Le Conseil des Une

I was looking over some archived e-mail and came across three old film...well, they're too short to be called reviews; let's call them blurbs, instead. I Shot Andy Warhol and Vertigo were published in Real Groove, a mid-late '90s New Zealand publication (yes, my North American freelance career was a spectacular success) edited by Andrew Palmer, an old Radio On contributor; Almost Famous was written for but ultimately never used in Blender, not too long after they started up. It wasn't exactly rejected--the details are a little hazy now, other than the whole episode was quite exasperating. It's long ago enough now to say that after two rewrites, I still wasn't clear what they wanted, and I'm pretty sure the editor was even less clear. (Possibly something on the order of "This is the most important film since Citizen Kane"--like I say, I'm not sure.) Things worked out in the end: the magazine folded a decade later, all due to bad karma over its mistreatment of me. ----------------- The best moment in Mary Harron's I Shot Andy Warhol is a quiet one: as the Lovin' Spoonful's "Do You Believe in Magic" plays, Valerie Solanas (Lili Taylor) and Andy Warhol (Jared Harris) stare warily at each other across a roomful of frugging and monkeying Factory-types. It's Warhol's party and Warhol's world; he's peering out as Solanas peers in, and neither one can make sense of the other. The gulf between them reminded me of Dustin Hoffman's mismatched presence at Midnight Cowboy's Factory-styled party, appropriate because Taylor sometimes seems to closely model her portrayal of Solanas on Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo. When she finally commits the movie's title act, it's not really convincing as presented; up to that point, she seems like someone who's more disdainfully amused by men than actually enraged by them. Not carrying around a lot of female rage myself, this basic hollowness wasn't a big problem for me. There's a good feeling throughout for period atmosphere, lots of great music used intelligently (other highlights are "Walk On By," "Grazing in the Grass," Blue Cheer and the MC5, and a pretty version of "I'll Keep It With Mine" by Bettie Serveert), and two performances I'll remember longer than the more acclaimed work by Taylor and Stephen Dorff (as Candy Darling). Michael Imperioli, my favourite actor right now, is perfectly nasty as Ondine, and Harris's Warhol is sublime. Looking over Solanas's S.C.U.M. Manifesto, he gushes, "Oh, gee, did you type this yourself? You should come type for us." You just know that it wouldn't have mattered if it had been the Bible or the phone book, his reaction would have been identical. Many critics regard Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (originally released in 1958) as one of the greatest films ever made--enough of them that it has placed in the Top Ten of the last two Sight and Sound polls to determine that very thing (7th in 1982's poll, 4th in 1992's). Vertigo's standing is so immense at this point, it's hard to explain adequately in 300 words why I don't care for it much. I've seen the film numerous times, including this new restored print, and I've never had much of a response beyond detached appreciation for its uniqueness and technical audacity. I prefer Rear Window by a wide margin, and I'm also a bigger fan of Psycho and Shadow of a Doubt. Above all else, Vertigo is an extremely cold film, even by Hitchcock's austere standards; if it's a great romance, it's a great romance in the way that Silence of the Lambs is, which is to say don't expect Roman Holiday. An accepted truism about the film is that Scottie's (James Stewart) obsessive makeover of Judy (Kim Novak) into "Madeleine" closely parallels Hitchcock's own lifelong search for his perfect blonde leading lady (Madeleine Carroll, Grace Kelly, Novak, Eva Marie Saint, Tippie Hedren). Seems like a reasonable interpretation, but unless you can relate on a personal level (I can't), you have to care deeply about Hitchock's neu- roses to find much reward in that direction. I've never liked Jimmy Stewart less, and it doesn't matter to me that he's not supposed to be likeable. The vertiginous reverse-tracking is spectacular, and I love the dream sequence and Bernard Herr- mann's score. See Vertigo, of course, and if you find yourself overwhelmed, you won't have to look far for more appreciative readings than this one. If you watch Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous as a music fan first and a filmgoer second, you'll get caught up in the swirl and come away happy. Crowe's autobiograph- ical look back at his apprenticeship as Rolling Stone's resident kid rock critic is a lively period piece with an eyewitness's insights into the essential absurdity of his former vocation. It's less successful as a Casablanca-style love triangle and a cautionary tale about celebrity-driven journalism, but all of that is window dressing, there if you need it. I didn't. Billy Crudup's Russell Hammond, "guitarist with mystique" for fictitious '70s band Stillwater, is central to Almost Famous's period authenticity. Crudup cur- rently owns the copyright on sleepy-eyed easy riders--a dead ringer for James Taylor circa 1971, he's like Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" made flesh. Kate Hudson (groupie Penny Lane) and Patrick Fugit (Crowe's alter-ego William, assigned to cover Still- water on tour) also inhabit the era comfortably, and Crowe's lovingly programmed soundtrack unerringly avoids the obvious: "Misty Mountain Hop" instead of "Stairway to Heaven," "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" rather than "Heart of Gold," "Tiny Dancer" in lieu of "Your Song." "They are not your friends," Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs counsels William about Stillwater; "Be truthful and merciless." But Crowe is too genial a director to heed the same advice, so he goes mild on the expose and saves his deep- est feelings for scenes like William flipping though a pile of his older sister's albums. Anyone who grew up spending every last dollar on vinyl records (usually, as with William's sister, furtively snuck into the house under mom's gaze) will feel a pang of recognition as a wide-eyed William slowly passes his hand across Hendrix's Axis: Bold as Love and Cream's Wheels of Fire. Basically, Crowe has cashed his blank cheque from Jerry Maguire, taken a step back, and tried to tell his own story with Almost Famous. For that--and notwithstanding the film's occasional overreach--I think he deserves all the credit in the world.

other pieces