Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Core

The Core (Jon Amiel, 2003) An absolutely goofy high-concept sci-fi movie that has been deplored by scientists for its particularly "bad science." I can't argue with that. It is bad, very bad science and the contrivances of the screenplay are almost too many to mention.

But, I also can't argue that it's a lot of fun to watch, even if the movie fails on almost every technical accomplishment, including special effects.

Oh, that Mother Earth. She really is a Mother. Odd things are happening around the globe. The Northern Lights are heading South. Birds are starting to fly erratically in disorganized flocks and fly into buildings, buses and people. Worst of all, the space shuttle, the biggest bird of all, fires its retro-rockets to return to Earth, but, rather falling to its landing strip in Florida, it ends up off the coast of California, necessitating a landing in the sluices of the Los Angeles River, prompting an investigation of its Commander, Richard Iverson (Bruce Greenwood) and, most especially, its navigator and co-pilot Astronaut Major Rebecca "Beck" Childs (Hillary Swank).

On a less global scale, geophysicist Dr. Joshua "Josh" Keyes (Aaron Eckhart), a professor at the University of Chicago, is pulled out of class by Feds "Indiana" Jones-style, and asked for his expertise on what's going on in the world. His investigations startle him, and he brings in pal Serge Leveque (Tcheky Karyo) and prickly scientific populist Conrad Zinsky (Stanley Tucci) to confirm his findings—the Earth's magnetic field is out of whack and disappearing due to the lack of rotation in the Earth's liquid outer core. If that stuff doesn't start moving pretty quickly, then all electronics on Earth will be disabled throwing us back into the stone-age, and then the Earth will be bombarded by the Sun's micro-waves and solar wind, throwing us into the charcoal age.
Scientifically speaking, this is "bad news." Although, if you can reach into your video screen of this movie and turn on its news-channels, I'm sure you'd find all sorts of "charcoal-age" deniers willing to foam at the mouth on-camera for AFTRA minimum, making as much sense as those saying that the Earth can't have a core because it's flat. Maybe if we threw them down into the liquid core, we'd get enough "spin" to re-start the magnetic field. But, I digress...
That "talking-head-hot-air" option is not explored. Instead, the suggestion is that if somebody can drill down to the molten core and drop nuclear war-heads of sufficient magnitude, it just might work. After all, if you could launch shuttles to blow up asteroids, or shrink scientists and inject them into blood-streams to laser blood-clots, why not? Trouble is, it's hot down there—9,000°F hot—enough to melt steel or any other construct to make nuclear weapons, and there's enough pressure to crush anything down to pancake-width, so what to do?
When you have an impossible task, call an engineer. Fortunately, among the people Pinsky has pissed off in his career is a brilliant one, Dr. Edward "Brazz" Brazzleton (Delroy Lindo—always welcome). He's been living in the desert making very handy, impossible things that no one has heard about. For one thing, he's invented a laser "impeller" system that can liquefy anything in its path...except for the other thing he's invented—a substance called "unobtainium, "* which is a miracle metal that can stand up to incredible heat and crushing pressure—just the sort of thing you'd need to to build a ship to dig to the center of the Earth.** That seems awfully convenient to keep the movie going. But, then, the movie is powered by "suspendbelievium."
Brazzleton's inventions pitted against each other.
Once they have the impossible boring capacity and the material to build a ship that can't be cooked or crushed (and uses those things to supply power—even more convenient), they spend an incredible amount of money to build the good ship "Teflon" (dubbed "Virgil" after the author of "The Aeneid") to carry a crew of specialists to launch the nukes and then get out of town fast enough to get obliterated. Good luck with that. With such a suicide mission, you would think they would come up with a competent but disposable crew to carry it out. But guess who they choose—the very essential designers and theoreticians who came up with the crazy scheme in the first place. Okey-dokey. They only have one chance to do it and not get fried because nobody on Earth would be able to duplicate it.
Everything about this movie makes no sense, whatsoever. But, if something isn't sensible, it's at least Hollywood.
Later we will find out that the whole trip was, essentially, not necessary, and that the phenomenon that's affecting the Earth is not completely the natural disaster that it's presented to be—due to meddling humans, again, who can't leave well enough alone, and if they can't "monetize" something, they'll "weaponize" it. But, forget all that "unobtainium ad absurdium." The best part of the movie is the interplay between the characters once they get on board the good ship "Teflon," and, fortunately, you've got some truly gifted character actors on board, all who know how to fill time quickly and fill holes in the script (some of which are cavernous), even while they're boring holes in the crust, and method-acting staring at green-screens that actually show them nothing.
Sure. It's dumb. Sure, it's unscientific. Sure, it's unbelievable. But, the actors make it work, to the point where they could be fighting flaming Jell-o (sometimes the special effects look like that) and it would still be fun and still be inexplicably watchable. The story, the FX, are merely the crust. It's the actors that make up the solid core of the movie.
* Yeah, yeah, all you Avatar apologists out there—it's the same thing they're after in Avatar. But, The Core preceded Avatar by 6 years.

** When asked how soon he could get a vessel up and running with his inventions, Brazzleton cackles: "Three months?" Fifty billion dollars!" The general in charge of the project (Richard Jenkins, also welcome) deadpans "Will you take a check?" Keyes looks over: "Use a credit card. You'll get miles."

Thursday, December 29, 2016

National Film Registry 2016

Every year, the United States Library of Congress puts up to a vote the 25 films that will be included in the National Film Registry for their significance, “culturally, historically or aesthetically.” Those twenty-five are then given over to the National Film Preservation Foundation, an independent, non-profit charity, to make sure those films are preserved and kept in top-notch condition, so they can be seen by the public in all their glory. The films run the gamut of feature films, documentaries, shorts, even student films and significant "home movies." 

A list of films already chosen (since 1989) can be found here

This year's list is no less eclectic, no less broad-based; the earliest, made in 1903, and the latest, assembled in 1998. They are listed here, with the Board's comments for inclusion, written in white, with samples of the work (when they can be found on the web). 

My comments, where applicable, are in the customary gray.

The Atomic Cafe (1982) Sometimes, the most effective way to show the absurdity of a situation is to let time to do the job for you. Case in point: The Atomic Cafe by The Archives Project. Early on, Paul Tibbetts, the pilot of the Enola Gay, charged with the first atomic bombing says, frankly: "The feeling could be that the less said about it by the United States Government, the better." Well, being Americans, we couldn't do that. The atomic bomb won the war with Japan, was an example of U.S. ingenuity and engineering (with the immense help of refugee German physicists, of course), and invited all sorts of speculation, owing to the "newness" (and secrecy) of cracking the atom.

There was a rush to educate, manipulate and propagandize, and the source for virtually all the footage is from newsreels, propaganda films, civil defense films to help America deal with the flash-flood of information that was still being investigated about this new reality in the Cold War and to instill the hope (despite all appearances and information) that a nuclear attack could be survivable. Belying that are the film-makers' choices in editing and juxtaposition, letting the absurdities clash with each other in order to bring their point home.

Produced and directed by Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader and Pierce Rafferty, the influential film compilation “Atomic Cafe” provocatively documents the post-World War II threat of nuclear war as depicted in a wide assortment of archival footage from the period (newsreels, statements from politicians, advertisements, training, civil defense and military films). This vast, yet entertaining, collage of clips serves as a unique document of the 1940s-1960s era and illustrates how these films—some of which today seem propagandistic or even patently absurd (“The House in the Middle”)—were used to inform the public on how to cope in the nuclear age.

Ball of Fire (1941) It doesn't get much better than this: screenplay byCharles Brackett and Billy Wilder (from a story by Wilder), produced by Samuel Goldwyn, photographed by Gregg Toland, music by Alfred Newman and directed by Howard Hawks.  Add that it's a swing-era version of "Snow White" stock-piled by anything-but-dwarvish character actors (Henry TraversRichard HaydenOscar HomolkaS.Z.Sakall), some nifty up-and-comers like Dana Andrews and Dan Duryea, and top-lined by Gary Cooper (in pixie-ish Capra mode) and Barbara Stanwyck (who usually runs on all cylinders, but seems turbo-charged in this one) and you have the makings of a great, stylish and culturally-winking comedy, with lots of great musical material, too.

This is one of the great unsung Hawks movies, slightly different from his formula, thanks to Brackett and Wilder's script, but it still falls under his M.O. of story material where a team of differently skilled people—in this case scholars—come together under circumstance to form a like-minded unit, even if, as here, it happens a little late in the proceedings.  It was Hawks' version of making a film about film-making, but obliquely, showing that any group of gypsies can unite under a common goal despite their differences.  It's part of the charm that makes Hawks one of the most American-minded of film-makers, those films being a reflection of the melting pot of the Great National Experiment.

In this Howard Hawks-directed screwball comedy, showgirl and gangster’s moll Sugarpuss O’Shea (Barbara Stanwyck) hides from the law among a group of scholars compiling an encyclopedia. Cooling her heels until the heat lets up, Sugarpuss charms the elderly academics and bewitches the young professor in charge (Gary Cooper). Hawks deftly shapes an effervescent, innuendo-packed Billy Wilder-Charles Brackett script into a swing-era version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or “squirrely cherubs,” as Sugarpuss christens them. Filled with colorful period slang and boogie-woogie tunes and highlighted by an energetic performance from legendary drummer Gene Krupa, the film captures a pre-World War II lightheartedness.

The Beau Brummels (1928) Hey...I laughed. 

Al Shaw and Sam Lee were an eccentrically popular vaudeville act of the 1920s. In 1928, they made this eight-minute Vitaphone short for Warner Bros. The duo later appeared in more than a dozen other films, though none possessed the wacky charm of “The Beau Brummels.” As critic Jim Knipfel has observed: “If Samuel Beckett had written a vaudeville routine, he would have created Shaw and Lee.” Often considered one of the quintessential vaudeville comedy shorts, the film has a simple set-up—Shaw and Lee stand side by side with deadpan expressions in non-tailored suits and bowler hats as they deliver their comic routine of corny nonsense songs and gags with a bit of soft shoe and their renowned hat-swapping routine. Shaw and Lee’s reputation has enjoyed a recent renaissance and their brand of dry, offbeat humor is seen by some as well ahead of its time. The film has been preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

The Birds (1963) I have a couple friends who consider The Birds the greatest film Hitchcock ever made. I don't agree, but I do think The Birds is in the top...oh, say, 15. Based on Daphne Du Maurier's story (Du Maurier also wrote Rebecca, Hitchcock's first film in America), it is a cautionary (dare we say ecological?) tale about survival in a world gone awry. No explanation is given why birds of all flock and feather are suddenly attacking humans in the village of Bodega Bay in California—disease, weather, revenge for chickens and turkeys or, who knows? it might be 'Tippi' Hedren's very forward and presumptuous Society Girl—but there is no doubt that the birds are very destructive. The very lack of reason is the most disturbing aspect of The Birds—remember, Hitchcock's previous film, Psycho, ended with an 8 minute explanation scene—making the human residents of Bodega Bay vulnerable and hopelessly earth-bound. Hitchcock does some very fine experimental work in this, at one point, there's a sequence where he just cuts between his actors cowering in a room with only composer Bernard Herrmann's electronic bird-sounds denoting the birds' presence. With very nice work by Australian Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette and Jessica Tandy and one damned brave debut by 'Tippi' Hedren, who, let's face it, is great in this, playing a society brat who must prove her worth in the world.

Alfred Hitchcock’s four sequential masterpieces—“Vertigo,” “North by Northwest,” “Psycho” and “The Birds”—revealed a director who had reached the pinnacle of his craft. In “The Birds,” Hitchcock transfixed both critics and mass audiences by deftly moving from anxiety-inducing horror to glossy entertainment and suspense, with bold forays into psychological terrain. Marked by a foreboding sense of an unending terror no one can escape, the film concludes with its famous final scene, which only adds to the emotional impact of “The Birds.”

Anybody else would choose the next scene where the kids are running away from the crows.
But, this perversely manipulative scene is one of my favorites, and it highlights the
"non-score" of Bernard Herrmann (who actually designed the bird sounds for the film)
This one's for the late Curtis Hamilton, who delighted in singing the song.

Blackboard Jungle (1955) Evan Hunter, who wrote the screenplay for The Birds, wrote the novel for Blackboard Jungle, based on his own experience as a teacher in the South Bronx. Richard Brooks had been directing for awhile and saw Hunter's novel as exploitable material for a film, but probably didn't expect the impact it would have. The cast of teachers included Glenn Ford, Louis Calhern, John Hoyt, and Richard Kiley. But among the punks they were trying to reach were young actors like Vic Morrow, Paul Mazursky, Jamie Farr and a young Sidney Poitier, who started a quick climb to A-list actor after the film. 

Then, there's that song. Brooks used "Rock Around the Clock" as the theme for the film, and it became a smash-hit, and being credited as the rosetta stone of white rock and roll, Blackboard Jungle got a reputation for being the "first rock and roll movie." Well, not really. But, it did jump-start a youth-market in movies that producers were only to willing to exploit. Mostly, the movie is a social-drama in the school-room sort, and, ironically, 12 years later, Poitier would become the inspired teacher in the British To Sir, With Love.

In a 1983 interview, writer-director Richard Brooks claimed that hearing Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” in 1954 inspired him to make a rock & roll-themed picture. The result was “Blackboard Jungle,” an adaptation of the controversial novel by Evan Hunter about an inner-city schoolteacher (played in the film by Glenn Ford) tackling juvenile delinquency and the lamentable state of public education— common bugaboos of the Eisenhower era. Retaining much of the novel’s gritty realism, the film effectively dramatizes the social issues at hand and features outstanding early performances by Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow. The film, however, packs its biggest wallop even before a word of dialogue is spoken. As the opening credits roll, Brooks’ original inspiration for the film – the pulsating strains of “Rock Around the Clock” – blasts across theater speakers, bringing the devil’s music to Main Street and epitomizing American culture worldwide.

The Breakfast Club (1985) I'm not a fan of The Breakfast ClubJohn Hughes would make better movies...(in fact, he was making a better movie—Ferris Bueller's Day Off, already in the Registry—next) My problem with it is that every character is a cliche (as they say, "A brain, an athlete, a basket-case, a princess and a criminal." And each one of them live in a bubble-verse that merely gets stretched and not broken. It's not their fault; Hughes wrote them that way. And he also wrote them seriously that way, without a satirical or ironic eye. Each one of them is pretentious, self-involved, and more than a little self-righteous. But, lest you think I'm picking just on the "teen" characters here, I'm not; the parents are done that way, too. And their "detainer," Mr. Vernon, is particularly vile in those departments.

No, I didn't "buy" The Breakfast Club, because even though the kids bond on that Saturday detention, any extension of the movie will show them going back to their little cliques. There's no triumph; there's no change. The "nerd" is still alone and tasked with doing the labor, while the privileged couples run off. And Vernon will not learn anything from that essay, because (they're right) he sees them as he sees them. But, they see each other in the same roles, too...they, after all, voice-over their "particular" role in the end-narration.

The victories in the movie are small, petty and surface, and watching it only made me depressed that not a sole in the movie was going to be enlightened or learn something—not even the director. All of the young stars became sensations as "The Brat Pack," but then fell out of favor after seven to ten years.

John Hughes, who had previously given gravitas to the angst of adolescence in his 1984 film, “Sixteen Candles,” further explored the social politics of high school in this comedy/character study produced one year later. Set in a daylong Saturday detention hall, the film offers an assortment of American teenage archetypes such as the “nerd,” “jock” and “weirdo.” Over the course of the day, labels and default personas slip away as members of this motley group actually talk to each other and learn about each other and themselves. “The Breakfast Club” is a comedy that delivers a message with laughs. Thirty years later, the movie’s message is still vivid. Written and directed by Hughes, the film’s cast includes Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez and Ally Sheedy.

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)
Director Penelope Spheeris’ controversial documentary about the Los Angeles hard-core punk rock scene circa 1980 was perceived as shocking by some, even prompting L.A. police chief Daryl Gates to request banning all screenings of the film. 

Despite the qualms, the work remains a bracing historical and musical record of that culture, mixing outrageous performances and whirling mosh-pits with far more restrained interviews. Featured bands include Black Flag, Fear, X, The Germs and Circle Jerks. Scenes of older club owners making game attempts to describe this new type of music prove comic highlights. Spheeris made two other musical documentaries in this trilogy, chronicling the hair-metal and gutter-punk scenes, and—in a definite change of pace—the 1992 “Wayne’s World.”

East of Eden (1955) Kazan returns to Steinbeck for this compression of the author's multi-generational story of the Trasks and the Hamiltons post-Civil War in the Salinas Valley. The movie concentrates on the latter half of the book (adapted by Paul Osborn) about the familial wars between the Biblically-named Aron (Richard Davalos) and Cal (James Dean) for the affection of their father, the practically impractical Adam Trask (Raymond Massey). Aron is the pride of his father—steady, in a relationship with a nice girl Albra (Julie Harris) and destined for college. Cal, though, is the bad seed in Adam's eyes—shiftless, inarticulate, and no matter how desperately Cal tries to prove his worth to his father, the elder Trask will always find something wrong with it. Adam is convinced there is a dividing line between human beings—you're either good or you're bad (in the novel, Adam has a different, more complex philosophy) and, despite Cal's good intentions, Adam sees him as the shade cast to Aron's bright light.

For Kazan's first color film (and in widescreen CinemaScope), he filmed in Mendocino, California and the Salinas Valley, where the expanses fill the screen in beautifully static shots. Then, in the cities and the households, that camera becomes unhinged, playing at odd angles, even following the arc of a swing. There is a tangible energy to East of Eden that the long frame cannot seem to contain despite its size. Part of it is that it has to move to contain the raw performance of James Dean (his film debut), which is in marked contrast to the deliberately controlled work of Massey—the tension between the two actors is palpable. Dean never gave a better performance (this is the only movie, and performance of his, he lived to see), and the filmed emerged as something more than Steinbeck, or even Kazan, might have intended; beyond a critical look at the American Dream and a psychological blunting of the nature of Good and Evil, it became a symbol of the struggles of youth to find a niche in the world, and make its way, shepherded by the incandescence of Dean's performance. Kazan would take note of that, and continue it with Splendor in the Grass.

Director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Paul Osborn fashioned John Steinbeck’s classic Cain-and-Abel allegory into a screen actor’s showcase. Though much abbreviated from Steinbeck’s sprawling epic, Kazan capitalizes on the teen angst theme popular in the ‘50s and artfully builds tension between the troubled, rebellious Cal (James Dean) vying against “good” brother Aron (Richard Davalos) for the love of their taciturn father (Raymond Massey). In his autobiography, Kazan described how he achieved the familial dynamics: “I didn't conceal from Jimmy or from Ray what they thought of each other. The screen was alive with precisely what I wanted: They detested each other.” Dean received a posthumous Oscar nomination for his performance. Jo Van Fleet won an Oscar for her raw portrayal as the boys’ estranged mother.
"Tell her I hate her..."

Funny Girl (1968) Ray Stark's tribute to his mother-in-law, the gifted Fanny Brice, started as a biography (which was cancelled), then a film (which was acquired by Columbia but never made), then a Broadway musical, which had one of the most turbulent gestation periods and an all-star list of participants who either quit or were fired, but it all came together when Stark took a chance on an unknown—Barbra Streisand. Whatever problems the project had, Streisand was the solution. When it came time to do the film version, various directors were considered before settling on Sidney Lumet, who left the project, replaced by veteran William Wyler, who (in the style of 60's musicals) went "swooping helicopter-shot-big" in his direction. You can't do that without having a central figure who magnetically holds the center, and try as it might, the movie never eclipses its star, who, though she didn't win a Tony for her break-out performance (It debuted the same year as "Hello, Dolly!"—Streisand played the title role in that film version, too), did win an Oscar for her first film-role (sharing it with Katherine Hepburn for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?).

Streisand is almost too powerful for the role; you can't believe that someone that dynamic could be swept away by a no-good rake, like Nicky Arnstein (played improbably by Omar Sharif). That is the major weakness of the play and the film, so long as Streisand is playing it, but one doubts that it would be as successful without her.

Reprising her Tony-nominated performance as legendary singer-comedienne Fanny Brice, Barbra Streisand’s impressive vocal talent and understated acting, as guided by distinguished veteran director William Wyler, earned her an Academy Award for her screen debut. The film retains most of the stage show’s Jule Styne-Bob Merrill musical numbers including “People,” “I’m the Greatest Star” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Streisand plays Brice as a plain-looking, fast-talking dynamo who yearns for the stage, and gets her chance when she’s hired by impresario Florenz Ziegfeld (Walter Pidgeon) and becomes the toast of Broadway. She meets and marries big-time gambler Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif), but their idyllic romance crumbles as he grows to resent her fame. Produced by Ray Stark, Brice’s real-life son-in-law, “Funny Girl” was among the last of the successful big-budget musicals.

Life of an American Fireman (1903) I remember seeing this in a film-class about the history of movies, and I think the most important aspect of it was its cross-cutting between different locations in order to tell simultaneous stories across one time-line. Up to this point, films had basically been filmed plays and recorded events. This one, however, told the story of a fire, and of the fire departments preparations and arrival to rescue victims and douse the flames. Audiences were able to follow...which led film-makers to think..."Hmmm. Cross-cutting builds tension, eh?" The rest is not so much history as melodrama.

Film historian Charles Musser hails this as a seminal work in American cinema, among the most innovative in terms of editing, storytelling and the relationship between shots. Edwin S. Porter was an influential pioneer in the development of early American cinema and “Life of an American Fireman” provides a superb snapshot of how advanced U.S. filmmaking had become. Porter followed up several months later with “The Great Train Robbery.” Ironically, “Life of an American Fireman” later became a controversial topic in American film historiography when a re-edited, more modern version of the film using cross-cutting techniques was thought to be the original. Many years later, scholars helped disprove this misconception by reviewing the original paper print copyright deposit in the Library of Congress.

The Lion King (1994) First off, I'm not a big fan. I found The Lion King a step back from the 1-2-3 punch of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. First off, Elton John's songs are a bit second rate and generic, where Menken and Ashman's songs were specific to the story (although Lebo M's contributions I found exotic and fitting). I also found the story to be extremely derivative—"Hamlet" without the conflict, psychological depth, and scope...or hint of the Supernatural that created the sense of risk if things went wrong for the hero. Nothing "popped," and what there was stayed an "un-funny-animal" story that did not resonate with me. Kids can enjoy The Lion King, but I enjoyed the layers and sub-texts...and artistry...behind the conception and realization of the previous three Disney offerings. All I saw in The Lion King was an ability to put less thought and ingenuity into their product, and still rake in the bucks. Funny thing is, it was better as a stage-musical than as an animated film, and that had something to do with the imagination behind the execution.  I guess the most important thing that disappointed me was that it was in the same vein as the Disney animal version of "Robin Hood"—the animals acted like humans rather than show basic traits of their species. It could have been humans animated on the screen and there wouldn't have been a jot of difference. It was the first of the "sub-par" Disney animations (of which there have been very few).

Disney Studios further solidified its position as the producer of modern-day animated masterpieces with this lyrical 1994 offering. The story of a young lion cub destined to become King of the Jungle, but first exiled by his evil uncle, “The Lion King” was a triumph from the moment of its release and has charmed new generations of viewers. Like Disney’s beloved “Bambi,” “The Lion King” seamlessly blends innovative animation with excellent voice-actors (Jonathan Taylor Thomas, James Earl Jones, Moira Kelly, Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and Whoopi Goldberg) and catchy, now-classic songs by Sir Elton John and Tim Rice. It is the film’s storytelling that resonates—funny, innovative, suspenseful—for both children and adults. Since its release, the film has spawned an animated TV series, two made-for-video sequels and a highly imaginative Broadway show.

Lost Horizon (1937) Frank Capra directed this with an epic scope that he had hitherto not-displayed in his career. Oh, sure, he had done things like The Bitter Tea of General Yen that vibrated with production design and showed the budget up on the screen. But Lost Horizon was a fantasy, huge in scope and depth (originally budgeted at $1.6 million, cost overruns ballooned it to $2.6 million) and starting to touch on the humanitarian themes that Capra would soon become famous for. The original cut was six hours in length, and with efforts by Capra, the film's editors and (against Capra's wishes) the head of Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn, it premiered for general release at 118 minutes short.

The story of a diplomatic party (headed by Ronald Colman's Robert Conway) whose plane is hijacked so that the diplomat can meet and take over for the dying High Lama (Sam Jaffe) of Shangri-La, an idyllic lamasery, isolated in a Himalayan valley and protected from the harshness of the world, efforts have been made to locate the missing footage, but to no avail, and the longest version extant must make use of publicity stills to replace key scenes. It is doubtful that a more complete version of this classic can be made, but its inclusion in the Registry might make efforts a bit more likely.

Frank Capra’s big-budget romantic fantasy “Lost Horizon” (based on the James Hilton novel) offered an emotional respite to an American public seeking escape from the Depression and yearning for their own personal utopias. Through the book and film, the term Shangri-La became a household word. In the story, dashing diplomat Ronald Colman and a group of plane passengers are kidnapped and taken for mysterious reasons to a remote valley in the Himalayas where they find a seemingly blissful paradise, refuge from a world on the precipice of war. Along with memorable adventure, “Lost Horizon” stands out for its stunning cinematography and fantastic, extravagant sets, a hallmark of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912) D.W. Griffith short, notable for two things: 1) it's been called "the first gangster film," which it might be (and one can see some of where James Cagney got his signature insouciance from the portrayal by Elmer Booth of the lead hood (Harry Carey plays his first lieutenant); 2) It is notable for "follow-focus" in which, rather than using an "iris" zoom to focus on an object in the frame, the director uses the eye's tendency to fixate on a clear object, letting the everything else in the background "fuzz out" in clarity and importance. Thus, not costly effects—the direction is done in the camera.

That sequence is also rather nifty in that it shows the two lead "hoods" (it is morbid romanticism to call them "musketeers") sneaking up on rival gang-members using the corners of a brick building as cover. But, it doesn't stop there; in a witty use of the camera-frame, Booth uses the camera-frame as cover, too. It's one of the many ways that Griffith experimented with the new technology to tell a story and free cinema from its stage-roots, of being just a photographed play with a static camera.

Considered the first gangster film, this 17-minute early work by director D.W. Griffith is also noteworthy for employing several innovative camera techniques. Cameramen of the era typically kept the entire frame in focus, but Griffith instructed cinematographer Billy Bitzer to place the subject of a scene in sharp focus while muting the background, a technique common in classical paintings, but unheard-of in films of that era. The film also introduced off-center framing—positioning the subject at the edge of the frame instead of dead center—to achieve greater visual and emotional impact. The cast members, filmed with such revolutionary camerawork, included one of Griffith’s most famous discoveries, Lillian Gish, and her sister, Dorothy, as well as Lionel Barrymore, Donald Crisp, Harry Carey and Antonio Moreno, all of whom would go on to long careers in sound films. The film has been preserved by the Museum of Modern Art Department of Film and can be viewed at
Booth and Crisp (out of focus in the background) stalking

Paris Is Burning (1990) Well-made documentary about New York's "Ball Circuit" circa 1980. "You have three strikes against you," says an early interviewee. "You were born black. You were born male. And you're gay." Jennie Livingston's documentary veers between the celebratory and the melancholy as interviews show the pain and the on-site footage shows the antidote as drag queens strut their stuff in competition.

In a 2015 article in The Guardian, Ashley Clark noted, “Few documentaries can claim to have sparked as much discussion and controversy as Jennie Livingston’s debut ‘Paris is Burning,’ the vibrant time capsule of New York’s ballroom subculture in the ‘80s.” The film explores the complex subculture of fashion shows and vogue dance competitions among black and Hispanic gay men, drag queens and transgender women in Manhattan. It shifts among ballroom contests and shows and interviews with contestants, who belong to different “houses” that are like families to them, sharing their views on wealth, notions of beauty, racism and gender orientation.

Point Blank (1967) Obtuse, non-committal, over-stylized noir that still makes you shake your head and say, "Nice to see somebody do something like this." Because Boorman in his psychedelic take on film noir tropes manages to shake loose a lot of the dust you don't see piled up in the dark. And makes a statement about why there might have been such a cultural tumult in that era.

Where the punks and thugs and Mr. Big's in 40's-50's noir were lousy with personality, here they're face-less,
charmless non-entities as bland and blank as the glass facades they hide behind. The only thing that makes them human is that they bleed, and that's where our hero strides in.

There's always gotta be something a little bit different about a noir hero, if only that there's a silver lining in his dark cloud. But the anti-hero of "Point Blank" is unlike any who've come before him. Walker (
Lee Marvin) is the only name he goes by, even his no-good cheating wife (Sharon Acker) calls him that, and the one thing people say about him is they thought he was dead. Expressionless and seemingly impervious to pain,* he just could be, having been set up, cheated and shot—point blankby his old pal Mace Reece (John Vernon in his film debut) during a drop-robbery at the abandoned Alcatraz prison, his walking with heavy tread the only thing keeping him corporeal. That and the need for vengeance. He's helped along the way by a shadowy presence (Keenan Wynn) whose non-specific organization "helps" Walker with his task. Not that Walker needs much help—usually he's the wrench in the works, insinuating his way into being noticed, making some vague threats and watching over (literally over) the mark's demise. Throw a bug in his sister-in-law's ear (Angie Dickinson), or a slimy underling (Michael Strong), wind them up and set them off on their little missions and sure enough, somebody will wind up dead.

Visually, the film is a series of forced perspectives, Boorman shooting down long corridors and mirrored surfaces into black-centered tunnels and corners to unfathomable vanishing points leading inexorably to...where? Walker's path, mostly. We're locked onto Walker's perspective, however unreliable it may be. Rooms change. Bodies come and go, flashing back and forward. Events happen and then seem to vanish, leaving an empty space, a blank slate, like they've been scoured...purged. Is Boorman using the trangular form of the Renaissance painters and standing it on its ear, giving it inexorable depth. Speculation of this type is a long walk from the movie's source, Donald E. Westlake's "The Hunter." But, such is the influence of Boorman and screenwriters Alexander Jacobs, David Newhouse, and Rafe Newhouse, that one can't help go there, so impenetrable and full of questions is this movie.

Like being lost in the dark

If ever there is a Mount Rushmore for tough guys, the face of Lee Marvin should be sculpted there in bold relief. He definitely upholds that reputation in the relentless crime drama “Point Blank.” Based on a novel by Donald Westlake (writing as Richard Stark), this tense, stylish thriller from director John Boorman opens with Walker (Marvin) getting double-crossed by mobster friend John Vernon while conducting a crime on Alcatraz Island. Shot, left for dead, and now missing $93,000, Marvin soon learns that his wife was also romantically involved with Vernon. Writing for Slant in 2003, critic Nick Schager frames the film as a reworking of traditional noir: “Boorman set out to make a thriller that looked and felt like nothing else before it, using widescreen Panavision cinematography, explosive colors, and a multi-layered soundtrack to re-envision the noir picture as highbrow Euro-art film.” “Point Blank” has come to be recognized as a seminal film of the 1960s.

The Princess Bride (1987) A co-worker once confessed that they had never seen Rob Reiner's film of William Goldman's The Princess Bride and all heads in the room turned—"You've never seen The Princess Bride?" was the in-unison reaction. "Half of my jokes are references to The Princess Bride!" I whined.

Goldman wrote the book (or as he claimed "abridged" it "from the writings of S. Morgenstern" and published it in 1973, but, as delightful as the book is, it resisted many attempts to film it, languishing in (what is known in the industry as) "development hell." Rob Reinder was determined to make it after having a box-office hit with Stand By Me. Even when it was released, it was not a hit, languishing at the box-office. But, home video rescued it from obscurity, and it has moved from "sleeper" and "cult" status to full on "classic" regard...not unlike The Wizard of Oz. Always watchable, always quotable, I'll go out on a very sturdy limb to say that The Princess Bride should be a part of everybody's video library.

"As you wish..."

The 1980s produced many feel-good movies and “The Princess Bride” is one of the decade’s most beloved. Adapting his popular 1973 novel for the screen, William Goldman collaborated with director Rob Reiner to craft a lighthearted parody of classic fairy tales that retains the writer’s wit and memorable characters and adds bravura performances and a barrage of oft-quoted dialogue. It is a joyride filled with assorted storybook figures like the beautiful title character (Robin Wright), her dashing true love (Cary Elwes), makers of magic spells (Billy Crystal and Carol Kane) and a rhyming colossus (Andre the Giant). As the devious Vizzini, Wallace Shawn incredulously exclaims “Inconceivable!” at every turn. Swashbuckling Mandy Patinkin dreams of avenging family honor and someday declaring, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!” The film continues to delight audiences, drawing new generations of fans.

Putney Swope (1969) Robert Downey Jr. you know. But then there's his Dad, Robert Downey Sr. Senior was an independent film-maker on the fringe, and his biggest success is his Madison Avenue satire, Putney Swope, in which the titular character, Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson, but voiced by Downey himself), the sole black man in charge of the music department of a big advertising firm is voted its CEO when the previous drops dead of a heart attack in the middle of a presentation. Swope immediately fires the rest of the board, changes the name of the agency to "Truth & Soul, Inc." and decides to do things his way, by stealing ideas, calling them his own and taking credit for them—not too much differently from the way they were done before.

There are a lot of fans of Putney Swope (Louis C.K. and P.T. Anderson among them), and I might have been one of them if I saw it in its hey-day during the Nixon years when it was "fresh" and "shocking." Now, it looks sophomoric, amateurish, and worst of all...not that funny. There are some good ideas here and there, and the basic theme is a good one, rife with satiric possibilities, some of which are exploited, some of which merely misfire (my favorite bit is when Swope's armed bodyguard accidentally drops his gun and, still in character, sheepishly retrieves it). It is filmed in black and white while the commercials are done in color ("Saturday Night Live!" has, since, perfected the art of satirizing commercials). It's a bit like watching an Ed Wood movie, really, only with a mean-streak that is "anti-" everything (including, surprisingly, black militants and Black Muslims). File this one under "historically and culturally" significant, but, that's about it.

When writer-director Robert Downey Sr.’s surrealistic satire of Madison Avenue and black power, “Putney Swope,” opened in July 1969, New York Times critic Vincent Canby characterized it as “funny, sophomoric, brilliant, obscene, disjointed, marvelous, unintelligible and relevant,” while New York Daily News reviewer Wanda Hale damned it as “the most offensive picture I’ve ever seen.” A cult classic from an earlier time, Downey’s wildly irreverent underground breakout film presents hilarious vignettes of an ad agency takeover by black nationalists. Although noting that power ultimately corrupts the militants, Henry Louis Gates Jr. reminisced that he and fellow black students at Yale loved the film as a utopian fantasy that offered them a realistic path—infiltration, then transformation—for social change.

Rushmore (1998) If Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson's previous film)seemed a little ambling in nature, Anderson's next film was extraordinarily assured and disciplined. Another collaboration between Owen Wilson and Anderson, it's the story of an under-performing enfant terrible, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman, in his film debut), who gets kicked out of his exclusive ivy-league High School and must exist in the uninspiring world of public school. 

Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem for Max, as he's less of a student and more of a public institution, putting the "extra" in "extra-curricular," with a Wellesian brio and ego. Max's chutzpah attracts the attention of one of the Ivy-league fathers (Bill Murray), whose own kids, the product of an unhappy marriage, have none of Max's zest.  His interest leads him to an affair with the teacher that Max is in love with, Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams) which further complicates things.

It's a weird hybrid of sources, from Salinger to Schulz, cuisinarted to become a bizarre anti-matter version of The Graduate, and starting to cement Wes Anderson's use of one-point perspective, composed to create a single, central locus, making his frames rectangular black
 holes to suck in the focus of his viewers. That perspective would start to dominate his work more and more, starting with his next film.

Director Wes Anderson’s indie film “Rushmore, ” a work filled with incisive detail to pop sensitivities, remains a cultural milestone of Gen X and millennials. Geeky misfit Jason Schwartzman tries to escape the stigma of being wildly unpopular at Rushmore Academy by becoming the king of extracurricular activities, nearly flunking out in the process. He makes bizarre, unsuccessful attempts to woo elementary schoolteacher Olivia Williams and has a chaotic, up-and-down relationship with wealthy businessman-mentor Bill Murray. This was Anderson’s second film, following the unexpected success of his debut, “Bottle Rocket.” In a 1999 interview with the New York Times, Anderson and screenwriter Owen Wilson described their cinematic approach: “We’re interested in characters who have enthusiasm,” and “We wanted to have ‘Rushmore’ become its own slightly heightened reality, like a Roald Dahl children’s book.”
Max (Jason Schwartzmann) in a rebellious phase

Solomon Sir Jones films (1924-28)
Solomon Sir Jones was a Baptist minister and businessman who also had an important career as an accomplished amateur filmmaker. Jones was born in Tennessee to former slaves and grew up in the South before moving to Oklahoma in 1889. As described on its website, Yale University’s collection of Solomon Sir Jones films consists of 29 silent black-and-white films documenting African-American communities in Oklahoma from 1924 to 1928. They contain 355 minutes of footage shot with then-new 16-mm cameras. The films document a rich tapestry of everyday life: funerals, sporting events, schools, parades, businesses, Masonic meetings, river baptisms, families at home, African-American oil barons and their wells, black colleges, Juneteenth celebrations and a transcontinental footrace. Jones also documented his travels. IndieWire termed these films “the most extensive film records we have of Southern and urban black life and culture at the time of rapid social and cultural change for African-Americans during the 1920s, the very beginning of the Great Migration, which transformed not only black people as a whole, but America itself.” The Smithsonian also has nine reels of film, comprising approximately two hours of footage. The films have been preserved by Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) Buster Keaton's last film as an independent (before signing onto an ultimately disastrous contract with M-G-M) is a variation of "Romeo and Juliet," but instead of bickering families in Verona, Italy, it's two riverboat-owning-fathers in the city of River Junction who object to the union of William Canfield, Jr. (Keaton) and Kitty King (Marion Byron) and them finding any happiness together.

At 71 minutes, this one is feature length (for a silent film), with the story revolving around the son of "Steamboat Bill" (Ernest Torrence) coming back from college to spend time with his father, who he never knew growing up. The rough-and-tumble paddle wheel captain is chagrined to find a slight, mustachioed ukulele player getting off the train, with the two not even recognizing each other for an entire sequence of the film. Bill's hopes of Bill, Jr. helping his lackluster boat business try to stay afloat are soon dashed, and he's even more horrified that junior is fond of the daughter of the rich man, J.J. King, who's latest venture is a fancy riverboat business that attracts riders away from his own.
 The two riverboat barons try to keep the two apart, and barring that, try to sink each others' businesses. King gets Bill's boat condemned, and the flinty steamboat captain's subsequent rage gets him incarcerated, leaving junior to try to spring his father from the grey bar hotel which ultimately fails in execution, and lands the son in the hospital.

Then, the winds come. Nature takes a hand in raising (or sinking) all boats. .  

That sequence is a marvel, using high-powered wind machines and a massive crane, the river town is calved, halved, blown away and blown down, depending on which direction opposite to it Keaton is propelling through. Even without the abundance of splintering buildings, Keaton's stunt work (against the push of six powerful wind machines) is still thrilling to watch, as he bends, corkscrews and leans impossibly forward in an impossible effort to stay on his feet.

It's thrilling, ingenious, often surrealist stuff to watch, even more amazing when you realize that Keaton did the stunts himself, designed the sequence and directed it, a tour de force of Nature, real and imagined, on all fronts. 

If Charlie Chaplin can be called the “poet” of American comedy and Harold Lloyd its “everyman,” Buster Keaton can best be seen as an ingenious craftsman. Born in Piqua, Kansas to vaudevillian parents, Keaton as a toddler was given the name “Buster” by Harry Houdini, according to legend, for his ability to survive falls. Keaton’s fame rests on his array of work from 1920 to 1928 when, in both shorts and feature films, he displayed a seamless mastery of film comic technique, from superb cinematography and editing to brilliant, intricately visual gags. “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” opens with ship captain Steamboat Bill (Ernest Torrence) awaiting the arrival of his long-unseen son (Buster Keaton) whom he hopes to groom as his successor. Keaton, fresh from Boston schooling, turns out to be a dandy wearing a striped blazer and sporting a ukulele. Impatient parent Torrence wearily begins the daunting makeover. The film is remembered for its breath-stopping stunts and cyclone finale. After making the film, Keaton made a disastrous move to MGM, which, combined with personal difficulties, ended his productive career.

This insightful 30-minute documentary profiles a young black woman, Suzanne Browning, as she confronts a legacy of physical abuse and its role in her descent into substance abuse. The film was conceived by Browning’s aunt, Camille Billops, as a sort of cinematic drug intervention. Family remembrances revealed the truth behind the addiction: Suzanne and her mother were victims of domestic abuse at the hands of the family patriarch. Armed with the key to her own self-destructive behavior, Suzanne struggles to understand her father’s brutality and her mother’s passive complicity. After years of silence, Suzanne and her mother are finally able to share their painful experiences with each other in an intensely moving moment of truth. Directed by Billops and James Hatch, this film essay captures the essence of a black middle-class family in crisis.

Thelma & Louise (1991) Ridley Scott's film of Callie Khouri's Oscar winning screenplay has been hailed, but I suspect that he merely got out of the way of a fully developed screenplay. It's one of his clearest, least fussy movies that wasn't art-directed down to the dust-particles. That may have something to do with the story, which needed very little help to make it come through—all it needed was a pair of actresses who could pull it off. The list of people considered is staggering, but it came up with the best choices: Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon (both Oscar-nominated). You pull for them in their long journey through America from Victimsville to NotGonnaTakeItAnymore. By the time they've reached the point of Not Going Back, they've already seen enough downside to know that Life is going to do them any favors and they have to take care of themselves. 

Screenwriter Callie Khouri began her script for “Thelma & Louise” with a single-sentence premise: “Two women go on a crime spree.” What emerged, from her word processor and eventually from the screen, became a feminist manifesto and a cultural flashpoint that eventually landed the film’s stars, in character, onto the cover of “Time” magazine. Anchored by two career-defining performances from Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis (and a breakout early appearance by Brad Pitt), “Thelma & Louise” skillfully contrasts action-movie themes with a social commentary before building to an unforgettable climax. Directed by Ridley Scott, “Thelma & Louise” has become a symbol of feminism.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)
"The first submarine photoplay ever filmed" says the title card. And it's probably the first (and only time) that a movie has stopped cold to present a bow and a hat-tip from the cinematographers, in this case, "the Williams brothers," responsible for the underwater scenes. They must have done some grappling with heavy equipment because the underwater scenes, crude as they may be, are a highlight of the film.

The silent version of 20,00 Leagues combines Verne's novel, with a few references to "Mysterious Island" (its sequel), which also featured Verne's Captain Nemo, but the film-makers go an entirely different direction in order to combine the two stories. The octopus sequence may provoke laughs, but you can't help but admire the primitive efforts to authentically do live scenes underwater.

Directed by Stuart Paton, the film was touted as “the first submarine photoplay.” Universal spent freely on location, shooting in the Bahamas and building life-size props, including the submarine, and taking two years to film. J. E. Williamson’s “photosphere,” an underwater chamber connected to an iron tube on the surface of the water, enabled Paton to film underwater scenes up to depths of 150 feet. The film is based on Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and to a lesser extent, “The Mysterious Island.” The real star of the film is its special effects. Although they may seem primitive by today’s standards, 100 years ago they dazzled contemporary audiences. It was the first time the public had an opportunity to see reefs, various types of marine life and men mingling with sharks. It was also World War I, and submarine warfare was very much in the public consciousness, so the life-size submarine gave the film an added dimension of reality. The film was immensely popular with audiences and critics.
Alan Holubar as Captain Nemo

A Walk in the Sun (1945) "It's a stinking situation." 15 years after winning the Best Director Oscar for his seminal work on All Quiet on the Western Front, Lewis Milestone attempted the same for WWII, while it was still being fought.
Robert Rossen's script follows a platoon of GI's hitting the beach at Salerno and follows them as they attempt to cross occupied territory to a lone farmhouse to complete a mission. Dana Andrews and Richard Conte are the top-lined stars, but the film hosts a collection of character actors (John Ireland, Norman Lloyd, Edward Everett Horton and Lloyd Bridges among them) all given equal time in the slog to their destination. Better, more gritty films would be made later, but Milestone and Rossen's emphasis on the men over the battle sequences feels right (in fact, there is a dearth of pyrotechnics through the beginning of the film, and it's almost a disappointment when it opens up to battle sequences later in the film). With a folk-tune bridging the sequences, A Walk in the Sun almost feels like a war-movie "art" film.

Though better known for his World War I masterpiece “All Quiet on the Western Front,” director Lewis Milestone also directed the World War II classic “A Walk in the Sun.” The film (Robert Rossen adapted the excellent script from the Harry Brown novel) tells the story of a group of men and “how they came across the sea to sunny Italy and took a little walk in the sun.” The walk here is the struggle the platoon faces after surviving a beach landing near Salerno, Italy, and then having to fight their way a few miles toward a bridge and fortified farmhouse held by the Nazis. “Walk in the Sun” forgoes the usual focus of war movies on fierce battle scenes for an episodic, perceptive character study of the men in the platoon, interspersed with sharp, random bursts of violence. The frequent conversations among the soldiers reveal the emotional stress they go through when faced with the day-to-day uncertainties of war, constant peril and the fear of death.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) Robert Zemeckis' ground-breaking film isn't so ground-breaking unless you look at it from a merchandising aspect—for the first time, cartoon characters from the various studios all combined and interacted in a way that had never been done before—except in the imaginations of youngsters who knew nothing about lawyers, trademarks and intellectual property. So, (in cameo's) Daffy and Donald Ducks could do an anarchic piano duet that ended in chaos and Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny could combine in their mischievousness.

The combining of live-action and animation had been done in film for the longest time—heck, Disney had been doing it since before there was a Mickey Mouse. But, Zemeckis went over-time trying to devise ways in which the live actors could physically interact with their painted-in-post future co-stars. But, basically, the actors were working with their imaginations in real-life sets and invisible partners. Bob Hoskins managed to pull off a remarkable performance just for the way he treated everything as realistic, even if his character falls a bit flat. In the meantime, Zemeckis and his-co-scriptwriters created an interesting cartoon character with enough Tex-Avery plasticity that it didn't require much of a back-story. Parts of it drag, while others loom large—it's actually better in the remembering than the viewing, but it's still quite a remarkable achievement.

Described by Roger Ebert as “not only great entertainment but a breakthrough in craftsmanship,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” introduced a new sense of realism into the interactions between cartoons and live-action characters on screen. In this film noir comedy, set in a 1940s Hollywood where cartoon characters are real, private investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is hired to prove the innocence of the accused murderer and uncontrollably crazy ‘toon’ Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer), with memorable appearances by Roger’s voluptuous wife, Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Kathleen Turner), and the chillingly evil Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd). The film evokes a love for the golden age of animation, represented through the construction of Roger Rabbit himself, who embodies Disney’s high-quality animation, Warner Bros.’ character design and Tex Avery’s sense of humor. The spirit of the film is artfully summarized in this one line: “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.” Executive producer Steven Spielberg worked tirelessly to negotiate the use of over 140 beloved cartoon characters in the film, making this the first time Warner Bros. and Disney characters shared the screen and the last time Mel Blanc voiced Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck before his death in 1989.

Thufferin' Thuccotash! All the cartoon characters together!!

I've been doing these overviews of the yearly Library of Congress inductees for some time now, and they're always educational, expanding both experience and knowledge—and I'm glad that a section of Congress is doing SOME-thing to earn their keep. But, like so much of 2016, this year's crop is not all that inspiring (and it should be stressed, as always) to me. Face it, it's been a bad year for least, to me. There are a few nuggets of gold glittering in the dark, but most of it has been shale. It makes the glow of the good that much brighter, unique, and appreciated.

One last thing. Streisand. Intellectually, you can quibble with the sentiments of the song—her man's a louse, but she is dedicated to him, anyway—but it's Fanny Brice's signature song and you can't escape it. Streisand acts it out in the first permutation...weak, crying, hesitant and hopeless—the way Brice would play it (I love how she almost crazily scans the audience—looking for answers or realizing she's blowing the song). Then, for the reprise, she kicks it...ignoring the tune, tempo, and riffing, powering through it, challenging the audience and herself (there's an angry glare of a panther in her eyes at one point). And the intellectualizing stops at that point—Streisand blows it away and makes you realize the power in the person and you don't dare think her weak...or she will flatten ya with a right hook and kick you to the curb. That's some art right there and you find it in the unlikeliest places, challenging your prejudices, making you think and, thus, bettering your life.