Romancing the Stone [1984)

This movie was very dear to me as a kid.

It’s one of those which came on TV all the time.

And it always pulled me in.

For me, nothing in this film beats the scene in which Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas huddle ’round a marijuana campfire in the fuselage of a crashed plane.

Taking strong belts of Jose Cuervo tequila.

Basically sitting in a giant bong 🙂

But the best part–the cutest part…is KT eating olives.

An old jar.  To be sure.

But they last awhile.

And liquor kills all germs, right?

Who cares if the dead pilot took a few swigs long ago 🙂

It’s such a cozy scene.

Perhaps it’s what the Danish mean by hygge.

And it’s an ambiance I’ve only seen approached in Vertigo (Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart by the fireplace in his apartment…after he rescues her from the waters of San Francisco Bay) and, surprisingly, The Pink Panther (David Niven and Claudia Cardinale by the fireplace…Claudia on the tiger-skin rug).

But Romancing the Stone, unlike those two films, is a full-on romcom.

Sure, there’s action…to entice the leery men 🙂

But there’s no denying that this is a romantic comedy.

And so I’m glad to join the ranks of romcom lovers.

Glad to christen a new category on my site with this fine film.

Some of it hasn’t aged so well (like Alan Silvestri’s sequenced electro-samba soundtrack), but most of it has…so kudos to director Robert Zemeckis.

Zach Norman plays a gay villain in such a way that one cannot help thinking of John Podesta.

Danny DeVito, who plays Norman’s cousin, is definitely the funniest thing in this film.

Neither Turner nor Douglas are particularly funny, but they are graceful and charming (respectively).

I would even add that Michael Douglas encapsulates a sort of masculinity which has been on the wane since the 1980s in America…UNTIL DONALD TRUMP WON THE FUCKING PRESIDENCY!

Yeah 🙂

It is trippy.

To watch this movie late at night.

To relive childhood memories.

And then to rouse oneself to one’s feet and think, “Is Donald Trump really the President? Is this not some kind of dream???” 🙂

I know for many it is a nightmare.

So I will just leave that train of thought there.  For now.

Actually, there is a more serious villain in this film:  Manuel Ojeda.

He is certainly a BAD HOMBRE 🙂

[sorry, can’t help it]

So yeah…

The bulk of the action takes place in Colombia.

It’s like William S. Burroughs, in search of yage, writing back to Allen Ginsberg.

Though the narrative becomes evermore-farfetched as it unfurls, it’s so much fun that we don’t much care 🙂

Buried treasure?  Check.

Wrestling crocodiles?  Check.

Mr. Dundee and The Goonies were from this same era 🙂

Alfonso Arau is here too…with his little “mule” 🙂

[I guess, on second thought, that is a drug-smuggling joke]

This was the performance which preceded Mr. Arau’s all-world turn as El Guapo in Three Amigos.

Yeah…the plot really gets ridiculous right after the waterfall 🙂

But this is a feel-good movie!

And we need this kind of stuff.

Sitting down to ENJOY a movie 🙂

What a concept!

 

-PD

Smultronstället [1957)

At some point during the viewing of this film I turned 39 years old.  That is significant because there is a moment in this masterpiece by Ingmar Bergman at which a character is described precisely as 38 years old.

And so a mostly unimportant question arises:  was I 38 or 39 when I heard that line?

To be sure, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Wild Strawberries, but seeing it on the cusp of my birthday as the world spits me back into the cosmic cuspidor makes a poignant movie absolutely devastating.

You must understand, by “devastating”…I don’t necessarily mean bad.  In my film lexicon I reserve the word devastating for films which reduce me to a weeping mess.  This, now, is one such film.

My memory of it was as a sweet film…wild strawberries…youthful love…summertime.  And indeed, all of those things are there.  But this film is more than just naïveté.  This film is about aging.  Old age.

I would never have made the connection, but Smultronstället bridges the gap (somewhat) between its comrades in simpatico:  Umberto D. (1952) and The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu (2005).  In the former, Carlo Battisti set the gold standard for this micro-genre.  He was 69 when he portrayed the titular Umberto Domenico Ferrari.  In the latter, Ioan Fiscuteanu brought a razor-sharp accuracy to the likewise titular character Dante Remus Lăzărescu while being, himself, 68 years old.

And that brings us to the famed silent-film director Victor Sjöström.  For Bergman’s Smultronstället, Sjöström was invited aboard as an actor (in the lead role of Isak Borg).  Sjöström was, almost exactly with the two previous actors mentioned, 68 years old when he assumed this immortal role.

But there is something which Ingmar Bergman did (thanks to the magic of Sjöström’s performance) which is unique in this film.  Beyond the surrealism befitting of de Chirico, beyond the hint of road movie panache which predated À Bout de souffle, Bergman keyed in on an absolutely defining characteristic of old age (for many):  loneliness.

I recognize it because it is an absolutely defining characteristic of my own life.  Sometimes I wonder if anyone out there is as lonely as me.  I send out my signal.  I comb through the tags.  “Lonely” is a young person’s emotion.  “Loneliness” is a lifelong complex.  An articulate, stark reality.

And how does it happen?

Well, you will just have to see this film.  Really, there are few movies I could more strongly recommend than Wild Strawberries.  Everyone will see it differently.  For me it brings back memories of Sweden (and even Denmark [though I should probably wait for Dreyer before admitting that]).  Girls named Kaaren and Anna and Saaarah (ok, maybe not that many As).

That is the route of this unlikely road movie.  What could have been…  What might have been~~

Sometimes a dream rights our ship.  But these bad dreams…we are one credit hour short, she doesn’t remember us, we’ve forgotten the first rule of being a doctor…

In our wisdom we will think of the good times.  For me, it is as hard as breathing.  I don’t breathe well.  I think too much.  About it.  Everything.

Wisdom lets us go back to our old neighborhood…our old play friends…some ball in the street.  We must have some good memories somewhere.  Psychology urges this.  A safe place.  A mental image.  A way to calm down.

In the fray of life this often isn’t practical.  Indeed, we forget everything.  Is there or isn’t there a God?  I would say yes, but I’m not going to arm-wrestle you over it.

That is a bit of wisdom.  You can go home again.

 

-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