Thursday, December 07, 2006

Preminger Centennial (But Not Centennial Summer)

I should have highlighted this on the day, but December 5 of this year was the centenary of the birth of Otto Preminger. In his honor, the Academy of Arts and Sciences held a tribute to him last month.

Preminger's a guy who had erratic taste in scripts -- he seemed to pick projects based on how much publicity the title or subject-matter would generate, and publicizing the project sometimes seemed to matter more to him than getting the writer to come up with a good script. But for most of his career, his movies are a pleasure to look at for his preference for long, expansive takes and his use of every inch of the frame. Look at this scene from Advise and Consent, where he has Peter Lawford in the distance at the very edge of the Panavision frame while George Grizzard (as the evil Senator Fred Van Ackerman) is speaking; finally Lawford says something, but Preminger doesn't cut to him, just leaves him there at the edge and expects our eyes to go to him. That's why this is one of those movies that makes absolutely no sense on TV. And you may recognize the person making a cameo as the tart-tongued Senator from Kansas:

And then, of course, there's the bad Preminger. And there's nothing badder than his 1968 attempt to stay relevant and controversial, Skidoo. To be fair, though, the clips posted online make the movie look even worse than it is, because they're in pan-and-scan.

Oh, and this remake of Preminger's last good movie, Bunny Lake is Missing, starring Reese Witherspoon? I guess Witherspoon's a better actress than Carol Lynley, but I greatly fear the new version will force the whole thing to make sense, and there would be no point to it that way.

Update: One other thing about Preminger is that for most of his career, his movies were distinguished by unusually good musical scores. Many prominent directors either didn't seem to care who composed the music, or struck up semi-permanent partnerships with certain composers whether or not they were any good (like Robert Aldrich's incessant use of easy-listening schlockmeister Frank DeVol). But Preminger used the great David Raksin for most of his films at Fox, and when he went independent, he used a succession of different and often very distinguished composers. He also would sometimes make unusual and good choices for the composer; on Advise and Consent he gave Jerry Fielding his first assignment for a big budget movie.


Anonymous said...

I'm very scared of the upcoming Bunny Lake remake. I mean, Reese Witherspoon?! Sad too, because it'll tar the reputation of very little-remembered film.

Anonymous said...

ADVISE AND CONSENT - Nice use of perspective, and that female senator...I had a feeling, but I looked it up just to be sure. Quite a long way from St. Olaf.

SKIDOO - Leonard Maltin got it so right: "One in a thousand will have the temperament to like this; everyone else will sit there dumbstruck." I am not that one.