Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Showgirls -- and other masterworks

I was in a screening committee meeting at the Nick a few weeks back when the subject of Paul Verhoeven came up. I was hoping we could put his new Black Box on our schedule; the trailer indicated an exciting and intelligent movie about the Nazi resistance, and I said I liked the fact that he seemed to be returning to his roots, or something like that, after years of making popular trash like Basic Instinct, Showgirls and Starship Troopers -- the last two of which, I should point out, I've ever seen.

It was then that someone pointed out that the great Jacques Rivette -- New Wave icon and the genius behind the enigmatic Celine and Julie Go Boating and La Belle Noiseuse (the greatest film about painting ever made) -- had called the roundly-derided Showgirls "the greatest film in the history of cinema."

Well, that shut me up. All I could think to say was that the French have always had a certain odd taste when it comes to American movies, considering their fondness for Jerry Lewis and Frank Tashlin and God knows what else.

A web-search showed that Rivette liked Showgirls only a little less than orginally reported; actually he only thought it was "one of the great American films of the last few years."

That's not all he thought, either; in an extended 1998 interview, he offered a lot of unique and sometimes downright bizarre opinions on all manner of moviegoing. You can read the whole thing here.

Some notable excerpts:

* The Night of the Hunter is the "most seductive one-shot in the history of movies. What can you say? It's the greatest amateur film ever made."

* Joseph Mankiewicz "was a great producer, a good scenarist and a masterful writer of dialogue, but for me he was never a director. His films are cut together any which way, the actors are always pushed towards caricature and they resist with only varying degrees of success. Here's a good definition of mise en scène - it's what's lacking in the films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Whereas Preminger is a pure director."

* Rivette's favorite Hitchcock is Notorious, and I agree it does have a terrific ending: "The final sequence might be the most perfect in film history, in the way that it resolves everything in three minutes - the love story, the family story and the espionage story, in a few magnificent, unforgettable shots."

* "More than those of any other filmmaker, Buñuel's films gain the most on re-viewing. Not only do they not wear thin, they become increasingly mysterious, stronger and more precise. I remember being completely astonished by one Buñuel film: if he hadn't already stolen it, I would have loved to be able to call my new film The Exterminating Angel! François and I saw El when it came out and we loved it. We were really struck by its Hitchcockian side, although Buñuel's obsessions and Hitchcock's obsessions were definitely not the same. But they both had the balls to make films out of the obsessions that they carried around with them every day of their lives. Which is also what Pasolini, Mizoguchi and Fassbinder did."

* David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me is "the craziest film in the history of cinema. I have no idea what happened, I have no idea what I saw, all I know is that I left the theater floating six feet above the ground."

* James Cameron's Titanic is garbage. "Cameron isn't evil, he's not an asshole like Spielberg. He wants to be the new De Mille. Unfortunately, he can't direct his way out of a paper bag. On top of which the actress is awful, unwatchable, the most slovenly girl to appear on the screen in a long, long time. That's why it's been such a success with young girls, especially inhibited, slightly plump American girls who see the film over and over as if they were on a pilgrimage: they recognize themselves in her, and dream of falling into the arms of the gorgeous Leonardo."

The awful, unwatchable, slovenly girl, of course, is Kate Winslett -- a genuine beauty and pure screen natural if every there was one. Where is Jacques' sex drive? In his armpit?

* He loathes A Clockwork Orange -- "not for cinematic reasons but for moral ones" -- and he despises the director: "Kubrick is a machine, a mutant, a Martian. He has no human feeling whatsoever. But it's great when the machine films other machines, as in 2001 (1968)."

* He is "enraptured" by Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Alien Resurrection: "Sigourney Weaver is wonderful, and what she does here really places her in the great tradition of expressionist cinema. It's a purely plastic film, with a story that's both minimal and incomprehensible. Nevertheless, it managed to scare the entire audience, while it also had some very moving moments. Basically, you're given a single situation at the beginning, and the film consists of as many plastic and emotional variations of that situation as possible. It's never stupid, it's inventive, honest and frank. I have a feeling that the credit should go to Sigourney Weaver as much as it should to Jeunet."

* Oh, and about Verhoeven's magnum opus: Showgirls is "the American film that's closest to his Dutch work. It has great sincerity, and the script is very honest, guileless. It's so obvious that it was written by Verhoeven himself rather than Mr. Eszterhas, who is nothing. And that actress is amazing!"

What?!? Kate Winslet is unwatchable and Elizabeth Berkeley is "amazing"? Does he also think Season One of "Saved by the Bell" superior to Tokyo Story?

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