Playlist: 3 Withered Friendships

December 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

1. OLD JOY (Kelly Reichardt, 2006)

Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy is the most wistful of road movies. The story concerns two old friends in Portland who reunite for a weekend camping trip to the Bagby Hot Springs, where deadbeat Kurt (Will Oldham) hopes to reconnect with Mark (Daniel London), who has come to embrace adulthood in all its challenges and responsibilities. Rather than hood-mounting her camera so that it looks ahead to a fixed point on the scenic horizon, Reichardt primarily frames the journey through the passenger window, watching silently as Portland’s ramshackle outskirts and the wooded landscapes of the Cascade mountain range stream by. Friendship to Reichardt is an essentially transient thing, life satisfaction in a state of perpetual decay. Arrival at the springs leads to a momentary stasis, Kurt and Mark in zen-like harmony with their surroundings and with each other. But it’s a temporary fix, and soon the emphasis returns to the irrecoverable images that flood by the passenger window as this broken duo returns to the city. Life barrels along into bitterness and adulthood, and old friendships fall by the side of the road.

Available on DVD from Kino and streaming on Netflix.

2. MIKEY AND NICKY (Elaine May, 1976)

Lowlife Nicky is in trouble with the mob and he calls on his childhood pal Mikey, slightly higher up in the same syndicate, to bail him out. Played by John Cassavetes and Peter Falk respectively, the two spend a tense, grueling night revisiting boyhood haunts and working through their compromised friendship, which has been rattled for years by conflicting financial interests. Director Elaine May adopts the raw, roughshod aesthetic of Cassavetes’s films of the same era, but enlists it for her own personal dramatic ends. Encouraging improvisation from her leads and leaving the camera running, May accumulated hours upon hours of footage of Falk and Cassavetes in various stages of interactive play. If the story pivots on Mikey’s dual allegiances—to his mob superiors and to his best friend—then May’s freeform direction and the spontaneous performances she elicits continually highlight the blurry line between genuine and play-acted affection, heightening the suspense in the process. Mikey and Nicky is about the inevitable threats to male friendship in a competitive, unforgiving world, and it’s one of the quintessential American movies of the 1970s.

Available on DVD from Homevision.

3. IT’S ALWAY FAIR WEATHER (Stanley Donen, 1955)

Three years after directing Singin’ in the Rain, the ebullient crown jewel of MGM movie musicals, Stanley Donen made this uncharacteristically melancholic musical about the decaying friendship among three army veterans who struggle to adapt to a postwar America stratified along class lines and drenched in disingenuous commercialism. Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey, and Michael Kidd are the three returning soldiers who celebrate the end of World War II and vow to meet back up ten years later, and Cyd Charisse is the broadcasting coordinator who contrives to make of their bitter reunion the sugarcoated stuff of television uplift. There are some fine song-and-dance numbers—Gene Kelly tap-dancing on roller skates is a particular delight—but they do little to counteract the mordant chill of postwar bleakness and resentment. Something like a musical version of The Best Years of Our Lives (a similarly misleading title), It’s Always Fair Weather is enough to make you rethink whatever rosy ideas you may have of the genre. Donen and Kelly never worked together again.

Available on DVD from Warner Home Video. – Stuart

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