1977: 5 movies

posted 2015 October 31

Opening Night
Written and directed by John Cassavetes 
Produced by Al Ruban
Music by Bo Harwood 
Cinematography by Al Ruban 
Editing by Tom Cornwell 
Production design by Bryan Ryman 
Art direction by Brian Ryman 
Costume Design by Aleka Corwin
Wardrobe by Charles Akins and Miles Ciletti
Music by Lee Houskeeper and Booker T. Jones
Starring Gena Rowlands, John Cassavetes,
Zohra Lampert, Laura Johnson
Ben Gazzara, Joan Blondell,
and John Tuell

   This movie's chief element is that it always eludes intellectual understanding. It starts off obscuring the difference between reality and performance. It then goes into hero worship, then into sexism, ageism, and alcoholism. There are moments when we think the movie is about acting, but other times it seems like it's about alcoholism, schizophrenia, and spirits of the dead coming back to haunt us. It's a massive undertaking, where we are never quite sure what is scripted by the movie, what is scripted by the play which the movie is about, what is being improvised by the actors in the play, and what is improvised by the actors in the movie. Yes, it's that mind-boggling! To achieve this Jungian epic, director John Cassavetes proves himself a genius, but so do the set directors, the cinematographer, the actors, and the editor. There is no actor on earth, besides Gena Rowlands, that could so embody the movie with all of its tangents, its manic mood-shifts from tragedy to drunkenness to comedy, who could come across as so real no matter what, and still keep a central core to her character. By the end, we are relieved as the cast and crew of the play, and we feel honored to have witnessed Rowlands' offering up of herself to us through art.

Annie Hall
Directed by Woody Allen 
Written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman
Produced by Charles H. Joffe and Jack Rollins
Cinematography by Gordon Willis
Editing by Wendy Greene Bricmont and Ralph Rosenblum
Art direction by Mel Bourne 
Set decor by Robert Drumheller and Justin Scoppa Jr. 
Costumes by Ruth Morley 
Wardrobe by Ralph Lauren
Starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton,
Tony Roberts, Carol Kane,
and Shelley Duvall

   Woody Allen's ascent in the ranks of cinema continues here with a real whopper. Blending comedy, biography, and dramatic love-story, we get the feeling as if we are audience to a travelling story-teller, joke-teller, magician, and healer. Using every cinematic tool at his disposal, including talking directly at the camera, animation, time-travel, stand-up, celebrity cameos, and subtitles, Allen weaves a tale about his childhood, his fears, his loves, and his weaknesses, that strikes a nerve in all of us for how personal it convinces us it is. The structure of the movie which is non-chronological but more round-about, meandering, and conversational, ends up being the perfect sequencing, for how it closes on a pitch-perfect emotional impact. Yes, so many of the jokes are very funny, but they achieve their power, really, because of how fleshed-out the characters are, and because they seem to arise from the situations, and because they are uttered so casually, pointing out that 
   It's somehow fun, funny, smart, and heart-breaking, all at once.

Desperate Living
Written, directed, and produced
by John Waters
Music by Chris Lobingier and Allen Yarus
Cinematography by Thomas Loizeaux and John Waters
Editing by Charles Roggero
Art direction by Vincent Peranio
Costumes by Van Smith
Hair by Christine Mason
Makeup by Van Smith
Starring Liz Renay, Mink Stole,
Susan Lowe, Edith Massey,
Mary Vivian Pearce, and Jean Hill

   The acting, sets, and special effects are all unimpressive at best, poorly done at worst. The story is so far-fetched, and the characters are so over-the-top that it seems almost perfectly bad. So, I continue to watch for the surprise of it all, and for the sense that maybe it was purposefully made this  way, that maybe there is a point to its style. The raunchiness throughout ties the hot mess all together in a spirit of joyful rebellion. Watching it at times is very difficult because of how full of human ugliness it is, and how unromanticized it all is. It dances to the beat of an Alejandro Jodorowsky movie, and yet the fact that it is an American production seems all the more shocking and rebellious. But underneath all the thick, slimy skin of shouty-acting and vomitous vulgarity, there is a strong allegorical core of freedom and anti-establishmentarianism.

3 Women
Written, directed, and produced
by Robert Altman
Original Music by Gerald Busby 
Cinematography by Charles Rosher Jr.
Editing by Dennis M. Hill
Art direction by James Dowell Vance
Hair styles by Kaye Pownall
Makeup by Monty Westmore
Murals by Bodhi Wind
Wardrobe by Jules Melillo
Starring Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek

   One of the spookiest movies on this list, and yet it's hypnotizingly good. It's about loneliness and trying to make friends in a coldly indifferent world. The lead actors, Spacek and Duvall, are phenomenal as two young women from Texas who find themselves outsiders as outsiders in California. As the stress of trying to fit in increases, the women switch gears from friends to rivals to twins to mother and daughter. That's part of what makes the movie so spooky: the script gradually loses its reasonably grounding and fades into nightmarish psychology and myth. Helping to course the way is the godawful creepy soundtrack, the angry primal artwork, and the way the chipper girls clash with an empty and silent world.
   At the core of the movie is the psychological state of the two protagonists. We never really know figure out who they are, or how they are going to behave. Our intellect yearns for easy predictable patterns, but the movie moves to the beat its own drum, stretching our definition of personality, or else trying to break it down. Despite the mind-aching fear we experience while witnessing the fluidity of the two lead personalities, we feel there is an underlying truth to the story. For example, we recognize the truth of how thin and fragile a thing like a sweet personality is, and we recognize the truth in the madness that a merciless and mocking world can incite. Altman's work in overlapping multiple conversations increases the reality and confusion of the highly stylized but horrifying world.

The World's Greatest Lover
Written, directed, and produced
by Gene Wilder
Cinematography by Gerald Hirschfeld 
Editing by Anthony A. Pellegrino 
Production design by Terence Marsh
Art direction by Steven P. Sardanis
Set decor by John Franco Jr. 
Costumes by Ruth Myers 
Makeup by William Tuttle
Music by John Morris, Gene Wilder,
and Harry Nilsson
Starring Gene Wilder and Carol Kane

   An average couple is under pressure by their dreams of being great, their trip to Hollywood bring them within reach of their dreams but threatens their love. It's a simple story, but it's passionately acted by the two leads. All the quirky humor, some of which hits and some which misses, keeps it fun, as do several of the supporting roles, the sets, the lighting, and the music. It's fun especially to feel transported to the world of 1920s movie-making. Some parts drag and seem like they should have been cut, but there's enough here in look and feel, and in the themes that keep it in the realm of important movies to watch.

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