Friday, August 2, 2013

A Foreign Affair

A Foreign Affair
seen at Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, Bryant Park, New York NY
7.29.13

I've always had a bit of a hard time with Marlene Dietrich as a sex symbol. Was she beautiful? Of course. Her beauty, however, was quite different from that of a Rita Hayworth or an Elizabeth Taylor. I've read the stories about how much she managed her looks, to the point of even advising her directors on how to light her properly. She was way ahead of her time in many ways, and you have to respect that.

She never really struck me as being that sexy, though. She reminds me of Mae West in that they were actresses with unconventional looks who made themselves sex symbols through careful cultivation of their image. Of course, it helped that they worked during a time when definitions of feminine beauty were not quite as rigid as they are now.



I dunno. Maybe I haven't seen enough of her films. A few months ago, I had the privilege of seeing The Blue Angel in 16mm. I thought about writing about it, but I honestly was not sure what to make of it, it was such a strange movie. I've seen Witness For the Prosecution, of course, and she's awesome in that. While I have no problem watching her in a movie, I can't quite buy into the idea of her as a sexy siren. Maybe it's the cheekbones. Maybe it's that perpetually languid look in her eyes.

It's definitely not the singing. In A Foreign Affair, Dietrich gets to sing three songs, but, as was typical of her, she didn't sing so much as sing-talk, which can often be really annoying (see Harrison, Rex). Maybe German audiences found that alluring, but I can't say I do. And besides, Madeline Kahn kinda ruined any possibility of me taking it seriously. It sounds like I'm putting Dietrich down, I know, and I'm totally not. Like I said, I respect her for being a true Hollywood original and a cross-cultural icon. I probably just need to see her in other stuff.



Affair centers around a US congresswoman sent to post-war Berlin to assess the morale of American troops, only to discover that an officer may be having a secret relationship with an ex-Nazi. The film is special in that we get to see images of Berlin only a few years removed from the war's end. Jacqueline goes into more detail about the movie, and she makes it sound so much better than my impression of it...

... because of where I saw it. The volume at Bryant Park was quite loud, as it needs to be to accommodate such a large crowd, but loud doesn't always equal clear. As a result, I found I had to focus more. Failing that, I relied on the close-caption screen to my left. This was the first time I had sat near this screen at a Bryant Park screening, and I was surprised to see that the captioning was being done live. A real person was typing the dialogue as it happens. Then I realized why: this was an actual 35mm print being shown. I'd gotten so used to seeing DVDs at outdoor screenings, where one can turn on the subtitles, that it was a bit of a shock to see that we were watching actual celluloid. Kudos to the Bryant Park Film Festival people, I guess.



Affair is a comedy, but I didn't find it that funny, and I suspect the reason why had to do with the sound. As usual, I was at the back end of the lawn, although I was closer to the gate than I was for Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. This is a Billy Wilder film, so that means dialogue is vitally important, and while I was able to follow the plot, I wanted to do more than that. You'll note that in Jacqueline's post she touches upon aspects of the dialogue that I either missed or that I didn't get the full impact of. 

And of course, there were people talking. In this case there was a family to the right and behind of me, complete with little brats kids having a pizza dinner and not caring about the film at all. They weren't there at the beginning and they didn't stay that long, but they forced me to move my seat anyway.



I thought about the differences between Bryant Park's film series and that of Brooklyn Bridge Park, another highly popular venue - besides the obvious one of classic films versus modern ones - and I think an important one is that of location. Bryant Park is nestled right in the heart of midtown Manhattan, a stone's throw from Times Square itself. One can hear the traffic from all sides, and more importantly, it's easily accessible, meaning anyone can wander in from off the street: homeless people, tourists, families eating dinner who don't give a damn about the movie being played, etc. By contrast, the lawn where the films play at BBP is more isolated. It requires you to come to it, as opposed to it just being there, so there's a greater likelihood that everyone who's there is there for the movie and not anything else.

Of course, if I sat within the lawn again, this might not be an issue, but like BBP, I'm slightly uncomfortable being surrounded by so many people at such close range. Especially when I'm by myself! This is something I'll have to re-consider for next summer, I think.

10 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for the mention, Rick. Your park-screenings are fun to read, but I can imagine that there are times -- as with pizza-eating brats -- where the setting might render it difficult to immerse yourself in a film. A slapstick comedy or musical might be better in crowded quarters. There's a lot going on in this movie, and most of it not on the surface. It requires quiet time by yourself, and your own private pizza.

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  2. Yeah, I agree. I was looking forward to this film, too - this one of the few Billy Wilder films I hadn't seen.

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  3. It seems to me that this whole outdoor cinema thing isn't really cutting it this season.

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  4. It depends on where and when you go.

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  5. I thought about this movie a lot when listening to an interview with the person who wrote this book: http://www.amazon.com/Savage-Continent-Europe-Aftermath-World/dp/1250000203

    Wilder's film draws upon, but can only hint at the pervasive moral depravity in Europe after WWII. BTW, I agree: the movie wasn't funny (not much of it was meant to be) and M. Dietrich isn't sexy.

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  6. Yeah, it didn't seem like Wilder was going for big laughs, but I couldn't be sure.

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  7. I haven't seen a classic film in ages! It's just one busy Summer that my movie viewing is taking a beating :D I've never seen any Marlene Dietrich nor Billy Wilder film either, but The Apartment is one I'm most curious to check out from the celebrated director. Sounds like a fun park screening though Rich, I should seek out something like this one day!

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  8. Do yourself a BIG favor and see 'The Apartment' soon. I GUARANTEE you will love that one.

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  9. FWIW, I think The Apartment is Wilder's best film by far. (Ace in the Hole, Sunset Blvd. and Some Like It Hot runner ups.)

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  10. I'm always partial to 'Sunset' for sentimental reasons- but I believe 'Apartment' is the complete package. It's everything you could ask for in a movie.

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