Bloc Sci-Fi: “Solyaris”
For style guide’s sake, I will call this movie Solyaris while the supposedly misunderstood masterpiece by Steven Soderbergh will be Solaris, which I’ll write about in that Viola Davis retrospective that I’m too lazy to do. I also heard that it expands on the original’s love story.
Despite beginning by looking into a wide lake’s reeds, Solyaris is a breeze compared to Andrei Tarkovsky’s other work. Rublev is comprehensible and straightforward enough despite its three-hour running time, Stalker devastating in its showing of the longest non-magic tricks ever. It makes me feel like a young luddite not remembering anything plot wise from Zerkalo but do you? What probably makes me think that this movie is fast paced – clocking in at two hours and forty-six minutes – are the quick cuts in the sequence portraying a non-hostile interrogation of a man who has previously been to the space station near the titular planet. It also adds to this eerie aura because the witness can’t corroborate his testimony with video footage, subverting the ‘show, not tell’ adage and successfully heightening the mystery.
Yes, despite its big budget, it has cheap sets, a grievance I have in other classic movies, but that criticism tries to make the movie sound like it also features Gondry’s cardboard box aesthetic. I treated this lightly. The protagonist, Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), travels to a space station near a planet with strange magnetic waves, throwing rules of physics and even life off-kilter. Everything is grubby and made of plastic, buttons are unlabeled and look similar, other characters stuck in the station smoke and light candles and tobacco occasionally, there are master bedrooms and flammable books. But what makes the movie enigmatic is the resurfacing of Kelvin’s wife, either as wishful thinking or a gift from the planet. Mrs. Kelvin’s love towards her husband adds to her heart wrenching pleas to prove herself human to the space station’s men. Her conundrum can be seen as an allegory of prejudice but how can we sympathize when her existence crosses the boundaries that science irreverently crosses.
The romance in Tarkovsky, in my humble opinion, is enough and even surpasses its Western equal in the well-crafted but overrated 2001:A Space Odyssey. Solyaris will no longer be showing for now. But I hope that this post goes live just in time for the last movie featured in TIFF’s Attack the Bloc retrospective, Piotr Szulkin’s film rendition of the Golem story, screening at the Lightbox tonight at 9PM. Images via TIFF and cine y literatura.
How does this movie even exist? What, are you saying that there’s also a movie adaptation of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four?” Besides, Kurt Vonnegut‘s Slaughterhouse Five almost describes a world that isn’t tangible, its emotions and shock and awe and horrors are more present. Second to that is his imaginative ideas about the future, his non-linear plots putting his characters in a haze. It didn’t even occur to me to picture what our hero Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) might have looked like, even if Vonnegut describes him pretty well.
This source material screams Stanley Kubrick if he portrayed one scene every two minutes. This definitely is oceans and light years away from the comfort zone of the director we have ended up with, George Roy Hill, whom we expect more in dusty Western or Depression era landscapes. What Hill and Vonnegut do have in common here is that they both show the desolation caused by historical events. However, Hill gravitates more to history’s effects on the male psyche which is yes, fractured but is also trying to evolve and desperately survive.
Pilgrim isn’t your typical hero because he gets unstuck in time, able to travel from his present day in postwar suburbia to his stint as a drafted private to a futuristic planet where the Tralfamadoreans kidnap him. There’s an irony to ‘unstuck in time,’ suggesting a freedom only from linear constraints. He types that he doesn’t have control of when he travels. He can’t change passed horrors nor use his free will to alter the future. It’s unsettling how passive he is about this and his children equally react to his discomforting philosophy. And of course the editing between one scene – or rather one time frame from another – is impeccable, sometimes going back and forth within seconds, as Billy walks up the same footsteps that others like Edgar Derby (Eugene Roche) have, to similar destinations of horror.
And Sacks, who was 23 when filming started, is capable in the role of the time traveler, going through these phases of his life with ease and knowledge. In the physical sense he’s like a boring white boy/blank slate/archaic Ryan Gosling prototype with his well proportioned frame and blond locks. He’s both believable as the gaunt, awkward child fighting a crusade and as someone who has charmingly learned the tricks of manhood my default. I don’t know why this guy never stuck to acting, maybe it’s because he didn’t really stick out. George Roy Hill preferred his lead performers as stoic all-American archetypes instead of making them overact, letting that job be carried by the supporting characters around like the Italian stereotype Paul Lazzaro (Ron Leibman), etc.
I also can’t fully figure out why this ambitious movie didn’t stick to audiences neither but I have a few theories. For one, it fits less within the topical 70’s obsessions. Science fiction or a future-obsessed zeitgeist flourished within the 60’s and the 80’s, sandwiching this decade into a dry period when, offering its own dozen sci-fi films, it didn’t have a hold on its own aesthetics and additions to the genre. This feels more like a movie from a few years past when Vonnegut wrote the book, its anti-war sentiment and its transcendent philosophies about time and free will.
It’s also troubled with any book adaptations, especially those of contemporary/’postmodern’ works. Can any image justify Vonnegut’s words? When reading the book, we come across the name ‘Dresden,’ a traumatic flashback that persists despite how permanent his futures seem. ‘Dresden’ just makes me imagine this whiteness of destruction – a masochistic and romantic view, I admit – and seeing dead soldiers and crumbling buildings, no matter how shocking they look, inadvertently soften the blow.
Yet I still wish that big audiences rediscover this movie instead of it falling back into a new Hollywood curiosity. I wonder how they’d react to its views about America’s awkward fumbles during and after the war, especially in a surprisingly irreverent and humorous scene when Billy’s wife accidentally kills herself. But I guess people are too busy now, as they were back then, watching Cabaret or The Godfather.
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (alleganylibrarycollections.wordpress.com)
1. What was Burt Reynolds‘ mustache doing in Jon Voight‘s face?
This unobstructed view of young Reynolds showed that he was pretty hot and he reminds me of Marlon Brando. The facial structure, the raw masculinity. Him with a bow and arrow is sexuality in cinema. Lewis is also probably Reynolds at his most subtle.
Bringing me to the alternate universes I was conjuring while watching Deliverance, which some people might consider as Reynolds’ silver medal instead of getting to star in The Godfather, Brando refusing to work with him because he was then a TV star. Which is funny because Brando, Reynolds and Voight relatively share the same facial structure while the Corleone brothers we have today, although arguably the greatest young cast of that time, look nothing like each other. But it seems more fitting to see him in out in the country than wearing 1950’s suits.
2. They put that in the middle?
This film seems revolutionary even in contrast to films after it, where the first two acts of the latter would be fillers when the main characters bicker or whatnot – and yes that does happen, Lewis telling Ed (Voight) tells him something foreshadowing – and the trauma happens in be the last one. Ed keeps noticing someone hiding behind the woods, he and Bobby (Ned Beatty) meeting them before the 40-minute mark, way earlier than I expected.
I want to talk about the urban-rural binary now. Bobby talks about the ‘hicks’ whereas I can imagine someone from Cape Cod using that term towards the road buddies. It’s also weird that out of the four of them, Beatty is the one cast as the urban elitist, and that the one who despises the backwoods the most is the one who’s arguably on the wrong end of this class war. I think of Beatty as the guy with the great soliloquy in Network while my friend Sarah sees him in this more notorious scene, film presences we can’t erase for another despite of his long CV.
The strangers intimidate them for more than five minutes, making me wonder what’s going to happen for the rest of the film? The rape scene is a big part of this film’s reputation, but instead of sadism it’s as if it’s more important for these characters to survive the journey.
3. Michael Barrett said ‘ in 1972…there was…garbage… [in] theatres between The Godfather and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.’ Correct, but this movie is one of two exceptions.
4. Deliverance is pretty. Yes, the film dips into the Gothic grotesque, like the mountain man biting a small tree trunk, the toothless man’s body hanging at the end of a cliff, Drew’s dislocated arm. Or the hand slowly rising up from the river, a staple from many horror films. But there are some scenes where the travelers are microscopic compared to the trees almost obscuring the view, just like it should in a place like that. Or the aftermath of the rape scene where small tree trunks cross the frame like intricate vines. Or a big rock formation looming as they become more defenseless against the strong rapids, reminding me of Hokusai. This movie is just so lush and green. Again, this movie has its reputation, but it’s also visually poetic, and I see it as a thing of beauty.
Where the principal players of The Godfather have been better
This is what was distracting me while watching “The Godfather.” This is also probably a proof that the epic ‘lit a fire under everyone’s careers,’ but it didn’t let most of the people involved feel like this is their magnum opus. The same, however, could be said about “Gone With the Wind or “The Dark Knight.”
Marlon Brando – “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Although I haven’t seen “Last Tango in Paris,” and I hope I will in two months.
Al Pacino – “Serpico,” more of an Al Pacino vehicle than “Dog Day Afternoon.” Him in “DDA” is hailed as his best, and it’s surprising how his best role is his gay one, but it also owes a lot to Lumet’s stage-like directing.
James Caan – “Dogville,” where he plays a cameo that’s a polar opposite of his character in “The Godfather.”
Robert Duvall – “Apocalypse Now.” It could have been “Network” if there was more for him to do.
Sterling Hayden – “Asphalt Jungle,” just because of that last scene.
Diane Keaton – “Reds,” where she’s acidic. And in this movie directed by Alan Parker which I have yet to see.
John Cazale – “Dog Day Afternoon.” Cool, calm, sadistic.
Sofia Coppola – Not as an actress, but “Lost in Translation.”
Cast in Sequel:
Robert de Niro – “Taxi Driver,” obviously.
Gastone Moschin – “The Conformist.” The girl who plays Anna Quadri (centre) in “Conformist” also plays a small role as a doctor’s assistant/interpreter in “The Godfather II.”
Francis Ford Coppola – “The Conversation.” I love this movie so much I wanna marry it.
Nino Rota – See (or hear) Fellini’s crazy, psychedelic, surrealist, fun yet moody films.
- The Conversation (notreallyworking.wordpress.com)
Finally! And just to let TV folks know that no one can sit through four hours of this with commercials. Luckily, I caught this on the Bloor on Thursday. I was still slightly distracted, partly because I’ve seen most of this movie until the baptism massacre. I’ve read some of the criticism of this movie listed here, so seriously, what else is there to say?
That I’m flip flopping as to whether or not this is nature or nurture – either his safe distance from the family business made him learn enough and to stay temperamental or that Michael (Al Pacino) was ordained to be Don, despite everyone else’s plans. That this is “greatest movie ever” despite that all the principle players with the exception of Abe Vigoda have been better somewhere else.
That Michael, brandishing an Anglo name, had the swagger of Jimmy Cagney once he turned into the hat-wearing gangster.
That this movie’s pretty meditative until the murder scenes, all having the punch of William Wellman gangster movies.
That I couldn’t remember Sterling Hayden’s name and that bugged me for the whole movie, so I just kept calling him Robert Ryan instead.
That Italians really like Italian stage blood.
That where are the women?
That one reviewer actually pointed out Sonny’s (James Caan) shoulder and back hair and yes, I would still hit it.
And lastly, that there’s a place in my heart for Godfather III because Michael and Kay (Diane Keaton) make the cutest old divorced couple ever and that I can turn that into a drinking game, unlike this one.
p.s. CHCH is gonna be airing on pan-and-scan and HD versions of “The Godfather” on June 13th at 7, and the respective sequels will be aired at Sunday June 20th and 27th at the same time slot.
Everything You Always Wanted to Know…
An uneven start for Woody Allen. Only two of the segments were really funny. Three if you count the sodomy scene, which was hilarious until it went a little too long. Four if you count the aphrodisiac scene, showing that he can do Marx Brothers better than the Marx Brothers. But that scene has foundations on base humour. But the good outshines the bad.
My favourite sketch would have to be the perverts sketch. The whole movie is full Holy Batman Gene Wilder/Burt Reynolds, but here we have Regis Philbin, looking and sounding the same. It takes a bourgeois and banal approach to sexual perversion, as Regis and the panel take guesses, nobody snickers or passes judgment. Both perverts featured on the show are male – most of the film focuses on male desire and trying to figure out women. The gag is that this show would have never made it on television even if this is the sexy 70’s. Add a masochistic ending involving a Rabbi’s fetish and we have a winner. I don’t know why I love Jewish humour but I do.
My other favourite is the female orgasm scene. Woody’s best acting is probably in this movie and this scene, perfectly embodying the cool Italian lover instead of the awkward New Yorker persona that he has. His early career has films showing his take on European auteurs, this time taking on Antonioni but making it hilarious. Sure, the character still has insecurities but those insecurities don’t weigh him down. He and his wife in the scene look good together. She can only reach orgasm in public places, and that’s the only thing we know about her.