Archive for Eight and a Half

One and a Half

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on March 14, 2018 by dcairns

Paul Mazursky could never figure out why his second feature as director, ALEX IN WONDERLAND, was so unpopular. True, it has good things in it. But it has no reason to exist. There’s a kind of hubris to Mazursky, an erratic minor talent (not a knock: I LOVE erratic minor talents, we need more of them), in essentially remaking Fellini’s EIGHT AND A HALF from the viewpoint of a Hollywood filmmaker with one hit under his belt. Just as he’d later remake JULES ET JIM as WILLIE AND PHIL and BOUDOU SAVED FROM DROWNING as DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS. And isn’t HARRY AND TONTO kind of a spin on UMBERTO D?

AIW seems to be composed almost entirely of gratuitous non-scenes, people hanging out and not progressing anything. Whereas OTTO E MEZZO has this looming set and this looming start date, the urgent knowledge that Guido MUST make a film, even if the film has deserted him. In ALEX, Donald Sutherland wanders about being weirdly surly and doesn’t agree to make anything. Mazursky himself plays a scene which lets us look inside MGM circa 1969/70, which is fascinating to me, but the scene itself has no real dramatic motor or satiric bite. Time and again he surrounds Sutherland with grotesques and weirdos and Sutherland still comes out of the scene seeming like HE’S the one being satirised. It’s strange, whenever I’ve seen Sutherland as a hippy, he’s been the most passive-aggressive and obnoxious guy onscreen. And yet Mazursky loved him. Was it mutual?

Fellini turns up — the result of the most assiduous wooing by Mazursky. He wanted the maestro in his film just to prove that he wasn’t ACCIDENTALLY remaking 8 1/2. And that is literally all the scene does.

Ellen Burstyn plays the director’s wife and reportedly modelled her perf on Betsy Mazursky. Which is worrying, because the marital conversations are all fraught, with Sutherland snippy and Burstyn frowning, confused and browbeaten. And yet Mazursky managed to stay married to the same woman from his early days of obscurity, past his huge first hit, and beyond this, his huge first flop, and on to eventual death decades later. That has to be a successful marriage, and by Hollywood standards a wondrous one. If you die married, it was a success, right?

Mazursky set out to shoot dream sequences as pastiches of other directors’ work, but they all seem like Fellini to me. One, with Jeanne Moreau and a fairy coach, might be Jacques Demy, but confusingly she’s singing tunes from JULES ET JIM.

I have a photo of myself with Jeanne Moreau and it’s a lot like this: she doesn’t look as good as you’d like, and I look really fatuously pleased with myself.

The big Vietnam fantasy is pretty impressive, and could have made a simple point well: by restaging Nam on Hollywood Boulevard, the film could be asking “How would YOU like it?” But Mazursky throws in Sutherland grieving his murdered (in fantasy only) family — a rehearsal for his DON’T LOOK NOW angst-face — men in tuxes dancing on burning cars, some random guy seemingly raping some woman — the camera crane with a Sutherland doppelgänger directing the whole thing — pedestrians going past as if nothing were happening — a gaggle of Hare Krishnas — and Hooray for Hollywood on the soundtrack, and then Jeanne Moreau passes through, still singing…

Mazursky has made the small blunder of thinking her can do what Fellini does (even CANDY has a passable Fellini pastiche) but the far greater mistake of thinking he understands HOW and WHY Fellini does what he does. Which nobody understands.

Still — we get some nice images…




That’s Gratitude for You

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 13, 2013 by dcairns


A late report from Pordenone Festival of Silent Film (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto) ~

The comic Polidor is most likely to be familiar from his late roles for Fellini (a clown in EIGHT AND A HALF, an elderly actor in TOBY DAMMIT) but he was a successful comedy star in his own right in the 1910s. Tontolini and Polidor were his screen names in most territories, but in the Dutch print of EXCESSIVE GRATITUDE screened at Pordenone he has been re-re-christened Flippie.

Flippie is suicidal because he has no money and it’s always raining (making this a perfect match for SYND in which Lars Hanson has the same problem). But when a good Samaritan gives him his wallet and umbrella, the clown’s exaggerated despair becomes equally disproportionate gratitude. The Roberto Benigni schtick soon drives his benefactor to thoughts of homicide. Failing at outright murder, he eventually shoves Flippie into the path of a slow-moving hand-cart, which graphically slices off both his legs at the knee, in an impressive Meliesian jump-cut trick effect. The Samaritan turned mutilator repairs to a roadside café triumphantly brandishing the amputated limbs, their trouser legs still miraculously attached, but is appalled by Flippie’s reappearance, perambulating around on his stumps like Lon Chaney in THE PENALTY, as infuriatingly upbeat and appreciative as ever.

Despite how it sounds (early Daffy Duck meets early Peter Jackson?) this was actually pretty funny — the product of an age when black comedy did not exist as a concept, it’s simply the product of filmmakers trying whatever struck them as funny or surprising. Nevertheless, if I’d seen this as the sensitive kid I used to be, the limb-lopping gag would have left me traumatized for DAYS.


Polidor expresses his excessive gratitude in TOBY DAMMIT, Fellini’s episode of SPIRITS OF THE DEAD.

Spirits Of The Dead [Blu-ray] [1968]

Talk Big

Posted in FILM with tags , , on June 1, 2011 by dcairns

…and then I saw LA MATERNELLE, in which the subtitles were so huge they sometimes threatened to explode from the screen and crush the cat. And the subtitlers were forced to pile the lettering up in odd formations in order to fit it into the compositions without obscuring them completely.

More on this fine film later.

Clearly absurd.

This is going TOO far.