The Red Shoes (dir. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1948) – This was awhile ago, but it begs mentioning. A beautiful, nearly sublime film that only early Technicolor could produce. Films about art that still maintain a concern for the inner political machinations and ramifications of art demand attention. They don’t pretend to transcend, and in so doing they wind up utterly transcendent. The portrayal of theater nearly suggests that theater existed for centuries – millennia – simply to preface what it would look like cinematically. Put them both together and they give birth to something that neither on its own could approach.
Breathless (dir. Jim McBride, 1983) – Although it’s been just long enough to warrant a revisit to Godard’s “original” (something about calling Godard “original” is always slightly ironic), took in the American remake instead. Expectations were low, so when this one offered some really remarkable bits, pieces, and overall product, apologies were in order. This belongs with the “best” of the L.A. films. Los Angeles dominates everything about it and is used adeptly as a catalyst that drives the narrative. Also, cinema. They make love behind the giant screen, with Gun Crazy‘s own love scene in the background. They aren’t cinephiles, exactly, but this is meta. At one point she stands identified with a contemporary Venus de Milo mural. It, like the film, is a scribbling over something classic and established. This is permissible, since that’s all Godard was doing in the first place. The films plays with the gaze, attempting to offer a more balanced take on the typical assumed male spectator. Richard Gere is objectified sexually, although so is Valerie Kaprisky. Still, shots of her are complex, offering subjective access rather than just candy for the male viewer’s enjoyment.
Blow Out (dir. Brian DePalma, 1981) – Like the above Breathless, here’s another free-standing gem that rips heavily but shamelessly off European art house cinema from the sixties. Blow-Up was Antonioni’s look at surveillance and all its implications regarding reality, or the lack thereof. DePalma’s version works off of Antonioni’s, along with Coppola’s The Conversation, but with a more realist narrative conclusion. It may not be feel-good, but it’s geared more toward audience expectations and pleasure. That’s to say, Travolta doesn’t disappear on a green in the last shot as Hemmings does in Blow-Up, and he doesn’t return to a primal, womb-like stage like Hackman does in the last shot of The Conversation.
Revolver (dir. Guy Ritchie, 2005) – This was marketed as Ritchie’s return to form, following his dabbling in the remake business and featuring his wife Madonna as the main star (Swept Away). In Revolver, he’s trying to have his cake and eat it too. Going for maximum entertainment value, the film also wallows in its refusal to give any clear-cut answers. Reminds one of the description of Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development: “She gets off on being withholding.” Once the film wraps up, Ritchie enlists various psychologists and university profs to explain the mental phenomenon underlying the film’s narrative uncertainty during the closing credits. Whatever. Using this sort of thing as an instrument to a greater end is one thing, but it comes off as highly pretentious. Hitchcock had a way of giving the audience enough to work with while maintaining suspense, but films like Revolver put off the distinct vibe of being better than their audience. Ritchie confirms this in an interview, acknowledging that they cut out a lot of material that would have shed more light on the nature of the plot.
The Great Dictator (dir. Charlie Chaplin, 1940) – Embarrassed not to have seen it earlier, but at least it’s now happened. Quite a fascinating Prince and the Pauper story set in WWII, mostly because of Chaplin’s suggestion of Hitler’s humanity. Of course, he later said he wouldn’t have made the film if he’d known about the nature of the Holocaust. The most interesting scene has to be when Hinkel plays with the balloon-globe privately in his nest of an office. There’s something wickedly beautiful, almost transcendent, about the image. Chaplin is a self-described fool, so when he portrays a Hitler-esque dictator, he comes across as a naughty child who is so self-obsessed (as children tend to be) as not to consider the realities going on based on his ruthless orders.
Morning Glory (dir. Roger Michell, 2010) – Wow, just awful. This one sticks to the formula like it’s got nothing else to offer, which it doesn’t. Harrison Ford seems just as scotch-drunk here as he did on Conan a couple weeks ago. Rachel McAdams’ character, to which the viewer is sutured, is a workaholic whose outlook on life is completely superficial, and that is applauded at least or assumed normal at best. The obligatory unemployed montage is an insensitive insertion in an era of massive unemployment. It’s another movie that tells us: you can be the very best, if you only work hard enough, and once you get to the top, you realize how only then can you take a breather and enjoy life a little.