The flagship film program for The Twin Geeks, join Calvin & David as we explore entire filmographies of classic & contemporary directors, provide unique essays with deep historical context, and rank their works.
The Twin Geeks 158: Ralph Bakshi - X-Rated, Animated, & Complicated, Part 2
Bakshi continued his pursuit of avante-garde animation throughout the 1980s. His refinement of rotoscoping as a means of perfecting the fluid translation of human movement continued into the decade, beginning with American Pop (1981): a jukebox journey through America's cultural apogee, starting with the sonic roots of vaudeville and ragtime, building towards an electric rock 'n roll climax through the eyes of four musicals generations. 1982 saw the release of a project Bakshi first began after the production of Cookskin (1975). Hey Good Lookin' was originally envisioned as an animation/live-action hybrid, but was scrapped by Warner Bros. after its initial completion when doubts around its financial prospects festered. Bakshi worked on it off and on between his various other projects, eventually releasing it as a completely animated feature, far from the innovative conceit he initially pursued.
With Fire and Ice (1983), Bakshi collaborated with legendary comic artist Frank Frazetta in order to ride the wave of popular sword and sorcery films kicked off the previous year by Conan the Barbarian. Bakshi returned to the reliable shorthand of rotoscoping in order to effectively convey the requisite amount of action the film's story called for. Despite failing to capitalize on the market's purported success for these kinds of films, Fire and Ice eventually found a cult following in the home video market, maintaining a niche fanbase to this day. After that, Bakshi shifted his priorities back to television, heading a revival for the old Terry Toons creation Might Mouse, coming full circle to the place he began in the industry. It was nearly another decade before Bakshi made another feature film -- his last, in fact, for both the animated medium and the silver screen.
Cool World (1992) was Bakshi's most ambitious and star-studded film, bringing with it a greater wave of scrutiny than any of his previous underground works had ever received. With big names like Brad Pitt and Kim Basinger attached, along with the publicity power of Paramount Pictures in tow, Cool World was positioned to be the most commercially viable film of Bakshi's career. That's probably one of the biggest factors that led to its ultimate failure, alongside studio interference curbing Bakshi's initial vision of hybrid animation/live-action horror film into the more audience-friendly Who Framed Roger Rabbit? riff it finally ended up as. Its wider reach led to greater declamation, and the effective end of his movie-making career. Two years later Bakshi directed a made-for-tv film for Showtime, notable only for its debut of Jared Leto as a leading performer, and for being the only non-animated film of Bakshi's entire catalogue.
There are plenty of ups and downs to be found through Ralph Bakshi's storied career. His works are often crudely uneven, and even controversial in their imagery and messaging. But these uncomfortable elements are what ultimately make him a compelling and pioneering figure in film history. Beyond proving a viability for adult-centric animated films which can talk about sex and politics and institutional racism, Bakshi struck out with a unique sensibility for the form itself, combining any and all techniques available to him in order to further his provocative and creative artistic sensibilities. Whether he was drawing from his own life living in impoverished New York slums, or adapting the works of literary titans, Bakshi brought something wholly unique to the animated scene. And despite the relative retirement he presides in now, having been rejected by the movie-going public too often to continue, his work lives on and speaks for itself. There's a reason Bakshi's legend lives on, as the field of animation increasingly returns to the homogenous, Disney-centric sensibilities he once railed so thoroughly against. Despite consistent flaws, Bakshi's work maintains a uniquely subversive quality which resonates some thirty years past hi
Ep. 157: The Twin Geeks 157: Ralph Bakshi - X-Rated, Animated, & Complicated, Part 1
With the death of the Haye's Code in the late 1960's and a dearth of new movies from the Disney Corporation's homogenous stranglehold over the field of animation, the time was right for new players to take up the field, carving out a unique landscape in cinema which was not only varied in its style and artistic voices, but in its audiences as well. The leader of this pack was a Jewish animator from a historically Black neighborhood in Brooklyn -- two informative elements of Bakshi's past which would inform much of his earliest work in feature film. He cut his teeth in television, working on a variety of serialized cartoons with an emphasis on slapstick and comedy, honing his skills for the eventual day he would aim to apply these sensibilities beyond the limited scope of children's entertainment.
Those ambitions culminated in the first animated film to receive an X Rating: 1972's Fritz the Cat, an adaptation of Robert Crumb's provocative comic strip satire of the same name. It was the first of several X-Rated animated films Bakshi would make, each building off the low-budget, underground, urban aesthetics inherent to the director's innate sensibilities. His art would perpetuate a propensity for lewdness, feature excesses of nudity and violence as a means of not only challenging audiences' preconceptions of what animation could and should be, but also as a means of harkening back to the medium's origins, where titillation and subversion were primary appeals of the animated form. Bakshi would go on to apply his inherently transgressive sensibilities to more conventional animated avenues, brightening up the fantastical worlds of Wizards (1977) and an innovative adaptation of The Lord of the Rings which would impress itself as a vital influence on the later definitive interpretations of Peter Jackson.
While certainly popular in his time, Bakshi always struggled to get his films made. Even in their most broadly appealing form, each were distinctive counter culture works, challenging the viewer to engage with Bakshi's vision on both visual and thematic levels at every turn. They are not always easy works to swallow -- Bakshi's fearlessness when it comes to depicting racial caricatures as a means of uncomfortable satire and cultural reflection has never been unanimously received -- but that willingness to challenge viewers continues to make him a fixture of cinematic interest. Though the craft is often crude, for any number of different reasons, Bakshi's works endure as distinct, innovative cornerstones in the canon of feature animation.
Ep. 156: In Your Honor - A Foo Fighters Tribute
The world's most famous rock band. The last vestiges of a style and sound still thriving after the world has moved on to so many other modern genres. A link to the revolutionary sound stemming from Seattle, Washington in the early '90s, birthed from the ashes of its most infamous loss. And now, another cloud of ash threatens to blanket the Foo Fighters for good, as the tragic eruption of drummer Taylor Hawkins' untimely death signals a potential conclusion for this group's near three-decade run of unrivaled success. From a mixtape hodgepodge of frontman Dave Grohl's lingering ambitions to becoming one of the most successful touring groups of all time, the Foo Fighters have left an impression on the musical world which now appears to be an unifillable hole. In their honor, though, we seek to be on the mend. Their music and legacy will survive any long road to ruin, to live on in history, everlong. Join us for a career retrospective on the Foo Fighters, celebrating and remembering the documentaries, feature film, and ten studio albums produced by virtue of their inimitable talents and artistic chemistry -- each component as vital to their success as their lead singer's iconic charisma and stage presence.
Ep. 155: Jean Cocteau - The Rest is Literature, Part 2
Take a new look at the world around you. Look through a mirror. What does it say about your world that is new? The cinema of Jean Cocteau is a world of mirrors and new ways of imagining the world. Looking at Cocteau’s movies is also a kind of gazing into a mirror, reality reflected back more fantastical, more fabulous, more than the real thing ever could. Cocteau made the prosaic profound.
Cocteau called mirrors the door from which death comes and goes. They are essential Georges Méliès-styled visual trickery. They stand for narcissism, of course, and are the poet’s tool for reassessing his relationship between imaginary space and the space of his reality.
“Perhaps you’re afraid?
“But this mirror is a mirror and in it I see an unhappy man. You do not have to understand. You just have to believe.”
Take a tuning fork and some very clever trick photography and you have enduring cinematic magic. The rest is literature.
Liquid mercury is used for the mirrors in Orpheus. We can take the mirrors in the film literally: they mean to reflect life. But they can also be full of metaphor. The men in the film can stand as homoerotic doubles and their charged energy, of life reflected against death, and sex mirrored back onto itself, say and show exactly what they seem to do. Mirrors in Orpheus are cinematic inversions. They are Cocteau subverting the norms of what is usually on screen and what he wants to show, to bring us into another world. What was once wholly original, a hand reaching into a mirror and opening up an entire other zone, is now cliche, out of the necessary utility of its effectiveness.
Cocteau said “mirrors should think longer before they reflected.” His cinematic creations are a means of making that happen. Cocteau wants the mirrors not only to reflect but to show everything to his characters.
In less literal terms (although maybe we ought to take Cocteau literally always), the characters of Les parents terribles are mirrors. The parents of the film are holding up their own projections, of their relationships and failings, and holding them against the young man at the center of the narrative. For those who like miracles, this is a masterpiece.
To be a writer is to write without writing. Again and again, that’s what Cocteau does. In his final picture, The Testament of Orpheus, he finishes his thesis on mirrored subjects. The artist now holds a mirror up to himself. It is a self-examination made for art’s sake. Watch it because you want to witness Cocteau’s reflection and live inside his mind and his mirror for a while.
Today we’ll explore all three, rounding out our retrospective on one of cinema’s greatest imaginations. Long live Cocteau, the multi-hyphenate who played with mirrors and every other way of telling a story.
Let’s hold up a mirror to a life’s work in the arts. A legend is beyond both time and place. Cocteau’s legacy lives on in the films. Into the mirror we go. The rest is literature.
Ep. 154: Jean Cocteau - The Rest is Literature, Part I
Take a commonplace, clean it and polish it, light it so that it produces the same effect of youth and freshness and originality and spontaneity as it did originally, and you have done a poet’s job. The rest is literature.
Jean Cocteau. The rest is literature.
When Cocteau was a young boy he said he would be clever later. He said his father was a painter. Boys say a lot of things. His father was an amateur painter, a lawyer by trade. His father killed himself when Cocteau was nine.
You are not what you do, after all. You are not your work, you are not your suicide. Poets only pretend to die. You are not even your art but your art is the greatest reflection of self. Awaken from the reverie of your orphic dream. The poet creates and never insists upon his poetry. He is a poet because what he makes sings with all of his soul.
When the editors of Cahiers Du Cinema collectively disavowed the stagnant literary-leaning past and present of French cinema, they kept the Masters. Robert Bresson, Jeen Renoir, and Jeen Cocteau were anti-modernists making movies that would be new forever. The masters suited the artistic ethics of the Nouvelle Vauge. Cocteau then embodied the past, present, and future of the French cinema. The rest — as the Cahiers crew would insist — is literature.
Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can bring drama to a family. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he kills a victim, and that this beast will be shamed when confronted by a young girl. They believe in a thousand other simple things. I ask of you a little of this childlike simplicity, and to bring us luck let me speak four truly magic words, childhood’s “open sesame":
Once Upon a Time...
The gem of today’s triple feature, Beauty and the Beast (1946) is the pinnacle of fantasy storytelling in film. Marrying Cocteau’s multi-hyphenate interests in the poetic and the balletic, the film achieves the beauty of a stage play with the heightened specificity of what it means to make a film.
It provides an exceptional bridge to understanding his other work: his varied interests and grounding in ‘20s-era surrealism with a literary bent.
Today, we draw back the curtain on a life lived in the arts and celebrate three pieces of a storied career of a real master craftsman.
First, we venture into The Blood of a Poet — perhaps the first poem film to make headway with international success. Because it is first, it can disregard histories, examples, and rule books, and is permitted to tell its own story uniquely in the text. Cocteau wrote, “To sum up, The Blood of a Poet and my new film Beauty and the Beast are aimed at the aficionados. It is true that I do not kill the bull according to the rules. But this contempt for the rules is accompanied by a contempt for the danger that excites a large number of people.”
Poetic art is creation with regard to space and feeling, moved by the dance of the human spirit, and unconcerned with the linearity of rules. “Poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from the music,” Ezra Pound said. Like the myth of Orpheus who could sooth all animals and nature with his poetry of music, the film is equally connected. It has no false symbols or ornamentation that does not add punctuation. It doesn’t have to mean anything, it just is.
Crucially, composer Georges Auric is involved, who would score 11 films for Cocteau. His score is a remnant of his avant-garde period and thus embodies and directs the film with its certainty of purpose. His later works would become more populist as he worked hard to square his work with leftist political beliefs that could reach audiences.
Georges Auric’s compositions are the fundamental through-line between the three distinctly different films.
In Beauty and the Beast and The Eagle with Two Heads, Cocteau has likewise found a more connective populist style. While the films begin to su
Ep. 153: Change of the Guard, the Films of Peter Bogdanovich - Part 6
Bogdanovich earned his keep in Hollywood as a director of films first and foremost. But he was perhaps more widely recognized for his efforts as a second-hand oral historian of Hollywood movies, embolding their legacy through innumerable interviews and commentary tracks in which he would recite the stories passed onto him in perfect comic imitation of his legendary filmic mentors. Bogdanovich’s love for the movies is embedded throughout his work: overt in the various pastiches he made to early genre staples during the height of his career, but also recognizable though more humble tips of the hat in otherwise non-nostalgic films. His reverence transcended the adage of imitation as the ultimate form of flattery, taking strides not just to pay tribute to the the films and filmmakers of old, but to actively champion and preserve their legacies.
At the tail end of his time working in television, Bogdanovich was approached to make a biographical film on the life and mysterious early death of beloved actress Natalie Wood. He was hesitant, at first, having personally experienced what it's like to be sensationally depicted in a ripped-from-the-headlines story. He was the recipient of an unflattering portrayal in Bob Fosse’s crude retelling of Dorothy Stratten’s horrific murder not yet three years after her death. Despite Peter’s initial trepidation towards making The Mystery of Natalie Wood, he felt his own experience as a subject of exploitation granted him some insight and authority on the matter, and would help him avoid the same tasteless depictions expected from such material – after all, he said, somebody was gonna make it, it might as well be him. The film is a strange but surprisingly effective mix of documentary and fiction, stringing together contemporary talking head interviews with recreated scenes of Wood’s life and career beginning as a child actor in the studio system up until her questionable death off of Catalina Island. Whether or not Bogdanovich managed to evade the trappings of exploitative caricature is up for debate, but he does manage to produce yet another compelling portrait of corruptive Hollywood glamor.
After finishing his stint in television and having dabbled again in a bit of documentary filmmaking, Bogdanovich returned to one of his earliest films thinking it needed an update. Directed by John Ford was first produced in 1971, around the same time The Last Picture Show was being edited for release. Bogdanovich had first met the legendary American director in the early 1960s, when Ford was shooting his last Western in his favorite locale: the awe-inspiring Monument Valley. Ford was a cantankerous old man, mean and needling, borderline abusive one might say. He took great pleasure in breaking down the spirits of young Bogdanovich, much in the same way he had with John Wayne for thirty years. But in spite of all logic, Ford receives praise for these cruel acts, and from those he attacks, no less. Wayne is but one of the interviewees Bogdanovich sat down and talked with in 1969 for this initial documentary, joined by Henry Fonda and James Stewart, who recall similar tales of upbraiding with admiration and glee. Strangely enough, it’s not hard to see why these men have such respect for Ford, as even Bogdanovich is able to frame his affronts as humorous and commanding. They’re extensions of his directorial persona, and evidently an important part in what made his films so ineffably great.
When Bogdanovich returned to his filmic dedication of John Ford’s life and legacy in 2006, he found it was missing some pieces that, for practical reasons, could not have existed in Ford’s lifetime. There was more of the story to tell, more of the man behind the facade to reveal, and more of his influence to be recorded. So, Bogdanovich gathered the initial interviews he used to contextualize Ford’s directorial prowess and complimented them by shooting new testimonials with the most significant con
Very fun show to listen to!
These guys have great chemistry and give and take, makes me feel like I’m listening to long time friends of mine! Can’t wait for some more episodes!
Dynamic movie duo
These two know their stuff AND they're super fun to listen to. The witty banter seperates this from an average movie podcast and the thoughtful discussion will keep you coming back episode after episode. Definitely worth subscribing to!
This podcast was a great find! These guys are very entertaining as they in their own way critique various films! Give them a listen!