In Time is so crammed with provocative ideas it begins to feel over-crowded. At some time in a future that looks like the recent past of Los Angeles, human aging has been stopped at twenty-five. At that point of perfection, everyone has one year left to live, and their remaining span registers as a luminous green set of numbers (their “watch”), printed on the forearm. But this situation has turned time into the new money, and so—in the way of the world—some people are richer than others. People still look like twenty-five when they are eighty.
As I write, I have seen only the first three episodes of “Homeland,” and I am mindful that the credit sequence every week contains a couple of shots of Louis Armstrong from around 1930, a detail that has not yet figured in what you’d have to call the narrative.
Forty years ago, under the inspiring editorship of Harold Hayes, Esquire magazine picked out Two-Lane Blacktop in advance as “the film of the year” in 1971. That was the sort of nose for young culture that some editors cultivated in those days. I suppose they thought the film could repeat the sensational business of Easy Rider, offered two years earlier, and it had a similar affectation—that in this America you could live on the road if you kept moving and if you trained your cool sensibility to follow the blacktop and trust your engine.
Why would you take shelter, and should you regard this title as gentle advice or a sweeping, allegorical imperative? Well, first of all we’re in what I take to be rural southern Ohio where the storm clouds have a way of building up like the slow movements in Mahler. They seem ominous, gun-metal beautiful at first, but don’t trust that they’re under control—least of all that of God, Ohio, or Mahler. Then sometimes a viscous rain falls, like motor oil, one person will say.
In the last week, my attention has been taken up by two American crime films from the 1950s that have appeared in excellent DVD versions: Joseph Losey’s The Prowler (1951), restored and delivered by a combination of benevolent institutions, the Film Noir Foundation, the U.C.L.A. Archive, and the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, which means the exceptional patron of so many arts, David W.
Every now and then, you run into people who have not seen The Shop Around the Corner. These men and women seem normal enough. They speak English, they wear clothes, they comb their hair. They may be walking the dog or looking for a pinot noir at a party, and they say, “What was that film you mentioned?” They’re good-natured about their ignorance, especially when you tell them the film is 71 years old and in black-and-white. There are people who reckon those conditions are beyond their range or pay level, like the famine in East Africa or the bubbling of the permafrost in Siberia.
He is called “Driver” on the wishful but forlorn principle that you only need to be what you do. He works in an auto repair shop in Los Angeles for a man named Shannon (Bryan Cranston), whose heavy limp bespeaks a bad history with the Mob. It is Shannon, acting as an amiable manager, who guides Driver into other jobs: doing stunts for movies; and driving the getaway car on serious robberies.
Cliff Robertson died the other day. He was 88, and I suppose he was what is called an establishment figure. Long ago he had won an Oscar for his performance in Charly (1968) about a retarded man who is given an experimental drug that lets him find genius (and his doctor, Claire Bloom) but then slips back to being a fool, and he was perfectly OK in the film if you can manage to sit through it now, in which case you may surmise that nearly any actor in that begging role might have won the Oscar.
If you haven’t caught up with it yet, “The Hour” is halfway over. The fourth of six hour-long episodes will play on BBC America on Wednesday, September 7th. But don’t be disheartened. You don’t want to watch it in its original transmission because it is stretched out to 90 minutes with some especially egregious commercials. If you wait a day, you can pick it up on Exfiniti “on demand” without the commercials. Start now and you can catch up on the first three episodes, and get in training for the most complex and absorbing story playing on film (and in English) at the moment.