Todd Solondz has always been a difficult director for me to tackle. I don’t quite get why people love his films so much. I didn’t have the maturity to really understand Happiness when I first saw it. I tried watching Palindromes and turned it off a couple of minutes into it. (That was definitely pre-blog. Now I watch and suffer until completion no matter what just so I can have some content. It is all about the content, baby.) Having a bad time with two of his movies, I figured I would stay away from the rest of his filmography and refrain from any conversation that brings him up. But Netflix makes fools of us all. If you don’t look at what you are going to get next in your DVD queue, you end up with some really weird stuff that you put on it on a whim a long, long time ago. Thus the reason I watched Storytelling, my third Todd Solondz picture.
There are two sections or shorts to this movie. They are not really connected, except by theme. The first one is entitled “Fiction” and it is about a young punk woman dating a young man with cerebral palsy. We first see them making love. Immediately upon completion, the man asks the woman if she would read his short story. The woman evades the question and creates an awkward moment with this man. We find out that they had met at a creative writing class and are considered “serious” boyfriend and girlfriend. But there is something that draws this young woman away from the young man and into the arms of the creative writing teacher. Maybe it is because the teacher has a strong writing voice coupled with a strong opinion on everyone’s writing abilities. Or maybe it is because he is black. Through a series of events, she ends up at the teacher’s house. The awkwardness only escalates from there. She is able to use this encounter in her piece that she submits to the class. Earlier when the young man with cp was reading his sexual story, he got compliments on how “brave” he was and how well he described the act. The exact opposite happens to her. She is criticized and dismissed for writing a sexual story.
The second section is entitled “Nonfiction.” A man who is struggling to find a sense of purpose decides to make a documentary on the life of a high school student. He chooses Scooby, a pothead maybe homosexual, slacker. Scooby resists taking the ACTs and going to college, but is forced to by his dad. Instead Scooby wants to be a talk show host or sidekick. The documentarian watches his every move, but it isn’t until Scooby’s younger brother suffers trauma from a botched football sack does he actually thinks he has something. A couple of months later, Scooby sneaks into a screening of the documentary and he sees his life chopped up and made fun of. The audience erupts with laughter over the absurd things that come out of Scooby’s mouth. Scooby wrongly thought this was his big break, but it was actually the documentarian’s, not his.
Each section deals with how we shape the artistic endeavors in our lives. In the first section the two writers each use their life experiences to make overwrought and pretentious short stories. In the second section the documentarian is able to stretch and warp the experiences of this lost young high school student for his own benefit. These are coping mechanisms but they are also vehicles for manipulation and control of the rest of their world. This is where the uncomfortable moments that Solondz does so well comes into play. Long awkward confrontations between Scooby and the documentarian and the young woman and her teacher are a direct result of the art they create.
While it was hard for me to completely sympathize with any character, I at least understood where they were coming from which was more than I could say for Happiness. This film gives me hope that I might like other Solondz films and that I might want to revisit the two movies I hated in the first place. Any recommendations on what to watch next?
In the seventies in Italy, there emerged a subsection of horror films called giallo. These films were bunched together because they all seemed to revolve around grotesque torture to women who always seemed to be losing tops in the process. The events of the films were usually stylized and heightened. There was also just a ton of blood everywhere all the time. But one of the most striking characteristics of giallo horror was how they were able to scare viewers by manipulating sound. Most voices were dubbed (a common practice in Italy at the time) giving the narrative a disjointed feeling. Add to that creepy sound effects, warps, and tons of screaming and you usually got an eerie nightmare of a movie. Berberian Sound Studio plays with this aspect of giallo filmmaking while producing a completely modern and tense psychological thriller.
Toby Jones plays Gilderoy, a reserved English sound engineer at the height of giallo filmmaking. He is enticed to Italy to work on a film that he thought was an equestrian drama. It turns out that it is a low rent giallo picture with grand aspirations. Once he arrives, something seems off about the situation. The producer is overtly rude to him, making him work long hours not just making sound effects but also recording the dialogue and screams. The main actress warns him cryptically to stay as far away from the director and producer as possible. The director is a large presence that looms over the whole movie but is ultimately the producer’s lap dog and completely ineffectual. As he continues production, Gilderoy becomes unhinged, having vivid nightmares and becoming convinced someone is watching him. The actress walks out in a rage, only to be replaced by another similar sounding actress. Gilderoy looses control and becomes just as manipulative as the producer is to his subjects.
It is important to note two things: we never see the outside, and we never see the images from the actual movie. We only hear the dubs, the screams and the vicious watermelon smashes that are actually heads rolling. We are stuck inside with this man who is slowly becoming insane by the situation he is forced into. We see only his work and his assistants work. This close scope creates a claustrophobic atmosphere that makes one uncomfortable as the events of the film unfold. You are left with no grounding perspective, no remoteness. You can’t understand why he wakes up in the middle of the night to a knock, only to find out he was being filmed freaking out. As a viewer you just want to get out. You don’t want him to figure out what is going on, solve any type of mystery. You just want him in the bright sunshine of Italy. The movie never gives this to you. Instead you become paranoid yourself. This is added to Gilderoy constantly replaying the watermelon scene and the scream scene in his head constantly. Just as when you think it is getting quite, you see the first actress’s head and hear that ear-piercing scream she emits just for kicks and giggles. This experimentation with sound is a major aspect as to why this film is eerie. Knowing that it is just watermelon, doesn’t make the scene where he watches two men smash watermelons on the ground any less creepy. By the end the manipulation of sound even becomes a part of how he communicates and manipulates the people around him.
This film was really good, but it wasn’t great. For some reason by the end of the movie, I felt nothing for the character anymore. It seemed like they were pushing the giallo influence a little too much with that ending. It was surface and unnecessary. That being said if you are interested in thrillers, this film is a great way to kill an afternoon in an enjoyable fashion.
Some documentaries are review proof for me. Almost anything that is about a famous but long forgotten artist, a subsection of an obscure culture, or about filmmaking gets a pass from me. It has to be really egregious for me to hate on it because that is what interests me. Just like a science fanatic will watch Cosmos on the night premieres than illegally download it so that they can watch it over and over again, I will watch anything about the joys of vinyl. I am saying all this as a way of an apology. I know that this movie isn’t perfect and yet I don’t care.
Death was a punk rock band started by three brothers in the early seventies. This band was important because it was the first real punk band, let alone the first African-American one. They formed in Detroit where these brothers grew up and they practiced in their childhood rooms. A local record company responded to the group leader’s solicitations and let them record a 45 that they released independently (also very punk). They would record more songs than what was needed for a 45 with the intention of doing an album, but the 45 was not successful so the record company dropped them. But the group leader had the foresight to see that his songs were worth something, so grabbed the masters. Through a bunch of convoluted events, two brothers broke away from the group leader and formed their own band in a genre that was more popular at the time than punk, reggae. Several years pass. A couple of vinyl enthusiasts discover this band’s 45s in random record shops and the band gets rediscovered. The men who formed a band in their youth are now able to sell out concert venues with that same material.
There is a lot of heart in this movie. It was made by a person that clearly loves not just this band, but also the thrill of finding an undiscovered band in general. But this clear intention does not always produce great results. The first half of the movie is clunky and stuffed with irrelevant side stories as the band members get into their personal history. This is mainly because the most charismatic and the clear leader of the group had died before their band gained a resurgence. Instead we are left with the two other brothers who seem to be of an agreeable nature. So we don’t get any true emotions out of them until they start to talk about their brother. It only began to pick up when we started to see how the band was rediscovered. We get to see obsession and nerdiness up close and personal. When one of the collectors talks about finding the record for the first time on ebay, his eyes light up and his joy is indescribable. Then we learn that one of the surviving brothers had three sons who also learned how to play instruments. When the oldest son discovers that his dad’s music is being played at hipster parties, he flips out. The love for not just his father, but his whole family is palpable and the words said earlier by the two surviving brothers about family actually shows through on a human level.
The music is great. The story is interesting. And the redemption of a long lost band is uplifting. If only the directors had been a little bit tighter on the editing bay, then I think they would have had a brilliant film that explores not just underground music, but also family and inherent genius.
By the way, I want one of their logo shirts, if anyone is willing to fork over the cash….
Pedro Almodovar is probably one of the most interesting auteur directors working today. His trademark reliance on melodrama, sexual perversity and avant-garde showcases produce strange and infinitely interesting masterpieces. Sometimes he misses the mark like in a movie I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, Flower of my Secret. But other times he is able to get the mixture just right and produce a truly moving exploration on the nature of love, like he did with Talk to Her.
The film starts with a strange ballet. We see two women who seemingly can’t see stumbling around a stage full of chairs. You think that they would trip over the chairs, but a man comes out and hurriedly pulls the chairs away from the dancing women. In the audience are our two main characters, Benigno and Marco. They don’t know each other and yet they sit next to each other. Marco shows an unabashed show of emotion while watching this ballet. Benigno is struck by this show of emotion and tells the patient he is taking care of, a ballerina who has been in a coma for four years, all about the incident. Benigno seems to have a loving and affectionate relationship with a woman who has no knowledge of his existence. He loves to take care of this young woman. As fate would have it, Marco’s companion, a female bullfighter, has an accident and slips into a coma as well. She is placed down the hall from Benigno’s charge. Marco comes everyday to keep his bullfighter company and meets Benigno. They strike up a friendship. Over time, Benigno reveals that he is obsessed with his charge, even before she slipped into a coma. He does the things that she can not, like go to the ballet and the movie theater, just so he can be close to her spiritually. This affection and obsession turns dark for Benigno. Marco stands by his friend and keeps his company until the very end.
Although Almodovar is more famous for giving great and complex roles to women, men dominate this picture. But these men aren’t of the same fiber we usually see in the hyper masculine Hollywood films. They seem to have overt feminine traits and are unashamed of them. Marco cries several times throughout the movie and is unafraid to talk about it. Benigno gives off homosexual vibes, despite being in love with a woman and enjoys skin care and hair styling more than nursing.The men devote a good portion of their day-to-day lives caring for men in an affectionate way. It is refreshing to see men act more on a spectrum; somewhere between male and female. It is truer to life and gives this film more emotional resonance.
One of the greatest strengths Almodovar shows throughout all of his friends is his affection for art. Each character in this film is devoted to some kind of art form, whether it be ballet, bullfighting, journalism or watching movies. The way Benigno connects to his comatose patient isn’t through her words or deeds but through art. He feels closer to her after he goes to the movie theater and sees a silent picture (there is a great silent picture sequence that is hard to forget.) or watches an avant garde performance. Marco is moved to tears by music, ballet and basically anything he finds truly artistic and beautiful. This is what Benigno found interesting in him in the first place. When one devotes one’s life to art then you feel a kinship with people who do the same thing. When the comatose patient (spoiler!) finally awakens, it isn’t her family that we see. Instead we see her watching a ballet class and looking wistfully at the dancers. When the bullfighter gets rejected by one of her ex-lovers, she devotes her time to fool hardy and brave bull situations. Not only do the characters talk about art, we get to see long sequences of artistic performances. From the strange ballet performance (which was performed by the famous dancer Pina when she was still alive) to the silent picture sequence to a sweetly mournful Spanish traditional song, we get to see what has put these men and women under such a spell of epic portions. These sequences give us a little break from the narrative, but also enhance the emotions of it. I would like to see Almodovar delve into documentary filmmaking and make a movie about dance. He can film it so well and fill the frame with unrestrained enthusiasm for the craft that I think he would make a truly interesting dance documentary. For now, I am content to watch the dance sequences he peppers all of his movies with.
I am usually the film buff that enjoys challenges. The word challenge in the film world almost always means long. I have not shied away from three-hour movies where nothing happens (except the internal turmoil of the main character) or marathoning movies linked by a tenuous subject matter. After reaching the end of a particularly difficult (long) movie feat, I always wonder why I do this to myself. Why must I put hurdles between myself and executing a good review? The inevitable result of these bouts of self-reflection, I purposefully immerse myself in small, short movies that produce more material in a shorter time period. This always ends up biting me in the butt. As it did with Red Cliff, the shorter version of a very long movie directed by the penultimate action director, John Woo.
Red Cliff dramatizes an important battle in China’s ancient history. Cao Cao is a brutal leader, hell-bent on uniting all of the kingdoms through force. A couple of kingdoms, Xu and East Wu, resist this forced unification by joining forces and conceiving of cunning ways to cut down Cao Cao’s massive army. There are many long speeches that are executed while wearing ridiculous hats, gazing out at beautiful landscapes and of course brutal action sequences that proves that Woo will always be a master action filmmaker.
This movie came in two different versions. Either I could watch the entire five-hour uncut version of the story or I could watch the two and a half hour truncated version made so as to not confuse America’s feeble brains. I chose the truncated version because I am familiar with Woo’s filmmaking. He loves to fill his movies with needless action and weird subplots that don’t necessarily make sense to the main thrust of the film. I also chose the truncated version because it was streaming on Netflix and I needed another movie to review at the last second. In other words, I was being lazy. This laziness resulted in frustration. I never knew exactly what the motivations were from each character. Characters seemed to have introduced and then virtually disappeared from the action until the epic final battle. We see events happen with little to no explanation. But would this have been any better with the extended cut? Instead of a coherent story, Woo was content with just watching these men and women do fancy tricks and behead numerous fake people. He pauses the plot at will, opting to show the main character practice his sweet jump kicks instead of doing anything that matters. This just seems like he would have just diverted the plot longer stretches of time than he did here. There are some individual scenes that are breathtaking to watch and effective on me as a viewer, but once those scenes end, we go back into a convoluted back story that makes no sense. There is no strong connective tissue between the great showpiece. I think that Woo was given too much freedom with this movie. He works best under some restriction whether it is a language barrier, a low-budget or a studio assigned movie, he really shines. But the moment he is given as much money as he will ever need, top stars at his disposal (Tony Leung in particular) and an unlimited running time, he falls apart and relies on his action too much. Action is not what a good and coherent epic make.
On your climb to the top of your chosen business, you must always try to remember the people who you surpassed and the past that you rejected. If you do not, according to most movie logic, it will come to bite you in the butt. In yet another example of this adage, Intimidation pits a lowly bank clerk against the assistant manager who just took another position at corporate.
Kyosuke Takita is a confident and weasel assistant manager at a well performing bank. We meet him when he is getting a farewell dinner thrown for him. He is on his way to the very top, rising easily through the schemes he hatches. Left in his shadow, Matakiche Nakiake is still a bank clerk, beaten down from years of beration by Takita and his sister, Yukie. Their relationship changes the moment that a masked man comes into the life of Takita. He threatens to expose his dirty dealings and affairs if he doesn’t give up a large sum of money. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Takita takes advantage of the “friendship” (it is more like a servant-master relationship) of Nakiake by getting him drunk and then visiting him while he is supposed to be watching over the bank with a mask over his face and a gun jabbing him in the ribs. I don’t want to give away the rest of the movie, so I will stop there.
This movie is barely an hour long and this gives the action a breathlessness that I found intriguing. You barely get used to one situation before things are warped into something different. But as the narrative speeds along, the relationship of Takita and Nakiake evolves slowly. At the beginning, Takita is the dominant one, illustrated by his position at the head of a table at the dinner held in his honor. Meanwhile Nakiake sits to the side and goes into the kitchen to warm his sake for him. But as Takita becomes more and more stressed, the soft-spoken Nakiake becomes more the focus of the film and the quietly strong man. His decisions become more precise and he seems to have more control over the damage Takita is foolishly inflicting him. This is what makes the movie more than just another film noir.
Japanese cinema has always been a rich and unique culture that has fascinated me. It is filled with monster movies, art house favorites, and steamy film noir. These film noir are what fascinate me the most, because directors from this country seem to inject something that is missing from most American film noir. The jaded protagonists seem to be a little bit more jaded than normal. The situations are just a little bit more intense and rife with tension. The settings are just a little bit more stark. And the stars of this genre are just a little bit more demented. Jo Shishido is the ultimate example of the demented protagonist. Cruel Gun Story is just another entry in the legacy of Shishido and his many brooding protagonists.
Shishido plays Togawa, a convict released early by a mob boss so he can pull off a complicated heist. The heist involves boosting an armored truck filled with a day’s revenue from a popular race track. He hatches a plan and whips his assigned crew into shape. He establishes himself as top dog, but some people resent his top dog status and harsh demeanor. Of course behind this brash nature and tough talking demeanor is a caring brother who carries around a heavy conscious after being the reason his virginal sister gets crippled. His love for her is what motivates him to pull off this heist he doesn’t want to do. The money earned from the job would ensure her safety and well-being. This caring along with several missteps in the heist contribute to his downfall.
In many ways this is a typical heist movie that anyone who has watched a Nicholas Cage movie would be familiar with. But it has this edge to it that is hard to explain. The men of the story are rough characters, each one burned by the mob boss and forced to do a deed they don’t really want to do but need to do. They beat each other up, are quick to back stab one person in favor of someone else, and wear sunglasses at night. They are forced in these situations because the modern Japanese culture has nothing for them to do. They are aliens in their own country now that the Americans have come to occupy it. The American presence looms over everything that happens in this movie. They occupy abandoned buildings that once housed American troops. The one legitimate person in the movie, makes his living off of owning a bar that caters to the troops. At one point in the narrative, Togawa acquires a machine gun (presumably the gun of the story, although it doesn’t factor that much into the plot) that was American made. He is warned that if he points the gun with the intention of using it, he must be ready to kill. He aims it at his mob boss after he gets shafted by him and is able to fully exact his revenge using a foreign instrument.
When this movie was made, Shishido was just forming the legacy he will play on for the rest of the sixties. He isn’t as fully formed as he would be later on in his film career, but you can see hints of his badass characters in Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter. He stalks scenes and plays the brooding master mind that the script makes for him quite well. Quite honestly I am still impressed that he is able to open his mouth with those insane cheeks of his, let alone act as well as he does.
Sometimes documentaries can act like homework. Dry, full of talking heads and mediocre cinematography all make certain documentaries feel like work even if you are intrigued or interested in the subject matter. Other documentaries take a dry news story and make a captivating movie out of it. The Square is a documentary that falls firmly in the latter category.
The Arab Spring started with the occupation of Cario, Egypt’s Tahrir Square in 2011. Upset with the current President, Mubarack, ordinary citizens of Egypt took to the streets in protest. The battle was epic and brutal, but it was won by the citizens. This is where the documentary starts. The night of Mubarack is removed from power, we see huge crowds of diverse people hugging, singing and talking about what a success the demonstrations were. We are introduced to several activists, all fervently involved in the organizing and education of the people. One man in particular, Ahmed Hassan, is particularly interesting. He joined the revolution because he was sick of working for nothing and not getting recognized as a true citizen of the country he grew up in. The film also follows Khalid Abdalla, an actor most famous for his role in the Kite Runner. Khalid uses his slight celebrity and the long tradition of activism in his family to stand up for the Egypt he believes in. We also watch several women talk about their experiences along with a man who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood (I think he still does.) The first part of the documentary is filled with hope. That hope is soon dashed by what is about to happen. The Muslim Brotherhood, a vocal and strong section of the Egyptian population, takes credit for the protests and wins several governmental positions including the President when it comes to a vote. The problem with this is that the Muslim Brotherhood helped the enforcers, not the protesters. They weren’t even officially there (several members showed up but not because they represented the group.) The Egyptians basically replaced an amoral dictator with a religious one. Things were not getting better for the common citizen. In fact more restrictions were being proposed. The radicals we watch realize that they gave up the Square too soon. They must go back to the Square and protest again. Violence almost immediately breaks out resulting a few bloody months. These bloody months fueled the ordinary citizen to come out and protest, resulting in one of the biggest organized protests in history. Morsi, the religious President, was removed from power. Hope comes back to Egypt again.
Everything I just said, you could have read in a couple of minutes if you have the right source. Unfortunately there are so many wrong sources that it is hard to really know what is going on there unless you are on the ground watching it day-to-day. For instance I had no idea that the Muslim Brotherhood wasn’t behind the initial protests. Almost every news piece in the United States had the Muslim Brotherhood as the organizer. This was and is most definitely not true. Throughout the film we watch a Muslim Brotherhood member get more disillusioned by the group that he was willing to die for a couple of years prior. He sees the oppression that his group is capable of and he is disappointed. He straddles two very different worlds. At one point he is confronted by the brutal fact that the religion he believes in is courting his son into more radical beliefs than even he has. The Muslim Brotherhood had called out to their congregation to punish the protesters. His son is caught throwing stones at the protesters at the explicit request of the group. He comes home and is cocky about his deeds. One of the father’s non-Muslim Brotherhood friends shows him a brutal video just taken a little while before he had went to throw rocks. People are beating up protesters with bats and throwing molotov cocktails at peaceful activists. He then asks him if he would throw a rock at him if he was there that night. The son is horrified by the actual events that he had been defending a moment before. The indoctrination of a whole swath of the population is fascinating and kind of scary to watch. But to see people rebel against that type of groupthink, like we see again and again throughout this film, is what gives me hope.
The movie isn’t just about the events happening in Tahrir Square, but also about how it is being portrayed by artists, activists, reporters, and politicians. Throughout the whole film we watch an anonymous man paint these beautiful paintings that represent the chaos and the violence happening in Tahrir Square. At another point, a man who has become the singing voice of the protest is recalling what happened to him when he was taken into prison after one of his performances. We see the lashes on his back and hear his voice tremble as he discusses his trauma. But this capture does nothing to curb his constant ability to belt out a folk song to a crowd needing rousing. The art of these people is how they are able to cope and see the violence and the minute frustrations of everyday protests. This results in some really moving pictures and music. In fact this whole movie is an exercise in how the filmmaker sees the chaos around her.
Imagine if you are a wealthy businessman whose kid gets kidnapped. Now imagine if the boy ended up being your driver’s instead of your own. Would you help your employee get his kid back or do you let him figure it out himself? In High and Low, Kurosawa explores this conundrum. This might seem like a straight forward narrative but never underestimate the master of cinema.
Gondo is a successful shoemaker. We first see him, he is in a meeting with a bunch of other shoe factory executives. They want him to join forces with them to take over the company and produce cheaper shoes at higher prices. He reacts violently against them. He dismisses them. It turns out he has been secretly buying stock to the company and now has a significant voice in board meetings. He prepares to take over the company and keep producing quality shoes when he receives a phone call. This phone call says that a kidnapper has their young son who had been cops and robbers with the driver’s son. He demands the sum that Gondo just secured to get control. We find out that it isn’t Gondo’s son that has been kidnapped, rather the driver’s son had been mistakenly stolen. But the kidnapper does not care about the mistake. He is going to keep the child until he sees the same ransom. Gondo is put in a precarious situation. Will he risk loosing his control and possibly his job in order to save this lower class boy? The father begs him to, the police assure him that he will get his money back and the only one encouraging him to not spend the money also works for someone else. He finally gives in and gives the ransom sealing his fate, or did he? The perspective now shifts to the kidnapper himself. The setting becomes less wide open and more cramped. We learn that the kidnapper isn’t really doing this out of any material means. instead he is doing it to embarrass Gondo, a man he envied while he looked up to him as he was growing up. He manipulates and controls the situations he puts other people in. He travels into the underworld of drugs and crime easily although he is a student. As the cops close in on the culprit, he becomes more and more deranged and vicious. The student is finally caught after he kills several junkies and ruins Gondo’s financial future.
Throughout this film, I thought it was going to go a certain way, only to be disoriented by having it switch. At the beginning of the film, I thought it was going to be a corporate intrigue movie, then it morphs into a child abduction movie, then a train thriller, then a character study and finally an exploration of addiction. In lesser hands, this would fall apart, but the Kurosawa knows better than most. He juggles these shifts and seamlessly integrates them to the point that you barely know it is happening until it already does. Mifune as Gondo also grounds the revolving structure and gives something to hold onto. Mifune practically disappears into Gondo to the point that I had to look up if that was actually him or not. He does and does not resemble his more stoic samurai roles of the past. He takes his propensity to overact and restricts it. Mifune makes this difficult role look easy. On the surface the character is a cold and calculating business man, only concerned about making money. The more you prod him, however, you see that he is actually a very idealistic and moral person. He is able to steadfastly refuse to give the kidnapper money one moment and the next moment let him have it without once feeling fake.
I dismissed this film after seeing it for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I found it entertaining but without any political merit that Kurosawa so subtly enters into most of his films. As I thought about the film, the more it grew on me. I now think this is one of his quiet masterpieces. It lacks the melodrama of a Rashomon and the historical importance of a Seven Samurai, but it is still worth checking out.
In the first sequence of the Knack, a group of women wait in a long corridor to see a man behind a door. They are all wearing the same clothes and all have a very long watch necklace hanging around their necks. The narrator, who we find out is our protagonist, explains that the man behind the door is the ultimate Don Juan. He can get any girl with a turn of a phrase and a leer. This man is able to love them, have them and leave them in equal term. He has the knack. Each new woman bleeds into another until all of them have brown hair, a tight sweater, a mini skirt and a long watch necklace. As the camera moves across all of these women, it becomes more and more surreal. The viewer eventually understands that this sequence is just a fantasy of the protagonist and the man doesn’t literally have zombie like girls lined up outside his bedroom door. This sequence is a small hint at the mayhem that ensues in this Richard Lester film from the early sixties.
Colin, the protagonist is tired of not having the knack with women. He confronts his roommate, Tolen, and asks him to teach him how to get women the way he does. Tolen offers cryptic advice that Colin interrupts into getting a bigger bed. While he is on the hunt for a bigger bed, Colin meets Nancy, just off the bus and green to the swingin’ London scene. She is lost in the urban wilderness and relies on Colin to help get her grounding. Nancy goes back to the apartment with Colin and his new lodger, Tom. They begin an easy friendship full of adroit language and odd conversations. As Colin and Tom struggle to bring the bigger bed up to Colin’s room, Tolen comes home to see a naive young girl in his flat. Tolen’s downfall is that he cannot resist hitting on a woman no matter what the circumstances. Tensions rise and Nancy must choose who is going to “rape” her. (I put this in air quotes because it is understood that she is never raped, but rather framing the conversation to suit her insecurities. She is only shown forcefully kissed by Tolen and Colin, so who knows…) In the end Nancy decides to go with Colin and they form a romantic relationship behind Nancy’s “rape.”
If you watched more than fifteen minutes of this film you would instantly be able to tell that this same man also directed the iconic a Hard Day’s Night. Richard Lester burst on the scene with a Hard’s Day Night and followed it up with this ironic study of the youth culture. Thus commenting and satirizing something he helped create by shaping a Hard’s Day Night movie. He takes the laissez-faire attitude that most youths had during this time and shows the absurdity of it. When we finally see Tolen, we see that he isn’t this sex god that Colin had been idolizing. In fact he is quite homely. As he hits on Nancy, Tolen’s commenting become more and more overtly misogynistic and Nancy shies away from him. I began to wonder how Tolen got any women at all. Colin desperately wants to be as care free and suave as Tolen but he is unable to reconcile his upbringing as a stodgy Englishman. This ingrained sense of naiveté becomes his ultimate advantage with Nancy, despite his complete hatred of it. Nancy sees in Colin an innocence that is absent in Tolen. Add to this chaotic equation a condrum with a bed that is big for the hall (and his room, not that he ever gets it up there) and a new tenanent that must paint everything white and you get a totally zany and absurd film worthy of a Hard Day’s Night follow up. Richard Lester was able to give the foundation of a youth movement without ever being a part of it himself.