Cole Smithey on Patreon

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

February 08, 2021


Rear_windowAlfred Hitchcock’s take on Cornell Woolrich’s novel (screenplay by John Michael Hayes) reeks of McCarthy era anti-socialist propaganda. Hitchcock made a thematically rich story about authoritarian surveillance that flips on itself in the film's last act. What starts out as a cautionary tale about the dangers of voyeurism and scrutiny twists to confirm to the grassing behavior of a white suprematist. Reporting on your neighbors much?

It's as though the film's producers ran in at the last minute with a different ending for Hitchcock to film, and he'd already cashed his pay check so he agreed to shoot an ending in direct conflict with the story at hand.

James Stewart’s L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies comes across as either impotent, gay, or too misogynist to carry on a romantic relationship with Grace Kelly’s impossibly beautiful Lisa Carol Fremont. The scene where Jeff repeatedly tells Lisa to “shut up,” is disgusting for Jeff’s abusiveness. Memo to Lisa, you're in an abusive relationship, get out now.


Jeff is a war photographer (turned cult leader) laid up with a broken leg. Jeff is more interested proving his masculinity by running around the world in fatigues and combat boots, than he is in making love to Grace Kelly. Fool. The film’s first two acts appear to criticize Jeff’s anti-hero as a busy-body obsessed with turning in his neighbors for any perceived indiscretions. This is a man in need of a good therapist, or at least a solid hobby or two. Watching Jeff indoctrinate those him around into his crazed imagination is more of a disappointment than a revelation. Here is a rightwing reactionary patriarchal character with no redeeming value. 


The telescopic lens for Jeff’s camera is his phallic substitute that he uses to invade the lives of people living across the courtyard from his New York City bedroom. The thrust of the narrative pivots on Jeff’s ability to infect the minds of those around him with a dangerous sense of suspicion and fear, relating to his neighbor Lars Thorwald (played by Raymond Burr) whom, Jeff believes has killed his wife and disposed the woman’s body.


“Rear Window” may hold a special place in the hearts of Alfred Hitchcock’s legions of fans, but the film breaks with a bizarre thematic reversal that emphasizes a web of American hypocrisy at its core. It is a film with no empathetic character. Jeff Jefferies is a Joseph McCarthy wanna-be. Grace Kelly is a woman overcompensating for her low self-esteem by hiding behind expensive fashion and beauty rituals. Even Jeff’s insurance company nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) is revealed to be a woman capable of far less independent thought than she seems to possess. As a result of this film’s bait-and-switch meaning, it remains one of Alfred Hitchcock’s more minor efforts.

Two Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

February 04, 2021


Screen Shot 2021-02-04 at 1.07.47 AMEquality. Recognition. Artistic and personal truth. I’ve watched all of Agnès Varda films while discovering Criterion’s lush celebration of the French New Wave’s progenitor. If you could only have one filmmaker’s oeuvre on your private desert island, Agnès Varda’s films are the right choice to last you the rest of your life.

In Varda-approved random fashion I begin my slight review of Varda’s supremely personal, transgressive, and satisfying films with Daguerréotypes, a documentary film that fully expresses Agnès Varda’s confidence and openness to the world around her. In this case that meant the 90 meter distance of cable that her camera could reach from her floor-level apartment to the shops and locations in the Rue Daguerre district of Paris. Varda was raising her two-year-old son at the time, so she needed to stay close to home. Varda's catlike curiosity pours through every second of this truly delightful movie.


The magician who appears at the film’s opening credits returns during a public performance in front of an audience of (Parisian) neighborhood regulars. Everything from the magician’s formal approach to his audience and their delightful reactions to his Grand Guignol-inspired tricks, Varda captures a dynamic personal immediacy to time and place. Think Les Blank. There's boldness in Varda's subtle simplicity. Agnès Varda retained this transparency throughout her spectacular career as a filmmaker of the first water.     


The film's title comes from Rue Daguerre, the street that Varda lived on. The street was named after Louis Daguerre, "inventor of the Daguerreotypes of photographic printing."


Naturally this movie is a time capsule of French life, by virtue of Agnès Varda's generous and willing ability to reach out to her neighbors in a cinematic way. There is much to enjoy, relish, and learn from the elderly subjects in this treasured movie. Taken with the joy that Varda captures and inspires, "Daguerréotypes" is a social study for all time. What love. What magic. What a celebration of life.


Five Stars

January 22, 2021


Trial_of_the_chicago_sevenGlib. Forgettable. Writer/director Aaron Sorkin gets out his arsenal of narrative formula templates to simplify an otherwise complex story of ‘60s era political theater. The effect is entertaining up to a point before it hits you that Robert Altman would have been much better at telling the story at hand if he were still alive. Hell, Oliver Stone would have done a better job.

The trial in question arose from the actions of a group of anti-Vietnam War protesters during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The film’s ensemble of actors (Yaha Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon, Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, Jeremy Strong, and John Carroll Lynch) give credible performances that come across as an afterthought in the context of Sorkin’s heavy hand.

Screen Shot 2021-01-22 at 11.02.30 PM

Courtroom dramas are a notoriously prickly genre to begin with. This one finds Aaron Sorkin falling on his own sword. The movie plays more as a showpiece of Hollywood machinery than as a filmic document of a crisis of ideologies at a time when it seemed that the People might get a leg up on the corruption at the heart of the American war machine. As if such a thing could be possible.

Chicago 7

From a technical standpoint, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is serviceable but Sorkin’s knee-jerk quick-cutting crutch wears out its welcome. Aaron Sorkin’s motivations for making the movie in our current political climate seems like a foregone conclusion. Nothing has the emotional weight it purports to possess even if the actors are compelling in their roles as voices of dissent. The problem is that Sorkin wants so badly to deliver a feel-good movie that he misses all of the heartbreak inflicted on the accused activists who never agreed on anything. This is a Cheese Whiz movie for 12-year-olds, not for adults.  

Chicago 7

Rated R. 129 mins.

Two Stars

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Videos



Throwback Thursday

Podcast Series