Category Archives: film


The Little Tramp off into the sunset. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

The Little Tramp off into the sunset. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Aristotle speaks of the mimesis of the first order and the mimesis of the second order. When creating art, the goal is to distance oneself from the source. Mimesis of the first order is simply art imitating nature. Mimesis of the second order is art perfecting nature and turning it into something transcendent. That rule is certainly at play in the work of Charlie Chaplin. As Marco Grosoli points out in his essay on Chaplin, this was an artist keenly aware of his myth and in a unique position to go on to make great art from that myth. Marco Grosoli’s fascinating essay is part of a collection of essays from various writers on one of the masters of cinema, “Refocusing Chaplin,” published by Rowman & Littlefield.

There may never be another artist quite like Charlie Chaplin. However, his influence and relevance continues to evolve. And so that gives this collection of essays a great sense of urgency. In the same way that an artist of the first rank like Ray Bradbury could have anticipated social media some fifty years ago, so too did Charlie Chaplin foresee the power of a meme in a career that began over one hundred years ago. To say that Charlie Chaplin was beyond famous is an understatement. He reached the level of myth. It is not short of phenomenal that he continued to grow as an artist through a career that spanned the evolution of cinema.

Chaplin in 1941's "The Great Dictator"

Chaplin in 1940’s “The Great Dictator”

In Marco Grosoli’s essay, he examines the friction between two formidable myths in Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” from 1940. By then, Chaplin was more than ready to leverage some of his celebrity for the sake of his art. The timing could not have been more perfect. The difference between the myth of Hitler and Chaplin could not have been more extreme. As Grosoli indicates, Chaplin was not merely imitating Hitler. Chaplin was channeling the myth of Hitler. In that respect, Chaplin was getting at a greater truth. In a work that deeply explores the power of meme, Chaplin plays both the role of Dictator Adenoid Hynkel and a Jewish barber who looks identical to Hynkel. Dictator and barber are, in a sense, interchangeable. In the proper costume and context, everyone accepts whatever the Jewish barber has to say, dressed as Hynkel, even if it is the total opposite of what Hynkel would say. Push two extremes together, Grosoli suggests, and they strangely equate each other, form a perfect nothingness.

"Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon Through Critical Lenses"

“Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon Through Critical Lenses”

Essays in this collection feature a wide spectrum of themes including Marxism, feminism, gender studies, deconstruction, psychoanalytic criticism, new historicism, performance studies, and cultural criticism. This critical study covers a wide reach of films including The Circus (1928), The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931) Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), and Limelight (1952). This collection proves to be a valuable resource on one of the leading masters of cinema.

“Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon through Critical Lenses” is a 250-page hardcover, published by Rowman & Littlefield. Visit them right here.

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Filed under Art, Book Reviews, Books, Charlie Chaplin, Critical Studies, film, Hollywood, movies, pop culture, Rowman & Littlefield

Farewell to Seattle’s Cinema Books

Cinema Books, 4753 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle

Cinema Books, 4753 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle

We say farewell to a true Seattle landmark, the shop that’s catered to a movie lover’s needs since 1977, Cinema Books. It used to be that a sizable part of a fun date in the U-District could take place all on one block. On the corner of Roosevelt and 50th, housed within a structure that looks like it was an old Victorian house at one time, you would have dinner at Ristorante Doria, see a cool indie movie at Seven Gables, and lose yourself amid the stacks of movie memorabilia at Cinema Books.

Cinema Books is shutting its doors. This is its last weekend of sales. The final day is July 15th. I’ve been a Seattle native since 1993 and I would stop by now and then and browse the shelves. I was never a regular visitor but I valued every occasion. I found the owner, Stephanie Ogle, to be quite gracious. And, I suppose, I just took it for granted that the place would always be around. Well, of course, the fate of independent bookstores has become decidedly precarious.

There is simply no other place like Cinema Books in Seattle and nothing on the horizon to fill the void. The amount of material on view is quite staggering. Lately, my schedule has allowed me to stop by and check in on Cinema Books in its last days. It sort of pained me as I watched collectors and enthusiasts pile in and take advantage of the marked-down prices. Here were all these people who had never set foot in the store before and now, like culture vultures, they were leaving with armfuls of books. I could see an uptick in activity with each new visit. Quite frankly, I found myself buying one item and then another and another.

Gwili Andre, "America's Most Beautiful Model," 1932

Gwili Andre, “America’s Most Beautiful Model,” 1932

One curious gem led to another. How about a postcard of Gwili Andre? She was known as “America’s Most Beautiful Model” when David O. Selznick brought her to Hollywood in 1932. Alas, after ten films, RKO was unable to turn her into a star. Who Knew? Who will know? Yes, it’s all supposed to be on the internet but you still need to know where to look.

"Screening the Novel: Rediscovered American Fiction in Film" by Gabriel Miller

“Screening the Novel: Rediscovered American Fiction in Film” by Gabriel Miller

It is only in such a place as Cinema Books that each new visit is rewarded in unexpected ways. It saddens me that we’re losing this little haven. A haven that offers something precious. Hard-to-find and rare items are simply what they are. There are only so many out-of-print books. And they’re not all on Amazon. For instance, you won’t readily find a book I just bought from Cinema Books. How many places do we still have where you can stumble upon a treat in real time, hold it, examine it, maybe even discuss it a bit with real people in real time? Less and less.

How must Ms. Ogle feel about all of this? I’m sure she was experiencing a sense of loss that she was still processing. And yet, as far as I could tell, she was taking it all in stride.

Judy Garland, "The Wizard of Oz," 1939

Judy Garland, “The Wizard of Oz,” 1939

Observing Ms. Ogle with her patrons, it looked like it was business as usual in that moment. For these remaining moments, the show must go on. Judy Garland. Mae West. Marlene Dietrich. German Expressionism. Steven Spielberg. The Bowery Boys. Fatty Arbuckle. Hedda Hopper. Hitchcock. Tarantino. All of Hollywood, all of filmmaking, was still in play in that little store, that little magic shop. You’re looking for an anthology of Hollywood crime stories? Yes, we’ve got it. How about the definitive guide to film from 1946? Yes, it’s still here. All the memories. All the ghosts. Everything still swirling about, still dancing, for the moment.

"Charly," directed by Ralph Nelson, 1968

“Charly,” directed by Ralph Nelson, 1968

One of my purchases was an original movie poster for the 1968 film, “Charly,” starring Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom. I gravitated to the iconic image. I had taken it down from where it was pinned and was about to roll it up when Ms. Ogle quickly said, “No!” I waited for her next move. “You want to fold it up at the creases. That’s how the studios used to send posters to the theaters. It will keep best that way. Once you’re ready to hang it up, then you can smooth out the creases.” I gratefully followed her advice. Another treasure safely made its way out the door.

Perhaps the sense of loss was outweighed by a sense of freedom. All those items, all that clutter, would soon be gone. It brings to mind the recent collective sigh from the media at the sight of the entire set to “Late Show with David Letterman” in a dumpster. Heck, where was it supposed to go? Well, in the heat of the moment, no one had planned for that. Things change. Things need to go. Decisions need to be made. Either someone walks away with it or it needs to be demolished. We move on.


Filed under Cinema Books, film, Hollywood, movies, Seattle

Movie Short Review: C.T.R.L

Sophie (played by Helena Dowling) and

Sophie (played by Helena Dowling) and Philip (played by Mathew Blancher)

Here’s the synopsis: “A young man’s attempt at a first contact with a love interest is hijacked in a most entertaining way.” Hmm, so what happens? Well, things look promising at first. Sophie (played by Helena Dowling) is about to walk past Philip (played by Mathew Blancher) but not before something big happens. And that something big is likely to add up to this film short going viral.


What’s it take for a video to go viral? “C.T.R.L” is brimming with charm. It’s an unexpected treat: a mashup of street performance, music videos, and silent movies.

Tom (played by Jack Everson) and PJ (played by Moe Bargahi)

Tom (played by Jack Everson) and PJ (played by Moe Bargahi)

So, we’ve got a potential case of star-crossed lovers. But, lo and behold, in the background lurks trouble. Seated nearby in a cafe, Tom (played by Jack Everson) and PJ (played by Moe Bargahi) control the destiny of the young man and woman byway of some wicked app that can manipulate their every move. Dance mayhem ensues.

Director Mariana Conde

Director Mariana Conde

This is a triumph for new director Mariana Conde, creative/executive producer Stu Grant, and choreographer Damien Anyasi. Here’s what Mariana Conde has to say about her short film: “I believed in C.T.R.L from day one. It was a risky idea but that made it even more appealing. I could grasp the potential and the bigger the risk, the bigger the achievement. It’s a visionary short that will add another spark to the discussion of how far we are willing to take technology. From young professionals looking for a quick shot of entertainment, to dance enthusiasts, gamers, kids and a more mature audience in search of something different, C.T.R.L will appeal to a vast and varied audience.”

Storyboard Art by Vitor Hugo

Storyboard Art by Vitor Hugo

The performances are exquisite. You’ll root for Sophie and Philip as they follow their fate. And you’ll hiss at Tom and PJ, the fiendish villains. This short work is truly worthy of mention. It provides a nice uplifting vibe with an urban attitude, a decidedly English style.

Where can you find out more about this film short? Go here. And, of course, be on the look out. You’ll be seeing more of C.T.R.L.


Filed under Dance, film, Filmmaking, Music, Short Film, Video, Viral Video

Review: ‘Flash William’ from The National Film Board of Canada


The National Film Board of Canada is a treasure trove of film and animation that never fails to intrigue, entertain, and educate. The NFB’s Albert Ohayon shares today a little gem about filmmaker Flash William Shewchuck. He was a one-man film industry in his little mining town of Cadamin, Canada. With persistence and care, between working a variety of odd jobs, Flash William kept to his dreams.

This 20-minute film, which originally aired on Canadian public television in 1978, shows what one man can do if determined. Today, we take it for granted that we can create some sort of movie on a cell phone. But, starting back in the 1950s, it was unheard of for someone to undertake to make movies all by themselves with limited funds. Flash William not only made movies, he played them at his local theater. He was the director, sometimes the only actor, and even the ticket taker.


Directed by John Laing and Thom Burstyn, this documentary will inspire on many levels. There is no sign of the director as an egomaniacal control freak here. Left to do what he loves, in the seemingly blissful and innocent wilderness, Flash William is enjoying a true labor of love. That alone is something to cheer about. And Flash William wasn’t out there in the woods documenting moose. He made full-fledged dramas.

And he made all of his films in this hometown of Cadamin. At the time of the documentary, the mining town had long since dropped from a robust population of 1,000 down to 100. For the showing of one of his films, the whole town, minus two, were in attendance. The town itself is a character in the documentary and, even when Flash was directing only himself, he always had Cadamin by his side.

You can view “Flash William,” courtesy of the NFB, here.

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Filed under Canada, Documentaries, film, Filmmaking, National Film Board of Canada, NFB

Cannes Film Festival: May 21 Premiere of WE ARE WHAT WE ARE

Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers in WE ARE WHAT WE ARE

Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers in WE ARE WHAT WE ARE

Fresh off a premiere at Sundance, director Jim Mickle brings his horror thriller, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, to the Cannes Film Festival on May 21.

Press release follows:

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Filed under Cannes Film Festival, film, Horror, movies, Sundance Film Festival

GUEST COLUMN: Webs in David Lynch’s Closet? by R.W. Watkins


Here is an unusual essay that argues that the screenplay for David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” was lifted from classic “Amazing Spider-Man” comics. Republished with permission, this essay originally appeared in The Comics Decoder by poet/cultural subversive R. W. Watkins:

Webs in Lynch’s Closet?
Similarities Between Blue Velvet and Early Spider-Man
by R.W. Watkins

Like the classic Stan Lee-era Amazing Spider-Man comics (1963-c.1972), the films and television series of David Lynch depend on a precise combination of suspense, melodrama and jet-black humour amidst a cast of extreme and offbeat characters. This is certainly more true of Lynch’s 1986 neo-noir masterpiece Blue Velvet than any of his other celluloid creations for the big and small screens. In fact, one can make a reasonably sound argument that Blue Velvet not only resembles early Amazing Spider-Man in its tone and aberrant dynamics, but indeed also owes a great deal to the actual early plots and characters of the classic comic magazine.

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Filed under Comics, David Lynch, Essays, film, Guest Column, movies, pop culture, Spider-Man, Stan Lee



Barbara Stanwyck and the Billy Wilder 1944 classic, “Double Indemnity,” are forever linked. Barbara Stanwyck is the ultra-sexy little spitfire that gives this noir masterpiece its heat. Talk about femme fatales. Stanwyck was the queen of them all. Fred McMurray seems to be the only man who can handle her..or can he? This movie is the beginning of noir where doomed characters get on a track that stays “straight on the line” all the way to “the last stop, the cemetery.”

Ernest Hemingway. Dashiell Hammet. Raymond Chandler. James M. Cain. These writers ushered in what was to become noir. Hemingway with his austere style. Hammet with his gentleman’s elegance. Chandler with his refined style. Cain with his grit. Billy Wilder, the young brash director, took the Cain novel and, with Raymond Chandler, brought to life a whole new tradition in film of the hard-boiled plot, viewed in low light and shadows, with characters of questionable morals. No judgement was made on how these characters chose to live. But, as luck would have it, there was a price to pay for such sinful behavior. If nothing else, the Hays Code, the Hollywood morality police of the time, would see to that. Some even think that the morality restraints helped, in their own clumsy way, to make art. It seems to have worked out that way for this film.

The noir world is both strange and familiar. It is not supposed to mirror the good citizen and yet it reveals his or her darker side. Back when “Double Indemnity” was still struggling to be cast, few in Hollywood wished to be associated with such characters. Fred MacMurray was reluctant even though it led to his greatest performance. Even the more daring Barbara Stanwyck was unsure about it. Now, it is hard to imagine the movie without her. She exudes a strange sexuality in this film that ranks up there with other great dark sirens, like Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, or Bette Davis.

The chemistry between MacMurray and Stanwyck is rather surreal. They never seem like a good match. It’s not that you couldn’t imagine them in bed together. The film convinces you of that. But, even for 1944, you can sense how wrong it is for those two to have ever gotten involved, aside from the fact Stanwyck’s character, Phyllis, is already married and she and MacMurray’s character, Walter, are plotting to kill her husband. It feels more tawdry than in a Hitchcock film. And maybe more real, more intense. That’s certainly what Billy Wilder hoped to acheive in order to put his rival, Hitchcock, in his place.

Rounding out the picture is a dazzling performance by Edward G. Robinson, as Barton Keyes, who it is believed was a character patterned after Billy Wilder himself. He’s a fast talking little guy who always gets his way. Wilder did a similar thing when he cast Jimmy Cagney in 1961’s “One, Two, Three.” Keyes is an insurance man through and through and has taken Walter under his wing for many years, too many years. Walter is good at selling insurance but is basically drifting through life. In the best twist of all, it is the love between Keyes, the mentor, and Walter, his reluctant pupil, that is the only true sign of humanity to be found in this film

Delicious strangeness. That’s what noir is about. Unlikable characters behaving badly, very badly, that we root for in the end. And why? That’s the strangest thing of all: because they are us.

Be sure to check out Fred McMurray in another role where he gets to play a baddie that rivals his role in this film. That would be another Billy Wilder classic, 1960’s “The Apartment.” As Jeff D. Sheldrake, MacMurray appears to have lost all his morals and placed the burden upon the weak shoulders of Jack Lemmon.

And you may have heard that Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder did not get along at all during their time together as co-writers to the script for “Double Indemnity.” But you’ll be happy to know that, while Billy Wilder got his revenge on Chandler by depicting him as the troubled alcoholic in his next film, 1945’s “The Lost Weekend,” Chandler went on to write another iconic noir film, 1946’s “The Blue Dahlia.”


Filed under Femme Fatales, film, Movie Reviews, movies, Noir

Golden Globes 2011: Some Notes After the Big Party

Just when I thought that Natalie Portman’s outfit was going to be the very best thing about this show, it turned out that Ricky Gervais, as host, was wonderfully hilarious and it’s a shame that he couldn’t have just kept on going uninterrupted. The Hugh Hefner joke was great: “When his wife-to-be discovered Hefner was 84, she said that he lied about his age. She thought he was 94!” After a few interruptions to present awards, another really good joke: “And now, here is Ashton Kutcher’s dad, Bruce Willis!” What good timing for me since I just happened upon “Extras: The Illustrated Scripts: Series 1 & 2.” I’ll have to let you know how much I enjoyed that in a later post. “Extras” was a pure work of genius, a sitcom that came after the original “The Office” and well before the mega-fame that Gervais now enjoys. Of course, it was also lovely to see Portman win for Best Actress in “Black Swan.” She seemed to be channeling Sally Field’s “You really like me!” speech at the Oscars when she mentioned her fiancé, Benjamin Millepied, and said he really does enjoy sleeping with her. Ah, well, an odd moment but she managed to say it and make sense.

Best TV mini-series went to HBO’s  “Boardwalk Empire” and not, perhaps to the dismay of fans of comic books, AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” But then there’s the win for “Big Bang Theory” for, and this is a mouthful, Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series — Comedy or Musical, to Jim Parsons. This is a show which, over the years, has been celebrated, whether in reality or not, as a geek fave. Or maybe the attraction to the show by geeks is genuine. What really did look for real was the support for Jim by fellow actor, Kaley Cuoco. Those two should get a room.

Something different and substantial that rang true for me was the win for Paul Giamatti as Best Actor in the movie no one has heard of yet, “Barney’s Version.” My take on the Hollywood Foreign Press’s goal is to promote the best in movies, not necessarily the most hyped, so this win sounds very sound to me. When was the last time you considered a novel by the great Mordecai Richler? See this movie, loosely based on his life, and then read one of his works. I’ve never heard of “Barney’s Version,” as most likely you haven’t either, but now you have, at least for the moment. Will you go out and see it or rent it? I will!

“Social Network” won as Best Movie as well it should! It also won for Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Score! Very good, indeed. What are you doing if you haven’t seen this by now! And how about the movie’s great screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin? This is one very dapper gentleman. Very cool, very smart and oh so modest. He has a brief role in “The Social Network” and he laughs it off in the DVD extras. But he was actually good. I think I might buy the DVD as well as the soundtrack. That was very cool to see Trent Reznor up on stage accepting his award.

Last good Ricky Gervais joke: “I’d like to thank my family. And a big thank you to God for making me an atheist.”

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Filed under film, Golden Globes, moives

Free Will and Determinism

I stumbled upon this and it’s great. It’s from the film, “Waking Life.” This scene is a wonderful philosophical nugget with University of Texas philosophy professor, David Sosa.

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Filed under animation, Determinism, drama, fantasy, film, Free Will, moives, mystery, philosophy, Richard Linklater