Archives For movies

“My God, he even moves like Fosse.”

Yes, I said this about Bob Fosse (performing “Snake in the Grass” from Stanley Donen’s screen adaptation of The Little Prince).

On the one-year anniversary of Roger Ebert’s death, his widow Chaz Ebert has reposted the last article he ever wrote to her blog, a “leave of presence” notice posted the day before he passed away. Ms. Ebert has also written a moving account of the last year of her life without her beloved.

Reenter the Rental

November 27, 2013 — Leave a comment

I don’t know exactly at what point most people enter the “I haven’t done that in X years” phase of their lives when talking about things they used to enjoy tremendously, but it’s probably and without exception too soon. Over the past two years Berlin has either become more boring or I’ve become acclimated to Europe, but Mr. Dreamer recently located the video store you would want and expect the once Babylon-on-Spree to offer, and it is Filmgalerie Berlin.

In my youth home video was emerging and although it became a double-edged sword, it was an exciting one at the time. We had unprecedented access to studios’ back catalogues that otherwise would have been broadcast on network or public television if at all, and the trips to the local video store were full of the joy of discovery that the on-demand convenience of iTunes rentals and the ethical slope of BitTorrent still can’t match. It has been about ten years since I had gotten a rental for an evening’s entertainment and the next day’s inconvenience, but the night I met Mr. Dreamer at the Filmgalerie I was interested in looking at what was on offer. On seeing the section sign I also had the bad taste to blurt out the question that marked me as much as my accent: “What exactly constitutes ‘world cinema’ in Germany?” Allegedly anything not made in Germany, which presents something of a conflict considering that most dubbed Hollywood movies screened at the Cubix Alexanderplatz are hardly considered “world cinema,” but growing up in a country where I was least likely to see a film made in my own country at the local multiplex, I guess I can accept that.

We were at the Filmgalerie more or less to rent The Court Jester, as for some reason one night during dinner I got into the “pellet with the poison” speech. Mr. Dreamer was also impressed with the studied and archival nature of the Filmgalerie and wanted to know my opinion of it, being a film graduate. My “I spent CDN$45K to be able to tell you what to rent on Saturday night” opinion of Filmgalerie is that I will happily support any establishment that puts Mel Brooks in their “deep auteurs” section and seeing the Liguid Sky DVD turned outwards on one of the shelves inspired a silent fangirl squee. There are a lot of movies I still have to watch, but at least almost all of them are neatly organized and in one place, even if I can’t properly recognize all of the translated German titles.

Only “The Girl”

November 13, 2013 — Leave a comment

I’m a longtime admirer of Samantha Geimer’s well-spokenness considering she became the victim of what can still be called one of the crimes of the century when Roman Polanski raped her at age thirteen, while on a photo shoot in 1977. I was too young to understand or remember the news coverage at the time, but in the intervening years, whenever interest in Polanski flared, a camera would invariably find its way in front of Ms. Geimer and I would listen as closely as I could trying to make sense of the crime from her perspective, in that she has refused to neatly fit the media-friendly label of sad, destroyed victim. Her memoirs, The Girl: a Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski, paints an interesting picture of a young woman navigating a nascent understanding of her own sexuality and pursuing ambitions of stardom while in a situation that no-one should face, and an aftermath that continues to defy logic over three decades later.

In the usual morning show author interviews, Ms. Geimer has continued to be intelligent and media savvy while facing a new barrage of criticism for wanting to be left alone while putting out a book, but after reading her memoirs her reasons for both wanting to be left alone and for telling her side of the story both seem supremely reasonable. In 2009 a new chapter was added to the Polanski saga when authorities tried to extradite him to the U. S. to stand trial for his crime after fleeing before the formal court proceedings could start in 1978; this time with the added five-thousand channel universe talking head punditry and the 24-hour judgment pipeline that is the Internet. Samantha Geimer has already complained repeatedly of how she had been characterized by the unimaginably slow pre-Internet media as either some sort of vile slut temptress being pushed by a demanding stage mother into entrapping one of Hollywood’s most esteemed directors of the day; or as the weak, helpless, voiceless child victim. Ms. Geimer has made it abundantly clear that the mischaracterization of her mother was particularly hurtful and unfair, and the mass opinion-go-round of Internet commentary still has many things to say on every aspect of the case, whether grounded in fact or not. I can imagine why now it would be more important for Ms. Geimer to add her own voice to the fray than it had seemed before.

Reading the book, some of my own suspicions about Polanski’s crime were confirmed, and other assumptions I had made were handily refuted. Still refusing to fit labels or misrepresent the truth as she saw it, Ms. Geimer bravely makes several admissions that could possibly play into her detractors’ image of her. After she stated that her family did view Polanski as a ticket to stardom she could have told me she went through a brief period in the 1990s where a perfectly-formed second head had sprouted from her shoulder but would only communicate in show tunes and I might have believed it.

With the many other crimes of the century one thing is clear: celebrity changes everything, and Polanski’s case, still unresolved, is easily one of the phenomenon’s most famous case studies. To hear Ms. Geimer and her legal counsel tell it, had Polanski’s case gone to trial it would have made the O. J. Simpson proceedings look like a shining example of American jurisprudence. Polanski’s celebrity and his reputation was obviously a factor in the police’s handling of the case, and the book hints mightily at the idea that bruised sexual egos might have been an added problem for the case and everyone involved. The presiding judge was a man named Rittenband who fancied himself a specialist in celebrity justice and also had a taste for inappropriately younger women, just like Polanski.

Polanski did serve forty-two days in prison while undergoing a psychiatric evaluation for the rape of Samatha Geimer, and his lawyer had arranged had a plea deal with the judge and Ms. Geimer’s family which was famously broken. One of the most stunning yet overlooked aspects of the Polanski case is the extent of the judge’s malfeasance, including taking public and press opinion into account for sentencing, granting an interview about an ongoing case to People magazine, and giving the prosecuting and defending lawyers stage directions at what ended up being the final hearing of the case; stage directions which were followed. After reneging on the plea deal, the sentencing scheme that Rittenband proposed would have resulted in an indefinite sentence wherein Polanski would have been detained at the judge’s and his image consultants’ pleasure, up to a theoretical maximum of fifty years. In the three decades since Polanski fled, a victim’s bill of rights has been passed into law in California, but these rights will not apply to Samantha Geimer because the still-dangling cap feather of being the one who finally jailed Polanski still has the magic power to grant its wearer fame, prestige, and possibly public office.

Throughout her memoirs, Ms. Geimer describes her early teenage looks in less than glowing terms, but the question left unanswered is whether or not she thought the photos Polanski took of her, featured throughout the book, revealed a girl of determined poise who would become the woman she now is, despite and because of the events of that day with Polanski and the occasional madness of the decades following.

I finally finished reading The Maltese Falcon. It’s been over a decade since I saw the movie that everyone rightly remembers with everyone who should have been in it. Movie adaptations almost always diverge from the source material out of necessity, but the unsavouriness of the novel makes me wonder how different the original pre-Hays Code 1931 film adaptation is from the book and from the later version. Sam Spade on the page is brilliantly unlikable and Dashiell Hammett’s prose is far looser than Raymond Chandler’s, which is the best way the story could have been told. The production code gave a few films more than a thorough mangling (I still dream of the day the footage of the boathouse scene in Rebecca as shot by Hitchcock with the proper unfolding of events is found in some dusty warehouse or abandoned bus station locker) and finally seeing Fritz Lang’s Metropolis opened my eyes to the fact that major-studio nudity on film was not more than likely invented by Otto Preminger sometime in the sixties. I suspect that the pre-code Maltese Falcon also has a similar unsavoury truth to it that Huston’s masterwork, for all its grandeur, lacks.

My next adventure in things I should have already done is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.

Film audiences have lost perhaps their greatest champion. Roger Ebert died of cancer yesterday at the age of 70, days after announcing his “leave of presence” from his duties at the Chicago Sun-Times and his online enterprises because of the disease’s unexpected return. I have no personal recollections of the man and can’t say anything here about him that hasn’t been said better elsewhere by his friends, family, and fellow film critics. There is a lot to say about the life of Roger Ebert, and it is being expressed eloquently today.

One of the best articles I had read recently about Ebert, his life, and his struggles with cancer was published in 2010 in Esquire magazine, and it is still remarkable for the stunning photograph of the mandible-less Ebert, living intelligence playing about his eyes. Ebert himself took issue with the writer’s assertion that “Ebert is dying in increments, and he is aware of it,” but Ebert also acknowledged the need for dramatic license in telling the story.

Rest in peace, Roger. Thank you for all you did to guide my appreciation of film over the years. I hope the last book you read was a good one.