Frank Serpico

While I’d heard of the Al Pacino movie Serpico, I didn’t know the plot or anything other than that Frank Serpico was a NY cop with a rebellious streak. This documentary, Frank Serpico, gives the story of Serpico often in his own words and in the words of New York Times reporters and cops who worked with him.

Frank Serpico is a colorful character and always has been. The film is chronological and provides background on his youth and family. I learned that before Serpico joined the police force, he was a teacher in New York.

Serpico seemed to be a skillful cop who from the start was on the periphery of the force because he wasn’t Irish American. Irish Americans made up the majority of the force. The film makes much of how Serpico was an outsider which made him more likely to speak out, report and testify against the pervasive corruption in the NYPD in the 1970s.

While working in narcotics, Serpico soon discovered that most of his peers were on the take. Another investigation supported Serpico’s conclusion. Cops on up the hierarchy were taking in millions. As predicted, Serpico was targeted by the cops who resented him. If you’ve seen the movie from the ’70s, you know he was shot and abandoned by the other cops. Because a civilian called the police, Serpico got medical attention and lived.

Now in his 80s, Frank Serpico describes what happened and why he was so ethical. There’s an interesting scene when Serpico was reunited with one of the cops who didn’t report Serpico getting shot.

The good cinematography that adds point of view. The movie with Pacino is brought up a lot and as Serpico wasn’t after fame, he exiled himself far from the city. A few areas could have been eliminated or shortened as they were repetitive. All in all, this was a film that held my interest that apparently isn’t as embellished as the Hollywood production. So if you’re interested in the police in general or Frank Serpico in particular, check out this film.

Small Change (1976)

François Truffaut’s Small Change (1976) was the first foreign language film I can recall seeing. I distinctly remember some neighbors raving about it and I was astonished by the idea of seeing a film in another language. A think our parents thought Small Change would be edifying so we were piled into a car and a group from the neighborhood all went. I remember being delighted by the scene when a toddler’s left alone and falls out of his apartment window, but remains unscathed. “Gregory go boom!” the boy exclaims to the petrified crowd.

The film still delighted though I did wish for more plot. Truffaut is wonderful with children and understands their lot better than most. The mischief of kids making a mess whenever the adults get caught up in their own lives, the innocence of looking for love, and the loneliness of hiding your family’s poverty or abuse are all present in this brightly colored panorama. Childhood’s changed in many ways with helicopter parents and high tech developments, but some of comedy and even the tragedies still remain.

The teacher’s monologue at the end struck me to the core in 1976 and again in 2018. I’ll share it below, but it’s a spoiler so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Antony and Cleopatra

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After reading the play for my book club, I watched the 1971 Antony and Cleopatra film starring, written and directed by Charlton Heston. It was a grand epic and I think today a director would be more naturalistic, which isn’t necessarily bad. I did appreciate the grandeur and pretty much expected that in a Heston production.

I was surprised by the amount of skin shown. We see Charlton Heston in a thong-like loin cloth and some women’s bare backsides. It was the early 70s and Antony and Cleopatra were led by their desires and Cleopatra’s court was hedonistic in Shakespeare. (Earlier Chaucer wrote about Cleopatra and she was more of a “good wife,” more nurturing and romantic.)

The film did make parts of the play, which I read for my online book club, clearer.

The film was able to show the scale of the battles and their brutality, which was quite gory, but how things would have been. While it wasn’t perfect, I got the sense that the film did include authentic aspects of the Ancient World.

It reinforced my attitudes toward the characters–they weren’t at all admirable, but they were compelling as great people who suffered great falls.

As I watched I wondered why Shakespeare had all three servants–Iras, Charmian, and Eros–commit suicide for their masters. Such blind loyalty. I wondered how Shakespeare’s contemporaries thought of that. I wondered why no one went on to move on with their lives. Two women killed themselves for Cleopatra. Wow. Was she worth dying for? Ladies, you could have had a better life post-Cleopatra.

There was a scene in the film that really struck me. In Act 2, Scene 2 when Caesar and Lepidus are conferring Caesar’s watching two gladiators spar. Then Antony walks in and he and Caesar . All the while the gladiators spar and are quite violent. Therefore there was a good tension between the veiled, polite language Antony and Cleopatra use and the increasing fighting Caesar’s seeing.

Cemetery Junction

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I started watching Cemetery Junction with anticipation. Since Ricky Gervais wrote it with Steven Merchant, I hoped for comedy. I didn’t get that. No big laughs here and yet the drama didn’t satisfy. It’s the story of three pals in the 1970s. One, Freddie Taylor, who’s no doubt named after Frederick Taylor who pioneered the science of management, wants to move up beyond his working class status. He sees his grandmother and parents as stuck in a rut. He takes a job selling life insurance door-to-door for a company run by the father of a pretty girl he went to school with. His friends are in dead end, low paying jobs and their lives are rather routine though they have more fun out at the pub or dance club than their parents do watching TV like zombies. Freddie wants something more, for himself. He soon sees through the empty promises of his job and hopes to avoid the mechanical life he sees even those who succeed at his job are stuck in.

There are plenty of stories and films that address this dilemma and most are more interesting. I’m not sure why this film was made or whom it’s for. Earlier such works were novel and were made for the youth of the 60s and 70s who were struggling to break out of the routine the 50s imposed. Nowadays young people seem to be swimming in choices and from my vantage point it seems fine to choose a different path.

Remember Bob?

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TD1MW-nyhxg&NR=1%5D

Classic comedy, indeed. I wish he was still on the air.

CBS Radio Mystery Theater

When I was growing up in the 70’s, I’d listen to CBS Radio Mystery Theater before going to sleep. I loved how radio stimulated  my imagination, how enthralling the stories were.

I just discovered that they’re all online, available at http://www.cbsrmt.com/.  It’s a fun, nostalgic journey.