Then Playing — Fuzz; Prey; Broken Strings

Fuzz (Richard A. Colla, 1972). Fuzz can be slotted in with the spate of films from the first half of the nineteen-seventies, such as Across 110th Street and The Super Cops, that depict big-city police work as nonstop chaos, an absurd procession of crackpot citizens airing their grievances, deluded crooks, and fellow municipal worked wearily scraping by. Unlike many of its contemporaries, director Richard A. Colla’s film is more overtly positioned as a comedy, the wisecracks and buffoonery often overtaking the plot. During a stakeout in the park, for example, playing out the details in the pursuit of a band of criminals assassinating local government officials is secondary to scoring laughs by putting Burt Reynolds and Jack Weston into nun’s habits and having Tom Skerritt roll around lustily with Raquel Welch inside a sleeping bag. The film is amusing without every mustering the level of inspiration or depth of concurrent commentary to make it properly cohere as a film with something more to offer than sloppy antics.

Prey (Dan Trachtenberg, 2022). In direct opposition to the predictable tantrums thrown by toxic fanboys who cling to their own arrested development like a life preserver in the sea of human progress, I attest that Prey is a far stronger film than any previous cinematic outing centered on the spine-snatching, interstellar travelers the Yautja, or at least any I’ve seen. (Maybe Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is the Citizen Kane of gory space adventures, but that doesn’t seem all that likely.) The film’s novel concept puts our familiar gruesome, murderous alien in the Great Plains of the early eighteenth century. Rather than heavily armed jungle commandos or Los Angeles cops, the visitor from another world tangles with Indigenous Americans whose firepower pretty much tops out at arrows. His most resilient adversary proves to be Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young Comanche woman bucking against tribal norms in the hopes of being a great warrior. The script’s narrative is sometimes a little clunky, relying on setbacks and other turns of fortune that feel like contrivances, but director Dan Trachtenberg bring enough style, verve, and crisp clarity to the visual storytelling to adequately compensate.

Broken Strings (Bernard B. Ray, 1940). This melodrama tells the story of violin virtuoso Arthur Williams (Clarence Muse), whose left hand is badly damaged in an automobile crash. In misery, he resorts to teaching young students, including his own son (William Washington), who has a penchant for devilish swing music that causes further consternation in the humbled musician. The Broken Strings cast is comprised entirely of Black actors, a rarity for the time (and not exactly rampant now), and that gives the film a historic import that elevates it. If some of the performances are a little stilted or even amateurish, that’s not a measure of talent but rather the actors’ lack of opportunity to hone their craft. Bernard B. Ray directs capably, especially considering the obvious modesty of the budget. The film is more artifact but art, but in that it is respectable and admirable in every frame.

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