Heaven's Gate (#110 of 4)

Box Office Rap Insidious: Chapter 2 and the Twitter Index

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Box Office Rap: Insidious: Chapter 2 and the Twitter Index
Box Office Rap: Insidious: Chapter 2 and the Twitter Index

I imagine that predicting box-office grosses on a weekly basis in a pre-social media, pre-Internet environment would not only have been difficult, but virtually impossible to register with any accuracy, unless said prognosticator held a position of some esteem within the film industry. Let's give this pre-era a concrete date—say, roughly 1999. I choose this year not because of Y2K or the neat temporal markers brought about by a new millennium, but because that year introduced Brandon Grey's website Box Office Mojo, which specializes not just in forums meant for box-office speak, but seeks to function as a comprehensive, online database for the domestic and international grosses of every film released in North American theaters within the modern era. Now, 14 years later, the site offers such information dating back to 1980, a year significant to film history for many reasons, though more because it's a year that symbolizes the death of New Hollywood filmmaking and the full-on emergence of a blockbuster mentality within the studio system. The Empire Strikes Back was the highest-grossing film of the year; Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate was met with devastating financial and critical failure, to the extent that United Artists went bankrupt. Moreover, Peter Bogdanovich has suggested that contemporary film students possess no conception of film history prior to Raging Bull—also released in 1980.

"Long Live Anarchy!" Two by Lina Wertmüller

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“Long Live Anarchy!”: Two by Lina Wertmüller
“Long Live Anarchy!”: Two by Lina Wertmüller

Lina Wertmüller is a bundle of contradictions: an avowed anarchist who was born into the rarefied upper strata of the Italian aristocracy, a feminist filmmaker unafraid to delve into realms of sexual grotesquerie many self-professed feminists would unhesitatingly anathematize. She imbues her films with the popular (and populist) traditions of commedia all'italiana, a style of humor that traces back to medieval puppet theater—a tradition she trained in extensively. Heiress to the filmmaking legacy of directors like Mario Monicelli and especially Pietro Germi, Wertmüller fuses together high-minded political seriousness and a gleeful delight in transgressive lowbrow comedy. Wertmüller also displays a fundamental fascination with the finely tuned communicative potential of bodily gestures and facial expressions, even when they're expressed in flamboyantly histrionic and broadly comedic fashion, often employing as a result the kinds of extreme facial close-ups usually identified with the films of Sergio Leone.

After taking on political corruption and the Sicilian mafia with her first international success, The Seduction of Mimi, Wertmüller set her sights on the bad old days of Benito Mussolini's fascist regime in Love & Anarchy, a sort of costume tragicomedy that reunites the stars of the previous film, Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato. Giannini plays Tunin, an ugly-duckling bumpkin who journeys to Rome in order to assassinate Mussolini after his friend, whose mission it was originally, is murdered by Il Duce's secret police. Even though we witness the aftermath of this killing early on (what starts as a bucolic pan across a riverside idyll turns horrific when the shot ends on the image of a man's body draped over low-hanging tree boughs), Wertmüller holds back until late in the film the reality behind Tunin's motivation, that he's nothing more than a hayseed out for revenge and in way over his head.

5 for the Day: 180 Degrees

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5 for the Day: 180 Degrees
5 for the Day: 180 Degrees

I am not of the Pauline Kael School of film criticism that argues that your initial impression of a film is the only one that matters, and to revisit and reevaluate a film is a fool's errand fraught with the potential for emotional and intellectual dishonesty. Indeed, I can think of plenty of legitimate reasons to take stock of a film anew. What if there were mitigating environmental factors—such as problems with the projector or the sound, or even with the audience itself—that hampered your ability to enjoy the film? What of format issues? I mean, what if, like me, your first experience with Lawrence of Arabia was on television, in full screen format and interrupted by commercials? Or what if you were in the wrong head space after a fight with your partner or a bad day at work and weren't able to give the film the attention and scrutiny it deserved?

More importantly, and more to the point of this piece, what if you just aren't ready for the film? What if you are too raw, too young, simply too damned inexperienced to appreciate the qualities of the film in question? Would you not have an obligation to assess these films again, once you had put the necessary miles on your odometer? Such has been the case many times over the course of my lifetime as a film viewer and reviewer, and it has occasionally led me to startling revelations. As I am limited to discussing five films on which my opinion has done a complete 180 degree turn, I have arbitrarily chosen to look at films I first saw I when was not yet ready to fully appreciate their wonders.