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January 15, 1972 - Image 2

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The Michigan Daily, 1972-01-15

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Page Two

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Saturday!, l.ranutry l5, 1972

Page Two THE MICHIGAN DAILY -~ SoturdoyJanuory 15, 1972

71's
By NEAL GABLER
Each year the number of "ten
best" lists seems to proliferate
to the point where I half ex-
pect every December-January
publication to be buried in rank-
ings of everything from women
of the year to midgets of the
year. For most of us, ten best
lists are a vestige of our base-
ball-oriented boyhoods when
quality was easily quantified.
For film reviewers, of course,
these lists are a small conceit,
and being only human I've suc-
cumbed the last two years, grad-
ing pictures as if they were eggs.
They are, however, more like
humans than like eggs, follow-
ing that old maxim that there is
a little good and a little bad in
each (though sometimes I won-
der).
So why the list? Well, per-
haps I can rationalize my sub-
mission to the mania by saying
first, that mine is not a list in
the traditional sense, but rather
a grouping of films-unranked-
that I consider above the aver-
age movie fare; and second, that
not having had a chance to
comment on many of these pic-
tures, a year-end wrap-up pro-
vides the perfect opportunity to
briefly air my views. If you're
not willing to accept my ration-
alization, just say that I'm an
American and a reviewer, and
I can't resist.
Still, American as I am, I'll
have to risk charges of disloyal-
ty and, worse, pointy-headed-
ness, since the three films that
stand above all others by virtue
of their tastefulness, narrative
simplicity and intellectual cmi-
plexity are all French: Claire's
Knee, This Man Must Die, and
Wild Child. Claire's Knee fol-
lows the same motif as Eric Roh-
mer's, other Moral Tales - a
man trying to reconcile his
heart with his head, to render
passion rational. Though the
point that Rohmer's film is
more in the mode of drawing-
room comedy than cinema is
well taken, the picture is always
clever (in the best sense), brim-
ming with empathy, and ency-
clopedic in its examination of
love. Like its landsmen on this
list, it prompts discussion and
introspection, and by- my book
the two dollars admission yields
dividends far greater than the
bucks you'll lay down for trifling
entertainments.
Likewise, This Man Must Die
is a faultless film from the man
who is rapidly emerging as the
best of the New Wave, Claule
Chabrol. Because his films are
cast as mysteries, Chabrol has
often been derogated as a Hitch-
copycat; and while it's certain-
ly true that his pictures work as
sheer suspense, they are none-
theless much more than thrill-
ers. Rohmer defines his char-
acters through, the way they
love; Chabrol defines his
through the way they murder.
So for all its twists and turns,
This Man Must Die is ultimate-
ly a Christian film - with debts
to Homer andrShakespeare -
about a man trying to control
his Fate, getting tangled in his
own webs, and seeking redemp-
tion.
Francois Truffaut's Wild
Child, which premiered at the
1970 New York Film Festival, is
not only his best film since The
400 Blows, but also the most
relevant picture of the year, de-
spite the fact that it is set in
the early nineteenth century.
More important, it's the only
film on this list that hits the
tear ducts. At a time when
young people are pining for
their pre-industrial roots - a

tent in the woods and a jar of
honey - Truffaut bucks the
trend and makes his case for
civilization; and by chronicling
the "creation" of a social be-
ing from a human animal, he
raises nothing less than the
question, "What constitutes hu-
manness?" The film thereby
serves ,as a meter for modern
long-haired insanity, rankling
young audiences with Dr. Itard's
pedagogical persistence, as if the
good Doctor would corrupt the
wolf-boy by teaching him how
to operate in society.
Nicholas Roeg's Walkabout,
out of Australia, is a kind of
companion piece to Truffaut's
picture, depicting the stripping
away of the technological cloak
from two city kids lost in the
Australian outback and be-
friended by a native boy. It's a
lesser film than Wild Child be-
cause it plays up to our mod-
ern Luddite biases (oh have we
been spoiled by technology!), it
overstates its case (life isn't
that bad), and it is very often
overly literal (a swimming pool

best films:

list of incomparables

dug out next to the oceanf; a
hunt juxtaposed with shotA of
a butcher shop; a dramatic
close-up of the girl stepping
from the woods onto the high-
way). It belongs in this good
company, however, because it
has a haunting rhythm via
montage that, to use an over-
worked and seldom applicable
analogy, makes it more like
some lovely symphony than dra-
ma. The native boy's futile love
dance is as chilling and humane
a scene as you're likely to see.
Also from the Anglos is Da-
vid Lean's Ryan's Daughter, the
kind of movie that so many pic-
tures pretend to be but never
are - a kitschy, beautiful, ele-
phantine film made solely for
the eyes. Lean takes a lot of
knocks for making these huge
giants, and I think unfairly.
These are primarily unpreten-
and I can't think of a better way
tious entertainments, not art,
to spend an empty Saturday aft-
ernoon than with Lean. (If
pressed I might be able to come
up with one or two better ways)
Those viewers so inclined might
even squeeze a little content out
of his latest: the foibles of a
girl in love with love, who tosses
her husband aside for the first
dashing young buck she sees.
Hanging around coeds long
enough can make you empa-
thize, and if not, there is still
Frederick Young's picture post-
card photography which does
for Ireland what it did fpr
Arabia.
A few years back Americans
took a certain ingenuous pride
in churning out pure entertain-
ments like Ryan's Daughter. But
no longer. Now we get our thrills
by projecting our national neur-
oses on the big screen, and while
this definitely has its positive
side in that the old gilded dream
world has at least been tempor-
arily displaced, it has its nega-
tive side in ;that there is noth-
ing worse than a bad intellect
posing as a good one. Andrew
Sarris is right in declaiming
that movies are rapidly becom-
ing silly, self-conscious meta-
phors, and the chief victim -
surprisingly, with all these
manics floating around our
screens - has been the drama.
It seems that we're all too
willing to accept bad substitutes
for real drama - lots of words,
violent exchanges, sullen si-
lences, and a death thrown in at
the end. Maybe it's just that the
fabric of modern American life
doesn't lend itself to dramatiza-
tion, but to my mind only one
American film this year stood
on its characterizations rather
than on its issues. That was
playwright Frank Gilroy's Des-
perate Characters, a penetrating
look at dull lives and passive
torture, which was only very
peripherally a social drama. The
film had its burrs, but they were
all on the 'side of dramatic ex-
cess and not cinematic excess
like gyrating cameras and fan-
cy cutting. Too often we find an
engineer's mentality behind the
camera (Where oh where are
all those young poets Pauline
Kael said would flock to the di-
rector's stool?), and so it's re-
freshing to find a man whose
sensibilities are humane, ex-
cesses and all.
Similarly refreshing, though
the blessing is more mixed, is
the integrity of the BBS Pro-
duction Company responsible for
such uneven but sincere pictures
as Easy Rider, Drive He Said,
ULYSSES
SUN.-7 & 9:30
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DOWNSTAIRS

A Safe Place, The Last Picture
Show, and Five Easy Pieces.
Only Pieces really belongs on
this list - the others released
last year have defects too grave
for even minor canonization -
but even Pieces was overpraised,
this reviewer being one of the
culprits. The trouble with Pieces,
after seeing it again recently, is
that it bamboozles you. Not the
way so many pictures bamboozle
you, acting as if they had some
deep message when they really
have none. Pieces does have
content; what it lacks is drama.
It's an outline for a movie rath-
er than a complete film, and
Jack " Nicholson's marvelous,
vein-bursting performance can
only blur the sketchiness, not
flesh it out. In short, minor art.
Two of the more successful
films last year placed contem-
porary problems in the Ameri-
can mythic mold. Arthur Penn's
Little Big Man had more bad-
moments than his mythic mas-
terpiece Bonnie & Clyde, but it
was still a stirring, panoramic,
intelligent analysis of modern
America. Penn continues to be
the only American film-maker
dealing sympathetically, yet
piercingly, with our bloodlust.
(To show you just how schizo-
phrenic we Americans are,
Little Big Man finished second
to Love Story in the box-office
sweepstakes).
Robert Altman's McCabe &
Mrs. Miller, also a Western, was
no less severe an indictment of
our culture than Little Big Man,
but Altman's organic style
stirred far more controversy,
which shows just how tradition-
ally we view movies. Directorial-
ly. McCabe'is the year's major
achievement. Altman built his
tnining town, had his cast live
there, and seemingly cantured
their day to day lives through
garbled conversations and dis-
jointed vignettes, as their in-
dependence slipped away. This
was not merely cinematic gym-
nastics a la Marienbad; it was
the wandering camera of a
Western "Our Town." and if it
wasn't always satisfying, it was
always brilliant, so brilliant that
McCabe somehow gr'ows in ret-
rospect.
The exact opposite has hap-
pened to Carnal Knowledge.
Like McCabe, it became an in-
stant storm center, filling the
New York Times' Arts and Lei-
sure Correspondence with ti-
rades pro and con. Unfortun-
ately. I think, the furor ob-
scured the film's real worth,
which was neither so great as
its supporters would have it,
nor so little as its detractors
would have it. The main spark
of the controversy on the male
side seems to be the film's un-
canny knack for striking respon-
sive, if not always welcome,

chords in our sexist hearts.
Nichols and Feiffer apotheosize
the locker-room mentality that
treats sex as essentially deriva-
tive, something to tell the guys
about: and their film lurches
from the Inferno of the late 40's
campus to the Purgatory of the
early 60's middle class to the
Paradise of the 70's where act
has been sufficiently separated
from object. Many women; for
their part, objected that the
picture was sexist, as if a film
about male chauvinism is auto-
matically chauvinistic itself. (I,
for one, thought the film went
a little too easy on the gentler
sax, and am waiting to see the
story told from the other side.
Sexism does work both ways,)
But now that the critical dust
has settled, Carnal Knowledge,
more a mirror than a sinking
probe,, seems destined for a safe
niche among very good middle-
rank movies. It' is well written
and well directed, with much
skill but little daring, and that's
why I think it is less than ma-
jor. McCabe took risks. It was
Altman's own crazy. energetic
vision of the dying West. Car-
nal Knowledge takes no risks.
It is slick, programmed, per-
fect. Too perfect in fact - the
product of an intelligent but
hopelessly New York-Jewish-
Middle-Class sensibility.
There are two other films -
one French-Algerian, the other
Italian - that deserve recogni-
tion. Following his Z, most crit-
ics gave Costa-Gavras' The Con-
fession perfunctory praise as a
competent political drama told
from the Right side this time.
Actually, The Confession, though
almer and more conventional-
ly dramatic than Z, is no less
sizzling and has more implica-
tions. What is the relationship
between idealism and action?
How much can and should be
sacrificed for a movement?
Must cause co-opt conscience?
Just as the right-wing func-
tionaries in Z determine justice
by fiat and then set about jus-
tifying their decisions, so the
left-wing functionaries in The
Confession determine history by
fiat. The film is bitter, yet noble,
especially when London (Yves
Montand) watches Soviet tanks
roll into Prague and feels his
old sympathies fade. After all

that has transpired, the scene
is terribly moving.
I have much greater reserva-
tions about another largely po-
litical film, Bernardo Bertoluc-
ci's The Conformist. It comes on
like mini-Visconti (better done),
with fascism somehow equated
with repression of homosexual
tendencies. This is the stuff of
high - brow pseudo - Freudian
trash, but the picture is so im-
peccably scripted and dazzlingly
directed that I believe a char-
itable reviewer might adduce
evidence for a different, wiser
interpretation. Here homosexual
repression is not literally the
cause of the conformist's obedi-
ence; it is a metaphor for it.
You can take your choice of
analyses. By either Bertolucci is
creative. By the second he is
intelligent as well.
Three more pictures definite-
ly in the middleweight ranks
aren't without their rewards.
Woody Allen's Bananas brings
non-sequitur to a new high, and
places its creator even more
firmly among the great screen
comedians, a generous tribute
in these humorless days. Anoth-
er solid comedy, Milos Forman's
Taking Off, seemed to slink out
of town like a whipped cur. For-
man, as is his custom, compiled
a series of sympathetic ironies
about the American middle class
and its freaked-out kids, string-
ing them on a Joe-type story of
two parents in search of their
runaway daughter. Never hys-
terical, Taking Off is often fun-
ny, gentle, and painfully true.
The third minor triumph,
Gimme Shelter, is a failure in
so many ways that you would
hardly think it belongs on a best'
list, even in the middleweight
division. To say it's poorly done,
Uof M
Riding Club
MASS MEETING
MON., JAN. 17
7:30
UNION BALLROOM
Everyone Welcome
Questions-call Don, 769-3364

however, is almost - but not
quite - like challenging the;
aesthetics of the Zapruder film
of President Kennedy's assassin-
ation.. I don't ;use this, .analogy
because both films .captured a
murder, but-rather because they'
both captured an event. In the
case of the Maysles Brothers,
they've used Meredith Hunter's
death at Altmamount as a kind
of orgiastic climax to a modern
Bacchae. Jagger is 'the andro-
gynous Dionysus returning "to
Thebes-America, and the Sys-
tem losing its head (played here
by Mel Belli) is Pentheus. The
duality, as in Euripedes and the,
title song, is intellect versus raw
emotion, 'and' the trigger is
chance: Rape, murder. It's just
a shot away/Love, sister. It's
just a kiss.away, As a documen-
tary, Gimme Shelter is only so
so. As a document, it's absolutely
harrowing.
Rostropov eh
here tonght:
M s t i s 1 a v Rostropovich, the'
famed Soviet cellist, will' appear
in Hill Aud. tonight at 8:30 p.m.
under the asupices of the Univer-
sity Musical Society. Tickets. are
still available, at the Society of-
fice in Burton Tower.
The program will include works
of Bach, Strauss, Beethoven and
Prokofiev.
The Paul Kuentz-Chamber Or-
chestra of Paris returns tAAnn
Arbor next week, for two, con-
certs in the Power CenterMon-
day and Wednesday at 8 p.m.
IS 'BAR
TON IGHT
NAT. SCI. AUD.

INEED? NIGT U SEVC?
ATTEND MEETING MON., JAN. 17
7:30 P.M. 3524 SAB
TO DISCUSS
Alternative Plans & Actions To
Cancellation of Dial-A-Ride
IF QUESTIONS, CALL 769-4212

A

POET JAM
B.iefit for Washington St. Community Center
ED SANDERS JOHN SINCLAIR
D&NALD HALL JERRY YOUNKI NS
GLENN DAVIS
and mQny other Ann Arbor poets
Sund y, Jan. 16-Hill Aud. h.
ib.0 y , W n ,. n orsopenot7:30
S{g%~eb rt rn.9s neaid Artists Wrkshop

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