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 Film I’ve Seen

  1. The Bakery Girl of Monceau (Eric Rohmer)
  2. The Color of Pomegranate (Sergei Paradjanov)
  3. Carmen Comes Home (Keisuke Kinoshita)
  4. Tampopo (Juzo Itami)
  5. The Sacrifice (Andrei Tarkovsky)
  6. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
  7. La Captive (Chantal Akerman)
  8. Toni (Jean Renoir)
  9. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky)
  10. The Small Back Room (Powell/Pressburger)

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I continue my feast with the incredible Criterion Channel. So much cinematic catching-up! Loving it.

1- The Bakery Girl of Monceau is a breezy (a la Nouvelle Vague) short which is the first of Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales. Slight, kind of sexist but fun to watch. It begs the question that if the writers and director show the protagonist as awful to women does that endorse the behavior or hold it up for criticism. I think, in this film at least, the later.

2- One of the great features of the Criterion Channel is that you often have the choice of watching the films with or without commentary. I have seen The Color Of Pomegranates many times and have loved it each time, but I would be hard pressed to tell you what was going on. Watching it with the commentary shed a light on all the Armenian symbolism which I would never have understood. Also, Paradjanov’s oblique way of introducing elements from the life of the protagonist Sayat Nova is beautifully explained. Do you need all this to enjoy the film? No, it is always stunningly beautiful and loopy. But I feel like all these years, I have only appreciated 10% of its greatness.

3- After examining the masterpieces of Japanese movies all these years, it was fun to catch up with lighter fare. Carmen Comes Home was always on my radar because it stars the amazing Hideko Takemine and it is the first color film made in Japan. It is also incredibly dopey. Fun enough for 80 minutes, though. Tampopo is also lighter than the great works I have been studying all these years, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and perhaps even loved it. What appealed to me was that though this film is ostensibly about making the perfect bowl of ramen, it borrows all kinds of tropes from American Westerns and Japanese Samurai films to adorable effect. The genre bending is great fun. At the time it was referred to as a ramen Western. Very apt.

4- Tarkovsky has always been a forbidding experience for me. I loved Andrei Rublev when I saw it in the theater years ago. But subsequent viewings of his films have been daunting experiences. The early Steamroller and the Violin and Ivan’s Childhood I found to be accessible and thrilling. Solaris and The Mirror shut me out completely. But that was years ago, before I had been exposed to all kinds of demanding films. I figured, ‘It’s now or never for Tarkovsky”. Having access to the Criterion Channel gave me no excuse. So, I buckled down and watched two of his films that are supposed to be among his most ‘difficult’: Stalker and his last film The Sacrifice. The Sacrifice affected me much more than Stalker, but I must say that I found both less daunting than I had been led to believe. Could it be that The Sacrifice felt more comfortable to me because of the heavy Ingmar Bergman connection and I am so familiar with Bergman? Erland Josephson starred, the cinematography was by legendary Sven Nyquist, it was shot on a Swedish island and most of the dialogue was in Swedish (although it did look like some of the actors were speaking English and were post-dubbed). I have read that Tarkovsky revered both Bergman and Bresson, but ultimately this is far from a Bergman wannabe the way that the ghastly Interiors is. Like Bresson, it wrestles with ethical and religious questions in a way that is more comforting that Bergman’s approach.

Stalker seems to be a spiritual riff on sci-fi, but I am sure it is more than that. Just how much more I will try to figure out in a subsequent viewing. Yes, I am over my Tarkovskyphobia. Subsequent viewings are in my future.

Something that struck me this time: I never felt bored at any point even during long portions of the film when the camera seems to be looking at nothing. ‘Seems’ is the operative word in this sentence. The camera is rarely still. In scenes when it seems to be focused on an object or a person, it is almost imperceptibly zooming in on that object at a snail’s pace. The effect is astounding. It is almost dizzying in its slowness. It is what keeps you engaged. By contrast, Paradjanov’s tableaux are shot by an inert camera. You are engaged by the riot of visual detail in each frame. Here the emptiness comes alive by the imperceptible movement of the camera.

5- I don’t like the idea of a generational divide. I think it is a lazy way of analyzing differences between people. The majority of my friends are at least a decade younger than me and the friendships are not effected. I am prepared to concede I might be too simplistic about this after watching France Ha soon after Marriage Story. Both films seem to be speaking in a generational voice that I don’t get. Or better put: I might get but I find irrelevant to my life. I wonder if people in their 30s find the the characters in both of these films shallow and solipsistic the way I did. I would love to hear opinions on this. But still: Greta Gerwig, who wrote and starred in Frances Ha, is a tremendous talent at the beginning of what I hope is a great string of creativity. I’m not so sure about Noah Baumbach.

6- Another benefit of the Criterion Channel is access to the films of Chantal Akerman. La Captive is a very loose adaptation of the fifth volume of A la recherche du temps perdu. As such, it is not for everyone. Even though the story is radically changed the central theme, the narrator’s bizarre imprisonment and paranoia about his ‘love’, is very much intact. In fact, I think that this film treatment presents it in a better way than a more ‘faithful’ adaptation would have. If you haven’t read the book, I don’t recommend the film at all. If you have, I would love to hear if you agree that it is a wonderful elucidation of that very strange relationship.

7- With Toni I continued my exploration of all the films of Jean Renoir. This was shot in Provence, under the auspices of Marcel Pagnol’s film company. I had to keep reminding myself that it was not a Pagnol film. It is a fairly brutal story of international immigrants flocking to Provence in the early 30s due to the economic boom happening there. Of course there is infidelity and murder.

8- I had never heard of The Small Back Room. This was surprising because the films of Powell and Pressburger are so well-known and I love many of them. This one is in black and white and made shortly after the Technicolor hallucination of The Red Shoes. It felt like I was in the world of Grahame Green, with an afflicted, self-loathing hero. For me this is a very good thing. Lots of Powell/Pressburger regulars are on hand. Particularly impressive is Kathleen Byron, so memorable as the sex-crazed Sister Ruth of Black Narcissus, here playing the kind of heroic partner we all would want in a time of personal crisis.

Sister Ruth

Small Back Room

Lots of echoes of Spellbound and German Expressionism, with a terrifically nutty dream sequencing with our alcoholic hero being tortured by a demonic whiskey bottle.


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

If the movies I have binged since I subscribed to the Criterion Channel were filled with carbohydrates, you should worry about my waistline. Luckily they are feeding my mind and heart and not my body.

  1. Judex (Georges Franju)
  2. The Five Pennies (Melville Shavelson)
  3. Blood of the Beasts (George’s Franju)
  4. Intimate Lighting (Ivan Passer)
  5. Donkey Skin (Jacques Demy)
  6. The Limey (Steven Soderbergh)
  7. Senso (Luchino Visconti)
  8. House (Nobuhiko Obayashi)
  9. Naked (Mike Leigh)
  10. Devi (Satyajit Ray)

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1- I avoided Judex because I thought it would be a glitzy remake of the 1910s serial film by Louis Feuillade. I have only seen Feuillade’s Les Vampires but that impressed me as being so much of its time that I bypassed the Franju remake of Judex, another of Feuillade’s multipart sensationalist series. I was wrong. The Franju is delightful and is very much in keeping with the time and spirit of Feuillade and, this is the best part, without a tinge of irony or camp. The ludicrous plot twists are there, but presented with such sincerity that you don’t wince at all.

2- One of the beauties of the Criterion Channel is that you can look at films in collections. After watching Judex,I looked at his other films, I realized that I had never seen Franju’s Blood of the Beasts. It is a 25 minute documentary short contrasting the dreamy, romantic river landscapes outside of Paris, with a graphic and brutal depiction of the daily work in the areas abbattoirs. I am pretty sure that the contrast is not meant ironically, which makes me admire this grisly little film even more.

3- When I was young, like 8 or 9, I went to day camp during the summer. One year they showed us The Five Pennies, a biopic about Red Nichols, legendary cornet player from the early jazz age. I remember that we were all crazy for it, often saying it was our favorite film ever. I caught up with it again after 50 years or so. I wonder what it was we were all seeing back in day camp. It was a kind of dull biopic with no great musical numbers. The story is kind of a downer (Nichol’s daughter contracts polio, thus stopping his music career for a spell). You do get to see some wonderful cameos with Louis Armstrong, but I don’t think we would have appreciated that at the time. We always say that we change in relation to the art we love, in this case film. I am convinced that someone did something to The Five Pennies since I saw it all those decades ago. It just can’t be the same movie.

4- Intimate Lighting is a perfect example of the whimsical, delicate comedies from Czechoslovakia. Like Lady Bracknell says about ignorance, whimsy is a delicate exotic fruit. Touch it and it is destroyed. I must have touched Intimate Lighting while I was watching it. It just evanesced in front of me!

5- I though Donkey Skin was being a late 60s/early 70s Technicolor hip film of a fairy tale, and therefore not really appealing to me. I was kind of right. But I have to say I enjoyed it. There is the weird incestuous relationship between Catherine Deneuve and her father, Jean Marais, that no one seems to be particularly fazed by. There are amazing, overwrought costumes and sets. There is the liberal homage (ripping off?) of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. But still, I rather enjoyed it. It is wonderful to see Delphine Seyrig in anything, but it is really wonderful to see here as the helicopter-flying Lilac Fairy. ‘Nuff said.

6- I will see anything Steven Soderbergh. Such a mastery of film direction, such an imagination. His films are so varied and so satisfying. The Limey seems to me like a ‘can we do this?’ kind of film. Fractured narrative, overlapping dialogue from different scenes, archival footage of the beautiful Terence Stamp from his days as a 60s heartthrob compared to his more weathered contemporary self. I was engaged the whole time. It is like a good crossword puzzle. Fun while it lasts, but you wouldn’t go back and do it again. I would go back and see his Contagion or Side Effects in a second, though.

7- I am a huge opera lover. Perhaps even more than I am a film lover. But I am not carried away by ‘operatic’ films. I am not talking about film versions of opera, like Bergman’s The Magic Flute, but narrative films that present themselves in an operatic fashion, i.e. overwrought emotion, sumptuous sets, beautiful actors. Senso is such a film. Everything else I have seen by Visconti seems to be in this style. I enjoyed watching it. The film was engaging. Alida Valli chews up more scenery than Maria Callas ever did. Farley Granger looks appropriately dreamy. But when it was over, I felt like I overate.

8- As readers of the blog know, I am crazy for Japanese film. I have mostly confined my viewing to the golden age 1930 – 1960. In the spirit of being a completist I have ventured into later works with varying levels of enjoyment. But House! What can one say about House? A Japanese fever dream of a slasher film where 7 extremely grating kawai types are brutally and graphically mutilated in what seems to be intend as comic fashion. I think? It is the weirdest thing I have ever seen, without being the least bit engaging. Approach at your own risk.

But seriously, to hear the commentators talk about it on the extras included on the Criterion Channel, House is the most innovative and influential film since Citizen Kane. I am willing to listen if anyone wants to make that case.

9- Mike Leigh, I love you. I worship your mastery. I love your humanity. Naked was his breakout film. It won big prizes at Cannes the year it came out for Leigh and his amazing star, David Thewlis. It has all the hallmarks of Leigh’s best stuff: amazing performances, fascinating dialogue, deliberate pacing. But it is a brutal watch. Not for the faint of heart or the spiritually insecure. Mike Leigh, I love you.

10- Satyajit Ray is another master that I revere. Every film of his is perfectly crafted, emotionally powerful, often heart-breaking but always life-affirming, even when everything falls apart. I had seen Devi many years ago and loved it then and still love it now. Unfortunately the print on the Criterion Channel is not pristine at all. And that tells me that this is probably the best print that exists. Never mind. Watch it. At 90 minutes it makes you ruminate on the big issues: the validity and danger of religion, the validity and danger of filial piety, religion as a tool in class division. Magnificent. But I could say this about any film by Satyajit Ray.


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Elena and the Men (Jean Renoir)
  2. Zéro de Conduite (Jean Vigo)
  3. Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas)
  4. The Holy Man (Satyajit Ray)
  5. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong  Weerasethak)
  6. Of Time and the City (Terence Davies)
  7. My Dinner with Andre (Louis Malle)
  8. David Holzman’s Diary (Jim McBride)
  9. Celine and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette)
  10. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Karel Zeman)

I recently subscribed to the Criterion Channel and I cannot believe what an incredible streaming service it is. I have watched 13 movies in 5 days and am ready for more!

1- I have watched all three of Jean Renoir’s ‘trilogy’ including The Golden Coach, French Can-Can and now Elena and The Men. I find them all quite amateurish and dull.  This is especially in light of having just rewatched the earth-shattering Rules of the Game.  Is this like Citizen Kanethe one work of genius in a director’s oeuvre? Although hearing Ingrid Bergman speak French for an entire film was entertaining

2- Clouds of Sils Maria is a film that I have been wanting to see for a while and having the Criterion Channel made it possible.  A beautiful and mysterious film. The performances are magnificent especially Kristen Stewart.  I had tucked away in my head a snippet from a review which said that it was a riff on All About Eve and I spent the first half-hour waiting for that to come to light. This turns out not to be the case at all.  It is an examination of how a work of art changes as we change. In this case, an actress who became famous creating the younger of two lead roles in a now-famous play  20 years before, is approached to play the older lead. Her view of the play is in fascinating contrast to the new actress who is taking the role she originally created.  Heady stuff and very moving.

3- I loved the magic realism Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Apparently the director is very influenced by the culture and religion of the area near the border of Laos where much of the film was shot. The depictions of life after death, or death in life, (or perhaps reincarnation) were moving and very puzzling to me.  I wish I knew more about it. The film is stunning to look at.  I love the monkey ghosts.  I need to watch this again very soon.

4- Watching My Dinner with Andre and David Holzman’s Diary was a little too much New York for me.  The 1967 New York of the latter film was something I lived through.  Grimy, bleak, dangerous…all these feeling came back and made it hard to concentrate on what this very clever and witty meta-fictional film was doing.  I think I got it but I don’t want to go back to find out for sure.

 5- I know that I will love any film that I watch by Satyajit Ray.  The Holy
Man is more of a divertissement compared to his other more profound film, but I found it delightful and very funny.  Thank you Criterion.

6- I wonder if someone of my age who grew up in Liverpool would have had the same reaction to Of Time and the City that I had watching David Holzman’s Diary. I would think not, because Terence Davies is a certifiable poet and the grime of the past in his film is so rich and emotional.  Also, the Davies film is a memory piece where as the McBride is more cinema-verite, albeit a funny send-up.

 If you haven’t seen anything by Terence Davies, this might not be the place to start. I heartily suggest the magnificent The Long Day Closes.  

7- I spent a lot of my birthday watching Celine and Julie Go Boating. I had a very happy birthday.

8- This post seems to be a lot about memory and The Fabulous Baron Munchause was something I am sure I had seen on local New York
television when I was seven or eight. OP The combination of cut-out and live action had a madeleine-like effect on me. Funny, beautiful and extremely weird. 

The Baron and friends on the moon

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Silver Cord (John Cromwell)
  2. Elevator to the Gallows (Louis Malle)
  3. Brewster Mccloud (Robert Altman)
  4. Deep in my Heart (Stanley Donen)
  5. Shoot the Piano Player (François Truffaut)
  6. La Règle du Jeu (Jean Renoir)
  7. Coming Home (Hal Ashby)
  8. Mother (Mikio Naruse)
  9. Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard)
  10. Ballad of Narayama (Keisuke Kinoshita)

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1- Much has been written about how camera movement was suddenly restricted in the beginning of the talkies due to the restraints of the technology. Early sound films often look like filmed stage plays, and that is because they were often just that. The Silver Cord was a Broadway hit. It is a very odd story of a mother’s sick and controlling hold over her two sons. She breaks up one son’s engagement and nearly destroys the other’s marriage. Pretty potent stuff. And to think that this gorgon of a mother was played by Laura Hope Crewes, the dotty Aunt Pittypat from Gone With The Wind.

2- Both Elevator to the Gallows and Shoot The Piano Player are examples of what happens when French New Wave directors make their homage to film noir. It is clear to me that Louis Malle is by far the more accomplished filmmaker of the two. I believe this might have been his first feature. It is masterful and fascinating. Shoot The Piano Player is ok but the whole time I would just saying to myself, “Oh. I see. Truffaut is making hommage to film noir. It is the more artificial of the two.

3- It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I consider Nashville perhaps the greatest film of all times….at least the greatest American film. Yes, I am giving into hyperbole and I am not forgetting about Citizen Kane, The Godfather and All About Eve, but Nashville, even after 45 years, still thrills and satisfies. This preamble is to emphasize how disappointed I am with just about every other Altman film I’ve seen and yes, that includes everyone’s favorite, McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Brewster McCloud is weird and fun but I just couldn’t get a handle on what it was trying to do. It made me laugh a lot, and it was creepy, too. It is the first film to feature Shelley Duval doing her kooky Shelley Duvall thing, so that is fun. But when it was over, I said ‘Huh’?

4- Watching Deep In My Heart made me realize what a weird, stylized subgenre MGM musical biographies of the great song writers is. They always seem to have the same weird features:

a- a weirdly intrusive voice-over narrating the story

b- a completely fictionalized love story

c- cameos of the composer’s greatest hits sung by the big MGM musical stars of the day.

Deep in my Heart is a particularly demented version of the above mostly because it is about a mostly forgotten songwriter and it stars the totally uncharismatic and unmusical Jose Ferrer. You have not lived until you see Ferrer do a soft shoe routine with Metropolitan Opera Wagnerian soprano Helen Traubel. She steals the movie, by the way.

5- Coming Home was a satisfying surprise. I had never seen it and I felt it would be too dated to watch it now. No way. It is a wonderfully adult depiction of a very complicated set of relationships. Jane Fonda is subdued and powerful. Jon Voight is heart-wrenching. For once there is a sex scene that is not smarmy/gratuitous but which really underscores the bond between the two lovers. I remember at the time people were rejoicing that Hollywood was finally dealing with Vietnam. It was the year that The Deer Hunter won the best picture Oscar. Coming Home was robbed.

** I am happy to have finally subscribed to the Criterion Channel. What a treasure it is! The next three films were the first three I watched**

6- I love Mikio Naruse, but the problem is that only one of his sound films is available in Region 1 DVD format, the stupendous When A Woman Ascends The Stairs. The Criterion Channel has many of his sound films available to watch. The first film I watched on the Criterion Channel was Mother. It completely validated my opinion that he is one of the masters.

7- Readers of this blog will know about my humiliating struggles with the films of Jean-Luc Godard. For some reason though, I keep trying. I always think if I watched one more, it would all click. I must have seen at least 15 of his films so far. Is this bordering on masochism? My latest foray into the world of JLG was Contempt. I had great hopes for this one because it is universally praised and since it stars Brigitte Bardot, I thought the chances of accessibility would be high. I was right. I was quite taken by the whole thing. The supersaturated Technicolor and the Cinemascope look stunning. The music by Georges DeLerue was as overpowering as anything Max Steiner cooked up for MGM. I even think I have a good idea about what the film was trying to accomplish, which is no little feat for me watching a JLG film. It is such a nice feeling to come away from a film and not feel like you have just been kicked in the head.

8- After tempting fate with Contempt, I went back to safer stuff with The Ballad Of Narayama. This is the first filming of this brutal story and I found it very affecting. It uses many Kabuki tropes (music, costuming, sets), and that is always a plus for me. Looks like the Criterion Channel is already turning out to be a great investment.