Tuesday, October 22, 2013


I envy anyone who's yet to watch Don't Look Now.  Even as a film that's only gained acclaim over the years since its 1973 release, it's still an under-the-radar classic waiting to be discovered by many of the most voracious film fans, despite recently being declared the best British film of all time by Time Out London.  Directed by the great Nicholas Roeg, whose 1971 film Walkabout is in my personal top ten, Don't Look Now tells the story of Laura and John Baxter (winningly portrayed by Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland), a couple still processing the drowning death of their daughter, Christine (Sharon Williams).

Based on a short story by Daphne Du Maurier, whose other works had previously been adapted by Alfred Hitchcock for Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, and The Birds, Roeg's treatment of the supernatural, manifested as psychic visions experienced by John and the questionable predictions of a clairvoyant blind woman (Hilary Mason), is a brilliant ploy to distract from the film's central theme; at its core, Don't Look Now is about primal, insurmountable grief from which there is no chance of recovery.

From the magnificently brutal opening where we witness Christine's drowning to the wicked irony of the film's denouement, the whole of the film is spent observing how tragedy has altered John, Laura, and their connection to each other.  Roeg's patented intercutting of time and space constructs a present where, though physically in Venice, John's emotional and mental states are frozen in the moment when his daughter perished back in England.  But even the current timeline offers no respite, as John begins seeing what could be visions of his daughter and wife against the waterlogged vistas of this iconic Italian backdrop. 

Don't Look Now is a challenging and ambitious vision of what horror films can achieve if the locus of terror is placed internally within the characters.  Nothing against films where the threat comes from without, but Roeg's map of the unspeakable is more finely illustrated than those of even the most prolific and revered craftsmen (and women) of the genre.  If you've never seen Don't Look Now, it's time.  Everyone else, why not give it another go?  It's a damn fine film, more than worthy of another look.

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Friday, October 4, 2013


'Tis the season, so expect at least a few posts on The Rain Falls Down on Portlandtown during October to focus on horror (and/or just plain spooky) movies.  That being said, I wanted to start things off with a bang by highlighting a film from my personal top-ten.  Pauline Kael called Jack Clayton's 1961 gothic horror masterpiece The Innocents, "the best ghost movie I've ever seen."  Despite disagreeing with Kael on a few of her more controversial opinions (her vocal distaste for Hitchcock and Shoah being the most glaring examples), we're absolutely cine-buddies when it comes to the creepy atmospherics on offer in The Innocents.

One could certainly quibble with Pauline over the matter of whether or not Clayton's adaptation of Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" is, in fact, a ghost story at all: Deborah Kerr's governess character, Miss Giddens, is arguably the most sinister thing going on in the film, given her determination to "love people and help them...even if they refuse my help...even if it hurts them sometimes."  Indeed, much of the pleasure of watching The Innocents boils down to the question of whether Miss Giddens supernatural encounters are real or imagined.

With two damaged, young children under her care, Kerr's unreliable sense of the objective steers the film towards a terrifying close, where no viewer can truly know whether the children (and Giddens) are being haunted by the spirits of their former governess and her lover or by Miss Giddens' stringently orthodox notions about morality and humanity's failure to rise to it.  As the college film professor who turned me on to The Innocents noted, there are strong clues present during the opening title sequence, just listen to the trembling prayer being offered up by Giddens.

In addition the central conundrum of the film, The Innocents sports crisply composed black and white compositions by the great English cinematographer Freddie Francis (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Elephant Man), biting dialogue script doctored by none other than Truman Capote, and two of the creepiest child actors (Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin) ever to have graced the silver screen.  All of which falls under the direction of Jack Clayton, whose later work on Something Wicked This Way Comes spooked an entire generation of Disney fans.

Out of the entire pack of older films that I'll be posting about this month in this "October Chills" series, The Innocents is by far the best of the bunch. 

Highly recommended viewing!

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Thursday, October 3, 2013


Some time back, I mentioned Portland's perennial love for a very short list of films, many of which have the name Jim Henson attached to them.  I'm not even going to pretend to understand.  While I definitely had my time in the sun with Mr. Henson, I've been out of short pants for a few decades now and don't find myself returning all that often to his oeuvre, though that's likely to change as my kiddo piles on the years.

Okay, full disclosure: not a day goes by without an Elmo clip being leveraged in exchange for tooth brushing, but I digress.

For those of you who enjoy marinating in childhood nostalgia, there's something to celebrate as the 99W Drive-in in Newberg welcomes back Henson's 1986 film Labyrinth, an extended experiment in puppets, musical fantasy, and David Bowie in very tight (or is it magical?) pants.  Sure, there's a fall chill in the air and the 99W isn't exactly a short drive from PDX, but bring a blanket, Portland, and you'll be rewarded for your efforts with a 35mm screening of your 3rd or 4th favorite film that doesn't star Seth Rogen or Paul Rudd, okay?  And, since the drive-in recently succeeded in their campaign to digitally upgrade their operation, this is pretty close to your final chance to see a film projected on actual film at a local outdoor theater.

As is the gold standard for drive-ins, admission to the 99W gets you a double scoop of film entertainment.  This week's second feature is We're the Millers, which currently holds a not-so-fresh score of 48% on a certain "tomatometer".  But, hey...Labyrinth!

Labyrinth plays in a double feature with We're the Millers on Friday, October 4th through Sunday, October 6th at the 99W Drive-in.  More info available here.

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