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. Daughters of Darkness (Harry Kümel)
  2. Richard III (Laurence Olivier)
  3. The Brood (David Cronenberg)
  4. La Main du Diable (Maurice Tourneur)
  5. Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow).
  6. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Mikio Naruse)
  7. For The Love of Movies (Gerald Peary)
  8. Joan of Arc of Mongolia (Ulrike Ottinger)
  9. Victor and Victoria (Reinhold Schünzel)
  10. Le Grand Méliès (Georges Franju)


1- Well, Halloween has come and gone…the best time of the year This year I didn’t give it its due by watching my usual favorites, (the films of Val Lewton, Carnival of Souls, Horror Hotel, The Birds, etc.). Instead I watched a bunch of new (for me) films that Criterion recommended for Spooky Season. First up was The Daughters of Darkness. Your typical overheated, Lesbian vampire film, with Delphine Seyrig and a grand off-season hotel for atmosphere. Like so many films made as the Production Code lost its clout, this film really shoves the sex and smarminess down the viewers’ throat (pardon the metaphor). This kind of thing always strikes me as less “adult” compared to all the inferred sex in the Pre-Code. It is overt and not subtle at all, almost like the filmmakers are saying,, “Lookie! We can finally show sex!” the big surprise of the film was that the hunk that everyone in the film was lusting over was John Karlen, who in about 12 years would become famous as the lumpen Harve Lacey on Cagney & Lacey

2- I usually avoid the gorier horror films. They bore me. I have to say that The Brood was lots of fun. I guess I am a sucker for any film that shows children as monsters. The rationale for these monsters, that they are a product of the mother’s anger, is delicious. You must see Bill Hader’s riff on Oliver Reed in this film on the Criterion extra. Spot on. Near Dark was another departure from my usually Halloween revels. Man! Kathryn Bigelow can do violence with the best of them. It’s nice to see a Vampire film with a ‘happy’ end.

3- For the Love of Movies is an interesting documentary tracing the history of film criticism. Starting back in the silent days, it is most interesting when explaining the great Andrew Sarris-Pauline Kael war over the whole auteur concept, with Sarris and his cohort sticking to their guns and Kael accusing them of being Gay because of it. The film posits that criticism has changed forever in recent times. We no longer to established newspaper or magazine critics to shape our taste anymore, since anyone with a blog can fancy themselves as a film critic (*ahem*)

4- The Princh has been after me for years to watch Joan of Arc of Mongolia Given the almost-three-hour running time and the ‘premise’ of European ladies captured off of an east-bound train in the Mongolian desert by a warrior princess and her pals, I thought it would be absolute torture. I am glad to say I was very, very wrong. Three hours flew by while watching this nutty and touching and beautiful feminist documentary. I would love to see this again as well see some of Ulrike Ottinger’s other films but I have to hurry since they are leaving Criterion at the end of the month! Yikes! And as if camels, Mongolian cooking, Lesbian desire and archery are not enough, we get Delphine Seyrig in a star turn as an English Mongolia expert on a research trip curiously named Lady Windermere. We also get to see the great Fassbinder star Irm Hermann as an uptight tourist who undergoes a wonderful spiritual transformation.

5- Victor and Victoria is one of the last films made at Ufa before the Nazis took control of the studio and Germany. As you probably have guessed, it is the inspiration for Blake Edwards’ Victor/Victoria. I don’t remember liking the Edwards film that much, except for Le Jazz Hot. The German version is pretty bad. It seems like it wants to be one of those early Lubitsch sex-farce musicals like Love Parade but it lacking all subtley and is just awful. The songs are glaringly out of place and everyone, especially the male lead (who is not Gay in this version) mug shamelessly. Unless you are a neurotic completist, you have my permission to give this a pass

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Terence Davies Trilogy
  2. I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing (Patricia Rozema)
  3. The Tale of Zatoichi (Kenji Misumi)
  4. Le Rayon Vert (Eric Rohmer)
  5. The Phantom of Liberty (Luis Buñuel)
  6. Nomadland (Chloé Zhao)
  7. Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson)
  8. Dead Man (Jim Jarmush)
  9. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (Ana Lily Amirpour)
  10. The Lair of The White Worm (Ken Russell)


1- Terence Davies has a relatively small, but amazingly powerful output. The three early, short films that comprise the Trilogy were made between 1976 and 1983. They trace the sad life of a closeted Gay man in Liverpool of the 50s and 60s. At the time, it must have been an unflinching look at the cruelty of society to Gays at time when homosexuality was illegal. I suppose it is a good thing that such tragic depictions seem cliche and quaint now. The value of these three little films is more for the chance to see in embryo form the impressionistic style Davies would master in this next two features, Distant Voices/Still Lives and his masterpiece The Long Day Closes. As with the work of any genius, it is worth watching, even if it isn’t among his great creations.

2- I remembered I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing fondly even though I hadn’t seen it for over forty years. It holds up beautifully. The kooky, endearing Polly is the moral center of a corrupt art world that she kind of fixes with her passive goodness. In this respect she reminds me of Fanny Price in Mansfield Park. At the time it was pigeon-holed as a Feminist film. Yes, it is, but is more than just that. It is a sweetly human film. Thank you Criterion Collection, for once again restoring an old friend to me. I still don’t get the Prufrock reference in the title.

Polly in flight

3- I’ve been curious about the Japanese series about Zatoichi the blind swordsman. There are a ton of entries. I watch the first one and that did me just fine

4- Please see this post about the divine Le Rayon Vert

5- The Phantom of Liberty is more chaotic, but much funnier than this blog’s namesake, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. That film’s insanity overstays its welcome after a while. Maybe because it is (trying) to tell a cohesive story, but Phantom is a hodgepodge of insane but often hilarious situations. The dinner talk while sitting on toilets has to be seen to be believed.

6- Back when I first subscribed to TCM and Netflix (when they were still sending discs!), I decided to make a little project of seeing every film that won the Best Picture Oscar from Wings (1927) on. I got all caught up, then Covid put a kink in my theater-going, so I missed Nomadland when it was playing. What do you say about such a relentlessly bleak film with a central character who is absolutely alienating? It reminds me of my reaction to Madame Bovary. I hated spending time in that world with that awful person, but I admit it was fascinating. Nothing like that here. If you want a film where Frances MacDormand has diarrhea in a can, then this is the film for you. No denying the talent of all concerned, but what was the point? I welcome comments!

7- I missed a lot of releases due to Covid and had to wait until they showed up on the streaming services. I kept an eye out for Licorice Pizza and it finally showed up on Amazon Prime. I loved everything I’ve seen by Paul Thomas Anderson up to and including the extraordinary Magnolia. What I loved about Magnolia was that it seemed to be the grandchild of my beloved Nashville. This connection was borne out when Anderson was asked to help Robert Altman finish his last film, The Prairie Home Companion. The films after Punch-drunk Love were rapturously received, but left me confused and cold. I don’t get what the point was of either The Master or The Phantom Thread. And I really disliked There Will Be Blood. So, I approached Mystic Pizza with hope and trepidation. There is no denying that this is the work of an accomplished director/writer. The acting is tremendous. I think, though, the point of the film was its loving recreation of the Los Angeles of the 1980s where Anderson grew up. It is not exactly an exercise in nostalgia, because a key element of nostalgia is missing – a slightly magical depiction of the past. The locales of Los Angeles are very mundane, the characters are uninteresting and eternally horny. I am not even going to bring up the discussion of possible statutory rape in the story. I would really like to hear from someone who loved this so they can tell me how it hit them so emotionally. I just found it smarmy and cold, but well-made.

8- I haven’t anything by Jim Jarmusch since Stranger Than Paradise was released. Thank you, Criterion, for giving me a chance to catch up with this deconstructionist Western, Dead Man. It is a beautiful-to-look-at, nutty-to-watch movie. Not quite sure what the thesis is. Some kind of Beckett-like “life is nothing” message, I guess. But I had a great time watching it and it stars Johnny Depp at his most beautiful

9- It is Halloween – the most wonderful time of year (sorry Rudolph). I try to watch as many horror films during the month of October as is humanly possible. Everything I had heard about A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night made it seem like my kind of film. It did not disappoint. First of all, it must have been made for about $17 and it looks gorgeous. The atmospherics are the best I have seen in a low-budget film since Carnival of Souls. The image of the skateboarding, Hijab-wearing, woman-avenging vampire, known simply as the girl, is up there with all the great horror figures of the past. It is a feminist tract, I suppose and a vivid revenge film for the violence done against women. I loved it.

10- As I said, October is Halloween season and Criterion is featuring a slew of vampire movies, apparently just for me. I always loved the vampire genre with its erotic subtext of mixing sex with immortality. I grew tired of Ken Russell’s shenanigans years ago. But, hey, it’s Halloween so why not watch his almost universally deplored Lair of the White Worm. It became apparent while watching this, why his other films are such nutty junk but this one wasn’t. In his more famous films, he applies his over-the-top, hysterical aesthetic in the service of telling serious stories, like the life of Gustav Mahler, or Women in Love by D.H.Lawrence. This film, instead, was taken from a minor work of Bram Stoker which was probably not the good to begin with, so there was no harm in applying the Russellmania and it was a great ride. Imagine a Hammer film without the great story telling but with a lot more sex, and you’ll have an idea of what was going on here. Amanda Donohoe is absolutely nuts and I thank her for it.

Happy Halloween Everybody

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Distant Voices/Still Lives (Terence Davies)
  2. The Neon Bible (Terence Davies)
  3. Grey Gardens (Maysles Bros.)
  4. Querelle (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  5. Chunking Express (Wong Kar-wai)
  6. Les Vampires (Louis Feuillade)
  7. Celine and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette)
  8. Nope (Jordan Peele)
  9. No Blood Relation (Mikio Naruse)
  10. The Joke (Jaromil Jireš)

1- Thanks to the Criterion Channel, I was able to rewatch Distant Voices, Still Lives as well as Davies’ adaptation of John Kennedy Toole’s novel, The Neon Bible. DV/SL is a masterpiece as is his later film The Long Day Closes. DV/SL is more experimental and that is perhaps why it seems more ‘distant’ than the later film. This film also lacks a central character to act as our representative in the world of the film. The Neon Bible was written by Toole years before his masterpiece, the hilarious Confederacy of Dunces. I have never read it, but from the film it seems to be a young author’s book of crushing seriousness. Hard to believe that this quasi-Southern Gothic piece came from the pen of the greatest comic author I know. Amazingly, the film has a star turn by Gena Rowlands. Not bad

2- I avoided Grey Gardens for years. I reject the notion of watching something for its camp value, and I figured that would be the experience. It seems degrading to a film, to watch it in that manner (unless that was the intention of the creators – like John Waters. The premise of Grey Gardens is cruel, no matter what apologists say to the contrary. These mad women are putting on a show for the Maysles. It was probably fun for them but I don’t see how else an audience can react to the film except as a freak show.

3- I have noted before that some directors, like John Huston and Yasujiro Ozu, end their careers with their highest quality work. Others, (I am looking at you Alfred Hitchcock!) sort of peter out. It is hard to see which category Fassbinder falls into. Querelle is that last of his 8,000,000 films that he made in his short life. I question if we can look at this as a summing up because his death seems accidental and unexpected. He had just produced a string of masterpieces and no doubt would have created others. We’ll never know. It is a shame that this mess will always be his last film because critics will try to regard it as a final statement. It is nothing of the sort. It is a failed overheated experiment and would have been a footnote in is output if it had not been is last. Brad Davis is extraordinarily hot in the film, but a terrible actor. Jeanne Moreau is on hand to sing one of the silliest songs I’ve ever heard.

4- Chunking Express is delightful. Wong Kar-wai turns out quite rigorous films that never fail to entertain as they challenge. The character of Faye is wonderful and we get to see the talented and beautiful Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro play characters with parallel stories of lost love. Just beautiful.

5- Les Vampires was directed by Louis Feuillade in 1915. In many ways, series that you see on any of the streaming channels are pretty much in the same episodic format. 107 years have brought technical advances but not necessarily narrative advancement. In tone, it is similar to horror-comedy shows like Buffy the Vampire. The mind-boggling terrifying gang, the Vampires, are terrorizing Paris with unspeakable crimes (which we rarely see). A dogged journalist cum detective along with his comic sidekick, Mazamette, are dedicated to eradicated these monsters from the City of Lights. Not much of a plot from episode to episode but the whole thing is tons of fun. Each episode is about 40 minutes long. The most memorable images and performance come from the legendary Musidora, playing the arch-Vampire Irma Vep (an anagram, natch). Her face and her performance are unforgettable. Her eyes have been used as the symbol of the Chicago Film Festival for years!

6- Nope is aptly named. It is the first movie I saw in a theater since Covid struck. I sat there for 45 minutes then it dawned on me that I had absolutely no idea what I was watching. The story was incomprehensible. The actors mumble or shriek. The special effects overwhelm the whole enterprise. This all was heartbreaking to me since I think Jordan Peele’s Get Out is one of the most brilliant films in years, closely followed by his Us a few years later. Even though most reviews have been rapturous, I am beginning to hear name of M. Night Shamalayan being invoked: i.e., a phenomenal debut followed by increasingly weak movies. I hope this is not the case. I think he is a genius. I really believe that excessive CGI is a health hazard to all moviegoers.

7- Mikio Naruse’s films never fail to grab and move me. No Blood Relation is one of his earliest surviving movies. Under 90 minutes, it is immediately gripping. Thanks to the Criterion Channel for making more of this master’s work available.

8- I am not sure if it is that only one kind of film stock was available, but all the films of the Czech New Wave all look exactly the same to me. Slightly grainy and somber, even in the comedies. The Joke is based on the Milan Kundera novel. I need to read more of him.

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Tel Aviv on Fire (Sameh Zoabi)
  2. Welcome, Mr. Marshall (Luis Garcia Berlanga)
  3. Musidora, the Tenth Muse (Patrick Cazals)
  4. Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais)
  5. Zazie Dans Le Métro (Louis Malle)
  6. Arrebato (Ivan Zulueta)
  7. Steamboat Round the Bend (John Ford)
  8. Million Dollar Legs (Edward Cline)
  9. Peter Ibbetson (Henry Hathaway)
  10. Bernie (Richard Linklater)

1- Glad to see that my original assessment of Tel Aviv on Fire is my current one, too. Wickedly funny and so cleverly plotted

2- Welcome, Mr. Marshall is the second film that I watched by Berlanga. I imagine that Franco’s powers had seriously diminished or he was just not interested in persecuting artists by the time this film came out. A decade or so earlier, he would have been jailed or worse. This is an ‘international’ satire in the vein of The Mouse That Roared but much funnier. U.S. aid seems to have been regarded as a windfall for the people of this tiny town and their preparations to convince the visiting Americans for what they believe to be the inevitable showing of dollars is hilarious, and not nearly as cruel as it might have been. I am looking forward to seeing more Berlanga. He’s like later Bunuel but minus some of the surreal nuttiness.

3- I hadn’t seen Last Year in Marienbad since the days of art house cinemas back when I lived in New York. Criterion Channel started featuring it last month as a tribute to the ineffable, ethereal Delphine Seyrig. I was happy to just watch it without trying to figure out what it was ‘about’. Probably it is impossible to know what it was about. The screen play is by Alain Robbe-Grillet – ’nuff said. But it looks spectacular. It is a very hypnotic film. It occurred to me that it would make a great double-bill with Carnival of Souls

4- I realize I am constitutionally unfit to pass judgement on Zazie Dans Le Métro:

A) it is based on a novel which is written in a playful language reminiscent of Joyce. Malle has said that he wanted to fill the film with cinematic games the way Queneau filled the book with linguistic games. My French is not good enough to appreciate the later and I got very tired of the former.

B) Slapstick exhausts me. It makes me very impatient and it NEVER amuses me. This is all the movie is – relentless slapstick.

C) It stars the most annoying child actor I have ever experienced.

But you may love it.

5- Peter Ibbetson is nothing short of a travesty. It is based on a very strange, romantic fantasy novel by George Du Maurier (Daphne’s grandfather). The book is compelling in its imagination. The movie jettisons most of the fantasy and what romance is left is like a left-over turkey sandwich. It looks like this was a prestige project. Henry Hathaway was a big director. Gary Cooper was Gary Cooper and Ann Harding is a great, sadly neglected actress of the time. It should have been at least good. One wonders why a studio would invest so much capital to film such a potent fantasy novel, then cut the novel off at the knees. It’s sad, because no one will ever try to film it again. Paging Masterpiece Theatre?

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Places in the Heart (Robert Benton)
  2. The Doll (Ernst Lubitsch)
  3. A Matter of Life & Death (Powell/Pressburger)
  4. Going Attractions (April Wright)
  5. Crimson Gold (Jafar Panahi)
  6. The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion)
  7. After Life (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
  8. Je Tu Il Elle (Chantal Akerman)
  9. The Phantom of the Monastery (Fernando de Fuentes)
  10. Miracles of Thursday (Luis Garcia Berlanga)

1- Places In The Heart is such a lovely, heartfelt film. It almost reaches the heights of a play by Horton Foote. I remembered it fondly and am glad it has aged so well. I am always draw to a story of a group of misfits who band together and make a strong “family”.

2- Thank you TCM for your series of silent Ernst Lubitsch films. What a wonderful opportunity to see the films that got him to be invited to Hollywood in the Twenties. The Doll was made in Germany and has that ‘between the wars” polish we expect from UFA productions. This is a particularly wacky story of an extremely shy and soon to be extremely rich aristocrat who is pressured into marriage even though he is terrified of women. A pretty classic trope of the time. He eventually falls in love with an automaton (who is really a live woman – don’t ask) because he feels ‘safe’ around her. There are wacky monks and forbidding uncles. But the show is stolen by Ossi Oswalda, an unfairly neglected brilliant comedian who plays the woman/doll and had starred in other Lubitsch works of the time. She also played the uproarious Oyster Princess. She is hilarious

Ossi Oswalda

3- Going Attractions is an efficient documentary outlining the history of the American movie going in general, and the history of the great movie palaces in specific. For Chicagoans there is a fair amount of information and footage about the history and restauration of the Uptown Theater. Whenever it is finally finished, it will once again be one of the greatest theatrical venues in the country.

4- My admiration for the great Iranian directors grows exponentially with each film I see. I admire Kiarostami but I love Panahi. Crimson Gold is another wonderful example of Panahi’s pushing the boundaries of traditional narrative. He even cast an actual schizophrenic depressive to play the very troubled main character. This blurring of reality is what makes Panahi’s films so stimulating. This would be a wonderful double-bill with The Mirror.

5- I am not sure what to say about Power of the Dog. It is unrelentingly bleak and I think that is part of what earned it so much acclaim. People feel good about feeling miserable watching a movie. I was surprised to see how reductive it was regarding the hinted-at Gay themes. I expected more of Jane Campion than another outing into the Celluloid Closet.

6- After Life is probably a masterpiece. I had only seen one other Kore-eda film, the magnificent Still Walking. After Life is more epic. It was interesting to watch it soon after reviewing A Matter of Life and Death. The two visions of the Hereafter couldn’t be more different. The main difference is that in the Powell/Pressburger we are never quite sure if the afterlife being shown is real or a figment of the hero’s imagination. In After Life there is no question that it is real and it is reminiscent of the world depicted in Beetlejuice – bureaucratic and messy.

The gimmick of the film, that each person who has crossed over has a week to choose one memory from their entire life to take with them into eternity. While not quite a MacGuffin, it becomes less and less the center of interest as we get to know the recently arrived as well as the functionaries of the after life. It is a supremely movie and delicate film. I need to see everything by Kore-eda.

7- How do you discuss a film that rigorously defies being engaging and is intentionally thwarting any sense of audience involvement? I guess the way to engage it is just to watch it and not try to make it “mean” anything. Je Tu Il Elle is comprised of three short, endless ‘acts’. The first and longest takes place in a bare room with a woman who is writing letters, eating sugar from a bag and rearranging her furniture. The second depicts the ride that the woman hitched with a truckdriver. He talks incessantly. She gives him an unerotic handjob and they eat a meal at a diner and watch an episode of Cannon. The last has the woman visiting another woman who might have been a previous lover. She has the lover bring her food and drink and then they engage in an explicit but also unerotic sex. Then our heroine leaves.

Experimental art is difficult to warm up to, because so much seems to be about the artists’ closely held intentions with the work. I can’t really say how Chantal Akerman wanted us to engage with this film. It is very curious that only a year or so later, she made her masterpiece Jeanne Dielmann. It is more that three times as long as Je Tu Il Elle, and even more rigorous, but the experience is completely indifferent. We watch a woman go through her days and get to know her monotonous routine intimately, so much so that when the routine starts to vary slightly, we are filled with foreboding. The end of the film is overwhelming. Was Akerman more intent on creating something that was experimental while also being engaging? Was the fact that the latter film stars riveting actress Delphine Seyrig what gives the audience more to engage with? I am not sure but I know that I will rewatch Jeanne Dielmann any time. I feel that once was enough for Je Tu Il Elle. I don’t believe that Akerman would have had a problem with this.

8- Marin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project has saved many wonderful films from oblivion, and many of them can be seen on the Criterion Channel. The Phantom of the Monastery is such a treasure. From 1930s Mexico, it has all the delicious atmospherics of the best of the Universal horror films, plus a healthy serving of implied sex thrown in. Extremely enjoyable, especially if you are a fan of atmospheric horror as I am.

9- In the introduction to one of her science fiction Shikasta novels, Doris Lessing wrote that the young people of today don’t appreciate what a gift it is to have so much in print, and that when she was younger there were many things that were just not available. I feel the same thing regarding film and today’s younger generation. They live in a blessed time where just about everything is available with the click of a key. One of the glories of this rich cinematic time is the Criterion Channel. Whole oeuvres of heretofore unfamiliar directors are curated and presented in beautiful editions often with fascinating extras. I have never heard of Luis Garcia Berlanga and there are a slew of his films on Criterion. He was a wicked satirist that really pushed the envelope in Franco’s Spain. I have only seen one of his films so far but I intend to see as many as I can lay my eyes on.

Thursday of Miracles is a wonderfully tight comedy that I am sure got him into a lot of hot water with the Church and the Franco government. But it is not hard to see a through-thread from Bunuel to Berlanga to Almodóvar. That is about as high praise as I can give.

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven)
  2. June Night (Per Lindberg)
  3. Nightmare Alley (Edmund Goulding)
  4. The Oyster Princess (Ernst Lubitsch)
  5. Christmas in Connecticut (Peter Godfrey)
  6. The Street of Love and Hope (Nagisa Oshima)
  7. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Desireee Akhavan)
  8. Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky)
  9. This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner)
  10. The King (David Michôd)

1- I have been studying the Turkish language for a while and have been watching Turkish series on Netflix for practice and fun.  Mustang is the first Turkish film I watched, courtesy of the Criterion Channel.  Very absorbing film which reminded me of The Virgin Suicides. Five orphan sisters are subject to suffocating restrictions by their guardians: their grandmother and extremely awful uncle.  It was interesting to see the five different responses to the oppression. Some submit and destroy themselves.  Others become empowered and save themselves.  Apparently the director wrote the screenplay based on her and her sisters’ own story. 

2- In anticipation of the release of Guillermo Del Toro’s remake, the Criterion Channel was featuring the original Nightmare Alley. Have I mentioned that I don’t care for Film Noir? This is one of the noiriest of noirs.  You do get to see Tyrone Power play a bad man for a change, but the grimness is unrelenting.  It is good to know, though, that there always seems to be opening for geeks in carnivals.

3- It is interesting to see Ingrid Bergman in a film from her native Sweden before she became the quintessential Hollywood star. June Night is not a masterpiece by any means. It is most comparable to a Hollywood ‘women’s picture”.  That said, it is interesting to see how much more frankly sexuality was dealt with in Europe at a time when the Hays code had already put a stranglehold on Hollywood’s forms of expression.

4- TCM was showing a bunch of Ernst Lubitsch films including several silents which he made in Europe before settling in the US.  The Oyster Princess is one of the nuttier films you will ever see and totally enjoyable with a title character that makes Becky Sharp look like Mother Teresa.

5-  Yeah, yeah. It’s a Wonderful Life. For your faithful blogger it wouldn’t be Christmas without at least one viewing of Christmas in Connecticut. Funny, sexy and cozy. Plus you get S.Z. ‘Cuddles’ Szakal and Una O’Connor!

6- After reveling in the sublime masterpieces of Naruse, Uzo and Mizoguchi, I have been exploring the later, grittier, perversely funny and upsetting films of Nagisa Oshima.  The Street of Love and Hope, as my sister-in-law says, has neither.  Just a very bleak yet fascinating look at the economic hardship of Japan after WWII.

7- The Miseducation of Cameron Post is another film depicting gay conversion camps. While none of the films I have seen on this topic present these places in a good light, this one presented the people who run this particular camp and very tortured, sad individuals. Great performance from John Gallagher, Jr. as a councilor who has been ‘cured’ and a terrifyingly restrained performance by the underappreciated Jennifer Ehle as the not quite Nurse Ratched who runs the joint. For a more nuanced take on this theme I recommend Boy Erased.

8- It had been at least 35 years since I saw Andrei Rublev. I loved it at the time.  It was the first Tarkovsky  I had ever seen.  Since then, I have seen all his films.  They are sui generis, Andrei Rublev especially so. Only the Medieval films of Ingmar Bergman give you a sense of living in the time.  Andrei Rublev is all over the place and some of it is heavy slogging, but the last section about the casting of a bell stands on its own as magnificent and fascinating.

9- I have been leading a Shakespeare seminar and we just finished reading Henry V. I had rewatched the Branagh and Olivier versions.  I had heard of The King and was curious since it was not a film of the Shakespeare text but it did tell roughly the same story.  A tamer, more sagacious Falstaff, an ineffectual, diseased Henry IV, an even more supercilious Dauphin. They are all here, along with the beautiful, spidery Timothee Chalamet playing Hal/Henry V.   It is a curious film.  Quite involving, but you wonder what they were thinking when they made it. It seems that they took pains to show that this was not a Shakespeare adaptation, yet so many bits of the script only make sense if you know the Shakespeare (I’m looking at you, tennis balls!)

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Tender Mercies (Bruce Beresford)
  2. Henry V (Kenneth Branagh)
  3. Madadayo (Akira Kurosawa)
  4. Henry V (Laurence Olivier)
  5. Fantastic Planet (René Laloux)
  6. Trouble In Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch)
  7. Z (Costa-Gavras)
  8. The Dybbuk (Michal Waszynski)
  9. The Double Life of Vèronique (Krysztof Kieślowski)
  10. 45 Years (Andrew Haigh)

1- Horton Foote is the greatest playwright America has produced. Don’t talk to me about O’Neill or Kushner or Tennessee Williams. Foote’s plays are masterpieces of understatement with a seething core of emotion below the surface. Tender Mercies is a gorgeous character study of a very simple, very complicated man, portrayed beautifully by Robert Duvall. The scene when Lenny Van Dohlen and his friends pull up to the gas station has all the trapping of a gang encounter. But no, these men are unbearably sweet and are great admirers of the Duvall character, a successful country musician who has fallen on hard times. The switch that Foote plays invites us deeply into his world of kindness and tender mercies.

2- For a comparison of the Branagh and Olivier versions of Henry V see this

3- I just don’t know what to make of Akira Kurosawa’s last few films. They are incredibly sentimental and not showing any of the majesty and genius we expect from most of his movies. Madadayo is his last film and it is a sort-of Japanese Goodbye Mr. Chips, with all the ominous sentimentality that would imply. I found it really hard to get through. It is based on the life of a educator and very popular Japanese author. Perhaps I would have been more involved if had been familiar with his work.

4- I had Fantastic Planet on my radar for decades. It was an interesting, loopy watch. For me, though, so much of science fiction is about surrendering yourself to a complicated, constructed world. Generally, I find that tiresome.

5- When considering a masterpiece of comedy like Trouble In Paradise, the cliché is “They don’t make ’em like that anymore.” I am never satisfied with that. If ‘they’ made them like that once, why can’t ‘they’ make them again? Thinking about this after watching Trouble In Paradise again, it occurred to me that the culprit is the Production Code implemented by the studios as a pre-emptive strike to show that moviegoing public that Hollywood was not as depraved as right-wing groups were imputing. Before 1934, a sophisticated sex farce like Trouble In Paradise was made by American studios all the time. There was a great thriving of European artists. The puritanical Hays code shut that down for decades. When sex was finally allowed to be seen overtly in films again, it was in a prurient fashion in the 60s and 70s. The adult depictions of relations between men and women was now almost adolescent in its self-congratulatory ‘liberation’ of those decades. Sophistication was gone. More to come on this topic.

6- Z is a terrific political thriller that holds up beautiful after five decades. It is so refreshing to see an unapologetically left-wing film. And even though he was a disgusting Anti-Semite, the score by Mikis Theodorakis is a classic.

7- I thought I had seen The Dybbuk years ago, but nothing in it seemed familiar. I thought it was fascinating but I understand how it could be difficult for certain audiences in the way opera or Kabuki are. What we get to see is how the Yiddish theater of the time looked. Like opera and Kabuki, it is stylized and very little of it is naturalistic. There is a thought that it was influenced by German Expressionism, but I don’t see it. It is a creepy business and I am glad to have had the chance to see it again.

8- I was bowled over by Three Colors. I thought that it was time to go back and rewatch The Double Life Of Veronique. It was the first Kieślowski film I ever saw. At the time of first viewing, I was left baffled and cold. I am sorry to say that this time around I had the same feeling. Please tell me why you love this film. I am really interested. It looks stunning and Irene Jacob is glorious, just as she was in Red. But I just don’t know how to go about getting into this film. Help!

9- I was tremendously moved by Weekend by Andrew Haigh. I was glad too see his 45 Years. It has many of the attributes of the earlier film, especially its close examination of the relation between to people. In Weekend the couple meet during the film and face a very uncertain future by the end of said weekend. In 45 Years we spend time with a couple who have been together for, well, 45 years. They dialogue in both films is terse but laden with emotion. Two icons of 60s British cinema, Tom Courtney and Charlotte Rampling are brilliant.

Charlotte Rampling then and now


Once more unto the breach…Henry V vs Henry V

In preparation for teaching a class on Henry V, I rewatched both the 1944 version by Laurence Olivier and the 1989 by Kenneth Branagh. The forty-five years’ difference is evidenced not only in technology, but in approaches to filmmaking and Shakespeare.

The legend is that Winston Churchill approached Olivier to make the film to boost the sagging morale of the English people during the end of World War II. I have read this several times and believe it to be true but it still puzzles me. Filming a Shakespeare play for the general public seems suspect to me. Probably a more traditional historical drama like Fire Over England with Flora Robson doing it up as Queen Elizabeth I would have been a more effective choice.

Elizabeth I’s great speech at Tilbury (Flora Robson)

I doubt that any Shakespeare film would ever be a popular entertainment, the exception being Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. The popularity of that film probably relied more on the gorgeousness of the young cast more than the gorgeousness of the iambic pentameter.

Olivia Hussey and Len Whiting

So what are the differences between the two versions of Henry V?

1- Approaches to acting:

In 1944 a typical audience member would only have experienced Shakespeare on the stage or on the radio. In both cases, the oratory is what was first and foremost. My friend Martin Seay said in reference to Hitchcock’s Rebecca that Joan Fontaine was a brilliant film actress in a film and Olivier was a brilliant stage actor in a film. What he meant was that film actors know how to scale back their acting for the camera. People who are mostly stage actors seem always to be declaiming, especially in early films. The two readings of St. Crispin Day speeches are vastly difference. Olivier declaims the speech in his beautifully modulated voice, even brings out the pentameter theatrically in words like ‘remembered’. And he rises in pitch until the climax of the speech. Branagh is more modulated. His volume throughout the speech varies. He seems to choke on “we few, we happy few” (as well he should). It doesn’t hurt that the climax of his speech is supported and perhaps overwhelmed by the beautiful anthem-like score of Patrick Doyle.

2- Approaches to the Text:

I always found Henry V an odd choice for Churchill to request. It deals with the Hundred Years War, a brutal conflict between England and France. When Churchill commissioned the film, France was England’s great ally and the Allied powers were engage in a bloody war to extricate them from Nazi rule. The parallel seems imply that the evil French of the Shakespeare play are a gloss for the Nazis of the film’s production time. It seems counter-intuitive to me. To see a better, clearer use of medieval European history as propaganda against Nazi Germany, see Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky. The French court is turned into a bunch of clowns. The King is fearful and dithering. The Dauphin’s arrogance is stretched to the point of caricature. But the conundrum is that they are still the French and how are we supposed to hate them in the film when hundreds of the English army are dying for their freedom. Making them into cartoons to me is a failed solution.

Even though the play has the feeling of a historical pageant, there is lots of nuance in the portrayal of the King. The Olivier version jettisons Henry’s more objectionable qualities. Gone is the cat-and-mouse execution scene against the three traitors at Southampton. Gone is the speech before the walls of Harfleur where Henry vows to rape the city’s virgin and impale the city’s babies on pikes if the governors of the city do not surrender. In both cases, the horror of Henry’s anger is edited out and all that remain of lip-service to the notion of mercy to one’s enemy.

The much lauded recreation of a performance in the Globe in the beginning of the Olivier film is fascinating, but along with the historical accuracy of the performance, much of the opening is inexplicably turning into farce, especially in the scenes with the Archbishops of Ely and Canterbury. When a real comic character like Pistol arrives he pales in comparison to the Laurel and Hardy antics of the churchmen. That can’t have been Shakespeare’s intention.

3- Falstaff.

Even though Branagh’s version is more complete and more faithful to the text of the play he, like Olivier, can’t seem to resist inserting the Fat Knight in his film. Shakespeare’s scene recounting the death of Falstaff is moving and seems to put a full stop on the character. It almost seems as if Shakespeare is saying, “OK you want more Falstaff? This is all you are going to get because we have the battle of Agincourt to set up!” I bet the vast majority of the films viewers don’t realize that Falstaff never appears in Henry V. In both cases I think the lily is substantially gilded.

So, which is the better of the two films? It is not for me to say since they seem to be conceived as two very distinct things. Watch them both and let me know what you think.

It might be interesting to do a side by side comparison of both directors’ Hamlet films. Also, Olivier appeared in but did not direct a very early version of As You Like It. Branagh directed but did not appear in a 1990s version of the same play. That might be interesting to look into, as well

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Mummy (Karl Freund)
  2. From Hell (The Hughes Brothers)
  3. Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey)
  4. Ma Vie en Rose (Alain Berliner)
  5. Millennium Actress (Satoshi Kon)
  6. The Meliés Mystery (Eric Lange)
  7. I Will Buy You (Masaki Kobayashi)
  8. The Housemaid (Kim Ki-young)
  9. I Surrender Dear (Mack Sennett)
  10. 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

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir)
  2. The Wolf Man (George Wagner)
  3. The Invisible Man (James Whale)
  4. Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava)
  5. Creature From the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold)
  6. Kuroneko (Kaneto Shindo)
  7. The Body Snatcher (Robert Wise)
  8. Bedlam (Mark Robson)
  9. Horror Hotel (John Moxey)
  10. Zodiac (David Fincher)

Halloween is upon us and in my house that means an orgy of classic (and not-so-classic) horror film viewing. This year The Criterion Channel is featuring a slew of Universal Horror films from the 30s, 40s and 50s. I have been working my way through them, and supplementing my viewing with goodies from my own DVD collection. Forget what they say about Christmas. Halloween is ‘the most wonderful time of the year”.

Back in 2013 I wrote this, which might shed a little light on my classic horror film obsession.

1- The Universal horror films I watched ranged from the sublime (The Bride of Frankenstein) to the ridiculous (The Creature From The Black Lagoon). This time around I really came down on the side of the auteurists since I noticed that pedestrian creators create pedestrian creations, and artists with a clear vision and signature create works of art. The Wolf Man is just fine as your typical lycanthropic adventure. It is even fun when Maria Ouspenskaya shows up to intone her famous couplet:

       “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night

         may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and Autumn moon is bright.”

And on top of it, Bela Lugosi is her son!   But the film is a mess.  It takes place supposedly in England but hardly anyone has an English accent, especially Lon Chaney, Jr. who plays the lunkhead of a wolfman.

2- What a difference the two James Whale films I watched were. Along with the spookiness, Whale provides a very quirky sense of humor to The Invisible Man, especially as Claude Rains (in an unseen US film debut – he is invisible until the last moments) goes more and more bonkers.  I remember The Old Dark House being both spooky and quite funny.

3- I had never seen a giallo before, and Blood and Black Lace is enough for now.  I quite enjoyed especially the over-the-topness of the whole proceedings.  I could have done without the gruesome violence.  But the film is gorgeous (and lurid) to look at.

4- The Creature of the Black Lagoon was curated by Criterion in their Halloween Universal Horror film series.  The glory days of universal horror were long over by the time this turkey was filmed.  It looks like a cheap episode of Gilligan’s Island but without the Howells.

5- In the midst of all this horror, I re-watched The Rules of The Game.  It is still astounding every time.  This time around it made me think of in its sonic and visual density.  I need to go back and watch that again.

6- Japanese horror is both gruesome and gorgeously elegant. Kuroneko is a good example of what I mean.  A horrifying but tragic story that is absolutely stunning to look at.

7- Genre actors don’t get the love they deserve.  Who ever thinks of John Wayne as on of America’s greatest actors, but he is. Rewatching Bedlam and The Body Snatcher made me realize that Boris Karloff is an incredible actor.   Each villain is nuanced.  No one does ‘evil behind a smiling face’ better.

8- I was leery to watch Zodiac. I had heard how upsetting Se7en was, and was afraid I was in for more of the same.  There were some rough scenes – it is about a notorious serial killer after all!

But the script is so smart and so fascinating. And kudos to Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Ruffalo.  Can those boys act.