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Experience the best films of the 1970s as our cinema week nears its conclusion.
Great Films of the 1970s
by Will Hubbard
Murmur of the Heart :: Louis Malle (1971)
I suppose it’s difficult to write anything about this film without giving away its terribly shocking final scene. But you’ve seen it, right? Suffice it to say young men with good relationships (or terrible ones?) with their mothers will find something intriguing here.
It was just such a young man, occasional contributor to this publication, Daniel C. Murray, who alerted me to the utterly stuning Murmur of the Heart, or Le Souffle au coure, which sounds like some delicious cannibalistic treat. If you grow up in a household in which your father conducts his gynecological practice out of the drawing room, I guess you cannot help but want to fuck your mother. (What?! Is that true?)
The title is surely one of the great double entendres of all time, referring both to the cardiac condition that confines the young protagonist to his bed for a portion of the movie, and also to the strange twinges of forbidden desire that wrack his adolescent soul. And I thought that little thing I had for my second cousin was weird!
Espiritu de la Colmena :: Victor Erice (1973)
The Spirit of the Beehive quickly ascended to my top five after I was turned onto it by—place of places!—the Employee Picks section at Videology in Brooklyn. It has ten or more incredible shots, including one sequence that, in my opinion, is one of the best continuous shots in the history of film.
The camera follows a woman on her bike as she approaches a small train station (really just an old stuccoed farmhouse) seemingly dropped into a vast and desolate Andalusian plain. She is taking a letter to a soldier (the Spanish Civil War has just ended and she is living with an old wealthy landowner) to the drop-slot on the train, which is approaching in the distance over the woman’s shoulder.
We lose sight of the train for a moment as she rides slowly past the near side of the farmhouse, and when we regain sight of the landscape the train has neared considerably, its billowing black smoke starting to engulf the entire frame. It is on one hand the classic nod to the Lumiere Brothers’ “Train Arriving at the Station”—which we see most recently in Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling Limited—but more immediately it mirrors the anxious and violent longing the woman feels for the man to which the letter is addressed.
When in a murky window of the now crawling train an anonymous soldier’s leering stare makes the woman visibly uncomfortable, a chilling coherence runs through me that is impossible to explain. The primary figure in the film, seven-year-old Ana, (played by the actress Ana Torrent who next year, aged 41, will be Katherine of Aragorn in Justin Chadwick’s The Other Boleyn Girl) is absolutely the most adorable thing you have ever seen.
“Sit and Wonder” — The Verve (mp3)
Lancelot of the Lake :: Robert Bresson (1974)
“Avoid paroxysms (anger, terror) which one is obliged to simulate, and in which everybody is alike”. So wrote Robert Bresson in his diary (later printed in the fantastic Green Integer series as Notes on the Cinematographer), a maxim that if adhered to could make just about everyone a better artist. I was steered toward Lancelot of the Lake by one of my favorite Robert Creeley poems “Bresson’s Movies”, which concludes like this:
…Yet another film
of Bresson’s has the
aging Lancelot with his
awkward armor standing
in a woods, of small trees,
dazed, bleeding, both he
and his horse are,
trying to get back to
the castle, itself of
no great size. It
moved me, that
life was after all
like that. You are
in love. You stand
in the woods, with
a horse, bleeding.
The story is true.
Bresson was a master of dialogue, giving his wonderful Gwenevere the line, in response to Lancelot’s egotistical maundering, “to think oneself responsible for everything is not humility”. The great thing about this film, in my opinion, is how coldly unglorified, how bland and local Arthur and his boys’ search for the Holy Grail seems. It takes maybe the most overblown Western myth and makes it into a slice-of-life movie.
That Obscure Object of Desire :: Luis Bunuel (1977)
I was under the impression that Luis Bunuel (above) was a surrealist. I had see L’Age d’Or, his 1930 collaboration with Salvador Dali, and was expecting at least some of the same uncanny psychic interiority of that film when I sat down to watch The Obscure Object of Desire. And the film does hinge upon what might be termed the surrealist device of the heroine being played, in alternating scenes by two different actresses which possess strikingly different physical aspects.
Beyond that—and that’s a big beyond—the film becomes a pretty traditional portrayal of an old rich guy’s obsession with a younger woman. What struck me most about this one was its incredibly contemporary feel—it begins with a terrorist car-bombing that casts an unmistakable veil of paranoia over the fraught romance that comprises the film’s plot. I also like how the film does not focus entirely on the aging Mathieu—played brilliantly by the great Fernando Rey—but gives equal credence to the maturation of the coquettish young dancer, Conchita.
“Rated X” — Spiritualized (mp3)
Opening Night :: John Cassavetes (1977)
There is a great scene in an episode of the French television series, Cineastes de notre temps, when John Cassavetes, the great American cinema verite director, walks suavely about his home with friend and Opening Night cinematographer Al Ruban discussing their postproduction procedures. The bumbling French interviewer asks the men how they can log so many editing hours in the tiny, homemade editing room tucked into a corner of the director’s house. Cassavetes responds, and my memory could be slightly off, “We drink a lot of wine. We open our first bottle at noon!” I’m sure the French audiences loved that.
It’s no secret that Cassavetes was an alcoholic (he died in 1989 of cirrhosis of the liver), and though instances of heavy drinking run through all his films, nowhere are the painful realities of alcoholism more immediate than in Opening Night, which stars Cassavetes’ wife Gena Rowlands as an ageing lead-lady of the theater. The film is a must see if only for the scene in which Rowlands’ character, Myrtle Gordon, an obvious alter-ego of the director himself, gets so ragingly drunk before a performance that a stage-hand literally has to hold her upright as she awaits her first cue.
In Charles Kiselyak’s great Cassavetes documentary, A Constant Forge (2000), Ben Gazzara, who acts alongside Rowlands in Opening Night, recalls: “In reality, no actor would be allowed to go onstage in that condition. But not in a Cassavetes film. He believed that an actor could get off her knees, sober up in ten minutes, and give a great performance. That was his idea: the magic of film.”
Will Hubbard is the senior contributor to This Recording and the editor-in-chief of CapGun Magazine.
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
Molly went to Georgia in her mind.
The Cold March moved forward.
The chance to become something larger than what we are.
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