03 April 2011

Annoying Gym Singer, Too Much TV, Harlow & Clarke, A Lighter Shade of Bergman And An "Interesting" Film

Today in the gym there was an awful sounding racket emanating from a woman's mouth. It suggested a wolverine drowning. Several of us looked over in her direction only to discover that this woman was "singing" in accompaniment to her IPod.  Her shoulders were shimmying, apparently in response to the music. These movements looked to be less a rhythmic reaction to pleasant sounds and more an upper body seizure. Our performer was a greying woman on the downhill side of middle age. No one wants such distractions when trying to lift weights. Least of all disagreeable ones. There's one bloke I see at the gym all too often who hums incessantly. We don't need that. Then there are those who go beyond the expected grunts and groans huffs and puffs that normally accompany vigorous exercise. There's one chap who when running on the treadmill sounds like a winded water buffalo. It's heard to imagine a human can make such a sound. And don't get me started on all the whistling in the locker room....

I'd been pushing myself physically recently and keeping generally quite busy besides. So I designated yesterday as a day to stay off my feet and do nothing more taxing than operating the remote control. I ended up watching three movies, a soccer match, part of a baseball game, part of a hockey game, an episode of HBO's The Ricky Gervais Show (absolutely love him and the show) and glimpses of the NCAA basketball tournament and a few other shows including the first half hour of Saturday Night Live. All this in a span of 14 1/2 hours. Yikes! Talk about binge watching. Besides the visit to the gym I'm doing some serious reading and writing today to balance the scales a bit, although it'll take several days, if not weeks, to offset so much time in front of the idiot box.....

The first two films I watched were part of TCM's pre code Forbidden Hollywood set. They were Red-Headed Woman (1932) starring Jean Harlow and Waterloo Bridge (1931) featuring Mae Clarke. I'd seen both films before but only once and in each case a good five years or so ago. Like gazillions of other people I love Jean Harlow. As she did on occasion, in Red Headed Woman she plays a right proper stinker. She was as a subtle as jackhammer in her use of men for riches and attendant comfort. Harlow was even better playing sweetie pies. Her life was cut way, way, way too short at age 26. Yet she still appeared in Red Dust (1932), Hell's Angels (1930), Platinum Blonde (1931)Bombshell (1933), Dinner at Eight (1933), The Public Enemy (1931), China Seas (1935), Libeled Lady (1936) and Wife vs. Secretary (1936), plus whatever the hell slipped my mind. That's all in an eight year span. It's mind boggling to think what more she'd have done in another 30 or so years.....

Much as I love Harlow, I preferred the second feature of my matinee yesterday. Mae Clarke, best known for getting a grapefruit facial from James Cagney in the aforementioned Public Enemy, was -- and I hate myself for overusing this word -- underrated. If you're unfamiliar with Ms. Clarke, just watch Waterloo Bridge (and for God's sakes don't waste your time with the saccharin re-make). She plays an out-of-work chorus girl in WWI London whose had to turn to prostitution to make ends meet. A naive young solider from a wealthy family falls for her and she tries to do what she envisions is the right thing. The -- oh my God here it comes again -- underrated James Whale directed. Douglass Montgomery, who didn't have much of career otherwise, was wonderful as the love struck 19 year old. Waterloo Bridge is quintessential pre code viewing and indeed a must see for any film lover. Yes, I think it's underrated.....

Last night the missus and I watched Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night (1955). It is much lighter fare than the great Swedish director typically made. It is a ribald comedy chock full of mistresses, adultery and illicit liaisons. Quite the thing for the mid 1950's. Virtually every great director can successfully make a film in another genre. I'd wager that Martin Scorsese could make a jim dandy Western if he'd a mind to. Smiles was the inspiration for one of Woody Allen's lesser efforts, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982). You could argue that Allen successfully adopted many of the aspects from Smiles in other of his films. But I tend to believe that Smiles is the type of movie Allen would and has naturally made and in many cases better. In any event, Smiles is a delight and while a joyous romp still introduces themes of life and love that Bergman dealt with quite seriously in other films....

Ever hear anyone refer to a film as "interesting"? What they're generally saying is that the picture wasn't all that good but boasts other merits, such as a star playing against type, or a unique visual style or an eclectic cast or the first of its kind. "Interesting" movies are usually badly flawed but not a waste of time as watching them serves another purpose. You just had to see so-and-so in a musical, or what's-his-face's first film or the unique pairing of him and her. Sometimes you don't know in advance that you're going to watch an "interesting" film. You go in looking forward to seeing something special and finish being satisfied that, well at least it was "interesting".  So it was the other day when I watched a film called The Law (1959) directed by Jules Dassin. The cast featured Gina Lollobrigida, Marcello Mastroianni, Melina Mercouri and Yves Montand. Not too shabby. The Law was set in Italy with a primarily Italian cast but directed by a Frenchmen and spoken in French. Of course. It was a howlingly adequate film, though at two hours pushes the boundary of how long a film can be mediocre before it slips into bad. Ms. Lollobrigida was at her loveliest, which is much like saying that the sun was at it's hottest. Fifty years ago she could be gorgeous doing push ups with a baggy grey sweatsuit on. Mastorianni was charming as ever and there were all manner of interesting characters and incidents but thrown all together it just didn't work. It was like putting a lot of really tasty ingredients together to make a bad stew. Except that it was "interesting"....

Now I ask a personal favor. If anyone is acquainted with a woman who makes noises akin to a walrus in heat whilst listening to the music on her IPod. Please do us all a favor and tell her to put a sock in it. At least while she's out in public. Cheers.

1 comment:

Tudor Queen said...

"Smiles of the Summer Night" really is a wonderful film and, as you noted, a different side of Bergman, yet I think still consistent with his overall world view.

It is also the basis for one of my very favorite Broadway musicals - Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music". But do avoid the film version - in spite of using some of the original cast, and some lovely costumes, it's terrible, and will poison you for the play.