We'll take good news wherever we can find it nowadays. And the news that Mark Harris is beginning a regular column in Film Comment is some of the best news we've heard in ages. Harris has written one of the best film books ever, "Pictures At A Revolution," which examines Hollywood, America, and the world through the prism of the five Hollywood films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1968.
In Harris' new column in Film Comment, Cinema '67 Revisited, he returns to that fruitful period in a series of biweekly articles.
He begins, as might be expected, with Michelangelo Antonioni's ode to swinging London, paranoia and mimes, BLOW-UP.
"With Blow-Up, however, it was clear: Antonioni had compromised nothing. The film starts as a quasi-Hitchcockian thriller about a London fashion photographer who witnesses the aftermath of a murder, but ends as something more metaphysical, environmental, and philosophical. “The English thought me mad,” he told Rex Reed, “But I thought them mad, with all their unions and rules . . . Now everyone talks of the wonderful grass and the wonderful trees, but I painted the grass with green paint and I painted the streets and the buildings with white paint. I even painted the tree trunks. Everything.”This week, for his second installment, Harris tackles a wild card, the second-tier star-studded soaper, HOTEL.
Hotel is junk, but it is fascinating, revealing junk, heavy with an anxious, dawning knowledge that its era is about to end; the nominally opulent production values hang on the film like a slightly stale cologne that’s been slapped on to mask something worse. The sheen of flop sweat is palpable right from the poster, with the effortful, mostly incomprehensible slogan, “You straightened out the room in broad daylight…but some things still breathed and pulsed with what had happened the night before—“ (It ends like that, with a dash, because even it has no idea where it means to go from there.) The roster of actors—Rod Taylor, Catherine Spaak, Karl Malden, Richard Conte, “and Merle Oberon as ‘The Duchess’”—suggest not an all-star cast but the choices one would make after being turned down by an all-star cast.