Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Not Even A Song
THE LAST OF SHEILA and THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION along with acclaimed hits like THE TURNING POINT, THE GOODBYE GIRL (which were nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars in the same year) and CALIFORNIA SUITE. His ambitious, expensive adaptation of PENNIES FROM HEAVEN came in 1981 after which there were more Neil Simon adaptations (I OUGHT TO BE IN PICTURES followed in theaters a mere three months later), a huge hit in FOOTLOOSE as well as a number of, well, star vehicles like the very 80s THE SECRET OF MY SUCCESS and MY BLUE HEAVEN which reunited Ross with PENNIES star Steve Martin. NEW YORK, NEW YORK, fascinating as it is, kind of makes me want to jump out the nearest window whereas PENNIES FROM HEAVEN hits something deep down, more than I want to confront, more than I want to admit. Even after many viewings I’m still taken aback by how nasty certain moments in its real-world half are, how utterly despondent and vulgar. But they have to be there. The conceit, for anyone who doesn’t know, is that all of the ‘musical numbers’ actually and intentionally consist of lip-synched performances of vintage recordings in fantasy sequences which is what makes it partly a musical and partly not. But what the hell, let’s call it a musical, just about the most blissful musical imaginable, and looking at a few of the numbers on Youtube by themselves always provides a momentary hit of joy but when properly framed against what surrounds them makes that joy presented in them all the more palpable. Why can’t life be that simple, that glorious? Whoever said you could stop a dream? Aside from the whole world, that is, and it’s the world that PENNIES FROM HEAVEN is set in. PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE but someone who the anger and fear that clearly lies within her is absolutely palpable. Either written as shrewish or just perceived that way through how Arthur sees her (which makes me think of how astonishing it is to just look at Jessica Harper’s eyes at certain points), she’s never comes off as friendly at all yet there’s clearly a human being under there, one who’s hurting as much as anyone. It’s just been smothered by life and a husband who she may know better than he wishes but she still has no idea how to communicate with. Christopher Walken is a total powerhouse in his one scene as the pimp encountered by Eileen, Vernel Bagneris is truly haunting as The Accordion Man, while among the many actors who make an impression even in small roles John Karlen is particularly effective as the twitchy police detective who questions Joan about Arthur and as the blind girl Eliska Krupka (per imdb only one other screen credit, in 1988’s DANCE ACADEMY) is beyond ethereal. When he meets her Arthur’s reaction makes sense. I’m pretty sure I’ve wanted to say what he says to girls I’ve never seen again. Some of them haunt me in the dead of night the way this film does.