- Butterfly (José Luis Cuerda)
- The Story of Floating Weeds (Yasujiro Ozu)
- The Last King Of Scotland (Kevin MacDonald)
- The Postman Always Rings Twice (Tay Garnett)
- Solas (Benito Zambrano)
- Wife (Mikio Naruse)
- Miracles for Sale (Tod Browning)
- Tokyo Twilight (Yasujiro Ozu)
- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (John Ford)
- I Lived But …….. (Kazuo Inoue)
1- I have been lucky enough to have access to the library at the Instituto Cervantes. Lots of films that have not been released or have only had limited release in Chicago are available there on DVD. Butterfly is a lovely, sad film about the beginning of the Spanish Civil War seen through the eyes of a young boy. This is no Spirit of the Beehive, nor is it intended to be. It is a straight-forward, somewhat sentimental film but hits all the right notes showing both the innocence and complicity of children in the adult world which they do not quite understand. Solas is another case entirely. Relentlessly bleak and not very well done.
2-I have seen both the silent and sound versions of Yasujiro Ozu’s Floating Weeds and I love them both. I think the silent version might edge out the sound version because the actors are so appealing, but both films are wonderful. If you are interest in watching silent films but have some trepidation, this might be a good place to start.
3- With all the noise about the inequalities of the Oscar nominations this year, I had to laugh to myself as I watched The Last King of Scotland. This is one of the few films for which an African-American won a top acting honor. What is so funny to me is that even though the film seems to be about one of the most evil and titanic figures of the 20th Century, Idi Amin, it spends way more time on the story of a complete unlikeable (and pretty fictitious) young Scottish doctor who becomes Amin’s personal assistant. This is a terrible movie and offensive on so many levels. Do we really need a white entrée into the story of this crazed mass murderer? Would the film otherwise not have been made (which would not have been a totally bad thing!) The script writers even pimp out the story of the tragic raid on Entebbe to get this completely unappealing young Scot out of the downward-spiraling Uganda. Yes, Forrest Whitaker was great and he did get the Best Actor award, but so what? Looking to the commercially interested Academy Awards to be an exemplar of the melting pot of America seems misguided to me. It is all about money, mostly, and about what sells to the widest audience. This is bad news for women and people of color in the industry. But throwing around token awards won’t really change the structure of this very venial industry. All awards, even the Nobel, are self-serving. We need to realize that. Boycotts of studios that egregiously ignore minorities (which is probably all of them!) might be in order. Lamenting about the whiteness of the Oscars seems like misdirected energy.
4- I have been trying to get through The Postman Always Rings Twice for years. I always would break down around the half-hour mark. I find film noir pretty unappealing, so I was entering into the exercise with a strike against it. But this film is so bad, the script is so clichéd, the story telling so clumsy, that I could barely get through it this time, as well. But I stuck to it, mostly telling myself ‘At least stay until you find out what that title means’. Man, Lana Turner was a terrible actress and with the remove of time, it is hard for me to understand what the cachet was of having her star in a film. She was huge, but she was terrible. John Garfield seems to be Method acting the role within an inch of its life. Glad I finally got through it. Please don’t make me watch it again.
5- Tokyo Twilight is atypical Ozu. The emotions are rawer. The incidents, including a visit to an abortion clinic (!), are more explicitly shown that usual. We even have Setsuko Hara breaking down into tears – something that really caught me off-guard. A powerful film, but the overtness of it prevented it from being one of those transcendent Ozu experiences.
6- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Ah! One of John Ford’s final masterpieces, it is smaller than films like The Searchers or Fort Apache. Like Psycho, this film has a early 60s TV feel. But don’t be fooled. This is High Art. It is a meditation on the cost of ‘civilizing’ the wilderness. Lee Marvin is the destructive, lawless id of the Old West. Jimmy Stewart is the countervailing force of healthy society, law and order from the East. Since we know history, there is little doubt as to which side will win. But for civilization to take root, it needs the tainted help of the character played in a typically magnificent performance by John Wayne. With a foot in both worlds, he helps law and order gain a foothold. But, it comes with the price of irrelevance for himself. His acceptance of his own obsolescence is beautiful.
7- Thank you, Turner Classic Movies for giving me the chance to see otherwise unavailable films by Mikio Naruse. Wife is a beautifully modulated film about a disintegrating marriage. All plot conventions are subverted. Your sympathy, which starts with the wife, slowly shifts when you realize how awful she really is. A very brave performance by Mikio Takamine and a lovely, sad performance by the always appealing Ken Uehara.
8- I Lived But… is a very useful documentary made in the 80s about the life and work of Yasujiro Ozu. It comes as part of the Criterion Collection’s Tokyo Story box. Excellent interviews with actors and crew who worked with him. Great insight into what made this master one of the supreme geniuses.