If you were down and out by the Great Depression, 1933’s Footlight Parade had much to perk up for—intricate dance sequences, elaborate costuming, and sexual symbols so in your face it would make anyone forget their troubles for a mid-afternoon light up. By a Waterfall is the film’s standout performance—choreographed by Warner-acclaimed Busby Berkeley. The sequence details two vaudevillians, Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, in love’s sweet embrace—singing softly of the simplicity of a love nature-side. “I appreciate the simple things,” Powell sings. “I’m awful fond of getting love in a natural setting.” Natural, we find, as Powell drifts to sleep, is love with a veritable orgy of interlocking, bedazzled, sea-nymphs floundering erotically, and uncomfortably, not by a waterfall, but far from—likely a water-logged soundstage in Burbank. Keeler, bathhouse queen, and her drenched colleagues ebb and flow through Busby’s geometric shapes—the most complex illustration of a wet dream if I’ve ever seen one. As Powell wakes, dew fresh, he and Keeler rejoin in love’s refrain: “Mother Nature sings to me.” I bet she does.
Top five lists are fun to make: top five desert island books, top five favorite albums, top five celebrity crushes. But Don McKellar’s latest disaster flick, Last Night, asks: what are the top five things you would do if you knew you were going to die?
Set in Toronto, this end of the world joco-tragedy follows the lives of seven characters as they come to grips with their mortality. Each represent a macabre solution to the ‘death problem’ set by McKellar, also the film’s writer; and each intersect with the main character, Patrick Wheeler (McKellar), on his journey in overcoming the inevitable. The film adroitly and compassionately explores our capacity to feel at the brink of the infinite. And through humor, instills hope that, even in the end, we are absurdly human.
Much of the film’s focus is on Patrick’s relationship with Sandra (Sandra Oh), a married, pregnant woman he meets in front of his building after she bouts with car trouble. Sandra is desperate to make her way across town where her husband resides, in order to fulfill their suicide pact. Patrick is enlisted to help and the two navigate the revelry and fevered mayhem of a town entrenched in calamity. Crime and selfishness stand in their way, as their world goes through the nascent stages of dealing with the awesome concept of ‘end.’ Some celebrate, some consummate, and some hide in a world of denial- the last day on earth spent doing what most people do on a daily basis. Yet, McKellar’s attention and tenderness to characters who frantically seek a sense of normalcy and sensation draws on the strength of the human condition: even in our weakest, fearful moments, we are driven to feel alive.
Too, the audience is left with the tingling rush of having lived through something life altering. Better than an adrenaline high, Last Night gives renewed sense in person and significance. Through common conventions and daily headaches, like car trouble, family obligation, top 40 stations, and screened phone calls, McKellar shoves us down the rabbit hole and makes us thankful for what we find on the other side of the looking glass. And though Patrick and Sandra can’t escape a ticking clock, we’re graced with a lifetime of possibility.
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For Tim Page’s class, but I thought it poetic enough to post on my personal blog:
3 ½ stars (out of 4)
Art house films are fashion objects kept in a drawer with other charms like ivory combs and tea sets. And while we, like Alice, yearn to be old enough to appreciate them, every once in awhile there comes a film with such delicious opulence that we, carelessly, dive in. Such is Alain Resnais’ new cinema film Last Year in Marienbad.
Resnais paints a world of meaningless conversation and aristocratic theatricality for his protagonist, X (Giorgio Albertazzi.) Members of society’s upper crust are statues in manner and mean. X, the only one impervious to lifelessness, wanders in search of a woman whom he had met one year prior- A (Delphine Seyrig.) In frightening detail, he reveals the development of their first meeting, a blossoming love, biblical union, and promise to runaway together in a year. A is resistant to X’s advances and the couple engage in a layered dance of flashbacks and recreated scenes- Resnais’ shots mimicking the horrific theme and variation of the film’s minimalist underscoring. In each retelling, X loosens his grasp on the events that transpired and the film’s thin visual linearity is kicked off-track: “No, that’s not the right ending. I need you alive. Alive.”
Despite the nightmarish loss of control, Alice down the rabbit hole, there is still something simple and accessible in the way these elements flow together in Marienbad– after all, love, ill-timed, unattainable, or inconvenient, is an inextricable part of the human experience. Vulnerability and trust are fundamental in the growth of anyone fit to love and, naturally, takes time to develop. And so what we learn from Marienbad, does not come from the initial viewing of the film, but like any product from a labor of love, after many, many iterations.