Author: Leo Racicot

June 22, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Long Goodbye – 1973 – Dir. Robert Altman

The late, great Robert Altman once again lends his distinctive, experimental style to what has come to be regarded as this definitive interpretation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. It’s a winner!  Thirty-six this year, the film still plays as fresh and as contemporary as it did the year it was made.  The tale of a double murder and the unfortunate detective who gets dragged, kicking and screaming, into the thick of it is filled with a permeating cynicism, underhanded absurdities and shattering acts of violence.  Crime author Raymond Chandler, like his contemporaries Dashiell Hammett and Ross McDonald, created glamorous worlds of danger and intrigue where a usually hapless, albeit decent guy, finds himself way over his head in the soup. Here, Chandler’s anti-hero, Phillip Marlowe, is helmed by the underrated Elliott Gould. A huge star in the 60s and 70s (Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, M.A.S.H.), Gould brings a bizarrely effortless spin to a  role played in more traditional ways by everyone from Bogart to James Garner.  His dopey, befuddled schmuck look assists him ably in Altman’s clever conceit of placing a 1950s-style detective into a 1970s-style world.  It is as if this “Rip van Marlowe”, waking from a long slumber, has been transported via some private eye time tunnel twenty years into the future — a future he does not understand and is more than a little bit lost in.

March 31, 2009 / / Main Slate

Ballets Russes – 2005 – dir. Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine

You need not be an aficionado of classical dance or even know much about ballet to appreciate the joyous celebration that is Ballets Russes. Documentaries of this sort have a way of making the past “quaint”, almost falsely charming. Not so this one!  A welcome breath of fresh air, it fairly floats along on a cloud of exuberance and real nostalgia for a kind of glamour now gone from our stages and from our world.

January 12, 2009 / / Film Notes

Pillow Talk – 1959- dir. Michael Gordon

Audiences seem to have forgotten how for almost half-a-century, Doris Day dominated not only the movies but radio, the big-band circuit, stage and television. She WAS America in the way John Wayne WAS America. Her freckle-faced goodness and virgin-all-the-way persona mirrored American values and mores and was thus much-loved for decades. By the 1960s and ’70s, her star began to fade, a victim of  the sexual revolution and the unlikely stardom of less conventionally attractive actresses like Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli. Today, in her eighties, she lives a reclusive life in Carmel, California, answers only to the name, ‘Clara’ and very seldom engages in conversation about her Hollywood glory days.

December 1, 2008 / / Film Notes

The Hustler – dir. Robert Rossen – 1961

Paul Newman did not take Hollywood by storm with his first film, The Silver Chalice. In fact, in characteristic joking mode (he was a great kidder!), he actually took out an ad in the trades apologizing profusely to filmgoers for that cinematic travesty. Following in the footsteps of such giants as Brando, Clift, James Dean, Newman chopped a huge chunk off the pedestal of stylized acting, making his performances and acting in general seem real and accessible. Human beings.  Unlike Brando, whose characters always seemed unreal, even freakish, Newman’s natural accessibility as a person as well as an actor made you think that here was a guy you could sit down and have a beer with and shoot the breeze with. He became one of Hollywood’s most-loved stars, in part, because though there was no way he (or anyone!) could ever have subsumed those Olympian good looks, that choirboy’s smile, the eyes bluer than all the Seven Seas put together, the body Adonis would have been jealous of (those pelvic “davids”!!!), filled with sexiness and swagger, he focused all his working energies AWAY from them; he cared nothing for being a pretty boy of the movies; his aim was higher and truer and it showed.

November 10, 2008 / / Film Notes

To Live and Die in L.A – 1985 – dir. William Friedkin

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, few directors enjoyed the dual critical and popular acclaim William Friedkin did; his French Connection still jumps and crackles like a pan of hot popcorn. The Exorcist (one of the few films of the ’70s so controversial as to merit being picketed by Catholic and Decency League interest groups) still has the power to shock. Both are classics in the canon of American cinema. If To Live and Die in L.A. is not considered to be in their league, it should be.

September 4, 2008 / / Film Notes

Rear Window – 1954 – dir. Alfred Hitchcock

If you have seen Rear Window before, you already know the treat that lies ahead and if you haven’t, well then we envy you; you are in for viewing one of the few masterpieces cinema ever produced.

Made by the great Alfred Hitchcock in 1954, this thriller is jam-packed with multi-layered stories, tensions and performances, all meticulously executed by the master. In the hands of most directors, it might have been an unholy mess but Hitchcock superbly pieces it together like a clockmaker putting together a Swiss watch from scratch.

September 4, 2008 / / Film Notes

Vertigo – 1959 – dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Upon its release in 1958, Vertigo was neither a critical nor a popular success. It was, in fact, a bomb. Small wonder; it tackled taboo themes not discussed in the sanctity of people’s homes much less on the silver screen: sexual obsession, reincarnation, mental illness, dark desires. Today, it is regarded not only as Alfred Hitchcock’s finest film but also one of the best films ever made.

July 28, 2008 / / Film Notes

the letterThe Letter – 1940 – dir. by William Wyler

It is arguably one of the most famous opening scenes in movie history. Watch as The Letter, another boffo collaboration between the incomparable Bette Davis and director, William Wyler, lures us in with its soporific images: the drip-drip of a rubber tree plant’s sap, plantation slaves swinging lazily in sleepy hammocks, fingers slowly sliding across silent chess and checkers boards. And then — BANG!! BANG!! BANG!! BANG!! A woman is firing a barrage of bullets — more bullets than would ever be needed to kill anybody — and the witnessing Malay moon emerges from behind dark clouds to reveal the dead man and the rage-filled face of an unrepentant Davis. Just grand!!

July 21, 2008 / / Film Notes

JezebelJezebel – 1938 – dir. William Wyler (1938)

Jezebel is back on the big screen and Hallelujah for film and Bette Davis fans!!

Though it preceded the release of Gone with the Wind by a year, Jezebel was said to be Bette Davis’ pay-off for being passed over for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in that 1939 epic. Late 1930s America was under the spell of Margaret Mitchell’s wildly bestselling phenomenon and hungered for anything ante-bellum. Davis and Jezebel more than fit the bill.

June 16, 2008 / / Film Notes

topkapiTopkapi – dir. Jules Dassin – 1964 – Original Theatrical Trailer

From the fizz of the bouzouki music that begins it to the sad but happy ending which of course, I won’t give away, Topkapi takes us on a great caper carpet ride. For a 48 year old movie, it is as fresh and as taut as the day it was made.

Typical of Sixties’ films: the fluorescent Technicolor, the mod look in fashion, the continental locales, the now vintage cars, it sparkles like the emerald-encrusted dagger the thieves mean to steal. The cast is hand-picked by cinematic heaven: handsome Maximillian Schell, Melina Mercouri with her crazy, dangerous eyes, that mad, Magnani-like laugh. And don’t forget the nonesuch Robert Morley’s eyebrows. If all he had to act with were those eyebrows, he would still sail through his work on a breeze. Peter Ustinov here more than deserves the Oscar he won for Best Supporting Actor; watch for the rat-a-tat frenzied energy of his voice, his face, his walk; the wedgie he shakes from his ample bottom getting out of an automobile. The film is filled with such flourishes and touches: the pistol slipped into the door handle of a car, as if into a holster; the slow, upside-down descent of limber Gilles Segal towards the real Topkapidagger, the fake one glistening on his sweaty chest; Morley turning and turning around and saying, when asked what he is doing, “I’m being a lighthouse”; Ustinov being wrapped in a brassiere of rope. And this has to be one of the first pictures to show two, young, gay men strolling, post-coitus, across a Turkish square; groundbreaking, indeed, for 1964!