Nicolas Cage in adaptation.
Today, director William Dieterle is best remembered for his dreamy, stylized melodramas of the mid-to-late 1940s (I'll See You, Portrait of Jennie), but in his day his greatest hits were mostly robust prestige biographies like The Story by Louis Pasteur and the life of Emile Zola. An important transition film was The Devil and Daniel Webster from 1941, which introduced a supernatural element into Dieterle's work and paved the way for a return to the German Expressionist style in which he had worked as an actor. Before the insane flights of the imagination, Dieterle returned one last time to historical biography and created one of his best films with the 1942 drama Tennessee Johnson. The picture shows the story of the rise and fall of Abraham Lincoln's Vice President Andrew Johnson, and shows Dieterle's finely tuned eye and ear for rural Americana. Early scenes depicting Johnson's rise from poverty-stricken tailor to U.S. Senator are filled with insightful details on language, gesture, and production design that believe the film's origins. The film gets even better when it moves to Washington for a series of process-oriented sequences in which Dieterle gets all the drama he can out of the Senate's response to the Civil War and its aftermath. Issues related to reconciliation and justice in a divided country are examined with vigor and intelligence, and felt extremely forward-looking and relevant – Dieterle and screenwriters John L. Balderston and Wells Root had an understanding of something so central to American culture That the speeches in Tennessee Johnson felt they might have been written in 2020. The film is also superbly photographed by the great Harold Rosson (The Wizard of Oz, Singin & # 39; in the Rain), whose shimmering black and white images here almost match his classic work on John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle. Rosson's cinematography is beautifully preserved on Warner Archives' new Blu-ray from Tennessee Johnson, which also includes some nifty classic shorts and other additions.
A very different film that still appeals to 2020's cultural divide in an interesting way is Meir Zarchi's infamous 1978 horror film I Spit on Your Grave. Originally released as Day of the Woman before being released in 1980 by Jerry Gross (who replaced the Leading actor of the then model Demi Moore instead of the leading actress Camille Keaton created a famous poster with the half-naked body of the then model Demi Moore) was re-titled and reissued, I Spit on Your Grave is a ruthlessly stripped-down story of rape and revenge that is so vivid is that film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert made a crusade of pulling them out of theaters. They argued that the film was somehow inciting sexual violence, a claim that was mystifying given Zarchi's clear identification with his heroine, the relentlessly ugly portrayal of the rapists and the persistence to banish even the slightest hint of eroticism from the picture appears. Still, it's difficult to blame the other critics of Siskel, Ebert, and Spit for the fact that the film's relentless brutality overshadows its considerable virtues as both a harrowing condemnation of sexual assault and an allegory of tensions between the Red and Blue states. As in many other rape and revenge films (including John Boorman's rightly vowed liberation), a lot of resentment boils beneath the violent surface of this film, some of which, as Joe Bob Briggs has pointed out, has to do with the country's dislike for the country City and the city's vengeance against the country.
In 1980, Siskel and Ebert's characterization of I Spit on Your Grave was pinned as morally objectionable junk, and the film was taken out of theatrical distribution before finding financial success in the home video market, where its shame made it a hot VHS rental. After all, I Spit on Your Grave was taken seriously by feminist film scholars like Carol Clover and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who read it more nuanced and constructive than previous critics, and it's now as part of an excellent deluxe Blu-ray package from Ronin Flix available. The box set includes a flawless retransmission of the film as well as a Blu-ray of I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu, Zarchi's ambitious 2019 sequel that reinforces and updates the sociopolitical subtext of the first film by fiercely teasing its heroine and her daughter armed religious zealots compete against each other. A third CD contains Zarchi's son Terry's excellent documentary "Growing Up with I Spit on Your Grave". There are several inserts on all three CDs, including some great audio commentary from Briggs. I have to say that my "recommendation" here is a little more qualified than usual given the ferocity of the films and the still controversial reputation of the original, but for those willing to grapple with the ideological implications of these challenging films, this becomes the ronin -Set exquisitely produced and indispensable.
One film that I have no reservation or hesitation in recommending is Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman's brilliant adaptation (2002), which is available in a new Blu-ray edition from Shout Factory through their Shout Selects label. The film succeeded director Jonze and screenwriter Kaufman to their 1999 collaboration on Being John Malkovich. He is even bolder and more original – and therefore even more impressive when the filmmakers pull through their cinematic tightrope act. The adaptation began life when Kaufman accepted a written assignment adapting Susan Orleans' book The Orchid Thief, and quickly realized that it was a non-filmable tape. Rather than submitting a direct adaptation, Kaufman scripted the inability to adapt the book and starred himself and Orlean along with a fictional twin brother, Donald Kaufman. (Both Kaufmans are played by Nicholas Cage in one of his best performances.) Donald's creation is one of Kaufman's many really inspired ideas, as the character allows him to see scriptwriting as a painful, painful, insecure artist, from his (Charlie's) point of view, who strives for greatness and from Donald's point of view as a dilettante who achieves great success after a Robert McKee writing seminar. (Brian Cox, who plays the real-life McKee, is another comic book master in the film.) Kaufman uses the relationship between the brothers to explore, with comical and often excruciating accuracy, the neuroses and resentments that so many writers have spent their time in From there, claim and impal the film industry as a whole with as much wit and anger as Robert Altman's The Player.
Like The Player, Adaptation is a commentary on himself who enjoys making fun of the "rules" of scriptwriting that he then follows, albeit in a very different way from what McKee and his husband advocate . While The Player is a Hollywood satire from an executive's point of view, adaptation is from a writer's point of view, and that's a key difference – it's a lower perspective (one of the funnier running jokes in the world) movie is Kaufman's invisibility when he is attended the set of Being John Malkovich, and a more compassionate one. As in Being John Malkovich, what at first appears to be a self-reflective comic book gimmick becomes much more of a premise, a philosophical exploration of why and how we tell and consume stories, and an exploration of their role in helping us find meaning to be found in our life. The Kaufmans story runs parallel to and ultimately intersects with the heavily fictionalized story of Orlean that writes her book and beyond, and while the film threatens to collapse under the weight of all the narrative games Kaufman plays, it never does. Jonze nimbly orchestrates the various levels on which the film works and brings them together into a finale that is as surprising in its purity and simplicity as it is overwhelming in its comical and emotional effects. This is a film with infinite rewards that brings new pleasures every time you visit, even if your replay views are double digits like mine.
Jim Hemphill is the writer and director of the award-winning film The Trouble with the Truth, which is currently streamed on Amazon Prime and Tubi. His website is www.jimhemphillfilms.com.