Terminal [2018)

Homage, or ripoff?

Pulp Fiction.

Vince (Dexter Fletcher).

A better actor than Travolta, perhaps.

But still…

The Usual Suspects.

Mike Myers stands in for Kevin Spacey.

But let’s talk about the upside.

This film started slow.

Boring.

Trite.

But it got better.

Indeed, it resurfaced and landed at mediocre.

Much better than I initially thought was possible.

Simon Pegg is a bit hamstrung here.

Shame, that.

Sin City.

The néo-noir is not very original.

But the color does it justice.

Better than hackneyed black and white.

Super-vivid black and white.

Here, more like Blade Runner (1982).

Margot Robbie is pretty good here.

And yet, the end is more ripoff.

Kill Bill.

Nurse.

Whistling.

Bernard Herrmann.

Standing in for Daryl Hannah.

I guess Margot Robbie is famous or something…

Harley Quinn.

Seems she is already typecast.

Self-parody.

Pigeonholed.

Quite a lot of QAnon here, what?

Q in a heart.

La Lapine Blanche (follow the white rabbit).

Lewis Carroll.

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

Bob Dylan.

Adele.

Down the rabbit hole.

A trail of crumbs.

Clues.

Mystery.

Theatrical.

Hard Candy.

End.

Skyfall.

Modigliani.

NSA.

Marionettes.

I’m usually bewitched by the broads, but it’s the gents who rule here.

And not the ones you’d think.

The best part of this film is the acting of Max Irons and Dexter Fletcher.

Fletcher is pithy.

Splenetic.

Irons is naive.

Real.

Sure, there is a plot twist, but the lobotomy is in extremely poor taste.

And another ripoff.

Spectre.

Myers is good.

Robbie is good.

Pegg is good.

 

-PD

The Man Who Knew Too Much [1956)

Netflix seems to be down tonight.

I tried several times.  Several movies.  Several fixes.

And so it is only fitting that history should trump the ephemeral stages of technological development.

Yes, time for a good old VHS tape.

And not a film about which I’ve previously written.

While I have surveyed many of the early Hitchcock films, I never wrote about the original version of this film.

1934.

To my knowledge, this is the only film of Alfred Hitchcock’s early career which he chose to remake.

Just on this fact alone, it would seem that the story was either very dear to the auteur or that he couldn’t resist something about the plot.

Granted, the two films are considerably different.

Even on a surface level, the 1934 version was (of course) in black and white.

But this was a VistaVision, Technicolor production.

1956.

22 years later.

For better or worse, I was familiar first with the earlier version.

It is a film I should revisit.

But it was not what I would call a “home run”.

The one aspect of the original which one might miss in the remake is the presence of Peter Lorre.

But we must move on to the future.  The present.

1956.

Jimmy Stewart plays the leading male role.  A doctor from Indianapolis.

Doris Day plays his wife.

The action is set for a good bit in Morocco.

Specifically, Marrakesh.

Indeed, the beginning of the film is a sort of travelogue.

In other words, its a good excuse to show off the exotic locale in North Africa.

Camels.  Veils.  [that one’s important]  The social tradition of eating with the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand.  While leaving the left hand in the lap.

All very edifying and exciting.

But Doris Day is suspicious from the start.

If we knew nothing of Hitchcock, we’d say her paranoia was unfounded.

But, in fact, it’s Jimmy Stewart’s ease which is the fateful misstep early on.

And so this movie is about suspicion.

Who can we trust?

In this age of anxiety (thank you W.H. Auden), everyone and everything is suspect.

The only true bliss is ignorance.

[and perhaps my only wisdom is that of paraphrase]

One thing which escaped me the first time I saw this version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (in the theater…lucky me) was a funny detail about Brenda de Banzie.

Yes, dear readers (and fans of Peter Sellers), Ms. de Banzie would later appear as the annoying, flamboyant Angela Dunning in The Pink Panther (1963).

Indeed, her role as the terror of Cortina (d’Ampezzo) was her second-to-last film.

But here she is a much more mysterious character.

I will leave it at that.

We get some interesting things in this film.

“Arabs” in disguise.

Which is to say, certain personages of the spook variety in brown makeup (and native garb).

One need not look very far back in history to find a poignant parallel.

Consider, for instance, the “Basra prison incident” of 2005.

I’m guessing that T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) would provide another example, though I am no expert on this matter.

As are almost all Hitchcock films, this one is a tense affair.

Doris Day, in particular, does a surprising job of portraying the personal terror of her character.

Perhaps most notable about this film is the musical component.

As an accomplished percussionist in my own right, I heartily appreciate Hitchcock’s attention to the intricacies of an orchestral percussion section.

Indeed, the film begins with a close-up of this little-featured “choir” (in addition to the three trumpets and three trombones at the bottom of the frame).

What is most remarkable is Hitchcock’s use of the musical score (in various permutations) to tell this unique story.

Funniest is the shot of the cymbalist’s sheet music.

It is nearly a complete tacit…save for one fateful crash.

I fondly remember (with some measure of anxiety) a time when I manned the cymbals for the overture of Verdi’s La forza del destino.

It was a similar affair.

Interminable waiting.

And if you miss your one crash?  Even in rehearsal?

Well, you are screwed!

The judging stares of oboists are enough to melt a man…

But the musical score appears elsewhere.

In the private box.

Perhaps a page-turner for an assassin.

Most vividly, Hitchcock makes the score come alive in a fascinating series of extreme close-ups.

It is like a very erudite version of “follow the bouncing ball”.

So yes…some of our action happens at the Royal Albert Hall.

In an interesting twist of fate, usual Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann garners copious screen time as the conductor…OF ANOTHER COMPOSER’S WORK!

Were it Beethoven, I’d understand.

But the piece is Storm Clouds Cantata by Arthur Benjamin (who?) and D.B. Wyndham-Lewis (not to be confused with [Percy] Wyndham Lewis).

And yet it is a moving piece.

The London Symphony Orchestra sounds lovely (really magical!) in their on-screen segments.

But the real Leitmotiv of our film is “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”.

Speaking of magic…it is always a gossamer thing to hear Doris Day sing this song in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

I remember a time when I didn’t know this song at all.

Being in a studio with Corinne Bailey Rae and hearing a playback of her wonderful band own this song.

And my discovery of Sly and the Family Stone’s inimitable version (sung by Rose Stone).

But few movie music moments equal Doris Day in her Marrakesh hotel room singing “Que Sera, Sera…” with little desafinado Christopher Olson.

The only ones which come close are Rita Hayworth (actually Jo Ann Greer?) singing the Rodgers and Hart masterpiece “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” the next year (1957) in Pal Joey and Ms. Hayworth “singing” (actually Anita Kert Ellis) “Put the Blame on Mame” in Gilda (1946).

An interesting note about this version of The Man Who Knew Too Much…

It seems to be a sort of forgotten classic, wedged as it is between the first of my Hitchcock “holy trinity” (Rear Window, 1954) and the other two perfect films (Vertigo, 1958, and North by Northwest, 1959).

Actually, this was a period of experimentation for Hitchcock.

Our film most precisely follows the odd comedy (!) The Trouble with Harry (1955) and precedes the black and white hand-wringer The Wrong Man (released later in 1956).

But The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) should not be forgotten!

It is such a beautifully-shot film!

Robert Burks’ cinematography is divine.

And George Tomasini’s editing is artfully deft.

Like To Catch a Thief (which is actually on Netflix in the U.S. [last time I checked]), The Man Who Knew Too Much is a film which perhaps needs multiple viewings to be truly appreciated.

-PD

Lola Montès [1955)

Throughout human history, many strands of activity have intertwined.

Let us take but two and ponder them for a moment:  romance and war.

Ah, romance…

What is romance nowadays?  Is it a glossy paperback with dog-eared corners?  Is there a mane of red hair?  A swelling bosom?

Or is romance chivalry?

After you.  Je vous en prie.

No.

Romance has not survived.

Who are we kidding?

For romance to have survived, love would also have had to survive.

But wait…

I see…here and there.  Is that not love?

Ah…romantic love.  A different thing.

I assure you, dear reader, if you have made it this far into my ridiculous litany of theses that you shall be rewarded for your efforts.

What we have here is the final film by the great Max Ophüls.

I have heard this picture described as a flawed masterpiece.

Pay no mind to such estimations.

This is the product of a genius spilling his guts onto the celluloid canvas.

Film.  Celluloid.  When did it start?  When did it end?

Once upon a time, film was flammable.

And our film is certainly flammable.

Martine Carol, who plays Lola Montès, is one of a kind.

This particular performance…I must admit, this is one of my favorite films…such a powerful experience.

But Carol is not alone on the grand stage.  No…  This production would not be the breathtaking spectacle it is without the incomparable Peter Ustinov.

Ustinov is the ringmaster.  As in circus.

The important point to note is that Ophüls made a psychological metaphor of the circus…and created a film which is probably the longest extended metaphor ever captured by motion picture cameras.

But it is not a typical circus.

It is a nightmare circus.  A cusp-of-dream circus.

Every shot is effused with symbolism.

The little people…haunting Oompa Loompas…little firemen from a Fahrenheit 451 yet to be filmed.  Bradbury had published in 1953.  But it would necessitate Truffaut in 1966 to make the thing so eerie.  It is that specific vision…the firemen on their futuristic trucks…which Lola Montès prefigures.  The little people.  From Freaks by Tod Browning through Lola Montès to the cinematography of Nicolas Roeg.  And the tension of Bernard Herrmann.  From Psycho to Fahrenheit 451.  And even Oskar Werner (who plays a sizable role in Lola Montès).  From here to Truffaut.

But the nightmares are only horrible because her life was so vivid…Lola Montès.  First with Franz Liszt.  And then with mentions of Chopin and Wagner.  Even Mozart…

This was romance.  A different time.

What love would sustain a warrior in battle?

Simple love.  Honest love.

And yet, what love drives a man to the edge?

Romantic love.  The femme fatale.  Why is it that we never hear of the homme fatal?

All kidding aside, I want to make a very serious point about Lola Montès.  It is my belief that this film represents an admirably feminist perspective the intensity of which I have seen nowhere else than in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 săptămâni și 2 zile).

For 1955, Lola Montès was a harrowing epic.  Because Max Ophüls was a true auteur, it has lost none of its wonder…even in our loveless, edgy world.

 

-PD

 

 

Playtime [1967)

This took a lot of watching.  Rewatching.

Last night…so tired.

Watched half.  Then rewind.  Dozed off.  Watch same half again.

First time I saw this (years ago) was on the big screen.

It really makes a difference.

That janitor at the beginning.  His strange pause and crouch.  His peering left and right.  His broom and dustpan.

Very little sweeping.  Just clanking.

Yes.  Sounds.  Sounds.  Sounds.  (Zounds!)

The vinyl chairs which return to their shape after you sit and dent.  The strange sound.  The strange quality.

“Quality”

Tradition of quality.

It might lead you to ask:  what was Jacques Tati trying to say with this film?

Answering that is no easy task.

Sure, this seems like a simple, lightweight film.  In some ways it is.

It’s enjoyable.  It’s lighthearted.  And yet…

There is more than a smidgen of Modern Times here.  And Tati, with his pipe…  More than a pipe-full of Sartre.  Sartre with his publication Les Temps modernes.  Even Sartre apparently thought highly enough of Chaplin to work under an homage headline.

And so, Tati…lost in the supermarket.  Lost in the buildings from 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle.  Same year.  1967.  Paris.  In the banlieues.

And very few words.

As I said.

A movie of sounds.

Yes.

But images.

Reflections.

Illusions.

It appears.

Optical.

Illusion.

And its reflection.

Double.

Mirror image.

Flipped.

Paris.

It appears that the buttons have been switched.  Very nice, WordPress.  Now I am “publishing” every time I intend to merely “save” (and vice versa).

That is the theme of the film.

Thingamajigs.

No no no.  Take your time.  Uh uh uh…hold on.  [click click click click]  Ok, now rise.

We wait for the entire hallway to be traversed in an absurd observation of ritual.

And from above…the cubicles.

One needs must occupy higher ground to see the big picture.  All of these busy bees become lost in the fray.

Afraid.

True.

And so it is not farfetched to guess that Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards were influenced in their masterpiece The Party (1968) by Tati’s Playtime (1967).

But with Tati there is even more.  An industrial ballet.  The poise of the service industry (and its opposite).  [Both]

A constant counterpoint like a comic Górecki.

Perhaps I have been hitting the wrong button all along.

Have I been saying these things out loud?

Yes, we wonder.

Technology.

We grew up in a different time.

The chairs were different.

The doors were different.

And since we are quiet and meek we spend an eternity in the antechamber.  In the darkened hallway.

How do we get out?

Yes, Paris…even then, perhaps?  A drugstore?  Yes.  Too depressing for anyone to look each other in the eyes.

The hum.  The constant hum.  Like Alphaville.  Like Oskar Sala’s Trautonium.  The Birds.  Bernard Herrmann as musical consultant.  But those noises.  Mixtur.

And several waiters will salt the troutonium…and grind pepper…and spread the sauce…and the couple has moved.

The main course has stayed behind.

Heated.  Reheated.  Set on fire.  Jubilee.

Turbot.

And lobster boy just cares about his hair.

Nerval.  Hugo Ball.

But that humming…like Metal Machine Music way ahead of time.  But creepier.  Like Raymond Scott’s music for babies crossed with Erik Satie’s musique d’ameublement.

Waiting waiting.  That’s a theme.  And all the illustrious portraits of CEOs past.

Is it a job interview?

And that’s Orly?  It seems more like a hospital.  Little hummingbird nuns and swaddled kids.

But we shall always live in Barbara Dennek’s dimples.  It sounds weird to say.

But it is luck.  Bad luck.  And then good luck.

And random error.  Entropy.

Chaos.

Can anyone here play the piano?

Yes.  Yes I can!

And some half-rate Edith Piaf gets up to sing her long-forgotten hit.

Except no one has forgotten it.  Once a hit, always a hit.

More or less.

The new religion.

The hum of neon.

All the desserts look sickly.  Even to the “chef.”  Must hide his mystère.  An apple with some sputtery whip?  An upside-down coffee mug?

Mmmm…

William S. Burroughs would doubtless have approved.  The man in the gray flannel suit (book).  But taken to theatrical limits.  Choreography of male primping.  Like Cary Grant on hallucinogens.  A surreal ritual.

Ritual.

This is sociology.

Anthropology.

Paris.  The modern man.

See him in his natural habitat.

See her shop.  See her sell.

See him work.  See him drink.

If you travel, you will see the tourist side.

On a trip.

With a group.

Activities planned.

Like a cruise.

And God forbid you become separated from the group.

Yes.

That is our little romance.

And Tati is meek enough to barely suggest to suggest (x2).

That M. Hulot might find love.

It would be a random day.

He would get pulled this way and that.

And winding up in some crazy, unplanned situation he would become sweet on dimples.

See him in his fishbowl.

Before there was Mr. Bean, there was Monsieur Hulot.

Before there was Forrest Gump.

Tell me…where are the “fancy goods”?  Perhaps silk.  Hermès.

Always caught at the turnstiles of life…

-PD

Vertigo [1958)

Lovesick.  To know love is to know vertigo.  The great French composer Olivier Messiaen described love as a dizzy feeling (I paraphrase).   To quote the great Bob Dylan from his best album (1997’s Time Out of Mind), “I’m sick of love.”

When I first saw Vertigo I didn’t particularly like it.  I was a neophyte cineaste and I suppose it went over my head.  Indeed, the film did not really click for me until I saw a 70mm restored print as part of the Paramount Theater’s summer film series in Austin, Texas some years back.  I finally began to appreciate the cinematography of Robert Burks…the way the city of San Francisco comes to life in front of the lens he shared with Hitchcock.  As a rather naïve film lover I had once seen Life Is Beautiful several times in the theater upon its release and there was something in the mise-en-scène which gave me a wonderful, cozy, rich feeling…an ambiance which I drank in with each successive viewing.  It is this aspect of film (mood) which really makes Vertigo go.

Bernard Herrmann’s music was never more important to a Hitchcock film than to the one at hand.  The whole production almost becomes a music video during Scottie’s initial trailing of Madeleine.  There is not a word of dialogue from the flower shop to the cemetery to the art museum.  I will not regale you with scholarly milliseconds, but I’m willing to guess that approximately five whole minutes go by completely buoyed by the photography of Burks and the music of Herrmann (all, of course, framed by the voyeuristic passage in our story…and all, likewise, under the watchful eye-of-eyes:  Hitch).

Suffice it to say that I now recognize this to be one of Hitchcock’s best films (if not the best) and therefore one of the best films ever made by any director.  Alfred Hitchcock seems to me as the Beethoven of cinema, but he might just as well be the Bach.  Of other analogies he might be considered our Rembrandt…and almost certainly our Shakespeare.

And so it is that the main protagonist in Vertigo is mood.  What mood?  Which?  Not just any, is it?  It is the mood of Tristan und Isolde…Wagner…that painful longing for love.  Bernard Herrmann borrowed nicely from old Richard in the rich, autumnal, self-consuming harmonies.  Other times, by the sea for instance, we are brought into the sphere of La mer by Debussy.  Whether at Fort Point or floating down endless San Francisco automobile inclines, the weightlessness is also reminiscent of the same composer’s Pelléas et Mélisande.  Herrmann even seems to reference Ravel in the pensive motif which seems like Carlotta’s Iberian clock (ticking to bolero snaps of the second hand).

Yes, Vertigo is a film which will send critics into an orgiastic dither from now till the end of time (I suppose).  My contribution is simple.  Watch it.  Then watch it again.  And then watch it yet again.  There are secrets in this tapestry.  It is pure mystery.

-PD