Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”


Oh, to have a straight-forward musical comedy like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes these days. In a brisk 90 minutes the laughs keep coming not just from the mile-a-minute punchlines, but also from the editing and shot compositions. The melodies are genuinely infectious and brightly optimistic without being cloying. The whole film works its ass off to entertain you without cracking a sweat, something the cynicism of recent musicals fails entirely at – especially the ones working even harder to apologize for their own genre.

Generally the film is as visually alive as its witty screenplay, all pops of color and effortless iconography. The director/cinematographer team of Howard Hawks and Harry J. Wild is harmonious in building the musical numbers to truly entertain, and almost in as much awe of the Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe power pairing as we are. In fact, that joyous actress revelry in two key songs is more than enough for one post, so let’s.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant”



Sometimes one of the trickier parts of this series is that a film’s visual power can’t always be conveyed by a still image. Camera movement or shot duration can be as revealing as the composition of the frame, and despite evidence to the contrary, the internet can only contain so many gifs. Hopefully you get the idea if you’re playing along at home *wink, wink*.

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is almost constantly in motion, whether it’s the camera or the actors floating about the space. Rainer Werner Fassbinder stages the film within an inch of its life, every shift in performer posture and glacial pan of the camera manufactured to maximum beauty. The marvel is that the film preserves an irresistible, austere gorgeousness despite its mannered approach. You reach out to touch it as it keeps you at arms length.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Blonde Venus”


There is some fascinating lighting work on display in Blonde Venus, a Marlene Dietrich star vehicle about a stage performer stifled by the patriarchy. The tedious home life of Dietrich’s Helen is all shadows and bursts of overexposed light, a harsh and jarring atmosphere that evaporates as she takes the stage. Characters move naturally about the set, sometimes going in and out of their light to the point of being completely obscured. This may be a distracting technique of examining the oppressive forces working against Helen’s hunger for the stage, but it also speaks to the path of the artist.

Of course, this effect only highlights Dietrich’s magnetism. If the lighting is a literal representation of the desire to create, then Helen is as much chasing the spotlight as the spotlight is chasing her.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Star Wars – The Force Awakens”


The audience vibe was more electric than any I’d experience in some time time when I finally caught Star Wars – The Force Awakens (two days after opening because we thought we’d be avoiding the crowds – ha!). You could feel the optimism buzzing in the crowd. By now we had heard that the film was strong, and nothing of the garish prequel trilogy that had eviscerated so much good will in passionate and casual fans alike. On that first weekend, most fans were polite in keeping spoilers avoidable, an act of kindness true to the film’s elusive marketing. Even those who might know significant details couldn’t have one of the franchise’s key elements spoiled until now: the visual experience.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Queen Margot”


Patrice Chéreau’s Queen Margot is hardly the prim and proper costume drama meant just for the blue hairs. Set unflinchingly during the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (where thousands of protestants were slaughtered), the film’s embrace of historic brutality destroys the nonchalance of middle school history books. The violence is moderately relentless, sudden flashes of blood returning just when you think we get a break from the viciousness. It’s a small reminder that your costume drama need not shy away from the darker realities of the period when recreating its aesthetic beauty.

Don’t worry, it never skimps on the beauty. I’m not much of a fan of the film, but the visual experience lulls you into a trance.

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