Saturday 10 September 2016

On Blu-ray - David Hare retrieves a late Preminger masterwork TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME JUNIE MOON (USA, 1970)

(click to enlarge)
The second last shot, two minutes of it, of Tell me that you Love me Junie Moon, a superbly judged, emotionally overwhelming and crystal clear climax unsulllied by overacting or sentimentality. One of the greatest howls of pain in all of movies, and from one of Preminger's late unrecognized masterpieces. Junie Moon is now released on a marvellous Olive Blu-ray which finally completes Olive's ten year long trawl of the Paramount catalogue for Preminger's seven film deal with that company in the late sixties to early seventies, up to and including the amazing and almost as fine Such Good Friends in 1971.

The last two of these pictures were shot for 1.85 or even 1.78 masking, a format Preminger consciously chose for intimacy over his masterful use of Scope and Panavision widescreen for "bigger" projects. And although Junie Moon captivated me decades ago on first release, it seemingly disappeared from circulation, be it revival houses or even television although I recorded a disastrously murky pan and scan from TV sometime in the 90s which was unwatchable.

So the film remained unwatched by me, until now. The material from Marjorie Kellog's counterculture/commune era novel is probably the peak of his work with youth culture and outsider films, starting with Hurry Sundown in 1966 and in the process Junie Moon seems almost shockingly tender and sweet natured, considering how tight a line Prem walked, along with Penn and Ashby and others on the hippy trail back then, between indulgence (like the abominable Easy Rider) and engagement. It was a stroke of the greatest fortune to have a director whose career was so embedded in "objectivity" and "gaze" and whose thematic obsession was primarily trust and the possibility/impossibility of love as Preminger. We are very lucky indeed to have this string of films from Prem starting with the outright Jackie Gleason Acid Trip picture Skidoo in 1968 and ending with the wonderful closing credits song, Suddenly It's all tomorrow to Such Good Friends in 1971 with which Dyan Cannon literally appears to be peaking on an acid trip as she takes the kids and herself into Central park to figuratively and literally shed her old life.

Pete Seeger provides the opening and closing music for Junie Moon in single take tilt pans of him singing a chorus while wandering through the woods, like a Premingerian minstrel. At this point some of the film's amazing pedigree also begs to be announced, not least the great DP Boris Kaufmann from the very beginnings of sound cinema, and later in the film the substitution of American master Stanley Cortez, after Kaufmann became ill late in shooting. Among the cast Liza Minnelli who Preminger so admired from Charlie Bubbles in 1967 (directed by Albert Finney, her movie debut), and relatively unknown performers Ken Howard as the fit prone Arthur (seen above in the cap with Liza) and Robert Moore as a wheelchair bound gay man of stoic indomitability and the glue that will hold the three of them together for the film. His is one of the most charming and essential performances by and of a gay man in the cinema. The three are the ultimate outsiders jointly determined to rent a shambling cottage from a ghostly landlady out of a Murnauian past, played by Kay Thompson (!!!!) with ankle length bejewelled gowns, a turban and a foot long cigarette holder.

The picture has been out of circulation for so long now almost nobody remembers seeing it let alone having a view on it. I am putting my neck out and claiming it as totally major Preminger. Notwithstanding the continuously uneven wild audio dialogue track which often loses coherence whenever a player turns his or her back to the camera and the occasional boom mike shadows on medium two shots with solid backgrounds, I don't care frankly because Kaufman could photograph the yellow pages and I'd still watch, and a couple of very attractive bits from what are clearly town locals playing themselves whose own innate kindness to the newcomers underlines the movie's and the text's essential decency. This "coarseness" in the texture gives the film the tone of a Warhol/Morrissey picture of the same period and it all works. The single biggest shock from Junie Moon is that it, like his underrated Fallen Angel from 1945 is essentially concerned with love and trust, an even more core thematic element for Preminger than culpability or so called innocence.

That the movie begins and ends with such an embedded tone of tenderness and compassion from Seeger and all that passes in between is almost unique in Preminger's work, and it tells me we need to be looking again, very hard at every last one of his late pictures.


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