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Screen Odyssey has moved

August 17, 2012
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Screen Odyssey has moved to screenodyssey.wordpress.com and we’re in the process of revamping. We hope you’ll join us at our new home.

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

May 26, 2012
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800. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
Written and directed by Peter Greenaway
1989, UK/France

Reviewed by Rachel
First viewing

Synopsis:

Georgina Spica (Helen Mirren) is the sophisticated wife of Albert (Michael Gambon), a sadistic restaurant-owning gangster. During yet another rowdy evening meal with Albert and his gang, Georgina spots gentle diner Michael (Alan Howard) amongst the usual rabble. Georgina and Michael quickly start a passionate love affair within the restaurant, right under the nose of her violent husband. The affair is kept secret by the sympathetic cook, Richard Borst (Richard Bohringer), who is well aware of the terrible abuse Georgina suffers at the hands of Albert. But how long will it be before Albert finds out about Georgina and her lover?

Thoughts:

I was the beau ideal of the morbid young aesthetical,
To doubt my inspiration was regarded as heretical

~ Act II, Patience – Gilbert and Sullivan

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is a conundrum for the brain and a feast for the eyes, although the visuals are not always agreeable. Rotting animal carcasses and appalling human behaviour are blended in with the stunning colours of the costumes and affluent sets. Beauty and ugliness.

The (comparatively) simple storyline of an abused, unhappy wife finding comfort in an affair with an intelligent and loving man is beefed up by many visual and plot-based allegories involving the characters, their surroundings and the zeitgeist of Britain in the late 1980s. When a film is so heavily aesthetic, it is sometimes difficult to look at it objectively without sounding like it has gone straight over your head with an unpleasant whooshing sound. So, as this is a light ‘opinion’ blog, I’m not going to go into those elements. It’s worth a view to form an opinion for yourself but I personally wasn’t interested enough to go beyond the ribbons and bows.

Fascinating fact: The costumes for The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover were designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier

The Band Wagon

December 31, 2011

254. The Band Wagon
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
1953, USA
IMDB | allrovi

Reviewed by Ally
Umpteenth viewing

Synopsis:

Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) is a former musical star whom the general public now considers passé. Married writing partners Lester and Lily Marton (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray) plan Tony’s comeback by casting him in their latest stage musical, The Band Wagon; a lighthearted story about a children’s author who writes lurid crime novels on the side.

Tony struggles to connect with his balletic costar Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse) and director Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan), a dramatic sensation who decides to stage the play as a modern retelling of Faust. When the show inevitably flops, the diverse cast and crew must pull together to salvage it.

Essential Scene:

The final number of the revamped show is the Girl Hunt, an epic production in which Tony plays Rod Riley, a Mike Hammer-esque detective on the hunt for a murderer and a beautiful blonde played by Gabrielle. On his search he encounters a brunette femme fatale, also played by Gabrielle, and several violent gangsters. The sequence is narrated in hardboiled style by Tony.

The Girl Hunt reaches its climax in Dem Bones Cafe, a seedy bar where each customer has their own stylized dance. Detective Riley meets the seductive brunette again, and the pair share the best dance of the entire film. The sequence has proved highly influential, acting as the inspiration for Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal video.

Thoughts:

The Band Wagon was the first Fred Astaire film I saw, and I immediately thought he was wonderful. Having now seen dozens more of his movies, I feel a little disappointed upon revisiting The Band Wagon. The plot is admittedly sturdier than Astaire’s farces of the 1930s — in that it couldn’t be undone by one character correcting one misunderstanding — but the song and dance routines (the Girl Hunt aside) lack the magical quality that Fred at his best possessed. I’m grateful to The Band Wagon for introducing me to Fred Astaire a few years ago, but I won’t often revisit it now I’ve seen what he could achieve with Ginger Rogers.

Videodrome

October 1, 2011

695. Videodrome
Written and directed by David Cronenberg
USA, 1983
IMDB | allrovi

Reviewed by Rachel
First viewing

Synopsis:

Max Renn (James Woods) is the CEO of a small, dodgy cable TV station that specializes in explosive material such as gratuitous violence and softcore pornography. The network is on the lookout for something new and sensational to boost their falling ratings until, using his pirate satellite dish, Max’s colleague comes across Videodrome; a supposedly staged snuff programme from Malaysia in which someone is filmed being savagely beaten to death. Max finds himself in great danger as he delves deeper into Videodrome and finds that it’s far more sinister than he anticipated.

Essential Scene:

Max has been given a videotape by way of “meeting” Videodrome’s creator, Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley), for the first time. As he views the tape, Max uses a gun to scratch at a vertical scar on his stomach.

Brian O’Blivion: I think that massive doses of Videodrome signal will ultimately create a new outgrowth of the human brain, which will produce and control hallucination to the point that it will change human reality. After all, there is nothing real outside our perception of reality, is there? [Laughs] You can see that, can’t you?

The TV turns itself off. Max looks down at his scar, which has now turned into a gaping, pulsating hole. Max sticks his hand inside the orifice while still holding the gun; he digs in so deeply that his hand is no longer visible.

Max struggles to remove the hand that is lodged in his torso. When he finally pulls his hand free, he is no longer holding the gun. Panicked, he looks back at his stomach to see that the wound has disappeared, and his long, vertical scar has returned.

Thoughts:

One horror genre that I’ve always found very effective is the psychological thriller, as the fear of becoming unbalanced is one that we can all relate to. However, Cronenberg has always gone that bit further and created a sort of body horror; a physical, fleshly amalgamation of guts, blood and gore. This is disgusting and disturbing but also very clever.

Cronenberg is utilising something that, in reality, can cause a lot of trauma; the human body itself. It can be terrifying when a body is doing something we cannot control, and it is equally as terrifying when we see parts of it that we are not normally meant to see. Cronenberg bombards us with both of these aspects without resorting to the horror staple of having a weapon-wielding homicidal maniac being the cause of the gore — and if a person is the cause, the method of murder is much more complex than that.

While this concept is used well in Videodrome, and I admire it purely for that feat as it was made before CGI, I found that the film itself was a little muddled. I was intrigued until the feel seemed to completely change halfway through. It was the equivalent of a hardcore version of Network turning into an early prototype for The Matrix. Not such a bad thing for many potential viewers, but not entirely to my taste.

L’Âge d’Or

August 21, 2011

48. L’Âge d’Or (The Golden Age)
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Luis Buñuel and Saldavor Dalí
France, 1930

IMDB | allrovi

Reviewed by Ally
First viewing

Synopsis:

A Surrealist film comprising a series of vignettes. The film begins with footage from a documentary about scorpions. It then cuts to a man who sees a group of “Majorcans” (actually bishops) on a beach. He rallies a small group of wounded soldiers to attack them, but they collapse one-by-one along the way. A large group of wealthy people arrive by boat to greet the Majorcans, who have become skeletons in vestments.

In the midst of the group, two characters — The Man (Gaston Modot) and the Young Girl (Lya Lys) — embrace passionately in the mud. They are promptly separated. Their thwarted romance becomes the most prominent strand of the film. They pine lustfully for each other while separated and, even when they’re eventually united, they are unable to consummate their passion. They struggle to find a comfortable position to embrace, and knock their heads together clumsily. When they finally overcome these obsctacles, The Man becomes fixated on the foot of a statue. When he leaves to answer a telephone call, the Young Girl fellates the statue’s toe. Later, in a fit of jealousy after seeing the Young Girl kiss someone else, The Man destroys a bedroom, tearing into the feather pillows and defenestrating a burning tree, a bishop, a plough and a model giraffe.

In a short final sequence, title cards give a brief synopsis for 120 Days of Sodom, explaining that the survivors of the orgy are about to leave the Chateau de Selliny. The first to exit is the orgy’s instigator, the Duc de Blangis, who strongly resembles Jesus Christ. Three other noblemen limp out of the door after him, followed by a woman in blood-stained clothes. The Duc comforts her, then takes her back inside. A scream is heard and the Duc exits again, now sans beard. The final shot is of a crucifix with several scalps attached to it, accompanied by jovial music.

Thoughts:

Surrealism, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.

~ André Breton’s definition of Surrealism

L’Age d’Or, being a piece of genuine Surrealism, works on an instinctive level. I loved it, and I feel like I understood it, but putting that into words is another matter. Some themes are very prominent. The film might be considered a satire of organized religion, the bourgeoisie, and sexual repression and frustration.

But other scenes are complete non sequiturs. What does kicking a violin down the street have to do with anything? Damned if I know, but it’s an amusing image. (One of my favourite gags in A Night at the Opera involves a violin used as a baseball bat, so maybe I just have a thing for the irreverent treatment of orchestral instruments.) The lack of a coherent overall explanation risks being frustrating, but this lack of fulfillment is mirrored in the plight of the young lovers — a link which is, ironically, quite satisfying.

The film is deliberately inconsistent, even amateurish. It fluctuates between talkie and silent, and sometimes sound and image are mismatched. A shot of a collapsing building is accompanied by an unconvincing sound effect. The loud ringing of a cowbell lingers long after the cow has left the room. We see the young lovers embracing in the garden but hear them talking as if settling down to sleep. The effect is bathetic and sometimes downright disorienting. Thanks to my perverse sense of humour, I also find it very funny.

And it’s the humour of L’Age d’Or that especially appeals to me. It has important, possibly controversial things to say about the dehumanizing effects of the class system and organized religion, but it says them in a playful way. The final scene is so shockingly blasphemous, even now, and even to an atheist like me, that I couldn’t help but laugh.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom

August 3, 2011

~ Warning: This review discusses controversial material. ~

Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom)
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Written by Pier Paolo Pasolini and Sergio Citti
Italy, 1975
IMDB | allrovi

Reviewed by Rachel
First Viewing

Synopsis:

Four Italian Fascist libertines kidnap eighteen teenagers and take them to an isolated mansion. Over the course of a few months, they subject the teenagers to violence, torture and sadistic and humiliating sex acts.

120 Days of Sodom’s Top Five Fetishes

5. Public sex
Turned on in a crowded room? Grab a partner!

4. Biastophilia (Rape)
The less said, the better…

3. Voyeurism
Why do all the work yourself when you can watch someone be tortured and still have fun!

2. Urolagnia (Urination fetish)
It’s thirsty work, all this debauchery.

1. Coprophagia (Eating of faeces)
Just imagine it’s chocolate cake and you’ll be fine.

Thoughts:

After viewing Salo I decided to read up on it a bit. Not to alter my view, but to read various interpretations and opinions on a rather unique watch. Salo does seem to be a film that reviewers feel passionate about, whether they are hailing it as a modern masterpiece or denouncing it as something utterly vile and unwatchable. Whatever the viewer feels after watching Salo, be thankful that it wasn’t more faithful to the Marquis de Sade’s book, which is ten times worse.

Overall, I wasn’t sure what to make of this controversial piece. The trouble with a film that features so many metaphors is that the true subjects and points tend to get lost, especially when the imagery has so much shock value. When initially faced with viewing a scene in which a roomful of people eat human faeces, the thought “I’ll bet this a metaphor for junk food” is going to be quite far from one’s mind. Call me lowbrow…

However I do, tentatively, admit that a re-watch may be beneficial. The points raised on post-war dehumanisation, sexual revolution, mass-production and consumerism are still valid, and excellent food for thought. Let me rephrase that…

The Bad and the Beautiful

June 23, 2011

248. The Bad and the Beautiful
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay by Charles Schnee
USA, 1952
IMDB | allrovi

Reviewed by Ally
First viewing

Synopsis:

Studio boss Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) gathers three people in his office and begs them to help out down-on-his-luck Hollywood producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas). The three people recount how Shields betrayed them in the past:

Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) started out directing B-movies in partnership with Shields. As they became more successful, Shields abandoned him in favour of big-name directors. Actress Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) got her big break in a Shields picture, and the pair had a romance until she caught Shields cheating on her. Writer James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) came to Hollywood to adapt his book for Shields. His wife Rosemary (Gloria Grahame) began an affair with actor Gaucho (Gilbert Roland). After the secret lovers died in a plane crash, Bartlow discovered that it was Shields who introduced them, hoping to keep Rosemary busy so she wouldn’t interrupt his work.

Thoughts:

Kirk Douglas adapts his amoral, manipulative journalist from Ace in the Hole into an amoral, manipulative movie producer. He uses and discards colleagues as and when it suits him, and never really learns his lesson — although, as the studio boss points out, he doesn’t really need to! He may hurt their feelings, but he advances their careers all the same. Amiel becomes one of the big-name directors for whom Shields abandoned him in the first place, Georgia becomes an even bigger star after the Shields debacle, and Bartlow wins a Pulitzer Prize for his novel inspired by his late wife Rosemary.

Gloria Grahame deserves special mention for her Oscar-winning role. Rosemary is posited as a nuisance and a distraction from her husband’s work, but I couldn’t help grinning whenever she was onscreen. She has the most adorable Southern accent, and I was particularly delighted by her recurring line: “James Lee, you have a very naughty mind… I’m happy to say.” Tee-hee!

The Bad and the Beautiful subverts expectations in a few neat little ways. The flashback structure, recounting the stories of Shields’ betrayals, sets it up as a typical melodrama. As such, I fully expected the story to end with Shields dying lonely and bitter. However, the moral of the story isn’t if you betray your friends, you will lose them. Instead it seems to be; if you betray your friends, you’d better have a bloody good idea for a new film!

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