Saturday, 14 March 2009

Cronos, Once upon a time in America and Cabaret

The purchase of a wider screen TV has provided an opportunity to re-experience my own DVD's, and over coming month’s video tapes although other priorities will prevent investigating how difficult/easy possible it will be to convert tape to DVD via technology which I previously acquired.

Yesterday I commented on the threats human kind face in the British Islands over the next century and mentioned to having viewed Cabaret which is more than a musical and a portrait of pre Second World War Germany. The enduring success of the film is due to two performances, to its editing and the continuing contemporary validity of its underlying story. It is not uncommon for a story to centre on one creative genius but in Cabaret there are two, and the two interact on the stage at the Kit Kat Club in a way that creates a greater magic. Liza Minnelli created a character and produced a performance which outshone anything her internationally famous mother was able to accomplish and is reported to have made her father, exceptionally proud. Sally Bowles is an icon, talented, driven, worldly yet innocent and vulnerable, failing to appreciate how transparent she is to those of understanding and experience. Joel Grey surpassed his stage performance and for once Hollywood gave him the Best supporting acting Oscar over the more likely performance of Marlon Brando in the Godfather, which also resulted in the film receiving a total of 8 awards against the Godfather 3.

It is easy with the gift of hindsight to praise all those who warned of the threat which Nazism of the National socialist party posed to Europe and the civilized world during the twenties and thirties, and to criticise those who sought appeasement, looked the other way or were not unsympathetic because they supported the opposition to communism, socialism and trade unionism. How does one distinguish between false and genuine prophets and their individual predictions and warnings? I have always been more comfortable understanding and attempting to predict human behaviour, but sometimes it is also possible to foresee the way a government or a nation is likely to behave and from experience discovered that unless you knew precise the basis on which others offered their advice, it was best to trust a combination of intuition, instinct, experience and as much factual information as could be gained.

Just as I can experience Cabaret every two or three years, I enjoy Evita where I have seen a stage performance at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle. The performance of Madonna cannot be compared with that of Liza Minnelli and the star remains Antonio Banderas, as the man who could see through the presentational skills of Eva who commanded the attended of the world wide media as Diana the former Princess of Wales was to do half a decade later, Notwithstanding the character and factual inaccuracies of the film I still think it communicates the reality of the challenge which all those brought up in poverty, and rejected by the ruling and conventional classes, face when they are catapulted into power. Like any child invited into a shop full of chocolates and cream cakes one is prone to self indulge and make oneself sick, exploiting the generosity of supporters and getting one's own back on enemies, perceived as well as real. The film was the first major Hollywood musical since the era of Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Guys and Dolls, Grease, The Sound of the Music and Fame, and is more like an opera with almost no normal dialogue, with words connecting songs in recitative. The film should be sub titled All Power Corrupts.

Those who prefer to close their minds to reality beyond their own relationships and personal experiences will enjoy Phantom of the Opera because romantic and idealistic love has a happy ending. Alas I do not identify with the young, wealthy, handsome former teenage childhood suitor but with the phantom and all those who try to 'control' who others become sufficiently infatuated to have an adult sexual relationship. I did not see the stage version and therefore can only judge the film from having seen in theatre, in Northampton I think, on an over night stop off on my way to greater London to visit my mother during the eighteen months she was resident in a residential home at Sutton. I dreaded the monthly confrontation with the M25 and the hours of wasted and boring time travelling back on forth on the M1 or A1, although I miss seeing two foreign language films in a day using my UGC also London pass, or just walkabout the sights and sounds of a part of central London .

I have only see two films in theatre this month. The first on June 30 was the worst film for some time full of horrific sadism and with no redeeming features. I thought I was going to see a recommended film and the amazing aspect of the experience was that attending were a couple of young women in their early twenties and trio of female teenagers. The rest of the audience were male female couples. I had watched the previous audience depart and this included a group of young Asian men, while there was audience participation during some scenes, not one worked out. I am still unsure about the title of the film I wanted to see and eventually saw a few days later at the former UGC at Bolden and now part of the Cineworld chain, adjacent to the Azda now Wall mart. I thought it was called don’t tell her don’t tell anyone and eventually through I found that it is called Tell no one. But these register as older Italian films when I check the internet index

This was one of my best experiences in a film theatre for several years and I will need to view again before deciding if it should make my 101 of all time lists. It should win an Oscar for the best film in a language other than English. While the film is described as a top notch mystery thriller, and I agree with the praise which many critics, but not all, have given in this respect, for me it was the love story between a couple of former childhood sweethearts, who marry, well I will not spoil the central aspect of the mystery, other that to say that what appears to have been an ending of their relationship, is not what it seems, but the pain of the loss is genuine and constant, and I experience it still, and is the inspiration behind the decision to write my novel 2007/2008

An entirely different sense loss and regret is also the only redeeming feature of a brilliantly acted film and directed film, his last by Sergio Leone Once upon a time in America. I cannot remember if I saw the film in theatre and these days I am too lazy to check my film records, am I bovvered? I have seen a version on TV but again cannot remember if it was the widescreen three and forty minutes, viewed twice over this weekend, the second with a commentary in the hope of some justification. The theme is well trodden, immigrants, in this instance part of the Jewish community, living is cramped poor conditions for the States, chase the American dream by starting as young hoodlums, becoming violent gangsters, blackmailing and corrupting, the forces of law and order:- the police, politicians and trade union bosses ( at least the church is exempt in this instance), and view girls and women as objects to have sex with, either paid for, seduced violated and just violated, and worse still portray most of the females as asking for and enjoying what happens to them.

There is one understated non sexual love affair between Robert De Niro and James Wood as the adult central characters, which form a bond when one joins the neighbourhood from another part of New York, and their relationship develops through the inevitable betrayals and double dealings.
There are characters in the film to admire. De Niro's teenage girl friend whose family manage the local bar/restaurant/shop, and who sets her sights on break out of the environment, and who wants De Niro, but only if he abandons his gang and criminality. When later she turns him down to develop her acting and dancing career, he rapes her, but she stoically fights on for her dream, and for his son. Her brother takes a brutal battering to try and protect his sister's suitor and remains a loyal friend without participation in the criminality although he appears to benefit for a time from its profits. The true hero of the film is the trade union boss who is prepared to be burnt to death than betray the men whose interests he represents, but in the end he too has to compromise and make deals.

As with other Sergio films he appears to celebrate machismo violence so one ought to be turned off but the film is so well made that it engages, and the music by Ennio Morricone is haunting. The content will be quickly forgotten and time used would not have been justified had not the weather prevented an afternoon at the Sage outside stage and I then undertook work which enabled two simultaneous operations.

I have been looking forward to viewing Cronos ever since I learnt it was an early film by Guillermo del Toro whose Pan's Labyrinth I rate also as a top 100 film because of its mixture of child's phantasm against the background of the Spanish Civil War and her mother's marriage to a Fascist military leader after the death of her husband and the girl's father. However Cronos is a variation of the vampire genre with clever twists centring on a scarab. This is not a film for the squeamish but is still a gulf away from the awfulness of Captivity.

I never did get to finish off my reactions to Fanny and Alexander, although the film is about the relationship between Alexander and his mother, his father and his step father. The film confirms my long held belief that what we think, as well want we do, lives with us for eternity, and although Bergman gives us an ending in which mother and son escape the clutches of the step father, who dies a horrible death. Thus achieving martyrdom appropriate for his role as the moral Bishop leader of his community governed by his sexual desire for woman, we know that although his father is now at rest, the Bishop will haunt his step so for the rest of eternity.

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