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. The Inheritance (Masaki Kobayashi)
  2. Désiré (Sacha Guitry)
  3. To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett)
  4. Riot in Cell Block 11 (Don Siegel)
  5. Gohatto (Taboo) (Nagisa Oshima)
  6. The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino)
  7. Still Walking (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
  8. Mala Noche (Gus Van Sant)
  9. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford)
  10. Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki)

1- It has been fun and interesting to watch the lesser-known films of Masaki Kobayashi. The Inheritance is a twisty, nest-of-vipers story of a lot of very nasty people jockeying for the inheritance of a very nasty man. It was a lot of fun.

2- After watching so many ‘heavy’ films, it was almost therapeutic to watch Désiré by Sacha Guitry. Comedy of manners, light French sex-farce, whatever you call it, it was a welcome contrast to what I have been watching. This is the third film of his I have seen. Pure delight.

3- I had seen To Sleep with Anger when it first came out and really liked it a lot. I have hardly heard of it since then. Luckily, TCM showed it as part of its Black History month programming. It is a powerful, almost magical realism view of a community who have emigrated from the south to a middle-class neighborhood in Los Angeles, and what happens when Harry, a reminder of what they left behind, comes to stay and ultimately almost destroy their new, happy lives. I read it as the dangers of nostalgia for a past that was anything but the wonderful thing it is remembered as. In that respect, although it fits beautifully in the African-American narrative it works well with any ethnic group that has begun to intergrate into the larger culture. Is what was lost really that lamentable?

4- Riot in Cell Block 11 is a tight prison film that at 80 minutes really packs a punch. Super ambitious for its small budget, I was surprised to see how sensitive issues (gays in prison, mixing mental patients in with the general prison population, etc.) we dealt with. It was also refreshing to see the warden as the voice of reason and dignity for once. Don Siegel would go on to other tight movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

5- Gohatto is another film I saw at its debut and had not heard of since. It is a gorgeous looking film. The settings are often stylized in a Kabuki-like manner. The story tells of how the arrival of a beautiful young (16 year old!) boy at a Samurai school unsettles the population of macho warriors to the point of almost destroying it. Oshima is perhaps most famous for his sexually explicit In The Realm of the Senses, which was made almost 20 years before Gohatto.

6- There are certain acclaimed movies I just do not connect with. Fargo, Pulp Fiction, It’s A Wonderful Life, The English Patient, Breathless are some examples of this. Add The Great Beauty to this list. I know the fault lies with me. As readers of this blog know, I don’t hold much with awards for films, but The Great Beauty won the Palme d’Or at Canne, the best foreign film Oscar and just about any other major and minor award you can think of. I just don’t get it. It seems like a more lyrical rehash of Fellini’s 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita but the substance was elusive. Some of the imagery was lovely, but it all seemed pretty derivative and I would love someone to explain to me what the point of the whole exercise was. I compare the watching of this film to just barely missing your train and trying to catch up with if for 2 hours plus.

7- Still Walking, however, is a masterpiece. As I was watching it, I kept drawing parallels to Ozu’s Tokyo Story, not a bad thing for any film. It was interesting to watch the interview that Kore-eda has on the Criterion Channel about the making of the movie. He says that it is highly autobiographical. He was aware that people would speak of it as a modern-day Tokyo Story, but he felt that it had more in common with my other god of Japanese cinema, Mikio Naruse, also not a bad thing! It was interesting to me to see that the golden age of Japanese cinema (roughly from the end of WWII through the early 1960s) is still revered by young filmmakers of today, who are putting their own up-to-date spin on the classic family dramas. It is so refreshing to see a contemporary Japanese film with nary a Yakuza or anime cel in sight!

8- Mala Noche was Gus Van Sant’s first feature and it looks like what you would expect from a first feature. It is very seedy and jumpy, and although it is about sexual obsession (of course), there is nothing the least bit erotic about it.

9- Le Havre, on the other hand, was a delight. I had only ever seen The Match Factory Girl by Kaurismäki and that was an utter misery. This film has been referred to as a fairy-tale and I think that is appropriate. I never expected to be so uplifted as I was at the end of this movie! Such a pleasure.


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The Phantom Ladies over Paris are finally coming to Region 1!

If you are a friend of mine who has expressed any interest in film at all, I no doubt have gone on and on about the wonders of Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating. This magnificent creation is to film what Alice in Wonderland or Master and Margarita is to the novel.

I first heard about it in a tiny blurb in the Village Voice. Andrew Sarris referred to it as three and a half hours of unalloyed joy. “That’s for me!” I thought and I wound up going to see it at the 8th Street Cinema in Greenwich Village two nights in a row. I have pursued it like a big-game hunter ever since.

It was only ever available in Region 1 back in the days of VHS tapes. “Why”, I lamented “could I buy all the seasons of Friends on DVD but not one of the greatest, most joyful, eternally entertaining films of all times? (Not that I am saying there is anything wrong with Friends).

Well, I am happy to announce that on March 16th, Criterion will finally make it available. Go here: https://www.criterion.com/films/29639-c-line-and-julie-go-boating

If you don’t get your own copy, come to my place after you’ve had your Covid vaccinations and we can revel in it together.


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Gods & Goddesses of the Criterion Universe – Part four – One hit wonders

Falconetti

(1892 – 1946)

When I was thinking about creating another entry in this series I thought immediately of Falconetti. Her portrayal of Joan of Arc in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc often tops the list whenever people are trying to figure out the greatest film performances of all times. The film is an overwhelming experience, due to the collaboration of Dreyer and Maria (or Renee or Jeanne) Falconetti. This austere and stylized film gets its power from the way Dreyer films Falconetti’s face, almost always in extreme close-up. Her facial expressions flash from terror to religious ecstasy to naivete to inner strength, often filling the whole screen. We get no relief from Joan’s emotional state and she carries us with her through the trial to her death on the stake. It is safe to say that this could only have been achieved in a silent film where the distraction of sound is gone, and all you can do is look at what the actress is doing.

In the other entries in this series, I was able to give an overview of an actors career, showing why they are so essential. I can’t do that with Falconetti. She was mostly a stage actress, and was even a member of the Comedie Francaise, but except for a supporting role in a film in 1917 (which I presume is either lost or impossible to see), this was her only screen appearance.

The wonder of that fact is that she becomes Joan of Arc because we never see her as anyone else. We love Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, but they have a huge gallery of characters who they have played. You are watching a Humphrey Bogart film and not a Sam Spade film when you watch The Maltese Falcon. With Falconetti, you are watching Joan of Arc. The character and the actress are one.

I then began to wonder if there are any other great one-time performances and I could only think of one for the time being:

Leigh McCormack

Leigh McCormack only ever appeared in Terence Davies’ magnificent The Long Day Closes. Because of this, his character Bud is like Falconetti’s Joan, inseparable from the actor and one and the same. There is no Leigh McCormack, there is only Bud, because his performacne is so powerful and we never see him again.

Bud is a boy of 11 or 12 growing up in a poor, fatherless but very loving and protective family in 1950s Liverpool. Despite this wonderful family, and the happiness he feels being with them, he projects a profound sadness and loneliness. This emotion is never explained but it the essential part of this character. His world of home, family, school and movies is evoked with a qualified nostalgia and his sadness is palpable. Sometimes I wish that Davies could have done more films developing his character in the way Truffaut did with his Antoine Doinel, but in reality I am glad he didn’t. Like Falconetti’s Joan, McCormack’s Bud is seared in your mind.

I will try to think of other examples of ‘one-hit wonders’. Stay tuned (or make a suggestion!)