May 23, 2010

Altman's 'Goodbye' Proves Long in Tooth (& Script)

That's it. I'm done with Robert Altman.

Having attempted, for the 4,637th time, this weekend to get through an entire film from the director's 1970s heyday, I have now resolved to avoid all further Altman flicks. The catalyst for this decision: 1973's The Long Goodbye, an Elliott Gould-fest disguised as a Raymond Chandler mystery.

I made it about halfway before I left the room to manage my fantasy baseball team.

Trudi didn't get much further into the film and finally became disgusted with it during a scene in which a hood brutalizes his mistress.

I, of course, had become disgusted with it much sooner.

The fact is, when a Serious Movie spends the first 15 minutes or so documenting the protagonist's efforts to feed his finicky cat, there's something wrong.

And I don't care if this is this is un hommage to Chandler, cats or quirky characterizations. It's not interesting. By the time the film got somewhere near a plot, I'd already given up on it.

Oh, and then there was the mumbling. Overlapping mumbling. A Robert Altman specialty that seems to typify his work.

As Mad Magazine's Alfred E.Neuman might say, "Ecch!"

Look, I like a bit of overlapping dialogue here and there. It worked perfectly in the original, 1951 The Thing from Another World. But Altman-directed actors always seem to be performing as if they are conversing with friends in their living rooms. Please, for the love of Ethel Merman, PROJECT!!!

Of course, that wasn't the only thing wrong, in my opinion, with the film. I though the cinematography, by the usually reliable Vilmos Zsigmond, was too murky and uninteresting, and Altman's lack of closeups made the movie cold and distant. It was hard to care about the characters, and this is a "quality" that, to my mind, informs other Altman pictures.

So you can count me out of the viewing of any further Altman extravaganzas. I know he was a much-loved director of the '70s, but I'm just not in that corner. Give me The Thing any day. Or Ethel Merman.

May 16, 2010

Dreyer's 'Passion' Fuels Faith in Silent Cinema

Sometimes, you just wanna sit back and watch a good ol' silent movie.

I did that last night when I checked out Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, a film I'd heard about for years but hadn't yet seen (for no apparent reason). I chose to watch it without the accompanying musical score, as I wanted to know how good it could be in a soundless state.

Well, it was good, all right. Typical Dreyer: deliberately but not slowly paced, with a focus on faith and emotional details...though one of the surprising aspects of the film was how timeless it seemed--with its quick cuts, stark closeups and curious camera angles, Passion would be difficult to place in a particular time period if I hadn't known it came out in 1928.

Unlike, say, anything by the incredibly overrated D.W. Griffith.

Yeah, let the hate mail come in. I'm ready.

Dreyer's attention to detail and focus on facial expressions were superlative and reminded me a bit of the Eisenstein classic Alexander Nevsky. I wonder if ol' Sergei had seen Passion. I wouldn't be surprised if he had. Dreyer's less well known but almost as great a director, and the two shared, I think, many sensibilities.

As well as sterling silent-film credentials.

OK, so Rouen's cathedral doesn't look like the one in Passion. Big deal. There was greatness in the movie that transcended reality. And it was such a simple subject, too.

Not easy filmmaking, and not for the novice. This is a world that requires strong faith in the director.

But I think I have it.