Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - LENNY, LOVE AND DEATH and THE ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE on Blu-ray ""

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Twilight Time - LENNY, LOVE AND DEATH and THE ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE on Blu-ray

LENNY (1974; Bob Fosse)
"What is dirty? What is clean?"
One thing I love about Bob Fosse is his sense of construction. The way he puts movies together is pretty remarkable. He likes to play with structure (see his masterpiece, ALL THAT JAZZ) and editing in such a way as to really create something dynamic and impressionistic. I hadn't thought about him in the same sentence as Scorsese for some reason, but they they run in similar circles (when Fosse is at his best). Watching certain Fosse films definitely gives you a sense of artistry and the craft of cinema. There are so many different ways you can lay out a scene and how you choose to juxtapose each scene against the next says so much about how much thought went into the design and flow of a film. Though I wouldn't necessarily put Fosse in my upper tier of favorite directors, when I watch his films they occasionally just turn me into Keanu Reeves in POINT BREAK. I'm just saying "Whoa" to every other scene. He's that solid of a craftsman (though I've heard not the most pleasant or collaborative man). I also think he comes from an older school of thought when it comes to this stuff, so after having been on a run of watching more contemporary cinema it was refreshing to see someone who allows things to slow down and play out. One thing I never get tired of as a movie fan is that sense you get when you know that you're in good hands. With Fosse for instance, you start to notice the choices he's making with editing, sound and structure and you can't help but realize that the guy just knows what he's doing. When that clicks and you understand you're going to be watching something from a filmmaker that's really taken the time, it's a wonderful feeling. That's when you can truly get lost in a film is when you feel that way about what a director is doing. So this movie has all that stylistic stuff going for it of course but the other thing it has is a fascinating man at the center of it. This may sound a bit silly, but I came to Lenny Bruce through PUMP UP THE VOLUME. Before Christian Slater's character check out Bruce's book How To Talk Dirty And Influence People from the library in that film - I had never heard of the guy before. Though I was born in the year that LENNY came out, I guess that Bruce himself was still a bit before my time as it were. Once I discovered who he was, I was certainly understandably intrigued. So much of Lenny Bruce seems to be about language and words and how those words can offend or (on the other end of the spectrum) inspire people. In this day and age I don't feel like there are too many people out there like Lenny Bruce. I remember hearing some of his standup sometime in early college and being knocked out by it. Sure it was dated as far as some of the specific things he was referring to, but there was a lot of real thoughtful truths still in there. Lots of nuggets that stuck with me. Some progressive thinking that must have come across as pretty out there to a lot of people around the time he was getting popular. But there's an essential humanistic "why do things have to be this way even though they are" kind of approach to his humor and how he used it to examine social "norms". It really is the kind of thing where he has the ability to create this call to action within you. He's inspiring enough in the way he speaks and how he uses a mix of humor and sobering legitimate questions to really make you want to try to change things. Even if it's just in some small way. That's pretty remarkable. The only comedian working today that even comes close is probably Louis C.K. And even he is not quite the dynamic force that Lenny Bruce was (nor does he necessarily want to plumb the same depths that Bruce did). It's hard to compare the two though honestly because they work in two distinctly periods. Bruce was an amazing voice for his time and place. Louis C.K. is that for right now. I find it pretty spectacular though that I can still listen to Lenny Bruce talk all these years later and be affected by what he's doing and what he's getting at. That's pretty special. And what Dustin Hoffman does in this movie is try to humanize the guy behind all that stuff. Lenny Bruce, despite his power with words, is something of a tragic figure and Hoffman brings that too. It's a neat performance and certainly one of Hoffman's best. The combination of Lenny Bruce as a subject, the filmmaking and Hoffman doing some of his best work really makes for some very compelling stuff. And a it is a good looking movie too by the way. Cinematographer Bruce Surtees was no slouch. 

Special Features:
-An audio commentary with Twilight Time's own Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo is included on this disc. How much can I praise these guys? I've loved every track I've heard with them so far. They are batting a thousand and this commentary doesn't disappoint. Nick and Julie discuss a great many things here as usual. They touch on the material that was almost a different Lenny Bruce movie before Fosse's film was developed and how that one it fell apart. They also give some insights as to which were the things that interested Fosse himself about Lenny Bruce and this story in general and those were not the parts that I expected. But in retrospect it all makes sense and it kind of shifted my perspective on the movie a little bit. Just knowing which bits of the film where Fosse's "babies" so to speak was very interesting. I loved hearing all the background information that Nick and Julie doled out about Fosse, Dustin Hoffman, Valerie Perrine and Lenny Bruce. The stuff about Fosse's process, his approach to material and how much he worked through his own personal stuff in making his movies was particularly engrossing. 

Bonus:
Lenny Bruce on the Steve Allen show:

Lenny Bruce - the difference between men and women:

LOVE AND DEATH (1975; Woody Allen)
"That's just great. Nothing like hot cockles."
LOVE AND DEATH is a film that emerged near the waning years of  Woody's "earlier funnier" period. It's funny to me that though I am a pretty big Woody Allen fan, when it comes to writing about his movies I occasionally find myself at a loss for what to say about them. This is not for lack of quality, but beyond saying "the movie is funny" and throwing out my inevitably lengthy list of favorite quotes, I'm not always sure what to say. Okay, well one thing I enjoy about Woody's movies is the way he filters influences into them. He loves Bob Hope and Ingmar Bergman, so how can one make those two things go together? That's the question that LOVE AND DEATH is trying to answer. And Woody goes to some great lengths to answer. LOVE AND DEATH is one of his more ambitious films in terms of the staging of some of the battle scenes in particular (which may be the grandest, most explosions laden sequences he's ever attempted). Interestingly, Stanley Kubrick and Allen both brought out their costume period epics in the same year. Kubrick's of course was the remarkable BARRY LYNDON and it is interesting that the two films are rarely talked about together. I think that sometimes folks don't think of Allen and Kubrick as at all the same kind of filmmakers. I get it in that Kubrick is a bit more of a visual craftsman than Woody (not to take anything away from his style though mind you) and Woody is perhaps seen as a more comedic voice overall. I think people forget how much humor Kubrick weaves into his own work. BARRY LYNDON has quite a bit actually though I myself even lose track of that when I've not seen it for a while.
One of the more charming things Woody does a lot in his period films is to toss in throwaway references to mundane contemporary problems or annoyances. That sort of "character out of time" winking at the audience approach has always made me snicker and I wonder if it doesn't come from his beginnings in standup comedy. It does feel like those characters are "performing for the audience" and that those throwaways are basically ing noted by the other characters. I love the way he approaches the comedy with the Russian army stuff in LOVE AND DEATH. The "hygiene play" is a particularly brilliant touch. Woodya also does done of his classic slapstick montages wherein he himself is failing miserably at army training and various other things. His comedy is really like comfort food for me at this point. There are few things that are uproariously funny, but the movie is filled with cleverness and enough jokes are thrown out to make up for any that don't land. Considering the affection that other movies like BANANAS, SLEEPER, and EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX get hurled at them, I think LOVE AND DEATH deserves more...well...love. It's very funny stuff.




THE ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE (1967; Roger Corman)
For Roger Corman, THE ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE was the first film he'd ever shot on a big studio lot (20th Century Fox) and though it was the lowest budget picture they released that year, it was the largest budget he's ever had for a film to that point. Though the studio fought him on some of his casting choices (he wanted Orson Welles), he ended up with a pretty fantastic ensemble including George Segal, Jason Robards, Ralph Meeker, Bruce Dern, Alex Rocco, and John Agar. The movie opens with the now much more ubiquitous "based on a true events and characters" card, which is always makes me snicker for some reason. Perhaps it's because any film that's based on fact doesn't have to be very much a factual representation for the filmmakers to say that at the outset. We all know that much dramatic license is always taken so I'm always just amused to see it at the beginning of a movie. I also like that in the case of this film, that based on truth card is followed by a brief setup of the period voiceover from the great Paul Frees (the voice of Disney Haunted Mansion among countless other things). Frees' narration continues a ways into the movie as he gives an inpoint and outpoint for many of the characters we see onscreen. It's an interesting choice. Though it feels a little tacked on by the studio, I don't mind it as I love Paul Frees' voice.
I think that many folks may remember Robert De Niro's portrayal of Al Capone in THE UNTOUCHABLES, but few seem to talk about Jason Robard's Capone in this movie. It's too bad it's pretty epic. Corman let's him get pretty big in certain scenes. Makes sense, Capone was certainly a larger than life individual. George Segal is also really good in this. He is delightfully evil and moreso than I've ever seen him go. He's charmingly diabolical.
Another thing that this movie as a whole doesn't necessarily get recognized for is the violence within it. There's so much shooting. There are literally 2-3 minute scenes that are just gangsters shooting up buildings with tommy guns. This wouldn't be a thing except that the movie came out in 1967. This was the same year that saw BONNIE AND CLYDE released and that film's main characters notoriously gunned down at the end in a grandiose ballet of violence. This was around the time when the ratings system was becoming a thing. The last gasps of the production code which has taken hold in the early 1930s were being expelled. Two years later, Sam Peckinpah would make THE WILD BUNCH and create the ultimate ballet of violence. Though THE ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE is not as violent as THE WILD BUNCH, it's certainly on its way there. I can only imagine that it might have been kind of jarring to go to the theater in 1967 and see so much gun violence. What's interesting is that it was probably a relatively accurate portrayal of the way things were in Chicago at that time. Seems it could have rivaled any Los Angeles gangland activity that would occur years later. Heck, these Chicago gangs may have even invented the drive-by shooting. 
All that said, this is a solid gangster movie with a great cast. Being that Roger Corman was working with a big budget (for him) and on a studio lot, the movie looks pretty great. Between the lighting, production design, costumes and sets, it's one of the best looking movies Corman ever made. This Blu-ray looks quite good and comes recommended from me for fans of Corman or old gangster flicks.

Special Features:
"Roger Corman Remembers" - Though this only runs three and a half minutes there's a lot packed in here. Corman recalls his expriences working on a studio lot and where he filmed a lot of the scenes (Al Capone's house was a redressed version of the Von Trapp home from THE SOUND OF MUSIC for example). He mentions casting issues and how the studio differed with him on his choice to have Orson Welles play Al Capone ( they gave the reasoning that Welles was extremely hard to direct as an actor). Though I would have loved to hear Corman talk further about the movie, I always enjoy his stories and this piece has some fun insights. 

Bonus: Roger Corman on the making of THE ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE:



LENNY, LOVE AND DEATH and THE ST. VALENTINES DAY MASSACRE Blu-rays can be purchased from Screen Archives here:
http://www1.screenarchives.com/display_results.cfm?category=546

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