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