Thursday, February 24, 2011

Double Feature (Cukor and De Palma)

Most of the fun of Sylvia Scarlett (George Cukor, 1935) film lies in Cukor's theatrical acuity, his reliance on simple mid-level compositions and compressed space in total service to the performances and how he very quietly swivels his camera around his actors for maximum performative impact. Sylvia Scarlett is a bumpy ride in that it moves briskly and changes gears from scene to scene, Katharine Hepburn and her gender-bending heroine the focal point that draws the rest of the film's disparate elements into some kind of cohesion. It's an enjoyable 30s road movie, but because the film's apparently subversive elements were unable to win me over to the side of its most outspoken admirers, that's about all it remains to me.

I preferred Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise (1974), a histrionic amalgamation of seminal metaphysical texts into a rock-'n-roll horror show. De Palma is like a trashy, tacky Godard, freely taking whatever he wants from the pantheon of pop culture to create something so energetic and visually ferocious that it hardly matters if it's amateurish, formless, or, in the long run, dispensable. Peering through its impenetrable outer shell of glossy wide-angle shots, split-screens, and frivolous scenery, one can still latch onto its classicist underpinnings and absorb the agony and the anguish of its Faustian protagonist, even as the absurdity flowers into infectious camp. It's just a lot of fun.

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