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. Black Girl (Sembene Ousmane)
  2. Far From The Madding Crowd (John Schlesinger)
  3. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
  4. Till The Clouds Roll By (Richard Whorf)
  5. The Mummy’s Ghost (Reginald Le Borg)
  6. Persona (Ingmar Bergman)
  7. Peterloo (Mike Leigh)
  8. Rasputin, The Mad Monk (Don Sharp)
  9. The Mysterious Doctor  (Benjamin Stoloff)
  10. Le Rayon Vert (Summer) (Eric Rohmer)

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1- I had seen clips from Black Girl on TCM when they did that terrific series on World Cinema.  They were so haunting. I was glad to get the chance to see the whole film.  Powerful, poetic, tragic and very beautiful.  That mask, wow!

2- In my last post, I decried turning great novels into film. Well I was a little wrong. Far From The Madding Crowd is a very commendable attempt to turn Thomas Hardy’s novel into a film.  The book, of course, is way better, but the movie hits on all of the book’s main points and really gets to the emotion behind it all.  Pretty arty camera work by Nicholas Roeg considering that this was a typical big-budget prestige project. I want to read more Hardy.

3- I am currently teaching a course on the Great American Songbook and this weekend I will be speaking about Jerome Kern.  I figured that it would be a good time to watch Till The Clouds Roll By, even though I knew that its ties with reality were very tenuous.  It turns out that they were ridiculously tenuous.  This had hardly anything to do with Kern’s life, the way that Night and Day has nothing to do with Cole Porter’s life and Rhapsody in Blue has nothing to do with George Gershwin’s life.  What this film really is, is an excuse to have MGM’s musical stars do star turns singing or dancing to Kern songs, which is fun enough.  But what a stinker of a movie.

4- The Mummy’s Ghost – it is Hallowe’en season and I must watch as many classic horror movies as I can, many of them bad.  Like this one.  How can a 61 minute movie feel like it is three hours long? At least it had that classic Universal horror-romance atmosphere.

5- Thanks to Kathleen Rooney and Martin Seay, true friends who helped be to wrestle with just what the hell Persona is. I have seen and loved this movie many times but could never articulate what I felt it was. Thanks to K & M I’m a little closer to that goal.  All three of us are pretty convinced that it is a masterpiece sui generis.

6- Mike Leigh is a giant who walks among us. I may through the word ‘masterpiece’ around too much, but his films really deserve the name.  Peterloo is an epic yet intimate depiction of one of the first labor rebellions in English history, and its terrifying suppression. I hope it gets wide release.  I saw it at the Chicago Film Festival and I hope it doesn’t disappear.

7- I get such perverse pleasure from All That Heaven Allows. I love showing it to new people, because by the end it is not what they expected.

8- Please see Le Rayon Vert and read my post about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Magnificent Obsession (Douglas Sirk)
  2. Danton (Andrzej Wajda)
  3. I Fidanzati  (Ermanno Olmi)
  4. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman)
  5. A Woman’s Face (Gustav Molander)
  6. The Steamroller and the Violin (Andrei Tarkovsky)
  7. That Forsyte Woman (Compton Bennett)
  8. The Catcher Was a Spy (Ben Lewin)
  9. Florence Foster Jenkins (Stephen Frears)
  10. Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir)

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1- The Steamroller and the Violin – A tender film from Andrei Tarkovsky? Well, it was a student project, but it is really lovely.   No indication at all of the strenuous films to come

2- I was obsessed with the BBC version of The Forsyte Saga when it played here in the 70s. Because of that, I turned my nose up at the MGM version That Forsyte Woman.  First of all, what a silly title. Second, Errol Flynn as the homely Soames Forsyte?  But watching it now it is a solid MGM adaptation, a good example of their ‘Tradition of Quality’.  I wonder why there weren’t more films of these books.  The story and characters are so rich

3- I think we take for granted how talented and multi-faceted Meryl Streep is.  Her output is an embarrassment of riches.  What can’t she play.  Each character is uniquely conceived and not like any other.  Bette Davis was as brilliant, but she was always playing a Bette Davis character.  Streep as the infamous Florence Foster Jenkins is poignant, hilarious and infuriating.  Another work of genius.


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Another Part Of The Forest (Michael Gordon)
  2. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (John Ford)
  3. Angst Essen Seele Aus (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  4. Night Nurse (William Wellman)
  5. Love is Colder Than Death (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  6. Fort Apache (John Ford)
  7. Conflagration (Enjo) (Kon Ichikawa)
  8. The Prowler (Joseph Losey)
  9. The Naked Spur (Anthony Mann)
  10. Stormy Weather (Andrew L. Stone)

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1) Another Part Of The Forest was a prequel that Lillian Hellman wrote to her more famous and much, much better play The Little Foxes. The play tries to be ‘How the Hubbards got that way’, but after a while you feel that Hellman is revisiting these characters with no real intent.  The film version is minor indeed compared to the towering Bette Davis film version of The Little Foxes.

Question: The title seems to come from stage directions in either A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It.  Beats me why. Anyone have any thoughts on that?

2) What fun to see Stormy Weather.  It’s not much more an excuse to showcase a ton of great black musical performers. The numbers are strung together with the flimsiest of plots, but you get to see Fats Waller doing his stride-piano thing, you get to see a mind-blowing routine by the Nicholas Brothers, you get to see the gorgeous Lena Horne sing the title song, among other treasures.  You get to see the star, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, without Shirley Temple.  There is a very curious vaudeville comedy routine where Robinson and his costar put on blackface.  Black artists in blackface flips the whole controversy of the performing style on its head.  Or does it?

3) It is very illuminating to watch a first work by a great director, and then a later work from the period where that artist hits his stride.  Love Is Colder Than Death is Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s first feature and for me it was longer than death.  It seemed completely derivative of the worst posturing of the French New Wave with its disaffected heros and treacherous amoral heroines. However, Angst Essen Seele Aus is a masterpiece.  Derivative also from the works of Douglas Sirk, the film uses its sources merely as a starting point.  It is beautifully moving and very much a Fassbinder film. I give the title in German since it is hard to give an accurate rendition in English. It conveys the broken German of the hero in his most poignant moment of the film: he tells his love how fear is consuming his soul.  It is a heartbreaking scene and transcendent in the way the best of Sirk is.

4) Will you just watch Night Nurse already?!? It is the best example I know of the loose moral universe that Pre-Code Hollywood showed so well. It is scary and funny and sexy.  Clark Gable (without the moustache) is truly a monster.  Barbara Stanwyck is glorious as always.  Joan Blondell is on hand to provide the olive in this perfect gin-heavy martini.

5) Stay tuned for an upcoming post where I cogitate over the conflicting world views of the Western (including Fort ApacheThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Naked Spur) and Film Noir.

 

 

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. To Each His Own (Mitchell Leisen)
  2. It’s Love I’m After (Archie Mayo)
  3. Black Moon (Roy William Neill)
  4. The Life Of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi)
  5. Hitler’s Children (Edward Dmytryk)
  6. Hitchcock/Truffaut (Kent Jones)
  7. The Whales of August (Lindsay Anderson)
  8. The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer)
  9. Written On The Wind (Douglas Sirk)
  10. The Lodger (Alfred Hitchcock)

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1- I guess there are only so many things you can do with the classic ‘white woman drawn to the wicked world of Caribbean Voodoo’, but I must say that I was really struck by how much Black Moon looked and felt like my beloved I Walked With A Zombie.  A side-by-side viewing of the two would really show what makes a film of genius as opposed to a solid Hollywood B-film.  Of course, I Walked With A Zombie does have that Jane Eyre thing going for it, but it also has pacing, a great script, terrific acting and atmosphere you could cut with a knife.  Black Moon has more the feel of the second part of a Saturday afternoon double-bill from the Thirties. Fun, creepy, a little depressing, but not much more.

2- Can a man be a feminist director? I don’t know what else to call Kenji Mizoguchi.  Every one of his films that I have seen depict the plight of women, especially at the hands of self-interested men.  The Life Of Ohara is an especially bleak example of this. It is gorgeous, and the performance of Kinuyo Tanaka is amazing, but man, is it depressing.

3- Thank you Criterion for having another 50% off sale and allowing me to own the endlessly insane Written On The Wind. I would love to know what the reaction was when it first appeared in theaters.  Nymphomania, sexual performance anxiety and Lauren Bacall all wrapped up in an absolutely over the top Dallas-like story.  The image of Dorothy Malone dancing in sexual frenzy in her bedroom in her underwear, while right outside her door her father dies of a heart attack, is something I don’t think I will soon forget – nor would I want to.  This film is nowhere near the level of genius of All The Heaven Allows, but it is almost as formally dazzling. Color, costuming, mise-en-scene are all plotted out within an inch of their lives. Sirk seems to invert the famous Chekhov dictum by saying, ‘If a gun goes off in the first five minutes of a movie, you better see that gun for the rest of the film’. Malone won the Best Supporting Actress award for this frenzied portrayal, beating out another iconic performance of late 50s nuttiness: Patty McCormack as the terrifying Rhoda in The Bad Seed.  I guess the Academy didn’t dare give it to any one else for fear that Malone would come and shimmy them all to death.  And do I even need to mention her fondling of her father’s ‘oil well’ at the end of the film?

dorothy malone

 

4- Thank you, Betsy Rubin, for your gift of a collection of more obscure Hitchcock films.  Because of this I was finally able to watch his silent gem The Lodger.  I feared that it would be more ‘homework’ than ‘pleasure’ but I was wrong.  It was a wonderful watch. You certainly can tell that Hitchcock spent time in Germany and watching German films – this looks like it could have been directed by UFA-period Fritz Lang.  The expressionist shadow and paranoia have obvious roots in Babelsberg, but so much of it is full of stuff we will see over and over again in later Hitchcock: the ‘wrong man’ plot, the underwear fetish, Catholic iconography (there is a really blatant re-enactment of the deposition from the cross). The interesting thing about this ‘wrong man’ plot is that Hitchcock doesn’t fill the audience in on the details until almost the end, so we don’t have the sympathy for Ivor Norvello that we do for Cary Grant in North By Northwest.

On to The Parradine Case!


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Once Upon A Time (Alexander Hall)
  2. Le Plaisir (Max Ophüls)
  3. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
  4. Sergeant Rutledge (John Ford)
  5. A Doll’s House (Patrick Garland)
  6. Julius Caesar (Joseph Mankiewicz)
  7. The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges)
  8. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola)
  9. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Martin Scorsese)
  10. Bad Day At Black Rock (John Sturges)

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1- If you are looking for a film that features Cary Grant as well as a dancing caterpillar, then Once Upon A Time is the film for you!

2- Can someone please explain the genius of Max Ophüls to me?  I find his legendary moving camera distracting. I find his films dull. I’ll keep trying but I would certainly appreciate a little help here. Le Plaisir flowed better than most of his films I have seen, but for me they are deadly – mostly because they seem to be wearing ‘high art’ on their sleeves and that is never a good thing.

3- This time around I caught up with some films that I have been trying to get to for years.  I always dodged Sergeant Rutledge because, for some reason, I figured late John Ford would be stodgy John Ford. I should have known better. It is a stirring film. Its dealing with race issues is surprisingly frank and at the same time matter-of-fact.  Quite unusual for a film from 1960 where race was either ignored or served with a sledge-hammer. Ford turns Woody Strode into an icon of virtue to rival what he does with John Wayne. Plus you get to see Billie Burke!

sergeant rutledge

 

How did I miss Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore? What a rich script, with dense, surprising characters. It doesn’t have the taint that so many landmark films of the 70s have.  By way of contrast, The Conversation reeks with that taint.  The paranoia, the smarminess, the ugly mise-en-scene, the nihilistic characters – it has them all.  It is indeed brilliant, but I think once was enough for me.

4- All That Heaven Allows  – pure genius

5- Bad Day At Black Rock was recently shown on TCM as part of a Westerns festival.  That was pretty brilliant programming since it is truly a western disguised as a contemporary drama. Good guy rides into town and frees it from the corrupt and sadistic thrall of the bad guy. Plus it features a one-armed Spencer Tracy which makes it required viewing


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Princess Yang Kwei-Fei (Kenji Mizoguchi)
  2. Rabindranath Tagore (Satyajit Ray)
  3. Flamingo Road (Michael Curtiz)
  4. Carnal Knowledge (Mike Nichols)
  5. The Catered Affair (Richard Brooks)
  6. Kongo (William J. Cowen)
  7. Prizzi’s Honor (John Huston)
  8. A Time To Love and A Time To Die (Douglas Sirk)
  9. A Page of Madness (Teinosuke Kinugasa)
  10. Bergman Island (Marie Nyreröd )

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1- Flamingo Road is a perfect Hollywood entertainment.  I wonder why it isn’t considered more of a classic.  Terrific story, over-the-top performances by Joan Crawford and Sydney Greenstreet, directed by Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame.   It is easily as enjoyable and solid as other Curtiz films, like Mildred Pierce or The Adventures of Robin Hood. But for some reason, those two have been elevated to ‘classic’ status and Flamingo Road has pretty much been forgotten. It would be interesting to figure out what things like this happen.

2- What a solid, depressing movie Carnal Knowledge is.  Totally unlikeable characters, dyspeptic script, jaundiced view of everything from marriage to friendship to morality.  I loved it.

3- The French critics lionized Douglas Sirk with very good reason.  He was a true master at what he did.  Godard said A Time To Love and A Time To Die was his best.  I am not sure about ‘best’ but it is really good. REALLY good. A sympathetic view of a German soldier during the end days of WWII.  It is from an Erich Maria Remarque novel.  Remarque even has a small but pivotal role in the film. What Remarque did for the WWI soldier in All Quiet On The Western Front he does for the WWII soldier. I haven’t read either novel, but this film is more of a chamber piece – a love story played out against the last days of WWII when Germany was undeniably beaten. The Sirk touches you have come to expect are all there: the saturated color, the high-flown romance, the extraordinarily handsome leading man, in this case John Gavin.

john gavin

4- Watching The Catered Affair made me realize what an effective tool black and white photography was in the 1950s.  This was the time when a lot was being shot in color in an attempt to compete with television.  However, this film, with its gritty working-class characters leading lives of quiet desperation would not have been served by Technicolor. There seems to have been an imperative to use black and white when a film is supposed to look ‘real’.  I have always found that ironic, since real life is in color and if color were suddenly drained from our daily life, it would look anything but real.  Nowadays, just about everything is in color, no matter what the subject matter, unless it is a pretentious indie project or a pretentious Woody Allen movie.  The last new black and white film I recall seeing in a theater is Nebraska.  I wonder why it was chosen for that film.  Perhaps because it was depicting ‘ordinary people’?

5- I had never heard of Kongo.  What a lovely mix of depravity, immorality, incest and Love Triumphant! It would make an amazing double-bill with The Island of Lost Souls. Walter Huston was a towering actor who is all but forgotten today.

6- What a treat to watch Prizzi’s Honor right after watching Kongo, seeing Walter’s granddaughter Anjelica command the movie in the way her grandfather did. This time around I was struck by how few minutes of screen time Maerose Prizzi has.  But, it is her movie.  Hell, it is her world. ‘Why don’t you take yourself on one of those cruises, honey?’

7- A Page of Madness is exactly that.  A film so experimental that it makes the Soviets of the 20s look like tired, old sentimentalists. It was presumed lost for decades, so it didn’t exert the kind of influence it might have. You can tell that the director was mightily influenced by The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. Over-the-top editing, experimentation with shifting narrative, the lack of intertitles (it’s a silent film) make this quite a difficult but exhilarating experience. It’s 60 minutes can feel like 4 hours, but if you are game, it’s worth seeing at least once. It’s funny, but the director went on to win the Best Foreign Film Oscar some 30 years later with the very traditional Gate of Hell

a page of madness


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Lacombe, Lucien (Louis Malle)
  2. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (Fred Schepisi)
  3. The Tarnished Angels (Douglas Sirk)
  4. Make Mine Mink (Robert Asher)
  5. Orpheus (Jean Cocteau)
  6. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
  7. Lightning (Mikio Naruse)
  8. The Verdict (Don Siegel)
  9. Lifeboat  (Alfred Hitchcock)
  10. Fort Apache  (John Ford)

 

1- I have been trying to see as much Douglas Sirk as I can lay my eyes on. Some of it is astounding, some of it is excruciating. All That Heaven Allows falls into the astounding group, and The Tarnished Angels, along with the supremely insane Written On The Wind,  for me, alas, fall into the excruciating group.  It might just be me, though. When I first saw Imitation of Life, I wanted to throw things at the TV. Now I think it is a masterpiece. Not on the level of All That Heaven Allows, but a masterpiece.  Stay tuned for an article on Sirk appreciation, soon I hope.

2- Both  Lacombe, Lucien and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith are powerful works on the destructive power of racism and hatred. Both are films that I have heard of for years but never got a chance to see.  Thank you, TCM

3- After the magnificent but depressing experience of the two films above, the exact tonic I needed was Make Mine Mink. For some reason I always thought it was a Doris Day vehicle. Much to my delight it turned out to be one of those confections of absolute insanity that only the British of the 1950/60s could have created. All hail, Terry-Thomas.

4- Over the years I have viewed and re-viewed Beauty and the Beast by Jean Cocteau.  I had seen Orpheus years ago and remembered it as beautiful but difficult.  Seeing it again, it was still very beautiful, but seemed less substantive than the perfection that is Beauty and the Beast. And was there ever a more beautiful man than Jean Marais?

Jean Marais

5- The ‘Cavalry Trilogy’ of John Ford occupies a position in his oeuvre comparable to that of the Henriad in Shakespeare’s canon.  A recent viewing of Fort Apache convinced me of this.  If I ever get over my natural indolence, I will write a piece telling you why.

6- It’s time for a Have You Tried…. piece on Mikio Naruse.  He is criminally unknown and amazingly wonderful.

7- Having seen it over 30 years ago, I remembered Lifeboat as one of those ambitious but failed Hitchcock experiments, like Rope. Man, was I wrong. The constraints he puts on himself seem to unleash his genius even more. Take that, Lars Van Trier and your Five damned Obstructions!