- The Men who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (Akira Kurosawa)
- An Actor’s Revenge (Kon Ichikawa)
- La Chienne (Jean Renoir)
- Le Poison (Sacha Guitry)
- Amarcord (Federico Fellini)
- Mamma Roma (Pier Paolo Pasolini)
- The Ruling Class (Peter Medak)
- Pigs and Battleships (Shohei Imamura)
- Paris Belongs to Us (Jacques Rivette)
- 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