Thursday, July 08, 2004

The Movie I Watched Last Night LXXXIX

You know you're the kind of member Netflix makes money off of when you still haven't watched DVD's they sent you in January and March. This past week I cleaned house -- and cleaned up my queue. I can't keep sitting on discs like that!

Monday: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Without the syrupy sentimentality of Miracle on 34th Street, which I've always likened to this for some reason, Frank Capra's 1939 film is a wonderful comedy, as well as a period, positively patriotic piece. James Stewart's lead is a humbly heroic American icon, the epitome of the Boy Scouts, Grit magazine, and Tom Sawyer. His blend of country bumpkin naivete and honest respect for what the United States' political system was founded on is a welcome reminder of what America could -- and should -- be. Likewise, Jean Arthur's embittered Hill career girl acts as a fun foil, irritating slightly in the boozy interlude with Thomas Mitchell, but delighting as her love of Jefferson Smith develops. In the end, several elements help this film really resonate: the toothsome grin of Smith's idealist boy supporters, his samizdat sidestep of mainstream media with the four-page paper Boy Stuff, the scenes on the Senate floor, and the reminder of what politics can be. That said, the end of the movie is a train wreck and comes to a close much too quickly. Pouvez-vous dire, denouement?

Tuesday: Now, Voyager
What, was I on some kind of a Claude Rains kick or something? Who knew? This 1942 drama was also a fun watch. Basically a Cinderella story, it tells the tale of Bette Davis' sob sister, who, thanks to her therapist, a cruise ship, and a married man, blossoms into the flower we knew she could be. Everyone always talks about Bette Davis' eyes. Have you ever looked at her teeth? Holy cow. Paul Henreid's romantic but unavailable Jerry Durrance balances Davis' character well, but it is Janis Wilson's Tina, Durrance's ugly duckling -- and uncredited! -- daughter, that caps the characters. Largely a story of individuality and redemption, the movie's pairing of Davis and Wilson adds a nice bit of closure -- but also responsibility, respect, and recognition for those who help us.

Wednesday: Cinemania
The pick of the week. There's nothing like a movie that makes you want to watch more movies. Cinemania is a 2002 documentary about five cinephiliacs, avid moviegoers and film buffs whose celluloid obsessions dominate their lives. Three of the five are unemployed and on disability, and the other two have designed their working and personal lives around their intense need to see the cinema. Eric Chadbourne (Any relation to Eugene?) is perhaps the most socially adept of the five -- and the most in depth in his analysis of and insight on what movies really mean. At times apologetic and rationalizing, his description of the importance of films to society and culture occasionally seems self-serving, if not enabling. Then there's Roberta Hill, who is similarly serious in her analysis, but pleasantly unaware of her carriage -- or impact on those around her. In one of the film's most telling scenes, former ticket taker Tina Bonacore details a night on which Hill attacked her for ripping her ticket. In the end, we learn that Hill had saved every ticket from every movie she's ever seen -- and that Bonacore's lack of understanding ended that run. Eventually, Hill was banned from MOMA for her behavior, even trying to sneak in once in disguise, and the segment -- a sad sequence of painful portrayal -- indicates just how overwhelming obsessions can be. The other people, for the most part, come across as sad and nerdy, but their loose-knit friendships and camaderie -- as represented in the sections during which Eric visits Harvey Schwartz and Jack Angstreich at home, as well as in the film's final scene, in which the five attend a screening of their own documentary -- brought a warmth to my heart. Brilliant soundtrack featuring Stereo Total, as well. Kudos.

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