From the Park Bench
T'was an agonizingly beautiful afternoon and subsequent evening yesterday. I had a Netflix movie to return (Hell's Angels, see below), a parcel to mail (somebody reading this ought to be putting two and two together right about now), a copy of The DVD-Laserdisc Newsletter - not to mention an iPod - so I took an extremely relaxed stroll up there, and stopped in the park on the way back to read the magazine. It had been a pretty rough day, but the weather, the magazine and the bold strains of Michael Giacchino's The Incredibles had put me in a very good mood.
The aforementioned issue of DVDLaser had a most incisive and thought-provoking review of Robert Altman's Quintet, an unfairly maligned film. Douglas Pratt is one of the few commentators who seemed to give this film a decent chance and found much of interest in it, as did I. Yeah, it is probably among the bleakest films ever made, but it is a fascinating piece of science fiction, one of Altman's few. I, of course, find the combination of one of my favorite genres with one of my favorite filmmakers irresistable, so I'm very happy that this film and A Perfect Couple have been released - along with A Wedding, which I've never seen.
...and that sixth side is also reflected in various ways through the film (and Tom Pierson's score, which Pratt agrees with my very high assessment of), from the way that Newman's character tracks down another person - five digits and a color code - to the fact that while there are five players in the titular game, there is also a sixth person who referees the match.You suddenly start noticing that many key words and names in the movie have five letters, and that conversations at times consits of five words. There are groupings of fives throughout the film, as well as more 'V's and pentagons, and there are undoubtedly other ingenious uses of the number or the design in the camera angles and the timings of various shots ... With an outstanding musical score by Tom Pierson and a richly adapted set design ... but unlike the many brain-dead apocalypse action films that would follow in the Eighties, Altman enlivens the film, and pulls you back to it for multiple viewings, with his deft integration of the 'five' puzzles and an accompanying metaphysical theme - penatgons have their five sides, but they also have a 'sixth' side, represented by their 'empty center.'
In a sense, this film is sort of Altman's Peter Greenaway movie. Greenaway often builds films about particular obsessions (my favorite example being Drowning by Numbers), which is one of the reasons why minimalist composer Michael Nyman's music worked so well for his pictures; they, like minimalist music, makes use of variations of a single theme. Altman's relatively chaotic style is often very much in conflict with this type of project - although he is also capable of adapting that style to a specific framework if necessary, as Popeye and The Gingerbread Man demonstrate - and so Quintet would, on the surface, be an anomalous project for him. However, the film also works as a continuation of certain threads found in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Images, Three Women and Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull's History Lesson; however, Newman came onto Quintet because of his experience on Buffalo Bill and the Indians, but apparently had a very grueling experience working on it, and I figure the more formal quality and forbidding setting of Quintet put a severe damper on Altman's notorious party atmosphere, which adds to the strange effect the film has.
A recent exchange with ehowton brought on by my revisiting my Alien Quartet album sent me delving through what turned out to be a mountainous body of work I've written about Alien in this journal. I also noticed that my paper on genre in Alien, of which I'm very proud, wasn't listed in my Alien tag. This was rectified, of course, but going through the scores this weekend, having this discussion with him, the re-reading of my own thoughts over the years about the film - and the fact that I have a new 50" television - are putting me in the mood to watch Alien and Aliens very soon and very loud.
I caught up with Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels, footage from which featured in The Aviator and was discussed extensively on the commentary track. It was a very interesting movie; it is definitely pre-Code, with Jean Harlow playing a sexually voracious woman and a lot of strong language spoken by the fighter pilots. The central drama is dated but certainly entertaining, with an adult tone that counterbalances some of the more melodramatic elements of the story.
But the aerial sequences are absolutely spectacular. As with the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now, the scenes in the air haven't dated because there are no special effects being employed. The longer shots give the dogfight sequences a sense of scale that you just don't get in today's cinema, and only adds to the appreciation of the skill of the pilots - a factor which works in the film's favor. One such scene, the battle with the dirigible that graces the film's posters, is not only visually stunning, it also contains one of the most eerie moments I've ever seen in a war film as the Germans lighten their load.
Howard Hughes had more enthusiasm than expertise as a director (though he is by no means incompetent), but what makes Hell's Angels work is that when it gets up into the air, it is shot and edited in such a way to put the viewer right there with the pilots, and damn it, if there was one thing Hughes knew better than almost any other filmmaker, it was aviation. One doesn't feel that one is watching the film as one is experiencing it. This film really captures a quality specific to World War I era aircraft that I can think of no other film doing. Part of this is because of the lack of music; as was custom at the time this film was made, with the exception of opening and closing titles, the only music in the film was diegetic. As a result, the sequences in the air don't have the emotional 'crutch' that we have all grown accustomed to, and are all the more harrowing for it. This, combined with the eye-popping photography, works to the film's benefit.
On the other hand, I also have found Jerry Goldsmith's score for The Blue Max to be #@$%ing awesome.
I went to an A.T.M. today to take out some money... and the machine told me the card was expired. I have o'er a year before this card expired, so I called up the bank to ask them what the devil was going on (a relevant way of posing the question given the date, I thought). They informed me that they had reason to believe that the numbers on some of their cards (including mine) had been compromised and that they had issued me a new card. Which they hadn't. So I had to go to the bank to get a temporary debit card until I can get my debit/credit card back from the Ω۞₪۩Өing bank.
Considering this situation, along with what happened when I bought my television and what happened while up in Boston a few months ago, that it may be time for a new bank.
I had ordered a copy of the Varése Sarabande CD of Supergirl. I was really looking forward to finally hearing the this edition, as while I like the Silva disc, I find the electronics to be a little overwhelming and the whole affair to be a bit long. I also would like to hear the faster version of the main title. Unfortunately, I won't be able to beacuse this seller didn't feel the need to send me what I ordered. I got the Silva edition instead. I gave them negative feedback, but I really feel that more retribution is required. I have their address in Staten Island, and I'ma call a coupla hard, pipe-hittin' CD collectors, who'll go to work on the homes there with a pair of pliers and a blow torch. You hear me talkin', Top Music boy!?! I ain't through with you by a damn sight! I'ma get medieval on your ass!!!