Saturday, March 27, 2010

1975: Night Moves (Arthur Penn)

1975: Night Moves (Arthur Penn)
For what it's worth, I guess this is one of the most flawed films to top my list.  By no means would I tout it as being perfect, and I'm not even sure it's great.  But I love it more than any other film I've seen from 1975.  

I put Night Moves in the same category as The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Straight Time, films that are all substantially lower in budget than the Coppola and Polanski crime epics.  And I only mention budget because there's a grit and casualness to Night Moves that immediately announces its relative lack of ambition.  In fact, its this lack of ambition that accounts for much of its likeability.  Like a close friend that puts no expectations on you, it's always easy and a pleasure being in its company.

I say all this, but there's still much to boast about in this one.  Gene Hackman delivers one of his finest performances, Melanie Griffith is criminally sexy, Michael Small proves once again that he's a master when it comes to subtle, minimal scores, and the serpentine plot is an absolute delight.

I miss Arthur Penn.  I love this film, and I love The Chase, and I admire the hell out of Bonnie and Clyde.  Like Cimino and even Coppola, if the system had worked better, we'd probably have another handful of incredible Penn films to love and discuss.

Other contenders for 1975:  Even with some gaps, I already know this is a really great year.  I still need to see: Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger, Richard Fleischer's Mandingo, Theo Angelopoulos' The Travelling Players, Abbas Kiarostami's Two Solutions for One Problem, Jean-Luc Godard's Numero deux, Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky, Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Fox and His Friends, and Francois Truffaut's The Story of Adele H.  At some point, I'll need to revisit Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon, Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock as these are all titles I've struggled with in the past.  From this year, I really like Woody Allen's Love and Death.  I love Steven Spielberg's Jaws, Akira Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala, John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and John Huston's The Man Who Would Be King.  And my closest runner-up is Hal Ashby's Shampoo.

7/14/11 I watched Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger. Antonioni's incredible talents are all over -- his meticulous framing, his daring yet languid camerawork, and his feel for spaces that the medium has yet to capture.  Still very slow and cerebral like almost all his work, but The Passenger gains some warmth from its summer exteriors and more rustic locations.  One of the cinema's great road movies, and in the same family as Wenders' Alice in the Cities and Kings of the Road

8/14/11 I watched Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon.  Artful and careful. But also distancing and painfully boring for me.  Plus Kubrick's almost wall-to-wall music wore on me quickly.     

8/17/11 I watched Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Fox and His Friends. Decadent and defeatist as it seems most of Fassbinder's films are.  This one feels slightly more intimate though with Fassbinder himself playing the lead.

4/13/12 I watched Robert Aldrich's Hustle.  There's something ambitious about the emotional scope that doesn't quite click or fully come together.  But this Aldrich remains of interest by refusing to steer clear of the personal, no matter how uncomfortable or how telling.  An interesting role for Reynolds while a questionable choice for Deneuve.  
9/15/14 I watched Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.  An art film with a capital A that is extraordinarily admirable in its restraint, patience, and incredible rigor.  But for me the effort ultimately felt more nihilistic than transcendent in any way and it is probably not something I would ever seek out again.  

2/6/16 I watched John Frankenheimer's French Connection II.  Less artful than the first one, Renoir's cinematography lacks the aesthetic pleasures of Roizman's work.  And though it does a good job at capturing Marseilles, the location work also does not quite match what Friedkin did with New York.  The real pleasure of this one lies with the final 20-30 minutes.  Hackman's pursuit is visceral and Frankenheimer's direction taut, alive, and relentlessly involving. 

3/9/17 I watched Michael Schultz's Cooley High.  Even though it was an AIP production, it feels more like an American New Wave film or a 1970's Shadows.  I have heard it referenced in rap songs and as an important entry in that decade's pop culture but now finally seeing it, it exceeded expectations in the way it captures the clothes, the music, the feel of the times.  Required viewing for anyone that wants a link from Shadows to Burnett to Spike. 

9/25/18 I watched D'Urville Martin's Dolemite.  It has an edge and grit that pushes things further than any other blaxpoitation film I have seen to date.  It is so freewheeling and unpredictable.  You never know what is going to come out of Rudy Ray Moore's mouth or where the film is headed next.  

4/18/20 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's Two Solutions for One Problem.  Kiarostami's early films for the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults are his own set of morality tales.  I have always admired Kiarostami's simplicity and his ability to reduce without losing warmth or wisdom.  Less than five minutes long, this early short is yet another testament to Kiarostami's poetry and ability to construct his own very particular cinematic style.  

2/5/22 I watched Sidney J Furie's Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York.  Someone close to me when they were in their early thirties made the comment that they had already seen and read almost every great work and so there was no longer much of a need to seek out undiscovered movies or albums.  The seeking muscle had been quenched.  

I don't think the above statement is all that uncommon of a sentiment for people coming out of the rich discovery phase of their teens and twenties.  But I also feel it inhibits many rewarding future discoveries, particularly of works that are a bit more hidden and unknown.

Take Furie's 1975 film Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York.  It was made during the period that is arguably the group of movies I have seen the most of and know the most about.  Yet not only had I never seen Sheila, I hadn't even heard about it.  

What grabbed me the most while watching Sheila is the freedom of the acting.  Furie frames the three leads at a generous distance and leaves many of their moments with unadorned direction and unbroken takes.  The acting felt brave, as though Furie was giving them an unusual amount of support and space to express themselves.   

4/2/22 I watched Frederick Wiseman's Welfare.  A film often considered among Wiseman's best.  It certainly is admirable in the footage it captures and the fact he is able to capture in close proximity so much dysfunction at work in our welfare system.  But it does not seem quite as even handed as some of his other work.  


  1. Although I'm not a fan of this film Jeffrey, I applaud the bold choice! The film does have fans who would go the extra yard as you have done too!

    The Travelling Players (Angelopoulos; Greece)


    Picnic at Hanging Rock (Weir; Australia)
    Barry Lyndon (Kubrick; UK/USA)
    The Passenger (Antonioni; Italy/USA)
    Fox and His Friends (Fassbinder; Germany)
    The Story of Adele H. (Truffaut; France)
    Numero Deux (Godard; France)
    Dog Day Afternoon (Lumet; USA)
    Love and Death (Allen; USA)

    A rather weak year, with a few great films that shine through.

  2. Sam, great to hear from you! I still need to see many of your top picks, but I'm looking forward to them.

    For me, this is actually a really strong year. But I understand it's totally a taste thing.

    Thanks so much, Sam. Always such a treat to have you here!

  3. I'm a fan of pretty much every Penn film I've seen, yet Night Moves remains one I've not yet gotten around to. I may very well have to bump it up my list of priorities after your praise here Jeffrey.

    For this year, my picks would be personal masterpieces from two of my favorite directors: Tarkovsky's staggering opus Zerkalo, a film that continues to bowl me over with every viewing, and Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, one of my favorite crime pictures ever, dripping with style and raw personality.

  4. Drew, great to hear from you! If you like Penn, I can pretty much guarantee that you'll like this one. Personally, it's probably my favorite of anything I've ever seen by him.

    I need to revisit THE MIRROR (ZERKALO). It's been a really long time since I've since it. But, like you, I absolutely love CHINESE BOOKIE.

    Thanks for stopping by. Always a treat to have you here!

  5. I've gotta go with Sidney Lumet's DOG DAY AFTERNOON. It is at times tense, funny, socially conscious... just so much going on in it, plus incredible performances from both Al Pacino and John Cazale. It is definitely my favorite Lumet film.

  6. Dave, great to hear from you! I definitely owe this Lumet more viewings. It's one I've struggled a little with in the past, but I will absolutely revisit it.

    Thanks, Dave. Always a treat to have you here!

  7. My favorite American film of the seventies and one of my favorite films of all time. Of the works that truly haunt me, few do more than this film. I think about Harry Moseby and hear that Michael Small theme in my head all the time. God, I love this film...

  8. Jeremy, that's awesome! I also feel that it's an amazing film. And the fact that you call it your favorite film of the seventies , well that's pretty f-ing cool.