Blowup (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)
Okay, I think I am a fairly smart person and an informed film viewer. I think I have a fairly good handle on analyzing movies; I do it for a living, after all. And I don't think films should have to bludgeon you over the head with their meaning and message; I don't mind doing a little work to figure out what's going on. Most of my favorite films have more than one level of meaning, and things like allegory and symbolism almost always enrich the viewing experience. But I have to admit that this one sailed over my head, and unlike some other obtuse films (see last week's viewing of Robert Altman's 3 Women, for example), it didn't gain any value in my eyes when I thought about it further or read some explanations and criticism. I'd never seen any other Antonioni films, so I don't know how representative this is of his work, but I do know that it's considered a cinema classic, and I'm trying to understand why. There was a certain surface aesthetic value, with the fashion and music and mores of the time, but it was more in a camp, Austin Powers sort of way than anything else. The scene with the Yardbirds performing, while filled with good music, served absolutely no purpose. Apparently this film is about the ephemerality of images, and films in particular, but I was frankly surprised to discover that this is considered a movie about movies. The ending, with the stereotypical hallmark of pretentious art movies - mimes - was totally ridiculous, and frankly whatever Antonioni is trying to say in this annoying, vague way is not something I'm particularly interested in hearing, anyway. I don't want to complain about the lack of plot, because I think the knee-jerk need for a "plot" is one of the problems with the average film-goer, but at the same time it's not as if there's no plot - there's actually a somewhat interesting murder mystery plot, and if Antonioni is going to bother to put that out there, it would be nice of him not to just drop it in the last ten minutes of the movie with no resolution or even any sort of ambiguous non-resolution. I suppose I'd be willing to acknowledge that this is a great film if someone showed me the right perspective on it, but for now I'm inclined to believe that, like 2001, for example, it's just pretentious twaddle that film students say is brilliant because they don't want to look stupid.
Red Lights (Cedric Kahn, 2004)
Here's another obtuse movie, but one where I could at least discern some of what the director was trying to say. It's one of those uniquely French thrillers, that starts off as sort of straightforward and Hitchcockian and then veers into surreality, only to somehow tie it all up at the end. The story is disjointed and a little meandering, especially the middle section where a husband, separated from his wife, picks up a dangerous drifter. But it all builds to an interesting conclusion that seems to say that marriage is work akin to killing some guy by running him over with your car a bunch of times. Which is a message I can get behind.
Sleeper (Woody Allen, 1973)
I love Woody Allen. I can almost always trust an Allen movie to be a good palate cleanser, and this was no exception (especially after my annoyance with Blowup). I think Allen is without a doubt one of the greatest American filmmakers of the last 50 years, and I think it's a travesty that whenever the great masters of the 1970s American mainstream film renaissance (Altman, Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg, Kubrick, maybe De Palma) are discussed, Allen is almost always left out. In my mind he is at least as good as those other directors, and he also writes his own films, which is something that always increases my respect for a director. Not that Sleeper is necessarily a great piece of cinema - it's one of his "early, funny" pictures (cf. Stardust Memories) and as such is mostly a loose agglomeration of gags with a pretty thin plot. It's more goofy than most of his later work, and its futuristic setting and slapstick humor makes it like watching a sci-fi Marx brothers movie. But still great fun, and a breath of fresh air compared to some of Allen's more serious work.