Thursday, September 25, 2008
The film that's given me the biggest kick of late was Ronald Neame's 1980 Walter Matthau comedy/thriller, Hopscotch. Reminded me a little, in the best possible ways, of Hal Ashby's amazing run of 70's films (of which I'm an unabashed fan), a similar tender, free-wheeling way of telling the story coupled with gorgeous attention to detail. The location shooting throughout Hopscotch is almost worth watching the film alone, and Criterion, those relentlessly genius bastards of rendering prints ravaged by time and neglect back to their original glory, give these location scenes a bewitching warmth.
But what really delighted me most was the chemistry between Matthau and his co-star Glenda Jackson. They play old spies and even older lovers, each smitten with the other and always a step ahead of their bumbling Russian and American pursuers. Matthau's character, Miles Kendig, a fed up CIA operative, shacks up with Jackson's Isobel, a former spy and lover (married, but now widowed, thus igniting the flame anew--and the scene where they first meet again manages effortlessly to be both urbane and folksy, it's sly and filled with warmth, establishing a delightfully giddy, goofy rapport Matthau and Jackson sustain until the end of the film) and begins writing a tell-all memoir that promises to embarrass the covert and morally dubious operations of several countries.
While Matthau's Kendig writes he listens to Mozart. Numerous scenes show albums of Mozart being placed onto a turntable, of tapes being placed into a cassette player and the play button being pushed, of a stylus gracefully meeting vinyl. Almost all the music in the film is diegetic, that is, the music helping to sustain and propel the narrative is represented in the scenes as they're being played out. Unlike the hardcore diegetics (of which much is still to be written), the represented music is allowed to dominate the mix, in fact, it becomes the only sound. That's pretty normal for most Hollywood films but rarely do you get to see the soundtrack being chosen and played by a character in the film. I really liked that.