Let it be known, for future historians, that this was my final film watched in the year 2020, and L’Ange was the first to be viewed completely in 2021, though some slow-burn TV series and a certain miniseries-movie-object might span across the years.
Groucho runs a hotel in Florida, and the opening song tells us Florida is a paradise, so the movie is already suspect. The musical numbers are far between and absolutely unmemorable – this early-sound movie has enough trouble keeping up with its own dialog scenes. It puts a lot of effort into the central romantic drama, wasting 20 long minutes before Chico and Harpo finally show up, priorities all outta whack. Then most of the remaining minutes are wasted too, but the movie does give us Chico’s immortal lines: “Right now I’d do anything for money. I’d kill someone for it. I’d kill you for money. No, you’re my friend, I kill you for nothing.”
Shot on zero mm film through a camera obscura. Irving Berlin’s “Monkey Doodle Doo” is maybe no “White Christmas,” but it’s catchy. I guess Mary Eaton wants to marry hotel clerk Oscar Shaw, but her mom (the great Margaret Dumont) prefers mustache man Cyril Ring until she finds out he’s a jewel thief (working with Kay Francis, future jewel thief of Trouble in Paradise). IMDB says Zeppo played “Jamison,” I don’t think he was even in the movie.
L-R: Kay, Cyril, Oscar, Mary (not pictured: Zeppo)
Watched right after Christine. I didn’t love Greene’s Actress (or Christine), but they made for good prep-work for this masterpiece whatsit. A sort-of documentary following Kate Lyn Sheil as she preps to play Christine Chubbuck, presumably in a feature along the lines of Christine, though we see few any details about the feature and nobody’s helping her with character prep.
The first movie I’ve seen to film its own crowd release notice:
Kate’s in Florida where it happened, and locals seem to have no memory of Christine or her fate. She goes through library microfiche, reads books about suicide, does some serious tanning and gets fitted for a wig, goes gun shopping and finally gets a peek at some archive footage of the real Christine. It all leads to a joke of an ending, Kate finally building up the nerve to shoot herself, but the entire process leading up to that was fascinatingly staged (or “staged”).
This came out the same time as Kate Plays Christine and was slammed, then I read some defenses of it, so thought it’d be instructive to watch both. And this one, the straight period-piece retelling of dead newswoman Christine Chubbuck’s final days, was worse than I’d feared, an unenlightening, 1970’s-fetishizing semi-drama leading to a foregone, unpleasant ending. Christine has a depressive history, has personal and family and work troubles, and tragically kills herself on air. Michaels Sicinski and D’Angelo argue that it’s not unethical, not exploitative – maybe so, but it struck a couple wrong notes with me. I kept thinking “sure, but what’s the point,” and then Kate Plays Christine was an entire feature about trying to find the point, and that played beautifully for me. Not a huge fan of Simon Killer either, I’ll be hesitant to watch another Campos joint (but damn, Sicinski says Afterschool is great).
The actors do an unusually good job with unexciting material, at least. Rebecca Hall is magnetic as Christine, despite the character being prickly and awkward. Tracy Letts, who’s wonderful in everything these days, is the boss, Timothy Simons from Veep is a coworker, and Michael “no relation” Hall (TV’s Dexter) a potential love interest.
Young mom Halley, impulsive and disrespectful, is barely getting by, staying in a motel run by Willem Dafoe, living on food smuggled from her friend Ashley. But the film takes the perspective of her bright, energetic daughter Moonee, who is making new friends, tormenting Willem, accidentally burning down neighboring properties, and so on. The kids are barely aware of the adult world’s workings, and Moonee doesn’t realize how precarious her situation has been until child services arrives for her at the end.
Dafoe is getting award nominations, and deservedly so, if only for the scene in which he chases off a possible pedophile and the one where he tries to reason with some cranes blocking the driveway, but Moonee and her friends Jancey and Scooty with their completely naturalistic play and banter are the reasons this film will be loved forever.
Memorial screening for Jerry Lewis. I’d never seen this, didn’t realize it’s semi-plotless, casting a mute Jerry as one of many bellboys at a luxury hotel and throwing him into situations. Apparently hastily written and shot in the Miami hotel where he was performing at the time. And it shows… half the jokes are lazy or awful, though it’s short and overall pleasant enough.
Also featuring Jerry as himself, Milton Berle as himself, both of them as lookalike bellboys, and Lewis’s future cowriter Bill Richmond as a fake Stan Laurel. It’s a strange movie. I feel bad having so little to say about it, but maybe you had to have suffered through the studio comedies of the 1940’s and 1950’s to appreciate its innovations.