House Logo

Pauline Kael (#110 of 27)

Summer of ‘88: Fathers and Sons—The Last Temptation of Christ

Comments Comments (...)

Summer of ‘88: Fathers and Sons—<em>The Last Temptation of Christ</em>
Summer of ‘88: Fathers and Sons—<em>The Last Temptation of Christ</em>

I. Spreading the Word

I say this with love: My father is a master of rhetoric. He is a master of rhetoric without, by his own admission, ever having mastered anything to do with rhetoric. I think he’s too hard on himself. His style of argumentation is blunt, yet nimble, as straightforward as a battering ram, yet maddeningly hard to pin down (as another subversive, Ernst Lubitsch, was summed up by the Production Code, “We know what he’s saying, but we can’t figure out how he’s saying it”). He’ll keep hammering the same point over and over again, until you think you’ve got him, whereby he’ll swerve with surprising dexterity. Approaching 80, my father is typically right-of-center on most political and social issues, except when it comes to religion. Stephanie Zacharek’s description of Pauline Kael suits him on one point only: He has no truck with God. Even the renowned theologians of history would have had their hands full with his Columbo-like oratory (“Oh, yeah, just one more question…”). Augustine would have retaken to drink. Pascal would have lost his wager. Erasmus would have turned agnostic.

Summer of ‘88: The Dead Pool—Dirty Harry Gets Taken

Comments Comments (...)

Summer of ‘88: <em>The Dead Pool</em>—Dirty Harry Gets Taken
Summer of ‘88: <em>The Dead Pool</em>—Dirty Harry Gets Taken

When Gran Torino was rumored to be the sixth Dirty Harry movie, I hoped Clint Eastwood wouldn’t make Charles Bronson’s mistake. Bronson’s Paul Kersey appeared in five Death Wish movies, each more preposterous and violent than the last. The final Death Wish film, The Face of Death, gave 73-year-old Bronson a much younger girlfriend and more people to shoot. Clearly too old to be chasing anything besides young punks off his lawn, Bronson looked ridiculous. I kept waiting for him to roll into the frame on a Hoveround tricked out with flamethrowers and ballistic missiles.

Since Eastwood was 78 when Gran Torino was announced, I feared the worst. Harry Callahan would fire his famous .44 Magnum, and the kick back would cause his arm to fly off. Running up those hills in San Francisco would kill him before anybody could “make his day.” Thankfully, Eastwood played a different sort of racist with a gun in Gran Torino. So 1988’s The Dead Pool remains the last we’ll ever see of Dirty Harry, at least until Warner Bros. inevitably greenlights a reboot.

Directed by Clint’s longtime stunt coordinator, Buddy Van Horn, The Dead Pool is a fitting swan song for the controversial police lieutenant created by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink. Coming 17 years and three sequels after 1971’s Dirty Harry, the film finds Eastwood and company still using the series’s tried-and-true formula: Criminals commit heinous crimes and Dirty Harry shoots them with his big-ass gun. Occasionally there’s a love interest and/or a partner to “soften” Harry’s rough edges and make him appear more human. These people are supremely unlucky and usually deceased; their demise is always foreshadowed by their pointing out that Callahan’s companionship is hazardous to their health. By film’s end, Harry has solved the crime, splattered the villains, avenged his lost lover/partner, and walked away while the camera pulls up for a final overhead shot of the carnage.

Summer of ‘88: Arthur 2: On the Rocks

Comments Comments (...)

Summer of ‘88: <em>Arthur 2: On the Rocks</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Arthur 2: On the Rocks</em>

The sequel to Steve Gordon’s Arthur, the 1981 mini-classic that successfully resurrected the spirit of 1930s screwball comedy, wears its intentions on its sleeve. Right from the initial beats of the opening song, “Love Is My Decision,” we’re prompted not so much to have a good time as to take in a life lesson. “Life is more than just good times, and parties,” Chris De Burgh seemingly admonishes in what suggests a bizarre cover of Christopher Cross’s Oscar-winning hit from the first film, and the film takes its cue from that line.

Dudley Moore’s original take on Arthur Bach was a charming, whimsical, and utterly unrealistic conceit: a comic creation we couldn’t get enough of, and yet would have steered away from in real life. A lovable, wisecracking drunk, he was the perfect opposite of W.C. Fields—not in his propensity to drink too much, but in demeanor. Good-natured and good-humored, he didn’t have a beef with anyone. Protected from everyday reality by the solid padding of his family fortune, Arthur treated the whole world as a joke, and his laughter had the wild abandon of someone with no melancholic bone in his body. Intoxication was what Arthur needed to float one foot above the ground at all times. Even though his faithful butler, Hobson (John Gielgud), served as a poised reality principle (a Jeeves to Moore’s Bertie, but blunter and more irreverent), we still sided with Arthur at all times. Nobody wanted him to lose his wealth for the sake of true love for working-class Linda (Liza Minnelli). We all wanted him to have his drink and his full bottle of champagne too.

Summer of ‘88: Big Business

Comments Comments (...)

Summer of ‘88: <em>Big Business</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Big Business</em>

The premise of Big Business is so preposterous and shaky, it simply needs to be swept under the rug as soon as the film begins. The idea of two sets of identical twins separated at birth, and who then unwittingly run into each other when older, is such a blatant device for manufacturing confusion, it works best when accepted at face value. While Shakespeare made a single monologue do all the heavy plot-lifting in the first scene of The Comedy of Errors, Jim Abrahams orchestrates the film’s elaborate switcheroo under the opening credits, timing it to Benny Goodman’s version of “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)”—and achieving full transparency without a single line of explanatory dialogue.

No sooner are the twins mismatched by an absent-minded nurse than we flash-forward to contemporary—that is to say, late-’80s corporate-happy—New York. Sadie and Rose Shelton (Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin) are heiresses to the huge corporation of Moramax, about to chop off an unprofitable branch in the form of backwoods-based Hollowmade. Local resistance to the move is organized by none other than Sadie and Rose Ratliff (played by…you guessed it), who decide to take a desperate step and go right up to Moramax HQ to “raise some hell and kick some snooty New York ass.” Thus the two pairs of twins are set on a slow-burning collision course toward their inevitable reunion.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2013: The Rules of the Game

Comments Comments (...)

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2013: <em>The Rules of the Game</em>
Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2013: <em>The Rules of the Game</em>

Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game has been part of the film canon for so long that it’s valuable to remind audiences how gloriously alive and just plain fun it is. Low comedy walks hand and hand with tragedy and beauty throughout; the film is frothy one minute, nearly apocalyptic the next, and so you’re never fully allowed to gather your bearings. The Rules of the Game has a tone that could be symbolized by the escalating merry-go-round that prominently plays into the climax of Strangers on a Train—up and down, all around and seemingly totally out of control. The film, as Paul Schrader says in the Criterion edition’s liner notes, represents all of cinema’s possibilities in 106 minutes.

That controlled chaos is partially driven by anger and despair. Renoir often said that the film was a response to his frustrations with the bourgeoisie at a time in which France was clearly imperiled. In the late ’30s, France had just surrendered Munich to the Nazis as a gesture to cool mounting threats of invasion, a gesture that was clearly fated to fail. The unmistakable indifference and self-absorption of the wealthy elite—just one reason this film hasn’t aged one iota—in the midst of this potential disaster fueled Renoir’s anxiety. But Renoir, like most major artists, wasn’t content to mount a polemic, and probably couldn’t even if he wanted to. One of cinema’s most appreciated humanists, Renoir couldn’t help himself; he had to assert even the most misguided and contemptible people’s humanity.

Homosocialisms David Greven’s Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin

Comments Comments (...)

Homosocialisms: David Greven’s Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin
Homosocialisms: David Greven’s Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin

In an early scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, the panning camera reveals a framed photograph of a young, smiling blond woman—except, the image is on negative film, which serves as a presumable correlation for disabled protagonist Jeff’s (Jimmy Stewart) outlook on women, which is tested in his gaze and projected desire from a lofty apartment window throughout the film. The well-known premise of Rear Window serves as a basis for David Greven’s Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin, a provocative monograph that examines often casually dismissed “negative” images of non-normative sexuality, while offering serious reconsideration of not just Hitchcock’s critical legacy as a misogynist filmmaker, but key works within the oeuvres of New Hollywood directors like Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin, and Brian De Palma, the latter of whom receives considerable analysis and discussion in relation to his intertextual engagement with Hitchcock, but also his treatment of women and use of melodrama. Primarily, however, Greven details how these New Hollywood filmmakers “seized upon Hitchcock’s radical decentering of heterosexual male dominance, devising contemporary narratives of heterosexual male ambivalence that allowed for, at time depended on, an investment in same-sex desire as well as an awareness of its dangerous, pernicious seductions.” The end result is a rigorously researched, personal, and passionate work, worthy in style and content of the frenzied films and filmmakers being engaged.

Venice Film Festival 2012: To the Wonder

Comments Comments (...)

Venice Film Festival 2012: <em>To the Wonder</em>
Venice Film Festival 2012: <em>To the Wonder</em>

Can Terrence Malick’s dream-like film grammar resonate when set in the modern world? The contemporary scenes from the otherwise mesmerizing Tree of Life, featuring a pensive Sean Penn stumbling listlessly through a soulless corporate expanse, suggested not. It’s as if the enigmatic Texan’s cinema needs a light dusting of nostalgia to make it palatable, like toast needs butter. And sections of his new film, the present day-set To the Wonder, add credence to this theory.

An alternative name for the film could have been Scenes from a Marriage, if Malick’s increasingly radical narrative style traded in scenes. We follow shards of a rocky relationship with visuals taking the form of a lucid collage of askance glances and expressionistic camera twirls. Dialogue is used sparingly, replaced by ethereal voices whispered over a haunting orchestral soundtrack. Raven-haired free-spirit Marina (Olga Kurylenko) frolics on a train and around scenic French landmarks with her new American beau, Neil, who’s lantern jawed, taciturn, and, distractingly, played by Ben Affleck. Initially it’s bracing to see Malick’s images in a new context. Early vignettes on a Normandy beach that turns gelatinous when trod on and a honey lit stroll by the banks of the Seine, where the couple are joined by Marina’s 10-year-old daughter, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline), feel box fresh. Things get a little familiar, however, when Neil asks Marina and Tatiana to follow him across the Atlantic to his Midwest homestead.