– Hair—Phantasm—The Hurricane—Remember My Name
– Ten years have passed since the musical drama (both terms are questionable) HAIR graced the playhouses of America'"or disgraced them, depending on your point of view. Now we have the movie, which in spite of a considerable dress-up job seems quite dated; it belongs to another era.
But the dress-up job is a good one. Director Milos Forman, last seen in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, is no slouch when it comes to directing ensembles, and he has his work cut out for him with this one. There have been many changes made in the screen adaptation, and as far as I can see every one of them is an improvement. So much life is breathed into the old corpse that one is occasionally carried away in spite of oneself, more by the high spirits and graceful energy that Forman has put into it than by the plot or the music of the stage play.
But only occasionally. That something is beautifully done doesn't imply that it was worth doing. A person may learn to twirl a baton while sword swallowing, but granted that this is a difficult accomplishment, one is still left with the question, Why do it in the first place? And in spite of the driving energy with which Forman has imbued this film, the morality of the flower children remains unchanged'"and unquestioned'"in the film. Since you don't choose to work, and you need money to live, you panhandle'"from anyone who will give. There is a scene in which the perfectly able-bodied "hero" cons his mother out of $250, which she can't really spare'"but then, he belongs to the New Generation (1968), so anything he wants he should have, shouldn't he? Aren't whims meant to be satisfied? The only question is, Whose?
– PHANTASM is the latest attempt to scare people out of their wits. Written, produced, and directed by a new filmmaker, Don Coccarelli, it may seem to fall into the pattern of John Carpenter, the writer-producer-director of Halloween. But here, unfortunately, the comparison ends. This film is saturated with senseless gimmickry'"coffins groaning and growling, lead balls flying through the air, persons appearing and reappearing with hands on your shoulders just when the lights go off. There are times when even the most insensate viewer is taken off guard and gives a start. But this is not to say that he experiences terror, even vicarious film-terror. The fright does not grow organically out of the story; one feels that there is a constant attempt to frighten one, and as a result it doesn't work. There is also too much padding: make-work scenes easily detachable from the story, invented as a new pretext for scare-inducement. In Halloween there wasn't an irrelevant moment, and every event contributed to the cumulative impact; this film, by contrast, is episodic, the scares thrown in for kicks. If you want a taut thriller in which the thrills grow naturally out of an interesting story, stay away from this one.
– Were the Greeks great because they didn't have to study the classics? Is it that the first time 'round one can approach every issue with freshness and originality? Or is it rather that the first treatment of something only seems better because it is seen later through the mists of childhood memories? I remember as a child seeing the 1937 version of THE HURRICANE, directed by John Ford. Is it only because it was the first time 'round with the story that the present remake falls so flat? I think not. One of my most pleasant memories of the earlier version is the impeccable sense of structure'"simple, yet strong and clean and powerful in its sweep. The opposing forces'"the primitive mores of the islanders set against the imposed mores of the Europeans, represented by Dorothy Lamour and Jon Hall on the one side and Raymond Massey as the governor-general on the other'"were clearly set forth from the outset. The tension began in the first few minutes, and it mounted steadily and relentlessly to the end. Even the hurricane itself became the embodiment of conflicting elemental human forces. In the present version, the tension barely mounts; almost half the film passes without any great conflict having been generated; and when it does slowly and belatedly appear, the rhythm of the thing is all askew'"cut when it should be propelled forward and vice versa.
Jan Troell, who did the fine cinematography in one of the best films of recent years, The Emigrants, became director in this one; he should stick to cinematography. The pace is far too slow; no meaningful structure is built; even the tropical sunsets and the Hawaii 5-0 surf get tiresome, though the entire picture was filmed in the most beautiful spot in the world (that I have seen at any rate), Bora-Bora in the Tahitian Islands. Just as the libretto is incidental to the music in opera, visual and musical beauty are incidental in film: they help to make a satisfying film if there is a good plot, but they do not make up for a bad one. Yet the plot of the Nordhoff-Hall novel is made to order for cinema; with a rousing good story and a plethora of concrete images, it would seem as if it couldn't miss as a film, and yet it does.
In the earlier version, Raymond Massey was the embodiment of evil (devotion to principle combined with malevolence, like Charles Laughton in Mutiny on the Bounty), which Jason Robards in the 1979 version is not: he mouths "colonialist" principles without even appearing to comprehend them. In the earlier version, the villain lives through the hurricane and is still present in the end; in the present version, the villain is killed in the hurricane well before the film is over. The film thus reaches its climax prematurely and peters out even before the hurricane does.
Dino De Laurentiis spent over $20 million on this one, which could have been salvaged if he had spent about a hundred thousand getting a good script'"not a difficult task, since the novel already provided it. Not all the oversized hurricanes in the world can make a good film without the powerful human impact that could so easily have been in this one. All the trappings are there, yet nothing jells. The rifleman shot at close range, and still he missed.
– Most film viewers remember Geraldine Chaplin as the actress who gave such a glowing portrayal of the wife of Dr. Zhivago. Fine as that characterization was, it tended to typecast her as "the virtuous girl." That mold has definitely been broken with REMEMBER MY NAME. Her portrayal of a psychotic is sensitive and clinically interesting. The lesser role played by Anthony Perkins is also well done.
One must be forewarned, however, that the film is not very self-explanatory and that one must have some acquaintance with abnormal psychology in order to figure out exactly what's going on in it, especially if one doesn't want to be let down at the end. If one fills in, from one's own background knowledge, the material that the film itself never really supplies, then seeing it can provide an interesting and even exhilarating experience. The presentation itself is not subtle'"there are no flashbacks, no time warps, no scenes dreamed or imagined; it is presented as if it were a newsreel, and one is invited to observe carefully the minutiae of Ms. Chaplin's behavior. It is the behavior itself that is complex, enough so to require more of an explanation than the film provides. Still, some readers may not miss it, since the curiosity of what-happens-next? and what's-this-going-to-lead-to? is sufficient by itself to keep the viewer absorbed; and if the viewer really thinks he can predict what's going to happen from one episode to the next, by all means let him fall on his face trying to do it.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Movies".