Brattle Theatre Film Notes Posts

June 14, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Kris Tronerud

USA, 2005. Rated R. 121 min. Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Dwight Yoakam, Melissa Leo, Julio Cedillo, and Levon Helm; Music: Marco Beltrami; Cinematography: Chris Menges; Produced by: Luc Besson, Michael Fitzgerald, Tommy Lee Jones, Pierre Ange-Le Pogam; Written by: Guillermo Arriaga; Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones

From the time of its release, Tommy Lee Jones’ directorial debut’s unconventional structure, quirky shifts in tone, ambiguous resolution and very title seemed to guarantee that it would not find a large following at the neighborhood multiplex. Which is not to say that Three Burials is a failure. First-time director Jones has delivered a film which, though flawed, is richly observed, beautifully performed, always engaging, and stunning to look at.

June 7, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Andy Dimond

US, 1980. Rated R. 102 min. Cast: William Hurt, Blair Brown, Bob Balaban, Charles Haid, Thaao Penghlis,Charles White-Eagle, Drew Barrymore, John Laroquette; Music: John Corigliano; Cinematography: Jordan Cronenweth; Written by Paddy Chayefsky (as Sidney Aaron); Directed by Ken Russell.

Like most of Ken Russell’s movies, Altered States is a strange, phantasmagoric spectacle, and like many of them, it’s a (very loose) biopic. Not of a classical musician this time, but of John C. Lilly, a government neurophysician who became one of the first, and freakiest, pioneers of consciousness research.

May 26, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Jeremy Quist

USA, 1946. 110 min. MGM. Cast: Astaire, Kelly, Judy Garland, Lucille Ball, Lena Horne, Esther Williams, and William Powell; Music: George & Ira Gershwin, Arthur Freed, Roger Edens, Giuseppi Verdi; Dance Director: Robert Alton; Produced by: Arthur Freed; Directed by: Vincent Minnelli, George Sidney, Charles Walters, et al.

Unless you are familiar with the elements that constituted the Follies shows, you might expect an actual plot from Ziegfeld Follies, the 1946 musical extravaganza from producer Arthur Freed. You might also assume the film to be a sequel to the blockbuster The Great Ziegfeld, winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture ten years prior. But this is not a continuation as much as a reference, and instead of a story there is simply a concept. The title refers to the elaborate theatrical revues created by Florenz Ziegfeld in 1907. These lavish productions were essentially Broadway variety shows, mixtures of sketch comedy and grand musical performances. Around the early 1930s, the popularity of the Follies died when Ziegfeld himself did. How appropriate that the film should begin in heaven.

May 26, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Paul Monticone

Singin’ in the Rain. USA, 1952. 103 min. Cast: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagenl, Cyd Charisse; Songs: Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed; Choreography: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen; Produced by: Arthur Freed; Written by: Betty Comden and Adolph Green; Directed by: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen

Band Wagon. USA, 1953. 112 min Cast: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan. Songs: Howard Deitz and Arthur Schwartz; Choreography: Michael Kidd; Produced by: Arthur Freed; Written by: Betty Comden and Adolph Green; Directed by: Vincent Minnelli

By the early 1950s, Hollywood sensed a sea change. Due to suburbanization, television, and a Supreme Court antitrust ruling against the studios, movie-making had to become a more efficient enterprise. While the other major studios cut overhead—dropping contract players and disbanding their armies of salaried technicians—MGM remained dedicated to lavish musicals, and it was at this time that Arthur Freed’s production unit made two of the last masterpieces of the studio era.

May 26, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Devanshu Mehta

USA, 1945. 142 min. MGM. Cast: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Dean Stockwell; Music: George E. Stoll and Jule Styne; Choreography: Gene Kelly; Produced by: Joe Pasternak; Written by: Natalie Marcin and Isobel Lennart; Directed by: George Sidney

There is an old Hollywood story that goes something like this: only three years and six movies into his acting career, Gene Kelly had a novel idea for his next film, 1945’s Anchors Aweigh. He wanted to dance with an animated character and his first choice, unsurprisingly, was Mickey Mouse. Kelly and his assistant Stanely Donen brought it before Walt Disney. Walt was impressed and encouraging, but Mickey Mouse would never work in an MGM film.

May 26, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Devanshu Mehta

USA, 1949. 98 min. MGM. Cast: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller, Jules Munshin; Music: Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green, Betty Comden; Choreography: Gene Kelly; Produced by: Arthur Freed; Written by: Adolph Green and Betty Comden; Directed by: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen

Stanley Donen was never nominated for an Oscar, so in 1998, the Academy did what was right and awarded him an honorary Academy Award. Donen danced with his Oscar on stage before declaring the secret behind his directorial success. “You show up,” he said. “You show up, and you stay out of the way. But you gotta show up or else you can’t take the credit and win one of these.”

May 26, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Jeremy Quist

USA, 1951. 113 min. MGM. Cast: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guetary, Nina Foch; Music: George and Ira Gershwin; Choreography: Gene Kelly; Cinematography by: John Alton and Alfred Gilks; Produced by: Arthur Freed; Written by: Alan Jay Lerner; Directed by: Vincent Minnelli

Musicals were once both a critically and commercially successful genre. With An American in Paris, producer Arthur Freed and his creative team were bringing the Hollywood musical to its height of popularity. Audiences ate up the romance, Gershwin tunes, Parisian joie de vivre, and Gene Kelly’s choreography, but there is more to the film than song and dance. While the lavish finale, a dream ballet inspired by Impressionist paintings, remains the most commonly cited aspect of the film, I find myself captivated by the subtly complex opening sequence, which introduces three central characters.