9.28.2016

Conspirators of pleasure


The Image: Claire (Marilyn Roberts, right) reprimands Anne (Rebecca Brooke, middle) in front of Jean (Carl Parker).

The erotic comedies of Radley Metzger often turn on schemes of seduction orchestrated by male-female partners.  In Score (1974), married swingers Jack and Elvira conspire to get their straight friends Eddie and Betsy into bed.  In The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976), Metzger’s sexualized variation on Pygmalion, Jacqueline Beudant’s Geraldine plays Colonel Pickering to Jamie Gillis’ Professor Higgins (renamed Seymour Love): as Seymour proceeds to remake the lowly Dolores Beethoven into “Misty,” Geraldine acts as his confidante, interlocutor, and wing-(wo)man.  The Image (1975) involves a similarly triangulated relationship between Jean (Carl Parker), his bisexual friend Claire (Marilyn Roberts), and Claire’s submissive lover Anne (Rebecca Brooke).  The majority of the film’s erotic set pieces involve either Claire loaning Anne to Jean for him to do with—and to—what he will, or Claire and Jean teaming up to discipline and punish Anne. 

The type of relationship between the men in Metzger’s films and their female pals/co-conspirators is unusual in erotic cinema from this period (or any period).  There’s an egalitarianism and a shared sense of fun that structures these relationships that’s different from the structures of pleasure that attend the films’ other sexual relationships.  Jean and Claire’s relationship to each other in The Image depends upon a mutual respect for each other—and a mutual acknowledgement of the other’s shared desire for Anne.  Which is why the twist at the end of that film, an otherwise accomplished piece of high-brow soft-core, feels like such a let-down: Anne having broken away from the group, Claire now assumes the role of submissive bottom to Jean’s dominant top.  I like the film better when Jean and Claire are allied in their dominance over Anne; they’re equals, bonded by their exchange of the other woman.  Furthermore, the twist revelation that Claire is, apparently, a closet submissive (her desire to be dominated by Jean is triggered when, in the film’s climactic S&M set piece, the two of them fight over Anne) doesn’t jibe with her stone-cold persona.  I was sorry to see her playful friendship with Jean suddenly become bound by the power dynamics of a couplehood.  “Everything Resolves Itself,” the title of the film’s last chapter reads—but this ending feels less like a resolution than a trick.

The final scene: Claire submits to Jean.
 

9.26.2016

Falling stars


James Dean and Sal Mineo at Griffith Observatory.
 
This week I’ll be making a guest appearance on the Arthouse Legends podcast to discuss Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), which incidentally was one of the first films I ever posted about for this blog, back in the spring of 2011.  That was the last time I’d seen it, so I was due for a re-watch.  It remains an essential film, as compelling a cultural object as it is an aesthetic one.  (I love the play of the planetarium lights on Dean’s face in the penultimate scene, an image that I screen-capped in my original post.)  While Dean was always at least one footstep behind Brando and maybe half a step behind Clift as an actor, it’s impossible not to be moved by his performance in this film, which is made all the more poignant by its references to (literal) dying stars—ostensibly meant to symbolize the tragic fate of characters like Plato (Sal Mineo), but made ironic by the real-life fate of Dean, whose star had already burnt out when the film premiered on October 29, 1955.  (Dean died September 30 of that year.)  The film is also the apotheosis of a particular style of Hollywood melodrama perfected by filmmakers like Ray, Douglas Sirk, and Vincente Minnelli and which peaked from 1954 to 1956, the years of All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind, Bigger Than Life and Tea and Sympathy, Giant and East of Eden.  Among Ray’s melodramas I’m partial to Bigger Than Life, but Rebel is every bit as saturated with color, emotion, and expression.  When Ray’s camera becomes so caught up in the drama of the story that it careens into a tilt, as at the moment of Plato’s death, you know you’re in the hands of a film artist working from his gut rather than with his head.




 

9.25.2016

From the archives: "A smart flirt"


Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Reese Witherspoon in Vanity Fair (dir. Mira Nair, 2004).

I was a student at SUNY Geneseo when I saw Mira Nair’s Vanity Fair (2004), which I then wrote about for the Weekly Review.  Having read Thackeray’s novel as a high schooler—and having greatly enjoyed Andrew Davies’ nasty, snappy BBC adaptation from 1998—the bar for Nair’s film was set high.  I haven’t seen it since that ill-fated night (on top of the film being a disappointment, I side-swiped a deer with my car on the way to pick up a friend) and have had no desire to do so: my memory is of something so tone deaf that it bore almost no relation to the spirit, or even the letter, of its source.  An excerpt from my review:

“In 1939, fans of Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel of the American South, were up in arms to learn that Vivien Leigh would be cast as Scarlett O’Hara in the big-screen adaptation.  The audacity of a British actress as America’s quintessential Southern belle—it was almost too much to bear.  Now, more than sixty years later, America’s current national Sweetheart, Reese Witherspoon, stars as one of England’s most deliciously wicked anti-heroines in the latest film version of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.  That Becky Sharp, Thackeray’s irresistible vixen, is something of a literary cousin and precursor to Scarlett O’Hara is all the more fitting.  But while Vivien Leigh ditched her British accent in favor of a Southern one and slipped easily into the role that would immortalize her to audiences forever, Reese Witherspoon, or the screenwriters, ultimately fail to make Becky Sharp as nasty as she deserves to be.  In casting Witherspoon as Becky, America has its little revenge on England, or England has its revenge on America, or something.  Either way, audiences on both sides of the Atlantic are bound to be disappointed with the result.

9.21.2016

Spellbound



This past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing a 70mm projection of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (dir. Clyde Geronomi, 1959) at the Somerville Theatre, which has been knocking out of the park lately with some astonishing repertory programming.  (Sleeping Beauty is part of a week’s worth of 70mm screenings that also includes The Ten Commandments, West Side Story, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.)  The screening I attended was nearly packed full, and if audiences in 1959 were reportedly underwhelmed by the film (which has never enjoyed the popularity of Snow White, Pinocchio, or Cinderella) it played extremely well to this one: hearty laughter at even the corniest of its gags, gasps of surprise from adults, cries of terror from children, and vigorous applause when the lights came up.  Whatever charges one wants to level at the Disney empire and everything it represents, the films still know how to hold a room, entertainment-wise.


My love for Sleeping Beauty, which remains my personal favorite of the Disney classics, is partly nostalgic.  Watching it as a child, I was mesmerized by Princess Aurora, the fairies, and especially Maleficent, whose scenes both terrified and fascinated me (a few notes of her musical motif alone were enough to send me into a panic).  I didn’t care that, seen on VHS in muddy pan-and-scan, the film had effectively been drained of much of its visual luster.  I was held captive by the basic drama of the fairy tale.  My appreciation for the film deepened immensely when I rediscovered it on DVD as a college student in 2003—though “rediscovered” is perhaps not the right word, since I was seeing the film in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 2.55:1 for the first time. 


I’ve come to love Sleeping Beauty just as much, if not more, as an aesthetic object than as a nostalgic one; it seems to me one of the most ravishing pieces of animation in cinema.  The mastermind behind its striking visual style, Eyvind Earle, famously sought inspiration in medieval tapestries and illuminated manuscripts, but it’s his interpretation of them through the modernism of the 1950s that gives the film its beautiful angularity.  The use of vibrant colors and abstract visual effects in the magic-spell sequences, meanwhile, feels borderline psychedelic.  It’s a formalist’s dream of a movie: mannered, painstakingly designed, completely sui generis within the Disney canon and within animated film generally.  Watching the climactic battle between Prince Philip and Maleficent, you can see why Sergei Eisenstein so admired Disney’s work—this sequence alone is a masterpiece of editing, composition, music, and camera movement.  But my favorite shot in the film is the one in which the figures of a dancing Philip and Aurora are reflected in the surface of a stream.  Here, as throughout the rest of the film, Disney and his animators succeeded in their goal of making Sleeping Beauty a moving illustration.    



                                        

9.19.2016

Catching up with Pablo Larraín


Alfredo Castro (left) with fellow John Travolta impersonators in Tony Manero (2009).

In anticipation of seeing his highly anticipated new film Jackie—and maybe also checking out his almost-as-highly-anticipated other new film Neruda—I decided to catch up with two of Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín’s previous works.  I remember being fascinated by the premise of his breakthrough feature Tony Manero when I first read about it in Andrew O’Hehir’s column for Salon way back in 2008, so I’m glad I finally had the chance to sit down with it.  It’s an absurdist horror movie about a sociopathic lowlife (Anthony Castro) determined to make himself over in the image of John Travolta’s character from Saturday Night Fever (1977), no matter the cost.  In the final scene of the film Castro stands poised to get his fifteen minutes of fame at a televised John-Travolta-lookalike contest, having left a trail of blood, shit, and human remains in his wake.  The Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancin’”, repeated obsessively throughout Tony Manero, has never sounded so urgent and desperate.  Set in 1978 at the height of the Pinochet regime, it’s an overtly political film, but I prefer it as a chilling and darkly funny character study, even if it ends with a whimper instead of a bang.

A comedy of more palatable taste, Larraín’s No (2013) secured his position as a rising star within the festival circuit and won him an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film.  Again the subject was Chile in the era of Pinochet: but, being set in 1988 during the plebiscite that signaled the beginning of the end of Pinochet’s rule, it treats its viewers to a feel-good ending.  The bulk of the film concerns the campaign on the part of the leftist resistance movement, led by a hip ad man (Gael Garcia Bernal), to create anti-Pinochet propaganda for Chilean TV (they are given fifteen minutes of airtime a night for 27 consecutive nights leading up to the vote).  As with his use of Saturday Night Fever in Tony Manero, Larraín is at his best in No when he’s examining the political ends to which pop culture can be put.  No is political cinema done right: sharp, sensitively drawn, and anchored by good writing and acting—though it could use a few more thematic wrinkles, considering the complex nature of its subject.  In any case I look forward to seeing Larraín turn his gaze on the U.S. in the wake of the Kennedy assassination later this year. 


Gael Garcia Bernal in No (2013).
 

9.18.2016

The Films of 2016: Cameraperson




A title card at the beginning of Kristen Johnson’s Cameraperson explains that she sees the film, a compendium of loose ends left over from various documentary projects shot over the course of some fifteen years, as a kind of memoir.  The footage occasionally relates to Johnson’s personal life—her children and her parents, especially her mother, who died in 2007 after battling Alzheimer’s.  More often than not, though, it functions as Johnson’s meditation on issues engaged by a career spent watching and recording the lives of others: survivors of the wars in Bosnia and Afghanistan, single moms, college students, a soldier, an athlete, a philosopher, a midwife.  (Johnson has worked as a DP on some thirty documentaries, the best known of these being Fahrenheit 9/11, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, The Invisible War, and Citizenfour; among the familiar faces that turn up in Cameraperson are Michael Moore and Jacques Derrida.)

9.17.2016

In memoriam: Edward Albee, 1928-2016


Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (dir. Mike Nichols, 1966).

Edward Albee never wrote a screenplay, but it’s through two films that I came to know his work.  When I first saw Mike Nichols’ adaptation of Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) I was a middle-schooler with a budding interest in writing and acting.  I had never heard dialogue like Albee’s before; it was razor-sharp, crazy funny, and devastating.  Who’s Afraid… felt as brutal and scary and unpredictable as some of the new films I was seeing at the time, like Neil LaBute’s in the company of men (LaBute being a playwright and filmmaker whose writing shows more than a little of Albee’s influence).  Watching Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton spar with each other for two and a half hours (“Total war?” “Total!”), I was electrified.  Up to that point my knowledge of Taylor and Burton was limited to her tabloid love affairs and his presence in schlocky horror movies like Exorcist II: The Heretic, so their performances came as revelations.  They could really act!  And it helped immensely that they were working with such thrilling material.  I don’t think either one of them was ever better onscreen.

Not long after that I discovered Tony Richardson’s film of A Delicate Balance, made for the American Film Theatre in 1973.  It’s a pricklier, more muted work than Who’s Afraid…, a quietly ominous vision of bourgeois life as a series of rituals hanging over an abyss.  The cast is tremendous: Katharine Hepburn and Paul Scofield as WASP matriarch and patriarch, Joseph Cotton and Betsy Blair as their “best friends” (who behave more like polite strangers), Lee Remick and Kate Reid as the loose-cannon relatives whose personal problems threaten to unsettle the moribund placidity of the household.  It’s an astonishing piece of writing, one to which I took longer to come around, beautifully interpreted by Hepburn and Scofield in particular. 

My sense is that Albee, dyed-in-the-wool man of the theatre that he was, didn’t have much use for cinema: while conceding the talents of Mike Nichols and Elizabeth Taylor he objected to the “opening up” of Who’s Afraid… for the screen, as well as to Alex North’s sentimental music.  And I seem to recall an interview in which he voiced some objections to the performances in Richardson’s Delicate Balance.  But without these films the genius of Albee may never have found their way to me as a kid growing up in a town that, while only several hundred miles from Broadway, may as well have been another galaxy.


Katharine Hepburn and Paul Scofield in A Delicate Balance (dir. Tony Richardson, 1973).
 

Hard plastic: Radley Metzger's "Camille 2000" (1969)


Daniele Gaubert and Nino Castelnuovo x3 in Camille 2000 (1969).

A couple of weeks ago I noted that it’s a great time to be a Jacques Rivette fan: the work of the late French filmmaker is more readily available in the U.S. than it has ever been, which means that his early films, many of them forty years old, are being discovered and talked about as enthusiastically as the latest films out of Cannes and Venice.  Something similar has been happening with the films of Radley Metzger.  Even though Metzger’s exploitation-film pedigree precludes him from the same sort of attention given to a highbrow figure like Rivette, he has come into his own as an underground auteur these last several years.  Boutique video labels like Cult Epics and Distribpix have led the charge by issuing lovingly restored Blu-ray editions of many of Metzger’s major works, and a handful of the films are now streamable through the subscription sites Mubi and Fandor.  Such efforts have resulted in Metzger’s emergence as a key figure in 1970s exploitation cinema and pornography—an area of film history that is itself currently undergoing critical re-evaluation.

It’s thanks to Mubi that I was able to check out Metzger’s Camille 2000 (1969), an Italian soft-core adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ La Dame aux Camelias (!) starring Nino Castelnuovo (!!) of Umbrellas of Cherbourg fame.  Set in an ultra-modern, swinging-sixties Rome, Camille charts the doomed love affair between a romantic naïf (Castelnuovo) and the troubled, emotionally unavailable mistress of a wealthy duke (Daniele Gaubert).  The film is studded with elegant, funny set pieces, like a prison-themed sex party at Marguerite’s villa, and the art direction and costumes are endlessly entertaining: Marguerite's boudoir is all white and clear plastic, right down to the inflatable furniture, and she even sports clear plastic cuffs and a matching collar while taking in an opera (see below).  Hard plastic could be said to symbolize Metzger's aesthetic: shiny, artificial, slick, chicIn many ways Camille, shot on 35mm in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, looks even classier and more polished than later (if superior) films like Score and The Opening of Misty Beethoven.  In any case, it’s far hipper than that other adaptation of Dumas’ novel—Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge.



 

9.16.2016

Memories of murder


David Hemmings in Deep Red (1975).
When I was twelve or thirteen or so and had recently come into possession of both a word processer and a copy of Mick Martin and Marsha Porter’s Video Movie Guide—conveniently organized by genre—I embarked on a project to watch, in alphabetical order, and subsequently type up, every horror movie available to me at my local video store (Video Factory; Rome, NY).  I never finished the project, though I did keep at it for about a year or so, and made it up to “F” or thereabouts.  Which meant that I ended up watching a fairly high number of shitty horror movies with titles beginning with “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” and “E”—The Alchemist, Bloodsucking Freaks, Cathy’s Curse, Don’t Open the Door, etc.  But it also introduced me to such gems as Bride of Frankenstein, The Changeling…and Dario Argento’s Deep Red (1975), the latter under the U.S. title Deep Red Hatchet Murders.  I’m pretty sure this was the VHS copy I rented:



Even in this, um, butchered version (some 26 minutes shy of the Italian cut) the film made a lasting impression on me.  I recall being tickled by the conceit of a murder clue written on a bathroom mirror, which only became visible when the room was sufficiently steamed up.  And I enjoyed the twist ending in which the murderer is revealed to be the crazed mother of the prime suspect—something like Psycho in reverse—though for years I had misremembered this and was under the impression that the murderess was actually Daria Nicolodi’s screwball journalist.  Anyway.  Some clunky storytelling aside, Deep Red, which I re-watched earlier this week for the first time since 2007 or so, is still a lot of fun.  Its murder scenes are gruesome, imaginative, and witty, if that’s your thing; its gender politics are surprisingly progressive, if that’s your thing (the plot hinges on the gradual disabuse of David Hemmings’ male chauvinism); and, as one would expect from Argento, it’s drenched in style.  I particularly love the crumbling art-nouveau mansion that Hemmings explores at several points in the film, with its wrought iron, stained glass, and climbing ivy.  Even though the house serves a narrative purpose within the film, the exploration scenes are examples of Argento’s penchant for bringing the plot to a halt in order to indulge in the sensuous pleasures of his own mise-en-scene.  It’s a fabulously designed space that looks ahead to the florid beauty of Suspiria two years later.



            

9.15.2016

Fuller's wars



Pictured: Richard Loo, Richard Monahan, and James Edwards in Samuel Fuller’s Korean War classic The Steel Helmet (1951), a portrait of the U.S. military so incendiary that in order to get it made Fuller effectively tricked both the Breen Office and Department of Defense.  (Both organizations were outraged by the film upon its release.)  The Steel Helmet is typical of Fuller’s political idiosyncracies: a pro-military film in which Our Guy Sgt. Zack (Gene Evans) is an embittered lout who violates the Geneva Convention by shooting a Korean POW, and which calls out anti-black and anti-Asian racism even as Zack himself casually lobs racial slurs at his fellow soldiers.  In his day, Fuller pissed off the right-wing establishment for refusing to treat American institutions like the military as sacred cows; today, liberal viewers are just as likely to be rankled by his films’ unapologetically masculinist ethos.  I, for one, admire Fuller’s films all the more for their scattershot politics.  They suggest the independence of thought and the ballsiness of a truly original artist, a figure whose aggressive, contrarian spirit lives on in such contemporary filmmakers as Quentin Tarantino and Clint Eastwood. 

Lee Marvin with the concentration camp inmate in The Big Red One.

To watch The Steel Helmet back to back with Fuller’s WWII epic The Big Red One (1980)—the latter heavily inspired by Fuller’s own war experiences—is to get a sense of his deep and complex understanding of soldiers: their values and prejudices, their innocent hopes, their humor, their rituals.  One finds innumerable connections and parallels between the two films, which were made almost thirty years apart from each other.  The Big Red One’s stoic, anonymous sergeant (Lee Marvin) is a slightly more likable double for the irascible Sgt. Zack in The Steel Helmet: both men are humanized by their relationships with children (a Korean boy nicknamed Short Round in the earlier film, a concentration camp survivor in the later one; neither one makes it to the end alive).  The paradoxical figure of the non-violent military man also recurs in both films, in the form of a conscientious objector in The Steel Helmet and a naïve young private afraid to fire his gun in The Big Red One.

The Big Red One also rewrites the climactic scene of The Steel Helmet in such a way that suggests a desire to atone for the sin of Sgt. Zack in the earlier film.  At the end of The Big Red One, Marvin—not realizing the end of the war has just been declared—knifes a German officer who is trying to surrender.  When he learns of his mistake, Marvin sets about tending to the German’s wound and carries him to safety, quipping “you son of a bitch, you’re gonna live if I have to blow your brains out!” (a variation on The Steel Helmet’s classic line, “if you die, I’ll kill you!”).  Marvin’s empathy toward his (former) enemy, and his fidelity to the rules of war, signify as a corrective to the rogue Zack’s shooting of the Korean POW in The Steel Helmet.  But that’s not to say that the later film’s values trump those of the earlier one.  Fuller’s world is big enough to accommodate such contradictions.

Lee Marvin shoulders the German officer he has just tried to kill in The Big Red One.

One final note: if anyone should doubt the influence of Fuller on the auteurs of the twenty-first century, consider the screengrabs below.

Opening shot of The Big Red One (1980).

Opening shot of The Hateful Eight (dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2015).

Second shot of The Steel Helmet (1951).

Second shot of The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012).
 

9.09.2016

Three homes

By sheer coincidence, I watched three films this week that, in spite of their many differences, share a common factor: they’re all housing stories.  Elia Kazan’s Wild River (1960) is a modest, solidly acted real-estate drama in which Tennessee Valley Authority agent Montgomery Clift struggles to convince nonagenarian Jo Van Fleet to vacate her cabin on an island in the middle of the Tennessee River, a task that becomes only marginally easier after Clift shacks up with the old woman’s granddaughter, a single mom played by Lee Remick.  Less politically strident than many of Kazan’s other films, Wild River suggests that both Clift and Van Fleet have something to learn from each other, and generally depicts all of its characters humanely and sensitively, racist white yokels included, even as it insists that the Jim Crow South must die (and will).

Jo van Fleet and Lee Remick in Wild River.

The Uninvited (dir. Lewis Allen, 1944) is a classic-Hollywood horror film that, for all its charms, can’t help but feel a little creaky, what with its pop-Freudian plot devices (a young woman of dubious parentage is haunted by the ghosts of her parents) and Gothic clichés (candelabras, billowing curtains, disembodied laughter, etc.)—although in true Gothic fashion the real intrigue concerns queer sexuality, as represented by the oddly close relationship between the brother and sister who keep house together together in a mansion on the coast of Cornwall, as well as by the domineering, mannish proprietress of a neighboring sanitarium.  Even the dueling ghosts haunting the house—the spirits of two women, both of whom were sexually involved with the same man—are reflective of a queer polyamorous relationship that must be exorcised so that everyone else in the film can move on to make, as Freud would say, good object choices.   

The old dark house: Ruth Hussey and Ray Milland in The Uninvited.
   
I’ll admit that I’ve never been much of a fan of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the acclaimed and prolific German filmmaker who made some thirty films in fewer than half as many years, but I found his early film Katzelmacher (1969) to be a scathing, wicked indictment of the German bourgeoisie as represented by a coterie of yuppies who proceed to target a Greek immigrant who moves into the apartment complex where they live.  The film typifies Fassbinder’s interest in ethnicity, gender, and sex, though it’s ultimately about class: the good immigrant is one who can be exploited for money.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (right) in Katzelmacher.
 

9.08.2016

Still frame

Isabelle Huppert in Sauve qui peut (La vie), a.k.a. Every Man for Himself (dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1980).

9.07.2016

War wounds


Dana Andrews, Frederic March and Harold Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

This week in Essential Films Rewatched: William Wyler’s perennially great The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), which a snarkier viewer might be tempted to dismiss as dominant ideology at its most sentimental and middlebrow.  (Robert Warshow and Abraham Polonsky made arguments to that effect the year after the film came out.)  As for being middlebrow, one has only to compare it with, say, Wyler’s own Mrs. Miniver (1944) to see that The Best Years of Our Lives is singularly attuned to the psychic violence of war on everyone it touches, veterans and civilians alike, in ways that a more conventional propaganda picture like Mrs. Miniver can only begin to fathom.  And if The Best Years of Our Lives is guilty on the charge of sentimentality, its is a sentimentality informed by so much raw pain that it never feels gratuitous or innocent.  The film is, in fact, all about the impossibility of ever being innocent again after the trauma of war, and about trying to be decent and happy in spite of that; its belief in striving for goodness and happiness even in the wake of devastation, but without ever for a moment pretending that the devastation isn’t there, seems to me one of the quintessentially American things about the movie.  Even at its hokiest, most banal-seeming moments The Best Years of Our Lives is never unaware of how deeply its characters are suffering.  That may be why it remains so affecting to watch.

9.05.2016

Folie à deux


Merry-Go-Round (1981): Schneider, Dallesandro, Rivette.

Merry-Go-Round (1981) is a good example of how everything that’s exciting and interesting about Rivette’s work—its laxity, its digressive plotting, its slapdash energy, its casual deployment of generic elements—can dissipate unto formlessness.  It begins with a premise similar to that of La Pont du Nord, made the same year: two strangers, or almost-strangers, cross paths in Paris and join forces in order to solve a mystery.  The two amateur sleuths in Merry-Go-Round are the sister and the lover of a missing woman, played by Maria Schneider and Joe Dallesandro, respectively.  But unlike La Pont du Nord the film’s meanderings feel listless.  All of the energy goes out of it about halfway through, in part because Schneider herself appears so bored; at points she goes through the motions of her performance like an automaton. 

9.04.2016

On Clint Eastwood's voice in "White Hunter, Black Heart"



Clint Eastwood’s White Hunter, Black Heart (1990) is a Hemingwayesque fantasia on the making of John Huston’s The African Queen in which an American film director (played by Eastwood) all but abandons the production of an adventure film he is supposed to be shooting in Uganda in favor of an elephant hunt.  Even if the details of the hunt are fictionalized the character of Wilson is clearly modeled on Huston: he has the same air of masculine entitlement that masks the same basic dignity.  (Initially attracted to the idea of shooting an elephant because it’s a “sin” against nature, Wilson eventually discovers he can’t go through with the act.)  Eastwood makes his voice, too, into something of a variation on Huston’s.  Huston’s iconic sound was whiskey-soaked, rough and smooth at the same time, like the purr of a lion.  As Wilson, Eastwood’s voice is smoother and plummier than it normally is, his cadence is more varied, and he articulates his words more clearly, rolling each one around inside his mouth and hanging on to his “r”s with the grip of a Midwesterner.  Eastwood can’t emulate Huston’s sound exactly (Daniel Day-Lewis would do a better job in There Will Be Blood, and even he sounds higher and thinner than Huston) but he doesn’t seem to be going for verisimilitude.  He makes a glancing attempt at it, in the same way that all of White Hunter, Black Heart glances off of real people and events.  Listen and compare below: