They've traded more for cigarettes than I've managed to express.
13 July 2012
Viewing Journal: Week of 9-15 Jul
Not sure whether I'm feeling burned out or just happened to watch a couple of films right off the bat about which I had little to say, but I never managed to get going, so just capsules this week. (If Letterboxd takes off once it goes fully public, there's a good chance I'm gonna shift the journal over there—I can't keep up this level of output forever, much as I'd like to, and individual entries are more conducive to variable length than is this weekly format, at least for an anal-retentive like myself.)
Drive, He Said (1971, Jack Nicholson): 43. Unmistakably the work of a basketball fan, and only Bruce Dern's irascible coach and some ably-shot court action kept me involved. Otherwise seems like a experiment intended to discover whether one actor's painful histrionics can disguise another actor's lack of charisma. The more I investigate the work Nicholson was doing before he became a superstar, the more fascinating he seems, but I can't say I'm sorry he's only directed three films.
A Safe Place (1971, Henry Jaglom): 22. Truly insufferable wankery, just beat-your-head-against-the-wall stuff. Jaglom has no ideas, only a total commitment to "artistic freedom," so he just shoots his impressive cast yammering about whatever comes to mind (there's an entire scene devoted to Tuesday Weld prodding a guy to think up an old-style exchange for his phone number), then splices in quick shots of previous and/or future imagery at random to break up the monotony. When in doubt, he cuts to poor Orson, who flails. That drunken Paul Masson ad is less mortifying.
The Colossus of New York (1958, Eugene Lourie): 51. Most of this makes absolutely no sense. Why would you put the brain in a scary behemoth rather than an ordinary man-sized figure? How does being disembodied give you mind-control powers? WHY DID THEY BUILD FUCKING LASER BEAMS OR WHATEVER INTO HIS EYES? It's like the filmmakers forgot the Colossus is a man-made proto-cyborg, not an alien. All the same, the basic scenario is so existentially nightmarish—sort of a sci-fi variant on Johnny Got His Gun—that I got sporadically creeped out in spite of myself. The initial scene in which the thing comes to life is especially flesh-crawling, what with his/its inarticulate, static-inflected horror at his/its predicament. (Subsequent close-to-normal speech kinda breaks the spell.) Some smart Socratic dialogue on the nature of consciousness, too, and a spectacularly effective minimalist piano score by Van Cleave. And then everybody just shrugs at the end after a dozen or more people are zapped to death in public and it's back to whaaaaaa?
/Blue/ (1993, Krzysztof Kieslowski): 40. Hoped to warm up to this, since I hadn't yet become a Kieslowski fan when I originally saw it (Red turned me around, followed by The Decalogue), but it still seems like an unilluminating wallow, notable mostly for the play of light on Binoche's face and those striking symphonic mid-scene blackouts. Relinquishing everything is inherently undramatic, and Kieslowski's often striking images can't fill the void; nor am I convinced when Julie's discovery of her late husband's adultery suddenly inspires her to reconnect. (The suggestion that his famed compositions were ghosted by her, whatever its thematic relevance, is a serious eye-roller.) And there's no defending the hamfisted symbolism of Julie's mom, addled by dementia, watching bungee-jumpers on TV. I'M FREEEEE, NO I'M NOOOOOT! Jesus christ in my opinion.
/The Double Life of Veronique/ (1991, Krzysztof Kieslowski): 68. Doppelgänger aspect feels strangely undernourished—connections get made but they don't seem to mean much, except perhaps as political allegory (with Weronika/Véronique as Eastern/Western Europe). Véronique breaks down when she finally sees the picture she unknowingly took of Weronika; I remain unmoved, having been given no reason to perceive their mysterious co-existence as more than a plot device. Which is frustrating because there are so many glorious individual moments here, from Weronika holding her final note alone in the rain as the rest of the choir scurries for cover to Véronique watching the puppeteer via a reflection at the edge of the stage, her face as rapt as those of the children but looking in a different direction. Will I get pummeled if I say that their subsequent romance, with its treasure-hunt courtship, reminded me a bit of Amélie? (Not a criticism, sue me.) Much to treasure, but the ending in particular leaves me shrugging, in both the Harvey-ized version inflicted on Americans 20 years ago and the original one I finally saw now. Also puzzling: the sulfurous color scheme. Is it meant to be golden-hued? Colorblindness issue? I'm never sure about these things...
Barbarella (1968, Roger Vadim): 37. In a weird confluence of events, I happened to watch Meatballs not long ago, and was overpowered by inexplicable lust for one of the camp counselors—"inexplicable" because bubbleheaded blondes are pretty much the opposite of my type. Looked her up on IMDb and found out why: She played the title role in the X-rated Alice in Wonderland (1976), which was the only porn movie my parents had in the house when I was growing up. In a fit of nostalgia, I then found Alice on Pornhub or one of those sites and marveled anew (cf. Boogie Nights) at how much inept semi-creative energy went into porn in those days. Barbarella plays just like that, except the sex scenes have been snipped out and all that's left is the tackiness. That it's deliberate in this case doesn't make it significantly less wearisome at feature length. Fonda is admirably game, but only David Hemmings demonstrates any actual comic ability, and his role is regrettably brief. I'm just not a big camp guy, I guess.
The Last Picture Show (1971, Peter Bogdanovich): 90. A feel-bad movie for the ages, shot in shimmering b&w and populated by unlined young faces to make you swoon (plus careworn old faces to make you weep). Sonny's the nominal protagonist but the film bounces all over Anarene at will, laying waste to any romanticized notion of small-town America...and yet it doesn't feel cynical, only brutally honest. Ellen Burstyn sets the tone as Jacy's mother, dispensing advice so hard-won and practical that it can only be ignored; Ben Johnson serves as nostalgic counterpoint, in the movie's only nod to outright sentiment. Bogdanovich, meanwhile, demonstrates a mastery of old-school composition—boots jutting from an open car window at foreground left as figures approach from background right—that seems to have been lost somewhere along the way. (Even gorgeously-shot movies no longer look like this.) Only quibbles are that McMurtry seems unduly hard (so to speak) on young women generally and Jacy in particular, though Shepherd's blank-faced guilelessness provides her with some dignity in repose, and that the death of the town's Symbol of Innocence feels like overkill. The titular closing was more than enough.