Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes, which I saw last weekend for the first time (I was determined to inform my impression through the recent restoration overseen by none other than Martin Scorsese), is one of the few films to have fully realized what movies can do; what they were capable of at the time (1948) and what they'll ever be capable of. I can count on one hand the number of films that have so overwhelmed my senses as The Red Shoes has, leaving me in a state akin to shock and unable, for days, to talk in any specific way about what I had seen. And I probably wouldn't need the whole hand.

I walked into it knowing nothing - to my surprise, the film is more influenced by than based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale from which it takes its name - and came out knowing everything. The feel of the night air. The sensation of opening night, just before the curtain is drawn, the time in which anything is possible, for both the audience and the performers. Love, lust, betrayal, and heartbreak. The transportive, ethereal feeling of a fully-expressed work of art. The way light dances in the shadows and explodes with the slightest provocation.

Technicolor founders Herbert T. Kalmus and Natalie Kalmus are said to have hailed this as the best example of their three-strip process; no doubt they were speaking from a technical perspective, but I will gladly go a step further and say that color cinema itself would never know the extent of its possibilities had writers/directors/producers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger not taken this production upon themselves. It's not just the ballet sequence, which is so overwhelming I was at once begging for it to end and desperate for it to unspool forever more. It's the life they captured, the fairy-tale feel that seems so perfectly suited to Technicolor but was never totally appropriated until the moment the stream from the train propels into the air as Moira Shearer gazes off into the night. There are dozens more such moments in The Red Shoes.

I often disregard plot synopses in my writing, just as I skip them in my reading, and The Red Shoes is a perfect example of why. There is little point in doing so. The film is about the joy and the agony of giving everything you have to a concept that cannot be touched or held the way a lover can; what happens to elicit this is mere minutia.

Its highlight, the moment everything comes together in complete perfection, is the cinematic representation of the titular ballet the company puts on, with Vicky (Shearer) in the lead role. What begins as an audience's perspective on the proceedings soon transforms into something that could never take place in physical space, something that would be compared to painting if painting could move. Something that perfectly combines all of the crafts that form the art - costumes, production design, editing, cinematography, acting, music and sound - and creates a truly transcendent experience.

Doubtlessly this amazing print of The Red Shoes has already come and gone through your town - Portland is fortunate to receive such gifts, but still not fortunate enough to get them very quickly. It will be available in July through The Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-Ray, and Lord will I have trouble resisting the urge to buy it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

There's A New Column Afoot...

And it can be found, to no one's suprise, at the burgeoning enterprise known as Shadowlocked. This isn't the sort of thing they usually publish, so please do check out my new weekly column on art house cinema by clicking here, or on Alain Resnais' lovely image below.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Very Popular in All Public Places!

Portland isn't a city especially well-known for its cinematic culture, but we're getting there. In addition to the Regal Fox Tower downtown, which specializes in independent and foreign fare (making it all the more aggravating when a screen is given up to How to Train Your Dragon, fine film though it is), a handful of independent ventures keep us tuned in - The Hollywood Theatre, Living Room Theaters (a misnomer, as there's only one), the NW Film Center, and my favorite theater anywhere, Cinema 21. But film culture doesn't especially permeate Portland culture.

This only makes it all the greater that the Movie Marvel Museum recently opened.

Located in the Alberta Arts District in Northeast Portland, the Movie Marvel Museum is the shortest crash course on film history one could take in that would still be incredibly, deeply rewarding. Focusing on the first half-century of film, the Museum boasts such artifacts as a Kinetoscope, a Moviola Film Viewer from the 1940s, advertisements galore, a five-seat movie theater that shows, as they put it, "the earliest films ever made" (we were treated to Scrappy and Krazy Kat cartoons), and - who would've guessed it - a Mutoscope! That still runs on pennies!

Yes, many of the electronics are interactive! Julie, my girlfriend, and I played back sound through a sound editing machine from, I believe, the 1960s, flipped through the the pictures in the Mutoscope (three rotations per second, kids), viewed some film through the Moviola, and had lunch with the Invisible Man.

What you really feel throughout the space is true love for what they've put out here, a trait not at all uncommon to Portland culture. A number of years ago, there was an absolutely amazing store here called Dr. Tongue's 3-D House of Collectible Toys, and although everything there was for purchase, it really was like a pop culture museum, the history told entirely through toys. We're still best known for Powell's Books, hands down the best bookstore in the United States, which itself is sort of a museum for, and celebration of, literature. A few miles east of the Museum sits Movie Madness, a stunning video store that has, seemingly, every movie available on Region 1 DVD and Blu-Ray (and still carries hundreds, if not thousands, of VHS tapes), in seemingly every edition it's been released. It also boasts an impressive array of film artifacts, including the knife from Psycho and an array of costumes from films like The Godfather, Part II and Magnolia.

The Movie Marvel Museum is a wonderful new venture in this Portland culture built on labors of love. Bursting at the seams with memorabilia, rare artifacts (oh, how I wish projectionists still had to earn a certification card, such as the one they have on display), awesome posters (I can't tell you how many times Julie or I said "I want that for our wall!"), the Museum actively encourages enthusiasm for its subject matter. Getting to actually use these ages-old machines is amazing, and watching the short films was a blast.

If you ever find yourself in Portland, I cannot recommend enough that you check this place out. The pictures included here are the smallest sampling of what they have on display. It's not going to eat up an entire afternoon, much less a whole day (we spent a solid hour in there), but it's an intimate, personal, enthusiastic look at film history, and by extension pop culture history. So much of their collection encompasses a time when film defined pop culture, rather than simply emulating it.

The Movie Marvel Museum is located at 2728 NE Alberta in Portland. Admission is a mere $2.50 ($1.50 for kids!), and popcorn comes with admission (c'mon, how many other museums actively encourage you to eat in there). More information at

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Last Month on TCM

So recently, having risen out of the depths of poverty (and into the ranks of the plain old lower class), my girlfriend and I installed CABLE TELEVISION. Needless to say, it's been a delight (LOST is so much cooler in HD). One of the things we splurged on was a package that included the thoroughly wonderful Turner Classic Movies, which is like having a second Netflix subscription, only they choose what movies to send to you. Having spent a month with it, I felt compelled to share some highlights. 

The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942) - Okay, Orson Welles, you've just made the greatest film of all time. Now you're just showing off. Ambersons is a hugely ambitious film, and although in its 88-minute running time (footage that comprised Welles' longer cut is assumed lost) it can feel a bit abridged, the heights it reaches are nevertheless staggering. By the end I felt much as I feel when I watch Barry Lyndon - elated by the filmmaking accomplishment, and thoroughly eviscerated by the tale I've been told.

More after the jump...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"We put an explosive charge in your head. Does that sound familiar?"

Only a movie as balls-out awesome as Mission: Impossible III would start out with such an arresting line. Only I would continue to defend this movie so vigorously. I do just that, and ponder the really wonderful choice of centering the movie around a completely unexplained device (pictured above), over at Shadowlocked.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Review: Iron Man 2 (dir. Jon Favreau)

I know the worst terms one could use in trying to argue for a movie's virtues are to describe it as "light, fun entertainment." It's damning praise, by God! But sometimes there's a movie that is so assured in its mission to entertain, such an absolutely perfect piece of genre entertainment, and has a personality so uniquely its own, how could anyone possibly shut it down?

In short, Iron Man 2 is the perfect sequel, one that not only surpasses the original, but surpasses the vast majority of like minded films. It gives more of everything that made the first one great (namely Downey, but in a larger sense great, colorful characters) and less of what made it problematic (the action scenes are...well, more on that later). Leading up to the film's release, I kept hearing that it was anticlimactic given the first film's creative success, and while the sequel could never be the breath of fresh air the original was, there is no question that in every aspect it sets out for, the film is a triumph.

More after the jump...