Skip’s Quips: ‘Irma la Douce’ a Prime Showcase for Sizzling Paris

Blog Sketch 082813Billy Wilder can do no wrong.

Well, that’s not exactly true. But he’s one of my favorite directors, and after seeing Irma la Douce the other night, I can confirm that he’s one of the most innuendo-laden as well.

This is pretty sexy stuff, the Paris-set tale of a prostitute (played by Shirley MacLaine) and her ex-policeman beau (Jack Lemmon). Terrific writing, cinematography and art direction, too, with the City of Light coming to marvelous life onscreen. It may not be my favorite Wilder picture, but it has a lot going for it, with the director’s usual tart dialogue livened up by a salacious setting.

It helps, of course, that Paris is one of my favorite places, and my fond memories of it complement the images put on celluloid.

Let’s not forget a performance by the inimitable Lou Jacobi as a worldly bartender; he helps make the movie. Which should be better known, in my opinion. That it isn’t smacks of a time-tested Puritan sensibility, though in this age of Fifty Shades of Grey, I wonder if that’s all in the past.

Well. I know which film I’d rather watch.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: What Happened to All Those Great Opera Movies?

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Remember Franco Zeffirelli’s excellent film of Verdi’s Otello? Lush production, sexy direction, terrific acting, and of course, the great Placido Domingo as the titular Moor.

Why can’t we get more movies like that today?

It seems like there isn’t as much of an impetus to develop cinematic spectaculars based on classic operas as there was three decades ago, and I think that’s a shame. Once upon a time, you had Ingmar Bergman doing Mozart’s The Magic Flute, too. But now, it appears that directors of a certain stature are more content to craft large-scale pictures out of popular contemporary musicals than operatic standards. It makes sense from a commercial standpoint, as the latter have a more limited audience. From an artistic perspective, however, it’s lamentable.

I want to see a great celluloid version of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, darn it! And not the nonsense that is Tristan + Isolde, see?

Today, with New York’s Metropolitan Opera doing HD films of various productions, it’s easy to think that we’ve come to an era where the genre is made accessible to everyone. I don’t think that’s the case, though. Movies of productions aren’t the same as cinematic iterations that aren’t confined to one stage; Zeffirelli’s Otello is proof of that. It was an actual film, not a filmed opera. That’s one of the reasons why it worked so well onscreen. Editing, cinematography, music, art direction – everything combined to make a powerful whole. It became a motion picture.

I don’t think opera is a dying art, nor do I believe it should be relegated to the upper class. It’s for everyone, and the great works deserve to be viewed and listened to by all. That’s why I’d like to see more of the type of thing that Zeffirelli has done in the theaters – not just HD versions. Many of these stories are quite cinematic, with fanciful plots and engaging characters. Shouldn’t they be put onscreen where they belong?

I think so. And I hope one day, we’ll see opera once again take its rightful place in the cinema.

Skip’s Quips: Spreading the Love for Gilliam’s ‘Munchausen’

Blog Sketch 082813I’m still sad about the fact that Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen flopped when it debuted about 25 years ago.

I’m sadder, however, that it seems to be overlooked when people talk about overlooked classics. They might mention Gilliam’s other great film, Time Bandits, but Munchausen? Pshaw! That one flies under the radar of the everything else flying under the radar.

It’s too bad, too, because Munchausen is a terrific movie. There’s hilarious, Monty Pythonesque comedy. Rollicking adventure. Fine (for the most part) acting. A lovely score. And gorgeous art direction, exemplified by a brilliant set piece involving Robin Williams as a truly loony King of the Moon whose head detaches from his body in search of metaphysical pleasures.

That’s wild stuff. And I love it. If you like Time Bandits (which I do as well) and haven’t seen Munchausen, I encourage you to do so. It’s hardly shown on TV for some reason, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find. Plus, you can play “Spot the Famous Actor/Actress” while watching it, so that should provide added value. Enjoy.