Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Don't Get Caught Out in the Brain

Meant to tell you all about this a few weeks ago - y'know, when I actually saw the damn thing - but like many other things, it sort of fell out of my head. But every now and again you have to go out of your way just to give a simple, unpolished movie recommendation. Because sometimes, yes Virginia, great films escape us.

I'm talking of course (what else could it be?) about William Conrad's outstanding 1965 film Brainstorm. Conrad was not a prolific man, having directed only two other films (both of which came out in 1965, so I guess he was prolific for a second there) and various television shows, none of which I've seen. But I know the work of a master when I see it, and Brainstorm has the goods. The acting can be a bit of a wash (although Dana Andrews is pretty great playing against type), but the cinema? He's pulling moves here that Resnais made his name on a few years earlier in Last Year at Marienbad, somehow without ever feeling derivative. His shots evoke everything he'd need to tell his story and still pack a punch. His transitions in the second act are playfully elegant in a way you usually only see in movies that have a bit of a dreamlike edge to them, which in turn makes this film seem a little unreal (but black and white movies always seem that way, at least a little bit, don't they?).

I heard about this film via the always wonderful Criterion Cast, where guest Jett Loe of the equally delightful podcast The Film Talk put it in with such greats as The Night of the Hunter, which is no small praise to me. But what do you know, the film is nearly that great. Not exactly the visionary, singular work that film is, but Conrad possesses the same engrained understanding of what the medium is capable of. In the everlasting, "which is more important, form or content?" debate, the content side tends to say that formally impressive films that lack in the story department tend to feel a bit hollow. Brainstorm is the perfect argument to the contrary, in that it tells the same story as the script, only better.

Brainstorm is available via the Warner Archive Collection, which makes it a bit tough for a mere rent (here in Portland we benefit ceaselessly from Movie Madness), but if you have the money to buy it blind, you could do a lot worse.

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