Haskell Wexler‘s McLuhan-esque essay on media ethics (1969), centering on a young news cameraman (Robert Forster) who tries to retain his detachment as he’s caught up in the events of the ’68 Democratic convention. The movie has a lot on its mind—too much to be bothered with the niceties of narrative construction and character. The ideas expressed aren’t original or very forceful, but there’s an urgency in them that makes the film seem important and immediate. At its best it’s a specific emotional response to a specific emotional situation, sharp if not lucid. With Verna Bloom and Peter Bonerz.
Ironic, alienating musicals have been tried before (Pal Joey onstage, It’s Always Fair Weather on film), but never with such lofty contempt for the form. This 1981 film drips with a sense of anger and betrayal that seems wildly out of scale to its cause—the discovery (less than original) that musicals don’t reproduce social reality. The point is made endlessly, though it’s in the film’s favor that it’s made with seriousness, consideration, and a certain amount of imagination. Unfortunately the only value the film can find to range against the false romanticism of the music is a low-grade sexuality, which is itself mocked and made into the wellspring of the characters’ problems. Herbert Ross directed, in steely control for once; the interestingly spare screenplay is by Dennis Potter. With Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters. R, 107 min.
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd star as two white boys who love nuns, blacks, and the blues. But for all of the dramatic focus on poverty, the subject of John Landis‘s mise-en-scene is money—making it, spending it, blowing it away. The humor is predicated on underplaying in overscaled situations, which is sporadically funny in a Keaton-esque way but soon sputters out through sheer, uninspired repetition. With Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, James Brown, Cab Calloway, and Aretha Franklin, who steals the show singing a song in a diner.