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That sly clown Rohmer does it again and again
I read in a short critique of Rohmer recently the perfect sentence to describe his work and how to approach it: "It is when we let Rohmer's irony (the incongruence of his characters) be a seed of self-reflection within ourselves that his films take on a transcendent dimension." The transcendent dimension that all great works of art have is there but you have to let the irony become a seed of self-reflection first, you have to actively participate, hence the reason why many people find Rohmer's films boring. They don't even realize what they're missing and don't want to know! The closer a Rohmer film is to soap opera on the surface and the less offbeat it is the more money it makes (the recent "Autumn's Tale" made a very impressive 2 million dollars on the art-house circuit but I, for one, thought it was just o.k.), but ALL of them have depth if you look for it.
Rohmer's films slowly and quietly build into elaborate structures of subtly hilarious sophistication which get better with each viewing (letting the irony really take root and become a seed of self-reflection). They are all (on the surface at least) very similar: done low-budget but with quietly superb and magnificent cinematography, maximum conversation, minimum hi-jinks or action, relying on subtlety and the viewer's undivided attention and engagement to reveal their deep humor and depth. All of Rohmer's films make fun of human folly and vanity in a way that's entirely unprecedented, true-to-life, and unique in the cinema. Critics have labeled the term 'classicist' on his head but I don't know of any filmmakers or artists, outside of some of the great satirical novelists of the 19th century, who have approached their subject in this way. There is an incredible amount of pure cinema in Rohmer but done in a way that's completely invisible when the viewer's not seeking it out, absolutely devoid of any tendencies to show-off and draw attention to itself.
"Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle" is about two young girls, one a surrealistic-painter from the country, the other-- a law-student from Paris , both very pretty and charming, who strike up a friendship and go through a few neurotic and enlightening incidents together both in the city and the country: trying to wake up at the moment of absolute silence every morning when night-birds stop chirping and morning birds are still asleep; dealing with a rude Paris cafe waiter; dealing with pan-handlers trying to hustle them for change; moral dilemmas about shoplifting; selling Reinette's painting without her having to speak one word to the gallery owner because she's sticking to a vow of silence she made the day before; etc. The Very Funny and valuable results are captured by Rohmer in his trademark, meditative, and un-intrusive style. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Jamón Jamón (1992)
Sexy, Surreal, Hilarious
Anyone who can laugh at and perversely admire the absurd spectacle of his or her own grotesquely bizarre and fragile (how small a step to go from ecstatic fulfilment to abuse, and gradual dissipation) sexuality, while actually having sex, can be said to have achieved the detachment necessary to maintain a certain controlled pitch of eroticism within its course, which, needless to add, can be quite stimulating and rewarding. Bigas Luna's handling of the sex scenes in `Jamon, Jamon' always makes that 'laughing-in-the-face- and-midst-of-sexuality-in-order-to-transcend-self-defeating-high-brow-or-
sentimental-hang-ups-with-raw-sometimes-moronic-but-more-often-volcanically -exquisite-lust' attitude fully implicit, and that's why they're especially steeped in a rare erotic tension that smolders. Like most great films, Luna's Venice-Silver-Lion-Winner tries to subvert and break down outmoded but deeply ingrained rituals and methods of communication within society that need to die in order to allow the 'not-so-sly but-not-exactly-explicit-and-heavy-handed-either' imposition of its own patterns as suggestions toward new thinking and new answers to take root.
Want to see a hilarious but serious satirical film that mixes and makes superior use of eroticism, surrealism, gross out scenes, and a fantastic music score ? Look no further than these 90 minutes. As far as I know the longest nose to nose lip kiss with a fly on the face of one of the kissers is in this film. Penelope Cruz in at least 4 sex scenes very generously breastfeeding two different and equally hungry lovers (one of whom happens to be this year's oscar nominated actor Javier Barden) is also in this film and should more than serve to turbocharge red-blooded male libidos. A very gross scene involving a very annoyed pig that comes close to being the only appearance of beastiality in an R-rated film is in this flick. And, oh yeah, in case I forget, the scene of the two guys bullfighting buck naked which puts a new spin on, and pays an homage of sorts to the famous schlong-dangling naked wrestling scene in Ken Russell's `Women in Love' is also in this crazy film. Liked it very much. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, especially for further seriously disturbing the mental imbalance of squeamish Americans used to Julia Roberts Soap Operas.
Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
Fascinating on Many Levels for Sure, for Sure!
`Looking for Mr. Goodbar' takes you back to an era a mere 24 autumns ago when people thought a bit differently about certain things. Regular people weren't beyond imagining that if they went to enough booty-shake discotheques they could 'mack it up' on a Hefner-Guccione level with a grease monkey's paycheck.. But for most of these regular garden variety heterosexuals, the levels of sexual promiscuity did not increase all that dramatically in the '70s (as documented by some famous surveys). Attitudes toward sex changed much more than the actual amount of sex. But because of all the myths floating around the zeitgeist, there was a constant weird anxiety in the air about being left behind and missing the party and the wild sexual adventures that everyone else was supposed to be having. In order to 'keep up with the Disco Bunny Jonses' a lot of people did a lot of stupid things that were majorly frowned upon by rock'n'roll-disco-haters (themselves busy worshipping idols often quite beyond ridiculous) for a good decade and a half to come (no one could go anywhere near a late '70s disco record without plenty of embarrassment before Quentin Tarantino decided to make Travolta hip again in '95 and everything once associated with Travolta followed suit).
Using recreations of 'scenes' that were a common occurrence in that era of getting lost in 'a fool's ecstatic paradise of Disco fever, casual sex and cocaine sniffing' Brooks has a field day satirizing those multitudes whose commitment to experimentation had came out of purely superficial, hedonistic, or even just 'faddish' motives, not any deeper need to find themselves, and how these superficialities often short-changed people like the Diane Keaton character who were maybe, more or less, trying for a genuine personal liberation and growth (the first wave of counter-culture values had already been mass-media commercialized and completely marginalized by ten-zillion pseudo-poseur-suburban-middle-class-hippies devaluing completely in a few years what the original small community of hippies had tried to build, and the two major popular-culture backlashes against that were Punk rock and Disco music, both retaining certain segments of the hippies' drugs and sex angle and heightening it to an extreme while dumping the pseudo-philosophy for much shallower hedonistic or nihilistic pseudo ones of their own brand) .
`Looking for Mr. Goodbar' stars Diane Keaton as a young woman from a strict Catholic family who had to overcame a spinal handicap in childhood by being confined to a bed for a year, and through that trial of prolonged suffering at an early age has gained an existential understanding, a temperate maturity or 'humble madman's communion with the absurd' that her sister (Tuesday Weld) and most of the people she meets, don't have. At first, she has low-self-esteem and feels insecure about the scar on her back, but gradually, as many men are turned on by her quiet strength, sense of humor and shy charm, find her beautiful, make love to her and don't mind the scar, she realizes that she can ditch the headaches of her dysfunctional family and live on her own terms: as a liberated post-feminist-era '70s woman. When her married teacher and first lover quickly and bizarrely transforms from initially seeming to be her ideal 'soul mate' to not much more than a conceited, 'traditional' manipulative jerk with 'hipster' lingo (who, among other things, initiates her in the ways of 'post-sexual-revolution' 'let's-all-be-hip-and-brutally-honest-and-beyond-that-square-jive' ritual, throws a tantrum when she gives him a Christmas present , and tells her he doesn't like touching a woman after he's just f'd her) she decides to see if she can't do much better than him, get a bit hedonistic and take revenge, sleep around some to see who's got what and what's out there from first-hand experience, just like only men would've been privileged to do with impunity and without loss of reputation until just a few years before. She's not too confident about being able to score another man, but not as shy as before either, now that she's had some experience. She knows it's time to move on or she'll be taken advantage of forever. The great, unsentimental '70s thing about it all which doesn't happen quite often enough these days (in the movies or real life) is that she takes her very real disappointment and hurt in a 'hip' and wise perspective and doesn't let it bother her beyond the 'suicide-attempt-fantasy' she indulges, fully aware of how ridiculous and vain it would be. There's a humorous tone to the whole fantasy sequence as she laughs at the absurd, farcical forces she'd be manipulating and what pathetic motivators they are for taking your own life. She's definitely hip to a `Broken Hearts are for A--holes' anti-sentimental, anti-masochistic attitude as being the right one for progressive spirits and that's the one she adopts with much mirth and a smile on her face.
She gets a job teaching deaf first graders, and is able to be extra-patient with them because she understands their struggle and suffering, having gone through a form of it herself. She's super-nice, proper, and respectable; yet at night, true to her plans for liberating her sexuality , she's ready to be 'wild.' `Mr. Goodbar' is somewhere to be found but she feels the need to loosen 'up and out' of her upbringing. She starts hitting the singles bars and is flattered and surprised when a guy with some grade A looks ( Richard Gere) picks her to hit on. In the bedroom, she's amazed that Gere/Tony can bang away without expiring, take a break and do slap-pushups in a g-string jockstrap (Brooks poking fun here at the ratings system which lets you show as much naked buttock as you want within an R-rating but definitely no penis), and then get back again to the sex when the mood strikes him. She prefers Gere's 'street-wise' stupidity and hang-up-less sexuality to William Atherton's intelligent but repressed liberal who also tries to see her. After Gere stands her up on a date and turns out to be too much of a hustler and gigolo to provide her with what she needs, she even starts to turn a couple of casual tricks for fun, pretending to be a hooker and accepting money. Why this `Bell de Jour' syndrome of trying to break out of bourgeois morality at any cost? Because the alternative seems a hopelessly depressing dead-end of mediocre comforts with no real charge or excitement just as in Bunuel's film for Catherine Deuneuve. That's one of the many important observations made in the film: that reaching a certain transcendence through sexuality is damn near impossible within a bourgeois value system and morality, and it seems even more so to someone who's been trapped in that system her whole life. Even glamorous self-destruction and pointless 'kicks' seem eminently preferable to going back to that kind of stifling mediocrity and misery.
Brooks doesn't try to moralize or show that Diane Keaton's liberated attitude in wanting lots of sexual experiences 'just for the hell of it' is wrong. Why should she not be the venerated 'stud' or 'Don Juan' that a man would be considered in her place and instead be disvalued as a 'trollop' or 'slut'? In fact, Keaton's a heroine of sorts in the film in the way she guiltlessly gravitates toward further sexual awakenings without sinking into outright decadence, even after she poses as a hooker for fun. Her problem in picking men is similar in some respects to Ellen Burstyn's in `Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore,' where she goes from an abusive husband to a similar guy in a different shell (Harvey Keitel) who appears charming at first but soon reveals his psychotic side. Burstyn skips town to avoid the guy, while Keaton, after having just gone through a lot of trouble trying to get rid of Gere, goes to a bar, picks up psycho-ex-convict-repressed-homosexual 'I'm-a pitcher-not-a catcher' Tom Berenger (who seems nice at first, but soon turns into a much more deranged version of Gere), and ends up making one mistake too many. Brooks shows her as a bit misguided but courageous and sympathetic (much like Scorsese does Burstyn), and also shows the tragedy that can result from the seemingly most trivial things when even the nicest of people rubs a psychotic, tortured individual the wrong way, because that person then becomes the symbol of everything in society that has made that psychotic suffer his or her whole life (Berenger's character as well as Gere's low-rent version of his later star-making role in `American Gigolo' are both different existentially empty characters, not literal 'God's lonely Man' types but with quite a few things in common with De Niro's Travis Bickle nevertheless, including, for Berenger, Bickle's bottled-up inner rage that is overdue to explode at any time in the catharsis of an ultraviolent impulsive act). What it all comes down to for Diane Keaton is this: she's too naive in thinking she can,---as Bob Hughes (the character portrayed by Matt Dillon in `Drugstore Cowboy) would say `buck the system and buck the dark forces that are hiding underneath the surface.'. That unifying statement of the Bob-Hughes-Matt-Dillon character regarding what happens to him at the end of `Drugstore Cowboy' applies directly to what happens to Diane Keaton at the end of this film. She's just beginning to recognize the dark forces and stay clear of them, when they engulf her and it's all over: another victim of society's ills..
How's Keaton's character trying to find herself? By finding herself a man that complements her sexually first-and-foremost, to compensate for her deprived and repressed past. The `Goodbar' or a man's ability to please sexually is the important factor. That's why she prefers a sexually confident ignoramus like the Richard Gere character `Tony' to William Atherton's repressed, moralistic liberal intellectual who's the flipside of the coin to her abusive father, an emotional yoke she doesn't need. What she finds out slowly and painfully and through many short-lived relationships is that she's the most 'normal' neurotic of any of the people she meets in bars and discos. They keep disappointing her and sooner or later, if she hadn't been killed off, she would've had to look elsewhere than the 'swinging' scene (where all things 'sexual' were to be had easily but with not much value).
From the opening montage of dramatic black and white photographs set to shifting songs which quickly change moods from disco to funk to a bizarre nauseating ballad sung by Thelma Houston, Brooks tries to make the film operate on many levels simultaneously. The shot that states the theme of the film right away, is the one of the lady with the cleavage and a Jesus on the cross hanging between her breasts: the conflicts and contradictions between traditional morality and the sudden emergence of a new looser morality because of the so-called 'sexual revolution' ; can they be reconciled without tragic consequences? Can the system be bucked without sabotage from the residual dark forces underneath (as Bob Hughes would say) , even if official, popular dogma and the mainstream culture has decided that it's safe to be on the side of the rebels? Is it not a bad sign when everyone fancies himself a rebel; when rebellion has become safe and fashionable? All these questions and many more are raised by this film in a way that something as shallow as `Saturday Night Fever' only managed in a couple of scenes. Richard Brooks, after all, in addition to directing `Blackboard Jungle' and `Elmer Gantry,' also directed maybe the most coldly horrifying and bleakly naturalistic of all naturalistic films `In Cold Blood,' in 1968. Here he's trying for a multifaceted transcendent existentialism which also operates as satire. Its acting style is slightly over-the-top on purpose to bring out the satirical elements, everything parodying itself as well as being serious simultaneously. Keaton is perfect for her role because she's naturally glad to be a bit goofy and awkward, intense, and slightly 'over the top,' and the other actors play up to her than she down to them. The mood of a single scene can change quickly from different levels of tragedy to different shades of comedy. A perfect example is the scene where Gere smacks Keaton around for insisting that he leave her apartment and Tuesday Weld runs to the rescue just as Gere is leaving. The mood is a bit sad, at first, as we see the bruise on Keaton's face (Weld asking her what happened? what did that s.o.b. do to you? etc.), a bruise she certainly did not deserve; but when Weld goes to get some ice to put on the bruise and instead gets a yellow popsicle we start smiling knowing what's coming next. She puts the popsicle to the bruise and Keaton utters a loud owww! When Weld gets a cloth from the sink to wipe Keaton's face, there are cockroaches all over it and they get on Keaton, making her jump around all over the place in hilarity trying to get them off her. The scene that started as semi-tragic is now farcical comedy in a way that's very touching and sympathetic.
One of the main things I don't like about the film are the incredibly cheap looking exterior pick-up shots done to connect the main scenes together. They look more obviously done on a studio backlot than a cheap TV show and lit so bright you can almost feel the presence of the whole film crew in the shot. Aside from that one minor annoyance, the rest of film is, in all its many whimsical aspects, quite transcendentally cinematic and valuable. It moves very quickly and there are no dead-spots. Diane Keaton's daring performance alone makes it a classic study of '70s female sexuality from a decidedly 'woman's angle.' But Brooks manages to take the film further and create a multifaceted work full of satirical elements worthy of Agnes Varda's `Cleo from 5 to 7,' and Martin Scorsese's `Alice Doesn't Live here Anymore."
The Pure Genius of Alain Resnais; Belmondo and Boyer ROCK!; Sondheim's annoying and intrusive score only drawback
To see a good print of this film in a proper movie theatre (as we were finally able to do last year at the all-too-rare Resnais retorspective at the Egyptian in Hollywood) is like ascending to friggin heaven for the true film fan. With the myriad of attention that's been paid over the years to 'gangster/conman' flicks, how many people know that the most modern and technically advanced of all 'narrative' film directors had already made in 1974 the greatest and most transcendently poetic masterpiece connected with that 'establishment flouting' genre? Not that many, and none of the Resnais screenings at the Cinemateque were even remotely the sell-outs they should've been.
Resnais makes films that stand up to and get better with countless repeat viewings but filmgoers for some reason have decided that any film that they don't fully 'get' in one friggin viewing is somehow flawed or lacking in composition! It never occurs to them to say that about a piece of music or even a silly pop song; they will listen to that over and over again--but a movie? Hell no! One pop-corn chomping two hour span is all their precious attentions can be taxed to give, and any film that doesn't seek to manipulate them is quickly dismissed as 'difficult' or 'art-school' cinema. That's too bad, because Resnais' films are only difficult for those not accustomed to deconditioning themselves from the manipulative commercial cinema around them; they are meant to be slightly imperfect on purpose, so that audiences can participate and complete the picture to a certain degree subjectively. Once you realize that these films are labyrinths of wonder and beauty that more than repay any amount of attention you put into them, watching a Resnais film becomes a thoroughly natural process, nothing 'difficult' about it. But you have to take that step out of passivity and readjust your perspective a bit (reading Kreidle's excellent book on Resnais is a great place to start readjusting your perspective).
Belmondo must be commended for putting his star power and his own money into financing this film with Resnais as his chosen director. He sure made the right choice! Much more than "Breathless" and even "Pierrot Le Fou", "Stavisky" is a timeless and absolutely exquisite film that basically hasn't aged one bit, and it serves as probably the ultimate display piece for Belmondo's superb gift and magnetic personality. It's the best 'F.Scott Fitzgerald''1920s' type looking film ever made. It blows away any other film in the beauty and shading of its shots, the lushness of muted, shadowy colors in its look, and along with Storaro's work in the "The Conformist" (which is a shallower film than it in the narrative sense), Vierny's cinematography is the most awe-inspiringly authentic and yet transcendently romantic looking 'period' look ever achieved on film. In addition to Belmondo, "Stavisky" features the great Charles Boyer in one of his greatest performances ever, forever immortalized in a work of cinematic art as truly deserving of his talents as "The Earrings of Madame de..." or "Algiers." The only complaint I have about this film is with regards to Sondheim's score. It's good when it stays in the background, but unfortunately it often becomes intrusive and in a 'cheap modern', second-hand-Stravinsky-meets-broadway way that's really annoying. Resnais would've been better off, even with a restrained Ennio Morricone score than this type of bogus music. Other than that one minor tolerable annoyance "Stavisky" is an awe-inspiring masterpiece.
Seduto alla sua destra (1968)
A brilliant, mercilessly hardcore political film; probably Woody Strode's greatest role
It's funny that one of the alternate titles for this film is "Super Brother"! "Super Brother"?! I guess they must have been referring to the iconic super-athlete-turned-actor Woody Strode and trying to sell this brilliant, Pontecorvo-esque Battle-of-Algiers-Queimada-Burn-like 1968 anti-colonialist political Italian film to a blaxploitation/spaghetti-Western/action-film crowd! Zurlini's film is definitely hardcore, violent, and has some action, but it is anything but blaxploitation; even with all its flaws it's one of the fantastic achievements of the politically committed 'Marxist' cinema of the period, at the very least, on the level of Pontecorvo's much more widely seen "Burn," starring Marlon Brando. Snobs and perfectionists may disagree with that assessment but real film fans know that imperfect, flawed films are often far preferable in every way to films that play by the rules and criterion set-up by bozo mainstream critics. "Black Jesus," and most of Zurlini's other films are underrated masterpieces that have slipped through the crack of history and are ripe for rediscovery. I thoroughly enjoyed all 8 of Zurlini's films screened at UCLA recently and would buy at least 6 of them on DVD tomorrow if they were available. All 8 of them should be put out on good DVDs, not cut-up pan-and-scan videos (and especially, "Black Jesus" because it was shot in 2.35:1 widescreen)!
One of the flaws associated with the film is that it was post-production dubbed in the typically bizarre sounding Italian style of that era but to me that's not a big problem: the film itself being intentionally played slightly 'over-the-top' this 'aural distancing' only adds to its surreal, dreamlike, hypnotic, and totally flabergasting power. "Black Jesus" is a dramatic re-creation of events that actually happened (again like Pontecorvo's "Burn"), though the names and locales have been changed to wisely avoid accusations of historical innaccuracy with regard to details. The entire film has one major purpose: to put you in direct contact with the brute facts of colonialism and make you very mad that injustice goes unpunished, and it uses parable to drive its point home. The long, meditative, almost Antonioni-paced prison conversation between Strode and his unlucky knave of a cell-mate as he awaits the sure to be bleak fate of one who doesn't compromise with tyrants, sets up one of the most harrowing and shattering torture scenes in cinematic history (harder to take than anything in Midnight Express or Reservoir Dogs). Not one inch is granted to audience sensitivities and conditioning and their need to have 'escapist' entertainment; the entire film is completely uncompromised, bleak, hard-to-take, powerful, and in the final analysis, a truly awesome achievement that transcends all its flaws.
Yi yi (2000)
Transcendent Existenialism, now and forever, the only frontier of commercial cinema
Mass audiences or even art-house audiences being even less conditioned now than they were in the late '60s to take the next step forward and accept completely non-dramatic personal films in the "synaesthetic" sense that Gene Youngblood described 30 years ago in the famous book "Expanded Cinema," most current 'mainstream-art-house' (whatever the hell that means, although I see absolutely no reaon why this film shouldn't be a success with mass audiences if only they had a little patience) cinema is basically doomed to forever repeat the best of its past achievements in new settings and configurations: always illuminating to be sure, especially when an accomplished artist like Yang or Tavernier or Rohmer is at the helm, but nothing new.
And, of course, there's nothing new in Yang's excellent film "Yi yi" that hadn't already been done by the time of Bresson's "Diary of a Country Priest"; that is, an existentialist film that has many transcendent elements and becomes much more than itself. The reason later Bresson films like "Mouchette" and "Pickpocket" don't reach the level of "Diary of a Country Priest" is because they are much more purely existentialist and lack enough transcendent 'poetic' elements. The same is true of Paul Schrader's films; there ain't no way in hell "Affliction" is on the same level of "Blue Collar" and "Hardcore" or even "American Gigolo," simply because those films temper their necessary existenialism with transcendenct aspects throughout that make the films dreamlike, mythic, beyond themselves.
Yang is on a similar wavelength here philosophically speaking to many of the great directors who came before him, because all their best films are precisely existenialist cinema that transcends itself. "The 400 Blows," "Boudou Saved From Drowning," "The Rules of the Game," "The River," "L'Avventura," "Taxi Driver," even most of Chaplin's and Tati's comedies, the list is very long and illustrious. In Yang's "Yi yi" the little boy is one of the transcendent symbols among the existential anguish of his elders' lives, and his perspective is that of the spirit that transcends; the constant Antonioni like intrusion of 'the trees and nature' on urban life, the way Yang structured the shots, their juxtaposition, as well as what goes on inside them is also reflective of a balancing act between the transcendent and existential, the yin and the yang.
Like in most Chinese and oriental films, things do seem to get a little too sentimental at times and sometimes you want to reach into the screen and slap some of the syrup out of the characters. The film was shot entirely on Digital Video and unfortunately looks a little grainy (unlike Agnes Varda's fantastic looking "The Gleaners and I" also shot mostly on DV), but Yang's sharp and aesthetically cultured eye more than makes up for it, as he offers up great shot after great shot, however grainy and annoying. The influence of Antonioni is unmistakable throughout and also that of Jacques Tati, not surprisingly, whose "Playtime" is one of the most profound films about modern life ever made. Above all, what I liked about Yi yi, was the fact that unlike Wong-Kar-WAi's endless, silly remakes of Godard's "Breathless," there wasn't a single disorienting 'poseur-modern' jump-cut or a single gun fired or even displayed in the entire film.
Neotpravlennoe pismo (1960)
Friggin Kalatazov and Urusevsky unhinged in Siberia
A quite ridiculous film about diamond hunters in Siberia by the extraordinary director/cinematographer team of "I Am Cuba" and "The Cranes Are Flying." Needless say, the camerawork in the bizarrely surreal and barren Siberian locations is UNBELIEVABLE (the continuous takes are longer than any other film in history except for "I Am Cuba") but the film itself is too directly tied to dramatic 'adventure story' conventions to transcend into pure poetry like "Cranes" and "Cuba." There is a spectacular scene shot with the main actors amidst a raging forest fire and another one shot during an ice-storm. Most definitely worth transferring to DVD (there isn't a true film fan that wouldn't be flabergasted by the cinematography) but not by the same ones (Hen's Tooth) who did such a mediocre job on the transfer of "I Am Cuba."
Something Wild (1961)
A great, completely underrated American 'method acting' masterpiece
I first became aware of this film when Winona Ryder mentioned it as one of her all-time favorite films in an interview with Timothy Leary. I found that no video copy of the film was on the market and it was rarely screened. I knew right away it would have to be a truly great film to be ignored for 40 years by the same American movie-going public who turned Kazan's ridiculously overrated "On the Waterfront" into a multi Oscar winner, gave George Stevens an Oscar for the awful "Giant," and made their greatest director (Orson Welles), a commercial failure and an exile.
Well I finally saw this thing yesterday, in pristine form and on the huge screen of the Egyptian theatre in Hollywood, thanks to the American Cinamateque, and all my suspicions and predictions were comfirmed: it's not only a masterpiece but one of the most idiosyncratic American films ever made; better than any pre-East-of-Eden Kazan film and featuring an astounding performace from Carroll Baker, and a brilliantly bizzare and understated one from Ralph Meeker. The film's pace is slow and methodical, frustrating ALL audience expectations and conditioning in the best Antonioni style (you can clearly tell Garfein's seen "L'Avventura" and "La Notte" a few times), and revealing insights and truths that would be completely obzcured otherwise. Most of the film is fascinatingly shot on crowded New York streets in a semi-neo-realist style using long takes and with the modernist music of Aaron Copland providing an eerie counterpoint to the visual mood. The cinematography is by Eugen Shuftan, the same guy who shot Fritz Lang's famous silent film "Metropolis" and it's expressionistic to the max, providing further contrast and counterpoint, a 'poetic touch' to the realistic method acting employed in the film.
Some people might think that the entire film is absurd and no rape victim would refuse to say anything about her rape and then fall in love and marry a crazy mechanic who locks her in an apartment, but they forget one point: Meeker doesn't know (because he was drunk out of his mind) that he violated Baker's trust and when Baker mentions that she was the one who kicked him in the eye, he realizes his inpropriety, becomes patient, and leaves the door unlocked. Furthermore, the reason Meeker locks Baker in the room in the beginning is partly to prevent her from another 'blacked-out' suicide attempt, because he loves her and doesn't want to lose her. And the objection of 'rape victims who never report their rape are unrealistic' is ridiculous on its face; everyone knows from statistics that it is an unoforunate and all too common occurence, maybe even especially more so when the girl raped is beautiful enough to be said to be 'provoking' men. So the entire film is completely valid on its face and thoroughly realistc. But what makes it great are the little touches and details, the time taken to capture the nuances of acting and location that other films don't make the effort for. One can only hope that Jack Garfein (the director, who was married to Carroll Baker at the time) makes the further effort of getting MGM/UA or whoever owns the original negative of this film, to transfer it to a good DVD to give people a chance to rediscover one of the great American films some 40 years after its initial release to commerical failure: "Something Wild."
Le soldatesse (1965)
Anna Karina in Zurlini's great 1965 neo-realist masterpiece
This almost Dreyer-like deeply poetic film about 'faces' is one of the most brilliant of the 60s and one of the most inexplicably neglected and forgotten. I'd rank this as Zurlini's 2nd greatest achievement after the awe-inspiring existentialist technicolor masterpiece `Family Diary' starring Marcello Mastroianni. Zurlini's deliberate use of a slightly over-the-top melodramatic style of acting within a basically neo-realist approach that makes room for Antonioni-like meditative takes, allows him to make his points in an extra-real' and poetic zone where things are more symbolically flexible, dreamlike and fluid, closer to myth. It's a very difficult and fragile intuitive balancing act and sometimes, as in the cases of `Violent Summer' and `Girl With The Suitcase' not much more than a gorgeously photographed melodrama results. But the balance is definitely right on "Le Soldattese," "The Professor," and "Black Jesus."
Shot almost entirely on location in Greece in an awesome deep-focus newreel-documentary style black-and-white (with the emphasis on the blacks), `Le Soldattesse' is the story a group of prostitutes that have been recruited for the military brothels of Italian soldiers during WW II, and the long truck ride they take trying to get to their destinations through a war-torn mountainous area. Three military men of different rank have the job of taking them through, and the relationships they develop with the girls on this trip is the real subject matter of the film. Sublimely beautiful Sixties New-Wave icon Anna Karina plays the most cheerful of the ladies of leisure but there are no real leads in the film, all 5 or 6 of the main characters are given equal screen time and Zurlini never falters once as he draws poetic and hilarous performances full of insights from each character. On a higher level "Le Soldattese" becomes a deep examination of one relatively minor but revealing absurdity (prostitutes being carried to brothels in a war-torn area to boost troop morale) overlapping the bigger, related absurdity of the war itself and Mussolini-era fascism.
La prima notte di quiete (1972)
Alain Delon and Giancarlo Giannini at their best in a fantastically photographed forgotten masterpiece
This is forgotten Italian master Valerio Zurlini's third best film after "Family Diary" and "Le Soldattese." It features one of Alain Delon's very best performances and an equally good supporting one from Giancarlo Giannini. Delon plays a hard-drinking and gambling professor of poetry who is fascinated by the sullenness of a beautiful student(Sonia Petrovna) and gradually falls in love with her. He finds out through his gambling buddies that she is involved in a pornography-prostitution operation of some kind. Zurlini's great film uses a slightly over-the-top melodramatic style to delve deep into the existentialist despair of Delon's character as he hangs around the discos of a very liberal and swinging early '70s post-sexual-revolution Italy, depressed by all the empty people around him desperately trying to distract themselves any way they can. The underlying Antonioni-like theme of people trying to distract themselves and merge into a crowd rather than individuate and painfully grow is very similar to that of "Desert of the Tartars," a film that couldn't be more different than "The Professor" on the surface. Dario Di Palma's deep-focus color cinematography in this film is one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous displays of virtuosity this side of Carlo Di Palma's soft-focus work in Antonioni's "Red Desert."