There are few films that I’ve seen that epitomize classic Hollywood as well as 1944’s musical hit Cover Girl. Starring an effervescent Rita Hayworth as Rusty Parker, a vaudeville-style dancer, and a typically earnest Gene Kelly as Danny McGuire, her manager/boyfriend, Cover Girl thrives on the pair’s dynamic charisma. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine this film being enjoyable without either of its principal actors.
Category: Main Slate
Nineteen thirty-nine was a golden year for movies. A record number of films were made, more than 20 of them considered now to be classics of cinema, including Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and many others.
Howard Hawks’s Only Angels Have Wings (1939) did not fit the mold of movies being made at that time. Angels did not possess the maddeningly indefinable allure of Garbo in Ninotchka, the unwavering idealism of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the melodramatics of Dark Victory, or the unbearable tragedies of Wuthering Heights. Nor did it have the over-the-top fantasy world-whirl of the beloved Wizard of Oz, or the searing romanticism of Gone with the Wind, both made by Victor Fleming that same year.
Vertigo (1958) remains the top contender for the best film of Hitchcock’s impressive oeuvre. In the film, John “Scottie” Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) suffers from vertigo after pursuing a robber over rooftops and plummeting nearly to his death. After his near-fatal accident, he is hired to investigate Madeline (Kim Novak), the wife of an old college friend, who is acting strange, almost possessed. As Ferguson pursues Madeline, he not only saves her from drowning, but ultimately falls in love with her. But his vertigo prevents him from saving her life a second time when she appears to throw herself from a church tower. The second half of the film follows Ferguson as he recovers from a mental breakdown and meets Judy, a woman with such a striking resemblance to Madeline (Judy is also played by Kim Novak) that Ferguson becomes obsessed and remakes her in Madeline’s image.
At a press conference on March 22, 1971, Melvin Van Peebles read aloud a letter written to Jack Valenti and the Motion Picture Association of America. In it he stated:
“As a black artist and independent producer of motion pictures, I refuse to submit this film, made from Black perspective for Blacks, to the Motion Picture Code and Administration for rating that would be applicable to the black community. Neither will I “self apply” an “X” rating to my movie, if such a rating, is to be applicable to Black audiences, as called for by the Motion Pictures Code and Administration rules. I charge that your film rating body has no right to tell the Black community what it may or may not see. Should the rest of the community submit to your censorship that is its business, but White standards shall no longer be imposed on the Black community.”
Nine days later, on March 31st, 1971, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song would open at the Circus Theater in Detroit and within five days would gross a staggering $45,534.00 – an all-time house record. And only two days later it would smash the house record at the Coronet Theater in Atlanta. Black cinema, independent American cinema and, perhaps, cinema itself would never be the same.
Three Colors: Red (1994) is not only the last film of brilliant Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski’s acclaimed Three Colors Trilogy, but also his farewell gesture to the art of cinema. It is fitting that a film marking the end of a great cinematic career should be about connection, truth, fate, disappointments, and passing of lessons learnt. The compassionate, naïve, and optimistic Valentine (Irène Jacob) and the jaded and cynical retired judge Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant) are two halves of the same apple, that is to say, two opposing sides of the aging filmmaker Kieslowski.
“My novel The Dead Zone arose from two questions,” writes Stephen King in his superb retrospective On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, “Can a political assassin ever be right? And if he is, could you make him the protagonist of a novel?” King worked backwards from there, arriving at the supernatural premise of a man granted dark visions of the future. Such a premise could have easily supported a novel without treading into such murky political waters, but that was where King’s interest lay, and what the story marches toward with an air of grim inevitability.
When seeing a movie again after many years, you might be watching a film different from the one you first experienced. The lingo of the film may be out-of-sync with the current culture, the themes might feel dated, commonplace, the players’ mode of performance old hat, hard to relate to. You, yourself, have probably changed and your reaction to the story might be different from that of your younger self. Some of these concerns were with me as I popped Phillippe de Broca’s King of Hearts (Roi de Coeur) (1966) into my player 50 years after I saw it at The Brattle.
To tackle the current social climate through popular art is a delicate task. Any attempt to correctly render the mistrust, uncertainty and helplessness of daily life in a “post-truth” age runs the risk of coming off as too on-the-nose or condescending, content to simply list our woes rather than address them. Ticking off obvious boxes can be satisfying but falls short of being cathartic, and is hardly ever memorable. In times like this, one can get a more authentic view of our times through the works that appear as a result of them rather than attempts to explain them.
There’s no doubt: Shadow of a Doubt (1943) was director Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite of his own films. I was surprised to learn this; I would have assumed it was North by Northwest (1959) because Cary Grant was his favorite actor to work with. But Hitchcock confirmed that Shadow of a Doubt was his favorite in an interview with talk show host Dick Cavett in 1972. But why was this film Hitchcock’s favorite? Hitchcock’s daughter, Pat, said, “this was my father’s favorite movie because he loved the thought of bringing menace into a small town” in the documentary Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock’s Favorite Film (2000). The film also held sentimental value for Hitchcock, as he injected many personal touches and also enlisted the help of his wife to write the screenplay.
Twenty-five years ago, in 1993, Allen and Albert Hughes (credited as The Hughes Brothers) took the American box office by storm with a jarringly violent urban crime drama set in LA titled Menace II Society. Released two years after John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood, Menace II Society avoids much of the more familial melodrama of Singleton’s film – instead turning in a ferocious indictment of inner city violence, something that would then permeate the genre in the mid and late 1990s.