Saturday, November 06, 2004

Short Cuts: November '04

Gimmer Shelter
d. Maysles/Maysles/Zwerin, 1970

There is a clear delineation in Gimme Shelter, dividing the film in half. The first half is The Mick Jagger Show (starring Mick Jagger!) The second half of the Maysles bros. documentary is less concerned with the Rolling Stones (or Mick Jagger, for that matter) and more concerned with what happened at the Altamont. Seeing the events post-mortem, and for the first time, I am struck by the fact that the violence was entirely unexpected. Clearly, today’s “defend first, ask questions later” mentality was not applicable in the 60’s. The question should be asked: was this the end of the 60’s or just an inevitable culmination of events? My guess would be the latter. Regardless, the Maysles Bros. captured it, and in strong form at that.

d. Darren Aronofsky, 1998

When I was 18 I loved this movie. It was in my top 20 all time. What was I thinking? I still like it, but top 20? Come on. This was probably my 6th viewing of the film (give or take a pop) and first in the last 2 years.

What's changed? Well:

1. The math is still as sexy as ever. That's for sure.

2. The acting has dropped a notch or three: Gullette is adequate most of the time, very good every once in awhile, and godawful on a few occasions. The supporting cast leaves much to be desired.

3. The intricate plot, with twists and turns abounding, is hardly as impressive as it once was. The writing, instead of being clever, now seems like it's trying to abstract it's inadequacy with a convoluted storyline.

4. The overly pyschological, impossibly cryptic, and ultimately sophomoric symbolism is now seen for what is.

All that said: the film is still laudable for Matthew Libatique's inventive cinematography, the really really sweet math, and, as much as I hate to admit it (especially following my #3 crit up there), the story is actually kinda clever.

Long Day's Journey Into Night
d. Sidney Lumet, 1962

Spanning three hours, Sidney Lumet's film version of Long Day's Journey Into Night holds remarkably true to the original play. For Lumet to leave the script so intact, he must have either loved the play dearly or had little imagination. His track record (Network, Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men, etc.) implies that it is probably the former. Why make a film version then? While there are some great cinematic flourishes, specific lighting to show isolation, crane pulls to show descent into madness, and several fine ECUs, the film seems more like one of Bergman's chamber plays; something that could be replicated fairly easily on the stage. I imagine that Lumet loved the play so dearly that he wanted more people to be aware of it.

Lumet captures the despondent remains of the Tyrone family in all their horrific glory. O'Neill wrote the play as a cathartic autobiographical endeavor. He gave it to his wife as an anniversary present, and she published it only after he had died. Like the play, the film reeks of alcoholism, familial distrust, and pierced, deflated egos. James Tyrone is a broken man, hobbling on metaphorical crutches while struggling to maintain a semblance of honor. His sons, James and Edmund, are both alcoholics (like their father) and Edmund is showing early signs of consumption. Mary Tyrone, wife and mother, is a morphine addict, possessed with nostalgia for her past and a loathing for her present.

Much has been made of Katherine Hepburn's performance - and I can see elements of greatness in it - but it's slightly over the top. This may be a flaw in either O'Neill's writing or Hepburn's reading. Regardless, whether the acting or writing is the culprit, Mary Tyrone has little nuance. She plays constantly the neurotic, without the variance that made Gena Rowlands, playing a similar character, so great in A Woman Under the Influence. Every moment is shadowed by the thought that Mary might snap. It makes for a hell of a closing scene, but tires for most of the second third.