A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, January 11, 2016

Days of Wine and Roses (Blake Edwards, 1962)

This melodrama about alcoholic codependency threatens to fall into didacticism, becoming a latter-day temperance lecture, but is rescued by the fine performances of Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick as Joe and Kirsten Clay. He's a ladder-climbing public relations man and she's the secretary to one of his clients; they fall in love, get married, have a child, and turn into self-destructive lushes. Eventually, with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, and after a couple of harrowing relapses, he climbs out of it, but she refuses to admit that she has a problem that can't be solved with "will power." The film is unexpectedly bleak for one made with a solid Hollywood budget and two big stars -- both of whom received Oscar nominations -- directed by a man more famous for the Pink Panther movies and for his marriage to (and films with) Julie Andrews than for a serious problem drama. Fortunately, the film has a point to make: that alcoholism is a disease that manifests itself differently in each person who suffers from it. Joe, being a sociable type whose job has always involved drinking with clients, is the kind of person who benefits from the sense of community that AA provides. Kirsten, on the other hand, is a loner: an only child with a doting father (Charles Bickford), who when we first see her doesn't drink at all and is given to taking long walks alone on San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. It's Joe who introduces her to alcohol, which softens the rough edges of life -- without it, she says, everything looks "dirty." She feels comfortable denying her problem, even when it affects her marriage and her child so severely: At one point, she sets fire to their apartment in an alcoholic haze. They love each other, but she's unable to express her love for Joe unless he drinks with her. The screenplay by JP Miller is a reworking of his TV drama that appeared on Playhouse 90 in 1958, starring Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie. There is a bit too much Hollywood gloss on the film, including an Oscar-winning title song by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, but the thoughtful core of the narrative manages to surface because everyone resisted the tendency to paste an easy resolution of the Clays' problems on the end of the film.