The day before yesterday, America began its sixth year of life with Richard Nixon. Since Nixon took over, movies in America have been picking up--the screen these days in loaded with more energy than we've seen in this country for two decades.
Not to say that 1973 was such a remarkable year. There were the hits (Deep Throat) the bombs (Lost Horizon), the sensations (Last Tango in Paris) and the sensation-mongers (The Exorcist), the uppers (Happy New Year) and the downers (Slither), the hype-mades (The Long Goodbye), the homemades (Joyce at 34) and the readymades (Paper Moon and The Paper Chase--real paste-up jobs), the libbers (A Doll's House), the lobbers (Bang the Drum Slowly), and the cops and robbers movies playing red-light green-light with the good-guy hot seat--clearly the list eludes an all-embracing label.
It was a year for experimentation, for novelty--movies were more controversial than ever. What was new in most every movie of this most auspicious year, was not the ugliness of the world, but people's powerlessness in its face. There was an ongoing sense that the scene has gone out of control. If the world's not doomed (Mean Streets), it's irrational (Don't Look Now); if it's not confined (Papillon, American Graffiti), it's corrupt, inconvertibly so (Serpico, Day of the Dolphin, Paper Moon, etc). And--most apparent in this year of sidekicks and Kung Fu, women in the movies are less in evidence than ever.
But the list, alphabetically.
American Graffiti could have presented a too-easy picture of bygone days, showing off about detail, dressing up the present in period costume while having nothing to say, like so many other "nostalgia" films. Instead, when this movie gives us manners, culture and seemingly superficial trends, it does so with a sense of history that is key to the attitudes of the characters involved. In 1962, a generation was desperate and restless, bursting out of its skin. As it began to define itself against the constant background of radio and TV, a get-up-and-go, frontier mentality built up, confused but real, only to find expression later in the decade. Here in '62, though, before the assassination, the experience of the civil rights movement, the Beatles and the war consciousness, the energy was bottled. The inhibitions of the fifties were so constraining that there wasn't much to do but hop into your drag racer and drive around, going nowhere, burning energy. When the film focuses on the hot rods, the rock and roll and the cheeseburgers, then it is getting at forces operating behind a generation teetering on the brink of a changing world.
Autumn Afternoon. Directed by Yasujiro Ozu, his 53rd and final film, made in 1963 and released here for the first time this year. It is a profoundly simple movie about an aged widower hanging onto and inhibiting an only daughter who has reached marriageable age. An older Japanese culture of tradition and ceremony is giving way before a newer Japan caught up in a mad scramble for things: golf clubs, refrigerators handbags. It is a realized testament to the Ozu art (Tokyo Story is the best known of his films); the still camera hugs the floor, the rhythmed sound and patterned surfaces give his subjects the dignity due them.
Day for Night. Another sweet movie by Truffaut, this may be more autobiographical than the others (400 Blows was the first in the line), as he plays himself. Starring Jean-Pierre Leaud, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Jacqueline Bisset, and Valentina Cortese, it is about the making of a movie called "Meet Pamela." Truffaut is perhaps too enamored, wistfully so, of his material--movie-making comes off as an experiment in building T-group togetherness. The actors live harder than the parts they play, high all the time off the magic of movie-making. The movie itself is pieced together out of bits of the actors' lives that develop in the course of its making. It's rather a haphazard day-by-day process, highly prone to accidents that to derail it irrevocably--all very nicely de-mystified. It's the personality of Truffaut though, more than anything else, that makes Day for Night. You can't help but like him. No matter his conventional tastes, his whimsies and antis and fancy flights that paint the world as child's play. He's got an innocence that informs everything he touches--it can make the small things work wonders on the nerves, and the big things worth believing, occasionally.
Don't Look Now. It's worth being careful how you approach Don't Look Now, which opened here for the first time yesterday, because it doesn't operate on a level of ideas, and extracting a coherent linear reason from it is well-high impossible. Beautifully crafted, like the Henry James stories of Venice and the supernatural, Nicholas Roeg's picture works subliminally, its momentum of mystery sensitizing an audience like only the finest thrillers can. Here the method is a connecting set of visual imagery that tampers with the evenness of reality, giving everyday objects a threatening countenance, making the unseen real. Starring Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie, and Venice.
Friend of Eddie Coyle. With Robert Mitchum. This may have been the best movie of the summer though you would never know it from the reception it got. It bombed almost everywhere except in Boston, and where it was said that the movie owed its success to its realistic handling of the local environment. The movie did much more; it's perhaps the only gangster story with social roots intact. The story is about the low-level gangster's underworld of Boston--of petty cooks beating out colleagues for petty cash, of 'friends' betraying 'friends' for survival in this dog-eat-dog gangster's game--and of the dreams that keep them going, the Florida vacation or the hot piece of ass. It's an honest movie, true clean through to the crooked tale it tells.
The Harder They Come. Starring Jimmy Cliffe. The movie quickly became something of a cult phenomenon. And why shouldn't it have? It's got everything: set in a Jamaican ghetto under sunny blue skies, the movie looks like a travelogue; a reggae singe on the up and up is bullied and beaten down by the local fat king of the record business; he falls for a sweet young thing, innocent ward of the neighborhood preacher, and then shows up the preacher's God-stricken ranting and moaning and raving as plain lechery. His ambition as a rock star thwarted, he joins the genga trade--shots of blitz-eyed traders wearing shades and a leopard skin vest he twirls two pistols in parody--the Western hero turned outcase. One the run, a hunted man, his record becomes a super hit; a doomed man, he reaps a martyr's glory--at this point the movie gets boring--he dodges the cops a while longer and then gets shot up on the beach. Three guesses as to why Jimmy Cliff was so quickly initiated into the local pantheon of counterculture super-stars. This man on the run from the straight world is Easy Rider and Mick Jagger balled up in one.
I.F. Stone's Weekly is crammed with devices of simultaneity simply because there are so many dimensions to the journalist's style and achievement. But the force of personality in Jerry Bruck's crisp, clear documentary is very simple: Stone is a kind of fanatic, a crazyman--squinting out at the world from behind thick glasses, he is dogged in his commitment to investigative reporting. In Washington, where lying is the local dialect, Stone has to be eccentric, avoiding the cocktail circuit and the large, compromised publications, working like mad to interpret volumes of rhetoric. He's a unique and admirable figure, whose contribution to the public's right to know spans 20 years. I.F. Stone was one of the few positive forces in movies this year, a hero, a man with cause, someone to take seriously.
Last Tango in Paris. "A movie that people will be arguing about for as long as there are movies. Bernardo Bertolucci and Marlon Brando have altered the face of an art form." Well. Pauline Kael started it all with these words, and it was inevitable that parody would flourish to a point where Buchwald could talk of a dumb movie about the Parisian housing shortage and two apartment-hunters who find a rundown flat and spend a lot of time rolling around trying to measure it for a carpet. But it's not typical for anyone to skip joyously unaffected out of the theater after this one--it's more like being at the mercy of an I.V. in reverse. Brando's performance is an extraordinarily personal statement, and the obscurity of Bertolucci's ideas is less important than the hot, close emotional impact of a life short-circuiting trying to catch fire to another on the way.
Mean Streets. Audiences reacted violently to Mean Streets, justly so, because this brutal screeching vision of streetcorner life in Little Italy is as hard to ignore as a fire in the theater. Certaily this semi-biographical film is daring enough-Martin Scorsese toys with improvisational acting, extremely stylized directing and a dialogue built around an idiom of cliches, and so laid himself open to charges of amateurishness. But there is nothing naive about the feeling for conditioned response and social context in the characterizations here. Scorsese, Robert de Niro and others give the streets a searing energy, a rat's den's sense of confinement, that drives people to self-destruct. The whole surface of this picture quivers with a violence on the edge of explosion.
State of Siege. Costa-Gavras' latest political drama (following Z and The Confession) written by Franco Solinas who scripted The Battle of Algiers. It was hailed as a masterpiece by one local Marxist critic, and as a radical hype by Pauline Kael. She liked the message of the movie which castigated American imperialism; what she disliked, and rightly, was he slick surface that injects the message into your veins without giving you the data needed to consider the issues raised. Yves Montand has the sort of impeccably cool father face perfect for the part he plays. His role is based recognizably on the life and death of assassinated AID official Dan Mitrione, who was trained in the U.S. to operate in close undercover conjunction with the repressive police in Brazil and Uruguay. Montand is so good because this dream of a family man is so unconscious an oppressor, or rather he's brainwashed himself right into his business.