Friday, April 27, 2007

hail mary (godard, 1985)

Many memorable images in Godard's filmography have to do with face-pulling and body-comedy: seeing what our physical form is capable of doing, what it's about, etc. It's a lifelong love affair, between the body and the motion picture, a form of thinking. In Hail Mary, Godard thinks about how babies are made - not in the coital sense, but in the cosmic one - and reaches out to all new moms who wonder just what the hell is happening to their body. Je vous salue, mère.

border radio (anders, voss, and lent, 1987)


annie get your gun (sidney, 1950)

I just can't get over Betty Hutton. This is an incredibly eloquent performance, and it seems to be All Caricature. When she expresses heartbreak, she does it with fifty thousand kilowatts and three thousand pounds of cardboard scenery, and it's heartbreaking.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

autumn tale (rohmer, 1998)

A gorgeous film, whose palette recalls Ozu's Late Autumn. It had me wondering if Rohmer (who's only had two films released here since this one: The Lady and the Duke and Triple Agent) wasn't getting younger as he seemed to approach eighty. The "situations" are alarmingly riddled with "audience friendly" codes - as if we could forget that Rohmer is just about the audience-friendliest director who ever lived - while the "feel" is unquestionably Rohmer. The minds of the characters are reactive; they respond to situations instead of creating them, and the movie is half over before Rohmer introduces the most crucial figure, leaving everyone else stranded. The engine that sustains the film is Rohmer's writing: He's famous for his "talk" but what really makes his characters function the way they do is their ability to listen.

Is this Rohmer's most successful US release? I wouldn't be surprised: it's twice as smart as what we're accustomed to, here, but half as smart as, let's say for example, A Good Marriage, and not nearly as atmospheric (not for lack of trying) as The Green Ray or A Summer's Tale or A Tale of Springtime, just to name a few post-Perceval titles.

Near the three-quarter mark, Magali erupts and threatens to destroy everything around her: as a result, although the film continues and ends happily, the pieces don't fit back together again. There's a disconnect. Everything following her tantrum is a let-down - it's in a different film. Plus there's another component that's completely fascinating, even moving, but left maddeningly unresolved: Gerald's social awkwardness and his attraction to Isabelle. Would that Rohmer had built what could be his last "talk-fest" on different foundations!!

maria full of grace (marston, 2004)

Near the end of the film, Maria (Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno) walks past a sign that says "It's what's inside that counts." It's director Joshua Marston's grotesque lack of subtlety that seals the deal: you see, Maria is an expectant mother.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

cyrano de bergerac (rappeaneau, 1990)

Engrossing and amusing despite Rappeaneau's relentlessly prosaic treatment; to my surprise, a number of key moments are quite moving, thanks mostly to the film's even-handedness and a thoroughly engaged cast. A "Masterpiece Theater" piece of work, but in a good way. The film's key asset for English-speaking audiences is its subtitles, rendered by novelist Anthony Burgess.

neapolitan diary (rosi, 1992)

Mostly inept docu-travelogue follow-up to Rosi's Hands Over the City. Alternates between a visit by Rosi and a two-person documentary crew (plus video camera operators) and a series of "talking head" segments featuring Neapolitan academics and authority figures; there are intermittent clips from Rosi's fictional oeuvre (not just Hands but Lucky Luciano and Illustrious Corpses, others). Strangely enough, the "talking head" segments ground the project and keep Rosi focused...elsewhere, Diary is an innocuous mess.

Monday, April 16, 2007

cotton comes to harlem (ossie davis, 1970)

Not an unpleasant picture, unsweetened but uncoordinated. Raymond St. Jacques' face is shaped like an arrow; Godfrey Cambridge's face is shaped like a smirk. Attempts to pander to the white audience are negligible; more often the film does the a key scene, black winos ease their way into a peaceful protest, but when angry whites try to join the same cause and take up the same slogans, they get a pie in the face!

What the film has to say about sexuality and race is enough to fill an essay: the fact that "Gravedigger" Jones / "Coffin" Ed Johnson appear to have even less of a home life than Joe Friday / Frank Smith is just the beginning.

Most of all, the film poses a key question to its viewers: is it black enough for ya?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

hands over the city (rosi, 1963)

The worst scene in the film, undoubtedly, is the one that contemplates the corrupt Edoardo Nottola contemplating his arrival at a moral/political crossroads. Rosi cannot contemplate silently: the music (full of bombast) suggests inner turmoil, the camera wanders restlessly, Steiger moves across spaces as if deep in contemplation. What is the subject of the preceding scene? Nottola is given a Big Choice. And the scene that follows? He makes a Big Decision.

As in The Mattei Affair, Rosi's visual flourishes are scarce but extra-vivid by virtue of their scarcity: council members display their open palms and proclaim that they are clean; a crowd of poor Neapolitans are on the cusp of open rebellion in one scene, pacified and dulled in the next. For the most part, however, one is not certain whether Rosi has succeeded in de-dramatizing an exciting tale of corruption and back-room dealing or failed in dramatizing several volumes of city council minutes.

One of the things that made The Great McGinty exciting was that it fessed up to corruption's attractive qualities and saw no reason to wash its hands. Rosi's true hero is the moralist De Vita, who would spend all his imaginative energy telling us that McGinty is corrupt, a scoundrel, and a crook.