November Archives #2
November 30th Log
1924, Buster Keaton, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD
I love this film!! There are few (if any) films more perfect then this one and I can not justify it beauty with any words or descriptions. To me, Sherlock Jr is Buster Keaton's best film and rates among the very greatest silent films ever made. Keaton is undoubtedly one of the cinema most inventive and important filmmakers and his influence is still evident today. Sherlock Jr is a truly powerful, hilarious, and groundbreaking film that represents the mystery, joy, poetry, and intrigue of cinema. Here Keaton plays a film projectionist who falls asleep during during a screening of a detective thriller and puts himself into the film. With Sherlock Jr, Keaton is examining the connection between cinema and the viewer, or more specifically the viewers subconscious. Incredible and truly inspirational filmmaking that's way ahead of it's time. Also, not to be forget is how funny this film is. Of course, that's always expected with Keaton, who's one of the definitive comedians of the silent film, era. Also to be expected are the dazzling stunts and clever visual references always seen in Keaton's films. Simply put Sherlock Jr is a masterpiece of artistic and comedic filmmaking from one of cinema's memorable masters.
1928, Buster Keaton / Edward Sedgwick, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD
I had to make the Cameraman a double billing with Sherlock, Jr. becuase they work perfectly with each other in many ways. One of Buster Keaton's last silent films, and his first with MGMStudios, which inevitably effected the creative freedom of hisfilms. To me, the Cameraman stands as Keaton's last great film and represents a personal and artistic statement on bothhis career and on filmmaking in general. With the take over of talkies (which Keaton was actually excited about) and MGM's hold over Keaton's creative freedom, his films were deeply effected. However, Keaton's place in cinema history remains and in fact, has only grown stronger with time. The Cameramanis a beautiful film of emotional, comical and artistic depths from a master filmmaker. Like his 1924 film Sherlock Jr (which I believe to be his greatest masterpiece), The Cameraman is a film about films and filmmaking or more specifically here, the director and cinematographer. As expected, Keaton's classic comic invention is evident and enjoyable throughout (the phone conversation, changing room, "naked" swimming, etc). Also, Keaton's brilliant sense of adventure, suspense, and romance (the fire truck, gang fight, boat accident). Keaton is wonderful as always, but the supporting performances are equally notable in giving this film it's heart (be it the monkey, Harry Gribbon as the cop, or the stunningly beautiful Marceline Dayas Keaton's love interest). The Cameraman is simple yet deeply effective and joyous filmmaking. Keaton has probably made more landmark or influential films, but this remains one of his most enjoyable classics.
November 29th Log
1929, G.W. Pabst, Germany
Repeat Viewing, DVD
Georg Wilhelm Pabst is often considered among the most important filmmakers of German Expressionism from the silent era. One of his definitive works, is the 1929 film Pandora's Box. Featuring an unforgettable performance by the icon actress of the silent era, Louise Brooks. Brooks' portrayal of Lulu (the sexy, and seductive dancer / prostitute who drives everyone mad with lust or jealousy) rates among the most legendary in film history. Not so much for her powerful performance, but more the entrancing and magical way she captivates the viewer. Brooks was one of the most unique and sultry screen presences in film history and this film is the perfect vehicle for her to display those qualities. Pandora's Box is brilliantly made and perfectly displays the visual beauty and atmosphere of the Expressionist era. Pandora's Box features a brilliant use of lightning, camera work, and editing to generate a sexual charged emotional and visual atmosphere, much of what is also the presence of the films unbelievably memorable leading lady.
>> Criterion Collection has just issued a new double-disc release of this film in what may be one of the greatest treatments a silent film has received on DVD. Not only does the set contain great extra features (including a rare interview with Louise Brooks), Criterion also offers four different musical scores to choose from. This is a groundbreaking DVD set with a gloriously restored image. The film itself is a landmark and should be required viewing for fans of film history.
2005, Michael Apted, United Kingdom
1st Viewing, DVD
49 Up is the latest installment of what has been arguably the most ambitious documentary project of all-time. The British series has documented the lives of several selected children from the age of seven (with the first film being 1964’s 7 Up), and has progressively followed their lives every seven years with a new film. For those who have followed these people lives through these films, there is a curiosity and fascination about it that it is impossible to ignore. You are literally watching these people grow older and go through the progressions of real life (the relationships, the work, the failures, the success, the love, the family, the mistakes, etc). Obviously some of the people relate on more personal and deeper levels and audiences will be emotionally connected to certain individuals of the film more then others. For me, Neil and Jackie stand out here. Neil is an especially intriguing development as in the earlier films we see him homeless and contemplating his own isolation and potential madness. At 49, Neil has found new hope through faith and spirit (as well as the pursuit of politics, which he mentioned as something “important“ he wanted to pursue at 21). His story is undoubtedly a touching one that really defines the power of these films. To me, 49 Up is probably the best film of the series for many reasons. With this film, we really get a chance to reflect upon the entire journey of these lives as they reach middle age. Directed Michael Apted presents this film in a much more reflective way, using a whole bunch of footage from the previous films to create a sense of the life pressures (money, education, career, and romance). Also one of the most interesting portions of this film is hearing the subjects discuss how being apart of the film has effected their own lives. As ambitious and fascinating as it is to watch you still have to wonder about the expense of the emotional level as well as the exploitation of it all. Perhaps it is summarized best by John, when he says, “Fascinating? Sure. But does it have any value? That is a different question.” All that said, I still want to know what will come of these lives, but this film leaves doubt that many of the "subjects" will even want to continue the series with 56 Up.
November 28th Log
John Ford, United States
1956, Repeat Viewing, DVD
I have seen this film, but I waited until the nearing end of my current John Ford month for a repeat viewing of The Searchers. This is only the third time I have seen this film and it has certainly grown with me upon each viewing. The films greatest strength lies underneath the surface of the film, which is why repeat viewings are required. This may be the most complex film Ford has ever made and it is much more appreciated on a deeper level of understanding with repeat viewings, and also considering Ford’s entire body of work. Ford is a visual poet and few films capture this with more breathtaking beauty then The Searchers. The emotional complexities of the film are found in what the film implies rather then what it shows. Ford has a masterful ability of telling stories simply through visuals and this is evident as ever here. Particularly in the opening and closing images, which essentially work together. The film shot of the film is the most moving and deserves mention among the very greatest last shots in the history of filmmaking. There is such richness and texture to this film that it can be analyzed on endless levels both of filmmaking technique and storytelling. Using the frontier as the visual backdrop, Ford defines the essence of an American civilization at odds through tradition, violence, morality, community, and freedom. John Wayne gives a powerful performance in one of his darkest roles as Ethan Edwards, a racist looking to avenge the murder/kidnap of his niece, nephew, brother, and sister-in-law (who he secretly loved). Ethan is portrayed neither good or evil, but rather in a way that is dark and mysterious. The Searchers is the work of a master poet. A film of rich deep through subtext (both visually and verbally). I think I personally prefer some other Ford films, but this stands a landmark achievement in the history of American film. The Searchers is one of the most important and influential films ever made!
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
1946, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, United Kingdom
Repeat Viewing, DVD
What a wonderful film this is! Classic, romantic intelligent, charming, imaginative, and absolutely lovely! Made in one of the greatest years in film history and by two of British's most legendary filmmakers: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Together they collaborated on almost 20 films, and to me, this is their finest. This is really a very simplistic fantasy story, but Powell and Pressburger extend it beyond the heights of standard filmmaking and into a magical world of ambitious vision, fairy tale, and beauty. The dialogue is wonderful and the film features glorious and vibrant Technicolor cinematography (earth) contrasted with sharp black and white (heaven). There is also some fabulous performances (notably by David Niven as Peter Carter) and strikingly inventive and creative visual techniques that Powell and Pressburger explore. Some of the originally intended themes (wartime propaganda) of the film (particularly within the trial sequences) is dated, but the true core and appeal of this classic film is undeniable, as it transcends far beyond it's narrative or themes. A Matter of Life and Death is a film that has the magical power to lift the viewer and carry them away into it's emotionally involving and visually beautiful world of sheer imagination and romance. "We won. I know darling."
November 27th Log
1965, Kon Ichikawa, Japan
1st Viewing, DVD
The 1964 Olympic Games was the first ever to be held in Asia, and also was the first world event in Tokyo since World War 2. To give the world an awareness of the country’s recovery, Japanese government hired award-winning fiction director Kon Ichikawa to document the games. Initially they were upset with the results, but ultimately the film went on to receive international acclaim and is today regarded as a landmark. What Ichikawa did was make a completely unconventional work. Using over 150 different cameras and over 70 hours of footage, the focus is less on the actual games then it is on the human element of the athletes. What the film does is capture the human body at it’s most gracefully athletic. It also captures the psychological aspect of the athletes. Ichikawa seems more interested in this then he does in competition, sports, or even the games. Structurally it is a pretty straight-forward film, but Ichikawa resists conventional Olympic games coverage for something deeper in human condition, as well as a personal expression of the artists own vision. Ichikawa is one of the leading filmmakers of the Japanese new wave movement, which saw a new breed of post-war filmmakers following the era of the great masters (Ozu, Naruse, Mizoguchi, Kurosawa). In tradition with this movement, and most of Ichikawa’s work, Tokyo Olympiad goes in an entirely unique and perhaps even rebellious direction.
November 25th Log
1935, Mark Sandrich, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are among the most legendary screen couples in cinema. And in the genre of musicals, they may be the definitive duo of all-time. Together they starred in ten films (nine as top billing), each elegant and entertaining in their own way. However, it is 1935's Top Hat, which remains the embodiment of their collaboration. It is among their very best films together, but it is undoubtedly their most memorable. There are moments of pure glamour and class and charming humor and wit. But above all their are moments to never be forgotten. Through the incredible Irving Berlin score, Top Hat features some of the most legendary and memorable musical sequences in film history (of course most notably, "Dancing Cheek to Cheek"). Top Hat, like most great musicals, has an undeniable magical force. Forget the storyline or plot, which may be a bit silly (and familiar- as it shares much in common with 1934’s Gay Divorcee), this is beautiful and grand escapism. What these films represent transcends far beyond plotlines and captures the magical beauty of cinema. You watch the film and can’t help but smile and feel as though you’ve been swept away (just imagine the impact such an experience can make during the American Depression). Often overlooked by the sensational dancing is the performances of the film. Astaire and Rogers give subtle performances that get lost amongst the grace and beauty of their dancing. Also the supporting cast perfectly fits in as the neutral characters for the leads. It is all trademark Hollywood Studio filmmaking driven by star-power (Rogers is particularly given the star entrance as a crane shot moves down towards her being woken up from the tap dancing in the above room- this is of course from Astaire and so begins the plot of misunderstandings). This is the fourth collaboration of Astaire and Rogers (or Rogers and Astaire- which ever you prefer!), but it will forever remain the quintessential film of their partnership.
NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD
2006, Jonathan Demme, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD
Neil Young: Heart of Gold is a special film. Like he did with the wonderful 1984 film Stop Making Sense as well as the 1998 film Storefront Hitchcock, Jonathan Demme transcends the genre of "concert films" to become something emotionally profound, and beautiful. This is above all a performance film and it's a memorable experience. Demme structures the film in the same way he did with his previous performance films, focusing on simplistic techniques and almost solely on the stage. After some brief opening comments from Neil Young and the band, Demme dollies in and just lets the performance take over, and the result is magical and even emotionally personal. Making the film even more impacting is the story within, as we see Neil Young performing his latest album (Prairie Wind- which he recorded just weeks before a brain aneurysm operation) to an audience for the first time in his dream location (Nashville's Ryman Auditorium). The passion of the music and a reflection of his life become evident through Young's performance and lyrics, all wonderfully captured through Demme's intimate camera. Young also sings some of his older favorites, many of which equally reflect on his life and aging (while now being performed by a much older man). The first ten songs are all from the Prairie Wind release and then the film finishes with ten more of his older songs, closing with the entire band performing 'One of These Days' (the film then perfectly ends with Young singing 'The Old Laughing Lady' to an empty audience over the credits). Neil Young: Heart of Gold was shot over two nights of performances, but Demme limits the techniques and cuts to keep the film more involving. This is also captured through the masterful use of lighting and background that change within the mood of the songs. Everything about this film just works. Young's music is so personal, and his (as well as his group) performance is so passionate that this becomes such a beautiful emotional journey of music and imagery on film. Demme has mastered the art of this filmmaking and the film rates among his greatest achievements.
2006, Sofia Coppola, United States / France / Japan
Repeat Viewing, Theater
I had to give this another theatrical viewing. Marie Antoinette is a masterpiece and probably my favorite film released in 2006 (since my favorite film of the year Three Times was officially a 2005 release). Marie Antoinette is very representative of Sofia Coppola’s cinematic style and themes. This is her third film and each of them have equally dealt with young woman trapped in a foreign world of isolation, loneliness, and boredom. While her other features were (at least to me) self-conscious and dull attempts of recreating Michelangelo Antonioni or Wong Kar-Wai, Marie Antoinette is a wonderful personal expression of an artist. Here Coppola captures the poetic expression of her imagery and sounds in a spirit that evokes the groundbreaking American pioneers of the 1970s (such as her father Francis Ford Coppola, or more specifically Terrence Malick). While not breaking cinematic grounds with this film, Coppola isn’t conforming within any boundaries either, and the result is an epic film of artistic achievement with a free and personal vision. Really to my surprise, I loved this film in every way. I think because above all, it is one of feeling. Coppola is less interested in ideas (be it political, historical, or psychological). Her interest is in mood, in gestures, tones, themes, and sensibilities. Those looking for intellectual or historic depth may be left disappointed, because this is a film at its best when playful and silly. That is not to say the film is without meaning and importance (or focus). The film distances the viewer from the past and period drama through modern effects (such as the unexpectedly non-distracting new wave music, or the removable of language accents), Coppola ultimately captures an emotional truth. At its core this modernized approach expresses the playful spirit of a young woman’s emotional and physical state. A dreamlike world of being entrapped into an unfamiliar environment of loneliness, and the longing for teenage freedom and possession (as well asrebellion). Often dialogue is never needed here. Through dazzling visuals, set designs, costumes, and makeup Marie Antoinette pitch-perfectly evokes this emotional expression (of which is clearly very personal to Coppola as a filmmaker, who can certainly make some parallels). Based on a sympathetic biography of Maria Antoinette, Coppola is deeply compassionate towards her. Ultimately this is a film of Coppola’s key expression, which is that of a lonely, imprisoned girl who retreats to her own private world of imagination but is destroyed by the uncontrollable desires within (being a young woman). Essentially Coppola is presenting this film as a dreamlike fantasy world through Marie Antoinette’s own imagination as she grows from a teenager to a woman. This is why Coppola films the final moments of Maria Antoinette as she does. While on a narrative level it may be flawed, I find her ending perfectly fitting and the final shot a beautifully expressive and essential image that defines the emotional and physical state the character.
November 24th Log
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
2006, Christopher Guest, United States
1st Viewing, Theater
I really love the idea behind this and I’m definitely a big fan of Christopher Guest and his usual company of fine actors (Catherine O'Hara, Harry Shearer, Eugene Levy, Christopher Guest, Ricky Gervais, Parker Posey, Jennifer Coolidge, Fred Willard, Jane Lynch, Larry Miller, Christopher Moynihan, John Michael Higgins). I also love the opening shot which features a clip from Bette Davis in one of her greatest (Oscar winning) performances from William Wyler’s Jezebel. However, where as his other films featured such well drawn out characters it all feels a bit more tired-out and less passionate this time around. Guest does not use the “mocumentary” style narrative of his previous features, but it this film still feels more formulaic then anything else he has done. Really aside from the “freshness” there is plenty to enjoy here. I guess if you are a huge fan of Guest previous films, comparisons and ultimately disappointment is likely to arise. Taken on it’s own For Your Consideration has some great moments to offer the audience. It is wonderfully fun seeing how they portray the “buzz” of Hollywood during awards and the general ridiculousness of the whole process. The cast is again outstanding, with Parker Posey and John Michael Higginsbeing the particular standouts this time around.
DRESSED TO KILL
1980, Brian De Palma, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
Brian De Palma may wear his influences on his sleeve, and he may be often style over substance, and his films tend to boarder on camp, yet when he connects, I think he can often soar to heights of pure cinematic bliss. Dressed to Kill is a film that I think very often soars, and I would rate it among his finest. Maybe it is for De Palma fans only, but I found this to be a whole lot of fun genre filmmaking with direct nods (or even thieving) of the great Alfred Hitchcock. Take your pick of a Hitchcock film, and De Palma heavily incorporates it in some way here both visually and thematically (be it Vertigo, Murder, Spellbound, Rear Window, and most obviously Psycho). Even the musical score owes debt to Bernard Herrmann. However, the film does have a style of it’s own, including many of the trademark De Palma moments (slow motion, split screens, overhead shots, long tracking shots, and re-arranged editing techniques). De Palma is a master of genre and his ambitiousness and can backfire, but it also can work to masterful effect. De Palma is a visual filmmaker, and Dressed to Kill certainly represents this. Just take the crafty sequences at the art museum and then the critical and tense murder scene in the elevator and you understand his gift as a visual storyteller. De Palma can also be very funny, and Dressed to Kill is one of his most darkly comical films. Dressed to Kill is genre film at it’s most well crafted and stylishly visionary. It is a film for film lovers and I would rate this alongside De Palma’s finest work as a filmmaker.
AN INN IN TOKYO
Yasujiro Ozu, 1935, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD
This is my third viewing of this film. I just saw An Inn in Tokyo a couple months ago, but had to put it quickly back onto the “Ozu Friday night” schedule because it left such a profound impact. An Inn in Tokyo is Ozu's last and perhaps greatest silent film. The film is very reminiscent of the later Italian Neorealist films of the 1940s (notably Vittorio De Sica's masterpiece The Bicycle Thief) as well Ozu's 1933 film Passing Fancy) in it's simplistic yet powerful examination of the human condition amongst the struggles of the Depression (in this case pre-war Japan). Using a decaying Japanese environment as the visual surrounding, Ozu captures the very essence of human struggle, centering around a poor widowed father with two sons as well as a friend who is a widowed mother with a sick child. Faced with a moral conflict the man must make a decision that could effect his family. Equally beautiful and heartbreaking An Inn in Tokyo is a masterpiece.
November 23rd Log
THE WILD BLUE YONDER
2005, Werner Herzog, Unites States / United Kingdom / Germany
1st Viewing, DVD
The Wild Blue Yonder is one of the four films Werner Herzog was working on last year (along with The White Diamond, Grizzly Man, and Rescue Dawn). This like the other film, or really like any of his work, explores the mystery and chaos of nature. The opening title card tells us we are watching a “science fiction fantasy’, as the film blends documentary and fiction together. Really most of Herzog “documentaries” are fiction films disguised as documentaries and this film is the most obvious as he blends documentary NASA footage into a science fiction narrative. A powerful performance is given by Brad Dourif, who narrates throughout about his “journey” from Andromeda” (of the wild blue yonder) to earth. The film very much recalls Herzog’s 1992 film “Lessons of Darkness’ in it’s stylish use of footage, slow-motion, and music. The film is strange and deeply intriguing while raising many complicated and thoughtful ideas. There is a bitterness to the narrative that seems personal and reflective for Herzog, who wrote the entire script out for Dourif to read. The film really excels in the final half with the footage under the ice. Here the wondrous beauty and imagination of the film take over. It is this imagination that makes The Wild Blue Yonder such a fascinating film. Herzog, like the audience is curious at the endless mystery and imagination here and this film is a unique experience.
TENACIOUS D: THE PICK OF DESTINY
2006, Liam Lynch, United States
1st Viewing, Theater
The tagline of the film is “The greatest motion picture of all time’, which from the start is setting the tone for a film that is not to be taken very seriously. Of course, that is not to say it can not be enjoyed, and if you take everything for what it is here, Tenacious D can be a really enjoyable and funny film. I’m definitely a fan of Jack Black and here he pays homage to his pure love of rock music as well as the roots that made him a star. Those more familiar with Tenacious D’s background and following will likely love this film. Music fans probably will as well and the film features many different cameos and visual homages (of course they also openly homage Clockwork Orange in a funny little gag scene). There are plenty of fart or more specifically weed jokes to go around here, but the sheer energy of Black’s performance is what makes this film. He is a great physical comedian, but the energy he brings to the screen (somehow without seeming overdone) is what I really admire. Maybe not the most memorable film, but Tenacious is entertaining on the intended levels.
November 22nd Log
2001, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Taiwan
Repeat Viewing, DVD
Taiwan master (arguably one of the greatest active filmmakers in world cinema) Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 2001 Millennium Mambo may not stand among his all-time greatest films, but it remains beautifully compelling and compassionate. From the very opening (and intriguing) voice-over narration, the film lures the viewer into its emotions and images, but it does so at a distance from the viewer which leaves for a unique experience. The film follows a nonlinear narrative and is made rather simplistically. However, like many of Hou's films, Millennium Mambo is one that contains many layers, meanings and depths. Millennium Mambo is a look into the youth of modern-day Taiwan, yet remains a deeply universal examination of the fateful circumstances of a young girls life. Hou captures the emotions through a dazzling visual atmosphere. Techno-music, video games, television, cell phones are always present on screen to capture the "quick-access" way of modern-day living. The cinematography is stunningly composed of bright neon colors. The gorgeous Shu Qi is a dream as Vicky!! Aside from being in every scene (usually smoking many, many cigarettes) she gives the character a sympathetic connection with the viewer. There are many themes and mysteries to the film that are quite wonderful to experience. On an emotional level, I felt more detached watching this then I have with any other Hou film, but he brings you in through the visuals and the loveliness of Shu Qi. The ending is beautifully poetic. While I'd recommend other Hou films ahead of this, Millennium Mambo remains a highly recommended film from a master.
2006, Woody Allen, United Kingdom / United States
Repeat Viewing, Theater
Woody Allen follows up one his very best films (Match Point) with this light-hearted comedy. The setting is once again London and again Scarlett Johansson stars, but the tone is much different then the serious philosophy of Match Point. Is the film flawed? Probably. Is it anything different then we’ve seen from Woody Allen? No. Is it effective? Absolutely! Especially for those who have admired Allen’s films. There is nothing new here (he seems to be borrowing from many of his own movies- notably Manhattan Murder Mystery, Broadway Danny Rose, and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion). However there really is a whole lot of laughs and charm that make it an unmistakably endearing film. The chemistry amongst the cast is pitch-perfect. Woody Allen gives one of his best screen performances and he shines with Johansson in a way he did with Mia Farrow and Diane Keaton. Together they have such a likable comic connection, and Johansson carries a stunning presence of beauty with the littlest of effort (here she plays a much different role then the femme fatale of Match Point, yet is just as sexy). There are certainly little flaws and holes to this film that give it the impression Allen whipped it up in no time. However, the intention of the film is laid back fun (Allen even steers clear of making overt references to European cinema) and mostly relies on the witty chemistry among the cast. For this Scoop works and is nowhere near being among Allen’s worst comedies (of which I’d consider to be Hollywood Ending). Scoop will probably annoy those who don’t like Allen, but fans of his films will appreciate this for what it is.
November 21st Log
HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY
1941, John Ford, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD
Today, How Green Was My Valley only seems remembered as the film that won the Best Picture over Citizen Kane. Well, looking at the Oscars history, they have made far more tragic and questionable choices then this film which may not be Ford’s very best, but remains a wonderful film that still holds value today. One of John Ford’s greatest gifts as a filmmaker is that he was a visual poet through lighting, settings, and characterization. However, Ford was successful (and had fewer problems with Studio bosses) because of his focus on story (always a priority in the Studio system). His late 1930s, early 1940s work is most representative of this and the result is arguably his most acclaimed and award-winning work (The Informer, The Grapes of Wrath, Stagecoach, and How Green Was My Valley). Ford would make his more personal and artistic films later in his career, but the sheer magic of his vision is always evident now matter what era. Adapted from a popular novel by Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley is a classic film. This is a film that very easily could be one of sadness, and while it is, Ford ultimately makes it one of cheerful rejoice. Essentially the film is one of change or loss of innocence for a family making the transition from the 19th to the 20th century. How Green Was My Valley was the winner of five Academy Awards (including the third of Ford’s four Best Director Oscars). Not to go without mentioning is the outstanding performances from the great cast (Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, and Donald Crisp). A glorious and magical film experience that still stands the test of time.
2005, Kieran Galvin, Australia
1st Viewing, DVD
Like The Puffy Chair, this was a Netflix recommendation and it is being distributed through their “Red Envelope’ distribution. I applaud for this film in many different ways, but I’m not so sure how much I really liked the film. It is pretty well made by first time feature filmmaker Kieran Galvin, who is said to be a completely self-taught and self-funded filmmaker. The performances are solid enough and the film is essentially a complex characters study. I think the problem is I was never very interested in these characters. I applaud the bizarre originality at work here but the film really never pulled me on the level it requires. I’d like to give this film another viewing because for some reason I just felt too distant from it. The concept behind the film seems like a strange mix of Pedro Almodovar’s ironic 1990 film Tie Me Up Tie Me Down, and Misery. Like Almodovar’s film Puppy is a strange mix of twisted comedy and romance. To me, this is not as interesting and exciting and at times feels a bit contrived with the screenplay. Kieran Galvin could be a filmmaker to keep an eye on as he progresses. He does make a good debut with this film, one that I think will definitely find an audience.
NIGHT AND THE CITY
1950, Jules Dassin, United Kingdom
Repeat Viewing, DVD
"You're a dead man Harry Fabian. A dead man." Jules Dassin's brilliant 1950 film Night and the City is a quintessential film noir in the truest sense. While it's often debated and interpreted as to what 'film noir' is, the key element of noir lies in style (even more so then content or substance). Through it's dark and atmospheric visuals, noir style generally derives from expressionism of the silent era. While elements of themes and characters exist, film noir is ultimately a style, and Night and the City captures it to perfection! It's a film of such incredible mood and atmospheric black and white photography, shadows, and energy. The images are truly powerful and absolutely unforgettable. Night and the City is an assault on human morals. Richard Widmark gives an astonishing performance as Fabian, an ambitious con man who dreams of becoming a big shot wrestling promoter in London. Fabian just wants to be somebody, and even when he is, his fate is evident, as the network of deceit and lies slowly surround him. Even when he was on top, Fabian remained a 'dead man who was running and running'. The ending is absolutely brilliant, as Fabian provides a moment of redemption and morality to his girlfriend (played by the beautiful and incomparable Gene Tierney), who consistently tried to steer him in the right direction. Night and the City is a flawless masterpiece of endless depth, themes, and style. It's a film that grabs hold of you, absorbs you into it's world and imagery, and never lets up. It's classic film noir, and in fact, among the finest ever made!
ROBERT ALTMAN (1925 - 2006)
Robert Altman one of the great maverick filmmakers of American cinema, died on Monday Night at the age of 81. The news of his passing is sad and he will be greatly missed, but we should celebrate his life as one of the greatest artists of our time. His films will live on and we are all lucky for that. Here is a small tribute to the legacy Mr. Altman has left behindâ€¦
Since his debut feature in 1957, Altman has made 36 films in a span of nearly 50 years. Over that time he has received seven Academy Awards nomination and recognition and praise throughout the world for a variety of films. He is often considered one of the pioneers of Independent American film, and finally received an Academy Award this past year for Lifetime Achievement. Even if all of his features were not successful what remains evident is Altman’s true love and passion for filmmaking. Altman’s films are generally set on two narrative scales: the smaller, intimate examination of individuals, and the larger ensemble films that interweave a number of characters. Above all Altman’s focus is on characters and the lives of the characters. One of his greatest strengths as a filmmaker is the authentic moments he captures through his improvisational style. Altman has a trust and belief with his actors and he enjoys mistakes and flaws as an aspect of authentic behavior.
No matter what the scale he’s working with, Altman’s films have a narrative style that is ambitious, messy, and overlapping. He blends plot lines, characters, camera moments, and even dialogue together in one chaotic moment. His films are without straight-forward flow or rhythm and this tends to divide some audiences, but the overall sense of authenticity for human interactions and behavior is undeniable. Altman’s films also display his mastery of examining the social traditions of American society. This is expressed through his haunting, ironic, and deeply observant imagery as well as his ability to play and ultimately transcend genre. Altman has worked within all genres, yet not one of his films represent a definitive genre film, but rather a quintessential Altman film. For this it’s as if Altman is a musical composer, working on one vast opus. Not one of his films are alike, yet they each represent the trademarks of all of films. Nothing he does, is done in the standard form. He simply makes films like no one else in contemporary film.
I can’t justify with words the impact of Altman’s life and films. If you want proof, here are just 15 reasons why he is one of the greatest American filmmakers ever. Just watch these 15 films (or really any of his films!) and they say more then anything I could about Robert Altman:
- McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971)
- Nashville (1975)
- The Long Goodbye (1973)
- Short Cuts (1993)
- The Player (1992)
- A Perfect Couple (1979)
- M*A*S*H (1970)
- California Split (1974)
- Gosford Park (2001)
- Images (1972)
- A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
- The Company (2003)
- Brewster McCloud (1970)
- 3 Women (1977)
- Secret Honor (1984)
November 20th Log
YOUNG MR. LINCOLN
1939, John Ford, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD
Young Mr. Lincoln was made before John Ford in the era of legendary American filmmaker John Ford’s early acclaimed era. This era marked many of his most beloved classics (The Informer, Stagecoach, The Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley). Ford would make more poetically expressive and personal films starting in the 1950s (after he had already won 3 Best Director Oscars). Among them is a forgotten masterpiece, they may be apart of his more Studio-oriented era yet still becomes definitive Ford in theme and style. Made one year after his beloved (and probably more dated) film Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln seems to be tailored-madefor Ford. As a symbol, Lincoln embodies the very values and traditions that all of Ford's films supported and the very metaphor of Lincoln seems to hold a cloud over all his films. Ford's films are always shot with a beautiful visual expression, but his focus is always on the story (even if told in a visually poetic matter). Ford often would use the western as a backdrop or metaphor in his mythical vision as a filmmaker, who supported the little-guy that struggles against the evils of power and greed. Underneath his "genre" westerns are Ford's truest feelings for America and a civilized society based on morals. Young Mr. Lincoln is not a western but it may capture these essential themes in the most definitive way of all of Ford's films. Henry Fonda gives one of the all-time great screen performances as Lincoln (maybe even surpassing his great performances in Ford's masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath). Capturing spiritual and mythical worlds in trademark Ford-fashion, Young Mr. Lincoln is one of his greatest films, and it may be the most quintessential of his mythical American themes (at least of his work in the 1930s).
November 18th Log
1956, William Wyler, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
This film won the Golden Palm for Best Film at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival, but its recognition as a classic seems to be minor today. Perhaps the old-fashioned sentiment has grown out, but this remains a beautiful film. The direction is by the great American filmmaker William Wyler, who may have lacked the definitive visionary styles of Studio directors like Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, or Orson Welles, yet still stands as one of the greatest legends in American film history. Wyler worked with all film genres and style techniques and though Friendly Persuasion is not in the class of his greatest work, it has the classic look and feel and Wyler. The film has an appealing quality in the precise way it is made and performed. Wyler always worked well with actors and here he found the perfect casting choice for a leading man. As Jess Birdwell, Gary Copper is perfect in choice and execution. He gives the role a quiet, sensitive and convincing leading man. Through the richness of Wyler’s characterization, we react to the dilemma of Birdwell’s struggle between traditional beliefs and values or the protection of his family and home. The film examines the very nature of peace and violence through this dilemma. A perfect world of values and quiet harmony is explored and ultimately reconsidered underneath the surface of the film. There is more to this film within the context of it. Wyler wonderfully crafts this as a moving and pleasant family film.
1965, Elliot Silverstein, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
The playful tone is set from the opening as the Columbia Pictures logo transforms into a cartoon and the title son (“the Ballad of Cat Ballou”) begins. Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye open with the signing (which is recurrent throughout the film) before moving into the story which starts off with Cat Ballou (played by Jane Fonda) in jail before flashing back to how she got there. Cat Ballou never takes itself too seriously and the result is a whole lot of fun. It’s really quite funny, mostly because of the show-stealing double performance by Lee Marvin. Marvin is hilarious as both the drunken gun-slighting hero and as his evil brother. Marvin won the Oscar for his performance and it really is well deserved as he is terrific here. Fonda also gives the film a nice presence and light-hearted feel with her performance as the title character. Cat Ballou is enjoyable throughout. Its got a little bit of everything and a whole lot of entertaining fun.
MURDER, MY SWEET
1944, Edward Dmytryk, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies
Murder, My Sweet is based off the novel Raymond Chandler has said to be his own favorite ('Farewell, My Lovely'). This film was retitled Murder, My Sweet so audiences would not think the film was another Dick Powell musical comedy. Here Powell takes on an against-type Philip Marlowe and makes it work perfectly. As Marlowe, Powell is terrific in every way, as he gives the character a perfect pitch blend of toughness and uncertainty. Murder, My Sweet is trademark Chandler, and most of all trademark noir. Edward Dmytryk is one of the unheralded masters of the noir style and here he creates the perfect atmosphere of gloomy isolation, and darkness. Wrapping the narrative with a complex blend of murder, blackmail, dual identity, and lies Dmytryk adds the usual noir visual touch of expressive low-key lighting, sharp quick-witted dialogue, and night-time exteriors. In Chandler-esque noir fashion, Murder My Sweet is presented in flashbacks as Marlowe retraces with the police the events that lead to him going blind. More then it is of straight-forward plot, the film is made as though a series of flashes (both light and dark- even expressed at one point as a hallucinating world of visuals). There is a complex visual world of expression presented here, but it is equaled by the deeply complex web of a characters and twits that are created. Among the center of this complex web are the women: the femme fatale, flawlessly and seductive played by Claire Trevor, as well as Marlowe’s love interest (played by Ann Shirley). Full of corruption, deceit, and murder the film is packed with so many twists and turns one could easily get lost wrapping it all together. But as in Chandler’s The Big Sleep, the film is less focused on solving the mystery then it is on the cinematic and narrative elements that make it a timeless and quintessential noir. If there is a flaw it may be that the ending feels a bit forceful as a conclusion, but overall this is a really great film and among the definitive Chandler adaptations ever made.
November 17th Log
WOMAN ON THE BEACH
2006, Hong Sang-soo, South Korea
Repeat Viewings, DVD
Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo latest film, Woman on the Beach (his 7th feature), may be my favorite to date. There is nothing all that new or inventive from anything else Hong has done in the past (at least from the five features I’ve now seen), but Woman on the Beach gives a inspirational perspective on his earlier work. Perhaps more then anything he’s done, this film offers some hope. The tone is a cynical one, and the mood of isolation is expressed through the somber landscape (an isolated beach in the off season). Yet Hong offers hope and possibility through spiritual and psychological self-revelation. At least that is the way I took it. Honestly like much of Hong’s work, he leaves you with reflective thoughts and ideas through the minimal cinematic techniques and naturalistic style. Even through the simplicity, his films are always left mysterious and repeat viewings are helpful in understanding the emotional layers. Woman on the Beach has all the Hong trademarks: a dual love triangle narrative, loveless sex, drunk behavior, and his usual dose of zoom in and outs. In narrative approach, and style Hong appears to be at his most accessible and certainly most humorous with this film. It also has a very personal feel (even more so then his other work) and this is captured most expressively in the moment we see the director jotting down notes on his own psychology of obsession. This is a very intimate moment from Hong who seems to be reflecting his own obsessions with images and creation. Ultimately, Woman on the Beach is an exploration into this theme of obsession, and of self-identity, but perhaps mostly of careless and repetitive behavior in human relationships. Through his most conventionally structured and funniest film, Hong has made a deeply expressive and sad yet thoughtfully promising work (which is captured most beautifully in the final moments of revelation for both the man and the woman- after he calls her, we see her drive away on the beach). I’ve always found Hong’s films to be interesting. Here, with what may be his most accessible work, I believe he has made possibly his most exciting film to date.
THE BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE TODA FAMILY
1941, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD
The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family is one of the few upper-class family films Ozu made but it very much captures the essence of what he would later master in his gendai-geki films. This film marks Ozu's earliest transition into his stage of postwar masterpiece. Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family is the first of two films Ozu made during the war (this film was made after Ozu spent two years fighting China in the Sino-Japanese war). Ozu's personal experience certainly reflect in the film but this also stands as a key transition from his early work and his postwar films, as Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family captures various elements of each era. Again at the center of the family lies the separation of family which is caused by the untimely death of the father. The film recalls Ozu's postwar films Tokyo Story (in it's tensions between generations) and End of the Summer (in in the deconstruction of the family), but also reveals some of his early work as the family begins to suffer with financial difficulties. This film displays early traces of Ozu's mastery with visual expression and composition, as it marked his first collaboration with cinematographer Atsuta Yuharu (who he worked with on almost every film afterwards). This film also was the first box office success in Japan for Ozu who would soon become known as "The most Japanese of all directors", which at the time made his films nearly inaccessible to those outside of Japan.