Thursday, May 14, 2020

Model Shop (and adieu to Twilight Time)

Aw, heck. Everybody sort of knew that Twilight Time Movies was not long for the world - the founder passed away a few months ago, and the imprint had dipped licensed quite a few titles from 20th Century Fox, in addition to occasionally having other retail arrangements with them - and there doesn't seem to be much recovering from that. They'll be shutting down at the end of June.

In the meantime, everything is on sale, with Blu-rays running from $4 to $12, and while a lot of these things that were (generally) pressed in limited editions of 3,000 are already sold out, there are still a bunch of interesting items to be found in there. I ordered 16 discs this weekend, and while some of my past purchases have been things that I'm sure will find their way to disc again sometime in the next few years - although, truth be told, I'm not sure how things shook out that Walter Huston's Beat the Devil and Ang Lee's Sense & Sensibility fell to them to release in the first place - pretty much my entire order this time sort of fell into the category of "sure, why the hell not?" There's usually someone notable involved with these movies, but mostly these aren't major works.

(And, truth be told, not always that great - Plan A was for this entry to be Dragonwyck, but I conked out trying to watch it as my second movie on Monday night, and didn't really feel like restarting it right away!)

I wish I'd found them earlier, if only for the two or three 3D discs they did that sold out before I got my hands on them (I think I found them via Inferno but never got the chance to order The Mad Magician or Man in the Dark). And I kind of wonder what other specialty labels like this are around, flying under the radar. There seem to be a number in the UK (Powerhouse, Network, Second Sight), although you've got to pay attention to region coding in those cases.

Anyway, so long, Twilight Time. You've helped me be able to see some movies I never would have even considered otherwise on a format that makes it easy to lend if they're good. Hopefully someone picks up the ball soon!

EDIT: Apparently Screen Archives is purchasing the label, and will take over distribution and the website in July. Odds of reprinting many of these titles seem low - the licenses may have specified only 3,00 copies - but, hey, who knows?

Model Shop

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

I wonder, a bit, if certain potential viewers might be more tempted to watch Jacques Demy's 1960s films (and then maybe dig deeper into his work) by having them described as forming a "Lolaverse" of sorts than by talking about the French New Wave and his particular style, just as a different way to introduce this particular slice of film history. If so, Model Shop must seem an odd end to the cycle - picking up half a world away in another language and hinting at other tales - but maybe by the time a viewer gets there, they will be more intrigued by Demy's style than rotating cast of characters.

This particular film is built around George Matthews (Gary Lockwood), a 26-year-old who has quit his job at a Los Angeles architecture firm and shacked up with Gloria (Alexandra Hay), an aspiring actress who may come off as shallow but probably deserves better than how George treats her. As one day begins, the finance company is about to repossess his 1952 MG, but he pleads and gets the day to come up with the hundred dollars he owes. As he sets off to find someone to borrow from, his path crosses with a striking French woman (Anouk Aimée) twice, eventually following her into an establishment where one can rent a camera, room, and model to play at being a pin-up photographer, returning later after a bit of bad news.

Jacques Demy would make other English-language films in his career, but Model Shop is his only truly American film. It is, in fact, specific to the Los Angeles of 1969 from the very start, with George and Gloria living in a tiny shack with oil derricks on one side and the beach on the other, so that the world looks very different depending which window the camera is pointed at. From there, much of the action occurs in cars, with cinematographer Michel Hugo following along as Demy allows them to serve as avatars: The shiny MG that serves as George's identity on the verge of being whisked away, the white Mercury that matches Lola's dress, the fancifully-painted Volkswagen that a group of friends running a struggling alt-weekly pile into. Conversations are staged at stoplights or in parking lots.

The draft also hangs over George, an explanation at times for his impulsive, disconnected behavior; though he may later say that he never considered death before, it would make sense to suggest he had considered disruption. It's not easy to like George, and Gary Lockwood is not allowed to make him sympathetic for much of the film, highlighting the callousness and selfishness in the young man's distance. Even as he grows and gets some perspective by the end, it's uneven; he's been pointed in the direction of maturity but may have a way to go, and Lockwood's performance catches that. George doesn't change much, but Lockwood gives us just enough peek under the surface to give the viewer a sense of turmoil.

Anouk Aimée serves as a bit of a counterbalance; Lola is older and wiser enough to be wary of selfish young men but just lost enough herself to want what they can give her. She's properly magnetic but also a bit distracted; Aimée and Demy never let the audience forget that though she's further along than George, she hasn't figured that much out herself. Aimée and Alexandra Hay never share the screen, but there's an interesting comparison between their two characters, with Aimée's Lola calm and accepting even as she has little of her own and no clear direction while Hay's Gloria is intense and sometimes temperamental despite being in a better situation.

It's not material that overtly matches the fairy-tale imagery of Demy's most famous pictures, but he's certainly got a knack for how to use the environment to sort of crystallize Los Angeles for outsiders: There's information and context hanging in the air as the radio alternates between news about Vietnam, classical music, and pop by the band Spirit, who appear in the film as friends of George and thus serve as an early example of how not everyone his age is stalled-out. The plot is lightweight but never pushed as more than that, with Demy and editor Walter Thompson pulling off the neat trick of making the film feel like it takes place in real time even as it progresses from morning to night over an hour and a half. There's a nifty balance of cool and creepy to the model shop, especially as the familiar "girl walking guy down the dark passageway" shot leads to the fairly tame "bedroom set", though the focus on George hitting a button rather than composing a shot - does a nice job of showing how dehumanizing the activity is despite Lola's protestations.

Demy would not continue making films about Lola and the people in her orbit after this, returning to France and a decade of fantasies afterward. One wonders, a bit, how they would have fared, and what direction he might have gone had working with an American studio gone better (or, indeed, what direction film as a whole might have gone had he been able to cast Harrison Ford as George - would Ford have found a home in this sort of film and not wound up collaborating with a different George?). Those are intriguing questions that make Model Shop even more of an odd artifact, although one that still intrigues as his snapshot of this place and time.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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