Brattle Theatre Film Notes Posts

July 13, 2018 / / Main Slate

At a press conference on March 22, 1971, Melvin Van Peebles read aloud a letter written to Jack Valenti and the Motion Picture Association of America. In it he stated:

“As a black artist and independent producer of motion pictures, I refuse to submit this film, made from Black perspective for Blacks, to the Motion Picture Code and Administration for rating that would be applicable to the black community. Neither will I “self apply” an “X” rating to my movie, if such a rating, is to be applicable to Black audiences, as called for by the Motion Pictures Code and Administration rules. I charge that your film rating body has no right to tell the Black community what it may or may not see. Should the rest of the community submit to your censorship that is its business, but White standards shall no longer be imposed on the Black community.”

Nine days later, on March 31st, 1971, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song would open at the Circus Theater in Detroit and within five days would gross a staggering $45,534.00 – an all-time house record. And only two days later it would smash the house record at the Coronet Theater in Atlanta. Black cinema, independent American cinema and, perhaps, cinema itself would never be the same.

July 13, 2018 / / Main Slate

Three Colors: Red (1994) is not only the last film of brilliant Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski’s acclaimed Three Colors Trilogy, but also his farewell gesture to the art of cinema. It is fitting that a film marking the end of a great cinematic career should be about connection, truth, fate, disappointments, and passing of lessons learnt. The compassionate, naïve, and optimistic Valentine (Irène Jacob) and the jaded and cynical retired judge Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant) are two halves of the same apple, that is to say, two opposing sides of the aging filmmaker Kieslowski.

June 26, 2018 / / Main Slate

“My novel The Dead Zone arose from two questions,” writes Stephen King in his superb retrospective On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, “Can a political assassin ever be right? And if he is, could you make him the protagonist of a novel?” King worked backwards from there, arriving at the supernatural premise of a man granted dark visions of the future. Such a premise could have easily supported a novel without treading into such murky political waters, but that was where King’s interest lay, and what the story marches toward with an air of grim inevitability.

June 19, 2018 / / Main Slate

When seeing a movie again after many years, you might be watching a film different from the one you first experienced. The lingo of the film may be out-of-sync with the current culture, the themes might feel dated, commonplace, the players’ mode of performance old hat, hard to relate to. You, yourself, have probably changed and your reaction to the story might be different from that of your younger self. Some of these concerns were with me as I popped Phillippe de Broca’s King of Hearts (Roi de Coeur) (1966) into my player 50 years after I saw it at The Brattle.

June 12, 2018 / / Scene Analysis

Blue Velvet (1986) is in some ways one of David Lynch’s most accessible works: it has a more conventional, linear narrative than many of his other projects, it can be understood as a thriller, and it fits into the film noir tradition. Audiences have a framework for processing the film’s scenes of brutality and perversity. For instance, upon its initial release, Gene Siskel compared it to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).

June 1, 2018 / / Main Slate

To tackle the current social climate through popular art is a delicate task. Any attempt to correctly render the mistrust, uncertainty and helplessness of daily life in a “post-truth” age runs the risk of coming off as too on-the-nose or condescending, content to simply list our woes rather than address them. Ticking off obvious boxes can be satisfying but falls short of being cathartic, and is hardly ever memorable. In times like this, one can get a more authentic view of our times through the works that appear as a result of them rather than attempts to explain them.

June 1, 2018 / / Main Slate

There’s no doubt: Shadow of a Doubt (1943) was director Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite of his own films. I was surprised to learn this; I would have assumed it was North by Northwest (1959) because Cary Grant was his favorite actor to work with. But Hitchcock confirmed that Shadow of a Doubt was his favorite in an interview with talk show host Dick Cavett in 1972. But why was this film Hitchcock’s favorite? Hitchcock’s daughter, Pat, said, “this was my father’s favorite movie because he loved the thought of bringing menace into a small town” in the documentary Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock’s Favorite Film (2000). The film also held sentimental value for Hitchcock, as he injected many personal touches and also enlisted the help of his wife to write the screenplay.

May 31, 2018 / / Main Slate

Twenty-five years ago, in 1993, Allen and Albert Hughes (credited as The Hughes Brothers) took the American box office by storm with a jarringly violent urban crime drama set in LA titled Menace II Society. Released two years after John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood, Menace II Society avoids much of the more familial melodrama of Singleton’s film – instead turning in a ferocious indictment of inner city violence, something that would then permeate the genre in the mid and late 1990s.

May 21, 2018 / / Scene Analysis

The 1943 Fox musical Stormy Weather is worth seeing not because of its conventional and wafer-thin backstage storyline, but because it offers the opportunity to see great musical numbers with the film’s two leads, Lena Horne and Bill Robinson, as well as other legendary African American artists like Cab Calloway, Katherine Dunham, and Fats Waller. Gifted African American performers were under-utilized and generally poorly served in Hollywood during the studio era, frequently relegated to stereotyped supporting roles or “specialty” numbers that could be excised from prints shipped to racially segregated areas of the United States. And while Stormy Weather is a product of its times and not without its fraught details – including a performance by a pair of comedians in minstrel-style blackface makeup – it also offers an indispensable peek at some extraordinary talents.