Still Hot After All These Years: McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Vertigo

Consider this review a ‘cleanse the palate course’ after the Oscars (which I thoroughly enjoyed and was pleased about) and the new movie season.

Two films I saw last week were McCabe and Mrs. Miller at my very close confidant’s big screen and then Vertigo on an even bigger screen at the hip Sarasota Cinmeatechue space.

And while they were made 13 years apart (1971 and 1958 respectively), they do have commonalities. First, both directors (Robert Altman/Alfred Hitchcock) while nominated, never received an Oscar.

Perhaps another similarity and larger slight is that neither cinematographer even received an Oscar nomination for these films. Vilmos Zsigmond DID win for Close Encounters, yet in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, I was mesmerized by the snowy landscape and the ending scene with Warren Beatty becoming one with the snow. Pure fascination!

Likewise, in Vertigo, I was transfixed by the camera angles. And yes, I realize a lot of this was ‘Hitch’, but Robert Burks must have had something to do with it as well. Another gripping scene (pun intended and not) came at the film’s end, as Jimmy Stewart, way out of his good guy type casting, man handles Kim Novak up the stairs of the mission to recreate the crime. Even more orgasmically suspenseful is the creepy black shrouded nun at the top of the stairs. Watching this, I totally forgot the creation’s year was 1958, the suspense felt new.

Both films also built the physical and romantic desire to titillating heights. In McCabe and Mrs. Miller, we witness Warren Beatty spellbound by Julie Christie’s voracious appetite, his mutterings of how enervating she is (yet his angst proof that he loves her) and her imploring that he settle affairs or at least seek safe shelter. In Vertigo, Kim Novak utters the sultry film noiresque line, “One person can wander around, but two people doing that are going places.” Hummina, hummina.

So if you’ve got nothing to do, wander over to your tv and rent one of these classic beauties. Or if you’re on a date that’s ‘going places’, both McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Vertigo are pretty darn good foreplay.

Confessions of a 55 Year Old (Classic Movie) Virgin

Ok Ok, I confess. I had never seen Citizen Kane before last night’s showing at Sarasota Film Society’s Cinematheque.

(A quick aside, why the heck isn’t Sarasota Cinematheque packed with Ringling College Film Majors? You’re missing out! Giant screen, great sound, hipster vibe, talk back op…Get over to 500 Tallevast Road on Saturday nights!)

Ok, back to my confession…Much like my virginal metaphor, I had seen the Citizen Kane trailer plenty of times and only noticed some old guy ranting…and hence thought, won’t this be painful? Isn’t it overrated?

But alas, the movie truly is an orgasmic masterpiece. Like my English teacher literary equivalent I tout almost weekly (Ray Bradbury‘s 1959 prescient Fahrenheit 451), Citizen Kane for 1941 is the gold standard for universal storytelling; hoarding to fill emotional needs, the replay of familial cyclical dysfunction (CK’s dad abused him, he then neglects his own son), man’s weakness to infidelity and subsequent political downfalls, the corruption of wealth and power. It’s all there in under 2 hours.

Besides my awe of having missed this for more than half my life, my main takeaways were: Orson Welles (genius, of course, both acting and in storytelling), Joseph Cotton (funniest in the film, especially the nursing home scene where he was trying to remember the name of a place and said a long list ending with Sloppy Joe’s) and the cinematography of doors and windows, shadow, smoke, and in the end, fire. The women in the film, notably three: mother (Agnes Moorehead) and two wives (Ruth Warrick-wow I watched All My Children for years and never knew, and Dorothy Comingore) were all extremely well performed, both due to the writing (strong women for their day) and in believable portraits of women in angst of different varieties.

I couldn’t help notice a strong resemblance of Orson Welles and Leonardo DeCaprio and also how The Wolf on Wall Street seemed to copy Citizen Kane in its mania of wealth gone wild. This is especially seen in the scene where CK acquires the writers from a competing newspaper and gets up to do a number with dancing girls. Make no mistake, I’m not saying that The Wolf on Wall Street or Leonardo is better than CK, just that there is a strong physical and timing resemblance. Surely Scorsese had to have Citizen Kane dreams while filming Wolf.

So, I’m glad I pulled a Tim Tebow and waited because now I know why the film Citizen Kane has been rated the number one movie in American Film history and is far better than Gone With the Wind and Vertigo due to its universal themes and artistic quality.

Filling the Voight Void: Coming Home

After adoring Midnight Cowboy, I realized I needed to fill more of the Voight void, never having seen Coming Home (written by Waldo Scott and Robert C. Jones). Waldo Scott, won the Oscar for best screenplay for this film, as well as for Midnight Cowboy. Robert C. Jones also wrote Bullworth, one of my favorite political films, as well as the classic, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hal Ashby, director of Coming Home, is very close to my heart since it was his film Harold and Maude that ignited my love for film after seeing it on a lonely night, heart broken from my second soon to be ex-husband, shown on the big screen at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.

An aside on Hal Ashby: researching his life just now, I had never realized how tragic it was; horrendous upbringing involving abuse and his father’s suicide, drug abuse, ending in liver and colon cancer. Sean Penn dedicated his first film to Ashby who he had never worked with, but by whom he was obviously influenced. I’ll be tweeting to Penn to do a biopic on Ashby as his life seems to be perfect for dramatization.

And speaking of dramatization, please indulge me in a quickie:

At rise: Roxanne, a film auteur, calls in the cast of The Party, which includes seven actors. The cast gathers in a fancy screening room.

Roxanne
Please guests, take any seats you’d like.

(All actors sit politely, mumbling under their breaths, ‘what is this all about?’)

Roxanne (continued)
Ok, well, what I’d like you to do is watch the following film. Take note that there are basically 6 characters, with essential focus on three.

(All actors look at one another, mentally counting themselves.)

Kristin Scott Thomas
Excuse me, what is the purpose of this?

Patricia Clarkson
Well, it’s a fantastic American film from the ’70’s!

Kristin Scott Thomas
Yes, but won’t it be terribly depressing, I mean Vietnam. Even you Americans are passed all that-

Timothy Spall
Yes, none of my American chaps ever discuss that, you’ve got enough problems with Post Iraq PTSD.

Bruno Ganz
And Jake Gyllenhall just did a movie about paralysis about a Boston Marathon fan.

Emily Mortimer
Yes, and this is going to cut into my prime whining time.

(Roxanne nods and smiles, and without replying, turns to shut the lights and start the movie. Grousing continues briefly, and Patricia Clarkson moves herself away from the Brits. All quiet down with the opening song by the Rolling Stones. Fast forward through film, Roxanne is upfront.)

Kristin Scott Thomas
Oh my, that film was gorgeous, the acting, the soundtrack, the emotional resonates.

Timothy Spall
The love story of Voight and Fonda had weight. The scene where he stops her jittery running about with his hand firmly on her waist-
Kristin Scott Thomas
And how vulnerable he was getting from wheelchair to bed when they finally make love-

Patricia Clarkson
Unlike our shallow piece of crap.

Bruno Ganz
Well, what if we add something, like a love scene between Timothy and Kristin and have him be withdrawn, Kristin clueless, since she’s absorbed in her affair.

Emily Mortimer
Yeh, and maybe you don’t even need me and my spouse, I mean it just muddies the water and I could easily go whine in my next film.

Roxanne
As you Brits might say, “By jove, that’s Brilliant!”

God Before Bod: Becket (1964)

I was going to title this Bro’s Before Ho’s, but decided to at least be p.c. in my hook.

Male fellowship is more of a recurring theme in film than I had previously considered. Or perhaps, it just happens to be a motif occurring in some of the movies I’ve seen as of late: The Lives of Others, Bright Star, and now Becket from 1964.

I mean isn’t that what today’s senate hearings are about? Trump trying to get loyalty from Comey? In Becket’s case, the narcissist King Henry the 2nd demanding Becket’s fidelity? Even Becket expecting Brother John’s?

To go further, isn’t that what team sports are all about, LeBron and the Cavs, Crosby and the fellow Penguins? The man cave, fantasy football, and Buffalo Wild Wings:)?

These are simply observations. Do men feel the need to band together because they don’t have the life giving power that women do? I know women can be equally as united. I guess I’ve just never experienced that, not having a sister or as my maudlin aforementioned best friend disasters have indicated. Why I also wrote a full length screenplay (Buck Up) about a group pf men attempting to reclaim their power by watching old westerns.

Back to the flick: Peter O’Toole, obviously awesome, Burton as well. What was most refreshing for me though was the writing (Jean Anouilh and Lucienne Hill). I love the scenes where women were involved, especially King Henry’s wife and mother. The King’s blatant derision toward his family played out comically absurd.

The actual conflict within the movie seems so foreign to me being an agnostic. And not to mention the fact that Beckett’s love interest (who had been a battle prize) committed suicide rather than have relations with King Henry would be a friendship deal breaker to put it lightly. I realize these were medieval times, but let’s hope we’re not headed backwards to a similar humanitarian crises.

A movie definitely worth watching these two old school acting power houses in their prime.

Strangers on a Train: another PPLL Review

Hey why not preserve some of your pre-pension finances, too, and head to your local library and borrow a classic like Strangers on a Train? Obviously no stranger to some of Hitchcock’s films, and also a fan of a fine documentary on Hitchcock’s legacy in film Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015), this was my first viewing of Strangers on a Train.

I loved it for the following reasons:

Hitchcock’s keen eye for detail, specifically three scenes:
1. The tennis match when all audience heads are exhibiting the classic back and forth watching of the match with the exception of Robert Walker as Bruno who stares straight ahead.
2. The murder scene filmed in the reflection of an eye glass lens.
3. The climactic scene on the merry go round, when a strange old geezer (carnie) crawls under the out of control amusement ride in order to shut it off. And he doesn’t just crawl, he stops and wipes his face (hysterically funny). In fact, in this scene in particular, I love the layering Hitchcock did, the geezer, the little boy having a blast as the merry-go-round speeds up, then the same kid starts to hit Bruno/Robert Walker to help Farley Granger, the cops who tell the old geezer it’s dangerous, then second guess saying, they don’t want to crawl under there, the Bruno shots from the floor with him kicking at Farley’s hands. Pure cinema gold.

Hitchcock’s playful sense of humor:
1. the sister of Ruth Roman/Anne, who was actually Alfred’s daughter Patricia, has the best lines in the entire film, calling Farley’s wife a tramp, saying her dad isn’t afraid of scandal because he’s a senator, her prescient “I see dead people” stare.
2. of course, his notorious appearance in each o his films, this time by getting on a train with a bass.
3. the aforementioned merry-go-round scenes.

I also appreciated how well done the tennis match was filmed and edited. This could not have been easy back in the manual days of the early 1950’s.
This has now become my favorite Hitchcock film.

A few Postscripts:
So sad that Robert Walker had a mental illness, but on the bright side, he had made it out of a sanatorium and was resilient enough to make several more films before succumbing to anxiety/alcohol/a Brian Wilson-like psychiatrist. His demise also goes to show how unrequited love (Jennifer Jones basically left him for Jeffrey Selznick) can destroy those less resilient.
Equally sad was that his son, Michael seemed to have a similar demise.
And if this story on IMDB is true, shame of Hitchcock for his sadistic trick of bullying his daughter Patricia’s fear of heights by paying her 100$ to ride the ferris wheel and summarily having the ride stopped at the top and the lights shut off.

A sick bastard, but a fun director, nonetheless.

New and Improved: Thank Goodness For Chuck Klosterman

New Non-Fiction Book Review by Roxanne Baker:

Hey, it’s a cinematic desert out there, so here’s a book review.

X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the 21st Century by Chuck Klosterman

I’ve never liked buffets; mass produced food in vats, yuck. However, what if all my favorite foods from Sarasota’s best restaurants were served? Salmon from Selva, pizza from Epicure, grilled avocado from Lila…you get the picture. Well, that’s the experience of reading Chuck Klosterman’s new book X , a filling collection of previously enjoyed delicacies.

A contributor to Spin Magazine, ESPN and Esquire, Chuck Klosterman’s previous books include Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs and I Wear the Black Hat which both explored music, sports and social issues with a witty, philosophical flair.

X includes profiles of Kobe Bryant, Eddie VanHalen and Jonathan Franzen just to name a few. What makes Klosterman’s writing unique is his ability to uncover the actual human beings behind the fame, exposing their average Joe-ness.

In addition, Klosterman’s fun footnotes make you feel like a confidant at a cocktail party and his deeper questions to his subjects prod you to self-explore.

Here’s just one of the latter you’ll enjoy: Do you remember the person you were 15 years ago and does that negate the person you are today? Wouldn’t it be worse to be the exact same person unchanged by any experience?

Now that’s a buffet entrée for all deep thinkers to enjoy!

PPLL Flick of the Week

Ok readers, the situation is not dire, yet due to pre pension (PP) budgetary reasons, I need to do library loans (LL) once in awhile to preserve my 401k. And I am not suffering after this week’s classic gem.

Inspired by the trailer for Feud, the new FX show about the real life feud between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, I borrowed “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” from 1962 directed by Robert Aldrich. The range of emotions I felt for this film were psychedelic, from fear to hilarity. Bette Davis’s stellar performance is so nuanced that I am watching the film with commentary for a second even more enjoyable time.

I am not a fan of horror films which tells how great this movie truly is. This morning, my co-worker Barry and I howled repeating some lines from this cult classic, one of which is, “But you are Blanche, you are in this chair!”

Victor Buono, who played a money hungry piano player ready to cater to Bette Davis’s whims, is also both cunning and sarcastically comical.

The FX show Feud is also very entertaining with Sarandon looking like a Davis doppelganger. Jessica Lange certainly evokes the melancholy of Crawford, but her facial features are too wide for a true physical match. Nevertheless, since FX has only shown episode one of Feud, I look forward to even more Baby Jane related fun.

Get thee to your local library and borrow this film. But don’t show it to anyone under 18. I mentioned it to a few friends who said they were scarred from watching it at an emotionally impressionable age.