A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Jane Fonda in the 70's at Metrograph
Jane Fonda in the '70s
A Retrospective of the Actress's Pivotal Decade
Born in 1937, Jane Fonda, a scion of movie royalty, made her screen debut in 1960; for the next several years, she would often be called upon to play some version of the soubrette. But by the following decade, the most crucial one of Fonda’s still vibrant career, she would win two Best Actress Oscars: for her performance as the boho-chic sex worker Bree Daniels in Klute (1971) and as Sally Hyde, a dutiful military spouse liberated by an affair with a Vietnam War vet, in Coming Home (1978). Her most enduring achievement from this time, though, may be what she did when she wasn’t on set. In the first half of the ’70s, Fonda was steadfastly committed to the Black Panthers, the feminist movement, and, most famously, opposition to the war in Vietnam—activism that secured her status as, in the words of J. Hoberman, “the most politically outspoken star in Hollywood history.” Opening June 1, Metrograph’s retrospective will include nearly all of Fonda’s narrative features from this vital era, plus several documentaries in which she is a prominent participant, lucidly articulating her insurgent positions.
Series conceived and program notes written by Melissa Anderson, film editor of 4Columns
Klute (Alan J. Pakula/1971/114 mins/35mm) In her first film of this pivotal decade, Fonda gave her most exalted performance as Bree Daniels, a Hell’s Kitchen–dwelling sex worker and aspiring thespian being stalked by a sociopath. The initial installment of director Pakula’s “paranoia trilogy” of the ’70s, Klute most strongly bears the authorial stamp of its lead actress, here brilliantly plumbing dread, bravado, and the irreconcilable feelings she has for Donald Sutherland’s laconic private investigator.
F.T.A. (Francine Parker/1972/97 mins/Digital) “The show the Pentagon couldn’t stop!” ran the tagline for F.T.A.—as in “Fuck the Army”—a documentary of the eponymous anti-authoritarian revue that Fonda, Donald Sutherland, and others put on for U.S. soldiers stationed at bases in the Pacific. The songs and skits of Fonda and friends may be deliberately slapdash, but the troupe’s mutinous verve never falters—and is matched by that of the enlistees, eagerly speaking on camera about their disgust with the military.
Letter to Jane (Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Pierre Gorin/1972/52 mins/16mm) An acrid, yet wholly absorbing addendum to Tout va bien, this essay film finds Godard and Gorin scrutinizing a photo that ran in the French newsweekly L’Express of a somber-faced Fonda, seen meeting with North Vietnamese in Hanoi. The filmmakers, speaking in heavily accented English, conclude their semiotic inquiry with a withering indictment of their engagé subject: “One must realize that stars aren’t allowed to think.” Screening with: Introduction to the Enemy (Haskell Wexler/1974/60 mins/Digital) Wexler, with anti-war bona fides of his own, lensed and directed this documentary, which follows Fonda, her husband Tom Hayden, and their infant son as they traverse North and South Vietnam—a bisection that many of the citizens Fonda speaks with refuse to accept—in the spring of ’74. The first project released by Fonda’s production company (Indochina Peace Campaign Films, later truncated to IPC Films), the chronicle endures as a sobering act of diplomacy.
Tout va bien (Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Pierre Gorin/1972/95 mins/35mm) “I’m an American correspondent in France who no longer corresponds to anything,” proclaims Fonda’s Suzanne, a U.S. radio journalist living—and constantly squabbling—with Yves Montand’s Jacques, in this ideologically dense, sulfurous relationship drama. Made by two far-leftists even more doctrinaire than Fonda, then at the height of her most radicalized period, Tout va bien reveals the actress at her shrewdest, always aware of Godard and Gorin’s contradictory feelings about their politically outspoken, and highly bankable, star.
A Doll's House (Joseph Losey/1973/106 mins/16mm) Losey’s adaptation of Ibsen’s proto-feminist stage classic, with a magnificent Fonda as infantilized wife Nora Helmer, opens up the original, expanding the one-room, one-day setting to multiple locations and days. The elaboration results in the screen version’s greatest asset: more scenes with Nora and her friend Kristine, played by the luminous Delphine Seyrig, who would soon feature Fonda in her documentary Sois belle et tais-toi, also screening in the series.
Steelyard Blues (Alan Myerson/1973/93 mins/35mm) A rarity that forms an oblique kinship with Klute, this scrap-metal caper/anarcho-comedy features Fonda, extravagantly coiffed, once again playing a sex worker and co-starring with Donald Sutherland, here as an incorrigible larcenist, demolition-derby driver, and cracked visionary. Fonda would proudly describe the project to Life as “a film which says stealing is not theft, property is theft.”
Fun with Dick and Jane (Ted Kotcheff/1977/95 mins/35mm) In this stagflation-era comedy, Fonda and George Segal play the Harpers, a married couple whose securely middle-class L.A. life is upended after he’s canned from his aerospace-engineer job. Enduring one humiliation after another to recover their finances—including Mrs. H.’s disastrous fashion-modeling gig, a scene that showcases Fonda’s screwball skills—they go to even more extreme measures.
Julia (Fred Zinnemann/1977 117 mins/DCP) Based on a crucial, decades-long friendship recounted (or, as many would claim, fabricated) by Lillian Hellman in her 1973 memoir, Pentimento, Zinnemann’s late-1930s-set film brings together Fonda—in a sly, steely performance as Hellman—and Vanessa Redgrave as the title character, an anti-Nazi activist who recruits the playwright to aid her cause. The tender onscreen friendship mirrors the actual one shared by its stars, each reviled and revered for her political beliefs.
California Suite (Herbert Ross/1978/103 mins/35mm) Glutted with A-listers from the U.K. and U.S., Ross’s ensemble comedy, an adaptation of Neil Simon’s play of the same name, tracks the quandaries of various guests at a luxe Beverly Hills hotel. The first of the film’s four discrete chapters centers on the acrimonious battles between ex-spouses played by Fonda, at her adamantine best as a haughty Manhattanite, and Alan Alda, who’s now happily resettled in Los Angeles—a city dismissed by his former wife as “paradise with a lobotomy.”
Coming Home (Hal Ashby/1978/127 mins/35mm) Set during the Vietnam War but released three years after its conclusion, this wrenching story about a nation and a marriage splitting apart originated in the early ’70s as a Fonda-conceived project. Her friend Ron Kovic, the paraplegic Vietnam veteran and anti-war activist, is the clear inspiration for Jon Voight’s Luke, a paralyzed G.I. with whom Fonda’s Sally begins a transformative affair while her despotic marine captain husband (Bruce Dern) is deployed to Southeast Asia to oversee more carnage.
The China Syndrome (James Bridges/1979/122 mins/35mm) Eerily prescient, this thriller about safety cover-ups at a SoCal nuclear facility was released just twelve days before the country’s worst nuclear accident, at a power plant in Pennsylvania. The real-life resonance deepens as we watch Fonda, ardently against nukes at the time, playing a TV reporter determined to expose the malfeasance.
The Electric Horseman (Sydney Pollack/1979/121 mins/35mm) Fonda reteams with Robert Redford, twice her costar in the ’60s (in The Chase and Barefoot in the Park), in this relaxed, raw-denim romance by Pollack, who first directed her in ’69’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Redford plays a one-time rodeo champ and current breakfast-cereal shill who lams it on a stolen thoroughbred; Fonda’s the television correspondent who tails him across the country. She shares an easy chemistry with her old castmate—and with Willie Nelson, in his screen debut.
Sois belle et tais-toi (Be Pretty and Shut Up) (Delphine Seyrig/1981/115 mins/Digital) Fonda emerges as one of the most riveting interviewees in this essential, but too-little-known, survey of a wide swath of actresses who candidly discuss the intractable sexism of the movie business. Speaking in French with Seyrig, a fellow actress-activist, Fonda recapitulates, with unwavering composure, incidents of patriarchal idiocy, from her earliest years in Hollywood to the making of the recently completed Julia.