Sunday, March 10, 2013

An Economic Recovery Plan for the Land of Oz

In his excellent BFI Classics book on The Wizard of Oz, Salman Rushdie comments on the odd fact that everybody in Oz always seems so happy, despite the fact that they’ve apparently been enslaved by the powers of evil. Indeed, the Ozites’ joyous demeanor in the face of political and social catastrophe suggests that they may be ignoring the true desperation of their circumstances. We’ve seen this before – in Greece, most recently, but also in lots of other economies whose “zest for life” was much praised even as those nations were inching towards demographic and fiscal catastrophe. Luckily, in the case of Oz, disaster can still be averted. Here’s a four-point economic recovery plan for the Land of Oz.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Forgotten Films: High Tide (Gillian Armstrong, 1987)

It pains me to no end to call Gillian Armstrong's High Tide a "forgotten" film. Back in the late '80s and early '90s, it was anything but. It was the film people pointed to when talking about Judy Davis's greatness as an actress. It was also the film people pointed to when talking about the brilliance of its director, a woman who would go on to make a number of other masterpieces and near-masterpieces, including Little Women, Last Days of Chez Nous, and Oscar & Lucinda. (Armstrong and Davis had also collaborated on the excellent My Brilliant Career earlier in their careers, a film that put both of them on the map.) But slowly, this staggering, heartbreaking tale of a mother and daughter reuniting started to vanish from viewers' radars. It has never had a proper DVD release in the U.S. -- even in Australia, it was released in a crappy pan & scan edition that is now out of print -- so maybe there were some rights issues that prevented its gaining a wider audience. (It's a gorgeous film, so presentation matters a great deal.) The good news, however, is that it's currently available on Netflix streaming, in a pretty good-looking version, so you could watch it right this very minute if you so wanted.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Two by Frank Perry: Man on a Swing (1975) and Dummy (1979)

I’ve written about the work of Frank Perry before, both on this blog and elsewhere. He’s one of the great unsung American filmmakers of the 1960s and 70s, though he’s now known primarily for the ill-fated Mommy Dearest (and, to a lesser extent, The Swimmer). During the 1960s, he and his then-wife Eleanor, who wrote his scripts, had a remarkable run of magnificent films, many of which are still hard to find: Last Summer, Trilogy, and Diary of a Mad Housewife among them. After their divorce, Frank continued to create work of genuine interest – even if it couldn’t quite match what he did with Eleanor. Recently, two of his films from the 1970s made their way to home video, through Olive Films’ lovely Blu-ray/DVD of 1975’s Man on a Swing, and Warner Archive’s excellent DVD of 1979’s Dummy. This came as a shock to me: While both films were well-known at the time (the latter in particular was an award-winning TV movie written by Ernest Tidyman, screenwriter of The French Connection and the novelist who gave us Shaft), I didn’t think they’d ever be properly released.

In a Moving Image Source piece I did on the Perrys some years ago, I discussed the clinical aspect of their films, brought about perhaps (I speculated) by Eleanor’s work as a psychologist. All the films they did together have the quality of scientific inquiries, as if their subjects were under a microscope. Indeed, this is partly what makes the films so compelling: Eleanor’s psychological precision crossbred with Frank’s sensitivity to performance results in something both Olympian and very human.