REVIEWS: Classic movies
In honor of the thousands of college students heading south for spring break, I decided to check out the film that started it all for the spring break sub-genre: 1960’s “Where the Boys Are.” Most people probably think of cheesy 80’s films when they think of spring break flicks, but director Henry Levin set the stage 20 years earlier, complete with the sunny locale (Fort Lauderdale), the eclectic mix of vacationers, silly college hijinks, and the “crazy” guy with the funny nickname. The film cleverly begins with scenic aerial shots of the Florida coast while a narrator describes spring break in Fort Lauderdale as more of a zombie attack than a vacation hotspot, calling the onslaught of students an “annual invasion that turns night into day.”
The film is set during a time when casual sex was becoming more acceptable — or at least discussed — and the topic is a recurring theme throughout the movie. Four college girlfriends set out for sunny Florida in search of decent tans, boys, and innocent fun, but end up with more than they bargain for. Led by Merritt Andrews (Delores Hart — much more on her later), the foursome begin meeting who each thinks is the man of their dreams. Merritt falls for Ivy Leaguer Ryder (George Hamilton). Tuggle (Paula Prentiss) swoons over the goofy yet charismatic TV Thompson (Jim Hutton). Promiscuous Melanie (Yvette Mimieux) gets into a complicated romance with two men in the hotel complex. Angie (Connie Francis) is generally unlucky in love, but eventually finds love with eccentric jazz musician Basil (Frank Gorshin).
The film serves as a coming of age tale as the girls’ principles are tested in their new relationships. Merritt discovers she isn’t ready for the sexual relationship Ryder pushes for. Tuggle spends the week trying to figure out the quirky TV, only to watch him fall for an older woman. The mostly lighthearted film takes a dark turn when it is implied that Melanie is sexually assaulted by one of the men she has been cavorting with. With the film’s climax revolving around Melanie’s assault, Levin fails to recapture the previous feel-good vibe during the film’s resolution, leading to a somewhat bemusing denouement.
Watching classic films isn’t for everyone, though I highly recommend you at least give it a try (if you have not already done so). It is a wonderful experience to watch a classic and then research the film — learning about actors from past generations, the culture during the film’s decade, and all the fun celluloid tidbits you pick up along the way. For instance, the star of “Where the Boys Are,” the beautiful Delores Hart, was dubbed the next Grace Kelly. She was Elvis Presley’s first onscreen kiss, and well on her way stardom when this film was made. However, after six years in Hollywood she became a cloistered nun in the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut, where she resides today. My favorite character of the film was TV Thompson, portrayed by Jim Hutton. I didn’t know this going into the film, but Hutton is the father of Timothy Hutton (TNT’s “Leverage”), one of my favorite actors of today’s generation. The quirky Paula Prentiss is extremely charming, and I found it interesting that she and Hutton starred in four consecutive films together — because they were MGM’s tallest actors (Prentiss at 5’10” and Hutton at 6’5”). Frank Gorshin, of course, played The Riddler in 1966’s “Batman.”
Once you forgive the film for the mistimed use of cheesy music and poorly lit scenes that go from day to night and back to day, you’ll enjoy a fun little trip back in time. Most of the shenanigans by college students are overheard on a police radio in a running gag, so you get more Gidget than Jersey Shore from the film. Credited with popularizing the trek to Florida for spring break, “Where the Boys Are” has certainly earned its place in pop culture history. While much tamer than its descendants, the film created the wildly successful sub-genre formula that is still used in Hollywood to this day.
The distinction between “lying” and “storytelling” is something that many people (my childhood self included) choose to ignore. Did I lie to you? No, I just told you a story. Stories are dynamic and fantastic, while being labeled a liar is a hideous insult.
“The Fall,” released in 2006 after four years of shooting, is an astonishingly beautiful lie. Story. Whatever. And given that it’s helmed by Tarsem (last name Singh, though he chooses to only use the first), a director with a background in commercials and music videos, it’s unsurprising that he’s able to create images so fantastic that the film had to issue a statement declaring that no visual effects were used in its creation. Even the opening credits sequence, a seemingly random occurrence that proves important later, is initially hard to decipher due to the distractingly gorgeous cinematography.
Set in a Los Angeles hospital “once upon a time,” which happens to look much like the early 1920s, two convalescing patients meet through a twist of fate, as befitting any good fairytale. One is Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a five-year-old girl who currently has her arm confined to one of the most uncomfortable-looking plaster casts in history, the other is Roy (Lee Pace, of the late, lamented TV show “Pushing Daisies”), who is bedridden and potentially paralyzed from the waist down.
Their stories are not given to the audience, though bits and pieces filter through – Roy’s state is explained by his work as a stuntman for “flickers,” as he calls them, and a love affair gone awry. Alexandria and her family are recent immigrants, and we’re given the notion that they came to their current lives in the orange groves due to violence in their past.
But just as Alexandria would prefer it, most of the bombast is saved for the world that Roy’s narration builds in her head — here everything is saturated in color, there are swimming elephants, and a quintet of larger-than-life characters, all on a mission to assassinate an governor who’s about as evil as the Galactic Empire, or so it sounds. They include the ex-slave Ota Benga, an Indian widower, Charles Darwin (who wears a massive coat of red and white fur, because why not), and a explosives expert named Luigi.
To round them out is the Blue Bandit, who begins as an outsized vision of Alexandria’s father until she requests to have the part played by Roy, instead. Her role in the tale is vital and visual — if she decides that Charles Darwin has been searching for a magical species of butterfly, well, who’s going to contradict her? It’s her mind, so if Alexandria prefers to cast the characters as her favorite nurses and doctors, then so shall it be.
Digging a little deeper into the production history of “The Fall” reveals its own network of untruths and exaggerations — Pace kept himself confined to a wheelchair for months during the hospital sequences, later stunning the cast and crew (and his young costar) when he revealed he was able to walk. Many of the scenes between Untaru and Pace were filmed secretly and at a great distance to allow the pair to bond as their characters do, to lovely effect; several plot twists were added as the two built their own story.
Though the bulk of the movie is spent wrestling over the dreamscape’s plot, the hospital scenes between Roy and Alexandria are the heart of the film. The real world has a few less elephants, but the drama is just as intense and with more dire consequences. And it’s the ultimate mark of the movie’s quality that a sequence where a man emerges from a burning tree can be followed immediately by two people sitting in a sterile hospital room without the slightest downgrade in intensity. “The Fall” might find be memorable for its storybook imagery, but its core of emotional truth is what makes it linger in the mind.
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