Italian comedy & American tragedy: Friday night at the Pacific Film Archive

My wife and I attended two very different films last night (Friday night) at the Pacific Film Archive. One was a 1963, Italian satire on consumerism that is only now being released in the States. The other was an American classic.

Both movies recently enjoyed fine digital restorations. Both were screened from DCPs.

We sat in the back section of the theater – very unusual for us. I’ve been having neck problems recently, and sitting in the front section of the PFA theater, with its high screen and low seats, is hard on the neck.

Because I was farther from the screen than usual, I couldn’t judge the digital restorations all that well. But from where I sat, they looked fine.

And now, on to the movies.

Il Boom

The great Vittorio De Sica directed this satire of conspicuous consumption and the need to keep up appearances. It’s pointed, at times cruel, and often very funny.

Giovanni (Alberto Sordi) works hard to give his beautiful wife everything she wants – furs, a luxury car, a nice apartment, posh vacations, and so on. And when I say “works hard,” I’m not talking about a conventional job. Giovanni desperately runs around, trying to borrow money from friends and bankers to help pay off his already substantial debts.

Sordi plays Giovanni to perfection. He looks, if you can excuse the oxymoron, exceptionally average. He has an awkward physicality that fits with the sense of inner panic he’s so desperate to hide. He is, in every possible way, a loser.

Giovanni runs around, begs for money, and takes his wife (Gianna Maria Canale) to parties with their swinging friends. These scenes feel somewhat like La Dolce Vita, only funnier.

About half an hour into the movie – at just the point where the story is in danger of turning repetitive – the plot twists. I can’t tell you how, but it’s funny, scary, unexpected, and speaks volumes about how the wealthy treat the not-so-wealthy.

I give the movie a B+.

Il Boom will play for more times this month and the PFA:

  • Saturday, September 2 (yes, tonight), 6:00
  • Sunday, September 10, 7:00
  • Saturday, September 23, 6:00
  • Friday, September 29, 4:00

A Streetcar Named Desire

Last night’s screening of this 1951 classic launched the new PFA series, Marlon Brando: The Fugitive Kind. It’s an appropriate choice. Streetcar wasn’t Brando’s first movie (that would be The Men), but it was the one that made him a star.

When you watch the movie, you can see why. His Stanley Kowalski is strong, impulsive, violent, and scary – and you can’t take your eyes off him. You can easily see why his wife Stella (Kim Hunter) keeps coming back to him despite the horrible way he treats her (and everyone else).

Unfortunately, I can’t give much praise for the other star, Vivien Leigh. Her Blanche DuBois clearly has mental problems, and Leigh sometimes goes over the top with them. She had already played the part on the London stage, and apparently didn’t tone her performance down much for the camera.

(Interesting thing about Leigh: She was British, as were most of her movies. Of her 20 credited films, only Gone with the Wind and Streetcar Named Desire became classics. Therefore, most of us remember her voice with a southern accent.)

The story is simple, even if the characters are complicated. Blanche, after leaving her teaching job under questionable circumstances, moves in with her sister Stella and her brother-in-law, Stanley. Things don’t go well.

I doubt if playwright/screenwriter Tennessee Williams intended a moral to this story. If he did, it might be “men are jerks.”

For the most part, director Elia Kazan did an excellent job hiding the story’s theatrical past. Despite most of the story being set in one apartment, Streetcar never feels like a filmed stage play.

I give it an A-.

The PFA will screen A Streetcar Named Desire one more time in this series, Friday, September 15, at 4:00.