Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dancing at the (Cinema)theque

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the opening night of Melbourne Cinémathèque, thanks to blog buddy Paul Martin over at Melbourne Film Blog. The Cinémathèque is a Melbourne film society that screens classics and unheralded titles in equal measure on a weekly basis out of the wonderful cinemas at the Australians Centre for the Moving Image (er, ACMI). It's a great way to catch up on older movies and to experience them on the big screen (and what a big screen it is) through prints (and not, as far as I am aware, DVD).

I'm not presently a member (hi money, find a home in my wallet if you'd life), but there are plenty of titles that piqued my interest in the calender. Of particular note was the 1922 silent horror documentary Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, Michelangelo Antonioni's much-maligned Zabriskie Point, Frank Urson's original 1927 version of Chicago and Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner. Plus an assortment of great Louis Malle, Ingmar Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, and any chance to see Lift to the Scaffold or Fanny and Alexander on the big screen is a chance to be taken.. The season ends in December with Andrei Tarkovski's acclaimed Andrei Rublev.

Last night however they screened Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life and Vincente Minnelli's Some Came Running, which was an interesting double feature to say the least. Both dealing with addictions and people who may not be the most mentally stable of all, but complete polar opposites in terms of manner and style.

Bigger Than Life is a hoot. The old ladies that surrounded me were having a blast and I was too. James Mason isn't exactly an actor I care for, and his style of acting is on full show here. I didn't like it in the way that the filmmakers would have liked me to, but especially during the film's climactic confrontation - during which the famous "GOD WAS WRONG!" line is uttered - I had to stifle my laughs as hard as possible. It's very much in the line of Reefer Madness style of movies, warning of the adverse effects of Cortisone and it's writ large and melodramatic. I'm not sure I quite get the belief that it's a condemnation of said suburban paranoia, because it felt like it was played straight as an arrow.

I think for a movie such as this it's a bit tricky to rate. On one hand you really do need to think of it in context of the year it was made (in this case 1956), but... then again, I'm watching it in 2009 and it just doesn't cut it as serious filmmaking nowadays (for me, anyway). After the screening Paul and I had a discussion comparing this film to Revolutionary Road and, really, if that film had been made in the '50s and was the same as it was today then it would still be a good movie. Bigger Than Life, however, is not. C

Some Came Running was a pleasant surprise, however. I'm not generally a Sinatra/Martin fan, but here I found the pair quite good. Shirley MacLaine garnered her first Oscar nomination for her performance here and while she seems to be nothing more than a high-pitched annoyance early on she reveals much more as the film progresses. Her final scenes especially reveal a sadness and desperation that is really well hidden at the start.

The film is funny too, but at 140 minutes it is far too long and has too many characters. A storyline involving Frank Sinatra's brother is superfluous, although Leora Dana gets some great moments that felt like Judy Davis had traveled back in time. My biggest compliment towards the film, however, is for the score by Elmer Bernstein. It's instantly one of my favourites by him and from this era in general. If you happen to come across the music in a used record store (I doubt it's been in production for many a year) then you could do worse than pick it up and give it a spin. B

1 comment:

Paul Martin said...

I'm glad you had a good time, Glenn, and hope you can make it back. I preferred Bigger Than Life. It may be considered a melodrama, but I thought it was played straight and I found the depictions of psychosis by Mason quite authentic, especially given the era.

I generally don't have much time for Sinatra and Martin but I also found them a hoot in this film and agree with you about MacLaine. God, she was so young in this film.

FWIW, Melbourne Cinémathèque rarely screens from DVD. I think there's been one in the three years I've been attending.