Monday, October 23, 2006


Here's my review of a snippet of Tony Conrad's Joan Of Arc, from PTW.

Speaking of movie theaters, I was in two of 'em this weekend - saw Marie Antoinette on Friday night, and The Prestige at 10:15 Sunday morning. Surprisingly, my wife and I were not the only people in the theater for the latter flick.

MA was the best of Sofia Coppola's movies so far, though clearly her work - it's all about a little lost girl trapped in a great big intimidating world full of unexpected responsibilities and demands, blah blah blah. Kirsten Dunst is more likeable than she's been (for me, anyway) in anything to date, and Jason Schwartzman, who I have consistently loathed to date, is not likeable, but he is tolerable, and that's a big step up. The best people in the cast are Rip Torn, as Schwartzman's father the King of France, and Danny Huston, as Dunst's older brother. (I've only just started paying attention to Huston - I thought he was terrific in the Australian "Western" The Proposition, playing a curiously dignified outlaw chieftain; he was kinda updating Hugh Keays-Byrne's terrifying work as the Toecutter in Mad Max, without the homoeroticism.)

It's a beautifully shot movie, filmed on location in Versailles (and almost nowhere else, which has been the biggest complaint about the thing from whiny critics expecting a bigger dose of politics - somehow Coppola's failure to take the side of the mob overshadows the achievement of her perfect evocation of palace life's suffocating, opulent insularity). Once or twice, when Dunst moves to a country house, we get shots of her running through the grass, loose white dress billowing and sunspots dancing across the lens, that seem like Virgin Suicides outtakes, but for the most part it's an indoor movie, the camera sliding down hallways and across vast sitting-rooms laden with elaborate furniture and even more elaborate clothing and wigs and pastries.

And about the music: it's a thrilling choice, particularly when the opening credits, in hot pink, flash across a black screen scored to Gang Of Four's "Natural's Not In It." That sets up a more active movie than Coppola ultimately delivers, but there are still some great scenes where the music brings everything to life in a way period sounds never could have - a whirling masked ball where everyone's dancing to Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Hong Kong Garden," and Dunst's 18th birthday party, set to New Order's "Ceremony." Oh, and the shoe-shopping scene, played over (an admittedly kinda distractingly/superfluously noisy Kevin Shields remix of) Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy."

One indelible impression I came away with is that Sofia Coppola is decidedly not her father's daughter, as filmmakers go. Where his impulse is always to go overwrought and big (The Conversation is the only counter-example I can think of right this second), she's very much about tiny moments and slowness - Dunst's long, boring carriage ride from Austria to France in the beginning of the movie is like something Werner Herzog would have shot, a real test of patience for an audience already jacked up on itchy postpunk rock. This is a very interesting movie that deserves all the plaudits it's received, and a wider release, too. I bet it'll be huge with teenage girls when it hits DVD.

Christopher Nolan's The Prestige is a very different movie - much darker, with no music that I can remember, and absolutely no sun-dappled capering through the fields. It takes place almost entirely in darkened London bars, restaurants and theaters, wherein two magicians, played by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, battle for supremacy/revenge. One kills the other's wife onstage, and it's on. Both performers are really good, but the best work is done by David Bowie as Nikola Tesla. Unfortunately, Tesla's involvement turns the movie into science fiction, where until that point it had been a tricky (Nolan is the director of Memento, remember) but ultimately grounded story, full of temporal leapfrogging and doubles, both onstage and off. It's hard to say much about the movie without giving away crucial secrets, so I'll just leave it at that. But reportedly there was a minimum of digital work done, because Nolan wanted to preserve the mechanics of 19th century stage magic, and good for him. (The brief presence of Ricky Jay as Jackman and Bale's employer, early on, is a plus for magic nerds.) Oh, and Scarlett Johannson's breasts are in the movie, too, attempting (but sadly failing) to escape from a number of fetching magician's-assistant ensembles. But in fine stage tradition, they're intended as misdirection, so try not to miss anything crucial while you're staring.

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