"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
There are 4 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:
In case anyone who subscribes to TCM missed their showing of The Asphalt Jungle last month, it is airing again Monday, March 14 at 3pm PST. John Huston, the film's director, made many fine films throughout his career but this is arguably his most accomplished and perfectly realised motion picture. It was previously reviewed here.
Hotel, compared to the previous TCM recommendation, is far less prestigious but nevertheless highly engaging. The motion picture's title and perhaps the perceived insignificance of its popularised literary source, has left the film undeservedly prejudged and subsequently dismissed as a trifle by many. Hotel is in fact a subtle but thoughtfully compelling cinematic story about transition, for both the title subject and the people whose lives intersect within its opulent surrounds.
There's a strong ensemble cast portraying distinctive, multi-dimensional personalities who find themselves in some unique and conflicted circumstances. As these situations become more and more precarious, the tension mounts as the hotel inhabitants find their values, loyalty and ingenuity repeatedly tested, which makes for a most captivating drama.
1967's Hotel was taken, like 1970's Airport, from a novel by Arthur Hailey. Both films focus on individuals whose activities revolve around their respective locations. In comparison, Hotel is the less grandiose of the two, having characters who don't appear as stereotyped, possessing more "down to earth" concerns. Its narrative is intricately layered and developed in a sophisticated fashion, due in large part to Wendell Mayes' intelligent and incisive adapted screenplay. Richard Quine was an actor himself before becoming a director and secures naturally resolute performances from his cast while maintaining seamless transitions between them. Quine's skilful exposition is assisted by a top-tier crew including Charles Lang's robust cinematography and Sam O'Steen's judicious editing. Their combined effort eliminates those easy to read signposts of facile character and theme identification that dog Airport and many other films whose stories take place at a specific site, furthering a tendency to make their scenarios feel rather episodically "soapy."
Hotel may not hold the attention of those expecting the avant-garde, or blatantly simplistic conflicts, spectacular special effects, or theatrical melodramatics but will surely absorb the more mature, discerning viewer with a diverse and unique cast of characters caught up in the machinations encompassed by a historical New Orleans landmark.
Rod Taylor authoritatively heads the formidable cast which includes Melvyn Douglas, Catherine Spaak, Kevin McCarthy, Merle Oberon, Michael Rennie, Richard Conte, Carmen McRae and perhaps most enjoyable of all, Karl Malden, "working it" as the hotel's resident key thief and kleptomaniac. In addition, Hotel sports a real showstopper: a perfectly constructed scene of frightening realism and maximum suspense involving a malfunctioning elevator. An added bonus is the smooth and jazzy score by Johnny Keating. Hotel will open on TCM (updated) Friday, June 8 at 2:45pm PST.
The next recommendation is one of Britain's and the horror genre's finest: Dead of Night previously reviewed here. The "recurring dream" will begin again Wednesday, March 30 at 1pm PST.
What better way to end the month than with a Guilty Treasure, Strange Cargo starring Clark Gable and Joan Crawford? TCM will organise their escape Thursday, March 31 at 10:45pm PST.
TCM's current schedule can be confirmed by clicking on any of the above images. For those who live in parts of the U.S. other than the western region, the time zone can be adjusted in the upper right-hand corner of TCM's programme.
A Happy Birthday shout-out to the extraordinary actor Scott Wilson who turns 74 on March 29th. He's brought such remarkable characters to life throughout his career, including a murder suspect in his film debut In the Heat of the Night, an unforgettable co-starring lead role in In Cold Blood, distinctive supporting turns in Castle Keep, The Gypsy Moths, The Grissom Gang, Lolly-Madonna XXX, The Great Gatsby and so many others. Perhaps most of all, he's recognised for his authoritative character Herschel Greene in the immensely popular TV series The Walking Dead.
The Soundtrack recommendation for the month is maestro Ennio Morricone's score to the 1979 thriller Bloodline in its entirety for the first time on CD.
To celebrate the 87 year old composer's world concert tour, his 60 years in music and a recent Best Score Academy Award for The Hateful Eight, Varese Sarabande through their Club Series is making this rare and distinguished score available in a very limited edition. Although the film itself is nothing to write home about, Morricone's significant musical contribution inspiringly communicates with his typical adroitness, all of the emotions inherent in the drama, especially through a sublimely gorgeous love theme. For more information, including ordering directly from Varese Sarabande (who ship internationally), simply click on the image.
"Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape." These words come from the deteriorating and increasingly pressurised mind of a New York City insomniac in Martin Scorsese’s intoxicating Taxi Driver released in 1976.
Robert De Niro is Travis Bickle, an ex-Marine, Vietnam War veteran, self-described as “God’s lonely man” who could not be in a more ideal, congested environment for nurturing feelings of isolation, frustration and cognitive hostility that will further assist him on his way to insanity. We feel his acute disappointment suffered from disconnects to those around him such as Peter Boyle's co-worker 'Wizard' (to whom he finally reaches out for help) or his fares (as in director Martin Scorsese’s passenger who plans on killing his cheating wife in the most gruesome way possible). Travis’ pitiful failures to understand and communicate with those he idolises or cares for are keenly observed as he interacts with political campaign worker Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) and underage street prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster). He sits alone, slowly tipping his TV over with his foot or writing entries into his journal that sound pathetically childlike but become impliedly nihilistic. The pressure mounts... he has to do something. “Here is…” he writes defiantly “… a man who would not take it anymore.” He pops pills, exercises and "organizises" but it's not enough.
Our descent into the underbelly of depravity continues as composer Bernard Herrmann mounts a percussive incursion for Travis while jazzily delineating New York City's bustling diversity including its nighttime's seedier sights and sounds, all beautifully captured by Michael Chapman's photographic artistry. Chapman and Scorsese masterfully choreograph us “through the looking glass” of their character’s hypnotic observances and strangely compulsive encounters, drawing us closer and closer as if they’re encouraging us to become like Travis, in whose twisted alternate reality we progressively share.
It seems Travis mostly acts without much forethought or purpose (represented for example when he naively takes Betsy on a date to a porno movie), primarily choosing a life of familiar routine. There are 2 exceptions to this kind of day in and day out existence. First, are the subjects he watches and then conceptualises an alternate life with (Betsy) or for (Iris). Second, is the “thing he must do”, his final two-fold act of cathartic purpose. He buys an arsenal of weapons from a co-worker’s contact and prepares for his last stand against his perceived enemy of degradation he sees and feels closing in around him. His well charted failures to feel significant or a part of something culminate in his thwarted assassination of a senator, so he hurriedly decides on a less protected target, going all out on a killing rampage against Iris’ “caretakers.” At the end of this horrifically violent ordeal, Travis lies seriously wounded and tries to kill himself but has run out of bullets. He recovers and is ironically perceived as a hero who has rescued Iris, although his true intentions remain highly suspect. In the film’s coda, this human time bomb hasn’t been diffused but simply re-set as symbolised by his sudden alertness when he imagines seeing something in his cab’s rearview mirror.
Paul Schrader provided the screenplay based on his personal experiences. His meticulous groundwork is presented as an endless living nightmare by Scorsese and Company, a frighteningly real, penetrative study of a man who “stood up” only because he finally wanted out but was nevertheless returned to live among us. One real scary question this brilliant film poses is, “How many others like Travis are out there?”
Taxi Driver is March’s Blu-ray recommendation. Beautifully mastered in 4K with loads of extras from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, more information including ordering from Amazon U.S. is available by clicking on the image.
A comparatively recent film that seems inspired by Taxi Driver is 2014’s Nightcrawler written by Dan Gilroy who also makes an assured directorial debut.
He borrows "God's lonely man" theme from Taxi Driver, where the isolating effects of L.A.’s infinite spread of suburbs substitute for New York City’s high-rise confinement and creepy Louis Bloom (portrayed effectively by Jake Gyllenhaal) replaces Robert De Niro’s off-kilter Travis Bickle. Nightcrawler contains an intriguing premise of a lone degenerate who discovers his true calling in the after-dark, ominous subterranean jungle of grisly photojournalism. This aspiring opening premise stalls, however, in its failure to provide any of Taxi Driver's engaging psychological insights, opting instead for repetitively similar subplot resolutions that are not only irrelevant to the subject’s character development, but become increasingly implausible and unrealistic. Gilroy consistently focuses on Bloom’s career gambits without coming up with a single outcome that might provide a clue as to why he behaves so abnormally. The few opportunities that could have given some understanding as to his thoughts and motives are occasionally alluded to, but abandoned such as his more personal involvement with network news broadcaster Nina Romina (Rene Russo), or (what really should be) the detrimental personal consequences of the "accidental" deaths he so casually orchestrates. There's Bloom's fascinating assistant Rick (brilliantly portrayed by Riz Ahmed), a character who seems even more worthy of exploring but alas, is only allowed a subordinate role to Bloom. So who is Bloom really? What's he thinking? Why, unlike Bickle, does this reclusive psycho have such a strong need to antagonise, or harm everyone, valuing above all an insatiable desire for fame and fortune?
Travis Bickle’s narration over journal entries, a card written to his parents, numerous encounters with other distinctively diverse city dwellers, sad attempts to curtail bad thoughts and increasing hostility toward his environment show how totally lacking Nightcrawler is in offering even a pittance of Taxi Driver’s main character illumination. In order to glean even the foggiest idea as to Bloom’s bizarre but monotonous self-centred behaviour, one must project their own reasons for his strange antisocial insanity, because quite frankly, the filmmaker hasn't provided any.