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The birth of the New Left-being an adult sucks!
In many ways this film is remarkable. The story is a classic love/convenience triangle. And helplessly jealous Morgan is cut out to be the big loser from the start. A working class hopeful and a painter, he is just not willing to become an adult and prefers to descend into lunacy instead. His attempts to win back his upper class ex wife, an insecure character herself, are childish and quixotic in nature and enlighten the basically sad story with slapstick moments. The acting is mostly very good. David Warner is sweet and unforgettable why he was chosen to play so many villains later in his career remains a mystery to me. Vanessa Redgrave's Oscar nomination was well deserved. Irene Handl as Morgan's mother is also very good. She represents the family background with its Marxist tradition. Apparently her generation hoped that lads like Morgan would become the enlightened new leaders of their movement! Instead, her son is a good for nothing character, for him the emblems of communism are just a decor to shock the petty bourgeois.
At the time this movie was made, it became chic again to be orientated toward the left. In China Mao started the Cultural Revolution, being a Red meant (in the West, at least) being unconventional, hip and somehow liberated. This romantic, pubertal New Left lasted more ore less until the genocide in Cambodia, then their supporters integrated themselves into the existing system or indulged in esoteric activities (or both). To me Morgan somehow represents the New Left which then emerged.
He remains a Mystery Man
What is the driving force behind this artist who seems to be past present and future at the same time? How is his physical and mental health? What kind of an American citizen or a World citizen is Woody Allen? Has he got "visions" that reach beyond his own persona and his intimate circle? Does he like dogs? Yes, there is a lot I would like to learn about this immensely productive and strangely elusive man who always has a fresh take on actual human events and conditions and seems virtually ageless. The answers to these questions are more easily found in Allen's own movies than in this documentary which is an uncritical tribute to the Mystery Man who appears in it as a friendly and soft spoken contributer. The style is very conventional (if not outright promotional) and disappointing - talking heads you already know (Maltin, Lax etc.) tell things you already know. Why didn't they interview his dentist, his super or his hairdresser?
And yet I don't regret having watched this documentary. As it also contains valuable insights which I found fascinating. Allen seems to stick to persons he has known for ages (I assume he is basically loyal and expects loyalty in turn). Early in his career he teamed up with people who created Woody Allen as a product. This seems to have been the foundation stone for future developments. Behind the name there is an industry with a hard core of constant trusted collaborators. It is as productive as it is (within clearly set boundaries) innovative. This somewhat unlikely combination seems to be unique. No one except Charlie Chaplin did anything that can be compared with it. I can credit the documentary for highlighting these aspects which serve as a kind of a shield for Woody Allen (the man) against too personal approaches to his persona.
Angels and Insects (1995)
A Man and His Moths - highly recommended
I find this movie absolutely fascinating on all levels: basic idea, story, acting, imagery, set design, colors, music. It all fits together so well and tells a fascinating, rather sad story of beings, their limits and the way they deal with it in a time period of great changes and discoveries. Set entirely on a beautiful Neo Gothic country estate and its grounds, the plot evolves like a dream. The main character looks amazingly like Abraham Lincoln (the story is set during that president's lifetime but presumably in England). He is a man of reason and science - and of no means. He arrives as a kept intellectual and falls for the beautiful daughter of his benefactor. The attraction is exclusively erotic (the movie can be credited for some explicit sex scenes which are for once not gratuitous but as necessary as they are believable) and rather unexpectedly he finds himself adopted into the family and a permanent resident of Dreamland. Always of an alert disposition he observes - and is in turn observed and manipulated. Dreamland finally turns out to be a nightmare, the true nature of things small and not so small are revealed. The Odyssey continues.
Sawing off the Scroll - and yet pretty top-heavy
Ever since I saw The Adjuster and The Sweet Hereafter I watch every movie by this director I can lay my hands on. This one is visually beautiful, well acted (with a notable exception) and touches important issues of today. And yet it left me rather disappointed. Atom Egoyan is a moralist who demands a lot from his viewers and invites them to check their own instincts. In reverse the viewers have the right to expect clarity and a straight story. Here, the director fails them. The story is too convoluted and contrived. It slows down everything and the whole does not find its proper rhythm. I found Arsinée Khanjian's persona and her performance problematic. It's got a syrupy intensity I found hard to stomach. The rather heavy-handed toying with the exotic is simply annoying. From her first appearance I thought, that person should not be allowed to teach intelligent adolescents. And appearing on somebody's front lawn in full North African (?) garb at Christmas Time? And then being asked to take that character seriously? Well, for me, it was too much. At least it gave me occasion to check my instincts, which is never a bad thing. So the movie may just have served its purpose ...
Lower Level (1991)
Please do not read the summary of this movie. There are no depressed women around here but two strong female characters and a bunch of guys who don't know how to deal with it. Lower Level was scripted and directed by women and I think this can be sensed clearly. The main storyline deals with a guard who is smitten with a woman architect and entraps her in "her tower" one night. The guard did a lot of planning - not unlike the Collector Terence Stamp in the eponymous movie directed by William Wyler. But he is doomed and clearly intimidated by the woman who in the end is not only able to liberate herself but also her occasional sexual partner (boyfriend or lover would not be the right word here). This is a fine example of low budget movie making. Very few actors, one location, nighttime only and quite a few good directorial ideas. It is not the greatest movie of all times but really good entertainment and visually very pleasing. Great cameo by Shari Shattuck.
Never Let Go (1960)
Paint jobs, pipe dreams
This is a minor classic with reveals an amazing depth, provided you watch the film several times. With each viewing Peter Todd's performance gets better and the state of mind of his character more clear. It's about an Anglia (an ostentatiously modest lower middle class car) and the hope the Todd character puts into the car. It seems to be the last straw for him to become the success in business he wants to be. His wife scolds him for having had so many pipe dreams that have come to nothing and at the same time tells him to let go (of the stolen car). The possession of the car becomes an existential issue, the guy is willing to die in order to get it back. It is all ridiculous in a really sad way. It is also impressive to watch the police officer (played by the always brilliant John Le Mesurier) slowly lose his countenance and hear him tell the main character icily that he does not care the least for his car and that the authorities just want to nail the criminals. The veneer is off on all sides not least off Peter Sellers' character who becomes to realise that a stolen car can leave traces even after an expert paint job. Never Let Go tells a great little story. I can wholeheartedly recommend this film.
Paths of Glory (1957)
The Chain of Command
This movie hits you like a ton of bricks. Like almost the whole work of Stanley Kubrick it tells a story about the failure of civilization. I do not see it as an anti-war movie or a historically accurate depiction of World Ware One but much more as a comment about large organizations. Principally, it deals with stalemate. The bosses have run out of ideas. They don't know what to do. But because their remaining in power depends on something - well, anything - being done, they risk the lives of thousands for enterprises that are highly unlikely to succeed. All the characters seem to be victims of a command: to make the impossible possible. The risks are unevenly distributed - as befits a vertically organized institution. The Paths of Glory is a story that is being told over and over, you can pick the settings yourself, it needn't be the trenches in Northern France, it could well be Wall Street or, for that matter, the European Union.
From an artistic point of view, I find Paths of Glory very satisfying, starting with the camera gliding flawlessly along the trenches down to the excellent set design by Ken Adam. The ending is the work of true genius. They way the jeering soldiers turn soft and melancholy is entirely convincing and unforgettable.
Is there really nothing critical to be said?
I recently watched this movie and then read the comments on IMDb.com which are without exception very enthusiastic. Did I miss something? Am I a dork without any real feeling left in me? Others will be the judges of that. Anyway, I felt this movie tells a very commonplace story of mediocre minds for which I found it hard to have much compassion.
The conductor is basically an egomaniac, a man of whom all around him think as a genius (by the way: aren't all orchestra conductors fascists at heart??). Not a very pleasant or entertaining fellow to be with, really. The blond damsel is a cute groupie, overwhelmed by the adulation the genius basks in - and the splendid Rolls he commands through the streets of London and the English countryside. The "love" they experience is without motive, without past and certainly without future yes, one may argue, that this is the essence of love, but it makes rather boring viewing if you can't identify with the characters. The affair is concealed from the conductor's wife, which I can only see as a strategic move beyond immediately felt surges of emotions. It may be argued, that nobody wants to hurt anybody, but the act of betrayal lingers on and for me spoils the moments of intimacy between the lovers which are played out as an animated fashion magazine.
Not too long ago I also watched the "Interlude" directed by Douglas Sirk and released in 1957. I found it far more convincing and a truly moving melodrama, although the storyline is almost identical. It is a movie that works much better for me on the emotional level. The reason for that is, I believe, that the need for love can be felt more strongly. And there is an element that should always be present in a true love story: Surprise (at the world, the turn of events - and at oneself).
Le téléphone rose (1975)
Weird, weird, weird
Strange comedy with a a really weird political slant. The main character is the owner of a small enterprise in the southwest of France. An American corporation plans a take over. In order to smoothen the negotiations they invite the guy to Paris and wine and dine him. Furthermore he is introduced to the "niece of the PR director" who in reality is a hooker they rented for the occasion. The guy goes to bed with her almost at once, falls for the really stale "niece" story and kinda falls in love with her. Some dingle dangle ensues and in the end the guy follows the hooker to Milan where she has a "business appointment", is insulted by the hooker while boarding the plane, stomps away over the tarmac and is followed by the (pleading?) hooker. The end.
Somehow the movie makes the statement that American corporations are bad because they corrupt honest to god provincial French entrepreneurs. But as a matter of fact this entrepreneur is a stupid BEEP. He lies and cheats to his wive who is not only attractive but supports him actively and loyally in his business dealings. And he tries to ingratiate himself to the workers (who are unruly in any case) in a sickening way, making them feel he is one of them. He is clearly not more likable than the real baddies in their corporate glass tower in Paris. This makes it difficult to feel any fondness for the main character and his predicament, which seems to be required if one ought to take an interest in the story. Therefore the movie fails to carry a message and is only a succession of gags which, I gladly admit, are not all bad.
The cast is much better than the script. Mireille Darc does her usual thing (her part is essentially the same as in The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe). I also watched this because Daniel Ceccaldi is in it (as the PR executive), in my opinion one of the most underrated French character actors of his generation. So watching this was not entirely time wasted.
Wanted for Murder (1946)
B picture gets A treatment
This is a truly memorable movie. Not for its story which is pretty pedestrian but for its treatment by the screen writers, the actresses and actors, its cinematography and its art direction. My first surprise came with the title credits. Emeric Pressburger participated in the screen writing. And this seems to be one of the rare cases in which the screen writing is better than the general plot. There are a great many interesting characters which are competently and nicely sketched. The actresses and actors grace the script with very good, heart felt and often funny performances down to the last bit part (and there are many of them). They portray ordinary people who just want to be decent - and ordinary. The movie is set in post war London and the number of sets and location shots is astounding considering the simplicity of the whole affair. The apartment of the villain is in a fine town house, and it looks like it was shot on location, so it must also be a feast for friends of architecture. Watching this movie is anything but a waste of time!
Again and again I become enraptured by British films which were made during the period of Austerity (The Archers, Ealing Studio, Carol Reed etc.). I always feel that lack of funds was more than compensated by the love all those who participated felt for their art.