The Love Goddesses (Saul J. Turell, 1965). I suppose I expected a sexploitation film, but instead I got a documentary about the history of sex in the cinema as represented by the leading women. It includes most people you’d think of (albeit with a bit of a Hollywood bias), and some of the older clips are pretty interesting. The narration makes fairly large claims that may or may not be true, relating social conditions to how women were shown on screen. It’s not that the points are invalid as much as they go by too fast (the film covers around 65 years in around 80 minutes). Every opportunity is taken to show nudity, which is pretty forward for 1965 ... most of it comes from silent films, along with a few from more recent European movies. There is no real attempt to explain exactly what each featured actress had that made them special ... it’s more “Liz Taylor was beautiful” and “Betty Grable was the girl next door” than anything deeper. Of course, a deeper approach would have required fewer actresses or a lot longer running time. It is odd that Shirley Temple and Hayley Mills are included ... they were important, particularly Temple, but more explanation is needed for why they are part of the love goddesses. All in all, it was an amiable look back and nothing more. Additional context comes from Turell’s biography. He was the head of Janus Films beginning in the mid-60s, one of the great distributors of “art films” and thus an important contributor to the film education of countless Americans. Turell was also the driving force behind the 60s TV series Silents Please, a half-hour show that offered classics from the silent era. I remember this show, even though I was only 7-8 when it was on. (My memory is there were reruns long past that time.) Finally, Turell won an Oscar for his short documentary on Paul Robeson.
How to Survive a Plague (David France, 2012). Documentary about the early years of the AIDS epidemic. France draws a lot on archival footage of meetings, confrontations, and actions, telling a chronological story of events that are still fresh in our minds. The footage is raw ... it matches its subject matter, forcing the audience to confront the personal damage of the plague, much as ACT-UP did during its civil disobedience strategies. The title gives away the approach of the movie. France offers a blueprint for useful activism, and the film works as well as a primer in such action as it does as a heart-wrenching reminder of the recent past. #611 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.
Claire’s Knee (Eric Rohmer, 1970). A bunch of articulate people talk a lot. Nothing much happens, which only intensifies what little action there is. Rohmer creates suspense from conversation ... we know what is going through the characters’ minds, and thus we anticipate their actions (the anticipation is suspenseful). Our anticipations aren’t always right, which makes the characters seem complex. The interplay between Jean-Claude Brialy as a soon-to-be wed man and Aurora Cornu as a novelist is like a more mature version of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in Breathless, without the pop energy. They talk and talk, and as we listen we get a feel for what each person thinks of themselves. Brialy also has several conversations with two teenage girls who are the object of his ... let’s call it interest. Laura, played by Béatrice Romand, is by far the most interesting ... in fact, she’s the most interesting person in the movie. Claire, though, has a knee, which becomes identified with desire, suppressed either voluntarily or socially. Most of the suspense in the second part of the movie comes from waiting to see if the man will ever get to interact with that knee. It’s definitely a Your Mileage May Vary kind of movie. I found Brialy’s obsession (and his talking about that obsession) to be a sign of self-absorption, but others might find some deep philosophical material here. #544 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of all time.