Anyway, a big thing now at the site, maybe it's how you get traffic riled up and coming, is trashing something from the past as never having been any good. For instance, right now people are going off on The Deer Hunter, which remains an enormously powerful and daring film, a kind you can't even imagine being made today, but it's not p.c. in some way to the sensitive souls of 2018 so it was never any good. That 1978 and 2018 are two different times in relation to a war that was just five years earlier to the former, that it offers insight into the world of their parents that affects us to this day, well, that doesn't matter to them.
Last week it was Lubitsch:
As the kids say, you say that like it's a bad thing.Have you watched his stuff lately? Pleasant, but his touch was based largely on two things. An arch, slightly unnatural, high comic delivery by his actors that created a sense of audience complicity and made the viewer feel sophisticated and superior. And a technique whereby the viewer was allowed to add up discrete comic elements- often suggestive- and create the punchline.
Watched Trouble in Paradise four years ago after reading all the hosannas, and felt like the eunich [sic] at the orgy. Glad there’s someone else who didn’t flip for it.
Lord help us, the leaders of tomorrow.I haven't seen it since I fell asleep at a revival house while watching it. I admit I was stoned, but still...
That said, it's certainly true that Lubitsch's worlds, the mittel-Europeans of some films and the Art Deco rich of others, seem very far in many ways from the modern world, and I can see that certain films of his just would be hard for today's young'uns to relate to. There are some that have never really done it for me—Heaven Can Wait, for instance. Still, Lubitsch was Lubitsch, a face on the comedy wing of the movies' Mt. Rushmore, for sure.
I decided to test this theory on Son #1, currently home from college. He turned up his nose at the art for Criterion's Trouble in Paradise, admittedly quite old-fashioned, so then I grabbed To Be or Not to Be, which I figured was the most surefire just as comedy. I explained the idea of the "Lubitsch touch" (which the first commenter above describes pretty well, even as he disapproves), including Billy Wilder's succinct description: "Lubitsch could do more with a closed door than most directors could with an open fly."
And, well, he laughed. "So they call me Concentration Camp Ehrhardt?" built to bigger and bigger laughs, as did Benny's consternation at Robert Stack getting up just as Hamlet's soliloquy begins. More distinctively, he got how Lubitsch hinted at sex off screen so effectively—although in this film it's less Lubitsch than the screenwriters, making adroitly sardonic parallels between seduction and the Nazi way of war ("Shall we blitzkrieg?" "I was thinking more a gradual encirclement").
Interestingly, there was one thing he really had a problem with—Robert Stack as the young lieutenant who thinks he's in love with (married) Carole Lombard and she will leave her husband for him and doesn't get that she's toying with him. My son found him stalkerish (telling her, several years his senior, that she doesn't know her feelings but he does) and the whole adultery angle automatically putting him in the bad guy camp in the movie. I grew up in the 60s when sniggering adultery comedy was everywhere in movies and TV, and with the 19th century notion that it was the nature of actresses to attract Stage Door Johnnys besotted with them part of the cultural background noise, so that's a Lubitsch world (and a post-Lubitsch world) that is alien to him, for sure. (Wait till he sees one of my favorite 60s comedies as a kid—A Guide For the Married Man.)
But in any case, To Be or Not to Be passes the test—Lubitsch is very, very funny, sharp and fast and with Touch intact. I have Shop Around the Corner on the DVR; that might be next.