November 22–29, 2001
(Wed., Nov. 28, 4:15 and 9:15 p.m.; Thu., Nov. 29, 4:15 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 2, 4:15 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 3, 7 p.m., County Theater, 20 E. State St., Doylestown, 215-345-6789, www.countytheater.org)
Sure, Screenpicks sang the praises of this magnificent 1963 blend of social realism and escapist fantasy back in August, but that was DVD, this is film. The County snaps up a print of the recently restored film for a handful of screenings you’d be a pillock to miss.
I’ve never seen a DVD that flashed a disclaimer before it would let you listen to the audio commentary, but it’s soon clear why crazy/beautiful merits that unique honor. While director John Stockwell and star Kirsten Dunst are quick to credit Disney/Touchstone for funding the semi-gritty teen flick in the first place, it’s abundantly clear neither is overjoyed with the studio’s mandate (inspired by the flap over "indecent" entertainment) to bring the film in under the PG-13 wire, nor with studio-mandated reshoots that spell out the drama in block letters. It’s not clear greater freedom would have improved the story of a rebellious congressman’s daughter (Dunst) who falls for a hardworking Latino classmate (Jay Hernandez) — despite Stockwell’s attempts to show Dunst’s alcohol-fueled decline, too much of Shane Hurlbut’s cinematography looks like it was lifted from car commercials. (To be sure, it’s tough to show a teenager descending into alcoholism when you’re not allowed to see her drink; Stockwell recalls how he was forced to cut all scenes in which Dunst raises a brown-wrapped 40 to her lips, even though she still carries the bottle and is obviously drunk in the scene.) c/b is too self-conscious about its own "bravery," too rib-nudging in its depiction of "real" teenage life. Sure, it’s more true to life than Bring It On, but in some ways, not nearly as perceptive. Bruce Davison brings great depth to his role as Dunst’s father, a well-meaning liberal congressman — modeled, so the commentary tells us, after Tom Hayden — who can’t do more than make sad eyes at a daughter he doesn’t know how to understand. But ultimately, the flash outweighs the substance. Too beautiful, not crazy enough.
(Wed.-Sat., Nov. 28-Dec. 1, $7–$10, Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St., 215-569-9700, www.princemusictheater.org)
In case you can’t plump for the mammoth new Buster Keaton box set — if you’re reanding this, you know what I want for Christmas — the Prince serves up a more modestly priced buffet: four nights of Keaton shorts and short features. Wednesday through Friday, see three hourlong features — The Navigator, Seven Chances and College— at 7:30 p.m., each accompanied by an opening short. And return Saturday at 3 or 8 p.m. for a trio of shorts — The Boat, The Goat and The Electric House (no relation to any in-development sitcoms). Saturday’s shorts will be accompanied by live music from the After Quartet, who will host a free discussion on the art of scoring silent films at 6:30 p.m. (The movies’ll cost you, though.) If you caught The General at PFWC in May, or if you’ve got a long enough memory to recall the last Keaton festival five years ago, or if you’re just a fan of old Stoneface, don’t miss it.
(Tue., Nov. 27, 7:30 p.m., free, Chestnut Hill Free Library, 8711 Germantown Ave., www.armcinema25.com/tuesdaynights.html)
The IMDb page for Marguerite Duras’ 1975 film contains exactly two user comments: one headlined "This film transcends everything," the other, "Maybe the worst film of all time." As French as French can be, Duras has always polarized audiences, whether with her difficult, deliberately impassive films or her philosophically opaque novels. India Song overtly concerns the story of a bored colonial wife (Delphine Seyrig) in 1930s India — ennui being to Duras what screaming fat men are to the Coen brothers — but Duras’ technique is anything but narrative. Or so available sources would lead one to believe. Put it this way: The Chestnut Film Group’s promotional e-mail contains a Dave Kehr quote calling it "a film that is extremely boring in rather fascinating ways" — and that’s promotional material. If that sounds like your cup of tea, drink up.
On the Waterfront
How to watch Elia Kazan’s 1954 masterpiece? There’s too much brilliance in the film to subsume all of it beneath the rubric of Kazan’s infamous naming of names before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. And yet you can hardly ignore Kazan’s shame, either, not without disgracing the memory of those who held to their principles and watched their lives disintegrate as a result. As commentators Richard Schickel and Jeff Young point out, the film’s climactic courtroom scenes are in fact among the least convincing, the one place where Kazan steps back from lionizing the informer who helps to bring down a crooked, putatively leftist organization. And the final scenes, where Kazan desperately tries to have it both ways, ring hollow as well — Brando floors the crooked union boss, then stages a rally right out of Waiting for Lefty. But what goes before — Brando’s animalistic tour de force of a performance, the screen presences of Rod Steiger, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden — is indelible, indestructible. The way Brando mixes up caged sexuality and guilty morals, Cobb’s brute fury when his corrupt stranglehold is threatened: you can’t wish those gone, whatever the context. Kazan deserves every bit of the condemnation he got two years ago in the run-up to his honorary Oscar, but movies have lives of their own, and sometimes bad deeds produce good art. (Look at Husbands and Wives.) Shickel and Young seem conflicted about how much to address the subject, but the only proper praise of Waterfront is one that doesn’t skirt Kazan’s history, but includes it.