Tuesday, December 02, 2014

December revivals: Part 1

Hey all, Mike here with the latest revival list. For the month of December, I will split the month into 3 lists: early December, mid December and thru the Holiday break. Let me getting going with this: 

ONE FROM THE HEART (1982)- Wed Dec 3 at 4:30- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- From the Nastassja Kinski retrospective. I wrote in the previous list in the Tess section that she had no U.S. hits of any kind between Tess and Your Friends and Neighbors. That's not to say she deserves any blame. Ok a few times she was billed as the lead in terms of being the box office draw, and that didn't work with say Cat People or Unfaithfully Yours. But when the director as auteur is in charge, the blame goes there. Which leads us to Francis Ford Coppola's One From The Heart.

An everyman-like couple (Terri Garr, Frederic Forest) celebrate their 5th anniversary on the Fourth of July. The celebration devolves into the fight of all fights, and the couple separates. Each ends up with a new lover:  each more attractive than themselves or the partner they've split from. Garr's character hooks up with handsome Raul Julia, while Forest's character meets up with exotic Kinski. Our leads may have the lover of their dreams, but that doesn't mean they've left their problematic selves behind. And what if our leads were meant to be together . . . . All those with music and songs by Tom Waits (Oscar nominated), performed by either Waits or Waits and Crystal Gayle. With support from Harry Dean Stanton, Lainie Kazan and Rebecca De Mornay in her film debut. With choreography from Kenny Ortega, with uncredited consultation by Gene Kelly. Cinematography by Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Dick Tracy) and Ronald Victor Garcia (Twin Peaks).

Once we have our leads getting together with with their form of dream lovers, their locale, Las Vegas comes to life. Or specifically the Las Vegas sets Coppola had built on his Zoetrope Studios. The kind of dream state, not that different in tone than say Midsummer Night's Dream, is when the stylistic touches are cranked to eleven. But prior to the leads's dreamlike state and after they get out of it, we have a more realistic and perhaps overly familiar (in life) arguments between lovers who are disillusioned and worn down to their last nerve. With songs thrown in to fill in emotional blanks. In these ways, One From The Heart shares less with Shakespeare and more with Scorsese's New York New York. While Marty's film was also a big flop, it at least didn't put an end to its home studio, United Artists, the way One From The Heart put an end to its home studio, American Zoetrope. Heaven's Gate would help put an end to United Artists, 3 years after Marty's film and less than two years before Francis's film, but I digress.

The film may have visually looked large but the story is a small scale one. Originally intended by Francis to be a small scale follow-up to Apocalypse Now, as well as a way to get a quick infusion of cash into American Zoetrope. Not an unusual thing; we just had Joss Whedon follow his big budget film There Avengers with his no budget version of Much Ado About Nothing. But it  seems every idea Francis had, he would have an idea to make it look Bigger and Cinematic. Ideas that eventually to a recreation of Las Vegas in both realistic and fantastical ways. Ideas that blew the budget up from 2 Million to about 28 Million. Money spent while four other productions were filming or about to begin production, with no money coming in at all. 

Allegedly, Paramount was supposed to distribute One From The Heart, but disagreements between studio brass and Coppola killed that. Eventually Columbia Pictures picked it up for distribution, but they might have wondered what the hell they had on their hands, based on their piss-poor distribution pattern. Reviews were not good. High praise by the likes of Time and Newsweek, a borderline thumbs down by both Siskel and Ebert. The Times' Janet Maslin praised the look of the film to the hilt when she attended the premiere at Radio City Music Hall, referring to it as one of the most amazing film experiences she ever had (my paraphrasing). But even she had major reservations about the story and the script. Other critics attacked the script, some even singled out Garr's and Forest's looks in terms of having "unattractive leads" (my quotation marks). Columbia gave the film an art house sized release, people stayed away, and the studio pulled quickly. Low grosses equaled lack of quality in terms of perception, and it has stuck. Columbia gave it a minor re-release to no attention, dumped it on all available video formats  and waited for the rights to expire. This was briefly on the short list of infamous flops, with Heaven's Gate and Liz Taylor's Cleopatra. But the 80s gave us mega flops like Howard The Duck and Ishtar, and the 2000s has given us Battlefield Earth and Gigli, so One From The Heart has even dropped out of the ranks of Legendary Flops. All this while Coppola was forced to go all mercenary, making whatever films he could to pay off the debts of the shuttered American Zoetrope. 

Now, is the film any good? I have no idea. Never seen it. The impression I've received is either one loves it, or one loves the visuals, Tom Waits's music and the looks and performances of both Kinski and Julia, but feel the film is a waste of time. No in-between here. So come out, and decide for yourself: 

THE PASSIONATE THIEF (1960/63)- Sat Dec 6 at 4:45, 7:15 and 9:30 and Tues Dec 9 at 7:15 and 9:30- Film Forum- A week long run of a big deal Italian comedy that concludes the Forum's Mario Monicelli retrospective. Sorry I didn't post anything here. I had no time for Big Deal on Madonna Street or any of the others prior to this film. I'm not even posting all days that this film is playing, since it conflicts with the remaining films on this list.

From 1960, released in the U.S. in 1963. Anna Magnani is a delusional and lonely actress working background. When the crew takes a holiday break, she jumps into a New Years Eve party with a blonde wig, brassy dress, and silver fox (with head), and throws herself at any available man. This includes her fellow performer and friend (Toto, a big name in Italian comedy) and a good looking American (Ben Gazzara). Both men are trying to steal from the party guests and she keeps interfering. Don't know the film, but curious:

MASH (1970) with Ebb Tide- Mon Dec 8 at 8- MOMA- From the Robert Altman retrospective. Most if not all of his films, plus most if not all of his shorts, plus a TV work here and there. At this writing, the only films of his that I haven't seen listed are Kansas City and Ready To Wear. But this might change, since this retrospective plays thru mid January. For now, I'll just post two, starting with MASH.

One of the best comedies ever made, one of the best satires ever made, one of the best anti-war films ever made. More of a mosaic as opposed to a linear story, put together by Robert Altman in what would soon be noticed as a signature style. Overlapping or overlaying dialogue, long shots, music and sound effects drifting in and out and to either obscure or enhance said overlapping dialogue. All in the service of the story of an American hospital unit during the Korean War and the crazy eccentric Army doctors (Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould and Tom Skerritt) doing their best to keep their patients alive, to buck the efforts of ramrod regular Army types (Robert Duvall and Sally Kellerman among them), and keep themselves and their friends and colleagues sane. Not a testament to screenwriting, since almost all the dialogue was improvised. More a triumph of editing and of a director who managed to piece together his vision in the editing room. Also a triumph in the casting department, considering how many working character actor types had careers thanks to MASH (use IMDB on your own for this).

Oscar nominations for Picture, Altman for Director, Kellerman for Supporting Actress, and for Editing. An Oscar for Screenplay Adaptation. An award screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr. took has sweet revenge for how little of his dialogue was used. Altman was fine with it, crediting Laudner Jr. for providing the template from where all the ideas would eventually spring forth from. In both AFI Top 100 lists, and in my personal Top 40 all time as well:

Preceded by Ebb Tide, a 4 minute short Altman directed in 1966. I know nothing about it except this wasn't for theatrical release, but for the Color-Sonic jukebox. A film jukebox from 1966, that screened shorts shot in 16mm, transferred to 8mm magnetic tape, and were a kind of ancestor to music videos. While MASH will be screened in 35mm, Ebb Tide will be a digital presentation:

MCCABE AND MRS MILLER (1971) with Zinc Ointment- Wed Dec 10 at 7- MOMA- From their Robert Altman retrospective. A Western that must have heavily influenced at least the look of HBO's Deadwood, as well as Unforgiven. Warren Beatty (cast for box office purposes, over Altman's original choice of Elliot Gould) plays a gambler/hustler type who sets up a whorehouse/saloon with the help of Julie Christie (Oscar nominated). When mining companies try to buy out their successful business, things get bloody. But since we're in 70s Altman territory, expect some revisionist changes to the usual formula. Plus an ending that makes The Wild Bunch and Heaven's Gate look cheery in comparison, though comparatively less bloody.

This film got lost in the shuffle back in 71; released in the summer around hits like Klute and Shaft, and with influential films like French Connection, A Clockwork Orange and Last Picture Show coming later on, forget remembering this back then. Over the years, it's developed a cult following, among Western fans and Altman fans. At first, it was at least better than Altman's previous picture, Brewster McCloud. A 1990 revival/ mini re-release in London helped. Vilmos Zigmond (Close Encounters, Heaven's Gate, The Deer Hunter)'s Cinematography and Leonard Cohen's songs certainly helped, as did future revisionist Westerns like Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven. Also filled with a lot of actors from other Altman films, including Keith Carradine, Rene Auberjonois, and Shelley Duvall.

Preceded by Zinc Ointment, a 9 minute short about the making of this film:

Let me know if there's interest, later all.

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