Film

  Stingo comes back to his newly rented room in the Brooklyn boarding house bearing a carton of Spam packages on his shoulder, looking apprehensively at the ceiling of his room. The sounds of what is presumably a torrid sexual encounter are coming from above. The carton totters on Stingo’s shoulder as he totters into his room. I hoped—in vain. The sounds so unnerve Stingo that he stumbles into cinematic cliche: he spills the packages. I’d hoped he wouldn’t. The chandelier in his ceiling is shaking. Again I hoped—in vain—that the camera wouldn’t go in for a close-up.

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The Verdict Twentieth-Century Fox Blessed be pluralism. Just when you’re feeling depressed by the gargantuan success of An Officer and a Gentleman, not because it’s a wretched picture but because it’s a throwback to a pre-Vietnam social perspective that glorifies military sentimentalities—pygmy John Fordism—along comes a picture out of a contrasting social perspective, the Common Man syndrome: Frank Capra with updated language and sexual frankness.

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Fervently, skillfully, seductively, Steven Spielberg evangelizes on. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (TNR, December 10, 1977) seemed to me “not so much a film as an event in the history of faith,” and that faith, I thought, was less in beings Out There than in the film medium’s ability to convince. Technology, at the behest of the culture that created it, had been called on to satisfy the culture’s deeper needs, to soothe its fears. If you discount the revised version of Close Encounters, which I hope has been withdrawn, then Spielberg’s next work in this line is E.T., The Extra Terrestria

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Past Masters

All through City of Women I kept wondering what had been going through Federico Fellini's mind while he was making it. That's an unorthodox way to view a film--Intentional Fallacy is only one of the canonical errors--but a few directors are so close to me that I feel personally involved in their new films. Some of their past works are so tightly knitted into my experience and fantasy that I can't escape a proprietary, even nervous feeling when a new film by one of them comes along.

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Hope From The Past?

What's going to happen in film? The question recurs--and not only in this column--for assorted reasons, econommic and cultural. It's not arbitrarily a gloomy question: possibly, in the long run, we're just going to have to ask it under different aspects, toward different ends. But in a shorter long-range view, we ask it in terms of directors.

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Exteriors

The chief impediment of Manhattan (UA) is the hype. It's as if the media had been braiding laurel wreaths in advance, hoping for a minimal excuse to hail Woody Allen, as if they badly needed a U.S. filmmaker to garland, especially since their last genius, Robert Altman, is in disarray. The media's nature abhors a vacuum, and Allen has in fact given them a bit more than a minimal excuse to fill the genius-vacancy.

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Arts and Lives

The Films in My Lifeby Francois Truffaut(Simon & Schuster, $12.50) In 1954, Francois Truffaut was 22 and a critic on Cahiers du Cinema. He was asked to review a new film by George Cukor because he liked Cukor's work. "But," he said in his review, "the trouble is that Cukor isn't the kind of director you write about: he's someone to talk about with friends on the street or sitting in a cafe." No cute epitome will sum up so complex a man as Truffaut: still that line sets the tonality--the cafe-conversation tonality--of much of his collected critcism.

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Dog Day Afternoon (Warner Bros.) At least once a week there's something in the newspapers that is believable only because it actually happened. And in the current strained relation between fact and fiction in our culture, fictionmakers of prose and film sometimes let life do the inventing for them, then use fictional techniques of conviction on the nearly incredible material. The producer Martin Bregman sponsored Serpico (TNR, Jan. 19, 1974) which was made in that impulse; out of the same impulse he now presents the much-superior Dog Day Afternoon.

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Monty Python and the Holy Grail Cinema 5 The Invitation Janus If news from Britain these days is only moderately good, it's exceptional, and welcome. The British economic gloom is made even gloomier by the fact that Ken Russell, of Tommy, sometimes seems to be the only filmmaker on the island able to get backing. Untrue. Here is Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is neither as sparkling as it is said to be nor as bad as it seems to be at the start.

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Her name, O’Hara, is deliberately Irish. Her Irishness is to be associated with impetuosity, wild courage, low class and the ability to lie charmingly. All these Scarlett has and does, though not once in the movie does she refer to her Irish heritage. She pretends to no ancestry other than Tara. Her father, played by Thomas Mitchell, is the stock Irishman of the piece, speaking as no Irishman has ever spoken and showering himself in as many Irishisms as the plot allows. He dies mad, on his horse. We learn from his tombstone that he was born in County Wicklow, made famous by J.M.

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