The Discreet Bourgeois

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


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R.I.P. Jacques Rivette

Celine and Julie Go Boating

In 1978, thanks to an effusive blurb by Andrew Sarris in the Village Voice, I went to see Celine and Julie Go Boating at the 8th St. Playhouse in Greenwich Village and my life changed forever.

I have never successfully penetrated any other of his works, but the mark that Celine and Julie Go Boating left on me was profound and joyous.  No other film has had that effect on me. The rapture of watching this movie only increases over the years.  It is only comparable to my return visits to Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, both of which influenced Rivette’s masterpiece.

Thank you, M. Rivette.

N.Y. Times Obituary

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. I Know Where I’m Going (Powell/Pressburger)
  2. Two Weeks in Another Town (Vincente Minnelli)
  3. The Girl of Your Dreams (Fernando Trueba)
  4. The Son of the Bride (Juan José Campanella)
  5. La Pointe Courte (Agnès Varda)
  6. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)
  7. Ran (Akira Kurosawa)
  8. Alice In Wonderland  (Norman Z. McLeod)
  9. All Women Are Bad (William K. Howard)
  10. The Bad and the Beautiful (Vincente Minnelli)

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1- I Know Where I’m Going was the perfect New Year’s Eve viewing.  Possibly the most romantic film I know.  The erotic charge between Wendy Hiller and Roger Livesay is  subtle but powerful.  The colorful characters and the dreamy Scottish setting make this a constant pleasure.  And oh the sight of Wendy Hiller marching to the tower with the band of pipers! Sigh.

2- It was interesting to watch Two Weeks in Another Town just before seeing The Bad and the Beautiful. They have so much in common: both about film-making, both directed by Vincente Minnelli, both starring Kirk Douglas in various stages of washed-uppedness. There is even a clip from The Bad and the Beautiful in Two Weeks in Another Town which causes the protagonists to wax nostalgic about the great work they once did.  Quite metatextual for a Hollywood film of the Fifties.  There is no question that The Bad and the Beautiful is the greater film. The narrative is quite sophisticated, told through interlocking flashbacks. The extraordinary performances, even by the usually awful Lana Turner and Walter Pidgeon, show a product of the Hollywood studio system which is firing on all cylinders.  The closing scene is a masterpiece of lighting and understated direction.  Lana Turner, the star, Dick Powell, the screen writer and Barry Sullivan, the director have all walked out defiantly from the producer Walter Pidgeon’s office.  At the start of the film he had summoned them all to his office because he was expecting a call from Kirk Douglas, trying to convince them all to be involved in his next movie, a movie which would guarantee his comeback.  The body of the whole film explains to us why the three now despise him.  When the call comes through, they walk out saying they will have no part of it.  Pidgeon gets Douglas to give the pitch on the phone while the three are leaving.  In the hallway, the three are in darkness.  Turner sees an extension phone on a desk and quietly lifts it, to hear the pitch.  The light on her gets brighter.  Then Barry Sullivan enters the light and we see him listening to the call and expressing interest.  Then Dick Powell.  The three don’t say a word.  By the time ‘The End’ shows up on the screen, we now the film will be made.  It is kind of astounding.

3- Calvary is the epitome of the kind of cinema (and art in general) that I despise. Nihilistic in the extreme, this story of a priest who receives a murder threat in the confessional at the beginning of the movie, and spends the rest of the time getting ready for his ‘Calvary’.  Along the way, we get a depiction of a depraved, hateful, hopeless world.  The final murder (believe me, I am doing you a favor by ‘spoiling’ the end) is so violent and graphic as to be repulsive.  The problem is that this posture of martyrdom in the face of so much evil seems to be a well-worn Christian trope.  I don’t buy it.  It is too easy and martyrdom for martyrdom’s sake doesn’t wash for me.   I hated this film.  Nihilism, just like dystopic worlds,  seems to be popular lately.   It is just lazy storytelling and sluggish character development to me.

4- I’m glad I finally caught up with La Pointe Courte. This is one is one of the million films that is credited as being the beginning of the nouvelle vague. I’m not really sure what the beginning of the nouvelle vague would look like, but I don’t think it would look like this. Apparently, this started out as a favor Varda did for a dying friend.  The friend wanted to see his home again but couldn’t make the trip.  Varda went down to film it and wound up making this odd film.  It is in two interleaved parts.   The one part is a Pagnolesque low comedy of local fishermen trying to skirt the authorities who have forbidden then to fish in certain waters.  The other part follows a couple who have come to the town from Paris to discuss the future of their relationship.  This being a French film from the Fifties, they talk and talk and talk.  It is all very stylized, with the couple being filmed in odd poses that would make one think Varda was parodying Persona or Last Year in Marienbad, except that neither had been made yet.  I actually found the thing delightful,  even despite the garrulous lovers.

 


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Have You Tried Mikio Naruse?

Mikio Naruse

To celebrate the Akira Kurosawa centennial in 2010, TCM showed almost all of his films.  This appealed mightily to my completist personality, so I taped and watched them all.  I had previously seen some of his famous jidaigeki (historical) films such as Rashomon, Throne of Blood and Seven Samurai, but I had never seen any of his gendaigeki (contemporary) films. Stray Dog, Ikiru and especially High and Low were revelations.

I loaded up my Netflix queue with the Kurosawas that TCM did not show, and in the process became a full-fledged Japanese film obsessive.  I was familiar with Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi films, so I followed up my Kurosawa study with as many of their films as I could find.  Whenever I would add a film by one of these masters to my queue, Netflix would make its inevitable ‘If you liked {fill in film name}, why not try ……..’  The film that kept popping up as a suggestion was When A Woman Ascends The Stairs by Mikio Naruse, a director then unknown to me.  The title sounded ghastly so I kept putting it off until it arrived one day in a wonderful Criterion edition.  I watched it and was astounded.  In fact, I watched it twice in a row, the second time with Donald Richie commentary.

When A Woman Ascends The Stairs tells the story of a ‘mama’ or manager of a nightclub in the Ginza district of Tokyo. The main character, Keiko is relatively young, but is beginning to realize that her days in this profession might be numbered.  We watch her work to find financial and emotional security, before the inevitable day that she is ‘too old’.   This film was my introduction to the luminous Hideko Takamine, who is Naruse’s muse the way Setsuko Hara and Kinuyo Tanaka fill that role for Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi, respectively.

hideko takamine

The film combined the restrained sense of Ozu and the feminist sensibility of Mizoguchi and the grittiness of Kurosawa’s gendaideki films, but it was something else again.  After watching it several more times, I was hungry to see as much Naruse as I could.  I was stymied because all that was available in Region 1 format besides When A Woman Ascends The Stairs were Silent Naruse, which I devoured immediately.

The trail for more Naruse went cold until, miraculously, the University of Chicago’s Doc Films had an 11-week series spotlighting the collaboration of Naruse and Takamine.  I was in heaven. Every week was a revelation.  I was amazed and frustrated that such wonderful films were unavailable to the  general public (at least, unavailable to the general public in Region 1!).

Please don’t be annoyed if I recommend a few of these hard-to-see films.  I do have copies of all of them, so you are more than welcome to stop by my place and watch them with me.

1- Lightning (Inazuma)  – 1952

Inazuma

Based on a novel by Fumiko Hayashi, an author that Naruse often turned to, Lightning tells the story of how Kiyoko (Hideko Takamine) subtly but definitively extricates herself from her highly dysfunctional family and finds an idyllic life on her own. The move from her crazy family’s home to an almost magical apartment of her own, next-door to an angelic brother and sister, is depicted so richly.  I love this film

2- Flowing (Nagareru) – 1956

flowing

Takamine plays the daughter of the owner of geisha house that is slowly going out of business.  The mother is played by legendary Isuzu Yamada, best known as the terrifying Lady Macbeth equivalent in Throne of Blood. Kinuyo Tanaka is also on hand to provide a Greek chorus for the action.

The unwillingness of the mother and her geisha to come to terms with the fact that the house’s days are numbered, makes for an experience as wrenching as Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard.  A moving film.  Takamine has more of a secondary role here.  The film belongs to Yamada.

3- Daughters, Wives and a Mother (Musume, Tsuma, Haha) – 1960.

This film came out the same year as When A Woman Ascends The Stairs. It is similar in richness and it is in color. The film shows the slow dissolution of a once prosperous family through the negligence and selfishness of the children. The end is heartbreaking. Ozu’s muse Setsuko Hara plays an atypically passive character and Takamine has a small role as a daughter-in-law.  There is one particularly funny scene that comes at the most emotional part of the film.  It involves eating crackers.  That’s all I’m going to say.

So,  please try Naruse.  Some of the other films might be hard to track down but you have no excuse not to see (and love) When A Woman Ascends The Stairs.