So I’m back to fight the evil Shame in ’17

I screwed the pooch last year. I drafted an elaborate Shame Statement from here to Baja, California and I made a wrong turn at Albuquerque. Okay, I lied. I made a wrong turn in Columbus, Ohio, likely when I needed a White Castle fix.

We don’t have any White Castles in Pittsburgh, okay!?!?

I don’t want to get into the ways in which I failed my Shame Statement. It would just be rehashing old wounds. Instead, I’m going to move on. I’m going to move on from 2016 and all that mess and my blown Shame Statement. 2017 is a new year. New Shame. New rules. No more Mr. Nice 007hertzrumble.

Let’s get back to the basics. 12+ movies. 12 months.

I’ve again consulted my handy dandy Entertainment Weekly Guide.

EW GUIDE TO THE GREATEST MOVIES EVER MADE

I’ve lost the benefit of free will this year due to my failings in 2016. For my first Shames, I’m taking the first unwatched entry in each genre and moving forward.

DRAMA:

#1. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942) – #16 Drama

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Honestly, I’ve never felt shame for not having seen The Magnificent Ambersons, but the book shames me. So I will oblige.

 

#2. Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970) – #20 Drama

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I’ve planned to watch Five Easy Pieces for years, decades. I’ve just never done. I’ve owned the film on DVD and I just recently upgraded to Blu-ray. That makes sense, right? I’ll watch it twice to make amends. I watched a few clips during film school and the sense of having seen it probably proves detrimental to the actual, legitimate watching.

 

COMEDY:

#3. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925) – #25 Comedy

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Another film school casualty. In fact, I could probably blame film school for my woeful lack of Chaplin, whereas I’ve devoured both Keaton and Lloyd. Having seen dozens of individual moments from Chaplin films, my memory gets a little foggy regarding the ones I’ve actually watched start to finish.

 

#4. It’s a Gift (Norman C. McLeod, 1934) – #29 Comedy

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The TCM Slapstick Fall class sold me on catching up on my W.C. Fields education. I’ll retitle this section of my Shame Statement “It’s a Shame!”

 

ACTION/ADVENTURE:

#5. The Black Pirate (Albert Parker, 1926) – #8 Action

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Apparently I’m pretty well versed in Errol Flynn, so the Book has dictated that Douglas Fairbanks requires attention. So it goes.

 

WESTERN:

#6. Ride the High Country (Sam Peckinpah, 1962) – #7 Western

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There’s only so many times I can write about how I’m going to watch this movie. And I’ve hit that limit. It’s not like I don’t like Peckinpah. I REALLY LIKE PECKINPAH. And it’s not like I haven’t watched dozens of B-level Randolph Scott movies. BECAUSE I’VE WATCHED DOZENS OF B-LEVEL RANDOLPH SCOTT MOVIES.

 

#7. My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946) – #10 Western

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I bought the Criterion Collection edition of My Darling Clementine for just such a Shameful occasion.

 

MYSTERY/SUSPENSE:

#8. The Postman Always Rings Twice (Tay Garnett, 1946) – #8 Mystery/Suspense

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Postman currently resides on my DVR, which is handy.

 

HITCHCOCK

#9. Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948)

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It’s a Hitchcock movie starring my favorite actor. SHAME. All caps.

 

#10. Lifeboat (Alfred Hitchcock, 1944)

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I figure one good Hitchcock movie set in one spot deserves another.

 

HORROR:

#11. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer Friday the 13th

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Truth time. I really don’t want to watch this movie. I’ve been told to watch this movie. I’ve read how amazing it is. Everyone seems to think this movie is the absolute bees knees. I’ll save this for October and my 31 Days of Horror Movie Marathon when maybe I can trick myself into watching this by putting it in the Tremors 4 case.

I even recorded a podcast about it. 

MUSIC:

#12. Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1986) – #15 Music

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When one of my favorite bands has done a rockumentary and I haven’t watched it that’s pitch-perfect SHAME, friends.

 

#13. The Commitments (Alan Parker, 1991) – Personal Pick

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This is a movie that fits squarely in the “I’m going to f’ing love this” box and I haven’t seen it. I know it might not be your particular ball and chain, but knowing I haven’t watched this weighs heavily on my conscious.

 

#14. Viva Las Vegas – (George Sidney, 1964) – Elvis Shame

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1964 Elvis and Ann-Margret, directed by George Sidney. Time to fix this oversight.

 

LONG PLAYS:

Zatoichi Criterion Box (Various, 1964-1973)

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I started this endeavor last year. I did not finish. Carry on, Zatoichi.

 

I’m determined to take on 2017 with everything I’ve got. No more Mr. Passive Resistance. I’m here to kick some Shame butt.

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State Your Shame for 2017

Do you have those movies — you know the ones — the ones you *should* watch, the ones you could watch if you just made the time?

It's a Wonderful Life - Wall of Shame

The Blade Runners, the Godfathers, the Taxi Drivers, the It’s a Wonderful Lifes that everyone talks about and maybe you admit you haven’t seen them.

Maybe.

Or maybe you pretend because you know enough to make idle conversation and espouse idle, non-poignant remarks that won’t give away your secret.

CinemaShame is a community of online writers, bloggers and social media participants that have formed a support group, a safe zone, for penitent moviewatchers. We name the movies we regret not having seen. We watch the movies. We write about our experience.

Finally watching a “classic” after reading and hearing about it for so many years offers a different perspective than those that have lived and loved a film for their entire life. It’s an informed perspective that brings prior knowledge and cultural awareness. Does the film live up to its status? Does it live up to the hype?

Join the Knights of Penitent Moviewatching. Share your shame, fulfill your destiny. Kneel before the classics of Cinema.

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31 Days of Horror: 2016 Shame-a-thon

For the past few years, I’ve gathered the fearless masses during these pre-Halloween weeks, encouraging them to indulge in a horror movie shame-a-thon, sponsored by Cinema Shame. The notion was simple. List 31 unseen horror movies you feel obligated to watch and tackle as many as you can during the month of October.

It may seem impossible, but October’s creeping up on us all yet again. I know this, you see, because it’s my birthday tomorrow and my birthday is a harsh reminder. The whole end of summer, end of one more year of existence combo-malaise. Pumpkin picking, hay rides, apple cider, arguing about costumes with small people… and then Halloween.

This year, I’m again following my Cinema Shame method, but adding a new twist. Fellow Pittsburgher @ElCinemonster has been organizing his Hoop-Tober Challenge on Letterboxd.com for three years now. Each year he lays down some challenges to help guide the viewing of his monstrous minions. Anyway, that’s been a smashing success, and I’ve enjoyed watching the event from afar. This year I’ve decided to combine my Cinema Shame Horror Shame-a-thon with @ElCinemonster’s Hoop-Tober Challenge to create the most unwieldy title in the history of movie blogging and watching.

Welcome to the 2016 CinemaShame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile 31 Days of Horror Shame-a-thon

31 days of horror 2016

So let’s lay down the laws, shall we? Continue reading

So… the Red Shoes are, well, really f’ing red.

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When first conceiving my 2016 List of Shame I scanned my shelves for especially shameful movies I’d owned but never watched. The Red Shoes stood out. It’s red and white text, bold and conspicuous against the sea of low-numbered Criterion black. Somehow the act of purchasing and procuring magnifies the Shame. Here, I intend to watch you, I do, but for now you’re going to sit on this shelf over here and look pretty. It’s the “We’ll do lunch” of movie watching. During the last Barnes and Noble Criterion Collection sale, I broke down and purchased The Red Shoes, Powell and Pressburger’s early Technicolor masterpiece. I’d read all this hyperbolic praise for The Red Shoes, including some from the likes of Martin Scorcese who ranks it among the finest films ever made. And there it was all beautiful and Blu-ray-y.

Vicky Page (Moira Shearer), a young ballet dancer from a well-to-do family, snags an audition (courtesy of her Aunt’s connections) with Boris Lermontov, the hardass, take-no-prisoners impresario of the Ballet Lermontov. This is the kind of guy that believes art begets suffering and suffering begets art and anything else is just tiddlywinks and glue sniffing. When Lermontov loses his prima ballerina to the nefarious institution of marriage, he creates a starring role for Vicky Page in his new ballet, an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Red Shoes.” It’s your typical happy-fun-times HCA bauble. A peasant girl becomes obsessed with a pair of red shoes. The shoes begin to move and dance on their own. She can’t stop dancing. She can’t take them off. She asks and executioner to chop off her feet. The shoes continue to dance. There’s apparently a scene where the girl’s amputated feet lead her down the aisle at church so she can show everyone the red shoes again. She begs God for mercy and then her soul flies off to Heaven. The End. What the actual fuck, Hans Christan Anderson?

Based on the fairy tale, you can guess where this movie’s going as life begins to imitate art. Lermontov’s The Red Shoes becomes a huge success, catapulting Vicky Page into ballet superstardom. All goes well until Page falls for her Red Shoes composer and their coupling throws Lermontov into hysteria. He boots the composer. She leaves the company, knowing she’ll never have the same success elsewhere. Lermontov also retains the rights to The Red Shoes.

So that’s the story. But that’s not why it’s beloved. Powell & Pressburger’s use of color in The Red Shoes stands as a monument of visual filmmaking. Red jumps off the screen as if in a third-dimension. I also can’t recall a film framed in the Academy ratio that felt this big. And it’s not about scope and scale. It’s about the use of light and shadow, a conservation of space and timely deployment of color.

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The film leaves images imprinted on the brain. Like that one above. And this one.

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Meanwhile contemporary critics of the film often panned The Red Shoes as derivative. Hrm. It seems to me there’s a disconnect here in 1948. A rarely used color development process. Some of the most arresting visuals in cinema this side of D.W. Griffith. So what’s the problem, jerky critics? Ahhh. Yes. There’s that story I mentioned earlier.

In many ways, The Red Shoes is a quintessential entry in the “backstage melodrama” genre. Aggressive, petulant showrunner. Delicate but driven ballet dancer. Forces of nature collide. Tears happen. Hearts are broken. It’s done well. It’s a competent, time-tested love quadrangle. If we keep Hans’ original story for The Red Shoes in mind, we know the narrative’s ultimate destination. I won’t spoil it in case you’re slow on the uptake. The question that you then must ask is whether or not Powell and Pressburger earn that ending. That’s a touchy question to ask in the face of millions of adoring fans claiming The Red Shoes to be an inarguable classic, a pinnacle of early British cinema.

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Controversial opinion alert:

My immediate gut says that The Red Shoes doesn’t earn its ending. The film packs an inordinate amount of character shift into the final five minutes, sprinting to the finish, perhaps as the amputated shoes raced down the church aisle for their final bow. If we know the story of the fairy tale, we have already injected that into our interpretation of the film. I remember wondering with ten minutes to go if I’d read the film entirely wrong and we weren’t going for the movie imitating the ballet within the movie conclusion that seemed so very assured after Lermontov first describes ballet he wants to produce. The final shot fails to resonate for that reason. It all happens in a relative blink without any time to dwell on the finer points of character.

While I adored much about The Red Shoes, I can’t give this my highest recommendation. The rushed ending and perhaps indeed derivative narrative detracted from my overall reception. I’d pre-written the OMFG 5-star review in my head during the journey but by film’s end I realized I needed to rewrite the script. I’ve reduced my overall impression to OMFG that cinematography! that Moira Shearer! and ehhhhh… what just happened?

Shame #1 is in the bag for 2016. But I’ve got a long year ahead. Join me, won’t you?

So… I am super shamed in 2016.

You’d have thought that after two years of Cinema Shame treatment I’d feel slightly less guilty about the films I hadn’t watched. Nay! NAY! I feel more guilty because not only do I have movies I should have watched but I also have movies I should have watched that I’ve put on Shame! lists and still haven’t watched! Shame ^ 10.

2014 Cinema Shame List / 2015 Cinema Shame List

I did eliminate two-time offenders Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Deer Hunter. Huzzah! At least I completed my 2014 list in 2015.

Entering 2016, I’ve made a vow to watch more of the unwatched films currently in my collection. This proves tangential to my vow to take control of my unwieldy stash of DVDs and BDs. I’ve run out of space on my shelves. I’m double stacked. There’s bins in the closet. This is the year I enjoy what I’ve amassed. This is the year that the movies watched exceeds the new acquisitions.

In theory, anyway. The best laid plans of mice and obsessive DVD collectors and all that jazz. This year, I pay my penance for overextending my budget and my available space. This year, it’s the grinder.

Now, I present my 2016 List of Shame.

1. The Red Shoes (1948, Powell & Pressburger)

red-shoes-moira-shearer-001

After hearing nothing but hyperbolic praise for The Red Shoes, I purchased the Criterion Blu-ray during the last Barnes and Noble sale. It’s time to see what the fuss is all about.

 

2. Hitchcock Shame! Rope & Lifeboat

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Hitchcock always gets the shaft when I sit down to watch a flick. I’ve seen bits and pieces from dozens of films I studied in school. Consequently, I rarely feel compelled to make them a priority. Here are two Hitch classics, viewed in film school bits and pieces, but never in totality.

 

3. Spartacus (Kubrick, 1960)

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Much like Ben-Hur two years ago, I feel like I’ve seen it even though I clearly haven’t. 2016 is the year I own up.

 

4. The “Other” Adventures of Antoine Doinel! Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, & Love on the Run

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I’m a big fan of Truffaut. I’m a big fan of The 400 Blows. Yet the rest of Antoine Doinel’s adventures sit on my shelf unwatched. No excuses.

 

5. Aki Kaurismäki’s Criterion Eclipse Sets

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Proletariat: Shadows in Paradise, Ariel, The Match Factory Girl

Leningrad Cowboys: Leningrad Cowboys Go America, Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses, Total Balalaika Show

I counted La Vie de Boheme among my favorite first-time watches of 2015. I abruptly went out and picked up Kaurismãki’s Criterion Eclipse sets. Bring it on, Aki, you Finnish deadpan fiend.

 

6. Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

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Point of clarification: I’ve seen the first Zatoichi film. It’s time to watch the *gulp* other 24.

 

7. The Complete Fritz Lang Dr. Mabuse – Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse, & Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse

Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler

The Complete Mabuse set from Masters of Cinema is gorgeous. Yet, all I’ve done is admire the thing. Break the seal.

 

8. Warner Archive Backlog – Any 10 WAC Titles

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A case of my eyes and moviewatching aspirations are bigger than my available watch time. I have an entire shelf of Warner Archive titles. They’re shamefully unopened. SHAME! It’s a good thing WAC stopped having those 5 for $50 sales or I might have had to watch 20. (I don’t mean that. It’s a terrible, horrible, no good thing.)

 

9. The Essential Jacque Demy

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Auto-buy because I love The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Well, I’ve watched The Umbrellas of Cherbourg but I’ve yet to view Lola, Young Girls of Rochefort, Bay of Angels, Donkey Skin or Une Chambre En Ville. At all. As in I’ve never seen any of them. I had Young Girls of Rochefort in my DVD player once. But I never actually hit play. SHAME.

 

10. Cinema Shame Horror Shame-a-thon 2016!

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We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. I can’t be bothered with this yet.

 

11. Batman Television Series

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I cracked this open immediately after purchase and watched one episode. I’m still dying to know what happens in episode two. So maybe I won’t finish this, but let’s try to make a dent, okay? Maybe a little nick. Let’s just watch some Batman and see where it goes.

 

12. Unfulfilled Past Shames

1. Take the Money and Run (Woody Allen Shame!)

2. What’s Up, Doc? (Bogdanoshame!)

3. Ride the High Country (Peckinpahah Shame!)

4. The Guns of Navarone (Essential War Shame!)

5. Big Heat (Noir Shame!)

6. Fellini Satyricon (Fellini Shame!)

7. Ikiru (Kurosawa/Criterion Shame!)

8. Five Easy Pieces (Everyone-Told-Me-I-Need-To-Watch-It Shame!)

9. Viridiana (Bunuel Shame!)

 

So that’s it. Whattya think, sirs?

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So Guys and Dolls has something in common with James Bond

Guys and Dolls - Sinatra and Brando

I’m not much for Broadway. I can count the number of stage musicals I’ve seen on one hand.

Um. Give me a minute.

Okay. Here we go. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Phantom of the Opera. Damn Yankees (the only one I’ve actually seen on Broadway). I saw my high school’s production of Grease. Does that count? When it comes to movie musicals, I’ve done the major rounds. But I’d never seen the 1955 production of Guys and Dolls starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando.

Remove the notion that it’s a 150-minute lavish Hollywood musical, long imitated, twice revived. Instead, consider only that it’s a movie starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra in their prime. Sold, right?

In this Cinema Shame exercise to date, the movies I’ve watched have come attached with baggage and preconceived notions. The baggage hauled along with Guys and Dolls, however, was the music. Being very familiar with Frank Sinatra’s repertoire of jazz standards, I already knew his recorded versions of “Luck Be a Lady,” “If I Were a Bell,” and the theme from Guys and Dolls. But I wasn’t prepared to know almost all of the songs. This struck me as rather remarkable, the way the songs originally written for stage musicals have a way of permeating our popular culture. The jazz culture of the day displaced and regurgitated songs through crooners and performers, songs like “Luck Be a Lady,” until they’re rendered without distinct origin. I knew the Sinatra songs going in, courtesy of his regular attribution to Frank Loesser, Guys and Dolls composer and lyricist. But here’s the one that surprised me… and right out of the shoot, too…

When you’re as obsessed with Let It Ride as I am, this 2-minute ditty (that opens the film) takes on whole new levels of recognition.

Because that song (“Fugue for Tinhorns”) also opened Guys and Dolls, I shifted out of the “waiting for the stuff I knew” mode and into “What else don’t I know?” It’s a small shift in perspective that left me open to experience the film cold rather than dotting out boxes on my Guys and Dolls bingo card. And though the film felt familiar, I attributed that familiarity to the ways in which subsequent Hollywood musicals borrowed staging and choreography.

The moment at which I realized I honestly liked Guys and Dolls takes place in Cuba. Marlon Brando has whisked away his mark (Jean Simmons) to Cuba to win a $1000 bet. He’d slyly introduced her to a cocktail called Dulce de leche, suggesting to her that the rum is merely acting as a milk preservative. She’s a teetotaler, you see. Then under some brand of “musical logic” the two engage in a bar fight before slipping out the side door. Next we see the pair, the woozy Simmons has her head in the fountain and she begins to sing “If I Were a Bell,” a song I only knew through Sinatra.

Simmons was not a singer, nor was Brando, obviously, but they’re both allowed to use their real singing voices. No dubs. Hearing Simmons sing this song caused me to hear something entirely different. Sinatra sings it with such cocky swagger that the point of the song becomes obscured. As Simmons sings it in the movie, it’s about vulnerability, giving into spontaneous temptation. Her tinny singing voice and playful interpretation frame with music with the innocence of her character. Go ahead. Try to hear “innocence” when Sinatra sings the very same song.

Brando singing also came as a kind of inevitable surprise. Inevitable that I knew he’d eventually sing (and dance) but it still feels “out of nowhere” so to speak. I’d last seen Brando in the Lost Souls documentary about the disastrous Island of Dr. Moreau project. Coming to terms with both versions of Marlon Brando (even though we clearly know he exists as charming leading man and Hollywood-skeptical lunatic) took some doing. Anyway, here’s Brando singing the Sinatra standard “Luck Be a Lady.”

He’s good, right? I mean, not Sinatra-level crooning but still surprising.

I’m sitting here with a backlog of Cinema Shame to write up and I’m lost in thought and wondering where I was going with any of this. I’m sure the lost thoughts were ones of inimitable brilliance.

Also, that Dulce de leche cocktail that Brando offers Jean Simmons in Cuba? When Brando ordered the cocktail, my wife asked, “Isn’t that not alcoholic?”

“Oh, don’t be silly. Of course it’s alcoholic. It’s like rum and condensed milk and stuff.”

She raised an eyebrow. The “other things” perhaps causing her to doubt the validity of my assertion.

According to some quick Interweb searches, they made it up for the production of Guys and Dolls, like Ian Fleming and the Vesper. So as it turns out, Guys and Dolls has something in common with Casino Royale. And that kicks it up a notch in my book, like that rum in the condensed milk…. and other stuff.

Pssst. Here’s the recipe.