Phase IV (1974) Written by Mayo Simon Directed by Saul Bass
Saul Bass is primarily known for his graphic design work in the opening titles of films like Vertigo, Psycho, West Side Story, and many others. Phase IV was Bass’s first and only foray into feature film directing. Anytime you get a movie made by someone working primarily in the visual arts, it’s going to be visually appealing but not necessarily following the standard narrative structures. Kubrick was a photographer, David Lynch is a painter, and so on. Panos Cosmatos has cited Phase IV’s influence on his own Beyond the Black Rainbow. These directors aren’t so much interested in narrative points and character beats as they are as in establishing a potent atmosphere. Saul Bass’s Phase IV falls right into that same category.
Yesterday, I reviewed the atrocity that is Cats, a film that falls apart because of a mix of a muddled story and, most importantly, an over-reliance on computer-generated effects. I thought sharing my favorite musicals could be some fun. These are definitely all not your classic Broadway productions but things that skew more towards my particular tastes.
The depiction of mass hysteria and societal collapse have been a part of film since around the release of the first Invasion of the Body Snatchers. With that movie, we were able to see how people could either be hyper-paranoid or walk around oblivious to the apparent changes to their everyday life. Some times these films are used to speak to societal fears of the time. As we are all under voluntary quarantine and exercising extreme caution, here are some movies that might get your mind off of it or make you even more anxious. Some are chilling in their observations of humanity, while others are cringingly horrible.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, directed by Philip Kaufman)
From my review: This is a fantastic film and one we don’t hear about often enough. The cast is composed of some acting greats who are firing on all cylinders. I’ve always felt Brooke Adams was terribly overlooked, and this performance is one of those that reminds you of her strengths. Leonard Nimoy, who we never got to see outside of Spock very often, is excellent as the laidback Dr. Kibner, who becomes a very different character by the film’s conclusion. Nimoy plays both sides of the character wonderfully.
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) Written & Directed by Robert Benton
Much like 2019’s Marriage Story, Kramer vs. Kramer is very concerned about not giving the audience a biased story about divorce. While Dustin Hoffman is definitely the lead actor, Meryl Streep’s role as his wife who flees their home is not the villain. They are antagonistic for part of the story, but by the end, the film gives us a realistic finale. In real life, healthy people can’t stay enemies, mainly when there is a child in the middle. That’s not always the case, and maybe these characters are too aspirational, but the emotion and humanity of the situation feel very real.
The Deer Hunter (1978) Written by Deric Washburn, Michael Cimino, Louis Garfinkle, and Quinn K. Redeker Directed by Michael Cimino
While this was intended to kick off my Meryl Streep retrospective, I wouldn’t consider it a Streep movie. Oh, she’s definitely a crucial supporting character in the story, and I will talk about her performance, but this film is more a prologue to that series. This is more a Robert DeNiro/Christopher Walken movie, and it is a damn good one. It hasn’t necessarily aged perfectly, and it’s not my favorite film about the Vietnam War, but it is a well-acted, intense, and beautifully tragic movie.
It’s Valentine’s Weekend, so that means people are buying cheap chocolate and flowers en masse to profess their love for one another. Love is an emotion that’s been present in cinema since its inception. In 1896, William Heise released the short film The Kiss, one of the first publicly viewable movies. Since then, many stories have been told about people falling in and out of love, both comedic and tragic. Even some horrific. Here are my favorite movies about Love.
A Woman Under the Influence (1974, directed by John Cassavettes) John Cassavettes paved the way for independent film in America and made a name for himself as an iconoclastic director. His muse & wife was Gena Rowlands, who he cast as Mabel, the titular woman. Nick (Peter Falk) is her devoted husband, who notices Mabel’s behavior becoming erratic. While the film never labels Mabel’s condition, it’s clear she’s somewhere in the realm of bipolar disorder. Mabel ends up in an institution after attempting self-harm, and Nick thinks life can just go back to normal when she returns home. Cassavettes understood that true love could endure the most trying of circumstances, that people who really love each other can do so even when the one they care about doesn’t appear to love them back.
The Shaggy D.A. (1976) Written by Don Tait Directed by Robert Stevenson
I remember watching the original Shaggy Dog film as a kid and enjoying it quite a bit. I remember memorizing the Latin incantation and playing the film out with my siblings. Now it’s been twenty-plus years since I last saw that movie, and I never happened to sit down and watch the follow-up. By this time, the original Wilby Daniels, Tommy Kirk, had been arrested for marijuana possession, and thus his career with Disney was terminated. In 1976, Dean Jones was a go-to in the studio’s acting stable, and so he was put into the role.