Movies reviewed this week: The Young Girls of Rochefort, On the Waterfront, Gimme Shelter, and The Swimmer.
1/3/2022: The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967): ****1/2
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: Watch a movie starring Catherine Deneuve
I liked this so much more than I thought I would! Visually stunning, musically flippant and cheerful, and only lightly unencumbered by plot. Gene Kelly was of course somewhat old for the relationship but screw it, we got some fine dancing. .÷
1/8/2022: On the Waterfront (1954): ****1/2
I’ve seen a few Kazan movies in the last year; when considered in context of his life, the themes emerge. Men stand up, or they’re less than men. Honor is everything. Honor is an individual thing, not a matter for groups, although groups will follow you if you do the right thing. (And if they don’t, if you give up names to McCarthy and are criticized for it… well, you can make a movie in which they do the right thing.) Women are the lodestone by which men can find their way back to honor.
Nonetheless, this is a brilliant movie. That dance between Lee Cobb and Marlon Brando is lovely; for my money, none of Brando’s performance really works without the sharp-edged anger Cobb brings to the screen. Not as significant, but I also loved Pat Henning’s longshoreman. Fierce, brave, and aware of his own inevitable doom? That’s pretty solid work.
Towards the end, Brando breaks into Eva Marie Saint’s apartment — literally — and forces a kiss on her. She melts. I don’t think it added anything at all to the plot, it’s just a thing that Kazan and Schulberg thought would happen.
1/8/2022: Gimme Shelter (1970): *****
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: Watch a movie from the year you were born
Altamont looms large in my personal mythology. My parents met at a party in Greenwich Village in 1969; my mother was living in San Francisco and could have gone to Altamont, although she didn’t. They definitely chose the Stones over the Beatles in that particular battle for minds, though. I heard Their Satanic Majesties Request a lot when I was a kid. Add on a thick layer of Hunter S. Thompson, George R. R. Martin’s Armageddon Rag, and whatever the hell that biography was that I read a million times before I was 30, and there it is: the moment a generation lost its innocence.
Probably wasn’t really that, but even so, this was always going to be a tough watch for me whenever I finally felt like tackling it.
This movie felt like an electric current connecting two moments. The first is early: the Stones are listening to a mix of Wild Horses in Muscle Shoals. My romanticism says that I was watching five kids realize what they’d just made. It’s wordless, mostly, and evanescently beautiful.
The second is also a reaction shot. If you’ve seen the movie, you already know which one. It’s at the end, when Jagger sees the footage of Meredith Hunter being stabbed. It is also wordless, mostly, and not beautiful at all.
That current is grounded by reaction shots throughout. It’s all in the expressions. The Maysles linger on faces — both anonymous and famous — time and again. Everything arises from and links those two moments. On the one hand, there’s the eloquence of the music, and on the other hand, there’s the violence that came along for the ride. It’s not inevitable, but none of the Stones looked like they were enjoying themselves at all during the Altamont segment.
“We always have something very funny happen when we start that number.”
1/9/2022: The Swimmer (1968): ****
Brutal. You might think it’s going to be a dated period piece, but it moves past that pretty quickly. Yeah, the well-off surburban 60s world is mostly gone now but the acidic critique still pertains. It’s not about Ned Merrill, it’s about the whole spectrum of arrogant suburbanites who won’t look at the reality underlying their comfortable lives.