This was written in the summer of 2000 for a coffee-table book edited by Geoff Andrew that was published the following year, Film: The Critics’ Choice (New York: Billboard Books). — J.R.
Set in a small provincial town in Poland the day after the country’s liberation in the spring of 1945, Ashes and Diamonds, Andrzej Wajda’s third film, may still be the most influential of his career. Yet, curiously, its impact both today and some 40 years ago seems predicated in part on the slightly anachronistic effect produced by superimposing the mid-fifties over the mid-forties — specifically, existential angst laid over a gloomy sense of exhaustion at the end of the war.
Above all, the black-leather-jacketed figure of Zbigniew Cybulski as Maciek, an uncertain resistance assassin — clearly derived from the Marlon Brando of The Wild One (1954) even more than the Brando of On the Waterfront from the same year, or the James Dean of East of Eden, and Rebel Without a Cause from the following year — reinvented postwar Poland in hipster terms. And the resulting image of the actor (who died prematurely in a railroad accident less than a decade later) was fixed in the popular imagination for good.
… Read more »
Written for The Unquiet American: Transgressive Comedies from the U.S., a catalogue/ collection put together to accompany a film series at the Austrian Filmmuseum and the Viennale in Autumn 2009. — J.R.
MONKEY BUSINESS (1952)
Although technically a fantasy, this characteristically
grim Howard Hawks comedy about the fear of aging
and the worship of youth is arguably one of his most
honest and realistic, therefore among the most frightening.
A chimpanzee in a chemistry lab manages to
create a youth potion accidentally ingested by the
middle-aged scientist-hero (Cary Grant), who regresses
first to his teens and then, after a second dose, to
his attitudes and behavior in grammar school, which
also happens eventually to his wife (Ginger Rogers)
and boss (Charles Coburn), thereby debunking a
good many myths about youth and happiness (such
as those involving carefree innocence) in the process.
Broadly speaking, this movie does for (and with)
ageism what Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, shot half a
year later (with some of the same cast members, including
Marilyn Monroe, Coburn, and George Winslow),
does for (and with) capitalism, albeit with less
celebratory cynicism and more visible despair. This
doesn’t mean, of course, that it isn’t funny; at least
four Hollywood pros (Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer,
I.A.L.… Read more »