Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Movies: Double Your Pleasure

First, permit me to recommend Rumba, the rum-centric watering hole Seattle has long deserved. Rosemarie and I closed our Saturday night there to toast the terrific double-bill we’d programmed ourselves.

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel is the latest in the recent strong crop of fashion documentaries. Vreeland’s granddaughter-in-law Lisa Immordino Vreeland has assembled this hugely affectionate portrait largely from vintage interviews with the Harper’s Bazaar/Vogue editor and mastermind behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, linking them with recreated conversations between Vreeland and George Plimpton, collaborator on her autobiography D.V. The Empress Vreeland remains an active, very much alive presence in these clips, brimming over with enthusiasm for, well, damn near everything. There are so many bon mots and worthwhile bits of advice about life and work that the entire film is an inspiration. Vreeland waxing rhapsodic about surfers and skateboarders convinced me that she would be in the same company as Rosemarie: chic, intelligent, professional women with an inexplicable love for the Jackass movies.

The Connection (1961) is better known for its legal history than its box office. Shirley Clarke’s adaptation of Jack Gelber’s Obie Award-winning play had two New York matinee screenings in October 1962 before the police arrested the projectionist and seized the print on the grounds that the movie was obscene. The filmmakers sued and ultimately won, but the damage to the film’s American reception was done.

The premise is years ahead of its time: a documentary crew sets out to record a day in the life of some heroin addict jazz musicians, which naturally means springing for the junk. Still, I went in with some apprehension, expecting a lot of hipster posing and patois. Instead, I was knocked on my ass. The lingo is there all right, much of it spouted by the deeply square director of the film-within-the-film who finds himself on camera a lot more than he wishes protesting that he wants to make “a real, human document.” Clarke wastes no time diving into the thorny issues of performance versus reality – including whether that “versus” is even necessary – and she’s abetted by her company of not-yet-known actors like William Redfield, Carl Lee and Roscoe Lee Browne. Also hugely impressive is the music, provided by the Freddie Redd Quartet with Jackie McLean, all of whom appear on camera as the junkies. In one amazing sequence when the titular connection arrives, the band’s members go off one by one to cop in the bathroom while the other musicians keep playing, each instrument dropping out for a few moments only to return with, shall we say, renewed intensity. A new 35mm print of The Connection is showing for a few more days at the Northwest Film Forum in conjunction with the Earshot Jazz Festival. Here’s the trailer.