I decided to write a regular Midnight Screening for Friday this week anyway, because I couldn’t resist the opportunity to immediately discuss Gun Crazy…
You are excused for thinking Gun Crazy was released in pre-Hays Code 1932, post-Hays Code 1968, or in Europe in 1950, the actual year of the film’s release. Sure, Gun Crazy isn’t brutally violent or pornographically sexual or anything. Director Joseph H. Lewis, an auteur among B-movie directors, relies on suggestion and implication more than overt expression, but all of this unstated terror and innuendo only makes the film naughtier and nastier. None of it hides the essential truth, revealed right in the film’s opening act when the main character’s older sister informs a judge that “something else about guns gets him, not killing”, that Gun Crazy is dripping with sexual metaphors and an indifferently Freudian, but nonetheless sharp and incisive, commentary on how violence and sexual gratification are intimately linked in modern American culture. Not exactly fair game for Hollywood in 1950, but then, that is the privilege of motion pictures produced on the cheap: they don’t have to appeal to a majority of Americans, and they can fly under the radar of “respect” by the brain and the heart and drive right into the gut. Continue reading
“Actor turned writer/director” is a questionable phrase for a movie reviewer. Even more skeptical is the age-old “they’re good with actors” argument everyone trumpets when they fall overboard for the likes of Robert Redford upon directing a stately, dismally respectable, vacantly uninteresting prestige pic of the Capital-O Oscarbait demeanor. Sure, actors turned directors tend to have a certain camaraderie with their cast, but a good cast, a good performance, despite what seemingly every lazy reviewer in the world tells you, does not a good movie make.
The Gift is not only a debut by an actor, Joel Edgerton, turned director and writer in one fell swoop, but it is also a film whose marketing campaign was, charitably speaking, dead in the water. It is also, to add insult to injury, not a film whose director/writer was ever a particularly notable actor to begin with. Sure, he’s never been especially bad in anything, but his chance to shine in the limelight has yet to be given to him; maybe Edgerton has a great performance under a separate director lurking under his skin, but he hasn’t yet delivered it. Three strikes, then, for The Gift. Continue reading
It is almost certainly the case that this is an uninformed generalization based on the nationalistic segmentations of modern society since the late 1700s, but Italians just seem to have the most fun making their films. Again, a generalization, but then the fact that nations have, like them or not, been constructed over the course of the modern era does in fact mean those nations, by virtue of government, economic, and social divisions, bear social differences in how groups of people like their art, and boy is it my impression that Italians like their art most furiously. Continue reading
John Ford never really knew what to do with the American West. He was more invested in expressing what he didn’t know and searching for an answer than coming across one; his corpus of great American Westerns is the fullest directorial exercise in coming to terms with a genre and its place in American history you can find in all of cinema. He would uphold the genre and test its limits in equal full-throated gulps, usually at once, but what he thought of the West was never more unclear than in 1949’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. It is maybe the case that he didn’t think all that much about it in this film at all, beyond using it as a template to re-explore the grand old adventure pictures he would routinely release in his silent days. But questions and criticisms of human conservatism pile up even in an ostensibly conservative tribute to the gentility of the American West. Continue reading
Our two Midnight Screenings, both cult films from the ’70s, come early this week. Enjoy!
It ain’t easy remaking one of the greatest and most influential French films of all time. But after laying down the law (and critiquing it with a stern eye) with The French Connection in 1971 and unexpectedly repopularizing the horror genre with the pre-blockbuster success of The Exorcist, William Friedkin had virtual carte blanche to do just about whatever he wanted, and what the genre-film director and aficionado wanted was to pay homage to one of his heroes, Henri-Georges Clouzot, by remaking one of his most widely respected films: The Wages of Fear. Continue reading
Our two Midnight Screenings, both underappreciated “cult” films from the ’70s, come early this week. Enjoy!
What better way for a sexually charged, forlorn, wayward soul of a film to begin than with a sexually charged image of the de facto modern male in the early ’70s, Clint Eastwood, pouncing on a small child, only to reveal that his pounce is actually a falter, a fall of the most forlorn, wayward variety. In Don Siegel’s promiscuous, weathered Southern Gothic swamp, Eastwood plays a wounded Yankee soldier during the civil war lost in the lashing foliage of a Southern forest, only to find refuge in a Southern boarding school for girls. Sexual tension protrudes and a lurid, sweaty hypnotism beckons everyone toward the sinister underbelly of the deep South. A region which refers, in this film, both the geography of the United States and to the unmentionable regions of the human body. Continue reading
Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? lies perilously close to Sunset Blvd., so much so that the screenplay by Lukas Heller and the visual style by Robert Aldrich would be shameless repeats if they weren’t so rapturously evocative and explosively effective. You can call it whatever you want: a drug-addled fever dream variation on Sunset, a hysterical nightmare that Sunset had about itself, a corrosive purifying of Sunset so that all the relative cleanliness of the material had been washed away until only the abrasive sandpaper at the core remained. Ultimately, what saves What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is not how it differentiates itself from Sunset, but how it rips into the Sunset aesthetic with such scabrous gusto and full-throated commitment that it exposes the horror cinema trappings of the chiaroscuro noir-speckled visuals and wonderfully garish vulture-like acting of Billy Wilder’s venerable 1950 film, the ultimate Hollywood work on the perils of Hollywood. Continue reading