Thursday, August 25, 2011

"On the Waterfront" fitting conclusion to my summer of great films

Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint in a screens...Image via WikipediaOn the Waterfront reminded me a lot of Casablanca. Not because of the plot, acting, etc., but because this film influenced so many others. It was more complex than I had thought, especially with the relationship between  brothers Terry (Marlon Brando) and Charlie (Rod Steiger) Malloy.

Brando plays a washed up boxer who works on the docks and as muscle for the local mob boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). His brother Charlie is Johnny's right hand man. Terry unwittingly helps Johnny get rid of a dock worker who was preparing to go to the police, but when Terry begins to fall in love with the victim's sister Edie (played by Eva Marie Saint), complications ensue. You could teach a great lesson on internal and external conflict using this film.

As someone who had only seen Brando in his later films, I finally understood why he earned the reputation as a screen legend. Every "tough guy with a heart of gold" draws his inspiration from Brando's portrayal of Terry Malloy.

Eva Marie Saint and Karl Malden in a screensho...Image via WikipediaEven more impressive for me was Karl Malden (left) as the street wise parish priest Father Barry. He's able to bridge the gap between Terry and Edie. Fans of Streets of San Francisco will be amazed.

I wasn't very impressed with Saint's Edie. I didn't really feel the chemistry between her and Brando.

The powerful final scene caps off a well deserved ranking of number 19 in AFI's Top 100.

School begins again next week, so this will probably be it for my AFI summer. I watched 10 of the films on the list - not bad.

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Saturday, August 06, 2011

"The Last Picture Show" turns 1950's upside down

Cover of Cover via AmazonThis one kind of snuck up on me. I wasn't expecting it to be as good as it was. Listed as #95 on the AFI Top 100, The Last Picture Show (1971) absolutely needs to be higher. As one of the first "teen" movies, LPS was more shocking at its release than American Pie or Animal House.

I think the highlight for me was the stylized direction of Peter Bogdanovich. The sense of desolation and loneliness from the opening shot of the main street in town sets the perfect tone for the film. As someone who was only familiar with Cybill Shepherd from Moonlighting, she was a revelation here as the sexually manipulative Jacy Farrow. Timothy Bottoms continually blank expression might seem as poor acting in some films, but his expressionless performance was perfect for the blank Texas small town he lives in. Jeff Bridges looked a bit old to play a teen, but plays the roughneck well.

The shock value of some of the scenes was enhanced by the choice to film in black and white. The lack of color enhances the overall "lack" of anything worthwhile in the town. With nothing to do and nowhere to go, the characters make the best of what they have and find love where they can. Well, not quite love, but companionship. One such character is the wife of the school basketball coach. Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman) combats her loneliness and depression by "seducing" Bottoms's character Sonny Crawford. I don't know if seduced is the right word. She's looking for anything to give her an excuse to wake up in the morning and he's looking for something to relieve the boredom. As the first love scene unfolded, I found myself ready to look away lest I catch a glimpse of Leachman naked. It was pitiful to watch her weep as Sonny was on top of her. That scene has to be one of the most uncomfortable love scenes in movie history.

The gut wrenching final scene unifies the film and reinforces the desolation and loneliness which pervades it. Much of this film reminded me of American Graffiti - characters deciding whether they will get away or make a stand in their small town.

Movie Poster for Image via WikipediaThe Last Picture Show deserves much higher than #95 for its groundbreaking subject matter and stylistic direction. I may even give its sequel, Texasville (1990), a try.

Next up: On the Waterfront

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