by Sam Juliano
I just now, before publishing read a very sad e mail sent on to me by Tony d’Ambra. The beloved actor and American institution Mickey Rooney has passed on at age 93. His life and legacy will hopefully be included and/or well represented in today’s comment section.
The erstwhile adage April showers brings May flowers could not have been any more apt than the manner it has been applied for the first week of the month when Spring will first make its official appearance. Several days of some serious drenching has linked up with the first days of the pollen season and the result for some of us has been sore throats, itchy eyes, incessant coughing and various other allergy-related discomfort.
The romantic countdown polling stage is now complete, with the Tuesday, April 1st deadline long gone, and final results will soon be released to the e mail chain of voters and prospective writers. WitD readers of course will see the countdown unfold in reverse order starting on Thursday, May 7th, and running well into September. This will mark the first non-autumn roll-out for one of our genre festivals, but it was done purposely to wed Spring and Summer with the romantic theme. Between 20 and 25 films have been “reserved” by eager writers, but even if those claims were to stand (some probably won’t for a number of reasons) that would still leave 75 to 80 essays to be covered, so we will definitely need a lot of help. A lot. But all that bartering will be done behind close doors. Ha! I do anticipate sending out the results later tonight, as I have spoken at length with Angelo. One thing that is certain is that we have decided to do a full Top 101 for the countdown, much as we did for the comedy countdown (100), largely because we received a whopping 30 ballots, and because Angelo tabulated the full hundred. This is obviously one of the most popular pollings, and we should at least match the comedy countdown. Somehow, 101 is a distinguished number that stands apart from an ordinary 100, and because of a tabulation error Angelo has tabulated 101, so 101 it will be.
Lucille, Sammy and I (and Jeremy for the Sunday Film Forum Jr.) attended several features in the ongoing Tout Truffaut Festival, one new release and the Sunday Film Forum Jr. offering:
Under the Skin **** 1/2 (Saturday night) AMC Cinemas
Oliver! (1968) ***** (Sunday) Film Forum
Jules and Jim (1961) ***** (Tuesday) Tout Truffaut
Close Encounters of Third Kind (1977) ****1/2 (Wed) Tout Truffaut
The Woman Next Door (1981) *** 1/2 (Thursday) Tout Truffaut
The Bride Wore Black (1968) **** (Friday) Tout Truffaut
Mississippi Mermaid (1969) **** 1/2 (Sunday) Tout Truffaut
UNDER THE SKIN is one of the most visually arresting and creative films I have seen in years, and I’d conclude it is a near-masterpiece. I would have liked if it were as intellectually evocative as it is visually brilliant, but I understand on the other hand that everyone will bring something different to the table in assessing what is less of a film than an experience. As most already know the film is about an alien who meets up with men of all sorts in Scotland at a time not clearly delineated to ultimately kill them off after seducing and dehumanizing them. Jonathan Glazer is a master stylist, (seemingly indebted to David Lynch, and as many also mention-Nicolas Roeg) and from the opening minutes you know you are in the hands of a cinematic maestro, who has brought forth a new language that even reduces the avante garde to narrative plausibility. A stunning achievement, with an unforgettable Scarlet Johansson. I might mention here that this film is divisive and both my wife Lucille and Broadway Bob Eagleson thought it was one of the worst films they have ever seen in their lives. A number of the professional critics like Richard Corliss have trashed it as well. I will say, however, that anyone who comes in with a negative verdict should not be derided by intellectual superiority talk that they disliked the film because it disavowed narrative elements. Many other artists (Malick and Von Trier included) have strayed from narrative underpinnings too, and there are a number of people who have embraced such works and rejected Glazer. Each film brings its own experience, and isn’t reached because of stylistic or genre aversion.
This week’s Sunday morning Film Forum Jr. offering was the fabulously delightful Oscar winning musical OLIVER!, and Lucille and I brought Sammy and Jeremy to join in all the fun for this pristine roadhouse version print with entrance music and intermission of this musical version of Dickens’ classic novel. The review I wrote for it a few years ago for the musical countdown might be the one I more fun writing than any other I ever wrote at this site:
Steven Spielberg’s magical CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND was shown in its complete running time as part of the TOUT TRUFFAUT Festival. Of course everyone knows Truffaut was one of the acting leads, and the Film Forum organizers had decided a while back to include any film that Truffaut was connected with as actor, writer or producer. Maurice Pialat’s first film and Godard’s BREATHLESS (for which Truffaut wrote the story) are also featured in the line-up, though I am taking a pass on both due to the overload. I certainly like both quite a bit. And I like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS quite a bit as well (those final 20 minutes were magnificent) and was thrilled to turn young Sammy on to the film for the first time, and on the big screen to boot.
The renowned critic David Thomson, who has published some of the most acclaimed film dictionaries, has astoundingly included the once-panned but since re-evaluated MISSISSIPPI MERMAID as among his Ten Greatest Films of All-Time in the ballot he submitted to SIGHT AND SOUND for their 2012 decade polling. A complete print of the film is hard to find, but one very fine one was screened Sunday afternoon (in fact four times for the day) at the Film Forum, and while Lucille and the two boys strolled downtown-Sammy needed a break from Truffaut after seeing OLIVER! and other Truffauts this past week- I was conquered by this 1969 vastly underrated Truffaut film that for me is a near-masterpiece. A young and beautiful Catherine Deneuve stars with Jean-Paul Belmondo is a film that features some alluring settings on the French controlled Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean and in France, and an enveloping story of a tobacco plantation owner who married the wrong woman after she comes in place of the one intended, and through the rest of the story this unlikely relationship is strengthened by undying love from the male who goes as far as to commit murder to keep it thriving. One immediately notices the parallels to Hitchcock’s MARNIE in a number of telling ways, but this should hardly be seen as a surprise in view of Truffaut’s long-held veneration of Hitch. Great ending too in the snow setting. As this was the first time I saw this film, I regret now not voting for it for the romantic countdown.
Raoul Coutard’s lyrical romantic panning and the tender and wistful music by Georges Delerue bring the cinema’s most unforgettable love triangle in JULES AND JIM to the world of Truffaut, one in which the women unceasingly choose the less romantic man when there is a choice. The somber ending is practically as stunning as the one seen in THE 400 BLOWS, and by any barometer of measurement this is one of the director’s supreme masterpieces, and a sure choice to make any romantic films list. Jeanne Moreau’s extraordinary performance is one of the most famous ever committed to film, and the film traces innocence to resignation.
THE BRIDE WORE BLACK is perhaps the most Hitchcockian of all Truffaut’s films, in fact its a homage. A woman gets revenge on a group of men, and one by one dispatches them. Some wry humor and stylistic flourishes this is certainly an exceedingly entertaining film.
THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR is not top tier Truffaut, but this story of a dormant love affair that spills over into a renewed fling is better than I remember it to be with very fine acting by Gerard Depardieu and Fanny Ardant.