Archive for February 13, 2014

The ’68 Comeback Special: Capricious Summer

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2014 by dcairns

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The Cannes selection committee were totally on top of the Czech New Wave — other major film movements and filmmakers may have come and gone without being noticed outside their native lands, but this is one that obviously excited keen interest at the time. I guess the excitement of such a movement arising in a communist country, a movement rejecting propaganda and amiably dawdling amid dead air and empty, interstitial scenes, must have been hard to miss. While the other Czech entry, THE FIREMAN’S BALL, can be seen as social critique, and the Czech censors evidently spotted that and clamped down, Jiri Menzel’s CAPRICIOUS SUMMER seems too oblique, too limpid and indifferent, to excite that much ire or smuggle cutting commentaries. And I mean that as a compliment.

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The film’s big achievement, to me anyway, is the way it wafts along, seemingly devoid of plot, tension, point, but still generating some low-level electrostatic interest that keeps you dreamily hooked into the screen. It has a summer quality, even though the weather is mostly lousy. Menzel also appears, as a floppy acrobat-magician, sporting the granny glasses John Lennon popularized in HOW I WON THE WAR, and his performance exactly suits the personality one would attribute to the maker of a film like this — dreamy, indifferent, noodle-like. The film and its characters can contain a few obnoxious moments and traits, but the overall drizzly, good-natured apathy of it all subsumes any whiff of outrage. (It is vaguely possible to get annoyed by Menzel’s more recent I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND, 2006, in which a Nazi eugenics experiment becomes the basis for a prolonged yet curiously flaccid male sexual fantasy.)

I will resist congratulating Menzel on his long, ongoing career, since I did that with Carlo Lizzani and the poor blighter promptly defenestrated himself.

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It’s hard to get to grips with why Menzel’s film seems so seductive. It does speak to something in British culture, actually — The Wind in the Willows, Three Men in a Boat, Last of the Summer Wine — a tradition of middle-aged or elderly layabouts waffling away, wasting time in the country. The quality of colour in Czechoslovakian cinema at that time is also appealing. There’s a sly, teasing eroticism, here embodied by sex kitten Jana Drchalová/Preissová, whose circus dance in a pink onesie was probably the sexiest moment at Cannes that year, or would have been if Cannes had actually happened. Is that faint sound the far-off fapping of Federico Fellini?

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If I can’t pin down exactly what makes the film so appealing, I can isolate exactly what was distracting me all the way through it — Rudolf Hrusínský reminded me strongly of someone. I eventually decided it was a work colleague, but then I couldn’t figure out WHAT it was about the beefy Rudolf that called to mind a much thinner acquaintance. I eventually decided it was the neckline of his jumper. That, and a sort of slouching stance that turns boredom into an aggressive posture. The bullish Rudolf’s character is a collection of bad qualities, but again, as with the rest of the film, I found him oddly attractive. I covet his filthy linen suit and his stripey jumper. Even his stripey, baggy swimming trunks, held on by bizarre braces. It’s a good look for him, and I think I might be able to pull it off.

Menzel’s short tribute to Hrusínský is touching, and a little horrifying. One of the best, and certainly the most elegiac, of the TEN MINUTES OLDER shorts.

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Thursday’s Child

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on February 13, 2014 by dcairns

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Shirley Temple as Philadelphia Thursday in John Ford’s FORT APACHE reacts to the sight of a cavalry officer having his ass spanked.

Very early in this smart, revisionist, conflicted western, our Shirl is shown reacting joyously, first to the sight of John Agar shirtless — her expression cycles through shock, fear, shame, and winds up on “This is great, and it’s totally not my fault that I happened to walk in and see this, so I’m going to enjoy it!” — and then to the sight of him getting spanked — expression saying “This is REALLY shocking — but fun!”

These non-prudish reactions make us like the smooth, creamy Philadelphia, but they also made me think that perhaps the reasons audiences didn’t embrace Shirley in adult roles was that she was sexual, while still using the same palette of performance that had been her stock-in-trade in the thirties. Here, she even does the adorable, momentary trying-not-to-laugh routine, which involves a tightening of the corners of the mouth as they attempt to hold back a smile — Shirley only ever holds back for an instant, and we know it must be a trick because she does it so often and so consistently in her kiddie performances, but it ALWAYS works — we smile too. Seeing this in an adult perf, the public might feel that she was tainting their memories of Curly Top, or that she was making visible the adult qualities that had always been a part of the child star’s persona. It feels wrong to say that Shirley Temple turns you on.

In the sense that she creates a cognitive dissonance, that she has one foot in an earlier age of film storytelling, Shirley might be the perfect star for FORT APACHE, a movie that succeeds in being iconoclastic and placing the US cavalry on the wrong side of the Indian wars, and does not quite succeed in frantically back-pedaling out of danger and leaving us with a comfortable printed legend, all our revered institutions standing proud and unblemished.

The most beautiful tribute.

The ’68 Comeback Special will appear later today.