Sunday, June 26, 2016
By legend, Richard Bausch's remarkable story of alcoholism and the dissolution of a marriage is the result of hacking down an 800-page novel. It is built within the frame of its main character, Walter, a middle-aged man, sitting in the back pew of a church by himself in Flagstaff, Arizona, remembering the incidents of a picnic with his family two years earlier, on Long Island. That's the day "when Irene came out on the porch and told him she couldn't make it be enough anymore." The story really is not dreary, even though it is about problem drinking and the end of a marriage. It's especially sharp on family dynamics, especially with the kids. There are five of them and two are quite distinct: William, the oldest at 14, has recently decided he wants to become a priest and is annoying everyone by loudly and piously praying for them, most often for Walter, whose point of view largely informs the story. It's actually his story in the end, a bottoming-out tale. Susan, the next oldest, copes by mocking and belittling William's sanctimony, taunting him with her ambition to become the first married woman priest to become pope. The most sharply observed passages are the family squabbles which continually erupt at the picnic. These encounters are fresh like wounds yet pass with an easy familiarity. All families have these fits of pain, though perhaps not to all these extremes. The former long novel is suggested by the dense compression between the day of the picnic and the day in the church in Flagstaff. A lot of that information is necessary to close the primary narrative arc, which is about the drinking. The day in Flagstaff is the day he stops, which is an important day for every alcoholic. Still, I think the best part of this story is what actually occupies most of it: the lacerating day of the picnic, and the personalities and interactions of Walter and his family, especially the kids. This is a pretty good one.
The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, ed. Tobias Wolff
Friday, June 24, 2016
Director: Frank Tashlin
Writers: Frank Tashlin, Herbert Baker, Garson Kanin
Photography: Leon Shamroy
Music: Little Richard, Julie London, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, Platters, Treniers, Ray Anthony, Abbey Lincoln
Editor: James B. Clark
Cast: Jayne Mansfield, Tom Ewell, Edmond O'Brien, Henry Jones, John Emery, Barry Gordon
The Girl Can't Help It looks like it might have started as an attempt to repeat the success of Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch from just the year before. Tom Ewell reprises his role as a mild-mannered (not to say dweebish) comfortable husband type, and Jayne Mansfield gets the sexpot honors that Marilyn Monroe had in the first picture. And the story goes similar places. But there are a couple of key ingredients The Girl Can't Help It has that The Seven Year Itch does not. The first is director and cowriter Frank Tashlin, whose style and instincts were honed as a key figure at the Warner Brothers animation factory in the '30s. After this movie he would go on to work with Jerry Lewis. The second is rock 'n' roll—real rock 'n' roll, from 1956.
In fact, the whole thing is so packed with music there's room for names you're sure to recognize—Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, and the Platters—as well as some that maybe you won't: Ray Anthony, the Chuckles, Eddie Fontaine, the Treniers. And there are even a few names, such as Abbey Lincoln and Julie London, that make you wonder how they happened to wander into this at all. My guess—again, because this is still so relatively early, in 1956—is they just cast the net wide: if it was a hit because of jukeboxes (and/or radio), it was a candidate for inclusion. And it's that sense of all-embracing inclusion as much as anything that makes this movie such a great big kick.
Monday, June 20, 2016
Sunday, June 19, 2016
In case it's not at the library.
Saturday, June 18, 2016
Monday, June 13, 2016
Sunday, June 12, 2016
"interlocutor" count = 1 / 40 pages
In case it's not at the library. (Library of America)
Friday, June 10, 2016
Director: Luchino Visconti
Writers: Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Enrico Medioli, Massimo Franciosa, Luchino Visconti
Photography: Giuseppe Rotunno
Music: Nino Rota
Editor: Mario Serandrei
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, Paolo Stoppa, Serge Reggiani, Leslie French, Terence Hill, Lucilla Morlacchi
Whole warehouses of imposing magnificence are packed into director and cowriter Luchino Visconti's treatment of fictional 19th-century Sicilian aristocrat Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Burt Lancaster), based on the highly regarded novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (which I don't know). It's the historical eve of the Italian aristocracy's demise, in 1860, and the prince is coming to terms with the coming of modern ways, "after 25 centuries," as he puts it. Civil war rages outside his very doors—the corpse of a royalist soldier is found in his garden in the first scene—and he really has no other choice but to let go of the past. The magnificence comes by the bale: The Leopard boasts one of Nino Rota's best scores, its production design and costuming vibrate with sumptuous wealth, and its original running time pushed closer to four hours than three. In the movies, long running times have stood in for self-evident seriousness since at least Gone With the Wind, if not Intolerance.
In fact, The Leopard is another one of those highly acclaimed movies found on the big list at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? that comes with its own tortured version history, joining The Magnificent Ambersons, Metropolis, The Rules of the Game, and too many others to exist now in compromised twilight versions, living in the shadow of variously unknowable originals. The Leopard started at 205 minutes but after it got a lot of bad reviews the American distributor took out 40 minutes or so. Later it all evened out with a 185-minute Italian-language version, found in the Criterion package, based on Visconti's preferred cut (there was also a 195-minute version that played at Cannes). Just for kicks, or for those in a hurry, the Criterion edition also includes the 161-minute American cut. Both Lancaster and the magnificent Claudia Cardinale are dubbed in the Italian version, but Lancaster's voice can be heard in the short version.
Sunday, June 05, 2016
In case it's not at the library (as if).
Saturday, June 04, 2016
Friday, June 03, 2016
Director: Michael Caton-Jones
Writers: Tobias Wolff, Robert Getchell
Photography: David Watkin
Music: Carter Burwell
Editor: Jim Clark
Cast: Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Blechman, Eliza Dushku, Chris Cooper, Carla Gugino, Zachary Ansley, Tobey Maguire
This Boy's Life is something less than the sum of its many promising parts. Set in Concrete, Washington, in the late '50s and early '60s, and based on Tobias Wolff's excellent memoir of the same name, it also assembles an impressive cast in Ellen Barkin, Robert De Niro, and the young and skinny Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio was not yet 20 when this was made, though it was already his third feature film after establishing himself in TV. (When the time comes to vote for postage stamp images of DiCaprio, I'm pretty sure I will choose young-and-skinny, unlike my preference for the Elvis Presley.) The problem may be in director Michael Caton-Jones or screenwriter Robert Getchell or both. They were relatively untried then (and have not done much I know since), and both came with apparent debts to Martin Scorsese.
Certainly the opening here is reminiscent of Goodfellas, from only a few years earlier, with its voiceover narrative approach and even more in its attempt to pump up an instant big soundtrack moment with a '50s oldies, a strategy that recurs often here. The many songs that populate the soundtrack remain basically wonderful—that's Frank Sinatra's "Let's Get Away From It All" in the open, and others here, among a couple of dozen, include Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues," Nat King Cole's "Smile," and the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love." But the magic with the narrative or the images somehow rarely ever happens, though it's nice to hear the songs. At the same time, the dynamic between Tobias Wolff (DiCaprio), or "Jack" as he wants to be called for most of this movie (after Jack London, a nice point), and his mother Caroline (Barkin) is straight out of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore—which, it turns out, Getchell wrote, along with many episodes of the follow-on TV series. You get the feeling of déjà vu a lot when you're looking at This Boy's Life.