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Posts tagged “1971

Road to Hollywood: Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show, the title of what could be Peter Bogdanovich’s only good movie, begins in the early 1950’s with a teenager named Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) trying to have a smooth drive in his heap of junk of a truck while the Hank Williams on his radio fills in between the sound of tumbleweeds and violent dead wind. The scene develops, he gets out in front of a pool hall, meets the owner Sam (Ben Johnson), the latter’s son, and Sonny’s best friend Dwayne (Jeff Bridges). Methodically the grubby cinematography and the camera’s closeness is almost un-cinematically counter-intuitive but it also feels like a welcome change, like Kenneth Anger and Maya Deren chronicling the smutty lives of straight rural Texans. It’s a good old evocation of mood while simultaneously cutting the BS.

These men are in between stages of feral wolf-boyhood and foreshadowed deep-voiced manhood. The older men see them as members of their incompetent football team but within the same day they neck with their girlfriends in the dark while watching an Elizabeth Taylor picture. The Last Picture Show, like many late 20th century young adult texts, is about sexual awakenings and missteps. Sonny meets an older woman named Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman, looking her best in a deserved Oscar-winning performance) and stands her for a few more minutes. While their friendship gets uncomfortably close, Dwayne’s girlfriend Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd, a more girly version of Faye Dunaway) does her own exploring. Both characters repeat the patterns of the previous generation, Jacy taking after her mother Lois (the versatile Ellen Burstyn being hilarious and foxy). All of these are going on while these teenagers, walking slowly into being roughnecks, express their cynicism for a school and town that isn’t worth saving.

The audience knows what’s going to happen when Sonny takes out the trash with Ruth the same way that they react negatively to the relationships and friendships that the insufferable Jacy ruins. And yes, you’re allowed to use that and the phrases in the previous paragraph as euphemisms as long as you give Bogdanovich and co-screenwriter Larry McMurtry some credit. Anyway, the impressions that these characters take in their worst and most shocking scenes are so strong that we forget how Bogdanovich and McMurtry plants the seeds for these outcomes to happen. The movie doesn’t give us alarum bells when Sonny’s coach asks for him to drive Ruth to the clinic the same way that we don’t see Jacy’s layered reaction to Lois’ lessons of shrewdness. These pivotal moments and decisions occur in seventeen seconds instead of minutes.

It has echoes in others tackling post-Western desolation but it also references past movies like the magnum opus directed by Bogdanovich’s idol Orson Welles. It has delightful moments, like a Western-styled non-standoff between Sonny and Sam, referred by the latter’s diner cook/hamburger expert Genevieve (the tough Eileen Brennan). Or real standoffs when its frank characters squeak their voices and destroy the English language, not that I’m one to talk. Then there’s all the awkward sex in between and all the scenes everyone else has talked about because this movie deserves it. The Last Picture Show is part of the Road to Hollywood, its next dates being April 3 and 5, promoting the TCM Classic Film Festival in LA between April 12 and 15. To the two people I know who are going to the festival, I am extremely jealous of you.

The Anderson Tapes

The Anderson Tapes is one of three Sidney Lumet and Sean Connery collaborations. Sidney Lumet is one of my favourite directors, and I’ve also believed that he’s the only director to make Sean Connery act. The opening credits reveal that ‘and Introducing Christopher Walken.’ There was no way I would skip this movie, despite the flaws I’m sensing. Then Dyan Cannon, the less human-looking yet more talented Farrah Fawcett. The flaws kept coming in, yet Martin Balsam plays a dated version of a gay guy. Are there names for the eras when gay guys dressed like Balsam’s character as opposed to today, when gay guys dress like douchebros?

ph. Columbia/Sony

Their characters are some members of a mish-mash group representing maligned groups in America, all involved in a caper that will rob an Upper East side apartment building while being spied on by multiple government agencies.

My mother talks over movies, but I’m in the school of criticism that listens to both Roger Ebert and Carmela Soprano equally. Apparently he looks older and more gaunt here than he did in the 90’s. Also, can I call on the BS on Connery retiring please? His contemporaries are fed leftovers these days. Guys getting roles are five decades younger than him. It’s equally ridiculous to expect him to work. But don’t crap on movies today. If you hate the movies made today, make better ones.

Now, on to the movie itself. The commentary at “The Interviews” suggest a science fiction feel set in their contemporary times, engendered by the digital font of the opening credits, the score and the non-diagetic sound playing while Duke Anderson (Connery) notices the cameras that are obviously watching him. All of those feel a little forced, but it does bring out the futuristic anomalies that people at that time and even this time have to constantly update themselves with. Duke has been in jail for ten years, Pops for forty, prison then mitigates their distance from the evolving technology they missed out on. Being secluded from society during a long period, the changes are more drastic for them, the loss of control of their privacy more alarming. The opposing teams of the film – the capers and the Italian mob against the wealthy New Yorkers and the government, arguably are all groups from the old guard, playing in a new, more technologically equipped playing field.

The film also keeps cutting back and forth between events and locations, calling itself to its narrative. A scene between Duke and Italian mobsters are interrupted by, such as the IRS committees spying on them for other suspected crimes. An audio of a love scene between Duke and Ingrid (Cannon) is played back to them days later, the second time with Ingrid’s other lover present and spying on them. The robbery scenes are intercut with interviews of the robbed after the fact. This structure of the film calls out on how every scene has information we spell out in our heads. Recounting a scene also emphasizes its consequences, who will get caught, who’s getting hurt, who wins.

Final thought on the love scenes, not sex scenes. A little goes a long way. As well as the acting, and that Connery and the other actors playing capers express all that masculine bravado and vulnerability through those masks.

Mary, Queen of Scots ’71

Mary, Queen of Scots is on every other night at CBC. It’s like telling me to finally watch Vanessa Redgrave‘s Oscar nominated performance in the titular role.

So that means yes, I’ve seen the film before in parts. I honestly thought that Glenda Jackson as Mary’s rival Queen Elizabeth I in this film, was the best in show. The way her head and hands move when she’s thinking up a plot to offer her own lover, Sir Robert Dudley, to Mary is fascinating. The first act of the film shows her driving the plot instead of being passive within it. When the rejected Dudley talks about how Mary has charmed him, Elizabeth also gets physically aggressive. Which is fun to watch.

Elizabeth almost steals the show because of the damage done when Mary repeatedly cries out ‘Francois,’ to her dead husband King Francis II. Mary sounds girly, lovesick, dependent. In a way, my fears about the character getting stuck like this has become true, Mary becoming a queen who’s repeatedly imprisoned by her enemies, never becoming a woman and person in her own right. Redgrave keeps pace with those plot points by giving her character a vitality – a woman in her mid-30’s convincingly portraying the youthful obliviousness of someone ten years younger or more. That, nonetheless, is a better portrayal than the saintly inhuman interpretation of Mary in an earlier John Ford film in 1936.

ph. Slant

Of course, those two characters grow up. Elizabeth wants to survive and still holds grudges but won’t use her ruthlessness to even imprison and execute the woman who also happens to be her cousin. She feels sorry for having to send Mary to Forthingray. Mary repeats the same adulterous mistake with a Lord Bothwell that Elizabeth has made with Lord Dudley – Elizabeth suspected of murdering Dudley’s wife, Mary accused of murdering her own king consort for and with Bothwell. She isn’t convincing when she says that she has made peace with her God and pities Elizabeth. She nonetheless carries on to her beauty and dignity, fighting fer her crown till the end.

Mary’s story isn’t told in film with such frequency as Elizabeth’s, the latter being told in film or television every decade. It’s probably because Elizabeth, as an English Queen and one who has reigned for decades and made the kingdom into a superpower, whereas Mary’s seems like the story of an outsider, even if she is the matriarch of England’s future kings. Elizabeth’s is always shown as a victory, whereas Mary’s shows victory and defeat in both sides, which interests me more.

Timothy Dalton and an unrecognizable Ian Holm are also in supporting roles.

ph. Premiere