Movie of the month: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (dir. Robert Ellis Miller, 1968)

Carson McCullers’ 1940 novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is an astonishing piece of fiction. Set in a small southern town, the book follows several characters who feel misunderstood for one reason or another, all of them drawn to a deaf-mute engraver named John Singer. Cleancut and unassuming, Singer is staying in town to be near a hospitalized, mentally challenged friend to whom he acts as a caretaker. He becomes much beloved by his new associates: every character comes to him with needs of their own and a desire to be finally “heard” with real sympathy. Unfortunately, all of these friendships are one-way, with everyone projecting an ideal onto Singer and never reaching out to see if he needs someone to listen to his troubles for once. This lack of reciprocity leads to a harrowing conclusion.

It’s a loaded book, dealing with small town suffocation, gender nonconformity, racism, sexual awakening, family drama, existential questions about finding meaning and companionship– and yet, the atmosphere is not always so heavy. There’s a lot of humor in the story and the characters all have their odd quirks, making them feel more vivid and alive. McCullers was damn near Shakespearean in her ability to juggle so many tones.

It’s no shock that Hollywood didn’t touch this novel until the 1960s, when permissiveness onscreen and an increased willingness to deal with social issues made such an adaptation possible. Taking their cameras to Alabama, Warner Bros. got a wonderful cast together: Alan Arkin as Singer, Sondra Locke as tomboyish teenager Mick, Percy Rodrigues as the embittered Dr. Copeland, Cicely Tyson as Copeland’s estranged daughter Portia, and Stacy Keach as Jake. Veteran cinematographer James Wong Howe would shoot the film, giving it a hazy, nostalgic look evoking humid southern summers.

I wasn’t always a fan of this movie. Even with its being shot in a more permissive time, the film scrubs out Singer’s implied homosexuality and the nastier bits of political satire are excised completely. The bizarre, tender world of the book was now filtered through Hollywood mush, or so I thought. A later rewatch allowed me to make peace with the film and appreciate it as its own entity. Even with the edges sanded off, the movie version keeps intact the desperate, aching soul of McCuller’s novel. When we think of movies dealing with loneliness, harsher works like Taxi Driver tend to come to mind, but Heart is more poignant. It’s gentle with its characters despite their moments of selfishness and lashing out, and that gentleness prompts the viewer to be similarly compassionate in their own life. God knows, we all need it.

I mainly selected this movie to commemorate Alan Arkin’s upcoming 89th birthday, which will be at the end of the month. This film was made two years after his big screen triumph in The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming and it’s easily his most heartwrenching, even as he opts out of simple histrionics. And that’s what I’ve always liked about Arkin as an actor– he never goes for the obvious in playing his characters. It would have been easy to make Singer an object of pity and for the performance to devolve into cheap Oscarbait; however, Arkin adds a level of calculation to Singer that becomes more apparent on subsequent viewings. In a later interview, Arkin pointed out that Singer only befriends people he can manipulate, not to be cruel but to ward off any chance of his becoming vulnerable with another person and to keep himself in total control of every situation. He permits the other characters to fashion him in their own desired image and thus keep them at arms’ length. Ironically, this self-distancing makes Singer more vulnerable– and more human.

People take movie lists too seriously (also a review of Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles)

Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (1976) - Backdrops ...

This was originally meant to be a simple reaction to my first viewing of Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles— recently voted the greatest movie of all time by Sight and Sound‘s latest poll. Instead this piece became a meditation on the folly of taking GOAT lists seriously. At all. Ever.

And no, not for the reason you might imagine I’m saying that. Because I actually liked Jeanne Dielman quite a bit.

If you’re unaware of the film, here are the basics. Jeanne Dielman was directed by 25-year-old Chantal Ackerman and released in 1975, making a splash in film festival circles. It’s pure minimalism, focusing on three days in the life of the titular character. Jeanne is a middle-aged widow with a teenage son. Her life is quiet, mostly consisting of housework and cooking– oh, she also has a side hustle sexually servicing older men during the afternoon. All of this is precisely timed, with Jeanne managing her daily existence down to the second.

Ackerman goes out of her way to present all of this with a purposefully distanced view. Eschewing close-ups or overly manipulative angles, Jeanne’s routine is shot from Ozu-style angles, giving the movie a sense of unpolished realism and also allowing Jeanne her space, as Ackerman once put it. Much of the runtime is made up of long takes of Jeanne peeling potatoes, tidying up rooms, or waiting for an elevator. In interviews, Ackerman states that she wanted to focus on domestic work that people rarely value offscreen or on, the opposite approach to the Hitchcock maxim that drama is “life with the boring parts cut out.” Jeanne Dielman is life with the “boring” parts intact and this is intrinsic to the film itself. In film, we are often given epic treatments of great battles, disasters, historical events, and crime. Ackerman made such an intimate epic about an ordinary housewife living a subdued life, throwing light on the work we so often overlook or don’t see as worth much.

If you are not in the right headspace, this can be tedious… however, knowing this going in, I found myself drawn into the movie’s world. There’s something hypnotic, even soothing about Jeanne’s clockwork routine in the first third of the film, something impressive about the grace and efficiency with which she goes about her day. I was surprised by how engaging it all was.

Of course, this film still needs conflict and that creeps in on Day 2, when Jeanne gets thrown off her groove. It is implied that her client brought her to orgasm, and it’s clear from Jeanne’s self-possession and what little we hear about her married life that she has never experienced sex as anything but a pleasureless chore. The sensation is so unexpected that Jeanne over-boils her potatoes and starts missing steps in her routine. This gets worse and worse, leading up to the film’s startling conclusion.

So yeah, definitely not your traditional crowd-pleaser. Outside of arthouse circles, Jeanne Dielman is virtually unknown… that is, until 2022 when Sight and Sound featured it as their new “greatest movie of all time,” displacing former champions Vertigo and Citizen Kane.

And oh, the wailing and gnashing of teeth. The entire list was accused of being overly political in general and Jeanne Dielman seemed to be the epitome of everything many criticized about the poll results. It’s considered a key feminist film. The content is inaccessible to anyone save for arthouse snobs, unlike Citizen Kane and Vertigo which can at least be watched by casual filmgoers. Those who complained about the list were accused of being reactionaries and those who applauded the list were accused of being ideologues.

To be honest, I’ve never understood people who get mad at “best of” lists or award shows. Every list is subjective, so I’ve always viewed them as suggested viewing rather than enshrined canon that cannot be questioned. If I dislike anything on such a list, I just shrug and go about my day, because who cares? These films are not going to magically make hordes of casual filmgoers dive into old movies and arthouse films anyway. They solely exist so cinephiles can fight each other to the death on social media. I’ve never seen them do much otherwise. People even complained when Vertigo got the top spot in 2012, so yeah, this is more of the same to me.

Jeanne Dielman didn’t even pique my interest until Lea Stans of Silentology wrote her reaction to it. Intrigued by her nuanced take, I got a copy through my library. Bracing myself to be at best interested in the techniques alone, I was surprised by how riveting the film is.

No, it’s not a new favorite. It’s not going to be something I obsessively rewatch, though I certainly would like to rewatch it someday. But I found the movie fascinating—honestly, more fascinating than even its champions make it out to be.

Scroll through the positive Letterboxd reviews and you’ll be told this is a movie about an unhappy homemaker forced into a life of domestic drudgery by the patriarchy, but it’s not really. For one thing, Jeanne seems to find solace in her routine. She moves through that cramped apartment with confidence and ease, and she performs her duties with graceful dexterity.

If anything, Jeanne’s desire for total control over herself is what undoes her, not anything the male characters do. This quality makes her an efficient homemaker, but it also makes her emotionally closed off to everyone around her. A fellow housewife she babysits for can only get clipped comments from Jeanne when they chat at the door. Jeanne’s sister lives in Canada and the two sporadically exchange letters. Even her relationship with her son is awkward. Jeanne attempts dinner conversation over banal subjects, while her son attempts to discuss his anxieties about sex and marriage with his unreceptive, dismissive mother. From what we learn of Jeanne’s relationship with her late husband, it seems to have been as loveless as her encounters with her clients. Jeanne makes it plain she only wanted a child and “a life of my own” from her marriage. One has to wonder if keeping people at arms’ length while also performing all kinds of services for them is meant to keep Jeanne fully in control of her little universe.

For me, Jeanne’s quest for total self-possession is what makes the story interesting and even universal in its own odd way. We all have our own coping mechanisms or routines that give us an illusion of domination over our lives—maybe we’re not as dedicated as Jeanne or as extreme in our reactions when thrown off, but the point still stands. The horrible thing is that Jeanne’s ritualized routines that give her comfort and perhaps even a concrete sense of purpose only serve to keep her emotionally and psychologically cut off from others, which brings up a whole flurry of questions about the ending. Is Jeanne free? Has she ruined her life? And just how literal or metaphorical is her final, desperate action?

If I have any complaints about the film, it’s that the prostitution angle feels a little contrived, existing solely to make commentary on how divorced Jeanne is from her own body and perhaps the mother-whore dichotomy as well. I never got the sense that the Dielmans were impoverished in any way or that this was a desperate last resort for money. And as Stans observes in her review, “The mystery to me, admittedly, is why she would work as a prostitute when she could hardly expect every client to act according to a scrupulous routine. She seems more cut out to work as a clerk or accountant or something along those lines.” Even Ackerman admitted the sex work angle was more of a metaphor than anything, but if I were to disregard movies for contrivances that work to make a point, I’d have to dismiss a lot of movies I love, including Sight and Sound’s previous GOAT pick, Vertigo (what is the complicated murder plot in that movie but a contrivance so Hitchcock can explore what he’s really interested in—fantasy projection, erotic obsession, and control?).

Of course, not everyone will get the same things out of this movie that I do or even think it’s good—as it should be, that’s how art works. However, the level of outrage I see aimed at the movie because of the Sight and Sound ranking annoys me, because I feel some people are going into the movie wanting to hate it due to their disillusionment with why it might have been picked.

Take the video below, which is a standard negative review of the film in the light of the 2022 poll:

What struck me most is how personally the reviewer seems to have taken the film’s placement on the list. That bias becomes plain with this line:

“If film is a mirror, this is one that shows critics to themselves in the most flattering light. It shows anyone looking to have a good time at the movies the door. Or for many, the inside of their eyelids.”

He accuses the movie of being an empty bore that people project onto—basically, because Jeanne Dielman doesn’t put any obvious interpretation up front, the reviewer scoffs that any viewer with an “active” mind can impose their own and he accuses critics of being particularly creative about the film’s merits despite its sparseness in plot, even as he tries to backtrack and say great films need not be accessible. Apparently, any positive feelings about the film could only come from “theory and politics” and not looking at Jeanne Dielman as a work of art.

As someone who liked the film as a film, and who even aborted a career in academia because of boredom with dry theory (not to mention the drudgery of grading papers– I’d rather watch Jeanne clean her bathroom for hours than grade papers again), that is news to me.

Look, I get not liking the film or thinking it’s pretentious or thinking the payoff wasn’t worth the three hour investment, but some people act as though Ackerman killed their mother and that anyone who likes the film is an accomplice. Their reactions come off as not so much wrestling with a film that did not work for them, but wanting to get back at those mean critics for overlooking X film or Z filmmaker because they wanted to be “political” or “different” in voting for Jeanne Dielman. That’s not fair to the film and it’s a waste of energy for the viewer.

I also found the reviewer’s point about the film as a “Rosarch test” particularly interesting. Putting aside that I disagree that there is nothing in the film for any viewer to work with in forming an interpretation, I have to ask does every great film have to make its point obvious? Some films are straightforward in their messages, while others invite the viewer to come to their own conclusions. That’s how people have gotten so much mileage out of discussing 2001: A Space Odyssey for over fifty years. (Funny, that’s another film I’ve seen accused of being an “emperor’s new clothes” deal for pretentious critics only.)

Despite what some people think, we do, to a certain extent, project ourselves onto the movies we watch. We bring our own experiences, tastes, and expectations to each movie we see, whether you’re watching the latest blockbuster or a Bergman film. That’s just reality. That’s how two people can watch the same film and come out with wildly different reactions. Is Bergman’s Winter Light about the death of faith or its fragile resurrection in a post-atomic age? Your religious convictions or lack thereof could very well influence how you read that movie. Is the ending of City Lights tragic or happy? Is it sentimental tosh or a tender exploration of the power of love? That depends how cynical you are.

Here, let me use an example more personal to me. Take Stanley Donen’s beloved cult romcom Two for the Road. I have seen the film twice and disliked it both times. I think the characters are vapid whiners and find their relationship toxic. The unconventional editing and Audrey Hepburn’s ability to make some of the ugliest 60s fashions look chic are all that impress me about it. However, one of my closest friends adores Two for the Road. She’s moved by the film’s depiction of the ups and downs of marriage, and views the characters as endearingly flawed rather than insufferable.

I don’t know what scares me more: their relationship or Audrey raiding Ernie and Bert’s closet.

We both saw the same film, but came out with wildly different interpretations of the material. Why? Could it be due to our different life experiences? Perhaps. I am under 30 and unmarried; she’s been married for four decades. We are each responding differently because we’re different people. Now, I’m not saying I’d suddenly like the film if I was married, but experience does play a role in my reaction.

Taste does too, and that seems to be the heart of whether or not you’ll like Jeanne Dielman. For some, Jeanne Dielman’s experimental qualities are what make it great. They find it a liberating film unburdened by the usual formulaic demands of narrative storytelling, showing a fuller picture of what a movie can be by allowing us to fully inhabit and engage with this woman’s life in all its unglamorous splendor. But for others, the experimental nature is a knock against any claim to greatness because it is inaccessible to most people and relentless in its insistence on boring the audience with the mundane.

In the comments section for Lea Stans’ review of the film, John Bengston made a comment that has stayed with me:

“I may lack the insight and intelligence to appreciate the subtle nuances of “slow cinema,” but it troubles me when “genius” has to be diagrammed and explained, when the genius in so many other movies is staggeringly self-evident.”

I understand the sentiment. The Wizard of Oz is a great film with many layers and ways to read it, but it is also a film that can be enjoyed by casual filmgoers and movie buffs alike. The same could be said of Citizen Kane—a film buff will get why it’s highly regarded and be able to glean deeper themes from it, but a casual viewer can appreciate the story on its own terms and come away satisfied. Jeanne Dielman—well, one of these things is not like the other. But once again, I implore you, does every Great Film need to be great for the same reason? Genius does not always look the same. It can be unapparent at first, or it can be “staggeringly self-evident.” And as for me, I like myself a good, challenging film.

Ultimately, why freak out over a list when there is no ranking that will please everyone anyway? Some films will move you and others will not. Some films not considered great might touch you deeply, while canonized classics and celebrated filmmakers might strike you as overrated. That’s the nature of the game.

And that’s the way we should view these lists– they’re a game, nothing serious at all. They’re fun to make and fun to discuss (when people don’t get butthurt anyway). The films not included on the list will not spontaneously disappear from existence. The films you think shouldn’t be there are not going to gobble up Lawrence of Arabia or The Grand Illusion. It’s just a dumb list, like any list I could post on this blog.

I can hear the cries already: “But what about young cinephiles of the future who use these lists to get suggestions?! This list is going to make them miss X film because now it’s banished from the list!”

Is it? Do people actually work like that when they get into film?

When I was a budding movie geek in 2009, it’s true that I used the AFI lists to get recommendations, but my taste has since wandered to a lot of films that were never included on any iteration of that list. In fact, I became so preoccupied in my own research and viewings that I never even finished watching all the films ranked there, but I am grateful that the list offered me films I had never heard of before, both ones I loved and ones I did not. There are films on those lists like Ben-Hur, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest I find incredibly overrated, but you don’t see me freaking out about their inclusion. I watched them, thought about them, disagreed with the list, and then moved on with my life. In the case of Jeanne Dielman, the new list and the controversy around it turned me onto a film I might not have selected on my own, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. That is literally the best thing any of these goofy lists can do.

You see, cinephilia is a journey and because the world of movies is so large and everyone has their own unique tastes and interests, not everyone’s journey is the same. A list can be a good starting guide, but inevitably, they will introduce you to filmmakers and genres you click with and then you’ll continue your own independent exploration, combing through TCM listings, streaming services, and your local library for titles that stand out to you.

A list like any put out by AFI or Sight and Sound should not be seen as dogma, even if they were to present themselves as such. The contents of any list tell you more about the people compiling them and voting in them than they do about anything else, so just keep that in mind anytime you read one. It’s nothing serious– and at least unlike the Oscars, you won’t be subjected to cringey jokes from celebrities, so there’s that.

Movie of the Month: Don’t Bother to Knock (dir. Roy Ward Baker, 1952)

Image source: The Movie Database

Putting aside her unfortunate label of “tragic sex icon,” Marilyn Monroe tends to be most associated with comedies: How to Marry a Millionaire, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and of course the sublime Some Like It Hot. However, we should not forget Monroe’s excursions into noir: The Asphalt Jungle, Niagara, and today’s subject, Don’t Bother to Knock.

Essentially a one-room thriller, Don’t Bother to Knock is a bit of a noir outlier: unlike in the more famous Niagara, Monroe isn’t playing a femme fatale, and the story doesn’t involve what we would normally associate with noir (detectives, criminals, hard-nosed dames, suckers with bad luck, fatalism, etc.). But it must be remembered that noir is a very flexible genre/movement/whatever-you-define-it. It’s more about atmosphere and sensibility than tropes, and when you take that into account, Don’t Bother to Knock is noir to the core, suffused with that moody, uneasy postwar anxiety that characterizes all classic noir from Double Indemnity to Touch of Evil.

Technically, Monroe is not the film’s protagonist. That would be Richard Widmark’s Jed Towers, a pilot whose hotel lounge singer girlfriend (Anne Bancroft in her movie debut) dumps him for being too hard-hearted. Nursing his bruised ego in one of the hotel’s rooms, Jed spies a beautiful woman in a window opposite his. This is Monroe’s character, Nell Forbes, a fragile young woman babysitting a wealthy guest’s child. Jed calls up the room and Nell agrees to have him over, but what Jed thinks will be a casual tryst becomes something more awful when it becomes clear that Nell is a disturbed woman. Convinced Jed is her dead fiance (who also happened to be a pilot), she endeavors to keep him close and to harm anyone who dares get in their way– including the little girl in her charge.

From that synopsis, you might expect Nell to be little more than your garden variety psycho, but the film is far more compassionate than that. We get bits and pieces of Nell’s sad backstory, and it’s clear that she isn’t a monster to be slain but a lost soul crying out for help. Monroe must be commended for not going over the top with either the character’s menace or pathos. Widmark also gets a meaty role, going from a cynical hardass to a more understanding human being.

The film moves briskly, squeezing all the suspense possible from the situation and the single location. Don’t Bother to Knock might not be as iconic as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or The Seven-Year Itch, but it might just feature Monroe’s best performance. It’s certainly a rebuff to any proposal that she was only a pretty face.

Movie of the Month: The Red Shoes (dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948)

Image source: Letterboxd

A note: I normally try to keep this column spoiler-free, but this piece ended up becoming more of a meditation on The Red Shoes‘ themes than an introduction to the film. Hence, there will be mild spoilers and you’ll probably only get anything out of this if you’ve seen the film. So if you haven’t, go watch it! It’s a true masterpiece.

My brain always classifies Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes as a fantasy film, even though it isn’t one. Not technically—still, this is a movie that can only be described as enchanted. Magic creeps in at the edges, both in the iconic Red Shoes ballet sequence and in the film’s sumptuous Technicolor.

The story is deceptively simple when examined on paper. Ballerina Victoria “Vicky” Page is torn between her career and her personal life, each side represented by the austere impresario Boris Lermontov and Vicky’s musician lover Julian Craster. These are the bare bones of rote melodrama and yet no one could ever accuse this romantic fever dream of a movie of being standard. What elevates it?

I’d say it’s the film’s sophisticated understanding of the symbiotic bond between art and life. Vicky’s ultimatum is wrongheaded because for her, art and life nourish one another. The central ballet sequence is so stunning and surreal because it shows how Vicky’s inner world melds with her dancing. The desires and torment of the girl in the story mirror Vicky’s own fierce ambitions and budding love for Julian.

Image source: Criterion Collection website

Lermontov views this romance with disdain. For him it is as unthinkable as a nun falling in love. Lermontov’s philosophy is that artists should “ignore” human nature and dedicate themselves solely to their chosen vocation. When Vicky breaks down, he urges her to ignore her broken heart because “life is so unimportant.” Long before Lermontov’s demands become too taxing, the audience is subtly shown the fruits of his philosophy in the montage showcasing Vicky’s rise to the top of her profession. The camerawork lacks the dazzle and interiority of the Red Shoes ballet earlier. As critic Ian Christie points out in the Criterion commentary track, Vicky becomes “just another prima ballerina” under Lermontov’s strict tutelage—the result of art divorced from life. She is technically brilliant and popular, but the ecstasy she showed earlier is missing.

Julian is Lermontov’s inverse. Fueled by petty rage against Lermontov as the result of a spat between the two of them, he demands Vicky leave the company with him, despite her conviction that Lermontov represents the absolute best in dance. Her own ambitions have to be curbed to validate Julian’s ego. Her dreams become secondary to keeping their marriage intact. The scenes of her wandering their home at night, forlornly gazing upon her unused ballet shoes reminds one of those folk tales about swan maidens with clipped wings.

(I admit that if I have one issue with The Red Shoes, it’s that Julian comes off as a whiny brat unworthy of any sacrifice. Plus, Lermontov is played by the charismatic Anton Walbrook, who just walks away with every scene in which he appears.)

The last few paragraphs make the movie sound dour, which is not at all the case. Much of the first half focuses on Lermontov organizing his ragtag band of dancers, musicians, and artists to bring the titular ballet to life. I love the detail in these scenes. They focus on the hard work that goes into art—the discipline, the long hours, the dueling egos, the anxiety that you’re all making crap and not the masterpiece you envisioned. If you’ve ever worked in dance or theater in any capacity, all of this will be familiar.

With all of that in mind, it’s no wonder that The Red Shoes tends to be so beloved by creative people. Lord knows, it’s inspired scores of viewers to pursue dance. Few other films are so fully a celebration of the power of art.

Favorite posts of 2022

2022 was a productive year for me. I developed new skills and delved into cinematic movements I’m not too familiar with (specifically, the British New Wave—expect content on that in the upcoming year). If I thought last year’s best posts represented my finest work to date on this blog, then 2022’s best topped even those! So here are the three posts I feel represent that higher standard.

Wait Until Dark (1967) Audio Commentary

Obviously, this audio commentary for Wait Until Dark is the project I’m proudest of this year because it took me the farthest out of my comfort zone. I’m confident expressing ideas with the keyboard, but not with my voice. To be honest, you can tell I’m a little nervous at points in the recording, but overall, I’m satisfied with it. I was able to delve into the film’s production history and why it remains such an exemplar thriller even after half a century, and I had a great time doing it. Here’s hoping for further venturing into uncharted territory in the future!

The Singin’ in the Rain blogathon: Examining the Broadway Ballet

Coming in second is my analysis of the Broadway Ballet from Singin’ in the Rain. I’ve loved this sequence since I first saw the film—it’s extravagant and colorful, cinema in the purest sense, yet it often garners criticism as an indulgent incarnation of Gene Kelly’s ego. I argued the ballet has more to do with the film’s story than is generally thought.

On George Lucas, The Searchers, and cinematic quotation

And then the bronze medal goes to this post about the evolving relationship between Star Wars and The Searchers. This piece didn’t get much attention, but I’m proud of it regardless. I’ve always found Lucas’ six films fascinating, warts and all. I also think the way the saga is influenced by John Ford’s 1956 masterpiece is often under-examined. People assume the references are all visual quotations only, but as I argue, there’s more of a conversation going on between Ethan Edwards and Anakin Skywalker—and George Lucas and John Ford—than is generally believed.

Movie of the Month: Christmas in Connecticut (dir. Peter Godfrey, 1945)

My mother once went through my home media collection and told me I didn’t have enough comedies in there. It is true that I tend to prefer horror, psychological thrillers, satire, Shakespearean tragedy, dystopian sci-fi, and noir to, well, fluffier fare, but my taste isn’t completely devoid of whimsy. If I was, then I’d hardly be recommending Christmas in Connecticut, pure concentrated Yuletide cheer in cinematic form.

Barbara Stanwyck plays Elizabeth, a magazine writer whose readership thinks she’s tending to a baby and cows on a Connecticut farm, whipping up delicious homecooked meals and searching for the perfect rocking chair. In reality, she lives in a messy NYC apartment, spends her salary on mink coats, and probably couldn’t whip up a bowl of instant potatoes, let alone roasted duck. However, her publisher has no idea that Elizabeth isn’t who she claims to be and to boost sales, insists Elizabeth have war hero Jefferson Jones over for Christmas. Rushing to get a husband (a long-time admirer will have to do), a farm (luckily the long-time admirer has one), a baby (borrowed from a local woman while she’s off at work), and someone who can cook (Elizabeth’s chef pal “Uncle” Felix), Elizabeth also finds herself falling for the handsome Jefferson… too bad he thinks she’s a married woman!

The whole story is essentially a farce, not to be taken too seriously whatsoever. What always sticks out to me most is how borderline naughty the romance between Elizabeth and Jefferson is. For 90% of the runtime, he assumes she’s a married woman, and he reacts to her open flirting with a mixture of shock and titillation. Stanwyck and co-star Dennis Morgan have a great deal of chemistry, making their scenes a delight, and they get wonderful support from Sydney Greenstreet as Elizabeth’s publisher and SZ Sakall as Uncle Felix (his constant use of the term “honky-donky” always cracks me up).

So yeah—I’m not all gloom and doom! I can recommend Christmas films other than the moody Alastair Sims’ Scrooge or nihilistic noir like Blast of Silence!

Movies I’m thankful for… Wuthering Heights (dir. William Wyler, 1939)

Blogging around Thanksgiving can be tough. Unlike Halloween or Christmas, there really aren’t that many Thanksgiving movies, certainly none considered seasonal classics like the Universal horror lineup or It’s A Wonderful Life. However, there are plenty of movies I’m thankful for: movies that introduced me to a beloved artist, movies that remind me of a family member or friends, movies that I associate with a fond memory.

So I decided to highlight one such movie today: William Wyler’s 1939 adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Why am I so thankful for this movie? Because it led me to what is now my favorite novel of all time, though not in the way you might expect… especially since I technically read Wuthering Heights before seeing the movie.

My introduction to Emily Bronte’s 1848 gothic masterpiece was typical of most readers: it was assigned reading during my senior year of high school. Now, today I am a great lover of what we call “classic lit.” Back then though? I hated pretty much everything for assigned reading in school, save for Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe. Having to read what I considered depressing, confusing stuff during my three months off didn’t make me relish the likes of The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, or Wuthering Heights. Wuthering Heights especially drove me mad as it is a demanding work for an adult, let alone for a teenager.

Set in 18th century England, the story centers on Heathcliff, an orphan foundling adopted into the Earnshaw family, who belong to the landed gentry. When his doting adopted father takes ill and dies, Heathcliff is left at the mercy of the Earnshaw heir Hindley, who forces him to the level of a servant. Heathcliff’s lone solace is his relationship with his adopted sister Catherine, a fellow free spirit who enjoys mischief and long hours on the nearby moors. Hindley’s attempts to keep the friends apart only serve to strengthen their kinship– that is, until Catherine catches the eye of handsome Edgar Linton, the heir of the nearby Thrushcross Grange. As much as she loves Heathcliff, Catherine is seduced by Edgar’s fine breeding and wealth, and opts to marry him so she can be the finest lady in the county and then use her newfound influence to take Heathcliff out of her brother’s power. Feeling betrayed by his one friend and unaware of her hope to rescue him from servitude, Heathcliff runs away, much to Catherine’s horror.

A few years pass before Heathcliff returns, now the owner of a decent fortune. Overjoyed, Catherine longs to resume their friendship, but Edgar isn’t fond of Heathcliff and Heathcliff has a mind to have his revenge on everyone that wronged him. And his vengeance is so great that it threatens to consume not just Catherine, Edgar, and Hindley, but also the next generation and even Heathcliff himself.

Covering roughly three decades, the book is not written in a conventional way: there is a framing story set in 1800, but much of the novel is presented in flashback, told by the former Earnshaw servant Nelly Dean, who, by the way, is not always the most unbiased narrator. Characters often have similar names (Edgar and Catherine’s daughter is named Catherine; Heathcliff’s son by Isabella Linton is named Linton Heathcliff; Hindley has a son named Hareton), a device meant to emphasize a sense of cyclical repetition but one that only served to send me to Sparknotes constantly just to keep track of who was who.

And then there are the characters, who are almost uniformly unlikable. The books and movies I enjoyed featured main characters who were sympathetic and easy to root for, so I didn’t know what to make of Wuthering Heights, where victimized characters often become vicious victimizers and the central pair of lovers engage in obsessive, cruel behavior. Heathcliff is a particularly monstrous sort, treating others with sadistic relish once he comes into power and doesn’t have to take anyone’s crap anymore. Bronte initially makes it seem as though Heathcliff will be a diamond in the rough who can be transformed through love– and then she pulls the rug out under the reader, with his undying love for Catherine being the thing that only just barely makes Heathcliff seem vulnerable and human at all.

Honestly, I was too young to properly appreciate the uncompromising nature of the story or the psychological complexity of the cast. That, and I just wanted to spend hours on my PS2 and nowhere near some old book I’d have to write a report on before August. When I was done with the novel, I shoved the paperback in a drawer and never thought I’d ever touch it again.

Wuthering Heights entered my life again about a year later. Throughout senior year, I was in the early phase of my film geekdom and my way of sampling a variety of genres and eras was to go through the American Film Institute’s many curated lists. You know– the Top 100 American films, Top 100 Thrills, etc. Included on the Top 100 Passions list (a compilation of the best romantic American films) was William Wyler’s 1939 version of Wuthering Heights.

I don’t remember what my response was to seeing this title on the list. Probably an eyeroll. But I dutifully watched it… and wouldn’t you know, I was crying at the end and haunted by the film for weeks after seeing it. I literally stayed up all night thinking about it once. When that happened, I knew I had to reread the book.

And what do you know? I loved it and stayed up all night thinking of Bronte’s characters once again. I haven’t stopped thinking of them ever since.

Twelve years on and I still love Wyler’s Wuthering Heights. It’s a golden example of the exquisitely mounted melodramas the big Hollywood studios put out during the 1930s and 1940s. The black-and-white visuals perfectly evoke that desired gothic, haunted atmosphere in which ghosts chill the air and even the strongest love possesses undercurrents of yearning and pain. Director William Wyler creates a sharp contrast between the exteriors and interiors, mirroring the way Catherine is torn between her desire for the moors (where she and Heathcliff can be free of the class distinctions that keep them apart) and the seductive comforts of high society. But of course, the heart of the production is the chemistry between Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon– passionate, obsessive, and borderline sadomasochistic in their onscreen interactions. Both actors do well bringing these charismatic but infuriating people to life. That they have any chemistry at all is impressive, given that the two performers were reportedly at each other’s throats on set.

I know as a fan of the novel I’m supposed to hate this movie. As an adaptation, Wyler’s movie is hardly faithful to Bronte’s original. The setting was changed arbitrarily to the 1840s rather than the late 18th century purely on the whim of the producer Sam Goldwyn. The screenwriters toned down the nastiness of the characters. The entire second half of the book was cut from the script, thwarting the book’s focus on how abuse can beget more abuse and how the second generation of characters decide they will not repeat their parents’ mistakes.

Without the second half, it is true that the story loses much of the source material’s uniqueness and power, becoming a far simpler romantic drama about the unfairness of the British class system. If I have one big complaint about the film today, it’s that the ending seems so abrupt without the later stages of Heathcliff’s revenge. However, that might only seem so problematic to me because I am now thoroughly familiar with the novel. Back then, I was satisfied with the ending and other viewers might argue this ending works well in the context of the movie. Indeed, on its own merits, the film remains a beautifully mounted gothic drama, among the best of its era. I always enjoy seeing it– I prefer to think of it as a study in Wuthering Heights, much as Olivier saw his 1948 Hamlet film as “a study in Hamlet” due to its truncated nature.

Today, I am a certified Wuthering Heights junkie. I’ve read the novel over ten times and own several editions of the book. I’ve seen most of the film and TV adaptations. I’ve even watched the enjoyably cheesy 1996 Cliff Richard musical.

But all of that love only blossomed because the Wyler film inspired me to give the book another chance. For that, I will be forever grateful.

Movie of the Month: The Lineup (dir. Don Siegel, 1958)

(I’m changing my Short of the Month bit to Movie of the Month. I’m sure there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth lol.)

In observance of Noirvember, I’m recommending the last noir I watched, Don Siegel’s The Lineup. Set in San Francisco, it’s a taut little crime thriller that cuts between two plot threads: a trio of crooks out to recover smuggled narcotics and the cops on their trail.

While the first fifteen minutes leave the impression that you’re about to get a standard police procedural, the moment the criminals appear, it’s clear you’re in for a treat. Each of the crooks is given a strong personality and the dynamic between them is uneasy throughout. One is more restrained, hoping to get the job done as quietly as possible, while the driver is an alcoholic with a bottle hidden on his person.

The shining star of the whole thing is a young Eli Wallach as “Dancer,” the most violent of the smugglers. Brimming with pent-up rage beneath his deadpan manner, he leaves a trail of bodies in his wake as he goes to uncover his illegal goods. He’s so engaging that he makes the more heroic characters look absolutely colorless by comparison.

The movie’s most noirish element has to be that undercurrent of danger in a seemingly civilized society, that sense that no one can truly be trusted. At one point, Wallach puts on a courtly, charming manner to persuade one of his marks to take him back to her apartment where his next shipment is hidden inside her daughter’s doll.** There’s something understated yet dreadful about how this woman– and indeed, so many other characters in the film– takes Wallach at face value, never suspecting his unsavory occupation or violent nature. It’s as if she thinks the truly evil parts of the world will never touch her and her upper-middle class life– by the end of the movie, it will be clear that there is no real insulation from evil for anyone.

** I just realized between a trio of bad guys searching for heroin and one of the shipments being placed inside a child’s doll, this sounds an awful lot like Wait Until Dark, which I just did a big project on last month– I swear to God, my picking this movie was just a coincidence, I’m not that obsessed (I hope).

My audio commentary for Wait Until Dark (1967)

Here’s a first for me: an audio commentary of the 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark, an underrated gem and a top five personal favorite of mine.

If you’ve never seen the film, don’t bother with this commentary until you do. It’s a great little cat-and-mouse thriller in the Hitchcock mold: Audrey Hepburn plays a recently blinded housewife who finds herself targeted by a trio of criminals out to find a stash of heroin that accidentally ended up in her possession. The story is packed with twists and turns, and the suspense slowly builds to a boiling point. The final twenty minutes are truly nail-biting, with Hepburn fending off the most dangerous of the thugs (played to perfection by a young Alan Arkin) in a battle to the death.

It’s a unique movie in the Hepburn canon, one of the few thrillers she ever did (think of it as the suspenseful but romantic Charade‘s more sinister cousin). She walks the fine line between vulnerability and tough-minded resourcefulness, and the result is one of the best performances of her entire career. She finds the perfect onscreen nemesis in Alan Arkin, whose master criminal is every bit as intelligent as she is. And then there’s the fine direction, the great script, Henry Mancini’s queasy yet gorgeous score– but you can hear me gush about all that in the track.

In the commentary, I cover the following:

  • How Wait Until Dark started out as a stage play by Frederick “Dial M for Murder” Knott, but the screen rights were purchased by Warner Bros. at Mel Ferrer’s request well before the show even opened on Broadway
  • How Wait Until Dark was adapted for the screen without resorting to obvious “opening up” tactics to make it more cinematic (courtesy of screenwriters Robert and Jane-Howard Carrington and director Terence Young)
  • The numerous differences between the play and the film
  • Frederick Knott’s style as a thriller playwright and the running themes/motifs between his three plays (Dial M for Murder, Write Me a Murder, and Wait Until Dark)
  • Wait Until Dark‘s long stage history, including the ill-fated 1998 Broadway revival and Jeffrey Hatcher’s noirish 2013 adaptation
  • The almost-constant conflicts between Team Hepburn (which includes producer Mel Ferrer and director Terence Young) and the studio over everything from Hepburn’s wardrobe to where the interiors would be shot
  • How Alan Arkin’s characterization choices (based on his actual interactions with criminals and drug addicts in early 60s Chicago) initially baffled the film’s crew and the movie critics (though apparently charmed a decent number of teenage girls who sent the alarmed actor love letters)
  • Hepburn’s extensive research of blindness and her friendship with a visually impaired college student
  • Richard Crenna being underrated as hell
  • My (mostly nuanced, I think) thoughts on the irritating husband character
  • And much more!
A very giallo-esque Italian poster for the film. Source: Cinematerial

Making my own commentary has long been a dream of mine, but for years, I felt I wasn’t good enough and putting my voice on something terrified me. However, over time I’ve become less self-conscious and decided, hey, why not? Other people have recorded fan commentaries (I was particularly inspired by the Batman and James Bond commentaries on the This Damn Fool Idealistic Crusade channel on YouTube and Chris Meadows’ 2006 fan commentary of The Castle of Cagliostro)—why shouldn’t I give it a try? Even if it isn’t Criterion-worthy, creating something is better than just dreaming in vain forever.

To be frank, this commentary project is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. It involves more than just talking—I had to make sure my vocal delivery was audible and figure out where to talk about what subject within the movie itself. I also had to make sure I was able to comment on scene-specific details amidst more general information about the film’s production. I confess I wasn’t able to share all the research I did either– 108 minutes goes by fast!

I admit I feel a bit vulnerable in posting this. I’m comfortable enough cranking out a written review, but expressing anything with my voice makes me feel exposed in a way that a normal essay does not. (I have to wonder if silent film actors making the transition to talkies experienced much the same dread in being heard for the first time?) I tried my best not to sound “academic” or dry. I think I succeeded there and maintained a casual (if very geeky) tone throughout (especially with my many jokes about Alan Arkin’s delightful wigs), but you can still detect a bit of my nervousness now and then.

A page from an original Japanese film program for Wait Until Dark. On the left side, you can bask in the glory of Arkin’s many wigs, ranging from oily beatnik to dapper old coot about town.

Still, it’s good to do things that scare you. I’d been in a creative rut for a while and having to learn new skills to work on this commentary rejuvenated me. I hope it’s a fun listen.

You’re welcome to play the track along with the film or to just listen to it like a podcast. Whatever suits you—I tend to have commentaries playing while I’m cooking or doing housework.

Below, I’ve also posted a list of the main sources I used when researching the film, as well as the sources for the interviews I directly quote in the track.

One last thing: I made two errors in the commentary, both luckily minor. First, I claim My Fair Lady was the biggest film of 1964, but that was actually Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews really got her revenge, didn’t she?). Second, during the scene where Jack Weston is interrogating Hepburn for the first time, I say something like, “When Carlino patted Mike on the shoulder a few moments ago”—only for the aforementioned pat to occur about a minute after I said that. That was meant to come out as “When Carlino pats Mike on the shoulder in a few moments” but my brain shorted out and I got the tense wrong, and just never picked up on it until yesterday. So if you’re watching along with the film, don’t think you’re off-sync—I’m just being an idiot.


“A Look in the Dark,” the making-of featurette included on DVD and Bluray versions of the movie

“All for Knott” by Joan E. Vadeboncouer for Syracuse Herald American (NY)

Audrey: Her Real Story by Alexander Walker

Audrey: The Life of Audrey Hepburn by Charles Higham

Audrey Hepburn by Barry Paris

Audrey Hepburn: A Biography by Warren Harris

Blood on the Stage, 1950-1975: Mileston Plays of Crime, Mystery, and Detection by Amnon Kabatchnik

The Carrington screenplay can be read on this website:

Clown Prince of Hollywood: The Antic Life and Times of Jack L. Warner by Bob Thomas

Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn by Donald Spoto

Everybody’s Talkin’: The Top Films of 1965-1969 by Barry Monush

Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock

Lee Remick: A bio-bibliography by Barry Rivadue

Liner notes by Lukas Kendall for Film Score Monthly release of the Wait Until Dark soundtrack

“Look What They’ve Done to Her Script” by Donnell Stoneman for News & Record

The making of feature films: a guide by Ivan Butler (Terence Young is one of the directors interviewed)

Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott

Sources of direct quotes:

Arkin’s comments on fan mail – Saturday Review (September 9, 1969: Vol 52, Issue 36)

Arkin’s comments on how he came up with his characterization – The Actor Speaks: Twenty-four actors talk about process and technique by Janet Sonenberg

Hepburn’s comments on having to commit onscreen murder – “Star Must Walk to Work” by Florabel Muir

Crenna’s comments on Hepburn’s professionalism – Audrey Hepburn: a biography by Warren Harris

More than a crappy remake: The Truth About Charlie (dir. Jonathan Demme, 2002) and the French New Wave

Image source: TMDB

Stanley Donen’s Charade is one of those classic movies so tied with its era that it’s hard to think anyone would ever be insane enough to remake it. Well, this happened twenty years ago in the form of The Truth About Charlie. Directed by Jonathan Demme of The Silence of the Lambs fame and starring Thandiwe Newton and Mark Wahlberg in the Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant roles, The Truth About Charlie scrounged only $7 million on a $60 million budget. Critics were aghast, classic movie fans were enraged, and everyone else opted to buy tickets for Jackass: The Movie.

No one talks much about Demme’s remake, but when they do the inevitable course they take is to compare it to Charade. And compared to Charade, that effervescent gem of a Hitchcockian thriller, Charlie is a dud. Newton and Wahlberg share no chemistry at all, the villains are all boring (you could accuse Charade‘s baddies of being cartoonish, but cartoonish leaves more of an impression than “the tall one with cardiovascular issues,” “the tough lady who randomly becomes sympathetic later,” and “that third guy”), and the attempt at a playful yet edgy tone is awkward rather than exhilarating. Charade balanced thrills, comedy, and romance, while Charlie tries all of these tones without being success at one, let alone competently blending all three.

It’s easy to pick Charlie apart as a remake, but I’m interested in another element of its conception. You see, Demme was not interested in a standard remake. While rewatching Charade with a group of friends, he pondered how while Donen was in Paris filming one of the last great Old Hollywood pictures, nearby young French New Wave directors Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard were rewriting the rules with their irreverent, energetic projects.

That’s when it hit him. Why not retell Charade using the techniques of the French New Wave?

For those unaware, the French New Wave was a movement lasting from 1958 to about 1970 mostly helmed by young film critics turned filmmakers. The movement rejected the conventions of traditional filmmaking and possessed a general countercultural spirit. Avant-garde editing, non-traditional storytelling, and an iconoclastic sensibility touching everything from social norms to politics prevailed. The influence of the French New Wave was immense, most notably spilling over into American film and resulting in the New Hollywood movement of the 1960s and 1970s. But by the early 2000s, even something as radical as the French New Wave had a touch of nostalgia to it, particularly for cinephiles. For some, it represents golden age of young, enthusiastic rule-breaking. No doubt Demme was among this lot.

Now, was combining an Old Hollywood classic with a New Wave sensibility an inherently dumb idea? Not necessarily. A similar approach was used for one of the French New Wave’s bonafide classics, Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player, which adapted an American hardboiled crime novel with cinematic playfulness. In fact, Shoot the Piano Player was Demme’s primary stylistic inspiration for The Truth About Charlie.

I suppose it would be helpful to lay out the stories of these two movies. An adaptation of David Goodis’ hardboiled crime novel Down There, Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player follows Charlie, a down on his luck pianist who works at a seedy bar. A mild-mannered, shy fellow, he’s drawn into a gang conflict when his criminal brother comes begging him for help. Charlie doesn’t want to get involved: he’s already on the run from his own tragic past and trying to deal with his burgeoning romantic feelings for a pretty waitress at the bar where he works. However, as it is with noir, the past isn’t so willing to lay down and die.

This synopsis makes the movie seem almost normal if you’ve never seen it, but don’t be fooled. Shoot the Piano Player is an odd duck of a film. It jabs at cinematic conventions (when Charlie has a woman in bed with him, he pulls the sheets over her bare breasts and says, “That’s how they do it in the movies”—Truffaut’s way of gently kidding cinematic standards of taste), injects silly comedy into otherwise serious scenes, stops the story for a weird music number, and de-glamorizes its noir protagonist by making him awkward with the woman he loves (he tries holding her hand but cannot—shades of Buster Keaton unable to take Kathryn Macguire’s hand in Sherlock Jr.).

If you’ve seen Charade, then you’ll already know the basic premise of Charlie, as it’s pretty close structurally. Chic young Reggie Lambert discovers her mysterious husband has been murdered and a trio of dangerous types are after money he stole from the US government. They think Reggie knows where the money is, but she hasn’t a clue. Along the way, Reggie is aided by a mysterious stranger named Joshua Peter who isn’t what he seems, and even though she can never be sure if he’s friend or foe, he is awfully cute…

The Truth About Charlie employs self-conscious techniques to emulate the experimental qualities of the French New Wave. For example, when Regina meets Joshua Peter, Demme cuts between panning close-ups of the two actors. During a conversation between Regina and another character, we get constant jump cuts, copying similar technique in Godard’s Breathless. Like Shoot the Piano Player, there is a musical number and weird comic interludes, though they’re not half as enjoyable. Somehow, they result in mood whiplash rather than the charm of spontaneity.

So why does Truffaut succeed with his experiment and Demme does not?

It could be the amount of plot each movie juggles—and Truffaut has the easier deal. Shoot the Piano Player is straightforward: man has a broken heart, man’s happiness with a good woman is threatened by criminal associations, man has to fight to protect his possible future. Anyone can get that easily, so Truffaut’s improvisational style works well. He can divulge into weird musical numbers and goofy slapstick without giving the viewer a headache. The shifting from comedy to action to melancholy drama might not appeal to every taste, but you can follow the movie without tearing your hair out in frustration.

Charlie tries to be playful, but its constant zooms and jump cuts and shaky cam and weird close-ups feel more like obnoxious film student antics than anything. The mishmash of tones feels awkward, like Demme was copying Truffaut’s technique without understanding what made it work. Beneath the clowning, thrills, and noirisms, there is a strong strain of melancholy throughout Truffaut’s movie. The protagonist’s broken heart gives the movie a sense of consistency, even when it’s being silly. Charlie just jerks the viewer between thriller boilerplate and awkward romantic comedy, with no beating heart beneath. There are attempts at drama, particularly during the climactic confrontation, but it’s sloppy and too little, too late. The climax might actually be the worst offender in that regard– shot exclusively in close-up for some reason, incredibly anti-climactic, and trying for pathos for a character the film barely bothered to build up.

Truffaut is also comfortable with just riffing on Goodis’ story, changing plot points at will. Considering how hard Charlie is trying to be playful in the French New Wave mode, it shocks me how closely it hues its screenplay to Charade, which is famous for how convoluted and twisty its plot is. Any time the movie stops trying to feel improvisational and then gets back to its central mystery, the plot screeches the momentum of the pacing to a halt. All the jump cuts and shaky cam in the world cannot make exposition interesting, not without strong characters and fine performances—and aside from Newton, the movie’s got nothing to work with there.

Demme’s adherence to Charade‘s screenplay also reveals another shortcoming, perhaps the biggest one of all: this does not feel much like a New Wave movie. Oh sure, Demme uses jump cuts during his expositional conversations, doing his best imitation of Godard’s Breathless. He has his abrupt musical numbers. He shoots handheld footage of Paris to give a “you are there,” cinema verite quality not unlike The 400 Blows or Cleo from 9 to 7. Agnes Varda, Anna Karina, and Charles Aznavour show up in odd cameo roles. But at its most basic level, the movie is a by-the-numbers romantic thriller. There is no sense of true, youthful experimentation like you had with the New Wave filmmakers. Compare Charlie to truly visionary New Wave works like Shoot the Piano Player and Alphaville, and it becomes plain how skin-deep the homaging is. It’s an homage to someone else’s homage.

It’s also half-hearted in its iconoclasm and iconoclasm was a huge part of the French New Wave. Truffaut maybe less so than, say, Godard—but Truffaut is still sending up Old Hollywood conventions in his film even while it’s clear he enjoys those movies. Demme doesn’t really jab too much at the Old Hollywood elements of Charade, besides deliberately making Wahlberg an “anti-Cary Grant,” deglamorizing Paris, or having Newton get nude in the shower (a “reversal” of Cary Grant’s fully clothed shower). As I’ve tried to make clear, Demme is more interested in the French New Wave part of the film than redoing Charade… but his attitude towards the French New Wave is reverential. One of the last images in the film is even a shot of Truffaut’s grave.

Anna Karina’s cameo

Does that kind of reverence have that much of a place in this style of filmmaking? The New Wave filmmakers did eat, sleep, and dream movies, but they were radicals at heart. They smashed idols or at the very least lampooned them, but Demme has made these iconoclasts idols in and of themselves. Is that a paradox? I genuinely don’t know– I don’t want to suggest that this means you can’t homage the French New Wave– but I think it does somewhat compromise the film’s desire to feel like those movies.

So maybe after all this rambling, what I’m trying to say is The Truth About Charlie is so much more than a crappier Charade. Its failure is far more interesting than that. And I have to afford it some respect—if you’re going to fail, then fail spectacularly.