Six Damn Fine Degrees #37: Elmore Leonard

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

I don’t care how many movies you own, if your bookshelf doesn’t contain at least one single Elmore Leonard novel, there is a gap in your collection. There are very few novelists whose prose is already so close to a screenplay; in fact, if you, like me, imagine something very much alike to a movie scenes while reading a novel, you have it easy with Leonard, because his writing is, in the best sense of the word, graphic.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #33: Donnie Brasco

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

It has been a little forgotten, hasn’t it, that little gangster flick called Donnie Brasco (1997)? It hasn’t anything as iconic to offer as The Godfather‘s ascent to power or The Godfather: Part II‘s empty shell of a mob boss, although it does have Al Pacino at its center, too. It’s not a Scorsese-style hellride that could make us like or at least weirdly admire the hard men of organized crime we are supposed to condemn outside of a movie theater.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #28: Bill Camp

I admit I am probably slightly more name-driven when it comes to picking my movies. Plus, if there is a face popping up in several different genres, I might get hooked. Bill Camp seems to pop up in very diverse movies; it is really rather ironic that, for all the various genres, he often plays an unlikable character, or at least one with an impossible task or a hidden agenda. I have never consciously seen him cheerful or happy or anywhere near exuberant. It is to his credit that I never thought of him as anywhere near typecast. Speaks to the quality of his acting.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #17: The Hunger Games (2012)

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

You can dismiss it as juvenile dross, and you would not be entirely wrong, but The Hunger Games (2012) gets one thing admirably right: it is very able to balance its theme of mass media voyeurism showcasing a random group of soon-to-die game show contestants with the fact that we, the audience, are watching their imminent demise alongside the anonymous masses in the film. We are made to be voyeurs, too, not entirely against our will, and yet we are asked to side with the contestants – or victims, let’s call them, for that is what they are. And since we are not heartless, we empathize with them.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #9: Beloved

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

Of all the novels that the vast majority might deem unfilmable, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, released in 1987, would make their top ten. There are movie versions of so-called difficult texts such as Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, but not yet of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, although the rights have been sold long ago, so there might not be any unfilmable text anymore. And I have seen theatre students turn Shakespeare sonnets into short plays, so there. I am certain that Beloved would have made my list when I read it for the first time. And yet the movie exists.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #6: The Ghost and the Darkness

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

My beloved and me got tired of the cold winter days and dark December nights and fled to Kenya. We got what we wanted: the ocean, a warm, healthy climate, and all the excursions and outings we could handle. On one safari, we took a break at some farm and were invited by the employees to have a seat on some benches. I thought that we would be told about the flora and fauna, but no such luck. We realized that we were sitting in front of a TV screen, we heard a generated cough into life, the set started to flicker and display some logo, and we gathered with some astonishment that now was movie time.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Great Train Robbery (1903)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

It’s easy to miss, but Edwin S. Porter’s short movie The Great Train Robbery from 1903 combines some original movie-making features as well as some first-time ideas for a rather young art form that are still in use today. It starts, innocently enough, with a title card, then a first stage set, where a station agent is bound and gagged by two robbers. There is a lot of overacting because there are no other title cards for the rest of the movie, so gestures and movement must express the characters’ inner lives. There isn’t even a cast list.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Rilke’s Panther (1907)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Everyone has a Rilke story, whether they realize it or not. How could it be otherwise that mine starts with that Panther behind bars. I swear, it must be a staple of a lot of movies and series just like the story of the scorpion and the frog, or the Wilhelm scream. Rilke’s Panther a story of entrapment: the panther paces back and forth, back and forth behind bars in its own hospitalistic way, because that is all it knows. It is one of many poems published in Rilke’s New Poems, published in 1907, although that specific poem might have been written as far back as 1902, when Rilke had a look at the menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, where there was a real black panther in a cage.

Painters in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris
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The Rear-View Mirror: Clyde Barrow (1909)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Somehow, I’ve forgotten that Clyde Barrow was a real person. Born in 1909 and shot dead in a hail of bullets only 25 years later during the Great Depression, an era that is not short of gun-wielding criminals, he is one of the prototypes of the bad boys I’ve written about some time ago. Together with his partner and lover Bonnie Pointer, he robbed more than a hundred stores, banks and gas stations. Although most of the violence came from Barrow, who shot at police officers as well as innocent bystanders, Parker never wavered in her complicity.

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