music friday: miami vice, "in the air tonight"
happy 13th birthday

what i watched last week

Through a Glass Darkly (Ingmar Bergman, 1961). Back in the late 60s, when UHF channels were making their first appearances on our TVs, a San Francisco station on channel 20, KEMO, had a weekly series called The Adults Only Movie. These were usually “art films”, and I don’t remember that there was ever any nudity. They showed a lot of Bergman, Repulsion, Brigitte Bardot. This was not the ideal way to watch these films: TV in the pre-cable era, with a roof antenna, dubbed, the movies disrupted by commercials (and edited to remove the nudity). The only movie that sticks with me from that time (I was in my teens) was Through a Glass Darkly. I didn’t understand it, but Harriet Andersson was amazing as the schizophrenic daughter, and I tended to romanticize mental illness at that age. The famous “God is a spider” scene was as intense as anything I watched in any medium at the time. Many decades later, I gave it another look, and for the most part, my memories were validated. Andersson is indeed remarkable, and if I’m less inclined to romanticize her illness now, I’m also more understanding and sympathetic to her. I don’t think the film reaches the heights of the best Bergman (for me, The Seventh Seal and Smiles of a Summer Night), and 40 years ago I really disliked the other films in the trilogy, Winter Light and especially The Silence. But Andersson still resonates for me. I didn’t like them, but the obvious movies to see alongside this are the other trilogy films.

The Fountainhead (King Vidor, 1949).  I tried very hard in 2014 to avoid movies that I knew in advance wouldn’t be my cup of tea. I watched many movies I knew nothing about, and once in a while, one of them would turn out to be bad, but for the most part, I succeeded. But for a variety of reasons, I decided to re-watch The Fountainhead, and it was the worst movie I saw all year. Imagine an Aaron Sorkin script, if Sorkin couldn’t write dialogue. You’d be left with something like this, full of speechifying, with no one sounding the least bit human. I’m using Sorkin as a comparison because it’s not the content of the politics that I’m talking about, it’s the awful, didactic crap coming out of people’s mouths. Having said that, The Fountainhead is a wet dream for followers of Ayn Rand, I suppose, but pretty much a mess for the rest of us. Patricia Neal almost survives, and there is a camp value to the (over)use of phallic symbolism.  In one of the more remarkable bits of movie trivia, this film ranks #984 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 movies of all time. Through a Glass Darkly is nowhere to be found. I wouldn’t recommend anything as a double-bill partner to The Fountainhead, but a post-movie shower might be in order.

Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000). Hunger Games clone, except it’s not. For one thing, it came a few years earlier … Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins claims that she had never heard of either book or movie of Battle Royale prior to writing her novels, and I’m inclined to believe her, but the similarities are interesting enough that you can’t discuss Battle Royale without reference to Collins’ work. Both deal with teenagers left on an island in a battle to the death, but the Hunger Games films are all rated PG-13, one of the reasons the films have grossed so much money. Battle Royale? The IMDB Parents Guide rates the violence and gore in the movie 10/10, and lists 36 separate instances of violent events of note (“This is a very violent and disturbing movie. It's frequent and always bloody when it occurs.”). In Japan, it received an R15 rating (no one under 15 allowed admission), and the film was condemned in the Japanese Parliament. This is not the same kind of movie as Hunger Games. Is it good? Yep. Care is taken to make several of the teenagers into interesting characters … it’s not just Katniss and her two boyfriends. The actions of the kids is more varied than in Hunger Games, as well. Still, Battle Royale could have used a little Jennifer Lawrence for my tastes … its concept of heroism is perhaps more complex, but being an American, I like the badass hero. Also, oddly enough, the action scenes are good, and they are violent, but they aren’t as violent as I expected (which may just be my tolerance level). Battle Royale is very good, but it’s not The Raid. Obviously, The Hunger Games series make good companions. There is a sequel to Battle Royale that I haven’t seen. Or switch things around a bit and watch Lord of the Flies.

Arlington Road (Mark Pellington, 1999). Paranoid thriller that plays much differently in the post-9/11 world. In 1999, you could play against American fears by positing a secret underground of right-wing extremists out to overthrow the government. Such a scenario is just as likely in the real life of 2015 as it was in 1999, but the stock villains have changed to secret underground Arab terrorists out to destroy America. So Arlington Road seems dated, even quaint. There are other problems with the film. As Megan Prelinger pointed out at the time, the blandly middle-class white terrorists are just like anyone else, which implies “that anyone with a particular ire at the government could be the kind of bomb-blaster that the Langs portray.” This separates the movie from any ideological underpinnings … despite hints at something bigger, Arlington Road is ultimately just another thriller with nothing to say. It works on an immediate level … as you watch, you are taken in by the increasing paranoia. But nothing holds up after the fact … think about the events of the last action sequence too hard and you’ll realize it was all nonsense. For a better Jeff Bridges movie, catch him early in his career in The Last Picture Show. For a different look entirely, binge-watch the TV series The Americans.



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