Embracing the Melodrama Part II #58: An Unmarried Woman (dir by Paul Mazursky)


Unmarried_womanI have mixed feelings about the 1978 best picture nominee An Unmarried Woman and I really wish I didn’t because this is one of those films that I really want to love.

Erica (Jill Clayburgh, who did not win the Oscar that she deserved for this film) appears to have the perfect life.  She works at an art gallery in New York.  She has smart, sophisticated friends.  She has an accomplished teenager daughter (Lisa Lucas).  She has a beautiful apartment.  Early on in the film, she wakes up and literally dances from her bedroom to the living room and back again.

And, of course, she has a husband.  His name is Martin and he’s a successful stock broker.  Of course, there are hints that everything might not be perfect.  She and Martin are a cute couple but they’re not exactly passionate.  One need only watch Erica carefully wash dogshit off of Martin’s expensive running shoes to tell who is getting the most out of the marriage.  Add to that, Martin is played by Michael Murphy and, as anyone familiar with 70s cinema knows, Murphy specialized in playing well-dressed, outwardly friendly heels.  And, of course, the film is called An Unmarried Woman and the title can’t be true as long as Erica’s married.

So, you’re not exactly surprised when Martin suddenly breaks down in tears and tells Erica that he’s fallen in love with a younger woman and that he’s leaving her.

The rest of the film deals with Erica’s attempts to adjust to suddenly being an unmarried woman and a single mom.  We follow as she struggles to get back her confidence.  The scenes of Erica dealing with her suddenly rebellious daughter really struck home to me, largely because I’m a rebellious daughter of divorce myself.  There’s a few great scenes of Erica turning to her girlfriends for support.  (Importantly, one of Erica’s friends is happily married, as if the film wants to make sure that we understand that not all marriages are as bad as Erica and Martin’s.)  We watch as Erica starts dating again, having a memorable one-night stand with the obnoxious but oddly likable Charlie (Cliff Gorman).  Finally, she ends up dating a rugged, bearded artist (Alan Bates) and she has to decide whether she wants to remain independent or not.

And it’s all amazingly well-acted and fun to watch but I have to admit that I was a little bit disappointed the first time that I saw An Unmarried Woman.  For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to like it as much as I wanted.  The more I thought about it, the more clear my issue with it became.

As a character, Eric was simply too wealthy.

As I watched Erica struggle with being an unmarried woman, it was hard for me not to compare her struggles with the struggles that my own mom had to deal with after her divorce.  The film, and specifically Clayburgh’s lead performance, got so much right.  But there’s a difference — a huge difference — between an unmarried woman who has an apartment in Manhattan and a dream job at an art gallery and a woman like my mom who worked multiple jobs, spent hours worrying about how to pay the bills, and who had to do all of this while dealing with four stubborn daughters.  And so, whenever I saw Erica talking to her therapist about how upset she was over suddenly being single, there was a part of me that wanted to say, “Try doing it while living in South Dallas and having to deal with a brat like me.”

The second time that I watched An Unmarried Woman, I was able to better appreciate the film.  Now that I knew that Erica’s experiences were not going to be universal, I could focus on Jill Clayburgh’s great performance in the lead role.  I could marvel at how marvelously wimpy Michael Murphy was in the role of Martin.  I could laugh at Cliff Gorman’s comedic performance.  As for Alan Bates as that bearded artist — well, sorry, that still didn’t work for me.  Eventually, I could accept Erica’s perfect apartment and her perfect job but suddenly introducing a perfect boyfriend who also happened to be a passionate and financially successful painter; it all felt like a bit too much.

But, in the end, An Unmarried Woman is a good film and a valuable historical document of its time.  If for no other reason, see it for Jill Clayburgh’s lead performance.

6 of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Cinematic Dances


As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always loved to dance.  Before I embraced the movies, my life was about dancing.  I was going to be Prima Ballerina and my mom paid for several years of ballet class to help me reach that goal.  I obsessed on it the way that I obsess, today, on Lucio Fulci and Jean Rollin.  However, my brilliant career was cut short by two things — 1) I’m about as graceful as a Clydesdale and 2) I ended up tumbling down a flight of stairs when I was 17 and essentially shattering my ankle.  Actually, I guess those two things might be connected.  Anyway, I can’t complain because giving up my affected love of ballet allowed me to discover my very true love of film.  I was never really a great dancer (though I was, and am, very enthusiastic) but I’m very good at watching movies.

However, I still love to dance and I still love movies — even mainstream movies — that feature dancing.  That’s why I’m so looking forward to seeing Black Swan next month.  Until then, here’s 6 of my favorite dance scenes from the movies.

1) Giovanni Lombardo Radice and Lorraine De Selle in The House On The Edge of the Park

Let’s start off with one of my favorite “dance” scenes of all time, my man Giovanni Lombardo Radice and Lorraine De Selle breaking it down in Ruggero Deodato’s The House On The Edge of the Park.  The man in yellow is David Hess.

2) Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer

If anyone’s ever wondered why I was crushing on Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Inception (as opposed to Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, or Leonardo DiCaprio), it was largely because of this scene from (500) Days Of Summer.

3) The Cast of Murder Rock

Murder Rock is kinda sorta like my own personal Holy Grail — it’s a grindhouse dance movie directed by Lucio Fulci!  Plus, it costars Christian Borremeo, who co-starred in The House on the Edge Of The Park and Dario Argento’s Tenebrae.

4) The Metropolis Dance Sequence

From Fritz Lang’s silent, expressionistic classic, here’s the infamous dance.

5) Kate Hudson in Nine

Okay, so I think Nine was definitely the worst the movie of 2009.  Yes, even worse than Avatar.  However, I love this scene and I love the song featured in it, Cinema Italiano.  Yes, technically, it’s a really terrible song that displays an astounding ignorance of Italian cinema.  If anything, the lyrics appear to be describing the French New Wave.  True, the song do make reference to “neo-realism” but you get the feeling no one involved with Nine ever saw Open City or The Bicycle Thief.  But the thing is do damn catchy that I still find myself singing it in the shower.  Like me, Kate Hudson is obviously not much of a singer or a dancer but she’s very enthusiastic.

6) Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman

An Unmarried Woman was apparently very groundbreaking in 1978.  Seen now, it seems like a better title for it would be An Unmarried Woman Who Can Still Afford A Penthouse Apartment In New York City.  Still, the late, great Jill Clayburgh’s performance holds up well and I like the film if just because it’s still one of the few movies out there that’s willing to acknowledge that an unmarried woman can still be a sensual, happy woman.  The scene below captures perfectly the exhilarating joy of just surrendering to the music and dancing.  Plus, for me, this is one of those “Hey, I do that too!” scenes.  In fact, my ankle is still hurting as a result of rewatching this film last Friday.

 

Film Reviews: The Airport Terminal Pack


 Sometimes, you have to be careful which films you choose to watch over the course of the day. 

Such as, last Friday night, I heard the news that Jill Clayburgh had died and I ended up watching An Unmarried Woman.  This, along with the fact that I also watched the Black Swan trailer, led to me dancing around the house in my underwear, en pointe in bare feet, and doing a half-assed pirouette in the living room.  And I felt pretty proud of myself until I woke up Saturday morning and my ankle (which I don’t think has ever properly healed from the day, seven years ago, that I fell down a flight of stairs and broke it in two places) literally felt like it was on fire.  That was my body’s way of saying, “You ain’t living in a movie, bitch.  Deal with it.”

So, come Sunday, I decided to play it safe by watching something that I was sure wouldn’t lead to any imitative behavior on my part.  Since I had previously reviewed Earthquake on this site, I decided that I would devote some time to the movies that started the entire 1970s disaster movie genre — Airport.  Watching Airport led to me watching Airport’s three sequels.

I was able to do this largely because I own the Airport Terminal Pack, a two-disk DVD collection that contains all four of the Airport films and nothing else.  There’s no special features or commentary tracks.  That’s probably a good thing because these films are so extremely mainstream that I doubt the commentary tracks would be all that interesting except to people who love “Me and Jennings Lang had the same lawyer…” style stories.

The movies are a mixed bag of ’70s sexism, mainstream greed, and casts that were described as being “all-star” despite the fact that they featured very few stars.  They’re all worth watching as time capsules of a past time.  Some of them are just more worthy than others.

Below are my thoughts on each individual film in the collection…

Airport (directed by George Seaton)

First released in 1970, Airport was nominated for 10 Academy Awards (including best picture), broke box office records, and started the whole 70s disaster movie trend.  It also has to be one of the most boring, borderline unwatchable movies ever made.  The fact that I managed to sit through the whole thing should be taken as proof that I’m either truly dedicated to watching movies or I’m just insane.  Take your pick.

Anyway, the film is painstakingly detailed account of the every day operations of an airport.  Yeah, sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it?  Burt Lancaster runs the airport.  His brother-in-law Dean Martin flies airplanes.  Both of them have mistresses but we’re told that’s okay because Lancaster’s wife expects him to talk to her and Martin’s wife is cool with him fucking around as long as he comes home at night.  I would be tempted to say that this is a result of the film having been made in 1969 and released in 1970 but actually, it’s just an introduction to the sexual politics of the typical disaster film.  Men save the day while women get in the way.  And if you think things have changed, I’d suggest you watch a little film calledf 2012

The only interesting thing about the film is that Lancaster’s mistress is played by Jean Seberg who, ten years earlier, had helped change film history by co-starring in Jean-Luc Godard’s classic film Breathless.  Nine years later, after years of being hounded by the American press and the FBI for her radical politics, Seberg committed suicide.

Airport 1975 (directed by Jack Smight)

As opposed to its predecessor, Airport 1975 is actually a lot of fun in its campy, silly way.  This is the one where a small private plane (flown by Dana Andrews, the star of the wonderful film noir Laura) collides with a commercial airliner.  The entire flight crew is taken out and head stewardess Karen Black has to pilot the plane despite the fact that she’s obviously cross-eyed.  Luckily, since Black is a stewardess, she has a pilot boyfriend who is played by Charlton Heston.  Heston talks her through the entire flight despite the fact that she was earlier seen trying to pressure him into not treating her like an idiot.  Anyway, Heston does his usual clench-jaw thing and if you need a drinking game to go with your bad movie, just take a shot every time Heston calls Black “honey.”  You’ll be drunk before the plane lands.

There’s some other stuff going on in this movie (for instance, Gloria Swanson appears as “herself” and doesn’t mention Sunset Boulevard or Joseph Kennedy once!) but really, all you need to know is that this is the film where Karen Black acts up a storm and random characters keep saying, “The stewardess is flying the plane!?”

Odd trivia fact: Airport 1975 was released in 1974.

Airport ’77 (directed by Jerry Jameson)

In Airport ’77, a group of art thieves attempt to hijack an airplane which, of course, leads to the airplane crashing into the ocean and somehow sinking down to the ocean’s floor without splitting apart.  The crash survivors have to try to figure out how to get to the surface of the water before they run out of oxygen. 

In this case, our resident sexist pilot is Jack Lemmon who has a really ugly mustache.  He wants to marry head stewardess Brenda Vaccarro.  Vaccarro doesn’t understand why they have to get married to which Lemmon responds, “Because I want a wife and kids!”  The film also gives us Lee Grant as a woman who is married to Christopher Lee but who is having an affair with another man.  She also drinks a lot and dares to get angry when she realizes that the airplane is underwater.  While this sort of behavior is acceptable from Dean Martin, Charlton Heston, and Jack Lemmon, the film punishes Lee Grant by drowning her in the final minutes.

Technically, Airport ’77 is probably the best of the Airport films.  The cast does a pretty good job with all the melodrama, the film doesn’t drag, and a few of the scenes manage to generate something resembling human emotion.  (For instance, when the blind piano player died, I had a tear in one of my freaky, mismatched eyes.)  Unfortunately, the movie’s almost too good.  It’s not a lot of fun.  Everyone plays their roles straight so the silly plot never quite descends into camp and the key to a good disaster film is always camp.  This film also has the largest body count of the series, with most of the cast dead by the end of the movie.  (And, incidentally, this film did nothing to help me with my fear of water…)

The Concorde: Airport ’79 (directed by David Lowell Rich)

The last Airport movie is also the strangest.  Some people have claimed that this film was meant to be a satire of the previous Airport films.  I can understand the argument because you look at film like Concorde and you say, “This must be a joke!”  However, the problem with this theory is that there are moments of obvious “intentional” humor in this film (i.e., J.J. from Good Times smokes weed in the plane’s bathroom, another passenger has to go to the bathroom whenever she gets nervous) and none of them show any evidence of the type of wit and outlook necessary to come up with anything this silly on purpose.  Add to that, the film’s story is credited to Jennings Lang, a studio executive.  Studio execs do not take chances.  (Plus, the actual script was written by Eric Roth, who went on to write the amazingly humorless The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).

No, this film is meant to be taken seriously and oh my God, where do I start?

Our pilots are George Kennedy and Alain Delon.  The head stewardess (and naturally, Delon’s girlfiend) is played by Sylvia “Emanuelle” Kristel who, at one point, says, “You pilots are such men!”  “Hey, they don’t call it a cockpit for nothing, honey,” Kennedy replies. 

Meanwhile, Robert Wagner is trying to destroy the Concorde because one of the passengers is his girlfriend who has proof that Wagner has been selling weapons to America’s enemies.  So, he attempts to blow the plane up with a guided missile and when that fails, he sends a couple of fighter planes after them.  Kennedy responds by opening up the cockpit window — while breaking the sound barrier mind you — and firing a flare gun at their pursuers.  

After this, there’s stop over in Paris where Delon arranges for Kennedy to sleep with a prostitute who assures Kennedy that he made love “just like a happy fish.”

The next day, everyone returns to the exact same Concorde — despite the fact that just a day earlier they’d nearly been blown up by a squadron of fighter planes — and take off on the second leg of the flight.  Let me repeat that just to make sure that we all understand what this film is asking us to believe.  After nearly getting blown up by a mysterious squad of fighter planes, everybody shows up the next morning to get on the exact same plane.

Oh, and it never occurs to Wagner’s ex-girlfriend that Wagner might have something to do with all of this.

Now sad to say, Concorde is the one of those films that’s a lot more fun to talk about than to actually watch.  It should be a lot more fun in its badness than it actually is.  Still, the movie has just enough camp appeal to make it fun in a “what the fuck…” sorta way.

And that’s how the Airport series comes to an end.