FILMS by Freda Bruce Lockhart
rOINCIDENCE in film ILA fare has always intrigued me. The quartet of pictures reviewed here offers two trips to the Democratic Party's Convention in Chicago in 1968; and two characters submitting to have their heads chopped off— one by an up-tordate French guillotine, one by Henry VIII's headman's axe on Tower Hill.
None of the four is absolutely easy to take. They also introduce a Canadian star and
a Canadian director (of another film).
I hope it is not lese-maieste to feel a little sorry for the Queen and other members of the Royal Family when I see the multi-coloured elephant of a film usually found fit to set before her at the Royal (formerly Command) Performance. Anne of the Thousand Days ("A," Odeon,Leicester Square), already laden with nominations for an Oscar, is no exception.
To call it a bad film would be absurd. Handsomely costurned and caparisoned in castle, bedchamber and leafy countryside, it has a dignified and, as far as I know, historically accurate screenplay by Bridget Boland and John Hale from a play by Maxwell Anderson.
What makes it such a bore is the lack of anything except individual performance to breathe a spark of life into this two-and-a-half-hour caravanserai of personages from one of the most squalid reigns in English history.
In this sphere the outstandinr success is the Canadian actress, Genevieve Bujold's spirited rendering of Anne Boleyn herself, the adventuress whom sex appeal, ambition and the axe elevated to a place in history beyond her calibre.
Another triumph is Anthony Quayle's obnoxious Cardinal Wolsey, the very worldly clerico-political intriguer, to contrast with England's one protesting Bishop, John Fisher (Joseph O'Connor) and Chancellor Thomas More (William Squire) who has had his own film to himself.
Poor Richard Burton's costume-built Henry VIII is an absolute non-starter for anybody who lately saw Keith Michell's magnificent monster in the B.B.C.-2 television series.
The other execution takes place in Life, Love, Death ("X," Cameo Poly), a gloomy but impassioned anti-capital punishment picture by Claude Lelouch. Pacifism and capital punishment always seem to me impossible things to argue fairly, without some statement of the opposing argument, if only to knock it down.
A film which follows a man to the last possible stages of his encounter with guillotine, gallows or electric chair must inevitably be painfully disturbing.
The private life of the dreary little Toledo (Amidou) with his dull wife. duller mistress and assorted prostitutes, watched by half a dozen policemen, is such a bore betore it gets to the point of argument over French death sentences in general or this one in particular.
The Chicago Democratic Convention with its attendant riots of 1968 has been used at
least as the location of two very different pictures. Canadian Robin Spry's Prologue ("X," Paris-Pullman) arrives bearing the honoured name of the Robert Flaherty Award for 1970; Medium Cool ("X," Academy Two) is the first film directed by the ace cameraman Haskell Wexler who won his Academy Award for photographing "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
"Prologue" to what? is the question: to revolution or just to life? It is a film in deliberately naif, spontaneous, almost documentary style, about today's youth. They may be called hippies, drop-outs or people who share a "wish for love and openness and a common rejection of the mainstream of society."
Jesse (John Ross), the hero, is rather formidably described as "an unaligned, undogmatic activist." He appears to be an amiable. long-haired type who doesn't like violence but feels he ought to do something about it. His girl-friend Karen (Elaine Malus) takes the line that it is better to escape into a sort of pacifist commune in Northern Quebec.
The debate between them and a constant chorus is argued in words and deeds with considerable sensibility and liveliness. There may be no convincing conclusions, but a sympathetic approach to a generation whose tragedy seems here to be their isola tion—from their past, their parents, their unknown God.
"Medium Cool" is a glossier, slicker, much more obviously professional job about a more obviously hard-boiled professional sector of modem life. This is about the cynical professionals of the mass media, who live off other people's human experiences, the kind of photographer (Press or television) who photographs an accident first then sends for the ambulance—if not too inconvenient.
Because the writer-director, Haskell Wexler, is himself a great (film) cameraman, his hero moves him to shame but is not beyond redemption. John (Robert Foster is a tough, fast-working television cameraman with his soundman Gus (Peter Bonerz) working in Chicago.
In the course of duty, following up one job leads him into the thick of the Negro problems; another chance takes him to the Appalachian ghetto section where he makes friends with a widowed ex-schoolteacher (Verna Bloom) struggling to bring up her small son; and eventually into the thick of the riots.
Both these films have something to tell us about the modem world and are worth seeing if you think it worth the effort. "Medium Cool," by any standards, seems to me an exciting and colourful—if frightening entertainment.