Monday, September 6, 2010
Time After Time 1979 A Movie A Day Day 97
Nearly a hundred days ago, I started this project in a pique. Since my summer classes did not start for three weeks after the Spring semester was over, I had time on my hands and I did not want to fritter it away without having accomplished something. The idea of a blog, based on watching a movie every day seemed very appealing. I can watch five movies a day if the time is available, it is usually my pleasure. I wanted a theme to work around the movies so I chose films that I saw when I was growing up. I was twelve when the seventies started and twenty-one when they finished. Since it was Summer, I thought it fitting to write about Summer films of that time. There have been an amazing variety of movies covered in the last 97 days. I found however, that when movie watching becomes an obligation, it is not always a pleasure. There were several times during the Summer when I was stressed out about getting my movie in. I missed one day when we were in Vegas, and Amanda took over for the week that I was in Alaska. Squeezing in a film, between dinner and going out, or taking one with me on my ipod when we were on the road, are examples of the kinds of effort I made to keep up. If you check the time on the posts, you will find a number that just managed to get in before the stroke of twelve. I have every intention of continuing to write about movies and probably my life, but I am not going to keep it on a calendar like I did for the past three months. I look forward to going to school tomorrow, teaching my classes, coming home and then doing as I choose rather than forcing myself to watch one of the movies from the list. Don't misunderstand, I have enjoyed watching most of the movies, even if I did not enjoy the movie. It is my pleasure now to introduce you to the final post on this project.
"Time After Time" is 100% a pure pleasure. If you have not seen this movie, you are in for a treat when you do. There are so many terrific elements here that starting is a dilemma. Probably it is best to start with the set up. It is 1893 London and a group of Victorian era gentlemen are dining. We have seen the murder of a prostitute just a few moments before, but that can surely have nothing to do with this distinguished group of men. The host is Mr. H.G. Wells, writer and it turns out inventor. He is there to revel to his friends his newest invention, a time machine, and to announce his plan to travel to the future utopia he expects in three generations. When Scotland Yard shows up at his door, in pursuit of Jack the Ripper, it is only when He discovers his Time Machine is missing that he figures out that one of his friends, is indeed the Ripper and has escaped to the future. When the machine automatically returns to it's place in his basement, he decides to pursue the criminal to save the civilized world he imagines will be overwhelmed by a sick murderer in it's midst. I can't visualize a better set up of a story, H.G. Wells pursuing Jack the Ripper across time. The concept alone is priceless but it is developed by a very good storyteller named Nicholas Myer. He wrote a Sherlock Holmes novel that was then made into a movie he directed. "The Seven-Percent Solution" uses a similar mixture of characters, like Holmes and Sigmund Freud, to tell an adventure story. "Time After Time" is a thriller with a science fiction element. By itself that would be satisfying, but Myer adds in the perfect ingredient to make the picture an essential in my opinion. He adds a love story. A story that crosses a century of attitudes and the usual thriller elements to make us truly care about the outcome.
Over the years thousands of writers and millions of film fans have written about and witnessed what is called "screen chemistry". Errol Flynn and Olivia deHavalind had that chemistry and it helped them make eight films together that really worked. Most of you can think of actors that have meshed together so well on screen that it is hard to separate them. Romantic chemistry like Tracy and Hepburn or comradely like Redford and Newman. I would be hard pressed to think of another screen pairing where the chemistry came together so quickly and completely, right in front of us, as the matching of Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen. From their first scene together, you can feel them falling for each other. I had never imagined McDowell as a romantic lead before this movie, afterwords I wondered why he was not cast that way all the time. This was only her second movie, and she was a complete charmer in both of the films. I admit that I had a big crush on her, she was pretty without being glamorous and sweetness just falls off of her like frosting off the sides of a cake. There have been other star romances based on working together in a picture, this one surprised me not one bit. They were married for ten years, I'm sure she loves Ted Danson her current husband, but in my mind she and McDowell will always be a couple. The screenplay lets an unconventional pairing pull us into the events. It is a fish out of water story in both directions.
As antagonists go, is there anything more provocative and potentially frightening than Jack the Ripper? In this story he is established as a surgeon, a chess player who regularly outwits the brilliant H.G.Wells, and a vile disturbed killer. David Warner is an actor that I have enjoyed in dozens of movies. He has never quite had leading man status, and he reminds me of an English version of Donald Sutherland. He is versatile and proficient. As Dr. Stevens, aka the Ripper, he creates a sense of malice immediately. There are some good chase scenes in the movie but the exchanges between him and the other two character are the best parts of the story. In one scene, Wells has tracked him down in his hotel room, and he shows Wells the TV news. He knows exactly how to wound his former friend, despoiling his vision of a Utopian future of peace and equality. It is a fine performance, and it is aided by some clever script points which make the movie look at more than just the action/thriller components.
The detective story is also well told. Wells pursuit of the Ripper is very smart and utilizes the fact that both of them are not of the times. The film is set in 1979 so there are the usual changes in the world for us to notice. The price of gas is 67 cents a galleon, the menu at McDonald's has most of the items under a dollar. One of the banks in the city of San Francisco that Wells tries to track Stevens down through is the National Bank of Iran. Of course with a time machine, he is able to discover the scene of a future crime, but in trying to get the S.F.P.D. to follow up, he makes an error that all of us in the audience will see but he does not realize will undermine his credibility. The story is set up to work logically as a puzzle in a very complete form. All time travel stories have conundrums that might undermine them. This one is no different, but once you are following the story, the paradoxes will not make any difference to how you feel. There is a twist that I remembered I did not see coming the first time I saw the movie. It created some very harsh emotional elements for a short time, and when it is resolved, I was rejoicing, even though I had been manipulated, because I cared so much about our two lovers.
The only flaw in the film is that the time travel sequences are not really interesting. In "The Time Machine", the 1960 George Pal telling of the story, the movement through time was indicated in a clever visual manner. Here the time travel element is a series of photographic effects that work at showing how the trip might be but are not all that strong in the creativity department. Don't let that put you off of the movie, after all its two minutes of the two hours. This is not a special effects movie, it is a film about special people and ideas. It is gratifying to finish this series with a movie I adore and a chance to encourage anyone who reads this to revisit it or if you are lucky, see it for the first time.
Watch This space for future blog projects, but don't expect a daily update, I would need a Time Machine of my own to make that work with my regular class schedule.