Friday, October 3, 2008

Slob's Matinee

So with all the free time on my hands pursuing new careers in this new town I've had plenty of time to drink coffee, listen to old records, dick around on the internet (72 hours on Facebook and I feel like Don Jose at the end of Carmen, only, you know, not a murderer) and of course watch lots of movies.  

Fearless Vampire Killers (dir. Roman Polanski, 1967)  Just before Polanski's eye for the eerie went stone sober with the following year's Rosemary's Baby, he made this light-hearted vampire comedy.  Like Woody Allen at the time, Polanski was soaking in classic hyperkinetic slapstick, adding erotic and intellectual nods--doubtless in both instances from compulsion.  Fearless specifically owes a debt to Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, one of the rare comedy-horror mash-ups that offers genuine scares.  The bawdiness--difficult as it is to get past the awkward pathos of lusting after Sharon Tate, accentuates some of the great themes of horror--the dangers of lust, the mysteries of love, etc.  Overall its a little slow-moving, but the set designs are exquisite--especially the snowy lunar-blue landscape of the Carpathians.  Komeda's score--with whom Polanski would reprise for Rosemary lends a lush ambiguity to the hunt.   

Volver (dir. Pedro Almodovar, 2006 )  My good pal, RP, once defended Penelope Cruz from my barrage of common insults (she's mousy; she's a stereotype of the fiesty Spanish babe; her eyes are cloyingly mournful) by suggesting I see her in a Spanish-speaking role--it would make all the difference.  Dammit, it did.  Cruz makes perfect sense in the bi-generational family mystery. Her sexuality is bright and complicated, and the psychology of her character is deep and well-played.  There is a spirit world mysticism to the movie that rings out an awful lot like Joyce's sometimes off-putting Irish Catholicism, but in either case I'll gladly concede when the unfamiliar territory is convincing.  This was a first for me, both in taking to Cruz, and digging into Almodovar.  What next, RP?  

Shoot the Piano Player (Francois Truffaut 1960)  I know, I know, a guy goes outta work for a few weeks and he becomes an aesthete!  Truth be told I've been watching as much Beavis and Butthead and Murder She Wrote in the stretch.  Philadelphia-born David Goodis wrote this noir.  And from the outset I was skeptical of a French new wave adaptation; I'm still scratching my head over Kurosawa's High and Low.  This movie is a fantastic bait and switch.  You get sucked into this meandering Parisian lamentation just long enough for it to spin on its heels into full-on noir.  But genre-play is, remarkably, lesser among the virtues at work here.  For one thing, the photography of human beings is superb.  I know that sounds a little pretentious, but it's essential to the works.  The faces of the cast linger, while the brusque comedy  keeps tragic events from overwhelming the basic loveliness Truffaut seems intent on capturing.  Bumbling kidnappers, hopelessly pretty, witty women and droopy-eyed bums comprise the ultimate proto-Coen ensemble.   The finale is breathtakingly shot, in a distant, blurred frame.  No spoilers, you gotta go forth, seek it out...

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