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Review: Private Parts

[Originally published in Movietone News 25, September 1973]

Anybody out there remember, by any chance, Michael Powell’s 1959 flick Peeping Tom? (A disingenuous question, that: he who see Peeping Tom, he remember it, all right all right. Repress the mother, yes, possibly; but forget it? No—as they say—bloody way.)

Well, freak fans, it’s arrived at last, will you welcome please, a good hand now, folks, here he is, Son of Peeping Tom. No, correction: let’s try to get this right: Peeping Tomasina.

Not all that good a hand, though. We haven’t equaled the original yet, not in toto. For starters, the opening stinks. (The opening scene, that is, not the stylish titles.) And the ending is no rose, either; it smells, in fact, just a little like … bad faith. Well, bad judgment anyhow. Or plain laziness.

Still, Paul Bartel’s new feature Private Parts picks up one hell of a head of steam once it gets going. And if some (that word again!) freak of local distribution should cause it to drop suddenly (translation: “be dumped”) into an unsuspecting Seattle theater this year, you might do worse than soldier through that poorly-directed, -written, -scored and -acted opening for the sake of its later felicities.

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Review: Electra Glide in Blue

[Originally published in Movietone News 27, November 1973]

Film directors have come from many backgrounds, in the past more so than today; but with Electra Glide in Blue a new source has been tapped. James William Guercio is a prominent record producer. The influence of his background in the recording industry becomes immediately apparent when, in the first several minutes of the film, we witness a “suicide” while a weepy piano tune plays on a hand-cranked phonograph. Guercio has a feeling for music and film, and he blends both into an expressive statement. Certainly one of the most poetic of these expressions is a chase scene which begins slowly, the characters in floating telephoto shots seen through waves of heat rising from the pavement and the sands of the Arizona desert; with the addition of music to the soundtrack it becomes a ballet that moves inexorably toward its climax.

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Review: American Graffiti

[Originally published in Movietone News 27, November 1973]

American Graffiti begins with a shot of Curt, a recent high school graduate, driving up to Mel’s Drive-in, and it ends with Curt watching a white Thunderbird from his airplane seat as he goes off to college. Structurally speaking, therefore, the film revolves around him and his problems as he tries to decide whether or not he’s really going to get on that morning plane and leave behind him his familiar southern California hometown and its ways of life. But in between these two structural goalposts, it’s very hard at any given moment to assign Curt or anyone else the role of principal protagonist, since Lucas deliberately and very effectively plunges us into the seethingly mobile and unstable world of smalltown late adolescence à la 1962, whose coalescence and flux he creates through dispersion of characters and intrigues, crosscut to join them back together. The method is both daring and difficult since so many sets of characters pursuing their various goals could very easily get out of hand, resulting in real narrative chaos. But Lucas and his editors triumph handily over the perils and end up creating an admirably controlled narrative that describes a chaotic evening without ever descending into chaos itself.

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Yes, We Have No Bananas: ‘The Gang’s All Here’

[Originally published in Movietone News 29, January-February 1974]

I was particularly looking forward to this film for two big reasons. The picture, recently revived by a New York distributor who claims to have reopened a Technicolor lab to obtain a genuine oldfashioned imbibition-dye print, offers the combined interest of showing us Berkeley both working in color and directing a musical all the way through. Would this be the flowering of his art, for which his decade of choreographing and directing black-and-white production numbers at Warners had served him as apprentice years? Only a few of those Thirties musicals—most notably the Lloyd Bacon–Berkeley Footlight Parade—had any sort of allover rhythm to them, and one could otherwise always feel the terrible jolt whenever Berkeley left off and the “story” director picked up the narrative. What a treat it would be to see Berkeley doing his stuff from beginning to end in a sustained narrative laced with chromatically spectacular production numbers!

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Review: Sleeper

[Originally published in Movietone News 29, January-February 1974]

Sleeper is the funniest new film I’ve seen in years. Taking Off was the last recently made film that left me laughed out, and Sleeper reduced me to complete helplessness. In it, writer-director-actor Woody Allen projects himself into the year 2173 as a result of having been frozen for preservation some two hundred years earlier. The picture abounds in delicious detail, almost entirely of a satirical nature, but I’ll pass up the temptation to cannibalize his wit by recounting any of it, and talk instead about the progress his career is making.

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Review: Macunaíma

[Originally published in Movietone News 29, January-February 1974]

The allegedly quintessential Brazilian film begins solemnly, from the absence of color. The screen is black. No sound, no music, nothing. Finally, in white letters, something to lip-read: a preamble heavy and hackneyed as the baritone of the late, great Lowell Thomas…. In the depths of the Brazilian jungle, bla bla bla … all is utter silence, bla bla bla … except … An ungodly shriek rends the air and the audience’s eardrums. Sudden extreme closeup of ancient hag—ugh, what a mug on this old party! Medium shot: the crone (wait, maybe it’s a man, outlandish drag)—she—he—bends clumsily. W-a-a-a-a-w! Grande Otelo (an adult actor), fullgrown and black as the ace of spades, thuds bawling onto the turf; and Macunaíma, with a cry of comical outrage, is born.

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Review: The Last Detail

[Originally published in Movietone News 30, March 1974]

One of life’s great delights is surprise, and this surprising picture gives great delight indeed. For me, the chief element of surprise comes from The Last Detail‘s constant manipulation of my expectations in terms of genre. Ordinarily, when I sit down to a film about which I know nothing beforehand—the case with this picture—the first shot or two tell me, among other things, what genre the film will belong to. Any given genre carries its own set of conventions governing characters, treatment, resolutions, tone, and any number of other ingredients, so part of my pleasure comes from watching the filmmakers elaborating, working, and fulfilling those conventions and my expectations. But The Last Detail doesn’t do that at all; instead it quite resolutely refuses to submit to genre conventions while playing deftly on our expectations like a graceful bullfighter executing countless veronicas as we rush by him time after time trying to pin him down to earth. In other words, one never knows quite where this film is going until it has reached its end, and even its ending defies any genre convention that I’m acquainted with.

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Review: Group Marriage

[Originally published in Movietone News 30, March 1974]

Group Marriage serves up the Stephanie Rothman exploitation-flick mixture pretty much as before: half commitment, half indifference. But whereas I enjoyed her Student Nurses, this one left me cold. It’s partly the actors, I think. The student nurses and their beaux, however shallowly characterized, looked like fairly lively, attractive people. But who could identify with Group Marriage‘s crew of plastic Angelenos? The three men of the film’s group marriage are a jock lifeguard, a piggish young male chauvinist who markets glibly “sick” bumper stickers, and a spineless social worker who mouths jargon and wilts under the situation-comedy glare of his blowhard supervisor. The three women are not exactly charismatic, either, though one of them is endowed with a token knack for fixing car motors and another is represented, unconvincingly, as a lawyer. Rothman introduces us to the third in a blind-date–type scene that might have been directed by some arch-M.C.P.—Dean Martin, say. The bumper sticker entrepreneur has been led to expect a “dog”; when she walks in and he lays eyes on her breasts, he instantly goes ape. Bo-o-o-ing! She remains throughout the movie merely a pair of big tits. For all Rothman’s nods in the direction of women’s liberation, no attempt is made (if you want to get heavy about all this) to raise her consciousness, nor that of the pig kid; yet both are viewed as interesting, OK people.

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Review: Little Cigars

[Originally published in Movietone News 30, March 1974]

Far be it from American-International to leave off supplying product, however hackneyed, until the last gasp is wrung from audience and genre alike; so in Little Cigars we have still another of those unstable meldings of comedy and crime, with a bit of violence thrown in. This low-budget late entry has a couple of extra things going for it, though. Curiosity value, above all. The titular Little Cigars, it turns out, are a troupe of midgets. In both senses of the word, they perform the genre’s customary capers. And a good thing, too. It would be hard to find in what goes on around these “little people” onscreen anything you might call a performance, exactly—least of all from full-size thesp and leading lady Angel Tompkins, though she does try her goodnatured best and has ample natural endowments for her stock floozy role as Cleo.

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Review: The Exorcist

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

by Gregory Dean Way

Two priests chant “The power of Christ compels you!” as the possessed child floats in the air above her bed. The shot is a static one, both visually and behaviorally, one of the few inert moments in a film full of forward energy: The child remains rigid, resistant to the droning incantation. Paradoxically, it is at this most static moment that The Exorcist hints at truly coming alive as a worthwhile experience, by suggesting the agony of endurance that its symbolic battle of good against evil requires. However, one’s hopeful expectations go unfulfilled: The child gravitates downward far too soon; the potential for truly subjective, protracted participation by the viewer in the elemental confrontation of this two-hour picture is cast aside (one suspects because of the filmmakers’ fear of an impatient, negative viewer response to unfamiliar, nonlinear film experience). That The Exorcist should cast aside (i.e., spend so little time developing) one of its thematically most significant moments, yet sum to overkill its moments of more cretinously comprehensible shock, is a telling comment on the locus of Friedkin and Blatty’s concerns.

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Review: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

“Hey look, it floats!” cries Duddy Kravitz, from the bathtub. Duddy’s fellow Jew and fellow admirer of the bathtub buoyancy phenomenon, the diffident Leopold Bloom, luxuriated in a fantasy of himself lying, at the end of the day, “laved in a womb of warmth,” gazing at his limp member—a “languid floating flower.” Duddy, antihero of the Canadian Film Development Corporation’s almost-$1-million gamble, the poor urban Jew as 19-year-old Pischer, simply grins at his girl and points at his Putz. Yet float he does, Canada’s crass Duddy, no less than classic Bloom; and although he’d probably be the last one in the world to appreciate it, arch-individualist that he is, what gets this screen incarnation of Mordecai Richler’s supercharged, driven young Montreal “comer” aloft immediately and keeps it there is … teamwork. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is a movie full of brilliant things—sharp dialogue, “star” and ”cameo” performances, fluent camerawork, period accuracy—that don’t call attention to themselves. Credit for this, surely, goes to director Ted Kotcheff. With his editor, he establishes from the start exactly that brisk, behavioral rhythm best suited to Duddy’s galvanic personality and to the story of the Kravitz apprenticeship in ruthlessness. The crux of Richard Dreyfuss’s great title performance is the quick take. Kotcheff makes the camera very fast on the uptake, too; it’s as simple as that. The result: we get caught up, willynilly, in Duddy’s own metabolism. The instant Duddy picks up on something—a facial expression, a gesture, some remark that cuts both ways—we get a quick look at Dreyfuss’s face; we catch his hair-trigger response; and Kotcheff cuts away. More often than not, that ends the scene. Goddam! I caught him, he cheats at gin rummy, my dad—the shyster! Cut away. Oh, I get it: he’s pimping! A burst of delighted laughter; cut away. Ha! what he’s doing over there, he’s masturbating, the phony, that Irwin! These quick takes and cutaways express Duddy’s quicksilver native intelligence, and more: his appetite for life, and his capacity to be surprised—to learn.

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Review: That’s Entertainment

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

There is a group of films which are meant to be entertaining, are seldom noteworthy, and are usually G-rated. They can be termed entertainment films and customarily offer nothing for something. It is their habit to stay clear of anything that anyone might consider controversial. So extreme is this fear of controversy that they often end up virtually without content. Technical expertise is not generally one of their assets…. With all this on the debit side, it’s surprising that they ever succeed. But successful entertainment films of a special variety were turned out by one studio with remarkable consistency. The studio was MGM. The special films were musicals. To succeed where others failed, MGM had a formula involving two basic elements: use the best talent available, both in front of and behind the camera.

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States of Siege

[Originally published in Movietone News 34, August 1974]

by Albert F. Nussbaum

I’m a contentious SOB. I’d rather knock you down than walk around you. However, if someone else knocked you down first, I’d probably pause long enough to help you up, brush you off, and tell the next man in line that you’re not a bad guy. A paradox? Sure it is, but if you’ve reached the age of puberty you should know that life isn’t always fair, and action and reaction aren’t always logical even when they are sincere.

This may explain why I’m writing about State of Siege, though. After reading critiques that found fault with its intellectual, artistic, and political content, I finally saw the film and wasn’t particularly troubled by these things. In fact, I liked it. Very much. I thought it was a good film and I hope the next guy who comes along doesn’t knock it unfairly.

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Review: L’Invitation

[Originally published in Movietone News 35, September 1974]

A despicable type, this M. Alfred Lamel, un vrai p’tit prick. Lamel (Jean Champion) is assistant manager of the small office whose members are invited to a housewarming party by one of their coworkers. A prissily mustachioed, self-important, touchy, puritanical little man, he’s also efficiently sealed off from any threat of real human contact. What finally surprised me about Claude Goretta’s L’Invitation—and a few more surprises along the way wouldn’t have hurt this rather slow-moving Franco-Swiss movie at all—was that Lamel, le salaud, came closer to engaging my interest, my sympathy, even, than any of the other carefully assorted characters “unmasked” during the escalating anarchy of the party. Since even Lamel is something of a stick figure, I’m a bit puzzled by the critics’ fondness for the adjective “Renoiresque” in describing Goretta’s rather too neat little film. In Lamel’s character, as in none of the others, I found a trace of that Renoiresque freshness and unpredictability otherwise drained off almost entirely by Goretta into the admittedly fetching star turn delivered by François Simon (Michel’s richly talented son) as a mysteriously smiling, omniscient barman hired specially for the occasion.

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Review: The Terminal Man

[Originally published in Movietone News 34, August 1974]

What a fancy exploitation flick this is! The Terminal Man‘s dressed to the nines with gleaming color, elaborate art direction, smooth camerawork (lotsa tracking shots and long-focus). All this, and—wait for it—”ideas” too! Oh, yeah. THRILLER STUDIES MIND CONTROL goes the headline over Michael Walsh’s long, respectful review in the Vancouver Province. (Walsh: “Since men first began clubbing one another over the head, violence has been a serious social problem….”) George Segal’s brain has been damaged in a car accident, see, and now he’s subject to fits, a dangerous man. They gonna plant these bad bundles of computer-controlled electrodes in his haid; maybe the computer’ll abort the fits. The Psychosurgery Question. In the back of the lecture hall, a very old doctor rises to his feet. Why, he’s … Mr. Humanism personified! Denounces the proposed procedure, the intervention, in a furious quavery voice; draws political parallels. Heavy stuff. But They (with the patient’s consent) go ahead. “Medical totalitarianism” (Walsh). Result: “a tale of psycho-horror.” Because something, of course, goes wrong, terribly wrong.

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