Brattle Theatre Film Notes Posts

August 16, 2018 / / Scene Analysis

The second act of West Side Story (1961) starts on a romantic note, but the film’s gang war soon sours romance into rumble. Even as Tony and Maria make plans to run away from the West Side, the tension between the Jets and the Sharks threatens to destroy their relationship before the lovers get their chance. Act II realizes this contrast between love and violence in its third musical number, “Tonight – Quintet,” in which the plot strands developed in the solo and ensemble numbers of Act I compete against one another and seek to drown each other out.

August 16, 2018 / / Scene Analysis

In translating the groundbreaking 1957 stage musical, West Side Story, to film, the producers knew that a work whose claim to fame was its gritty realism should only be more true-to-life on the big screen. Robert Wise, a director better known for his noirish city dramas than fanciful entertainments, brought a down-to-earth sensibility to a work that, on stage, might seem to be simply a slightly edgier musical set against an urban backdrop. On film, we are thrust head-first into the streets, with their palpable energy and danger. Wise’s disinterest in theatrical razzle-dazzle is striking throughout, but especially in the film’s opening sequence: a bird’s-eye view of the Upper West Side playground in which we meet our two warring gangs, the Sharks and the Jets.

August 16, 2018 / / Main Slate

In April 1944, Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins debuted Fancy Free, a ballet about sailors on shore leave in New York City. The ballet was the genesis for the stage musical On the Town, which debuted on Broadway the same year. Five years later, On the Town made its way to the screen, with many of Bernstein’s songs replaced with pieces by the composer Roger Edens.

On The Town (1949) is a Technicolor musical film that follows three singing sailors and three dancing dames on adventures in New York. (Trivia fact: Technicolor originated in Boston.) On The Town is saturated with more than just color. The musical is unreservedly saturated in art, dance, and melodies.

Editor’s note: On June 27, 2018 Keridwen Luis, lecturer on studies of women, gender, and sexuality at Harvard University, introduced The Rocky Horror Picture Show, part of the Brattle’s Elements of Cinema program. These are her introductory remarks. –Jessie Schanzle, Film Notes editor

Thank you so much for the lovely introduction, and thank you for everyone at the Brattle for inviting me to this. This is lovely and exciting, and it’s been delightful trying to think, what can I say about The Rocky Horror Picture Show? I mean, what is left to say about this film? Actually, there’s a lot I could say about this film, but I’m not going to say it all because I’m sure we’d all rather be watching the film.

This is the most classic of what we call the “cult films.” It is a timely commentary and a cultural touchstone. It is supremely dated, and yet, it exists in this weird eternal present for us. It’s a classic, but why is it a classic?

August 6, 2018 / / Scene Analysis

The genius of All About Eve (1950) is that it does not drag out its fairly obvious premise that Broadway star Margo Channing’s enthusiastic, young super-fan, Eve Harrington, is deviously plotting her own career rise at Margo’s expense. Barely a quarter of the way into the film, Margo (Bette Davis) has already deemed Eve (Anne Baxter), whose fandom and sycophancy she’d rewarded with a personal assistant job, a threat to her career and boyfriend. In true theatrical fashion, Margo unleashes her first wave of retaliation by drunkenly making a scene at her own party.

July 31, 2018 / / Film Notes

There are few films that I’ve seen that epitomize classic Hollywood as well as 1944’s musical hit Cover Girl. Starring an effervescent Rita Hayworth as Rusty Parker, a vaudeville-style dancer, and a typically earnest Gene Kelly as Danny McGuire, her manager/boyfriend, Cover Girl thrives on the pair’s dynamic charisma. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine this film being enjoyable without either of its principal actors.

The main issue with the film is that its plot is rather cliché – a discerning viewer will be able to map out the story within the first ten minutes of the movie. Hayworth gets a bit of a raw deal with Rusty, who is written as a humble but beautiful dancer who is easily swayed by others. Fortunately, her lively presence alone is enough to keep the audience invested in the film. Kelly’s McGuire isn’t an especially original character either, but like Hayworth, he has the talent to transcend the film’s uninspiring writing and gives the audience a treat of a scene near the film’s end. Despite Cover Girl’s flaws, the star power and unforgettable dance numbers make it a must-see film for viewers looking for a classic Hollywood experience.

July 31, 2018 / / Scene Analysis

In Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood (2014), nothing is as simple as it seems. “I’m going to high school,” Marieme (Karidja Touré), our careful, introspective protagonist says to her mother one evening. In truth, she has dropped out of school after being told – despite her protestations – that her only real educational future lies in learning a trade at a technical school. Instead, she has joined up with three other neighborhood girls, who soon become her sisters-in-arm as she navigates life in the banlieues of Paris. We know she is lying and, we suspect, so does her mother, though she doesn’t come out and say it. Some of the film’s most effective exchanges have no dialogue. Every gesture, every facial expression is charged with a sense of urgency that feels eminently appropriate.

July 23, 2018 / / Film Notes

Nineteen thirty-nine was a golden year for movies. A record number of films were made, more than 20 of them considered now to be classics of cinema, including Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and many others.

Howard Hawks’s Only Angels Have Wings (1939) did not fit the mold of movies being made at that time. Angels did not possess the maddeningly indefinable allure of Garbo in Ninotchka, the unwavering idealism of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the melodramatics of Dark Victory, or the unbearable tragedies of Wuthering Heights. Nor did it have the over-the-top fantasy world-whirl of the beloved Wizard of Oz, or the searing romanticism of Gone with the Wind, both made by Victor Fleming that same year.

July 20, 2018 / / Film Notes

The Green Fog (2017) is a mind-bending walk through the iconic narrative arc of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Commissioned for the closing night of the 2017 San Francisco Film Festival, director Guy Maddin (with co-directors Galen Johnson and Evan Johnson) pays a wonderfully subversive tribute to Hitchcock’s San Francisco-centric film by stitching together footage from movies and tv shows filmed in the Bay Area. Through the scrim of cut up and reworked scenes, the emotional peaks and valleys of Vertigo’s plot materialize. However, this approach never turns into a trivia game for cinephiles. Indeed, a particularly precocious cineast could spend the entirety of The Green Fog recalling the classic films that appear on screen (over 100 in total), pulling each title from the recesses of her mind. However, in traditional Maddin fashion, a more conceptual and active level of movie watching is required.

July 19, 2018 / / Main Slate

Vertigo (1958) remains the top contender for the best film of Hitchcock’s impressive oeuvre. In the film, John “Scottie” Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) suffers from vertigo after pursuing a robber over rooftops and plummeting nearly to his death. After his near-fatal accident, he is hired to investigate Madeline (Kim Novak), the wife of an old college friend, who is acting strange, almost possessed. As Ferguson pursues Madeline, he not only saves her from drowning, but ultimately falls in love with her. But his vertigo prevents him from saving her life a second time when she appears to throw herself from a church tower. The second half of the film follows Ferguson as he recovers from a mental breakdown and meets Judy, a woman with such a striking resemblance to Madeline (Judy is also played by Kim Novak) that Ferguson becomes obsessed and remakes her in Madeline’s image.