Mad Men: Putney Swope (1969)

PUTNEY SWOPE (1969)

To view Putney Swopeclick here.

In 1969 Robert Downey Sr. waited outside a screening of Putney Swope  (1969) at the Cinema II in NYC to see if the film was still working as intended. As reported by Stephen Mahoney in Life magazine: “Two couples emerge. A woman is tearing at a handkerchief. ‘Tasteless. An exhibition…Filth’, she stammers. Under the cowboy hat Downey’s face lights up with joy.” Mahoney’s article was entitled “Robert Downey Makes Vile Movies,” a takeoff on a particularly outraged review by the New York Daily News (“Vicious and vile, the most offensive picture I’ve ever seen.”). Putney Swope is a clattering joke-stuffed satire both hilarious and exhausting. It begins as a spoof of ad agency racism, and keeps widening its targets until it takes itself down, a circular firing squad of comedy. Downey wanted his audiences to leap out of their seats, preferably with shock and disgust, and so it includes a horny and despotic little person president, an office flasher and the takeover of an ad agency by black militants who get co-opted by the business they wanted to overthrow. No one gets away unscathed. Putney Swope is streaming on FilmStruck, along with four other Downey films.

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Adolescent Adventure: The World of Henry Orient (1964)

WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT, THE (1964)

To view The World of Henry Orientclick here.

FilmStruck has been singled out as a great resource for film aficionados but it also includes exceptional family friendly entertainment that can provide younger viewers with an eye-opening introduction to classic and foreign cinema. From Charlie Chaplin’s silent antics as the lovable Tramp in The Kid (1921) to the colorful Japanese fantasy film Jellyfish Eyes (2013), subscribers will discover a wide range of films available for all-ages. One stand out example is The World of Henry Orient (1964), a charming and extremely funny coming-of-age drama directed by George Roy Hill that is currently streaming as part of the “Female Friendships” collection.

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Keep an Eye Out for The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (1972)

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For reasons known only to the movie gods, Hollywood embarked on a decades-long love affair with the idea of grabbing the rights to successful French-language comedies and remaking them for American audiences, most often with all the quirkiness and local flavor completely sanded away in the process. There were enough hits peppered in this wave to make it profitable for a while; heck, Touchstone almost had a cottage industry with it thanks to 3 Men and a Baby (1987) and its sequel, based more or less on Coline Serreau’s Three Men and a Cradle (1985) but with a ridiculous crime subplot thrown in, and to a much lesser extent, My Father the Hero (1994), a retooling of Gérard Lauzier’s Mon père, ce héros (1991). Then we have the odd case of Yves Robert’s The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (Le grand blond avec une chaussure noir) (1972), a wildly successful star vehicle for French comic actor Pierre Richard that turned into The Man with One Red Shoe (1985), an early showcase for Tom Hanks just after his star-making turns in Splash and Bachelor Party in 1984. The American version actually isn’t too bad on its own terms, but it really can’t hold a shaky violin bow compared to the original.

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Part Doc, Part Comedy, All Sex

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Did you know that the energy harnessed by orgasm is the same energy responsible for the Northern Lights? No? Well, perhaps you are unfamiliar with the Orgone, an energy that exists everywhere and in all of us. It can be harnessed in an Orgone Accumulator, a wooden/metal box created by Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Reich in the 1930′s, that one sits in to accumulate Orgone energy. Once inside, the good energies build up within the subject, breaking through their “body armor,” as he called it, meaning their collective neuroses, and the good feelings begin to flow. For the rest of us, the bathroom works just fine. In 1971, Serbian director Dušan Makavejev, fascinated by Reich and his energy accumulating cabinet of curiosity, put together a movie, WR: Mysteries of the Organism, part documentary, part fictional narrative, part satirical, part propaganda. What makes it work so hypnotically well, is that all of those parts overlap with each other without a care or concern as to linear narrative or even functional argument.

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Talking Heads: My Dinner with Andre (1981)

MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (1981)

Last week, I delved into documentaries and asked how much was real and how much was fiction. Specifically, I was looking for the appearance of reality and wondering if documentaries and their overlap with fiction was a problem at all or just something to be expected when watching someone’s account of what happened. All of this led me to ponder a movie I have long considered a fictional documentary, My Dinner with Andre (1981), which is currently streaming under the Food for Thought theme in FilmStruck. The movie itself has become the butt of jokes from The Simpsons (Martin Prince plays the My Dinner with Andre game in an arcade) to movies like Waiting for Guffman (where Corky sells My Dinner with Andre action figures). Both of those jokes play well but let’s be honest, it’s pretty damn easy to parody a movie that is almost entirely two men sitting at a table, talking. The fact that such an undertaking not only had a director (instead of simply a cameraman saying, “Okay, I think we’re ready… I mean, action!”) but the internationally famous, highly acclaimed director Louis Malle, is a miracle in and of itself. Surely Malle saw this decidedly uncinematic scenario as an irresistible challenge as a filmmaker and set out to see what he could do with two men at a table talking. So what did he do? And what is the point of all of this anyway?

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To Be or Not to Be (1942) and the Importance of Satire

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Whenever I’m feeling really low, I reach for the Lubitsch. I suspect I’m not the only one who does this. From personal favorites such as Trouble in Paradise (1932), Design For Living (1933) and The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Lubitsch’s films never fail to bring a smile to my face, lifting my spirits and recharging my soul. After a pretty lousy few weeks, I revisited a favorite that I reserve for only the most desperate of times: Ernst Lubitsch’s 1942 comedy masterpiece To Be or Not to Be (now streaming on The Criterion Channel of FilmStruck). With each viewing I’m left both with tears of laughter streaming down my face and scratching my head in a state of confused awe: How did Lubitsch manage to get this film made? In a world torn apart by war, with the ascension of fascists in positions of endless power and the looming threat of Nazi Germany invading European countries, how on earth did Lubitsch convince Alexander Korda and United Artists to make this film? And how did he convince Jack Benny and Carole Lombard to star? It had to be that infamous “Lubitsch touch.”

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Killing Them Softly: The Executioner (1963)

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Over the last few months I have been exploring the films of Luis Garcia Berlanga, an acerbic Spaniard who turned Franco-era fascist bureaucracy into grim comedy. In Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall (1953) a poor town dresses up as a romantic Andalusian village to impress impending American visitors, while in Placido (1961) a group of moralizing middle-class businessmen use the homeless as props for a publicity blitz. The grimmest of Berlanga’s works I’ve watched so far, however, is The Executioner (1963) a squirm-inducing death penalty comedy in which murder is just another way to get ahead. Displaying the full range of Berlanga’s gift for caricature, deep-focus joke-building and disgust with the Franco regime, it’s a comedy in which the laughs die in your throat. All three of these works are now streaming on The Criterion Channel of FilmStruck.

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Stardust Memories (1980): Looking Back, Looking Ahead

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There’s something really special about transitional films in a director’s filmography, and it almost always drives critics insane when those movies first open. Case in point: Stardust Memories (1980), Woody Allen’s first film of the 1980s (or last of the 1970s if that’s how you prefer to count decades) and a challenging gauntlet thrown down by the director after two of his ambitious films, the austere drama Interiors (1978) and his most iconic ode to his favorite city, Manhattan (1979). There was a lot of chatter at the time about the “Serious Woody Allen” (the name of a little retrospective running right here, by the way), with admirers and detractors alike honing in on the increasing Ingmar Bergman influence that had been dotted through several of his films before leaping to the forefront in both Love and Death (1975) and Interiors. So what did Allen do? He pulled a Fellini instead, and for years, no one knew what to make of it. [...MORE]

Potemkin Village Blues: Bienvenido Mr. Marshall! (1952)

WELCOME MR. MARSHALL, ( aka BIENVENIDO MISTER MARSHALL), Lolita Sevilla, US poster art, 1953.

Last week I listed Luis Garcia Berlanga’s Placido (1961) as one of my film discoveries of 2016. A devilishly funny account of Christmastime sanctimony, it was the first film I had seen by Berlanga. Luckily, The Criterion Channel of FilmStruck is streaming four more of his films so I can get further acquainted with this acidic Spaniard. The earliest work on display is Bienvenido Mr. Marshall! (aka Welcome Mr. Marshall!, 1952), Berlanga’s breakout feature, which lovingly satirizes a small Spanish town trying to lure Marshall Plan funds from the U.S. It won the second place International Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, but was famously denounced by jury member Edward G. Robinson as “anti-American.” The film is more anti-Catholic Church and Generalissimo Franco than anything else, however, as the Americans are phantoms wielded as symbols by the local government and clergy – described as both wealthy benefactors and agents of moral decay. What the film lampoons most spectacularly and thoroughly is Franco’s attempt to promote Spain in a single image: an Andalusian Spain that was all flamenco and bullfights. Before the Americans’ arrival, the town hides the drunks, throws up fake facades and wears Andalusian costumes to pretend they are a tourist paradise rather than a poor farming town. As in Placido, Berlanga uses thumbnail caricatures to populate his village, hilarious creations like the half-deaf mayor, a broke colonialist aristocrat and a rotund hustler/producer who turns their town into a Walt Disney-fied version of Spanishness.

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Cooley High (1975): Coming of Age and the Lens of Nostalgia

COOLEY HIGH (1975) In 1973, George Lucas, at the time known only to those few people who had seen THX-1138 (1971), unleashed the most successful coming of age film of all time, American Graffiti. Coming of age movies not only took off at the box office, they became nostalgia movies for the Baby Boom generation. Unlike Andy Hardy or Gidget movies, which were always contemporary to their production, these new Coming of Age movies took place in the past. From American Graffiti to The Lords of Flatbush (1974) to Animal House (1978) and straight through to Porky’s (1982), nostalgia was the go-to for teenage/early twenty-something romps. One of them, Cooley High, made by American International Pictures, became a sleeper hit and it was the only one addressing African American teens and their own hopes and dreams.  [...MORE]

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