Sunday, January 28, 2018

Streaming: "Desk Set" and "Rashomon"

I recently watched a couple of films on streaming. The first was Desk Set, available on Netflix through the end of January. I thought I had seen this one a few years ago, but apparently not, as it was definitely new to me. I suppose I was just familiar with the premise and could imagine how it played out so that it felt like I'd seen it.

Desk Set is one of the last Tracy-Hepburn pairings. Tracy plays an eccentric computer engineer who has come to the research department of a big TV network in order to install his machine to streamline the research process, and Hepburn is the brilliant, long-time head of research who sees the computer as a threat to her future at the company. The plot is pure romantic comedy silliness, although Hepburn and Tracy certainly lend the material a certain charm and dignity that always keeps things interesting. Most striking is the use of big splashy DeLuxe color and enormously wide CinemaScope framing, in which characters can become practically lost when watching the film on the small screen. The computer-as-villain is sort of an interesting counterpart to the usual TV-as-villain trope that appeared in Hollywood films of the time. All in all, an enjoyable if forgettable trifle, acted by two first-rate stars.

Next up was Akiro Kurosawa's Rashomon. Unfortunately the version I saw on the streaming channel I was watching (MyRetroFlix on the Roku device) cut off after an hour, but I was so thoroughly engrossed in the film that I had to pull out my DVD copy to watch the remaining half hour. I had last seen this one about ten years ago, in a beautiful 35mm restoration on the big screen of a local historic movie theater. Watching it on the small screen couldn't compare to that, of course, and yet I found myself more struck than ever by what an incredibly beautiful film it is. I do not use that term loosely; I watched transfixed by the power of the images Kurosawa captures, especially those shots looking up through the trees, with the sunlight poking through between the branches. And that torrential rainfall, pouring down over the roof of the structure where three men debate the different testimonies heard at the trial that frames the narrative of the film -- what an image! So haunting, so lyrical.

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