1976: 7 movies

posted 2015 October 30

Take the 5:10 to Dreamland
Directed by Bruce Conner
Music by Patrick Gleeson

   Short and chock-full of mystery. Conner continues mesmerizing with his medium of found movie-clips set to music. The music is a fabulous mesh of nature sounds, eerie long, drawn-out synth notes, and silence. This time the structure of the image-sequencing creates the feeling of a story, a mystery, a thriller. Suspense builds as we notice the random-feel of the images chosen, and as we realize how strange our world seems when we step back a pace to look at it. Our world appears strange yet simple, but also miraculously vast and awe-inspiring. In the end, this movie is more of a fantastic poem than a cheap murder mystery. It's amazing how such meaning and feeling can be evoked simply from searching for, choosing, and sequencing clips.

Ai no korîda
Written and directed by Nagisa Ôshima
Produced by Anatole Dauman
Music by Minoru Miki
Cinematography by Hideo Itô
Editing by Patrick Sauvion and Keiichi Uraoka
Production design by Shigemasa Toda
Set decor by Jusho Toda
Costume design by Masahiro Katô and Shigemasa Toda
Special effects by Terumi Hosoishi and Isao Nishimura
Starring Eiko Matsuda and Tatsuya Fuji

   It's about extremes, and it stays true to its theme, no matter how gruesome the result. For that reason alone this movie deserves respect. But there is much more on top of that. Its graphic depiction of sex was ground-breaking, and still thrilling, blurring the line between pornography and art. What keeps it firmly in the art-realm is actually how the excessiveness of the nudity and sex mirrors the excessiveness of sex in the lives of the main characters. That is the main theme, but there is also the search for meaning, love, and romanticism through sex and violence. I was forced out of my comfort-zone and into a reconsideration of my own limits and definitions of love and reality.
   The title translates from the Japanese to "Bullfight of Love".

Mikey and Nicky
Written and directed by Elaine May
Produced by Michael Hausman
Music by John Strauss 
Cinematography by Bernie Abramson, Lucien Ballard,
Jack Cooperman, Jerry File,
and Victor J. Kemper
Editing by John Carter and Sheldon Kahn 
Production design by Paul Sylbert 
Set decor by John P. Austin 
Costumes by Richard Bruno
Starring Peter Falk and John Cassavetes

   It's fun because of how great the actors are, all of them, from the lead duo to all the bit parts. And they're not the kind of great where they just look good and they read the script in a believable way. Rather, it feels as if the actors are having real conversations, actually goofing around, really appreciating each other, and really fighting. It works because the movie is about love. The actors go off on tangents of improvisation, which gives an exciting feeling to the viewer, as if we are watching two dancing tight-rope walkers. The script is fun because it all takes place in one night which promotes the exciting rhythm. It shifts from paranoid suspense movie, to comedic buddy movie, to emotionally rich drama about friendship. The greatest thing about the movie is that it gives us decisions, for example the decision of who we should trust. It does this multiple times, never letting us know until the last moment who is going to do what, as if the characters are just figuring it out for themselves. It's the epitome of a "present" movie.

The Front
Directed by Martin Ritt
Written by Walter Bernstein
Produced by Martin Ritt
Music by Dave Grusin
Cinematography by Michael Chapman
Editing by Sidney Levin
Art direction by Charles Bailey
Set decor by Robert Drumheller
Costumes by Ruth Morley
Starring Woody Allen, Zero Mostel,
Andrea Marcovicci, and Michael Murphy

   Walking a fine line between comedy, tragedy, and triumphant drama, the movie builds beautifully a true-to-history scenario of twenty years before, when people in television were persecuted for their political beliefs and even their associating with people of a certain political persuasion. There is some wonderful comedy about a man pretending to be a great TV writer, and there is some fun suspense about fronting for blacklisted writers, but the real strength comes in the court-room scene when the protagonist faces a serious decision about saving himself, saving others, and clinging to a little bit respect. The bonus comes with the credits when we see that the actual director, writer, and some of the actors of this movie were themselves actually blacklisted. This really hammers home the reality and mad cruelty that the movie seeks to convey. 
   The star, Woody Allen, while known at the time mostly as a comedian, television star, and director of screwball slapstick comedies was in the midst of transforming himself into one of our finest directors of quality cinema. This role is probably his most touching, his most fully realized, and his greatest. In short, it's a gem of movie for its celebration of the best of humanity in times of trial.

Plaisir d'amour en Iran
Written and directed by Agnès Varda  
Cinematography by Nurith Aviv and Charles Van Damme
Editing by Sabine Mamou 
Reciting by Thérèse Liotard

   A rapturous collage of classical Persian architecture, set to music. The way the camera moves to scan the structures, the fountains, pools, gardens, houses, mosques, and paintings, it feels like a lover caressing a body. It's literally tantalizing, and part of the reason is because of the wonderful pieces chosen. The title translates from French to "Pleasure of love in Iran".

Next Stop, Greenwich Village
Written and directed by Paul Mazursky
Produced by Paul Mazursky and Anthony Ray
Music by Bill Conti
Cinematography by Arthur J. Ornitz
Editing by Richard Halsey
Production Design by Philip Rosenberg ... (as Phil Rosenberg)
 Set decor by Edward Stewart
Costumes by Albert Wolsky, Peggy Farrell,
and Max Soloman
Music by Paul Desmond and Cliff Kohlweck
Starring Lenny Baker, Shelley Winters,
Ellen Greene, Christopher Walken,
and Antonio Fargas

   It takes place in the 1950s, and the cinematography actually looks like it was done in the 50s. It's a colorful tale of a young man who leaves his cloying parents and tries to make it as an actor. His hip friends, his inspiring classes, his relationships, and his part-time job clash with his oft-visiting parents who just want him to give up and remain a boy. The lead actor is given plenty of room to show his wide range, and there are dream-interludes that clue us into his character's psychological struggles. We feel the stress of life in New York City, the joy, and the nostalgia of long-gone days. In sum, it's a very humorous and deep glimpse of the painful choices of which life is made up.

Escape from Alcatraz
Directed by Don Siegel
Written by Richard Tuggle
Produced by Don Siegel
Music by Jerry Fielding
Cinematography by Bruce Surtees
Editing by Ferris Webster
Production design by Allen E. Smith
Starring Clint Eastwood

   Tense celebration of human dignity, ingenuity. Clint Eastwood is the stoic but charismatic focus of our attention in this prison adventure story. The movie takes its cues from "Un condamné à mort s'est échappé" (1956), and so that movie is greater. But this one is based on true events, and its direction, editing, and acting are all on board for quality entertainment, that's how it has achieved longevity.

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