Six Damn Fine Degrees #62: The Cat’s Meow

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!

Peter Bogdanovich is probably best known for his early films such as The Last Picture Show or Paper Moon, although to a modern audience his face might be most recognizable as Dr. Elliot Kupferberg, the psychiatrist’s psychiatrist in The Sopranos. For all his many accomplishments I am perhaps most fond of his interviews. Books such as Who the Devil Made It or Who the Hell’s in It. His epic three-hour interview with Orson Welles, or the wistful Directed by John Ford. Bogdanovich was not just a filmmaker, he was a lover of movie culture and – notably – of movie lore.

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #57: Naked (1993)

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 is important to set up for the audience the worst possible picture of this guy.”

This is how Mike Leigh describes the pre-credit scene, the very first moments in his film, and the very first glimpse we get of Johnny, its protagonist. We see him from behind, committing what is, or certainly turns into, a rape. Then he runs off, steals a car, and while he is underway over the almost empty highway to London, the credits roll.

Charming bloke, this Johnny…

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #53: Barker, his name was. Benjamin Barker

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!

“Sweeney Todd was a barber of the old school, and he never thought of glorifying himself on account of any extraneous circumstance. If he had lived in Henry the Eighth’s palace, it would have been all the same to him as Henry the Eighth’s dog-kennel, and he would scarcely have believed human nature to be so green as to pay an extra sixpence to be shaven and shorn in any particular locality.

A long pole painted white, with a red stripe curling spirally round it, projected into the street from his doorway, and on one of the panes of glass in his window was presented the following couplet:

Easy shaving for a penny,
As good as you will find any.

We do not put these lines forth as a specimen of the poetry of the age; they may have been the production of some young Templer; but if they were a little wanting in poetic fire, that was amply made up by the clear and precise manner in which they set forth what they intended.”

— James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest, The String of Pearls: A Romance (1846/47)

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #48: Do you mind if I take just one more look? (A Star is Born)

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!

Hollywood likes to tell stories about itself. One of the most famous tropes is the rags to riches story, where a Hollywood ingenue finds success, only to realise that it comes with great sacrifices. The 1954 version of A Star is Born is one of the most beloved exponents of this trope. Not just because Judy Garland is great in it (and she is), but because of who Judy Garland is. Her painstaking rise to success led to the deterioration of her mental, physical and emotional health, which in turn proved detrimental to the career she sacrificed so much for.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #42: Embracing darkness: Richard Harris

Harris in the studio recording an LP in 1971 (Image: Jack Kay / Daily Express / Getty Images)

“There, I gave you the stuff about Harry Potter”, Richard Harris pointedly remarks to his interviewer at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2001, just before the world would change. “But try to use the rest of what I said as well. Because, you see, I don’t just want to be remembered for being in those bloody films, and I’m afraid that’s what’s going to happen to me.”

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #34: Jacques Mesrine

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!

If Goodfellas is about the glitz, and Donnie Brasco is about the grind, the Mesrine dyptich consisting of L’Instinct de Mort and L’Ennemi Public No1 illuminates the cruelty inherent in a life of crime. Jacques Mesrine is a hard man. Not in the more stylized De Palma vein but as the real deal. Often racist, sometimes misogynistic, and extremely violent. The political incorrectness is not inadvertent, nor is it glamourized. It is simply symptomatic of a type who does not give a shit about anything at all. Not about people’s lost or ruined lives, either directly through his actions, or by their consequences. He wants what he feels he is owed, no matter the cost. Though certainly clever, articulate, intermittently charismatic and even charming – he has his moments –, Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) is a man of such staggering volatility and entitlement that he makes Tony Montana look like a parody.

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #29: The Outsider

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!

After the first two episodes of The Outsider, you might be forgiven for thinking it is meant as a meditation on relentless anguish. The cinematography alone is so bleak – if it isn’t nearly pitch black, it is almost sepia – you can almost feel the crushing weight of it, even with the sound off.

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #21: Perspective and Memory: Dario Argento

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 like women, especially beautiful ones. If they have a good face and figure, I would much prefer to watch them being murdered than an ugly girl or man.”

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #16: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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.

If there is one film, just one, that should be seen on the big screen in unadulterated 70 mm, it has to be Lawrence of Arabia.

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #10: Ed Wood

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.

Johnny Depp as Edward D. Wood Jr.

If there ever was a prime example of positive thinking gone awry, it has to be Tim Burton’s interpretation of Edward D. Wood Jr.

A filmmaker in the 50’s, an era of highly localized and diversified cinema where there was still a space for worse-than-B grade films, the real Ed Wood’s two best known films are Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space. He is most noted for being voted the worst director of all time, posthumously, in 1980. It is clear he wanted to make extraordinary movies, but lacked everything, from money to quality control to, well, competence. But they do have… personality.

Note: spoilers below…

Continue reading