Reintroductions #24-27: The Others, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Barbarella and An American in Paris


This year I’m devoting more time to revisiting films I’ve seen only once, a practice I’ve shamefully neglected. My Reintroduction posts are a place for me to jot down some thoughts and observations.

The Others

#24. The Others (2001, Amenábar)
First Seen in: 2002

Alejandro Amenábar’s Gothic psychological mood piece is mostly a transfixing spell of sustained atmosphere built by contained pools of light, isolated existence, Nicole Kidman’s high-strung, barely repressed frenzy and a general feeling of constant indefinable foggy dislodge. It may lead up to a transparently inevitable twist ending, but it smartly doesn’t put all its eggs in that basket. It satisfyingly inverts the ghost story whilst indulging in it old-school. More importantly, while we concentrate on Grace and her children facing ghostly intruders and shady servants, The Others tells its real story simultaneously, behind the curtains and the sounds of things that go bump in the night. It’s elegant storytelling; you’re being told the whys and the how’s the whole time and you don’t even know it. And even if you do, it makes you aware of the endgame but doesn’t ruin the journey. I remembered it being more about low-key scares, but it was even lower-key than I remembered. I wish Amenábar had fought the urge to give us a peek into the purpose of the servants. I didn’t feel it was needed. One of Nicole Kidman’s best performances. I’d even take it over her also-excellent work in Moulin Rouge! and The Hours, both within the same two-year period.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

#26. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953, Hawks)
First Seen in: 2005

One of the great musicals of the 50’s. It may not feature dancing prowess or technical innovation but what it lacks in ambition it more than makes up for with the contagious escapism the studio system excelled at and an unabashed female perspective that a girl like me gravitates towards full force. What I had remembered most was the “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love” number, the best in the film. Its got Jane Russell in a black pantsuit and phallic art deco earrings sauntering in a room full of barely clad buff Olympians. It’s iconic, homoerotic and flaunts the male body on a scale rarely seen. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes may star two sexpots, but this number is a giant fuck-you to the male gaze.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes features two women who are best friends, always defending each other even when they disapprove of the others actions (I love when Dorothy tells Malone she’s the only one allowed to gripe about Lorelei). They are both upfront about what they want in life and they know how to get it. The film never chastises them for this and remains firmly planted on their gold-digging, hunk-craving side from start to finish.

Random Observations:
– As enjoyable as it is to see Marilyn Monroe pushing her ditzy but lovable persona as far as it can go even as she simultaneously cements it in place, it’s Jane Russell’s Dorothy who I love. All she wants is a hobo-hunk.
– Another thing I remembered was Henry Spofford III. HILARIOUS
– I love that Lorelei can calculate exactly how much time it would take to get what she wants from a man.
– For my money, “When Love Goes Wrong” is an underrated number

Barbarella 6

#26. Barbarella (1968, Vadim)
First Seen in: best guess, 2001-2002

Roger Vadim took the women in his life and created a celluloid shrine for their bodies. Barbarella is a camped-up celebration of the ideal female form; soft-core objectification shrouded in trippy sci-fi goofiness. It’s a counter-cultural product of the time, full of hippie idealism and free love baby, free love. Jane Fonda, Vadim’s then-wife, fashions an epic blonde mane and a sex-kitten silhouette that recalls Vadim’s former-muse Brigitte Bardot. She brings a wide-eyed matter-of-fact innocence to her newly rediscovered sexuality and lends a self-aware comic quality to her role that she alone can lay claim to. Outside of a few amusing lines, both intentional and unintentional, (“I hear screaming. A good many dramatic situations begins with screaming”) Terry Southern and Roger Vadim aren’t able to liven up their script at all. For a film where the plot is this inconsequential (it’s structured around Jane Fonda’s costume changes and various states of undress), most of the dialogue is concerned directly with its meaningless story.

I first saw Barbarella at, my best guess is, fifteen. All I remembered were a handful of images; spacesuit striptease, furs, bubbles and a buff blonde angel. That’s mainly what you take from the film. Roger Vadim doesn’t have a hand at taking advantage of its inventively tacky low-budget sets. He shoots apathetically and flatly, laying the soundtrack on top in similar fashion, a fun and schizophrenic score that alternates between daytime- kiddie-show, sunshine-pop and groove-tunes in the blink of another costume change.

Barbarella is about creating scenarios where we can gaze upon Fonda’s body, her pain, her pleasure, and her outfits. Vadim gives us plenty of opportunities and this is when the film excels; after all, she is the ‘object’ of our focus.

To see which shot I chose for this week’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot edition, to go Cinema Enthusiast:
https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/hit-me-with-your-best-shot-barbarella-1968/

The Film Experience’s entry, which also includes links to everybody’s posts: http://thefilmexperience.net/blog/2013/3/14/hit-me-with-your-best-shot-barbarella.html

Random Observations:
– I wonder just how many times Jane Fonda says “Pygar!”
– Skiing scene is probably my favorite along with Barbarella’s first ‘old-fashioned’ love-making session. The chest hair reveal is legitimately hilarious.
– I like the way sex and music are linked on the ‘Excessive Machine’
– Milo ‘Eyebrows!’ O’Shea!

An American in Paris

#27. An American in Paris (1951, Minnelli)
First Seen in: 2001-2002

My God, talk about using Technicolor for its fullest possible potential. Leslie Caron’s introduction to the screen can’t really be beat. And the 18-minute ballet at the end is a slice of spectacle porn to end all spectacle porn; sets inspired by various French painters, various styles of dance, costumes to obsess over, Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, a ballet troupe, and the most sensuous and sumptuous use of color and lighting of the era. How was this John Alton’s first time working with color photography? How is this possible? That there is only a wisp of a plot is mostly forgiven. Mostly.

My memory of An American in Paris was similar to my take on it this second time around. I liked it very much, loved the ballet and enjoyed most of the Gershwin musical numbers, but something was missing. Something that prevented it from being one of my favorites. And that’s the story or lack thereof. There’s a lot of ends that needed to be met. First, how to structure an entire film around George Gershwin songs? That’s the first priority. Second; with Oscar Levant and Georges Guétary, time needs to be afforded for their mastery of craft to shine. Somehow, a thin plot gets dragged out a little far over its inherent elasticity.

Opening with three separate voiceover narrations is a nice idea if the film were about three artists living in France, but it’s really about one artist living in France. I also had a major problem with how much time is spent on the Milo character. She’s in so much of the film, and personally I feel bad for her. This is a woman with lots of money and time on her hands. So she gets mixed up with male artists by offering to sponsor them and she doesn’t seem to learn her lesson. But the film, Kelly and Milo herself seems uncomfortable with her hobby, and it shows. Her last line is “I think I need some champagne” and she’s not heard of again. It just doesn’t sit well with me.

Even though the story isn’t quite engaging, it’s a film I can see myself watching every time I catch it on TCM. It’s still a film I’d like to own. Because so much of it is glorious. I love Leslie Caron’s fresh gamine face, her fish-out-of-water movie debut. It drowns itself in a romanticized vision of Paris, playing on the Americans finding themselves in the City of Love cliche.

Random Observations:
– “I Got Rhythm” is my favorite number; Kelly is so good with kids and its playfulness of infectious.
– This put me in the mood for The Band Wagon, a Freed/Minnelli production I prefer.
– Um…Gene Kelly’s looking might fine in that Toulouse Lautrec section.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s