The columns I’ve written so far in this space may suggest that going to the movies these days is a happy experience. That is, in part, because of the time of year: We have learned that the only movies the business has any pretense of respect for open as a year closes—because Christmas is a rich season that builds towards the Academy Awards nominations. It is also because I prefer to praise films, or to send you in search of watchable stuff.
The Big Sleep is an unsentimental, surrealist excitement in which most of the men in Hollywood’s underworld are murdered and most of the women go for an honest but not unwilling private sleuth (Humphrey Bogart).
To say of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that it is among the genuine artistic achievements of this country takes no great daring. In fact, outside of Chaplin, Disney’s is the one Hollywood name that any corn doctor of art and culture dare mention without fear of losing face, or on the other hand of having to know too much about the subject. There is this to be said of Disney, however: he is appreciated by all ages, but he is granted the license and simplification of those who tell tales for children, because that is his elected medium to start with.
Black Swan was a spectacular idea. This is not a movie about ballet—it is a ballet: Tchaikovsky’s evening-length Swan Lake transposed into a modern psychosexual thriller, an edgy cinematic re-make of a dance classic. The film’s director, Darren Aronofsky, spent years circling the cloistered world of ballet trying to find a way in: he watched dancers work and perform and talked to them about their art; he marveled at ballet’s uncanny mix of melodrama, camp, eroticism, and high art, and above all at its grueling physical demands.
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.
Will Hollywood stand up to William Randolph Hearst over the matter of Orson Welles’s film, Citizen Kane? RKO, the distributor, announces that it is going ahead with plans to show the picture. It has been booked into the number-one movie house of the nation, the Radio City Music Hall in New York City, and many other places.
A Somewhat Gentle Man Strand Releasing The Housemaid IFC Films Every Day Image Entertainment Stellan Skarsgård is unique. He is a truly distinguished actor with a truly undistinguished face.
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.
National Velvet tells how a twelve-year-old butcher’s daughter, Velvet Brown (Elizabeth Taylor), helped by a vagabond ex-jockey (Mickey Rooney) wins the Grand National steeplechase. It is the best thing to see at the moment, next to another very happy MGM technicolor film, Meet Me in St.