- The Mummy (Karl Freund)
- From Hell (The Hughes Brothers)
- Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey)
- Ma Vie en Rose (Alain Berliner)
- Millennium Actress (Satoshi Kon)
- The Meliés Mystery (Eric Lange)
- I Will Buy You (Masaki Kobayashi)
- The Housemaid (Kim Ki-young)
- I Surrender Dear (Mack Sennett)
- Weekend (Andrew Haigh)
1- I was very pleased with From Hell. Just a little gruesome, but it is about Jack The Ripper, so it could have been more gruesome than it was. What made it so good was incredible acting and a really interesting script. Of all the ‘solutions’ to the Ripper mystery, the one posed here seems very plausible, i.e., it has the least logic holes. The way Lucille Ball’s beauty seemed to clash with her comedic genius, at least at the beginning of her career, so too does the beauty of Johnny Depp seem to preclude the gallery of quirky characters that he always seems to play. He is sooooo good at this. His Scotland Yard forensic detective in this film might be his best role.
2- It wouldn’t be Hallowe’en without watching Carnival of Souls. I realizes that its pleasures are very personal for me, evoking pleasing nostalgia for mid-70s New York City Saturday night TV horror movies. It is more than that, though. Its spookiness is so odd-ball so as almost not to be spooky at all. It is more of a danse macabre, with all the eroticism that is associated with that. What is more inexplicably ominous than the Saltair pavilion that haunts our heroine’s nightmares and daymares?
3- Ma Vie en Rose confused me. It seemed to be telling you that this will be a feel-good story about a middle-class French family whose seven-year-old son has decided to be a girl. The cartoonish reaction of the BCBG neighbors was to be expected, but the cruelty of the poor kid’s mother came out of left field, was incredibly hurtful and then dropped by the end in a ‘everybody is happy now” ending. I guess this was one of the first modern films to deal explicitly with gender fluidity somewhat sympathetically, but since there was not really a template for that sort of theme, the film sort of has to find its own way in telling the story while making sure that everyone remains sympathetic. Doesn’t work. The kid is amazing though.
4- I always find anime tedious, but I was interested in Millennium Actress since it was purported to be a fictionalized story based on the life of Setsuko Hara, often referred to as the Garbo of Japanese film because she walked away from it all at the height of her success and disappeared from the public eye entirely. The animation is stunning, especially considering it was all handdrawn (I believe). But is that enough? For more about Setsuko Hara see this.
5- The Meliés Mystery is a interesting documentary telling the story of Georges Melies (today best known from the Scorcese films Hugo). The classic trope is to say that all film can either trace itself back to the realism of the Lumiere Brothers or the fantasy of Melies. This documentary taught me that in many ways Melies was responsible for both genres. The first part is biographical and ends with Melies destroying all of his films in despair because he had been forgotten by the new generation, and was regarded as passé. For years his work was believed lost. The second part is about his rehabilitation, starting with the the French government awarding him the Legion of Honor a few years before he died. It them moves on to tell about detective work that went into finding a majority of his films in archives and basements all around the world..
6- Masaki Kobayashi is a director whose entire catalogue I am trying to get to know. I was blown away by his big three (Kwaidan, Harakiri and Samurai Rebellion). It has been interesting seeing his lesser known work. I Will Buy You is a terrific nest-of-vipers story about the duplicitous world of high-stakes Japanese baseball scouts. The film that this most reminded me of was The Sweet Smell of Success, but perhaps this film is nastier. It was fun to see the usually sweet and adorable Keiji Sada playing a cutthroat scout.
7- Is there any more perverse film than The Housemaid? Yes, Salo is more explicit/pornographic and Caligula is simply depraved, but man oh man, The Housemaid is off the rails. On the Criterion Channel there is an informative interview with Bong Joon Ho, director of Parasite. He explains that for the current generation of Korean directors, The Housemaid was the start of it all. The combination of horror and biting social satire is all there. The film was so successful in what it set out to do, that the woman who plays the eponymous housemaid could not get work in another film because her portrayal so successfully repulsed the audiences of the time. It was her first and last role.
8- I Surrender Dear is a musical short starring Bing Crosby in a ridiculous story but featuring some swell songs, including one of my favorites, Out of Nowhere. But the whole think is beyond silly.
9- Weekend deserves its own post. Hopefully I will get to that soon