Wednesday, September 28, 2022

if....(Lindsay Anderson, 1968)


Lindsay Anderson’s if…. feels as freshly daring and unprecedented now, and as bitingly relevant, as it must have done in 1968; no doubt the details of Britain’s lack of fitness for purpose have changed, but their essential corrosive porousness continues. The boundaries of Anderson’s film (set entirely within and around a boys-only private school) are often unclear: some scenes (such as the caning of Malcolm McDowell’s Mick Travis and his two partners in rebellion) are presented in excruciating real time, but other moments (such as all of those involving the most prominent female character, identified only as “the Girl,”) are infused with reverie and fantasy, with the shifting between colour and black and white embodying the underlying instability. Anderson’s portrayal of the institution isn’t entirely without grudging affection: one occasionally feels the strange allure of succumbing to this self-contained world’s insular rituals. But it’s a place where regressiveness and hypocrisy run rampant, powered by often petty and sadistic rituals rooted in notions of tradition and discipline (any nods to modernity consisting of mere platitudes), with little tolerance of dissent, the teachers seeming mainly like hollowed-out drones; the film contrasts the beauty of same-sex attraction in its natural intuitive state with the warped, predatory version of it that prevails in the structure of the younger boys being at the beck and call of (and, as we see in one scene, “traded” between) the older ones. The film’s famously nihilistic ending, a memorable spectacle on its own terms, resonates all the more for its embodiment of a society sowing its own destruction; the WW2-era weapons used by Travis and the others to shoot up the school all lying forgotten in its recesses, falling into their hands as part of an imposed punishment (which, in handing it out, the headmaster spins as an opportunity to do good). But for all its pessimism, there’s not a scene in the film that isn’t ventilated and lifted by observational and behavioral finesse and razor-sharp creative finesse.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Lola (Jacques Demy, 1961)


Jacques Demy’s beautiful cinema dissolves one’s usual sense of directorial continuity and evolution – watching Lola, his debut, it feels as if his other great works must have already existed and be in conversation with it, that the Lola who leaves with her reclaimed love at the end is in some sense already the Lola lost in Model Shop’s America, that the music score is nodding backwards to Umbrellas of Cherbourg rather than anticipating it, that some of the recurring Nantes locations are already haunted by the tragic events of the much later Une chambre en ville, that one story of separation and regret might on some celestial plane be intertwined with another. In Lola’s extremely concentrated narrative, the distinction between hours and years dissolves – in just a couple of days, long-lost love objects are rediscovered (even by multiple searchers) and perhaps then lost again, life yields moments and encounters that one knows are destined to remain in the memory after much else has been erased. The film’s intense sense of place exists in equilibrium with the pull of elsewhere: one character is headed for Johannesburg; another has returned from making his fortune on an island in the Pacific; another, a sailor, is from Chicago (although one character questions this, pointing out that only gangsters come from there); it’s mentioned twice that to go and work as a dancer in Marseilles might cause one to end up in Argentina. But any exoticism attached to these prospects is heavy with resignation, a sense that the contours of one’s world will still be defined predominantly by the unattainable heart’s desire. Anouk Aimee’s Lola, if perhaps not quite one of cinema’s greatest beauties, is certainly one of its most singularly wondrous presences: extraordinarily vivid and present, yet with a sense of distracted fragility that, at least in a Demy film, renders future heartbreak and displacement all but inevitable.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

From Noon till Three (Frank D. Gilroy, 1976)

Charles Bronson’s body of work (at least the name above the title portion of it) hasn’t worn too well as a whole, but contains a few highlights, including Richard Fleischer’s Mr. Majestyk (amid all the threat and carnage, it’s oddly touching how all the guy really wants to do is harvest his melons) and Frank D. Gilroy’s From Noon Till Three, perhaps the most lightly subversive of his starring roles, and a nice riff on mythmaking and printing the truth versus the legend (a kind of Woman who Loved Liberty Valance). Bronson plays Graham, a low-grade outlaw forced to sit out the gang’s latest bank robbery, instead meeting and falling in love with Amanda, a wealthy widow (Jill Ireland, of course). The gang is wiped out, and in trying to evade the fate of his colleagues, Graham ends up in jail under a different name, assumed dead by Amanda. When he gets out, he finds that a romanticized book version of the Graham and Amanda story has become a best-selling global sensation, with the town now largely devoted to related tourism; the myth of a tragically deceased, supernaturally handsome Graham is so strong that the man himself can’t persuade anyone, not even the love of his life, of his real identity. The film is fairly irresistible in its conception and execution, although nothing about it cuts very deep – the two main characters are thinly conceived, and no one else registers more than fleetingly. One winces at the device of having Graham, within about an hour of their meeting, get Amanda into bed by feigning impotence and eliciting her sympathy. Still, the depiction of a community crassly denying the objective facts of the present, for the sake of perpetual surrender to an emotionally soothing past, is eternally relevant; no less the final note, of a society that can no longer distinguish (and doesn’t even care to try) between truth and madness.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Arrebato (Ivan Zulueta, 1979)


Ivan Zulueta's Arrebato is a wildly singular film, its inspiration so boundless and multi-faceted that one could imagine a lifetime of energy and blood being poured into it (Zulueta's otherwise sparse filmography sadly supports that general impression), possessed by a startling unifying conviction. Although to attempt a plot summary is even more hopeless here than it usually is, the film contrasts the personal and artistic efforts of Jose, a professional filmmaker stuck in the horror genre, and Pedro (the indelible Will More, a stand-out among a uniformly relishable cast), a way-outside-the-system visionary in search of his notion of cinematic rapture (which he often expresses in terms of finding the right "rhythm"). Through mechanisms carrying elements of mysticism, hypnotism, vampirism and whatever other -ism you might want to nominate, Jose becomes consumed by Pedro's personal journey, his own life (largely made up of drug-taking and sparring with his girlfriend, vivaciously played by Cecilia Roth) dwindling away. The film teems with movie-love, from the physical tangibility of cameras and projectors and film stock to the related culture of posters and memorabilia (there are some nice shots of marquees displaying then-current attractions such as Superman and Phantasm), and has passages of giddy playfulness, but it's all tinged with a delirious hopelessness, a sense of a cinema that demands complete submission whatever that might entail, or else that one go crazy in the attempt (Pedro's mother, insisting among other things that a black and white film on TV used to be in colour, further adds to the sense of a medium mutating beyond human control). Zulueta's brilliant last shot, with the sound of gunfire suddenly erupting on the soundtrack, somewhat reorients everything that's gone before, suggesting that the film's silence on political matters was perhaps, all along, a deeply despairing form of engagement.