It’s a Jacques Demy-fest in Santa Monica this week, with a nice selection of his fantastical work. Most famous for Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, a sung film about lost love and innocence with Catherine Deneuve and a lot of striking colors, he ploughed his vision of a candyfloss but heart-tugging cinema of light and music into several features, including Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (also starring Deneuve, plus sister FranÃ§oise Dorleac and featuring Gene Kelly). This last is spoiled for some by the overreliance on / homage to American musical forms, as opposed to the perfectly French Parapluies, but both films boast splendid operetta scores by legendary French soundtrack dude Michel Legrand.
Deneuve also appears in Demy’s only American movie Model Shop, which is always being described as unjustly neglected, but I too have somehow neglected it so cannot comment on that. It does sound like an interesting outsider’s view of Los Angeles, and Demy’s romanticism is so present in everything else he shot that I imagine the effect will be quite transformative. The earliest of his films showing is Baie des Anges, from the time when, as in Lola (1961), his sad look at the the semi-underclass (there strippers, here gamblers) as they try to hold onto a little self-respect and money is bittersweet in the extreme, untempered by the stylistic flourishing of his later work. Plus this has Jeanne Moreau as a blonde which is as effectively unsettling as when Rita Hayworth or Barbara Stanwyck did it.
Wed 2 at approx. 9.30: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
Slotted into Scorsese’s filmography – oddly – between Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976), this is a return to the rural world of Boxcar Bertha (1972) and a sort of modern folk music, as Ellen Burstyn wanders around with a kid in tow, waiting in a diner and trying to make it as a lounge singer. Kris Kristofferson shows up as a standard-issue dude with a guitar, but Alice is too much her own woman to be stuck with anything. It was Burstyn’s project, and she ended up with an Oscar for it, but Scorsese directs with effective discretion, and Harvey Keitel, Diane Ladd and Jodie Foster all pop up along the way. A rare film, in that it treats with intelligence and sympathy the plight of the woman for whom there is no easily assigned social role in 1970’s America (rather like the excellent Wanda, 1970, by and starring Barbara Loden, which given Scorsese’s interest in Loden’s husband Elia Kazan must surely have been some inspiration).
Wed 2 at 8.00: An American In Paris (1951)
Vincente Minnelli’s attempt at the Archers’ “total film” in the culminating seventeen-minute ballet with backgrounds giving a crash course in the previous seventy-five years of French painting. It’s splendid stuff but lit as candyfloss, which is the fundamental flaw – aesthetic overload of music, art direction, costume and dance is most effective when it disguises deep and preferably tragic passions, but Minnelli never gets below the theatrics. That said, Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron are charming as the romantic leads, Paris is the only city in the world where one can get away with such vapory nonsense and it’s all so lush in sound and vision that it’s well worth indulging yourself.
Mon 30 at 7.30: Bulworth (1998)
Even tho Reds (1981) had shown Warren Beatty to have a burning political side to him, Bulworth was still a surprise. Beatty plays a suicidal liberal senator running for re-election who falls in love with a Halle Berry at a South Central rally and becomes fascinated by African-American youth culture and hip hop in particular. Feeling as tho he has nothing left to lose, he has decided to tell people only the truth, and from now on to do so in hip-hop rhyme no less. It’s ridiculous and deadly serious in its truth-telling at the same time, and Beatty channels to perfection the wonderment of discovering and exploring a dense new culture, without a hint of patronage. Remarkable.
Fri 27 at 7.30: The Palm Beach Story (1942)
More Preston Sturges – here one of his best. Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrae are impoverished due to his unrealistic dreams of an architectural career, and wind up in Palm Beach to get divorced (he incognito as Captain McGlue!) while Rudy Vallee does his best hound-dog wooing of Colbert and McCrae falls into the talons of Mary Astor, the Princess Centimillia. Colbert is just marvellous, and the film sparkles around her, but everyone else is spot-on too; the rest of the cast and usual support get up to all sorts of good business (the riotous Ale & Quail Club destroying a railway car dining room) and it could just be that, zany moment for zany moment, this is the most screwball of all screwballs. It is certainly one of the very funniest.
Fri 27 at 10.15: If…. (1968)
A coruscating satire on English public school life, and traditional English life in general, with a firebrand performance from Malcom McDowell as a sixth form boy butting up against the heavily-satirised establishment, abandoning himself to adolescent dissolution and finally machine-gunning parents and teachers from the chapel roof after prize-giving. That in itself was a nod to Vigo’s Zero de conduite (1933), but the anarchic rebellion has been updated for 1968 and in the year of student uprising across Europe, it was a call to arms. The title ironizes that epitome of British imperialism, Kipling, representative of all the staleness and suppression the film calls to destroy. This extends even to its form: many scenes are vignettes rather than steps on a narrative ladder, some are surreal (the housemaster’s wife walking naked through the empty dormitories, McDowell and the girl from the coffee shop wrestling – also naked, as it happens – and transforming into wild cats), and the stock switches at random between colour and black and white (budget troubles). A highly impassioned and individualistic film from the righteously angry Lindsay Anderson that is not for all tastes, but is a classic nonetheless (Golden Palm winner 1969).
Sat 28 at 1.00: Detour (1945 )
Regarded by many as the ultimate film noir, this a real Z-movie, a termite movie, knocked off in days on poverty row with incredible verve and efficiency by Edgar G. Ulmer, its 67 minutes packed full of bizarre incident, tough dialogue, striking performances and fatalistic noir cynicism. Tom Neal is on his way across country to join his girl in California but he ends up with an assumed identity, a hot car, and a viciously unpleasant Ann Savage on his case. The downward spiral is inexorable, Neal the perfect soft-face everyman with no control over his own destiny, and the result is a poetic triumph over paucity of means.
Mon 30 at 8.00: White Dog (1982)
I am so psyched this is on. This is a super-rare film from Sam Fuller about a woman who finds a beautiful white German Shepherd that turns out to have been trained as a “white dog,” to attack black skin on sight (based on Jean Seberg’s experience of finding such a dog). Never one to care overly about acting talent, Fuller’s late style grew closer and closer to that of TV movies, and the cast here do not belong on the big screen. But the subject is so potent – effectively, as the dog is retrained, can racism be cured? – and Fuller on such explosive form that it turned out to be an extremely powerful piece of work, so much so that Paramount never released it to theatres. The pinnacle of a great career spent tackling the cinema like a brash and punchy newsman.
Tue 1 at 7.30: Une Vielle maÃ®tresse (The Last Mistress) (2007)
A treat, I hope – Catherine Breillat has made a bunch of contemporary films about sex and women and pain, some of which are excellent, but here she turns to an obscure novella from 1830. It’s real Balzac territory: the ex/old mistress is Spanish spitfire Asia Argento, about to be cast aside by her ten-year lover for a virginal (or not so) young bride. By all accounts Breillat’s obsessions are reborn perfectly in the period, and Argento is not only good when wailing and shagging, but when smouldering and glaring too. This was one of at least five Argento-starring films on the European festival circuit in the last year; her stock is swiftly rising as director’s across Europe realise that as well as remarkable screen presence she has some pretty good acting chops too. An advance screening ahead of the July 4 release.
Fri 27-Thu 3 at 4.30, 7.15, 9.55 (Fri-Sun only +1.45): Encounters At The End Of The World (2007)
Acolyte of the mysterious wilderness, Werner Herzog goes all the way, to Antarctica, where he discovers oddballs on a scientific outpost and a throwing into relief of all his idiosyncratic obsessions and prejudices (ATMs and yoga studios are “abominations”). Also promised: spacemen, the lone ranger, prostitution amongst the penguins, jaw-dropping photography and miscellaneous strangeness.
Fri 27 at 12 midnight: Rear Window (1954)
Jimmy Stewart, cameraman, breaks his leg and gazes out his apartment window at his neighbours. He naturally gets to making up stories about them, and believing them. Even though the murder across the courtyard might not be in his imagination, why not send prim Grace Kelly over there to check out hulking Ray Milland’s living room? Hitchcock’s remarkable exercise in limitation of location bars itself from the dizzying psychological heights of Vertigo (1958), but it grips from start to finish and stands as a very sour metaphor for the cinema, the act of looking barely less healthy than that other classic of scoprophilia, Peeping Tom (1960).