Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 61: 1968(Part 2)

I screened Blake Edwards’ The Party on December 13, 2010. Edwards died several days later. I mention this for no reason other than the fact that in the intervening days I’ve been exposed to a lot of biographical information and anecdotes about him and it might inform this entry. The Party stars Peter Sellers as a shy Indian actor who accidentally gets invited to a glitzy Hollywood party. Sellers’ character seems cursed as he’s always very pleasant and well meaning but chaos seems to follow him like a dark cloud over his head causing mayhem wherever he goes. Sellers and Edwards collaborated many times, though this was the only one that wasn’t a Pink Panther film, with Sellers playing his signature character, Inspector Clouseau. Interestingly, Clooney includes none of those films on the list. He chose this one. Why? I have to admit, following The Producers and 2001, this one seemed a little more slight. Though I appreciate the variety of the list, this one isn’t in the same league. But it is the last of three Sellers films on the list and the only Edwards film. I caught a little of the Clouseau film A Shot In the Dark the other day and I started to form a theory or two. The Clouseau films definitely have an antiauthority flavor to them, as they show the incompetence of the police and the disregard for Clouseau and yet, despite his bumbling, Clouseau always bests his superiors, sometimes accidentally. But Clouseau is arrogant himself. Bakshi, his character in The Party, is much more passive. He’s trying so hard to get along and yet bad things keep happening to him. And most of those who persecute him or dismiss him are Hollywood phonies. Perhaps that’s why this one turned up. The Hollywood establishment was being turned on its ear at the time and here was a film where a well meaning unassuming foreigner showed up and upset all the fat cats without even trying or intending to. But it also could be here because it’s funny in a very uncomplicated sense. Almost like silent film. Mostly on one set, there’s not a lot of distraction. It’s just gag after gag, each extended for as long as possible. It’s also a great snapshot of the culture at the time. 2001 may be timeless, but The Party shows 1968. Which returns me to the Hollywood power structure theme. I may be reading too much into this. Here is a shy unassuming man who stumbles into this party. Eventually he lets some hippies in(the children of his host) and, through a series of physical comedy set pieces, essentially destroys the house, which could be a metaphor for the fundamental changing of Hollywood or in a larger sense the optimistic feeling that great change was happening. Or it could just be a fun comedy. I’ve never seen Edwards’ S.O.B., but I understand it’s a savage satire of Hollywood. Edwards had a love/hate relationship with the system. Perhaps there were aspects to this film that set that one in motion in some ways. I’m still reflecting on Edwards’ career and really respect some of his films. Victor Victoria is probably my favorite, though I liked Micki and Maude, and 10(though I think as someone over 40 I need to see it again). In the interest of “keeping it real” I should also admit that my memory of Blind Date is that it was one of the worst films I’d ever seen. As peculiar as it may sound, I mention that out of respect, because I would feel disingenuous if I pretended like I loved everything he did. But he made his mark. I think I might be coming up with a sub list. Could be another blog, who knows? But I definitely want to watch 10, S.O.B., and That’s Life. And as far as Sellers goes, I absolutely need to see Being There again. Which brings me to Hal Ashby. Never mind. We’ll get to him soon enough.

I’m struggling to remember when I first encountered Rosemary’s Baby. I’m pretty sure I read the Ira Levin book when I was a teenager and probably saw the film not long after, most likely on late night television. I remember thinking it was good but not in a way that stuck with me. So I was looking forward to seeing it again, especially in a more optimal setting. This one was a real treat. I know I mentioned this briefly in a previous entry, but I’m a sucker for New York City location shooting. I guess the narcissist in me enjoys recognizing places I’ve been, but I also enjoy seeing those places in a different time and often am struck by how little they’ve really changed. I neglected to point this out before, but The Producers is rife with NYC shots as well. I suppose I always like location shooting in general because it takes so much more work to make a set seem like a real place. Anyway, NYC 1968 aside, this viewing had me riveted and didn’t let go. The basic story is that Rosemary(Mia Farrow) and her husband(John Cassavetes) move into a new apartment, she gets pregnant and has a baby. Along the way, Rosemary starts to realize that something’s not quite right. She comes to the conclusion that the kindly elderly nosy neighbors and many of the other building tenants are members of a Satanic cult. They have lured her husband into it, and, with his cooperation, impregnated her with the spawn of the devil. Having read the book, I knew all of this even before seeing the film the first time. But with the distance of a couple of decades, I was able to observe the machinations of the plot with fresh eyes and appreciate the subtlety with which it all unfolds. One thing I didn’t pick up on while watching, but rather from an interview with director Roman Polanski, is that there’s a bit of ambiguity as to whether any of these things are actually happening. Everything is essentially from Rosemary’s point of view. She’s definitely going mad. But is her madness driving her perceptions or is her actual reality driving her mad. Truthfully, I never really doubted the veracity as to what was happening, but this tone is still effective in other ways. By putting the audience into Rosemary’s head and taking us on her journey, watching the film is like experiencing her madness. What’s remarkable is that this film completely stands on this own and is, at the same time, completely a product of its time. Rosemary feels a paranoia that everything she’s been led to believe and trust is deceiving her. Sure, her husband is a little domineering and selfcentered, but isn’t that just a byproduct of traditional roles? Yes, the elderly neighbors are a bit nosy, but they’re probably well meaning. That famous doctor is awfully bossy and insistent that she does exactly as he says, but he’s the best in the business. He must know what he’s doing, right? All figures we’ve been told all our lives to trust and all conspiring to spin a web of betrayal and deceit. Polanski also was smart enough to use older actors who had been around in Hollywood who had often played trusted figures, adding another element to our perception. It’s fascinating that, despite all his moral failings and legal problems, Polanski remains a vital figure, having won accolades several years ago for The Pianist and even this past year with The Ghost Writer, which is making plenty of end of year best of lists.

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