Paterson (dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2016). Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver and closet poet in Paterson, New Jersey. He wakes, eats breakfast, thinks out poems while walking to work, writes in a notebook before beginning his route, and attends to the conversation of his passengers and the sights on the streets (the city teems with twins). At night Paterson walks his dog Marvin and stops at a bar for a beer. Paterson’s wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) designs cupcakes in black and white and aspires to Nashville stardom. The film moves through a week in their lives, with everyday realities altered by a moment of triumph, a moment of crisis, and a new start.
One problem: Paterson is, at least for me, a cipher. We learn nothing of what led him to read the writers whose books crowd his desk or to write such poems as “Love Poem,” whose playful charm seems at odds with Paterson’s blank demeanor. (Like Paterson’s other poems, it’s by Ron Padgett.) A second problem: relying on reaction shots from a dog for comic effect, no matter how endearing and photogenic the dog, is a losing proposition. But I like the film’s presentation of the dignity of everyday work, and of poetry as an everyday activity, even if the poet’s work has been simplified. (Does Paterson ever have to rethink a line break?) What I liked most was the chance to move about a city (like the Dr. Paterson of Willam Carlos Williams’s epic Paterson), seeing streets and stores and people. An especially nice touch: the hall of fame in the bar, with pictures of Lou Costello, Sam and Dave, Kathryn Dwyer Sullivan, Uncle Floyd, Williams, and other local heroes.
Horace Parlan by Horace Parlan (dir. Don McGlynn, 2000). A portrait of the jazz pianist (1931–2017), playing and talking, with attention to his childhood (polio affected his right side), his determination to play the piano despite a disability, his association with Charles Mingus and Blue Note, his life as an expatriate in Denmark, and his marriage. Parlan’s joy in making music is a powerful solace in these times, or in any times.
Un peu de festival du Jacques Demy
The Young Girls Turn 25 (dir. Agnès Varda, 1993). A sweetbitter return to Rochefort by the creators and cast of The Young Girls of Rochefort (dir. Jacques Demy, 1967). Demy, Varda’s husband, is gone (d. 1990), as is Françoise Dorléac, who was killed in a car accident in 1967, just months after the film’s release. Gene Kelly is, for whatever reasons, not present. Catherine Deneuve, Dorléac’s sister, is a model of courage and grace as she revisits the scenes of the film. What’s most delightful: seeing some of the film’s Rocherfort children twenty-five years later. Imagine: having had Gene Kelly choose you as a kid to dance with.
Donkey Skin (1970). A Cinderella story with a strong element of incestuous desire, from a fairy tale by Charles Perrault. A widowed king (Jean Marais) is determined to marry his daughter (Catherine Deneuve). She flees and finds a new life as Donkey Skin, a lowly rustic. And then a charming prince (Jacques Perrin) comes her way. While working on Donkey Skin, Demy remarked that with The Young Girls of Rochefort he had gone “too far” in an “unrealistic direction.” Was Donkey Skin a gesture toward greater realism? Was he joking? The Michel Legrand score is a plus, but this film is my least favorite of the five Demy films we’ve seen.
Un chambre en ville (1982). Demy in operatic territory: love and betrayal and death, all against the background of a workers’ strike in Nantes. Two scenes evoke Lola and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, but we’re a long way from earlier Demy films. Music by Michel Colombier.
Dishonored Lady (dir. Robert Stevenson, 1947). Hedy Lamarr is Madeleine Damien, art editor for Boulevard magazine. After years devoted to what the film calls “excitement” (sexual relationships with various men), she begins, to remake her life with a psychiatrist’s help (Morris Carnovsky). But the past intrudes. My favorite line, the psychiatrist to one of Madeleine’s suitors: “She told me to tell you if you inquired that she was busy growing a new soul, and would you please keep off the grass.” Bonus: an appearance by Natalie Schafer, best known as “Lovey” Howell from Gilligan’s Island. A YouTube find.
Genius (dir. Michael Grandage, 2016). The writer Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) and his editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth). A period piece in blue and brown and grey. Law’s Wolfe is a manic Southerner; Firth’s Perkins is a buttoned-up urbanite. There’s an element of the Odyssey or, better, Ulysses in the relationship: a son in search of a father, a father in search of a son. (Perkins has five children, all girls.) My favorite exchange: “Am I supposed to grow up like you?” “No, Tom, but you’re supposed to grow up.” The “literary” stuff in the film verges on unintentional comedy: F. Scott drinking, Zelda in a trance, Ernest fishing and getting ready for a trip: “Spain is where the action’s gonna be.”
Miles Ahead (dir. Don Cheadle, 2015). In 1979, when I was a grad student teaching freshman comp, I had a student who claimed to have delivered groceries to Miles Davis. It was the time of Davis’s withdrawal from music, and the story my student told — of a cadaverous recluse in a dark Upper West Side apartment — turned out to be accurate. This film draws upon that time in Davis’s life and many others. It’s a portrait of Davis (played by Cheadle) as an aging junkie, wandering through parts of his past — especially those involving Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), his ex-wife, who fled the marriage fearing for her life, and who now stares at him from album covers everywhere. But exploration of character and relationships is minimal: instead, we’re given an absurd (and fictional) caper for a plot, with a stolen tape, car chases, and Columbia Records execs being held at gunpoint — by none other than Davis and a would-be Rolling Stone writer who wants an interview. The film is at Netflix, so I watched. But listening to Miles Davis records would have been a better way to spend the time.
Saboteur (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1942). I always like watching Saboteur, my first Hitchcock film. It borrows from The 39 Steps (1935) and looks ahead to North by Northwest (1959): a good guy, mistaken for a bad guy, on the run, trying to stop the real bad guys before it’s too late. All three films are episodic: collections of great unrelated scenes. Here they include a truck ride, a ranch, a cabin, a circus caravan, a fancy party, and a showdown at the Statue of Liberty. There is also time for a love story to develop. Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane have the right stuff as naïfs in danger, so much so that the original casting choices, Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, seem to me unimaginable. Murray Alper has a great turn as the helpful truckdriver and self-proclaimed “nicotine addict.” The most disturbing thing about watching this movie in 2017: Hitchcock’s depiction of fascist sympathizers in every corner of American life.
Magnus (dir. Benjamin Ree, 2016). A portrait of the Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen looks like the hunky member of a boy band: it is only slightly surprising that his chess success has led to opportunities in modeling. He is sometimes affable, sometimes cranky, often abstracted, most at ease with his parents and sisters. His mind, as he acknowledges, is always working on chess. The story of Carlsen’s 2013 match against then-champion Viswanathan Anand is gripping — at least for someone who, like me, hasn’t been following chess. The film casts this match as a battle of Carlsen’s intuituive genius against Anand’s computer-assisted preparation. It’s not quite an accurate picture, and a short clip in the closing credits makes clear that there’s plenty of study behind Carlsen’s play: presented with random positions on a chessboard, Carlsen is able to name their games: Fischer–Taimanov, Vancouver 1971, and so on. The subtitles for this film (which is mostly in English) are poor: they leave out whatever Norwegian seems beyond the translator’s ability, and they’re filled with awkward phrasing and misspellings (like Fisher for Fischer). What’s really missing from this documentary though is chess itself: we see nothing of what transpires on the board. When a crucial move gets made, there is no position, no context, to help the viewer understand it.
Lady Gangster (dir. Florian Roberts, 1942). Faye Emerson plays a role in a bank heist (literally) and goes to prison. The men involved go free. A radio personality steps in to help. Most of the film is women-in-prison, with prison resembling a gossip-filled high school. Emerson is the chic new girl. Dorothy Adams plays the ultra-creepy Deaf Annie, who has it in for the new girl. With a gangster in drag and one Jackie C. Gleason in a small part. Another YouTube find.
The Prowler (dir. Joseph Losey, 1951). Webb Garwood (Van Heflin) is a police officer and, I daresay, a psychopath. To say that is to give nothing away: from the first minutes of this film it’s clear that something about him is deeply off. After responding to a call about a prowler (a voyeur, really), Webb begins an affair with the caller, Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes), a married woman who spends her nights listening to her husband’s radio show. Soon enough, Webb too is listening, as he seduces Susan and smokes her husband’s cigarettes. The relationship then moves into very dark territory. A YouTube find. Dalton Trumbo was an uncredited screenwriter. And did you know that “police officer” is a favorite career choice of psychopaths?
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen films : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve : Still another twelve : Oh wait, twelve more : Twelve or thirteen more : Nine, ten, eleven — and that makes twelve : Another twelve : And twelve more
Monday, March 13, 2017
By Michael Leddy at 7:38 AM