- Broadway Danny Rose (Woody Allen)
- L’Atalante (Jean Vigo)
- Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock)
- Lenny (Bob Fosse)
- The Tenant (Roman Polanski)
- The Traveler (Abbas Kiarostami)
- The Coward (Satyajit Ray)
- Sunset Song (Terence Davies)
- Dos Monjes (Juan Bustillo Oro)
- Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami)
1- If there is such a thing as a Thanksgiving movie, Broadway Danny Rose is it. I think it might be Woody Allen’s most successful comedy, and that is because it is mostly kind. Danny Rose is almost a holy fool. His goodness radiates out, and even though he is mistreated worst by those who owe him the most, eventually his kindness makes a difference in the world. There is none of the smarminess that we find in later Allen films, although the scene where he and Mia Farrow are tied up together seems pretty icky. There are still the Italian caricatures that he is so fond of, but in all fairness he has a lot of Jewish caricatures as well. The jokes are wonderful. The world of seedy New York is lovingly drawn. Is it the 60s? The 70s? The 80s? I can’t tell. The Greek Chorus of old Jewish Standup comics in the Deli that are narrating and commenting on ‘the best Danny Rose story’ are the heart of this movie. The way they describe how hard it is to get a gig now is heartbreaking but they take it with a joke. There is only one comic line that falls flat. Let me know if you know which line I mean.
2- I am done with Jean Vigo. I watched all his works again on the Criterion Channel. It only amounts to about 200 minutes, since he died so young, but they all bore the life out of me. I find them tedious and pretentious. Much noise is made about how revolutionary L’atalante is. I don’t see it. It bores me. It may be my fault, but I have watched it four times, so the blame can’t entirely lie with me. I think it is a bit of the James Dean syndrome. Vigo died at the age of 29, with only one feature and a few shorts to his name. Like James Dean, perhaps his talent has been overappreciated because there is so little of it available and what exists is flashy. Please tell me why you think I may be wrong.
3- My one great truth about Hitchcock is that his movies are not about what you think they are about. The Birds is not about a series of unexplained bird attacks. It is about the unresolved tension in the relationships between Melanie Daniels, Mitch Brenner and his mother, Lydia Brenner, with his sister Cathy thrown in the mix for fun. Vertigo is not about Madeline Elster’s real identity. It is about the power of erotic self-destruction. Rear Window is not about what happened to Mrs. Thorvald. It is about the struggle for the upper hand in the relationship between Jeff and Lisa (spoiler alert: it ends in a temporary draw). And so, Psycho is not about the shower scene and what leads up to it. I am not really sure what it is about, but I have a feeling it is, in a perverse way, about the empowerment of women. Marion steals the money to fix a situation that her lover seems incapable of fixing. Lila ‘solves’ the mystery when all the men around her bungle it. Even Mrs. Bates wins out at the end. There is an extraordinary amount to male objectivizing for a movie of this time. When we first see John Gavin in the hotel room, he is present as a sex object, even more than Marion is. Anthony Perkins is stunningly beautiful and so endearing as Norman Bates, that the end should always come as a shock even though, sixty years later, we know what it is. The cliché is that Hitchcock was awful for women. I think Psycho should make us reassess that thinking.
4- I missed seeing Lenny when it first came out and I was glad to watch it now. I don’t know if Fosse was being more objective than the normal assessment vis-a-vis Lenny Bruce, but the comic comes off more as a dangerous and self-destructive figure than the shining exemplar of First Amendment rights. It is hard to pity his downward spiral, because as brilliant as he is, he is just MEAN. Dustin Hoffman is spectacular, yes, but Valerie Perrine. Wow.
5- Man, I LOVED The Tenant when it first came out. I dragged all my friends to see it. I don’t think it has aged as well as the film it seems most closely linked to: Rosemary’s Baby. Apparently these two films plus Repulsion are a loose trilogy. Rosemary’s Baby wins hands down.
6- The Traveler is Abbas Kiarostami’s first full-length feature, and as such it is solid. I love movies that show kids to be rotten and not living in some kind of Edenic childhood paradise. This boy is absolutely amoral and selfish. Nowhere close to Kiarostami’s later works of genius, but worth a watch for sure.
7- I watched The Coward the day after the great Soumitra Chatterjee died. He starred in a ton of Satyajit Ray, most famously making his film debut as Apu in the last film of the trilogy. The Coward is a small film, but like every other Ray film I have seen, it is deeply satisfying.
8- I am not sure what drew the great Terence Davies to Sunset Song. It is gorgeous to look at and involving, but it doesn’t have the overwhelming emotional impact of his masterpieces. The next film he made, A Quiet Passion about Emily Dickinson, has all the hallmarks of a Davies masterpiece.
9- If The Cabinet of Doctor Calegari and Rashomon got married, moved to 1930s Mexico and had a baby, it would be Dos Monjes. Expressionism and Mexican Romanticism. The scenes in the monastery remind me of Ivan The Terrible weirdness. And the multivalent story telling must have seems so fresh coming some 20 years before Rashomon. It thrills me that such sui-generis films exist that I never heard of. What else is out there to discover?
10- After watching a ton of Kiarostami films, I went back to The Taste of Cherry, often cited as his masterpiece. I didn’t get it when I saw it 15 years ago. Having much more context now, I get it but I still don’t love it the way I love The Koker Trilogy and Close-up. It’s probably more my fault that Kiarostami’s. This time around, I totally got the pacing and the extreme long takes, things which bored me before.