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 Men who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (Akira Kurosawa)
  2. An Actor’s Revenge (Kon Ichikawa)
  3. La Chienne (Jean Renoir)
  4. Le Poison (Sacha Guitry)
  5. Amarcord (Federico Fellini)
  6. Mamma Roma (Pier Paolo Pasolini)
  7. The Ruling Class (Peter Medak)
  8. Pigs and Battleships (Shohei Imamura)
  9. Paris Belongs to Us (Jacques Rivette)
  10. The Music Room (Satyajit Ray)

1- The Men who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail is a good example of a Japanese film that is firmly rooted in Kabuki theater. This is a famous Kabuki piece that Kurosawa turned into a very entertaining one-hour film. He introduced a ‘clown’ figure into the traditional story and depending on how you feel about clowns, you will love or deplore the addition. It is a very early Kurosawa film and it is fun to see future huge stars at the beginning of their careers. Masayuki Mori, soon to be a romantic lead, and Takeshi Shimura, who appeared in every Kurosawa film until he died, have nice bit parts.

2- Long before people were talking about gender being fluid An Actor’s Revenge hit the screen. The story of an onnagata (Kabuki male actor who specializes in playing women’s roles) is hell-bent on avenging his parents’ death caused by three very bad men. The whole notion of the correctness of revenge is obliquely dealt with. The gender blurring is dealt with head-on. This is a film that should be studied in every queer, women’s studies or philosophy class. Quite a mean picture with stunning compositions and camera work.

3- As I watched La Chienne I kept thinking I had seen it before. I hadn’t but I had seen Scarlet Street, an American remake by Fritz Lang. The American version is not half as gritty as the French original. The French version is quite brutal. The milieu of Montmartre in the 1930s has the same cachet as Los Angeles of film noir. Once again I was struck by what an amazing actor Michel Simon was. He was as unlikely a star as Marie Dressler and just about as beloved.

4- Treat yourself to watching a film by Sacha Guitry. Le Poison has the added bonus of a performance by Michel Simon. A delightfully wicked and pretty amoral little film. Great fun

5- It was very sad for me to watch Amarcord. My first viewing in 1973 was magical. This time I was bored and found it a sloppy, sexist mess. One would think there was nothing else to women but breasts and posteriors.

6- Pasolini is a troubling figure and Mamma Roma is a troubling film.

7- The Ruling Class is another film that I hadn’t seen since it premiered almost 50 years ago. I remembered thinking it was a sophisticated black comedy when I was an adolescent, and had a pretty limited idea of what sophisticated was. Now, it is still kind of outre and slightly funny but it goes on way too long for the one joke, and it is often quite nasty.

8- When I was first getting to know Japanese film, I concentrated on the ‘Golden Era’ films from the 30s, 40s and 50s, learning the works of the masters like Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ozu and Naruse. I would check out films from the 60s and later occasionally, but their roughness and violence were really jarring for me after the serenity of the ‘masterpieces’. Lately, though, I have been exploring the works of later masters and I am really impressed. Shohei Imamura’s Pigs and Battleships is a great example of this later era. It shows a post-WWII Japan with aimless youth drifting towards crime and violence. But, where in the US such a film would have either a moralizing tone or a social message telling us to pity these poor kids, Imamura just lays it all out in a frantic two-hour plus tragedy that is slapstick at the same time. The pigs get most of the laughs. I really need to watch more Imamura. The cynicism and lack of pontification is so appealing.

9- Very few films have meant more to me over the years than Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating. Unfortunately, none of his other films have the same magic that Celine and Julie has, no matter how many times I watch it. The other films I’ve seen of his are multi-hour, difficult mind-games that never seem to be worth the effort. I always had Paris Belongs to Us tucked away in my brain as something to watch when I felt up to it. It was his first feature film, so I figured it would be more approachable than the later experimental films since his improvisational style might have been held in check in trying to get his first film out the door. Well, I was partially right. It is a tight two and a half hour long puzzle, but it doesn’t seem to be about the puzzle as much as his later films are. Our entry into the world is a young woman who has become friendly with a group of typical 1950 Parisian intellectuals. There seems to be an unimaginable, unexplainable mystery surrounding this group and many of them wind up dead. Suicide? Murder? International espionage? Who know? Josef K. would be very at home in this world. I did make it through the whole thing, but I won’t be returning anytime soon, whereas I plan to watch Celine and Julie Go Boating again on my birthday for the ten millionth time. Lucky me

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. A Kid for Two Farthings (Carol Reed)
  2. Le Courbeau (Henri-George Clouzot)
  3. The Long Day Closes (Terence Davies)
  4. War and Peace (Sergei Bondarchuk)
  5. A Brief History of Time (Errol Morris)
  6. Three Daughters (Satyajit Ray)
  7. Pather Panchli (Satyajit Ray)
  8. Aparajito (Satyajit Ray)
  9. The World of Apu (Satyajit Ray)
  10. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (Preston Sturges)

1- A Kid For Three Farthings is a minor film by Carol Reed, who gave us The Third Man and Odd Man Out (and Oliver!). It is a sweet and kind of troubling story about a very young boy living with his mother (Celia Johnson) in apost WWII London Jewish neighborhood. Judaism is not overt here, except for some characters’ accents. Plus the title seems be derived from the Passover song Chad Gadya.

2- I saw Le Courbeau years ago and remembered it fondly as a taut thriller that was at the same time an indictment of civil betrayal in Vichy France. This time around I found the plot confusing. Maybe I was tired when I watched it. Great, creepy atmosphere though.

3- I have been watching a lot of films by Satyajit Ray to celebrate that master’s 100th birthday on May 2, 2021. Three Daughters is one of his earliest efforts. The film is in serious need of restoration, as even the usually pristine Criterion Channel was very beat-up. It is an omnibus film created to celebrate the 100th of Rabindranath Tagore and it depicts three of his stories. Tagore is a wonderful writer and was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is legendary in India and should be legendary everywhere. He wrote the poem of the Indian national anthem. The three stories are not related in subject, character or genre. I am still not sure why it is called Three Daughters as there is not a father in sight.

Rabindranath Tagore

4- Regarding War and Peace, please see this post

5- I enjoyed A Brief History of Time , but I was disappointed because I still don’t understand the Theory of Relativity.

6- As part of my little Satyajit Ray festival, I re-watched his legendary Apu Trilogy, consisting of Pather Panchali (The Song of the Little Road), Aparajito (The Unvanquished) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu). It is astounding to realized that Pather Panchali was his first feature. The images are ravishing, the stories are heartbreaking, the tone is so sure. I found this time around that Pather Panchali was the most beautiful looking of the three, and that the trilogy grows in emotional power up until the heartbreaking yet heartwarming end of Apur Sansar. Maybe I need to write a post just about Ray. But don’t wait for me. Watch any of his films, NOW!

Apu as a child, teenager and young adult

7- It must have been exhausting to be Betty Hutton. She is one of those performers, like Robin Williams or Jonathan Winters, who are always coming at you full bore and they are going to entertain you whether you want to be entertained or not, damn it! Of all of her performances I have seen, her turn as Trudy Kockenlocker (really!) in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is the most reined in. Still, I got tired watching her. She even riled up poor Eddie Bracken. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is the screwballiest of Preston Sturges’ screwball comedies, and like so many of them, the logic and energy peter out before the film is actually finished. I’ll admit that I am not sure what is happening for the last half of the film, but that is OK. I was really in the mood for zany, and it more that satisfied in that regard. Plus Sturges stalward William Demarest is on hand being sublime, and there is a wonderfully hilarious turn by Diana Lynn as the 14-year-old voice of reason in this mad world. For the best depiction of a screwball universe, though, please see The Palm Beach Story.

Trudy Kockenlocker

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The Soviet War and Peace

The norm in discussing a film is to refer to it as the director’s film. Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance. Of course, this nomenclature is a product of the auteur theory of film criticism that has held sway for decades.

I am choosing not to refer to the topic at hand as Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace, for as much as he was at the helm of this mind-bogglingly enormous, multi-year production, it was the Soviet government that was the true auteur.

This is not to minimize what Bondarchuk did. Not only was he practically an army general directing forces never seen in a film before or since, but he cast himself as Pierre Bezukhov, one of the most familiar and beloved characters in Russian literature and often regarded as Tolstoy’s mouthpiece in the book.

There was a cold war on, and the Soviet Union wanted to show that they could make an epic bigger and better than anyone (read: The US) had made before. Cleopatra had been released a few years earlier. It was enormous, perhaps the most expensive film made in the US up until that point, and it was a critical and box office failure. The notoriety of the backstage shenanigans of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton raised expectations for the film, which ultimately disappointed. The Kremlin must have smelled blood in the water.

The Red Army was put at Bondarchuk’s command, to impersonate Napoleon’s Grand Army as well as the Russian Imperial forces. The Hermitage was opened for lavish ballroom scenes and priceless artifacts were taken from that legendary museum to be used as set decorations. Nothing was spared.

I saw the complete film over several weekends when I was a teenager. I had to cross Brooklyn to a neighborhood I didn’t know. I could have been going to Moscow for all I knew. The film was released in a much shorter version than is currently available and it was dubbed into English. I didn’t care. I was blown away. As a kid with cultural pretentions, I knew that a new film of War and Peace was something to take seriously. I remember being choked up at the end of the final part.

So how does it hold up today more than fifty years after it was released?

Well……it is very Soviet in many different ways. It is enormous and stunning visually, but often vulgarly ostentatious. It seems to be saying, “OK USA, let’s see you create a scene like Natasha’s first ball. The burning of Atlanta? Hah. Look at our battle of Borodino.


In an oddly positive take on Soviet style, Bondarchuk often abandons naturalism and flings his camera all over the place, making one think of the Soviet experimental films of the 20s. It is something you don’t expect, and it is certainly nothing you would see in a classic Hollywood epic of the time. It did balance out the classic epicness of the work.

A few years before this film was made, there was a US production of War and Peace directed by King Vidor starring Henry Fonda as Pierre (what?), Mel Ferrer as Bolkonsky and Audrey Hepburn. As expected, the film was roundly denounce in the USSR, home of Tolstoy.

In the role of Natasha, Bondarchuk must have had Audrey Hepburn in mind when he cast Lyudmilla Saveleva. Like Hepburn, she was a former dancer with a gamine air. The problem with her performance is that it is too big. It struck me that she was acting in the way that she might have emoted Giselle. She doesn’t seem to be acting for the camera. She seems to be acting to the balconies of a theater.

Lyudmilla Saveleva

The Byronic, tragic Andrei Bolkonsky is played by Vyacheslav Tichonov. He is brooding enough, but also quite wooden. None of the soul-searching of the character comes through.

Vyacheslav Tichonov

So, I am really glad to have seen this again. It is unique in the annals of film and it is a monster to be reckoned with.

Go reckon.