Friday, May 29, 2009

His Girl Friday (1940): Dated and Oppressive

Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday is a dated stagy unfunny comedy that glibly milks cheap humor from cruel ridicule. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in their roles never go beyond caricature. The elements of moral turpitude and tragedy in the script are everywhere sacrificed to the tawdry ambition and low humor that propels the story. Particularly repugnant is the latent misogyny and contempt for people who don't have an angle. The rejected suitor, the guy on death row, and the decent ordinary Molly are all expendable once their "production for use" value is used up. Even corrupt officialdom is let off the hook in the twisted ending where a girl jumps out a window, is then promptly forgotten, and a heinous attempt to obstruct due process is traded for the freedom of the two amoral protagonists.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Le Mépris (1963)

Cinematically Joean-Luc Godard's Le Mépris (Contempt) is beguiling: the elegant camera of Raoul Coutard; the stunning use of primary colors, reds, blues, and yellows; and the mise-en-scene in each of the major locations, a studio lot, an apartment; and the windy paths and a geometric home on the glorious isle of Capri – each partner’s isolation symbolically played out on the terrazzo roof-top. Fritz Lang is charming, Jack Palance strangely effective as the ugly American, Michel Piccoli suitably clueless, and Brigitte Bardot the epitome of the young woman of an age where sexual passion is at its peak.

But Godard’s conceit is overblown. The husband is no Odysseus, and the loss of his Penelope, would have happened if not then later. It is ironic that the film is set it in Italy. No Italian male would have let his girl get in that sports-car. Paul loses Camille in that instant. Bardot is teasing him by coquettishly slinking around the ‘red’ sport-car, and she thinks there is no way Paul will let her go with Palance. You can see the sense of betrayal in her face, which goes from a smile to incredulity.

The film fails for me in a number of ways. Palance is an imagined American from an America akin to that invented by Kafka in his novel. Lang sprouts poetry and philosophy that is profoundly irrelevant, and the viewer can only share Camille’s contempt for Paul, so there is no tension. The whole thing is drawn out too long and the use of Eisenstein-like cuts to mythic sculptures is vacuous, as is the grandiose Delerue musical motif, which waxes and wanes in a belabored attempt to add the drama that is missing on the screen. And all those cuts to Bardot naked on variously-colored flokati rugs with her pert behind on view are just too Playboyish.

Though Godard does reach some clarity in the final scenes at the gas station and the brilliant cutting from Camille’s letter to Paul writ-large to the tragedy that ensues.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

What Just Happened (2008)

A strange low-key satire, which is supposed to be accurate, but boils down to nothing much at all. Some may appreciate the stoned Keith-Richard-clone director, who gets his phyrric revenge and says "bollocks" a lot.