Sunday, March 18, 2012

Coffee, tea and wit

Before there was the TV series Pan Am, before the 2002 movie with Leonardi DiCaprio Catch Me if You Can (Steven Spielberg) there was 1963's Come Fly With Me (Henry Levin), the original romantic comedy that was a product of the glamour of the early days of jet travel. The airline in this movie looks for all the world like Pan American. But the name has been changed to Polar Atlantic. The three "hostesses" in this charming flick are on the New York - Paris "milk run" flying out of the pre-JFK airport known simply as New York International. Karl Malden stars in this as a ho-hum Midwestern passenger on his first flight to Europe and the romantic interest of one of our fly girls (Lois Nettleton as "Bergie" Bergstrom). Yes, this is the original coffee-tea-or-me picture. But there's a twist, contrary to how modern audiences may perceive the sexist 1960s. For these stewardesses ("flight attendant" hadn't entered the vocabulary then) are nobodies' fools. In fact they reminded me of the women in Sex and The City, with their freewheeling witticisms zinged at themselves and foolish male passengers and crew. "You don't have to hit me over the head with a mallet," says rookie Carol Brewster ( Pamela Tiffin). "No, but it's a thought." Or, "I used to date a guy who held up gas stations," Bergie says on how men can be improved. "Now he's a used car salesman."

Watching Turner Classic Movies (TCM's) March Monday series of British New Wave films - most made in the very early 1960s - one is struck by the shabbiness of how England looks. Cities are invariably down at the heels, grubby and most of alls soot-covered, whether it be the walls of bridges or the facade of a church. I guess this was before someone came up with the idea of showing off England's beautiful historic architecture by, well, steam-cleaning it.

The current darling of foreign films is Iran' A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011) which won for best foreign film at last month's Oscars. This is a well-acted drama about a husband and wife breaking up due to factors other than their own relationship -mainly about Nader (Peyman Moadi) refusing to leave Iran because he wants to take care of his father with Alzheimer's. But the movie is no better or worse than any number of foriegn films that have come out of Iran in recent years. But somehow this one has generated huge media attention and audiences, having no choice, have latched on. It reminds me of the buzz around 2006's The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck), a film about the spying apparatus of the former East German police state. It was also a good movie. But there have been many other films about East Germany that were as good or better. Perhaps it's just the nature of the distribution system. A few films, for whatever reason, get out to North American audiences; the majority don't. And audiences, not being aware of what else is out there outside of film festivals, immediately respond with enthusiasm. "Wow, a film about East Germany spying." "Wow, a film coming out of parish state Iran."

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