Wednesday, July 16, 2014

1980 Week: Windows



Although Gordon Willis’ directorial debut deserved each one of its five Razzie Award nominations, the movie is noteworthy exactly because of the ways in which it is terrible. After dominating the 70s with his astonishing work as a cinematographer (All the President’s Men, Annie Hall, The Godfather, etc.), Willis finally stepped into the director’s chair for this offbeat thriller about shy NYC stutterer Emily (Talia Shire) being menaced by her unstable neighbor, Andrea (Elizabeth Ashley). Predictably, the movie looks amazing, with so many beauty shots of the Brooklyn Bridge and the New York skyline that the film could have been sliced up to make tourism commercials. Living up to his “Prince of Darkness” nickname, Willis accentuates the failing light of late afternoons and the smothering shadows of urban nights. In some scenes, it’s as if Willis challenged himself to see how little illumination he could use and still record an exposure on film; the climax, for instance, features a pair of faintly backlit silhouettes juxtaposed with the dim view seen though a background window. Unfortunately, it seems Willis had no energy left for directing actors after composing his artful images—the performances in Windows are so flat that it seems like sleeping gas was pumped into the soundstage during production. Shire, never the most dynamic performer, tries for a Mia Farrow-esque brand of fragile anguish, but her character is so dull and inactive that the actress’ efforts are for naught. Ashley is terrible, using bugged-out eyes and heavy breathing to convey instability, while leading man Joe Cortese (playing a detective who romances Emily) is positively zombified. Yet it’s the script, by Barry Siegel, that really sinks Windows. The storyline comprises a painfully slow succession of scenes in which interesting things almost happen, and then even more scenes in which people stand around waiting for things to happen. So even though Willis’ photography is as regal as ever, his movie is a detour to Dullsville. Happily, Willis returned to his original vocation for many years of great work after Windows.

Windows: LAME

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