A beast, book-burning and Billy Joe: movies caught

Thanks to some birthday gift certificates I picked up Criterion’s BluRay of Jean Cocteau’s 1946 BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a retelling of the fairytale in which a merchant learns the drawbacks to plucking roses without consent, the Beast’s hands smoke from killing a deer and moving arms serve as the wall sconces in the Beast’s castle (this is way eerier than you might think).This is a visually striking, magically uncanny version, with Beauty’s home based on paintings by Vermeer and the Beast’s castle on Gustav Doré. Cocteau doesn’t hesitate to shift from noon to twilight according to the needs of the visuals, and while that would make me mock a lesser film (trust me on this, I have) here it works. It helps that the Beast is both striking to look at and also well performed by Cocteau’s younger lover, Jean Marais. According to the commentary track, when Marais was sick Cocteau tried using an understudy but despite the all-encompassing mask, it didn’t work.If you’re really into the movie the Criterion special features are, as always, first rate. If not, you still get a first rate version, cleaned up from the worn-out analog film reels.“There are men far more monstrous than you, though they conceal it well.”

Francois Truffaut’s 1966 version of Ray Bradbury’s FAHRENHEIT 451 feels timelier than ever given conservatives efforts to ban everything they can possibly take issue with, even to the point of defunding public libraries. Oskar Werner plays Montag, a “fireman” in a dystopian future whose job isn’t to fight fires but burn books (the title comes from the temperature at which paper supposedly burns), then go home to his TV-junkie wife (Julie Christie). Then Montag encounters a pretty woman (Christie again) who provokes him into saving a book during his next job, then reading it. Wouldn’t you know, he begins reconsidering his career choice. Visually there’s something decidedly “off” about a lot of the future settings which works, though I can’t pin down what it is; there’s also the nice touch of no on-screen credits at the opening — instead they’re spoken aloud. “Books are bad for people — they make them anti-social.”

ODE TO BILLY JOE (1976) takes Bobbie Gentry’s song about a Mississippi Delta suicide and shows what lay behind it. Set in the 1950s, it stars a young Robbie Benson is Billie Joe, determined to win young Glynnis O’Connor who’s ready to be courted … sort of … but anyway her father would never put up with the likes of Billie Joe so there’s nothing more to be said, right!

Produced and directed by Max Baer (Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies), this does a great job capturing the time and place, though very much through a white lens — if there were any black characters passing across the screen, I’ve forgotten them. Unfortunately the explanations it offers are much less interesting than the speculations that swirl through my mind every time I hear the song. No man can be ordained as a Baptist minister unless he’s ready to think the worst of his congregants.”

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