Friday, February 8, 2013

TCM – Turner Classic Movies

31 Days of Oscar promises treats

     TCM (Turner Classic Movies) has remained true to its mission of showing a variety of movies (primarily pre-1980) and is a must for anyone who loves the history of cinema.  During February, TCM only shows movies that were Oscar winners or nominees and that list goes deep beyond film or
acting to cinematography, art direction, etc.  Some days are devoted to a country, a director, the birthday of an individual performer, a genre, or even movies with similar titles, but nothing else in common.  In the last few years, TCM has added silent movies (usually in the middle of the night so if viewers who wake up and don’t want something loud are the perfect demographic), foreign films (European and Asian), American independents, and more recent movies.

     Here are quick notes on some movies we’ve seen over the past year or so and they’ll probably repeat in the next few months:

     The Earrings of Madame de (1953), directed by Max Ophuls, is a heart-wrenching tale of rich superficial characters during Belle Époque Paris.  The gliding camera in combination with the gorgeous costumes and sets, and effortless, charismatic performances by Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux, and Vittorio DeSica, create a swooning effect.  The story involves what happens to a pair of earrings.  As my Aunt said, about halfway through, “oh, she’s such a silly woman!”  By the end, though, she was sniffing back some tears as the mystery and choices of love become a profound existential question.

Director Irvin Kershner Faces Darth Vader
     Loving (1970), directed by Irvin Kershner, who also made The Empire Strikes Back, was a movie I’d wanted to see since reading Pauline Kael’s review of Shoot the Moon over thirty years ago.  It was being shown as part of a birthday salute to Eva Marie Saint.  Unfortunately, Exodus ran over so the last five minutes were cut off.  However, what amazed me was the first three minutes where, with no audible dialogue, a couple comes down the street in NYC and through their physical acting, the viewer knows they’re intimately involved, are probably not married, and will be breaking up soon.  Marie Saint is lovely in this movie, but George Segal is phenomenal.  Intelligent, quirky, and sexy while wrestling with a mid-life crisis, Segal’s art director character is like an Updike hero.  Like Elliott Gould, Ron Leibman, and Jessica Walter, Segal now plays someone’s dad on a sitcom, but back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, this generation’s urban Jewish rhythms lent an edgy, smart sensibility to some wonderful films.

     Louise Brooks became an icon in G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929).  That slick, perverse flapper look was most arrestingly recalled by Melanie Griffith’s character in Something Wild (1986), which was one of the most compelling romantic comedy-dramas of that decade.  Brooks is bright, effervescent, and seems innocently American amid the European gloom and near Eastern exoticism of what is an extensive epic.  What surprised me most is that Brooks was less interesting and somewhat wan once her hairstyle changes during the movie.

     Joan Bennett in The Woman in the Window (1944), directed by Fritz Lang, The Reckless Moment (1949), directed by Max Ophuls, and Father of the Bride (1950), directed by Vincente Minnelli, had a tough-tender style that lent itself to film noir femme fatales and sophisticated housewife/mother roles.  Why isn’t she thought of with Stanwyck, de Havilland, or Crawford?  That’s one thing that TCM addresses in its selections.

     Going My Way (1944) was an enormous popular and critical success in its day.  Now, it plays sentimentally and I never know how to deal with Bing Crosby because I cannot discount what his son said about growing up in his dictatorial household from his low-key, easy going screen presence.  Barry Fitzgerald, though, is hilariously funny and touching as his over-the-hill mentor whose competence may be eroding.

     Rashomon (1950), directed by Akira Kurosawa and, simply put, what other channel would run three or four electrifying Japanese samurai movies in a row?  Many refer to something as being ‘like Rashomon’, but it’s eye-opening to actually experience the origin of that phrase.

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