Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Rest Is Waiting

It can be near impossible to avoid thinking of the past, especially at the end of the year. Remembering what you did, how you screwed up, or if you did anything at all. And sometimes you think even further back, as far back as a decade, wondering what your world used to be and how things changed, going over the things you did wrong and what you could have done instead. In our minds we hope for the best, we have to, but it can be difficult to face the truth as we wonder how much time we really have. Too much becomes our own fault if we’re willing to admit it. So at the end of the year, at the end of the decade, maybe all we have left is the chance to just wait for the next one, the next chance to make everything all right. That is, if there really is a chance.

If Bob Fosse is ever in danger of being forgotten that was likely delayed in 2019 with the airing of the FX miniseries FOSSE/VERDON which was enjoyable but never very substantial in spite of inspired moments from some of the performances. Drawing conclusions based on what seemed to be its own thematic goals more than anything having to do with history, watching it was like eating halfway decent Chinese food; enjoyable to munch down on but it left me feeling empty in the end. Some of the stylistic approach was clearly inspired by Bob Fosse’s own films, because how could it not be? And when I say ‘stylistic approach’ I’m basically saying it was hard to watch it at times and not think, isn’t this just ALL THAT JAZZ? And it didn’t even spend much time on ALL THAT JAZZ. Regardless, ALL THAT JAZZ turned 40 this year and it wasn’t Fosse’s last film but feels like it was meant to be, possibly serving as the final statement of a creative life and everything that it meant. ALL THAT JAZZ is exhilarating and addictive like few other films I can think of, one that draws me back to examine it, to wrestle with it, to try to deal with it, wishing that what happens could go in another direction even as you know the inevitable. Kind of like a recent decade I can think of. But unlike that decade, as I go back to this film I ultimately embrace it. It means too much to me, it speaks too much to me. It’s about as close to a perfect film as I can think of but it’s also better than that, not a pristine jewel but a complicated piece of work that’s still messy enough to allow for exploration of its parts and what it all means while trapped in the parade of our own lives. Maybe while trying to figure it out I find myself in there, but I suppose we all do.

Legendary choreographer Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) is beginning rehearsals on the new Broadway show that he’s directing while simultaneously attempting to finish editing his latest film. As his days ping-pong back and forth among the various projects with the women in his life all a part of it, including ex-wife Audrey (Leland Palmer), off-and-on girlfriend Katie (Ann Reinking) and daughter Michelle (Erzsebet Foldi) while in his head we see Joe with the only women he can be totally truthful with, a spectre of death named Angelique (Jessica Lange) who of course knows all his secrets. But when he’s rushed to the hospital with chest pains in the middle of working on the show, Joe’s total denial of his condition soon begins to catch up to him and he can’t fight where all this is going for very much longer.

It’s showtime, folks, as Joe Gideon says to the mirror every morning with his Vivaldi tape playing as he puts on his face on for the world, ready to start the performance all over again, even if he knows he can’t hold this face forever. Written by Robert Alan Aurthur and Fosse, ALL THAT JAZZ is an extraordinary film but it’s the kind which feels like it was never meant to be anything but an extraordinary film. What would be the point if it wasn’t? A musical unlike any other, an examination of the Broadway world and a man at the center of it with an energy to it all that puts us right in there. So much of what we’d ever need to know about Joe Gideon is his morning ritual complete with cigarette hanging from his mouth in the shower, but it’s the opening audition montage set to “On Broadway” that tosses us in without any orientation as if we’re one of those dancers looking to be validated by this legend but it gets us to understand the world instantly. The desperation of all those hopefuls isn’t his problem and to him the work which leads to all that brilliance is all there is, searching for his own inspiration as he choreographs his dancers, no qualms about fucking some of them who he may or may not decide to cast before torturing them to do better. Even the ones he’s not fucking get some of that treatment anyway.

The cutting style is as insistent as CABARET but this isn’t an extension of Fosse’s earlier films as much as a culmination of them but of course it’s really a culmination of his whole life anyway. And even more than those other films ALL THAT JAZZ is unrelenting in its pacing with each new shot adding to the intensity of the neverending delirium. To be on the wire is life, says Joe, the rest is waiting. It’s a justification for what he does, the pain he causes, the sound of coughing heard right from the start which serves as a tell of where this is all going to go. Angelique points out how theatrical the phrasing is while also getting Joe to admit that he didn’t come up with it. Everything about his life needs to be theatrical and even if someone in this day and age doesn’t know Bob Fosse, it’s impossible not to get a sense of a life that never slows down, that never waits. And Joe Gideon clearly never had any interest in waiting.

ALL THAT JAZZ is no doubt supposed to be too much, gloriously so, with an approach that goes beyond what you'd expect from any normal film with truly phenomenal musical numbers that go on and on to the point that you realize they have to be that long to mean as much as they do. Even the stylistic extremes it goes to during unexpected moments add to this feel whether the hospital delirium of the second half or the way all sound drops away during the script reading when Joe mentally checks out. But it’s how Fosse seems to find a way to shoot every moment with such life and vitality in the first place, the spectacular Airotica number for the backers of his new musical NY/LA featuring the truly awesome Sandahl Bergman coming out of seemingly nowhere and the power it gives off even in that tiny rehearsal space makes us dream not only of the fully produced version but offers an unexpected intensity which allows us to fully believe in his talent that's been talked up so much, even if it does come out of his own insecurity and desperation. That’s what the film does, especially in the first hour when it’s the creativity being focused on and it plays like a drug.

Over multiple viewings through the years I would gravitate towards that first hour and its unrelenting exhilaration, then feeling always a little let down when Joe entered the hospital for the second half where it would feel like the momentum halted. But seeing the film in 35mm at a New Beverly screening a few years ago (paired with LENNY) it all made sense—this is one of those nights at that theater which has stayed with me, a packed house (an audience that included Robert Forster, who we lost this year) that gave the night an undeniable energy felt from the unrelenting power of the second half that as it went on became emotionally overwhelming by a certain point, taking this film I’d already seen before multiple times and transforming it via that cinematic experience into something that I didn’t want to let go of, just as Joe Gideon doesn’t want to let go, as if the film ever let you off the hook that energy would dissipate.

Just as Bob Fosse was and in some ways still is, Joe Gideon is a god in this world with the way all his dancers look at him, whether he’s already fucked them or not, always looking for the answers they know his genius will provide, no matter how much he anguishes and the seduction of one of them set to Nilsson’s “Perfect Day” playing catches the perfect mood for the seduction. With Joe looking out from the cutting room of his big budget film at a strip club across the street to remind him that the two aren’t so far apart, the cynical laughs come from the inside sleaze of this world and the money men without a shred of art in their bones, so it’s all how much his life when he’s not around to be an artist comes down to dollars and cents. At times in watching this film I’ve wanted a little more of the world around these people, connected to all those young girls limbering up all over the place and the 1979 New York out there on the streets but that’s never where Joe Gideon is, he’s inside in that showbiz world where it feels like you’re going to live forever, like the 24 year old who finally gets “a house in Beverly Hills” that his ex-wife Audrey is so determined to play. It’s an entire world based on putting off death, no matter what the subject of the musical is (I’d still like to actually see NY/LA, whatever it might be) but it's also about putting off anything resembling an actual commitment that would take you away from it all just as Ann Reinking, more or less playing herself as girlfriend Katie, knows which buttons to push as she desperately tries to get him to give her a reason to stay.

The film is overwhelming but it has to be and it’s the only way for it to make sense, while Joe Gideon stands in the center of it, already aware of what everyone wants from him. Gideon’s latest film that he’s editing is so obviously meant to be LENNY it doesn’t even try to hide that, with the film’s comic played by Cliff Gorman, who won a Tony for playing Lenny Bruce on Broadway only to have Dustin Hoffman take the role in the film version. The glimpse at the cutting process shows him listing off the five stages of death as part of his stand-up routine, patter that gets repeated a few too many times and it’s maybe the one thing in the film that strains my patience over multiple viewings. But it’s not like subtlety is ever really the goal, either in this world or in this film and even the repetition feels intentional, a reminder of what Joe is working on running in his head over and over so when his film gets trashed by a critic for giving free reign to the star, after all the time he’s spent obsessing over every tiny change in the cutting room, it’s a clear sign that the people who aren’t there for the creation don’t know. Joe’s talent, if not his brilliance, is never in question, but it’s clear none of that means anything if everything else is ignored. Maybe in trying to analyze ALL THAT JAZZ all anyone can do is simply not become that snarky critic and just try to understand what the film means for them deep down in a way they’ll someday have to admit to themselves.

It’s the whole death thing that matters in this freeform dive through Joe Gideon’s mind, going perfectly with the forced gallows humor that he can’t keep up forever. That attraction to it he’s always had only adds to the delirium of his interior dialogue with Angelique and the whole unresolved Fellini quality of these scenes, always feeling like there’s something outside of the frame in his subconscious. It’s like the film is a non-stop war between the danger of his lifestyle and how much living in this world gives us the rush of creativity, whether the eagerness of the dancers in the rehearsal scenes or with Katie and Michelle’s private performance of “Everything Old Is New Again” just for Joe, serving as the feeling of what this music does, what all this does, if only it could always be this joyous, keeping the cynicism at bay for a few minutes. Through all this is a game of which past Fosse project is being referenced at any given time, not to mention whatever he’s pulling from his own life and all of this detail means every new shot pierces your soul, shepherded by the editing mastery of Alan Heim (who appears onscreen as the editor of THE STAND-UP, adding one more mirror to things) in connecting the richness of those images photographed by Giuseppe Rotunno together. It all remains completely alive right up until the very last shot, which as anyone who’s seen the film knows is the way it has to be.

However critical (or self-critical) the film is about him, it’s done in a way that is deliberately self-regarding as if Bob Fosse himself in the guise of Joe Gideon saying, I’ll hate me enough for both of us so please love me. Which is still a justification in the midst of all that self-loathing but it still feels more honest than the FOSSE/VERDON approach of simply trying to poke holes in the myth. The unrelenting and extraordinary “Bye Bye Life” sequence which serves as the finale puts the lie to the concept of people criticize a scene like this for simply being indulgent because there is no film otherwise, there’s no way it would come anywhere near this power if it wasn’t. And without it we wouldn’t feel the tragedy of what’s being lost and grieved in the shot of Joe’s daughter embracing him one last time. There's no point in saying 'if only he could have known' because of course he did. It just didn’t do any good. He is who he is. We’re all who we are as we get closer to the end, facing a little piece of truth at the end of each year, like no business I know.

Roy Scheider, Oscar-nominated for this performance, is absolutely remarkable and totally transformed, without an ounce of his more familiar screen persona and light years beyond anything else he ever did, making me wish we’d gotten more of this side of the actor in the following years but how many films like this are ever made? Even if the film has to shoot around how he’s not really a dancer, Scheider’s very physicality in every movement sells it and he perfectly finds the balance of where his brilliance comes from, how he can command a room even while that self-loathing is never far behind. Maybe because in spite of everything we still see ourselves in there. Playing Joe’s ex-wife, the remarkable Leland Palmer (who I guess we mostly know for serving as the namesake for a certain famous fictional character) finds just the right balance between her bitterness and being unable to hide her unending love for him, always finding something unexpected in the tiny moments including the very last thing she does in the film. As his current girlfriend, Ann Reinking builds up to the yearning she feels for him until it can only be contained in giant close-up, desperate for a shred of his love, whatever he really feels. Erzsebet Foldi as Joe’s daughter is almost too believable in what looks to be her only screen appearance, displaying such directness when acting with Scheider and such joy in her musical numbers that provides more raw emotion than anything else in the film while Jessica Lange, somewhere between KING KONG and TOOTSIE, tantalizes as the vision of death outside the main world of the film but always ready to challenge Joe on his legend, knowing what has to come eventually. Every performance, however small, fits perfectly including Deborah Geffner’s dancer looking to be a movie star and willing to be seduced by Joe, the desperation of Anthony Holland’s songwriter to keep the show going, Ben Vereen’s oozing insincerity as “O’Connor Flood” always making introductions on his variety show and the nasty, fragile ego of John Lithgow as rival director Lucas Sergeant.

Like it or not, the end of the year always feels like waiting anyway. You’re done with the holidays, itching to get back to whatever it is you do and just want to see the damn ball drop already. But The End is still something we think about since it can mean a lot of things. Even Bob Fosse made it another eight years after this so there was no way for him to know everything about it, not even after making this film. For a film about The End, ALL THAT JAZZ is still alive like few other films I know. Maybe because in its way the film is saying don’t be afraid of all that, just try to do a few things better while you’re here. Don’t fuck up. That’s the sort of lesson worth taking from what might be one of the best films ever made. So, as the New Year approaches, it’s back to waiting as I get ready to begin again. Sometimes we don’t have a choice.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Good Against The Living

At the end of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, Richard Dreyfuss as George Lucas avatar Curt Henderson looks down from the plane taking him away from childhood in Modesto where below he sees the elusive white T-Bird driven by Suzanne Somers one more time as if to say farewell to him, to his youth. He’ll never really find her but that’s ok. When it comes to destiny, you have to keep moving. You could ask what Luke Skywalker would have done if those droids had never shown up to take him away from his uncle’s farm on Tatooine but he would have figured out a way to leave eventually because that was his destiny. STAR WARS opened and exploded during the summer of ’77 when a few other films dealt with destiny in their own ways. In William Friedkin’s SORCERER, Roy Scheider travels to the ends of the earth to avoid punishment for his crimes but, as things turn out, he never travels far enough. Which in its way is just as inevitable as the ending of Martin Scorsese’s NEW YORK, NEW YORK which actually opened the same week as the Friedkin film in June of that year, presenting the breakup of Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro as inevitable as their varying degrees of success. Each film plays as an example of what the directors saw as the possibilities of their place in the world and it’s all about whether you can still exist once you’re there. AMERICAN GRAFFITI is about the past, about leaving. STAR WARS, a futuristic look at what it presents as the past, is about the arrival.

The thing about George Lucas’ 1977 film STAR WARS is that it’s presumably meant for the kid in all of us, the kid still looking to discover what their own future is going to be. Of course, all this presupposes we actually want to let the kid out in the first place as long as we’re not too hardened by where we’ve ended up in life but it makes sense that a film like this is an immature one, about people who haven’t yet encountered all the hardships that come with age and failure, from the destruction of the planet Alderaan which barely even gets commented on fleetingly to the groundbreaking special effects which have a tinge of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY but after an opening shot where we take in the enormity of the Star Destroyer chasing the tiny ship belonging to the good guys it never quite pauses for the same kind of awe, always going for the sensation over the majesty. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with this approach and STAR WARS never wants to be a deep film anyway, never more complicated than all the potential for greatness that lies before you when starting out, a feeling you sometimes fight to hold onto and don’t always succeed.

The bare bones of the plot of STAR WARS don’t need to be gone over again, they barely matter anyway. It is, after all, a quest that seems connected to any other fantasy tale half-remembered from when you were a kid found in the story of Luke Skywalker, boy farmer on the desert planet of Tatooine in a faraway galaxy, who makes a discovery which takes him away to a magical place where he learns something about himself that places him on his path in life. It’s myth, that’s what it really is and never more complicated than that. The Death Star plans hidden away for him to find are the McGuffin, the mysterious power that is the Force with its light and dark sides is the morality, the plot is the excuse.

Of course, the plot does matter in the way the story is told and at times it matters brilliantly in how the elements are juggled with dialogue that breathlessly reveals all that exposition as instantly iconic. But there’s still the question of how much plot ever really matters anyway because more than its Wizard of Oz/Flash Gordon/Lord of the Rings/whatever else mashup of mythology so much of the film is about the emotional effect that comes from what the sensation delivers. STAR WARS in its own way is a combination of all films and what that larger than life mythos coming from any of them can mean to us deep down, with characters that are true archetypes we know everything about the second they appear onscreen, whether good and bad. Everything about them is clear and all we need to know is what they’re going to do next.

Serving as our entryway into the film, the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO only seem like they’re going to be the leads in the first fifteen minutes which in itself is one of the bravest things about the film, avoiding a real human connection for as long as possible but making them endearing as Laurel & Hardy-styled comic relief or maybe fools right out of Kurosawa or Peckinpah, commenting on the action and occasionally moving it forward, even if by accident, and once the humans take center stage everything about the world already makes sense. That humanity is found in the trio of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and they’re the ones who really bring the film to life, each one instantly vivid in their characterizations. By the time we meet Luke we’re as acclimated to this world as he is, relating to his whining and staring at the binary sunset as he yearns to get away. He’s the one we lock into whether we want to admit it or not and his frustrations make sense just as much of Princess Leia’s defiance. The glimpses of her in actual distress are so fleeting and it’s as if much of her characterization can be found in the John Williams theme for her, an idealized vision of her set to music that she spends much of her screentime fighting against, looking to take control instead when her rescuers have no idea what to do. Han Solo, meanwhile, always seem to turn up in the film a little later than I expect, with loyal sidekick Chewbacca next to him, but he emerges so fully that he barely needs to be introduced anyway, a man who answers to no one except for the alien gangsters he’s being chased by, everything said about him is clear when confronted by bounty hunter Greedo over an old debt as if his AMERICAN GRAFITTI character Bob Falfa was reborn in this other galaxy and is suddenly given a reason to believe in something more than all the strange stuff he’s already seen. The older figures around them ground that feeling, given the task of bringing gravity to dialogue which hints at greater events around them particularly with everything implied in the very presence of Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi, the former Jedi Knight who in his total calm seems to think back on past events with every glance and utterance. It’s his belief in the Force that provides the film with a center, someone who has seen more than he’ll ever talk about, instead carefully passing along his wisdom with such a calm that we instantly believe his reasons for not believing in luck and that there really is a larger world out there if we’ll only choose to look for it.

On a cinematic level it's meant to be an update of old serials using the filmmaking approach of the New Hollywood and every technological advancement imaginable which thinking back to the time it came out feels revolutionary, taking what was likely thought of as junk back in those days and turning it into something which is as good as it always felt like it could be in the covers of old science fiction novels, the all-powerful space station the Death Star serving as the dark fortress of it all with the image of the mysterious Darth Vader, the figure of all-purpose evil given a mysterious backstory and connection to the Force that Kenobi must confront. The strength of every moment is a part of the filmmaking prowess George Lucas brings to it and just as Steven Spielberg is always moving his camera in something like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Lucas as director is more about the sole purpose of working out the puzzle to put the shots together aided by the sharpness of the framing thanks to Gilbert Taylor, also cinematographer of DR. STRANGELOVE, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and REPULSION, which crystalizes the way everything should look. Along with that look and the tempo taken from those acting styles it’s how every one of those pieces fits in with the pacing thanks to the editing by Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew that makes the shots add up, not always about the individual moment but the way those frames go together, what in the days of Eisenstein would have been called the ‘montage cell’ in how every single shot is not just another part of a sequence but really just one piece of the overall body with a specific purpose. This approach is strongly revealed in some of the best set pieces particularly in the unrelenting kineticism of the TIE Fighters pursuing the Millennium Falcon after the escape from the Death Star but even simple dialogue scenes are given an extra kick by the movement found in the edits or those wipes during scene transitions meant to recall an old fashioned flavor of pulp combined with the naturalistic feel of what was still then the 70s approach, apparent in touches like the relatively sparse use of music at times which lets us pick out what really matters for ourselves.

The story is of course already in progress when the film begins with even what sounds like a key battle serving as nothing more than background in the opening crawl, just like C-3PO is all beat up and dirty for reasons we never learn. The characters aren’t impressed by everything around them so the film doesn’t need to be either and the conversational nature of the dialogue, revealing fantastic things in a matter of fact way, always gets to the point. There may be so much about this universe that isn’t found within the widescreen frame and so many questions about it all even though it’s probably futile to expect total logic from this but so much of what’s there allows us to fill in the blanks. The script, credited to Lucas, slices what we need to know down to its essentials while never getting too lost in all the fantasy jargon even with his fetish for lots of numbers referenced in dialogue whether the Stormtrooper named TK-421 who won’t respond or the new BT-16, whatever it is, that’s apparently quite the thing to see. The script was also reportedly worked on by AMERICAN GRAFFITI co-writers Willard Hyuck and Gloria Katz so the Luke-Leia-Han triangle plays a little as a revisit of the main relationships in their screenplay for the 1975 Stanley Donen film LUCKY LADY, another attempt at an old time pastiche which did more than just imply what was going on between the threesome of stars Liza Minnelli, Gene Hackman and Burt Reynolds, it literally put all of them into bed together. STAR WARS of course keeps the sex out of things and sticks to the enjoyable banter, a sense of carefree innocence in the air during the final moments as if these three will be perfect together the way they are.

As director, Lucas always operates with an eye towards the details whether all those ever-present Stormtroopers, the eternal mystery of the lookalike droid behind C3PO in the opening moments or even how the revolutionary Ben Burtt sound work makes R2-D2 a fully fleshed out character. But even when on the surface the action should be generic like the endless running around the Death Star, the scenes always have an extra kick whether laughs at just the right moment, how much the actors play the tone just right or just the unrelenting sense movement that never lets the tempo slow down for too long. Even the mayhem is placed correctly up against the eerie quiet of other moments, particularly when focusing on Obi-Wan Kenobi’s journey around the massive space station in the way he takes care of the tractor beam or the simple calm of finding Vader standing before him, waiting for the inevitable. The design of the Death Star and the coldness of the corridors that seem to go on forever add to that feel while each spaceship design has just the right amount of character to make us want to see what each of them can do.

This version of outer space is a different yet recognizable universe, with elements like the funhouse quality of all the creatures in the cantina scene, full of touches that add to the old movie tropes whether from old westerns or CASABLANCA and up against all that the special effects are groundbreaking, yes, but the way the rhythm of the film itself responds to it so to create this universe means there’s not a wasted frame, nothing is missing. It’s not that the film ever has a huge amount on his mind—buried under the intellectualism of the Eisensteinian cutting style and not so hidden left wing slant to the rebels in their fight against the evil Empire it’s about the emotion of the moment, a reminder that sometimes what the best films can do to give us this feeling, itself a kind of propaganda to inform us not through speech but the pure cinematic combination of sound and image. Even down to the final bars of the closing credits where the spectacular John Williams score, itself a tribute to both classical music and all sorts of Hollywood adventure films of the past seems to quote a passage from Alfred Newman’s “Street Scene” overture at the start of HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE or the use of the Fox CinemaScope extension in its fanfare at the beginning as a way to definitively announce that this is a larger than life Movie just like they used to make, at least in our dreams.

In the end, it feels like STAR WARS is about making the decision to go off and live the life which helps you comes to terms with that destiny, letting go of the past that terrifies you to figure out who you really are. In a way, Luke’s decision to turn off his targeting computer before his final shot at the Death Star’s exhaust port is an odd case of the film rejecting the technology it wouldn’t exist without yet it’s still the perfect conclusion to his arc here, to figure out the world by using whatever lies within yourself to make that leap forward. And even with all this technology to produce the visual effects the film plays as effortless as it should and the ever-present charm comes out of that feeling. That’s the masterful exhilaration of the final Death Star battle which is all about that pacing and how the unrelenting rhythm gets into our heads, the excitement that grows with every single new shot which allows it to be analyzed endlessly right down to the power of that cut from Peter Cushing’s Tarkin to the very last second of the Death Star right before the explosion. It’s a feeling we never get rid of that matters more than plot or where those revelations are going to lead ever could, always moving forward towards destiny.

The lead performances match the tone perfectly in all their excitement with the uncomplicated boyishness of Mark Hamill, the adroit fearlessness of Harrison Ford, the Hawksian determination of Carrie Fisher who also brings a touch of regality to the dialogue she plays with Peter Cushing, rolling his r’s like nobody’s business and having a glorious time in his ice-cold ferocity. Alec Guinness is particularly enjoyable to watch as he bounces off Hamill and Ford, his bemused nature bringing all the weight in the world to even the smallest of moments, even if it never quite brings out the desert eccentric ‘Ben’ Kenobi allegedly is. But this really doesn’t matter, not when his very presence adds so much and his final smile to Luke as he goes off to deal with the tractor beam provides all the human connection the film needs. Even the small roles pop like Richard LeParmentier in his run in with Vader as the cocky Admiral Motti, the weathered nature of Phil Brown and Shelagh Fraser as Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru but also particularly a few of the rebels during the climax who have stayed in our heads all these years and seem to develop full characterizations while doing nothing but spout battle jargon, each one achieving a certain kind of immortality in their X-wing fighters.

STAR WARS famously opened at Grauman’s Chinese on May 25, 1977, the day after a celebration at the theater to commemorate its fiftieth anniversary which included a special showing of KING OF KINGS. The symbolism of this is tough to overstate, almost dividing much of film history itself into what came before STAR WARS and what has followed after. And who knows what filmmaking is even going to be once we pass the fifty year mark on this one. Of course, just as STAR WARS, the film called simply STAR WARS, doesn’t really have a beginning it also doesn’t really end, merely concluding with this victory over the Evil Galactic Empire. Sure there was more to come but it’s as if by this point George Lucas really has embraced his destiny with this achievement, the blonde in the white T-Bird far in the past, and after that nothing else needs to be said. In the 70s up until STAR WARS was released it seemed like pretty much every ending was downbeat, except for maybe JAWS, ROCKY and FREEBIE AND THE BEAN. But after this and the rapture of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND soon after those endings no longer seemed of the time, as if it was suddenly a film’s job to remind us that everything was going to be ok and nothing more. Not that it was the fault of these individual films, mind you, but it did happen. And even now the film that goes by the name STAR WARS plays as a reminder of how we always need to move forward, no matter how afraid we are of what might happen. Although we should still remember that happy endings are always happy until they’re not. Because even destiny doesn’t necessarily lead us where we think it will. No matter how exhilarating the trip is.