Category Archives: 1966 Movie reviews

Blow-Up-1966

Blow-Up-1966

Director-Michelangelo Antonioni

Starring-David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave

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Reviewed December 20, 2015

Grade: A

Blow-up is a mysterious and compelling 1966 (the spawn of more edgy films) thriller that undoubtedly influenced the yet to come 1974 masterpiece The Conversation, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, as both films are tense tales of intrigue focusing on technology as a tool to witness a murder. This film is legendary director Michelangelo Antonioni’s first English speaking film and what  a film it is.

Set in hip London in the 1960’s, it certainly portrays the fashion world in an interesting way. The story is about a fashion photographer named Thomas, who is in high demand. He revels in bedding women so they may have their photos taken by this rock star photographer and is chased around London by gorgeous women. He aborts a photo shoot one day because he is bored. He is not the nicest guy in the world and is rather an unlikable character. But perhaps that is secondary or even intentional. While walking in Maryon Park one day, he comes upon a couple in the distance. They appear to be in the midst of a secret rendezvous, nervously kissing,   so  he begins photographing them. The woman, Jane,  (played by a very young Vanessa Redgrave) realizes they have been snapped and is furious- demanding the film. This sets off the mystery and the meat of the film.

The film is a tremendous achievement in cinematic intrigue. It is quite psychological and open to much interpretation, which is the genius of it. The main questions asked are “What exactly transpired in the park and who is responsible?”  We feel little sympathy for Thomas, which perhaps is intentional. and what about Jane? Talk about mysterious! We know little about her other than she has secrets, but is she responsible for the crime? Thomas and Jane play a sort of cat and mouse game throughout the film, both seemingly trying to outwit and outmaneuver the other. The unique aspect of the film is that the viewer will often ask questions- “was there even a crime committed”? “Are the events all in Thomas’s imagination or has he misinterpreted the series of events”? One will revel in the magnificence of these questions.

Comparisons to The Conversation were apparent to me right away- both feature one of the senses as a means to solving or realizing the crime committed- in The Conversation it is hearing, in Blow-Up it is sight. In both, the main character uses these senses for a living and both are arguably not the most likable characters. Both films feature mimes.  Both films are quite cerebral and furthermore, both are cinema gems for the “thinking man”.

Blow-Up  has weird, little intricate moments- a very tall, female, Russian model experiences an odd photo shoot with Thomas. Later,  a giggling pair of  young girls end up in a grappling match with Thomas after asking him to take their photos.  A topless (from behind) Jane prancing around Thomas’s apartment is an unusual scene.

As a first time viewer I adored this film and it is a good example of a film that really requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate and I look forward to doing just that, A fantastic creative achievement, Blow-Up is a masterpiece that can be dissected with each subsequent viewing.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-1966

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-1966

Director-Mike Nichols

Starring-Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton

Top 100 Films-#41

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Reviewed November 30, 2014

Grade: A

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? directed by Mike Nichols (The Graduate), is a dark film based on the play from the early 1960’s. Thankfully, by 1966, the Production Code had been lifted, allowing for edgier, darker films to get made- think The Wild Bunch or Bonnie and Clyde from the same time period. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is dreary, bleak, and with damn good acting by all four principles.

George and Martha (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) are an associate history professor and daughter of the college president respectively, living in a small New England town. They have a bitter love/hate relationship. One night they invite young newlyweds, Nick (George Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis), a new professor and his wife, over for drinks at 2:00 in the morning. From this point, a destructive night of verbal assaults and psychological games ensue with damaging and sad results for all parties involved, as their personal lives are exposed and dissected. At the forefront are George and Martha, who have a relationship based on insults, neediness, secrets, and booze. After an evening out, they return home and have a vicious fight. When their young friends arrive, the tension is thick. Eventually the young couple becomes sucked into the older couple’s web of dysfunction, aided by endless drinks throughout the night.

The film is shot very much like a play and filmed in black and white, which I found highly effective- most scenes take place in George and Martha’s house. While all four actors are great (and were all Oscar nominated), the standouts for me are Taylor and Dennis. This role is Taylor’s finest acting performance in my opinion- she is overweight, bitter, angry, frustrated, drunk, and at times vicious to her husband. It is a different performance from many of her other films roles and it is just dynamite. As her anger flairs up, one can feel the heat and intensity oozing from the screen. She goes from vulnerable and soft one moment to a grizzled, bitter woman the next. Dennis, conversely, is a pure innocent- kind, vulnerable, impressionable, and somewhat of a ninny. Having had too much brandy and spending more than one occasion in the bathroom, Dennis successfully plays giddiness and innocence to the hilt. Both Martha and Honey harbor dark secrets, which eventually are revealed.

The ambience is just amazing- black and white cinematography, a hot, suffocating feel to the film, it feels like a quiet little college hamlet and the setting of the eerily quiet wee hours of the morning is conveyed successfully. Each story told- mainly by George and Martha- is captivating in its viciousness (both usually belittling the other) that the film becomes mesmerizing in its shock value at the insults hurled. What will they say or do next? I loved the scene where Honey does an awkward dance at a late-night bar that the four of them go to. Also, the shotgun scene where George obtains the gun from the garage during one of Martha’s insulting tales is disturbing- what will he do with the gun? The stories involving George and Martha’s son are sad and mysterious- the viewer wonders what is going on. The final reveal gives me chills.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the greatest film adaptations of a play that I have ever seen.

Torn Curtain-1966

Torn Curtain-1966

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Paul Newman, Julie Andrews

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Reviewed July 5, 2013

Grade: A-

Torn Curtain is an under-appreciated and largely forgotten Cold War political thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock circa 1966. The fact is, the film is very good, but was troubled from the start, which presumably, has led to its poor reception and trip to film oblivion. The trouble with the film lies with the casting and otherwise is a compelling, suspenseful adventure.

Starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews- two enormous stars at the time the film was made, both were chosen by the studio, and neither did Hitchcock desire on the set. This led to conflict, especially with Newman, who disliked the script. His continued script “rewrites” and method acting annoyed the famous director.

Newman plays an American physicist, Michael Armstrong, who is attending a conference in Copenhagen. Andrews plays his assistant and fiancee, Sarah Sherman.  Michael mysteriously flies to East Germany, behind the Iron Curtain, unknowingly with a concerned Sarah in tow. This event sets off the political intrigue and espionage as Michael attempts to secure a formula and return it to the United States. But is he really a patriot or a defector, colluding with the Germans?

Presumably, the main reason for the poor reviews for Torn Curtain is the lack of chemistry between Newman and Julie Andrews coupled with behind the scenes problems with this film (both stars were unhappy throughout the shoot and Hitchcock did not want either actor in the film). In truth, there is little chemistry between the pair and I cannot help to think how delicious it would have been if Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren were cast instead! After all, this duo had great chemistry in Marnie, released just two years prior.

Despite the backstage drama, overall the film is complex, exciting, taut, and the bus escape scene is edge of your seat fantastic. The best scene though comes in the middle of the film when Michael is in East Germany. Revealed to be part of a syndicate enabling him to sneak out of the country, he goes to a remote farm, where he is involved in a tortuous fight with a security officer and a farmer’s wife. The scene is spectacular in its long length and edge of your seat drama.

The scenic locales are wonderful and the film is bright, colorful, and sharp, especially in Blu-Ray. The gorgeous opening scene is aboard a cruise-ship in the breathtaking Fjords of Scandanavia.

Frankly, I am surprised this film has not been rediscovered on a larger scale. Along with Topaz, Torn Curtain is another forgotten gem of Hitchcock’s, worthy of praise.