Martin Teller's Movie Reviews

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A Woman Under the Influence (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on October 18, 2014

As it’s one of my top 5, I really ought to have a thorough, thoughtful review of this movie.  But I’ve been sitting here at my computer, trying to find the words that encapsulate everything about this movie, and everything I feel about it (and also feeling like a schmuck for falling back on that old cliché, writing about not being able to write).  Like Mabel and Nick, I’m having a communication problem.  I don’t know how to express my love.  But I’m just going to spill it out, and whatever happens, happens.  I’m going to improvise.

No performance moves me like Gena Rowland’s shattering portrayal of Mabel Longhetti.  She works wonders with an incredibly nuanced, complex performance, making every gesture and look and verbal stutter pack a punch.  Mabel wants desperately to please.  She’s willing to be whatever Nick wants her to be.  She also knows that she should just be herself, and that battle inside her has frazzled her nerves.  She’s out of touch with polite social graces, unaware (and paradoxically, all too aware) that her eccentricity makes others feel awkward.  Sometimes she doesn’t communicate properly… and sometimes no one listens properly.  “Will you stand up for me?” is one of the most heartbreaking lines I know of.  None of her “crazy” behavior is actually harmful… it’s just inappropriate.  It looks funny.  Adults aren’t supposed to act like that.  They’re supposed to have “conversation, normal conversation”.  The weather.  How are you?  Whatcha been doing?

At least, that’s what Nick thinks.  Nick is just as fucked up as Mabel, if not more so… it’s just that his craziness looks more socially acceptable.  He loves Mabel.  He clearly, sincerely loves Mabel and her kookiness.  But he feels a need to control every situation, especially when others are looking on.  Anything awkward that Mabel does is made ten times worse by Nick’s reaction to it.  The “influence” that the woman is under is not drugs or alcohol (although we see that when Mabel drinks, she does it irresponsibly).  The influence is Nick.  Nick wants one thing (the “real” Mabel) when they’re alone and another thing (the “normal” wife he can beam proudly about) when others are around.  Nick’s embarrassment over Mabel makes him lash out and try to control her… and if he can’t control her with stern looks and scolding condemnation, then he resorts to violence.

It’s one of the miracles of this film — and Peter Falk’s performance, which is also brilliant — that he can strike Mabel and you can understand it.  Let me be perfectly clear: understand it, not condone it or accept it or forgive it.  Nick isn’t a hero.  If you see Nick as the long-suffering husband who rightfully smacks his wife to keep her under control, then you’re reading it wrong or you have your own issues to deal with.  But you can understand how a person with Nick’s overwhelming need to control everyone around him (even dictating how his children will enjoy themselves at the beach) would snap.  And you can understand how a person so desperate to be loved and accepted would forgive him.  He’s a human being, she’s a human being.  They love each other.

And yet it’s not that simple and it’s never that simple and that’s one of the things that make this movie so rewarding, besides its raw, searing emotional power.  Sometimes a person is terrible to you one minute and loving the next, and who isn’t a little bit crazy, and who doesn’t want to dance on a couch sometimes, and who doesn’t sometimes cringe when someone else is dancing on the couch?  How do we love each other?  How do we juggle being what we want to be and being what others want us to be and being what we think others want us to be and at the same time love another human being?  It’s messy and complicated and so goddamn real it rips your guts out.  Life is mighty stormy in the Longhetti house, but their dysfunction is the way they function, and isn’t so far off from anyone else’s dysfunction.  In the end, Nick and Mabel get ready for bed, and jaunty kazoo music plays on the soundtrack, and the phone is ringing and it’s probably Nick’s mother and for once Nick isn’t going to answer it.  Does this mean everything’s okay?  That’s too easy, but I do think that they’ve come a little closer to learning how to properly love each other.  There is hope.  Rating: Masterpiece (100)


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two quickies

Posted by martinteller on October 18, 2014

I wish I had more to say about Odd Obsession, an unusual film by Kon Ichikawa.  It has some intriguing avant-garde flourishes, plays a lot with what characters know and don’t know, and features terrific performances by Machiko Kyô and Ganjiro Nakamura (surprisingly, Tatsuya Nakadai gets overshadowed by these two).  It’s a twisted look at aberrant desire and extremely dysfunctional family dynamics.  But it never quite grabbed hold of me, and seemed to occasionally be spinning its wheels.  Rating: Very Good (80)

Gone Girl is very entertaining, excellently crafted as a thriller and with a fine sense of humor.  The performances are all good, especially Coon and Dickens.  It’s sharp in its observations on the media, and complex in its treatment of gender and persona.  I was tossing the movie around in my head for hours afterward, and any film that can do that is doing something right.  I did have some issues, but I can’t get into them without spoiling the movie.  I will instead post them in this Gone Girl thread at the Filmspotting forum.  Rating: Very Good (80)

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Black River

Posted by martinteller on October 17, 2014

Nishida (Fumio Watanabe) is an engineering student, looking for a room in Tokyo.  He finds one in a run-down tenement managed by an unpleasant landlady (Isuzu Yamada).  The other occupants are the poor and infirm, drunkards and prostitutes and thieves.  Nishida settles in, and develops a fancy for Shizuko (Ineko Arima), a girl he often sees passing by.  But someone else has his eye on Shizuko: a sadistic thug named Joe (Tatsuya Nakadai), also known as “Joe the killer”.  Joe concocts a cruel plan to make Shizuko his girl, and that’s not all he has up his sleeve.  The landlady, having made a deal to sell her property to be used as a sex hotel, hires Joe to evict all of her tenants.

This is a dark and seedy film.  In fact, I wish I’d held off on it until Noir-vember, but I didn’t realize it would be so noir.  Corruption and degradation overruns everything, and the winner is always the one who’s willing to take the most drastic action.  It’s a world of ramshackle hovels, neon-tinged nightclubs and thieves’ dens.  Nothing pure survives, everyone is brought down to the lowest level.  Joe and his band of hoods play rough, and they take what they want.  Nishida’s fellow occupants cheat and lie to get out of paying their share of utilities… and also to get out of saving a man’s life.

The photography is high-contrast, especially in the night scenes where American G.I. transports rumble through the streets like deadly predators.  The jazzy score by Chûji Kinoshita (Keisuke’s brother) is wonderfully appropriate, particularly the loping, bump n’ grind theme that winds its way around snatches of hard-edged, cynical dialogue.  Nakadai is at his slimiest, a real dangerous character you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.  Arima does an especially good job with a tricky performance, a character who drastically transforms over the course of the film.  Watanabe is fine, without overdoing the righteous indignation, but he’s the least interesting among such a well-cast bunch of desperate souls and low-lifes.  Yamada’s deformed teeth may be a touch over-the-top, but her performance is memorable.

It all adds up to a tasty noir morsel that looks at both economic and moral decay.  If the other films in the “Masaki Kobayashi Against the System” set are anywhere near this good, it’ll be going on my shelf.  I have yet to see a Kobayashi movie I didn’t like, and it’s kind of crazy that I don’t have any of them in my collection.  I’ll have to rectify that when the next Criterion sale comes around, and pick up Harakiri at the very least.  Rating: Very Good (88)


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Posted by martinteller on October 14, 2014

The overwhelming consensus on this movie seems to be that it’s one of Spielberg’s worst, and it’s certainly not one of his best.  But I really didn’t think it was that bad.  I didn’t know it was a remake of a 1943 Victor Fleming film called A Guy Named Joe, but while watching I was struck by the 40’s vibe of it.  It’s got the snappy patter and camaraderie of a Hawks film, not to mention a setting that instantly brings Only Angels Have Wings to mind.  Bits of Capra schmaltz and Sturges screwball and Lubitsch magic seem to be floating around in the air.  It’s a fun exercise in throwbackism.

The real problem with the film is that it doesn’t do the work in building character.  Take, for instance, the central relationship between Pete (Richard Dreyfus) and Dorinda (Holly Hunter).  When we first meet them, they appear to be oil and water, having one of those classic antagonistic pairings.  A few minutes later, and apparently they’ve been dating?  By the next scene they seem to be longtime lovers, enjoying a deep, enduring romance.  It’s a confusing and muddled relationship, as Spielberg wants to have it every way he can.  They’re cute together, but maybe I’d rather trade those earlier “oil and water” scenes for something that sold me more on their love.  The movie takes a lot of narrative shortcuts that leave us with character development and relationship dynamics that aren’t wholly convincing.

The consequence of this is a movie that’s not as moving as it clearly aims to be (lousy lines like “I’m moving out of your heart” don’t help).  But it is enjoyable as a lark.  Maybe the early scenes of Pete and Dorinda could do a better job of defining their relationship, but at least they’re entertaining.  John Goodman is entertaining, too.  The movie also takes a zero like Brad Johnson (Ted) and makes you like him, when you thought you never would.  And the aviation scenes are beautifully done, with some genuine tension.  I think the film, for the most part, achieves the feel of a 1940’s Hollywood production, with a reasonably satisfying blend of fantasy, romance, comedy and action.  It’s not that great at any of them, but I don’t think it’s as terrible as its reputation suggests.  Rating: Good (70)


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The Ballad of Narayama

Posted by martinteller on October 11, 2014

Orin (Kinuyo Tanaka) has recently turned 70.  According to local tradition, it is time for her to be carried on the back of her son Tatsuhei (Teiji Takahashi) up to the top of Narayama mountain and left there to die of exposure or starvation.  Orin is ready to go, eager to ease the burden on her family in a village where food is scarce.  Tatsuhei loves his mother dearly, and resists the task.  He’s a widower with a new bride, the recently widowed Tama (Yûko Mochizuki).  Tama has seen the kindness in Orin’s heart and is also reluctant to let go.  Others are not so sentimental about it, like Tatsuhei’s awful son Kesakichi (Danko Ichikawa) and his pregnant wife Matsu (Keiko Ogasawara), who can’t wait to get rid of her, and taunt her about her full set of teeth… a shameful feature for an elderly woman, who is not supposed to be able to eat as much.  Meanwhile, Orin’s neighbor Mata (Seiji Miyaguchi) is already a year past his time but the stubborn fool wants to keep on living.

When Shohei Imamura remade this film (adapted from a novel) 25 years later, he employed a brutal, naturalistic style.  Watching the original, it’s clear what he was responding to.  Because the one thing you can’t ignore about Kinoshita’s Narayama is its blatant artificiality.  The first image is of a black-clad narrator (joruri) who makes some introductory remarks and then pulls aside a curtain to open the film.  Throughout, we are made aware of the theatricality of the production.  Everything is clearly shot on sets, with backdrops that raise up to shift time and location.  The joruri chimes in, narrating the action with chant-like songs.  Colors are bold and unreal, lighting changes instantly.  I have watched a lot of Kinoshita lately (this will be the last one for a while) and this is by far the most experimental I’ve seen him.

Which approach is better?  I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that.  Imamura’s take on it is horrifying, pushing the harsh reality of the situation in your face, rubbing your nose in it.  But Kinoshita’s Brechtian (I always feel a bit pretentious throwing around the word “Brechtian”, having never read a word of Brecht, but no matter) distancing techniques are effective as well.  You can’t see such an obvious mask without thinking about what it’s masking.  Kinoshita does not have to say “this is horrible”… it’s clearly horrible, a callous disregard for the individual for the sake of “the greater good” (unsurprisingly, the village is fond of mob rule, as seen when faced with a thief in their midst).  By taking a step back without getting pummeled by realism, you process not only the horror of it, but the sorrow.  The final act of this movie is heartbreaking.  Imamura’s stark final act is powerful, too… different techniques being used to achieve equally resonant results.

The “rules” of the trek to Narayama are gussied up as solemn traditions, but the true impetus for them is clear: to minimize shame.  Don’t talk, don’t let anyone see you leave, and don’t look back after depositing your loved ones to die.  A fourth rule, by tradition told only in secret, serves the same purpose: you can abandon them partway through the journey if you feel like it.

The cinematography of this movie is stunning, especially because of the vibrant color palette and beautiful sets.  The samisen music is highly appropriate to the kabuki-style presentation, and often haunting.  The legendary Kinuyo Tanaka (star of most of Mizoguchi’s best pictures) is terrifically endearing and human, convincingly portraying a woman more than 20 years older than her actual age.  Yesterday I watched Ballad of Orin.  Different ballad, different Orin.  Both exceptional films that are sure to make my year-end list of top discoveries.  Rating: Very Good (87)


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The Hitcher

Posted by martinteller on October 11, 2014

Poor Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell).  He just wanted to move to California, so he got a job delivering someone’s car.  Driving through barren Texas in the middle of the night, he starts to get sleepy.  When he sees a hitchhiker by the side of the road, he imagines it will be an opportunity to help him stay awake.  Boy, was he right.  That hitcher is John Ryder (Rutger Hauer), an unstoppable killer who will pile up an impressive body count… and pin all the blame on Jim.

I have a fascination with psychopaths.  I’m not alone, or they wouldn’t be so prevalent in our pop culture.  Take a character like Blue Velvet‘s Frank Booth.  His capacity for random cruelty is shocking and upsetting, but so alien that you can’t look away.  You try to process how a human being can be so malevolent.  But the key there is “human being”.  If Ryder is meant to be merely human, then this film is utterly preposterous.  His seemingly supernatural ability to be exactly where he needs to be at exactly the right time is beyond belief.  So we must accept him as some sort of personification of evil.  Okay, but then the only point to this is to display how evil evil can be.  Well, duh.  And it eliminates any cleverness that might exist in this cat-and-mouse game because we quickly learn that Ryder is gonna pop up at the worst possible moment, no matter what.

If Ryder is the personification of evil, then Jim is the personification of stupidity.  Of course it’s easy to scoff at his decisions from the comfort of one’s couch.  Any game show contestant who ever made a “dumb” mistake will tell you it’s a lot harder than it looks when the pressure is on.  But Jim seems to do the wrong thing over and over and over again.  To name just one small example, there’s a moment where he needs to get the hell away from a gasoline fire before his car explodes.  What does Jim do?  He pauses to roll up the windows.  There are no consequences, but it’s just one of many instances where you say to yourself, “Why, Jim?”  He’s not the most sympathetic dude.

There are some positives.  Howell is a total dud (isn’t he always? I still haven’t forgotten or forgiven Soul Man) but Hauer is a compelling presence.  If you’re going to cast for “personification of evil”, you couldn’t do much better.  The film doesn’t waste any time getting to the heart of the matter, I think it’s less than 10 minutes before we see what a threat Ryder poses.  And the film does consistently maintain its sense of creeping dread, with few pauses in the action.  The cinematography makes nice use of the wide open spaces, and Mark Isham’s pulsating score is pretty good.  But it all felt like such an empty, pointlessly nihilistic experience.  Rating: Fair (66)


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The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on October 11, 2014

Movies that exist in multiple cuts sometimes present the viewer with a difficult decision to make.  Sometimes the choice is clear… you’re probably not going to opt for the studio-butchered “Love Conquers All” cut of Brazil except out of morbid curiosity.  Other times it’s not so simple.  While I believe the “Final Cut” of Blade Runner is a better film, I still have lingering nostalgia for the Deckard narration in the original theatrical release.  Chinese Bookie was released in 1976 in a 135-minute cut, which is the one I watched ten years ago.  It tanked at the box office, was poorly received by critics, and was yanked out of distribution after a week.  Cassavetes re-cut the film and in 1978 released on a 109-minute version.  There isn’t a clear consensus on which is the superior cut, and part of that may stem from differing accounts of why Cassavetes did it.  Some say the first cut was rushed and Cassavetes being Cassavetes, he wouldn’t have re-cut it unless that’s what he wanted to do.  Others believe it was an artistic compromise to make the movie more accessible.

What I remembered most about the 1976 cut were the interminable cabaret scenes.  In my review at the time, I said I should have watched the later version (which, although shorter, contains scenes that do not appear in the longer version, making the choice even more of a challenge).  But part of me wanted to tackle that longer cut again.  If I appreciate Cassavetes, shouldn’t I want more Cassavetes?  Shouldn’t I want the pure, uncompromising, difficult Cassavetes?  But the thought of watching all those tedious burlesque scenes again… the point is made well enough in just a few minutes.  And so I went with the re-cut, with the idea that if I liked it enough then the next time I would revisit the first release.  Besides, I’m inclined to agree with those who think he really wanted to re-edit the film.  He’s clearly not the type of director who would go against his vision to please an audience, placate an investor or studio, or make more money.

And with this is mind, I now have a greater appreciation for the autobiographical nature of the film, about an artist who builds his own world, and that world is compromised by outside influences.  Part of it is due to his own character flaws: he gambles money he doesn’t have, putting his business (and his life, and his art) in jeopardy.  But part of it is the parasitic nature of the gangsters, who see an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, in a very literal sense.  Cosmo preaches that a comfortable man is a happy man, and the mobsters have invaded his comfort, forced him to be something he is not.  Ben Gazzara’s performance is spellbinding, and you can see it in his eyes as he assesses a situation and tries to decide how to play it.  You can see the passion he has for his show, an absolute shambles of a show but it’s his and it’s what he loves.  It was also a treat to revisit this film with a much greater affection for Tim Carey, an actor who fascinates me to no end.  I could watch that dude all day long.

Still, I can’t say I love the movie.  The shorter cut has some wonderful character moments, but I must say it does seem to stick too close to the plot, which isn’t an especially original one.  Somewhere between the indulgence of the ’76 cut and the leanness of the ’78 cut is a film that has a good mix of narrative and authorial personality.  Or maybe not… maybe this material isn’t interesting enough to be molded into a great movie, no matter how you cut it.  But it does have a certain unique something to it.  It’s got that Cassavetes vibe to it, that nervous and excited feeling that anything could happen, that you never know what someone is going to say.  Cosmo is an intriguing character because underneath the style you want to see what makes him tick.  It’s enough to convince me that next time I’ll give the original cut another go.  Maybe.  Rating: Good (76)


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Here’s to the Young Lady

Posted by martinteller on October 10, 2014

Keizo Ishizu (Shûji Sano) is a 34-year-old bachelor, who lives in an apartment with his brother Goro (Keiji Sada).  The two run an auto shop together.  One day, Ishizu’s friend Mr. Sato (Takeshi Sakamoto) drops by the shop, wanting to introduce Ishizu to Yasuko Ikeda (Setsuko Hara), the daughter of his former mentor.  Ishizu is intimidated by the wealthy girl’s position, but reluctantly agrees.  Upon meeting her, he is instantly smitten, and overjoyed to hear that she is willing to let him court her.  But there’s a twist to this scenario: the Ikeda family has fallen on hard times, and Yasuko’s father is in prison, having taken the fall for a shady business deal.  Now the would-be couple tries to navigate these awkward waters, with Ishizu trying to fit into genteel society and Yasuko swallowing her embarrassment over her family situation.

This is a slight film from Kinoshita, one that doesn’t deal as sharply with social or moral issues as others I’ve seen by the director, but a largely enjoyable one.  While not exactly funny enough to be classified as a romcom, there are plenty of moments of subdued humor that work well (even the not-so-subdued visual gag of Ishizu giving himself a hotfoot).  There are wonderfully airy scenes like Ishizu’s joyous motorcycle ride after receiving good news.  Or the courtship, where Ishizu is moved by ballet and Yasuko is thrilled by a boxing match.  The film makes excellent use of small gestures and telling facial expressions, communicating the feelings that politeness demands not be expressed.  But Ishizu, while often nervous and timid, also has a temper, especially when trying to protect Goro from what he considers to be a bad romance.  This subplot provides a nice counterpoint to the main action, as Ishizu longs only to be loved but tries to deny his brother that privilege for practical reasons.

Some interesting touches, not all for the best.  A pretty waltz-tempo love song is used repeatedly throughout the film, first sung by Goro, later in a touching scene at the brothers’ favorite tavern, and also popping up on the soundtrack.  Camera movement is often graceful and expressive, moving through space in all directions to follow characters rather than cut away.  On the downside, however, Kinoshita employs an absurd array of geometric wipes, trying out just about every one in the book.  I don’t know if he had a wipe-happy editor or if it’s meant to give the movie more of a lighthearted feel, but it’s cheesy and distracting.

Still, it’s a sweet picture and the cast is excellent.  Setsuko Hara is simply always a wonder, but familiar faces Sano, Sada, and Chieko Higashiyama (as Yasuko’s mother) also acquit themselves admirably.  It’s not a sweep-you-off-your-feet romance, but there are some pleasant facets to it and it goes down easy.  Rating: Good (78)


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Ballad of Orin

Posted by martinteller on October 10, 2014

At the age of six, blind girl Orin is abandoned by her mother.  She gets taken in by a group of goze — an organization of blind women who wander around, performing songs on the samisen for charity.  The goze consider themselves married to the Buddhist deity Amitabha, and sleeping with a man means expulsion from the group.  After 13 years, Orin (Shima Iwashita) is a fully-trained goze, and due to her youthful beauty and bubbly personality, very popular with the men.  She gets raped and is subsequently thrown out of the order, left to fend for herself as a lone goze (somewhat analogous to being a ronin, a masterless samurai).  She meets up with a drifter named Senzo Tsurukawa (Yoshio Harada).  He accompanies her as her guide, and the two develop longing for each other.  But Tsurukawa is unwilling to act on it, and they travel as brother and sister.

Although set around 1918, the story is as relevant in 1977 when the film was made, or in feudal times, or today.  Orin suffers from slut shaming and blaming the victim, issues that we are still dealing with.  Like Mizoguchi, director Masahiro Shinoda (Double Suicide, Samurai Spy) tackles the sorrowful injustices women face.  Orin is also trained to consider her natural desire for love and companionship to be a sin.  Tsurukawa as well is hamstrung by social restrictions… he feels that if he sleeps with Orin, he must then complete that role by abandoning her, as have all the other men that have drifted in and out of her life.  Only by posing as her brother is he able to sublimate his desire and still enjoy her company.  His story also addresses how war preys on the poor, enticing men who have nothing to sell but their lives and allowing the rich to essentially buy their way out of conscription.

The cinematography is by Kazuo Miyagawa, who shot many of Mizoguchi’s masterpieces, as well as Yojimbo, Rashomon, Floating Weeds and many others of note.  It’s a gorgeous film, with square framing that boxes in the characters and vibrant colors.  A scene of Orin experiencing her first period is illustrated with a trail of blood in the snow, a trail that ends with a red flower.  Other scenes cut away to glorious visions of nature, as if emphasizing the world that Orin is excluded from.  It’s a beautiful film both visually and emotionally, with excellent performances by Iwashita (Shinoda’s wife) and Harada.

As a final trivial sidenote, there is a Takako Minekawa listed in the cast, though it doesn’t say which role she plays.  She has no other credits listed on IMDb.  Takako Minekawa is also the name of a musician whose work I enjoy, and I wonder if they’re the same person.  She would have been the right age to play the young Orin at the time.  Rating: Very Good (88)


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Shadows (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on October 9, 2014

Ten years ago, I acquired Criterion’s “John Cassavetes: Five Films” DVD box set.  At the time I had only seen A Woman Under the Influence, but since it was a huge favorite of mine I was eager to see more.  Of the other films in the box, only Faces resonated with me and I ended up selling the set and just getting the individual releases of the two movies I cared about most.  When Criterion upgraded the set to Blu-Ray, I started having second thoughts, especially since I had seen and enjoyed both Husbands and Love Streams in the interim.  I took advantage of a recent sale and snatched up the set once again — this time in high-definition — hoping that I would appreciate his other films a bit more than I did a decade ago.

The gambit paid off at least a little bit, as I was far less troubled by the “amateurish” aspects of Cassavetes’s debut the second time around.  Certainly the spotty acting is the film’s biggest hindrance.  The actors never tap into the emotional purity that characterizes the best of Cassavetes’s work.  But they have their moments, and they are likable.  The three leads — Ben Carruthers, Lelia Goldoni and Hugh Hurd — all get their moments to shine.  It’s just sometimes they drop the ball with a reading that feels either flat or off the mark.  The film ends with a title card stating that you have just watched an improvisation, but that’s not entirely true.  Some scenes were improvised, but they were improvised in rehearsals and then refined.  Other scenes were flat-out scripted.  I’m not saying the performances would be better if they were improvised, but for whatever reason, they’re not transcendent.

Nonetheless, I like them and find them interesting to watch.  The rambling, shambolic narrative gives us often fascinating snippets of their lives and there’s truth in how they interact with each other.  The film has an undeniable energy, propelled by the jazz score.  You do feel like you’re witnessing the birth of a new kind of filmmaking… a kind that would be often imitated, but only Cassavetes really feels like Cassavetes.  He makes such a careful study of how people love each other, or try to love each other.  The film may be rough around the edges (and really, aren’t most of his movies?) but there’s some insightful truth being laid bare.

1959 is also the year of Imitation of Life, another film that deals with race.  Both utilize characters who are black but could pass for white.  Both deal with racial issues in compelling ways, and while I love Imitation more, it must be said that Cassavetes has a subtler touch.  He rarely points to the issue… only once is the word “race” uttered, and I don’t recall anyone using the word “black”.  He lets the actors communicate it in gestures, tone of voice, personal space.  He doesn’t make the movie entirely about race, and there are times when you’re not even sure it’s a factor in play.

While it isn’t one of my favorites, I’m glad I gave this a second chance.  Despite some shortcomings that are hard to ignore, it’s a bold and engaging movie.  Rating: Good (78)


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