The Great Race

Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis were together in Some Like it Hot, and so I thought that perhaps The Great Race, a movie I had seen and loved as a little child, might be more than just a children’s movie. I’m afraid it wasn’t even that. It is poor, flat, slapstick. Big actors and set-piece situations do not make a movie fresh, and the staleness of this movie is all the more apparent for being so similar to Help!, the Beatles movie released the same year. Jack and Tony are sloughing through their lines, knowing they are stars and the script is trash and they have done this all before with Billy Wilder, who was a master. Help! And The Great Race could be pieces of the same script, but if that were so, the Beatles would be constantly going off script and infusing their wacky scenarios with their dry and fresh humor. Don’t waste your time.

RKO 281

Citizen Kane is arguably the greatest movie made, and RKO 281, a movie based on the making of Citizen Kane, pulls upon the inherently interesting story of such a great movie being made by Orson Welles. Hearst, the seemingly all-powerful newspaper mogul, quickly discovering that the film is about him and not flattering, does his best to prevent the film from every seeing the screen. Sure, there are some corny parts, and there is an over-dramatization merited perhaps by the largeness of the characters involved, but the film is still enjoyable. I noticed, though, at the beginning of the film, that it is based, in part, on a documentary. I will wager that watching the documentary is a better use of your time and will have all the enjoyable elements of this movie.

Last Year at Marienbad

What a strange movie. The camera pans over a ornate house filled with puppet characters who are never given dialogue worth noting. At least twice I missed dialogue because I didn’t read the subtitles, but it didn’t mar the movie. This may have been because none of the dialogue has any import, or because what I missed had been said a dozen times already, or because I didn’t miss the lines at all, but only thought I must have.

For all the oddity of the movie, it was fascinating. It is like a who done it where the who is know and the it is questioned. What was done, or left undone? Nabokov criticized Dostoevsky and claimed that people who loved his novels mistook vacuity for mystery. That might be the case here, but it doesn’t seem to matter since you are more interested in seeing something, anything, rather than deceitful story you are telling and hoping you yourself might believe.

This film is violent in the way Scorsese’s ‘The Age of Innocence’ is. The narrator repeats again and again the same few lines and is repulsed by the girl, but she does begin to yield and a story and a pass do being to emerge in spite of every effort to reject them. Where Scorsese pits his characters against the fixed rules of society, Last Year at Marienbad pits our desire to know what is what against a desire to repress the unseemly in our past.

I thought this movie was fascinating, but won’t recommend it because I can’t think of anyone who I would recommend it to. If you watch it let me know what you think.

Divided We Fall

This Czech movie is pleasant enough to watch, but seems to love the strangeness of its plot twists just a little too much. It takes an odd crowd and insures their intimate proximity is left to stew into strange and perplexing situations. There are too many quirky circumstances for the film to properly introduce before they cause baffling solutions. We are left half-wondering what exactly is going on and whether their solutions are the only available ones while we should be focusing on appreciating the climax. I don’t surf, but I would imagine sitting on a board in a sea too choppy to ride a wave would elicit a feeling similar to that felt while watching this movie.

Some of the scenes are beautiful and some are touching, but in the moments of excitement and confusion the camera-work manages to confuse without exciting us.

It is good to show that in order to stand against oppression you must unite, but when uniting seems to demand that you let your wife become impregnated by a harbored jew and the baby delivered by a man who has tried to rape her there is no satisfaction. Instead you are left wondering if the film isn’t throwing out all morality (with the well accepted caveat that Nazis are evil) and claiming that in this dog eat dog world we must do whatever we can just to stay alive.

12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men, Sidney Lumet’s most famous movie, is deceptively simple in its presentation. The tricks employed are famous: the continually sinking camera and the continually narrowing lens bring you closer and closer into the claustrophobic action; the parts of a single heated dialogue were often filmed weeks apart as part of a lighting scheme meant to keep the film within its budget. All of this heartache was for a strange purpose: having a movie that seemed to be shot in a single, small, shrinking room. The smaller the set the simpler and cheaper the production, no? If filming on the smaller set costs so much, why not work with something a bit bigger? There is a Russian adaption of this movie which sidesteps many difficulties by having the jurors meet in a gym, but by doing so the play is irrevocable altered; in such a visual medium as film the sense of place can be protagonistic in its effect.

The room into which the men first file is an uncomfortable one: greasy walls, sticky windows, a broken fan, a bare table and a dozen chairs (trials were probably shorter before the advent of AC). It is a room meant for a single purpose and demanding undivided attention for whatever case is to hand: as the truth is approached there is less room—the walls themselves force confrontation with oneself. What is it like to have the world collapse upon you?

Lee Cobb, credited as ‘Juror 3’ and known as ‘The Big Man’ in our discussions about the film, expresses his boredom and feigns an open mind when he attempts to label the matter a clear-cut case. Since only Henry Fonda’s character does not immediately agree with Cobb the focus seems to shift to Fonda, and also, since Fonda is thwarting a quick and easy decision, around him the conversation centers. There are ways to understand this film while taking Fonda as the protagonist, but I believe there is more here than a good man willing to make space for the truth, and that Cobb is the man to watch—if Cobb had held out for another ten minutes he may well have been the only man left in the room threatening him with isolated self-reflection.

We do not wish to be found guilty of our sins, we hope to deny them, or, finding that impossible, we wish others to take them upon themselves. Not thinking the latter is likely, we choose to impose the guilt upon those around us and use their supposed grime to wash ourselves clean.  A man might wish to blame his boss for his own lousy performance or a father his son for their differences; an uncompromising man, however, would know that to rest there is not to escape guilt, for who is party to the strife but themselves? It must go further, the blame must be attributed to a nature, the nature of bosses, of sons, of whomever else can have the accusation laid at their feet: ‘If all sons, if all bosses, are like this, then clearly it is simply accidental that I am involved—the blame couldn’t be mine’.

There is another way, a way which ends in admitting that all are guilty for all before all. ‘I am guilty’ is the beginning of this way, and an understanding of universal guilt the result of seeing the evil around you. Once you can understand this, you can love Him who is willing to come and take your guilt upon Himself although He alone can truly say ‘I am not guilty’. And in that love, and through Him, you can love those around you for the good He has universally given.

Holding to a belief in your innocence will lead you to a solitary isolation as those around you necessarily abandon you and you abandon them to your despair. In your mind, if not in further ways, they shall switch sides and stand against you and your world shall shrink heedlessly into a cell built of your own pride and hate. Forced to confront the truth you must despair or cave beneath the pressure of a collapsing world, condemn yourself, and say of the other: ‘not guilty’.

Braven

There has been a surge in gritty dramas set back in the woods and trying to give you a solid sense of place: the best is Wind River (although a slight back-look would bring Winter’s Bone, the exemplar, to view); the most highly acclaimed, Three Billboards. Braven follows their lead, and signals the cementation of a niche in film. Frankly, it is formulaic and uninteresting except to show that the genera is now established enough to have a formula.

The film is short, only 90 minutes, but could have readily been cut down to a happy  40 if you would be content with watching a logger, Joe, defend his family by repeatedly neglecting the gun near at hand and wielding instead a burning ax, or a winch, or a bear trap. Some movies are the survival by your wits type; Braven makes you wonder if Joe can survive the onslaught of his wits.

If you are not the sort to be so contented, perhaps watch the opening credits which at least will not disappoint you. The best scene of the movie is the felling of a tree just before the predictable 50 minute character build-up, or pile-up, begins. It was nice to see the absence of a troubled past replaced by the presence of a troubled old man who mistakes the present for the past and causes trouble. Other than that, and the slightest deviation of musical score, we are looking at a man who works, who expresses his deep love for his wife by horseplay and teasing, who is followed, even in restful moments, by a camera man who needs to cut back on the coffee and a director who needs to cut back on the cutting. I don’t know if the advent of drone technology is to blame, but it seems you can’t have a car drive down a snowy road these days without the camera peeping over the top of the trees and looking for an epic shot.

Buster Keaton never shot the same stunt twice, if it didn’t work he found another; a scene lost life when filmed again. Braven tried to mimic shots already produced and then when dead shots was all that it had, it tried to bring itself to life by imitating the musical score of the living members of its genera.