Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Top 10 01/10/12

Cabaret: High energy driving an increasingly sobering tale of youth and joy against the force of history as Weimar era Berlin decadents get crowded out by swastikas and jackboots. Great songs and stage numbers by the magnetic Joel Grey and centre-of-gravity Liza Minelli. Michael York's forced Brit out of water performance is smoothed to comedy. Somewhere in the shadow created by a gathering of George Grosz, Kurt Weill and Busby Berkley falls this wonder from the early 70s. The previous decade's more faithful British piece I Am a Camera looks like a cucumber sandwich by comparison. And the scene in the biergarten remains disturbingly stirring. People still think that scene's song, Tomorrow Belongs to Me, is a real Nazi song. It was written by a pair of American Jews who were condemned as antisemites for writing it (probably by people who were disappointed that it wasn't a real nazi song!).

Eraserhead: Semper!


 God Told Me To: Larry Cohen's career is not easy to characterise. He did blaxpolitation, crime, horror, monsters, suspense, sci-fi. And here he did almost all of those at once. A sniper picks off random targets on a city street. When the cops catch up to him, sitting on a water tower at the top of a tall building, he proves to be a straight laced all American guy. So why did he do it? "God told me to," he smiles before leaping from the tower to the hard pavement below, leaving Tony Lo Bianco's detective shaken. More disturbing murders later with the same pattern and it starts looking like an epidemic. There's one suspect and the clearest description so far is that he has no face. Where this leads goes into both sci-fi and religious territory with a crazy freakout ending that, yes finally (but I'm not saying how) involves some blaxploitation. Cohen keeps his first acts claustrophobic and tense before opening up on the weirder stuff which, oddly, feels like relief by comparison. Unsung brilliance!

 Jesus Christ Superstar: The musical that shouldn't work does. Jesus and his gang o' rebels tear up ole Judea as the Pharisee mob and the Romans get other ideas. Music and mayhem! The cast is good, the music is good and the story is a corker. I first knew this film as its soundtrack album whose liner notes introduced me to the word juxtapose which was used in reference to the deliberate anachronisms in the art direction, costumes and sets etc. Particularly I liked the Romans in Vietnam era (ie contemporary) US helmets. Works then. Works now. Don't believe me? Well, don't have faith, hunt down a copy and see and listen for yourself. Norman Jewison also made another musical favoured by me: Fiddler on the Roof. There was a popular classix conductor at the time called Arthur Fiedler. Wait as I might, he never did stage a concert called Fiedler on the Roof. Bastard! And Jewison also made Rollerball, and In the Heat of the Night and and ....

The Haunting: If ever I'm in need of a brief visit to a favourite while waiting or just idling, I'll put a scene or two from this on and press play. Robert Wise's helming included such strong design, performing and atmosphere that I can just walk right in and take a seat in this one. And it's one of the few ghost stories where characters can remain skeptical after evidence to the contrary without coming across as dicks. The central story has a heart rending sadness that gets me every time.

Amarcord: Said before and will again, the Fellini I prefer is from his less fashionable 1970s with pieces like Roma and this autobiographical epic for which he coined the word of the title (kind of means I remember but in a slangy, childlike mode). Fellini's Rimini is a more developed picture than that of the great I Vitelloni. Seldom does a two hour stretch pass by so swiftly as here in the seaside town with its street and family life brought back to sparking life. The family rings with chidren's laughter and harried parents, as gassy as it is loving. The classroom is tense with pranks. and the shoreline is eternal, junction of two forms of life. Even Fascism, seen through mocking children's eyes is rendered into a kind of comedy as confronting and hilarious as a father's anger. The seasons' chapters are divided by a motorcyclist ringing through the town like a herald. Breathtaking setpieces include an ocean liner, a fog and a peacock on the loose. I revere the Stradas and the Dolce Vitas but I'd rather spend time shooting the breeze with this.

Amadeus: Love Mozart and love having him at the centre of this non-historical fable of divine inspiration vs earthly competence. Sets, costumes and music as rich as the title subject and a great gaggle of actors make this a thoroughly enjoyable piece every time. Tom Hulce sparkles and jangles like a piano concerto, F. Murray Abraham smoulders with jealousy here and charms without effort there, Elizabeth Berridge, often left off the praise for this 'un, rings like a musical box or shrieks like a shrew, and Jeffery Jones is the musical king reigning with alienly porcelain mein, revealing only as much as he needs to, a great crowned axylotl. I wish Warner would release the original cut. The available one is too bloated and drags what was once a sprightly epic down into the nadir of indulgence.

One Plus One: Wrongly (but understandably) offered as a rock movie, following the Stones developing one of their classics from a chord progression to uniqueness. But what's almost always missed in commentaries on this piece is a question: the urban guerillas with nothing to lose go through wearying training drills, even taking pointless dictation, doing everything but take action: the rock stars don't have to get out of bed but work together in concentrated concert to fashion something powerful and great between them: what is wrong with this picture?

Australian dvd release thoughtfully provides Godard's original cut (and title, rather than the misleading Sympathy for the Devil) which deliberately omits the playing of the full, completed song at the end. It's a trial to watch but it's meant to be.

Grey Gardens: American quirk without the fiction. Edies Bouvier Beale, the little and the ... other, go about their days in a crumbling New England mansion, the steadily batty inheritors of their American aristocracy, and recall the splendour of their earlier lives. Between the Cecil Beaton style record of the high life and the decay of the home and lifestyle an image of entropy from the centre of the empire emerges. A film to entertain and disturb from the great Maysles brothers.

Harvey: Jimmy Stewart is all eccentric America in this off-the-map comedy abou Elwood P. Dowd, a gentle man who likes a drink and a chat to his friend Harvey, a six foot rabbit. The bane of his well-to-do family he must get through his day without being locked up and forever cast into the thickening shadows of treatment. Through encounters pleasant and exasperating Elwood (and Harvey) manage to charm and disarm all who would bind him with the simple gentleness of his being. Something to ponder at the end of the Truman years.

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