Thursday, May 19, 2016
AVANTI! and FEDORA, have never been the most popular Wilder titles but putting aside how much I love them they made sense as a pairing—both from the 70s and set over in Europe, they each are rather wistful meditations on the past and what it means to us, what it can continue to mean for us. Essentially, they are Billy Wilder as Old Man. Both films have also been largely forgotten about and FEDORA, completed in 1978, never got much of a release at all. With issues that compounded its making, FEDORA is a problem film. Once the full scope of its plot has been revealed it’s easy to imagine how it might have worked better in its original literary form anyway. But along with the right amount of acidity within its story and compassion for its characters, FEDORA also has a power within the greater context of Wilder’s career. This is it, the film says, there are no other chances. This is the only opportunity you have to get everything right and, face it, you probably won’t. It’s a film that basically says ‘Fuck it’ to everything. Like many problem films, it’s rather beautiful in its freakishness. It’s also a reminder that most desperate conversations you have in bars late at night never result in anything you desire. APARTMENT films feel stifled by their strict plotting and maybe also a little too lumbering in how they’re paced (some more than others) FEDORA actually feels a little like he’s managed to break free of those old structural habits for the first time in years and found a new way to explore his preoccupations. Narratively speaking, it’s one of his most daring films with an intricate structure that almost shouldn’t work, essentially a plot that takes up the first hour followed by a flashback heavy second half in which everything gets explained a la Agatha Christie. I’m hardly the first to point out that just about anyone could guess where things are going within the first 30 minutes (in spite of this, I’ll try to keep the twists and revelations of the film under wraps) but for once the strict mechanics of the plot feel secondary to Wilder. FEDORA is not SUNSET BOULEVARD of course, few films ever can be, and it almost has no choice but to live in the earlier film’s shadow while still offering some intriguing differences to make it a distorted mirror image--the movie star in the earlier film has been forgotten about by the world, left to rot even if she is only a few miles away from Paramount. The title character of FEDORA, on the other hand, has traveled far away to live in exile and is still remembered but can’t return no matter how much people apparently long for the glamour that she represents. There’s a broken beauty to FEDORA which makes perfect sense since that’s much of what it’s about anyway. THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE (I still watch that every now and then, desperately looking for the good film in it) from a decade earlier which contains more than a few similarities—it’s not too much of a stretch to call this the Wilder rewrite of that film’s concept but his particular point of view gives FEDORA both the satirical slant as well as the sadness. There’s no getting away from this in Wilder’s eye, there’s no way out but the death that, if one faces facts, is most likely not too far off. S.O.B. just a few years later, and his strength is what’s needed particularly since it doesn’t always come from Keller’s performance in spite of her valiant work. It needs to be the performance of a lifetime but, of course, Fedoras don’t come along every day and at least Hildegard Knef as the Countess does manage to find the weary tragedy in the story when it’s most needed. Jose Ferrer also brings the needed wit to his part as if his character is continually annoyed by the events of the movie and would much rather sit down with yet another bottle of cognac. Frances Sternhagen is Fedora’s loyal secretary/companion, Mario Adorf (who took part in one of the best car chases ever in Fernando Di Leo’s THE ITALIAN CONNECTION) is the friendly but ignored hotel manager assisting Holden in some of the material that most closely resembles AVANTI! and Stephen Collins is the young William Holden in flashback. Henry Fonda is President of the Academy Henry Fonda while Michael York appears in what has to be one of the strangest ‘as himself’ cameos ever (of course, making me wonder if Wilder ever actually sat through LOGAN’S RUN). Blu-ray released by Olive Films is also highly recommended. Either way, it meant was that long glorious weekend of the TCM Fest was finally, completely over. FEDORA was the perfect film to end it on, with William Holden’s last line sticking in my brain, a reminder of everything in the world, or maybe just in Hollywood, that doesn’t work out the way you want it to. There wasn’t a return to the Formosa that night. I had experienced enough late night cruelty there already and didn’t want to revisit the feeling at that time. Besides, as Holden’s Barry Detweiler quotes Samuel Goldwyn in this film, “In life, you have to take the bitter with the sour.” Since then I’ve gone back again to visit Billy Wilder as I’ve done before so at least I got him to talk to while continuing to look for answers. As for FEDORA, Billy Wilder actually said once that he’d like to remake the film then immediately contradicted himself to say there wasn’t much point in doing that adding, “I want to move ahead to new errors.” Which maybe in life is about as optimistic as you can ever get.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
mea culpa on Twitter about this but, hey, nobody’s perfect. The festival officially kicked off on Thursday, April 28 and I’m proud to say my team won Bruce Goldstein’s annual trivial contest—I’d like to think my input on a few answers was what pushed us over the top and I’ll stick with that. The big red carpet opening of ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN began across the street as the opening night party kicked off in the Roosevelt and gradually people began to make it over to the first films in the Chinese 6. The weekend had begun. THE LONG GOODBYE which, of course, I’ll gladly see any time. Life seems to change faster than I want these days and THE LONG GOODBYE seems to change with me but it still gives me joy like few other films in my life so I have no problem with saying that it’s probably my favorite (or at least close to it) right now. podcast with Miguel Rodriguez and Will McKinley. I fully get that there has to be a balance but it seemed that this year, maybe because projecting 35mm is becoming that much more of a specialized concept, the balance seemed slightly off.
Thursday, April 28, 2016
THE LADY EVE and SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS are the two which are most enshrined by now. I have little problem with this. One of them I’ve even written about and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t get around to the other eventually. But certain things mean more to you as time goes on for reasons you only partly understand and I’ve reached the point that, maybe against popular opinion, HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO might very well be my favorite. I’m not saying it’s the best. I’m not saying I’m right. Even considering this over the combo of Fonda & Stanwyck in THE LADY EVE probably reveals just how screwy I am. But Quentin Tarantino has said that his favorite Sturges is either this one or the later UNFAITHFULLY YOURS so I’ve got him on my side at the very least. Though it wasn’t intended to be, HAIL was the last film made during his Paramount run so it feels like the culmination of all of his themes that had been building up until then. A main character pretending to be what he isn’t, the snowballing nature of the plot as it spins downhill, the incessant use of his mellifluous display of language (“He likes those big words,” to steal some dialogue), the manic portrayal of his many beloved character actors in the frame reaching a sort of crescendo here as if he’s trying to cram more of them into the shot than ever before. At the very least, the recent screening at Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema paired with the unknown Eddie Bracken-Veronica Lake vehicle HOLD THAT BLONDE (never released on video, but pretty good) was a chance to remember why I feel this way about it in the first place and confirm that it does warrant such a defense, even if it may never be the most canonized of his filmography. Bruce Goldstein and told him how much it, and a similar Billy Wilder retro the following year, had meant to me. He looked taken aback for a moment and then asked, “Why haven’t you been back since?” Well, I have been but eventually I moved out to L.A., what can I tell you. But I’m still grateful and still try to revisit these films every now and then. Come to think of it, there is a study to be made in how Sturges approached the conceit of charade in his films compared with Wilder. But that’s for another time. HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO may not be THE LADY EVE or SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS and the wartime setting does date it, after all. It still just makes me feel good like few other films in how it almost displays the pinnacle of the world as viewed by Preston Sturges but I also find it touching in ways that I can only partly understand. The final image goes back to an earlier plot point that almost seemed minor but turns out to be what the story was headed for all along, as if to explain the off-kilter grin on “Hinky Dinky” Truesmith’s portrait in the first place. A reminder of how sons try to live up to the enigma their fathers always will be. The past, after all, holds the secrets of the future. Life proceeds as it was always meant to.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
BLUME IN LOVE (the second film in that opening night double at the New Beverly—Donald F. Muhich appears again, basically playing the same therapist, which made the pairing even more ideal) Mazursky went deeper making a darker look at infidelity and that film dangles on a tightrope like few others do but BOB & CAROL with its 60s sense of hope and optimism still felt in every scene comes together beautifully. There are no missing parts, each of the characters get their say and the realization they all silently come to at the end feels natural for them to stay who they are.