Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I'm watching a lot of Netflix instant movies on the internet. It's a great service with hundreds of titles of movies and TV, both vintage and new.

While I've watched some classic favorite films there; Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, To Kill A Mockingbird, and tons of third rate westerns from the 1930's and 1940's, starring the likes of John Wayne, Gene Autry, Lash LaRue, and somebody known as The Whiplash Kid, and piles of newer films that I hoped would offer a bit of a pleasing tease, - "Three Girls in A Jeep", anyone? - "Teenage Catgirls In Heat"? - none give me more satisfaction than the obscure little film which delivers a rich movie experience. Here are two films that grabbed my attention, one like a vice grip, the other like a warm massage, and a classic favorite from the 1970's, that I've seen many times, but never expected to appreciate on my tiny computer screen.

THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOUGH, (1964), is a French film directed by Jacques Demy, the middle film of his 'romantic' trilogy that includes, Lola (1961), and The Young Girls of Rocheforte (1967). The film starts modestly with a young dating couple, (Catherine Deneuve and Nino Costelnuovo), sparkling with love and affection, and whose troubles are standard to romantic movies; mom doesn't approve, they want to elope, where's a good back seat to screw around in? But here's the thing - all the dialogue is sung rather than spoken by the characters, no matter how inconsequential. This is not a musical, but what seems, looking back on the film, a natural language. Everybody sings. When a post man delivers the morning mail, and announces a quick how-do-you-do, he too sings a few words. At first, this gimmick is jarring and ridiculous, but as you follow the film, you hardly notice you are listening to a music. It becomes as natural as a French accent. A few quick plot turns and this film stands up and says hello. Call it post-French new wave cinema, with brightly lit urban night life awash in shocking fresh painted color, and stylish and electrified sets becoming bleaker as the threat from The Algerian War looms, (Algeria gained independence from France in 1962). The ending is sad and profound with commentary on love and survival and human nature, compromised by a symbol of American commercialism, as if regarding the oncoming tide of a Big Mac and fries onslaught from the west, with a song.

KISS ME DEADLY, is a 1955 classic film noir from a Mickey Spillane novel featuring private detective Mike Hammer. Tough dick Hammer, (Ralph Meeker), picks up a young and, except for a trenchcoat, naked female hitchhiker, (Chloris Leachman), in his cool convertable and realizes the demented girl, who just escaped from a nuthouse, may not be as nutty and paranoid as she seems when he's forced off the road and over a cliff by a group of cars chasing her. He wakes up in a room in the asylum where the girl is being tortured for information. very cool black and white low budget potboiler, with ace detective Hammer, (love his cool L.A. pad with a 1955 answering machine), displaying a brutish and suave decadence, in that his main souce of detective income, prior to this atomic maltese falcon case, is clients with cheating spouses whom he juggles and bribes for the best price between them. When he knocks a punk around, which is often, he's looking to dislodge a brain. Uncompromising United Artists release where even the girl Friday secretaty is the most untrustworthy bit of flash and trash this side of Chicago. The original ending of the film, a great bit of cold war symbolism, and an exciting scene in it's own right, had been destroyed decades ago in the original negative of the film, altering the last 60 seconds dramatically. It is restored here thanks to a 1997 film restoration project.

I've always loved the film, KLUTE, (1971). Along with The French Connection and The Exorcist, it's one of my favorite films from the 1970s. Jane Fonda plays a New York City prostitute who hooks up with, (pun so intended), a hired cop from Pennsylvania, John Klute, (Donald Sutherland), who is searching for a missing executive, who may have been a client of Bree's, (Fonda). The film crawls with low-key suspense as the dangerous world of a mid-level New York City hooker, is made eerie by such common frights as a phone hang-up call, and a lurker above a rooftop apartment skylight. Classify KLUTE a thriller, but it also serves well as a genuine and thoughtful love story, and relevant social commentary, with brilliant direction from Alan J. Pakula, swathing a path through 1971 New York City to reveal a touch of humanity among the junkies, prostitutes, and perverts. Perfectly assembled, tension mounting musical score by Michael Small.

No comments: