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 Films I’ve Seen

  1. High Hopes (Mike Leigh)
  2. The Short and Curlies (Mike Leigh)
  3. The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda)
  4. Merrily We Go To Hell (Dorothy Arzner)
  5. Lured (Douglas Sirk)
  6. Newsfront (Phillip Noyce)
  7. Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock)
  8. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles)
  9. High Heels (Pedro Almodóvar)
  10. Peggy Sue Got Married (Francis Ford Coppola)


1-  Mike Leigh’s films seems to be some combination of life-affirming, bleak, cynical and joyous, sometimes in equal measure. But all are works of genius. High Hopes tends toward life-affirming with generous dashes of bleak. The marvelous Ruth Sheen is on hand to provide yet another one of the indomitable figures that are sprinkled across Leigh’s works.

2- I don’t think that I had watched an entire Agnes Varda film before I watched The Gleaners and I.  It is a lovely, odd documentary of people in France who would better be described as scavengers. Although seldom on screen, the personality of Varda permeates the film.  It is a personality that I look forward to spending more time with.

3- Merrily We Go To Hell was shown on TCM as a complement to the Mark Cousins’ multi-part documentary Women Make Film. The documentary is really a film class explaining all aspects of creating a film (framing, script, track shots, characterization, etc.)  After each of the weekly episodes, films that were used as examples are shown in their entirety.  This film was by Dorothy Arzner, the only active woman director besides Ida Lupino in Hollywood.   I had hoped that  it would be pretty raw, since that this was a pre-code film about a society women who marries as seriously alcoholic newspaperman. It is mostly raw, but their is an unfortunate ‘happy end’ tacked on.  I guess even in pre-code days this was to be expected.

4- It was lovely to see Newsfront again. I saw it back in the late 70s as the Australian New Wave was hitting the US. I didn’t remember a thing about it except that it was about newsreel makers in the days just before television.  It is a great combination of fiction and archival footage, with a nicely affecting story to boot.

5- I always had fun watching Rear Window, but this time around I realized that it might very well be greater than Vertigo.  More on this in a later post.

6- Sometimes too much knowledge is too much.  I always knew that The Magnificent Ambersons was a mangled masterpiece, but I thought the mutilation by RKO was on the end of the film, which always seems abrupt and sloppy. I watched it again on the Criterion Collection with the full-length commentary. It seems that the mutilation was far more extensive, hitting about every part of the film. Apparently something like 50 minutes were cut and are now lost.  With the commentary it became apparent that the film is a mess, with moments of brilliance (Fanny’s breakdown, the last party at the Amberson’s mansion).   What was unfortunate about watching with the commentary is that it planted the seed in my mind that even with the deleted holy-grail scenes, it might still be a mess.

7- Pedro Almodóvar has gone from being a campy director of loco shock comedies to one of the great humanists working in film today. High Heels dates from his epater le bourgeois period, so a little of it, for me at least, goes a long way.  There is no denying that the film is stunning-looking.  He was a master of the art form even then, but he hadn’t yet found the great themes that his technical genius was begging for.   He has found them now. Watch Pain and Glory to see way I mean.  It is overwhelming in every sense, but first and foremost, it is overwhelming because you are watching a genius who is at the top of his game.

8- I hadn’t seen Peggy Sue Got Married since it was first realeased.  I remembered being disappointed with it at the time, and it still is disappointing.  It has great ideas, but it is too timid to do anything with them.  It’s fun to see a 12-year-old Sofia Coppola as an annoying younger sister, though.




The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. A Separation (Asghar Farhad)
  2. Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock)
  3. Nostalghia (Andrei Tarkovsky)
  4. Varieté (Ewald André Dupont)
  5. The Living Skeleton (Hiroshi Matsuno)
  6. Walpurgis Night (Gustaf Edgren)
  7. Swing Shift (Jonathan Demme)
  8. Meantime (Mike Leigh)
  9. Flunky, Work Hard (Mikio Naruse)
  10. A Scandal in Paris (Douglas Sirk)


1- One of the great benefits of having the Criterion Channel is that it has opened up various national cinemas that I never really knew. The cinema of Iran is a case in point. I had only seen The Taste of Cherry by Abbas Kiarostami.  I found it quite austere and was deterred from seeing other Iranian films for an unforgivably long time.   I have watched many more Kiarostami films and I revere him.  Panahi also is amazing.  I had heard about A Separation when it won the Best Foreign Film Oscar. What a splendidly rich, nuances film that observes relationship dynamics, class distinctions and religious differences. Superbly moving, with an end that kind of took my breath away.

2- Hitchcock is regarded as the auteur par excellence. But not for Rebecca.  Here I would have to say the auteurs are David O. Selznick as well as the MGM tradition of quality.  Hitchcock was loaned out to MGM for his first American picture and it has Selznick all over it. The novel was an enormous success, just as Gone With The Wind was.  Selznick gives this production  the same lavish and slavish treatment he gave to GWTW. It doesn’t make for a bad movie, but it doesn’t make for a great Hitchcock movie. We would have to wait for  Shadow of A Doubt for that.

In the discussion after watching the film, Martin Seay contrasted the difference between the acting styles of Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.   What you were seeing, he said, was a consummate stage actor (Olivier) and a consummate film actor (Fontaine).   What Olivier was doing might have been superb on the stage, but here on film it was too big.  Made me realize that all the Olivier performances seem to be very theatrical.

3- With The Criterion Collection, I have been able to watch or rewatch the films of Andrei Tarkovsky.  While I loved Stalker and The SacrificeI must admit that I was totally baffled by Nostalghia.  It was beautiful to look at.  I duly appreciated the eight-minute long take at the end of the film, but it mostly went over my head.  I would appreciate any insights you might have.

4- Watching Swing Shift again was a triste experience. I loved it so, when it came out in the 80s and had not seen it since.  It is a mess.  Heartbreaking for me, because I remember it with a warm, nostalgic glow.

5- Meantime is the most downbeat of the Mike Leigh films I have watched.   Perhaps too downbeat.  I have begun to realize that  Mike Leigh films have much in common with the films of Yasujiro Ozu.  Lower middle-class lives of quiet desperation, but always depicted in such a way as to leave you with an overwhelming sense of life.  While watching Meantime I thought it would almost turn into a  parody of itself, but at the end Mike Leigh delivered and there is a gorgeous epiphany of love and forgiveness and hope. Quite overwhelming even if you do have to go through a bit of hell to get to it.

6- You have my permission to skip the The Living Skeleton.  Japanese horror can be cheesy. This was absolute Limburger .

7- Varieté  is a good example of what we lost when silents became sound films.  The camera work here is so thrilling and baffling.  It has Emil Jannings and all the Weimar Republic depravity you could hope for.   It wouldn’t be until that we see such thrilling German film.

8- Just because it is by Douglas Sirk doesn’t guarantee that a film won’t be a turkey. Thanksgiving came early for me with A Scandal in Paris