A Cinema of Paradise: Carne, Bogart, Astaire ... ... Woody, Dustin, and Deliverance-- from finals
The Children of Paradise. A true epic, deeply compelling, visually unforgettable. Marcel Carne's masterpiece is set in eighteenth-century France, among the clowns, thieves, actors, pickpockets and peasants. It's impossible to do justice to this film in a mere paragraph, this story of three artists (an actor, a mime, and a murderer) who love the same woman, and must cope with their passion and jealousy in startlingly different ways. Carne's characters revel in theatrics; illusion and reality smash into each other, driving each man to the very brink of his art, to the terrifying edge of truth. Jean-louis Barrault's famous, pantomimed re-enactment of an attempted pocket-pick, his face frozen in existential melancholy, is one of the most gaspingly, startlingly, fascinatingly magnificent scenes in world cinema. Beautiful, hilarious, tragic, one of the greatest movies ever made.
West Side Story. Well. Well well. Hmmm.... Yes. Hate to say it, but I think this film is shit. That's a highly personal opinion--the movie won a ton of Oscars and has left millions sobbing away for poor Natalie Wood. Steal "Romeo and Juliet"--or borrow it under the pretense of "relevantizing" it (as if it weren't already relevant), throw in some beautiful and awful songs and bits of schlockified Copland by Leonard Bernstein, give it a pseudo-daring "tough" script by ol' Arthur Laurents.... well, the ingredients are right for a classic stage, and then film musical. The Whites against the Puerto-Ricans here (you notice there are no blacks--it would be illegal for Natalie Wood to go black-face), and the damn thing is so ridiculously dated, so badly dubbed (the singing, that is--it may remind you of TV variety show dubbing), and so obviously "acted," that it should stand as one of the most howlingly, unintentionally bad movies ever to come out of Hollywood. Which means you'll love it, expecially during reading period.
The 12th International Tournee of Animation is coming to Carpenter Center, and you ought to get over there too. And tonight (Thursday), British filmmaker Peter Watkins will introduce his documentary Edvard Munch. This is one of the most successful attempts ever made as cinematically depicting the life of an artist, with documentary as well as conventional narrative footage. The life and work of one of the twentieth century's greatest expressionist artists--unappreciated during his lifetime--takes three hours to cover, but they're highly stimulating, educational and visually rewarding. And it's free. Watkins is one of the cinema's most exciting young political filmmakers.
The Band Wagon. These are the best musicals: the ones about the addictive greasepaint itself. And this Vincente Minelli masterpiece comes delightfully close to topping them all. It swirls and taps about a musical within a musical, featuring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse as two cool professionals who warm up like toaster coils in the course of the production. Jack Buchanan, as the director, is a portrait in Orson Welles-like pomposity and does some hoofing to match the skinny master himself. Somehow Charisse managed to write a three-minute "classical" dance number into her contract, and in the middle of the shuffling it seems out of sync. But the rest just hops. In two clever parts dreamed up by screenwriters Comden and Green, Oscar Levant and Nannette Fabray star as two writers who carry on like--who else? Comden and Green.
Rules of the Game. A good case could be made for this film as the best comedy ever made. It is certainly Renoir's best film. Renoir's work generally involves a search for a community to identify with in French society, whether aristocracy, bourgeoisie, peasantry or working class. This quest often leads to the sentimental conclusion that such an identification is possible--a denouement that marks such otherwise great films as "Grand Illusion." But in "Rules of the Game," Renoir rejects false resolutions. Though the film seems to identify itself sporadically with the aspirations of different characters--the eccentric aristocrat, his Viennese wife, the romantic aviator, and Octave (played by Renoir himself)--the movie ultimately demonstrates all their limitations. Renoir blows the form of romantic comedy apart. In the process, he constructs a work of great subtlety and complexity, which in the starkness of its vision conveys the difficulties of finding any viable way to live in bourgeois society.
Annie Hall. This won this year's Oscar for Best Picture, but don't hold that against it. It's Woody Allen's warmest, deepest, and funniest motion-picture, and better than that, it's a tantalizing promise of more to come from a brilliant writer/director. The story of Woody and Diane. Alvy and Annie, two absurd, lonely people who cling to each other because they're afraid no one else will really see how special they are. Some classic sequences: Keaton stuttering, giggling, gesticulating outside an indoor tennis stadium, slapping herself in frustration, dithering enchantingly; Allen grimacing in a movie-line at the inane, pretentious chatter of the man in back of him; lobsters, spiders, roller-coasters, cartoons and inventive use of overlapping dialogue (as good or better than Altman's). If you haven't seen it--who are you? If you have, you'll like it even better the second time around.
M. Fritz Lang's masterpiece, one of the crowning narrative works of German expressionism. An extraordinary world of little girls' singing and agonizing hushes, where a child-molester (Peter Lorre), quietly walks the streets. A profound and moving examination of criminal ethics, of justice and insanity, with Lorre's most fascinating performance.
Deliverance. James Dickey's powerful novel has been faithfully translated to the screen by director John Boorman in this very disturbing film. Four good ole boys canoe down a remote country river and find survival in the wilderness to be more than they can handle. As the self-confident superjock who leads the expedition, Burt Reynolds actually gets to act--something he hasn't done since. Jon Voight and Ned Beatty are also excellent. (The latter's "squeal like a pig" scene is a memorably gruesome portrayal of humiliation.) The film has a great deal of violence, and a long, agonizing sequence in which Voight tortuously scales the face of a cliff. But ultimately "Deliverance" is most upsetting in its suggestion that civilize man has lost his primitive self-sufficiency. James Dickey has a chilling cameo as a small town sheriff; and yes, this is the movie that made "Dueling Banjos" a hit. (Though purists will note that the duel is actually between a banjo and a guitar.)
Now then. This is the last WHAT of the academic year, and hence I'm writing my last column until next fall. Movies, however, go on and on and on and on--thank God. You'll be working hard no doubt--shit, I will be too--but for your sanity's sake, as well as your soul's, get out and enjoy a few movies. Here are some things which will be around from now until the end of May, whizzing by at Harvard Square, or relaxing a spell at the Brattle or Central. Old favories, must-sees:
For God's sake get out to Harvard-Epworth Church, at least once. Their schedules are posted all over the place--there's some interesting Lang, good Ophuls, and on May 14 a whole evening of works by local filmmakers. They're also exceptionally nice people and irrepressable film buffs, and they could use your contributions. Please. They help keep the classic, the forgotten, and the eclectic alive and well.
Good film noir at the Central Square:
The Long Goodbye. Unbeatable Altman, blue and very funny. Elliot Gould makes sense as a transposed Philip Marlowe, although the best surprise in the movie comes from Mark Rydell's country-club gangster. May 10 through 16.
Black and White in Color. The big surprise of last spring's Academy Awards ceremony came when this little known film upset favorite "Cousin, Cousine" to capture the Best Foreign Film Oscar. And deservedly so: "Black and White in Color" is an extraordinarily intelligent and sophisticated allegory, a thematically subtle, visually striking film in many ways reminiscent of Phillippe De Broca's anti-war fable "The King of Hearts." But while DeBroca's film represented an attack on the absurdity of war and the modern world in general, "Black and White in Color" functions not only as a broad anti-war and anti-colonialist allegory, but also as a devastating, blackly humorous indictment of early 20th century European--particularly French--culture and politics. Writer-director Jean-Jacques Annaud has an unnerving eye for both the humor and pathos in the situations he portrays, and the result is both entertaining and thought-provoking.
Small Change. Taking in this new Truffaut is like leafing through a photoalbum of adorable kid pictures. Call this movie a funny, touching toast to the gameness of gamins. Settling into the day-to-day routine of a comfortable French provincial town, Truffaut introduces us, through loosely coordinated vignettes, to all the little grade school tykes and all their mischievous goings-on. This stuff could have become soupy, but Truffaut has retained a clever rascal's nose for stage-stealing devilry. (One example: the town detective's daughter refused to accompany her parents to a restaurant without a mangy toy elephant. But when they leave her at home, she pleads abuse to the neighbors, who fall for it and prepare her a special gourmet care package.) Truffaut does not lean heavy on the social commentary, as he did in "The 400 Blows," his first film about growing pains. He's less angry, less insistent, and generally less involved. He lets the town kids take over. And they delight.
And if you're a Bogart fan (and who isn't?) all the goodies, The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not, The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, etc., will be at the Brattle Cinema as part of their annual Bogart festival. Here's looking at you. kid.