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Weekly Mishmash: October 11-17

Day for Night (1973). I saw this François Truffaut film a long, long time ago, but didn’t remember much about it except for the precarious balcony set used in one of the filming-within-a-film scenes. A re-viewing reveals that while there’s a lot about this film that is dated and clumsy, it’s actually compelling and truly a love letter to how film captivates us. Truffaut does double duty as he directs and plays a director making a fictional film. The fact that the film they’re working on is a mediocre romantic drama is beside the point as the viewer follows the various overlapping stories of those both in front and behind the camera. It reminded me of what Robert Altman was doing at the same time. Truffaut has a gift for conveying depth-filled characters in not much screen time. I enjoyed it.
book_dorisherownstoryDoris Day: Her Own Story by A.E. Hotchner. I was somewhat leery about this autobiography. It seemed too bland and Pollyannaish, but now that I’ve finished it I can understand why it was a best seller upon its publication in 1975. Doris Day writes about her life, films, marriages and affairs with a candidness that helped dispel her virgin-next-door image, but it’s her engaging optimism and good cheer in facing life’s problems that comes to the fore throughout these pages. She does dwell too much on her religious beliefs and the bankruptcy court case following the death of third husband Marty Melcher (who comes across as a complete user and a slimebag). I like her earthy attitude towards working and movie stardom, and her love of animals is something to admire. Even the housewifey tips on beauty and fashion she includes in the book’s coda are fun.
Every Little Step (2008), Herb & Dorothy (2008) and Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times (2009). A good week for documentaries! Every Little Step chronicles the audition process for the recent revival of A Chorus Line, drawing parallels between the actors and the characters they’re vying for. Along the way, we hear about the original Chorus Line and Michael Bennett’s efforts to get it onstage. I wish the film had focused more on the original and not the remake, but overall it was very good. Mostly what stood out here is that young performers of today are more polished and hard-bodied, but no less enthusiastic, than their counterparts in the mid-’70s. Don’t know if that’s a bad thing or not. Herb & Dorothy was an installment of PBS’s Independent Lens about a couple who, despite limited means, became a powerhouse in the art collecting world. They hobnob with minimalist and conceptual artists, piling up pieces of art in their shoebox-sized apartment in scenes that are both touching and a little scary. Luckily their collection found a good home in Washington D.C.’s National Gallery. From a personal standpoint, watching Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times proved fascinating because we were just in Los Angeles and had a good look at many places seen there. This doc basically follows the explosive growth of L.A. in the 20th century through the family that arguably was most responsible for those changes. The angles covering the Los Angeles Times and its varying editorial viewpoints over the decades were so neat and slickly told. The film also uses a lot of great vintage footage of downtown L.A. and landmarks such as Angels Point and City Hall. Perfect.
Girls of the Road (1940). Grimy b-movie from Columbia studios is surprisingly brisk and fun. The luminous Ann Dvorak headlines as a governor’s daughter who decides to investigate her state’s problem with female hoboes by becoming one herself. Dvorak befriends a hardened traveler (Helen Mack, wonderful), gets involved in a police roundup, and discovers a secret all-female hideout in the woods. Nothing earth shattering here, but I enjoyed the interplay between the mostly female cast. There’s a lot of quasi-lesbian subtext here, especially with the tough, uninhibited performance of Lola Lane as the self appointed leader of a gang of women. I had previously known Lane in nothing roles alongside her sisters Rosemary and Priscilla; here she’s a revelation and totally fascinating to watch.
Home from the Hill (1960). Overlong manly melodrama oddly directed by Vincente Minnelli. This is a long-winded tale of a dysfunctional Texas family consisting of parents Robert Mitchum and Eleanor Parker and their tormented wimp of a son, George Hamilton. A hunky George Peppard is also on hand as Mitchum’s illegitimate son. The film had a few interesting scenes, and I love the woodsy look of Mitchum’s hunting lair (it reminded me of the basement in my grandparents’ house). Mostly, however, the film was beyond dull. I actually got more entertainment out of reading about this film’s production in Stephen Harvey’s Directed by Vincente Minnelli book (Harvey seems to have liked it better than me).

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