Without any pretence at front-line criticism, Peter Wix presents a quarterly digest
of armchair observations to help in your search for the best of old and new movies.

The Boy with Green Hair    Joseph Losey (1948)

Before his memorable cameo as a sinister dive bar owner miming ‘In Dreams’ in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, Dean Stockwell was a charming little child star. He had green hair in this whimsical post-war film made by Joseph Losey before the director was driven out of the USA by the anti-Commie paranoiacs. It’s a gentle piece set in one of those dreamy American towns with picket fences and barber stores, the kind that turned later into the set for The Truman Show. And like Truman Burbank, the boy with the green hair is a saviour figure for those who are different. Feeling good about being di erent is the film’s main message but it also lines up as something of an anti-war lm, highlighting as it does the countless orphans created by WWII. There’s a nice avuncular role for Pat O’Brien, Hollywood’s pat priest in films like Angels With Dirty Faces. A curiosity.          7/10

Duke Ellington: Memories of Duke     Gary Keys (1980)

Just the audio of the Duke’s music, his engaging tunes set in arrangements of intricate beauty, is enough to marvel at, but these smartly-edited full performances of songs on a 1968 Mexican tour are really a marvel. The colours are rich, the photography grainy and grand, and the cutting room interviews with some of his longest serving musicians reveal the great secrets of such a successful jazz enterprise; for example, that the leader wrote his arrangements for the specific talents and limitations of his cool, disciplined orchestra members, i.e. like a good football manager, he planned to his strengths. Cool, yes! This is Mexico, they are suited up, and yet not a bead of sweat to be seen, not even the drummer! How is this possible? Every shot of Ellington himself gets across the power of the man, an almost ghostly figure with the watchful but tender gaze of a father of his art. It’s an unpretentious film that lets the music do the talking.         8/10

Atlantik (Aka Titanic)      Ewald André Dupont (1929)

This is the earliest attempt to capture the famous disaster on lm, though much of it suffers from ponderous, mannered acting; but… but… there’s something about some of these scenes that conveys a little of the horror that must haunt one when the end is nigh. Since it was made relatively close to the tragedy, one looks here for authenticity as a social document. Perhaps the final scenes are the key, when the lower classes and engine-room boys get to share the first class bar, all know ing they will go down with the ship yet strangely all talking at a normal pace. There is also a scene in which a black worker is shot for trying to get into the lifeboats during the scramble for survival (women and children first, and then white men before black men). A film for the brave-hearted.           5/10

La Femme Infidèle      Claude Chabrol (1969)

We looks into the past and find well-made things; in tribute to the lighter in which all things t together well and last and click into a brilliant flame, we could call it the Zippo factor. A Claude Chabrol lm is such a thing. It may look old, and in the case of La Femme Infidèle, it crackles with beautiful images of late-’60s Paris, full of Citroen ‘sharks’ and deux chevaux and cigarette smoke. Zippo factor: the story is so well designed, cut, and hinged together that it still clicks and lights up the imagination even this far from the 1960s. The secret in a Chabrol lm is the detail to be studied within what can be a generally deceptive movement. For example, in this tight little story of bourgeois infidelity, we are coaxed into believing that something is suddenly going to explode out of the stultified modern marriage between a control- fixated boss and his younger yet alarmingly dispassionate and cuckolding trophy wife. But neither her affair with a divorced writer nor the murder of the latter at the hands of the slighted husband are events of much emotion. Instead of a bang we have a flickering flame, showing us the de-oxygenated life of the well-to-do, their lack of enthusiasm, their need to defend themselves against passion. It’s masterful work, a highly efficient use of cinema; the camera as poet and judge, actors as messengers, delicious irony, an illumination.        9/10

Stéphane Audran as Hélène Desvallées in La femme in dèle

Stéphane Audran as Hélène Desvallées in La femme infidèle

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