Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Fox-Rank) is, I suppose, the most interesting of the fortnight’s new releases. With a certain academic pomposity, and over-literal sub-titles, that somehow make it funnier, it satirically shovels at the heap of waste that is the upper strata of French society, through those two themes of upper middle class circus, the dinner party and the walk in the country.
Everyone is corrupt or insane in this intellectualised piece of cynicism, from the drug smuggling ambassador of a small mysterious republic, to the army colonel who smokes pot between manoeuvres, and the Roman Catholic bishop who just wants to work as a gardener. The film is superbly and delicately detailed in its observation of mannerisms and use of background sounds that heighten the satire.
It worked best for me when being more obviously farcical, but then the more subtle images were probably meant for the bourgeoisie in the audience who could afford to pay £1 a seat at London’s most expensive cinema, where the film is showing. Much of their far from discreet, loud laughter sounded like that which emanates from a university debating chamber, after someone has scored a particularly witty point. It seems searing at the time, but leaves no lasting impression, amusing cynicism tending to attack one’s thoughts only superficially.
Having paid my respects, and £1, to the liberal cinema owners of Bloomsbury, I dashed across two miles of West End traffic in search of a little entertainment or something. It wasn’t worth the cab fare. Ulzana’s Raid (Universal/Fox-Rank) directed by Robert Aldrich, who previously made the partially comic, but nevertheless snide and exploitative “The Killing Of Sister George”, had me swaying between extreme boredom and revulsion whenever my snooze interrupted by the scenes of excessive, motiveless, bloody violence. Burt Lancaster is excessively dry as Mackintosh who is despatched with the US cavalry, captained on this occasion by handsome Bruce Davison, to track down a band of marauding Apaches. The film’s single original episode is Lancaster’s death at the end.
Shamus (Columbia-Wamer) is a routinely scripted, downbeat thriller with Burt Reynolds as yet another seedy, boozy, billiard playing private eye, who accompanied by a paste and tinsel Dyan Cannon, car chases and pointless killings, sets about tracking down gun runners in New York. What lifts the film out of the deepest mire is Buzz Kilik’s direction, skilfully snappy, and executed with an eye to character detail and a great feeling for the atmosphere of Brooklyn where the film is set; he even manages to extract a good performance from Burt Reynolds. It’s just a pity he wasn’t given a more worthwhile subject to direct.
In complete contradiction, veteran Hollywood screenwriter, Ernest Lehman’s adaptation of Philip Roth’s horror of the family novel, Portnoy’s Complaint (Columbia-Warner) has a subtle, potentially expansive script, which adheres closely to the dialogue in the book and should have been accompanied on film by very visual, whispy, wanky fantasies. Instead, Lehman, after years of writing such successes as ‘Hello Dolly’, and now making his directorial debut, creates something like a stage play, with small, stark, sparse, theatrically confined sets. It’s very uncinematic and he wastes the resources he’s been given, like Panavision (wide screen) appallingly. Not even Karen Black as Monkey, the girl who finally helps Richard Benjamin express his fantasies physically, creates anything other than a rehash of her characterisation in ‘Five Easy Pieces’.
Australian Lace is an odd little short now touring with various films, a semi-documentary with a right wing stilt, about a group of young peoples’ lives in Paddington, the ‘Chelsea’ of Sydney, Australia. Fascinating, because it’s so rare we see anything on Australian life, and its odd, almost Victorian Puritanism.
Another short worth catching is the Cobblers of Umbridge (Anglo-EMI) a very, very funny send-up of the Archers with John Wells, John Fortune et al doing their thing.
Two sparkles to brighten pre-feature tedium.