Bruce Baillie’s experimental short film Castro Street has nothing to do with San Francisco. It has no plot, no dialogue, and no characters — unless you count the machines, silhouettes of workers, numbers, words, ads, colors, and sounds that wander in and out the frame like a stream of consciousness. The point is to convey a certain mood through visual and sonic elements.
It works. Dominated by shifting shades of red and blue superimposed over black and white, a drab industrial bleakness emerges from the constantly moving images and noises of oil refining machinery and trains. Suddenly, a welcome bit of nature comes into a view: a field of grass. Toward the end, a familiar pop song that I can’t place is trying to break out of all the noise. I looked it up: “Good Lovin'” by the Rascals.
Overall, Castro Street is not particularly exciting — but it’s pretty.
Incidentally, that hotel party occurred in San Francisco exactly 96 years ago on the day after this post.
Today, I saw my first Fatty Arbuckle film — and it only took me 108 years (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roscoe_Arbuckle_filmography). I had a loose idea of what to expect but I wasn’t quite sure. Fatty’s Tintype Tangle is familiar and not too crazy, the cinematic equivalent of something that tastes like chicken.
WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead!
A slapstick farce, Fatty’s Tintype Tangle tells of a husband (Arbuckle) whose mother-in-law (Mai Wells) nags the shit out of him. He and his wife (Norma Nichols) laugh at her behind her back. After getting liquored up in the kitchen while cooking breakfast, Fatty tells off his mother-in-law and either throws her ass out of his house or upsets her to the point that she gets up and goes — it’s hard to say.
Fatty goes to the park, where he sits on a bench next to a woman (Louise Fazenda) whose husband (Edgar Kennedy) momentarily leaves her to go do something — the scene card tells us they’re Alaskan “homeseekers,” whatever that is. They seem down and out, staying at an obviously low rent room and board. A photographer (Glen Cavender) snaps their picture — hence the “tintype” in the title — which isn’t cool because, well, they’re both married. The husband returns, mistakes Fatty for a creep, and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t leave town.
Fatty runs home and packs his bags — including his booze. He tells his wife he’s going on a business trip. Despondent, she answers an ad in the paper from someone seeking an apartment. She rents out the house and apparently moves in with her mother. Turns out, her tenants are the Alaskan couple. Doh!
Fatty misses his train and goes home. Unbeknownst to him, the Alaskan woman is in his bathroom. Hilarity ensues.
Fatty’s Tintype Tangle has all the elements of early comedy, a lot of it cliché now: misunderstandings, the hapless henpecked male, a slip and fall on a banana peel, gunshots to the ass, even Keystone cops. The only thing missing is a pie in the face. A rather cool extended scene features Arbuckle climbing up a pole and running across power lines. I was impressed to see him doing his own stunts; he was surprisingly limber for such a big guy.
Slapstick isn’t my favorite form of entertainment, but this is solid physical comedy even if it’s hard to follow at points. The version I saw had no sound at all, which was a bummer — hearing myself breathe adds nothing to the experience.
“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
That iconic line succinctly captures the essence of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve, a sharp commentary on the treacherous relationship between female ambition and the American obsession with youth that still rings—and stings—true nearly 70 years later.
Based on Mary Orr’s short story The Wisdom of Eve, Bette Davis is Broadway legend Margo Channing, who’s turning 40 and sees doors closing in her professional and personal life. One rainy night, Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), Margo’s bestie, happens upon a young starstruck fan waiting backstage to meet Margo after a performance of her latest play, the aptly titled Aged in Wood. The fan, of course, is wide-eyed Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), a mousy but well-spoken girl in an oversized trenchcoat who says she followed Margo from San Francisco to New York City and has seen every performance of the play—from the back of the house.
Karen, whose husband is none other than playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), Margo’s frequent collaborator and author of Aged in Wood, brings Eve into Margo’s dressing room to meet her. Lloyd is there, along with Margo’s fiancé, director Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill), and her crusty sharp-tongued maid, Birdie (Thelma Ritter). Eve wins over everyone in the room with her poignant backstory about a poor midwestern upbringing on a farm, a husband killed in the War, and a humble stiff upper lip. Everyone, that is, except Birdie—she smells a rat.
Margo takes Eve under her wing as her personal assistant. Eve quickly proves to be an ace at organizing Margo’s affairs—and sneaking herself squarely into the middle of them. She aligns with caustic theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), who like Birdie doesn’t buy what Eve puts out there but unlike Birdie sees a mutual opportunity. Things sour all around when Margo learns that her producer, Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff), designates Eve as her understudy without consulting her first.
Often compared to Sunset Boulevard for a variety of reasons, All About Eve is not as dark or campy but is way bitchier. From a technical standpoint, the script is tighter, the production more sophisticated, and the story a lot wittier. All things considered, it’s way more fun and has held up quite well—sure, the voiceovers are overdramatic, but these are theater people so it fits. I found it particularly interesting to see this film again right around the beginning of the FX series Feud, which not only is half about Davis but elaborates on the same issues that All About Eve raises. It underscores much of what Davis said about the industry in interviews late in her life.
None of the men here have any reason to worry about their age; for all of them, their success has nothing to do with how old they are or even how they look (their thing is power, but that’s another discussion). The women, on the other hand, constantly struggle to secure and then maintain their positions—and they’re ruthless about it. Eve earns the acting award she gets at the end (which is really the beginning): she fools everyone to manipulate them into giving her what she wants. It’s clear that sooner than later, she’ll be right where Margo is, for better but more likely for worse.
In one of her earlier roles, Marilyn Monroe makes an amusingly memorable appearance as dippy starlet Miss Casswell, who’s trying to catch a break. She’s got the best line of all: “I don’t want to make trouble. All I want is a drink.” Amen!
Allan Felix (Allen) is a neurotic film critic whose flaky wife (Susan Anspach) just left him. All on his own in their small apartment crammed with his film memorabilia, he’s understandably out of sorts and depressed; being Woody Allen, though, it’s a hundred times worse than anyone else, which makes it funny. His friends Dick (Tony Roberts) and Linda (Diane Keaton), a married couple, encourage him to meet new women, even going so far as setting him up on a date (Jennifer Salt). It’s not working because, well, his neurotic tendencies undermine his efforts—breaking record albums, spilling drinks, knocking down furniture, getting beat up. Not even the ghost of Humphrey Bogart (Jerry Lacy) popping up here and there to offer advice on babes helps. Allan crosses a line when he falls for Linda—and Dick catches a whiff of something going on.
Play It Again, Sam is typical Woody Allen—need I say more? He’s relatably cringeworthy, which is his gift. I loved Linda’s “I love dick” speech and Allen’s date with hot redhead Jennifer (Viva). All the references to Casablanca are fun. The story is a bit predictable, but the characters here keep the film enjoyable. So do the situations, which are just silly enough to remain believable without going too far.
I’m probably in the minority when I say that I found Vertigo stupid. The story, complicated and intricate as it is, takes a long time to get going; once it does, it’s so fanciful that it’s not believable. The movie is longer than it needs to be. Plus, the ending—I can only assume it’s supposed to be dramatic and impactful—comes off as silly; in fact, Aaron and I turned to each other at the same time and rolled our eyes.
All of this said, it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the film. I did, actually—very much. There’s a lot to like here.
James Stewart is Scottie Ferguson, a cop forced to sit on the sidelines after a bout with vertigo while chasing a criminal across a bunch of rooftops nearly kills him. A wealthy former classmate, Galvin Elster (Tom Helmore), seeks him out and convinces him to act as a personal investigator; it seems Galvin’s wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), is possessed by her dead Mexican grandmother. She’s hot (even if she’s not one bit Mexican), and Scottie falls for her. Hard. It’s not long before he’s personally involved, wandering through northern California in her car with her. She opens up to him, he takes the bait, and he loses her. Or so it appears.
Vertigo is certainly a beautiful looking film. The interior sets are gorgeous. The exterior shots of late 1950s San Francisco are stunning, and considering how the city would change a decade later makes them all the more precious. The wardrobe choices are classic yet snappy. The restored version I saw was crisp and vivd. An ominous yet mesmerizing score by Bernard Herrmann takes Vertigo to an even higher place—no pun intended.
Being an Alfred Hitchcock film, there’s more to Vertigo than meets the eye. Symbolism is all over: tunnels, flowers, birds, towers, stairs, heights, the color green. It’s not hard to find articles, scholarly and not, that analyze the many themes here: desire, death, reality, appearances, power, the past, the damsel in distress. All this aside, I can sum up the message I got out of Vertigo in five words: “don’t think with your dick.” The interactions between Scotty and both Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) and Madeleine are sexually charged and tinged with danger. Vertigo is hypnotic, mysterious, psychological, and suspenseful even if it’s not exactly what I would call a thriller.
It takes some work to get through, but Vertigo ultimately proves to be a treat despite its flaws. After almost 60 years, it’s still breathtaking and weird. It’s easy to see why at least one so-called authority named it “the greatest film of all time” (http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-19078948). Hitchcock influenced many, but Vertigo immediately called to my mind David Lynch; I see traces of it throughout his work, and its influence on him specifically is undeniable.
A desperate housewife’s foray into 1960s San Francisco art scene becomes a surprising if dubious success. An “agreement” with her wannabe artiste husband, however, silences her claim to fame.
Something of a morality play, Tim Burton’s stamp is all over Big Eyes. But that doesn’t mean it’s great—it certainly is no Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood. The problem here is that it lacks the heart of Burton’s earlier work. Too bad. Despite a rushed wrap-up, though, Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz turn in highly enjoyable performances that save Big Eyes from complete inanity.
With Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp, Jon Polito, Delaney Raye, Madeleine Arthur , James Saito, Farryn VanHumbeck, Guido Furlani