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Insignificance of relativity
Maybe the best Roeg film since "The Man Who Fell To Earth" (1976), and surely his last good one, "Insignificance"rolls along gathering momentum, like some enigmatic ball, seemingly going nowhere yet arriving everywhere as it explodes in a shower of illumination.
The time is 1954, a year in which Marilyn Monroe's career was beginning to crest, divorce from DiMaggio was in the offing, and the mixed blessings of her self-improvement program via psychoanalysis and the Actors' Studio were already under way. So, in the delightful encounter imagined by Terry Johnson's play (performed at the Royal Court in 1982), Marilyn flees from the gawking spectators and lowbrow frustrations of filming the subway grating scene for The Seven Year Itch to drop in unannounced on a shyly startled Einstein in the hope of intellectual stimulation ('Gee,' she sighs contentedly after being lectured sternly on the dangers of merely pretending to understand, 'this is the best conversation I ever had'). But just as a despairingly jealous DiMaggio is on Marilyn's trail, so McCarthy is hounding Einstein to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee; and in a valiant attempt to rescue the manuscript of Einstein's latest opus from being impounded as subversive, Marilyn gets punched in the stomach by McCarthy, causing her to abort the baby that might have saved her marriage. Significant events that are insignificant, in that physically Marilyn could never have borne the child anyway, while Einstein himself cheerfully throws away the manuscript he has already destroyed four times. Relativity. At the end, absently watching Marilyn go through her lines for himonly she hasn't any, Einstein sees a nuclear holocaust only there isn't one.
Faithfully filming this scenario adapted by Johnson himself, Roeg has completely transformed it by placing it under his familiar sign of time and the stars. The opening image, of a wrist- watch spiraling in free-fall through space, has many ramifications: in its formal use as a device providing each of the four principals with childhood memories defining both the drives that turned them into stars and the inhibitions that burned them out; or in the more general symbolism of the timepiece stopped forever when a childhood experiment of Einstein's went wrong and which, for 'the Daddy of the H Bomb', signifies the guilty past horror of Nagasaki and the guilty future horror of what he has glimpsed next in his exploration of the precise nature of the universe.
Will Sampson, a mysterious Indian serving as a lift-boy addresses Einstein in a scene that seems like straight from David Lynch films: 'I know you. You're a Cherokee,' the elevator man had told Einstein, in a double-edged reference to the Cherokee belief that wherever he is, there is the center of the world. The thread of significance (or insignificance) has less to do with getting back to ancient wisdoms than with Einstein's complaint that people, though seeing themselves at the center of the universe, 'won't take responsibility for their world, they want to put it on the shoulders of the few.' The point is that, revered as the world's greatest repository of knowledge, Einstein knows that knowing is nothing, and thinking is what makes us significant.
Far better than the original
One of the greatest Hollywood rogue & maverick directors, represented in grand persona of Bob Rafelson, (who was given a free hand by Lorimar on this one) did a mighty good job in adapting famous Cain novel for the big screen. Packing a whole lot more wallop then the original, constrained in studio system - censorship dictated, straight jacket, Postman of 1981 is the movie with outstanding performances, that let us feel every throb of passion and excitement, overflow in doomed love story, of two lost souls, Frank and Cora, that are brought together by sinister faith, their carnal desires and bad luck. They plan and go through the murder fueled by greed and sexual desire. The murder plot is almost silly but it's dictated by the level of their intelligence.
There's something about the irony of two people who are caught by passion to begin with, and then transcend it, but can't elude the karma of their passion. That is very attractive to viewer who understands and feels their despair. They escalate each other's thoughts all the time,neither of them is capable of doing that audacious as murder, or even conceiving of their lives as anything but what they are, without each other. They're equal partners in their crime, their adultery and their murder and their love for each other.
This movie shows all this and it shows it vividly, the way 1946 version never could. That's why, Rafelson film is the ultimate embodiment of James Cain novel. Cain never wrote about very intelligent criminals. He wrote about desperate outcasts. Frank and Cora are those in the truest sense, and only Nicholson and Lange, could make you not only see, but feel their emotion, hopes, dreams, and their ultimate loss.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
The Times They Are a-Changin'
Beautiful story of poetic soul trapped in time before his time, an antiquated, band-lead world of the early 1960's music scene. Rich in Coen symbolism, Inside Llewyn Davis portrays an every talented man, unadjusted to society that doesn't appreciate his obsolete poetry, soon to become world wide trend for the next decade and a half. Nothing he tries seems to work and all his endeavors turn to dust.
But Llewyn fights on, led through stormy seas of his life by destiny that he desperately tries to hold on to, loosing a grip on it whenever he looses the cat, his mystery companion.He gets a beating from his bad luck, in the alley behind the Gaslight Cafe, posing as his "friend", after the performance where he takes a pity on himself singing "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me" from depth of his troubled mind. Every person he meets is another piece in the jigsaw of his redemption waiting to happen. As the cycle of his downfall makes a full circle, he is back where we found him, but something has changed. Slim silhouette with a slightly husky voice, takes the stage and opens a new era in popular music, making "never new", and "never old music", the voice of a generation. Llewyn says "Au revoir" to shadowy ugly figure of his bad luck, that speeds away from him, in a yellow cab. The Times They Are a-Changin' and his destiny has led him out of the tempest of life, that had kicked him around.
Certainly one of the best films in the Coen canon, Inside Llewyn Davis will always let you find a new layer on it. It will make you laugh it will give you hope, and the music is beautiful and moving, with unsurpassed performance of "Please Mr. Kennedy" shining through. Worth of repeated viewings.
One-Trick Pony (1980)
Purely by chance I came across this little film, and seeing Simon's only previous role in Annie Hall, didn't have an idea what to expect. It turned out to be inspiring look into the world of music industry, which is condensed into a few sketches of life of former folk/rock star underlined by a low key but very consistent and steady acting and musical performance by Paul Simon and his great band of true rock legends (Eric Gale on lead guitar, Richard Tee on piano, Tony Levin on bass, and Steve Gadd on drums). His dilemmas are visible, both on musical and the great stage of life. He tries to pick up his family life where he left it off, a decade ago, while staring into the abyss of new musical trends threatening his very existence. But the quality is never out of fashion and that is visible throughout the film, in Simon's performance and his refusal to subordinate his art to mass tastes on FM radio, not showing any respect or awe towards those who can remake or brake his career. Hi is doing his thing, as in reality and that's why he remained himself on the scene. Not great but rather good film, you won't regret seeing every now and than, having in mind that 50% of the cast are non professional actors. The soundtrack is even better and makes it all more multi-layered than it already is. As Simon sang in one of his greatest songs: "Everything looks worse in black and white"
La piscine (1969)
Pool of conscience
This fine French crime drama, is not appreciated as it should be. The cast may be the reason, but there is no one, that comes to mind of contemporary French actors, at the time, that could have added something more to this. The centerpiece of this tale, of moral and emotional decadence is the swimming pool by beautiful villa, somewhere near Saint-Tropez and it radiates summer passion, it's turquoise waters filled with guilty conscience, calling for trouble between three old friends and lovers. Burden each of them carries, would lead to crime even without "sweet Jane" stirring it up to boiling point. Her presence is so light and she almost appears as a mirage, in between scenes of old passions, lust and grudges not forgotten.
The film is everything but slow paced and boring. There is no surplus scene, and I can't imagine how it could be done differently. Of course such films in general are not for audiences of ready-made movies, but for those who will savor Jacques Deray's fine direction, and beautiful cinematography of Jean-Jacques Tarbès. They did a fine job in submerging a willing viewer into exquisite beauty of Romy Schneider, Alen Delon's cool in portrayal of insecure, troubled man that finds his life utterly pointless, Maurice Ronet's subtle acting performance of a successful composer who is afraid of his success, and Jane Birkin's girlish naiveté, ruffle the pool of love and hate. Interraction between Schneider, Delon and Ronet adds another level to it, and the story glides well with every scene serving the story of superficial, emotionless people trapped in their small worlds, in witch they are suffocating. Beautiful film, worth every minute of your time, and not just in cold winter months.
Big Guns - Tony Arzenta (1973)
Crafty action thriller with NO Hollywood ending
Alain Delon is great as usual in the genre that fits him like a glove. Tony Arzenta, a Euro-crime action thriller is directed in style and in a manner of a true craftsmen. This is the first Duccio Tessari film I had a chance to watch, and I was mostly drawn to it by knowing what Delon plays best and that is Le Samourai type character, a professional in his emotionless job. In this one he is attached and detached and drives the story to the conclusion that wouldn't stand a New York minute in Hollywood factory of dreams. That's why I love him and Franco/Italian crime films. Highly recommended to all the fans of this genre. You'll enjoy it, no doubt.
I went into this film not really knowing what to expect. The story looked like a 60's matinée love story of adultery and betrayal, but it seemed to me that there was something more, that lurked under the surface. Armed with Roger Ebert's favorable review, I decided to give it a go, and something which doesn't happen too often to a seasoned film buff, happened here, as I floated into the world of Petulia. I was more than pleasantly surprised with originality and distinctive, yet peculiar flavor of this film. Richard Lester, best known for his work with the Beatles, used his senses and the feel of the times, to create a near masterpiece that blended simple love story with torment, escapism and ridicule of the society, love, hate and aggression, misunderstanding and care, all wrapped up in San Francisco of 1967.
The use of counterculture, Janis Joplin appearance, Grateful Dead and their communal entourage, against the backdrop of uniformed man and women, in military and nun's outfits, all underlined the deeply divided American society of the Vietnam era, which was worlds apart from one another, same as Petulia and Archy, two lovers that were destined to lose. Richard Chamberlain is perfect in the role of psychotic husband and this is his most layered role that I know. Look at him in this film and you'll never see Dr Kildare again. Film of so many meanings and profound styles. As Richard Lester told the producer Raymond Wagner after the screening of the finished film: "Ray, no one may ever see this movie or understand this movie, but at lest our blood is on every frame of the film, and we did the very best we knew how". Worth keeping.
Voice Over (1983)
"Blow-Out" on drugs
This film may be a good one, but it doesn't seem so. It looks more like an effort by a "would be" filmmaker, that wanted, as the accompanying booklet says, to write and make a proper film. Shot in 16mm with bare bone sets and bare bone acting, this film depicts the world of a late night radio show host that tantalizes general public with his 19th century romance novel told in narration over the air waves, night after night, and his tedious job gets a following from young disenchanted people,two of which he meets, and for his efforts gets a beating from. No real point was made of anything in this movie, especially the "relationship" lead character has with his female tormentor, affectionately called "The Bitch". This film is not misogynistic as it was labeled back when it was released, it's more of a pointless study in loneliness and detachment, done with amateurish effort to be Goddard-incomprehensible. Another one of BFI flip-side releases of obscure British films, that were lost for a reason. Christopher Monger's later career proves these words. Interesting to look at as a curio peace, but hardly more than once. It's like a nightmarish version of De Palma's "Blow-Out", shot and released around the same time, done by a student with 8mm camera. Doesn't stand out in any way. Avoid.
Lacombe Lucien (1974)
Innocence & Guilt
One of the top 3 films of Louis Malle, Lacombe Lucien, named in bureaucratic fashion is a film of many layers. Perfectly cast and done with precision and minuscule eye for the period detail, this picture is like all of Malle's best work, an aesthetic picture novel. Malle did his best in casting Pierre Blaise as a main character, showing with an emotionless face the deepness of the void in his soul. Sadistic and cruel, murdering small animals and decapitating chicken with ease, Lucien is a text book example of the deviant character without any moral scruples, left out of his mother's emotional care and show of love. He wanders in a moral wasteland of his life and ends up just where he is supposed to be, a French Gestapo unit, Lucien joins not only in a wrong place, but at the wrongest of times to be serving the German Nazi regime (June 1944). It's a motley crew full of shady characters, racists, bigots, one of which is even black and politest of them all, former actresses in insignificant films, and a dog, all of them some sort of has-beens trying to do harm to the world they're also left out of.
Lucien knows no love, no compassion, no human emotion, and it shows perfectly on his face, not until he meats a Jewish girl, called France (of all names),the daughter of Albert the tailor who survives the madness of the war doing his job for everybody even the collaborationist that is out to get him. He is aware of his guilt and willingly pays for it. Lucien finds out about love, but in the process he also learns about human emotions and even manages in one brief moment to separate right from wrong. Too little to late, as it shows, but the point Malle wanted to make in this movie is right on the spot. Humanity is a strange beast. Fantastic.
Much Ado About Nothing
Having read about this movie I decided to give it a go, even though the plot didn't seem to exist in any way that could keep you interested for 30 minutes, let alone 195. I like distinctive and different films, sprinkled with surrealism, as much as I like popular classic cinema, but there has to be something that drives the story, and keeps a viewer follow it through. If the story hangs on a thin line, there has to be something other truly mesmerizing (photography, set design, etc.),that pushes a movie to another level. A series of self indulgent drama class exercises, that drag on for more than three hours, testing the patience of best-intentioned and most willing viewer to it's outer limits, is what happens in Celine and Julie. This is a sort of a movie, that has so little to offer, that your mind keeps wondering to all other places but the screen. Two leading actresses play with each other, and it drags on and on, in most parts looking like a student film of an overly ambitious but less talented student. The trick is, they keep student films to under one hour in duration, and it should have been done with this one, it might have improved it's quality. Story of mysterious house in which strange things happen is marred by silly pastiches of unexplained and often absurd actions two leading ladies undertake, in an effort to solve the mystery that has a self serving purpose, same as the movie which is trying too hard to be incomprehensible, in order to be different. And it succeeds. Whatever frenzied gallery of scenes that have no meaning for the general audience, is shown to you, and the least you understand the intentions and ideas of so called "auteur", more it will be considered by many outside of their intellectual capacity, thus, probably representing something really extraordinary.
Borrowing heavily from Sedmikrásky (1966), Vera Chytilova's pearl of the Czech new wave and world cinema, Jacques Rivette, couldn't emulate it's freshness, playfulness and cinematography, simply because he didn't have the ability, and because he lost any direction he could have had, when he passed the magic mark of about 76 minutes, after which, these fountains of ideas turn to stone. Difference is coherent uniqueness, difference is Kubrick, Teshighara, Clouzot, Truffaut. Surrealist is Bunuel, Cocteau, Ferreri... Distinctive is Polanski, Allen, Melville, Hitchcock, Welles. This one is not. No plot, no cinematography, no ideas and several pretty scenes is all there is. Nothing to justify three hours of your life. Avoid.