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A 50-Year-Old “High School”

1968: a public high school in Philadelphia.

This is what Frederick Wiseman, America’s most famous documentary maker, trained his camera on 50 years ago, in High School.  A dandy film, it reveals perfectly the unkillable regimentation in modern schools, although the classrooms in this particular, predominately white school do not drive us to the kind of despair that dysfunctional schools in 2017 do.  Still, there are problems, regimentation or no.  Bad behavior runs its course, albeit we don’t see any violence or cussing out of teachers.  There is some fluff in the instruction:  one teacher guides her students to appreciate the “poetry” of Paul Simon.  She reads aloud the lyrics to “The Dangling Conversation,” then plays a tape of the song.  And clinical lectures about sex just might have run counter to the moral values of many of the kids’ 1968 parents.

On the other hand, a Spanish-language teacher inculcates what seems to be the Spanish for “existentialist philosopher.”  Nope: this is not a 2017 public school.

Things Keep Looking Up: The Movie, “A Damsel in Distress”

A Damsel in Distress (film)

A Damsel in Distress (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gracie Allen‘s comedy in the 1937 A Damsel in Distress is easy to take only in small doses, which is what we get (for his part, George Burns is a zero).  Allen, at any rate, is not the movie’s leading lady; Joan Fontaine is, and Fred Astaire the leading man.  Fontaine’s acting, however, is lukewarm, but she has far less to do than Astaire, who is his usual buoyant self.  With his engaging dancing.

The George Stevens-directed Damsel has its shortcomings, but it’s a splendid musical-comedy with Gershwin songs.  Its more or less fun book is mostly a P.G. Wodehouse creation, and its cast (largely American, playing Brits [with accent deficiency]) is winsome.  Stevens does well in maneuvering the dancing Astaire and Fontaine outdoors around multiple trees to the tune of the very pretty “Things Are Looking Up.”  And there is much to like in the wild, comic dance number set in a carnival.  Other Gershwin songs, such as “I Can’t Be Bothered Now” and “A Foggy Day,” are musically and lyrically good.

The best thing about Damsel is that it’s enchanting.


“Marathon Man”: Never In The Running

Cover of "Marathon Man"

Cover of Marathon Man

John Schlesinger‘s Marathon Man (1976) is a mediocre thriller—paranoid, rambling, even silly.  Thus it is devoid of the economy and sensible content of the American crime movies of the Forties and Fifties.  Yes, those movies were usually based on novels, but so is Marathon Man.

Dustin Hoffman and Roy Scheider are wholly remarkable here.  They don’t belong in a wholly unremarkable film.

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