Brattle Theatre Film Notes Posts

August 23, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Andy Dimond

UK, 1985. Rated R. 142 min Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm Michael Palin; Music: Kate Bush, Michael Kamen, Ray Cooper; Cinematography: Roger Pratt; Produced by: Patrick Cassavetti, Arnon Milchan; Written by: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown; Directed by: Terry Gilliam

“8:49p.m., somewhere in the twentieth century.” A meek Ministry of Information file clerk named Sam Lowry sits at his desk and daydreams. In his mind he is a winged knight, charging boldly to the rescue of a beautiful blonde. By the end of Terry Gilliam’s zany 1985 chef d’oeuvre he will find that damsel in “real life” — which here consists of vicious corporate politics, grotesque plastic surgeries, even more grotesque food, propaganda posters, and mountains of paperwork, all taking place under the constant threat of government-sponsored torture, and punctuated by the occasional terrorist bombing.

August 17, 2006 / / Film Notes

THE BIRDS

Donald Spoto, in The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, traces the director’s long bird fixation, culminating in 1960’s Psycho (“You eat like a bird,” Norman tells future prey Marion Crane as they sit in a room full of taxidermized owls): that film marked the Master of Suspense’s first venture into outright horror, and his greatest popular success. Add to that two previous Daphne du Maurier adaptations–Jamaica Inn and his first American film (and only Best Picture Oscar) Rebecca–and it is hardly surprising that he would base his next project on du Maurier’s nightmarish short story “The Birds.” What is remarkable is that out of these familiar elements, Hitchcock would come up with the most experimental film of his career, both artistically and technically.

August 14, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Kris Tronerud

Italy, 1960. 115 min. Gray- Film, Pathe, Riama Film. Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimee, Yvonne Furneaux, Alain Cuny; Music: Nino Rota; Cinematography: Otello Martelli; Produced by: Giuseppe Amato, Angelo Rizzoli; Written by: Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli; Directed by: Federico Fellini

Okay, let’s get it out of the way, right off the bat. I think La Dolce Vita is the greatest film ever made— in fact, a perfect film. A perfect film is one that has no missteps, no awkward moments, no bad performances, nothing to take us ‘out’ of the film; a film that flows seamlessly and of a single piece, sound and vision working as one, transporting us to the world of the filmmaker for the duration, and making that world a part of who we are for the rest of our lives. There aren’t many of them: Vertigo, The Searchers, Jules and Jim, Blow- Up, The Rules of the Game come to mind. You probably have a nomination of your own. Let me tell you why I think La Dolce Vita is such a film. Or, rather, let’s let one of the characters tell us.

August 14, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Jason Haas

U.S.A., 1979. 97 min. Henson Associates. Cast: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Dom Deluise, Elliot Goud, Bob Hope, Madeline Kahn, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Orson Welles; Music: Paul Williams; Produced by: Jim Henson; Written by: Jack Burns, Jerry Juhl; Directed by: James Frawley

The Muppet Movie is a timeless family film for a number of reasons, but it is also a product of its times. The film rejects much of the cinematic aesthetic of the 1970s, an era that began with pornography enjoying widespread mainstream success and ended in the birth of the blockbuster, which reveled in auteurloving “look-at-me” filmmaking and/or special effects. Throughout the decade, cinema was fighting with television for its audience, so it is odd to find that a production staff that came mostly from television created a movie bursting with a deeply innocent love for the movies and for a time when movies provided a more cheerful joy. It seems as if Henson and his collaborators (most notably Frank Oz) were dedicated to creating a film that reflected a love of all that made the golden age of cinema so fantastic. Simultaneously, Henson and company, not unlike their big budget and pornographer contemporaries, make clear that their movie offers something that cannot be had in the comfort of one’s living room: more Muppet action than viewers could get out of TV’s The Muppet Show.

August 14, 2006 / / Film Notes

By Kris Tronerud

USA, 1951. 115 min. Philip Waxman Productions. Cast: John Barrymore, Jr., Preston Foster, Joan Lorring, Howard St. John, Dorothy Comingore; Cinematography: Hal Mohr; Produced by: Philip A. Waxman; Based on a Novel by: Stanley Ellin; Written by: Stanley Ellin, Joseph Losey, Ring Lardner, Jr.; Directed by: Joseph Losey

One of the greatest pleasures of being a movie nut is the re-discovery of those long gone, lovingly remembered films which appeared to us in our youth, before we knew we were ‘aficionados’, before we even knew why we loved movies, when our reactions were primal and unaffected by critical sensibilities or intellectual preconception. These films take root in our memories with the vivid resonance of a childhood friend. Sometimes, of course, the rediscovery is a painful disappointment, as we realize that our fond recollection was based primarly on the bust size of the heroine or on a fantasy landscape that now reveals itself to be composed of monsters in suits with visible zippers lurking in papier maché lairs. Every so often, however, a film re-appears on the cinematic horizon and holds up admirably to viewing by now jaundiced and demanding eyes, revealing that it burrowed into our young psyches for deeper and more substantial reasons. For me, the reappearance of Joseph Losey’s The Big Night on TMC (and now in theaters) was just such a happy reunion.

August 9, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Stuart Kurtz

Italy, 1960. 168 min. Titanus. Cast: Alain Delon, Renato Salvatori, Annie Girardot, Katina Paxinou; Music: Nino Rota; Cinematography: Giusseppe Rotunno; Produced by: Goffredo Lombardo; Written by: Luchino Visconti, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Vasco Pratolini; Directed by: Luchino Visconti

Coming out of the Neo-Realist tradition which he founded (Ossesione being the first, La Terra Trema, Senso), Visconti found a way to turn the inexorable defeat of characters in this form into heroic action that might help them out of poverty and despair. Neo-Realist heros traveled hopefully, but they were at one with the world and so at its mercy. The Valostra family in La Terra Trema might gird themselves for battle against the wholesalers and the sea, but their hope was not enough up against the social and climatic forces that inevitably win against the little person.

August 8, 2006 / / Film Notes

“I’m not a storyteller, I’m a man who draws pictures,” says Hayao Miyazaki the super-director of some of the highest grossing Japanese films of all time, such as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and most recently, Howl’s Moving Castle.

In Hollywood, children’s films in general and animated ones in particular follow the classical storytelling mold. A state of equilibrium is disturbed, the protagonist faces difficulties attempting to restore order, and the protagonist secures a new equilibrium, overcoming said difficulties and, in the process, learning something about him- or herself. While the world that is built around these stories may be enchantingly detailed and richly populated—I’m thinking of the talking furniture of Beauty and the Beast or the fun forest friends of Bambi—the story arc of the protagonist is central to the film and the tapestry is for show.

August 7, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Jessica Wilton

USA, 1985. 114 min. Amblin Entertainment/ Warners Bros. Pictures. Cast: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Jonathan Ke Quan, Joe Pantoliano; Cinematography: Nick McLean; Editing: Michael Kahn, Steven Spielberg; Written by: Steven Spielberg, Chris Columbus; Directed by: Richard Donner

To truly appreciate The Goonies, you must imagine yourself transported back to 1985. Pediatric asthma was on the rise, shoulder pads were in, and pirhana-like business execs were poised to devour whatever survived of the sixties and seventies. The collective anxiety of Americans was overwhelming—we were afraid of terrorists, Russians, and stockbrokers. We were nervous about computers and robots. AIDS had just been identified, and Reagan reelected. It was a nerve-wracking time in a prosperous nation, a time when we needed Stephen Spielberg. He knew just what was needed to soothe our collective angst: pirate treasure, booby traps, ethnic jokes, and three stooges gags.

July 31, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Sean Rogers

USA, 1954. 115 min. Paramount. Cast: Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter with Raymond Burr; Music: Franz Waxman; Cinematography: Robert Burks; Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock; Based on a Story by: Cornell Woolrich; Written by: John Michael Hayes; Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Rear Window was Alfred Hitchcock’s first film at Paramount following a stint at Warner Brothers that had ended only months prior with the 3-D chamber piece Dial M for Murder. For this new project, the director returned not only to Dial’s confined setting and control over its viewers’ vision, but also to its female lead, Grace Kelly. Some few years removed from both her career’s commencement and its premature end, and scant months away from an Oscar win, the future princess would share the screen with Hollywood’s favorite everyman, Jimmy Stewart. While Kelly’s star was about to go supernova, Stewart’s had been shining more darkly since his return from the war. We remember him now, of course, for his role as the thwarted, suicidal George Bailey, but he further complicated his onscreen persona in those years through collaborations with Anthony Mann – in whose westerns he played troubled, vulnerable, and sometimes quite bitter heroes – and Hitchcock. In Rope, Hitchcock’s first picture with both Stewart and Warners, and another chamber drama concerned with visual tricks (the film seems to be one continuous take), the actor portrays an intellectual who espouses the righteousness of murder. Few other Hollywood stars could depict such moral confusion so convincingly and so genially.

July 31, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Christine Bamberger

U.S.A, 1959. 136 min. MGM / Loew’s Inc. Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Martin Landau; Music: Bernard Herrmann; Cinematography: Robert Burks; Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock; Written by: Ernest Lehman; Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

During the 1950s and early 1960s there arose a type of film that I nebulously think of as the “cheerful Technicolor sex comedy.” Including such points on the spectrum as Daddy Long Legs, the Doris Day-Rock Hudson vehicles, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Bell Book and Candle, and I’d Rather Be Rich, these films have dated noticeably, but that’s part of the fun of watching them. Their particular brand of romance, especially if it had a cat-and-mouse quality, was found to blend nicely with an element of adventure. If you imagine a tale of such ilk crossed with an ultra-stylish suspensor of the noir mien, you get North by Northwest.