Now that I have begun my new “get up in the morning and spend several hours working in the office school provides me” initiative, I will hopefully be able to catch up on all my movie watching.

  1. Scarface (Howard Hawks, 1932): This was convenient after watching the amazing Black Caesar. There are lots of plot parallels. This is one of those movies where you can really see the internal industry censorship (and actually the external government censorship — movies weren’t considered protected speech until the 1950s) working! And it is awesome for that reason. If the word “overdetermined” didn’t exist, someone would have to make it up for this movie. I love when moralizing characters from the community actually point at me. Also, how there is lots of moralizing about gun control, but none about the more obvious gangster-prevention step of repealing Prohibition.
  2. Invincible (Werner Herzog, 2001): This is really…interesting. It is about a Jewish strongman who works with a Nazi clairvoyant in the early 1930s. It’s super-fascinating in the way it stages a lot of Weimar-era stuff: I kept thinking about Kracauer and “The Mass Ornament” and all that stuff.
  3. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006): This definitely benefited from a second viewing. The first time I saw it, I as expecting a different movie, and I definitely watched from a “perverse” point of view: I found the Stasi perative protagonist really creepy and I kept rooting for him to get caught, even though that meant I was rooting for the State, not for the loveable playwright with the awakening political consciousness. That was not really the point of the movie, which is about how people survive in a totalitarian state and about the transformative power of art, but it doesn’t let artists off the hook in terms of political engagement. It is really kind of nice. I think we were supposed to take the creepiness as part of the condition of living in a surveillance society. Apparently it’s a pretty unrealistic movie, in terms of what it was actually like in the GDR, but that’s never really bothered me before, and if anything makes the whole thing more interesting. It’s like filmically trying to recuperate the lingering lack of trust and whatnot that characterized East German life. Or something. As an intriguing “otherwise unrelated German films have something in common besides a complex relationship to the past” note, both this and Invincible feature a character playing a piece of music on the piano as a pivotal, emotional moment.
  4. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977): While I totally get why people like this movie, I fail to understand why it has this privileged position of sacredness for so many people. It’s really not a very good movie in many, many respects. It’s slow to start, the acting is horrible, the pace is kind of plodding. I was really looking forward to watching it again (even the crappy updated version that school had on DVD1) but man, it was really boring right until the last half hour, when there is a big fight with airplanes. I know that Star Wars is a classic of cult/fandom-friendly films because of the time it takes to build its story world (a perspective I owe mostly to Henry Jenkins), and further that a lot of the pleasure of Star Wars comes from nostalgia, but honestly? All I see is some slow storytelling, some exceptionalism, and an embarrassingly obvious psychoanalytic reading of Luke’s ability to get his “missile” in the “hole” in the Death Star’s defenses. Sorry, nerdy dudes my age. I like lots of things that are culty or campy or bad but that are enjoyable anyway, but Star Wars just doesn’t do it for me anymore.
  5. Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945): I know that she was supposed to be unlikeable to the point of ridiculousness, but my favourite character in this was Vera, the shrill woman who Al — who “accidentally” killed a dude and stole all his money — picks up and totally controls him by threatening to sell him out to the police. And is dying of consumption maybe. She is awesomely feisty, if the scratchmarks she left on the dead dude (who implies that he tried to rape her) are any indication. That’s what we in the biz call “reading against the grain.” I am feeling contrarian this week.

In other news, there were a couple of excerpts of Carl Wilson’s 33 1/3 book Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste posted online. I have never bought a 33 1/3 book because I am not that kind of hipster-aspirational pretentious (I am other kinds, don’t get me wrong), but this one seems really interesting. In that it’s a piece, not about the album itself, but about confronting critical issues of “taste,” which I think is super-interesting.

1 While I’m on it: who cares if Han or Greedo shoots first? I realize that it is supposed to reveal something about his character, and the revision represents Lucas sanitizing their childhood memories, but watching it now, it is two seconds in a two-hour movie. A two-hour movie for kids. Who cares? That’s right, I said it.