Aye, Corona. Normally I would relish the prospect of extended isolation. I guess when it’s forced upon you it feels a little less liberating. I tried to make the best of it, did some reading, did some writing and watched a lot of old films. Here are some of them.
- 52 Pick Up ( John Frankenheimer 1985) This is a fairly decent thriller with Roy Scheider as a philandering husband, trying to put his life together while dealing with a John Glover’s highly charismatic blackmailer. Ann-Magret also makes an appearance as Scheider’s beleaguered wife, trying to maintain her dignity while playing the role of a prominent politician’s campaign manager. Her job precludes Roy from being able to go to the police for help and so sets up our plot. Adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel, it has some really good moments cinematically. There are a couple of crane shots in particular that look out of time but stand up now amidst the usual by the numbers stuff of the era. Frankenheimer had been out in the cold for a while at this stage, but this was a step in the right direction and he would go on to work for another few years, to varying levels of quality.
2. All That Jazz ( Bob Fosse 1979) Again Scheider stars, this time as a theatre director who’s on the brink of death by exhaustion. We are in contemporary Broadway where the line between erotitism and jazz handed high kicking theatre is barely visible. Scheider is trying to survive as the king of the jungle, propped up by shagging, hard liquor and prescription drugs. Jessica Lange appears as an angel ( fine by me!) who invites him to reflect on his behaviour. Look out for a charming dance routine by Erzsébet Földi and Leland Palmer. There’s also a really good subplot where Scheider’s character is trying to salvage a film with a stand up comedian via some frenetic editing…I feel your pain man! Interest in Bob Fosse has recently been rekindled by a TV series starring Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams. I would consider this to be a suitable companion to that.
3. The Postman Always Rings Twice (Bob Rafelson 1983) REWATCHED I still haven’t seen the original but I have read the source material since my last viewing. In the passing of time I still am failing to see the criticism levelled at the two leads as fair. It’s well mounted, and the chemistry between Jessica and Jack is tangible. The drama in this is well posted however; you really see it coming from a mile away. I don’t think the director could ever have surprised an audience with this story however, re-adapting a 50 year old best selling novel, he was almost on a hiding to nothing. As it is David Mamet gave it his best shot in the screenwriter’s chair. Angelica Huston also makes an interesting cameo as a lion tamer in a travelling circus.
4. Ironweed (Hector Babenco 1988) To me this is almost an unofficial sequel to Postman. It’s not a stretch to imagine Jack living a few years longer and falling on hard times. The timelines wouldn’t really match up as we are still in depression era America here. But we’re certainly in a universe where his character’s past has consequences on his conscience. Here he is a homeless drunk, palling around with the likes of Tom Waits and Meryl Streep; all well past middle age and living on God’s good grace. Their only objectives in this film are finding a place to sleep, something to eat and staying warm. Streep’s character has also been unable to get past earlier disappointments. She lives now with a slight haughty accent and memories of a singing career that didn’t quite work out. It’s miserable enough stuff. But I’d recommend it
5. Silkwood (Mike Nichols 1983) This is a film that I never quite got around to until recently. I had seen it so many times in video shops, with the box’s artwork typically disappointing for the era. Streep, Cher and Kurt Russell work in a chemical plant, where in 1980s Oklahoma the one horse town has been replaced by the one factory town. She is a roguish presence, slipping between talking about plans for the weekend and trying to arrange a time to visit her estranged children. She also finds time to become paranoid(and subsequently spot on) about the safety standards of the factory and whether the production area is detrimental to the staff’s health. Russell plays her patient but underwritten love interest; It is quite noticeable when the shoe is on the other foot. Cher plays a lesbian character in believable but quite broad strokes.
Similar to Frankenheimer with 52 Pick Up, Nichols hadn’t made any films for a few years. While John F had been battling alcoholism, Nichols had been based on Broadway( maybe him and Fosse had a few drinks and this whole blog could be tied up in a pretty little bow).
6. Save The Tiger ( John G Avildsen 1973) The one that finally got Jack Lemmon over the ‘Oscars’ line. Here Jack plays a middle aged fashion house manager, negotiating contracts with buyers and trying to appease his pretentious designers. He is suffering from PTSD but it being the early 70s and him being too proud to visit a doctor, this has not yet been diagnosed. His coping mechanism is to remember old baseball games with admirable detail. The game nowadays has changed he thinks, and not for the better. It’s a subtle but beautiful performance.
I remember watching Billy Wilder’s Avanti, which was made around the same time. This is in the same wheelhouse but superior. A little bit of comedy but a lot more wistful. It’s an excellent study of the generational gap in America at that time too. Lemmon’s character drives the same way to work every day and decides to pick up a young hippie who wants to screw him straight away. Fans of Tarantino’s most recent OUATIH will immediately recognise the sequence. Avildsen is better known as the man who helped guide Stallone’s first Rocky film into the stratosphere. He isn’t a particularly showy director but there’s some nice photography of downtown L.A that historians will definitely appreciate.
7. Lone Star ( John Sayles 1996) Described as a neo western film by Wikipedia this can also be classed as pretty damn great. The 90s and the 70s of American cinema are to me at least, friendly cousins. Scripts are generally beefy and over exuberant cinematographers need not apply. This one has plenty of beef, taco flavoured and spicy. Hell, even the opening credits look like a menu board for a lowly Tex Mex.
And that’s exactly where we are. On a Texas Mexico border where three communities co-exist peacefully, often ignoring past indiscretions for the sake of harmony. Chris Cooper plays the sheriff of the town. He is a reluctant copper, stuck in the shadow of his respected father. He harbours thoughts of leaving the force, but is stoic and quietly determined to get to the bottom of an old case before he does so. We are educated on this old case via flashback. Here Kristofferson and a post Dazed and Confused McConaughey play out the scenes with an understated aggression.
Of the seven I’ve listed here, this is the one I’d recommend the most. Keep an eye out for Clifton James ( he of Sheriff JW Pepper in James Bond) fame.
Really good stuff folks, get on it!