An ongoing list of films and DVDs I watched this year (the new entry is #2):
Suddenly, Last Summer (1959, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz) What will be next? Who can say?
- Winter Light [The Communicants] (1962, directed by Ingmar Bergman)
- As my life has gotten steadily busier and more distressing I have found Ingmar Bergman a perplexing source of solace. This is the fifth or sixth I have watched recently, and I must admit that I have developed a quite a crush on Gunnar Björnstrand. So... this film, in which he plays a existentially despairing pastor incapable of giving comfort to his flock or returning the love of his mistress, was an all-too-real piece of heartbreak. It opens with a long, impressive scene lifted uninterruptedly from a Lutheran service, and as Björnstrand's minister moves anxiously about the church painted demons leer, mourning, over his shoulder from the hallowed walls. [January 3, 2008 ****]
- The short play by Tennessee Williams that lurks behind this film is a well nigh perfectly crafted piece of claustrophobic storytelling, in which the tales crafted by a dead man's domineering mother and possibly-mad cousin are simultaneously deeply convincing and lushly, impossibly heightened in their affect. Mankiewicz's film opens well, but as it progresses much of this narrative intensity and literary vividness (a vividness which, like the bright, precise colors of a high definition tv, seems more real than real) is dispersed by changing scenes (unity of place served Williams *very* well in the original, if I remember correctly) or displaced by melodrama, a poor substitute. In part the film declines in strength because Katherine Hepburn (in one of her best performances - the unnerving power of the severe Violet Venable suits her talents better than any screwball role ever did), who dominates the film's opening, increasingly takes a back seat to the therapeutic relationship between her careworn niece and the doctor Mrs. Venable has called in to lobotomize the girl. This is also the case in the play (and to great effect), but unfortunately for the film both the doctor (Montgomery Clift, still shattered from his traumatizing car accident) and the questionably sane Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor, who demonstrates an enraging lack of control over her voice) turn in really poor performances. If I remember the play properly, the chilling ending is also thrown over in the film for a more maudlin choice. Ah well - it is all almost redeemed by the sight of Katherine Hepburn descending slowly like a god composed entirely of cheekbones into her living room in a contraption that more closely resembles a wrought-iron throne than an elevator. [Saturday, January 5, 2008 ***]