Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Film Reviews: Bonnie and Clyde; I Am Heath Ledger; Their Finest


BONNIE AND CLYDE, is a film released in 1967. I have a passion to watch the classic films of my eras on the Big Screen if possible. The Ritz Cinema in Randwick (a heritage Art Deco cinema) have a program of Classic screenings. There is nothing like watching the films on the big screen rather than the TV or computer or iPhone sized thingos.

I remember having seen this film in its original release at one of the Hurstville cinemas in Sydney, getting into a taxi to get me home and having to ask the driver to 'slow down' as my nerves were still in a jangle from having witnessed the film. I was a nervous wreck, knocked completely off my equilibrium.

BONNIE AND CLYDE, was produced and starred Warren Beatty - it led to his famous producer/director career to come: e.g. SHAMPOO (1975) REDS (1981). He has been nominated for 14 Academy Awards. His co-star in BONNIE AND CLYDE was Faye Dunaway and it was Directed by Arthur Penn (THE MIRACLE WORKER [1962]; ALICE'S RESTAURANT [1969]). It was influenced by the French New Wave movement, and was an expression of the counter culture reacting to the 1960's.

The film told a story of the Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker bank robbing career during the Great Depression. Written by David Newman and Robert Benton, it juxtaposed in quickly edited tonal contrasts between a slapstick comedy mode to disconcerting horror and graphic violence - the visual shock in the quick shifts were very disturbing and thrilling - still are, though now a familiar technique. It was the first film that used what in the industry are known as 'squibs' which were detonated 'packets' of blood on the costumes of the actors so it looked, graphically, as real as possible. The famous last sequence of the film, the entrapment and shooting of Bonnie and Clyde, had a lasting effect on screen violence and, for me was never topped in its emotional affect until the Oliver Stone film, NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994). Nerve wracking.

The relationship between Bonnie and Clyde, was daringly told in ambiguous sexual offers for 1967, and the performances by Mr Beatty and Ms Dunaway are brilliant in their empathetic chemistry. Arthur Penn is famous for the work he could extract from his actors and the support work from Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons (she won the Academy Award, for Best Supporting Actor) is impeccable. There is, by-the-way a very funny and pathetic cameo performance from Gene Wilder, as one of the many kidnapped victims of the gang.

The film had eight nominations for the Academy Award with Burnett Gaffey winning for his cinematography. Theadora Van Runkle (THE GODFATHER PART II) was nominated for her Costume Design and although she did not win, set a fashion for 30's clothing with the signature beret, worn by Ms Dunaway, being made a prominent accoutrement for the late '60's trendy fashionistas.

In 1992, BONNIE AND CLYDE was preserved by the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being 'culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant'. Do see. On the Big Screen, if possible. You can imagine the nostalgia of having Warren and Faye presenting at this year's Academy Award - whatever the disastrous recasting, reunion, gave us!


I AM HEATH LEDGER, is a documentary feature, made by Network Entertainment for the US cable channel SPIKE, Directed by Derek Murray and Adrian Buitenhuis. It has been released in cinemas here in Australia. I watched it with encouragement from my acting students who were very excited and inspired by it.

Made up from much found material made by Heath Ledger, with glimpses of some of his film performances and interview from family and friends (not Michelle Williams, however) we are introduced into the exploration that Heath Ledger investigated into the artistry of film Acting/Directing and surprisingly music. Whilst mildly informed and absorbed by elements of the film it is, for me, an unbalanced, perhaps a hagiographic, gesture to history. The story seems to me incomplete. And whilst encouraging my young students to take inspiration I felt it my duty to have them reflect on what was left out of the documentary.

Although there was reference to Heath Ledger's shocking insomniac state and a fleeting mention of his accidental death as a result of prescribed medications, it has a kind of air-brushed feel - in any of the film we watch, one barely, if ever, sees any alcohol or drug references to the world which any actor in that environment would have existed in, witnessed, let alone a charismatic leader and artistic force that Heath Ledger appears to have being. The lack of contextual reveal of all of this is dramatically absent enough for me to point out to my students that the world of Amy Winehouse in that documentary, AMY (2015), has more authenticity and balance - inspiring but also cautionary.

It was, also, strange to me that neither his two major Australian films TWO HANDS (1997) or CANDY (2006) are discussed at all in the trajectory of his development as an actor. There is a fleeting reference to NED KELLY (2003). No mention is made, either, of his Australian television work, so that the documentary gives the appearance that Heath Ledger sprang fully formed onto the Hollywood scene. It is a misleading story and thus flawed in its genuine inspiration as an example of an artist of interest - which, by the way, I believe he is.

Take it in, if you must, with a knowledge of what has been left out, for this film is not I AM HEATH LEDGER, it is rather, I AM HEATH LEDGER IN AN EXPURGATED TRUTH.


THEIR FINEST, is a British film, Directed by Lone Scherfig, written by Gaby Chiappe, based on the 2009 novel, THEIR FINEST HOUR AND A HALF by Lissa Evans. It concerns the making of a morale boosting film, THE NANCY STARLING, for the British public, telling a story from the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz.

There is a small feminist statement in the film when the main character, Catrin Cole (a proficient Gemma Atherton), takes on the job of writing the women's dialogue for the film, and gradually earns more responsibility for the shape of the project. There is a little charm in watching the film with-in-the-film being made, especially with the 'antics' of Ambrose Hilliard, so gently, cutely inhabited by Bill Nighy. I, too enjoyed the ever reliable Eddie Marsan and the handsome nuanced work of Helen McCrory, as Sammy and Sophie Smith. But it is all, the look - set and costumes - so art directed, especially the real world of the actual film (remember the recent BROOKLYN), that one can hardly lose oneself in the experience. Boredom creeps in as we look at the 'sheen' of the photographed images. The Blitz never looked so 'good'.

Much as THE NANCY STARLING is being made to boost the morale of the British public about the war effort and to celebrate the depth of character of the ordinary British Man and Woman, so this 2016 film, THEIR FINEST, seems to be, I surmised, in my boredom, a morale booster for the British public in the face of their choice to BREXIT, and a re-iteration of the strength of character of the Men and Women of that nation still today.

For us ex-colonists, way down here in the antipodes, it is a bit too much to take seriously. THEIR FINEST, was for me a bland, well made piece of contemporary British home propaganda, competently told by all. A time filler. Grind my teeth, time.

Why, oh, why, did friends encourage me to go to see this film? I should just trust my own instincts and resist other persuasion.

No, no, no. Don't go.

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