Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Friday, September 19, 2008
William Holden was already a name around the world before he turned in a good performance, as a bitter man forced to fulfill his duty. But Alec Guinness became about as big a name, playing the epitome of obsession and madness. 8 Oscar nominations. 7 Oscars, including Picture, Screenplay, Guinness for Actor, Lean for Director, his first. I'm sorry I wasn't able to make it this summer, back when it played at the Holden retro at Lincoln Center. But better late than never.
Released in 1970, this was not embraced in the era of MASH and Easy Rider. It seemed as though critics like Pauline Kael made it their mission in life to destroy the film and Lean as well. They succeeded in the former and might have succeeded in the later, since Lean worked on very little after that, only completing A Passage To India (which I like, but not enough to put on this list.). I tried to get into on TV, but like Dr. Zhivago, it was difficult to get through on the small screen. I didn't feel Robert Mitchum was miscast as the uptight, quiet husband. He was stretching himself and he did fine.
But I can't help you with the bigger question. Is this too damn slow and old-fashioned? Is this an undiscovered gem, unjustly attacked? A noble failure that is not as bad as 1970 critics said, but not deserving of higher praise? We will have to see for ourselves. A 1980 re-release didn't change matters. Miscasting of the young British officer doesn't help- he had to be dubbed. Recently it's received a reappraisal in Australia, playing in one of its larger houses for 2 years. But that's the only country where this film's fortunes have changed.
4 Oscar nominations, including Sarah Miles for Actress. I'm sorry we don't see much from her on these shores anymore. 2 Oscars, for Cinematography and Supporting Actor for John Mills, who played the village idiot. He's usually sighted as one of the first bits of proof, that the best way to at least get an Oscar nomination, is to play some of retardation. Not entirely accurate, but it's hard to fight a growing myth.
This is the only night and time this plays. Over three hours, plus an overture, intermission, and exit music, so plan ahead before you say yes.
Never mind the gorgeous Venice visuals. Lean gets us to feel the love and empathize the way it feels for the first time. And how it feels when it doesn't go right. Oscar nominations for Hepburn for Actress and Lean for Director. I can't believe it's considered a forgotten Lean classic. I mean seriously, most of his black and whites are better remembered than this one? Really? Make up for that and go.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Hey all. Mike here with the next batch of September revivals. I noticed something recently. I've been recommending films at the Forum now to the point where I'm starting to come off as a paid spokesman. First of all, I'm not. Second, it's getting harder to find more places. MOMA and Walter Reade are the only reliable places to go at this point. Anthology Film Archives is either too inconvenient, and most of their films that I might be interested in conflicts too much with others. I'm in no mood for Bergman or psychedelic 60s flicks, so IFC Film Center has been out for a while. There's nothing at Landmark Sunshine Cinema I want to get to until November, if I'm lucky. Two Boots Pioneer seems to have stopped with revivals altogether. AMMI in Astoria has been closed since late February and it will be quite a while before it reopens. Symphony Space seems to only screen films on Sundays now. BAM is out of my jurisdiction, and out of the jurisdiction of anyone that might catch something with me.
So it's frustrating that the films I can put on this list are playing in the Forum. But with all this said, I'm real happy with what's playing. Here we go:
THE GODFATHER- Sat Sept 12- Thurs Sept 17 at 8- Both this and Godfather 2 are being released on blu-ray fairly soon (exact date unknown and since I don't own a blu-ray player, I don't care). Much like the restoration for Apocalypse Now Redux, these Francis Ford Coppola films received a major cleanup and improvement of sight and sound. If these restored discs, overseen by Coppola, cinematographer Gordon Willis and Robert A Harris, are as good as the restored DVDs of both versions of Apocalypse Now, then the home viewer should be in for a treat.
Like previous DVD releases, such as Scarface, Blade Runner and THX-1138, both films will get a brief theatrical re-release. And it will only play at the Forum. Due to self imposed calendar restrictions, only the first Godfather film will be listed here. Godfather 2 will be on the next September list.
Now that I've said all that, do I really need to pitch this? Brando comeback, blah blah blah, rise of Pacino, blah blah blah, great cast that I'm not in the mood to breakdown, blah blah blah, on all great films lists worth a damn and most that are not, blah blah blah . . .
10 Oscar nominations, 11 if you include the one for Nino Rota's score that was later ruled ineligible because he supposedly reused his score from the film Fortunella. Among the nominations it lost was Supporting Actor for Pacino, James Caan and Robert Duvall, Coppola for Director, Editing and Sound. It lost all those noms to Cabaret. If this shocks you, it's because you're not into musicals or you have no idea how good and how influential Cabaret director Bob Fosse was/is. What shocked the hell out of me was that The Godfather WASN'T nominated for Cinematography. No Art Direction nod, I could understand that; look it up and you'll know what I mean. But you mean to tell me 1776, Butterflies Are Free, Cabaret (the eventual winner), The Poseidon Adventure and Travels With My Aunt ALL deserved votes more than Godfather? I'm not saying it should have won. I had no problem if they thought Cabaret, the eventual winner, was better. But that's because I have a soft spot for the work of cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (2001, Murder on the Orient Express, Becket, Superman: The Movie, among other credits). But Gordon Willis not even being nominated for his work is Bullshit.
But it did win 3 key Oscars: Picture, Screenplay Adaptation for Coppola and Mario Puzo and Brando for Actor. No need to mention the Oscar controversy in this list about Brando that night. No need to mention its high place on both AFI lists. No need to mention its place in my personal top 35 (pretty high, yet not as high as Godfather 2). Just need to say; unless you're over the age of 46, you saw its brief re-release in 1997 or saw a crappy print when it's played at Midnight at Landmark Sunshine Cinema, you're just like me. You've only seen this on tv. And you've never seen it look as great or as intended. Now is a great time to correct this.
If you can't make it in the days listed, it will play again later this month. It will be part of a separate admission double feature with Godfather 2, and I'll mention it again with the next list. Tix for The Godfather are already available online, so it might not be easy to get, especially within a half hour of its performance. A social backup plan might be in order. Here are two sets of possibilities . . .
GREAT EXPECTATIONS and/or OLIVER TWIST- Sat Sept 13 at 5:25 (Expectations), 7:40 (Twist), and 9:50 (Expectations)- Film Forum- The beginning of the David Lean retrospective. 35mm restorations for both. Not the biggest fan of Great Expectations, but it's one of the better versions of the Dickens story out there. A classic compared to say, the Gwyneth Paltrow version from the late 90s. Oh, you forgot that version? Lucky you . . .
Consider this a cliffs note version of the story, with as many story lines jammed in as possible. Try to ignore the very end of this if you can. But also the note the highly stylized attempts Lean made to make this cinematically interesting, though he would be involved in much better adaptations as his career went on. Very interesting cast, including John Mills as a young Pip, Jean Simmons as a very young Estella, and Martita Hunt as the quintessential Miss Havisham. Also notable for having Alec Guinness as Herbert Pocket. This was the first of his six collaborations with Lean.
Oscar nominated for Picture, Director and Screenplay. Won for its Black and White Cinematography and Art Direction. I wouldn't mind seeing this, but I can survive with just catching Oliver Twist.
A much better adaptation of a Dickens story done by Lean, than Great Expectations. Made in 1947-8, though not released here until 1951, for reasons I'll go into later. Doesn't go for more sunnier aspects that the musical Oliver! goes for, as poor orphaned Ollie runs away from a workhouse and is on the streets. Notable for Alec Guinness's performance as Fagin; he must have been very comfortable working with a lot of makeup on. In fact, it was controversial in it's day precisely because of Fagin. In Israel and in the U.S., Fagin's depiction was considered anti-Semitic, which caused it to be briefly banned in Israel, and delayed for years here. In Egypt, it was briefly banned for making Fagin appear too sympathetic. Decide for yourself. With Anthony Newley as Artful Dodger.
BRIEF ENCOUNTER and BLITHE SPIRIT- Sun Sept 14 and Mon Sept 15 at 6:20 (Encounter), 8 (Spirit), and 9:50 (Encounter)- Part of the David Lean retro. 35mm restorations for both. Lean's first international successes, both from 1945, and paired together. Both films are under 96 minutes, so consider them as mini masterpieces by Lean.
First, the original Brief Encounter. 2 married people meet by accident, fall in love, but the stars just aren't aligned for them to have a future. One of the better love stories made, in part because of the obviously short life their romance will have. Not for lack of love for each other, but they can't destroy their home lives for this. You know this story because in part, many films and tv shows have followed the setup or the pathos of this film, which is an expanded adaptation of Noel Coward's one act play. This came before most. If you know Lawrence and Dr. Zhivago as outwardly expansive, then consider this as Lean at his most intimate best. 3 Oscar noms; Celia Johnson for Actress, and Lean for both Director and Screenplay.
Next, Blithe Spirit, another adaptation of a Noel Coward play. Only this time, unlike Brief Encounter's alternating middle class and romantic black and white, Blithe Spirit was shot in an early form of Technicolor. Thanks to the wacko medium who performs a seance, the ghost of Rex Harrison's first wife returns and won't leave. The second wife, very much living, is not happy to say the least.
One of only 3 comedies directed by Lean, but he has a light touch that makes you wish he made more. Not at the expense of him not making Lawrence or Bridge Over The River Kwai for example, but still. Having superior material like Coward's play certainly helps. Also helping is having several actors (Margaret Rutherford as the wacky medium, Kay Hammond and Jacqueline Clarke as both wives) who played their respective roles on stage for years, so it became second nature on screen. An Oscar for the early visual effects. The Forum claims this was the only time Lean used special effects for one of his films. Whatever.
So that's it. I narrowed it down to what I really want to see, with not an ounce of junk among the options. Let me know, later all.