“Quite a few composers have had their scores rejected by dissatisfied directors… it’s a recognized risk of the profession. A few films do exist with entirely different scores, almost always as a result of release in different countries. Until now, however, I’d never come across a film that exists with three different scores.“
An Actor’s Revenge (1963)
I was supposed to go on a trip (my first!) to Canada to visit friends and attend TIFF a couple weeks ago, but instead I got you-know-what. I’m fine now. But I had been looking up things about Gina Prince-Bythewood, whose film The Woman King (2022) debuted in Toronto, and who I knew as the director the wonderful Love & Basketball (2000); in this way I came to watch her enjoyable Criterion Closet Picks video, and saw comments there noting that the last movie she picked, at random, was one of director Ichikawa Kon’s best. I’d never heard of it, but as long as I was on youtube anyway, I decided to type the title into the search bar and found this lovely video from a cool and new-to-me channel called Pitching Room.
That made me sure I wanted to watch the movie, so last night Kat and I did, and I loved it. Here is a list of my current top ten favorite movies, as of today, in no particular order except for the first one:
- Hackers (1995)
- Brick (2005)
- Magic Mike XXL (2015)
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
- Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
- The Matrix (1999)
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
- Spirited Away (2001)
- Out of Sight (1998)
- Toy Story 3 (2010)
- Tampopo (1985)
- Rumble in the Bronx (1995)
- Your Name. (2016)
- Alien (1979)
- Moonlight (2016)
There’s a separate shortlist of movies that might get promoted when I watch them a second time, which I should really do, and An Actor’s Revenge (1963) immediately joined them. One thing I think the above entries mostly have in common is that they have genre devices they use for stunts, literal or figurative; one I think they all have in common is that they put up a strong conceptual framing and fucking commit to it, without backpedaling or compromising. Even the places where Tampopo (1985) explicitly winks at the audience are a device to prod the viewer deeper into the movie’s world, not an apology or excuse.
In its first fifteen minutes, An Actor’s Revenge (1963) establishes itself as gorgeously stylized, theatrical, liminal, serious about its stakes, and brazenly queer. It throws grand plots, competing thieves with cool sobriquets, hidden weapons, stage-lighting scene transitions, night fights, soliloquies, a jazz-meets-kabuki score, and secret scrolls from martial arts masters at you right from the start. But the most impressive thing to me was its central performance, and the way that performance was framed. The protagonist, Yukinojō, is an onnagata, a stage actor who uses masculine pronouns but whose presentation is consistently high-feminine, in or out of the theater (and indeed, Kat reminded me, even during internal monologue). Hasegawa Kazuo, who played the same character in the original 1935 version of the movie, was in his 50s by the time this one was shot; there are not a lot of movies I have seen where a middle-aged person of what can be fairly described as mincing affect is portrayed as a total badass, eminently desirable and desired, heroic, and internally tormented—but never tormented over gender presentation or sexuality. Even though Hasegawa also plays another character in the story—a fact I didn’t realize until Kat pointed it out—the film never makes that contrast into a joke, or anything else about Yukinojō either. It’s busy doing so many other cool things!
In 2022, even with filmmaking technology and distribution more nimble and fluid than they ever have been, it seems like the people making movies still have to pad their queer stories with explanatory commas and self-conscious asides. An Actor’s Revenge (1963) was shot, as you may gather, sixty years ago, and it never bothers with any of that. As of today, it’s available on the Criterion Channel, and if you like the same things I like—with the content note that it includes a brief depiction of suicide—then I bet you’ll enjoy it a lot.
“It’s certainly a beautiful film to LOOK at.”
So you were really hoping to wrap up your weekend reading five thousand words about a movie you haven’t seen and literally can’t watch anywhere online even if you pay for it, right?
“A lot of (now-forgotten) mainstream plays and novels were as experimental in shifting point-of-view and juggling time frames as any we find today. For example, we celebrate backwards stories as typical of the demands of modern storytelling. The play and film Betrayal and the films Memento and Shimmer Lake are among many recent media products presenting the scenes in 3-2-1 order. But this possibility was discussed by a prominent critic in 1914, and soon a major woman actor wrote a play that used reverse chronology.
Some will argue that innovations of popular narrative are dumbed-down borrowings from modernist or avant-garde trends. I try to show this process as a two-way dynamic: modernism borrowing from popular forms, mainstream storytellers making modernist techniques more accessible. But we also find that popular storytelling has its own intrinsic sources of innovation, as with the reverse-chronology tale.”
“For some years I’ve been arguing that the martial arts cinema of East Asia constitutes as distinctive a contribution to film artistry as did more widely recognized ‘schools and movements’ of European cinema like Soviet Montage and Italian Neorealism.”
I used to read the AV Club every day and now I don’t read it at all and it’s probably not hard to gather why
But Caroline Siede’s retrospective analysis of romantic comedy as a film genre just wrapped up, after a hundred reviews, and I think they are all worth reading if you can manage three quarters of your browser being occluded by ads. Even when I have drawn different conclusions from Siede I have found her work exemplary, and have in fact used her work as an example when thinking about how to structure longer writing about movies. I can recommend in particular her highlighting of gems like Saving Face (2004), The Big Sick (2017), Brown Sugar (2002), and of course, the movie that guaranteed I would one day fall for a Chicago brunette.
I didn’t write enough about movies last year.
In 2022 I want to work on that, and I want to finally kick off a project I’ve been threatening to undertake for years. Ready for my new blog’s inaugural 3300-word multimedia essay about Steven Soderbergh?
“This, to me, is the definition of a desert island film: a foundational text, a perennial source of comfort, a go-to reference that lives, in the parlance of today’s youth and the adults who want to be like them, rent-free in one’s brain.”
I sincerely hope you can’t find it on this domain anymore
But two decades ago I used to host a little mini-site here for my college band with Jon, Ken and Darren. We called ourselves Short Story.