Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hodgepodge or Potpourri or Whatever

I hope you all like capsule reviews, announcements combined with mild complaints, and just plain announcements, because here all of those are...

Smiles of a Summer Night, d. Ingmar Bergman - Not surprisingly, Ingmar Bergman's version of a comedy romp about the battle of the sexes still manages to include tortured spirituality, suicide attempts, and Russian roulette. But a comedic romp it is, and I got the sense that, whether he liked it or not, this film has wormed its way into Woody Allen's subconcious far more than Cries and Whispers or The Silence, say. But that's fine, because from what I can tell, Woody Allen is actually far better at this sort of thing (excluding his mediocre riff on this film specifically, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy), not least because Allen is much funnier than Bergman. Very little in Bergman's film induced me to consider the possibility of laughing (the Captain is really the only character who seems to be unamibiguously taking part in a comedy), but, even so, I found Smiles of a Summer Night to be perfectly enjoyable, which means that Bergman's film shares a curious feature that I've noticed is common in older (pre-1960, roughly) comedies that in no way holds true of their modern counterparts -- specifically, you don't necessarily have to think the film is funny to think it's good. I guess the main reason for this difference is that, unlike classic comedies, modern comedies are far more likely to include fat suits, Dane Cook, and farting, and those are really the sorts of thing that you either like, or you don't.

The Grissom Gang, d. Robert Aldrich - Aldrich has always felt like a poor man's Sam Peckinpah to me. Not an original thought, to be sure, but, like Richard Fleischer, Robert Aldrich's critical reputation seems to always be creeping upward, and, also like Fleischer, I've never been able to understand precisely why. Aldrich frequently tackled the same the same kind of material as Peckinpah (and this kind of material is very often central to the Kinds of Films I Like), but while, for instance, Peckinpah's brand of cynicism feels hard-earned and genuine, Aldrich's seems fashionable, even if it is genuine (not only that, but I can't quite see Peckinpah allowing a writer like Clifford Odets to yammer on and hamstring one of his films the way Odets did to Aldrich's The Big Knife).

The Grissom Gang is as okay-I-guess as many of Aldrich's movies (but listen, I love The Dirty Dozen just as much as the next guy, so don't everyone pile on at once). It's adapted from a nasty pulp novel by James Hadley Chase called No Orchids for Miss Blandish (a book which George Orwell called both "a brilliant piece of writing" and "pure Fascism"), and is about Depression-era Socialite and kidnap victim Miss Blandish (Kim Darby) and her relationship with her kidnappers, especially Slim Grissom (Scott Wilson), who is sort of like Lenny, from Of Mice and Men, if Lenny killed people on purpose. Wilson is, I think, a great actor, but Aldrich lets him completely off his leash, to the point where the expression on his face when the virginal Slim turns slowly to face Miss Blandish after she has just offered herself to him, puts me in mind of Alfalfa turning around to face a ghost. Wilson isn't the only actor to suffer under this sense of freedom, and, beyond that, the film feels cheap, and its style borrowed.

I recently came across this...

A great subject for a documentary, I must say, but that tagline drives me nuts. In case you can't read it, it says "He was in only five movies. Each was nominated for Best Picture". While John Cazale's particularly admirable filmography is without a doubt part of what makes him fascinating, the fascinating part isn't the Oscar nominations, but the films themselves, and Cazale's work in them. Why not just say "He was in only five movies: Dog Day Afternoon, The Conversation, The Deer Hunter, The Godfather, and The Godfather Part II"?

Beyond that, of course, is the implication that John Cazale holds a place in film history because of some fluke-ish bit of trivia, and not because he was a great actor who landed great roles because filmmakers respected him and, you know, wanted him in their films.

But, okay, it's just a marketing ploy to bring in the kind of audience who has no idea who John Cazale is, but who positively loves semi-obscure Oscar facts. Those three people can join the rest of us in watching this thing when it airs on HBO some day in the future, or when it comes out on DVD.

Hey, don't any of you forget about the inaugural post for the Oldest Established Really Important Film Club! Said post goes up some time tomorrow, and it will be/has been brought to us by Marilyn of Ferdy on Films. The film this month is The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia. Be there, won't you?

Sort of, anyway. This is actually just an announcement for an announcement, but I have anywhere from two to three semi-big projects in the works, blog-wise, that will begin in the next couple of months, and the announcement for the first project will be going up on Tuesday. The announcement will describe the idea behind the project, and will also give a short list of titles that will be involved, so that you can better take part in whatever discussions arise. I have no firm dates, though, so I guess that means I'm going to have announce this thing twice.


Greg said...

Cazale was also used in flashback footage in Part III, which was also nominated for Best Picture. Of course this documentary is feature length and won't be nominated so nice way to blow the streak guys!

Here's the documentary I think they should do:

He was in 166 movies. None were nominated for Best Picture. Not even one! Shemp Howard.

I think we could all get behind that one.

bill r. said...

It could be called You Numbskull!

Anonymous said...

or "Woo, Woo, Woo, Woo, Woo, Woo, Woo."

Nice observation about Allen and "Smiles of a Summer's Night." I love that film.

nd said...

Re: Aldrich--haven't tried The Grissom Gang (actually having read a little J.H. Chase, I can't say that the prospect of an adaptation is enticing), but he belongs in the pantheon for Kiss Me Deadly and Ulzana's Raid at the very least.

bill r. said...

Yes, Kiss Me Deadly is indeed good, and what I've heard about Ulzana's Raid makes me want to see it very much. I just get the feeling that Aldrich was maybe only as good as his scripts.

And out of curiosity, if you're still around, ND, what about adapting Chase puts you off? I've only read No Orchids for Miss Blandish, and that years ago, but I remember liking it.

nd said...

Yeah, somehow Ulzana's Raid seems to be frequently mooted about as a great film but relatively few people have seen it...! I don't know if there's a decent DVD edition--the version I saw was "fullscreen" (i.e. cropped) and was the truncated version that's missing a few key scenes. But you can get the missing bits from YouTube, last time I checked.

Been years since I read the Chase book, I mostly just remember it as a nasty piece of work that lacked the ugly poetry of say Jim Thompson or Cornell Woolrich. Keep in mind, though, that I was reading it largely because No Orchids... is a key element of Alasdair Gray's great novel Lanark...!

bill r. said...

Keep in mind, though, that I was reading it largely because No Orchids... is a key element of Alasdair Gray's great novel Lanark...!

Is it really!? I had no idea. Lanark has been on my to-be-read pile for a very long time (I've read Gray's Poor Things, and I loved the first half, but was lukewarm on the second half), and this revelation just makes me even more intrigued.

I won't go to the mat for Chase's novel, because it's been too long since I've read it (so long that I wasn't always sure, while watching Aldrich's film, what was straight from the book, and what had been tweaked or outright changed), but, for me, sometimes "nasty" is good. Sometimes. And I remember Chase's novel being one of those times. Without giving away too much, I will say that Aldrich and Co. either chickened out, or thought they had a better idea, in one key respect, which may or may not make the film more appealing to you.

nd said...

Ah.... with Gray, I think you could make the case that basically nothing except for Lanark (and about half of Unlikely Stories, Mostly) is especially worth reading. Poor Thing, 1982 Janine and Something Leather all were terribly disappointing.... indeed a lot of his later work is simply cobbled together from old plays, TV scripts, & short stories. (Massive writer's block in extremis?) Haven't tried any of his recent stuff but I think I'll just keep to Lanark, which is indeed a remarkable book. Come to think of it, it's time to revisit it....

bill r. said...

I shall read Lanark this year. Mark my words.