suspended somewhere between heaven and hell

In retrospect, I see I had rather set myself up for a bit of a fall with Cabin in the Sky (Vincent Minnelli, USA, 1943)—I had imagined something more jazz and less “slice of life,” and as a result I ended up being more than a bit disappointed. The film is at its best when Minnelli indulges in the subject matter’s more metaphysical elements (decking his actors out in evocative otherwordly refinery that matches the spiritual allegiance of their earthly characters), and the film reaches a blissful crescendo in those ribald sequences in the sleazy town gin joint as the end of the film—Ethel Waters’s unexpected vivaciousness during these scenes lead to the the feeling that debauchery is more fun and perhaps even preferable to the title’s piously attained stairway in the sky.

Things are more hit-and-miss during the long stretches when Waters piously slaves away—both physically and spiritually—for a man who can’t seem to help doing her endless wrong (another of the film’s glaring weaknesses is that Eddie “Rochester” Anderson fails to give any indication as to the source of passion he seems to inspire in both Waters and sexy town flirt Lena Horne). While not the indisputable masterpiece I was hoping (and expecting) it to be, I’m still willing to affirm Cabin in the Sky as a very good film, maybe even an excellent one, all the while conceding that Stormy Weather, made the same year, is probably the film I wanted in the first place.

[And while I don’t often comment on such things in these reviews I just have to mention that the commentary provided on the Warner Bros. DVD is a disgrace—while I’m naturally sympathetic towards Dr. Todd Boyd’s politically correct reading of the film, he manages to drain every once of joy the film might possibly posses, as he seems resolutely unaware of the potential that the winning performances from those involved might mitigate some of the inevitable stereotypes on display (it doesn’t help that he’s terribly simplistic in his analysis). I turned on the commentary because I honestly wanted some analysis from a contemporary African American perspective—but I turned this off after all of ten minutes in utter disgust.]

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What to say about I’m Not There (2007), Todd Haynes’s latest and one of the most acclaimed films of the year? I was immediately bowled over by its technical virtuosity, dazzled that Haynes dare deconstruct a single person by rolling together bits of autobiography, glimpses of history, a fair bit of exaggeration, and a very generous dose of unabashed fiction into six different characters searching for a whole, all in the hope (against hope) that it all coalesces into some kind of overarching statement or emotional truth about one of the most iconic individuals of the 20th century. And while I can’t deny that at moments it seems—it feels—like Haynes has somehow reached this goal, for all the visual pyrotechnics, the mind-whirling shifts in time, setting and characters, I can’t help but feel there’s something essentially lifeless about the film at its center, that for all the vitality on display by a formidable assemblage of acting talent they’re never really granted the time or room to breath and humanize the symbols, concepts and conceits that they’re representing. Yes, it’s admirable that Haynes has refused to dish up another sappy biopic (we’ve been spoonfed plenty of those), but what exactly have we been served? A biopic lacking a central human being?

That said, I also can’t deny that in the film’s last minutes, where the real Bob Dylan (before then a ghostly, unnamed presence hovering over the film) is finally given a moment to appear as himself I was moved, and much to my surprise, found myself fighting tears. The problem is, I’m not sure if it was because of everything I had seen unfold before had led up to that moment, or if Bob Dylan—the artist, the icon, the unknown person, the myth—is simply most eloquent when speaking (or rather, singing) on his own, allowed to embody his own mysteriousness. Or maybe, in the final moments, we’re finally given a glimpse at a real human being. And that simple fact, in retrospect, makes all the difference.

It’s really a shame that The Golden Compass (2007) isn’t a bit better than it is—everything that’s there is certainly good, but at the same time it’s also painfully obvious that there was the potential for greatness and yet it never comes even close to reaching that point… So many elements are in place—Daniel Craig (Oxford academia has never seemed so smokin’ hot), an appropriately icy Nicole Kidman, a cute but not obnoxious child lead, and from all indications some fantastic source material (I’ve never read Pullman’s stories, but likely will now). But director Christopher Weitz seems woefully out of his range here, and the film distinctly lacks a sense of epic sweep—often it seems intent on dispensing endless exposition, frantically rushing to introduce each new location and character at a staccato pace. It could have used another hour at least, crucial time to over all the little details and nuances of this alternate world this film desperately tries to create. One hates to invoke the name of Peter Jackson, but here he is: he towers over this film (just like all of the other unfortunate fantasy pseudo-epics that have sprung up in his wake), and even if I happened to like The Golden Compass more than Narnia, Eragon and the like, one can never get past the glaring fact that Jackson’s masterpiece renders this film anemic, at best mere imitation. Still, I don’t think it deserved the chilly indifference the American public moralistically heaped upon it, and a part of me mourns that its likely we won’t see the follow-up installments. Especially since this film was setting up Craig’s professor for a much more prominent role in the ensuing films

just a little something for the “personal misc.” category…

Considering how quickly things are erased over at IMDb, I thought I’d keep it here as well… it’s basically a brief history of my cinematic education via the IMDb Classic Film Board. Someday I’ll go back and expand it beyond just the CFB…

And where to start? Oh yeah—my name is spinninginvertigo and I’m quickly coming up to my eighth(!) year as an active CFB participant (though regrettably I’m not around nearly as much as I used to be). But I came to IMDb and soon after the CFB as a classic film as a 15 year old classic film neophyte—and as I’ve said before, my ensuing eight years as a cinema lover first developed and blossomed as a direct result of my participation here. Too many to name, but I’ll try—clore, Addison, bkamberger (the respondent to my very first post), lee, markclark, Chris, alice-34 and on a clandestine book board that popped up, saraarts—took an active participation in fostering a love of classic cinema not only through their much-admired by me knowledge and writing skills, but through actually taking the time to answering questions and kindly tolerating my simplistic, youthful observations…

The posters that cropped up soon after I joined would be the ones that would eventually broaden my horizons beyond the Dream Factory into the whole world beyond it—chief among them jiankevin/alsolike and ali, both with whom I’ve had the pleasure of expanding onboard friendship into something more tangible in “real life.” It’s funny—though I don’t think I participated, I consider that epic Third Man battle that introduced alsolikelife and zetes to the CFB as a pivotal moment for me, as for the first time I experienced firsthand two vivid, opposing voices deconstructing a beloved film through their analysis, with both refusing (as I recall) to bow to what I considered its status as a cinematic “sacred cow.” It really opened my eyes as to the importance of developing a unique perspective and cinematic sensibility, with the ability to question everything which has stuck with me to this day. Interactions with other posters met at this time—like Teresa and sprockets—have gone on to blossom into what I consider genuine friendships, even if my film taste no longer so closely aligns with one (Grace Kelly is just no longer my thing!) and the other has gone sadly MIA.

But it was really those fabled games/excercises of old like the CiNobles and most particularly the “Fixing the Oscars” cycle that not only forced me to expand my knowledge (I was watching a film a night there for a while just so I felt like I could put up what I considered a respectable Fixing ballot!) but put me in contact with a number of posters whose opinions I still pay rapt attention to (Antonius, Johnny, Dehlia, others I’m surely forgetting). Also at this time Addison also helped inspire a particular interest on my part in the art of film soundtracks.

I guess meeting Derek/CFK would be about next on the timeline, and for all of his witty insight and film knowledge he certainly played a more pivotal role “off board” at a time when I needed it most, as did the (now departed, though I’m constantly doing my best to bring him back) Caleb-CT. Most recently a friendship with vivalarsx has quickly proved to be immensely rewarding (and I’m sure I’m not the only who can say thank god he finally found his “voice!”).

Oh, and apart from the impartation of film knowledge, I should say—and she’ll probably laugh—that ali has influenced my writing style (something which extends far beyond the confines of this board) more than any other wordsmith in any medium I’ve yet come across (and as the holder of a degree in literature, I think that’s saying something). Though she is quick to dismiss them, her impressionistic (some would probably say impenetrable ) insights on the WCDYSLW? thread have wielded a surprising—even to me—influence, and a few brief, evocative sentances on India Song is probably the most constantly revisited piece of film criticism I’ve ever come across.

Okay, before I finally finish this off, I’ll say that aside from Caleb my most missed poster is Prof Critic. I keep hoping he’ll pop up one day. And even if she still pops her head in every once in a while, I wish Angel was around more often.

Yikes, that wasn’t very short, was it? Well, hopefully I managed to keep it from getting that sappy…

Oh wait, I really didn’t. Oh well.

i lied.

Well, technically I didn’t—I’ve actually been writing more in the last weeks than I probably have during any period in the last year or two, and as a result am on the cusp of unveiling a new project…

In other news, there’s a great new video of Owen up. And he got a haircut!