Saturday, September 20, 2008

Queue Reviews! Or, Possibly, a Less Crappy Title!

If I don't get started on this post now, I never will, so the title is going to have to stand until I think of something better (i.e., not horrible) and go back and change it.

So anyway. Capsule reviews of previous Netflix rentals, is what this is all about, you see. I mean to write this one several days ago, but other posts and -- let us not forget -- laziness have pushed it until today. I watched all three of these films last weekend, so my memory, and therefore reviews, of them won't be as sharp as I'd like. Also, I slept in really late this morning, and it's fuzzing up my brain. And now that my excuses are all in play, I shall proceed.

Brute Force - d. Jules Dassin (1947) - This film, if you haven't seen it, is kind of messed up. It's a prison film of the "noble criminal" variety, meaning that all the inmates we discover anything about are basically good guys who, through desperation or a brief, minor weakness, have transgressed the law. Their punishment ends up far outweighing their crimes, because not only do they have to go to prison (a fate, the movie seemed to imply, that even criminals should be spared), but they have Hume Cronyn's sadistic prison guard making their lives hell.
But I don't mean to sound so negative. This is really, in many ways, an excellent film. Burt Lancaster, Charles Bickford, Roman Bohnen, and especially Cronyn, give terrific performances, and the film looks beautiful -- the last twenty or so minutes of this film highlights the odd, otherworldly beauty that black and white photography can bring to screen violence. But the "noble criminal" cliche', while fine in small doses, when taken to its extreme rankles me quite a bit. Yes, it's true, I'm not a fan of Bonnie and Clyde for much the same reason.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul - d. Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1974) - So, okay, I don't know much about Fassbinder's aesthetic (by which I mean what was planned and what wasn't) or his influences (beyond what I can try and guess at), so I'll just ask straight-out: are the sudden shots of melodrama injected into this otherwise spare, almost kitchen-sink drama, intentional? Obviously they're intentional, because he put them there, but did he intend them to play like melodrama?

Quickly, for those who don't know, this is the story of Emmi, a middle-aged German woman, and Ali, a Moroccan immigrant worker many years her junior, who fall in love and have to weather the prejudices of a German society who remembers all too well the Munich Olypmics massacre of two years previous. And to be honest, with that set up, the film is almost as schematic as you might guess. So add that to the occasionally jarring melodrama (Ali's sudden collapses and illness), and I have to ask, "Okay, so why is this still so compelling?" Because I did find it very compelling, and I have to admit that I haven't yet figured out why. Perhaps Fassbinder is trying to remind us that however much an audience might giggle at the overheated nature of melodrama, they may be doing so because they can sometimes recognize the reality of it, and Fassbinder does this by wrapping the more eyebrow-raising moments of his film in the most straightforward, stripped-down and down-played style possible. Maybe.

De Sade - d. Cy Endfield (1969) - Sorry, Cy Endfield and Richard Matheson, but this film is trash. For one thing, the film is not, as I'd previously thought, a horror film, but rather a frickin' biopic as fever dream, or fever dream as biopic, or some such nonsense. It's fractured, in any case, and not to any positive effect that I could see.

Keir Dullea is ridiculously miscast as De Sade, a man whose adult drift into perversion and, well, sadism was all instigated when he was but an innocent youth, whose uncle (John Huston, less badly miscast) exposed him to cruel and painful sexual humiliation. And there you have it. Now just imagine how the rest of a movie with such a premise might play out, but, you know, fracture it. Also, every so often put a red filter on your lens. I would also add that you shouldn't forget about tits, but I hardly think I need to point that out.
NEXT IN THE QUEUE: Young Mr. Lincoln, My Favorite Year, and Renoir's The River


Anonymous said...

I like "Queue Reviews" just fine. Kinda catchy, it rhymes, you know?

And though I haven't seen "Ali, Fear eats the soul," sounds like Fassbinder to me.

bill r. said...

Meaning that my reading of the highly wrought moments seems on target to you? This was only my third Fassbinder film, the other two being The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and Chinese Roulette, and I found both of those so odd that I can't really read them the same way that I read Ali....

Anonymous said...

Meaning, the Fassbinder I've seen (not much, either) can veer into the melodrama from time to time.

Krauthammer said...

Fassbinder is obsessed with melodrama, especially Sirk's. In fact, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is a loose remake of All That Heaven Allows.

bill r. said...

Krauthammer, first, welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

Second, am I alone in thinking that the melodrama, as employed in Ali is a bit jarring at times? The movie isn't styled as a melodrama, like Sirk's films, at least I didn't see it that way. But then every so often, someone will kick in a TV set or collaps on a dance seemed to come out of nowhere. Which, I guess melodrama can often do.

Anonymous said...

@Bill... the TV set scene in "Ali" is a direct and, in fact, brilliantly hilarious reference to the TV set scene in "All That Heaven Allows", so this one doesn't actually 'come out of nowhere'...

bill r. said...

Hm. Well, I suppose it should be clear to all of you that I've never seen All That Heaven Allows. How embarrassing for me. I have, however, seen Lured. Why that Doulgas Sirk film, as opposed to some of his better known, better regarded films? Why, because Boris Karloff is in it, of course.

But that moment DOES come out of nowhere in Ali. Well, not nowhere, because Emmi's family is clearly not on board with her decision, but it's such a ludicrous reaction. Is it such a great idea to include in a film that maintains a largely naturalistic tone a moment that only completely works as it's intended if you happen to have seen this other film that Fassbinder is especially keen on?

Look, that moment didn't really bother me, and I don't mean to harp on it. But as someone largely unfamiliar with Fassbinder's influences, the film played a little strange to me, on occasion.