Thursday, November 26, 2015

happy gratitude day!

Everyone routinely mistakes George Seaton's "Miracle on 34th St." (1947), featuring a young Natalie Wood and John Payne (above) and Edmund Gwenn (below), for a Christmas movie. 


It's actually a Thanksgiving movie.  Well, almost.

Friday, November 20, 2015

indelible moment: "Sometimes a Great Notion"

Richard Jaekel's heartbreaking drowning/death in the 1972 film directed by and co-starring Paul Newman. Utterly unforgettable.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

cinema obscura: Buzz Kulik's "To Find a Man" (1972)

Lloyd Bridges and Pamela Sue Martin in Kulik's lost film, "To Find a Man"
Buzz Kulik, who died in 1999 at age 77, worked mostly in TV and is perhaps best known for his superior male weepie, "Brian's Song" (1971), about the friendship of NFLers Brian Piccolo (James Caan) and Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) and the eventual, tragic death of Piccolo.

He started his career on the tube and ended there. But for a brief period, Kulik - a selfless craftsman, if there ever was one - ventured onto the big screen with such titles as "Warning Shot" (1967), starring David Janssen; "Riot" (1969), with Jim Brown and Gene Hackman, and Burt Reynolds' "Shamus" (1973), co-starring a game Dyan Cannon.

And then there was "To Find a Man" (1972), a tiny gem-like feature, adapted from the S.J. Wilson novel by Arnold Schulman - an extremely well-cast piece about a young girl who, as they used to say, is in trouble and about the brave boy who steps up and shyly helps her out.

With this film and Peter Hyams' also underrated "Our Time" (1974), the young Pamela Sue Martin positioned herself as a starlet to watch before becoming waylaid by the "Dallas" TV series. She's cast opposite Darren O'Connor (brother of Glynnis), seen here in his only feature film.

They make a naturalistic, affecting couple.

The ace supporting cast includes Lloyd Bridges and Phyllis Newman as Martin's parents; Tom Ewell, cast against type as a doctor who performs abortions and Tom Bosely who, as another doctor, has the film's most memorable line. When Martin asks him what the fetus of her unborn child looks like, Bosley deadpans, "a tadpole." Also on hand are veteran character actress Antonia Rey and the then-newcomer Miles Chapin who would appear together a few years later in Milos Foreman's "Hair" (1979).

Yes, "To Find a Man" is a matter-of-fact abortion film, made when people could talk about the topic without seething.  It could never been made today - never - given the hyper-hysterical sociopolitical climate surrounding the issue (pro or con). All reason has disappeared.

Kulik's small film brims with compassion and, in Martin, it has an unstoppable life force. The director's affection for his material and his characters (and this actress) has never been more fervent - something that's revealed in the fully-realized performances that dot "To Find a Man."

Monday, November 09, 2015

delon et schneider

Alain Delon and Romy Schneider were the "it" couple when movie stars actually gave off some heat - and when their names weren't "cleverly" spliced together by some socially stunted journalist (read: Brangelina).

The affecting Romy passed way too young in 1982 (of cardiac arrest) and Delon has outlived her by 33 years.  He was married once - to Nathalie Delon from 1964 to 1969 - but only once.  His relationship with Romy both predated his marriage and followed it.  She died; he never married again.

Alain Delon turned 80 yesterday.  Joyeux Anniversaire!

tonight at 8. center orchestra. two on the aisle.

Turner airs "the best damn musical!" this evening.  Can't wait.  It is possibly my all-time favorite film (as anyone who follows this site surely already knows).  Two items on my wish list, however. 

First, I hope that Robert (or Ben, or whoever introduces "Gypsy" tonight) doesn’t remind us for the 1,438th time that the role of Madam Rose was written for Ethel Merman.  (We know already. Besides, Roz rules.)  And, two, that the character isn't referred to - for the 1,439th time - as "Mama Rose."  She isn't called that in either the play or the film (as author Arthur Laurents kept reminding people).  She's called Rose, Madam Rose and Mama.

But never Mama Rose.  Never. That said, bring on Caroline!

Sunday, November 01, 2015

cinema obscura: Peter Ustinov's "Romanoff and Juliet" (1961)

Ignored by its distributor, Universal Pictures, for almost five dacades now, "Romanoff and Juliet" is Peter Ustinov's Cold War satire that playfully juxtaposes the familiar Shakepeare plot with the political atmosphere that was simmering in 1961. To the best of my knowledge, it has never been available on home entertainment in any form and I can't recall the last time it was televised. I'm guessing forty years at least.

I'm seriously dating myself here.

Sandra Dee and John Gavin (above), who also teamed the same year in Henry Levin's "Tammy, Tell Me True" (also for Universal), play the title characters - he being the son of the Soviet Ambassador to Concordia and she the daughter of his American counterpart. Ustinov essays the role of the leader of Concordia, virtually playing it drunk, and makes a most disarmimg cupid for Romanoff and Juliet.

Ustinov's satire compares favorably with "The Mouse That Roared," Jack Arnold's Cold War satire from the same period, but it inexplicably remains less known than Arnold's film.

The 1958 play which Ustinov wrote and on which his film was based was directed by none-other-than George S. Kaufman and included incidental music by Harold Rome ("Fanny") with lyrics written by Ustinov and ... Anthony Hopkins. Elizabeth Allen played Juliet and Edward Atienza played Romanoff. Ustinov recreated his original Broadway role for the film.

Note in Passing: Speaking of "Tammy, Tell Me True," it is available on DVD in a boxed set from MCA/Universal that includes "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957) and "Tammy and the Doctor" (1963). I don't know about the other two "Tammys," but I'm a sucker for "Tammy, Tell Me True."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

cinema obscura: two with don johnson

Don Johnson is one of those effortless actors who rarely, if ever, attracts praise. His softshoe performances, more often than not expended on worthless films, have battled against the distraction of his tabloid life.

His signature role remains one that he played on TV - as Detective "Sonny" Crockett on the TV series, "Miami Vice" (1984-1990) - although he was much more commanding in the Paul Newman role in the 1985 TV adaptation of "The Long Hot Summer," playing alongside Judith Ivey, Jason Robards, Cybill Shepherd and Ava Gardner.

His film career has been largely negligible.

But for one brief moment, he shined in two too-little-seen films that should have jump-started a life on the big screen.

"Sweet Hearts Dance" - a 1989 effort by writen by playwright Ernest Thompson ("On Golden Pond") and directed by Robert Greenwald (who also helmed "Xanadu" and who now makes excellent liberal-leaning political documentaries) - is a lovely, mournful little film about disillusionment, about being young but not as young as you once were and realizing that time has passed while you're still waiting.

Waiting for what?

For something, anything - for your life to get started.

That's what hits Johnson's character, Wiley Boon, and to a lesser extent his best friend, Sam (Jeff Daniels). Wiley has everything that has evaded Sam - a wife (Susan Sarandon) and kids - and Sam can't understand why Wiley is so unhappy. Sam, on the other hand, is self-aware. He knows what ails him - and Adie (Elizabeth Perkins), a new teacher in town, just might make a difference in his life. We get two duets here.

This tiny ensemble settles in nicely under Greenwald's direction, with Johnson in particular exhibiting strong innocence and innocent strength.

His is a solid performance.

In 1991, Johnson teamed with his then-wife Melanie Griffith for "Paradise," Mary Agnes Donoghue's evocative American remake of Jean-Lopu Hubert's 1987 rural French film, "Le Grand Chemin" ("The Grand Highway"). Hubert's fragile material travels well to America under Donoghue's careful, sensitive direction, which honors elements otherwise abandoned by the American film industry - namely, attention to people and the common issues and crises in their lives.

Johnson and Griffith play a childless couple whose young son died two years earlier and whose lives are disrupted, blissfully, by the arrival of a little boy (Elijah Wood), a friend's son who has come to spend the summer with them in the wetlands of South Carolina. (A very young Thora Birch, in her film debut, charms as a local kid who befriends Wood).

Johnson summons a natural honesty and candidness that provide the supporting titanic structure for Griffith's major performance - a great piece of film acting by Melanie, well worth checking out.

Much of what happens in "Paradise" is moodily emotional and internal, which may explain why the film came in under the radar when it was initially released - and why it is now, sadly, a lost movie.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

to dub or not to dub / part two

Continuing the topic addressed in the previous essay, much more troublesome - for me, at least - than singing being dubbed in musicals are those players whose entire vocal performances have been dubbed.

Case in point: The charming singer Joanie Sommers who made her inauspicious film debut in the 1961 Don Taylor film, "Everything's Ducky," starring Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett.

Taylor, the affable actor who played the groom opposite Elizabeth Taylor in Vincente Minnelli's "Father of the Bride" (1950), directed a few episodes of several TV series before making his big-screen directorial debut with "Everything's Ducky," a comedy for Columbia.

It's about two sailors (Rooney and Hackett) and a talking ... duck.

Sommers had a distinctive speaking and singing voice - soft, velvety, with a slight tomboyish pull to it. She is perhaps best-known for her hit version of the song "One Boy" from the play and film, "Bye Bye Birdie." But her voice is unrecognizable - alien - in "Everything's Ducky."

For some bizarre reason, Taylor (or someone) decided to completely re-record her dialogue using another actress's voice. They even dubbed over Sommers' giggles in the film. It's an insane conceit - akin to replacing the singular voice of, say, a Debra Winger or a Zooey Deschanel.

It was never revealed exactly who dubbed Joanie Sommers in "Everything's Ducky," although Columbia did manage to credit the actor - Walker Edmiston - who provided the voice of the duck. Go figure.

This wasn't the first time that a studio did something drastic with an actress' voice. When Ingrid Thulin's voice in Minnelli's 1962 version of "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" was considered too thick and indecipherable for the average American moviegoer, Metro recruited no less than Angela Lansbury to read all her lines.

At least, Thulin was already an established actress - well, certainly in Europe. But Sommers was brand-new to acting.

And so was Jacqueline Bisset, who had one of her more memorable early screen roles in Stanley Donen's "Two for the Road" (1967) - and her husky, trained voice, also very familiar, was dubbed. Word is that Donen actually needed Bisset to reloop some of her dialogue but, as she was already off, working on another film and unavailable, another actress, also never identified, was brought in to dub her entire vocal performance.

Am I the only one who finds all this distracting and disturbing? I mean, a person's voice is a big part of a performance - nay, it's 100% of the performance. I don't know how it can be easily replaced.

Is any artistic excuse legitimate?

More troublingl is what director Hugh Hudson did to Andie MacDowell in her first screen role in his "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" (1984). He took MacDowell's charming, enticing twang and replaced it with the patrician tones of Glenn Close, his decision never explained.

It was a situation that humiliated both actresses. (I've never interviewed either MacDowell or Close but I spent most of my career dying to ask them about it.)  It's evident how MacDowell was humiliated but Close was also affected, put in a bad light.  At the time, she was brand-new to films, but successfully so:  She had received three consecutive Oscar nominations for her first films - George Roy Hill's "The World According to Garp"  (1982), Lawrence Kasdan's "The Big Chill" (1983) and Barry Levinson's "The Natural" (1984).  From that vantage point, Close was arguably the  biggest name attached to "Greystoke," but it was understood that her participation would be uncredited and, on-screen, she wasn't.

But someone attached to the production decided to leak the information to the press, possibly because Close was indeed its biggest name and perhaps also because the film had been plagued with problems.  The director reportedly changed so much of Robert Towne's script that the writer had his name removed from it; Towne is credited instead as P.H. Vazak (which, legend has it, was the name of his sheepdog.)

Anyway, Hudson's decision could have easily derailed MacDowell's acting career and ruined her reputation. But luckily, somehow, that didn't happen. She actually flourished in some very good films - among them, "sex, lies and videotape," "Groundhog Day," "Unstrung Heroes," "The Muse," "The End of Violence," "Green Card" and  "Four Weddings and a Funeral." Hudson, meanwhile, hasn't had a film in more than a decade. (He recently completed "Altamira" with Antonio Banderas and Rupert Everett.)

And get this:  Fifteen years later, in 1999, Close would do the voice work in another "Tarzan" - as the character Kala in Disney's animated "Tarzan" (encoring in the direct-to-video "Tarzan II" in 2005).

And according to Hollywood legend, James Keach dubbed the voice of then-newcomer Klinton Spilsbury in the "Legend of the Lone Ranger" movie - a move that I think may have aborted Spilsbury's career - and Lindsay Crouse came in and dubbed Lysette Anthony in "Krull."

Getting back to Sommers, she made out much better in her second film, 1964's "The Lively Set," with James Darren and Pamela Tiffin. Director Jack Arnold, always a pro, was smart enough to retain her seductive purr.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

to dub or not to dub

Roz singing in "Gypsy" - But whose voice is it anyway?

Those moviegoers who don't like film musicals - or, more accurately, don't understand them - find assorted reasons to support their clueless bias.

The most common excuse is that musicals are simply unrealistic. "No one just bursts into song in real life!," they'll say.  But exactly how many movie genres, particularly those popular with audiences, are realistic?  SciFi?  Superhero flicks?  Action movies?  Easy answer:  Few of them.

Then there's the usual snark about who should be allowed to sing on screen.  There's this rigid dictum among casual moviegoers that only professional singers should be in film musicals - a Frank Sinatra or a Judy Garland.  Whenever someone not known for singing is cast in a musical, the put-downs, criticisms, eye-rolling and snickering are immediate and relentless, no matter how well the non-singers acquit themselves.

And if an actor's singing voice is dubbed, the drubbing is even worse.

Well, I beg to differ - about all of the aforementioned complaints and petty gripes.  Why do singing voices on screen have to be perfect anyway?

There have been many theories about why "Together, Wherever We Go" was excised from the release print of "Gypsy" and why "You'll Never Get Away from Me" was shortened - both of which featured Karl Malden singing. But the film's director, Mervyn LeRoy, told me that at the New York preview for the film, the audience laughed whenever Malden opened his mouth to sing and he simply wanted to protect his actor.

Hence, the decision to edit.

There was nothing wrong with Malden's singing voice; in fact, it was much better than Jack Klugman's. (Klugman originated the male lead in "Gypsy" on Broadway.) At least, Malden could carry a melody. The problem was the audience - or rather, audience expectation. Again, the average moviegoer becomes uncomfortable when confronted by a musical performance by a personality not known for singing. Anyway, Malden's songs were cut/shortened simply because  audiences couldn't handle the idea of Karl Malden singing. (But at least, they survive in DVD/BluRay outtakes and on the soundtrack CD.)

Sure, Audrey Hepburn may hit a sour note or two in "Funny Face," but it's a kick to hear her sing.  And her own voice, which was distinctively hers, is certainly preferable to the souless one (Marni Nixon's, natch) that comes out of her mouth in "My Fair Lady."  And that lovely moment in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" wouldn't be as special if she didn't sing "Moon River" herself.

Someone at the New York Times who probably works on the features copy desk and occasionally writes movie shorts once complained in a capsule that Clint Eastwood "sings like a moose" in "Paint Your Wagon."  What?  A moose? That would be incorrect.

Think about it: If Clint has such a soothing speaking voice, how can his singing voice sound like a moose?  No, Eastwood gives near-definitive readings of his renditions of Lerner and Loewe's "I Still See Elisa" and "I Talk To The Trees." (And for the record, Eastwood has also sung in "Honkytonk Man," "Any Which Way You Can" and "Gran Torino." So there.)

The hasty Times writer probably confused Eastwood with his co-star Lee Marvin who does sound like a moose - and is supposed to. Marvin's version of "Wand'rin' Star" has become iconic in the decades since the film's release.  It's irresistible - and much better than Harve Presnell's voice-trained "They Call The Wind Maria" in the film.  But that's just me.

More recently, the snide remarks flew when Pierce Brosnan sang in "Mamma Mia" and, earlier, when Julia Roberts sang in "Everyone Says I Love You."   I love Brosnan's voice in his film. He sounds like an old rocker. More to the point, he sounds like Pierce Brosnan.

Same with Roberts.

Peter O'Toole did fine with his own voice in the musical remake of "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," but he was dubbed - badly - in "Man of La Mancha."

As for the reviled dubbing process, it's just another bit of movie magic, especially when it's done right and with creativity.

Case in point: Rosalind Russell had sung both on screen ("The Girl Rush") and on Broadway ("Wonderful Town") when Jack Warner cast her as Madam Rose in "Gypsy," whose Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim score was written specifically for the stage Rose, Ethel Merman.  In the finished film, Russell handled as much of the singing as she could, with the great Lisa Kirk enlisted for the more demanding musical moments. Kirk successfully approximated Russell's inimitable voice and there are moments when the two voices are seamlessly blended by vocal coach Harper McKay. Yes, movie magic!

The point here is that Russell was the right actress for "Gypsy," if not exactly the right singer, and Warner Bros. accommodated both Russell and the film with the perfect compromise.  Frankly, I can be rigid myself and, from where I sit, it is much better to cast the right actor, not necessarily the right singer, in a film musical.  While a studio can make allowances for singing limitations, it is hamstrung by a lacking performance in general.

Unfortunately, more often than not, dubbing can leave a lot to be desired.  Both Hepburn and Natalie Wood wanted to do their own singing in "My Fair Lady" and "West Side Story," respectively, and actually test recorded their songs - but both were ultimately dubbed, and poorly so.

Wood was dubbed in WSS (again by the ubiquitous Nixon) but, inexplicably, so was her multi-talented co-star, Rita Moreno, another trained singer. Moreno was dubbed by Betty Wand. And her co-star Russ Tamblyn, another musical player, was also dubbed in WSS by his co-star, Tucker Smith. It's disconcerting to hear Smith's voice come out of Tamblyn's mouth in "The Jet Song" and then hear the same voice come out of his own mouth later in the ensemble number, "Cool."

Wand also did the singing three years earlier for film-musical regular Leslie Caron in "Gigi." Ah yes, one of the great movie secrets from the past, oh, fifty years, is that Caron, mainly a dancer, did not do her own singing in "Gigi."  She was traditionally dubbed, although she did manage to handle the slight title song that highlighted "Lili" and rather charmingly.

And here's a jaw-dropper: Juanita Hall sang the role of Bloody Mary on Broadway for Joshua Logan in "South Pacific," but when he made his 1958 film, Murial Smith (who played the role in London) was brought to supply Bloody Mary's singing voice, at the request of Richard Rodgers. (Huh?)  Why was Hall hired in the first place?  Why not go directly with Smith?

And then there are those actors routinely tied to musicals - but also routinely dubbed.

Mostly dancers, like Caron.

Rita Hayworth's house dubber at Columbia was Jo Ann Greer, whose voice was so remarkably close to Hayworth's that most people have assumed that the star did all her own singing. She didn't. Never. Cyd Charisse, meanwhile, was an MGM contract player who made musicals almost exclusively. She could dance but she couldn't sing. India Adams was brought in by Metro to fulfill that aspect of her performance. And Vera-Ellen's singing voice was often supplied by Anita Ellis.

The plot of Stanley Donen-Gene Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain,"considered by many to be the most effective film musical, tackled the singing/dubbing situation in a shrewd, clever way.  In it, a little unknown named Kathy Sheldon, struggling to make ends meet in Hollywood during the silent era, is brought in by Monumental Pictures, to dub in the voice of tempermental movie queen Lina Lamont in its first singing-talkie, "The Dueling Cavalier." Of course, Debbie Reynolds played Kathy and Jean Hagen was Lina.

The odd thing here is that life imitated art: Reynolds, a song-and-dance pro, was herself dubbed for a couple songs in the movie - but not, as initially reported here, in the film's climatic scene.

That's when Lina, who has a cartoonish, high-pitched voice, is brought on stage following the premiere of "The Dueling Cavalier" and is cheered on by the audience to sing live. She can't.  That's because Kathy dubbed both her speaking and singing voice. And so, Lina quietly takes a bow and, with Kathy behind the curtain, she mimes the lyric of "Singin' in the Rain," while Kathy actually sings it. The curtain is lifted and the fraud is revealed.

You know all this if you've seen the film - and who hasn't?  And yes, that is indeed Reynolds doing the singing.

However, for the songs "Would You?" and "You Are My Lucky Star," Reynolds' was dubbed by Betty Royce.

Why? Who knows.  I can't imagine Reynolds not being able to handle either of those songs. But  I would bet the rent money that directors Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly were playing around with an inside joke here.  My hunch is that they were simply being creatively mischievous.

And perhaps Debbie was in on the joke.

In his response here, reader Jimbo noted that Lina's speaking voice in ""The Dueling Cavalier" is also dubbed - but not by Reynolds.  For the spoken part of "The Dueling Cavalier," Donen and Kelly recruited Hagen to dub herself, using her regular (i.e., non-cartoonish) speaking voice.

Got that?

Anyway, "Singin' in the Rain" was made more than 60 years ago and film types are still complaining about dubbing, something nearly as old as movies themselves.  So get over it, folks, because, as bizarre as it might be to imagine, even the most adept musical talents have been dubbed.

Note in Passing: We can't discuss singing and dubbing in movie musicals without at least mentioning the art of lip-syncing - something which all film musical stars have to do whether they do their own singing or are dubbed.  Barbra Streisand is a great star and an even better singer, but in her debut film, "Funny Girl," her lip-syncing is off.  Her words and mouth are rarely together during the big, pre-intermission "Don't Rain on My Parade" number, for example. Sure, Streisand can sell a song, but for lip-syncing, she should have studied non-singer Natalie Wood's precision in "West Side Story." (Wood did do her own singing in "Gypsy," however.)

Monday, October 12, 2015

cinema obscura: Reed's "The Public Eye" (1972) / Hutton's "The Pad (and How to Use it)" (1966)

In 1964, two delightful one-act plays by Peter Shaffer opened on Broadway, titled "The Public Eye"/"The Private Ear."

Or perhaps it was the other way around.

Shaffer also wrote "Equus," "Amadeus," "The Royal Hunt of the Sun" and "Five Finger Exercise," all plays eventually made into movies.

Universal, which was busy in those days scouting Broadway productions, immediately snapped up the film rights to "The Public Eye"/"The Private Ear" and then didn't know what to do with two one-act comedies. Both were eventually made into very pleasing, if little-seen movies.

"The Private Ear" was filmed by Brian G. Hutton in 1966 and retitled "The Pad and How to Use it" - a title inspired a little too obviously by Richard Lester's successful "The Knack and How to Get It."

It's thin but appealing plot - about a shy man who finally has the nerve to approach a woman while at a concert, only to lose her to his more dashing friend - provided material in which the film's young stars: Britain's Brian Bedford (a holdover from the play) as the nerd, James Farentino as the dashing hunk and especially Julie Sommars as the girl all truly excelled.

Essentially a glorified TV movie that was released, albeit briefly, to theaters, "The Pad and How to Use It" deserves to be rescued.

And seen.

"The Public Eye," finally filmed in 1972, had better luck. Well, sort of.

It was adapted for the screen by Shaffer himself and directed by the estimable Sir Carol Reed.

In it, a dull British banker named Charles (played by Michael Jayston) hires Julian Cristo (Topol), an odd, eccentric private detective, to follow his American wife, Belinda (Mia Farrow), whom he suspects is cheating on him. (The film was titled "Follow Me" in all other countries, except the United States, which honored Shaffer's original title.)

When Belinda becomes aware that she is being followed, she's flattered by the attention and starts to play games with her potential paramour. The private eye figures everything out - that the wife isn't unfaithful at all, but merely looking for something that her husband isn't providing - but that she's getting from him. It's a truly enchanting film.

"The Public Eye" made it into theaters - but just barely. Universal opened in unannounced and without any advance critics' screenings.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

au revoir, chantal...

The singular Chantal Akerman has died. The Belgian feminist-auteur designed films that were artistically daring and sophisticated, even for France where she worked for 45 years. And yet, they were spare, minimal.  She made minutiae painterly and utterly fascinating.

Akerman began making shorts in 1968 and had one amazing short feature,"Hôtel Monterey," before she broke through in 1975 with the ambitiously modest (or modestly ambitious) “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.” With these two films, she secured a rarified niche for herself in filmmaking, a place where she was the only denizen.

"Hôtel Monterey" is a 65-minute portrait of the New York residential hotel, in which her camera eyes every nook and cranny, almost compulsively so.

With “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,” starring the hugely affecting Delphine Seyrig in a one-woman, three-hour-and-21-minute exercise, expands the previous film's vision and extends it to a human. Both films are constrained by time - with the Hôtel Monterey profiled during one long night and Jeanne Dielman during a single day.  And both are haunted by loneliness and a sense of emptiness. 

Human interaction is an infrequent, alien notion in these films, daringly so. One can hardly imagine an American studio supporting such eclectic, challenging work from any filmmaker, least of all a female director.

Akerman, who was 65 when she died on October 5th, made 47 features and shorts, too many of them unseen in this country or by me.  Included were the 1986 musical, "Golden Eighties" (aka, "Window Shopping") and the 1983 document about its painstaking preparation, "Les années 80."

Then, there was the atypical movie in which Akerman seemed to be invading Nora Ephron/Nancy Meyer territory - 1996's  "A Couch in New York"/"Un divan à New York." Much like Meyer's "The Holiday," this is the one about two people who switch residences - in the case of the Akerman film, Juliette Binoche, a Parisian woman feeling pressured by all the men in her life, and William Hurt, a New York psychotherapist tired of his patients and their problems. (BTW, "A Couch in New York" predates "The Holiday" by ten years.)

So, the two swap places - and, by extension, lives. Yes, both also become involved in the other person's life, with Binoche actually counseling Hurt's patients and Hurt being pursued by one of Binoche's jealous boyfriends. When he finally gets fed up, Hurt moves back to New York, meets up with Binoche and, to paraphrase the old song, something gives.

What sounds like a generic, formulaic sitcom turns into something quite magical in Akerman's hands. She deftly targets the hapless transfer of people to different places as something not just playful but potentially unstable and dangerous. Relationships usually take one into uncharted territory and that's what Akerman toys with so cynically here.

What makes her two difficult people seem so wrong for each other is exactly what makes them so exactly perfect for one another.

Not surprisingly, "A Couch in New York" has the kind of foreign fizz that's an acquired taste, especially for American audiences who are too easily put off by anything even remotely, well, foreign.

The film may be Akerman's most accessible and commerical, but its distinctive technique is pure Chantal, resplendent with tiny bits of business and, again, hugely observant. A prime Cinema Obscura.