strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I saw both of these with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan as a New Year's Eve double-bill at the Hyde Park Picture House yesterday, from our favourite seats on the left-hand side of the balcony.


45. Some Like It Hot (1959), dir. Billy Wilder

First of all, it does have to be acknowledged that this one particular film probably bears about 90% of the responsibility for the transphobic myth that trans women are really just straight dudes who want to infiltrate women-only spaces and ogle cis women. It didn't invent that idea, and nor is it now necessarily the direct cause of most people absorbing it, but it is a major theme of the film, and must surely have given it a very big cultural boost. So I think it's important to say that whenever talking about this film, as a small way of helping to chip away at the real-world potency of that very damaging myth. On a similar note, I also found the scenes in which Tony Curtis' character, in persona as Shell Oil Junior, coerces Sugar into sex by pretending to be sexually unresponsive and in need of 'help' to fix him pretty gross as well. I get that disguise and deceit are ancient staples of romantic comedies, and never more so than in this one, but she was totally into his Shell Oil Junior character anyway. She would very obviously have willingly and enthusiastically have had sex with him without that extra layer of lies and manipulation, so to me they broke through the romantic comedy genre conventions and out into some distinctly rapey territory.

But I am perfectly capable of separating out those things from the rest of the film in my mind, and seeing it for the of-its-time romantic musical comedy it is meant to be. As a star vehicle for Monroe it is magnificent, with her performance of "I Wanna Be Loved By You" capturing her appeal perfectly. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are perfectly paired as the two protagonists, the Chicago gangsters are brilliant, the music is great, the physical farce fantastic and the witty dialogue to die for. Plus, for all my reservations above, I also think that by showing male characters experiencing male treatment of women at first hand, and by including scenes with strong homosexual overtones (both lesbian ones between Sugar and Curtis-as-Josephine and the famous "Well, nobody's perfect" ending between Osgood and Lemmon-as-Jerry), it probably helped to achieve some social steps forwards as well as backwards. So, if the movie isn't perfect either, that doesn't mean it isn't still a great watch.


46. The Apartment (1960), dir. Billy Wilder

Part two of the double-bill was the next year's follow-up movie from the same production team, which brought back Jack Lemmon as the leading man. It's still a comedy, and starts out looking for all the world like a farce, but it has a dark undertone from the beginning, because of the way it portrays sleazy executives laughing it up together as they coldly conduct affairs in Lemmon's character's apartment, and him conniving in it for the sake of material promotion, while at the same time being very obviously strung along and exploited himself. Then, half-way through, the darkness bursts violently to the surface when one executive's to-him-casual (but to her serious) fling attempts suicide in the apartment. The overall arc is actually very moralistic - Lemmon discovers his moral compass and is rewarded with True Love, the chief sleazy executive gets his come-uppance, and the young lady (Miss Kubelik) rediscovers her sense of self-worth. But gosh, you do get put through the wringer along the way.

This made it a good second film for the double-bill, though. It felt a little more 'cerebral' than Some Like It Hot (if that's quite the right word), which worked well for its early evening slot once you'd been warmed up by the comedy first. It was certainly more moving, anyway - I found myself sniffing back tears as the end credits rolled, which you just wouldn't get from Some Like It Hot (unless, of course, Chicago mobsters had killed your grandmother, you insensitive clod). But it has in common with the other film all those classic qualities of slick pacing, seemingly effortless photography and of course a brilliant cast. Though his character isn't very nice, I actually thought Fred MacMurray was absolutely brilliant as Sleazy Executive Mr. Sheldrake, hitting that perfect note between oiliness and plausible charm which seems to be so characteristic of American Presidents (Nixon and Regan particularly spring to mind). It is essential to the whole plot that we should be able to believe Miss Kubelik might attempt suicide over him while simultaneously being able to see that he's a schmuck, so MacMurray had an important job to do there, and did it really well. I'd like to see more stuff with him in now on that basis. I also loved both the characterisation and the performances for the two Jewish neighbours, Dr. and Mrs. Dreyfuss - relatively small roles (especially hers), but ones which felt very human and three-dimensional al the same.

While Some Like It Hot has fun playing up the glamour of the 1920s jazz age, The Apartment is now just as fascinating for being set in its contemporary present day. I particularly enjoyed seeing how large-scale corporate office culture might have operated in 1960s America, complete with lobbies, elevators, desk diaries, rotary card index files, calculating machines and telephone exchanges. And I liked the insights into Lemmon's bachelor life-style as well, which was so close to and yet not quite the same as its equivalent today - frozen meals for heating up in the oven rather than microwave meals, a TV remote-control unit with a dial on it fixed to his table, and of course the time-honoured pokey apartment for one. In less cheery news from the 1960s, though, I was disquieted to realise that Miss Kubelik is obviously at risk of getting into trouble with the law for having attempted suicide, so that the whole thing has to be hushed up. We have moved beyond that, suicide-wise, in both the US and UK since, but that is still exactly where we are with drugs, leaving addicts unable to seek help for fear of punishment (not to mention at risk from unregulated products), and it's about damned time we sorted that out.

Back to The Apartment(!), it also turned out to be a Christmas / New Year film, which I guess was yet another reason (on top of release-date chronology and the tonal move from pure comedy to black comedy) why it needed to be the second half of the double bill. Miss Kubelik makes her suicide attempt on Christmas Eve, spends a few days recovering at Jack Lemmon's apartment, and then finally dumps her Sleazy Executive in favour of him on New Year's Eve. Not quite the Christmas-to-New-Year experience I would wish on anyone in reality, but still in its own way something to get us in the mood for our own NYE celebrations which followed.

Films watched 2014 round-up )

And now I believe it is time to get started on my films watched in 2015. :-)

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strange_complex: (La Dolce Vita Trevi)
This is the sequel to The Rich Are Different, which I reviewed here and which translates the story of Julius Caesar's dictatorship and death, followed by Octavian's rise to power, to the finance houses of New York in the 1920s and '30s. This second volume takes up a few years after the last left off, and follows events equivalent to those which happened in ancient Rome between 23 and 2 BC - or, in the story, between 1949 and the late 1960s. It is long and complex, running over more than 600 pages and with six sections each narrated by a different point of view character: Sam Keller (Agrippa), Alicia (Livia), Cornelius (Augustus), Sebastian (Tiberius), Scott (Iullus Antonius) and finally Vicky Van Zale (Julia). We learn a great deal about all of them, not to mention many others, and there are multiple sub-plots, emotional crises and personal revelations along the way. I'm not going to try to summarise the whole thing, but will instead concentrate on how it works as a (loose) Augustus novel, and as a reception of Roman history.

I will start, though, by mapping out how the characters in this novel match up to their Roman equivalents )

Cornelius / Augustus: public success and private unhappiness )

Vicky / Julia: finding happiness in a parallel universe )

Howatch's historical and literary canvass )

All in all, then, I was extremely impressed with this novel, just as I was with its predecessor. Its approach to the basic Augustus-story at its heart may be more or less conventional, but only within a pretty small pool of novels or screen portrayals which attempt to do this at all. Meanwhile, the translation to the world of New York banking loosens the tie to its historical foundations just enough to give Howatch room to do some interesting and original things with the source-material, while the wide range of historical and literary allusions develop the story considerably further. In fact, that aspect of the book reminded me sometimes of the way Diana Wynne Jones uses similar material, such as the story of Tam Lin in Fire and Hemlock or Donne's poem about a falling star in Howl's Moving Castle. In short, there is rather more to this novel than the family saga story which most of the internet seems to have it down as, and I am looking forward to putting this review on my real-name blog to help balance out that impression.

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strange_complex: (Fred shall we dance)
I saw this film a few weeks ago with [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau and [livejournal.com profile] biascut, when I went to Manchester to give a talk at the JACT AGM. I also read the book four years ago, and and thought it was pretty good.

Much of the media conversation at the time this film came out seemed to run along the lines of "Oh, The Great Gatsby is one of the great unfilmable novels! Has Luhrmann succeeded where others have failed?" etc. But to be honest, I don't actually see what is supposedly so unfilmable about it anyway. The fact that it's written in the first person? The fact that Jay Gatsby's character is revealed piecemeal and that we have to work our way through a lot of distorted images before we get near to the real man? Plenty of other novels present the same problems, and plenty of other film-makers have dealt with them quite adeptly.

This film seemed to capture the feel of the novel perfectly adequately, handling the first-person narrative via a 'book-end' scenario of Nick Carraway relating his experiences to a psychiatrist and a few voice-overs, and the slow revealing of Jay Gatsby via - shock horror! - presenting him at a remove in the early scenes, and having several characters talk about him before he himself enters the narrative. But I never really expected anything other than that this novel would make a good subject for a film. Maybe if I'd seen some of the other film versions which have been made of it, I'd be clearer about the potential problems.

Anyway, going beyond the 'filming the great unfilmable novel' narrative, I certainly enjoyed this film visually. Lavish party scenes are Baz Luhrmann's big thing, and he did them well - although given how much I like 1920s jazz music, I rather wish he'd just used it, rather than being oh-so-terribly-clever by using equivalent modern music instead. The Valley of Ashes looked almost exactly as I had imagined it when I read the book, which was nice, and I particularly enjoyed the rich little vignettes of New York city life which we see through a series of windows as Nick Carraway is looking out from the balcony of the apartment where Tom and Myrtle conduct their secret affair. We saw the film in 2D, which was perfectly good, but I could very much see how a lot of it had been set up to be really pretty mind-blowing when seen in 3D.

The performances were generally good too, including Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby. I'd had my doubts about that beforehand, but to be honest I haven't really seem him in anything much since Titanic (to the extent that I barely recognised him physically as the same man in this film), and he seems to have grown into an actor capable of carrying off this type of role better than I would previously have given him credit for. But somehow the film as a whole came across as competent and solid, rather than memorable and exciting. The only identifiable reason I can give for feeling disappointed with it is the pacing - particularly the fact that Gatsby emerged as a clear and distinct character rather faster than he does in the novel, and hence lost his mystique rather too quickly. That doesn't seem quite enough reason to have come away feeling so meh-ish about it, but it's all I got.

I was looking out for Roman references of course, given the link between the original novel and Petronius' Satyricon - though as I've said before, I didn't find it a very profound link when I read it. In any case, Luhrmann chose not to do very much with this at all, which is obviously a pity from my point of view. I did spot the bust of a Roman empire in Jay Gatsby's house, but it wasn't quite on screen for long enough for me to tell whether it was Augustus or Trajan, making it a little difficult to comment on what it might add to the story (though there are certainly potential resonances between Gatsby and either of those emperors). But other than that, nothing.

What was fun, though, was seeing this film so shortly after having been to New York myself, and especially after spending most of my time there with my nose buried in archives dating from the late 1930s. OK, so that's some 15 years after The Great Gatsby is set, and the other side of the Great Depression, but from where we're sitting now it is not a huge difference. There is one particular character from my archives, an Italian ex-pat calling himself Conte Luigi Criscuolo (heaven knows how legitimate the title was), who had set himself up as a financial adviser on Wall Street and was clearly living a life of considerable luxury in the late 1930s involving an out-of-town house, a private secretary etc. What would really make him fit right into the world of The Great Gatsby, though, was his self-obsession, arrogant flaunting of high social connections and tendency to take great offence at anyone who disagreed with or overlooked him in any way. There are some fantastic letters from him in the archives of the American Numismatic Society and Metropolitan Museum of Art which combine pomposity, affront and pointed politeness in a way that would have seemed entirely at home amongst the pages of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel. It's a pity the film itself didn't crackle with quite the same sense of character.

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Ook!

Thursday, 5 May 2005 12:53
strange_complex: (Penelope Pitstop)
Apparently, the UK consulate in New York has been bombed. (Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] rentaghost31 for the tip-off). Nothing too serious, but erk!

It's fairly obviously election-related, but I suppose in a way we can be paradoxically reassured. It suggests that whoever is behind it (presumably al-Qaeda or similar) doesn't have operatives capable of doing the same in the UK itself, and, at least on this occasion, wasn't able to mount a particularly effective attack.

I mean, these are still only small comforts, but you know... I'm just sorry that the attackers obviously do have operatives in the US.

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