Movie Diary 3/9/2009

chalice

Palance with Mayo, and extra cheese

The Silver Chalice (Victor Saville, 1954). Paul Newman’s debut, and his big punchline about his career. It’s as bad as its reputation, although the Boris Leven-designed sets are as stylized as the backgrounds of a Fifties Warners cartoon, and Jack Palance is firmly in the Palance Zone as a sorcerer who believes he will be the new Jesus and thus able to fly. He also wears a skintight, Riddler-esque leotard and cape — kinda makes you think Newman didn’t have so much to be embarrassed about.

Rachel, Rachel (Paul Newman, 1968). Joanne Woodward is so often described in respectful tones you can forget how good she really is. And she’s very good in Newman’s directing debut, which has an air of the Sixties artifact about it but remains a fine effort all ’round. And seeing James Olson again begs the question: whatever happened to James Olson?

The Betrayal (Ellen Kuras and Thavi Phrasavath, 2008). Sorry, Man on Wire, I like you a lot, but the documentary Oscar probably should’ve gone to this one. (full review 3/13)

holy21The Holy Mountain (Dr. Arnold Fanck, 1926). Leni Riefenstahl and Luis Trenker (both future filmmakers themselves) star in this amazing-looking silent, an early example of the “Bergfilme,” spectacularly shot in the Alps and mixing up German ideas of The Sublime with Leni’s crazy modern dance. When it’s in the mountains, which is most of the time, it’s pretty enthralling.

Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, 1935). There is much to say about Riefenstahl, and I will try to say some of it in a lecture later this month (click here for details). In looking around the Internet for reviews, I was amazed to find a general note of dismissiveness about this terrifying film, as though this bygone era is a cute phase we couldn’t possibly imagine happening again. And by the way, any critic who describes this movie as “dull” is someone who does not see movies on the level of film-as-film.

Sunshine Cleaning (Christine Jeffs, 2009). A New Zealand director who’s done some interesting stuff (Rain and Sylvia) goes for a bit of Americana — and comes admirably close to the humane vibe of early Demme: Handle with Care, for instance (although maybe that’s because there’s a CB radio in this film). (full review 3/20)

The Last House on the Left (Dennis Iliadis, 2009). Plots of Seventies drive-in exploitation pictures do not belong in well-photographed, professionally-produced receptacles. (full review 3/13)