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Monday, December 10, 2007

In praise of rapturous truth

The line between truth and fiction is a mirage in your work.

Some of the documentaries contain fiction, and some of the fiction films contain fact. Yes, you really did haul a boat up a mountainside in “Fitzcarraldo,” even though any other director would have used a model, or special effects. You organized the ropes and pulleys and workers in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest, and hauled the boat up into the jungle. And later, when the boat seemed to be caught in a rapids that threatened its destruction, it really was. This in a fiction film. The audience will know if the shots are real, you said, and that will affect how they see the film.

I understand this. What must be true, must be true. What must not be true, can be made more true by invention. Your films, frame by frame, contain a kind of rapturous truth that transcends the factually mundane. And yet when you find something real, you show it....

You and your work are unique and invaluable, and you ennoble the cinema when so many debase it. You have the audacity to believe that if you make a film about anything that interests you, it will interest us as well. And you have proven it.

-- From an open letter from Roger Ebert to Werner Herzog.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

This week at SFC: Gilda

Our screenings are free and all are welcome.

Thursday December 6th

Short films show from 7:30. Main feature at 8:15.

Gilda (Charles Vidor/USA/1946/110')

Gilda contains the most famous role and peak performance of the World War II GI's love goddess, the beautiful, alluring and provocative, red-haired pin-up Rita Hayworth, with her sleek and sophisticated eroticism, lush hair and peaches and cream complexion. Director Charles Vidor lavished admiration on her in this film, helping her to reach her apotheosis as the reigning Hollywood 40s love goddess with this immortal role. Film posters cried: "There NEVER was a woman like Gilda!"

Hayworth's most famous scene is the seductive striptease (to the tune of Put the Blame on Mame) when she only removes long black satin gloves from her arms. Rita Hayworth's life was forever affected by her role, as she once reportedly said: "Every man I knew had fallen in love with Gilda and wakened with me."

The film-noirish screenplay by Marion Parsonnet (and adapted by Jo Eisinger), was taken from an original story by E. A. Ellington. The complex, eccentric, cynical tale was in keeping with the prevailing attitudes of the American post-war era, playing upon US political paranoia of German-Nazi war criminals who escaped and assumed new identities in South America. (Another similar plotline is found in Hitchcock's 1946 film Notorious). The film's themes include implied impotence, misogyny and homosexuality, although only suggested with liberal euphemisms and innuendo to bypass the Production Code. The semi-trashy crime drama is also known for the erotic strains of the strange, tawdry, aberrant romantic  menage a trois between the three main characters, Hayworth, Glenn Ford and George Macready.

It tells the story of Johnny Farell, a handsome young man who mysteriously becomes the manager of a casino in Buenos Aires. Johnny works for Ballin, a man who enjoys spying on his customers and associates from a control room in a gambling joint. Johnny forms the apex of a three-way love triangle that triggers the plot. Johnny and Gilda were once lovers, but his passion has now turned to a neurotic hatred of her. As the story unfolds, Ballin turns out to be fronting for a group of ex-Nazis; the scarred intensity of character actor Macready serves him well as a stereotypical Nazi. 

In addition to the sensuous Rita Hayworth, who is memorably remembered for her song, "Put the Blame on Mame," the picture also stars Ford as Johnny Farell, Macready as Ballin Mundsen, and Joseph Calleia as Obregon. 

Gilda is a cross between a hardcore noir adventure of the 1940s and the cycle of "women's pictures." Imbued with a modern perspective, the film is quite remarkable in the way it deals with sexual issues.

Charles Vidor, the director of Gilda, was born in Budapest in l900 and died of heart attack, in l959, while shooting Song Without End in Vienna. Among his best-known films are: Cover Girl (l944), which also starred Rita Hayworth; Hans Christian Anderson (l952); with Danny Kaye, Love Me or Live Me (l956), featuring James Cagney and Doris Day; and the 1957 remake of Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, with Jennifer Jones and Rock Hudson.