Monday, December 7, 2009

Le Notti Bianche (1957)

A film by Luchino Visconti from 1957 starring Marcello Mastroianni and Maria Schell based on a short story by Feodor Dostoevsky.

I discovered Fellini about 40 years ago -- I became a self declared 'expert' on Fellini with Juliet of the Spirits having read a book and looked at the wonderful stills in the book. Unfortunately, another 30 years passed before I managed to watch Juliet. Huntington, West Virginia didn't get a lot of Fellini films passing through. Fellini was 'easy.' Visconti took a lot longer for me to appreciate.

My first encounter (and last for many years) with Visconti was with The Leopard. I saw it somewhere around 1965 (it was released in '63, but we're talking West Virginia...) and I saw the US release with 20 minutes hacked from the film. By the closing credits I was the only person still in the theater. I had no idea what I had just seen, but I knew it was wonderful!

Later, the only scene I could remember involved Claudia Cardinale (long pause....) and Alan Delon rambling through the house; at one point tumbling onto a bed in an unused part of the mansion. Now keep in mind that nothing happens: as in everybody's clothing stays more or less intact, but the scene had a wonderful erotic charge. And, oh yes, the dance toward the end of the film -- I remember that as well.... Ah, yes... the scene with Burt Lancaster (a surprising, but perfect lead) dancing with the not quite blushing bride to be and clearly a hundred times the man her fiance would ever be. Amazing....

But I'm here to discuss White Nights -- which is what Le Notti Bianche means in English translation.

First, let me begin by acknowledging the obvious: Visconti had an eye for beautiful women. Maria Schell is as different from Claudia Cardinale as day from night, but oh so lovely!

And Marcello Mastroianni...! What can I say? The man is truly awesome. I first saw him in Le Dolche Vita directed by Fellini -- no, wait... that's not true. The years slip away and I see him as the worn out hero (anti-hero?) of the semi-comic 10th Victim. Of course, only years later did I actually see Le Dolche Vita.... Whatever.... I contend he defined the world weary hero, still trying to find his way in a world where nothing quite works and expressing this for perhaps several generations -- for me at least.

White Nights. The sets. The costumes. The strange dark night world of Visconti's dream. Early on our hero befriends a dog (and I think in many ways this is a pivotal moment) who briefly leads him toward the underworld where shadowed figures loom in backlit passageways. A lovely woman crying on a bridge. Marcello's face wonders, 'will I be lucky tonight?' But it's the romantic moment that seizes him.

Is the beautiful woman he encounters insane? Is she naive? a tease? All of these things?

I fought a temptation after the first 15 minutes or so to turn off the movie: Talk. Cry a bit. Talk. Sniffle. Talk some more. Yawn.... But then... a story emerges. A story so implausible that I still wondered about our heroine's sanity -- but which intrigued me. And I also began to realize that our characters had wandered into a magic world -- think an Italian version of Magic Realism.

Following Visconti into his rabbit hole, and out the other side where our heroine's silly story, hardly to be believed and certainly not to be imagined that it could resolve itself positively -- does!

And Marcello wanders down the street in the dawn past the Esso station. For one happy ending we must have another unhappy one -- the balance of nature -- of art at least.

But then a small hopeful moment as the dog from the opening moments reappears and wagging his tail (tale) approaches our sad hero, who pauses once, twice to pet the little fellow before moving on his way.

It's been a tough night for both of them, but it's dawn of a new day. Hopeful.

5 smilies out of 5

Tin Man

I watched the Tin Man again over the past few nights.

TM is a reworking of the Wizard of Oz and no, it's not as good as the '39 classic, but for the first two episodes it holds together.

Then episode 3 arrives and, well... 'the center does not hold.' as someone wiser than myself once said.

I'm trying to avoid spoilers, so I'll deliberately remain vague -- sort of....

Richard Dreyfuss is listed as a main character, but he gets short shrift and doesn't even appear in Episode 3.

In fact, I suspect they wrote episode 3 after showing Episode 1 and listening to a bunch of 13 year old SyFy fans who were in a wheezing rage wondering what 'that ole geezer' was doing in a Sci Fi flick.

Sorry kids, I appreciate your aesthetic, but golly, Richard could have really upped the ante on this flick -- if TPTB would have given him something to work with! The movie hints at a few interesting ideas that simply become lost in the mire.

One important hint is that the Tin Man worked for the Mystic Man (Dreyfus) -- What? Run that past again. When we see the Mystic Man he is a shyster con man who's been fried by the villain with a strange drug. But he must have once had more going on. But we never find out. Instead, Episode 3 takes us after The Seeker, who essentially takes over the Mystic Man's role -- only in the guise of a nonentity who functions as a place holder as we trudge along toward the (predictable) ending.

Now the ending isn't too bad, lots of nice flash and bang and a resolution to a redemption theme set up at the end of Episode 2.

Unfortunately, once we more or less realize what's going on (at the end of epi 2) the story just unwinds in a predictable pattern.

My guess is that the original author had a darker take on the O.Z., one in which Richard D and perhaps some others would have had a place to wiggle. But TPTB decided to fluff things up a bit and likely brought in a few hacks to pound out a new improved 3rd act, dump the best actor of the bunch (Richard D, of course), and splice everything together with a twisty tie and a nod to the gods of the sacred cliche.

Well, enough.

I give it 3 of 5 smilies for 2 great episodes, Richard Dreyfus and a cute heroine.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Whew! NaNo is complete...

December has arrived and for the third year I have completed NaNoWriMo -- this time with 52,876 words. I even managed to arrive at 'the end!'

Back in '07 I completed NaNo and reached an ending. But once I began editing phase (which for me actually begins in January) I realized the beastie really didn't work. So through '08 I added a bit, tossed aside a bit and by November realized I had to do it again! I also discovered that one of my characters had managed to get herself pregnant along the way. Serves me right for letting her run off on her own!

50 K words later and with a successful NaNo '08 under my belt (so to speak) I had my main characters strewn out across the country and generally had no idea what to do next.

And through '09 I tried to settle and finish it, but every time I thought I had a hook in the beast something unexpected would happen.

And so November arrived....

By that time I knew more or less where things headed (or so I believed) and even spent a good bit of the first day or so working on my time line (a thingee that some people might call an outline).

I tossed a section where a character went into the mountains and and managed to get himself caught in a blizzard (never a good thing) and rerouted him north (things are warmer in the north -- think southern hemisphere). I even managed to rescue a character from having to cross a swamp full of undefined nasties! If I had known more about August in the Louisiana bayou, I might have let them go! Could have been fun.

And things moved along as they always do.

Then about three weeks into NaNO '09 my rerouted character decided he had to go somewhere and the dweeb wandered back into the mountains! Another character went off without his protector and a third decided to do something good by conning every body (an idea which seemed about as bad as any I had managed to come up with).

And all this about 6 or 7 days before I had to wrap this thing up!

Well, somehow it all worked out. A few people paid for their foolishness, more didn't and everybody lived happily ever after -- well, OK, not really, but I did manage to pull a few things together and get to a semblence of an ending.

So, what's my point?

Just this, that if you want to do NaNo or some such enterprise (there's a group who plan to write 5,000 line Epic Poems in May:, if you're interested) and your characters just won't cooperate then just write what they happen to do at the time. Describing the weather and what a character happens to see off in the distance can buy a few words as well....

Eventually, your character's will drift around to getting where and doing what they ought. Trust the little creeps, they most likely know what they're about better than you do.

And just keep writing....