Saturday, April 29, 2017

Getting Lost in a Part

Films: A Double Life
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I didn’t know anything about A Double Life going into it. What I discovered soon after starting is that I have a couple of very loose connections to it. First, it’s about an actor, and believe it or not, I did a little acting in college (a very little, mind you). Second, it concerns a stage performance of Othello. I have a degree in English literature, so I tend to sit up and take notice when we’ve got Shakespeare on tap. Even better, A Double Life is all about the crazy. Let me tell you from experience, a film about an actor also being about severe mental illness is not a stretch.

Anthony John (Ronald Colman) is an acclaimed stage actor who, as often seems to be the case with artists in general, isn’t satisfied with his life or his career. He has proposed to several people a stage production of Othello with him taking the title role. He’d like to put actress Brita (pronounced like Rita with a b and not the water filter) Kaurin (Signe Hasso) in the role of Desdemona. Brita is his ex-wife; the two are still very much in love with each other but can’t seem to live with each other. This is because Anthony tends to very much live the roles he takes. When he plays in comedies, life is good. When he plays in heavier fare, he becomes moody and difficult. Othello, then, bodes ill.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

For Art's Sake

Films: The Horse’s Mouth
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

Alec Guinness was one of the great cinematic chameleons. Paul Muni could play just about any role, but so could Guinness, who was equally comfortable in comedy or drama and left an indelible impression on millions of childhoods in science fiction. His performance in The Bridge on the River Kwai is one of the greatest acting performances in cinematic history in my opinion. He plays a role as far from that in The Horse’s Mouth as possible in many ways. He also happened to pen the adapted (and nominated) screenplay.

Gulley Jimson (Guinness) is an eccentric and Bohemian artist who, as the film begins, has just been released from a month’s stint in prison after harassing one of his patrons via telephone. He’s greeted by Nosey (Mike Morgan), a young man with a stutter and the desire to be an artist himself. Gulley is alternately encouraging and cruel to the young boy. In fact, hoping to get away from him, he sends Nosey on an errand and steals the boy’s bike.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wednesday Horror: X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes

Films: X (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I do love good science fiction and I always have. I think we’re often guided by the things that are most formative to us. Both of my brothers loved science fiction and many of my earliest film loves were in this genre. There are, of course, plenty of truly great science fiction films with large budgets—the sort of summer tent pole films that are plenty popular. I love the ones from the ‘50s and ’60s, too. Of these, one of my favorites is X, more formally known as X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.

The worst of science fiction takes a stupid premise and does what it can. The best of science fiction takes an interesting premise and offers a view of what might happen. With X, we’re more in the second category by way of the first. What would happen, the film asks, if a man could discover a way to see more than just the visible light spectrum? What horrors might await us with the ability to see below the surface?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Anytown, USA

Films: Our Town
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Our Town is based on a stage play, and it manages to do something that many films do not: it doesn’t specifically look like it was based on a stage play. That in and of itself is noteworthy. The movie is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by Thornton Wilder. I don’t always like stage transfers to screen because they tend to look like someone staged the play and then filmed it. That’s definitely not the case here, and it works very much to the film’s credit.

The drama that takes place happens in the town of Grover’s Corners, NH. We’re introduced to the town by Mr. Morgan (Frank Craven), a local resident (maybe) or perhaps something like a guiding spirit over the town. It’s a little down just over the border from Connecticut and it seems to be pretty much normal in every way. People are born, live, get married, have kids, and die in the town, often never really travelling far from the confines or from the 3000 people or so who live in the immediate area.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Shirley Valentine's Patient Zero

Films: Summertime
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

When you think of David Lean, you probably think of epic films, but those films are from the end of his career. Lean’s last five films were epic in terms of length and most of them were epic in scope as well. Lean’s career contained smaller films, too; Brief Encounter stands out as a prime example, but the strength of The Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, A Passage to India, and especially Lawrence of Arabia (and to a lesser extent Ryan’s Daughter) are what causes him to be remembered as a director of epics. Summertime is the last of his smaller, shorter movies, but with its exotic (for 1955) setting, it serves as a bridge between Lean’s earlier career and his later movies.

Summertime, based on a play called “The Time of the Cuckoo,” seems to have been tailor-made for Katherine Hepburn. Much like Lean is associated with epics, there is a particular kind of role that is easily associated with Hepburn. For a movie from then 1930s-1950s, any female character who has a strong independent streak, often living life on her own terms despite not being married (unusual for the time), Katherine Hepburn was your go-to. So, that’s exactly what we’re going to have here.