Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Got To Keep Up With the Movie Posts

I have lots of great essays on general and pertinent topics coming.

The Journey of Natty Gann (1985)

Disney movie, not really for little children so much as for the 10-14 range I would think, that one of my ratings guides (my favorite one, actually) really liked. I don't think they make this kind of movie much anymore. The modern child would doubtless find its pace and method of storytelling hopelessly old-fashioned and ponderous. Not my children perhaps, or at least some of them, but we seem to be well out of the main currents of contemporary life. I already feel my sons' pain when they will arrive at college and be surrounded by boys who have long had the text message booty call (or whatever its 2020s equivalent will be) down cold; because they probably won't. I didn't like the movie quite that much, though I'm not going to rip it either. It is set in the 30s, a time period which often works well in cinematic renderings, and is probably popular for that reason. Comparatively speaking, movies from the 20s are much rarer, and usually feel off besides; and the 1910s are essentially a decade forgotten by everyone at this point, in part because nobody has a good feel, or much interest, in how to make visually compelling movies about them. But filmmakers seem to have some sense of the aesthetic of the 30s, what they felt like visually if nothing else, that is more accurate than that which they have for other periods.

The star of the movie was the great Meredith Salenger, who is two months younger than I am. Who didn't want a piece of  like her back in the 80s? Nobody, I think. She only appeared in five films before retiring to go to Harvard and Pepperdine Law School, and I think I only saw part of one of them (though she appears to have returned to acting in recent years). Obviously, it was enough.

Reminder of What the 80s Could Have Been Like (if it had only been given to one to be a winner)

I have assumed in past posts (Vanessa Paradis, Jennifer Connelly) the privilege of being allowed to express my teen-aged thoughts about teen-aged girls who were teenagers at the same time I was. Is it not more wistful in that sense than perverse, to recall that lost but in retrospect beautiful summer of 1985, when Meredith and I were both 15, and I was walking up the Easton Road or across some parched empty ball field on a 93 degree day, and she was out there, in Hollywood hanging out with the Corey Feldmans of the world, our paths decidedly not doomed to cross...I have always liked the name Meredith, since about 1985 in fact, enough that usually the mere hint that one bearing that name might be in the vicinity has always had the effect of piquing my consciousness and arousing some heat to flow into the old joints in anticipation of pleasurable experience. The name calls to mind the girl one knew at summer camp (I never went to summer camp), standing on the dock, framed by the encompassing silhouette made by countless and endless pine trees, her wet shoulder length hair and field hockey player's taut calves and arms glistening in the half moon, and you soon to know to partake of the pleasure contained in this for the first time...For those of us who never got to be young in this way, there is a kind of therapy in pretending we once were.

I once knew a bartender named Meredith who was kind of a loudmouthed party girl, but I liked her personality. She had a slight belly, but she had beautiful arms, and beautiful teeth, both of which stood out especially, as well as blue eyes and shoulder length black hair which had, or which she had given, the aspect of being animated. She had no use for me at all, but how could she? I have no personality, have nothing to say that will interest them, to 999 out of every 1,000 women I encounter.

I could look at pictures of Meredith Salenger, if not quite all day, for a while. I had forgotten about her. Probably this was for the best.

Meredith Salenger Today.

And Another One. Hey, Why Not?

To Die in Madrid (1963)

This could go on the list of supposedly great movies that are not readily available in this country. I did watch it on the internet, however I could not find any uploads (?) of it with English subtitles. It is in French, and while I can understand more French than I can any other language, I don't understand it well enough to really follow the narration in its finer points. The movie is a documentary about the Spanish Civil War. Whether all of the footage was historical or if there were some parts (the non-battle, non-mass crowds under wartime condition parts obviously), mainly of traditional or pastoral settings, that were filmed contemporaneously by the (a?) director. The Spanish Civil War of course has always spoken to intellectuals and artists. Apart from the most superficial facts and analyses of it I don't know very much about it, as least not what inspires such deep responses to it by astute and gifted people; though perhaps it is nothing more than the sense of the unique and antiquated beauty of the Spanish country and culture that seems viscerally to contain a depth and nobility that is inaccessible to people living in modern societies. I don't know how much this movie would have taught me, as I got the impression from the narrator's tone of voice, what I could make out of the French, and the types of footage that were emphasized, that the filmmakers were of the strident, highly indignant school and that the view of the war that they were pressing, while it might have explained a great deal, might also have explained nothing useful to me. Nonetheless, the film was strong on this antiquated Spanish beauty and atmosphere--is it a lie, or a distraction from facing very unpleasant facts about a culture (or the several cultures who co-exist to however much of an extent in the territory known as Spain) and the people who make it up? I don't think so, simply because the atmosphere is so seductive and is the main reason many people care so much about the war that took place there in the 1930s. I have very much wanted to go to Spain over the last couple of years, as if doing so would clear my head and restore my lost equilibrium in some way, as if all of the elements that I am missing and which are essential to living a fully human life, or at least a Western idea of a human life, could still be found there.  

Witness For the Prosecution (1957)

As I have noted often, courtroom movies are not the kind of thing I usually get excited about. I was a little more open to seeing this one than the run of pictures of this type, because it was directed by Billy Wilder and had Charles Laughton as one of its stars. Wilder is probably in the top five of my all time favorite directors at this point, and while I have not seen a lot of Charles Laughton, I already have the idea that he always delivers. And Laughton does deliver here. He is great, the movie is worth watching for him alone. It is not that Billy Wilder doesn't deliver--the movie is eminently watchable, and makes for good entertainment--it does not exactly feel like a Billy Wilder movie however. This is probably because it is based on an Agatha Christie story and is set in the Inns of Court in London. I have never read any Agatha Christie, but this is the 2nd movie (And Then There Were None was the other) based on one of her stories that I have seen; evidently her trademark was the multiple twist ending. These are clever, but they are not, at this stage of my development, what I am going to remember, or even be particularly interested in, about either of these films. Among the other stars in this movie worth noting are Marlene Dietrich, whom I had never seen before, and who I thought had retired after the 30s. She is about 55 in this and looks quite remarkable. Combined with her German attitude this is at times a genuinely scary combination. Elsa Lanchester, a great beauty in the 30s (Rembrandt) and the wife of Charles Laughton, looks more her age, which is the same as Marlene Dietrich's, in a deliberately somewhat dowdy role here, though it is still evident that she had been a beautiful young woman. Charles Laughton himself was always one of those jowly, enormous-headed, highly competent and well-trained, brandy-drinking, decidedly non-metrosexual British men of the Brideshead generation (what happened to this stock?). Tyrone Power, an American who was a fairly big star for a brief period in the 50s (he died of a heart attack at age 44 the year after this came out) was in this as well. I haven't seen him before; he wasn't very impressive--or at least he seems out of place--when contrasted against all of the other talent here.*

I would give this movie 3 1/2 stars out of five, maybe push it to four on the basis of Laughton's performance alone. Otherwise my prejudice against courtroom movies is too much to overcome for me to truly love it, and the cleverness of the twists at the end after being led so diligently for the better part of two hours to another specific and pat conclusion does not provide enough satisfaction. It is much better to have a sense of myriad possibilities for an ending and anticipate which direction the story will end up taking than to be persuaded throughout that the story and the characters are of such and such a type, only to have the switch at the end that tells you, no, no, it is all completely the opposite of what the entirety of our previous storytelling would have permitted you to believe, which latter I obviously do not like as a technique.

*I have since discovered that Tyrone Power was actually quite a big star in the 1930s and 40s. However he must be largely forgotten today, as I had scarcely heard of him and had never seen him in a movie until this.

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