Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Modest Tribute to Ben-Hur Gazzara

It was here that Althouse said she found “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” to be a boring movie. I can see where she’s coming from. The pacing was designed to more closely approximate that of real life and if you don’t find Ben Gazzara’s portrayal engrossing, then there’s not much else to hold your attention. If you don’t like watching a baseball game from the stands then skip this one. There is no chariot race.

But Mrs. Bissage and I both thought it was a really good movie. I liked how Mr. Gazzara played an earthy guy who was, at first blush, a scuzzball but who was actually a gentleman. He’s no wimp, but he gets into trouble with the mob because he is naïve in how he lives his seedy life and in how he runs his sleazy business.

What’s his business? Well, it’s a smallish nightclub, and patrons come for the topless burlesque show. It occurred to me from time to time that some of the T & A in the movie was gratuitous. But it worked overall because it showed that Mr. Gazzara’s character was rather ordinary as neither a letch nor a saint.

And maybe that’s what I liked most about “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” and “A Woman Under the Influence.” They run counter to those movie conventions we’re all so very used to like the hunky Charlton Heston enunciating with his booming stage voice and pantomiming his emotions for the back of the house. That clichéd showbiz command for actors to MAKE-IT-BIG holds no validity and the command is instead to “lose the cornball.” The result is an inverse kind of cinema, a negative kind of cinema, where you have to understand the situation to fully appreciate what IS NOT being said and done.

Consistent with this, the movie ends with a life-or-death struggle that has no resolution and I’m a real sucker for that sort of thing. After all, reality is the stuff of fiction.

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