Archive | Film Matters

‘Schindler’s List’ in Trump’s America

The first time I saw Schindler’s List, it enraged me.

Admittedly, this was not a typical response. Upon its release 25 years ago, the film was touted as the crowning glory of director Steven Spielberg’s career and 1993’s greatest cinematic achievement. At the Oscars that year, the adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s historical novel about true-life figure Oskar Schindler won seven Academy Awards, including Spielberg’s first for best director.

It wasn’t just that the 3-hour-and-16-minute film was expertly crafted. Though documentaries like “Night and Fog” (1955) and “Shoah” (1985) had already catalogued the ravages of the Third Reich, Spielberg’s feature about a German industrialist who saved more than a thousand Polish Jews ignited younger generations’ commitment to “never again” just as Holocaust survivors and witnesses were beginning to die out. In a 2013 interview, the director said, “The shelf life of ‘Schindler’s List’ has renewed my faith that films can do good work in the world.”

Really, as an introduction to both the horror and the goodness of which humans are capable, it was the ultimate Spielberg vehicle. And that was my problem in a nutshell. As the film’s credits rolled and people around me sniffed, I stormed out of the theater, saying, “Leave it to Spielberg to find the feel-good story of the Holocaust.” Continue Reading →

Why ‘The Exorcist’ Haunts Us Still

I first saw “The Exorcist” when I was 13 and home alone. This, of course, was a mistake; by the time the iconic bars of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” were running over the credits, I knew I’d never sleep that night, or possibly ever again. But it was not the circumstances of my viewing that made this film so abjectly terrifying. Forty-five years after its release, the adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s 1971 eponymous novel remains the most frightening movie ever made, and not just because it features a tween whose head spins backward.

At the time of the book’s publication, it seemed unlikely to ever achieve a mass audience, let alone be adapted into the ninth highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation. Until then, Blatty, who also authored the screenplay, had been best known as the comedy screenwriter who’d given us the Inspector Clouseau mystery, “A Shot in the Dark.” A devout Catholic, he’d fictionalized an account of a 1949 exorcism by a Jesuit priest, but even his fancy Hollywood credentials couldn’t save it from being sent back to the publisher in droves. Only when a mysterious set of flukes landed him on the Dick Cavett Show for a full 45 minutes did the “The Exorcist” catapult to the New York Times best-seller list, where it remained for 57 weeks. Continue Reading →

I Found It at the Movies (Holiday Swoons)

Every year I spend the holiday season watching old films on the biggest screens possible, and every year this delights me as few activities in cities ever do. Alone in the dark shoulder to shoulder with rapt strangers, I feel connected to the human condition in a way that is more pleasurably than painfully melancholy. Yesterday, in a green, absinthe-infused hangover I watched 1936’s My Man Godfrey–the Carole Lombard and William Powell vehicle that’s as much smoke as it is fire–long-lashed and heavy-lidded and soaked in a satiny, Depression-era fuck-you politique. I loved it. The day before, I poured vermouth and sherry and watched 2008’s A Christmas Tale, Arnaud Desplechin’s neurotic, erotic paean to love lost and barely found. Its deep skepticism of blood bonds enthralls me almost as much as Deneuve’s red-lipped what-the-fuckery. This is to say: quite a lot.

Today at Metrograph, I ogled The Apartment, one of my favorite Billy Wilder films of all time, which means it’s one of my favorite films, period. Featuring midcentury, midtown New York at is its most woebegone and most sharp-toothed (most rumpled and stylish, too), this 1960 love story lampoons corporate America’s immorality while not-so-secretly upholding underdogs of every walk of life. Not only is it the most Jewish Christmas movie Hollywood ever made, it’s the baseline for all NYC-based romcoms since–all romcoms worth their salt, really. As clever as it is melancholy, New York’s grabby, glamorous melting pot presides as a central character, and its lonelyhearts discover each other via a Manhattan scavenger hunt of great flourishes and rueful afterthoughts. Neither Jack Lemmon nor Shirley MacLaine were ever so sweethearted again, and that’s saying a mouthful. Movie love to you all tonight. Any light in the dark deserves to be honored in this holy terror of a year.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy