The Discreet Bourgeois

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

Look who we saw hanging out in Tokyo!

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb)
  2. Love Among The Ruins (Massimo Ali Mohammad)
  3. My Cousin Rachel (Roger Michell)
  4. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick)
  5. Mr. Thank You (Hiroshi Shimizu)
  6. The Ghost of Yotsuya (Nobuo Nakagawa)
  7. The Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton)
  8. Carnival Of Souls (Herk Hervey)
  9. The Leopard Man (Jacques Tourneur)
  10. The Ghost Ship (Mark Robson)

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1- Everyone told me that Jiro Dreams of Sushi was amazing. It just seemed like the typical hagiographic programs one sees about chefs. It was nice to see Tokyo scenes, though.

2- I love Tim Burton’s stuff.  On the very, very long flight to Tokyo I watched several movies and what a treat to see the delightfully creepy, slightly scary but ultimately sweet Nightmare Before Christmas. It helped me initiate this year’s round of horror film watching. I was thinking recently, that even though I am a great lover of musicals, film musicals always disappoint. Not this one!  Wonderful, weird Danny Elfman score.  Adorable trio of singing vampires.  Oogie Boogie.  What more could you want in a musical?

3- I thoroughly loved rewatching Mr. Thank You.  The glimpse into pre-WWII Japan always fascinates me.   Also, I am constantly amazed by the level of feminism in Japanese film. I will leave others to argue whether a feminist film can be made by a man.  The plight of the young girl travelling to Tokyo on Mr. Thank You’s bus, probably in order to be sold into prostitution, is heart-rending but drawn with great understatement.

4- With this year’s round of Halloween movies, I confirmed for myself that what I love more than anything in this genre is a gothic atmosphere accompanied by a romantic spookiness. Nothing delivers that better than the films of producer Val Lewton.  See my article Have You Tried Val Lewton?  

5- In a more gory, but still spooky vein, I was happy to revisit The Ghost of Yotsuya. One of the highlight’s of our trip to Japan  (and one of my main reasons for going in the first place) was a visit to the Grand Kabuki theater.  I did a lot of reading and viewing beforehand to prepare, especially watching NHK World’s Kabuki Kool every week.

So much of Japanese historical film is based on stories that first appeared as Noh and Bunraku puppet plays which then got adapted into more popular Kabuki pieces.  Considering Japan’s great tradition of ghost stories, it isn’t surprising that lots of Japanese films are based on these tales.  They can be haunting like Rashomon and Ugetsu, or scary/gruesome like The Ghost of Yotsuya. Both genres are tremendously satisfying.

 

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Bend Of The River (Anthony Mann)
  2. The Far Country (Anthony Mann)
  3. The Wizard of Lies (Barry Levinson)
  4. Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock)
  5. David and Lisa (Frank Perry)
  6. The Marrying Kind (George Cukor)
  7. The Shop Around The Corner (Ernst Lubitsch)
  8. Record of a Tenant Gentleman (Yasujiro Ozu)
  9. Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar)
  10. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children (Tim Burton)

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1- I am a great devotee of the Westerns of John Ford, as every think person should be.  Lately I have discovered his runner-up.  The Western of Anthony Mann are as morally interesting as the best of Ford.   His use of James Stewart is as satisfying and varied as Ford’s use of John Wayne.

2- I remember David and Lisa from my childhood days watching The Million Dollar Movie on WOR in New York.  That show would screen the same movie every night for a week, allowing nerds like me practically to memorize films that intrigued me.  I haven’t seen this film in over 40 years, but that repeated viewing helped me to remember it well.  What I remembered most was my feeling as a kid that this was an ‘adult’ movie. Not a risque movie, but a movie for which you would need an adult sensibility to properly appreciate.  I was wondering what passes for ‘adult’ now.  I couldn’t think of many examples.

3- I guess that Pedro Almodovar is the greatest genius making films today.  Julieta is so emotionally powerful, so cinematically interesting, so engaging.  I need to read the Alice Munro stories it is based on to see how he put his own mark on the work

4- Guilty Pleasure: the films of Tim Burton.  There is a great sweetness behind the jocular creepiness that really appeals to me. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children I found delightful.  I could have done without the extended CGI battle scene at the end, but I concede that such scenes are de rigeur nowadays.

5- I had always thought of Strangers On A Train as way up there in the Hitchcock pantheon.  But this time around, I was aware of how he kind of lost his grip on the whole project towards the end.  Don’t get me wrong. It is still amazingly good. Just not The Birds

6- I had heard that Record of a Tenant Gentleman was minor Ozu.  Bosh.  It is as subtle and affecting as anything in his oeuvre.

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Another Part Of The Forest (Michael Gordon)
  2. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (John Ford)
  3. Angst Essen Seele Aus (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  4. Night Nurse (William Wellman)
  5. Love is Colder Than Death (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  6. Fort Apache (John Ford)
  7. Conflagration (Enjo) (Kon Ichikawa)
  8. The Prowler (Joseph Losey)
  9. The Naked Spur (Anthony Mann)
  10. Stormy Weather (Andrew L. Stone)

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1) Another Part Of The Forest was a prequel that Lillian Hellman wrote to her more famous and much, much better play The Little Foxes. The play tries to be ‘How the Hubbards got that way’, but after a while you feel that Hellman is revisiting these characters with no real intent.  The film version is minor indeed compared to the towering Bette Davis film version of The Little Foxes.

Question: The title seems to come from stage directions in either A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It.  Beats me why. Anyone have any thoughts on that?

2) What fun to see Stormy Weather.  It’s not much more an excuse to showcase a ton of great black musical performers. The numbers are strung together with the flimsiest of plots, but you get to see Fats Waller doing his stride-piano thing, you get to see a mind-blowing routine by the Nicholas Brothers, you get to see the gorgeous Lena Horne sing the title song, among other treasures.  You get to see the star, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, without Shirley Temple.  There is a very curious vaudeville comedy routine where Robinson and his costar put on blackface.  Black artists in blackface flips the whole controversy of the performing style on its head.  Or does it?

3) It is very illuminating to watch a first work by a great director, and then a later work from the period where that artist hits his stride.  Love Is Colder Than Death is Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s first feature and for me it was longer than death.  It seemed completely derivative of the worst posturing of the French New Wave with its disaffected heros and treacherous amoral heroines. However, Angst Essen Seele Aus is a masterpiece.  Derivative also from the works of Douglas Sirk, the film uses its sources merely as a starting point.  It is beautifully moving and very much a Fassbinder film. I give the title in German since it is hard to give an accurate rendition in English. It conveys the broken German of the hero in his most poignant moment of the film: he tells his love how fear is consuming his soul.  It is a heartbreaking scene and transcendent in the way the best of Sirk is.

4) Will you just watch Night Nurse already?!? It is the best example I know of the loose moral universe that Pre-Code Hollywood showed so well. It is scary and funny and sexy.  Clark Gable (without the moustache) is truly a monster.  Barbara Stanwyck is glorious as always.  Joan Blondell is on hand to provide the olive in this perfect gin-heavy martini.

5) Stay tuned for an upcoming post where I cogitate over the conflicting world views of the Western (including Fort ApacheThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Naked Spur) and Film Noir.

 

 

 


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The King of the Monsters

 

I never really got the idea of ‘camp’.  Watching something that you know is ‘bad’ in order to get pleasure out of reveling in its badness seems smug to me. The classic Japanese monster movies (Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, etc.), were obviously low-quality. Surely no one was watching them for any other reason than the camp pleasure. The special effects looked cheap, even by the standards of 1950s sci-fi.  But when I was younger I loved watching these movies even though I thought I knew how bad they were supposed to be.  But my nascent camp posture was always circumvented by pure enjoyment.  So, when TCM  showed Godzilla (Gojira or ゴジラ in the original Japanese) I thought I would give it fifteen minutes of my time to see if I could relive some of that pleasure I once got.  I was surprised at what I found.

Knowing more about history now than I did then, the whole thing seemed like a complicated riff on WWII, the Bomb and both Japan’s and America’s roles in the conflict.

And this is not a stretch to make this thesis fit the film.  When you see Godzilla trampling through Tokyo, it is impossible not to imagine the Allied destruction of the city. The black and white photography of destruction and chaos look like WWII newsreels.

Remember, this film came out less than 10 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which ended the war in the Pacific. The traumas of that time were undoubtedly still fresh in the minds of the Japanese.  The economic rebound was still not in full swing. Many parts of the country were still devastated. The emotional impact of these scenes must have been profound.

 

Along with his expert trampling, Godzilla also destroys the city with his breath of fire. No doubt this was a traumatic memory for the original audience, most of whom had seen the city completely destroyed by fire bombing.

The attempts of the Japanese military to destroy the monster have clear echoes of the Kamikaze pilots.

The ‘oxygen destroy’ that is used to end the monster’s terrifying rampage sounds very much like splitting the atom, that the process sounds like the Hail Mary pass that the Atom Bombs were to bring the war to an end.

The argument for ‘oxygen destroyer’ similar to is very similar to the rational for the Manhattan Project : pure science drives the research for and creation of the bomb, even though all the scientists must have been aware of its destructive potential. Serizawa is ultimately more noble than the Americans since he realizes that it must be used, but he destroys all the plans and himself to ensure that it will never be used again.  Is this a casual (or not so casual) indictment of the U.S’s continued advancement of nuclear arms?

There are other more thoughtful Japanese films centered on the dropping of the Bombs and its aftermath.  Akira Kurosawa’s I Live In Fear from 1955 depicts a businessman who slowly drives himself insane with his obsession of protecting his family from what he believes is an inevitable second nuclear attack.  Shohei Imamura’s Black Rain (1989) is a harrowing depiction of the delayed effects of the bombs.  Both of these films are richer and more nuanced than Gojira, but for pure visceral trauma, The King of the Monsters still has it, tacky rubber suit or no tacky rubber suit.


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Cabinet of Dr. Calegari (Robert Wiene)
  2. Nashville (Robert Altman)
  3. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles)
  4. La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
  5. The Best Worst Thing That Ever Happened (Lonny Price)
  6. Mifune: The Last Samurai (Steven Okazaki)
  7. The 400 Blows (François Truffaut)
  8. La Regle du Jeu (Jean Renoir)
  9. Crimson Peak (Guillermo Del Toro)
  10. Gojira (Godzilla) (Ishiro Honda)

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1- Director Amy Heckerling was the Guest Programmer on TCM this month, and one of her picks was The Cabinet of Dr. Calegari. While introducing it, she said one of the funniest things I’ve heard in a long time: ‘It seems there was a shortage of right angles in Germany after World War I.’  I now officially love this woman.

2- It is interesting to have seen Nashville and La La Land so close together.  Nashville is certainly not a musical in the general sense, but it is emblematic of how songs arise in movies since the end of the great era of musicals (roughly 1932 through 1965).  These songs are performances of the characters.  Some are deliciously terrible and some are very moving.  But in no case, does a character break into song in a dramatic situation, with a song which highlights his or her emotion.  That was the trope of the classic age of musicals.  The plot would hit a dramatic point (or a comic point) and suddenly the character or characters would be singing, as if the music could elevate the dialogue to a level that mere speaking couldn’t.   La La Land is a throwback to this style of song.  Much has been said about how the success of this film will usher in a flood of such musicals. I am dubious.  It has been too long since this sort of musical was common fare.  Audiences are too used to either the way Nashville introduces songs or they are used to the Cabaret style where the songs are isolated moments which are outside of the narrative reality of the film – often the depiction of a performance.  I hope that someone talented enough to be able to convince modern audiences that burst-into-song musicals are not ridiculous, but we’ll see……

3- The more I see of the French New Wave, the more I love Ingmar Bergman.  I don’t have much use for this exuberant, youth-oriented genre.  I find it very sloppy and tiresome.  It does not age well. I always had it in my mind that The 400 Blows was an exception.  I just found it tedious to get through, although Antoine Doinel is fun to spend time with.

4- Crimson Peak is a terrible movie that, as you are watching it, you think is a great movie. It has fantastic production values, super actors and a somewhat intriguing script….at least in the beginning. It soon peters out.  I felt the same way about Pan’s Labyrinth.  Heresy, I know

5- Look for a post about Gojira shortly

6- I guess it is still problematic to revere a pantheon of great films, but it is my experience that there are films that on repeated viewing become even more dazzling.  Surely this is a mark of greatness.   La Regle du Jeu and The Magnificent Ambersons are so stuffed with genius that I watch them drop-jawed