At the halfway point of TIFF ’07 (doesn’t it just fly by though!) I started getting the feeling that there was something of a 70s flashback happening here this year, but in the very best sense of the word. What with Brian DePalma‘s disturbing and resonant Redacted, the Paul Schrader film The Walker (with the best Woody Harrelson performance since The People Versus Larry Flynt). Woody Allen‘s film Cassandra’s Dream, and the fantastic director Sidney Lumet here with Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (and introducing the William Wyler film The Best Years of our Lives) all here, I started thinking about all the wonderful films the above gave us or helped give us in the 70s, arguably the last great epoch of American cinema.
Then this was all brought even more sharply into focus when I was strolling up Bay St. after having stopped by the Sutton Place Hotel looking up my friends at the French film outfit here called Unifrance. Coming at me on the sidewalk was a guy who was dressed the way you would expect a Hollywood filmmaker from the 70s to dress â€“ big sunglasses, slow stride, snappy sport coat, silk scarf tied loosely at the throat… as I passed this guy I realized it was actually Peter Bogdanovich â€“ the famous 70s-era director (at TIFF to introduce and discuss such classics as La Grand Illusion from Jean Renoir).
And the fantastic thing about this 70s redux feel at this year’s TIFF is that the aforementioned filmmakers are demonstrating that almost forty years on they are still making valid and important and most interestingly energetic cinematic statements.
There are differences of course – the Redacted Brian DePalma is a lot more controlled and disciplined than the Brian DePalma that made Carrie. The Paul Schrader that wrote Taxi Driver and then directed American Gigolo was a lot more angry than the Paul Schrader that made The Walker (even though there are several parallels between The walker and American Gigolo in terms of theme â€“ the swaggering character that gets by on his charisma and charm only to have that evaporate in an instant when trouble shows itself). And Sidney Lumet â€“ what actually needs to be said about Sidney Lumet is that he made several of the best American films (including Network, Murder on the Orient Express and The Anderson Tapes) of the 70s and gave rise, though his films Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon to the explosive career of Al Pacino. Lumet’s TIFF entry, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead is pure Lumet, fantastic performances by Albert Finney and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke, a story that is complex but one that you get caught up in early on and just go with until the end, and an intelligence and a thoughtfulness that most films simply do not have anymore.
And Woody Allen – Woody Allen, a guy who practically defined the 70s in terms of his acerbic wit and the new kind of comedy that was more about eccentricity and self-deprecation than about prat falls and belly laughs â€“ Allen’s comedies contained words like didacticism and made frequent references to Marshall McLuhan and Tolstoy. Allen’s TIFF entry, Cassandra’s Dream is an interesting film â€“ interesting work from his leads Colin Farrell, and Ewan Macgregor â€“ but there is none of the 70s Woody Allen in this film â€“ but that is to be expected. The Woody Allen of 2007, the 72-year old Woody Allen has a wit that has been dulled by a strange life since the 70s â€“ but Woody Allen is and was one of the best American directors in terms of his craftsmanship, his attention to detail, and his ability to get performances from his actors that are surprising, almost like the actors themselves were shocked to be going where they were going with the characters. Woody Allen’s strength first and foremost though is that he is a writer, and an awfully good one. He has written better screenplays than Cassandra’s Dream â€“ but even that said, when Woody Allen is clicking away at 75% steam he is about 50% better than most other screenwriters are at 100% capacity.
So while TIFF is a celebration of world cinema â€“ this year it is also showing a healthy and important respect for the glory of cinema history â€“ and lucky for us the five guys mentioned are still around to remind us of that history in the flesh.