Film Notes

Film Notes

Go behind-the-scenes to learn more about your favorite films!

Jump to a specific film:

A Fish Called Wanda | Annie | Bonnie and Clyde | Bottle Rocket | Casablanca | Cleo from 5 to 7 | Dr. No | Goodfellas | His Girl Friday | Holy Motors | How to Steal a Million | The Italian Job | It Happened One Night | Jules and Jim | Mad Max: Fury Road | My Cousin Vinny | My Man Godfrey | Paper Moon | The Philadelphia Story | Pillow Talk | Raising Arizona | Reservoir Dogs | Rififi | The Rocky Horror Picture Show | Singin’ in the Rain | The Spy Who Loved Me | The Sting | The Thin Man | Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown | Working Girl

Listed alphabetically by film title.



 

A Fish Called Wanda

1988

108 min
Color

Director: Charles Crichton
Screenplay: Charles Crichton, John Cleese
Cinematography: Alan Hume
Editor: John Jympson
Music: John Du Prez
Cast: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin

For many, A FISH CALLED WANDA’s British comedy credentials come from it co-starring two members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, John Cleese (who also co-wrote the film) and Michael Palin.

But classic film fans will also note the pedigree of director and co-writer Charles Crichton, who directed comedies like THE LAVENDER HILL MOD for the legendary Ealing Studios – which had been a formative inspiration for the Monty Python troupe. So WANDA represents more than two decades of British comedy royalty – and the result is one of the most beloved comedies ever made.

Despite his curmudgeonly representation, Cleese seemed to work quite well with Crichton, the two of them splitting duties between specifically directing the actors (Cleese) and taking responsibility for the overall production (Crichton). This proved to be a smart approach, as Crichton used his vast directorial experience to bring the film in under budget and ahead of schedule – both badges of honor for seasoned directors.

As a result, Crichton was nominated for an Oscar for directing, and the two of them shared a nomination for their screenplay, all of which speaks to how well-regarded this film was. It is an exceedingly rare thing for a comedy to receive so many of the top nominations.

Cleese was no slouch with his directorial contributions either. Kevin Kline – who steals virtually all of his scenes in an Oscar-winning supporting performance – once said that Cleese “hosted” the film, so calm and relaxed was the vibe that Cleese created for his fellow actors. And though he had plenty of experience in front of the camera, he still had a lot to learn from his co-lead Jamie Lee Curtis, remembering, “When we came to the more romantic scenes with Jamie, she said, ‘Don’t rehearse. Let’s just see what happens.’ I’d never done that. It’s scary if you’re addicted to rehearsing, as I am – like pushing a boat off from shore without any oars. Sometimes, between takes, Jamie would see me running lines in my head. She’d say ‘Don’t’ and wave a finger at me.”

Several studios passed on Cleese’s idea for the film before MGM/UA finally agreed to produce it, to great financial reward. WANDA went on to break several box office records, including being the most successful British comedy ever released in the U.S. at the time. More intriguingly, the film was released on July 15, 1988 but didn’t hit #1 on the box office charts until Sept. 16, still the longest it has ever taken a film to do so and a testament to its slow-burn, word-of-mouth success.

One piece of trivia for movie buffs: if Cleese’s character’s name Archie Leach sounds familiar, perhaps you recognize it as being short for Archibald Leach, the birth name of Cary Grant. In Cleese’s words, “It’s the nearest I will ever get to being Cary Grant.”

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

Annie

1982

127 min
Color

Director: John Huston
Screenplay: Carol Sobieski
Cinematography: Richard Moore
Editor: Michael A. Stevenson
Music: Charles Strouse
Cast: Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, Ann Reinking, Tim Curry, Geoffrey Holder

By 1982, it was safe to say that the movie musical had gone out of style. In earlier decades, there had seemed to be a grand new musical in movie theaters every month, between the Technicolor spectacles of the 50s (like SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and AN AMERICAN IN PARIS), the roadshow epics of the 60s (like THE SOUND OF MUSIC and WEST SIDE STORY), and the edgy gambles of the 70s (like CABARET and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW). But the 80s began with some rather uninspired entries in the genre, including FAME, XANADU, and a sad attempt to recapture the success of years past in GREASE 2, and it seemed that the movie musical was doomed to become a relic.

However, the musical art form still had some life on Broadway, despite the sleaziness and seediness pervading the streets of Times Square at the time. Inspired by the staggering success of ANNIE, which swept the Tony Awards and had everyone singing about “Tomorrow,” Columbia Pictures bought the rights and decided to spare no expense in bringing this musical spectacle to the screen. But then, in a decision that still inspires head scratching today, the studio hired John Huston, aging helmer of darker films like THE MALTESE FALCON, to direct this lighthearted musical romp. Say what?

Huston was handed one of the biggest budgets ($40 million) in Columbia Pictures history, adding considerable stress to the proceedings as everyone began to fret over recouping such a significant investment. (They ultimately didn’t). With so much money at stake, Huston knew that he wasn’t likely to have the creative control to which he was accustomed. Producer Ray Stark admitted as much, saying that Huston was brought on to add a few rough edges to the story. According to Stark, the picture would benefit from having its own Daddy Warbucks-esque curmudgeon behind the camera.

Ironically enough, when Jack Nicholson was unable to accept the role of Daddy Warbucks, his replacement Albert Finney modeled his portrayal on John Huston himself. If you’ve seen Huston’s performance in CHINATOWN, you’ll recognize more than a bit of that in Finney’s performance here. Minus the shameful criminal activity and horrific family issues, of course.

ANNIE was not exactly welcomed with open arms by critics at the time, and, though it managed to become the 10th highest grossing film of the year at $57 million, that number wasn’t enough to recoup the film’s ballooning production and marketing costs. But it has become a family favorite over the years, and a joyously unexpected entry in John Huston’s filmography.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

Bonnie and Clyde

1967

111 min
Color

Director: Arthur Penn
Screenplay: David Newman, Robert Benton
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Editor: Dede Allen
Music: Charles Strouse
Cast: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Gene Wilder

In the late 1960s, revolution was in the air. Everywhere you looked, something radical and groundbreaking was taking place. Protests against the war in Vietnam were reaching a fever pitch, while popular music, fashion, books, television, and art morphed right before our eyes.

Change was also taking place on movie screens across the country. The great golden age of cinematic experimentation that flowered in the 1970s, with the debuts of such influential filmmakers as Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and others, grew from the seeds that were planted in the late ‘60s. For starters, the studio system, long the standard model for film production and distribution, was dead. The major studios that remained in business in the late 1960s were using their studios and sound stages to produce more and more television shows in addition to motion pictures, and some studios served more often as distributors for films that had been produced by other parties.

The content and subject matter of movies were also undergoing a sea change, as more adult themes were being openly explored. Sex in the cinema was no longer strictly taboo, though major changes in the way sexuality was displayed on film were still a few years off. But the depiction of cinematic violence was another story. Up to this point in film history, gory movie violence was relegated strictly to grind house and drive-in exploitation films. The landmark work you are about to watch changed that paradigm forever.

Bonnie and Clyde was a point-blank blast from both barrels. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty (who also produced the film) star as the titular duo, while supporting actors include Gene Hackman as Clyde’s brother Buck and Estelle Parsons as Buck’s wife, Blanche.

The film plays fast and loose with historical facts. Michael J. Pollard’s character is a composite of several of Bonnie and Clyde’s running buddies. Beatty and Dunaway meet as adults at the beginning of the film when, in reality, the couple knew each other for years before turning to crime. And it’s unclear what a Texas Ranger (Pyle) is doing in Missouri, but the real-life Frank Hamer never met Bonnie and Clyde until he helped gun them down.

That being said, Bonnie and Clyde gets the period detail exactly right. The cars, the clothes, and the look of small-town Depression era America are perfectly captured. Some of the most controversial elements of the film were its constant tonal shifts between light and dark. Moments of shocking violence (with one brief shot echoing Eisenstein’s Potemkin (1925)) are followed by scenes of light comedy, and the action is punctuated by a bluegrass score that is authentic to the era.

Bonnie and Clyde received ten Academy Award nominations including: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Beatty), Best Actress (Dunaway), Best Supporting Actor (Hackman), Best Supporting Actor (Pollard), Best Supporting Actress (Parsons, winner), Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography (winner). It ranks 42nd on the American Film Institute’s list of the best 100 films of the first 100 years of cinema.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog

 



 

Bottle Rocket

1996

91 min
Color

Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Owen Wilson, Wes Anderson
Cinematography: Robert D. Yeoman
Editor: David Moritz
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Robert Musgrave, Andrew Wilson, Lumi Cavazos, James Caan

A couple of years ago, I watched a film called BOTTLE ROCKET. I knew nothing about it, and the movie really took me by surprise. Here was a picture without a trace of cynicism, that obviously grew out of its director’s affection for his characters in particular and for people in general. A rarity.

And the central idea of the film is so delicate, so human: a group of young guys think that their lives have to be filled with risk and danger in order to be real. They don’t know that it’s okay simply to be who they are.

Wes Anderson, at age thirty, has a very special kind of talent: he knows how to convey the simple joys and interactions between people so well and with such richness. This kind of sensibility is rare in movies. Leo McCarey, the director of MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW and THE AWFUL TRUTH, comes to mind. And so does Jean Renoir. I remember seeing Renoir’s films as a child and immediately feeling connected to the characters through his love for them.

It’s the same with Anderson. I’ve found myself going back and watching BOTTLE ROCKET several times. I’m also very fond of his second film, RUSHMORE (1998)—it has the same tenderness, the same kind of grace. Both of them are very funny, but also very moving.

Anderson has a fine sense of how music works against an image. There’s the beautiful ending of RUSHMORE, when Miss Cross removes Max Fischer’s glasses and gazes into the boy’s eyes—really the eyes of her dead husband—as the Faces’ “Ooh La La” plays on the soundtrack.

And I also love the scene in BOTTLE ROCKET when Owen Wilson’s character, Dignan, says, “They’ll never catch me, man, ’cause I’m f***in’ innocent.” Then he runs off to save one of his partners in crime and gets captured by the police, over “2000 Man” by the Rolling Stones.

He—and the music—are proclaiming who he really is: he’s not innocent in the eyes of the law, but he’s truly an innocent. For me, it’s a transcendent moment. And transcendent moments are in short supply these days.

–Martin Scorsese
This tribute originally appeared in the March 2000 issue of Esquire

 



 

Casablanca

1942

102 min
B&W

Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Editor: Owen Marks
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre

CASABLANCA first arrived in theaters in 1942, and, since then, seemingly every iconic moment and unforgettable one-liner from this beloved film has permeated our popular culture, to the extent that people who have never even seen the movie feel as if they have. Such lasting impact usually results from a rare combination of great artists doing the best work of their career and, let’s face it, pure luck.

For example, what if the strict film censorship of the 1940s hadn’t essentially forced the movie to end the way it does (perfectly, as it turns out)? What if, instead of Humphrey Bogart, the role of Rick Blaine had been granted to the rumored front-runner…Ronald Reagan? What if an unproduced play titled “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” hadn’t been unearthed from a pile of discarded work headed for the trashcan?

As most classic movie fans are well aware, the Golden Age of Hollywood was filled to the brim with adaptations. Every literary best-seller and Broadway blockbuster put stars (not to mention dollar signs) in the eyes of studio executives all over Los Angeles, and major motion pictures were being developed from these popular favorites by the hundreds.

What you didn’t often see, however, was an unproduced play getting the star treatment from a major studio like Warner Bros, yet that’s exactly what happened with “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” an unproven commodity from stage writers Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. A Warner story analyst initially thought the piece was “sophisticated hokum,” but by the time the studio was done with it, CASABLANCA would be considered one of the greatest movies ever made.

Most people credit the film’s greatness to its script, but good luck figuring out precisely to whom that credit belongs. Though the script is often credited to the twin brothers Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein (who were the first to be assigned to the project), they weren’t entirely present for the formative stages of the script’s life. In fact, they elected to join Frank Capra in the making of WHY WE FIGHT after the attack on Pearl Harbor, so Howard Koch took over on CASABLANCA. And those are just the credited writers; the uncredited Casey Robinson reportedly spent nearly three weeks on rewrites, and producer Hal Wallis claims the legendary final line came from his own pen.

Of course, we wouldn’t even care who wrote the lines if they hadn’t been delivered so perfectly by CASABLANCA’s extraordinary cast. As is so often the case with classic films, our enjoyment relies as much on the charismatic star wattage of the top-billed names as it does on the supporting cast filling in the gaps. Bogart and Bergman give us one of the screen’s most captivating romances, managing to portray both once-in-a-lifetime love and devastating heartbreak with equal dexterity. As if that weren’t enough, they’ve got beloved personalities like the impish Claude Rains, the underhanded Sydney Greenstreet, and the slithery Peter Lorre adding a touch of humor and a little intrigue to the proceedings.

With that script and these actors, it’s no wonder CASABLANCA has become an annual tradition not only for the Paramount but for movie lovers everywhere. It’s the kind of film you can easily watch once a year (some of us could probably make that once a month), and it will never get old. Does that mean it’s a “perfect” film? If such a thing is possible, I can’t imagine a better candidate for the job.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

Cleo from 5 to 7

1962

90 min
B&W

Director: Agnes Varda
Screenplay: Agnes Varda
Cinematography: Paul Bonis, Alain Levent, Jean Rabier
Editors: Pascale Laveirrire, Janine Verneau
Music: Michel Legrand
Cast: Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray, Dorothe Blanck, Michel Legrand

Over the years, the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series has played host to several films, like HIGH NOON, that take place in “real time.” Each of these films uses the real time approach to build tension and bring the plot to a boil over the course of 90 minutes, but that’s not necessarily the goal of every real-time movie.

Take, for example, Agnes Varda’s CLEO FROM 5 TO 7. While the plot might sound suspenseful on paper (a woman must pass the time in Paris while she awaits the results of a test that may reveal she has cancer), Varda is actually much more interested in a delicate exploration of the protagonist’s inner life and the revelations that accompany a brush with death.

After releasing CLEO in 1962, Varda was hailed as the “newest” member of the French New Wave film movement, despite the fact that her debut film (LA POINTE COURTE) had arrived in theaters over five years before the two films that introduced the movement to film lovers around the world, Francois Truffaut’s THE 400 BLOWS and Jean-Luc Godard’s BREATHTLESS. Nevertheless, her inclusion provided a welcome and crucial female perspective to what was otherwise a male-dominated group of filmmakers.

However, though Varda’s approach to editing and cinematography certainly resembled the French New Wave, she was, in many ways, quite different from Godard, Truffaut, and the other members. Whereas they had started their careers as film critics in love with classic Hollywood films, Varda came to film through painting, sculpture, photojournalism, and literature. Perhaps this accounts for the lyrical grace of CLEO, which seems to empathize with its lead character more so than the work of those other directors.

Ultimately, Varda belongs to no particular movement or cinematic approach but, in fact, is in a class all her own. She has made many remarkable films over the years, including LE BONHEUR, VAGABOND, KUNG-FU MASTER! and so many more, and yet many of her best works remained frustratingly difficult to find in the U.S. until recently. If you enjoy CLEO, you owe it to yourself to seek out more of her work.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

Dr. No

1962

110 min
Color

Director: Terence Young
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkeley Mather
Cinematography: Ted Moore
Editor: Peter Hunt
Music: John Barry, Monty Norman
Cast: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee

The scene is a gaming table in a London casino. The camera focuses on Sylvia Trench. She has just lost a sizable sum of money. She stares across the table into the face of a man whose back is to the camera as he says:

“I admire your courage Miss…?”

“Trench, Sylvia Trench,” she replies. “And I admire your luck, Mr…?”

Reverse angle. The camera starts low, focusing on the man’s hands and then travels upwards as he raises a lighter to the cigarette in his mouth. We see his face for the first time and he lights the cigarette he replies, “Bond, James Bond.” Cue the jangling, electric guitar theme music.

It’s an offhand introduction made with confidence and assurance, which has become a signature moment in this long-running film series. James Bond is required to speak his name in precisely this fashion in every film. But it was Scottish actor Sean Connery who said it first, and it is Sean Connery who many believe is the greatest James Bond of them all. Other actors have played the part over the years, including one-hit wonder George Lazenby, the late, great Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and the most Bond, Daniel Craig. But nobody does it better than Connery.

The original novels by British writer Ian Fleming emerged in 1953 with CASINO ROYALE. Fleming kept churning the novels out over the years, and the books sold well in both the U.K. and the U.S. When President Kennedy remarked that the Bond books were among his favorite reading material, what had been a modest success became an overnight, international, best-selling sensation. The novels were fairly realistic (to an extent), with colorful villains, liberal doses of sex, plenty of violence, and lurid pulp thrills. It was only a matter of time until a film version was produced.

DR. NO presents the perfect template for all future Bond films. There’s an exotic locale (Jamaica) and a larger-than-life super villain, who comes with a diabolical plan and an underwater/underground lair that features a nuclear reactor. There’s also Ursula Andress, as Honey Ryder, making the first iconic “Bond girl” entrance midway through the film. Throw in Jack Lord as CIA agent Felix Leiter (a part which prefigures his later role on television’s HAWAII FIVE-O), a great John Barry score, distinctive set designs by Ken Adam, and you have the perfect James Bond adventure.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog

 



 

Goodfellas

1990

146 min
Color

Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
Editors: James Kwei, Thelma Schoonmaker
Cast: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino

Today, we think of Martin Scorsese’s GOODFELLAS as one of the best films of all time, a movie that would probably be considered the greatest gangster picture period if not for THE GODFATHER. It’s highly quotable, on top of all the lists, and a critical darling. How far this movie has come, then, from the days of its initial previews when audiences walked out, leaving terrible reviews in their wake.

It might surprise you to know that Scorsese never had any real interest in making a mafia movie, believing that THE GODFATHER had closed the book on that genre 20 years earlier. But the director was so taken with journalist Nicholas Pileggi’s book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, and its focus on the lower pegs of the mafia system, that Scorsese realized he could tell a totally different story. The only question was: could he find a way to translate Pileggi’s fast and energetic writing style to the screen?

In order to answer that question with a resounding “yes,” Scorsese once again dipped into his cinematic bag of tricks, a veritable wealth of stylistic knowledge derived from his life-long love of the movies. Thus, GOODFELLAS is graced with such diverse elements as French New Wave touches (freeze frames and jump cuts), riveting voiceover narration that harkens back to the Golden Age of film noir, and some of Scorsese’s own hallmarks like his ingenious use of popular music.

All that was needed were the right actors to make the movie really sing, and Scorsese had Ray Liotta in mind for the lead role of Henry Hill. This, of course, was cause for concern to the producers, as Liotta had never carried a major studio film before. But the actor generated a lot of buzz with his supporting turn in Jonathan Demme’s SOMETHING WILD, and after a long talk with producer Irwin Winkler, Liotta had the job.

Much easier to cast were the other two “fellas,” as Scorsese simply recycled his brilliant pairing of Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci from RAGING BULL. Initially, Scorsese felt uncertain that the supporting part would be worthy of De Niro, but the actor was excited to do it. His participation even boosted funding for the film to the highest it had ever been for a Scorsese production.

Though the movie was clearly “ahead of its time” for the preview audiences, once GOODFELLAS hit theaters, critics and audiences loved it. The film received several Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture, and Joe Pesci nabbed the statuette for Best Supporting Actor. But most importantly, the film is now considered one of Scorsese’s masterpieces and a timeless entry in a distinctly American film genre.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

His Girl Friday

1940

92 min
B&W

Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Charles Lederer
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Editor: Gene Havlick
Music: Morris Stoloff
Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, Helen Mack, Ernest Truex, Clarence Kolb, Porter Hall, Roscoe Karns

The sub-genre of romantic comedy films known as screwball comedies came of age in the 1930s and reached their zenith in the early 1940s. The first film to be widely recognized and acknowledged as “screwball” was Frank Capra’s IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. While there is no authoritative list of the defining characteristics of the screwball comedy (in other words, “it is what we say it is”), those films considered to be definitive genre works usually feature farcical situations, a combination of physical slapstick with fast-paced repartee, and a plot involving courtship and marriage or remarriage.

Central to the screwball formula is the head-on collision of a strong-willed man and an even stronger willed woman. The man and woman usually meet under trying circumstances and take an immediate disliking towards each other. They will fight, bicker, and argue their way through the course of the narrative and they will, of course, be together in the final act.

Screwball comedy requires a lot of elements to be successful. First, the script has to be razor-sharp and smart, full of good, witty dialogue and clever situations. Second, the director must be in complete control of the material, orchestrating the actions and the performances perfectly. Finally, there must be two extremely strong leads, an actor and actress who are well-matched, who can give as well as they get and who have that most elusive of on-screen qualities: chemistry.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY is arguably one of the funniest films ever made. It’s certainly one of the fastest paced movies ever made, and how the leads managed to get their lines out at the pace set by director Howard Hawks is a marvel. Rapid-fire, machine-gun delivery of dialogue, most of it overlapping, was a directorial signature of Hawks and he used the technique in many of his comedies. HIS GIRL FRIDAY is an adaptation of the Ben Hecht and Charles Mac Arthur stage play The Front Page (which was first filmed in 1931) with one big difference. Here, Hawks gives the ace reporter role to cinematic ball-of-fire Rosalind Russell, who takes the part and runs to daylight with it.

The action begins when Russell informs Cary Grant, her suave newspaper managing editor and newly minted ex-husband, that she’s leaving the paper and planning to remarry. Grant, a handsome, hard-boiled type, wouldn’t dare show his true feelings for Russell, but he gets his way through the only true love of his ex’s life: a breaking, front-page, headline story. Her intended, Ralph Bellamy, stands by with his hat in his hand (a part he played in many films) while Russell and Grant chase the story.

As in other Hawks films, HIS GIRL FRIDAY focuses on a group of men who are thrown together and either have to work together or against each other. And, as in many of his films, Hawks drops a remarkable woman square into the mix and shows that she’s the slickest operator of them all. Russell and Grant make a terrific comic team, Hawks moves the action at a breakneck pace, and the supporting cast of veteran character actors is first rate.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY was remade by Billy Wilder as THE FRONT PAGE in 1974 with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau and again in 1988 as SWITCHING CHANNELS with the action relocated from a newspaper to a television newsroom. But, none of them come close to this unforgettable classic, which ranks 19th on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 funniest American films of all time.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog

 



 

Holy Motors

2012

115 min
Color

Director: Leos Carax
Screenplay: Leos Carax
Cinematography: Yves Cape, Caroline Champetier
Editor: Nelly Quettier
Cast: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Elise Lhomeau, Jeanne Disson, Michel Piccoli, Leos Carax

The very picture of precocious, Leos Carax cuts his teeth writing film criticism for Cahiers du Cinéma as a teenager, then spends his 20s making movie magic. By age 31, he’s directed three breathtaking indies: BOY MEETS GIRL, MAUVAIS SANG, and LES AMANTS DU PONT-NEUF. Each waxes poetic on Parisian love, stars muse Denis Lavant, and creates indelible images cribbed by everyone from Quentin Tarantino to Noah Baumbach.

But there’s a hitch – LES AMANTS DU PONT-NEUF encounters dramatic shooting stalls, a runaway budget, and a disastrous initial reception. The cursed production strangely spirals when Denis Lavant injures himself tying his shoe. Goodwill burning a hole in his pocket, Carax raises and spends a titanic amount of money on a replica of the famous bridge. Critically, the film is not distributed in America until eight years later, and only because Juliette Binoche has just won an Oscar for THE ENGLISH PATIENT. It arrives at roughly the same time as…

…Carax’s fourth film, the Lavant-less POLA X, a beautiful-but-bewildering bellyflop that all but destroys his career. A loose adaptation of Herman Melville’s equally puzzling Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, this metaphysical exploration of class and incest truly begs the question, “Who is this for?” One possible answer: Roger Ebert, who announced that he “would rather see one movie like this than a thousand BRING IT ONs.” (Don’t worry, I set Rog straight on the merits of cheer-ocracy.)

Carax retreats, hoping to secure funding for an English-language film. It does not work; he is box office poison. It is thirteen years before his next film.

Now in his 50s, the boy wonder returns with a fevered meditation on the toll of performance, a masterpiece that soars even as it provokes, nay, maddens. It’s hard to imagine Carax happy with a four-million-dollar budget and shooting cheaply on digital. But maybe it’s what he needed. And it doesn’t hurt to have the help of brilliant cinematographers Yves Cape and Caroline Champetier.

Here, the director himself graces the screen, alone in a hotel room, but for a small dog. He searches the wall for a keyhole and finds it, his pointer finger – the key. What lies beyond is a dark theater, full of people, mid-movie. Who are they watching?

Lavant plays Monsieur Oscar, now also middle-aged, leaving a family behind for the back seat of a limo. There, he transforms. Into a beggar, into a mo-cap artist, into a lunatic. Into a band leader, into a hitman, into everything. Over the course of a day, Lavant traverses the city performing innumerable, rapturous, and increasingly confounding acting jobs. With rare (and unsatisfying) exceptions, there is no clear audience.

It begs the question, “Who is this for?”

Named Best Foreign Language Film of 2012 by the Austin Film Critics Association, HOLY MOTORS effectively trademarks “Meta” nearly a decade before Mark Zuckerberg. It is later declared the second-best film of the decade by Cahiers du Cinéma. (Well, technically number one, because Twin Peaks: The Return isn’t actually a movie. Come on!)

This peerless feature must be seen on the big screen to be believed.

–Tanner Carlos Hadfield, Hyperreal Film Club
 



 

How to Steal a Million

1967

127 min
Color

Director: William Wyler
Screenplay: Harry Kurnitz
Cinematography: Charles B. Lang
Editor: Robert W. Swink
Music: Johnny Williams
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Peter O’Toole, Charles Boyer, Eli Wallach, Hugh Griffith, Fernand Gravet

The caper film, a distinct sub-genre of the crime film, follows an almost rigidly codified narrative structure. There’s the identification of the target (the bank, museum, jewelry store, etc.) to be looted of its treasures. There’s the info dump of the security systems in place, which make robbing the facility next to impossible. Enter the criminal mastermind who has a plan for subverting the security, getting the goods, and getting away. Of course, he or she needs a team of competent assistants, each one providing a key skill that is vital to the successful execution of the heist. Then there’s the job itself, usually a tensely mounted sequence full of sweaty suspense. You hold your breath watching these scenes, torn between wanting the crooks to succeed but knowing full well what comes next.

Something goes wrong. It almost always does. The carefully planned and executed scheme somehow goes off of the rails. The crooks are suddenly on the lam, chased by law enforcement and, occasionally, other crooks. Who will ultimately get away? Who will live? Who will die? What final twist does the third act have in store for us? Yes, caper films can be formulaic, but the joy of watching a really good one is being genuinely surprised and held in suspense even when you know (or think you know) how it’s all going to play out. In the hands of a skilled director and screenwriter, the caper film offers enormous amounts of vicarious pleasure.

A million-dollar art museum heist is the chewy center of the chocolate truffle that is HOW TO STEAL A MILLION. It’s an aristocratic romantic comedy/caper film that pairs two of the greats in Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn. The daughter of a Parisian art collector (Hepburn), in truth a forger, unwittingly solicits the aid of a man she believes to be a thief (O’Toole) to steal a famous “Cellini Venus” statue (sculpted by her grandfather) from a museum. But in actuality, the “thief” is a private detective specializing in exposing forgeries.

Director William Wyler orchestrates the whole affair with grace and old-fashioned Hollywood style. O’Toole and Hepburn have a real on-screen chemistry, and the supporting cast is uniformly excellent. HOW TO STEAL A MILLION is a perfect example of the lightweight, breezy romantic comedies that were produced by the dozens in the 1960s. The formula was simple. Take two very appealing leads, mix in some laughs and a liberal dose of intrigue, stir lightly, and you’ve got a sure-fire box office winner and crowd pleaser. MILLION is fast, fun and a pure delight.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog

 



 

The Italian Job

1969

99 min
Color

Director: Peter Collinson
Screenplay: Troy Kennedy Martin
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Editor: John Trumper
Music: Quincy Jones
Cast: Michael Caine, Noel Coward, Benny Hill, Raf Vallone, Tony Beckley

The caper film, a distinct sub-genre of the crime film, follows an almost rigidly codified narrative structure. There’s the identification of the target (the bank, museum, jewelry store, etc.) to be looted of its treasures. There’s the info dump of the security systems in place, which make robbing the facility next to impossible. Enter the criminal mastermind who has a plan for subverting the security, getting the goods, and getting away. Of course, he or she needs a team of competent assistants, each one providing a key skill that is vital to the successful execution of the heist. Then there’s the job itself, usually a tensely mounted sequence full of sweaty suspense. You hold your breath watching these scenes, torn between wanting the crooks to succeed but knowing full well what comes next.

Something goes wrong. It almost always does. The carefully planned and executed scheme somehow goes off of the rails. The crooks are suddenly on the lam, chased by law enforcement and, occasionally, other crooks. Who will ultimately get away? Who will live? Who will die? What final twist does the third act have in store for us? Yes, caper films can be formulaic, but the joy of watching a really good one is being genuinely surprised and held in suspense even when you know (or think you know) how it’s all going to play out. In the hands of a skilled director and screenwriter, the caper film offers enormous amounts of vicarious pleasure.

THE ITALIAN JOB, a British caper film, did reasonably well when it was released in June, 1969. But no one expected the film to become a cult classic, especially in the United Kingdom where the film was named the 27th greatest British film of all time in a 2004 poll by Total Film magazine. The film also inspired a 2003 remake, but it’s the original that audiences have embraced.

Michael Caine stars as Charlie Croker, a Cockney criminal released from prison with the intention of pulling a “big job” in Italy (a caper film trope if there ever was one). He soon meets with the widow (Lelia Goldoni) of his friend and fellow thief Roger Beckermann (Rossano Brazzi), who was killed by the Mafia while driving a Lamborghini Miura in the Italian Alps. Mrs. Beckermann gives Croker her husband’s plans for the robbery that attracted the hostile attention of his killers, which detail a way to steal four million dollars in the city of Turin and escape to Switzerland.

The plan is set in motion with several twists and turns. The action is highlighted by a spectacular set-piece car chase involving several vehicles that race over, under, around and through the streets of Turin. Caine is very good as is the supporting cast. The on location cinematography by Douglas Slocombe is beautiful, and the score, by Quincy Jones, contains several jazzy songs. The screenplay by Troy Kennedy Martin is clever, skillfully mixing humor with danger while following the conventions of the sub-genre.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog

 



 

It Happened One Night

1934

106 min
B&W

Director: Frank Capra
Screenplay: Robert Riskin
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Editor: Gene Havlick
Music: Louis Silvers
Cast: Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable, Roscoe Karns, Henry Wadsworth, Walter Connolly

There are a number of ways to describe how great IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT is. You could point out that many people credit the film for essentially inventing an entire genre – the screwball comedy – and doing it better than all the screwball comedies that followed. You could point out that it was the first of only three films to sweep the five major categories at the Academy Awards: Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay (the other two, in case you were wondering, were ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS).

Or, you could simply point to three names on the poster – Frank Capra, Claudette Colbert, and Clark Gable – and consider it enough said. One of the most consistently great filmmakers of the studio era partnered with two of its most charming stars was always going to be a recipe for success, but it’s safe to say the result turned out better than anyone could have anticipated.

In the early 30s, Columbia Pictures, now considered one of the most powerful studios of all time, was merely a “Poverty Row” studio, churning out B-pictures at a rapid pace. But, as fate often has it in Hollywood, there was a director toiling away on those B-pictures who would prove to have grade-A talent: Frank Capra. After being nominated for his 1933 film LADY FOR A DAY (one of many moving and unforgettable Capra comedies), the town began to take notice.

For his next project, Capra and writer Robert Riskin adapted a magazine story named “Night Bus” for the screen, but they were left disappointed when Robert Montgomery refused to star in it. However, as fate would once again have it, the crown jewel of Hollywood, MGM, had a troublemaking star on its roster that the studio was all too happy to lend out: Clark Gable. It was meant to be a punishment for Gable, but after taking one look at the screenplay for IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, he knew the joke would ultimately be on MGM.

Myrna Loy, Miriam Hopkins, Constance Bennett and Margaret Sullavan were among the many actresses who joined Montgomery in turning Capra down, leaving the door open for Claudette Colbert. Though she was wary of working with Capra again after her debut film FOR THE LOVE OF MIKE, directed by Capra, was a disaster, she ultimately agreed to take the part. But, after shooting was completed, Colbert was convinced that it would be another dud.

On the contrary, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT roared into theaters on the basis of stellar reviews and the electrifying chemistry between Colbert and Gable. Colbert, still not quite convinced, was about to catch a train to New York when she learned that she had just been announced as the Best Actress of the year at the Oscar ceremony. Still dressed in her traveling clothes, she raced to the ceremony to accept the award and then raced back to the station, where the train had been kept waiting just for her. It’s a safe bet the passengers didn’t mind.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

Jules and Jim

1962

107 min
B&W

Director: Francois Truffaut
Screenplay: Francois Truffaut, Jean Gruault
Cinematography: Raoul Coutard
Editor: Claudine Bouche
Music: Georges Delerue
Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre, Marie Debois, Vanna Urbino, Boris Bassiak

Drawing inspiration from a real-life love triangle that he himself had been part of, French novelist Henri-Pierre Roche published Jules et Jim in 1953. Two years later, future French New Wave champion and voracious reader Francois Truffaut added the novel to his rotation of books that also included works by Balzac, Proust, and many other great French authors. Out of all these, Jules et Jim proved to be the book that Truffaut continue to return to over the years, and the director would later say that he was “discovering, in Henri-Pierre Roche, a writer who achieved poetic prose using a less extensive vocabulary, and making ultra-short sentences from everyday words. Through Roche’s style emotion is born out of the void, the emptiness of all the rejected words, it’s even born out of ellipsis.”

When he first read the novel, Truffaut was still just a film critic with the legendary Cahiers du Cinema film journal and in no position to adapt Roche’s work into a feature film. But, in 1962, with THE 400 BLOWS and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER under his belt, Truffaut was finally ready to film the story that had meant so much to him. Enlisting theater actor Jean Gruault to help him adapt the novel into a screenplay, Truffaut set out to retain the efficiently brief language of the original, pruning elements from the novel in order to convey the spirit of the work despite cutting several characters and scenes.

Of course, with any cinematic love triangle, the casting of the three lovers would prove crucial. Truffaut had two immediate choices in mind for the male leads, opting for Henri Serre because he just so happened to look like Roche and Oskar Werner because of his remarkable work in Max Ophuls’ LOLA MONTES. But the real star of the show is Jeanne Moreau as Catherine, the woman who turns the heads of both title characters.

Truffaut was determined to create an intimate atmosphere for his three actors to work in, often limiting the on-set crew to himself, cinematographer Raoul Coutard, and an assistant. This meant that all of the actors’ dialogue would need to be dubbed into the film during post-production, just one of Truffaut’s many unusual approaches to the making of this film. Another was the film’s striking chronology, the result of nine laborious months in the editing room for Truffaut and Claudine Bouche, the film’s editor. The result: one of the most beloved and evocative films ever made.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

Mad Max: Fury Road

2015

120 min
Color

Director: George Miller
Screenplay: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
Cinematography: John Seale
Editor: Margaret Sixel
Music: Junkie XL
Cast: Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, Nicholas Hoult, Zoë Kravitz, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee

Seven years into the ongoing, all-consuming cinematic conflagration sparked by a laser-guided Stark missile aimed straight at the zeitgeist, one George Miller comes bellowing back from wherever it was he was hanging out with talking pigs and penguins to give us the best action movie of the 2010s… and maybe ever? Mad Max: Fury Road is a celebration, a convocation, an earth-shattering trumpet summoning the froth-mouthed war boy spirit of what gigantic, spectacle-driven movies were once, and could be again.

In the grand tradition of one of cinema’s greatest inventions — the road movie — nearly the entire runtime of this movie is on the go. What a marvelous illusion! You’re there, sitting still in a giant dark room with strangers, and yet you’re gripped by the sternum and dragged through space and time like when you take too much adderall and the brakes go out on your bike mid-hill. Further, we fall into the more niche tradition of road movies wherein our heroes carry a terrible cargo — à la Wages of Fear and superb remake Sorcerer — and then even further… we hit the pyramid-top of the form: the out and back. “This is your way home,” Max says, pointing at the carnage behind. “We go back?” Furiosa is us, incredulous at the suggestion and what’s about to happen, but ultimately understanding that home is always behind you.

By the time this movie is released in 2015, we’re about two-and-a-half decades into the reign of CGI that was largely cemented into blockbusters when the wildly successful T1000 oozed onto screens in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Miller, thankfully and to the nearly death-knell chagrin of studio Warner Bros., insisted on as many practical effects as possible… otherwise, he said, what’s the point? Fatefully dragging an admitted Hyperreal favorite, production designer Colin Gibson roasts: “The hair can’t stand up on the back of your neck — not for me, anyway — watching Vin Diesel drag a three-ton safe down through perfect right-angle turns on the street.” Yikes! But, bless.

As always with movies of this scale, at times it was almost an entirely different movie, and at times it almost didn’t happen at all. While there is a whole world of casting what-ifs out there for the curious Googler, here’s our favorite and honest-to-god real possibility: Eminem as Max and Rihanna as Furiosa. Lucky for us, Hardy got Max by spitting in Armie Hammer’s face during his casting scene, and Miller hired Theron on the spot over lunch! Furiosa, too, was almost not the grim feminist icon we know and love, as revealed by Theron: “At first, Furiosa was this very ethereal character, with long hair and some African mud art on her face. It was a different costume designer back then, before Jenny Beavan, and the costume felt a little more Barbarella-y. I worried about it.” Beavan arrived, said hell no, and created the grizzled utilitarian look that gives real weight and lived-in history to the film. Our favorite disastrous location anecdote: during pre-production in Australia, the desert where they were set to film was beset by once-in-a-century rainstorms, transforming the sands into a veritable Garden of Eden. Turns out you can’t shoot a post-apocalyptic banger amidst beautiful flowers, so it was back to storage and back to the drawing board until they could get to Namibia years later.

While there are a million and one things to celebrate about this triumph of a moving image work of art, in the end, what keeps us coming back is the thrilling bravado of it all. For the avid movie watcher 10, 15, 20 years into a journey of watching, there are few moments of true jaw-dropping awe: this movie is one of them. I imagine we got a taste of what audiences in 1941 seeing Citizen Kane for the first time got — cameras can do that?? — or what audiences in 1977 peeping Star Wars felt when they first entered that far away, long ago place. If human beings still have the ability to make something new, something that brings us together in the communal experience of watching in utter disbelief and rapture, maybe things will turn out okay after all.

Long live the movies!

–David McMichael, Hyperreal Film Club
 



 

My Cousin Vinny

1992

120 min
Color

Director: Jonathan Lynn
Screenplay: Dale Launer
Cinematography: Peter Deming
Editors: Tony Lombardo, Stephen E. Rifkin
Music: Randy Edelman
Cast: Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei, Mitchell Whitfield, Fred Gwynne, Lane Smith

Screenwriter Dale Launer couldn’t shake the story he heard in 1972 from a friend in law school. It was about a fellow student who passed the bar exam on his 13th try, after failing 12 times. “I joked, ‘What if you’re traveling through the deep south and you’re arrested for a murder you didn’t commit and the only lawyer that can help you is the guy who flunked the bar 12 times and passed on the 13th?’ I just thought it was a funny idea.”

Fast forward decades later, after Launer had built a reputation in Hollywood for solid gold comedy scripts like DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS. He came back to this idea and actually immersed himself in research of both the American Deep South and the practice of law. “I flew down to New Orleans, picked up a Ford Probe, drove up to Mississippi, and went east from there into Alabama. I stopped off in Butler, Alabama, knocked on the door to an assistant district attorney, and sat with him for hours.”

Launer used that research to set a scene in Alabama that he could throw two unforgettable characters into: Joe Pesci’s Brooklyn attorney Vinny Gambini and his girlfriend Mona Lisa Vito, played to Academy Award-winning perfection by Marisa Tomei. When he first pitched the studio with a script chock full of hilarious lines for both characters, the studio actually wanted him to eliminate the Mona Lisa character and give all of her good lines to Vinny. But Launer stood his ground, and the result, thanks to Tomei’s performance, is Oscars history.

One fight Launer ultimately lost was in the casting of Vinny, the title character. As originally written in the script, the character was meant to resemble a heavyweight boxer or a menacing mafia thug. Launer pictured the character around 6’4 and 220 pounds. Based on that description, Andrew Dice Clay was an early contender for the part. But the studio wanted to go in a different direction, and other actors considered for the role included Danny DeVito, Peter Falk, Robert De Niro and Jim Belushi.

In retrospect, the choice of Joe Pesci seems so obvious. Though he had initially made a name for himself as a dramatic actor in RAGING BULL and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, he was riding a wave of comedic success thanks to smash hits like HOME ALONE and LETHAL WEAPON 2. Plus, he was just wrapping up GOODFELLAS and his Oscar win for that film would go a long way in selling audiences on seeing VINNY.

Though critics were mixed on the film and the studio focused their marketing efforts for the year on bigger budget prospects like ALIEN 3, VINNY still managed a decent $53 million at the box office thanks to the Oscar buzz surrounding its two leads. But it was on VHS and cable where an even larger audience first discovered the film and rewatched it again and again, making it a beloved instant classic that still has people laughing 30 years later.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

My Man Godfrey

1936

94 min
B&W

Director: Gregory La Cava
Screenplay: Gregory La Cava, Eric Hatch, Morrie Ryskind
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Editors: Ted Kent, Russell Scoengarth
Music: Charles Previn
Cast: William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Jean Dixon, Eugene Pallette, Mischa Auer

Despite being a story about a “forgotten man” during the height of the Great Depression, MY MAN GODFREY became one of the most beloved screwball comedies of all time, which was exactly what Depression-era audiences needed. Even more remarkably, the film’s extraordinary romantic chemistry was provided by William Powell and Carole Lombard…three years after their real-life marriage ended in divorce.

After working in the 1931 films MAN OF THE WORLD and LADIES’ MAN together, Lombard and Powell quickly fell in love. They were married even quicker, despite the many friends and family who suggested they were too incompatible to last (at the time, Powell was 38 and well-established in Hollywood whereas Lombard was 22 and just getting started). Though they divorced two years later (citing the very issues their loved ones had warned them about), they remained close friends for the rest of their lives, and they show genuine affection for each other in tonight’s film.

By surrounding these two former lovebirds with some of the great character actors of the 1930s (Eugene Pallette, Gail Patrick and Mischa Auer, just to name a few), director Gregory La Cava fashioned an all-time-great comedy. Though, today, his name is perhaps not as recognizable as Howard Hawks or Preston Sturges, La Cava proved himself to be a consummate director of screwball comedy. His early career work as an animator surely helped.

His ability to build strong relationships with his actors certainly helped, too. During the first few days of shooting, he and Powell were struggling to figure out how to portray the title character, and La Cava suggested they share a bottle of Scotch and hash it out overnight. When La Cava arrived on set the next day with a massive hangover, he was met with a telegram from Powell that read, “WE MAY HAVE FOUND GODFREY LAST NIGHT BUT WE LOST POWELL. SEE YOU TOMORROW.”

MY MAN GODFREY was a hit with critics and at the box office, and it received six Oscar nominations. Powell followed it up with another smash, LIBELED LADY, while La Cava went on to direct another memorable comedy, STAGE DOOR. As for Lombard, the Best Actress Oscar nomination she received for her performance in GODFREY launched her to the next level of movie stardom.

Ever prone to remakes, Hollywood remade GODFREY in 1957 with June Allyson and David Niven in the lead roles. Let’s just say that we are not likely to see that version at the Paramount any time soon.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

Paper Moon

1973

102 min
B&W

Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Screenplay: Alvin Sargent
Cinematography: Laszlo Kovacs
Editor: Verna Fields
Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal, Madeline Kahn

The late Peter Bogdanovich, who passed away this past January, had one of the most extraordinary three-movie runs in film history thanks to 1971’s THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, 1972’s WHAT’S UP, DOC?, and tonight’s film, 1973’s PAPER MOON.

After diverging into modern-day screwball with DOC, Bogdanovich lent PAPER MOON so much of what made PICTURE SHOW an out-of-the-blue masterpiece, from the evocative black-and-white cinematography that defined the Hollywood classics that inspired him to the expertly curated soundtrack featuring Depression-era gems from Ozzie Nelson, Hoagy Carmichael and more.

Beyond Bogdanovich’s contributions, the film is most remembered for its pairing of real-life father and daughter Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal, who proved such an equal to her dad (if not outright stealing most of the movie out from under him) that she became the youngest actor to win a competitive Oscar. And playing the role of “Mel Brooks regular taking a more dramatic turn in a Bogdanovich movie” (as Cloris Leachman did unforgettably in PICTURE SHOW) is Madeline Kahn, who might have stolen the movie herself if not for the younger O’Neal.

Considering how much these actors made the roles their own, it’s remarkable to think that the film was initially going to star Paul Newman and his daughter Nell Potts, to be directed by the venerable John Huston. That no doubt would have been an interesting film in its own right, but Hollywood fate seems to have ultimately chosen the right people for the job.

And while we’re on the subject of imagining what might have been, picture this: PAPER MOON was Bogdanovich’s Plan B when a Western he was trying to make at Warner Brothers fell through. That Western was going to be based on a script by Larry McMurtry – a script that ultimately became LONESOME DOVE. And Bogdanovich had Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne and Henry Fonda lined up to star in it. Luckily for us, we ultimately got to see that story thanks to an unforgettable TV event starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. But wow, what a picture that would have been.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

The Philadelphia Story

1940

112 min
B&W

Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Donald Ogden Stewart
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Editor: Frank Sullivan
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, John Howard, Roland Young

When Katharine Hepburn passed away in 2003, the world lost the most respected dramatic actress of sound films and a twentieth-century icon of female independence. Over the course of six decades, the commanding Hepburn won four Best Actress Academy Awards for MORNING GLORY, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, THE LION IN WINTER, and ON GOLDEN POND.

She was nominated for eight other films: ALICE ADAMS, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, WOMAN OF THE YEAR, THE AFRICAN QUEEN, SUMMERTIME, THE RAINMAKER, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, and LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. WOMAN OF THE YEAR was the first of several films pairing her with Spencer Tracy, with whom she would have a decades-long relationship that ended with his death in 1967.

Hepburn was equally at home in comedies and dramas. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is a classic screwball comedy that began life as a Broadway smash in 1939. Playwright Philip Barry wrote the material for Katharine Hepburn, and she bought the movie rights, recognizing that the material offered the perfect vehicle for her return to Hollywood after a two-year hiatus. As rich socialite Tracy Lord, Hepburn got to play her own public image in an effort to show that underneath her haughty, classy exterior (which was why she had been designated box-office poison by theater owners), she was vulnerable and lovable.

Tracy’s problem is that she doesn’t forgive anyone their faults: she kicked out her husband (Grant) because he had a drinking problem and she rejected her father (Halliday) because of his philandering. She’s about to marry the “perfect” man (Howard, as a social climber), when Grant turns up, along with a Spy magazine reporter (Stewart) and photographer (Hussey).

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is a scintillating comedy in which the wonderful cast and their performances heighten the material. Director George Cukor brings a marvelous rhythm to the comic dialogue, which is full of snappy comebacks and sly expressions. The film received six Academy Award nominations including: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Stewart, winner), Best Actress (Hepburn), Best Supporting Actress (Hussey) and Best Screenplay (winner).

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY was remade as the musical HIGH SOCIETY in 1956 with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly, and it ranks number fifty-one on the American Film Institute’s list of top 100 films of the twentieth century and number fifteen on the AFI list of 100 funniest American movies of all time.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog

 



 

Pillow Talk

1959

102 min
Color

Director: Michael Gordon
Screenplay: Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin
Cinematography: Arthur E. Arling
Editor: Milton Carruth
Music: Frank De Vol
Cast: Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Tony Randall, Thelma Ritter

PILLOW TALK (1959) 102m. Directors: Michael Gordon. Screenplay: Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin. Music: Frank De Vol. Cinematography: Arthur E. Arling. Editor: Milton Carruth. Cast: Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Tony Randall, Thelma Ritter.

PILLOW TALK debuted the iconic partnership of Rock Hudson and Doris Day, two movie stars who enjoyed some of the greatest successes of their respective careers by sharing the screen together.

That’s probably due to the fact that, behind the scenes, the two immediately bonded, and their chemistry showed onscreen. In fact, in his memoir, Hudson recalled, “The trouble we had was trying not to laugh. Doris and I couldn’t look at each other. You know, that sweet agony of laughing when you’re not supposed to? That’s what we had.”

When asked how this translated to success as a romantic comedy team, Hudson suggested, “First of all, the two people have to truly like each other, as Doris and I did, for that shines through. Then, too, both parties have to be strong personalities – very important to comedy – so that there’s a tug-of-war over who’s going to put it over on the other, who’s going to get the last word, a fencing match between two adroit opponents who in the end are going to fall into bed together.”

The only concern for all involved in the film was whether its content would be too “racy” for 1959 audiences, given that the Production Code still very much held sway over the accepted standards for American films. But it seemed that Hudson and Day, with their clean-cut and wholesome onscreen presences, made everything okay, and audiences welcomed the film with open arms. It was a $7.5 million success at the box office.

It was also a hit with critics, marking an important next step in Hudson’s career from matinee idol to a recognized comedic talent with enough substance to hold his own onscreen. Day, meanwhile, was recognized with an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, and the film won the statue for Best Original Screenplay.

Naturally, Hudson and Day were more than delighted to make not one but two more films together, LOVER COME BACK and SEND ME NO FLOWERS, and they were joined in both by uproarious third wheel Tony Randall.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

Raising Arizona

1987

94 min
Color

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cinematography: Barry Sonnenfeld
Editor: Michael R. Miller
Music: Carter Burwell
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Frances McDormand, Randall “Tex” Cobb, M. Emmet Walsh

RAISING ARIZONA (1987) 94m. Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen. Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen. Music: Carter Burwell. Cinematography: Barry Sonnenfeld. Editor: Michael R. Miller. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Frances McDormand, Randall “Tex” Cobb, M. Emmet Walsh.

The Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel, can do it all. Writers, directors, producers (and in some cases, editors), the two have worked together as a team since making a splash with their audacious, neo-noir (and shot in Austin) debut film BLOOD SIMPLE (1984).

But rather than becoming pigeon-holed as genre/crime filmmakers, the brothers took off on their own career course, a journey that would produce one of the most unique bodies of work in the contemporary American cinema. No one makes movies quite like the Coens. Their unique, quirky, individual style, which often walks a fine line between comedy and tragedy, has served them well for decades and will most likely continue to do so for many years to come.

The Coens followed up the success of BLOOD SIMPLE with the live-action cartoon buffoonery of RAISING ARIZONA, starring Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter. Filmed in the style of a live-action “Looney Tunes” cartoon, RAISING ARIZONA was not a hit upon first release. Critic Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune wrote that “the film starts to look like an episode of HEE HAW directed by an amphetamine-crazed Orson Welles.”

But thanks to home video, the film soon found an appreciative audience and has gone on to achieve cult status. The film is chock-a-block full of symbolism, visual gags, unconventional characters, flamboyant “look at me!” camera work, Biblical references, pathos and idiosyncratic dialogue, and the Coens credit the films of director Preston Sturges and writers such as William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor as inspirations for RAISING ARIZONA.

Working with a budget of just over five million dollars, the film was shot in ten weeks and utilized several crew members who had worked on BLOOD SIMPLE including cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, co-producer Mark Silverman, production designer Jane Musky, associate producer and assistant director Deborah Reinish and film composer Carter Burwell. It is also one helluva funny movie, ranking 31st on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Years…100 Laughs.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog

 



 

Reservoir Dogs

1992

99 min
Color

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Cinematography: Andrzej Sekula
Editor: Sally Menke
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Eddie Bunker, Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino’s stunning directorial debut, RESERVOIR DOGS, introduced the world to what would become his cinematic signatures, from endlessly quotable dialogue to a penchant for using popular songs in the cleverest of ways.

Here, the director began to show off his many unique talents, particularly for creating unforgettable characters and engaging them in remarkably entertaining wordplay, telling his stories out of order in a way that only boosts the intrigue and tension, and doing the things you’d least expect, like not even showing the robbery in what is ostensibly a “heist film.”

But what would you expect from a self-taught fan of world cinema and American exploitation films. No one has put their experience as a video store clerk to greater use, as Tarantino seems to have absorbed every word and image from every film he watched on the job. In particular, Tarantino has cited Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING and lesser-seen heist film KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL as inspirations for RESERVOIR DOGS, and fans of THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE will know where DOGS’s code names (Mr. White, Mr. Blonde, etc.) come from.

By the time RESERVOIR DOGS was set to go into production, Tarantino had already made a name for himself as a screenwriter, having provided the script for Tony Scott’s TRUE ROMANCE. That very experience, of selling his script to another director and giving up his creative authority, is what led Tarantino to hold onto the DOGS script for his own debut as a director. The original intention was simply to shoot the film on the cheap with Tarantino and his friends playing the roles, but, once Harvey Keitel got his hands on the script, the movie became an event with a legitimate cast.

RESERVOIR DOGS premiered at Sundance in 1992 and was a massive success, going on to play Cannes and Toronto, but it didn’t really take off with mainstream audiences until word of mouth made it a home video hit. Suddenly, the independent film scene became crowded with wannabes and copycats, trying their own hand at gruesomely violent crime films with snappy dialogue. But it wasn’t until two years later, when Tarantino’s own PULP FICTION hit theaters, that anything even came close.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

Rififi

1955

122 min
B&W

Director: Jules Dassin
Screenplay: Jules Dassin, Ren Wheeler, Auguste Le Breton
Cinematography: Philippe Agostini
Editor: Roger Dwyre
Music: Georges Auric
Cast: Jean Servais, Carl Mohner, Robert Manuel, Perlo Vita (aka Jules Dassin), Marie Sabouret

If you’re a fan of heist films, you’ve come to the right theatre. In fact, you’re about to see the film that inspired all the other cinematic heists that probably made you a fan of the genre in the first place. When RIFIFI arrived in 1955, it gave audiences something they had never seen before, including a thirty-minute-long robbery with virtually no dialogue or music. Without it, there could be no OCEAN’S ELEVEN/THE STING/insert your favorite heist movie here.

The director, Jules Dassin, was born in Connecticut and, after some time in the theatre and on the radio, moved to Hollywood to try his hand at making movies. Eventually, he found his way to Universal Studios, where he made two of the most thrilling noir films of all time: BRUTE FORCE and THE NAKED CITY. But his success couldn’t save him from that most dreaded of 1950s fates: the blacklist.

Dassin had been a member of the Communist Party, and, when he refused to name the names of fellow members in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, he was barred from working in Hollywood indefinitely. He moved to Europe in an effort to continue his career, but even producers overseas ultimately fired him from projects, worried that they would lose favor with the Hollywood money machine. RIFIFI was the first film Dassin managed to finish after finding himself on the blacklist.

And what a film it is. Dassin’s experience provided him with a superior understanding of what makes movies work, and it paid off here. RIFIFI’s source novel contained just a brief jewelry heist sequence, but Dassin expanded it to its legendary half-hour length. And when he was given a meager budget, he cast his movie not with global stars but with the haggard, untrustworthy faces of character actors who made the movie feel authentic. Dassin himself even stepped in to play a role when the original actor dropped out.

For his efforts, Dassin won the Best Director prize at Cannes, and RIFIFI became a massive hit around the world. After agreeing to take a decent percentage of the box office profits in exchange for working on a reduced salary, Dassin filled his pockets as well, ensuring that he could continue an extraordinary filmmaking career that would eventually include another classic heist film, TOPKAPI.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

1975

100 min
Color

Director: Jim Sharman
Screenplay: Richard O’Brien, Jim Sharman
Cinematography: Peter Suschitzky
Editor: Graeme Clifford
Music: Richard O’Brien
Cast: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Meat Loaf

The following is excerpted from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The film that’s saved lives” written for BBC by Larushka Ivan-Zadeh.

It’s the ultimate cult movie. The first. The biggest. The one cult movie to rule them all.

For more than 40 years, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has defined what we mean by a ‘cult’ movie, though few can ever hope to match its phenomenal level of ritualised worship. A box office flop so ker-splatty it was pulled from the few screens showing it back in 1975, only to be lovingly resurrected by a devout fanbase. It has since grossed over $170 million worldwide and holds the record for the longest continually running movie release of all time.

A camp twist on sci-fi B-movies, The Rocky Horror Picture Show first sprang to life in 1973 as a musical play in the tiny capacity studio above London’s Royal Court Theatre. Tis there, so mythology has it, that David Bowie’s first wife, Angie, gave the first audience participation ‘call-back’ when she yelled “No, don’t do it!” as creator Richard O’Brien’s Riff-Raff threatened to zap Tim Curry’s Dr Frank-N-Furter with a laser gun.

An instant hit, the play transferred first to the West End and then to Los Angeles. A movie spin-off was a no-brainer. That critics hated it is not, it seems, entirely true. As the US film critic Roger Ebert astutely pointed out in his original, 2 ½ star rated 1976 review: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show would be more fun, I suspect, if it weren’t a picture show. It belongs on a stage, with the performers and audience joining in a collective send-up.”

And so it came to pass. Midnight showings of the movie began at the Waverly Theatre in New York City on 1 April, 1976. In a time and place where gay rights was just finding a voice in the wake of the Stonewall riots, the Waverly attracted a congregation. An audience hungry to celebrate a story of sexual awakening where gender fluidity and pan-sexualism are joyfully celebrated; where a straight, white, conventionally attractive young couple called Brad and Janet (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon), both virgins until their wedding night, are considered the freaks; and where a ‘sweet transvestite from Transylvania’ (a thrillingly charismatic Tim Curry) dressed in stack heels, suspenders, full make-up and little else, waltzes off with the movie.

–Larushka Ivan-Zadeh

Click here to read the full article on BBC.
 



 

Singin’ in the Rain

1952

103 min
Color

Director: Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
Screenplay: Adolph Green, Betty Comden
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Choreography: Gene Kelly
Cast: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, Cyd Charisse

Nearly every list and poll has come to the consensus that SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is the greatest film musical of all time, and it’s hard to argue that point. SINGIN’ is not only a pure film musical, in the sense that it wasn’t adapted from Broadway or any other pre-existing production, but it is also about film itself, specifically the tumultuous period when silent movies were being replaced by talkies and actors were suddenly faced with new challenges.

Gene Kelly plays Don Lockwood, a silent film star who is forced (for publicity’s sake) into a false romance with his frequent leading lady, the insufferable Lina Lamont (a brilliant performance from Jean Hagen). When the talkie craze forces Don and Lina to speak in their next picture, the results are hysterically disastrous.

These insider details, from fake PR relationships to silent actors struggling to adapt to talkies, are what makes SINGIN’ so appealing to film fans. Here is a film acknowledging all the sordid details of Hollywood, and doing it with a smile and a wink. Lightening the mood is Donald O’Connor as Cosmo Brown, Don’s long-time best friend and a constant reminder of Don’s humble beginnings.

O’Connor’s legendary “Make ‘Em Laugh” sequence is just one of the marvelous set pieces in the film. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite. Is it the delightful “Good Morning,” featuring Don’s love interest played by Debbie Reynolds? Or the “Broadway Melody” ballet with the sultry Cyd Charisse? Or what about Kelly’s dazzling dance through heavy rain (which had milk added to it so you could see it better)?

That title song, along with virtually every other song in the film, had actually been written long before the film went into production, with most of them coming from the catalog of Arthur Freed and Nacio Herd Brown. As it turned out, packaging them together in this unforgettable film would etch them into the history books. SINGIN IN THE RAIN stands the test of time as a shining example of casting the right singers and dancers, staging extraordinary set pieces, and finding those special moments that send movie musicals, and the audience, soaring.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

The Spy Who Loved Me

1977

125 min
Color

Director: Lewis Gilbert
Screenplay: Christopher Wood, Richard Maibaum
Cinematography: Claude Renoir
Editor: John Glen
Music: Marvin Hamlisch
Cast: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curt Jurgens, Richard Kiel, Caroline Munro, Bernard Lee

Roger Moore’s third outing as James Bond, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, was the most expensive Bond film ever made at the time. In fact, it cost as much as Moore’s first two Bond films combined. But it was worth every penny as it became a hit at the box office and arguably the best entry in Moore’s entire tenure.

It’s well known what a considerable challenge it was for anyone to step into Sean Connery’s shoes as the iconic spy. Australian actor George Lazenby gave it a try with 1969’s ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE and was ultimately a one-and-done Bond (though many have revisited the film and now give it the credit it truly deserves).

Rather than trying to recreate Connery’s Bond, Moore went a completely route, bringing humor and a bit of camp to the role – and his films followed suit. Perhaps it took time for audiences to buy into his approach, and it seems that finally paid off with THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.

Besides Moore’s performance, there are many other praiseworthy elements in this entry, from the unforgettable opening sequence on the ski slopes to a bonafide romantic pairing (a rare thing for Bond, at least before the Daniel Craig days) with one of the most formidable of Bond costars, Barbara Bach.

And of course there’s Jaws, the ludicrously entertaining (and tall) villain with steel teeth played by Richard Kiel. Shamelessly named after Steven Spielberg’s 1975 smash hit, the character proved so popular with test audiences that the filmmakers reversed course from their original plan to have him eaten by a shark by the end of the film. What happens instead? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.

To top off this bounty of greatness, you get one of the very best Bond title songs ever – and interestingly, the first not to share the title of the film. Though Carly Simon does manage to squeeze “the spy who loved me” into the lyrics of her song, the actual title “Nobody Does It Better” seems to perfectly describe Simon’s contribution to the Bond song legacy. It was the second Bond song nominated for an Oscar (the first being Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die”), and it reached #2 on the charts (only Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill” had bettered it by reaching #1).

Knowing they had a hit on their hands, producers ended the closing credits with a note that James Bond would return in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY – but they were only half right. After the global phenomenon that was STAR WARS, they ultimately pivoted for the next film and sent Bond into space instead in MOONRAKER.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

The Sting

1973

129 min
Color

Director: George Roy Hill
Screenplay: David W. Maurer, David S. Ward
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Editor: William Reynolds
Music: Scott Joplin (adapted by Marvin Hamlisch)
Cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan

In early 1970s America, headlines were dominated by the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, and many of the cinematic dramas released at the time were unafraid to tackle these events head-on, with gripping immediacy. It’s no surprise, then, that a raucously funny heist film, led by two of the most popular (not to mention handsomest) movie stars of the era, became one of the top-grossing films of the decade and won seemingly every Oscar imaginable, include the statuette for Best Picture.

After the runaway success of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, that film’s director George Roy Hill and his two leads, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, were determined to top themselves with THE STING, not by trying something new but by honing the formula that had proven so successful with the earlier film.

As he had on BUTCH CASSIDY, Hill worked closely with his art director, Henry Bumstead (another Oscar winner for his work on THE STING), to painstakingly recreate the period setting of the film — in this case, the Depression-era 1930s. In addition to Bumstead’s set dressing, Hill also actively sought out shooting locations that had not been modernized, including Los Angeles’ Biltmore Hotel and Santa Monica Carousel and Chicago’s Union Station.

Taking yet another page from the BUTCH CASSIDY playbook, Hill once again included a number of stylistic references to films from the era. Whereas he used sepia tones and other touches to mimic the turn-of-the-century silent films that would have played during Butch Cassidy’s time, Hill filled THE STING with vintage title cards signaling each chapter and old-fashioned “wipes” to transition from one scene to the next. He even studied the gangster films of the 1930s and discovered that many of them used very few extras. “For instance,” said Hill, “…no extras would be used in street scenes in those films: Jimmy Cagney would be shot down and die in an empty street. So I deliberately avoided using extras.”

Not that he really needed to hire extras, as on-location street shoots with the now mega-famous Newman and Redford tended to draw quite a crowd, leading many of the crew members to draw a comparison to Beatlemania. As one of them later pointed out, “I used to go see Sinatra at the Paramount in New York when I was a kid, and, my God, I never saw anything like that until now. I bet the temperature in here went up 22 degrees when Newman walked in.”

Thanks to Hill’s direction of this deliriously entertaining classic, the two co-stars’ global popularity (and the close friendship that began on the set of BUTCH CASSIDY) only grew stronger, cementing them both as Hollywood icons.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

The Thin Man

1934

93 min
B&W

Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Screenplay: Albert Hackett & Frances Goodrich
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Editor: Robert Kern
Music: William Axt
Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan, Nat Pendleton, Asta

Although THE THIN MAN has its roots in the mystery genre (the source novel was written by the legendarily hard-boiled author Dashiell Hammett), the movie proved to be that rarest of whodunits in which the main attraction isn’t the person who committed the murder but the people trying to solve it. That unique appeal is all thanks to the iconic teaming of William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, who were not only two of the screen’s greatest detectives but also one of its most intriguing married couples.

Hammett’s story fell into the right hands at MGM in the form of director W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke, who had himself written a few of his own mystery novels. As fate would have it, Van Dyke had just finished directing MANHATTAN MELODRAMA, a film in which Clark Gable receives top billing but Powell and Loy steal the show. Van Dyke couldn’t help but notice that the charming banter and warm friendship the two actors enjoyed off-screen had actually made its way on-screen, and he felt that no one else could play Nick and Nora. The studio executives took some convincing, but Van Dyke was up to the task.

The casting was also a boon for the screenwriting team, who just happened to be the perfect pair to adapt the story: husband and wife Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. No strangers to charming banter and the warmth of marriage themselves, Hackett and Goodrich were given the go-ahead to focus more on Nick and Nora’s playfulness and less on the bothersome details of who killed whom. Considering that the screenwriters were about the closest thing you could find to Nick and Nora in real life, they happily obliged.

Armed with that dialogue and the full backing of Van Dyke, Powell and Loy gave career-topping performances. In fact, they were so convincing in the roles that the movie-going public became convinced the pair were a real-life married couple. It helped that their on-screen marriage was a kind not often seen in movies. Whereas, in other films, marriage served as the basis for domestic disputes (as in dramas) or happy endings (as in romances), here the couple’s love for each other is matter-of-fact and without question. It also helps that Nick and Nora are socially active, ceaselessly fun-loving, and always have a drink in their hands, which is what made this film one of the first and greatest examples of the screwball comedy genre.

These details also made the film a massive hit with audiences and critics alike. Powell and Loy’s careers reached new heights, the film received a bevy of Oscar nominations, and five (that’s right, five!) sequels ultimately followed. As if that weren’t impressive enough, the film even made the Charles family dog, Asta (and wire-haired terriers in general), the most beloved dog in households across America.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer
 



 

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

1988

88 min
Color

Director: Pedro Almodovar
Screenplay: Pedro Almodovar
Cinematography: Jose Luis Alcaine
Editor: Jose Salcedo
Music: Bernardo Bonezzi
Cast: Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Julieta Serrano, Maria Barranco, Rossy de Palma, Kiti Manver

The following is excerpted from “A Sweet New Style” written for The Criterion Collection by Elvira Lindo.

In 1988, when Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown made its debut, Spain had debuted its first decade of democracy, the socialist party had been in power since 1982, and I was a twenty-six-year-old radio personality. The entire country seemed brand-new, and the explosion of color and thirst for freedom were so intense that even its oldest citizens made an effort to update their outlook. Madrid brimmed with young men and women abandoning the coarse aesthetic of anti-Franco activists to look like members of modern metropolitan tribes. The city opened to nightlife like a flower, and brazen self-assurance took over spaces once occupied by fear. Looking back on it now, we can see how lucky we were to be part of that unique moment: there was no such thing as political correctness or self-censorship—in those days, boldness and recklessness reigned. This scene was as dangerous as it was fun; the most prudent or the luckiest among us survived, but many innocent lives were lost along the way. In the eighties, heroin claimed many of Spain’s youths in urban and rural areas alike, but the freedom offered by the big city in particular lent itself to roaming around at night and frequenting places where anything could happen. If you wanted to keep up with the times, you had to give in to temptation. Some artists began to create original and varied bodies of work, while the work of others got trapped in the clouds of smoke that filled city bars and hasn’t stood the test of time. Madrid was the nerve center of this 1980s youth movement, christened La Movida, which was ultimately more about pleasure seeking than it was about building a cultural movement.

This was the Spain from which the beginnings of Pedro Almodóvar’s talent emerged. It is important to keep this in mind, because his early career cannot be understood outside of the context of the urgent claim staked for audacity and personal freedom in the wake of a period that was understandably dominated by the struggle against Franco. Even all these years later, when I watch certain early Almodóvar films—Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980), What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984), Law of Desire (1987)—I can vividly recall the excitement they first stirred in me, and the collective commotion they caused. Their plots dealt with love, desire, vice, betrayal, homosexuality, cross-dressing, and new kinds of families, united by love rather than the Catholic Church, in a way that had never been seen before. And the director didn’t judge his characters. His position, rather than simply accepting what had previously been seen as immoral, was explicitly amoral—a playful and understanding gaze directed at impulsive fauna, especially women, who in his films are driven purely by emotion, casting logic and prudence aside.

How wonderful it was to take in that spectacle and feel like a part of it, to leave the theater with the sense that you could satisfy your desires and not have to feel guilty, strange, or inappropriate. It is difficult for young viewers today to understand just how subversive Almodóvar was at the time, how the laughter his comedies provoked had within it an iron determination not to give up even one of the freedoms that had been gained. Because of this, I believe that his films, whether or not they intended to communicate a political message, contributed to the expansion of our individual rights, especially those of women and gay people—which is to say, those most intimately connected with lifestyle choices—and gave visibility to difference, to the unconventional people among us who until then had remained hidden.

–Elvira Lindo

Click here to read the full article on The Criterion Collection.
 



 

Working Girl

1988

114 min
Color

Director: Mike Nichols
Screenplay: Kevin Wade
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
Editor: Sam O’Steen
Music: Carly Simon, Rob Mounsey
Cast: Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Melanie Griffith, Alec Baldwin, Joan Cusack

Mike Nichols made a career out of breaking cinematic barriers and venturing beyond the traditional thematic boundaries that had been set for the silver screen. After a stunningly successful run on Broadway from 1963-1965 (he won the Tony Award for Best Director three years in a row thanks to “Barefoot in the Park,” “Luv,” and “The Odd Couple”), Nichols’ debut film, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINA WOOLF? shocked 1966 movie audiences with its frank portrayal of a marriage in crisis and its unprecedented use of verbal profanity previously barred from the screen.

When WOOLF was nominated for a whopping 13 Oscars (one of only two films in history, along with CIMARRON, to be nominated for every category in which it was eligible) and won five, Nichols’ career was off to the races. From there, he went straight into 1967’s THE GRADUATE, an unusually perceptive comedy about youthful uncertainty and unspoken sexual desire, and followed that up with CATCH-22, CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, SILKWOOD, and many other movies aimed squarely at a thoughtful and “grown-up” movie audience.

Fast-forward to 1988, when WORKING GIRL would give Nichols a chance not only to reflect on gender inequalities in the workplace but also to tell that story through an old-school, classical Hollywood-esque romantic comedy. Like those old comedies that starred Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and other great screwball stars of the 30s and 40s, Nichols tapped the 80s’ biggest stars, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver, to play two of the leads.

But for Staten Island secretary Tess McGill, the “working girl” of the title, Nichols looked to Melanie Griffith, who had been flirting with stardom and waiting for a mainstream hit that would push her over the edge. As the daughter of THE BIRDS star Tippi Hedren, Griffith had classical Hollywood in her blood, and her work in Brian De Palma’s BODY DOUBLE and Jonathan Demme’s SOMETHING WILD had already turned several heads in Hollywood.

But it was WORKING GIRL that truly brought her to the world’s attention, not to mention her first Oscar nomination. Reviewing the film, Washington Post critic Rita Kempley asserted that Griffith is “as luminous as Marilyn Monroe and as adorable as one of Disney’s singing mice. She clearly has the stuff of a megastar, and the movie glows from her.”

The glowing reviews weren’t limited to the fantastic cast. Carly Simon’s unforgettable song “Let the River Run” will forever be associated with the film, and the tune went on to win the film’s only Academy Award. More importantly, the film was a massive box-office hit to the tune of $103 million worldwide, proving that there was a massive audience for female-led comedies.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer