FILM YEAR 1980, after scaling a few peaks such as "Apocalypse Now" or "Electric Horseman". petered out in doldrums of disappointing mediocrity.
Even Woody Allen, hailed in his last few movies as a comic genius, and at least admired for his one serious attempt, "Interiors" failed to carry his world-audience to admiration of Starlight Memories "AA", Classic, Oxford Street: Gate, Notting Hill; Screen on Haverstock Hill).
Fickleness of the public is a familiar phenomenon. The shallowness and stupidity as well as the vindictive possessiveness of fans is a terrorist element in the careers of those who live by trying to please them. But having missed the opening Press show. when I dutifully caught up with Woody's latest, I could not feel the tepidity of its welcome by the Press wholly unjustified although it would be unfair to dismiss the film as of no importance.
In it Woody reflects on his career, in a seminar at the "Starlight" Hotel. He remembers past triumphs as a young stand-up comic, dreams of greater things, his old love affair with the beautiful Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling) or less disturbing relationship with the simpler Isobel (MarieChristine Barrault). Hardest of all, he faces the present problem of finishing his current movie, egged on by voracious fans to carry on making them laugh, while to deliver messages of significance on human suffering.
The film is certainly not a Woody Allen triumph. But if, as .seems not impossible. Woody were never to make another starring film, he could still claim a meteoric flash in cinema history. and this film has its importance as a commentary' on that flash.
Allen is still a superb "stand-up comic". Concentration on catching his best lines is apt to be rewarded by many treasures. — "What's the matter with the traffic today? Is it a visit by the Pope or some other showbiz celebrity'?" — or "To you I'm an atheist, but to God I'm the loyal opposition."
Starlight Memories may only be marking a caesura in Allen's career. But from here it looks as though however brilliant a clown he may be; and clever enough to emulate the technical accomplishments of greater directors (as in Interiors) he may not be endowed with the inspiration of a Fellini or a Bergman, whose art he has tried so hard to emulate.
The message is the old one of the clown who longs to play Hamlet, and the present film seems overpoweringly selfcentred. But I am glad to have seen it,
To anybody who enjoyed and admired as much as I did Fred
Zinnemann's film of The Day of the Jackal, the next-most promising turn-of-year attraction must surely by The Dogs of War ("AA" Odeon. Leicester Square) from a novel by the same author.
I have not read either Forsyth best-seller. but the film of The Dogs of War seems a curious jumble. As a subject, mercenaries have traditionally had a melodramatic appeal enhanced here by topicality with the hiring of white mercenaries to fight for or against black regimes.
The acting — Christopher Walken's as the chief mercenary. and more especially Colin Blakeley's as a cynical TV reporter — is admirable. Direction by John Irwin, for so long one of television's most stimulating and lively pioneers, is also energetic and lively in the individual scenes. Whether the failure to make them flow together, or to clarify the motives of actions and characters is the fault of the original novel, or only of the screenplay, I cannot tell.
But it makes an uncomfortable movie, scenes of hideous violence and torture altarnating with touches of poignancy from the gentle black doctor, to stir our interest, without seeming able to pursue and capture it.
Freedom Road ("AA" London Pavilion) is another curious concoction a feature spun out of a television series. By no stretch of imagination could it be called a good film, but as a story, neither is it terribly bad. It purports to record the reconstruction of South Carolina after the American Civil War and Abraham Lincoln's liberation of the slaves. Chief cotton-picker on the estate is Gideon (Mohammad Ali) who campaigns to weld the
treed slaves into an organisation to purchase the land they worked as slaves.
The cause is too good to be derided; and the story is told only too straightforwardly. not to say artlessly. But the film feels very long and slow. Muhammad All may be a genius in the ring; and he showed in "The Greatest. that, he can play himself acceptably on the screen. But he is not an actor to hold together such an anthology of Negro injuries. Nor is Kris Kristofferson, as the only friendly white. the actor to make good Ali's defects.
As the original "Smokey–, Burt Reynolds made a welcome departure from heavy heroics to genial light comedy as the portagonist of a mobile citizen's band radio. In Smoke;' and the Bandit Ride Again ("A" Empire) he carries on his campaign against Jackie Gleason's renewed efforts as the Sheriff to catch him out.
This time however, the fun is repetitive, the legal position far from clear at least to me. The only welcome novelty is the presence of Sally Field whose performance in "Norma Rae" two years ago should surely have won her not only an Oscar but some better parts.
Hawk the Slayer (Odeon. Marble Arch) looks like a "quota Quickie" variation for early morning TV of such a piece of mediaeval chivalry as Bresson's Legend of the Lake or more nearly, perhaps. Roger Moore's Ivanhoe. It is hardly thinkable that so many feet of celluloid should have been exposed with hardly a flicker of conviction.
Freda Bruce Lockhart