Blog Directory CineVerse: July 2021

Walk a mile in my silent shoes

Thursday, July 29, 2021

African-American filmmaker Charles Lane does more than pay tribute to Charles Chaplin and his film The Kid with Lane’s Sidewalk Stories. His black-and-white silent comedy serves as a time capsule showcase for New York City and its diverse occupants and neighborhoods in the late 1980s and demonstrates that a fully realized artistic vision can be achieved successfully without sound or color, especially if you give the audience characters and situations they can appreciate. CineVerse metaphorically walked the concrete and steel streets of the Big Apple last week in its examination of this picture (click here to listen to a recording of our group discussion) and arrived at the following observations.

What struck you as surprising, curious, fulfilling, or out of the ordinary about Sidewalk Stories?

  • It’s both a black-and-white and silent film in the modern age of cinema, one of only a handful of this type to be made in the sound era of the last 90 years.
  • The filmmakers choose not to even use dialogue cards in between shots, forcing us to pay closer attention to the character’s actions and body language and even read lips to some extent – essentially requiring active participation from the viewer, who must learn things in context.
    • Roger Ebert wrote: “I think perhaps the silent format inspires us to participate more directly in the movie. A sound film comes to us, approaches us - indeed, it sometimes assaults us from the screen. But a silent film stays up there on the glowing wall, and we rise up to meet it. We take our imagination and join it with the imagination of the filmmaker."
  • Director/actor Charles Lane has plenty of opportunities to mine comedy gold and evoke bigger laughs via Chaplin tricks like slapstick and sight gags, but he chooses not to go as much for the funnybone as for the heart.
  • The success of this movie, and our interest in it, depends a great deal on the chemistry between the artist and the little girl (played by Lane’s real-life daughter), who is irresistibly adorable and perfect for the scenes she’s in.
  • This picture was filmed over only 15 days on a $200,000 budget, yet the filmed locations include a great cross-section of memorable New York sites and areas.
  • While Lane infuses sentimentality into this story, it’s not saccharine sweet. For instance, the ending remains ambiguous: it’s not clear if he and the store owner end up together or how the little girl grows up. Instead, the filmmakers leave us with thoughts of the underprivileged and societal castoffs, who are given the last word – literally.

Themes at work

  • The voicelessness of the homeless and underprivileged. The movie is making a statement about how the struggles of the homeless and poor aren’t being heard or paid attention to by society. Interestingly, the film remains completely wordless until the last scene, in which the voices of the destitute and displaced are given volume by the filmmakers.
  • “Comedy as a mode of survival,” according to Slant magazine critic Steve Macfarlane. Telling this tale straight without humor and exaggerated comedic effect would be powerfully depressing for the characters as well as the audience. “Diverting his viewers time and again from the grimness of the film’s scenario, Lane actually manages to reinforce it, driving the stakes higher,” Macfarlane continues.
  • Everyone can make a difference in the lives of others, regardless of class, race, or clout. A seemingly insignificant street peddler proves that, despite his lack of resources or parental know-how, he can salvage a tragic situation and assume the responsibility of caring for a young temporarily orphaned child.
  • The tapestry of intersecting and interesting lives found in a big urban melting pot. The artist isn’t the only colorful and attention-grabbing character in this movie. There is also the street dancer, street magician, rival artist bully, the pair of hoodlums, and the store owner who falls for the artist.

Similar works

  • The Kid, City Lights, Modern Times, and other works by Charles Chaplin featuring the Little Tramp character
  • The Artist
  • Films and shorts starring and directed by Buster Keaton
  • Midnight Cowboy

Other films directed by and/or starring Charles Lane

  • True Identity
  • Posse
  • The Mind


You don't have to search far to find the finest western ever

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Glenn Frankel
For Cineversary podcast episode #37, host Erik Martin teams up with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and film scholar Glenn Frankel, author of The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, to honor the 65th anniversary of one of the greatest western of all time: The Searchers, directed by John Ford. Erik and Glenn probe deep into the dark psychological crevices of this celebrated but controversial American classic and investigate the myths and majesty of Ford's glorious western canvas as they explore why the film is worth celebrating all these years later, its cultural impact and legacy, what we can learn from the film in 2021, and more.

To listen to this episode, click here or click the "play" button on the embedded streaming player below. Or, you can stream, download or subscribe to the Cineversary podcast using Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotifyGoogle PodcastsBreakerCastboxPocket CastsPodBeanRadioPublic, and Overcast.

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at and email show comments or suggestions to


An empress on the outs

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Palace intrigue pictures and period costume dramas have entertained audiences for generations. A recent standout in this subgenre is Farewell, My Queen, which uses the last days of the French monarchy as a backdrop for a tale about a commoner determined to serve her endangered queen Marie Antoinette. This film got the CineVerse treatment last week, with numerous opinions given and observations made during our group discussion (which you can listen to here). Here’s a summary of our conversation:

What did you find notable, unexpected, distinctive, or satisfying about Farewell, My Queen?

  • The setting is the start of the French Revolution, but we aren’t shown any beheadings or violence. For that matter, the story is entirely told from the perspective of the queen’s faithful servants, particularly her reader Sidonie.
  • This is not a story about Marie Antoinette – it’s about one of her servants and the way that monarchs use their power, and the access they grant to that power, to create a hierarchical structure in which power dynamics can shift depending on how close you are to the king or queen.
  • Also, this is not an action narrative: it’s a reaction narrative, in which suspense and intrigue are built by following the reactions of the queen’s servants to an impending revolution.
  • The camera seems to be voyeuristically prowling about, as evidenced by how it follows Sidonie around (often from behind) and lingers on bustiers, cleavage, and naked bodies. While it’s doubtful that the filmmakers were trying to be prurient and exploitative, the way the lens focuses on the female form suggests perhaps that this is a male-dominated society in which females were treated as objects.

Themes at work

  • The contrast between the haves and have-nots. Farewell, My Queen depicts the opulence and decadence of the royal household versus the grimy, tainted banality of the commoners’ and peons’ habitats. We see the power, privilege, and wealth that the monarchy commands compared to the relative lack of agency, freedom, and resources that the Queen’s subjects possess.
    • Slant magazine’s Jesse Cataldo wrote: “Control is the operative element in Benoît Jacquot’s work, with the main caveat being that when someone has it, someone else does not. This prevailing concept sets the stage for detailed examinations of interpersonal power dynamics, presented as games or struggles, with an acute eye toward the roles and responsibilities of women.”
    • Likewise, we see imagery and hear evidence of vermin and pests like rats, mosquitoes, and spiders representing the inability of the royal household to remain pure, clean, and unblemished and signifying impending doom and decay.
  • Running out of time. We know from the dates given that it’s only a matter of time before heads will roll and the monarchy comes crashing down in France. This film depicts a handful of days that lead up to those monumental events, and the predominant symbol at work is the royal clock lent to Sidonie; once that clock is stolen, order and structure begin to collapse and the countdown to the end of an era for the royalty and its court begins. The takeaway? Nothing lasts forever, especially something created by human beings, who are fallible and impermanent.
  • The secret lives of women both powerful and unpowerful in a world controlled by men. Farewell, My Queen features predominantly female characters, shining a spotlight on the private passions, proclivities, and lifestyles of women just prior to the French Revolution. Interestingly, Sidonie begins the film as a servant but ends it as a survivor, outliving her female counterparts. Consider, also, that Sidonie appears to have a young crush on the queen and demonstrates her undying fealty to Marie Antoinette.

Similar works

  • Previous films about or featuring Marie Antoinette as a character, including Madame Du Barry (1934), Marie Antoinette (1938), and The Affair of the Necklace (2001), and Marie Antoinette (2006)
  • A Royal Affair (2012)
  • The Duchess (2008)
  • The Girl King (2015)
  • The Favourite (2018)
  • The Lady and the Duke (2001)
  • The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Other works by Benoit Jacquot

  • La Désenchantée
  • A Single Girl
  • Deep In the Woods
  • Three Hearts
  • Diary of a Chambermaid


Dark Star: a dark horse but lightweight sci-fi

Monday, July 12, 2021

Sandwiched uncomfortably between the chasm that was 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Star Wars (1977), John Carpenter’s fledgling directorial debut Dark Star attempts to put a comedic touch on previous Kubrickian ideas while also foreshadowing the blue-collar space truckin’ sensibilities of Alien. It’s a bit of a cosmic mess, and the low-tech visual effects, amateurish acting, and abrupt tonal shifts do little to improve matters. Still, Dark Star is a film rippling with interesting ideas, imagery, and memorable bits that will be explored in later genre pictures. Our CineVerse band took a test flight last week and came away with the following impressions (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here):

Similar works

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Star Trek
  • THX 1138, which also began as a student film
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • Ray Bradbury’s short story Kaleidoscope
  • Alien
  • Star Wars
  • Moon
  • Sci-fi comedies like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Spaceballs

What did you find unexpected, distinctive, or surprising about Dark Star?

  • This looks to be just a few rungs above a student film on the production value, acting, and screenplay scale. Filmmakers John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon began this production as a short while they were college students; they were given more money by a producer to add more scenes and pad out the length to feature film runtime, with a final budget clocking in at around $60,000. Despite this paltry price tag, the collaborators were able to accomplish some impressive feats, even for 1974 film standards and special effects expectations.
  • The influences here are obvious (especially Kubrick works), but Dark Star also would have inspired Star Wars, Alien, and subsequent sci-fil films, especially with its depiction of traveling through hyperspace and its notion of an escaped alien loose on the ship wreaking havoc.
  • This is a rare work of sci-fi comedy. On its surface, this seems to be a sobering drama, but quickly we pick up comedic sensibilities, jokes, and humorous bits, which makes it easier to accept the budgetary and visual effect shortcomings.

Themes at work

  • Existentialism (exploring the nature of the human condition and existence), epistemology (investigating what distinguishes justified belief from opinion), and applied philosophy (like Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am”). Doolittle arguing with a sentiment bomb capable of artificial intelligence, trying to dissuade it from detonating based on logic, serves as a spoof of 2001: A Space Odyssey and its exploration of AI’s ability to surpass humans.
  • Ennui, regardless of the setting or milieu. Director John Carpenter described this story as “Waiting for Godot in space,” and “truck drivers in space.” These are everyday, blue-collar Joes who have grown bored with their mission, despite its huge significance and the grandiosity of their surroundings. This isn’t some noble quest or giant leap for mankind; these are clock-punchers hired to pave a clear path on the cosmic superhighway.
  • Cosmic irony. Having to rationalize and debate philosophical notions with a sentient but stubborn bomb, destroying rather than exploring new worlds in a routine of mindless violence, being millions of miles from Earth without toilet paper, and getting humiliated and outfoxed by a silly extraterrestrial gasbag of a pet are among the sardonic statements being made by the filmmakers, who seem intent to de-glamorize the supposed allure and prestige of space travel.
  • The inability to escape our inherent human condition. It is in our nature as humans to destroy things, argue, fight, become bored and complacent, take things for granted, and abuse or neglect what we regard as lower life forms.
  • The hard work required to achieve rugged individualism. Slant Magazine reviewer Simon Abrams wrote: “The fact that there’s no logical way to not emotionally malfunction aboard the Dark Star speaks to the film’s central egocentrism: everybody has to do everything themselves, even the Smart Bomb that obliterates the ship after it reasons that it is, in fact, God: ‘The only thing that exists is My Self’…Dark Star remains one of the best expressions of that quest for personal freedom because it was principally created by two artists that define themselves by their own fierce intellect and staunch individualism.”

Other films by John Carpenter

  • Halloween
  • Escape From New York
  • The Thing
  • Starman
  • They Live
  • In the Mouth of Madness


75 years of the best lives (and a great film)

Monday, July 5, 2021

William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives, released in 1946, took home Oscar gold for Best Picture, preventing It's a Wonderful Life from claiming a wonderful prize. But if you're going to lose out to another picture at the Academy Awards, you could do a lot worse than be bested by this William Wyler classic, probably the best cinematic story ever told about soldiers and veterans returning home from wartime. CineVerse did its patriotic duty this past Independence Day week by examining this movie. Here's a recap of our group discussion (to listen to a recording of it, click here).

How would this film have been perceived as groundbreaking and perhaps controversial upon its release in post-World War II 1946?

  • It addressed, for the first time in an American feature film, the sensitive cultural, social, and psychological issues faced by returning veterans and their families.
    • These issues include adultery, alcoholism, ostracism, unemployment, callous corporate practices, a hostile work environment, and problems in a marriage that appear perfect on the surface.
  • It’s fascinating to hear Al’s son talk about the threat of nuclear annihilation and the start of the Cold War; this would have been one of the first Hollywood films to do so.
  • The Best Years of Our Lives notably also uses a disabled man (in this case, Harold Russell, an amputee with no professional acting background) to poignantly tell its story—and without relying on circus sideshow sensationalism or exaggerated dramatic effect.
  • This was nearly twice the length of average movies at the time—a runtime that risked losing audience interest. There is also no intermission.
  • Framed within the context of World War II and its aftermath, the movie avoids using any flashback combat scenes or action; it’s purely a human drama about real-life issues.
  • In making this motion picture, with three diverging narratives about veterans adjusting to postwar life at home, the filmmakers were taking a big risk; that’s because the Hollywood studios thought viewers were tired of movies about the war by this time. But The Best Years of Our Lives went on to become the highest-grossing movie of the entire 1940s, proving that audiences emotionally connected with these stories and appreciated the issues and characters explored.

Master cinematographer Gregg Toland, famous for his camera work on Citizen Kane, employed deep focus photography throughout the movie. Can you cite a few examples of this technique in the film and why the use of deep focus was the right choice for those scenes?

  • Al’s homecoming to his wife and kids: Framed within the deep hallway, we see him embrace his son, daughter, and then his wife at a distance without employing any cuts.
  • Fred’s important phone call from the bar: presented as a background detail with Homer and Butch playing piano in the extreme foreground—with no cuts or camera movement.
  • The marriage ceremony: We observe two parallel lines of action (Homer and Wilma, Fred and Peggy) on opposite sides of the room, which creates emotional distance yet longing.
  • The filmmakers also utilize deep focus and long takes instead of cutting to medium shots or close-ups that normally break up a scene; this strategy allows many scenes to unfold organically and enables the performers to show their acting chops.

How do you interpret the movie’s title? Is it an ironic or cynical comment, or is it sincere and hopeful?

  • It could be referring to the possibility that many veterans had to give “the best years of their lives” to the military and our cause in WWII.
  • Or, it could be referring to the possibility that the best years of the servicemen’s lives were during wartime, and they experienced more challenging times of a different kind when they returned home.
  • Possibly it's suggesting that the veterans' best years are ahead of them.

Similar films

  • Coming Home
  • Home of the Brave
  • Born on the 4th of July
  • The Deer Hunter
  • Heroes
  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • Forrest Gump

Other films by William Wyler

  • Wuthering Heights
  • Jezebel
  • The Westerner
  • Mrs. Miniver
  • Roman Holiday
  • Ben-Hur


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