Friday, October 22, 2010

Film Forum’s Heist Series

For those who haven't been to the Film Forum, it is a movie theater in SoHo (literally on the south side of Houston) that specializes in second run and art films. I have always loved it and I would say that my experiences there are the ones that I most associate with what is wonderful about this city (as well as The Met). 

The first film series I saw at Film Forum was Fellini, and it was the experience from which I drew all judgments on Fellini (later work, generally overrated, early, strong). This Heist series has had a similar meaning for me. I think that I have always thought that heist films are the core genre in film and if I did some research I might be willing to try to defend that claim.

This series has an excellent selection of films. This is not to say that all of the films are good.  Several are probably choices based of availability and budget (like The Anderson Tapes, which is really forgettable), rather than cinematic virtue.  For example, one great heist film is Spike Lee’s 2006 Inside Man, but this was not included. Or Michael Mann’s Heat (1995), which is probably one of the best heist films. Or The Getaway (1972) or Out of Sight (1998). Etc.

Here’s a rundown of what was shown.

Among those I had seen before are:
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974): Good, with Walter Matthau, back when he was a kind of sex symbol … yeah? … and Robert Shaw; certainly much better than the tepid remake with washed-out Travolta and old-earnest-kept-down Denzel Washington (the same character is better in Inside Man).
The Anderson Tapes (1971): A Sidney Lumet film with Sean Connery that is underwhelming.
The Thomas Crown Affair (1968): Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, but generally an uninteresting story (and the remake is worse, in my view, mainly because of Rene Russo, but assisted by Denis Leary [who let this guy in front of a movie camera?]).
Reservoir Dogs (1992): A great film with unforgettable performances by everyone.  Even the guy who loses his ear.
Kansas City Confidential (1952): An interesting narrative arc, with a totally creepy Lee Van Cleef, but otherwise predictable pulp.

The Killing (1956): Great early Kubrick film, with Sterling Hayden, whose character should lead, but is in fact displaced by the brilliance of other, seemingly minor characters. Every character is so filled with longing and tragic fate. 
The film starts with Johnny Clay (Hayden), just out of prison, and Fay, and he explains how his next heist is going to work and the mistakes he made last time, and she says she can't bear to be away from him again, because she's not pretty or smart. I mean, right there, you are caught. But then you've also got this weird, homoerotic money man (Jay Flippen), a skeevy sniper (Timothy Carey), an existentialist, chess playing strong man, and the most pathetic man on the planet who is being relentlessly emotionally assaulted by his two-timing wife.
I shall write more about this film in the next post.

Le Cercle Rouge (1970): Fucking Melville.  If you don’t like this shit, check your pulse.
A Fish Called Wanda (1988): Hilarious, with great performances by everyone.  There really are not any bad scenes in this movie. 
Thief (1981): by Michael Mann (one reason to see it, the other being an actual good performance by James Caan, who is otherwise mediocre)
Bob Le Flambeur (1955): Again, Melville. Cool and good.
Violent Saturday (1955): I think I only saw the latter part of this, but it has Lee Marvin (enough said) and some Amish dude sticks a gangster with a pitchfork.  Price of admission right there.
Jackie Brown (1997): Categorizing this as a heist film is kind of insulting, although this could be said for several of the films in the series.  This is a great movie and demonstrates Taratino’s incredible sensitivity to gender and race.  Everyone, even fucking Bridget Fonda, is good in this movie.

The films that I hadn’t seen:
Charley Varrick (1973): Now I see why Clint loves Don Siegel so much.  This is a good, fun-to-watch film. Walter Matthau as a sex symbol? What? But it develops its tension well.  Although I read this elsewhere, Joe Don Baker is clearly the archetype for Anton Chigurh, although Anton Chigurh would make Joe Don Baker run back to his mama.
The Hot Rock (1972): A strange inertia moves this film, but the heist business is all pulp in relation to the performance by Zero Mostel, which makes the movie worth watching.

Sterling Hayden
The Asphalt Jungle (1950): A film so good that I feel embarrassed for not having seen it before, especially since it’s a Huston film and I loved Key Largo and the Maltese Falcon (Y and I saw this in Paris on our first trip there together and we both loved it …).  Stars Sterling Hayden, who is the unexpected emotional core of this film, although he plays the role of the muscle, as well as Marilyn Monroe, John McIntyre and Sam Jaffe. The trajectory of this film is assured, but you want to watch every minute of it.  It's the kind of film that you realize, while watching, this is really good ... and maybe you don't know why.  That is an exciting feeling.  
I will write more about this in the next post.

The Sicilian Clan (1969): Camp and a half. Alain Delon without any charm.  Jean Gabin with the largest nose in Europe and no charm.  Lino Ventura, fucking hilarious with the quitting smoking bit. This combination should be genius … is not.  Is one to watch, but basically a camp commentary on other heist films.
Classes Tous Risques (1960): Fucking Lino Ventura is beautiful, always. That guy is like the Toshiro Mifune of France—has incredible range, always impressive. This film has weight and a great narrative. The desperation and pathos is palpable and beautiful. Jean-Paul Belmondo is a little too self-conscious of himself as JPB, at the beginning, but he grows into this character appreciably throughout the film. And the ending is brutal and right.

What I didn’t see, but still want to:
Un Flic (1972): Melville, with Delon and Deneuve.
Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (1954): Lino Ventura, Jean Gabin, and a young and breathtaking Jeanne Moreau.
Rififi (1955): by Jule Dassin.
A Band of Outsiders (1964): Godard.  I’m really embarrassed about this.  I’ve only watched the first 30 minutes.
Criss Cross (1949): by Richard Siodmark, with Burt Lancaster and Dan Duryea.
Nightfall (1956): by Jacques Tourneur, with Aldo Ray and Anne Bancroft.
Vera Cruz (1954): by Robert Aldrich, with Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster.  A western heist film! And an evil Burt Lancaster!
Colorado Territory (1949): by Raoul Walsh.  I’ve just got a feeling about this one.
Topkapi (1964): by Jule Dessin.