Free to air
APART from Singing’ in the Rain, has there been a warm, light-hearted and optimistic film about the inner workings of Hollywood? When it comes to navel-gazing, the studios love looking on the dark side. Two of the best and most cynical films about Hollywood can be seen this Saturday — both classics and neither calculated to do much for falling numbers in multiplexes.
Day of the Locust (8.30pm, ABC2), directed by John Schlesinger from a novel by Nathanael West, focuses on the seamy side of Hollywood in its heyday in the 1930s, a hotbed of losers, misfits and neurotics. Karen Black is Faye, a slatternly starlet dreaming of the big time and a regular visitor to studio casting couches. It’s a stunning portrayal of moral desperation, matched by Donald Sutherland’s fine performance as Faye’s ineffectual lover. The final sequence — grim and apocalyptic — shocked audiences (including this reviewer) in 1975.
Sunset Boulevard (Saturday, 10.55pm, ABC2) is the sad story of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a faded silent movie star who hires a hack screenwriter (William Holden) to work on what she hopes will be her comeback movie. Holden’s character is found dead in the opening scene and the story is told in flashback, much in the way of Double Indemnity, another classic of the time. Sunset Boulevard is Billy Wilder’s unsparing portrait of the vanities and obsessions of the film community, a bizarre mixture of glamour and melodrama and the definitive critique of sour showbiz nostalgia. Swanson had much in common with her fictional character and her performance is legendary. Lamenting the glories of Hollywood’s past, she observes, in one of many famous lines: We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces then.’’
Some may remember a modest space thriller called Marooned, made in 1969, the year of the first moon landings. Marooned was remarkable for anticipating, almost exactly, the events of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, which malfunctioned after launching, leaving three crew members stranded in space. More than 20 years later Ron Howard told the story in Apollo 13 (Sunday, 7.30pm, 7Mate), a blockbuster by 1995 standards, with a cast including Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon. The film is unfailingly suspenseful but never quite catches the mood of cosmic loneliness and terror that the story inspires. For that, see the indie feature Love, made on a shoestring by an American, William Eubank, which I reviewed a few weeks ago and haven’t got out of my head. You’ll be lucky to catch it in cinemas, but watch out for a DVD.
And for fans: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Saturday, 7.40pm, Nine), the fourth film in the series, is also one of the best, though at 157 minutes by no means one of the shortest. The familiar faces are all present.
(M) ★★★★★ Saturday, 10.55pm, ABC2
(M) ★★★★✩ Saturday, 8.30pm, ABC2
(M) ★★★ ✩ Sunday, 7.30pm, 7Mate