Occultober – Day 29 – Rosemary’s Baby

Rosemary’s Baby
A film that has stood the test of time better than most, Roman Polanski’s second film focusing on a woman slowly devolving into hysteria (the first being Repulsion), the success of Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 is paramount in the rise of the modern incarnation occult film in the 1970s. This is patient, if not entirely subtle filmmaking that also mark the vibe of the decade to follow.

In the first few moments of the film, there are enough portent signs and signifiers and waiting for the eventual reveal is a painful kind of bliss with only the soothing balm of Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer’s performances, both goofy and slick (respectfully). I find it difficult to find fault with this rather unique approach, and the whole proceedings have a hell of a capstone.

But really, the first 15 minutes of the film is where it is at. That ‘seeking’ pan across the New York City skyline set to an off-kilter lullaby version of Que Sera Sera. Score rather than song is absent the lyrics and inspires dread rather than hope, but the question is nevertheless, “when I was just a little girl, I asked my mother what I would be…” The answer, is apparently the mother of Satan. If Doris Day can belt that song out in Hitchcock’s , surely it can be subverted here as an anthem for the woman who knew too little, too late.

I took a huge amount of pleasure in noir-staple character actor Elisha Cook Jr. fastidiously showing off the grand old apartment (of spook central) to the young married couple. His question – and the first actual line of dialogue in the film – is whether John Cassavetes’ character is a Doctor or an Actor. The film will feature many doctors (and more than a few midwives) who are indeed more actors than doctors. A stray scrap of paper is shown belonging to the former, quite deceased, owner of the apartment whose last act was to block a closet door on the thin shared wall of her creepy and nosy neighbors with a heavy wardrobe. It reads “I can no longer associate myself.” Perhaps a hint of Mia Farrow’s soon-to-be overwhelming paranoia and powerlessness. A magazine cover will later query, “Is God Dead?” Never has a film so front-loaded its purpose only to then draw out and tease the audience for nearly two hours as surely as Farrow’s body (and hairdo) slowly withers away. But then that kicker of a climax is as surprising as it is inevitable. This is Cinema of Masochism made with exquisite craft – and so many great Polanski films would follow.

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Blu-Ray Review: A Woman Under the Influence

Director: John Cassavetes
Screenplay: John Cassavetes
Starring: Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk, Fred Draper, Lady Rowlands
Producer: Sam Shaw
Country: USA
Running Time: 147 min
Year: 1974
BBFC Certificate: 15

A kind of godfather of American independent cinema, John Cassavetes helped Stateside filmmakers break away from Hollywood and the big studios. Although he acted in a few big budget productions himself, winning acclaim for his role in The Dirty Dozen, these were only ever paychecks to bankroll his next directorial passion project. His films pioneered a raw, grittily realistic style that used elements of improvisation (although surprisingly his films are generally tightly scripted) to let his actors portray often broken and unlikeable characters. Being frequently quite long and dialogue-driven with little humour or excitement, Cassavetes’ films are hard to warm to, but his skill and importance to American filmmakers still today is undeniable.

The BFI are currently re-releasing a number of Cassavetes-directed titles on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD as part of their John Cassavetes Collection. The latest film to receive the high-definition treatment is probably his most well known and successful, A Woman Under the Influence. I took a look at the new disc, marking my second viewing of the film.

A Woman Under the Influence portrays the mental breakdown of Mabel (Gena Rowlands) and the resulting breakdown of her marriage with Nick (Peter Falk). Realising she is overly ‘nervous’ and that others view her as ‘peculiar’, Mabel tries her best to keep everyone happy and remain a good mother to her three children, but Nick’s temper and his mother’s distrust and hatred of her make it difficult for Mabel to stay mentally balanced. Nick loves his wife, but he is frustrated and frightened by her condition and doesn’t know how to deal with her ‘episodes’, so frequently blasts into fits of rage or tries to mask problems by inviting people around for parties, which only make Mabel more anxious. She eventually gets committed and Nick has to look after the children until her return. When Mabel does come back she seems to be a changed woman, but Nick’s poor handling of the situation brings everything back to the surface.

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Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

Poetry

2010 South Korea. Director: Chang-dong Lee. Starring: Jeong-hie Yun, Nae-sang Ahn & Da-wit Lee.

Chang-dong Lee (Oasis & Green Fish) brings us Poetry, a deeply moving drama about an elderly woman who discovers that her grandson, who is in her care, was one of a group of boys that sexually abused a teenager, driving her to suicide. On top of this she learns that she is experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s. The only thing keeping her world together is a poetry class she joins, although she is struggling to find beauty and inspiration in her slowly unraveling life. It’s a beautiful, poignant film that is incredibly subtle yet quietly devastating. It’s subject matter could have easily turned into a sappy TV movie, but under the skilled hands of Chang-dong any sentimentality or obvious narrative cues are avoided in favour of quiet observation. It also keeps it’s style understated, avoiding any distractingly showy camera moves or over-baked filters. That’s not to say the film is gritty-looking or ugly either, just fittingly natural. Adding to the craftsmanship is a mesmerizing central performance from Jeong-hie Yun. Rarely do actresses of her age get such a strong role and she certainly makes the most of it – she actually came out of retirement after 16 years to take it on. It’s a long, slow watch, but by God it’s worth sticking with. An extraordinary film.
-DAVID BROOK

The Golden Child

1986 USA. Director: Michael Ritchie. Starring: Eddie Murphy, Charles Dance, Charlotte Lewis.

After watching the relatively lackluster Season of the Witch, I thought it time to watch a proper “demon” film and went back to a childhood favorite. Eddie Murphy (still in his heydey) just does his thing and those classic moments still work pretty well (“I..I huhuhu I huhu….I.. I….I… say I….. want the kniiiife. Pleeease…”). Some of the comedy is a little outdated and clearly from a time gone by, but if you’re a Murphy fan I think you’ll get into a lot of it. Charles Dance as Sardom Noomspa is fantastic here and there is some really interesting set costume and set design going on. A dream sequence is particularly fantastically interesting and probably a little out of place and was maybe even off-putting for audiences at the time. The last 25 minutes or so showcases some really shitty special effects and is actually pretty boring – everything else is great though (and apparently my crush on 1980’s Charlotte Lewis is as strong as ever…. wowsers!). This is more or less a kind of a poor man’s Big Trouble in Little China with a bit more established comedic presence. Heck, it even co-stars Victor Wong and James Hong. Eddie Murphy will row your ass!
– ANDREW JAMES

(USA)

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Bookmarks for April 6-8th

  • 20th Anniversary of the Death of Laura Palmer – How Twin Peaks Changed TV
    “”Twenty years after the influential cult television show began, David Lynch’s sci-fi, absurdist murder-mystery soap opera continues to scare and befuddle legions of viewers. Without it, there would be no ‘Lost’, ‘The X-Files’ or any of the countless serials habitually labeled “quirky” and/or “weird” since the show’s debut on April 8, 1990.”
  • Some Love for Tina Fey: No More Catty Best Friends
    “She makes me laugh, unexpectedly, sheepishly, loudly, thoroughly and consistently. She is, without question, one of the ten best comedians working today. She’s John Belushi doing Joe Cocker. She’s Richard Pryor killing on the mic. She’s Norm MacDonald cracking jokes about O.J. Simpson, Vince Vaughn standing on a diner table and Johnny Carson direct addressing his audience as K-Mart shoppers. I believe in Tina Fey because she makes me laugh, and that’s why, for the first time in my life, I’m going to see a comedy entirely because of its female star.”
  • Slumming it in the movies
    “The history of American indie film happens to be dominated by lowlifes and inarticulates. This is what happens when the godfathers of independent film are John Cassavetes and Melvin van Peebles, both attracted to working-class sparks. Complaining about intelligent guys wasting their talents on “low-lifes” smacks of snobbery, but it also ignores the fact that American indie film is and always has been primarily oriented towards the marginalized, who aren’t going to make movies about themselves, and certainly aren’t about to be the stars of mainstream films.”
  • My Friend Francis, The Commentator (DVD Commentary as Art?)
    “”What you really need—yeah, there it is—what you really need is a filmmaker commentary situation. Straight art, straight cinema—it’s gonna hit you between the eyes too hard. You need a buffer, someone talking, someone intelligent to talk you through the night and the images. And damn if Francis Ford Coppola is not the man to do it. He is. Yeah. In fact I believe Francis Ford Coppola could single-handedly bring anyone through heartache with his combination of DVD commentaries, wine, and pasta sauces. But let’s focus on the DVD commentaries.”
  • Dennis Hopper Blues: The Mix Tape
    “Doctors are more than likely telling Dennis Hopper to take it easy while he battles prostate cancer. It’s not easy to rest comfortably when he’s in court in a divorce battle and now ordered to pay his estranged wife $12,000 a month. Dennis Hopper, fighting until the bitter end. Let’s create a set of music around his situation, his films, etc.”
  • Chuck Norris is Dead. Werner Herzog Killed Him.
    “The San Francisco Guardian recently reported that the hottest new Twitter trend is the “Werner Herzog vs. Chuck Norris” tag, which modifies a Chuck Norris fact to showcase how film director Werner Herzog is infinitely more awesome. A choice example: “Chuck Norris counted from 0 to infinity. Werner Herzog counted backwards from infinity to 0.”

 

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