Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The beauty of wheat on screen

In my first post ever on CineRobot I mentioned the film Days of Heaven (1978) regarding my newfound appreciation of the b-film actress Brooke Adams. When I watched that film for the first time one of the first things that jumps out to me is just how beautiful director Terrence Malick made wheat look on screen. I have never seen wheat look so captivating before as the way Malick made it look. Honestly, the parts of it shimmying in the wind, all green against the flat terrain of the film is some of the most breathtaking moments in cinema history for me. Why do I find the wheat so beautiful to look at?

Maybe it's me tapping into some kind of primal, early film appreciation as the wheat in Days of Heaven reminds me a little of something that early film pioneers the Lumiere Brothers might have filmed and released. The early "hits" in penny or nickel houses were not stories but real life events: trains moving, trees swaying in the breeze, panning shots of a cityscapes or rural horizons.

When Malick lets his camera stay on the wheat for long periods of time I am reminded of these short films in the early days of cinema. I could watch the wheat move for hours. A few years ago I was lucky to see a restored 35 mm print of Days of Heaven (after having to watch it on tv the previous times I'd seen it) and I was blown away by its meditation on nature and love (and how Malick lingers over wheat like he's lusting after it!).

I thought I'd never see Malick's wheat topped but a few months ago I saw a great little film from Italy called I'm Not Scared (2003). I'm Not Scared is worth seeing as an interesting coming of age thriller and character study as a young boy discovers something about the people close to him that changes him forever.

But, the first thing that stood out to me regarding I'm Not Scared is the unbelievably gorgeous use of wheat by director Gabriele Salvatores. It's the closest I've seen to matching the wheat in Days of Heaven. Salvatores uses the wheat just as Malick does (it's clear he's seen Days of Heaven) as a way to create isolation and lushness in the film's setting at the same time. Wheat can present this duality of meaning when it's filmed in such a concentrated way and connected to the film's story.

In these two films, the wheat is a character in the story and you can't help but notice it, admire it, and if you are like me, wish that you were standing in the field itself. Check out these two films to see wheat filmed the way it dreams of being filmed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Discovering Brooke Adams circa 1970s

I happen to be on this Donald Sutherland kick at the moment. Sutherland made a bunch of good movies in the 1970s and is an example of just how the film industry has changed the way it thinks of a leading man. Sutherland was a leading man despite his quirky looks because he could act and he relied often on the power of his '70s 'stache. Let's face it, if Sutherland was 35 now (the age he was when he broke out big in M.A.S.H. in 1970) he would be relegated to character roles supporting some grinning fool with a chiseled stomach. He certainly wouldn't be steaming up the screen as he and Julie Christie did in 1973's Don't Look Now. It's a shame really as I'd rather watch good actors with screen presence get the good roles not nitwits with stunning features.

So, while watching Sutherland in the Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake from 1978 I noticed one of the film's co-stars--the fetching Brooke Adams. I must admit, I have a bit of an eyebrow fetish, and remember loving her performance (and eyebrows!) in Days of Heaven--a film I cherish and have seen many times--but I'd never taken the time to see any of her other films. All I knew about her is that she is now married to Tony Shalhoub aka Monk. That's changed over the past few weeks as my Sutherland kick turned into a Brooke Adams binge with all the Adams netflix had to offer.

I have recently seen Brooke in Cuba (not great), A Man, A Woman and A Bank (silly but fun heist film that reunites her with Sutherland) and Shock Waves. Shock Waves is kind of a bizarre b-horror film that has an odd story that combines zombies with Nazis who love to rise out of the ocean (or any water in general) and drown people. They don't like to eat their victims, they just love to drown them. It's goofy fun and would make a nice midnighter. Brooke gets to do some zombie film screaming in a bikini and does a lot of running in the jungle but I wouldn't say it's her best acting performance but who cares--it's Shock Waves! There is only so much to be expected from a film about a bunch of water loving Nazi zombies.

Sadly, I'm running out of films from the '70s with Adams in them. I'll have to move on I guess, no matter how hard that will be.