Dossier ’79

[Originally published in Movietone News 64-65, March 1980]

It is appropriate that they just took “There she is, Miss America” away from Bert Parks. I too have been deprived of the opportunity to sing my same old song again. One could say rhetorically that after 1978 the movies had nowhere to go but up; but rhetoric is one thing and the art-industry’s capacity for self-degradation quite another. And ’79 did see a few films as empty, ugly, and offensively inept as any dreck of previous seasons: Bloodline, Prophecy, Nightwing, Sunburn, Love and Bullets, Ashanti, and the phenomenally successful Meatballsas drecky dreck as ever dreck was. But they didn’t taint the whole scene, didn’t seem the dominant alternative to excellence. If only one or two films suggested a radical breakthrough into new zones of artistry or film consciousness, nevertheless an astounding number of movies managed to be lively, personal, nonderivative. François Truffaut may have made an utterly superfluous Antoine Doinel compendium like Love on the Run, and Federico Fellini wasted his time on Orchestra Rehearsal, an only half-good idea for a movie done with about a third of the zest and invention we’d expect of him. But good men like Blake Edwards and Peter Bogdanovich seemed to have got better; at least they were getting more credit for the beauties and intelligence of their work than they had in years. Whatever they had must have been catching because even hacks and/or poseurs like Ted Kotcheff, Peter Yates, William Friedkin, Sydney Pollack, and Arthur Hiller signed their names to very agreeable movies (North Dallas Forty, Breaking Away, The Brinks Job, The Electric Horseman, and The In-Laws, respectively). Going to the movies got to seem more like a pleasant pastime again instead of a masochistic compulsion.

So cheering was the turnabout that I decided, some time ago, to omit vintage premières from consideration for my personal Ten Best List. Where previously I saluted belated arrivals like The Life of Oharu, Les Bonnes Femmes, and La Chienne, I might this year have elected (in order of original release) Max Ophüls’s Liebelei, Fritz Lang’s Die Spinnen, Kenji Mizoguchi’s The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, Claude Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge, Yasujiro Ozu’s Equinox Flower, Jean Renoir’s Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier, Jacques Rivette’s L’Amour fou, R.W. Fassbinder’s Katzelmacher, Joseph Losey’s The Assassination of Trotsky, Rivette’s Céline et Julie vont en bateau, José Luis Borau’s Furtivos, or Márta Mészáros’s Womenjust to name the top candidates given local premières by the Seattle Film Society.

Local readers should be reminded, and outside readers advised, that some films were not available in public showcases to qualify for 1979 Seattle lists: Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun, Losey’s Don Giovanni, Truffaut’s two-years-old La Chambre verte, Hal Ashby’s Being There, Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz, Alan Rudolph’s Remember My Name, Ariane Mnouchkine’s Molière, Herzog’s Woyzeck, Herbert Ross’s Chapter Two, Head over Heels [aka Chilly Scenes of Winter], French Postcards, On the Yard, Your Turn My Turn, El Super, the recent floodtide of Andrzej Wajda films, and most of the other pictures from late-in-the-season film festivals.

Personal omissions I must own up to include, in roughly the order they are bothering me: Philip Kaufman’s The Wanderers, Martin Ritt’s Norma Rae, Harold Becker’s (and to be sure Joseph Wambaugh’s) The Onion Field, Robert Aldrich’s The Frisco Kid, Robert Mulligan’s Same Time, Next Year, and The Runner Stumbles by Seattle’s newly resident cinéaste, Stanley Kramer. I also missed a lot of entries in the Fourth and biggest-yet Seattle International Film Festival at the Moore Egyptian; this event might benefit by shrinking back to a size that would admit of repeat screenings as in days of old, but at any scale it has become an indispensable annual glut for Queen City film freaks, and I pray that it will continue despite the rude preemption of Stage Fright, Inc. by Northwest Releasing. And as long as I’m talking Seattle exhibition patterns, I’d like to express my respect and appreciation for the adventurous programming at the new Pike Place Cinema. In showing more, and mostly more worthwhile, first-run foreign films than all the other local houses combined (the Festival excepted, obviously), the Pike Place bears some resemblance to the dear departed Edgemont of the late Sixties; like the Edgemont, the new theatre has also been underpatronized by a public too susceptible to hype and to familiar (i.e. already-much-shown) fare. But that’s another editorial….

Here, after not a great deal of agony, are my Ten for Seattle 1979, in order of preference:

1. PERCEVAL LE GALLOIS (Eric Rohmer: France, 1978). What other film has ever so boldly, so wittily, so movingly confronted the mysteries that lead us to seek consolation in telling and acting out tales? The blood on the spear is real: the pain bleeds away into a painted backdrop, an echoed phrase, a zone beyond the edge of the frame…. (Fourth Seattle International Film Festival, Moore Egyptian Theatre; University of Washington Lectures & Concerts Film Series)

2. THE TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS (Ermanno Olmi: Italy, 1978). Just as miraculous in its way is this neorealist poem at infinite remove—and just around the corner—from Rohmer’s medieval mummery. Olmi conceived it, wrote it, directed it, photographed it, edited it. The rhythm he catches is like no other in my film experience, but it seems very close to the seasons of life. (Seven Gables Theatre)

3. 10 (Blake Edwards: U.S.A., 1979). Why is it suddenly news that Blake Edwards is one of the sharpest, subtlest, most cinematically intelligent filmmakers around? All right, no more caviling. No other American movie of this year (or the past several years) filled a screen more elegantly, or with more constant assurance that every witty, ironic, or erotic movement would carry us deeper into a most civilized argument. (SRO’s Music Box el al.)

4. SAINT JACK (Peter Bogdanovich: U.S.A., 1979). If Rick hadn’t been old enough to run a saloon in Casablanca in 1942, he just might have ended up as a serenely self-possessed pimp picking up the crumbs of Yankee imperialism in Indochina at the turn of the Seventies. That supposition is as close as I can get to laying an hommage number on Peter Bogdanovich this time around, and his latest picture is the better for it. In fact, it’s a beauty, at every level a model of the American classicism he has worshipped all along but never personally managed to get outside of quotation marks—till now. “That stuff’s good and that stuff’s hard to do.” (SRO’s Music Box)

5. KRAMER VS. KRAMER (Robert Benton: U.S.A., 1979). Kramer vs. Kramer makes such a powerful appeal through its story and performances, it’s easy to understand how Robert Benton’s superlative visual control has been so grossly undervalued. Add that his script (albeit enhanced by contributions from Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman) makes discreet yet sizable improvements on the Avery Corman novel, and we have all the justification necessary for the film’s awards-sweeping success so far. Throw in the extraordinary decency and generosity of the directorial presence (one is tempted to invoke Renoir) and we have quite a bit more than that. (SRO’s Music Box)

6. MANHATTAN (Woody Allen: U.S.A., 1979). Almost every one of my film students who had occasion to refer to Manhattan admiringly quoted the juxtaposition of Ike/Woody’s desperate face and the skull in the other half of the Panavision frame. I keep remembering tritely selfconscious setups of that sort, and then I have to remind myself that I love and admire this movie. Then I remember the triumphant selfconsciousness of the Gershwin opening and close, and that Neanderthal skull recedes into the student journals where it belongs. “You have to have a little faith in people.” You have to earn the faith, too. Woody Allen, movie director, has earned it. (Ridgemont)

7. PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (Peter Weir: Australia, 1975) and NEWSFRONT (Phillip Noyce: Australia, 1978). I can understand and, sporadically, share the exasperation of those who found Weir’s unresolved mystery too precious to be tolerated. But I also felt that the movie came very near breaking through some stylistic equivalent of a sound barrier, with the imagistic overload and teasingly referential symbolic systems promising/threatening to carry us beyond “meaning” and “explanations,” to some pagan reveling in the interface between Weir’s camera and the world. (Something like the same promise was held out by the opening reels of The Last Wave, but got trampled in that film’s rush to propose a neat mythology of itself.) As for Newsfront, there simply was no more enjoyable movie all year. If I suggest that the film did a beautiful job of blending personal stories with a historical overview, crises of individual integrity with the survival of a craft and a code, the credible drift of lives with the fond distancing of nostalgia, I don’t do so merely because Newsfront’s timeframe and textures uncannily recall my own first memories of the outside world in the late Forties. (Both presented in the Fourth Seattle International Film Festival, Moore Egyptian; Picnic subsequently run at the Moore/Egyptian, Newsfront at the Pike Place Cinema)

9. HALLOWEEN (John Carpenter: U.S.A., 1978). When I invoked the image of telling ghost stories around a campfire to suggest the spell cast by Halloween, I had no idea that that was how John Carpenter planned to open his next film, The Fog. It’s appropriate that the end credits of Halloweens hould refer to the menacing hometown boy as The Shape: this superior low-budget thriller is form made fiercely functional, style as the delicious complicity between storyteller and audience. “Watch the skies!” is the last word of Hawks’s The Thing, much-beloved of Carpenter; “Watch the screen!” is the exultant motto of this fine new director. So few of his fellow cinéastes seem to worry much about that these days. (SRO’s Cinerama et al.)

10. LUNA (Bernardo Bertolucci: Italy-U.S.A., 1979). All right, yes, this tenth-slot tribute is at least partially intended as an upraised middle digit displayed for the benefit of some boringly contemptuous festival audiences whose performances in the presence of this movie got almost as much press as the film itself. But only partially. Luna may or may not be Bertolucci’s best film to date; it’s certainly his best in nearly a decade. At the very least, it has a richer sense of humor about itself than do its detractors. And that’s the beginning of health, not to mention adulthood. (UA 70)

Nor would I be ashamed to have any of the following on a Ten Best List of mine: Billy Wilder’s Fedora, Michel Deville’s Dossier 51, or George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, to name three that were finally disqualified largely on the grounds that I had no second look at them; also Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Shout, Peter Yates’s Breaking Away, Bertrand Blier’s Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, Claude Chabrol’s Violette Nozière, and the late Luchino Visconti’s The Innocent. I was surprised that John Badham’s multifariously exciting Dracula was not more enthusiastically received by critics and audiences; the comparative neglect of Milos Forman’s charming and exuberant film version of Hair was also mystifying. Kicked-around movies I liked included William Richert’s lively Richard Condon adaptation, Winter Kills;  Walter Hill’s The Warriors, whose first reel felt, back in March, as if it must surely be the start of one of the year’s best pictures; and Robert Altman’s Quintet, an appallingly pretentious thing that nevertheless cast a spell and eventually added up to a moving film experience. Alan J. Pakula’s Starting Over and Ted Kotcheff’s North Dallas Forty were especially frustrating in their failure to be as good overall as they were brilliant in parts; at a much lower level of aesthetic importance, Jonathan Demme’s The Last Embrace and Daryl Duke’s The Silent Partner went distressingly wrong about midpoint after most engaging beginnings (I watched each, on consecutive weeks, from the same seat of the same 99%-empty shopping-mall tunnel). Other ’79 films remembered with more-than-average fondness include: Nicholas Meyer’s Time after Time, Ettore Scola’s Down and Dirty, John Hanson and Rob Nilsson’s Northern Lights, Arthur Hiller’s (and Andrew Bergman’s) The In-Laws, Diane Kurys’s Peppermint Soda, Sydney Pollack’s The Electric Horseman, Oldrich Lipsky’s Nick Carter in Prague, or Dinner for Adele, Jim Henson and James Frawley’s The Muppet Movie, and Don Sharp’s The Thirty-nine Steps.

A place has been reserved in the Cinetone News family album for each of the following:

BEST DIRECTION: Blake Edwards, 10, and Peter Bogdanovich, Saint Jack. It’s always a pleasure to rediscover the particular order of richness that can grow out of someone “just making a movie” and investing the most functional movements of camera, cutting, and scenario with quiet suggestibility. That each of these guys was snapping back after a period of neglect, conservatism, decline, whatever, makes the pleasure all the greater.

BEST SCREENPLAYS: Robert Benton, Kramer vs. Kramer (adaptation), followed closely by Howard Sackler, Paul Theroux, and Peter Bogdanovich, Saint Jack. Blake Edwards, 10 (original), pressed by Steve Tesich, Breaking Away,and Phillip Noyce, Newsfront. Andrew Bergman’s witty script for The In-Laws also deserves at least a nod.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Robby Müller’s work on Saint Jack was so unostentatious in its sensitivity to place, climate, hour of day or night, and the very temperature of colors, it immediately suggested itself as a model of the sort of miraculous cinematography never noticed by A.S.C. Oscar nominators. Vilmos Zsigmond did quite different things for The Deer Hunter, Winter Kills, and The Rose, and did them all beautifully. Vincent Monton’s subtly atmospheric handling of both color and monochrome wonderfully enhanced Newsfront and gave it a living texture. In Halloween Dean Cundey made the shift of October afternoon into night a palpable reality, and Ray Stella’s Panaglide camera work sustained Carpenter’s absolute visual authority. Also admirable were: Nestor Almendros, Perceval and Kramer vs. Kramer; Caleb Deschanel, The Black Stallion (on technical grounds only); Ermanno Olmi, The Tree of Wooden Clogs; Miroslav Ondricek, Hair; Vittorio Storaro, Luna and Apocalypse Now (I didn’t see Agatha); David Watkin, Cuba; Gordon Willis (shut out of the Oscars again), Manhattan.

BEST ACTOR: Ben Gazzara, Saint Jack. When an actor I dislike impresses me so much, I figure it’s pretty extraordinary; Gazzara’s Jack Flowers is one of the most wholecloth performances I’ve ever seen. These men were also exceptionally fine: Robert DeNiro, The Deer Hunter; Dustin Hoffman, Kramer vs. Kramer; Dudley Moore, 10; and Nick Nolte, North Dallas Forty. Also memorable: Woody Allen, Manhattan; George Burns, Going in Style; Gérard Depardieu, Get Out Your Handkerchiefs; Peter Falk and Alan Arkin in tandem, The In-Laws; Frank Langella, Dracula; Robert Redford, The Electric Horseman; Burt .Reynolds, Starting Over; Kurt Russell, Elvis. I took very warm and personal pleasure in Bill Hunter’s contribution to Newsfront, and most sincerely apologize for letting him become “Bill McGuire” (he played Len Maguire) in a caption in the previous MOVIETONE NEWS.

BEST ACTRESS: Supporting Actress ? Ridiculous! This was Meryl Streep’s year: in order of release, The Deer Hunter, Manhattan, The Seduction of Joe Tynan, Kramer vs. Kramer. Closest challenges: Isabelle Huppert, Violette Nozière, and Kate Nelligan, Dracula. Also in the running: Jill Clayburgh, Luna and Starting Over; Jane Fonda, The Electric Horseman (but not The China Syndrome); Barbara Harris, The Seduction of Joe Tynan; Mary Steenburgen, Time after Time; Susannah York, The Shout.

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Denholm Elliott, Saint Jack. All kinds of company for him: Jean-Claude Brialy, Robert et Robert; Don Crosby, Newsfront; Mac Davis, North Dallas Forty; Brian Dennehy, 10; Paul Dooley, Breaking Away; Robert Duvall, Apocalypse Now; Frederic Forrest, Apocalypse Now and The Rose; Ian Holm, Alien; John Hurt, The Shout; John Huston, Winter Kills; Jack Lemmon, The China Syndrome; James Mason, Murder by Decree (also great fun: ‘Salem’s Lot); Warren Oates, The Brinks Job; Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter; Robert Webber, 10.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Wendy Hughes, Newsfront. Yes, I know Jane Alexander in Kramer vs. Kramer and Stéphane Audran in Violette Nozière had bigger roles and greater range to cover. I’m sorry, that’s how I feel, now get outta here, ya knuckleheads! Also liked Barbara Barrie, Breaking Away; Candice Bergen, Starting Over; Mariel Hemingway, Manhattan; Dee Wallace, 10.

Among delayed first looks, the most exciting evening of the year for me had to be the Seattle Film Society showcasing of two Anthony Mann westerns in their CinemaScope formats. Actually, only The Last Frontier (1956) was new to me, but I hadn’t seen The Man from Laramiein Scope since 1955, so that came to almost the same thing. (Print source: Corinth Films.) Other significant personal preems, in order of original release, included: Buster Keaton’s Go West (1925) and College (directed by James V. Horne, 1927); Howard Hughes’s and James Whale’s Hell’s Angels (1928-30), featuring (sorry, other Howard) the most awesome aerial scenes I’ve ever witnessed; John Ford’s Up the River (1930) and Airmail (1932); Michael Curtiz’s The Kennel Murder Case (1933), utterly silly but quite beguiling as an empty exercise in directorial pizzazz; Gordon Wiles’s—and Daniel Fuchs’s—The Gangster (1947), an archetypal arty film noir; Val Lewton’s Apache Drums; (directed by Hugo Fregonese, 1951); Richard Fleischer’s The Narrow Margin (1952); Robert Bresson’s Quâtre Nuits d’un rêveur (1971); Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974); Phil Karlson’s Framed (1975); Clint Eastwood’s The Gauntlet (1977); and Robert Mulligan’s Bloodbrothers (1978), which returned to Seattle (after a five-day first run in ’78) only via Showtime. Raoul Walsh’s Going Hollywood (1933) was notable mainly for an astonishingly dark’n’diagonal musical number cum drunk scene toward the end—and the pleasure of listening afterwards to a collector’s recording of Bing Crosby singing “Rollicking Rockaway Raoul.” Notable and illuminating revisits after too many years: Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross, Frank Borzage’s The Mortal Storm, and first Technicolor looks at Ernst Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait and King Vidor’s An American Romance.

Having already participated in a couple of decade surveys elsewhere, I’ll confine such activities here to a confession: None of the following titles placed on annual Ten Best Lists of mine during the Seventies, for which omissions I fully expect to be quartered in Henry Van Cleve’s room on the déclassé side of the hotel whenever he has moved on: Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (which would now crowd, but not necessarily displace, Sam Peckinpah’s The Ballad of Cable Hogue as the top picture of 1970), Alan J. Pakula’s Klute (1971), John Huston’s Fat City (1972), Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972—in Seattle, 1973), Wilder’s Avanti! (likewise), Paul Mazursky’s Blume in Love (1973), Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973—in Seattle, ’74), Pakula’s The Parallax View (1974), Richard Lester’s Juggernaut (1974), and Arthur Penn’s Night Moves (1975). My oversights from the second half of the decade have yet to appear so glaring.

Other MTN contributors have their year-end says to say.

 

ROBERT C. CUMBOW

SEATTLE PREMIERES: Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero), Manhattan (Woody Allen), 10 (Blake Edwards), Alien (Ridley Scott), Apocalypse Now (Francis [Ford] Coppola), North Dallas Forty (Ted Kotcheff), The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino), The Onion Field (Harold Becker).

PERSONAL PREMIERES: To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942), Martin (George A. Romero, 1976), Kaspar Hauser (Werner Herzog, 1975)

ACTORS: James Woods, The Onion Field; Dudley Moore, 10; Nick Nolte, North Dallas Forty; Jacques Villeret, Robert et Robert

ACTRESS: Diane Keaton, Manhattan

SUPPORTING ACTORS: Frederic Forrest, Apocalypse Now; Lee Strasberg, Going in Style; Wilford Brimley, The China Syndrome; Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter; Ian Holm, Alien; Robert Webber, 10; Brian Dennehy, 10; Paul Dooley, Breaking Away

SUPPORTING ACTRESSES: Mariel Hemingway, Manhattan; Candice Bergen, Starting Over; Rachel Roberts, Yanks

PRODUCTION DESIGN: H.R. Giger, Alien; Peter Ellenshaw, The Black Hole

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Vittorio Storaro, Apocalypse Now; Matthew F. Leonetti, Breaking Away; Gordon Willis, Manhattan; Derek Vanlint, Alien; Vilmos Zsigmond, The Deer Hunter

SCREENPLAYS: Blake Edwards, 10; Colin Welland and Walter Bernstein, Yanks

EDITING: George A. Romero, Dawn of the Dead; Jim Clark, Yanks; Peter Zinner, The Deer Hunter

SOUND: Apocalypse Now, Yanks, Alien

SPECIAL EFFECTS: Dawn of the Dead, Alien, The Muppet Movie, Moonraker

WORST OF THE YEAR: The Dark (John “Bud” Cardos)

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Star Trek (Robert Wise)

DIRECTION: Blake Edwards, 10; George A. Romero, Dawn of the Dead; Woody Allen, Manhattan; Ridley Scott, Alien; Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now

BEST OF THE SEVENTIES

1. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975). The cinema alternately expanded and contracted; American mythmaking at its very best.

2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972-74). American mythmaking at its second-best; through darkened rooms, whispered offers, and stifled cries, a journey to the hollow center of the heart.

3. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974). An uncompromising contemporary master of evil overhauls a traditional and well-loved genre, finding unforgettable truths about human frailty: “Forget it, Jake — it’s Chinatown.”

4. The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970). Part Welles, part Lang, and 100% stylish audacity: the political polemic become decadent découpage.

5. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977). Allen’s nervous romance is at once a haunting love story, a sparkling comedy, and a sincere and powerful piece of self-criticism.

6. Obsession (Brian DePalma, 1976). DePalma’s homage to Hitchcock layered on Paul Schrader’s homage to Dante: the descent, the ascent, and the never-ending circle.

7. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975). An 18th-century film with an 18th-century viewpoint about the passion seething beneath the Age of Reason. It was no accident that one of the top ten of the Sixties, the same director’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, climaxed in an 18th-century room.

8. M*A*S*H (Robert Altman, 1970). There is no escaping it: whether by accident of timing or by design of purpose, this was the formative film of the Seventies, and no film that followed it was unaffected.

9. The Emigrants and The New Land (Jan Troell, 1972-73). Border to border, a pictorial genius fills every frame of this epic saga of tearing up old roots and sinking new: the original culture-shock.

10. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese,1973). Scooped off the scorched bottom of the melting pot: exuberant youth, dragged down by a heritage of guilt.

I have ten more if you are interested; and ten more, and ten more …

PIERRE GREENFIELD

British newspaper critics have been saying what a terrific year for movies 1979 was; which statement is usually followed by a panegyric about The China Syndrome or Love at First Bite. For me, it was as dismal a year for filmgoing as I can recall, and I fear it has been impossible for me to come up with a Ten Best of ’79 list; nine only have made it, and three of those were seen after the start of November. The corrupt and autodestructive system of distribution which has been operant here since about the year of the Venerable Bede’s funeral is finally choking and strangling not only itself but everything and everyone in sight.

In the summertime, the only films you could see in approximately 99% of British cinemas were Moonraker, The Champ, Battlestar Galactica and Pete’s Dragon; as the autumn set in, you could see only Alienand The Bitch(which movie symbolises with truly hideous perfection just how seedy and sleazy a pass British films have come to); currently, Star Trek and Meteor crowd ’em in. I’d like to have listed Apocalypse Now, Nosferatu, Manhattan, L’Amour en fuite, Woyzeck and other raved-over movies which opened in 1979, but my local cinema managers are not exactly falling over themselves to book any of them—though Apocalypse, to be fair, has only recently opened and may well get the biggie treatment. My local cinema managers, like most of their tribe throughout this afflicted island, didn’t fall over themselves with the nine flicks listed below, either; only one of them (The Deer Hunter) got enough excitement generated to play widely. All the others required me to make a journey of a few dozen miles (never fewer than 40) in order to see them.

In alphabetical order, then, here’s the crop. (Note the number of 1978 titles, too. Not only are most good movies shown almost nowhere, you have to wait for ages for them to turn up in the few places they do play.)

1. Cet Objet obscur de désir (Luis Buñuel, 1977). “Sweet subversion” is how Don Luis sums up his late masterworks, and they don’t come any sweeter or more subversive than this. Beneath the laughter, it stings like a whip: Buñuel will mellow when he’s a corpse, not before.

2. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978). A quietly amazing film. In barely more than 90 minutes, an enormous panorama is unfolded at breakneck speed which never seems to be more than leisurely. Nestor Almendros, Haskell Wexler and Ken Middleham have done work already legendary; the actors are extraordinary; the music haunts me more than that of any other film I’ve seen in the last year. But it was Terrence Malick who pulled it all together, and if we have to wait five years for his next, it’ll be worth it.

3. The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978). I can’t recall when a film received more overkill, pro and con. The greatest invention of mortal man since fried bread it patently is not; but it’s full of extraordinary things, and I’d never have suspected Michael Cimino of being capable of it on the basis of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. On the level of plot it’s fairly poor; on the level of characterization it’s exceptional. Its attackers have mainly been the I-was-in-Nam-so-I-know school who, not being film critics, have ignored any considerations as piffling as those of art. For the record, it seems to me to have approximately as much to do with Vietnam as Citizen Kane has to do with the actual life of W.R. Hearst. It’s much more to do with the survival of friendship, and with the extraordinary qualities of very ordinary people in the face of anything from the miserable to the unspeakable. All the actors are good; Meryl Streep and (especially) George Dzundza are marvellous.

4. The Duellists (Ridley Scott, 1977). A film for Britain to be proud of, and what happens? I saw it just two years and two months after its first public unveiling (Cannes ’77), and I was lucky. Visually stunning, perfectly acted by a great cast, and possessed of one of the most exquisitely right endings in years. Ridley Scott has also made an SF film.

5. The Europeans (James Ivory, 1979). I was talking about corruption in British cinema distribution. This beautiful, moving and funny picture has been playing to packed houses at the Curzon cinema in London (a large and pricey place) since early summer, and has, in that time, become the most profitable movie of James Ivory’s career. But seeing it elsewhere has required cinemagoers to be swift of eye and fleet of foot. Distributors, take note: the arthouse where I saw it was stuffed to the gills with people whose appreciation of the film positively sang in one’s ears. I doubt that Meteor stimulates equivalent enthusiasm, but for a British distributor it’s much safer. The Ivorys of the world must not be encouraged even when they make money for you. This way lies not merely insanity, but economic suicide.

6. Fedora (Billy Wilder, 1978). There are a few Billy Wilder movies which manage to be as personal as this one, whilst having fewer imperfections. Not many, though, and I’d certainly rate Fedora in Wilder’s top half-dozen. Aunty Pauline once claimed that Wilder’s films had no grace, no beauty and so forth. She was wrong then, and more so now, and the splendid thing is that Wilder hasn’t lost his acidity or his ruthless honesty, either. “Cement and stainless steel” can be beautiful.

7. Quintet (Robert Altman, 1979). Robert Altman is a thoroughly unpredictable fellow, and he seems to me to be, all in all, the Seventies filmmaker. Quintet isn’t a masterpiece, although at least three of the 13 films Altman’s directed in the decade are; but it is a bewitching movie if you receive it in the right, open frame of mind. It sails close to being pretentious, but has too great a sense of eccentricity; anachronism and human decency to fall into the abyss, and its actors have too much fun—they are games-players as much as the characters they portray.

8. The Serpent’s Egg (Ingmar Bergman, 1978). Though it’s more obviously flawed than any Bergman film since The Rite (I haven’t seen Face to Face), this is an impressive, if horrible, experience, and it scared me more than any film of the year. If I say that I left the cinema thinking I’d seen a film about modern Britain, you may dismiss me as a driveller, and it wasn’t a view I was about to state out loud. But two days after I saw it, a riot broke out in a London suburb and 300-odd citizens peacefully protesting the existence of the British Nazi Party were arrested. No Nazi, as far as I know, got worse than a telling-off. One unarmed demonstrator got bludgeoned to death, seemingly by a police officer. The full facts are not as yet known, nor does there seem likely to be any major enquiry into this incident. Maybe that wasn’t such a foolish opinion after all.

9. Violette Nozière (Claude Chabrol, 1978). Claude Chabrol has seen such a dizzying seesaw of critical opinion during the Seventies (during which time his work has been consistently dazzling, popular or not), it was really nice to see him ending the decade as he began it, with the critical fraternity swooning at his toenails. If I say that I like Violette Nozière fractionally less than such considerably less admired movies as Ten Days Wonder and Nada,that isn’t to imply that it’s less than a very remarkable and exciting movie, and Isabelle Huppert’s performance may be the best female acting of the year.

Tenth place is there none. I thought hard about Skolimowski’s The Shout, but it was, whilst entertaining, a disappointment overall (particularly if one recalls, as I fondly do, the marvellously perverse and touching Deep End). Allen’s Interiors was a lot better than some people thought and less good than others thought; as with Annie Hall, I had a hell of a problem trying to work out the director’s own attitude. I went and missed The Last Wave. Britain saw no new films from Peckinpah, Rohmer, Penn, Kubrick or Benton—and what led Richard Lester to make Butch and Sundance: The Early Days?

 

PETER HOGUE

It was a good year—so good that I’ve broken down the lists like this:

NEW FILMS: ENGLISH-LANGUAGE

Luna (Bernardo Bertolucci), Saint Jack (Peter Bogdanovich), Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick), Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir), The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino), Norma Rae (Martin Ritt), Manhattan (Woody Allen), 10 (Blake Edwards), Breaking Away (Peter Yates), The Wanderers (Philip Kaufman).

NEW FILMS: FOREIGN-LANGUAGE

Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (Bertrand Blier), Dossier 51 (Michel Deville), Violette Nozière (Claude Chabrol), Molière (Ariane Mnouchkine), Messidor (Alain Tanner), Women (Márta Mészáros), Peppermint Soda (Diane Kurys), Angi Vera (Pal Gabor), The Marriage of Maria Braun (R.W. Fassbinder), Robert et Robert (Claude Lelouch).

OLD FILMS (in order seen)

Germany Year Zero (Roberto Rossellini), Charles—Dead or Alive (Alain Tanner), Return from Africa (Tanner), Special Section (Costa-Gavras), The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese), The Crimson Kimono (Samuel Fuller), Mouchette (Robert Bresson), Katzelmacher (R.W. Fassbinder), Le Beau Serge (Claude Chabrol), Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier (Jean Renoir), Freud (John Huston), Ce Soir ou jamais (Michel Deville)

Copyright © 1980 Richard T. Jameson

A pdf of the original issue can be found here