Thursday, 9 July 2009

Tempest by Paul Mazursky

Loving unloved or forgotten films is altogether painful and magic. It gives the feeling of being one of the“happy few”! In my Tapeheads critic, I wrote that sometimes you come to a film for its actors. It’s a bit unfair to the filmmakers and scriptwriters of the world, but we’ve been raised with Hollywood, and the star system, so was our vision of the world!My attraction for this film goes beyond curiosity! I had to satisfy a quest for a character painfully gone: John Cassavetes!
In France he’s recognised as one of the greatest filmmaker on earth; in USA he’s better known as a seventies actor! For a few years now the hard work of a critic: Ray Carney, gave the filmmaker credits. Alas! for this man it’s hard to stay in the shadow and American filmgoers give him a big part of the laurels only Cassavetes deserves! Personally I never liked intermediaries! Most of the films John Cassavetes played in (Rosemary baby, Fury, Dirty Dozen, the Killers…) even very good, has not much to do with his work as a filmmaker. This is not the case of Tempest!

It’s clear to me that Mazursky knew and appreciated Cassavetes’work, and that he’s been nourished with Opening Night and Love Streams for the creation of the characters of Philip and Antonia! Of course actors are also authors in the sense that their way of being, voice, tone and body language marks the films with their presence and charisma! But in Tempest the dialogues and the themes, like the end of love and midlife crisis could be cassavetian! This film is a free adaptation of Shakespeare’s Tempest. Besides Rowlands and Cassavetes, Maggie Ringwald (in her first part), Susan Sarandon, Vittorio Gassman and Raul Julia are completing this cast, making it one of the eighties beautifulest!

Philip Demetrius(JC) famous architect, works for the classy mob Alonso (Gassman). When they visit the casino which Philip his designing, he projects himself at the top of the structure jumping from there. The metaphor is clear: this job is soul suicide! His healthy reaction is to say immediately “I quit!” but it’s impossible unless having career and knee destroyed! Hatred is rising in him and he feels more and more trapped in his own life ! His youth is flying away! His spouse Antonia (Gena Rowlands, Cassavetes’wife in real life) is going another way; she wants to go back on stage and feels her husband hatred! She leaves him for Alonso, who this way gives back Philip’s freedom! Philip flies to Greece with his daughter Miranda! Greece is the country of his ancestors as it was for John Cassavetes! In Athens he meets Aretha (Sarandon) she becomes his lover! Antonia and Alonso find them and ask for Miranda, but this one is angry against her mother and refuses to live with her. Philip, Aretha and Miranda hide on a lost island in the Mediterranean Sea!

From Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Mazursky kept the time unity, theatricality, Caliban and more important than anything the magical connection between human and nature. The action of this film happens during one day, the flash backs give us the facts that led to the present moment. Now the feelings born from past actions have marinated enough and the island inhabitants are under pressure, they are ready to explode! Revendications reach their paroxysm; it’s puberty for Miranda, and the desire to build a future for Aretha. Philip by isolating them is the creator of this pressure!

What’s going on in Demetrius’head is darker, more subterranean: he is his own oppressor, and start to have hallucinations, to suffer from what he lost, what he didn’t fight for: his love! I love the fact that this character is altogether powerful and selfish. He is pagan in a Jove way; he can command the storm but is not beyond bad deeds!And if his anger is not legitimized, it’s also not judged by the film ! This opus is beyond the judgements of good and evil, and that is good! I think that John Cassavetes is a fantastic casting choice: he is this magician who because of his emotions can provoke a tempest.

What is a tempest? It’s a climax, the moment where the forces of nature are revealed and where humans emotions emerging “Once more with feeling!” “Show me the magic!” What is more intelligent that giving that part to a filmmaker who was a director whose means of expressions were the pure, and violent real emotions. And Philip is also a stage director (he’s restoring an antic theatre, has an almost paranormal conscience of who is where on the island!) In French we sometimes call filmmakers « réalisateurs » people who make things real or also who help realize, help to the blossoming of a soul! Cassavetes was definitely one of those magicians and in this part that’s also what he is! When he unleashes the final tempest, he does not only unleash his feelings and the elements, he also by the power of fire and water performs a purification!
« Your lives have been spared, on that island we celebrate that with a sacrifice! » and on this despites of the protestations, he slaughters a goat. In theory isn’t it said that one of the possible etymologies of catharsis is the ritual sacrifice of a ram (goat here!) on which all human suffering were projected? That’s the produced effect : cathartic!

The treatment of the music in this film is also very interesting. Music is omnipresent and in different ways: the characters are singing and dancing on the music they produce “in”, they’re bringing their stereo everywhere (or flute for Calibanos (Raul Julia) which is recreating Liza Minelli’s New York New York for his goats! It’s hilarious!), or the music is classically “in”! This film is on the verge of being a musical!

It’s also impossible not to mention the beauty of the island, the beauty of the landscape, the sky, the turquoise blue water, the antic theatre and the white houses. Impossible not to mention this simple life under the sun, where one eats feta cheese, tomatoes, olives and bread; where one rests, makes love on a hammock, and where one can swim whenever one wants and even naked, because there is almost no one in this paradise !

This film as I said is questioning the couple and its evolution, the desire of Antonia is clearly expressed when she says to Philip that she not only wanted to be by his sides but that she wanted to participate ! She wanted both of them to make sacrifices, not only her!
Once all that is expressed, remains the fantasy that led to this film : watching this mysterious and fascinating couple that Rowlands and Cassavetes formed; watching them interact and be fascinated by the impossible captation of real feelings and real love on a cinema screen!
From an island to another : the film finishes on the return to NY and the credits song better than “They got married and had a lot of children” gives an idea of the work ahead: «we’ll turn Manhattan into a isle of joy!”

Then the actors present themselves one by one, and salute us altogether like they would on a theatre stage!

Version française sur ce lien!


Anonymous said...

I love what you say about purification and of course about what John and Gena mean for cinephiles!

Douglas Blyde said...

Yes, you're right, actors are in a sense authors. That must be why directors hate them...

Excellent piece of writing, V. But, if I may say one thing - please use fewer exclamation marks!!! Your passion comes through without these decapitated 'l's.

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