Tag Archives: martin scorsese
Oscar nominations drop in less than a week. Yes, awards season is heavy upon us, with all its implicit fun and horror! I’ve already reviewed three big Oscar players—The Tree of Life (love), The Help (hate), and Midnight in Paris (eh)—but have yet to touch on the season’s other talked-about titles. The following is my attempt to rectify that:
The Artist. I was delighted by the cuteness and chemistry of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, who give a spry pair of performances attuned to the film’s silence. And writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has an eye for visual gags, which dot the film: the dancing legs, the take-after-take courtship, the ascension of Peppy’s name, etc., etc. But The Artist never really coheres, coming across more as a set-piece variety hour than a fleshed-out feature film. Its tragedies, when they arrive, don’t stick—Dujardin’s alcoholism and depression always seem to have a wry smile lurking beneath them, and a climactic suicide attempt is punctuated by a joke. The film’s story is all but an afterthought, schematically stitching Singin’ in the Rain onto A Star Is Born.
Guillaume Schiffman’s gleaming photography gorgeously invokes the memory of “classical Hollywood,” but to what end? The film never really gets beyond the shock of its own retro-novelty, preferring to be vaguely about the idea of “silent movies” rather than any historically real silent cinema.* (This meta-silence explains its “Dream Factory” Hollywood setting, which could’ve been constructed from issues of Photoplay.) When it does make concrete allusions (to Citizen Kane and, infamously, Vertigo), they’re hollow and don’t fit their contexts. The Artist suggests the gist of silent movies (i.e., “they didn’t talk”) but doesn’t follow through; it’s very limited in outlook and execution. Kudos, certainly, to Hazanavicius and company for merely making a functional latter-day silent movie. I just wish they’d made more than a broad pastiche that teeters toward “They don’t make ’em like they used to!” pandering. Well, at least the dog’s cute.
*Hazanavicius himself seems strangely misinformed about 1920s filmmaking. In one interview, he claimed that under the Hays Code, “People don’t kiss, there isn’t any kissing in my movie, the dancing scenes are the love scenes.” I’m really curious where he got the impression that no kissing signifies “an American way to tell a story.”
Next: Hugo, The Descendants, War Horse, and Moneyball.
Since The Mike, of the truly excellent genre film blog From Midnight With Love was on vacation, I volunteered to help keep FMWL (and its June theme of ’80s horror) going in the meantime. To that end, I wrote a continuation of my “Horror is everywhere” series from Pussy Goes Grrr, delving into the scary side of five ’80s movies that aren’t technically horror: Raiders of the Lost Ark, The King of Comedy, Blood Simple, Ran, and Blue Velvet (the last of which I also addressed over at The Film Experience). Head on over to FMWL to read “Horror is everywhere (3)”!
This is an image from 1:00:00 into one of Martin Scorsese’s less-appreciated movies, After Hours (1985). It’s an odd little entry in Scorsese’s filmography, coming amidst lots of stories about Robert De Niro’s wounded machismo; this one’s more about wounded yuppie confidence. That yuppie is Paul Hackett (An American Werewolf in London‘s Griffin Dunne), who becomes trapped on the streets of SoHo in the rain by one unfortunate coincidence after another. Hackett isn’t especially incompetent or malicious. He’s just a normal, well-intentioned schmuck, trying to gently extricate himself from these situations, but always dragged in deeper by forces beyond his control.
When this scene rolls around, Hackett’s just been through hell. He discovered that the girl he came to visit in SoHo, but later walked out on, has overdosed on sleeping pills. Then he tried to follow up on a previous deal he’d made to get some money from a bartender, only to find out that he was the dead girl’s boyfriend. Then he returned to the apartment of Julie (Teri Garr), an emotionally unstable waitress, concerned that she too might commit suicide. As you can tell, the movie’s very concerned with cause-and-effect, thanks to Joseph Minion’s brilliantly organized screenplay. Paul just wants a way to get home, but instead of finding a Good Samaritan, he finds some very eccentric, sometimes hostile people, and accidentally messes up their unexpectedly tight-knit community.
Julie is one of the most interesting obstacles in Paul’s path, largely because of Garr’s talent for playing borderline-hysterical women. As played by Garr, Julie is a little ditzy and behind the times (the bartender calls her “Ms. Beehive 1965,” and she plays Monkees records), but she’s insecure and very sincere. She wants Paul’s companionship – and probably something more – and makes that very clear. But even though Paul originally came to SoHo for sex, by now he’s very out of the mood. After all, he’s just been accused of being a burglar, seen a girl kill herself possibly as a result of his actions, and had to cope with her boyfriend’s reactions. He’s physically and emotionally exhausted, has a hard time finding a way to subtly tell Julie “no,” and it doesn’t help that she’s unwilling to take no for an answer.
In some ways, Julie resembles an old, sexist stereotype – the unattractive woman who’ll do anything to get a man to stay with her. But she’s a little more complex than that. Although the viewer already identifies with Paul, Garr still evokes some sympathy; she’s not just unappealing and man-hungry. Like Paul, she’s trying to endure in a big, vicious city, and she’s looking for a kindred spirit. She also has to put up with his refusal to directly speak the truth, whether he’s doing it to avoid hurting her or because it’s far too complicated to get across. So although she is somewhat unbalanced, and although he doesn’t have much of a choice, Paul is still partially to blame for the conflict that ensues between him and Julie.
Beyond these gendered intricacies of their brief relationship, Paul’s problems with Julie are more than anything demonstrative of how incomprehensible he finds every other character’s behavior. In this over-the-shoulder shot, we’re basically seeing Julie from his perspective; she looks strange and potentially dangerous, and Paul has no idea how best to get away from her. Ironically, she’s just about to ask Paul, “What’s with you, are you nuts or something?” Each one thinks the other is insane. After Hours is a film about a man struggling to adjust to a foreign environment, like a more darkly comic rendition of Taxi Driver. Here he’s unable to interact with Julie on the same emotional level, and it amounts to one more little persecution he doesn’t understand in the irrational maelstrom that is SoHo.