Sunday, July 8, 2007

July 8th Log

1979, Shohei Imamura, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

Directed by one of the leading filmmakers of the Japanese New Wave, Shohei Imamura, Vengeance is Mine is an essential masterpiece of cinema. Vengeance is Mine opens with an overhead shot of a group of police cars escorting a captured criminal, who gives no regret for his actions and only suggest to those arresting him that they will unfairly live longer then him (and that they will continue having sex). The film is based on the true story of convicted murder Iwao Enokizu. Blending elements of fiction and documentary style filmmaking, Imamura constructs a disturbing, surreal, yet fascinating portrait of self-damaging human behavior. Imamura is never sentimental or sympathetic but instead disconnected and through visuals is often metaphorically ironic, particularly in the way Iwao and his parents faithful Christian beliefs remains evident throughout the film (even if only as a subtle subtext). The visual pace and tone of the film expresses the dark and chaotic energy of a serial killer, as Imamura heightens this through an extensive use of camera movement and sharp editing style. Iwao is a self-absorbed man with a lost inner soul, battling against his own mind. The films title suggests various layers of meanings, perhaps reflecting Iwao Christian beliefs that vengeance is with God. Expressing this further is the film masterful closing sequence as we see the family try to establish a sense of resolution by throwing Iwao’s bones from the top of a mountain, only to be disillusioned as Imamura freezes frames the images in a haunting remainder that the evil remains and that justice and vengeance are can not be thrown away… For indeed, vengeance is mine!

>>> Here is a clip of the closing sequence from Vengeance is Mine:

1944, Preston Sturges, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Preston Sturges is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. After the success of 1940’s The Great McGinty, Sturges emerged as the “Prince of Paramount” and over the course of four years (1940-1944) he wrote and directed eight of the most innovative and memorable comedies in American film history. His run at Paramount came to an end after the completion of The Great Moment, a film in which Sturges lost his creative freedom and disagreements with studio bosses forced him to leave Paramount. After he left Paramount, Sturges only made four more films over the next eleven years. The final cut (and the title) of The Great Moment is not as Sturges originally intended and the result is a film that is not the original intention of the artist. For starters, the material is unique for Sturges, as this is one of his only films adapted from a source novel and also a rare period film. Also, the tone is more serious one, but even though uneven, Sturges touch still remains evident. Ultimately it is not his finest film, and probably his less appealing film at Paramount. Sturges was attracted to the story, and in many ways you can see why. At the heart of it lies the essence of Sturges tragic comedies: a hero looking to find independence and the “American Dream” only to be denied by a society of absorbed individuals always looking to get ahead. The film attempts to end of a positive and uplifting note, but Sturges leaves the presence of tragedy underneath. I would be curious to see his original cut, but sadly it remains lost forever. What remains is a good but uneven film. Certainly not as funny as the Sturges comedies of the era, The Great Moment marks an unfortunate end of a great run of creative freedom in Hollywood for Sturges.


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