Thursday, October 17, 2013

one shots (10/18/13)

Given that I've done this a few times, it's probably worth saying here that I do these one sentence reviews partly as a stylistic exercise, to see how much I can pack in without destroying the sentence as a grammatical unit. Sometimes the exercise comes off and flows well enough, and sometimes it's an ungainly, reader-inconveniencing mess. Hopefully the below skews more towards the former.

The only British film of the '70s to be directed by a woman, Jane Arden's The Other Side of the Underneath (1972) is likely the most accurate depiction of a schizoid mindstate in cinema history, and as such is a valuable, sui generis document, even if much of it is extremely hard to take, an assault of jolting cuts, unnerving fish-eye imagery, some of the scariest sounds in existence, and long (some argue misguided and ethically dubious) scenes where the actors from Arden's Holocaust theater group, in the throes of clearly quite heavy LSD experiences, weep and ramble incoherently (at Arden's on-camera urging) about mommy and daddy and "archetypal oppression," the claustrophobia leavened slightly in the back half by a pastoral interlude at a Welsh gypsy commune before the screeching strings and blood- and nudity-intensive performance art setpieces ramp up again, all of which adds up to both a miasmatic jumble that confounds any dichotomy you might try to plug it into (fiction or documentary, success or failure, exploitation or liberation) and a significant cinematic outgrowth of second-wave feminism and the anti-psychiatry movement, though finally too grotesque and intractable to serve as a particularly good ambassador for either.

There was an assumption on the part of many, including myself, that when Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret (2011) was released on Blu-Ray/DVD last year, the extended cut included in the package would prove wholly superior to the truncated theatrical cut, and while for the first half of its 3 hours that looks to be the case--in that several wonderful sequences cut from the theatrical version are left where they belong, and the themes at play are given more time to breathe and develop--eventually certain formal decisions Lonergan makes start to chafe a little, like his promising experimentation with irrelevant background chatter on the soundtrack, which doesn't have another knockout scene in which to realize itself after the incredible cafe scene in the first half, and so is just distractingly there, ditto the long cityscape shots, which have contrapuntal purpose but drag unnecessarily, and the alternate edit of the operahouse finale, which adds another intriguing layer by focusing more on the performers onstage, but in the process diffuses the scene's overall emotional impact; nonetheless, in any version, Margaret is one of the most extraordinary movies ever made about several of the many, many things it is about: city living; adolescence as a state in itself as well as in relationship to adulthood; the atmosphere of post-9/11 NYC; and a tough fact of human subjectivity which pro forma three-act screenwriting tends to deny or obscure, namely that everyone who's right on one hand is probably wrong on the other, and while it might sometimes appear otherwise to us, the wider world doesn't much care either way; the world's only business is spinning, and all else is opera.

I had a degree of trepidation going into Howard Hawks's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), since from the title to the iconography from it that has infiltrated pop culture, I was expecting a heavy dose of dated gender politics in addition to the expected Hawks charms, but I should have known better, as the movie actually presents a world in which men are gullible fools (with one exception), and its two protagonists are another strong-willed, witty Hawks woman (Jane Russell, who gets one subversive musical number, "Aint' There Anyone Here For Love," in which Hawks essentially assumes the female gaze) and a woman whose dimbulb blonde routine belies genius-level situational intelligence (Marilyn Monroe, a much better actress than she's sometimes given credit for), their complicated and thoroughly plausible friendship the source of much of the movie's sneaky depth (one definitely sees where Jacques Rivette found Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) in here--the movies thrum with the same estrogenic energy, and undercut their male characters in much the same way), though how 'bout those expected Hawks charms: he shoots in impossibly yummy three-strip Technicolor; pulls off the segues into and out of musical numbers with exquisite timing and elegance; gets away with all manner of naughty innuendo and implication; and lets even ostensibly one-joke characters give hints of an inner life (exhibit A: Henry Spofford III, pictured).

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