Filmmaker Neal Hutcheson will be at Malaprop’s this Saturday at 7 p.m. to present a bit of his Emmy-nominated documentary about the late moonshiner Popcorn Sutton. He will talk about the making of the film and the making of moonshine. DVDs will be for sale for $22. The event is free to attend.
If it weren’t for the Fine Arts bringing in Anvil! The Story of Anvil and the Carolina Asheville opening Easy Virtue, this week at the movies would look pretty negligible—much like last week with the ho-hummery of Imagine That and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. The Proposal, a predictable-looking rom-com with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, and Jack Black and Michael Cera as inept cavemen in Year One aren’t exactly likely to set the moviegoing world a-flutter. Ah, but it’s merely a bit of breathing room while the next big thing lurks in the shadows. Enjoy it while you can. Next week promises—or threatens—a different picture altogether.
Yes, this week is obviously designed to instill a false sense of security while Michael Bay and his Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen CGI robots wait in the wings, ready to steamroll their way into a reported 147 minutes of property destruction. Reports have it that there are folks out there actually looking forward to this. One Web site even remarked that the Bay behemoth “can’t get here soon enough.” Me? I think I’m going to hide in Pittsburgh at the Monster Bash and spend the weekend convincing myself that I really don’t need that one-sheet from Scared to Death (1947) that I’ve resisted for three years now.
So take this less frenetic weekend to see something a little more thoughtful, a little more cerebral, a little more human than nonstop explosions and robot-on-robot mayhem. And if you insist on something as loud, there’re always the songs in Anvil! to fill that need.
In the realm of the DVD
Ever wonder what all that rapidly evolving technology is really for? Wonder no more! It’s obviously all been leading to the Blu-ray “Extended Killer Cut” of the latest Friday the 13th picture, promising nine—count ‘em—nine extra minutes of carnage. Haven’t taken the Blu-ray leap yet? Well, you can also get the film on a plain old DVD, but only one version at a time. With the Blu-ray you get both the theatrical and the extended versions for one price. Such a bargain!
OK, so you can also find Blu-ray releases of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964), but those don’t offer nine extra minutes of slicing and dicing and so may not represent quite the same bargain.
On the less technical cutting-edge front, there’s also Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail, a movie that might actually benefit from nine extra minutes of bloodshed. On a somewhat higher plane, we have the exquisite German movie Cherry Blossoms. If you missed it when it played theatrically in April—and most people unfortunately did—here’s a chance to catch it at home.
The real treat, however, is a little-known gem coming out as an “Essential Art House” title through Criterion, Henry Cass’ Last Holiday (1950) with Alec Guinness and Kay Walsh, which has never had a DVD release. Yes, this is indeed the source for the Queen Latifah picture of the same name from a few years ago. No, the films aren’t very much alike apart from the basic premise of a character wrongly diagnosed with a fatal disease going out to live life to the fullest while there’s still time. The original is from a screenplay by the great English writer J.B. Priestley (the only screenplay he ever wrote) and it’s completely wonderful. Not only does the film offer Guinness in one of his finest performances, but there’s the bonus of the great Ernest Thesiger at his queeny best as the man for whom the disease Guinness doesn’t really have was named. This is the goods!
And now that I’ve paused to order my own copy of Last Holiday, we can move on to TV.
Fox Movie Channel continues to run pretty much the same movies over and over again. It’s not like there’s nothing of note there. There are some good films, but they’re the same good films—and the same junk—that they’ve been running for some considerable time now. So once again, we’re left with Turner Classic Movies and their month of “Great Directors.”
Tony Richardson TCM, Wednesday, June 17, starting at 6 a.m.
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967), Ned Kelly (1970), Hamlet (1969), The Loved One (1965), Tom Jones (1963) and The Entertainer (1960)
Tony Richardson was one of the stranger figures of British film in that he started out as part of the kitchen-sink school of realism with films like The Entertainer (being shown in this set) before moving into the no-holds-barred stylization of Tom Jones (also being shown), which, despite its tendency to catch an authentic whiff of the dirt and grubbiness of its period setting, is about as far removed from traditional realism as you’re likely to get. What caused the change? Who knows? Perhaps Richardson found realism too limiting after a time, or perhaps the encroachment of the 1960s turning into what we think of as the 1960s just brightened his spirits. Whatever the case, Tom Jones put him—and to some extent British film—on the world stage with its cinematic trickery and unabashed bawdiness. It snagged a Best Picture Oscar and one for Richardson as Best Director, among other things.
As if in reaction to this kind of adulation, he came to America to make an incredibly British Hollywood film, The Loved One, which was promoted as “The motion picture with something to offend everyone!” They weren’t kidding. Evelyn Waugh’s 1948 novel satirized Hollywood and the Hollywood cemeteries and funeral practices. So did this film, but by the time Richardson and screenwriter Terry Southern were finished, its targets for satire were considerably broadened to encompass the world of 1965. Even today, Liberace as a screamingly gay coffin salesman, the grotesquely obese Mrs. Joyboy trapped under a refrigerator clutching a turkey and refusing assistance (she only wants the cranberry sauce), and a “heroine” who embalms herself (that bit is authentic to Waugh) are not without shock. A flop at the time, The Loved One may now be the movie for which Richardson is now best remembered. I suspect this would please him.
The film of Richardson’s that might be most ripe for rediscovery and re-evaluation, however, is The Charge of the Light Brigade. Anyone coming to this film expecting the imperialistic heroics of the old Errol Flynn movie was in for a shock in 1968 and still is. The year of the film is key to understanding it, since it’s very much a reaction to the Vietnam years. Brilliant, bitter and very stylish, it was much disliked at the time—whether because it was decked out in period trappings, or because it was such a confrontational slap in the face of the status quo is hard to say. Undoubtedly, the film would still offend some viewers, but there’s every chance that it might be Richardson’s true masterpiece—and I say that as a huge admirer of The Loved One.
Blake Edwards TCM, Friday, June 19, starting at 6 a.m.
He Laughed Last (1956), Experiment in Terror (1962), The Carey Treatment (1972), Victor/Victoria (1982), The Party (1968), A Shot in the Dark (1964) and The Pink Panther (1964)
Blake Edwards is not one of my favorite directors, but he signed enough important films over the years that his impact on film is undeniable—and he’s rarely less than interesting, even if that interest is, for me at least, often tinged with frustration to the point of being infuriated. The TCM selection is a little unusual in that it encompasses some of the standard titles—including two of the Peter Sellers Inspector Clouseau films—but also offers Edwards in the less appreciated capacity of a “serious” filmmaker.
If all you know Edwards for are his comedies, the very baroque 1962 noir-ish thriller Experiment in Terror is likely to be a surprise. For a change, Edwards’ penchant for joking-up everything he touches is not in evidence. Instead, we have a well-acted, very stylish movie that owes much to his TV work on the classic series Peter Gunn. It’s a taut story that’s nicely acted by Glenn Ford and Lee Remick, and features a truly creepy villain in the bargain. Watching it you wonder how much better Edwards could have been had he been a little—in come cases, a lot—more restrained.
To see just how Edwards can take a solid film and bitch it up by his tendency to throw in awkward slapstick, look no further than Victor/Victoria. Here we have a very stylish musical comedy about a gangster (James Garner) falling in love with a woman (Julie Andrews) who’s pretending to be a guy who performs in drag as a woman. The catch is that he thinks she is a man and has to tussle with his feelings. OK, the film is already compromised by a scene—supposedly insisted on by Garner—where the gangster learns the truth about “Victor” early on. This not only kills the sexual tension dead in its tracks, but it makes nonsense of the scene where he finally kisses her, saying, “I don’t care if you are a boy.” But Edwards can’t leave well enough alone.
This may well be his most beautiful-looking movie (Dick Bush’s cinematography is just plain gorgeous), but Edwards insists on dragging in not just large, extraneous doses of slapstick, but also a lame Inspector Clouseau clone to further degrade the proceedings. When the film is good, it’s very good indeed. When it goes off the rails, it’s hard not to want to slap Edwards, because it’s so obviously his fault.
Ernst Lubitsch TCM Tuesday, June 23, starting at 8 p.m.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Ninotchka (1939), The Merry Widow (1934), The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1926) and That Uncertain Feeling (1941)
Here’s where TCM and I have grounds for a serious argument. Ernst Lubitsch is not only one of the great directors, he’s in my top five favorite filmmakers of all time. So what’s my gripe? This selection of movies is appalling. Lubitsch’s greatest period is from 1929 through 1933—an era completely unrepresented here. Yes, Ninotchka and The Shop Around the Corner are highly regarded and popular. In fact, Ninotchka may be Lubitsch’s best-known film. And yes, they’re good movies, but they’re far from his best and they don’t show him at the height of his creative power.
Of course, it’s easy to see the rationale here—all these titles (except That Uncertain Feeling, which is in the public domain) are owned by Turner. Lubitsch’s great works for Paramount are all owned by Universal these days. Economically, this makes sense. Artistically, it’s considerably less pleasing. I’m not saying to skip the set. Ninotchka, though overrated, is an essential, and The Shop Around the Corner is a jewel. The comedy in The Merry Widow—the last Lubitsch-Maurice Chevalier-Jeanette MacDonald teaming—is good, even if the songs are frankly no great shakes. And try as they might, MGM just couldn’t match the sophisticated sheen of Paramount.
Watch the films (you can skip That Uncertain Feeling, the only Lubitsch picture I actually dislike), but then get out to a video store and rent Trouble in Paradise (1932), One Hour with You (1932) and Design for Living (1933) and see the heights to which Lubitsch could soar.
The other directors up this week for consideration are William Wellman, Jules Dassin, François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, Mervyn LeRoy, Vincente Minnelli, Edward Dmytryk, George Stevens and Otto Preminger.