Thursday, January 13, 2005

DVD: Mikey & Nicky (1976)

Years of lobbying on the part of its admirers have paid off with the release of Elaine May’s movie on DVD. I always wonder how fans will react when they get another look at a film they remember with such fondness. Will it hold up, or will they wonder what they saw in it in the first place?

I came to the movie fresh. Or as fresh as you can be while still knowing the lore: that May exposed a million feet of film while making this quasi-improvised story about two close friends over one long night, and that she spent years tinkering with it in the editing room.

I can understand why the movie has an ardent following. I’m just not part of it. The movie feels like Elaine May absorbed all of John Cassavetes’ early films and made a studied imitation of them, right down to using Cassavetes and his frequent collaborator Peter Falk as her leads. The result has all the flaws of Cassavetes’ work but little of its chaotic energy. Interminable scenes, such as the boys’ visit to a kinda-sorta prostitute, are followed by strong moments like an argument between the two in the street that brings every remembered slight to the surface.

May wisely gives the movie a solid spine; Cassavetes is a low-level hood convinced that a contract is out on him, and Falk may or may not be fingering him for the Mob. The two leads give tremendous performances. Cassavetes may be too good; he’s so overbearing that I occasionally found myself wishing the hit man would get a move on. Knowing the history between the two as actors only adds to the film’s impact. In its quiet moments, it’s an affecting study of middle-aged friendship, and how years of shared experiences don’t make it any easier to forgive years of petty grievances.

Miscellaneous: Link

This year’s Slate Movie Club was a non-starter. Too much discussion of criticism and not enough of movies. And bringing up Pauline Kael in such company is always a bad idea. But a quintet of the best film bloggers – Filmbrain, the Cinetrix, Liz Penn, Aaron at Out of Focus, and David Hudson of the indispensable GreenCine – have taken this Golden Globes weekend as a cue to start a Conversation of their own.