Wednesday, August 27, 2008


TCM aired Touch of Evil last night. It was directed by Orson Welles, and had to be restored in the 1990s after cuts had been made before the original theatrical release in 1958, prompting Welles to write a long memo pleading for the cuts not to be made. To be honest, I can't judge the cuts, since I haven't seen the producers' version of Touch of Evil. However, I've long felt that Welles gets a bit more of a boost in his repuation than he deserves, largely for the fact that he fought constantly against the studio execs. Some of Welles' work is not very good, like F For Fake. And yet, I know a lot of people think F For Fake is brilliant. F For Fake is one of those movies that tries to throw in arty touches, and I think that's part of the reason some people give it such praise: it's a pretension to wax effusive about obscure movies, one that I find myself having to resist. There are a lot of pretentious movies out there that really aren't all that good.

One that came to my mind this morning is Robert Mitchum's Track of the Cat. The movie is in color, but director William Wellman decided to use color sparingly. Most of the set pieces are, if not in blacks and whites, in shades of brown (wood) and off-whites. The only exception to this is Mitchum's bright red coat. It doesn't help save what is a turgid family drama with a tacked-on plotline involving predatory big cat.

TCM "Essentials" co-host Rose McGowan made an interesting comment when presenting Paths of Glory. It's directed by Stanley Kubrick, and she commented afterward that she finds herself hesitant to praise some of Kubrick's later work so highly, if only out of a contrarian impulse. It seems, so she argued, that everybody thinks Kubrick is always great, and there's a part of her that reflexively rebels against such conventional wisdom. It's a courageous remark to make, and I'm glad she did. (I'll admit, though, that part of my reason for liking the remark is that I tend to feel the same way myself.)

I also believe that we're more likely to see people wax pretentious about foreign films: the language is a barrier, leading people to want to see being a fan of foreign films as making them somehow more knowledgeable about films, and thus part of an "in" crowd. Sure, there are excellent foreign films, although it must be said that we in the United States only get to see the best of other countries' output for the most part. The stuff that's designed to be everyday production for the domestic market doesn't get exported. (Although, if you watch some of the Spanish-language TV channels, you can see some pretty lousy Mexican movies.) Even then, some of the foreign films aren't as good as they're cracked up to be. I remember seeing The Damned show up on one of the local PBS channels, and hearing from the critic/presenter that it was supposedly some great movie. It's the tale of a debauched industrialist family (based on the Krupps) at the beginning of the Third Reich (although the movie is in Italian), but it's little more than a two-and-a-half-hour look at excess, with a pointless scene of the Night of the Long Knives thrown in seemingly so they could show a bunch of nearly-naked young men. It's movies like this that lead me to say, "judge for yourself" when I recommend a movie for which I don't particularly care.

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