- Storm Center (Daniel Tarandash)
- Blondie of the Follies (Edmund Goulding)
- First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)
- Riffraff (J. Walter Ruben)
- A Visit From The Incubus (Anna Biller)
- Cynara (King Vidor)
- Born in Flames (Lizzie Borden)
- Lola (Jacques Demy)
- Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
- Destiny (Der Müde Tod) Fritz Lang
1- What a perfect 1950s paranoia film is Storm Center. It came out a few years after Joseph McCarthy was toppled but when his lethal reach was still being felt. Imagine Bette Davis as a voice-of-American-tolerance up against a town terrified of a book on Communism that she wants to keep on the shelf. She hates Communism herself, but, as the great Liberal she is, she feels that the book must be in the library so people can make up their own minds. The town freaks and it ends in the immolation of the library. Imagine that there was actually a time in America when there was nuanced public discourse. It makes this film seem like science fiction. The ending of this film is insane. Watch it
2- Blondie of the Follies, Riffraff and Cynara were three films penned by the mighty Frances Marion (with help from the mighty Anita Loos). Not sure how good these films are. The first stars Marion Davies, now only remembered as the inspiration for Susan Alexander in Citizen Kane. When allowed to do comedy, she is charming. Her dramatic chops are lacking, but she is still fun to watch. The second stars the (I believe) woefully underappreciated Jean Harlow. She could do comedy, tragedy, drama, playing dumb, playing smart. You name it. In Riffraff she is paired with Spencer Tracy as her absolutely repulsive blockhead of a boyfriend and labor leader manque. It is fashionable now to look at the works of female screenwriters as either overt or crypto-feminism. It doesn’t really work in any of these films, though I am sure someone could make a valiant attempt. The resolution of Cynara particularly made my flesh crawl, watching the compromise that the Kay Francis character makes, for no good reason. Still, they are interesting relics to watch.
3- First Cow is another film that I am sure that many critics would love to cast in a feminist light since it was written and directed by a woman. I don’t really see it. There are some very interesting things done with traditional male roles, but I don’t know that this necessarily indicates a woman at the helm. What I do know is that it is a really accomplished work, the script is incredible, the performance are superb.
4- There is no reason for A Visit from the Incubus to exist.
5- Born in Flames! I was in New York during the five years it was put together. It really captures the awful seediness of the place and time. That certainly is not the intention of this endlessly fascinating movie. How to describe it? Apocalyptic, Lesbian, Science Fiction, Marxist Paranoia fest? But it is also just delightful. And I don’t mean it in a condescending way. Even though it was made on a shoe-string over years, there is such a sureness of vision. I wish that Lizzie Borden had made more films. Plus you get to see Flo Kennedy and Eric Bogosian. And for an extra Feminist Easter Egg, Kathryn Bigelow, the only woman to receive a directing Oscar, appears in a small but crucial role. It was so heady and rich. I want to see it again soon.
6- I am only recently acquainted with the work of the late Abbas Kiarostami. So far everything I have seen has bowled me over. He creates puzzles in exactly the way that David Lynch does not. You can get what he is after and often the puzzleness of it is the whole point. But there is also an incredibly human and often heart-rending element to these films too (see The Koker Trilogy). Certified Copy was his last feature and I may need to watch it again because I felt like we were entering more into David Lynch ‘try and figure this puzzle out….Ha…I bet you can’t’ territory. Still, it looks gorgeous and any opportunity to watch Juliet Binoche …..
7- Fritz Lang of the Weimar Republic speaks to me more than Fritz Lang of American Noir of the 40s. In Germany he had the enormous resources of UFA at his command. This gave the world masterpieces like Metropolis and M. Destiny ( a poor English title for the much more descriptive German ‘Tired Death’) is the kind of film that could never be made now. A redemptive, operatic fairy tale that has echos of the Phantom Coach. Plus you get to see what Lil Dagover had been up to since she starred as the demented love interest in The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.