Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Paris Ballet, Bitch Slap and Jennifer Jones

I think I've missed cataloging a few films.

La danse - Le ballet de l'Opéra de Paris; documentary French with subtitles; directed by Frederick Wiseman; (2009) - Official Website
Bitch Slap; (2009) - Official Website
Duel in the Sun starring Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Gregory Peck and Lionel Barrymore; directed by King Vidor; (1946)
Portrait of Jennie starring Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Ethyl Barrymore; (1948)


La danse was a ponderous film clocking in at 2 hours, 38 minutes. I guess the point was to see the inner workings of Le ballet de l'Opéra de Paris. I found the film to be tedious and much in need of editing. Perhaps it was too much inside baseball for me. We are treated to scenes such as the union delegate talking about how ballet dancers should get a different pension than other government workers or the management talking about marketing packages they'll offer for the upcoming season. I found it terribly boring. Even the rehearsals were boring. Only the performances held my interest. There was one where a woman killed her two children that was fascinating.

Bitch Slap also bored me. It was film that was just too cute for it's own good. It had so many plot twists than it left me numb by the end. The fight scenes dragged on for too long. There was enough nudity to make it raunchy and there wasn't enough plot to make it Tarantinoesque. The film was left to be an example of excess which definitely proved the addage less is more. Zoe Bell was the fight choreographer and some of the fight scenes were quite good but the film makers piled one scene on another and let each scene run twice as long as it needed to.


I caught a double feature at the Jennifer Jones retrospective at the Stanford Theater in January.

Duel in the Sun is famous for a shoot out at the end between Jones and Peck. Before that, the film is all about sexual tension. Jones plays a half-breed 2nd cousin to Peck and his brother Joseph Cotten. Lionel Barrymore plays their father and Lillian Gish their mother. As Pearl Chavez, Jones exudes sexuality. There is a scene where she stands before a preacher (Walter Huston as the Sinkiller) wrapped in a blanket. Apparently she sleeps in the nude and there was no time to get dressed. Anyway, I certainly was thinking about sin when I saw Jones.

The film becomes a love triangle between good-hearted but undisciplined Pearl, the gentleman brother (Cotten) and the snake (Peck). In films of the era, the typical plot device seemed to be that the woman is raped, then discovers she enjoys it and becomes hopelessly in love with her rapist. The same holds true for this film although Peck is particularly convincing in his role. Barrymore was also effective as the cantankerous and racist patriarch.

Duel in the Sun was not a great movie but a lot of fun. In fact, I think they tried to hard to make a great film and ended up making something that borders on camp if not for some strong performances.

Portrait of Jennie was a more thoughtful film. In this one, Joseph Cotten plays a struggling artist who happens upon a girl. The girl gives him inspiration to make his greatest painting. As he continues meeting the girl, she is advancing in age. Eventually, he figures out he is meeting a girl from the past at various points in her life. He discover that when grown, the woman will be killed in a sailing accident. He rushes to the same spot and on the same day (different year) for his rendezvous.

The plot is a little dated but I read that is was an innovative fantasy plot for its time. I found the film mildly entertaining. Cotten's performance stood out. Ethel Barrymore's gravelly voice was well used as Cotten's art patron.

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