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L’Avventura

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Anna (L) and Claudia (R)

I admit I didn’t much like L’Avventura, the story of a rich Italian woman who goes missing while on a weekend away with her rich, jaded friends. I concede that the actors were gorgeous and skillful; the sets and cinematography excellent, but the story was lacking and the personalities were exasperating.

The story’s simple. Anna is unhappy in a general alienated 1960s way. She bickers with her boyfriend and pouts a lot because life’s missing something. When she’s off on a boat with her friends she dives in the water and is never seen of again. I do mean that. We don’t ever see her and though I can appreciate innovation in plots, this was too much. While her friends and father search for her, her boyfriend (he’s no boy – these characters seem to be in their late 20s or 30s) and her best friend Claudia go to look for her. Looking for Anna becomes insignificant compared to Claudia and Sando, Anna’s boyfriend, who embark on romance spiced up with occasional pangs of guilt on Claudia’s part.

The film is striking and beautiful. I did buy into Claudia’s dramatic emotions as she pushed and pulled at Sando. Much of the film is a critique of the shallow lives of the rich. I didn’t quite buy it, true as it might be. The characters were simply playboys and playgirls and I found it hard to actually believe they couldn’t find something to dedicate their lives to. I suppose there are people like this.

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The Freshmen

freshman_01The more I see Harold Lloyd, the more I love him and his films. In The Freshman (1925) Lloyd plays an young man also named Harold who saves up enough money to go to college. Once on campus, Harold’s main concern is getting popular by following the tricks he saw in a movie.

Instead of being the big man on campus he’s soon the butt of everyone’s jokes. His peers love putting him in awkward positions and taking advantage of him. He never catches a break as he inadvertently insults the dean, takes the dean’s car from the train station and makes wrong step after wrong step. The gags at the student assembly, the dance and the football field are priceless.

Jobyna Ralston plays the sweet love interest Peggy perfectly. Harold meets Peggy on a train and then it turns out that she’s the daughter of his landlady. Yes, it’s coincidental, but it’s a small town and she’s the one sincere woman in a sea of fakes.

I watched a Criterion Collection disc with the commentary, which I find adds to my appreciation of any silent film. I seem to need some talk.

A masterful comedy, The Freshmen is a film I can see watching again and again.

Badlands

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I’d never envisioned Martin Sheen playing a morally bankrupt adolescent so watching Badlands (1973) was something of a shock. In Badlands Sheen plays Kit an outsider with just enough smarts to be dangerous. I can’t quite make out his percentage of psychosis, but Kit sure has plenty. Evidently the film was based on an actual couple, Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate.

As the film begins, Kit’s bored with his garbage collecting job, which he soon loses by telling off the boss. He finds an odd kind of love when he meets Holly, played by Sissy Spacek. Holly’s an even keel (or flat line?) teen whose mother died a while back. She’s never had a boyfriend or lots of friends at school so hey, Kit’s interested in her so why not stick with him. Her father’s rather taciturn and aloof so she’s morally empty and will go along with anything since nothing in life seems like a big deal to her. She attaches herself to Kit since he’s there and he’s good looking and she doesn’t seem to have the depth to make moral judgments of any sort. Life’s rather boring in her South Dakota town and she’s got no social circle, no village is raising this girl so she goes with whatever comes along.

So we see this ho hum relationship, and both Holly and Kit are more inclined to the ho hum than to passion, flow along until Holly’s father gets wind of it. He forbids Holly to see Kit. Now Kit’s wild with love and can’t live without Holly. He breaks into Holly’s home and confronts the father, who wants him out. Dad won’t listen to Kit. He certainly doesn’t want his only child to settle for an uneducated loser who can’t keep a job. When the father turns his back to Kit to go call the police to get the trespasser out, Kit shoots him in the back. Kit and Holly burn the house down to thwart the authorities who’ll soon want evidence and they take to the road. It is odd, yet compelling to see Holly blithely go off with Kit after he’s murdered her father in cold blood.

Just like Kit, Badlands goes in directions viewers won’t expect. There’s never a police officer who’s determined to catch the pair. This isn’t Bonnie and Clyde, though the bodies start piling up as the story progresses. It’s more of a look at a lost, bored adolescent couple who make some odd and wrong choices, shrug them off and keep going in their way. Because the plot employs few Hollywood conventions and because the leads are compellingly low key and lost, the film works.

Who’d thunk that Jeb Bartlett could play a low key, psychopathic James Dean?

 

 

 

In the Heat of the Night

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In rural Mississippi a local businessman, the most prosperous one in the city, is murdered. The first suspect is a black man waiting for a train. Who’s more vulnerable than an outsider with dark skin in the rural South in the early 1960’s? Thus there’s plenty of drama in In the Heat of the Night (1967).

Virgil Tibbs, played by Sidney Poitier, is waiting for his train. He’s brought in to the station and treated like the prime suspect till the police chief (Rod Steiger) learns that Tibbs is a leading homicide detective in Philadelphia. As much as it bugs the chief, he realizes that his force can’t solve the murder. They just don’t have Tibbs’ expertise. So he gets the Philadelphia Police Department to make Tibbs work with Chief Gillespie and his force.

The film shows the hostility and violence towards an African American whom the locals feel has risen above his station. The mystery is authentic and keeps the audience guessing. Of course Poitier and Steiger give sterling performances.

High Noon

High Noon (1952) is another classic I hadn’t seen till now. I remember lots of people talking about it, but never made the effort to see it — till now. As you probably, know it’s the story of  Will Kane, a marshall, played by Gary Cooper, who stands up to Frank Miller, a bad guy who’s got it out for him. There are more details though.

Cooper’s character has just gotten married to a Quaker, who abhors violence. He’s planning to leave with her and start a new life. They’re on the road, when Kane realizes he can’t leave the town unprotected. The new sheriff won’t arrive till the next day and Miller, whom Kane arrested, is on a train to the town and will arrive at — high noon. Amy, Kane’s wife lost her brother to senseless violence and won’t turn back with him. Not at first.

Upon arriving back in town Kane tries to get a posse together to protect the people, but everyone’s too cowardly to join. It’s quite dramatic to see Kane summon the courage to fight on his own, for people too chicken to help themselves.

I found Kane’s moral conviction and courage to do something you’d rather not do compelling. Despite the passage of time, High Noon still works. No wonder it’s a classic.

Antony and Cleopatra

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The 1971 film, Antony and Cleopatra film starring, written & directed by Charlton Heston. It was a grand epic and I think today a director would be more naturalistic, which isn’t necessarily bad. I did appreciate the grandeur and pretty much expected that in a Heston production.

I was surprised by the amount of skin shown. We see Charlton Heston in a thong-like loin cloth and some women’s bare backsides. It was the early 70s and Antony and Cleopatra were led by their desires and Cleopatra’s court was hedonistic in Shakespeare. (Earlier Chaucer wrote about Cleopatra and she was more of a “good wife,” more nurturing and romantic.)

The film did make parts of the play, which I read for my online book club, clearer.

The film was able to show the scale of the battles and their brutality, which was quite gory, but how things would have been. While it wasn’t perfect, I got the sense that the film did include authentic aspects of the Ancient World.It reinforced my attitudes toward the characters–they weren’t at all admirable, but they were compelling as great people who suffered great falls.

As I watched I wondered why Shakespeare had all three servants–Iras, Charmian, and Eros–commit suicide for their masters. Such blind loyalty. I wondered how Shakespeare’s contemporaries thought of that. I wondered why no one went on to move on with their lives. Two women killed themselves for Cleopatra. Wow. Was she worth dying for? Ladies, you could have had a better life post-Cleopatra.

There was a scene in the film that really struck me. In Act 2, Scene 2 when Caesar and Lepidus are conferring Caesar’s watching two gladiators spar. Then Antony walks in and he and Caesar . All the while the gladiators spar and are quite violent. Therefore there was a good tension between the veiled, polite language Antony and Cleopatra use and the increasing fighting Caesar’s seeing.

Speedy

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Harold Lloyd’s 1927 film Speedy is a comic delight. Speedy is hero’s name. Lloyd’s Harold “Speedy” Swift is in love but can’t hold a job for more than a few days so his sweetheart’s grandfather, her guardian, won’t let them marry. We see him lose a couple more jobs through no fault of his own.   His fanatical love of baseball cost him his soda jerk job and luck just wasn’t on his side when he tried to drive a taxi with Babe Ruth as his first and only customer.

Despite his poor job record, Speedy takes his girl to Coney Island, where a slew of mishaps continue.

His sweetheart’s grandfather owns the last horse-drawn car (i.e. a tram driven by a horse when cars and buses have taken over the streets). A railroad tycoon wants to buy him out to replace the old horse-drawn conveyance with his railroad line. After reading about the railroad deal in the paper, Speedy changes grandpa’s requested amount from $10,000 to $70,000, which the big shot who’s come to negotiate with grandpa outright refuses.

Thus the railroad man plots to prevent grandpa from completing his route. If he misses a day, the railroad can take over the route without paying grandpa anything so the shrewd tycoon hires a bunch of thugs to stop grandpa. Speedy happens to overhear the plan and volunteers to take over as the driver. Since Speedy’s batted 0% as far as his jobs go things look bad.

The film is full of sight and physical gags that amaze. How did they do these stunts? Considering how they sometimes used real streets and had to orchestrate massive, chaotic scenes with hordes of extras and animals, it’s incredible and still entertains.

Rebecca

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I’d never seen Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of the novel Rebecca, but a friend suggested it and lent me her DVD so I gave it a try. From the start, I was drawn into this film and now want to read the book.

A suspenseful, elegant movie, Rebecca tells about a mousy travel companion to an elderly woman, who’s swept off her feet by a dashing aristocrat (Lawrence Olivier) who recently lost his wife (Joan Fontaine). They soon marry, and when the new Mrs. de Winter arrives at the family mansion with its intimidating housekeeper and staff, viewers quickly wonder whether this sweet young woman hasn’t married in haste. The first wife’s presence hangs about the house and the young Mrs. de Winter accidentally makes one mistake after another. Her husband’s temper erupts with the smallest provocation. The first wife’s death is shrouded in mystery and the housekeeper’s creepy and her obsession with how wonderful Rebecca de Winter was is fanatical.

The film moves as quickly as the whirlwind romance and Olivier and Fontaine head up a strong cast. The ending was unexpected. I’d definitely watch this film again and again.

Moulin Rouge

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I didn’t know John Huston directed Moulin Rouge in 1952. A friend, who also likes old movies,  shared a couple DVDs with me and this is one of them. I never saw the 2001 Moulin Rouge (and probably won’t because it sounds like a very different story).

Huston’s Moulin Rouge is a biopic, the story of the famous painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Lautrec, played convincingly by José Ferrer, frequents this cabaret where all the colorful characters of 19th century Paris convene to dance, drink and often fight (not only the men, but he ladies). Lautrec was born into a noble family. At and early age he is injured falling down the stairs and the doctors fail to repair his bones as they should. Thus Lautrec’s growth is stunted making him a social misfit.

Yes, he’s witty, smart and talented, but when his first love rejects him running from the room when he declares his love, Lautrec decides he’ll never fit in the country, in his father’s world so he heads to Paris and paints the dancers and clowns at the Moulin Rouge and shares drinks and barbs with the best artists of his day: Cezanne, Monet, etc.

Twice in his life he meets a pivotal woman. The first is a low class manipulator and I pitied Henri as he pined for this deceptive sponge. Later he meets a woman worthy of love, but he’s too jaded to expect that a woman would really love him.

I didn’t expect much of this film, mainly because I’d never heard of it. I found it an absorbing biography of a witty, fascinating artist.

On the Waterfront

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Yippee! I can reach my blog today! How long will this last?

Not very, I’m afraid, so on to a movie review.

Though I’ve heard parodies of the “I coulda been a contender” dialogue, I’d never seen Marlon Brando as Terry Malloyin the famed On the Waterfront. It wasn’t what I expected, though I’m not sure what I expected.

On the Waterfront opens with Brando’s character unwittingly luring a union activist to his death. The mob that controls the union want’s no trouble. They don’t want fair wages or fair play. They blindly follow their corrupt boss Johnny, content to get whatever scraps he throws their way. Terry’s brother is a lawyer for the mob and his link to Johnny pulled Terry in evidently. Years ago Terry was a promising boxer, but at Johnny’s insistence threw a fight. Terry’s rough around the edges to say the least. From what I’ve read, this natural, raw acting style was quite a departure from most films of its day. Now it’s the norm so while the film pulled me in, I wasn’t sure why it’s a classic.

Terry soon meets the dead man’s sister Edie Doyle, a gorgeous, principled young woman. He becomes smitten and she’s been sheltered at a woman’s college so she’s interested in him. Presented with Edie’s view of justice, which is exemplified in the neighborhood priest who organizes and stands up for workers’ rights, in spite of the older priest’s advice to mind his own business, Terry starts to change. He sees the injustice and personal cost of letting Johnny rule the waterfront.

I liked the film until the scene where after a quarrel, Terry runs after Edie, who’s lost hope that Terry will change. She’s fled to her apartment and Terry breaks down her door after she yells out that he should go away. She’s terrified, and yes, probably attracted, but if someone broke down my door I’d call the police no matter how charming or handsome he might be. Eventually, they embrace. Right. After he breaks down the door and struggle. This may have passed for love in the 1950s, but now it’s most unappealing. I felt that Upton Sinclair’s books like The Jungle or King Coal are better ways to learn about the workers’ movement.

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