Monday, August 06, 2007

In praise of a pretty boy auteur

Movie lover that I am, I've done posts that canonized Marilyn, Liz and Nat. Today we give equal time to one of modern Hollywood's most influential stars, one who is just as gorgeous as any of those movie queens. Let's take a closer look at actor, writer, producer, director and gossip column staple for almost 50 years: Warren Beatty. Trust me, you'll enjoy the view.

Beatty's appeared in only 22 movies over 46 years. (Compare that to Clint Eastwood, who appeared in almost twice as many movies in the same amount of time.) Yet he's become an influential filmmaker because so many of his films have been simply excellent.

Bonnie and Clyde. Curl up with this one again and let it break your heart. It's a quintessential American tale about money, fame, sex and violence. And, most of all, longing. If you can separate yourself from the story as you watch, try to think of the better-known Great American Films this one has influenced. The Godfather and Butch Cassidy spring immediately to mind.

The Paralax View. Political paranoia with a dollop of disillusionment. Beatty plays Joe, a workaday reporter who just so happens to figure out what really happened when a senator died. It's an exciting movie, to be sure, but more than that it taps into the sadness and cynicism of our country after enduring the Kennedy/King assassinations and Watergate. Can we trust our institutions? Why should we bother? (Warren made this movie with Alan J. Pakula, who went on to direct All the President's Men. You can definitely see the influence this thriller had on that Watergate movie.)

Shampoo. Sex as commerce. Sex as power. Sex as something to do when you can't sleep. Lots and lots of sex. And deal-making. And not-so-subtle Beverly Hills class warfare. All set against the corruption of the Nixon era. It's a funny and sexy movie, to be sure, but it's also incredibly sad. All these gorgeous characters wandering around, aimlessly bumping into one another.

Heaven Can Wait. I can't believe that the same cynic who made the 99.44% love-free Shampoo also co-wrote, directed and starred in this fantasy love story. With his soft voice and deft timing, Warren draws us to first Pendleton and then Farnsworth -- a football player and a millionaire who fall in love for the first time in his/their life/lives. He loves Betty Logan, and all that he is when he's with her, so much that he's willing to fight for her all the way up to ... um ... the Ultimate Authority in All Matters. A simple, sweet valentine to the enduring, redemptive power of love.

Reds. An epic about Communism, journalism, and love. More than three hours long, it covers a lot of ground, literally (taking us all around the United States and Europe), and many years. It looks at the Communist ideal through American eyes while examining the shifting balance of power in a decades-long relationship between a man and a woman. It's a big movie about big ideas, but the moment that stays with me is a small one ... Jack and Louise wordlessly, wearily, tearfully finding one another against all odds near the end.

Bullworth. A wacky adventure in politics, race, rage, love, poverty, suicide … and rap. It's ridiculous and heartbreaking and funny all at the same time. Warren has a gift for showing America itself, and this movie is as potent an indictment/reflection of our time as The Parallax View and Shampoo were of their time. Just because the topics covered are deadly serious doesn't mean Bullworth isn't funny. It's worth renting just to hear 60-something-year-old Warren rap. Really.

(Yeah, I know I skipped right over Splendor in the Grass, McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Bugsy. I appreciated those movies, but I didn't love them the way I do the ones above.)

14 Oscar nominations, and an Academy Award for Best Director. Not a bad track record for a man who has done only 22 films. And no, it certainly doesn't hurt that he looks absolutely yummy, too.

August Happiness -- Monday 6

"Oh baby, come on, let me take you where the action is. It's so neat to meet your baby where the action is …"

Today the oldies are making me happy. More specifically, an anthology of Paul Revere & the Raiders hits. "Action" was the theme of Where the Action Is! -- an even lower-rent version of American Bandstand that was on every weekday after school, right before Dark Shadows. To my gradeschool mind, there was no better or more important hour of television. I don't think I've heard this song since I've been allowed to cross the street by myself. It's fun to listen to it, and remember my Little Gal days.