Sunday, April 19, 2009

Give Me Five

Recently, I asked Bard Cole, one of the contributors to LIFE AS WE SHOW IT: WRITING ON FILM (City Lights, June 2009), to talk about the last five movies he watched, interested to see what his observations would be. So much of the anthology is about exploring the way each individual engages uniquely with the screen, unlocking networks of personal memory and perception through the keyhole of someone else's imagination. There's a universe there in each film. So which planet is Bard on? I leave it to you:

1. Tell No One

A good old fashioned complicated paranoid thriller, a contemporary French Hitchcock story. The best thing was how it managed to maintain a familiar, down-to-earth sense of normal people doing the normal things of life, including having jobs and stuff, while weird and sometimes frightening, violent, and surprising things happened. It was an action plot without an action hero. I also enjoy being the person who can figure out twists and few movies are actually challenging in this department. I also like the way it depicted violence. It made violence look like it hurts, and when certain things (a character shot point blank in the head) could only be gratuitous, it neatly avoided them.

2. Little Dorritt

At ten hours more of a miniseries than a movie but pretty amazing and possibly better than the Charles Dickens novel itself. Amy Dorritt comes off not as a goody goody but as the only reasonably rational person, often perplexed, in the center of a swirling hoarde of idiots who are unduly sensitive to how they think they are perceived. Plus, the actor who played John Chivery, the turnkey's son in unrequited love with Amy, is super cute in a goofy jug-eared English way and I just learned thanks to Wikipedia that he (Russell Tovey) is openly gay... which matters cos obviously I have a chance now, right? It makes me glad I gave up reading the book before I had hit any of the most interesting twists. The evil villain is regrettable though, and somewhat pointless too, for all the space he occupies.

3. Taxi Driver

Maybe when you've gone so long without seeing a movie that is this talked about, this referenced, you just shouldn't see it. I liked some of the very luridly 1950s Hollywood transitions but it felt very distanced, very remote from people or details and it just never really clicked for me -- I read that some people debate whether Travis Bickle really is a vet or if he's lying or delusional when he says he is... but I don't get why anyone cares. What would be at stake if he was or wasn't? It's just pointless analysis. I feel this is a straight boy movie. Cybill Shepherd and Jodie Foster are amazing though, as is 1970s New York.

4. The Reivers

Diane Ladd appears as a Memphis whore who is late to the dinner table and is compelled by the brothel owner to put 25 cents into the house box for her misdeed. The quarter materialized from underneath her corset-like garment. This would be one of the most compelling Faulkner screen adaptations if it wasn't for the very 1969 layer of hokey Hollywood Americana smarm which primarily affects the color, lighting, costuming, and incidental music, although it also affects one of the lead actors who is, admittedly, trying to portray a black man imagined by William Faulkner, which is something no one in Hollywood was really prepared to conceptualize, even in 1969. Steve McQueen is good but why does he have no sex appeal at all, I wonder? Is it just me?

5. Grey Gardens

As young blond Little Edie, Drew Barrymore looks a lot like my twelve-year-old niece, feature-wise. It's pretty amazing for a movie which requires flawless impersonation of a person's voice, face, mannerisms etc, not just a decent evocation like most actors who are playing real historical people, even though the biggest historical revelation here is that Edie suffered from alopecia triggered by stress. This movie explains why I have found it safest to live more than two hundred miles from my mother, I think, because the house I grew up in could easily become Grey Gardens. This is not a straight boy movie. In some ways I liked the trailer better but it was a nice event.

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