Monday, November 18, 2019

THE DEVILS (1971, GREAT BRITAIN), CARAVAGGIO (1986, GREAT BRITAIN)

Vanessa Redgrave as the physically challenged 
and emotionally complex nun
in The Devils

"The Devils is a see-through movie composed of a lot of clanking, silly, melodramatic effects that, like rib-tickling, exhaust you without providing particular pleasure, to say nothing of enlightenment."-Vincent Canby, The New York Times, July 17, 1971

"The Devils is an incredibly ambitious film, conceived not merely as a historical document by as a visionary work, a prophetic warning of the tenacity of ignorance and superstition."-Stpehn Farber, The New York Times, August 15, 1971

"Ken Russell's The Devils arrived in Venice tonight and encountered semi-censorship. It was show for the press and for an invited audience, but its public showing was canceled to avoid possible police intervention."-Thomas Quinn Curtiss, The New York Times, August 29, 1971

The three 1971 reviews of The Devils from the New York Times well illustrates three ways you can look at The Devils, Ken Russell's drama about a priest who runs a city in 17th century but continues to be thwarted by the governmental, religious and sexual politics of others. You can look at it as an over-the-top mess, which it is at times, depicting religious orgies and elaborated scenes of torture. You can look at is as a canny indictment of politics and religion and how an honest man is likely to become a victim of the treachery of others. You can also see why others might have objected to the content of the film, for the way it depicts sexuality and religion. I hadn't seen this film in thirty years and seeing it again, I can understand all points of view. It was at times way over the top to the point of wretched excess...yet, it had a valid story to tell that stays with me. Judge for yourself.

The film is based of Aldous Huxley's book, The Devils of Loudon.

Oliver Reed as the good priest
in The Devils

Carvaggio (Nigel Terry) and street tough (Sean Bean)
discuss their complex relationship

"Art becomes life becomes art as (Derek) Jarman breathes biological life into Caravaggio's greatest paintings while the artist reflects without any mercy on his own life split between the braying snobbery of the art world, and the exciting danger of a universe where violence and sex intersect."-Colin MacCabe, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Caravggio is a pleasure to look at and its disjointedness is a way of seizing what Mr. Jarman apparently concieves to be the wild leaps of faith of Caravaggio's imagination."-Walter Goodman, The New York Times, August 29, 1986

The impressive set designer of The Devils was Derek Jarman, who soon began to make controversial movies of his own from the director's chair. Caravaggio is Jarman's film about aspects of the life of the famed painter (played by Nigel Terry) and it is a much less elaborate affair than The Devils. The story begins with Caravaggio on his death bed looking back on his life as a young street hustler through his time as a favored artist of the Catholic Church. He also has intrigues with a local ruffian named Ranuccio (Sean Bean) and his girlfriend Lena (Tilda Swinton).

You can take the facts presented in Jarman's film with a grain of salt. I'd recommend comparing them with the episode on Caravaggio of Simon Schama's BBC series The Power of Art. 

Silmon Schama's 
The Power of Art

Saturday, November 16, 2019

DOLEMITE (1975), DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019)

 Rudy May Moore is...Dolemite


I was listening to a podcast recently featuring screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. They were talking about their newest film, Dolemite is My Name starring Eddie Murphy. It made me want to see it, but also realized I had never seen the original Dolemite movie before! How had I missed this classic?
So I knew I had to quickly get acquainted with the original.

Dolemite is both a masterpiece of camp and enjoyable in its on right. Dolemite (played by the one and only Rudy May Moore) gets released from jail and sort of goes undercover searching for bad guys and bad cops. He wears flashy clothes, makes out with a lot of sexy girls who can do Kung Fu and says Motherfucker! a lot! He also shares a lot of his slam/bam poetry with us and provides my favorite moments from the movie.
It's a fun ride and your 70's blaxploitation viewing resume isn't complete without it.

Eddie Murphy is ...Rudy May Moore...in
Dolemite is My Name!

This set me up to watch Dolemite is My Name! with Eddie Murphy playing Rudy May Moore. Rudy is an enthusiastic self promoter. He sings and does comedy in local clubs but never manages to make it big. He's into his forties at this point and that big break in show business is unlikely at this point...or is it? Murphy has a field day in this role as the never say die Rudy May. The screenplay gives us everything we could possibly want to know about the unlikely rise of  Mr. Dolemite. Some of the highlights of the film include Rudy's absorption of old stories from street people to create his Dolemite character and the making of the Dolemite film, which is produced on the cheap to say the least.

Alexander and Karaszewski also wrote the screenplay for Ed Wood, a story of another unlikely movie icon. Ed and Rudy May both had their loyal entourages, who we get to know well in Ed Wood and Dolemite is My Name! 

Friday, November 15, 2019

DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES (1988), HOUSEKEEPING (1987)


Distant Voices, Still Lives


Distant Voices, Still Lives is the story of a working class family in 40's and 50's Liverpool. It's a struggle to get by for the Davies family and their problems are exacerbated by an often abusive family patriarch (Pete Postlehwaite). The family uses music throughout to bond and get through hard times. Despite the creative and abundant use of song throughout, you are unlikely to leave this one taping your toes or whistling a tune.

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart. Proverbs 11:29


Housekeeping

Life also isn't easy for the two young girls growing up in the Pacific Northwest during roughly the same time frame as Distant Voices, Still Lives. The girl's single mother commits suicide early in the story and they end up living with their eccentric Aunt (Christine Lahti). The characters are well drawn and the chemistry between the principles and the vibrant rustic setting add much to the film.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heavenEcclesiastes 3:1-8

Sunday, November 10, 2019

DINER (1982), BUFFALO '66 (1998)


Bacon, Rourke, Daly and Stern enjoy lunch
...or is it breakfast? in Diner

Diner is Barry Levinson's autobiographical film about being a young adult in Baltimore in late 1959. The film features the guys in the film hanging out in the local diner (hence the title) and how they are dealing with various degrees of success facing adulthood, responsibility and even (gasp!) marriage. The film has always been a favorite of mine and is smartly written by Levinson and boasts distinctive and interesting characterizations. Reminiscent of American Graffiti a decade before it, Diner had a cast of unknowns that were to come to prominence in upcoming years: Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern, Tim Daly, Kevin Bacon, Steve Guttenberg, Paul Reiser and Ellen Barkin.

Johnny Unitas leads the 1959 Baltimore Colts
to another title

Are you ready for some football? Diner's Eddie (Guttenberg) is so obsessed with the Baltimore Colts, that he makes his fiancee pass a football quiz before he agrees to marry her. We see mostly his buddies as she is taking the test waiting to see if she makes the grade as if they are waiting for her to deliver a baby in one of the film's funniest scenes. The Colts were on their way to a second straight NFL championship in 1959, defeating the Giants in the title game 31-16.

Up for anything Layla (Ricci) poses
with the morose Billy (Gallo) in Buffalo '66

Writer/Director/Star Vincent Gallo's indy film Buffalo '66 rates most highly on my personal "quirky film meter." Gallo plays Billy, who right after serving a lengthy prison sentence recruits a girl named Layla (Christina Ricci) he picks up to pose as his wife to mollify his parents (Ben Gazzara and Angelica Huston). Recruits might not be the right word as kidnaps may be a more appropriate term. Of course, she seems oddly willing to go along with the not particularly likable Billy's scheme. We then get to see Billy's strange family dynamic, learn why the innocent Billy went to jail, witness gambling addiction and its subsequent consequences, observe a most off-beat romance between the two leads and of course, get a heavy dose of football obsession. The off-beat supporting cast also includes: Jan-Michael Vincent, Rosanna Arquette and Mickey Rourke (of Diner).

Quarterback Jack Kemp leads the '66 Buffalo Bills

Are you ready for some football? The title of this film is based on Billy being born during the Buffalo Bills championship AFL season of 1966, causing his fanatical football fan mother to miss the championship game, which she reminds him of at every opportunity. In reality, the Bills actually won the title games in 1964 and 1965 and lost the '66 title game 31-7 to the Kansas City Chiefs, depriving them of an opportunity to play in the first Super Bowl. So it goes.