I caught some of the Johnny Depp/Roman Polanski movie The Ninth Gate the other night and tuned in just in time to see one of the stranger scenes, where Emanuelle Seigner flies to Depp’s rescue on the banks of the Seine. The movie is adapted from just the supernatural aspect of a novel I really liked by Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Club Dumas.The Ninth Gate didn’t just confound and intrigue me, but it also made me think of some other movies that I have watched more than once because of a perplexing scene, performance, plot, or all of the above. These mysteries actually make the films more appealing-a riddle you can never quite decipher.
River Phoenix’s performance and his interactions with Samantha Mathis make Peter Bogdonavich’s The Thing Called Love something beyond a youthful romance picture. Ostensibly about young musicians trying to break into the country music scene (and there’s some great music), the film for me becomes a struggle to understand why this romance sometimes just won’t, and sometimes will, work. I can never totally figure it out, and it seems, neither can Phoenix or Mathis. And therein lies the appeal. Getting caught up in the melodrama all over again and hoping, thinking it might end differently this time.
River Phoenix-Blame It On Your Heart
The Big Sleep and Beat the Devil are two puzzlers from Humphrey Bogart. Maybe neither could be called one of his greatest movies, but it is definitely enjoyable to watch him parry with his costars, especially Lauren Bacall (in the former) and Jennifer Jones (in the latter-pretending to be Vivien Leigh?). In fact, I’ve wathed both films numerous times and I couldn’t start to tell you what is really going on in The Big Sleep. It’s so convoluted that I don’t think Bogie or Bacall really knew, either. Or maybe they just chose to smolder. And boy could they smolder. As for Beat the Devil, it’s not so much that things are confusing, but everyone seems to be on vacation, and instead of getting irritated that the movie is nonsensical, it’s just fun to go on a crazy holiday with them.
I remember watching Elia Kazan’s The Last Tycoon a few times, trying to work out why Robert De Niro couldn’t quite understand or hold onto an elusive girl. The movie is based on an unfinished story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which might be a factor. But more importantly, I think this movie illustrates the elusive, temporary nature of all movies and why we come back for repeat viewings, to re-experience them. Watching movies, at times, can be like reliving memories. Or past romances. The Last Tycoon also has one of my favorite scenes about the power of movies:
Like a child I guess that when I find a movie I like, that pulls me in, I want to say, “Again, again!” These movies are all encore performers. Maybe someday I’ll figure them out.