Fascinating docu-blend telling the story of late playwright Andrea Dunbar, who lived in a low-income neighborhood. We also see scenes from her plays being performed in the park of this neighborhood in present day. And increasingly the story becomes about Dunbar’s daughter Lorraine, who appears to be following in her mom’s footsteps of hopeless addiction. And all this (except the outdoor performances) is told through actors lipsyncing the words of the real people. Beautifully staged and totally unique movie, though Katy got depressed by the death and drugs and abuse.
Lorraine and Lisa inside a childhood memory:
Though the synching is remarkably close to unnoticeable, the style takes some getting used to, mainly because The Arbor isn’t dramatized like films with actors generally are. The scenes are more like eerie tableaux where the “characters” tell their stories straight to the camera, wandering the haunted backdrop of Bradford’s Buttershaw Estate and other settings. This ingenious conceit, borrowed from Robin Soans’ 2000 play on Dunbar, called A State Affair, solves the longstanding problem of documentaries penned in by static talking heads.
N. Rapold in Film Comment:
What’s disorienting are the muted tones of the interviews, which were obviously not originally spoken with the intonation of a dramatic performance. This lends a curious low affect to the recounting of extraordinary incidents, and this disjunction, as well as Barnard’s hyper-immaculate RED photography, are a characteristic of other recent film work by artists such as Steve McQueen and Miranda July. As Lorraine becomes the central focus in the second half of the film, her matter-of-fact, downcast delivery becomes a drumbeat anticipating her inevitable downfall.
A busy comedy, mostly keeps up its charming energy for a bit of throwback fun. Famed theater director Owen Wilson overpays call girl Imogen Poots (Green Room) and tells her to follow her dream, which turns out to be auditioning for his play. Owen’s wife Kathryn Hahn (Parks & Rec politician) stars in the play, pursued by both costar Rhys Ifans (The Boat That Rocked) and playwright Will Forte (MacGruber). Also in play: Forte’s ex, substitute-therapist Jennifer Aniston, and his detective dad George Morfogen. For some reason it’s all framed as a years-later celeb-profile interview with Poots.
Ehrlich on Poots:
Her performance is a reckless tightrope walk of woefully accented genius and it’s very important to me.
Lavishly-staged theater performance reworked for the cinema, the cameras onstage with the actors. Beautiful, worth the extra cost of whatever HD special-event screening this was. My favorite Puck (Kathryn Hunter, a countess in one of my favorite scenes of Orlando, which we just happily rewatched in HD), but Katy prefers Stanley Tucci. Duke Theseus was apparently not played by Matt Berry of Darkplace, though it looked like him. Cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto (Argo, Wolf of Wall Street).
We shot four performances live, with four cameras in different locations surrounding the play, and then for four days we could go onstage and do more single-camera setups: hand-held, Steadicam. The audience was invited; they were watching a movie being made, and that’s where we could get intimate.
“Deliberately paced, lacking narrative momentum” reads a positive review. I found it very strange (even having seen some of Oliveira’s other films) in an exciting way. It would be easy to write an accurate plot description for netflix, something like “a respected old actor (Michel Piccoli) becomes the guardian of his grandson after losing the rest of his family in an accident, and begins to redefine his life’s priorities.” But that wouldn’t begin to convey the film itself. For instance, Oliveira opens on Piccoli starring onstage in Exit The King alongside Catherine Deneuve and Leonor Silveira. Piccoli plays this scene facing almost entirely away from camera. We see the men backstage who’ve come to deliver the news about his wife and daughter’s fatal car accident, but the men speak to nobody and the scene keeps playing out, watching the back of Piccoli’s head, for about the first fifth of the movie’s runtime. So it’s clear that “narrative momentum” is not what Oliveira was going for.
A while later, Piccoli’s actor has kept working since the accident, a nanny caring for his grandson most of the time. Then he’s (badly) cast in a film of Ulysses directed by John Malkovich. After fumbling a few passes at the English dialogue, he speaks the title and ditches the movie.
I’d like to steal Vadim Rizov’s opening sentence: “Having barely survived Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams when it came out, I was inclined to stay away from his filmography for the rest of my life.” But how could we stay away from a Michael Keaton-starring, Emmanuel Lubezki-shot movie called Birdman? I’m sympathetic to Rizov’s entire “five points of contention” article for Filmmaker Magazine, praising Edward Norton before wondering, among other things, why the single-take illusion was necessary. But I appreciated the single-take (and the wonderful arrhythmic drum score) as an enjoyable distraction, making the movie fun to watch before the inevitable post-film discussion of what point it was trying to make (??) and whether all its characters are unredeemed assholes (they are).
One of Busby Berkeley’s unexciting 1940’s flicks (see also: Take Me Out to the Ball Game). He even has a total anti-Berkeley moment, aiming the camera at Judy, singing against a plain wall, and leaving it there for ages. What happened – budget cuts? Not a bad movie though – Gene Kelly’s debut, with established young star Judy Garland (only one year after her last Andy Hardy movie, and two before Meet Me In St. Louis).
Another one of those movies starring two attractive young people who just have to end up together, because it’s a Hollywood movie, even though they shouldn’t. Gene proves again and again that he cares only about his career, playing the Palace in New York, and anybody is disposable on his way to the top. But he doesn’t get to the top, due to the (vaudeville/WWI-era) public’s new interest in war heroes and his successful attempt to draft-dodge by smashing his hand in a trunk. And due to the WWII-era public’s distaste for draft-dodging romantic heroes, the ending was hastily rewritten so a troop-entertaining Kelly tries to warn approaching ambulances that passage is unsafe and ends up singlehandedly taking out an enemy machine gun nest.
Judy doesn’t get as many plot points, but gets to sing some good 1910’s showtunes. She starts out in the show of Jimmy Metcalf (future politician George Murphy), starts a duo act with Kelly until he dumps her when his opera singer friend Eve (Martha Eggerth, 1930’s cinema star in Austria and Germany) suggests she can get him more fame, sob Judy heads to the war to sing for troops, where she’s reunited with hero-come-lately Kelly.
Bosley Crowther: “To one who takes mild exception to sentimental excess, it seems an overlong, overburdened and generally over-talked musical film.” He also calls Judy Garland “saucy.”
Great to watch this again in high-def. I remembered it being interesting, but not looking this spectacular. Morose knight (Max Von Sydow) and his charismatic squire Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand of Winter Light, hard to adjust to him not being the morose one) are heading home through the plague-ridden country, accumulating other characters along the way. It’s both very serious about life and death and also full of jokes and lighter moments, so maybe the first Swedish horror comedy? Along the way, Jons has folksy/philosophical conversations with townsfolk, and the knight has religious/philosophical conversations with Death.
First, Jons rescues an intense, silent girl (Gunnel Lindblom: Sydow’s servant in Virgin Spring, his wife in Winter Light) from a dangerous thief. “I’m a married man, but with any luck my wife is dead by now, so I’ll be needing a housekeeper.” Then they come across actor/jester Jof (Nils Poppe of The Devil’s Eye) with his wife Bibi Andersson, sexy maid in The Magician), who’ve just been ditched by their more serious companion Jonas and need protection. Jonas has stolen the blacksmith’s wife (Inga Gill of Miss Julie), but the smith (Ake Fridell, Monika‘s dad) gets her back and Jonas wanders off to meet Death.
It’s been established that jester Jof can see spirits, so he’s the only one who realizes that the knight’s solo chess games are actually with Death, and that the knight is losing, so he escapes with his wife. The rest of the gang continues to the knight’s castle where his wife Karin (Inga Landgre, recently in Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Remake) is waiting. The six of them are just having dinner when Death catches up, and out in a field with their young son, Jof sees Death leading them all away.
Peter Cowie calls the actors “medieval ancestors of those troubadours, those traveling musicians who are still so popular in Scandinavia today.” I’ve meant to ask Trevor how often he runs across troubadours. Cowie also calls this “the high point of Bergman’s symbolic period.” I’m pretty sure the sudden parade of self-flagellating religious nuts was a Monty Python influence.
His big contribution was that he developed a vocabulary to work on the interiors of people. He would choose these great and gifted actors and he would guide them so they could project these inner states of extreme emotional intensity. He would use close-ups and keep those close-ups going longer and longer, and he never let up. Gradually the psychological feelings of the character the actor was portraying just sort of show up on the screen. He was so unsparing with the camera. Finally you start to see the wars that are raging inside the characters, these psychological wars and emotional wars, and it’s no less visual in the end than the movements of armies.
After all his latest musical theater projects have fallen apart due to shaky financing during the Great Depression, fast-talkin’ producer Ned Sparks (in Imitation of Life the following year) has an idea for a sure-fire hit, a musical about “the forgotten man,” the unemployable Depression masses, a dour march through the grim realities of today. When we finally see the play, bankrolled by the secret millionaire/composer down the hall, it looks suspiciously unlike what we were imagining, full of naughty love songs and massive Busby Berkeley numbers in glittering costumes. This isn’t a plot twist or ironic commentary on artistic intentions vs. end results once money gets involved – it’s just an inconsistent movie.
The movie opens with Ginger Rogers, but she turns out to be just a friend of the main characters Polly, Carol and Trixie. Polly is Ruby Keeler (Mrs. Al Jolson, just off 42nd Street), a round-faced innocent cutie. Carol is Joan Blondell (later Mrs. Dick Powell, a successful actress through the seventies), the scheming beauty. And Trixie is Aline MacMahon (mostly a stage actress), the smartass. Polly falls for Dick Powell (star of Christmas In July and Susan Slept Here), the millionaire/composer, and the show is cast and everything is gonna be fine.
Conflict! Powell’s millionaire family finds out about his distasteful dabblings in showbusiness and brother Warren William (Caesar to Colbert’s Cleopatra) comes to town with lawyer Guy Kibbee (noble newspaperman in Power of the Press) to stop all this nonsense and threaten to cut off his fortune. But due to a fake gold-digger plot by Polly’s roommates, William and Kibbee end up falling in love with them, triple-wedding is planned and the show goes on, with a last-minute “forgotten man” musical number to remind us of an earlier point.
LeRoy directed the year after I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, and musical scene director Busby Berkeley was on a roll after 42nd Street, and would helm the 1935 sequel himself. Also appearing: Sterling Holloway (Remember the Night) as a messenger boy, Eric Blore (The Lady Eve) as a stuffy rich guy, and Billy Barty (a little guy known for playing babies and hobbits and creatures) as a leering, naughty kid during a big dance scene. Songs include “We’re in the Money” (not exactly in keeping with the Depression theme), the catchy “Pettin’ in the Park,” and a waltz featuring a dance of neon violins, and of course the musical numbers and fun performances are the entire point of the movie, not any of the crap I’ve written above.
A slow-unfolding (but always formally exciting) Resnais movie gathering most of his favorite actors in a room for a contrived reason (a just-deceased writer/director wants his favorite actors to evaluate film of a modern performance of his Orpheus/Eurydice play). As the film goes on, the actors in the audience interact with it, reciting lines to the screen and to each other, standing up to perform entire scenes. The movie has a crisp, digital look and Resnais makes walls fall away smoothly, transporting the actors seamlessly into scenes from the play, using split-screens to show simultaneous performances of the same scene. It often seems like the ultimate movie of theater and performance, the work he’s been leading towards at least since the early 80’s (if not earlier, the location-jumping and memory-morphing hearkening back to his famed earliest features). Fortunately, it seems he’s still going strong and will have another movie out next year.
In the crowd: the Smoking/No Smoking team of Sabine Azeme and Pierre Artiti, Mathieu Amalric and Anne Consigny from Wild Grass, Michel Piccoli and Gerard Lartigau from way back in The War Is Over, Lambert Wilson (Not on the Lips), Anny Duperey (Stavisky), and more (can’t expect to know ’em all on a first viewing).
Actor Denis Podalyes plays the director, who addresses the group by video at the beginning and appears in person at the end, and his brother Bruno Podalyes actually directed the video within the movie.
The reference point in the Resnais canon is 1986’s Mélo, which similarly foregrounded and made a virtue of its theatrical source while doubling and tripling the layers of irony, though nowhere near the extreme degree that the director pursues in his latest. .. Resnais suggests that the proper relation between the cinema and the theater is to throw it all together, take the best of both worlds and present it as pure showmanship.
A collective hallucination of people who think they’re talking to each other but are only talking to a screen: it’s the duly-noted theme of Vous n’avez encore rien vu, as the backgrounds dissolve from the screening room into a train station, café, and hotel, while the characters remain seated in place, stuck in some cinematheque of their imagination, foreshortened by Ruizian compositions a plane apart from their own space.