Friday, October 31, 2014

Red Desert at 50

Michelangelo Antonioni's Red Desert opened in Italy 50 years ago this week. Presented as a succession of set pieces, the film begins with a dazed Monica Vitti wandering along the perimeter of a gigantic power plant. Accompanied by her son (Valerio Bartoleschi), Vitti trudges through a toxic and barren landscape; her expensive designer shoes covered in greasy muck. Under the thick gray clouds, a group of striking workers gather to stage a demonstration. They recognize Vitti as the wife of plant manager Ugo (Carlo Chionetti), their nemesis in the current labor struggle.

This is our first indication that Red Desert will be one of those films about alienation from the modern world. Vitti’s inability to understand what that world considers her proper place makes her a danger to the status quo and a figure of mystery. These early scenes are among the most effective in the entire film; they glisten with foreboding and a cold, wet gloom. And while Antonioni hints at Vitti’s internal struggles, he also alludes to the plight of humanity caught in the crossfire of a war between technology and nature.

Inside the steel walls of the power plant, Ugo is meeting with a colleague named Zeller (Richard Harris) who has been charged with opening a similar facility in Argentina. Desperate for experienced workers, Zeller has come to seek Ugo’s advice and to do a little recruiting from the pool of strikers. Ugo enlists his wife’s help in entertaining the visitor, and Zeller and Vitti spend an afternoon strolling the ancient cobblestone streets of Ravenia, where an unspoken sexual tension begins to develop.

Passions inflame further at a tiny dockside cabin owned by Ugo’s family, where a raucous dinner party threatens to turn into a full scale orgy. Here Antonioni employs one of his wonkiest symbols, as the party-goers divert their sexual energy to tearing down the cabin’s partitions for firewood. They are left with only a gutted husk of a building; its tattered walls painted fading shades of red, white and blue.

Red Desert has a number of intriguing images, and this sequence features one of the most impressive. As the partiers stare out of the cabin’s window, the hull of an enormous cargo ship passes through the frame, impossibly close to the small, and now stripped bare, cabin. Harris opens the door to give us an even better look at the hulking freighter, and the resulting contrast in scale pushes the film even further into the territory of desolate surrealism. But this is no ordinary vessel. The crew is suffering from a deadly epidemic and medical authorities soon quarantine the ship, furthering Antonioni’s view of the industrial world as a threatening sphere.

But as humans are threatened by industry, Monica Vitti is threatened by the meanderings of this film. As the story evolves, Harris’ character becomes more leaden and one dimensional, shifting more of the dramatic load onto Vitti. Monica Vitti was an alluring and charismatic screen presence, but that’s not exactly the same thing as being a good actress. In this film, she has two speeds: catatonic and hysterical. The mysterious minimal thing she does very well, but the final reel calls for hair-on-fire histrionics, and Vitti doesn’t really have the chops to pull that off. Antonioni is not blameless; his story should have played to his leading lady’s strengths instead of her weaknesses.

This was Antonioni’s first film in color, and he clearly had a lot of fun with it. The early scenes, rendered in oppressive grays, strike the right tone of cold, rigid conformity. The infrequent bursts of color -Vitti’s green coat, a red sports car – pop with symbolic significance. The film features a fairy tale sequence that’s saturated and sunny. The necessity of the scene is debatable, but it proves Antonioni’s deep understanding and early mastery of color design principles.

Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert is a film of great beauty, there’s no denying. But under the moody patina lurks a hulking, overworked and oversold conception. At times, the film moves gracefully across the screen. At times it sputters like a rusty cargo ship overloaded with unanswered conundrums and self conscious metaphors.

But this is a classic, unapologetic Italian art film. It experiments with narrative form, visual design, political sentiment and sexual suggestion, all while issuing a complex opinion of the individual’s place in the modern world. While today we can appreciate it as a beautiful but unrefined artifact - like a scarab from Tut’s tomb- 1964 audiences must have been downright mind boggled.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

TCM for November 2014

Lots to be thankful for this month as TCM runs the gamut from foreign classics to beach movies and all things in-between. My picks below. All times Eastern. Full Schedule HERE

11/2 Sunday

2:00 AM
A cultured German officer billeted in a French house has a change of heart when he sees occupied Paris.
BW-87 mins

Melville's The Strange Ones lives up to its billing.

3:30 AM
A brother and sister close themselves off from the world by playing an increasingly intense series of mind games with the people who dare enter their lair.
BW-107 mins,

11/3 Monday

9:30 PM
A shop girl turns party girl to land her boss.
BW-77 mins

11:00 PM
A South Seas prostitute runs afoul of a fire-and-brimstone preacher.
BW-94 mins

12:45 AM
A womanizing lieutenant can’t choose between his commanding officer’s daughter and a beautiful bandit.
BW-82 mins

2:15 AM
A young innocent's sexuality destroys all who come near her.
BW-134 mins

4:45 AM
A country girl tries to return home after being abandoned by her wealthy seducer.
BW-142 mins

11/4 Tuesday

8:45 AM
In this silent film, a Spanish country girl moves to Paris to become an opera star.
BW-88 mins

10:15 AM
In this silent film, a kept woman gives up her glamorous life for an innocent young man.
BW-70 mins

11/6 Thursday

12:15 AM
A man's investigation of a friend's death uncovers corruption in post-World War II Vienna.
BW-104 mins, CC

11/7 Friday
You must watch Badlands. That's an order.

12:30 AM
A young tough guy and his teen-aged girlfriend take off on a killing spree.
C-94 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

2:15 AM
A family traveling through the desert is set up by a teen gang.
C-100 mins

4:00 AM
A gas station attendant falls for the girlfriend of a vicious motorcycle gang.
C-96 mins, Letterbox Format

11/13 Thursday

7:30 AM
A big-city gambler bets that he can seduce a Salvation Army girl.
C-149 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

10:00 AM
A philandering pilot gets real moral, real fast when his sister contemplates a premarital fling.
C-105 mins, CC

12:00 PM
College coeds go looking for love during spring break in Fort Lauderdale.
C-99 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

11/14 Friday

Wild Strawberries is one of these movies you don't forget.

8:00 PM
On his way to an awards ceremony, a distinguished professor thinks back on his loveless life.
BW-92 mins

10:00 PM
A classical pianist who's dropped out of society returns to the family he deserted.
C-98 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

12:00 AM
A discontented yuppie couple quit their jobs to rediscover America on the road.
C-91 mins

1:45 AM
An impoverished girl masquerades as a boy to run with a gang of young hobos.
BW-68 mins, CC

3:00 AM
True story of folk singer Woody Guthrie, who rose to the top while fighting for the rights of migrant farm workers.
C-148 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

Were we ever this young?
11/15 Saturday
2:15 PM
A typical day in the life of the Beatles.
BW-87 mins, CC

4:00 PM
Evil spirits abduct a suburban family's daughter causing chaos and havoc.
C-114 mins, CC

6:00 PM
A future cop uncovers the deadly secret behind a mysterious synthetic food.
C-97 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM
A young stevedore takes on the mobster who rules the docks.
BW-108 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

3:30 AM
The last great American showman, producer-director William Castle used outrageous hype to sell his low-budget horror films.
C-82 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

Were we ever this stupid? Duck and Cover says yes.
5:00 AM
In this short film, a monkey's prank on a turtle demonstrates how to survive a nuclear attack.
BW-9 mins

5:00 AM
The modern miracle of tranquilizers helps working men and their wives deal with life's little problems in this short film.
C-13 mins

5:00 AM
This anti-porn short film shows a floodtide of filth engulfing the country in the form of newsstand obscenity.
Cast:  Damian O'Flynn ,
C-31 mins,

11/16 Sunday

2:00 AM
Five friends struggle to escape the boredom of their provincial hometown in Italy.
BW-108 mins

4:00 AM
A factory worker returns home to Sicily, where he gets mixed up with the Mob.
BW-102 mins, Letterbox Format

11/19 Wednesday

Zombies of Mora Tau. Some people claim it's the worst movie ever made.

4:00 PM
Sailors try to salvage a sunken treasure guarded by zombie seamen.
BW-69 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

5:15 PM
A city is stricken by a wave of self-mutilations performed by beautiful women who appear to be in a hypnotic trance.
BW-78 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

6:45 PM
A space visitor's touch turns an unhappy heiress into a vengeful giant.
BW-66 mins, CC,

11/20 Thursday

12:15 AM

Dark of the Sun features unsafe methods of handling a chainsaw.

A mercenary band fights to get refugees and a fortune in diamonds out of the Congo.
C-101 mins, Letterbox Format

11/21 Friday

8:00 PM
A cross-country motorist finds himself the object of a faceless trucker's irrational attacks.
BW-89 mins, CC

10:00 PM
An ex-con and his misfit team search the underbelly of American life for a cache of embezzled loot.
C-96 mins, CC

12:00 AM
Two hitchhikers with wildly different backgrounds become fast friends.
C-112 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

2:00 AM
Two shore patrolmen decide to show a prisoner a good time on his way to the brig.
C-104 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

Coppola's The Rain People. My review HERE

4:00 AM
A housewife who feels trapped leaves home and takes up with a hitchhiker.
C-101 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

11/22 Saturday

12:00 PM
A film crew discovers the "eighth wonder of the world," a giant prehistoric ape, and brings him back to New York, where he wreaks havoc.
BW-104 mins, CC

2:00 PM
The sole survivor of an interplanetary rescue mission discovers a planet ruled by apes and an underground city run by telekinetic humans.
C-95 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

4:00 PM
Federal agents fight to destroy a colony of mutated giant ants.
BW-93 mins, CC

6:00 PM
Subway excavations unearth a deadly force from beyond space and time.
C-98 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

11/23 Sunday

9:45 AM
The investigation of a publishing tycoon's dying words reveals conflicting stories about his scandalous life.
BW-119 mins, CC,

4:00 PM
The bandit king of Sherwood Forest leads his Merry Men in a battle against the corrupt Prince John.
C-102 mins, CC,

The kids are definately not all right in Lucretia Martel's La Cienega

2:15 AM
A rundown country home is the site for drinking and teen sexual explorations.
C-103 mins

4:00 AM
Two storylines concern the simultaneous efforts of a husband and wife to mend their broken marriage interwoven with the life of a fishing village.
BW-80 mins,

11/25 Tuesday

1:00 PM
An all-star cast, including Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra, introduces clips from MGM's greatest musicals.
C-135 mins, CC

3:30 PM
Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly dance together again for the first time in more than 30 years as they introduce classic musical numbers and comedy bits.
Dir: Gene Kelly Cast:  Fred Astaire ,
C-129 mins, CC

5:45 PM
Classic musical numbers and rare behind-the-scenes footage show how MGM created the screen's greatest musicals. Featuring clips with Gene Kelly, Lena Horne and Debbie Reynolds.
C-120 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

5:00 AM
An angel of death gives up his wings for love.
C-128 mins, Letterbox Format

11/28 Friday

7:30 AM
A young man accused of sabotage goes on the lam to prove his innocence.
BW-109 mins, CC

9:30 AM
A young girl fears her favorite uncle may be a killer.
BW-108 mins, CC

Dial M For Murder, with one of the best expository scenes in movie history.

11:30 AM
A straying husband frames his wife for the murder of the man he'd hired to kill her.
C-105 mins, CC

1:30 PM
A rich man marries a compulsive thief and tries to unlock the secrets of her mind.
C-130 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

3:45 PM
In a California coastal area, flocks of birds unaccountably make deadly attacks on humans.
C-119 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

6:00 PM
A woman on the run gets mixed up with a repressed young man and his violent mother.
BW-109 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

11:30 PM
A newspaperman tracks a runaway heiress on a madcap cross-country tour.
BW-105 mins, CC

1:30 AM
A shy law student meets a bon vivant who takes him for a drive through the Roman and Tuscan countryside.
BW-105 mins,

11/29 Saturday
4:15 PM
The crew of a remote Arctic base fights off a murderous monster from outer space.
BW-87 mins, CC

6:00 PM
Two free-spirited bank robbers flee railroad detectives and head for Bolivia.
C-110 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

Beauty and the Beast. Overrated but you should still see it.

8:00 PM
A mysterious monster forces a young innocent to share his life in an enchanted castle.
BW-94 mins

5:30 AM
Vintage training short film used by police to show tear gas techniques.
C-27 mins,

11/30 Sunday

6:00 AM
A pet-shop otter changes a man's life when he feels compelled to move it to the Scottish coast.
C-107 mins, CC

8:00 AM
In this sequel to National Velvet, a former racing champ helps turn a delinquent girl into an Olympic rider.
C-127 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

10:15 AM
A stray dog brings together a young boy and an old man in the Georgia swamps.
BW-95 mins, CC

12:00 PM
Black sharecroppers during the Depression fight to get their children a decent education.
C-105 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

2:30 AM
A sickly young man from a military family fights to earn a place in the Japanese Army.
BW-87 mins

Materialism overtakes Japan in Ozu's Good Morning.
4:15 AM
Two boys stop speaking until their parents will buy them a new TV.
C-94 mins