Brigitte Bardot Collection
In the late 1950s and 1960s, Brigitte Bardot was a definitive sex symbol, her popularity spanning all cultures and media. In the film world, she's known primarily for two roles, both available on excellent Criterion transfers: ... And God Created Woman, which made her an icon, and Contempt, which subverted that iconography. But in her 21 years in show business, she made some 50 films, most of which slipped through the cracks of film history and are available only in subpar, no-frills DVD cheapies.
Lionsgate is out to change this with its seductively packaged five-film collection, and while the box set contains plenty of the kind of moments that made Bardot such a fantastically fetching phenomenon, it doesn't exactly solidify her as an important cinematic figure. For the most part, these are bourgeois titles made by bourgeois directors like Michel Boisrond and Bardot's first husband, Roger Vadim.
Vadim is a minor filmmaker but deserves a footnote for popularizing Bardot with ... And God Created Woman. The title says it all Bardot as the archetypal woman, the very picture of beauty, a creature only God could create. But people don't remember the film itself much, just the stratospheric launching of Bardot's stardom the buzz film created. Vadim's lone contribution to this collection, Love on a Pillow, is even less memorable, a mirthless drama about a woman who leaves her comfortable fiance for an ambitionless sad sack whom she rescues from a suicide attempt. There are some impressive overhead shots wasted on an instantly forgettable melodrama with a score as saccharine as Love Story's and an opening of such pure, undisguised exposition that it feels almost parodic.
Other mediocrities include Boisrond's Come Dance With Me, which puts Bardot in sleuth mode, trying to save her husband from a mistaken murder charge. This has some amusing moments here and there, but Bardot is miscast in a part that seems tailored for a Doris Day, the exact opposite of Bardot's coquettish openness. The earliest film in the set, Naughty Girl, is another middling comedy-mystery about a teenager involved in her father's criminal nightclub racket and the entertainer who's forced to hide her from the police investigation. There are lots of farcical hijinks and silly sound effects along the way, the whole thing resembling the kind of breezy tripe Francis Veber has come to mimic.
The Vixen provides more of the same: the sexist story of a womanizing writer (Maurice Ronet) who hires Bardot as his secretary and proceeds to tell the story, shot in flashback, of his two enduring loves. Bardot has an almost thankless, secondary part to the boorish male lead. The only truly great film in the collection is Two Weeks in September, which plants Bardot as a model in swinging '60s London. In another conventional plot, she's torn between two lovers, but unlike the rest of this set, you get the feeling the director has actually seen a French New Wave film. The filmmaker, Serge Bourguignon, also shows 0just enough of Bardot's body to titillate without arousing the censors.
With Bardot's turn to far-right politics tarnishing her image for some, this underwhelming collection reminds us what Bardot will be most remembered for: laying the groundwork for the sexual revolution in cinema with her unprecedented lack of inhibition. John Thomason
Warner Home Video
Back before Mick Jagger was a geriatric millionaire, he was the Byzantine sylph of the psych era, a rock incubus whose unsettlingly androgyne beauty clenched tight the knees of both scandalized mothers and phobic he-men unaccustomed to red lips and come-hither eyes on a guy. It's his pout staring out from the Performance poster, so what's most startling about Nicolas Roeg's co-directorial debut (with Donald Cammell) is how uninteresting Jagger is as a screen presence, and how little the movie depends on his debatable charisma. What lingers instead is the time capsule dispatch from the hungover end of the '60s, and a hint of the proto-punk snarl that would follow its overmellow wake.
Clean-cut Chas (James Fox) is a protection racket goon who missed the peace-and-love revolution he digs violence, whether it's busting heads or waking up with scratches on his back. But when he shoots an underworld compatriot, he's got to go underground, finding refuge in the decadent London mansion of reclusive musician Turner (Jagger) and his companions Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michele Breton). Pherber doesn't waste time corrupting their new guest with 'shrooms and freaky talk like "I've got two angles, one male and one female – just like a triangle, see?" while Turner's unmacho sex appeal throws the repressed Chas into a gay panic.
"Jagger devoted many months to perfecting his abilities as an actor before attempting his first film role," crows the starched-sounding narrator in the promotional short Memo From Turner (included as an extra on the DVD, along with a making-of that's too laudatory to be believed), but it's the other scenes of Chas grappling in a room splashed with gory red paint, or the seductive Pherber flashing her eyes at Chas with praying-mantis lustmord, that last longer in the brain than any of Jagger's prancy contortions. A pulpy, Pop Art Persona too incense-scented to draw any deep conclusions, Performance recalls that other presciently nihilist cult film A Clockwork Orange in the way it thumbs its blood-spattered nose at the Summer of Love. Violet Glaze
Woman In The Window
Long before the woman-hating Fatal Attraction preyed on the fears of cheating hubbies, legendary director Fritz Lang (Metropolis) delved into the philandering psyche of middle-aged married men with 1944's noir classic Woman In The Window.
After saying goodbye to his family for a summer vacation, stodgy psych professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson, of course) heads to a men's club to celebrate his temporary freedom with two other middle-aged pals. He stops at a portrait of woman in a store window next to the club, admiring the model, not the actual painting. Richard soon runs into femme fatale Alice Reed (Joan Bennett) the model in the painting. She convinces him to have a drink, and then she invites him to her place. This chance meeting and innocent flirtation gets Richard in a whole heap of trouble including murder, cover-up and blackmail. As his desperation grows so does his willingness to do what ever it takes to avoid being caught. Richard goes from innocent to culpable in about the time it takes to pour a cocktail. Despite the Production Code-friendly ending, Woman In The Window is still a tense cautionary tale on morality and desire especially for men. Sadly there aren't any DVD extras on this just-released DVD. Paul Knoll
The Onion News may have been telling the truth when it reported that we've run out of past to recycle. But that won't stop Gen Xers from pining for pre-grunge cinema. This 2004 indie, by first-time writer-director Archie Borders, is a fictional account of three kids starting an alternative newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky in the early '90s. It's obviously a labor of love for this native Kentuckian, as he's included pivotal local rock clubs, bands and radio luminaries. But whereas Singles caught the Seattle music scene just before it took over the world, outside of My Morning Jacket, Louisville's underground music has pretty much stayed there. So this works as a historical document, albeit of a far less relevant scene.
As an accurate journalism microcosm, anyone's who's ever worked at an alternate newspaper knows that three people alone couldn't pull off such an enterprise. But since the "LOVE TRIANGLE" banner on the DVD art is bigger than the movie title, Borders focuses on that.
These kids' money-marketed parents, one of whom is played by a post Andrew Dice Clay SNL alumni Nora Dunn, spend time withholding approval but wind up looking to their kids' venture as a way to preserve the lofty ideals they chucked for a regular paycheck thus insuring that at least one of these kids will sellout on all their principals to be rebellious. Like real life paper cuts, there's nothing here that's too painful or too deep, which is fine if you're just running on nostalgia fumes. But as for Borders' storytelling, this is a case where unreality bites even more. Serene Dominic
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