Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

Looks like our French Film Festival continues with this "landmark of progressive cinema." Uh-oh. A personal note: I love Modernism. I love ambiguous, difficult texts that attempt to replicate the complexity and absurdity of human thought. That is, I love it everywhere except in movies. I find it either witheringly obvious (looking at you, Citizen Kane) or intolerably pretentious (have a feeling I'll be looking at you, Last Year At Marienbad). This movie is an anti-narrative fable, complete with characters named only by letters, no temporal structure, and a screenplay more poetry than prose. Mon dieu.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An American In Paris--NOT the Internet Sex Tape

This movie is very odd. It's like a fever dream--everything is very bright and very frenetic and people act in extreme ways and no one mentions it. It doesn't take place Paris so much as a cartoon version of Paris. I mean, Ratatouille was darker. There's a semblance of a plot--a love quadrangle--that gets abruptly resolved after the fifteen-minute sequence towards the end where the movie sort of gives up and becomes the ballet it probably should have been all along. It's not that I didn't like this movie, it's more like it didn't feel to me like a movie at all.

The one thing I found interesting was the way, at times, it seemed like in some ways this was meant to be a corrective to the war. For a lot of people in 1951, their most recent and most cognizant image of Paris was Nazis goose-stepping down the Champs-Elysees. The war is crucial to the movie--Jerry (!) was a soldier, Lisa and Harry fell in love because he cared for her during the Occupation (which means her parents probably died in the Resistance)--but this violent and traumatic history is all transformed into something bright and beautiful. The best encapsulation of this is probably during the interminable concluding dance sequence when Jerry, along with four other men in uniform, dance into a Parisian boutique and come out in dapper new duds. I also liked Adam, the tortured and frustrated pianist. I thought his fantasy of a concert in which he plays all the instruments and conducts was a spot-on distillation of the ego artists need to be successful. Hello director Vincente Minelli, and your little daughter too!

We should go to Paris, Nat, and contextualize this blog further!

An American in Paris, Or Why I Currently have a Headache

Other working titles:

Or First Dates Real Women Shouldn't Go On
Or Toulouse Lautrec Was a Painter! In France! Too!
Or Capote Hasn't Written "Breakfast at Tiffany's" Yet
What the Fuck, Oscar? This movie is NOT better than A Place in the Sun OR A Streetcar Named Desire

Ok, so let's address these points.

1. I have a headache because this movie is damned loud. The dialogue is low but the music numbers are LOUD. I have great hearing but I had to have the volume up to hear and understand the more French accents.

2. So, ladies, would you go out on a date with this guy: He stares at you like a hungry cannibalistic serial killer in a smoky club, lies to get you to dance with him, and fools your companion into giving him your number. Then he stalks you at your work and shows up there after you, in no uncertain terms, tell him not to bother you again. Yes? Then you're a damned fool. If you are a damned fool, don't then agree to "walk along the river" which just happens to be completely empty all the time when it's late-ish and dark.

3. Musicals of this era loved loved loved Technicolor. I know! We need a dance number and we have to use EVERY color we can find! Yay! Spend money on LOADS of costumes and sets that make not a damned bit of sense!! But TECHNICOLOR is HAPPY, damn it. And, if there is something we need after the war, it's HAPPY! Lost generation be damned--we're not moody--we sing and dance in the streets! In color!

4. Why, exactly, does Gene Kelly need to dance around "in" a Toulouse Lautrec painting in skin tight pants and a skin tight turtleneck, both of which are also skin-colored? What does that have to do with anything at all? Why do we need a ballet that has sets reminiscent of French art?

5. YAY! ARTS!! I agree, the arts rock. But, what I don't agree with is the absurdly long, completely indulgent composer intermission in the middle of the film. I don't care about that character. He's not interesting. He doesn't actually matter to the film's plot. He's not even funny when he's the one who knows that Gene Kelly and the French guy like the same girl. I also don't need to see the French singer guy's wholly narcissistic night club act. We already know how I feel about the ballet.

6. Husky voiced rich, blonde "patroness" of the "up-and-coming artist" buys artist a "studio" she's decorated and is interested in the artist but, lo and behold, the artist is in love with a tiny, gamine, dark-haired girl who has a secret.

7. This relates to the Toulouse Lautrec comment but why do we need a FOREVER long (eighteen minutes) ballet number that does not advance the plot? I'll admit that some contemporary dance movies are bad and the "but they just burst into song and dance randomly" can be a legitimate critique but at least most contemporary dance numbers pertain to the plot if not advance the plot. Almost NONE of the dance numbers here have anything to do with anything other than ART! TECHNICOLOR! And, that 18 minute ballet is supposed to fill in the blanks for why French nightclub dude just hands his fiancĂ©e over to starving painter guy with a smile? Um . . . no.

8. THIS movie won best picture against A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire? I have no words.   None.

Despite all of that, I don't exactly dislike the movie. I just don't know what to do with it and I definitely don't need to see it again and I wouldn't call it "good." Most of the movie, I was mentally revising it to make it a good movie.

So, why did the book have us watch this? Other than winning 6 Oscars--I have no clue. Have a clue, brainmate?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

An American in Paris (1951)

I like movies where the city is as much a character as any of the cast, and it seems this musical is going to fit the bill. The movie can be read as a corrective to certain Lost Generation representations of Paris as a place where dreams go to not so much die as slowly decay in a miasma of alcohol and cigarette smoke (looking at you, Hemingway). In Minelli's vision, Paris is a place of where human passions--joy, jealousy, love--merge with the gorgeous visuals and Gershwin songs in riotous color. It's Paris as a flute of fizzy champagne rather than a cynicism cocktail. Cheers!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

How I Am, In Some Ways, Like Etta

But not in any of the good ways. Not in the young-Robert Redford sneaks into my bedroom and makes me undress at gunpoint sort of way. Incidentally, is this the scene that spawned similar bedroom break-ins in Untamed Heart and Twilight? But better, of course. The menace is never wholly erased from either of these characters, especially in that scene. But back to me and Etta. I usually turn this off when they head to Bolivia. I don't want to watch them die, either, and I remembered it being mostly strangely scored montages. And there is some of that. But the melancholy and loss that is only hinted at in the first half ("You're going to die. Bloody. You just pick where.") totally suffuses the Bolivia scenes. There's a sort of desperation to all the laughing and drinking and spectacular hats. Very whistling through a graveyard. But oh, how I do love the first hour of this movie. I love the almost imperceptible transition from sepia film to the sun-drenched Utah scenes. I love the rapport between these characters. I love the chase scene. But the sadness is just as much a part of this story as the fun. These are men who the times are outpacing. And though it is a bit of a fantasy version of the West, it still bites. So I'm glad I watched all of it again, for the first time in years. Nat, what do you make of the relationship between Etta and Butch?

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) or, Yo Quiero los Bandidos Yanquis

Cards on the table: I love Paul Newman. He can do no wrong.

Ok. Now that we have that settled. The rest of the film is pretty damned good, too. This is the first film we've drawn that I'd seen before this little experiment and one I definitely didn't mind watching again.The only thing slightly new about this watching is I watched it on BluRay (worth it) and it's the only thing today that was going to stop me from watching the entire third season of Veronica Mars in one sitting (but that's another thing altogether).

So, besides the fact that this is a masterful, gorgeous, Oscar-winning, witty, quietly hilarious, satirical take on the Western featuring two of the best and sexiest male actors to ever wink at the camera who then went on to use names from the film for an iconic film festival and a children's charity (Redford founded Sundance and Newman the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp if you've been under a rock), why might 1001 Movies include this one on the list? I think because the authors somehow had the premonition that we two girls might just throw a hissy fit if it weren't.

I do disagree with one point in the book: "The Burt Bacharach song interlude, 'Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,' is the only dated element." I think the song is so dated it's fun and kitschy again. I might argue that, instead, "South American Getaway" (go to amazon and listen to the clip) is the only slightly dated part--the vocals just SCREAM late 60s/early 70s. But, that's not to say it doesn't work.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

In the first sign yet that the random spinny thing (perhaps in the same pantheon as Timmy Treadwell's Hindu floaty thing?) is a benevolent god, we've got this CLASSIC revisionist western coming up next. There is no Unforgiven without Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. One of the first movies to make the bad guys the good guys (or at least the most sympathetic, interesting, appealing guys in the movie), George Roy Hill's film re-imagines two of America's most notorious outlaws as funny, clever, good-hearted, oh, and FRIGGIN' GORGEOUS. Also, "use enough dynamite there, Butch?" and "who are these guys?" are firmly fixed in my family's lexicon. Watching this one is going to be pure pleasure.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Trouble in Paradise--A Frothy Delight!

This is why we started this project! To discover little gems that otherwise I never would ever watch in a million years. I also saw Shop Around the Corner and am mocked to this day by my friend for liking You've Got Mail better. But this was charming, sharp fun. I loved the banter, I loved the clothes, and I loved the little Marxist man who came out of nowhere to say "Phooey"! And to pick up an earlier thread, I think this movie is the BEST for women we've encountered so far. It would have been super easy to make the posh princess a caricature, but she had a real depth and presence. And it was funny as hell. The first movie so far I would own, for sure! So a question for my brainmate: if we were going to update this one, who would we cast? I'll start: I think Clooney should be front and center.

Trouble in Paradise (1932) or, Finally!

Mark your calendars, folks! This is the first film in this little project that I'd actually consider watching again or, gasp!, even purchase (for reasons other than the fact that I can't find it anywhere else)! And that says a lot because I own some not-so-great films.

So, with this film Ernst Lubitsch basically birthed the RomCom and, perhaps, the one-liner ("Marriage is a beautiful mistake which two people make together, but, with you Francois, I think it would just be a mistake," "It's not just you that I don't love," and "I like to take my fun and leave it" are a few of my favorites) as well as the whole "Hollywood" image. Lubitsch, a German director new to Hollywood in the 1920s (thanks to Mary Pickford), basically created the Hollywood glam we know and love. Lubistch was also a heavily cited influence on Billy Wilder (and I love me some Billy Wilder) among others.

Lubitsch is also a GENIUS at the innuendo and double entendre, which was the movie's undoing in a historical sense thanks to it being BEYOND code-unfriendly. The code was adopted in 1930 but not effectively enforced until mid-1934 but there was no grandfathering. If a film was against code, it didn't get shown. and, as a result, Trouble in Paradise was shelved until almost 1970. The film begins with "Trouble in" over the image of a bed for a couple of beats before "Paradise" comes on the screen, for starters. And, in the first moments of the film, there is a fantastic scene in which stolen items are revealed one by one--almost a strip-tease of larcenous flirtation--before a "Do Not Disturb" sign is hung on the hotel room door. *wink wink*

But my favorite parts might be the scenes with the entirely random trash gondola in Venice. It's just so random and yet it fits perfectly.

We have two more Lubitsch films to look forward to, Ninotchka and To Be or Not to Be. As a newly minted fan**, I can't wait.

**I've seen Shop around the Corner (the film on which You've Got Mail is based) and like it but wasn't in love--that combined with one and I'm convinced.