I Got It at the Library: CUL-DE-SAC

Cul - Opening

I’m not saying it’s dated. I just got the feeling  director Roman Polanski read Beckett (I’m thinking here of Waiting for Godot) and watched a lot of Harold Pinter theatre pieces while co-writing the screenplay with Gerard Brach. (There were times when I felt I was back in my Film Studies class again. This film, by the way. was made prior to Mr. Polanski’s exposure to temptation and tragedy in Hollywood.

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ROMAN POLANSKI- Portrait of the Artist as a Young Film-maker

A brilliant cast of 1960s players navigate through the psychological mind games of the screenplay. Lionel Stander, a familiar face (and voice) in 1930s and 1940s movie and radio, was forced to flee to Europe after he ran afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee. He plays  American gangster Dickey, who holes up in a castle after a botched robbery. The castle.on a bleak island, is inhabited by a retired English executive,George (Donald Pleasance) and his flirtatious (and much younger) French wife, Teresa (Francoise Dorleac). The cast also includes future star Jacqueline Bissett (billed here as Jackie Bissett)  in  one of her first film roles. (A pair of sunglasses hides those now famous eyes.) No one does humiliation better than Mr. Pleasance aided and abetted by the gorgeous Mlle. Dorleac (Catherine Deneuve’s sister, whose promising career was cut short by a fatal car accident at the age of 25). Mr. Stander, of course, is bullish and aggressive in the role of Dickey. Mix these personalities together, stir in Mr. Polanski’s caustic wit, and you have a combustible combination that is bound to blow up in your face at some point.

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Francoise Dorleac and Donald Pleasance – A Talent for Humiliation

I signed out this 1966 film because I was intrigued by the cast of characters, I have always been a fan of Mr. Polanski’s world view (Brrr!) and c) it was chosen for restoration by the Criterion Collection. If you are not already familiar with the brand (and most serious film buffs – and filmmakers – are), the Criterion Collection a) always shows great taste in cinematic art and  b) lovingly restores films of its choice and packages them with interviews, booklets and other background material. So even if I am unfamiliar with a work, I know that any film, no matter how old (or obscure, to me) chosen by the Criterion folks for their distinctive and caring touch will be viewing time spent well.

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Lionel Stander in CUL-DE-SAC




DVD-A-Day: The Ghost Writer

"No, really, I'm telling you he looks just like James Bond!"

We don’t know a lot about the character played by Ewan McGregor in THE GHOSTWRITER (128 mins PG-13)

In fact, we don’t even know his name (in the credits he is simply referred to as The Ghost.)

Somehow that’s fitting for a man who makes his living working anonymously behind the scenes turning boring autobiographies into compulsively readable bestsellers.

We first meet him when he is hired to ghostwrite the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan).

Lang’s original manuscript is a snoozefest and yet for some reason everyone wants to get their hands on it. Some folks are even willing to kill for it.

The big question is: Why?

That’s what McGregor’s character has to find out … and fast. Seems Lang’s original ghost writer drowned under suspicious circumstances and “The Ghost” worries he may be next as he keeps stumbling across clues indicating the charismatic politician is hiding something behind that freeze dried facade.

Reminds me of paranoid political thrillers like Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View.

Maybe that’s because director Roman Polanski comes from an era when thrillers relied on atmosphere, character and story rather than cheap f/x to hold your attention.

Some critics complain McGregor acts too detached and shallow to be convincing as a world class writer for hire.

I think they are missing the point.

I figure  “The Ghost”  is just good at his work. However, it’s a talent that comes naturally and easily and he doesn’t respect it. He is single, childless and seems to exist only to reflect someone else’s glory.

Look at this way and McGregor’s approach to the role seems like an inspired choice.

Brosnan is pitch perfect as the former PM (Is he really as vacuous as he seems? The actor  keeps you guessing.) Kudos as well to Olivia Williams as Ruth, Lang’s waspish wife and Kim Cattrall whose role as Amelia Bly, the PM’s coolly efficient chief of staff (and covert mistress) fits her as snugly as the custom tailored power wardrobe worn by her character.

The twisty screenplay, penned by Polanski and Robert Harris (and based on his novel), has surprises in store right up until the final moments of the film.

Harris is a former BBC political reporter and while he admits (on the DVD featurette) that there are “similarities” between former British PM Tony Blair and wife Cherie and the fictional Langs he insists Adam and Ruth are “very distinctive characters that reach back to me before I’d even heard of Tony Blair.”

You can look for real life parallels in the movie (Polanski’s legal problems have been well documented in the media) or you can simply relax and let the mystery and atmosphere envelop you like a fog rolling in off the New England coastline. (The majority of the action takes place in a fortified beach house on Martha`s Vineyard occupied by the main characters with German locations doubling for the Massachusetts tourist colony.)

Be warned, though. This movie is not for quick attention spans. As Polanski says in a DVD interview , “I’m making movies for grown-ups.”

"Stop calling me Mr. Bond, you little creep, or I'll tell Roman!"