is a sociological experiment. Over the summer of 1968, Étaix went to rural vacation spots, filming carnivals and festivals, and interviewing people he met there about different topics relevant to the times. They range from eroticism and advertising to the moon landing and famine. Land of Milk and Honey's basic thesis is that France is no paradise, and the perceptions of its unity and prosperity are false. Étaix sets out to expose how little was really affected during the protests, juxtaposing people's dissections of serious topics with images of low-rent parades, cheese-eating contests, and other bizarre vacation rituals. Opinions about sexy images are played over decidedly unsexy shots of people lounging on the beach in ill-fitting bathing suits. An extended portion of the film is spent filming a singing competition where amateurs get up and perform for other travelers. Any sense of community is undermined by the brutal catcalling that drowns out some of these performances, many of which are of protest songs. Meaning disappears in the gulf between belief and action.

The agitprop technique that Étaix uses for Land of Milk and Honey is very much of its time. His collage tactics are like the middle ground  between the heavy-duty screeds of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin and Dusan Makavejev's WR: Mysteries of the Organism [review]. Too bad "being of its time" also means Land of Milk and Honey is somewhat dated. I found much of what I was seeing to be too specific to the era and locale to be relatable, a problem that isn't helped by the fact that Étaix belabors every topic past the point of exhaustion before moving on to the next one. Still, a few of the subjects are still relevant, particularly given recent economic troubles around the world, and the footage of average Frenchmen on summer holiday has its amusements, serving as a curious snapshot of a time and place that otherwise might not have been preserved.

Land of Milk and Honey plays today, April 13, at 5pm and 9pm, as part of the NW Film Center's Pierre Étaix retrospective. View the full schedule here.

Friday, April 12, 2013


If you're unfamiliar with the name Pierre Étaix, don't worry, you're not alone. Up until recently, the celebrated French comedian's films have been largely unavailable due to a legal tangle with the distribution rights. I don't know the particulars of what finally caused those rights to be untangled, but soon all film fans will have a chance to get to know Étaix's artistry, thanks to a touring retrospective of his work and an upcoming Criterion boxed set.

The writer/director/star only made a handful of feature films and shorts through the 1960s, following stints as an assistant and gag writer for the likes of Jacques Tati, Robert Bresson, and Nagisa Oshima. Étaix left film to return to his first career as a clown, but not before leaving an indelible mark on the cinematic landscape. In reviewing his final comedy feature, Le Grand Amour, released in 1969 and leading the dual weekend of Pierre Étaix films playing the NW Film Center [full schedule here], it's easy to see why. His playful flights of fancy, careening out of conventional narrative and into the realms of imagination, are delightful and intoxicating. One can't help but imagine that movies like Le Grand Amour were an early influence on Jean-Pierre Jeunet, whose Amélie would not be out of place as one of the many girlfriends Pierre fantasizes about throughout this rumination on love and marriage. (Etaix actually had a small role in Jeunet's film Micmacs [review].)

Le Grand Amour begins with a wedding, as befitting any such movie. Étaix is at the altar, waiting to tie the knot with Florence (Annie Fratellini), and remembering his past loves and imagining a few paths not taken. The ceremony ends, and the film jumps ahead a decade. Pierre and Florence have settled into their married life, with all the ups and downs that entails. They are mostly happy, despite the gossip that's being passed around about them. In one ingenious sequence, Étaix shows the evolution of a rumor, as a chance greeting is soon inflated into a full-grown affair, the moment replaying and escalating with each added whisper. Pierre takes some lumps for this false story, before falling into a similar trap for real. He becomes quite smitten with his new secretary (Nicole Calfan), despite her being 20 years his junior.

The rest of Le Grand Amour shows Pierre trying to concoct a way to have the young girl and be free of his wife. He lives out the illicit, though amusingly tame, relationship in dreams, both of the sleeping and waking variety, debating the pros and cons. One amusing scene shows him obsessing over a strand of hair left on his desk, going back and forth between it and a portrait of his bride. It's one of the more straightforward segments of the film; other bits break the bounds of reality. When Pierre consults with a friend, that man becomes a part of the daydream, often to have his own speculations backfire (pie to the face!) because he doesn't understand Florence the way her husband does.  In Le Grand Amour's most memorable stretch, Pierre's bed leaves his room and goes out onto the open road, joining the traffic of other slumbering dreamers as he searches for the object of his affection. The beds, in their way, have become cars, and Étaix ups the ante by having their drivers suffer from engine trouble, crash into one another, and other mundane experiences normally reserved for regular metal automobiles.

Étaix is a charming presence. His approach, at least here, is quieter than the likes of Tati or Rowan Atkinson, who bears a slight resemblance to the French comic. Le Grand Amour has some slapstick, but it's mostly situational. Étaix prefers mix-ups to pratfalls. His pacing is more languid, as befitting a dreamer. The laughs are subtle and unforced. Some jokes sneak up on you, such as when Étaix leaves his apartment to go downstairs and hang up on his mother-in-law in person. In that same scene, the strains of violin that have been playing under the action are revealed to be coming from a live player, Pierre's henpecked father-in-law. The comedian otherwise doesn't use music to emphasize his punch lines, that would be too obvious. Étaix lets the humor happen, he doesn't telegraph.

This allows for a cleverly ironic ending, one that maybe I should have seen coming, but that is funny enough to transcend cliché. Suffice to say, Pierre learns to appreciate what he has, only to find himself becoming jealous via the same kind of speculation that already bit him on the butt once.

It should probably be noted here that the majority of Étaix's films were co-written by Jean-Claude Carrière, a prolific screenwriter who also worked with Luis Buñuel on most of his movies through the 1960s and 1970s and who also worked on the script for Schlöndorff's adaptation of The Tin Drum. The Étaix/Carrière collaboration dates all the way back to the clown's earliest film efforts, including his second short, Happy Anniversary (1962), which makes for a nice thematic pairing with Le Grand Amour (probably why the NW Film Center is showing them together). In this black-and-white comedy, Pierre Étaix plays a husband trying to get home for his anniversary dinner, only to end up stuck in traffic and himself causing further disruptions for his fellow drivers as he tools about running errands. Some of the on-the-road humor, as we ping from car to car, traveler to traveler, is reminiscent of Tati's Trafic [review], which was still over a decade away.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


I hesitate to call The Importance of Being Earnest a trifle, as the literal meaning of the word, particularly when applied to an artistic endeavor, is to suggest that it's of little actual merit. This, of course, is not the case with Oscar Wilde's play, a comedic triumph that is a most distinct pleasure to watch (or read) in whatever form you find it, including this 1952 film version directed by Anthony Asquith. And yet, I like the idea of calling it a trifle because The Importance of Being Earnest is easy to consume, delightful for its duration, and altogether delectable. Not unlike the layered dessert which bears the same name. In fact, given the discussion of drink and cakes and other tasty treats during The Importance of Being Earnest, it would not be outlandish to make a comparison between Wilde's comedy and the booze-soaked confection where all manner of pleasing ingredients are stacked together to create a whole far more fulfilling than the sum of its parts.

In the 1952 version, Michael Redgrave stars as Ernest Worthing, the notorious bachelor with a scandalous backstory: as a baby, he was abandoned in a handbag in Victoria Station. He knows neither where he came from nor how he was lost. His surname was given to him because Worthing is where the man who found him was heading at the time. The subject of names and origins becomes important because Ernest wants to marry his posh paramour, Gwendolyn Fairfax (an appropriately stuffy Joan Greenwood). Ernest must produce some kind of proof to suggest he has aristocratic bearing to please Gwendolyn's mother, the Lady Bracknell (Edith Evans), a pushy old woman with unwavering beliefs in how things should be done. In doing this, Ernest will also have to reveal that his name is not Ernest at all, but John, a name Gwendolyn finds far too boring for a husband. Ernest is a fictional identity John created for himself for when he is in the city, allowing him to gadabout town while protecting his reputation at his country estate.

It's all rather complicated already, but given that The Importance of Being Earnest is considered a comedy of errors, the complications will only compound and multiply. (I can't help now but think of an actual trifle comedy of errors, when Rachel on Friends mixed her dessert recipe with one for shepherd's pie and made a trifle where meat and peas mingle with jam and custard. Oh, how much more can this metaphor withstand?) At his country home, Jack/Ernest has adopted his own ward, a young woman by the name of Cecily (Dorothy Tutin). It's for her sake that he wishes to remain untarnished and leave his London activities in London. Only, the scandalous tales of Jack's younger brother Ernest fascinate the sheltered girl, and she has fallen in love with the rapscallion sight unseen. Likewise, Gwendolyn's cousin and Ernest's friend, Algernon (Michael Denison), is intrigued by this lovely young innocent that apparently exists far from prying eyes. Ernest's insistence that they should never meet only further piques Algie's interests. He decides to go to where she is, not only to meet her, but to hold his buddy's feet to the fire. Once there, Algernon pretends to be the long lost Ernest the teenager has heard so much about.

What follows, of course, is a series of misunderstandings and dubious efforts on the part of both Jack and Algernon to prove they are who they say they are and thus both become earnest (i.e. serious husband material). Anthony Asquith moves the play from the stage to the screen without over-adapting it but still managing to free himself from the limited playing field that a theatrical performance understandably requires. Though one can still perceive the act breaks and most scenes remain in a single locale, Asquith uses the very cinematic tools of cutaways and close-ups to give the story movement and vivacity, while also giving each character his or her chance to shine. Redgrave and Denison, who comes off rather like the original Hugh Grant, have a good rapport, and their banter is marvelous. Both are verbally dexterous enough to handle Wilde's cleverest dialogue. The pair are only bested by the young women. The funniest and most biting scene in The Importance of Being Earnest is between Cecily and Gwendolyn, when they both believe they are engaged to the same Ernest and so attempt to one-up each other with evidence that the other is mistaken about the man's affections. The barbs are sharp and delivered coldly, underlined by amusing reaction shots from Cecily's attentive butler.

Even after all that, though, the real stars of The Importance of Being Earnest may be the old women, particularly Edith Evans. One can see in her performance a kind of stock or prototype for Maggie Smith's highly praised turn as the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey [review]. Like Smith, Evans performance stands just outside of caricature, largely because she understands that the real humor is in how Lady Bracknell fails to recognize her own ghastliness. Her scathing disapproval is consistently upended by her ridiculous and often misguided opinions. Her counterpart, the sentimental and ironically none-too-bright tutor Miss Prism is also quite wonderful. In Downton Abbey, her equivalent might be the cook. She is played by Margaret Rutherford. Rutherford would be cast in many such bumbling roles in her career, establishing a sort of British comedic type in much the same way that Evans does (or, Wilde, depending on who you credit.) Prism's name is perhaps even a better pun than the one Wilde uses for his title and main character. This rather dense woman is the instrument through which the truth is finally seen. (It's somewhat fitting, then, that Margaret Rutherford went on to play Miss Marple in several movies adapting Agatha Christie.)

This droll layering of meaning is, of course, an essential component of Wilde's writing, both in his comedies and his dramas. One could actually see Ernest as a kind of distant cousin to Dorian Gray [review]. Thematically, both have invented a second persona to carry the burden of their sins, though with far different outcomes. In a way, Ernest's differing personas also represent a kind of reflection on the stages of life and growing up: when one is the younger brother, one is expected to have misadventures; as one is older, one must adopt a more responsible demeanor. There is also something amusing in how Ernest originally came to be lost, dropped inside a valise in place of an elaborate three-part fiction, Mrs. Prism's apparently dreadful, over-sentimental novel. In her confusion, Prism makes the choice of the dedicated artist, even if it is just a Freudian slip--the responsibility of children would distract her from her work. Discard the infant, nurture the muse!

While revisiting Asquith's appropriation of Wilde is always a joy unto itself, I should note that I pulled The Importance of Being Earnest off the shelf for another reason. Over the next two months, the Northwest Film Center in Portland, OR (where I live), will be conducting a course on “Literature Into Film.” Each week, students will read a work of literature for their Monday night class, and then on Wednesday, there will be public screenings of the corresponding cinematic appropriation. The Importance of Being Earnest leads the way, and will be shown this coming Wednesday, April 10, at 7pm. You don't have to be a member of the class to attend any of the films, and Criterion fans will want to check the full program, as there are other movies from the Collection featured (Children of Paradise and Last Year at Marienbad [review]), as well as Criterion-worthy selections like Robert Montgomery's The Lady in the Lake (a Philip Marlowe adventure), Michelangelo Anotonioni's Blow-Up, and John Frankenheimer's loopy Seconds.

Monday, April 1, 2013


The non-Criterion movies I saw last month...


Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine's hotly debated, inconsistent subversion of Girls Gone Wild and thug life.

Stokerthe weird, creepy, baffling English-language debut from Oldboy director Park Chan-wook.

The We and the IMichel Gondry's social experiment following a group of Bronx high schoolers on their bus ride home.

My Oregonian columns:

March 7: featuring Tess, Roman Polanski's adaptation of Thomas Hardy; a climate change documentary called Greedy Lying Bastards; and an absolute waste-of-time horror anthology entitled The ABCs of Death.

March 14: the documentaries A Place at the Table, about food distribution and poverty, and Turning, featuring a special performance piece by Antony & the Johnsons. Plus, Yossi, a sequel to the Israeli gay-themed love story Yossi & Jagger, picking up ten years after the events in the first film.

March 21: horror-based documentary My Amityville Horror and war drama The Kill Hole. (Worst title of the year?)

March 29: the poker documentary Drawing Dead, an indie "trapped in a car" thriller called Detour, and the Faux Film Festival.


China Heavyweight, a documentary following three Chinese boxers on their way up and maybe on their way down.

College: Ultimate Edition, the latest Buster Keaton reissue is predictably hilarious.

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, a documentary about the legendary fashion editor, whose career spanned half a century.

* Diary of a Chambermaid, the Jean Renoir adaptation from 1946, almost twenty years before Luis Bunuel.

For Ellen, the third film from So Yong Kim is as emotionally wrought as her others, but lacking certain connections. Starring Paul Dano.

* The Great Magician, a recent period piece set in 1930s China, with Tony Leung as an illusionist. The movie wants to be old-style entertainment, but it's not much fun.

Killing Them SoftlyAndrew Dominik's crime film was my second favorite movie of 2012, and it's even better the second time. Starring Brad Pitt.

* On Approval, a witty British comedy from 1944, directed by and starring Clive Brook.

* The Song of Bernadette, a dismal religious picture from the 1940s, starring Jennifer Jones as the girl who sees visions.

Strangers in the Night, a middling early career melodrama from Anthony Mann.

This is Not a Film, the lauded political documentary from Iran turns out to be much ado about nothing.