My dad thinks he’s cool. He’d tell me about how his dad was too cheap to buy him the disco suits all the other teenagers wore so he had to settle with and rock the white T-shirt and jeans like Martin Sheen in the 1970’s. They showed a Martin Sheen movie on TV in the Philippines, the actor strutting down a back street, squinting his way into nonchalant cool. His working-class anti-fashion fitting his body properly like it only does with the young. I didn’t know back then that Dad was introducing me to one of the most revered auteurs of all time, tackling a subject I shouldn’t be watching. I’m not sure he knew neither. His hair’s as long and parts the same way like my dad too.
Matt Zoller Seitz, in a video essay about Terrence Malick‘s Days of Heaven, said that it was ‘like the greatest novel James M. Cain never wrote.’ Those words seem more fitting with his earlier film Badlands, with Kit as a good old boy who has his own set of ethics that makes sense even in its contradictions. Sheen, harking back to James Dean, presents a different, naturalistic version of old-school. He’s masculine in his rebellion while childlike in thinking over the rules and consequences of his crimes. He arbitrarily knows when to stop playing and doesn’t feel remorse about being caught.
If Kit, in his simplicity, is consistent, Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) is the opposite and constantly changes. Although she’s never convinced me as an infantile 15-year-old, she’ not so mature nor womanly neither. We’d think that by the time they run away, she’d ditch her Southern princess behaviour, but instead of a linear evolution, her outlook has different waves. Sometimes she’d be like his female counterpart or wear a bandanna on her head, looking like a 1950’s housewife. At other times she’s a stubborn doll, enacting her unrefined yet legitimate rebellion against Kit.
I didn’t realize that a Malick film was used as sartorial inspiration, but it’s genius. This is also his most narrative film so far. There’s the traditional landscape imagery, using more textures and colour palettes than his other, later films do. But nonetheless the two young rebels stand out within the backgrounds as well the exciting shoot-up scenes that most crime films would have. Badlands is showing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox at June 14 at 9:30 PM as part of the venue’s retrospective on the director.
- Opening Shots: Badlands (blogs.suntimes.com)
Mixing golden age filmmaking techniques and new Hollywood’s colourful realism, The Sting is more form conscious than director George Roy Hill’s earlier films. Meaning that this film also has enough wipes and page wipes for ten Kurosawa films. Both wipe montage overloads portray Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) getting makeovers and a new apartment. The latter montage also depicts Hooker’s new partner Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) gathering people for a con. Each of these people are like chapters in a book that we skip to see the exciting part of them performing their sleight of hand. Their mark is a gangster named Doyle Lonegan (Robert Shaw). These montages are accompanied by a ragtime score, the conflicts given a lighter mood.
There’s also a lot of running in this movie, mostly from Johnny’s part, having to leave Joliet, Illinois for Chicago to avenge the death of his former partner. He’s being chased by authorities and hitmen who have been on him since he has moved. There are guns involved and the clicking sound of Johnny’s shoes eerily makes the audience a little afraid for him. The camera follows Johnny enough for us to see Redford’s athleticism. There are also quick zoom outs from the gunmen, whether they’re on top of a subway platform or within hallways or back alleys behind a diner. Even if they’re looming they can never catch up to Johnny.
I started to understand why this won over Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers for Best Picture in 1973. There’s little quips from Johnny’s girlfriend, blaming her wasted training on her orchestra instead of her trip numbers. That could be overread as a satire on class boundaries in Depression-era America, but we can accept it as an incidental humour that’s as real because it’s delivered in little strokes. It’s a very masculine film, honestly portraying man in its different stages, from Lonegan’s bravado at the poker table to Gondorff wasting away before he and Johnny can get their acts together. There are red herrings before the winners bring out their Hollywood smiles, and most of us won’t have it any other way.
I’ve posted images and plugging the movie’s last screening at the Bloor Cinema. Finally saw it, and this is what I think of the movie.
The film’s about sexual fantasy. Really. The longer version is that the film’s about sexual fantasy and the male gaze in the context of a small Italian town in 1939 – I know it’s 1939 because of the “Beau Geste” references, but anyway. The film does start with the town’s air full of puffballs, a sign of springtime, which is itself a sign of youth and sex. I make it sound so dry. Don’t worry, boys, there’s a lot of well proportioned women in this movie, and there’s lots for the men to choose from. One of those women is Gradisca, the hairdresser in red. There’s Gina, a servant who gets touched in the behind by one of her old bosses. There’s the well stacked lady who own the tobacco shop. There’s Volpina, a prototype of the town crack whore, yet the men don’t reject her because she has the same energy as them. Not even the women are blatantly shown in telling her to slow down.
As Andrew O’Hehir writes, the film’s obviously sexist. It has the same, shallow comedian’s understanding of gender – men want sex and most women just wanna settle down and have children even if they have to entertain a million toads to find a prince. I know I’m gonna sound like an apologist by writing this, but the women come out better than the men because of Gradisca’s monologue.
Besides, promoting these sex-driven thinking also mean that there’s no guilt involved. Sexual fantasy is a communal experience, and a boy’s allowed to share his feelings to his peer group and to trusted elders, like a priest. By confessing to a priest, the boy technically feels like a sinner, but he doesn’t try to make the label stick and there’s no judgment nor hellfire. It’s in the typical Southern Catholic attitude when the average person has to do penance but he can totally party the night before. Conversely, Uncle Teo’s the only one who seems more perverse while shouting for his need for a woman atop a tree in a farm. The audience can blame his depravity to his isolation.
Speaking of fantasy and community, there’s also scattered twenty-five minutes worth of the film spent on portraying fascism. The film shows most of the town’s citizenry as optimistic under Fascist Italy, a country of hope and idolatry. Even Gradisca succumbs to fainting orgasms when talking about Il Duce. This lack of guilt nor remorse shown in the townsfolk is refreshing and realistic compared to other texts tackling the material. It is possible that the citizens of a country under dictatorship do not know about the oppression and cruelty that its government enacts towards minorities or outsiders until a later time. Sounds familiar. It’s something that they believed in even though they knew nothing about it. The depiction of the fascist element adds to the complexity and surprising maturity in Fellini’s later work.
Police work involving a black woman getting raped followed by a dance party followed by police work followed by a discussion of Japanese art followed by police work involving smoking pot to ‘learn about its effects’ followed by the best breakup ever in a Greenwich village apartment and police work and the worst breakup ever in a chic coffee shop plus more police work. That sounds like a B-movie or a Sidney Lumet biopic, “Serpico,” that it actually is. I also realized that the hipster references only made up less than ten minutes of the movie, but they stand out. The movie after all depicts the cusp of the 1970’s and not only does an Italian American police officer, Frank ‘Paco’ Serpico (Al Pacino) like his friends do, from the old neighborhood get within the wave of the moment but he takes advantage of it and incorporates the whims of the baby boomers to fit in despite his job as a cop.
Mixing “the scene” into a cop movie makes this a unique example of a genre, and it’s surprising how a little element can have such a huge impact. Instead of being a moralist, Paco is an enlightened man and that’s what drives him as the honest police officer in a sea of payola cops. He ends up with a suffering girlfriend instead of a crying wife and children, but to refer again to this coolest of police officers, we still feel like we’re on the brink of losing a person to his profession.
And from what I’ve seen of their work so far, this is the most cinematic of Lumet’s movies since it relies on cadence than blocking or script like it does in his other movies I’ve seen. And it’s one of Pacino’s best performances, being whiny and intellectual and loving all in the same person. Also prepare yourself for a mustache and beard and ridiculous, fun-to-watch outfits including a Rabbi costume. The Fleet Foxes look actually makes his eyes pop and look benevolent. Were his grooming and his hemp fabric shirts supposed to evoke Jesus? No one else will allow him become all those because he’s too old and it wouldn’t work.