- - Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Movie relating

“With ‘Vertigo’ — and this is what the film’s third act brilliantly drives home — Hitchcock essentially tells a tale of our relationship to the movies. We all look to be seduced by images the way our hero Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) becomes bewitched by the image of Madeleine as he stakes her out. Sometimes we even dive so far into that image that so attracts us that we, in essence, become deeply involved in it, as Scottie becomes emotionally involved with Madeleine; we think about it all the time and maybe even try to understand what lies behind both the image and our own fascination with it. Eventually, though, there is a point in which images simply can’t measure up to reality.

“In Vertigo, the ‘death’ of Madeleine is the death of an image — but when a devastated Scottie meets the real woman behind Gavin Elster’s carefully manipulated Madeleine image, the increasingly obsessive detective refuses to grasp the human being underneath, preferring that image that so enraptured him in the first place. And the fact that he is willing to essentially recreate a human being just to satisfy his image-driven lust is the source of the film’s unsettling power. Eventually, Scottie realizes the folly of his ways … but by then, it is too late, and he loses both the image and the person.”

Kenji Fujishima, writing on “Special Muriel Award: Best Film of the 1950s” on Feb. 18 at the Muriel Awards blog Our Science Is Too Tight

Dual-use set

“By now you’ll have heard that the most celebrated set in ‘The King’s Speech,’ that of Lionel Logue’s shabbily spartan office, was also used in a video by British gay porn producers UK Naked Men. …

“The folks steering ‘The King’s Speech’ will be grateful this embarrassing news nugget wasn’t unearthed a few weeks ago, as opposed on the last day of Oscar voting. Still, I imagine a number of Academy figures are now crossing fingers in the hope that the film doesn’t emerge victorious in what appears to be a tight three-way race for Best Art Direction.

“The news spread rapidly across the Internet yesterday, leaving ripples of laughter in its wake — but aside from its amusement value, the situation does raise interesting questions about how people define award-worthiness in this particular craft field, and how aware they even are of what went into the work they’re voting for.

“Logue’s office in the film, with its imposing leaded-pane windows and that striking feature wall of peeling, distressed wallpaper, was cited by many of you as a key factor when you cast your votes in our Oscar Guide for the Art Direction category two weeks ago. It is certainly the film’s most vivid and effective interior. But while many are under the impression that the space is a set built for the film, it’s not.”

Guy Lodge, writing on “‘King’s Speech’ art direction hits the wall,” on Feb. 23 at In Contention

Yes, she can

“Humphrey Bogart reportedly once said that the only fair way to decide who wins each year’s Oscar would be to have each nominee recite Hamlet’s soliloquy for the voters — which is ridiculous, because as critic Pauline Kael noted when asked about Bogart’s comment, not every great actor makes a great Hamlet.

“Some are more suited to playing action heroes, or bumbling romantic-comedy leads, or truck drivers. Versatility is a virtue for an actor, no doubt, and just about every year someone wins an Academy Award for playing a part way outside his or her norm. But as good as Philip Seymour Hoffman was in ‘Capote’ or Cate Blanchett was in ‘The Aviator,’ does anyone really think those were the best performances those actors have ever given? Isn’t there something to be said for the legacy of movie stars like Spencer Tracy or Audrey Hepburn, who stretched some in their careers but largely entertained audiences by playing variations on the same type?

“That’s what I think gets lost in the discussion over whether Natalie Portman is a fine actress or just a nice-looking young lady of limited range who’s lucked into some good roles. Who says that Portman has to be rangy to be ‘good?’ I saw ‘The Other Woman,’ and while it’s not that great a movie, I found Portman very likable in it, playing a young wife who’s having trouble with her prickly, grade-school-aged stepson. Yes, she spends a lot of the movie either yelling and crying or playing it cool, but there’s a naturalness to Portman in both modes. When she goes big — as she does in ‘Black Swan’ as well — Portman really commits, commanding attention with her lack of control. And when she goes small, she comes off like an ordinary person.”

Noel Murray, writing on “The ‘Can Natalie Portman Act?’ Conundrum” on Feb. 23 at the AV Club

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