Sunday, April 10, 2005

World's Greatest Netflix Double Feature

Ray is damn good. I mean, yeah, we've seen the musician biopic a dozen times, we've seen the genius struggling with temptations (babes and smack here) and overcoming obstacles (segregation and blindness here), but Jamie Foxx, whom I've always regarded as a charismatic and talented mimic more than an actor(Foxx's Ray says at one point "I can mimic anybody"), is splendid, the music is to die for, and the story moves. Ray Charles was like many artists a "complicated" man; "complicated" is often used euphemistically to mean asshole, jerk, outright bastard, etc. But because of his situation and the vignettes of his early childhood, we can understand him and sympathize and celebrate his outstanding achievements. Particularly effective are the flashbacks to young Ray and his kick-ass Mamma. Keep some tissues nearby.

And speaking of tissues--The Piano Teacher has the greatest Kleenex scene in cinema history; in fact this film is a laugh riot from start to finish. I haven't had so much fun watching a DVD since Audition.

An aside: Thank God for Isabelle Huppert's supplemental interview--she calls Le Pianist "a parody of a melodrama," and since I laughed heartily at several points during this powerfully disturbing film I'd begun doubting my own sanity. Again, the music is to die for! Schoenberg, Schubert, Bach, Beethoven, all played magnificently. We also get: genital self-mutilation, daughter-mother incest, a BJ barf scene, one of the vilest, meanest pranks ever perpetrated on the silver screen, and two of the least erotic sex scenes ever. In Sideways pinot noir serves as a metaphor for Miles' personality and his unfulfilled needs; in The Piano Teacher the deteriorating mental state of the heroine is reflected in her admiration for Schubert, who went ga-ga at the height of his talents.

There's an interesting scene in Ray where things are going both wonderfully and not-so-well for Mr. Charles; Jamie Foxx sits at a beat-up country ass piana playing Beethoven's Moonlight sonata as Ray's world deteriorates and explodes with opportunity. I love that music because of what it implies about Beethoven's own tortured soul--so skilled, so transcendent, and yet so gloomy and mysterious. The thrumming bass notes so ominous, so potent, and yet the slow tempo and melody are calm and peaceful. The turbulence is in check, but barely. Both these films--while worlds apart--deal with the same thematic territory.