Mean Streets (1973)

A buddy comedy for the first half, gradually piling on the struggles until Keitel is overwhelmed between allegiances to his fuckup friend (De Niro), his girl (Amy Robinson), and his criminal employers. He chooses poorly, trying to have it all – but only the fuckup (and randomly, David Carradine) gets killed, in a movie with very few guns considering the poster art is a smoking gun.

Feels like play-acting for a while, a dress rehearsal for Goodfellas, but I think that’s because these guys are such small-time gamblers. Only one of them (Richard Romanus) has a car, they scout deals for cigarette cartons, and they think two thousand dollars is an impossible amount of money. David Proval is the guy who runs a bar, and I think Victor Argo’s the big boss. Young Scorsese already knew what he liked, kicking into slow-mo when the Rolling Stones song comes on.

from the commentary: Marty was fired from Honeymoon Killers and WoodstockMean Streets was a record of his own young life compressed into a few-days story… Cassavetes’ Shadows is credited as their inspiration of possibility, and Corman taught the filmmaking discipline (visible in the movie are posters for Husbands, X, and The Tomb of Ligeia)

What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963)

Nervy montage with stills and motion and stop-motion and graphic elements, tied together with a comic narration by struggling writer Harry. Suffering a block, he throws a house party and meets a girl. Marty’s earliest short seems to be telling us: “I really enjoyed Zazie dans le metro.”

It’s Not Just You, Murray! (1964)

Murray is here to show off his success and say it’s all thanks to Joe, who started him on bootlegging gin. Another silly little film with comic narration which feels like it’s making it up as it goes. The gangster parody becomes a Hollywood musical parody… Joe steals Murray’s wife, then we jump to an inexplicable 8 1/2 ending.

Italianamerican (1974)

Just a good time around the table, talking about food, family and the old days. I appreciate that Marty continues eating in the foreground while his camera crew films his family.

Early Wenders muse Rüdiger Vogler drives past Richmond, gets to NYC and sells his car, then goes to Shea Stadium – I like this guy already. He’s a writer/photographer disowned by his editor for wandering the States and ignoring his story and deadlines, but he’s got enough cash to fly home. After he meets a woman and her daughter at the airport then the woman disappears, the movie sneakily adopts my least favorite movie plot of all (aimless adult gets stuck with precocious child), but somehow remains good. Robby Müller did nice work in Goalie, kills it here. Almost Kaurismäkian in its large-heartedness – rare that I watch a movie from the 1970s and think things were better back then. Rüdiger keeps behaving in a very relatable manner (he drops the girl at a police station and goes to a Chuck Berry concert).

Rüdiger on TV: “All these TV images come down to the same common, ugly message: a kind of vicious contempt. No image leaves you in peace. They all want something from you.”

Memorial screening for Friedkin. I thought about rewatching Bug, but should really check this out – I’d avoided it after deciding Wages of Fear couldn’t be topped. And maybe not, but nearly equaled. Same story of two trucks with redundant supplies of unstable dynamite heading for an oil-well fire over treacherous terrain, but this time the drivers are more desperate than ever, after an extended intro showing each of their criminal enterprises that led them to hide out in South America under fake names. 1970s Lead Character Roy Scheider drives with shady Francisco Rabal, and in the other truck is gentleman fraudster Bruno Cremer (a Brisseau star) and Jerusalem bomber Amidou (later in the Friedkin-indebted Ronin).

The great Filipe Furtado:

What for Clouzot is social need, for Friedkin is self-punishment. First world crimes reimagined in a third world purgatory, an amusement park of unforgiven nature. The beauty is that everything is translated in pure action … Francisco Rabal’s taciturn killer is the film’s heart and Bruno Cremer’s masochist banker it is clear-eyed soul.

“Who wants to be famous? Who wants to die for art?” I should’ve watched this a very long time ago, like before Cecil B. Demented. Divine is Dawn, who storms out of her parents’ house as a teenager since she didn’t get the cha-cha heels she wanted for Christmas, immediately gets pregnant, flash-forward and she’s got a teenage daughter called Taffy (Mink Stole) and a hairdresser husband named Gator.

Divine & The Dashers:

Then the plot goes haywire. Taffy seeks out her real father (also Divine) and stabs him to death, then threatens to join the Hare Krishas. Gator’s aunt Ida throws acid in Dawn’s face, and the Dasher photographers who own Gator’s hair salon try to make the disfigured Dawn famous, everyone agreeing that she looks even more beautiful now. None of the performances are “bad” because they’re all on the same heightened wavelength, but the dialogue is mostly yelling and it finally gets tiresome during the court scene that sends Dawn to the electric chair.

Post-acid Dawn with daughter and caged Aunt Ida (Edith Massey):

Pam Grier’s cop friend William Elliott (of mutant rabbit horror Night of the Lepus) gets beaten half to death for not selling out to the drug lords, who are secretly supporting the senate campaign of Pam’s boyfriend Booker Bradshaw (of missing link comedy Skullduggery). Pam is flaming mad, goes on a revenge campaign against drug boss King George (Robert DoQui, the only decent all-human cop of RoboCop).

Sig Haig gets involved, there’s a one-eyed assassin, I dunno, felt much like Foxy Brown, Pam’s charisma being wasted on a crappy movie. This was a random 1973 pick – here’s hoping Black Caesar is better.

Russia in WWII, and a caravan of soldiers and families is getting torn up by German gunfire while the credits are still rolling. While they hide in the woods, wounded and exhausted, Kolya goes for food, bringing along sickly math teacher Sotnikov, but their destination has been burned down so they go further, ending up at a house full of kids. Mom comes home shortly before a German patrol does, and all three are captured.

A guy with a persistent cough hiding in a loft is the biggest source of tension here – once they’re taken alive by nazis, there’s not much mystery as to what will happen next. Switcheroo: the sickly guy stays strong and calm while being burned and tortured, while the capable guy turns into a little bitch and agrees to join the nazi forces if they won’t execute him. Portnov is an especially evil interrogator, a local Belarusian choir teacher gone fully to the other side.

This won best picture in Berlin, alongside The Devil, Probably, Ceddo, Perfumed Nightmare and Padre Padrone. Shepitko had no follow-up film, dying in a car crash, but her husband Elem Klimov started prepping Come and See this same year. The doomed mother appeared in a 2003 film of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, the math teacher was in the all-star Peter the Great miniseries, and the Belarisuan nazi was Tarkovsky’s star of Rublev/Solaris/Stalker.

Michael Koresky for Criterion:

From the film’s opening images of telephone poles haphazardly jutting out of snowdrifts like bent crosses, Shepitko, with cinematographer Vladimir Chukhnov, plunges us into a nightmarishly blinding whiteness, a physical and moral winter that envelops everything in its path—except, ultimately, the victimized and beatific Sotnikov, whose slow journey toward death brings a strange enlightenment. Such redemp­tion eludes Rybak, whose ruthless desire for survival puts him at odds with the Christlike martyr Sotnikov, and Shepitko charts their twinned passages to darkness and light with a stunning arsenal of aural and visual experimentation.

Remarkable-looking movie with time-slippage editing. I think the Coens were taking style notes. Hopefully they took better plot notes than me – I wrote “a surreal kinda movie,” probably because it was late and I lost track of story details. Pretty gay and horny, overall. For all they didn’t care about sound sync, the Italians know good music (notably, the action moving from Italy to France doesn’t fix the sync). Brilliant cinematography by Vittorio Storaro (The Last Emperor, One From the Heart), but this only got a writing nomination(?), losing to The French Connection(??).

Trintignant is a handsome, remorseless fascist assassin who had a traumatic youth. He takes a mission to murder an old friend, he and his wife (Stefania Sandrelli, the wimpy guy’s mom in Jamón, Jamón) get into a love triangle with the friend’s daughter Dominique Sanda (who’d reunite with Sandrelli in 1900), then he betrays pretty much everyone except his wife.

Mike D’Angelo on lboxd:

I’m something of a Sorrentino apologist, but rewatching The Conformist made me realize that he’s too often wedding maximalist formalism to equally emphatic performances, hat-on-a-hat-style; here, Trintignant’s opaque stillness is at disarming odds with all the canted angles, expressionistic colors and triumphalist architecture, and it’s the contrast that conveys meaning.

Trint’s dad, in a marble nuthouse:

One of those holy-grail 1970’s movies, and now that it’s been nicely restored for the HD streaming generation, we can watch and forget it and move on. Jean-Pierre Leaud, soon after Out 1 and the second to last Doinel movie, strutting around wearing multiple scarves, frequenting cafes and being self-confidently aimless. Sharp b/w image with fades between scenes, but it’s mainly a writery movie, with wall-to-wall dialogue.

Colin and Sarah:

JPL lives with Out 1‘s Sarah and mooches off her, but they date other people openly. I imagine part of the movie’s appeal comes from this idea of the sexually free young French people. JPL loved Isabelle Weingarten (her follow-up to Four Nights of a Dreamer) but she’s getting married, so he latches onto nurse Françoise Lebrun (who had not many major roles until last year’s Vortex), dating her in front of Sarah, who becomes jealous. Full of film references (per Labuza, “more than a bit forced for a character we never see once go to the movies”).

JPL and Isabelle:

JPL and Lebrun:

Wanda lives in a tore-up coal town, arrives late to her own divorce and says he should take the kids, then she’s told she is too slow to work at the clothing factory. She sleeps with the first dude who buys her a rolling rock, but he ditches her. Falls asleep at the movies and gets robbed. Then semi-competent thief Mr. Dennis comes around and she becomes his getaway driver. Dennis wants a big score, so kidnaps a bank manager and gets killed in the ensuing heist – the Criterion cover art is her outside the bank among the onlookers before drifting away alone.

Amy Taubin for Criterion:

Loden said that Wanda and the other films she was trying to make (including a screen adaptation of Kate Chopin’s protofeminist novel The Awakening, whose protagonist, like Wanda, walks out on her husband and children) were psychological studies set in a specific milieu. Among her influences, she counted cinema verité, Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, and films by Andy Warhol. She wanted fiction films to be more like documentaries.

When asked about Wanda, Loden often responded that she used to be just like her: “Until I was thirty, I had no identity of my own.” … It’s something that we don’t expect when we watch movies — the fusion between an actor and a fictional character — because it so seldom happens. And when it does, the actor, more likely than not, is a “nonprofessional.” But Loden was an experienced actor — and no longer without an identity of her own — when she took on Wanda, a character she had created out of her memories of not being present to the world or to herself.