ph. Jonathan Loek for BlogTO
Ah, the Carlton. You have given me fond memories. Seeing “Ballast” by myself, Seeing “The Damned United” by myself. To clarify, ‘by myself’ doesn’t mean I didn’t go with someone, it means I was the only one in the room. I could text people, move seats. I’m gonna rephrase Norman Wilner that the Carlton was where short run art movies stayed for months. Watching the movies I listed above felt like discovering it, and yes, it’s a little sad that the movies I’ve listed above weren’t seen by more people despite the greatest performances and visual uniqueness packed in those films. The setting and circumstances might have helped that feeling of discovery.
There’s also seeing “House of Sand,” the first movie I saw in that theatre, and “Road to Guantanamo,” both were pieces of crap. I watched one after the other with my family. It made me realize that not all foreign films are good and that Showcase lied to me. My sister and I decided that the movie theatre is cursed with bad foreign films, vowed to never come. However, the Carlton kept luring me in and I kept coming.
There’s also seeing either “Son of Rambow” and “How My Parents Went on Vacation,” both great movies by the way, and losing my glasses in watching either of those movies – I never found them and never got them replaced. Don’t tell mom. I also saw “Bright Star” there which is one of the best movies I’ve seen.
Tonight my schedule should have been “Away From Her” and “Julie and Julia” but knowing that Atom Egoyan will be there and I haven’t seen him at the Cinematheque, this is my chance to bother him about “Chloe.”
Tonight will also be my first time downtown since the weekend. Although I tweeted about last weekend furiously I haven’t said a word about it here. I don’t know how sad I’ll feel seeing my city’s scars but I still wanna see it and I feel like a coward not being there for her at her worst.
This entry is also the first one I’ve written since the weekend and planning to back to the Carlton got my energy back. The next entry will be one on “Mean Girls.”
The Robin Wood retrospective offered a film by my second favourite director, Michael Haneke. He directs like a painter. In “Code inconnu,” Anne’s (Juliette Binoche) boyfriend’s teenage brother Jean throws food wrapping at a beggar named Maria (Luminata Gheorgiu), angering Amadou, a young bystander.
Wood said of the first eight minutes of the film as “among the most astonishing instances of virtuosity in the entire history of mise-en-scène.” It’s not showy, and subtlety must be part of the criteria for a great long take. Haneke makes the conversations as the star instead of his own camerawork, and the events in the background are unmistakably authentic. The scene shows the experience of new Paris like any other city, with unrelated events and shops strung together in a street. When something happens like a confrontation between two teenagers, it feels more like a steady fire than an explosion.
This film uses Binoche in her best capabilities, and it’s a sadness as a latent actress lover that I haven’t had a chance to watch all of her films, especially the ones in French. That said, I’m ambivalent about Anne. She’s an inconsistent actress – she delivers one of the intentionally worst readings of Shakespeare on film – she’s passionate about the people in her life, and she’s probably racist. I do have a few problems with her character. Why does she have the worst wardrobe in Paris? Why would she be grumpy to a boyfriend that hot? Why wouldn’t she complain about her neighbours?
The same questions arise with the other characters. Why is Jean unhappy about both the city and the country? Why does Maria go back to Paris after being deported, as the film shows how happy she is in Romania? Why is Amadou so nice all of a sudden? And does Anne’s boyfriend Georges realize how creepy it is to take people’s pictures on the subway?
The man who introduced the film also said that the film encapsulates the capitalist lifestyle that continuously exploits. Another way of looking at the film is that terrible things happen to four people and more terrible things happen to them while they go on their separate ways. It doesn’t stop. It’s an onslaught on anomie and cruelty coming from strangers, yet they’re not more angry as they should.
This film’s one of the greatest movie about cities, perfectly capturing the meanness and cadence of urban streets. It shows multiculturalism as tense yet not in an aggressive way. It lets people meet and meet again in different places and circumstances, and one seeing another like a different person than before. And it shows people being alone in a densely populated area. This is also surprisingly one of Haneke’s most accessible films, neither sprawl-y nor thesis-y like his other, more acclaimed films. Also, if you’re a fan on colour blind casting or acting, this movie might be for you. The names Luminata Gheorgiu and Maurice Benichou – the latter merely has a bit part, but I care not – are now in my mind. I hope so will be yours when you watch this.
And I will never forget that ending.
Oh, Joan Fontaine. She tells a character’s story like it’s her own. For less than a decade in her career she’s been playing little girls who grow up. Her performance is Max Ophuls’ “Letter from an Unknown Woman” made me remember “Rebecca” and start my ‘Best Female Performances’ list, but that’s still too big a task for me. She’s like the precursor to actresses like Kirsten Dunst, the latter having played teenagers for 15 years in her career.
Lisa Berndle (Fontaine) experiences an unrequited love with an egotistic pianist, Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan). Her earlier mannerisms are waif-y and awkward but she grows into a poised but nonetheless oblivious and idealist of a woman. Her voice is more full and thus distracting this time around. That also means she puts just as much sympathy and maturity to her character the same way that Jourdan does with Stefan.
The characters are still placed within the constraints of a melodrama. I love melodramas but I can’t find a place in my heart for this one. Lisa’s still a stalker. She must have known how Stefan would treat her knowing that he goes through women. She feels no anger for him despite his forgetfulness and how he has not supported their child. Also, despite of how bad his actions look on paper, the film doesn’t blatantly show a streak of meanness on Stefan. However, if the audience had a bigger hint of that, they might have walked out in droves.
What I also appreciate in “Letter” is Ophuls’ auteur-like touch on the film. There’s the long take camerawork that follows its subjects like a carousel. There’s diamonds and glitz and trumpets and music. There’s also the little freedom that the he allows female characters, like he does in parts of “The Earrings of Madame de…”. I’m not an expert on classic melodrama, but I can’t imagine any early female characters allowed to have a second marriage or a marriage after a second child, or the social mobility involving with a 19th century model marrying a general. With Ophuls’ worldview and Fontaine’s performance, it also seems like the movie is more about the fun Lisa had along the way instead of the tragedy that befalls her, and both feel refreshing.
Maybe early Kurosawa and me aren’t just meant to be, with the exception of “The Seven Samurai.” There’s something about “The Idiot” that I can’t fully immerse myself into. The film is about one idealistic man who finds himself involved in the lives of a few families in a Japanese city. Is it because the film doesn’t allow any of its characters a chance of full happiness? Does it try to cover and juggle too many plots and characters? Or maybe it’s because we’re seeing the work of a man who’s just starting out?
I’m part of the immature ilk whose reductive assessment of the film would be “zOMG, Japanese people in Western clothing! Loves it!” The film is a balance of post-war Japan and Dostoyevsky as the story’s source material. New, Western customs add to old customs, the caste system still exists, some people get ostracized, everyone is miserable. The audience can even over-read the three-footer snow as metaphorical of the heavy burden that society places on its characters.
If anything, this is the also the hardest Kurosawa’s actors have worked so far – I’ll find out if I’m wrong by the time I see “Ran” in three weeks. Toshiro Mifune, before his stardom, actually relaxes his face in some of the scenes. The female characters are still bitchy, but they freely flow from acidic to damaged to vulnerable. And we like bitchy, right guys?
I also borrowed my first Dostoyevsky from the library, a daunting task with all 643 pages of small print. Maybe this big, heavy key will unlock a few things and offer me more insight towards the film.
I saw this movie a week or two ago and I was really worried that this article might be too late. The politics in this film doesn’t fit like a puzzle piece in the events this week. Nonetheless, how timely is it with riots going on to write about a movie with riots going on?
This movie’s so ambitious and powerful I don’t know where to start. It’s a hidden highlight of the careers of the film’s actors like Brando, Fonda and Redford. It’s also one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, but then again I change my mind about that a lot.
“The Chase,” directed by Arthur Penn by and is a Lillian Hellman adaptation from a Horton Foote novel. It centres on small town Texas, troubled by one of their own, Bubber Reeves (Robert Redford), who escapes from prison. I’ve read a lot of Lillian Hellman lately, who fills her stage mostly with a family or group of friends who exploit the unseen lower classes. However, the movie is just as much an Arthur Penn vehicle, shaping this film as a western in plain clothes, as American decadence while putting violence and the youth’s rebellion in the mix.
I understand that the film uses its first act for introductions, which some viewers see as a bit tedious, but it’s better for the film to answer those questions in the beginning instead of doing so for the rest of the movie. Bubber’s escape is a problem for the town’s citizens. Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) wants to keep Bubber safe from a mob, but his good intentions and clouded by Val Rogers’ (E.G. Marshall) bribing. Bubber’s wife, Anna (Jane Fonda, the best actress of New Hollywood, but we’ll talk about that later), wants to leave him for Val’s son Jake. Bubber’s mother (Miriam Hopkins) wants his son back and even considers selling it to her contemptuous neighbours. Edwin (Robert Duvall, subtle this time) becomes paranoid since he’s taken money that all has accused Bubber of stealing.
Unlike Hellman’s earlier plays, we finally get to see in Bubber, a lower class victim, as a fleshed out character. Robert Redford’s amazing as Bubber that I always wonder why I doubt his acting. He’s dangerous, troubled, trashy and childlike. The movie itself divides critics then and now and Sam Kashner called him miscast. However Redford’s good looks, distracting in half of his earlier films, helped his character. If he was less attractive and more gruff, the audience wouldn’t have sympathized with him. His mother is another face of the oppressed, yet she is just as flawed. Her blind maternal love makes her lash out at Calder and despite of the little truth she bellows to the town, she can’t see his true intentions.
Besides from being a ‘contemporary western,’ it’s also a part of the ‘lynching’ sub-genre, more popular in the 1930’s and early 1940’s. In 1966 this movie adds to the genres and making the mob’s methods more terrorizing. They already don’t respect Calder, branding him as paid help by the Rogers’s and they invade his privacy about the news of Bubber’s escape. Calder takes a three-minute gang beating in his own office and home. Learning that Bubber’s in the wharf, the town leaves their sexually and alcohol-charged parties and congregates with their guns and alcohol. Instead of other ‘lynching’ films when the mob is already marching in numbers, the film lets the audience watch the mob grow. A car and then another car and then the rest of them. These people aren’t as single-minded but just as dangerous, some just wanna kill Bubber, others make him as a strange sexual icon, the rest disapprove and cynical but don’t express outrage and watch the lynching happen.
The film, however, shows larger differences in the younger generations. There is Bubber, Anna, Jake in the wharf and technically Lester is part of their group though the latter gets thrown in jail. Class and race divide the four characters yet they still found a way to grow together and help each other. Redford and Fonda shows great chemistry and rawness as a couple, finding romance just before the end. Unfortunately the town separates them from each other. I felt dread when the teenagers started throwing Molotovs and burning tires and throwing them at Bubber’s direction, the visuals effectively horrifying in the big screen. Kids should know not to follow their parents bad behaviour but they do. The youth’s participation in this brutality shows Hellman and Penn’s stark worldviews and makes the town hopeless. And yes, for those things it makes this movie more shocking than Penn’s next film, “Bonnie and Clyde.”
1966 and to a lesser extent 1965 were crap yet some films release in those years seemed to have opened the floodgates for 1967 and New Hollywood. To understand the films of 1967, we have to look at some of the films a director did a year before. “The Chase” gave way to “Bonnie and Clyde.” Mike Nichols gave us “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” before giving us “The Graduate,” which should have won Best Picture that year. Stanley Kramer’s troubled idealism in “Ship of Fools” helps him and us into “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Richard Brooks shows the guns in “The Professionals” and eventually in “In Cold Blood” (To be honest, Richard Brooks is the Cezanne of New Hollywood in a way that he was pedantic until he discovered the rebellion of the 60’s).
And for every week era in Hollywood, foreign films step in to do the job. Godard followed the cool “Masculin Feminin” with the dangerous “Le Weekend.” Melville follows “Le Deuxieme Souffle” with the slick “Le Samourai.” Films released in 1966 include “The Battle of Algiers,” “Blow-Up,” “Aflie” and many more that I haven’t gotten into. 1967 is an all out party while 1965-6 is a tight rope walk, but I kinda wanna see the latter instead.
Saw this at NFB as part of the LuminaTO festival. Most of these reasons are Tim Burton related.
It’s pre-“Big Fish” Tim Burton. Nothing wrong with that movie, but what’s wrong is what comes after that.
It’s light and colourful, the exact opposite of his moodier films.
Tim Burton actually uses real mise-en-scene instead of CGI, the latter devoid of humanity.
The art director and the director of photography worked hard, especially for Pee Wee’s house. I want that house now.
Because Rube Goldbergs are awesome.
Because Danny Elfman emulates Bernard Hermann (no relation?) in this movie, of all places.
Because as much as it makes fun of childhood’s absurdities, it’s very honest about its fears and losses.
I love children’s movies with dirty jokes. However, don’t bring your child to watch this movie.
Because bikes are environmentally friendly.
It shows Paul Reubens in drag at least twice. And he wears said dresses on top of a suit and never breaks a sweat.
I don’t know exactly what Paul Reubens does in this movie, but it’s acting.
It changed my opinion about white men doing excellent impressions of Mr. T.
And I’ve run out of good reasons. Some parts of the movie were surprisingly tedious. And why does he have all this cool stuff and not have a job?
Sorry for the hiatus, 32 regular readers. I’ve been busy with the World Cup/ shenanigans.
The film’s focus is on maintaining order. John T. Chance (John Wayne) is middle management, the Sheriff of Presidio County, Texas. He arrests a murder suspect and does his best to keep the latter in a jail cell for six days when the Marhsall comes and takes the prisoner into a larger penitentiary. To have a John Wayne character have so much trust on slow government bureaucracy is a rare thing to watch. You’d just expect him to shoot the guy. But then again, he tries to convince the town that he can run the town by himself, so tough guy’s still there.
As Hawksian film go, the supporting characters do not believe that Chance can do it by himself. In an inspired human resources strategy, Chance reluctantly hires Dude (Dean Martin), a junior driven to alcoholism by a girl, Colorado Ryan, a young buck out to avenge his old master’s assassination and, unofficially, a histrionic ex-stripper named Feathers (Angie Dickinson). One of the main plots concern Chance’s relationship with Dude, the former not deriding the latter but actually hopes that Dude goes back to his old form. During the screening, I saw this team as the manifestation of old values, that it was easier to get a job or a second chance those days even for a drunk. Now I also realize that most of Chance’s associates asserted and fought for a place in his circle, definitely a capitalist move for those characters.
There’s a slight presence of music felt in “Rio Bravo” as in some classic Westerns. The characters in the sheriff’s office can hear the trumpets blaring the same tune played by the Mexicans who invaded the Alamo. Also and most importantly is Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson’s musical number. There are many readings of music sequences like this. To relieve tension before the final showdown. To show how civilized the sheriff/hero is. To show a growing culture in the early days of America. All of those apply to “Rio Bravo.”
This film might also be the gayest John Wayne will ever be in front of the camera. Howard Hawks is all about the bromance, after all, and John Wayne has that sense of humour about himself that nobody expects. Almost trying on red pantyhose while Feathers walks in. Kissing his crippled jail guard in the forehead. Dude being jealous, thinking Chance has replaced him with a younger gun. Making the most beautiful woman in the world wait for Chance while he’s ‘stuck at work.’ Gay. In a more serious note, Chance is a character with a homosocial bond with his fragile deputy, treating the latter like a son, which is exactly what both need and they won’t shy away from that.
There’s also Feathers as a character, who is superficially more of a whore than a mother, but she’s more complex than that. For contrast, a man in “Rio Bravo” are carte blanche. One man is wronged by a woman while another is somebody’s son, but there’s no real history of the man beyond that. They might as well be born in and by the desert. Feathers, on the other hand has traversed from city to city, from being a gambling accomplice to singing songs in her stockings. She came from somewhere, has a deeper past, the bearer and mother of old America’s past sins. Yet she came to Presidio to eventually settle down and fortunately found a man willing to overlook her past. She’s shocked and even mad at him for overlooking the fact that she’s ‘that kind of woman.’ He likes you for who you are, girl, just take him. And yes, the age difference is kinda unrealistically creepy, but they eventually find a compromise.
Rio Bravo is showing on AMC at July 1 and 2, but don’t worry, I’ll remind you again.
I’m scared because I haven’t done this before. This could have been a reunion film, but sadly, only one of them is still alive. I have rudimentary skills in looking for these names and faces, but I said that this was a good idea so here goes. And this is my blog, I can do whatever I want. And someone do this because obviously, time is running out.
John (Gianni) – Michael Douglas – He’s itching for a comeback and this can help on that leap. And he has that voice too that can be both calming and commanding at the same time. I kinda wanted Michael Caine in this role because di Gregorio reminded me of him, but I wanted a younger guy too.
Valerie (Valeria) – Elaine Stritch. Well if this is gonna be made, Betty White will have to take the meatiest role, but Stritch is more acidic.
Marina – Betty White. We love to see her be in a flirtacious diva role as always.
Mary (Maria) – Angela Lansbury. A conversation in the kitchen. Tempting another woman to eat macaroni casserole. Nobody can do it better.
Grace (Grazia) – Eva Marie Saint. She can knock a nostalgia monologue out of the park.
Al (Alfonso) – Jim Belushi. He played a suit in “The Ghost Writer,” he can play one here.
Doctor – Robin Williams. The perfect guy to light a fire on someone, and he’ll make a great impression on a small role. My first choice for this was Ian Holm, but again, age concerns.
Viking – Jeff Bridges. Everyone loves drunk Jeff Bridges. Unless he’d wanna do something different or larger from his Oscar-winning role in Crazy Heart, this is a fit for him.
“Mid August Lunch,” the only real version of the movie still with Italian actors, is showing at the Revue Cinema in Toronto from today until the 21st. Go see it now!
I couldn’t write the actual rule because it was too long – ‘Do your best not to include the history of cinema while writing about one movie,’ which is pretty much what he does every. Single. Time [Fr.]. And you know, I’m trolling [coll.] for page views so that title seemed more apt for that purpose.
With almost every post here until recently, I check out what other paid film critics say about movies so I don’t unwillingly [d. neg.] steal from them. For “Odd Man Out,” there’s one from either Variety or TV Guide of all places. Then Armond White, who wasn’t listed in RottenTomatoes as a top critic.
You know what? To rehash the Armond White thing is so last year. White’s name comes up every time someone asks who the worst presently working critic. In my pre-blogging, days, I read an interview of his and he said that he disliked P.T. Anderson “There Will Be Blood” because it was pretentious. I looked up his track record and saw that he’s fine, and by fine I mean Pauline Kael-esque. Both, by the way, are notorious for hating movies touted as classics. And if we allow Kael to have a .500 batting average and write books about it, so can White.
Back to “Odd Man Out,” White’s uses his piece on its recent screenings in Film Forum in New York to shit on “Blood,” Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” and David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” And it’s like, why do I have to hear this? Besides, “Che” was passable, “Blood” was fun (call the psych ward if you want) and “Button” pulled on the heart-strings and I saw that on a plane! If I like a movie while seeing it on a plane, it can’t be [pass.] that bad! And [conj.] I liked it not because of the lack of oxygen because everything else on a plane annoys me and I’m inside so my oxygen isn’t lacking at all!
Ok, I’m calm. I also reminded myself that there are exceptions to every rule. If you’re gonna write about a Tarantino film, go ahead and write your head off about the history of cinema. Because it’d probably all be there. But with bending rules you have to only do it once or twice. Like Ron Fair or whatshisname from the Pussycat Dolls show says, one growl per album.
Talking about the history of cinema makes you look like a dick because you’re probably telling the world that said movie is the worst thing ever made, which it’s probably not. And it makes you seem distracted. In doing something well, you must know and do the task at hand.
To remind the 26 of you who pass by, do your best not to include the history of cinema while writing about one movie. I cuss and write like a teenager, and I know to avoid doing that.
This Carol Reed directed British film noir has everything and will make you feel everything. A leader of Irish rebel group (IRA in everything but name), Johnnie McQueen (James Mason) decides to lead a part of a heist, despite his dizzy spells. A short chase scene, then the team who made the heist loses him. Everyone including the team, the police, urban bounty hunters and priests start to look for him, with slightly different motivations for doing so. The film has the intense mood that fits the genre and ages well, and it also conveys the paranoia that comes with living in a police state.
It is also, however, very funny. The humour’s not in the same vein as “The Third Man’s” absurd goodness, it’s more subtle. Dim bulbs make stupid decisions, like Johnnie’s mates who drunkenly confide in a gambling madam who is obviously gonna give them up. There’s also people who were going to have a good time in the shed where Johnnie was hiding, which would have been awkward. There’s also some intelligent humour, like the banter of two housewives who discover Johnnie. I also hope that I discovered a few firsts in movie history featured in here, like violent street children influenced by their urban playground and an actor getting kicked in the face on-screen. There’s also Johnnie, filmed from below, making a powerful speech but something he unconsciously does diminishes that power. They’ve always done everything better in Europe. The comedy within the characters’ actions is naturalistic and didn’t seem like it was selling the jokes too hard. We don’t feel like Reed is mocking the characters he’s directed. This well-balanced set of tones within one movie is instrumental in being the precursor to the Coen style of humour. But then those guys mock the people they’re filming, which they’re free to do so.
I love it when a movie examines characters going through the chaos of urban scenes. I love that here too. When Johnnie moves from his second location to a third, and we get introduced to a minor character’s friends in the second half, the film almost lost me there. The movie’s also about the last low points of a chapter leader. The audiences just sees the weaknesses instead of a Shakespearean pull to the ground, which might make some viewers question his leadership. And the hallucinations are dated as hell. Thankfully Reed gets rid of the fat and ties all the loose ends with a remarkably effective ending.
In this samurai period piece, director Akira Kurosawa features some shots of the forest. Seeing Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki’s horses gallop at such a height behind trees and branches reminded me of Japanese scrolls because of their boldness. It also reminds me of a bit of the Chinese (yes, I said Chinese) artist Fan Kuan in the distance in which the two generals place themselves within the mise-en-scene. It’s not all forests, however. He treats interior spaces with such geometry and depicts expansive arid landscapes in full screen. Yes, full screen. It’s like he rightfully proves that Hollywood didn’t need to invent the Panavision camera.
I really thought I was gonna be bitchy about this movie as an adaptation of “Macbeth.” Why aren’t they saying the right words? And they cut the MacDuffs and Edward the Confessor, characters I really like from the play. I guess if this movie was in English they wouldn’t be able to get away with that, but Kurosawa movie gets a pass. I re-read parts of “Macbeth” just to show the comparison again, and there’s a lot of sexual language in my reading of it. What Kurosawa’s film does to the story is take away the seduction and instead put rhetoric as the reason for killing, the latter being a major topic in Shakespeare’s other works. Washizu will go far as misreading the omens around him to convince himself that he’s in the right. I still have some problems with that inversion but I can appreciate it.
I’m not the biggest expert on Noh and Kabuki, but I’ve seen it done better. Here in “Throne,” Isuzu Yamada as Washizu’s wife, Asaji, does a lot of great work as the ghostly Noh character. The Old Ghost Woman was terrifying in her stoicism and portrayed her character asexually. It’s Mifune’s character and acting that killed me, being evil only because he looked the part. Yes, he’s inundated with violence, anarchy and deposed shoguns. But the arc from him dreading the predictions towards delusional leader wasn’t portrayed well enough for me. And I’m not sure if this is part of the style of acting, but I can’t stand yelling in movies.
This movie’s gonna be on again at the TIFF Cinematheque at 4PM today. I also don’t know why I would tolerate Humbert’s (James Mason) actions, decisions and the ramifications for both. Others would find them out of character for a professor – but then he’s teaching at Bumfuck, Ohio and not Harvard. Either I accepted him as a part of the genre or he’s the kind of character I love to hate and I’ll tolerate his stupidity just to see him suffer. I’ll find more theories when I have the time. The film also suffers from pacing issues, specifically between the hour mark until the last half hour. Sue Lyon as Lolita is amazing until one or two unconvincing line reads at the last exchange of the movie.
Cinematheque’s write-up has an excerpt of what Michel Ciment calling “Lolita” ‘a decisive turning point for Kubrick… one of the keys to his inner universe,’ which is more eloquent than what’s in my head. I can’t fully love the movie, but with “Lolita” and its humour I understood “The Shining” and “Eyes Wide Shut” better. I always thought that the former was funny yet overrated while I have vague recollections of the latter but it’s obviously divisive. I feel as if my appreciation of Kubrick would be better if I watched his movies chronologically.
I forgot to tell you that the TIFF Cinematheque is playing a retrospective of James Mason, for some reason. They’re sexing up their program this summer, calling their Pasolini retrospective “Summer of Sex, Swords and Seduction, while calling the Mason one “the original Smooth Talker,” which he is.
Mason in his movies is either having troubled relationships with people younger than him (“Age of Consent”), enduring physical pain (“Lolita”), getting mixed up with terrorist rhetoric (“Julius Caesar.”) or having an addiction that hurts his job (“A Star is Born”). Those are the best trademarks any actor could have, better trademarks than ‘pretty and crazy’ or ‘mostly does Westerns’ like those in his generation. ANYWAY, he uses two and two halves in Nicholas Ray’s “Bigger than Life.” Ed Avery (Mason) encounters anomalous pains that will kill him in a year. He thus has to take cortisone indefinitely to stay alive. He starts to abuse the drugs and says weird things towards the people in his professional and domestic life.
It’s a melodrama with a male in the centre, and there’s the duality of him feeling emasculated yet feeling the need to take on ‘female’ roles like raising his son. His jobs, teaching and answering phone calls for taxi services, are female dominated work – he’s surrounded by them while operating the switchboards. He eventually speaks out about those jobs and the threat of the pains makes him feel emasculated, while faced with the pride that he can’t ease the burden on himself and let his wife work. He can’t handle all of this and his family is what’s affected the most. He even treats his son with psychological abuse. In essence, Ed is putting too much on his plate. Or, a really early version of “Breaking Bad.”
Someone with a sense of humour would watch this film and wouldn’t understand why he’s such an upstanding citizen and then the drugs come and that audience will say ‘There you are James Mason, we’ve been waiting for you all along.’ An interesting reaction for what is arguably Mason’s best performance.
The movie’s an acquired taste. The melodrama goes hand in hand with the extremes of his reactions to the drugs that can put audiences off, no matter how realistic they could be. And there’s the ending. But unlike the juvenile tendencies in “Rebel Without a Cause” or the noir hopelessness of “In a Lonely Place” – which I do like better by the way – “Life” is Ray’s most socially conscious film.
Powell made “Age of Consent” in his later years and it seems like he’s trying to make his aesthetic more “groovy.” Instead of the manicured beauty of “The Red Shoes,” “Age of Consent” has a documentarian’s approach, finding beauty in accidents. I found the shot of animals frolicking in vegetated areas having the same spirit as the cherry blossom shots in “Black Narcissus,” that latter of which I only have a vague recollection of. Imagine “Age of Consent” as a movie directed by Sister Ruth, with a primal, natural approach. Yet I wonder what I would be thinking if I didn’t know who the director was.
In a way Age of Consent goes within the same thread as the “Narcissus” or “The Red Shoes” where a person of power goes into another land and has a complex relationship with the ones he’s technically subjugating.
James Mason and Helen Mirren are thus entwined within this creepy rendition of Pygmalion and Galatea, just like any good Pygmalion narrative. If they were the stars of “My Fair Lady,” that would have been a better film. A bland Australian painter (Mason) finds his muse, Cora (Mirren) when he goes back home to an unpopulated beach. Mason has his most mentally balanced roles in this film, while Mirren, at the top of her game is at her most beautiful while straddling the boundary of classy and trashy. Mirren will again tap into both around a decade later in “Caligula,” and after that, almost never again.
Despite of what I said about Mirren, better writing could have helped her character. In one moment she’s the perfect muse, even giving artistic suggestions to Mason, in another she’s a catatonic child who wants romance from a guy she met just weeks ago. There also should have been more direct protestation against their relationship. Having Cora’s alcoholic, abusive grandmother as the only one pointing out how sketchy this relationship is just feels a little inconsistent.
In preparation for the Cinematheque’s retrospective of James Mason, I give you Jon Hamm as he does his best impression of James Mason. It’s a picture, it lasts long.
I don’t wanna be that guy who ridicules the Academy for its missteps, but I just noticed something about the year I indicated above. What do I know, I’ve only seen seven movies from that year, but those seven have pretty good performances. In essence, I’m FYC’ing people 50 years too late, and I’m really pushing myself for a chance to watch the movies that won and were nominated pretty soon.
Elizabeth Taylor got a nod for her performance in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” I haven’t seen it in a while. For an untrained viewer it would seem like there’s nothing special about her performance. But then her husband died while she was filming. Another actress could have made Maggie unwatchable, desperate and shrill but she made her character alluring and strong. But is that enough? Besides, Richard Brooks turned the movie into a ‘sexy drama’ and I still wonder what Elia Kazan would have done if he directed.
I do however have high praises for the supporting cast, who stole the show. Judith Anderson was haunting as Big Momma, and I can’t believe she was overlooked. And she gets better with other movies, but I love Madeleine Sherwood here too.
And then there’s Kim Novak in “Vertigo.” Honestly, I like her more as Judy Barton. Matt Mazur called Judy Barton ‘de-glammed’ although I see a campy character who’s rough on the edges, the total opposite of the classy Madeleine. Basically a character who’s lived two lives. Novak thankfully made her character balance these two personas well, without seeming schizophrenic. Novak could either have been a lead or supporting, but the poor box office revenues probably took it out of consideration for the Academy.
Another overlooked masterpiece is “Touch of Evil.” I don’t know why I’m so partial towards Janet Leigh because she becomes so much better a few years later and the Academy only paid attention to her once. Regardless, she can do more asleep and drugged up more than most of her generation can do awake.
Inspired by Nathaniel’s post, again.
As suggested above, let’s do some over-reading. Margo Channing (Bette Davis), captured in a straightforward long shot, is on stage in front of a fake set, starts a row with her agent and her playwright Lloyd Richards in the audience area. The counter shot of her agent and her playwright are side view medium shots. They’re in the real world, they’ve trapped her in the fictional world and she wants either control of the world given to her, or she wants out. They can only bellow towards each other – that’s how distant they feel towards each other.
My first screening suggested that she’s a diva, but it’s more complex than that. Lloyd tells her things like ‘I shall never understand the weird process in which a body with a voice finds itself with a mind.’ Never have I heard the word ‘voice’ to limit another person. He compares her to a piano, which she takes offense for.
Art’s a collaborative process. Lloyd doesn’t get that, many people who might watch this won’t get that in the beginning, Margo gets a raw deal. This is probably why she wants to give Eve the torch and leave and get married. And even that gets complicated since she wants to marry so that she could become a ‘woman,’ as if being an actress makes her less than that.
Those are the few reasons why I preferred this movie over “Sunset Boulevard.” Cynically, the movie is two hours of watching people fight, but that’s what friends do. Its subtle, eloquent script trumps “Sunset’s” Mr. Obvious voice-over. Or maybe it’s because I’ve seen “Sunset’s” ending twice before watching the movie in its entirety. That’s gonna ruin things.
Inspired by Nathaniel, Nick, and Tomas. My A Star is Born posts will be out when the movie plays in my rep theatre. ETA: This post is also now a part of Nathaniel’s ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ series.
I was screen capping A Streetcar Named Desire for my “Godfather” cast career post. Get some good caps of Brando, get out. Something really captivated me while skimming through this movie, because it felt like watching the frills and frenetic images of a silent movie at parts. Streetcar has that ‘silent’ German feel while the weaker On the Waterfront has Neorealist touches. East of Eden and Splendor in the Grass brings the crazy, which I like, but despite of how much I love them, I think colour drowns out the emotional punch that his black and white films had. [ETA: It’s been nine months since I wrote that sentence, I’m not sure if I agree with that now.]
The silent-era feel of the film was especially true when Vivien Leigh was on-screen. It helps since her character is a relic of the past, and the silent aesthetics compliment her. The camera captures her through overhead shots and full body long shots. It zooms and zeroes in her shamelessly as if Kazan wants us to feel her emotions by exposing her so closely on-screen. The mise-en-scene helped a lot into the mood of this film, enveloping Blanche with its draperies and decay.
I’ve been ambivalent with the movie, since it was one of the first classic-era films I’ve been introduced to. I saw this before Gone with the Wind. The film astounded me on my first viewing, watching Leigh’s vulnerability and Brando’s wavelengths. Seeing Brando in a suit seems even scarier because he’s calm at the moment and the audience knows he’s just waiting to snap.
But then it’s dialogue-heavy, like most early film adaptations of plays, and I’m more of a visual guy and I didn’t appreciate what this movie did visually back then. And since it’s one of my first outings on classical film, I ran to iMDb and most of when were cheering for the film. There’s a few who deride her performance, although it’s clearly the best of the bunch.
I got around to reading the play and I interpreted the ‘following morning’ scene – when Blanche makes it seem that she’s encountering trash for the first time, specifically the lines where Blanche tells Stella that the latter has forgotten about Belle Rive – as more sorrowfully than Leigh and Kazan did (honestly, I’m probably not gonna be the most subtle director ever, and that’s why I don’t plan to become one). So there was a brief period of slight dislike there.
But then this last time I saw Leigh playing Blanche strong to protect her sister, worn out both physically and mentally, convulsing on the floor. None of that was fake. Enjoy the screen grabs.