Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Movie List: 80-76

80. “Enthrall me with your acumen.”

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

I’ve never been a big fan of gore. I wouldn’t see the Saw movies if you paid me. (Well, let’s talk. I suppose it would depend on how much you offer.) But I love the occasional high-style gore in Lambs, like the guard splayed as an angel in the cage, and the ensuing revelation that Lecter is wearing another guard’s face. Hopkins and Foster are very good in roles that occasionally border on embarrassing. The sequels show how easily this kind of material can head straight over the cliff. Mostly, this one holds up so well because its tone is so carefully maintained. From Buffalo Bill’s dreary suburban home to Lecter’s final, unforgettable phone call, the subtleties are attended to with just as much care as the shock lines, i.e., “His pulse never got above 85, even when he ate her tongue.”

79. “We rob banks.”

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Let’s talk superficiality, shall we? Growing up when I did, I knew that Faye Dunaway had been a big movie star, but I could never figure out how that happened, given that I found her face exceedingly odd. It just seemed like an ironclad rule that marquee movie stars had to be pretty, and I felt like there was an objective case to be made that Dunaway wasn’t pretty. That objective case is blown to smithereens by Bonnie and Clyde, in which Dunaway is not only pretty but napalm hot. She and Warren Beatty are meant to embody the sex appeal of outlaws. They do. But this is relevant more than just superficially, because the movie famously complicates that appeal by staging realistic violence and following the duo’s real-life script, which ends in their rather bloody death. Along with James Caan’s unpleasant stop at the toll booth in The Godfather, it’s one of the more brutal scenes in movie history. Speaking of brutal, there is evidently a film about Bonnie and Clyde now in production that stars Hilary Duff. This is not a joke. Not a lie, I mean to say.

78. “The personal life is dead in Russia.”

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

The fact that David Lean’s adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel was made only two years before Bonnie and Clyde is just strange. This is an exceedingly old-fashioned movie. The historical stage is grand and the love story is soapy. There are several elements that don’t hold up well, particularly the pacing and the incessant playing of “Lara’s Theme.” But visually, the movie is just stunning. And this is only partly because of Julie Christie. The rest of it has to do with the wide-angle shots of the Russian countryside, among other things. Others believe that, “The best one can say of Doctor Zhivago is that it is an honest failure. . . . David Lean's film is a long haul along the road of synthetic lyricism, a clean-limbed exercise totally devoid of any evocation of feeling . . .” The thing is, I can see that point. But what limbs!

77. “I've got to, that's the whole thing.”

High Noon (1952)

In less than an hour and a half, a man who marshal Will Kane put to jail will return to a small Southwestern town. He will likely lead his hooligan minions, who await his return at the train depot, in terrorizing the populace. Will has chosen a bad time to marry a Quaker. Of course, Will is Gary Cooper and the pacifist Quaker is Amy, played by Grace Kelly. Some things are famous for the right reasons, and in the case of High Noon, it’s the real-time unfolding of the story. Not much happens until the very end—Will tries to get the townspeople to stand with him against the outlaws, and they decline—but all the while you know that train is chugging towards town. And that’s plenty of drama. The other thing this movie has going for it is contradictory enemies. The American right originally didn’t like it because it was seen as an allegory about blacklisting. The left liked it for the same reason, though presumably pacifists weren’t thrilled. The Soviets thought it wrongly glorified individualism. With so many ideologies twisting themselves up over such a simple story, it had to be doing something right.

76. “Can't be juggling blood and fire all the time!”

Into the Wild (2007)

It’s true that my reaction to this movie was very emotional, beyond any real clinical analysis, and that’s a large part of why it’s here. In fact, if this were a list of movies based purely on physical reaction—a reading from a machine that simply measured biological results like chills or tears or laughter—this might be in the top ten. I saw it on a very clear, sunny day at a multiplex near Lincoln Center. I walked back out into the sun truly shaken. Shaking. Because I want to post this tonight, please allow me to quote myself yet again:

I suppose that what mystifies me most is the widespread belief that the film “glorifies” McCandless' choices. He becomes emotionally attached to several people, and as he abandons those people one by one, it's impossible not to be frustrated with him. The supporting characters—excellently played by Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker, Kristen Stewart, and the amazing Hal Holbrook—are people with whom you fully sympathize, so McCandless’ inability to allow himself a lasting connection with them is infuriating. But this is not a fiction. He really did all of this, and his belief, however dangerous it became, that going further into himself would yield more spiritual truth than conventional connections could, places him in an awfully long and fascinating tradition. Tolstoy was in his 40s when he strove for poverty and asceticism. Rigorous seeking is not just for the misguided young. It's for genuine pilgrims. The fact that such people often hurt others and often catch only a glimpse of what they're seeking only makes their quest that much more complicated and compelling. To me, anyway. Maybe I'm too old to be as interested in the transcendental as I am, but without ever worshipping McCandless for a single second, I find his story absorbing and provocative and heartbreaking.

I wrote a full review of the movie here.



Blogger Dezmond said...

Now this is a great batch. I used to love 'Lambs,' but Hopkins' once enthralling performance has begun to grate on me over the years. Perhaps that is not fair since the film has become such a pop culture landmark.

'Bonnie and Clyde' was great for what it did. It has been awhile since I saw it, but I also remember that it hinted at Clyde's homosexuality as well. Dunaway was sexy in this, and that was part of the tension. I know they didn't go into Clyde's sexuality overtly, though.

"Dr. Z"...zzzzz. I love Lean's "Bridge on the River Kwai" and at least admire "Lawrence of Arabia," but this one was so dull.

"High Noon" is awesome.

I really enjoyed "Into the Wild" as well, despite the fact that Sean Penn was associated with it. Great write-up on that one.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Levi Stahl said...

I've never been able to deal with The Silence of the Lambs. I wasn't ever able to buy Lecter as a seductive, fascinating figure; the fact that he was so educated and sophisticated but also a killer just wasn't that interesting to me. (And let's not talk about the cheap editing effects on the scene when they mislead the viewer into thinking the agents are breaking into Bill's house--if editing can be cheating in fiction film, that's the very definition!)

But High Noon--oh, what a film. (And with Grace Kelly and Faye Dunaway, this portion of the list includes two of film history's greatest blondes!)

9:44 AM  

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