A SPECIAL APPEARANCE

MOVIES ARE EVERYWHERE

ONE OF VIVIEN LEIGH’S MOST UNUSUAL APPEARANCES

Movies are everywhere, including good books.  In Graham Greene’s The Last Word, a collection of otherwise uncollected stories, he includes a piece called “Work Not in Progress.”  It purports to be a sketch for a never-completed, never-performed musical comedy called My Girl in Gaiters.  The story line concerns the kidnapping of a whole convocation of Anglican cardinals by a gang of London thugs.  The motive is theft.  The cardinals, in their underwear, are locked in a church building basement.  “The twelve thugs are led by a woman who is the brains of the gang (and the only woman in the cast).  When I have had an extra glass of champagne I dream that she is played by Vivien Leigh.”

The sketch even includes lyrics for some songs.

Graham Greene, The Last Word and other stories.  Reinhardt Books, 1990.

NEXT FRIDAY POST May 5

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

SHORT TAKE ON LONG TALK

STEVE JOBS l     Danny Boyle     2015

Take it from a viewer uninterested in automation or personal computers and their history:  This is a mesmerizing film.  It is long on talk.  Apparently we’re into a contest of who can talk the most and talk the fastest.  Warner films of the 30 and 40s are lost in the dust.  But the silences are breathtaking; the film remains a visual experience; and the editing is a major achievement (Margaret Sixel).  Michael Fassbender, who gave us his all in Shame and continues to do so at all the levels an actor can reach,  is showy, electric, and profound.  Kate Winslet is his dazzling match, and they work remarkably well together.  A few too many arty transitions and an unnecessarily playful camera around Seth Rogin and Jeff Daniels (whose performances don’t need it) cannot spoil this bewitching brew.

Northeast Ohio:  REMEMBER THE CANTON FILM FEST continuing today and tomorrow at the Palace Theatre in Canton, OH.  For more information and a schedule of showings:

http://www.cantonfilm.com

MOVIES ARE EVERYWHERE

Milly and Conder are on their way to a private conversation and are caught in traffic in downtown London:  “In Regent Street there was a traffic block for half a mile.  Looking back they could see the line of buses stretching to Oxford Circus.  There was a crowd on the pavement, and a scarlet cloth was being laid down outside a cinema…

“‘Business at a standstill,’ said Conder.  Mounted police backed their horses at the edge of the pavement, keeping the road clear.  ‘If you wanted to buy something, you couldn’t.  If you wanted to meet a man on business, you couldn’t.  We’ll be sitting here now for a quarter of an hour.  Patience,’ Conder said.  You’ve got to be patient.  The Queen’s going to a talkie.'”  (Graham Greene, It’s a Battlefield, Heinemann, 1934.)

NEXT FRIDAY POST April 29
Until then,
See you at the pictures,
Rick

 

OUT OF AFRICA BY WAY OF NEW YORK

Rick’s Journal  —  MY FILMCAREER

Restless City
Andrew Dosunmu
2011

John Anderson, discussing this director’s film Mother of George in the New York Times, describes Dosunmu’s framing as “unorthodox.”  I have not seen Mother of George, but in his earlier film Restless City the framing  seems to me arty or careless.  And I don’t know what Nicholas Rapold (also NYT) means by “elegant, wide-screen compositions.”   Here Dosunmu and Bradford Young, photographer, are so in love with the close-up that we regularly get faces without eyes, only part of a nose, or a mouth missing the lower lip.  Close-ups have been in trouble, of course, since the first film in CinemaScope, and today’s conventional wide screen is totally unsuitable for what Dosunmu apparently seeks to do with faces.  He also favors long corridors with lots of perspective and focused or out-of-focus geometric lines , especially the outlines of windows and doorways.  I have to wonder if I am failing to grasp his framing intentions  —  as, for years, I misunderstood Godard’s.

Djibril, the young African immigrant living in New York who is our center of interest,  tells us that music is his passion, but we never see any evidence of that.  His real devotion is to his white helmet and his scooter.  Sy Alassane as Djibril has a remarkable face but it shows us little as the director keeps his emotions at a distance from us.  Sky Grey as Trini gives so total a picture of a woman bored that she is boring.  She cannot even sound interested or interesting when she asks, “Do you want to fuck?”  I again ask myself if I am being dense.  Is this the point?

As friend Sisi, Danai Gurira gives the best performance, and from very limited written resources.

Given how removed we stay from all the characters, the devastating ending is surprisingly effective.

I see all the vivid color that other reviewers note, but I do not understand what it expresses.  I feel lacking in knowledge of the civilization and culture from which Dosunmu and his characters spring.  I may have misread him and those characters and the effect on them of a transplanted life in New York.

Readers please respond.

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MOVIES ARE EVERYWHERE

Movies are everywhere, especially in good books.

FROM Graham Greene’s Dr. Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party

(Jones and his wife are wondering which of their friends have souls.
They get to Richard Deane, internationally famous film star and
hopeless alcoholic.)

“Richard Deane?””No. Definitely not. No
soul. I’m told he has copies of all his old films and he plays them
over every night to himself. He has no time even to read the books
of the films. He’s satisfied with himself. If you have a soul you
can’t be satisfied.”

Jones’ wife has died, and he has failed to kill himself. A half pint
of whiskey at one swallow has not done the job. What next?  “After work I didn’t
kill myself but went to the first cinema on the way home and sat for
an hour before a soft porn film.”  (Simon & Schuster, 1980)

NEXT FRIDAY POST April 24
Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

 

READERS’ FAVORITE FILMS

Rick’s Flicks has received favorite films lists from two more readers.

From Howard Morris

Top Hat
The Wizard of Oz
Casablanca
The Music Man
Lawrence of Arabia
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Days of Heaven
Witness
Amélie

Howard Morris lists nine films only. He is at work on selecting from among several choices for his number ten spot.

From Corinna Nelson

Singin’ in the Rain
The Pianist
My Left Foot
The Fast Runner
Trainspotting
The Hunger Games
The Sound of Music
Time of the Gypsies
The Year of Living Dangerously
Cabaret

A musical heads both of these lists.  But Top Hat is where it is because of  chronological order.  Singin’ in the Rain IS Nelson’s favorite film.  Each of the lists includes three musicals.  (This is counting The Wizard of Oz as a musical.)  (It is at least a musical.)  These are lists of relatively recent films in that they are largely from the last half of cinema’s life.  As I work on my own list I find that it leans heavily to films I saw while growing up.  Three of mine are among the first films I saw.

Note that Morris’ list contains two films by Peter Weir.

So, readers:  Reactions to these favorites lists of of Morris and Nelson?  Anyone else have a list for us?  Are you working on a list?

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MOVIES ARE EVERYWHERE

In The Lawless Roads Graham Greene is in Mexico in 1938, in Chiapas,the southernmost state.  In the political climate of the time, as a gringo he is a target of daily hostile stares and ugly remarks.  But he goes to the spring fair in the city of Las Casas, and part of the evening program is a movie.  “…and at last the great film, specially brought to Las Casas for the Spring Fair:  Warner Baxter and Alice Faye in a faded backstage musical.  Incomprehensible situations passed across a flickery screen, the lights of Broadway, complicated renunciations.  They become more fantastic than ever translated into Spanish.  The audience sat in silence; they never laughed once…Alice Faye’s fair and unformed face in enormous detail weeping enormous tears; her man had failed, taken to drink, while she was featured over Broadway in neon signs and wept for lost love. This was a stigmata they couldn’t understand, but I was grateful for the darkness and the torch songs, away from unfriendly eyes.”  Graham Greene, The Lawless Roads, London, Heinemann, 1939.)

Graham Greene’s immortal Scobie in The Heart of the Matter is in Sierra Leone in the house of the District Commissioner and his wife who are receiving the victims of a torpedoed ship.  “Mrs Perrot turned the knob of the radio and the organ of the Orpheum Cinema, Clapham, sailed to them over three thousand miles.”  (Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter, New York, Viking, 1948.)

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REMINDER

ReelMassillon at the Lincoln Theatre, Massillon, OH

If you are within traveling distance of Massillon, don’t miss Claude Lanzmann’s The Last of the Unjust at 7:00 P.M., May 30.  Presented by Kurtiss Hare of Akron Film + Pixel.

NEXT FRIDAY POST May 3O

See you at the movies,
Rick

WYLER TO GODARD

QUOTATION TO PONDER, from William Wyler:  “Someone should be on fire about any picture made, or it shouldn’t be made.  If somebody doesn’t feel that certain thing, the miracle never happens.  The trouble with Hollywood is that too many of the top people are too comfortable and don’t give a damn about what goes up on the screen so long as it gets by at the box office. How can you expect people with that kind of attitude to make the pictures the world will want to see?”  —  Of course,Wyler was not speaking about today’s Hollywood.  Or was he?  Is he?  Is there a today’s Hollywood?  (The quotation is in Five Came Back by Mark Harris, citing Pryor, William Wyler and His Screen Philosophy).

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Alphaville
written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard
1965

“What transforms darkness into light?”
La poésie.”

I cannot say much of value about this film that has not already been better said by others.

Dilys Powell (quoted in Halliwell):  “…the more disturbing for being so near the recognizable normal.”

VARIETY MOVIE GUIDE 1996:  “…choosing grubby, large tourist hotels as well as canny use of many modern buildings.  This builds up a sort of no-man’s-land between totalitarian drabness and super-modern garishness.”  (All the Variety review is enlightening.  Derek Elley, Variety Movie Guide ’96.  Variety, 1995.)

Andrew Sarris:  ”   a computer-controlled society at war with artists, thinkers, and lovers.:  “…science fiction without special effects.”  “You don’t have to be French to enjoy Alphaville.  But you have to love movies with high-minded seriousness.”  (The Sarris quotes are from a four-page booklet included with the Criterion disc.)

The camera achieves a suitably stark black and white.  Despite Alphaville‘s quiet and simplicity (or because of it?), it moves with a driving pace.  The subtleties Karina brings to her near-robotic role are impressive.  Akim Tamiroff is excellent in his one sequence.

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MOVIES ARE EVERYWHERE, especially in good books:  Graham Greene in The Lawless Roads, describing a group of men at a cock-fight in Mexico:  “…they had plump mild operatic faces; they might have come out of a Hollywood musical starring John Boles.”  ( The Lawless Roads, first published in Great Britain in 1939 by Heinemann.

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IN AKRON or near Akron ?  At the Akron Art Museum this next Sunday, the 23rd, Akron Film + Pixel and the Museum are presenting SPARK!  —  offering a selection of shorts from the New York International Film Festival and the animated feature Ernest & Celestine (12;30 – 4:00, the feature at 2:30).  At 7:00 P.M. in the same location AF + P is screening Rithy Pahn’s The Missing Picture.

NEXT POST FRIDAY MARCH 28.

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

VIVIEN LEIGH, EARLY AND LATER

RICK’S JOURNAL (My Film Career)

I became interested in Ashley Duke’s book A World to Play With (see last post, December 14) because of his association with Vivien Leigh.   I went to the book assuming that he would write about her appearance in his play The Mask of Virtue (his adaptation of a German play by Carl Sternheim).  I found A World to Play With to be collection of essays published before Dukes met Vivien Leigh.  As evidenced in my last blog, I found the book provocative even though it does not discuss the most fabulous of all actresses.

Despite what she herself described as  her limited range at the time, Vivien Leigh was, literally, an overnight success in Dukes’ The Mask of  Virtue.  Critics with reservations about the performance observed her promise, and everyone saw her grace and beauty.  Something she felt she learned from other cast members and from her critical notices was that her voice needed serious improvement.  She would set to work on this more in earnest a few years down the road, but she began on her problem at once during the short run of the play.  You might note the very high pitch in which she yells for Prissy as she dashes back inside Aunt Pitty’s after stopping the Confederate officer on horseback during the siege sequence in Gone with the Wind.  Years later audiences in London would be stunned by her first lines from the stage in Anouilh’s Antigone, following a lot of hard work on timbre and projection.  This new richness was evident in her stage performances as Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire.  Filmgoers can hear these deeper tones in the Streetcar film and then the mellow richness in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and  —  even from her fading small frame  —  in the final Ship of Fools.

Vivien Leigh’s Anna         In a New York Times article called “Degrees of Infidelity to Tolstoy’s Heroine” (November 4, 2012), Terrence Rafferty, comparing screen versions of Anna K before the current release, finds the 1948 Duvivier film with Vivien Leigh the “strongest” of the earlier versions.  I find this a happy surprise since the picture has never been held in much esteem, and it has never been considred one of Vivien Leigh’s best performances (my collaborator BKG:  “But what a bar!”).  Rafferty also surprises me with his dismissal of the popular 1935 Clarence Brown/Greta Garbo effort in which he feels that Garbo was directed more as clothes horse than character.

MOVIES ARE EVERYWHERE:  The narrator and anti-hero of Graham Greene’s novel The Comedians owns and manages a hotel called the Trianon in Haiti.  One accomodation in the hotel is called the John Barrymore suite.  “There was a large photograph of John Barrymore on the wall looking down his nose with more than his usual phoney aristocratic disdain.”

NEXT POST Friday January 4

Until then, see you at the movies.
Sincere-leigh,
Rick