Film Snobbery Selected Entries (Page 3)
NOTE: Given the complexities and interconnectedness of the Snob universe, cross-references between entries are common and are spelled out in CAPITAL LETTERS for easy identification.
Maddin, Guy. Winnipeg-born director, often referred to in priggish film-crit circles as a “fabulist,” whose genuinely strange movies combine a German Expressionism-informed visual sense with an arch sense of humor and a Farrelly Brothers-like fetish for disabled and deranged persons. Achieving cult status with his first full-length feature, Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988), the rollicking story of two smallpox-quarantined lunkheads, filmed in black and white, Maddin fully arrived as the new baron of the Art Snob set with The Saddest Music in the World (2004), which starred Isabella Rossellini as a perturbed, legless beer baroness. The director’s column in Film Comment, “My Jolly Corner,” in which he breezily celebrates such obscurities as Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men, is the best thing in that otherwise mirthless magazine.
Maysles brothers, the. Unnervingly nonjudgmental twin-brother documentarians (Albert and David, born in 1926; David died in 1987), known for their voyeuristic, deadpan depictions of milieus scary (the chaotic, deadly Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway in 1970’s Gimme Shelter), disturbing (the gone-to-seed Hamptons mansion of mentally ill Jackie O. cousins “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Beale in 1976’s Grey Gardens), and pathetic (the drab, Lomanish world of door-to-door bible salesmen in 1969’s Salesman). Since David’s death, Albert has soldiered on as cinéma vérité’s eminence grise, making new films and attending lovingly to the CRITERION COLLECTION reissues of his ’60s and ’70s work.
McKee, Robert. Theatrically belligerent, fiercely browed screenwriting guru whose revival-like three-day “Story Seminars” yearly attract thousands of desperate would-be auteurs, a zillionth of whom actually become successful in pictures. At once a bracing, incisive instructor and a willfully demoralizing lowerer of expectations (for both his students’ prospects and the future of film), McKee, who has been on the circuit since the 1980s, has digested many of his lessons into his 1997 book, Story (an essential Snob text), and consented to have the actor Brian Cox portray him fairly accurately in the Spike Jonze-Charlie Kaufman film Adaptation (2002).
Meditation on. Stock hack-crit phrase used to bestow an air of erudition and gravitas on both the critic and the film he is reviewing. Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation is an affecting meditation on cultural and temporal dislocation; the Matrix series is the Wachowski brothers’ meditation on the intersection of technology and spirituality.
Milius, John. Hyperbolically martial screenwriter-director and iconoclastic Hollywood far-righty; the most raging and bullish member of the Scorsese-Coppola-Spielberg-etc. generation. Deemed unfit for military service in Vietnam on account of his asthma, Milius channeled his virility and bloodlust into writing or co-writing the first two Dirty Harry movies, Apocalypse Now, Conan the Barbarian, and Red Dawn, the latter two of which he also directed. Per Snob lore, Milius was the inspiration for John Goodman’s Nam-obsessed character in the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski.
Movieness. Stock hack-crit term used, like a more fun version of postmodern, to denote a director’s or viewer’s hyperawareness of filmic conventions and techniques. Watching Kill Bill’s gory, kinetic fight scenes, you can sense Tarantino exulting in the sheer movieness of moviemaking.
Mr. Ned. Manhattan tailor shop that became an unlikely Snob destination when word got out that it is where director Wes Anderson gets his too-short, too-narrow prepster suits made. Young obsessives with means and sufficient leanness (hardly a given in Snob circles) are known to seek out Vahram Mateosian, Anderson’s tailor, for the latest in moleskin and velvet Wes-wear.
Nykvist, Sven. Swedish cinematographer who, by virtue of his early renown as Ingmar Bergman’s regular cameraman and his later work for Woody Allen, Philip Kaufman, and ANDREI TARKOVSKY, among others, has earned that rarest of honors for a cinematographer: his own section in your local alternative video store. Idiot, you’re looking in the wrong place! Star 80 is in the Nykvist section, not the Bob Fosse one!
Office Space. Mildly diverting 1999 comedy about cubicle life in corporate America, puzzlingly accorded classic status in Snob circles, where ritual mass viewings are common. The sole live-action feature by Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill creator Mike Judge, Office Space is representative of a whole strain of underperforming studio films that only Snobs “got,” such as John Boorman’s Excalibur, the Keanu-Swayze surf movie Point Break, the Val Kilmer vehicle Real Genius, and the PAULINE KAEL–anointed Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.
Peckinpah, Sam Ultra-macho writer-director (1925-84) with a predilection for high body counts, balletic slo-mo violence, and ketchup-shortage-causing amounts of bloodletting. Fresno-born and educated at military schools (he served in the Marine Corps from 1943-47), Peckinpah eased into movies as a protégé of Don Siegel’s and made a name for himself with the Westerns Ride the High Country (1962) and The Wild Bunch (1969). Always abrasive and contrary, Peckinpah morphed in his later years into a Mexi-phile counterculture stoner, albeit one with a distinctly unmellow view of man’s primal savagery. His Snob-ratified classic, Straw Dogs (1971), about a wimpy, bespectacled American mathematician (Dustin Hoffman) who takes gruesome, uncharacteristic revenge on the ruffian oiks who rape his wife and besiege his house in a pastoral English town (and thereby becomes a “real man”) forever tagged Peckinpah an unreconstructed misogynist in feminist circles. Snobs also celebrate Peckinpah’s alterna-Western Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), which, aside from having Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson in it, was mutilated by MGM, thus setting the stage for a posthumous, Snob-titillating “as Sam would have wanted it” rerelease. Bizarrely, Peckinpah’s last directing assignments were of two Julian Lennon videos, “Valotte” and “Too Late for Goodbyes,” during the Beatle son’s brief commercial heyday.
Raimi, Sam. Detroit-born director who, like fellow affable nerd-visionary Peter Jackson, parlayed a series of wildly inventive low-budget splatter pics (chiefly, his Evil Dead movies of the 1980s) into an A-list career (the Spider-Man blockbusters). A friend and sometime collaborator of the Coen brothers’ (he co-wrote their film The Hudsucker Proxy), Raimi shares the brothers’ acute sense of MOVIENESS—referencing ’40s pictures with frequent shots of big clocks, for example, and directing in coat and tie in homage to Alfred Hitchcock.
Schrader, Paul. Whiz screenwriter and occasional director beloved by Snobs for his facility with brutal, sordid subject matter. Raised in a severe Calvinist household in Michigan—he never even saw a film until he was 18 years old—Schrader first emerged in the early seventies as a heavy-duty film critic and PAULINE KAEL protégé before selling his screenplay for The Yakuza (1975), a story about an American (Robert Mitchum) who gets mixed up with the Japanese Mob. Since, he has written Martin Scorsese’s two most inflammatory films (Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ) and directed a sequence of fraught, atmospheric dramas redolent of crime, scuzz, and sexual perversion, including Hardcore, American Gigolo, The Comfort of Strangers, and Auto Focus—as well as the uncharacteristic Michael J. Fox mullet-musical Light of Day. His little-seen 1985 film, Mishima, about the great Japanese novelist who committed suicide, is a Snob cause célèbre.
Second-unit director. A deputy to a film’s main director whose job is to shoot scenes and footage that don’t require the presence and immediate supervision of the main director, often action sequences and expositional location shots. Many a second-unit director, having overseen his own semi-autonomous production crew, has eventually graduated to supremo-director status, though Snobs glory in knowing the names of such career second-unit specialists as Yakima Canutt (who was also an ace stuntman in John Wayne movies) and B. Reeves Eason. No disrespect to Paul Verhoeven, but the real reason RoboCop rocks is that Monte Hellman was the uncredited second-unit director.
ShoWest. Trade convention put on in Las Vegas every March by the National Association of Theater Owners; renowned for being the first place that the major studios show trailers for their upcoming features, and, therefore, for being much less of an endurance test than Sundance. Dude, the new John Woo got tons of buzz at ShoWest; we’re so there on opening day.
-sploitation. Alt. –xploitation. Useful suffix that conveys a sense of scuzziness to whatever topic word it is attached to, resulting in an alluringly disreputable subgenre. Derived from the word blaxsploitation, which itself combined the words black and exploitation to describe the early-seventies boom of black-character films that featured rampant drug-dealing, crime-fighting, nudity, and outrageous ’fros. I rate Babette’s Feast ahead of Tampopo in the food-sploitation stakes.
Steele, Barbara. Wild-eyed, witchie-poo B-movie actress equally at home playing seminude seductresses and scarifying goth girls in horror movies of the sixties and seventies. English-born, Steele first made a splash playing two roles in the 1960 Italian horror film Black Sunday (no relation to John Frankenheimer’s 1977 blimp-disaster movie) before being tapped by ROGER CORMAN to appear in one of his Edgar Allan Poe movies, The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), opposite Vincent Price. Steele matured into respectability as a TV producer, winning an Emmy for helping bring Herman Wouk’s War and Remembrance to the small screen.
Tasty print. Snob catchphrase for a museum-quality print of a restored film. Film Forum had a tasty print of The Manchurian Candidate—the blacks were so deep!
Troma Entertainment. Gonzo independent production company in business since 1974, specializing in cheapo, cheerfully cheesy horror-comedies (Class of Nuke ’Em High, the Toxic Avenger series) and cheapo, cheerfully cheesy juggs-SPLOITATION movies (Waitress!, The First Turn-On!!, ), many of which are directed by Troma’s irrepressible founder himself, Lloyd Kaufman. Kaufman, who has cultivated a bow-tied, ranting-libertine New York Jew persona—a sort of cleaned-up, slimmed-down, unbearded Al Goldstein with soft-core rather than hard-core proclivities—often takes to the road to teach a ROBERT McKEE-style seminar on filmmaking, based on his book Make Your Own Damn Movie! Secrets of a Renegade Director.
Un Chien Andalou. Landmark short from 1929, in which the surrealist tag team of artist Salvador Dali and director Luis Bunuel pooled images from their dreams to form a hallucinatory non-narrative 17-minute film, the most indelible moment of which is a close-up of a woman’s eye being slashed, its aqueous humor spilling out. Though willfully irrational, the film, a perpetual campus favorite, is billed in the catalog copy of FACETS VIDEO, as nearly all non-American films are, as a “jolting tale of desire.”
Whip pan. Jarring technique in which a handheld or tripod-mounted camera moves horizontally at high speed, resulting in a disorienting blur; used as both a transition technique (as in the old Batman TV series) and as a bravura kinetic flourish. Those whip pans in Raging Bull’s fight scenes are awesome, even if Scorsese ripped ’em off from Truffaut.
W.I.P. Snob abbreviation for Women in Prison, the exploitation subgenre whose films reliably feature sadistic lesbian wardens, gratuitous shower scenes, and titillating-appalling catfights. Though the heyday of W.I.P.’s was the early 1970s, when ROGER CORMAN’s New World Pictures released its “Women’s Penitentiary” trilogy of The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage, and Women in Cages (all of which starred PAM GRIER), W.I.P.’s continue to be made by low-budget outfits to this day, and tastemaker directors such as John Waters and Quentin Tarantino have incorporated many stock W.I.P. elements into their work.
Wire-fu. Modish Snob term for both the genre and the technique in which martial-arts actors are attached to wires and pulleys, the better to suggest such superhuman powers as the ability to leap great heights and to slowly pirouette through the air while dispatching of opponents with combination kicks. Pioneered by the action star Jet Li in Hong Kong movies in the 1980s, wire-fu reached the mainstream with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and the Matrix movies. Some martial-arts purists lament the growing popularity of wire-fu, preferring the “wireless,” and therefore more audacious, stunts of vintage Jackie Chan. Ching Siu-Tung’s ninja extravaganza Duel to the Death is an awesome example of early wire-fu.
Zahn, Steve. Smallish, affable actor of regular-guy mien, exalted in Snob circles for his comedic performances in underperforming movies that only Snobs “got,” such as Safe Men (1998), Chain of Fools (2000), and Saving Silverman (2001). Usually matched with a similarly game young actor in a “buddy” scenario. Sam Rockwell was awesome in Safe Men, but I was really groovin’ on the Zahn!
Z Channel. Los Angeles-based pay-cable movie channel that began its life in 1974 as a sort of proto-HBO or Showtime, and then, upon its hiring of a febrile repertory-cinema Snob named Jerry Harvey as its programmer in 1980, became the obsession of film-savvy industry folk (Orson Welles and JOHN CASSAVETES were both fans in their dying days) and twitchy aspirants (such as the pre-success Quentin Tarantino and Alexander Payne). Broadcasting semi-forgotten oldies and newer films—such as a long version of Michael Cimino’s fiasco Western Heaven’s Gate with studio-excised footage reinstated—Harveyeducated a generation of trainee Snobs and effectively invented the “Director’s Cut,” only for the Z Channel to go under in 1989 as larger competitors and video rentals siphoned off its business. A despairing Harvey murdered his wife and killed himself in 1988, but his reputation has since been rehabilitated by a 2004 documentary lovingly compiled by Cassavetes’s daughter Xan. I first grooved to Nick Ray when I was squatting at a friend’s place above the Strip and caught In a Lonely Place on the Z Channel.