Film Criticism & Articles

Started by wilberfan, December 12, 2017, 08:46:32 PM

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QuoteOne of the greatest movie directors of all time held that you should never notice the director.  "He should be invisible," said Billy Wilder. "You should notice the characters," Wilder insisted.  What about the extravagantly showy mode that became known as German Expressionism? Even Lubitsch had made films along these lines back in Europe. Wilder scoffed. "Yeah, sure. They did all those angles and that lighting because they couldn't afford sets. When they got money, in Hollywood, they dropped all that stuff.

Today, with directors having picked up the dropped stuff and sometimes dropping other stuff like storytelling in the effort, film nerds tend to rank directors on sheer visibility. The films of, say, Paul Thomas Anderson (dubbed the best filmmaker today by The Guardian five years ago) may not quite add up. But there's no denying he directs the crap out of them.


Orson Welles would like to have a word with you.

Or, different strokes.

PTA would be the first to acknowledge the people who help, but he can't help his fingerprint being on things because he's that undeniable.

Gold Trumpet

Opinions vary. I'm sad there isn't a critic alive I follow with any enthusiasm. I used to have many.

However, I still love going back and living in the world of criticism was at its heyday and seeing what their top ten lists were and how personalized the choices were and how, if put together, they were a better gage of what was great that given year many more times than what films stood the test of time. Sometimes that test separated the greater and sometimes it separated the more entertaining only.



More penises are appearing on TV and in film – but why are nearly all of them prosthetic?
October 9, 2020 8.28am EDT
Peter Lehman
Emeritus Professor, Film and Media Studies in English, Arizona State University

QuoteIf you've noticed an uptick of male frontal nudity in TV and in movies in recent years, you're onto something.

In 1993, I studied patterns of male nudity in my book "Running Scared: Masculinity and the Representation of the Male Body." After the old Motion Picture Production Code was replaced by a new ratings system in 1968, frontal male nudity in Hollywood movies in certain contexts was permitted. "Drive, He Said," directed by Jack Nicholson in 1971, was an early film to include such a scene, while Richard Gere's nude scene in 1980's "American Gigolo" helped to transform the young actor into an international sex symbol.

Yet female nudity remained far more common in movies, and there was no frontal male nudity on mainstream television as of 1993.

Since then, a lot has changed. Directors and audiences are becoming more and more comfortable showing male nudity.

But nowadays, while we're much more likely to see penises in mainstream film and television, they're seldom real. Prosthetic penises – once used for exaggerated effect – have become the norm.

To me, this says something about the unusual significance we continue to grant the penis, along with our cultural need to carefully regulate its representation. In a way, the use of prosthetic penises maintains a certain mystique about masculinity, preserving the power of the phallus.

Skirting the production code
There are a number of factors fueling the current wave of frontal male nudity.

In the 1990s, premium cable television channels like HBO became more popular, while streaming platforms like Amazon and Netflix took off in the 21st century.

These channels and platforms aren't governed by the Motion Picture Association's ratings system, which strictly limits the circumstances under which the penis can be shown.

According to the ratings – which still regulate theater releases – penises can be shown in nonsexual situations, such as when they appear during a concentration camp scene in "Schindler's List." But if a scene involves sex and frontal male nudity, the actors have to be a certain distance apart. So when Bruce Willis' penis briefly appeared during an underwater swimming pool lovemaking scene in the "The Color of Night," the MPAA objected, citing his proximity to the woman, and the shot had to be cut. Uncensored versions of the film are now available on DVD.

Premium cable TV channels are not governed by these guidelines, and the HBO show "Oz," which aired from 1997 to 2003, marked a major turning point. Set in a prison, it was notable for the sheer quantity of full frontal male nudity, with characters shown in a variety of contexts, including showering and in their cells, fully naked.

Another reason for the trend in male nudity has to do with justifiable criticism of the ways women have been sexually objectified on TV and in film. Female nudity has been much more common than male nudity, and most of it tends to involve young, attractive women being showcased in a variety of erotic contexts, with an emphasis on their breasts and buttocks.

Some filmmakers, such as Judd Apatow and Sam Levinson, have said they've wanted to level the playing field by featuring more male nudity.

The proliferation of the prosthetic
Like "Oz," Starz's "Spartacus," which premiered in 2010, was full of frontal male nudity.

However, there was a key difference: all the penises were prosthetic, which are made to be worn by the actors and look realistic when filmed.

One of the most famous prosthetic penises appeared in Paul Thomas Anderson's 1997 film "Boogie Nights," which is about a porn star, played by Mark Wahlberg. At the end of the film, viewers see a closeup shot of the actor's extremely large prosthetic penis.

'Boogie Nights' features one of the most famous prosthetic penises. New Line Cinema
Prosthetics were used on and off through the years. But after "Spartacus," their use became the norm. Now in shows like HBO's "The Deuce" and "Euphoria," they're everywhere. Sometimes they're even digital. In "Nymphomaniac: Vols. I and II," director Lars von Trier digitally replaced the actors' penises with those from body doubles.

Whether they're tangible or digital they tend to have one thing in common: they're big.

The obsession with size
The prosthetic penis gives filmmakers total control over its representation, and some have used its flexibility to directly address this issue of size.

Take the 2015 romantic comedy "The Overnight."

Penis size is first introduced in the opening scene, when a couples has awkward sex due to the husband's small penis. Later at a dinner party with another couple, penis size becomes the big issue again when a wife swap between the two couples is discussed.

The other man, played by Jason Schwartzman, has an extremely large one, while the man from the opening scene, played by Adam Scott, has a much smaller one, and becomes uncomfortable with the idea of being "exposed." During a protracted skinny dipping scene, viewers get to see each actor's prosthetic penis. Within the conventions of the romantic comedy, both couples are united at the end and committed to saving their marriages.

In 'The Overnight,' penis size is a point of tension, and prosthetics are used to create the contrast. The Orchard
"The Overnight" attempts to deflate the myth that penis size matters. But at the same time that it tackles the obsession with size, it ends up reinforcing the notion – in part because of the opening scene – that bigger is better.

Similarly, "Euphoria," a bold, experimental high school drama, also explores penis size, connecting the fixation on size to toxic masculinity. It shows how girls are also complicit by dwelling on size themselves – and assuming that it's linked to sexual performance and masculinity.

Toward a more honest representation
"The Overnight" and "Euphoria" strive to critique our culture's obsession with the penis, as do movies like "Boogie Nights" and TV shows like "The Deuce," both of which are serious explorations of the pornography industry.

Yet by making the penis a central theme, these films and TV shows continue to grant it an aura of mystique and power that existed long before prosthetics and weaker regulations.

In the end, the use of prosthetics comes at the expense of the most mature thing filmmakers could do: show diverse, real penises in a manner that holds no special meaning for the character or plot.

While "Spartacus" would lead you to believe otherwise, all gladiators did not have big penises. Nor did their penis size and shape have anything to do with their strength, power, masculinity or sexuality.

Although apocryphal, Sigmund Freud supposedly remarked, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar," which was meant to suggest that cigars are not always phallic symbols.

It'd be nice if, on screen, sometimes a penis were just a penis.


if you haven't seen The Overnight, which isn't that good, a whole thing is Schwartzman has a small penis. there's major dick action in the movie but it's always prosthetic as that article is mentioning

the fact that Abel Ferrara used a dick double in his 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy really highlights the scenario for me. i don't know what the path to honest penises will be like or  how challenging the path is


QuotePK: Hold on —-You had a stand-in dick? You had to have a stand in dick for Dafoe?

LV: Yes, yes, we had to have, because Will's own was too big.

PK: Too big to fit in the screen?

LV: (laughs) No, too big because everybody got very confused when they saw it.

PK: People would get intimidated. Especially when he starts-

LV: Especially when he-

PK: When he ejaculates blood, that was uh-

LV: Oh yeah, yeah. That was the double.

PK: It's quite a trick.

LV: Uh, yes.



Quote from: Drenk on January 07, 2021, 05:26:25 PM
QuotePK: Hold on —-You had a stand-in dick? You had to have a stand in dick for Dafoe?

LV: Yes, yes, we had to have, because Will's own was too big.

PK: Too big to fit in the screen?

LV: (laughs) No, too big because everybody got very confused when they saw it.

PK: People would get intimidated. Especially when he starts-

LV: Especially when he-

PK: When he ejaculates blood, that was uh-

LV: Oh yeah, yeah. That was the double.

PK: It's quite a trick.

LV: Uh, yes.

Thanks for ruining Antichrist :(


New Name, Same Typos.


Samm Deighan's book, The Legacy of World War II in European Arthouse Cinema, is being published in November 2021 and is up for pre-order.

She recently appeared on the Casablanca episode of the Cult Movies Podcast and part of the conversation veered towards her thoughts on some of the topics included.

Quote from: Samm Deighancovers transgressive and confrontational depictions of the war in European and Soviet cinema from 1945 to 1989, covering everything from Italian neorealism, Pasolini's SALO, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, French documentaries, Nazisploitation, Soviet partisan films & much much more with a focus on the relationship between trauma, sexuality, systemic violence & national identity.


I really treasure how she makes me feel like I haven't nerded about movies enough when this whole time I thought I had


Armond White's greatest review! One of the best... ever.

QuoteRethinking the 1970s.

Phone Booth should have caused a sensation. Not for the banal reason that its release was held back six months in deference to last fall's DC sniper panic, but because it rails against what Americans now hold sacrosanct: privilege and audacity. Its story about a man who answers a pay phone and is told by the caller that he will be killed if he hangs up presents both victim Stu (Colin Farrell) and his anonymous predator as warped exponents of free will; each man exemplifies the modern media circumstance of predatory voyeurism and shameless exhibitionism. It's a cinematic examination of the pathology we enjoy as reality tv. In true 2K fashion, the media ignores—or disparages—what it does not approve, so Phone Booth has been unfairly dismissed (and has taken back-seat to the lousiest recent releases—box-office champs Anger Management and Head of State).

The lackluster reception of Phone Booth overshadows the new documentary A Decade Under the Influence, which celebrates the legacy of the 70s American renaissance. For all the lip service paid to 70s American movies, their grappling with social circumstances and moral issues is rarely practiced and even more rarely appreciated. One of the lessons of the 70s era was that filmmakers could use disreputable genres—Easy Rider, The Last American Hero, The Godfather, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, Carrie—to pursue social truths and thus transform thrillers into enlightenment. That's all gone now. As Francis Ford Coppola observes in A Decade, today's movies "are like selling tranquilizers and viagra."

Richard LaGravenese and the late Ted Demme co-directed A Decade, arranging for such well-known figures as Coppola, Julie Christie, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Towne, Sydney Pollack, Paul Mazursky and Paul Schrader to be interviewed about the era's significance. But it all amounts to lipstick vogue. LaGravenese and Demme sought to understand how that golden age of American cinema came about and how far we've fallen from it. Their premise that 70s filmmakers worked under the sway of an activist era and personal political motivation is talked about but never demonstrated—probably due to LaGravenese and Demme's own naivete about how (in Godard's phrase) "a cut is a political act."

This contemporary decline probably explains why Phone Booth was greeted so casually or with such dumbfounded misapprehension. Phone Booth contradicts the past two decades of action cinema (all that convictionless cutting). Part of its pleasure comes from screenwriter Larry Cohen and director Joel Schumacher's brazenly satirizing 2K political unconsciousness.

Its central thesis is that we live in an age with such new modes of digital, satellite communication that we forget our need for true, honest communication. (That's why doubters got hung up on the deliberate anachronism of a functioning phone booth in midtown Manhattan.) The film turns Stu, an entertainment publicist who feeds items to gossip columnists, into the proverbial man-in-the-glass-booth. His morally dubious profession commits "the sin of spin—avoidance and deception." That's how he lives his life juggling and circling around colleagues and women. Confined to a small space, he's deprived of the go-go distractions that made critics praise the inane Speed (1994) as cinema. The emphasis on Stu's character makes Phone Booth echt cinema—a high-pressure, concentrated conceit. No stunt or cgi could be more meaningful than Stu's simple gesture of taking off his wedding ring when calling the woman he wants to make his mistress. At times he's almost romantically harried—as Barbara Stanwyck was in Sorry, Wrong Number.

Stu is poised at the intersection of public guilt and need for fame—both results of our out-of-control media processes. Though simply part of the cycle of media lies, Stu is made responsible for his "crime." Yet Farrell's engaging, emotional performance also shows an average guy forced into a precarious situation, made vulnerable and abused. This turns the table on Stu, whose fast-talking remorselessness immediately evokes the craven Sidney Falco character from Sweet Smell of Success—currently adopted as a favorite fable of cynical, nostalgic New Yorkers. Phone Booth dares not glamorize a showbiz whose insults and damages are ubiquitous—or so Larry Cohen hopes modern viewers will agree.

It is Cohen's almost biblically old-fashioned screenplay that makes Phone Booth special. (Critic Maitland McDonagh wrote that Cohen's "bizarre premises seem like dispatches from some alternate reality.") As in Cohen's 1977 God Told Me To, this story dramatizes how Stu is wracked by guilt. He is told, "You must feel really expensive when you [first] walk out the door." Not even the yuppie-hating 80s produced so devastating a jab. At a Lincoln Center Q&A with Cohen last fall, an audience member summarized how Cohen's characters' conflicts must reflect his own anxieties and mortification. From the 1973 Black Caesar to the 1987 Best Seller, Cohen has always displayed an artist's full-hearted identification with the dilemmas he depicts. He transcended the triteness of b-movies by illuminating and intensifying genuine moral quandary.

This methodology was almost a habit for the best 70s filmmakers (of which Cohen was one). I admit being nostalgic about those films, but I am not nostalgic for the ideas they embodied, because those esthetics and principles are still what define great movies. Even Joel Schumacher, normally a flashy and insubstantial director, makes some apposite visual choices here: The David Fincheresque opening gives Fight Club stylistics a metaphysical basis. When a delivery man, hookers or police approach Stu, their faces loom large and threatening outside the booth. The old street-life rapport Schumacher captured in Car Wash and D.C. Cab reappears in the human circus ringed around Stu; it extends Cohen's concept of prey and predator's shared guilt, shared entrapment—their common suffering in the crazed media whirl. This may seem a facile treatise, but b-movie fans know that sometimes the simplest observations can be poetic. And Farrell's a lucky actor indeed when he gets to show Stu's breakdown and utter some of Cohen's most poignant verse: "I'm just flesh and blood and weakness," and "I've never done anything for anyone who couldn't do something for me." These lines are breathtakingly to the point; they cut to the bone of fallibility and greed glossed over in today's affluent, celebrity-mad environment.

It's easy to look back on the 70s with hindsight certainty that Coppola, Altman and Scorsese were kings when, in fact, Blazing Saddles, Jaws, The Exorcist and Star Wars were more popular. A Decade glorifies the 70s as a preamble to today's solipsistic indie movement in which self-centered filmmakers fancy themselves part of a maverick tradition. But what good is extolling that tradition if we can't recognize its true embodiment? A Decade praises 70s directors for reflecting their times, but the times are always in the work of conscientious artists—this was true in the 70s even with the Old Guard: Wyler, Huston, Siegel, Kazan. And it's the recognizable reflection of today's social essence that makes Phone Booth phenomenal.

In A Decade, Polly Platt describes her collaboration on Targets, Bogdanovich's debut feature also about a sniper: "Modern horror was somebody shooting at you for no reason," she says. But the scariest idea in Phone Booth is Cohen's demonstration through Stu, his assailant and the police commander (Forrest Whitaker, movingly sharing Stu's sexual humiliation), that as a society we are bonded to each other through guilt and responsibility.

Today's moviegoers aren't in the habit of soul searching, but self-examination is exactly what Phone Booth has in common with 70s films. Although A Decade ascribes to that era the valor of a counterculture, it doesn't explain the 70s' most in-your-face film, Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs. This is one of the toughest movies ever made, due to Peckinpah's stripping male ego to its animal essence. Its generic revision—essentially a contemporary western pitting a man of reason against brutes—grips viewers' identification and empathy. The only "other" in this movie—whether female or underclass—is a projection of the protagonist's (Dustin Hoffman) own insecurities. And Peckinpah exposes those by literally testing his "flesh and blood and weakness." Straw Dogs gets no showcase in a film culture ignorant about the inquiry of Phone Booth, but the next best thing to a theatrical revival is the new Criterion DVD that preserves the awesome intensity of Peckinpah's Everymale nightmare.


Found a copy of Phone Booth to watch.  Someone find me A Decade Under the Influence, please.


Quote from: Robyn on March 09, 2021, 10:32:40 AM
Armond White's greatest review! One of the best... ever.

QuoteRethinking the 1970s.

Phone Booth should have caused a sensation. Phone Booth has been unfairly dismissed.

The lackluster reception of Phone Booth overshadows the new documentary A Decade Under the Influence, which celebrates the legacy of the 70s American renaissance.

Based on the first 30 minutes of "Phone Booth" I would say it was dismissed quite fairly.  Loved "Decade" tho.  :yabbse-thumbup: