Movie Review – Grey Gardens

Grey Gardens (1975)
Directed by David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, and Muffie Meyer

In Harlan County, USA, we were reminded of the recent history of the ongoing war between Labor and Capitalism. It’s easy to forget how close we are to profound historical movements and that these conflicts never ended; they merely changed shape. The Gilded Age, one of the most horrific periods for Labor, was not as far back as we like to think, and in The Maysles’ Grey Gardens, a woman born during that period is prominently featured. History doesn’t have a stopping point; one moment flows into the next and carries humanity forward, and with it comes many of the unacknowledged problems of those eras, mixing with the issues of contemporary periods. Cultural detritus lodges itself into the culture’s psyche and leads to horrors. The story of the Beales is a horror story like that, neglect and the decay of beautiful things.

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Movie Review – Harlan County USA

Harlan County USA (1976)
Directed by Barbara Kopple

Like sand, our memory of history in the United States slips so easily between our fingers that we have forgotten far more than we remember. In this way, film is an act of preservation, the attempt to secure moments in our past in a manner that words cannot. The story of the American worker is one that was ground down almost to nothing in the hands of the Reagan Administration and on into the Clinton Administration, Bush Jr, Obama, Trump, and now today. Many promising new unions are being formed, and it is clear younger people want to embrace that collective strength that is far more potent than the individualism that only leads to ruin & alienation. Barbara Kopple understands the importance of unions and who leads them, which brought her to Harlan County, Kentucky, in 1973.

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Movie Review – The Passenger

The Passenger (1975)
Written by Mark Peploe, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Peter Wollen
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

This will be our last stop with the filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, though he kept making films. It will have to be another time when we look at his work outside his four Monica Vitti films and his MGM trilogy, but we’re ending on an exceptionally high note. Financially this was not a success, and in the aftermath, Jack Nicholson was sold the rights after a dispute between him and MGM over another picture in development. The Passenger would sit on a shelf for three decades after its initial release, a film thought to be lost and only recaptured by going back to read the old reviews. In 2006, it finally received a DVD release and could be rediscovered by a new generation. It’s a dense picture, full of Antonioni’s common themes but lots of new settings and political ideas surfacing. The result is another enigmatic film that performs a kind of hypnosis on the viewer, a picture that is multiple things at once and deserving of considerable examination. 

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Movie Review – Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point (1970)
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni, Fred Gardner, Sam Shepard, Tonino Guerra, and Clare Peploe
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

Michelangelo Antonioni experienced his first commercial failure with Zabriskie Point. I never really thought of his movies as something that sought mass audience approval. His work in Italy felt extremely niche, but that could be because today, popular media is often so broad & so shallow that we aren’t used to seeing thoughtful, challenging works shown in the cineplex. The United States in 1970 was an incredibly different time than now, especially with film. Influenced by the revolution in filmmaking making happening in Europe, American directors and studios were trying to crank out fare that would appeal to the youth counterculture. Easy Rider crafted the mold, and everyone else chased it. Zabriskie Point is a movie that’s part of that shift, but it’s still Antonioni’s particular perspective on existence in the modern world and once again follows two people adrift in this strange new world.

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Movie Review – Donkey Skin

Donkey Skin (1970)
Written & Directed by Jacques Demy

Among the masses, Charles Perrault’s name has never quite had the recognition of the Brothers Grimm. Perrault was a French author during the 17th century who is most well known for founding the literary genre of the fairy tale. His fairy tales, of course, were derived from regional folktales, including Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. Jacques Demy grew up hearing and reading the stories Perrault had collected centuries earlier. Since the early 1960s, Demy had been trying to work out a script to adapt one of the fairy tales. There isn’t a director I can think of that would be more suited for this type of film, Demy’s commitment to style while staying true to honest storytelling is something that makes a fairy tale pop off the page.

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Patron Pick – Solaris (1972)

This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

Solaris (1972)
Written by Fridrikh Gorenstein & Andrei Tarkovsky
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

Science fiction is a label attributed to a pretty diverse genre of fiction. In recent years, the move to rebrand it as “speculative fiction” has been made but has not gotten much headway in mainstream culture. “Speculative” is a much better way to describe this genre’s full breadth. In Western cinema, the emphasis is often on technological innovation, which makes sense given the very industrial, consumptive capitalist mindset. Things will set us free; items we can purchase and/or upgrade are the path to salvation. Look at how, amid a global climate collapse, we are offered ludicrous technological solutions like dimming the sun artificially rather than simply developing systems that will help us consume fewer fossil fuels. Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky also saw this in Western science fiction and sought to make cinema that captured the metaphysical and philosophical strains, asking big questions about existence and reality.

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Movie Review – Blue Collar

Blue Collar (1978)
Written by Paul Schrader & Leonard Schrader
Directed by Paul Schrader

The American automotive industry was once a significant piece of the national mythos. It was born out of the personal legend-making of Henry Ford and kept growing from there. The conflict between the companies and the unions dragged on for decades, a constant tension between workers & management that came to its fatal end with the election of Ronald Reagan, a nail in the coffin of American union power. This was Paul Schrader’s directorial debut, riding high off the acclaim from his screenplay for Taxi Driver. By the end of Blue Collar’s shoot, the filmmaker would have a nervous breakdown and reconsider his career choices. Fueled by a trio of actors with big egos and a strong dislike for each other, Schrader was at the center of a work that would prove chaotic on many fronts.

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Movie Review – Sorcerer

Sorcerer (1977)
Written by Walon Green
Directed by William Friedkin

Fate or free will? It’s a question that will likely be debated until the sun’s heat stops shining on this planet. Do we choose our path in life, or do we follow a series of steps before us? What about people who meet early, gruesome ends? If Fate is actual, then what was the point of their lives? To die, to be a supporting player in someone else’s story? We’re born into a world where many institutions and systems are already in place. We have no say in their operation save for being allowed to vote for a few representatives every few years that are funded chiefly by those same institutions. The only power we seem to have is the ability to make people in the same economic class miserable through our actions, letting our personal grievances dictate our global philosophy. It’s bleak as hell, the powerlessness of existence. 

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Movie Review – Looking for Mr. Goodbar

Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
Written & Directed by Richard Brooks

The 1970s saw the Sexual Revolution occur in the United States. Like everything in America, this was more complex than it first appeared, and Americans overindulged to the extent that it did cause some harm to themselves. Sex is good, people should have more of it, but Americans have never been able to engage healthily. It’s either the most insane chaste abstinence or hyper-indulgence in near comical fetish. It should come as no surprise that film & television about sex have just never managed to get anything right because they become so caught up in the specter of Puritanical thinking in which the country is rooted. Looking for Mr. Goodbar was a mainstream attempt to make a movie about women’s liberation and the sexual revolution, and I cannot say whether or not it worked. The biggest problem is that it was written & directed by a man who seemed utterly uncomfortable with what was happening.

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Movie Review – Three Days of the Condor

Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfield
Directed by Sydney Pollack

The CIA is one of the most evil and chaotic institutions in the United States. The formation of the CIA in the wake of World War II amounts to a political coup by the business class. Anticommunist sentiments were running high in the Truman administration in the wake of the war. The Soviets were gaining ground in a Europe attempting to heal from fascist destruction. However, the United States ushered many “useful” Nazis across the Atlantic to help build a new world order that put America at the top of the heap. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was the CIA’s precursor, scheming to undermine any communist growth in the world. The OSS would eventually hire a group of wealthy and educated white men who saw this as an opportunity to turn the world into their playground, become the secret agents they’d read about in a growing & popular genre of literature at the time, and for some (the true believers) they operated with religious fervor to destroy communism. These agents turned global politics into a deadly game they played against people trying to survive and make their nations better and amongst each other, games within games. 

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