Category Archives: John’s Essays
Bringing to Smug Film a project I started at Shot Context, in which I offer unusual and enriching double features.
At long last, our troubled protagonist—violent, family-less, unable to conform—shakes loose his pursuers. We lean forward in our seats. The ocean is before us; the black-and-white frame blanches in the unforgiving sunlight. Long a source of comfort for our hero, we are finally here. And the camera tightens on his face. A face defined by captivity, always hemmed in with fences and borders, sees the sea. But that’s it. We can go no further. The journey is over. The end.
It’s a curious, but perhaps not entirely unsurprising fact that little Antoine Doinel—director Francois Truffaut’s alter ego—meets the same end that the Creature from the Black Lagoon did three years earlier. A close look at the films, and filmmakers, might account for this lovely synchronicity.
John D’Amico: 63 roles in 23 years of acting. Where do you even begin? He absolutely hummed as Lancaster Dodd in The Master, as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous. He has about a million solid movies you kinda forget about until you look at the long scroll of his filmography. How about State & Main? That was a very fun one, uplifted by his ability to be both campy and deeply believable at the same time. He elevated otherwise listless projects like Pirate Radio and Patch Adams—Jesus, he was even good in Patch fucking Adams! Watching Hoffman, even in a bad movie—hell, especially in a bad movie—you feel his talent almost as a physical presence in the room, a rush of light illuminating himself and everyone else.
She (Orig. 1935, Colorized Version 2008)
Colorization is one of those things that people call “controversial”, and like most glib descriptors, it’s a kind of shoddy definition. There’s no controversy over colorizing things. People hate it. Everybody hates it.
The people who care about movies hate it because it paints over esteemed favorites, dolloping them in eerie flesh tones and smeared, lifeless color like a little girl trying out one of those toy makeup kits. Meanwhile, they fail to catch any new blood because those who hate black and white movies don’t just hate black and white movies because they’re in black and white, and a bit of clown makeup will never bridge that psychological distance.
By and large, the film community has a frustrating habit of undervaluing some of our less conventional actresses. Great talents like Viveca Lindfors, Alfre Woodard, and Catherine Burns tend to promise more than they’re ever really allowed to deliver. We embrace the hell out of our oddball actors like Walken, Goldblum, and Buscemi (and with good reason, what a harvest of incredible parts those three yield), but it seems to me that things are tougher out there for a woman who’s not conventional enough to be a romantic lead.
So, I’d like to take a moment here and profess my appreciation for one of the rare talents of all of cinema, a woman who, despite major criticism, consistently gave some of the best and most memorable performances in film history.
There’s a film writer I like named Marya Gates who once tackled the idea that “old movies” aren’t worthwhile. In a short video overview of film history from inception to the present day, she concluded that “if you don’t love all of it, I don’t understand how you can watch any of it.”
This, to me, is the only valid way of viewing movies. Dismissive negativity is the cheapest commodity in the world and the culture of holding yourself in smug superiority over what you’re viewing seems only to grow in the echo chamber of the internet, full as it is of teenagers and self-proclaimed cynics who cling to their assumptions and prejudices as an essential and valuable part of themselves, not recognizing that those qualities are our greatest failings. So, I’m baffled by your piece “The Idea of What a Movie Is.”