Movies reviewed this week: Cradle Will Rock, How Green Was My Valley, Alphaville, and Jules and Jim.
6/14/2022: Cradle Will Rock (1999): ***1/2
If we just art hard enough, everything will surely work out in the end!
The movie works despite being completely overstuffed with bravura performances and completely lacking in subtlety. That closing bit, where Robbins keeps cutting to John Turturro’s kids to show how much the approve of him? The lily is practically drowned in gold. But Turturro is good enough to carry it off, particularly paired with Emily Watson being magnificently vulnerable.
And that’s enough to overcome the painful earnestness of the noble, fruitless testimony scene. Joan Cusack is good enough to make her bit work. It’s like that all the way through. Also, to be completely fair, the miraculous ending is 100% true; it really happened the way the movie depicts it. So maybe you do just have to art hard enough. Or maybe it’s that it’s worth making art even if it’s going to wind up destroyed.
I watched this tonight as a Phillip Baker Hall tribute. Hall and Vanessa Redgrave were a joy. I’m glad I chose this one.
6/15/2022: How Green Was My Valley (1941): ****1/2
OK, yeah, that’s a good movie. I was fairly ready to write John Ford off after The Quiet Man, but I wanted to give him another try and this was leaving the Criterion Channel at the end of the month, so why not? And although I’m not going to dive into his Westerns, this was worth the time.
Stunning filmmaking. Loved his montages, loved his wide shots, loved his composition. Even the parodic performances were touched with humanity. I think the long, meandering path to the climax was correct for the story; the movie’s about one child’s view of the death of a community. You need to see everything Ford showed us.
The populism was interesting. I’ve seen people read this as social justice vs. tradition, but that’s not really it. Half of the bad guys are the bosses, sure, but the other half are the educated and the educators. The one person not from the community who’s shown in a good light is Mr. Gruffydd, the preacher, and he proves his worth by keeping his mouth shut until the locals ask him to speak.
Anyhow, while it’s no Citizen Kane, Ford’s off my instinctive distaste list.
6/17/2022: Alphaville (1965): ****1/2
Adding this to the awesome Godard pile. Around the midpoint I thought I was going to respect this but not like it: Godard is off-putting for me when he’s chilly, and this movie starts out as intellectually cold as you can get. But Anna Karina awakens it in parallel with her own awakening, Eddie Constantine is a delight, and there’s a wry humor underlying the whole affair.
6/18/2022: Jules and Jim (1962): *****
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: Watch a movie starring Jeanne Moreau
Truffaut is not wasted on me! I was worried after I found The 400 Blows technically brilliant but emotionally uninvolving. This, though, this got to me.
I will probably change my mind half a dozen times, but right now the emotional pivot point of the movie is Denise. It’s easy to mentally cast Catherine as the cruel manic pixie dream girl, but it’s hard to maintain that position when I consider the anonymous Frenchman’s dismissal of Denise as “empty.” That, I think, is a statement on how Catherine — in part by her own choice, she’s no angel — is perennially misunderstood.
The hilarious scene immediately preceding Denise’s brief appearance, with Marie Dubois’ Thérèse, is I think likewise a parallel to the main plot. Thérèse is the alternative Catherine: whimsical, a heartbreaker, and certainly manic. Unlike Catherine, she discovered happiness in the end.
The last line of the movie is an ideal summation, mordantly funny and completely tragic.