[Originally published in The Weekly (Seattle), October 30, 1979]
Cinema comes so naturally to some filmmakers. Bernardo Bertolucci once revealed that he dreamed camera movements years before laying hands on a camera. But even without this confessional nudge, his aptitude for the medium, his kinesthetic thrall with luminosity, surfaces, colors, trajectories, is apparent in the films he has made. Opera has been a frequent touchstone in his work, existentially and aesthetically, but he doesn’t need it as a brief for grandiosity or vividness of style: it is as natural for Bertolucci to soar as it is for others to walk.
[Originally published in Movietone News 23, May-June 1973]
The spectre of Blake Edwards hangs over TheThiefWhoCameto Dinner because two of his frequent collaborators worked on it and because Edwards himself might have made the film go, which Bud Yorkin hasn’t managed to do. Thief cries out for Edwards’s special knack of imparting a combined sense of cool, elegant modernity, subdued emotionality, and unpolemical bitterness that implies a previous history for the characters and a meaningful present-tense context for the generic games being played on screen. Yorkin and his screenwriter Walter Hill (who also worked on Hickeyand Boggs and TheGetaway) can’t decide whether to go for suspense, comedy, or romance (Edwards could have had all three with delirious simultaneity) and end by providing little of each.
[Originally published in Movietone News 35, September 1974]
Our Man in Vancouver and I have been carrying on a (mutually, I trust) enjoyable dialogue-by-mail over the virtues and failings of Mike Hodges’s TheTerminalMan. Some of the failings were set forth in a review heading up last month’s quickies section. As it happened, I encountered the review before the film, and while I don’t wish at all to cast aspersions on a very fine commentary, I must admit that the movie thrilled me a good deal of its running time, to the extent that I feel compelled to file what has become—in the light of still other reviews—a minority report on its behalf. I don’t discount for a moment the possibility—indeed, the likelihood—that Mr. Eisler’s objections might have served as a sort of cadmium rod inserted into the cinematomic pile, catching a lethal dose of oversimplified ideas, narrative inconsistencies, and plot lacunae, and reducing my exposure to them. If so, I’m grateful, because I was then enabled to like what I saw.
[Originally published in Movietone News 34, August 1974]
What a fancy exploitation flick this is! TheTerminal 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.
[Originally published in Movietone News 49, April 1976]
His cowlick is artfully combed and he has the verbal and behavioral tics down pretty good, but there’s so much concentration in the way he sucks his cheeks and pushes his lips out that you begin to think he’s a dental patient waiting for a negligent technician to come back and retrieve the X-ray pads. She doesn’t recall any particular Hollywood blonde of the Thirties, but then again she does manifest some signs of independent life and personality, which can’t be said for his Disneyland robot, however mechanically perfect. It seems pointless to award merits and demerits to Brolin and Clayburgh for not being Gable and Lombard, because only Gable and Lombard were Gable and Lombard, and you can make an honorable try at reconstituting Julius Caesar, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Leonardo da Vinci, Anne Boleyn, Betsy Ross, Emile Zola, Charles Steinmetz, and even Jeanne Eagels or George M. Cohan, but you can’t fake someone whose silver-screen reality is more definitively established than any “real-life” reality ever could be—the medium simply won’t permit it, and God bless the medium! Neither does it make much sense to pretend to tell the story of two entirely made-up creatures whose names just happen to be Gable and Lombard, except maybe in a surrealistic novel—although you can ring in a supporting character, mythical rather than personal, and exploit him as symbol or icon (v. Jerry Lacy’s “Bogart” in Play It Again, Sam—but don’t let him get too close to the actual clips from Casablanca).
[Originally published in Movietone News 58-59, August 1978]
This is the first Paul Mazursky film I’ve really liked. I haven’t seen them all, but what I have thought of Mazursky until now had a lot to do with the kind of people and topics he makes films about,and with his frustratingly ambivalent view toward them. He sees the satirical possibilities in the fads and fancies of the upwardly mobile, hip middle class, and anticipates the audience’s skeptical “What kind of problems could they have?” disposition; yet he also cares very much about these people, and tends to celebrate the same things he satirizes. Nothing wrong in that, certainly: Altman did the same in Nashville. The big differenceâ€”and it dates all the way back to Bob & Carol & Ted & Aliceâ€”isthat what Mazursky sees at the heart of a meaningful existence in contemporary America is ultimately much thinner than what an Altman or a Michael Ritchie sees, and relies chiefly on touchy-feely trends and fads, honestandopen platitudes, nothing with the feel of solid human truth. An Erica Benton, cast off by her husband in any other time but 1978, would likely respond completely differently, seek different solutions to her problems, and behave in a different way. I wonder whether Mazursky would still redeem her, and if he could get away with doing it in the same way.
[Originally published in Movietone News 64-65, March 1980]
Luna is just a word, a magic word, by means of which everyone can project his or her own dream. The moon, of course, is a very rich symbol, but the only reference to it I‘d accept is the simplest one: just as the moon has two faces, so every character and situation in the film has two faces—that which appears and that which is hidden.
—Bernardo Bertolucci in Sight and Sound
Luna is, in a very important sense, a surrealist film which makes use of the stylistic possibilities opened up by Buñuel in the 1960s. Belle de jour, for example, used a basically realistic mise-en-scène for all of its sequences: dreams, fantasies, and flashbacks were permitted to exist on the same plane with everyday experience; no perceptual reality, no level of experience, was treated as more (or less) real than any other. Advancing the surrealist attack on the conventional distinction between dream and reality, Buñuel demonstrated that matter-of-fact realism is much more appropriate than expressionistic exaggeration in presenting the basic validity of surrealist perception.
Luna, in turn, might be viewed as a seamless blend of realistic narrative and surrealist psychology. In Belle de jour, one can still deduce that some scenes are dreams and others are not—though the film’s stylistics render this process comparatively irrelevant. But in Luna, Bertolucci extends this ploy even further: no scene is clearly marked as a fantasy or dream, and none is entirely free of the irrational associations and impulse that we customarily link with the world of dreams. With or without the director’s public statements about the film’s conception springing from his own dreams and memories, Luna‘s events are simultaneously the stuff of dreams and the stuff of realistic drama.