Favorites: Orchestra Rehearsal

Orchestra Rehearsal (1978)
Directed by Federico Fellini
Written by Federico Fellini, Brunello Rondi
Produced by Michael Fengler, Renzo Rossellini
Starring Balduin Baas, Umberto Zuanelli, Sibyl Mostert, Ferdinando Villella, Elizabeth Labi, Andy Miller, Clara Colosimo, Claudio Ciocca, Luigi Uzzo, David Maunsell, Franco Javarone, Cesare Martignon, Franco Mazzieri, Daniele Pagani, Angelica Hansen, Paolo Fiorino, Adelaide Aste, Ronaldo Bonacchi, Franco Iavarone, Francesco Aluigi, Heinz Kreuger
He was always fond of sampling sociopolitical phenomena through a microcosmic lens, and never more so than in Fellini's facetia of an orchestra's eventual insurrection against its carping, autocratic conductor (Baas). Though a rehearsal hall's vitreous fourth wall, the ensemble's spry amanuensis and factotum (Zuanelli) at the threshold of his retirement is first to bespeak the audience with a history of the hall now deconsecrated from its former glory as a church and auditorium, before the musicians follow suit ere their rehearsal and during a breather following one of their musical director's diatribes. In gregarity, societal variety's personified and contrasted, and idiosyncrasies evinced in interviews with an unseen television crew: a burly yet gentle bass tubist (Javarone) depicts the selection of his instrument as a commitment predicated as much on ruth as affinity; talkative percussionists avouch their exceptional frolic; neuroses and transports are ascribed alike by trumpeters (Mazzieri, et al.) to their artistic discharge; the flute is conferred by its lanky blower (Mostert) of gawky and exuberant charm a singular mysticism; wistful yet waggish trombonists (Pagani, Fiorino) introspect; a cheery, fetching pianist (Labi) declares sociality her sine qua non of performance; solitary spirituality, authority and antiquity are accredited to the oboe by its practitioner (Miller); lonely and chubby, a harp's plucker (Colosimo) clings to her subsistence; one conceited cellist (Villella) professes the primacy of his instrument and the violin (which he subsequently derides); a clarinetist's (Martignon) anecdote elucidates the clarity of the woodwind; their union delegate (Ciocca) commends labor reforms that heightened the professional musician's dignity and salary; the Teutonic maestro in his suite bemoans a disenchantment with his symphonic society's impudence and indiscipline, reminiscing of the felicity affected by his mentor's mastery, and the age of his early appointments, when he commanded subordination of a finical standard. Throughout, recurrent tremors forebode a tumult to which the unruffled musical director repairs: a protest in which mutinous instrumentalists degenerated into a doggery vandalize the hall with graffiti and rhythmic cacophony first divides the orchestra into their conductor's silent supporters and chanting dissidents; the schismatic broken consort's rebels again predictably split into proponents of absolute meter purposing to supplant the maestro with a massive metronome, countered by wilder apostles of individualistic naturalism. Armageddon's by demolition typed at this riot's climax before order's restored for the sake of survival, affirming the harmonious necessity of tradition, unity and authority. Less dynamic than his masterpieces, Fellini's brief feature's composed primarily of expositive static shots and elegant pans in swift time with Nino Rota's lilting passages or slow scans of speculative significance. It's nearly more abrupt than its substance can afford, but Rehearsal's scale and parabolic profundity exceeds the usual proportion of a duration shy of 70 minutes.


Execrable: Diabolique

Diabolique (1996)
Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik
Written by Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Don Roos
Produced by Gary Barber, Chuck Binder, Jerry Offsay, Bill Todman Jr., James G. Robinson, Marvin Worth, Gary Daigler, Kirsten W. Welles
Starring Isabelle Adjani, Sharon Stone, Chazz Palminteri, Kathy Bates, Spalding Gray, Shirley Knight, Allen Garfield
Chechik's transition from direction of vacuous music videos to feature filmmaking initially produced some entertaining offerings: half of his initial theatrical quartet comprise the raunchy holiday favorite National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Benny & Joon, a charmingly comedic psychologic romance in the familiar mold of David and Lisa; that the Canadian native elected to reinterpret Clouzot's classic thriller (which he stupidly animadverted as "flawed and misogynist") in a feminist context may be imputed to provincial idiocy, but his failure to fulfill any facet of this purported thriller only denotes a thoroughgoing ineptitude buoyed by vanity. Stone really is a wonder, and her career a testament to the enduring pull of the casting couch: how can anyone so egregiously overact by dint of such wooden delivery? After over a decade cast in prominent roles, this woman possessed yet not a grain of histrionic instinct or technique, posturing ludicrously in her supposedly sultry role as the mathematics instructor of a boarding school engaged in one of several affairs juggled by its sadistic headmaster (Palminteri) in rivalry with his pristine, cardiacally fragile wife (Adjani). Stone's nigh beyond salvage, but Chechik's sweeping incapability's also transparent via his able players: Adjani and Palminteri are also uncharacteristically stiff, and Gray seems to be channeling John Glover's fussier personae. Resembling a distaff Joe Don Baker, only Bates prevails by plausibility as an absurdly invented detective defined primarily by a mastectomy she references within her first ten lines. Not at all subserved by its moronic impertinence, schlockily recriminative repartee, costuming and set design evoking all the shoddiest points of noir crime dramas and a sapphic subtext of the hoariest convention, sprinkled with misandrist quips for a demographic prepossessed by Lifetime's fare, bound by Roos' typically prosaic dialogue and scored by numbers to the humdrum hilt courtesy of tiresome Randy Edelman, Chechik's turkey trudges on and on and on and on to a conclusion of brutal fatuity, at every opportunity almost calculatedly shirking suspense. In Hollywood, dreck begets dreck: in a small part played with suitable stilt not too many years after penning and co-producing the unbearably cornball features Regarding Henry and Forever Young, unsightly and nepotistic golden boy J.J. Abrams appears as one in a duo of A/V dorks to foretoken his perpetuation of uninspired trash in this exact idiom. Brilliant for their adapted invention, Clouzot's best movies are unassailable, recreated exceptionally on rarest occasions only by virtuosi such as Friedkin and Chabrol. Inadvertently, unrepentantly, Chechik certified that genre journeymen are seldom able auteurs, a verity apparently unfathomable to studio executives.


Favorites: Opening Night

Opening Night (1977)
Directed and written by John Cassavetes
Produced by Sam Shaw, Al Ruban, Michael Lally
Starring Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, Joan Blondell, John Cassavetes, Paul Stewart, Laura Johnson, Zohra Lampert
The sudden death of an especially frantic fan (Johnson) following a theatrical performance is the catalyst that triggers its famous, jaded leading lady's (Rowlands) inevitable midlife crisis, prompting increasingly aberrant dysfunction, oppugnance to her role of a woman suffering the wane of her allure and all its associated power, and delusive encounters with the deceased as a reflection of her teenage self: initially affectionate visitations that lapse by realization to violent confrontations. Even as the volatile actress struggles by rationalization to deny all affinity to her wholly apposite persona during a succession of ebullitions and collapses, she's perforce the precessing lynchpin around which everyone in her compass revolves: the veteran playwright (Blondell) torn between fascination and frustration in observance of this tempest and equanimous producer (Stewart) who patiently weathers it, a former lover and co-star (Cassavetes) wisely distanced to sustain their professional relationship, her rock of a director (Gazzara) scarcely at amorous arm's length from the star he adores, and his quietly long-suffering wife (Lampert), whose envy of her is tempered by respect. Cassavetes' sixth collaboration with his spouse and most disastrous flop is one of his very finest films, shot in Pasadena with moderate experiment to maximize its evocation of shock, intimacy and the disquiet thrill of dramaturgy. By relegating himself to an imperative yet fittingly unflattering character, the independent icon situated himself optimally to work his experient cast to their utmost, substantiating both his trademark verisimilitude -- essentially a motional still-life in close-up -- and the veneer of staged artifice as parts parallel personalities. More indisposed than incapable of tackling her role's rigors, the frailties of Rowlands' lead dissolve the fourth wall to her attendees' mixed disdain and ovation -- indulgences culminating at the contemporaneity of her drunken prostration and the play's premiere in New York as an extemporary episode of unexpectedly triumphal compliance to her production's burden and audience's appetites. Regrettably, this feature's transient, overlooked theatrical runs in L.A. and NYC didn't mirror the eclat of its conclusion.