Tag Archives: jimmy stewart

Federico y Ginger

Amid news of a Pac-Man movie, the latest casting developments in Captain America, reviews of Iron Man 2, new TV spots for The A-Team, and Fox’s announcement of a Planet of the Apes prequel, I excavated a small piece of encouragement: Pedro Almodovar will be working with Antonio Banderas once again. The film, The Skin I Live In, will begin shooting this summer.

“The film will be a terror film, without screams or scares,” Almodovar told the Spanish daily El Pais. “It’s difficult to define and although it comes close to the terror genre – something that appeals to me that I’ve never done – I won’t respect any of its rules. It’s the harshest film I’ve ever written and Banderas’ character is brutal.”

Throughout the eighties, Almodovar and Banderas made five films together – Labyrinth of Passion, Matador, Law of Desire, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and finally Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! – an impressive, versatile streak that, in its day, ranked with the greatest director/actor partnerships around. Back then, before Almodovar had fully cultivated his current, perversely mature sensibility, Antonio Banderas was the living embodiment of his world, Cary Grant to his Howard Hawks. Under Almodovar’s direction, the actor alternated between a screwball-state of flummoxed boyishness (like Grant in Bringing Up Baby, Monkey Business, I Was A Male War Bride) and commanding manliness (like Grant in Only Angels Have Wings) – a duality appropriate to Almodovar’s madcap feeling for passionate behavior.

Together they forged new cinematic ground (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is an NC-17 comedy about a stalker in love with a heroine addicted porn-star), pushing ahead into uncharted emotional territory that they may not have reached on their own. Katharine Hepburn’s famous remark about Fred and Ginger – “He gave her class and she gave him sex” – readily applies; Pedro is Fred, Antonio is Ginger. How else could we have been lured into rooting for Banderas, who played that memorable, lovable rapist in Matador? Teamwork.

Jimmy Stewart made cold Hitchcock warm; Mastroianni gave warm Fellini cool; and Liv Ullmann gave Bergman’s films a chance at hope, like a life preserver thrown into a cold, dark sea. Antonio Banderas – a highly gifted performer who has never really been taken seriously in America – could, as Almodovar said, play “a puerile guy with an overpowering power of seduction.” Has there ever been a better summary of Almodovar’s brand of playful intensity?

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I Confess

Alfred Hitchcock died thirty years ago this week, on April 29th, 1980.

I’ve always had a confusing relationship with Hitch. With several exceptions (which I’ll touch on in a moment), a large majority of his pictures fill me with a strange mixture of awe and apathy, like when the TV tells me about a new sports car that can go very, very fast, or an athlete who scores a lot of points. “Yes,” I want to say to movies like North by Northwest, “That’s a lovely sequence – a touchdown sequence – but…then what?”

Maybe it’s because we like to talk about Hitchcock in pieces. The Shower Scene, the crane shot in Notorious, Vertigo’s dolly zoom, the high-angle shot from Topaz – wonderful garnish, but sometimes I wonder, where’s the beef? (Caveat: Vertigo is 100% prime cut select.) Often, it has helped me to see the garnish as the beef: so many of these pictures tend to be as much about how we watch them as they are about their content. Rope is a famous example: an experiment in watching. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’ve always thought Rear Window was one of Hitch’s best; it was a subject near to Hitch’s heart, and it showed.

Wait, did I just write “Hitch’s heart”? What does that mean, exactly?

Screenwriter David Freeman had the good fortune to work with Alfred Hitchcock late in his career, in the days when Hitch would have prints of the newest movies delivered to his office at Universal, which is how he saw Bergman’s Autumn Sonata. In his book, The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock, Freeman reports that Hitch, at the height of one of those ferocious Liv-Ullmann/Ingrid Bergman scenes, got up from his seat, wobbled to the door, and announced, “I’m going to the movies.” Then he left.

It’s a revealing anecdote, and a reminder that Alfred Hitchcock, deep in his heart-thing, was really not one for the hard stuff. He was jokester. Tilt your head, substitute Cary Grant for Alec Guinness, and you’ll see a good portion of these pictures look like sadistic Ealing Comedies. Shadow of a Doubt, Suspicion, Lifeboat, Strangers on a Train, and a few of the films I mentioned above, all have that mischievous prankster quality, the giggly feeling of pulling the rug out from under the status quo. I like these movies, but with the exception of Vertigo and Rear Window, my personal cluster of favorites comes from the back shelf: The Wrong Man, I, Confess, and The Man Who Knew Too Much (the second) are perhaps his most disturbing films. Not because their composition is any more bravura than Psycho’s, but because they each feature such strong performances (Henry Fonda, Montgomery Clift, and Doris Day, respectively). These characters are the dead-opposite of the Hitchcock Blonde, and their films are all the better for it. But that’s very much a personal thing.

For the record: it’s only because I love Hitchcock that I let myself needle through his best films. As a former-fellow voyeur, I know he wouldn’t want it any other way.

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A Perfect Day for Bogdanofish

On Monday The Hollywood Reporter announced Peter Bogdanovich will write and direct an adaptation of Kurt Andersen’s monolithic novel Turn of the Century. What lovely news.

It’s been a white since we’ve had a big-screen feature from Bogdanovich, and it’s about time. The Cat’s Meow, his reimagining of the Ince yachting incident, was released in 2001, almost a decade ago. Since then, he’s been busy with everything from Sopranos to Tom Petty, and though many may not know it, Bogdanovich has used the time to turn out some terrific work. Directed by John Ford, televised by Turner Classic Movies in 2006, will surely become one of the most essential studies of John Ford in either book or film form, and will gain in importance as Ford’s legacy becomes more and more wound up in the past. While Ford’s contemporaries, giants like Hawks and Cukor, will have an easier time reaching audiences of the future – their sensibilities being so sharp and forever modern – visitors to Ford Country, I’m sure, will need more of a roadmap. Directed by John Ford will be just that.

Bogdanovich would be the first to admit that he learned landscapes from John Ford. Films like The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, and Nickelodeon are full of expansive vistas, the sort of evocative, mythic terrains we think of when we think of Fort Apache or The Searchers. Even They All Laughed, Bogdanovich’s dazzling New York comedy, contains a Fordian fascination with topography. Some of those low-angle shots of John Ritter framed against shining skyscrapers bring to mind Ford’s famous depictions of John Wayne beaming against the desert sky. Monument Valley has been usurped by Times Square, but the effect is the same: setting is emotion.

This is all to say that a bit of Ford, a touch of Hawks, and a generous helping of Bogdanovich could – if the Movie Gods decree it – fuse to make Turn of the Century a very good thing. Peter Bogdanovich is at home in a crowd, and a rollicking, expansive satire like Turn of the Century, with its cast of thousands and epic scope, may very well provide him with the sort of omnibus ingredients that have buttressed his handful of masterworks.

At least I hope it does. Bogdanovich certainly deserves another terrific piece of time. “An’ that’s the thing,” Jimmy Stewart said to him, “that’s the great thing about the movies…After you learn – and you’re good and Gawd helps ya and you’re lucky to have a personality that comes across – then what you’re doing is – you’re giving people little…little, tiny pieces of time…that they never forget.”

Turn of the Century is scheduled to begin shooting next spring in New York.