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. Three Colors : Blue (Krysztof Kieślowski)
  2. Three Colors : White (Krysztof Kieślowski)
  3. Three Colors : Red (Krysztof Kieślowski)
  4. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock)
  5. La Haine (Mathieu Kassowitz)
  6. 3 Faces (Jafar Panahi)
  7. Beau Travail (Claire Denis)
  8. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (George C. Wolfe)
  9. King of the Hill (Steven Soderbergh)
  10. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra)

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1- What a joy to watch the entire Three Colors trilogy again! I even revised my original assessment to be even more enthusiastic, especially about White. See my original review with additional comments here.

2- Marnie. Yikes. See my thoughts here.

3- La Haine had been on my radar for a while. 25 years to be precise. I finally caught up with it, and I wonder if time hasn’t dealt unkindly with it. It has a very restless 90s camera style that indicates grittiness but now looks a bit dated.  The story is quite aimless, but I am sure that was intentional to underline the aimlessness of these unemployed young men living in a banlieue just outside of Paris. The choice of having a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian as the friends/protagonists seems very 2020, but must have been unusual in 1995.  The gang members are as intimidating as The Sharks and The Jets. Who would have thought that the cutie-pie who starred in Amelie would have turned out such a gritty film for his directorial debut?

4- One of the joys of the Criterion Channel is that I have been able to get to know the works of the great Iranian directors Jafar Panahi and Abbas Kiarostami. For someone like me who loves to analyze structure and who appreciates a good metafictional turn, these films have been fantastic. 3 Faces is one of the many films Panahi has made since he was officially silenced by the Iranian government and given a ban of 20 years before he could start filming again.  Not sure how he does it, but this ‘illegal’ film was shown at Cannes.  Maybe it is just a feint on the part of the Iranian government, or maybe Panahi has just too great a stature on the international film circuit, that it would be counterproductive for the government to do anything more to enforce the ban. Thank god they don’t because this film as well as This Is Not A Filmboth made under the ban, are two of the most satisfying films I have seen all year.

5- Beau Travail. Well, it is a riff on Billy Budd with the homoerotic element brought to the fore, or maybe not.  I had seen it when it came out and didn’t care for it very much, despite the male pulchritude on display.  It is more of an Abercrombie & Fitch ad in the desert than anything else.   It seems to be brave about the male on male gaze, but to what point? I don’t know.  I found it hard to sit through a second time.

6- I saw Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom  when it premiered on Broadway in the 80s and it had no effect on me.  Since then, August Wilson has become a sacred cow, so I need to tread carefully when I say that I think that the play is pretty poorly constructed.  The linking, random, jokey conversations that the musicians have to pass the time are really enjoyable but when the big arias about “RACE” come up, they jarringly intrude on the proceedings. Everyone is saying that this film version is just a filmed play to which I say a) “It isn’t and b) “Why is that a negative?”  This is Chadwick Boseman’s last performance and I found it over the top. I fear that he will be lionized the way James Dean was lionized, both dying beautiful and young.

7- Steven Soderbergh is one of those directors who I feel is making movies just for me. They hit me exactly in the right way.  I ‘get’ them perfectly.  I loved Contagion and Side Effects and I really loved King of the Hill.   I had seen it when it came out and loved it.  It holds up beautifully.  Jesse Bradford gives one of the best child actor performances I know of.  The period evocation is wonderful. It feels as if you have a window into that time and not that you are watching a studio reconstruction of 1933 St. Louis.  Please watch this. It is a beautiful, beautiful movie.  The closest thing I can compare it to is To Kill A Mockingbird, although King of the Hill is less epic.

8- In deference to the great Fern, I voluntarily watched It’s A Wonderful Life again this Christmas Eve. It was on network TV complete with a million commercial interruptions.  This was the way I first saw it in 1979 and the only alternative was to watch it on Amazon Prime in a colorized version. Anathema.

When I first saw this movie it was before it was elevated to its current unshakeable status as ‘The Greatest Christmas Movie of All Times.”  It was just another movie from the 40s and I was enchanted by it.  On second and third viewing I became aware that the film profoundly depressed me.  There is a weird dichotomy at the end of the movie.  In a rush of overwhelming love and friendship, the good citizens of Bedford Falls perform a Christmas miracle of sorts and collect the $8,000 dollars which will prevent our hero from going bust and to jail, and worse, being in thrall to the ludicrously evil Mr. Potter.

I know that this is supposed to be the quintessential ‘happy end’ but at that point in the movie, I still have an awful taste in my mouth from the fantasy scene that preceded it. In essence, the town of Bedford Falls would have become a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah if George Bailey had never lived.  And yet…. and yet… when he lives it only is saved from that fate by having every single one of George’s dreams crushed and everyone else he knows, go on to wonderful things.

I think that people love it because of what they think it is saying, but if you actually look at what it says, YIKES.

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Host (Bong Joon Ho)
  2. Nosferatu (Werner Herzog)
  3. La Promesse (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
  4. The Mirror (Jafar Panahi)
  5. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (John Ford)
  6. Bluebeard (Catherine Breillat)
  7. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
  8. Foreign Letters (Ela Thier)
  9. Un Carnet du Bal (Julien Duvivier)
  10. Hotel du Nord (Marcel Carné)

1- Ever since I saw Parasite, I have been thinking about going back to rewatch the only other film of his I had seen, The Host.  I wondered if the naming of the later film was a sly reference to his other huge international hit.  Not sure.  I must say that The Host was as good as I remembered it. It isn’t as rich as Parasite.  There is the same raucous action, but the political edge is not as keen. I think that Parasite was conceived more politically than The Host. The only discernible political thread in the latter is the not-so-subtle suggestion of how America is destroying Korean culture and environment.  I guess that is pretty political after all!

2- I loved the films of Werner Herzog and saw them all when they premiered in the US.  I remember particularly loving Nosferatu. It really holds up well.  It is a very respectful and knowledgeable remake of the famous Murnau silent from the 20s.  Everything works in this updating.  The tone of silent films, from the mise-en-scene to the acting is a beautiful homage to the earlier style.  I had feared that I would now find Klaus Kinski’s acting of the title role too over-the-top.  It isn’t. It is just gorgeous.  Kudos to Isabelle Adjani at the beginning of her film career for channeling every heroine of every Expressionist horror film. 

3- La Promesse  is my third film by the Dardenne brothers.  Another stunning experience.  Much is made of Bresson’s moral constructs in his films.  They are also wonderful but the morality of these Dardenne films is at a much more visceral level.  I found La Promesse  powerful in the way that it makes the viewer complicit in the ethical dilemma, a teenage boy who is helping his unscrupulous father in his shady operation to exploit illegal immigrants in their Belgian town.  Just like the end of Young Ahmed, the resolution of La Promesse comes out of nowhere, but is inevitable and powerful.

4- My excitement of discovering Iranian films is comparable to the excitement I felt when I first discovered the range and depth of Japanese film. So far I have only watched films by Kiarostami and Panahi. I am sure other wonders await me.  The Mirror is another tour-de-force of meta-cinema. I will not divulge the plot nor the meta-ness of the film.  Suffice it to say that I watched the entire movie shaking my head saying to myself ‘It can’t be this brilliant”. I was wrong. It was that brilliant. 

5- The Criterion Channel curates films by theme and one of the themes this month was Women Directors. They suggested many films that I had never heard of. One of them was Bluebeard by Catherine Breillat. I suppose you could label it as a feminist retelling of the Perrault fairy tale, but I would hope that Breillat wouldn’t want her work pigeon-holed like that. It is a very odd film and the fairy-taleness of it is also quite odd and upsetting. I must say I enjoyed it, but I don’t know if I am up for her version of Sleeping Beauty just yet.

6- Coincidentally, that other source of my cinema addiction, Turner Classic Movies, is showing a series called Women Make Film, shown in conjunction with Mark Cousin’s 14-part documentary of the same name. The documentary borders on annoying but TCM they are showing many of the films that are discussed in the documentary, and that is where the gold is. The films are from all over the world and from all eras. Some are great. Then there is Foreign Letters. Yes, it was made by a woman, an Israeli émigré to the US. The problem with it is that is seems like a student project and is not very interesting. It is very YA and I never liked YA stuff, even when I was YA. Who knows? It might be great. Just not my cup of falafel.

7- I had always thought of Julien Duvivier as typical of the classic French directors that the Cahier du Cinema brats were rebelling against. Well, of course we can have both the French New Wave and what came before it. We realize that now (at least I realize that now). But, I can honestly say that Un Carnet du Bal ages better than just about any of the nouvelle vague creations I can think of. But why choose? Un Carnet du Bal is the French equivalent of an MGM ‘tradition of quality’ production. A sprawling story, beautifully appointed and featuring many of the great French stars of the day. Think a Gallic Grand Hotel. Not only do you have the legendary Harry Baur, but you get Fernandel as well as my holy Raimu.

8- How fortuitous to watch Hotel du Nord right after seeing Un Carnet Du Bal. Both date from about the same time, and both feature the same richness of plot and character. Hotel du Nord is by Marcel Carné, famous for the epic Children of Paradise. This film is on a smaller scale, but is as lush with a wide variety of characters and subplots. It is linked to Un Carnet Du Bal by the presence of the the enigmatic Louis Jouvet. Carné’s style is often called ‘poetic realism’. I am not sure what that means, but there is a combination of the gritty quotidian daytime world and the dreamlike night world. Arletty is on hand to lend the proceedings earthy humor a few years before her legendary appearance as Garance in Children of Paradise

8- How fortuitous to watch Hotel du Nord right after seeing Un Carnet Du Bal. Both date from about the same time, and both feature the same richness of plot and character. Hotel du Nord is by Marcel Carné, famous for the epic Children of Paradise. This film is on a smaller scale, but is lush with a wide variety of characters and subplots. It is linked to Un Carnet Du Bal by the presence of the the enigmatic Louis Jouvet. Carné’s style is often called ‘poetic realism’. I am not sure what that means, but there is a combination of the gritty quotidian daytime world and the dreamlike night world. Arletty is on hand to lend the proceedings earthy humor a few years before her legendary appearance as Garance in Children of Paradise. Her pronouncing the word ‘Atmosphere’ in her rebuke of Louis Jouvet is worth the price of admission.

On a personal note, when I was in Paris in 2018, my dear friend Lil took me to the Canal St. Martin and sure enough, the Hotel du Nord is there on the banks of this impressive canal!

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. This is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi)
  2. The Long Voyage Home (John Ford)
  3. Village of the Damned (Wolf Rilla)
  4. The Red Shoes (Powell/Pressburger)
  5. Robinson Crusoe (Luis Buñuel)
  6. Adoption (Marta Meszaros)
  7. Dracula (Tod Browning)
  8. The Boys in the Band (Joe Mantello)
  9. The Devil’s Playground (Fred Schepisi)
  10. Sunday Too Far Away (Ken Hannam)

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1- I am struck by how genre-bending the modern films of Iran are. This Is Not a Film was made by Jafar Panahi who is currently under a multi-year ban on film-making. Hence the title. Shot on cell phone or on hand-held camera in his own house, this depiction of his mundane life (eating lunch, talking with the garbage man) becomes an extremely moving picture of an artist who cannot stop creating, no matter what the powers-that-be decree. It is fascinating. The scene where he acts out his unproduced screenplay in a stage delineated by masking tape on his carpet is extremely moving.

2- The fact that The Long Voyage Home is a John Ford film starring John Wayne just a year after Stagecoach made it a must-watch for me. Add to this that the cameraman is the legendary Gregg Toland of Citizen Kane only made it more appealing. I had seen it decades ago but didn’t remember much. It looks fantastic, of course, because of Toland’s magical camera work, but the macho high-jinx of the sailors on shore-leave repelled me. Also, the cliché of Irishmen having to get drunk at every opportunity might have been humorous once, but now it is grating and borderline racist. The screenplay is based on four one-act plays by Eugene O’Neill. Yuck.

3- October is the greatest month because it contains the greatest holiday of the year: Halloween. I love Halloween so much. I gorge myself on wonderful, sometimes cheesy horror films for the whole month. I started off this year’s celebration with the wonderfully economical and chilling Village of the Damned. I had forgotten how effective this little movie is. I wish the studio had the wherewithal to make a longer film since the ending seems rushed. But what’s there is cherce. The acting of the twelve diabolical children is stunning. How did the director get these performances out of them? George Sanders is on hand to do his fruity elitist thing, which is always fun. But this is a movie that is all about atmosphere. And all about horror, too. Truly a chilling movie. Great way to start off this year’s Halloween festivities (as if 2020 hasn’t already been Halloween all year!)

4- And talking about a movie that looks great despite its content, I give you The Red Shoes. This is another Technicolor fever dream from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger. Nothing is as breathtaking as the reds in this movie. Unfortunately, so much has gone into the mise-en-scene, that the movie as a whole suffers. It really doesn’t make any sense. The characters are cardboard and inconsistent. But you get to see Robert Helpmann chewing up the scene and the legendary Leonide Massine is on hand to lend a bit of nuttiness and authenticity to the proceedings. But watching it is like being really hungry and all you have in the house is Oreos. But man….those reds!

5- I remember seeing Robinson Crusoe in a school auditorium when I was probably nine or ten. I had no idea who Luis Bunuel was then, and today, if I hadn’t seen the credits, I would not have known he was the director. No surreal or outlandish flourishes. Pretty straightforward story-telling. Just finished reading the novel, so I was interested in the movie. It is very good for what it is.

6- Adoption was shown on TCM as part of their Women Make Film series.  They have a documentary series they are showing over 14 weeks, and each week after the documentary runs, they show a few of the films mentioned. This is a rare treat since very few of the films are familiar, even for TCM-heads like me.  Case in point is this powerful Hungarian film.  A single woman involved in an unsatisfying years-long romance is trying to make a connection.  At first she tries with a troubled teenage woman from a local reformatory school.  There are satisfactions in that relationship which lead the woman to her ultimate decision and her great chance at happiness. Is this a woman’s movie? It is made by a woman, yes, and it concerns women. But can you tell that it was a woman who wrote and directed it?  I think perhaps yes.  The cliché in noting the difference between men and women is that men jockey with each other for position, where women use empathy to make connections.  Adoption is almost claustrophobic in its unrelenting use of close-ups.  It this the cinematic equivalent of empathy?  In any event it is an extremely moving film that I would never have heard of if not for TCM.

7- We are so used to thinking of the Universal Studios Dracula as  a horror film classic, that one forgets (or perhaps never knew!) that it was an pretty prosaic adaptation of a great stage success.  Its staginess really shows. Compared to Frankenstein of a year later, it is hardly a movie at all.   

8- For a very closeted, sixteen year old Gay man, going to see the original The Boys in the Band in the movie theater in the 1970s was thrilling.  So thrilling that I completely had no idea what a miserable evening these gentlemen were having.  I hadn’t seen it since, so I was intrigued to see the film version of the recent Broadway revival (the first Broadway mounting of the play, I believe).  The Princh assures me that this version is practically a shot-for-shot twin of the original film, with some performances better, some worse.   I was struck by the decision to keep the action in the original historical time.  No AIDS, no Gay Lib, hardly and Stonewall.  Does it become a period piece? Not exactly. But it is very remote.  Even when I was a callow youth sitting in that Brooklyn theater, I could not understand the self-loathing that seemed to be a given in the play.  The bitchiness didn’t seem to be wit, as in The Women or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but desperate lashing out.   It seems to me that the self-loathing in this new version is centered more on the characters Catholicism than on they’re being Gay.  I still can’t relat. But Matt Bomer is unforgivably handsome.

9- The Criterion Channel has been featuring The Australian New Wave.  The Devil’s Playground is a film that I had missed when it first came out. It is brilliant. The depiction of life in a boy’s Catholic Seminary in the 1950s is fascinating mostly because of the huge scope of characters that it gives us in such loving, or at least penetrating, detail. I think it would be a phenomenal double-bill with Picnic at Hanging Rock.

10- Sunday Too Far Away is apparently a much-loved classic in Australia about the rough-and-tumble life of itinerant sheep-shearers.  See my comments above on the macho high-jinx of The Long Voyage Home and you’ll get a pretty good idea how I feel about this film.