Hard work's rewards
IT HAS been hard work at the movies lately. If most modern films have one feature in common, I should call it their incomprehensibility, in contrast to the old cinema whose object used to be to make the story as plain as possible. "Pink Floyd", as most people know, was the curious title adopted by one Pop Rock music group. Their first film I remember finding surprisingly tolerable. So I set off for Pink Floyd, the Wall ("AA" Empire) with an open mind and full of hope. The film, I understand, derives from an LP album which I felt sure I was the only member of the audience not to know. This may have accounted for my finding the music or sound the least eloquent element of this spectacular image-epic. On the other hand the music might have provided a clue to the epic's intent.
Probably the most intensive work was on much the most worthwhile film of the batch, and to my taste, the most enjoyable. Werner Herzog is one of few universally acknowledged great directors still
operating. I have admired him since the immense Aguirre, Wrath of God and his latest Latin American saga, Fitzcarraldo ("A", Camden Plaza) won this year's Cannes Festival Grand Prix.
The title intrigues me because it sounds typical of one of the features of Latin America I found irritating there. I mean the confusion of nationalities which makes it difficult to recognise what anybody is. You find fair-haired people with familiar names who can only speak Spanish,
or raven-haired senoritas talking fluent Cockney or Yorkshire. "Fitzcarraldo" is in fact the local version (written as well as directed by Herzog) of "Fitzgerald" and tells the strange story of the dreamerncestr osbsessed with bringing grand opera to the jungle Indians across the Andes.
The illness and other delays which dogged filming and made Herzog start all over again with Klaus Kinski as his new leading man, have been widely publicised. The marvel is that despite the troubles, the scale of the operation and the crowded cast, he succeeded in making such a relatively smooth, though very long, fascinating and beautiful picture.
We meet Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski) and his wife (Claudia Cardinale) enjoying the beauties of a Verdi opera. Then he and a whole ship's company are steaming up the Amazon, Kinski with a head of golden curls into which curious Indian fingers will eventually pry. Fitzcarraldo's secret weapon on this early colonial expedition is an oldfashioned gramophone with a horn and a magnificent library of beautifully preserved records.
When after days of travel-time and more than an hour of screen time, they disturb and alarm a tribe of primitive Indians, Fitzcarraldo says: "But God doesn't come with a gun, He comes with the voice of Caruso". And indeed when the final prodigious efforts of the ship's motley crew heave her up the highest mountain the gifts Fitzcarraldo brings to win their trust are early records of that still unique Godgiven tenor voice.
The hard work for me was not caused by any narrative obscurity, but by the simple language barrier to me of German — coupled with too-small captions in English or even German. The dramatic structure of the tale is splendidly simple and effective, photography, lighting and landscape are exceptionally beautiful and inter-racial and human relations of a reassuringly humane quality.
If I found Rollover ("AA", ABC Fulham Road, Bayswater, Edgware Road) less than clear the fault is frankly mine and not that of Alan J. Pakula's movie. For 1 have never mastered any understanding of finance, and even the title Rollover describes, I gather, not, as I thought, some delicious pastry but a financial operation or manoeuvre. Despite its esoteric subject-matter, the film pleases by having a beginning, middle and more or less of an end, a smart screenplay and polished performances by that intelligent actress, Jane Fonda (not in my view so intelligent a politician) and by Kris Kristoffersen.
Fonda plays a newish widow whose husband has left her enough shares to buy herself the chairmanship of the company and to travel to represent it among whiterobed Opec Chiefs. The expert who pilots her through banking expertise as is beyond her is Kristoffersen, better than usual. but with a hair style reminiscent of the old song: "Shall I have it bobbed or shingled, shall I have it shingled or bobbed?" The romance between them is a continuing factor until the whole world goes bankrupt, a novel form of happy ending. One of the more enjoyable assets is the admirable performance of Hume Cronyn, always a fine character actor, as a veteran banker.
Returning to The Wall, technically and formally I found the film a noisy, crowded, animated experiment in extending the cinema's confines. Unfortunately its content seemed incomprehensible as well as inconsistent and inconsequent.
The hero, Pink (Bob Geldof) just surviving usual parental hang-ups, is driven through a hideous concrete labyrinth like one of those nightmare underground car parks in the Barbican. Overhead, giant birds or helicopters cast their shadows or worse, as in Apocalypse Now. It seems the child, lulled by the voice of Dame Vera Lynn has grown up barricaded by an impenetrable concrete wall from the world.
The anarchic scene is portrayed partly by live actors, partly in animated design by Gerald Scarfe. It is evidently dominated by a jackbooted gang of terrorists 1 took to be evoking the Nazis until I heard a very young person on the way out refer to "the obvious analogy with the Communist Party."
I saw this extraordinary film in the company of two young men, one just over, one just under, twenty. When I commented on its incomprehensibility and said I could deduce no message except of total despair, the elder said: "A sense of not being wanted". But that is surely identical with despair. Almost the saddest thing about this depressing nihilistic work was to see the Empire fuller for it in the early afternoon than any West End cinema I have seen for a long time.
Musically the Western public (v. the Proms) has grown considerably more sophisticated than it used to be in the days when Walt Disney himself tried to educate us musically through such marvellous Mickey Mouse shorts as The Band Concert or the cadenzas of Clara Cluck let alone through using the birds and
notes. The modern generation may feel it has been taught to know the orchestra by such musicians as Sir Benjamin Britten.
But the revival of Disney's Fantasia ("U", Odeon Haymarket) has brand-new "Dolby Stereo" digital recording and no doubt there is a youngest generation ready to appreciate Disney's introduction to the popular classics, as well as to appreciate the cartoon work of the master. I regret that I have not yet succeeded in catching up with the new cartoon The Secret of Nimh ("U") by the breakaway artist Don Bluth and twelve other rebels from the official group of Disney successors. But I have every hope of doing so while it is on show around London as I understand it is an encouraging departure.