Wednesday, April 20, 2016

6 Movie Reports

Midnight in Paris (2011)

F Scott Fitzgerald partying

This is the recent Woody Allen movie in which a blond Woody Allen stand-in is able at the stroke of midnight to go to the 1920s (and even beyond) where he hangs out with Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Picasso and other famous people from that time. I am in the camp that liked this. I thought it was fun. A lot of people, who obviously did not think it was fun, despised it. (This guy, for example, appeared to have been seething with contempt the entire time). It is pointed out by most of the more intensely intelligent viewers of the movie that the jokes, the music, the personas and conversation of the famous historical people, Woody Allen's idea of Paris itself, rely on the most hackneyed, shallow and cliched tropes in which all of these things have become packaged for mass consumption. It is not that I did not notice all of this, or imagined that Hemingway and all these other people were friendly, good people--though they may well have been fun people--the Paris in the 20s era is attractive to people in large part after all because it seems like it was a good time, even at the dumbed down intellectual level necessary for the general public to conceive some idea of it; but it did not upset me. I am at an age, and perhaps even Woody Allen is too, where I have probably given up on the idea that I will ever experience Paris, or anything else, on the terms that constitute its real interest and greatness. The blogger linked to above talks contemptuously about the philistines who want to seem sophisticated without sacrificing their familiar comforts or facing their limitations. I don't know, it is true I have not been properly pushed to do these things to the extent which seems to be required now for many years, and I have generally avoided intellectual conflict both on the internet and in person because I don't have the ready-made foundation to draw on that I would need to endure and struggle through them, or the time to meticulously respond to all of the tough invective and cross-examining that serious assertion requires to be backed up. Yet I have devoted a lot of time to reading and study, certainly to an extent that seems to lead places and produces palpable results and abilities in other people. I have made some sacrifices in doing this as far as not following other pursuits which might have been more suitable for me goes, though whether any such pursuits exist has never been demonstrated. As to facing limitations, the levels at which I run up against these would preclude even residual participation in any of the attractive or serious areas of life at all if I were to submit to the most exacting standards, and I have decided that in the absence of anything more desirable to me being available, that I don't want to do that.

I even watched this a second time, and thought it, even acknowledging the clunky and even bad writing and characterization in the modern segments of the movie, just about as fun--though I've been known to watch reruns of Rick Steves' cosmopolitan-aspirant travel shows multiple times if they are about a place I like, or imagine I would like.

I thought fleetingly while watching this that it was an old-man work, analogous to the late Graham Greene novel Monsignor Quixote. This may be because the references and shape of the story seemed purposely to have been not been overly daunting or obscure, and reflected some of the artists' standard tastes, interests, what have you. But I did not dig into it any more than that.

Off the cuff top 10 Paris movies. I know I haven't seen that many of them, and I'm sure I'm forgetting something I have seen.

1. Les Enfants du Paradis
2. Stolen Kisses
3. The 400 Blows
4. A Bout de Souffle
5. Boudu Saved From Drowning
6. Celine and Julie Go Boating
7. L'Argent
8. Midnight in Paris
9. An American in Paris
10. Window to Paris 

All we ever asked for was that romantic walk along the Seine (maybe not all, but that was included in the desired overall package)

A Fatal Inversion (1991--incomplete)

This was a British TV production, about three hours long. It is about a couple of college friends who had spent the lazy, glorious summer of 1979 hosting parties and eccentric visitors at the Georgian mansion in Suffolk that one of them had inherited. Ten years later the friends have moved on to careers and wives and children and live in the suburbs. The summer in Suffolk seems to be forgotten until a dead body is found in the woods near the mansion house that seems to have been buried for about a decade. When the police come around to ask the former owner of the house--he sold it shortly after the summer ended--some general questions about his time there, he appears to be nervous...very nervous...I watched the first 1:46:02 on Youtube, which was the only place I could find it. It was very good, a thorough English police mystery type of thing, though I dragged my feet on watching the end because I thought I could see where it was going and I was not very enthralled about arriving there. I waited so long in fact to finish the program that when I did go back it had been taken down and I couldn't find it anywhere else. So I don't know what happens. 

Seeing movies from the early nineties are so very odd to me, because it is a familiar world that one lived in one's self, where young people read newspapers and don't have tattoos and of course the old telephones and cars and all of that, but also the people's bodies. All of the people in this movie have distinctly 1990-95 era bodies that have a quality you recognize instantly if you were alive at the time, that is different from what people look like now. It must have to do with the composition of musculature, fat, presence or non-presence of drugs and other stimulants (and the same holds true for 1970s bodies also, prime examples of which are to be seen in Village People and Jesus Christ Superstar videos).

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974)

TV movie about the life of a (fictional) woman who was born a slave and lived to be 110, which brought her into the civil rights era. It won a lot of Emmy awards, including best actress for Cicely Tyson, which I thought mildly interesting in light of the recent brouhaha over the traditional lack of Oscar recognition for black performers, as this movie and the accolades it got seems to have been largely forgotten. It was based on a book of the same name by a writer named Ernest J Gaines which somehow I had never heard of either though at one time at least it seems to have been quite celebrated and frequently taught in schools. This movie is of that school whose virtues, such as they are, are more in the educational than entertaining line. A litany of the expected atrocities and injustices runs through the course of the narrative, nothing either new in the way of incident or that adds to the understanding. Depictions of life in the old south I often find interesting, though that is, I hate to say, because the presence, in a fairly nearby part of our own country, of a feudal and near-feudal culture up to a time not very far in the past, and probably all of the associated violence in the background, though I am not directly attracted to that as a matter of study, is largely what makes it interesting.

Black Sunday, or The Mask of Satan (1960)

Somewhat pioneering horror movie, made in Italy and based on a story by Gogol (!), the DVD version is dubbed into English. Stars cult legend Barbara Steele (described by the Film Snob's Dictionary as a "wild-eyed, witchie-poo B-movie actress equally at home playing seminude seductresses and scarifying goth girls in horror movies of the 1960s and 70s"). I found it mildly diverting. Such gore as is in it, while envelope-pushing for its time, is not overwhelming, and the atmosphere is gothic in a cheery Addams Family-esque way, as long as people aren't being trapped in dank cellars and in the grasp of determined and thirsty vampires. I have mostly forgotten it though.

I kind of like the idea of vampires being a running theme through the culture, since I mostly associate them as occupying milieus at high levels of taste, cultivation and what have you, but I can never really remember what the meaning of them is supposed to be. I know that you can ward them off with a cross and kill them by driving a stake through their heart, but whatever is signified by this does not strike me as anything that has a deep meaning for most of the people who make these kinds of films.

The Yearling (1946)

The Yearling seems like something I would have responded to more strongly than I did. It was made in the middle of my usual favorite period, is based on a classic, if now somewhat fading, American story, shot in lavish technicolor, and features stars towards whom I have been favorably inclined in the past. These things remain positives in the movie too. There is some kind of spark or underlying energy missing in the execution. It is a handsome and technically fine production, but it felt dull and rather joyless much of the time. Nothing happens in it that particularly charmed or interested me or drew me into the world, imagined or otherwise, of the movie. But I still think it is worth seeing for the student of this time period, or older technicolor movies, or older adaptations of literary classics, if for no other reason to get a better sense of why the better movies of this type work.

Alice Adams (1935)

I thought this was a very good adaptation right up until the end, which unfortunately was completely changed from what it was in the book (which I am an admirer of) in the cause of happiness. I would not have minded it being longer and including more episodes from the story, which is something I rarely say about movies. The young Katharine Hepburn not only does her expected fine performing, but is actually pretty believable as the hopelessly striving, borderline middle class Alice. George Stevens, who would go on to make many notable films, Gunga Din, A Place in the Sun, Shane, etc, etc. was the director. The book came out around 1921 and there was an earlier silent version of it, but this version is close enough to it that it seems contemporary and comprehends the general spirit with which it is animated. The Adams family's economic problems are experienced by them as more of a social/individual nature than the result of a general depression, which latter would have been so immediate to audiences in 1935 of course, but 30s movies excelled in depictions of social rejection and cruelty, much more so than I find to be the case in our own time--at some point I hope to be able to expand on why I think this was the case--so the onset of the Great Depression---I don't know what I am getting at here. I saw the movie a while ago. I enjoyed it, except that for the different ending, both with regard to Alice's love life and her father's career, which obviously play out completely differently in the book.

Pretty sad for a post 3 weeks in the making.

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