On Screen

SIMON, JOHN

On Screen UNLIKELY COUPLES by JOHN SIMON Can there be such a thing as demotic satire? Hardly. Satire is a basically aristocratic genre in which one enlightened person speaks to another over the...

...because it is often, though not always, good cinema, it manages to be generally inferior Shakespeare...
...I suspect the latter...
...To clinch the humor of it, Gig must complain at the crucial point of how heavily his mother's dinner weighs on his stomach...
...And so on...
...Panda and Gig meet in an emergency group therapy session and spot each other as kindred misfits while they lie on the floor and, above them, the session gone berserk rages on...
...If the lines about "our chief guest" at the fateful banquet are transferred from Banquo to a bear about to be baited, you get cinematic excitement and social commentary, but lose the terrible irony of murderers fawning on their next victim...
...As for Gig, his father is a simple, warm Italian barber, his mother a simple, loving Catholic soul...
...But Made for Each Other is a film made both for and by gaping yokels...
...A certain intellectual complicity is necessary, as well as a certain refinement, for satire operates through irony and indirection, through subtlety and deviousness...
...Polanski, questionable as his taste may be, has a vivid film sense, and his Macbeth is eminently cinematic...
...On the night of Duncan's murder, it rains heavily, and the Macbeths and their guests must run barefoot and in nightshirts all over the unpaved, muddy yard...
...Anything less than that is not satire but a mere broadside, squib, lampoon, or pasquinade...
...a convincingly reconstructed medieval world...
...Almost every one of these scenes could be a cabaret skit unto itself?indeed has been one before now, and better...
...Only Seymour Cassel, who used up all his tricks in Faces, is repetitious as Moskowitz, and seems too crass both for his film mother and for his film wife...
...Are they liars or fools...
...A dart from a crossbow hits Seyton smack in the face in closeup...
...camera movements that are often breathtaking...
...It has to be improvisation by actors singularly bereft of a way with words...
...Most of the acting, too, is impressive, notably that of Gena Rowlands, the director's wife, and Katherine Cassavetes, his mother...
...her doting, astrology-mongering mother overindulged her, while her philandering father neglected her...
...The conceit here is that a New York middle-class dropout, turned car-parker for a Los Angeles restaurant, can speedily woo and win a beautiful, tasteful art-gallery employe, whose bourgeois refinement and stylish living are continually assaulted by his vulgarity...
...now, in personnel work, he is getting women pregnant and suicidal...
...When Gig and Panda have a row in the street, there must be a coolly self-possessed black leaning against a wall and observing their antics with mile-high hauteur...
...Satire cannot be gross...
...Instead of three witches, there is a whole coven of ugly nude bodies decrepitly disporting themselves...
...Satire is a basically aristocratic genre in which one enlightened person speaks to another over the heads of the benighted...
...But this "ingenious" notion is not new...
...By making the thane and his lady attractive, sexy people in their 20s in a world in which only Duncan is old and smarmy, while everyone else is young, tough and potentially treacherous, a curious shift occurs...
...And the worst part of it is that Cassavetes seems to enjoy human incompetence, dote on it rather than ridicule or deplore it...
...She has never had an orgasm...
...only Gig and Panda are allowed to be lovably ridiculous, sweetly inept...
...He witnesses her pitiful try at a nightclub act and tells her that it stinks...
...Are people really as dumb, as crazy, as inefficacious and as violent as Cassavetes would have them be (both Minnie and Moskowitz are human punching bags for nonstop pummel-ing...
...She is a TV cue girl who has lost her job and yearns to be a stage and nightclub star...
...Indeed, as the film ends, a clubfooted, surly Donalbain is off to see the Weird Sisters and, presumably, start the wheel of fortune revolving again...
...A particularly doddering porter is shown urinating...
...If you removed the showbiz, psychoanalytic, Jewish and Italian (or Jewish vs...
...Besides having this superior young woman marry this homely, brawling, monotonously word-mongering bluffer, the film ends with this unlikely couple joyously basking amid cherubic children and blissfully reconciled inlaws, to prove how possible the impossible really is...
...On the spot where they had their first intercourse, they erupt into a scene of tragicomic violence...
...True, the Polan-ski-Tynan view of the world is as dark as the Bard's was in this play, perhaps even darker...
...Even less convincing is the couple served up to us in John Cassavetes' latest bit of improvisatory filmmaking, Minnie and Moskowitz...
...against a background of swirling soldiery, armament and martial panoply, it loses most of its poignantly welling-up grief...
...Yet another somewhat unpersua-sive couple appears in Macbeth, the film Roman Polanski directed from his and Kenneth Tynan's adaptation of the play...
...That's why Giggi and I are so good for each other," Panda explains to her incredulous in-laws-to-be, "because we are two self-destructives confronting the Life Force...
...The husband-and-wife team of Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna were previously responsible for Lovers and Other Strangers, which I missed...
...if they are, the world is even worse off than I, in my pessimism, envisioned it, and there is no hope for any kind of survival, despite that mendaciously syrupy final copout...
...Soon he has given her her first orgasm and coped with the onslaughts of her mother...
...The pair have sex on their first date in his cramped Peugeot 404...
...Her relations with men????Married Chinamen, English satyrs, arty homosexuals????have always been hopeless...
...But even these overused and unpromising topics could perhaps yield some satirical edge if properly treated...
...Along with excesses of such superficial, though often brilliantly directed and photographed, verismo, making for decreased tragedy, we get the filmic breaking up of long speeches with various business and movement and scene shifts, making for decreased poetry...
...If Gig makes unfulfilling love to Panda in his tiny car, this must be stressed by the corny device of having her emerge minutes later from behind the front seat with her hat still on...
...Made for Each Other concerns Pandora (Panda) Gold and Giggi (Gig) Pinimba, a Jewish girl and Italian guy...
...And there are fine performances within the limiting concept of the work: Jon Finch as Macbeth, Fran-cesca Annis as the Lady, and John Stride as Ross are particularly fetching both in acting and in looks...
...Reviewers have been particularly impressed by a Ross shown as the possibly unjust betrayer of Cawdor, then becoming Macbeth's stooge in the murders of Banquo and Macduff's family, then becoming a turncoat as Malcolm triumphs, and getting himself an earldom for being the first to snatch the crown off Macbeth's severed head and presenting it to the victor...
...What, then, is left...
...Driving back, he gripes and chides, while she sits miserably silent...
...Swift, we do not eat babies...
...The work no longer examines how evil enters the soul of a strong and upright man of maturity and stature ????how both from without and within, by supernatural and natural agencies, his being is corroded into first causing and then suffering violence and death, until, with all hope gone, a certain nobility ironically reasserts itself at the end...
...racial and other resentments explode and the meal turns into pandemonium...
...Worse, it wants the gaping yokels to understand that it is S-A-T-I-R-E, and so it must not only crack its creaky jokes but also explain them as it goes along...
...Everywhere in the picture they have made brutality, violence, horror so universal as to suggest that Macbeth is a mere victim of social circumstances...
...Duncan, after all, is a pompous old bore, whom his own scowling sons might easily have done in sooner or later...
...This is a world in which a half-dead soldier, prone on the battlefield, is repeatedly clobbered by another's mace, until we can see the blood oozing out through the victim's coat of mail...
...In fact, it is so filmic that it fails to be poetic and tragic...
...Subtlety never hurt anyone," Otis Ferguson carped about Citizen Kane (a film whose subtlety was monumental compared to this) "and those of us who aren't gaping yokels aren't alone...
...The dead Macbeth's head, crown and all, rolls ghoulishly across the courtyard...
...Or why, casanova though he be, he should prove impotent with the gorgeous Ingrid (Connie Snow) once he has made love to the bovine Panda (Renee Taylor is unprepossessing beyond the call of satirical duty...
...it is a word to the wise...
...but the film provides a horror that is mostly quantitative, fast-moving and lateral, whereas Shakespeare's horror is qualitative, gradual and vertical...
...Every member of the group, including the therapist and his wife, must promptly spell out his aberration and absurdity in a kind of telegraphic travesty that produces instant grotesquery...
...What Taylor and Bologna have given us is not satire but made-to-order, mass-pandering nonsense: Taylor-made bologna...
...The one in which a lover (Cassavetes himself) emerges suddenly to beat up the innocent Minnie, or the one where the fellow later goes back to his wife and kids, are concise and pungent, and mark a distinct advance in the director's work...
...If Gig's father gives Panda an improvised Christmas present of candy he got from someone else, he must say, 'They're chocolate cherries...
...But some of it is very funny...
...Cawdor's execution is horrifying, Lady Macbeth's death, here a suicide, is mean, and her barely covered corpse is left lying about unattended...
...The editing and color photography are much more accomplished than in previous Cassavetes films????occasionally, as in an all-lemon-yellow-except-for-a-bit-of-orange boudoir scene, downright arty...
...There is continuous, highly cinematic action, but the pathos, penetrancy and depth of poetic words is scattered and largely forfeited...
...If the Pinimba clan at the holiday dinner is shown as hostile to both of Panda's religionsóJudaism and Freudianism????there is burlesque comedy but no point of view: You can be for or against any of the attitudes shown...
...if it is, it is vulgar sarcasm, the condescension of fools to even greater fools, ponderously witless spelling out of the obvious...
...This is a much worthier experiment than Peter Brook's catastrophic King Lear, and though it still ends in failure, it at least holds our interest and juggles with Shakespeare rather than sabotaging him...
...For the first time, too, Cassavetes has directed with a certain economy...
...If Macduff utters his piercing "He has no children...
...And that, precisely, is the trouble with a film like Made for Each Other...
...If, for instance, Macbeth delivers his most famous soliloquy as he bounces down a set of stairs from the battlements of his castle, those repeated tomorrows no longer creep at a petty pace but jog along trippingly...
...as a soldier, he was a total failure...
...They have turned out a film that, instead of being a sharp commentary on how today's marriages result from desperation????from the inability of parents to bring up healthy children, and the inability of these children, once grown up, to make healthy lovers and spouses?deteriorates into a series of obvious, noisy, heavily underlined and overacted cabaret turns...
...Lady Macbeth, naked in her sleepwalking scene, is exposed to the eyes of a loathsome doctor...
...The fact that Robert B. Bean, the camera operator (not the cine-matographer) is credited with the direction, suggests that the couple did not want a true, strong director, but someone whom they themselves could direct...
...There is no controlled flow and progression...
...The woods, after all, are full of self-destructives...
...Although several scenes (like the basically amusing one with Val Avery as an uncouth suitor) still go on too long, others are just right...
...why must it be these particular two who unite against the Life Force...
...He ends up taking Panda, at her insistence, to a New Year's dinner with his family...
...The visions of the future conjured up for Macbeth are pure grand guignol...
...No one, not even Cassavetes, could create people so staggeringly nonverbal for all their prattling...
...The group therapy session, for example, is as garishly caricatured as the encounter group in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, yet the authors have said on a talk show that they intended it sympathetically and respectfully...
...When Panda is to be revealed as an untalented performer????doing Sonja Henie on television, or Mar-lene Dietrich in a nightclub????her incompetence is made epically offensive, so that even the peasants can get the point, yet we are meant to feel involved and sorry for this oaf...
...Significantly, great satire flourished in aristocratic and cultivated eras, such as the Augustan and the neoclassical...
...A marvelously paced action film that nevertheless preserves most of the original text...
...With a young, lightweight, headlong Macbeth and his pretty, demurely sinning, blonde wife, we get a medieval Bonnie and Clyde, victims of a brutish society, out on a murderous lark...
...And when the couple fight their way from furious insults, shouting and weeping into getting engaged, all in a few minutes, the clumsiness of the transition becomes even more apparent if one compares it with Chekhov's handling of the same device in The Marriage Proposal...
...A family-made picture can, unlike Made for Each Other, yield controlled performances...
...It happens to be a witty word, and one that makes fun of human foibles, often including those of the writer and reader...
...But already as a seminarian he got expelled for womanizing with a maid in a broom closet...
...In the end, everyone deserts him, and he must defend his castle alone against Malcolm's army...
...There are many generally demeaning touches in the screenplay...
...here they have not only written the movie, they also have made it largely autobiographical and, accordingly, cast themselves in it...
...While explaining everything else, Taylor and Bologna never explain to us what brought Gig and Panda together...
...He is callous, but she persists...
...she blows up...
...Italian) jokes of a vaudeville type, there would, in fact, be nothing left...
...When Gig earlier called her "a textbook case," he was speaking truer than he or the authors knew...
...Taylor and Bologna, however, make their characters obvious to a degree equivalent to spelling cat "C-A-T...
...Uglinesses proliferate...
...Or what induces him to go so far as to propose marriage to her...
...some spectacular swordplay, though Macduff is made into an unduly dirty fighter...
...They part, but he finds himself impotent with a far prettier girl...
...The unsubde or untutored mind does not get the point: "But, Dr...
...But need wins out over neurosis, and they decide to get married...
...it was first advanced by a certain Libby in Some New Notes on Macbeth in 1893...
...Tynan and Polanski have snatched up Libby's folly as eagerly as Ross the crown, thereby, of course, minimizing Macbeth's evil and dislocating the entire work...
...they make me sick...
...whenever culture declines, satire, too, declines or vanishes...
...Yet the sheer stupidity of it will spew up an occasional funny bit that forces us to laugh uneasily...
...If men and women are not really like that, the film is gross slander...
...poetic color photography by Gil Taylor, including a dawn view from the ramparts that is almost as beautiful as a Shakespearean metaphor...
...If a character is to be identified as British, his every other word must be "bloody" or such, yet he will be played by an actor who cannot even approximate a British accent, so tone-deaf are the filmmakers...

Vol. 55 • January 1972 • No. 2


 
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