Brattle Theatre Film Notes Posts

April 23, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Robert Farley

In a March 3 American Prospect article, Charles Taylor did a fine job of debunking the myth of Clint Eastwood. While Eastwood is a talented filmmaker, his catalogue is uneven, and the worst work nearly unwatchable. Unfortunately, in the process of criticizing Eastwood, Taylor gets his latest work, Letters from Iwo Jima, badly wrong.

April 23, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Stuart Kurtz

We’ve come to have certain expectations of World War II films over the years. We expect to see bloodshed, of course. We know there will be sacrifices, as well as displays bravery and heroism. We know we will see men put to the reaches of endurance and conquer their fears. These are givens. World War II films, as opposed to those about Vietnam, have usually conveyed these principles. There are exceptions: George C. Scott barking and slapping his way to immortality in Patton, and the problem of what’s worth sacrificing oneself for in Saving Private Ryan. Clint Eastwood has one of the handful of alternate views of what they call “The Good War.” The film’s tagline, “a single shot can save the war,” signals Eastwood’s intention, as it points up the difference between publicity, one photo, and reality, the actuality of fighting on that island.

April 6, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Peg Aloi

Released in 1975, this film put Australia on the world cinematic map. Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout (1971) intrigued audiences plenty, but it was an English production. With Picnic at Hanging Rock, director Peter Weir, cinematographer Russell Boyd and producers Patricia Lovell and Jim and Hal McElroy created a production that demonstrated what is possible when a nation decides to fund filmmaking as an art form: schools, production companies and theatres aspired to a high level of achievement and professionalism in this golden era. Sadly many Australian filmmakers and stars have strayed to the golden California coast, including Weir, as well as Phil Noyce, Bruce Beresford, Rachel Griffiths, Naomi Watts, Russell Crowe and others. But it was this subtle, eerily beautiful arthouse period piece that built a rich proving ground for them to get their start.

April 6, 2007 / / Film Notes

In a decade full of smart, independent heroines, Preston Sturges created some of the most indelible female protagonists to grace the screen. His leading ladies crackled with intelligence, possessed rapier wits, and had the kind of resourcefulness to find benefit in some rather difficult accidents. That Sturges worked with some of the most recognizable and enduring talent of his era – among them Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert, and Betty Hutton – helped take his work from merely memorable and clever to unforgettable.

April 6, 2007 / / Film Notes

Even today Mae West would be breaking all the rules. There she is in all her glory in 1933’s She Done Him Wrong: defiant, smart, curvy, and past forty, declaring herself “the finest woman ever to walk the streets” and suggestively yowling her appreciation for “A Guy What Takes His Time” (“I’m a fast moving girl that likes ‘em slow,” she sings with cheerful vulgarity). I came to Mae West already knowing the persona – having already gleaned the distinctive voice and the mannerisms, the outrageous diamond jewelry, and the immortal “Come up and see me sometime” from clips and impersonations – but I still found her brassy presence galvanizing the first time I saw one of her films. In her own time West made a splash with her risqué humor, but even now her brazen onscreen persona and off-screen chutzpah carry more weight than simply that. She’s the anti-ingénue, tough and worldly and unapologetic. She made a career of playing women who took care of themselves, and was one of very few classic era actresses to wield a great deal of control over her own image.

April 6, 2007 / / Main Slate

By Julie Lavelle

Considered the first Polish film to spurn World War II as either text or subtext, Knife in the Water won the Critics’ Prize at the Venice Film Festival, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and was heralded on the cover of Time Magazine. Roman Polanski was considered a wunderkind, and Knife on the Water proof that the new wave of experimental European cinema was not limited to the films produced by the French.

April 6, 2007 / / Main Slate

What’s immediately striking about 1946’s Beauty and the Beast, the French film that preceded and profoundly influenced the famous animated Disney version of the 1990s, is that it doesn’t begin as we would expect a fairy tale movie to begin, with a storybook opening up or pixie dust being sprinkled. Instead we have director Jean Cocteau writing the title of the film and the names of the principal members of the cast and crew on a chalkboard. It’s an odd beginning, an ordinary but jarring sight, as if the magician has let you backstage before performing a single trick. And there is a reason why Cocteau chooses it. He is highly aware of the adults in his audience, knows how reluctant they may be to believe in magic, so he knows he can’t begin with magic right away. Instead, as foreshadowed by the appearance of the chalkboard, we get a lesson. There is a quick glimpse of a slapping production slate, and then Cocteau himself requests un minute to set these adults straight. The director’s handwritten text scrolls by to sound of an expectant drum roll: a lesson on how to watch the film. “Children believe what we tell them,” the text reads. “They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can plunge a family into conflict. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he slays a victim, and that this will cause the beast shame when a young maiden takes up residence in his home. They believe a thousand other simple things. I ask of you a little of this childlike simplicity and, to bring us luck, let me speak four truly magic words, childhood’s ‘Open Sesame’: Once upon a time…”

April 6, 2007 / / Main Slate

“Maybe it’s something in his glands,” one teacher haplessly suggests when trying to determine just what it is that has gone wrong with Antoine Doinel, the troubled adolescent protagonist in visionary French director François Truffaut’s stunning, semiautobiographical 1959 debut feature The 400 Blows (the English title is a puzzlingly literal translation of a French phrase meaning roughly, “to raise hell”). Of course it isn’t Antoine’s glands that are the problem. Neglected and too-obviously unwanted at home, Antoine finds little of the care and understanding he needs at school either. The first time we meet him in the film, he’s already in trouble, caught with a dirty picture that was passed to him by the other boys. His luck continues in this fashion, and soon the sensitive and intelligent but misunderstood boy has gone from cutting school to running away from home and engaging in petty theft. The film’s final shot – a freeze frame close-up of Antoine on the beach – has become one of the most iconic and most often imitated images in world cinema, a simple but extremely potent portrait of a young man alone and uncertain of his future. The story, apocryphal or not, that Truffaut actually ran out of film on the beach doesn’t lessen the brilliance of that parting shot – a celebrated and hugely influential film critic before he got behind a camera, Truffaut knew a good thing when he saw it.

April 4, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Jessica Singer

Robert Altman’s Nashville is famous for effectively capturing a unique time and place in cultural history: the country music circuit of mid 1970s Nashville, Tennessee, America’s country music capital. Yet Nashville covers far more terrain than that for which it is most often given credit. Yes, metaphorically, the film serves to critique American culture, commercialism, and the political hypocrisy of the 1970s, but the values exhibited and explored here are quite universal and apply just as well to modern-day society. And really, this film is not just about politics anyway. It’s about people: the stories they tell, the ways in which they see themselves, and the ways in which they want others to see them. These characters feel real- they alternately exhibit vulnerability and pride, insecurity and vanity, stubbornness and tenderness. A web of relationships and circumstances inspiring all of these human tendencies would certainly sound like a lot to cover, but this seems to be the very story that Robert Altman, with his trademark style of ensemble filmmaking, was born to tell.

April 4, 2007 / / Film Notes

The-Princess-Bride

 

By Rachel Thibault

More than any other genre in the ’80s, the fantasy/adventure film dominated. Broadly defined, these films ranged from the glossy blockbuster films of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, E.T, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) to mainstream, postmodern comedies with sequels (BACK TO THE FUTURE, GHOSTBUSTERS), to the creature-features aimed at children (GOONIES, GREMLINS) and beyond to the absurd, futuristic, and often unclassifiable (BRAZIL, ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BONZAI). Although many fantasy films of the ’80s were marketed to young people between the ages of twelve and twenty-nine, a demographic that made up 75% of the movie-going audience, many films appealed to both children and adults, hoping to find the “kid in all of us.”