Brattle Theatre Film Notes Posts

December 17, 2017 / / Main Slate

By Matt Hannigan

In many instances a film is like a con. It wants to hook you, it wants to make you personally invested in the outcome, and it wants you to walk away with a smile on your face and slightly less in your wallet. If the endeavor is a success, there will always be enough to suggest that the artist—the film artist or the con artist—knows a truth that you do not. If the endeavor is unsuccessful, the feeling of being cheated will linger and frustrate.

December 16, 2017 / / Main Slate

By Tessa Mediano

I was first introduced to John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in my junior year of high school, when it was required viewing for my American Studies class. Despite my initial aversion to watching it, an old-timey hokey western to my 16-year-old mind, I grew to appreciate this film’s stature as an analogy and representation of American history, for this film grapples with two American archetypes that have immensely influenced how Americans are culturally perceived: the rugged cowboy and the idealistic reformer. These two figures, portrayed by John Wayne and James Stewart, respectively, clash repeatedly in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and the film convincingly challenges the viewer through the complexity of their dynamic. While the film clearly endorses the reformer’s stress on education and law as positive agents of change in the West, ultimately it is through an act of violence and deceit that progress comes to the western town of Shinbone, suggesting that the path forward is not always straight and narrow.

December 12, 2017 / / Main Slate

By Christian Gay

With 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick presented audiences in 1968 with an impressive and expansive interstellar future. Following a haunting origin story, wherein a black monolith appears to a group of prehistoric apes, Kubrick transports viewers to an exotic outer-space world where scientists have unearthed the monolith on the Earth’s moon. After another leap in time, we are brought aboard the spaceship Discovery during its “half-a-billion mile journey” to Jupiter.

December 11, 2017 / / Main Slate

By Michael Roberson

Ask someone to describe Dario Argento’s Suspiria, and the first thing they mention will likely be the colors. Suspiria’s film print was one of the last to be struck in the Technicolor imbibation process (also used by The Wizard of Oz, another famously colorful film about witches),

December 10, 2017 / / Main Slate

By Larry Cherkasov

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is an uplifting film only insofar as it ends on an upswing for its hero, summing up a treatise against self-destruction. Even though Frank Capra’s Christmas classic is moral allegory, class conflict suffuses it, resulting in a less-than-cheerful socioeconomic conclusion underlying its wonderful, Christmassy closing: that money can force American citizens to their knees at the expense of faith and self-confidence. Frank Capra lionizes the entrepreneurial main character, George Bailey (James Stewart), into the protector of the American Dream and gladiator of the “battle of Bedford Falls” so that he may knock him down several notches and watch him writhe. This narrative progression is not so much sadism on the part of the director as portraiture. Frank Capra uses George Bailey’s story as a case study for class relations in America, portraying the difficulty of attaining the American Dream when the Mr. Potters of the country are actively out to get the average American. The Dream haunts as a Christmas Ghost in this rightly canonized Capricorn picture.

December 9, 2017 / / Scene Analysis

By Larry Cherkasov

Slow, plodding xylophone mallets pace the viewer’s heartbeat as Suzy Bannion makes her way into the frame, shrouded in black, face bouncing off yellow light, mascara projecting her eyeball out of the celluloid. With bated breath, she spies on a witch’s coven performing the rites of its leader, the yet-unseen Helena Markos, queen witch of the hellish Tanz Dance Academy. Because her peers have already met unlucky fates, she remains an attractive victim—horror movie precedent does not excuse a protagonist from impending death. Dario Argento stretches the suspense, loosely protecting Bannion with curtain as she watches her potential murder unfold, replete with unheimlich doppelgangers, blood-streaked Nosferatus, and reptilian skin piercings. Suspiria boasts impressive pacing because there are no jump scares, just dread until it happens.

December 5, 2017 / / Special Pages

By Tyler Patterson

Kathleen Collins (1942–1988)

Thirty years after director Kathleen Collins’ death, her landmark film Losing Ground finally received a wide release. Its belated moment in the spotlight is all the more astonishing as it flourished along the festival circuit. To people who are familiar with the film, it is known as one of the first feature films made by an African American woman, if not the first. It is also one of the first times audiences saw an all-black middle class cast on screen, as Nina points out in an interview. The significance of this achievement is easy to overlook in our age of media overstimulation and saturation but mustn’t be, because to do so would be to forget the enormous service that Kathleen Collins did by breaking ground for women filmmakers and filmmakers of color with Losing Ground.

December 5, 2017 / / Main Slate

By Chase Sui Wonders

Olivier Assayas’s Irma Vep begins with a jolt. An office whirs and buzzes with talk of budgets, location scouting, and audition tapes. Immediately, the audience plunges into a meta-narrative with various Hollywood tropes. This continuous opening shot makes its rounds about the office before resting on Maggie Cheung, who plays herself. She is the perfect subversion of the French ingénue. She is an established actress while maintaining an innocent quality. She is young but mature beyond her years. As the narrative in the film reminds us over and over again: Maggie is from Hong Kong, much to the dismay of the obstinate traditionalists working on the movie who would have preferred a true French starlet.

December 4, 2017 / / Main Slate

By Tara Zdancewicz

One of the most inspirational rituals for athletes to partake in before a big game is turning on one of their favorite sports films. Hockey players turn on Miracle. Football athletes watch as Rudy overcomes all of his unimaginable obstacles. If basketball is the sport of choice, the options are limitless—Coach Carter, Hoosiers, Space Jam, White Men Can’t Jump, and He Got Game barely scratch the surface of the holy category of basketball movies that athletes of the same sport can watch. All of these films have huge stars at the helm—Samuel L. Jackson, Gene Hackman, Michael Jordan, Wesley Snipes, and Denzel Washington, respectively. As a ceremonious occasion, athletes turn on their favorite film the night before the championship and put themselves in Jordan or Snipes’s shoes. As Jordan defeats the Monstars in his intergalactic game of basketball, a blossoming basketball star dreams of slamming the ball through the hoop just like Mike. But what is a female basketball player to do? One film that holds a special place in many female basketball players’ hearts is the 2000 film Love & Basketball. Director-writer Gina Prince-Bythewood tells the story of Monica, a girl who loves two things equally: basketball and her childhood neighbor (and fellow basketball star) Quincy. A basketball player herself, Prince-Bythewood somehow manages to do the unfathomable: create a basketball movie not only about a female athlete, but also one who is black.

November 19, 2017 / / Main Slate

By Chelsea Spear

Tom Hanks’ directorial debut, That Thing You Do!, is a sleeper hit in the actor’s filmography. The film chronicles the meteoric rise of The Oneders, a suburban Pennsylvania based band who score a surprise #1 hit in the summer of 1964. While the film didn’t make a huge impact on its 1996 release, its winning story, appealing performances, and pitch-perfect soundtrack have raised its profile in the 20 years following its premiere.

The careers of the alternative-rock bands who recreated the garage-rock sound of the LBJ era mirrored that of the Oneders. Like the garage bands of the mid 1960s, Fountains of Wayne, the Gigolo Aunts, and Mike Viola were making music in the years after a revolutionary rock band had cracked the genre open, leaving a young audience hungry for new music.