Doodad Kind of Town

Diary of a Weekend Movie Marathon
October 11, 2009, 7:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Saturday, 10/10: Has anyone who’s ever seen Woody Allen’s “Alice” been even remotely shocked by the way it ends? From the first frame, Mia Farrow’s Alice Tate looks so uncomfortable in her big, rambling Upper East Side apartment and matronly sweaters with pearls – her slight frame so overwhelmed by her enormous fur coat – that there’s no doubt she’s going to chuck it all by the time the signature black-and-white credits roll. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the Mia we all know and love showed up in the final scenes, wearing schlumpy jeans and an army fatigue coat, happily heading to her job at the homeless shelter.

I’d seen “Alice” before, years ago; it didn’t improve on the second visit. Allen’s 1990 film feels like a love letter to his then-girlfriend’s benevolent spirit on some levels, but sadly he didn’t write her much of a part. Allen is at a loss when it comes to putting genuine depth behind Alice’s impulses to do good and live a more meaningful life. The character is just one more of the mousy earth-mother types he’s written for Farrow in the past(as in “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “New York Stories”). Only much whinier.

By this time, I pretty much know what’s going to happen when I see a new Michael Moore movie. First of all, my friends will be all excited to see it, and we’ll go together in a big, fired-up group. And we’ll be joined by a whole auditorium full of similarly left-leaning moviegoers who will express their solidarity with Moore through hearty laughter , cries of outrage and occasional bursts of applause.

And the film itself? You can expect sequences of cleverly edited commercials, educational films, home movies and news footage – sometimes accompanied by jocular pop tunes, and sometimes by ominous or heart-wrenching music, according to the tone of whatever message Moore hopes to hammer home at that moment. At some point, Moore will show up at a corporate headquarters building to ask for an interview with the CEO; he’ll inevitably be greeted by a phalanx of security guards rushing to shoo him and his camera crew away. And, there will be heartbreaking interviews with ordinary people who have been deeply hurt by government or corporate policy.

My experience of “Capitalism: A Love Story” played out exactly I had anticipated, with one happy exception. There was no WTF moment in this film where I groaned, rolled my eyes and thought “Mike, you’ve gone too far!” (as in the”Why does everyone say Cuba is bad?” section of “Sicko,” or in “Fahrenheit 9/11” when Moore observes that, on the night before the attacks “the president went to sleep on a bed made with fine French linens.” Wanna bet that Michael Moore himself dozed off between some nice, high-thread-count sheets on the night of September 10, 2001?)

Moore still knows how to rile up an audience; he’s more propagandist/entertainer than documentarian, and like all his films, “Capitalism: A Love Story” is tailor-made for an audience of registered Democrats and rancorous Bush bashers. (The man next to me kept blurting out “Monkey Boy!” in an almost Tourette’s-like manner every time W’s face showed up onscreen, and the whole audience broke into sustained applause during a clip of Dennis Kucinich’s impassioned speech to Congress against the federal bailout.) But even so, this time out, Moore’s film is notably less smart-alecky, and more deeply suffused with a sense of his own heartbreak and fatigue. And though his most pointed attacks are directed at Reagan, Bush and bank CEOs, he doesn’t shy away from exposing the roles of Clinton and other Democratic leaders in bringing about the country’s devastating economic conditions.

The film concludes with a scene of Moore putting yellow Crime Scene tape around the headquarters of AIG; in voiceover, he tells us “After 20 years, I’m tired of doing this. Why don’t you help me?” I have to admit, having seen what Moore had to show me about the death of the once-great American dream, I was more than ready to pitch in.

Sunday, 10/11: I love Fellini, but after seeing “La Strada” for the first time, I had the distinct feeling that a little bit of Giulietta Masina goes a long, long way. She was cute and everything, but God!!! All that mugging! I couldn’t take it after awhile.

So it took me several more years to get around to “Night of Cabiria,” fearing as I did that Masina would “cute” it to death. No worries, Masina is wonderful – tough, tender and funny all at once. I love that little, perky ponytail she wears. My heart absolutely broke for her all the way through.

I was in such an expansive frame of mind regarding Masina that I decided right after watching “Cabiria” to finally watch “Juliet of the Spirits” – a film I slept almost entirely through in my college Introduction to Film class, buried under my winter coat on a Monday night in drafty old Woodburn Hall.

Turns out, I’ve should have watched this one before seeing “Alice,” since “Alice” is at least partially based on/inspired by it. Another upper-crust housewife in an empty marriage, searching for meaning and fulfillment, more fantasy sequences and mystical stuff. (Except with Fellini, the fantasy sequences really are fantastical – strange, beautiful and way, way over the top. And the costumes are so yummy and crazy. Even if it’s’ not top-drawer Fellini, you gotta kinda love it, right?)

And yet….

By about the one-hour point, it was all all too weird for me. I think it was the “Exorcist”-like moment with that wizened little guru-lady being taken over by some other personality while she’s in the midst of giving Juliet sexual advice. – that’s the moment that sent me over the edge. I hit the Stop button, I couldn’t go on. Maybe I was just weary from cramming too many movies into a 48-hour period. (I haven’t even gotten to the documentary film “Chris and Don” that I watched early on Saturday morning.)

The remaining 90 minutes of “Juliet…” are waiting for me on the DVR. Perhaps I’ll get to them on Tuesday.

7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Juliet was a bit autobiographical. Fellini was having an affair with the actress who plays the woman his protagonist is having an affair with in the movie and threw Masina this movie to get her over it.I panned Alice on FonF some time ago. I thought it was flat and shallow in so many ways.

Comment by Marilyn

Marilyn -Didn't know that about "Juliet," interesting. Not much of a consolation though, based on what I've seen.Flat and shallow is a pretty apt description of "Alice."

Comment by Pat

I love Juliet. I had the same reaction you did upon hearing that story. A friend of mine who is an entertainment reporter in Italy said, "Never underestimate the vanity of an actress!" I guess it did placate her.I actually liked Farrow in Alice. She did more with that film than anyone, especially Woody, could have expected. Too bad it was for nothing much.

Comment by Marilyn

I'm with you all the way on Capitalism, Pat, but I just couldn't tell how Moore wanted us to "pitch in". Seemed like he just wanted us to get mad, which yes, may lead to action, but doesn't necessarily require it. Sigh, till next time, I suppose. I refuse to believe he's done at the movies, though word is that his next project is a play about Tim McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski. Should be interesting…

Comment by Daniel Getahun

Tim McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski – sounds like Errol Morris territory.

Comment by Marilyn

Pat- There were parts of CAPITALISM I did like, including the delicious Bush-bashing, the yellow crime scene tape being wrapped around the building by Moore himself, and the poignant interviews with the farmers (I appreciated the FDR sequences too) but I can't escape the notion that we have a capitalist here railing against capitalism. I am every bit as left wing as Moore, and I'm a card-carrying Obama Democrat, but sometimes his schtick becomes wearisome.That's quite the interesting coincidence with ALICE being influenced by the phantasmogoric JULIET (certainly an atypical Fellini film) and yes there was a lot of mugging in LA STRADA, which of course is still a masterwork.NIGHTS OF CABIRIA is one of the master's greatest films, certainly ranking with 8 1/2, I VITTELLONI and LA DOLCE VITA to my eyes, and it's one of Masina's electrifying turns.I haven't seen ALICE in quite some time. Anyway, terrific, passionate round-up diary here Pat!

Comment by Sam Juliano

Sam -I'm on Moore's side too,but he's running out of steam – as a filmmaker, he's turning out to be a bit of a one-trick pony.As for "La Strada," it's certainly a sad, beautiful film and I don't intend to demean it. But Masina's performance does get a little wearying now and then. I liked her much better as Cabiria.

Comment by Pat

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