Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) confronts Marty Heller (Harris Yulin), the man who is sleeping with Moseby's wife, Ellen (Susan Clark). Moseby is understandably hurt at his wife's infidelity yet he has not confronted her. If this were a traditional cinematic confrontation, then Heller would be getting a beating at the hands of Moseby, as Heller's line of dialogue (above) relates. Moseby, the ex-pro-football player turned private eye, would probably have little trouble with Heller in a squabble, as Heller needs the help of a cane in order to walk. The confrontation does not end in the traditional sense. Harry Moseby is a traditional private eye about to become embroiled in a classic noir case. However, Harry Moseby and his performance by Gene Hackman are not going to be given a traditional rendition.
Harry Moseby is an ex-football player now a private investigator. He is referred a case by a colleague, and the case involves a former actress of mild success, Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward), whose sixteen-year-old, wayward daughter, Delly (Melanie Griffith), has taken a flit. From Los Angeles, Moseby tracks Delly from a movie set in New Mexico to the southern tip of Florida in the Keys where she has holed up with her stepfather, Tom (John Crawford), and pretty Paula (Jennifer Warren). After a short stay in the Keys, during which a corpse is found in the bottom of the ocean by Delly, Moseby brings Delly back to Los Angeles to reunite with her mother. This reunion turns out pretty bad for all involved.
Alan Sharp's script and Arthur Penn's direction admirably strive for an engaging plot-driven thriller buttressed by strong character drama. My chief complaint about Night Moves results from this attempted balance between the plot drive and the character drama. At the film's conclusion (which is quite exciting), inexorably I was left with the feeling that I've watched a familiar noir story. Its strengths were clearly in its characters and their performances. There were nuances to each character that were so adept and intriguing that I almost wished that these characters would have stepped out of their conservative story and just roamed free to make their own decisions.
Moseby engages in three intimate relationships within Night Moves: one with wife Ellen, the second with Paula, and the third with young Delly. Hackman's relationship with Clark's Ellen is clearly a depiction of 1975 sociology: Moseby is the "new male": sensitive and ready to be vulnerable with his feelings. Moseby's silent brooding hides childhood fears and insecurities, instead of the traditional male depiction: stoic, a man of few words and almost completely of action. As Heller remarked to him during their confrontation, "Take a swing, Harry, the way Sam Spade would." Moseby and Ellen's relationship is defined by this conflict: Ellen really only wants Moseby to open up to her, and through his vulnerability, they'll achieve a real emotional intimacy. Despite the fact that Ellen and Moseby have an affecting and endearing scene later, where Moseby opens up to Ellen about his insecurities, the entire depiction of their relationship feels so transparent. In other words, there is this overwhelming sense that their relationship is defined by their "new" roles and confined to them. Save their endearing scene later, each never able to step out of their sociological models. Too much textbook, I guess.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Michelangelo Antonioni is indisputably one of cinema's masters. Despite the wealth of intellectual ideas and accompanying artistic creativity with those ideas, I have always valued Antonioni first and foremost as a divinely gifted creator of images and one of the most sensual filmmakers that history has ever seen. Some of the most affecting and beautiful and powerful compositions that I have ever seen have come from Antonioni. From L'Avventura (1960), for example, my mind always hearkens to the image of the young woman's legs, tickling the paper bills at her feet with her toes. His cinema is seductive and emotionally infectious. I could care less that the following sounds pretentious, but I cannot say that I haven't been changed and affected in a monumental way by seeing Antonioni's cinema.The Passenger is dialectical. Most of the substance and the overwhelming themes of the film are in a tape-recorded conversation between Locke and Robertson that Locke plays while he sits in front of two passports about to make the symbolic gesture of swapping the two photos. (Not surprisingly, critic and theorist Peter Wollen, author of the Signs and Meaning in the Cinema, contributed to the script of The Passenger. (246)) In addition to its dialogue the Locke-Robertson recording affords Antonioni the opportunity to deliver one of the film's most heartfelt sequences. The Algerian imagery, which begins the film almost in silence, as Locke attempts to make contact with the rebels, informs the loneliness that brings Robertson and Locke together. Robertson, during that fateful evening, offers Locke a drink and from all appearances, Robertson only wanted some temporary and intimate company for the evening. The two did achieve an intimacy and a strong bond, but not quite what Robertson wanted. Both are "globe-trotters," and each remarks upon their mode of travel: Robertson believes that everywhere is essentially the same with the same formalities despite the outsider; whereas Locke believes the opposite--the individual traveler is the one who is the same and is constant, and his worldview is what clouds his surroundings. Hidden in this dialogue is Locke's impetus, and Antonioni's whole rendition of the sequence is masterful. A spiritual connection is forged between the two, and the viewer can actually feel it while watching. When Nicholson has a "chance" meeting with Maria Schneider, who is known only as "Girl" in the credits, about halfway into The Passenger, Antonioni quietly invigorates like Locke's character. By far my favorite portion of the film, beautiful Schneider steals the remainder of The Passenger. Gorgeous Antoni Gaudí architecture introduces the two, and the rooftop meeting where Locke enlists the help of Schneider's character is memorable. One of the most famous sequences from the film comes when Schneider asks Locke, now as Robertson, "one question": What is he running away from? He responds to her by asking her to turn around in their convertible where she sees the road behind them speeding past. In less adept hands, it wouldn't seem as affecting and beautiful. The Passenger is an Antonioni mystery, and anyone familiar with the filmmaker's work knows how Antonioni treats mystery and what he values. The Passenger was lensed by Luciano Tovoli, and it is a triumphant achievement in his acclaimed career. Like most of his cinema, there are more questions at the end of The Passenger than there are answers, but like most of his cinema, The Passenger is always worth revisiting, as Antonioni is always revealed as a true and affecting artist. Essential.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Saturday, June 4, 2011
The night is dark, a deep darkness only produced by a threatening storm--a blackness cut at brief intervals by the crisscross of violent lightning flashes. The torrents of rain hit with resounding force.
Into this pressure of blackness and the foreboding mountain roads cuts another shaft of light--that of a set of automobile headlights.
A young writer and his fiancé drive the perilous dirt road in search of an ancient cemetery, necessary in his research for a new novel...They have been lost for some hours, unable to find their quest, or to find their way out of the mountains...When the storm hit, it gave them little chance of turning back...They could only continue on...
Then...the accident...a lightning-felled tree across the road--the squeal of brakes--the scream of injured tires--the crash!!!
A full moon flooded the ancient cemetery with light, even though a heavy fog lay over the entire area--the Master of the Dead and his equally infamous Princess of Darkness left their tomb to seat themselves on marble thrones, once again ready to judge those, the newly dead, brought before them...THE JUDGEMENT DAY...
The young writer and his fiancé, gaining consciousness after the crash, stumble, accidentally, upon these fantastic happenings...these horrifying rites...and are soon captured by the "Things" of the Night who take them before the Master, which orders them tied to ceremonial posts so they may watch the proceedings before they too join the others.
The Emperor hears, through interpretive dancing, the pleas of the many newly dead...The Main Street Prowler who lured men to her apartment and then fleeced and killed them...The Slave Girl who once was a princess and is now beaten by those who had been the slaves she had beaten...The Bride who murdered her husband and now must reside with his skeleton...The Indian Girl who tossed her lovers into the fires...But for an eternity now must toss herself into the fires continually...The Island Girl who loved snakes--used them to dispose of her lovers, and who now forever will live with snakes...The Girl who loved cats, and will remain a cat...and the One who worshipped Gold above all else--thus she is turned into solid gold.
The Princess of Darkness is about to take the young girl as her own slave when the first rays of the morning sun glisten upon the shiny blade of the knife. The Princess of Darkness, as all the others, are turned back into the skeletons and dust that they really are...
The young writer and his fiancé are then rescued from their wrecked car. Was it a dream?
Only the Night People know.
(Nightmares, p. 209)
Had Apostolof's film had just a little of Wood's enthusiasm, sensationalism, and innuendo, so evident in his writing, then Orgy of the Dead might have been a 60s kitsch classic. Unfortunately, it is not. As a finished film, it appears almost wholly devoid of energy. Yes, I understand that exploitation pictures are a market; their primary attraction is female nudity; and the window to draw a successful dollar from such a picture is limited. However, like most artistic endeavors, when the artist is lacking enthusiasm in the creation of his/her work, then his/her audience is going to recognize that. Most of the film is the dance sequences, punctuated by Criswell giving an over-the-top monologue or engaged in ridiculous dialogue with Silver's Black Ghoul. Nearly every dance sequence is shot in the same manner: typically, an overhead shot panning from side to side to cover all the action with medium close-ups edited in to break the monotony. The filming style has a more documentary feel, despite the theatrical set-up. At times, I felt as if I could talk to Apostolof while he was filming Orgy, then I would have said, "You know, it's okay if you find these women attractive. You could probably loosen up a bit and indulge your erotic artistic sensibility. Try to capture what you find attractive about each dancer." The final dance sequence really stands out, as it's quite different from the ones that preceded it. Like all of the dancers, she's quite attractive, and Apostolof changes his filming up a bit, like when she shakes her hips Apostolof goes for an interesting close-up. Texas Starr, who performed the kitty-cat dance sequence, is super cute. She has a fluffy feline outfit on that looks like loose pajamas, complete with cat ears. The outfit is cut open at her chest and at her bottom, making her a surefire Halloween Costume Party winner. She has such a pretty face, and like most of the dancers, it is evident that she put a lot of time and detail into her routine. Unfortunately, Apostolof shoots Starr's dance sequence in that boring overhead static shot. Her facial expressions, the little nuances in her dance, maybe a pretty smile--all of that is hidden.
Anyway, it doesn't matter. Like most of the cinema involving Edward D. Wood Jr., the most interesting facets involve Wood, himself. A larger picture of the artistic career of Edward D. Wood Jr. is beyond the scope of this blog entry, but for purposes here, it is suffice to say that Wood was one of cinema's truest outsiders. Apostolof notes that during the production of Orgy that Wood's drinking had gotten bad, and once he had to send Wood home to sober up. (Nightmares, p. 129) Wood had not directed a film since The Sinister Urge in 1960 and he would not direct again until the seventies. One of his later films is the infamous Necromania (1971), where most would experience their heart skipping a beat at the sight of Rene Bond. Save Criswell, I'm certain that the other performers in the film, like Fawn Silver and Pat Barringer, became part of Los Angeles' eight million stories and got lost in the shuffle. I highly recommend Grey's Nightmares for further reading on Wood and for those still curious about Orgy of the Dead. As it stands, Orgy of the Dead could have been a time-capsule gem but in the end, it is just tedious and cold.