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The Model Shop
Maybe Tomorrow. Maybe Never. Maybe. French New Wave writer / director Jacques Demy, best known for his stylish musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, reunites with French star Anouk Aimée (their first pairing, 1961's Lola) to direct his first film in America. Gary Lockwood (2001: A Space Odyssey) plays shiftless but innocuous George Matthews, who can't seem to get himself worked up about anything: the girlfriend he is about to lose, his soon-to-be repossessed car or even his draft notice. Until one day, he sees a beautiful but detached model (Aimée), and he begins to follow her. From Malibu Beach to Beverly Hills mansions to Santa Monica Boulevard's cheap strip joints, Los Angeles is critically examined...
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With forty years' hindsight, we can see The Model Shop's enormous debt to Antonioni's L'avventura, that great 1960 landmark: Both films take place in desert locales. Both focus on disillusioned architects grasping for meaning and direction. Both architects profess admiration for the emotional fullness of Baroque architecture. Both men betray their girlfriends -- and both in the arms of tawdry exhibitionists. The list goes on and on.
But where L'avventura makes the most of its excellent black and white photography, The Model Shop goes one better by deploying vivid color to convey mood and thought and feeling -- and does so with the same canny impact as in the best color art photography (the esteemed William Eggleston comes to mind). When in the final frames, the film's action renounces color and cuts to the blackest black, the dramatic edit conveys unsettling truths about the lead character's dilemma. In this one bold move, The Model Shop distills and outperforms Antonioni (and seems to have provided the template for the "Paint it Black" ending to Stanley Kubrick's 1987 Full Metal Jacket.) This and its lead character's emotional predicament at film's end also appear to have influenced the memorable ending to Quentin Tarantino`s 1997 Jackie Brown.
Throughout The Model Shop's deceptively simple story are poetic clues to its own self-knowing intentions (all of those oil wells, want ads, and so on are all well-placed and all there for good reason). In our own time of digital histrionics, The Model Shop's quiet engagement with human feeling and human imperfection comes across as fresh and alive. Its photorealist-worthy portrayal of West LA buildings, streets, and parking lots makes the Southern California cityscape as integral to the film's strength as the Mediterranean island views in L'avventura. And if the sheer unspeakable beauty of Los Angeles has ever been put on film with more loving attention than in The Model Shop, would someone please hurry up and tell me where?
The Model Shop is unforgettable cinema. A sincere thank you to Sony for making it available at last.
Now. About that "martini" marketing...
George Matthews (Gary Lockwood) is an unemployed young man that lives with beautiful Gloria (Alexandra Hay), who apparently cares about him. George is not a happy fellow. As Gloria rightfully tells him, he refuses to commit to anybody or anything. Unbeknown to him, his life will take a dramatic turn when he is informed that his beloved car will be taken away if he doesn't make a one-hundred dollars payment. Having no job, he is forced to hit the streets in search of money, and, while doing so, he meets Lola (Anouk Aimée), an attractive French model, which whom he is quickly infatuated. At the same time, he receives his draft notice, which would mean that he will have to go to Vietnam. All these situations complicate George's already confused existence, and he will have to make some serious choices.
Even though "Model Shop's" story seems light at times, Demy fills it with unforgettable shots of the Los Angeles of those years. George spends a lot of time driving through its streets, and for us, who live in this fascinating city, is a trip to see how it has changed with time. In addition, you just can't take your eyes away from Anouk Aimée, an actress that certainly exuded beauty and sensuality. I think that it is also remarkable that Demy addressed, in such a smart way, the controversial draft, which terrified so many young people at the time. All these elements stay with you for a while. (France/USA, 1969, color, 97 min.)
The film is an interesting look at a very American time and place as seen by a French Americaphile film maker.
If you want a more technical review, which justifiably compliments the director, actors, story line, etc., then please read some of the other reviews that have been posted. In my opinion, it was a good and rather unique movie, and that is how I will review it.
I grew up in the 1960s, and I watched young men get drafted and then disappear into the abyss of the Vietnam war. As high school graduation approached, I watched the males in the classes ahead of me become increasingly concerned as their time for being drafted rapidly approached. Many of them knew that Vietnam would be a one-way ticket, where they would stand a good chance of returning either broken in body or mind, if they returned at all. Even for the most patriotic, the rapidly approaching reality of the draft began to consume them, whether they were in high school or graduating from college, and they knew that they were going to experience a life-changing event which they probably didn't want, leaving all their friends, family, and their entire life, behind.
The movie captures this sense of desolation in the face of inevitability. The main character has been drafted and only has few days before he will leave everything he knows, behind. He clings to his beloved car (which gets reposessed) as the only constant in his life. Meanwhile, everyone around him acts as if nothing is going to happen to him. His girlfriend pressures him to get married, his friends lend him money expecting that he'll be around to pay him back.
And then he meets a woman who works in a "Model Shop," where men pay to take picture of them in various states of undress (lewd for the time). In a sense, she's already in her own version of Vietnam - stuck in a country (the USA) where she doesn't quite belong, doing things she doesn't want to do, constantly trying to get back home to her beloved France. The two of them connect for a short period of time and talk about running away together, but neither belongs in the other's world. In the end, the main character finally loses his beloved car (which he would never have physically fit in if the covertible top had been up) and leaves for Vietnam, but he also leaves money for the woman so she can get out of her own "vietnam" and return to her beloved France.
The photography (particularly now that it has been restored to its original brightness) is reminiscent of the 1960s, when color film use became widespread. The colors are sharp - sharper and more intense, in some ways, than they are today, since color was a selling point back in those days, and film makers made it a point to stick with bright, sharp primary sorts of colors (no pastels or plaid, here). It is more of a psychological film - there are no car chases, fights, or explosions, just the endless monotony of an oil pump which is almost another character - churning in the background, and the most action occurs when the main character speeds up and down and around the curving city roads seeming to not care if he does crash, because that would end it all before the real horror started.
But I always liked the movie because it was different. It showed a side of the 1960s that many men went through due to the draft. And the movie itself was excellently photographed and a work of art in itself. I highly recommend it.
The fun part for Spirit fans was the small part they got in the film. Randy never stops smiling. He was 18 maybe when this film was made? I'd be smiling too if I was in a "major motion picture with an acclaimed director." Jay Ferguson has the extended acting part here, and does a good job for a non-actor. Was this worth the price of the entire film? No. Was it key to the plot? Musician friend "doing well" gives $100 to lead actor. Thin device at best.
The meat of this film is driving. Lots of driving. Driving driving driving. The car is the star. Gary Lockwood plays an underemployed, post college underachiever. The film gets going after he learns he's drafted and going to Nam. Oh yeah, this was the late 60's, so add in that plot device. It's hard to be critical of the main character after this point as the film then becomes about, well, that. I'd imagine that feeling must be the worst, forced to do something you don't agree with, no choice, no way out.
That said, the "love" story between him and Anouk seems lightweight. At 1 hour and ten minutes in, it still was slow moving. "Art House" indeed. A very well shot art house film that is generally a drag to watch and acting that varies from pretty decent to "wet paper bag". I gave it three stars for what it is. A slice of 60's life for the non-rich and famous living under the hopeless feeling that the end is tomorrow. If you're a Spirit fanatic like me, gotta get this for Randy's "look ma, I'm in a movie" smile.