Where the Day Takes You

Tuesday January 12th marked the 100th birthday of Luise Rainer, an actress under contract to MGM during the thirties who won back-to-back Best Actress Oscars for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937), and then more or less told MGM to shove it when the quality of the material and their apathy towards her desire for more socially relevant work

Although she effectively walked away from acting after the early forties with minor roles in TV thereafter, Rainer continued to perform on the stage, and was seen eons ago in an Entertainment Tonight report (back when the show actually carried some genuine news material), where she vibrantly described her decision to leave Hollywood, and its own brand of theatrical bullshit, and with no regrets.

Yesterday and early this morning, TCM aired a handful of her best-known work, although it’s a pity her trio of pre-Hollywood pictures from Austria are unavailable (unless they’re simply lost). Her final role was in The Gambler - no, not the Kenny Rogers TV movie; the 1997 film version of Dostoyevky’s novel – which did get a DVD release in 2002, via Wellspring. Most of her classics are unavailable on DVD, but TCM seems to keep them in rotation, and they’re worth checking out.

Eric Rohmer

To the other end of things, one of the core participants of the French New Wave, Eric Rohmer, died at the sprightly age of 89 on Monday Jan. 11th, and sprightly certainly is the word for the former film critic who joined contemporaries like Godard, Truffaut, Rivette, and Chabrol and also became a director. As each of his colleagues moved on to create their own directorial styles and focus on specific types of films, Rohmer’s forte was the character film with heavy, nuanced dialogue that felt improvised but apparently wasn’t – something that made his characters feel very natural, and gave his scenes and films a tempo that not every critic appreciated.

Rohmer was not part of the directors showcased in my old film theory classes, and indeed my first exposure to his work was L’ami de mon amie / Boyfriends and Girlfriends (1987), which seemed an appropriate intro at the time, since the film dealt with same-age characters in cumbersome relationships while in school. I caught the film on VHS, and while I only saw one other Rohmer film thereafter – the lovely romance Conte d’automne / Autumn Tale (1998) - L’ami did clear up a fear that Rohmer was dull.

(I still haven’t tackled Rivette, though. Rumours of meandering, rambling character pieces have kept me away from his work.)

Rohmer was prolific, and from 1950 to 2007 he made over fifty works for film and TV, and groups of his films centered around certain historical figures, seasons, and subjects – so there’s plenty to choose from, even though some of the titles may not currently be available on DVD in Region 1 land. As with any artist, do a bit of research regarding the major films, and give Rohmer a try, because there’s much to admire in his nuanced canon.

One filmmaker perhaps overlooked due to his absurdly short output is American Marc Rocco, a talented director whose career began with Scenes from the Goldmine (1987) and Dream a Little Dream (1989) before he went on a brief humanist streak with the powerful diptych of Where the Day Takes You (1992) and Murder in the First (1995), and then kind of disappeared behind the scenes as a producer before suddenly dying in May of 2009.

Murder in the First is his best-known work – manipulative and plastic on the facts surrounding prisoner abuse at Alcatraz State Penitentiary, but nevertheless moving – whereas Where the Day Takes You slipped under the radar in spite of being available on home video on several formats. Anchor Bay’s reissue on DVD brings this lost gem back into circulation, and it’s a potent drama about teenage runaways living and loving and dying on the streets of Los Angeles.

I’ve uploaded reviews of both films, but before you even read the review for Where the Day Takes You, first check out the cast details, because the film is grounded by many up-and-coming stars that enjoyed successful careers. Moreover, there are fine turns by character actors who’ve since been typecast in lighter roles, such as Stephen Tobolowsky, a familiar actor known for playing comedic/beaky nerd characters in TV’s Glee and Heroes (as well as nasal Dr. Werner ‘my-voice-is-my-passport’ Brandes in Sneakers, back in 1992).



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