Last Year at Marienbad

A Night to Remember

last year at marienbad (1961)
directed by Alain Resnais

April 25, 2021

To attempt to decipher Last Year at Marienbad is to rob it of its allure. Whether one considers the film a frustratingly formalist indulgence or an atmospherically experimental masterpiece, it is impossible to deny the distinct impact of Alain Resnais’ 1961 sophomore feature. What qualifies as a mainstream “narrative” motion picture has since been up for debate, not to mention the actual content of the film. Nameless characters, plodding narration, and an unabashed disregard for spatial and temporal cohesion – these are the defining features that have befuddled viewers for the last 60 years. Classical Hollywood standards of plot, motivation, and causal logic (standards the movie-going public has been conditioned to expect) are abandoned in favour of a cinematic adaptation of the nouveau roman. Resnais worked in close collaboration with avant-garde novelist-turned-screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet to fashion a story devoid of any of the clear-cut building blocks that make up stories; the result is an incredibly idiosyncratic experience that rewards the submissive spectator. One of the many peculiar designs of the film is its carefully edited fabrication of architectural space as a means of heightening disorientation. Having already admitted to the futility of prescribing the meaning of Last Year at Marienbad with any certainty, this essay aims to explore the mechanics behind its geographical ambiguity and how the palace on display manages to make the unspoken, visible.

From the opening credits, there is an unsettling lack of identification with the screen. The film immediately distances itself from its audience through X’s voice-over, accompanied by a pipe organ score and a methodical montage of the chateau’s interior. The camera glides through empty hallways, lingering on ceiling ornamentation, baroque chandeliers, and myriads of mirrors. There is no real feeling associated with these images; if anything, the repetitive monotony of X’s delivery flattens beautiful scenography into a bleak ghost town. Our entry into this dreamworld is a disembodied voice robotically describing what we are already looking at: “Cross corridors leading in turn to empty rooms, rooms heavily laden with a décor from the past. Silent rooms where the sound of footsteps is absorbed by carpets so heavy, so thick, that all sound escapes the ear … This huge, luxurious, baroque, and dismal hotel where corridor follows corridor. Silent, deserted corridors …” and on it goes. What distinguishes Last Year at Marienbad from other, more traditional movies is the intentional vagueness of its point of view. Since there is no set-up of characters or scenario (we don’t see X, the speaker, until the 12 minute mark), we are left wondering whose perspective we are following. In his article “The Point of View of the Wandering Camera,” Kenneth Johnson makes a point that the “wandering camera” is a representation of our narrator’s consciousness, considering he is the only human presence we’ve encountered thus far (52). As a testament to this, Resnais is on the record for telling his lead actors, Giorgio Albertazzi (X) and Delphine Seyrig (A), not to emote; inspired by the silent era, performances were meant to be solely external – a mechanically choreographed dance, if you will. Consequently, people blend into architecture. They become nothing more than moving ornaments, fabrications of the environment framed exclusively for the camera’s gaze. The lack of a motivated POV further confuses the back-and-forth nature of the narrative structure, allowing viewers to project their own emotions, frustrations, and interpretations onto the screen.

Now that we’ve familiarized ourselves with the untethered, seemingly “mind-of-its-own” navigation of the camera, let us look to one particular scene as a microcosm for the ever-changing built space on display. As the film progresses and some inkling of a plot becomes apparent, this foregrounded ambiguity becomes more than a stylistic choice; rather, it materializes the repressed turmoil of its characters. Almost exactly midway through the movie, X doubles down on his efforts to remind A of their previous encounter. We are never told where this occurred (“In Karlstadt, Marienbad, or Baden-Salsa. Or even here in this salon”), nor if it ever did occur. Regardless of their detachment from reality, the images are always at the service of the narrator’s whim; wardrobes, locations, time – all are indexical to X’s memory. This is apparent in a selection of five chronological shots (see image above), starting 42 minutes in. From the pairing of dialogue and visuals we can assemble the sequence like a four-dimensional puzzle, situating each moment in time and space. Even such an exercise requires a degree of diagrammatic subjectivity, considering the castle plan can never be entirely accurate due to shifting monuments and nonsensical continuity. Consider the cuts from shots B to C, and C to D: the mirrored blocking of Seyrig’s figure in the frame bookends an apparent non sequitur of her and Albertazzi standing on a balcony. However, Seyrig’s position in shots B and D temporarily obscures the fact that she is in an entirely different locale within the castle. Why this strange jump? Because at that moment, X tells her: “One night, I went up to your room;” Resnais opts for jarring the audience into new settings, forcing them to play catch-up with the abruptness of X and A’s back-and-forth, instead of tailoring the narrative flow to the spectator’s expectations. That being said, there is an undeniable logic to how the film is edited, primarily due to the fact that every shot was dictated in the script; Resnais himself has mentioned that anybody with Robbe-Grillet’s screenplay could have made the same movie. Sylvette Baudrot, the production crew’s continuity girl, was assigned the herculean task of mapping the entire chronology of events, ensuring no one on set lost sight of where and when each piece of the film was taking place. While a high degree of control resided over the making of Last Year at Marienbad, the director was never interested in sharing what any of it meant, or if there was any inherent meaning to begin with; “It’s not my role to give explanations,” said Resnais in an interview shortly after the film’s release. “For that matter, I don’t think the film is a real enigma. By that I mean that each spectator can find his own solution … meaning that my solution is of no more interest than that of any other viewer.” It is a divisive experience by design, but that calculated mystery sown into the very fabric of the celluloid is what has kept the picture alive all these years.

Not unlike Sergei Eisentein’s or Dziga Vertov’s cinematic experiments that sought to create the illusion of a unified space, Last Year at Marienbad constructs an impossible piece of architecture made possible through the medium itself. Expanding on the works of those two filmmakers, Resnais deliberately draws attention to the cracks within the filmic foundation surrounding X and A in order to spatially disorient viewers. As one analyzes the film, it becomes clear that such a palace could never exist; varying exterior angles contradict one another, rooms look out onto views they are in no position to look out on, identifiable landmarks like statues move, rotate, or disappear, often in consecutive shots. Based off of the real shooting locations, an interpretative drawing can be made to gather a general overview of the site. The picturesque gardens and building facades/interiors were photographed in Munich at the Chateaux Nymphenburg and Schlessheim. To achieve the impression of a never-ending grand hallway, sets were built in three different Parisian studios (no single studio was big enough) over the course of several months; in fact, many back-to-back shots in the film are separated by elongated stretches of time. The use of editing to bring such diverse elements into an emotionally (dis)satisfying work aligns with art historian Elie Faure’s idea of cineplastics – film’s ability to synthesize the movement of time and space. According to Faure, “By means of the cinema … time becomes a veritable instrument of space, ‘unrolling under our eyes its successive volumes ceaselessly returned to us in dimensions that allow us to grasp their extent in surface and depth’” (Vidler 46). The wavering relationship between X and A, a relationship that unfolds through spatial and temporal juxtapositions, creates “a new kind of architectural space, akin to that imaginary space ‘within the walls of the brain’” (Vidler 46). The final Frankensteined castle, as physically conflicting as it is, embodies the unreliable nature of suppressed memories, which is, according to this viewer, what Resnais’ film is ultimately about.

For all its stone-faced alienation, Last Year at Marienbad achieves the rare cinematic feat of reciprocating an audience member’s investment; the answer is there for those who seek it out. Behind luxuriant walls, hidden in deep shadows, lurking around that corner … or maybe the key is drenched in sunlight, standing tall and proud, surrounded by immaculately manicured lawns. Every aspect of film production – music, mise-en-scène, costume, lighting, blocking – blends into a universal corpse, only to be resurrected in the mind of the individual beholder. Like our estranged romantic couple, we are at the mercy of the creator, matches in a game of Nim. Suits gather around the table and argue how it is won: “The one who starts first … the one who goes second … you must take only one stick at a time …” The question remains: why stress over the secret behind the puzzle when the ending is inevitable?


“Alain Resnais: L’Année Dernière À Marienbad – 1961 – Making of.” August 27, 2015. MPEG-4, 32:37.


Johnson, Kenneth. “The Point of View of the Wandering Camera.” Cinema Journal 32, no. 2 (1993): 49-56. doi:10.2307/1225604.


McGuire, Dianne K. “Rescuing a Neglected Art: Topiary.” Landscape Architecture 55, no. 4 (1965): 267-71.


Resnais, Alain. “Alain Resnais interview 1961.” May 16, 2009. MPEG-4, 5:42.


Resnais, Alain, dir. Last Year at Marienbad. 1961; Paris, France: Cocinor.


Sgolacchia, Renzo. “Deconstruction of the Filmic Space – L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961).” Archined (October 6, 2017). derniere-a-marienbad-alain-resnais-1961/.


Vidler, Anthony. “The Explosion of Space: Architecture and the Filmic Imaginary.” Assemblage 21 (1993): 44-59.

Copyright © 2021 David Botros​


Laugh at the Idiot Box

bamboozled (2000)
directed by Spike Lee

April 17, 2021

In Bamboozled, the history of black representation in film is brought to the forefront of a modern audience, a glaring spotlight shone on all its stereotypical dehumanization, filtered through the guise of a cable show. Like Network and A Face in the Crowd before it, Spike Lee’s film satirizes contemporary television with scathing prescience. The entertainment business has never been so unentertaining to watch; Lee’s deliberately non-Hollywood style is imperative for the message to be made clear: we must be reminded, if not made aware, of the subhuman portrayal of black people in America and its lingering effect on commercial leisure. As the title of “auteur” indicates, Lee manages to work within and against the very industry he seeks to criticize. He understands the authority which images hold over the public, how easy it is to fall under the comatose spell of what Pierre Delacroix refers to as “the idiot box.” Using specific counter-cinematic techniques such as breaking the fourth wall via direct address, engaging with stereotypes in a radically self-reflexive manner, and refusing to provide a neatly resolved, satisfying conclusion, Spike Lee’s Bamboozled jolts viewers into an uncomfortable state of awareness, drawing their attention to the troubled history (and corrupt present) of the same medium they so hungrily rely on for escapist diversion.

The film opens with our anachronistic lead Monsieur Delacroix providing a dictionary definition of the word “satire.” Immediately, there is no room for guesswork; we are told that what we are watching is a critical parody. The explanation of the term comes in the form of narration as Delacroix shaves his head in an outrageous penthouse suite with a window the shape and size of the face of Big Ben. Before we are made aware of Delacroix’s plan to create a minstrel satire – not even Delacroix has thought up this idea yet – the exact meaning of the word is broken down with technical precision: “1a: A literary work in which human vice or folly is ridiculed or attacked scornfully … 2: Irony, derision, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity.” It is Lee’s disclaimer to the audience. Delacroix acts as the vessel for the filmmaker, conscious of the spectator’s forthcoming disapproval before the picture has hardly begun. In its first minute, Bamboozled labels itself as an oppositional work actively engaging with, in this case, racist depictions in the entertainment industry. It is as much a fantasy as any other film, but one that confronts real social and ethnic issues in an unabashedly upfront manner. This is further visualized when Delacroix speaks directly into the camera, introducing himself as a television writer and “creative person.” Characterized by accent and mannerisms as flamboyantly over-the-top as his apartment, he goes on to inform us of his occupational conundrum, saying, “The problem is, not enough of you have been watching out there in television land. With the onslaught of the internet, video, and interactive games, nine hundred channels to choose from, our valued audience has dramatically eroded … People are tuning out by the millions, which, needless to say, is bad for business.” The fact that Delacroix is mindful of the world beyond the camera lens encourages the spectator to take up a more active role in the movie-watching process; regardless of Delacroix’s meta demeanor, we recognize and connect to his position. Lee’s use of what Samuel Watkins refers to as “full frontality” in cinematic practice “ruptures traditional story-space boundaries” (162). Instead of lulling us into a second-hand trance via Hollywood’s traditionally seamless narrative structure, Lee demands a certain level of involvement on the part of the audience. We are engaged from the get-go, primed for the more serious (often revealingly, albeit revoltingly, funny) investigation of primetime corruption soon to come. As Kara Keeling puts it, “Bamboozled presents itself as a satirical investigation of the abiding allure of racist imagery in American popular culture, but the film’s narrative system ultimately is unable to control what its images unleash” (243); that is to say, Delacroix’s supposed “satire” backfires so extravagantly it not only results in his demise, but brings a whole generation of consumers’ hunger for said racist imagery to light – quite the opposite of what was intended.

The pitch for Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show begins as an idea so ludicrous it would leave the network executives no choice but to fire whoever proposed it. Tired of enduring his manager Dunwitty’s crass rejections of mild-mannered, intelligent black characters, Delacroix decides to eject himself out of the office with the most appalling proposition for a show he can conjure up: a sitcom that revives and fully embraces African American stereotypes. This includes donning the performers in blackface, altering the way they speak, and surrounding them with dehumanizing symbols of the past. Much to Delacroix’s surprise, the pitch is eagerly well-received by Dunwitty and becomes the number one show on television. Here is where Lee asserts his claim on the world; the excessive display of provocative material is justified by the filmic audience’s unbelievable reaction. Alessandra Raengo offers a crucial remark on the acceptance of racial insensitivity within a given culture when she says, “Without our desire, the stereotype is sterile; infused with our desire, it is vibrant, believable, and seductive – it comes ‘alive’” (68). What we are watching is atypical of Hollywood’s mantra to entertain; entertainment is shown here to be dangerous, kindle for the morally consumptive fire. It is all too easy to submit to self-degradation for the sake of “entertainment.” Even Delacroix relishes his unexpected fame, defending the very thing he hated. Soon his office is littered with black-themed curios, artifacts, memorabilia to the extent of paranoia as he imagines some of the objects coming to life. Many in the film industry would rather forget the past and move on, but “[b]y bringing what has persisted in the offscreen space of mainstream cinema into the scene, Bamboozled makes those collectibles, and the linear, progressivist temporality invoked when black people collect them, available for redefinition or annihilation” (Keeling 246). Unfortunately, once established into one’s everyday life, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the stereotype from its subject.

The only voice of reason comes from Sloane, Delacroix’s assistant, although even her half-hearted attempts to appeal to her boss’ rational side are thwarted by her own fear of losing her social ranking. Lee doesn’t try to hide the influence of and references to Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd, in which Marcia, another female staff member on a cable show, is overcome by guilt and self-reproach for not acting on her conscience. Both characters provide ethical anchors into a morally corrupt world. Sloane is first dumbfounded, then concerned, then furious at Delacroix’s actions, paralleling our own emotions; the fact that the creator of The New Millennium Minstrel Show is black makes the situation all the more befuddling. As Keeling notes, Lee’s film engages in a humanist dialect with black culture and its cinematic counterpart, “suggesting that black people also ought to be able to lay claim to the power of cinema’s presumed ability to index ‘prefilmic’ reality” (247). The daring use of blackface, even in the context of a satire, applies urgent pressure to the idea of the stereotype as representation (Raengo 74). Modern audiences are forced into that tension, free to judge the historical portrayal of onscreen African Americans as it has been presented to them. Lee craves this relationship with the public; “In fact,” writes Watkins, “his intentions have been, in part, to stake out a particular set of claims on the nature of race relations, and the post-industrial experiences of blacks especially, and manipulate the technology of film production to articulate those claims” (161). Refusing to sugarcoat personally meaningful issues may make for difficult viewing, but it allows Lee to be explicit and honest; he operates under the philosophy that either hot or cold, no matter the critical divide, will always artistically surpass lukewarm.

As a testament to this philosophy, one of the most powerful segments of the film is the concluding montage of early 20th century film clips depicting exaggerated caricatures of black people. As Delacroix lies bleeding on the floor of his antique-ridden office, a tape of “classical” movie and television scenes assembled by Sloane plays on his idiot box. Then the sequence takes over. It fills our screen, leaving us no choice but to gaze at its alarming misrepresentation, and the reality of what has up until now been a farce hits us like a bucket of water. Eyes bug out of heads, watermelon is devoured with unappetizing haste, cartoons of African tree-dwellers strongly resemble apes. Images linger; just as the opening spells out the type of film we will be watching, the finale shows us authentic documents to emphasize Lee’s criticism of history’s normalization of racism in the media. The deliberate recontextualization of old films challenges cinema’s “insistence upon the integrity of its images as indices of prefilmic reality” (Keeling 243). Lee has mentioned in interviews that the same picture could have been made about women, gay people, Hispanics, or Native Americans – it is about the cinematic dehumanization of certain ethnic groups. Although the message is clear, many have questioned Lee’s lack of solutions to his movies’ endings. What is the answer to all this anger? Furthermore, what is the audience meant to do with such a non-traditional viewing experience? Lee is not interested in such concerns; “[r]ather than asserting a harmonized world at the end of his films, Lee repeatedly subverts this industry rule by choosing to end many of his film narratives on the curvature of several question marks” (Watkins 163). It is another counter-cinematic stylistic choice that unsettles the spectator out of his/her expectations. After all, challenging aesthetic politics warrant challenging spectatorship. The final minutes of Bamboozled stand out in its director’s filmography as some of the most personally upfront; it’s difficult to imagine a filmmaker being any more blunt than plucking out a part of history and repackaging it for a modern public. As Watkins puts it, Lee’s is “a form of agency that contests the intensely regulated forms of cinematic authorship that customarily obscure the fact that all forms of media are a socially constructed, manipulative view of the world” (161). The dramatic repercussions to Delacroix’s Mantan speak to the power of images; rage at the staged fiction onscreen leads to real violence, real deaths. Apparently, the only choice we have is to take Papa Junebug’s advice and “Keep on laughin’.”

With the aid of his signature counter-cinematic techniques, Spike Lee manages to alert viewers to an archival and contemporary racial issue facing the American masses. Bamboozled, released in the year 2000, arrived at a significant turning point in global history; 100 years after the birth of cinema, 50 years after the advent of television, and amidst great political, cultural, generational change. The virtue of mainstream filmmakers like Spike Lee comes from their status as celebrity figures. The auteur’s ability to convey personal angers, convictions, truths on a massive scale balances (to some degree) the anonymous schlock that spews out of the industry. This is where the spectator comes into play, considering the public has always served as judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to which content is deemed acceptable – for better or for worse. What we make of what we see is what really matters. True, audiences have long since matured out of Hollywood’s Golden Age of racist stereotypes, but clearly Lee believes we still have a ways to go.


Keeling, Kara. “Passing for Human: ‘Bamboozled’ and Digital Humanism.” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 29, no. 15:1 (2005): 237-250.


Lee, Spike, dir. Bamboozled. 2000; Los Angeles, CA: New Line Cinema.


Lee, Spike. “Spike Lee on the legacy of Bamboozled.” October 30, 2015. BAMcinématek, Brooklyn, New York. MPEG-4, 5:12.


Raengo, Alessandra. Critical Race Theory and Bamboozled. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016.


Watkins, Samuel Craig. “Reversing the Gaze: Interrogating Whiteness.” In Representing: Hip Hop Culture and the Production of Black Cinema, 154-166. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Copyright © 2021 David Botros​

The Age of Innocence

the age of innocence

released: 1993

directed by: Martin Scorsese


written by: David Botros


(Here is an interesting example of cross-referencing:)

I’m not sure whether this one would exist without The Magnificent Ambersons, and, like that film, without that specific director at the helm, it may have come out as merely mediocre.

What I’m saying is Marty and Thelma Schoonmaker, the editor, make this movie.

It is aesthetically delicious.

With so many seamless dissolves it felt like the whole movie floated by like a painful dream.

Or, maybe more accurately, a memory.

Daniel Day-Lewis is to be married to Winona Ryder, but gets frisky with her cousin Michelle Pfeifer.

The movie asks what the repression of such a strong emotion as love can do to someone, and it does so through wonderfully visual storytelling.

Save for a heavy opening with some really dense narration (not at all a hindrance; in fact, a stylistic bombshell), the rest of the film is heavily reliant on sound and lighting.

Reality is literally put on hold at the service of these two lovers.

One of the best examples of this is in the opera house.

The whole auditorium goes dead quiet, pantomiming conversation.

Meanwhile, Day-Lewis and Pfeifer are spotlit and talk to each other as though they were utterly alone.

It is also an incredibly well edited film.

Maybe some of the wildest camera moves Scorsese’s ever put to the screen?


A great example of a master elevating a story with his craft.

Copyright © 2021 David Botros

Smokey and the Bandit

smokey and the bandit

released: 1977

directed by: Hal Needham


written by: David Botros


No doubt a romp and a half to watch.

Think Mad Max; less stunts, more laughs.

I’d describe it as vehicular slapstick.

Burt Reynolds gets hired to illegally deliver a truckload of beer in time for a big hoorah.

On the way home, he picks up a runaway bride and you just know where that relationship’s headed the second she hops into his car.

It’s a chase movie through and through, with Sheriff Justice taking over as one of the great cinematic villains –

His name is Sheriff Justice.

And it’s got just the right amount of hunky dory riff raff romance in there to keep things personal.

Moments of intimate connection take place in a speeding car, the background a blur.

Honestly a fresh perspective on the romcom staple.


Smokey and the Bandit is a breezy good time.

Copyright © 2021 David Botros

The Searchers

the searchers

released: 1956

directed by: John Ford


written by: David Botros


This is a touchy movie to talk about in today’s world.

Old westerns are particularly notorious for some overtly racist views, maybe the most infamous example being D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation – the first real feature film, the most influential cinematic achievement of its time, and a capsule containing some dangerously unabashed depictions of the Ku Klux Klan.

Now, I haven’t seen it, so I’m in no position to judge how distastefully it holds up, but that movie came out 40 years before John Ford’s The Searchers.

I think Roger Ebert brings up a good point in his own review of the movie:

While Griffith seemed to be operating under an instinctive, oblivious racism, Ford and Wayne are purposefully exploring the hatred some people, maybe the entire country, felt towards certain others.

Because Wayne as Ethan Edwards is truly a hateful man.

He is on a path for murder, not only of the Comanche tribe that killed and burned his brother’s family, but the youngest daughter who has grown up in their midst.

He considers her defiled by her captors and that her death would be for her benefit.

So: this is the first Ford picture I’ve seen and I believe it definitively captures the American landscape; I don’t just mean the sun-blazed cliffs and harsh potential buried beneath the ground –

What I mean are its morals, its trailblazing mindset, its larger-than-life heroes and villains with clear cut codes that each live by and die for.

The western is an interesting genre because it very obviously changes over time.

You can see how shifting ideals are reflected onto that same rocky terrain, and John Ford is the face of that change.

Him and Wayne made 14 movies together, each exploring a different facet of the American western.

I’m sure those who had grown up watching the noble John Wayne defeat the bad guys were surprised to see him now consumed with loathing.

But for me, watching this movie 60 something years later, and being familiar with these lonely obsessive protagonists (think Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, which was actually inspired by The Searchers), I’m able to understand the moral blindness that Wayne’s character is experiencing.

His awful goal is questioned the whole time by his younger sidekick Martin as he constantly begs for the girl’s life to be spared.

So it’s not as one-note as it could have been.

Most importantly, the whole film is building to one moment:

And the choice Edwards makes in that moment encapsulates everything Ford is trying to say.

At least that’s what I believe …

Which is why I consider it a perfect movie.

From a technical view, it’s masterfully done.

The blocking, pacing, mirroring of the beginning and end – all are simply the best.

Just like the story, there’s no added fluff.

You see exactly what needs to be seen.

I lied, maybe there are some goofy moments that detract from the main storyline, but they do add to the movie’s character.


This is a looming statement in cinema history, and its base simplicity makes it hard for one not to keep looking on in awe.

Copyright © 2021 David Botros

The Graduate

the graduate

released: 1967

directed by: Mike Nichols


written by: David Botros


What an absurdly dead-pan delight!

Dustin Hoffman, slowly building his way up as one of my favourite actors, plays a – well, a graduate, who’s got top marks, a bright future, and an upper-class suburban family that is constantly breathing down his neck.

But Benjamin (that’s his character’s name) doesn’t know what exactly to do with his future.


That all changes when Mrs Robinson, the family friend, seduces Benjamin into an adulterous affair.

Things get even more complicated when he then falls in love with her daughter.

This movie’s a straight-faced, expressionless blast from start to finish –

A strange combination of words, to be sure, but the best way I can think to describe it.

On paper, there is a very clear dramatic structure:

Benjamin is sleeping with an older woman;

Benjamin finds forbidden love;

Benjamin is forced to reveal the truth or say nothing at all.

But –

The way Hoffman plays him, he’s this frenetic kid who just bounces from one unexpected feeling to another.

And the repressed undercurrent which Nichols infuses in his direction makes the story more believable, more personal.

For a movie that came out more than 50 years ago, it’s astonishing just how relevant it’s remained.

The comedy holds up, even surprises.

I was laughing, curious as to where the plot was headed, and, by the end, ponderous.

The statement on youthful rebellion and identity crisis felt so strongly in the late 60s is a poignant one.

Best of all, it’s packed inside of a truly entertaining film.


Sidebar: these are some of the best driving scenes I’ve ever seen; not something I was expecting but hey, who’s complaining?

Copyright © 2021 David Botros

The Magnificent Ambersons

the magnificent ambersons

released: 1942

directed by: Orson Welles


written by: David Botros


An aristocratic coming of age story.

Might sound boring but there is so much juicy drama here that I never once considered switching it off in favour of something else.

Opening, first of all, was really cool.

It was like reading the prologue to a Dickens novel while simultaneously enjoying a visual representation of the family tree.

Our lead, who is a jerk for the majority of the film, leaves us no choice but to await his come-uppance.

It has the scope of Citizen Kane, though that film was about one man, whereas this one is about one man’s family –

And how one man’s actions carry on through an entire bloodline.

It’s smart and it’s affecting and it’s really, really well acted.

And I shall leave you with one bit of history just because.

The staircase in this movie (which by the way is one of the great movie staircases and is used to its fullest capacity with the aide of some brilliant cinematography) is also in another movie which came out the same year.

That movie is Cat People.

The reason it’s in it, though, is because Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton, respectively director and producer, had so little money to make it that they re-used the same set.

I shan’t talk about Cat People for too long but it’s one of the first B horror films to use its budget to its advantage – quite inspiring, especially in choosing what to show and what not to show.

Which, as we all know, is not only what horror is about, but all of cinema.


Anywho: The Magnificent Ambersons, Orson Welles’s second film, is a sprawling yet contained portrait of a troubled family – and absolutely worth your while.

Copyright © 2021 David Botros

Shanghai Express

shanghai express

released: 1932

directed by: Josef von Sternberg


written by: David Botros


There have been many an example throughout cinema history of powerful actor-director relationships.

Think of de Niro and Scorsese, or Wayne and Ford, or Pitt and Fincher.

These are the bonds that make great films.

But there is one I’d heard of recently which was that of Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg.

Dietrich became a superstar in the 30s, and her fame was in large part due to von Sternberg –

Or so he would claim.

After discovering her in the German production The Blue Angel, von Sternberg, who directed the picture, enticed Dietrich to settle in the States.

After that, the two became practically intertwined.

They made 6 movies together in 5 years, and what is most notable about these films is the way their – m-hm – partnership, visualized itself onto the screen.

The director had a very specific vision for his star.

He created an entire look for Dietrich, encouraging her to lose weight, to hold herself in certain ways, to dress in certain costumes.

And what many other actors would reject as intense scrutiny, Dietrich accepted.

Through very atmospheric lighting and camera angles, he idealized every aspect of her.

The result: highly stylized yet iconic cinema.

We can argue about the ethics of it; personally, I don’t know what went on behind the scenes, and as for who deserves the credit, it becomes clear that both worked best with each other.

After their contractual split in the later half of the decade, neither was able to capture the striking spirit of before.

All that being said, I found this film only mediocre.

Unfortunately, the story lacked any intrigue.

The characters were one-note and the romance was on-and-off.

Save for a few really great shots – Dietrich’s, obviously, and some modern-looking train sequences – I can’t say I was invested.


It’s a piece of history, to be sure, and I’ll continue to explore von Sternberg’s filmography, but this one lacked the narrative complexity to match its visual ingenuity.

Copyright © 2021 David Botros

The Purple Rose of Cairo

the purple rose of cairo

released: 1985

directed by: Woody Allen


written by: David Botros


Watching this film is like eating creme brullée –

It’s a little tough on the outside but the inside will positively melt your heart.

Oh, and when it’s over, you want more.

Mia Farrow plays Cecilia, a down-on-her-luck wife to a penniless brute in the depression era.

Her life really has no redeeming values save for one thing:

The movies.

Cinema is her escape.

The opening shot is this poster for a film called The Purple Rose of Cairo, and as things get worse for Cecilia, she returns to that screening again and again until something quite magical happens.

Our main character leaves the screen and enters the real world.

Let me tell you something, that moment when Jeff Daniels breaks the scene and looks out into the audience is one of the most whimsical things I’ve seen outside of a musical.

Because of how beaten down Mia Farrow’s character is prior to this moment, and because of how desperate we are to see her get a break, watching her run away with a movie character is kind of insane but at the same time so, so uplifting.

It’s a breath of fresh air.

After that, this thing really takes off.

Now the producers are in a hurry to find Jeff Daniels and put him back in his celluloid world while the real Jeff Daniels (and by that I mean the actor that the real real Jeff Daniels plays who’s playing the character in the fake film – it’ll make sense if you see it) stumbles across Cecilia and persuades her to help him find his double.

What a clever concept!

One that really hit me in the feels.

Even the movie within the movie is made with a great deal of love and attention to detail.

So much so that besides seeing the faces of modern actors, I never doubted that this was a film that came out in the 30s.

As for the ending, I’m happy with how Woody Allen chose to depict that relationship between fantasy and reality.

It’s a reminder of how harsh the real world can be, but how the joys we find in fiction make it tolerable.

Copyright © 2021 David Botros