Sunday, 8 April 2012

Film Society Blurbs, 2/3.

Dear readers who are still out there: I do intend to go on writing for this blog, but for a variety of reasons (exams, very active film society involvement, enhanced social life, and mostly non-film related reading in the past year or so) I haven't really been able to do so for the past few months.

In the meantime, here are the blurbs that I wrote for Magdalen Film Society last term. I will post those for the last term once the films have actually been shown, and then I do intend to post at least a few thoughts on film programming as an activity, as I had promised I would. Anyway, without further ado:

An Affair to Remember

For anyone who still thinks that the 1950s were a shallow decade of conformism for Hollywood, An Affair to Remember, a film of almost unsurpassed romanticism, is also a supreme example of radical genre-mixing. As such, it manages the feat of being both one of the greatest romantic comedies ever, and one of the greatest melodramas ever.

What makes it so simultaneously heart-warming and heart-wrenching is the complete mastery with which Leo McCarey, still a criminally under-rated director, treats this tale of a man and a woman, soon to be married to others, who fall in love and promise to break off their respective engagements and meet again in six months at the top of the Empire State Building. A remake of his own Love Affair, it is a study in what brings two people together or keeps them apart. McCarey uses cinema-scope with a rare, self-effacing brilliance, modulating the spaces that his characters share and taking the time to watch them move from guarded flirting to deep attraction. Resting on the finely tuned interaction between a womanizing Cary Grant whose games of seduction give way to genuine commitment, and a quietly strong Deborah Kerr who refuses happiness on terms other than her own, the film finds its soul in the slow process of falling in love. When the two finally accept their attraction, in a scene whose gentleness is the true heart of the film, the result is an unassuming sincerity without parallel in the history of cinema.

An American in Paris

While the musical is not as fashionable today as film noir among film buffs, it is a genre that helped define Hollywood and has given it as many masterworks as any other genre. An American in Paris, one of the pinnacles of Gene Kelly and director Vincente Minnelli's careers, is also one of the miracles of the genre, defined by the constant tension between the director and the star's personalities.

The film, one of the better versions of Europe as a fantasy of America that have always populated Hollywood, follows the tribulations of Jerry, the eponymous painter who lives in Paris for inspiration, when he falls in love with a woman who turns out to be engaged to one of his friends. From the very beginning, which sees Jerry waking up in his one-room appartment in an elaborate choreography which sees every-day movements (getting out of bed, preparing a cup of coffee) casually infused with a rhythm and musicality that sets the whole world in motion, it is clear that the film's mood is wildly infectious. But what makes it truly distinctive is the final ballet, where Minnelli's bitter-sweet vision of love finds its true expression. As Jerry imagines himself, to Gershwin's score, running through a stylized Paris straight out of the great paintings he loves, the film creates Hollywood's answer to The Red Shoes, an explosion of color and music that radically reconfigures the film and bears up to the comparison with Michael Powell's masterwork. There is no higher praise.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

One of the cult slasher hits of the eighties, A Nightmare on Elm Street belongs squarely to that golden generation of films which, with Halloween as the example, claimed the tradition of Psycho as its own and brought it where it has stayed ever since : in the realm of the pulp, trashy, and endlessly inventive shocker.

The film, which features Johnny Depp in one of his first performances, uses all the well-worn tricks of the trade : it-was-all-a-dream sequence, teen-agers getting killed after sex, references to The Exorcist and The Shining, fear of female sexuality, embodied in the iconic image of the claws coming out from between the bathing heroine's legs...Yet it is clear that Wes Craven, with his absurdist sense of humor, had already understood most of what cinema has been telling us since. With the determination of those with no money but a story to tell, he walks the audience through the teenage version of the american dream and transforms all of its images, from the high school hall to the suburban home, into haunting visions of horror. Twenty-five years before Inception, the film invents the lethal dream, tells us that our world is a nightmare, that nightmares are real, and that we get lost in between. And thus, in the most unlikely way, one of the great pulp masterworks of B horror film-making joins paths with W.B.Yeats: in dreams begins responsibility.

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