A generation of male movie-goers may have gulped when they saw the obituaries for Maria Schneider and that picture of her from 2003 when she was 50—tense, not quite well, anxious about being looked at. How can we read so much into one picture? Well, how did we assume so much in 1972 when the breathtaking Schneider rolled across the screen in Last Tango in Paris like a bowling ball and took part in all those scenes with such aplomb? In 1972, we told ourselves, we were watching the most candid mainstream film we were ever likely to see.
I have some reservations about the movie Inside Job (made by Charles Ferguson, a man I know a little and like), and I’ll address them. But they don’t matter. They don’t begin to alter my estimate that, if Inside Job is not among the ten nominations for Best Picture Oscar, it will be one more travesty that points to the feebleness and the lost soul of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. My reservations?
It’s about time for this column to look back for a moment and delve into our library of DVD treasures. The reason is obvious: Most people passionate about film now spend as much time with that library as with new pictures. I’m talking about 1928, a very good year. An odd, sentimental gesture attended the first Oscars—but only those top prizes. The awards were held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16, 1929, when awards were being delivered for the years 1927-28.
As the award season builds, Blue Valentine is being promoted by the Weinstein Company as “the most provocative film of the year.” That’s not far-fetched: This is a challenging experience, and a conscientious effort to expose raw lives. But is it a movie or a new way of revealing helplessness? Perhaps the picture’s largest strength and problem is that its two embedded performances--from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams--leave us realizing their characters may not be suited to either marriage or a great fictional movie.
Film-going is a total experience, so, when I went to see Claire Denis’s White Material in San Francisco this week, I had to sit through an advertisement for visiting South Africa and having a marvelous time. I’ve seen the ad before, and it gets increasingly depressing. There is lovely scenery and a complacent couple who can’t wait to get back there to regain the best Thai cooking of their lives and the rapturous experience of seeing elephants come to drink in the evening. Go if you must. I only know that my daughter—a world traveler—says South Africa is the scariest place she’s ever been.
It is 1940, somewhere in Soviet-occupied Poland. A Pole is being interrogated; he has been beaten. Then a woman is called in, his wife; some torture has degraded her. She informs on her man; he will be sent to a gulag. The horror is clear, but the feeling is everyday and commonplace.
Early on in the Coen Brothers’ True Grit, the 14-year-old Mattie Ross has a negotiation with a cunning stupid merchant in the town where her father has just been killed. It concerns money, horses, legal threat, and language, and it is the surest signal of where this lugubrious but charming picture is headed. The merchant, Colonel Stonehill (played by Dakin Matthews), is devious and calculating, and for a moment you may believe his dainty language is a fair approximation of educated gentility in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in the latter half of the nineteenth century.