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The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R


 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | letterboxd

 

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Friday
Aug292014

When Harry Met Sally... (1989) Food for Thought

Anne Marie here on the 25th anniversary of a genre classic.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that any romcom made after 1989 owes large thematic debts to When Harry Met Sally… From the Meet Cute to the Bickering Couple to the Final Romantic Gesture (usually involving holidays and/or running), When Harry Met Sally… set a template that has defined an entire genre, and--depending on who you ask--killed that genre as well. But despite the cliches, Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron’s Oscar-nominated comedy script continues to sparkle 25 years later, because it is not a movie about romantic gestures. It is a story about people; their observations, their oversights, and most importantly, their food.

Watching When Harry Met Sally… for the first time, you’d be forgiven for thinking New Yorkers do nothing but eat and argue. As Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) meet, separate, meet again, fall into friendship, and fall in love, they do so against an ever-rotating backdrop of restaurants and parties. (Apparently nobody in New York cooks at home either.) A lingering fear in romantic comedies--a genre about bringing people together--is the fear of being alone, and these are public spaces that force the characters to interact with each other and avoid the lonely New York death that Harry jokes about early on. Most importantly, these settings also givethem a chance to eat.

It comes as no surprise that the woman who would write Julie & Julia twenty years later would be so interested in how food reveals character. Ephron establishes both of her young characters through how they eat. Of course, Sally’s infamously detailed instructions to the first waitress immediately brand the young blonde as a perfectionist who likes control. Meg Ryan's best scenes are ordering from the menu, which she does with neither self-consciousness nor self-awareness, making Sally opinionated but not apolagetic, and somehow very funny.

Sally Albright: But I'd like the pie heated and I don't want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side, and I'd like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it, if not then no ice cream just whipped cream but only if it's real; if it's out of the can then nothing.

Waitress: Not even the pie?

Sally Albright: No, I want the pie, but then not heated.

But Harry is also announced through his food, or rather through his bad manners while eating it. In their very first interaction sharing a car driving into New York, Harry introduces himself to Sally and the audience by talking through a mouthful of masticated grapes, and spitting grape seeds at the window. He’s messy, but he’s relaxed. (Minor characters also interact this way, including a brief fling of Harry's who is wrong for him because she bakes and he hates sweets, and Marie and Jess, who bond on a blind date over an article about wine.) Even when they're eating instead of talking, Harry and Sally are deliberately drawn opposites.

In between bites of food, Harry and Sally work as mouthpieces for Ephron’s musings and philosophies on relationships. When Harry Met Sally… plays as a series of dinner table debates interrupted periodically by plot, sex, or food. It’s a testament to Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan’s charming chemistry that they can make the discussion feel like action, and not just while banging on the table with fake orgasms. Harry and Sally discuss sex, loneliness, real estate, death, the ending of Casablanca, and anything else that pops into Ephron’s mind. 

Primarily, they concern themselves with one question: Can men and women remain friends? Or, to update it to 2014, “Is attraction an insurmountable obstacle to friendship?” Twenty five years later, it’s still a question that single people ask themselves. For the last few years, we've been hearing the supposed death knell of the romantic comedy, with the insistence that this genre is too cliche. But the fact that I had the friend vs romantic partner debate last week says to me that this foreboding may be a bit premature. The best new romcoms, like Obvious Child, are movies that carry on Nora Ephron's real legacy: some scattered observations, a question or two, and maybe a little bit of comfort food. 

Friday
Aug292014

'Common Threads', and Oscar's History with LGBT Documentaries

Today is Wear It Purple Day, which asks people to simply wear the color purple in support of LGBT equality. It's appropriate then that we continue our celebration of 1989 today with a look at that year's Oscar winner for Best Documentary. Glenn is joined in a conversation by friend of The Film Experience and doco-expert Daniel Walber, writer for Nonfics and Film School Rejects.

Glenn: Daniel, thank you for joining us. While I would obviously love to hear your thoughts on the film, I think I would be just as interested to hear about how well you think Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt sits amongst Oscar's documentary history. So few films about gay issues have even been nominated, yet alone won (the only other winner of its kind is The Times of Harvey Milk, also by Rob Epstein), but does Common Threads hold up as a winner? And furthermore, given just one year later they ignored Paris is Burning, does it strike you as just a case of voters simply going for a subject matter that they felt was Important and Worthy rather than any genuine interest in LGBT issues?

Daniel: That's a fascinating question. I'm not sure a movie with the precise scope and loose style of Paris Is Burning would have appealed to the Academy no matter what it was about. They didn't go for Grey Gardens either. Common Threads was definitely helped by the gravity and capital-I Importance of its subject, but I also think it holds up well as a film. Epstein knows what he’s doing, and this one has just as powerful an emotional arc as Harvey Milk. The device of zooming in on panels of the quilt to introduce stories feels a tad schlocky at first, particularly with the Bobby McFerrin music underneath, but it wasn’t long before I was won over by its genuine affection and understanding for its subjects. Perhaps there’s some consternation that it beat For All Mankind [for the Oscar], which I know still has a great reputation (I haven’t seen it), but I do think Common Threads deserved the attention.

How to Survive a Plague, The Celluloid Closet and Film vs TV after the jump.

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Friday
Aug292014

Political Filmmakers & Cute Dogs: A Conversation with Nick Davis

Amir here, to share with you a podcast conversation about my favorite film of 2014. I first watched Jafar Panahi’s Closed Curtain at the Toronto Film Festival almost a full year ago. It was my last film of the festival and I debated long and hard if a late night slot after ten gruelling days of film-watching was a smart idea. Eventually I opted to give my all to the festival. Boy, am I glad I did.

Panahi has been slapped with a 6-year house arrest and a 20-year filmmaking ban in Iran on charges of political dissent but has since twice broken the ban in three years. His first attempt, This Is Not a Film, was a heated, frustrated attempt at circumventing the ban with a DIY documentary made in the confines of his living room, shot partly on an iPhone and reportedly snuck out of Iran on a USB stick in a cake! It made my top ten list in 2011 but Closed Curtain is one giant leap for Panahi toward imposing even more creative authority on his craft under the tightest of limitations.

In this meta-cinematic experiment, Panahi tells us the story of an author who hides himself and his incredibly adorable dog in a seaside villa in northern Iran to overcome a bad case of writer’s block. The world of the film becomes increasingly mysterious and the narrative structure shattered. It can be interpreted in a variety of ways, making the film a challenging experience and a very funny one, too.

I can’t sing its praises enough, which is why I decided to devote an entire episode of my podcast on Iranian films – Hello Cinema, co-hosted with Tina Hassannia – to this gem. We also had a special guest with whom The Film Experience readers are quite familiar. Nick Davis joined us to talk about the film, but given his familiarity with Panahi’s career and Iranian cinema, our conversation went in many unexpected, interesting directions. We talk about the Toronto International Film Festival, the world’s cutest pet, and everything else in between. As you're all aware, Nick is an impossibly charming speaker, so we left this conversation unedited, with all the fun bits included! Have a listen here, and if you’re interested in Iranian cinema, subscribe on iTunes. The September episode of the show will be about Iranian films playing at this year's edition of TIFF.

Friday
Aug292014

Thoughts I Had... on a bunch of new posters

We've neglected to share new posters so, let's do. A few brief thoughts, in the order they came, after each poster: Starred Up, Whiplash, The Seventh Son, Theory of Everything and American Horror Story: Freakshow.

Discuss!

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Friday
Aug292014

Tim's Toons: In praise of the long-dead Osamu Tezuka

Tim here. Bear with me for a moment: we’re just about done with our month-long look at 1989 in cinema, about which I already had my say. But one of the other things that happened in animation that year was that the great Japanese animator and illustrator Osamu Tezuka passed away in February of that year, at age 60. Which is absolutely no legitimate pretext for anything, but Tezuka is an artist I’ve wanted to talk about in this space for ages, and there’s never been anything remotely resembling a good excuse to do so. So this shall have to do. It’s no fun having a bully pulpit if you can’t spread the Good News with it.

And oh, what very Good News the career of Tezuka is. You might not have ever heard his name, but you know his work: he’s largely regarded as the godfather of both manga and anime, two media with a shared stylistic backbone that’s still mostly intact a full 62 years after Tezuka began drawing the original comic book version of Astro Boy.

Which is all very important and impressive, of course – that one man’s innovations could trickle down in a readily-detected lineage to things as diverse as the nuanced fantasy epic/family drama Spirited Away to the internet’s favorite whipping post, tentacle porn...

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