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Friday, January 26, 2018

Roll on Easy Rider

Easy Rider is now a vintage work. The iconic road film (1969, directed by Dennis Hopper, produced by Peter Fonda, written by Fonda, Hopper and Terry Southern, filmed by László Kovács and Baird Bryant, edited by Donn Cambern, starring Hopper, Fonda, and Jack Nicholson) is American cinema’s first truly “Independent” blockbuster feature. Costing under $400,000 to make, it grossed over $60 million at the box office. Easy Rider rolls out the odyssey of three bikers who lay open to all the wonder and dread of the hippie counterculture of the 1960s. Like a genie with a magic carpet, the screen opens with a song and quickly whisks you onto the mighty landscape of the southwestern United States, a world populated by stoned urban rebels and treacherous country cutthroats, two groups with conflicting ideologies for which they will literally fight each other to the death. You begin your journey with Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) and it is a first names only relationship. They are later joined by a third biker, George Hanson (Nicholson). The bikers have a purpose and it drives the film’s dialogue. Their journey redefines freedom, and, as George (Nicholson) says, who is free among us. “They'll talk to ya and talk to ya and talk to ya about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em.” There is a slower pace here, life is to be contemplated, relished and memorized, love is to be made and brotherhood cherished before the final bloody battle of conflicting ideologies begins. 

As a contemporary noir with groundbreaking cinematography, action alternately peppered by revving engines and lulled by iconic music, juddering interplay of light and shadow, moving landscapes, unbalanced framing, tilted camera angles, and a slow-flow timeline strategy, Easy Rider has become the cornerstone of an era. The film’s plot blurs the lines between good and bad and right and wrong, and in the end it embraces a motif of alienation. The freewheeling soundtrack with music by The BandThe ByrdsThe Jimi Hendrix ExperienceSteppenwolf.) is choreographed to a moving image-picture design that prefigures the music videos of the 1980s. Easy Rider is a herald of cinematic worlds to come: for the popular music compilation track (such as the 1973 George Lucas film debut coming of age comedy American Graffiti.) and with Its use of a drawling, laid back production style it does, in retrospect, auger Robert Altman’s films. It is a rite of passage of youth into adulthood.

During their road trip, the initiates encounter various subcultures of their own countrymen and women, who are also listening, ready to lend a helping hand. If religion was their spur, one might say that they were missionaries for a righteous cause. But they are not. They are moving a large quantity of cocaine for a drug lord. In the opening scene, the interaction of the two pushers with the drug lords leads to a rendezvous with an unidentified organized crime team whose leader is carrying a black cane with a white skull crest. (An homage to the Mexican feast of the Day of the Dead?) Post-drug deals, the two roadies upgrade their bikes and roll on, with an accent on their costumes. There’s the American flag stamped, black leather-clad, helmeted, zoned Wyatt and the buckskin wrapped, un-helmeted, cowboy-hatted, stoned Billy. After being jailed for parading without a permit by country sheriffs, they luck into detoxing cellmate George, a local alcoholic attorney who quickly becomes their get-out-of-jail-free card. George meets Wyatt’s requirement to wear a helmet by retrieving his gold local high-school football helmet that his nostalgic mom had saved. The three then head off to New Orleans and jubilantly arrive there in time for Mardi Gras.

The female characters in the film are secondary to the male characters. They are decadent, mealy-mouthed, dopey but stylish plot décor and include Nicholson’s absentee mother, free-love commune hippie chicks, high school girls in a roadside diner infatuated with longhairs on motorcycles and prostitutes in an upscale New Orleans bordello. It is during the encounter with roadside diner girls that ominous hostility manifests what will become later become murder in cold blood- a product of unrequited vengeance left over from the Civil War, 100 years yore. Local reactionary cutthroats, jealous of the attention that the high school girls give the liberal roadies, agree that “they won’t make it past the parish line”. The use of then-new quick-cuts, A_B_C_ rolled superimpositions as seen in the glorious cemetery scene where the roadies and their two bordello babes drop acid and decode their gory tragic death (shot point blank off the road by a country cutthroat in a pickup truck with a sawed-off shotgun) confirms Easy Rider's alignment to the avant-garde films of the New American Cinema of those times. 

For me, the re-viewing of this film was a happy trip back to the days when, as a teen-ager, I was fascinated by the 1960 counterculture paradigm. Love! (I have since purchased the film’s sound track on Amazon.) Once again, I am diverted, into my own purposeless void, hopping on a bike in the sun or the rain and going everywhere and stopping anywhere. I will definitely want to see this film again. 

11:43 am est | link          Comments

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


(Nuovo) Cinema ParadisoItalian pronunciation: [ˈnwɔːvo ˈtʃiːnema paraˈdiːzo], "(New) Paradise Cinema") is a 1988 Italian drama film written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, with outstanding cinematography by Blasco Giurato and a sensational score by Ennio and Andrea Morricone.

The film opens in a high room overlooking the Mare Tirreno on the western Italian coast.  An unnamed older woman is foregrounded at a table before an open window with a view of the sea, she is making a telephone call to an unnamed starlet resting on her large suite in urban Roma, Italia. The call is a death announcement to be relayed to the protagonist of the tale, a ficticiously famous Italian film director named Salvatore Di Vita (Jacques Perrin as an adult, Marco Leonardo as an adolescent, Salvatore Cascio as a child). Salvatore returns home late that evening to learn from his girlfriend (in the bed) that his mother Maria at the window (Antonella Attili as a young woman, Pupella Maggioas an old woman) had called to say that someone named Alfred(Philippe Noiret) had died in their Sicilian hometown, and that he had inherited something. Salvatore agrees to come home to retrieve it and to attend the funeral.


Viewing the international cut of Cinema Paradiso(123 minutes as opposed to the 51 minute longer running time of the extended Italian cut) is always a trip down memory lane. If you’ve seen the film multiple times, as I have, the re-viewing conjures up spectres of prior screenings and brings to mind those locales and audiences that one can only overlay onto the present screening's time and place. It is a portal to nostalgia.

Of course, the movie's mis-en-scene articulates all that is forever gorgeous to life on planet Earth- Toto the impish boy child, Maria the sorrowful WW ll widow, the throw of moving images onto a screen in a darkened room, an octagonal c.e.1608 stone water fountain frothing in an ancient Sicilian piazza, the sun-drenched Tyrrhenian seacoast, the historic Palazzo Adriano and the warmth of the local Sicilian people who support a cast of excellent actors. Maybe it’s my southern Italian-Greek roots, but I will always love the ebb and flow of sunlight in this film.

However, with every screening, a disturbing thought prevails. The thought becomes a question that I leave each screening with, and the question remains as eternal as the film in my experience as a spectator. The question is this: Why is it always a film about simpatico and loving connections between generations of men that predominates the canon of world cinema? As it well deserves, this film is listed in the 'Top 100 Films of World Cinema'. However, it's more than time to rethink this axiom. Why are there are very few films that celebrate relationships between generations of women that even survive the battlefield of the post-production room? (This was something that, as an experimental fimmaker, I addressed with my own mentor, Shirley Clarke, in our work “Shirley Clarke in Our Time”).

Today, simultaneously, here in 2018 at 721 Broadway and there in 1988 south of Palermo, Italia on the Cinema Paradiso screen, a totally genderist spectacle unwinds this ultimate film experience and features a montage of jump cuts in which we move from a solemn funeral procession to a jet taking off to a private screening room where the unraveling of a 35mm reel of heterosexual kisses on film, all recorded and directed by males, and, having been collected by a older male to be the inheritance of a younger male, is observed now tearfully by that male, projected by (all of them are white) another male to the exclusion of all females- including the ones in the kisses in the screen.

As a viewer I am inundated by a final collage of nitrate kisses in the last scene of Cinema Paradiso. Confusion reigns. How can I possibly leave the theater feeling included in this story? I am an outsider looking in, looking on. So is every woman character in the script, including Salvatore’s mother.

In the extended version of this film, there is a love scene in which Salvatore finds his lost adolescent love Elena (Agnese Nano as a young woman, Brigittte Fossey as an adult in the extended version only), and, in a simple reunion scenario we learn that she had written him a note as to her whereabouts, but Alfredo, with intentions to shepherd Salvatore onto a path that would lead him out of his home town and into the big world of filmmaking, kept her note from him, just as he protected him from the ire of his mother over the misappropriation of grocery lire as a boy.

Although, in my opinion, the longer "new" version destroys the cinema of the film by creating a soap opera schmaltz waltz at the end, it does do one thing right: it gives voice to young Elena's mind and passion and reveals to the spectator the proverbial glass ceiling laid onto her honest effort to chose love by irrascible old Alfredo. So, as usual, I try to analyze my audience experience. Salvatore (a name which means “savior”) saves Alfredo’s life. As a spectator I am thus easily seduced into pledging my allegiance to Salvatore, and, therefore, to the world of Salvatore. It’s interesting that in this experience, I lose all sense of my spectator gender and fall in love with the film. It’s pure entertainment value, like a ride in an amusement park. Alfredo is in effect Salvatore’s mentor, Salvatore’s life is a film within a film within the film, and it is through this time machine that his cinema is born. It becomes evident to me that perhaps the director's true intentions were not met, that he had neither the experience nor the skills nor the historic protocol to script out such a powerful revolutionary scenario as one which would give full voice to a woman's active desire in a classic of cinema such as this one. It is a clear that the time to set up the protocol for inclusivity of intergenerational character development in relations between women and other minorities in world cinema is NOW. Change the trope. And from the perspective of diversity.

Ultimately what we experience in this story is the genesis of a filmmaker, how an oeuvre is made. Yet, once the credits roll and the lights go on, this great story is not really one in which I can ever hope to play a part. In its terminal exclusivity I am reminded that "great" cinema is once again defined by maleness, male achievement, and the severance of all that is lovely, intelligent, strong, influential and female. Depressing.


5:22 pm est | link          Comments

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