beauty: Mol in The Notorious Bettie Page.
by Mary Harron
Mary Harron·s 1996 debut feature, I Shot Andy Warhol,
was conceived as a documentary but was reimagined when both
footage of the subject, schizophrenic shooter Valerie Solanas,
and willing interviewees proved almost impossible to find.
Her 2000 adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis· novel American
Psycho told the tale of a Wall Street yuppie who may, or may
not, be a vicious serial killer. Harron, quite apparently,
is drawn to dark and mysterious·even unknowable·characters.
And she seems content, at movie·s end, to leave them
that way, as unsolved problems. It·s a tactic that
can create compelling tension and ambiguity, or·as
is the case in The Notorious Bettie Page·boredom and
a sense of complete pointlessness.
The real Page was a popular pin-up girl in the ·50s.
She modeled for both ·legitimate· cheesecake
magazines of the day like Wink, Beauty Parade and Titter and
for a mail-order organization specializing in fetish imagery.
As compared with, say, a modern video game, all of Page·s
work is pretty tame (though she posed nude, she never participated
in any explicitly sexual sessions). But, for the day, it was
pretty hot stuff, and Page·s distinctive blunt bangs
and her evident love of being photographed made her a real
favorite of the riding-crop crowd. In 1958, she gave up modeling,
purportedly to rededicate herself to Christ, and slipped out
of the public eye. In the late ·70s, some prints of
Page resurfaced, and over time a cult of fans gathered around
the kitschy kitten, a cult that boomed with the ·50s
revivalism of the early and mid-·90s.
Mol, Harron has found a suitably fetching Page·more
than suitably, in fact. But she does absolutely nothing of
interest with her, save taking off her clothes. The film flits
around through a distracting series of disordered flashbacks
providing bullet-point backstory: Page as a young Tennessean
churchgoer; preteen Page and sister posing for a neighbor
boy·s camera; Page being called upstairs by her father
for what is almost certainly a round of molestation; Page
wed; Page slapped; Page leaving her husband; Page gang-raped.
Bizarrely, none of these scenes are given much more weight
in the film than they are in this paragraph. How, as a filmmaker,
do you come to the decision to gloss over incestual molestation
and gang rape?
biographical information about Page, available in a book cited
by Harron as source material, is left out altogether: After
she quit modeling, Page, according to the book·s author,
spent several years in a mental institution and was accused
of violent outbursts against her third husband and stepchildren.
Rather than dealing with this troubling story arc·of
abused to abuser·Harron bails out at the point of Page·s
salvation. Throughout, Page is presented as a kind of preternaturally
chipper naïf who happens to be phenomenally photogenic.
possible that Harron was attracted to Page as a means of exploring
the issue of evolving community standards in regard to sexual
expression. As a side story, the movie presents bits of the
Senate investigation into pop culture·s promotion of
juvenile delinquency, an investigation led by another Tennessean,
Estes Kefauver (the amusingly cast David Strathairn). And
the director certainly has fun with a number of cute ·50s-style
effects·wipes and the like·to give the mostly
black-and-white film a breezy, dated feel. It·s as
if she·s trying to say, ·Remember how childish
we were back in the day, when even comparatively vanilla depictions
of sex could throw adults into such a panic?·
But in, once again, portraying the individual as iconic, and
by refusing to engage difficult questions of character and
motivation, Harron offers up a portrait far less satisfying
than those of Page we·ve already seen.
Believe in Fairies
by Chen Kaige
during the treetop se-quence in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,
I rolled my eyes. OK, I thought, I·m with you all the
way with the incredible acrobatics, the magnificent swordplay
and, of course, the swooping emotionalism of it all, but a
swordfight whose combatants are poised, tip-toed, on the wisps
of willows? Gimme a break.
that same sinking feeling while watching The Promise, only
instead of just happening during one or two scenes, it lasted
pretty much throughout the entire flick. Crouching Tiger and
its successors, such as the glorious Hero and the not-too-shabby
House of Flying Daggers, hooked you into their respective
narratives, making all the martial-arts hoopla and outrageous
set pieces part of the story. The Promise is almost entirely
Qingcheng is granted a wish by the Goddess Manshen (Hong Chen),
and of course, being young, poor and hungry, she goes for
eternal beauty and riches. The only drawback, barely meaningful
to a tyke, is that she·ll never experience true love
until time runs backward, snow falls in spring, and so on.
Fast-forward 20 years, and the beautiful Princess Qingcheng
(Cecilia Cheung) falls in love with her savior, the Crimson
General Guangming. Of course, the real Guangming (Hiroyuki
Sanada) lies wounded offscreen, and impersonating him in order
to save the king is his slave, Kunlun (Jang Dong-Gun). Into
this Cyrano de Bergerac scenario is thrown some good old vengeance
and evil, in the ridiculous persona of the trés effeminate
Wuhuan (Nicholas Tse), and a fairy godperson of sorts in the
assassin Snow Wolf (Ye Liu).
times in which The Promise enthralls are when we are immersed
in the fairy-tale-ness of it. Only then can we buy the fact
that Kunlun can run like the wind, or that Wuhuan would imprison
Qingcheng in a golden birdcage, complete with white feather
ensemble for her to wear. The richness of the screen at these
times, courtesy of Peter Pau·s cinematography, reminds
one of the very best of the Arabian Nights or Perrault·s
stories of Cinderella. Too often, however, the movie is almost
herky-jerky in its movements, especially in its digitalized
renderings of massive battles·battles that look far
too much like my son·s computer game Civilization or
those commercials for 3-D puzzles. Such moments are actually
better, though, than chase sequences, which can only bring
to mind Super Mario or other Gameboy adventures.
is hopelessly artificial, lending neither coherence nor poetry
to a story that has as many beginnings and endings, comings
and goings, as Penn Station. Even as mindless Saturday matinee
fun, The Promise is largely devoid of anything evocative
of joy, suspense or excitement. That this was nominated for
Best Foreign Film says as much about the state of foreign
films as we·ve been saying about the domestic market·namely,
it·s been slim pickings for discriminating moviegoers.
by J.J. Abrams
the Mission: Impossible films still being made? In fact,
what was the point of making them in the first place? The
three films in the series (so far) have little in common with
each other beyond a couple of cast members, some music and
a series of vehicle chases and explosions. The first one,
directed by Brian De Palma, was about . . . what was it about?
Right, Tom Cruise. The second one, directed by John Woo, was
about Tom Cruise and a motorcycle. The third installment .
. . well, we·ll get to that shortly.
brain trust ditched the original Cold War-era TV series·
entertaining framework: A group of super-secret agents jet
in to some remote location and, with some costumes, makeup,
funny accents and high-tech gadgetry, fuck up some communist
enemy of all that was good and right. Usually, the poor bastard
didn·t know what hit him; the IMF team left quickly,
quietly, and left no evidence behind.
is that leaves no room for a showy hero. The biggest movie
star in the world demands a heroic role equal to his stature.
three, written and directed by Lost creator J.J. Abrams, is
about Tom Cruise·I mean the character he plays, Ethan
Hunt·and the women who put all their trust in him.
So, at least, there·s some human conflict. The women
are secret agent Lindsey Ferris (Keri Russell, from Abrams·
former show Felicity) and Julia (Michelle Monaghan), the civilian
whom Hunt plans to marry. Cruise is able to have a real relationship
because he·s not an active agent anymore, he·s
an instructor; when Ferris is captured, however, Hunt feels
the need to lead the rescue team·which, of course,
leads to Julia being put in mortal danger.
does a good job of constructing a semi-suspenseful plot, keeping
us guessing for some time as to what actually is going on.
The diverse cast is reasonably entertaining, especially Billy
Crudup, Simon Pegg, Laurence Fishburne and Philip Seymour
Hoffman (as the vicious villain). And Cruise is fine, having
finally suppressed (around the time of The Last Samurai) his
most annoying acting tic, the thing wherein he shook like
Jell-O on speed when his character was angry.
enough to overcome the tiredness of the action or the predictability
of the outcome, however: There is violence; violence has little
cost; and Cruise is the hero again. Big deal.