enitharmon: (film)

There are films that are like a good thriller, that keep you on the edge of your seat from one moment to the next. There are films like a good beach novel, that document the fortunes and misfortunes of people interacting with each other, living. marrying, giving birth and dying. And then there's the cinematic equivalent of the short story; an unfashionable literary form which records a snapshot of a moment when things change almost imperceptibly but irrevocably.

Diner is a short-story film. Six young men pass a week in Baltimore. It's a significant week between Christmas and New Year on the threshold of a new decade, but nothing much happens. There are no adrenaline rushes on tap, everything happens in the head. One young man is about to get married but has his doubts (the marriage is to be conditional on his fiancée passing a test on football). Another is already married but isn't comfortable with the constraint. Another rushes from date to date but can't commit. Others are just fighting a rearguard action against having to be grown up. And whenever they get uncomfortable they turn to their favourite all-night diner for comfort. During the course of the week, each of the six makes a tiny but critical step away from the comfort of the diner and towards acceptance of adulthood.

This kind of coming-of-age film is never as easy to watch as those with a strongly-defined plot, but they are often my favourites because they reward close attention, often over several viewings. One viewing probably isn't enough to pick up everything that's going on but there's plenty to keep attending to and, although I will take some convincing that Diner is a match for The Last Picture Show, my absolute favourite of the genre, I'll be looking forward to many repeats. If nothing else, the soundtrack is everything you could expect from a film set at the tail end of 1959.
enitharmon: (film)

Brokeback Mountain my arse! The original Gay Cowboy flick was Red River. Although todays audiences may want it all spelt out for them, in 1948 it just wasn’t on to be explicit or your film just didn’t see the light of day. But those in the know - and that surely included a goodly proportion of those in the industry, as well as fans of male-bonding films like this one - would have read the signs and smiled inwardly.

No, I don’t mean the central relationship between Tom Dunston, the want-it-all-and-want-it-now tyrant who wants his cows driven to Missouri at all costs, and his young protegé Matthew Garth who eventually stands up to him and leads a mutiny to take the cows to Abilene through safer country. That is important, but it is essentially a father-son relationship. No, I’m referring to the more discreet one between Garth and Cherry Valance, the gunslinger taken on to add extra muscle to the drive. Watch them size each other up when they meet and these days it’s impossible not to see it’s not each other’s guns they’re comparing.

As it happens, Montgomery Clift and John Ireland were rutting away together off-camera, and the wily Howard Hawks projected that into the fiction. You can probably imagine how John Wayne reacted to that, along with his sidekick Walter Brennan. Perhaps that’s what put the extra bit of fire into Wayne’s performance that had John Ford allegedly remarking to Hawks, “I didn’t know the son of a bitch could act!” He could, here, too. This is, to my mind, Wayne’s finest hour.

Howard Hawks, of course, is best-known for his wacky comedies and his strong women - Hepburn, Russell, Bacall. He makes a fine job of this more sombre work, but it doesn’t stop him weaving a thread of humour through the piece, and although this is almost entirely an all-male film, there’s a good sassy cameo for a newcomer, Joanne Dru. She never made the big time but became the staple of dozens of those Western TV dramas that I used to enjoy so much. Whatever happened to them? The Western is still what Hollywood did better than anybody and this is quite possibly the best Western of them all.
enitharmon: (film)
Well, you asked for it!


The one that everybody thinks is Hitchcock, but isn’t.

That’s probably something to do with the casting, which teams a rather chubby Cary Grant with Audrey Hepburn. And a lot to do with a Hitchcockian plot in which nobody is quite quite who they seem (and not anyone for all that long), and events squirm this way and that until you get dizzy. And Stanley Donen wasn’t renowned for thrillers; he had form as a director of jolly song-and-dance flicks. He’s probably still best known for having Gene Kelly twinkling his toes with the umbrella and the policeman.

There’s no doubting that Stan loves Alfie because Charade is full of homage to the master. My favourite moment has to be the scene in which Cary Grant is clinging by his fingertips to the side of a Paris hotel with George Kennedy’s boots hovering over them. Now where have I seen something like that before, only with Thomas Jefferson’s nose taking the part of the Paris Hotel? But there’s the rub. Donen tries valiantly to emulate the master, and in the end he comes up with a great piece of edge-of-seat cinema that, in any other context, might be up there with the greats. But while anybody could come up with a Paris (or Chicago) balcony to cling to, it took the genius of Hitchcock to use Jefferson’s nose and get away with it.

So, a very good film indeed, but not a truly great one.
enitharmon: (film)
I Know Where I'm Going

When I lost my internet connection for a couple of weeks at the end of November I filled much of my time watching films. By the time it was back I had such a backlog of Film Diaries to write up that I couldn't be arsed doing them. Well, I'm back now, starting with last night's entertainment, and back also on Livejournal to save those wretched double postings and perhaps get a better class of comment.

I'm a big fan of Powell and Pressburger and although this is perhaps not as well known as The red shoes or A matter of life and death, it's still a delight. It reeks of allegory of course - the headstrong young woman hell bent on marrying a tedious industrial magnate on a remote Scottish island is thwarted by bad weather, and during a week stranded in Tobermory realising that her way is with the impoversished young laird after all. Films set in the Western Isles tend to be hideously over-sentimentalised but this one avoids that trap. Live in the Hebrides looks almost as tough as it is. Wendy Hiller and Roger Livesey may not be celluloid superheroes but they have more than enough stage nous to make this fable both believable and rewarding. It doesn't outstay its welcome either.

Film Diary

Nov. 23rd, 2008 11:38 pm
enitharmon: (film)
It may not be the first title to spring to mind when you think of Alfred Hitchcock, but I bet you can hum the song!

The Man Who Knew Too Much (take two) is over in Enitharmon's Cave.

Film Diary

Oct. 12th, 2008 10:49 pm
enitharmon: (film)
Today we're going back to school. It's that year of revolt, 1968, and the school in question is a very traditional boys public school Somewhere In England. And the old order is about to fall...

Read all about it.

Film Diary

Oct. 5th, 2008 10:04 pm
enitharmon: (Default)
It's all about spies this week. Not cold warriors but agents in the service of the Kaiser in the years before the Great War[*]. Yes, it's swashbuckling, Boy's Own stuff from John Buchan, with Robert Donat as the terribly English gentleman spy, snogging an unsuspecting Madeleine Carroll in a compartment of the Flying Scotsman and running handcuffed to her across wild Rannoch Moor.

It's The Thirty-Nine Steps, of course. Read all about it.

[*] Well actually it's been updated to the 1930s. I wonder why?

Film Diary

Sep. 22nd, 2008 11:54 pm
enitharmon: (Default)
Dark goings on and epic adventures in fields near Basingstoke. Yes, it's Watership Down, over at Enitharmon's Cave...

Film Diary

Aug. 25th, 2008 04:28 pm
enitharmon: (Default)
It's Western time, and today we're in postbellum Texas (which looks alarmingly like the Utah desert, but what the hell, Monument Valley is always a delight to look at) with John Wayne and companions. Yes, it's The Searchers. Yee-HA!

Film Diary

Aug. 17th, 2008 09:02 pm
enitharmon: (Default)
Last night I watched Saturday Night Fever for the first, thirty years after it was a milestone in popular culture.

Meanwhile, over at Enitharmon's Cave, you can read about what I thought of it.

Film Diary

Jul. 24th, 2008 10:24 am
enitharmon: (film)
I had a quiet night in last night with Jules Dassin's seminal heist film Du rififi chez les hommes, better-known in the English speaking world as Rififi ("brawl, "rumble", or some other 50s-ish slang word of your choice for a fight)

Read all about it here.

Film Diary

Jul. 13th, 2008 03:02 pm
enitharmon: (Default)
Last night's film was The Night of the Hunter; the one and only film by Charles Laughton as director, and a half-forgotten little gem it is, too.

Let Me In

Mar. 6th, 2008 11:56 pm
enitharmon: (Default)
Remember the "Wake Me Up" cat? Well here's the sequel - thanks [livejournal.com profile] thermalsatsuma via [livejournal.com profile] hooloovoo_42

enitharmon: (film)
Guys and Dolls

I'm ambivalent at best about film versions of stage musicals. Not musicals made for film, like 42nd Street or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; that's different, and makes full use of the medium, but a stage musical is a different beast, one which, like any live stage event, is a two-way experience which sucks an audience directly into it. That's why every stage performance is different, and for that reason I suspect its why the bean-counters don't care much for the live stage. Better a film which, like a Big Mac, will always be exactly the same wherever you see it.

I think the difference was thrown into sharpest focus a few years ago when I saw the film and a stage performance of Chicago within a couple of weeks. The stage show, in a West End theatre, featured no names that I recognised and was a terrific night out. The film, stuffed full of star names, fell as flat as the Illinois prairie because something important was missing.

Still, I love Guys and Dolls and opportunities to see it these days are few and far between, so a film is a way of making it accessible. And Joseph Mankiewicz was as Broadway-savvy as any Hollywood director, so if anybody could pulll it off, he could. And If I didn't know the stage show, I'd have thought the film was pretty damn good.

Unfortunately, I do know the stage show, and I know Frank Loesser's songs, and I know when they've been messed about, cut, and new stuff added. The worst thing about the film is a bizarre piece of miscasting; the part of Sky Masterson was tailor-made for Frank Sinatra, but to Sinatra's chagin it was given to the non-singing Marlon Brando. Now, a good orchestrator like Nelson Riddle is more than capable of making a non-singer sound halfway competent but it involves letting the band take the strain and fitting it around the singer. If anybody is left in any doubt, listen to Sinatra singing Sky Masterson's big set-piece Luck Be A Lady and hear how Frank takes the lead and Nelson Riddle lets the band follow him. That's how a real star does it. But Sinatra is left with Nathan Detroit, a comedy role with little serious singing. I suppose Brando was big box-office but I've never been a big fan and while he's charming here, I've never had much time for the mumbling Brando of later years.

And then, there's the problem that Guys and Dolls doesn't seem to know whether it's a record of a Broadway show or a serious film. It falls betwen the two and so it looks disjointed. I want very much to love it but I can't. Still, Stubby Kaye is faithful to the stage role he created and his big moment at the end is a treat.
enitharmon: (Default)

In a Rome ravaged by war, poverty is rife, jobs are scarce, and when Antonio Ricci, an honest working man, is offered a position as a bill-poster he feels himself blessed. The only problem is, without a bike he won't be offered the job, and his bike is in hock. He and his wife pawn all their sheets to get the bike back in time, but things take a dramatic turn when the bike is stolen on Ricci's first day.

From there on, Ricci and his son trawl Rome for the stolen bike. The trouble is, Rome is full of bikes. There are bikes and bits of bikes everywhere, but they are all out of Ricci's reach, and without a bike Ricci can't work. He pursues it with increasing desperation and his desperation drags him into a deadly spiral.

Where do I begin? Those who think that a film should have a strong plot should look elsewhere; there isn't one. There is the odd scuffle but in fact very little happens, not all that much is said, it's grainy and jerky and gritty, and a bit amateurish (deliberately so: the cast were all non-acting unknowns) so that it has the feel of a low-budget documentary rather than a narrative film. On the surface the story is trite: one man's search for a stolen bike. For those with eyes to see, it's a profound fable about a world in which the have-nots surrounded by wealth are sucked into frustration and desperation. It's the sort of film I'd want to make if I were a film-maker. A visual poem, but it's The Song of a Shirt more than it's Beowulf or My Last Duchess or Daffodils. And it's very beautiful.
enitharmon: (film)
First, the answers... )

On the first ballot, there was a three-way tie for first place: [livejournal.com profile] mrsdanvers63, [livejournal.com profile] starry_jen and [livejournal.com profile] auroralynx scored two correct answers each, and in fourth place [livejournal.com profile] molekilby scored, ah, nice try there, Jason, better luck next time!

mrsdanvers63 and starry_jen both identified their characters too, so they get bonus points for those. I have to give the final award to [livejournal.com profile] mrsdanvers63 for getting Groucho Marx.
enitharmon: (film)
Half-inched from [livejournal.com profile] auroralynx.

1. Pick 20 of your favourite films.
2. Pick a quote from each one.
3. As people guess the quote, put the title and their name by it. (bonus points for knowing which characters!) & no cheating using google or such

Replies are screened - final scores later

  1. Shoot, if we'd done half that stuff they said we'd done in that paper, we'd be millionaires by now, wouldn't we? Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde ([livejournal.com profile] mrsdanvers63)

  2. They talk about the people and the proletariat, I talk about the suckers and the mugs - it's the same thing.

  3. Every time you turn around, expect to see me, 'cause one time you'll turn around and I'll be there.

  4. I never discuss love on an empty stomach. Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) in North By Northwest ([livejournal.com profile] auroralynx)

  5. I find I'm quite willing to overlook the odd blemish in a woman, providing she's got something to make up for it.

  6. Go, and never darken my towels again!

  7. I kinda always knew that behind all the cigar ashes on your vest was a heart as big as a house. Walter Neff (Fred McMurray) in Double Indemnity ( [livejournal.com profile] auroralynx)

  8. Here we are. You got me into your house. You give me a drink. You put on music. Now you start opening up your personal life to me and tell me your husband won't be home for hours. Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate ([livejournal.com profile] mrsdanvers63)

  9. Your golf ball, your running board, your car? Is there anything in the world that doesn't belong to you?

  10. You shoot off a guy's head with his pants down, believe me, Texas ain't the place you want to get caught. Geena Davis (Thelma) in Thelma and Louise ([livejournal.com profile] starry_jen

  11. I'm gonna give him one more year, and then I'm going to Lourdes.

  12. No pope ever visits a city where the newspapers are on strike.

  13. Tha wouldn't call Lord Harewood 'Mister', would tha?

  14. Next train's gone!

  15. What would I want with a reputation? That's a good way to get yourself killed.

  16. I'm setting up the biggest deal in Europe with the hardest organisation since Hitler stuck a swastika on his jockstrap.

  17. I always thought it was a ridiculous name for a prison. Sing Sing, I mean. Sounds more like it should be an opera house or something. Audrey Hepburn (Holly Golightly) in Breakfast at Tiffany's ([livejournal.com profile] starry_jen

  18. I was sick of being a blonde. I needed a tougher look, and you know what I mean.

  19. There's never any telling what you'll say or do next, except that it's bound to be something astonishing.

  20. I got the motive which is money and the body which is dead.
enitharmon: (Default)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Not the limp 1981 remake with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange (whatever happened to Jessica Lange?), but the feisty, high sexual voltage original with Lana Turner and the tragic John Garfield, a considerable talent cut down by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

There's more than a hint of Macbeth about this James M Cain story, which like the amazing Double Indemnity from two years earlier pushed to the limit what Hollywood noir could get away with. The couple plot to kill the woman's husband, an amiable old soak, and eventually succeed, but are haunted and brought down by the consequences. It's not my business to say how; the plot snakes in typical noir style through a series of twists and if you don't already know the story, I don't want to spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that you know it's going to be absolutely electric from the moment Lana Turner appears, with the camera tracking from the dropped lipstick, through the naked toes and up the perfect legs that go on forever, until we see standing before us the penultimate femme fatale; fragile, unhappy, beautiful, but wilful and destructive (the ultimate ff being Lady M herself, of course.) It's truly compelling stuff, making up in sheer animal sexuality for where Double Indemnity beats it hollow for dialogue and structure. And Lana is much more believeable than Barbara Stanwyck in a bad wig.

Remakes, particularly unnecessary ones are a bête noir of mine. I know that there were several Maltese Falcons before John Huston came up with the perfect one, but that was a process of improving on the unremarkable. Jackj Nicholson has made many fine films but his Postman wasn't one of them; that was a pointless mockery of something close to perfection. And so what if it was in colour?
enitharmon: (Default)
The Apartment

CC 'Bud' Baxter is an insurance clerk, one of thousands of tiny fish swimming in a huge corporate pond, who cynically tries to swim his way out of his mechanical existence by letting his West Side apartment to corporate executives by the hour. He in bhis turn is manipulated even more cynically by the corporate chief, but starts to see the light when the naive lift girl he likes is caught in the net, and things turn nasty.

I'm a huge fan of the films of Billy Wilder. Jack Lemmon could do no wrong either. Put them together and of course most people will think of Some Like It Hot, and quite rightly so. Rather shamefully neglected is the film that came after SLIH, which is also perfectly cast, perfectly filmed, funny and dark at the same time. Only much more intensely. It's true that there aren't as many laughs in The Apartment, which is one of those black comedies - before Joe Orton got into his stride too - which seems farcical until it takes a dramatic turn somewhere in the middle, and you feel bad about laughing. It's much more subtle too. Shirley MacLaine makes a less in-your-face but more believeable than Marilyn Monroe; Wilder was famously exasperated by Monroe in the earlier film and sends her up something rotten at one point here. For all it's unfairly neglected these days - perhaps because it looks twenty years older than it is, for no doubt sound artistic reasons - it's a wonderful film.

Trivia time: Which was the last film made in black and white to win the Best Picture Oscar? Answer: No, it wasn't Schindler's List, it was The Apartment.
enitharmon: (Default)
Fried Green Tomatoes 1

A story within a story film which attracted rave reviews when it first came out and which I managed to miss until last night. On the one level, the contemporary tale of middle-aged frump Evelyn Couch with a disastrous marriage, who befriends the elderly Ninny Threadgoode in an Alabama nursing home while visiting her ghastly husband's even more ghastly (but mercifully unseen) mother. She is inspired to grasp hold of her life and rebuild through Ninny's telling the story of her feisty sister-in-law Idgie, Idgie's friend and lover Ruth with whom she runs the eponymous (in the British version anyway) eatery, and Ruth's violent and abusive (and subsequently dead) husband, in 1930s Alabama

Lots of food as symbolism, as you would exect. I've long known that this was a bit of a lesbian classic, but I wasn't really prepared for just how powerfully erotic it is. Left me quite in a tizzy, it did! Mary Stuart Masterson is terrific as Idgie. A fine film, a great example of what independents can do while big studios fall more and more deeply in thrall to the bean counters (can you imagine the big boys getting enthusisatic about a lesbian love story?) and I'm sorry I've missed out on it for so long. Bound to be a favourite from now on though.

Oh, and a word about titles. I don't like titles being changed. I'm not even happy about translations from original languages, but sometimes needs must. This one was just Fried Green Tomatoes in the US - O didn't know thgat, always known it by its extended British name, but I don't know what it adds other than verbiage.


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