That Old Revival Spirit
Testifying About Movies
Fri., June 13, 1997
What's done is done. We're not here to mourn. Because what's important is that we continue to watch these movies from that past - in whatever format. Yet there's no denying how great it is to see these movies as they were intended - on the big screens and in the company of others. This summer two Austin film series, the Austin Film Society's Summer Free-for-All and the Paramount Theatre's Classic Film Series, offer revival schedules that provide the increasingly rare opportunity to see some of these films in a theatrical setting.
The most important thing I think we lost when we lost most of the big theatrical screens is context - the sense of how and why these relics continue to engage passing generations. We tend to watch whatever the TV programmers and video store shelves toss at us, with little regard for how things fit together.
That's some of what the writers on the following pages hope to provide: context. We invited numerous contributors to look over the AFS and Paramount summer schedules, pick some titles, and wax enthusiastic. What we wish to generate is a sense of how these movies continue to stimulate individual - and collective - passions and pleasures. Some of the contributions are personal reminiscences, other are cultural and historical guideposts. All of them were written because someone looked over the lists and exclaimed, "Oooh, they're bringing that?" (or something to that effect). That's some of what we mean by context: creating a forum in which to share our passions and come together to celebrate the glory of film.
Approximately 40 films are discussed in the following pages. They represent only a portion of the films that will be shown in the two series throughout August. For complete lists, check the schedules which are also included in this section. In addition, there are numerous other places to check regularly for revival fare. The newly opened Alamo Drafthouse Theater has started offering a revival program that changes weekly and is accompanied by various food and drink themes: Blue Velvet & Pabst Blue Ribbon specials (6/19-21) and Superfly & 40oz. Schlitz Malt Liquor specials (6/26-28). Another consistent source for revival fare in town is the Texas Union Theatre, whose scheduling mix of new and old includes several prominent revival entries this summer, in addition to their reliable presentation of Hong Kong action fare. The screening of Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (June 17-20) complements the AFS screening of two other Tarkovsky films; look also for such screenings as Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai (7/11-17), Vittorio De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (6/23), and titles ranging from The Man Who Fell to Earth (7/4-10) to Charlotte's Web (8/8-10). For kids, there's also the Austin Parks & Recreation Splash Parties on Saturdays at various municipal pools (schedule included) and the Austin Film Society's yet-to-be-announced Summer Kids Program.
Unless otherwise indicated, all the films discussed here are in color and lacking MPAA ratings (most were created before the ratings system was instituted in 1966). Ratings and other information have been provided when available. And remember that schedules are always subject to change.
-- Marjorie Baumgarten
ANDREI RUBLEV (1966)
D. Andrei Tarkovsky; with Anatoli Solonitsyn, Ivan Lapilov. (widescreen, new print)
Andrei Rublev begins with a heart-stopping balloon ride over the Russian landscape, the first of many visionary tropes in Tarkovsky's epic. Rublev was a real person, yet little is known about him aside from his fame as the greatest of the medieval Russian icon painters. Tarkovsky imagines Rublev as an artist suffering a crisis of faith, and follows him through a landscape awash with violence, destruction, and moral squalor. Shooting in black and white Sovscope (widescreen) that bursts into color for the concluding sequence, Tarkovsky made the movie at the peak of his fluid style, and with an unforgiving eye for humanity at a low, low, low ebb. Although Tarkovsky no doubt intended this bravura epic as a parable about the Crisis of the Artist in a world gone mad - that much is all too clear - events may have overtaken him. It is impossible to watch this entertaining and bloody tour of hell now without wondering whether the atavistic strain in Russian history will ever subside; there, 500 years after the era in the story and 30 years after the cameras rolled, thugs still rule and the unspeakable is again the everyday. (AFS: 7/22)
-- Chris Walters
THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937)
D: Leo McCarey; with Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy. (B&W, new print)
The Awful Truth is one of those screwball comedies that's a classic - classic Leo McCarey (he won an Oscar for it), classic Cary Grant, and classic Irene Dunne. (Even Bellamy is good, though he'd reprise the mama's-boy role for the Grant/Rosalind Russell vehicle, His Girl Friday.) On the verge of divorce, Grant and Dunne play a high-society couple seemingly unable to let the relationship slip through their fingers, sabotaging each other's budding romances without the slightest bit of subtlety. Mistaken identities, multiple men hiding in the back room while a potential mother-in-law comes for a visit, cars running out of gas at opportune moments - the usual. And it all works, every last second. Still, the real reason to see this 1937 black and white on the big screen isn't for the drop-dead perfect comedic timing of its leads: It's for the close-ups. When Dunne, possessed of an unclassical beauty that would never pass the Cindy Crawford test of today, looks longingly at Grant - and he at her - there's a world of romance that no longer exists in the late 20th century; our modern cynicism has rendered shots like this laughable, useless. And yet those close-ups make films like The Awful Truth, whose final scene reminds all of us that movies like these were wonderful romances first, and comedies second. (AFS: 7/1)
-- Raoul Hernandez
D: Terrence Malick; with Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates.
Like its director, Badlands has receded from the collective moviegoer consciousness in the near-quarter century since it was released. But this debut film by Malick (Days of Heaven) tapped into rich mythic ore, and its shocking theme of young lovers on a cross-country murder spree has often been revisited by Malick's admirers, including Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers) and Dominic Sena (Kalifornia). Unlike those films, however, Badlands draws much of its jarring effect not from highly stylized (over)acting and orgiastic explosions of carnage, but from the incongruos matter-of-factness with which most of the mayhem is presented. Malick's script, inspired by the 1958 Charles Starkweather-Carol Ann Fugate serial murders, presents young killers Kit (Sheen) and Holly (the disturbingly childlike Spacek) as dull, almost mindless automatons whose ghastly acts are motivated by obscure impulses they only vaguely understand. Sheen, generally known for his high-intensity style, delivers one of his best performances, distinguished by its steely, terrifying control. Malick's portrayal of the South Dakota Badlands imbues the stark terrain with a harshness that makes it seem an accessory to the couple's crimes. Reportedly, the long-absent Malick has begun production on a new project for next year: The Thin Red Line. For now, catch Badlands and see why his return is so eagerly anticipated. (AFS: 8/12)
-- Russell Smith
THE BAD SEED (1956)
D: Mervyn LeRoy; with Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones, Eileen Heckart, Evelyn Warden, William Hopper.
THE OMEN (1976)
D: Richard Donner; with Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Billie Whitelaw, David Warner, Harvey Stephens, Patrick Troughton, Leo McKern. (R)
Nick Cave and Blixa Bargeld may be nowhere in sight, but this 1956 adaptation of the Maxwell Anderson stage play certainly feels like one of their better creations. McCormack is The Bad Seed's sick little puppy who puts to rest once and for all the age-old notion that little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Precocious pigtails and all, she's Lolita via Norman Bates, a pre-pubescent psychopath possessed of a genetic predisposition toward homicidal acts. Death, death, and more death follow her around while Kelly, Jones, and others speculate on what could have made this kid so very naughty. The film's cast is the same as the play's, and as such, The Bad Seed has often been accused of being too stagy. That may well be, but it's still one of the best cinematic meditations on the nature of inherited evil to come out of Hollywood. An added bonus is the fact that Macaulay Culkin wasn't even a leer in Kit Culkin's eye when this film was released, hence the little bugger's nowhere in sight and we can all forget that creepily crappy "update" of The Bad Seed that he starred in a couple of years back. Heartily recommended for those among us planning on spawning soon.
The Omen is one of the best arguments against adoption I've ever heard. Peck, as the British ambassador to the United States, goofs big-time when he secretly switches wife Remick's stillborn babe for another, who (wouldn't you know it) turns out to be the Antichrist. Oh, the ignominy! Before long, priests are being impaled by lighting rods, nannies are hanging themselves (at a kiddie birthday party, no less - still one of the most shocking scenes in horror film history), and fondue forks are being used in exciting new ways. Following on the heels of the smash hit The Exorcist, Donner's film is less intellectual than Friedkin's, but still packs a mighty wallop, much of that due to Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-winning, soul-chilling "Ave Satanis" score. According to Donner, after seeing the film, many parents reportedly lopped off the locks of their own kids in a (hopefully) fruitless search for that elusive 666 birthmark. David Warner's decapitation scene is a visceral, defining moment in screen gore, but The Omen is more than the sum of its atrocities: It's also a touching, heartfelt tale of a little boy's plaintive cry for love and acceptance in a world filled with big scary Christians. C'mon, give the little guy a hug - just don't poke an eye out on those budding horns. (PAR: 8/26-27)
-- Marc Savlov
D: Woody Allen; with Louise Lasser, Carlos Montalban, Howard Cosell, Rene Enriquez. (PG)
EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS
WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX
(BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK) (1972)
D: Woody Allen; with Louise Lasser, Lynn Redgrave, Tony Randall, Burt Reynolds, Lou Jacobi, John Carradine, Gene Wilder. (R)
Once upon a time, in deepest, darkest Oakland, there was a revival house called the Rialto 4. Today it would be a crackhouse, but in the early Seventies, it was an arthouse movie theatre, complete with broken-down recliners, couches, and floors your shoes stuck to. Every so often, perhaps when the moon was full, this family of three would venture out of their safe little suburb to sate their love of film in this arthouse/flophouse. Each trip brought serious questions of safety and sanity from father and son, but every time momma bear navigated her loved ones through the darkness into the light of that magical projector. One day, when baby bear was deemed old enough - seven or eight - mom and dad took him to see a Woody Allen triple feature: Sleeper, Love and Death, and Bananas. He slept through some of it, bored - not understanding a good deal of the humor - but he was tickled by much of it as well. The little guy on the screen, the odd-looking goof with the red hair and glasses... he's funny. In Bananas, when he's training to be a revolutionary, he learns the art of camouflage only to have someone pee on him. The little boy laughed. Man, did he laugh. So did his father, howled actually - as did everyone else there. When the same training camp teaches the rag-tag bunch of revolutionaries how to cure a snake bite ("suck out the poison"), and a girl runs through the camp holding her boob because she's been bitten by a snake (guess what the funny little man does?), the little boy laughed again. Twenty-some-odd years later, the Rialto 4 still stands, the funny little man is still making movies ("I particularly like the early, funny ones," is the line repeated throughout Stardust Memories), and that little boy still laughs. Now an adult, he understands the whole sheep thing from Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex - that was another triple feature - so these films are even funnier. Dated perhaps, but funny. More importantly, this family still laughs about these films together, and that, dear friend, is the happiest ending of all. (PAR: 8/28-29)
-- Raoul Hernandez
D: Roger Vadim; with Jane Fonda, John Philip Law, Anita Pallenberg. (R, widescreen, new print)
THE QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (1958)
D: Edward Bernds; with Zsa Zsa Gabor, Eric Fleming, Laurie Mitchell, Paul Birch, Patrick Waltz, Barbara Darrow, Marilyn Buferd. (widescreen, new print)
It was a humid Saturday afternoon in Houston, some 20-plus summers ago. After an inevitable rain spoiled our swimming plans, my clique of high-school friends found refuge in Channel 11's science fiction feature: The Queen of Outer Space. As most Fifties films of the genre, it was a real hoot: a man-hating female civilization on the planet Venus, shipwrecked male astronauts held captive by shapely guards who looked like burlesque dancers, Zsa Zsa Gabor as a scientist.... An unintended piece of camp, Queen of Outer Space provided my group of friends ample fodder for wisecracks for the rest of the summer, particularly the command frequently barked by the evil title character to her minions: "Botcheno!" (or something like that; the memory isn't what it used to be.) Barbarella is also campy, but intentionally so. A Sixties relic primarily memorable for featuring a doll-like Jane Fonda in various states of undress, this comic-strip fantasy makes little sense, which was par for the course of many of the era's self-indulgent films. Produced by Dino de Laurentiis, the production values in Barbarella are flashy yet cheap-looking, a signature trademark that the profligate spender stamped on later films like King Kong and Flash Gordon. As for Jane, she probably would like to forget that the movie - directed by her then-husband Roger Vadim - ever happened. No doubt that her current husband would. (PAR: 7/10-11)
- - Steve Davis
BATMAN: THE SERIAL (1943)
D: Lambert Hillyer; with Lewis Wilson, Douglas Craft, J. Carroll Nash. (15 chapters)
Serials are the diet pills of adventure cinema: cheap, raw, nasty, but able to give you that speedy buzz when you need it. I discovered this in the Sixties when one of the TV stations in Beaumont would show Buster Crabbe's Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials on weekday afternoons. They were primitive, even to a second-grader's eyes, with cheesy spaceships that flew on strings and iguanas with fins strapped to their backs that we were supposed to buy as dinosaurs. (Yeah, right.) Still, sparks shot from them - diabolical villains that made your skin crawl, manic fistfights galore, crazed and reckless chases, bizarre deathtraps from which the hero always made some improbable escape - and the crude thrills hooked this young action fan. To this day, I seek out serials, for that brief burst of quickening pulse between the laughable theatrics. This serial incarnation of the Dark Knight is a far, far cry from the molded armor and firm jaw of George Clooney. It offers instead a chunky biscuit in a union suit and mask with... hell, cloth horns where the bat ears should be. Still, I'll bet you that the 1943 Caped Crusader is wilder and truly weirder than this year's model. (PAR: 5/30-7/13, individual chapters precede selected features)
-- Robert Faires
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (1961)
D: Blake Edwards; with Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, Mickey Rooney.
Three years before Henry Higgins transformed Audrey Hepburn from a Cockney street urchin to a fair lady, Truman Capote's hipper, darker version of Pygmalion gave us Hepburn as professional party girl Holly Golightly, a mason jar of moonshine who had somehow metamorphosed into a sparkling flute of expensive French champagne. By turns silly and somber, urbane and melodramatic, Breakfast at Tiffany's is a loving and funny but unflinching look at the façade of cosmopolitan life. It's a long cocktail party of a movie, full of tipsy gaiety, flagrant flirtation, and affected sophistication. It's also the morning after, replete with empty bottles, overflowing ashtrays, buyer's remorse, and an overwhelming case of the "screaming reds." So we are quickly treated to the hair of the dog. We gladly swallow a series of dry martinis - Holly's "weather reports" to an imprisoned gangster, the-blatant-thief-never-gets-caught shoplifting scene, and a hilarious sendup of foreign language lesson records - that soften the ragged edges and give the movie a warm, witty, and polished punch. Hepburn, at the height of her Hollywood glamour, is intoxicating, and those susceptible spirits will be blubbering like drunken fools by the movie's shamelessly romantic ending. (PAR: 6/19-20)
-- Hollis Chacona
BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE (1958)
D: Budd Boetticher; with Randolph Scott, Craig Stevens, Barry Kelley, Tol Avery. (new print)
COMANCHE STATION (1960)
D: Budd Boetticher; with Randolph Scott, Pernell Roberts, Karen Steele, Lee Van Cleef, James Coburn. (new print)
A man rides against the vast Western sky. The man is alone, armed and dangerous. We are lost in the west. Then, like a cinema fist pounding, a situation is created, the focus tightens and instead of the glorious backdrop we are watching a group of people in a very intense human drama. Where Anthony Mann's Westerns drew their resonance from the contrast between the enormity of the West and the smallness of man (finding in human efforts nobility and heroism) and John Ford romanticized the West as part of his mythic texture, Budd Boetticher set his almost existential Westerns against the West. Starting in the vastness, but tightening to the group. Usually working with writer and later director Burt Kennedy (Support Your Local Sheriff), producer Harry Joe Brown and Randolph Scott, Boetticher directed a series of six or seven classic Westerns between 1956 and 1960. In Buchanan Rides Alone, Boetticher's perennial hero and business partner Scott rides into a border town, controlled by a corrupt, powerful family. By the end, after a giddy narrative run, the situation is torn apart. All of Boetticher's visual and narrative themes come together in Comanche Station, in which Scott leads a group through Indian lands as he goes searching for his kidnapped wife. Boetticher went down to Mexico to do a documentary on a matador friend in 1960. Seven years later, his career basically over after a harrowing nightmare stay, he returned to Hollywood. If you like the more enclosed Westerns of Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars), or the more psychotic work of Clint Eastwood (especially High Plains Drifter), you can see what they learned from Boetticher. Jonathan Demme once told me of having a long argument about Boetticher with Dennis Hopper in the early AM hours in some airport on their way from the Rio Film Festival. Hopper trashed Boetticher, saying he never did anything good. Then Demme brought up title after title, each time Hopper begrudgingly admitting what great films they were. This is the filmography of Boetticher, hidden but not without its treasures. (AFS: Buchanan, 7/15; Comanche, 8/19)
-- Louis Black
CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1958)
D: Richard Brooks; with Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Judith Anderson, Burl Ives, Madeleine Sherwood, Jack Carson.
WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966)
D: Mike Nichols; with Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sandy Dennis, George Segal. (B&W)
Taylor's beauty was at its most radiant in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in her sultry turn as the love-starved wife of an is-he-or-isn't-he-gay former athlete played by Paul Newman. Both stars smolder with youthful sensuality in this story of father-son struggle; it's from a Tennessee Williams play, so its Southern Gothic level is set on 11. Terrific supporting performances from the co-stars, especially Ives. Contrast that Taylor with the one in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Nichols' directorial debut of the Edward Albee play. Taylor gained weight to play the blowzy Martha to then-husband Richard Burton's university professor George. A young couple, played by Segal and Dennis, are invited over for drinks, while the cobbled-together shambles of George and Martha's life fall apart over the course of the evening. Oscars went to Taylor and Dennis, although Burton, whose reputation as a great actor was mysteriously unsupported by the bulk of his film roles, deserved one too. (PAR: 6/12-13)
- - Margaret Moser
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)
D: Stanley Kubrick; with Malcolm McDowell, Michael Bates, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri. (R)
One of the most ambitious and successful literary adaptations ever, A Clockwork Orange manages to capture the disturbing ideas and idiosyncratic language of Anthony Burgess' novel while adding inspired stylistic touches straight from director Kubrick's imagination. McDowell is Alex DeLarge, a flamboyant, charismatic English hooligan, who likes to dress up in all-white clothes to lead his gang of young "droogs" on binges of mayhem and rape (acts often committed to the strains of Beethoven and Hollywood show tunes). After being busted, he's allowed to enter a program of horrific aversion therapy designed to cure him of his tastes for "ultraviolence" and forcible access to "the old in-out-in-out." The cure is eventually shown to be almost as unconscionable as the crimes, but Kubrick's film plays out as neither a bleeding heart protest against social engineering nor an exercise in hand-wringing over violent crime. In fact, the general absence of overt moralizing has done more to preserve this film's notorious reputation than the actual mayhem, which Hollywood now routinely matches in intensity, if not visionary brilliance. If you've never seen A Clockwork Orange, prepare to come away both energized and deeply disturbed. (PAR: 7/12-13)
-- Russell Smith
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)
D: Robert Wise; with Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray. (B&W)
THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953)
D: Byron Haskin; with Gene Barry, Les Tremayne, Ann Robinson.
"Gort! Klaatu Barada Nikto!!" These are two of the absolutely best science fiction films of all time. The Day the Earth Stood Still is a "talked about" movie, the type of film that people still debate and praise. What's to debate? Oh, just one-world government - a utopian society created through communistic ideals and enforced by faceless judge/jury/executioner robots which can be controlled by a Boy Scout flashlight. Or how about peace through annihilation? Then there's also the whole Red Scare, man's inhumanity to man, fear of the unknown, and grown-ups' inability to listen to their own children. All of that is set to one of the coolest soundtracks ever written by Bernard Herrmann and his handy theremin. However, the key to this film for me is little Billy Gray: Patricia Neal's little precocious child is note-perfect. He's a real boy, not a brat like today's cinema children. Billy has a love and thirst for knowledge. When he discovers his new-found friend is not... umm, who he appears to be, it's just so honest, so right, that you can feel his frustration when his mother doesn't believe him. Lastly, we have Gort. Gort is actually Lock Martin, a very tall man who went on to play a mutant serving the `squid head' guy in Invaders From Mars. The technical work on this film is flawless across the board. It is not to be missed.
The War of the Worlds is a very cool movie, and completely different from The Day the Earth Stood Still. George Pal was the genius behind the movie. This film is like a sacred tablet in my life, from the mount on high. Al Nozaki's Martian War Machine design is what Pop Culture dreams are made of. The cinematography by George Barnes, who was Busby Berkeley's kaleidoscopic photographer in the Thirties, is gorgeous. The green rays and sparkler rays explode in a Technicolor cataclysm of coolness. And that voice at the beginning - "No one would have believed..." - that's Sir Cedric Hardwicke talking at you. And the radio announcer, well that's Paul Frees, famous voice artist. You probably know him as Ludwig Von Drake or Boris Badenov or even the voice of John & George in the short lived Beatles cartoon series. This film is still awe-inspiring on the big screen. I can remember pre-Star Wars sci-fi conventions when this was the film worshipped by the effects junkies. This particular junkie still needs this brand of fix. (PAR: 7/8-9)
-- Harry Jay Knowles
D: George Stevens; with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Mercedes McCambridge. (restored print)
Not Texas as it is or ever was, but the Texas that we all need to believe in. Edna Ferber's novel provided the outlines for this outrageously bold and romantic generational saga, but director Stevens and his all-superstar cast added the vision and charisma that elevated this 1956 blockbuster to the cinematic pantheon. Perhaps the greatest of a run of classic Stevens films of the Fifties (Shane, A Place in the Sun, and The Diary of Ann Frank were others), Giant often seems like a collection of iconic movie moments - many supplied by Dean, who died in a car crash as the film was wrapping up. The basic story deals with a newly married southern belle (Taylor) who adjusts uneasily - to say the least - to life in the parched South Texas scrublands with her cattle ranching husband (Hudson). Dean is every inch a living myth as crass, sexy oilman Jett Rink, whose wildcatting, get-rich-quick ambitions represent a threat on several levels for traditionalists like Hudson. Look for Sal Mineo and a youthful Dennis Hopper in tasty smaller roles. Some films manage to catch their constituent talents - writers, actors, directors, production designers - at the simultaneous peak of their powers, and magic is a frequent result. Giant is as good an example of this harmonic convergence as you're ever likely to find. (PAR: 8/10)
-- Russell Smith
D: Randal Kleiser; with John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conway, Eve Arden, Frankie Avalon. (PG, widescreen)
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977)
D: John Badham; with John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller, Donna Pesci, Joseph Cali, Fran Drescher. (R)
Saturday Night Fever was such a tour de force for Travolta, he managed to do the impossible with one film, shedding his career-making Vinnie Barbarino image in this rite-of-passage story about a group of Brooklyn teens facing manhood. Travolta turns in a luminous performance as Tony Manero, whose aspirations for something greater come to life on the dance floor when he meets the girl of his dreams. Punched up by a brilliant soundtrack that single-handedly jumped the tracks of popular music, Fever is as gritty as it is dazzling. Watch Grease, then, for pure pleasure, because despite being a clueless piece of Fifties nostalgia it has emerged as a ripe article of Seventies nostalgia. Charming performances from the entire cast - most of whom seem terribly old to be high-schoolers (Newton-John was around 30) but act like, well, high-schoolers, yet another memorable soundtrack, and a genuinely great dance-in-the-gym scene, terrifically choreographed and danced make Grease a gem. (PAR: 8/30-31)
- - Margaret Moser
HOT BLOOD (1956)
D: Nicholas Ray; with Jane Russell, Cornel Wilde, Luther Adler. (widescreen)
When we think about Nick Ray we tend to think of films such as Rebel Without a Cause and Bigger Than Life or They Live by Night and Johnny Guitar. But in between Rebel and Bigger Than Life, Ray directed the largely forgotten film Hot Blood. Hot Blood is a musical about the American gypsy subculture, and Ray probably would have been the first to admit that, for a variety of reasons, this outrageously strange film was not one of his most successful efforts. That's all the more reason to catch Hot Blood while you have the chance, because it's never been available on video and its extremely rare television presentations butcher the film's wonderful CinemaScopic effect (Ray was an innovative master of expressive widescreen technique) and its exuberant color scheme (Jean-Luc Godard, who gushed with admiration when Hot Blood was released, wrote that the film had "the gaudiest colors to be seen in the cinema"). Hot Blood's scofflaw gypsies keep faith with Ray's abiding focus on society's outsiders (think about Joan Crawford's saloon mistress Vienna in Johnny Guitar, the lovers on the run in They Live by Night); Ray's perpetual ethnographic impulse (the Eskimos of Savage Innocents, the rodeo vagabonds in The Lusty Men); and his depiction of the eternal father-son conflict (the Abraham-and-Isaac resonance of Bigger Than Life, and the adolescent turmoil of Rebel Without a Cause). The presentation of Hot Blood is something you may never have the opportunity to pass up again. Carpe diem. (AFS: 8/5)
-- Marjorie Baumgarten
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)
D: Frank Capra; with Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert. (B&W)
Maybe they were just trying to lift spirits, but I can recall seeing several Depression-era movies that portrayed poor people as happier and generally better off than the rich people. Disgruntled, rebellious heiresses led the trend, and usually met their cinematic matches in strong, common men. And who is commoner than Gable? Legend has it that by shedding his shirt to reveal his bare chest in It Happened One Night, he single-handedly destroyed the country's thriving undershirt industry. In fact, images and stories from It Happened One Night are so vivid and so lasting, they tend to overshadow the movie as a whole. Sure, everyone remembers Colbert's daring, calf-baring hitchhiking scene, and who could forget the sexually charged Wall of Jericho? But It Happened One Night is a wonderfully conceived, cleverly acted film. Colbert's madcap heiress has plenty of moxy and her extended verbal sparring with Gable carries the engaging road movie along at a brisk clip. It feels as funny and fresh now as it must have been 60 years ago. Did it make me glad to be poor? Nope. But, for a couple of hours it made me rich with laughter. (PAR: 7/24-25)
- - Hollis Chacona
MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939)
D: Frank Capra; with James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Thomas Mitchell. (B&W)
MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (1936)
D: Frank Capra; with Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, George Bancroft, Lionel Stander. (B&W)
Call me cornpone, but I like boy scouts. By that I mean I like those heroes who are straight arrows, stalwarts, your basic good guys: honest, polite, loyal, kind, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent. You know, Superman, Tarzan, Dorothy Gale, George Bailey. It isn't their purity or the idea that they always win that I find appealing; it's the way they do the right thing because, well, it's the right thing. They look out for others and always keep fighting for them even in the face of impossible odds, be it miserly millionaire or wicked witch. Their altruism and constancy and willingness to sacrifice self pierces my heart with an ineffable power. Small wonder then that I prize both of Frank Capra's "Mr. Nice-Guy Goes to Bigville" movies. They don't come much boy scout-ier than Longfellow Deeds and Jefferson Smith - the one trying to give away a fortune to the needy, the other taking on a corrupt Congress. And the way they continue to plug away as the powers-that-be beat them down never fails to choke me up - or inspire me. Soft-hearted sentimental schmaltz? I don't think so. I mean, what's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding?
-- Robert Faires
NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)
D: Alfred Hitchcock; with Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Leo G. Carroll, Martin Landau.
Hitchcock's North By Northwest almost seems like something of a comedy. 1959 saw Cary Grant at the height of his suave, dashing best, and Hitchcock's classic tale of mistaken identity remains one of the world's great chase films. No matter how many times you've seen them, the famous scenes of Grant being pursued by a cropduster amidst the barren cornfields of Nowhere, U.S.A., and his wild, drunken drive through the Hollywood hills remain as hair-raisingly perfect as film can be. James Mason is the embodiment of Cold War nefariousness and urbane evil, a young Martin Landau is chilling as his ice-cold crony, and Eva Marie Saint as the double-agent love interest is head-and-shoulders above many of Hitchcock's ice queens. Look for one of the master's few cinematic gaffes during the Mount Rushmore cafeteria scene in which you'll see a little boy in the background fall out of character and clap his hands over his ears moments before Saint pulls the gun on Grant. Scripted by Ernest Lehman and featuring one of the most famous scores in film history by Bernard Herrmann, this is arguably Hitchcock's best film. (PAR: 8/19-20)
-- Marc Savlov
D: Andrei Tarkovsky.
Raymond Chandler once lamented the nonsense involved in making movies, wondering if unending silliness was really essential to making "a dream look like it really happened." Andrei Tarkovsky pursued that goal more doggedly than most directors, and he devoted a good share of his attenuated life to assembling vivid movie dreamscapes. The son of a poet and an actress, he was as self-consciously an Artist as any director the medium ever produced, a posture rescued by the undeniable size of his gift. He left his native Russia in 1982 after a typically difficult career for that time and place - 23 years and seven films - and made Nostalghia in Italy that year. It is a song to displacement and yearning, drenched in water and rain, those familiar media of memory in many a film but never more so than here. As a Russian poet and his tempting female translator travel through Italy researching the life of an 18th-century Russian composer, their encounter with a lunatic at an old spa town calls forth a stream of reveries. The poet dreams of his wife and his country until the movie overflows with the pain of exile, an ache that likely never subsided for Tarkovsky, who died in 1986 and was put to rest in a French cemetery for Russian émigrés. (AFS: 7/8)
- - Chris Walters
ON THE TOWN (1949)
D: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen; with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Vera-Ellen, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller. (new print)
If I hadn't already been convinced that World War II-era New York City was the most appealing spot ever to have existed on our planet, seeing On the Town cinched it. As depicted in this movie version of the Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden/Adolph Green musical, the Big Apple is a city of wonders: of astonishing modern spires and amiable old brownstones, of neon-bedazzling night clubs and Coney Island carnivals, of merry melodies and fancy-free feet, of bouncy, buzzy slang that tickles the ear and whip-smart wisecracks from captivating characters, and, not least important, of romance, where your heart's mate can be met in less than a day. My first viewing of this classic, on late-night television sometime in my teens, was a revelation. Until then, I had never really watched Gene Kelly dance, had never really listened to Frank Sinatra sing, had never known the delectable tang of a Comden & Green quip, had never seen musical heroines so independent of spirit, so savvy and sharp. Suddenly, so much came clear to me, about these artists and the Forties and life, all in a brisk and buoyant fairy-tale New York. How could you not want to come to this place again and again and again? (PAR: 6/24-25)
-- Robert Faires
THE PHILADEPHIA STORY (1940)
D: George Cukor; with Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey. (B&W)
The foibles of the filthy rich have long made perfect comedic fodder. But no film has made them quite as funny and endearing or nearly as enduring as The Philadelphia Story. Starring Hepburn as socialite Tracy Lord and Grant as her ex-husband, C. Dexter Haven (that name gets less ridiculous and more delicious each time you say it), the 1940 film is filled with an artful elegance and aristocratic grace that would be impossible to duplicate today. The script is chock full of witty repartee and delivered with such impeccable insouciance that even the most preposterous, slapstick scenes have an aura of refinement about them. C. Dexter Haven turns up on the eve of his ex-wife's wedding to an obsequious politician, throwing the bride-to-be into a tizzy of self-doubt and defensiveness and vulnerability. Stewart has a wonderful turn as a journeyman reporter (and aspiring writer) sent to cover the social event of the year. He, of course, falls instantly in love with Tracy, his earnest, Everyman admiration providing the perfect foil to Dexter's amused hauteur. With a breezy, clever script, a terrific cast and expert direction, The Philadelphia Story has weathered the years wonderfully. In other words, "My, it's yar." (PAR: 6/17-18)
-- Hollis Chacona
D: Joshua Logan; with William Holden, Rosalind Russell, Kim Novak, Betty Field. (widescreen, restored print)
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953)
D: Fred Zinnemann; with Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Borgnine. (B&W)
The Paramount has aptly named this double bill of Picnic and From Here to Eternity "Sex in the Fifties." Both films fall under the category of "movies that bespeak sex but never show it." As a consequence, many viewers will find these films more subtle and nimble than the bulk of contemporary romantic dramas. For a Nineties audience, however, 1955's Picnic is certain to induce laughter in places the filmmakers didn't really intend: for instance, in scenes which play the lead-heavy stereotype of Novak's beautiful, dumb Madge against that of her bookish, brainy sister Millie, and, of course, in almost every scene that features Rosalind Russell's occasionally inebriated, spinster schoolteacher. This is not to say that Picnic does not rise above high camp - it does. It is an almost anthropological, piercing gaze at small-town, Midwestern life on an ever-important Labor Day in the mid-Fifties. As such, Picnic stands firmly on its own merits, as does From Here to Eternity, which comes across as a no less powerful but somehow more "serious" army drama about desire at Schofield Barracks in Honolulu immediately before the Pearl Harbor bombing. Everything about From Here to Eternity oozes power - military power, power in relationships, and, not least, power casting, with the likes of Sinatra, Montgomery Clift, and Burt Lancaster as troubled and at times violent GIs. From Here to Eternity was a huge hit when released in 1953 - the film won a host of Oscars, including ones for best picture, director, supporting actor (Sinatra, for whom this film was a major career comeback), supporting actress (Donna Reed), screenplay, and cinematography. (PAR: 8/12-13)
-- Clay Smith
THE PINK PANTHER (1964)
D: Blake Edwards; with David Niven, Peter Sellers, Robert Wagner, Capucine, Claudia Cardinale. (widescreen)
I can't stomach the Stooges. I loathe Jerry Lewis. Jim Carrey makes me cringe. But Clouseau? Ah, mon couer! I really can't explain why I harbor such a fondness for Peter Sellers' one-man-wrecking-crew of a French detective. Perhaps it's because David Niven was so impossibly debonair that I had to root for his underdog adversary. Maybe it was the goofy French accent that confounds even his fellow countrymen. More likely, it's that Clouseau is unabashedly silly and unfailingly funny. Though Sellers' physical comedy is filled with over-the-top pratfalls and bumbling buffoonery, every line is intoned with an ingenuous earnestness that is simply hilarious and nearly unrivaled. (I have a theory that Seinfeld's Cosmo Kramer is an homage to Clouseau.) The Pink Panther is ostensibly about the heist of a rare, huge diamond and the Surete's attempt to apprehend the notorious international jewel thief, The Phantom (Niven). What it is really about, of course, is the inadvertent mayhem Clouseau's investigation creates, not to mention the totally inexplicable success that accompanies it. (Get the Cosmo connection?) The movie that made Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards household names and spawned five sequels, a ubiquitous cartoon character, and an immediately recognizable soundtrack is still funny. Just sitting here thinking about it makes me want to call someone and wax nonsensical in a French-ish accent - just for fun. (PAR: 8/5-6)
-- Hollis Chacona
D: Alfred Hitchcock; with James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Cedric Hardwicke.
1948's Rope was Hitchcock's first color film, but it's far more notable for its use of lengthy, 10-minute-plus takes, and the fact that the entire story takes place within a single Manhattan apartment. Hitchcock's bold experimentation with stage play pacing and editing - the film was based on a long-running play - works wonderfully, ratcheting up the suspense level until it's all you can to do to keep from screaming. Loosely based on the notorious Leopold & Loeb murder case, Ivy League pals Dall and Granger commit the cold-blooded murder of a prep-school chum just to see if they can get away with it, and then hide the body - and the rope they used to strangle him - in nearly plain sight while hosting a dinner party for the victim's friends and family. Stewart is perfect as the boys' intellectually chilly university prof, who slowly begins to unravel the nightmare amidst a background of tinkling piano-playing, misplaced hats, and offhand bon mots. Out of circulation for many years, Rope remains one of cinema's most perfect depictions of chillingly blasé evil and nail-biting suspense. (PAR: 7/17-18)
-- Marc Savlov
D: George Stevens; with Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Jack Palance, Brandon de Wilde, Ben Johnson, Edgar Buchanan, Elisha Cook, Jr.
HIGH NOON (1952)
D: Fred Zinnemann; with Gary Cooper, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Grace Kelly, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney, Harry Morgan, Lee Van Cleef. (B&W)
"Shane! Come back, Shane!" Yeah, okay, so Brandon de Wilde's final outburst of emotion as the cowboy-idolizing scamp may play havoc with your heartstrings and funny bone simultaneously, it's still one of the screen's most emotionally charged moments in a film with a surplus of sagebrush sentiment. Ladd's Shane, the wandering cowhand-gunfighter who comes to the aid of an embattled prairie rancher and his family, is packed with slam-bang acting and action, not to mention gobs of mind-numbingly gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Loyal Griggs, who won himself an Oscar for all those pretty sunsets. Jack Palance is evil incarnate as Shane's nemesis, so down-and-dirty bad you want to take a really, really hot shower after watching his sick little performance. A film professor of mine once referred to Stevens' film as "an archetype of archetypes"; the film's romanticized mythology of the old West bears that statement out. I always thought the scene in which Shane helps Van Heflin's rancher remove the tree stump from his pasture signaled the gunfighter's repressed romantic feelings toward his new friend, but every time I bring it up, someone either laughs at me or belts me one in the kisser. Go figure.
The 1952 Oscars gave up nearly as many statuettes to High Noon as there are shots of ticking clocks in the film. Unfolding as it does in real time - that's 84 minutes of pure, nerve-wracking pathos to you and me - time is of the essence in this tale of Cooper's conscientious frontier lawman who, on the day of both his marriage and retirement, gets word that an old enemy is on his way to drop off some small, lead wedding gifts. "Should I stay or should I go?" is the eternal question, and the Clash aren't the only ones asking it. Pacing is everything in a film, and High Noon sets the standard, as the time marches horribly, inexorably on and poor Marshal Cooper can't seem to muster any support for his plight from the cowardly, scared-out-of-their-collective-wits townsfolk. Wracked by the knowledge that sticking around to tangle with his past could seriously screw up his honeymoon plans, Cooper nonetheless sides with his conscience and holds his ground, to legendary effect. Tex Ritter's song-cum-aural motif "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'" does nothing to lighten the film's overall grim mood, and rightfully so. A classic in every gosh-darned sense of the word. (PAR: 7/3 & 7/5)
- - Marc Savlov
THE STORY OF ADELE H (1975)
D: Francois Truffaut; with Isabelle Adjani, Bruce Robinson. (PG, new print)
[Ed. Note: Writer Jerry Johnson is the director of programming for the Austin Film Society, and while we might normally consider that as something of a conflict of interest, we felt that unusual circumstances required we solicit his contribution to these pages. You see, in the current AFS newsletter, "Persistence of Vision," Johnson cites The Story of Adele H as one of his all-time favorite movies. We regarded that assertion as so odd and idiosyncratic that we just had to hear more and discover why Johnson selected the movie as the kick-off screening of the AFS Summer Free-for-All.]
In defiance of Louis Black, Nancy Schafer, and other, lesser-qualified cinephiles, I'm here to declare The Story of Adele H is not only Francois Truffaut's greatest work, but also one of my favorite movies of all time.
If a true impressionistic cinema exists, then it's no better exemplified than in this tale of Victor Hugo's daughter, who forsakes both the name and wealth of "the most famous man in the world" to chase her ex-lover across the globe in search of an all-consuming passion. Truffaut has redirected the famed cinematic energy that burst forth from his earlier masterpieces like Jules and Jim; here it implodes in on itself, or more specifically, on the character of Adele H. By imposing an unrelenting consistency on the elements surrounding her as she carries out the devious ploys to win her man back, Truffaut forces us to probe Adele's psyche in a manner reminiscent of Bergman at his best. What choice do we have? She's the only thing truly alive on the screen. Which makes it all the more surprising when, in one of most brilliant "MacGuffins" in cinema, we slowly realize Adele cares nothing for the man she is so obsessively stalking. If Antoine Doinel (Truffaut's alter ego in his cycle of autobiographical films) offers a self-absorbed and ultimately sexist view of the feminine ideal, then Adele is Truffaut's feminist response to him. Whereas Antoine's search for love is whimsical in nature, Adele's desire knows no bounds - she's willing to descend into madness for it. And it's not the oft-portrayed female obsession that ends in hating/murdering the man (see Fatal Attraction) or suicide in the face of rejection (see Vertigo). In fact, at the height of her madness, Adele actually forgets who the man she's after is, fulfilling her desire while retaining her freedom, claiming victory in the end. (AFS: 6/17)
-- Jerry Johnson
SUNSET BLVD. (1950)
D: Billy Wilder; with Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Nancy Olsen, Erich von Stroheim, Hedda Hopper, Jack Webb, Anna Q. Nilsson, Buster Keaton, Cecil B. DeMille. (B&W)
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962)
D: Robert Aldrich; with Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono, Marjorie Bennett, Anna Lee. (B&W)
Two of Hollywood's most macabre tributes to itself play across the screen in unyielding black and white. For Sunset Blvd., the phrase "black comedy" pales beside this twisted tale of a faded silent star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). In her decayed dream world of opulent mansions, exquisite costuming, and a menagerie that includes a pet chimp and an ex-husband-turned-majordomo (played to perfection by Erich von Stroheim), comes an intruder in the form of William Holden, a down-on-his-luck writer dodging a repo man. The aged Desmond embraces the young writer, who becomes her lover, but he balks when her possessive nature begins to smother him. Arguably one of the finest films ever made (it won three Oscars), the cast members play each part with crucial definition; watch the faces of Desmond's friends Nilsson, Keaton, and Hopper joining her for a card game. Their presence, along with Swanson and von Stroheim, is itself a metaphor for the dimming of Hollywood's once-brilliant star system. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? offers a similar, if less humorous and blacker look at declining stardom. Davis plays "Baby" Jane Hudson, a former child star whose more mature film roles met with less success than her sister Blanche (Crawford), whose own burgeoning career as a starlet was cut short by a car accident that left her wheelchair-bound. The behind-the-scenes stories about the filming of this movie leave little doubt that the brutal, venomous performances of the two stars had real-life implications but still makes for one of the campiest bitchfests in cinematic history. (PAR: 8/21-22)
- - Margaret Moser
TOP GUN (1986)
D: Tony Scott; with Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards. (PG-13, widescreen)
RISKY BUSINESS (1983)
D: Paul Brickman; with Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay. (R)
Tom Cruise was the perfect Reagan-era movie star: He knows how to work a crowd. Whether sliding across the floor in nothing but a button-down shirt, jockey underwear, and a pair of socks, or strutting around in a military jumpsuit and aviator sunglasses, the man-boy Cruise commands the screen with a savvy charisma and sheer will that even his detractors can't deny. As the enterprising teenager in Risky Business, who's introduced into the world of big business when he turns his parents' house into a brothel, he is at once vulnerable and cocky; in the role of the naval fighter pilot who aims to become the Top Gun, he is at once cocky and vulnerable. (Do you see a pattern here?) With the flash of that famous toothy grin, what's there not to love? While the sly take on the go-go Eighties in Risky Business is the more intellectually satisfying experience, the testerone-fueled, fly-boy fantasy of Top Gun is a rousing one, the decade's seminal piece of rah-rah American jingoism. No question: Without the presence of Cruise, neither movie would have made as strong an impression on the American moviegoing psyche. His objective to please is earnest; his ability to lose himself in a character is limited. Above all, he is always Tom Cruise, the movie star - then, now, and forever. (PAR: 6/21-22)
- - Steve Davis
VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967)
D: Mark Robson; with Patty Duke, Barbara Parkins, Sharon Tate, Susan Hayward, Martin Milner, Lee Grant. (PG-13)
MYRA BRECKINRIDGE (1970)
D: Michael Sarne; with Mae West, Rex Reed, Raquel Welch, John Huston. (R)
Whooo-eee! Hold your nose and pass the popcorn - the cinematic debut of potboiler author Jacqueline Susann's bestseller Valley of the Dolls remains one of the campiest movies to ever hit the screens. Its popularity as a turkey is retained 30 years later, as the trials and tribulations of three girls trying to "make it" in New York inadvertently caused more snorts than a good batch of cocaine. Patty Duke stakes the second-best role of her career, Sharon Tate is stiffer than her ratted hair, and Barbara Parkins, well, suffice it to say her roles dwindled after this bomb. Susan Hayward gets in her last good licks as diva Helen Lawson, a kind of Sixties Margo Channing to whom Duke plays a trashy (All About) Eve Harrington-type. Pairing this classic tripe with the equally wretched and just as campy Myra Breckinridge is inspired. This nearly plotless adaptation of Gore Vidal's novel loosely involves a sex change, a pathetic last hurrah for Mae West (who had been genuinely outrageous in her halcyon years), and a parade of aging Hollywood stars, plus rising ones like Farrah Fawcett and Tom Selleck. Myra Breckinridge is well worth the viewing for its Sixties kitsch, but one of the best in-jokes remains in Valley of the Dolls when Neely O'Hara (Duke) performs for a telethon - watch the beads! (PAR: 8/19-20)
-- Margaret Moser