The Discreet Bourgeois

Possessed by an urgency to make sure all this stuff I love doesn't just disappear


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Quadrille (Sacha Guitry)
  2. Yi Yi (Edward Yang)
  3. Female Trouble (John Waters)
  4. Gojira (Godzilla) (Ishiro Honda)
  5. Le Bonheur (Anges Varda)
  6. Late Chrysanthemums (Mikio Naruse)
  7. Street Without End (Mikio Naruse)
  8. Effi Briest (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  9. Mother Küsters Goes To Heaven (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  10. Chloé in the Afternoon (Eric Rohmer)

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1- I have to say that I found Yi Yi quite dull and hard to get through. I felt that same way about his other film A Brighter Summer Day. I feel particularly bad about that since A Brighter Summer Day is often cited on ‘The Best’ lists of various kinds. I think my problem with that film (and I admit I didn’t finish watching it…yet) is that it is an examination of ‘youth gone bad’. I find that topic pretty tedious. Yi Yi is about a very unhappy family. I wished I could have loved it. I was hoping it would have been a Taiwanese Tokyo Story, but that is an unfair expectation for any film

2- I had never seen any of the early, super-raunchy films of John Waters. They were being featured on the Criterion Channel and the completist in me watched Female Trouble. It is just what you think it will be. Divine is divine, the raunch is quite over the top but it is so much fun, disgusting fun assuredly, but fun. Not to everyone’s taste, not even sure if it was to my taste, but I am glad I watched it. I was amused for 2 hours, but the last image was quite upsetting. I don’t feel the need to visit any of the other early stuff anytime soon. I would like to watch Serial Mom again. That was hilarious.

3- For thoughts on Godzilla, please see this.

4- I usually don’t read about movies that I don’t know before I see them.  For some reason I read a little about Le Bonheur by Agnes Varda.  The article described it as the most horrifying ending of any film the author had scene.  I’m glad I had that heads-up because the ending and indeed most of the film, while perhaps not horrifying, is definitely upsetting. The trick is that the entire film is shot beautifully, on lazy beautiful summer days in France, with lazy beautiful people.  But just scratch the surface! Yowza.  I am showing this to my film group soon.  Looking forward to their reaction.  Yes, I think Varda was a genius and I am woefully behind getting to know her films. That will be corrected forthwith.

5- Late Chrysanthemums  has everything that makes a film by Naruse wonderful.  Dispassionate but penetrating psychological portraits, understated sadness and a beautiful complicated performance by Haruko Sugimura, one of my Goddesses of the Criterion Universe.

6- It has been great having the Criterion Channel to catch up with directors I have loved but whose work I haven’t seen in years.  Rainer Werner Fassbinder was amazing prolific and sometimes uneven, but when he was on fire he was on fire.  I am amazed at the range of his works.  Early, annoying experimental or epater le bourgeois stuff gives way to extraordinarly rich works commenting on German history and German present.  Effi Briest is based on the novel by the great German social critic, Theodor Fontane.  Even though this is seems to be a ‘costume drama’ don’t be fooled.  The social critique is lacerating. It is gorgeously filmed by Michael Ballhaus, who had a long career in Hollywood working with Scorsese among others. Plus it stars another of the Criterion Goddesses, Hanna Schygulla.  What more do you need?

6Mother Küsters Goes To Heaven (or better translated as Mother Kuster’s Trip to Heaven) is another wicked masterpiece of social criticism and no one comes out unscathed: the Capitalists, The Communists, The Anarchists, they  are all ineffectual and self-important.  Anchoring all this hostility is the presence of Mother Kusters played by the great Fassbinder regular, Brigitte Mira. Mira played the ‘Jane Wyman’ roles in Ali:Fear Eats The Soul, Fassbinder’s spin on All That Heaven Allows by his idol, Douglas Sirk.  In this churning world of bitterness, Mutter Kusters is the ‘great-souled man’, just by being her simple self.  There are two endings to the film, apparently.  The first is a sudden, nasty, violent ending communicated only in title cards. The second, which was only intended for US consumption, is funny, sad, sweet and ultimately light-hearted ‘happy end’.  I would like to think that this was Fassbinder’s preferred ending.

Brigitte Mira

7-Chloé in the Afternoon is the last of Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales. It seems to be a discourse on adultery and it raises an interesting question of when adultery becomes adultery.  The adulterous couple spend most of the film rationalizing that what they are doing is not morally wrong because they keep redefining what they are doing.  I won’t spoil the ending but I would love to hear what you think Rohmer is positing at the end.


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24 Frames by Abbas Kiarostami

I always get nervous when I hear the phrase ‘experimental film’. What I hear is ‘self-indulgent and boring’ Many experimental films are whims of the director/writer and represent very personal feelings and images that the general audience will find it almost impossible to decipher or relate to.

This week I watched two of Jean Cocteau’s experimental Orphic films: The Blood of a Poet and The Testament of Orpheus. Both were filled with beautiful images, as you would expect from Cocteau, but they were also filled with lots of mumbo-jumbo about the task of the artist and the time/space continuum….I think. Worth watching for sure, but I don’t think worth revisiting.

I also watched 24 Frames by Abbas Kiarostami. Experimental yes, but Kiarostami outlines the experiment very clearly in the opening of the film, so we are never lost. The experiment is to take 24 pictures (A famous Breughel painting and 23 photos taken by Kiarostami), and show what might happen two minutes before and two minutes after the static image.

I imagine that he chose 24 because of film being shown at 24 frames a second. Thus. the film explodes 1 second of film time into a full-length movie. Interesting concept, I thought.

I watched the first few ‘frames’ (the Breughel and a photo of a winter landscape) trying to get my bearings. I felt this could be a slog. Then I had the idea to set a timer for two minutes and as each frame started, I would also start the timer. When the timer sounded, I would know that that I was at the original image that was being expanded. I would see clearly how Kiarostami’s imagination was working. Watching it this way might sound tedious, but actually it allowed me to be part of the experiment and follow Kiarostami’s imagination and he gave life to the static images.

Not to everyone’s taste, I guess, but I had fun


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. À nous la liberté (René Clair)
  2. Paris qui dort (René Clair)
  3. Boudu sauvé des eaux (Jean Renoir)
  4. Double Suicide (Masahiro Shinoda)
  5. Blood of a Poet (Jean Cocteau)
  6. The Testament of Orpheus (Jean Cocteau)
  7. No Man of Her Own (Wesley Ruggles)
  8. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola)
  9. 24 Frames (Abbas Kiarostami)
  10. Mahler (Ken Russell)

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1- This time around I found À nous la liberté not a lot of fun, even though it is regarded as a classic comedy. It is kind of a French version of what Chaplin would have done if he had really went wild in his silent days with his left-leaning politics. Being rich is as much of a prison as being in prison. I had much with Paris qui dort, which is sometimes referred to as The Crazy Ray. A mad scientist creates a ray that puts everyone in Paris to sleep for several days, except for our main characters. Wackiness ensues.

2- Double Suicide is one of many Japanese films that takes its story from Kabuki theater. What makes this film unique is the ‘realism’ of the set often turns into the artifice of the Kabuki stage, while retaining the naturalness of contemporary acting. Fascinating to watch. Most films like this go for one extreme or the other. Shinoda mixes both well.

3- The Godfather was my birthday viewing gift to myself this year. ‘Nuff said!

4- For thoughts on 24 Frames, Blood of a Poet and The Testament of Orpheus please see this.

5- I love Gustav Mahler. He is a quasi-god to me. This Ken Russell movie, which I had seen years ago and remembered liking, had me shaking my head in disbelief. It starts out in a straight-forward fashion, telling the story of the great composer’s last train ride to Vienna with flashbacks to his childhood and other earlier memories. This is fine. But he seems to lose control of himself and the Russellisms come like a sledge hammer. Do we gain anything by the fantasy scene of Mahler’s conversion to Catholicism being presided over and being lauded by Cosima Wagner, Richard Wagner’s widow and notorious Anti-Semite? The scene takes place in a barren landscape and Cosima is dressed as a Nazi Domintrix complete with swastika on her butt. The climax of this is her forcing Mahler to bite into a pig’s head. Really.


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Men who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (Akira Kurosawa)
  2. An Actor’s Revenge (Kon Ichikawa)
  3. La Chienne (Jean Renoir)
  4. Le Poison (Sacha Guitry)
  5. Amarcord (Federico Fellini)
  6. Mamma Roma (Pier Paolo Pasolini)
  7. The Ruling Class (Peter Medak)
  8. Pigs and Battleships (Shohei Imamura)
  9. Paris Belongs to Us (Jacques Rivette)
  10. The Music Room (Satyajit Ray)

1- The Men who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail is a good example of a Japanese film that is firmly rooted in Kabuki theater. This is a famous Kabuki piece that Kurosawa turned into a very entertaining one-hour film. He introduced a ‘clown’ figure into the traditional story and depending on how you feel about clowns, you will love or deplore the addition. It is a very early Kurosawa film and it is fun to see future huge stars at the beginning of their careers. Masayuki Mori, soon to be a romantic lead, and Takeshi Shimura, who appeared in every Kurosawa film until he died, have nice bit parts.

2- Long before people were talking about gender being fluid An Actor’s Revenge hit the screen. The story of an onnagata (Kabuki male actor who specializes in playing women’s roles) is hell-bent on avenging his parents’ death caused by three very bad men. The whole notion of the correctness of revenge is obliquely dealt with. The gender blurring is dealt with head-on. This is a film that should be studied in every queer, women’s studies or philosophy class. Quite a mean picture with stunning compositions and camera work.

3- As I watched La Chienne I kept thinking I had seen it before. I hadn’t but I had seen Scarlet Street, an American remake by Fritz Lang. The American version is not half as gritty as the French original. The French version is quite brutal. The milieu of Montmartre in the 1930s has the same cachet as Los Angeles of film noir. Once again I was struck by what an amazing actor Michel Simon was. He was as unlikely a star as Marie Dressler and just about as beloved.

4- Treat yourself to watching a film by Sacha Guitry. Le Poison has the added bonus of a performance by Michel Simon. A delightfully wicked and pretty amoral little film. Great fun

5- It was very sad for me to watch Amarcord. My first viewing in 1973 was magical. This time I was bored and found it a sloppy, sexist mess. One would think there was nothing else to women but breasts and posteriors.

6- Pasolini is a troubling figure and Mamma Roma is a troubling film.

7- The Ruling Class is another film that I hadn’t seen since it premiered almost 50 years ago. I remembered thinking it was a sophisticated black comedy when I was an adolescent, and had a pretty limited idea of what sophisticated was. Now, it is still kind of outre and slightly funny but it goes on way too long for the one joke, and it is often quite nasty.

8- When I was first getting to know Japanese film, I concentrated on the ‘Golden Era’ films from the 30s, 40s and 50s, learning the works of the masters like Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ozu and Naruse. I would check out films from the 60s and later occasionally, but their roughness and violence were really jarring for me after the serenity of the ‘masterpieces’. Lately, though, I have been exploring the works of later masters and I am really impressed. Shohei Imamura’s Pigs and Battleships is a great example of this later era. It shows a post-WWII Japan with aimless youth drifting towards crime and violence. But, where in the US such a film would have either a moralizing tone or a social message telling us to pity these poor kids, Imamura just lays it all out in a frantic two-hour plus tragedy that is slapstick at the same time. The pigs get most of the laughs. I really need to watch more Imamura. The cynicism and lack of pontification is so appealing.

9- Very few films have meant more to me over the years than Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating. Unfortunately, none of his other films have the same magic that Celine and Julie has, no matter how many times I watch it. The other films I’ve seen of his are multi-hour, difficult mind-games that never seem to be worth the effort. I always had Paris Belongs to Us tucked away in my brain as something to watch when I felt up to it. It was his first feature film, so I figured it would be more approachable than the later experimental films since his improvisational style might have been held in check in trying to get his first film out the door. Well, I was partially right. It is a tight two and a half hour long puzzle, but it doesn’t seem to be about the puzzle as much as his later films are. Our entry into the world is a young woman who has become friendly with a group of typical 1950 Parisian intellectuals. There seems to be an unimaginable, unexplainable mystery surrounding this group and many of them wind up dead. Suicide? Murder? International espionage? Who know? Josef K. would be very at home in this world. I did make it through the whole thing, but I won’t be returning anytime soon, whereas I plan to watch Celine and Julie Go Boating again on my birthday for the ten millionth time. Lucky me


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. A Kid for Two Farthings (Carol Reed)
  2. Le Courbeau (Henri-George Clouzot)
  3. The Long Day Closes (Terence Davies)
  4. War and Peace (Sergei Bondarchuk)
  5. A Brief History of Time (Errol Morris)
  6. Three Daughters (Satyajit Ray)
  7. Pather Panchli (Satyajit Ray)
  8. Aparajito (Satyajit Ray)
  9. The World of Apu (Satyajit Ray)
  10. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (Preston Sturges)

1- A Kid For Three Farthings is a minor film by Carol Reed, who gave us The Third Man and Odd Man Out (and Oliver!). It is a sweet and kind of troubling story about a very young boy living with his mother (Celia Johnson) in apost WWII London Jewish neighborhood. Judaism is not overt here, except for some characters’ accents. Plus the title seems be derived from the Passover song Chad Gadya.

2- I saw Le Courbeau years ago and remembered it fondly as a taut thriller that was at the same time an indictment of civil betrayal in Vichy France. This time around I found the plot confusing. Maybe I was tired when I watched it. Great, creepy atmosphere though.

3- I have been watching a lot of films by Satyajit Ray to celebrate that master’s 100th birthday on May 2, 2021. Three Daughters is one of his earliest efforts. The film is in serious need of restoration, as even the usually pristine Criterion Channel was very beat-up. It is an omnibus film created to celebrate the 100th of Rabindranath Tagore and it depicts three of his stories. Tagore is a wonderful writer and was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is legendary in India and should be legendary everywhere. He wrote the poem of the Indian national anthem. The three stories are not related in subject, character or genre. I am still not sure why it is called Three Daughters as there is not a father in sight.

Rabindranath Tagore

4- Regarding War and Peace, please see this post

5- I enjoyed A Brief History of Time , but I was disappointed because I still don’t understand the Theory of Relativity.

6- As part of my little Satyajit Ray festival, I re-watched his legendary Apu Trilogy, consisting of Pather Panchali (The Song of the Little Road), Aparajito (The Unvanquished) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu). It is astounding to realized that Pather Panchali was his first feature. The images are ravishing, the stories are heartbreaking, the tone is so sure. I found this time around that Pather Panchali was the most beautiful looking of the three, and that the trilogy grows in emotional power up until the heartbreaking yet heartwarming end of Apur Sansar. Maybe I need to write a post just about Ray. But don’t wait for me. Watch any of his films, NOW!

Apu as a child, teenager and young adult

7- It must have been exhausting to be Betty Hutton. She is one of those performers, like Robin Williams or Jonathan Winters, who are always coming at you full bore and they are going to entertain you whether you want to be entertained or not, damn it! Of all of her performances I have seen, her turn as Trudy Kockenlocker (really!) in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is the most reined in. Still, I got tired watching her. She even riled up poor Eddie Bracken. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is the screwballiest of Preston Sturges’ screwball comedies, and like so many of them, the logic and energy peter out before the film is actually finished. I’ll admit that I am not sure what is happening for the last half of the film, but that is OK. I was really in the mood for zany, and it more that satisfied in that regard. Plus Sturges stalward William Demarest is on hand being sublime, and there is a wonderfully hilarious turn by Diana Lynn as the 14-year-old voice of reason in this mad world. For the best depiction of a screwball universe, though, please see The Palm Beach Story.

Trudy Kockenlocker


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The Soviet War and Peace

The norm in discussing a film is to refer to it as the director’s film. Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance. Of course, this nomenclature is a product of the auteur theory of film criticism that has held sway for decades.

I am choosing not to refer to the topic at hand as Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace, for as much as he was at the helm of this mind-bogglingly enormous, multi-year production, it was the Soviet government that was the true auteur.

This is not to minimize what Bondarchuk did. Not only was he practically an army general directing forces never seen in a film before or since, but he cast himself as Pierre Bezukhov, one of the most familiar and beloved characters in Russian literature and often regarded as Tolstoy’s mouthpiece in the book.

There was a cold war on, and the Soviet Union wanted to show that they could make an epic bigger and better than anyone (read: The US) had made before. Cleopatra had been released a few years earlier. It was enormous, perhaps the most expensive film made in the US up until that point, and it was a critical and box office failure. The notoriety of the backstage shenanigans of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton raised expectations for the film, which ultimately disappointed. The Kremlin must have smelled blood in the water.

The Red Army was put at Bondarchuk’s command, to impersonate Napoleon’s Grand Army as well as the Russian Imperial forces. The Hermitage was opened for lavish ballroom scenes and priceless artifacts were taken from that legendary museum to be used as set decorations. Nothing was spared.

I saw the complete film over several weekends when I was a teenager. I had to cross Brooklyn to a neighborhood I didn’t know. I could have been going to Moscow for all I knew. The film was released in a much shorter version than is currently available and it was dubbed into English. I didn’t care. I was blown away. As a kid with cultural pretentions, I knew that a new film of War and Peace was something to take seriously. I remember being choked up at the end of the final part.

So how does it hold up today more than fifty years after it was released?

Well……it is very Soviet in many different ways. It is enormous and stunning visually, but often vulgarly ostentatious. It seems to be saying, “OK USA, let’s see you create a scene like Natasha’s first ball. The burning of Atlanta? Hah. Look at our battle of Borodino.

Borodino

In an oddly positive take on Soviet style, Bondarchuk often abandons naturalism and flings his camera all over the place, making one think of the Soviet experimental films of the 20s. It is something you don’t expect, and it is certainly nothing you would see in a classic Hollywood epic of the time. It did balance out the classic epicness of the work.

A few years before this film was made, there was a US production of War and Peace directed by King Vidor starring Henry Fonda as Pierre (what?), Mel Ferrer as Bolkonsky and Audrey Hepburn. As expected, the film was roundly denounce in the USSR, home of Tolstoy.

In the role of Natasha, Bondarchuk must have had Audrey Hepburn in mind when he cast Lyudmilla Saveleva. Like Hepburn, she was a former dancer with a gamine air. The problem with her performance is that it is too big. It struck me that she was acting in the way that she might have emoted Giselle. She doesn’t seem to be acting for the camera. She seems to be acting to the balconies of a theater.

Lyudmilla Saveleva

The Byronic, tragic Andrei Bolkonsky is played by Vyacheslav Tichonov. He is brooding enough, but also quite wooden. None of the soul-searching of the character comes through.

Vyacheslav Tichonov

So, I am really glad to have seen this again. It is unique in the annals of film and it is a monster to be reckoned with.

Go reckon.


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Casque d’Or (Jacques Becker)
  2. Scattered Clouds (Mikio Naruse)
  3. A New Leaf (Elaine May)
  4. The Elephant God (Satyajit Ray)
  5. The Fatal Glass of Beer (Clyde Bruckman)
  6. Memories of Underdevelopment (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
  7. Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau)
  8. Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky)
  9. The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (Roberto Rossellini)
  10. Panique (Julien Duvivier)

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1- Scattered Clouds is the last film by Mikio Naruse and I was happy to see that his genius was there until the end.  A wrenching character study of very star-crossed lovers (he accidentally kills her husband in a car accident and it goes downhill from there).  It might sound like a retread of Magnificent Obsession but there is nothing the least melodramatic.  A very sad film.

2- I always meant to catch up with A New LeafIt was always talked about as a comic masterpiece, so I was excited to sit down with it and have a good time. Alas, no.  This film is the least funny comedy I have ever seen.  Walter Matthau is a revolting presence in the best of circumstances, but he is terribly miscast as a spendthrift one-percenter who must marry money to avoid having to work, having squandered his fortune.  Elaine May is the pathetic object of his plan.  There is nothing endearing about either of them. The depiction of May’s character is particularly cruel. 

It commits the greatest a comedy can do. It is not funny at all

3- The Elephant God was another big disappointment.  I am used to being blown away but every Satyajit Ray film. No blowing away here.  It is a very curious film for this director. It is a genre film, a detective film.  I realize I never care for detective films (except for Maltese Falcon), because usually they are about solving a mystery and nothing else.  That is what happened here as well. It was fun to see scenes of Varanasi, but the camera work, with its awkward zoom-ins reminds us of the worst of Bollywood films.  So disappointing. The mystery wasn’t even that good. It is the second of two Ray films based on this character. I am not rushing to find the first one.  But you may like it.

4- The Fatal Glass of Beer – “I think I’ll go out and milk the elk.”

5- Memories of Underdevelopment  is another film I have had my eye on for a long time. I feared it would be interesting, but a slog to get through.  It is considered the greatest film to come out of Cuba and it deals with a disaffected bourgeois intellectual who decides to stay behind in Havana when all his family, including his wife, flee the Revolution for Miami.  It is very experimental and quite interesting in the way it presents the character and the post-revolution world.  I wonder how it got made.  I had the same problem with this film that I have with Madame Bovary. It is hard to spend a lot of mental effort on a character that you just don’t like, no matter artistically he or she is portrayed.

6- I am a much better film-watcher that I was 35 years ago when I first watched Solaris. Then, I could barely stay awake.  The Princh says that the occasional nap is part of the Tarkovsky experience.  She might be right. However, I was glad to see it again. I am happy to say that I think I got whatever was to be gotten.  I still question the intentional tedium of the film. I must say that I found it more engaging and provoking than 2001.  I know that is a heretical comment in certain circles.   Still it was a good watch this time around.  I found Stalker and The Sacrifice more satisfying. Maybe Tarkovsky was more engaged with those films. 

7- The Taking of Power by Louis XIV is the first of Rossellini’s historical films that I have seen (not sure if The Flowers of St. Francis counts).  Much criticism is leveled at the film calling it slow and stagey. I found that it was like a window opened onto a true historical happening. All MGM-type frippery was stripped from the character of the Sun King and what you get instead is a portrait of a very shrewd, capable and calculating young man shoring up his power at the beginning of his reign, much to everyone’s surprise. Think Prince Hal in the Henry IV plays.  Great fun and very educational. A lot is written how the master of Italian Neo-realism brought the technique to historical topics instead of gritty stories of ‘today’. Maybe.  I had a lot of fun.

8- Panique was a delight as well.  A French noir film based on one of Georges Simenon’s non-Maigret novels. At the center of the film is Michel Simon playing an enigmatic character who is both savvy and naïve.  Both traits doom him. I never got Simon before but now he is in my Pantheon of acting deities.

michel simon

 

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Inheritance (Masaki Kobayashi)
  2. Désiré (Sacha Guitry)
  3. To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett)
  4. Riot in Cell Block 11 (Don Siegel)
  5. Gohatto (Taboo) (Nagisa Oshima)
  6. The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino)
  7. Still Walking (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
  8. Mala Noche (Gus Van Sant)
  9. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford)
  10. Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki)

1- It has been fun and interesting to watch the lesser-known films of Masaki Kobayashi. The Inheritance is a twisty, nest-of-vipers story of a lot of very nasty people jockeying for the inheritance of a very nasty man. It was a lot of fun.

2- After watching so many ‘heavy’ films, it was almost therapeutic to watch Désiré by Sacha Guitry. Comedy of manners, light French sex-farce, whatever you call it, it was a welcome contrast to what I have been watching. This is the third film of his I have seen. Pure delight.

3- I had seen To Sleep with Anger when it first came out and really liked it a lot. I have hardly heard of it since then. Luckily, TCM showed it as part of its Black History month programming. It is a powerful, almost magical realism view of a community who have emigrated from the south to a middle-class neighborhood in Los Angeles, and what happens when Harry, a reminder of what they left behind, comes to stay and ultimately almost destroy their new, happy lives. I read it as the dangers of nostalgia for a past that was anything but the wonderful thing it is remembered as. In that respect, although it fits beautifully in the African-American narrative it works well with any ethnic group that has begun to intergrate into the larger culture. Is what was lost really that lamentable?

4- Riot in Cell Block 11 is a tight prison film that at 80 minutes really packs a punch. Super ambitious for its small budget, I was surprised to see how sensitive issues (gays in prison, mixing mental patients in with the general prison population, etc.) we dealt with. It was also refreshing to see the warden as the voice of reason and dignity for once. Don Siegel would go on to other tight movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

5- Gohatto is another film I saw at its debut and had not heard of since. It is a gorgeous looking film. The settings are often stylized in a Kabuki-like manner. The story tells of how the arrival of a beautiful young (16 year old!) boy at a Samurai school unsettles the population of macho warriors to the point of almost destroying it. Oshima is perhaps most famous for his sexually explicit In The Realm of the Senses, which was made almost 20 years before Gohatto.

6- There are certain acclaimed movies I just do not connect with. Fargo, Pulp Fiction, It’s A Wonderful Life, The English Patient, Breathless are some examples of this. Add The Great Beauty to this list. I know the fault lies with me. As readers of this blog know, I don’t hold much with awards for films, but The Great Beauty won the Palme d’Or at Canne, the best foreign film Oscar and just about any other major and minor award you can think of. I just don’t get it. It seems like a more lyrical rehash of Fellini’s 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita but the substance was elusive. Some of the imagery was lovely, but it all seemed pretty derivative and I would love someone to explain to me what the point of the whole exercise was. I compare the watching of this film to just barely missing your train and trying to catch up with if for 2 hours plus.

7- Still Walking, however, is a masterpiece. As I was watching it, I kept drawing parallels to Ozu’s Tokyo Story, not a bad thing for any film. It was interesting to watch the interview that Kore-eda has on the Criterion Channel about the making of the movie. He says that it is highly autobiographical. He was aware that people would speak of it as a modern-day Tokyo Story, but he felt that it had more in common with my other god of Japanese cinema, Mikio Naruse, also not a bad thing! It was interesting to me to see that the golden age of Japanese cinema (roughly from the end of WWII through the early 1960s) is still revered by young filmmakers of today, who are putting their own up-to-date spin on the classic family dramas. It is so refreshing to see a contemporary Japanese film with nary a Yakuza or anime cel in sight!

8- Mala Noche was Gus Van Sant’s first feature and it looks like what you would expect from a first feature. It is very seedy and jumpy, and although it is about sexual obsession (of course), there is nothing the least bit erotic about it.

9- Le Havre, on the other hand, was a delight. I had only ever seen The Match Factory Girl by Kaurismäki and that was an utter misery. This film has been referred to as a fairy-tale and I think that is appropriate. I never expected to be so uplifted as I was at the end of this movie! Such a pleasure.


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The Phantom Ladies over Paris are finally coming to Region 1!

If you are a friend of mine who has expressed any interest in film at all, I no doubt have gone on and on about the wonders of Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating. This magnificent creation is to film what Alice in Wonderland or Master and Margarita is to the novel.

I first heard about it in a tiny blurb in the Village Voice. Andrew Sarris referred to it as three and a half hours of unalloyed joy. “That’s for me!” I thought and I wound up going to see it at the 8th Street Cinema in Greenwich Village two nights in a row. I have pursued it like a big-game hunter ever since.

It was only ever available in Region 1 back in the days of VHS tapes. “Why”, I lamented “could I buy all the seasons of Friends on DVD but not one of the greatest, most joyful, eternally entertaining films of all times? (Not that I am saying there is anything wrong with Friends).

Well, I am happy to announce that on March 16th, Criterion will finally make it available. Go here: https://www.criterion.com/films/29639-c-line-and-julie-go-boating

If you don’t get your own copy, come to my place after you’ve had your Covid vaccinations and we can revel in it together.