Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Four Movies, None of Which are Readily Available on Netflix (Part 1)

Cross My Heart (1990)

This is a strange French movie about a bunch of schoolchildren who rally around a classmate whose mother's sudden death has left him an orphan by secretly burying the corpse and bringing him food so that the adults won't remove him to an orphanage and he can continue living in his house and going to their school. I guess it is supposed to be sweet (especially by French standards) as well as somewhat subversive (those killjoy adults with their rules and duties) but I found it unconvincing. Of course the whole premise is not plausible, but any very well made story will make even the most unrealistic possibilities seem as if there is a grain (or more) of important reality in it that is truer than actual life. I did not reach that state with this film.

The aspect of this movie that made the strongest impression on me is its having been made in 1990, and apparently is supposed to be set more or less in that time (the clothes at least look like what the French were wearing in the late 80s). As I have noted elsewhere, movies from that 1987-91 or so era look now like they come from a more remote and obscure age than some stuff from the 70s does. The kids in this movie are 7-8 years younger than I am! and still there isn't a computer in sight, nor the thought that there even ought to be one, they are using those absurdly clunky box public telephones (the era of which lingered well into the 90s) and their schoolroom is the dreary, screenless, pencil- paper-book-and-chalkboard dominated cell that my sense is has been relegated by technology to the scrap heap of history. The outdoor scenes also have what I immediately recognize as the light that was peculiar to the 1988-92 period (I was 19-21 in those years, and very alert to the physical environment). This is a real natural phenomenon--it is connected with changes in the ozone or sunspots or something, I suppose I should look it up. Anyway, this is noticeable in film history. In the mid-60s, '63-66 or so, the light is very bright. Then around '69-'71 things are more drab, vegetation seems more sickly and so on. Around '74-'75 the light always looks as if it is slanted or otherwise off-kilter, and is shining down on the earth through a filter of grit. In the '88 to '92 period, and this film corroborates with my memory, twilight, or the sensation of it, occupied a much greater portion of the day than it does now (at least in the fall and winter), in fact pretty much the whole afternoon after about 2 pm, until it finally got dark. This may not be an accurate description, but I tell you, when I was watching this movie, I thought on several occasions that it was uncanny that I remember the afternoons and the light looking exactly as they do in this movie, and that I have not had the same sense recur for many years since.

Netflix Status: They don't have it. It doesn't seem to be available on DVD in the US (add it to the list of well-regarded French movies from 1974-90). I had to buy a used VHS tape.

The World According to Garp (1982)

It happens by coincidence that Robin Williams died while I was in the middle of writing this. I was not much of a fan of his--this was probably the movie of his that I liked best, though oddly, in the various memorials that have been playing on TV and radio programs the past few days, I have not noticed any mention of nor footage from this at all. It was well-reviewed at the time, but it does seem to be kind of forgotten now.

I also thought (before the media coverage of Williams's death, at least, suggested otherwise) that the general esteem for both John Irving and Robin Williams, which were probably around whatever peak these attained at the time Garp was made, had since declined to the point that any movie which was heavily dependent on their talents must have a decidedly limited ceiling with regard to its potential greatness. And while I think there probably is such a ceiling, and also that thirty years on certain elements of the story, at least as translated to film, do not hold together, I found the movie more watchable than I thought it was going to be. Amidst the various incoherences and seeming misfires at social commentary, there is quite a bit that is good, or at least that speaks to me. The director was George Roy Hill, who had several big hits in the 60s and 70s (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Slap Shot, etc). I saw some of these films when I was around 10-15 years old, and I remember liking them well enough, though at that time I could not possibly have understood most of what was going on in them. Still, I am guessing there was something in the look and narrative style that has primed me to respond to this manner of filmmaking when I see it now. John Irving of course is from New Hampshire and the story has a lot of good old New England elements to it, a little higher class than I can lay claim to (oceanfront mansions, boarding school, people with literary-oriented lives), but recognizable enough that I find the scenes depicted enjoyable (my college at least was kind of like boarding school). Besides Robin Williams the cast included several other baby boomer actors who would go on to become insufferably annoying (Glenn Close, John Lithgow), but they are all in the early part of their careers here and are tolerable. Mary Beth Hurt, who plays Garp's wife, does a good rendition of a cute, bookish New England girl/wife, and I quite enjoyed the parts that she was in (though now, in her 60s, she looks just as superciliously annoying as other people in her generational cohort, she was very pleasant-looking back in the 80s). The film has a flow to it and is always pushing forward in a number of different directions, some of which are mildly interesting, though as noted before, the whole thing in my mind does not add up to anything especially coherent.

I haven't read the book, so I will assume that the worldview suggested by the title is made a little more manifest. In the movie Garp comes off as a pretty conventional person, who is more shaped by circumstances and events around him than the shaper of them, though perhaps this was the point. He decides as a young man to become a literary novelist and succeeds in this, though there is no indication in the movie of what his books are about or why they are good. The circumstances of his conception and birth were unusual, though his upbringing by a feminist single mother and exposure to her radical friends, close friendship with a transvestite, etc, make less of an impression of eccentricity/zaniness than they would have in the 70s--this is what our lives ought to be like now if we're open-minded and have gone to the right schools, aren't they? It is suggested that Garp possesses a heterosexual virility greater than the average, and the movie reveals him having sex with at least four women during the movie; besides his wife there is a childhood friend who conveniently has become a nymphomaniac in their teenage years, a prostitute that his mother sends him off with after interviewing her for one of her books in disgust at his unbridled male lust (?), and his children's teen-aged babysitter. Babysitter sex of course was not far-fetched in the least in the 60s, 70s and 80s. My father's second wife was one of our old babysitters, and apparently she was not the only one he knew thus intimately. Nowadays of course the idea of such a thing taking place has become so monstrous that any man who would be revealed has having done it--probably who had even given a thought to doing it--would be thought of as among the most depraved sorts of criminals imaginable. And of course all the people (mainly middle-aged and older women) who are committed to overseeing my behavior and making sure I do not get any ideas about wandering off the accepted path love to emphasize how my father is a deeply unhappy person, has no relationships with his children, etc, though whenever I see him, which is about every three years or so he seems perfectly fine. He's very enthusiastic and is usually boasting about his latest project or accomplishment. I'm sure he would be more interested in maintaining relations with his children if we had not turned out so hidebound and lame. He is vigorous and engaged with the world. I'm the one who is the repressed basket case.

Garp's wife has an extramarital affair too and there is a bizarre and rather horrible part (with an attempt to be darkly comic as well) that is the result of this that I was not really satisfied with the resolution of. Perhaps it was handled more thoroughly in the book.

I have noted that there were a number of pretty good large scale novelistic mainstream movies that came out in '82-'83 (Sophie's Choice and The Right Stuff are two other ones that come immediately to mind, and I'm sure there were others) there were aimed at reasonably intelligent adults. I don't want to imply that the modern stuff that correlates to this, whether it be Coen brothers movies or the Sopranos-Mad Men-Breaking Bad TV dramas are worse--they almost certainly are not--but the tone and presentation of them are different in some particular way that I am having trouble identifying but that seems important to me. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the hyper-knowingness of almost all contemporary productions. That may be inevitable given the point that our society has come to, but I do find something artistically oppressive about it.

Netflix Status: You can put it in your queue, but its status is 'very long wait', and I have never actually received a movie that was a very long wait, though I have had a few of them in my queue for years. My library had a VHS copy in storage, so I checked that out, but the tape did not work. So I ordered a cheap copy off the internet. This movie was surprisingly difficult to find, considering that it is pretty good and has lots of famous actors in it.

I wanted to get four movies in this post, but given that it's taken me a week to do these two (I did go to the beach for about four days) I will divide the post into two parts

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