Cinema Penitentiary diaries September 8-16, 2015

8.  10,000 Saints REVIEWED

9.   Love Me or Leave Me Doris Day is like Marilyn Monroe without the clown make-up. Except Day is a  better actress, singer, and dancer than Monroe.  There are those who prefer suicidal burnouts with no talent to accomplished performers like Day, but their rabid adoration neither justifies Monroe nor diminishes Day, whose performance as pop singer Ruth Etting in the fictionalized bio “Love Me or Leave Me”  puts Monroe’s amateurish theatrics way back in the shade.  This is one  of Hollywood’s toughest musicals,  right up there with Martin Scorsese’s “New York, New York” and William Wellman’s “A Star is Born.”   Playing across from an aging James Cagney, who gives his all as Elling’s gangster/manager husband, Day is plugged in and electric as the ambitious singer whose career is threatened by a violent dumbass who  is jealous of her every move.  Their relationship is reminiscent of the way Paul Snider and Dorothy Stratten were portrayed in Bob Fosse’s “Star 80,”  although Cagney and Day get their sordid story across within the boundaries of 1955  general entertainment.  Good as director Charles Vidor is with the actors, his cinematic world lacks vigor.  Even the Eastmancolor is lackluster.  He doesn’t seem to realize he is filming in Cinemascope, with all the mise en scene placed in the center of the screen, offering nothing on the periphery to seduce  ones eye to the right or the left.  But Cagney and Day  burn up the center of the screen, not as over-heated as Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones in the over-sexed western  “Duel in the Sun,”  but in that cool, classic Hollywood style was born in Wellman and resurrected with Scorsese.  The Great Silence Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 western starring Jean Louis Trintignant and Klaus Kinski seems to be eclipsing his “Django” in reputation as the director’s  masterpiece.  There is much in the film to support this preference, although I think “Django” will return to favor as the bad taste of  Quentin Tarantino’s shameless appropriation of the Django moniker in his oppressively bad film fades from memory.  “The Great Silence” is notable for its winter scenes which are almost as successful as the attempt at shooting black and white with color film by William Wellman in “Track of the Cat,”  and tightly scripted story, as well as the superior performances from the two leads.

10.   Baby Love It’s 1968, and the British Film Industry is getting belatedly and in authentically mod. Stick with “Blow Up,” and pass this trash by.

11.   Gummo Is everybody in the picture suffering from birth defects and mental retardation? I nearly puked watching this grotesque trash. Some numbskulls might compare it to John Waters’ “PInk Flamingos,” but Waters’ filthy deviants have wit and humor, while Harmony Korine’s friends and neighbors aren’t even fit for the zoo.  Scarlet Innocence  When a  married professor is suspended for improper conduct with a student, he takes a job in a provincial school where he  has an affair with a student that yields more than he bargained for. Midnight Express  True story about an American kid who is sentenced to four years in a Turkish prison for attempting to smuggle two kilos of hashish out of the country.  His sentence is eventually extended to thirty years, so he gets serious about escaping.  Blame it on Rio In the mid eighties, they were still making movies about an imaginary Rio   populated by ugly tourists and willing natives, where the proliferation of bare breasts on the beach liberated uptight businessmen into engaging in  most improper behaviors.  Only the prestige of Michael Caine’s performance keeps this trash from being dismissed as soft-core porn.  I wonder if today, when the real horrors of that corrupt country are known to the world, audiences would still buy into such juvenile fantasies.

12.   Adventureland (REVIEWED) The Sandpiper (REVIEWED)

13.   Private Road I don’t think this 1973 British film ever got a proper release in the US. It’s too bad, because this is one of the best post-mod pictures to come out of England. Aside from its realistic portraits of young people in that period and place, there are some insightful barbs at the hypocrisy of the publishing industry that  predated “Wonder Boys” by several decades.   Ugetsu Mizoguchi’s masterful ghost story scares me more each time I see it.  The film would be perfect if only it had omitted the scene where the wife is murdered.  Imagine the chills if we did not know she was a ghost until the end.

14.   Puzzle Duccio Tessari’s intriguing thriller about an amnesiac and a million dollars worth of heroin stays three steps ahead of the audience until its satisfying wrap-up. Rio Bravo (REVIEWED)

15.   El Dorado (REVIEWED) Francis Why didn’t William Arnold get a credit on this picture, which is largely based on Arnold’s disputed biography of Francis Farmer? Even though she never really was given a lobotomy, I still believe in the narrative truth of the movie. That is how good Jessica Lange’s performance is.  She makes us believe that something that never happened actually did happen, and we react to the fictional event with as much emotion as it would deserve if true.  I love this movie for many reasons, not the least of which that it is set in my hometown, which I was missing during my long residency in Boston. Seeing neighborhoods crisscrossed by the  streets resembling the streets where I had grown up  flickering on the big screen of  the grand old Exeter theater on Boston’s Newbury Street provided a rare episode of nostalgia for this displaced Seattle boy. Watching it again today brings back a strange yearning for those streets that I will, in all probability, never see again.

16.   A Woman in a Lizard’s Skin Some of Lucio Fulci’s best work is on view here in this ultimately unsatisfying whodunit. The dream sequences are wonderful, but the explanation behind it all is muddled and unconvincing. Among the exceptional scenes in one in which Florinda Bolkan is attacked by bats in an attic that is the equal of a similar scene with Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” One thing that struck me during the early scenes was that the preponderance of lesbianism in European horror movies of the seventies and eighties may have something to do with the legends of the Succubus, that folkloric demon who steels the seed of man while he dreams erotic dreams. Now, if such scenes take place between a man and a woman, the conventionality of the erotic content diminishes the elements of the nightmare, as the male viewer is apt to find the scenes more erotic than horrific.  But if the succubus attacks a woman rather than a man, the male viewer is left out of the equation, and finds himself on the outside looking in, just like the painted hippies on acid who are eyeless eyewitnesses to the film’s  murder event, successfully shifting the experience from erotic fantasy to the horror of a witness to a diabolical crime.  This theory is probably more justified by the images in the lesbian vampire films of Jean Rollin than by Fulci’s whodunit, but the idea came to me while watching “A Woman in a Lizard Skin,” so there you have it.


12 thoughts on “Cinema Penitentiary diaries September 8-16, 2015

  1. 9? that is a glowing review of an overlooked film. and i liked don rickles in the roger corman film, man with the x-ray eyes, but that’s about it. my favorite comedian? richard pryor, of course, with lenny bruce not far behind. also my two friends jimmy tingle and barry crimmins, who helped me keep my sense of humor through the first gulf war with their scathing satires.


  2. look at their faces. they are very similar, except doris has a natural beauty and marilyn is scary-looking, with all that clown make-up. Carlin was pretty funny I agree. The problem with the SNL comics and their descendents is that they werenot only unto funny, but had no comedic skills. steve martin just stood there with an arrow through his head , telling us he was a wild a crazy guy. lenny was a terrific mimic. pryor created characters. and almost all of the old comics were skilled in pantomime, movement, and timing. rickles had no talent. neither did that other dickhead, rodney dangerfied. did you now that the average comic adds only 3 minutes of new material to their arsenel each year. a political satirist, on the other hand, is always writing, adding up to 15 minutes of new material every week. i liked steve wright, although his talent was extrememely limited. my idea of a great comic is donald o connor in singin in the rain.


  3. I love that–Donald O’Connor. Jerry Lewis could be very funny when he wasn’t acting like an idiot. Peter Sellers is talented. While I can’t say I’m a fan of the vulgarity of Eddie Murphy, the man can mimic and alter himself. So too could Robin Williams–I thought he was incredibly talented in a rabid, insane kind of way. I have always respected the talented who can do impersonations. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the other week that Kevin Spacey has a nice repertoire of peer impersonations.


    1. robin williams was a psychotic dope fiend who did improv in a little place right behind my house in west hollywood when he got the job on mork and mindy on the condition that he clean up his act. i couldnt stand him, though i must confess he made me laugh on occasion. all those goon show guys were funny…also peter cook and dudley moore whose’ beyond the fringe was the first live show ii ever saw (aged 14) and of course the monty python troupe. i think penelope cruz is hilarious, and hate they way the north american film industry has tried to pass her off as a tempestuous sex symbol..which she isnt. she is a funny looking and funny. not as funny as shirley maclaine though. and how could i have forgotten jerry lewis? toshiro mifune could be pretty funny too…


      1. I loved Penelope C. in Woody Allen’s Vicky, Christy, Barcelona. Love Monty Python. Speaking of Brits, I think Hugh Grant has fine, sardonic timing even though he’s in shitty movies most of the time.


    1. Allen;s latter day movies play like first read-throughs of a play. he isnt much of a director, but i see everything he does and enjoy most of it. i liked him best when he was emulating chekhov in movies such as interiors, september, and another woman. Polanski is an accomplished director, but most of what he does is of little interest to me. i liked repulsion, rosemary;s baby, and the tenant, but little else. however, in times like these, when directing is of scantimportance to the manufacturing of a film, i appreciate directors like polanski, if only because they know what they are doing, and most of what they are doing has a purpose..


  4. ‘Love Me Or Leave Me’, now you’re talking, Bill. My kind of film. The only one I ever liked Doris Day in though. Monroe was no actress, but I could watch her all day, and that’s enough for me. I like Penelope Cruz in ‘Volver’, but then I’m a big Almodovar fan.
    Regards, Pete.


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