Saturday, May 27, 2006

Live to Tango


Driving into work the other day, I spotted a license plate frame on a car in front of me that read:
“Live to tango
Tango to live”
At long last, I finally have a credo.

All this talk about the Summer Movie Season hasn’t lured me to the Cineplex to see any of the “bounty” of offerings, mainly due to my total of lack of enthusiasm for the products on display. But I did have more than a passing interest to see a recent revival of a film I knew nothing about. My curiosity got the better of me, especially since I would have berated myself if I missed it and waited for the home version, which I so often do these days. As someone who supposedly cares so much about film, how could I pass this up and continue to claim to be who I say I am? Therefore, I ventured forth to the great Cinema 21 in downtown Portland on a Saturday afternoon-a special time to see a movie, in my book-and caught the movie in question.

THE FALLEN IDOL, the first collaboration between writer Graham Green and director Carol Reed prior to their masterpiece THE THIRD MAN, is a gem to behold. Told from a child’s point of reference, IDOL tells the tale of a diplomat’s son whose only friend is the concierge of the embassy in which they both love. When a tragic accident causes the concierge’s shrewish wife to perish, the boy actually begins to believe that his hero has committed murder. Ralph Richardson as the concierge is a revelation. This is not a role one would associate with the great British actor, even though this was the period of his greatest triumphs on the stage. There are no filmed records of his great Shakespearean roles and he didn’t “cross the pond” in the way Olivier had at the same period of time. (At this point, Lord Larry had both WUTHERING HEIGHTS and REBECCA under his belt) So to see Richardson in a sympathetic romantic leading role emphasizing both his vulnerability and fallibility was pleasantly surprising. As a frame of reference, I could see Kevin Spacey in this part. And even though the little boy is perhaps one of the most annoying children on screen ever, it all works for the film. The kid is supposed to be a pain in the ass. He actually helps amp up the suspense. As for Carol Reed, I cannot say enough. To say IDOL is Hitchcokian is a trite comparison, but given the subtle nuances he gives this story, his work here matches up to the Master’s in many ways. For example, a crucial piece of evidence that would incriminate Richardson is folded into a paper airplane, circling over the heads of the policemen searching for clues in the embassy. Brilliant filmmaking.

To see THE FALLEN IDOL at the Cinema 21, an older theater complete with balcony that is the polar opposite of your typical uberplex, just added to my total enjoyment that Saturday afternoon. Viewing an older film in that setting is almost a séance, reviving the spirits of movies of the past and the audiences who watched them As a result, that entire two hour period was a mini-vacation and, I’ll tell you, it was completely therapeutic. This pleasant experience charged my batteries for almost two weeks afterward, putting a spring in my step and, once again, reminded myself who the hell I am. Sure, that seems like a tall order for merely attending a movie, but these days, sometimes you have take whatever victory you can get.

Live to tango indeed.
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