#402- Man of Marble

Quick recap: A young filmmaker tries to make a documentary about a former communist hero but instead finds a lot of depressing facts instead.

I loved Agnieszca and her boldness

Fun (?) fact:  Bricklaying competitions were totally a thing, probably because there wasn’t much else to do.

I’d totally watch bricks being laid by this guy

Thoughts and observations:

Despite not understanding what was going on some of the time, I think Man of Marble is an important watch. Essentially, it’s about a man opening his eyes to corruption and finally seeing how government let him down. Mateus Birkut started out as a simple bricklayer, building structures for the Communist party in Poland. One day he is chosen to lead a team of men to a brick laying record. Birkut is adorably confused by the sudden fame and quickly becomes tired of the constant attention. After completing the record, however, he warms up to the idea of being the face of the party. It isn’t until years later that his hands are ruined by sabotage that he realizes being a part of the propaganda machine isn’t what he wanted.

What makes this film unique for me is that the audience learns bits and pieces of the story just like the filmmaker Agnieszca. It reminded me of a limited series podcast, where each episode would be her interviewing an important person at a different time in Birkut’s career in order to work out where he currently is. Actually, her film gets canceled because it makes everyone look bad and only at the very end does she think to track the guy down. Spoiler alert: he’s probably dead. Her fixation on this simple bricklayer is an attainable way to track the horrors of the controlling party at the time. By showing his downfall and entire life ruined, she is also essentially filming the downfall of Communism.

Watchability score: 4/5

Up next: When Harry Met Sally

#395- Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song

Quick recap: I’m just going to use the description from IMDb because it is perfectly stated: ‘After saving a Black Panther from some racist cops, a black male prostitute goes on the run from “the man” with the help of the ghetto community and some disillusioned Hells Angels.’

Yeah. That’s what I watched.

Fun (?) fact: The band Earth, Wind, and Fire contributed to this film but have still not been properly compensated.

from season 5- Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Badassss Song

Thoughts and Observations:

Still hungover after my encounter with Shaft, I had nothing but good vibes going into this movie. Finally, my film education can truly begin!

…..And the first scene of the movie is of an early teenage boy having his first sexual encounter. The audience learns that this is the origin of Sweetback, who is apparently really good at sex. My expectations of watching another revolutionary film began to tank. It’s hard to find anything I enjoyed about Sweet Sweetback’s Badassss Song but just like Pink Flamingos, this is not a movie meant for me. This a community, a group of people, that I did not grow up with and so can not really comment on. From the viewpoint of someone who just enjoys movies, this was incredibly hard to sit through. The acting is very stiff and amateur and the film quality leaves a lot to be desired. Yet, it also fascinated to me to feel like I was watching something ‘real’. The plot wasn’t real but the encounters with the community felt more like someone had just turned on a camcorder and started recording than it did a filmmaker orchestrating the whole thing.

Watchability score: 1/5. There’s only so much I can take of watching a guy run.

Up next: Babette’s Feast

#393- Shaft

Quick recap: Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks? Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother, man? Who’s the cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about?

I’m talking about SHAFT

Fun (?) fact: Isaac Hayes originally auditioned for the role of Shaft but lost out to Richard Roundtree. He stayed on  to write the theme song, eventually winning an Oscar. I can dig it.

Thoughts and observations:

Alright, baby, let’s get to it! I L-O-V-E-D every single thing about this movie. Now it could be that I haven’t been around humans in months or maybe it’s the weird nostalgia I get when 1970s New York City is featured in film, but everything Shaft did was exciting. The action scenes were wonderful but I enjoyed myself just as much watching Shaft do such things as: get his shoes shined, sit in a coffee shop and my favorite-sit on the edge of the desk. How can someone be so cool so effortlessly? I never really understood what his job was or his connection to all the bad guys but it didn’t matter. As long as you were cool, he was cool, baby.

Race is of course a huge part of the film and one that I feel so uncomfortable talking about. All I can write about is my own experience and my own opinions so that’s what I will try and do. It was so frustrating to hear Shaft echo the sentiments about not trusting the police when we are having the same exact conversations 50 years later. Maybe the N-word isn’t used as regularly as it was in 1971…….but that’s about it. The concept of a Black hero is one that still resonates today. It’s so much easier to imagine one guy kicking everyone’s ass rather than expect a community to agree to tear down the effects of systematic racism. Shaft is the perfect escape movie for times like this. He helps Bumpy Jones find his daughter despite knowing how bad the guy is because that’s what you should do. It doesn’t matter the criminal record or past decisions, when someone needs help, you do it. Even if it is the police causing the problem in the first place. Even if you have no concept how the other person lives, that’s what you do. It might not look as cool as Shaft made it look but helping your community is something he totally digs.

Watchability score: 5/5

Up next: Au Revior Les Enfants

 

#380- The Last Picture Show

Quick recap: A coming of age story set in a dying Texas town in the 1950s. Bleak doesn’t even begin to describe this film.

This movie is crawling with stars! Pictured here is Cybill Shepherd and Jeff Bridges

Fun(?) fact: Orson Welles was the one to convince director Peter Bogdanovich to film in black and white.

And another BONUS FUN FACT: I have visited the real life town of Archer City, where this movie was filmed and based off of. Unfortunately all I remember are the massive bookstores owned by Larry McMurtry and a cat that followed me around.

see, Mom? My memory remains intact.

Thoughts and Observations:

Not having grown up in the 1950s I don’t know how accurate The Last Picture Show is, but I did grow up in a small Texas town and there were many scenes that felt uncomfortably familiar. This Larry McMurtry fellow might be on to something!  My town didn’t have a tradition of parking our cars outside of a motel when our friends lost their virginity but we did have a bunch of old men who cared more about high school football than is healthy. We didn’t have teenagers sleeping with older women in unhappy marriages (I don’t think) but we did have our fair share of scandals that literally everyone knew about. And finally, I don’t remember my friends ever throwing a nude swimming party but there were plenty of times we rode around town and visited the couple of spots still open past 8 on a weeknight.

Don’t let the description fool you. This is not a Texan version of American Graffiti. Although this is a ‘coming of age’ movie, it happens as everything around them, especially the town is dying. I related to that more than anything I think. I live in a big city now and stores opening and closing is a daily occurrence. But in a small town, its impact is felt by everyone to some extent. And I think everyone goes through a shift at some point when they feel like they are too big for their town and it’s time to move on. I found myself thinking about this a lot during the movie. What would’ve happened to these teens had they lived in Dallas? Would Sonny have had a better life? Would Jacy have ended up with someone she truly loved? It’s interesting to see how the teens shaped the town and more importantly how the town shaped them.

  • If I had to rank the bleakest scenes, Billy’s experience with sex was the worst. Even worse than his death at the end of the film. I loved the character and I love how it showed Sonny’s humanity but it was a heart wrenching story to experience.
  • To the opposite end, I don’t know if I really enjoyed any of the scenes but I wish I could’ve seen more of the Picture Show since it seemed to be the hotbed of all teen activity and was the title of the film.
  • Cloris Leachman’s character Ruth was another sad one but I felt more sorry for her when she was having an affair with Sonny than when she screamed at him for abandoning her. Her life was hard, yes, but Sonny only offered her a false hope that couldn’t be sustained.
  • As mentioned, there are a ton of stars (both up and coming as well as established) and I had a tough time naming them, except for one :  Randy Quaid, whom I recognized immediately.

  • I could go on and on about the characters but what really did me in was the setting. It’s no secret that I love Texas and its scenery and The Last Picture Show made me want to jump in my car and visit Archer City all over again. The scenes where Sonny headed out of town and watched the sunset felt so familiar and calming.

Final review: 4/5. I’d give it a perfect score but those nude scenes really snuck up on me.

Up next: L’Atalante