Monday, February 22, 2010

Two Must See Flicks ...

The Cradle Will Rock and Paris 36

We saw two fabulous films this weekend. And, although from two different countries and directed in two very different styles, they remarkably echoed each other in theme and era. Neither of these movies are going to go down in cinema history as masterpieces of the film canon. But, they are both definitely sly, clever, informative, and lots of fun to watch. Both films take place in 1936 - The Cradle will Rock in New York, and Paris 36 in Paris. They both have first rate art direction, and obviously had good sized budgets to recreate the clothes and homes and restaurants of both the rich and the working poor during the era. Both are just gorgeous.

The Cradle Will Rock
Directed by Tim Robbins

Robbin's telling of the legendary events surrounding the Orson Welles' production of Marc Blitzstien's labor opera, The Cradle Will Rock, not only puts forth the events with historical accuracy, but masterfully presents his film in the style of a Brecht theatre piece.
This film is not only about artistic freedom, it is about freedom as a whole, about standing up for your freedom of belief and expression. It's hard to imagine that there was a time, not all that long ago, in this "free" nation of ours when armed guards actually locked the doors of a theatre, trying to prevent a show from being mounted.

Set in the turbulent 1930's, Robbins' tale focuses on the National Theatre Company, an organization set up by Roosevelt during the Depression to provide out-of-work artists a vehicle through which to ply their trade and culture-starved audiences a chance to revel in the glories of live theatrical performances.

Unfortunately, it was also a time of great civil and political upheaval, with Communism and Fascism battling for supremacy abroad and many Americans divided along similar lines in their loyalties. With passions running deep, it was only a matter of time before many in the United States Congress began suspecting the NTC of Communist sympathizing - and it was a short road from there to the eventual dismemberment of the organization. The film centers on the production of a controversial musical play called `The Cradle Will Rock' that portrays the glorious coming of unionism to a steel factory, a scenario that parallels the events in the lives of several of the characters in the film.

Given this fascinating historical background, Robbins has filled his film with a rich assortment of characters, from Orson Welles, as a fledgling young actor who sees unions as the ruination of artistic purity, to Nelson Rockefeller, as a well-meaning art patron who balks at the mural Diego Rivera has painted for him only after Rivera refuses to remove the image of Lenin from Rockefeller's monument-to-capitalism lobby. In fact, the cast of characters is so enormous, with each one taking a crucial part in the narrative proceedings, that it is quite impossible to mention them all here. Suffice it to say that Robbins covers the social spectrum from industrialists and capitalists to union workers and the unemployed, from sympathetic patrons and patronesses to the little people eager to root out the seeds of Communism even at the expense of their own ostracism. And not a one is uninteresting.

Walking through this gorgeous and informative film is a veritable sky filled with stars. The cast includes Hank Azaria (Marc Blitzstein), Rubén Blades (Diego Rivera), Joan Cusack (Hazel Huffman), John Cusack (Nelson Rockefeller), Cary Elwes (John Houseman), Philip Baker Hall (Gray Mathers), Cherry Jones (Hallie Flanagan), Angus Macfadyen (Orson Welles), Bill Murray (Tommy Crickshaw), Vanessa Redgrave (Countess Constance LaGrange), Susan Sarandon (Margherita Sarfatti), Jamey Sheridan (John Adair), John Turturro (Aldo Silvano), Emily Watson (Olive Stanton), Bob Balaban (Harry Hopkins). And in smaller roles, Gretchen Moll, Bernard Hughes, Paul Giamatti, Jack Black and Audra McDonald. All are just spot on perfect.

Paris 1936
Directed by Christophe Barratier

The title of this film was changed when it opened in America. Originally, it was titled Faubourg 36, which is the address of the theatre where the film takes place. I guess the distributors thought Americans were too stupid to say Faubourg, so they changed it to Paris.
This is a real beauty of a film, which captures much of the feel of the great French films of the 1930's. It's also a love poem to Paris.

The film leaves a warm feeling despite presenting many dark sides of life in Fauborg (outskirt of Paris) in the 1930s, like fascism, workers' strikes, unemployment, marital betrayal, loneliness, and the rise of anti-Semitic Nazi support. The director incredibly managed to mix pathos and sentimentality with sarcasm and sardonic humor in the same scenes, which prevented the film from being corny. Includes probably the best written funeral scene ever in my opinion. The songs are not remarkable, with one exception - a song about love where the main female character is virtually declaring love to a man from the stage. Nora Arnezeder is a revelation; a talented and beautiful young actress with good singing voice.

A small music hall in Paris is forced to close down in 1936. Because this is is the year of Leon Blum's Popular Front in France, when factory occupations spread across the country, the performers decide to take over the theatre and run it themselves. They get an extraordinary stroke of luck when a young girl, Douce, turns up hoping to get a break in the theatre. Double luck, because not only is she a brilliant performer but the local boss fancies her and allows the theatre to stay open. The Popular Front didn't end happily, which was a tragedy for France, but this film does, as do all good fairy tales.

The music, most of it original, nevertheless comes very close to pastiche of popular numbers from that era. (One repeated number is very close to Messager's "Clou clou," which I think is from his Véronique.) The performances and characters also allude to stars of the past, though not necessarily in a one-on-one way.

There is the music hall singer Tony Rossignol, whose light lyric tenor recalls Tino Rossi, though his Spanish get-up and music recalls Luis Mariano. Kad Merad's character starts out doing terrible impressions, of animals and Fernandel. He finally has a hit when he starts singing like Charles Trenet. Even though the music is pastiche, it is sometimes very catchy, and very much caught me up. A completely unexpected Busby Berkeley-style production number is without doubt the most well-realised passage in the entire film. Stylish and witty and set to a lively tune, it's a showstopper.
The background is unmistakably fascist versus socialist, owners battling workers for a depression-era slim slice of the economic pie and soul. Paris 36 risks it all with formulaic intrigue and predictable denouement. Yet throughout is a good cheer, a bel canto breeziness that draws you in to song, dance, history, and politics, never too heavy, light enough to make you wish that music hall still stood on The Strand.

Well, that's it for today. Hey - I'm allowed a serious side, too - right!?

Now I have to be off to get dressed to go do a little shopping.
You! Go make something beautiful!
¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*´¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•´♥ Tristan


Anonymous said...

Both films sound very interesting & worth a peek! I love films that are star studded instead of one or two notables. Remember the films of the 60's & 70's?? So many well-known's in each.... Great Post!!
Isn't it nice to find a film that wasn't heavily advertised & is great???? Sort of like finding a hit song on the flip-side of a 45...oopsie...I am giving away my age!! LOL!!

Malisa said...

Talk about OVERdressed, Tristan! Makes me want to go change my sweats! :) Okay, I am putting Rock the Cradle on my list for the week. Thanks for the great suggestions!


Joy Jones said...

Great reviews! Would love to see both. I got the chance to meet John Cusack...a real cutie...a couple of years ago at a baseball game. He was is the box next to ours. He's a huge Chicago fan and a real sweet heart to! I'll have to check out the Paris movie too...anything about Paris and I am there. You might want to visit my blog post today about our dear might find something you like! Have a beautiful evening ~ xo Joy

Cindi Myers said...

Wow! My head hurts, I'm surrounded all day by people that you can hear the wind whistling through their heads. I'm terrified that I will be sucked into their mindless void, never to return. It's refreshing to read about movies that aren't centered around potty jokes or about blowing things up. Thanks.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Oh gosh, JE T'AIME BIEN! :)

First of all dude, you are my movie critic and I will take your lead; these films interest me so much. That French film, bien sûr, will have me clued to the screen. I love all these actors and Tim Robbins is quite the director. And dahling, I love your "toilette" for going out shopping. You are hilarious Tristan!

Bisous, Anita

Roberta said...

Where did you find that fantastic picture of Santino Rice?!

Von said...

Love to see your serious side from time to time,look like great films and thanks for the reviews.
Enjoy the shopping!

Country Wings in Phoenix said...

Oh Tristan My Friend...
I love your reviews and I am going to have to check out these movies. I love a good movie. I trust you.

Okay my friend, please stop by and see my post. I have listed your giveaway also as it leads right into my post on my stage and introducing you to new friends. I know I did not even begin to capture the beauty in your stage. I will have it still when I am 90. Thank you Tristan my friend.

Baroness Bijoutery said...

Thanks for the sneak peak into these two films...Sounds like a perfect Sunday afternoon movie..both of them...I think the context of these two sounds very very interesting...I love films and books based on fact and history...

Have a great evening my friend...

Sue said...

Both these look like great films. Thanks for the recommendation and reviews Tristan. Will add them to my list of 'must sees'


bunny, The Paris House Designs said...

Hi Tristan , I just found you over at the lovely Sherry The movies sound wonderful, my husband and I are fans of Tim Robbins.

Deborah said...

Seriously Tristan, you should get paid for this. Fantastic reviews! **kisskiss** Deb

Unknown said...

oooh oooh oooh la la!! Paris36. I didn't even know about this one. Thank you so much for the preview and your critique. This looks wonderful. I better watch it early in the day, so when I go back home I will be prepared to be inspired.

I agree with Deborah, you should be paid for these reviews. You are brilliant.

Cindi Myers said...

I agree! You should be paid!
(unfortunately I'm broke though!)

studioJudith said...

Excellent reviews ... as always, dear Tristan .... . . both will be on my Netflix list soon.

Now for MY Rant:
I hate it when they change the name for the ignorant Americans !!!!
I remember how furious Bob was when they wouldn't release "Pret A Porte"
without calling it "Ready To Wear."
He knew how to stand up to the studio -
but, lost on that one.


Anonymous said...

Haven't seen either...yet!

ANyhow,m I wanted to ask where you got this pic of the Maharajah? I was hoping to maybe use it for something - and didn't know if it was yours - (or from the internet somewhere else?) Hope you're well - fellow Etsyian here ;-)


Anonymous said...

I wanna see, I wanna see! I do love flicks with a vintage flair :)

Fifi Flowers said...

Ooooh I must see this film! I had forgotten about it!

The Joy of Nesting said...

Hello Kiddo,

Okay is it me or is it you that fell through the rabit hole??? I'm thinking maybe it's me cuz no one else seems to have a problem with this post. Don't get me wrong I always love your post and your movie reviews are always spot on. But the title of your post was Curioser and Curiouser and the wonderful anthropological trip through the history of collecting curiosities does fit the title well. But my little pea brain has trouble going from that to movie review literally in the same sentence...
"This superb ebony cabinet was designed to store a collection of art and rare objects and was made about 1630 in Augsburg for Duke August of Brunswick-Luneburg.
Set in the turbulent 1930's, Robbins' tale focuses"...

OH PLEASE tell me that blogger up or the magic of internet or we really are having tea with twiddle dee & twiddle dum. Explain this most unique,& intersting post any way you want, Just don't tell me I've slipped pass eccentric in to psychotic!!!

Need to run I have very little time to waste, must paste wax my cobra crown I plan on wearing for breakfast with the sun god Ra. I see you must also be invited, since you to have dusted off your "Sunday go to meeting" clothes!! :)

Pattie ;)
Mazatlan Mx.

DVArtist said...

Hey Tristan I just spent some time at your website. I absolutely love your quilts. Great website too.


Deborah said...

I agree with Pattie. Where is the ebony cabinet and there is a disconnect there somewhere. But you have definitely piqued my curiosity so i am going to look up some cabinets pf curiosities. Is that really Santino Rice? LOL It is always a treat to come by here after I have been absent a while. You are always up to something wonderful.

Chrisy said...

I remember as a child going to a natural history museum and looking into all the 'curiosity cabinets''s a lovely term isn't it...and had completely slipped my mind until I read your post. Thank you too honey for all the film could have a whole weekend house party showing 30s films...and doing other decadent stuff!
ps Love your shopping outfit darling and am sure you'd also look gorgeous in that baby doll playsuit!

Kat_RN said...

The movies sound great, but the cabinets fascinate! Wonderful pictures! Oooh thanks.

Jennifer Swan Hopkins said...

Hi Tristan, fascinating post - I have to save pictures of the cabinets so I can look and look at them.

Your reviews are so interesting, I love reading what your followers/posters write to you after such a splendid post like this one.

TY for visiting me today (sorbet fizzies, YUM). I was doing a show last weekend and the preparations for it kept me going for 2 weeks before that so I've been a bit remiss with visits and posts.

After reading your "RANT" post, I wanted to make sure you don't have problems leaving comments on my blog - please send an email if you do. I don't use Blogger, I have a dedicated site.

Finally, it's funny reading your post and one comment in particular, because just 10 minutes ago on FaceBook I said to my friend Nancy (on the sorry state of selling we are experiencing despite all of our efforts): "oh my, we are a pair. Like tweedle dum and tweedle dumber! LOL, you can decide who is which; )"

Tristan, you are such a delightful blogger. TY for your research and everything -

♥ Jennifer