Sunday, May 17, 2009

I'M THINKING ABOUT BEATRICE ARTHUR AND MIKE TYSON TONIGHT...


Time for some random thoughts as I get ready to lay myself down to sleep on a Sunday night after a weekend of interesting movies and other adventures…

While I was on my road trip to Oregon we, as in the communal we, lost Beatrice Arthur to cancer at the age of 86. I didn’t get a chance to mention anything about her passing at the time, and I’ve felt a little guilty about it ever since. This is not to say that comments of mine are what were essentially missing from our culture-wide remembrance of Arthur after she died on April 25. Hardly. But Bea Arthur played a huge role in the expansion of what I understood, as a child growing up in the ‘70s, of what comedy could be, what comedy could talk about, and how it could talk about it, and I felt like some acknowledgment of that was warranted. Her dry, deadpan sarcasm and the explosiveness of her temperament as Maude Findlay, Edith Bunker’s assertive, opinionated cousin, hit me with the force of gulping down one’s first hard-liquor cocktail—she was a fascinating, sometimes repellent figure to me, a boy who hadn’t yet quite figured out how the rapidly changing world was supposed to work, but one who was always redeemed in my eyes by how funny was the performance of the actress who embodied her. Watching Arthur as Maude taught me so much about how social commentary could function within a comic context, why it was important for it to function as comedy and satire, and how I could use it to assess my own emerging values as a responsible citizen. But all that sounds so high-minded. Beatrice Arthur’s mere presence as Maude, or even in a cameo like the brief one she had in Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part 1, as a sourball seen-it-all employment insurance clerk in ancient Rome (To an unemployed gladiator: “Did you kill last week? Did you try to kill last week?”), was simple assurance of a big-hearted talent in service to squeezing every drop of life out of a snappy comeback and a very short fuse, and it was always a delight to see her no matter where she showed up.



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Good friend Larry Aydlette passes along this link to a fine blog entitled Film Tracks, where many influential and hard-to-find soundtracks are available for purchase or download. I will take the time to peruse the shelves of the archives here at a later date, to be sure. But I got right on why Larry sent me to Film Tracks in the first place: to download the entire soundtrack album of David Shire’s terrifically propulsive score for the original (accept no substitutes, or at the very least consider them skeptically!) The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. You can find the soundtrack album in its entirety here or by clicking the button on my sidebar. Or if you’re too impatient for that, indulge yourself with the opening credits of the movie. (Oh, but does this sound good on my iPod!)



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This weekend the Los Angeles Times Sunday Calendar section featured Kenneth Turan’s Cannes report on the meticulously restored three-strip Technicolor print of Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes. Says Turan:

“The UCLA restoration does full justice to what has to be one of the most exquisite color films ever made (photographed by Jack Cardiff), filled with the kind of deep, vivid hues that will leave viewers literally gasping. Not that restoring those colors to their original brilliance was easy. First, it turned out that every reel of the original negative, which had been stored in Great Britain, had been attacked by mold, causing what (Robert) Gitt (preservation officer at the UCLA Film & Television Archive) describes as ‘thousands of visible tiny cracks and fissures.’ These problems, and others… were all corrected via digital restoration to the point where The Red Shoes actually looks better now than it ever has. `In 1948, images were fuzzy by today's standards,’ Gitt explains. `And because there was more information on the negative than could be printed at the time, we got a lot more off it than they were able to do when the film first came out.’ Those red shoes have never looked redder, or more alluring, than they do today.”

Turan suggests that although no dates beyond the Cannes screening have been scheduled, it is neither illogical nor unrealistic to expect that major urban areas will get their shot at seeing this beauty on the big screen sometime in the next year or so. So now the question is, do I take my daughter to see it at the New Beverly next month, or simply rent the DVD and wait for the big restoration? Reader Robert Fiore suggests I should take her to see A Matter of Life and Death and then skip out before The Red Shoes starts. But I don’t know if I have the willpower to walk away from that movie when it’s so close, Robert. This is the kind of problem we like to have, right?

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I saw The Greatest a couple of weeks ago, this past year’s Sundance fave starring Susan Sarandon and Pierce Brosnan as grieving parents who have distinctly different ways of dealing with the presence their dead son’s girlfriend (Carey Mulligan), who survives the car accident that killed him, moves into their house (don’t ask—the movie never bothers to make it plausible) and soon afterward announces that she’s carrying the boy’s child. The movie is a rather lackadaisical, unfocused affair that puts way too much stock in our willingness to upgrade its star rating based solely upon how much it is able to make us weep on cue. (It’s also far too confident in its own shaky ability to generate those tears in the first place.) In fact, it is most notable as the second movie in as many summers to showcase Pierce Brosnan in a capacity for which he is woefully ill-equipped. No, he doesn’t sing this time, but he does have to act worried for the safety of his other son frolicking in the surf (“Goddamn it, Ryan, get out of the water now! Do you hear me?! Get out now! Now, Ryan! Goddamn it, Ryan! Get out now! Goddamn it! Get out now!”) and blubber like he means it when the father’s stressed-out defenses finally get perforated. Pierce Brosnan did stoic and cool well enough as Bond, but I’ve only seen him once (in John Boorman’s The Tailor of Panama) when I was convinced he was capable of much beyond that. He is not convincing of any such thing in The Greatest. In fact, I was so distracted by his performance that after a while I became obsessed with distracting myself even further by noticing how much he seems to be, as he thickens with age, turning into Fred MacMurray, or perhaps even Fred Gwynne. I know, I know... but it was a lot more rewarding playing this little parlor game than tapping my feet impatiently in anticipation of the obvious and overstated character moments that came right on schedule as The Greatest ground down to its bittersweet, déjà vu-infused conclusion.



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By this time last year I’d already seen the movie that would eventually reign supreme at the top of my year-end list for 2008. It is possible that I saw another such contender last night when I saw Tyson, James Toback’s visually arresting, emotionally and philosophically tangled red-meat documentary that, among many other things, brilliantly evokes the multiple voices and conflicts constantly stirring inside Tyson’s head by giving the relative eloquent fighter a forum to present his psychological battles from his own perspective. This is not to say that Toback doesn’t have a perspective—we have long gotten over the fallacy of objective journalism, haven’t we, especially in feature documentaries? One of the most captivating things about Tyson is the way that Toback coexists with his subject and manages to enrich the struggle of the viewer, to elevate the struggle within Tyson and within the viewer, to the level of one of Tyson’s epic bouts, where fear, aggression, insecurity and megalomania must all find their place on the canvas. I will try to write more on Tyson this week. For now sufffice it to say that I’m exceedingly glad I got to see it on the big screen, and I suggest you do the same.



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8 comments:

The Voracious Filmgoer said...

I'm glad to see you've caught up with DUPLICITY. It's my favorite of the year so far. As for TYSON, I can't wait to see it. The sweet, sweet PELHAM soundtrack is hitting my ears right now. Is it foolish t hope the remake just uses the same score?

Robert Fiore said...

I dunno, taking a little girl to see The Red Shoes in any state is sort of like asking to pay for ballet lessons . . .

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ha! Too late, Robert! That's where I was until 4:30 this afternoon!

By the way, Robert, any chance of seeing you at the drive-in on the 30th?

VF: I think we hear David Shire's original Pelham score in the new movie the same day Tony Scott delivers a feature with a single shot that lasts 30 seconds or longer. In other words... :)

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