- Sabotage (Alfred Hitchcock)
- The Importance of Being Earnest (Anthony Asquith)
- Room and a Half (Andrei Khrzhanovsky)
- Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman)
- I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock)
- Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan)
- The Navigator (Donald Crisp/Buster Keaton)
- It’s a Wonderful World (W.S. Van Dyke)
- Seven Days in May (John Frankenheimer)
- Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey)
1 – I am often more interested in cinematic technique, i.e., how the filmmaker conveys the plot than in the plot per se. I know Hitchcock felt the same way – see his concept of ‘MacGuffin’. But, with certain filmmakers you just can’t ignore content. The French critics considered Hitchcock the most personal of the personal auteurs. His fetishes and private fears appear all through his oeuvre. One of his great themes, and probably one of his great personal concerns, is the concept of guilt and sin. No one makes the audience feel more complicit in the actions of characters than Hitchcock. We assume their guilt. Remember the scene when Norman Bates is trying to sink the car containing the murdered Janet Leigh in a pond? It stops sinking midway and we all think ‘Oh no! Norman and his mother will be caught now!’ Then the car resumes its downward descent and disappears underwater and we are relieved. Then to our horror we realize ‘We were just rooting for a man abetting a murder committed by his mother!’ Later on, we find out there is much more to be horrified by. Sabotage is a film reeking with the notion of complicity and guilt and, perhaps, original sin. What is it that causes Sylvia Sidney to do what she does at the end? She achieves a makeshift absolution by the mechanics of the plot, but does she really? A terribly unsettling film in so many ways, and in many ways the first ‘Hitchcock film’.
2- I wonder why Room and a Half is not better known. Based on works of the poet Joseph Brodsky, this is a wonderfully inventive fantasy memoir about events that never happened. Apparently, Brodsky never went back to Russia, so this depiction of his reunion with his (possibly dead) parents is all the stuff of imagination. The combination of animation, raucous humor and the depiction of what it must have been like to be an intellectual in the latter days of the Soviet Union are entrancing. There are moments of great lyricism mixed in with great humor. I wish I knew more of his work, since I would probably understand more of the poetic tropes in the film For instance, his dead parents live on in two crows that come to the adult Brodsky. Is this part of his body of work?
This would have been a hit if we still lived in the days of the Art House movie theater.
3- All I can say is that I will be happy to watch Wild Strawberries every few months for the rest of my life.
4- I Confess is widely considered lesser Hitchcock. I had seen it decades ago and didn’t remember much about it. But having just watched Sabotage and The Lodger, I hoped that it would prove to be a pleasant surprise. It didn’t. I think the big flaw is having Montgomery Clift in the lead. He just seems to be in a different movie the whole time. I think that he was probably doing his Method actor thing, but Hitchcock’s plan did not catch what he was doing. Hence, he looks like he is just stumbling around Quebec. Anne Baxter seems very miscast as well. The plot has all the trapping of a classic Hitchcock film, but it never really gets off the ground. I think Hitchcock himself is dismissive of it and seems to blame Clift, too.
5- I am so glad that I finally made time to sit down and watch the complete, three-hour version of Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret. I always loved his You Can Count On Me, and was amazed to see that Margaret was only his second feature. It was plagued by creative and legal woes and never really had a theatrical run. It is pretty much forgotted but it is a work of profound genius and creativity. More to come on this one.
6- It’s hard to believe that I can actually say, ‘I haven’t seen that movie in over 35 years’, but such is the case with Seven Days In May. It really holds up as an exemplar of cold-war paranoia. It was directed by the master of screen paranoia, John Frankenheimer, who gave us such other delicious, cinematic nightmares as The Manchurian Canditate (yikes!) and Seconds, which has the most terrifying film of any film I have ever seen. OK, the Dutch version of The Vanishing has a worse ending, but Seconds is a very close second.