2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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The Blog:
Sunday, November 03, 2002
Lonesome and L'Inhumaine

To coincide with a conference on 20th century modernism, the UW Cinematheque screened two films from the 1920s, Paul Fejos 1928 film Lonesome (or as it was called in the print that was screened, which was struck from a French copy, Solitude) and the 1924 French avant-garde manifesto, L’Inhumaine. Both provide contrasting visions of the effects of technology and industrialization upon human society, joining such films as Leger’s ballet mechanique (Leger actually did the set-design for the cubist/futurist scientific laboratory in L’Inhumaine), King Vidor’s The Crowd (in many ways, Lonesome is somewhat of a companion piece to Vidor’s film), Life and Death of 9413 - A Hollywood Extra, and Chaplin’s Modern Times.

Lonesome tells the story of a punch-press operator named Jim and a telephone switchboard operator named Mary who are desperately lonely, and then meet by chance during a holiday at Coney Island. Enjoying themselves together at the carnival and at the beach, they fall in love, only to find themselves separated by an accident and a massive crowd. In despair, they return alone to their respective, one bedroom apartments, and by chance, they find each other again. All this time, these two soul mates were next door neighbors, but as Jim notes in one of the three, otherwise atrocious dialogue sequences (the film was made at the cusp of the sound age, so the studio, Universal, forced Fejos to add dialogue scenes, much to the film’s detriment; these are some of the worst interpolated scenes that I’ve watched since Howard Hawks’s Scarface, and to a lesser extent, Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail, which does have the brilliant “KNIFE” sequence. Lonesome itself was initially conceived with a synchronous music and sound effects track, which became more and more common beginning around 1926), there is nothing worse than being surrounded by millions of people but being all alone. Lonesome may have a simple story, but Fejos employs montage and superimposition to create a world of hopelessly repetitive work, governed by the clock, leaving little or no time for interpersonal relationships. The modern urban city is a sea of undifferentiated humanity, something like the masses out of Eisenstein; and between this movie and Allan Dwan’s 1925 Gloria Swanson comedy, Manhandled, taking the subway in the 1920s must have really sucked, everyone was crammed in, jostling for entrance. Fejos camera captures various views of New York City and Coney Island, lending an air of documentary-like veracity to the store.

L’Inhumaine again proves a point that most avant-garde filmmakers should heed when they make feature films: something that may be interesting at 90 minutes becomes unbearably turgid and dull at 135 minutes. The film, directed by Marcel L’Herbier, was something as a manifesto for French film in the face of increasing American and German competition; it tells the story of inhuman singer Claire Lescot, who has many admirers, including scientist Einar Norsen. After she rejects him, he fakes his death, and Lescot finally feels something, but later learns that Norsen is still alive after he contrives for her to visit his laboratory. He reveals to her that he has built a machine based on radio waves that will allow her to reach out beyond time and space to sing to anyone, anywhere in the world, as well as allowing her to see them (it’s like TV in reverse). The celebration of science continues after Lescot is murdered by another admirer, an evil Maharajah; he uses his new, powerful machine to raise Lescot from the dead, in perhaps the film’s only really interesting sequence, a powerful, frenetic montage depicting the fevered work in the laboratory. Otherwise, this celebration of technological salvation and French culture is an almost intolerable bore, though it is a whose who of the French (and European) avant-garde: the film’s decor were designed by Alberto Cavalcanti (a Brazilian-born expatriate who is probably best known as a director in the UK in the 1940s), Robert Mallet-Stevens, Fernand Leger, and future French director Claude Autant-Lara. The film works in a variety of styles Dada, Surrealism (Lescot forces her servants to wear masks with blankly smiling faces), Cubism, Expressionism, and Futurism. In one crowd sequence you can see Erik Satie, Milhaud, James Joyce, Picasso, Man Ray, Ezra Pound, and other assorted artists and intellectuals. Big deal, though some of the design was interesting, the film, telling a story almost as simple as Lonesome is almost twice as long. It actually took two attempts to raise Lescott from the dead, so by the end of the movie I was like “Resurrect Already, I want to go home!”