Tag Archives: Karen Black

The Day of the Locust (1975, John Schlesinger)

The Day of the Locust is a gentle film, at least in terms of Schlesinger’s direction, Conrad L. Hall’s cinematography and John Barry’s score. The film’s softly lit but with a whole lot of focus. Schlesinger wants to make sure the audience gets to see every part of the actors’ performances. He also wants the actors to exist in this dreamland. It’s Hollywood in the thirties, it’s supposed to be a dreamland. Except everything is a threat, possible danger is everywhere. Only Schlesinger doesn’t break that gentle direction until the third act, so he has to figure out how to suggest that danger as gently as possible.

Luckily, he’s got great actors, he’s got Hall, he’s got Barry, he’s got editor Jim Clark who does an unbelievable job cutting the film. Day of the Locust is a film about terrorized people who don’t realize they’re terrorized until its way too late.

The film opens with William Atherton moving into a not great apartment complex and getting a job in the art department at Paramount. He’s got a rather attractive neighbor, Karen Black, who works as an extra. Black lives with her father, played by Burgess Meredith. The first twenty or so minutes of the film beautifully establishes the grandeur of thirties Hollywood through Atherton’s perspective. Once Meredith shows up, however, the film becomes more and more Black’s.

Eventually, as Atherton’s attempts to woo Black go unsuccessful, Donald Sutherland shows up. He’s not in L.A. for the showbiz. He’s an accountant and a delicate person, something Sutherland essays beautifully. The thing about the acting in Locust is all of its great, it’s just great in completely different ways. Atherton’s story arc, for example, eventually becomes entirely subtext. A long take on him here, a cut to his reaction somewhere else. His character development becomes background, even though he’s somehow always the protagonist.

Sutherland falls for Black too. Just like Bo Hopkins does. Just like Richard Dysart does. Black doesn’t convey malice or even indifference to her suitors, she just doesn’t return their affections. Waldo Salt’s script is extremely complicated in how it deals with Black’s character. She’s never kind, but occasionally gentle. She’s rarely mean when sober, but when drunk she’s vicious. Her character, just like most of them in Locust, is inevitably tragic.

The Day of the Locust‘s characters’ tragedies stem from their unawareness. They’re victims, whether they know it or not. And they only way to succeed is to victimize someone else, which can even be a mutually beneficial arrangement. It’s a rather depressing film. Of course, Atherton’s protagonist is never looking for happiness so much as he is for beauty.

Black’s performance makes the film. Sutherland’s great, Meredith’s great, Atherton’s excellent in a slimmer role than the others, but it’s Black who makes The Day of the Locust so devastating. At least until the final devastation, where Schlesinger and Salt shatter the already shattered dream. For all Schlesinger’s excellent fine, gentle filmmaking, when he unleashes at the end of Locust, it’s even better. And editor Clark ably handles it all.

The Day of the Locust is exceptional.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Schlesinger; screenplay by Waldo Salt, based on a novel by Nathanael West; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by Jim Clark; music by John Barry; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Jerome Hellman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Atherton (Tod Hackett), Karen Black (Faye Greener), Burgess Meredith (Harry Greener), Donald Sutherland (Homer Simpson), Richard Dysart (Claude Estee), Bo Hopkins (Earle Shoop), Geraldine Page (Big Sister), Paul Stewart (Helverston), John Hillerman (Ned Grote), Pepe Serna (Miguel) and Billy Barty (Abe Kusich).

Advertisements

Repo Chick (2009, Alex Cox)

If Repo Chick were a half hour short, it would work a lot better. Sadly, it’s an almost ninety minute feature–even as a seventy minute feature, it’d be a lot better.

The problem’s the front end. Cox has to introduce his cast, sure, but he never manages to give the film a real narrative. He opens establishing Jaclyn Jonet as the titular Repo Chick–she’s a Paris Hilton analog who needs a job–but the second, better half of the film involves some nonsense about Predator drones, runaway trains and Chloe Webb being hilarious as a televangelist.

The second half also has better acting overall, with Jonet’s three moronic sidekicks barely showing up. Cox had to know he was getting bad performances out of Danny Arroyo, Jenna Colby and Zahn McClarnon, but he doesn’t seem to care. Colby’s particularly incapable.

Miguel Sandoval and Robert Beltran are good throughout, but Beltran doesn’t get any good material until the second half. Also good in the second half are Jennifer Balgobin and, especially, Angela Sarafyan. Xander Berkeley’s really funny in the bad first half too.

Jonet’s never exactly good, but she certainly does get better as the film goes on. Cox doesn’t give her the promised character arc, but it’s no surprise. He doesn’t take Chick seriously. He’s got absurd digital backdrops, using miniature train sets with actors moving among them. It’s supposed to be unconvincing, he just doesn’t have a good story for that approach.

Still, it’s intentional ineptness somewhat succeeds.

1/4

CREDITS

Written, directed and edited by Alex Cox; director of photography, Steven Fierberg; music by Dan Wool; production designer, Nicolas Plotquin; produced by Cox, Eric Bassett, Bingo Gubelmann, Daren Hicks, Benji Kohn, Austin Stark and Simon Tams; released by Industrial Entertainment.

Starring Jaclyn Jonet (Pixxi), Miguel Sandoval (Arizona Gray), Del Zamora (Lorenzo), Alex Feldman (Marco), Chloe Webb (Sister Duncan), Xander Berkeley (Father de la Chasse), Rosanna Arquette (Lola), Robert Beltran (Aguas), Karen Black (Aunt de la Chasse), Zahn McClarnon (Savage), Jenna Colby (Eggi), Danny Arroyo (666), Jennifer Balgobin (Nevada), Zander Schloss (Doctor), Angela Sarafyan (Giggli), Eddie Velez (Justice Espinoza), Frances Bay (Grandma de la Chasse), Bennet Guillory (Rogers), Olivia Barash (Railroad Employee), Tom Finnegan (Senator Fletcher), Linda Callahan (Rikki Espinoza) and Karen E. Wright (Colonel).


RELATED

Invaders from Mars (1986, Tobe Hoober)

Invaders from Mars, while it’s occasionally obvious it’s a comedy, can’t seem to decide. For a while, Hooper directs it absolutely straight–which doesn’t do the film any favors. Hooper’s composition is excellent (he and cinematographer Daniel Pearl have some great Panavision shots) but there’s no menace. Hunter Carson plays a kid convinced aliens have landed and are taking over the townsfolk, including his parents, but Carson never seems too out of it.

The other acting in those scenes is the big problem. Laraine Newman is bad as Carson’s mom, even if she is somewhat likable. Timothy Bottoms is a little better, but still no great shakes. As Carson’s evil schoolteacher, Louise Fletcher is awful. For the scenes when Fletcher has to act really crazy, she’s even worse. It’s like Hooper told her to play it as a comedic role and she just couldn’t figure out how to do it.

Karen Black’s great as Carson’s only fellow human. It’s a thankless role for her, but she’s got some excellent scenes.

Just over halfway through, when Mars is really dragging, the military comes in and things get funnier (and better). James Karen’s great as the general who Carson and Black enlist to fight the aliens. The accelerated pace even makes up for the previously unexplained Mars space shuttle mission. Hooper really should have opened with that detail.

Christopher Young’s score helps a lot, as do good supporting turns in the latter half.

Mars is confused. Its lack of commitment sinks it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tobe Hooper; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby, based on a screenplay by Richard Blake; director of photography, Daniel Pearl; edited by Alain Jakubowicz; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Leslie Dilley; produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Hunter Carson (David Gardner), Karen Black (Linda Magnusson), Timothy Bottoms (George Gardner), Laraine Newman (Ellen Gardner), James Karen (Gen. Climet Wilson), Louise Fletcher (Mrs. McKeltch), Eric Pierpoint (Sgt. Maj. Rinaldi), Christopher Allport (Captain Curtis) and Bud Cort (Dr. Mark Weinstein).


RELATED

Five Easy Pieces (1970, Bob Rafelson)

About half way into Five Easy Pieces, the film really hasn’t given any clue as to what it’s going to be. It’s an incredibly complex character study, both in its approach to the narrative and in terms of Jack Nicholson’s protagonist. The beginning of the film, set in the oil fields of Southern California, ends up having to do very little with the story. It serves an easy purpose–to introduce Nicholson and establish his relationship with girlfriend Karen Black–but Five Easy Pieces hardly follows an epical course. The film could have just as easily started with Nicholson driving to Los Angeles to see sister Lois Smith.

The second half of the film, set on an island off the Washington coast, resembles the opening in terms of scene construction–Five Easy Pieces has short, concise scenes. For example, Nicholson’s devastating monologue–explaining himself to his stroke-impaired father–is not particularly long. I think there are maybe six edits in all. But it–along with the scene immediately preceding it–make Five Easy Pieces. After seventy-some minutes of hints at Nicholson, the scene finally reveals enough about the character for the film to be stoppable.

Five Easy Pieces moves on a momentum–it moves on long fades between scenes, whether it’s Nicholson hopping off a moving truck while the highway where he got on the back of the truck is still visible on the bottom half of the screen or it’s John P. Ryan’s nurse grinning wide for Smith (we don’t get to hear what Ryan says to her, because it’s just for her–the film frequently reserves things for the characters). I suppose it has three acts–I suppose I could even identify where they come in the running time–but it isn’t beholden to them. The film, from the first or second scene, moves where Nicholson takes it.

Nicholson’s Bobby Dupea is not a likable character. He’s a jerk, but a complex one. His relationship with Black is probably the film’s most complicated; it involves class differences, expectations and protectiveness. His relationship with Susan Anspach is similarly intricate. It’s the angle of entry to the character–even though the character’s emotions are never verbalized–it’s where the viewer can finally begin to understand something about Nicholson. It offers the first illumination of the character, a long time after first encountering him.

The film’s momentum and gradual pace do present one significant problem. The sequence with Helena Kallaniotes’s lengthy monologue, played for humorous effect–Nicholson’s famous chicken salad sandwich scene is in the middle–is a disaster. It’s long and goofy, ending with Kallaniotes looking the viewer straight in the eye. It doesn’t belong in this film or any other. It’s a transition between the two halves of the film. For a long time, it seems like the film can’t really recover from the spill. But then it does.

Nicholson’s great. Black’s great. Anspach is great. Smith’s great. Ralph Waite’s awesome as Nicholson’s brother, implying a character of enough depth to deserve his own examination.

Five Easy Pieces is a depressing piece of work, so depressing it’s almost hostile.

I can’t forget Rafelson. I haven’t seen Five Easy Pieces in a long time and, for whatever reason, I didn’t expect Rafelson to be a visual director. His composition is fantastic, the way he moves the camera, the way people move in his shots. But I think my favorite shot has to be the one where the viewer gets to see how much Smith misses Nicholson. It’s lovely.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Rafelson; screenplay by Carole Eastman, based on a story by Rafelson and Eastman; director of photography, László Kovács; edited by Christopher Holmes and Gerald Shepard; produced by Rafelson and Richard Wechsler; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jack Nicholson (Robert Eroica Dupea), Karen Black (Rayette Dipesto), Billy Green Bush (Elton), Fannie Flagg (Stoney), Sally Struthers (Betty), Marlena MacGuire (Twinky), Richard Stahl (Recording Engineer), Lois Smith (Partita Dupea), Helena Kallianiotes (Palm Apodaca), Toni Basil (Terry Grouse), Lorna Thayer (Waitress), Susan Anspach (Catherine Van Oost), Ralph Waite (Carl Fidelio Dupea), William Challee (Nicholas Dupea), John P. Ryan (Spicer) and Irene Dailey (Samia Glavia).


RELATED