The Parallax View’s 1974 Sage Advice for 2020

Coincidentally themed, Rashomon (1950) and The Parallax View (1974), a film I watched last night, both address how an object (in both films the object in question is a crime) can look different depending on the angle from which you view it. An not to sound too much like Mister Rogers, but, ‘Kids, isn’t that true of life as we know it?”

For instance, one angle of Covid19 is the profound tragedy, including the hundreds of thousands of deaths and vast financial ruin. YET, another viewpoint unfolds a necessary pause from a world spinning out of control, re-uniting families and friends to a more natural, non-material goods based relationships. Mature folks can hold on to both realities and take a breath realizing that beauty can be found even in our restricted lives. We breathe, we have water, food and electricity.

In The Parallax View, a Presidential candidate assassination spurs a reporter to uncover a conspiracy.

First and foremost, Gordon Willis (Oscar nominations for Zelig and The Godfather III) deserved huge credit for the cinematography. If you want a vicarious travel experience, watch this film. You get a trip to the Space Needle in Seattle, the Skagit River Gorge Dam, as well as the wonder of watching two colorful marching band scenes. Equally praise worthy are the trio of sound men [Dockendorf, Grenzbach (Oscar winner for Platoon) & Overton]. if your jaw doesn’t drop going from rushing rapids sound to absolute quiet, you’re not listening.

The acting is also topnotch: Warren Beatty, probably the most handsome man from the ’70’s, Hume Cronin, at a young 63 years of age, William Daniels (the Dad from The Graduate, still alive into his 90’s), and Paula Prentiss (also still kicking and still married to Richard Benjamin).

The story, originally from a novel by Buffalo born Loren Singer and was directed by Alan J. Pakula, (three time Oscar nominated for writing Sophie’s Choice, directing All the President’s Men and To Kill A Mockingbird).

Not sure which writer to blame for the last twenty minutes which slowed down to the same pace as the kiddie train ride Beatty takes to procure a fake i.d., but until then, The Parallax View is a thrilling ride of color and sound, with the added eye candy and panache of Beatty, Daniels and Cronin.

Rashomon (1950): I Know Nothing, How Invigorating!

I grew up a poor white child…ok, that’s take off on The Jerk, but seriously folks, I’ve got holes in my cinematography education since all my learning has been self-taught. So Covid 19 is a mighty fine time to study some greats of whom I am ignorant.

Kurasawa for Pete’s sake! I started with Rashomon at the direction of a movie guru friend. I feel stupid and relieved at the same time. After all, it is the Buddhist way to admit we really know nothing. This is good advice anytime but it’s especially appropriate as we become bombarded with increasingly venomous and often erroneous, if not entirely false, journalistic renderings.

In fact, I just got off the phone with someone who read the Cliff Notes of Hamlet. Man, was Hamlet a really mentally disturbed human being. Did you know he slept with his mother? This is an analogy of the Live Press Conference last night that someone read ‘highlights’ from. Folks, the truth is only what facts are put through your most objective brain. Do NOT let journalists tell you what is true. Nor politicians. Listen to the doctors who only know what science and data has shown them today. Tomorrow we will know even more. Have hope.

Back to the story/movie which spawned an effect called you guessed it, the Rashomon Effect which basically means that eyewitness testimony is not always objective. Coincidence? In the end, we must believe what we take away from the story. Whose story do I believe?

The bandit? portrayed by the great Toshiro Mifune (so I’ve heard, this is my second Kuroasawa). He obviously has a personal bias to stay out of jail. Hence, he did not rape the girl and felt quite despondent after killing her boyfriend.
The woman? She wants to save her pride and say she wanted to be killed.
The ghost/spirit of the deceased? (Noriko Honma plays the medium through which the deceased speaks in my favorite portion of the film) wishes to move on from purgatory and look noble.
The onlooker? Perhaps he (gorgeously poignant performance by Takashi Shimura) is most reliable having less at stake, yet even he hid facts due to a temptation he could not resist.

The onlooker’s attempt to right his wrong; intervene at the movie’s end instead of just look on, restores his young friend’s hope in humanity. Was this restoration due to: a. his friend’s remorse of stealing a dagger? b. his friend’s attempt to learn from previous mistake, consequently saving someone despite of it possibly backfiring? or c. because his attempts to care for another human when he has so little?

Or does that even matter? Restoration of faith and love for humanity is crucial. Anyone who tries to help and give hope is noble. Anyone who loves and claims to be ignorant of what’s ahead is also heroic. You only know what you see with your own two eyes. Avoid news and love yourself AND your neighbor. Talk positively and realistically. This is all we can hope to do.

The Graduate, a Wonder

Seeing The Graduate on the big screen today at Burns Court Theater was a delight. Despite the two chatty Kathy’s sitting behind me, “This is too much!” exclamations through the first third of the film, this film was So good that it shut them up! Miracles never cease.

I just wanted to mention a few details in the film that I appreciated:
Dustin Hoffman’s wet suit scene seemed so symbolic of him being the trained seal for his parents. They wanted him to do ‘tricks’ for them, as do many overzealous parents. Pool scenes have certainly had an impact in other more recent films as well, most notably Love & Mercy (Paul Dano!) and Booksmart (thank you Olivia Wilde).

Part of the pool charm was due to the cinematographer/director of photography’s name was Robert Suertees, a three time Oscar winner for Ben Hur, The Bad and the Beautiful and King Solomon’s Mines. He also did other great films such as The Last Picture Show.

Proof that a movie takes a team, Sound Department Maestro Jack Solomon (winner for the Oscar in Hello Dolly) was a genius in the same wet suit scene. We hear Dustin breathing, while seeing his parents mouth their excitement at his upcoming ‘stupid pet trick’.

Mike Nichols, winner of the Oscar as Best Director in this film, was a former comedic partner with Elaine May. In this film, he showed his comedic chops, along with Buck Henry (screenwriter’s Oscar nominee) in an s & m type of humor. We laugh, but understand the dramatic undertones as well.

The late 60’s and early 70’s was a hot bed for new contemporary comedy dramas and The Graduate certainly holds up over time.

My First Foray into Luis Bunuel: “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”

This offering was presented to me after an astute lady referenced Bunuel in comparison to Bong Joon Ho. I had heard Bunuel’s name certainly, but not his work. Thus I went for his winner of the 1973 Best Foreign Film, “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”.

I like social and economic class satire (a recent book by Stephen Wright Processed Cheese was certainly a hoot) and thought Parasite was very thought provoking especially in its statement on space and housing. We know living in Sarasota that we have a disparity between multi-million dollar and multi home/condo owners and the homeless. Mixed in the middle are people living in the lower number streets and we middle classers sandwiched among what I’ll term, old, golden parachuters, along with the well kept widowed and divorced. types. Point being I’m always up for an undercover look.

Bunuel went further into the sociopolitical nature of wealth and mental health or lack thereof. What struck me most about the absurdist plot was the distractions faced by the three couples. The frenzied nature of dinner interruptions, coitus interruptus, and murder turned dream sequences had a prescient notion to our current technology laden distraction.

Besides that familiarity, and the old adage that wealth protects one from legal trouble, I did not feel this film was special or transcendent. Perhaps once I see his other nominated film The Obscure Object of Desire or Tristana, I will feel differently. Until then, adios and au revoir.

Over the Story Board Shuffle Limit: Little Women

I’m standing by my original review below, but do like the story of Little Women more now that I’ve learned some context. I didn’t grow up with reading this story and now understand the narrative is part of many family’s (especially New Englanders) tradition. Having said that though, the film lover in me still had problems.

Dear Greta,

I’m sorry I didn’t love “Little Women”, I wanted to, trust me.

I’ll be positive first: Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet should be in every movie you ever do. When they are on screen, I’m in hook, line and sinker.

Beyond them, though, your film was too bloated and yes, by that I mean probably the original was, too. Leave Chris Cooper (an acting God), Meryl as well, but ix nay all the others. And come on, you’ve been an innovator before and The Favourite should have given you courage that old stories can be modernized. The cloying speech of the 1800’s just sounds silly coming out of Laura Dern’s mouth.

The flashbacks were way too numerous and you needn’t bother showing us someone almost dying if you’ve already showed us later times when the character survived. I also don’t need to see schmaltzy dance and play scenes that are self-congratulatory in a look how cute we all are.

The biggest sin was a pivotal scene near the end between Saoirse and Timothee, when the camera could not sit still on Timothee. What’s up with that? The bouncing stole some of the crucial and worthy emotion Mr. Chalamet does so well.

And everyone loooved the ending. Oh really? So we want women to sell out and marry which is exactly what Jo was against?

I enjoyed and appreciated Jo’s argument of needing to be loved more than feeling love, but I guess as soon as her intellectual equal came back to town, she found her heart. Ironically, I cancelled a second date due to being easily spooked combined with men in their enthusiasm who overly complicate or use high pressure sales.

Oh how I yearn for the oxymoron, a complex man who doesn’t need to say too much. The cherry on top of a frustrating film and my disappointing date dissolution (I was as disappointed in myself as I was at him) was the phone ringing and for me to find one of the men for whom I have the utmost regard (unfortunately he’s married and states away). Even with those obstacles, my fun conversation with him made my afternoon. I almost felt like Saoirse when Louis Garrel knocks on the door.

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.