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November 18, 2009

SDFF 2009- Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

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Damien Chazelle - 2009

If John Cassavetes directed an MGM musical produced by Arthur Freed, it might look something like Guy and Madeline. I am referring to the earlier Cassavetes, of Shadows and Faces, with the hand held 16mm camera that restlessly follow the characters in the street and in their cramped apartments. Also adding to the comparison with Cassavetes is the impression of improvisation in the dialogue. The songs, with music by Justin Hurwitz and lyrics primarily by Chazelle, sound almost like they could have belonged to an MGM musical from their waning days.

In spite of the title, Guy and Madeline are hardly together. We see them break up for an unstated reason, followed by Guy hooking up with Elena after they notice each other while riding the subway. Guy is a jazz musician who is getting by with gigs at Boston area clubs. Madeline, shows up at an employment office, stating that her past work experience consisted of fund raising for unnamed organizations. We next see her working as a dishwasher and waitress at a seafood restaurant. In this case, the narrative ellipses undermine the film so that there seems to be no reason why the past and current lovers are attracted to each other.

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More energy has been devoted to the creation of the set pieces, especially those for Madeline, with a big dance number in the restaurant, and a solo song performed on the streets. There is a song and dance number at a party which should have been staged better. The panning between the singing and dancing hipster and Guy, playing his trumpet on the other side of the room, becomes annoying. It's the kind of scene that would have been better served by cutting between two performers after establishing their physical distance from each other. I don't want to seem entirely dismissive of what was a labor of love filmed over a two year period, but I found Guy and Madeline to consist of a couple of nice sequences with Madeline (Desiree Garcia), and beautifully filmed moments, as when Guy (Jason Palmer) and Elena (Sanha Khin) clasp each other's hands on the subway pole. In musical terms, it's like the record album bought for only a handful of really great songs.

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One additional note here (pun intended): John Cassavetes actually made a movie about jazz musicians titled Too Late Blues. With the DVD release of almost all of the films Cassavetes directed, one would hope Paramount, the original studio, or someone, would get this forgotten film out of the vault.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 18, 2009 12:12 AM