Thursday, September 13, 2012

Days of Being Wild, and Minnie and Moskowitz: Two Films That Delve Deep Into Their Characters

Days of Being Wild, by Wong Kar Wai, 1990

Not too long ago, I watched Wong Kar-Wai's first film, As Tears Go By, and was surprised that it wasn't that much like the other Wong Kar-Wai films I had seen. It was kind of a standard Hong Kong crime movie, though signs of the director he was to become show through. Now, I have learned that his second film, Days of Being Wild is really where he found his voice as a storyteller. It apparently kickstarted a whole wave of similar Hong Kong films other than his own, too.

Days of Being Wild, like most of Wong Kar Wai's films, doesn't have a plot, or a linear one, anyway. It follows and deeply explores several richly drawn characters, as their lives collide. Set in 1960, the main-est character of this movie is a man named York (Leslie Cheung), a ladies man who really kind of uses and abuses the women in his life. First he seduces a girl who works at a ticket stand (Maggie Cheung), and when she wants to get serious, he drops her and gets to work on a showgirl (Carina Lau). We eventually learn that his destructive behavior is due to the fact that his adoptive mother has refused for years to tell him who his real mother is. He treats her no better, holding her sort of psychologically captive until she tells him. There's also a police officer (Andy Lau) that gives some comfort to the ticket stand girl, depressed over her relationship with York, before he goes off to become a sailor.

I didn't give away the whole movie, though it almost seems that way. There's a lot going on in there, and a lot happens after where I left off. That's how dense and emotionally textured Wong Kar Wai's films are, and one of the reasons he's so highly lauded. The other is, of course, the beautiful photography by frequent collaborator, Christopher Doyle. This is their first work together, and it looks great. There's a huge difference between this and his first film, which, while still having Wong Kar Wai's vivid colors, looked very much like a seedy low-budget 1980's movie.

Days of Being Wild is a very good film. With it, Wong Kar Wai found both his storytelling and aesthetic styles and in subsequent films honed and improved upon them. I'm looking forward to watching more of those films.

Minnie and Moskowitz,
by John Cassavetes, 1971

I've been wondering what I was going to say about this movie ever since I watched it a few weeks ago. I'm not too sure I'm able to sufficiently explain why I loved it so much. I watched it twice within a week, which is something I almost never do, and I liked it even more the second time. I think Minnie and Moskowitz is one of my new favorite movies.

A quirky and unconventional love story, Minnie and Moskowitz is the story of the turbulent whirlwind romance of Seymour Moskowitz (Seymour Cassell AKA Max's dad from Rushmore), a ponytailed, biker-mustached, Jewish, New York parking lot attendant, and Minnie Moore (Gena Rowlands), a depressed 40-ish WASP, in an abusive relationship with a married man, and ready to give up on the very idea of romance.

The characters are so rich, detailed, and completely human. Seymour is impulsive, almost aggressively socially awkward, if that makes sense, and is prone to mouthing off and getting in fights. Minnie's self worth has been so damaged that she hides behind a gigantic pair of sunglasses, even indoors. But despite the fact that these two people are so different, you never question the believability their relationship through its ups and downs. One of my favorite moments is when Seymour questions a romantic gesture that Minnie makes. Embarrassed, Minnie immediately retreats back into her shell and starts putting her sunglasses on, and Seymour just reaches over and pulls her hand down and tells her he gets it. I also love the scene where their different ideas of what romance is becomes crystallized for Minnie, when a passionate Seymour bursts out, "I think about you so much I forget to go to the bathroom!"

I'm just now discovering director John Cassavetes. I've seen him acting in a couple of films, but I'm pretty blown away by his work as a director. He seemed like an awesome guy. He paid his dues doing acting roles, often as bad guys or tough guys, and used his paychecks to independently finance his own movies. He was a real trailblazer in the world of independent film. He worked largely with friends and family. Rowlands was his wife, and she starred in just about all of his films. His actors improvise a lot of their dialogue and Cassavetes would patiently let the camera eavesdrop, often embracing accidents or impulsive acts from the cast members.

I loved Minnie and Moskowitz. It feels so human and real, and it's both funny and emotionally intense. It really lets the viewer come to understand and love the main characters, and it might actually be the ONLY movie from the 1970's with a happy ending. That's a joke, you don't have Linkto list other 70's movies with happy endings for me.

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