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October 02, 1980 - Image 7

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1980-10-02

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The Michigan Daily Thursday, October 2, 1980 Page 7
TV Nazis Boredom uber alles

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The most noteworthy thing about
CBS's controversial deathcamp drama
Playing For Time wals how it gave new
meaning to the phrase "banality of
evil." You may half-expect pop-culture
dramatizations of the Holocaust to be
offensive, but only network television
could succeed in turning it into
something so ponderously dull. What
might perhaps have been a
breakthrough TV drama was the same
old, cardboard-character slop-mixed
in. with a generous helping of pseudo-
profundities. It makes you feel a little
sorry for Vanessa Redgrave; after all
the hoopla surrounding her casting, she
ended up giving her performance in a
Redgrave (whose Zionist-baiting
crack at the 1979 Oscars probably
scarred her reputation more than any
of her actual political involvements)
was considered a tasteless choice for
the role of Fania Fenelon-a French-
Jewish popular singer who survived the
Hell of Auschwitz by joining an or-
chestra of inmates and playing for the
Nazis-via some heavy moral
mathematics: No matter how you tally
it, reasoned various Jewish voices, a
PLO activist can't equal a Jewish
Holocaust victim.
WHATEVER dubious logic lurked
behind the protests, Arthur Miller
might almost have composed his
screenplay in anticipation of that con-
troversy. His dialogue is rife with
weighty moral pronouncements (with
emphasis on Jew/Gentile tensions in
the camps); at times during the show,
Auschwitz began to sound like a 500-
level seminar in Normative Ethics.
The basic conflicts centered around

questions of survival. Keeping yourself
alive may be the name of the game in a
concentration camp, but Miller
eschews Wertmuller-style screw-your-
neighbor cynicism for heavy
inquisitions into Human Nature.
Clearly, he wasn't content with the idea
of merely dramatizing lives played out
within the day-to-day grotesqueries of
the camps. Auschwitz becomes not so
much a test of individual will and
resources as an ethical background, in
which pettiness and chicanery are
stacked up opposite courage and moral
This may not be so far off base, but
Miller, from the start, is so down on the
utilitarians that the battle is never con-
summated. He's stacked the deck for
selfless heroes, and Vanessa Redgrave,
whose fine, intense performance blew
everyone else off the screen, was his
LIKE JEANNE Moreau in Lumiere,
Redgrave plays a character so glit-
teringly noble that at times she's insuf-
ferable-too human for words. Dragged
to Auschwitz, systematically
humiliated and starved, Redgrave's
Fenelon doesn't just suffer; she suffers
like Christ on the cross-nobly, regally,
not; just for herself but for all the
prisoners. (With her taut, emaciated
face, uplifted eyes, and sheared scalp,
Redgrave often bore striking resem-
blance to Falconetti in Carl Dreyer's
The Passion of Joan of Arc.) And
though she despises the Nazis, she's the
lone character who sees-nay, insists
on-their humanity. They are men, she
explains to the other inmates; they are
not demons. In short, the monster is
us-or, at least, what we could, uider
drastic circumstatices, become.

This, of course, has been the ultimate
message of most of the recent writings
on Hitler and the Holocaust. But by
transferring whole, undigested blocks
of such hindsight philosophy into
Redgrave's character, Miller makes
the others appear puny by comparison.
Particularly obnoxious is-his charac-
terization of a short, ugly, bespectacled
Zionist who keeps wailing about how
she wants to survive simply to keep the
race alive. "I'm a woman, not a mem-
ber of a tribe," cries Redgrave in
righteous splendour, and we're sup-

posed to be awed by the subtle
humanity just beneath her surface
Despite all the gaseous moral
platitudes, the show had a few moving
moments. The opening scenes of Jews
being carted off in boxcars had a
ghastly, claustrophobic realism, and
Redgrave really took off in her set-
pieces. In one scene, the commandant
tells Fenelon how moved he was by her
singing, and she offers him a hateful,
grimacing "Thank you." It's during
such moments that Redgrave can give
herself over. to a role with dynamic
physicality; you feel her gritting her
Even so, Playing For Time was at
best a grab-bag of good scenes. For
three hours (interrupted by only four
commercial breaks), the blandly
episodic story meandered like an Off-
Off-Broadway piece about life in a
woman's detention ward. No doubt, it
was smart of Arthur Miller to leave out
any extended melodramatic rave-ups;
they don't belong in a deathcamp saga.
Even so, there wasn't a moment during
which I felt wired into the horror of the
Holocaust the way I do when I see
documentary footage.
In that sense, I think that Miller,
Redgrave and Co. may, have taken up
an impossible task. Whether or not you
can set a convincing realistic drama in
a concentration camp, I doubt that you
could end up focusing it so overtly on
the deepest moral and spiritual deman-
ds involved.
Perhaps that's one area in which art
and life are destined to go their
separate ways.

the Ann"Arbor Film Coopeative
7&9 $2
Aud A, Angell Hall

Vanessa Redgrave

The saga goes on and on and.

0 .

If its sequel is any indication of the
quality of the predecessor film, Smokey
and the Bandit must have been,
figuratively speaking, a real dog. If
Smokey aiid the Bandit was a real dog,
then Smokey and the Bandit II can only
be described as dogmeat. Unless, that
is, the viewer should happen to thrive
on unending automobile crashes, the
good o1' boy mythology, and the sort of
jokes that even a seventh grader might
Oteam "gross."
The plot is bare and ridiculous. Can
Burt Reynolds (Bandit), Jerry Reed
(his partner), Sally Fields (Bandit's
love and conscience), and Dom
Delouise (an Italian gynecologist)
move a pregnant elephant from Miami
to Dallas without being stopped by
Jackie Gleason (a feckless sheriff) -in
order to claim $400,000? Obviously,
Fields and Reynolds will fall in love,
and Gleason won't be able to stop the
TO SUPPORT THIS plot, little acting
'LOS ANGI LES (AP)-For nearly
two }lours, the youth held off a score of
policemen at a service station.
Then an odd-looking special team of
six officers arrived, carrying kubos, the
Japanese martial-arts sticks, and long-
handled grabber devices resembling
those that grocers use to take cans off a
*op shelf.
Two officers, each wielding one of the
8-foot grabbers, moved in and pointed
the jawed devices at the youth's legs. A
third officer, with a 412-foot kubo,
prepared to knock the dagger out of the
youth's hand as soon as the jaws of the
grabbers had locked around his knees
and knocked him off balance.
"Aaahee!" shouded the officer with
&he kubo. "Drop the knife! That was
enough for the 19-year-old youth. He
dropped the dagger and held his hands
over his head.
It was the first time the special team
had used the kubos and leg grabers,
one of the alternative techniques to
firearms being developed by the Los
Angeles Police Department to deal with
violent people. The technique was on a
90-day tryout.

is required and very little is given. The
characters are crafted as walk-on,
walk-through parts. The dialogue is of-
ten stilted or plainly moronic: Reynolds
burping and moaning for the first five
minutes; Fields to Reynolds-'"Bandit,
you've got to learn to like yourself;"
Reynolds to Fields-"I've learned to-
like myself;"the tired repetitiveness of
"oh shit" and "son of a bitch" as pun-
The real stars of the show are the
automobiles. Buster Keaton and Harold
Lloyd used them, as a wonderfully con-
venient prop, in the wide open spaces of
L.A. in the 1920's. But Keaton and Lloyd
understood that the usefulness of the
car was that the character inside it was
in danger. How the character got out of
the predicament was the source of the
comedy. In Smokey and the Bandit II
there is no sense of danger or of reality.
The cars are horribly crushed, but the
drivers are always shown stepping
away from the wrecks. It isn't funny,
it's vapid. Crash tests with bouncing
dummies are just as interesting.
Perhaps the most revealing portion of
the movie is the long list of stuntmen in
the end credits. The list accumulates
nearly as many names as appear in all
the rest of the credits and suggests
where most of the effort put into the
film unfortunately went.
JUST AS Hollywood has recently
been ripe for sequels, it has always
been ripe for remakes. In Sam Marlow,
Private Eye, The Maltese Falcon has
been vivisected, strewn about, and
sutured together in the makeshift form
of a Frankenstein, Jr. Too bad all the
poor child can do is crawl, beat its head
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on the floor, and wail that favorite word
of the'70's, "Parody!""Parody!".
Robert Sacci is the film's sine qua
non. A Bogart lookalike, he plays a
movie buff who has undergone plastic
surgery and who adopts the dress,
voice, demeanor, and profession of
Bogart's detective characters in
modern day L.A. But instead of Sam
Spade chasing the Maltese Falcon, we
have, in a less-than-clever plot twist,
Sam Marlow chasing the sapphire eyes
from a bust of Alexander the Great.
Nevertheless, Sacchi is a living,
breathing facsimile of Bogart. His per-
formance is interesting to watch for its
authenticity, unlike the usual pale ren-
ditions of Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet
and Peter Lorre that are so weak they
are irksome to watch.
Even more irritating is to watch the
venerable genre of the hardboiled
detective parodied so indelicately.
Especially since the hardboiled detec-
tive (as envisioned principally by
Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chan-
dler) is a parody of sorts in the
idealization of his own characteristics:J
independent, tough, intelligent (often
knowledgeable in quirky subjects like
cryptology or naval weaponry),

arousing to women, cynical, and
holding resolutely to his own private
code of honor in a corrupt world. Sam
Spade or Phillip Marlowe would never,
as Sacchi does, leave a gun loaded with
blanks within the grasp of the Lorre
character specifically so the Lorre
character could be blasted between the
eyes in ostensible self-defense.
Sam Marlowe, Private Eye is a Satur-
day Nite Live skit overexpanded into a
full length movie. Missing are the best
features of detective films: a complex,
intriguing plot that challenges the
audience, characters adept at verbal
byplay and who are drawn together as
the plot coalesces into a solution; and a
solution that leaves questions unan-
swered, the same quality of uncertain-
ty at both beginning and end. What we
do get is an old plot, flat characters,
and limp jokes (such as the repeated
one referring to Sacchi's costume in
sunny L.A.: "Why is that man wearing
a raincoat?"). Bogart getting lewd with
Bacall in The Big Sleep or Jack
Nicholson inadvertently telling an off-
/color joke to Faye Dunaway in
Chinatown are funnier moments than
all of the hijinks in Sam Marlow,
Private Eye.

American Association of University Professors
University of Michigan Chapter
Thursday, Oct. 2, 1980 at 12:45 p.m.
In the Rackham Amphitheatre
Keith E. Molin, of the Coalition for Tax Reduction
Helen West, past President of the Leaoiue of Women
Voters of Ann Arbor, speaking on
Proposal A.
A third person, to be named, speaking on the
There will be questions and answers and general discussion
t's 6"AFor Ym.'.Anta
251 East Liberty * Ann Arbor, Michigan
Phone: (313) 665-7513
Monday 75C off Veggie Sandwich
Tuesday $1.00 off any Quiche Dinner
Wednesday 75C off any Giant Stuffed Potato
Thursday 75C off any of our Crepe Dinners
Coupon valid between 6:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
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