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Unique, Compelling, Haunting - A Very Great Work of Art!
A tale of forbidden love, TABU is best-remembered today as legendary German director FW Murnau's last film - he was killed in a car accident only one week before its New York premiere. Murnau had been working in Hollywood since the mid-1920s, and had already directed several films in the United States, but of these, only the famous SUNRISE (1927) was a success. By 1930, Murnau had become tired of the Hollywood system and was thinking about returning to Germany, but a timely introduction to Robert F. Flaherty - at that time famous as the director of the classic documentary NANOOK OF THE NORTH - sparked an ill-fated collaboration that resulted in this gorgeous, hypnotic and unforgettable film.
At first, Murnau and Flaherty intended to produce a "Nanook-style" documentary of Tahiti and its people, but several problems intervened: Flaherty and Murnau turned out to have radically different ideas about film-making in general and this project in particular; Flaherty's skills as a cinematographer were not up to the task and another DP had to be called in; and Flaherty's working relationship with the domineering Murnau fell apart when - instead of being co-director as the two had agreed - Flaherty found himself spending most of his time in the lab developing Muranu's film. Only one scene directed by Flaherty remains in TABU - the opening spearfishing sequence - and sad to say, the quality of this scene is no match for Murnau's exquisite footage. In addition, Flaherty decided that he hated the story - he found it too Westernized and fairy-tale-like. After a period of mutual discontent, Murnau bought out Flaherty, sent the entire Hollywood crew back to California, and took over the project completely - even training Tahitian natives in film-making techniques so he could employ the locals as his crew. With the exception of Anne Chevalier - a local French/Tahitian woman whom Murnau discovered performing in a bar in Bora Bora - the entire cast and crew save Murnau and his cinematographer was made up of nonprofessionals.
The film which resulted from this choice is a unique hybrid of documentary and fiction, with a mythic, fantasmatic air about it that is very hard to define - there is no other movie like TABU. Certainly, the fact that we are watching actual Tahitian natives going about their daily business rather than professional actors lends the film a patina of authenticity and realism which makes it impossible to categorize TABU as some sort of Western-colonial-white people's fantasy of the South Seas - in fact, the film's depiction of tribal culture is quite complex and thought-provoking, as we will see...
The plot of TABU is diagramatically simple - the idyllic lives of a Bora Bora fisherman (called Matahi) and his beloved, Reri (Anne Chevalier) are destroyed when tribal elders decree that Reri is so perfect a specimen of local womanhood that the gods have selected her for the honor of becoming their sacrificial victim. Reri immediately becomes TABU - forbidden - to Matahi as she must come before the gods untouched by man. Not surprisingly, Matahi disagrees with the gods' choice. He kidnaps Reri and the two flee to a neighboring island where they believe they will be safe. Unfortunately, this particular island has been taken over by Western civilization and thus the innocent Matahi and Reri have to navigate some very unfamiliar and peculiar customs - like debt and credit. Matahi begins working as a pearl diver, but he is unable to understand money (or handle liquor) and is threatened with violence when he cannot repay a debt. The couple flee once more, desperate for a safe haven, but they do not find one. Matahi and Reri's lives become more and more insecure and in due course of time, the tribal elders track them down anyway. Realizing that the only choice they have is to return to the world they know, Reri resigns herself to her fate, but will Matahi accept the inevitable? A mere plot-summary cannot fully express what TABU is like as a visual and intellectual experience. The film's treatment of native culture is extremely complex - unlike the "noble savage" cliché so popular among Western audiences and seen most recently in AVATAR, Murnau's Bora Bora seems like Eden on the surface, but is governed by a rigid code of conduct which squashes individuality and personality. Matahi and Reri's innocent love is doomed from the beginning, as they are caught between two worlds and unable to find a place in either. Ultimately, the beauty and simplicity of tribal life in Bora Bora - so seductive to the eye and ear in the first part of the film - is shown to be a soul-destroying deathtrap governed by superstition and groupthink. Of course, Murnau depicts the Western system as being no better - European civilization is shown as not much more than drunken, greedy, exploitative artifice out to rape the entire world for a fast buck. TABU is in many ways a terrifying film, where pure love is doomed in the face of money and authority, and even the gorgeous purity of the Tahitian Islands seems tainted by human greed and foolishness. This masterpiece will haunt you for a long time after you have seen it, partly because of the riveting story, and partly because of the exquisite cinematography by Floyd Crosby, who deservedly won an Academy Award for his efforts. Do not miss this legendary masterwork of cinema!
A Documentary Film as Legendary as its Subject - Unforgettable!
Although this remarkable documentary is usually known in the English-speaking world as "The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl," the German title (in translation) is "The Power of Images: Leni Riefenstahl." The difference is not merely one of semantics - Ray Muller's biopic of the woman best remembered as "Hitler's favorite filmmaker" goes beyond its subject to raise profound questions about the deepest effects of art and the visual image on history and human consciousness. Leni Riefenstahl's 1930s films - the NASDAP films "Victory of the Faith," "Triumph of the Will," the little-known (and long-thought-lost) "Day of Freedom: Armed Forces," and "Olympia" simultaneously broke new ground in the development of cinematic form, made her the first internationally-celebrated female director, and created an image of National Socialist Germany so powerful and compelling that to this very day, images from Riefenstahl's work are routinely stolen and used to symbolize the Nazi period in literally hundreds of television programs (just watch anything on the History Channel!), usually without any credit to her. Indeed, as Mueller points out, it was Riefenstahl whose work transformed a ragtag, motley band of German politicians and soldiers into awesome figures of terrible strength and force - as Muller notes, "She made the Nazis look like Nazis." Already one of the most famous women in Europe long before she started working for Hitler, Leni Riefenstahl was a legend in her own time and is still the best-known female director in history, despite the fact that she made only one major film after 1938. This documentary artfully mixes period footage, extended clips from Riefenstahl's films, and interviews with the director and her associates, including cameramen who worked with her and her longtime companion (who was 40-plus years younger than his famous lover!). Proceeding in chronological order, Muller's film covers every aspect of this amazing woman's life, from her early days as a dancer in the mode of Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis, to her ground-breaking and technically stunning "Mountain Films" where she was usually cast as a lovely daredevil, to her later work as a photographer in the Sudan and in the deepest ocean.
It is impossible to watch this film and be unimpressed with Frau Riefenstahl's talent, drive, and sheer force of personality - one can hardly believe one's eyes when one watches this tiny, wizened ancient bellowing orders at the director and literally shaking him senseless (a man a quarter her age and half her size!) when he has the temerity to disagree with her suggestions on how she should be photographed. It is also impossible not to be disgusted by Frau Riefenstahl's complete self-involvement and her total refusal to consider that the content of her work might have a political component beyond her original intent.
Riefenstahl is a rare example of a female aesthete - a woman whose whole life was governed by a vision of ideal beauty. Beauty, however, is not a democratic phenomenon, and this is where Riefenstahl's life and career begin to raise some very dark and troubling issues for those of us who like to tell ourselves that art is always a force for good. To the end of his days, Hitler saw himself first and foremost as an artist - an individual who uses their powers of perception to shape a new reality. For both Riefenstahl and Hitler, the art of ancient Greece and Rome represented the pinnacle of human physical capacity and offered a vision of perfect beauty beyond time and space, a vision which Hitler was determined to transform into reality, using the "Aryan" German people as his raw material. A single shot in "Olympia" makes this notion quite clear - the famous lap-dissolve between the white marble of Myron's celebrated "Diskobolos" and the living, moving body of an Olympic athlete hurling his discus into space. Connoisseurs of art will know that the pose of Myron's statue is in fact anatomically impossible to assume (try it yourself), but Riefenstahl's evil genius and simplistic mind equated physical reality with the principles of classical art, itself almost always ideal rather than real. Our own society over the past few decades seems to have succumbed to a kind of thinking which - like Riefenstahl, Hitler and the Ancient Greeks - equates physical beauty with moral virtue and ultimate truth. No wonder Riefenstahl's visual style and photographic skills are copied again and again by sports shows and commercials - all of which are usually selling a product to a viewer by appealing to our vanity and desire to be "perfect" - and thus loved and adored. This is why Leni Riefenstahl's work is so dangerous - consider the suffering generated in our own society by the obsession so many of us seem to have with being "beautiful" and "perfect." In a world where plastic surgery is now a multi-billion dollar business and millions of people seem to have no other ambition than maximizing their physical attractiveness, shouldn't we be asking ourselves some very serious questions about our own aesthetic ideals and their consequences, given the fact that the cult of beauty and perfection in our age seems to result so often in death and pain? Ray Muller's film is one of the few works of art in our time to raise these questions seriously. Whatever you may think of Riefenstahl and her art, the fact remains that her life and career are more relevant than ever. "The Power of Images" indeed.
Haunting, Sensual and Unforgettable...
Banned in Indonesia for nearly 20 years after its release, Peter Weir's 1983 political melodrama THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY (TYLD) remains the only film in existence set during the failed Communist revolution of 1965 which swept corrupt dictator Sukarno out of office only to replace him with the equally corrupt Suharto. The plot revolves around the coming-of-age of neophyte journalist Guy Hamilton (played by Mel Gibson before Hollywood stardom ruined his looks and bloated his ego to titanic proportions), recently arrived in Djakarta from Australia and looking to break big stories and make a name for himself - fast. Guy is befriended by ace photographer Billy Kwan (more on "him" later), a half-Chinese, half-Indonesian dwarf who has connections in very high places and believes in President Sukarno's benevolence. The political situation in the country is tense - mass protests block traffic in the streets while a Communist revolution brews behind the scenes and Sukarno's position grows more anxious by the day. Naive and self-centered, Guy sees his new world entirely through selfish eyes - as though all Indonesia existed only for his personal entertainment and enrichment. Guy is far from alone in this regard, as the racist and sexually-exploitative behavior of his fellow-journalists demonstrates (a scene in which one of Guy's colleagues takes his pick from literally a score of desperate girls all too eager to sell themselves for a few dollars is horrific). Despite the post-WW II setting, European colonialism in Asia seems alive and well, with Western diplomats and expatriates living lives of material abundance far removed from the miserable reality of Asia's slums. Thanks to Billy Kwan's connections and friendship, Guy not only gains access to leading political players - making his name via an exclusive interview with the head of the Indonesian Communist Party - but meets the beautiful Jill Bryant (played nicely by Sigourney Weaver, whose acting is better than her accent). Jill is an assistant at the British Embassy and as such, is privy to a great deal of classified information. The pair seem to be wildly in love, but is Jill more important to Guy than his career? Before the story ends, Guy Hamilton will see blood spilled, lose his best friend, learn that Asian politics isn't a spectator sport, and that his white skin is no guarantee of safety and security. Truthfully, TYLD is something of a misfire as a political thriller - somehow, the plot doesn't quite cohere, the period setting is less than convincing, and indeed, the political aspects of the piece ultimately take a backseat to what starts to become the real story of the film - Guy's loss of arrogance and innocence, the development of his relationship with Jill, and the self-destruction of Billy Kwan. Taken as a romance and as a character study, TYLD succeeds beyond its wildest expectations. Weir - always a master of that intangible yet essential quality called "atmosphere" - creates here what has to be one of the most sensuous films of all time. The heat of the equatorial air is palpable, the crowded slums visceral. As many other reviewers have noted, the chemistry between Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver in this film is breathtaking - the sequence where they get caught in a sudden downpour, take shelter in a car, and ALMOST kiss is to this reviewer one of the most erotic scenes in all cinema - and perhaps rarely have two attractive humans been photographed so superbly as they are here - so much so that one can overlook Miss Weaver's tenuous English accent, which comes and goes at intervals before finally vanishing altogether. Linda Hunt's Oscar-winning gender-crossing portrayal of the brilliant but doomed Billy Kwan is superlative - what, indeed, is to be done about such mass poverty and suffering? The Vangelis soundtrack is also brilliant - lush waves of synthesized chords wash over the viewer, making the perfect aural counterpart to the film's rich photography. The ending - in which Guy has to make a choice between his ego and his lover - is gripping and suspenseful. The film's slow, even languid, pace only adds to the hothouse and strangely self-contained atmosphere. This movie isn't just something you watch - it is a remarkable sensual experience all by itself and a reminder of the power and beauty that the screen can bring to the human face. This reviewer has loved this great film ever since watching it repeatedly on cable TV as a child in the 80s - there is nothing quite like this movie's atmosphere anywhere else. Don't miss this sexy and though-provoking work of art!
The Kind of Movie That Just Doesn't Get Made Anymore!
Despite its failure at the box-office in the USA, "Australia" is nevertheless the most financially successful and popular film ever produced Down Under - with the exception of CROCODILE DUNDEE back in 1984! The reasons for this much-maligned film's massive worldwide success are simple - this movie is the kind of crowd-pleasing, action-packed melodrama that used to be the film industry's bread-and-butter, but that no one today seems to know how to produce - except Baz Luhrmann! The director - who knows his film history - stated at the outset that he wanted to make an Australian version of GONE WITH THE WIND, and this reviewer believes that Mr. Luhrmann - for better and for worse - succeeded completely in realizing his dream. "Australia" is a deliberate throwback to what some people might think of as cinema's "Golden Age," and what others might think of as a completely archaic, totally out-of-date style of film-making which was thought overdone and "cheesy" by many even in the 1930s. This is not a "subtle" or "challenging" motion picture - like the Hollywood epics of the 1930s and 1940s (such as 1937's THE GOOD EARTH) which it is imitating, "Australia" is quite similar to GWTW in that it is an uneasy fusion of "action-adventure" and "women's melodrama" - everything about this movie is simultaneously simplified and exaggerated, meant to be watched with tongue thoroughly in-cheek! Let's begin with the first cliché - the characters: It is summer 1939. Nicole Kidman is Lady Sarah Ashley, an English noblewoman who journeys to a remote ranch in the Outback with the goal of retrieving her errant husband. Sadly, Lord Ashley died just before his estranged wife's arrival, but Sarah is far from grief-stricken...When she learns that her remote estate is much more valuable than anyone previously thought (except a villainous foreman named Fletcher), she decides to assume responsibility for running the ranch herself. Aiding her in this endeavor is the rough-and-tough-but-oh-so-sexy "Drover" (and the ridiculous name should tell us all that this film is not meant to be "realistic"). Drover is incarnated by Hugh Jackman - who will probably never look or be photographed better than he is here. Naturally, the elegant aristocrat and the gritty cattle rustler take an instant dislike to one another, but the Widow Ashley will change her mind soon enough after a few glimpses of Drover's monumental physique...This is one of those movies where the male lead is far more sensual and voluptuous than his leading lady (and shows a lot more flesh, too), and if that bothers you in any way, then you are not part of "Australia's" target audience, which appears to be women, male homosexuals, and movie buffs of all ages. Lady Sarah and Drover spend the next 3 hours of your life keeping the ranch from being sold, exposing dastardly villains, endangering themselves for love, journeying through sere-but-gorgeous Outback landscapes, surviving Axis attacks as soon as the movie switches time from 1939 to 1942, and protecting the local Aborigines from exploitation and abuse. Watching "Australia" is like taking a roller-coaster ride at an amusement park - you already know exactly what kind of experience you are going to have, the only question is - will the experience live up to your expectations? Unlike so many reviewers, this writer enjoyed every second of this light-hearted, entertaining, thrill-a-minute ride - not DESPITE but BECAUSE of the stock characters, clichéd dialogue, shameless emotionalism, and overuse of antique cinematic devices cribbed not just from 1930s movies, but from 1930s-style nostalgia-pix like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK from a generation ago. While the characters are less fully-developed than those of GWTW - Mr. Luhrmann's stick-figures cannot compare to Margaret Mitchell's unique and unforgettable Rhett and Scarlett - the whole epic smorgasboard is done with such vigor and played so well by all the principals that one eventually becomes caught up in it - or perhaps surrenders to it! If you want to see a film that recalls an old-fashioned "Night At the Movies" - this is the film for you. "Australia" has no profanity, no explicit nudity, and no blood or gore - it is a near-perfect piece of light entertainment with something for everyone. Special kudos should go to Mr. Luhrmann for making this film the first in history to deal accurately and intelligently with the "whitening" policy of the Australian government - for many decades, any "half-caste" children were removed from their families and sent to state-run homes where they were given European educations and taught to blend into the white race as part of a deliberate social policy intended to breed the aborigines out of existence. Some might find the film's depiction of the Aborigines as - naturally - the source of all knowledge and spirituality to be racist in and of itself, but at the very least, "Australia" tackles a part of history which has been rarely touched, and it does so in a refreshingly non-didactic manner. Try this movie on for size on a cold or rainy night and you will be surprised at what a good time you have. "Australia" is EPIC FUN!
The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
Don't Even Try to Figure Out the Plot - Just Watch!
Full disclosure: THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI is this reviewer's all-time favorite Orson Welles picture - less didactic than KANE and far more entertaining than AMBERSONS...Originally produced in 1946, LADY was not released until 1948, thanks largely to studio interference during post-production. Columbia studio-head Harry Cohn hated the picture from day 1 due to his obsession with Rita Hayworth - Cohn detested Welles and loathed the director's shearing and bleaching of Hayworth's famous long hair for her role as a combination trophy-wife/underworld boss lady. Cohn also found the film incomprehensible - after Welles' screened his initial, 2.5 hour cut, Cohn actually offered $1000 cash to anyone who could explain the plot to him in a way that made sense (there were no takers!)...Despite the flaw of an often-confusing storyline - such essential points as just how Rita Hayworth becomes the leader of the Chinese underworld, exactly who is being targeted for assassination and why, and what Welles' hapless-sailor character Michael is doing in the middle of all of this are never really explained - LADY FROM SHANGHAI is a feast for the eyes and the imagination which rewards multiple viewings. Sadly, unlike the magnificent restoration of TOUCH OF EVIL a decade ago, there will never be a "director's cut" of LADY, as the excised footage (much of which was apparently concerned Elsa Bannister's life in Shanghai as mistress to the leader of the Chinese underworld) was deliberately destroyed on Cohn's orders. Those who complain about LADY'S being difficult to follow should keep in mind that we only have about 50% of the film which Welles actually made. On the other hand, it's hard to see how LADY FROM SHANGHAI could have made any "sense" in the first place, given that the film's plot and script are cloaked in deliberate obscurity. THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI is less a coherent narrative than it is an elaborate visual and aural extravaganza. This film contains some sequences which will literally take your breath away, with the legendary mirror-maze climactic shootout being the best known, but the love scene in the aquarium and the trial sequence - among others - are equally rich in style and impact. After several viewings, you will be able to just relax and enjoy the bizarre journey. No matter what you think about the movie's plot (or lack thereof), the final 20 minutes of this movie will blow your mind, especially when Rita Hayworth starts speaking fluent Chinese! DO NOT MISS THIS PICTURE if you want to see true storytelling genius at work!
Star Trek: The Menagerie: Part I (1966)
The Best Original Star Trek Episode - Hugo Award Winner!
Imagine that you could have anything you wanted, go anywhere you wished, be anything you'd ever dreamed of being - through thought alone. Now imagine yourself sharing this gift with the love of your life. What would you do? Would such powers be worth your soul? This is the dilemma presented to Captain Christopher Pike in "The Cage" the now-legendary pilot episode of the original Star Trek series. Famously deemed "too cerebral" and "too cold" by NBC brass and rejected, "The Cage" was nevertheless the most ambitious and costly pilot ever made in the history of the network at the time, and Gene Roddenberry did not want to let all that effort and expense go to waste, with the result being this truly classic Star Trek episode, which embeds "The Cage" into a frame story which deepens and extends the emotional and philosophical depth of this haunting tale, a landmark in TV history and one of the first truly serious sci-fi stories ever filmed for the small screen...Star Date 3012: The USS Enterprise diverts to Starbase 11 after Mr. Spock receives an urgent message from the former commander of the Enterprise. Surprisingly, the message cannot be from Captain Pike after all, as he is now confined to a wheelchair, mute and horribly disfigured after a tragic accident. Kirk and Starbase commanding officer Commodore Mendez attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery, but before the matter can be cleared up, Spock - for reasons as yet unknown - commits an act of open mutiny, kidnapping the helpless Captain Pike and hijacking the Enterprise via a brilliantly thought-out and timed plan aided by a few Vulcan nerve pinches. Soon, the Enterprise is headed for the remote, forbidden planet of Talos IV. Mendez informs Kirk that Talos IV is under interdiction, and any contact with the planet by Starfleet vessels or personnel carries an immediate death sentence, meaning that Spock appears to be deliberately destroying himself, and Kirk as well, given that the Captain will be held responsible for the ship's activities. Appalled, Kirk and Mendez give chase in a shuttlecraft, which itself becomes dangerous when the Enterprise refuses to answer their calls or pick up the craft until power and oxygen are nearly gone. Spock - knowing that Kirk must be the one following the ship - is of course unable to consign the Captain to certain death. After ordering the craft to be retrieved and the occupants beamed aboard, Spock reveals what he has done to McCoy and demands to be arrested, after having set the starship on an irreversible course to Talos IV. Upon reassuming command, Kirk demands an explanation, whereupon Spock requests immediate court martial by a tribunal of Starfleet commanding officers - of whom there are three on board - Mendez, Kirk, and the crippled invalid Captain Pike. Spock's encyclopedic knowledge of Starfleet regulations enables him to manipulate the tribunal into allowing him to present otherwise inadmissible evidence. Spock presents video recordings of the only contact ever made between the Federation and the inhabitants of Talos IV - a journey taken 13 years earlier by the Enterprise itself under Pike's command. Kirk expresses doubts about the authenticity of the video due to its extreme detail, but the reality of the events depicted is confirmed by Pike himself, who turns out to have been lured to Talos IV by a distress call from the alleged survivors of a Federation research vessel which crashed there 18 years previously. Among the survivors is Vina, a stunning beauty said to have been born just before the disaster. Pike is attracted to the girl and allows her to lure him to an isolated spot, whereupon he is waylaid and captured by the Talosians, a race of androgynous humanoids with enormous cranial capacity and the power to transform thoughts into virtual reality. After Pike's capture, the rest of the "survivors" vanish as none of them really existed except Vina. The episode ends when the tribunal learns that Spock's "evidence" is in fact being transmitted to the Enterprise directly from Talos IV, in violation of Starfleet regulations. Starfleet orders an immediate halt to the transmissions, and we wonder what will happen next...To be continued in a review of "The Menagerie: Part II"!
"I Don't Want to THINK! I Just Want to DANCE!"
Despite beings graced by one of the finest screen performances in post-1950 cinema - Julie Christie as "Diana Scott" - this film as a whole has become somewhat forgotten - infrequently revived and often dismissed as a dated, overly-trendy 1960s period piece (as can be seen by reading many of the IMDb reviews on this site!). Seen as a bit of production design, DARLING is indeed wholly of its time, but if you can you look past the clothes, hair, music and now-faintly-ridiculous slang, DARLING becomes something quite different - a serious exploration of the transformation in manners and morals which overwhelmed the world in the mid-60s and continues to shape all our lives today. DARLING is seen by many as a "satire," but for this reviewer, DARLING is something more - a conservative film in the true sense of the word, a work which holds the new morality of our age up to a harsh light and forces us to ask some very hard questions about ourselves and the world in which we live now. DARLING tells a very traditional story - that of an ambitious woman who uses her face and figure to climb into society's upper echelons - but unlike similar characters such as Vanity Fair's Becky Sharp or Edith Wharton's Undine Spragg, Diana Scott is less interested in rising to the top of Europe's landed aristocracy or the American Old Guard than she is in securing a place in the "New Aristocracy" of Cafe Society, where lineage and breeding matter less than looks, money and publicity. As the story opens, Diana Scott is a young English rose gifted less with brains and ambition than an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time. Wanting something more than her council-flat, working-class background can provide, Diana chooses marriage as her way out, but she quickly sheds her bumbling teenage husband when she meets Robert Gold (Dirk Bogarde), a well-known (and married) TV journalist who becomes infatuated with the free-spirited young model and eventually succumbs to her demand that he leave his wife for her. Domestic bliss proves short-lived, however, as Robert's quiet, scholarly, and intellectual life-style bores the restless Diana out of her wits. Seeking a more exciting world than Robert can offer, Diana allows rich cad Miles Brand (Lawrence Harvey) to seduce her. Becoming part of his fast-moving "swinging" set, Diana heads off to the Continent and finds herself running around with a wild crowd and becoming more and more well-known as a model, actress, and "personality" despite her complete lack of artistic talent - in one pivotal scene, Diana actually flees an important audition! Eventually, Diana attracts the attention of a minor European royal - an Italian Prince - who courts her and eventually marries her in due course of time. The marriage ensures Diana a place in the rarefied world of international celebrity at the cost of her personal happiness, since it rapidly becomes obvious that she is nothing more than a trophy wife - the Prince leaves his new wife buried in the country to make incommunicado trips to Rome, ostensibly to visit his "mother". Realizing that she has made a terrible mistake, Diana escapes to England and tries to reconnect with Robert Gold - whom she now thinks was her one true love - and for one night she succeeds, but Robert quashes her fantasies of a new life together very fast when he informs her that he agreed to meet her for the sake of old times and in fact has no intention of allowing her back into his life. Rejected, Diana returns to Italy, hounded by the press and facing an uncertain future. Julie Christie is simply flawless as Diana, who cannot be blamed for the vanity and superficiality of the world around her and still manages to come across as an innocent no matter how many men she sleeps with or how many drugs she takes. DARLING is sometimes a bit heavy-handed and obvious in parts, but it remains valuable today as a critique of the new manners and morals of the 60s. The film's cinematographic style is extraordinary - Schlesinger and his DP shoot the tale in a cold, distant fashion which prevents us from identifying ourselves fully with any single character and makes the film seem like a documentary rather than a work of fiction. DARLING's detached, cold style sheds an interesting light on the characters and their activities - we are encouraged to observe, watch, evaluate and judge these rootless, disconnected, superficial people along with the society they inhabit. Of course, the film's final irony is that Diana Scott spends the whole thing longing for deep intimacy and true connection with another, only to lose the love of her life because she was incapable of appreciating him until it is too late, and preferred glitter to gold. Don't miss this remarkable picture!.
The Legacy (1978)
One of the Best "Happy Endings" Ever Filmed!
THE LEGACY is a film with many, many flaws - not the least of which are a weak and clueless protagonist with less screen time than the male lead (always a mistake in this kind of film), uneven pacing and and a script containing plot holes so large that one can drive a lorry right through them! That said, director Richard Marquand indeed accomplishes what he sets out to do - create a genre-bending mix of country-house-mystery, gorefest and BBC-family-melodrama which zooms along so quickly one hardly notices the flaws on the first go-round because one is too busy being entertained! Katharine Ross stars as "Maggie Walsh," a sweet California decorator summoned to rural England - ostensibly to take a decorating job for which she has already been paid in full (to her own surprise) a rather large sum. Accompanied by her Significant Other, Pete (played with classic Marlboro-Man machismo by the hirsute and callipygous Sam Eliott), Maggie duly heads off to the UK, only to become involved in a road accident which totals Pete's motorcycle and leaves them stranded at Ravenhurst, the remote manor of the other party to the mishap, elegant landowner Jason Mountolive (played with superb menace by John Standing). The American couple are very surprised when they arrive at Mountolive's house only to find a room already prepared for them by Mountolive's combination housekeeper/home health aide/shapeshifting familiar Nurse Adams - as if they were expected guests rather than accidental pick-ups. A quick test of their new Jacobean 4-poster canopy bed perks up Maggie & Pete's tense mood until other guests start arriving - all of whom appear to have been expecting Maggie's presence in their midst, which only increases Pete's suspicion of these smooth Europeans. Mountolive does not appear for dinner, and the other guests express great surprise to learn that their reclusive and deathly ill host has in fact met Maggie in person already. Suddenly, one of Mountolive's guests dies horribly. The shock loosens tongues and Maggie learns from conversing with the other guests that all of them are beholden to Jason in one way or another for their worldly success, that he is dying, and the time has come for a new heir or heirs. Eventually, Maggie is summoned to Jason's rooms for a private audience. Approaching the sick man's veiled bedside, Maggie is scared out of her wits when she is grasped by a wizened, clawed hand which forces a signet-ring onto her finger. After she realizes that the ring cannot be taken off, Maggie listens to her suspicious boyfriend and agrees to leave, only to find that they are somehow unable to do so - no matter which road they take, the path always doubles back to return them to Jason's mansion, but Maggie is getting caught up in the spirit of things now, so only Pete seems to mind that they are trapped on the estate. Soon, more deaths occur among the guests as part of the selection process, and in due course of time, Maggie learns that she is in fact the reincarnation of Jason Mountolive's mother - a witch and Satanist named Lady Margaret Walsingham who was burnt at the stake hundreds of years earlier. Jason himself is the designee of his mother's legacy - a legacy not just of wealth and property, but of witchcraft and Satanism - and must be at least 350 years old. Finally dying, he must transmit the legacy to a new generation...After the last bit of human competition is removed via yet another strange death, Maggie chooses to accept her destiny and mind-meld with the dying Jason, embracing her heritage of horror and Satanism and becoming the new "Lady Margaret," mistress of the Ravenhurst estate and all it represents. Pete survives and accepts his new role as Lady Margaret's consort, allowing her to slip an unremovable signet-ring onto his finger in the final moments of the film. Now Maggie has everything - money, land, position, title, her preferred mate and Satanic powers - and one can only imagine what she'll get up to! Of course, none of this makes much sense, but it is directed with such panache that somehow one doesn't mind. Script flaws are legion and far too much time is spent on the Sam Eliott character but the visuals are rich and atmospheric - the Jacobean country-house setting is especially appropriate - and so suggestive that they almost make up for the disjointed script and senseless plot. Scenes like Jason giving Maggie the ring, the attempted escape, and anything involving Nurse Adams keep the whole thing going. Amusingly, Pete's Marlboro-Man-Machismo winds up being completely ineffectual in the face of aristocratic European witchcraft - the final scene where an enraged Pete destroys Jason's bedchamber in a vain attempt to save Maggie from a fate she herself now freely accepts is a perfect lesson in the limitations of brute force as a means of problem-solving. There is something very satisfying about a movie in which the "Rambo" antics of the Typically-Macho-American-male lead are treated as the harmless play of a child and the character is shown as a buffoon rather than a role model, and it is doubly satisfying because this is a movie in which the female lead actually accepts a new life as Satan's disciple and not only survives, but gets everything she wants as well. It's one of the most unusual "happy endings" ever scripted - and one of the most enjoyable! Don't expect plausibility or a coherent plot from this one - just enjoy the creepy atmosphere, fine acting, and striking images on a cold rainy night and you'll have a very pleasant evening of thrills and chills. An extremely entertaining film that practically cries out to be remade...soon...Enjoy!
"Dad, she's a VULGARIAN!!!!"
Back in 1977, Woody Allen was the "King of the World" (to quote James Cameron) following the massive success of the justly-famous, multiple-Oscar-winning ANNIE HALL. ANNIE HALL - unlike most Woody Allen films - was also a box-office hit across the country (despite his international reputation, most Allen films just don't "play" in the USA outside the coastal cities, but they are usually so inexpensive to produce that Allen easily makes back his costs nevertheless). Being in such a position, Allen could do anything he wanted as a follow-up, so he chose a project which was very dear to his heart and which wound up disappointing just about everyone and became something of a joke for a long time afterward - a phenomenon so widespread it was referenced by Allen himself in 1980's STARDUST MEMORIES when a character says to the "Allen" stand-in - "I liked your early, funny, movies! INTERIORS violated audience expectations because it is not a comedy and Allen isn't in it (thank God), both of which were "firsts" in Allen's long career. Believe me, there is nevertheless a lot of humour in INTERIORS - but it is of the unintentionally funny kind, as we will see later...The film in fact slipped through something of a crack in UA's production schedule - preoccupied at the time with Cimino's out-of-control epic HEAVEN'S GATE, the money men trusted Allen and allowed him to do as he wished, but the box-office failure of INTERIORS was in its day thought to be just another example of a self-indulgent director getting his comeuppance and the film became another nail in the financial coffin which destroyed the only remaining major independent studio in Hollywood. Thirty years later, INTERIORS has perhaps finally gained the public recognition it deserves as one of Allen's richest, most rewarding and beautiful films. Derivative of Ingmar Bergman it may be, but a disaster it is not. The plot is simple - one day at breakfast in the Hamptons, WASPy lawyer Arthur (EG Marshall), coolly informs his elegant-but-domineering wife, Eve (Geraldine Page), that he wishes to separate. Eve - a controlling and perfectionistic decorator (hence the title) - promptly suffers an emotional decline which her children feel helpless to stop and which eventually leads her to suicide after her ex-husband remarries. This soap-opera material is lifted above the banal by three things - fantastic performances all around, a complex and demanding non-linear cinematic structure, and stunning photography and production design. INTERIORS is a perfect example of Allen's ongoing fascination with the psychological terrorism, physical restraint, and emotional coldness which he (rightly) sees as basic features of WASP society. Although portrayed in the story as the cause of everyone's problems, Eve is in fact the most sympathetic character. Only two of her three daughters - Renata (Diane Keaton) and Joey (Mary Beth Hurt) play a major role in the story, and both of these younger women are partially responsible for their mother's death due to their own problems - Renata is a frigid, neurotic woman whose success as a poet and author bring her no happiness, and who constantly competes with her sister for the attention of their father, while Joey is a highly-strung, perpetually unsatisfied individual who envies the talents of her sisters despite her own successful marriage. Neither one of them can stand their mother or each another, and Joey goes so far as to tear Eve to shreds psychologically in a devastating monologue at the climax which at last pushes Eve over the edge, causing her to walk into the open ocean just outside the family's Long Island residence. Joey frantically tries to save her mother, only to nearly drown herself. She is brought back to life by Arthur's new wife, Pearl (Maureen Stapleton), whose knowledge of CPR proves critical. Pearl is a slightly trashy yenta whose lack of intellectual refinement and sensuality charm Arthur (and the rest of the male characters!) but repulse the uptight daughters. Despite this, Pearl without hesitation saves the life of a girl who publicly insulted her at her own wedding just hours earlier! Photographed superbly by Gordon Willis, the drowning sequence is one of the most perfect in 1970's film-making. On the negative side, it has to be said that Allen's dialogue is often both pretentious and unintentionally funny - nobody actually talks like these people (the title of this review is one of the movie's funniest lines - watch for it), and their claim to the status of "intellectuals" is undercut by a lot of needlessly arch and senseless statements which reveal that Allen himself is far from the "intellectual" he is generally thought to be. Also, no one seems to have had a happy moment in their lives despite their money, talent and expensive real estate. Renata treats her husband like a fashion accessory, while Joey is an unrelenting nag and complainer ("Why do you stay with me! I give you nothing but grief!" she says to her grad-student husband - and she's right!). Nevertheless, the superb performances and fine photography give this film an emotional power - even a grandeur - which make it unique among Woody Allen works. You may not "like" this film, but you MUST SEE IT nevertheless, as few American films have ever even attempted to do what INTERIORS does. For his guts in making a movie which he knew would probably be rejected by the masses at the height of his own popularity, Allen deserves a great deal of credit. Within certain limitations, this reviewer regards INTERIORS as Allen's most personal masterpiece - it is an unforgettable and compulsively watchable film despite its flaws.
Hitchcock's Finest Tale of Erotic Obsession & Madness!
The story of SUSPICION is well-known: Repressed, spinsterish Lina (Joan Fontaine) meets a devastatingly handsome man on a train who turns out to be Johnny Aysgarth, a local socialite. Unmarried, Aysgarth excites the desires of every woman who crosses his path. When he and Lina meet again by chance, he becomes smitten. A wary Lina refuses his attentions until she overhears a conversation in which her parents speak of her dismissively, saying that she's just not the marrying type & that they will therefore "have her on their hands" forever. Afterwards, Lina pursues Johnny - in fact, she stalks him, tracking his movements by telephone and obsessively reading everything about him. The ill-matched couple are married in due course, but Johnny turns out to be a ne'er-do-well and a schemer. Ultimately, Lina convinces herself that her husband is a murderer and she is meant to be his next victim until a glass of milk triggers an open confrontation...
Hitchcock's follow-up to REBECCA was a huge success back in November 1941 and remains one of his most popular today, but over the years has suffered a decline in its reputation, thanks largely to Hitchcock himself - for decades, he complained to anyone who would listen that RKO studio executives forced him to alter the conclusion. Yes, it is true - the ending of SUSPICION is NOT what Hitchcock CLAIMED he would have preferred, nor is the ending of the film the same as Francis Iles' 1932 source novel, "Before the Fact." In both the novel and the unfilmed ending, Johnny Aysgarth is a cold, manipulative sociopath who does indeed kill his best friend and later his wife. Certainly, the ending proposed by Hitchcock - in which Lina allows herself to be poisoned but not before she asks Johnny to mail a letter for her, a letter which reveals her husband's crimes - would have worked. The fact of the matter is that such an ending was impossible to shoot in 1941, when suicide could not be portrayed on screen. A legend has grown up that Hitchcock was forced to alter the "real" ending after a disastrous test screening, but that particular conclusion was rightly rejected by audiences - in it, Johnny brings Lina the famous glass of milk, then realizes what she is thinking. Stunned by the knowledge that his wife believes him capable of killing her, he leaves her to join the RAF, where he fights bravely in the Battle of Britain and becomes a hero. This ridiculous ending wound up where it deserved to be - on the cutting-room floor! I might be in the minority here, but I love SUSPICION as it is and have no complaints about the ending, which as it stands is one of the most shocking reversals in movie history. Rather than providing us with a tale of a murder from the victim's point of view, the stunning surprise of the ending turns SUSPICION into a tale of erotic obsession and sexual madness. Early memos between Hitchcock and the RKO production staff demonstrate that Hitchcock wished to concentrate on the main female character's inner fantasy life early in the production's development, as several biographers have now confirmed through research in studio archives. In a way, SUSPICION may be the ultimate MacGuffin - the entire movie is a clever bit of misdirection whose abrupt ending completely changes all that has come before. Rather than focus on the problem, "Is Cary Grant a killer?", a more appropriate question to ask oneself might be, "Is Joan Fontaine completely insane?" Despite Grant's top billing, this is Joan Fontaine's movie all the way, and she richly deserved her Best Actress Academy Award. SUSPICION is built around something very unusual in movies of this time - a woman's erotic, desiring gaze. It is Lina who initiates the relationship, staring so hard at Johnny when they meet that he becomes physically uncomfortable. It is Lina who pursues him, and it is Lina who - based only on slim evidence - convinces herself that her man is a killer. Unlike the source novel - which was about Johnny Aysgarth - SUSPICION places its female protagonist front and center. We experience the film entirely from Lina's viewpoint, and so of course we find ourselves believing that "Cary Grant is a killer!" and we are of course frustrated and puzzled to find out that it is all in Lina's mind at the end - because if Lina's perceptions were faulty, then so were ours! Bad vision and inaccurate perception are major themes in the film right from the start: Lina's myopic gaze - she cannot truly SEE what is right in front of her - becomes a metaphor for her character's inability to leave her dream world and perceive her husband and his actions with accuracy. Instead, Lina prefers the fantasy she has constructed inside her warped mind. Underneath its lush, glossy surface (few Hitchcock films are as physically beautiful as this one), SUSPICION takes us on a dark and disturbing journey into the mind of a madwoman who succumbs to paranoia and fear. Ironically, the reaction of so many to this film - a response based entirely on "what-might-have-been" fantasy rather than an unbiased look at the film as it really is - merely confirms the power of Hitchcock's scenario! If you fall into this mental trap, you are behaving exactly like Joan Fontaine's character in the movie! When you change the way you look at this film and accept it for what it is, the real brilliance of the story and the ending becomes apparent - Lina MIGHT be correct after all, but of course we will never know!