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Author Archives: michaelgloversmith

About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor.

MERCURY IN RETROGRADE at Full Bloom / Talking TWIN PEAKS on the “Page 2 Screen” Podcast

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My second feature film, Mercury in Retrograde, had its World Premiere this past Saturday, September 16, at the Full Bloom Film Festival in Statesville, North Carolina, where we were awarded the prize for “Best Narrative Feature.” To commemorate the occasion, Loren Greenblatt created the beautiful hand-painted poster you see above. I should have more news soon about additional screenings this year and next. For the most up-to-date info on the film, please “like” the official MiR Facebook page and follow us on Twitter.

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I also recently discussed Twin Peaks Season 3 with film critic and screenwriter Jeff York on the International Screenwriters Association’s “Page 2 Screen” podcast. I had a lot of fun doing it and you can listen to it in its entirety here.

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The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Signature Move (Reeder)
2. Mercury in Retrograde (Smith)
3. Detroit Under S.T.R.E.S.S. (Van Wie)
4. M (Lang)
5. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene)
6. Casablanca (Curtiz)
7. Sunrise (Murnau)
8. Nocturama (Bonello)
9. Tout va Bien (Godard/Gorin)
9. It (Muschietti)
10. The Roaring Twenties (Walsh)


Western Mythology and Motifs in TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN

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In his perceptive review of the controversial Twin Peaks Season 3 finale, the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody makes a startling yet logical comparison between Part 18 of David Lynch’s magnum opus and one of the greatest of all American films: “Over the course of the series’s final sprint, Lynch turns this story into an elemental drama of dramas, a distorted and refracted version of the lone American male hero on a relentless quest to rescue an abused woman — he turns ‘Twin Peaks: The Return,’ in other words, into a modern-day version of John Ford’s ‘The Searchers,’ and the tragic depth of his view of the solitary and haunted Western hero is worthy to stand alongside Ford’s own.”

I don’t necessarily believe that John Ford’s masterpiece was a conscious influence on Part 18 — although it is worth noting that an explicit nod to The Searchers did occur in the first episode of Twin Peaks Season 2 back in 1990: the senile room-service waiter at the Great Northern Hotel who serves a glass of warm milk to Agent Cooper, not realizing that he’s been shot, was played by none other than Hank Worden, a character actor from Hollywood’s golden age best known for playing “Old Mose” in The Searchers. In fact, Lynch and Mark Frost (who is credited with the “teleplay” of this episode) even have Worden repeat Mose’s signature phrase “Thank you kindly!” upon receiving Agent Cooper’s gratuity.

But Brody’s instructive comparison got me thinking about the proliferation of references to both western movie mythology and the “settling” of the actual American West that occurs throughout Twin Peaks: The Return — and how Lynch and Frost use such references to paint a surprisingly political portrait of a contemporary America whose essentially savage and gun-crazy nature seems rooted in the original sin of the genocide of Native American people. What follows is a series of notes on some of the prominent western references throughout Twin Peaks Season 3.

– One of the most pleasant initial surprises of the new season for many viewers was realizing how much the role of Deputy Hawk, the Native American character played by Michael Horse, had been expanded. Hawk’s late night phone calls with the ailing Log Lady (Catherine Coulson), spread across five episodes, form the emotional and spiritual core of the new Twin Peaks. The Log Lady informs Hawk that “something is missing” relating to the Laura Palmer investigation and that finding it will have something to do with his “heritage.” When Hawk actually does find the missing pages from Laura’s diary there’s a poignant irony in that the process doesn’t relate to the beliefs or customs of his Nez Perce tribe in any meaningful way. Rather, the missing pages have been hidden in a bathroom stall door that just happens to be embossed by a manufacturing company logo featuring an Indian wearing a feathered bonnet. The fact that a dropped Indian Head nickel leads Hawk to this discovery further reinforces the idea that Lynch and Frost intended this aspect of the plot to be a commentary on the commodification of Native American culture. Michael Horse ultimately starred in 14 episodes of the new season, more than any actor aside from Kyle MacLachlan, and appears to have been given an unusual degree of agency by the show’s makers: Horse confirmed that he himself painted the delightful “living map” that Hawk shows Sheriff Truman (Robert Forster) midway through the season.

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– To the surprise of many, most of the new season takes place not in the title town but in Las Vegas — a desert city in the heart of the American Southwest where never-ending strips of air-conditioned casinos serve as monuments to the twin triumphs of westward expansion and capitalism. Outside of the Vegas branch of the “Lucky 7” Insurance Company where Dougie Jones/Dale Cooper works is a statue of a cowboy. Oddly, the statue, which Dougie/Coop becomes fixated on, is pointing a gun directly at the entrance of the building.

– Wally Brando (Michael Cera), who is, let’s face it, a modern-day cowboy — on a steel horse he rides! — tells Sheriff Truman that he’s been traversing the highways and byways of America and following in the footsteps of “Lewis and his friend Clark” (who, Wally helpfully points out, were the “first caucasians” to see the Pacific Northwest). The funniest scene in all of Twin Peaks?

– The office of the “Detectives Fusco” (Larry Clarke, Eric Edelstein and David Koechner) in the Las Vegas police department is adorned with a painting of a cowboy on horseback.

– The genocide of Native Americans is explicitly invoked in Part 14 when Chantal (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Hutch (Tim Roth) eat fast food in their van while discussing the morality of their jobs as assassins. Hutch speculates that there’s nothing wrong with them being paid to kill people precisely because the U.S government “killed damn near all the Indians.”

– Lissie, one of David Lynch’s favorite contemporary singer-songwriters, performs a song titled “Wild, Wild West” at the conclusion of Episode 14. Many critics have pointed out that the pop songs performed in the Roadhouse (often at the conclusion of the episodes) seem to have been chosen because their lyrics resonate with prominent themes in the show, which is certainly the case with Lissie’s song.

– Part 18 features more western motifs in the imagery and even the dialogue (e.g., Sheryl Lee’s Carrie Page talking about “getting out of Dodge,” etc.) than all of the other episodes put together. It takes place in a small town in Texas — even if it’s an alternate-reality version of Texas — just like The Searchers, which makes Brody’s comparison even more striking. One very memorable scene in this episode takes place in a diner where Cooper asks three armed and cowboy-hatted men to unhand the waitress they are harassing. The scene ends on a note of absurd humor as Cooper disarms these “concealed carry” aficionados like a true western hero before dropping all of their guns into the diner’s deep frier. Is it a coincidence that the waitress being harassed is played by Francesca Eastwood, daughter of western movie icon Clint Eastwood?

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The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)
2. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)
3. People on Sunday (Siodmak/Ulmer)
4. Monterey Pop (Pennebaker)
5. Our Hospitality (Keaton)
6. City Lights (Chaplin)
7. The Phantom Carriage (Sjostrom)
8. Sherlock Jr. (Keaton)
9. Bless Their Little Hearts (Woodberry)
10. Annabelle (Leonetti)


Filmmaker Interview: Alex Cox

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This Friday, September 8, cult British filmmaker Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy) will be at the Music Box Theatre to present a special 30th anniversary screening of Walker, a stylistically daring and politically subversive biopic of William Walker (Ed Harris), the Nashville-born physician, lawyer, journalist and mercenary who became the self-appointed President of Nicaragua in 1856 before being driven mad by power. Although this thinly veiled critique of contemporary American imperialism was critically savaged and barely released by Universal Studios three decades ago, Walker has aged exceptionally well and may be seen as Cox’s masterpiece when viewed today. This Music Box screening represents something of a culmination of a longtime love affair between the Chicago cinephile community and Cox’s work: Repo Man had its first theatrical engagement here, and one of the few positive reviews that Walker received upon its initial release was by Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader. This 35mm screening, presented in partnership with DePaul University’s School of Cinematic Arts, should not be missed.

MGS: Walker is often referred to as the film that ended your relationship with Hollywood but it’s since been canonized by the Criterion Collection and is continually revived for 35mm screenings such as this event at the Music Box. What has it been like to see your film re-evaluated over time?

AC: Canonized? By a DVD release? Oh, honestly. Where’s the blu-ray? Where’s the stream? Universal hate the film and have never distributed it. As a result in a vault somewhere they have some very good condition 35mm prints!

MGS: Walker seems newly relevant with Trump’s talk of military action in Venezuela. How have you been processing the Trump administration?

AC: My main concern is not to die in a nuclear war. In the current insane incarnation of American politics the Clinton Democrats seem to be pushing for war with Russia. I will support anyone who opposes war and the destruction of the planet. Call me crazy, but I will. The talk of war with Venezuela is crazy. The US military would get their asses kicked by an armed guerilla population (as usual) and such talk (as Steve Bannon said regarding North Korea) is all just for domestic wind-up benefit. The Pentagon, like the Government, exists to transfer taxpayers’ money to the corporations, but the US hasn’t won (or even concluded) a war since 1945, unless you count the Pentagon’s great victories in Grenada and Panama.

MGS: How did you work with Ed Harris to achieve the intensity of his performance and why did you opt to not have the character speak with a southern accent?

AC: Ed is his own man and did a great job. I support all his choices! William Walker was all over the place – Nashville, San Francisco, Scotland — who knows what his accent was?

MGS: What was the logic behind having Walker narrate the movie in the third person?

AC: That was the way he wrote his book about the Nicaraguan venture.

MGS: Do you have any other plans when you’re in town?

AC: To screen my new film, Tombstone Rashomon, for students at DePaul and reconnect with my friends there! I am so happy to be returning for a new event at one of the best film schools in the country.

For more information on the Walker screening and Alex Cox Q&A, visit the Music Box’s website.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Walker (Cox)
2. Dodsworth (Wyler)
3. The ‘Burbs (Dante)
4. Stop Making Sense (Demme)
5. Something Wild (Demme)
6. Jezebel (Wyler)
7. The Letter (Wyler)
8. Logan Lucky (Soderbergh)
9. The Big Sick (Showalter)
10. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Anderson)


Now Playing: LOGAN LUCKY and GOOD TIME

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Opening in Chicago this Friday are two of the best American films of the year: Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky and the Safdie brothers’ Good Time. Although the milieu in which each movie is set could not be more different (urban, multi-ethnic Queens and rural, lily-white West Virginia, respectively), both are heist pictures focused on a pair of criminal siblings that are loaded from beginning to end with visually inventive, comedic and suspenseful set pieces. Along with Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, another original heist film that proved to be a surprise box office hit when it was released earlier this summer, they suggest that American genre cinema may yet rise like a phoenix from the ashes of superhero franchise-dom. Although all of these directors use genre conventions to different ends (in the case of Wright, I think the primary virtue of his virtuoso robbery sequences is the way they serve as unlikely love letters to the simple act of listening to music), they all point to the future of the movies-as-theatrical-experience in ways that feel fresh and exciting.

Much has been made of how Logan Lucky, Steven Soderbergh’s feature-film comeback after a self-imposed four-year hiatus (during which time he worked in television), was financed through the pre-sale of foreign and home-video/on-demand rights. This allowed the ambitious producer/director the freedom of partnering with a true indie distributor (Bleecker Street Films) and having not just creative control over the movie but also unprecedented control over its advertising budget and release schedule and bypassing the use of the proverbial Hollywood studio “middlemen” almost entirely – an unheard-of proposition for a film with a 30 million dollar budget that features movie stars like Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes and Hillary Swank in its cast. This has led to some speculation in the industry press that the potential success of Logan Lucky could make it a “game changer” and that, as a result, many Hollywood studio executives actively want it to fail.

This could also be why, although independent to the core in terms of how it was produced and is being distributed, Logan Lucky feels like a Hollywood film: it’s an entertaining crowd-pleaser that shrewdly attempts to court viewers on both the left and right wings of the political spectrum. Tatum’s character, Jimmy Logan, hatches an elaborate scheme to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway but only after being unfairly fired from his construction job for having a “pre-existing condition,” a sly attack on Trumpism and Republican health-care initiatives by Soderbergh and his screenwriter, the pseudonymous Rebecca Blunt. But the filmmakers also aggressively court the kind of “white working-class voters” who rarely go to the movies – and supposedly swung the last Presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor  – by making sops to “patriotism” (e.g., admiring shots of soldiers in uniform, a zippy NASCAR montage, “America the Beautiful” on the soundtrack, and, most pointedly, the xenophobia of making the film’s one unlikable character, amusingly played by Seth MacFarlane, a foreigner who makes jokes at the expense of a disabled U.S. military vet).

In other words, Logan Lucky is a film that invites everyone to identify with its little-guys-against-the-system heroes in a vaguely anti-authoritarian, us vs. them, Smokey and the Bandit kind of way. As an entertainment, it succeeds admirably: it’s a fun movie about people having fun, full of juicy performances and great visual and verbal wit. It’s everything that a summer popcorn movie should be but all too rarely is, and that’s a very welcome thing in 2017. The Safdie brothers’ Good Time, by contrast, is trickier, more troubling and ultimately more satisfying: a breathlessly paced “thriller” centered on an unlikable protagonist (though brilliantly played by a charismatic actor!) that continually challenges viewers by making disturbing asides about racism in contemporary America – beginning with the fact that the pre-credits heist is pulled off by the main characters, brothers Connie and Nick Nikas (Robert Pattinson and co-director Benny Safdie), in blackface – but also never slowing down quite enough to allow us to process what’s happening until it’s over.

This provocative mishmash of contradictory elements, and the almost-assaultive quality with which they’re put across, has proven too much for some critics, including the New York TimesA.O. Scott who accused the Safdie brothers of including “racial signifiers” that he feels can be dubiously interpreted in a multitude of ways and that he doesn’t think the filmmakers ultimately care anything about. My own take is that the Safdies are subtly but unambiguously critiquing Connie Nikas for the way he plays the race card throughout the film. Just look at the memorable scene set in Adventureland: Connie uses his white privilege to his advantage, breaking and entering an amusement park after hours to find a bottle of abandoned LSD worth thousands of dollars then walking away scott free with his white criminal accomplice while allowing two innocent black people to take the fall and go to jail. The scene is about as damning an indictment of racial profiling as one could ask for. I suspect what really makes Scott uncomfortable is the fact that the Safdies are asking viewers to admire Connie’s cleverness in thinking on his feet and improvising a plan as he goes along while also finding him morally reprehensible.

I also don’t know what Scott is talking about when he faults the film for its “bad lighting” and “avoidance of prettiness,” qualities that would be better ascribed to the Safdies’ previous film, the urban junkie-drama Heaven Knows What (perhaps Scott saw the film he expected to see?). While there is a similar sense of gritty verisimilitude on display (especially in the extensive use of exterior New York City locations, which harkens back to the Film School Generation of the 1970s in the way it turns urban spaces into a giant playground), Good Time is also more daring in how it juxtaposes this “street cred” with a bolder sense of aesthetic stylization – one where helicopter shots, neon lighting, bodies-in-constant-motion and a pulse-pounding electronic score all blend together into a gorgeous and expressionistic swirl. At the end of the film, when Connie’s luck has finally run out, we see him in an extreme overhead shot attempting to run from the police but looking as helpless and trapped as a rat in a maze. It’s a marriage of form and content worthy of comparison to Fritz Lang or Alfred Hitchcock, a moment of pure cinema to renew one’s faith in the medium.


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