Friday, January 28, 2011

Day 98 1972(Part 2)

I was joined by Lynne for all but one of the remaining seven titles in 1972, giving her the new record for screenings attended. Congratulations, Lynne. The Candidate is the second Redford title of ’72 and is very well suited to his talents. This is also the first of three films directed by Michael Ritchie and the 50th title on the list, officially bringing me to the halfway point on the list. Bill McKay(Robert Redford) is a liberal activist who also happens to come from a wealthy political family. Marvin Lucas(Peter Boyle) is a Democratic strategist looking to make a name for himself. He needs someone to run against a popular incumbent Republican senator. It’s a foregone conclusion that he will lose. But if he picks a good candidate and makes a decent showing it will probably advance his career. So he approaches McKay and talks him into running, essentially telling him that because he’s going to lose he can tell the truth and shine a light on important issues. Things start out well enough. But as the campaign progresses, Lucas is troubled that they’re going to lose by a landslide which could cause him immeasurable embarrassment. Slowly he seduces McKay into losing his soul. Positions are tweaked. Controversial opinions, while not abandoned, are smoothed into palatable sound bites. The numbers get better. Then the unthinkable happens. He wins. The final moments of the film have McKay and Lucas wondering, “what now?” The Candidate is a remarkably sharp and incisive look into the ugliness and shallowness of politics. As the stakes get higher, more and more attention is paid to photo ops, creating good television, etc. I was particularly taken by the debate scene where both candidates are asked about their opinions on abortion. McKay is clearly pro choice. His opponent, Crocker Jarmon(Don Porter) is clearly the opposite. Yet their choice of words is so cleverly crafted that pro choice voters hear enough language to think that McKay’s on their side, anti choice voters hear enough to think Jarmon’s on their side, and people uncomfortable with the issue hear enough nuance to not hear a strong position either way. I wasn’t surprised to see that screenwriter Jeremy Larner worked in politics as a speechwriter for Eugene McCarthy. There’s an authenticity to this film that some may call cynical, but sadly, feels all too real. I hope my comments regarding Redford in previous posts haven’t come across as too critical. I hope they reveal more about my previously held notions than about his abilities. Because I can’t imagine anyone more pitch perfect for the role. He’s attractive, charming, and intelligent, which makes him perfect to play a Kennedyesque politician on the eve of being discovered. Ronald Reagan, at this point, had been governor of California for several years, so the idea of using a charismatic actor for politics was nothing new. In fact, due to his activism, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Redford has been urged by some to enter politics over the years. I read somewhere(apologies for lack of specific sources) that he had a lot to do with the development of the project so I salute him for his savvy and intelligence in bringing it to fruition. I should also point out that, when I say he loses his soul, the film is very subtle. He doesn’t lose his soul entirely. He changes his message just enough that he believes his core message is still there. But when his activist friends meet up with him late in the film, they congratulate him reservedly, as if he’s infiltrated the system by aping the “bullshit” that they all mocked. Apropos of nothing, I also really liked the way the film implied that McKay was cheating on his wife with very subtle touches. A woman is seen in three separate scenes, always in public, and with no dialogue. There’s no doubt as to the implication, but the film doesn’t need to spell it out. This one is added to my list of welcome discoveries and I thank Mr. Clooney for bringing me to it.

I’ve seen Deliverance a few times. The first time was probably 20 or more years ago on VHS, the next time was likely a few years later, probably on hotel HBO, and the most recent time was likely in the last 10 years on standard DVD. It’s one of my all time favorites and I was looking forward to it and was glad to have Lynne, a first time viewer, join me. Lewis(Burt Reynolds), Ed(Jon Voight), Bobby(Ned Beatty), and Drew(Ronny Cox), are four Atlanta businessmen who decide to take a weekend white water rafting trip. Due to construction projects, the river is about to be unalterably changed, so they view this as their last chance to experience unspoiled nature. The first day, though not without its snags, is basically what they expected, but a sequence of events leaves one of them dead, one sexually assaulted, one maimed, and the other a murderer. All right, the maimed one kills someone too, but it’s a little more clearly justified. In any case, civilization does battle with the elements and, though civilization emerges victorious, it does so with permanent scars. I remember when I saw this before thinking that the characters seemed to break down into archetypes and this notion stayed with me. Lewis is the primitive man, Drew is civilized man, Bobby, though his own archetype of privileged snob, is essentially catalyst for the action, and Ed is everyman. That is, he is the audience surrogate. He has fewer preconceived notions and has to decide how to react. He’s fallible and unsure, even at the end, if his actions are justified. I found this film just as riveting as ever. Say what you will about the 2011 version of him(and I could say plenty), it’s very exciting to see Jon Voight emerging in this period as a true talent. His work in this one is vastly different but equally compelling as Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy, not to mention his work in Catch 22(despite my misgivings about that film I thought he was very good in it). Burt Reynolds is perhaps the best he ever was, before or since. Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox, essentially unknowns at the time, distinguish themselves as well. It’s a fascinating story and beautifully shot. Having never seen it on the big screen, it was great seeing the Bluray disc in sharp definition as big as I’ve ever seen it and in proper proportion. Anything I say beyond this feels superfluous. It’s a great film.

It had been a long time since I’d seen Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex(But Were Afraid To Ask). Again, probably many years ago on VHS. Don’t know that I’ve seen it since. I think I was first drawn to Woody Allen after he’d passed his silly period and had entered into more serious work. I think I was more drawn to Manhattan, enjoyed Annie Hall, but thought that it was a little overrated, and thought those that complained that they missed his early funny work were a bit misguided. I don’t think my attitude’s changed much over the years, though I should probably give Annie Hall another chance(I should say there are parts of it I loved and have quoted over the years), and like some of his more overtly funny films that hint at his emerging maturity. This one isn’t quite there but is a lot of fun, if a bit uneven. Thanks to Lynne for joining me for this one as well. This is ostensibly an adaptation of the popular sex advice book of the same name, but is essentially just an excuse to comically riff on sexual themes as well as an excuse for Allen to lampoon a number of styles, from the chamber period film to Fellini to science fiction horror(among others). One of the funniest is a sequence that has Dr. Doug Ross(Gene Wilder), coincidentally(?) the name of George Clooney's character on ER, falling in love with a sheep, though puzzlingly, this is included as a lesson on sodomy rather than bestiality. Not so puzzlingly I suppose. As I said before, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the structure, but it appears to be purposefully so. Clooney clearly has a place in his heart for silly humor and this is a good example, not only of this category, but as a great cultural marker with regard to the acceptable boundaries of humor as they evolved through this period. There are future endeavours that are perhaps more consistent, but this one serves as a good example of the progression.

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