The Music Man [A]
(1962, Morton da Costa) Seen February 26, 2000 on DVD.

Haven't seen this in a long time, and it holds up as one of the best translations of a Broadway musical to film; not necessarily so much for the storyline, but for its austondingly inventive use of rhythm. I love how the chug-chug of the train in the opening sequence and of the kathunk-kathunk of Shirley Jones' librarian stamping the books get incorporated into the musical numbers, and the vibrancy of its production design. Oh yeah, Robert Preston's pretty good, too.

Blue Velvet [A]
(1986, David Lynch) Seen February 26, 2000 at Film Forum.

Part of the appeal of Blue Velvet isn't just that it's an ironic take on small-town Americana, but that its irony is balanced by Lynch's deep affection for that same Americana. (Witnessed in full force in The Straight Story). Kyle MacLachlan is perfect here; the sheer mismatch between his naive 50s demeanor and his pitiful attempts at Miami Vice cool (underplayed by Lynch) is cause for giggles alone.

Claire Dolan [B-]
(2000, Lodge Kerrigan) Seen Febraury 26, 2000 at Walter Reade.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center's new American Independent Visions begins, ironically enough, with one of the least "American" independent films in years. Kerrigan's latest (financed by a French producer) in its emotional opaquity is more akin to the works of Benoit Jacquot than anything else that's come out of Sundance in years. And clearly Kerrigan certainly seems to be operating with little regard for American commercialism; the film has enough sex scenes (I lost track after a dozen..) to guarantee it an NC-17, but the film is as cold and sterile as a doctor's office, voiding any erotic thoughts. Kerrigan shows astounding control of his mise-en-scene; every shot is as rigidly geometrical and precise as a Mies van der Rohe sketch and Dolan shares with Kerrigan's previous film Clean, Shaven a meticulously constructed soundtrack. It's too perfect in fact; the fussiness of the direction pretty much sucks all the oxygen from the film despite a fine performance from Katrin Cartlidge doing a very convincing Tilda Swinton impression.

Judy Berlin[C]
(2000, Eric Mendelsohn) Seen February 26, 2000 at State.

The key word here is 'precious'. Eric Mendelsohn has good intentions; an uncynical look at a day in the life of average Long Island suburbanites but he overloads it with ideas too cute and coy for words -- filmmaker hero as auterial stand-in, painfully obvious metaphor of unusually persistent eclipse, exceedingly annoying harpsichord on soundtrack. And unlike others, I'm not impressed with the film's B&W photography; it's used with such banal effect that the cynic in me wonders if it was chosen to make the day-for-night easier to shoot.[1]

Assault on Precinct 13 [B]
(1976, John Carpenter) Seen February 29, 2000 on DVD.

One of the great advantages to owning a DVD player (and using helpful online DVD rental outfits) is the ability to hold your own little mini-retrospectives for relatively recent auteurs a little too eccentric or uneven to generate big MOMA-style events. As you can see now, I've begun to look at the works of John Carpenter. Assault on Precinct 13 is a brutally effective remake of Night of the Living Dead only with an army of faceless street gang members instead of zombies.[2] Manipulative as hell, but damn if it doesn't work. Also interesting how Carpenter defuses the obvious racial setups by making his street gang a Rainbow Coalition of death, more evidence that Carpenter is either an extreme liberal or a reactionary demagogue, or somehow both!

[1]Like I would know if day-for-night is easier to do in B&W v. color.

[2]Best touch -- a little throwaway bit about sunspot activity that harkens back to Night's radioactive meteorite (I think; it's been a while since I've seen Romero's zombiefest.)