All this and World War II
Gato Barbieri’s Last Tango in Paris (Ballad)
Incest is relative: Proof that even middling Jacques Demy is better than none, Peau d'âne (Donkey Skin, 1970) continues his preoccupation with sad, beautiful women awaiting the arrival of Prince Charming. Only this time the setting is an outright fairytale, complete with talking roses, toad-spitting crones, kingdoms, castles, and Catherine Deneuve, forever smashing and cute as a button with dirt on her face and the titular pelt draped over her head.
The director’s fifth collaboration with Michel Legrand, it’s the least memorable as far as the music is concerned, lacking the verve of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967) or any haunting themes like the ones found in Lola (1961) or Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964). All things considered, however, this is a minor quip. Peau d'âne balances a delicate childhood idyll with sharp adult satire, to say nothing of its barefaced Oedipal issues.
The DVD is overpriced at $34.95—Koch Lorber is taking an unfortunate cue from Criterion—but the print is good and bonus features include a round robin with psychoanalysts underlining the metaphysical ramifications of the picture, notably the ass whose booty shits booty.
Sam Fuller redux: When it was first released in 1980, Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One ran 113-minutes but felt like a slim and anemic effort—sloppy, even—considering the way he was out promoting it. Chomping on his cigar, his frizzy gray hair defying gravity, the old man was passionate, or perhaps just happy he’d been able to make his dream project a reality. But the enthusiasm displayed on talk shows seemed to be for some other, bigger (and better) picture. And the public, still smarting from the wounds of Vietnam, was unresponsive and in no mood for a balls-to-the-walls, John Wayne-style war movie, especially one that Fuller had intended to run for two-and-three-quarter hours.
Now restored to 158-minutes, it’s easily among Fuller’s best work, a solid b-film approach to the broad canvas of war, conflict and emotion. Lean and economic, Fuller packs his frames tight (wide-angle panoramas are very few and far between), to draw us in with a platoon of young GIs and the World War II battlegrounds of North Africa, France, Belgium and Czechoslovakia. It’s based on the director’s own exploits on the front lines, which he later related with punchy exuberance in A Third Face : My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking, his posthumously-published autobiography. (Fuller died in 1997, at the age of 85.)
With Lee Marvin heading a cast of largely forgotten newcomers, The Big Red One is less concerned with melodrama and narrative than the experience itself, an overnight maturation process based on the ability to separate killing from murder. While the theme has been explored in the intellectually elevated regions of Apocalypse Now (1979) and Full Metal Jacket (1987), Fuller has no aspirations to create high art, especially out of such carnage. This is storytelling at its most basic level. And if he occasionally succumbs to the convenience of lumbering, broad comedy (the baby delivery scene) or transparent metaphor (a schizophrenic firing a gun at random, screaming “I’m normal! I’m just like you!”), I’d still take this feverish memoir over the lofty Coppola and Kubrick films any day of the week.
You may leave here for four days in space, but when you return it’s the same old place
After a five-year run of supporting parts, James Coburn hit stardom as secret agent Derek Flint in two James Bond spoofs, Our Man Flint (1965) and In Like Flint (1967). This led to a whirlwind of ‘hip’ late-60’s comedies and lightweight action movies, in which his lean, toothy presence elevated b-material to higher ground: What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966), the memorably-titled Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966), Waterhole #3 (1967), and The President’s Analyst (1967). Despite his excellent performance for Sam Peckinpah in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), Coburn’s star fell with the decade, and the 70’s found him back in secondary roles in mediocre pictures.
The President’s Analyst survives as one of Coburn’s absolute gems, and a precious artifact of the post-modern age. Written and directed by the woefully overlooked Theodore J. Flicker (one of the instigators of television’s Barney Miller), the scenario transports the young, progressive psychiatrist Sidney Schaeffer (Coburn) from his private Manhattan practice to the White House of L.B.J. Initially astonished by his good fortune, Sidney quickly burns out from being on call twenty-four-seven. Paranoia creeps in once he begins to recognize on the street all the undercover spies the President’s been confiding to him about. And those spies want Sidney, because he knows the President’s secrets.
It didn’t make much of an impression upon release, and at first glance The President’s Analyst appears as yet another of the countless politically motivated comedies of the day. But Flicker’s sharp dialogue hasn’t lost its edge, and his post-dubbing of ‘FBR’ and ‘CEA’ over any mention of the FBI or CIA is an ingenious afterthought that’s still laughably misconstrued by overzealous conspiracy nuts as an actual textbook case of government interference. Thus, the film not only satirizes its obvious targets and sacred cows, but the simple-minded idealism of its leftwing radical supporters to boot.
With an eclectic cast that includes Severn Darden (“No Russian, please, I’m spyin’”), Godfrey Cambridge (quite haunting during the “Here Comes the Nigger” passage), Joan Delaney, Pat Harrington, Will Geer, William Daniels (“Total sound!”) and Walter Burke, Flicker added folk singer Barry McGuire as a hippie bandleader. Essentially a one-hit wonder thanks to the chart-topping “Eve of Destruction,” McGuire was a gravel-voiced, would-be Dylan who’d fallen from the public eye before The President’s Analyst went into production. His presence in the film is generally marginal, except for the beautifully crafted scene of spies killing one another to his song, “Inner Manipulations.”
That song has been missing from the film for years, and only recently reappeared on Paramount’s DVD edition. When they issued it on VHS nearly twenty years ago, Paramount had to remove “Inner Manipulations” because of copyright issues. Which leads to the subject of the different edits of The President’s Analyst: there’s the original theatrical version; an early-70’s version for network television that includes scenes that were not in the theatrical release; an entirely different edit for cable-TV in the 80’s; and the VHS edition. Since we don’t have all of them on hand to investigate, we’re assuming the DVD edition is the same as the original theatrical version as both share equal running times.
My fondest memory of The President’s Analyst is the time I saw it as part of a paranoia double-bill with Francis Coppola’s The Conversation. It was toward the end of winter in 1975, at Manhattan’s Elgin Theatre. I’d spent the earlier part of the day hawking my fanzine, Magic Theater, door-to-door in the downtown’s countless bookstores and comic shops. I sat through The Conversation first and saved Flicker’s film to relish last. Other than a good capsule review published in the magazine Castle of Frankenstein (which included a photo from one of those scenes that were not in the theatrical print), The President’s Analyst was still floating below media radar, a true cult item. And I can still recall that vivid 60’s Technicolor in Panavision stretching across the Elgin’s screen as if it were yesterday, along with the light February snow that began to fall afterward on my way back to Penn Station.
Buy The President's Analyst on DVD.
Barry McGuire’s Inner Manipulations
Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction
Hindle Wakes a Very Stylish Girl
“Set before a backdrop of Dickensian England switching over to the industrial age, it blends socio-sexual drama with elaborate technique and gimmickry to moderate success.” Maurice Elvey’s 1927 film, Hindle Wakes, now on DVD and reviewed at Flickhead.
Can you identify the movie dialogue and background music floating in and out of Une Very Stylish Fille by Dimitri from Paris?
Mary, Mary: For a movie profile of Mary Woronov (in cartoon form with Paul Bartell, above) click Movie Theatre at her site.
Outside of brief mention here and there, I don’t normally plug Criterion DVDs because of a personal gripe on my end. Having essentially dismissed my website—I often wonder how much (if not all) of my work is regarded as crap—they’ve never sent review copies of films I’d expressed interest in covering. They instead assume that I’ll dish out thirty or forty bucks for a movie and provide my own webspace to promote it, so that they can milk even more money out of my experience. Capitalist snakes!
I’m sporadically willing to overlook this stinginess, however, and the new 2-disc set honoring Orson Welles’s F for Fake is such an occasion. As the film is currently being discovered by a new generation of film people who seem to have a lot to say about it elsewhere, I’m sure my take on it would be redundant.
The film once prompted me to track down Clifford Irving’s book, Fake: The Story of Elmyr De Hory, the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time and investigate the two principal fakers revealed in Welles’s film. Irving once received a lot of publicity (and a jail sentence) for his bogus account of Howard Hughes, but his personal involvement with Elmyr provided their book with a flavor all its own.
Among the bells and whistles adorning Criterion’s release is the bonus feature, Almost True: The Noble Art of Forgery (1997). A thin, made-for-TV bio sketch of Elmyr, it draws on some of the footage shot by Francois Reichenbach for his unfinished documentary—footage Welles picked up and reshaped in what is ultimately a fake documentary about fakers. (With apologies to those using the buzzword, I just can’t bring myself to buy the chatter about “essay films.”) In the new film, old friends of the late art forger are informed that a Japanese museum is holding an exhibit of Elmyr’s fakes. But upon perusing photographs of the featured art in the museum’s catalog, all of them agree the exhibit is a fraud, that these are not original Elmyr fakes, but fakes of Elmyr’s fakes! Welles would’ve loved that.