Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Marienbad, Marilyn, and the art of the pink film

The only thing I thought I would miss about London when we came to Bath was the Phoenix Cinema. But hurrah, we have The Little Theatre Cinema, which has a more or less identical programme and is an even nicer place. (The Phoenix may have been Britain's oldest continually operating cinema, but that didn't stop it looking like a workman's hut inside.)
Since we've been here we've had The Last Picture Show, there's Audrey Tautou's new one next week, and we're halfway through a Marilyn season to coincide with the exhibition of her frocks up at the American Museum.
Enjoyed How To Marry A Millionaire very much indeed. I never really paid much attention to it before, but on the big screen - like White Christmas - it came magnificently alive, even if they did just project a DVD. Very naughty, that.
I love the supporting cast - Fred Clark, always the funniest man in the room; David Wayne, as great and as unpredictable as usual; Cameron Mitchell (look out, Lauren! It's Vance from The Toolbox Murders!) and William Powell, still showing them how it's done despite a fuller profile and greying head.
We all enjoyed the bit where the three girls are having romantic dreams, and Grable's is just a static shot of a hot dog.

They're perfectly right: I did see it without glasses

They also showed Last Year at Marienbad, a film I had never caught up with, and probably would never watch if it wasn't at a cinema. So, that eventuality having presented itself, I declared that the time had come, and that it was inexcusable that I still hadn't seen what is, if nothing else, an important film.
In the event I forgot to go and so I still haven't seen it. But then I got to thinking: is it true to say I haven't seen it? Isn't not going just as legitimate a form of engagement with so speculative and intuitive an artifact as going? Couldn't it be argued that a man who forgets to see it is, in a sense, more connected with its aims and intentions than the one who remembers? That the man who, as it were, 'does something else' while it is being projected in the same town is as much if not more a receiver of its ambiance as any who happen, trivially, to be within the same four walls as its projected shadow? Have I, in fact, 'seen it' in a far deeper and more meaningful sense than the poor sap who trudged along and merely 'saw' it in the superficial sense of being sat in front of it while it unspooled?
If so, I have to say I enjoyed it immensely and I look forward to enjoying the complete works of Jean Luc Godard in the same way.
(Werner Herzog on Godard: “Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung-fu film.” )

Now that I live a married life I see more modern films than I used to. Not across the board – thankfully my wife has no more interest than me in 99% of modern culture, but she does have a soft spot, particularly after a long day, for the kind of movies that are commonly called romcoms but which we call 'pink films', on account of the fact that they are usually packaged in pink DVD cases, designed to catch the eye of people like my wife, a tactic as brazen as it is entirely successful.
So while I’ve still never seen Last Year In Marienbad (or have I? or did they? or was it?) I am pretty well versed in the cinematic trajectories of Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston and Anne Hathaway.
You probably know the rules of pink films, but if you don't, basically he loves her but she doesn't love him because she has a distracting career/unsuitable boyfriend/he's unreliable/he lives too far away for it to work/he's older/he's younger/he's Hugh Grant. Either that or they're married and he's not paying her as much attention as he used to and she starts to notice that other guy, the one she never thought much of at first, but you know he is sorta cute and very attentive. Or else she's got the perfect life until suddenly she gets a baby, or a long lost sister with whom she'd never really bonded comes to stay, or her mother gets ill and she has to reluctantly leave the city life where she's this big hot shot in a trouser suit and heels, and go stay with her in Florida where there's this dweeby mother's boy who works at the local hospital radio station who actually now I come to notice it does have a rather firm jawline and with a bit of bringing out could just be Mr Right, and who'd have thought, if I hadn't come here I'd never have met him.
Along the way there's a good deal of comic bitchiness, lots of product placement, sequences in which long periods of eventful time and/or shopping expeditions pass by in montage to the accompaniment of a nineties pop standard, and loads of hugging and crying. Usually there will be a scene with the main character and three of her her chums sat around a table in a bar drinking and laughing very loudly. She lives in a busy city, and at times she's so busy she has to run across a busy street without the time to find a pedestrian crossing, usually carrying a polystyrene cup of coffee, cutely dodging the cars that occasionally honk a token horn at her, but probably not so much because they're annoyed as because they think she looks nice in her bobble hat and matching scarf, which would look dorky on anyone else, but on her seems kooky and attractive.
Surprisingly, perhaps, in these hardbitten, fleabitten times, pink films almost always end with somebody getting married. If you're lucky, the writers will remember that an awful lot of men are stuck watching them too, and will toss us the occasional bone: a bit of physical humour, or a few seconds of Anne or Jen or Drew in their underwear not salacious enough to alienate the primary constituency, but just enough to tip us off that we're not being taken for granted either.
Bride Wars was a particular favourite that took several spins in the months leading up to our own big day. I've seen The Devil Wears Prada twice too. So as a result of that, and also because she was a good if unlikely Jane Austen, I do have a soft spot for Anne Hathaway. She has one of those massive mouths I always find appealing, and nice hair, and the same rare but casually-displayed talent for both drama and comedy last seen in Sandra Bullock.
But holy cow, I don’t know quite what to make of her rapping. Is it cute or is it embarrassing, or is cute because it’s embarrassing, or what?
I’ve really no idea, and I’ve only been able to watch it twice, the first time peeping horror-struck through the gaps in my fingers after the first couple of seconds, the second time sat on my hands, having taken what I discovered was a pretty foolhardy vow not to do the same thing again.
See what you think. (I expect that the fact that everybody laughs when she says it's "in the style of Lil Wayne" means that they all know who "Lil Wayne" is and that therefore you probably do too, but if, like me, you didn't, he's a silly-looking man with scribbles all over his face and body who presumably makes a noise a bit like the noise Anne makes here.)

What do you think? Creepy and embarrassing or sort of geeky-cute?
Did you come away liking her more than you used to or less? Or perhaps you couldn't give a rat's either way, as I probably shouldn't at my age.
Damn those pink films.