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Archive for the ‘PRIZE WINNER’ Category

Ida

14 Dec

Ida – directed Pawel Pawlikowski. Drama. 82 minutes Black And White 2013.
★★★★★
The Story: Her niece pays a visit to an aunt she never knew she had, and the niece, a novitiate, and the aunt, a hedonist, embark on a search into the dynamic past of both of them.
~
Boy, here’s a film you won’t want to see: Black And White, Polish and in Polish, about a nun, and the grim aftermath of WWII. Yet it seems to have five stars tattooed above and to have won the Oscar For The Best Foreign Film Of 2013.

Why would I pluck this off the library shelf if I had never even heard of it? Don’t answer. Because the answer is: because you and I are both in luck.

People die when no one’s looking. And they live when no one’s looking. We all know that. This seems to be the square in which Pawlikowski frames his actors – lives seen beneath monstrous skies they do not notice.

It is perfectly acted by Agata Trzebuchowska as Ida, the novitiate. Hundreds of actresses were auditioned. She was discovered at a café table, a rank amateur, and thus began a film star career.

The aunt is played by Agata Kulesza, an actress of deep experience and every wile.

These two explore the places and persons of the past, as they travel through Poland in search of the core of the mystery encompassing both of them.

You will regret not a minute seeing this film. And having said that: you might regret every minute not yet seeing it.

 

Gandhi

16 Dec

Gandhi – directed by Richard Attenborough. Biodoc. 188 minutes. Color 1982.

★★★★★

The Story: An East-Indian lawyer briskly walks the stony path of leading his nation to social justice and freedom from colonial rule.

~

He was assassinated on 30 January 1948. He was 78. I was 14. He had ben a household word my house all my life and by all households in this country. His doings were known and found strange and wonderful and admirable.

He was one of a world of great humans of his time with whom I had the fortune to be a contemporary: FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Einstein, Schweitzer, Churchill. Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, Toscanini, and many others. What they did, they stood for – in all our eyes. There are only a few such now. World heroes. Ai Weiwei, the artist/rebel is one. I grew up with many.

When Gandhi was killed, it was the first of a string of assassinations which continued with JFK and King, Lennon, and today’s public slayings, all designed to erase a social presence with which fanatics disagreed. Bullets end compromise.

Attenborough’s film begins and ends with that occasion. In between, it is a chronicle of Gandhi’s political strategies, working always around English colonial power. It does not account for his beginnings in South Africa where he came under the spell of Tolstoi’s teaching, nor does it examine the progress of his ethical or personal growth. But what it does do is to place Gandhi in his arena of the strenuous political action of non-violence.

In this arena, he appeared, often virtually unclothed. Thus this thin naked man met his opponents, and with simple shrewdness convinced the world and those opponents the right thing to do, and they did it.

Ben Kingsley plays Gandhi. He is a cold actor, and his performance is a model of how the thermodynamics of an actor can serve a role, for Gandhi never turned aside as he strode through crowds who gathered to love him, as though their love of him was irrelevant. Which it was, compared to the task at hand. His fame never detoured him. He knew their love of him, was really their love of what he stood for. Kingsley never veers.

Gandhi’s story is told simply, carefully, directly. Only a film could tell it, and it must be told because we must not forget it. The film is impressive in its honesty, directness, and innate character. It seems to inhere with the spirit of Gandhi himself.

It won eight Oscars, Best Picture, Director, Editing, Costumes, Script, Sets, Photography, Leading Actor. But the real quality of the film’s excellence lies in, for instance, the four hundred thousand extras that volunteered to enact Gandhi’s funeral, the extras that crowd every scene by the hundreds, the help of the very people of India for whom Gandhi lived and died. It was they who made Gandhi.

 

Marketa Lazarova

18 Oct

Marketa Lazarova – directed by Frantisek Vlácil. Historical Drama. 162 minutes Black And White 1967.

★★★★★

The Story: Clans feud in the dark ages in Czechoslovakia.

~

What does the word “great” mean?

What does it mean when it means nothing less than the most it can mean?

Let’s put it this way: this film is on the order of Beethoven’s 9th.  King Lear.

It is on the level of the best films of Tarkovsky, Rossellini, Bergman, Kurosawa, Mizogichi, Satyajit Ray.

I don’t think I need to go on any further about it.

Great is the comprehending of that which is beyond comprehension.

I like that kind of thing.

The sublime. The profound.

The Grand Canyon.

Marketa Lazarova.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Stevens Seminar — The More The Merrier

21 Jun

By the early 40s Stevens could write his own ticket. Harry Cohn begged him to come to Columbia, saying he would never bother him, he would never even speak to him, if he would only come there and work. But Stevens said that he would value Cohn’s experience and point of view, and Stevens did go, and Cohn did not bother him.

He was to make three pictures there with Cary Grant, Penny Serenade, The Talk Of The Town. and The More The Merrier. The last of these, however, did not have Grant in it, thank goodness, for he was not available, and it really needed a middle-class regular American Joe to play Joe. (Could Grant ever play a character called Joe?) Instead it had Joel McCrea, who Katharine Hepburn said was in the same category as an actor as Bogart and Tracy, and so he was.

Jean Arthur made three pictures with Stevens, The Talk Of The Town, The More The Merrier, and her last picture, Shane. She  was tiny, but unlike most tiny women actually looked good in clothes. Like Margaret Sullavan and Kay Francis, she had a catch in her voice, but that wasn’t all that was appealing about her, for she was naturally endearing and a highly susceptible comedienne.

Stevens was eager to get into WWII, for this was 1942. He left for service before The More The Merrier opened at Radio City Music Hall, as had his other two Columbia Pictures. Like them, it was an enormous critical and popular success.

WWII took Stevens into North Africa, into the Normandy Landing, and eventually to Dachau when it was first liberated.He took color movies of it, which we have to this day. The only color movies of it.

When the War was over, he came back to Hollywood and scheduled a comedy with Ingrid Bergman. He couldn’t bring himself to make it. Katharine Hepburn always scolded him for not making comedies, for which he had such a gift.

The War had changed him.

The More The Merrier is the last comedy he ever made – and one of the best.

It’s a model for study, for camera arrangement and for directorial latitude to allow natural human comedy to arise between and on the faces and in the bodies of performers. The director has to have tremendous strength, patience, and the ability to watch in order for this rare and essential relation to arise. Perhaps no one has ever done it better than George Stevens.

 

The Diary Of Anne Frank

28 Nov

The Diary Of Anne Frank – produced and directed by George Stevens. Tragedy. Eight people hide in an attic while vicious enemies roam the streets to find them. 180 minutes Black and White 1959.

★★★★

As a film it has lost nothing to time; indeed it takes on power by its set decoration and photography, for both of which it won Oscars. And these are the important Oscars for such a film, since they give to it the feel of documentary. Shelly Winters also won one, and Joseph Schildkraut, who had won one in 1937, who is marvelous, was not even nominated. Lou Jacobi and Gusti Huber, as Mrs Frank, had done it with him on Broadway, and their performances are fresh and strong. Diane Baker and Richard Beymer play modest characters with modesty; every moment tells; we never lose them; we never stop caring about them. With Winters, as an actress, her uncertainty tends to push her art. This makes her always intrusive, and so she is often cast as a pushy woman falling apart.

The use of the Cinemascope camera here in cooperation with a three-storey set, divided by verticals like bars, and the use of full eight-person ensemble scenes bring great strength to what is a director’s movie, which it had to be, since it had no stars and since the material is plotless and storyless, which it had to be, since it actually is a diary. So the direction is purely presentational and as such brilliant beyond expectation. We are never aware of “the direction;” nothing is showy; everything in honored that ought to be.

The difficulty is that one cannot identify with the actor playing Anne. She’s inhumanly pretty and she’s too old. She is never thirteen. In fact the actor was twenty, which is an entire time-zone away from thirteen. And there is something else wrong in that she looks like what she was, a young fashion model. Anne Frank was not a cover girl, but this young woman is a glamor-puss. (To see the part perfectly cast, see the television version.)

I don’t know what Stevens had in mind – a combination of Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn? Did Stevens think to draw focus to her because of her looks? Did he see her as a great new discovery? The problem is you don’t know what you’re getting when you hire an unknown inexperienced actor. Anyhow, the problem is not that she is a fashion model, but that that she relates to a camera in a fashion model way, a way quite different from a movie camera relationship. She knows exactly how to present herself “beautifully,” but that talent is irrelevant to Anne and disconsonnant with her as well. She is so pretty that she has long known how to use the charm of her looks to get what she wants and to get away with behaving as she wishes. Anne Frank was always “behaving” but to do so she had to summon something deep within her defiant nature quite different from the easy victories of a fashion model. Anne Frank was not “pretty,” and the scene where this beauty-actress has to fish for a compliment about her looks is preposterous.

Besides, Anne Frank was a truly funny person; this actress is not. Mind you, the young woman who plays Anne does everything well; she has a right to be proud of her contribution and her work, but, through no real fault of her own, the result of having her in it at all, is that, instead of what we do with the Anne Frank of the book, we have no one to get behind as a human, no one to identify with.

Tremendous vitality pressing outward from inside a difficult girl is the inner truth of the outer truth of the vitality of these eight people caged just because they are Jews inside that loft. Inside a tiny diary is hidden away, as are hidden these eight, the right to live! The injustice of the closet is the mark of this story’s greatness; the movie captures it and us. It is the greatest movie about being closeted ever made. It has not dated. It will never date.

 

The Quiet Man

11 Nov

The Quiet Man –– directed by John Ford. Romantic Drama. An American returns to Ireland, falls for a beautiful woman and must fight to make her his own. 129 minutes. Color 1952.

★★★★★

We get three fairy tales for the price of one. To exploit them, John Ford loads us with his usual bunk. John Wayne plays the man Ford wished he were, and the movie gives us the Ireland Ford wished it were: instead of the starvation, dirt, and violence of it that drew his own forebears to Maine, we get The Emerald Isle and Ford’s St. Patrick’s Day parade of all its clichés before our eyes. Swathed in “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” “Danny Boy,” and “The Kerry Dancers,” we drown in the sentimental blarney of The Auld Sod – with one exception: the film was actually taken in Ireland itself and with actors who actually were Irish. For it is of such a green and such a melodiousness of tongue that one’s worst expectations are swerved by.

That’s the Ford’s first fairy tale, sentimental fantasy of Ireland that Shaw, Wilde, O’Casey, and Joyce deplored.

The second one is a real fairy tale, but one in modern dress, and that’s the one in which a wounded prince enters a kingdom and wins the heart of the princess. Naturally, the princess has a wild boar father-figure who won’t let her go. And the princess has a wound as well, which is that she is the immediate relation of that wild boar, and is one too. So it is a taming of the shrew story, to boot.

The fairy tale immediately before us, however, is the fairy tale of a Hollywood movie, which has its own regulations and sentimental holdovers, played out by actors of heroic mold and legendary beauty, force, and charm. And for this purpose Ford has placed his alumni before us. We have Barry Fitzgerald who takes us a long way into believing that alcoholism is cute. Mildred Natwick plays the spinster Goddess of the town. Ward Bond, as the local priest who actually narrates the fairy tale, and actually gives sporadic evidence of what a good actor he really was. George Ford plays the town sage. And Victor McGlaglen plays the dumb galoot Boar-King whom the prince must kill.

What draws us to this gallumfry? It is the fulfillment of the crazy idea that there actually could be before us a romance played by John Wayne in which, when he kissed the girl, we did not desire to crawl under our theatre seats in horror. He is never less masculine than when kissing. But, in fact, he and Maureen O’Hara seem to have something happening between them. He has wonderfully acted scene, for instance, in which a thunderstorm arises to symbolize the wild sexual passion of O’Hara – but instead of taking advantage of her, he takes responsibility for her. He’s just great. And their kisses are shameless and fun.

They are two handsome people to be sure. Maureen O’Hara, as usual, is called upon to play the fiery red-head, but she does not fall, as she often did, into the trap of being not just high spirited but bad tempered. This is partly due to the fact that anything you could scream at the moronic Victor McGlaglen sounds like a lullaby compared to what he really deserves.

She also comes up against and matches the force of John Wayne’s patience, which is a force of nature never to be overthrown. He also carries the fastest grin in the west. It’s fast because it’s perpetually internal. It presents him before us with a ready philosophy of life, one which is quizzical, kind, long suffering, and gentlemanly. His sense of humor and his patience are one single thing. He is sedate of movement and of speech, a peaceable person, slow to punch. He is an actor who does not fare well with longer than three sentences in a row. So he stands for a taciturnity and much else that we might admire in ourselves did we possess it to any degree worth taking credit for.

This grin and this patience and this deliberation of movement move this actor into scenes like a ploughshare – which is to say they give him genuine authority. And, while Wayne may be biased and stubborn, he is no fool. He weighs matters well. He was a quick study as an actor – and what did he do between takes? He played chess. From all this we made him a great movie star, and no one was more justified to be one.

So he and O’Hara well satisfy our curiosity and our desire for their romantic connection. They are neither of them in their first youth when they play this, but Wayne still has his fine figure and O’Hara is sufficiently messy to convince you that they are not too long in the tooth for such romance, but just at the right age after all.

The movie is less offensive than other Ford pieces. One looks for Ford’s famous eye, but that search is challenged by the brilliant green of the countryside and by the authenticity of the village itself, which was built on the Republic lot and the old Gene Autry ranch in the hills. You believe they are all in one place.

Ford blocks the movie like a musical without songs. His sense of comedy is from the silent film, and does not work in sound, for it is stagy, always forcing us to find it funny, but we never do. His notion that affection between males emerges only after fisticuffs is at once homoerotic and ridiculous. His sense of small group shots gives us his infallible tableaux, although his sense of crowds is non-existent, for he handles them as just a gaggle of people waiting to react when the stars ride by. And he uses eager Irish town folk as extras, a strategy by a director that invariably produces sudden shyness in them. But the narrative is brisk, and the fairy tale of the prince and princess moves along at a fine trot.

Wayne is set an impossible task –– to get the gold from the dragon, Victor McGlaglen. McGlaglen’s hold on it is as crazy as O’Hara’s refusal to relinquish her dream for it. So there are two crazinesses whose stories must be beaten to death here, since logic will not make them sound. It ends in a donnybrook, of course. Classically comedy ends with a marriage and a dance, but here the dance is between two males, which is odd, don’t you think?

Anyhow, as usual with Ford, whatever he does badly he does well, and we ourselves complete the film by putting down the greeting card it takes the form of as the expression of a black-hearted man pretending to a heart of gold, and our forgiveness that it is human after all for him to have wished that he had one.

 

Shane

20 Sep

Shane –– produced and directed by George Stevens. Western. A stranger pitches in to help some homesteaders in Montana and finds himself caught up in their struggle and destiny. 118 minutes Color.

★★★★★

Sam Peckenpaugh said it is the greatest Western ever made, and it probably is, for this reason: Westerns both begin and end with it. For it is a movie about how we see Westerns. It is told through the eyes of an eight year-old boy. He sees the Western hero as we as all have seen him and desired him to be, gone to Westerns to contemplate, desire, and idolize him. What’s important is that the boy is eight; he is at that stage where his pheromones are open to drink in what he must become as a male, what is inherent in the gender, where the gentleness of a gentleman is housed and demonstrated. As Alan Ladd plays it, he is nothing if not a gentleman. For him guns are the last resort, and Stevens, who had seen World War II and its guns and the criminality that war is, uses a cannon when guns go off to shock the audience into the knowledge that a gun is dreadful. And by hooking Elijah Cook Junior up to a jerk line that knocks him backward off his feet violently when he is shot, shows that when a man is shot a life dies in a crude, sudden, ugly way. Stevens sets it under the mountains of The Grand Tetons, which he films with a telephoto lens to bring them forward as cold, distant Gods sitting in their tremendous chairs watching the little doings down there in the vast valley, and he mats his adversarial faces as beautiful against a scripture of clouds scrawling across a huge blue sky. Never in a film has spectacle and intimacy been so strikingly joined. Jean Arthur brings to a close her great film career playing the pacifist wife laboring in dirty shirts to make a home for her husband and boy. She is so naturally plaintive that you cannot but respect her decency in that and in her attraction to Shane himself. Van Heflin as her homesteader husband fills the role with full value. He is one of those actors, like Charles Coburn, who satisfies a part by never slacking and never overloading it. He is a lesson to all actors of how modesty of technique can achieve the role of moral authority that a certain role requires. When Shane takes down Jack Palance (in his first screen role), it is Brandon DeWilde as the boy spying agog who stands in for us as we have always been spying, adoring the Western hero in films, prizing the gun-skills, justifying the slaughter because of its elegance and daring and aim. We have watched Westerns all our lives as DeWilde’s Joey watches Shane. We call ourselves into question because of the habit. How real are these heroes in us and to us? Westerns changed forever after Shane. Cowboys could no longer sing once this song was sung.

 

A Place In The Sun

13 Sep

A Place In The Sun – produced and directed by George Stevens. Romantic Tragedy. A young man aspires to love and success and is waylaid. 122 minutes Black and White 1951.

★★★★★

Seeing Elizabeth Taylor aged 17, as Angela Vickers sail into a mansion, you know she belongs there and you want to belong there with her. For Angela Vickers takes it all for granted. Like Daisy in The Great Gatsby, she has money in her voice. She has the silver chinks. She has everything and she gives everything, so the film naturally and inevitably slants towards her. Shelly Winters as the working class trull is given the opposite: neither sex appeal nor charm nor sympathy. She is brought into performance from beginning to end like the melted ice cream she serves and seems to be enduring morning sickness from the start. A self-pitying, sulky, nauseous look distorts her visage, a quart bottle of platitudes ready to pour. Washed around by his mother, Anne Revere and the two young women with whom he becomes involved, Montgomery Clift as George Eastman is a piece of driftwood shoved by every eddy. His body is flaccid and stooped. His face stares at us and reveals nothing but the hurt he might feel for a passing dog. His beauty registers as great but uneventful. One can read anything into his beautiful eyes, or nothing. For he cannot seem to summon any temperament. But the story is his, and so one reads, not George, but what happens to him. He stands there while it happens, not a character but a circumstance. His entire story, that is, points to Angela Vickers, as the only visible point of life, and the picture aims at what she promises to us all by her very existence on earth. Eastman is a character fostered by a magnate uncle who recognizes his resourcefulness; nepotism aside, George clearly could have succeeded in business on his own merits. And finding work he can do well and rise by is enhanced by his relations to Angela Vickers who has the sureness of her effect on men to go out for what she wants, as she does from their first big scene. We see her willfulness and her will,. We would call her spoiled, but she isn’t because she’s so kind, so happy to be alive, so generous, so gravely honest, so bright, and above all so loving. All the fun in life is lodged with her, all the beauty, all the romance. And never before or since on the screen have these qualities been so resplendently visible. Our hearts go out not to Clift or Winters, but to this wonderful girl, and to her baffled sadness and the life-long love that like a melody sings through it right to the end and beyond. Taylor’s performance throughout is gloriously right, natural, spontaneous, and her final scene is one of the greatest pieces of acting ever filmed, the finest piece of acting she ever did, and the most lyrical. Indeed, the whole film plays like something sung. It brings into being a beauty wider than either of the two beautiful faces of its leads or their romance. Did he kill her? Is he guilty. The priests says yes, of course. But the film says that the question is irrelevant. For it says that his love was a life experience so great that death is not in competition with it at all. Guilt, death, they are not even the same frame. Life has an inherent celebration in it, despite everything. Revealing this to us makes A Place In The Sun the most deeply life-loving film ever made. And the most beautiful.

 

Battleground

05 Jul

Battleground – directed by William A. Wellman. WW II Drama. A platoon experiences The Battle Of The Bulge. 118 minutes Black and White 1949.

★★★★★

Paul C. Vogel won an Oscar for photographing it, and Robert Pirosh’s script won one too, and they both deserve it. For this is a wonderful war picture in just those ways, the outlying ways, rather than the performance ways or the direction ways. Whoever was assigned the mise-en-scene deserved one too, for the snow and dirt and fog and filth are convincing and important in determining the grand irony of the Tolstoyan story which tells of a platoon of men in a great battle, none of those men knowing that it is a great battle, none of them knowing if it is a battle at all, none of them knowing even what country they are in. They move in one direction and lie down and fire their guns; they dig foxholes; no sooner are they dug-in than they have to get on their feet and move in another direction. They have no sense of a plan, or who is giving these orders, or why. They shoot at the enemy without patriotism and they lie back in the snow for a flicker of rest without repose. A great deal of the time is spent waiting, scrounging, scratching. I don’t know the time-line of this piece, but it was released in 1949 or 1950 depending on where you look, and this was six years after the events described, which is The Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne in World War II. The principal players are excellent, with Van Johnson as the loud playboy, John Hodiak as a GI with some breeding, and James Whitmore as the Sargeant. (Whitmore never breaks stride with his frost-bitten limp once he adopts it, which is a tribute to his craft.) But the little moments of the picture are as telling as the characters. One wants to know what is going to happen to them rather than who they are, which is just fine, but their walking around a dead body without comment, the disarray of their combat clothes, the pile of galoshes that don’t fit — these make the film a wonder and a reward. I have been in a war and carried an M-1, and the attitudes of survival shown here are real. Besides that, it was a big hit.

 

A Separation

04 May

A Separation — written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. Drama. Life as it is, consequent on a couple’s wanting to separate, who can’t. 123 minutes Color 2011.

★★★★★

The Oscar for the Best Foreign film, thank goodness, and one wonders, first at its astonishing freedom of expression, and then, how come we would have to go to a foreign film to find out exactly how we ourselves behave. I see no English speaking film with this degree of grit, truth of performance, revelation of the human condition of people of any nation, anywhere. The only difference between the people of Iran and us is that some of the females wear a chador; the men dress like me or the guy down the street. The story is an everyday one. The wife of a couple wants to leave the country in order to make a better life for her eleven year old daughter, but the husband refuses to leave with her because he is responsible to care for his senile father who lives with them. I never tell the stories of  movies, and I won’t tell any more of this one, because the value of it registers only through the human colors revealed by its progress; our relation to those colors is what the story actually is. Like the great opening scene of Marlon Brando in Sidney Lumet’s The Fugitive Kind, it opens with its characters pleading their cases directly to the camera which acts as the magistrate and therefore us, the audience, and we are thus invited right into the squabble of the story with all its disarrangements, revelations, shifts of truth and human bearing. In terms of acting, what we see here makes Method and Meisner acting look like vanity. It is futile to speculate how such actors are trained in Tehran. Evidently they are not victims of a repressive theocracy. And it is futile, because the result of their work has nothing to do with our yearning for the ideal which the good looking or sexy looking actors Western acting offers us. No. Not here. Here we are unsullied by idealism. This acting affords us a different value entirely: pure participation. Seeing this picture, I realized I was seeing something I had longed to see all my life in film – something that film could provide better than any other medium: the seething truth of the ordinary. I do not go a work of art to be entertained, but to entertain something. And this director/storyteller seems to have set aside his desire to entertain, if he ever had it, but to give us people we can read, and the result is that I dive in and entertain myself vastly. I rejoice in this pleasure. Unlike the couple in the film, we are a perfect match.

 

Swing Time

04 Oct

Swing Time – Directed by George Stevens. Musical. Two dancers and their lovers at cross purposes. 103 minutes Black and White 1936.

* * * * *

Swing Time is accompanied by a terrific commentary by John Mueller, who takes us through a good deal of what went on to make this piece the greatest of all Rogers/Astaire musicals — which has to do with Astaire’s grueling rehearsal work, freedom from chance in the dances, his staff Hermes Pan, and the nature of the picture itself. It is directed by George Stevens who was one day to direct The More The Merrier, Woman Of The Year, Shane, and A Place In The Sun and who brings to the picture an angle of vision which unifies it by personalizing the performances. Of course, it is a white telephone musical, which means that it is essentially a film in which only the dances are serious art: the rest is flip. This is as it should be, because Astaire is interested in discovering and firming up the essential musts of movie dance. His discoveries rule to this day. The film contains wonderful numbers of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, and at one point Astaire applies blackface and does a shadow dance with 24 chorus girls, 12 in black 12 in white, and then dances to a black and white rear shadow projection of himself. Minstrel shows celebrate an exuberance which our negro entertainers alone possess: blackface gives performers unheard of freedom: that is what is being celebrated here, and, because it is respectful at heart, it would be offensive to be offended by it. “Never Gonna Dance” is considered to be the greatest dramatic-romantic dance ever filmed, and Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields won the Oscar for “The Way You Look Tonight,” and we are also treated to “A Fine Romance,” “Pick Yourself Up And Start All Over Again”. Rogers, beautifully dressed for all her numbers, is liquid itself in Astaire’s arms. She had a wonderful figure, graceful arms, strong square shoulders, a flexible back. And of course she could actually act, so she moves the spoken drama along while Astaire moves the dance drama along. Dancing he led her; not-dancing, she led him. The most valuable suggestion Mueller gives is to watch the dances in slow motion. What a treat! To actually see for oneself what actually went into these intricate, witty dances! Astaire’s body was a genius. That body made American movie musicals! Excellence upon excellence was his credo, never more so than here.

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Never On Sunday

23 Sep

Never On Sunday – Directed by Jules Dassin. Comedy. A stupid American intellectual aims to elevate a willful prostitute to intellectual lofts. 91 minutes Black and White 1960.

* * * * *

A perfect movie, except, of course, that Jules Dassin who wrote and directed it also plays the lead, and is not an actor and cannot act. He probably had hired someone who dropped out and had to take the part himself – that’s my hunch – but one does not care very much even when Dassin is placed opposite actors who inherently are actors, because the film has Dassin’s directorial urge, energy and heart. And because he, as the American, is clearly headed for a fall. But so what! Melina Mercouri won The Cannes Prize for Best Actress for this role, and you can see why it is inevitable, for she is a force, indeed a freak of nature. Like so many actors, the only places you could put them would be in a theatre or a madhouse or a zoo. Mercouri, with her leopard’s eyes, would be in zoo. (Indeed, she eventually entered Greek politics quite successfully.) She is one of those females who is so female she is male. Like Katina Paxinou or Anna Magnani, she has the ability and the appetite to eat men alive. And they love it, at least, here they do. They throng around her and worship her for her independence, wit, beauty, sexuality, reality, basso profundo voice, and sense of fun. She’s a whore who chooses her clients; not they her. With a toss of her mane of hair, she is off with a sailor while spurning a millionaire. Dassin was exiled in Europe by blacklist, and made this and Rififi and Topkapi and other films with greater success and éclat than he had ever had in the US. He’s a delightful director and a quite lovable man. This is one of his Greek gems. You must have already seen it, but see it again, and see it often. [ad#300×250]

 

Gone With The Wind

08 Sep

Gone With The Wind – Directed by George Cukor, Victor Fleming, Sam Wood, Alfred Hitchcock. Drama. A selfish misguided flirt becomes a misguided survivalist. 220 minutes Color 1939.

* * * * *

It is the greatest movie ever made– because of its generosity of spirit. Everyone who made it hated everyone else who made it, and everyone hated David O. Selznick who produced it, produced it in the sense that he himself made it, and remade it, to his exact and exacting specifications. He was a terrible intruder, interloper, interferer, and one longs to know which particular details he interfered with. Perhaps and probably all details. I saw it when it came out. White dishes with red borders were the door prizes, given out in intermission at the Roosevelt Theatre in Flushing, now no longer existent. My mother took us, and I was restless; I was six. On its re-release I saw it, and was mightily moved. I thought it was the story of Melanie Wilkes. I took myself to be that devoted soul, though I lacked the deep kindness. I was more like Oona Munson as Belle Watling. Later on when I saw it, I realized it was the story of Scarlett O’Hara. The part is perfectly cast, because Vivien Leigh had a divinity’s charm, the inner hellcat, the greed for life’s rewards, and the daring to go for them, and it is her greatest screen work. Scarlett seizes other people’s property to gain her ends, and she is perfectly matched in this by Selznick himself. We hand it to Scarlett on the grounds of her sheer vivacity. And we never blame her. Why? Because she represents the triumph of what, despite our failings and meanness, we all deserve and what we will sacrifice for it. Scarlett is an accomplishment, Vivien Leigh’s performance is an accomplishment, and the film is an accomplishment, and it is all the same accomplishment, and that remains stirring to this day. The production is splendid. William Cameron Menzies sets, Jack Cosgrove’s backgrounds, Max Steiner’s moving score – all are exemplary, as are the pens of those responsible for its screenplay, Sydney Howard, Ben Hecht, Oliver Garrett and others. Olivia de Haviland wept selfishly at the Oscars when her Melanie lost to the first black actor ever to win an acting award, Miss Hattie McDaniel, who is tops. Everyone is at their best except Leslie Howard who, as an actor, in fact actually appears to be the milksop someone accuses Ashley Wilkes as being. And, above all, if he is forgotten for every other picture he ever made, he will be known and remembered perfectly for the part which captures his humor, his great charm, his mountainous masculinity, his physical beauty, his irresistible sexiness, and his great skill as an actor – in the part of Rhett Butler — Clark Gable.

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All About Eve

06 Sep

All About Eve – Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. Drama. 138 minutes Black and White 1950.

★★★★★

The Story: A great Broadway star teeters on the brink of 40, and a younger star tries to push her over.

~

I don’t know whether Mankiewicz is a good director, but his screenplay here works like crazy, because it takes the focus off of Bette Davis and hands it around evenhandedly to the other  characters before us, so our interest in the main matter which is Can Broadway Star Margo Channing Stop Being A Brat And Become A Grownup? is left to the other actors to manage for us.

Very crafty.

George Sanders is the only non-female main character in the story, but, if you consider the part could be been played, although not so well, by Clifton Webb, you will recognize that he is not actually a male character at all. There are three other males in the piece, but Gregory Ratoff as the play producer, while very good, has little to do, Hugh Marlowe as the playwright has only a little more to do, and Gary Merrill, as her suitor and her director, does everything with contempt for the craft of acting itself and is quite bad.

This leaves us with Celeste Holm. She said, when she first came on set, Davis was rude to her on sight. Davis was an inexcusable person; so Holm is very well cast as Davis’s best friend, and the first of Eve’s suckers.

Sanders won the Oscar for this, quite rightly (George Sanders like that other master of boredom, Gig Young, eventually committed suicide. And you can see it coming in his relations with Baxter.) More than any other actor who ever lived, George Sanders drawl could make any line sound witty, which is nice, since many of the lines are so. Marilyn Monroe – she of the Copacabana School of acting – charmingly appears as the object of one of them.

This brings us to the two remaining stars.

Bette Davis is really up for this role. Her natural vitriol gives way to the sheer physical requirements of the part – snatching up a mink from the floor, waddling into a bathroom, declining a bonbon. Her command of all that is inside her and all that surrounds her wins our loyalty from the start. For once, Davis is actually at home in a role, relaxed, her customary archness vanished, and the story grants us only the best of her tantrums.

That year the stories of two aging stars, Norma Desmond and Margo Channing, vied for the Oscar, but Anne Baxter bullied the studio to put her up for one too, and, in a divided vote, both Swanson and Davis  (how characteristic of Eve) lost and Judy Holliday, the younger actress, got it. Yet, as Eve, Anne Baxter is lamentably miscast. You cannot believe that any of those shrewd judges of character that those theatre people are would have been duped for a minute by those batting eyelashes and that breathy, tobacco stained voice into believing she was an innocent.

Never mind. Otherwise more than worth the bumpy ride. Davis endures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senna

03 Sep

Senna – Directed by Asif Kapadia. BioDoc. The great Formula 1 race-car Ayrton Senna’s life on the track, his life, his fate, and his destiny. 1 hour 44 minutes Color 2011

* * * * *

A beautiful young man calmly follows his bliss before our eyes, and there is no stopping him. He came from a well-to-do Brazilian family who supported his love of speed from his earliest days in go-carts. His life on the track was well documented, and it ended at age 34 not by a crash but by the fault of the racecar he was driving. You can see it happen. The car, making a simple turn on the speedway, simply comes to a halt. He is dead inside the car. There is not a broken bone inside his body. But the drive shaft has come apart and killed him. The car was a Williams-Renault reduction of their previous year’s car that had been robotized, had won the Grand Prix for Prost, and then banned. The new version was unbalanced and inconsistent on the turns, and Senna knew it. Everyone on his team knew it, and it fell apart as he drove it and it killed him. Death by technology.  Up until then we see this beautiful young man, modest, intelligent, striving to learn. We see him wrangle with Alain Prost, his rival, and win great races through his daring, his speed, his experience, his talent, his focus, his honesty and forthrightness, and, to be sure, his constant relations to God about which the dear fellow makes no secret. Many of the scenes are shot inside his racing car as he actually drove it. Off the track we see him as the national Hero of Brazil as he becomes World Grand Campion three times. And it is a wonder to see him, for he is before the cameras all his grown life, as though to world super-stardom born. He is never self- conscious and never duplicitous. We see his strain, his ebullience, his anger, his sweetness plain. I think you will be refreshed by this person, a beautiful creature and a saint of sport. The film won the Sundance Award 2011 for Documentary.

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