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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare is tickled pink by Criterion's edition of John Waters MULTIPLE MANIACS

Mink Stole pleasures Divine with a set of rosary beads in John Water's second feature (after Mondo Trasho) from 1970, Multiple Maniacs now out on Criterion Blu-ray. The picture is delivered in near pristine technical perfection, with a new "official" theatrical ratio of 1.78 (all these Waters films were routinely screened in Academy back when), with a commentary track from the director that is possibly even more entertaining than the dialogue which is itself something of an archive for the great strangled Baltimore vowel.

While I find myself not going near reviewing a Waters movie from one year to another this was undoubtedly the last hurrah to the sixties at the dawn of the seventies from people who inhabited it so wholly, that they actually made it. Criterion has interestingly seen fit to simultaneously release Hal Ashby's farewell to the seventies from 1979, Being There in another superlative new 4K transfer to Blu-ray. The gap between these two apparently divergent films is narrower than might at first appear. Water's sometimes labored but often cleanly direct satire and reverberances from Bunuel and the great romantic poets of blasphemy - Sade, Dali etc, and the anti suburban, bourgeois core now seems more necessary than ever, especially with a current left commentariat in the Anglo west suffocating in its own smug self annointed correctness and a wilful aversion to recognize the failure of politics in any meaningful way while said politics increasingly becomes an arm of business. On the score of political commitment Waters occupies a rare canon with truly radicals artists like Pasolini and Fassbinder. Now more than ever do I welcome something as savage and funny in its attack on bourgeois (and liberal) complacency..

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Noel Bjorndahl's Personal History of Film (11) - Alice Faye and the Fox Musicals

Alice Faye
From the point at which serious film analysis took off (in the late 1960s here in Australia), the Hollywood musical has been, like the Western, Film Noir, Science-fiction, Horror and Comedy, a heavily celebrated genre, producing countless epigraphs, tomes, theses and coffee table books.

Common wisdom has it that historically the most important musicals have centred on the dance, from Busby Berkeley's imaginative kaleidoscopic erotic fantasies; through the magic of the "peerless pair" (Astaire and Rogers) whose chemistry produced a near-alchemical impact on the progression and maturation of the form both in stylistic and narrative/thematic aspects; and finally culminating in its apotheosis at MGM at the Freed unit which operated relatively unimpeded against the usual incursions of studio bosses and bureaucrats and allowed the burgeoning and development of outsize talents like Vincente Minnelli, Stanley Donen,  George Sidney, Comden and Green, Roger Edens, Robert Alton, Charles Walters, Conrad Salinger (and a host of others) in a way unique to film history in mainstream Hollywood. Hugh Fordin wrote perceptively of the conditions that brought this about and nurtured it through two decades or so. More recently, the "That's Entertainment" series of films popularized the phenomenon to the general public.

Betty Grable
Fox musicals achieved neither the critical acclaim nor the status of the Freed unit at MGM but they always mustered a strong public following: directors like Walter Lang, Lucky Humberstone and Irving Cummings were no match for the roster of talent cited above but at their best they made lively entertainments in bold (some might say garish) technicolor hues. There were always strong elements of terpsichore but the studio specialized in songbirds and swing stars like Harry James, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. The male leads were generally the weakest links in the chain (it was hard to get excited about George Montgomery or Cesar Romero, although John Payne fared a little better and Dick Haymes was a very posh crooner, the classiest act this side of Crosby and Sinatra). The Foxy women like Betty Grable and June Haver were another story, frequently carrying their vehicles not so much on outstanding talent as on their sheer energy, high spirits and ability to convince their public that they were real troupers in tough times.

Alice Faye, on the other hand, stood out from her peers. The soulful blonde with her melting blue eyes, mellifluous contralto voice and genuine acting talent had been around from the mid-30s, debuting in George White's Scandals (George White, Harry Lachman & James Tinling, 1935), then serving time in Shirley Temple vehicles until she finally impacted as the second female lead in On the Avenue (Roy Del Ruth, 1937), memorably presenting some Irving Berlin standards. Her warmth and charm quickly made her Fox's best musical asset, opposite Tyrone Power in three strong films, In Old Chicago (Henry King, 1938), Alexander's Ragtime Band (Henry King, 1938) and as the Fanny Price figure in Rose of Washington Square (Gregory Ratoff, 1939). She really hit her stride from the early to mid-40s, typically in Tin Pan Alley (Walter Lang, 1940) and Hello Frisco Hello (H. Bruce Humberstone, 1943), the latter showcasing her unforgettably moving Academy-award winning song “You'll Never Know”. She atte
mpted to extend her range into straight dramatic acting in Preminger's fine noir, Fallen Angel (1945), but in spite of acquitting herself very creditably, the prominence of her role was reduced in the final cut and she retired gracefully. Apart from her "comeback" in Jose Ferrer's execrable remake of State Fair (1962), she was content to bring up her family and play second fiddle to her husband, band leader and occasional actor Phil Harris.

Far from being nearly forgotten, Faye is the subject of at least one of the "Films of..." series; an excellent documentary called "Alice Faye:The Star Next Door" played frequently on TCM in the 90s which turned up as a welcome extra on Fox's DVD release of Henry King's Alexander's Ragtime Band; and she figures prominently in all the standard histories of the Hollywood musical, including Ted Sennett's indispensable coffee table book.

Like Jeanette MacDonald, Deanna Durbin, Irene Dunne and other important musical stars Faye has been under represented on DVD because sadly the Hollywood Musical, like the Western, is a little out of fashion. Sad.

Dana Andrews, Alice Faye, Fallen Angel (Otto Preminger, USA, 1945)

AFTRS update - Is anybody doing anything to fix up the Council appointments?

Why is it this little blog that has to draw attention to governance issues at the Australian Film Television & Radio School?

The legislation establishing the School Council says that there are nine members of the Council, specified under the Act including:
            three members appointed by the Governor-General
            three members appointed from convocation by the Council

From among the three members appointed by the Governor-General, one is appointed the Chair of the Council.

The re-appointment of the Chair last March for a limited term of a year expired on 9 March 2017 and its expiry has now created the situation where the School no longer has a permanent Chair. In fact, there are two Council vacancies at present. You would have to assume that AFTRS is awaiting attention in a queue somewhere, hopefully not one as long as the one that developed in the Abbott Credlin years of lead wherein statutory appointments often took months to be decided and announced.

The advice offered a few days ago on the Film Alert blog, reacting to a photo of the last appointed Chair still being on the School website, has not provoked anybody into taking care of this minor detail. Oh well, being ignored is a part of life's rich tapestry. 

Monday, 20 March 2017

French Film Festival (5) - What of the row boat? Barrie Pattison reports on SAGE FEMME/MID WIFE

Martin Provost’s Sage Femme/Mid Wife, with a cast headed up by Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Frot, looked like a good proposition.

We kick off with midwife Frot fooling round in patients’ lady parts doing (real) difficult deliveries, a spinal tap (ugh!) and joining in industrial action over the closing down of her women’s health centre.

Along the way we learn that she doesn’t drink or smoke, goes for health food and her social life is pretty tame - so we know that she’s going to let her hair down (literally) pretty soon. The agent of change is the return, after thirty years, of her father’s bogus Russian aristocrat mistress Deneuve. She quit him when he suggested setting up on a farm together. That caused him to put a bullet in his heart. She is put out that dad is not still around and tries to rekindle the relationship she had with Frot as a child.

Deneuve with a probably fatal cancer of the brain cyst, outrages Frot by eating red meat and chips with mayonnaise, to go with the red wine, all feeding her ailment. Frot’s no meat no booze diet and frowzy style - tied back hair, plain raincoat outrages Deneuve’s joie de vivre.

Deneuve, Frot
Frot is reluctantly drawn into the post of carer just at the point where truck driver Olivier Gourmet (also in Chocolat), who has the adjacent allotment garden, is coming onto her and her son (Quentin Dolmaire) is dropping out of medical school.  Deneuve moves in with Frot, making her detour on the hospital pick up run after the operation and write cheques (two months’ salary) to give to a ravaged money lender (Mylene Demongeot) getting a single scene. Cash in hand, Deneuve hits the Montreuil card game again scooping off handsome winnings.

Frot, Gourmet
Best scene has the two women watching the box of old family slides from Frot’s self-storage with her son entering the image of his grandfather in swimmers (actually tricked shots of  the boy himself) bringing on Deneuve’s touchy feely side. Frot wants her gone when she comes home and finds Deneuve and Gourmet singing along with her dad’s old lps. Deneuve’s attempt at cashing in her four thousand Euro gold watch in the slummy neighborhood jewelers means Frot has to spring her from the gendarmerie.

There’s still a nice scene of the three riding in Gourmet’s truck singing and Deneuve taking the wheel and proving a natural. We also get one last night time emergency delivery at the closing health centre.

The interaction between the two super stars is intriguing for about half an hour but the weaknesses of the script become more evident as the film rolls on.

So what’s the significance of the sunken rowboat they emphasise?

I’ve forgotten Provost’s other movies so I don’t think this one will linger despite its Boulevard Cinema polish.