Category Archives: Archived Movies

REAR WINDOW

There’s no need for anybody to go on at length about the
absolute brilliance of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller, which
represented the first stunning cinematic statement about the
effects of the kind of modern voyeurism associated with film
itself (Michael Powell’s later “Peeping Tom” is another
example). The story of the photographer (James Stewart), laid
up with a broken leg, who comes to suspect that one of the
neighbors (Raymond Burr) he’s been watching during his
confinement is a murderer, and who gradually entices his fiance
(Grace Kelly), nurse (Thelma Ritter) and police-detective buddy
(Wendell Corey) to become involved in his ever-more-obsessive
search for the truth, remains every bit as remarkable as it was
nearly half a century ago.

Now, however, you have the chance to experience the picture in
a wonderful new reconstruction by Robert A. Harris and James
C. Katz, who did a similar job on “Vertigo” several years back.
The result, with its luscious colors, is visually entrancing,
and the soundtrack has been digitally enhanced too, so that
Franz Waxman’s jazzy score makes an immediate impact. With its
great script by John Michael Hayes (based on the fine story by
Cornell Woolrich), its first-rate cast (Thelma Ritter’s machine-
gun delivery still works beautifully) and the director’s
unsurpassed gift for generating tension and suspense, “Rear
Window” remains a winner all the way, an absolute joy for all
its 112 minutes. (The Paramount logo is kept at the beginning
and end, by the way, even though the reissue has been financed
by Universal.)

This time around, take special pleasure in watching how
Hitchcock tells much of the story through camera movement
alone, exhibiting a fluidity which virtual no modern filmmaker,
even with all today’s technical improvements, can even begin
to match. And, especially in terms of the protagonist’s
obsessive behavior (marvelously catch by Stewart), savor the
thematic connections the picture has with the later “Vertigo.”

“Rear Window” is one of those classic pieces of cinematic
perfection in which new sources of amazement arise with each
repeated viewing. And this glowing reconstruction allows one
to savor it all the more. Don’t miss the opportunity of seeing
it on the big screen; the film is just too emotionally large
for a TV-sized image.

THE BEACH

If you combined “Lost Horizon” with “Lord of the Flies” and added
a bit of “The Blue Lagoon” and “Apocalypse Now” to the mix,
you’d have something akin to Danny Boyle’s adaptation of the
celebrated novel by Alex Garland. Not having read the book
myself, I can’t tell whether the picture is faithful to it or
whether it accurately reflects the original tone. What’s
clear is that as a movie “The Beach” is very handsome to look
at, with lots of cinematic style and pizzazz. But it’s equally
apparent that as a narrative the film is extremely silly and
disjointed. A viewer leaves the theatre filled with admiration
for the effort that must have gone into shooting it and for
the luscious texture cinematographer Darius Khondji has
contrived to bring to the screen, but also wondering why so
much effort was expended on such feeble material.

The plot centers on the search for paradise–in this case, an
attempt by a callow, shiftless young American (Leonardo
DiCaprio) bumming about in Bangkok to locate an island,
supposedly the most perfect, unspoiled beach in all the world,
to which he’s been given a map by a nutty Scotsman (Robert
Carlyle). Taking along a French couple he’s just met (Gauillaume
Canet and Virginie Ledoyen), he finds his way to the isle,
half of which is under the control of drug farmers and the
other the site of a hippie-like commune led by the autocratic
Sal (Tilda Swinton). The trio join the community, a bunch of
back-no-nature oddballs, and find contentment until various
forces intervene to destroy the locale’s pristine perfection.
One is that old demon of sexual attraction, which breaks up
old affections and creates new couplings; another is the
threat constantly posed by the drug-farmers, aiming to
protect their financial interests with rifles if necessary;
a third is the violence nature can suddenly bring, with its
intimations of mortality; and a fourth involves the arrival
of outsiders who threaten the stability of the community
and for whose coming the DiCaprio character is blamed. As a
result he’s ordered to see to it that the newcomers are
gotten rid of–an assignment which leads the protagonist to
live in isolation and eventually to “go native” in a fashion
familiar from Golding’s book and Coppola’s Vietnam epic.

From all this it’s apparent that “The Beach” wants to confront
Big Ideas like the conflict between nature and civilization,
the quest for perfection, the destructive impact of human
intervention and the thin line between culture and barbarism,
but it deals with these issues in such a goofy, scatterbrained
fashion that it becomes cartoonish rather than profound. The
island commune, for instance, seems like something out of a
sixties timewarp, and Swinton’s character, in particular, comes
across as unduly shrill. Similarly, the native wisdom of the
farmers, despite their criminal conduct, is a complete cliche.
The whole plot, in fact, strikes the viewer as simulanteously
juvenile and pretentious.

As for DiCaprio, he’s certainly boyish and enthusiastic in his
first starring role since “Titanic” (there was “The Man In the
Iron Mask,” of course, but that was filmed, I believe, before
Cameron’s epic), but though he glowers and struts about
confidently (especially when put into his “Lord of the Flies”-
“Apocalypse Now” mode), he still seems lightweight and
scrawny for the role, and the narration he’s forced to recite
through the picture is alternately flat and ponderously poetic.
The only other cast members who make much of an impression are
Swinton, who quickly becomes grating, and Robert Carlyle, who
chews up the scenery in a way he neglected to do in “The World
Is Not Enough.” Canet and Ledoyen, by contrast, are physically
attractive but dramatically inert.

“The Beach” represents something of a comeback for the
“Trainspotting” team of Boyle, producer Andrew Macdonald and
scripter John Hodge after their dismal last feature, “A Life
Less Ordinary.” But though very competently put together and
never boring, the picture is oddly hollow despite its glossy
surface. As a parable of Paradise (and Sanity) Lost, it’s
superficial and thematically muddled, and it can’t really be
recommended except for its considerable virtues as a travelogue.