I haven't seen a lot of movies recently, so I’ve been lax on doing reviews. I need to rectify both of those sins, so I’ll begin by giving you my take on a couple of recent Netflix films.
Juliet of the Spirits
The new B52s CD, Funplex, includes a very beautiful song based on this movie, which is a 1965 surreal drama about an Italian housewife, directed by Federico Fellini. It was Fellini's first feature length color film.
Since I love the song, I had to see the movie. Last night I did.
The film is beautifully shot and acted, though, the first two-thirds are a bit frenetic as Juliet’s privileged lifestyle is full of quirky personalities, arrogant and deliciously odd psychics, and women wearing hats much bigger than their heads. Because it’s subtitled and the characters constantly talk over one another, it can be hard to follow at times, and your eyes never get a chance to stray from the bottom eighth of the screen. Often, multiple people’s comments appear on screen at a time to keep up…it can be jarring. You want to look up, because the film is a visual treat, but every time you do, you miss a thread or two or three of dialog. While that’s always an issue with subtitled films, it’s more of a problem here than with most films, because of the pacing.
Despite its brisk direction, the film does suffer a bit from its 2 hour and 17 minute length. The theme, now almost quaint, of a kept housewife discovering her worth, is understood from the very first scene. We know where it’s going – not how, mind you, but we know the destination. Fortunately, getting there is a lot of fun, so I give this film a solid B (the B52s song gets an A).
The Haunting (1963)
Robert Wise’s movie, based on Shirley Jackson’s classic novel (The Haunting of Hill House), is considered a classic for good reason. The power of the novel is on full display here as the juxtaposition of mental illness, want, desire, and supernatural goings on allow the story to unfold in a dreamy, suspenseful manner. This is a movie which, at its core, is about need and want and desire.
Shot in 1963, it’s notable for the use of a lesbian character, Theodora, in the plot. It’s fun to watch the looks she gives Eleanor and smile at the psychic bitchiness once she realizes Eleanor is interested in the Doctor. At one point, during an argument, Eleanor calls Theodora as “unnatural as Hill House”, erasing any doubt in the viewer's mind to the subtle innuendos.
The DVD we watched had an annoying flicker, though the print it was struck from was surprising crisp. Go figure.
The Haunting is one of the best ghost stories ever filmed. Steer clear of the atrocious Catherine Zeta Jones remake fiasco. A-