Chicken Cacciatore

Magnolias in Durand Eastman Park at their peak.
Magnolias in Durand Eastman Park at their peak.

Gloria and Pete invited us over for dinner on my birthday. Pete asked me what I liked. Easy for him, Gloria does all the cooking. I had been thinking about Chicken Cacciatore for quite a while and I couldn’t lie so I spoke up. Gloria’s masterpiece includes artichoke hearts, carrots, celery, mushrooms, black olives and chicken that was just falling apart in the sauce. It was the best I’ve ever had.

We got caught up in the One Take Film Festival this weekend, documentaries playing at both the Dryden and the Little. Caught “Dennis & Lois” on Friday afternoon, about a couple who met at a Ramones show at CBGBs and never stopped going to shows together, over 10,000. The Happy Mondays wrote a song about them. The director said he has about six hundred hours of footage of the couple. They can barely walk now but they’re still doing it. They haven’t even seen the film either.

We saw the Aretha Franklin movie on Saturday, the gospel show she recorded in Los Angeles in ’72. She was spellbinding. We came home and watched a Robert Johnson documentary and then some of Beyonce’s drum and bugle Coachella performance. Wow.

Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable,” at the Dryden today, was the best. Absolutely brilliant. I think it’s running on PBS. You take his street photos in with your whole body. They are physical constructions. Animated with life. And there are hundreds of them in the movie.

 

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Post-Apocalyptic Movies

"What Men Want" poster at Regal in Culver Ridge Plaza
“What Men Want” poster at Regal in Culver Ridge Plaza

After Tarkovsky’s meditative psychological drama, “Solaris,” which we spent three nights with, the post-apocalyptic horror film, “A Quiet Space” felt kind of cheap. It was hard to give a hoot about the nuclear family and the director didn’t bother warming you up to the characters before they started introducing the quick cut, scary things. I spent a good bit of the movie wondering if the male lead would have been a better actor if you could see his face behind the bushy beard. But I guess anything would seem bankrupt after Tarkovsky.

We brought a dvd of “The Post” home from the library and really loved that. A meaty true story told at a brisk, edge of your seat pace, there were only a few places where Spielberg felt the characters needed to explain themselves. And they didn’t. The politics were handled really well.

There was only one other couple for a screening of “Vice” in the stadium seating theater in Culver Ridge Plaza. This movie was a mess. They did not handle the politics well. They could have just told the story of big footprint Cheney and it would have read as horror but instead they tried to be cute or something. I was afraid to google what “What Men Want” is all about.

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Going Pro

CaminoDeSantiagoPt2

I guess I joined Flickr ten years ago. At least that is what it says at the top of my Photostream page. Mostly I used it as a backup for my photos. With a free membership they gave you an insane, one terabyte of storage. Well, that business model broke and free members were recently informed that their limit will now be a measly 1,000 photos and the new owners threatened to dump the rest of your photos unless you go pro. I didn’t upload a thing for months while I looked around for an alternative. Today I went pro.

I promised my cousin I would send her a link to photos from the second leg of our Camino adventure. Peggi and I did the first half of the Camino with her but we had to be back here for some Margaret Explosion gigs. She continued on without us and then we covered the same ground – Leon to Muxia – in October.

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Small Cult

We watched Greendale again last night and it has only gotten better. We are a small cult, those that love this movie. It is in my top ten. I have an affinity for the form, 8mm and family members as cast. I made the movie above in the winter of 69/70. It features my brother, Tim, on drums, my drums. He’s wearing my clothes too. My brother, John, is playing guitar and their friend, John Spar, playing harmonica. I hung one of my lithographs on the garage door and my youngest brother, Fran, and his friends did double duty as a rental crew and snow acrobats. Years later I added a soundtrack from Invisible Idiot.

The cool thing about filming without sound is that you can direct (bark orders or offer encouragement) while you’re shooting. Neil Young adds an amazing soundtrack from Crazy Horse, just three musicians with very few overdubs, and then has his cast lip-syncs his lyrics. The whole thing is beautiful and brilliant. A rock opera without the hysterics.

The characters, all mouthing Neil’s vocals, make you realize how good the lyrics are, the storytelling and the character development. I remember my nephew telling me the only thing he didn’t like about Neil Young was his voice. I love it. And you realize how expressive it is while you watch all these characters voice the lyrics.

The movie is relentlessly good. When this 2003 movie finally catches on I could see it playing with Rocky Horror Picture Show-sized crowds singing and dancing along with every line.

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Right On!

Modern apartment building in Buffalo, New York

Press for “BlacKkKlansman” was everywhere so we bought tickets on opening night. The screening was followed with a discussion, part of a monthly presentation the Rochester Association of Black Journalists (RABJ) and the Little Theatre. Both the movie and discussion were great. The discussion, the range of reactions from disgust to anger, was actually better than the movie but then it would not have happened if not for the movie. It was heartwarming to hear how fired up people in attendance were. There was a real resolve to do something.

This passage in A.O. Scott’s review of the film really caught my attention. “Spike Lee has often been a gleeful curator of racial invective, and he observes the Klansmen with a fascination that stops only a few degrees short of sympathy. They are monstrous and clownish, but more than just figures of fright or mockery. Understanding what makes them tick is as much Ron’s (main character) mission as bringing them down.” This is exactly how people interrupt Philip Guston’s portrayals of the Klan, the hooded characters in his late paintings. We laugh at them because they are hideous and tragic and so much like ourselves. This is an artful movie.

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Apostle Of Beauty

White Lincoln Continental parked at Sea Breeze, New York
White Lincoln Continental parked at Sea Breeze, New York

No, this isn’t the Popemobile. Although Pope Paul VI did use a modified 1965 Lincoln Continental to greet crowds in New York City. The current pope’s ride is a more modest, Ford Focus.

The world, our world, would be a better place if everyone saw the new Wim Wenders’ movie, “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word.” In it Francis has plenty of advice for mankind, common sense advice that you can’t argue with regardless of your religion or lack thereof. I think he is a genius or at the very least, a living saint. The first pope from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, the first Jesuit, but most of all, the first pope ever to choose the name of Francis, the patron saint of the environment.

He likens the neglect of the Earth to the neglect of the poor and he looks to artists for a way out. He says, “The biblical story of creation is a mythical form of expression” and “an artist is an apostle of beauty.” He asks us to “imitate God with our hands.”

The movie is playing at the Little now. If you can’t get there you could watch the 60 Minutes interview with Wenders. It is full of wisdom.

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Beavers On Crack

Beaver damage on Durand Lake in winter
Beaver damage on Durand Lake in winter

We had not been down the west side of Durand Lake in a while so this was the first we had seen of the beaver damage there. What were they thinking trying to gnaw their way through trees this big?

Duane suggested we add the 1957 French film, “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday,” to our Netflix queue. We have but we’ll have to watch “Advise & Consent” first and mail it back. I wish they would just make the switch to everything streamable. We streamed “The Dinner” a few nights back. I loved the story, a moral dilemma, almost like a nightmare. Laura Linney was great as the over protective mom and Richard Gere made a pretty good straight man. The guy who played his brother, Steve Coogan, surprised us because we had just seen him in “A Trip To Spain” and couldn’t stand him. Our friend, Claire, loved him in that movie. Guess that’s the sign of a good actor. I read that “The Dinner” was based on a book and it has already been made into three movies. I think some could do a killer movie with this story but it might take a few more tries. It has been compared to Polanski’s “Carnage” so we will have to track that one down.

Although we have been Amazon Prime members for some time we had never watched anything from them so we lined up a queue there. Jim Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson” is great. Peggi and I think it is his best movie. He wrote the story as well. It’s understated, slow, beautiful, and a real fantasy. Adam Driver is fantastic.

Driver is great in Scorsese’s “Silence” too but unfortunately he is not the lead. I loved the look of this movie. I loved the whole Catholic thing and the way the Japanese fought it. Whoever it is that’s writing Roger Ebert’s site put it this way, “Silence is a monumental work, and a punishing one. It puts you through hell with no promise of enlightenment, only a set of questions and propositions, sensations and experiences.”

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Fake Out

Tree with big lips in woods near Durand Eastman

Peggi reads everything by Stephen King. I read only his “On Writing.” I experience King through the movies and Peggi keeps reminding me that the book is so much better. Except in the case of “The Shining.” I guess they got that one right. But I hear Stephen King didn’t like it. We just finished watching the eight part “11/22/63,” something we rented from Netflix, and we were telling John Gilmore about it. He told us his Kennedy assignation story.

He was in band class in the first trumpet seat. The teacher and band leader was forever banging his baton on the lectern trying to bring order to the class. When he announced the president had just been shot, John assumed it was a ploy to get the kids to behave so he shouts, “Fake Out!” The teacher orders him out of the class and he never played trumpet again.

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Secret Life Of Fish

Fallen tree sculpture with sun in woods near our house

The pachysandra on the hillside between our house and our neighbors really took a hit in this summer’s heat. It was brown and shriveled up before we got a good look at it. So we dug up some healthy pachysandra that had grown over our sidewalk out front and transplanted it on the hillside. We poked holes in the hill with a stick and stuffed the plants down the hole on by one.

While we were working away we could hear our neighbor, Jared, on the other side of the hill working on his goldfish pond. He had friend in town and the two of them took the plants out and reworked the banks of the pond so the water is a couple of inches deeper. They lined the edges with this linoleum-like product called “Rock-on-a-Roll” and then they returned the big rocks that surround the pond. The final touch was putting the plants back in the water and we overheard Jared telling his friend, “this way they have something to hide under and a place to go to dick around.” I don’t usually think of fish dicking around but I like the imagery.

We hadn’t seen a movie in the theaters a while so we found one tonight. “Indignation,” directed by James Schamus and based on a late Philip Roth novel, is fantastic.

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Young Men’s Club

Four bucks in woods near Durand Eastman Park in Rochester, New York

We startled this group of bucks. There were five of them sleeping in a cluster and one ran out of my picture frame. It is, of course, rutting season but these racks are all fairly small. Young bucks do not normally challenge mature large ones. They fear the more mature bucks and avoid the dominant deer’s territory. We’ve seen some epic, knock down, cinematic fights between two mature males. They’re every bit as dramatic as a Quentin Tarantino movie.

My life has felt like a movie in the last few months. Neither all good or bad but as dramatic as one of those buck battles in the woods. We saw “Carol” last night, a slow burn of a love affair but not much of a movie, at least compared to other Patricia Highsmith penned marvels like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley. We plan to tackle “The Hateful Eight” next.

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Quest For Sainthood

Stations Of The Cross movie poster

About twenty years ago I started my own version of the Passion Play, the last day of Christ’s life. I planned to do paintings from collected source material but I haven’t got there yet. “Stations of the Cross,” a German film from 2014 had its Rochester premier at the Dryden Theater last night. It is a beautiful film, one that sweeps you up and takes you away into its own world. That is, it felt really strange in the parking lot after the movie.

Told in fourteen fixed-angle, single shot, tableaus that parallel Christ’s journey to his own crucifixion, the film is as close a depiction of the church I grew up in as I have ever seen. Lea van Acken as Maria (Mary, Virgin) perfectly plays the innocent whose entire thought process is corrupted by deranged religious purists – Catholic fundamentalists. The opening scene has her preparing for her Confirmation as the priest lays the classic guilt trip on the class with a capsulized version of hard-core Christian dogma. Nothing short of total devotion to God is ever enough. Maria sacrifices earthly pleasures and her short life so that her autistic brother can speak in a crazy quest for sainthood.

When Maria passes out at her Confirmation service (the Catholic bat mitzvah) I was thinking about the many times one of my brothers dropped in the aisles after fasting for communion. She is taken to a doctor who thinks he see signs of bullying or abuse in the pale and weak Maria. “Stations of the Cross” walks a very fine line. The film is gorgeous like a Gerhard Richter painting, it feels intimate and real. The indictment of religion as an abuser is just below the surface in every scene. I really loved this movie. Maybe someday I’ll finish my Passion Play paintings.

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First Friend

Reflections on Durand Lake in late October

There is nurture and there is nature and then there is the “Wolfpack,” the type of documentary that just sweeps you away into another world. This one a site in plain sight, an tall apartment building in the lower East Side of Manhattan where six Angulo brothers and their sister were locked away by their parents. Home-schooled and deeply immersed in the movies, an oddball combination, they lived a surreal life until one of them escaped and the director became their “first friend” outside the family.

Conversations with Steve Hoy cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time with hardly a discernible path to look back on once you hang up. A science fiction buff, he somehow got around to “Illustrated Man,” the 1969 movie with a clunky Rod Steiger whose tattoos came alive for anyone who looked too close. Peggi added it to our queue. Ray Bradbury’s book must have been better than the movie. With most people running out of space for tattoos today, it is ripe for and updated film version.

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(Fill) In The Loop

Huge pile of dirt for fill-in of the Inner Loop in Rochester, New York

It is certainly possible to correct your mistakes but often it takes forever to realize that you made a mistake. The Inner Loop, circling downtown Rochester, alleviated traffic alright. It choked the life out of the city core. Colorblind James used to lead chants at their gigs of “Fill in the Inner Loop.” Chuck (Colorblind) is gone now and soon one half of the loop will be buried as well. Let’s hope the new development in this area, the former moat between the Park Avenue neighborhood and downtown, will not resemble a freakin’ theme park.

The Brian Wilson movie, is really good. Not because it sheds any new light on the band for lifelong fans (I am one) but because the music comes first including long recreations of the making of “Good Vibrations,” “Pet Sounds” and the “Smile” sessions. I never get tired of the many official and unofficial boots of Brian and the studio musicians tracking and orchestrating snippets of these classic songs and,
in fact, appreciate Brian’s genius more and more as the years go by. A funny notion for a surf band.

The movie could never be “great” because the music it is based on is “great.” The movie can only pale. Elizabeth Banks, playing Brian’s second wife, was better than both the young and older Brian actors. Can somebody play “Surf’s Up” at my funeral? Sorry Van Dyke Parks, I have no idea what those words are about but I love Brian’s music and voice.

Which brings me to Ornette’s passing. As the headline in the paper read, he “Rewrote the Language of Jazz.” He rewrote it so I could get it under my skin. My first Ornette lp was “Science Fiction.” Maybe the two hauntingly beautiful vocal songs pulled me in, ‘All My Life” and “What Reason Could I Give?.” They may have been the footing I needed for the music. Ed Blackwell’s drums blew me away. Charlie Haden’s bass playing is god-like. And Ornette’s totally unique, joyous sax had me dancing in my head. From there the rest of the catalog took hold of me. Long live Ornette!!!!

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Golden Years

Rick's snowblower in Spring

“I remember when that song was just bad.” Ben Stiller’s character in “While We’re Young” couldn’t resist telling Adam Driver’s character this when he heard Toto’s “Eye of the Tiger.” And the funny thing is it does sound good now. Noah Boaumbach’s movie is a real mashup of generations and hipness, dying art forms and new technology, a real clash of those with their best years receding and those with them ahead. It has been awhile since we came out of a movie we immediately wanted to see again. You want to be able to recall more lines so you can toss them off in similar situations the way Dave Mahoney, who died nine years years tomorrow, used to do.

This is Boaumbach’s best movie yet, better than the “Squid and The Whale,” way better than “Francis Ha” and giant leap from “Greenberger,” the real precursor to this one. Ben Stiller is fearless. Not afraid to do anything on screen. If it isn’t him speaking, his facial reactions, his expressions, his body language, the way he walks, rides a bike or dances, he is so on he steals every scene.

Louise‘s brother, a frequent Boaumbach extra, is in the movie, this time playing a goofy shaman who oversees a ceremony where mushrooms are ingested, the participants puke and the shaman takes off with a young girl on his moped.

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Don’t Touch Me

Soundtrack LP to the movie "Five Easy Pieces"

If I joined Spotify and shared my country compilation there would sure to be some missing links. I only version of Tammy Wynette’s amazing “Don’t Touch Me” that I have is the one on the soundtrack to “Five Easy Pieces.” Yes, “Stand By Your Man” and “D I V O R C E” are on there but it is this song that kills me. Billy Sherrill produced it work and like so many George Jones hits it still sounds great.

This is one of the best soundtrack albums we have. And it is not available as a download. I thought, “surly it is a collectable lp” so searched it on Amazon. $3.99, the same price we payed when we bought the lp in 1971. With long bits of dialog and all of Bobby’s monologue when he visits his dying father, the album is as moving as the movie. The dark, dreamy Chopin, Bach and Mozart pieces mixed with Tammmy Wynette, Karen Black and Jack Nicholson is pure genius.

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Three Women

RGE circle on street in front of our house

You know how it gets in the depth of winter, you don’t see your neighbors for weeks at a time. Well we headed out for a walk the other day and ran into Jared who told us he was just inspecting the work RGE had done in front of Diane’s house. He said Diane had called him to find out if he knew what was going on out there. If I wanted to know what was going on I couldn’t think of a better call to place either. Jared thinks the power company may be preparing to replace the gas lines that run down our street. Or maybe the artists on staff there were charged with brightening up our dreary, grey landscape.

Our red envelope of the week contained “Finding Vivian Maier” and it is just fantastic. It is fantastic because Vivian’s photos are so incredible, in league with Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus and Robert Frank but a true original. Working as a nanny and completely unknown as an artist in her lifetime, her treasure trove of negatives could be the greatest garage sale find in history. She was damaged in some way but had finely tuned observation skills. She followed her nose on the street and brought back an extraordinary record of of what it’s like to be human.

Diana Vreeland is a dynamo. I knew next to nothing about her other than her name and that Warhol probably did a portrait of her. Seems like she was always in Interview magazine but I just never caught up with her until this documentary, “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel.” Vreeland was a first rate creative artist. OK, she wasn’t the best mother. The movie is exhilerating.

While I’m reading “Kansas City Lightning” Peggi finished “Joni Mitchell – In Her Own Words” by Malka Marom and that led to another viewing of “Joni Mitchell – Woman of Heart and Mind: A Life Story” in which the author of the book makes an appearance. I was knocked out by “Ladies of the Canyon” and still love it to this day. “Circle Game” is one of the songs I’d put on a playlist for my funeral. And I enjoyed the way Joni scolded the audience here when she opened for Dylan in 1998. Performances like that stick with you.

It might be time for another screening of Altman’s “Three Women.”

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No Regrets

Mute swan (invasive species) Lake Eastman, Rochester, New York

Did the day really just zip by or did I miss something? I read the paper while Peggi was at yoga and we took a long walk around Lake Eastman when she came back. We stained the old door we bought at Rehouse. It is solid wood and maybe a hundred years old. It was labeled an exterior door but we cut it down and hung it in our bathroom. We’re waiting for some foggy glass to come from the glass guy.

We caught the early show of “Wild” on Louise‘s recomendation. It was kinda of hard to watch Reese Witherspoon in shorts and no hat as she walked through the California desert but by the halfway point I had suspended the whole reality thing and took in the beauty of life lived without regrets.

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Soundtrack Factory

Kid on utility company spool, Rochester, New York

Karen Black is amazing. Her character, part man part woman, makes a dramatic, late entrance. Sandy Dennis is terrific. Kathy Bates is is sensational but Cher is way fantastic. This movie may have gotten better with age, so many factors being relevant. That led into another viewing of the “The Long Goodbye” with a nice “Extra” from Altman himself. We might just go around with another Altman fest, something we need to do every few years.

We caught a mini Norman McLaren fest a few nights ago at the Dryden. Early, animated shorts of McClaren wrestling with a chair to Ravi Shankar music and hand drawn film frames set to a beautiful Oscar Peterson soundtrack and his 1968 masterpiece, “Pas de deux.”

Margaret Explosion has a New Year’s Eve gig at the Little, a cause for celebration. I’m bringing our projector. Bob’s bringing a hard drive of movies. We will supply the soundtrack.

Oh, and we almost let the holidays slip by without a screening of “Christmas With The Devil.” Thanks to Angel for reminding us.

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The Drum Movies

Mural on old water tower on East Main Street in Rochester, New York

Even after reading this review in the New Yorker I still wanted to see “Whiplash” and what better opportunity than the $5 Monday Night Movies at the Little. I loved it. A bit aggressive but intense and pretty close to what I imagine music school to be like and more importantly the exploration of the drive aspect in art making was well worth the five bucks. And Sean behind the bar at the Little, an opera major at the Eastman, confirmed the picture.

“Birdman,” tonight’s feature presentation at the Little started off but really grabbed me about five minutes in, about the time Edward Norton took the stage. And it was really a stage. The movie is theatrical production of a play and that is where it worked magic. I loved watching the actors dig deep to make the fake real. Too bad they had to get goofy near the end with Michael Keaton flying in his underwear. The soundtrack was brilliant. Mostly drums played by Antonio Sanchez. He was just in town last week with Pat Methaney’s band.

Tomorrow, for the third night in a row, we make the same trip down Culver to the Little Theater Café for the record release party of the psychedelic jazz combo, Margaret Explosion.

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La Passion

Door on side of Christ Church in Rochester New York

Christ Church, next to RoCo in downtown Rochester, was packed last night a showing of “La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc,” a 1927 silent movie that is available on YouTube for free. Marc Hamilton was projecting the Criterion DVD of the movie on the big screen and the faculty of the Eastman School of Music were improvising a soundtrack on the two organs, the Baroque one in the balcony of the rear of the church and the Romantic one off to the left of the alter. They were joined by the Christ Church Schola Cantorum, a sacred music choral ensemble who were also improvising with guidelines provided by the director. This soundtrack was one step beyond pulling out all the stops as is fitting for this masterpiece of a movie.

I’ve seen the movie a few times and am looking forward to seeing it many more. I want to get back to drawing the faces from the movie.

Here is my blog post from April 2012, my first experience with this movie:
Paul Dodd charcoal drawing entitled "Still From Passion Of St Joan 01" 2012

They really were better actors in the silent days. If you don’t believe me check out 1928 movie “The Passion of Joan of Arc”, “one of the greatest movies of all time” according to the Netflix envelope. The expressions on the actors faces are so over the top I kept wanting to pause the dvd and take a photo. Cindy Sherman could have shaped her whole career with this movie. No movie has ever effected me this way. I couldn’t wait to watch it again in the morning before the sun light steams into the room and wrecks the mood.

Joan is a heroine in France and a saint but in the fifteenth century her claims of divine guidance were met by the church hierarchy with a drawn out trial and death by burning at the stake. This movie portrays the leering old men of the cloth in devastating fashion as they challenge Joan on her manly dress and push for details on her vision of Saint Michael at one point asking “Was he naked?” They wish. And they couldn’t wait to pile into the torture room to exact a toll on nineteen year old Joan.

The poor church did not like the way they were portrayed and the movie was denounced, cut, and burned just like Joan was. So little has changed this movie could have been made today! Perfect fare for a Good Friday evening. I hesitate to mention that the entire movie is available on YouTube because you really should see the higher res Criterion Collection dvd.

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