Movie Project #39 and #40: Last Tango in Paris [1972] and The Maltese Falcon [1941]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Last Tango in Paris [1972, Bernardo Bertolucci]
Last Tango in Paris [1972, Bernardo Bertolucci]
Starring Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Maria Michi.

I don’t know if there is a more controversial film in my project. Last Tango in Paris gained a lot of notoriety with its theatrical release, as it received the ominous NC-17 rating. This is a movie that has no shame, and I would imagine that Maria Schneider was at least partly nude for half of the film, if not more. The movie focuses on an anonymous affair between the young Jeanne (Schneider) and the much older American hotel owner Paul (Brando). Paul is a recent widow, and Jeanne is a recently engaged woman who somehow seems pure and innocent. What transpires for much of the film’s 2+ hour runtime is a series of mindless physical hookups where not much else happens. The film’s last 30 minutes or so serve as a stark contrast to the rest of the picture, and this is when all hell breaks loose.

This final 1/4 of the movie is very interesting, but it took a hell of a long time to get there. Scenes of increasingly graphic sex can only do so much before they become trite and shallow. Brando’s performance is undeniably strong, but it is rather unfortunate how emotionally damaging this film was to Schneider. Apparently the uncut version of the film is a whopping 250 minutes — for me, two hours was plenty enough as is. Until the intriguing final act, Last Tango in Paris is a bit of a bore that relies too heavily on gratuitous sex to get by. 6/10

The Maltese Falcon [1941, John Huston]
The Maltese Falcon [1941, John Huston]
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George.

I am amazed that it has taken me this long to see The Maltese Falcon, which is widely considered as the grand-daddy of Film Noir. This is the movie that made Bogart a big star, and his role as private investigator Sam Spade is even more impressive than his later turn as Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep. This film revolves around an elusive treasure, a jewel-encrusted statuette of a falcon. Spade gets drawn into the mess after working with a new client, the femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Astor), and soon he becomes entangled in the web of crime and murder.

Director John Huston’s first directorial effort has a wonderful mix of action and slick dialogue, and he is aided greatly by the casting of Bogart, who delivers a performance for the ages. His turn as Spade ranks as one of the most badass characters in cinematic history. There are lots of familiar faces here — Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook, Jr. — and all involved are terrific in their roles. The Maltese Falcon is a fantastic Film Noir that is worthy of its classic status. 9/10

9 Songs [2004]

9 Songs [2004]

9 Songs [2004]
Directors: Michael Winterbottom
Genre: Drama/Music/Romance
Language: English
Country: UK

Sex, drugs and rock & roll. Literally.

9 Songs is a British film from director Michael Winterbottom that has received some degree of notoriety due to its excessive and graphic sex scenes. In between the increasingly more hardcore endeavors, the movie shows concert footage from Brixton Academy and other music venues. Basically, the movie is half-concerts and half-porn.

There isn’t much of a story here. A guy (Kieran O’Brien) and a girl (Margo Stilley) meet at a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club show, hit it off and then embark on a frantic fling that is equal parts sex, drugs and rock & roll. The movie jumps back and forth between random concert footage, sex, and the occasional shots of Antarctica (because the dude is a glaciologist). That’s it. As mentioned earlier, the scenes become more graphic as the movie goes on. Most of these scenes are short in length, and would really only be offensive to prudes. There is a scene of male ejaculation, allegedly the first “mainstream” film to show this, and later on there is actual penetration shown, but there really isn’t anything exciting about all of this. Some consider it “art” and I suppose technically it is, but that doesn’t mean it is good and/or entertaining. Without any real context to piece everything together, I found it difficult to maintain my interest.

To be fair, there were two things I did like about this movie. One, the actors used were not gaudy porn star-types — they were normal looking folk who certainly wouldn’t be out of place at the concerts they frequented. Two, there was a lot of good music from bands like Franz Ferdinand, Primal Scream and Super Furry Animals. Unfortunately, the concert sequences were often aborted early, and in general, the pacing used throughout felt rough overall.

I have only seen one of Winterbottom’s other movies – 24 Hour Party People – and I quite enjoyed it. I respect his decision to try this experiment, but it just didn’t work. Even with its short length (69 minutes – how appropriate), I would advise you to ignore your curiosity and either A) watch a concert film, or B) just go all the way with real porn. 9 Songs is an interesting idea in theory, but it just comes across as a half-assed mashup of music and sex.