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Outrageous! (1977)
Don't forget Robin Turner
9 July 2019
I saw this on YouTube 6/8/2019 and found it a very enjoyable film that even made me laugh at times. Craig Russell is the lead "drag queen" in the movie. Russell was a man possessing an obvious, albeit eccentric, talent. His female impersonations in "Outrageous" come across as cinematic versions of Al Hirschfeld prints. Hollis McLaren effectively portrays furloughed mental patient Lisa. I was even surprised to hear some memorable lines in the scripted dialog. Russell deserves the praise he received for all those spot-on caricatures of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Carol Channing and many others. But Robin Turner may be his best "impersonation" of them all. I came away very much believing his portrayal of an interesting, likable human being possessed of considerable complexity. A strange, low-budget, high quality movie. Glad I found it.
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Beware of 60's lollipop movies
16 December 2018
I don't think it's a good idea to use the word "lollipop" in a title. Call me mean, cynical, whatever, but lollipop movies have two strikes against them before the opening credits are done rolling. OK, Morris Engel made it work anyway ("Lovers and Lollipops' from 1956) but maybe in spite of, not because of, that menacingly precious title.

With "The Lollipop Cover" the grating begins in earnest with the first lines spoken by little Felicity, played by future TV veteran Carol Anne Seflinger. The script is the movie's principal weakness. The writing follows conventions of the time that have not aged well. One convention was to use little children as sources of profound wisdom about life, as in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962). Similar sources of wisdom could also be found among patients of mental institutions, for example, "David and Lisa"(1962) and "King of Hearts" (1966). So keep watching for when Ms. Seflinger explains the title. It would have been more interesting if the title had related more to some aspect of Don Gordon's Nick character, but what do I know...?

Another convention encouraged lengthy speechifying. And the more "intense", the more "deeply felt" and "emotional" the speech the better. Nick holds forth feelingly on several occasions to recount the life story of his ex-boxer character, describing things already covered in flashback. Felicity tells her story, too, and with a narrative polish unusual for a nine year old. The other characters in this road picture orate, as well, so much so that by the time the movie gets around to Felicity's alcoholic uncle I might as well have been watching a compilation of monologue-saturated last acts from the 60's era TV series "Route 66". I would have been worn out after all the emoting if any of it has remained even marginally credible after a half century, which it has not.

Interesting to see David White in a small, homosexual role, a role that becomes even smaller as soon as White's monologue leads Nick to conclude that White's "Richard" is indeed a homosexual. By the year of this movie's release White was already ensconced on "Bewitched" as Larry Tate. Maybe White or his agent wanted him to display more of his acting talent after having shown what he could do as sleazy Otis Elwell in "Sweet Smell of Success" (1957)

This lollipop movie was apparently a work of love by Gordon and others, including some Cassavetes people: John Marley ("Faces", 1968) ; the credits also mention a contribution to the effort by "assistant to producer" Seymour Cassel ("Faces", also "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie", 1976). It may have been inspired by "Sundays and Cybele" (1962), an infinitely superior movie that achieves near perfection, and without lollipops as I remember.
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Few laughs or tears
15 December 2018
Saw 12/14/2018. The film follows the adventures of a nearly married couple as the bombs start falling. After their interrupted wedding, here and there attempts at humor, but the point of the "jokes" is so predictable as to doom any comedic effect . And while not funny enough to make me laugh, those unsuccessful efforts come at the cost of any intended tears as we contemplate the nuclear annihilation of John Johnson, his titular inchoate spouse, and the world. Only marginally interesting because of the time of release, before the real life nuclear crises of Berlin in 1961 and Cuba the year after that. Much better: 1963's "Ladybug Ladybug" because it carries has the real sting of truth about it; and from 1962, "This Is Not a Test", offering a Sartrean take on nuclear war.
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Interesting but a disappointment
3 October 2018
Saw this early Weimar-era curiosity via YouTube 9/30/2018 in a lovingly restored version. OK, so "Caligari" was not alone; it never was. Robert Reinert had arrived earlier with his "Nerven" (1919) and "Homunculus" (1916). "Von morgens bis mitternachts" tries very hard to make an artistic statement but does not succeed. The cheap, "expressionistic" set design just looked like a bad day with "H.R. Pufnstuf" done in monochrome. From the Pete the Pup makeup stylings to a narrrative always stuck in second gear, the entire production seems out of joint, sloppy, futile. The newly composed music track, consisting of a drum set and xylophone, sounds like Lionel Hampton and Gene Krupa sharing a mental meltdown.
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You'll be entertained
14 September 2018
Saw via YouTube 9/13/2018. Just about the best-looking print ever seen on YouTube - picture and sound clearer than many a movie done years later.

Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives played by oater icon Bill Elliott and "Asphalt Jungle"'s Don Haggerty right away believe they know who killed Fred Horner (played in flashback by "Superman"'s Robert Shayne). They zero in on Henry Johnson (Douglas Dick), Horner's neighbor who is also a shakily recovering gambler permanently engaged to Mary Raiken (the beautiful Eleanor Tanin).

But Elliott's Lt. Doyle senses they've jumped to a conclusion - they've missed something. And so the plot changes, even if it doesn't quite "thicken" in an entirely convincing way.

Famous for his work in westerns, Elliott's amiably slow, drawling performance as a cop was something that I found very realistic and believable. I think people in his line of work were probably more like him than SFPD's Frank Bullitt or Harry Callahan. Loved the location shots (presented as West Hollywood and maybe they were), the script not quite so much. Still, I spent a very entertaining 62 minutes watching "Footsteps in the Night." I could not have asked for more than that.
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Unjustly neglected work of cinematic art
11 September 2018
Two viewings, the first on 9/3/2018 at the suggestion of YouTube. The initial experience was such that I revisited the film on the tenth. "The Sin of Nora Moran" is one of those not-quite-of-its time (or place) movies, with its use of layered flashbacks, contrasting first person narratives, and use of fantasy. In a little over an hour the movie delivers the narrative fullness expected from a much longer work. The contrasting stories, told in Rashomon-like fashion, deepen the reality of a paradoxically realistic (melo-)drama. A major artistic work, with techniques to be seen in "Citizen Kane" (1941), "Wild Strawberries" (1957) and even "Zentropa" (1991 - e.g., the two-scene featuring what appears to be a projected head of the heroine conversing with her governor-paramour). Apparently the film fared poorly with audiences at the time of its release. While its reputation has grown over the years, I must confess I had never heard of it before YouTube suggested it, and I'll guess that it remains unjustly obscure. If the film were from Europe it would probably be better regarded today, perhaps belonging on a double bill with Joe May's "Asphalt" (1929). This was one of many important cinematic discoveries I've made in the last few years on YouTube. I may see this again.
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Sunnyside Up (1929)
Still great entertainment after almost ninety years
5 June 2018
Saw this June 3, 2018. An early Hollywood movie musical from the Fox Film Corporation. It remains very entertaining in the 21st century, the earliest sound film I know of that is still engaging, believable, watchable. Sound technology has not frozen the camera or actors, and the movie makes the point with its opening overhead shot that (almost) could have been done with a drone. After nearly nine decades the songs are still pleasant to listen to. The plot offers few surprises, but the cast under David Butler's direction keeps it interesting, with Janet Gaynor at her Betty Boop-ish best. Film history enthusiasts will not be the only ones enjoying the two hours spent with "Sunny Side Up".
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For the canon of important cinema
19 May 2018
A few random ideas after multiple viewings: 1. The movie belongs in any canon or compilation of important cinema. 2. I found the movie very involving, even though it was done nearly a half century ago, halfway around the world, and concerns the lives of people I know little about - male transvestites, or using the Japanese term from the film, "gay boys". 3. Maybe the mind behind this project, Toshio Matsumoto, decided to try everything. And that he does. You can pick your own resonances and allusions and whatever. Here's what comes to mind for me: documentary/interview/wall-breaking (Vilgot Sjoman's "I am Curious (Yellow)" (1967), also Pasolini's "Comizi d'amore" (1964)); political diatribe (e.g., Godard's "Le Week-End" (1967)); poetic, arresting cinematography (Antonioni, such as "L'Eclisse" (1962)), absurd, comedic digressions and intrusions (cf. William Castle's "Mr. Sardonicus" (1961)), undercranking ("A Hard Days' Night" (1964) or "Tom Jones" (1963)); pure experimental/avant garde (cf. the films of Maya Deren or Dimitri Kirsanoff or Luis Bunuel). Anticipations include the cinema of Guy Madden ("Brand upon the Brain" (2006) or Hirokazu Kore'eda ("After Life" (1998)) 4. Shakespeare inserted the silly scene with the porter in Macbeth for comic relief in the midst of a clearly tragic story. I had never seen a film before this one that so effectively manages to mix serious with sad, realism with fantasy, and any of the other antithetical pairings whose boundaries more conventional movies treat far more scrupulously. "Funeral Parade of Roses" summons tears and laughter and just about everything else indifferently. The same indifference extends to the presentation of plot elements, when scenes are repeated. It works. 5. The music seems to have been provided in large part by a 50's-60's era home electric organ, i.e., one instrument. Sometimes a single note is all that is needed. 6. Editing is not strictly logical, but always plausible. Some of the transitions between scenes seemed to me to have been perfect. Why or how I cannot explain. 7. The people in the movie are amazing. I never doubted a single frame of this movie. This was the first film for the lead performer, an actor known as "Peter" or "Pita". In the role of Eddie he resembles Ida Lupino. His femininity was credible throughout, but just as credible was his reality as a human being. The entire cast imparted that sense of being really there. 8. This is, yes, an "art movie" ,but more specifically, a modern art movie. Even though the movie is from 1969 it has a stronger sense of "now" than any movie I had seen before. 9. Many favorite scenes, but one is the elevator ascent of Eddie and Guevara with out of frame dialog and music. Unforgettable. 10. To say the movie is "a Japanese version of Oedipus Rex" describes very little, but I suppose such identifiable labeling helped in marketing. 11. Not a mainstream movie but a classic of the "underground", I suppose - but after seeing this film several times, who needs categories? Some movies succeed by engaging our emotions in a story or subject, a character. I was captivated by this film's freedom. Why hasn't the audience become more adventurous, experimental, tentative? Why do people keep watching variations on the same movie over and over again only to complain of the monotony? 12. Simple: more people should see this movie. It reminds the viewer that you can do just about anything with the medium if you're willing to write your own rule book or maybe even do without one. That's the power of that man with a camera. He just needs an audience. Us.
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An entertaining, dated farce
16 May 2018
I saw this via YouTube May 12, 2018. Not great, but also not as bad as some people say. It's a mildly diverting farce offering comedic bits of average cleverness that must have seemed more clever in 1969. "Stereotype" cannot begin to capture the degree of subtlety on offer here. Michael Greer's portrayal of the guys' landlord, Malcolm, just seems crazy today, but everyone else in the movie, whether straight or gay, male or female, old or young, civilian or military, is similarly broadbrushed. A farce will do that. The story ingredients combine the response of Vietnam era young men facing the military draft with the status of gay people as not "normal". This farcical recipe had the misfortune of being overtaken by events only a few years later. Centuries old customs and understandings, thought permanent without even having to think about them, changed very fast. The movie was released in the year of Stonewall. The draft ended January 1, 1973, the United States' involvement in the Vietnam war a few weeks after that. Later that year the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its catalogue of mental disorders. Gone in less than four years was the movie's gay vs. "normal" dialectic . Gone as well was the story's premise of a military draft. The focus of conflict between gays and the military shifted to that of barring gays wanting to serve in the armed forces. There is a limit to how much blame attaches to making what was at the time, strangely enough, a mainstream, financially successful R-rated movie. It's hard enough to make any movie, let alone one that can anticipate sudden changes in what plausibly appeared at the time of filming to be the established patterns of life, law, and thinking, however much things needed to change. And did.
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La La Land (I) (2016)
What the end of cinema may look like
15 December 2017
Saw this via HBO on demand 12/9/17.

I found myself watching the clock after Emma Stone's first audition scene. The word "insipid" could have been invented with this over-praised movie in mind. If "La La Land" contains any harvestable celluloid --or even Mylar - let it be recycled for ukulele picks at the earliest opportunity.

All of the no-dance dance numbers, the prole-music songs, the mediocre scene-study acting add up to an excellent reason to stick with YouTube, public library DVD collections, and any remaining used book stores. With their many improbable finds, all of the latter are superior ways to find entertainment, intellectual stimulation, or simply the inducement of sleep. Even sitting in a corner doing nothing is a less expensive way to waste two hours and eight minutes. There is better production design and more imaginative cinematography to be found in your average halftime television commercial.

And yet: Six (6) Oscars: Emma Stone (actress); Damien Chazelle (director) as well as cinematography, music, song, and production design. Even more Golden Globes. If La La Land is what it looks like these days to be in contention for a Best Motion Picture award, the end of cinema is upon us.
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Murder by Natural Causes (1979 TV Movie)
Convoluted -- and good
28 October 2017
Possibly the most convoluted plot in TV movie history. After all the twists – more than a barrel of pretzels, no, more than a mile of DNA – still watchable throughout. Success due to well crafted production, precise casting, and direction that never forgets what the movie is about. The puzzle is so well crafted that awareness of the artifice is superseded by a fascination with all the moving parts. A movie meant to be "followed" in much the same way you "follow" an M.C. Escher lithograph or Ralph Steiner's "Mechanical Principles" (1930). The people are real enough through it all (who could be more real than Richard Anderson?) to keep the plot-heavy story from becoming just a game. Interesting to see Anderson, Barry Bostwick, and Katharine Ross playing bad people. Hal Holbrook outstanding in the role of Arthur Sinclair, a Joseph Dunninger-esque mentalist. Those who found Holbrook's character interesting might enjoy seeing his fellow mentalists do their thing in "Hanussen" (1988), "Nightmare Alley" (1947), and even "8½" (1963).
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Love Meetings (1964)
Interesting document of time and place
25 October 2017
Saw this beautifully preserved/restored print, with subtitles, via YouTube. Pasolini, with his reputation for political and every other form of radicalism, seems inhibited here, even in the discussion segments with Alberto Moravia and Cesare Musatti. The man-and-woman (and children, students)-in-the-street-and-on-the-farm interviews seem dated, probably since the interviews were conducted on the cusp of major changes in marital and family laws, policies, sexual attitudes in Italy and elsewhere. While no groundbreaking documentary, it's still a fascinating document of the time and place. A more daring and cinematically imaginative treatment of similar themes is found in, of course, "I am Curious (Yellow)"(1967) and "I am Curious(Blue)"(1968), directed by Vilgot Sjoman (a former UCLA film student). In those days there were things you could do in Sweden, albeit with censorship problems, that were simply impossible in Italy, period.
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Wicked Woman (1953)
Low budget, but strong script and cast
29 July 2017
Saw this 7/28/17 on a watchable version via YouTube. Not bad at all, does not try to push the budgetary limits. Rouse has a good script, and he keeps it moving. The leads, Beverly Michaels (a stick-limbed Mamie Van Doren), Richard Egan, Evelyn Scott, and Percy Helton all perform well. Scott, appearing as a boozy version of Rosemary DeCamp, gives a layered, believable performance as the wife of the Egan character. A larger than usual role for the reliably arachnoid Helton. The film hints, mercifully without showing, that Michaels yields to his sexual advances, a unique, unsettling milestone in a long career deserving of a Motion Picture Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement as a Homunculus. OK – maybe "Wicked Woman" does not strictly follow some "noir" rule book." But who cares about categories, other than just "movie"? And this is a pretty good one for the money! Seventy-seven minutes, and hard to find a second wasted.
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A Franco movie not to be missed
26 July 2017
Saw via DVD 7/23/17. One of Franco's best works, in a class with the best of Mario Bava or Dario Argento. The film is his distinctly personal take on the myth of the animated (or re-animated) as homunculus (cf. Caligari, Golem, Frankenstein). The movie achieves strong pathos when the young heiress encounters the monster, a Freudian moment combining the beauty of Agnes Spaak with the terror of a vintage Lon Chaney reveal. The cinematic technique is assured, with especially masterful use of lighting and camera angles. The black and white photography is as visually striking as Franco's Eastmancolor "Vampyros Lesbos" (1971). Anticipates Lynch while looking back at Franju's "Eyes Without A Face"(1959) with maybe some Antonioni thrown in here and there – who knows? As in the other Franco movies I've enjoyed, great soundtrack and music, with the master himself in a keyboard cameo in a jazz dive. Essential film for Francophiles, but maybe also a good starter work for viewers simply wanting a break from Bunuel (yes, they met, according to this website).
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More lecture than movie
24 June 2017
Saw this 6/22/17. More or less picks up where "Crazed Fruit" (1956) left off, even using an actor or two from that earlier "Sun Tribe" work directed by Ko Nakahira. While I never quite got into the polemics about a "lost" generation in postwar Japan, the earlier movie had a genuinely cinematic story to tell. Here just about everything of substance in this 1960 movie is word-delivered. The result was that I spent most of my viewing time looking at the bottom of the screen grabbing subtitles, not able to focus on the frame itself. I don't think a good movie – even, or especially, one about ideas – should rely so heavily on talking (and here, reading!). At some point what is happening on the screen ceases to be a movie. In spite of several wordy scenes, Nakahira's similarly "taiyozoku" ("sun tribe") - themed work had action. "Good for Nothing" ("Rokudenashi") is all talk. And as far as I could tell from reading the English translation of what amounted to multiple lectures, what the characters said wasn't terribly interesting. At least "My Dinner with Andre" (1981) didn't require subtitle-reading.
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Wanda (1970)
Bresson comes to Scranton
13 March 2017
Saw 3/13/17, TCM on demand. Robert Bresson/Chantal Akerman/Frederick Wiseman come to the Pennsylvania coal country. "Wanda" prophetically showcases a world inhabited by a class of people Charles Murray would write about forty years later, as neglected and marginalized then as now. Maybe it's not a film for everybody, but I found myself involved in Wanda's story, a tale of drabness set in a world in a state of persistent, low-energy panic. Loden placed supreme confidence in camera, microphone, story, and her people. And the movie worked for me. The film TCM showed had been lovingly restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in 2010.
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Air Patrol (1962)
So far Maury Dexter's best
4 February 2017
Saw this 2/3/17 thanks to cable on demand. Over the years I've become something of a connoisseur of Maury Dexter movies, with "Air Patrol" the latest after having seen (or endured) "Wild on the Beach" (1965), "Surf Party" (1964), and "The Day Mars Invaded Earth" (1963). "Air Patrol" is without question the best on that list, keeping in mind that it is a distinction based strictly on the level of play in Dexter's single-A cinematic league.

In "Air Patrol" a thief steals a Fragonard, helicoptering off with it from a Wilshire Boulevard rooftop. Apparently choppers were still exotic and relatively rare for the 1962 audience, during the time between the end of the series "Whirlybirds" and the Alcatraz operation depicted in "Point Blank" (1967).

The thief threatens to destroy the purloined Rococo masterpiece unless a $100,000 "ransom" is paid. The art buyer's secretary is played by Merry Anders, who, in spite of the limited acting demands of her role, is both effective and beautiful in the tradition of Beverly Garland. Robert Dix narrates as he performs in a first-person styling of Jack Webb's Sgt. Joe Friday, only Dix' cop character not only carries a badge but also flies an LAPD helicopter to catch the thief. The cast includes Willard Parker and Dexter regular Russ Bender as detectives, with Parker's Lt. Vern Taylor sharing with us his knowledge of art history.

The final act resembles last acts in "The Third Man"(1949), "He Walked by Night"(1949) and "711 Ocean Drive" (1950). Only here an agile senior citizen leads the cops on a daylight chase through a partially filled Los Angeles River. Douglass Dumbrille gives us an unconventional-looking thief who reminded me of East bloc chieftans Walter Ulbricht or Gomulka in their final days. He seems to inhabit Del Webb's Leisure World, not Jack Webb's police world.

Unlike the virtual house arrest of the action in "Wild on the Beach", "Air Patrol" makes extensive use of location photography, giving us clear, just-made-yesterday looks at Los Angeles at the beginning of the 1960's, with views of the Miracle Mile along Wilshire Boulevard, the Sepulveda Dam, Los Angeles River, Hollywood (101) Freeway, and the Cahuenga Pass.

In spite of the movie's obvious limitations, which include a strange, ill-fitting score, it all kinda works. Weird, but it works. Never let admiration for Ford, Hawks, Welles and others make us forget their fellow auteurs Dexter, Arch Hall, Sr., Ray Dennis Steckler, William Witney, and the recently departed Ted V. Mikels.

They all made movies.
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Montreal Main (1974)
Glad I did not hit "stop" at 35 minutes
4 July 2016
Saw 7/2/16 by chance on YouTube, knowing nothing about it. Wanted to see a Canadian film after a good experience watching "The Luck of Ginger Coffey" (1964). "Montreal Main" relates what happens when Frank, part of a group of Montreal bohemians, forms a too-close attachment to a 12 year-old boy from the suburbs.

The material was handled in a mercifully oblique manner, but still, I was about to bail on what to me had been nothing more than Warholesque sloppiness – and then, after minute 35, as what might be called the film's second act began, I saw and heard the best matching of music, sound, and image since Hitchcock met Bernard Hermann. In just two and a half minutes, movie music perfection from Beverly Glenn Copeland, and achieved for a tiny fraction of the budget for one of today's banal scores. Rarely has a kid running away from home been presented on screen so effectively.

The movie imagined by Frank Vitale, Allan Moyle, and Stephen Lack fell into place at that point. There have been other movies that feature memorable musical moments, but in, for example, "La Noia" (1962), "Crazy Westerners" (1967), or "Wild on the Beach" (1965), they remain moments only and fail to breathe life into their movies the way Ms. Copeland's score does.

John Sutherland as the boy gives a very believable performance. There appears to have been little scripted dialog. The confrontation between Johnny's father and Frank works well enough to make it possible to forget the scenes where the improv shows too much.

The subject matter, low budget, and art house movie diction and grammar of "Montreal Main" will probably confine its audience to the purest of cinephiles. That is too bad for a film that for all its strangeness I found more involving than much of what floats along the motion picture mainstream.

Those who found "Montreal Main" rewarding may enjoy Charles Burnett's "Killer of Sheep"(1978), or "Adieu Philippine" (1962) directed by Jacques Rozier – if they haven't seen these movies already, of course.
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Great art, great fun
13 June 2016
I recently saw this Sid Laverents masterpiece on TCM and then had to watch a few more times on YouTube.

"Multiple SIDosis" may have been inspired by Melies' "L'homme Orchestre" (1900). Whatever. Laverents'creation is the most amusing, energetic celluloid self-cloning between that film and all those Klumps in "The Nutty Professor" (1996). A few decades ago movie theaters would show short subjects before the main feature, and "Multiple SIDosis" would have made a delightful addition to the bill back then. His work has deservedly been added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. If fun is itself an art form, "Multiple SIDosis" is great art.

Laverents is cinema's Simon Rodia and the Melies of home movies.
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The Thief (1952)
Pure espionage cinema
29 March 2016
Saw this 3/15/16, via YouTube.

An obvious comment, but yes, here in this dialog-free film is "pure cinema", a narrative film that aggressively distinguishes itself from word-based art forms of written literature and theater.

The movie revisits in inverted form Hollywood's big problem of the late 1920's, the transition to sound. Back then moguls sorted out who among the silent era stars could succeed with a dialog track (Laurel and Hardy, Ronald Colman, Garbo in a nail-biter) and who could not (Emil Jannings, famously). Here the lead is played by one of cinema's great line-deliverers, Ray Milland, giving an artistically complete performance with no more voice than Lon Chaney had in "Ace of Hearts" (1921). Milland's Dr. Fields worked for me even though his communicative activity is limited to picking up a discarded cigarette wrapper or anxiously staring at a telephone as we join him in counting how many times it rings.

"The Thief" also carves out a single-occupancy niche all its own, consisting of what might be called "pure espionage cinema". Through its wordlessness the film transports the audience into the secretive, hermetic world of the high-stakes nuclear spy. For Dr. Fields every utterance is a potential admission, casual conversation a revelatory trap. Writer-director Russell Rouse, working with Clarence Greene, gave Fields his Miranda warning. Fields by necessity exercises his right to remain silent.

It is another entry in the cinema of "subtraction", a film that forgoes one or more cinematic components expected (and too often demanded) by a viewer. The film joins other subtractive works, such as "La Jetee" (1962), which dispenses with continuous motion for its Mobius-strip narrative, and "Rififi" (1955), whose middle, suspenseful act cuts the music. Then there is "Pulp Fiction" (1994), shuffling the deck of narrative sequence.

The music is as emotionally hammering as anything this side of Alban Berg's "Wozzeck" (an interesting TV movie version appeared in 1972) or Ennio Morricone at his thundering best in "Un Uomo a Meta" (1966). Sam Leavitt's cinematography, combined with the music of Herschel Burke Gilbert, join the audience in Field's torment. Much of the action (and there is a lot) reminded me of "Vertigo" (1958) as James Stewart broodingly trails Kim Novak, with the images on screen acting as commentary on the score.

Maybe "The Thief" is not for everyone. Hard to tell. Those who found the last seven minutes of Antonioni's "The Eclipse" (1962) completely appropriate and understandable will likely hold "The Thief" in high regard. On the other hand, this is probably not the movie for viewers who feel the need to ask after a half hour, "Why isn't anyone talking?"
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Bouche cousue (1960)
Familiar premise, enjoyable film
29 October 2015
Saw this 10/28/15 via YouTube. The version I saw was in French without subtitles.

Predictable comedy faithfully sticking to the innocent-guy-gets-mixed-up-with-bad-guys formula. The story rattles right along as rival gangs work on Cowl's character, Martin, a hospital nurse sought for what he heard a wounded gangster reveal in a delirium.

The premise is a reliable source of laughs – just ask Bob Hope. Cowl graciously repeats the film's title at key points in the story (i.e., the beginning and the end) for those who may have arrived at the theater late. And lest any of the funny bits in this movie get lost on the audience, music is always there with appropriate punctuation.

After having seen a few of Cowl's performances ("Jaloux Comme un Tigre", "Les Combinards", "En Effeuillant la Marguerite"), I found this one of his better efforts. His Martin comes across as a diverting blend of Cantinflas and Arnold Stang. Interesting to see Fernand Sardou as one of the bad guy chiefs, a role he effectively plays for laughs after his memorable turn as one of the grim poker playing hoods in the opening scene of "Rififi" (1955).
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Film as primordial art
25 October 2015
I first saw this strange little gem 10/19/15 on TCM on demand. From 1967 and directed by Shirley Clarke, the movie can be described simply: just one person, Jason Holliday, in front of the camera, talking about himself, getting drunk and stoned. No music, no clever editing or camera effects.

Born Aaron Payne, he explains the name change as he episodically accounts for his life as gay man, prostitute, aspiring entertainer. On film Holliday's life story is more patter than coherent narrative, an entertaining collection of riffs edited by Ms. Clarke. The result is not far removed from a standup routine by Holliday's contemporary Lenny Bruce, already dead a year before the movie's release date. Keeping the camera on one guy alone for nearly two hours may tear a page or two from some movie-making rule book. And yet, although "Portrait of Jason" verges on the avant garde, I experienced the film as something primordial, with Jason's life story as ancient as the Satyricon of Petronius, as familiar as the biography of Lazarillo de Tomes.

"Portrait of Jason" is more than a lesson in literary history. The film manages to show the audience a life, a real person, an amusing character. If some especially talented actors can indeed hold audience interest even when reading the phone book, Holliday proved that he can keep us interested after Shirley Clarke merely(!) rolls twelve hours of film and sound on him. Holliday had been there all along, really. As Ms. Clarke's arresting (and, I imagine, often arrested) subject, he seems to have been shooting and simultaneously watching his own self-created movie long before Ms. Clarke trained her lens and microphone on him.

I had never heard of this movie before I decided to take a look the other night. I found myself laughing at the guy's stories before the ten minute mark. I saw the movie again to be sure I hadn't been as drunk watching as Holliday was talking. Again I laughed and laughed some more.

My only objection on the second go-round was the off-camera baiting that took place toward the end of the film. If Holliday needed prodding to continue with his monologue as fatigue and inebriation evidently increased, that sort of thing is best left on the cutting room floor. At least this documentary film seems to have had its own fourth wall that belonged intact.

Still, you have to admire the gifted filmmaker who let us behold a man exercising his God-given right to take a Holliday from Payne!
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Fails to deliver on its unoriginal promise
12 October 2015
Saw this 10/11/15. Clouzot knew the game had changed considerably since his last completed film in 1960. His "La Prisonnière" represents an attempt to join the crowd. Unfortunately, the movie accomplishes little else beyond offering some very interesting photography bringing to mind other nearby films such as "Belle de Jour" (1967), "Two or Three Things I Know About Her" (1967) or "Blow-up" (1966). "La Prisionniere" looks as if the DP presented interesting visual ideas for Clouzot to work into a movie, somehow. I think a stronger movie would have had it the other way around.

Laurent Terzieff as Stan was apparently stuck with the role of the movie's go-to guy for inchoate forays into masochism and mild lesbianism. Elisabeth Wiener tries her best as his sub rosa subject, and Bernard Fresson is the mercenary, arty, and ultimately, chumpy husband.

For a director with Clouzot's reputation for cruelty to actors, the movie's theme of dominance and submission is disturbing but unsurprising. Where everyone else seemed to sense freedom in the 60's, Clouzot seems to have believed there was interesting darkness on the flip side.

Maybe he was not entirely wrong, but a film so conceived was not this one. Nothing is developed to the extent promised or necessary. The able cast cannot deliver more of a movie than Clouzot had designed. The dream sequence is little more than a post production doodle whose visual effects, unable to carry Clouzot's stillborn thematic material, merely look dated. Corman's 1967 "The Trip" played a similar game with greater success. The American's more modest goal of selling tickets seems to have had a better result than the aging French master's muddled quest for great cinema.
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Worth watching this minor classic from the age of MAD
27 September 2015
Saw this 9/26/15. A deftly handled examination of what real fear of an imminent nuclear attack on the United States would be like, here experienced from the point of view of students and faculty at a small rural elementary school in the early 1960's.

"Ladybug Ladybug" was released when memories of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis were still fresh. The occasion for the film's action is a false but credible alert received by a school that the bombs are on their way, i.e., the sort of warning the fictional authorities in "Dr. Strangelove" (1964) were comically unable to deliver. The film is another Eleanor and Frank Perry collaboration, following their success with "David and Lisa" the previous year.

The final act of that film, featuring some remarkable street-level photography, gives a preview of the cinematic style adopted here – with a camera at times hand- or shoulder-held, in motion at key moments, capturing some great shots in the pre-steadicam era. The Perrys seem to have filmed at a real elementary school, with many of the child performers nonprofessionals selected as "real people". We get a look at a rustic Main Street America that has disappeared, fortunately because of time and economics, not hydrogen bombs.

Some scenes look a bit stagy. There is preaching, too, but the sermons are justified. It's hard to argue with a plea against nuclear annihilation.

For a movie with such an obviously low budget I found myself buying the ticket sold by the Perrys. William Daniels as the school principal and Nancy Marchand one of the teachers didn't hurt. Viewers will also get to see Estelle Parsons playing the mother of one of the students, in what appears to be her first role on the big screen.

"Ladybug Ladybug", a movie I had never heard of until yesterday, deserves a place on the shelf with "Dr. Strangelove", "Panic in the Year Zero!" (1962), "Fail Safe" (1964), "On the Beach"(1959), "The Day After" (1983), and "Thirteen Days" (2000). Viewers may sense a stylistic affinity with Morris Engle and Ruth Orkin's "Lovers and Lollipops" (1956). The Perrys' work with children, interacting among themselves and with adults, reminded me of "Forbidden Games" (1952), directed by Rene Clement.

A strong recommendation for this movie. Quite a find.
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Just emerged from a no-laugh zone
16 September 2015
Saw this on a poor quality ultra low-res YouTube version 9/15/15. I patiently sat through barely watchable electron soup for eighty minutes as M. Cowl and his colleagues, some very distinguished (Michel Serrault, for example), obviously try to be funny and just as obviously do not succeed.

The movie consists of a series of bits involving a man who believes his wife is unfaithful and who tries to do something about it. The cast takes numerous uncomedic stabs at making silly faces, standing on their heads, running around. Perhaps more undercranking in places would have helped. Benny Hill did this sort of thing so much better and consistently so.

There is something about comedy of the going-for-laughs variety that results in failure if the actors seem to be working for those laughs. To me this was sometimes a problem with Jerry Lewis or the Ritz Brothers. Darry Cowl and the cast here try way too hard to be funny. The result is, well, trying.

Then there is the music. The hoped-for riotous farce presented by Cowl and Co. arrives on screen with underlining provided by one of the more irritating music tracks in the long history of bad movie music, consisting of a poorly recorded Hammond (or similar) organ playing little "funny" riffs. The effect was similar to watching a Jack LaLanne home exercise television show from the 50's...except LaLanne's exercise music was more competently composed and appropriate.

Did the title in any way justify the content of the movie? Let's just say "Jaloux Comme un Tigre" is not exactly up to Bunuel's "El!" (1951). Even the film's wafer-thin premise gets in the way of its mindless procession of disconnected segments, consisting of a tennis match, a soiree allowing Cowl to don a number of "funny" disguises, and an unhilarious session at a deliberately mislabeled photography studio, to name but a few.

I wish I could offer further details on the story, but after eighteen hours it has been a heavy lift remembering just those leaden vignettes.

The only other thing I remember is not having laughed at anything in this movie.
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