Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Family Plot (1976)

Have I mentioned how much I love repertory cinema?  It's one of the things we don't have in Eugene, although the Bijou is currently experimenting with the concept.  Personally I don't understand why it's not more popular.  We seem to be in a golden age of cinephilia, though not of cinema, and I feel
like in any small city there should be enough people willing to pay to see classic old films on the big screen, with good sound, in the dark.  But no, not so much.

So since we're back in Cambridge, Mass., for most of September we've been hitting the Harvard Film Archive pretty regularly (the Brattle is on our list, too, but their offerings this month are a little disappointing).  Right now they're at the tail end of a summer-long Complete Hitchcock series, and Lord wouldn't that have been fun to do.  As is we're managing to catch a few, some we've seen and some we haven't.

Like Saturday, when we went and saw Family Plot, his last film.  We'd seen Frenzy, but hadn't even heard of this one, to be honest.  Had no idea what to expect.  And when it was done we still had little idea what we'd just seen.

It's a thoroughly delightful film, just weird as all hell.  It feels curiously dislocated in time, for one thing.  The fashions, the language (surprisingly racy for Hitchcock), and the cars all feel like the mid-'70s, and so do most of the actors' deliveries and mannerisms, but the rhythms of the film, the classical shape of the plot and the blithe unnaturalism of the presentation, make it clear that the director's sensibility was shaped long before.  But this all works for the film, I think:  Bruce Dern's seedy gangliness makes him seem in step with any number of '70s stoner films, allowing the movie to feel much more off-beat than it otherwise might have.  Similarly, William Devane's Snidely Whiplash-style villain works largely because Devane plays him cool, with a dead look in his eyes, even while his lips are smirking.

It's the car chase that'll really get you.  Maybe it is, as some say, a parody of the car chases so prevalent in '70s action flicks, but it actually works.  You feel that the technology is dated, and was even for 1976, but it's so fast, so effectively edited, and puts you in the driver's seat so unhesitantly, that it still works - most of the full theater I saw it in jumped.  And yet even while Hitchcock's making you bite your nails with the car careening down the mountainside, he's inviting you to laugh, with Barbara Harris climbing all over Bruce Dern, so insistently that it goes beyond funny into surreal.  You don't know whether to laugh, until they crash, and they crawl out of the wreckage unharmed - but he squeezes out in the most ridiculously awkward fashion, seemingly just for the hell of it.  It's one weird movie, and a great way to go out.

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