THE KID WHO LIES (El Cico que Miente) B+ 90
The director is a Peruvian filmmaker with a background from the Cuban film industry, which suggests she’s familiar with depictions of social realism, which are put to good use here from a country that only makes about a dozen films a year, as this is largely a Venezuelan road movie highlighted by the exquisite remote locations and the use of local non-professionals from the region that inhabit the screen, where she captures the vitality of the region through the people that populate these small ocean villages. The impetus for making the movie was recreating the impact of the 1999 Vargas mudslides on the northern Caribbean coast of the country, a natural disaster of torrential storms killing more than 10,000 people, leaving many neighborhoods buried under 10 feet of mud while others were simply swept away to sea. Reminiscent of Kiarostami’s LIFE AND NOTHING MORE (1992) from his Earthquake Trilogy, which made brilliant use of the aftereffects of the Manjil-Rudbar earthquake of 1990 in Iran, also using actual locations to accentuate his film, Ugás takes a different approach, telling the story through the wrenchingly personal travails of a young 13-year old boy, Iker Fernández, who has been left orphaned by the tragedy wandering alone through the countryside. Mixing flashbacks of what he remembers about his past, some of which was told to him by his father when they lived in a gutted building complex afterwards, and some of which he had to discover for himself, the movie moves backwards and forward in time, all part of his personal journey.
In the opening scene, shot in the enormous waves of the ocean, the boy and his dog struggle to survive, where in his anxiety he unfortunately loses the dog, his sole companion, a harrowing moment that offers an introductory portal to the mood of tragedy that awaits the viewer, as the boy will find nearly everyone he meets has been affected by the mudslide. But since he’s such a young kid, people generously offer him food and water, people who have little themselves, which is a prominent theme of the film, where he has opportunities to become part of extended families, but he keeps searching for any trace of his missing mother. As he meets people along the way, he reveals what he remembers about the tragedy, which keeps changing along the way, as he embellishes certain aspects of the story or changes it outright, where it soon becomes clear he really doesn’t know the full truth, as he was only 3 when it happened. As he hitchhikes or is offered rides, he keeps searching for a woman who sells oysters, who he believes could be his mother, though much of what he knows about her was told by his abusive father who had little use for her after she left him. But he survived afterwards, while she may have lost her life protecting the boy. But he left his father soon after realizing he was being told a pack of lies. Part of the road journey is adding to the mythology of what will become his true life story.
One of the intriguing aspects of the film is the tone of naturalism, beautifully shot by Micaela Cajahuaringa, where the villages are tiny, but inhabited by authentic people who have likely never been on camera before, where we witness local festivities, annual tributes to the Patron Saint of Disasters, which includes music and decorated boats. Nothing feels forced, where the fluid change of scenery or the abrupt discovery of new characters is enhanced by the kindness offered by the women, where some cook for him, others sing, others try to make him their own, taking the place of their own missing son, while others try to exploit his labor services. He’s a friendly guy, but he catches on quickly when people try to take advantage of him, another familiar theme of the film, as the movie is filled with people who exploit those who have been hurt the most, thinking they are easiest to manipulate. Perhaps the most lasting friendship he makes in the film is with a local black fisherman kid, Aldrin Sterling, who continually calls the boy Blondie, taking to him right away as he’s equally friendless and alone, but he’s a bit older and has an easy-natured style of hustling about him, where he’s always trying to con somebody.
fascinating is the film introduces us to a side of
Residents watch the
premiere of "El Chico que Miente" (The Kid Who Lies) outside a
municipality clubhouse in Ocumare
KID WHO LIES
A 13-year old kid starts a journey along the Venezuelan coast and, in order to survive, he captivates people by constantly reinventing his own story in the mudslide. His true past, however, will gradually become clearer. Ten years ago the mudslide took his mother, now he thinks he can find her. He has a difficult road ahead of him, but there is also a world yet to be discovered.
Director's CV: She was born in
With: Iker Fernandez, Francisco Denis, Maria Fernanda Ferro, Beatriz Vazquez, Laureano Olivarez, Dimas Gonzalez, Gladys Prince, Aldrin Sterling, Yugui Lopez, Beto Benites, Valerie Weilheim.
The story changes every
time someone asks "The Kid Who Lies'?" 13-year-old protag what
happened to his parents. In time, however, the boy's personal history begins to
take shape as he travels across
Despite its titular teenager (the magnetic heart of the film, unaffectedly played by newcomer Iker Fernandez), "Kid" isn't really aimed at young auds, as the opening-scene drowning of a dog immediately suggests. Instead, Ugas reaches out to those still trying to reconcile the mudslides' effect by rearranging her road-movie premise into a more complex (and potentially confusing) nonlinear form: The boy's progress through a series of raucous encounters with young people met en route is interrupted by dark flashbacks that belie the serious side of this otherwise carefree coming-of-ager.
Camera (color), Micaela
Cajahuaringa; editor, Ugas; music, Camilo Froideval; art director, Matias
Tikas. Reviewed at
BBC News - The films inspired by Venezuela's 1999 disaster Sarah granger from BBC News in Caracas, February 9, 2011
Marité Ugás | director website
I have to say I was a little disappointed here, as I was
fully prepared to love this film, as I did BEST INTENTIONS, and most
particularly PRIVATE CONFESSIONS, my personal favorite of the bunch - largely
due, I think, to the phenomenal performance in a somewhat supporting role
of Max von Sydow to Pernilla August's lead, who Lena Endre bears an
uncanny similarity with in oh so many ways, not the least of which is her
maturity and pure magnificence in acting, but despite the brilliance of the
actors here, I’m sorry, I felt there was something missing, emotionally, and I
attribute it to the intellectual style and form of the presentation, sort of a
Bergman version of Beckett's "Krapp's Last Tape," with Erland
Josephson (Bergman) filling in for Krapp - no pun intended...this was also an
extremely similar style, conjuring up his own personal demons, conjuring up
the clown in the film IN THE PRESENCE OF A CLOWN - but in all those
films there was an overwhelming passion that ran throughout the film. However here, as we keep returning to the
writer's empty pages which he has to fill, and the use of the continuously
interwoven narratives, the sequences simply stop altogether as we return to the
writer and the passion is not sustained, we see 4 walls and the emotional
connection keeps being drained out of what's happening on screen. I would compare his use of reading from the
entries of a diary in this film with CRIES AND WHISPERS where the screen images
matched the unbelievable power and intensity of the what's being read
from that diary, and there were simple fade outs, fade ins to the next
sequence, the rhythm kept a continuous burst, like rekindled emotional
flames, alive on the screen. In
FAITHLESS the flame would go out and have to be re-lit again and again, so by
the time Lena Endre pours her guts out, it's to an empty page - no one is
responding, no one - really - is even listening, it's a soliloquy. Now that may very well be the point in this
film - but that's really overly intellectual and about the exercise of writing
itself, which is not a particularly dramatic enterprise, a man sits alone in a
room for extremely long periods of time, the action that he is writing about
happened long ago and the sense of urgency in his life has long since passed,
it's now a reflection passing overhead, like a cloud, that's about to drift out
of sight, death whispers to him at night, & his memories - all
that is keeping him alive - make him
tremble meekly with fear. I guess
intellectually, I comprehend that, in my head, but in my heart, I didn't really
feel connected to any of them, and I found that so sad, all subjective content
was extracted so that pure objective evil could prevail - the evil in men's
souls - and while her summoned presence could forgive him, she also says:
"I do not much like your Marianne."
Did you see young Bergman grilling her all night, looking
like the sadistic
BFI | Sight & Sound | Film of the Month: Faithless (2000) Philip Strick from Sight and Sound, February 2001
Liv Ullmann's Bergman-scripted Faithless shows sex as power and pain
The enigma that is Faithless has been created by at least seven story-tellers, none of whom can be trusted. At its simplest, the film consists of the fantasies of an ageing writer who constructs - perhaps from his remembered past - a quartet of recalcitrant fictions: three adults, one child, and their involvement in a series of misdemeanours, in particular an extra-marital affair. Although of central concern, the child can be presumed an innocent bystander, already garrulous with her own stories but also anxious to learn from example. This scenario offers a painful if open-ended meditation on the pleasures and perils of infidelity and its impact on the next generation. If this were all, the single and singularly unhelpful lesson Faithless appears to offer would be that parents can only be relied on to indulge in strange behaviour which we seldom survive unscathed.
The director, however, has other claims. "I don't really believe," says Liv Ullmann, "that a film should have a message", but to avoid the risk of reducing Faithless to a collection of inconsequential anecdotes, she grants that an observer's response is likely to be: "I will treat people around me more carefully." Less tritely, she also suggests that "the light in the story is that we can forget the hours that were full of suffering" - yet the film's characters are laden with painful memories which show little sign of fading away. On the contrary, a more persuasive theme might be that past errors are recycled, with fresh suffering as a result. Faithlessness, in short, is more pain than gain.
From a child's point of view, the peculiar compulsion that drives adults to disregard this truism must seem incomprehensible. The void at the centre of Faithless is caused by the hardly avoidable discretion with which sexuality is portrayed, or rather overlooked until the shock of explicit description when the wife tells of her husband's attack (he rapes her when she agrees to meet him to discuss the custody of their child). Earlier the illicit couple squirm beneath the overhead camera like specimens on a slide, frantic to cover themselves from our gaze or perhaps from that of a higher authority. Erotic tension, which should provide the pulse for their affair, is instead implied by a banality of suffocating red drapes, a silk nightgown and some sinuous bedsteads. Sex itself, instead of being its own reward, becomes symbolic - of complicity, habit, power, control and punishment.
As a result, the rationale behind the film's assorted betrayals appears less physical than hedonistic, a desire for what Marianne, the devoted wife, describes as "fun". Why she should suddenly propose such diversion to David, the platonic friend of all the family, is a mystery as much to her as to the rest of us, and grows no clearer from what we learn of her secure marriage to composer Markus and attentive motherhood. (David's initial proposal to her, on the other hand, is recognisably in keeping with an amiable lack of principle.) "Can't we just see how it goes?" she lightly asks her agitated lover, who after their first romantic adventure wants total possession. And she later declares with some amusement, before the repercussions begin, that having two men in her life is easier than she expected. Both in risk-taking temerity and in vulnerability she shares characteristics with the heroines of Ullmann's other films, ensnared in a muddle of longings like the sufferers in Sophie (1992), Kristin Lavranssdatter (1995), Private Confessions (1997) and the yet-to-be-filmed Anne Frank project. But her vocabulary, as in Private Confessions, originates elsewhere - with Ingmar Bergman.
Scripted by Bergman, who even lends his name to the reclusive author portrayed by his frequent on-screen alter ego Erland Josephson, Faithless offers itself, with appealing guile, as authentic autobiography. The first signs are that it reconstructs the summer of 1949, when the volatile genius, two families already in collapse behind him, turned 31 and gatecrashed another marriage by way of a Parisian interlude, seemingly with few pangs of conscience. His new partner's husband furiously attempted to win her back, finally resorting to rape. Afflicted (as he tells it in his memoir The Magic Lantern) by retrospective jealousy, Bergman gave the girl not the slightest sympathy, later married her, and in due course ran off with Harriet Andersson. Over the years a gradual penitence overtook his disregard for conventional restraint, charted in his films by a succession of anguished couples who, like the wretched Almans in Wild Strawberries (1957), subject each other to endless humiliation.
Bergman couldn't forgive himself, according to Ullmann, for the "rape and rage" episode, yet to interpret Faithless as exorcism would seem mistaken. "Much of it," she says of his script, "did not happen, that I am sure of", while in his Magic Lantern description of the crucial scene Bergman himself admits, "I have never found out what really happened." On screen, Marianne's description of her ordeal is luridly detailed, enough to raise questions about the level of her compliance but also aligning her with the many confessors in Bergman's work (the nurse in Persona, 1966, for instance) who reveal dark secrets direct to camera. If, by simple omission (other than the occasional church bell) Faithless reflects on the melancholy condition of a literally faith-less society - despite Bergman's claim to be no longer concerned with such matters - the ritual penance of the confessional is scrupulously observed by all the film's characters.
In an unexpected reversal, the screen Bergman asserts at one point that he
never met Marianne's husband Markus, whose manipulative influence turns out to
have infected their collective behaviour for so long he almost has best claim
to being the author of the piece. Since we've been given every reason to
suppose that 'Bergman' and David are one, and we know David has been a family
friend for years, this denial is either mischievous or mistaken, either a
fanciful confirmation that the characters are primarily fictions dreamed up by
'Bergman' (we only properly hear Markus' voice by letter, after all), or an
absent-minded throwback to the realities of 1949. Or it could simply be that
remembered fact (the visit to
Marianne's luckless daughter Isabelle, to whom Ullmann claims to have devoted more attention than Bergman when she revised his screenplay, similarly has no place in The Magic Lantern (the custody battle was fought over two small sons). Even so, her forerunners are to be found everywhere else in Bergman's work, from the entranced redhead who punctuates The Magic Flute (1975) to the wandering youth in The Silence (1963), the raptly attentive schoolboy at the end of To Joy (1949, a preface to Faithless just as Scenes from a Marriage, 1973, is its clearest rehearsal), and, of course, Fanny and Alexander (1982). The collision between generations is as much a part of Bergman's iconography as rowing boats, music boxes, the proscenium arch and the Fårö shoreline. Knowing them well, Ullmann fits them all into her film.
It looks just as Bergman might have filmed it: formal, precise and demanding of its cast an astonishing surrender to a gallery of unflinching close-ups. Nothing in the camerawork is overstated, although every lighting change (gold to blue at the flick of a switch, ominous shadows when a window blind is lowered) is of calculated significance. When the camera moves, it's with reluctance (in keeping with the mature Bergman's dislike of tracking shots) but with exemplary relevance, as in the prowl around an apartment that ends up in the bedroom or the sudden retreat into the air above the writer as he recognises the full horror of what he's done.
If Ullmann has unquestionably appropriated from her years with Bergman (and Josephson) a magnificent empathy with her players, she is also rewardingly attentive to visual detail. Note, for instance, the framing of the hospital sequence, the deployment of sculptures in the lawyer's office, or the timing of the 'discovery' as the lovers giggle helplessly in embarrassment and desperation. By design, the final Mozart theme plays to a halt during the end credits, not two shots earlier while the writer wanders towards the sea. It is the project, with all its ambiguities, that has been put to rest, not the troubled spirit that conceived it.
Did you ever want to forget anything? Did you ever want to cut away a piece of your memory or blot it out? You can’t, you know. No matter how hard you try. You can change the scenery, but sooner or later you’ll get a whiff of perfume or somebody will say a certain phrase or maybe hum something. Then you’re licked again! —Al Roberts (Tom Neal)
While the IMDb catalog lists 52 films directed from 1930 to the mid 1960’s, director Edgar G. Ulmer worked on closer to 127 features, starting his career in Germany as a set designer for early Fritz Lang films of the 20’s and 30’s including METROPOLIS (1927) and M (1931), also F.W. Murnau’s SUNRISE (1927), before emigrating to Hollywood in 1931 and making a name for himself in America by directing THE BLACK CAT (1934), an atmospheric horror film adapted from an Edgar Allen Poe tale starring both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. But of all the films he directed, only DETOUR was chosen to the National Film Registry, the first B-movie to be chosen, as it carries the distinct imprint of the post war, German Expressionist style mixed with the bleak fatalism of an American film noir. Supposedly shot in a week for less than $20,000, a road movie with no location shots, this lighting and production design is remarkably inventive in a morality tale of an unlovable loser stuck in a nightmarish, Kafkaesque world, featuring a down-on-his-luck loner, Al Roberts (Tom Neal), the victim of bad luck and trouble and an ill-fated future, paralyzed by the poisonous venom from the Queen Bee villainess, Vera (Ann Savage), a mysterious hitchhiker whose cold-blooded, in-your-face, blackmailing technique overwhelms him and keeps him stymied throughout the film, suffocating him with her sting, toying with his guilt and paranoiac delusions, unable to claw his way out of her web. A mere 68 minutes, the film reflects an era of utility and purpose, where nothing extraneous is added to this taut psychological thriller, something unheard of today, as they would add plenty of character development. Not so in this film, which in an uninterrupted shot shows the open road stretching out to the horizon through the opening credits, where the camera is distancing itself from the road left behind.
Using an overly morose inner narration throughout, Al is a jazz pianist
down in the dumps and seen hitching across the country from New York to
Hollywood, broke and hungry, with little to show for himself, hoping to unite
with his girlfriend Sue (Claudia Drake), a pick up singer last seen when both
were literally immersed in a fog bank. A
brief flashback sequence shows an amusing quality that is interestingly used
later in The Blue
(1946), where the sound of American jazz music is a sign for mental agitation
(recall William Bendix screaming “Turn off that monkey music!”), as emotional
and psychological scars have obviously left their mark as Al screams to shut it
off when someone plays a song on the jukebox that recalls better times, Detour (1945) - Can't Believe
That You're In Love With Me - YouTube
(1:50), suggesting a happier world and a better life that he remains
exiled from in the present. This device
was also used in
As a B-movie, the clarity of image is lacking, the soundtrack has a noticeable hiss throughout, and the razor-sharp dialogue at times resembles screwball comedy with the frenetic pace, where the dialogue is not always in synch with the actors and at times has such an amusing, overly hard-edged, noirish language to it that it feels as if Al and Vera are talking in code. Their tough guy, stone-faced approach to one another, filtered through the extra layer of haze caused by excessive alcohol, creates a kind of dysfunctional paralysis, where neither one of them makes a bit of sense and instead exposes viciousness and raw desperation, where her overly aggressive stance keeps him cornered, even though any reasonable person would simply walk away at any number of opportunities, but he remains ensnared by the very nature of her deviousness. The contrast between the two is markedly different, as is the contrast between the two women, where Al and Sue are both viewed as innocent and naïve next to the willfully crass amorality of Vera, nonetheless, the world closes in on them both with a dizzying claustrophobic hysteria. Audiences must love hating Vera, as she’s so over the top, one of the more evil and diabolic femme fatales who fittingly gets what she deserves, which only ends up tightening the noose around his neck, casting him out into the world chasing shadows, where behind every dark corner is someone searching after him. The entire film is saturated in layers of guilt and self-loathing, where Al is seen as such a weak, miserable wretch that no good can come to him, where he will forever wander the streets like a ghost stripped of his worldly existence, where a wrong turn somewhere distanced him from ever having a future, leaving him instead lost, eternally wandering the wasteland. As fatalistic a film as you’re ever going to find, perhaps the biggest irony is what actually happened to actor Tom Neal, a former boxer, who was ostracized from the Hollywood community in the early 50’s for his hair trigger temper, alcoholism, and history of physical assault, eventually charged with the murder of his own wife. After serving his sentence, he died of a heart attack less than a year following his release.
Detour Nick Schager
Tom Neal's Al has the sourest puss in all of noir, and his perpetual frown and whiny, unreliable narration give the low-budget Detour its evocative dourness. Shot on the cheap in six days, Edward G. Ulmer's Poverty Row tale of woe is an archetypal exercise in post-war pessimism, detailing the pathetic downfall of a two-bit piano player (Neal) doomed by his cowardice. With its overcooked dialogue, makeshift sets, jagged performances (including Anne Savage's crazy-eyed femme fatale), and endless rear-projection car scenes, this coincidence-laden suspense yarn has no business being as irresistibly moody as it is. Like great garage rock, however, Ulmer's landmark film ultimately derives its raw, jittery vitality from its very crudeness.
The kind of film (made in six days,
almost entirely in a Poverty Row studio, its extensive road scenes shot with
back projection) that would be impossible to make today, even as a TV movie.
Now it would require 100% locations (the 'art' of studio shooting having been
discredited and thus lost), and the minimal narrative would never justify a
go-ahead (pianist Neal is bumming from
The strongest B-noir of the 1940s, Detour incorporates
all the restrictions and setbacks of its shooting schedule into an
extraordinary anti-aesthetic of sordidness, or impoverishment, in which the
bourgeois self-hatred of classical noir is replaced by two, desperate
Even in the rickety, dodgy, scratched-to-hell print shown at
But Detour only really takes off with the sudden arrival on the scene of its most famous element, the well-named Ann Savage as screeching femme fatale hitchhiker Vera. First-time viewers primed for Savage's movie-stealing turn may be surprised at just how late in the day she appears – Al's girlfriend has so much screen time they'd be forgiven for reckoning that she is the prominently-billed Savage. They'd be dead wrong: Vera and the nicey-nicey girlfriend (whose name the viewer soon forgets) are chalk and cheese, or rather sour whiskey and warm milk.
Trampy 'bad girl' Vera exudes a kind of malevolent, misanthropic energy that's startling to encounter in a 60-year-old movie, barrelling the picture along to its rug-pulling conclusion which it wouldn't be fair to reveal here. God only knows what Martin Goldsmith's source novel is like, but in Ulmer's no-nonsense hands Detour is enthrallingly enjoyable nightmare of frustrated desires and inescapable self-defeat.
Movie Review" A Life At The
When I was watching the entire series of Blondie films a while
back, I was surprised to see Anne Savage in Footlights Glamour, one of
the later Blondie films. She was still a glamour girl with a contract at
The plot of Detour is quite simple. Al Roberts is a down-on-his-luck piano player is hitchhiking across the country to meet up with his old flame when he is picked up by a Haskell, a bookie in a fancy car. Al takes the his turn at the wheel, and when he stops to put the top up, he notices Haskell is dead. Fearing the police would pin a murder on him, he hides his body in the desert and takes his money and car and assumes his identity. He later picks up a female hitchhiker, “who looked like she is had fallen off of the dirtiest freight train.” She had previously ridden in the same car with Haskell, and sees through Al immediately and sets about blackmailing him to join her plan to get all of Haskell’s money. Finally, he is involved in another accidental death that makes him look even more guilty. While the story is simple, it has been suggested that it may be related by an unreliable narrator, as the only information comes from Al, who may be altering the events to cover up his own guilt. Near the end of the film, there is scene in which Al looks around the cheap hotel room which he has been held as a virtual prisoner, with the objects, or evidence, around him going in and out of focus, revealing that he is not entirely conscious of what he is doing. But aside from the plot, director Edgar G. Ulmer successfully (and cheaply!) creates an atmosphere of total seediness and despair, and that, along with Ann Savage’s remarkable performance, is really which made this film an unexpected classic.
Director Ulmer and Savage later said that the entire film was shot in six days, but this claim has been challenged, prompting Peter Bogdanovich to quip, “so what did he have, seven?” In the documentary Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-screen, the director’s daughter Arianne Ulmer presents a shooting script with with a title page reading “June 14, 1945-June 29. Camera days 14.” In any case, the film was shot cheaply and quickly, and Ulmer used innovation and resourcefulness to get around these limitations. Or, as Ann Savage said decades later, “well, we didn’t waste any time.”
on a shoestring" Geoffrey
Macnab from the Guardian,
Edgar G Ulmer was
In his 40 years as a director, Ulmer made some of the most ingenious and disturbing B movies in Hollywood history. His best-known picture, Detour, was shot in less than a week for under $20,000 and yet boasts production design and lighting as inventive as anything found in the huge budget German silent era classics, on which he served his apprenticeship.
It's symptomatic of the neglect into which Ulmer has fallen in Britain that the only one of his films readily available on DVD is The Naked Venus (1958), a tiny budget tale about a French artist's model who joins an American nudist colony. It seems an unlikely assignment, but Arianne Cipes Ulmer, the director's daughter, explains: "My mother and father were both nudists. Part of the Germanic fresh air movement of their lifetime."
With its shots of naked Americans playing volleyball and creaky courtroom scenes in which the model makes a stirring plea on behalf of nudists everywhere, the film is a poor advertisement for its director's abilities: there are, for instance, few of his trademark lighting effects or elaborate tracking shots. But Naked Venus is an intriguing introduction to Ulmer's work.
Ulmer was born in 1904 in Moravia. His father, Siegfried Ulmer, served in the Austrian army during the first world war, and died when Edgar was 12. As an adolescent in war-ravaged Vienna, he experienced poverty and anti-semitism; but such was his precocious talent that he found a job as a stage designer for director Max Reinhardt. Before long he established himself in the German film industry of the 1920s, working as a production designer (a role he created) on The Golem, Metropolis and Sunrise.
The crowning glory of his first stint in Hollywood was The Black Cat (1934), a typical Ulmer mish-mash, combining gothic elements, incongruous romantic comedy and Bauhaus design. The film is genuinely scary, setting Bela Lugosi as a traumatised man returning home from the war against Boris Karloff as an architect with satanic leanings. Although The Black Cat was a notable box-office success, Ulmer was forced into exile when he fell in love with Shirley Castle. She was married to Max Alexander - Universal chief Carl Laemmle's nephew. Ulmer and Shirley eloped to New York during the depression, leaving their careers in tatters behind them. "He never reconciled with Laemmle. Nor did my mother with the entire Laemmle family," says Arianne.
Just when he was close to despair, Ulmer was hired to make a series of films for the booming Yiddish-language market. In the early 1940s, he was lured back to Hollywood to work for Producers' Releasing Corporation (PRC). Thus began his years on what was nicknamed "Poverty Row", making films in flea-pit studios on tiny budgets. Arianne says he didn't feel bitter about this: "Fame and money were not issues. He really only wanted to have the opportunity to work and express himself."
Perhaps Ulmer's masterpiece was Ruthless (1948), his "low-rent Citizen Kane" as it was dubbed. This is a quintessentially American tale about a kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Horace Woodruff Vendig (Zachary Scott) escapes his impoverished background, makes it rich, but ruins the lives of everybody with whom he comes into contact in the process. Told in flashback, it's a dark and depressing tale about the hollowness of success.
Though his background was as a designer, Ulmer worked brilliantly with actors, eliciting a pathetic but deeply moving performance from Sydney Greenstreet (the rotund, well-spoken villain from Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon) as the financier whom Vendig cuckolds, humiliates and bankrupts. In one scene, as Greenstreet realises that his wife is about to leave him, we see him staring in despair at his own reflection. In another, though broken and overweight, he makes a feeble attempt to throttle his tormentor.
For many, though, the quintessential Ulmer film remains Detour. He described it as a morality fable about "an absolute loser". Al Roberts (Tom Neal) is a New York pianist who hitchhikes across country for a reunion with his girlfriend. En route, Al takes a ride with Haskell, a bookie who dies unexpectedly. Al steals the car and the man's identity, but then he picks up Vera (Ann Savage), a young delinquent who knew Haskell. Convinced that Al killed him, she begins to blackmail him.
The film has the warped, nightmarish feel of a Kafka story. In fact it was adapted from a "very bad book" by Martin Goldsmith. Ulmer transformed the material, cutting large chunks of the original narrative. His casting was astute. Neal and Savage bring just the right measure of desperation, viciousness and vulnerability to their roles. (In a gruesome case of life imitating art, Neal was later charged with the murder of his wife.)
Detour alone would be enough to sustain Ulmer's reputation. By his own calculation, though, he made 127 other features. This month's season at the National Film Theatre includes only a fragment of his lifetime's work. His films reflected his protean imagination. "My father was a deeply sensitive European mind wounded by war," says Arianne. "He could laugh until the tears rolled down his cheeks and be so jovial or rage like bull or withdraw into his shell. Today we would have probably labelled him as manic-depressive. He was a workaholic but he had enormous capacity for joy, anger, humour and sensuality."
Detour | Senses of Cinema Dana Polan, July 2002
Detour - Film (Movie) Plot and Review - Publications Glenn Lovell from Film Reference
Parallax View [David Coursen] Originally published in Movietone News 48, February 1976
Images Movie Journal Gary Morris, January 2001, also seen here: Bright Lights Film Journal :: Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour on DVD
BFI | Sight & Sound | Mr Pink, Mr Indie, Mr Shhh Philip Kemp from Sight and Sound, August 2001
Court: Detour - Culture Court
Detour (1945) - Turner Classic Movies Jeff Stafford
DVD Savant review Glenn Erickson
Detour (1945) Film Noir Thriller [HD] National Film ... entire film may be seen here
This is easily my least favorite of the three, largely due to the rehashing of already familiar themes and the near complete absence of little kids. Instead, this film has a feeling of alienation from the outset, toys in exile, no longer loved or needed, themes that were beautifully explored in TOY STORY 2 (1999) over a decade ago, still the best chapter in my view, as the depth of the emotional connection is so unbelievably compelling. As Andy is now old enough to go to college, he has to clean out his room, which includes deciding what to do with his old toys that he hasn’t touched in years. It’s the same old gang of toys, minus a few who haven’t survived, who are now a nervous wreck thinking this is the end of the line, as they may end up in the trash. While they were destined to go into the attic, mom mistakenly throws them out for the garbage truck, miraculously rescued by Woody at the last moment, and then like always, no one believes him when he tries to tell them they were destined for the attic, not the garbage. This is little consolation, as they all heard Andy call them “old junk,” so they (again mistakenly) end up in a box of toys meant for the local day care center, which seems like a paradise, as kids will play with them all day long and they’re initially welcomed by all the other toys, led by a strawberry smelling red bear named Lotso, where Barbi swoons over her first look at Ken who lives in a giant playhouse, and everyone, except Woody, has high expectations. Woody is still trying to bring them all back home, but he has no takers, so he escapes on his own, where he’s accidentally picked up by an effectionate little girl named Bonnie who brings him home and is thrilled at pulling his string and hearing those corny old cowboy sayings, where Woody soon meets an entirely new set of toys who greet him warmly. Meanwhile the old gang is treated to the rude awakening of pre-schoolers who bash them around and smash them to bits, then leave them around in pieces for someone else to clean up afterwards. By the time day is done, they are in for a few more surprises, like being locked in where they can’t escape, taking a page out of the CHICKEN RUN (2000) scenario, while the strawberry bear, in a reprise of the evil character Stinky Pete the Prospector, turns into their worst nightmare, turning the facilities into a locked down prison camp at night run by a few of the privileged toys.
Much of the humor completely disappears during the harrowing prison segment, which even includes a torture sequence with Buzz where they reprogram him back to his original status when he was following orders to protect the universe. They erase his memory and turn him into the ideal prison guard, where each of the toys are actually locked into little iron cages. All hope appears lost until Woody reappears on the scene to help them escape. In what can only be called a moment of comical genius, the gang can’t figure out how to change Buzz back to the way he was, so instead they find him a stellar new personality that only speaks Spanish (subtitled), dances the tango with an incredibly captivated Jessie, and whispers sweet nothings in her ear, constantly rescuing her from every manner of mayhem, where Buzz has become a sensuous, smooth-talking Latin lover, though still not recognizing his old gang. As they make their great escape, there are indescribable adult style difficulties to overcome, including several destruction sequences, where the threat of total annihilation is paramount. And that’s ultimately the undoing of this chapter, as the mood has shifted so completely from originality and subversive adolescent humor to Michael Bay or James Cameron style entertainment reaching a point where a vicious new horror prevails, so completely the thoughts of an adult world, as the gang is continuously tortured and terrorized for a good portion of the film, capturing an unnerving bad guy mood for children while still relying upon ingenious solutions to save their lives. Still, the change in Buzz’s personality is a spectacular addition, easily the best thing in the film and probably the only original new idea, including a Gipsy Kings Spanish rendition over the end credits of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” para Buzz Español. Without it, the film is stuck in a dire mode and lacked the humor it needed, never really developing any emotional connection until the final scene when it finally reverts back to childhood.
The Onion A.V. Club review [A] Tasha Robinson
Deep into Toy Story 3, there’s a moment where some of the toy protagonists realize that in spite of all their cleverness and determination, there’s no way out of the fatal trap into which they’ve fallen. In any other children’s film, this would be a time for comedic panic, long-withheld personal confessions, or dramatic statements that would immediately turn out to be ironic. In any other children’s film, the moment would quickly peak and pass. But Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich (Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc.) holds for long, excruciating moments on the silent characters, as they pass from disbelief into sorrowful resolve, then take each others’ hands and wait. And wait. And wait.
It’s a shockingly grim sequence, but this is what Pixar films do best: find a place of deep emotion and explore it without blunting it, overexplaining it, or passing it off with a laugh. Toy Story 3 never gets darker than this moment, but time and again, it similarly finds real, resonant emotion in the antics of a bunch of children’s toys having adventures when nobody’s looking.
That emotion starts with the toys’ pathetic desperation as their owner, now 17 and headed to college, fails to play with them, no matter what ruse they try. While loyalist cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) insists they should stand by the boy even if he wants them all in a trash bag in the attic, his blinkered devotion is more creepy than sweet. But the film never plays this for humor, either; his dedication is as real and important to him as his friends’ burning desire to move on, find new kids, and get played with again. Which sets up a lot of conflict and frantic hijinks involving a day-care center, separations and reunions, and action that playfully evokes films from The Great Escape to Cool Hand Luke.
TS3 doesn’t entirely dodge some of the current kid-movie standards; Unkrich brings in an astonishing crowd of celebrities to voice even the most minor characters, and lets a pop song express the comedy of one moment. But the film never lets banter, visual gags, or the usual manic kid-flick running about interfere with its more delicately handled thoughts on loyalty, longing, broken relationships, and generational continuity. It honestly earns its emotion, moment by painstakingly executed moment.
Midway through Toy Story 3, Hayao Miyazaki’s most
beloved creation, Totoro, makes a cameo appearance. The nod seems to be borne
out of the Pixar creators’ stated respect for
This theme of rejection has arguably been central to the Toy Story series since Buzz displaced Woody in the first entry, making the sequels’ focus on the same material feel redundant. More troubling than that continued lack of thematic imagination, however, are the characters and plot elements in this third entry that seem to have been cribbed from the previous franchise entries. Once again, space hero Buzz Lightyear reverts to factory settings and turns on his fellow toys. Lotso, a malicious Teddy bear, comes off as a Stinky Pete retread. The basic plot, which recycles numerous prison escape films, is a tired inversion of Toy Story 2’s rescue operation. That the overall level of invention would be reduced is to be expected in a second sequel, one could argue, but that makes this film feel no less stale.
Toy Story 3 strives to invoke the audience’s sense of nostalgia, both for the characters in the film and for the retail products that they signify. Watching the movie, however, the nostalgia that I felt most strongly was for animated features produced in the pre-Shrek era. Toy Story 3 frequently indulges in the cheap brand of crass humor that has defined that series, with fart jokes, ethnic jokes, and gay jokes throughout its run time. All of this seems well beneath the level of sophistication that people insist Pixar films possess, and suggests something of a shark jump for the studio.
Beyond such quibbles, the threadbare plot of Toy Story 3 raises another cause for complaint. While the series’ willingness to grapple with the disposability of toys is commendable, the sappy ending, in which Andy, on the verge of manhood, regresses considerably, renders much of the complexity of what has come before moot. Since the emotional core of the film is left over from its predecessors, the focus of the movie falls on its action set pieces, all of which are pitched at the same level and grow redundant. This is unfortunate, because Toy Story 3 has little to offer adult viewers beyond those endless chases, coy referentiality, and its sole thematic obsession. For children, and children at heart, it might be enough. At best, Toy Story 3 stands as a refinement of Toy Story 2, a movie which was an unnecessary sequel to begin with.
Back in the sixties and seventies, before films became “franchises” and “tent poles,” before Jaws and Star Wars and corporate-studio ownership changed everything, the “summer blockbuster” wasn’t a genre unto itself, a megabudget cartoon tooled to help us escape from our lives. It hadn’t been commoditized yet. And escapism took different forms. I spent my childhood in an upper-middle-class suburb, one of those doomed artificial constructs in which the outside world is kept vigorously at bay. Isolated from the counterculture, the war, the racial upheavals of the big cities, I went to blockbusters like In the Heat of the Night, Easy Rider, and Woody Allen’s Bananas to escape to reality. There was lots of crap, but of a different order than this season’s The A-Team and Killers and Shrek XXV and Iron Man 2—which cost hundreds of millions and are not so much made as microengineered.
I’ve never blamed Jaws for what happened: It’s the best summer
movie ever made. People forget how real it seemed. It was shot in a beach
No, the beginning of the end was Star Wars, synthetic then as now, clever but never exhilarating, infinitely merchandisable. With any luck, this summer’s most merchandisable blockbuster, Toy Story 3, will be the last of the Toy Story movies. Yes, there will be pressure on Pixar to squeeze out sequels. But the chances of topping this one are infinitesimal. It’s another paradoxical Pixar beauty: the high-tech ode to the old-fashioned, the vintage, the stuff of childhood fantasy play when kids and not computer programmers supplied the imagination.
I don’t think of the Toy Story pictures as “escapism,” even though they’re rooted in a child’s dream of what happens when the lights go out and the toys come to life. At heart they’re about aging, impermanence, loss, and death. Pixar likely borrowed the premise from Thomas M. Disch’s The Brave Little Toaster: Objects once prized lose their newness and become disposable. But they have spiritual properties, and to discard them carelessly is to dishonor the past that shaped us. It’s almost Buddhist in how it invests all matter with a life force worthy of reverence.
Toy Story 3 has another dimension, probably the upshot of creators John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and director Lee Unkrich’s getting older and having families. The toys—especially the cowboy Woody (with the voice of Tom Hanks)—see the boy who owns them, Andy, through the eyes of parents with kids who are ready to move on. After a wild prologue with Woody and Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear and Joan Cusack’s cowgirl Jessie saving a trainload of orphans from the evil pig mastermind—which comes to a halt when young Andy is called to dinner—we jump a decade ahead. Andy no longer plays with toys; he’s going off to college. His room is being cleared for his younger sister with her MP3 player and computer. Should the toys be stuck in the attic? Donated to Sunnyside, a children’s day-care center? Or left on the curb for the garbage truck? The gang, which includes the sister’s cast-off Barbie (voiced by Jodi Benson), is scared by the prospect of all those possibilities.
After mix-ups and chases, they end up at Sunnyside, where the toy who calls the shots is the formidable huggy bear, Lotso, with the great southern stentorian voice of Ned Beatty. Lotso is a character with stature—a toy shattered by abandonment who has purged himself of sentiment. And soon our gang discovers he runs Sunnyside as a kind of prison. The big bald baby doll functions as a spooky enforcer and looks like the Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson in Ed Wood movies. A cymbal-clashing monkey is the prison guard of nightmares. Horror of horrors, Buzz is reprogrammed to be his old pompous self to help Lotso keep everyone in cages. Suddenly, thrillingly, Toy Story 3 becomes a prison-break movie.
As usual with Pixar, the little things win your heart, like Woody escaping out the bathroom window but pausing to put down a sheet of toilet paper before stepping on the seat. At Sunnyside, Barbie meets Ken (Michael Keaton), and all our culture’s Ken-is-gay jokes get a new spin: He’s a metrosexual elated at finding someone to whom he can show off his disco wardrobe. The gags are all of a piece, right up to the forlorn yet enchanting finale.
Kids will love Toy Story 3 for its cliff-hangers and slapstick spills. But for grown-ups, the film will touch something deeper: the heartfelt wish that childhood memories will never fade. This lovely, wistful movie weaves together our joyful fantasies of the past, the ones that helped form us, and our darker fears of being forgotten—and offers hope that we can somehow reconcile those poles of existence for ourselves. The slight autumnal chill makes the warmth of summer all the sweeter.
Story 3 and the Long Recession
the Player, Losing the Game: The Armond White Meta-Review Paul Brunick from The House Next Door,
Film Freak Central review Walter Chaw
Cinema Blend review Josh Tyler
SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [3.5/5] Richard Scheib
Entertainment Weekly review [A] Owen Gleiberman
Story 3: fitting finale or tired rehash?
Ben Child from The Guardian,
Toy Story 3 makes men weep Tom
Teodorczuk from The Daily Telegraph,
The Daily Telegraph review [4/5] Sukhdev Sandhu,
Austin Chronicle review [4/5]
Originally a stage actor, and also a part-time journalist and screenwriter, Roger Vadim came to film as an assistant to movie director Marc Allegret, and subsequently married Allegret's most well known discovery, Brigitte Bardot, whom he also starred with in numerous films of the 1950s. Vadim became internationally known for his 1956 debut film And God Created Woman, which trod new ground in eroticism during the 1950s, and also starred Bardot. His later films luxuriated in their lushness and decadence, a process that continued with Vadim's subsequent marriage to Jane Fonda, who also became one of his most renowned leading ladies. However, since the late 1960s, with the general opening up of American films to more overtly sexual content, Vadim's popularity and success outside of Europe have fallen off markedly, and an American remake of And God Created Woman (1988) provoked yawns as much as curiosity from critics and the public alike. Vadim and Fonda have since divorced.
With Et . . . Dieu créa la femme Roger Vadim created the commercial climate which made the nouvelle vague possible. Despite this, his reputation as director has always lagged behind that as a connoisseur of the beautiful women who inhabit his films. His relationships with Brigitte Bardot, Annette Stroyberg, Catherine Deneuve, Jane Fonda, and others established him, in English-speaking countries at least, as the archetypal "French" director. The American retitling of Le Repos du guerrier as Love on a Pillow, and Chateau en Suede as Nutty, Naughty Chateau, glumly emphasizes his raffish image.
Vadim claims in his fanciful autobiography that a prostitute provided by producer Raoul Levy to relieve the tedium of screenwriting furnished him with rationale for Bardot's character in Et . . . Dieu créa la femme—unselfishness. "If she's not interested in money, people won't think she's a whore." This motive recurs in Vadim's work, where generous, warm-hearted, and sensual women lavish their favors on indifferent, often evil love objects. Fulfillment comes only with death. In La Jeune Fille assassiné, Vadim even makes death in the throes of orgasm the sole ambition of his heroine, and his first American film, Pretty Maids All in a Row, casts Rock Hudson as an improbable mass-murdering psychiatrist in a girls' college.
For an artist with a single subject, Vadim has proved
remarkably imaginative. Sait-on jamais exploits
Vadim is at his best in the high style, where the material encourages grand gestures. Bardot in Le Repos du guerrier standing like the Winged Victory in a ruined church, face turned into a torrent of wind; Stroyberg in an eighteenth-century white gown gliding through the cypresses of Hadrian's Villa to Jean Prodromides's score of harp and pizzicati strings in Et mourir de plaisir—these are images that briefly transcend the novelettish material from which they spring.
Cautiously titled And Woman...Was Created for its British release, this was the film that started the Bardot thing. Basically a clever piece of pre-New Wave programming with its St Tropez locations, 'daring' sex and amoral youth, it adds up to little more than a series of semi-nude posturings as the sex kitten flits nymphomaniacally from man to man and back again. But the lively characterisations and wry wit make the first half a good deal more watchable than most of Vadim's abject later creations.
The release of the late Roger Vadim's debut film Et
Dieu... créa la femme (...And God Created Woman) marked the turning point
in the rise to fame of Brigitte Bardot, then 21, and skyrocketed her to the
status of international sex symbol. Bardot's character, Juliette Hardy, is
introduced stretched "bottoms up" across the 2.35:1 frame in all her
naked glory (though skillfully avoiding any "obscene" exposure). I'm
sure this scene caused heart failure for more than one censor, and an equally
impressive response from the male audience of the time. The film is often
credited as Bardot's screen debut, though it is actually her seventeenth
(according to the enclosed booklet). ...And God Created Woman
revolutionized the foreign film market, and may have single-handedly bashed
down the prudish standards of the cinematic world, and opened the doors to more
risqué work for future filmmakers.
Bardot plays a young woman raised in an orphanage and, now in her late teens, causes quite a stir with her behavior, attracting the attentions of men. The first suitor we meet is the much older Eric Carradine (Curt Jürgens), a rich land baron set on building a new casino in town. His plans are being hampered by the Tardieu family that owns a small shipyard on the stretch of land he requires for his development. Michel, the eldest Tardieu son, returns home for the weekend from
Vadim (Bardot's husband at the time) captures Bardot's pure sensuality without any cheap devices. The nude scenes are handled with tactfully placed props or camera compositions. There are several sequences where Bardot's seductive qualities are highlighted, especially in her dance numbers. There is no denying her sex appeal, and though the storyline is far from overshadowed, it is easy to be distracted by the presence of one of film's most beautiful women occupying the screen. The St. Tropez locations are beautifully shot, and Vadim's use of composition shines in this widescreen presentation. He makes full use of the wide aspect ratio, often with characters occupying the extremes of the shot, or, as in Bardot's first appearance, by filling the screen with her. ...And God Created Woman is a feast for the eyes in more ways than one.
by Chuck Stephens Criterion essay
Bright Lights Film Journal Alan Vanneman, also reviewing THE NIGHT HEAVEN FELL and PLUCKING THE DAISY
...And God Created Woman (Criterion Collection) Raphael Pour-Hashemi from DVD Times
The Onion A.V. Club [Nathan Rabin] also reviewing THE NIGHT HEAVEN FELL
I have been waiting to see this movie again for fifty years, and now I find
that it was shown at MOMA in 2008. I was originally drawn to No Sun in
The music album is widely available on CD and DVD (though I am still playing the LP), but it goes so wonderfully with the gorgeous photography that it is a shame that the movie has never been released in the
Rather puzzlingly, it begins with a full-screen presentation of a Gerald McBoing Boing animation; about halfway through it, there's an insert shot of an audience laughing in a cinema, and the rest of the cartoon is shown on the smaller screen that the audience is watching. This sets up the flirtatious encounter between two exiting patrons Sophie (Francoise Arnoul) and Michel(Christian Marquand)(and also prompts the question - why a cartoon at the end of the show?). Despite a confrontation with Sforzi (Robert Hossein), who pretends to be Sophie's brother, but acts more like a jealous lover, Sophie brings Robert home to her room in a Venetian palazzo, which is owned by the reclusive Baron von Bergen (O.E. Hasse), protected by two comically ineffectual bodyguards. The baron is also jealous of Sophie, and Michel sensibly decides to treat his night with Sophie as a one-night stand. However, they can't keep away from each other; soon enough, money and murder lead to chases down Venetian alleyways and across rooftops and a predictably violent denouement.
Sumptuous settings and skillful cinematography keep the visuals consistently interesting; there's a wonderful shot, framed by an archway, of the lovers walking through the Piazza San Marco, with the pigeons erupting and flurrying about them. One surprising element is John Lewis's elegant score, played by the Modern Jazz Quartet; given the trashy story, one would expect a fully overstated sturm-und-drang score of the most old-fashioned kind. Lewis's spare and sparkling tunes lend a sophisticated patina to the junk on screen.
Seen, in a faded print with heavy magenta overtones, at MoMA on
for the Use of the Hall - Archive: Nakahira vs. Vadim, and ... Dan Sallitt from Thanks for the Use of the
Vadim's follow-up to And God Created Woman casts Bardot as a virgin sprung from convent school to live with her aunt and uncle, aristocrats of Franco's Spain. The impetuous cream puff falls in love at first sight with a hunky local (Boyd), and soon they're à bout de souffle - and on the run from the police. Whether bullfighting in a push-up bra or wrangling with a wayward towel, Bardot is gorgeous (the entire point, after all) and so are the azure CinemaScope skies of the Andalucia locations. (From a novel by Albert Vidale.)
Director Roger Vadim stands along the likes of Francois
Truffaut, Louis Malle and Jean-Luc Godard as one of the dominant names in the
French New Wave school of filmmakers from the late 1950s through the 1960s.
Like his compatriots, Vadim made daring films, especially to the relatively
prim and proper American audiences of that time. In the States, his films were
relegated to art houses, where his rebellious sexual themes would be
theoretically nestled away from the eagerly impressionable minds of American
moviegoers, despite the fact that audiences would seek out Vadim's works to
ogle his latest starlet.
Here is one of my favorite Vadim quotes: "You wouldn't ask Rodin to make an ugly sculpture, or me to make a film with an ugly woman." He knows of what he speaks, since he is the man that chiseled the unbridled sexuality of Brigitte Bardot into celluloid with his 1956 directorial debut of ...And God Created Woman. Vadim and Bardot had been married since 1952, and though they would divorce in 1957, the two would continue to work together on a number of films. With the launch of international cinema's newest sex symbol, Vadim quickly cast the stunning Bardot in his 1957 release of Les Bijoutiers du Clair de Lune, or The Night Heaven Fell, remastered and released on DVD by Home Vision Entertainment.
Based on Albert Vidalie's novel The Moonlight Jewelers, Bardot stars as Ursula, a sexy, but virginal, young woman who leaves her convent(!) to vacation in a small village in rural
But The Night Heaven Fell is not simply the story of Ursula and Lamberto, and their lusty, bad boy/good girl attraction to each other. Aunt Florentine herself is a wee bit on the sexually frustrated side, and it is her own desires for Lamberto that stirs things up. As the two women struggle with their feelings, it becomes evident that Lamberto the stud is drawn to both. Secrets and betrayal bubble beneath the surface, and by the time the film hits midpoint, it is unclear as to where his true feelings lie.
Much can be said for Vadim's filmmaking skills, though this film certainly pales to the far superior ....And God Created Woman (the original, not his tepid 1988 remake). Here, the sweeping Spanish scenery, shot in the vastness of Cinemascope, seems to often overpower the actors, and that is not something you wish to see in a Bardot film. Likewise, the script lurches around awkwardly during the first twenty minutes, enough to really test my mettle about actually wanting to finish the film.
The downfall is the agonizing pacing of the script, which meanders here and there, with only occasional scenes of substance. This is not indicative of a typical Vadim film, though his strong visual style is always present. For the most part, the acting is adequate, with Valli proving her worth as a truly underrated actress. It's just that the overall experience is not entirely engaging.
However, a Vadim film, if anything, is a study in beauty, and Bardot is really what The Night Heaven Fell is all about, when all is said and done. She literally makes Marilyn Monroe look like a frumpy librarian. Bardot, with those wonderfully pouty lips, exudes sex appeal like no one else, and while perhaps not the world's best actress, she does manage to combine a steamy blend of young lust and innocence. Vadim provides many tempting shots of Bardot throughout, but it was her brief nude scene here that was considered "scandalous" in 1958, and only served to escalate her notoriety as a wanton sex symbol.
For me, a highpoint of The Night Heaven Fell was the pairing of Bardot with Alida Valli. Valli, who in her twilight years would appear in Suspiria, first captured my eye with her stellar turns in The Third Man (1947) and most notably The Paradine Case (1949). I recall watching The Paradine Case years and years ago, and being utterly transfixed by Valli's performance, and her timeless beauty. Here Vadim cast her as the not-quite middle aged aunt, who Ursula convinces can still be a sexual being. Valli can deliver more intensity with a single stare than most actresses can do with six pages of dialogue.
The Night Heaven Fell is not a completely memorable film, and the script is burdened with barely enough content to last 93 minutes. From a historical perspective though, it is easy to understand the unabashed sex appeal of Bardot, and how she became the fantasy woman for so many men. Thanks to Vadim, we still have that to hold on to.
In 1956, Roger Vadim made a sensational debut as a motion
picture director with 'And God Created Woman', a daringly erotic film that
challenged conventional views of romanticism... Vadim presented the nude body
of his young wife, Brigitte Bardot, in all the splendor of CinemaScope with
beautiful Technicolor photography...
Along with Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Demy and Agnes Varda, Vadim was one of the founding members of the revolutionary French New Wave, to push the sexual archetype...
His subsequent films revealed him to be an accomplished European filmmaker with an eye for visual beauty and decorative elegance, but in content, his films have often been superficial and lacking in narrative strength... Sexual relations have been a recurrent theme in his films, the plot of which have often revolved around the undisputed beauty of his succession of wives - Brigitte Bardot, Annette Stroyberg, and Jane Fonda...
"The Night Heaven Fell" is the second collaboration between Vadim and Bardot... Vadim seems to have attempted to recapture the freshness and essence of the 'B.B.' he had helped to shape, but the re-creation escaped him, despite the careful choice of Albert Vidalie's novel and the casting of Stephen Boyd as leading man...
Bardot's innocently natural mannerisms had disappeared, and it seemed that she no longer needed Vadim to make use of her talents as an accomplished actress... Claude Autant-Lara succeeded much more with his film, 'Love Is My Profession,' playing Brigitte opposite Jean Gabin and Edwige Feuillere... Bardot came off as more than a sexual image, her persona giving life to the character she portrayed...
Filmed in Franco's
Bardot plays Ursula, a beautiful convent girl vacationing in a small village in rural
The sexually repressed Florentine desires intensely Lamberto who kills her husband, seduces her, and escapes with her rebellious, capricious and highly provocative niece Ursula...
The air of harshness is at the heat of all of the main characters: Ursula's challenging sexuality; Count Ribera's lecherous advances; Lamberto's acts of vengeance; and most of all, the unusual beauty and natural charm of Florentine, played by the great Italian actress Alida Valli, from Carol Reed's The Third Man.
There's a scene in the film that takes place during the Count's funeral where we see Alida Valli stopping in the village streets and a veil covers her face... In front of Boyd, she takes off her dark veil, and stares, in silence, at his face... Her new feminist disposition was loading all her unconscious feelings...
In the fifties, Bardot emerged as a new type of sex symbol, flashing her sexual exuberance... Her performances as a child of nature responding to the call of sensuality, were a deliciously strange elixir to all of us growing up in that time...
Clothed in a breakaway towel, décolletage, bathing suits, or nude, this truly luscious coquette was enough to drive us into a kaleidoscope of dynamic excitement...
Bright Lights Film Journal [Alan Vanneman] also reviewing AND GOD CREATED WOMAN and PLUCKING THE DAISY
DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) also reviewing PLUCKING THE DAISY
The Onion A.V. Club [Nathan Rabin] also reviewing AND GOD CREATED WOMAN
Anyone familiar with the Frears (Dangerous Liaisons) and Forman (Valmont) versions will immediately see the problem about updating this story. The innocence and lack of guile which the preyed-upon characters must embody is not convincingly available in a contemporary setting and neither, therefore, is the cruelty which exploits those qualities; and Annette Vadim's flight into madness would surely have lacked conviction even in 1782, when de Laclos was writing. Though this is the weakest of the three adaptations, it does have in Moreau and Philipe the choicest of scheming monsters. The Thelonious Monk score natters on, without discernible relevance; and Vadim himself appears at the start to put us right about men and women, deploying with exquisite negligence his cigarette holder, the overcoat draped around his shoulders. What did all those gorgeous women see in this noodle?
Surprisingly, Roger Vadim's "contemporary"
pseudoadaptation of Choderlos de Laclos' 18th-century masterpiece Les
liaisons dangereuses--the film's title now in English and the year of the
filmcritic.com Christopher Null
Roger Vadim, who showed
a remarkable lack of self-restraint in films like Barbarella and Don
Juan (or If Don Juan Were a Woman),
was far more muted in his jazz-infused updating of Dangerous Liaisons,
set in then-modern-day Paris but keeping the guts of the story nearly intact.
In Vadim's rendition, Valmont (Gérard Philipe) is married to Juliette de Merteuil (Jeanne Moreau), and together they get their kicks by preying on the weaknesses of other high-society types. Juliette sets her sights on Cecile (Jeanne Valérie), soon to be married to someone who has crossed her in the past, and sets Vamont onto turning the innocent (but naive and manipulatable) girl into a sexpot-in-training. Meanwhile, Valmont falls in love with the genuinely virtuous Marianne (Annette Vadim), and a love-quadrangle soons spins out of control.
The film has a few key departures -- and a somewhat more satisfying ending -- that make it worthwhile, even if you've seen the three other major adaptations of the infamous book. Philipe is the most effective member of the cast -- the three female leads don't really distinguish themselves from each, with the mild exception of Moreau, who's always worth watching in anything she does. The soundtrack by Thelonious Monk is outstanding, worth listening to even if the film itself doesn't interest you.
Whether the film's "liaisons" manage to titillate you is debatable. The book's darkness and cynicism are largely lost here, and the actors play their characters far too sweetly. By the last act, few surprises remain in store for us, though it's been a considerably pleasant (and very French) experience in getting there.
Twenty-nine years before British director Stephen Frears's recent wig-and-powdered "Dangerous Liaisons," with Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer, there was "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," a rompy French version directed by Roger Vadim, who was just over a dangerous liaison himself with Brigitte Bardot.
Updating Choderlos de Laclos' novel (written 177 years before that), Vadim set the bedroom intrigue against a Parisian eve-of-the-'60s world of jazz and sexual permissiveness, cast French siren Jeanne Moreau as predatory Juliette (the Close role in Frears's film) and gave his wife Annette Vadim the innocent-prey role (later played by Pfeiffer).
What Vadim couldn't have known was how his movie, now retitled "Dangerous Liaisons 1960" (and made in 1959), would have played at Key Theatre 1989 with its dated air of finger-snapping cool; or how he comes across now, sauntering on-camera in a ham-fisted director's introduction, casting aside a black cape and saying things like, "Ah don' wan' yoo to sink that in France, all women be'ave lak Juliette."
Uh, Roger . . .
To watch the movie, though, is still fabulous -- not because it's a Great Film -- but because it bounces along as if it were a great film. Made during the heyday of the French "Nouvelle Vague," the movement that launched Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and several other directors, it aspires to cinematic hipness -- the camera peeps at the sexual players from behind chairs, even from under the sheets, and there's a wonderful music track supplied by Thelonious Monk.
But, as with so many other French movies and songs, "Liaisons 19-whatever" is blithely unaware of its French prissiness -- which makes it all the more fun to watch.
Picture then-young vixen Moreau parading around in an ocelot fur coat and married to fellow sexual hunter Gerard Philipe (imagine "Hawaii Five-0's" Jack Lord imitating "The Thin Man's" William Powell imitating Maurice Chevalier); the two swinger-vampires are constantly sniffing the city lovescape for fresh blood. Or a young Jean-Louis Trintignant playing a geeky, marriage-shy mathematician. Or the jazz club-den where, as a climactic death takes place, inspired "Negro" jazzmen -- frequently movie metaphors for "decadence" -- wail and jam in the background, amorally oblivious to the foreground hanky-panky.
PopcornQ Review Jenni Olson
Annette Vadim stars as the sexy Carmilla in this lush and provocative Italian-made feature. Seduced by her lesbian vampire ancestor who takes over her body, the lusty Carmilla first jumps a young maid, and then her beautiful cousin. Although the cousin is engaged to be married, the women make eyes at each other throughout the film (in that Euro-soft-porn sort of way), and director Roger Vadim plays up every lesbionic inch of it. Not as dirty as the Hammer Studio's lesbian vampire movies (The Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil, and Lust for a Vampire), much more lively and very well produced.
To call BLOOD AND ROSES Roger Vadim's best film is probably
not saying that much, when you consider what you're working with. Suffice to
say, he pays more attention to plot and character than usual and never allows
his attraction to decorative visuals to overwhelm the story (wispy as it is).
The wisp of story here is derived vaguely from Sheridan LeFanu's "Carmilla." A young woman (Annete Stroynberg), passionately attracted to her cousin (Mel Ferrer), becomes enraged at his engagement to another (Elsa Martinelli), and may be possessed by the spirit of a vampiric ancestor, Mylorka. Certainly, people begin dying after a fireworks display that caps a ball held to celebrate the engagement goes wrong and disturbs Mylorka's tomb. And as the time of the wedding approaches, it looks as if Martinelli may join all of the unfortunate women who died just before they tried to married Ferrer's ancestor, possibly victims of Mylorka.
The film, shot on location in some of the prettiest stretches of the French and Italian countryside by Claude Renoir, has a wonderful burnished look to it, like an expensive luxury item. The gowns that the ladies wear, courtesy of couture designer Marcel Escoffier, certainly help, and the musical score by Jean Promides, obviously inspired by 18th-century French and Italian sources, gives the whole enterprise an extra note of grace. There is little or no overt violence, and, rare in a Vadim film, no nudity, although he certainly goes out of his way, as ever, to make his leading ladies as enticing and glamorous as possible (and because of his discretion, succeeds more than usual). Mel Ferrer is his usual amused self, not a great actor by any means, but a pleasant presence. Annette Stroynberg was hardly an actress at all, but her very placidity, occasionally disturbed by odd little flickers of something unsettling, is rather effective here. Elsa Martinelli, even dubbed as she is here, is quite effective, bubbly, sweet, and brimming with imperilled innocence, just as the heroine of a vampire movie should be. All in all, a horror movie tasteful enough that the kids can probably watch it (at least the older ones) and adult enough to keep Mom and Dad awake as well. Not something one can say for AND GOD CREATED WOMAN (which I, at least, consider to be a horror film--or at least a horror OF a film . . .)
Communist Vampires Thomas M. Sipos
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
Doug Pratt's DVD Review (excerpt)
The Collection is a boxed set includes all four films along with a 63 documentary profile, Brigitte Bardot...Take One . The films are all lightweight entertainments, but they have enough eccentric features to attract fans, and they all have the Marilyn Monroe of France--Bardot, who, especially in these features from the late Fifties and Sixties, looked and often acted like a flirtatious child in an adult woman’s body.
We had a near-constant grin on our face as we watched Roger
Vadim’s 1961 romantic comedy, La Bride sur le Cou, or Please Not Now! . The film’s theme
music is a folk rendition of La Bamba , and that is the tone the show
follows, playing almost like a Richard Lester movie or something. Although it
has moments of pure, delightful absurdity (there is a marvelous comical
sequence involving levitation), the narrative maintains the breathless logic of
a brook running downhill. Bardot is an easily distracted model whose lover has
become engaged to another woman. When she protests by throwing a pie in his
face at a restaurant, a young surgeon becomes smitten with her and begins to
woo her as she plans further revenge against the lover who jilted her. The
balance of attention on one idea or one scene to the next is near perfect. The
89 minute film begins with a car rushing through the streets of
The picture quality is also outstanding. The black-and-white image is spotless and contrasts are precise. Except for some tiling in the shadows on walls that disrupt an otherwise bouncy dance scene, there are no artifacting flaws. The presentation is in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The monophonic sound is okay and the film is in French with optional English subtitles that appear beneath the image. There is an original American full screen trailer that emphasizes the film’s teasing nude scenes, and a profile of Bardot.
In 1961, when Bardot was despairing and attempted suicide,
she was still doing romantic screwball comedies such as Please Not Now, a picture directed by her former husband, Roger
Vadim. While these sexy comedies are somewhat formulaic, this one is energized
by a vivacious performance by Bardot and a properly wacky supporting cast,
including an out-of-control hypnotist.
Model Sophie (Bardot) is in love with her photographer boyfriend, Philippe Belmas (Jacques Riberolles). But Philippe has other plans, which involve running off with American slaughterhouse heiress Barbara Wilbury (Josephine James). Bardot, already the animal lover, comments that Wilbury "looks like the kind of person who would kill little animals." Running into Alain (Michel Subor) at a restaurant, she soon uses Alain to plot her revenge, first by making Philippe jealous, and then by taking Barbara out of the picture permanently, in the tradition of Sophie's murderous Corsican grandmother. The action gets wild and woolly on the slopes of Villars-de-Lans, as Sophie plots to get even while Alain plots to get Sophie for himself. Topping it all off is a lengthy fantasy sequence which features Bardot dancing first with only a towel and then without.
Bardot is at her most iconic here, with impossibly long eyelashes, elaborate wigs and pouty beestung lips. She seems to be having a good time with the role and puts a good deal into it. She has some fun slapstick moments, such as brainlessly blowing up the gas stove in her apartment. Riberolles is a typically colorless romantic interest; Subor is marginally better since he is willing to stop at nothing to win Sophie (in a decidedly non-PC moment of desperation, he forces her to disrobe at gunpoint). Serge Marquand is entertaining as Prince Shribouyoune Bayane, an Indian prince reduced to using his hypnotic powers in a nightclub act; unfortunately, he doesn't have the best control over his powers. Mireille Darc inexplicably gets third billing even though she has two brief scenes as Philippe's assistant, and displays no particular interest in the part.
Vadim's direction is for the most part pedestrian and workmanlike. He does, however, have his moments; one of the best of these is an amusing split-screen effect where we see both of the couples warring; as they push against the barrier, it moves and crowds the other couple tightly until they push back. The stylized nude sequence was notorious at the time and often severely cut. It's fairly modest in retrospect, filmed through a heavy fog which leaves most everything to the imagination.
Please Not Now! Michael den Boer
DVD Review e-zine Guido Henkel
Fulvue Drive-in Nicholas Sheffo
France Italy (113 mi) 1962 co-directors: Philippe de Broca, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Demy, Sylvain Dhomme, Max Douy, Jean-Luc Godard, Eugène Ionesco, Edouard Molinaro
This is a blend of the bad, commercial work of journeymen
French directors and the exciting new wave of Godard, Chabrol and Demy. Anger
is the first sin to be treated, and Sylvain Dhomme does a terrible job with
this silly story of flies in the soup provoking world catastrophe. Molinaro's
version of Envy is no better. Philippe de Broca gets a fine hammy performance
from Georges Wilson in Gluttony; some great satire of French country eating
habits here. Jacques Demy is next with Lust, and he loses steam with a static
visual style (none of the grace of Lola) and stiff acting. We can only surmise
what he could have done with a better script.
Godard has the best segment, he's got Eddy Constantine playing a loafer for a change, not his Lemmy Caution-like nerveless violence. The cheesy Hawaiian music suits the story well. It's more verite than we are used to from Godard. After Sloth, we get Pride from Roger Vadim, and the banality of the story is relieved by some good acting by Sami Frey and Marina Vlady. I always thought it was a shame Vlady wasn't more popular; she had a gorgeous sleek cat's face and could do comedy. Chabrol is last with Greed, and he shows the usual facility and empty social commentary we have come to expect from him.
This is a pretty mediocre film made up of sketches. Julien
Duvivier did a lot better with "le diable et les dix commandements," and
he did all the segments single-handedly .
Only Godard snubs can enjoy the sloth sketch which is a saddening bore, with Eddie Constantine, an actor who made duds by the dozen.The anger sketch recalls the silent movies era,that is to say it's modern! Philippe De Broca's part is vulgarity itself, which is amazing coming from a director known for his elegance. There's nothing to expect from Roger Vadim, whose movies have not worn well, it's the least we can say.
Edouard Molinaro will be dismissed by the "connoisseurs" just because he's not part of the new wave; however his sketch is not that much bad. But the two best segments are Chabrol's and Demy's .
Demy's "lust," abetted by two peerless thespians, Laurent Terzieff and Jean-Louis Trintignant, blends present and past when the latter, still a young kid, didn't know what "lust" meant. This is the most daring sketch, even featuring furtive nudities.
Chabrol's segment ends up the movie on an unpretentious welcome note .The "polytechniciens" putting their problem -how can we sleep with the de luxe prostitute?- in equation is one of the funniest moment of the whole movie.
Two sketches and a half: you make it on the percentages but lose out on the bonuses.So why don't you try Duvivier's "le diable et les dix commandements" instead? No, Duvivier is no part of the new wave. It's not a crime, is it?
This film is classic Roger Vadim, down to the sexual theme, the gorgeous cinematography, and the incomparable Brigitte Bardot. A young heiress becomes involved with an abusive, power-hungry alcoholic. She loves this crude man, though he treats her savagely, until she begins to realize her own power. When she leaves this man to his own devices, he falls apart, and realizes that he, in fact needs her, and loves her. Basically a battle of the sexes, and she wins. This sounds like a simple story, but Roger Vadim elevates this into a thing of power and beauty, with his extraordinary film technique. His admiration for Bardot is apparent, as he films her 'god-like'. This is classic cinema, and very French in it's style. Feauturing some wonderful late 1960's jazz music, this is a very sexy film, one of the finest Bardot/Vadim efforts. I don't understand the negative reviews. I think it is unfortunate that the DVD for this one is so rare, and goes for over a hundred dollars if you can find it. Along the lines of films like "The Servant", and "Nine & a Half Weeks" in the subject matter of the sexual power struggle between two people. A fine film, worth a look.
"Love On a Pillow" is a dubbed French film starring
Brigitte Bardot at her most beautiful and alluring. An existentialist writer,
artist, and musician from
1962's Love on a Pillow (Le repos du guerrier) reunites
Bardot with director Roger Vadim, now no longer her husband. The story is
interesting but ponderous; it seems to go on much longer than its 102 minutes.
The original title translates to The Warrior's Rest and the original book source probably related Renaud's soul-sickness to wartime experiences. Roger Vadim covers the narrative but doesn't provide a satisfying ending. The pace slows as Geneviève's trials become more predictable. Vadim indulges in titillating near-nudity and decorative camera angles effects unconnected to the characters. A split diopter allows a giant close-up of Bardot to share the screen with action in the distance, keeping both in focus.
The interesting Houssein has an acting edge on Bardot; it's really his movie. He convinces as a selfish creep with unlimited reserves of hateful remarks: "Love is an abyss. I don't care." Bardot has only her signature pout and some tears to work with; she's either happy or unhappy with few gradients in between. We so thoroughly despise Renaud that the ending reconciliation doesn't work. Vadim stages it in a windswept Florentine ruin, an overly dramatic gambit that can't mask the absence of a real character conversion.
CRITIC'S CHOICE; New DVDs Dave Kehr from The New York Times
De Sade was all over the publicity for this film, but is excluded from its credits. Nevertheless, it's Justine and Juliette updated to 1944-45. Justine (Deneuve), churchgoing, loyal to her fiancé in the Resistance, is forcibly consigned to an SS brothel in the Tyrol. Meanwhile her sister Juliette (Girardot) is infatuated with a Gestapo brute who lets her sit in on his torture sessions. Only the cast makes this worth a look. The sex contrives to be both tame and vulgar, and Vadim's fancy lighting effects - dimming out the set in mid-scene and putting a spot on the characters - just looks silly. What with this and Pasolini's odious Salò, it's clear that Sade and WWII are subjects best treated separately.
Anybody who has seen Pasolini's 'Salo' will realise that
Pasolini owed a debt to Vadim as the similarities in certain sections of the
film are perfectly obvious. The key scene in relation to 'Salo' is when the
'victims' enter the chateau and once they are in the chateau suffer the same
sort of torments as in Pasolini's film.
The basic difference between the two films is that despite the horrific subject matter Vadim retains a sense of romanticism which Pasolini rejected. It is a great pity this film is not more widely available on video as it is beautifully shot in scope with a delirious score that mixes Gotterdammerung with 'Les Parapluies de Cherbourg'!
The acting, especially from Annie Girardot is exemplary. You can see why this actress gave a such a terrific performance recently in 'La Pianiste'. It was however one of Deneuve's first roles and like all her early films she was not at her best, but clearly decorative.
A 'must-see' film for all those film lovers who have appreciated the likes of 'The Night Porter' and Visconti's 'The Damned'.
Outside the fact that both works ("le vice et la
vertu" and "salo' ) take place during WW2,it's absolutely impossible
to compare an auteur like Pasolini to a mediocre third-rate drudge whose works
have not worn well at all:"And God created woman" and the first
version of "les liaisons dangereuses" are dated old hat stuff.
Vadim's movie is entertaining,if it's not taken literally:it's a farce which recalls erotic comics of the sixties,particularly the scenes in the baroque castle where Hossein and Girardot give the victims (including the latter's clueless sister Justine-Deneuve- and the future Bond villainess Luciana Paluzzi) a rough time .
Pasolini's work will hurt you,shock you,leave you completely depressed and exhausted .Vadim's will make you laugh ,and wonder why all these talented actors got lost is this masquerade.
Jean-Luc Godard was right when he said Roger
Vadim was "with it." The man didn't make good movies but he knew what
audiences wanted to see. Scarcely a master of social interrogation, Vadim was
content hawking middlebrow smut, which usually meant parading whatever women he
was fucking in front of his camera. One could say that the only pulse he was
particularly good at taking was his own. La Ronde grafts the sexual
exploits of a close-knit gaggle of bourgeois dopes into a lifeless vision of
Roger Vadim was
Most of Roger Vadim's movies are about seduction in one form or another. His update of Les liaisons dangereuses with Gérard Philipe and Jeanne Moreau is one of his best films. When classical inspiration dried up Vadim turned to genre work and finally to softcore tease pictures. La ronde is literally one seduction after another in an amorous chain of genteel couplings. With variations, the formula served Vadim again in Pretty Maids All In a Row.
A prostitute (Marie Dubois) picks up a soldier (Claude Giraud), who seduces a housemaid (Anna Karina), who seduces the son of her employer (Jean-Claude Brialy), who visits his lover (Jane Fonda), who sleeps with her husband, who takes a casual pickup (Catherine Spaak) to a private dining room. The pickup is promoted by a playwright (Bernard Noël), who renews an old affair with an actress (Francine Bergé), who is visited by a Count (Jean Sorel), who meets the prostitute. "La ronde" is presented as a cycle of seduction and pleasure.
La ronde started life as a play by Arthur Schnitzler, whose other turn-of-the-century scandal Traumnovelle eventually became Stanley Kubrick's film Eyes Wide Shut. Although progressive and thoughtful for 1900, both stories have dated central themes. La ronde's cyclic progression from one partner to another, an erotic relay, no longer seems fanciful or even desirable in a world with better knowledge of STDs. Schnitzler's ever-changing skit format would be lifted as a recurring motif for message movies: There have been several pictures about a stolen handgun moving from owner to owner, or a banknote passing through a series of illicit transactions. Tales of Manhattan is a Julien Duvuvier classic that creates a portrait of society by following a fancy topcoat through a succession of owners.
The classic adaptation of La ronde is Max Ophuls' far wittier version done back in 1950. It uses a stream of clever visual jokes to enliven Schnitzler's confectionary structure. A master of ceremonies character seemingly arranges the liaisons between the lovers, and shows us a carousel representing the evanescent allure of sex. When one character experiences impotence, the carousel breaks down. When a scene threatens to become too erotic, the master of ceremonies halts the film, and physically edits out the offending segment!
Vadim's La ronde is a literal version of Schnitzler's play in period dress, without theatrical intrusions or satiric jibes at its adult content. A simple waltz theme is used to link the stories. Screenwriter Jean Anouilh adds a few philosophical observations that merely underline the basic games that are being played. Vadim's only visible objective is to make the seductions as attractive as possible. The women seem well aware of what is going on, and are often in control of the situation. The seduction of Anna Karina's meek housemaid is revealed to have been mostly consentual, when we later see her invite the attentions of her employer's son. Catherine Spaak's afternoon pickup turns out to be a master manipulator, and Francine Bergé's actress is an old pro at juggling lovers.
Thus Vadim's film is a mild oo-la-la trifle best suited as an ice-breaking date movie for frustrated Frenchmen: Everybody seems to be having sex, an activity that leaves only beautiful memories. As all the lovers remain ignorant of the game beyond their own two 'connections,' their infidelity and selfishness never becomes an issue. Unwanted children and other unpleasant complications are drowned out by pretty color and charming waltz music.
Vadim's main directorial contribution is to make all of his actresses look attractive and distinctive. His picture moves slowly and the format bogs down at least two links before the circle of lovers is closed. The episodes lack variety. Each takes place on its own set, lasts about the same time, and ends with a discreetly ellipsed, implied love scene. Vadim's paramour Jane Fonda is the only actress to flirt with nudity. Catherine Spaak comes off as intelligent, Karina as kittenish and Benoît as spirited. Francine Bergé's slightly bored actress mirrors our feelings about the proceedings; Vadim just doesn't have much of a sense of humor. When in need of a visual gag to cap a sex scene in his Pretty Maids All In a Row, the best he came up with were rows of lawn sprinklers turning on.
Game Is Over" is a tedious and ridiculous film of great physical
beauty, directed with Vadim's unfailing bad taste and photographed by Claude
Renoir with breathtaking virtuosity.
In type, it is not unlike the early vehicles in which Vadim starred his former wife, Brigitte Bardot. Indeed, one must look again in many scenes to be sure current wife Jane Fonda is not a post-adolescent reincarnation of
The plot is still another retelling of the "Phaedra" myth, lifted this time from Emile Zola. One wishes "Electra" would come back into style and give everyone a change of pace. But, no, we must watch again as a young woman (Miss Fonda) marries an older man and then falls in love with his son (Peter McEnery).
Her husband, ably played by Michael Piccoli, wouldn't dream of stooping to violence to keep his wife. Instead, in the approved 19th Century French manner, he explains that all of her money is invested in his business. In Euripides' play, the woman commits suicide and the son dies for his sins, but Vadim has a more painful treat in store for us.
Miss Fonda flies off to
Vadim, as usual, has no feeling for the border between the bizarre and the merely ridiculous. One gradually comes to suspect that he will do anything on the screen. While Euripides spins in his grave, we are given such lines as: "It's all right to deceive my father while he's here, but I don't want to take advantage of his absence. It's immoral." And, honest, "Can you imagine what he'd say if he caught us -- good Lord, my wife and my best son."
Renoir's photography saves more than one scene. There are stunning shots as the lovers drive through the countryside; Miss Fonda's not extraordinary beauty is made the most of, and boudoir passages show unmistakable signs of Vadim's vulgarity bested by Renoir's taste.
Movie House Commentary Johnny Web
aka: Tales of Mystery and Imagination
Vadim segment: Metzengerstein
A compendium of three Poe stories. Vadim's (Metzengerstein) carries with it an aura of perversity, due not so much to the fetishistic clothes and decor as to the casting of Jane Fonda and brother Peter as the lovers. With his death, she resorts to a totem black stallion as a substitute, and the film itself falls apart. Malle's piece (William Wilson), a not particularly riveting variation on the Doppelgänger theme, has Alain Delon 1 (looking slightly bewildered) being chased by Alain Delon 2 (looking even more bewildered). Bardot puts in an appearance, looking odd in a black wig. Meticulously done, but not much to do with Poe; only Fellini (Toby Dammit) really manages to make much of his source. Stamp comes to Rome as the actor chosen to play Christ in the first Catholic Western (a cross between Dreyer and Pasolini, with a touch of Ford). He plays a man at the end of his tether, and as his obsessions take over, so do Fellini's. In many ways the sequence foreshadows Roma. It's overdone and strained, but worthwhile for Stamp's curious performance.
filmcritic.com communes with Spirits of the Dead Christopher Null
A rare '60s oddity, Spirits of the Dead takes a
weird premise and makes it even weirder. How weird? Try classic Edgar Allen Poe
stories given a 1960s spin -- one that lambasts the whole free love/no morals
movement the way that only the Frenchies could do. And stars some of the
biggest stars of the era -- Fonda! Bardot! Delon! -- and is told in
three short pieces, courtesy of three big-time directors -- Fellini! Malle!
Roger Vadim takes his Barbarella star Jane Fonda through a very loose interpretation of "Metzengerstein," with Fonda as an aristocrat bored of the constant orgies and swift executions of her enemies. She ends up falling for her cousin, but when he rejects her, she burns down his stable, taking him along with it. Strangely, the cousin ends up possessing the spirit of a horse, which the countess ends up fascinated with anew. It's the weakest of the three shorts, but it's worth seeing if for no other reason than to see Barbarella trot out her French. (To be honest, that might be the only reason -- the story just doesn't make much of an impact.)
Louis Malle heads the second segment, a version of "William Wilson," wherein a barbaric Alain Delon finds himself chased by an alternate version of himself throughout his life, his own conscience casting judgment upon him. And for good reason -- Delon's Wilson is incorrigible, tormenting classmates with live rats as a youth, nearly performing an autopsy on a live and buxom patient, and cheating at cards so he can get revenge on a beautiful card sharp (Brigitte Bardot). The story works well as a parable about how the evil that men do always catches up with them in the end, and Malle tells it with flair -- low-budget '60s flair, but flair nonetheless.
The final act of the triptych is pure Fellini as only Fellini can be. A revision of "Never Bet the Devil Your Head," his Toby Dammit (Terence Stamp) is a famous modern-day actor, as well as a drunk and a soulless libertine. Everything about Fellini's mini-universe is sketchy, from a bizarre awards show ("The Golden She-Wolf Awards") to the little redhead he sees in his frequent visions... whom he sees as Satan, naturally. Reminiscent of 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita, Fellini's segment is both beautiful and surreal, with Dammit's self-destruction leading us inexorably toward a foregone conclusion.
Spirits of the Dead is something of a historical anomaly. In a year when films like The Graduate told us that, hey, anything goes, Spirits of the Dead says that it doesn't. I'm not sure I would have expected this from the directors of Barbarella, 8 1/2, and Pretty Baby -- none of which is exactly known for moral restraint -- but hey, we are defined by our contradictions, no?
To say that motion pictures have not been kind to the legacy
of Edgar Allan Poe is quite an understatement. More than 100 movies have been
based on (or more often than not, “inspired by”) the tortured writer’s tale of
crime and the macabre, but very few of these adaptations are even worthy of
searching out. Roger
Corman managed to produce a few entertaining variations on Poe’s more
popular stories, but it’s pretty alarming that this legendary author’s finest
‘modernization’ came courtesy of The Simpson’s superlative version of
While Spirits of the Dead doesn’t do much justice to Poe’s source material, fans of bizarre French cinema should have a pretty good time. This anthology contains segments directed by three well-known European filmmakers (Roger Vadim, Louis Malle and Federico Fellini) and, as is often the case with anthology movies, the result is a mixed bag.
Vadim’s ‘Metzengerstein’ is loosely based on Poe’s tale of the same name, and it features a young Jane Fonda (Vadim’s then-wife who would also appear in his Barbarella) as a decadent and cruel aristocrat who delights in the suffering and discomfort of her various contemporaries and servants. The beautiful countess oversees some surprisingly downcast orgies and behaves like an insufferable bitch before surprisingly falling in love with her cousin. When he dismisses her advances, the countess exacts a cruel revenge that contains some decidedly ironic results.
Louis Malle (
The last feature, ‘Toby Dammit,’ is based on Poe’s ‘Never Bet the Devil Your Head’ and it focuses on a drunken and insufferable lout who also happens to be a world-famous actor. Since Fellini brings this tale to us, you can of course expect something truly bizarre. Suffice to say that as Toby appears on an arcane talk show and begins an inner descent into madness, all sorts of wild visual stuff goes on and things end badly.
Unfortunately, Spirits of the Dead is a muddled and altogether bizarre movie. Fans of Poe adaptations and late-sixties French cinema will undoubtedly find more to enjoy than others, but as a whole this one veers between truly odd and painfully dull. The appearance of a few recognizable faces (Fonda, Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda, Brigitte Bardot) offers something of interest, but on the whole, Spirits of the Dead is simply more “weird” than it is “entertaining.”
digitallyOBSESSED! DVD Reviews Mark Zimmer
Edgar Allan Poe's writings have proven notoriously
difficult to adapt for the screen, though not for lack of trying. Part of the
problem is that most of his notable works are short stories that cannot fill an
entire feature's running time. Here three of the greatest European directors
try their hands at a Poe anthology.
In Metzengerstein by Roger Vadim, the baroness Metzengerstein (Jane Fonda) is notoriously sensual and cruel. She has everyone under her thumb, until she meets her cousin, Wilhelm (Peter Fonda). Shortly thereafter, he is killed in a stable fire, trying to rescue a favorite horse. A tapestry in the baroness' home has a black horse mysteriously burned out of it, and then a black stallion makes its appearance, to her utter fascination. Is it a reincarnation of Wilhelm, or something more sinister?
Louis Malle's William Wilson takes the subject of the double. In a framing device set in a confessional, Wilson (Alain Delon) recounts his life of sin and villainy, punctuated by periodic appearances of his exact double, also named William Wilson. In an extended segment,
The least literal transcription is, unsurprisingly, that by Fellini. In Toby Dammit (adapted from Never Bet the Devil Your Head), the title character (Terence Stamp) is a dissolute Shakespearean actor brought to Rome by the promise of a new Ferrari to make a Catholic western. Dammit goes from one bizarre experience to another, ending in a lengthy and wild ride through the Roman environs. But Dammit cannot escape the devil, who appears to him in the form of a little girl with a white ball (Marina Yaru).
Self-consciously arty, the three tales tend to be fairly heavy going. Vadim plays lengthy dialogue sequences with music only; Malle gets bogged down in the confessional scenes and the card game and doesn't develop the relationship between the doubles in a satisfying manner, and of course Fellini's production is his usual freak show. The picture definitely has its moments, however. William Wilson's debauched attempt to dissect a live woman, as well as his vicious caning of Giuseppina are notable, and the image of the devil in Toby Dammit is utterly chilling in its portrayal of the ultimate wickedness in the guise of innocence.
While this is a French-language print, oddly enough the titles are in English (the onscreen title is Tales of Mystery and Imagination). The content seems to be identical to that of the earlier Image disc, with the exception of the titles and the narration over the closing credits of Poe's Spirits of the Dead by Vincent Price, added for the US release by AIP, which is missing here, but was included on the Image disc English language track. That disc, however, was from a PAL master and thus the running time was abbreviated by over four minutes.
Turner Classic Movies Jeff Stafford
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Monsters At Play
Communist Vampires Thomas M. Sopis
Spirits of the Dead John White from 10k bullets
MovieMartyr.com Jeremy Heilman
The Onion A.V. Club [Nathan Rabin] also reviewing DON JUAN (OR IF DON JUAN WERE A WOMAN)
In the 41st century Barbarella (Jane Fonda) is sent to thwart the schemes of the evil Black Queen. After surviving several kinky encounters, including tantric sex with a blind angel who can no longer fly and an attack by killer dolls with razor-sharp teeth, Barbarella defeats the Black Queen and the galaxy is restored to peace.
If you like camp/kitsch or the thought of a semi-clad Jane Fonda c.1968 then Barbarella is the film for you. If you like meaningful content, stylistic innovation or any of that serious cinema stuff then it isn't (unless, of course, you happen to be interested in constructing a thesis about how the casual sexism of Barbarella maybe isn't really all that harmless deep down when you think about it; something Fonda herself probably got more into a few years later in the wake of "Hanoi Jane", Klute and Tout va Bien). It's not a film that tries to break barriers or provide deep and meaningful commentary on the nature and meaning of life - it's a film which sets out to entertain and does so with considerable panache. What more do you need to know?
about that Barbarella's director, Roger Vadim, might just be the most important
director since 1950 without ever actually making an outstanding film, although
he did produce some highly enjoyable films. His Bridget Bardot star-vehicle And
God Created Woman (1956) created an atmosphere conducive to low-budget films
from young directors in
Film Freak Central Bill Chambers
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Mutant Reviewers From Hell Shalen
Vern's review also reviewing DANGEROUS LIASONS and DON JUAN (OR IF DON JUAN WERE A WOMAN)
Somebody's knocking off girls at the high school in this sex-comedy-thriller, which doesn't get far in any of these directions. The sex is an updated equivalent of the kind indulged in by Rock Hudson in innumerable bedroom comedies. The comedy consists largely of Telly Savalas wearing his dark glasses on the top of his bald head, plus a few gags about embarrassing erections. And the thriller aspect derives from a couple of close-ups of Hudson looking dangerously manic. In one shot, the boom microphone hovers in full view for several seconds; an indication of the general sloppiness and pointlessness of Vadim's first American-made feature.
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
The Osmonds chirrup over the title, which is tattooed, via
zoom, on a coed's ass -- Roger Vadim lines his gals to sing "
Turner Classic Movies Jeff Stafford
Among the many peculiar assemblages of cast and crew in
In a sly bit of casting, Rock Hudson plays "Tiger" McDrew, the high school football coach and guidance counselor who enjoys countless private liaisons in his office with selected female students. When the affairs get too serious or threaten to involve his wife, he terminates them abruptly - usually by strangulation. Yet, despite his busy schedule, he still finds time to mentor a few promising students and his current protégé is
While neither completely successful as a murder mystery or satire of high school life (George Axelrod's Lord Love a Duck  was much sharper), Pretty Maids All in a Row does work on the level of soft core erotica which is no surprise considering Vadim's expertise in that area. But the chic, high-class decadence and art-house respectability of previous Vadim features such as Les Liaisons dangereuses (1959) and La Ronde (1964) is completely missing here. Instead, Pretty Maids All in a Row is crass, overstated, infantile and enormously entertaining at times for all the wrong reasons. It's as if Vadim is reflecting his own impressions of American society back at us in this sex-obsessed fantasyland where the
More than anything, Pretty Maids All in a Row espouses the Hugh Hefner Playboy approach to life and is unapologetically sexist in every male-female encounter in the film. When the camera isn't ogling female breasts and buttocks, it's reveling in visual metaphors for sex;
In his autobiography, Memoirs of the Devil, Vadim recalled the casting of the students in Pretty Maids All in a Row: "...I had auditioned over two hundred boys and about the same number of girls. Most of the girls who applied were aspiring actresses, though some were students who merely found the whole thing amusing. For a man recovering from lovesickness [Jane Fonda had just divorced Vadim], this succession of young beauties should have been an excellent tonic. It was not unpleasant, of course, but I have never believed in strength in numbers." Not one of the "pretty maids" emerged as a major star but several went on to enjoy minor film careers with several exploitation and cult films on their resumes: Brenda Sykes (Black Gunn , Mandingo ), Margaret Markov (Black Mama, White Mama , The Hot Box ), Joy Bang (Play It Again, Sam ,Cisco Pike ), June Fairchild (The Student Body , Up in Smoke ), Aimee Eccles (The Concrete Jungle , Group Marriage ) and Gretchen Burrell, whose main claim to fame was as the one-time girlfriend of country rocker Gram Parsons.
At the time Rock Hudson made Pretty Maids All in a Row, his film career had completely stalled. The multimillion dollar box office bomb Darling Lili with Julie Andrews hadn't helped matters and neither had the Italian-produced war adventure, Hornet's Nest (both 1970). He was just a year away from his successful transition to television with the hit series McMillan & Wife but he was no longer a guaranteed box office draw - Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman and Ryan O'Neal were the rising new stars. Regardless of his circumstances,
But Rock Hudson wasn't the only one going through a career crisis in 1970. It was a year of major transitions in the film industry and every major studio was desperately struggling to keep up with the rapidly changing audience demographics. After the surprise success of Easy Rider (1969), Five Easy Pieces (1970) and other indie hits, everyone was trying to cater to the "youth market" and MGM was no exception though their shaky financial situation was worse than most (the studio would completely cease production by 1976 and by 1979 MGM was primarily a hotel company). Vadim recalled, "When I started shooting Pretty Maids All in a Row for MGM, there was not a single other film being made in any of the six main
Part of the problem was the outdated assembly line approach to filmmaking that worked so well during the height of the studio system days. Vadim described a perfect example of this during the filming of Pretty Maids All in a Row: "I had to shoot three takes of a boy on his Vespa. In the morning a motorized column consisting of four trucks, the generator set, makeup vans, actors, extras, the producer, the director, costumes and mobile kitchens, plus six or seven production cars, set out from the studio. The drivers' union refused to allow me to drive my own car. I managed to slip away unseen, accompanied by my director of photography, who had become a friend and accomplice. The actor followed on his Vespa. In an hour, with a hand-held camera, we had all the takes I needed. By the time the column arrived the shot was all finished. The studio had been figuring on two whole days of shooting."
Needless to say, Pretty Maids All in a Row didn't save MGM from its downward slide. The film reviews were decidedly mixed; West coast critics tended to be more positive while East coast critics were extremely negative on the whole. Roger Ebert wrote, "One thing you can say about Pretty Maids All in a Row. Rock
If nothing else, Pretty Maids All in a Row is of interest as an evocative snapshot of another time and place, a signpost signaling the end of old Hollywood and announcing the new one. For Vadim, however, it was something more: "I found it a thrilling experience...It was the most enjoyable piece of filmmaking I have ever done in my career."
Scoopy's Movie House reviews Pretty Maids Johnny Web
I saw Helle in a theatre in
Don Juan ou Si Don Juan était une femme...
So what if Don Juan were a woman? I'm not sure if
she would behave something like Brigitte Bardot's 1973 rendition of the famed
lover, but it's considerably fun to watch her strut her stuff.
In Roger Vadim's interpretation of the Latin lover, Jeanne (Bardot) eats men for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She takes a married politician and immediately ruins him by having him photographed at one of her orgies. She uses a hapless folk singer for sex and then leaves, prompting him to slice his wrists and bleed to death while strumming his guitar. She even extends her wiles to corrupting women, luring the innocent wife of a grotesquely self-absorbed businessman into the sack, then turning the tables on both members of the couple.
Vadim imbues his film with a balls-out seventies sensibility, all bell bottoms and shag rugs. Bardot, one of the ultimate vamps of world cinema, is at her unmistakable best here, bored with the world around her yet overflowing with wanton lust. Unfortunately, the film never totally gels -- is the point to show us how Jeanne jumps from one encounter to another without any remorse at all? That's what Vadim gives us -- and his ending tries to wrap up her life with a bit of deus ex machina that doesn't satisfy at all.
Still, Don Juan is a rare shocker that turns the table on age-old expectations about gender and morality. There's no surprise ending and little mystery along the way -- just brash sexuality courtesy of one of cinema's most notorious vixens.
Brigitte Bardot stars here in her last film along with Jane
Birkin, the other singer who recorded the Serge Gainesbourg hit, "Je
t'aime". This film is worth seeing, as we see BB's and Vadim's evolution
from "And God Created Woman" to this post-sixties over-the-top
We get some great nude scenes with Brigitte and Jane, and BB's character Jeanne is someone fed up with men, so she resorts to seduce and destroy tactics. As in "And God Created Woman" she's pretty much playing herself, but with an exaggerated storyline of driving men to ruin, murder, and suicide. The campy ironic humor is there in such scenarios as seducing a priest as well as setting up a fake menage-a-trois to madden a bete homme. Also a scene with Robert Walker Jr. (Charlie X in Star Trek TOS) where the price she asks for making love is no less than his life, which he takes seriously. The ending is a multiple meaning one as BB saves a man who makes her "pay for her sins" (though he's unappreciative). I think the end hits home for Brigitte in real life saying in effect, "look you male-dominated world, you've made my life hell". And it's the last scene she ever did on film. Worth seeing for it's erotic quality (but what BB film isn't), the submarine home, the early '70s fashions, and the camp.
The origins of Don Juan date back to a play entitled The
Seducer of Seville, written by Spaniard Tirso de Molina in 1630. The story
spread throughout 17th Century Europe, and inspired a number of variations,
including The Stone Feast, a 1665 play by Moliere, the lengthy Byron
poem (pronounced Jew-en), and Mozart's 1787 opera, Don Giovanni. As a
film subject, the IMDB lists 57 titles pertaining to the character, and the
1926 Warner Bros. version starring John Barrymore is credited as the very first
sound feature film, which used the Vitaphone to play music and sound effects.
According to the legend, Don Juan met his match after seducing the daughter of
a Commander, whose ghost returned to take him to hell after the lover had slain
the father in a duel.
For his 1973 effort, Roger Vadim would cast his ex-wife, and the woman he helped turn into a sex goddess, Brigitte Bardot, in her last starring role, in Don Juan 1973, released here under its UK title Don Juan (Or If Don Juan Was A Woman). Maurice Ronet (Purple Noon) reunites with Bardot after working with her on Jean Auriel's Les Femmes.
Bardot plays Jeanne, a woman whose satisfaction comes not from seducing men, but from possessing them. Living off her inherited wealth, and residing in a stylish bachelorette pad in a submarine, her conquests are innumerable, but the stakes are getting higher. She appears at a church where her cousin is performing a eulogy. He is not happy to see her, knowing the type of character she possesses. Still, he can't help but be drawn to her confession, especially when she confides she has killed a man. In the sanctity of her abode she begins to unravel the tale, not in a boastful manner, but as a consequence of her obsession for controlling and destroying men.
Her first prey is Pierre (Maurice Ronet), an upstanding and faithful husband and father, and while not adverse to one night stands, is not to be coerced into any kind of emotional attachment. The pursuit is relentless, but the lengths to which she will go to ensnare her victim drive the man to ruin, and when done with her fun, he is brushed aside as yesterday's challenge. Others will follow, each with their own plots for the undoing.
Vadim's talent for exploiting his leading ladies continues here, and though Bardot's titillating though non-explicit performances in earlier productions make way for more nudity in this film, the voyeuristic will be thankful the subtitles are removable, as these moments are rare and short. The look employed here is reminiscent of earlier Vadim works such as Barbarella, or Radley Metzger's Camille 2000, with similarly eccentric set dressings, and the choice of shooting into mirrors or using abstract reflections in metal, through objects or simply focusing on inanimate objects while the love scenes play off screen. Rack focus, odd angled long shots, and a variety of stylistic effects up the artiness of the film from a straight erotic subject, but also limit the amount of nudity actually seen, with the encounters focused on the set up, then cut away for the main event.
As some have noted, this may have been Bardot's revenge, and a fitting retreat from her film career, with a role reversal that objectifies males, rather than using her as the subject. Despite her sexual appeal to the men in the film, Bardot is no longer the vixen, she is portrayed with the morals and thought patterns of a male, freed of emotional entanglements, her motives are strictly superficial. There is no passion in her characterization, she proceeds in a somber, calculated fashion, with each of moves preconceived to meet her own goals. This comes across as a lack of depth, leaving the viewer with less attachment for her or her fate. The spin on the legend is interesting, and is certainly visually engaging, but the movie falls into a nether region between erotic cinema and art film, and doesn't seem to gel in either. For Bardot fans, this is a more serious and mature portrayal, lacking the jovial innocence of her previous Vadim work. Outside the flirtatious and playful context, even her two brief nude scenes lose their reward value to an extent. Don Juan is entertaining, but its atmosphere is much more downbeat than the comedies that showcased a lustful exuberance in the past—still a must for her fans, but more for completist reasons than its own merit.
Don Juan or If Don Juan Were a Woman Michael den Boer from 10kbullets
Vern's review also reviewing DANGEROUS LIASONS and BARBARELLA
The Onion A.V. Club [Nathan Rabin] also reviewing SPIRITS OF THE DEAD
GRINGO TRAILS B- 81
USA Bolivia Thailand Mali Bhutan (79 mi) 2013 Gringo Trails Official Site
Take only memories, leave only footprints. —Chief Seattle
More than ten years in the making, the film explores the effect of
institutionalized tourism in remote regions around the globe, where the tourist
mindset, especially when they arrive in droves, alters the natural landscape
and turns whatever natural beauty the site offers into a money-making theme
park, where instant gratification outweighs long term gains or benefits. While the director is an American
anthropologist who is also Associate Director of the Center for Media, Culture and History at
Another British tourist enthralled by
The most egregious example of beauty turned to ruination
started out as an unspoiled paradise, where National
Geographic travel editor Costas Christ describes his own unbridled
enthusiasm about visiting Ko Pha Ngan
Doc Gringo Trails Argues Why Backpackers Aren't Too ... Diana Clarke from The Village Voice, also seen here: New York : Gringo Trails - Village Voice
In the late 1970s, Costas Christ, now an editor at National
Geographic Traveler, took a boat down the river in southern
The film suggests that these travelers, often characterized as young, un-wealthy, and adventurous, are more like traditional tourists than they'd care to admit. In 1981, Israeli backpacker Yossi Ghinsberg survived a month lost in the Amazon; after his memoir was published, hordes of young people arrived in
An uneven examination of paradise(s) lost, Pegi Vail's Gringo
Trails showcases the tourism industry's encroachment on the natural beauty
and modest livelihoods in undeveloped areas within countries such as
The doc's spotty episodic structure causes the film to repeatedly shift focus, and one of the more fascinating products of the backpacking phenomenon that Vail too briefly explores is how a country's tourism industry sells natural danger as a harmless attraction. Using Yossi Ghinsberg's remarkable 1981 survival in the Bolivian jungle after nearly a month as a launching pad, the Bolivian people in that area have turned Ghinsberg's experience into guided tours for thrill-seeking backpackers, disregarding the fact that Ghinsberg was lost and facing death before being rescued. This is echoed later in a bizarre scene featuring a crowd of tourists surrounding an anaconda in a marsh, where everyone attempts to touch the fearsome predator; the creature's notorious image is suddenly subverted when a tour guide subtly warns that the insect repellent on the tourists' skin is toxic to the snake and may kill it if it's touched.
Perhaps the most tragic story told in the film involves the transformation of Ko Pha Ngan's Haad Rin, once a long stretch of virgin beach and now home to Full Moon Parties that suggest a frat boy's Disneyland. Vail counters images of Haad Rin's barely inhabited past with the present ebb and flow of the sea of beer bottles that litter the beach after a party, a juxtaposition that becomes an undeniably powerful indictment of how countries will brazenly sacrifice both heritage and pristine land to serve the touristic needs of the outsider. Though the tourists are presented as nothing more that single-minded party animals (which the film dubiously presents as an exclusively American and European phenomenon), and the native Ko Pha Nganians see this tourism as a financial opportunity, Vail never proposes a resolution or alternative to the issue, which suggests the director is content to rest on a moral high ground with her images. Haad Rin's story encapsulates Vail's increasingly unsatisfying reserve toward her subject matter, and this beautifully edited film somehow addresses a lot, but ultimately says little.
Gringo Trails is a term used in South and
The story starts with the tale of Yossi Ghinsberg who heard about a stretch of uncharted Amazon while in Bolivia in 1981 Ghinsberg was looking for the remote, tribal and unusual headed out to explore getting lost in the jungle. He was swept away in one of the worst rainstorm in the history of the area but manage to survive 25 days alone in the jungle near Rurrenabaque before rescue. He turned his experience into a 1985 book which started a trend of Israelis coming to the area to see if the story was true and try to gain their own taste of the Ghinsberg experience.
Director Pegi Vail presents the development of tourism in many hotspots normally plot into three stages: the initial sprinkling of travellers that discover a spot, which leads to increased popularity amongst backpackers then total saturation. The narrative touches on the effect on the land, the habitat of the local animals inhabitants. The film also includes antidotal stories from travel book writers, TV hosts and bloggers. Be sure to catch the running gag of backpackers standing around brushing their teeth in the morning sunlight to start their day.
The next point of interest is Salar de Uyuni also in
The worst example in the piece is
The film includes two examples of locations that followed the
right approach. Bhutan opened up to tourism in 1974 but they targeted a
specific market. They looked for older tourist mainly the well to do,
retired University professors and Hollywood types who had means had done the
party thing in the past therefore more likely to respect their culture and
traditions. Tourist are charged $250.00 per day and can be told to leave if
they do not respect the country's traditions and rules. The other is Chalalan
Lagoon in Bolivia. The guides are well trained explain to tourist what the
land, animals and nature means to them, their parents and grandparents
generation. They engage in Eco-tourism, Yossi Ghinsberg retuned to Bolivia in
1992 and is working with the group at Chalalan Ecolodge alongside some of the
people that were in the search party to save him. He raised money from the U.S.
to support their project of community based tourism.
Gringo trails is a fascinating look at modern tourism and the impact of the traveler on the destinations that they visit. It's a unique take as they find as much fault with the locals for not educating the tourists but instead looking to make a quick buck as with the tourist for disrespecting local customs and traditions. A key rule for the host is to set the ground rules early, limit numbers, have a clear plan on what to do with waste and keep a close eye on the effect on wildlife and culture. A good tip for the traveller when they come across a supposed exotic local with volleyball courts, bars on the beach and restaurant serving western fare is to ask a local what's going on at the island or village next door. Gringo trails is a documentary that I highly recommend.
Gringo Trails - PopMatters Cynthia Fuchs
'Gringo Trails' Illuminates Our Travel Footprint - Outside Online Mary Catherine O’Connor
Gringo Trails ~ a documentary by Pegi Vail | Coffee-Stained ... Oliver from Coffee Stained Journal
Don't go there? Film chronicles destruction of travel - CNN ... Zoe Li from CNN
Joshua Reviews Pegi Vail's Gringo Trails [Theatrical Review] Joshua Brunsting
Planet in Focus Review: Gringo Trails | Cinema Axis Francis McKay
'Gringo Trails' looks at whether tourism harms ... - Today Brooke Lefferts interview,
Explore Tourism's Toll On Our Planet - NBC News Sandra Guzman interview,
Ruins the World? Travelers? A Chat with "Gringo Trails ... Adedana Ashebir interview from The Huffington Post,
Are Backpackers Destroying the World? Gringo Trails ... Bret and Mary interview from Green Global Travel, March 1, 2014
Trails: Is tourism destroying the world? - CNN.com Zoe Li interview,
'Gringo Trails' Examines Tourism's Fallout - NYTimes.com Ben Kenigsberg
Valdivia, Juan Carlos
SOUTHERN DISTRICT C- 67
The vulgar crassness of the wealthy bourgeoisie is on full display with this unhappy examination of a socially dysfunctional family that lives inside an immense home surrounded by gardens where off in the distance the Altiplano Bolivian mountains can be seen. This feels like a wretched version of De Sica’s THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS (1970), portraying the last vestiges of the aristocracy, like the passing of an era, which in my view can’t come fast enough in this Bolivian film. The Southern District of La Paz houses the wealthy, where here a family lives inside a glass house protected from the outside world by iron bars on the windows. Headed by a thoroughly despicable mother who dotes over her children like a mother hen, smothering them with unneeded and unheeded advice, she has three children who couldn’t be more selfishly spoiled, one who has sex round the clock, one who follows her lesbian instincts largely to spite her mother, and the youngest child who talks to an imaginary friend named Spielberg, all of whom emit an air of entitlement even as their lives undergo a downward spiral of financial misfortune, which is barely even acknowledged, as the family is in utter denial about their unthrifty spending habits, where they accumulate so much debt on credit, expecting this to be perfectly acceptable, that they actually blame the merchants when they are unable to continue without actually paying for what they need. Their lives continue, as before, with little acknowledgement of reality.
Using a French style of long, monotonous dialogue, this film is advanced by unending, mindless chatter, as if this could be a play, as it nearly all takes place inside the confines of the large and enormous rooms of the glass house, where their pretentions, prejudices, and hedonistic lack of self-awarenenss are on full display, where at some point there is a shot with each character set in front of a different glass window of the house helplessly looking out. As the film attempts to find a rhythm of daily routine where the house becomes a bubble of social protection from the outside world, the mother flirts with her long-time indigenous manservant, a butler who shops, cooks, helps pick out the clothes people wear, while generally taking orders from his flighty and overbearing boss who is simply used to ordering other people around even as her moral authority to do so slowly disappears. If anyone has seen Gaspar Noé’s ENTER THE VOID (2009), then you will be familiar with this 360 degree overhead shot that hovers above the world below like an out of body experience, which is used all too frequently here, as if to represent the split in reality. While there are many somewhat theatrical camera shots, and an extremely interesting architectural glass house on display, the stunningly empty dialogue taking place within the family itself is horribly detached not only from the rest of the world but from any audience in the seats, as what they have to say from start to finish is mindlessly boring, alienating any hint of interest with what’s happening onscreen. I kept hoping some outsider would arrive with an ax and put all of them out of their misery, but it was not to be. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, as their air of arrogance and racial superiority is so dismissive of others that it ends up being the film’s undoing, as many found dozing off preferable to staying awake for this snoozer.
I saw this film on the last day of the Berlinale and it's seduced me right
away. The room by room 360 degree rotating camera scenes did remind me slightly
uncomfortably of estate agent guides however the film deserves a lot of credit
for its subtlety and restraint. The characters are entirely realistic and
multi-dimensional, a rarity in films dealing with class and race. In particular
the exchanges between mother and daughter for me exemplified the balance and
impartiality of the film.
I would thoroughly recommend this whether you are looking for an examination of class, race and family or just wish for a couple of hours of stunning scenery, endearing characters and beautiful music.
Set in an upper class zone of the Bolivian capital, Southern District takes us inside the house of a family as they go through their daily lives.
Carola (del Castillo), the mother and head of the house, lives with her children Patricio (Koria), Bernarda (Vargas) and Andrés (Fernández).
They also share the house with Wilson (Loayza) the butler, who has become a conflicting father figure of sorts and Marcelina (Condori) the maid.
We see as Carola deals with her daughter's disdain for her social class, Patricio's overpowering sex drive (his girlfriend is played by Luisa de Urioste) and little Andrés' fantastical existence.
Within their problems
we encounter a microcosms of what
If at first glance the plot sounds familiar, the director gives it a new perspective relying on a camera formalism that might recall Godard and Antonioni.
Aided by cinematographer Paul de Lumen, the director comes up with a visual plan during which the camera never leaves the family house.
Every scene is composed of long shots, dollies and crane shots that move around the sets, sometimes in complete disregard of the characters (which leaves us with beheaded actors, dialogues heard behind closed doors and a restless mobility that both explores and seeks escape).
The director, who has worked in Mexican soap operas, has no trouble creating dramatic tension in the obvious set up of family quarrels and confrontations but Southern District's brilliance lies in its reevaluation of the familiar.
The film's key scene might be one where Patricio wants to tape a sexual encounter he has with his girlfriend. At her reluctance he tries to ease her into it by telling her to imagine "there's two people", one who makes love to her and the other who films it.
Valdivia's camera works in the same way as it moves throughout the house caressing the mementos and characters, while it tries to absorb all the information it can to help us understand, if not empathize, with these people's superficial existence.
During one chilling moment the camera shows us how all the characters, except Andrés, stand inside the house looking out behind clear glass windows.
We are instantly reminded of an earlier moment where we saw a bunch of bottled butterflies in Andrés' room.
The little boy who wants to fly away (literally with a pair of wings he built) and figuratively as he dreams of becoming a filmmaker and discusses this with his imaginary friend appropriately called Spielberg (the nods to E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial and other Spielbergian themes speak for themselves).
Andrés is the only
family member who at one point leaves the house-learning about a social reality
he practically ignored-and as such we wonder if
The Hollywood Reporter review James Greenberg at Sundance
The crumbling of the
aristocracy in his native
Nuances of the Bolivian culture may be lost on American moviegoers, but the larger concerns are universal.
At the top of the food chain is Carola (Ninon Del Castillo), the matriarch of the family. Orbiting around her are her libidinous son Patricio (Juan Pablo Koria), rebellious daughter Bernarda (Mariana Vargas) and young son (Nicolas Fernandez). As a counterpoint, also living in villa are two Aymara Indians, Wilson (Pascual Loayza), the butler, chef and housekeeper, and Marcelina (Viviana Condori), the gardener.
The once-grand and now threadbare house with its lush grounds, designed by artist Perez Alcala and outfitted by production designer Joachin Sanchez, also plays an important role in this domestic drama. Day by day, the viewer gets to live with these people as they complacently hold on to their fading glory. Patricio seems to have sex around the clock with his gorgeous girlfriend (Luisa De Urioste) while Bernarda has a lesbian fling with her schoolmate (Glenda Rodriguez). Their younger brother Andres, who is dark-haired and almost seems to be from another family, escapes to the tiled roof of the house where he talks to his imaginary friend named Spielberg.
But it's Carola who rules the roost with a stern will and often-foul temper as she exerts her power on those around her. Going about her business as if nothing has changed, she refuses to acknowledge her growing debt as her circle of influence closes in on her. Interestingly, her ex-husband doesn't make an appearance and the only man in the house is the servant Wilson, who plays an intricate role in their lives but doesn't figure in the social strata.
The characters are neither likable nor totally evil, and
What makes the film unusual and sometimes fascinating, despite its glacial pace, in the specificity of time and place
CIFF 2010: Southern District (Zona Sur, 2009) Marilyn Ferdinand from Ferdy on Films
BFI | Sight & Sound | Embezzler Of Hearts David Robinson from Sight and Sound, June 2004
In this celebrity-driven time, actors are the aspect of film-making that gets the obvious attention. But their craft remains mysterious and their cultural input is rarely taken seriously. Sight & Sound wants to change that. In this new series we ask writers to respond to actors, not only as icons of their age, but also in terms of their expertise, their physical presence and their importance to the films of their day. We begin with David Robinson on the ultimate star, Rudolph Valentino.
He was born on 6 May 1895 at Castellaneta, near Taranto, beneath the heel of Italy. In later years publicists would boast that he was baptised Rodolpho Alfonzo Rafaelo Pierre Filibert di Valentina d'Antonguollo Guglielmi - which is unlikely, though the 'Pierre Filibert' is a reminder that his mother Maria Berta Gabriella Barbin Guglielmi was probably of French origin. His father Giovanni was the village vet, and supported the family in comparative comfort until his death in 1906. Rodolpho was the third of four children: his elder sister Beatrice died in infancy; his elder brother Alberto and you-nger sister Maria kept contact with him throughout his years of success. The young Rodolpho seems to have been a minor delinquent, and records of his schooling are doubtful, though his claims of having attended an agricultural college are probably true, if only because so improbable.
On 9 December 1913 Rodolpho set out for New York on the S.S. Cleveland. Arriving penniless, he was glad to accept the hospitality of Castellenatans who had preceded him to the New York ghettos until he found work as a gardener on grand estates - which probably gave him the opportunity to observe, envy and emulate the rich and elegant. Meanwhile, he worked on his innate dancing skills, mastering the crazes of the day - the maxixe, the cakewalk and above all the American and Continental tangos. The handsome, charming and graceful boy easily found work as a taxi dancer in the 'cabarets' that flourished in New York. Almost certainly additional service as a gigolo would have been demanded. He quickly made it to the fashionable Maxim, where he was able to earn $100, with handsome tips, when he pleased the ladies.
Probably humiliated by this rental status, he accepted a considerable cut in salary to replace Clifton Webb as partner to the exhibition dancer Bonnie Glass. He moved on to partner Joan Sawyer, but soon became involved in a complex sex scandal involving millionaire Jack de Saulles, his wife Blanca, the actress Mae Murray and Joan Sawyer herself. Rodolpho was a divorce witness for Blanca, which abruptly ended his partnership with Sawyer. Soon afterwards Rodolpho himself was arrested and gaoled. When he became famous Metro arranged for the police records to evaporate, so the details of the case are unknown, though they seem to have involved blackmail and extortion. Soon afterwards Blanca de Saulles shot her estranged husband dead; with his vulnerable immigrant status, Rodolpho decided it was best to leave town before her trial.
He got a part in the chorus of the touring musical The Masked Model and when that collapsed found a three-week job in the chorus of Nobody Home, playing in San Francisco. The Seven Little Foys were appearing in vaudeville, and 20-year-old Bryan Foy (later to become a prominent film producer and 'Keeper of the B's') took a fancy to Rodolpho, convinced him to try his luck in Los Angeles, and put him up in his apartment on 6th Street, near the Elks Club.
For a year or so he lived from hand to mouth, working as a dancer and occasional mechanic and endeavouring to break into movies, starting with an unbilled role as a dancer in Alimony in late 1917. Over the next two years he appeared in a dozen or so films, sometimes unbilled, otherwise getting secondary roles in minor pictures or bit parts in bigger productions. His name was rarely spelled the same way twice on the credits: he was M. Roldolpho De Valentina, Rudolph Volantina, Rudolph Valentine. Only on two films at the end of 1920 does his screen name appear in more or less its definitive form of Rudolph Valentino (though there remained uncertainty about the 'ph').
It has generally been stated that he was frustrated at being typecast as Latin heavies and co-respondents, but in fact he had his fair share of characters with good American names like Jimmie and Maurice and played sympathetic Italians (Prince Angelo in Passion's Playground, 1920) as well as the neurotic (Juliantimo in Once to Every Woman, 1920) and plain nasty (Jose Dalmarez in Stolen Moments, 1920). The last role of 1920, as a crook called Jimmie Klingsby (and still billed as Rudolph DeValentino), was in the aptly titled The Wonderful Chance.
Having paid Vicente Blasco Ibáñez $20,000 advance against 10 per cent of the eventual gross for the film rights to his best-selling epic novel The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Metro was regretting it, as war films plummeted in public favour. Nevertheless, Metro's star writer June Mathis produced a clever adaptation, suggested Rex Ingram as director and proposed the unknown Rudolph Valentino for the leading male role of Julio Desnoyers. Mathis seems never to have met Valentino, but to have been impressed by his cameo role in 1919's Eyes of Youth. Metro accepted, confident that the film was guaranteed by its female star, Ingram's wife Alice Terry. Almost as soon as shooting began, and definitively after shooting the extended tango scene, Ingram recognised the singular magnetism of his new actor. Julio's role was progressively filled out - and when the film opened in 1921, the public saw only Valentino. Myth and star alike were born overnight.
Valentino is the perfect screen actor. He moves with extraordinary grace and skilfully adapts his elegant mime to the age or mood of his character. With his fine skin and slicked-back hair, he has a commanding facial beauty that transcends a misshapen bruiser's ear and a scar on his right cheek (which can even serve as a beauty spot). He seems to absorb himself completely into every character, though he always found a costume helped: he preferred not to play contemporary roles, and even when he did usually sought to introduce some fantasy sequence that permitted him to retreat to a distant and exotic place or era. His playing appears exceptionally restrained for the time, and at the same time acutely expressive. His clinical myopia may have contributed to the depth of his melancholy eyes, under eyebrows often quizzically drawn together. Although the intensity of his passions is rarely compromised by humour or cynicism, he nevertheless had an elegant style in light comedy, seen at its best in Monsieur Beaucaire (1924) and The Eagle (1925).
From the moment of his first entrance in Four Horsemen, hijacking his partner for the tango, he brought a new eroticism to American cinema. As Life said, for women newly emancipated by the Great War, he was "the symbol of everything wild and wonderful and illicit in nature". Beside him, his American predecessors and contemporaries were domestic dull-pots, while Douglas Fairbanks, though dedicated in other ways to glorifying the male physique, seemed always to be doing all those things recommended to adolescent boys to take their minds off sex. Valentino's erotic play ranged from the exquisitely gentle to the no less exquisitely brutal. He was attentive, considerate - and impetuous. His lips just brushed the fingers of a married woman's hand, or kissed the palm (a trick taught him by Elinor Glyn when he was making 1922's Beyond the Rocks) of one who might be more attainable. He would seize his partner, bend her backwards dangerously, then tenderly arrest the movement to plant a kiss. He was the Sheik and the Great Lover.
The heterosexual American was inevitably uneasy; Dick Dorgan spoke for many when he famously wrote in Photoplay: "I hate Valentino! All men hate Valentino. I hate his oriental optics; I hate his classic nose; I hate his Roman face; I hate his smile; I hate his glistening teeth; I hate his patent leather hair; I hate his Svengali glare; I hate him because he dances too well; I hate him because he's a slicker; I hate him because he's the great lover of the screen; I hate him because he's an embezzler of hearts; I hate him because he's too apt in the art of osculation; I hate him because he's leading man for Gloria Swanson; I hate him because he's too good-looking." Just the same, screen lovers - and not just Valentino's Latin rivals like Ramon Novarro and Gilbert Roland - changed their ways with women after Valentino.
Valentino's private sexual life is enigmatic, but not irrelevant to the on-screen erotic charisma that still endures. Everyone who met him emphasises his boyish, unaffected charm and sincerity; and there's a good deal of evidence that he cherished an Italian bourgeois ideal of a well-ordered home and a dutiful wife to supervise it. Yet in Hollywood he seemed to be drawn into a sexual maelstrom and to be dominated throughout his career by strong women, starting with Mathis. The Russian-born stage star Alla Nazimova snubbed him in 1919 when someone attempted to introduce the then-unknown young man in a restaurant. It seemed almost unconscious revenge when he immediately married Nazimova's most recent lover Jean Acker (herself irked, it seems, by Nazimova's dallyings with Dorothy Arzner, the editor on her latest film). Acker instantly regretted her error, locked the door of the bridal suite and went back to another girlfriend. With astonishing naivety, Valentino seems to have continued to plead for her return.
Nazimova changed her attitude after Valentino's success in Four Horsemen and persuaded him to play Armand to her Camille. The production was dominated by another of Nazimova's lovers, Natacha Rambova (in reality Winifred Shaughnessy, the stepdaughter of cosmetics tycoon Richard Hudnut). Valentino was bewitched by this forceful, pretentiously high-brow young beauty - and married her. When shortly afterwards he was charged with bigamy (his divorce from Acker was not yet legally concluded) the couple had no difficulty in establishing there had been no consummation, while Rambova's biography of Valentino - admittedly largely devoted to communications from beyond the grave - persistently refers to his "childlike" qualities and never hints at a mutual erotic attraction.
Outside these two marriages, Valentino was untouched by the usual Hollywood scandal machine, with no suggestion of sexual affairs with any other women or men - though he openly enjoyed the companionship of his own sex, with (not surprisingly) a number of homosexuals among his most faithful chums.
Rambova's pretentions and ambitions were to have a seriously adverse effect on Valentino's career. After Four Horsemen he made three more films for Metro: Camille (1921); Uncharted Seas (1921), a melodrama set in the Arctic; and The Conquering Power (1921), directed by Rex Ingram, who clearly resen-ted being eclipsed by Valentino and was determined to cut him down to size. When Metro refused to raise his salary despite the huge profits of Four Horsemen Valentino was happy to be part of a package that Mathis sold to Famous Players-Paramount, which involved starring Valentino in The Sheik (1921) at a considerably larger salary than he had earned at Metro. Edith Maude Hull's 1919 novel had garnered a notoriety that sold millions of copies; to have read this slyly pornographic tale was the mark of the New Woman. It relates how a liberated young aristocratic lady is abducted in the desert by a handsome sheik. Borne off to his tent, she yields - but happily discovers he is really an English nobleman in mufti. The story has everything - sin, miscegenation and a last-minute racial corrective.
With The Sheik Valentino's fame and popularity soared; but Rambova thought such stuff below her husband's dignity and from then on made more and more difficulties between Valentino and Famous Players, encouraging him to be increasingly demanding about his projects and their visual qualities (with Rambova, naturally, the preferred designer and artistic adviser). There were some good films nevertheless - a finely played contemporary role in Moran of the Lady Letty (1922) and a return to Ibáñez with Fred Niblo's admirable Blood and Sand (1922). Immediately before this last film, and while relations with the studio were still comparatively cordial, Sam Wood directed Valentino and Gloria Swanson in Beyond the Rocks, from Elinor Glyn's 1906 novel. The film was long lost, but has just been rediscovered by the Nederlands Filmmuseum, which is in the process of restoring it. Swanson herself always longed, vainly, to see it again, since she had such happy memories of its making. She was 25, Valentino was 27, and she found him modest, endearing and fun; the two youngsters would run off for tennis games together. Valentino plays the English Lord Bracondale, who saves the life of the beautiful Theodora (Swanson), the young wife of an elderly millionaire, when she slips off an Alpine precipice. They fall in love, with predictable complications that are eventually resolved when the millionaire husband is slain by bandits in Arabia. Madame Glyn, the author of this farrago, was on the set to offer tips on the finer points of romantic love-making, and her hand is also evident in an article signed by Valentino in the March 1922 issue of Photoplay.
Goaded by Rambova, Valentino broke completely with the studio after the decorative but unbearably tedious The Young Rajah (1922), alleging Famous Players' tyranny over his artistic creation. For a year and a half he survived by doing exhibition dances as a cosmetics commercial. Valentino was still a valuable property, however, and in 1924 there was a reconciliation with the studio, which knuckled under to most of his demands. Monsieur Beaucaire, made at Paramount's New York studios, is a touch weighed down by Rambova's design and A Sainted Devil (1924) and Cobra (1925) are among his least successful films. Famous Players was clearly not too disappointed when it finally parted with what one executive called "the double hernia".
Recruited to United Artists by Joseph Schenck (or rather coerced - Schenck had providentially covered some of the huge debts incurred by Valentino's extravagance), Valentino was to make only two more films. The Eagle, directed by Clarence Brown, remains one of his most sophisticated; he plays a young Russian officer slyly evading the attentions of the lustful Catherine the Great (Louise Dresser). Finally he returned to the lurid world of Edith Maude Hull for The Son of the Sheik (1926). It is old tosh, but Valentino is at his best, finely differentiating his double roles, his mime beautifully characterising the old Sheik gracefully yielding to time.
Valentino went east for the premiere. He was unhappy. He and Natacha, who was forbidden by the contract with Schenck from even entering the studio, had quietly separated. He had been cut by nasty press attacks on his virility - despite his increasing insistence on posing with boxers and athletes and on showing off his body (not always easy, as from early days he had a constant weight problem). Most surprising was the still from The Young Rajah in which his knitted swimming trunks reveal a display of manliness at which even contemporary newspapers might jib. After his death the "powder-puff" jibes were largely blamed for his distress, but H.L. Mencken, who interviewed him at the time, felt it was the experience of The Son of the Sheik which had knocked him so low. He had risen from nothing, and had striven to be an artist, only to find that what he had done was worthless.
On 15 August 1926 Valentino was rushed into the Polyclinic Hospital New York and operated on for a gastric ulcer and ruptured appendix. On 23 August he died, setting off a mass display of necrophilia such as had never been seen before. Vast crowds (most of them, it was noted, under 35, with some of the men in gaucho costume) converged on Campbell's Funeral Church on Broadway and 66th Street. Three hundred and fifty policemen and a horde of private detectives attempted to control them, but there were at least a hundred casualties and Campbells opened a temporary clinic. For three days people - more in carnival mood than in mourning - filed past the bier at the rate of 9,000 per hour. United Artists, with its big investment in The Son of the Sheik at stake, did not discourage the spectacle. Nor did Paramount, anxious to promote Pola Negri's next film Hotel Imperial, raise any objection when the diva announced that she and Valentino had been engaged, and embarked on a much publicised cross-continental pilgrimage, weeping, swooning, screaming, giving press conferences and doing re-takes for the news camera by turns. A song 'There's a New Star in Heaven Tonight' was rushed out and proved a best-seller.
After a memorial service in the Church of St Malchy the body was taken west by train, stopping for further memorial services at Chicago. Finally, in Hollywood, the funeral took place in the Church of the Good Shepherd, and the double bronze coffin was laid to rest in June Mathis' crypt in the Hollywood cemetery as an aeroplane dropped a hail of blossoms to cover the ground below.
Valentino died at a time of revolution in communications technology. The furore over his last illness, death and lying-in-state was to a large part generated by the new medium of radio. The image of his corpse was the first press picture to be transmitted across the world by wireless. Seventeen days before his death Warner Bros. had premiered its first Vitaphone programme in New York: sound films had arrived.
Valentino would certainly have survived the revolution. Some broadcasts and rather amateur but sweetly engaging recordings of 'The Kashmiri Love Song' and 'El relicario' had shown he had a pleasant voice. He had mastered perfect English, with an exotic accent which was said to sound more French than Italian.
Valentino would have survived the revolution - but would the legend? "We had faces then. We didn't need to talk," said Norma Desmond. These mythical figures - Chaplin's tramp, Fairbanks' Thief, the Lillian Gish of Broken Blossoms, Theda Bara, Negri, Swanson, Musidora and Mozhukhin - existed outside ordinary reality, larger far than life, and not chained to nationality by common speech. Valentino's exotic contemporaries Nazimova and Ramon Novarro were to end their careers as ethnic character players; Negri's last role was in Disney's The Moon-Spinners (1964). Rudolph Valentino lived, died, and remains a legend.
Bright Sights: Recent DVDs The Valentino Collection, by Gordon Thomas from Bright Lights Film Journal
Critic's Choice: New DVD's BEYOND THE ROCKS, by Dave Kehr from The New York Times
By John Anderson C.R.A.Z.Y. from Cinema Scope (link lost)
The various successes of C.R.A.Z.Y.—a Québecois smash that deals with real things and attracts people who don’t ordinarily go to movies (something essential for a long shelf life)—put it in a heavyweight classification somewhere between Titanic (1997) and Mambo Italiano (2003). It’s about family, to which everyone can relate. And if you don’t see the outcome looming, like an iceberg with “ICEBERG” written on its side, you might have been surprised when the ship sank, too.
But it’s sweet. It’s redemptive. It made $6 million in Québec
alone and is the Canadian nominee for Oscar’s Best Foreign Film. Yes, it has
English subtitles for the non-Québec audiences, ordinarily the kiss of death in
that large movie market south of
The wild success of a predictably popular movie like C.R.A.Z.Y.—and it is predictable, sadly enough—represents not a revisionist past, but a revisionist present. It is made by what has become a tried-and-true technique: take an issue, in this case homophobia, and view it through a prism of, say, 30 years. What do you get? “Oh,” thinks C.R.A.Z.Y.’s audience, “weren’t people ignorant?” When? Today at lunch? Right, you mean way back then. Before we all came to understand each other and live in peace, tolerance, and domestic tranquility.
It’s a standard ruse, one based on sociological cowardice.
Tackle a controversy, yes, but place it somewhere safely in history where it
can be viewed as if through glass. It’s an approach we’ve seen in dozens of
movies over the last dozen years or so, ones as disparate as the recent Disney
product The Greatest Game Ever Played—in which cruel class distinctions
are treated as some extinct monster, rather than the ethos by which certain
governments operate—and Todd Haynes’ Far from Heaven (2002), which, for
all its greatness, behaves (yes, OK, ironically) as if racism was something
we’d cured, like polio, sometime in the 50s. Ang Lee’s
Not to give Mel Gibson any more credit that he’s not earned
already, but what he did in The Passion of the Christ (2004) was take a
crucifixion out of a muddled, romanticized, gauzy past and put it in your face
as if it were an underdone, badly abused pork chop. What movies like
C.R.A.Z.Y. director Jean-Marc Vallée (who said before a screening at the recent Vancouver International Film Festival that his little film had enjoyed a $600,000 music budget) approaches gayness as if with tongs: nothing sloppy, nothing graphic—nothing, in other words, to put off an audience that might not quite be ready for the messy realities of what is, for the movie’s featured family, a distinctly alternative lifestyle. For Zach (Marc-André Grondin), the fourth of five sons born to the charming, aging, homophobic hipster Gervais (played wonderfully by Michel Côté), bias isn’t some artifact of an ancient civilization, but an ongoing crisis. In one of Vallée’s cuter moments, Zach actually hides in the closet, observing the seemingly hourly heterosexual conquests of his rebellious older brother Ray (Pierre-Luc Brillant). When Zach comes out—literally, not figuratively—he gets a punch in the face. But his sexual emergence is so late in coming, his character so conflicted rather than decidedly queer, that the filmmaker ends up making a big fat sitcom out of a serious social crisis.
Lest we get distracted by all the low-rent domestic comedy, classic rock, and contrived anguish, C.R.A.Z.Y. has some good performances, notably by Côté, even if his character’s homophobia doesn’t quite reconcile with the out-there characteristics that make him so charming, and ultimately so awful. The straight Gervais has some curious fetishes: a penchant for Patsy Cline, for his cool black Cutlass, and for singing along, quite unabashedly, with Charles Aznavour records at the climax of family functions. He is not a Homer Simpson-esque dope; he follows fashion, however badly (Côté’s haircuts are hilarious). He obviously knows what’s going on in the world outside Québec. He is the kind of man who might expect—as Irish mothers once did, vis-à-vis the priesthood— to offer up one son to homosexuality. God knows, with five sons, the odds are that he’d have no choice. But he never understands Zach, and he never really tries.
Just as Côté dominates the cast, his character’s bias dominates the movie’s ethos and, like so much else, this feels forced (as does much else in a movie so dominated by a soundtrack featuring, among others, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and the Rolling Stones). But let’s face it: does anyone in this movie seem to be related to anyone else? The brothers—the title of the film is an acronym of their names (Christian, Raymond, Antoine, Zachary, and Yvan)—aren’t just a diverse group, with each Central Casting slot occupied (jock, brain, drug addict, homo, acerbic fat loser). They’re from different planets. They don’t look alike. They don’t share any similarities. And although their variety might be a statement about Zach’s right to be who he is (no one else is bothered about who he is), people in families do, in fact, sound alike, walk alike and share an exposure to the same ideas which manifest themselves somehow, if not necessarily in enthusiastic agreement.
But if you’re looking for cinéma vérité, or even plausible
fiction filmmaking, you’re not going to be cuckoo for C.R.A.Z.Y. Does it
work on any level? Sure, but likely not for people who really care about the
issues raised, because the issues raised are used as devices. Why does it take
Zach most of the movie to even accept that he’s gay? Because then he can have a
heterosexual relationship for most of the movie with the rather
less-than-perceptive redhead who loves him. (Honey, anyone that much
Apparently this story has been lying around for awhile, as in the mid 90’s Dennis Hopper was initially signed on to direct the film with Woody Harrelson as Ron Woodroof, but the money never came together. While uncredited, which is a bit unfathomable, the origin of the movie comes from a lengthy newspaper story called Buying Time written by Bill Minutaglio from the Dallas Life Magazine, published August 9, 1992, which can be read in its entirety on Robert Wilonsky’s Pop Culture Blog, For Matthew McConaughey, next up is true-life tale of 'The Dallas .... The timing of the article was significant as Woodroof died just a few days after the article appeared in print. Writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack are credited with writing the story, but they are actually adapting someone else’s story who should be compensated for their work. Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), described by Minutaglio as a man “who cursed like four sailors,” is an enigmatic figure, as he’s your typical redneck Texas homophobe who hated “faggots” throughout his lifetime, as he was likely killed by a bisexual partner having sex with his girlfriend, as both were diagnosed as HIV+ in 1985 at a time when the expression hadn’t even been invented yet, as everyone was still labeled under the single AIDS category, as contracting the disease at that time meant sure death, as there were no medications offered. Woodroof was a licensed electrical contractor and part-time rodeo rider known for his fearless nature while living a hard life of boozing, smoking, sniffing cocaine, and womanizing. The film leaves out a girlfriend, where she’s replaced by any number of attractive women for hire, where using condoms was exclusively something for kids. When Woodroof ends up in the hospital for a work-related injury, his white blood cells are nearly non-existent, where doctors can’t even scientifically offer an explanation for why he’s still alive, informing him that he has 30 days remaining to live. Angry and in denial about being told he has a “faggot’s” disease, he’s even more disappointed to discover there’s no treatment.
Showing amazing foresight and resiliency, he spends his time
in Dallas libraries researching all the known information about the disease,
discovering there is a government trial program administering AZT, which is the
only known drug to have any effect, though there are significant side effects. Also, this was still in the clinical trial
stage, which takes months and years before results can be tabulated. When you’ve been diagnosed as terminally ill,
somehow the side effects aren’t your real worry, as it’s more about what’s
killing you. Losing 40 pounds for the
role, McConaughey is an emaciated skeleton of a man whose life is slipping away
from him. Unable to legally buy AZT,
he’s able to obtain some on the black market, as he has ready cash, but this
pipeline closes when they lock it up in the hospitals. He is, however, given a doctor’s name in
While the film does show the Texas aversion to homosexuality, where discrimination is the rule, not the exception, Woodroof is initially skeptical to even be seen in the company of gays, but eventually he makes it into gay bars, where nearly all his customers hang out. He and Rayon are a love/hate relationship in progress, continually getting on each other’s nerves, but they make a ton of dough while offering people the only known product that inhibits the progress of the HIV virus, so there are literally lines out their door for help. While the film takes a shot at how the pharmaceutical business pays the FDA for what they want marketed and distributed, where AZT became the most expensive drug available, even with horrific side effects, the movie muddles any real developing connection in this area, as eventually it was determined the initial doses of AZT used were too high and the lowered doses used today have been much more successful. In the early days of AIDS research, little was actually known, and what was known wasn’t released to the public fast enough. Woodroof represents an anti-government strain at the time, especially since President Reagan and his Republican conservatives, largely supported by rabidly anti-gay religious fundamentalists, didn’t believe in government help, where by 1984 there were 2000 deaths and more than 4000 reported cases of AIDS in America, yet he remained indifferent to a national health crisis, only addressing the issue in 1987 near the end of his second term, forming a year-long commission to study the devastating effects of the disease, when by that time nearly 21,000 were dead and 36,000 Americans were diagnosed with AIDS. The politics of the era are completely left out of the film, as are the medical statistics, where HIV currently infects 34 million people worldwide per year, where 10% of them are children.
The use of Jennifer Garner is little more than a generic Hollywood treatment that demands a leading lady, and while she is terrific as a sympathetic hospital doctor who grows suspicious of the deadly effects of AZT, she also develops friendly relations with Woodroof, becoming a kind of romantic interest, especially since her normal looking physique stands out among streams of skeletal AIDS patients. While the film can get ghoulish, with ghostly looking, overly emaciated clientele that resemble concentration camp survivors, the film interestingly adds the mysterious music of T-Rex, “Main Man” T. Rex - Main Man - YouTube (4:21) and “Life Is Strange” Marc Bolan and T. Rex - Life is Strange - YouTube (2:10), also an interesting joke where Rayon plasters their office with photos of lead singer Marc Bolan on the wall that Woodroof amusingly mistakes for Boy George. After making the trip to Mexico some 300 times over the course of his lifetime, the life-saving network of smuggling underground experimental AIDS medications eventually comes to an end when the FDA tightens their restrictions, preventing medicines from other nations from entering the country, forcing AIDS patients to enter a bureaucratic maze of governmental dead ends and disillusionments. The film is shot by cinematographer Yves Bélanger, who filmed Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways (2012), yet here his use of handheld cameras expresses the restless anxiety of the characters who are racing to find a way to combat this disease, having literally no time to waste. Despite the film’s best efforts, it doesn’t capture the nation’s dreaded fear of the disease, where no one was prepared for this, when at the time people were even afraid to touch AIDS patients, much less hug them. It was an era when hospital workers were instructed to wipe down seats with Clorox where AIDS patients sat, where there was so much homophobia and racism surrounding the disease, creating terrible times, when no one would talk openly about the disease, including the government. The film eulogizes Woodroof as an AIDS activist who’s something of a saint, while also portraying him as an utterly contemptible human being and a lifelong bigot, yet his predicament raises the question of when is breaking the law actually for the public good, as his underground pressure did shed needed light onto the government’s inactions, as they’d been dragging their feet for nearly five years, eventually forcing them to act more responsibly (which the film never shows) by providing needed medications to all American HIV patients, which by now effectively suppresses the spread of the virus.
With all of the medical breakthroughs made in the past few
decades, HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was. Today, most take for
granted just how devastating an HIV diagnosis could be, and the corresponding
societal ostracization. The '80s weren't that long ago, but the differences in
how HIV patients were treated then versus now are worlds apart.
In Dallas Buyers Club, the year is 1985 and AIDS is still largely known as "the gay disease." Texan Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a cocky, hustling, homophobic ladies man that enjoys fornicating with the local skanks — the film opens with a scene of him and two women in a rodeo bullpen — suddenly finds himself in uncharted waters when he's diagnosed with HIV. Told he only has 30 days to live, he not only has to deal with the medical blow he's dealt, but must also face (often violently) his former buddies and co-workers, who assume Ron was gay all along.
Initially in a state of denial, Ron quickly accepts his condition and seeks help from the sympathetic Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), taking control of his fate in an attempt to save and prolong his life. AZT (the only drug at the time that showed some success in combating the virus) was in clinical trials, but Ron finds ways to get his hands on it. Quickly discovering the drug has numerous negative side-effects, he heads to
Initially seen as an outsider within the local gay community, Ron enlists the assistance of transsexual AIDS patient Rayon (Jared Leto), connecting him to the scene and establishing a level of trust. The Club quickly gains momentum, establishing Ron as an unlikely champion of not just the gay community but for the rights of patients seeking treatment.
Playing out as a dramatic retelling of the true story of Ron Woodroof, with the usual
With McConaughey and Leto both losing obscene amounts of weight for their respective roles, the inclination normally might be to scoff and label it gimmicky. However, in the case of Dallas Buyers Club, their transformations only serve to add to the authenticity of the story. Their performances are without a doubt Oscar-worthy and utterly captivating. That their unlikely business relationship leads to such personal introspection — on both sides — makes this one of the most unusual and emotionally compelling duos seen on screen.
Dallas Buyers Club is much more than just the usual epiphanies and life lessons found in similar films. It succeeds through the smallest moments of its story — those that not only acknowledge Ron Woodroof's memory, but pay homage to an entire assemblage of human suffering, communities and well-being.
Who is it that we have to thank for Matthew McConaughey’s career resurgence? His agent? His mom? His smoking partner Woody Harrelson? His own fevered mind? Whomever or whatever it might be, they deserve a raise, a plaque, a medal, or at least a shout out during the Oscars when McConaughey’s picking up a statue at long last. We have to know that’s coming. Look at the man’s resume over the past three years: his stellar supporting turns in Magic Mike, The Paperboy, and Bernie, and his starring performances in Killer Joe and Mud. An amazing hitting streak, and maybe enough to finally wash away the bad taste of all those romantic comedies he’s stumbled through.
Add to this peerless run, his latest effort is a starring with a capital “S”
role in Dallas Buyers Club. In this film, McConaughey plays Ron
Woodruff, a good ol’ boy hustler whose careless ways with women, drink, and
drugs comes back to haunt him when he is diagnosed with HIV and told he has, at
best, 30 days to live. Rather than swallow this humbly, Woodruff fights back,
at first scoring some AZT (in clinical trials at the time) and then departing
As with most of McConaughey’s performances, how he centers himself within this role is through his physicality. That meant dropping 30 pounds and looking downright skeletal. As Woodruff, he moves with a bit of a swagger that slowly gets chipped away as the story moves forward. With that core in place, McConaughey brings the rest of his performing gifts to bear, being at times charming (particularly with actress Jennifer Garner who plays a local doctor that supports Woodruff’s effort), gruff, angry, and desperate. McConaughey beautifully underplays it all, making his character’s journey even more special to witness.
And his performance is especially, shockingly great when the rest of the film is taken into account. Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee does his level best with this rough sketch outline of real events, but too often relies on moments stretched to the breaking point for maximum heart string yanking effect. This could have been especially bad in the case of Rayon’s dramatic arc. But again, the acting saves the day: Leto has never been better in any role as he is here. Every time you think he’s going to devolve into camp, he reins it in enthrallingly. Even in the big scene, when Rayon sucks up her pride and slips her frail body into a suit to seek help from her estranged father, Leto threads the emotional needle so carefully. He’s a true match for McConaughey’s brash and bold work.
On top of a compelling character study, Dallas Buyers Club also provides a subtly scathing indictment of the FDA’s foot-dragging during the first years of the AIDS crisis. Sure, the big bad fed who comes a-knockin’ on the club’s hotel room/office is played up for villainous effect, but there are enough underlying issues dredged up about the dangers of early AZT trials and how hospitals and clinics were laid under the thumb of the pharmaceutical industry that this would make for a fantastic double feature with How To Survive A Plague.
You’ve seen “Dallas Buyers Club” before. Regardless of how good its performances are (quite good), apart from how worthy its story is of being told (very worthy), it’s the classic David vs. Goliath underdog narrative repurposed as a socially conscious drama – one that’s just crying out for Oscar attention. It’s a weightier version of “Erin Brockovich,” but without the kind of bold artistic choices that the heaviness of the story suggests. That said, it’s rather good for what it is – a straightforward but well-acted documentation of one man’s fight against the FDA on behalf of AIDS patients everywhere, himself included.
Much has been made of Matthew McConaughey’s massive weight loss for his role here. In the late 90s and early 00s, stars like Tom Hanks and Christian Bale began turning cinematic weight loss into a selling point, a gimmick, and as a result, it doesn’t surprise us like it once did. Thusly, the weight loss of McConaughey and his co-star, Jared Leto, seems tired despite being inherent to the story.
Inspired by true events, the film is set in 1986. McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a hard-living rodeo rider – and a virulent racist and homophobe. When Ron is diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live, he immediately goes into denial. He refuses to believe that he could have a disease associated with gay men, a fear only stoked by his friends’ homophobic taunts. Soon, he begrudgingly accents his nasty drug and alcohol regimen with AZT – the only FDA-approved drug for AIDS patients.
As his health spirals out of control, Ron’s stubbornness takes
over – seemingly the first time it’s ever done him any good. He scours the
black market for alternative medicine and finds luck in
It’s Leto that really spreads his wings here. In his first role since 2009 – he left acting to focus on his band, 30 Seconds To Mars – he puts a frail, human face on the AIDS crisis, doing more than McConaughey with less screen time. Rayon isn’t nearly as charismatic as Ron, but the performance is more genuine and more surprising. Unfortunately, the screenplay betrays some of Leto’s work by sidestepping some of the horror that is AIDS – most of the character’s physical anguish presumably occurs offscreen.
Jennifer Garner supports as a doctor who serves as a conduit between Woodroof and the FDA, while the rest of the cast reliably fills out a variety of functional but genuine supporting characters. Director Jean-Marc Vallee does well in shuttling back and forth between people and places, often overlapping audio in an attempt to give the film an appropriately austere, indie vibe. But a handful of creative visual and audio cues don’t assuage the feeling that “Dallas Buyers Club” is content to play things safe.
The screenplay – by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack – is disappointingly one-dimensional, their words doing little more than setting the stage for McConaughey and Leto. Aside from these two characters, the script is a dearth of energy, moving sluggishly from point A to point B. Without its two stars realizing their characters so well, the film would be instantly forgotten by critics and audiences alike. And much of that blame would sit rightfully at the feet of its screenwriters.
But even though the narrative lacks propulsion – and it’s overlong, to boot – “Dallas Buyers Club” is a welcome acting showcase for two likable leads, both of whom are writing unlikely comeback stories of their own. These aren’t the best performances of the year, but they’re certainly worthy of recognition – as are the real people they’re portraying. And in that light, the film is a resounding success. Audiences that don’t fall victim to hype will find plenty to enjoy here.
Matthew McConaughey, next up is true-life tale of 'The Dallas ... Robert Wilonsky from the Pop Culture Blog,
The Dallas Cowboy Behind The Real 'Buyers Club' : NPR Elizabeth Blair
The true story behind dallas buyers club: meet the real ron woodruff Andrew Romano from The Daily Beast
Pick of the week: A Texas cowboy faces AIDS - Salon.com Andrew O’Hehir from Salon
Dallas Buyers Club / The Dissolve Tasha Robinson
Dallas Buyers Club and the history of AIDS on film / The Dissolve Noel Murray and Scott Tobias conversation from The Dissolve
Review: Smart & Entertaining 'Dallas Buyers Club' Starring Matthew ... Kevin Jagernauth from The Playlist
PopMatters Cynthia Fuchs
Dallas Buyers Club (2013) Movie Review from Eye for Film Jennie Kermode
The Simple Grace of 'Dallas Buyers Club' - The Wire Richard Lawson
Paste Magazine Tim Grierson
'Dallas Buyers Club' Review: Pulling Punches - Pajiba Daniel Carlson
Dallas Buyers Club - HitFix Drew McWeeny
Dallas Buyers Club (2013) - Reelviews Movie Reviews James Berardinelli
Movie Review - 'Dallas Buyers Club' - : NPR Bob Mondello
Dallas Buyers Club : The New Yorker David Denby (capsule review)
Reagan's AIDS Legacy / Silence equals death - SFGate Allen White from The San Francisco Chronicle, June 8, 2004
Dallas Buyer's Club Review: Matthew McConaughey Shines as an ... Stephanie Zacharek from The LA Times
WILD B- 80
I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told.
—Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, 2012
Adapted from the 2012 memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
by Cheryl Strayed, this is a case where literature is the better format than
film, as most of the story is told through seemingly disconnected,
stream-of-conscious thoughts that continually feel fragmented in the film,
randomly pulled together through music and flashback sequences, but it all
feels so cliché’d, especially the choices of music, which are mere snippets,
where the audience never gets a feel for how or why this journey is so
essential, other than on a superficial level.
It’s not unusual for people’s lives to fall apart from time to time, but
this is certainly an unusual method to put the missing pieces back together
again. By the end, despite the grand
poetic gesture, supposedly finding transcendence in the final moment, there’s
little reason to believe this character is really any different, as she’s
always been the sum of her parts. The
film pales in comparison to the male counterpart, Sean Penn’s Into the
Wild (2007), where the characters throughout are more deeply fleshed out
and complex, offering more memorable performances, where here it feels more
like a mother and daughter film, where neither one is fully revealed, but
remain abstract configurations. Reese
Witherspoon purchased the rights to the book, while Oprah listed it on her Oprah's Book Club 2.0 in June, 2012, becoming
a #1 best seller for seven weeks, where Witherspoon plays the lead character
(author Cheryl Strayed) and is also a producer on the film. While the backstory is only revealed in
flashback, the film counts off the days in 1995 as 26-year old Cheryl begins
her journey alone in the
While Cheryl Strayed is a novelist and essayist, someone extremely familiar with words and language, this adaptation by Nick Hornby is a poor substitute, as the various sequences never feel connected, but remain isolated moments, as people Cheryl meets along the road simply vanish from view without a word, where they, along with her memories, are like ghosts following her along the trail, where they never materialize into living, breathing human beings that matter to the audience. Instead, the camera focuses entirely on Cheryl 100% of the time, where everything else is incidental, even the vastness of the wilderness, beautifully photographed by Yves Bélanger, where despite the continuing timeline, there is no real comprehension of time and distance, as the film really takes place inside her head. While the experience is a document of mood swings, resembling Danny Boyle’s 127 HOURS (2010), it lacks that film’s intensity and sense of desperation as well as the degree of difficulty encountered, though both rely upon the interior world of flashbacks. In the end it becomes a road movie, where Cheryl’s initial encounters with her own naiveté reflect just how angry and unprepared she is to make such an extreme journey, where the F-word is littered throughout, but she receives needed help and excellent advice along the way. One of the more unusual scenes is seeing Cheryl and Paul (Thomas Sadoski), her husband of seven years, getting matching tattoos, something they can share forever even as it comes on the day they are getting divorced. Their familiarity with each other is touching, especially when Cheryl acknowledges she cheated on him, obviously recognizing the cost at that moment, adding that she actually cheated on him a lot. This may be their closest moment together throughout the film, though it only hints at her own personal descent into reckless drug abuse and a rampant proclivity for sleeping around with any man that so much as looks at her. Much of these self-destructive experiences are narrated as she hikes along the trail, becoming a parallel world of soul searching through her past that she carries with her throughout her long and arduous ordeal.
Perhaps the heart of the film is her close relationship with
her mother Bobbi, Laura Dern, who rescued her and her little brother from an
abusive and alcoholic father, yet maintained her dignity and self-esteem
throughout the ensuing years of struggle, sacrificing all to make sure her
children had a brighter future than her own, suggesting she would never change
a thing if it produced something as beautiful as her two children, but she dies
quickly at the age of 45 after being diagnosed with lung cancer, fueling a
period of rage and self-destruction. Her
own history of sexual violation leaves her even more exposed as a lone traveler
through such remote territory, where she has to instantly assess her encounters
with various men, where the possibility of sexual violence is always on the
back of her mind, yet it’s the terrain she’s chosen to navigate on her own
terms. What’s perhaps most surprising is
how few negative encounters she has, where most everyone she meets is helpful
and overly friendly, except for a couple of leering, beer guzzling DELIVERANCE
(1972) guys carrying bows and arrows, who find it most peculiar to run into a
woman alone in the woods, though we
In the wake of the acclaimed Dallas Buyers Club, Québécois
director Jean-Marc Vallée takes a misstep with screenwriter Nick Hornby's
adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir. While the film recounts Strayed's solo
trek along the Pacific Crest Trail, from the
If therapy comes in many different forms, Jean-Marc Vallée's Wild demonstrates that some of those are
fairly unorthodox. Does one really need to hike over a thousand miles to find
oneself? The aptly named Cheryl Strayed did, as she detailed in her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific
Crest Trail. Excising the subtitle, Vallée's film follows Strayed (Reese
Witherspoon), a recovering heroin addict, on her hike through
“It must be hard for you to see that I’m so much more intellectual than you were at your age,” a college-age Strayed says to her mother Bobbi (excellently played by Laura Dern). It’s an awfully condescending and immature comment to make, but one that characterizes Strayed’s constant evaluation of herself. Wild is not about the why, but rather the how, since Strayed won’t even pretend that she’s halfway prepared for the trek. Cheryl’s honesty throughout is disarming: She refuses to blame anyone but herself, willingly accepting that she was out of control and aware of the pain she was causing, but selfishly unable to drag herself up from drug-induced indignity.
Wild is greatly enhanced by Vallée's unfussy direction and shrewd editing, breezing between time periods of Strayed as a girl, in college, in mid-marriage crisis, and in post-addiction solitude with a wondrous ease. As Strayed, Witherspoon damps down her usual peppy charm, exercising humility and naturalism, a feat that has roundly and rightly been declared her best dramatic work to date. Though the film occasionally veers into preachy territory, for the most part Wild successfully avoids the sort of shallow self-help homilies that plagued Julia Roberts' similarly themed pilgrimage in Eat Pray Love (2010).
Wild / The Dissolve Scott Tobias
“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail,” croons Paul Simon in the Simon & Garfunkel song “El Condor Pasa (If I Could).” “Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would.” The track pops up more than once in Wild, an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir, and it becomes a kind of mantra for a young woman who presses through hardships and bad choices, angling for a firmer grip on the handle. As played by Reese Witherspoon, whose excellence is by now a given, Cheryl is a bundle of contradictions—hapless and determined, directionless and down-to-earth, a hot mess on the road to getting her head straight. She’s such a full-bodied, multi-faceted character, in fact, that it’s a shame there has to be an accounting of each aspect of her personality. But this being an adaptation of a memoir—and what’s more, an externalization of a struggle that half resides in the author’s head—those psychological elements are spilled onto the table like the contents of Ally Sheedy’s purse in The Breakfast Club. We see it all.
Scripted by High Fidelity author Nick Hornby and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who also mildly arted-up last year’s Dallas Buyers Club, Wild is an episodic adventure of self-discovery in the vein of Into The Wild or Tracks, an Outback journey that was released earlier this year. In a sense, it’s like the inverse of the latter: Tracks follows a lonely 1,700-mile trek to the Indian Ocean; Wild follows a lonely 1,100-mile trek along the Pacific Crest trail between Mexico and Canada. Both interrupt the walk frequently by doling out flashbacks to explain why their intrepid journeywomen have embarked on such a dangerous voyage. The main difference is that unlike Mia Wasikowska in Tracks, Witherspoon’s Cheryl is woefully underprepared for the undertaking. There’s a recklessness to her endeavor that goes beyond a lust for life, an almost deliberate naiveté that spins off into spontaneous moments of danger and comedy.
Less spontaneous is the backstory, which Hornby’s script sketches in via flashbacks, voiceover, and echoes from past to present. Looming largest in Cheryl’s mind is her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern), who raised her and her little brother after fleeing their abusive father, and who died quickly after being diagnosed with lung cancer at age 45. Bobbi’s death fuels a period of self-destruction for Cheryl, wherein she abuses the shameful pleasures of heroin and rough trade, and sabotages her relationship with her decent, caring husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski) in the process. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is both a means of escape and rejuvenation for Cheryl, who’s totally lost her bearings. When a freelance journalist for Hobo Times requests an interview, she objects to being dubbed a “lady hobo,” but has no good counterargument.
Cheryl’s lack of preparation is a tragicomic well from which Wild repeatedly draws, from an overstuffed backpack dubbed “the monster” to the wrong cooking equipment to a pair of too-tight hiking boots that ravage her feet. But for as much trouble as the film has gracefully conveying her past and her interior life on screen, her encounters on the trail double as a bracing allegory for how single women must navigate a world that’s alight with hostility and threats. Her vulnerability as a lone traveler in extreme isolation at first feels like dramatic manipulation, a way of goosing up an innocuous encounter with a liquor-swilling (and licorice-eating) workman. But time and again, she has to assess the possibility of sexual aggression and violence in order to make her way safely down the path. Sometimes guile is her saving grace; sometimes, it’s just plain luck.
Hornby and Vallée never quite solve the daunting problem of fully explicating Cheryl’s troubles and motives without stalling the film’s momentum or making it seem like she’s daydreaming at dramatically convenient times. No doubt she’s haunted by the things that have happened to her, but Wild has her gazing at thought bubbles, which siphons some of the urgency and ardor from the journey itself. The trade-off is ultimately worth it: Cheryl is a thoroughly realized, warts-and-all character, and the flashbacks contribute to that. But like their heroine, the filmmakers do some fumbling to get to their destination.
Reese Witherspoon Hoboes Through the Winning Wild ... Stephanie Zacharek from The Village Voice
Review: Reese Witherspoon goes for it all in Wild - HitFix Gregory Ellwood
Wild | Reelviews Movie Reviews James Berardinelli
Wild Review Toronto Film Festival | Vanity Fair Richard Lawson
[TIFF Review] Wild - The Film Stage Sky Hirschkron
Wild Jennie Kermode from Eye on Film
Wild puts Reese Witherspoon on an epic walk, and the audience in her shoes Mike D’Angelo from The Onion A.V. Club
"Wild's" Cheryl Strayed Becomes One With Reese ... Maddie Oatman interview with Reese Witherspoon from Mother Jones, November/December 2014
With the Authors of 'Gone Girl' and 'Wild' - NYTimes ... Interview from The New York Times,
Witherspoon, from rom-com queen to 'Wild' woman Betsy Sharkey interview from The LA Times,
'Wild': Telluride Review - The Hollywood Reporter Stephen Farber
Film Review: 'Wild' - Variety Justin Chang
‘Wild’ movie review: Reese Witherspoon struggles to bring an emotionally distant character to life Ann Hornaday from The Washington Post
'Wild' takes Reese Witherspoon into raw, bracing new territory Betsy Sharkey from The LA Times
Wild Movie Review & Film Summary (2014) | Roger Ebert Susan Wloszczyna
a Hiking Memoir by Cheryl Strayed - NYTimes.com Dani Shapiro book review,
'Trail angels' help keep Pacific Crest hikers on path Chris Erskine from The LA Times,
The Silent Army Lee Marshall at Cannes from Screendaily
It’s an ethical stretch to make a campaigning film about the plight of African child soldiers that is also in some ways an action movie – especially with a Dutch pop singer in the lead role. But The Silent Army mostly rises to the challenge, thanks to a strong script, some gritty performances and a welcome avoidance of sentimentality.
Some difficult-to-watch sequences which chart the brutalisation of child soldiers as they are turned from kids into killing machines raise the age-old question of whether showing such horrors on the screen can educate without being exploitative. But Van De Velde’s film is clearly well-researched, and has a sensitive, at times even ironic approach to the white man’s burden of guilt about suffering Africans – and most audiences will give it the benefit of the doubt.
In fact The Silent Army is a fast-paced film
with commercial appeal – far more so than another recent African child
soldier drama, Heart of Fire. In the
A snappily edited prologue establishes the set up:
Eduard (Borsato) owns a restaurant somewhere in an eastern African city
(the film was shot in
Abu is abducted during an attack by rebel soldiers, leaving Thomas distraught. Eventually Eduard is spurred into shutting down his business and searching for Abu – his trump card being the fact that he knows rebel leader General Obeke (Abby Mukiibi Nkaaga), who was a regular client of Eduard’s restaurant back in the days when he was Minister of Defence.
A big singing star in the
Matt Bochenski White Little Lies
Silent Army David Hudson at
Kirk Honeycutt at
From Africa Joan Dupont at
Gust Van den Berghe’s beautifully shot black-and-white re-imaging of the story of the baby Jesus and the three wise men - itself based on Felix Timmerman’s work - is an engaging oddity, though one bound for a future on the festival circuit rather than at a cinema near you.
The story’s theatrical origins are clear to see in this modest-length tale, and while the underlying story is undoubtedly well known, the film is given a certain intriguing poignancy by the casting consisting mainly of mentally handicapped performers.
The Flemish backdrop balances modern-day bars, plumbing and music with a feel of a medieval rustic past in terms of the rural buildings and landscape. The film showed in Directors’ Fortnight.
The three wise men of this version - played enthusiastically by screen newcomers Paul Mertens, Jelle Palmaerts and Peter Janssens - meet in a bar for a little good-natured drinking before heading off into the snowy woods.
They eventually come across a mother and her baby, and dubbing themselves the Three Wise Men, decide to make offerings of crumpled cigarettes and opt to give away their modest gains in tribute to the arrival of the miraculous child.
The film is developed from debut writer-director Gust Van den Berge’s graduation film, and while elegantly staged and full of striking black-and-white compositions, it does have that underlying sense of an ambitious student project. Certainly there is a good deal of skill and ambition on show, but its target is certainly not a general filmgoing audience.
Midway through the threesome find themselves in a bar where we are treated to a striking - and brief - scene of a musical performance from a transvestite singer shot in lustrous colour, but before you know it the wise men are back in black-and-white, It is a striking and memorable moment, but one which again feels contrived and affected rather then integral to the modest storyline.
The performances by the Down’s syndrome cast are all sound and appropriate to the story, though even at a mere 74 minutes this slight and self-consciously arty affair stretches the attention.
Van den Berge has claimed he intends to feature the film as part of a triptych that are united in an umbrella theme of ‘humanity’, but look out for them at an art space rather than a cinema.
A bizarre, morbid film that features brief moments of nihilistic heavy metal music that sounds so wretched it’s as if it’s supposed to make you want to vomit, and those are the film’s best scenes. Follow that train of thought and you’re right on track with this raunchy teen flick, the kind of film that plays on late, late, late night TV while you’re smoking pot, and it comes to life because, in an otherwise “B” movie, or even “C” movie production, the darkened photography, like something out of TALES OF THE CRYPT, is oddly compelling, and the mix of sound, image, and general creepiness all come together in a weird sort of sense where absolutely nothing needs to make sense. In an EU co-production in English where the leads don’t even speak the same language, this is another one of those Hansel and Gretel variations with improbable happenings in the woods that looks like no one was paid anything on this production except the photographer, who was paid the entire budget.
Van Groeningen, Felix
THE MISFORTUNATES (La Merditude des Choses)
Boyd van Hoeij at Cannes from Variety, May 17, 2009
Calling the Strobbe clan a working-class family would imply
that some of its members worked (or had class), but none of the lowlife protags
do in the visually robust and often hilarious Flemish tragicomedy "The
Misfortunates." Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Dimitri
Verhulst, pic offers young helmer Felix van Groeningen ("Steve +
Sky") a solid base -- and plenty of lowest-common-denominator humor --
from which to spin another ravishing-looking tale of the ordinary lives of
extraordinary Belgians. Flemish and foreign interest should follow a similar
trajectory to those of other recent local successes such as "
Helmer was the perfect choice to adapt Verhulst's bestseller, as both the book and van Groeningen's earlier work successfully combined a high level of artistry -- and, to an extent, artifice -- with an exploration of everyday, almost banal subjects. However, the helmer's previous films had a slight tendency to ramble, which is curbed here by the underlying thematic connective tissue of Verhulst's novel.
Few subjects could be more banal than the small-town Strubbe clan. Mother Strubbe (Gilda De Bal), whose "heart is bigger than her pension," has four good-for-nothing adult sons (Koen De Graeve, Wouter Hendrickx, Johan Heldenbergh, Bert Haelvoet) who have all moved back in with her because of money troubles. They spend the day getting drunk, eating raw sausages and singing vulgar songs.
Looking to grow up amid the fumes, vomit and stench of stale beer is 13-year-old Gunther (Kenneth Vanbaeden), the son of Marcel (De Graeve). As in the novel, this narrator is more of an observer than an active participant as he tries to discover what being family means -- even if his relatives make the Beverly Hillbillies look well-adjusted.
Triggering this search is a crisis in the boy's life some 14 years on, when Gunther, now an aspiring novelist (Valentijn Dhaenens), is about to become a father himself. Pic slides smoothly between the late '80s and early 2000s, and the narrative jumble is nimbly edited by Nico Leunen.
Van Groeningen uses an anecdotal, vignettish approach that underlines Gunther's search for connecting themes, rather than a desire to paint psychologically refined portraits of characters who are anything but. The director also applies this to the visuals, which effortlessly mix a variety of styles, suggesting the effects of hindsight and memory.
Ace d.p. Ruben Impens fully exploits the possibilities of his Red One digital camera, evoking everything from saturated film stock to playful black-and-white to crystalline contempo lensing.
Like the novel, "The Misfortunates" starts out as an extremely lowbrow comedy (highlights include several variations on beer-drinking contests) but morphs into a bittersweet meditation on whether familial love and pride are enough to sustain a proper upbringing.
Thesping is appropriately brawny, with De Graeve's loose-canon father emotionally anchoring the picture; only legit vet De Bal seems out of her depth. Production and costume design are spot-on, and Jef Neve's score nicely enhances the various moods.
Pic's international moniker replaces the equally awkward earlier translation "The Alasness of Things," which was a closer approximation of the novel's original title.
"The Misfortunates" David
Duane Byrge at
THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN B 87
I needed you would you come to me,
Would you come to me, and ease my pain?
If you needed me
I would come to you
I'd swim the seas for to ease your pain
In the night forlorn the morning's born
And the morning shines with the lights of love
You will miss sunrise if you close your eyes
That would break my heart in two
The lady's with me now since I showed her how
To lay her lily hand in mine
Loop and Lil agree she's a sight to see
And a treasure for the poor to find
—“If I Needed You,” written by Townes van Zandt, 1972, seen in a live performance in 1975, Townes Van Zandt - If I Needed You - YouTube
One of the more affecting films about grief, breaking it down into tiny fragments, where the film plays out like a memory play, as images sporadically hit the screen in what seems like no particular order at times, where the timeline is fractured, but events are recalled with significant impact. Seen just a day or so after the death of legendary American folk singer Pete Seeger, this integration of music and message seems particular well integrated, where performance scenes of bluegrass music pop up throughout the film, where like a Greek chorus they mirror the emotional truth of the surrounding events. While the Coen Brothers O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) may have been a manic romp through the American South during the Great Depression, where the movie was responsible for a bluegrass revival in America, this European film takes its cue from the highly successful musical format of blending bluegrass performance footage into the storyline. In fact, this film draws upon a series of films, in particular John Carney’s ONCE (2006), where the music becomes the heart and soul of a budding romance that develops onscreen, beautifully expressing the fluctuating moods of the characters. But it also follows familiar patterns set by various films like the grief stricken parents in RABBIT HOLE (2010), or the public marriage challenges facing Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash when performing onstage in WALK THE LINE (2005), and even the nightmarish descent into a kind of Hellish mindset of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000). It’s interesting that the Coen brothers set a production standard of meticulous perfection when it comes to lip-synching, including their current film Inside Llewyn Davis (2012), but this is one of the noticeable deficiencies of this film, a minor blip in a film that otherwise has excellent production values.
Groeningen, film director:
Didier and Elise play in a bluegrass band and that is no accident.
We have tried to let the songs find their spot in the scenario in a more organised manner and by doing so, give them the greatest possible dramatic impact. Sometime a song is purely narrative and helps to tell the story... In other places, we select a given song because it underpins the emotions.
The Broken Circle Breakdown : The New Yorker Anthony Lane
By rights, this should be the most annoying movie of the year. A tattooist (Veerle Baetens) falls in love with a banjo player (Johan Heldenbergh), they have an adorable daughter (Nell Cattrysse), who is stricken by cancer, there is a ruinous scene in which our hero halts in mid-concert and starts ranting about stem-cell research, and the whole thing has been put through a chronological blender, so that we never stay still in time. And yet, from all this, the director Felix Van Groeningen has created something not just plausible and affecting but sharp and alert in its distress. The two leads throw themselves into the emotional mix, and the music that they make—both of them sing, in English, with the band that supplies the movie’s title—feels less like a backdrop and more like the essential binding of the tale. For any viewer who, for one reason or another, has been shamefully ignorant of Belgian bluegrass, here is your opportunity to make amends. In Flemish.
The Broken Circle Breakdown details the relationship between a fledgling bluegrass singer (Johan Heldenbergh's Didier) and an impulsive tattoo artist (Veerle Baetens's Elise), with the movie, which unfolds in a non-linear fashion, exploring the pair's initial coupling and their eventual efforts at coping with their child's health concerns. Filmmaker Felix Van Groeningen does a superb job of immediately drawing the viewer into the deliberately-paced proceedings, as the director, working from a script cowritten with Carl Joos, has managed to transform the movie's two central characters into intensely compelling and thoroughly sympathetic figures - with this vibe heightened by the stirring performances from both Heldenbergh and, particularly, Baetens. It's clear, too, that The Broken Circle Breakdown is often a far more emotionally devastating piece of work than one might've initially anticipated, as the narrative's decidedly downbeat nature is heightened by Van Groeningen's unflinching treatment of the material. There's little doubt, however, that the film does start to lose some momentum once it passes a certain point, with the inclusion of a few questionable scenes and sequences - eg Didier unleashes a virulent rant during a concert - resulting in a final half hour that feels somewhat padded out. The movie recovers with a powerful and palpably heartrending closing stretch that more than compensates, which ultimately confirms The Broken Circle Breakdown's place as a difficult-to-watch yet thoroughly rewarding foreign drama. (Oh, and the bluegrass music sprinkled throughout is awfully good, too.)
The Broken Circle Breakdown / The Dissolve Keith Phipps
Sometimes a shot early in a film doubles as a signpost, announcing what kind of movie it is, and where it will go. The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium’s submission for Academy Award consideration this year, contains one such shot—a young girl’s arm as she receives an injection in a hospital—that seems to reveal the path ahead. But while it isn’t entirely inaccurate, it’s a blurry signpost in a movie that knows exactly where it’s going, but doesn’t want to share the destination too soon. The movie is a heartbreaker, but not the sort of heartbreaker the image suggests. Or at least not just that.
The film began as the play The Broken Circle Breakdown Featuring The
Cover-Ups Of Alabama, written and originally performed by Johan
Heldenbergh and Mieke Dobbels. Here, Heldenbergh reprises his role as Didier,
half its central couple alongside Elise (Veerle Baetens). After an opening
musical number, director Felix Van Groeningen first shows them caring for their
daughter Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse) in 2006, when they learn she needs
chemotherapy. From there, the film takes its first narrative leap, flashing
back to 1999. Didier lives alone in a caravan outside
From there, the film flits across the timeline of their relationship, showing their marriage, their united front as they support Maybelle during chemo, their initial apprehensiveness at learning they’ll be parents, and later, their fracturing lives at the other end of Maybelle’s illness. Van Groeningen brings a graceful touch to the editing, letting one moment comment on another without overdoing the connections. At its best, The Broken Circle Breakdown has the feel of life as it’s remembered—moments out of time tethered together by the feelings of those living them.
The performances capture that feeling, too. Heldenbergh and Baetens play Didier and Elise’s story as that of lives meshing together, initially thanks to Didier’s infectious enthusiasm for music and Elise’s infectious enthusiasm for life itself, and then through their love for their daughter. Underscoring it all: the music, an alternately rollicking and heartbreaking selection of bluegrass songs performed by Heldenbergh, Baetens, and the actor/musicians playing the members of their band, which finds a growing following as the film’s timeline progresses.
The film expertly weaves all those disparate elements together until, unfortunately, it seems to forget how. Grief flattens the characters. Didier becomes increasingly defined by his atheism, and Elise by her desire to believe. The back half of the film becomes dominated by heated exchanges that feel more written than lived, and moments that only underscore how many themes the film suggests without fully engaging. Beyond that conflict between belief and reason, The Broken Circle Breakdown touches on what it means for Europeans infatuated with American culture to live through the last decade, and for a man with no faith to sing songs of devotion.
Still, though it’s filled with missed opportunities, it isn’t defined by them. Van Groeningen brings a filmmaker’s eye to material that began onstage, making scenes set in the sun-drenched Flemish countryside and in cramped interiors feel equally cinematic. The cast matches his work, with Baetens and Heldenbergh creating a shared sense of history that elevates even some awkward later scenes, and everyone’s efforts feeding into an atmosphere of heightened emotion that starts with the film’s first scene and never really recedes, as Van Groeningen rides the crests and troughs of a love that may not survive the battering life hands it. Like one of the songs its characters perform, The Broken Circle Breakdown recycles some familiar material—young lovers, sick kid—but earns its heartbreak honestly.
An immaculately observed, desperately moving story of love, loss,
and bluegrass music, it's easy to see why Belgian film "The Broken Circle Breakdown" has
been picking up awards: Best Actress and Best Screenplay from Tribeca and the Audience Award
and the Europa Cinemas Award from
Elise (Veerle Baetens)
is a tattoo artist (boasting quite a bit of ink herself), into whose store one
day strolls Didier (Johan
Heldenbergh, also the co-writer of the play on which the film is based),
a sort of Flemish cowboy who plays in a bluegrass band and has an unabashed
Again we understand how, told in bare chronological outline, it might seem like the film is that overfamiliar form of tragedy porn which layers on the pathos in its inevitable downward trajectory toward miserabilism. But the brilliance of Van Groeningen's approach is in the assured and fluid way he cuts around in time, not so much back-and-forth as elliptically loop-the-looping, telling the stories of, roughly, three different time periods. He proves himself a master of counterpoint, editing the sad scenes of the parents’ hospital visits right up against scenes that show the first flush of giddy love between the two: the result is to make the highs higher and the lows lower by contrast and it is devastatingly effective. It put us much in mind of Derek Cianfrance's "Blue Valentine" in that changing the manner in which the story is told in time also changes the tone of the film overall, making sometimes surprising connections that provoke more complex and nuanced thoughts and emotions then a more linear telling ever could.
Very occasionally, though, the juxtaposed chronology becomes muddled, especially toward the last third of the film when the third time period "strand" is introduced. In fact this portion of the film does prove the most problematic, with the film’s characters once or twice resorting to speechifying to lay out a little too clearly the subthemes. It’s a pity because the subtler way those undercurrents had been handled to that point (largely to do with Didier becoming ever more ferociously anti-religious while Elise starts to find comfort in a kind of undefined spirituality) had proved one of the film’s great strengths: where a lesser movie might concentrate solely on the character’s emotions, this one wants to deal with tragedy’s effect on their ideals too. The impulse, however, is noble even if the execution has uncharacteristically clumsy moments later on: Van Groeningen shifts the nexus of the film’s tragedy away from Maybelle (hard to do as a sick child will always exert a gravitational pull on our emotions), and onto Elise and Didier as they lose first each other, and then perhaps themselves. It’s a mark of how much these two fine actors have made us care for their characters that we feel those losses as deeply as we do anything else.
And of course, there’s the music. The soundtrack has apparently
been a bestseller in
We’re not too proud to admit we cried, more than once and less than tidily, and at sometimes odd junctures: the world’s most poignant rendering of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” the striking up of an almost shockingly upbeat tune around a certain hospital bed; and simply the saddest, most grief-ridden but loving sex scene we’ve seen in a long time. There’s no escaping that the film will jerk tears, but it doesn’t deserve the pejorative label that might suggest—there may be some stumbles but in broad strokes, Van Groeningen seems to innately understand that sorrow truthfully communicated and shared can be cathartic, rather than depressing. The song may be sad, but when we're invited to join together in raising it, it can lift our hearts even as they are gently broken. [B+]
Sight & Sound [Gilda Williams] November 2013, also seen here: Film of the week: The Broken Circle Breakdown | BFI
THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN Review - Badass ... Britt Hayes from Badass Digest
DVD Verdict Review - The Broken Circle Breakdown Michael Nazarewycz
Review: 'The Broken Circle Breakdown' - Film.com William Goss
The Broken Circle Breakdown - Combustible Celluloid Jeffrey M. Andersom
Van Hees, Peter
LEFT BANK (Linkeroever) D 59
You could probably make several new films just out of the loose ends left by this movie, as it’s not exactly a taut thriller, instead it’s a film that changes course midstream and becomes less about the attractive young lead actress, Eline Kuppens as Marie, whose fresh exuberance dominates nearly the entire length of film time, and more about the weird circumstances regarding the disappearance of a young girl who lived in the same apartment in a high rise building built on the Left Bank, a place just outside Antwerp where exiles lived in medieval times. Early on we see eerie dream sequences that appear to be premonitions, though they are continually ignored up until the end, as in an introductory sequence Marie is wandering around a filthy basement wearing a red dress, eventually walking into a pitch black crawl space, which is like entering through a keyhole. Marie is a world class racer who is weeks away from running in the European track championship, as she qualified by coming in second in a preliminary round, but collapsed shortly afterwards. Her diagnosis is an infection of her immune system mixed with a blood disorder, requiring plenty of tests and follow up rest instead of training. She meets a young archer at the track, Matthias Schoenaerts as Bobby, a car salesman with bizarre Russian roots who convinces her to go out with him and in no time, she’s moved in with him. For the most part she’s happy and they spend plenty of time making love, which is shown with a great deal of naturalistic nudity, though she soon notices weird people around the building, but pays them no mind. She also takes a spill and has a horrible bloody gash on her knee that only seems to get more infected over time. In one of her dreams, she appears to be running through a toxic waste zone, which could explain her health problems, but in another she finds an abandoned newborn baby which she suckles to her breast, with a quick image of a naked Bobby sucking as well, while in another she’s drowning down an oily sinkhole. Despite occasional vomiting and the view that she might be pregnant, her blood tests throughout the film continue to be inconclusive.
Like the still shots in Von Trier’s BREAKING THE WAVES (1996), this film has several pans overlooking the city at night, or other landscape shots which showcase a natural beauty, but there are also crevisses where an oily liquid is spewing up from out of the deep, or the lapping waves of grey, colorless water to counteract that beauty in a natural world. Seemingly insignificant, Marie finds a letter addressed to a former resident of the apartment, someone she soon discovers has disappeared altogether without a trace, where a few of her things are still stored there, some of which suggest medieval pagan rites, including the sacrifice of a young girl. When it was discovered that the building itself was built over a cesspool, the troubling signs start pointing to Von Trier’s THE KINGDOM (1994), an iconic TV mini-series about a haunted hospital with ghosts and a devil child. But the film this most resembles is Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968), eliminating all sense of well-earned character build up from the first half and veering slowly into the absurdity of ritualistic satan worshippers. This move proves fatal, as the film spirals into utter nonsense, not that there aren’t such cults that could be living anywhere, but because the payoff to all the well crafted dream sequences is so lame and amateurish. Not a single member of this group appears to have any brains whatsoever, yet we’re expected to believe they’ve outsmarted the police for years. Based on what we see, leaving a trail of murders left and right, including the disappearance of several police officers while investigating this group, all signs would point to this group, yet nothing stops them. The historical references to medieval darkness are fairly standard, with barely an ounce of supporting material, as are the actual satanic rituals themselves, which more closely resembles the actions of primitive cave dwellers. Kuppens and Schoenaerts are a terrific pair of young lovers, but totally wasted in this occult ritual gone wrong movie.
With a few notable exceptions, like
Harry Kumel's magnificent lesbian vampire art piece Daughters Of Darkness,
The story centres around Marie, a young
Finding it impossible to stay cooped up at home with her mother, an ageing hippy type who runs a health food store, Marie spontaneously decides to move in with Bobby, an archer and used car salesman she met at the athletics park. They make love and Marie, living a life of not having to worry about what she eats, drinks, smokes or does for the first time, falls for Bobby.
Then Marie starts to uncover the secrets of the building, centring around the disappearance of the last inhabitant of the apartment, built on the Left Bank of the River Schelde atop a former dumping ground for the city's poor and diseased. But is it already too late.
Although the film features many images of Marie naked or in her underwear, almost as many as there are of her clothed, these prove as much naturalistic as voyeuristic and exploitative. I particularly appreciated the way in which, getting up in the morning after making love with Bobby for the first time, Marie didn't move to pull the covers over herself but instead just got out of bed naked and went about her business: for once we didn't get that Hollywood self-consciousness about the body, with those double-height sheets that conveniently cover up the same parts that were on display on screen only a few moments previously.
The horror, suspense and mystery elements could be described as reminiscent of Polanski - most obviously Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant - and The Wicker Man, all classics of realist / mundane horror, crossed with the more supernaturally inclined work of H P Lovecraft and his disciples (think “Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young”). After an opening stinger we start off in the mundane world, before the gradual accumulation of little signifiers - flowers, Bobby's Ouroboros medallion, Marie's strange vaginal discharges and non-healing wounds - combines to build an atmosphere of mounting doubt, dread, paranoia and helplessness in the face of an ancient, unknowable evil.
This said, genre fans are likely to guess what's going on sooner that the characters, as when a sealed box labelled samh--n with two letters obscured crops up. Like everyone else they will still be wondering how it's all going to pan out, however.
This ending - which I won't spoil - itself proves vaguely reminiscent of Fulci's Lovecraftian masterpiece The Beyond, in which the heroes found themselves in flat landscape, devoid of detail bar the mummified corpses on the ground that revealed the space to extend in all directions and none, into infinity. While the same doesn't happen here, in line with the more earthly, maternal, circular and grounded approach that director Pieter Van Hees takes in contradistinction to The Beyond's transcendental, there's the same ambiguous sense Fulci spoke of - having neither a happy ending nor an unhappy one.
The filmmakers also keep you wondering about the characters and their motives throughout: if the references to the black hole as “the devil's vagina” (or c-word; seeing as vulgar / vulgate latin doesn't get the more vulgar English translation in the subtitles) are a by-now predictable invocation of monstrous feminine formulations for the critics to hang their theoretical hat upon, as is the invocation of the cellar as a womb-like space to be read through your favourite theory (my own would be Gaston Bacherlard's Poetics of Space) the way in they also play upon movie stereotypes of Russian migrants as gangsters, pimps and people-traffickers makes for a pleasing reversal or two.
Technically the film is well put
together, with some nice use of contrasting techniques in Marie's dreams /
nightmares and other subjective sequences, some of which accelerate into an
impressionistic blur of fast cuts and camera movements. The scoring is also
effective, being harsh and loud without adopting the nu-metal stylings that
have marred so many recent
The performances also work, with newcomer Eline Kuppens making for a credible heroine even if some of the things Marie does do not quite convince, while Mattheas Schoenarts giving Bobby a convincingly attractive bad boy air. The supporting players exude an air of authenticity: if these are black magic cultists, then they look just like your friends and neighbours, being downright average in every other respect.
Though the Brussels Fantastic Film Festival is renowned worldwide,
Getting off my high horse and back to LINKEROEVER, Van Hees has liberally borrowed elements from Roman Polanski's THE TENANT and ROSEMARY'S BABY, Robin Hardy's one-off THE WICKER MAN and the recent glut of J-Horror (DARK WATER especially) for a story that still manages to considerable feat of seeming authentic and somewhat unpredictable even to the seasoned viewer's eye. At least some of the film's success must be attributed to its location, the left bank of the River Schelde in
Eschewing expected shocks for most of its running time, LINKEROEVER slowly initiates audiences into its outwardly normal but seriously askew universe through identification with its strong, sympathetic heroine. Secrets are never revealed to us before Marie learns of them, leading to an ending few will see coming. Speaking of which, and without giving away to much, this must surely be one of the most hauntingly beautiful codas in recent memory. Stubbornly refusing to make sense on a logical, cerebral level, it does so perfectly from an emotional point of view. What's more, with all the darkness that has preceded it, this actually lets viewers leave the theater with a strange sense of elation approaching happiness though this is by no means a traditional happy ending ! Did I arouse your curiosity ? Good ! Van Hees beautifully sustains the mood of impending dread by all means at his disposal. Cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis makes splendid use of the cloud-packed skies adding to the oppressive atmosphere in exquisitely effective contrast with the golden light that dominates the latter part of the picture. Music is sparingly and equally effectively employed, with a jarringly edited party sequence tearing your senses to shreds. As with everything else here, this aural and visual assault serves a definite purpose, to pull away all vestiges of the familiar for characters and viewers alike. In interviews, the director and his entourage have claimed this film as some sort of "dry run" for their upcoming DIRTY MIND with comedian Wim Helsen. If so, that should be awesome. A remarkably assured work, LINKEROEVER already stands as one of the finest films of 2008 right out of the gate.
BAADASSSSS! B+ 91
In 1971, Mario Van Peebles's father, Melvin Van Peebles, made the X-rated blaxploitation movie "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song," starring himself as a bordello stud performer who kills two white cops and manages to escape (the movie concluded with Van Peebles running endlessly across hill and dale). "Baadasssss!" is Mario's layered re-creation of the making of "Sweetback" and the convulsive life around the production, which became a sizable hit. He plays his father, appropriating Melvin Van Peebles's body, his attitudes, his actions, and his treatment of his family (i.e., Mario himself, as a thirteen-year-old boy). The result is a complex homage: Mario turns his father into a sly, guarded, egotistical son of a bitch who nevertheless had to be that way to get the movie made; and he tries, at the same time, to top him as a filmmaker and a human being. The movie captures some of the manic desperation and easy pleasures of the period—the tumbling-into-bed sex as well as the crummy self-delusions by which people having a good time convinced themselves that they were making a revolution. The movie quickly reaches a pitch of manic activity and stays there for its entire length. It's an exhausting, and exhaustingly pleasurable, entertainment.
Or My Old Man Can Lick Your Old Man and the Whole Motherfucking System Too. There's a compelling tension at work in Baadasssss!, one that ultimately overcame my reservations about the project. It's a film about filmmaking as radical racial politics, 70s style, filled with manic energy and black-cowboy bravado (Melvin describes Sweetback as a "ghetto Western," and the same could be said of this film), and no small amount of macho posturing. And yet there's an undercurrent of tenderness, emanating both from the production's homemade, hand-crafted feel (the most traditional-looking scenes, like the poolside meeting with Adam West, ironically look more porno than Sundance), and from the sheer conviction of its intra-familial mythmaking. Yes, Melvin Van Peebles' film changed the face of cinema in ways the white establishment still hasn't fully acknowledged. (It should be regarded as a touchstone equal to Easy Rider.) But the power of Baadasssss! stems less from its film historical counter-narrative and more from the complex, heartfelt tribute Mario constructs by stepping into the old man's shoes, chomping his unlit cigar, and trying to re-envision his own childhood with the benefit of maturity and understanding. (In this regard, the film resembles Makhmalbaf's A Moment of Innocence.) Mario lived through the dress rehearsal so he could give Melvin his close-up.
Introduction BFI Screen Online
Mario Van Peebles stars as his charismatic father, showing Melvin Van Peebles' increasingly desperate attempts to make his pioneering film 'by any means necessary'. A triumphant evocation of the tough, uncompromising world of guerrilla film-making, Baadasssss! shows us what one black man had to do to put put the 'hood' into Hollywood. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Woodstock, hipsters, hustlers, free love, afros and funk music, it is a hilarious yet considered portrayal of a seismic period in history following the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.
The year was 1971 and Melvin Van Peebles had had 'enough of the Man': while most scripts portrayed African-Americans as helpless slaves or 'super-Negroes', Melvin pitched to Hollywood a celebration of urban black power - the story of a black street hustler turned revolutionary who goes on the run after killing two racist cops. Hollywood wasn't ready, but Melvin wasn't in the mood to give up. Van Peebles Senior raised a shoe-string budget from friends and contacts (including Bill Cosby) and shot the film in 19 days. In order to secure a multi-ethnic crew, he had to disguise the production as a porn flick, thereby dodging the all-white unions. He even had to bail out his camera crew after they were arrested because a white cop decided that a 'bunch of negroes and hippies couldn't have come by that camera equipment honestly'. Despite death threats and losing the sight of one eye, Melvin managed to lick his crew into shape and persuaded a young band looking for a break, Earth, Wind & Fire, to record a soundtrack. At the film's completion he had just $13 to his name, and only two theatres in the US agreed to play it. Opening weekend bombed, but the film was declared to be required viewing by the Black Panthers whereupon students, Yippies and Hippies flocked to see it, making Sweetback the top grossing indie of 1971 (outperforming Love Story). Its success caught Hollywood off guard, forcing the studios to rethink black audiences and paving the way for an entire new genre: Blaxploitation.
One of those who saw it first time round was Michael Mann on a first date with his wife-to-be, Summer. And thirty years on it was Michael Mann who, in the words of Mario Van Peebles, "was the one cat that got the (Baadasssss!) script", going on to become the film's executive producer. Shot in only 18 days (one less than Sweetback itself), the result is a critical yet affectionate tribute from a son to his father - an honest, unhagiographic portrayal of a singleminded film-maker who let nothing stand in his way. Above all, it illuminates a vital chapter in film history, reflecting a key moment in Black America's battle for cinematic representation.
BAADASSSSS! Ed Gonzalez from Slant magazine
Director bio The Black List Project
Melvin Van Peebles was born
Van Peebles was born Melvin Peebles in
After Van Peebles completed his first short films, he took
them with him to
In 2005, Van Peebles was the subject of a documentary entitled How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It). In 2008, Van Peebles completed the film Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-Itchy Footed Mutha, and appeared on All My Children as Melvin Woods, the father of Samuel Woods, a character portrayed by his son, Mario. Van Peebles' next project will be a double album with Madlib, to be released on Stones Throw Records. The first disc of the album will be Brer Soul Meets Quasimoto and the second disc will be the Madlib Invazion remix. Madlib had previously sampled Van Peebles heavily on both of his albums under the Quasimoto moniker.
Melvin Van Peebles bio from NNDB
Melvin Van Peebles says he was disgusted more than "inspired" to make films -- disgusted by not seeing any representations of black people in screen that seemed at all like black people he knew in life. Generally thought of as a film director, Van Peebles is also a screenwriter, actor, composer, playwright, novelist, and painter. He was the first African-American to work as a trader on Wall Street, and later started his own investment firm.
He was born Melvin Peebles, raised in
Eventually, his marriage dissolved, and his wife and children returned to
Retitled The Story of a Three-Day Pass, it was his first
feature-length film, telling the story of a black American soldier who is
promoted for being "trustworthy", and given three days off duty in
In Watermelon Man, Godfrey
Cambridge played a racist white insurance salesman who wakes up black one
Van Peebles was now ready to make his landmark film, Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song. His script told the story of a male prostitute -- "Sweet Sweetback" -- who sees police beating a black activist, and intervenes. It isn't clear whether Sweetback kills the policemen or merely beats the hell out them, but Sweetback spends the rest of the screenplay on the run, having explicit sex with every woman he meets along the way.
Not surprisingly, Columbia Pictures was not interested in making Baad
Asssss, so Van Peebles used his substantial Watermelon paycheck to
leverage financing for his labor of love. To save money, Van Peebles played the
lead himself, and the film was made without Screen Actors Guild certification,
after Van Peebles told the union he was making a porn film. Baad Asssss
was clearly a low-budget effort, shot guerilla-style over less than three weeks
on location in some of
Still, it was a remarkable film for its time. "Dedicated to all the Brothers and Sisters who have had enough of the Man", Baad Asssss made a statement that black audiences had never seen on the screen before. It showed minority life in a respectful light, reveled in its rage, and launched what came to be known as blaxploitation, the low-budget genre of black action films of the 1970s. Van Peebles was offered a substantial sum and a distribution deal if he would agree to edit out the last moments of Baad Asssss, but he refused. As a result, the film was rarely screened beyond theaters in black neighborhoods, and in many cities it played in porno theaters. But it earned more than $15 million, a huge amount for an independent film in that era, and Baad Asssss remains Van Peebles' most famous work.
After Baad Asssss, Van Peebles began writing plays. He was nominated for Tonys twice, for Don't Play Us Cheap and Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death. He wrote an early draft of the Richard Pryor film Greased Lightning, but was fired for "artistic differences." He provided the voice for Louis Armstrong in Satchmo, a PBS documentary, and played the bartender father of his son Mario Van Peebles' character on the TV series Sonny Spoon. He occasionally wrote teleplays for TV movies, and wrote the 1995 film Panther, based on his novel about the Black Panthers, and directed by his son.
In the 2003 film Baadasssss!, Mario Van Peebles played his father in the backstage story of how Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song was made. The film was based on Melvin Van Peebles' book.
Director site Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death
Melvin Van Peebles - : : MelvinVanPeebles.com : : another Director site
Melvin Van Peebles: How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company yet another director site
Melvin Van Peebles Garrett Chaffin-Quiray from Senses of Cinema, March 2003
Melvin Van Peebles's oral history video excerpts biography from the National Visionary Leadership Project
MVP Foundation Melvin Van Peebles Foundation
Melvin Van Peebles - Zimbio central website for pictures, articles and links
Melvin Van Peebles - Filmbug biography
Blaxploitation.com | A soulful Tribute... influential website
The Melvin Van Peebles Collection by Melvin Van Peebles - Rhapsody ... musical downloads
Melvin Van Peebles | LifePart2 | PBS (Undated TV clip)
Viddied Reviews Alex Jackson essay on Watermelon Man from I Viddied It On the Screen (1970)
Original Review: 'Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death' (Oct. 21, 1971) [pdf] Clive Barnes from The New York Times
A blaxploitation theater Anatomy of a blaxploitation theater, by Demetrius Cope from Jump Cut, 1975
Blaxploitation’s high school audience Blaxploitation films and high school youth, by M. Washington, M.J. Berlowitz from Jump Cut, 1975
Van Peebles: Original Notes In a Spare Space Suzanne Slesin from The New York Times,
Van Peebles Retrospective Stephen
Holden from The New York Times,
VIEW; Sweet Sweetback's World Revisited
Stephen Holden from The New York
REVIEW; A Down-Home Philosopher Makes Old Songs His Own Jon Pareles from The New York Times,
The Blaxploitation Era | Harvard Magazine January-February 2003 Craig Lambert from Harvard Magazine, January/February 2003
Controversial Musical's Sweeet Comeback Song Lola Ogunnaike from The New York Times,
masculinity, and music in blaxploitation cinema Amanda Howell from Screening the Past,
Madlib & Melvin Van Peebles - Brer Soul meets Lord Quas | Stones ... Stones Throw, October 1, 2005
The MVP of
Black Cinema Greg Tate from The Village Voice,
Portrait of an
Independent Spirit, Versatile and Baad
How to Eat Your Watermelon in
White Company (and Enjoy It) (2005), A.O. Scott movie review from The New York Times,
Supposed to Die a Natural Death': Return of a Funky Assault on the Senses Phoebe Hoban from The New York Times,
PopcornReel.com Spotlight Interview: Melvin Van Peebles Omar P.L.
Moore from The Popcorn Reel,
melvin and me | Bryant Terry April 2008
Peebles’s Street Serenade Rachel
Saltz from The New York Times,
melvin van peebles – ISSUE Project Room August 10, 2009
Birthday, Melvin Van Peebles, Writer, Director and Actor Sarah Amandolare from Finding Dulcinea,
Melvin Van Peebles brief book excerpts including a video interview from Good Day, NY, August 21, 2009
FilmInFocus | Film News | Melvin Van Peebles born Movie News ... brief bio info, August 21, 2009
Melvin Van Peebles Undated interview by Kam Williams from The African American Literature Book Club
with Melvin Van Peebles and Dick Gregory
Video interview with Melvin Van Peebles,
Charlie Rose - Melvin Van Peebles 60 minute TV interview by Charlie Rose, March 15, 1995
Van Peebles: Interview and biography
Melvin Van Peebles and His Pals, interview by Mike Zwerin from Culture
- Mario and Melvin Van Peebles Interview
Film Freak Central Interviews Baadasssss! Filmmakers ... Walter Chaw interviews Melvin and Mario from
Film Freak Central,
SuicideGirls.com Interview by Daniel
Red Bull Music Academy - Melvin Van Peebles - Session Transcript Interview from the Red Bull Music Academy, Barelona, 2008, video interview may be seen here.
Melvin Van Peebles Talks about his new graphic novel and film ... Interview by Felicia Pride from Books on the Root, June 3, 2009, also seen here: The Itchyfooted Melvin Van Peebles | Blog | Felicia Pride
Melvin Van Peebles « The Michael Eric Dyson Show Radio interview, July 16, 2009
Living Legend Still Working Independently: Melvin Van Peebles ...
Fridays: Melvin Van Peebles - Essence.com
TimeOut: Director interview Taking
Confessions, interview by Novid Parsi, from TimeOut
X-rated movies, by Melvin Van Peebles as a Channel 5 news guest commentator, 1985, DVD extra on YouTube ()
Melvin van Peebles' first short is a deliberately aimless slice of life, mainly consisting of several men walking the streets of an American city. Most interesting aspect is the disjointed, atonal harmonica score. improvised by van Peebles himself. A small slice of this film can be seen (unidentified as such) in the documentary "What It Was... Is" on the Sweetback and Don't Play Us Cheap DVDs. Along with his first feature, Story of a 3-Day Pass, this movie shows that Van Peebles' roots were as much in European and "art" film as so-called "blaxploitation," and that the style of Sweetback was calculated primitivism, not merely inexperience.
THE STORY OF A THREE-DAY PASS (La Permission) B 83
Melvin Van Peeples is something of a living history of independent films, nearly single-handedly revitalizing the American black film movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s, where his self-financed classic SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSS SONG (1971) opened the door for stronger and more militant black characters in film, while also offering opportunities behind the camera for directing as well both in television and the movie industry. This earlier film would have to be described as a more whimsical Van Peeples, as he was still learning his craft. To hear Peeples tell it, he was unable to find work after a brief stint in the Air Force flying bomber planes, so he worked as a gripman on cable cars in San Francisco, eventually writing a book about the experience, The Big Heart, in 1957, making several short films afterwards that in the mid 60’s caught the eye of Henri Langlois, founder of the Cinémathèque Française, who invited him to make films in France. As there were no comparable opportunities in America, he joined several other American black artists that were also allowed greater freedom of expression in France through a racial tolerance that simply didn’t exist in the United States, like Josephine Baker, Richard Wright and James Baldwin, where Peeples taught himself French, actually wrote stories for a social activist newspaper there as well along with a few plays and novels, one of which, La Permission in French, was adapted into his first feature film, receiving a $60,000 grant from the French Cinema Center. Shooting in 36 days for a cost of $200,000, the film reflects a bilingual sensibility, as several characters conveniently speak both. The story concerns Turner (Harry Baird), a friendly black American soldier stationed at an Air Force base in France, where all things considered, it’s surprising Peeples didn’t play the part, as Baird has an un-American sounding accent from Guyana The initial signs of self-deprecating humor are the conversations Turner has while looking in the mirror with his alter ego, who calls him a “good” Negro and an Uncle Tom, explaining how he was chosen for a recent promotion. When we meet his captain (Harold Brav), a highly intense white man constantly on the verge of a breakdown, where everything must be exactly in place or he suffers from apoplexy, he describes Turner as a man he doesn’t have to worry about, rewarding him with an unheard of three-day leave.
Overjoyed, Turner is off to Paris, where after visiting a carnival and a strip club he bashfully meets a similarly shy white French girl, Miriam, Nicole Berger, Charles Aznavour’s suicidal wife in SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER (1960), over drinks in a dance club, where smiles and holding hands are their means of communication, but he’s amazed that she agrees to take a trip to the ocean in Normandy, staying together at a beachfront hotel. Mind you, they’re afraid to even touch each other at first, as so much is swirling through their heads. The moment they’re alone, however, their respective fantasies kick in, where Turner is a robust Three Musketeer figure cutting a manly figure on a horse as she’s waiting for him by the fire in his chateau, while she’s running through the jungle chased by black natives, where she’s presented as a gift to their handsome chief (Turner). These humorous visions help cut the ice, using an overhead ceiling shot to reflect their awkwardness and distance. When she excuses herself to brush her teeth, he goes through another half dozen changes of clothes, each with a different intentionally sophisticated look, like something seen out of Esquire or Playboy magazine, turning the bed down, then changing it back the way it was, all taking place in split seconds inside his head. Their shy tenderness with each other is refreshing, where they obviously have respect, and things go pretty much they way they’d like, happy to be in each others arms. At dinner, still holding hands, they’re always seen with a bottle of wine, initially eating Chinese, where the waitress yells out the order, amusingly interrupted by an oversized guest placed at their same table who orders a week’s worth of food. When it’s a Spanish restaurant the next night, with a flamenco guitarist and dancer, everything appears friendly and nice, until Turner (in his head) hears a racial insult (that was never spoken), launching himself headfirst at the guitarist, burying his face with his fists, only to be pulled off the man and beaten to a pulp, seen limping down the street afterwards. It’s curious how Peeples chooses to show racial antagonism, as something he carries around largely in his head, where it’s an ingrained and programmed response, as this overreaction is largely a riff on how the word “black man” sounds in French, as to Turner it just sounds insulting.
When they’re alone, the couple couldn’t be happier together, but Peeples
loves to show how attitudes change in the presence of others, altering how they
are perceived, as not everyone approves of interracial couples, even in France,
especially Turner’s over-demanding captain who reflects typical American
bigotry. While the two are enjoying a
perfect day at the beach, a few fellow soldiers on leave interrupt their
apparent bliss, as they are appalled at what they see, bringing American racial
prejudice front and center into their otherwise happy lives, where Turner is
quickly stripped of his promotion and confined to barracks until a traveling
church choir from Harlem visit the base and they need a friendly black tour
guide. Peeples co-writes, with Mickey
Baker, his own funky musical soundtrack, where the overt nature of the music
offers a take on the character’s personality, a highly theatrical device used
by Peeples, something more commonly seen in live theater. Easily the highpoint of the film is when they
finally consummate their sexual attraction, where 60’s newsreel style images
flood the screen in a flash of quick cuts, offering a glimpse of the era in a
mini-movie, offering a bit of social realism in what is otherwise a
lighthearted romp through the French countryside, including a pastoral hayride
with a friendly farmer more in harmony with nature who’s all too happy to chat with
them. While the film has a pronounced
innocence and humor to it, mixed with a sprinkling of racist sentiments, it
does play to stereotypes and can’t match the radical influence of SWEETBACK,
which literally changed the look of cinema in America, allowing blacks to
redefine themselves in a healthier image in a predominate white society. SWEETBACK’S biggest influence on Hollywood
was that it made money, opening a cash flow to blacks for a change, paving the
way for more diverse films and attitudes to come. This film earned Peeples a contract
Burdened though it is by director Melvin Van Peebles typical editing foibles, Story of A Three Day Pass is nonetheless his greatest film, buoyed by superb performances by handsome Harry Baird, lovely doomed starlet Nicole Berger, and the unheralded Harold Brav as Baird's apoplectic commanding officer. A romantic comedy about love, racism and the United States Army, the film will raise you up only to drop you down, but it rarely resorts to cinematic cliche and will appeal to idealist and cynic alike. Beautifully shot by Michel Kelber, the film also features an absolutely top notch score which deserves some sort of recognition and is instantly atop my list of 'soundtrack most in need of a CD (re)issue'. Strongly recommended for all.
Independent filmmaking vanguard Melvin Van Peebles didn’t arrive
in American theaters fully formed with the one-two punch of 1970’s Watermelon
Man and 1971’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. He actually whet
his cinematic chops with this French-made 1968 gem, which follows the various
misadventures of African-American GI Turner (Harry Baird), who’s stationed in
France and getting a three-day pass before being awarded a promotion. Turner
heps it to Paris, where he gets absolutely mod in a pair of tapered slacks,
plaid sport coat, porkpie hat, and dark black shades. He skims through the city
alone for his first day, and meets the friendly, gamine Miriam (Nicole Berger)
that night, and they decide to alight to the beach for two days of off-season
sun, sand, and alone time and where they encounter some sidelong glances. Less
a poignantly incisive race commentary than a lighthearted romp, Three-Day
is most notable for Van Peebles’ nascent visual panache. You can see the
director trying every idea in his head for his first feature, and it turns out
some luscious results: Note the scene when Turner enters the
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
Melvin Van Peebles had already toiled in a trade-hopping career
(U.S. Air Force, painting in
In 1967, Melvin Van Peebles became the first African-American to
direct a narrative feature film in twenty years, following DIY pioneer Oscar
Micheaux’s final film, The Betrayal,
with his Story of a 3-Day Pass (La
Permission). Ironically, this stretch of time coincides with the era
of studio decline that followed
Harry Baird, tall and stark, in turns morose and goofy looking,
is Turner, a black American GI stationed in
Turner strolls the streets of
Story of a 3-Day Pass is Van Peebles’ most stylistically assured and emotionally satisfying film. There is a joy in the freewheeling aesthetic conceits. He unpacks scenes using highly subjective techniques like split-screen, subject-on-dolly moves, freeze frames, abrasive, looping musical interludes, and extended POV shots, allowing us to enter the world of Turner in a way he never again explored with such elegance. Relying heavily on direct address to the camera, Van Peebles finds a nice analog to the black suspicion of the white gaze—we constantly inhabit Turner’s perspective as people talk to him.
Van Peebles arrived in
Time Out review Tom Milne
Cambridge plays (admirably) a high-powered all-American insurance salesman, bursting with health, dirty jokes, and bigotry, who wakes up one morning to find that his skin has turned black. His frenzied attempts to explain the metamorphosis as an excess of tan and/or soya sauce won't wash any more than his skin will, so he finds himself forced to adjust. Often very funny in its topsy-turvy comments on racism, the script unfortunately has to battle against a director determined to use every gaudy trick in the book. The real pity, though, is that it fails to follow through on the logic of its premise whereby the hero is so heartily extrovert that everybody (wife and kids included) dislikes him. When he turns black, he also turns sympathetic, so nobody's reflex responses are really tested.
The story of a smug white insurance salesman who wakes up one day with black skin, 1970's Watermelon Man was originally planned as a vehicle for a white actor like Jack Lemmon or Alan Arkin. The film also originally featured an upbeat ending in which the salesman's stint as an oppressed minority is merely a dream, albeit the kind designed to teach Rod Serling-approved values of tolerance and equality. When Melvin Van Peebles came onboard as director, however, he transformed a white liberal morality play into a cinematic howl of rage. The result is a strange combination of sitcom and tragedy, black anger and sanitized shtick. The conflict between what Van Peebles was given and what he delivered gives the film a bracing, caustic tension that carries it through trying patches of hackneyed comedy, clumsy sermonizing, and cartoonish attempts at satire.
The film's degree of success stands as a tribute to the skill
and comic chops of star Godfrey Cambridge, whose motormouth salesman comes off
as simultaneously obnoxious and endearing, a self-infatuated predecessor to
Ricky Gervais in The Office. Transcending mere caricature,
Watermelon Man grows bleaker as it progresses, pushed
by Van Peebles' unhinged score, which asserts his personality and sensibility
as strongly as his direction. "This ain't
Jeff Gerber, a financially secure, confident, and healthy white male, races the bus on his way to work. He meets it at its final stop before a highway, pays a reduced fare, championing himself among colleagues whose curiosity for this practice is equivalent to their annoyance. He is a deeply bigoted character. To Jeff, racial slurs may function as accepted titles, and racial differentiation is overtly evident to him, perhaps even necessary. Aptly, he is an insurance salesman. His is the art of bullshit and insincerity, and he’s very good at it.
Watermelon Man is ostensibly a comedy of contrived situations. The same concept has been repeatedly made, in which a bigoted man is forced (often through fantasy) to confront his racism. Watermelon Man, however, is hugely significant as the product of filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles. Though Van Peebles would achieve the position of an influential and important filmmaker with his subsequent effort, Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song, this precursory film exhibits his polemics and interest in exploitation.
Jeff is introduced in a quick montage of frantic exercise. He has purchased a tanning bed, stretches a chest exerciser, and counts reps with concentrated speed. He is efficient and athletic. The next morning, he finds he has inexplicably morphed into a black man.
The comedic potential of this scenario is contrived to its very extent. However, I relent to isolate Watermelon Man strictly as a comedy; its premise is more valuable as a thematic exercise. It is not the most stalwart ethnological study of its time (it bows in comparison to something like To Kill A Mockingbird, eight years its elder), though it is significant for its heritage, its confrontation, and its violation of taboos. It is tame by contemporary standards, but there is a rough edge beneath the comedic façade, a desperation and anger.
Unexpectedly, once the comedy is spent, the finale of the film is dark, if not downright threatening (it is appropriately evocative of Sweetback’s final promise to The Man). It is a film made under the auspices of a predominately white industry that depicts a race which had been hitherto unrepresented in commercial film by an allied director. Van Peebles was enlisted to film a second ending (in which Jeff awakes, realizing his strife has been dreamed) which he refused to deliver, maintaining the purpose and integrity of his film. In this thinly-veiled manner, Watermelon Man is a bite at the feeding hand.
Jeff Gerber is angry not because of his mistreatment but because of his self-loathing. He has become the very source of his intolerance. It is the most fitting poetic justice that can be given to a racist character. This resolution is also quite disparaging as it denotes an inability to conform; by this measure, Watermelon Man is a timeless polemic.
In Watermelon Man, director Melvin
Van Peebles expresses complex ideas about race and racism in a sophisticated
but humorous way. At that, however, if you do not have a strong taste for
grotesques--in a formal sense ("outlandish or bizarre; ludicrous or
incongruous distortion")--you may not enjoy the film as much as I did. It
is something of a surreal, occasionally psychedelic caricature, but as such, it
does what all good caricature should do--it emphasizes the truth without being
strict realism or "naturalism".
Watermelon Man is the story of Jeff Gerber (Godfrey Cambridge). He's something of a strange dweeb who nevertheless has a stereotypical white-bread suburban existence. He's got a wife, two preadolescent kids, a nice home with a manicured lawn, and so on. He's also something of a health nut (although humorously,
Jeff presents himself as happy-go-lucky and quite a joker, but he's a bit obnoxious and boorish, plus he shows himself to be racist and a male chauvinist, although he's not exactly gung ho about sleeping with his wife.
Just as we're learning about Jeff's routine, something unusual happens--he wakes up in the middle of the night as a black man. At first he thinks it's a nightmare, but it doesn't go away. He blames it on the sun lamp. He blames it on food he's ingesting. The bulk of Watermelon Man has Jeff trying to at first conquer, then later deal with his newfound "problem".
If you've seen both films, you might find it odd that Van Peebles made Watermelon Man before Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971). Unlike Sweet Sweetback, which is intriguing in its own way, but not near as good of a film artistically and technically, the direction in Watermelon Man is finely nuanced and sophisticated, the cinematography is crisp and attractive and technical elements such as sound are superb. I suppose this might be an interesting lesson in how crucial budget and "legitimacy" can be for film-making. It gives access to the finest materials and resources, including a large stable of professionals with narrow specialties. At that, however, Watermelon Man is not nearly as respected now as Sweet Sweetback because of what Sweet Sweetback represents, both ideologically and influentially in the film industry. Sweet Sweetback was something of a revolutionary (and very psychedelic) cry for African-American rights, and it helped launch not only the blaxploitation craze of the 1970s, but also fiercely independent film-making.
Yet, Watermelon Man is just as unique and important in what it has to say about race, even if it's not violent or pornographic, and not bizarre in the same way. Once Jeff becomes black, everything about his life changes. There isn't a person around who doesn't relate to him differently, with many having a polar opposite reaction to him--both his white friends (and family, of course) and his black acquaintances (they weren't friends, exactly, when Jeff thought he was white). Everyone wants to exploit his newfound state, including his boss. Van Peebles makes a sly transition from the beginning to the end of the film that goes from white-bread sitcom to something of a militant blaxploitation flick in a way that you barely even notice.
A large part of what makes Watermelon Man so odd is Godfrey Cambridge. His performance is way over the top and consistently bizarre, but for some of us, in some contexts (such as for me in this context), this kind of bizarre, over the top material works extremely well--in fact, I tend to prefer this to realism. The other performances are at least interesting, even if they're not all good in a conventional wisdom evaluation, but
Equally bizarre and a bit disturbing is
Van Peebles' direction is extremely admirable. He's not afraid to take all kinds of thrilling chances, including such unusual moves as quick pans to go from character to character in a conversation and odd intrusions of psychedelia, such as the scene that suddenly starts flashing different negative exposure images, or the scene that stops to insert commentary that resembles silent film intertitles.
Van Peebles also did the music here, as he did in Sweet Sweetback, and it's just as weird. Near the end of the film, there's an extended version of a song that rips-off "Heard It Through The Grapevine" that features a vocal that even The Residents would raise an eyebrow to. Again, I love weird stuff, so I was happier than a pig in, um, mud.
If there's anything less than satisfactory about Watermelon Man, it's that it engenders sadness that Van Peebles wasn't able to talk the helm more often. He made a controversial move in this film by changing the ending in the original script, as he rightfully should have done (Columbia originally wanted an "it was all a dream" ending, which would have been ridiculous and insulting, to say the least), and that, combined with his independent production of Sweet Sweetback the following year, didn't exactly put him on Hollywood's successful brownnoser list.
Viddied Reviews Alex Jackson essay from I Viddied It On the Screen
Stuff White People Do
Godfrey Cambridge's 'Watermelon Man' Arrives at 2 Houses The New York Times
—Sweetback (Melvin Van Peebles)
Melvin Van Peebles exhibits his own kind of infectious joie de vivre, displaying an indomitable spirit that refuses to be deterred, an example being he felt tired of seeing black people show up at lynchings with a hymnal and a Bible, so he decided to do what he could to change people’s perceptions. SWEET SWEETBACK was a film that in its day was endorsed by the Black Panther Party, analyzed from a revolutionary perspective by Huey P. Newton in the Panther newspaper, and at least according to Spike Lee, was extremely influential on today’s black filmmakers, including his ability to market himself.
Arguably the most important black American film of its age, yet it's remained virtually unseen in Britain. In part that's because it is truly independent, shot on a shoestring and determinedly flouting Hollywood conventions of self- censorship. A 'Yeah Production', 'starring The Black Community', and dedicated to 'all the Brothers and Sisters who had enough of the Man', it's not what you'd call 'bourgeois art'. The story, such as it is, concerns a stud, Sweetback (Van Peebles), who's moved to fight back when two white cops casually beat up a political activist in front of him. He's on the run for the rest of the movie, with occasional stops for sex and/or further police brutality. Totally uncompromising and grindingly repetitive, the film nevertheless accumulates a kind of hallucinatory groove, with unexpected shafts of bizarre humour and vigorous, experimental new wave direction (psychedelic negative images, split screen and so forth). Written, composed, produced, directed and edited by Van Peebles, it remains one of a kind.
In the middle of watching this movie, nearly two decades after
its release, the elderly white woman in the next seat turned to me and
whispered, "This movie is dangerous!" Melvin Van Peebles
self-financed (with some help from Bill Cosby), starred in, wrote and directed
the first completely unrestrained African American cinematic utterance, and it
still shocks all these years later with raw sexual and violent imagery, and an
incendiary point of view. In Sweetback's world, rich white folks come up to
Classified X (Melvin Van Peebles) Laurence Kardish from Film Scouts
In 1971 with one startling film, Melvin Van Peebles, writer, director, producer, and musician, forever changed the face of American film. Before Sundance and a network supporting American independent filmmakers were even conceivable, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song wore its "X" rating like a badge of honor and swept through urban theatres like a house on fire. It proved at once there was an enormous audience for independent films, ones where blacks did something they had not done in earlier American films: fight back. Sweetback is the first American film with a black protagonist who refuses to adapt to the daily humiliations of racism. He is neither passive nor good: He is a brother who dares to get "the Man's foot out of his ass." Melvin Van Peebles' Classified X, the startling new documentary written and performed by Van Peebles and directed by Mark Daniels, is about the nightmare images of self that Hollywood offered up to African-Americans in dream palaces across the country before Sweetback, and surprisingly, after.
Movie images sustain racism. Over and over again,
Exclaim! dvd review David Dacks
This groundbreaking movie launched the blaxploitation
movement in American cinema. But just five minutes in you'll realise that every
other blaxploitation movie was tame compared to this freewheeling psych-out.
Although director Melvin Van Peebles maintains that this was a chance for black
Considered the first blaxploitation
film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song features Melvin Van Peebles (who also
directed, wrote, produced, edited and did music for the film) as Sweetback, a
Los Angeles-area "male prostitute"/"sex performer" (who
only has relations with females). He agrees to be taken in to a police station
as a suspect just to make a couple cops look good (because they are tolerant
towards the cathouse he lives in). On the way, they pick up a Black Panther and
start beating him senseless. Sweetback bludgeons and stabs the two cops with
his handcuffs (one end is open) and the bulk of the film has him on the run.
Can he make it to
Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song has a lot of historical significance. It is an early independent film in what's considered the current "modern" style, it is one of the earliest mostly black films of its era (there were all black films earlier, such as Oscar Micheaux's work, but they disappeared for awhile), it was controversial (it initially earned an X rating (later changed to an R) and touted that fact proudly as a tagline), it was made for $150 thousand but grossed $15 million, and most importantly perhaps for some film lovers, it is credited with starting the blaxploitation craze in the 1970s. It is worth watching for students of film on those merits alone.
But none of those facts alone make it a good film, and none affect my rating. In terms of quality, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song gets my vaunted 5 out of 10 rating, which is usually reserved for "so bad they're good" films. Although it is loaded with flaws, as one might expect from a low budget film from the era shot guerilla-style on the streets of
Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is firmly mired in the psychedelic era. Peebles gives us frequent shots with negative or false colors near the beginning of the film. More frequently, he directs scenes so they have various "altered reality" allusions--time stretching, repeating, stopping and stuttering, bizarre actions and reactions from various characters, rambling nonsense, and so on--which for the viewer approximate the perception of someone who is wasted almost to the point of passing out. These scenes often play like some kind of avant-garde performance art, and are as much a focus of the film as any of the usually cited "political" messages rooted in racially oriented turmoil and disparity. Perhaps the intended theme was that race relations, and the urban reality of blacks to that point were as bizarre as acid trips, some good, some bad.
The music is equally bizarre (which I love), with a recurrent jazz/funk piece with an almost atonal saxophone melody being the unifier. Some of the vocal music is a veritable Greek chorus, narrating action and emotions, providing critiques and so on. Peebles also frequently layers musical tracks, so two or more can be playing at once for a minute or two.
The film is also notable and admirable for its abundance of almost graphic sex scenes and gratuitous nudity. The opening scene is particularly groundbreaking and laudable. Throughout the film, Sweetback is an unstoppable stud, with almost any woman he desires dropping her drawers for him, even towards the end of the film, despite the fact that he has an oozing, infected sore running up the side of his body, not to mention that he's filthy, and he's been drinking mud and eating raw lizards. The ladies still find him hot enough to give him a poke in the bushes. We need much more of this kind of material in contemporary films.
At one point, Peebles and/or director of photography Robert Maxwell appear to have hit the streets of
But the problems with the film are legion. Maxwell's camera frequently goes in and out of focus (being generous, we could interpret it with psychedelic intent, but I'm skeptical). Night scenes (which are thankfully avoided for the most part) tend to be seas of blackness where a viewer can only occasionally make out enough of an image to piece together the scene in their mind. The sound is awful--I couldn't make out about half of the dialogue (at one point I thought "this is more like watching a silent film"), and it doesn't help that some characters "jive talk"; if ever a film needed subtitles, it's this one. The camera occasionally has a spot, a hair, or some other gunk on the lens. There isn't much to the story; after awhile, it starts to play more like an odd music video. A lot of shots--scenery, cityscapes, etc.--look like they may have been randomly taken by Peebles with his home camera with the hopes of one day using them in a film.
Still, for fans of weirdness and "so bad they're good" films, not to mention any blaxploitation fan with his or her weight in barbecued ribs, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is a must see. Make sure you also check out How to Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass (aka Baadasssss!), Peebles' son Mario's 2003 film about Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.
I could start out Sweet Sweetback talking about its
historical significance, with what it was the first to do, but doesn’t that
always imply that a film only holds up when you take its place in history into
consideration? Doesn’t that always imply that it’s a little bit, well, boring
and incomplete if you don’t have a history book right next to you? Certainly Sweetback
is a groundbreaker, but let’s not think about all that now. Let’s think about
what it IS, which is an intense and startling montage of sounds and images,
powered and driven by indignation, about a people sick of getting trampled on.
Or, as the movie puts it, “all the Brothers and Sisters who are tired of being
held down by the
Another title card that appears after that one claims the movie is “Starring The Black Community.” Ostentatious, perhaps, but this is back when movies could make grand and sincere statements, as opposed to now when a movie can be as big as it wants, perhaps even win 11 Academy Awards, only if it can be easily proven to mean nothing at all. Sweet Sweetback is not about character or story—neither Sweetback himself nor any other character is really developed—so much as it is a journey through the iconography of the urban 1970s, which was largely poor and black and, up until this point, hadn’t gotten much silver screen time. Oops, I played the history card after I said I wouldn’t.
The basic plot is simplicity itself, the kind of thing that would take about five or ten pages in Toni Morrison and then pop up again for a couple of paragraphs fifty or sixty pages later.
Nighttime during Sweetback’s flight is a neon
Sweetback is eventually joined on his exodus by the suspect he rescued, who is apparently a political revolutionary, although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to read the back of the box to figure that out. He’s called the “ringleader” by a cop in a quick line of dialogue, but there’s nothing to indicate the cop isn’t just making fun of him in a “crown-of-thorns” kind of way.
Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song is very much a movie of the late 1960s and early 1970s, with real locations instead of sets, detached, almost documentary-style camera angles, and plenty of experimentation with lighting, overlapping images, conversations directly to the camera, and even some animated negative images. It’s as trippy as Easy Rider from two years earlier and in many ways not unlike what Nicholas Roeg was doing on the other side of the world with Walkabout. It is also a dirty cheap production entirely shot in 19 days; to call it rough around the edges would be merciful. Certainly a lot of the script was probably built around necessity, around which locations the filmmakers could access and their limited ability to record sound. But even Leonardo da Vinci was limited by the colors that he had.
Sweetback’s life as a joyless sexual commodity is summarized in a clever and surreal early sequence, in which we see him climb into bed with a woman as a teenager and stand up a grown man. Sweetback is hounded by music wherever he goes, like all the voices he’s ever heard in whole life, including traditional spirituals, militant diatribes, and contemporary funk, all run together and overlapping. The music is provided by no less than Earth, Wind and Fire, with contributions by Van Peebles and his son and daughter. Also, as part of its era, Sweet Sweetback features a lot of nudity—the movie was justifiably rated X, although there’s no actual coitus—and one could make an easy and convincing argument that not all of it is necessary. The “ban” on nudity in American films only lifted in 1967, I think, and, like a painter getting brand new color, the heretofore inaccessible form of self-expression is used perhaps too liberally.
And now to play the history card: Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song is a groundbreaking step in the modern idea of independent film. With very, very limited resources and equipment, it’s as guerilla as anything by Robert Rodriguez. Stanley Kubrick was filming outside studios and backlots as early as 1955, but if history has taught us anything it’s that just because Kubrick does something it doesn’t mean anyone else can. The making of Sweet Sweetback is chronicled by Melvin Van Peebles’ son Mario in the new film Baad Asssss! in which the father is played by the son. A tale of broken cameras and bounced checks, Baad Assss! is about how you basically have to be a tyrannical S.O.B. to get a movie made in 19 days for no money. With its tone of determination and irreverent whimsy, it definitely qualifies as a “dram-edy,” and modern audiences will probably find it more compulsively watchable than the film upon which it is based.
Of course, Sweet Sweetback also gave birth to “blaxploitation” films. The phrase “exploitation film” is tossed around a lot without anyone bothering to define it, but this is what I think an exploitation film is: a cheap, inferior, even campy copy of a cheap, sincere, original that made a lot of money. It is the genre that is being exploited. It took me about the first third of Sweetback to start taking everything at face value. Movies like Coffy and
Back Again Nicky Baxter from Metro
The Blaxploitation Era | Harvard Magazine January-February 2003 Craig Lambert from Harvard Magazine, January/February 2003
masculinity, and music in blaxploitation cinema Amanda Howell from Screening the Past,
G. Yerman: Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song at Von Lintel ... Marcia G. Yerman essay from The Huffington Post,
Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song - The Deuce Popeye Pete from The Deuce
the Critical: 15 Movies That Show What's Wrong With U.S. (Part Three) Andrew Osborne from Nerve Screengrab,
A Wasted Life Bryin Abraham
Movie House Commentary Johnny Web
Pride: Melvin Van Peebles - Sweet Sweetback's ...
<Sweet Sweetback> SBBFC
Livejournal [ I Hate Movies] Steve Clark
Bad Movie Night [Ken M. Wilson] One of the most horrible films to endure by any one person. There should be support groups for viewers who intend to sit through the movie.
Bright Lights Film Journal | Blaxploitation Gary Morris, March 1997
Peebles and the Black Panthers
Director Joe Angio and Producer Michael Solomon [How to Eat Watermelon
in White Company (and Enjoy it)] interview Black Panther Billy “X”
Weekly : Edmonton's 100% Independent Weekly : Sweet ... Sweet
Sweetback’s Baadasssss! Son, by Minister Faust from Vue magazine,
FrontPage Magazine - Panther: An Interview with Mario Van Peebles Mario shares thoughts about his father from Front Page magazine, July/August 1995
SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG Roger Greenspun from The New York Times, April 24, 1971
The New York Times (Vincent Canby) review May 9, 1971
VIEW; Sweet Sweetback's World Revisited
Stephen Holden from The New York
Can Black People Fly? Don't Ask 'Soul Plane' A.O. Scott from The New York Times,
Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song by Melvin Van Peebles : Reviews ... musical comments from Rate Your Music
itsabouttimebpp.com. Black Panther Party Official Website
If you enjoy avant-garde films and/or cult and/or low budget black (afro-american)comedy, then you are probably already a fan of Melvin Van Peebles. I love telling people about this film because it's so simple yet profound and a whole lot of fun! It feels like this film was originally a stage play cause it all takes place in one flat. The music is bluesy, gospel and folk and yes chile it's low budget, but that's the point. It's great to see black actors like Mabel King and Esther Rolle doing work that you can tell they actually enjoyed doing for a change!!!! Not only did Melvin Van Peebles write the script, but he also composed all of the music. With the exception of Esther Rolle the cast has great, soulful voices, but even the monotoned throaty voice of Rolle adds great character to the film. It's the rawness and honesty of this movie that makes it so great...Besides I'm sure Miss Rolle knows she can't sing!
Made shortly after Sweet Sweetback's Baadassssss Song, this
Melvin Van Peebles musical follows the exploits of two devils who seem to
specialize in breaking up parties. When they turn their attention to a raucous
birthday party in
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
After pulverizing stylistic conventions in Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Melvin Van Peebles could only go back and piece the narrative shards together. Not that his follow-up, an adaptation of his own popular Broadway musical-comedy, is anywhere near Bazinian: despite the one-set constraints, Van Peebles still manages to continually carve the plot -- two devil bats materialize in human shape at a raucous Saturday night Harlem party, bent on souring the fun -- via changes in stock, spastic zooms, superimpositions, constant ruptures between sound and image. Barely released, the film's irrepressibly ethnic vaudeville is irreplaceable Soul Capsule circa 1973: former Ikette Joshie Jo Armstead doing "You Cut Up the Clothes in the Closet of My Dreams," Esther Rolle laying down the law with "It Makes No Difference," Cotton Club staple Avon Long running around, Joseph Keyes' uvula-flaunting "I'm a Bad Character," toothpick-legged ingénue Rhetta Hughes' mock-pliant "My Man," George (Ooppee) McCurn letting his gospel basso soar. Less incendiary in its polemics than Watermelon Man or Sweetback, the film is just as concerned with exploring tensions within black culture, its harmony threatened by elements of class, religion, the male image, even the myth of malevolent tricksters. (For a more subtly stylized treatment of similar themes, devilish intruder included, see Charles Burnett's splendid To Sleep With Anger.) Also with Mabel King, Thomas Anderson, Robert Dunn, and Frank Carey.
One of the worst movies I have ever
seen. I realize it is supposed to be a farce, but COME ON! The audio sounds
like it was recorded on a wax record. The acting is terrible. No wonder Wyatt
from Weird Science quit the movie business. This movie wants to make me quit
the movie watching business. The budget seems to me small, but I have seen
student films shot on NO BUDGET that have better effects than this movie. Particularly
bad is when the boat explodes. GEESH!
Melvin Van Peebles also cast himself as the know-it-all detective with the hot wife, AND as the narrator which is both confusing as a plot detail and wildly unsuccessful. So if you haven't gather it by now, avoid this movie at all costs.
What young man has never yearned
for a shiny motor bike and a special girl friend? In this short film Leroy has
his dreams fulfilled in an unexpected way following a brave and courageous act.
Voodooism working on his mind transforms his unexciting life into episodes
beyond his wildest dreams.
The film is unmistakably suggestive as Leroy sits astride his powerful machine which responds in a highly sexual fashion.
I found the computeristaion of the images quite imaginative, although the "sexy" transformation scenes were obviously created in a studio and not that convincing.
The film will probably appeal to young men whose dreams have not yet been fully realised.
GANG IN BLUE – made for TV
Honest black cop Michael Rhoades (a fine performance by Mario Van Peebles) takes a stand against a racist group of white vigilante police officers called the Phantoms and does his best to acquire the necessary evidence to bust these guys. Of course, Rhoades immediately finds himself in considerable jeopardy. Directed with real style and assurance by Mario and Melvin Van Peebles, with a strong script by Rick Natkin and David Fuller, a credible sense of pervasive moral baseness and corruption, a tough, gritty tone, slick cinematography by Rhett Morita, an engrossing plot, a moody score by Larry Brown, a provocative subtext about the abuse of power, a snappy pace, and several exciting action scenes, this movie makes the grade as a tense and compelling cop flick. The picture further benefits from sound acting from a top-rate cast: Josh Brolin as sadistic former marine Keith DeBruler, Cynda Williams as helpful FBI agent Anita Boyard, the always great J.T. Walsh as smarmy Lieutenant William Eyler, Stephen Lang as the slimy, venomous Moose Tavola, Sean McCann as venerable old-timer Clute Mirkovich, Melvin Van Peebles as wise, amiable veteran Andre Speier, and Bruce Smolanoff as hateful jerk Theo Jensen. A solid and satisfying film.
It's gang time within a police precinct as the Phantoms , a secret group of thugs in blue, sustain a white supremacy mode. The worthy subject is not exactly a revelation, but it bears retelling; too bad the teleplay by David Fuller and Rick Natkin is so simplistic and the production itself so obvious. Michael Rhoades (Mario Van Peebles) knows that, as a black cop, he's not the precinct's pinup boy, but he tumbles to the real truth the hard way. Fuller and Natkin let truths eke out, and Rhoades moves from plot point to plot point.
As co-directors, Peebles and his dad Melvin Van Peebles apply speed and pressure, but it's familiar territory. An incident at a Chinese eatery opens the action and Rhoades'eyes to civilian treatment. The Bund tries eliminating him because he's curious and black. He calls on his FBI ex-girlfriend Anita (Cynda Williams) to help expose the ring, but she's into other things. The Phantoms, practicing their excesses in everything from drug busts to gambling raids, have their own secret clubhouse. Gang members are led by Moose Tavola (Stephen Lang, spitting out unconditional hate), with SS-like aides delighting in beating up anyone violating their snow-white code. An ex-Marine, Keith DeBruler (Josh Brolin), joins the troops, and Moose moves to collect another member. Keith's willing, and a conveniently plotted move makes him Rhoades' partner. The Van Peebles pair, who also co-produced, send down ample grit and gore, and there's plenty of cursing, bashing and blood and whizzing bullets in well-choreo'd action scenes.
Production designer Rocco Matteo has created a pungent, claustrophobic feel that's fitting, and Rhett Morita's camerawork is effective. Mario Van Peebles wastes his talent with a limiting, stereotyped role. Melvin Van Peebles plays veteran cop Speier, and their verbal exchanges are flat or old hat, though the senior actor gets off an old-fashioned truism that he makes work: "This ain't about black, this ain't about white; it's about right, man!" Brolin's undemanding rookie passes muster, J.T. Walsh is effective as the assured Lt. Eyler, and Sean McCann as a depressed retiring officer succeeds. Lang's Moose is a threatening and unsurprising meanie, and Williams' FBI character is OK. A badly conceived proselytizing officer played by Peter Kosakais best forgotten. Natkin and Fuller have incorporated a couple of surprises, but they can't help a basically routine cops-and-cops meller. Larry Brown's intelligent score tries coming to the aid, too, but it's no use. Unconvincing vidpic doesn't do much for justice's cause.
A subversively entertaining take on keeping up appearances via carefully spun racism and prejudice, Melvin Van Peebles' "Bellyful" is an original look at what transpires when closed-minded conservative hypocrites pretend to be open-minded humanitarian liberals. Sly French-lingo venture based on helmer's novel uses digital video to its advantage in re-creating the look and feel of small-town France circa 1967. Pic preemed as a special presentation in Cannes' Critics Week and opens Wednesday in Gaul; fests will find this a welcome addition.
Respectable middle-aged couple Loretta (Andrea Ferreol) and Henri (Jacques Boudet) tell the director of an orphanage they've been overwhelmed with work at their bistro, Le Ventre Plein (The Full Belly), since their daughter went to stay with a sick aunt. Although they live in an insular, all-white community, the pair are unnervingly eager to offer a waitressing job to a young black woman. Sweet, trusting Diamantine (Meiji U Tum'si) fills the bill. She's about to turn 18 and has lived her entire life at the orphanage.
Solicitous to the point of smarminess, Loretta and Henri tell their live-in employee that she's "one of the family," yet seem to go out of their way to encourage the townsfolk to disapprove of the accommodating young lady. One evening, they ask if Diamantine would be willing to repay their kindness by pretending to be pregnant. The girl goes along with what she's been assured is a joke, wearing increasing layers of padding under her clothes.
Loretta can barely contain her joy when Jan (versatile Dutch musician Herman van Veen), a Flemish friend who spent seven years in prison on a smuggling charge, comes to stay. Jan keeps asking about their daughter but is told she's in Toulouse tending to a sick aunt. Some 45 minutes in, the reasons for the pregnancy charade are revealed -- and they're mighty twisted, in a quasi-upstanding sort of way.
Scripter-helmer Van Peebles sustains an agreeably conspiratorial mood and has a field day chipping away at the allegedly pious, self-described "pillars of the community." Ferreol simply couldn't be better, and U Tum'si is grounded and delightful as goodness incarnate. By setting his tale in a cultural backwater back in the mid-'60s, when unwed mothers were automatic pariahs, Van Peebles draws a subtle map of how intolerance can be either fanned or stamped out.
Digital lensing is very good, as is the film transfer. A few wacky flashbacks -- including one in which an elderly woman permanently lends a hand to her jealous husband -- are particularly memorable for their narrative chutzpah. Helmer also composed the score, which ranges across several styles but favors jazzy, effusive piano music.
Nearly three decades have passed since Van Peebles released
his X-Rated revolutionary diatribe SWEET SWEETBACK’S BADASSSS SONG (1971),
basically establishing the black independent movement in American cinema,
leading to a plethora of commercially successful blaxploitation flicks in the
70’s, but this feels like an offshoot from that film, using nearly the exact
same film style, a near indecipherable, fuzzy and rambling account of a black
man on the run, no longer using political invective, also fewer guns and less
sex, but it still feels like an underground film style continuously editing
together multiple images superimposed over the same frame, a device he uses
throughout the entire film, using music that sounds like it was recorded in the
same recording session as his earlier film.
Melvin appears in nearly every frame of this film, curiously shot in his
present age for every earlier stage of his life as he ruefully recounts the
story of his life from childhood to adulthood, using a denigrating tone to poke
fun at himself, but despite the comical title and exaggerated avant garde
style, this film makes it difficult to connect with the life experience of the
screen Melvin, who has to pursue his dream of traveling around the world in
order to discover that his true love lived in his home town neighborhood all
along. Much of this is more than a
little over the top, but it’s all in good fun, as Melvin’s life resembles a
travel brochure, as he learned to read travel periodicals in the library
instead of watching movies every week in order to avoid getting beat up by
local bad boys, something that was part of his everyday experience. Despite finding the love of his life in
Yousuresaidamouthful there, Melvin. The iconic director of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song recounts how his younger self—played by the preternaturally revved-up septuagenarian—gave in to a perpetual wanderlust. Then the semiautobiographical elements involving adolescent indiscretions get pushed to the side; cue crazy misadventures with pirates, African dictators and a horny ape. There’s something admirable about the anything-goes energy that Van Peebles brings to this tall tale, but the amateurishness and Video Toaster–era technical tricks start to grate after a bit. It’s a funky, free-form fairy tale, but one that only a mutha could truly love.
NewCity Chicago Ray Pride
It’s grand that a physical, mindful force of 1960s American alternative cinema like Melvin Van Peebles can tell a story at the age of 75 about being an anti-Hollywood “maverick” with an epochal success like 1971’s “Sweet Sweetback’s Badassss Song.” With “Confessions of A Ex-Doofus-Itchy Footed Mutha,” the grand old man and inveterate trickster figure becomes an unregenerate youth forever on the run. Based on his 1982 Broadway production, “Waltz of the Stork,” this partly musical semi-autobiographical fantasia uses the lower rungs of digital-video imagery to compile Van Peeble’s imagination from boyhood to middle age to mixed result. “Ex-Doofus-Itchy” is a mass of hardly digested material about twentieth-century African-American cultural experience that rings both true and deadly. Peebles looks tired. He’s lived a life. Then he made this movie. 75m.
In 's homely home-video-art love-story
curio, incorporating fragments of his 1982 stage musical Waltz of the Stork,
the seventysomething star-writer-director plays the lead role from age 15 to
45, opposite actors who are, in every case, younger. This makes the scenes of
teenaged sexual discovery particularly eyebrow-raising. Like practically
everything in the movie, the device only really "works" on a
theoretical level, though it's transfixing for a time, in a slightly sad way.
Van Peebles's unnamed protagonist narrates back on his life from middle age,
talking over reenactments of his running away from
CONFESSIONS OF A EX-DOOFUS-ITCHY FOOTED MUTHA Facets Multi-Media
Melvin Van Peebles-filmmaker, playwright, composer, crooner,
ladies' man, and living legend-returns to the screen with this picaresque yarn
about a boy from Chicago who wants to see the world and get rich but discovers
that all he needs is the love of a good woman. Based on Van Peebles' 1982
Broadway show Waltz of the Stork, Confessions chronicles the
adventures of a man who, armed only with a can of contingency cash, swims his
I got to see CONFESSIONSOFA-EX-DOOFUS-ITCHYFOOTED MUTHA, Melvin van Peebles
first American film in a long time, as the closing film of the
The director himself plays an old man and former adventurer who begins to recall his wild and wacky adventures from his teenage years to middle-age. We see flashbacks of his life throughout. Instead of getting other actors to play his character in these different flashbacks, van Peebles plays himself throughout. He is a 75 year old man playing himself from ages 14 to 45ish.
Melvin van Peebles will always remain an essential figure not only to African-American cinema but to independent cinema. I like to think of him as a combination of Spike Lee and John Cassavetes. And CONFESSIONSOFA EX-DOOFUS-ITCHYFOOTED MUTHA is a real independent film.
The adventures created for van Peebles' character are some of the most creative ever. There are so many ridiculous things throughout it becomes comedic. I got to hear a talk from the man himself after the film, and he is just like the character he played in CONFESSIONSOFA. Must see!
Film Festival Review: "Confessions of an Ex-Doofus-Itchy-Footed
Mutha" Phil Nugent from Nerve Screengrab,
Van Peebles has been well-established as a maverick independent filmmaker and
provocateur since at least 1971's Sweet Sweetback's Badassss Song. His
new film, Confessions of an Ex-Doofus-Itchy-Footed Mutha, confirms that
he's also still got a way with titles. He also still has an admirable
willingness to make a public jackass of himself and an impressive ability to
coax other people into coming along for the ride. Aside from that, though,
there isn't a lot else to say about this smeared-looking video fantasy, spun
off from one of his old stage shows, Waltz of the Stork. There might
have been a few things that should have been said to Van Peebles before he made
it, but I don't know who would have been deputized to say them. When the man's
own son, Mario, has signed off for a cameo appearance as a pirate, it's hard to
say who might have been best qualified to stage an intervention.
Confessions makes full use of the quality that has always been Van Peebles's secret weapon and that has outweighted everything else he's ever brought to the table, which is his absolute and fearless shamelessness. The seventy-five-year-old auteur plays the vagabond hero from the time he's fourteen through his mid-forties. This conceit might have been fun if Van Peebles were an actor, but he's usually gotten by on being a presence, and aside from the occasional outbreak of eye-popping, face-pulling hamminess, he doesn't have any idea what to do with himself here except stand around looking slack, sad-eyed, and grizzled. (As for costuming, Van Peebles tends to favor either one of two looks, the funeral director and the rodeo clown.) It's less amusing that embarrassing to watch him stealing apples as if he were in an Our Gang comedy or acting out his character's sexual initiation and confirming that, however long ago Sweetback was, once a stud, always a stud. (Yes, there are sex scenes. Yes, you do get to see Melvin with his shirt off and snuggling with the ladies, though a body double arrives in the nick of time when things get steamy. And no, none of this is as bad as the scene with the apple: Van Peebles has to be one of the movies' least photogenic eaters this side of Mr. Creosote.) I understand that Van Peebles is so taken with himself and his legend that he thinks the last thing in the world he needs is some distance and perspective in relation to himself, but the fact remains that Mario Van Peebles's swaggering performance as his dad in his own movie BAADASSSSS! from a few years back was both the best work Mario's ever done in movies and the smartest performance ever given by someone purporting to play Melvin Van Peebles. It is indeed a tribute to Melvin Van Peebles's spirit that, at seventy-five, he's still getting movies made and trying to use them to raise hell. But anyone who cares about him ought to pay him the soundest tribute they can by pretending that his latest movie doesn't exist.
Slant Magazine review Bill Weber
TimeOut: Director interview Taking
Confessions, interview by Novid Parsi, from TimeOut
Variety Ronnie Scheib
The New York Times review Mike Hale
Director site Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death
Crossover hits from
Safarian is Matty, a fierce fortysomething whose life seems to come apart after a minor collision (the “aanrijding” of the Flemish title) with a truck transporting Italian lollipops. The 29-year-old redhead driver Johnny (Jurgen Delnaet) has not only bruised her car but also her sense of self. Her art teacher husband Werner (Johan Heldenbergh) is trying to work out whether he prefers Matty to one of his 22-year-old students, while their three children are trying to figure out where they stand in relation to the opportunities and pratfalls of puberty. As Johnny worms his way into the heart of Matty and the lives of the other members of this dysfunctional but lovable family, it becomes clear that everyone has a right to happiness but that this right can only be obtained by making choices, which is not always easy.
The screenplay was written by the novel-writing duo Pat van Beirs and Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem. Beirs also translated several animated comedies into Flemish, including Chicken Run and Monsters Inc, while Van Rijckeghem also had a hand in the equally warm-hearted yet truthful Man zkt vrouw (A Perfect Match). In their screenplay, comedy, drama and nicely observed character-building moments are finely interwoven in the first hour, with the loose yet composed camera movements of cinematographer Ruben Impens following suit. When buried secrets surface and romance, drama and comedy are forced to awkwardly intermingle at a crucial dinner scene, however, Van Rompaey creates something of a dent of his own in this otherwise utterly pleasant surprise from Flanders.
by Dennis Lim Other Love, Criterion essay
For all the boredom the straight life brings, it’s not that bad. —Bob Hughes (Matt Dillon)
God bless you. May you go to heaven. —Tom the Priest (William S. Burroughs)
One of the early Van Sant indie films shot in and around Portland, Oregon, giving it that shadowy gray feel of the Pacific Northwest, a glum movie based on the real life exploits of author James Fogle, a junkie who has spent a good deal of his life in prison for making a living by stealing pharmaceuticals from west coast drug stores, whose first hand experience adds a core of authenticity to what we see onscreen. Matt Dillon as Bob, a junkie all his life, narrates while leading us on his journey of petty crime, something like a junkie’s GOODFELLAS (1990, made a year later), exposing the habits of a small outlaw gang that includes Kelly Lynch as his wife Diane, and obedient partners in crime Rick (James Le Gross) and Nadine (Heather Graham), both a few screws loose upstairs. Whenever they score and divide up the drugs afterwards, Nadine always gets the short stick, as she’s not considered a lifer, someone that’s been at it since they were kids. In fact, we’re never sure if she even likes to get high, so she doesn’t get much respect and is considered the group’s weak link, and she resents it, which has its own devastating consequences. The gang itself resembles romantic outlaws Bonnie and Clyde, as they all hide out and commit their crimes together, never really leaving one another’s side except when they get high, veering off into their own clouded stratospheres before planning another score.
Bleak and uncompromising, the film plays out like a road
movie with plenty of dark-edged, absurdist humor. Set in the early 70’s when
drugs were a more commonly accepted way of life, it was also a time when rents
were still cheap enough for young kids to live communally in small groups and
not draw suspicion. This is an
unsentimental, non-judgmental portrayal of people living on the fringe of
society balanced against the
The film turns into a moral dilemma for Bob, who’s been there, done that, and sees fewer and fewer options up the road ahead, as he grows tired of repeating himself, doing the exact same things over and over, and having to think and be accountable for his 4 person family, which grows all the more tiresome after awhile, especially when you’re constantly on edge. Even the drugs don’t feel all that great after awhile, constantly nagging you for more. So he decides to go straight, quitting the gang and heading for a methadone program back in the city, which everyone thinks is some kind of scam, as there must be an ulterior plan. Even the cops don’t believe him. But the true joy of this picture is Bob meeting notorious junkie writer William S. Burroughs in the flesh, a ghostly presence who looks like death warmed over as Tom the Priest in a fleabag hotel for recovering addicts, where the first thing Tom asks him is if he’s holding? Burroughs himself is the voice of legitimacy, a former Beat Generation writer whose creepy drug-warped mind is responsible for writing Naked Lunch, but is also the role model for other drug-crazed paranoid isolationists who are too weirded out by the straight life, like Hunter S. Thompson, guys who simply don’t play by any rules. Burroughs in real life was probably the longest active patient in the history of methadone maintenance programs, and as Father Tom he most certainly represents the ghost of Christmas future, as that’s where Bob is heading if he doesn’t change his ways. Balancing a downbeat, jazzy score by Abbey Lincoln singing “For All We Know” with the upbeat Desmond Dekker reggae classic “The Israelites” to great effect, Van Sant also includes his signature time-lapse photography while adding surreal animation layered over the image for drug-induced visions. Without ever becoming moralistic, this is a true Van Sant movie, unrelenting in its authenticity, beautifully portrayed by the cast who simply inhabit their roles, there isn’t an ounce of artifice here as the director takes us on the road least traveled.
Written & Performed by Bobby Goldsboro
Used by permission of SBK Unart Catalog, Inc.
Under license from CEMA Special Markets, EMI Records, Inc.
Written by Ken Ellner, Roy Chaney, Craig Atkinson, John Byrne & John Michalski
Performed by Count Five (as The Count Five)
Published by Drive-In Music
Courtesy of Original Sound Record Co., Inc.
"Put a Little Love in Your Heart"
Written by Jimmy Holiday, Randall Meyers (as Randy Myers) & Jackie DeShannon
Performed by Jackie DeShannon
Used by permission of SBK Unart Catalog, Inc.
Under license from CEMA Special Markets, EMI Records, Inc.
"TV Commercial Music"
Written and Performed by Will Kaplan
"Piu Amore Romantico Per Anna"
Composed & Produced by Jeff Levi
Published by Laughing Cloud Music
"Judy in Disguise"
Written by John Fred & Andrew Bernard
Performed by John Fred and His Playboy Band
Published by Su-Ma Music
Courtesy of Janus Records
c/o Original Sound Entertainment
Time Out review Geoff Andrew
Bob (Dillon), his wife Dianne (Lynch), Rich (Le Gros) and
Nadine (Graham) are junkies who survive by robbing pharmacies in
I actually grew up with people like this. Not all, but I knew people like
this. People who had nothing, going nowhere, living on ratty beds and couches,
with parents who barely noticed, or weren't around. Now on their own, with absolutely
no skills or abilities (or desire) to head in any other direction but the
pursuit of the next high. Always scheming to get their next stash. Hiding and
ducking in their own living room, from imagined threats and paranoic fantasy.
Characters who would show up, and act bizarrely, with hangers-on who
desperately wanted to be accepted by this aimless bunch. Barely hanging on to
any semblance of a "regular life", one half-step away from scrounging
in garbage cans.
I never got too close to those people, and ended up joining the service, and never looked back to what happened to them.
Matt Dillon was exceptional, and a decent job by the cast all around. Dillon captured the essence of a smart guy, who knew what a dead-end existence he lived in, but was unwilling or unable to yet break free. Brilliantly directed by Gus Van Zant. He captured this ugly life well.
The deadpan comic buzz you get from Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy is practically narcotic. The movie heightens your senses and mildly anesthetizes them at the same time, like a potent mixture of stimulants and depressants. One of the most invigoratingly original American comedies since Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, Drugstore Cowboy follows druggy, irregular rhythms all its own. Whether in a heavy-lidded daze or wired with giddy, post-high paranoia, Drugstore Cowboy displays an uncanny alertness to detail and texture -- yellow-white bus headlights that barely penetrate the slate-gray, late-afternoon gloom on a rain-drenched northwestern road; the surreal surge of blood into a hypodermic syringe as it enters a vein in intensified close-up... But the film's vibrant aliveness to such minute sensations is submerged beneath a cold, clammy complexion: the blue-gray pallor of a day-old corpse.
Set under the oppressive, overcast skies of Portland, Oregon, in 1971, Drugstore Cowboy boldly stakes out a piece of cinematic fringe territory, as seemingly remote as the chilly little corner of the world in which this dead-end road movie takes place. In a late-'80s America obsessed with winners, and a contemporary climate of anti-drug sentiment verging on hysteria, Van Sant has made a devastatingly funny, melancholy but unromanticized picture about a bedraggled band of doped-up losers -- with no apologies to (or excuses for) anybody. It's a shame you even feel the need to mention that this isn't a revisionist anti-drug tract, or a seductive glamorization of narcotics use/abuse. That much ought to be as apparent as it is irrelevant to what this movie's up to.
The first shot fixes us inside the consciousness of Bob Hughes (Matt Dillon, in a perfectly modulated performance), the 26-year-old leader of a scruffy, four-person pharmaceutical burglary ring. Staring semi-catatonically into the camera from his mattress, with hallucinatory lights playing across over his cold-sweat-glistened face, Bob appears to be either high or dying. Or both. He's fully aware of what is happening to him, and how he got here, but he doesn't (or can't) move. For the moment, he's just along for the ride. And he takes us with him, down a convoluted and dope-sodden memory lane.
"I was once a shameless, full-time drug fiend," Bob recalls in voiceover as he reminisces about his druggie days of not so long ago, when his family circle included his loyal partner/girlfriend Dianne (Kelly Lynch), his earnestly dense, Saint Bernard-like buddy Rick (James Le Gross) and Rick's restive teenage girlfriend Nadine (Heather Graham). All of these terrific performers -- along with William S. Burroughs as a defrocked, zoned-out junkie priest, James Remar as Bob's cop nemesis, Grace Zabriskie as Bob's scolding mom and Max Perlich as a neighborhood weasel -- inhabit their roles organically, never betraying any sense of superiority to their characters.
We first see Bob's crew in grainy, shaky 8mm home-movie memories, self-consciously goofy images of youthful, stoned innocence. These compulsive outlaws aren't greedy career criminals; they're benumbed rather than hardened. As they see it, they're just trying to make a living the best way they know how. And living, for them, means forever scrambling from one fix to the next, searching to sustain that elusive chemical high. Bob can't even wait until he gets home after pulling a job. He shoots up in the backseat of the getaway car and slumps against the window as little silhouetted, refrigerator-magnet images of cowboy hats and syringes slide down the glass, like shadowy floaters gliding across the surface of your eyeballs.
While the rest of the gang provides distraction, Bob trusts only himself to do the hands-on work, rifling through behind-the-counter pharmacy drawers for prime pills and injectables. He's ecstatic after a score, bragging about the street value of the loot, but he never gets around to selling any of it because of the insatiable habits of his consumer household. Dianne gets a sexual thrill from the drugs, but like the impotent Joe in Andy Warhol's Trash (one of this movie's funny, dopey ancestors), Bob isn't interested. He's already planning the next job, the next challenge. Looking for that imaginary pot of pharmeceuticals at the end of the rainbow, Bob gets as big a kick from stealing as he does from the illegally obtained substances themselves.
Bob and Dianne, who have settled into their roles as old man and old lady to the childlike Rick and Nadine, take their parental responsibilities seriously. In one hilarious living-room family conference, the stoned "parents" give the "kids" a wacked-out lesson in survival, solemnly explaining the oblique but somehow uncontestable reasons behind such superstitious house rules as No Dogs and Never Put a Hat on the Bed.
There's so much going on here: Bob and Dianne, intent upon impressing Rick and Nadine with the gravity of the matters at hand, seem to be talking themselves into believing their own implausible explanations, recalling the tragi-comic tale of a beloved housepet as if it were a nearly forgotten bad dream they once shared. Gullible Rick sincerely wants to believe them, but is surprised to find himself mildly skeptical. Still, he's good-natured enough to give Bob the benefit of any doubt. And Nadine -- like a brattly little girl who's always spoiling illusions by asking 'Why?' -- doesn't swallow a word of it, though she's too scared and insecure to admit it. She's tired of being Bob's scapegoat, the source of the hex he claims is bringing them bad luck.
Needless to say, this is not a movie about the "Just Say No" generation, although it does reveal some of the glibness behind that specious motto. "Just Say No" may make a fine slogan for a publicity campaign aimed at schoolchildren, but for junkies already driven by the desperate (and inevitably doomed) need to string out a perpetual chemical high, it's simply not a realistic option. Bob eventually decides to "Just Say No" -- but it takes a junkie's full-blown nightmare come true (smuggling a corpse out of a motel room during a sherriff's convention) to turn him around. Rather than face a lifetime hex, he decides trade in his illegal habit for an authorized methadone maintainence program and a regular job, even though he knows it means breaking up the family.
Bob's conversion isn't a triumph for sobriety, just another manifestation of his innate integrity. For Bob, the straight life proves scarcely any different from the high life -- you just trade one form of lucidity for another, one form of numbness for another. Drugs, he reasons (without irony), are just things people use "to relieve the pressures of everyday life, like tying their shoelaces." The toughest thing is learning to live with the uncertainty: "Most people don't know how they're gonna feel from one moment to the next. But dope fiends have a pretty good idea. All you gotta do is look at the labels on the little bottles..."
Movieline Magazine dvd review F.X. Feeney
Drugstore Cowboy Hal Erickson from All Movie Guide
Siskel & Ebert (video)
S. Burroughs | Literary Kicks Levi
Asher from Literary Kicks,
William S. Burroughs Books and Writers biography
Hoo Hoo Hoo Hoo Hoo Hoo Hoo
You're living in your own Private Idaho
Living in your own Private Idaho
Underground like a wild potato.
Don't go on the patio.
Beware of the pool,
blue bottomless pool.
It leads you straight
right throught the gate
that opens on the pool.
You're living in your own Private Idaho.
You're living in your own Private Idaho.
Keep off the path, beware the gate,
watch out for signs that say "hidden driveways".
Don't let the chlorine in your eyes
blind you to the awful surprise
that's waitin' for you at
the bottom of the bottomless blue blue blue pool.
You're livin in your own Private Idaho.
You're out of control, the rivers that roll,
you fell into the water and down to
Get out of that state,
get out of that state you're in.
You better beware.
You're living in your own Private Idaho.
You're living in your own Private Idaho.
Keep off the patio,
keep off the path.
The lawn may be green
but you better not be seen
walkin' through the gate that leads you down,
down to a pool fraught with danger
is a pool full of strangers.
You're living in your own Private Idaho,
where do I go from here to a better state than this.
Well, don't be blind to the big surprise
swimming round and round like the deadly hand
of a radium clock, at the bottom, of the pool.
Woah oh oh woah oh oh woah oh oh
Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah
Get out of that state
Get out of that state
You're living in your own Private Idaho,
livin in your own Private....
B-52's Private Idaho - YouTube (), 1980
I'm a connoisseur of roads. I've been tasting roads my whole life. This road will never end. It probably goes all around the world.
—Mike Waters (River
This is an extremely personalized vision, only van Sant’s
third film, but the one that offers him the largest range of expression, using the
entire cinema vocabulary, as he knew it, supposedly inspired by the B-52’s song
B-52's Private Idaho -
YouTube (3:21), creating this odd,
truly off-the-wall, mystifyingly unique film, but one that sets the foundation
for so many van Sant themes that he would continue to return to throughout his
career, like loneliness, adolescence, alienation, sexuality, gay love, freedom,
identity, and outsiderism. But here it’s
like there’s no tomorrow, so he throws everything into this film, cramming it
with surrealistic detail and stylish flourish, using a documentary style
realism mixed with an experimental or underground feel, using a frequent return
to dream sequences, some of which resemble home movie memories, while others
are more surrealistic where buildings fly and porn magazines talk, mixing
plenty of street slang and improvised dialogue with bits of Shakespearean
reference to Falstaff and Prince Hal’s musings from Henry IV, where the weakness may be the sense that it’s not really
about anything, that it’s allowed to drift, not so much telling a story as
aimlessly airing out one’s imagination, reflected in the vast emptiness of a
road movie. The heart of the film lies
in the central character, River
Mike suffers from narcolepsy, where conflict and aggravated stress cause him to pass out, which comes on much like a seizure, leaving him openly vulnerable and alone on the side of the road. For most of the film, his best friend Scott (Keanu Reeves) picks him up and comes to his aid, where they run the streets together as male sex hustlers, picking up customers whenever they can, where Mike’s condition is bad for business, but Scott is there to cover his tracks. Scott is the Prince Hal heir to the throne, as he’s the mayor’s son, but rejects all the trappings of wealth and status and prefers the freedom of running the streets, partying and getting high with a gang of homeless misfits living in a vacated condemned building, where they have their own street mayor, Bob (William Richert), who’s the Falsaff king of the drunks, prone to tales with excessive exaggeration, usually the butt of all jokes. The true standout of this group is the 92-year old Sally Curtice as Jane Lightwork, whose spry wit would happily fill any movie screen, making the rest seem like pure amateurs in comparison. But for true eccentricity, no one is any weirder than Udo Kier as Hans, a strange guy who keeps popping up in this movie, if for no other reason than he stands for the old world style of male hustler, now more settled and refined, but still a connoisseur of young boys. Moving periodically from Seattle to Portland to Idaho, Scott and Mike hit the road on a whim in search of Mike’s long lost mother, leaving behind the strange and eccentric sexual practices of their seedy customers who certainly add bold new images to the idea of peculiar. Again it’s Udo Kier that takes the cake with his own spectacularly deviate rendition of a lamp dance, seen here: Mr. Hans performs Der Adler (My Own Private Idaho) - YouTube ().
The overriding theme of the film seems to be expressed by the crushing isolation of River Phoenix’s character, where perhaps the moment of the film is a stunning campfire sequence with Keanu Reeves, largely improvised by Phoenix, where he accepts initially that they’re best friends, but slowly acknowledges that he feels a deeper personal connection, where the setting of the two of them under a darkened sky out on the open road adds even more to the special poignancy of the moment. It’s an interesting contrast between the two characters as they seem to be breaking new ground but in separate ways, an agonizingly intense confession for one, while something of a strange and awkward moment for the other. Eventually the search for Mike’s mother takes them to a remote farm in Italy, where like a scene out of THE GODFATHER (1972), Scott immediately falls in love with a beautiful young Italian girl Carmelia (Chiara Caselli), where he has a belated effect from the campfire scene, leaving Mike all alone once again to fend for himself.
Van Sant curiously intersperses various sequences with patriotic music, like America the Beautiful, adding a touch of personal irony when needed. The Shakespearean coronation takes place when Scott acquires his inheritance upon turning 21, where the world of money and prestige and a lovely new girlfriend leads him through the open doors of affluence and social distinction, leaving the world of Bob and the underground street misfits behind, having no use for them anymore. It’s a disquieting moment, made all the more chilling by Keanu Reeves and his impassive yet typically wooden expression. In the end, love may come and go, but all you have is yourself, the open road in front of you, and the freedom to take it.
Gus Van Sant searched for and found a new vocabulary
in this utterly seminal, decade-defining punk of a movie, as restless, densely
inhabited, and full of half-cocked brilliance as a tweak house in springtime.
The ostensible subject at hand is
A lyrical portrait of aimless youth painted with touches of
Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho is
cold and uninvolving, which isn’t to say that it’s wholly unsuccessful. Rather,
if one can look past the filmmaker’s affected Bard adaptation – which has the
raggedy, improvisational feel of a community theater production – and his
insipid romanticizing of gay street hustlers into icons of grungy, sexy
coolness, there exists a quite stark, poetic rumination on the unyielding
desire for home. Narcoleptic Mike (River Phoenix) lives life in a fugue state
between sleep and consciousness, and his days in the Pacific Northwest are
spent whoring himself out to johns and hanging out with his Prince Hal-ish
cohort Scott (Keanu Reeves), an heir to political power and wealth slumming it
as a male prostitute. Their episodic journey from Portland to Idaho to Italy
and back in search of Mike’s mom puts them in contact with an assortment of
strange characters – including the Falstafian Bob Pigeon (William Richert) and
a German auto parts salesman (Udo Kier) – but Van Sant’s film never assumes a
straightforward narrative, instead using primary-colored intertitle cards,
symbolic insert shots, and an elliptical structure to foster a dreamlike
atmosphere that, like his Bela Tarr-inspired trilogy of recent years, strives
to situate viewers in a distinct time and space. Such an endeavor is
all-too-often undermined by his clunky Shakespearean conceit and his quickly
wearisome habit of cinematographically drooling over the posing Reeves and
Freewheeling and mercurial, this engaging compilation of
writer-director Van Sants fads and fancies dances along the narrow line between
inspiration and affectation. In the chilly Pacific north-west (
Its hard to know which aspect of
The picture does sag a little whenever Richert and Kier are
off-screen, but there’s always something going on even if its just
rushing clouds. Because, while occasionally capable of striking visuals and
moments of hallucinatory, poetic intensity (most famously, a shack landing on
an Idaho backroad in one of Mikes many fantasies), Van Sant more often doesn’t
just flirt with clich, he drags it home with him: whenever Mike has a
narcoleptic seizure (which is repetitively often) we get hackneyed, grainy
8mm-style flashbacks to his infant years with Mom in Idaho. And, while
undeniably a talented director (as confirmed by his previous and subsequent
films) there are times when he comes across like the gauchest of indie poseurs,
such as the arbitrarily tilted camera-angles deployed to film the
filmcritic.com Jake Euker
Mike Waters (River Phoenix) is a narcoleptic street hustler who
lives in the bus terminal, streets, and abandoned buildings of
There is no very good reason that My Own Private Idaho should succeed: It's unfocussed and wildly improbable, its narrative is willfully ungainly, and, in its second half, much of the dialogue is written in a kind of impromptu, ersatz Shakespeare. (Time, says Scott at one point, is 'a fair hustler in black leather'; one assumes that neither
I credit Van Sant. Most directors, I imagine, would balk at a concept that requires a story of male prostitution to transform suddenly into Elizabethan theater halfway through, or that transports its homeless protagonists to
In My Own Private Idaho there's a lot more hip, oddly hopeful poetry where that came from. This milestone independent film is now available on DVD from the Criterion Collection (including a mountian of goodies: a two-hour interview with Van Sant (audio only), new making-of retrospective, interviews galore, deleted scenes, and an impressive booklet with essays and printed interviews). Welcome back.
My Own Private New Queer Cinema Mark Adnum from Senses of Cinema, February 2005
Psychedelic Papas and the Oedipal Mama: Lonesome Trajectories Psychedelic Papas and the Oedipal Mama: Lonesome Trajectories and Psychic Topographies within the Flesh and Psyche in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho, by Kaizaad Kotwal from The Film Journal (Undated)
Gloomy Gus Criterion essay
“The Golden Suicides,” Nancy Jo Sales from Vanity Fair, January 2008
Surrender to the Void-[Steven Flores] (DVD) Criterion Collection
The Film Journal DVD review J.D. Lafrance, Criterion Collection
The QNetwork Film Desk [James Kendrick] Criterion Collection
My Own Private Idaho - Criterion Collection : DVD Talk Review of ... Francis Rizzo III from DVD Talk
Film-Forward.com [DVD review] Steven Cordova, Criterion Collection
Cinema Blend - DVD Review Scott Gwin
dOc DVD Review: My Own Private Idaho (1991) - digitallyOBSESSED Joel Cunningham from the Criterion Collection
Movie Poop Shoot [D. K. Holm] Criterion Collection
DVD Verdict Brett Cullum, Criterion Collection
PopMatters Cynthia Fuchs
Shakespearean Tricks David Ansen from
EyeForFilm.co.uk Angus Wolfe Murray
My Own Private Idaho Chris Dashiell from CineScene
Austin Chronicle Marjorie Baumgarten
Siskel & Ebert (video)
What's the point in doing something good if nobody's watching? —Suzanne Stone (Nicole Kidman)
DEAD CALM (1989) introduced a young 22-year old Nicole
Kidman to movie screens, but it’s her outrageous performance as a celebrity
obsessed small town television wannabe in Gus van Sant’s TO DIE FOR that
introduced her to the world and remains her most stunning performance in her
much heralded career. Kidman’s range is
impressive as she wears so many hats in this film (and stunning outfits) that
it seems like she suffers from personality disorder, but what she’s really
doing is introducing a character that is literally performing all the time, in
every situation she finds herself, just hoping for that rare opportunity of
being discovered and becoming a TV star.
It’s all she ever thinks about as van Sant presents this film in
overlapping layers, beginning with the montage of tabloids that have a field
day with photographs of Suzanne Stone, this glamorous woman who is suspected to
have been involved in the murder of her husband, which is seen in the beginning
of the film, so everything that’s shown afterwards is seen in flashback, like
the renowned structure for Joan Crawford in MILDRED PIERCE (1945). Based on a novel by Joyce Maynard, the film is unofficially
based on the story of Pamela Smart, a 23-year old
Kidman is seen as a pampered Barbie-like beauty queen who’s used to having her way, something of a socialite who is trying everything she can to be noticed, as she’s amazingly ambitious, a woman who has had her career mapped out in front of her since childhood. She marries the cutest guy in town, Matt Dillon as Larry, who works in his father’s bar and also plays drums for a local bar band, which is where Suzanne stands out from the rest, all decked out in a provocatively skimpy outfit so Larry can’t take his eyes off of her, even after they get married, where her dreams of becoming a TV celebrity couldn’t make him prouder. But instead she gets a job at a nickel and dime local cable channel that just needs someone to run errands from time to time. But she keeps pitching ideas for the station to run, which they deny, becoming so persistent that the 2-man operation is eventually worn down and put her on the air as the weather lady, where she begins pitching ideas from that forum, one of which is a documentary photo shoot with local high school kids, who are seen as little more than deadbeats. Always good at discovering new talent, this is Casey Affleck’s first screen appearance, playing a smart mouthed juvenile delinquent, also Alison Folland who plays the mildly overweight girl with no friends that is continually made fun of, while Joaquin Phoenix is given his first major role in his fourth film, playing a completely alienated high school kid whose sullen nature leaves him largely strung out and disconnected from reality. All three have a crush on Suzanne, always wearing killer outfits, where their teenage hormones are simply aroused by her open sense of sexual provocation. In contrast, these kids wear drab indistinguishable sweat gear, but these are the kids who agree to be in the movie, and despite working on this film day and night, it’s clear there’s no substance to it as these kids have nothing to say. Instead, it may be a front for other ambitions.
When Larry suggests Suzanne give up the Hollywood dream and come work in the bar with him, it’s as if she has a Stepford wife moment, where she coolly doesn’t reveal what she really thinks, but she finds this insult so personally degrading that she really has no use for her husband any more after that, where instead he needs to be removed as an obstruction to her path of achieving success. Suzanne is simply not a woman who takes no for an answer, eventually plotting behind the scenes with these teen kids to have him removed from the picture. Larry is right, however, as she is so determined and single-mindedly sure of herself, rock solid in her belief in herself, yet has nothing to show for it. Her pathetic attempts to manipulate a few socially disconnected teenage kids borders on pandering and sexual indecency, perhaps even rape, but they’re not the types that go running to the authorities. Besides, they’re delusionally inclined to think she’s a cool adult who may actually have some interest in them. The way this all plays out has a unique feel to it, as the sick sarcasm is so pronounced, at moments hilarious, yet darkly disturbing the next, like the sequence when Suzanne receives the news of her husband’s death, making a beeline to the awaiting reporters as the telelvision plays “The Star Spangled Banner,” where it’s as if she’s performing a screen test. It intentionally makes the audience feel uncomfortable, where their more mature perceptions will not likely match those of adolescent teenage kids who every day are the targets of every advertising campaign across the nation, where they have yet to establish individual identities, as they’re still so confused at being bought, sold, and influenced through the market place. David Cronenberg makes a somber, late appearance in the movie, but his actions are disturbingly decisive.
Gus Van Sant directed this sharp black comedy about the obsession with television and celebrity culture. Nicole Kidman stars in perhaps her first great role as a wannabe small-time weather anchorwoman who kills her husband and gets away with it because of her awesome television presence. She deliciously matches her stunning looks with a nasty wit that we can't help fall prey to. She gets a gleam in her eye when she is working, and a nasty scowl when she has to deal with real life. Despite her villainy, we can't help dreamily following her every move, lost in a daze of snakelike charm. Buck Henry (The Graduate) wrote the screenplay, and director David Cronenberg has a funny little cameo as a hit man.
To Die For Geoff Andrew from Time Out
To Die For Cindy Fuchs from
The cleverest aspect of Gus Van Sant's movie, which is generally clever, cute and cynical, is Nicole Kidman's relentless referencing of done-to-death mediapeople. She plays stardom-obsessed weather girl Suzanne Stone with engaging precision and nods to Sharon Stone, Meg Ryan, Jane Pauley, Barbie, Serial Mom, Tonya Harding and probably Madonna. Based loosely on the Pamela Smart case, Buck Henry's script doesn't exactly break new ground (tabloids amok, yeah yeah) and gives him a small part as a high school teacher who abuses a "slacker." Matt Dillon is perfect as Suzanne's doomed lug of a husband (a favorite moment: she looks at him through a constricting iris as he brandishes a TV remote and a beer, imagining their future as Mr. and Mrs. American Dream). When focused on Suzanne and her fluffy lap dog, the movie is pretty ferocious, but when it turns to the teenagers she seduces, the tone goes a little soft. Ironically, it's the emotional effectiveness of the kids' performances (especially Alison Folland and Joaquin Phoenix) that makes for this shift; they seem so vulnerable that it's harder to laugh at them than at Kidman's obviously targeted ice queen. Then again, this discomfort may be to the film's point: condescension is at least as complicated a business as media.
Following the disastrous Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (my selection for the worst film of 1994), it's a safe bet that Gus Van Sant's next move had to be a proverbial "step in the right direction." In fact, with the biting satire To Die For, the director has made a significant move towards regaining his reputation. This movie is no masterpiece, but it is an electric, colorful production that roasts the media and those obsessed by it over an open flame. It also does a far better job than Oliver Stone's bloated Natural Born Killers at satirizing the American public's unending fascination with the televised glamor of crime.
Told in an effectively disorganized fashion that jumps back and forth in
time and includes pseudo- interviews and pieces of "actual" story, To
Die For gradually unravels the tale of TV weatherperson Suzanne Stone
(Nicole Kidman), who gains national notoriety as the result of a murder
conspiracy rap that she beats. Her face and story are everywhere -- Donahue,
USA Today, and smaller talk shows across the country. For someone with
Suzanne's vapid philosophy that "You're not anyone in
More than a year before the end of the film (which is also the beginning),
Suzanne is a single young woman in the town of
Van Sant, whose previous efforts include Drug Store Cowboy and My Private Idaho, is not an accomplished satirist, but his screenwriter, Buck Henry (adapting from a book by Joyce Maynard), is. The humor in this film is more often intellectually tantalizing than laugh-aloud funny. Suzanne is the embodiment of the extreme celebrity worship that has made the O.J. Simpson circus into the biggest TV event of all time. In the main, Van Sant and Henry know just how to exploit that element of their film. Yet the ending is a letdown. Unlike The Player, which invited the viewer to chuckle all the way to the fade-to-black, To Die For abandons parody for a disappointingly traditional wrap-up (although there is an in-joke for those who recognize David Cronenberg). Fortunately, this shift in tone doesn't happen until late in the proceedings.
Nicole Kidman does a wonderful job as the vacuous, vicious Suzanne, and a trio of young actors -- Joaquin Phoenix, Alison Folland, and Casey Affleck -- are suitably vacant-eyed as the dunces she manipulates into murder. It takes a strong performance to successfully portray a character with so little mental capacity, and these three come across as completely clueless. Kidman, however, steals the film, playing Suzanne with a seductive gusto that results in her best work since Dead Calm.
To Die For has its share of truly delicious sequences, and some biting dialogue worth killing for. The best moments occur during a taped interview with Suzanne where she discusses her frighteningly shallow theories about life, death, television, and keeping her maiden name for on- air work. In the end, however, To Die For doesn't go quite far enough -- there are times when Van Sant stays a little too conventional, and this causes the picture to have only teeth when it could have had fangs.
To Die For (1995) by Rob Gonsalves
Crazy for Cinema Review Lisa Skrzyniarz
m3review - TO DIE FOR Mike’s Movie review
Review for To Die For (1994) James Brundage
To Die For (1995) Bryant Frazer from Deep Focus
There's No Story! Laurie Edwards from Culture Cartel
To Die For Ken Eisner from Georgia Straight
To Die For — Inside Movies Since 1920 Christine James from Box Office Magazine
CNN Showbiz Carol Buckland
To Die For Doug MacLean Home Theater Info dvd review
Entertainment Weekly review
To Die for - Film Listings - AustinChronicle.com Marjorie Baumgarten
Movie Review - To Die For - FILM REVIEW; She Trusts in TV's ... Janet Maslin from The New York Times
BFI | Sight & Sound | Film of the Month: Psycho (1998) Gavin Smith from Sight and Sound, February 1999
Gus Van Sant's remake of Alfred Hitchcock's canonical 1960 film Psycho –
in which thief-on-the-lam Marion Crane (Janet Leigh in the original, Anne Heche
here) is murdered by hotel-owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins then, Vince
Vaughn now) – isn't the self-defeating, perverse exercise it might seem at
first glance. It's more a work of 'metacinematic' research. By remaking Psycho,
the film-makers have managed to replay formally notions of transgression and
difference that manifested themselves in Hitchcock's original as themes and
subtexts. So Van Sant's Psycho is both more and less than a remake. More
in the sense that it literalises the notion of remaking by copying or
transcribing Hitchcock's 1960 film, less in that it denies the standard remake
strategy which demands that the remake transcend its origins by revision (
On the contrary, Van Sant's Psycho, with its ritualistic attention to detail, could be described as a re-enactment or, as he has suggested, as the equivalent of a cover version of a classic song. But critically, given that contemporary cinema has been permeated by the strategies and tactics of the original film, Van Sant can neither reproduce the effect Hitchcock's film had on its contemporary audience – its impact – nor escape the burden of its place in film history. If the theme of Hitchcock's Psycho is the terrible power of the past and how it blights the present, then it is doubly so for Van Sant – indeed this becomes the new Psycho's organising principle. The weight of the past on the present and the loss of autonomy afflicting Norman Bates become Van Sant's point of departure for this radical project.
Director and cinematographer (Chris Doyle of Chungking Express fame) have imposed on themselves a set of extremely tight expressive constraints to minimise deviation from the original movie. Their film uses the same score, is more or less the same running time and, most crucially, employs the same screenplay. If anything, Van Sant's strategy is subtractive rather than additive. Although several anachronisms are wilfully permitted to survive, Joseph Stefano's original script has been subtly abridged and pared so that, despite several enigmatically superfluous added lines, there is even less dialogue here than in the already sparse original.
On the other hand, given that the original derived much of its power from its no-frills black-and-white shooting style, Van Sant's film is in colour and therefore has a completely different effect. And although many scenes are reproduced exactly, this is by no means a shot-for-shot remake. Many shots only approximate those in the original, and in general the pacing seems faster – dialogue is more clipped, shot duration more varied. In many instances, though, there are significant embellishments: the shower scene (from Marion stepping into the bathtub to Norman descending from the house) is now a full minute longer and although many shots are identical, it includes a number of new images (a close-up of Marion's dilating pupil as she is stabbed; a blurred Marion's-eye-view of her killer departing; a fleeting, enigmatic image of billowing storm clouds). Van Sant and Doyle's shots, even those reproduced exactly from the original, seem comparatively casual and indefinite, lacking the starkness, deliberation and measurement of Hitchcock's. And the two films have completely different senses of space, particularly interior space. It is in such distinct yet unquantifiable differences that Van Sant's inquiry or research finds its form. The same is true of the film's determinedly muted, enervated tone and air of inconsequentiality.
Van Sant's Psycho is fundamentally an investigation of the expressive and thematic possibilities of nuance. Given the same script and more or less the same visual architecture, casting and direction of actors become key. Sure enough, Van Sant gets considerable mileage from the redeployment and reassignment of character values, enough to achieve a small but significant shift of meaning. Rather than using the modern equivalents, he selects actors who largely counter or contradict the original cast's qualities and associations. (Two exceptions: the perfect substitutions of William H. Macy for Martin Balsam as the private detective Arbogast, and Robert Forster in a bad hairpiece for Simon Oakland as the psychiatrist at the end of the film.)
Anne Heche, whose gay sexuality has become a matter of record, emphatically
does not project the same sexuality that Janet Leigh brought to the role. Her
Conversely, Julianne Moore, as
These weapons are part of a chain of visual associations that extends from
the toy soldiers, toy musket and poster of a Blackbird military reconnaissance
Two guys get lost in the desert in Gus Van Sant's conceptually bold and rapturously beautiful Gerry, a minimalist landscape film that's unlike anything on the American independent scene. After squandering his immense talent on drearily conventional Hollywood projects like Finding Forrester and Good Will Hunting, Van Sant retreats to a plot so spare it couldn't fill a haiku, leaving him to conjure images with the simple, elemental force of silent movies. Since its debut at last year's Sundance Film Festival, screenings of Gerry have led to a steady stream of walkouts, but that can only be expected from a movie that's not a slave to narrative, that instead adopts a rigorous visual language that may strike some as a foreign tongue. Van Sant challenges viewers to recalibrate their perceptions and sink into the film's hypnotic rhythms, but he makes the transition easier with eye-catching topography, intricate sound design, and spare, improvised dialogue that bristles with offhand wit. With apologies to Samuel Beckett and Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr (Sátántangó), his two clearest influences, Van Sant mounts his own theatre of the absurd on an ever-changing stage, covering unnaturally diverse terrain that shifts from arid canyons to desert sand to the eerily abstract surface of a science-fiction movie. Gliding toward a "Wilderness Trail" in a hand-me-down Mercedes, Matt Damon and Casey Affleck are two blinkered young men who embark on a hike that seems oddly joyless and obligatory, the wan gesture of city boys trying to get in touch with nature. Once they wander off the well-worn path, they lack the wherewithal to find their way back; the harder they try to "crow's nest" for water sources and signs of civilization, the more they're swallowed by a vast expanse of unsullied land. Before the situation grows dire, Van Sant and his cast riff brilliantly on the often-hilarious disconnect between man and nature, with Damon and Affleck as a dumb-and-dumber duo that improvises half-baked solutions from their scant knowledge of the natural world. In a particularly funny scene, Damon tries to rescue a marooned Affleck from the top of a canyon rock by fashioning a "dirt mattress" (collected by his "shirt basket") to break his fall. As thirst and heat exhaustion take their toll, the film slows down in kind, marked by long wordless stretches that give the impression of time grinding to an excruciating crawl, with no progress to validate its passing. Movies rarely demand that sort of patience, but Van Sant and ace cinematographer Harris Savides compensate with location shooting (partly in Argentina, mostly in Death Valley) that's alternately magisterial and abstract, yet always mesmerizing in its variety and expressiveness. Having floundered throughout much of the '90s, Van Sant returns with his most daring and auspicious film to date, an existential comedy that slowly morphs into a doleful statement about a generation that has lost its compass.
Gerry Ed Gonzalez from Slant magazine
Gus Van Sant's Gerry begins on the kind of incredible
high note that's usually hard to top. Accompanied by Arvo Pärt's remarkable
"Spiegel im Spiegel" (also heard last year in Tom Tykwer's ), Van Sant's camera follows a car as
it travels down a desolate desert highway. The camera suddenly yet gracefully
shifts gears, staring at the passengers inside the car (Matt Damon and Casey
Affleck, both nicknamed "Gerry") before taking on the point of view
of the passengers itself. The whole of Gerry has been seemingly pieced
together from such elaborately simple "movements" of sound and image.
Van Sant has never shown this much confidence behind the camera and there's an overwhelming sense here that the director's eye is everywhere. The effect of these divine moments is all-encompassing: to thrust the audience as much as possible into the existential crisis faced by the film's two Gerrys when they lose themselves (easily and perhaps willingly) to a nameless desert landscape. Gerry has drawn obvious comparisons to Beckett's Waiting for Godot; Gerry I and II walk through the desert in pursuit of "the thing" (because, like Estragon and
Van Sant refuses to sentimentalize their friendship though the obvious camaraderie that exists between the two Gerrys brings to mind the tender and uncomfortable relationship between River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in My Own Private Idaho. Affleck's Gerry repeatedly gets into trouble and seeks to find a way out of the desert as if to impress Damon's Gerry. Their relationship evokes the dynamic between a nurturing older man and the younger brother (or lover) who idolizes him, and as such Gerry reveals itself as a ravishing mix of mystic fairy tale, modern-day alienation, and gay allegory. Affleck's Gerry puts great trust in the other Gerry's ability to save him from a physical quandary and to later elevate him to a spiritual one.
Because Gerry is an homage to Bela Tarr, the film will likely be approached with the same kind of trepidation and discomfort that have prevented the Hungarian director's epic masterpieces from receiving proper stateside releases. But if you toss any mystic comparisons to Tarr aside, Gerry bears a more fascinating resemblance to Herman Hesse's Demien, the story of a pubescent schoolboy's transcendental obsession with what could be his alter ego. Something Van Sant shares with Hesse is his uncanny ability to profoundly talk about sex without ever really talking about it, let alone showing it (in the film, a final act of mercy is not without its erotic overtones). Like
The two Gerrys playfully reference the film's existential quest before it quickly turns into crisis. As the young men move slowly across the desert, a ravishing hallucination seemingly ushers them into a cosmic netherworld. It's here that they must negotiate an icy and expansive rift between themselves and civilization. One man facilitates the other's spiritual journey and, as he stares into the heavenly horizon, there's a notion that he has freed himself from the burdens of a cloying and weaker version of himself. Not since his first film, Mala Noche, has Van Sant produced a film so pure, uncompromising, and ravishing to watch.
Two friends, both named Gerry, follow a wilderness trail in search of what they refer to as "the thing". They soon decide to turn back towards their car, but become lost. The following day, Gerry (Casey Affleck) gets stranded on top of a rock, and must be coaxed down. They try to follow what they believe to be animal tracks. They improvise a map in the dust. They spend a further two nights in the desert. Without food or water, their health deteriorates. On the fourth day, they collapse. Gerry (Matt Damon) chokes Gerry, possibly accidentally. Finding a road in the distance, the surviving Gerry hitches a lift with a father and son.
After announcing himself as a unique voice with his first three films (Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho), Gus Van Sant has in recent years developed a sideline in ventriloquism. His frame-by-frame remake of Psycho was deliriously enjoyable, but he responded to its commercial failure with Finding Forrester, a rehash of his biggest hit, Good Will Hunting. The recent Palme d'Or winner Elephant borrows its title, its Steadicam wooziness and its dispassionate eye from Alan Clarke's 1989 television film. And now Gerry, shot between Finding Forrester and Elephant but shipwrecked by the demise of Film Four, arrives bearing the influence of Béla Tarr, as well as a 'thank you' in the end titles to that Hungarian auteur.
In preparation for this self-consciously arthouse project, Van Sant and his actors Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, who share co-writing and co-editing credits with their director, also swotted up on the films of Tarkovsky and Chantal Akerman among others. Fortunately Gerry is intriguing enough to survive the potentially damaging mental image of its makers lounging around chez Van Sant demolishing nachos and six-packs and picking through Stalker.
The picture can be read as a warning about the perils of improvisation a neat joke given how fruitful that method proves here. Two friends, both named Gerry, abandon their Mercedes to join a desert trail that they anticipate will lead them to "the thing". The first line of dialogue, after a menacing driving sequence that recalls other nightmares prefaced by road trips (The Shining, The Vanishing, Funny Games), cautions against departing from the beaten track. "Gerry the path," says one Gerry to his companion, who has strayed into the brush. When they decide to return to the car, they find the path has disappeared beneath their feet.
Studio executives will admire the brevity with which Gerry could be pitched think The Blair Witch Project at Zabriskie Point but little else. The film has all the narrative logic of The Exterminating Angel (1962), and is as oppressively agoraphobic as Bunuel's film is claustrophobic; deep into their ordeal, Affleck even announces "I'm leaving," like one of Bunuel's deluded party guests. Despite being a two-hander, there is less dialogue than in the first course of My Dinner with André, and what there is remains predominantly absurdist. Affleck's campfire monologue that begins "I'd ruled this land for 97 years..." deserves to become a stoner classic, while oddball phrases such as "dirt-mattress", "shirt-basket" and "scoutabout" as well as the multi-purpose word Gerry, suggest mouth-watering fragments from a Martian vernacular.
Like their characters, the actors are working without a compass, with none of their usual charismatic tricks to rely on. Even their designer stubble exists only to measure time, like the vivid yellow star on Affleck's jumper which becomes increasingly dulled a reference to the treatment that Van Sant is doling out to his own 'stars'. Actors crave close-ups, but here the camera's attention becomes punitive, closing in on their roasted faces like a magnifying glass frying ants on a lawn. In the blurred or unsteady tracking shots, the two Gerrys become indistinguishable from one another, adding to the impression that, like the three Cissie Colpitts in Drowning by Numbers, they are separate facets of the same person. This orchestrated anonymity works wonders for Damon, whose charms have been all but exhausted. He has done nothing in his career as fine as the scene in which he weeps solemnly from behind an improvised veil.
In the absence of character arcs and story, the eye reads narrative and meaning into the lan