Doodad Kind of Town

Weekend Roundup: "Persepolis," "Network," The BAFTAs and Roy Scheider
February 11, 2008, 9:57 pm
Filed under: 70s Films Revisited

I finally saw “Persepolis” this weekend. I’m not sure what to add to the many fine and favorable reviews already written for this adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novels about growing up in Iran. Like nearly all the other reviewers, I found the film moving and heartbreaking.

I liked that the animation was not terribly sophisticated – two-dimensional rather than three dimensional and almost entirely in black and white. It gave the story a feeling of being told from a child’s view, even in the later scenes set in Marjane’s adolescence and early adulthood. The simplicity of the animation links the older Marjane to the formative ideals and influences of her childhood, and gives the film a cohesive through-line as Marjane leaves home and attempts to assimilate into European culture.

“Persepolis” is political and particular to Iran, and yet also primal in its depiction of the losses of personal freedoms and family members. The pictures may be simple in execution, but the emotions they evoke are complex and powerful. And the voice work behind the characters (by Danielle Derrieux, Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni, among others) is exceptional.

Sunday afternoon brought bone-chilling cold, so it was a good day to stay inside and watch a classic film. I chose the 1976 Sidney Lumet film, “Network,” which I hadn’t seen in close to 30 years. Anytime you look at a film after that much time has passed, there are bound to be revelations.

What impressed me most were Paddy Chayefsky’s script and Faye Dunaway’s performance.

Some aspects of Chayefsky’s story have, sadly, lost their bite. I say sadly because it’s depressing to realize that what seemed shocking and unthinkable in 1976 is pretty commonplace today. News shows forced to become entertainment in order to gain ratings? That’s been going on for years. Exploiting someone’s madness in order to mesmerize television audiences and rile them up? Just turn on a daytime talk show – or CNN, for that matter.

I was blown away by Chayefsky’s intricate, literate dialogue – sometimes even rewinding just to hear a speech again. No one writes like this today. (When’s the last time you heard a character use a word like “jeremiad” in casual conversation?) I’m not sure if writing that calls attention to itself like this is always a good thing; ideally I want to be so completely engaged in a film that I’m not constantly detaching to marvel at the wordsmanship. But Chayefsky’s characters are sharp and sophisticated creatures, and none of their dialogue ever rings false or contrived.

Everyone remembers Peter Finch in his final performance as the newsman who encourages his viewers to ‘get up right now, go to your window, open it, stick your head out and yell, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” That line, of course, has entered film history, and Finch rightly deserved the Oscar, which sadly came to him posthumously.

But it was Dunaway who most amazed me. It takes a pretty skilled actress to play a career-obsessed bitch on wheels, and not make her a caricature. Dunaway surpasses that, projecting equal parts luminous sexual allure, damaged vulnerability and cold-hearted ruthlessness – often all in the same moment. She’s scary, sure, but never so much that she stops drawing you in, and it’s clear why William Holden’s weary veteran newscaster is attracted to her. The sequence where Dunaway and Holden steal away for a seaside weekend – and Dunaway talks business non-stop, even as she snuggles next to Holden in his car, strolls arm-in-arm with him on the beach, nuzzles his palm seductively at dinner and finally mounts him and climaxes in their hotel bed – is an acting tour de force for the ages. That’s one well-deserved Best Actress Oscar, right there.

Sunday night was the British Academy Awards (the BAFTAs) on BBC America. The BAFTAs are one of my favorite award shows. Despite the avid participation of Hollywood stars, they don’t pander to American expectations in any way. Rather, they’re a great celebration of all things both cinematic and British, and a refreshing reminder that Hollywood isn’t necessarily the center of the filmmaking universe. Even with plenty of American stars in attendance, the audience reaction cutaway shots go almost exclusively to Brits (and not just the A-listers like Keira and Orlando; there were plenty of close-ups last night of Emily Blunt, Eddie Izzard, Samantha Morton, Natasha McElhone, Ricky Gervais, and Rosamund Pike.)

BBC talk show host Jonathan Ross was the evening’s host. (I didn’t recognize him, and he didn’t introduce himself, so I had to hightail it to to find out who the hell he was.) I was initially disappointed to see that Stephen Fry was not hosting as in years past, but ultimately, it was a relief. Ross, much breezier and less full of himself than the overbearingly loquacious Fry, kept the evening moving along cheerily. (His best joke: introducing presenter Daniel Radcliffe as the “star of the upcoming film, ‘Harry Potter and the Jacuzzi Full of Models’.”)

I like that the BAFTA version of the obligatory segment which I cynically refer to as “The Dead People Montage” includes not only the stars who have passed away in the previous year, but also the technicians: sound recorders, production coordinators, editors and designers get the same honor as the big-name actors. (That the montage ended this year with footage of Heath Ledger was particularly sobering, as was the immediate audience cutaway to his “Casanova” co-star, Sienna Miller, brushing away tears.)

I was particularly happy to see “The Lives of Others” up for so many awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for the late Ulrich Muhe. (It ultimately walked away with only Best Foreign Language Film.) The Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor awards, predictably, went to Daniel Day-Lewis and Javier Bardem. But the awards for the Actresses made for some nice surprises. Marion Cottilard won Best Actress for “La Vie En Rose” and Tilda Swinton won Best Supporting Actress for “Michael Clayton.” Great choices, both, and I’m very happy for both ladies – although I’m thinking they could also be co-winners for the evening’s Worst Dressed award. (check out the scary pics below).

Trust me, those floaty white, scarf-like appendages on Cottillard’s dress looked like cascades of toilet paper coming out of her sleeves when she was at the podium last night.

While this…

…has “Tweety Bird Caught in a Tree” written all over it. (It looked much yellower on camera last night.) Swinton’s skirt was so narrow she could barely walk to the podium.

The Coen Brothers took the Directing Award for “No Country for Old Men;” only Joel was present to accept.

The biggest surprise was that “Atonement” – which did not win a single other award all night, although it had the most nominations – was named “Best Picture” of the year.

Finally, I just want to say “Rest in Peace” to Roy Scheider who passed away today at the age of 75.

Scheider, of course, is remembered as the police chief in “Jaws” and for his Oscar-nominated turn as Gene Hackman’s partner in “The French Connection.” For me, and many others, he will always be best remembered as Bob Fosse’s alter ego, Joe Gideon, in the brilliant 1979 film, “All That Jazz,” which earned him a second, well-deserved Oscar nomination. Take 10 minutes to revel in that film’s finale as Scheider says “Bye, Bye, Life.”


1 Comment so far
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I am so glad you finally got to see Persepolis, and I’m even happier that you liked it. About the animation… I couldn’t have said it better. The simplicity was actually a GOOD thing, no mater what its detractors may say.I’m ashamed to say I’ve never actually watched the BAFTAs. Shame on me for being too America-centric. It sounds like a great show… I will definitely have to catch it next year.

Comment by Nayana Anthony

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