Written for the catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato in June 2018. — J.R.
A subtle, complex follow-up toAlfred Hitchcock’s biggest hit, Psycho, his 50th feature (1963) is quite different — and not just because this apocalyptic fantasy is his most abstract film, as Dave Kehr has noted, but also because his shift from black and white to widescreen color works in tandem with the abstraction. The same abstraction extends to cosmic long shots worthy of Abbas Kiarostami that seem posed more as philosophical questions than as rhetorical answers. And as soon as we notice that the flippant heroine, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), has been color-coordinated, thanks to her blond hair and green dress, with the two lovebirds in their cage that she’s bringing to Bodega Bay as part of an elaborately flirtatious grudge match waged against a disapproving stranger, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), it’s already clear that Hitchcock has something metaphysical as well as physical in mind.
What keeps his scare show so unnervingly unpredictable is that the explanation we crave for why birds have started to attack humanity is never forthcoming. (Hitchcock said in interviews that The Birds was about “complacency,” without spelling out whether he meant that of his characters, his audience, or both.) Read more
A coffee shop waitress (Susan Sarandon) and a beleaguered housewife (Geena Davis) in the southern sticks take off for a weekend holiday and eventually find themselves fleeing from the law and society in a buoyant and satisfying feminist road movie directed by Ridley Scott from a script by Callie Khouri. Scott, who usually offers a style in search of a subject, makes the most of the southwestern landscapes in handsome ‘Scope framing and shows an uncharacteristic flair for comedy in fleshing out Khouri’s script with a memorable cast of male rednecks (including Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brad Pitt, and Timothy Carhart); his eye may get a little fancy and fussy in spots, but this is still his best picture since Blade Runner, and Sarandon and Davis bring a lot of unpredictable verve and nuance to their parts. Classic genre movies are a scarce commodity nowadays (Miami Blues is probably the most recent one), and this gutsy crime thriller and female buddy movie qualifies in spades. See it. (Ford City, Golf Glen, 900 N. Michigan, Norridge, Old Orchard, Webster Place) Read more
What attracted me to sign up in advance for a symposium called “Television/Society/Art,” put on at the Kitchen and NYU last weekend, was the opportunity to see and hear some old friends, encounter some new people, and maybe even get some new ideas (about what I should be reading and seeing, if nothing else): a bargain for the $10 registration fee.
Presented by the Kitchen and the American Film Institute and organized by Ron Clark, a senior instructor at the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program, the three-day event inevitably threatened a few dead spots — particularly to a virtual videophobe like me, who largely regards the medium as a kind of wicker basket holding a few magazines that I’m neither interested in reading nor quite ready to throw away. On the other hand, the fact that some of the invited panelists seemed to share the same bias made me suspect that I’d feel right at home.
The symposium got off to a somewhat inauspicious start with the presentation of a lumbering keynote paper entitled “Television Images, Codes and Messages” by Douglas Kellner, a teacher of philosophy at the University of Texas’s Austin campus. Read more
Written for Il Cinema Ritrovato’s catalogue in June 2018. — J.R.
“My movies rise below vulgarity,” Mel Brooks once allegedly declared. No movie of his better illustrates that proposition than his first and most successful feature (1967), which won him an Oscar for best original screenplay and, over three decades later, was remade first as a Broadway musical (by Brooks himself) and then as a movie (directed by Susan Stroman) based on that production. Yet it was originally deemed unreleasable due to its bad taste by Embassy Pictures, then given an inauspicious premiere in Pittsburgh. It won a second life only after Peter Sellers — who’d originally been cast in the leading role of Max Bialystock (before apparently chickening out) — saw the film privately and bought an ad in Variety arguing for a wider release.
The eponymous heroes, Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) — a bombastic gigolo who gets old ladies to invest in his failed Broadway shows and a hysterical, mousy accountant, respectively — decide to rise below vulgarity themselves in order to make a bundle by producing a costly, sure-fire flop, a show so awful and offensive that it can only fail, so they can thereby pocket the surplus on all the investments, only to discover that Springtime for Hitler winds up as a satirical hit. Read more