Blog Directory CineVerse: June 2022

Bruce on the loose

Monday, June 27, 2022

Bob Fosse’s filmography isn’t extensive, as he only helmed a handful of pictures between 1969 and 1983 prior to his untimely death. One of the standouts in his cinematic resume is Lenny, a 1974 biopic starring Dustin Hoffman and Valerie Perrine. Our CineVerse squad recently used the wayback machine to explore this movie, which generated several observations, summarized below (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

What did you find memorable, satisfying, unexpected, distinctive, or curious about Lenny?

  • The filmmakers employ unconventional techniques to tell this story, including using stark black and white photography, elliptical editing and jump cuts, vignettes, a verite documentary style, talking-head interviews with characters conducted by the film’s director (that’s Fosse’s offscreen voice you hear), and long, uninterrupted takes (such as when Bruce attempts to perform while inebriated).
    • reviewer Jeffrey Kauffman wrote: “Fosse tosses together elements from Lenny and Honey's lives almost willy nilly at times, adding to the drug-fueled ambience of the piece. Timeframes flit to and fro, offering contrasts between Lenny's relatively innocent younger years and the more jaded ‘elder; he became in a rather short amount of time.”
  • The language is frank and the content decidedly adult. Even for a 1974 film, the profanity and ethnic slurs are thick, there’s ample nakedness (including full frontal nudity of a dead Lenny Bruce), and we are shown graphic and disturbing imagery like an extended shot of a needle entering a vein.
  • The filmmakers aren’t necessarily trying to lionize Bruce or depict him as a martyr to the cause of comedy and the First Amendment. Fosse shows Bruce warts and all, underscoring the toll his drug use, sexual proclivities, nonconformity, and other choices make on his personal life, health, and relationships.
    • National Review critic Kyle Smith wrote: “In Fosse’s unsentimental vision, Bruce is not a victim. He is relentlessly the agent of his own destruction, one of the many entertainers who behaved as though the rules didn’t apply to them. The rules had other ideas. Fosse (a Methodist) saw indulgence and doom as sensuously intertwined, aware that his uncontrollable hedonism amounted to digging his own grave and yet fascinated to watch as if from a seat in the audience. That is the subject of both Lenny and the undisguised autobiographical film that followed, All That Jazz (1979).”
  • Interestingly, the movie is often told through Honey’s recollections and flashbacks, suggesting that she is the primary surviving witness to the life and legacy of Lenny Bruce. We also get recollections from Bruce’s manager and mother. But we know that Honey was a problematic drug addict, so she in particular may not be the most reliable narrator.
  • The performances are memorable, but especially Valerie Perrine as Honey, who shows incredible range and emotional depth.
  • Some critics have suggested that this film was a reflection of Fosse’s own life in some ways.
    • Smith further wrote: “Fosse evidently saw a kindred spirit in Bruce and turned Lenny into a disguised autobiography. Born two years apart, both grew up in showbiz, did wholesome vaudeville-style routines (Fosse as a tap dancer), graduated to being filler acts at strip clubs and, as they became renowned, indulged heavily in sex and drugs while each remained tethered to reality primarily via love for his daughter. A harsh reckoning awaited both men: At 47, Fosse suffered two heart attacks. Though written by Julian Barry based on his play, Lenny even layers atop Bruce’s character its director’s own fondness for sexual threesomes.”

Major themes

  • The creative and chaotic professional and personal life of an artist. We are shown how scattered Bruce’s life and interests are, as evidenced by the unorthodox editing style and sudden jumps in time.
  • The price to pay for being a trailblazer. Bruce was among the first comics and artists arrested and prosecuted on obscenity charges at a time when censorship and community standards were stricter. Likely these legal challenges and career setbacks contributed to his overdose and early demise. We also see how Bruce’s lifestyle and personal choices negatively impact his relationships, particularly leading to his divorce from wife Honey.
  • The power of reinvention and truth-telling. Lenny reinvents himself from a show biz hack cliché comic to a powerhouse funny force who commands attention and crowds thanks to his raw, honest performances in which he attempts to point out the hypocrisies in language and words, and the laws and mores restricting them.

Similar works

  • Raging Bull
  • Jo Jo Dancer Your Life is Calling
  • Star 80
  • Bird
  • The People Versus Larry Flynt
  • Lenny Bruce: Without Tears, and Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth (1972 and 1998 documentaries)
  • The films of John Cassavetes
  • Citizen Kane
  • Man on the Moon

Other films by Bob Fosse

  • Cabaret
  • Sweet Charity
  • All That Jazz
  • Star 80


The vanishing lady reappears

Thursday, June 16, 2022

It’s always a treat to revisit works by the Master of Suspense—even if a film in his repertoire predates his arrival in Hollywood in the late 1930s. In fact, some of his British productions equal or best his cinematic efforts from the 1940s through the 1970s. One such example is The Lady Vanishes (1938), which combines elements from various genres to create something unique—at least up to that time. Our CineVerse club studied this picture last week and discussed several fascinating angles (to listen to a recording of our group talk, click here).

What stands out as interesting, distinctive, and unexpected about the Lady Vanishes, especially for a 1938 film?

  • It helps set a new template for the romantic comedy thriller formula by infusing plenty of humor as well as social and political commentary with the Hitchcock brand of suspense.
  • This is a film with broad tonality shifts between frothy and light to dark and unsettling—shifts that are deftly handled here.
    • Consider that we don’t feel the first inkling of foul play and peril until the 24-minute mark. Sudden and quick acts of violence and the suggestion that perhaps Iris is not in her right mind underscore this tonal shifting.
    • In regards to the comedy, some critics and film scholars also insist that this movie is the funniest Hitchcock ever made—even more than his lone comedy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
  • The picture is excellently cast, boasting an array of notable English thespians and talented British character actors for this time, including Margaret Lockwood (then a major box office draw), Michael Redgrave in his film debut (this film made him a star), Paul Lukas, and Dame May Whitty.
  • The characters of Charters and Caldicott, in fact, were so popular that they were featured in three later films starring the same two actors in their respective roles.
    • It has been theorized that the aforementioned duo are gay characters, making them even more memorable and rare for this period. Hitchcock had a history over his career of slyly but knowingly featuring gay characters in his films, including the college roommate murderers in Rope, Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, Bruno in Strangers on a Train, and Leonard the henchman in North by Northwest.
  • The three prominent females in the story are all strong women characters who at least somewhat buck the mold of subservient, secondary, male-dependent counterparts as are often depicted in films from the golden age of cinema:
    • Iris is stubborn and determined to find Ms. Froy, despite attempts to gaslight her.
    • Ms. Froy is a resourceful spy entrusted with a significant political responsibility; and
    • the adulterous mistress shows pluck and independence in defying her lover and fighting back against the fascists at the movie’s end.
  • There’s a fabricated, deliberately artificial feel to the look and setting, with Hitchcock employing transparencies and miniatures, including a quite obvious toy train station in the opening sequence.
    • The main action was filmed using a set that was only 90 feet long, consisting of a single coach.
    • Additionally, the locale is a fantasyland Balkan country (Bandrika) consisting of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Switzerland.
    • The evil forces/soldiers threatening the train passengers are from a make-believe nation that is an obvious surrogate for Nazi Germany.
    • These decisions “allowed Hitchcock to establish a playful tone and a sense of quaint, reassuring artifice crucial to his technique. The more secure the audience feels, the more susceptible they are to the horrors of disruption Hitchcock will visit upon them later in the film,” wrote Slate writer Nathaniel Rich.
  • This penultimate British film from Hitch has been called a farewell to England and farewell to youth.
    • Criterion Collection essayist Geoffrey O’Brien wrote: “The mood is frankly sexy in a way that would never really be matched in Hitchcock’s American films, where even the most impassioned exchanges…seem too carefully planned to allow much room for spontaneity. Lockwood and Redgrave…really do seem like young people who have just met and who, despite their bumpy introduction, can’t wait to run off together. We never forget that these are young people still somewhat on the margins of the grown-up world, with Lockwood rushing too quickly into well-appointed adulthood by way of marrying the wrong man, and Redgrave lingering maybe a bit too long in uncommitted, footloose world roving—a forecast, perhaps, of the Grace Kelly–James Stewart couple in Rear Window, but in a younger and less neurotic mode.”

This film attempts to make not-so-subtle sociopolitical statements about Britain and its place in the world in 1938. Can you cite any examples?

  • The filmmakers are using allegory here to suggest that Neville Chamberlain and his government’s stance of appeasement to Hitler was a mistake and that the true grit and unified character of the British people would present itself and help the Brits defeat their foes.
    • Consider how Todhunter, who insists that their adversaries are reasonable, is shot in cold blood by the bad guys after waving a white flag.
    • The Brits on the train, meanwhile, including the would-be evil nun and the laid-back cricket lovers, turn out to be heroes who fight back and defeat the enemy.
  • DVD Savant writer Glenn Erickson wrote: “The Lady Vanishes reinforces 1930s' prejudices against Europeans, who exploit English gullibility and mask their murderous schemes with impeccable manners. When the chips are down the English show their true character. The war is still a year away, but the message imparted is that England can take it.”
  • This is also a movie about class distinctions: the middle class, represented by someone like Gilbert, contrasted with the snobby or idle upper class, as exemplified by Iris as well as Charters and Caldicott. By the end of the movie, the Brits from the upper and lower rungs of the social ladder are brought together for a common cause (defeat the fascists) and romantic passion (Iris and Gilbert fall in love).

Similar works

  • Hitchcock’s later efforts Foreign Correspondent (which also depicts a crime festering in Europe while the British pay no attention) and North by Northwest (which also takes place partially on trains)
  • So Long at the Fair, an adaptation of the true-life story of the strange disappearance of a young woman’s sibling during the 1880 Paris Exposition
  • The murder mysteries of Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen, which often also feature a plethora of memorable suspects
  • Silver Streak, which also features comedy and foul play and a missing agent aboard a train
  • Flight Plan, featuring Jodie Foster as a mother searching on an airplane for her child who’s disappeared during the flight.
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Changeling
  • Narrow Margin
  • The films of Laurel and Hardy, the comedy duo that Calidcott and Charters, the cricket-obsessed train passengers, are often compared to
  • Bringing Up Baby, a screwball comedy also from 1938; Michael Redgrave’s character has been compared to Katherine Hepburn’s chaotic and destabilizing personality in Baby, and Margaret Lockwood’s Iris has similarities to Cary Grant’s David Huxley.
  • Two other class-sensitive British dramas of the late 1930s: Pygmalion and Goodbye Mr. Chips


Cineversary podcast rediscovers the magic behind E.T. 40 years later

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

In Cineversary podcast episode #48, host Erik Martin revisits suburbia circa 1982 through the lens of Steven Spielberg and arguably his best film, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, which marks a 40th birthday this month. Joining Erik for this installment is James Kendrick, a film professor at Baylor University who teaches courses on Spielberg and serves as the movie critic; and Caseen Gaines, a director, educator, pop culture historian, and author of several books including the forthcoming E.T. The Extra Terrestrial: The Ultimate Visual History. Erik and his guests will examine how E.T. set a new template for sci-fi adventure films, why and how it has stood the test of time, reasons it’s worth celebrating four decades later, its cultural impact and legacy, 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 Cineversary wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, SpotifyStitcherCastbox, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, and Overcast

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at and email show comments or suggestions to
James Kendrick and Caseen Gaines


A Street worth singing about

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Last week, our CineVerse film discussion group took a trip to Sing Street, a 2016 coming-of-age film set and shot in Ireland and featuring a variety of eighties pop tunes and original songs. Here’s a recap of our major discussion points (to hear a recording of our group chat, click here).

What did you find memorable, satisfying, unexpected, or distinctive about Sing Street?

  • It’s a modern movie musical in which the characters don’t burst into song like they would in a classic musical. Sing Street is both a jukebox musical in which many of the songs are popular tunes, not just original music, and a backstage musical wherein the plot is set in a theatrical context that focuses on a production, in this case, the creation of music videos.
  • It also boasts a wonderful period-authentic soundtrack of early- to mid-80s pop music.
  • It provides an intimate look at a dysfunctional family through the eyes of a sensitive teenager but defuses the tension with humor and brotherly rapport.
  • It’s a coming-of-age story that feels more authentic because it’s autobiographical, retelling the tale of the director’s adolescence in Dublin in the mid-1980s.

Major themes

  • Feeling trapped and trying to escape from it.
  • Conor finds escape from his troubled home life and confining school scene by pursuing music and the girl of his dreams.
  • Raphina seeks to run away with a lover to London.
  • Conor’s mother is stuck in an unhappy, loveless marriage until she finds someone else.
  • Conor’s brother Brendan has the reputation of the town stoner dropout who may never break away from his stifling hometown.
  • Even Conor’s bully finds a pressure release valve from his dysfunctional family by becoming the band’s roadie.
  • The power of music and self-expression. Conor and his friends find, in music, an outlet for their angst and frustration, and a means to impress the opposite sex, mature, and expand their identities. Like the increasingly complex music they are introduced to, Conor and his bandmates broaden their artistry, as reflected in more impressive songcraft and fashion sensibilities.
  • The importance of mentorship. Conor’s life changes when his brother inspires him to think differently, appreciate music and music videos as a worthy art form, and dare to be different creatively. The filmmakers devote Sing Street to “brothers everywhere.”

Similar works

  • The Commitments
  • Hearts Beat Loud
  • Almost Famous
  • School of Rock
  • Blinded by the Light
  • Good Vibrations
  • Nowhere Boy
  • Footloose
  • That Thing You Do
  • Saturday Night Fever

Other films by John Carney

  • Once
  • Begin Again


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