Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Money Movers

1978, Australia, directed by Bruce Beresford

A very efficient genre flick from Bruce Beresford; his late 1970s/early1980s films are so different from each other that at times it's hard to believe they are the work of the same director, even though there's a good deal of thematic unity across some of the films -- men at work, mateship, flexible attitudes to the law, and so forth. Money Movers opens with a very detailed account of the security operations of an armoured car company, mirrored later by the action of a heist. This isn't a caper, though: from the beginning there's an attitude of grim professionalism, and while some of the tropes of the genre appear -- discussions of procedure, models of the theatre of operations -- there's barely a hint of humour (one joke late on seems almost incongruous) and instead, as others have noted, a pervading atmosphere of corruption, with criminals, security personnel, and cops frequently in various alliances. Despite very occasional scenes from the home front, this is a very much a film of men at work (with one exception), and the film plays with the audience to some degree, inviting identification with a job well done while rarely affording much in the way of sympathetic characters.

Monday, April 28, 2014


1977, Australia, directed by Phillip Noyce

A very fine feature debut, barely over an hour, but making intelligent use of opening titles to fill us in on the characters' backgrounds so that Noyce can quickly move his story forward. Noyce makes good use of the claustrophobic setting of the car to make us feel as though we're participants in the action, whether the camera is focused on the passengers squeezed into the back seat, or looking at the side of the driver's face during extended, and apparently partly improvised, conversation. Indeed, the titles give collective credit to the writer, actors and director, suggesting that there was something of the collaborative spirit of Alain Cavalier's Le Plein de super at work -- and the road movie format again allowing for the easy integration of a series of picaresque adventures that gradually take a darker turn. Several extended sequences are filmed on an Aboriginal reservation, and have a documentary feel, observational without being judgmental and reminiscent, at times, of the music-playing scenes in Barbara Kopple's great film of Appalachia, Harlan County USA, made around the same time.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Don's Party

1976, Australia, directed by Bruce Beresford

A very mixed bag -- a film I had wanted to see for years, but which didn't live remotely up to expectations. In its defense, the film marks a nice contrast to the usual Australian celebrations of mateship, simultaneously suggesting that there's something deeply boorish underlying the institution while also demonstrating that when push comes to shove those mates are quick to turn on each other. But its targets feel very middle-class, and certainly very of their time: superficial critiques of certain career choices, suggestions that most people aren't entirely in tune with the narrative of liberated mores, and a good deal of having your cake and eating it -- suggesting that men behave despicably toward women, but giving the men by far the better of the onscreen roles, and most of the best lines. Beresford's efforts to "open up" the original stage material sometimes seem forced, too, in particular the oddball shot choices that end up being more of a distraction than an enhancement (a shot from underneath a counter top, or others where the dolly seems to whiz along its tracks for no especially good reason).

Friday, April 11, 2014

Let the Fire Burn

2013, US, directed by Jason Osder

A very fine bit of reportage that's the more extraordinary for drawing exclusively on materials made at the time of the events narrated -- the efforts of the Philadelphia city authorities to deal with the black liberation group MOVE in the 1970s and 1980s, culminating in the decision to bomb the members of move out of their home in 1985. The bomb started a fire that killed eleven people and burned down more than 60 houses around the MOVE property, and a great deal of the film deals with the commission that the city established in the aftermath of the tragedy to assess what had occurred. Although apparently obscure on the national scale -- I've been startled to discover how few people are familiar with even the basics of an incident where a city bombed its own residents -- the events surrounding the gathering confrontation MOVE were exceptionally well documented by Philadelphia media at the time.

Osder does a fine job of stitching together footage of legal depositions, commission testimony, and news footage from both 1985 and earlier confrontations with MOVE (particularly a 1978 incident in which a police officer was killed) into a compelling narrative. While the city authorities are clearly in the cross-hairs, Osder makes no attempt to portray MOVE as an especially sympathetic bunch: having these folks as neighbours was a constant headache (sometimes literally, as they liked to berate people using loudspeakers), but the film poses profound questions about our ability to tolerate difference, and ultimately about our ability to recognize a common humanity. There is but a single instance where someone from one side of the conflict appears capable, as the confrontation spiralled, of making that connection; as a member of the commission noted at the time, it's something of a beacon of hope though ultimately so unusual that it looks more like the exception that proves the rule.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014


1940, UK, directed by Thorold Dickinson

Gaslight's opening shot must be one of the loveliest in all of cinema, the camera gliding through the air before settling on a house on Pimlico Square -- and yet there's already an undercurrent of alarm, the camera clearly not simply establishing the scene in an attractive part of London but eliminating everything but that one house. The next scene is a swift and shocking contrast, a murder shown in striking detail for the period, and we only rarely leave the house, a theatre of claustrophobia and violence both physical and, especially, mental for the remainder of the running time. It's a film that demands a good deal of attention, not because of any narrative sleight of hand but rather because of the subtle gradations of emotion -- particularly the way in which Anton Walbrook's character suddenly modulates from care to callousness, such that we, like his wife in the film, come to wonder at his motivations. It took me a little while to adjust my expectations; I'd somehow come to expect something much more noir in sensibility, but the slow burn comes to a startling climax and the depth of depravity here lingers long in the mind.


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Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States