Brattle Theatre Film Notes Posts

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.” 

April 4, 2007 / / Main Slate
April 4, 2007 / / Film Notes

Though we often forget it, the Universal horror films of the 1930s are among the most enduringly iconic in the history of cinema. Look around next Halloween and consider it. A great majority of the representations of Dracula, from costumes to dolls, will be in the likeness of Bela Lugosi, and the ubiquitous green-skinned, square-headed images of Frankenstein’s monster will be derived from Boris Karloff in his makeup. Universal’s classic monster movies have long since made the rare and momentous leap from the screen to the collective subconscious. You needn’t have seen the films to recognize the characters and or even quote them offhand, imitating the accent of Lugosi’s vampire count or the exultant “It’s alive!” spouted by Colin Clive’s Dr. Frankenstein. The films have been imitated and lovingly parodied through the years, and, in the realm of pop culture, their representations of the famous monsters have largely superseded even the novels from which the creatures originated. Perhaps it is appropriate then that The Bride of Frankenstein, the 1935 sequel that ranks as perhaps the most highly-regarded of all the classic Universal horror films, introduces another truly iconic – and this timely wholly original – monster in Elsa Lanchester’s characterization of the eponymous Bride.

April 4, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Jess Wilton

There is already a “film note” that covers the fundamentals of Annie Hall 101—its importance as a turning point in Woody Allen’s career, its influence within the genre, autobiographical aspects, and much more. Therefore, for the benefit of all the shivering couples and forlorn singles who will be revisiting this masterful work of romantic comedy in anticipation of yet another Valentine’s Day, I’d like to approach the film as a twitchy urbanite’s guidebook for understanding men, women, and relationships. This may not sound like the most practical approach to life’s greatest mysteries, but it’s cheaper than therapy and easier than most forms of selfimprovement. I also suspect that many of us, model our lives and relationships after their favorite cinematic romances. And after all, if we can’t look to Uncle Woody for insight on life and love, where can we turn?

April 4, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Jess Wilton

The lights go down, “Moon River” begins to play, the taxi pulls up to Tiffany’s in the violet glow of a New York dawn, Holly Golightly steps out onto the deserted sidewalk, and even the most cynical, objective viewer begins to feel a bit giddy. Forty-five years after its original release, Breakfast at Tiffany’s remains a reliable source of nostalgia, sentimentality, and reckless escapism. But its staying power doesn’t lie solely in the enormously appealing, slightly twisted characters from Truman Capote’s novella, nor has it held a place in our hearts simply for in its powerful themes of urban identity crisis. These things add dimension to any great film romance, and help sustain the viewer through multiple screenings, but honest-to-goodness Hollywood spectacle constitutes the shallow soul of this valentine; The City, Audrey Hepburn, Mancini’s music, they are all so good to see and hear that they render actual content almost secondary.