Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Week in Review

  • Opening Night (John Cassavetes, 1977)
  • Mariposa negra (Black Butterfly, Francisco Lombardi, 2006)
  • Repo Man (Alex Cox, 1984)
  • Almodóvar on Almodóvar (Revised edition, 2006, Frédéric Strauss)

Opening Night
The words 'opening night' conjure up thoughts of glamour but Cassavetes' Opening Night depicts anything but. This is my first exposure to Cassavetes, about - at least superficially - the destructive power one person's alcoholism and personal crises can have on others.

Gena Rowlands plays Myrtle Gordon a middle-aged stage actress performing the title role in a play called 'The Second Woman'. Myrtle is having both a crisis of confidence and a crisis of identity as she realises she is past her prime in terms of beauty. Afraid that her honest portrayal in the play will sentence her to future roles as an 'older woman' she increasingly turns to the bottle. Her trauma is compounded dramatically when a young fan is run over in a scene 'borrowed' by Almodóvar in All About My Mother (though he uses the word 'stolen').

The film depicts the various roles of a production's participants such as producer, writer and backstage crew and not just the actors. Ben Gazzara (who rejoined with Rowlands in a witty segment of the recent Paris, je t'aime) and Cassavetes both looked great and the cast in general all contributed consistently good performances. There was a sense of realism that I'm not accustomed to seeing in films from this period.

There was a sense of inevitable tragedy as Myrtle spirals out of control, climaxing with the New York opening night of the play. Myrtle turns up drunk, leading to an anxious edge-of-your-seat scenario. She is, after all, the star of the show. Cassavetes somehow crafts an ending that is upbeat yet ambiguous and plausible.

Repo Man
This is the second and last film that I'm seeing from ACMI's Focus on Punk (the other was the brilliant Made in Britain). This punk cult classic, like the Australian television series, Pizza, is low-budget absurdist film-making that is crass yet intelligent. I loved it and found it almost non-stop laughs.

A young Emilio Estevez plays punk rocker Otto who is recruited by Harry Dean Stanton's Bud as a repo man. Though Stanton has top-billing (I'll see anything with him in it), Estevez has the most screen time and I would have liked to have seen more of Stanton who always has a terrific screen presence.

The story follows the exploits of these guys as they repossess cars whose purchasers are in arrears. Intertwined are various plots such as a government coverup of aliens and punk rockers pulling of petty crime. The film is a kind of anti-Hollywood film and eschews cross marketing. There is constant product placement, but all the brands are 'generic', with generic-branded cereal, groceries, even beer and whisky. That cracked me up every time!

The film was set in Los Angeles, but the location scouts obviously trawled the city for the ugliest vistas possible. It depicted the kind of urban decay and industrial wastelands I love. As an aside, a couple of years ago I planned and hosted a scooter ride around similar areas in Melbourne.

I'm not a big fan of comedy - not because I don't like comedy, but because I find most comedies peurile. Well, many people would find Repo Man peurile, but I found it smart and very funny. Every scene was funny and there were many background cross-references for the observant (a bit like Mad magazine, I suppose).

LINKS: Repo Man trivia / Interview with the director / IMDB / Wikipedia

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