Friday, April 15, 2011

Remembering the Movies, Apr. 15 - 21

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.
Visit Remembering the Movies to further peruse the past

Yesterday I announced a return to visual tributes along with a line-up of fresh pictures. Check it out here if you missed it.

This week, a classic or two alongside some definite oddballs, including Ringo Starr in a fur toga and Phoebe Cates' creepy imaginary friend. Also, on a more serious note, an utterfly fascinating - and blistering - attack on Holocaust dramatization by Jacques Rivette.



10 years ago (April 20, 2001)

"Del Toro is attracted by the horror genre, but not in thrall to it. He uses the golden beetle, the mimic insects, the school ghost, not as his subjects but as the devices that test the souls of his characters. Here he uses buried symbolism that will slip past American audiences not familiar with the Spanish Civil War, but the impotent school administrators and the unexploded fascist bomb do not need footnotes, nor does the grown child of the left (Jacinto), who seduces the younger generation while flattering the older for its gold. Carlos I suppose is the Spanish future, who has a long wait ahead. Such symbols are worthless if they function only as symbols; you might as well hand out nametags. Del Toro's symbols work first as themselves, then as what they may stand for, so it does not matter if the audience has never heard of Franco, as long as it has heard of ghosts. Any director of a ghost film is faced with the difficult question of portraying the ghost. A wrong step, and he gets bad laughs." - Roger Ebert



20 years ago (April 19, 1991)

Gene: "That's Rick Mayall as Fred, he's a British actor on an MTV show; that's another reason not to watch MTV. Supposedly, he's her excuse to act out her anger. He can do the things she'd like to do. But in the movie, he's just annoying to us 'cause he's as real as anything in the movie! Too real! I had to sit through 98 minutes of his screaming act, 98 minutes stolen from my life. And I felt it was real aggrevating."

Roger: "You know when Drop Dead Fred opened, I was on vacation out of the country and when I came back I asked you if I should see it, you had already seen it, and you said it would be on your list of the worst movies of the year, although I didn't realize it was gonna rank so high as #1, but I'm glad I didn't see it now that I see how high it was on your list."

Gene: "Consider it my holiday gift." - Siskel & Ebert

Drop Dead Fred (1991)

30 years ago (April 17, 1981)
"A funky, buoyant farce, in which Ringo Starr plays Atouk, a peewee caveman who, in order to win the beautiful Lana (Barbara Bach), learns to stand upright and, in one great day, discovers fire and then cooking. That night, he and his group, sitting around the first campfire, discover musical instruments; in about 10 seconds, they're chanting and singing, and 30 seconds later they have moved on to syncopation, and Atouk has become a rock drummer. Making his debut as a movie director, Carl Gottlieb, a comedy actor and co-writer on Jaws, and Jaws II, and The Jerk) gets crack timing from the whole cast and never lets a routine go on too long.

The picture doesn't have the dirt or meanness or malice to make you explode with laughter, but it's consistently enjoyable. With John Matuszak, Dennis Quaid, Shelley Long, Jack Gilford, Avery Schreiber, and four dinosaurs. (Created by highly sophisticated animation techniques, they're domesticated, parody versions of the scary monsters in sci-fi horror films.) Written by Gottlieb and Rudy DeLuca, who devised a 15-word language for the cave people; it's indebted about equally to comic-strip balloonese and Yiddish. Shot in Mexico; with a satiric musical score by Lalo Schifrin." - Pauline Kael


Caveman (1981)

40 years ago (April 21, 1971)
"More a blood-soaked canvas than a picture of stoic engagement, Chang Cheh's The Duel bursts at the seams with splashes of color and rage, filling each frame with crushing deathblows and screaming fits of fury. Being a Shaw Brothers production, the film's conversations, promises, and threats merely act as bridges for characters to cross from one massacre to the next. More surprisingly, each of these kinetic set pieces develops emotion just as much as action, providing the film's thematic center and moral compass. Aside from the endless ass-kicking, The Duel slyly contemplates the trickle-down effect of political corruption, forcing its heroic avengers to sidestep the law to destroy power hungry bureaucrats stifling communal peace and happiness.

The Duel turns in violent circles for most of its running time, but the final battle sequence gratuitously displays the film's keen attempt at political commentary. Tan inevitably vanquishes all of the evildoers he can find, but not surprisingly the powerful Senator who has been pulling the strings manages to avoid punishment. All the knife thrusts and blood splatter can't bring Tan's broken town complete justice, and Chang understands the futility of trying to master the faceless forces working from behind the curtain of government. This realistic sense of morality gets brilliantly solidified in the final bit of sacrifice shared between Tan and the Rambler. In one last stab at transcending their surroundings, both men attempt to rise off the ground despite their serious injuries. Instead of showing the duo upright and heroic, Chang ends the film in a stunningly ambiguous freeze frame, leaving the viewer with a viable sense of fatality that offsets the genre's familiar codes of honor and sacrifice. It's a personal duel for survival that cannot be completed, no matter how prolific your kung fu." - Glenn Heath, Jr., Slant Magazine

50 years ago (April 17, 1961)

"Another thing: a phrase of Moullet's has been constantly cited, left and right, and usually foolishly enough: morality is a matter of tracking shot (or the Godard's version: tracking shots are a matter of morality); one has wanted to see in it the height of formalism, so that one could criticize its 'terrorist' excess (to reclaim Paulhanien terminology). Look, however, in Kapo, at the shot where Riva kills herself by throwing herself on an electric barbed-wire fence; the man who decides, at that moment, to have a dolly in to tilt up at the body, while taking care to precisely note the hand raised in the angle of its final framing -- this man deserves nothing but the most profound contempt. For several months, people have been breaking our balls over false problems of form and content, of realism and fantasy, of script and mise en scène, of the free actor or the regulated actor, and other dichotomies; let us say that it is possible that all subjects are born free and equal by law; that which counts is tone, or emphasis, nuance, as one will call it -- that is to say, the point of view of a man, the auteur, badly needed, and the attitude that this man takes in relation to that which he films, and therefore in relation to the world and to everything: that which can be expressed by a choice in situations, in the construction of the storyline, in the dialogue, in the play of actors, or in the pure and simple technique, 'indifferently but as much'. There are things that should not be addressed except in the throes of fear and trembling; death is one of them, without a doubt; and how, at the moment of filming something so mysterious, could one not feel like an imposter? It would be better in any case to ask oneself the question, and to include the interrogation, in some way, in what is being filmed; but doubt is surely that which Pontecorvo and his ilk lack most." - Jacques Rivette

Kapò (1961)

60 years ago (April 20, 1951)
"On the surface, it made no sense why Fox would opt to produce a twice-told tale (especially since neither version was particularly good). But for Kaye, it made perfect sense: On the Riviera would allow him to indulge in a plot line involving mistaken identity and impersonations. Most of Kaye’s films fell into that pattern, in which the comic played a low-brow bumbler mistaken for someone of a higher social and physical prowess. The laughs (such as they were) involved his attempts to fill the mighty shoes he was mistakenly placed into." - Phil Hall, Film Threat (click on that link and I dare you to focus on the words and not the image. It's impossible.)

70 years ago (April 17, 1941)
"This is one Lubitsch film that failed to jell, as others have said the title might refer to Lubitsch's direction. ... The film is not helped by the performance of the 30-year-old Merle Oberon, who is not awful but never quite convinces us that she's a nut case or anything but a pampered socialite. She seems to be laboring to get laughs, which don't come easily. Only Meredith seemed at home with this urbane extramarital romp for the upper-crusts, an all too familiar battle of the sexes comedy that has been done better in many other films." - Dennis Schwarz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews

80 years ago (April 15, 1931 - French premiere)

"What makes the movie is René Lefèvre's unsurpassed ability to suffer hilariously. One example: shortly after realizing he is not, in fact, a millionaire, Michel races to his apartment to grab a coat before leaving to track down his lottery ticket. It's one of those movie moments where TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE and EVERY SECOND COUNTS. Unfortunately, Michel's neighbors have prepared a little ceremony to commemorate his admirable achievement of winning a lot of money. A little girl recites a speech and presents him with a bouquet, and then everyone insists he pose for a photograph. He's not really into it, and the photographer's typically thorough instructions ('Smile a bit more. To the right. Hold it right there.') are excruciating. Here's the final photo:
He's sort of the anti-Falconetti." - Matthew Dessem, The Criterion Contraption

Le Million (1931)

90 years ago (April 17, 1921)
"ONLY King Vidor, in Hollywood 1921, would have chosen to make a film about a woman’s accession to a state of grace (not through suffering, but through transcendent moral agency). And even Vidor couldn’t sell that idea without couching it in the buddy drama/civilizing mission narrative that I described earlier. However, I think it’s wonderfully significant that the Sky Pilot never does get to preach a sermon–and that Colleen Moore’s Gwen emerges as the true protagonist of the movie from the ashes of the newly-built church that seemed to provide a natural terminus for both of its 'false plots'." - David Fiore, Anagramsci
The Sky Pilot (1921)

100 years ago (April 17, 1911)

"The accomplished stage actress Mary Pickford arrived at Biograph in 1909. Griffith's prop boy was the first one to greet her, and reported to the director that she was 'a looker.' Griffith met with Pickford and was taken with her fresh beauty. He described her eyes as having a 'languorous' look. After just one conversation he hired Pickford, offering her five dollars a day, then agreeing when she doubled it to ten. Every time she did more than the work contracted, Pickford demanded more money; the shrewd negotiator soon became the highest paid Biograph performer." - The American Experience

Madame Rex (1911)


3 comments:

Sam Juliano said...

A number of great ones here--and a super lead in with the Del Toro image! My favorite is Potecorvo's KAPO.

MovieMan0283 said...

Though Rivette's review of Kapo is a sharp rebuke (also makes me wonder what he thought of Battle of Algiers years later) it actually makes me more curious to see the movie.

Glad to hear you're looking forward to the visual tributes too, I've got some high-profile ones already planned for the next couple weeks. I'll be in NYC end of April btw, so we'll be in touch. I look forward to another screening...

Sam Juliano said...

Terrific news!!! We may even be able to get you in to one of the Tribeca Film Festival offerings!!! The last screening for me is April 30!!!