This Is No Weather to Be Chasing Monkeys.

July 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

From a 1936 article from my local paper on the heat wave then: “Officials at the Vilas Zoo declined to go after a monkey that had escaped its cage and the zoo confines. Zoo director Fred Winkelmann said, ‘This is no weather to be chasing monkeys.’ “

The last of Netflix Instant’s Criterion Collection films in my queue were removed last week, and I committed to sitting down and knocking out the remaining few before they got deleted. Fortunately, it came at the perfect time. Last week’s temperatures changed from 90 to 100 with a heat index soaring over 110 on some days. I know, I know: those of you who live in Arizona and Texas are already laughing. “They think that’s hot? That’s springtime weather where I live.” What you fail to understand is that a Wisconsin 95 is the equivalent of 115 anywhere else. A Wisconsin 95 is hot, sticky, muggy, and gross. Back when I lived in Portland, we had a “heat wave” where the temperature hovered between 100 and 110 for a solid week–but it was a dry 110, and we managed to make it through without an air conditioner. Here, on the other hand, we start cranking the A.C. at 85.

The only room in my house with air conditioning is the bedroom, so I spent all leisure time last week hiding out in there, watching movies on my boyfriend’s laptop and praying that my shifts in the beer garden at work would be cancelled. Fate was on my side and, through a combination of heat and thunderstorms, I managed to make it through all but one of my remaining Criterion films before they disappeared. (The 400 Blows will have to wait, as I made an impromptu road trip down to Illinois to watch the last Harry Potter with my sister instead.) Here’s what I watched:

  • Picnic at Hanging Rock: Turn-of-the-century Australian schoolgirls depart for a picnic at a nearby rock formation, and not all of them return. A period picture with vaguely feminist undertones, pretty dresses, and a mystery? Sign me up. I’m not sure why I’d put this one off, since I’d sensed that I would love it from the time I added it to my queue–and I was right. It’s the kind of film that left me with just enough questions that I was immediately scrambling to the internet to find out more–and that was just as interesting as the movie itself.
  • La Regle du Jeu: Often listed up there with Citizen Kane and Vertigo as one of the best films ever made, I knew I’d get to this French comedy of manners satirizing the trivial affairs of pre-World War II aristocrats eventually. Now that I’ve watched it, though, I’m still not sure I got it–even after I followed up by reading multiple articles that supposedly explained it to me. While I can appreciate the film’s technical genius–its intricate choreography, its framing of scenes–it’s probably worth a few more views before I make any attempt to judge its storytelling.
  • Ugetsu: Set during Japan’s Sengoku period, this cautionary tale about the dangers of caring too much for money takes a supernatural twist. I wasn’t sure I’d like this one, and had actually just added it to my queue on a whim a week earlier–but I ended up being spellbound the entire time, and the last shot still haunts me. I’m really excited to check out Mizoguchi’s other films now.
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc: This is the kind of film you don’t enjoy so much as appreciate. Based on real transcripts from the trials, the movie follows Joan’s story from the court to the stake. While this is somewhat tedious at times, especially for someone like me who has a limited knowledge of Catholic theology, it’s a beautiful film–made all the more impressive for the fact that the initial cut was destroyed and Dreyer pieced together this version from shots he’d previously rejected. It was interesting to compare this to other films of the time period and see how far ahead of its competition it really was.

Prior to this, I’d been watching a lot of fluff lately: musicals, a lot of Esther Williams I’d taped off of TCM in May and was just now getting around to, some mediocre screwball comedy, anything with a wedding-themed plot. And while there’s obviously nothing wrong with that, the reasons I was avoiding more challenging fare were questionable. Exhausted from work, I wanted to avoid overtaxing my brain any more than I had to. But as this last week demonstrated, watching more serious, complex movies didn’t tax me at all. In fact, it felt far more rewarding than the steady diet of sugar I’d been subsisting on before. Bring on the good stuff!

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