Avanti! (1972, Billy Wilder) [though this is really about Nelly Furtado's "Promiscuous"]

screened Tuesday February 13 2007 on DVD in Brooklyn NY IMDb

Chicago Reader capsule by Jonathan Rosenbaum

This 1972 release is the most underrated of all Billy Wilder comedies and arguably the one that comes closest to the sweet mastery and lilting grace of his mentor, Ernst Lubitsch. Jack Lemmon arrives at a small resort in Italy to claim the body of his late father, who's perished in a car accident; there he meets Juliet Mills, whose mother has died in the same accident and, as it turns out, had been having an affair with the father. The development of Mills and Lemmon's own romance over various bureaucratic complications is gradual and leisurely paced; at 144 minutes, this is an experience to roll around on your tongue.

Would I if I had the presence of mind, Jonathan. I can see this movie working for someone who is in that Lubitsch state of mind. It plays very breezy and seems like a bagatelle, but there's much going on under the surface, and sweet but insecurely voluptuous Juliet Mills is a treat. And it has some trenchant jokes made at the expense of US foreign policy -- seems that every other movie I watch these days, both old and new, has something to say about this, or maybe I'm more sensitive to such matters lately.

I could see myself enjoying this movie a lot more some other time. These days my mind is on a different wavelength -- more into movement, dynamism, not the lilting stuff. I guess this is why Miami Vice appeals to me more, even as a romantic film. And this past week, listening through my mp3s of the Village Voice Poll's Top Singles of Last Year , I found a musical corollary: Nelly Furtado's "Promiscuous", produced by the ever-amazing Timbaland (this guy's bleep-and-blip brand of hip hop was brilliant 6 years ago, but now that we're living in the age of hip hop ringtones, his music truly is the soundtrack of people's lives).

This song starts off as fairly standard night club cross-talking between boy and girl, and it does evoke that feeling of two people checking each other out, mixing together flirtation, anticipation and rather cruel, non-plussed meat market objectification from both sides ("Roses are red, some diamonds are blue / Chivalry is dead but you're still kinda cute"). But then the chorus comes and there's something about it that floors me. Neither Timbaland or Furtado are particularly gifted vocalists but there's something about how both of them strain their chords in the chorus that is oddly touching, as if we were listening to mediocre people finding each other in a nightclub and just giving away to their needs in a moment, letting go and aspiring to that feeling of sexual elevation.

And then it goes back into the no-nonsense meat market beat -- this is the kind of stuff that that Senses of Cinema article about Miami Vice was talking about -- how being cool and being locked into "the flux" of life leaves you feeling hollow until it gives way to the need to strive beyond just being on top of everything. That's what the middle part of Miami Vice is about, that's what the chorus of this song is about, and I guess this is what's on my mind lately -- not just keeping up, but breaking through.

Greed cannot be made greedless

not by the wealth of all the world.

Though we accomplish a million mental feats

none go with us when we are gone.

How then to be true?

How to break through the screen of lies?

- Guru Nanak, Japji Sahib

The Japji, which I'm reading as research for one of my filmmaking projects, refers to the world as a constantly teaming ocean of illusion. It's an image that resonates with some in Miami Vice -- how boats move through these flat screens of water rendered in translucent HD -- I love how HD brings out the image-ness of such imagery -- that these are all screens we pass through. This our present condition.

In it's own way Avanti! is about rupturing the status quo, facilitated through love as well as through time -- time spent in a place, adjusting to its rhythms and being changed through it. Which makes it all the weirder to report that I wasn't changed or even connecting to it on an emotional level -- even though I could see through the screen, I couldn't break through it. Well you can't have 'em all. [Not sure if this explains why I wasn't as focused on Avanti! but maybe this TSPDT project has made me focus so much on the films within the project that I just don't have much to give to "leisure" viewings. This year has witnessed a dramatic downturn for me in movie watching. In January, I watched 18 films, down from my 2006 monthly range of 25-30. And halfway through February, I've seen all of five movies. So I've gone from averaging 5 films a week to 1. No doubt a byproduct of this blog.]