I've always been drawn to art that explores the fragility of the human psyche. Especially the kind that begs you to look at yourself in the mirror & wonder what you're capable of if pushed to extremes. No one pushes you further than your own self. Robert Altman confronts us with mental illness in his film Images - a masterful psychological thriller about an intelligent woman who's painfully self-aware as she's coming apart. Altman uses cutaways & editing to envelope you into her delusions. Generally, Altman's style doesn't work. It's chaotic & heavy-handed. But disorganization works well in serving a story about a schitzo. John Williams's score coupled with usual sound design by Stomu Yamashta assist in painting her nightmare. Being someone that fears mental illness, this film touches a nerve with me. True horror at its best. A+
Throughout his entire career, Altman had a nose for great stories & an ear for great sound design. But what I've always felt is that he didn't have a great eye for images (no pun), which is a grave misfortune for a moviemaker. I've felt this so much so, that I'd often wished that his films - my favorites of his in particular - had been made by someone else. Images helped me to realize - perhaps something I'd known all along - that my feelings were not entirely correct. He does, in fact, have a eye for startling static compositions; it's simply, maybe even solely, when the camera (or, more accurately in his case, the lens) is in motion that I tune out. Often noted & even praised for his aimless pans & loose zooms, I find those moments to be the blank bits of wall between paintings in a museum. Also noted & praised for attempting to tackle every possible genre (maybe even inventing some new ones along the way), I've always found he approached each one in exactly the same way, with the same aesthetic. All of that being said, Images is part of the small handful out of his thirty-plus years of work where his voyeuristic peeking & rigid directing-of-the-eye serves the story, rather than takes away from it. It's a Hitchy psychological thriller dealing with disorientation & personality crisis in the visual form of autoscopy; being removed from oneself. I'm glad Altman directed it. B
No 1970s movie marathon is complete without the political thriller. Or without Warren Beatty. Thanks to Alan Pakula for condensing these for us. The Parallax View is everything you would expect it to be. This is usually considered a positive statement in reviews, especially amongst modern film critics, but it's just nicer way of saying formulaic. If you're going to tackle a tired genre, show your audience something they've never seen before. Take risks. A few edgy dolly shots is not going to hold my interest any more than a dog taking a shit with its leg lifted. A mild forgotten amusement. Part of our job as artists is to be constantly challenging ourselves to move outside the box. This does not. B-
One of the countlessly fascinating things about film in the 1970s was that, while the indies were taking over, mainstream Hollywood 'fluff' emerged in its own rebirth & managed to buoy as sharp entertainment. & the two genres that seemed to dominate were the disaster movie & the political thriller. (As an interesting side note, the 1990s would mirror this entire scenario exactly). The reason these otherwise mundane genres were able to sustain this sharpness is attributed to what seemed to be a unanimous technical craft. The Parallax View is incredibly straightforward as a movie-movie. It's rigidly simplistic (as opposed to refreshingly simple) in all aspects except the visual end - which is 97% of any movie. Pakula treats this particular piece of 'fluff' like a lead weight & creates a visual tension with wide angles, long lenses, & angular compositions in a world of flat, boxy architecture. He exhilarates when & where the movie itself does not. B-
We need a dick statue. Actually, we would happily accept any of the art from A Clockwork Orange. Though I think the only way we'll be seeing that around is if I paper mache it or we win the lotto. I've always been very drawn to sexually confrontational art. Unfortunately, art of an erotic or sensual nature is usually very tasteful or comedic, like a Tony Scott sex scene. Everything is very blue. Now I'm digressing. The first time I saw this film I think I came in my pants. Forgive my lack of sophistication, but to describe this film as a 'powerhouse of american cinema' seems like a lackluster understatement. With each viewing, which I separate by several years at a time, I sit very close to the TV, turn off all of the lights, & absorb one of the greatest works of art ever created. & as always, drool over the art within the art. Art within art, how very existential of you, Stanley. A+
There are some movies that, while you're watching them, or immediately after you've watched them & it's still fresh in your mind, seem to dwarf & belittle all other cinema. Then there are some movies - very few - that actually seem to trivialize everything else in life. A Clockwork Orange does this for me.
While it's not my favorite film, it is my favorite film by my favorite filmmaker. All other Kubrick films feel like heavy, deliberately-paced symphonies to me, while Clockwork is a shameless, synth-pop song - it's a loud, abrasive comedy, even more so than Strangelove. One of my favorite things about Kubrick (& that's a long-ass list) is his sense of humor - which was always predominantly satirical. This, among a countless number of other things, is the best example of that. A+
Woody Allen lies near the top of a very short list of my all-time favorite screenwriters. The writer part of Woody is a true soulmate, but he's always been a little flat as a director. Having Herbert Ross direct the film version of his play, Play It Again, Sam, robbed me of my standard bitter staginess after taste. The film was a beautiful reconnection with an old love & gave me just what I need -- a good conversation complete with belly laugh. So rarely do I see romances about intelligent people falling in love. It's usually Jennifer Aniston & some younger faggot in search of her adopted dead pet with Jonah Hill as the priest. & it's this garbage that breeders wanna see to reaffirm their own shallow lifeless relationships. I'm grateful to Woody Allen for always succeeding in articulating the excitement & complications of true love with such eloquence. Hundred list worthy. A+
To be funny with the camera is a tricky thing. Comedy generally lies in the writing & the performances, but to "direct funny" seems like an abstract thing. Though, once upon a time, Woody was able to do that to some degree - actually using the frame to tell jokes beyond the physicality & the dialogue. But, alas, his strengths never really lied in his directing abilities (with the exception of Interiors), so we'll just say it's "okay" that my favorite Woody movie is Play it Again, Sam, even though the title of director goes to Herbert Ross.
The film is based upon Woody's play of the same name. So, for a guy who's made a film nearly every year for nearly forty years, one gets the sense of nurture with this film; he spent more time with this story & this character than any of the stories or characters that followed. & while most may argue that all those stories & characters are pretty similar to one another, I personally draw a straight line from this movie to Annie Hall - the one most consider to be his masterpiece. I've always found Annie Hall to be Play it Again-Lite - the slightly intellectualized version. Not that it's nearly as silly as Bananas or Love & Death -- for me, Play it Again has always been the perfect balance - right where he needed to be. A+
Character studies are generally boring when you're struck with a one-dimensional loser for two hours. It's even more tedious when the secondary & almost always more interesting character is only given the laundry to do. Granted, I could watch Theresa Russell do laundry for hours, but I'm sure that woman can do much more with her hands. Straight Time does have a few things going for it, one of those being Dustin Hoffman, who in my opinion is one of film's greatest chameleons. Hoffman succeeds in making it tolerable to watch the natural progression & decline of your run-of-the-mill criminal. This results in a refreshing & somewhat atypical conclusion. Take the stupid watch & come home to me, baby. C+
The life & world of the thief is often glamorized - & by "often," I mean nearly always. & by "glamorized," I speak in terms of the dimmed glitz & excitement of the lifestyle, and/or the filmmaking style (usually one or the other, sometimes both). Straight Time paints a very stoic, believable picture of disorganized crime. It's truly relatable in that the characters are 9 to 5ers who simply want or need some extra money, & that they don't need to be an expert marksman, computer hacker, or trained ninja to go out & get it. They just need guts & a decent gun.
Ask me one day who my favorite actor is & there's usually a good chance 'll say Dustin Hoffman - a performer whose intensity could leave the likes of James Cagney & Daniel Day Lewis slapping their own respective faces in awe. Straight Time allows Dustin to direct that stern seriousness into a bit of a baddie - he's a tough guy - something I think I'd always longed for & never really got. He's done villains & outlandish caricatures, but never really the brooding, desperate loner he gives us in this picture. A-
It's genuinely painful & perplexing when the most talented artists that are still living seldom work - especially the ones you idolize & find inspiration in. My most beloved filmmakers are the 'jack-of-all-trades' or auteurs. Performance sinks of Nicolas Roeg's sweat & I wanna roll around in it. Watching this film is a spiritual experience in its craft & storytelling delivering a love letter to its time with one of the 1970s greatest iconic symbols in a leading role. From the first scene the film is stroking you with its rich & disorienting editing & photography that never lapses, leading you to one of the greatest climaxes of your life. So grab some tissues & turn up your TV because you're in for an explosion of the senses. A+
People like to throw around "dated" like it's a curse word. & maybe it is - maybe art should have no relevance to past, present, or future. Though, I think when people use it, it's born out of an insistence that all things must retain relevance to the present - something I find to be a sickening redundancy.
Something I've always found fascinating are films released upon the turn of a decade, because despite quality, genre, nationality, & any other particulars you can think of, the film, whatever it may be, encapsulates the ten years leading up to it, and the ten years to follow. Performance, released in 1970 (though produced in '68, which does tend to blur the lines a bit further) reaches back & grabs toppings & ingredients from French New Wave & Italian Neorealism, uses the current "relevant" incorporation of rock n' roll & experimental cinematography, & acts as a jumping-off point for the abstract narrative. Past. Present. Future. It's the American gangster picture, filtered through the French gangster picture. Who wouldn't like that? B+
Though well shot in places, Vanishing Point severely lacks in story structure & character development with each scene more superficial & contrived than its last. You're left with a vague sense of its era rather than being able to observe it as a relic that it most certainly aimed at attempting to be. A film about a personally flaccid & smarmy ex-everything stereotypical whose scenes of righteousness are belabored. A boring addition to the anti-hero epic where the only thing going for it are the breathtaking scenic shots that make me angry to be a New Englander in the middle of winter. What more can you say about a film about some asshole & a car? C-
The reason Easy Rider was such an "important film" was that it acted as a smooth segue from the poor & mediocre biker/drag race subgenre into a more artistic abstraction; paving the desert roads for films like Vanishing Point - a picture far less preachy than Easy Rider, & far less plot-heavy than films like Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry & White Lighting. These qualities make it superior in some ways - specifically & primarily in that abstraction; what little exposition there is is told with images, not spoken words, resulting in the hottest car porn I've ever seen, & starring the sexiest porn star there is: the Dodge Challenger. & like any porno, it leads you down this road for so long & so often, any time some 'plot crap' rears its head, you start to tune out. Skimming the milk a bit would have resulted in full-blown eye candy from start to finish. And to reflect the nature of the genre, it almost makes it... B+
In our first installment of the Bennett Media Movie Marathon, 7Roulette, we'll be watching seven films from the all-too-self-important decade of the 1970s. Beginning February 14th, we'll view one movie a night & share our own respective thoughts here on the site.
We invite you to actively join in & watch along with us (if you have the means). Be sure to visit us on Facebook & share your sentiments for the duration.
- February 14th Vanishing Point (1971)
- February 15th Performance (1970)
- February 16th Straight Time (1978)
- February 17th Play it Again, Sam (1972)
- February 18th A Clockwork Orange (1971)
- February 19th The Parallax View (1974)
- February 20th Images (1972)