2016年10月30日 星期日

The 1970s: A Few More Films

After this I'll probably take a break from writing about movies.  But before I do, let's discuss the 70s one more time.

1. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

Warren Beatty and Julie Christie in the same movie... again?  I suppose Hollywood was on to something.

Beatty stars as a man opening up a brothel in the Wild West, and Christie costars as his erstwhile madam.  Robert Altman (M*A*S*H) directs, and this movie has been described as an "anti-Western." 

If you haven't seen it, it'll probably remind you of Clint Eastwood's far more profitable, far more famous Unforgiven.  The crucial difference being that the characters in Unforgiven - even the "bad" ones - are far more engaging.  This isn't to say that McCabe & Mrs. Miller is bad, but it's a lot more nihilistic, and the ending is somewhat anticlimactic.

2. The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976)

Considered by some to be the "crowning jewel" of the "porno chic" movement, this pornographic film had an actual budget, told an actual story, and featured some actual acting.

The story is beside the point, but the budget was put to good use, and the acting is fairly convincing.  Constance Money was also super hot, but I'd have to say that this is one of the most unarousing pornos ever.  Maybe it's because of all the talking?  Maybe it's because the sex scenes are so... mechanical?

At least it's less arty than Behind the Green Door.  Now there's a movie that hasn't aged well. 

3. The Last Picture Show (1971)

One of those "Where are they now?" movies if there ever was one.  The cast is a veritable who's who of 70s rising stars - Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, Randy Quaid, and many others.

The director, Peter Bogdanovich, is one of the "New Hollywood" guys.  The Last Picture Show, despite being a tour de force of film-making, was his first and only triumph.  Aside from 1980's Mask, he hasn't done a whole lot since.

But historical leavetakings aside, The Last Picture Show is a great movie, and I don't use the adjective "great" lightly.  It's a heartfelt, haunting portrait of smalltown Texas that will stay with you - long after the end credits have faded from the screen.

4. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

Nicolas Roeg directs David Bowie at his most otherworldly.  It has a lot in common with 1984's Starman, though I think John Carpenter improved upon the premise used in Roeg's earlier film.

This movie is strangely sexual, in the way that only 70s science fiction films could be.  Bowie proved himself to be a good actor, and the sci-fi elements are handled adroitly enough.  It's definitely not bad, but it's often too arty for its own good.  The progression of events in the larger world could have also been illustrated better.

5. Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Marlon Brando plays a grieving widower who finds solace in the arms of a much younger woman.  Bernardo Bertolucci directs.  

I watched the unrated version, and given Maria Schneider's stunning beauty I'm glad I did.  She was so truly, so achingly beautiful, that I'd almost watch the movie again, just for that scene where she's standing in the phone booth.

Brando is - as always - Brando, but the relationship between his and Schneider's characters is hard to decipher.  There are a lot of memorable scenes in this movie, but I don't know that these scenes really fit together as a whole.  Watching it is by turns a frustrating and depressing experience, and even now I'm not sure whether I liked it or not.

It's worth noting that both Brando and Schneider felt "violated" by some of the situations they were put into while making this movie.  They remained lifelong friends afterward, and neither had many good things to say about Bertolucci.

6. Tommy (1975) 

Ann-Margaret and Oliver Reed star as a pair of psychologically damaging parents, with Roger Daltrey as the deaf, dumb, and blind kid that sure plays a mean pinball.

I think I would have liked it more if I'd been on drugs.  That's probably how most people in the 70s saw it anyway: on drugs.  As it is, and with me fairly lucid, it was weird enough to be interesting, but I won't be in a hurry to see it again.  Part of rock n' roll history to be sure, but the stage version (or the album) is/was probably much better.

7. Badlands (1973) 

Before he was directing movies so pretentious that I can't bear to watch them, Terrence Malick was directing smaller, character-driven dramas like this one.

Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek star as a young couple on the run.  It was Malick's first film, and stars Sheen and Spacek weren't much more established in the world of movies.  Malick would follow this movie up with his second film, Days of Heaven, in 1978, and after that nothing would be heard from him until 21 years later, when he directed The Thin Red Line.

It's a good movie, and I'm sure I'll watch it again when I have the time.

8. The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

Still an excellent film.  I thought I hadn't seen it, but as it turns out I saw it years ago without knowing the title.

Sean Connery stars as The Man in question, with Michael Caine as his partner/sidekick.  Shakira Caine, who remains married to Michael Caine to this very day, plays Sean Connery's love interest.  John Huston directs.

Like many of Kipling's stories, this one looms rather large, rather mythical in the imagination, but Huston did a superb job of adapting it into a movie.

9. Lenny (1974) 

Kind of like Dustin Hoffman's Raging Bull.  This movie depicts the rise and fall of comedian Lenny Bruce.

If costar Valerie Perrine looks familiar, it's because she was also Ms. Teschmacher in Superman I and II.  Who knew she was such a great actress?  I certainly didn't.

Ah, heroin.  It's so much fun in the beginning, and then you're drowning in your bathtub, or spending years in prison.  Not a happy life for Lenny, but it sure made for a good film.

10. Nashville (1975)

Nashville is director Robert Altman's eighth movie of the 70s.  It's one of his most-nominated films, and features a cast of character actors you'll probably recognize from many other films. 

For me, this movie raises the "art vs. artifice" question more strongly than another other film I've seen recently.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but if I invent ten characters, and then arrange a meeting for each character with every other character in the course of a two and a half hour movie, can I call that art?  Or is it artifice?

But then again, there's that moment when Barbara Jean is on stage and having a breakdown.  That's art, man.  Or is it?  Or is the very fact that I'm asking the question evidence that it's art?

Hard to say.  Maybe I just need more time to think about Nashville.  Maybe I need time to decide whether the characters in this movie are really characters, or whether they are just the efforts of a script writer trying too hard to invent characters, where the plot doesn't imply their existence.

Deep waters, to be sure.  Again, I'd have to think about it.  But Nashville is worth seeing, even if you don't like country music.

11.The Conversation (1974)

Gene Hackman stars as a lonely, paranoid surveillance specialist who suspects that one of his clients intends murder.  Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directs this film.

Interestingly enough, The Conversation would lose the Best Picture award to The Godfather Part II.  The Godfather Part II was also directed by Coppola.

Like Hackman's earlier French Connection, this movie has a lot of atmosphere.  I highly recommend it.