May 11, 2020

SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS

Sweet Smell of SuccessAlexander Mackendrick (director of “The Ladykillers”) may have been of British descent, but his quick-paced 1957 sardonic drama — about the symbiotic relationship between a decadent Manhattan newspaper showbiz columnist and a hungry press agent — captures America’s indulgence in greed, corruption, and aggression like none other. Drawing on the noir style and subject matter of Billy Wilder’s perfect “Ace in the Hole” (1952) “black political drama” would be a suitable moniker for the dark pitch of cynical social satire that “Sweet Smell of Success” examines, rather than the “film noir” attribution that it frequently attracts. Here lies the defective foundation of the American Dream as viewed from an American viewpoint (Burt Lancaster’s company produced the film).

Sweet smell

The story takes place during a day and a half in the life of its New York City characters. Fey toady press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) is in the doghouse with his Walter Winchell-type gossip columnist mentor-and-abuser JJ Hunsecker (emphasis on the second “J”). Mackendrick’s ravenous camera moves through Manhattan’s late '50s Broadway theater district on a nocturnal quest for truth.

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According to JJ, the frequently groveling Sidney is not responding quickly enough to JJ’s orders to rev up the rumor mill to break up a hot romance brewing between Hunsecker’s adult sister Susan (Susan Harrison) and a bland jazz guitarist named Steve Dallas (Martin Milner). Steve Dallas isn’t exactly the next Tal Farlow on guitar, but he’s earned Susan’s romantic devotion. JJ wants to shut the whole thing down with a smear-job on Steve Dallas that sticks. “Communist” is a convenient accusation. JJ’s incestuous emotions seethe in his sexually impotent [or bound] mind. Sidney is working through an imagined apprenticeship with JJ that he hopes will eventually lead to his mentor’s place. The latent homosexual dominant/submissive subtext that exists between the two men underscores JJ’s impotent but nonetheless incestuous desires for his sister. Trouble in mind; trouble in action.

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Neither man has an ounce of ethics but both fake morals to mask their true devotion — to power and money. Sidney calls everybody “baby” or “sweetheart” to get what he wants for his master. He sees though JJ regardless of how beholden to him he is. Sidney tells his de facto boss, “JJ, you’ve got such contempt for people it makes you stupid.”

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Based on a novella by former press agent Ernest Lehman (“Sabrina”) and adapted by Clifford Odets, the great leftist poet of Harold Clurman Group Theatre — “Sweet Smell of Success” exists in a self-loathing urban bourgeois stratosphere where a gossip columnist like JJ Hunsecker can make or break a career depending on whether or not he mentioned it in his column.

SweetSmell

Burt Lancaster’s JJ Hunsecker is a nasty master manipulator, but he doesn’t know his limits — and he doesn’t care because he’s been rewarded so much and so long for his ruthless tactics. He’s irresponsible. JJ’s capacious power has blinded everyone, including him. Still, his days are numbered.

Cocosse | Journal: Flick Review < Sweet Smell of Success | Alexander  Mackendrick (1957)

Neither the antagonist (JJ) nor the film’s (purposefully) falsely represented protagonist (Sidney) has any redeeming traits. They suffer ongoing degrees of retribution, but each will carry on in the prescribed despicable methods to which each is accustomed.

Sweet smell

“Sweet Smell of Success” flopped at the box office. It is in Time Magazine’s list as one of the top movies of all time.

Not Rated. 96 mins.

5 Stars

COLE SMITHEY

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May 09, 2020

THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER


CookThiefLoverPeter Greenaway's reputation as Britain's most ferocious intellectual filmmaker reached its apex in 1989 with his sixth feature film. Although everything about this black comedy including its tongue-twisting title challenges audiences, "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover" remains Greenaway's most successful effort. Methodically constructed in the Jacobean form of Elizabethan revenge tragedies, the movie is an unrestrained attack on Margaret Thatcher's version of Ronald Reagan-style capitalism that infected the globe.

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Greenaway conceived his film as a play, "a performance," with which the audience is meant to engage. His strict adherence to formal laws of theatrical dramaturgy, including proscenium staging, is attenuated by a non-stop assault of physical and verbal violence from the film's loathsome antagonist Albert Spica. In the role of Albert, Michael Gambon embodies his boorish character with a virulent toxicity of epic scale.

The Cook, The POTUS, His Wife and Her Lover | Linnet Moss

Greenaway lets the audience know what it's in for during a tense opening sequence. Albert dislodges the owner of a haute cuisine restaurant named Le Hollandaise. The restaurant's proprietor "Roy" (note the allusion to a "king") hasn't been keeping up on his protection payments to Albert, a mean-spirited mob boss with a taste for fine dishes he can barely pronounce. Peter Greenaway predicted a future he hoped wouldn't arrive. It did. The vicious way Albert tortures Roy and smears his nude body with feces reflects the same cruel brand of devastating psychological humiliation later committed by guards at Guantánamo prison.

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Against Albert's orders his elegant wife Georgina (Helen Mirren) smokes cigarettes as a singular act of insubordination. Knowing her turn will come, she nevertheless tolerates Albert's brutish behavior toward others. Inside the grand restaurant Albert confers with his "employee," a veteran French chef named Richard (Richard Bohringer), about the menu.

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The dining room's red color scheme is watched over by Dutch painter Frans Hals's "Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard Company" —  another thematic poke by the filmmaker. Albert spews his cockney variety of verbal bile at a large rectangular table that allows for Greenaway's formal tableaux compositions to blossom. Challenging thematic ideas come in spades.

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Striking costumes by Jean-Paul Gautier and a haunting musical score by Michael Nyman augment the film's purposefully artificial execution. Georgina strikes up an affair with Michael (Alan Howard), a solitary man who reads as he dines across from Albert's table of savages. Over the course of the next few nights the lovers retreat to the restaurant's bathroom and kitchen to make love between courses. Their trysts represent a desperate escape of independent thinkers from an oppressive outside world that would just as soon eat them alive, or dead.

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"The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover" is a masterpiece of British cinema built on several hundred years of literary tradition. The film must be viewed more than once to begin to digest its pungent and subtle layers of rope-thick satire. There are far worse cinematic fates to be had. 

Cookwifethieflover

Five Stars

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

February 16, 2020

MADE IN SHEFFIELD

MadeThe industrial city of Sheffield, England was the birthplace for the electronic pop explosion of cool post punk bands such as "Vice Versa," "The Human League," "Heaven 17," "ABC,” and "Cabaret Voltaire."

Slick style and a rejection of cultural limitations at hand, these daring musicians created a utopian attitude of romanticized clarity and precision. 

Cabaret Voltaire

Songs pulse, heat up, and grow on an international level in a bastion of fearless creativity. Here is an essential chapter of musical history brought to relevant life and context in fun documentary.   

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In this enthusiastic, if brief documentary (it clocks in at only 52 minutes), filmmaker Eve Wood charts the lineage of musicians whose music inspired modern-day bands such as "Stereolab," "Ladytron," "Client," and "Peaches."

Made In Sheffield

Through insightful interviews with band members (such as Phil Oakey of The Human League), and rare live performance footage, "Made In Sheffield" fills an essential period that linked Punk to the British New Wave with bands intent on destroying rock music.

John-peel

Interview subjects such as the late John Peel, The Human League’s Phil Oakey and Ian Craig Marsh, and music critic Andy Gill shed light on the indispensable influence of Sheffield’s electronic music scene. This thrilling documentary is an important film for any serious music lover to learn about the origins of a time and place where musical creativity ran wild. Perhaps the best thing about this essential documentary is that it might inspire new audiences to discover this music, and perhaps be inspired to create original music of their own.

Humanleague

Not rated. 52 mins.Four Stars

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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