Free and Easy

Free and Easy with Buster Keaton is a talkie with lots of physical humor. Keaton plan Elmer Butts, a nerdy sap, escorts local beauty queen winner Elvira and her overbearing mother to Hollywood. Of course, everything goes awry from the moment they start their journey. Every mix up is blamed on Elmer, some rightly so. 

On the train to California, while Elmer is stuck at the back of the train, Elvira and her mother meet a dashing movie star. Elvira is smitten with this flirtatious actor. 

A series of mishaps befall Elmer. He just doesn’t fit into the Hollywood scene and he knows it. However, he has a chance to play the hero, when he’s mistakenly given a chauffeur uniform and a car and sees Larry canoodling in the back of the car as he took innocent Elvira back to his mansion without a chaperone, he springs into action.

I watched this film almost accidentally. I’d checked out a three film DVD set from the library. The DVD I wanted to watch didn’t work, but the one with Free and Easy did. It’s a comic film and has Keaton’s famed pratfalls and his woebegone demeanor, but it was awfully hokey for a talkie. The story and characters were rather thin. It wasn’t awful, but unless you wind up with a disc that doesn’t work and one that does, I don’t see the need to see this film.

I’ll add that there’s a special feature, So Funny it Hurts, in which an old friend of Keaton’s explains Keaton’s troubled relationship with MGM. 

Spiral (Engrenages) s8 eps 3&4

*SPOILERS* Alors. This saison’s Spiral is going at a tremendous pace. By the end of cette semaine’s double bill, Souleymane (a terrific, multi-…

Spiral (Engrenages) s8 eps 3&4

Cold War (2018)

Set in the 1950s and 60s Paweł Pawlikowski’s, Cold War tells a tumultuous love story. When Wiktor tours the countryside scouting proletarian folk singers for a touring company he’s captivated by Zula, a young woman with a history. Though she’s rather sneaky in getting chosen, she becomes part of the group and becomes Wiktor’s lover. Things go fairly well till Zula tells Wiktor that she’s snitching on him to the Communist Party leaders. Wiktor must leave and Zula winds up abandoning him. 

The film follows the couple as they reunite, betray each other, marry other people, live in other countries and reunite again. Like many passionate characters their emotions are rarely even keeled. I was surprised to learn that Pawlikowski’s based the film on a calmer version of his parents’ love. 

Folk, jazz, Italian and French music enhances the film. I never thought I’d enjoy Soviet era Polish folk music, but it’s energy and fresh feel were easy to like. On top of that the young, innocent girls dancing in their full skirts entertained. Dialogue is minimal so the music fills a void. 

The use of black and white film with few grays portrayed the bleak era, where surveillance was ubiquitous and the secret police would track an exile down across Europe. 

The only quibble I had with the film was that it seemed rather odd that every now and then Wiktor would refer to Zula as the love of his life. I just don’t think people tell train conductors or people you have no lasting relationship with that sort of thing. People would say, “I’m looking for my girlfriend” or something. I was even more incredulous when Wiktor’s in bed with his French girlfriend and she asks him where he was. He replies that he’s been with the love of his life. The French woman doesn’t flinch. But it’s a minor problem in the scheme of things. For some reasons, though the two main characters are not lovable to me as people, the film does work.

I urge you to get the DVD from the library as I did so you can watch the extras. The Criterion Collection DVD includes the Cannes Film Festival panel interview, a short documentary on making the film and an interview with Pawiklowski, who wrote and directed Cold War. 

The Booksellers

My friend Kevin recommended the documentary The Booksellers, which introduces people to to quirky world of selling rare books. Taking place in New York City, the film interviews booksellers, young and mainly old some of whom have been in the family business for generations. Viewers learn about rare books which are bought for their characteristics as an object rather than as something to read.

You’ll see the booksellers in their habitats whether it’s a tiny apartment filled from floor to ceiling with old books or a warehouse with 300,000 books. They all aren’t cut from the same cloth. Some are very quirky and probably don’t own anything with tweed, other’s may fit the stereotype better.

The subjects interviewed love their work, even though it’s at a precarious stage. As one man said, they’re part gold digger, part salesman. That pithy quote actually makes it sound easier than I think it is. They have to find that rare gem and then the right buyer, whether it’s a library, museum or collector.

Of course they muse over the future of book collecting. Fran Lebowitz was the most recognizable person in the film and offers witty, pertinent insights. I found it interesting that she’s observed that most of the people she sees reading books on the subway are inter 20s. She sees 40 year olds reading with a Kindle. Hmm.

I do think since most children will continue to learn to read with tangible books that books will stick around. Some of the booksellers also assert that as something becomes more rare, it become more worth collecting. If you sell rare books, you aren’t looking for lots of customers, you’re looking for people with passion — and funds.

Collectors were also featured. The one who got the most screen time was a woman who collects books that focus on female subjects or characters. She hit upon this theme probably 40 years ago when she noticed no special consideration was given to women and girls in the book collecting world. It’s not a surprise as the field is about 85% male. She’s built a sizable collection that fills rooms and includes objects like Annie Oakley’s riding gloves to jazz up the space.

The Booksellers reminded me of the rare book class I took a few years ago. tt’s a pleasant, charming way to spend a winter’s night. I saw it on Kanopy, a streaming service free from my library, but Kevin found it on Netflix.