Tuesday, March 13, 2007

March 12th Log

1955, Anthony Mann, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Anthony Mann is such a great filmmaker. He develops complex characters and emotions of psychological depths all confined within an expressively atmospheric landscape. The Man From Laramie is the last of his “psychological westerns” he made with James Stewart. Together they made five such westerns. In each of these films lies a destruction of the family core and also an obsession that is driven by revenge. This is again the case with The Man From Laramie as we find James Stewart playing the man from Laramie who enters the town of Coronado in order to seek revenge from the persona responsible for selling guns to the Apaches which lead to his brothers murder. Stewart’s arrival in this town is met with some restraint and eventually tension grows within and around the family that runs the town. I don’t know if I’d put this in the class of The Naked Spur, but Mann has made another great film. Using on site New Mexico locations as the Technicolor/CinemaScope backdrop Mann creates a deeply layered film of character emotions. Stewart is brilliant again as the lonely, mysterious, and determined outsider. He is aided by a strong supporting cast (Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp, and Cathy O'Donnell). The Man From Laramie is traditionally constructed, classic filmmaking from a master of the western. All of these Mann and Stewart westerns have a timelessness quality to them and I look forward to viewing them again.

1954, Mikio Naruse, Japan

Repeat Vieiwng, DVD

I have been on such a Naruse kick these last couple months and had to watch this again. Sound of the Mountain is Mikio Naruse’s adaptation of the beloved novel by Yasunari Kawabata, who was the first Japanese author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Though dealing more with a middle-class Japanese family (as opposed to the lower class of most of his post-war work), the story and themes are very typical of a Naruse film (here it is especially true of his 1951 Repast, which featured the same actors- Setsuko Hara and Ken Uehara in a troubled marital relationship). Sound of a Mountain opens with a typical Naruse shot of establishing the city before quickly transitioning into the suburban home. This transition of traveling from work (city/Tokyo) to the Kamakura suburb (a garden-filled and seemingly closed-in home of innocence) is one of the underlying expressions of the film. Naruse presents a pitch-perfect rhythmic flow of repetitive everyday life and the tone is always striking with emotional force. Naruse establishes space, constructs the space with feeling and tension, and then breaks it all into separate emotional layers. The film has a constant poetic touch, yet it is subtly hidden amongst the realist emotions detailed both on and under the surface. These emotions are authentic in that they evoke a complexity, unpredictability, and spirituality that is truthful of human behavior. Helping capture this, are terrifically restrained emotional performances by the cast (of course Hara is especially wonderful in her typically radiant beauty and delicateness). The husband and wife failing relationship is expressed through their lack of affection for each other, which is contrasted by the deep understanding and connection shared by the daughter and her father-in-law. This emotional dilemma reaches an philosophical level. Naruse has a more literary style then the transcendent grace of filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu. However, Naruse proves an equal master of cinematic space and environment. This is best captured in the final scene of the film, a beautiful sequence of mastery achievement. Shot among an expressive garden environment, Naruse composes the scene with subtle camera movement, framing, as well as open space to represent the freedom of the emotional relationship. There is a precise sense of longing and separation that reflects the rich emotional layers of the entire film. The scene is a truly sad moment, but one which perfectly completes the film and does so with a stroke of masterful filmmaking and performances. Sound of a Mountain may not be the most significant or visionary work of Naruse career, but to me it is one of his most moving and among my personal favorites!


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