losing it at the movies: blume in love (paul mazursky, 1973)

Picking this up after still yet another long break, this is the thirteenth in a series, "Losing It at the Movies," which is explained here. I've been at it for more than two years ... maybe I'll finish in 2022.

In 5001 Nights at the Movies, Pauline Kael wrote of Blume in Love:

This romantic, marital-mixup comedy, written and directed by Paul Mazursky, is like a hip updating of The Awful Truth. Now the institution of marriage itself is in slapstick disarray. Blume (George Segal), an L.A. divorce lawyer, is berserkly in love with his ex-wife, the stiff-jawed Nina (Susan Anspach). An inscrutably frustrated, humorless woman, she has taken up with Elmo (Kris Kristofferson), a roly-poly drifter-musician. He’s just the right lover for tense Nina: his stoned contentment is the best protection against her high-mindedness. And he’s so likable that even Blume, who’s obsessed with winning Nina back, has to like him. Mazursky gets L.A. just right; he sees the pratfall folly of his educated, liberal characters who are up to their ears in social consciousness. This is his most messily romantic movie: he’s “too close” to the subject—he’s gummed up in it, and the chaos feels good. The scattier his characters are, the more happily he embraces them. They include Marsha Mason (in her film début) as a giggly, compliant woman who has an affair with Blume, and Shelley Winters as a legal client. Also with Donald F. Muhich as the divorced couple’s deadpan analyst, Mazursky himself as Blume’s law partner, Anzanette Chase, and Erin O’Reilly. There are scenes that dawdle, but in Mazursky’s best films craziness gives life its savor and a little looseness hardly matters. The cinematography is by Bruce Surtees; the production design is by Pato Guzman.

Blume in Love is very much of its time. Writer-director Paul Mazursky's films in the 1960s and 70s included Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Harry and Tonto, Next Stop Greenwich Village, and An Unmarried Woman. George Segal had a long career ... in the 1970s he worked with directors like Robert Altman and co-starred with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Glenda Jackson, Elliott Gould, and Jane Fonda. Blume in Love was only the third movie for Kris Kristofferson (Elmo), who followed it with directors like Peckinpah and Scorsese and teamed with Streisand in the 70s A Star Is Born. Susan Anspach (Nina) is best known for Five Easy Pieces, and she plays a similar character here, an intelligent, tense woman. (Anyone who thinks she could only play one type should check out Montenegro.) I'm not sure why her star faded, although she kept working through 2011 (she died in 2018). But for a few years, it felt like she was in half the good movies.

I was buried in movies in those days, especially in 1973, when I began my time as a film major. My program ran free double-features five nights a week, plus there were all the movies I watched in my classes. (One result was that despite my fighting hard against the literary canon in grad school, my time as a film major meant I had a comprehensive "canonical" education in movies.) Blume in Love was the kind of movie that I watched all the time, partly because there were movies like Blume in Love all the time. I liked it, especially a scene where George Segal (Blume) hangs out with his ex-wife and her new boyfriend, singing "Chester the Goat" (quit watching just before the two-minute mark ... the uploader added a montage that does nothing for me):

You can see why Kristofferson could be so appealing on screen ... it's as if his lack of actorly moves enhances his character here. Segal is trying hard to fit in, and also trying hard not to fit in, so he's more uncomfortable than Kristofferson. And Anspach is content for the moment. Mazursky gives the entire scene the feeling that it was made up on the spot, in a good way.

Blume is basically a creep, but he's the film's point of view and Segal manages to help us forget the creepiness. Kristofferson isn't quite a creep, but his casual lack of commitment finally loses whatever made him likeable. And yes, it was of its time. I don't think I'd seen it since it came out so long ago, and for the most part, my fond memories still held. But I had forgotten something, something that probably wouldn't be made today, and if it were, it would be treated much differently. Blume visits his ex, tries to get her to bed, insists on his love for her, and when she turns him down, he rapes her. And Mazursky doesn't shy away, doesn't pretend it "wasn't really a rape". But he does something worse: after she gets pregnant (time for Elmo to hit the road), Nina decides to give Blume another chance. And with that, all of my fond memories went down the drain.

And it's weird how it was treated at the time. Roger Ebert gave it his highest rating ... he didn't mention the rape at all. Nor is there any hint of it in Kael's review. Nor in other "major" reviews I read, from the New York Times and the Village Voice. Again, this would be one thing if the rape wasn't a rape, but Mazursky makes it clear what happened. And with that, Blume in Love goes from a fondly-remembered picture to something worse.

sweet country (warwick thornton, 2017)

This is the thirteenth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 13 is called "Meat Pie Western Week":

You've heard of the spaghetti Western, now get ready for its Australian cousin: the meat pie Western. Essentially just Western films made in Australia, typically set within the Australian Outback, the meat pie Western offers up some similar themes of isolation and colonialism as your standard American made fare. Dig in!

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Meat Pie Western film.

Meat Pie Westerns. Can't say I'd heard of the genre before. Turns out, including Sweet Country, I've seen seven Meat Pie Westerns. That's misleading ... four of them are Mad Max movies, which I don't think of as Westerns, Meat Pie or anything else. (The Nightingale was a popular choice for this challenge, and it's a very good movie.) Sweet Country feels like a Western, with its vast landscapes and people riding horses. The presence of Aboriginal characters offers a different subtext than we usually get in American Westerns, adding race and class to the mix. I imagine it plays much differently in Australia.

I recognized two actors. Sam Neill is like the quintessential Australian, except he was born in Northern Ireland and moved to New Zealand as a kid. Bryan Brown is that Australian. The two are apparently good friends ... both are in their 70s now, and still looking good. I forget what movie it was, but there was a film with Brown where he seemed to have his shirt off all of the time, which led to my wife and I calling him Bryan "Beefcake" Brown ever since. He was 70 when he made Sweet Country, and sure enough, he's still taking his shirt off ... he's still got the beef. Hamilton Morris is the lead, an Aboriginal farm worker who kills a white man in self-defense. He lends gravitas to a movie that is pretty full of that kind of seriousness, and it's amazing that this was his only acting job beyond a couple of episodes of a TV series. Natassia Gorey Furber, who plays the farm worker's wife, was also making her debut, and she is heartbreaking.

Director Warwick Thornton is new to me. He has worked as a cinematographer (he fills that function here, as well), and the movie is gorgeous. Sweet Country is solid and easy to recommend, although Jennifer Kent's The Nightingale remains my favorite Meat Pie (I'm not counting Mad Max movies).

music friday: spotify wrapped

It's that time of year, when Spotify tells me what I already know, that I listen to a lot of music from the 1960s.

OK, that's not quite true. For instance, my #1 song for 2021 is "I've Got a Feeling" by The Beatles, which is from 1970. #2 is "Ooh La La" by The Faces, from 1973. #3? "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five" by Wings, also from '73. #4 is "Nature's Way" by Spirit, 1970. And #5 is actually from this century ("Someone Like You" by Adele). But #6-15 are all from the 60s.

My list of Top Artists is only slightly better: The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Pink, Billie Eilish.

The song I've listened to most lately doesn't necessarily turn up on the Spotify Wrapped, because I tend to watch videos of it on YouTube. And I never know which version to watch. The official version currently has 114,000,000 views. Live on Jimmy Fallon, 14 million. Live from the concert that aired on Disney+, 13 million. You get the idea. I'll choose this one here (3.1 million), since it has an audience:

The lyrics are endlessly quotable ("I could talk about every time that you showed up on time, But I'd have an empty line, 'cause you never did").

I'm never quite certain how "real" reaction videos are, but this is fun, in any event: people hearing "Happier Than Ever" for the first time. As "Plantation D" said in the comments, "i'd do ANYTHING to listen to this song for the first time again".

In the More Things Change department, a look at my Spotify Top Songs of 2020 isn't any better. The first three songs are by The Youngbloods, The Steve Miller Band, and Procol Harum. That list doesn't get interesting until #13: