Thursday, August 12, 2010

The John Huston Blogathon: Day 8

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

by Chris Z.

"It was Huston’s creative restlessness, story-telling genius and professional dedication that transformed the film into a pioneering masterpiece. “Every scene to be shot is to be the key scene of the film” advised the studio producer, and Huston set out to realise exactly this. A diamond falcon, imperious, ageless and magnificent as this one is, becomes the object of desire for many of film’s characters (prophesying the profit-driven Sierramadrics). Its power lies not in transforming people, but in magnetising those with the most intense, self-centred, indelible features. A vain Mafioso (Greenstreet), a deceiving female (Astor) a small-time crook of short stature (Lorre) and an unscrupulous private eye (Bogart) will clash and confront each others’ lies, quick-witted minds and instincts, in order to find themselves in the most desirable position in the whole story."

A Spanish Piece on The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

by Jaime Grijalba

Beat the Devil (1953)

by Thomas Duke

"As to whether or not John Huston was an auteur, I tend to say no. While filmmaking is no doubt a very collaborative process, the way an 'auteur' shines through his/her work, at least according to me, is through composition, movement, and editing, the basic tools that differentiate cinema from a play or novel. If these visual characteristics come through in a form unique to the filmmaker, and are a central focus of the film, instead of merely 'flourishes' for a script, I say they qualify. Orson Welles is an auteur, in other words, as the aspects I mentioned that are unique to cinema tend to drive his films, where as Sidney Lumet is not, as he seems to be more concerned with how to tell a story in an effective way, like a stage director working in another medium.

"Keep in mind that this is a fairly nebulous idea, but I specify the auteur definition in that way because it seems to me to be the distinction that is most useful. Depending on how the label is defined and applied, one person's auteur can be another's faceless hack. Also, this tells us nothing about a director's 'greatness', as far as I'm concerned, unless your idea of greatness is automatically weighted towards the more "cinematic" filmmakers. So, in other words, John Huston may not be an 'auteur', but, in the long run...who gives a shit. The important thing is what you get out of a filmmaker's works (like me laughing my ass off watching Beat the Devil), and not whether you can come up with an objective slotting system for 'greatness'."

The Bible... In the Beginning (1966)

by Tom of Motion Picture Gems

"Many of his main characters in his other films are individualist and adventurous. And they often deal with moral complications, sometimes demonstrating a smidgeon of decency compared to the hopeless world around them. I think this description fits well of the two most compelling characters in The Bible: Noah and Abraham. Injustice was another theme of Huston’s. Rising above the persecution of his community are Noah and his family, very much a minority. Huston shows him being laughed at and publically humiliated in front of his sons. Yet Noah continued to follow his inner voice. Something I think Huston could identify with; he’s even been called the 'the auteur of life on the ropes'."

Reflections in A Golden Eye (1967)

by Thomas Duke

"Another director I might compare Huston to would be Otto Preminger. Both are known to take seemingly conventional Hollywood material, and use it instead to push the envelope, subverting the system in the process. The difference being that Preminger would typically concentrate on social ideas, where as Huston’s subversion of attitudes were more visceral and emotional. When The Man With a Golden Arm was released, it was probably shocking for many audience members, as they were forced to confront the social ill of drug abuse in a fairly realistic fashion. Conversely, with Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Bogart’s descent into greed fueled madness was also subversive at the time, but dealt with a general aspect of American culture (and human nature), rather than a specific hot button topic of the time."

Fat City (1972)

by Edward Copeland

"With a screenplay by Leonard Gardner, based on his novel, Fat City plays like a short story — it's not about plot, it's about observation. Stacy Keach stars as Tully, an aging low-rung boxing has-been with a tendency to drink too much, a failed marriage and a reliance on odd jobs, usually field work, to keep him from starving (or sobering up). His life changes, for good and ill, after encounters with two people: Ernie (a young Jeff Bridges), a promising young fighter, and Oma, a committed barfly (Oscar nominee Susan Tyrrell). He begins to mentor Ernie and to date Oma, an incredibly annoying creature that Tully tells his former manager Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto) will drive him out of his mind if she ever opens her mouth again. I can sympathize. Tyrrell's performance made me feel much the same way, but thankfully she's not on screen that much."

Phobia (1980)

by Thomas Duke

"It should come as a great surprise that the film was directed by none other than John Huston. However, this has all the earmarks of a paycheck cashing, a slummed phone-in, if you will. Although he was in the twilight of his career (and life, for that matter), that's no excuse, as he managed to create two of his best films during this period (Wiseblood and The Dead). While the script could’ve been the basis of a crass and mindless slasher-esque suspenser, Huston seems to treat it as a dialogue about the idea of confronting fears directly, and the relationship between psychiatrist and patient. Unfortunately, this "dialogue" is built upon this shitty thriller script foundation. Huston apparently didn’t notice that the plot was merely a gimmick for a crude whodunit, or just had no desire to try and muster up a thriller. In other words, the exposition scenes that a film like Schizoid tries to zip through, knowing that they are really just there to enable a psycho-thriller plot, and not to provide real insight into Freudian psychology (and most people watching the film wouldn't give a shit anyway), become the backbone of Phobia. This results in an interminable slog, as we wait around for the obvious "shock" ending, while the characters mostly stand around and discuss this lame "mystery" they find themselves embroiled in."

A Prizzi's Honor (1985) Piece From An Earlier Huston Blogathon

by Edward Copeland

"I've spent a lot of time discussing the great script and performances that help make Prizzi's Honor such a special film, but since this is for a John Huston blog-a-thon, I feel I need to talk more about what he brought to this film. The pacing is great and there are many interesting shots and use of the camera, but nothing too showy. Huston was not one to show off, but when he did unusual takes, it was to serve the story. There were numerous great sequences, many aided by an original score by Alex North as well as the use of classical pieces by greats such as Rossini and Puccini. He especially used it well in the entire sequence involving the kidnapping of a bank executive, one of the most fluid sequences Huston ever filmed. He also mastered the deft blending of the comic moments with more suspenseful elements, right down to the film's climax."

Although this concludes the daily blogathon posts, the blogathon itself is not over yet. Sometime today or tomorrow I will have my piece on Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957), and I will try to find time this weekend to publish a post on my ten favorite Huston films.

Also, if you haven't submitted a piece to the blogathon yet, have no fear--THERE'S STILL TIME! Next week I will publish a tally-up post that will collect all of the pieces that have been submitted to the blogathon for the purpose of gathering them all up on one page for future readers to come across. I will still be accepting any late pieces at my email address.

For now, though, thank you to all who participated in the John Huston blogathon. I don't wish to speak for the man himself, but I believe he would have been proud.

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