Vincente Minnelli disowned his last movie, A Matter of Time (1976), when it was taken away from him by its producers, American International Pictures, and after its initial release it pretty much disappeared from view. Tonight, BAM is showing this nearly lost film as part of Elliott Stein's Cinechat series, and at the 6:50pm screening Stein will be joined by Minnelli scholar Joe McElhaney for a discussion about what happened to this troubled picture. I recorded it off late-night television when I was in high school, and my faded, jerky copy runs 87 minutes, as does the copy showing at BAM, though IMDB lists the running time as 97 minutes. Big bursts of primary colors periodically slash the film's pale, golden images, and in the best sequences there's a rich, sophisticated air of fantasy being pursued and then captured, like a fluttering yellow and brown butterfly restrained by a pin. It's a very flawed movie, mainly due to producer interference, but it cries out for restoration of some kind, if only so that we can see Minnelli's last dreams more clearly.
A Matter of Time starts with some wordy titles about coming to the big city and fairy tales and how some fairy tales come true. In a framing story, we see chambermaid-turned-movie-star Nina (Vincente's daughter Liza, at the height of her stardom) riding in a glam 70s-style limo and watch footage of Nina's latest film, where Liza is decked out in Cecil Beaton-style finery, a la Streisand in Minnelli's On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970). There seems to be some confusion over who shot this awkward, choppy framing story. When I asked McElhaney, he said that some of it was shot by Liza's second husband Jack Haley, Jr., but Mark Griffin writes in his new Minnelli biography that the director himself shot most of it but wasn't planning on using it; whoever shot it, it's a mistake, and it takes a while to get your bearings after it's over. We flash back to Nina's stint as a maid in a rundown Roman hotel (she seems to be wearing a horse's tail down her back), and there are some elegant camera movements and compositions before Ingrid Bergman makes her big entrance, playing a faded Contessa. Bergman and Minnelli have worked out a striking look for this woman: marcelled white hair, a hooded, animal print coat redolent of the 1940s, and the sort of raccoon/kohl eyes usually sported by silent screen vamps. Near penniless, the Contessa goes to sell a necklace; when the buyer says he'll take anything else she has, she growls, "Finished, there's nothing more." There's a gravity to everything Bergman says in this movie, and she has a grandeur that seems to come naturally, a statuesque hauteur.
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