Show contents, with start times:
- Director Spotlight: Jacques Tati (2:00)
- Trivia Question: Sequential Madness (15:24)
- Film Style Spotlight: Modern Westerns (16:28)
- Series Spotlight: Inspector Clouseau (33:01)
- Top 6: Movies About Theater Or Television (52:46)
- How To: Be the Underdog (76:31)
- Closing: Trivia Answer, Farewell (87:03)
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Director Spotlight: Jacques Tati
The famous French actor and director Jacques Tati is known primarily for his films in which he stars as the character Monsieur Hulot. A strange, almost silent character (both in the sense that he does not really speak and that he would seem at home in the world of silent film), Hulot occupies an endlessly clever world built with imaginative design and style by Tati. The films achieve comedy by exploiting the artifice of technology and man-made environments. The first three films of the series are set in the countryside, the suburbs, and the city, respectively, and their humor derives primarily from how quaint and arbitrary human lifestyles can be, especially when viewed from certain perspectives. Tati’s keen eye for perspective, for seeing things from just the right points of reference, is an important component of his wonderful gift of comedy.
The M. Hulot films:
- Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953)
- Mon Oncle (1958)
- Playtime (1967)
- Evening Classes (1967) [short film]
- Traffic (1971)
Trivia Question: Sequential Madness
One, two, three: It’s not a question so much as a challenge to see if you can come up with a list of movies that have numbers in their titles (sequel numbering not allowed). How high can you go? Can you beat Stephen’s score? What about Sam’s?
Film Style Spotlight: Modern Westerns
The modern western is a darker take on the classic setting. Where the classic western used the frontier to explore themes like heroism and the stabilizing influence of civilization, the modern west is often a place where evil runs rampant and redemption is hard to find. A good place to start a study of this movement is with the films of Sergio Leone, whose “Man With No Name” trilogy begins with 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars.
In addition to making Clint Eastwood — himself a key player in the modern take on the western — a major star, the Leone films imagine a dark and violent west, with no true heroes. Eastwood’s stark antihero is a template character for these films: he plays both sides of a conflict to his own advantage, he fights dirty, and he does whatever it takes to stay alive.
The Wild Bunch (1969) by Sam Peckinpah, is another landmark film in the genre. A movie about the end of the outlaw and the frontier, it’s a film that truly brought the violence of modern films to the western. Gunshots don’t just cause you to fall down dead in Peckinpah’s movie — they make you bleed and moan in pain. Ironically, Peckinpah’s devotion to realism makes his film feel incredibly fresh and new, showing just how much life the genre could have even while the movie seems to herald the western’s end.
Production on westerns slows down considerably after the 1960s. The studio system is over and the studios are producing fewer movies than before, removing the need for so many B western films. What westerns we do see tend to be smaller, personal films: Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) or John Wayne’s swan song in 1976, The Shootist (directed by Don Siegel, the director of Dirty Harry).
The classical western all but vanishes during this period, and what remains are these films that seem to take their cues from Peckinpah, explicitly about the end of the west. The 1980s marks a real low point for the genre. But in 1990, Dances with Wolves, directed by and starring Kevin Costner, becomes a big hit with critics and audiences, winning the Oscar for Best Picture that year. An epic western in the vein of the classics, it has a more nuanced approach to things like the relationship between the American Army and American Indians. Revisiting the western without being as dark as many revisionist westerns, it signals a possible new direction for the genre.
Just two years later and it is Eastwood who is winning Oscars for Unforgiven (1992), one of the best revisionist westerns about a gunfighter who thinks he has found redemption only to get caught back up in a life he left behind. Dark and gritty, it’s one of the best examples of the modern western.
These two successes bring about a small revival of the genre during the ’90s, producing some fun films like Tombstone (1993), but little else of serious weight. In that sense, the ’90s represent a return to some of the older western ideals: they are silly, fun action movies made for a mass audience.
But just in the last few years we have seen a significant number of westerns. In 2003 there was another Costner epic, Open Range. 2005 brought The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and The Proposition, two little seen but highly regarded westerns. This year we have had a remake of 3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and the upcoming There Will Be Blood.
Series Spotlight: Inspector Clouseau
Do you have a license for that minkey?
A classic film series with a strange pedigree, the Inspector Clouseau movies begin with 1963’s The Pink Panther, directed by Blake Edwards. A comedy about a jewel heist, it introduces the bumbling French inspector played by Peter Sellers as a character secondary to David Niven’s sophisticated jewel thief.
Realizing that Clouseau — a strange, egotistic bumbler who manages to be sort of lovable despite himself — stole the film, the sequel in 1964, A Shot in the Dark, focuses the films on him.
The films in the series:
- The Pink Panther (1963)
- A Shot in the Dark (1964)
- Inspector Clouseau (1968), in which Clouseau is played by Alan Arkin instead of Sellers.
- The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)
- The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)
- Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978)
- Trail of the Pink Panther (1982)
- Curse of the Pink Panther (1983)
- Son of the Pink Panther (1993), a truly horrendous film in which Roberto Benigni plays Clouseau’s son.
Top 6: Movies About Theater Or Television
How To: Be the Underdog
When you want to beat the rich kids at karate or stop the local teen center from being torn down, you’ll need to play to your strengths as an underdog. Be unconventional, use a montage, and remember that it’s only cheating when they do it.