"The Complete Vincente Minnelli"

BAMcinématek and the Locarno Film Festival take that word "Complete" seriously. The retrospective runs through November 2.
David Hudson

Following its presentation in August, when the Ferroni Brigade was so taken with The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963) they awarded it their Grey Donkey, Locarno's retrospective arrives in New York at BAMcinématek as The Complete Vincente Minnelli, opening today and running through November 2.

"Filmmakers as diverse as Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Spike Lee, Terence Davies, Amos Gitai, Quentin Tarantino and Apichatpong Weerasethakul have expressed admiration for his work," writes Joe McElhaney in Alt Screen. "Richard Linklater has repeatedly stated that Minnelli's small-town melodrama, Some Came Running (1958), is his favorite film. A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995), a four-hour documentary tour of Scorsese's favorite American films, is filled with extended Minnelli excerpts, as is Jean-Luc Godard's far more ambitious project Histoire(s) du cinéma (ongoing since 1989), a complex video meditation on the very nature of the moving image." Overall, this series "is not really about being a completist, since this can be achieved by any armchair cinephile with a DVD player. It has to do with something else: projection. When the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris had its own Minnelli series in 2004/05, there was a great sense of discovery for the many who attended, and not only among those who were seeing the films for the first time. What took place at the Pompidou was very simple but also quite revelatory: screening Minnelli films in 35mm."

Alt Screen also presents a roundup on The Clock (1945): "Run, don't walk to his humble little masterpiece. As Frank Miller of TCM remarks, 'Thanks to rear projection, ingenious art direction and the memories of director Vincente Minnelli, MGM created one of the most vivid images of New York City life ever captured on screen.'"

From the top of Dan Callahan's engaging biographical overview for the L: "As a young aspiring dandy, Vincente Minnelli fell in love with the work and aphorisms of painter James Whistler, who once said, 'Nature is very rarely right.' In his career as window dresser for Marshall Field's in Chicago and then set designer and director for Broadway revues in the 1930s, Minnelli created his own visual, scrupulously non-natural world, inspired equally by the Surrealists, the Harlem Renaissance, and a love of Art Nouveau furnishings. When he was brought to MGM in the early 1940s, Minnelli gradually insinuated himself into the bloodstream of that most major and most conservative of movie studios, working there exclusively for twenty years in a variety of genres."

"He made his mark with tales of tortured geniuses, tragic 19th-century heroines, and cracked show-business types," writes Melissa Anderson in the Voice. "He was also, of course, attracted to one of the most calamitous figures in cinema, Judy Garland, whom he first directed in the transcendent musical Meet Me in St Louis (1944); they fell in love on set. No more melancholic film about the notion of 'home' exists, nor has a story ever been served as well by its color palette — Minnelli felt the movie 'should have the look of a Thomas Eakins painting,' per [Emanuel] Levy. Director and star wed the following year. (Garland was the first of Minnelli's four wives; he discreetly carried on same-sex liaisons.) Their union yielded three more films and daughter Liza (who starred in his last project, 1976's weirdly enthralling fantasia botch-up A Matter of Time)."

"Few directors were lauded more for their musicals," writes Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York, "and in 1953, Minnelli released one of his best: The Band Wagon (Sept 30) pairs Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in an endlessly delightful metacomedy about a washed-up hoofer trying for a comeback. The astonishing 'Girl Hunt' number — with Astaire as a hard-boiled detective on the prowl for Charisse's slinky moll — is a brilliant send-up of one of Minnelli's own sequences: the somewhat full-of-itself climactic ballet of 1951's Gene Kelly vehicle, An American in Paris."

Yolanda and the Thief (1945) is "one of the strangest and most enchanting films ever released by a Hollywood studio," writes R Emmet Sweeney for TCM. In this adaptation of a story by Ludwig Bemelmans, creator of the Madeleine series, "No concession is made to realism, with the waking sequences as garish and artificial as the centerpiece dream ballet. The opening sequence includes plastic ferns, papier-mache rock formations, a llama, and children sitting in green, yellow and red robes with a pinkish-orange sunset matte-painting beckoning them to greater flamboyance."

For French Vogue, Géraldine Prevot talks with Emmanuel Burdeau about his book, Vincente Minnelli.

Update: For the New Yorker's Richard Brody, Minnelli's "two inside-movies movies, The Bad and the Beautiful, from 1952 (playing tomorrow), and Two Weeks in Another Town, from 1962 (playing Sunday), are among the very greatest. Here's a clip from the earlier film — a scene that takes place entirely in one room and that distills to a volatile concentration the dangerous convergence of the personal with the professional and the artistic; the clash of money and art; and the web of romance, power, and danger of which the cinema is made. In Two Weeks in Another Town, Kirk Douglas returns — playing an actor who, after a nervous breakdown, attempts to come back to the industry and to the set of a tyrannical director (Edward G Robinson) who brutalizes his sensitive young star (George Hamilton) and is in turn flayed by his wife (Claire Trevor), who is nonetheless his only solace in the face of a mercenary producer. (Here's the trailer; and a terrifying clip.) Among other things, it's a portrait of Hollywood in tatters and of the victims of the big studios' 1960s shipwrecks who are fighting for a place on the lifeboats (Minnelli himself being among them); as such, it’s a companion-piece as well as a precursor to Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt. And the underlying question — whether there's anything of normal life in an industry that's bigger than life — is shadowed by one that haunted Minnelli throughout his career, namely, whether normalcy isn't just facing the fact that there's no such thing."

Update, 9/27: "Minnelli was a great director of loneliness," argues Aaron Cutler in an entry at Moving Image Source loaded with clips. This retrospective "offers viewers a chance to see how, through framing and editing, Minnelli showed people alone even while with each other."

Update, 9/29: Here in the Notebook, David Cairns advises that A Matter of Time "is best approached as a series of fragments, like Welles' The Dreamers: dismiss the film's unconvincing impersonation of a completed work and search it for interesting nuggets. There are plenty."

Update, 10/7: Richard Brody on Madame Bovary: "The fearsome intensity of Jennifer Jones's performance in the title role is the heart of Vincente Minnelli's rapturously melodramatic 1949 adaptation of Gustave Flaubert's novel, and its brain is the ingenious framework by the screenwriter Robert Ardrey." Alt Screen has a roundup.

Update, 10/11: In Goodbye Charlie (1964), Minnelli, writes Richard Brody, "embeds melodramas of sexual identity in the ribaldry, turns a riotous nocturnal car chase from comedy to horror, and brings in a snooping detective to induce the paranoid tones of a lurid film noir."

Updates, 10/15: Tea and Sympathy screens on Wednesday, October 19, and Alt Screen opens a roundup: "The always engaging and sexy queer film theorist David Gerstner will be introducing this lily-white but still red-hot potato, Vincente Minnelli's adaptation of Robert Anderson's hit Broadway play about a boy who might be that way or he might just be really sensitive and like to sew and listen to folk music, you know? Or, um, you don't? Seeing Tea and Sympathy is like opening the door to a long-deserted room that is still touchingly livable and pretty and tender even though it hasn't been aired in decades. And it cannot be understood unless you're aware of all the decisions that had to be made about the lead character, Tom, played on Broadway and in the film by John Kerr, and what his sexuality is or is supposed to be."

"Home from the Hill [1960] is a cauldron of crucial, furious, and unresolved passions," writes the New Yorker's Richard Brody. "All of Minnelli's great films (and there are many) are vehemently, achingly emotional; here, with a blend of timeless myth and contemporary crises, he makes the subject hit home with an exceptionally visceral force."

And here in the Notebook, Adrian Curry takes a look at the poster for Designing Women (1957) and the work of its designer, Romanian emigré Jacques Kapralik (1906-1960).

Update, 10/19: Dan Callahan posts a roundup on A Matter of Time at Alt Screen.

Update, 10/23: Another roundup from Alt Screen, this one on Bells Are Ringing (1960), "one of his most delightful and underrated musicals."

Update, 10/24: Though The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963) "is packaged like a heartwarming tale of healing, it turns out to be nothing less than the emotional tenderizing of the American male, which Minnelli accomplishes by means of relentless pounding," writes Richard Brody. "Minnelli's sympathy for lost and bewildered children has a vast resonance; a sequence involving a rectal thermometer has a shocking psychoanalytic power that's heightened by the chaste restraint and absolute dignity with which Minnelli stages the primal scene of submission to motherly power."

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