Quarantined film critic David Thomson loves ‘Ozark,’ sours on ‘Paris, Texas’
The Times asked authors to track what they do in isolation. David Thomson, the renowned film critic and author, binge-watches “Ozark,” recommends “the surefire bliss of Jacques Demy” and laments that"Paris, Texas” just doesn’t hold up.
Tuesday, March 31
On March 27, my wife, Lucy, and I began on the third season of “Ozark.” We had been waiting for it for months, after we did seasons 1 and 2, two episodes a night, denying ourselves the real wildness of bingeing through the complete show in twenty hours. We loved it, and watching it together deepened our relationship. Surely that had something to do with its poker-faced account of a marriage coming apart.
You can say “Ozark” is a modern noir about a financial advisor, Marty Byrde, who gets caught up in Mexican cartel slaughter and who, with his wife, Wendy, packs the walls of their Missouri house with the immense insulation of cash money. So it is suspenseful and lethal. But it’s also a portrait of a model family (they have two teenage kids) methodically ruined by the compromises in what they are doing.
I recommend the show via email to my grandson, who is doing Media at the University of Bristol in England. He says, OK, granddad, but he has trouble swallowing Jason Bateman as Marty just because as a child he grew up on Bateman in “Arrested Development.” I tell him don’t forget that Bateman is a producer on “Ozark” as well as the director of several episodes. Plus, doesn’t calling his character “Marty Byrde” invoke a stalwart figure in a lighter genre, as if to say imagine the man in the sitcom plunged into a darker ordeal? OK, granddad.
Today we do episodes 9 and 10 of season 3. The finale is breathtaking, magnificent. I have to say that the praise heaped on the lugubrious “Irishman” is the more bewildering when one realizes how close “Ozark” has come to being the great American novel of this moment.
Can’t wait for season 4, even if one memorable character has been eliminated (no spoiler). But between now and 4 the larger ordeal could take over. OK, granddad.
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April Fool’s Day and I am tricked. Lucy and I go to the market for a few things, including carrots for the white bean soup I am planning. She orders me to stay outside, and when she comes out and we are walking home she stops in her tracks and says, “I forgot the damn carrots!” Beautifully done. I buy it for 3.7 seconds.
We watch Godard’s “Pierrot le Fou” in the evening (after the soup; it was good). This has always been one of my favorite films (I saw it four times in a week back in 1965). Lucy has been wary of it until now, but she finds she likes it; she’ll include it in her film clubs. They used to meet in person, but now they’ll have a chat room.
“Pierrot” is another marriage coming apart (Godard and Anna Karina) and maybe the most emotional film ever made by that chilly guy. He was never the same after he and Anna split, and “Pierrot” is their rueful parting. It’s the story of an outlaw couple who quit Paris (and his family) and plunge into summer and the south of France. In color by Raoul Coutard, with music by Antoine Duhamel. It’s on the Criterion channel, the Gideon Bible of this survivalist season.
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The light, the space. With our son Zachary we drive to Point Reyes. It’s the three of us (everyday companions) in the car, our spare room. There is some traffic still; it is California. The day is nearly summer in its warmth, with a wind whipping the sea into white crests. We just drive around — walking has been banned — studying the herds of black cattle and poppies, pale yellow at their tips darkening into egg-yolk at their center. They seem photographed by Coutard. Neither the poppies nor the cattle know what’s going on in the Trump press conferences. Their good fortune. But the cattle are lining up, expecting to be milked.
The newspaper reader notices that as the Sports section dwindles, the Obituaries spread. We’re nowhere near the Great War scheme where London papers printed columns of names, the losses. Still, today, there is a friend in the New York Times, Dr. John Murray, 92, an expert on pulmonary distress who died of the very condition he had helped define for other doctors. He was a grand guy, tall, handsome, humorous, usually in a bow tie, with his wife, the author Diane Johnson (Dinny to friends).
The obituary has Dinny’s cool touch and includes the observation that just before he went into his last coma John was asking the doctors in Paris about his blood oxygen levels. Grace under pressure. That evening by rights we should have seen “The Shining” (which Dinny scripted for Kubrick), but Lucy tells me no, because I watch that film too often. She has a point: Jack Torrance at the Overlook Hotel is a warning on social distancing. Some people have been alone most of their lives. No one had to teach Donald Trump about getting self-isolated.
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Some friends ask me for movie recommendations, and a first instinct is to say, trust beauty and rapture: stick with Fred Astaire, Buster Keaton (and Peter Bogdanovich’s very good documentary about him), revel in “Bringing Up Baby,” “His Girl Friday,” “The Lady Eve” and “The Shop Around the Corner.” This country did grown-up comedies as the second war began that it has never matched again.
But sometimes the films you loved once are not quite the way you remember them. In the evening we watch “Paris, Texas” from 1984. I loved it so much then: with its desert America; with Harry Dean Stanton as the unexplained vagrant, trudging on without a destination; and with Nastassja Kinski as the young wife he abandoned years ago.
Alas, it seems stranded now, rather becalmed in its pretty photography, yet so neglecting its family situation that the picture feels like a complacent dream. Kinski is still very good and needy. Hunter Carson is the heart of the story as their 8-year-old son. But Harry Dean is not quite good enough. He was a kind man and often unique in supporting roles. He said he had waited all his life for a central part like “Paris, Texas,” but I think an evasive script left him overawed or uneasy. I can’t believe that he and Kinski were married.
Anxiety builds: is the edifice of opinion unsound? OK, grandson. A few weeks ago I watched Antonioni’s “L’Avventura,” a landmark we said in 1960, but dismayingly prim now, with the inescapable discovery that the radiant Monica Vitti could not act very well.
So in alarm I’m going straight to the surefire bliss of Jacques Demy — “Lola,” “Bay of Angels,” “Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” God help us if they don’t stand up. There’s only white bean soup after that — or starting “Ozark” again.
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