Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Load of Old Tati

Catching up on the holiday viewing.

Jour de Fete: Tati's earliest feature, already showing a lot of his signature themes: the tension of modernity versus tradition (symbolised here by a traveling fair coming to a little French village), the wise-idiot protagonist (though Francois is a more aggressive character than Monsieur Hulot, and more easily seduced by the attractions of modern living), the vast number of small human dramas interweaving within a simple storyline. It's like Playtime for a small town.

Les Vacances de M. Hulot: Largely what it says on the tin: M. Hulot goes to a Breton seaside resort, has a good time, goes home. Though Tati himself points out that there's a more subtle idea working there: everyone else may have an agenda, political, social, economic or otherwise, but Hulot just wants to have a holiday, and so should we all.

Mon Oncle: Back to the tradition/modernity theme, as we get a glimpse of M. Hulot's home life; he lives in gleeful traditional ramshackleness in a rundown but friendly quarter of Paris, while his sister, living in a gleaming but cold new-built suburb, despairs of him.

Parade: Towards the end of his career, Tati did a rather strange film for Swedish television themed, apparently, around the idea of a circus where the audience are participants as much as spectators. The result is car-crash terrible, as it becomes pretty obvious that the audience is salted with acrobats, stuntpeople and magicians early on, most of the acts are either dull or inexplicable (for some reason, a team of acrobats keeps coming on in different costumes and doing very similar bench routines) and other sequences contrived or misjudged (the end of the film has a rather long bit of two small children playing in the circus ring which is supposedly drawing a link between children's play and adult performance but just looks like someone's home movie of their sprogs). Some of Tati's own vaudeville routines are funny, though, and so is one involving an incompetent magician being upstaged by the scene-shifters.

Horse Feathers: Marx Brothers comedy in which Groucho is the head of a university who has to improve its football team in order to keep the institution afloat. The potential of this is unfortunately largely wasted, plus there's a tedious attempt to plug what the studio clearly intended to be a hit single. There's also a strange bit about Harpo having a job as a dog-catcher which is never really paid off. Still funny, though, with jokes about speakeasies (during Prohibition, naturally) and polygamy which have a pre-Hayes Code cheery wickedness.

Monkey Business: Patchy Marx Brothers comedy, let down by an attempt at working in a serious gangster story and a romantic subplot for Zeppo, though the early scenes in which they stow away on a transatlantic liner in four barrels are really quite funny.

Duck Soup: My favourite Marx Brothers comedy-- no romances for Zeppo (polygamous or otherwise), no attempt at a serious or dramatic story-- just the black humour which results from Groucho becoming dictator of a small country and Chico and Harpo being employed as spies by his political rival.

Blithe Spirit: Noel Coward fantasy sex-comedy, in which a man is haunted by the spirit of his dead wife. Very funny, and hugely influential on pretty much any film/TV series involving a character being followed by an invisible companion.

Gideon of the Yard: 1950s detective piece. The story and characters are fairly weak and stodgily patriarchal, but this is still worth the time for the delightful location shots of postwar London-- bomb sites, tenements, Fitzrovia and all-- and the candid period detail, e.g. the problem of unlicensed Soho clubs.

Idiocracy: Two average people, frozen for 500 years, wake to discover a world in which the average IQ has dropped to submoronic levels and they are now the smartest people on the planet. This leads to a surprisingly biting satire of corporate control and the way in which businesses will sabotage their own survival in pursuit of short-term profits. It's a lot of fun.

The Outrage: Inexplicably overlooked 1964 remake of Rashomon as a cowboy movie; as with a lot of Kurosawa, the translation reads well, and it's more or less done straight (for the curious, an Indian shaman takes the role of the medium). A young unknown called William Shatner plays the town's preacher and does it well.

The First Men in the Moon: 1960s film of Wells' novel. The Harryhausen effects are good, and it has the rather optimistic (for the early 1960s) idea that the first modern moon landing would be a UN expedition (including people from both sides of the Iron Curtain). The script is let down, firstly, by the clearly studio-driven need to include a female character as well as the two male ones in Wells' story, meaning that one character out of the three inevitably winds up being sidelined at various points in the action, secondly by the fact that the storyline of Bedford's villainy never gets an onscreen resolution (it's implied that his girlfriend dumped him after the moon landing, presumably fed up with his financial shenanigans, but we never actually find out the specifics), and thirdly by some rather unnecessary anti-working-class material. Plus some of the slapstick is a little annoying. Still worth it for the rather cute Selenites.

Movie count for 2012: 66