If the movies I have binged since I subscribed to the Criterion Channel were filled with carbohydrates, you should worry about my waistline. Luckily they are feeding my mind and heart and not my body.
- Judex (Georges Franju)
- The Five Pennies (Melville Shavelson)
- Blood of the Beasts (George’s Franju)
- Intimate Lighting (Ivan Passer)
- Donkey Skin (Jacques Demy)
- The Limey (Steven Soderbergh)
- Senso (Luchino Visconti)
- House (Nobuhiko Obayashi)
- Naked (Mike Leigh)
- Devi (Satyajit Ray)
1- I avoided Judex because I thought it would be a glitzy remake of the 1910s serial film by Louis Feuillade. I have only seen Feuillade’s Les Vampires but that impressed me as being so much of its time that I bypassed the Franju remake of Judex, another of Feuillade’s multipart sensationalist series. I was wrong. The Franju is delightful and is very much in keeping with the time and spirit of Feuillade and, this is the best part, without a tinge of irony or camp. The ludicrous plot twists are there, but presented with such sincerity that you don’t wince at all.
2- One of the beauties of the Criterion Channel is that you can look at films in collections. After watching Judex,I looked at his other films, I realized that I had never seen Franju’s Blood of the Beasts. It is a 25 minute documentary short contrasting the dreamy, romantic river landscapes outside of Paris, with a graphic and brutal depiction of the daily work in the areas abbattoirs. I am pretty sure that the contrast is not meant ironically, which makes me admire this grisly little film even more.
3- When I was young, like 8 or 9, I went to day camp during the summer. One year they showed us The Five Pennies, a biopic about Red Nichols, legendary cornet player from the early jazz age. I remember that we were all crazy for it, often saying it was our favorite film ever. I caught up with it again after 50 years or so. I wonder what it was we were all seeing back in day camp. It was a kind of dull biopic with no great musical numbers. The story is kind of a downer (Nichol’s daughter contracts polio, thus stopping his music career for a spell). You do get to see some wonderful cameos with Louis Armstrong, but I don’t think we would have appreciated that at the time. We always say that we change in relation to the art we love, in this case film. I am convinced that someone did something to The Five Pennies since I saw it all those decades ago. It just can’t be the same movie.
4- Intimate Lighting is a perfect example of the whimsical, delicate comedies from Czechoslovakia. Like Lady Bracknell says about ignorance, whimsy is a delicate exotic fruit. Touch it and it is destroyed. I must have touched Intimate Lighting while I was watching it. It just evanesced in front of me!
5- I though Donkey Skin was being a late 60s/early 70s Technicolor hip film of a fairy tale, and therefore not really appealing to me. I was kind of right. But I have to say I enjoyed it. There is the weird incestuous relationship between Catherine Deneuve and her father, Jean Marais, that no one seems to be particularly fazed by. There are amazing, overwrought costumes and sets. There is the liberal homage (ripping off?) of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. But still, I rather enjoyed it. It is wonderful to see Delphine Seyrig in anything, but it is really wonderful to see here as the helicopter-flying Lilac Fairy. ‘Nuff said.
6- I will see anything Steven Soderbergh. Such a mastery of film direction, such an imagination. His films are so varied and so satisfying. The Limey seems to me like a ‘can we do this?’ kind of film. Fractured narrative, overlapping dialogue from different scenes, archival footage of the beautiful Terence Stamp from his days as a 60s heartthrob compared to his more weathered contemporary self. I was engaged the whole time. It is like a good crossword puzzle. Fun while it lasts, but you wouldn’t go back and do it again. I would go back and see his Contagion or Side Effects in a second, though.
7- I am a huge opera lover. Perhaps even more than I am a film lover. But I am not carried away by ‘operatic’ films. I am not talking about film versions of opera, like Bergman’s The Magic Flute, but narrative films that present themselves in an operatic fashion, i.e. overwrought emotion, sumptuous sets, beautiful actors. Senso is such a film. Everything else I have seen by Visconti seems to be in this style. I enjoyed watching it. The film was engaging. Alida Valli chews up more scenery than Maria Callas ever did. Farley Granger looks appropriately dreamy. But when it was over, I felt like I overate.
8- As readers of the blog know, I am crazy for Japanese film. I have mostly confined my viewing to the golden age 1930 – 1960. In the spirit of being a completist I have ventured into later works with varying levels of enjoyment. But House! What can one say about House? A Japanese fever dream of a slasher film where 7 extremely grating kawai types are brutally and graphically mutilated in what seems to be intend as comic fashion. I think? It is the weirdest thing I have ever seen, without being the least bit engaging. Approach at your own risk.
But seriously, to hear the commentators talk about it on the extras included on the Criterion Channel, House is the most innovative and influential film since Citizen Kane. I am willing to listen if anyone wants to make that case.
9- Mike Leigh, I love you. I worship your mastery. I love your humanity. Naked was his breakout film. It won big prizes at Cannes the year it came out for Leigh and his amazing star, David Thewlis. It has all the hallmarks of Leigh’s best stuff: amazing performances, fascinating dialogue, deliberate pacing. But it is a brutal watch. Not for the faint of heart or the spiritually insecure. Mike Leigh, I love you.
10- Satyajit Ray is another master that I revere. Every film of his is perfectly crafted, emotionally powerful, often heart-breaking but always life-affirming, even when everything falls apart. I had seen Devi many years ago and loved it then and still love it now. Unfortunately the print on the Criterion Channel is not pristine at all. And that tells me that this is probably the best print that exists. Never mind. Watch it. At 90 minutes it makes you ruminate on the big issues: the validity and danger of religion, the validity and danger of filial piety, religion as a tool in class division. Magnificent. But I could say this about any film by Satyajit Ray.