CREATE ME, FACE ME
My December picks for Trilogy Video all have a little theatricality to them:
* Centre Stage starring Maggie Cheung as Chinese silent film actress Ruan Ling-Yu
* Funny Face starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire
* Not on the Lips with Audrey Tautou, directed by Alain Resnais, based on a 1925 operetta and fully sung
* Piccadilly, a silent classing starring Anna May Wong
* You and Me: Fritz Lang directs, Kurt Weil writes the songs in this socially conscious pre-film noir oddity from 1938 (sadly, VHS only)
I've been spending the day with Michelangelo Antonioni, both before and after his '60s heydey and the great trilogy of L'avventura/La Notte/L'eclisse, and with results on both sides of the quality spectrum.
1955's Le Amiche (The Girlfriends) confirms what I had decided when I saw 1950's Story of a Love Affair: that before Antonioni became an arthouse master, he was just as surefooted making conventional cinema. I want to be cheeky and call Le Amiche a '50s Italian precursor to Sex & the City. It's largely about a group of women and how they come together to talk about the men who drive them crazy--one of them literally, the lovely Rosetta (Madeleine Fischer) starting the film nearly dead from trying to overdose on sleeping pills. She is found by new-to-town Clelia (Eleanora Rossi Drago), and it becomes Clelia's ticket into a clique of women whose types range from young slut to nervous artist to jaded wife. They have many affairs, swap a few partners, and drift through various soap opera scenarios with excellet posture. Le Amiche is as compelling as any Hollywood studio "women's picture" of the time, and Antonioni's confident direction already has inklings of his trademark detachment.
The Passenger came in 1975, after Antonioni had shifted his approach, and it bears the slow pace and ambiguity of his best work. It stars Jack Nicholson, who is as perfect as Alain Delon when it comes to wandering through Antonioni's landcape and looking completely lost, and the ever-stiff Maria Schneider, who does her wandering as if someone kicked her in both shins. The film opens with Nicholson as a reporter stuck in the African desert after a story he was following went dead. Lucky for him, the only other white man in the area is in the room next to him, and he also went dead. The guy looks a lot like old Jack, and old Jack hears opportunity knocking. He switches clothes, rooms, and passports with the corpse, and he's no longer David Locke, he's now Robertson, international businessman of mystery. Taking Robertson's date book, Jack starts walking in his shoes, hoping the new identity will take over him. He discovers many things, not all of them good, and some not very exciting.
The Passenger raises some interesting questions about how we define ourselves and asks whether or not a man can truly change. As Jack will discover, fate has a way of catching up with you, and you could end up back at square one. Maybe I was expecting too much, though, both due to the reputation The Passenger carries and my feelings about Antonioni's other work, because I didn't really feel the film sustained itself in the middle. The Antonioni I know makes every moment count. Even his nothingness has significance. In The Passenger, I wasn't always sure why I was seeing what I was seeing.
Not all is lost, though. The final scene redeems all. Most of it plays out over one dazzling, yet patient, tracking shot, and Antonioni brings his themes to fruition with quiet expertise, leaving me stunned in all the ways I had hoped to be.
The Passenger has recently been restored to its European running time and is doing the rounds of small theatres. A DVD is expected in the spring.
And a big shout to the mighty Han Q. Duong who sent me the amazing Girls Aloud single, "Biology." I can't stop listening to it. It's a monster. It's like three songs in one, maybe more. From the pounding piano opening, it undulates across many seemingly disparate paths, bringing them together for one sexy, sweaty dance-floor corker. I tracked down the whole Chemistry album and it's pretty swell, too. Thank God the Brits don't ever grow embarassed of pop the way the Americans do. This current cycle where we are trying to legitimize Ashlee Simpson so we can feel comfortable listening to her shitty songs is just sad. It didn't work for Pink's tanked career, so it better not work for ol' Acid Re-sux.
I'd kill for some X-Ray Spex right about now.
Current Soundtrack: Neil Diamond, 12 Songs
Current Mood: bored (ennui)
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2005 Jamie S. Rich