Here is a list of the films and books I screened and read this semester.
A Second Chance
This Danish melodrama confronts moral ambiguity in an often heavy-handed fashion. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who has a nose so pointy you could etch glass with it, leads as a conflicted cop. Directed by Susanne Bier.
The Missouri Breaks
A bizarre, bicentennial post-Western with Marlon Brando as an assassin whose alternating accents suggests he may be an extra-terrestrial impersonating a human.
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
This documentary tracks the rise of Big Star and includes, obviously, great music as well as intriguing disclosures such as the fact that Alex Chilton was dosed with mescaline when he was a 10 year old kid.
My Favorite Brunette
Bob Hope plays Ronnie Jackson, a baby photographer drawn into the demimonde in this send up of the film noir genre. Co-star Dorothy Lamour is hotter than a hash house flat grill.
A great documentary about a Swiss-American original. Robert Frank’s photographic/filmic record of American society and his tragic, creative life.
Theodora Goes Wild
The inimitable Irene Dunne stars in this batty Screwball Comedy from the abyss of the Great Depression.
I’d only ever watched clips from Bertolucci’s 1970 fascist drama. As the title suggests it’s a rather dim view of humanity’s ability to break with social pressures in order to pursue a moral course of action. Great film.
I hadn’t watched David O. Russell’s movie since it came out in 1999. Saïd Taghmaoui’s deconstruction of Michael Jackson and American culture as he tortures a baby-faced Mark Wahlberg is riveting.
Some kind of atavistic attachment to Irish culture probably influenced my fascination with Brendan Gleeson’s performance as retired cop/ burgeoning alcoholic Bill Hodges. Harry Treadaway (identical twin of Luke) excels in his role as the titular psychopath.
One of the most riveting films I watched since the semester began, this one-take drama about a talented chef breaking under pressure demonstrates Stephen Graham’s considerable acting chops.
Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man
Often absurd but always engaging, this Italian crime flick features two sleazy, handsome, hyperviolent cops cutting a bloody swath through Rome.
I first watched this movie as a teenager with no idea who Albert Finney was. Edward James Olmos runs around pantsless! Mysterious predators raven homeless junkies amid the blasted landscape of the South Bronx! Tom Waits appears for less than a second as a sleazy bartender! An apparently ad-libbing Gregory Hines plays a coroner! Seminal character actor/ playwright Tom Noonan features as some kind of hippie zoologist.
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö: Murder at the Savoy, The Abominable Man, The Locked Room, Cop Killer.
I read the final novels of the Martin Beck cycle (save The Terrorists, published after Per Wahlöö’s death) in order to round out a project I’d initiated in wake of my application for a Fullbright in Norway (denied: Saul Steier said I should “tone down the NATO imperialism stuff.” Oh well). As many have asserted these novels constitute the very apex of the Police Procedural. Even better: our Marxist authors use the genre to offer a critique of Sweden’s oversold “socialist” utopia.
Mark Lanegan, Sing Backwards and Weep. The defining characteristic of drug addicts is that they spend quite a bit of time doing drugs. This makes Mark Lanegan’s memoir oddly static given that he was on the scene for Grunge’s bottlerocket ascencion into pop culture’s upper atmosphere. As the heroin-blurred years pass his experiences narrow to a pretty dull round of scoring, shooting and kicking.
JG Ballard, Super-Cannes. Much stronger than Cocaine Nights, though it more or less engages with the same social world of degenerate bourgeoises searching for existential affirmation in explosive, often racist violence, human trafficking, and a kind of fin-de-siecle freikorps solidarity. One of Ballard’s best.
Robert Walser, Berlin Stories. These sketches of Berlin at the 20th century’s turn evoke Joseph Roth’s journalism from a decade or so later. The metropolis, it’s electrified attractions, the tidal pulse of crowded sidewalks: here is a case for Berlin as Modernity’s center.
Lynd Ward, Mad Man’s Drum: A Novel in Woodcuts. A gothic, occasionally cryptic story that follows the arc of a family fortune from chattel slavery to psychosis.