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Cinematheque Ontario presents – Arthur Penn (Mar 24 - Apr 6, 2011)

23 Mar 2011


Night Moves: The Films of Arthur Penn
March 24, 2011 – April 6, 2011
TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto

TIFF marks the passing of one of American cinema’s finest auteurs, Arthur Penn (1922–2010), with a select retrospective, which spans his career from his fine fifties western The Left Handed Gun (1958) to its elegiac counterpart two decades later, The Missouri Breaks (1976). Often credited with igniting the New American Cinema and for preparing the way for such directors as Coppola, Friedkin, Schrader, and Scorsese with Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Penn was an innovator from the outset. The Left Handed Gun replaced the mythic with the intensely psychological, and Mickey One (1965), his still astounding dark comedy from the mid-sixties, drew on the audacity of the French New Wave in its heady mixture of tone and genre.

Penn was many things, all of them admirable: a severe critic of American values, a generous chronicler of moral dissent, a maverick who helped disassemble the studio system, and, perhaps above all, an actor’s director. The list of actors who found new freedom and gave among their best performances in Penn’s cinema runs to well over a dozen, including Marlon Brando, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Anne Bancroft, Paul Newman and Gene Hackman.

The Arthur Penn retrospective is in my opinion, the best one containing the best films held by TIFF in the past 3 years!

For complete information on showtimes, ticket pricing and list of films, check the TIFF Cinematheque Ontario website at:

Capsule Reviews of Selected films from the Retrospective:

Directed by Arthur Penn
A landmark gangster film in many ways from the violence to its sex and nudity!  The film begins with the meeting of Bonne Parker (Faye Dunaway) with bank robber Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) as she spots him while naked trying to steal her mother’s car.  From then on, it is one heel ride for the audience with director Penn glamorizing the lifestyle of BONNIE AND CLYDE.  The film is very stylish and the performances more than excellent, garnishing all four leads Academy Award nominations in the acting categories.  Estelle Parsons won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the immensely irritating screaming wife and sister-in-law of Clyde Barrow.  This highly successfully film made stars of all the leads including Michael J. Pollard as C.W. Moss the not too bright driver who parks the getaway car during one bank robbery.  The film also contains a very touching scene between Bonnie’s mother and her.  The depression era is stunningly captured on film with Burnett Guffery winning the Oscar for Best Cinematography.  BONNIE AND CLYDE is highly enjoyable, perfectly directed and a film to be viewed again and again.

THE CHASE (USA 1966) *****
Directed by Arthur Penn
THE CHASE is overblown melodrama – Peyton Place style.  A whole series of events involving current (at that time) issues like racism, class system, the sexual revolution and vigilantism are ignited in small southern town by the escape from prison of a local, Bubber Reeves (the at the time unknown Robert Redford).  The sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) wants Bubber’s wife, Anna (Jane Fonda) who is having an affair with Jason Rogers (James Fox) to convince him to turn himself in, as the town is out for blood.  The cinematography of the south and the southern small town atmosphere is effectively captured on screen.  Based on the play by and with the script written by Horton Foote (who wrote TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) and Lillian Hellman, the suspense is carefully built up right to the climax.  The best scene has Calder beaten up by three white guys for protecting a Blackman.  Though the film opened to poor box-office receipts and mediocre critical acclaim, THE CHASE is exciting, compelling, drama throughout with an all star cast that also includes E.G. Marshall, Robert Duvall, Angie Dickinson, Martha Hyer, Miriam Hopkins and a glimpse of songwriter Paul Williams playing the guitar and the film’s climax.  I would not ask for anything more!

Directed by Arthur Penn
If ever a film or story is more moving, THE MIRACLE WORKER is it.  Based on the stage play that was also directed by Arthur Penn and starring both its stars Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, the film is autobiography of Helen Keller (Duke) left blind, deaf and mute as a result of a severe case of scarlet fever.  Unable to deal with the child, her terrified and helpless parents hire Annie Sullivan (Bancroft) to the Keller home to tutor the child. What ensues is a battle of wills as Annie breaks down Helen’s walls of silence and darkness through persistence, love, and sheer stubbornness.  The most riveting segment, which is almost unbearable to watch is the dining room battle scene, in which Annie tries to teach Helen proper table manners.  Both Bancroft and Duke wore padding beneath their costumes to prevent serious bruising during the intense physical skirmish. The nine-minute sequence required three cameras and took five days to film.  Both Bancroft and Duke came away with Academy Award Winners for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively.  The only complaint here is the hard-to-follow flashback scenes explaining Annie’s background prior to teaching.

Directed by Arthur Penn
A huge commercial failure despite its two stars Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, THE MISSOURI BREAKS is nevertheless an intriguing film that is entirely watchable though for the wrong reasons.  One can easily see why this otherwise dead serious western about a horse thief slipped into silliness, thanks mainly to Brando’s performance that includes a scene where he kisses his horse after reciting poetry to it.  (Perhaps director Penn had his throat slit immediately after that scene as an inside joke!)
THE MISSOURI BREAKS refer to the forlorn and rugged area of North Central Montana where over time, the river had made deep cuts into the land.  Here horses roam and ranches flourish.  Tom Logan (Nicholson) is a horse thief that buys a ranch as a holding ground but encounters ‘regulator’ Lee (Brando) who kills his men.  Logan finally guns him down and steals a feisty, local girl (Kathleen Lloyd).  The film is stunningly well shot, performances over the top but the film contains never a dull moment.  Sample this dialogue: “No I did not kill him, but I did empty his tub!” Logan confesses after first meeting Lee.

NIGHT MOVES (USA 1975) ****
Directed by Arthur Penn
This at that time (1975) modern detective film noir follows Private Investigator Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) as he finds and brings back trust funded daughter Grastner (Melanie Griffith) to ageing actress Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward).  His personal life problems complicate his feelings for the case as he cheats on his wife (Susan Clark) with Paula (a very younger now popular Jennifer Warren).  As the case gets more complicated, so does his personal life spiral out of control.  Moseby uses his investigative skills to track down his wife’s lover as he did his lost father many years ago.  Hackman is excellent as the pitiless p.i. in arguably director Penn’s best movie since BONNIE AND CLYDE.  A satisfying and compelling film noir from start to finish!

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