Tuesday Editor’s Pick: “The Last Detail” (1973)

by on May 23, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Tue May 30 at  6:15 and 9:50 at at BAMcinématek [Program & Tix]

 

Blogger (and Alt Screen paramour) Andy McCarthy at The Shine Box:

Hal Ashby knows how to draw forth Jack’s knack for the physicality of madness (Five Easy Pieces spazz-out in the front seat, axe work in The Shining ), Jack’s raunch eloquence (Cuckoo’s Nest hobohemian, camp bigotry of The Departed), and the cool, composed manner of ease when stuck with the insuperable condition of the world (varsity sweatshirt lawyer in Easy Rider, identity-thief media agent in The Passenger, King of Marvin Gardens maverick literati). Which is also to suggest the understated depth of Jack’s character, “Bad Ass” Buddusky. A true counterculture movie, where the subject of rebellion, alienation, the bare urge to uprise, is traced from the inside-out – three Navy guys who have each chosen their own imprisonment in order to cope with a chaotic universe. There is an ecstasy found in beating back those prison walls as if they were not the only choice for these navy boys.  Buddy existentialism, just enough profound and just enough hilarious.

 

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Sunday Editor’s Pick: “Being There” (1979)

by on May 15, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick


Playing Sun May 15 at 3:00, 6:00 & 9:00 at BAMcinématek [Program & Tix]
 
Sam Wasson weighs in for Alt Screen:

Peter Sellers’s performance in Being There is one of the wonders of the movies. It is a wonder of personality, in its disparity to Sellers’s actual, miserable self; a wonder of skill, as a peerless feat of subatomic finesse; a wonder of cinematic history, in contrast to Sellers’ most iconic works of slapstick (which are no less nuanced themselves); a wonder of comedy, for remaining funny without trading a genuine moment for a laugh; and a wonder of compassion.
[…]
And who, exactly, is Chance the Gardener? Actually, a better question might be what is Chance the Gardener? An idiot, a retard? A Freaky Friday kid in grownup clothing? E.T.? It’s hard to imagine a precedent, which gives credence to the theory (totally my own, I admit) that the being of inquiry is on top of everything else a wholly original creation, a lone dot off the axis of tradition and unique on screen.

 
Ditto Dan Callahan:

[If] Ashby had only managed to make Being There, he would deserve a place in film history for a hushed comedy that is as sharp and precise a political satire as has ever been made in America. Ashby revered Preston Sturges, and Being There is a movie that Sturges might have admired, featuring a central performance by Sellers so slippery and bewilderingly addle-brained that the feeling grows as the film goes on that Chance might be some kind of holy fool. Ashby recognized this, and he himself decided to end the film with Chance walking on water and also made the larkish decision to run outtakes under the credits of a cut scene where Sellers couldn’t keep from laughing. Both of these decisions are huge risks, and both feel exactly right for a film that has the effect of a magic trick so convincing that not even seeing the way it was done can ruin the serene mystery of it.

 
And aren’t you curious to know what Judd Apatow has to say?
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Being What?

by on May 10, 2011Posted in: Laffers, Video


Chance the Gardener (Peter Sellers) makes some new friends in Being There.
 
Peter Sellers’s performance in Being There is one of the wonders of the movies. It is a wonder of personality, in its disparity to Sellers’s actual, miserable self; a wonder of skill, as a peerless feat of subatomic finesse; a wonder of cinematic history, in contrast to Sellers’ most iconic works of slapstick (which are no less nuanced themselves); a wonder of comedy, for remaining funny without trading a genuine moment for a laugh; and a wonder of compassion.
 

As a force of apolitical virtue, Sellers’s Chance is a standout personage in Ashby’s ouvre. Harold, Maude, Elgar (The Landlord), Buddusky (The Last Detail), and of course Woody Guthrie glean much of our support simply by playing for the right (i.e. Left) team. That is surely an asset to actor-audience relations. But in Being There, Peter Sellers, virtually a cipher, had to cook without gas. That there is wonder number six. Without lifting a finger, he protests harder and more thoroughly than Jane Fonda in Coming Home.
 

And who, exactly, is Chance the Gardener? Actually, a better question might be what is Chance the Gardener? An idiot, a retard? A Freaky Friday kid in grownup clothing? E.T.? It’s hard to imagine a precedent, which gives credence to the theory (totally my own, I admit) that the being of inquiry is on top of everything else a wholly original creation, a lone dot off the axis of tradition and unique on screen. I could go on, but I figure seven is a good number for wonders.
 

By now we know the “real” Peter Sellers – whatever that means – eluded filmmakers and journalists so completely, one could argue he went to his grave without leaving behind any record of his true off-camera self. Then again, for a man born – at least in his own mind – with a camera watching his every move, maybe there never was a real Sellers to begin with. If there is any clarity to be had in all this, I’ve always thought, maybe a touch too optimistically, it was waiting for us at the tail end of Sellers’s career, in the Being There blooper reel we’re treated to at tail end of the film.
 

I like to think that’s the real Sellers, laughing his mask off.
 


 

Sam Wasson is the New York Times Best Selling author of Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman; A Splurch in the Kisser: The Movies of Blake Edwards; as well as the forthcoming Paul on Mazursky. Currently, Wasson is working on a full-scale biography of Bob Fosse.
 

Being There is playing at BAMcinématek Sunday May 15th.

Friday Editor’s Pick: “Shampoo” (1975)

by on May 6, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

2:00, 4:30, 6:50, 9:15 at BAMcinématek [Program & Tix]
 
Alt Screen contributor Dan Callahan has a career overview of Ashby so wonderful I’m not even going to block-quote from it. Just go and read the whole thing.
 
Thanks to David Hudson, I see that Good’s Jennifer Wachtell has a Great round-up of directors enthusing over their favorite Ashby films: Alexander Payne on The Landlord, Jason Schwartzman on Harold and Maude, Wes Anderson on The Last Detail, David O. Russell on Shampoo, and Judd Apatow on Being There.
 
From Wachtell’s intro:

In the 1970s, Hal Ashby made a series of films so brilliant and yet so utterly different from one another that if you didn’t know who the director was, you might not think they were made by the same person…At his best, Ashby was able to make the personal political and the political personal, with humor and without boring the audience.
 
It is not surprising that Ashby’s films feel relevant at the moment, since our fragmented political climate isn’t that different from the post-Vietnam-and-Watergate years in which they were made. But unlike their latter-day counterparts, Ashby’s movies take on complicated subject matter without being reductive, telling stories through human relationships with no clean resolution. There is more said about American politics in Being There or about the women’s movement in Shampoo than in so many of the films that take on those subject matters directly.

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Hal Ashby Retrospective at BAMcinématek (May 6-24)

by on May 3, 2011Posted in: Essay

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